It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
The justices went through their business in the usual routine. They had Mr. Hawes's book up--examined the entries--received them with implicit confidence looked for no other source of information to compare them with. Examined one witness and did not cross-examine him.
This done, one of them proposed to concoct their report at once. Another suggested that the materials were not complete; that there was a charge against the chaplain. This should be looked into, and should it prove grave, embodied in their report.
Mr. Williams overruled this. "We can reprimand, or if need be the bench can dismiss a chaplain without troubling the Secretaries of State. Let us make our report and then look into the chaplain's conduct, who is, after all, a newcomer, and they say a little cracked; he is a man of learning."
So they wrote their report, and in it expressed their conviction that the system on the whole worked admirably. They noticed the incident of Josephs' suicide, but attached no significance and little importance to it. Out of a hundred and eighty prisoners there would be a few succumb in one way or another under the system, but on the whole the system worked well.
Jugger system's wheels were well greased, and so long as they were well greased it did not matter their crushing one or two. Besides the crushed were only prisoners--the refuse of society. They reported the governor, Mr. Hawes, as a painstaking, active, zealous officer; and now Mr. Hawes was called in--the report was read to him--and he bowed, laid his hand upon his aorta, and presented a histrionic picture of modest merit surprised by unexpected praise from a high quarter.
Next, Mr. Hawes was requested to see the report sent off to the post.
"I will, gentlemen;" and in five minutes he was at the post-office in person, and his praises on the way to his sovereign or her representative.
"How long will the parson take us?"
"Oh! not ten minutes."
"I hope not, for I want to look at a horse."
"We had better send for him at once, then."
The bell was rung and the chaplain sent for. The chaplain was praying the prayers for the sick by the side of a dying prisoner. He sent back word how he was employed, and that he would come as soon as he had done.
This message was not well received. Keep a living justice waiting for a dying dog!
"These puppies want taking down," said Mr. Woodcock.
"Oh, leave him to me," replied Mr. Williams.
Soon after this the following puppy came into the room. A gentleman of commanding figure, erect but easy, with a head of remarkable symmetry and an eye like a stag's. He entered the room quietly but rather quickly, and with an air of business; bowed rapidly to the three gentlemen in turn, and waited in silence their commands.
Then Mr. Williams drew himself up in his chair, and wore the solemn and dignified appearance that becomes a judge trying a prisoner, with this difference, that his manner was not harsh or intentionally offensive, but just such as to reveal his vast superiority and irresistible weight.
In a solemn tone, with a touch of pity, he began thus:
"I am sorry to say, Mr. Eden, that grave charges are laid against you in the prison."
"Give yourself no uneasiness on my account, sir," replied Mr. Eden politely, "they are perhaps false."
"Yet they come from one who has means of knowing--from the governor, Mr. Hawes."
"Ah! then they are sure to be false."
"We shall see. Four Sundays ago you preached a sermon."
"Ay, but one was against cruelty."
"It was; the other handled theft."
"Mr. Hawes conceives himself to have been singled out and exposed by that sermon."
"Why so? there are more than thirty cruel men in this jail besides him."
"Then this sermon was not aimed at him?" put Mr. Williams with a pinning air.
"It was and it was not. It was aimed at that class of my parishioners to which he belongs; a large class, including all the turnkeys but one, between twenty and thirty of the greater criminals among the prisoners--and Mr. Hawes."
Mr. Williams bit his lip. "Gentlemen, this classification shows the animus;" then turning to Mr. Eden he said, with a half-incredulous sneer, "How comes it that Mr. Hawes took this sermon all to himself?"
Mr. Eden smiled. "How does it happen that two prisoners, 82 and 87, took it all to themselves? These two men sent for me after the sermon; they were wife-beaters. I found them both in great agitation. One terrified, the other softened to tears of penitence. These did not apply my words to Mr. Hawes. The truth is when a searching sermon is preached each sinner takes it to himself. I am glad Mr. Hawes fitted the cap on. I am glad the prisoners fitted the cap on. I am sorry Mr. Hawes was irritated instead of reformed. I am glad those two less hardened sinners were reformed instead of irritated."
"And I must tell you, sir, that we disapprove of your style of preaching altogether, and we shall do more, we shall make a change in this respect the condition of your remaining in office."
"And the bishop of the diocese?" asked Mr. Eden.
"What about him?"
"Do you think he will allow you, an ignorant, inexperienced layman, to usurp the episcopal function in his diocese."
"The episcopal function? Mr. Eden."
Mr. Eden smiled. "He does not even see that he has been trying to usurp sacred functions and of the highest order. But it is all of a piece--a profound ignorance of all law, civil or ecclesiastical, characterizes all your acts in this jail. My good soul, just ask yourself for what purpose does a bishop exist? Why is one priest raised above other priests, and consecrated bishop, but to enable the Church to govern its servants. I laugh--but I ought rather to rebuke you. What you have attempted is something worse than childish arrogance. Be warned! and touch not the sacred vessels so rashly--it is profanation."
The flashing eye and the deepening voice, and the old awful ecclesiastical superiority suddenly thundering upon them quite cowed the two smaller magistrates. Williams, whose pomposity the priest had so rudely shaken, gasped for breath with rage. Magisterial arrogance was not prepared for ecclesiastical arrogance, and the blow was stunning.
"Gentlemen, I wish to consult you. Be pleased to retire for a minute, sir."
