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Authors: Alex Haley

Queen (7 page)

BOOK: Queen
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    Father John had won the battle of Gorey Hill, but the war was being lost.

    They took him to the forbidding prison and released him from his

    manacles. There was no need of them here, because escape was impossible.

    His new guards, rougher than any soldier, kicked him below, and locked

    him in a small, dark cell.

    Alone in a dank and musty cell, and without any light, Jamie felt his way

    along the wall and found a bunk where he lay down and stared at the

    blackness that engulfed him.



Newgate Prison was a hellish place, but no worse than Jamie's imaginings,

and perhaps somewhat better. In the moming they let him out of his cell,

to empty his bucket and wash his face, as best he could, at the communal

well in the yard. Bread and oatmeal were the only foods his captors

supplied, but many prisoners had plentiful nourishment, provided by

relatives on the outside, or bought with bribes to the venal guards. They

ate and spent their days in the great hall of the prison, and Jamie found

several he knew there, United Irishmen, and many acquaintances. They

cheered him, as a new arrival, and were kind to him, and those with food

shared some with him, and begged for news of the outside world.

Then he heard a familiar voice.

"Jamie? Is it you?"

    He turned and saw his uncle Henry, pate, thin, and scruffy, but with a

    welcome smile and open arms. The sight of the loved and loving man broke

    the dam of Jamie's reserve. He went to his uncle and wept, for the first

    time since Sean's death, and poured out his distress. Henry was gentle

    with him. He sat Jamie down and listened to his sad story, and said

    nothing of his own.

    He tried to find words of solace, but he had no good news for his nephew.

    Jamie's small war at Gorey Hill was a tiny fragment of the larger whole.

    In one battle, thirty thousand Catholic rebels had died, for the loss of

    only two thousand British. Father John was dead: caught, imprisoned, and

    hanged. Wolfe Tone was dead. Caught after a futile landing with a token

    French force in the south, he had been imprisoned and condemned to death,

    and had slashed his neck with a penknife smuggled in by a friend. The

    Sheares brothers had been hanged. Oliver Bond was condemned to a similar






Lord Edward Fitzgerald had lost his reason. Captured when sick in a tiny

garret, he was beaten about the head by arresting soldiers, and his brain

was damaged. Unable to comprehend or accept the failure of their

enterprise, or the coming execution, not only of himself but of so many

he held dear, his mind had wandered into happier pastures, from which no

doctor could reclaim him. The rebellion was a failure. The noble cause for

which they'had fought lay about them in ruins.

    Jamie listened to the litany of woe in silence, and when his uncle was

    done, he asked the question that dominated his thinking.

"What will happen to me?"

Then he corrected himself.

"What will happen to us, I mean?"

    Henry nodded again, but did not smile. Most men's thoughts were, seltish

    when faced with the prospect of their possible demise, and it was' the

    question that every prisoner asked when first delivered to the place of

    his captivity. There was a similar question that all condemned men asked

    at some point before their coming execution: "Will it hurt?"

    "They might hang us; they say they will," he said, with a cheerfulness

    that surprised Jamie. "But then again, they haven't yet, and while

    there's life, there's hope."

    It was an old clich6, but clich6s often brought comfort to hopeless men,

    and he had no better words to say. Jamie did not believe him then, but

    the simple, reassuring presence of his uncle made his burden somewhat

    easier to bear. Over the weeks, he was questioned, sometimes with brutal

    force, about what he knew, but it didn't matter if he gave his

    interrogators the names of subversives, for all those he knew were

    already behind bars. As the months wore on and no hint was given of a

    trial, Jamie relaxed, and almost began to enjoy the rough companionship

    of prison life.

    They were taken out into the prison yard one day, and lined in ranks.

    Nothing was said to them, no reason was given for this change in the

    daily pattern of their lives, and several believed they were to be shot,

    or hanged, although there was no gallows. They were kept at attention for

    half an hour, and any man who spoke or asked a question was hit with a


A big metal door on the opposite side of the yard scraped



open, and two guards came through, with another man between them. It was

Lord Edward Fitzgerald, now a babbling idiot. His hair was wild and

unkempt, his eyes were glassy. Spittle dribbled from his chin. They

paraded him past his fellows, so that all could see the degradation of the

man who had been their leader. Nothing was said, nothing was spoken,

except by Lord Edward, who chattered to himself throughout, in a language

no one but he understood. He did not recognize any of those who had been

his brothers-in-arms.

    They took him back to his cell, left the assembled men in the yard for

    another half hour, then ordered them back inside.

    Jamie saw Eleanor once, on a high walkway, taking food to her husband's

    cell, for he was a condemned man, and kept apart from the others. Eleanor

    saw Henry and waved at him, and then Jamie, and a smile lighted her face.

    She called words of encouragement, and threw some food from her basket

    to him. Jamie found it hard to imagine that she could be so caring for

    him and others, and so cheerful of manner, when Oliver was to die.


Eleanor's grief at her husband's conviction was real and deeply felt, but

she saw no point in dwelling on it, especially with him, who was already

keenly enough aware of what lay in store. She tried to make his final days

on earth as bounteous as possible, kept him well supplied with good food

and the gossip of the city, and liquor when she could, and talked of his

coming execution only when he raised the subject. She took advantage of

the penal laws to arrange a party for him, some few days before his

appointed date with the hangman, for she thought he would enjoy being with

all his old friends. She bribed the guards, as was necessary, and brought

in food and drink. Oliver was allowed out of his solitary confinement for

the afternoon, although several other guards had to be paid handsome sums

to keep watch on him during the festivity.

