It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
Governor Hawes had qualities good in themselves, but ill-directed, and therefore not good in their results--determination for one. He was not a man to yield a step to opposition. He was a much greater man than Jones. He was like a torrent, to whose progress if you oppose a great stone it brawls and struggles past it and round it and over it with more vigor than before.
"I will be master in this jail!" was the creed of Hawes. He docked Robinson's supper one half, ditto his breakfast next day, and set him a tremendous task of crank. Now in jail a day's food and a day's crank are too nicely balanced to admit of the weights being tampered with. So Robinson's demi-starvation paved the way for further punishment. At one o'clock he was five hundred revolutions short, and instead of going to his dinner he was tied up in the infernal machine. Now the new chaplain came three times into the yard that day, and the third time, about four o'clock, he found Robinson pinned to the wall, jammed in the waistcoat and griped in the collar. His blood ran cold at sight of him, for the man had been hours in the pillory and nature was giving way.
"What has he done?"
"Refractory at crank."
"I saw him working at the crank when I came here last."
"Hasn't made his number good, though."
"Humph! You have the governor's own orders?"
"How long is he to be so?"
"Till fresh orders."
"I will see the effect of this punishment on the prisoner and note it down for my report." And he took out his note-book and leaned his back against the wall.
The simple action of taking out a notebook gave the operators a certain qualm of doubt. Fry whispered Hodges to go and tell the governor. On his return Hodges found the parties as he had left them, except Robinson--he was paler and his lips turning bluer.
"Your victim is fainting," said the chaplain sternly.
"Only shamming, sir," said Fry. "Bucket, Hodges."
The bucket was brought and the contents were flung over Robinson.
The chaplain gave a cry of dismay. The turnkeys both laughed at this.
"You see he was only shamming, sir," said Hodges. "He is come to the moment the water touched him."
"A plain proof he was not shamming. A bucket of water thrown over any one about to faint would always bring them to; but if a man had made up his mind to sham, he could do it in spite of water. Of course you will take him down now?"
"Not till fresh orders."
"On your peril be it if any harm befalls this prisoner--you are warned."
At this juncture Hawes came into the yard. His cheek was flushed and his eye glittered. He expected and rather hoped a collision with his reverence.
"Well, what is the matter?"
"Nothing, sir; only his reverence is threatening us."
"What is he threatening you for?"
"Mr. Hawes, I told these men that I should hold them responsible if any harm came to the prisoner for their cruelty. I now tell you that he has just fainted from bodily distress caused by this infernal engine, and I hold you, Mr. Hawes, responsible for this man's life and well-being, which are here attacked contrary to the custom of all her majesty's prisons, and contrary to the intention of all punishment, which is for the culprit's good, not for his injury either in soul or body.
"And what will you do?" said Hawes, glaring contemptuously at the turnkeys, who wore rather a blank look.
"Mr. Hawes," replied the other gravely, "I have spoken to warn you, not to threaten you."
"What I do is done with the consent of the visiting justices. They are my masters, and no one else."
"They have not seen a prisoner crucified."
"Crucified! What d'ye mean by crucified?"
"Don't you see that the torture before our eyes is crucifixion?"
"No! I don't. No nails!"
"Nails were not always used in crucifixion; sometimes cords. Don't deceive yourself with a name; nothing misleads like a false name. This punishment is falsely called the jacket--it is jacket, collar, straps, applied with cruelty. It is crucifixion minus nails but plus a collar."
"Whatever it is, the justices have seen and approved it. Haven't they, Fry?"
"That they have, sir; scores of times."
"Then may Heaven forgive them and direct me." And the chaplain entered the cell despondently, and bent his pitying eye steadily on the thief, who seemed to him at the moment a better companion than the three honest but cruel men.
He waited there very, very sorrowful and thoughtful for more than half an hour. Then Hawes, who left the yard as soon as he had conquered his opponent, sent in Evans with an order to take Robinson to his dormitory.
The chaplain saw the man taken down from the wall, and that done went hastily to his own house; there, the contest being over, he was seized with a violent sickness and trembling. To see a fellow-creature suffer and not be able to relieve him was death to this man. He was game to the last drop of his blood so long as there was any good to be done, but action ended, a reaction came, in which he was all pity and sorrow and distress because of a fellow-creature's distress. No one that saw his firmness in the torture-cell would have guessed how weak he was within, and how stoutly his great heart had to battle against a sensitive nature and nerves tuned too high.
He gave half an hour to the weakness of nature, and then he was all duty once more.
He went first into Robinson's cell. He found him worse than ever: despair as well as hatred gleamed in his eye.
"My poor fellow, is there no way for you to avoid these dreadful punishments?"
It is to be observed, though, that Robinson had no idea how far the chaplain had carried his remonstrance against his torture; that remonstrance had been uttered privately to the turnkeys and the governor. Besides, the man was half stupefied when the chaplain first came there. And now he was in such pain and despair. He was like the genii confined in the chest and thrown into the water by Soliman. Had this good friend come to him at first starting, he would have thrown himself into his arms; but it came too late now. He hated all mankind. He had lost all belief in genuine kindness. Like Orlando,
He thought that all things had been savage here.
The chaplain, on the other hand, began to think that Robinson was a downright brute, and one on whom kindness was and would be wasted. Still, true to his nature, he admitted no small pique. He reasoned gently and kindly with him--very kindly.
"My poor soul," said he, "have you so many friends in this hard place that you can afford to repulse one who desires to be your friend and to do you good?" No answer. "Well, then, if you will not let me comfort you, at least you cannot prevent my praying for you, for you are on the road to despair and will take no help."
So, then, this good creature did actually kneel upon the hard stones of the cell and offer a prayer--a very short but earnest one.
"Oh God, to whom all hearts are open, enlighten me that I may understand this my afflicted brother's heart, and learn how to do him good, and comfort him out of Thy word--Thy grace assisting me."
Robinson looked down at him with wild, staring but lack-luster eyes and open mouth. He rose from the floor, and casting a look of great benignity on the sullen brute, he was about to go, when he observed that Robinson was trembling in a very peculiar way.
"You are ill," said he hastily, and took a step toward him.
At this Robinson, with a wild and furious gesture, waved him to the door and turned his face to the wall; then this refined gentleman bowed his head, as much as to say you shall be master of this apartment and dismiss any one you do not like, and went gently away with a little sigh. And the last that he saw was Robinson trembling with averted face and eyes bent down.
Outside he met Evans, who said to him half bluntly half respectfully, "I don't like to see you going into that cell, sir; the man is not to be trusted. He is very strange."
"What do you mean? do you fear for his reason?"
"Why not, sir? We have sent a pretty many to the lunatic asylum since I was a warder here."
"And some have broke prison a shorter way than that," said the man very gloomily.
The chaplain groaned--and looked at the speaker with an expression of terror. Evans noticed it and said gravely:
"You should not have come to such place as this, sir; you are not fit for it."
"Why am I not fit for it?"
"Too good for it, sir."
"You talk foolishly, Mr. Evans. In the first place, 'too good' is a ludicrous combination of language, in the next the worse a place is the more need of somebody being good in it to make it better. But I suppose you are one of those who think that evil is naturally stronger than good. Delusion springs from this, that the wicked are in earnest and the good are lukewarm. Good is stronger than evil. A single really good man in an ill place is like a little yeast in a gallon of dough; it can leaven the mass. If St. Paul or even George Whitfield had been in Lot's place all those years there would have been more than fifty good men in Sodom; but this is out of place. I want you to give me the benefit of your experience, Evans. When I went to Robinson and spoke kindly to him he trembled all over. What on earth does that mean?"
"Trembled, did he, and never spoke?"
"I'm thinking, sir! I'm thinking. You didn't touch him?"
"Touch him, no; what should I touch him for?"
"Well, don't do it, sir. And don't go near him. You have had an escape, you have. He was in two minds about pitching into you."
"You think it was rage! Humph! it did not give me that impression."
"Sir, did you ever go to pat a strange dog?"
"I have done myself that honor."
"Well, if he wags his tail you know it is all right; but say he puts his tail between his legs, what will he do if you pat him?"
"Bite me. Experto crede."
"No! if you are ever so expert he will bite you or try. Now putting of his tail between his legs, that passes for a sign of fear in a dog, all one as trembling does in a man. Do you see what I am driving at?"
"Then you had better leave the spiteful brute to himself?"
"No! that would be to condemn him to the worst companion he can have."
"But if he should pitch into you, sir?"
"Then he will pitch into a man twice as strong as himself, and a pupil of Bendigo. Don't be silly, Evans."
Hodges. Pity you wasn't in chapel, Mr. Fry.
Hodges. The new chaplain!
Fry. Well, what did he do?
Hodges. He waked 'em all up, I can tell you. Governor couldn't get a wink all the sermon.
Fry. What did he tell you?
Hodges. Told us he loved us.
Fry. Loved who?
Hodges. All of us. Governor, turnkeys, and especially the prisoners, because they were in trouble. "My Master loves you, though He hates your sins," says he; and "I love every mother's son of you." What d'ye think of that? He loves the whole biling! Told 'em so, however.
Fry. Loves 'em, does he? Well, that's a new lay! After all, there's no accounting for tastes, you know. Haw! haw!
Hodges. Haw! haw! ho!
