« PreviousContinue »
“Are there not an old man and his daughter here of the name of Lee ?" asked he.
“I really don't know, sir, but I'll ask the jailer, if you'll step in."
And, accordingly, he walked into the large empty court, where every now and then indistinct yells of boisterous mirth broke upon the silence from the other side of the building. During the few minutes that the porter was absent, a knock came to the door, which being repeated, as though the applicant was in patient, Cheveley tried to open it; but, not understanding its mysteries, was obliged to desist till the porter returned, which he did almost immediately, announcing that the jailer would come in a minute. As he was speaking, the knock was repeated still louder than before ; and ‘upon opening it, perceiving no one but a little ragged boy, with sunburnt rosy cheeks, black, wicked-looking eyes, no shoes or stockings, a newly-peeled switch in one hand, and a small basket in the other, while round his head was the rim of what had once been a blue cloth cap, the porter's dignity felt somewhat scandalized at having been hurried into attending to so insignificant an intruder, and eying Freddy Flips (for he it was who had come as ambassador from Madge Brindal), exclaimed, “ Hey day! great cry and little wool, truly; what may you want, you catfed young knave ?"
“I want to see John Lee, if you please, sir, or his daughter Mary."
"And what do you want to see them for, my boy ?" asked Cheveley, in a kind voice.
Here Freddy, who in general had impudence enough at his command to have supplied all Ireland, looked down at his shoeless feet, and began splitting the switch he held into ribands, as he replied, in a low voice, never once raising his eyes,
“I've a letter and some flowers, sir, for Mary from Madge, some cherries for little William, and-a bone for Wasp.”
"Well,” said Cheveley, smiling, “ will you trust these things with me, as I am going to see them, and perhaps you would come back in an hour in case there, should be any answer to the letter ?”
“And will you really, sir," said the boy, looking up in Cheveley's face delightedly as he extended the basket towards him, “ will you really take charge of them ?"
“ Yes, and the bone for the dog, too,” said Cheveley, smiling, as he took the basket.
“Thank you, sir,” said Freddy ; “ I'm sure it's very kind of you, and I'll be back in an hour." So saying, he bounded off like a will-o'-the-wisp, leaving Cheve. ley to speak to the jailer, who had just hobbled up; for, from the pottle-deep potations of years, he was troubled with the gout. Seeing a gentleman (a class in whom honest Davie Darby delighted, for his pockets always felt the heavier, and his heart, ay, and, for company's sake, his head too, the lighter, after their visits to the prison), he began bowing most obsequiously, when Cheveley begged to be conducted to Lee's cell.
As Davie limped on before, he began pointing out to his companion all the comforts of the prison. “There, sir, be so good as to look through this here side of the gallery, and you'll see the treadmill ; fine, wholesome exercise as ever was; and out yander is the court where the prisoners amuse theirselves when they're tired o'work; and these here large baskets of bread and cheese is for the prisoners' suppers. So you see, sir, they've every comfort, if they would but think so, and, what's more, there's nothing promiscus or oncertain about it, for they're sure of the same to-morrow as they have to-day, and so on reglar till they're turned off, and then, in course, there's an end of all their wants. As I often tell them, and I'm sure the chaplain couldn't talk to them more hedifying like, I says to 'em, says I, “You transportable, ill-favoured gibbetarians you, how happy you ought to be that you're freeborn Englishmen, and live in a country where sich jails is pervided for you as this. But lor! sir, they're so hardened, that it makes no more impression on them than if you was to talk to the wall or this bunch of keys! howsondever, I does my duty, and it's a satisfaction when one knows that one's conscience has no chance of es. cape. A prison's the place to larn the world in, for here we know the worst as can happen, and that's what I calls the greatest happiness in life.”
Here Davie was obliged to take breath, and Cheveley had, at length, an opportunity of making some inquiries about the Lees.
“I hope,” said he, “that this poor old man and his daughter are as comfortably lodged as the place they are in will allow.”
" For that matter, sir," replied Davie, “ comfortable lodgings are not to be had for nothing in prison any more than out of it ; and them as has nothing can't expect nothing, which is but reasonable, you'll allow, sir."
“ Well, but how much would it cost a week to provide them with good food and good beds while they remain in prison ?"
Here Davie began to consider, not what would come under the denomination of either, but how much, as he himself termed it in his mental calculations, he could stick Cheveley for.
“ Why, let me see, there's two on 'em, the old man and the young gal. Now there's nothing at all vacant in the way of apartments just now, unless wife and I was to give up two of our own rooms, which would be particklar inconvenient, and therefore come more expensive, you see, sir.”
Cheveley did see clearly Mr. Darby's drift, but merely replied,
“ Allowing all that, in a word, how much would it be ?"
