It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
"What is your report about No. 19, doctor?"
"The fever is gone."
"He is well, then?"
"He is well of the fever, but a fever leaves the patient in a state of debility for some days. I have ordered him meat twice a day--that is, meat once and soup once."
"Then you report him cured of his fever?"
"Hodges, put No. 19 on the crank."
Even the surgeon opened his eyes at this. "Why, he is as weak as a child," said he.
"Will it kill him?"
"Certainly not; and for the best of all reasons. He can't possibly do it."
"You don't know what these fellows can do when they are forced."
The surgeon shrugged his shoulders and passed on to his other patients. Robinson was taken out into the yard. "What a blessing the fresh air is!" said he, gulping in the atmosphere of the yard. "I should have got well long ago if I had not been stifled in my cell for want of room and air."
Robinson went to the crank in good spirits; he did not know how weak he was till he began to work; but he soon found out he could not do the task in the time. He thought therefore the wisest plan would be not to exhaust himself in vain efforts, and he sat quietly down and did nothing. In this posture he was found by Hawes and his myrmidons.
"What are you doing there not working?"
"Sir, I am only just getting well of a fever, and I am as weak as water."
"And that is why you are not trying to do anything, eh?"
"I have tried, sir, and it is impossible. I am not fit to turn this heavy crank."
"Well, then, I must try if I can't make you. Fetch the jacket."
"Oh! for Heaven's sake don't torture me, sir. There is nobody more willing to work than I am. And if you will but give me a day or two to get my strength after the fever, you shall see how I will work."
"There! there! ---- your palaver! Strap him up."
He was in no condition to resist, and moreover knew resistance was useless. They jammed him in the jacket, pinned him tight to the wall, and throttled him in the collar. This collar, by a refinement of cruelty, was made with unbound edges, so that when the victim, exhausted with the cruel cramp that racked his aching bones in the fierce gripe of Hawes's infernal machine, sunk his heavy head and drooped his chin, the jagged collar sawed him directly and lacerating the flesh drove him away from even this miserable approach to ease. Robinson had formed no idea of the torture. The victims of the Inquisition would have gained but little by becoming the victims of the separate and silent system in ---- Jail.
They left the poor fellow pinned to the wall, jammed in the strait waistcoat, and throttled in the round saw. Weakened by fever and unnatural exertion, he succumbed sooner than the inquisitors had calculated upon. The next time they came into the yard they found him black in the face, his lips livid, insensible, throttled, and dying. Another half minute and there would have hung a corpse in the Hawes pillory.
When they saw how nearly he was gone they were all at him together. One unclasped the saw collar, one unbraced the waistcoat, another sprinkled water over him--not a bucketful this time, because they would have wetted themselves. Released from the infernal machine, the body of No. 19 fell like a lump of clay upon the men who had reduced him to this condition. Then these worthies were in some little trepidation; for though they had caused the death of many men during the last two years, they had not yet, as it happened, murdered a single one on the spot openly and honestly like this; and they feared they might get into trouble. Adjoining the yard was a bath-room; to this they carried No. 19. They stripped him, and let the water run upon him from the cock, but he did not come to; then they scrubbed him just as they would a brick floor with a hard brush upon the back till his flesh was as red as blood; with this and the water together he began to gasp and sigh and faintly come back from insensibility to a new set of tortures; but so long was the struggle between life and death that these men of business, detained thus unconscionably about a single thief, lost all patience with him; one scrubbed him till the blood came under the bristles, another seized him by the hair of his head and jerked his head violently back several times, and this gave him such pain that he began to struggle instinctively, and, the blood now fairly set in motion, he soon moved. The last thing he remembered was a body full of aching bones; the first he awoke to was the sensation of being flayed alive from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot.
The first word he heard was, "Put his clothes on his shamming carcass
"Shall we dry him, sir?"
"Dry him!" roared the governor, with an oath. "No! Hasn't he given us trouble enough?" (Another oath.)
They flung his clothes upon his red-hot dripping skin, and Hodges gave him a brutal push. "Go to your cell." Robinson crawled off, often wincing and trying in vain to keep his clothes from rubbing those parts of his person where they had scrubbed the skin off him.
Hawes eyed him with grim superiority. Suddenly he had an inspiration. "Come back!" shouted he. "I never was beat by a prisoner yet, and I never will. Strap him up." At this command even the turnkeys looked amazed at one another and hesitated. Then the governor swore horribly at them, and Hodges without another word went for the jacket.
They took hold of him; he made no resistance; he never even looked at them. He never took his eye off Hawes; on him his eye fastened like a basilisk. They took him away, and pinioned, jammed and throttled him to the wall again. Hodges was set to watch him, and a bucket of water near to throw over him should he show the least sign of shamming again. In an hour another turnkey came and relieved Hodges--in another hour Fry relieved him, for this was tiresome work for a poor turnkey--in another hour a new hand relieved Fry, but nobody relieved No. 19.