This same Sunday afternoon, soon after service, the chaplain came to Robinson's cell. Evans unlocked it, looking rather uneasy, and would have come in with the reverend gentleman; but he forbade him and walked quickly into the cell, as Van Amburgh goes among his leopards and panthers. He had in his hand a little box.
"I have brought you some ointment--some nice cooling ointment," said he, "to rub on your neck. I saw it was frayed by that collar."
(Pause.) No answer.
"Will you let me see you use it?"
The chaplain took the box off the table, opened it and went up to Robinson and began quietly to apply some of the grateful soothing ointment to his frayed throat. The man trembled all over. The chaplain kept his eye calm but firm upon him, as on a dog of doubtful temper. Robinson put up his hand in a feeble sort of way to prevent the other from doing him good. His reverence took the said hand in a quiet but powerful grasp, and applied the ointment all the same. Robinson said nothing, but he was seized with this extraordinary trembling.
"Good-by," said his reverence kindly. "I leave you the box; and see, here are some tracts I have selected for you. They are not dull; there are stories in them, and the dialogue is pretty good. It is nearer nature than you will find it in works of greater pretension. Here a carpenter talks something like a carpenter, and a footman something like a footman, and a factory-girl something like a girl employed in a factory. They don't all talk book--you will be able to read them. Begin with this one, 'The Wages of Sin are Death.' Good-by!" And with these words and a kind smile he left the cell.
"From the chaplain, sir," said Evans to the governor, touching his hat.
"DEAR SIR--Will you be good enough to send me by the bearer a copy of the prison rules, especially those that treat of the punishments to be inflicted on prisoners? "I am, "Yours, etc."
Hawes had no sooner read this innocent-looking missive, than he burst out into a tide of execrations; he concluded by saying, "Tell him I have not got a spare copy; Mr. Jones will give him his."
This answer disappointed the chaplain sadly; for Mr. Jones had left the town, and was not expected to return for some days. The hostile spirit of the governor was evident in this reply. The chaplain felt he was at war, and his was an energetic but peace-loving nature. He paced the corridor, looking both thoughtful and sad. The rough Evans eyed him with interest, and he also fell into meditation and scratched his head, invariable concomitant of thought with Evans.
It was toward evening, and his reverence still paced the corridor, downhearted at opposition and wickedness, but not without hope, and full of lovely and charitable wishes for all his flock, when the melancholy Fry suddenly came out of a prisoner's cell radiant with joy.
"What is amiss?" asked the chaplain.
"This is the matter," said Fry, and he showed him a deuce of clubs, a five of hearts and an ace of diamonds, and so on; two or three cards of each suit. "A prisoner has been making these out of his tracts!"
"How could he do that?"
"Look here, sir. He has kept a little of his gruel till it turned to paste, and then he has pasted three or four leaves of the tracts together and dried them, and then cut them into cards."
"But the colors--how could he get them?"
"That is what beats me altogether; but some of these prisoners know more than the bench of bishops."
"More evil, I conclude you mean?"
"More of all sorts, sir. However, I am taking them to the governor, and he will fathom it, if any one can."
"Leave one red card and one black with me."
While Fry was gong the chaplain examined the cards with curiosity and that admiration of inventive resource which a superior mind cannot help feeling. There they were, a fine red deuce of hearts and a fine black four of spades--cards made without pasteboard and painted without paint. But how? that was the question. The chaplain entered upon this question with his usual zeal; but happening to reverse one of the cards, it was his fate to see on the back of it:
"THE WAGES OF SIN ARE DEATH."
He reddened at the sight. Here was an affront! "The sulky brute could amuse himself cutting up my tracts!"
Presently the governor came up with his satellites.
"Take No. 19 out of his cell for punishment."
At this word the chaplain's short-lived anger began to cool. They brought Robinson out.
"So you have been at it again," cried the governor in threatening terms. "Now you will tell me where you got the paint to make these beauties with?"
"Do you hear, ye sulky brute?"
No answer, but a glittering eye bent on Hawes.
"Put him in the jacket," cried Hawes with an oath.
Hodges and Fry laid each a hand upon the man's shoulder and walked him off.
"Stop!" cried Hawes suddenly; "his reverence is here, and he is not partial to the jacket."
The chaplain was innocent enough to make a graceful grateful bow to Hawes.
"Give him the dark cell for twenty-four hours," continued Hawes with a malicious grin.
The thief gave a cry of dismay and shook himself clear of the turnkeys.
"Anything but that," cried he with trembling voice.
"Oh! you have found your tongue, have you?"
"Any punishment but that," almost shrieked the despairing man. "Leave me my reason. You have robbed me of everything else. For pity's sake leave me my reason!"
The governor made a signal to the turnkeys; they stepped toward the thief. The thief sprung out of their way, his eye rolling wildly as if in search of escape. Seeing this the two turnkeys darted at him like bulldogs, one on each side. This time, instead of flying, the thief was observed to move his body in a springy way to meet them; with two motions rapid as light and almost contemporaneous, he caught Hodges between the eyes with his fist and drove his head like a battering-ram into Fry's belly. Smack! ooff! and the two powerful men went down like ninepins.
In a moment all the warders within sight or hearing came buzzing round, and Hodges and Fry got up, the latter bleeding; both staring confusedly. Seeing himself hemmed in, Robinson offered no further resistance. He plumped himself down on the ground and there sat, and they had to take him up and carry him to the dark cells. But as they were dragging him along by the shoulders he caught sight of the governor and chaplain looking down at him over the rails of Corridor B. At sight of the latter the thief wrenched himself free from his attendants, and screamed to him:
"Do you see this, you in the black coat? You that told us the other day you loved us, and now stand coolly there and see me taken to the black hole to be got ready for the mad-house? D'ye hear?"
"I hear you," replied the chaplain gravely and gently.
"You called us your brothers, you."
"I did, and do."
"Well, then, here is one of your brothers being taken to hell before your eyes. I go there a man, but I shall come out a beast, and that cowardly murderer by your side knows it, and you have not a word to say. That is all a poor fellow gets by being your brother. My curse on you all! butchers and hypocrites!"
"Give him twelve hours more for that," roared Hawes. "---- his eyes, I'll break him, ---- him."
"Ah," yelled the thief, "you curse me, do you? d'ye hear that? The son of a ---- appeals to Heaven against me! What? does this lump of dirt believe there is a God? Then there must be one." Then suddenly flinging himself on his knees, he cried, "If there is a God who pities them that suffer, I cry to Him on my knees to torture you as you torture us. May your name be shame, may your life be pain, and your death loathsome! May your skin rot from your flesh, your flesh from your bones, your bones from your body, and your soul split forever on the rock of damnation!"
"Take him away," yelled Hawes, white as a sheet.
They tore him away by force, still threatening his persecutor with outstretched hand and raging voice and blazing eyes, and flung him into the dark dungeon.
"Cool yourself there, ye varmint," said Fry spitefully. Even his flesh crept at the man's blasphemies.
Meantime, the chaplain had buried his face in his hands, and trembled like a woman at the frightful blasphemies and passions of these two sinners.
"I'll make this place hell to him. He shan't need to go elsewhere," muttered Hawes aloud between his clinched teeth.
The chaplain groaned.
The governor heard him and turned on him: "Well, parson, you see he doesn't thank you for interfering between him and me. He would rather have had an hour or two of the jacket and have done with it."
The chaplain sighed. He felt weighed down in spirit by the wickedness both of Hawes and of Robinson. He saw it was in vain at that moment to try to soften the former in favor of the latter. He moved slowly away. Hawes eyed him sneeringly.
"He is down upon his luck," thought Hawes; "his own fault for interfering with me. I liked the man well enough, and showed it, if he hadn't been a fool and put his nose into my business."
Half an hour had scarce elapsed when the chaplain came back.
"Mr. Hawes, I come to you as a petitioner."
"Indeed!" said Hawes, with a supercilious sneer very hard to bear.
The other would not notice it. "Pray, do not think I side with a refractory prisoner if I beg you, not to countermand, but to modify Robinson's punishment."
"Because he cannot bear so many hours of the dark cell."
"Is it too much to ask that you will give him six hours a day for four days instead of twenty-four at a stretch?"
"I don't know whether it is too much for you to ask. I should say by what I see of you that nothing is; but it is too much for me to grant. The man has earned punishment; he has got it, and you have nothing to do with it at all."
"Yes, I have the care of his soul, and how can I do his soul good if he loses his reason?"
"Stuff! his reason's safe enough, what little he has."
"Do not say stuff! Do not be rash where the stake is so great, or confident where you have no knowledge. You have never been in the dark cell, Mr. Hawes; I have, and I assure you it tried my nerves to the uttermost. I had many advantages over this poor man. I went in of my own accord, animated by a desire of knowledge, supported by the consciousness of right, my memory enriched by the reading of five-and-twenty years, on which I could draw in the absence of external objects; yet so dreadful was the place that, had I not been fortified by communion with my omnipresent God, I do think my reason would have suffered in that thick darkness and solitude. I repeated thousands of lines of Homer, Virgil and the Greek dramatists; then I came to Shakespeare, Corneille, Racine and Victor Hugo; then I tried to think of a text and compose a sermon; but the minutes seemed hours, leaden hours, and they weighed my head down and my heart down, and so did the Egyptian darkness, till I sought refuge in prayer, and there I found it."
