Marian Halcombe Camlet’s journal
4 January 1865
The unfamiliar snow-light in my eyes woke me. It reflected, bright and cold, from the whitewashed ceiling above my head. I was not lying beside my husband Theo in his big four-poster bed at home, nor in the half-tester in my own bedroom next to his, nor the simple bed of my girlhood at Limmeridge House in Cumberland. Instead a counterpane rough with strange embroidery was under my fingertips. I stared for a long time at the walls. They were papered in an old-fashioned rosebud pattern, faded pinks and tans that I had never seen before.
My treacherous knees shook under me as I climbed out of the bed. My feet in their bedsocks stumbled over the edge of a worn hooked carpet, cut down from a grander proportion to fit this ordinary space. I tottered over to the double window and leaned weakly on the mullion in the centre. With difficulty I forced my eyes to take in the whiteness outside. A snow-covered garden, entirely unfamiliar. The trees were laden and bowed with white, and the sky was hard and colourless as diamond. Shrubs laid out in patterns and beds were mere mounds, and the paths were almost invisible.
At the edge of one bed was a tray raised on a pole, for feeding birds. A slender woman in a long grey cloak and hood was carrying a bowl of birdseed and waiting for the servants to finish sweeping the way for her. She saw me and waved. Instinctively I raised a hand in response. But who was she? I didn’t recognise her.
Then it came to me. The wall. The attendants. The simple, sparsely furnished room. I was in an Asylum. I had been put aside by my husband and shut up in a madhouse, as my sister Laura had been by her own wicked first husband. The thought was so terrifying that my heart seemed to jump and squeeze in my chest. My head reeled, and before I could fall to the floor I groped back to the narrow bed and collapsed into it, weeping.