Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

very roots.

first impression. In his hands I was soon undergoing the same process that Samson underwent at the hands of Delilah when betrayed to the Philistines. Having a pair of scissors in his right hand, with his left he seized the long hair surrounding the face first, shearing it to the

He then, without a comb, went round and over the skull, from front to rear; clipping down to the scalp. Working as he did, without a comb, he left the head covered with shear-marks. This business finished, “ There, now, take one of those razors," he said, pointing to a window-sill where lay two or three of those instruments," and share off your whiskers, moustache, everything, from ear to ear." I obeyed the order. Obedience is the first duty of a soldier--more especially in a military prison. Now go into that corner. Take off your clothes, and throw them out into the middle of the floor. Then go into the tub there and wash yourself all over.” The corner pointed out was screened off from the rest of the large room by barrack sheets and rugs. Within the veil there was a large tub half-full of water. While performing my ablutions, a prison suit was flung in to me, through the curtains. It consisted of a flannel shirt and a pair of drawers; trousers of coarse grey cloth, vest and jacket of the same material. The jacket is faced with red, and had leaden buttons, on which are the disagreeable words “ Military Prison.” The cap is a common infantry forage-cap, with the letter of the ward to which the new-comer is to belong, and the number of his berth, cut out of red cloth, sewed upon the front. These articles, along with a pair of well-darned socks, and & pair of well-worn "ammunition " boots, made my complete outfit.

I was now marched into the “ shot-shed,” where the most severe part of the punishment is carried on. The place is large, affording easy accommodation for a hundred and forty men at shot-drill. It consisted of an old and a new shed, the new one having probably been added when the prison was enlarged. When I entered, the shot-drill had just been finished, and the prisoners, about one hundred and twenty in number, were marching in dead silence round both sheds at a good sharp quick-march pace. I

. filed in. There were warders stationed here and there to prevent talking, or any other breach of prison discipline. There they stood ready with admonition and threat ; they had also their little note-books at hand, ready to put their threats into execution. “ Close up, No. 13.”—“Hold up your head, No. 19.”—“Look straight to your front, No. 26."-“Keep your arms close to your sides, No. 7."-" What are you two fellows of the 25th Regiment doing there together ? Drop behind, one of you. You'd better mind what you're about.”—“There's three men of the Artillery all

by G-d! I'll take every one of your names.” These, and similar threats and exclamations, intermingled with more oaths than can be set down on this page, 'were heard from all sides. But no replies were made: that would have been treason.

To es. plain. The numbers called were the numbers worn by the men in front of their caps. The head must be carried straight, erect, and looking right to the front. Although a man were to fall down dead within a yard

[ocr errors]

66

in a row,

of the right or left of a prisoner, he must not turn his eyes to look. “Keep your arms close,” means that from the shoulders down they be plastered to the sides of the body as if pinioned there, with the palms of the hands turned full to the front, fingers extended. All marching, or walking, within the walls of a military prison is performed in this attitude. Even when carrying anything in one hand, the other hand and arm must be fixed in this posture. Again, two men of any one corps must never be found together-either marching round, picking oakum, at shot-drill, divine service, at any time or at any place. This precaution is taken to prevent communication between acquaintances, either by touch, sign, word, or glance. All violations of these rules are punishable by loss of supper or sentence to bread-and-water. This marching round lasts about twenty minutes.

On the word, “ Form up!" being given, the whole of us, in a few seconds, were formed up, and standing at “attention,” immovable as statues. Then in about two minutes, three or four “classmen" arranged several rows of benches along the shed. The order “Sit down !" was given, and all were down in an instant. A “ classman," with a basket in one hand, passed smartly along the sitting ranks, dropping a knee-cap in front of each man. Another " classman" followed, dropping a piece of junk (old ship ropes cut into lengths of about five inches,) in front of every man. In less than a minute, knee-caps were buckled on the right knees, and every one was busy untwisting, rubbing, and working the old junk into oakum.

The " classmen" who served out the oakum, and who are always at hand to do any light work, are prisoners who have served some time on the premises, and have never been reported for any offence. They are exempted from heavy shot-drill, and have the advantage of two hours at school in the evenings.