"You pulled through it and so will he; and now I think of it, it is too slight a punishment to give a refractory, blaspheming villain no worse than a pious gentleman took on him for sport," sneered Hawes. "You heard his language to me, the blaspheming dog?"
"I did! I did! and therefore pray you to pity his sinful soul, exasperated by the severities he has already undergone. Oh, sir! the wicked are more to be pitied than the good; and the good can endure trials that wreck the wicked. I would rather see a righteous man thrown into that dismal dungeon than this poor blaspheming sinner."
"The deuce you would!"
"For the righteous man has a strong tower that the sinner lacks. He is fit to battle with solitude and fearful darkness; an unseen light shines upon his soul, an unseen hand sustains him. The darkness is no darkness to him, for the Sun of righteousness is nigh. In the deep solitude he is not alone, for good angels whisper by his side. 'Yea, though he walk through the valley of the shadow of death, yet shall he fear no evil, for God is with him; his rod and his staff they comfort him.' The wicked have not this comfort. To them darkness and solitude must be too horrible. Satan--not God--is their companion. The ghosts of their past crimes rise and swell the present horror. Remorse and despair are added to the double gloom of solitude and darkness. You don't know what you are doing when you shut up a poor lost sinner of excitable temperament in that dreadful hole. It is a wild experiment on a human frame. Pray be advised, pray be warned, pray let your heart be softened and punish the man as he deserves--but do not destroy him! oh, do not! do not destroy him!"
Up to this moment Hawes had worn a quiet, malicious grin. At last his rage broke through this veil. He turned round black as night upon the chaplain, who was bending toward him in earnest gasping yet sweet and gentle supplication.
"The vagabond insulted me before all my servants, and that is why you take his part. He would send me to hell if he had the upper hand. I've got the upper hand, and so he shall taste it instead of me, till he goes down on his marrowbones to me with my foot on his viper's tongue. ---- him!"
"Oh! do not curse him, above all now that he is in trouble and defenseless."
"Let me alone, sir, and I'll let you," retorted Hawes savagely. "If I curse him you can pray for him. I don't hinder you. Good-night;" and Mr. Hawes turned his back very rudely.
"I will pray for him--and for you!"
So then the chaplain retired sorrowfully to his private room, and here, sustained no longer by action, his high-tuned nature gave way. A cold languor came over him. He locked the door that no one might see his weakness, and then, succumbing to nature, he fell first into a sickness and then into a trembling, and more than once hysterical tears gushed from his eyes in the temporary prostration of his spirit and his powers.
Such are the great. Men know their feats but not their struggles!
Meantime Robinson lay in the dark cell with a morsel of bread and water, and no bed or chair, that hunger and unrest might co-operate with darkness and solitude to his hurt. To this horrid abode it is now our fate to follow a thief and a blasphemer. We must pass his gloomy portal, over which might have been inscribed what Dante has written over the gates of hell:
"ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE--ABANDON HOPE!!"
At six o'clock Robinson was thrust in, and his pittance of bread and water with him; the door, which fitted like mosaic, was closed. The steps retreated carrying away hope and human kind; there was silence, and the man shivered in the thick black air that seemed a fluid, not an atmosphere.
When the door closed his heart was yet beating with rage and wild desire of vengeance. He nursed this rage as long as he could, but the thick darkness soon cooled him and cowed him. He sat down upon the floor, he ate his pittance very slowly, two mouthfuls a minute. "I will be an hour eating it," said he, "and then an hour will have passed." He thought he was an hour eating it, but in reality he was scarce twenty minutes. The blackness seemed to smother him. "I will shut it out," said he. He took out his handkerchief and wrapped his head in it. "What a weak fool I am," cried he, "when we are asleep it does not matter to us light or dark; I will go to sleep." He lay down, his head still wrapped up, and tried to sleep. So passed the first hour.
Second hour. He rose from the stone floor after a vain attempt to sleep. "Oh, no!" cried he, "sleep is for those who are well and happy, and who could enjoy themselves as well awake; it won't come to me to save a poor wretch from despair. I must tire myself, and I am too cold to sleep. Here goes for a warm." He groped to the wall, and keeping his hand on it went round and round like a caged tiger. "Hawes hopes to drive me to Bedlam. I'll do the best I can for myself to spite him. May he lie in a place narrower than this, and almost as dark, with his jaw down and his toes up before the year is out, curse him!" But the poor wretch's curses quavered away into sobs and tears. "Oh, what have I done to be used so as I am here? They drive me to despair, then drive me to hell for despairing. Patience, or I shall go mad. Patience! Patience!" This hour was passed cursing and weeping and groping for warmth and fatigue--in vain.
Third hour. The man sat rocking himself to and fro, trying not to think of anything. For now the past, too, was coming with all its weight upon him; every minute he started up as if an adder had stung him; crawled about his cell seeking refuge in motion and finding none; then he threw himself on the floor and struggled for sleep. Sleep would not come so sought; and now his spirits were quite cowed. He would cringe to Hawes; he would lick the dust at his feet to get out of this horrible place; who could he get to go and tell the governor he was penitent. He listened at the door; he rapped; no one came. He put his ear to the ground and listened; no sound--blackness, silence, solitude. "They have left me here to die," shrieked the despairing man, and he flung himself on the floor and writhed upon the hard stone. "It must be morning, and no one comes near me; this is my tomb!" Fear came upon him, and trembling and a cold sweat bedewed his limbs; and once more the past rushed over him with tenfold force; days of happiness and comparative innocence now forfeited forever. His whole life whirled round before his eyes in a panorama, scene dissolving into scene with inconceivable rapidity; thus passed more than two hours; and now remorse and memory concentrated themselves on one dark spot in this man's history. "She is in the tomb," cried he, "and all through me, and that is why I am here. This is my grave. Do you see me, Mary?--she is here. The spirits of the dead can go anywhere." Then he trembled and cried for help. Oh! for a human voice or a human footstep!--none. His nerves and senses were now shaken. He cried aloud most piteously for help. "Mr. Fry, Mr. Hodges, help! help! help! The cell is full of the dead, and devils are buzzing round me waiting to carry me away--they won't wait much longer." He fancied something supernatural passed him like a wind. He struck wildly at it. He flung himself madly against the door to escape it; he fell back bruised and bleeding and lay a while in stupor.
Sixth hour. Robinson was going mad. The blackness and solitude and silence and remorse and despair were more than his excitable nature could bear any longer. He prayed Hawes to come and abuse him. He prayed Fry to bring the jacket to him. "Let me but see a man, or hear a man!" He screamed, and cursed, and prayed, and dashed himself on the ground and ran round the cell wounding his hands and his face. Suddenly he turned deadly calm. He saw he was going mad--better die than so--"I shall be a beast soon--I will die a man"--he tore down his collar--he had on cotton stockings; he took one off--he tied it in a loose knot round his naked throat--he took a firm hold with each hand.
And now he was quiet and sorrowed calmly. A man to die in the prime of life for want of a little light and a word from a human creature to keep him from madness.
Then as the thought returned, clinching his teeth, he gathered the ends of the stocking and prepared with one fierce pull to save his shaken reason and end his miserable days. Now at this awful moment, While his hands griped convulsively the means of death, a quiet tap on the outside of the cell door suddenly rang through the dead stillness, and a moment after a human word forced its way into the cave of madness and death--
When this strange word pierced the thick door and came into the hell-cave, feeble as though wafted over water from a distance, yet distinct as a bell and bright as a sunbeam, Robinson started, and quaked with fear and doubt. Did it come from the grave, that unearthly tone and word?
Still holding the ends of the stocking, he cried out wildly in a loud but quavering voice:
"Who--o--o calls Thomas Sinclair brother?" The distant voice rang back--
"Ah!--where are you, Francis Eden?"
"Here! within a hand's-breadth of you;" and Mr. Eden struck the door. "Here!"
"There! are you there?" and Robinson struck the door on his side.
"Ha! don't go away, pray don't go away!"
"I don't mean to. Take courage--calm your fears--a brother is close by you!"
"A brother!--again! now I know who it must be, but there is no telling voices here."
"What were you doing?"
"What was I doing? Oh! don't ask me--I was going mad--where are you?"
"And I am here close opposite; you won't go away yet a while?"
"Not till you bid me--compose yourself--do you hear me?--calm yourself, compose yourself."
"I will try, sir!--thank you, sir--I will try. What o'clock is it?"
"Night or day?"
"Friday night, or Saturday?"
"How came you to be in the prison at this hour?"
"I was anxious about you."
"You were what?"
"Fearful about you."
"What! did you give up your sleep only to see after me?"
"Are you not glad I came?"
"Is a shipwrecked sailor glad when a rope is flung him? I hold on to life and reason by you!"
"Is not this better than sleeping?--Did you speak?"
"No! I am thinking! I am trying to make you out. Were you ever a p---- (hum)?"
"Was I ever what? the door is so thick!"
"Oh! nothing, sir; you seem to know what a poor fellow suffers in the dark cell."
"I have been in it!"
"Whee-ugh-whee!--what a shame! what did they put you in for?"
"They didn't put me in. I went in."
"The devil you did!" muttered the immured.
