It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
Mr. Lepel returned somewhat earlier than he had intended. On entering the jail it so happened that he met the governor, and seized this opportunity of conversing with him.
He expressed at once so warm an admiration of the jail and the system pursued in it, that Hawes began to take a fancy to him.
They compared notes, and agreed that no system but the separate and silent had a leg to stand on; and as they returned together from visiting the ground-floor cells, Mr. Lepel had the honor of giving a new light to Hawes himself.
"If I could have my way the debtors should be in separate cells. I would have but one system in a jail."
Hawes laughed incredulously. "There would be a fine outcry if we treated the debtors the same as we do the rogues."
"Mr. Hawes," said the other firmly, "an honest man very seldom finds his way into any part of a jail. Extravagant people and tradesmen who have abused the principle of credit, deserve punishment, and above all require discipline and compulsory self-communion to bring them to amend their ways."
"That is right, sir," cried Hawes, a sudden light breaking on him, "and it certainly is a mistake letting them enjoy themselves."
"And corrupt each other."
Hawes. A prison should be confinement.
Lepel. And seclusion from all but profitable company.
Hawes. It is not a place of amusement.
Lepel. There should be no idle conversation.
"And no noise," put in Hawes hastily.
"However, this prison is a model for all the prisons in the land, and I shall feel quite sad when I go back to my duty in Cumberland."
"Cumberland? Why, you are our new chaplain, aren't ye?"
"No! I am not so fortunate, I am a friend of his; my name is Lepel."
"Oh, you are Mr. Lepel, and where is our one? I heard he had been all over the jail."
"What, have you not seen him?"
"No! he has never been near me. Not very polite, I think."
"Hallo! what is wrong!"
"I think I know where he is; he is not far off. I will go and find him if you will excuse me."
"No! we won't trouble you. Here, Hodges, come here. Have you seen the new chaplain--where is he?"
"Well, sir, Evans tells me he is--" click!
"Confound you, don't stand grinning. Where is he?"
"In the black hole, sir!"
"What d'ye mean by the black hole? The dust hole?"
"No, sir, I mean the dark cells."
"Then why don't you say the dark cells? Has he been there long?"
Mr. Lepel answered the question. "Ever since three o'clock, and it is nearly nine; and we are both of us to drink tea with Mr. Jones."
Mr. Hawes showed no hurry. "What did he want to go in them for?"
"I have no idea, unless it was to see what it is like."
"Well, but I like that!" said Hawes. "That is entering into the system. Let us see how he comes on."
Mr. Hawes, Mr. Lepel and Hodges went to the dark cells; on their way they were joined by Evans.
The governor took out his own keys, and Evans having indicated the cell, for there were three, he unlocked it and threw the door wide open. They all looked in, but there was nothing to be seen.
"I hope nothing is the matter," said Mr. Lepel, in considerable agitation, and he groped his way into the cave. As he put out his hand it was taken almost violently by the self-immured, who cried:
"Oh, Lepel!" and held him in a strong but tremulous grasp. Then, after a pause, he said more calmly: "The light dazzles me! the place seems on fire now! Perhaps you will be kind enough to lend me your arm, Lepel."
Mr. Lepel led him out; he had one hand before his eyes, which he gradually withdrew while speaking. He found himself in the middle of a group with a sly sneer on their faces mixed with some curiosity.
"How long have I been there?" asked he quietly.
"Six hours; it is nine o'clock."
"Only six hours! incredible!"
"Well, sir, I suppose you are not sorry to be out?"
"This is Mr. Hawes, the governor," put in Mr. Lepel.
Hawes continued jocosely, "What does it feel like, sir?"
"I shall have the honor of telling you that in private, Mr. Hawes. I think, Lepel, we have an engagement with Mr. Jones at nine o'clock." So saying, the new chaplain, with a bow to the governor, took his friend's arm and went to tea with Mr. Jones.
"There, now," said Hawes to the turnkeys, "that is a gentleman. He doesn't blurt everything out before you fellows; he reserves it for his superior officer."
Next morning the new chaplain requested Mr. Lepel to visit the prisoner's cells in a certain order, and make notes of their characters as far as he could guess them. He himself visited them in another order and made his notes. In the evening they compared these. We must be content with an extract or two.
