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Seven Wives and Seven Prisons; Or, Experiences in the Life of a Matrimonial Monomaniac

CHAPTER X. PRISON-LIFE IN VERMONT.

ENTERING PRISON—THE SCYTHE SNATH BUSINESS—BLISTERED HANDS—I LEARN NOTHING—THREAT TO KILL THE SHOP—KEEPER—LOCKSMITHING—OPEN REBELLION—SIX WEEKS IN THE DUNGEON—ESCAPE OF A PRISONER—IN THE DUNGEON AGAIN—THE MAD MAN, HALL—HE ATTEMPTS TO MURDER THE DEPUTY—I SAVE MOREY'S LIFE—HOWLING IN THE BLACK HOLE—TAKING OFF HALL'S IRONS—A GHASTLY SPECTACLE—A PRISON FUNERAL—I AM LET ALONE—BETTER TREATMENT—THE FULL TERM OF MY IMPRISONMENT.

We arrived at Windsor and I was safely inside of the prison at three o'clock in the afternoon. Warden Harlow met me with a joke, to the effect that, had it not been for my handcuffs he should have taken the officer who brought me, to be the prisoner, I was so much the better dressed of the two. He then talked very seriously to me for a long time. He was sorry, and surprised, he said, to see a man of my appearance brought to such a place for such a crime; he could not understand how a person of my evident intelligence should get into such a scrape.

I told him that he understood it as well as I did, at all events; that I could not conceive why I should get into these difficulties, one after the other; but that I believed I was a crazy man on this one subject—matrimonial monomania; that when I had gone through with one of these scrapes, and had suffered the severe punishment that was almost certain to follow, the whole was like a dream to me—a nightmare and nothing more. With regard to what was before me in this prison I should try and behave myself, and make the best of the situation; but I notified the Warden that I did not mean to do one bit of work if I could help it.

He took me inside, where my fine clothes were taken away, and I. was dressed in the usual particolored prison uniform. I was told the rules, and was warned that if I did not observe them it would go hard with me. Then followed twenty-four hours solitary confinement, and the next afternoon I was taken from my cell to a shop in which scythe snaths were made.

It had transpired during my trial at Montpelier, that when I was a young man, I was a blacksmith by trade. This information had been transmitted to prison and I was at once put to work making heel rings. It was some years since I had worked at a forge and handled a hammer. Consequently, in three or four days, my hands were terribly blistered, and as the Warden happened to come into the shop, I showed them to him, and quietly told him that I would do that work no longer. He told me that I must do it; he would make me do it. I answered that he might kill me, or punish me in any way he pleased, but he could not make me do that kind of labor, and I threw down my hammer and refused to work a moment longer.

The Warden left me and sent Deputy Warden Morey to try me. He approached me in a kindly way, and I showed my blistered hands to him. He thought that was the way to "toughen" me. I thought not, and said so, and, moreover, told him I would never make another heel ring in that prison, and I never did.

He sent me to my cell and I stayed there a week, till my hands were well. Then the Deputy came to me and asked me if I was willing to learn to hew out scythe snaths in the rough for the shavers, who finished them? I said I would try. I went into the shop and was shown how the work was to be done. Every man was expected to hew out fifty snaths in a day. In three or four days the shop-keeper came and overlooked me while I was working in my bungling way, and said if I couldn't do better than that I must clear out of his shop and do something else. My reply was that I did not understand the business, and had no desire or intention to learn it. He sent for the Deputy Warden, who came and expressed the opinion that I could not do anything. I said I was willing to do anything I could understand.

"Do you understand anything?" asked the Deputy.

"Well, some things, marrying for instance," was my answer.

"I want no joking or blackguardism about this matter," said the Deputy; "them simple fact is, you've got to work; if you don't we'll make you."

So I kept on at hewing, making no improvement, and in a day or two more the shopkeeper undertook to show me how the work should be done. I protested I never could learn it.

"You don't try; and I have a good mind to punish you."

The moment the shop-keeper said it I dropped the snath, raised my axe, and told him that if he came one step nearer to me I would make mincemeat of him. He thought it was advisable to stay where he was; but one of the prison-keepers was in the shop, and as he came toward me I warned him that he had better keep away.