    Jamie, when he heard about it, thought it was morbid, and could not

    imagine how the revels could be anything other than gloomy, but Oliver,

    and Eleanor, surprised him, and he had forgotten the Irish capacity to

    enjoy themselves, and laugh, even in the teeth of death. They sang songs

    and swapped yarns, and relived the dreams of what might have been if





rebellion had succeeded. They swore eternal friendship, and told dark

jokes of the gallows.

    Oliver stood up to speak. Visibly overcome with emotion, he called them

    his brothers, and thanked them for their loyalty and friendship. He

    stopped speaking, and seemed to be struggling to control his emotions.

    Eleanor took his hand and held it, and he looked at his wife with a

    curious amazement, as if he needed to tell her something of utmost

    importance, that he had never known before.

    He stumbled and slumped to the floor. Eleanor gave a little cry and ran

    to him, calling out his name. Others came to her help, but there was

    nothing they could do for Oliver, who had suffered a stroke. He died in

    Eleanor's arms.

    "Glory be, the ould bugger's dead," a man said gently to Eleanor. She

    clutched Oliver to her, and then remembered her duties as a hostess. She

    laid her husband on the floor, went to the table, and raised a mug of


"To a glorious son of Ireland," she shouted defiantly.

They cheered and drank to his memory.

    Eleanor looked at the guards, who were jolted, and not sure what to do

    in the face of this unexpected crisis.

    "To the Oliver," Eleanor cried again, "and home rule for Ireland! "

The others cheered and drank with her again.

"To Ireland," she said softly.

"To Ireland," they all agreed, as softly as she.

    Eleanor knelt on the floor beside her dead husband, stroked his face, and

    keened a gentle threnody for her lost love.


The death of Oliver Bond provided the British authorities with the

catharsis they needed. The rebellion had been crushed; the leaders were

dead, or, in the case of Lord Edward, mad. The association of United

Irishmen was broken. There was little point in further persecution,

because that might inflame the populace anew, and Britain wanted a settled

colony and simply could not afford the men to police an Ireland of

continuing turmoil. The empire was expanding rapidly, and the troops were

needed in other trouble spots.

    But they could not set the prisoners entirely free. Those convicted or

    suspected of only minor treason were offered the



chance to sign a confession of all their misdeeds, and would then be

released on the condition that they leave Ireland forever.

    It was exile, or banishment, Jamie understood, but it was preferable to

    a lifetime behind bars, or a possible death by hanging. In any case,

    there was nothing for him in Ireland now, He talked with his uncle Henry,

    who was of a similar opinion.

    "I've fought the good fight all my days," he said, "and I do not think

    I have lost, for it will go on. But I'm getting old, and I want a settled

    life, before I am too old to enjoy it."

"Where will you go?" Jamie asked him.

    "America, of course," Uncle Henry replied, slightly surprised that his

    nephew had the need to ask. "Where else is there?"

    Jamie laughed. It was so very obvious, and it had probably been in the

    back of his mind, but buried beneath a mountain of worry.

    "Half of Ireland is already there, and your brothers," Uncle Henry

    reminded him. "John is doing well in Philadelphia. I shall join him


    He wondered what his nephew would do, where he would go.

    America, I guess." Jamie shrugged, because he couldn't think of anywhere

    else. He wasn't very good at languages, and he didn't want to live among

    foreigners all his life, so there was nowhere in Europe for him. He

    wasn't allowed to live in Britain. So he chose America, if only by

    default. And having chosen, he felt his soul tingle a little, for America

    represented a great, new adventure, free of danger, free of the

    complications of having to choose between his Irish people and his

    English masters. A place that now, in his moment of direst need, at the

    time of his banishment, at the start of exile, gave him a haven. He did

    not choose America just to save himself from prison, but he did choose

    America because it would give him freedom.


They were released in rough order of their imprisonment, Henry some weeks

before Jamie. When his time came, Jamie answered their questions and

signed his confession. His papers



were put in order by the prison officials, and he was provided with a

warrant that allowed him time to get his affairs in order, and, if

necessary, pass through an English port on the way to his destination. It

was assumed he could support himself financially because his fattier was

known to be wealthy. He was released on a cold autumn day. He had been in

prison for nearly two years.

    He went straight to his uncle Henry's house and was warmly received. His

    first priority was a hot bath, to rid his body and hair of dirt and lice,

    and his uncle burned his old clothes, and gave him new ones. Henry was

    leaving for America within the week. He had sold his house and his

    ironworks at rock-bottom prices, but he had enough for a good start in

    the new world.

    "A new start at my age," Henry said wryly. "But then, all things are


    He offered money, but Jamie, whether from pride or foolishness, would not

    take it.

    He moved to Eleanor's and spent a quiet Christmas with his sister. For

    the first time since Oliver's death, they talked of him, but Eleanor,

    although she wore the formal black of mourning and grieved for her

    husband, was more concerned about the future. At midnight on the last

    night of the year, she gave him champagne, and they drank to the

    challenges ahead. It was the end of the old century, and the beginning

BOOK: Queen
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