It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
The inexperienced in jails would take for granted that the death of Josephs gave Mr. Hawes's system a fatal check. No such thing. He was staggered. So was Pharaoh staggered several times, yet he always recovered himself in twenty-four hours. Hawes did not take so long as that. A suicide was no novelty under his system. Six hours after he found his victim dead he had a man and a boy crucified in the yard, swore horribly at Fry, who, for the first time in his life, was behind time, and tore out of his hands "Uncle Tom," which was the topic that had absorbed Fry and made him two minutes behind him; went home and wrote a note to his friend Williams informing him of the suicide that had taken place, and reflecting severely upon Josephs for his whole conduct, with which this last offense against discipline was in strict accordance. Then he had his grog, and having nothing to do he thought he would see what was that story which had prevailed so far over the stern realities of system as to derange that piece of clock work that went by the name of Fry. He yawned over the first pages, but as the master hand unrolled the great chromatic theory, he became absorbed, and devoured this great human story till his candles burned down in their sockets and sent him to bed four hours later than usual.
The next morning soon after chapel a gentleman's servant rode up to the jail and delivered a letter for Mr. Hawes. It was from Justice Williams. That worthy expressed in polysyllables his sorrow at the death of Josephs after this fashion:
"A circumstance of this kind is always to be deplored, since it gives occasion to the enemies of the system to cast reflections, which, however unphilosophical and malignant, prejudice superficial judgments against our salutary discipline."
He then went on to say that the visiting justices would be at the jail the next day at one o'clock to make their usual report, in which Mr. Hawes might be sure his zeal and fidelity would not pass unnoticed. He concluded by saying that Mr. Hawes must on that occasion present his charges against the chaplain in a definite form, and proceedings would be taken on the spot.
"Aha! aha! So I shall get rid of him. Confound him! he makes me harder upon the beggars than I should be. Fry, put these numbers on the cranks and bring me your report after dinner."
With these words Mr. Hawes vanished, and to the infinite surprise of the turnkeys was not seen in the jail for many hours. At two o'clock, as he was still not in the prison, Fry went to his house. He found Mr. Hawes deep in a book.
"Brought the report, sir."
"Give it to me. Humph! No. 40 and 45 refractory at the crank. No. 65 caught getting up to his window; says he wanted to feel the light. 65--that is one of the boys, isn't it?"
"How old is the young varmint?"
"No. 14 heard to speak to a prisoner that was leaving the jail, his term being out. What did he say to him?"
"Said 'Good-by! God bless you!'"
"I'll shut his mouth. Confound the beggars! how fond they are of talking. I think they would rather go without their food than without their jaw.
"No. 19 caught writing a story. It is that fellow Robinson, one of the parson's men. I'll write something on his skin. How did he get the things to write with?"
"Chaplain gave them him."
"Ah! I am glad of that. You brought them away, of course?"
"Yes, sir; here they are. He made a terrible fuss about parting with them."
"What did he say?"
"He said Heaven was to judge between me and him."
"Blaspheming dog! ---- him! I'll break him. What else?"
"'Get out of my sight,' said he, 'for fear I do you a mischief.' So then down he pops on his knees in a corner and turns his back on me, like an ignorant brute that he is."
"Never mind, Fry, I'll break him."
"I suppose we shall see you in the prison soon, shan't we, sir? The place looks strange to me without you."
"By-and-by--by-and-by. This confounded book sticks to me like a leech. How far had you got when you lent it me?"
"Got just to the most interesting part," said Fry dolefully, "where he comes under a chap called Legree; and then you took it away."
"Well, you'll have it again as soon as I have done with it. I say, what do you think of this book? is it true do you think?"
"Oh! it is true--I'd take my oath of that."
"Why how do you know?"
"Because it reads like true."
"That is no rule, ye fool."
"Well, sir, what do you think?"
This question staggered Hawes for a moment. However he assumed an oracular look, and replied, "I think some of it is true and some isn't."
"Do you think it is true about their knocking down blackee in one lot, and his wife in another, and sending 'em a thousand miles apart?"
"Oh, that is true enough! I daresay."
"And running them down with bloodhounds?"
"Why not; they look upon the poor devils as beasts. If you tell a Yankee a nigger is a man he thinks you are poking fun at him."
"It is a cursed shame!"
"Of course it is! but I'll tell you what I can't swallow in this book. Hem! did you ever fall in with any Yankees?"
"One or two, sir."
"Were they green at all?"
"That they weren't. They were rather foxy, I should say."
"Rather. Why one of them would weather upon any three Englishmen that ever were born. Now here is a book that as good as tells me it is a Yankee custom to disable their beasts of burden. Gammon! they can't afford to do it. I believe," continued this candid personage (who had never been in any of the States), "they are the cruelest set on the face of the earth, but then they are the 'cutest (that is their own word), and they are a precious sight too 'cute to disable the beast that carries the grist to the mill."
"Doesn't seem likely--now you put it to me."
"Have a glass of grog, Fry."
"Thank you, sir."