Five mortal hours had he been in the vice without shamming. The pain his skin suffered from the late remedies, and the deadly rage at his heart, gave him unnatural powers of resistance; but at last the infernal machine conquered, and he began to turn dead faint; then Hodges, his sentinel at the time, caught up the bucket and dashed the whole contents over him. The effect was magical; the shock took away his breath for a moment, but the next the blood seemed to glow with fire in his veins and he felt a general access of vigor to bear his torture. When this man had been six hours in the vise the governor and his myrmidons came into the yard and unstrapped him.
"You did not beat me, you see, after all," said the governor to No. 19. The turnkeys heard and revered their chief. No. 19 looked him full in the face with an eye glittering like a saber, but said no word.
"Sulky brute!" cried the governor, "lock him up" (oath). And that evening, as a warder was rolling the prisoners' supper along the little natural railway made by the two railings of Corridor B, the governor stepped the carriage and asked for 19's tin. It was given him, and he abstracted one half of the man's gruel. "Refractory in the yard to-day; but I'll break him before I've done with him" (oath).
The next day brushes were wanted for the jail. This saved Robinson for that day. It was little Josephs' turn to suffer. The governor put him on a favorite crank of his, and gave him eight thousand turns to do in four hours and a half. He knew the boy could not do it, and this was only a formula he went through previous to pillorying the lad. Josephs had been in the Pillory about an hour when it so happened that the Reverend John Jones, the chaplain of the jail, came into the yard. Seeing a group of warders at the mouth of the labor-cell, he walked up to them, and there was Josephs in peine forte et dure.
"What is this lad's offense?" inquired Mr. Jones.
"Refractory at the crank," was the reply.
"Why, Josephs," said the reverend gentleman, "you told me you would always do your best."
"So I do, your reverence," gasped Josephs; "but this crank is too heavy for a lad like me, and that is why I am put on it to get punished."
"Hold your tongue," said Hodges roughly.
"Why is he to hold his tongue, Mr. Hodges?" said the chaplain quietly; "how is he to answer my question if he holds his tongue? You forget yourself."
"Ugh! beg your pardon, sir, but this one has always got some excuse or other."
"What is the matter?" roared a rough voice behind the speakers. This was Hawes, who had approached them unobserved.
"He is gammoning his reverence, sir--that is all."
"What has he been saying?"
"That the crank is too heavy for him, sir, and the waistcoat is strapped too tight, it seems."
"Who says so?"
"I think so, Mr. Hawes."
"Will you take a bit of advice, sir? If you wish a prisoner well don't you come between him and me. It will always be the worse for him, for I am master here and master I will be."
"Mr. Hawes," replied the chaplain, "I have never done or said anything in the prison to lessen your authority, but privately I must remonstrate against the uncommon severities practiced upon prisoners in this jail. If you will listen to me I shall be much obliged to you--if not, I am afraid I must, as a matter of conscience, call the attention of the visiting justices to the question."
"Well, parson, the justices will be in the jail to-day--you tell them your story and I will tell them mine," said Hawes, with a cool air of defiance.
Sure enough, at five o'clock in the afternoon two of the visiting justices arrived, accompanied by Mr. Wright, a young magistrate. They were met at the door by Hawes, who wore a look of delight at their appearance. They went round the prison with him, while he detained them in the center of the building till he had sent Hodges secretly to undo Josephs and set him on the crank; and here the party found him at work.
"You have been a long time on the crank, my lad," said Hawes, "you may go to your cell."
Josephs touched his cap to the governor and the gentlemen and went off.
"That is a nice quiet-looking boy," said one of the justices; "what is he in for?"
"He is in this time for stealing a piece of beef out of a butcher's shop."
"This time! what! is he a hardened offender? he does not look it."
"He has been three times in prison; once for throwing stones, once for orchard-robbing, and this time for the beef."
"What a young villain! at his age---"
"Don't say that, Williams," said Mr. Wright dryly, "you and I were just as great villains at his age. Didn't we throw stones? rather!"
Hawes laughed in an adulatory manner, but observing that Mr. Williams, who was a grave, pompous personage, did not smile at all, he added:
"But not to do mischief like this one, I'll be bound."
"No," said Mr. Williams, with an air of ruffled dignity.
"No?" cried the other, "where is your memory? Why, we threw stones at everything and everybody, and I suppose we did not always miss, eh? I remember your throwing a stone through the window of a place of worship--(this was a school-fellow of mine, and led me into all sorts of wickedness). I say, was it a Wesleyan shop, Williams, or a Baptist? for I forget. Never mind, you had a fit of orthodoxy. What was the young villain's second offense?"
"Robbing an orchard, sir."
"The scoundrel! robbing an orchard? Oh, what sweet reminiscences those words recall. I say, Williams, do you remember us two robbing Farmer Harris's orchard?"
"I remember your robbing it, and my character suffering for it."
