It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
Mr. Hawes went about the prison next day morose and melancholy. He spoke to no one, and snapped those who spoke to him. He punished no prisoner all day, but he looked at them as a wolf at fortified sheep. He did not know what to do to avert the blow he had drawn so perseveringly on his own head. At one time he thought of writing to the Home Office and aspersing his accuser; then he regretted his visit to Ashtown Park. "What an unlucky dog I am! I go to see a man that I was sure of before I went, and while I am gone the ---- parson steals a march on me. He will beat me! If I hadn't been a fool I should have seen what a dangerous devil he is. No putting him out of temper and no putting him out of heart! He will beat me! The zealous services of so many years won't save me with an ungrateful Government. I shall lose my stipend!"
For a while even stout-hearted, earnest Mr. Hawes was depressed with gloom and bitter foreboding; but he had a resource in trouble good Mr. Eden in similar case had not.
In the despondency of his soul he turned--to GROG.
Under the inspiration of that deity he prepared for a dogged defense. He would punish no more prisoners, let them do what they might, and then if an inquiry should take place he would be in case to show that by his past severities he had at last brought his patients to such perfection that weeks had elapsed without a single punishment. With this and the justices' good word he would weather the storm yet.
Thus passed three days without one of those assaults on prisoners he called punishment; but this enforced forbearance made him hate his victims. He swore at them, he threatened them all round, and with deep malice he gave open orders to punish which he secretly countermanded, so that in fact he did punish, for blows suspended over the head fall upon the soul. Thus he made his prisoners share his gloom. He was unhappy; he was dull; robbed of an excitement which had become butter to his daily bread.
All prison life is dull. Chaplain, turnkeys, jailers, all who live in prisons are prisoners. Barren of mental resources, too stupid to see far less read the vast romance that lay all round him, every cell a volume; too mindless to comprehend his own grand situation on a salient of the State and of human nature, and to discern the sacred and endless pleasures to be gathered there, this unhappy dolt, flung into a lofty situation by shallow blockheads, who like himself saw in a jail nothing greater nor more than a "place of punishment," must still like his prisoners and the rest of us have some excitement to keep him from going dead. What more natural than that such a nature should find its excitement in tormenting, and that by degrees this excitement should become first a habit then a need? Growth is the nature of habit, not of one sort or another but of all--even of an unnatural habit. Gin grows on a man--charity grows on a man--tobacco grows on a man--blood grows on a man.
At a period of the Reign of Terror the Parisians got to find a day weary without the guillotine. If by some immense fortuity there came a day when they were not sprinkled with innocent blood the poor souls s'ennuyaient. This was not so much thirst for any particular liquid as the habit of excitement. Some months before, dancing, theaters, boulevard, etc., would have made shift to amuse these same hearts, as they did some months after when the red habit was worn out. Torture had grown upon stupid, earnest Hawes; it seasoned that white of egg, a mindless existence.
Oh! how dull he felt these three deplorable days, barren of groans, and white faces, and livid lips, and fellow-creatures shamming,* and the bucket.
*A generic term for swooning, or sickening, or going mad, in a prison.
Mr. Hawes had given a sulky order that the infirmary should be prepared for the sick, and now on the afternoon of the third day the surgeon had met him there by appointment.
"Will they get well any quicker here?" asked Hawes ironically.
"Why, certainly," replied the other.
Hawes gave a dissatisfied grunt.
"I hate moving prisoners out of the cells; but I suppose I shall get you into trouble if I don't."
"Indeed!" said. the other, with an inquiring air; "how?"
"Parson threatens you very hard for letting the sick ones lie in their cells," said Hawes slyly. "But never mind, old boy--I shall stand your friend and the justices mine. We shall beat him yet," said Hawes, assuming a firmness he did not feel lest this man should fall away from him and perhaps bear witness against him.
"I think you have beat him already," replied the other calmly.
"What do you mean?"
"I have just come from Mr. Eden. He sent for me."
"What, isn't he well?"
"I wish he'd die! But there is no chance of that."
"Well, there is always a chance of a man dying who has got a bilious fever."
"Why you don't mean he is seriously ill?" cried Hawes in excitement.
"I don't say that, but he has got a sharp attack."
Mr. Hawes examined the speaker's face. It was as legible as a book from the outside. He went from the subject to one or two indifferent matters, but he could not keep long from what was uppermost.
"Sawyer," said he, "you and I have always been good friends."
"Yes, Mr. Hawes."
"I have never been hard upon you. You ought to be here every day, but the pay is small and I have never insisted on it, because I said he can't afford to leave patients that pay."
"No, Mr. Hawes, and I am much obliged to you."
"Are you? Then tell me--between ourselves now--how ill is he?"
"He has got bilious fever consequent upon jaundice."
Hawes lowered his voice. "Is he in danger?"
"In danger? Why, no, not at present."
"Oh! then it is only an indisposition after all."
"It is a great deal more than that--it is fever and bile."
"Can't you tell me in two words how ill he is?"
"Not till I see how the case turns."
"When will you be able to say then?"
"When the disorder declares itself more fully."
Hawes exploded in an oath. "You humbugs of doctors couldn't speak plain to save yourselves from hanging."
There was some truth in this ill-natured excuse. After fifteen years given to the science of obscurity Mr. Sawyer literally could not speak plain all in one moment.
The next morning there was no service in the chapel, the chaplain was in bed. This spoke for itself, and Hawes wore a look of grim satisfaction at the announcement.
But this was not all. In the afternoon came a letter from Mr. Williams with a large inclosure signed by her majesty's secretary's secretary, and written by her secretary's secretary's secretary.
Its precise contents will be related elsewhere. Its tendency may be gathered from this.
Hawes had no sooner read it than exultation painted itself on his countenance.
"Close the infirmary and bring me the key. And you, Fry, put these numbers on the cranks to-morrow." He scribbled with his pencil, and gave him a long list of the proscribed.
No Mr. Eden shone now upon Mr. Robinson's solitude. He waited, and waited, and hoped till the day ended, but no! The next day the same thing. He longed for Mr. Eden's hour to come; it came, but not with it came his one bit of sunshine, his excitement, his amusement, his consolation, his friend, his brother, his all. And so one heavy day succeeded another, and Robinson became fretful, and very, very sad. One day, as he sat disconsolate and foreboding in his cell, he heard a stranger's voice talking to Fry outside. And what was more strange, Fry appeared to be inviting this person to inspect the cells. The next moment his door was opened, and a figure peeped timidly into the cell from behind Fry, whose arm she clutched in some anxiety. Robinson looked up--it was Susan Merton. She did not instantly know him in his prison dress and his curly hair cut short; he hung his head, and this action and the recognition it implied made her recognize him. "Oh!" cried she, "it is Mr. Robinson!"
The thief turned his face to the wall. Even he was ashamed before one who had known him as Mr. Robinson; but the next moment he got up and said earnestly,
"Pray, Miss Merton, do me a favor--you had always a kind heart Ask that man what has become of Mr. Eden--he will answer you."
"Mr. Robinson," cried Susan, "I have no need to ask Mr. Fry. I am staying at Mr. Eden's house. He is very ill, Mr. Robinson."
"Ah! I feared as much! he never would have deserted me else. What is the trouble?"
"You may well say trouble! it is the prison that has fretted him to death," cried Susan, half bitterly, half sorrowfully.
"But he will get well! it is not serious?" inquired Robinson anxiously.
