It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
"Will you eat your mutton with me to-day, Palmer?" said Mr. Williams at the gate of the jail.
"I should be very happy, but I am engaged to dine with the lord-lieutenant."
So Mr. Williams drove home to Ashtown Park, and had to sit down to dinner with his own small family party.
Mr. Williams' mutton consisted of first a little strong gravy soup lubricated and gelatinized with a little tapioca; vis-a-vis the soup a little piece of salmon cut out of the fish's center; lobster patties, rissoles, and two things with French names, stinking of garlic, on the flank.
Enter a boiled turkey poult with delicate white sauce; a nice tongue, not too green nor too salt, and a small saddle of six-tooth mutton, home-bred, home-fed; after this a stewed pigeon, faced by greengage tart, and some yellow cream twenty-four hours old; item, an iced pudding. A little Stilton cheese brought up the rear with a nice salad. This made way for a foolish trifling dessert of muscatel grapes, guava jelly and divers kickshaws diluted with agreeable wines varied by a little glass of Marasquino & Co., at junctures. So far so nice!
But alas! nothing is complete in this world, not even the dinner of a fair round justice with fat capon lined. There is always some drawback or deficiency here below--confound it! The wretch of a cook had forgotten to send up the gruel a la Josephs.
Next day, after Mr. Williams had visited the female prisoners and complimented Hawes on having initiated them into the art of silence, he asked where the chaplain was. Hawes instantly dispatched a messenger to inquire, and remembering that gentleman's threatened remonstrance, parried him by anticipation, thus:
"By-the-by, sir, I have a little complaint to make of him."
"Indeed!" said Mr. Williams, "what is that?"
"He took a prisoner's part against the discipline; but he doesn't know them, and they humbug him. But, sir, ought he to preach against me in the chapel of the jail?"
"Certainly not! Surely he has not been guilty of such a breach of discipline and good taste."
"Oh! but wait, sir," said Hawes, "hear the whole truth, and then perhaps you will blame me. You must know, sir, that I sometimes let out an oath. I was in the army, and we used all to swear there; and now a little of it sticks to me in spite of my teeth, and if his reverence had done me the honor to take me to task privately about it, I would have taken off my hat to him; but it is another thing to go and preach at me for it before all the jail."
"Of course it is. Do you mean to say he did that?"
"He did, sir. Of course, he did not mention my name, but he preached five-and-thirty minutes all about swearing, and they all knew who he was hitting. I could see the warders grinning from ear to ear, as much as to say, 'There's another rap for you, governor!'"
"I'll speak to him."
"Thank you, sir; don't be hard on him, for he is a deserving officer; but if you would give him a quiet hint not to interfere with me. We have all of us plenty to do of our own in a jail, if he could but see it. Ah! here comes the chaplain, sir. I will leave you together, if you please;" and Mr. Hawes made off with a business air.
The chaplain came up and bowed to Mr. Williams, who saluted him in turn somewhat coldly. There was a short silence. Mr. Williams was concocting a dignified rebuke. Before he could get it out the chaplain began:
"I wished to speak with you yesterday, sir.
"I am at your service, Mr. Jones. What is it?"
"I want you to look into our punishments; they are far more numerous and severe than they used to be."
"On the contrary I find them less numerous."
"Why, there is one punished every day."
"I have been carefully over the books, and I assure you there is a marked decrease in the number of punishments."
"Then they cannot be all put down."
"Nonsense, Mr. Jones, nonsense!"
"And, then, the severity of these punishments, sir! Is it your wish that a prisoner should be strapped in the jacket so tight that we cannot get a finger between the leather and his flesh?"
"Not unless he is refractory."
"But prisoners are very seldom refractory."
"Indeed! that is news to me."
"I assure you, sir, there are no quieter set of men than prisoners generally. They know there is nothing to be gained by resistance."
"They are on their good behavior before you. You don't see through them, my good sir. They are like madmen--you would take them for lambs till they break out. Do you know a prisoner here called Josephs?"
"Yes, sir, perfectly well."
"Well, now, what is his character, may I ask?"
"HE IS A MILD, QUIET, DOCILE LAD."
"Ha! ha! ha! I thought so. Prisoners are the refuse of the earth. The governor knows them, and how to manage them. A discretion must be allowed him, and I see no reason to interfere between him and refractory prisoners except when he invites us."
