Sentenced to a life of misery in the Scottish coal mines, twenty-one-year-old Mack McAsh hungers for escape. His only ally: beautiful high-born Lizzie Hallim, who is trapped in her own kind of hell. In 1766, from the teeming streets of London to the infernal hold of a slave ship headed for the American colonies to a sprawling Virginia plantation, two restless young people, separated by politics and position, are bound by their search for a place called freedom.… From the Paperback edition.
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June 30, 1996
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Excerpt from Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett
Mack was in one of the common wards of Newgate Prison.
He could not remember all that had happened to him the night before. He had a dazed recollection of being tied up and thrown across the back of a horse and carried through London. There was a tall building with barred windows, a cobbled courtyard, a staircase and a studded door. Then he had been led in here. It had been dark, and he had not been able to see much. Battered and fatigued, he had fallen asleep.
He woke to find himself in a room about the size of Cora's apartment. It was cold: there was no glass in the windows and no fire in the fireplace. The place smelled foul. At least thirty other people were crammed in with him: men, women and children, plus a dog and a pig. Everyone slept on the floor and shared a large chamberpot.
There was a constant coming and going. Some of the women left early in the morning, and Mack learned they were not prisoners but prisoners' wives who bribed the jailers and spent the nights here. The warders brought in food, beer, gin, and newspapers for those who could pay their grossly inflated prices. People went to see friends in other wards. One prisoner was visited by a clergyman, another by a barber. Anything was permitted, it seemed, but everything had to be paid for.
People laughed about their plight and joked about their crimes. There was an air of jollity that annoyed Mack. He was hardly awake before he was offered a swallow of gin from someone's bottle and a puff on a pipe of tobacco, as if they were all at a wedding.
Mack hurt all over, but his head was the worst. There was a lump at the back that was crusted with blood. He felt hopelessly gloomy. He had failed in every way. He had run away from Hugh to be free, yet he was in jail. He had fought for the coal heavers' rights and had got some of them killed. He had lost Cora. He would be put on trial for treason, or riot, or murder. And he would probably die on the gallows. Many of the people around him had as much reason to grieve, but perhaps they were too stupid to grasp their fate.
Poor Esther would never get out of the village now. He wished he had brought her with him. She could have dressed as a man, the way Lizzie Hallim did. She would have managed sailors' work more easily than Mack himself, for she was nimbler. And her common sense might even have kept Mack out of trouble.
He hoped Annie's baby would be a boy. At least there would still be a Mack. Perhaps Mack Lee would have a luckier life, and a longer one, than Mack McAsh.
He was at a low point when a warder opened the door and Cora walked in.