All the men in the shop were ready to break out in insubordination; when I threatened the shop keeper and the guard, they cheered; the Deputy Warden was soon on the ground; he stood in the doorway a moment, and then, in a kind tone called me to him. I had no immediate quarrel with him, and so I dropped my axe and went to him. He told me that there was no use of "making a muss" there, it incited the other prisoners to insubordination, and was sure to bring severe punishment upon myself. "Go and get your cap and coat," said he "and come with me."

"But if you are going to put me into that black hole of yours," I exclaimed, "I won't go; you'll have to draw me there or kill me on the way."

He promised he would not put me in the dungeon, he was only going to put me in my cell, he said, and to my cell I went, willingly enough, and stayed there a week, during which time I suppose everyone of my shopmates thought I was in the dungeon, undergoing severe punishment for my rebellions conduct.

I had learned now the worst lesson which a prisoner can learn—that is, that my keepers were afraid of me. To a limited extent, it is true, I was now my own master and keeper. In a few days Deputy Morey came to me and asked me if I was "willing" to come out and work. I was sick of solitary confinement, and longed to see the faces of men, even prisoners: so I told him if I could get any work I could do I was willing to try it, and would do as well as I knew how. He asked me if I knew anything of locksmithing? I told him I had some taste for it, and if he would show me his job I would let him see what I could do.

The fact is, I was a very fair amateur locksmith, and had quite a fondness for fixing, picking, and fussing generally over locks. Accordingly, when he gave me a lock to work upon to make it "play easier," as he described it, I did the job so satisfactorily that I had nearly every lock in the prison to take off and operate upon, if it was nothing more than to clean and oil one. This business occupied my entire time and attention for nearly three months. Then I repaired iron bedsteads, did other iron work, and I was the general tinker of the prison.

It came into my head, however, one day, that I might as well do nothing. The prison fare was indescribably bad, almost as bad as the jail fare at Easton. We lived upon the poorest possible salt beef for dinner, varied now and then with plucks and such stuff from the slaughter houses, with nothing but bread and rye coffee for breakfast and supper, and mush and molasses perhaps twice a week.

I was daily abused, too, by the Warden, his Deputy, and his keepers. They looked upon me as an ugly, insubordinate, refractory, rebellious rascal, who was ready to kill any of them, and, worst of all, who would not work. I determined to confirm their minds in the latter supposition, and so one day I threw down my tools and refused to do another thing.

They dragged me to the dungeon and thrust me in. It was a wretched dark hole, with a little dirty straw in one corner to lie upon. My entire food and drink was bread and water. The man who brought it never spoke to me. His face was the only one I saw during the livelong day. Day and night were alike to me; I lost the run of time; but at long intervals, once in eight or ten days, I suppose, the Deputy came to this hole and asked me if I would come out and work.

"No, no!" I always answered, "never!" Then I paced the stone floor in the dark, or lay on my straw. I lay there till my hips were worn raw. No human being can conceive the agony, the suffering endured in this dungeon. At last I was nearly blind, and was scarcely able to stand up. I presume that the attendant who brought my daily dole of bread and my cup of water, reported my condition. One day the door opened and I was ordered out. They were obliged to bring me out; I was so reduced that I was but the shadow of myself. They meant to cure my obstinacy or to kill me, and had not quite succeeded in doing either.

There was no use in asking me if I would go to work then; I was just alive. A few days in my own cell, in the daylight, and with something beside bread and water to eat, partially restored me. I was then taken into the shop where the snaths were finished by scraping and varnishing, the lightest part of the work, but I would not learn, would not do, would not try to do anything at all. They gave me up. The whole struggle nearly killed me, but I beat them. I was turned into the halls and told to do what I could, which, I knew well enough, meant what I would.

After that I worked about the halls and yard, sometimes sweeping, and again carrying something, or doing errands for the keepers from one part of the prison to another. I was what theatrical managers call a general utility man, and, not at all strangely, for it is human nature, now that I could do what I pleased, I pleased to do a great deal, and was tolerably useful, and far more agreeable than I had been in the past.

There was a young fellow, twenty-two years of age, in one of the cells, serving out a sentence of six years. When I was sweeping around I used to stop and talk to him every day. One day he was missing. He had been supposed to be sick or asleep for several hours, for apparently lie lay in bed, and was lying very still. But that was only an ingeniously constructed dummy. The young man himself had made a hole under his bed into an adjoining vacant cell, the door of which stood open. He had crawled through his hole, come out of the vacant cell door, and gone up to the prison garret, where he found some old pieces of rope. These he tied together, and getting out at the cupola upon the roof, he managed to let himself down on the outside of the building and got away. He was never recaptured. The Warden said that some one must have told him about the adjoining vacant cell, with its always open door, else how would the young man have known it?