"What? Speak out."
"Nothing, your reverence," bawled Robinson. "Why did you go into such a cur--into such a hole?"
"It was my duty to know what a fellow-creature suffers there, lest, through inexperience, I might be cruel. Ignorance is the mother of cruelty!"
"I hear you, sir.
"And cruelty is a fearful crime in His eyes, whose servant I am."
"I am thinking, sir; I am putting two or three things together--I see--"
"Speak more slowly and articulately."
"I will; I see what you are now--you are a Christian."
"I hope so!"
"I might have guessed as much, and I did suspect it; but I couldn't know, I had nothing to go by. I never fell in with a Christian before."
"Where did you go to look for them?" asked Mr. Eden, his mouth twitching.
"I have been in many countries, and my eyes open; and I've heard and read of Christians, and I've met hypocrites; but never met a living Christian till to-night." Then, after a pause, "Sir, I want to apologize to you!"
"For my ignorant and ungrateful conduct to you in my cell."
"Let bygones be bygones!"
"Could you forgive me, sir?"
"You punished yourself, not me; I forgive you."
Robinson was silent.
After a pause Mr. Eden tapped.
"What are you doing?"
"I am thinking over your goodness to me."
"Are you better now?"
"That I am. The place was a tomb; since you came it is only a closet. I can't see your face--I feel it, though; and your voice is music to me. Have you nothing to say to me, sir?"
"I have many things to say to you; but this is not the time. I want you to sleep."
"Sleep is the balm of mind and body--you need sleep."
"And you, sir?"
"I shall sit here."
"You will take your death of cold."
"No, I have my greatcoat."
There was a long pause.
Robinson tapped. "Sir, grant me a favor."
"What is it?"
"Go home to your bed."
"What, leave you?"
"Shall you not miss me?"
"Yes, sir, but you must go. The words you have spoken will stay with me while you are gone."
"I shall stay."
"No, sir, no! I can't bear it--it isn't fair!"
"What do you mean?"
"It isn't fair that a gentleman like you should be kept shivering at an unfortunate man's door like me. I am not quite good for nothing, sir, and this will disgrace me in my own eyes."
"I am on the best side of the door; don't trouble your head about me."
"I shouldn't, sir, if you had not about me--but kindness begets kindness. Go to your comfortable bed."
Mr. Eden hesitated.
"You will make me more unhappy than I am, if you stay here in the cold."
Now, at the beginning of this argument Mr. Eden was determined not to go; but on reflection he made up his mind to, for this reason: "This," said he to himself, "is an act of uncommon virtue and self-denial in this poor fellow. I must not balk it, for it will be good for his soul; it is a step on the right road. This good and, I might say, noble act is a foundation-stone on which I ought to try and build an honest man and a Christian."
"Well, then, as you are so considerate I will go."
"Can I do nothing for you before I go?"
"No, sir; you have done all a man can; yes, you can do something--you spoke a word to me when you came; it is a word I am not worthy of, but still if you could leave me that word it would be a companion for me."
When he heard Mr. Eden's steps grow fainter and fainter, and at last inaudible, Robinson groaned; the darkness turned blacker and the solitude more desolate than ever.
Mr. Eden paced the corridors in meditation. "It is never too late to mend!" he said. "This man seemed an unredeemable brute, yet his heart was to be touched by persevering kindness; and once touched, how much of goodness left in his fallen nature--genuine gratitude, and even the embers of self-respect. 'I hate myself for my conduct in the cell; it would disgrace me in my own eyes if I let you shiver at my door.' Poor fellow, my heart yearns toward him for that. 'Go, or you will make me more unhappy.' Why, that was real delicacy. I must not let him suffer for it. In an hour I will go back to him. If he is asleep, well and good; if not, there I stay till morning."
He went to his room and worked. The hour soon glided by to him; not so to the poor prisoner. At two in the morning Mr. Eden came softly back to the dark cell to see whether Robinson was asleep. He scratched the door with a key. A loud, unsteady voice cried out, "What is that?"
"It is I, brother."
"Why are you not in your bed?"
"I couldn't sleep for anxiety. Come, chat with me till you feel sleepy. How did you color those cards?"
"I found a coal and a bit of brick in the yard. I pounded them and mixed them with water and laid them on with a brush I had made and hid."
"Very ingenious! Are you cold?"
"Because your voice trembles."
"What is the matter?"
"Can't you guess?"
"No! But I remember you used to tremble when I spoke to you in the cell. Why was that? Have your nerves been shaken by ill-usage, my poor fellow?"
"Oh, no! it is not that."
"Tell me, then!"
"Oh, sir! you know all a poor fellow feels. You can guess what made me tremble, and makes me tremble now, like an aspen I do."
"No, indeed! pray tell me! Are we not friends?"
"The best ever I had, or ever shall."
"Then tell me."
I'll try; but it is a long story, and the door is so thick."
"Ah! but I hear you better now. I have got used to your voice.
"Well, sir; but I've no words to speak to you as I ought. Why did I use to tremble when you used to speak kind to me? Sir, when I first came here I hadn't a bad heart. I was a felon, but I was a man. They turned me to a brute by cruelty and wrong. You came too late, sir. It wasn't Tom Robinson you found in that cell. I had got to think all men were devils They poisoned my soul! I hated God and man!
"The very chaplain before you said good, kind words in church, but out of it he was Hawes' tool! Then you came and spoke good, kind words. My heart ran to meet them; then it drew back all shivering and said, this is a hypocrite, too! I was a fool and a villain to think so for a moment, and perhaps I didn't at bottom, but I was turned to gall.
"Oh, sir! you don't know what it is to lose hope, to find out that do what you will you can't be right, can't escape abuse and hatred and torture. Treat a man like a dog and you make him one!
"But you came. Your voice, your face, your eye were all pity and kindness. I hoped, but I was afraid to hope! I had seen but two things--butchers and hypocrites. Then I had sworn in my despair never to speak again, and I wouldn't speak to you. Fool! How kind and patient you were. Sir, once when you left me you sighed as you closed the cell door. I came after you to beg your pardon, when it was too late; indeed I did, upon my honor. And when you would rub the ointment on my throat in spite of my ingratitude, I could have worshipped you; but my pride held me back like an iron hand. Why did I tremble? that was the devil and my better part fighting inside me for the upper hand. And another thing, I did not dare speak to you. I felt that if I did I should give way altogether, like a woman or a child. I feel so now. For, oh! can't you guess what it must be to a poor fellow when all the rest are savage as wolves and one is kind as a woman? Oh! you have been a friend to me. You don't know all you have done. You have saved my life. When you came here a stocking was knotted round my throat; a minute later the man you call your brother--God bless you--would have been no more. There, I never meant you should know that, and now it has slipped out. My benefactor! my kind friend! my angel! for you are an angel and not a man. What can I do to show you what I feel? What can I say? There, I tremble all over now as I did then. I'm choking for words, and the cruel, thick door keeps me from you. I want to put my neck under your foot, for I can't speak. All I say isn't worth a button. Words! words! words! give me words that mean something. They shan't keep me from you, they shan't! they shan't! My stubborn heart was between us once, now there is only a door. Give me your hand! give me your hand before my heart bursts."
"Hold it there!"
"My lips are here close opposite it. I am kissing your dear hand. There! there! there! I bless you! I love you! I adore you! I am kissing your hand, and I am on my knees blessing you and kissing. Oh, my heart! my heart! my heart!"
There was a long silence, disturbed only by sobs that broke upon the night from the black cell. Mr. Eden leaned against the door with his hand in the same place; the prisoner kissed the spot from time to time.
"Your reverence is crying, too!" was the first word spoken, very gently.
"How do you know?"
"You don't speak, and my heart tells me you are shedding a tear for me; there was only that left to do for me."
Then there was another silence, and true it was that the good man and the bad man mingled some tears through the massy door. These two hearts pierced it, and went to and fro through it, and melted in spite of it, and defied and utterly defeated it.
"Did you speak, dear sir?"
"No! not for the world! Weep on, my poor sinning, suffering brother. Heaven sends you this blessed rain; let it drop quietly on your parched soul, refresh you, and shed peace on your troubled heart. Drop, gentle dew from heaven, upon his spirit; prepare the dry soul for the good seed!"
And so the bad man wept abundantly; to him old long-dried sources of tender feeling were now unlocked by Christian love and pity.
The good man shed a gentle tear or two of sympathy--of sorrow, too, to find so much goodness had been shut up, driven in and wellnigh quenched forever in the poor thief.
To both these holy drops were as the dew of Hermon on their souls.
O lacryrnarum fons tenero sacros Ducentium ortus ex animo; quater Felix in imo qui scatentem Pectore te pia Nynmpha sensit.
Robinson was the first to break silence.
"Go home, sir, now; you have done your work, you have saved me. I feel at peace. I could sleep. You need not fear to leave me now."
"I shall sit here until you are asleep, and then I will go. Do you hear this?" and he scratched the door with his key.
"Well, when I do so and you do not tap in reply I shall know you are asleep."
Robinson, whose heart was now so calmed, felt his eyes get heavier and heavier. After a while he spoke to Mr. Eden but received no reply.
"Perhaps he is dozing," thought Robinson. "I won't disturb him."
Then he composed himself, lying close to the door to be near his friend.