A discussion took place in the chaplain's absence. Williams was for dismissing him on the spot, but the others who were cooler would not hear of it. "We have made a false move," said they, "and he saw our mistake and made the most of it. Never mind! we shall catch him on other ground."
During this discussion Mr. Eden had not been idle; he went into Robinson's empty cell and coolly placed there another inkstand, pen and quire in the place of those Hawes had removed. Then glancing at his watch he ran hastily out of the jail. Opposite the gate he found four men waiting; they were there by appointment.
"Giles," said he to one, "I think a gentleman will come down by the next train. Go to the station and hire Jenkyns's fly with the gray horse. Let no one have it who is not coming on to the jail. You two stay by the printing-press and loom till further orders. Jackson, you keep in the way, too. My servant will bring you your dinner at two o'clock." He then ran back to the justices. They were waiting for him.
Mr. Williams began with a cutting coldness. "We did not wish to go to the length of laying a complaint against you before the bishop, but if you really prefer this to a friendly remonstrance--"
"I prefer the right thing to the wrong thing," was the prompt and calm rejoinder.
"The complaint shall be made."
Mr. Eden bowed and his eyes twinkled. He pictured to himself this pompous personage writing to the Bishop of ---- to tell him that he objected to Mr. Eden's preaching; not that he had ever heard it; but that in attacking a great human vice it had hit a jailer.
"The next I think we can deal with. Mr. Hawes complains that you constantly interfere between him and the prisoners, and undermine his authority."
"I support him in all his legal acts, but I do oppose his illegal ones."
"Your whole aim is to subvert the discipline of the jail."
"On the contrary, I assure you I am the only officer of the jail who maintains the discipline as by law established."
"Am I to understand that you give Mr. Hawes the lie?"
"You shall phrase my contradiction according to your own taste, sir."
"And which do you think is likeliest to be believed?"
"Mr. Hawes by you gentlemen; Mr. Eden by the rest of the nation."
Here Mr. Palmer put in his word. "I don't think we ought to pay less respect to one man's bare assertion than to another's. It is a case for proof."
"Well, but, Palmer," replied Woodcock, "how can the jail go on with these two at daggers drawn?"
"It cannot," said Mr. Eden.
"Ah, you can see that."
"A house divided against itself!" suggested Mr. Eden.
"Well, then," said Mr. Woodcock, "let us try and give a more friendly tone to this discussion."
"Why not?--our weapons would bear polishing."
"Yes; you have a high reputation, Mr. Eden, both for learning and Christian feeling; in fact, the general consideration in which you are held has made us more lenient in this case than we should have been with another man in your office."
"There you are all wrong."
"You can't mean that; make us some return for this feeling. You know and feel the value of peace and unity?"
"Then be the man to restore them to this place."
"I will try."
"The governor and you cannot pull together--one must go."
"Well, then, no stigma shall rest on you--you will be allowed to offer us your voluntary resignation."
"Excuse me, I propose to arrive at peace and unity by another route."
"But I see no other."
"If I turn Mr. Hawes out it will come to the same thing, will it not?"
"But you can't turn him out, sir," sneered Williams.
"I think I can."
"He has our confidence and our respect, and shall have our protection."
"Still I will turn him out with God's help."
"This is a defiance, Mr. Eden."
"You cannot really think me capable of defying three justices of the peace!" said Mr. Eden in a solemn tone, his eyes twinkling.
"Defiance! no," said Mr. Palmer innocently.
"Well, but, Palmer, his opposition to Mr. Hawes is opposition to us, and is so bitter that it leaves us no alternative. We must propose to the bench to remove you from your office."
Mr. Eden bowed.
"And meantime," put in Mr. Williams, "we shall probably suspend you this very day by our authority." Mr. Eden bowed.
"We will not detain you any longer, sir," said Williams, rather insolently.
"I will but stay to say one word to this gentleman, who has conducted himself with courtesy toward me. Sir, for your own sake do not enter on this contest with me; it is an unequal one. A boy has just been murdered in this prison. I am about to drag his murderer into the light; why hang upon his skirts and compel me to expose you to public horror as his abettor? There is yet time to disown the fell practices of--hell!" He looked at his watch. "There is half an hour. Do not waste it in acts which our superiors will undo. See here are the prison rules; a child could understand them. A child could see that what you call 'the discipline' is a pure invention of the present jailer, and contradicts the discipline as by law established, and consequently that Josephs and others have been murdered by this lawless man. These are the prison rules, are they not? and here are the jailer's proceedings in the month of January--compare the two, and separate your honorable name from the contact of this caitiff, whose crimes will gibbet him in the nation's eyes, and you with him, unless you seize this chance and withdraw your countenance from him."
The three injustices rose by one impulse. "Make your preparations to leave the jail," said Mr. Woodcock.
"Half an hour is quite enough under the circumstances," said Williams.
Palmer stood aghast--his mind was not fast enough to keep up.
Mr. Eden bowed and retired. He was scarcely out of the room when the justices drew up an order for his suspension from his office.
Mr. Hawes was next sent for.
"We have found the chaplain all you described him. Discipline is impossible with such a man; here is an order for his suspension." Hawes's eyes sparkled. "We will enter it into the book, meantime you are to see it executed." Hawes went out, but presently returned.
"He won't go, gentlemen."
"What do you mean by he won't go?" said Williams.
"I told him your orders; and he said, 'Tell their worships they are exceeding their authority, and I won't go.' Then I said, 'They give you half an hour to pack up and then you must pack off.'"