MR. LEPEL'S. THE NEW CHAPLAIN'S. Rock, No. 37.-- A very promising 37, Rock.-- Professes penitence. subject, penitent and resigned. Asked him suddenly what sins Says, "if the door of the prison weighed most on his conscience. was left open he would not go No answer. Prepared with an out." Has learned 250 texts, and abstract penitence, but no is learning fifteen a day. particulars: reason obvious. Mem. With this man speak on any topic rather than religion at present. Pray for this self-deceiver as I would for a murderer.
The next day the new chaplain met the surgeon in the jail and took him into Josephs' cell.
"He only wants a little rest and nourishing food; he would be the better for a little amusement, but--" and the man of science shrugged his shoulders.
"Can you read?" said Mr. Lepel.
"Very little, sir."
"Let the schoolmaster come to him every day," suggested that experienced individual. He knew what separate confinement was. What bores a boy out of prison amuses him in it.
Hawes gave a cold consent. So poor little Josephs had a richer diet and rest from crank and pillory, and the schoolmaster spent half an hour every day teaching him; and above all, the new chaplain sat in his cell and told him stories that interested him--told him how very wicked some boys had been; what a many clever wicked things they had done and not been happy, then how they had repented and learned to pray to be good, and how by Divine help they had become good, and how some had gone to heaven soon after, and were now happy and pure as the angels; and others had stayed on earth and were good and honest and just men; not so happy as those others who were dead, but content (and that the wicked never are), and waiting God's pleasure to go away and be happy forever.
Josephs listened to the good chaplain's tales and conversation with wonderful interest, and his face always brightened when that gentleman came into his cell. The schoolmaster reported him not quick, but docile. These were his halcyon days.
But Robinson remained a silent basilisk. The chaplain visited him every day, said one or two kind words to him and retired without receiving a word or a look of acknowledgment. One day, surprised and hurt by this continued obduracy, the chaplain retired with an audible sigh. Robinson heard it, and ground his teeth with satisfaction. Solitary, tortured and degraded, he had still found one whom he could annoy a little bit.
The governor and the new chaplain agreed charmingly; constant civilities passed between them. The chaplain assisted Mr. Hawes to turn the phrases of his yearly report; and Mr. Hawes more than repaid him by consenting to his introducing various handicrafts into the prison--at his own expense, not the county's.
Parson must have got a longer purse than most of us, thought Hawes, and it increased his respect.
Hawes shrugged his shoulders, as much as to say, "You are just flinging your money into the dirt;" but the other, interpreting his look, said:
"I hope more good from this than from all the sermons I shall preach in your chapel."
Probably Mr. Hawes would not have been so indifferent had he known that this introduction of rational labor was intended as the first step toward undermining and expelling the sacred crank.
This clergyman had a secret horror and hatred of the crank. He called it a monster got by folly upon science to degrade labor below theft; for theft is immoral, but crank labor is immoral and idiotic, too, said he. The crank is a diabolical engine to keep thieves from ever being anything but thieves. He arrived at this conclusion by a chain of reasoning for which there is no room in a narrative already smothered in words.
This antipathy to the crank quite overpowered him. He had been now three weeks in the jail, and all that time only thrice in the labor-yard. It cut his understanding like a knife to see a man turn a handle for hours and nothing come of it.
However, one day, from a sense of duty, he forced himself into the labor-yard and walked wincing down the row.
"These are our schoolmen," said he. "As the schoolmen labored most intellectually and scientifically--practical result, nil, so these labor harder than other men--result, nil. This is literally 'beating the air.' The ancients imagined tortures particularly trying to nature, that of Sisyphus to wit; everlasting labor embittered by everlasting nihilification. We have made Sisyphism vulgar. Here are fifteen Sisyphi. Only the wise or ancients called this thing infernal torture; our old women call it salutary discipline."
He was running on in this style, heaping satire and sorrow upon the crank, when suddenly, at the mouth of one of the farthest cells, he stopped and threw up his hands with an ejaculation of astonishment and dismay. There was a man jammed in a strait waistcoat, pinned against the wall by a strap, and throttling in a huge collar; his face was white, his lips livid, and his eyes rolling despairingly. It was Thomas Robinson. This sight took away the chaplain's breath. When he recovered himself, "What is this?" said he to the turnkeys, sternly.