After a while Mr. Eden scratched the door with his key. There was no answer; then he rose softly and went to his own room.
Robinson slept--slept like an infant after this feverish day. His body lay still in a hole dark and almost as narrow as the grave, but his spirit had broken prison. Tired nature's sweet restorer descended like a dove upon his wet eyelids, and fanned him with her downy wings, and bedewed the hot heart and smarting limbs with her soothing, vivifying balm.
At six o'clock Evans went and opened Robinson's cell door. He was on the ground sleeping, with a placid smile on his face. Evans looked down at him with a puzzled air. While contemplating him he was joined by Fry.
"Ugh!" grunted that worthy, "seems to agree with him." And he went off and told Hawes.
Directly after chapel, which he was not allowed to attend, came an order to take Robinson out of the dark cell and put him on the crank.
The disciplinarian, defeated in his attempt on Robinson, was compensated by a rare stroke of good fortune--a case of real refractoriness even this was not perfect, but it answered every purpose.
In one of the labor cells they found a prisoner seated with the utmost coolness across the handle of his crank. He welcomed his visitants with a smile, and volunteered a piece of information--"It is all right."
Now it couldn't be all right, for it was impossible he could have done his work in the time. Hawes looked at the face of the crank to see how much had been done, and lo! the face was broken and the index had disappeared. As Mr. Hawes examined the face of the crank, the prisoner leered at him with a mighty silly cunning.
This personage's name was Carter; it may be as well to explain him. Go into any large English jail on any day in any year you like, you shall find there two or three prisoners who have no business to be in such a place at all--half-witted, half-responsible creatures, missent to jail by shallow judges contentedly executing those shallow laws they ought to modify and stigmatize until civilization shall come and correct them.
These imbeciles, if the nation itself was not both half-witted and a thoughtless, ignorant dunce in all matters relating to such a trifle (Heaven forgive us!) as its prisons, would be taken to the light not plunged into darkness; would not be shut up alone with their no-minds to accumulate the stupidity that has undone them, but forced into collision with better understandings; would not be closeted in a jail, but in a mild asylum with a school attached.
The offenses of these creatures is seldom theft, hardly ever violence. This idiot was sentenced to two years' separate confinement for being the handle with which two knaves had passed base coin. The same day the same tribunal sentenced a scoundrel who was not an idiot, and had beaten and kicked his wife to the edge of the grave--to fourteen years' imprisonment? no--to four months.
Mr. Carter had observed that Fry looked at a long iron needle on the face of the crank and that when he had been lazy somehow this needle pointed out the fact to Fry. He could not understand it, but then the world was brimful of things he could not understand one bit. It was no use standing idle till he could comprehend rerum naturam--bother it. In short, Mr. Carter did what is a dangerous thing for people in his condition to do, he cogitated, and the result of this unfamiliar process was that he broke the glass of the crank face, took out the index, shied the pieces of glass carefully over the wall, secreted the needle, took about ten turns of the crank, and then left off and sat down, exulting secretly.
When they came, as usual, and went to consult the accusing needle, he chuckled and leered with foolish cunning. But his chuckle died away into a most doleful quaver when he found himself surrounded, jacketed, strapped and collared. He struggled furiously at first, like some wild animal in a net; and when resistance was hopeless the poor, half-witted creature lifted up his voice and uttered loud, wild-beast cries of pain and terror that rang through the vast prison.
These horrible cries brought all the warders to the spot, and Mr. Eden. There he found Carter howling, and Hawes in front of him, cursing and threatening him with destruction if he did not hold his noise.
He might as well have suspended a dog from a branch by the hind leg and told him he mustn't howl.
This sight drove a knife through Mr. Eden's heart. He stood among them white as a sheet. He could not speak; but his pale face was a silent protest against this enormity. His look of horror and righteous indignation chilled and made uneasy the inquisitors, all but Hawes.
"Hold your noise, ye howling brute, or I'll"--and he clapped his hand before Carter's mouth.
Carter seized his thumb with his teeth and bit it to the bone. Hawes yelled with pain and strove furiously to get his hand away, but Carter held it like a tiger. Hawes capered with agony and yelled again. The first to come to his relief was Mr. Eden. He was at the biped's side in a moment, and pinched his nose. Now, as his lungs were puffing like a blacksmith's bellows, his mouth flew open the moment the other breathing-hole was stopped, and Hawes got his bleeding hand away.
He held it with the other and shook it, and moaned dismally, like a great girl; but suddenly looking up he saw a half grin upon the faces of his myrmidons.
For the contrast of a man telling another who was in pain not to make a row, and the next moment making an abominable row himself for no better reason, was funny.
For all this occurred ten times quicker in action than in relation.
Mr. Hawes's conversion to noise came rapidly in a single sentence, after this fashion:
"---- you! hold your infernal noise. Oh! Augh! Ah! E E! E E! Aah! Oh! Oh!; E E!E E! O O!O O! O O! O O! O O!O O!"
So Fry and Hodges and Evans and Davis grinned.
For all these men had learned from Hawes to laugh at pain--(another's). One man alone did not even smile. He was an observer, and did not expect any one to be great at bearing pain who was rash in inflicting it; moreover, he suffered with all who suffer. He was sorry for the pilloried biped, and sorry for the bitten brute.
He then gave them another lesson. "All you want the poor thing to do is to suffer in silence. Withdraw twenty yards from him." He set the example by retreating; the others, Hawes included, being off their guard, obeyed mechanically the superior spirit.
Carter's cries died away into a whimpering moan. The turnkeys looked at one another, and with a sort of commencement of respect at Mr. Eden.
"Parson knows more than we do."
Hawes interrupted this savagely.
"Ye fools! couldn't you see it was the sight of your ugly faces made him roar, not the jacket? Keep him there till further orders;" and he went off to plaster his wounded hand.
Mr. Eden sat down and covered his face. He was as miserable as this vile world can make a man who lives for a better. The good work he was upon was so difficult in itself, and those who ought to have helped fought against him.
When with intelligence, pain and labor he had built up a little good, Hawes was sure to come and knock it down again; and this was the way to break his heart.
He had been taking such pains with this poor biped; he had played round his feeble understanding to find by what door a little wisdom and goodness could be made to enter him. At last he had found that pictures pleased him and excited him, and awakened all the intelligence he had.
Mr. Eden had a vast collection of engravings and photographs. His plan with Carter was to show him some engraving presenting a fact or anecdote. First he would put under his eyes a cruel or unjust action. He would point out the signs of suffering in one of the figures. Carter would understand this because he saw it. Then Mr. Eden would excite his sympathy. "Poor so and so!" would Mr. Eden say in a pitying voice. "Poor so and so!" would biped Carter echo. After several easy lessons he would find him a picture of some more moderate injustice, and so raise the shadow of a difficulty and draw a little upon Carter's understanding as well as sympathy. Then would come pictures of charity, of benevolence and other good actions. These and their effects upon the several figures Carter was invited to admire, and so on to a score of topics. The first thing was to make Carter think and talk, which he did in the happy-go-lucky way of his class, uttering nine mighty simple remarks, and then a bit of superlative wisdom, or something that sounded like it. And when he had shot his random bolts, Mr. Eden would begin and treat each picture as a text, and utter much wisdom on it in simple words.
He found Carter's mind in a state of actual lethargy. He got it out of that; he created an excitement and kept it up. He got at his little bit of mind through his senses. Honor to all the great arts! The limit to their beauty and their usefulness has never yet been found and never will. Painting was the golden key this thinker held to the Bramah lock of an imbecile's understanding the ponderous wards were beginning to revolve--when a blockhead came and did his best to hamper the lock.
In English, Eden was gradually making the biped a man: comes Hawes and turns him a brute. The whimpering moans of Carter were thoroughly animal, and the poor biped's degradation as well as his suffering made Mr. Eden wretched.
To-day for the first time the chaplain saw a prisoner crucified without suffering that peculiar physical weakness which I have more than once noticed. Poor soul, he was so pleased at this that he thanked Heaven for curing him of that contemptible infirmity, so he called it. But he had to pay for this victory. He never felt so sick at heart as now. He turned for relief to the duties he had in his zeal added to a chaplain's acknowledged routine. He visited his rooms and all his rational work-people.
The sight of all the good he was doing by teaching the sweets of anti-theft was always a cordial to him.
Almost the last cell he visited was Thomas Robinson's. The man had been fretting and worrying himself to know why he did not come before. As soon as the door was opened he took an eager step to meet him, then stopped irresolutely, and blushed and beamed with pleasure mixed with a certain confusion. He looked volumes but waited out of respect for his reverence to address him.
Mr. Eden held out his hand to him with a frank manner and kind smile. At this Robinson tried to speak but could only stammer; something seemed to rise in his throat and block up the exit of words.
"Come," said Mr. Eden, "no more of that; be composed, and I will sit down, for I am tired."
Robinson brought him his stool, and Mr. Eden sat down.
They conversed, and after some kind inquiries, Mr. Eden came to the grand purport of this visit, which, to the surprise and annoyance of Robinson, was to reprobate severely the curses and blasphemies he had uttered as they were dragging him to the dark cell. And so threatening and severe was Mr. Eden, that at last poor Robinson whined out:
"Sir, you will make me wish I was in the dark cell again, for then you took my part; now you are against me."