"He! he! he! and what did he say?"
"'Oh, they give me half an hour, do they?' says he--'you take them this'--and he wrote this on a slip of paper--here it is."
The slip contained these words--
While the justices were puzzling over this, Hawes added, "Gentlemen, he said in his polite way, 'If it is like the prison rules and beats their comprehension, you may tell them it means--
"'There is many a slip 'Twixt the cup and the lip.'"
"Well, Mr. Hawes--what next?"
"'I am victualed for a siege,' says he, and he goes into his own room, and I heard him shoot the bolt."
"What does that mean?" inquired Mr. Palmer.
"It means, sir, that you won't get him out except by kicking him out." Hawes had been irritating their wounded vanity in order to get them up to this mark.
"Then turn him out by force," said Williams. But the other two were wiser. "No, we must not do that--we can keep him out if once he crosses the door."
"I will manage it for you, gentlemen," said Mr. Hawes.
Mr. Hawes went out and primed Fry with a message to Mr. Eden that a gentleman had ridden over from Oxford to see him, and was at his house.
Mr. Eden was in his room busy collecting and arranging several papers. He had just tied them up in a little portfolio when he heard Fry's voice at the door. When that worthy delivered his message his lip curled with scorn. But he said, "Very well." I will disappoint the sly boobies, thought he. But the next moment, looking out of his window, he saw a fly with a gray horse coming along the road. "At last," he cried, and instantly unbolted his door, and issued forth with his little portfolio under his arm. He had scarce taken ten steps when a turnkey popped out from a corner and stood sentinel over his room-door, barring all return.
Mr. Eden smiled and passed on along the corridor. He descended from the first floor to the basement. Here he found Hawes affecting business, but not skillfully enough to hide that he was watching Mr. Eden out.
In the yard leading to the great door he found the injustices. Aha! thought he--waiting to see me out. He raised his hat politely. Williams took no notice. The others slight.
"There is many a slip 'Twixt the cup and the lip,"
said he to them, looking them calmly over, then sauntered toward the gate.
Mr. Hawes came creeping after and joined the injustices; every eye furtively watched the parson whom they had outwitted. Fry himself had gone to the lodge to let him out and keep him out. He was but a few steps from the door. Hawes chuckled; his heart beat with exultation. A nether moment and that huge barrier would be interposed forever between him and his enemy, the prisoners' friend.
"Open the door, Mr. Fry," said the chaplain. Fry pulled it quickly open. "And let that gentleman in!"
A middle-aged gentleman was paying off his fly. The door being thus thrown open he walked quickly into the jail as if it belonged to him.
"Who is this?" inquired Mr. Williams sharply. The newcomer inquired as sharply, "The governor of this jail?"
Mr. Hawes stepped forward: "I am the governor." The newcomer handed him his card and a note.
"Mr. Lacy from the Home Office," said Mr. Hawes to the injustices. "These, sir, are the visiting justices."
Mr. Lacy bowed, but addressed himself to Mr. Hawes only. "Grave charges have been made against you, sir. I am here to see whether matters are such as to call for a closer investigation."
"May I ask, sir, who makes the charges against me?"
"The chaplain of your own jail."
"But he is my enemy, sir, my personal enemy."
"Don't distress yourself. No public man is safe from detraction. We hear an excellent account of you from every quarter but this one. My visit will probably turn to your advantage."
"Is there any room in which I could conduct this inquiry?"
"Will you be pleased to come to the justices' room?"
"Yes. Let us go there at once. Gentlemen, you shall be present if you choose."
"It is right you should know the chaplain is cracked," said Mr. Williams.
"I should not wonder. Pray," inquired Mr. Lacy, "who was that bilious-looking character near the gate when I came in?"
"Why, that was the chaplain."
"I thought so! I dare say we shall find he has taken a jaundiced view of things. Send for him, if you please, and let us get through the business as quickly as we can."
When Mr. Eden came he found Mr. Lacy chatting pleasantly with his four adversaries. On his entrance the gentleman's countenance fell a little, and Mr. Eden had the pleasure of seeing that this man, too, was prejudiced against him.
"Mr. Eden, be seated, if you please. You appear to be ill, sir?"
"I am recovering from a mortal sickness."
"The jaundice, eh?"
"Something of that nature."
"A horrible complaint."
Mr. Eden bowed.
"I have had some experience of it. Are you aware of its effect on the mind?"
"I feel its effect on the temper and the nerves."
"Deeper than that, sir--it colors the judgment. Makes us look at everything on the dark side."
Mr. Eden sighed: "I see what you are driving at; but you confound effect with cause."
Mr. Lacy shrugged his shoulders, opened his portfolio, and examined a paper or two.
"Mr. Hawes, you served her majesty in another way before you came here?"
"Five and twenty years, sir, man and boy."
"And I think with credit?"
"My will has been good to do my duty, whatever my abilities may be."
"I believe you distinguished yourself at sea in a storm in the West Indies?"
Mr. Williams put in warmly, "He went out to a vessel in distress in a hurricane at Jamaica."
"It was off the Mauritius," observed Mr. Eden with a gleam of satisfaction.
"Well," said Mr. Lacy, "he saved other lives at the risk of his own, no matter where. Pray, Mr. Eden, does your reading and experience lead you to believe that a brave man is ever a cruel one?"
"There is a proverb that the cruel are always cowards."
