Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
How a Penal System can Work
By Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke (1846–1881)
From ‘His Natural Life’

THE NEXT two days were devoted to sight-seeing. Sylvia Frere was taken through the hospital and the workshops, shown the semaphores, and shut up by Maurice in a “dark cell.” Her husband and Burgess seemed to treat the prison like a tame animal, whom they could handle at their leisure, and whose natural ferocity was kept in check by their superior intelligence. This bringing of a young and pretty woman into immediate contact with bolts and bars had about it an incongruity which pleased them. Maurice Frere penetrated everywhere, questioned the prisoners, jested with the jailers; even, in the munificence of his heart, bestowed tobacco on the sick.  1
  With such graceful rattlings of dry bones, they got by-and-by to Point Puer, where a luncheon had been provided.  2
  An unlucky accident had occurred at Point Puer that morning, however; and the place was in a suppressed ferment. A refractory little thief named Peter Brown, aged twelve years, had jumped off the high rock and drowned himself in full view of the constables. These “jumpings-off” had become rather frequent lately, and Burgess was enraged at one happening on this particular day. If he could by any possibility have brought the corpse of poor little Peter Brown to life again, he would have soundly whipped it for its impertinence.  3
  “It is most unfortunate,” he said to Frere, as they stood in the cell where the little body was laid, “that it should have happened to-day.”  4
  “Oh,” says Frere, frowning down upon the young face that seemed to smile up at him, “it can’t be helped. I know those young devils. They’d do it out of spite. What sort of a character had he?”  5
  “Very bad. Johnson, the book.”  6
  Johnson bringing it, the two saw Peter Brown’s iniquities set down in the neatest of running-hand, and the record of his punishments ornamented in quite an artistic way with flourishes of red ink.  7
  “20th November, disorderly conduct, 12 lashes. 24th November, insolence to hospital attendant, diet reduced. 4th December, stealing cap from another prisoner, 12 lashes. 15th December, absenting himself at roll-call, two days’ cells. 23d December, insolence and insubordination, two days’ cells. 8th January, insolence and insubordination, 12 lashes. 20th January, insolence and insubordination, 12 lashes. 22d February, insolence and insubordination, 12 lashes and one week’s solitary. 6th March, insolence and insubordination, 20 lashes.”  8
  “That was the last?” asked Frere.  9
  “Yes, sir,” says Johnson.  10
  “And then he—hum—did it?”  11
  “Just so, sir. That was the way of it.”  12
  Just so! The magnificent system starved and tortured a child of twelve until he killed himself. That was the way of it….  13
  After the farce had been played again, and the children had stood up and sat down, and sung a hymn, and told how many twice five were, and repeated their belief in “One God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth,” the party reviewed the workshops, and saw the church, and went everywhere but into the room where the body of Peter Brown, aged twelve, lay starkly on its wooden bench, staring at the jail roof which was between it and heaven.  14
  Just outside this room Sylvia met with a little adventure. Meekin had stopped behind, and Burgess being suddenly summoned for some official duty, Frere had gone with him, leaving his wife to rest on a bench that, placed at the summit of the cliff, overlooked the sea. While resting thus she became aware of another presence, and turning her head, beheld a small boy with his cap in one hand and a hammer in the other. The appearance of the little creature, clad in a uniform of gray cloth that was too large for him, and holding in his withered little hand a hammer that was too heavy for him, had something pathetic about it.  15
  “What is it, you mite?” asked Sylvia.  16
  “We thought you might have seen him, mum,” said the little figure, opening its blue eyes with wonder at the kindness of the tone.  17
  “Him? Whom?”  18
  “Cranky Brown, mum,” returned the child; “him as did it this morning. Me and Billy knowed him, mum; he was a mate of ours, and we wanted to know if he looked happy.”  19
  “What do you mean, child?” said she, with a strange terror at her heart; and then, filled with pity at the aspect of the little being, she drew him to her, with sudden womanly instinct, and kissed him.  20
  He looked up at her with joyful surprise. “Oh!” he said.  21
  Sylvia kissed him again.  22
  “Does nobody ever kiss you, poor little man?” said she.  23
  “Mother used to,” was the reply; “but she’s at home. Oh, mem,” with a sudden crimsoning of the little face, “may I fetch Billy?”  24
  And taking courage from the bright young face, he gravely marched to an angle of the rock, and brought out another little creature, with another gray uniform, and another hammer.  25
  “This is Billy, mum,” he said. “Billy never had no mother. Kiss Billy.”  26
  The young wife felt the tears rush to her eyes.  27
  “You two poor babies!” she cried. And then, forgetting that she was a lady, dressed in silk and lace, she fell on her knees in the dust, and folding the friendless pair in her arms, wept over them.  28
  “What is the matter, Sylvia?” said Frere, when he came up. “You’ve been crying.”  29
  “Nothing, Maurice; at least, I will tell you by-and-by.”  30
  When they were alone that evening she told him of the two little boys, and he laughed.  31
  “Artful little humbugs,” he said, and supported his argument by so many illustrations of the precocious wickedness of juvenile felons that his wife was half convinced against her will.  32
  Unfortunately, when Sylvia went away, Tommy and Billy put into execution a plan which they had carried in their poor little heads for some weeks.  33
  “I can do it now,” said Tommy. “I feel strong.”  34
  “Will it hurt much, Tommy?” said Billy, who was not so courageous.  35
  “Not so much as a whipping.”  36
  “I’m afraid! Oh, Tom, it’s so deep! Don’t leave me, Tom!”  37
  The bigger boy took his little handkerchief from his neck, and with it bound his own left hand to his companion’s right.  38
  “Now I can’t leave you.”  39
  “What was it the lady that kissed us said, Tommy?”  40
  “Lord, have pity of them two fatherless children!” repeated Tommy.  41
  “Let’s say it, Tom.”  42
  And so the two babies knelt on the brink of the cliff, and raising the bound hands together, looked up at the sky, and ungrammatically said, “Lord, have pity on we two fatherless children.” And then they kissed each other, and “did it.”  43

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.