Fry pricked his ears.
"He is very ill, Mr. Robinson," and Susan sighed heavily.
"I'll pray for him. He has taught me to pray--all the poor fellows will pray for him that know how. Miss Merton, good for nothing as I am, I would die for Mr. Eden this minute if I could save his life by it."
Susan thought of this speech afterward. Now she but said, "I will tell him what you say."
"And won't you bring me one word back from his dear mouth?"
"Yes! I will! good-by, Mr. Robinson." Robinson tried to say good-by, but it stuck in his throat, Susan retired, and his cell seemed darker than ever.
Mr. Eden lay stricken with fever. He had been what most of us would have called ill long before this. The day of Carter's crucifixion was a fatal day to him. On that day for the first time he saw a crucifixion without being sick after it. The poor soul congratulated himself so on this; but there is reason to think that same sickness acted as a safety-valve to his nature; when it ceased the bile overflowed and mixed with his blood, producing that horrible complaint jaundice. Even then if the causes of grief and wrong had ceased he might perhaps have had no dangerous attack. But everything was against him; constant grief, constant worry and constant preternatural exertions to sustain others while drooping himself. Even those violent efforts of will by which he thrust back for a time the approaches of his malady told heavily upon him at last. The thorough-bred horse ran much longer than a cocktail would, but he could not run forever.
He lay unshaven, hollow-eyed and sallow. Mrs. Davies and Susan watched him by turns, except when he compelled them to go and take a little rest or amusement. The poor thing's thoughts were never on himself, even when he was light-headed, and this was often, though not for long together. It was generally his poor prisoners, and what he was going to do for them.
This is how Susan Merton came to visit Robinson. One day, seeing his great interest in all that concerned the prison, and remembering there was a book addressed to one of the officers, Susan, who longed to do something, however small, to please him, determined to take this book to its destination. Leaving Mrs. Davies with a strict injunction not to stir from Mr. Eden's room till she came back, she went to the prison and knocked timidly at the great door. It was opened instantly, and as Susan fancied, fiercely, by a burly figure. Susan, suppressing an inclination to run away, asked tremulously:
"Does Mr. Fry live here?"
"Can I speak to him?"
"Yes. Come in, miss."
Susan stepped in.
The man slammed the door.
Susan wished herself on its other side.
"My name is Fry. What is your pleasure with me?"
"Mr. Fry, I am so glad I have found you. I am come here from a friend of yours."
"From a friend of mine??!!" said Fry, with a mystified air.
"Yes; from Mr. Eden. Here is the book, Mr. Fry; poor Mr. Eden could not bring it you himself, but you see he has written your name on the cover with his own hand."
Fry took the book from Susan's hand, and in so doing observed that she was lovely; so to make her a return for bringing him "Uncle Tom," and for being so pretty, Fry for once in his life felt generous, and repaid her by volunteering to show her the prison--indulgent Fry!
To his surprise Susan did not jump at this remuneration. On the contrary, she said hastily:
"Oh! no! no! no!"
Then, seeing by his face that her new acquaintance thought her a madwoman, she added:
"That is, yes! I think I should like to see it a little--a very little--but if I do you must keep close by me, Mr. Fry."
"Why of course I shall keep with you," replied Fry somewhat contemptuously. "No strangers admitted except in company of an officer."
Susan still hung fire.
"But you mustn't go to show me the very wicked ones."
"Why they are all pretty much of a muchness for that."
"I mean the murderers--I couldn't bear such a sight."
"Got none," said Fry sorrowfully; "parted with the last of that sort four months ago--up at eight down at nine you understand, miss."
Happily Susan did not understand this brutal allusion; and, not to show her ignorance, she said nothing, but passed to a second stipulation--"And, Mr. Fry, I know the men that set fire to Farmer Dean's ricks are in this jail; I won't see them; they would give me such a turn, for that seems to me the next crime after murder to destroy the crops after the very weather has spared them."
Fry smiled superior; then he said sarcastically:
"Don't you be frightened, some of our lot are beauties; your friend the parson is as fond of some of 'em as a cow is of her calf."
"Oh! then show me those ones." Fry took her to one or two cells. Whenever he opened a cell door she always clutched him on both ribs, and this tickled Fry, so did her simplicity.
At last he came to Robinson's cell.
"In here there is a sulky chap."
"Oh! then let us go on to the next."
"But this is one his reverence is uncommon fond of," said Fry, with a sneer and a chuckle; so he flung open the door, and if the man had not hung his head Susan would hardly have recognized in his uniform corduroy and close-cropped hair the vulgar Adonis who had sat glittering opposite her at table the last time they met.
After the interview which I have described, Susan gratified Fry by praising the beautiful cleanliness of the prison, and returned, leaving a pleasant impression even on this rough hide and "Uncle Tom" behind her.
When she got home she found her patient calm but languid.
While she was relating her encounter with Robinson, and her previous acquaintance with him, the knock of a born fool at a sick man's door made them all start. It was Rutila, with a long letter bearing an ample seal.
Mr. Eden took it with brightening eye, read it, and ground it almost convulsively in his hand. "Asses!" cried he; but the next moment he groaned and bowed his head. Her majesty's secretary's secretary's secretary had written to tell him that his appeal for an inquiry had traveled out of the regular course; it ought to have been made in the first instance to the visiting justices, whose business it was to conduct such inquiries, and that it lay with these visiting justices to apply to the Home Office for an extraordinary inquiry if they found they could not deal with the facts in the usual way. The office, therefore, had sent copies of his memorial to each of the visiting justices, who at their next inspection of the jail would examine into the alleged facts, and had been requested to insert the results in their periodical report.
Mr. Eden sat up in bed, his eye glittering. "Bring me my writing-desk."
It was put on the bed before him, but with many kind injunctions not to worry himself. He promised faithfully. He wrote to the Home Office in this style:
"A question of life and death cannot be played with as you have inconsiderately proposed; nor can a higher jurisdiction transfer an appeal to a lower one without the appellant's consent. Such a course is still more out of order when the higher judge is a salaried servant of the State and the lower ones are amateurs. This was so self-evident that I did not step out of the direct line to cast reflections upon unpaid servants. You have not seen what is self-evident--you drive me, therefore, to explanations.
"I offered you evidence that this jailer is a felon, who has hoodwinked the visiting justices and has deceived you. But between you and the justices is this essential difference: they have been hoodwinked in spite of their own eyes, their own ears, and contact with that mass of living and dying evidence, the prisoners. You have been deceived without a single opportunity of learning the truth.
"Therefore I appealed, and do appeal, not to convicted incompetency, but to those whose incompetency remains to be proved. Perhaps you will understand me better if I put it thus: I still accuse the jailer of more than a hundred felonious assaults upon prisoners, of attacks upon their lives by physical torture, by hunger, thirst, preposterous confinement in dark dungeons, and other illegal practices; and I now advance another step and accuse the visiting justices of gross dereliction of their duty, of neglecting to ascertain the real practice of the jailer in some points, and in others of encouraging, aiding and abetting him in open violations of the prison rules printed and issued by Act of Parliament. Of these rules, which are the jail code, I send you a copy. I note the practices of the jail by the side of the rules of the jail. By comparing the two you may calculate the amount of lawless cruelty perpetrated here in each single day; then ask yourself whether an honest man who is on the spot can wait four or five months till justice, crippled by routine, comes hobbling instead of sweeping to their relief.
