Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

lamentations, and various sounds of misery ; but it was very different. The prisoners seemed all employed in one common design, that of forgetting thought in merriment or clamour. I was apprized of the usual perquisite required upon these occasions, and immediately complied with the demand, though the little money I had was very near being all exhausted. This was immediately sent away for liquor, and the whole prison was soon filled with riot, laughter, and profaneness.

“ How,” cried I to myself, “ shall men so very wicked be cheerful, and shall I be melancholy? I feel only the same confinement with them, and I think I have more reason to be happy."

With such reflections I laboured to become cheerful; but cheerfulness was never yet produced by effort, which is itself painful. As I was sitting therefore in a corner of the gaol, in a pensive posture, one of my fellow prisoners came up, and sitting by me, entered into conversation. It was my constant rule in life never to avoid the conversation of any man who seemed to desire it: for if good, I might profit by his instruction ; if bad, he might be assisted by mine. I found this to be a knowing man, of strong unlettered

sense, but a thorough knowledge of the world, as it is called, or, more properly speaking, of human nature on the wrong side. He asked me if I had taken care to provide myself with a bed, which was a circumstance I had never once attended to.

“ That's unfortunate,” cried he, as you are allowed nothing but straw, and your apartment is very large and cold. However, you seem to be something of a gentleman, and as I have been one myself in

[ocr errors]

my time, part of my bedclothes are heartily at your service.”

I thanked him, professing my surprise at finding such humanity in a gaol, in misfortunes; adding, to let him see that I was a scholar, “that the sage ancient seemed to understand the value of company in affliction, when he said, ton kosmon aire ei dos ton etairon ; and in fact,” continued I, “what is the world if it affords only solitude ?"

“ You talk of the world, sir," returned my fellow prisoner; “the world is in its dotage, and yet the cosmogony or creation of the world has puzzled the philosophers of every age. What a medley of opinions have they not broached upon the creation of the world! Sanconiathon, Manetho, Berosus, and Ocellus Lucanus, have all attempted it in vain. The latter has these words, Anarchon ara kai atelutaion to pan, which implies—""

""_“I ask pardon, sir,” cried I, “ for interrupting so much learning; but I think I have heard all this before. Have I not had the pleasure of once seeing you at Welbridge fair, and is not your name Ephraim Jenkinson ?” At this demand he only sighed. “I suppose you must recollect," resumed I, “one Doctor Primrose, from whom you bought a horse ?

He now at once recollected me, for the gloominess of the place and the approaching night had prevented his distinguishing my features before. “ Yes, sir,” returned Mr. Jenkinson, “I remember you perfectly well; I bought a horse, but forgot to pay for him. Your neighbour Flamborough is the only prosecutor I am any way afraid of at the next assizes ; for he intends to swear positively against me as a coiner. I am heartily sorry, sir, I ever deceived you, or indeed any man ; for you see,” continued he, showing his shackles, “what my tricks have brought me to.

“Well, sir,” replied I,“ your kindness in offering me assistance, when you could expect no return, shall be repaid by my endeavours to soften or totally suppress Mr. Flamborough’s evidence, and I will send my son to him for that purpose the first opportunity; nor do I in the least doubt but he will comply with my request; and as to my own evidence, you need be under no uneasiness about that.”

Well, sir,” cried he,“ all the return I can make shall be yours. You shall have more than half my bedclothes to-night, and I'll take care to stand your friend in the prison, where I think I have some influence.”

I thanked him, and could not avoid being surprised at the present youthful change in his aspect; for at the time I had seen him before, he appeared at least sixty. “Sir,” answered he,“ you are little acquainted with the world ; I had at that time false hair, and have learned the art of counterfeiting every age from seventeen to seventy. Ah, sir, had I but bestowed half the pains in learning a trade, that I have in learning to be a scoundrel, I might have been a rich man at this day. But, rogue as I

am,

still I may be your friend, and that perhaps when you least expect it.”

We were now prevented from further conversation by the arrival of the gaoler's servants, who came to call over the prisoners' names and lock up for the night. A fellow also with a bundle of straw for my bed attended, who led me along a dark narrow passage into a room paved like the common prison ; and in one corner of this I spread my bed, and the clothes given me by my fellow prisoner; which done, my conductor, who was civil enough, bade me a good night. After my usual meditations, and having praised my heavenly corrector, I laid myself down, and slept with the utmost tranquillity till morning.

CHAP. XXVI.

A REFORMATION IN THE GAOL. TO MAKE LAWS COMPLETE THEY

SHOULD REWARD AS WELL AS PUNISH.

The next morning early. I was awakened by my family, whom I found in tears at my bedside. The gloomy appearance of every thing about us, it seems, had daunted them. I gently rebuked their sorrow, assuring them I had never slept with greater tranquillity, and next inquired after my eldest daughter, who was not among them. They informed me that yesterday's uneasiness and fatigue had increased her fever, and it was judged proper to leave her behind. My next care was to send my son to procure a room or two to lodge my family in, as near the prison as conveniently could be found. He obeyed, but could only find one apartment, which was hired at a small expense, for his mother and sisters, the gaoler with humanity consenting to let him and his two little brothers lie in the prison with me. A bed was therefore prepared for them in a corner of the room which I thought answered very conveniently. I was willing, however, previously to know whether

my

little children chose to lie in a place which seemed to fright them upon entrance.

Well,” cried I,“ my good boys, how do you like

66

to me:

your bed ? I hope you are not afraid to lie in this room, dark as it appears ?"

“No, papa,” says Dick, “ I am not afraid to lie any where where you are.

And I,” says Bill, who was yet but four years old, “ love every place best that my papa is in.”

After this I allotted to each of the family what they were to do. My daughter was particularly directed to watch her declining sister's health ; my wife was to attend me; my little boy were to read

“ And as for you, my son,” continued I,“ it is by the labour of your hands we must all hope to be supported. Your wages, as a day labourer, will be full sufficient, with proper frugality, to maintain us all, and comfortably too. Thou art now sixteen years old, and hast strength, and it was given thee, my son, for very useful purposes; for it must save from famine your helpless parents and family. Prepare then this evening to look out for work against to-morrow, and bring home every night what money you earn for our support.”

Having thus instructed him, and settled the rest, I walked down to the common prison, where I could "enjoy more air and room. But I was not long there, when the execrations, lewdness, and brutality, that invaded me on every side, drove me back to my apartment again. Here I sat for some time pondering upon the strange infatuation of wretches, who, finding all mankind in open arms against them, were labouring to make themselves a future and more tremendous enemy.

Their insensibility excited my highest compassion, and blotted my own uneasiness from my mind. It

M

« AnteriorContinua »