I had never seen oakum picked. But glancing stealthily right and left, I made haste to do what I saw others doing. “ Come, mind your work there, No. 26" (that was my number); “no looking about you here. If you commence that work you'll have many a day's bread-and-water to do.” Then the warder who had just checked me came close up to my front, and asked, not in a very winning voice,- Did you ever pick oakum before ?"

« No."

"Look here, then, you'll never pick oakum in that way of working. Take it in this manner.” And he gave me a few directions, illustrating them by action. I worked hard in accordance with his directions, but with more zeal than judgment. It was sad uphill work. My progress was slow, and I murmured, inwardly, "The way of transgressors is hard.”

When we had worked at the oakum-picking about three quarters of an hour, the word, “ That'll do," was given by the senior warder. Down dropped the oakum, off' went the knee-caps, and all sat silent, with hands on knees, heads erect, looking straight to the front, as motionless, and in exactly the same position, as the figures in front of an Egyptian temple.

Classmen again passed smartly along the silent ranks, picking up

66

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

knee-caps, junk, and oakum, as rapidly as they had previously dropped them. “ Rise up."—“One pace to the front.”-In a moment benches were piled away by the classmen. “Ranks, right and left face, quick march !” and the whole were again marching round the sheds, in long, silent, single file. The march this time did not last over three or four minutes, when the command, “ Form up!" was again given. But I saw that the “ form up" this time was not to be the same as before.

There were two doors opening from the sheds into the yard. Men filed rapidly out at both doors, and formed up outside, in sis or seven different single ranks. The movement was a mystery to me. But I followed the man in front of me; when he went out, I went out. In the rank be formed up, I also formed up. But the warder in front of the rank attacked me in a moment, -" What do you want here? You don't belong to the cells. Don't you know the letter in front of your cap ? You belong to “B” ward. Get out of this !”

Here I was in a fix. Where was "B" ward ? I dared not speak to any one and ask. Driven from my first rank, I was hurrying from rank to rank, looking at the fronts of the caps in each rank, to find letter "B," when I heard the roar of the senior warder :- What the deril is that fellow doing dancing about there ? " Quick as lightning, fire or sit subordinate warders were round me. “Who are you ? "_" What are you doing?”—“What do you want ? ”. -“ Have you lost anything ?”“Is the fellow drunk ?" were the questions showered around me, until I was shoved into “B” ward at last.

As soon as all the men of each ward, as well as those of each corridor of cells, were formed up in their respective single ranks, classmen again passed quickly along each rank with baskets filled with junk (this time the junk was carefully tied up in small parcels), flinging a parcel at each man as they passed him ; which the man, without taking time to look at it, placed under his left arm. This done, the senior warder walked along the front of each rank, counting his men. He must count his men every time they are formed up, about half a dozen times a day. Just as he finished numbering his people, the chief of the prison entered the yard, with some slips of paper in his hand. The senior warder called “Attention!" then turning to the chief, reported, “129 prisoners, sir." " That's right," replied the chief. Then he began to read, one after another, the slips he held in his hand.

“ Daniel Murphy, second, 16th Regiment.” “Here, sir," was answered, while the man held up his right hand to indicate his whereabouts. “Reported for being idle. Twenty-four hours' bread-and-water."

George Ashwell, Royal Artillery." "Here, sir," Ashwell also hold.

" ing up his right hand, according to order. “ Reported for talking. Fortseight hours' bread-and-water."

“ Michael Kirrigan, Rifle Brigade.” “ Here, sir.” “ Reported for not having your bed properly made up. Deprived of supper for one night.”

When the chief had finished his usual nightly reports and sentences,

1

all similar to the instances given, he gave the order, “ File off from the right.” Obeying this order, men belonging to the wards began to file off in that direction ; while men belonging to the cells filed off in the direction of the cells.

We marched off one by one, at four paces distance. Previously warders were stationed on the roads leading both to the cells and the wards, at ten or twelve paces distance, so that no prisoner could be a moment out of observation. The tongues of the warders, as they stood at their posts, were not idle. When I passed the first, he shouted, “Step quickor!” The second, “Hold up your head!” The third, “Keep your arms close!” The next, “Look to your front !--You don't come here to look about you." Sharp work this, I said to myself.