"For Heaven's sake, bring to bear upon a matter vital to the State one-half the intelligence, zeal and sense of responsibility you will throw this evening into some ambiguous question of fleeting policy of speculative finance. Here are one hundred and eighty souls to whose correction, cure and protection the State is pledged. No one of all these lives is safe a single day. In six weeks I have saved two lives that were gone but for me. I am now sick and enfeebled by the exertions I have had to make to save lives, and am in no condition to arrest the progress of destruction. I tell you that more lives will fall if you do not come to my aid at once! and for every head that falls from this hour I hold you responsible to God and the State.
"If I fail to prove my several accusations, as a matter of course I shall be dismissed from my office deservedly; and this personal risk entitles me not only to petition for, but to demand an inquiry into the practice of ---- Jail. And in the queen's name, whose salaried servant I am, I do demand it on the instant and on the spot."
Thus did flesh and blood address gutta-percha.
The excitement of writing this letter did the patient no good. A reaction came, and that night his kind nurses were seriously alarmed about him. They sent for the surgeon, who felt his pulse and his skin and looked grave. However, he told them there was no immediate danger, and wrote a fresh prescription.
The patient would eat nothing but bread and water and gruel; but he took all the doctor's medicines, which were raking ones; only at each visit and prescription he cross-examined him as to what effect he hoped to produce by his prescription, and compared the man's expectations with the result.
This process soon brought him to the suspicion that in his case Aesculapius's science was guess-work. But we go on hoping and hoping something from traditional remedies, even when they fail and fail and fail before our eyes.
He was often light-headed, and vented schemes of charity and benevolence ludicrous by their unearthly grandeur. One day he was more than light-headed--he was delirious, and frightened his kind nurses; and to this delirium succeeded great feebleness, and this day for the first time Susan made up her mind that it was Heaven's will earth should lose this man, of whom, in truth, earth was scarce worthy. She came to his side and said tenderly,
"Let me do something for you. Shall I read to you, or sing you a hymn?" Her voice had often soothed and done him good. "Tell me what I can do for you!"
The man smiled gratefully, then looked imploringly in her eyes, and said, "Dear Susan, go for me into the prison and pay Strutt and Robinson each a visit. Strutt the longest, he is the oldest. Poor things! they miss me sadly."
Susan made no foolish objection. She did what she was asked, and came back and told him all they had said and all she had said; and how kind everybody was to her in the prison; and how they had all asked how he was to-day.
"They are very good," said he feebly.
Soon after he dosed; and Susan, who always wore a cheerful look to his face, could now yield to her real feelings.
She sat at some little distance from the bed and tried to work, and every now and then looked up to watch him, and again and again her eyes were blinded; and she laid down her work, for her heart said to her, "A few short days and you will see him no more."
Mrs. Davies, too, was grave and sad. She had made the house neat and clean from cellar to garret, and now he who should have enjoyed it lay there sick unto death.
"Susan," said she, "I doubt I have been sent here to set his house in order against his--"
"Oh! don't tell me that," cried Susan, and she burst into a fit of sobbing, for Mrs. Davies had harped her own fear.
"Take care, he is waking, Susan. He must not see us."
"Oh, no!" and the next moment she was by her patient's side with a cheerful look and voice and manner well calculated to keep any male heart from sinking, sick or well.
Heavy heart and hopeful face! such a nurse was Susan Merton. This kind deception became more difficult every day. Her patient wasted and wasted; and the anxious look that is often seen on a death-stricken man's face showed itself. Mrs. Davies saw it and Susan saw it; but the sick man himself as yet had never spoken of his decease; and both Mrs. Davies and Susan often wondered that he did not seem to see his real state.
But one day it so happened that he was light-headed and greatly excited, holding a conversation. His eye was flashing, and he spoke in bursts, and then stopped a while and seemed to be listening in irritation to some arguments with which he did not agree. The enthusiast was building a prison in the air. A prison with a farm, a school, and a manufactory attached. Here were to be combined the good points of every system, and others of his own.
"Yes," said he, in answer to his imaginary companion, "there shall be both separation and silence for those whose moral case it suits--for all, perhaps, at first--but not for all always. Away with your Morrison's pill-system; your childish monotony of moral treatment in cases varying and sometimes opposed.
"Yes, but I would. I would allow a degree of intercourse between such as were disposed to confirm each other in good. Watch them? why, of course--and closely, too.
"Intelligent labor for every creature in the place. No tickets-of-leave to let the hypocritical or self-deceiving ones loose upon the world.
"No, I test their repentance first with a little liberty.
"How? Why fly them with a string before I let them fly free!
"Occupation provided outside the prison-gates; instead of ticket-of-leave let the candidate work there on parole and come into the prison at night.
"Some will break parole and run away? All the better. Then you know their real character. Telegraph them. You began by photographing them--send their likenesses to every town--catch them--cell them.
"Indeed! And pray what would these same men have done had you given them the ticket-of-leave instead?
"By the present plan your pseudo-convert commits a dozen crimes before his hypocrisy is suspected; by ours a single offense warns you and arms you against him.
"Systems avail less than is supposed. For good or ill all depends on your men--not your machinery.
"We have got rid of the old patch that rotted our new garment. When I first was chaplain of a jail--"
His mind had gone forward some years. "Then we were mad--thought a new system could be worked by men of the past, by jailers and turnkeys belonging to the dark and brutal age that came before ours.
"Those dark days are passed. Now we have really a governor and warders instead of jailers and turnkeys. The nation has discovered these are high offices, not mean ones.
"Yes, Lepel, yes! Our officers are men picked out of all England for intelligence and humanity. They co-operate with me. Our jail is one of the nation's eyes--it is a school, thank Heaven, it is not a dungeon!--I am in bed!"
With these last words he had come to himself, and oh, the sad contrast! Butcherly blockheads in these high places, and himself lying sick and powerless, unable to lift a hand for the cause he loved.
The sigh that burst from him seemed to tear his very heart; but the very next moment he put his hands humbly together and said, "God's will be done!" Yet one big tear gathered in his lion eye and spite of all trickled down his cheek while he said, "God's will be done."
Susan saw it, and turned quickly away and hid her face; but he called her, and though his lip quivered his voice was pretty firm.
"Dear friend, God can always find instruments. The good work will be done, though not by me."
So then Susan judged, by these few words, and the tear that trickled from his closed eyes, that he saw what others saw and did not look to live now.
She left the room in haste not to agitate him by the sorrow she could no longer restrain or conceal. The patient lay quiet, languidly dozing.
Now about four o'clock in the afternoon the surgeon came to the door; but what surprised Susan was that a man accompanied him whom she only just knew by sight, and who had never been there before--the turnkey Hodges. The pair spoke together in a low tone, and Susan, who was looking down from an upper window, could not hear what they said; but the discussion lasted a minute or two before they rang the bell. Susan came down herself and admitted them: but as she was leading the way upstairs her aunt suddenly bounced out of the parlor looking unaccountably red, and said:
"I will go up with them, Susan."
Susan said, "If you like, aunt," but felt some little surprise at Mrs. Davies's brisk manner.
At the sick man's door Mrs. Davies paused, and said dryly, with a look at Hodges, "Who shall I say is come with you?"
"Mr. Hodges, one of the warders, is come to inquire after his reverence's health," replied the surgeon smoothly.
"I must ask him first whether he will receive a stranger."