"I don't remember that; but I remember my climbing the pear-tree and flinging the pears down, and finding them all grabbed on my descent. What is the young villain's next--Oh! snapping a piece off a counter. Ah! we never did that--because we could always get it without stealing it."
With this Mr. Wright strolled away from the others, having had what the jocose wretch used to call "a slap at humbug."
His absence was a relief to the others. These did not come there to utter sense in fun but to jest in sober earnest.
Mr. Williams hinted as much, and Hawes, whose cue it was to assent in everything to the justices, brightened his face up at the remark.
"Will you visit the cells, gentlemen," said he, with an accent of cordial invitation, "or inspect the book first?"
They gave precedence to the latter.
By the book was meant the log-book of the jail. In it the governor was required to report for the justices and the Home Office all jail events a little out of the usual routine. For instance, all punishments of prisoners, all considerable sicknesses, deaths and their supposed causes, etc., etc.
"This Josephs seems by the book to be an ill-conditioned fellow; he is often down for punishment."
"Yes! he hates work. About Gillies, sir--ringing his bell and pretending it was an accident?"
"Yes! how old is he?"
"Is this his first offense?"
"Not by a good many. I think, gentlemen, if you were to order him a flogging it would be better for him in the end."
"Well, give him twenty lashes. Eh: Palmer?"
Mr. Palmer assented by a nod.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Hawes, "but will you allow me to make a remark?"
"Certainly, Mr. Hawes, certainly!"
"I find twenty lashes all at once rather too much for a lad of that age. Now, if you would allow me to divide the punishment into two so that his health might not be endangered by it, then we could give him ten or even twelve, and after a day or two as many more."
"That speaks well for your humanity, Mr. Hawes; your zeal we have long known."
"Augh, sir! sir!"
"I will sign the order, and we authorize you here to divide the punishment according to your own suggestion." (Order signed.)
The justices then went round the cells accompanied by Hawes. They went into the cells with an expression of a little curiosity but more repugnance on their faces, and asked several prisoners if they were well and contented. The men looked with the shrewdness of their class into their visitors' faces and measured them; saw there, first a feeble understanding, secondly an adamantine prejudice; saw that in those eyes they were wild beasts and Hawes an angel, and answered to please Hawes, whose eye was fixed on them all this time and in whose power they felt they were.
All expressed their content. Some in tones so languid and empty of heart that none but Justice Shallow could have helped seeing through the humbug. Others did it better; and not a few overdid it, so that any but Justice Shallow would have seen through them. These last told Messrs. Shallow and Slender that the best thing that ever happened to them was coming to ---- Jail. They thanked Heaven they had been pulled up short in an evil career that must have ended in their ruin body and soul. As for their present situation, they were never happier in their lives, and some of them doubted much whether, when they should reach the penal settlements, the access of liberty would repay them for the increased temptations and the loss of quiet meditation and self-communion and the good advice of Mr. Hawes and of his reverence, the chaplain.
The jail-birds who piped this tune were without a single exception the desperate cases of this moral hospital. They were old offenders--hardened scoundrels who meant to rob and kill and deceive to their dying day. While in prison their game was to be as comfortable as they could. Hawes could make them uncomfortable; he was always there. Under these circumstances to lie came on the instant as natural to them as to rob would have come had some power transported them outside the prison doors with these words of penitence on their lips.
They asked where that Josephs' cell was. Hawes took them to him. They inspected him with a profound zoological look, to see whether it was more wolf or badger. Strange to say, it looked neither, but a simple quiet youth of the human genus--species snob.
"He is very small to be a ruffian," said Mr. Palmer.
"I am sorry, Josephs," said Mr. Williams pompously, "to find your name so often down for punishment."
Josephs looked up, hoping to see the light of sympathy in this speaker's eyes. He saw two owls' faces attempting eagle but not reaching up to sparrow-hawk, and he was silent. He had no hope of being believed; moreover, the grim eye of Hawes rested on him, and no feebleness in it.
Messrs. Shallow and Slender, receiving no answer from Josephs, who was afraid to tell the truth, were nettled, and left the cell shrugging their shoulders.
In the corridor they met the train just coming along the banisters with supper. Pompous Mr. Williams tasted the prison diet on the spot.
"It is excellent," cried he; "why the gruel is like glue." And he fell into a meditation.
"So far everything is as we could wish, Mr. Hawes, and it speaks well for the discipline and for yourself."
Hawes bowed with a gratified air.
"I will complete the inspection to-morrow."
Hawes accompanied the gentlemen to the outside gate. Here Mr. Williams turned. For the last minute or two he had been in the throes of an idea, and now he delivered himself of it.
"It would be well if Josephs' gruel were not made so strong for him."
Mr. Williams was not one of those who often say a great thing, but this deserves immortality, and could I confer immortality this of Williams' should never die! Unlike most of the things we say, it does not deserve ever to die--
"IT WOULD BE WELL IF JOSEPHS' GRUEL WERE NOT MADE SO STRONG FOR HIM!!"