After thus running the gauntlet, I reached my berth at last. It consisted of a common iron barrack-room bedstead. Upon it lay a pillow, and an old infantry great-coat, folded. On the shelf, above the bedstead, were a pair of barrack sheets, neatly folded. At one side of the sheets were placed a pair of shoe-brushes, a clothes'-brush, a button-stick and brush, and a knee-cap; at the other side of the sheets lay a Bible and prayer-book. Upon an iron pin, stuck in front of the shelf, hung a card on which was painted the number of the berth ; and a few inches from this bung a tin pint measure. Next to the pint measure, in a sort of catch fixed on the front of the shelf, an iron spoon was stuck. Under these, on a nail in the belting of the room, hung a small bag containing some cleaning rags. Close in front of the bedstead was a three-legged stool. About six feet in front of that stood a small table, about eighteen inches square.

All along one side of the room, or ward, berths were fixed and provided exactly like my own. They stood within about a foot of each other, and close to the wall. Every second or third bedstead had a barrack bed upon it , with bedding. The bed-ticks were very carefully rolled up; the blankets,

; sheets, and rugs, folded into one another. Along the middle of the ward stood another row of bedsteads, with their backs towards the first row. Close in front of each was also a three-legged stool, and out in front of that, close against the wall, a small table. Upon the shelf, above each table, were placed the Bible, prayer-book, brushes, and all the other little prison luxuries. Thus, when seated, the two rows of prisoners did not face each other, but faced all one way. The wall to which they faced partitioned them from a

a long narrow passage which ran along the whole length of the ward. This wall had square perforations, at four different places, in which were fixed four large glass lamps.

Between each lamp there was an oval orifice in the wall, converging outwards to a small circle, which was fitted with a glass just large enough for the eye. The inside of the orifice was covered with wire gauze. By this means the peoper in the passage outside could see what was going on inside, without his eye being readily detected at the glass. At the upper end of the narrow passage, and curving in to one of the upper corners of the ward, a recess was built, resembling in

[ocr errors]

form a large cupboard, in which two men could stand with ease. This cupboard was furnished with a row of peeping-places similar to those in the wall, through which a complete view of the whole ward could be obtained at a glance.

When arrived safely at my berth, I immediately did what others did: took down the pint measure from where it hung on the edge of the sheli, and placed it on my small table; then took the knee-cap from the shelf, buckled it on my right knee, sat down on my stool, untied my parcel of junk, untwisted the pieces of rope into single strings, took the strings in small lots, rubbing each lot up and down upon the knee-cap, to soften and separate the thread, and then went on with my oakum-picking as best I could. In less than a minute all the prisoners in the ward were thus busy as bees but silent as mutes. Warders were stationed at each end of the room, stern and still.

We had not been long at work, when a warder, accompanied by a cook and a classman, appeared. The cook had a basket filled with bread, carefully cut up into half-pound pieces. The classman had a can of milk in one hand, a half-pint measure in the other. The cook placed a half-pound piece of bread on each table, the classman poured a half pint of milk into each pint measure. Thus they passed up along one row of tables, down the other, and made their exit, working all in dumb show-a prison pantomime. In a short time was heard the sharp tinkling of a small bell. Down dropped the oakum from all fingers, and every prisoner sat with hands on knees, motionless as if touched by the wand of an enchanter. The warder on watch for the night gave the command,

Rise up." We did so.

“ Three paces to your front, march." We marched the paces, automaton-like.

“ Take up your suppers.” Those who had suppers to take up did as ordered.

" Three paces step back, march.” We took the backward paces. "Sit down; go on with your suppers."

This order was obeyed with alacrity. The two-pound loaf I brought in with me at two o'clock was brought up by the cook and set upon my table. But not being entitled to a half pint of milk, I got a whole pint of water. Having, through the kindness of my escort, had two or three glasses of whisky before entering the enchanted ground, I was thirsts, and drank the water, but was little inclined to eat the bread. The two men on my right and left observing this, contrived to let me know by signs that they were sufficiently well disposed to eat it for me. Keeping my eyes steadily fixed on the warders, I broke the loaf into two pieces-we had 20 knives—tore a fistful out of the heart, and affected to be eating greedily, while I contrived to drop one half between my feet, and with my left foot shoved it towards the man on my left, who managed to take it up. other half was passed to the man on my right in the same manner, and the

a

The

« ZurückWeiter »