"Admit him," was Mr. Eden's answer. The men entered the room, and were welcomed with a kind but feeble smile from the sick man.
"Sit down, Hodges."
The surgeon felt his pulse and wrote a prescription; for it is a tradition of the elders that at each visit the doctor must do some overt act of medicine. After this he asked the patient how he felt.
Mr. Eden turned an eloquent look upon him in reply.
"I must speak to Hodges," said he. "Come near me, Hodges," said he in a kind voice, "perhaps I may not have any more opportunities of giving you a word of friendly exhortation." Here a short, dissatisfied, contemptuous grunt was heard at the window-seat.
"Did you speak, Mrs. Davies?"
"No, I didn't," was the somewhat sharp reply.
"We should improve every occasion, Mrs. Davies, and I want this poor man to know that a dying man may feel happy and hope everything from God's love and mercy, if he has loved and pitied his brothers and sisters of Adam's race."
When he called himself a dying man, Hodges, who was looking uncomfortable and at the floor, raised his head, and the surgeon and he interchanged a rapid look; it was observed, though not by Mr. Eden.
That gentleman, seeing Hodges wear an abashed look, which he misunderstood, and aiming to improve him for the future, not punish him for the past, said, "But first let me thank you for coming to see me," and with these words he put his hand out of the bed with a kind smile to Hodges. His gentle intention was roughly interrupted. Mrs. Davies flung down her work and came like a flaming turkey-cock across the floor in a moment, and seized his arm and flung it back into the bed.
"No, ye don't! ye shan't give your hand to any such rubbish."
"Yes, Mrs. Davies; you don't know what they've come here for--I overheard ye at the door! You have got an enemy in that filthy jail, haven't you, sir? Well! this man comes from him to see how bad you are--they were colloguing together backward and forward ever so long, and I heard 'em--it is not out of any kindness or good will in the world. Now suppose you march out the way you came in!" screamed Mrs. Davies.
"Mrs. Davies, be quiet and let me speak?"
"Of course I will, sir," said the woman with a ludicrously sudden calm and coaxing tone.
There was a silence; Mr. Eden eyed the men. Small guilt peeped from them by its usual little signs.
Mr. Eden's lip curled magnificently.
"So you did not come to see me--you were sent by that man. (Mrs. Davies, be quiet; curiosity is not a crime, like torturing the defenseless.) Mr. Hawes sent you that you might tell him how soon his victims are like to lose their only earthly defender."
The men colored and stammered; Mrs. Davies covered her face with her apron and rocked herself on her chair.
Mr. Eden flowed gently on.
"Tell your master that I have settled all my worldly affairs, and caused all my trifling debts to be paid.
"Tell him that I have made my will! (I have provided in it for the turnkey Evans--he will know why.)
"Tell him you found my cheeks fallen away, my eye hollow, and my face squalid.
"Tell him my Bible was by my side, and even the prison was mingling with other memories as I drifted from earth and all its thorns and tears. All was blunted but the Christian's faith and trust in his Redeemer.
"Tell him that there is a cold dew upon my forehead.
"Tell him that you found me by the side of the river Jordan, looking across the cold river to the heavenly land, where they who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb walk in white garments, and seem, even as I gaze, to welcome and beckon me to join them.
"And then tell him," cried he, in a new voice like a flash of lightning, "that he has brought me back to earth. You have come and reminded me that if I die a wolf is waiting to tear my sheep. I thank you, and I tell you," roared he, "as the Lord liveth and as my soul liveth, I will not die but live--and do the Lord's work--and put my foot yet on that caitiff's neck who sent you to inspect my decaying body, you poor tools--THE DOOR!"
He was up in the bed by magic, towering above them all, and he pointed to the door with a tremendous gesture and an eye that flamed. Mrs. Davies caught the electric spark, in a moment she tore the door open, and the pair bundled down the stairs before that terrible eye and finger.
"Susan--Susan!" Susan heard his elevated voice, and came running in in great anxiety.
"They say there is no such thing as friendship between a man and a woman. Prove to me this is a falsehood!"
"It is, sir."
"Do me a service."
"Ah!--what is it?"
"Go a journey for me."
"I will go all round England for you, Mr. Eden," cried the girl, panting and flushing.
"My writing-desk!--it is to a village sixty miles from this, but you will be there in four hours; in that village lives the man who can cure me, if any one can."
"What will you take with you?" asked Mrs. Davies, all in a bustle.
"A comb and brush, and a chemise."
"I'll have them down in a twinkling."
The note was written.
"Take this to his house, see him, tell him the truth, and bring him with you to-morrow--it will be fifty pounds out of his pocket to leave his patients--but I think he will come. Oh, yes! he will come--for auld lang syne."
"Good-by, Mr. Eden--God bless you, aunt. I want to be gone; I shall bring him if I have to carry him in my arms." And with these words Susan was gone.
"Now, good Mrs. Davies, give me the Bible. Often has that book soothed the torn nerves as well as the bleeding heart--and let no one come here to grieve or vex me for twenty-four hours--and fling that man's draught away, I want to live."
Mrs. Davies had heard Hodges and Fry aright. Mr. Eden by her clew had interpreted the visit aright, with this exception, that he overrated his own importance in Mr. Hawes's eyes. For Hawes mocked at the chaplain's appeal to the Home Office ever since the office had made his tools the virtual referees.
Still a shade of uneasiness remained. During the progress of this long duel Eden had let fall two disagreeable hints. One was that he would spend a thousand pounds in setting such prisoners as survived Hawes's discipline to indict him, and the other that he would appeal to the public press.
This last threat had touched our man of brass; for if there is one thing upon earth that another thing does not like, your moral malefactor, who happens to be out of the law's reach, hates and shivers at the New Bailey in Printing-house Yard. So, upon the whole, Mr. Hawes thought that the best thing Mr. Eden could do would be to go to heaven without any more fuss.
"Yes, that will be the best for all parties."
He often questioned the doctor in his blunt way how soon the desired event might be expected to come off, if at all. The doctor still answered per ambages, ut mos oraculis.
"I see I must go myself--No, I won't, I'll send Fry. Ah, here is Hodges. Go and see the parson, and come back and tell me whether he is like to live or like to die. Mr. Sawyer here can't speak English about a patient; he would do it to oblige me if he could, but--him, he can't."
"Don't much like the job," demurred Hodges sulkily.
"What matters what you like? You must all do things you don't like in a prison, or get into trouble."
More accustomed to obey than to reflect, Hodges yielded, but at Mr. Eden's very door, his commander being now out of sight, his reluctance revived; and this led to an amicable discussion in which the surgeon made him observe how very ferocious and impatient of opposition the governor had lately become.
"He can get either of us dismissed if we offend him."
So the pair of cowards did what they were bid--and got themselves trod upon a bit. It only remains to be said that as they trudged back together a little venom worked in their little hearts. They hated both duelists--one for treating them like dogs, the other for sending them where they had got treated like dogs; and they disliked each other for seeing them treated like dogs. One bitterness they escaped, it did not occur to them to hate themselves for being dogs.
If you force a strong-willed stick out of its bent, with what fury it flies back ad statum quo or a little farther when the coercion is removed. So hard-grained Hawes, his fears of the higher powers removed, returned with a spring to his intermitted habits.
There was no incarnate obstacle now to "discipline." There was a provisional chaplain, but that chaplain was worthy Mr. Jones, who having visited the town for a month, had consented for a week or two to supply the sick man's place, and did supply it so far as a good clock can replace a man. Viewing himself now as something between an officer and a guest he was less likely to show fight than ever.
