A prison is a house of care,
A place where none can thrive,
A touchstone true to try a friend,
A grave for one alive
Sometimes a place of right,
Sometimes a place of wrong,
Sometimes a place of rogues and thieves,
And honest men among
Inscription on Edinburgh Tolbooth
Early on the following morning the carriage which had brought
Bertram to Hazlewood House was, with his two silent and surly
attendants, appointed to convey him to his place of confinement at
Portanferry. This building adjoined to the custom-house
established at that little seaport, and both were situated so
close to the sea-beach that it was necessary to defend the back
part with a large and strong rampart or bulwark of huge stones,
disposed in a slope towards the surf, which often reached and
broke upon them. The front was surrounded by a high wall,
enclosing a small courtyard, within which the miserable inmates of
the mansion were occasionally permitted to take exercise and air.
The prison was used as a house of correction, and sometimes as a
chapel of ease to the county jail, which was old, and far from
being conveniently situated with reference to the Kippletringan
district of the county. Mac-Guffog, the officer by whom Bertram
had at first been apprehended, and who was now in attendance upon
him, was keeper of this palace of little-ease. He caused the
carriage to be drawn close up to the outer gate, and got out
himself to summon the warders. The noise of his rap alarmed some
twenty or thirty ragged boys, who left off sailing their mimic
sloops and frigates in the little pools of salt water left by the
receding tide, and hastily crowded round the vehicle to see what
luckless being was to be delivered to the prison-house out of
'Glossin's braw new carriage.' The door of the courtyard, after
the heavy clanking of many chains and bars, was opened by Mrs.
Mac-Guffog--an awful spectacle, being a woman for strength and
resolution capable of maintaining order among her riotous inmates,
and of administering the discipline of the house, as it was
called, during the absence of her husband, or when he chanced to
have taken an overdose of the creature. The growling voice of this
Amazon, which rivalled in harshness the crashing music of her own
bolts and bars, soon dispersed in every direction the little
varlets who had thronged around her threshold, and she next
addressed her amiable helpmate:--
'Be sharp, man, and get out the swell, canst thou not?'
'Hold your tongue and be d-d, you--,' answered her loving husband,
with two additional epithets of great energy, but which we beg to
be excused from repeating. Then addressing Bertram--'Come, will
you get out, my handy lad, or must we lend you a lift?'
Bertram came out of the carriage, and, collared by the constable
as he put his foot on the ground, was dragged, though he offered
no resistance, across the threshold, amid the continued shouts of
the little sansculottes, who looked on at such distance as their
fear of Mrs. Mac-Guffog permitted. The instant his foot had
crossed the fatal porch, the portress again dropped her chains,
drew her bolts, and, turning with both hands an immense key, took
it from the lock and thrust it into a huge side-pocket of red
Bertram was now in the small court already mentioned. Two or three
prisoners were sauntering along the pavement, and deriving as it
were a feeling of refreshment from the momentary glimpse with
which the opening door had extended their prospect to the other
side of a dirty street. Nor can this be thought surprising, when
it is considered that, unless on such occasions, their view was
confined to the grated front of their prison, the high and sable
walls of the courtyard, the heaven above them, and the pavement
beneath their feet--a sameness of landscape which, to use the
poet's expression, 'lay like a load on the wearied eye,' and had
fostered in some a callous and dull misanthropy, in others that
sickness of the heart which induces him who is immured already in
a living grave to wish for a sepulchre yet more calm and
Mac-Guffog, when they entered the courtyard, suffered Bertram to
pause for a minute and look upon his companions in affliction.
When he had cast his eye around on faces on which guilt and
despondence and low excess had fixed their stigma--upon the
spendthrift, and the swindler, and the thief, the bankrupt debtor,
the 'moping idiot, and the madman gay,' whom a paltry spirit of
economy congregated to share this dismal habitation, he felt his
heart recoil with inexpressible loathing from enduring the
contamination of their society even for a moment.
'I hope, sir,' he said to the keeper, 'you intend to assign me a
place of confinement apart?'
'And what should I be the better of that?'
'Why, sir, I can but be detained here a day or two, and it would
be very disagreeable to me to mix in the sort of company this
'And what do I care for that?'
'Why then, sir, to speak to your feelings,' said Bertram, 'I shall
be willing to make you a handsome compliment for this indulgence.'
'Ay, but when, Captain? when and how? that's the question, or
rather the twa questions,' said the jailor.
'When I am delivered, and get my remittances from England,'
answered the prisoner.
Mac-Guffog shook his head incredulously.
'Why, friend, you do not pretend to believe that I am really a
malefactor?' said Bertram.
'Why, I no ken,' said the fellow; 'but if you ARE on the account,
ye're nae sharp ane, that's the daylight o't.'