"And there is the paper. Run your eye over it and don't speak to me for ten minutes, for I must see how Tom gets on under this bloody-minded heathen."
Fry read the paper; but although he moistened it with a glass of grog, he could not help casting envious glances from his folio at Mr. Hawes's duodecimo.
Fibs mixed with truth charm us more than truth mixed with fibs.
Presently an oath escaped from Mr. Hawes.
"Nothing, it is only this infernal--humph!"
Presently another expletive. "I'll tell you what it is, Fry, if somebody doesn't knock this thundering Legree on the head, I'll put the book on the fire."
"Well, but if it isn't true, sir?"
"But it is true, every word of it, while you are reading it, ye fool. What heathens there are in the world! First they sell a child out of his mother's arms. She cuts sooner than be parted. They hunt her and come up with her; but she knows what they are, and trusts her life and the child to one of their great thundering frozen rivers as broad as the British Channel sooner than fall into their hands. That is like a woman, Fry. A fig for me being drowned if the kid is drowned with me; and I don't even care so much for the kid being drowned if I go down with him--and the cowardly vermin dogs and men stood barking on the bank and dursn't follow a woman; but your cruel ones are always cowards. And now the rips have got hold of this Tom. A chap with no great harm in him that I see, except that he is a ---- sniveler and psalm-singer, and makes you sick at times, but he isn't lazy; and now they are mauling him because he couldn't do the work of two. A man can but do his best, black or white, and it is infernal stupidity as well as cruelty to torment a fellow because he can't do more than he can do. And all this because over the same flesh and blood there is the sixteenth of an inch of skin a different color. Wonder whether a white bear takes a black one for a hog, or a red fox takes a blue one for a badger. Well, Fry, thank your stars that you were born in Britain. There are no slaves here, and no buying and selling of human flesh; and one law for high and low, rich and poor, and justice for the weak as well as the strong."
"Yes, sir," said Fry deferentially--"are you coming into the jail, sir?"
"No," replied Hawes sturdily, "I won't move till I see what becomes of the negro, and what is done to this eternal ruffian."
"But about the prisoners in my report, sir," remonstrated Fry.
"Oh, you can see to that without my coming," replied Hawes with nonchalance. "Put 40 and 45 in the jacket four hours apiece. Mind there's somebody by with the bucket against they sham."
"Put the boy on bread and water--and to-morrow I'll ask the justices to let me flog him. No. 14--humph! stop his supper--and his bed--and gas."
"Oh, give him no supper at all--and no breakfast--not even bread and water, d'ye hear. And at noon I'll put him with his empty belly in the black-hole--that will cow him down to the ground--there, be off!"
Next morning Mr. Hawes sat down to breakfast in high spirits. This very day he was sure to humiliate his adversary, most likely get rid of him altogether.
Mr. Eden, on the contrary, wore a somber air. Hawes noticed it, mistook it, and pointed it out to Fry. "He is down upon his luck; he knows he is coming to an end."
After breakfast Mr. Eden went into Robinson's cell. He found him haggard. "Oh, I am glad you are come, sir; they are starving me! No supper last night, no breakfast this morning, and all for--hum."
"Well, sir, then--having paper in my cell, and for writing--doing what you bade me--writing my life."
Mr. Eden colored and winced. The cruelty and the personal insult combined almost took away his breath for a moment. "Heaven grant me patience a little longer," said he aloud. Then he ran out of the cell, and returned in less than a minute with a great hunch of bread and a slice of ham. "Eat this," said he, all fluttering with pity.
The famished man ate like a wolf; but in the middle he did stop to say, "Did one man ever save another so often as you have me! Now my belly is full I shall have strength to stand the jacket, or whatever is to come next."
"But you are not to be tormented further than this, I hope?"
"Ah, sir!" replied Robinson, "you don't know the scoundrel yet. He is not starving me for nothing. This is to weaken me till he puts the weight on that is to crush me."
"I hope you exaggerate his personal dislike to you and your own importance--we all do that."
"Well," sighed Robinson, "I hope I do. Any way now my belly is full I have got a chance with him."
The visiting justices met in the jail. The first to arrive was Mr. Woodcock. In fact he came at eleven o'clock, an hour before the others. Had Mr. Hawes expected him so soon, he would have taken Carter down, who was the pilloried one this morning; but he was equal to the emergency. He met Mr. Woodcock with a depressed manner, as of a tender but wise father, who in punishing his offspring had punished himself, and said in a low, regretful voice, "I am sorry to say I have been compelled to punish a prisoner very severely."
"What is his offense?"
"Being refractory and breaking his crank. You will find him in the labor-yard. He was so violent we were obliged to put him in the jacket."
"I shall see him. The labor-yard is the first place I go to."
Mr. Hawes knew that, Mr. Woodcock.
The justice found Carter in that state of pitiable torture, the sight of which made Mr. Eden very ill. He went up to him and said, "My poor fellow, I am very sorry for you; but discipline must be maintained, and you are now suffering for fighting against it. Make your submission to the governor, and then I dare say he will shorten your punishment as far as he thinks consistent with his duty."