Earnest Hawes pilloried, flung into black dungeons, stole beds and gas-light, crushed souls with mysterious threats, and bodies with a horrible mixture of those tortures that madden and those other tortures that exhaust. No Spanish Inquisitor was ever a greater adept at this double move than earnest Hawes. The means by which he could make any prisoner appear refractory have already been described, but in the case of one stout fellow whom he wanted to discipline he now went a step farther. He slipped into the yard and slyly clogged one of the cranks with a weight which he inserted inside the box and attached to the machinery. This contrivance would have beaten Hercules and made him seem idle to any one not in the secret. In short this little blockhead bade fair to become one of Mr. Carlyle's great men. He combined the earnest sneak with the earnest butcher.
Barbarous times are not wholly expunged as book-makers affect to fear. Legislators, moralists and writers (I don't include book-makers under that title) try to clap their extinguishers on them with God's help; but they still contrive to shoot some lurid specimens of themselves into civilized epochs. Such a black ray of the narrow, self-deceiving, stupid, bloody past was earnest Hawes.
Not a tithe of his exploits can he recorded here, for though he played upon many souls and bodies, he repeated the same notes--hunger, thirst, the blackness of darkness, crucifixion, solitude, loss of sleep--so that a description of all his feats would be a catalogue of names subjected to the above tortures, and be dry as well as revolting.
I shall describe therefore only the grand result of all, and a case or two that varied by a shade the monotony of discipline. He kept one poor lad without any food at all from Saturday morning till Sunday at twelve o'clock, and made him work; and for his Sunday dinner gave the famished wretch six ounces of bread and a can of water. He strapped one prisoner up in the pillory for twenty-four hours, and directed him to be fed in it. This prisoner had a short neck, and the cruel collar would not let him eat, so that the tortures of Tantalus were added to crucifixion. The earnest beast put a child of eleven years old into a strait-waistcoat for three days, then kept him three days on bread and water, and robbed him of his bed and his gas for fourteen days. We none of us know the meaning of these little punishments so vast beyond our experience; but in order to catch a glimmer of the meaning of the last item, we must remember first that the cells admit but little light, and that the gas is the prisoner's sunlight for the hour or two of rest from hard toil that he is allowed before he is ordered to bed, and next that a prisoner has but two sets of clothes--those he stands upright in, and his bed-clothes; these are rolled up inside the bed every morning. When therefore a prisoner was robbed of his bed, he was robbed of the means of keeping himself warm as well as of that rest without which life soon comes to a full stop.
Having victimized this child's tender body as aforesaid Mr. Hawes made a cut at his soul. He stopped his chapel.
One ought not to laugh at a worm coming between another worm and his God and saying, "No! you shall not hear of God to-day--you have displeased a functionary whose discipline takes precedence of His;" and it is to be observed, that though this blockhead did not in one sense comprehend the nature of his own impious act any more than a Hottentot would, yet as broad as he saw he saw keenly.
The one ideaed-man wanted to punish, and deprivation of chapel is a bitter punishment to a prisoner under the separate and silent system.
And lay this down as a rule, whenever in this tale a punishment is recorded as having been inflicted by Hawes, however light it may appear to you who never felt it, bring your intelligence to bear on it--weigh the other conditions of a prisoner's miserable existence it was added to, and in every case you will find it was a blow with a sledge-hammer; in short, to comprehend Hawes and his fraternity it is necessary to make a mental effort and comprehend the meaning of the word "accumulation."
The first execution of biped Carter took place about a week after Mr. Eden was laid prostrate.
It is not generally very difficult to outwit an imbecile, and the governor enmeshed Carter, made him out refractory and crucified him. The poor soul did not hallo at first, for he remembered they had not cut his throat the last time, as he thought they were going to do (he had seen a pig first made fast--then stuck). But when the bitter cramps came on he began to howl and cry most frightfully; so that Hawes, who was talking to the surgeon in the center of the building, started and came at once to the place. Mr. Sawyer came with him. They tried different ways of quieting him, in vain. They went to a distance, as Mr. Eden had suggested, but it was no use; he was howling now from pain, not fear.
"Gag him!" roared Hawes, "it is scandalous; I hate a noise."
"Better loose him," suggested the surgeon.
Hawes blighted him with a look. "What; and let him beat me?"
"There is no gag in the prison," said Fry.
"A pretty prison without a gag in it!" said Hawes; the only reflection he was ever heard to cast on his model jail; then, with sudden ferocity he turned on Sawyer. "What is the use of you; don't you know anything for your money? can't all your science stop this brute's windpipe, you!"
Science thus blandly invoked came to the aid of inhumanity.
"Humph! have you got any salt?"
"Salt!" roared Hawes, "what is the use of salt? Oh! ay, I see! run and get a pound, and look sharp with it."
They brought the salt.
"Now, will you hold your noise?--then, give it him."
The scientific operator watched his opportunity, and when the poor biped's mouth was open howling, crammed a handful of salt into it. He spat it out as well as he could, but some of it dissolved by the saliva found its way down his throat. The look of amazement and distress that followed was most amusing to the operators.
"That was, a good idea, doctor," cried Hawes.
The triumph was premature. Carter's cries were choked for a moment by his astonishment. But the next, finding a fresh torture added to the first, he howled louder than ever. Then the governor seized the salt, powdered a good handful, and avoiding his teeth crammed it suddenly into the poor creature's mouth. He spat it furiously out, and the brine fell like sea-spray upon all the operators, especially on Hawes, who swore at the biped, and called him a beast, and promised him a long spell of the cross for his nastiness. After Hawes, Fry must take his turn; and so now these three creatures, to whom Heaven had given reason, combined their strength and their sacred reason to torture and degrade one of those whom the French call "betes du bon Dieu"--a heaven-afflicted--heaven-pitied brother.
They respected neither the hapless wight nor his owner. Whenever he opened his mouth with the instinct that makes animals proclaim their hurts and appeal for pity on the chance of a heart being within hearing, then did these show their sense of his appeal thus: One of the party crammed the stinging salt down his throat; the others watched him, and kept clear of the brine that he spat vehemently out, and a loud report of laughter followed instantly each wild grimace and convulsion of fear and torture. Thus they employed their reason, and flouted as well as tortured him who had less.
"Haw! haw! haw! haw! haw!"
No lightning came down from heaven upon these merry souls. The idiot's spittle did not burn them when it fell on them. ALL THE WORSE FOR THEM!
They left Carter for hours in the pillory, and soon a violent thirst was added to his sufferings. Prolonged pain brings on cruel thirst, and many a poor fellow suffered horribly from it during the last hours of his pillory. But in this case the salt he had swallowed made it more vehement. Most men go through life and never know thirst. It is a frightful torture, as any novice would have learned who had seen Carter at six in the evening of this cruel day. The poor wretch's throat was so parched he could hardly breathe. His eyes were all bloodshot and his livid tongue lolled stringless and powerless out of his gasping mouth. He would have given diamonds for drops of water.
The earnest man going his rounds of duty saw his pitiable state and forbade relief till the number of hours he had appointed for his punishment should be completed. Discipline before all!
