Dear Reader, in the last chapter, our young hero was enchained and chastised by his incensed mistress. Yet his straits in this latest iteration of his misfortunes are still more dire as you shall see related in the following pages…
“Fear has appalled — remorse has tortured — beauty has maddened me.”
— WILLIAM CHILD GREEN, The Abbot of Montserrat
When I awoke, I found myself lying on a bare cot, chained by the waist to the wall of a stone cell. A stream of moonlight fell from a high, narrow window situated above my meager bed and for a while I gazed at its pale radiance, utterly disoriented with no memory of the events that had taken place and no comprehension of where I now lay. When I finally attempted to sit up, the agony that I felt was so great that the tears sprang to my eyes and, in a rush, I realized where I was and what had brought me here. As I lay there, attempting to accustom myself to the new intensity of pain that radiated across my back, a voice from the darkness of my cell said, “Young man, I am glad to have your company now that you have awakened, but I do not envy whatever you must be feeling at the present moment. Your master dealt with you quite handily.”
“Mistress,” I said shortly, gritting my teeth.
“She must have had quite a partiality for you. This is hardly the work of a mere half hour’s chastisement.”
“Oh, I could tell you tales,” I said.
“Would freeze my blood and raise my hairs?”
“To begin with,” I sighed, regretting somewhat my forthrightness.
“Well, this is the place for such tale-telling, I warrant.”
“But I am hardly in the mood for constructing a narrative out of my present miseries.”
My fellow prisoner stepped out of the shadows, his eyes shining with a kind of sympathetic interest. Even in his state of imprisoned neglect, I could tell that he came from a higher station than my own. His coat, though torn and disheveled, was cut of claret-colored velvet; the starched lace at his throat, though dirtied, was of a delicate material; and his bearing had an air of noble resignation that made me feel a stir of interest in his plight, in spite of my own suffering. I believe that he noticed my slight alteration in mood, for he looked down with a secret, melancholy smile, but wisely engaged my curiosity by making no reference except in the most oblique fashion to his own misfortunes.
His face was enough to engage my interest on its own, without the added mystery of his aristocratic attire. The eyes were dark and expressively sorrowful; the lips set and resigned; it was as though Nature had set upon him all the marks of victimhood, but also enough personal beauty to make his doom seem at once inexplicable and yet inevitable. He seemed indeed ‘like one acquainted with grief,’ so that the discomforts and indignities that attended him were carried with an experienced grace.
It was from him that I first heard of Judge Complin, the man who effectively held both our lives in his hands.
“I have heard things of this man that I shudder to tell you,” my cellmate told me after the first day of his trial. “And yet, and yet…to look on his face, one would not think that an impure soul could inhabit that clay.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “What have you heard? What have you seen?”
“I have heard tales of wickedness, of wanton cruelty, that cause me to fear for my life, to give myself over as utterly forsaken though yet unjudged. I have heard that he is a man who not only will condemn a man to death, but will then attend the spectacle of his hanging and fix him with his gaze, so that his face is the last sight that attends the dying man.” My heart raced at these words but my cellmate continued, “What I have seen, though, is a man who looks upon the enchained prisoner in the dock with a look that seems to say, ‘I hold your soul and body in my hands – but I shall deal with you gently, for I am no god but a man like yourself.’”
I listened to my friend’s discourse with a growing sense of unease, though I could not quite place whither this unease arose. I believe that there was something in the character of this judge that reminded me a little of my mistress – that terrifying sympathy that could pity and torment simultaneously, that sublime paradox that made even mercy itself serve an obscure passion rather than virtue. But how could I express these disquieting reservations to one who looked on me with such a renewed look of hope? Alas, I could only turn these mysteries silently over in my heart…
In the next chapter, expect a meeting with the mysterious Judge Complin and with this fateful meeting, the promise of still worse trials for our young, suffering orphan…
© 2015 by Colin Harker. All rights reserved.