"Cant! seven out of twelve are cowards and five brave."
"I don't agree with you. The presumption is all on Mr. Hawes's side."
"And only the facts on mine."
Mr. Lacy smiled superciliously. "To the facts let us go, then. You received a note from the Home Office this morning. In compliance with that note have you prepared your case?"
"Will you begin by giving me an idea what the nature of your evidence will be?"
"A page or two of print--twenty of manuscript--three or four living witnesses, and--one dead body."
"Hum! he seems in earnest, gentlemen. How long do you require to state your case? Can it be done to-day?" Mr. Lacy looked at his watch half peevishly.
"Half an hour," was the reply.
"Only half an hour?"
"Ay, but half an hour neat."
"What do you mean by neat?"
"The minutes not to be counted that are wasted in idle interruptions or in arguments drawn from vague probabilities where direct evidence lies under our senses. For instance, that because I have been twenty-five years a servant of Christ with good repute, therefore it is not to be credited I could bring a false accusation; or that because Mr. Hawes was brave twenty years ago in one set of circumstances, therefore he cannot be cruel now in another set of circumstances."
Mr. Lacy colored a little, but he took a pinch of snuff, and then coolly drew out of his pocket a long paper sealed.
"Have you any idea what this is?"
Mr. Eden caught sight of the direction; it was to himself.
"Probably my dismissal from my post?"
Hawes quivered with exultation.
"And I have authority to present you with it if you do not justify the charges you have made against a brother officer."
"Good!" said Mr. Eden. "This is intelligent and it is just. The first gleam of either that has come into this dark hole since I have known it. I augur well from this."
"This is a character, gentlemen."
"To business, sir?" inquired Mr. Eden, undoing his portfolio.
"Sir," put in Mr. Hawes, "I object to an ex-parte statement from a personal enemy. You are here to conduct a candid inquiry, not to see the chaplain conduct a hostile one. I feel that justice is safe in your hands but not in his."
"Stop a bit," said Mr. Eden; "I am to be dismissed unless I prove certain facts. See! the Secretary of State has put me on my defense. I will intrust that defense to no man but myself."
"You are keen, sir, but--you are in the right; and you, Mr. Hawes, will be here to correct his errors and to make your own statement after he has done in half an hour."
"Ah! well," thought Hawes, "he can't do me much harm in half an hour."
"Begin, sir!" and he looked at his watch.
"Mr. Hawes, I want your book; the log-book of the prison."
"Get it, Mr. Hawes, if you please."
Mr. Hawes went out.
"Mr. Williams, are these the Prison Rules by Act of Parliament?" and he showed him the paper.
"They are, sir."
"Examine them closely, Mr. Lacy; they contain the whole discipline of this prison as by law established. Keep them before you. It is with these you will have to compare the jailer's acts. And now, how many times is the jailer empowered to punish any given prisoner?"
"Once --on a second offense the prisoner, I see, is referred for punishment to the visiting justices."
"If, therefore, this jailer has taken upon himself to punish the same prisoner twice he has broken the law."
"At all events he has gone beyond the letter of this particular set of rules."
"But these rules were drawn up by lawyers, and are based on the law of the land. A jailer, in the eye of the law, is merely a head turnkey set to guard the prisoners. For hundreds of years he had no lawful right to punish a prisoner at all; that right was first bestowed on him with clear limitations by an act passed in George the Fourth's reign, which I must show you, because that act is a jailer's sole authority for punishing a prisoner at all. Here is the passage, sir; will you be kind enough to read it out?"
"Hum! 'The keeper of every prison shall have power to hear all complaints touching any of the following offenses: Disobedience of the prison rules, assaults by one prisoner on another where no dangerous wound is given, profane cursing or swearing, any indecent behavior at chapel, idleness or negligence in work. The said keeper may punish all such offenses by ordering any offender to close confinement in the refractory or solitary cells, and by keeping such offenders upon bread and water only for any term not exceeding three days.'"
"Observe," put in Mr. Eden, "he can only punish once, and then not select the punishment according to his own fancy; he is restricted to separate confinement, and bread and water, and three days."
Mr. Lacy continued: "'In case any criminal prisoner shall be guilty of any repeated offense against the rules of the prison, or of any greater offense than the jailer is by this act empowered to punish, the said jailer shall forthwith report the same to the visiting justices, who can punish for one month, or felons or those sentenced to hard labor by personal correction.'"
"Such, sir," said Mr. Eden, "is the law of England, and the men who laid down our prison rules were not so ignorant or unscrupulous as to run their head against the statute law of the land. Nowhere in our prison rules will you find any power given to our jailer to punish any but minor offenses, or to punish any prisoner more than once, or to inflict any variety of punishments. Such are this jailer's powers--now for his acts and their consequences--follow me."
"Evans, open this cell. Jenkyns, what are you in prison for?"
"For running away from sarvice, your reverence."
"How often have you been punished since you came?"
"A good many times, your reverence."
"By the visiting justices?"
"No, sir! I was never punished by them, only by the governor."
"What have been your offenses?"
"I don't know, sir. I never meant to offend at all, but I am not very strong, and the governor he puts me on a heavy crank and then I can't always do the work, and I suppose he thinks it is for want of the will, and so he gives it me."
"How has he punished you?"
"Oh! sometimes it is clamming; nothing but a twopenny roll all day, and kept to hard work all the same; sometimes my bed taken away, you know, sir, but mostly the punishment jacket."