There was one man in the jail, just one, who could no longer view this barbarity unmoved. His heart had been touched and his understanding wakened, and he saw these prodigies of cruelty in their true light. But he was afraid of Hawes, and unfortunately the others by an instinct felt their comrade was no longer one of them and watched him closely. But his intelligence was awakened with his humanity. After much thought he hit upon this; he took the works out of his watch--an old hunting watch--and stolling into the yard, dipped the case into the bucket, then closed it; and soon after getting close to Carter, and between him and Fry, he affected to examine the prisoner's collar, and then hastily gave him a watchful of cold water. Carter sucked it with frightful avidity, and small as the draught was no mortal can say what consequences were averted by it.
Evans was dreadfully out of spirits. His ally lay dying and his enemy triumphed. He looked to be turned out of the jail at the next meeting of magistrates. But when he had given the idiot his watch to drink out of an unwonted warmth and courage seemed to come into his heart.
This touch of humanity coming suddenly among the most hellish of all fiends--men of system--was like the little candle in a window that throws its beams so far when we are bewildered in a murky night. For the place was now a moral coal-hole. The dungeons at Rome that lie under the wing of Roderick Borgia's successors are not a more awful remnant of antiquity or a fouler blot on the age, on the law, on the land, and on human nature.
A thick, dark pall of silence and woe hung over its huge walls. If a voice was heard above a whisper it was sure to be either a cry of anguish or a fierce command to inflict anguish. Two or three were crucified every day; the rest expected crucifixion from morning till night. No man felt safe an hour; no man had the means of averting punishment; all were at the mercy of a tyrant. Threats frightful, fierce and mysterious hung like weights over every soul and body. Whenever a prisoner met an officer he cowered and hurried crouching by like a dog passing a man with a whip in his hand; and as he passed he trembled at the thunder of his own footsteps, and wished to Heaven they would not draw so much attention to him by ringing so clear through that huge silent tomb. When an officer met the governor he tried to slip by with a hurried salute lest he should be stopped, abused and sworn at.
The earnest man fell hardest upon the young; boys and children were favorite victims; but his favorites of all were poor Robinson and little Josephs. These were at the head of the long list he crucified, he parched, he famished, he robbed of prayer, of light, of rest and hope. He disciplined the sick; he closed the infirmary again. That large room, furnished with comforts, nurses and air, was an inconsistency.
"A new prison is a collection of cells," said Hawes. The infirmary was a spot in the sun. The exercise yard in this prison was a twelve-box stable for creatures concluded to be wild beasts. The labor-yard was a fifteen-stall stable for ditto. The house of God an eighty-stalled stable, into which the wild beasts were dispersed for public worship made private. Here, in early days, before Hawes was ripe, they assembled apart and repeated prayers, and sang hymns on Sunday. But Hawes found out that though the men were stabled apart their voices were refractory and mingled in the air, and with their voices their hearts might, who knows? He pointed this out to the justices, who shook their skulls and stopped the men's responses and hymns. These animals cut the choruses out of the English liturgy with as little ceremony and as good effect as they would have cut the choruses out of Handel's "Messiah," if the theory they were working had been a musical instead of a moral one.
So far so good; but the infirmary had escaped Justice Shallow and Justice Woodcock. Hawes abolished that.
Discipline before all. Not because a fellow is sick is he to break discipline.
So the sick lay in their narrow cells gasping in vain for fresh air, gasping in vain for some cooling drink, or some little simple delicacy to incite their enfeebled appetite.
The dying were locked up at the fixed hour for locking up, and found dead at the fixed hour for opening. How they had died--no one knew. At what hour they had died--no one knew. Whether in some choking struggle a human hand might have saved them by changing a suffocating position or the like--no one knew.
But this all knew--that these our sinful brethren had died, not like men, but like vultures in the great desert. They were separated from their kith and kin, who however brutal would have said a kind word and done a tender thing or two for them at that awful hour; and nothing allowed them in exchange, not even the routine attentions of a prison nurse; they were in darkness and alone when the king of terrors came to them and wrestled with them. All men had turned their backs on them, no creature near to wipe the dews of death, to put a cool hand to the brow, or soften the intensity of the last sad sigh that carried their souls from earth. Thus they passed away, punished lawlessly by the law till they succumbed, and then, since they were no longer food for torture, ignored by the law and abandoned by the human race.
They locked up one dying man at eight o'clock. At midnight the thirst of death came on him. He prayed for a drop of water, but there was none to hear him. Parched and gasping the miserable man got out of bed and groped for his tin mug, but before he could drink the death agony seized him. When they unlocked him in the morning they found him a corpse on the floor with the mug in his hand and the water spilled on the floor. They wrenched the prison property out of its dead hand, and flung the carcass itself upon the bed as if it had been the clay cast of a dog, not the remains of a man.
All was of a piece. The living tortured; the dying abandoned; the dead kicked out of the way. Of these three the living were the most unfortunate, and among the living Robinson and Josephs. Never since the days of Cain was existence made more bitter to two hapless creatures than to these--above all to Josephs.
His day began thus: Between breakfast and dinner he was set five thousand revolutions of a heavy crank; when he could not do it his dinner was taken away and a few crumbs of bread and a can of water given him instead. Between his bread and water time and six o'clock if the famished, worn-out lad could not do five thousand more revolutions and make up the previous deficiency he was punished ad libitum. As the whole thing from first to last was beyond his powers, he never succeeded in performing these preposterous tasks. He was threatened, vilified and tortured every day and every hour of it.
Human beings can bear great sufferings if you give them periods of ease between; and beneficent nature allows for this, and when she means us to suffer short of death she lashes us at intervals; were it otherwise we should succumb under a tithe of what we suffer intermittently.
But Hawes, besides his cruelty, was a noodle. He belonged to a knot of theorists into whose hands the English jails are fast falling; a set of shallow dreamers, who being greater dunces and greater asses than four men out of every six that pass you in Fleet Street or Broadway at any hour, think themselves wiser than Nature and her Author. Josephs suffered body and spirit without intermission. The result was that his flesh withered on his bones; his eyes were dim and seemed to lie at the bottom of two caverns; he crawled stiffly and slowly instead of walking. He was not sixteen years of age, yet Hawes had extinguished his youth and blotted out all its signs but one. Had you met this figure in the street you would have said:
"What, an old man and no beard?"
One day as Robinson happened to be washing the corridor with his beaver up, what he took for a small but aged man passed him, shambling stiffly, with joints stiffened by perpetual crucifixion and rheumatism, that had ensued from perpetually being wetted through. This figure had his beaver down. At sight of Robinson he started and instantly went down on his knee and untied both shoe strings; then while tying them again slowly he whispered:
"Robinson, I am Josephs; don't look toward me."
Robinson, scrubbing the wall with more vigor than before, whispered, "How are they using you now, boy?"
"Hush! don't speak so loud. Robinson--they are killing me.
"The ruffians! They are trying all they know to kill me, too."
"Hist!" said Robinson as Josephs crept away; and having scraped off a grain of whitewash with his nail he made a little white mark on his trouser just above his calf, for Josephs to know him by, should they meet next time with visors both down. Josephs gave a slight and rapid signal of intelligence as he disappeared. Two days after this they met on the staircase. The boy, who now looked at every prisoner's trowsers for the white mark, recognized Robinson at some distance and began to speak before they met.
"I can't go on much longer like this."
"No more can I."
"I shall go to father."
"Why where is he?"
"He is dead."
"I don't care how soon I go there either, but not till I have sent Hawes on before--not for all the world. Pass me, and then come back."