"Prisoner refractory at the crank," answered Hodges, doggedly.
The clergyman walked up to Robinson and examined the collar, the waistcoat and the strap. "Have you the governor's authority for this act?" said he firmly.
"Rule is if they won't do their work, the jacket."
"Have you the governor's authority for this particular act?"
"In a general way we have."
"In a word, you are not acting under his authority, and you know it. Take the man down this moment."
The men hesitated.
"If you don't I shall."
The turnkeys, a little staggered by his firmness, began to confer in whispers. The chaplain, who was one of your decided men, could not wait the consultation. He sprang to Robinson's head and began to undo the collar. The others, seeing this decided move, came and helped him. The collar and the strap being loosed, the thief's body, ensacked as it was, fell helplessly forward. He had fainted during the discussion; in fact, his senses were shut when the chaplain first came to the cell. The chaplain caught him, and being a very strong man, saved him from a dangerous fall and seated him gently with his back to the wall. Water was sprinkled in his face. The chaplain went hastily to find the governor. He came to him pale and out of breath.
"I found the turnkeys outraging a prisoner."
"Indeed!" said the governor. It was a new idea to him that anything could be an outrage on a prisoner.
"They confessed they had not your authority, so I took upon me to undo their act."
"I now leave the matter in your hands, sir."
"I will see into it, sir."
The chaplain left Mr. Hawes abruptly, for he was seized with a sudden languor and nausea; he went to his own house and there he was violently sick. Shaking off as quickly as he could this weakness, he went at once to Robinson's cell. He found him coiled up like a snake. He came hastily into the cell with the natural effusion of a man who had taken another man's part.
"I want to ask you one question: What had you done that they should use you like that?"
"It is not from idle curiosity I ask you, but that I may be able to advise you, or intercede for you if the punishment should appear too severe for the offense."
"Come, I would wait here ever so long upon the chance of your speaking to me if you were the only prisoner, but there are others in their solitude longing for me; time is precious; will you speak to one who desires to be your friend?"
A flush of impatience and anger crossed the chaplain's brow. In most men it would have found vent in words. This man but turned away to hide it from its object. He gulped his brief ire down and said only, "So then I am never to be any use to you," and went sorrowfully away.
Robinson coiled himself up a little tighter, and hugged his hatred of all mankind closer, like a treasure that some one had just tried to do him out of.
As the chaplain came out of his cell he was met by Hawes, whose countenance wore a gloomy expression that soon found its way into words.
"The chaplain is not allowed to interfere between me and the prisoners in this jail."
"Explain, Mr. Hawes."
"You have been and ordered my turnkeys to relax punishment."
"You forget, Mr. Hawes, I explained to you that they were acting without the requisite authority from you."
"That is all right, and I have called them to account, but then you are not to order them either; you should have applied to me."
"I see, I see! Forgive me this little breach of routine where a human being's sufferings would have been prolonged by etiquette."
"Ugh! Well, it must not occur again."
"I trust the occasion will not."
"For that matter, you will often see refractory prisoners punished in this jail. You had better mind your own business in the jail, it will find you work enough."
"I will, Mr. Hawes; to dissuade men from cruelty is a part of it."
"If you come between me and the prisoners, sir, you won't be long here."
The new chaplain smiled.
"What does it matter whether I'm here or in Patagonia, so that I do my duty wherever I am?" said he with a fine mixture of good-humor and spirit.
Hawes turned his back rudely and went and reduced Robinson's supper fifty per cent.
"Evans, is that sort of punishment often inflicted here?"
"Well, sir, yes. It is a common punishment of this jail."
"It must be very painful."
"No, sir, it's a little oncomfortable that is all; and then we've got such a lot here we are obliged to be down on 'em like a sledge-hammer, or they'd eat us up alive."
"Have you got the things, the jacket, collar, etc.?"
"I know where to find them," said Evans with a sly look.
"Bring them to me directly to this empty cell."
"Well, sir," higgled Evans, "in course I don't like to refuse your reverence."
"Then don't refuse me," retorted the other, sharp as a needle.
Evans went off directly and soon returned with the materials. The chaplain examined them a while; he then took off his coat.
"Operate on me, Evans."