I was accused of imparting this valuable information, and I suffered four weeks' confinement in that horrible dungeon on the mere suspicion. This made ten weeks in all of my prison-life in a hole in which I suffered so that I hoped I should die there.

One of the prisoners was a desperate man, named Hall. He was a convicted murderer, and was sentenced for life. He too, worked about in the prison and the yards, dragging or carrying a heavy ball and chain. When bundles of snaths were to be carried from one shop to the other in the various processes of finishing, Hall had to do it, and to carry his ball and chain as well, so that he was loaded like a pack-horse. No pack-horse was ever so abused.

Of course he was ugly; the wardens and the keepers knew it, and generally kept away from him.

I talked with him more than once, and he told me that with better treatment he should be a better man. "Look at the loads which are put on me every day," he would say; as if this ball and chain were not as much as I can carry; and this for life, for life!

One day when Hall and I were working together in the prison, Deputy Warden Morey came in and said something to him, and in a moment the man sprung upon him. He had secured somehow, perhaps he had picked it up in the yard, a pocket knife, and with this he stabbed the Warden, striking him in the shoulder, arm, and where he could.

Morey was a man sixty-five years of age, and he made such resistance as he could, crying out loudly for help. I turned, ran to Hall, and with one blow of my fist knocked him nearly senseless; then help came and we secured the mad man. Morey was profuse in protestations of gratitude to me for saving his life.

There was a great excitement over this attempt to murder the Deputy, and for a few hours, with wardens and keepers, I was a hero. I had been in the prison more than a year, and was generally regarded as one of the worst prisoners, one of the "hardest cases;" a mere chance had suddenly made me one of the most commendable men within those dreary walls. As for Hall, he was taken to the dungeon and securely chained by the feet to a ring in the center of the stone floor. There is no doubt whatever that the man was a raving maniac. He howled night and day so that he could be heard everywhere in the prison—"Murder, murder! they are murdering me in this black hole; why don't they take me out and kill me?"

The Warden said it could not be helped; that the man must be kept there; he was dangerous to himself and others; the dark cell was the only place for him. So Hall stayed there and howled, his cries growing weaker from day to day; by-and-by we heard him only at intervals, and after that not at all.

One morning there was a little knot of men around the open dungeon door, the Deputy Warden and two or three keepers. Mr. Morey called to me to go and get the tools and come there and take off Hall's irons. I went into the cell and in a few minutes I unfastened his feet from the ring; then I took the shackles off his limbs. I thought he held his legs very stiff, but knew he was obstinate, and only wondered he was so quiet.

Somebody brought in a candle and I looked at Hall's face. I never saw a more ghastly sight. The blood from his mouth and nostrils had clotted on the lower part of his face, and his wild eyes, fixed and glassy, were staring at the top wall of the dungeon. He must have been dead several hours. The Deputy and the rest knew he was dead—the man who carried in the bread and water told them—me it came with a shock from which I did not soon recover.

They buried Hall in the little graveyard which was in the yard of the prison. An Episcopal clergyman, who was chaplain of the prison, read the burial service over him. The prisoners were brought out to attend the homely funeral. The ball and chain, all the personal property left by Hall, were put aside for the next murderer sentenced for life, or for the next "ugly" prisoner. "If I were only treated better, and not abused so, I should be a better man." This is what Hall used to say to me whenever he had an opportunity. The last and worst and best in that prison had been done for him now.

From the day when I rescued Morey from the hands of Hall, his whole manner changed towards me, and he treated me with great kindness, frequently bringing me a cup of tea or coffee, and something good to eat. He also promised to present the circumstances of the Hall affair to the Governor, and to urge my pardon, but I do not think he ever did so, at least I heard nothing of it. When I pressed the matter upon Morey's attention he said it would do no good till I had served out half my sentence, and then he would see what could be done.

I served half my sentence, and then the other half, every day of it. But during the last two years I had very little to complain of except the loss of my liberty. I was put into the cook shop where I could get better food, and I did pretty much what I pleased. By general consent I was let alone. They had found out that ill usage only made me "ugly," while kindness made me at least behave myself. And so the three weary years of my confinement were on to an end.


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