They met again.
"Keep up your heart, boy, till his reverence gets well, or goes to heaven. If he lives he will save us somehow. If he dies--I'll tell you a secret. I know where there is a brick I think I can loosen. I mean to smash that beast's skull with it, and then you will be all right, and my heart will feel like a prince."
"Oh! don't do that," said Josephs piteously. "Better far us he should murder us than we him."
"Murder!" cried Robinson contemptuously. And there was no time to say any more.
After this many days passed before these two could get a syllable together. But one day after chapel as the men were being told off to their several tasks Robinson recognized the boy by his figure, and jogging his elbow withdrew a little apart; Josephs followed him, and this time Robinson was the first speaker.
"We shall never see Mr. Eden alive again, boy," said he in a faltering voice. Then in a low gloomy tone he muttered, "I have loosened the brick. The day I lose all hope that day I send Hawes home." And the thief pointed toward the cellar.
"The day you have no more hope, Robinson; that day has come to me this fortnight and more. He tells me every day he will make my life hell to me, and I am sure it has been nothing else ever since I came here."
"Keep up your heart, boy; he hasn't long to live."
"He will live too long for me. I can't stay here any longer. You and I shan't often chat together again; perhaps never."
"Don't talk so, laddie. Keep up your heart--for my sake."
One bitter tearing sob was all the reply. And so these two parted.
This was just after breakfast. At dinner-time Josephs, not having performed an impossible task, was robbed of his dinner. A little bread and water was served out to him in the yard, and he was set on the crank again with fearful menaces. In particular Mr. Hawes repeated his favorite threat--"I'll make your life hell to you." Josephs groaned; but what could a boy of fifteen do, overtasked and famished for a month past and fitter now for a hospital than for hard labor of any sort? At three o'clock his progress on the crank was so slow that Mr. Hawes ordered him to be crucified on the spot.
His obedient myrmidons for the fiftieth time seized the lad and crushed him in the jacket, throttled him in the collar, and pinned him to the wall, and this time, the first time for a long while, the prisoner remonstrated loudly.
"Why not kill me at once and put me out of my misery!"
"Hold your tongue."
"You know I can't do the task you set me. You know it as well as I do."
"Hold your tongue, you insolent young villain. Strap him tighter, Fry."
"Oh no! no! no! don't go to strap me tighter or you will cut me in half--don't, Mr. Fry. I will hold my tongue, sir." Then he turned his hollow, mournful eyes on Hawes and said gently, "It can't last much longer, you know."
"It shall last till I break you, you obstinate, whining dog. You are hardly used, are you? Wait till to-morrow. I'll show you that I have only been playing with you as yet. But I have got a punishment in store for you that will make you wish you were in hell."
Hawes stood over the martyr fiercely threatening him. The martyr shut his eyes. It seemed as though the enraged Hawes would end by striking him. He winced with his eyes. He could not wince with any other part of his body, so tight was it jammed together and jammed against the wall.
Hawes however did but repeat his threat of some new torture on the morrow that should far eclipse all he had yet endured; and shaking his fist at his helpless body left him with his torture.
One hour of bitter, racking, unremitting anguish had hardly rolled over this young head ere his frame, weakened by famine and perpetual violence, began to give the usual signs that he would soon sham--swoon we call it when it occurs to any but a prisoner. As my readers have never been in Mr. Hawes's man-press, and as attempts have been made to impose on the inexperience of the public and represent the man-press as restriction not torture, I will shortly explain why sooner or later all the men that were crucified in it ended by shamming.
Were you ever seized at night with a violent cramp? Then you have instantly with a sort of wild and alarmed rapidity changed the posture which had cramped you; ay though the night was ever so cold you have sprung out of bed sooner than lie cramped. If the cramp would not go in less than half a minute that half-minute was long and bitter. As for existing cramped half an hour, that you never thought possible. Imagine now the severest cramp you ever felt artificially prolonged for hours and hours. Imagine yourself cramped in a vise, no part of you movable a hair's breadth, except your hair and your eyelids. Imagine the fierce cramp growing and growing, and rising like a tide of agony higher and higher above nature's endurance, and you will cease to wonder that a man always sunk under Hawes's man-press. Now, then, add to the cramp a high circular saw raking the throat, jacket straps cutting and burning the flesh of the back--add to this the freezing of the blood in the body deprived so long of all motion whatever (for motion of some sort or degree is a condition of vitality), and a new and far more rational wonder arises, that any man could be half an hour cut, sawed, crushed, cramped, Mazeppa'd thus, without shamming--still less be four, six, eight hours in it, and come out a living man.
The young martyr's lips were turning blue, his face was twitching convulsively, when a word was unexpectedly put in for him by a bystander.
The turnkey Evans had been half sullenly half sorrowfully watching him for some minutes past.
A month or two ago the lips of a prisoner turning blue and his skin twitching told Evans nothing. He saw these things without seeing them. He was cruel from stupidity--from blockhead to butcher there is but a step. Like the English public he realized nothing where prisoners were concerned. But Mr. Eden had awakened his intelligence, and his heart waked with it naturally.
Now when he saw lips turning blue and eyes rolling in sad despair, and skin twitching convulsively, it occurred to him--"this creature must be suffering very badly," and the next step was "let me see what is hurting him so."
Evans now stood over Josephs and examined him. "Mr. Fry," said he doggedly, "is not this overdoing it?"
"What d'ye mean, we are to obey orders, I suppose?"
"Of course, but there was no need to draw the jacket straps so tight as all this. Boy's bellows can't hardly work for 'em."
He now passed his hand round the hollow of the lad's back.
"I thought so," cried he; "I can't get my finger between the straps and the poor fellow's flesh, and, good heavens I can feel the skin rising like a ridge on each side of the straps; it is a black, burning shame to use any Christian like this."
These words were hardly out of the turnkey's mouth when a startling cry came suddenly from poor Josephs; a sudden, wild, piercing scream of misery. In that bitter, despairing cry burst out the pent-up anguish of weeks, and the sense of injustice and cruelty more than human. The poor thing gave this one terrible cry. Heaven forbid that you should hear such a one in life, as I hear his in my heart, and then he fell to sobbing as if his whole frame would burst.
They were not much, these rough words of sympathy, but they were the first--the first words, too, of humanity and reason a turnkey had spoken in his favor since he came into this hell. Above all, the first in which it had ever been hinted or implied that his flesh was human flesh. The next moment he began to cry, but that was not so easy. He soon lost his breath and couldn't cry though his very life depended on it. Tears gave relief. Dame Nature said, "Cry, my suffering son, cry now, and relieve that heart swelling with cruelty and wrong."
But Hawes's infernal machine said, "No, you shall not cry. I give you no room to cry in." The cruel straps jammed him so close his swelling heart could but half heave. The jagged collar bit his throat so hard he could but give three or four sobs and then the next choked him. The struggle between Nature panting and writhing for relief, and the infernal man-press, was so bitter strong that the boy choked and blackened and gasped as one in the last agony.
"Undo him," cried Evans hastily, "or we shall kill him among us."
"Bucket," said the experienced Fry quite coolly.
The bucket was at hand--its contents were instantly discharged over Josephs' head.
A cry like a dying hare--two or three violent gasps--and he was quiet, all but a strong shiver that passed from head to foot; only with the water that now trickled from his hair down his face scalding tears from his young eyes fell to the ground undistinguished from the water by any eye but God's.