Mr. Lacy. "The punishment jacket; what is that?"
Mr. Eden. "Look in the prison rules and see if you can find a punishment jacket; meantime come with me. Two gross violations of the law--repetition of punishment and variety of punishments. Evans, open this cell. What are you in for?"
Prisoner (taking off his cap politely). "Burglary, gentlemen."
"Have you been often refractory since you came here?"
"Once or twice, sir. But--"
"These gentlemen are the visiting justices?"
"They would be offended if I told the truth."
Mr. Lacy. "I am here from the Secretary of State, and I bid you tell the truth."
Prisoner. "Oh! are you, sir; well, then, the truth is, I never was refractory but once."
Mr. Lacy. "Oh! you were refractory once?"
Prisoner. "Yes, sir!"
Mr. Lacy. "How came that?"
Prisoner. "Well, sir! it was the first week. I had never been in a separate cell before, and it drove me mad; no one came near me or spoke a word to me, and I turned savage; I didn't know myself, and I broke everything in the cell."
Mr. Eden. "And the other times?"
Prisoner. "The other times, sir, I was called refractory but I was not."
Mr. Eden. "What punishments have been inflicted on you by the governor?"
Prisoner. "Well, sir! the black-cell, bread and water, and none of that; took away my gas once or twice, but generally it was the punishment jacket."
Mr. Lacy. "Hum! the punishment jacket."
Mr. Eden. "How long since you had the punishment jacket?"
Prisoner. "No longer than yesterday."
Mr. Eden. "Strip, my man, and let us look at your back."
The prisoner stripped and showed his back, striped livid and red by the cutting straps.
Mr. Lacy gave a start, but the next moment he resumed his official composure, and at this juncture Mr. Hawes bustled into the cell and fixed his eye on the prisoner.
"What are you doing?" said he, eying the man.
"The gentleman made me strip, sir," said the prisoner with an ill-used air.
"Have you any complaint to make against me?"
"Then what have you been humbugging us for all this time," cried Mr. Williams contemptuously.
"For instance," cried Mr. Eden in the same tone, glancing slyly at Mr. Lacy, "how dare you show us frightful wales upon your back when you know they only exist in your imagination--and mine."
Mr. Lacy laughed. "That is true, he can't retract his wales, and I shall be glad to know how they came there." Here he made a note.
"I will show you by and by," said Mr. Eden.
The next two cells they went to, the prisoners assured Mr. Lacy that they were treated like Mr. Hawes's children.
"Well, sir!" said Lacy, with evident satisfaction, "what do you say to that?"
"I say--use your eyes." And he wheeled the last prisoner to the light. "Look at this hollow eye and faded cheek; look at this trembling frame and feel this halting pulse. Here is a poor wretch crushed and quelled by cruelty till scarce a vestige of man is left. Look at him! here is an object to pretend to you that he has been kindly used. Poor wretch, his face gives the lie to his tongue, and my life on it his body confirms his face. Strip, my lad."
Mr. Hawes interposed, and said it was cruel to make a prisoner strip to gratify curiosity. Mr. Eden laughed. "Come, strip," said he; "the gentleman is waiting." The prisoner reluctantly took off his coat, waistcoat and shirt, and displayed an emaciated person and several large livid stripes on his back. Mr. Lacy looked grave.
"Now, Mr. Lacy, you see the real reason why this humane gentleman did not like the prisoner to strip. Come to another. Before we go in to this one let me ask you one question: Do you think they will ever tell you the truth while Mr. Hawes's eye is on them?"
"Hum! they certainly seem to stand in awe of Mr. Hawes."
Hawes. "But, sir! you see how bitter the chaplain is against me. Where he is I ought to be if I am to have fair play."
"Certainly, Mr. Hawes, certainly! that is but fair."
Mr. Eden. "What are you in for?"
Prisoner. "Taking a gentleman's wipe, gentlemen."
Mr. Eden. "Have you been often punished?"
Prisoner. "Yes, your reverence! Why you know I have; now didn't you save my life when they were starving me to death two months ago?"
Mr. Lacy. "How did he save your life?"
Prisoner. "Made 'em put me on the sick list, and put something into my poor belly."
Mr. Lacy. "What state was the man in, Mr. Eden?"
Mr. Eden. "He was like a skeleton, and so weak that he could only speak two or three words at a time, and then had to stop a long while and recover strength to say two or three more. I did not think a human creature could be so near death and not die."
Mr. Lacy. "And did you know the cause?"
Mr. Eden. "Frankly, I did not. I had not at that time fathomed all the horrors of this place."
Mr. Lacy. "Did you tell the chaplain at the time you were starving?"
Mr. Eden. "And why not?"
Mr. Hawes. "Simply because he never was starving."
Prisoner. "Well! I'll tell you, gentlemen. His reverence said to me, 'My poor fellow, you are very ill--I must have you on the sick list directly,' and then he went for the doctor. Now I knew if I got on the sick list they would fill my belly; so I said to myself, best let well alone. If I had told him it was only starvation he would not interfere, I thought."
Mr. Lacy opened his eyes. Mr. Eden sighed.
Mr. Lacy. "You seem to have a poor opinion of her majesty's officers."
Prisoner. "Didn't know him, you see--didn't know his character; the humbug that was here before him would have let a poor fellow be kicked into his grave before his eyes, and not hold out a hand to save him."
