It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
The jailer had been outwitted by the priest. Hawes had sneaked after Fry to beg him for Heaven's sake--that was the phrase he used--not to produce his journal. Fry thought this very hard, and it took Hawes ten minutes to coax him over. Mr. Eden had calculated on this, and worked with the attested copy, while Hawes was wasting his time suppressing the original. Hawes was too cunning to accompany Fry back to Mr. Lacy. He allowed five minutes more to elapse--all which time his antagonist was pumping truth into the judge a gallon a stroke. At last up came Mr. Hawes to protect himself and baffle the parson. He came, he met Mr. Lacy at the dead prisoner's door, and read his defeat.
Mr. Lacy joined the justices in their room. "I have one question to ask you, gentlemen, before I go: How many attempts at suicide were made in this jail under Captain O'Connor while sole jailer?"
"I don't remember," replied Mr. Williams.
"It would be odd if you did, for no one such attempt took place under him. Are you aware how many attempts at suicide took place during the two years that this Hawes governed a part of the jail, being kept in some little check by O'Connor, but not much, as unfortunately you encouraged the inferior officer to defy his superior? Five attempts at suicide during this period, gentlemen. And now do you know how many such attempts have occurred since Mr. Hawes has been sole jailer?"
"I really don't know. Prisoners are always shamming," replied Mr. Woodcock.
"I do not allude to feigned attempts, of which there have been several, but to desperate attempts; some of which have left the prisoner insensible, some have resulted in his death--how many of these?"
"Four or five, I believe."
"Ah, you have not thought it worth while to inquire!! Hum!--well, fourteen, at least. Come in, Mr. Eden. Gentlemen, you have neglected your duty. Making every allowance for your inexperience, it still is clear that you have undertaken the supervision of a jail and yet have exercised no actual supervision; even now the life or death of the prisoners seems to you a matter of indifference. If you are reckless on such a point as this, what chance have the minor circumstances of their welfare of being watched by you? and frankly I am puzzled to conceive what you proposed to yourselves when you undertook an office so important and requiring so great vigilance. I say this, gentlemen, merely to explain why I cannot have the pleasure I did promise myself of putting one of your names into the royal commission which will sit upon this prison in compliance with the chaplain's petition."
Mr. Eden bowed gratefully, and his point being formally gained, he hurried away to make up for lost time and visit his longing prisoners. While he passed like sunshine from cell to cell, Mr. Lacy took a note or two in solemn silence, and the injustices conferred. Mr. Palmer whispered, "We had better have taken Mr. Eden's advice." The other two snorted ill-assured defiance. Mr. Lacy looked up. "You will hold yourselves in readiness to be examined before the commission." At this moment Mr. Hawes walked into the room without his mask, and in his own brutal voice--the voice he spoke to prisoners with--addressed himself, with great insolence of manner, to Mr. Lacy. "Don't trouble yourself to hold commissions over me. I think myself worth a great deal more to the government than they have ever been to me. What they give me is little enough for what I have given them, and when insults are added to a man of honor and an old servant of the queen, he flings his commission in your face;" and the unveiled ruffian raised his voice, to a roar, and with his hand flung an imaginary commission into Mr. Lacy's face, who drew back astounded; then resuming his honeyed manner Hawes turned to the justices. "I return into your hands, gentlemen, the office I received from you. I thank you for the support you have afforded me in my endeavors to substitute discipline for the miserable laxity and slovenliness and dirt we found here; and your good opinion will always console me for the insults I have received from a crack-brained parson and his tools in the jail and out of it."
"Your resignation is accepted," said Mr. Lacy coldly, "and as your connection with ---- Jail is now ended, in virtue of my powers from the Secretary of State, which I here produce, I give you the use of the jailer's house for a week, that you may have time to move your effects; but for many reasons it is advisable that you should not remain in the jail a single hour. Be so good, therefore, as to quit the jail as soon as you conveniently can. One of the turnkeys shall assist you to convey to your house whatever you have in this building."
"I have nothing to take out of the jail, man," replied Hawes rudely, "except"--and here he did a bit of pathos and dignity--"my zeal for her majesty's service and my integrity."