"You are aware that several attempts at suicide have been made within the last few months?"
"Sham attempts, yes."
"One was not sham, sir," said Mr. Jones, gravely
"Oh, Jackson, you mean. No, but he was a lunatic, and would have made away with himself anywhere--Hawes is convinced of that."
"Well, sir, I have told you the fact; I have remonstrated against the uncommon seventies practiced in this jail--seventies unknown in Captain O'Connor's day."
"And I have received and answered your remonstrance, sir, and there that matter ought to end."
This, and the haughty tone with which it was said, discouraged and nettled the chaplain; he turned red and said:
"In that case, sir, I have no more to say. I have discharged my conscience." With these words he was about to withdraw, but Mr. Williams stopped him.
"Mr. Jones, do you consider a clergyman justified in preaching at people?"
"The pulpit surely ought not to be made a handle for personality. It is not the way to make the pulpit itself respected."
"I don't understand you, sir."
"Mr. Hawes is much hurt at a sermon you preached against him."
"A sermon against him--never!"
"I beg your pardon; you preached a whole sermon against swearing--and he swears."
"Oh--yes! I remember--the Sunday before last. I certainly did reprobate in my discourse the habit of swearing, but no personality to Hawes was intended."
"No personality intended when you know he swears!"
"Yes, but the warders swear, too. Why should Mr. Hawes take it all to himself?"
"Oh! if the turnkeys swear, then it was not so strictly personal."
"To be sure," put in Mr. Jones inadvertently, "I believe they learned it of the governor."
"There you see! Well, and even if they did not, why preach against the turnkeys? why preach at any individuals or upon passing events at all? I can remember the time no clergyman throughout the length and breadth of the land noticed passing events from the pulpit."
"I am as far from approving the practice as you are, sir."
"In those days the clergy and the laity respected one another, and there was peace in the Church."
"I can only repeat, sir, that I agree with you; the pulpit should be consecrated to eternal truths, not passing events."
"Good! very good! Well, then?"
"What Mr. Hawes complains of was a mere accident."
"An accident, Mr. Jones? Oh, Mr. Jones!"
"An accident which I undertake to explain to Mr. Hawes himself."
"By all means; that will be the best way of making friends again. I need not tell you that a jail could not go on in which the governor and the chaplain did not pull together. The fact is, Mr. Jones, the clergy, of late, have been assuming a little too much, and that has made the laity a little jealous. Now, although you are a clergyman, you are her majesty's servant so long as you are here, and must co-operate with the general system of the jail. Come, sir, you are younger than I am; let me give you a piece of advice, 'DON'T OVERSTEP YOUR DUTY,' etc."
In this strain Mr. Williams buz, buz, buzzed longer than I can afford him paper, it is so dear. He pumped a stream of time-honored phrases on his hearer, and dissolved away with him as the overflow of a pump carries away a straw on its shallow stream down a stable-yard.
When the pump was pumped dry he stopped.
Then the chaplain, who had listened with singular politeness, got in a word. "You forget, sir, I have resigned the chaplaincy of the jail?"
"Oh! ah! yes! well, then, I need say no more; good-day, Mr. Jones."
Soon after this up came Hawes with a cheerful countenance.
"Well, parson, are you to manage the prisoners and I to preach to them, or are we to go on as we are?"
"Things are to go on as they are, Mr. Hawes; but that is nothing to me, I have discharged my conscience. I have remonstrated against the seventies practiced on our prisoners. COLD WATER HAS BEEN THROWN ON MY REMONSTRANCES, and I shall therefore interfere no more."
"That is the wise way to look at it, you may depend!"
"We shall see which was in the right. I have discharged my conscience. But, Mr. Hawes, I am hurt you should say I preached a sermon against you."
"I dare say you are, sir, but who began it; if you had not talked of complaining to the justices of me, I should never have said a word against you."
"That is all settled; but it is due to my character to show you that I had no intention of pointing at you or any living creature from the pulpit."
"Well, make me believe that."
"If you will do me the favor to come to my room I can prove it to you."
The chaplain took the governor to his room and opened two drawers in a massive table.
"Mr. Hawes," said he, "do you see this pile of sermons in this right-hand drawer?"
"I see them," said Hawes, with a doleful air, "and I suppose I shall hear some of them before long."