"There is a time for everything under the sun. When you were in the dark cell, consolation and indulgence were the best things for your soul, and I gave them you as well as I could. You are not in the dark cell now, and, out of the same love for you, I tell you that if God took you this night the curses you uttered yesterday would destroy you to all eternity."
"I hope not, your reverence!"
"Away with delusive hopes, they war against the soul. I tell you those curses that came from a tongue set on fire of hell have placed you under the ban of Heaven. Are you not this Hawes's brother, his brother every way--two unforgiven sinners?"
"Yes, sir," said Robinson, truckling, "of course I know I am a great sinner, a desperate sinner, not worthy to be in your reverence's company. But I hope," he added, with sudden sincerity and spirit, "you don't think I am such an out-and-out scoundrel as that Hawes."
"Mr. Hawes would tell me you are the scoundrel and he a zealous servant of morality and order; but these comparisons are out of place. I am now deferring not to the world's judgment but to a higher, in whose eye Mr. Hawes and you stand on a level--two unforgiven sinners; if not forgiven you will both perish everlastingly, and to be forgiven you must forgive. God is very forgiving--He forgives the best of us a thousand vile offenses. But He never forgives unconditionally. His terms are our repentance and our forgiveness of those who offend us one-millionth part as deeply as we offend Him. Therefore in praying against Hawes you have prayed against yourself. Give me your slate. No; take it yourself. Write--"
Robinson took his pencil with alacrity. He wrote a beautiful hand, and wanted to show off this accomplishment to his reverence.
"Forgive us our sins as we forgive them that trespass against us.'"
"It is down, sir."
"Particularize, your reverence?"
"Write under 'us' 'our' and 'we,' 'me',' my' and 'I'; respectively."
"All right, sir."
"Now under 'them' write 'Mr. Hawes.'"
"Ugh! Yes, your reverence, 'Mr. Hawes.'"
"And under the last four words write, 'his cruelty to me.'"
This was wormwood to Mr. Robinson. "'His cruelty to me!'"
"Now read your work out."
"'Forgive me my sins as I forgive Mr. Hawes his cruelty to me.'"
"Now ponder over those words. Keep them before your eye here, and try at least and bow your stubborn heart to them. Fall on them and be broken, or they will fall on you and grind you to powder." He concluded in a terrible tone; then, seeing Robinson abashed, more from a notion he was in a rage with him than from any deeper sentiment, he bade him farewell kindly as ever.
"I know," said he, "I have given you a hard task. We can all gabble the Lord's Prayer, but how few have ever prayed it! But at least try, my poor soul, and I will set you an example. I will pray for my brother Robinson and my brother Hawes, and I shall pray for them all the more warmly that at present one is a blaspheming thief and the other a pitiless blockhead."
The next day being Sunday, Mr. Eden preached two sermons that many will remember all their lives. The first was against theft and all the shades of dishonesty. I give a few of his topics. The dry bones he covered with flesh and blood and beauty. The tendency of theft was to destroy all moral and social good. For were it once to prevail so far as to make property insecure, industry would lose heart, enterprise and frugality be crushed, and at last the honest turn thieves in self-defense. Nearly every act of theft had a baneful influence on the person robbed.
Here he quoted by name instances of industrious, frugal persons, whose savings having been stolen, they had lost courage and good habits of years' standing, and had ended ill. Then he gave them a simile. These great crimes are like great trunk railways. They create many smaller ones. Some flow into them, some out of them. Drunkenness generally precedes an act of theft; drunkenness always follows it; lies flow from it in streams, and perjury rushes to its defense.
It breeds, too, other vices that punish it, but never cure it--prodigality and general loose living. The thief is never the richer by this vile act which impoverishes his victim; for the money obtained by this crime is wasted in others. The folly of theft; its ill economy. What high qualities are laid out to their greatest disadvantage by the thief; acuteness, watchfulness, sagacity, determination, tact. These virtues, coupled with integrity, enrich thousands every year. How many thieves do they enrich? How many thieves are a shilling a year the better for the hundreds of pounds that come dishonestly into their hands.
"In ---- Jail (Mr. Lepel's), there is now a family that have stolen, first and last, property worth eighteen thousand pounds. The entire possessions of this family are now two pair of shoes. The clothes they stand in belong to Government; their own had to be burned, so foul were they. Eighteen thousand pounds had they stolen--to be beggars; and this is the rule, not the exception, as you all know. Why is this your fate and your end? Because a mightier power than man's has determined that thieving shall not thrive. The curse of God is upon theft!"
Then came life-like pictures of the honest man and the thief. The one with an eye that faced you, with a conscious dignity and often a cheerful countenance; the other with a shrinking eye, a conscious meanness, and never with a smile from the heart; sordid, sly and unhappy--for theft is misery. No wonder this crime degrades a man when it degrades the very animals; Look at a dog who has stolen. Before this, when he met his master or any human friend he used to run up to greet them with wagging tail and sparkling eye. Now see him. At sight of any man he crawls meanly away, with cowering figure and eye askant, the living image of the filthy sin he has committed. He feels he has no longer a right to greet a man, for he is a thief.
And here the preacher gathered images, facts and satire, and hurled a crushing hailstorm of scorn upon the sordid sin. Then he attacked the present situation (his invariable custom).
"Not all the inmates of a jail were equally guilty on their arrival there. A large proportion of felons were orphans or illegitimate children; others, still more unfortunate, were the children of criminals who had taught them crime from their cradles. Great excuses were to be made for the general mass of criminals; excuses that the ignorant, shallow world could not be expected to make; but the balance of the Sanctuary is not like the world's clumsy balance; it weighs all men to a hair. Excuses will be made for many of you in heaven up to a certain point. And what is that point? The day of your entrance into prison. But now plead no more the ill example of parents and friends, for here you are cut off from it.
"Plead no more that you cannot read, for here you have been taught to read.
"Plead no more the dreadful power of vicious habits that began when you were unguarded, for those habits have now been cut away from you by force and better habits substituted.
"Plead no more ignorance of God's Word, for here day by day it is poured into your ears.
"Your situation has other less obvious advantages. Here you are little exposed to the soul's most dangerous enemy--self-deception. The world destroys thousands of sinners by flattery. Half the great sinners upon earth are what is called respectable. The world tells them they are good--they believe it, and so die as they have lived, and are lost eternally. The world, intending to be more unkind to you, is far more kind; it tells you the truth--that you are desperate sinners. Here, then, where everything opens your eyes, oh! fight not against yourselves. Repent, or fearful will be the fresh guilt heaped upon your heads! Even these words of mine must do you good or do you harm. I tremble when I tell you so. It is an awful thing to think." The preacher paused. "You know that I love you--that I would give my life to save one soul of all those I see before me now! Have pity on me and on yourselves! Let me not be so unfortunate as to add to your guilt--I, whose heart yearns to do you good! Oh, my poor brothers and sisters, do not pity yourselves so much less than I pity you--do not love yourselves so much less than I love you! Why will ye die! Repent, and be forgiven!
"Some of you profess attachment to me--some talk of gratitude. There are some of my poor brothers and sisters in this jail that say to me, 'Oh, I wish I could do something for you, sir!' Perhaps you have noticed that I have never answered these professions. Well, I will answer them now once for all."
While the preacher paused there was a movement observed among the prisoners.
"Would you make me very--very sad? Remain impenitent! Would you make me happy? Repent, and turn to God! Not to-morrow, or next day, but on your knees in your own cells the moment you go hence. You don't know, you can't dream what happiness you will confer on me if you do this!"
Then, suddenly opening his arms with wonderful grace and warmth and energy, he cried, "My poor wandering sheep, come--come to the heavenly fold! Let me gather you as a hen gathers her chickens under her wing. You are my anxiety, my terror--be my joy, my consolation here, and hereafter the brightest jewels in my heavenly crown."
In this strain he soared higher than my poor earth-clogged wings can follow him. He had lashed sin severely, so he had earned a right to show his love for the sinner. Gracious words of entreaty and encouragement gushed from him in a crystal stream with looks and tones of more than mortal charity. Men might well doubt was this a man, or was it Christianity speaking? Christianity, born in a stable, was she there, illuminating a jail? For now for a moment or two the sacred orator was more than mortal; so high above earth was his theme, so great his swelling words. He rose, he dilated to heroic size, he flamed with sacred fire. His face shone like an angel's, and no silver trumpet or deep-toned organ could compare with his thundering, pealing, melting voice, that poured the soul of love and charity and heaven upon friend and foe. Then seemed it as though a sudden blaze of music and light broke into that dark abode. Each sinful form stretched wildly forth to meet them--each ear hung aching on them--each glistening eye lived on them, and every heart panted and quivered as this great Christian swept his immortal harp--among thieves and homicides and oppressors--in that sad house of God.
"What did you think of the sermon, Fry?"
Fry. Liked the first part, sir, where he walked into thieving. Don't like his telling 'em he loves 'em. 'Tisn't to be supposed a gentleman could really love such rubbish as that. Sounds like palaver.
Hawes. Now I liked it all, though it spoiled my nap.
Fry. Well, sir, it is very good of you to like it, for I don't think you like the man.