"Ah," replied Mr. Lacy quietly, "you won't want any help to carry them."
Mr. Hawes left the room, bowing to the justices and ostentatiously ignoring the government official. Mr. Williams shouted after him. "He carries our respect wherever he goes," said this magistrate with a fidelity worthy a better cause. The other two hung their heads and did not echo their chief. The tide was turned against Jailer Hawes, and these two were not the articles to swim against a stream even though that stream was truth.
Mr. Hawes took his time. He shook hands with Fry, who bade him farewell with regret. Who is there that somebody does not contrive to like? And rejecting even this mastiff's company he made a gloomy, solitary progress through the prison for the last time. "How clean and beautiful it all is; it wasn't like that when I came to it, and it never will again." Some gleams of remorse began to flit about that thick skull and self-deceiving heart, for punishment suggests remorse to sordid natures. But his strong and abiding feeling was a sincere and profound sense of ill usage--long service--couldn't overlook a single error--ungrateful government, etc. "Prison go to the devil now--and serve them right." At last he drew near the outer court, and there he met a sight that raised all the fiend within him. There was Mr. Eden ushering Strutt into the garden, and telling Evans the old man was to pass his whole days there till he was better. "So that is the way you keep the rules now you have undermined me! No cell at all. I thought what you would come to. You haven't been long getting there."
"Mr. Hawes," replied the other with perfect good temper, "Rule 34 of this prison enjoins that every prisoner shall take daily as much exercise in the open air as is necessary for his health. You have violated this rule so long that now Strutt's health requires him to pass many more hours in the air than he otherwise would; he is dying for air and amusement, and he shall have both sooner than die for the want of them, or of anything I can give him."
"And what is it to him?" retorted Evans with rude triumph; "he is no longer an officer of this jail; he has got the sack and orders to quit into the bargain."
Fear is entertained that Mr. Evans had listened more or less at the door of the justices' room.
"Is this so, sir?" asked Mr. Eden gravely, politely, and without a shadow of visible exultation.
"You know it is, you sneaking, undermining villain; you have weathered on me, you have out-maneuvered me. When was an honest soldier a match for a parson?"
"Ah!" cried Mr. Eden. "Then run to the gate, Evans, and let the men into the jail with the printing-press and the looms. They have been waiting four hours for this."
Hawes turned black with rage. "Oh, I know you made sure of winning; a blackguard that loads the dice can always do that. Your triumph won't be long. I was in this jail honored and respected for four years till you came. You won't be four months before you are kicked out, and no one to say a good word for you. A pretty Christian! to suborn my own servants and rob me of my place and make me a beggar in my old age, a man you are not worthy to serve under, a man that served his country by sea and land before you were whelped, ye black hypocrite. You a Christian! you? If I thought that I'd turn Atheist or anything, you poor, backbiting, tale-telling, sneaking, undermining, false witness bearing--"
"Unhappy man," cried Mr. Eden; "turn those perverse eyes from the faults of others to your own danger. The temptations under which you fell end here; then let their veil fall from your eyes, and you may yet bless those who came between your soul and its everlasting ruin. Your victims are dead; their eternal fate is fixed by you. Heaven is more merciful--it has not struck you dead by your victim's side; it gives you, the greatest sinner of all, a chance to escape. Seize that chance. Waste no time in passion and petulance--think only of your forfeited soul. Madman, to your knees! What! dare you die as you have lived these three years past? dare you die abhorred of Heaven? Fool! see yourself as every eye on earth and in heaven sees you. The land contains no criminal so black as you. Other homicides have struck hastily on provocation or stung by injury, or thrust or drawn by some great passion--but you have deliberately gnawed away men's lives. Others have seen their one victim die, but you have looked on your many victims dying yet not spared them. Other homicides' hands are stained, but yours are steeped in blood. To your knees, MAN-slayer! I dare not promise you that a life given to penitence and charity will save so foul a soul, but it may, for Heaven's mercy is infinite. Seize on that small chance. Seize it like one who feels Satan clutching him and dragging him down to eternal flames. Life is short, eternity is close, judgment is sure. A few short years and you must meet Edward Josephs again before the eternal Judge. What a tribunal to face, your victims opposite you! There the long-standing prejudices that save you from a felon's death here will avail you nothing. There the quibbles that pass current on earth will be blasted with the lips that dare to utter and the hearts that coin them. Before Him, who has neither body nor parts, yet created all the forms of matter, vainly will you pretend that you did not slay, because forsooth the weapons with which you struck at life were invisible and not to be comprehended by a vulgar, shallow, sensual, earthly judge. There, too, the imperfection of human language will yield no leaf of shelter.