'And why do you say I am no sharp one?'
'Why, wha but a crack-brained greenhorn wad hae let them keep up
the siller that ye left at the Gordon Arms?' said the constable.
'Deil fetch me, but I wad have had it out o' their wames! Ye had
nae right to be strippit o' your money and sent to jail without a
mark to pay your fees; they might have keepit the rest o' the
articles for evidence. But why, for a blind bottle-head, did not
ye ask the guineas? and I kept winking and nodding a' the time,
and the donnert deevil wad never ance look my way!'
'Well, sir,' replied Bertram, 'if I have a title to have that
property delivered up to me, I shall apply for it; and there is a
good deal more than enough to pay any demand you can set up.'
'I dinna ken a bit about that,' said Mac-Guffog; 'ye may be here
lang eneugh. And then the gieing credit maun be considered in the
fees. But, however, as ye DO seem to be a chap by common, though
my wife says I lose by my good-nature, if ye gie me an order for
my fees upon that money I daresay Glossin will make it
forthcoming; I ken something about an escape from Ellangowan. Ay,
ay, he'll be glad to carry me through, and be neighbour-like.'
'Well, sir,' replied Bertram, 'if I am not furnished in a day or
two otherwise, you shall have such an order.'
'Weel, weel, then ye shall be put up like a prince,' said Mac-
Guffog. 'But mark ye me, friend, that we may have nae colly-
shangie afterhend, these are the fees that I always charge a swell
that must have his lib-ken to himsell:--Thirty shillings a week
for lodgings, and a guinea for garnish; half a guinea a week for a
single bed; and I dinna get the whole of it, for I must gie half a
crown out of it to Donald Laider that's in for sheep-stealing,
that should sleep with you by rule, and he'll expect clean strae,
and maybe some whisky beside. So I make little upon that.'
'Well, sir, go on.'
'Then for meat and liquor, ye may have the best, and I never
charge abune twenty per cent ower tavern price for pleasing a
gentleman that way; and that's little eneugh for sending in and
sending out, and wearing the lassie's shoon out. And then if ye're
dowie I will sit wi' you a gliff in the evening mysell, man, and
help ye out wi' your bottle. I have drank mony a glass wi'
Glossin, man, that did you up, though he's a justice now. And then
I'se warrant ye'll be for fire thir cauld nights, or if ye want
candle, that's an expensive article, for it's against the rules.
And now I've tell'd ye the head articles of the charge, and I
dinna think there's muckle mair, though there will aye be some odd
expenses ower and abune.'
'Well, sir, I must trust to your conscience, if ever you happened
to hear of such a thing; I cannot help myself.'
'Na, na, sir,' answered the cautious jailor, 'I'll no permit you
to be saying that. I'm forcing naething upon ye; an ye dinna like
the price, ye needna take the article. I force no man; I was only
explaining what civility was. But if ye like to take the common
run of the house, it's a' ane to me; I'll be saved trouble, that's
'Nay, my friend, I have, as I suppose you may easily guess, no
inclination to dispute your terms upon such a penalty,' answered
Bertram. 'Come, show me where I am to be, for I would fain be
alone for a little while.'
'Ay, ay, come along then, Captain,' said the fellow, with a
contortion of visage which he intended to be a smile; 'and I'll
tell you now--to show you that I HAVE a conscience, as ye ca't--d-
-n me if I charge ye abune six-pence a day for the freedom o' the
court, and ye may walk in't very near three hours a day, and play
at pitch-and-toss and hand ba' and what not.'
With this gracious promise he ushered Bertram into the house, and
showed him up a steep and narrow stone staircase, at the top of
which was a strong door, clenched with iron and studded with
nails. Beyond this door was a narrow passage or gallery, having
three cells on each side, wretched vaults, with iron bed-frames
and straw mattresses. But at the farther end was a small apartment
of rather a more decent appearance, that is, having less the air
of a place of confinement, since, unless for the large lock and
chain upon the door, and the crossed and ponderous stanchions upon
the window, it rather resembled the 'worst inn's worst room.' It
was designed as a sort of infirmary for prisoners whose state of
health required some indulgence; and, in fact, Donald Laider,
Bertram's destined chum, had been just dragged out of one of the
two beds which it contained, to try whether clean straw and whisky
might not have a better chance to cure his intermitting fever.
This process of ejection had been carried into force by Mrs. Mac-
Guffog while her husband parleyed with Bertram in the courtyard,
that good lady having a distinct presentiment of the manner in
which the treaty must necessarily terminate. Apparently the
expulsion had not taken place without some application of the
strong hand, for one of the bed-posts of a sort of tent-bed was
broken down, so that the tester and curtains hung forward into the
middle of the narrow chamber, like the banner of a chieftain half-
sinking amid the confusion of a combat.