Hawes. The man is all very well in his place. He ought to be bottled up in one of the dark cells all the week, and then brought up and uncorked in chapel o' Sundays. It is as good as a romance is a sermon of his.
Fry. That it is, sir. Comes next after the Newgate Calendar, don't it now? But there's one thing about all his sermons I can't get over.
Hawes. And what is that?
Fry. Preaches at 'em so.
Hawes. Why, ye fool, that is the beauty of him. How is he to hit 'em if he doesn't hit at 'em?
Fry. Mr. Jones usen't.
Hawes. Oh, Jones! He shot his arrow up in the air and let it fall wherever the wind chose to blow it, and then, if it came down on the wrong man's head he'd say, never mind, my boy, accident!--pure accident! No! give me a chap that hits out straight from the shoulder. Can't you see this is worth a hundred Joneses beating about the bush and droning us all asleep.
Fry. So he is, sir. So he is. But then I think he didn't ought to be quite so personal. Fancy his requesting such a lot as ours to repent their sins and go to heaven just to oblige him. There's a inducement! I call that himper dig from the pulpit.
"What d'ye call it?" growled Hawes snappishly.
"Himper dig!" replied Fry stoutly.
In the afternoon Mr. Eden preached against cruelty.
"No crime is so thoroughly without excuse as this. Other crimes have sometimes an adequate temptation, this never. The path to other crimes is down-hill; to cruelty is up-hill. In the very act, Nature, who is on the side of some crimes, cries out within us against this monstrous sin. The blood of our victim flowing from our blows, its groans and sighs and pallor, stay the uplifted arm and appeal to the furious heart. Wonderful they should ever appeal in vain. Cruelty is not one of our pleasant vices, and the opposite virtues are a garden of delights: 'Mercy is twice blessed, it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.' God has written His abhorrence of this monstrous sin in letters of fire and blood on every page of history."
Here he ransacked history, and gave them some thirty remarkable instances of human cruelty, and of its being punished in kind so strangely, and with such an exactness of retribution, that the finger of God seemed visible writing on the world--"God hates cruelty."
At the end of his examples he instanced two that happened under his own eye--a favorite custom of this preacher.
"A man was tried in London for cruelty to animals; he was acquitted by a legal flaw, though the evidence was clear against him. This man returned homeward triumphant. The train in which he sat was drawn up by the side of a station. An express-train passed on the up-line at full speed. At the moment of passing the fly-wheel of the engine broke; a large fragment was driven into the air and fell upon the stationary train. It burst through one of the carriages and killed a man upon the spot. That man was seated between two other men, neither of whom received the slightest injury. The man so singled out was the cruel man who had evaded man's justice, but could not escape His hand who created the beasts as well as man, and who abhors all men who are cruel to any creature He has formed.
"A man and his wife conspired to rob and murder their friend and constant guest. Determined to escape detection, they coldly prepared for the deed of blood. Long before the murder they dug a hole in the passage leading from their parlor to their dining-room, and this hole was to receive the corpse of the man with whom meantime these heartless wretches eat bread day after day and drank his health at their own board. Several times the unfortunate man walked with his host and hostess over this concealed hole, his destined tomb, before the time came to sacrifice him. At last they murdered him and buried him in the grave they had prepared for him. The deed done, spite of all their precaution fear fell on them and hatred, and they fled from the house where the corpse was and from each other, one to the north, one to the south. Fled they ever so fast, or so far apart, justice followed to the north, justice followed to the south, and dragged the miscreants together again and flung them into one prison. They were convicted and condemned to death. There came a fatal morning to this guilty pair, when the sun rose upon them and found them full of health and strength, yet in one short hour they must be dead. They were taken into the prison chapel according to custom, and from the chapel they must pass at once to the gallows. Now it so happened that the direct path from the chapel to the gallows was blocked up by some repairs that were going on in the prison, so the condemned were obliged to make a long circuit. It was one of the largest of our old prisons, a huge, irregular building, constructed with no simplicity of design, and one set of officers did not always know at once what was going on in a distant department. Hence it befell that in a certain passage of the jail the condemned and their attendants came suddenly upon a new-made grave! Stones had been taken up, and a grave dug in this passage. The workmen had but just completed it. The grave filled up the passage, which was narrow and but little used. The men who accompanied the murderers paused, abashed and chilled. The murderers paused and looked at one another; no words can describe that look! Planks were put down, and they walked over their own grave to their death. Is there a skeptic who tells me this was chance? Then I tell him he is a credulous fool to believe that chance can imitate omniscience, omnipotence and holiness so inimitably. In this astounding fact of exact retribution I see nothing that resembles chance. I see the arm of God and the finger of God. His arm dragged the murderers to the gallows, His finger thrust the heartless, cruel miscreants across the grave that was yawning for their doomed bodies! Tremble, ye cruel, God hates ye! Men speak of a murder--and sometimes, by way of distinction, they say 'a cruel murder.' See, now, what a crime cruelty must be, since it can aggravate murder, the crime before which all other sins dwindle into nothing."
Of minor cruelties that do not attack life itself the most horrible he thought was cruelty to women. Here the man must trample on every manly feeling, on the instinct and the traditions of sex, on the opinion of mankind, on the generosity that goes with superior strength and courage. A man who is cruel to a woman is called a brute, but if the brutes could speak they would appeal against this phrase as unjust to them. What animal but man did you ever see maltreat a female of his species? The brutes are not such beasts as bad, cruel men are. Or if you ever saw such a monstrosity the animal that did it was some notorious coward, such as the deer, which I believe is now and then guilty in a trifling degree of this dirty sin, being a rank coward. But who ever saw a lion or a dog or any courageous animal let himself down to the level of a cowardly man so far as this?
Here sprang from his lips a true and tender picture of a wife. The narrow and virtuous circle of her joys, her many sufferings, great and little--no need of being cruel to her; she must suffer so much without that. The claims to pity and uncommon consideration every woman builds up during a few years of marriage! Her inestimable value in the house! How true to the hearth she is unless her husband corrupts her or drives her to despair! How often she is good in spite of his example! How rarely she is evil but by his example! God made her weaker that man might have the honest satisfaction and superior joy of protecting and supporting her. To torture her with the strength so intrusted him for her good is to rebel against heaven's design--it is to be a monster, a coward, and a fool!
"There was one more kind of cruelty it was his duty to touch upon--harsh treatment of those unhappy persons to whom it has not pleased God to give a full measure of reason.
"This is a sacred calamity to which the intelligent and the good in all ages and places have been tender and pitiful. In some countries these unfortunates are venerated, and being little able to guard themselves are held to be under Heaven's especial protection. This is a beautiful belief and honors our fallen nature. Yet in Christian England, I grieve and blush to say, cruelty often falls on their unprotected heads. Who has not seen the village boys follow and mock these afflicted persons? Youth is cruel because the great parent of cruelty is general ignorance and inexperience of the class of suffering we inflict. Men who have come to their full reason have not this excuse. What! persecute those whom God hath smitten, but whom He still loves, and will take vengeance on all who maltreat them. On such and on all of you who are cruel, shame and contempt will fall sooner or later even in this world, and at that solemn day when the cruel and their victims shall meet the Judge of the quick and the dead, He on whose mercy hangs your eternal fate will say to you, 'Have ye shown mercy?' Oh! these words will crush your souls. Madmen! know ye not that the most righteous man on earth can only be saved by God's mercy, not by His justice? Would you forfeit all hope, all chance, all possibility of that mercy, by merciless cruelty to your brothers and sisters of the race of Adam? Does the day of judgment seem to you uncertain or so distant that you dare be cruel here during the few brief days you have to prepare yourself for eternity? If you are under this delusion here I tear it from your souls. That day is at hand, at the door."
Then, in a moment, by the magic of eloquence, the great day of retribution was no longer faint and distant, but upon them in all its terrors; and they who in the morning had leaned forward eagerly to catch the message of mercy now shrank and cowered from the thunder that pealed over their heads, and the lightning of awful words that showed them by flashes the earth quaking and casting forth her dead-- the sea trembling and casting forth her dead--the terrible trumpet pealing from pole to pole-the books opened--the dread Judge seated--and. hell yawning for the guilty.
"Well, sir, how did you like this sermon?" said Fry, respectfully.
"He won't preach many more such, (imperative mood) him. I'll teach him to preach at people from the pulpit."
"Well, that is what I say, sir, but you said you liked to hear him preach at folk."
"So I do," replied Hawes angrily, "but not at me, ye fool!"
This afternoon two of the prisoners rang their bells, and on the warder coming to them begged in much agitation to see the chaplain. Mr. Eden was always at the prisoners' orders and came to both of these; one was a man about thirty, the other a mere boy. The same evening Mr. Hawes sat down, his features working wrathfully, and dispatched a note to Mr. Locock, one of the visiting justices and a particular admirer of his.
Meeting Mr. Eden in the prison, he did not return that gentleman's salute. This was his way of implying war; events were thickening, a storm was brewing. This same evening there was a tap at Mr. Eden's private door and Evans entered the room. The man's manner was peculiar. He wore outside a dogged look, as if fighting against some inward feeling; he entered looking down most perniciously at the floor. "Well, Evans?"
Evans approached, his eyes still glued upon the floor. He shoved a printed paper roughly into Mr. Eden's hand, and said in a tone of sulky reproach, "Saw ye fret because ye could not get it, and couldn't bear to see ye fret."