"Hope not to shift the weight of guilt upon poor Josephs there. On earth muddle-heads will call his death and the self-murderer's by one name of 'suicide,' and so dream the two acts were one; but you cannot gull Omniscience with a word--the wise man's counter and the money of a fool. Be not deceived! As Rosamond took poison in her hand, and drank it with her own lips, and died by her own act, yet died assassinated by her rival--so died Josephs. As men taken by pirates at sea, and pricked with cold steel till in despair and pain they fling themselves into the sea--so died Josephs and his fellows murdered by you. Be not deceived! I, a minister of the gospel of mercy--I, whose character leans toward charity, tell you that if you die impenitent, so surely as the sun shines and the Bible is true, the murder of Edward Josephs and his brothers will damn your soul to the flames of hell forever--and forever--and forever!
"Begone, then, poor miserable creature! Do not look behind you. Fly from this scene where crime and its delusions still cling round your brain and your self-deceiving heart. Waste no more time with me. A minute lost may be a soul lost. The avenger of blood is behind you. Run quickly to your own home--go up to your secret chamber--and there fall down upon your knees before your God and cry loud and long to him for pardon. Cry mightily for help--cry humbly and groaning for the power to repent. Away! away! Wash those red hands and that black soul in years and years of charity, in tears and tears of penitence, and in our Redeemer's blood. Begone, and darken and trouble us here no more."
The cowed jailer shrank and cowered before the thunder and lightning of the priest, who, mild by nature, was awful when he rebuked an impenitent sinner out of holy writ. He slunk away, his knees trembling under him, and the first fiery seeds of remorse sown in his dry heart. He met the printing-press coming in, and the loom following it (naturally); he scowled at them and groaned. Evans held the door open for him with a look of joy that stirred all his bile again. He turned on the very threshold and spat a volley of oaths upon Evans. Evans at this put down his head like a bull, and running fiercely with the huge door, slammed it close on his heel with such ferocity that the report rang like a thunder-clap through the entire building, and the ex-jailer was in the street.
Five minutes more, the printing-press and loom were reinstalled, and the punishment-jacket packed up and sent to London to the Home Office. Ten minutes more, the cranks were examined by the artists in iron Mr. Eden had sent for, and all condemned, it being proved that the value of their resistance stated on their lying faces was scarce one-third of their actual resistance. So much for unerring* science!
*The effect of this little bit of science may be thus stated --Men for two years had been punished as refractory for not making all day two thousand revolutions per hour of a 15 lb. crank, when all the while it was a 45 lb. crank they had been vainly struggling against all day. The proportions of this gory lie never varied. Each crank tasked the Sisyphus three times what it professed to do. It was calculated that four prisoners, on an average crank marked 10 lb., had to exert an aggregate of force equal to one horse; and this exertion was prolonged, day after day, far beyond a horse's power of endurance, and in many cases on a modicum of food so scanty that no horse ever foaled, so fed, could have drawn an armchair a mile.
Five minutes more Mr. Eden had placed in Mr. Lacy's hands a list of prisoners to whom a free pardon ought now to be extended, some having suffered a somewhat shorter period but a greater weight of misery than the judges had contemplated in their several sentences; and others being so shaken and depressed by separate confinement pushed to excess that their life and reason now stood in peril for want of open air, abundant light, and free intercourse with their species. At the head of these was poor Strutt, an old man crushed to clay by separate confinement recklessly applied. So alarming was this man's torpor to Mr. Eden that after trying in vain to interest him in the garden, that observer ventured on a very strong measure. He had learned from Strutt that he could play the fiddle; what does he do but runs and fetches his own violin into the garden, tunes it, and plays some most inspiriting, rollicking old English tunes to him! A spark came into the fishy eye of Strutt. At the third tune the old fellow's fingers began to work impatiently. Mr. Eden broke off directly, put fiddle and bow into Strutt's hand, and ran off to the prison again to arrest melancholy, despair, lunacy, stagnation, mortification, putrefaction, by every art that philosophy and mother-wit could suggest to Christianity.