At six o'clock Hawes came into the yard and ordered Fry to take him down. Fry took this opportunity of informing against Evans for his mild interference.
"He will pay for that along with the rest," said Hawes with an oath.
Then he turned on Josephs, who halted stiffly by him on his way to his cell.
"I'll make your life hell to you, you young vagabond--you are hardly used, are you? all you have ever known isn't a stroke with a feather to what I'll make you know by-and-by. Wait till to-morrow comes, you shall see what I can do when I am put to it."
Josephs sobbed, but answered nothing, and crawled sore, stiff, dripping, shivering to his cell. In that miserable hole he would at least be at peace.
He found the gas lighted. He was glad, for he was drenched through and bitterly cold. He crept up to the little gaslight and put his dead white hands over it and got a little warmth into them; he blessed this spark of light and warmth; he looked lovingly down on it, it was his only friend in the jail, his companion in the desolate cell. He wished he could gather it into his bosom; then it would warm his heart and his blighted flesh and aching, shivering bones.
While he hung shivering over his spark of light and warmth and comfort, a key was put into his door. "Ah! here's supper," thought he, "and I am so hungry." It was not supper, it was Fry who came in empty-handed, leaving the door open. Fry went to his gaslight and put his finger and thumb on the screw.
"Oh! it burns all right, Mr. Fry," said Josephs, "it won't go any higher, thank you."
"No, it won't," said Fry dryly, and turned it out, leaving the cell in utter darkness.
"There, I told you so," said Josephs pettishly, "now you have been and turned it out."
"Yes, I have been and turned it out," replied Fry with a brutal laugh, "and it won't be turned on again for fourteen days, so the governor says, however, and I suppose he knows," and Fry went out chuckling.
Josephs burst out sobbing and almost screaming at this last stroke; it seemed to hurt him more than his fiercer tortures. He sobbed so wildly and so loud that Mr. Jones, passing on the opposite corridor, heard him and beckoned to Evans to open the cell.
They found the boy standing in the middle of his dungeon shaking with cold in his drenched clothes and sobbing with his whole body. It was frightful to see and hear the agony and despair of one so young in years, so old in misery.
Mr. Jones gave him words of commonplace consolation. Mr. Jones tried to persuade him that patience was the best cure.
"Be patient, and do not irritate the governor any more--the storm will pass."
He seemed to Josephs as one that mocketh. Jones's were such little words to fling in the face of a great despair; to chatter unreasonable consolation was to mock his unutterable misery of soul and body.
Mr. Jones was one of those who sprinkle a burning mountain with a teaspoonful of milk and water, and then go away and make sure they have put it out. When he was gone with this impression, Evans took down the boy's bed and said:
"Don't ye cry now like that; it makes me ill to hear any Christian cry like that."
"Oh, Mr. Evans! oh! oh! oh! oh! What have I done? Oh, my mother! my mother! my mother!"
Evans winced. What! had he a mother, too? If she could see him now! and perhaps he was her darling though he was a prisoner. He shook the bed-clothes out and took hold of the shivering boy and with kind force made him lie down; then he twisted the clothes tight round him.
"You will get warm, if you will but lie quiet and not think about it."
Josephs did what he was bid. He could not still his sobs, but he turned his mournful eyes on Evans with a look of wonder at meeting with kindness from a human being, and half doubtingly put out his hand. So then Evans, to comfort him, took his hand and shook it several times in his hard palm, and said:
"Good-night. You'll soon get warm, and don't think of it--that is the best way;" and Evans ran away in the middle of a sentence, for the look of astonishment the boy wore at his humanity went through the man's penitent heart like an arrow.
Josephs lay quiet and his sobs began gradually to go down, and, as Evans had predicted, some little warmth began to steal over his frame; but he could not comply with all Evans's instructions; he could not help thinking of it. For all that, as soon as he got a little warm, Nature, who knew how much her tortured son needed repose, began to weigh down his eyelids, and he dozed. He often started, he often murmured a prayer for pity as his mind acted over again the scenes of his miserable existence; but still he dozed, and sleep was stealing over him. Sleep! life's nurse sent from heaven to create us anew day by day!--sleep! that has blunted and gradually cured a hundred thousand sorrows for one that has yielded to any moral remedy--sleep! that has blunted and so cured by degrees a million fleshly ills for one that drugs or draughts have ever reached--sleep had her arm round this poor child and was drawing him gently, gently, slowly, slowly to her bosom--when suddenly his cell seemed to him to be all in a blaze, and a rough hand shook him, and a harsh voice sounded in his ear.
"Come, get up out of that, youngster," it said, and the hand almost jerked him off the floor.
"What is the matter?" inquired Josephs yawning.
"Matter is, I want your bed."
Josephs rose half stupid, and Hodges rolled up his bed and blanket.
"Are you really going to rob me of my bed?" inquired Josephs slowly and firmly.
"Rob you, you young dog? Here is the governor's order. No bed and gas for fourteen days."
"No bed nor gas for fourteen days! Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!"
"Oh, you laugh at that, do you?"
"I laugh at Mr. Hawes thinking to keep me out of bed for fourteen days, a poor wornout boy like me. You tell Hawes I'll find a bed in spite of him long before fourteen days."
Hodges looked about the cell for this other bed. "Come," said he, "you must not chaff the officers. The governor will serve you out enough without your giving us any of your sauce."
Hodges was going with the bed. Josephs stopped him. The boy took this last blow quite differently from the gas; no impatience or burst of sorrow now.
"Won't you bid me good-by, Mr. Hodges?" asked he.
"Why not? Good-night."
"That isn't what I mean. Mr. Evans gave me his hand."
"Did he? what for?"
"And so must you. Oh, you may as well, Mr. Hodges. I never came to you and took away your little bit of light and your little bit of sleep. So you can take my hand if I can give it you. You will be sorry afterward if you say no."
"There it is--what the better are you for that, you young fool? I'll tell you what it is, you are turning soft. I don't know what to make of you. I shall come to your cell the first thing in the morning."
"Ay, do, Mr. Hodges," said Josephs, "and then you won't be sorry you shook hands at night."
At this moment the boy's supper was thrust through the trap-door; it was not the supper by law appointed, but six ounces of bread and a can of water.
Hodges, now that he had touched the prisoner's hand, felt his first spark of something bordering on sympathy. He looked at the grub half ashamed and made a wry face. Josephs caught his look and answered it.
"It is as much as I shall want," said he very calmly, and he smiled at Hodges as he spoke, a sweet and tender but dogged smile; a smile to live in a man's memory for years.
The door was closed with a loud snap, and Josephs was left to face the long night (it was now seven o'clock) in his wet clothes, which smoked with the warmth his late bed had begun to cherish; but they soon ceased to smoke as the boy froze.
Night advanced. Josephs walked about his little cell, his teeth chattering, then flung himself like a dead log on the floor, and finding Hawes's spirit in the cold, hard stone, rose and crawled shivering to and fro again.
Meantime we were all in our nice soft beds; such as found three blankets too little added a dressing-gown of flannel, or print lined with wadding or fleecy hosiery, and so made shift. In particular all those who had the care of Josephs took care to lie warm and soft. Hawes, Jones, Hodges, Fry, Justices Shallow and Woodcock, all took the care of their own carcasses they did not take of Josephs' youthful frame.
"Be cold at night? Not if we know it; why you can't sleep if you are not thoroughly warm!!"