Cillian, my dear friend! This will probably be my last entry. I know of your decency, so you will have just opened the bundle of papers. This also means that you have already received the letter from Newgate informing you of my death. Even though I had already told you some things during the confessions, I will try to fill in the remaining gaps with the next lines. After what you have done for me, I owe you at least that.
I hope you have met Rose by now, because that would mean that everything has gone smoothly so far. If not, pray to God. Pray for Rose and if you can, pray for me.
Cillian, I’ve been weak, I’ve pursued foolish goals all my life, and even under your guidance I wandered in the dark. After the time in the full intoxication I swore to follow your path and the perspective you showed me from now on!
I listened to Rose but did not understand what she said. I assumed that with the revelation of the secret and the destruction of the community of inmates I was taking a step towards her, but recognition and advancement were still my real motivation. In time, I was prepared to take ever greater risks: hypocrisy, corruption, break-ins, direct confrontations and violence. To the point where I had nothing left to lose. To the point where I was firmly convinced that I had plunged Rose into ruin through my actions. To the point where I told Inmate P-189 my story the way I would like to tell it to you.
Your thoughts will turn over and you will seek your connection to this inmate, but the connection is as simple as it is obvious: the Bible. Rather the Bible in St. Patrick’s Church, which led me again to the chapel of Newgate and Inmate P-189: to Isabella, the Nun of Newcastle.
In the course of my research I came across the prayer books which were misused by the community for smuggling the gin used. The holy scriptures were my last lead, which I wanted to follow up on. As it turned out, a tiny straw I was clinging to So I had arrived at a dead end in the chapel again, didn’t know what to do and collapsed on one of the wooden benches. How long I just sat there in the moonlight? I do not know any more. The light of my oil lamp had gone out, my bones had already accepted the cold of the stone and the feeling of helplessness had penetrated every fibre of my body. I did not even notice that the side door had been opened. It was only when Isabella stood directly in front of me that I realized that I was no longer alone in the chapel.
Her posture radiated the calmness of a stone statue of a saint and in her dark eyes only the flickering of the candle(s) was visible. With a simple question Isabella broke the silence which seemed to lie between us like a heavy curtain: “Where are Rose and Evie? Grief overcame me and silent tears ran down my face. I could not control it. I couldn’t control it. I did not want to control it! It was just at that point I had nothing to lose and I told Isabella everything.
I started with the day I met Rose for the first time, telling how that moment became affection and finally love. That this love was overshadowed; overshadowed by the secret of the Inmates: Gin. That gin which Rose had already carried with her that day in the large gallery. Even then, Rose had avoided my questions and had hidden this secret from me like a letter from a secret lover. The doubts gnawing at me about her sincerity had been nourished further.
I told the nun of Newcastle how you, my dear friend, opened my eyes and my doubts gave way to faith. But not the faith which you hoped to bring me closer to, filled my mind. I believed in the oppression of Rose by other inmates. I was convinced that with the destruction of the Rose community I could free our love and Rose from an unspeakable burden. Is there so much irony in the idea of finding freedom behind the walls of Newgate?
A question I didn’t know how to answer. Nevertheless, actions followed my conviction and I would like to report this to you, Cillian, just as I did to Isabella. I told her about my research, which brought me to the point where I had to let Rose in on my plan: the breaking up of the community with the help of the director. It was the point where I should have realized that Rose was not my only motivation. But once again, my quest for recognition clouded my vision. For Rose presented me with an image that could not have been more contrasting. The prison director and not the community was the source of all problems. He was the one who manipulated inmate files and judged guilt and innocence seemingly at random. He did all this with a single dark purpose in mind: to conceal the corrupt machinations of a system of the most powerful and richest among us.
Could I not or would I not want to understand Rose’s view of things? I do not know. But I needed proof to face the truth. So I broke into the director’s office and stole incriminating documents. They proved that the warden manipulated inmate files and was part of a corrupt, much bigger system! A system that Rose had innocently put behind the walls of Newgate. What I saw I could hardly believe. Cillian, I just had to do something! Even if it meant my death. And that’s how I told Isabella about my initial plan: I had to make the documents public so Rose could be freed and the system brought to justice. But as it turned out, I started a chain reaction of disastrous events.
