Chapter Two of our interactive novel experiment with The Jewel Keepers.
Our interactive novel experiment continues...
The Asylum rose out of the hills, a bleak monolith of grey stone set against the moss of the Yorkshire dales. Duke approached the building from the rear, making his way to the front entrance with caution. He had not fully prepared for this and would have to call upon his position as land owner and merchant to gain entry. Such calls upon his status repulsed him greatly; today, for the sake of Hannah, he would lay such principles aside.
Above the heavy oak door the portal bore the Coat of Arms of the City of York. Duke lifted the great iron knocker and let it fall heavily.
He turned to Stanley, ‘Steady boy. I won’t be long.’
‘I need to come with you. I know where she is.’
Duke tied Stanley to a tethering post and waited.
‘I fear the worst.’
The door swung open. The man who stood there was gaunt, bent like a thorn twig, his skin grey and bloodless.
He gave Duke a yellow-toothed smile.
‘What’s wanting?’ he croaked.
Duke spoke authoritatively. ‘I am here to order the release of a woman by the name of Hannah Joyce.’
The man at the door frowned.
‘And who might you be then?’
Duke swallowed his anger.
‘My name is Duke, Robert Duke, and I am a close friend of Miss Joyce. I am here to return her to the care of a family that loves her.’
The man smirked, suppressing a laugh behind his hand.
‘Well then Mr. Dukes, Sir, p’raps you don’t know that it was her very own family as had her committed ‘ere. Her being, as you might say, a very sick woman.’
He tapped a grey finger against the side of his head and made as if to close the door, but Duke read his intentions and slammed his leg against the jamb.
‘I demand to see Miss Joyce!’
Before the man could answer, another voice spoke from the darkness of the hall.
‘Let Mr. Duke in, Jones.’
Jones stood aside with some reluctance and allowed Duke to enter. From out of the shadows a man came forward. He was a large man, not as tall as Duke but his stature was broader and fuller. Dressed in a red jacket and breeches and holding a rider’s whip, he outstretched a large hand and clasped Duke by his.
‘I saw your arrival from my study window. That’s a fine-looking horse you have there Mr Duke.’
He turned to Jones and snapped,
‘Take Mr Duke’s horse and stable him man. And ensure he has water to drink.’
Jones ducked his head several times, avoiding both men’s eyes.
‘Yes sir,’ he muttered sullenly.
Duke studied the man. He looked to be around the age of forty; thick-set, heavy jawed. From beneath beetling brows stared two eyes of ice blue.
‘Forgive me, I have not introduced myself. My name is Edgerton. My uncle, Lord Edgerton, has put me in charge here. He is the owner and benefactor of this asylum.’
Duke knew Lord Edgerton. He sat in Parliament, owning much of the land in Yorkshire and parts of Lancashire. The man was vain, a persecutor of the poor and a religious bigot. It was also true that he held the ear of King George.
Duke regarded the nephew coldly.
‘Does your uncle make a habit of arresting young women and holding them here against their will Mr. Edgerton?’
Edgerton’s eyes seemed to flicker for a moment,
‘Everyone here is held against his or her will, Mr. Duke. It is in the nature of the place.’ He hesitated and looked away briefly before meeting Duke’s eyes again.
‘My uncle has kindly taken it upon himself to establish this Asylum for the mentally afflicted. The insane are not capable of exercising their will. We have to decide what is best for them.’
Duke took a step towards Edgerton.
‘And who, pray, determines who is insane and who is not?’
‘I am no doctor Mr. Duke, but even I recognise the ranting and delusions of a deranged soul.’
‘You declare by your own admission that you are not a doctor. Yet you claim the right to incarcerate people here against their will!’ Edgerton stared at Duke. Duke saw Edgerton’s hand clench suddenly and begin to draw back.
‘I warn you my good sir,’ he said evenly, ‘not to take it upon yourself to strike me. I may not embrace violence but I have good connections both here in York and elsewhere. I can guarantee you that I will use them wisely if you lay as much as a single finger upon me.’