"Operate on you, sir!"
"Yes! There, don't stand staring, my good man; hold up the waistcoat--now strap it tight--tighter--no nonsense--Robinson was strapped tighter than that yesterday. I want to know what we are doing to our fellow-creatures in this place. The collar now."
"But, sir, the collar will nip you. I tell you that beforehand."
"Not more than it nips my prisoners. Now strap me to the wall. Why do you hesitate?"
"I don't know whether I am doing right, sir, you being a parson. Perhaps I shall have no luck after this."
"Don't be silly, Evans. Volenti non fit injuria--that means, you may torture a bishop if he bids you."
"There you are, sir."
"Yes! here I am. Now go away and come in half an hour."
"I think I had better stay, sir. You will soon be sick of it."
"Go, and come in half an hour," was the firm reply.
Our chaplain felt that if the man did not go he should not be five minutes before he asked to be released, and he was determined to know "what we are doing."
Evans had not been gone ten minutes before he bitterly repented letting him go, and when that worthy returned he found him muttering faintly, "It is in a good cause-it is in a good cause--"
Evans wore a grin.
"You shall pay for that grin," said the chaplain to himself.
"Well, sir, have you had enough of it?"
"Yes, Evans; you may loose me," said the other with affected nonchalance.
"What is it like, sir? haw! haw!"
"It is as you described it, oncomfortable; but the knowledge I have gained in it is invaluable. You shall share it."
"With all my heart, sir; you can tell me what it is like."
"Oh, no! such knowledge can never be imparted by description; you shall take your turn in the jacket."
"Not if I know it."
"What, not for the sake of knowledge?"
"Oh! I can guess what it is like."
"But you will oblige me?"
"Some other way, sir, if you please."
"Besides, I will give you a guinea."
"Oh! that alters the case, sir. But only for half an hour."
"Only for half an hour."
Evans was triced up and pinned to the wall; the chaplain took out a guinea and placed it in his sight, and walked out.
In about ten minutes he returned, and there was Evans, his face drawn down by pain.
"Well, how do you like it?"
"Oh! pretty well, sir; it isn't worth making an outcry about."
"Only a little oncomfortable."
"That is all; if it wasn't for the confounded cramp."
"Let us compare notes," said the chaplain, sitting down opposite. "I found it worse than uncomfortable. First there was a terrible sense of utter impotence, then came on racking cramps, for which there was no relief because I could not move."
"Nothing, sir! mum--mum--dear guinea!"
"The jagged collar gave me much pain, too; it rasped my poor throat like a file."
"Why the dickens didn't you tell me all this before, sir," said Evans ruefully; "it is no use now I've been and gone into the same oven like a fool."
"I had my reasons for not telling you before; good-by for the present."
"Don't stay over the half hour, for goodness' sake, sir."
"No! adieu for the present."
He did not go far. He listened and heard the plucky Evans groan. He came hastily in.
"Courage, my fine fellow, only eight minutes more and the guinea is yours.
"How many more minutes, sir?"
"Then, oh! undo me, sir, if you please."
"What! forfeit the guinea for eight minutes--seven, it is only seven now."
"Hang the guinea, let me down, sir, if there's pity in you."
"With all my heart," said the reverend gentleman, pocketing the guinea, and he loosed Evans with all speed.
The man stretched his limbs with ejaculations of pain between every stretch, and put his handkerchief on very gingerly. He looked sulky and said nothing. The other watched him keenly, for there was something about him that showed his mind was working.
"There is your guinea."
"Oh, no! I didn't earn it."
"Oh, if you think that (putting it to the lips of his pocket), let me make you a present of it" (handing it out again). Evans smiled. "It is a good servant. That little coin has got me one friend more for these poor prisoners. You don't understand me, Evans. Well, you will. Now, look at me; from this moment, sir, you and I stand on a different footing from others in this jail. We know what we are doing when we put a prisoner in that thing; the others don't. The greater the knowledge, the greater the guilt. May we both be kept from the crime of cruelty. Good-night!"
"Good-night, your reverence!" said the man gently, awed by his sudden solemnity.
The chaplain retired. Evans looked after him, and then down into his own hand.
"Well, I'm blowed!--Well, I'm blest!--Got a guinea, though!!"