This determined man had collected his teaching mechanics again, and he had them all into the prison the moment Hawes was out. He could not get the cranks condemned as monsters--the day was not yet come for that; so he got them condemned as liars, and in their place tasks of rational and productive labor were set to most of the prisoners, and London written to for six more trades and arts.
A copy of the prison-rules was cut into eight portions and eight female prisoners set to compose each her portion. Copies to be printed on the morrow and put up in every cell, according to the wise provision of Rule 10, defied by the late jailer for an obvious reason. Thus in an hour after the body of Hawes had passed through that gate a firm and adroit hand was wiping his gloomy soul out of the cells as we wipe a blotch of ink off a written page.
Care, too, was taken every prisoner should know the late jailer was gone forever. This was done to give the wretches a happy night. Ejaculations of thanksgiving burst from the cells every now and then; by some mysterious means the immured seemed to share the joyful tidings with their fellows, and one pulse of hope and triumph to beat and thrill through all the life that wasted and withered there encased in stone; and until sunset the faint notes of a fiddle struggled from the garden into the temple of silence and gloom, and astounded every ear.
The merry tunes as Strutt played them sounded like dirges, but they enlivened him as they sighed forth. They stirred his senses, and through his senses his mind, and through his mind his body, and so the anthropologist made a fiddle help save a life, which fact no mortal man will believe whose habit it is to chatter blindfold about man and investigate the "crustaceonidunculae."
The cranks being condemned, rational industry restored, and the law reseated on the throne a manslaughtering dunce had usurped, the champion of human nature went home to drink his tea and write the plot of his sermon.
He had won a great battle and felt his victory. He showed it, too, in his own way. On the evening of this great day his voice was remarkably gentle and winning, and a celestial light seemed to dwell in his eyes; no word of exultation, nor even of self-congratulation; and he made no direct mention of the prison all the evening. His talk was about Susan's affairs, and he paid his warm thanks to her and her aunt for all they had done for him. "You have been true friends, true allies," said he; "what do I not owe you! you have supported me in a bitter struggle, and now that the day is won I can find no words to thank you as I ought."
Both these honest women colored and glistened with pleasure, but they were too modest to be ready with praise or to bandy compliments.
"As for you, Susan, it was a masterstroke your venturing into my den."
"Oh! we turn bold when a body is ill, don't we, aunt?"
"I am not shy for one at the best of times," remarked the latter.
"Under Heaven you saved my life, at least I think so, Susan, for the medicinal power of soothing influences is immense, I am sure it is apt to be underrated; and then it was you who flew to Malvern and dragged Gulson to me at the crisis of my fate; dear little true-hearted friend, I am sorry to think I can never repay you."
"You forget, Mr. Eden," said Susan, almost in a whisper, "I was paid beforehand."
I wish I could convey the native grace and gentle dignity of gratitude with which the farmer's daughter murmured these four words, like a duchess acknowledging a kindness.
"Eh?" inquired Mr. Eden, "oh! ah! I forgot," said he naively. "No! that is nonsense, Susan. You have still an immense Cr. against my name; but I know a way--Mrs. Davies, for as simple as I sit here you see in me the ecclesiastic that shall unite this young lady to an honest man, who, report says, loves her very dearly; so I mean to square our little account."
"That is fair, Susan; what do you say?"
"La, aunt! why I shouldn't look upon it as a marriage at all if any clergyman but Mr. Eden said the words."
"That is right," laughed Mr. Eden, "always set some little man above some great thing, and then you will always be--a woman. I must write the plot of my sermon, ladies, but you can talk to me all the same."
He wrote and purred every now and then to the women, who purred to each other and now and then to him. Neither Hawes nor any other irritation rankled in his heart, or even stuck fast in his memory. He had two sermons to prepare for Sunday next, and he threw his mind into them as he had into the battle he had just won. "Hoc agebat."