"Thank you, Evans, thank you!"
"You are very welcome, sir," said Evans, with momentary deference and kindness. Then turning suddenly at the door in great wrath, with a tendency to whimper, he roared out, "Ye'll get me turned out of my place, that's what ye'll do!" and went off apparently in tremendous dudgeon. The printed paper contained "the rules of the prison," a copy of which Mr. Eden had asked from Hawes and been refused. Evans had watched his opportunity, got them from another warder in return for two glasses of grog outside the jail.
Mr. Eden fell to and studied the paper carefully till bed-time. As he read it his eye more than once flashed with satisfaction in spite of a great despondency that had now for a day or two been creeping upon him.
This depression dated from biped Carter's crucifixion or soon after. He struggled gallantly against it; it appeared in none of his public acts. But when alone his heart seemed to have turned to lead. A cold, languid hopelessness most foreign to his high, sanguine nature weighed him to the earth, and the Dead Sea rolled over his spirit.
Earnest Mr. Hawes hated good Mr. Eden; one comfort, by means of his influence with the justices he could get him turned out of the prison. Meantime what could he do to spite him? Begin by punishing a prisoner--that is the only thing that stings him. With these good intentions earnest Hawes turned out and looked about for a prisoner to punish; unfortunately for poor Josephs the governor's eye fell upon him as he came out of the chapel. The next minute he was put on a stiff crank, which led in due course to the pillory. When he had been in about an hour and a half, Hawes winked to Fry, and said to him under his breath, "Let the parson know."
Fry strolled into the prison. He met Mr. Eden at a cell door. "Josephs refractory again, sir," said he, with mock civility.
Mr. Eden looked him in the face, but said nothing. He went to his own room, took a paper off the table, and came into the yard. Josephs was beginning to sham and a bucket had just been thrown over him amid the coarse laughter of Messrs. Fry, Hodges and Hawes. Evans, who happened to be in attendance, stood aloof with his eyes fixed on the ground.
As soon as he saw Mr. Eden coming Hawes gave a vindictive chuckle.
"Another bucket," cried he, and taking it himself, he contrived to sprinkle Mr. Eden as well as to sluice his immediate victim.
Mr. Eden took no notice of this impertinence, but to the surprise of all there he strode between the victim and his tormentors, and said sternly, "Do you know that you are committing an illegal assault upon this prisoner?'
"No, I don't," said Hawes, with a cold sneer.
"Then I shall show you. Here are the printed rules of the prison; you have no authority over a prisoner but what these rules give you. Now show me where they permit you to pillory a prisoner?"
"They don't forbid it, that is enough."
"No! it is not. They don't forbid you to hang him, or to sear him with a hot iron, but they tell you in this paragraph what punishments you may inflict, and that excludes all punishments of your own invention. You may neither hang him nor burn him nor famish him nor crucify him, all these acts are equally illegal. So take warning, all of you here--you are all servants of the law--don't let me catch you assaulting a prisoner contrary to the law, or you shall smart to the uttermost. Evans, I command you, in the name of the law, release that prisoner."
Evans, thus appealed to, fidgeted and turned color, and his hands worked by his side. "Your reverence!" cried he, in an imploring tone, and stayed where he was. On this Mr. Eden made no more ado, but darted to Josephs' side and began to unfasten him with nimble fingers.
Hawes stood dumfounded for a minute or two, then recovering himself he roared out:
"Officers, do your duty!"
Fry and Hodges advanced upon Mr. Eden, but before they could get at him the huge body of Evans interposed itself. The man was pale but doggedly resolved.
"Mustn't lay a finger on his reverence," said he, almost in a whisper, but between his clinched teeth and with the look of a bulldog over a bone.
"What, do you rebel against me, Evans?"
"No, sir," answered Evans softening his tone, "but nobody must affront his reverence. Look here, sir, his reverence knows a great deal more than I do, and he says this is against the law. He showed you the Act, and you couldn't answer him except by violence, which ain't no answer at all. Now I am the servant of the law, and I know better than go against the law."
"There, I want no more of your chat. Loose the prisoner."
"Seems to me he is loosed," said Fry.
"Go to the 5-lb. crank, Josephs, and let me see how much you can do in half an hour."
"That I will, your reverence," and off he ran.
"Now, sir," said Hawes sternly, "I put up with this now because it must end next week. I have written to the visiting justices, and they will settle whether you are to be master in the jail or I."
"Neither, Mr. Hawes. The law shall be your master and mine."
"Very good! but there's a hole in your coat; for, as clever as you are, every jail has its customs as well as its rules."
"Which customs, if illegal, are abuses, and shall be swept out of it."
"I'll promise you one thing--the justices shall sweep you out of the jail."
"How can you promise that?"
"Because they only see with my eyes, and, hear with my ears; they would do a great deal more for me than kick out a refractory chaplain."
Mr. Eden's eye flashed, he took out his note-book.
"Present Fry, Hodges, Evans. Mr. Hawes asserts that the visiting justices see only with his eyes and hear with his ears."
Hawes laughed insolently, but a little uneasily.
"In spite of your statement that the magistrates are unworthy of their office, I venture to hope, for the credit of the county, there will not be found three magistrates to countenance your illegal cruelties. But should there be--"
"Ay; what then?"
"I shall go higher and appeal to the Home Secretary."
"Ha! ha! He won't take any notice of you."
"Then I shall appeal to the sovereign."
"And if she takes you for a madman?"
"I shall appeal to the people. Oh! Mr. Hawes, I give you my honor this great question whether or not the law can penetrate a prison shall be sifted to the bottom. Pending my appeals to the Home Office, the sovereign and the people, I have placed a thousand pounds in my solicitor's hands--"
"A thousand pounds! have you, sir? What for, if I am not too curious?"
"For this, sir. Each prisoner whom you have pilloried and starved and assaulted contrary to law shall bring an action of assault against you the moment he leaves prison. He shall have counsel, and the turnkeys and myself shall be subpoenaed as evidence. When once we get you into court you will find that a prison is the stronghold of law, not a den of lawlessness."
He then turned sharp on the warders.
"I warn you against all your illegal practices. Mr. Hawes's orders shall neither excuse nor protect you. You owe your first obedience to the crown and the law. Here are your powers and your duties; you can all read. Here it is ruled that a prisoner shall receive four visits a day from the governor, chaplain and two turnkeys; these four visits are to keep the man from breaking down under the separate and silent system. You have all been breaking this rule, but you shall not. I shall report you Evans, you Fry, and you Hodges, and you Mr. Hawes, to the authorities, if after this warning you leave a single prisoner unvisited and unspoken with."
"Have you done preaching, parson?"
"Not quite, jailer."
He tapped the printed paper.
"Here is a distinct order that sick prisoners shall be taken out of their cells into the infirmary, a vast room where they have a much better chance of recovering than in those stinking cells ventilated scientifically, i.e., not ventilated at all. Now there are seven prisoners dangerously ill at this moment; yet you smother these unfortunates in their solitary cells, instead of giving them the infirmary and nurses according to the law. Let these seven persons be in the infirmary before post-time this evening, or to-morrow I report you to the Secretary of State."
With these words he went off leaving them all looking at one another. "He is coming back again," said Fry.
He did come back again with heightened color and flashing eyes.
"Here is the prisoners' diet," cried he, tapping the printed rules; "it is settled to an ounce by law, and I see no authority given to the jailer to tamper with it under any circumstances. Yet I find you perpetually robbing prisoners of their food. Don't let me catch either jailer or turnkeys at this again. Jailers and turnkeys have no more right to steal a prisoner's food than to rob the till of the Bank of England. He receives it defined in bulk and quality from the law's own hand, and the wretch who will rob him of an ounce of it is a felon without a felon's excuse; and as a felon I will proceed against him by the dog-whip of the criminal law, by the gibbet of the public press, and by every weapon that wit and honesty have ever found to scourge cruelty and theft since civilization dawned upon the earth."
He was gone and left them all turned to statues. A righteous man's wrath is far more terrible than the short-lived passion of the unprincipled. It is rarer, and springs from a deeper source than temper. Even Hawes staggered under this mortal defiance so fierce and unexpected. For a moment he regretted having pushed matters so far.
This scene let daylight in upon shallow, earnest Hawes, and showed him a certain shallow error he had fallen into. Because insolence had no earthly effect on the great man's temper he had concluded that nothing could make him boil over. A shade of fear was now added to rage, hatred and a desire for vengeance.
"Fry, come to my house."
Evans had a wife and children, and these hostages to fortune weighed down his manly spirit. He came to Hawes as he was going out and said submissively, though not graciously:
"Very sorry, sir, to think I should disobey you, but when his reverence said it was against the law--"
"That is enough, my man," replied Hawes quietly; "he has bewitched you, it seems. When he is kicked out you will be my servant again, I dare say."
The words and the tone were not ill-humored. It was not Hawes's cue to quarrel with a turnkey.
Evans looked suddenly up, for his mind was relieved by Mr. Hawes's moderation; he looked up and saw a cold, stern eye dwelling on him with a meaning that had nothing to do with the words spoken.
Small natures read one another.
Evans saw his fate inscribed in Hawes's eye.