Mr. Lacy. "Let me understand you--were you kept without food?"
Prisoner. "I was a day and a half without any food at all."
Mr. Lacy. "By whose orders?"
Prisoner. "By the governor's there, and I was a week on a twopenny loaf once a day, and kept at hard work on that till I dropped. Ah, your reverence, I shall never forget your face. I should be under the sod now if it was not for you!"
Williams. "You rascal, the last time I was here you told me you never were so happy and comfortable."
Prisoner. "Ha! ha! ha! ha! he! he! haw! haw! ho! I ask your pardon for laughing, sir; but you are so precious green. Why, if I had told you the truth then I shouldn't be alive to talk to you now."
"What, I should have murdered you, should I!" said Mr. Hawes, with a lofty sneer.
"Why you know you would, sir," replied the prisoner firmly and respectfully, looking him full in the face before them all.
Mr. Lacy. "You don't think so, or you would not take these liberties with him now."
The prisoner cast a look of pity on Mr. Lacy.
"Well, you are green--what, can't you see that I am going out to-day? Do you think I'd be such a cully as to tell a pack of greenhorns like you the truth before a sharp hand like our governor, if I was in his power; no, my term of imprisonment expired at twelve o'clock to-day."
"Then why are you here?"
"I'll tell you, sir. Our governor always detains a prisoner for hours after the law sets him free. So then the poor fellow has not time to get back to his friends, so then he sleeps in the town, ten to one at a public-house; gets a glass, gets into bad company, and in a month or two comes back here. That is the move, sir. Bless you, they are so fond of us they don't like to part with us for good and all."
Mr. Lacy. "I do not for a moment believe, Mr. Hawes, that you have foreseen these consequences, but the detention of this man after twelve o'clock is clearly illegal, and you must liberate him on the instant."
Mr. Hawes. "That I will, and I wish this had been pointed out to me before, but it was a custom of the prison before my time."
Mr. Eden. "Evans, come this way, come in. How long have you been a turnkey here?"
Evans. "Four years, sir."
Mr. Eden. "Do you happen to remember the practice of the late governor with respect to prisoners whose sentence had expired?"
Evans. "Yes, sir! They were kept in their cells all the morning; then at eleven their own clothes were brought in clean and dry, and they had half an hour given them to take off the prison dress and put on their own. Then a little before twelve they were taken into the governor's own room for a word of friendly advice on leaving, or a good book, or a tract, or what not. Then at sharp twelve the gate was opened for them, and--"
Prisoner. "Good-by!--till we see you again."
Evans (sternly). "Come, my man, it is not for you to speak till you are spoken to."
Mr. Eden. "You must not take that tone with the gentleman, Evans--this is not a queen's prisoner, it is a private guest of Mr. Hawes. But time flies. If after what we have heard and seen, you still doubt whether this jailer has broken the law by punishing the same prisoner more than once and in more ways than one, fresh evidence will meet you at every step; but I would now direct your principal attention to other points. Look at Rule 37. By this rule each prisoner must be visited and conversed with by four officers every day, and they are to stay with him upon the aggregate half an hour in the day. Now the object of this rule is to save the prisoners from dying under the natural and inevitable operation of solitude and enforced silence, two things that are fatal to life and reason."
"But solitary confinement is legal."
Mr. Eden sighed heavily. "No it is not. Separate confinement, i.e., separation of prisoner from prisoner, is legal, but separation of a prisoner from the human race is as illegal as any other mode of homicide. It never was legal in England; it was legal for a short time in the United States, and do you know why it has been made illegal there?"
"No, I do not."
"Because they found that life and reason went out under it like the snuff of a candle. Men went mad and died, as men have gone mad and died here through the habitual breach of Rule 37, a rule the aim of which is to guard separate confinement from being shuffled into solitary confinement or homicide. Take twenty cells at random, and ask the prisoners how many officers come and say good words to them as bound by law; ask them whether they get their half hour per diem of improving conversation. There is a row of shambles, go into them by yourself, take neither the head butcher nor me."
Mr. Lacy bit his lip, bowed stiffly, and beckoned Evans to accompany him into the cells. Mr. Hawes went in search of Fry, to concert what was best to be done. Mr. Eden paced the corridor. As for Mr. Lacy, he took the cells at random, skipping here and there. At last he returned and sent for Mr. Hawes.
"I am sorry to say that the 37th Rule has been habitually violated; the prisoners are unanimous; they tell me that so far from half an hour's conversation, they never have three minutes, except with the chaplain. And during his late illness they were often in perfect solitude. They tell me, too, that when you do look in it is only to terrify them with angry words and threats. Solitude broken only by harsh language is a very sad condition for a human creature to lie in--the law, it seems, does not sanction it--and our own imperfections should plead against such terrible severity applied indiscriminately to great and small offenders."
"Oh, that is well said, that is nobly said," cried Mr. Eden with enthusiasm.
"Sir! I was put in here to carry out the discipline which had been relaxed by the late governor, and I have but obeyed orders as it was my duty."
"Nonsense," retorted Mr. Eden. "The discipline of this jail is comprised in these rules, of which eight out of ten are habitually broken by you."
"He is right there so far, Mr. Hawes. You are here to maintain, not an imaginary discipline, but an existing discipline strictly defined by printed rules, and it seems clear you have committed (through ignorance) serious breaches of these rules. But let us hope, Mr. Eden, that no irreparable consequences have followed this unlucky breach of Rule 37."