'Never mind that being out o' sorts, Captain,' said Mrs. Mac-
Guffog, who now followed them into the room; then, turning her
back to the prisoner, with as much delicacy as the action
admitted, she whipped from her knee her ferret garter, and applied
it to splicing and fastening the broken bed-post; then used more
pins than her apparel could well spare to fasten up the bed-
curtains in festoons; then shook the bed-clothes into something
like form; then flung over all a tattered patch-work quilt, and
pronounced that things were now 'something purpose-like.' 'And
there's your bed, Captain,' pointing to a massy four-posted hulk,
which, owing to the inequality of the floor, that had sunk
considerably (the house, though new, having been built by
contract), stood on three legs, and held the fourth aloft as if
pawing the air, and in the attitude of advancing like an elephant
passant upon the panel of a coach,--'there's your bed and the
blankets; but if ye want sheets, or bowster, or pillow, or ony
sort o' nappery for the table, or for your hands, ye 'll hae to
speak to me about it, for that's out o' the gudeman's line (Mac-
Guffog had by this time left the room, to avoid, probably, any
appeal which might be made to him upon this new exaction), and he
never engages for ony thing like that.'
'In God's name,' said Bertram, 'let me have what is decent, and
make any charge you please.'
'Aweel, aweel, that's sune settled; we'll no excise you neither,
though we live sae near the custom-house. And I maun see to get
you some fire and some dinner too, I'se warrant; but your dinner
will be but a puir ane the day, no expecting company that would be
nice and fashious.' So saying, and in all haste, Mrs. Mac-Guffog
fetched a scuttle of live coals, and having replenished 'the rusty
grate, unconscious of a fire' for months before, she proceeded
with unwashed hands to arrange the stipulated bed-linen (alas, how
different from Ailie Dinmont's!), and, muttering to herself as she
discharged her task, seemed, in inveterate spleen of temper, to
grudge even those accommodations for which she was to receive
payment. At length, however, she departed, grumbling between her
teeth, that 'she wad rather lock up a haill ward than be fiking
about thae niff-naffy gentles that gae sae muckle fash wi' their
When she was gone Bertram found himself reduced to the alternative
of pacing his little apartment for exercise, or gazing out upon
the sea in such proportions as could be seen from the narrow panes
of his window, obscured by dirt and by close iron bars, or reading
over the records of brutal wit and blackguardism which despair had
scrawled upon the half-whitened walls. The sounds were as
uncomfortable as the objects of sight; the sullen dash of the
tide, which was now retreating, and the occasional opening and
shutting of a door, with all its accompaniments of jarring bolts
and creaking hinges, mingling occasionally with the dull monotony
of the retiring ocean. Sometimes, too, he could hear the hoarse
growl of the keeper, or the shriller strain of his helpmate,
almost always in the tone of discontent, anger, or insolence. At
other times the large mastiff chained in the courtyard answered
with furious bark the insults of the idle loiterers who made a
sport of incensing him.
At length the tedium of this weary space was broken by the
entrance of a dirty-looking serving-wench, who made some
preparations for dinner by laying a half-dirty cloth upon a whole-
dirty deal table. A knife and fork, which had not been worn out by
overcleaning, flanked a cracked delf plate; a nearly empty
mustard-pot, placed on one side of the table, balanced a salt-
cellar, containing an article of a greyish, or rather a blackish,
mixture, upon the other, both of stoneware, and bearing too
obvious marks of recent service. Shortly after, the same Hebe
brought up a plate of beef-collops, done in the frying-pan, with a
huge allowance of grease floating in an ocean of lukewarm water;
and, having added a coarse loaf to these savoury viands, she
requested to know what liquors the gentleman chose to order. The
appearance of this fare was not very inviting; but Bertram
endeavoured to mend his commons by ordering wine, which he found
tolerably good, and, with the assistance of some indifferent
cheese, made his dinner chiefly off the brown loaf. When his meal
was over the girl presented her master's compliments, and, if
agreeable to the gentleman, he would help him to spend the
evening. Bertram desired to be excused, and begged, instead of
this gracious society, that he might be furnished with paper, pen,
ink, and candles. The light appeared in the shape of one long
broken tallow-candle, inclining over a tin candlestick coated with
grease; as for the writing materials, the prisoner was informed
that he might have them the next day if he chose to send out to
buy them. Bertram next desired the maid to procure him a book, and
enforced his request with a shilling; in consequence of which,
after long absence, she reappeared with two odd volumes of the
'Newgate Calendar,' which she had borrowed from Sam Silverquill,
an idle apprentice, who was imprisoned under a charge of forgery.
Having laid the books on the table she retired, and left Bertram
to studies which were not ill adapted to his present melancholy