The director heard about the break-in and some of his lackeys took us by surprise. They killed Evie! They threw Rose in the dark cell and tried to frame me for murdering Evie. The director’s demands were clear. He wanted the incriminating documents or Rose would die and I would be convicted of Evie’s murder.
But that is not all. Because another actor had his greasy fingers in the pie: Franz Sylvius, the prison doctor. He was the one who stole the documents from my apartment. In return, he demanded the recipe from the Inmates. A recipe I never found out about. It was nearly impossible to get the prescription. But then how could I prevent something terrible from being done to Rose?
My dear Cillian, you regularly took the weight of my weaknesses off my shoulders. Yet, that night, an unprecedented feeling of release flowed through my body. It was as if I was making a long-awaited confession to Isabella. I did not expect absolution, but after a few minutes the feeling of lightness gave way to doubts again. The silence that now lay between Isabella and me was like a torn dew that held me over an abyss and threatened to break at any moment. At that moment, it seemed as if the hands of all the clocks in London were standing still. Until that moment when Isabella finally addressed her word to me and they snapped off in step with my beating heart.
“Let me tell you this: no matter how much you find out, the secret of this gin is more than a recipe. Neither the right ingredients nor following every single step will lead to this gin. You or Sylvius will never understand what its true essence is. It is not a herb, a particular execution or a particular amount of something, it lies within the community itself and will only reveal itself within such a circle of like-minded people.”
But Evie’s death was already a bitter blow to the community and the imminent death of Rose threatened to be the downfall of all. Whether they wanted to or not, past events forced the Inmates to take action. Isabella saw no possibility to return to the old order. Even if the director received the documents, he would probably not let Rose live. I had gotten too close to his web of corruption, intrigue and violence. A web whose threads stretched far beyond Newgate’s walls. A network of powerful puppet masters who operated in secret. The director could not afford to lose their support and would therefore do anything to keep his position. Newgate would become an even darker, an even crueller place.
Isabella saw only one way out, to restore the balance of light and shadow within the walls: a pact. She wanted revenge for the murder of Evie and I was to make sure she got it. In return, the Inmates assured me of their support in obtaining the documents and incriminating evidence. However, the documents were not allowed to fall into the hands of the prison authorities. Instead, the Inmates helped me release Rose so that she could hand over the incriminating documents to Elizabeth Fry. This gave the reformer a chance to expose corruption, eliminate the warden and make lasting improvements to prison conditions.
Dear friend, you may declare me mad, but the candlelight in Isabella’s eyes had turned into a blazing fire during her speech. She looked at me and sealed our pact with a few last words: “Be sure that brimstone and fire will rain down on every unbelieving demon who tries to drag my sisters to hell!
The plan The Nun of Newcastle was sheer madness, but I was willing to make this pact with the devil for Rose. For one thing I knew: it was certainly not only God who had spoken from Isabella.
But there was one last hurdle: The Landlady of Walworth. Isabella needed the consent of the oldest inmate and, more importantly, she had to convince Matilda to reveal the recipe for the gin. Even if this meant that the Inmates were leaving the narrow ridge on which they were walking, it was the only way to obtain the all-important documents from Sylvius.
Cillian, maybe you’ve already discovered the darker paper shreds between my notes and will see that Matilda saw no other way out but to agree to Isabella’s plan. I made a copy for Sylvius. You, my friend, shall receive the original, as it is symbolic of all my past efforts and false aspirations. I’m afraid I must ask you a favor in these last lines.
With the impending freedom of Rose, I realized that we cannot achieve our personal fulfillment alone. Without a human anchor, sooner or later we will become a ghost boat of skin and bones, whose rickety planks are held together only by self-doubt and pathetic hunger for recognition. Condemned to wander on desolate seas of reality, without rest or hope of even getting close to a port of destination.
After her escape, Rose will need such an anchor more than ever. She will be lost, possibly persecuted and will have no chance to return to her life before Newgate. Cillian, you’ve already given more than I could give back in ten more lives. But please do me this last favor and be a friend to Rose in her darkest hour, for I will not be there to help her back to life. I do not trust the promises of the inmates nor do I believe the words of the director, but I know one thing for sure: the small bottle of gin Rose carried with her in the big gallery was the key to a dark world.
Cillian, I have entered this mysterious world, seen its darkest secrets and tried to draw some of them into the light of publicity, but I will not return from its shadows. But the door to that world was only just opened…