"Irreparable? No!" replied Mr. Eden bitterly. "The Home Office can call men back from the grave, can't it? Here is a list of five men all extinguished in this prison by breach of Rule 37. You start. Understand me, this is but a small portion of those who have been done to death here in various ways; but these five dropped silently like autumn leaves by breach of Rule 37. Rule 37 is one of the safety valves which the law, more humane than the blockheads who execute it, has attached to that terrible engine separate confinement."
"I cannot accept this without evidence."
"I have a book here that contains ample evidence; you shall see it. Meantime I will just ask that turnkey about Hatchett, the first name on your list of victims. Evans, what did you find in Hatchett's cell when he was first discovered to be dying?"
"Eighteen loaves of bread, sir, on the floor in one corner."
"Eighteen loaves; I really don't understand."
"Don't you?--how could eighteen loaves have accumulated but by the man rejecting his food for several days? How could they have accumulated unobserved if Rule 37 had not been habitually broken? Alas! sir, Hatchett's story, which I see is still dark to you, is as plain as my hand to all of us who know the fatal effects of solitary or homicidal confinement. Thus, sir, it was: Unsustained by rational employment, uncheered by the sound of a human voice, torn out by the roots from all healthy contact with the human race, the prisoner Hatchett's heart and brain gave way together; being now melancholy mad he shunned the food that was jerked blindly into his cell, like a bone to a wolf, by this scientific contrivance to make brute fling food to brute, instead of man handing it with a smile to grateful man; and so his body sunk (his spirits and reason had succumbed before) and he died. His offense was refusing to share his wages with a woman from whom he would have been divorced, but that he was too poor to buy justice at so dear a shop as the House of Lords. The law condemned him to a short imprisonment. The jailer, on his own authority, substituted capital punishment."
"Is it your pleasure, sir, that I should be vilified and insulted thus to my very face, and by my inferior officer?" asked Hawes, changing color.
"You have nothing to apprehend except from facts," was the somewhat cold reply. "You are aware I do not share this gentleman's prejudices."
"Would you like to see a man in the act of perishing through the habitual breach of Rule 37 in ---- Jail?"
"Can you show me such a case?"
"Come with me."
They entered Strutt's cell. They found the old man in a state bordering on stupor. When the door was opened he gave a start, but speedily relapsed into stupor.
"Now, Mr. Lacy, here is a lesson for you. Would to God I could show this sight to all the pedants of science who spend their useless lives in studying the limbs of the crustaceonidunculae, and are content to know so little about man's glorious body; and to all the State dunces who give sordid blockheads the power to wreck the brains and bodies of wicked men in these the clandestine shambles of the nation. Would I could show these and all other numskulls in the land this dying man, that they might write this one great truth in blood on their cold hearts and muddy understandings. Alas! all great truths have to be written in blood ere man will receive them."
"But what is your great truth?" asked Mr. Lacy impatiently.
"This, sir," replied Mr. Eden, putting his finger on the stupefied prisoner's shoulder and keeping it there; "that the human body, besides its grosser wants of food and covering, has its more delicate needs, robbed of which it perishes more slowly and subtly but as surely as when frozen or starved. One of these subtle but absolute conditions of health is light. Without light the body of a blind man pines as pines a tree without light. Tell that to the impostor physical science deep in the crustaceonidunculae and ignorant of the A B C of man. Without light man's body perishes, with insufficient light it droops; and here in all these separate shambles is insufficient light, a defect in our system which co-operates with this individual jailer's abuse of it. Another of the body's absolute needs is work. Another is conversation with human beings. If by isolating a vulgar mind that has collected no healthy food to feed on in time of dearth you starve it to a stand-still, the body runs down like a watch that has not been wound up. Against this law of Nature it is not only impious but idiotic to struggle. Almighty God has made man so, and so he will remain while the world lasts. A little destructive blockhead like this can knock God's work to pieces--ecce signum--but he can no more alter it while it stands than he can mend it when he has let it down and smashed it. Feel this man's pulse and look at his eye. Life is ebbing from him by a law of Nature as uniform as that which governs the tides."
"His pulse is certainly very low, and when I first felt it he was trembling all over."
"Oh, that was the agitation of his nerves--we opened the door suddenly."
"And did that make a man tremble?"
"Certainly; that is a well-known symptom of solitary confinement; it is by shattering a man's nerves all to pieces that it prepares the way for his death, which death comes sometimes in raging lunacy, of which eight men have died under Mr. Hawes's reign. Here is the list of deaths by lunacy from breach of Rule 37, eight. You will have the particulars by and by."
"I really don't see my way through this," said Mr. Lacy. "Let us come to something tangible. What is this punishment jacket that leaves marks of personal violence on so many prisoners?"
Now Hawes had been looking for this machine to hide it, but to his surprise neither he nor Fry could find it.
"Evans, fetch the infernal machine."
"Yes, your reverence." Evans brought the jacket, straps and collar from a cell where he had hidden them by Mr. Eden's orders. "You play the game pretty close, parson," said Mr. Hawes, with an attempt at a sneer.