Carter, it may well be imagined, made no answer. It is doubtful whether the worthy magistrate expected or required one. An occasion for misjudging a self-evident case of cruelty had arrived. This worthy seized the opportunity, received an ex-parte statement for Gospel, and misjudged, spite of his senses.
Item. An occasion for twaddling had come, and this good soul seized it and twaddled into a man's ear who was fainting on the rack.
At this moment the more observant Hawes saw the signs of shamming coming on. So he said hastily, "Oh, he will come to soon, and then he will be taken down;" and moved away. Mr. Woodcock followed him without one grain of suspicion or misgiving.
The English State has had many opportunities of gauging the average intellects of its unpaid jurists. By these it has profited so well that it intrusts blindly to this gentleman and his brethren the following commission:--
They are to come into a place of darkness and mystery, a place locked up; a place which, by the folly of the nation and the shallow egotists who are its placemen and are called its statesmen, is not subject to the only safeguard of law and morals--daily inspection by the great unprejudiced public. They are to come into this, the one pitch-dark hole that is now left in the land. They are to come here once in two months, and at this visit to see all that has been done there in the dark since their last visit. Their eagle eye is not to be hoodwinked by appearances got up to meet their visit. They are to come and comprehend with one piercing glance the past months as well as the present hour. Good. Only for this task is required, not the gullibility that characterizes the many, but the sagacity that distinguishes the few.
Mr. Woodcock undertook not to be deceived as to what had been done in the jail while he was forty miles distant--and Hawes gulled him under his own eyes.
What different men there are in the world, and how differently are the same things seen by them! The first crucifixion Eden saw he turned as sick as a dog--the first crucifixion Woodcock saw he twaddled in the crucified's ear, left him on the cross, and went on his way well pleased.
Hawes, finding what sort of a man he had to deal with, thought within himself, "Why should I compromise discipline in any point?" He said to Mr. Woodcock, "There is another prisoner whom I am afraid I must give an hour in the dark cell."
"What has he been doing?"
"Scribbling a lot of lies upon some paper he got from the chaplain."
Mr. Hawes's brief and unkind definition of autobiography did Robinson's business. Mr. Woodcock simply observed that the proposed punishment was by no means a severe one for the offense.
They visited several cells. Woodcock addressed the prisoners in certain words, accompanied with certain tones and looks, that were at least as significant as his words, and struck the prisoners as more sincere.
"If you have anything to complain of here, now is the time to say so, and your complaint shall be sifted."
The tones and looks.
"I know you are better off here than such scum as you deserve, but you have a right to contradict me if you like; only mind, if you don't prove it to my satisfaction, who am not the man to believe anything you say, you had better have held your tongue."
Meantime Mr. Hawes said nothing, but fixed his eye on the rogue, and that eye said, "One word of discontent and the moment he is gone I massacre you." Then followed in every case the old theatrical business according to each rogue's measure of ability. They were in the Elysian fields; one thing alone saddened them; some day or other they must return to the world.
Fathers, sent by your apprehensive wives to see whether Dicky is well used at that school or not, don't draw Dicky into a corner of the playground, and with tender kisses and promises of inviolable secrecy coax him to open his little heart to you, and tell you whether he is really happy; leave such folly to women--it is a weakness to wriggle into the truth as they do.
No! you go like a man into the parlor with the schoolmaster--then have Dicky in--let him see the two authorities together on good terms--then ask him whether he is happy and comfortable and well used. He will tell you he is. Go home rejoicing--but before you go into the drawing-room do pray spend twenty minutes by the kitchen fire, and then go upstairs to the boy's mother--and let her eat you, for you belong to the family of the Woodcocks.
"We are passing one cell."
"Oh! that one is empty," replied Hawes.
Not quite empty; there was a beech coffin standing in that cell, and the corpse of a murdered thief lay waiting for it.
At twelve o'clock the justices were all assembled in their room. "We will send you a message in half an hour, Mr. Hawes."
Mr. Hawes bowed and retired, and bade Fry to take Robinson to the dark cell. The poor fellow knew resistance was useless. He came out at the word of command, despair written on his face. Of all the horrors of this hell the dark cell was the one he most dreaded. He looked up to Hawes to see if anything he could say would soften him. No! that hardened face showed neither pity nor intelligence; as well appeal to a stone statue of a mule.
At this moment Mr. Eden came into the jail. Robinson met him on the ground-floor, and cried out to him, "Sir, they are sending me to the black hole for it. I am a doomed man; the black hole for six hours."
"No!" roared Hawes from above, "for twelve hours; the odd six is for speaking in prison." Robinson groaned.
"I will take you out in three," said Mr. Eden calmly. Hawes heard and laughed aloud.
"Give me your hand on that, sir, for pity's sake," cried Robinson. Mr. Eden gave him his hand and said, firmly, "I will take you out in two hours, please God."
Hawes chuckled. "Parson is putting his foot in it more and more. The justices shall know this."
This momentary contact with his good angel gave Robinson one little ray of hope for a companion in the cave of darkness, madness, and death.