"These," said Mr. Jones, smiling with perfect good-humor at the innocuous sneer, "are sermons I composed when I was curate of Little-Stoke. Of late I have been going regularly through my Little-Stoke discourses, as you may see. I take one from the pile in this drawer, and after first preaching it in the jail I place it in the left drawer on that smaller pile."
"That you mayn't preach it again by accident; well, that is business."
"If you look into the left pile near the top, you will find the one I preached against profane discourse, with the date at which it was first composed."
"Here it is, sir--Little-Stoke, May 15, 1847."
"Well, Mr. Hawes, now was that written against you?--come!"
"No! I confess it could not; but look here, if a man sends a bullet into me, it doesn't matter to me whether he made the gun on purpose or shot me out of an old one that he had got by him."
"But I tell you that I took the sermon out in its turn, and knew no more what it was about until I opened it in the pulpit, than I knew what this one is about which I am going to preach next Sunday morning--it was all chance."
"It was my bad luck, I suppose," said Hawes a little sulkily.
"And mine, too. Could I anticipate that a discourse composed for and preached to a rural congregation would be deemed to have a personal application here?"
"I have now only to add that I extremely regret the circumstance."
"Say no more, sir. When a gentleman expresses his regret to another gentleman, there is an end of the grievance.
"I will take care the sort of thing never happens again."
"Enough said, sir."
"It never can, however, for I shall preach but one more Sunday here."
"And I'm very sorry for it, Mr. Jones."
"And after this occurrence I am determined to write both sermons for the occasion, so there is sure to be nothing personal in them."
"Yes, that is the surest way. Well, sir, you and I never had but this one little misunderstanding, and now that is explained, we shall part friends."
"A glass of ale, Mr. Hawes?"
"I don't care if I do, sir (the glasses were filled and emptied). "I must go and look after my chickens; the justices have ordered Gillies to be flogged. You will be there, I suppose, in half an hour."
"Well, if my attendance is not absolutely necessary--"
"We will excuse you, sir, if not convenient."
"Thank you--good-morning!" and the reconciled officials parted.
Little Gillies was hoisted to receive twenty lashes; at the twelfth the governor ordered him down.
He broke off the tale as our magazines do, with a promise--" To be continued."
Little Gillies, like their readers, cried out, "No, sir. Oh, sir! please flog me to an end, and ha' done with it. I don't feel the cuts near so much now--my back seems dead like."
Little Gillies was arguing against himself. Hawes had not divided his punishment with the view of lessening his pain. It was droll, but more sad than droll to hear the poor little fellow begging Hawes to flog him to an end, to flog him out; with similar idioms.
"Hold your [oath] noise!" Hawes shrunk with disgust from noise in his prison, and could not comprehend why the prisoners could not take their punishments without infringing upon the great and glorious silence of which the jail was the temple and he the high priest. "The beggars get no good by kicking up a row," argued he.
"Hold your noise!--take him to his cell!"
Whether it was because he had desecrated the temple with noise, or from the accident of having attracted the governor's attention, the weight of the system fell on this small object now.
Gillies was ordered to make a fabulous number of crank revolutions--fabulous, at least, in connection with his tender age; he was put on the lightest crank, but the lightest was heavy to thirteen years. Not being the infant Hercules, he could not perform this labor; so Hawes put him in jacket and collar almost the whole day. His young and supple frame was in his favor, but once or twice he could hardly help shamming, and then they threw half a bucket over him.
The next day he was put on the crank, and not being able to complete the task that was set him before dinner, he was strapped up until the evening. The next day the governor tried another tack. He took away his meat soup and gruel, and gave him nothing but bread and water. Strange to say, this change of diet did not supply the deficiency; he could not do the infant Hercules his work even on bread and water. Then the governor deprived the obstinate little dog of his chapel. "If you won't work, I'm [participle] if you shall pray." The boy missed the recreation of hearing Mr. Jones hum the Liturgy; missed it in a way you cannot conceive. Your soporific was his excitement; think of that.
Little Gillies became sadly dispirited, and weaker at the crank than before; ergo, the governor sentenced him to be fourteen days without bed or gas.
But when they took away his bed and did not light his gas little Gillies began to lose his temper; he made a great row about this last stroke of discipline. "I won't live such a life as this," said little Gillies, in a pet. "Why don't the governor hang me at once?"
"What is that noise?" roared the governor, who was in the corridor and had long ears.