"I play to win. I am playing for human lives. This, sir, is the torture, marks of which you have seen on the prisoners; but your inexperience will not detect at a glance all the diabolical ingenuity and cruelty that lurks in this piece of linen and these straps of leather. However, it works thus: The man being in the jacket its back straps are drawn so tight that the sufferer's breath is impeded, and his heart, lungs and liver are forced into unnatural contact. You stare. I must inform you that Nature is a wonderfully close packer. Did you ever unpack a human trunk of its stomach, liver, lungs and heart, and then try to replace them? I have; and, believe me, as no gentleman can pack like a shopman, so no shopman can pack like Nature. The victim's body and organs being crushed these two long straps fasten him so tight to the wall that he cannot move to ease the frightful cramps that soon attack him. Then steps in by way of climax this collar, three inches and a half high. See, it is as stiff as iron, and the miscreants have left the edges unbound that it may do the work of a man-saw as well as a garotte. In this iron three-handed gripe the victim writhes and sobs and moans with anguish, and, worse than all, loses his belief in God."
"This is a stern picture," said Mr. Lacy, hanging his head.
"Until what with the freezing of the blood in a body jammed together and flattened against a wall--what with the crushed respiration and the cowed heart a deadly faintness creeps over the victim and he swoons away!"
"It is a lie--a base, malignant lie!" shouted Hawes.
"I am glad to hear it, Mr. Hawes."
Here the justices with great beat joined in and told Mr. Lacy he would be much to blame if he accepted any statement made against so respectable a man as Mr. Hawes. Then they all turned indignantly on Mr. Eden. That gentleman's eyes sparkled with triumph.
"I have been trying a long time to make him speak, but he was too cunning. It is a lie, is it?"
"Yes, it is a lie."
"What is a lie?"
"The whole thing."
"Give me your book, Mr. Hawes. What do you mean by 'the punishment-jacket,' an entry that appears so constantly here in your handwriting?"
"I never denied the jacket."
"Then what is the lie of which you have accused me? Show me--that I may ask your pardon and His I serve for so great a sin as a lie."
"It is a lie to say that the jacket tortures the prisoners and makes them faint away; it only confines them. You want to make me out a villain, but it is your own bad heart that makes you think so or say so without thinking it."
"Now, Mr. Lacy, I think we have caught our eel. This, then, is the ground you take; if it were true that this engine, instead of merely confining men, tortured them to fainting, then you say you would be a villain. You hesitate, sir; can't you afford to admit that, after all?"
"Yes, I can."
"But on the other hand you say it is untrue that this engine tortures?"
"Prove that by going into it for one hour. I have seen you put a man in it for six."
"Now, do you really think I am going to make myself a laughing-stock to the whole prison?"
"Well, but consider what a triumph you are denying yourself to prove me a liar and yourself a true man. It would be the greatest feat of dialects the world ever saw; and you need not stand on your dignity--better men than you have been in it, and there goes one of them. Here, Evans, come this way. We want you to go into the punishment-jacket." The man recoiled with a ludicrous face of disgust and dismay. Mr. Lacy smiled.
"Now, your reverence, don't think of it. I don't want to earn no more guineas that way."
"What does he mean?" asked Mr. Lacy.
"I gave him a guinea to go into it for half an hour, and he calls it a hard bargain."
"Oh, you have been in it, then? Tell me, is it torture or is it only confinement?"
"Con-finement! con-found such confinement, I say. Yes, it is torture and the worst of torture. Ask his reverence, he has been in the oven as well as me."
Mr. Lacy opened his eyes wide.
"What!" said he, with a half grin, "have you been in it?"
"That he has, sir," said Evans, grinning out in return. "Bless you, his reverence is not the one to ask a poor man to stand any pain he daren't face himself."
"There, there, we don't want to hear about his reverence," said his reverence very sharply. "Mr. Hawes says it is not torture, and therefore he won't face it. 'It is too laughable and painless for me,' says slippery Mr. Hawes. 'It is torture, and therefore I won't face it,' says the more logical Mr. Evans. But we can cut this knot for you, Mr. Lacy. There are in this dungeon a large body of men so steeped in misery, so used to torture for their daily food, that they will not be so nice as Messrs. Hawes and Evans. 'Fiat experimentum in corpore vili.' Follow me, sir; and as we go pray cast your eyes over the prison rules, and see whether you can find 'a punishment-jacket.' No, sir, you will not find even a Spanish collar, or a pillory, or a cross, far less a punishment-jacket which combines those several horrors."
Mr. Hawes hung back and begged a word with the justices. "Gentlemen, you have always been good friends to me--give me a word of advice, or at least let me know your pleasure. Shall I resign--shall I fling my commission in this man's face who comes here to usurp your office and authority?"
"Resign! Nonsense! "said Mr. Williams. "Stand firm. We will stand by you, and who can hurt you then?"
"You are very good, sirs. Without you I couldn't put up with any more of this--to be baited and badgered in my own prison, after serving my queen so many years by sea and land."
"Poor fellow!" said Mr. Woodcock.
"And how can I make head against such a man as Eden--a lawyer in a parson's skin, an orator too that has a hundred words to say to my one?"
"Let him talk till he is hoarse, we will not let him hurt you."
"Thank you, gentlemen, thank you. Your wishes have always been my law. You bid me endure all this insolence; honored by your good opinion, and supported by your promise to stand by me, I will endure it." And Mr. Hawes was seen to throw off the uneasiness he had put on to bind the magistrates to his defense.
"They are coming back again."
"Who is this with them?"
Mr. Hawes muttered an oath. "It is a refractory prisoner I had sent to the dark cell. I suppose they will examine him next, and take his word against mine."
(Chorus of Visiting Justices.) "Shame!"