Edgerton held his gaze, baring his teeth in an icy smile.
‘Sir, I have no intention of striking you. I merely wonder by what right you come here demanding Hannah Joyce’s release. You are neither her husband or her brother, or indeed any relation that I am aware of.’
Duke felt the anger rise in his throat. He glared at the impertinent Edgerton, yet knew if he was to progress with this encounter, he had to offer him some part of the truth.
‘Miss Joyce, like me, is a member of the Society of Friends. We are Quakers Mr. Edgerton. Quakers refer to each other as Friends. Now take me to where you are holding her so that I may return her to her home where she will be taken good care of.’
Edgerton hesitated. He knew all about Quakers. He knew his uncle hated them. They were a strange order, with heretical ideas about God. They refused to recognise the authority of the established church and they refused to fight for King and Country, claiming all war was inherently against the word of God. They prayed together in damp halls without the guidance either of priest or bishop. Their justification for such heresy was that God was available equally to every man and woman. They postulated via badly written scrolls in towns and villages that the clergy were not a direct channel to God, but mere men like themselves. They were stubborn and unmoveable in their beliefs. Edgerton would have to think carefully. Duke would not be easily appeased.
‘Mr. Duke, I fear we have become enemies when really there are no grounds. Miss Joyce, your friend, was brought to these premises Tuesday last with a delusional mind and we are keeping her for her own protection.’
Then you will not object to me seeing her for I have no wish to harm her.’
‘Netherless, visitors do make inmates worse. It fuels their delusions. It would be kinder to leave Miss Joyce alone, Mr. Duke.’
‘Don’t talk to me about kindness Edgerton,’ Duke said slowly trying to contain his rage. ‘I saw the results of your men’s kindness in the damage they inflicted upon Miss Joyce’s home. It is there for any one who cares to look; in the broken door, the smashed furniture, her possessions trod into the ground like discarded rubbish.’ He stepped closer remembering the blood he had seen spattered on her walls. ‘Doubtless I shall see more evidence of it when I meet her face to face.’
Edgerton opened his mouth in reply but Duke would not be delayed further. There was a door at the back of the hall. Ignoring Edgerton’s protests, he strode towards it and swiftly turned the handle.
He immediately found himself in a study, opulently painted in yellow and cream. By the window stood a desk carved from the finest mahogany and upon it, a fashionable statuette imported from the east. A fire blazed in a marble hearth and a rug of the finest wool covered the oak floor. Duke scanned the room looking for another door.
There had to be an entrance to the Asylum from this room.
He found it in the furthest corner. It was locked. He shook it hard, tried using his shoulder to break it open. It would not move. In desperation he looked for something in the room he could use; a poker, the statuette, anything that was heavy enough to crash his way through. There was nothing. Sweat broke out on his forehead. Time was against him. At any moment Edgerton would come through the door with half a dozen men in tow. Then he would be dragged away, possibly imprisoned, and Hannah would be lost to him.
Outside in the hallway he could hear scuffling and the suppressed murmurings of voices, and he knew in his heart that Edgerton had already gathered reinforcements. He tried to force the door open again with his foot, but it would not yield. It was then that he heard the sound of galloping and Jones’s voice call, “I can’t hold him sir; he’s just too strong!”
Duke looked up as the study door crashed off its frame and Stanley cantered into the room. Horse and master faced each other.
“Stanley!” Duke cried. Stanley watched his master with wide eyes, neighing loudly and shaking his head from side to side. He trotted over to where his master stood and nuzzled his ear and then, with no warning, he swung his body around knocking Duke sharply off his feet. Duke glanced up just as Stanley reared and smashed his front legs against the locked door with all of his weight. The door splintered and fell with a crash. Stanley galloped through the opening leaving Duke to follow.
Outside Duke heard Edgerton scream at Jones “Get the guards man! Hurry, before they get through!”