"It is No. 50 kicking up a row at having his bed and gas taken," replied a turnkey, with a note of admiration in his voice.
The governor bounced into the cell. "Are you grumbling at that, you rebellious young rascal? you forget there are a dozen lashes owing you yet." Now the boy had not forgotten, but he hoped the governor had. "Well, you shall have the rest to-morrow."
With these words ringing in his ears, little Gillies was locked up for the night at six o'clock. His companions darkness and unrest-for a prisoner's bed is the most comfortable thing he has, and the change from it to a stone floor is as great to him as it would be to us--darkness and unrest, and the cat waiting to spring on him at peep of day. Quae cum ita erant, as the warder put the key into his cell the next morning he heard a strange gurgling; he opened the door quickly, and there was little Gillies hanging; a chair was near him on which he had got to suspend himself by his handkerchief from the window; he was black in the face, but struggling violently, and had one hand above his head convulsively clutching the handkerchief. Fry lifted him up by the knees and with some difficulty loosed the handkerchief.
Little Gillies, as soon as his throat could vent a sound, roared with fright at the recent peril, and then cried a bit, finally expressed a hope his breakfast would not be taken from him for this act of insubordination.
This infraction of discipline was immediately reported to the governor.
"Little brute," cried Hawes, viciously, "I'll work him!"
"Oh! he knew I was at hand, sir," said Fry, "or he would not have tried it."
"Of course he would not; I remember last night he was grumbling at his bed being taken away. I'll serve him out!"
Soon after this the governor met the chaplain and told him the case. "He shall make you an apology"--imperative mood him.
"Me, an apology!"
"Of course--you are the officer that has the care of his soul and he shall apologize to you for making away with it or trying it on."
This resolution was conveyed to Gillies with fearful threats, so when the chaplain visited him he had got his lesson pat.
"I beg your reverence's pardon for hanging myself," began he at sight, rather loud and as bold as brass.
"Beg the Almighty's pardon, not mine."
"No! the governor said it was yours I was to beg," demurred Gillies.
"Very well. But you should beg God's pardon more than mine."
"For why, sir?"
"For attempting your life, which was His gift."
"Oh! I needn't beg His pardon; He doesn't care what becomes of me; if He did He wouldn't let them bully me as they do day after day, drat 'em."
"I am sorry to see one so young as you so hardened. I dare say the discipline of the jail is bitter to you, it is to all idle boys; but you might be in a much worse place--and will if you do not mend."
"A worse place than this, your reverence! Oh, my eye!"
"And you ought to be thankful to Heaven for sending the turnkey at that moment (here I'm sorry to say little Gillies grinned satirically), or you would be in a worse place. Would you rather be here or in hell?" half asked, half explained the reverend gentleman in the superior tone of one closing a discussion forever.
"In hell!!!" replied Gillies, opening his eyes with astonishment at the doubt.
Mr. Jones was dumfounded; of all the mischances that befall us in argument this coup perplexes us most. He looked down at the little ignorant wretch, and decided it would be useless to waste theology on him. He fell instead into familiar conversation with him, and then Gillies, with the natural communicativeness of youth, confessed to him "that he had heard the warder at the next cell before he ventured to step off the chair and suspend himself."
"Well! but you ran a great risk, too. Suppose he had not come into your cell--suppose he had been called away for a minute."
"I should have been scragged, and no mistake," said the boy, with a shiver. Throttling had proved no joke. "But I took my chance of that," added Gillies. "I was determined to give them a fright; besides, if he hadn't come, it would all be over by now, sir, and all the better for me, I know."
Further communication was closed by the crank, which demanded young Hopeful by its mouthpiece, Fry. After dinner, to his infinite disgust, he received the other moiety of his flogging; but by a sort of sulky compensation his bed was kicked into his cell again at night by Fry acting under the governor's orders.
"That was not a bad move, hanging myself a little--a very little," said the young prig. He hooked up his recovered treasure; and, though smarting all over, coiled himself up in it, and in three minutes forgot present pain, past dangers and troubles to come.