"Why, sir, to feed 'em too, I could not do it under four guineas a week.”
“ Could I see the rooms you mean to give them ?"
“ Yes, sir, certainly, if you'll take the trouble of turning back again; the house you may see from this, there, that small house next the governor's, across the court,” said Davie, pointing to it with his middle finger; “ delightful sitivation too, sir; for when the judges and barristers is down at the 'sizes, we can hear them laughing and carousing at dinner quite plain, as our house is at the back of the Golden Fleece, where they always puts up."
" These must be delightful sounds indeed to the poor prisoners,” said Cheveley, smiling.
“To be sure they must, sir,” assented Davie, "and this makes the apartments well worth half a guinea a week more to any prisoner that's fortinate enough to get 'em."
“Very likely; but I think four guineas a week was what you said."
"Yes, yes, by all means, sir, and I never goes back from my word.”
Here they arrived at Mr. Darby's door. Upon that gentleman's lifting the latch, he found his better half fast asleep in a high-backed armchair, a Bible on her lap turned upside down, and a black cat with a red collar, also indulging in a siesta on her shoulder. On a round, three-legged oak table before her, a tray with two cups on it was laid for tea, and the kettle was boil. ing clamorously. Yet, notwithstanding these preparations for the Chinese beverage, there was a genial odour of Geneva (the spirit, not the waters) diffused through the whole apartment that was peculiarly oppressive to those who were not accustomed to it. The decorations of the room consisted of coloured paper flytraps suspended from the ceiling; and two or three ears of Indian corn, pumpkins, ostrich eggs, and peacock's feathers, diversified the range of old teapots and cups that graced the chimneypiece, with festoons of birds' eggs branching from each side of a large silver watch that hung from a nail in the centre of the wall over the chimney piece. All round the walls were pinned “last dying speeches" and woodcuts of celebrated murderers and housebreakers; while on the top of a high chest of drawers that stood behind, or, rather, by the side of a small door that opened upon a flight of narrow stairs leading to the upper apartments, was a cast of Thurtell, and the bone of one of the pork chops he had eaten after murdering Ware.
“ Betty, I say, Betty," cried Mr. Darby, chucking Mrs. D. under the chin till she woke with the pain of biting her own tongue, “it's too soon to lock up for the night yet ; get up and show this gemmlan the rooms; he wants them for some prisoners."
And as Mrs. Darby courtesied herself quite awake, her husband gave her a telegraphic look, pointing with his thumb over his shoulder at Cheveley, which she perfectly understood to mean, “I've done him.”
She consequently redoubled her civilities as she went up stairs before him to show the rooms, which were small, and contained a bed in each, as clean as white dimity curtains and well scrubbed floors could make them, while outside the windows were rows of green • flowerpots containing balsams and mignionette, which gave the rooms a fresh and cheerful appearance, es
pecially as the windows were perfectly bright and clean.
“Let me see,” said Cheveley; “the assizes will not be till September."
“ Yes, sure, sir,” courtesied Mrs. Darby.
“And four guineas a week is sixteen guineas a month," resumed Cheveley: “ well, here is the first month in advance;" and as he threw the money down upon the table, Mr. Darby nimbly transferred it to his own pocket, though not without the ceremony of bowing over every coin, his wife backing each bow with a courtesy.
“I shall call here occasionally to see how these poor people get on," said Cheveley; "and if they are not well cared for in every way, remember, I shall deduct one third from the next month's rent.”
“Oh, sir !” exclaimed Mrs. Darby, raising her hands and eyes to the ceiling, as if shocked at any one being able to suspect her of not doing everything that was right, “you may depend no one ever wants for nothing in this house !"
“Well, I hope not,” said Cheveley. “But now show me the way to Lee's cell, and let these rooms be got ready for them immediately, as I should like to see them settled in them before I go."
“It shall be done, sir,” said Mrs. Darby, as Cheveley walked away with her husband.
After retracing their steps through the prison, and ascending one story higher than they had done before, Davie stopped before a small door, and detaching the ponderous bunch of keys from his girdle, selected the key belonging to it, which, as it turned in the rusty wards, echoed dismally through the corridor.
“Have the goodness to leave us for half an hour," said Cheveley to Darby, as he opened the door.
“Very good, sir," replied the latter, closing it again and locking it from without. Notwithstanding the noise the opening and shutting of the door had made, Cheveley stood for a few seconds within the cell without any of the inmates having moved. The straggling and halfintercepted rays of light that streamed athwart the gloom from the high narrow grating near the ceiling, made it difficult at first to distinguish the objects they scarcely served to reveal. In one corner was a straw pallet, on which lay Mary Lee's child, sleeping as calmly as if a prison was but another sort of cradle, with one arm round Wasp's neck. The dog turned his glaring eyes