The plan pursued with Robinson was to keep him at low-water mark by lowering his diet; without this, so great was his natural energy and disposition to work, that no crank excuse could have been got for punishing him, and at this period he was too wise and self-restrained to give any other. But after a few days of unjust torture he began to lose hope; and with hope patience oozed away too, and his enemy saw with grim satisfaction wild flashes of mad rage come every now and then to his eye, harder and harder to suppress. "He will break out before long," said Hawes to himself, "and then--"
Robinson saw the game, and a deep dark hatred of his enemy fought on the side of his prudence. This bitter raging struggle of contending passions in the thief's heart harmed his soul more than had years of burglary and petty larceny. All the vices of the old jail system are nothing compared with the diabolical effect of solitude on a heart smarting with daily wrongs.
Brooding on self is always corrupting; but to brood on self and wrongs is to ripen for madness, murder and all crime. Between Robinson and these there lay one little bit of hope--only one, but it was a reasonable one. There was an official in the jail possessed of a large independent authority; and paid (Robinson argued) to take the side of humanity in the place. This man was the representative of the national religion in the jail, as Hawes was of the law. Robinson was too sharp at picking up everything in his way, and had been too often in prisons and their chapels not to know that cruelty and injustice are contrary to the Gospel, and to the national religion, which is in a great measure founded thereon. He therefore hoped and believed the chaplain of the jail would come between him and his persecutor if he could be made to understand the case. Now it happened just after the justices had thrown cold water on Mr. Jones's little expostulation that Robinson was pinned to the wall, jammed in the waistcoat, and throttled in the collar. He had been thus some time, when, casting his despairing eyes around they alighted upon the comely, respectable face of Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones was looking gravely at the victim.
Robinson devoured him with his eyes and his ears. He heard him say in an undertone:
"What is this for?"
"Hasn't done his work at the crank," was the answer.
Then Mr. Jones, after taking another look at the sufferer, gave a sigh and walked away. Robinson's hopes from this gentleman rose; moreover, part of his sermon next Sunday inveighed against inhumanity; and Robinson, who had no conception the sermon was several years old, looked on it as aimed at Hawes and his myrmidons and as the precursor of other and effective remonstrances. Not long after this, to his delight, the chaplain visited him alone. He seized this opportunity of securing the good man's interference in his favor. He told him in glowing words the whole story of his sufferings; and with a plain and manly eloquence appealed to him to make his chapel words good and come between the bloodhounds and their prey.
"Sir, there are twenty or thirty poor fellows besides me that will bless your four bones night and day, if you will but put out your hand and save us from being abused like dogs and nailed to the wall like kites and weasels. We are not vermin, sir, we are men. Many a worse man is abroad than we that are caged here like wild beasts. Our bodies are men's bodies, sir, and our hearts are men's hearts. You can't soften their hearts, for they haven't such a thing about them; but only just you open your mouth and speak your mind in right-down earnest, and you will shame them into treating us openly like human beings, let them hate us and scorn us at bottom as they will. We have no friend here, sir, but you, not one; have pity on us! have pity on us!"
And the thief stretched out his hands, and fixed his ardent, glistening eyes upon the successor of the apostles.
The successor of the apostles hung his head and showed plainly that he was not unmoved. A moment of suspense followed--Robinson hung upon his answer. At length Mr. Jones raised his head and said, with icy coldness:
"Mr. Hawes is the governor of this jail. I have no power to interfere with his acts, supported as they are by the visiting justices; and I have but one advice to give you: Submit to the discipline and to Mr. Hawes in everything; it will be the worse for you if you don't."
So saying, he went out abruptly, leaving his petitioner with his eyes fixed ruefully upon the door by which his last hope had left him.
The moment the reverend official had got outside the door, his countenance, which had fallen, took a complacent air. He prided himself that he had conquered an impulse, an idle impulse.
"The poor fellow is in the right," said he to himself as he left the cell; "but if I had let him see I thought so, he might have been encouraged to resist, and then he would have only suffered all the more."
And so, having done what he calculated was the expedient thing to do, he went his way satisfied and at peace with Mr. Hawes and all mankind.
When he glided away and took hope with him, disdain, despair and frenzy gushed from the thief's boiling bosom in one wild moan; and with that moan he dashed himself on his face on the floor, though it was as hard as Hawes and cold as Jones.
Thus he lay crushed in blank despair a moment, the next he rose fiercely to his knees, he looked up through the hole they called his window, and saw a little piece of blue sky no bigger than a Bible, he held his hand up to that blue sky, he fixed his dilating eye on that blue sky, and with one long raging yell of horrible words hurled from a heart set on fire by wrongs and despair and tempting fiends, he cursed the successor of the apostles before the Majesty of Heaven.