Project Canterbury

Dorchester Polytechnic Academy;
Dr. Neverasole, Principal

by James DeKoven

Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1879. 226 pp.


The Government Street Jail was, by no means, a comely place. We say was, for it is a beautiful jail now, built of costly stone, splendidly ventilated, admirably constructed, and so clean, that if cleanliness be next to godliness, the malefactors confined therein, are the next door neighbors of all the graces.

That crime increases steadily in Dorchester, every year; that even children ceased to be innocent; that not long since, some dear boys, whose tender bodies had been lacerated by corporeal punishment, stoned a school-mistress to death, is proof that hygiene, admirable as it is, can never take the place of the ten commandments. But the bill for the new jail, warmly recommended by the excellent Governor Guller, was only just passed by the Legislature, and the old jail stood in all its dirt and ugliness. It did not stand upon the street; but you passed through an alley to get to it, and it seemed, somehow, to be ashamed of itself, and to hide behind the other houses. There was a small courtyard in front, in which was a solitary tree, which, devoid of sun and light, appeared like a tree which had committed a crime, and was itself in jail.

The building was of wood, of a dirty, disreputable color. One wing of it was occupied by the jailor, his wife, and one boy, who spent what time was not occupied in eating, sleeping, and running errands, in breaking windows, and keeping up a forbidden intercourse with such of the prisoners as he could get at.

Somewhere in the rear, fenced in by high walls, was a yard, where now and then a murderer had been hung, and in the lower part of the building--so the story went--before the admirable Insane Asylum had been built, had been cages for some raving maniacs, past cure, or care, or love. It was a festering sore--this Government Street Jail--full of bad smells and worse sights. There were low taverns in the neighborhood, and wretched offices, where some hangers-on of the law did a mean and dirty business.

Altogether, it was a low part of the town, and one that Dr. Neverasole would never, willingly, have visited. Had any one told him, in the morning, that he would be going there in the evening, for any purpose, he would have thought it most unlikely; but now he, Prof. Poggers, Snippers, Popkms, Durkey, Edward Stebbins, and Cropsey, were all walking down the street which led to the jail.

It was late hi the evening; much time had been spent in looking up the proper officer, to bail out Robert, and when they had got to the house where he ought to be, unluckily he had gone to the country, and would not be back until the next morning.

It was only by the exercise of some personal influence, that Dr. Neverasole had succeeded in getting a permit to visit Robert, at the jail, and the clock on the First Presbyterian Church, struck nine as they passed by. Professor Poggers had proposed to take the boys home on the 8:30 train, but when the boys begged to be allowed to go to the jail too, and stay all night, afterwards, at the Dorchester House, to the utter amazement of the Professor, Dr. Neverasole consented.

More than this, when Durkey said he would go back to the school, at any rate, Dr. Neverasole had asked him, as a personal favor, to remain. "I am not well," he said, "and you are the head of the school. I want you to go with me."

Durkey had tried to get off, but the Doctor was positive, and he could not succeed.

Somehow, Dr. Nevernsole did not want to be alone. All the events of the day had terrified him. He even went so far as to confide the state of his feelings to Prof. Poggers, who had immediately said "his stomach must be out of order," and had given him six pellets of nux vomica. The Doctor took the medicine, but said no more to Prof. Poggers. He wanted somebody to help him, and he fell back upon Durkey. He rested on his arm, as they walked along. He told the story of Fred Turpins to Durkey, and, when he mentioned his name, was surprised at Durkey's giving a sudden start.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

"Nothing," answered Durkey, after a pause. "I knew Turpins; that is all."

"He can't live long," said the Doctor; "and oh, it must be terrible to die so young, and in such a state!"

They had come, as he spoke, to the alley which led down to the jail. It was a filthy, narrow place, and they walked in the middle of the street, to get room enough to walk together. Just in front of them, at the end of the alley, stretched the iron fence which shut in the court-yard. An oil lamp, with the glass very dirty, cast a feeble light along the alley. Durkey stepped a little in front of the Doctor, to open the gate for the party to pass into the court-yard. As he did so, he stumbled over something.

"A man lying here, I declare," he cried, jumping back "I wish the police would take better care of drunken men."

They would have all passed on and left the man lying there, but as he was on the step, they could not do so without stepping over him. So they stopped for a moment. As they did so, Dr. Neverasole, actuated by this strange impulse, which all day long had made him do what he ordinarily had not done, stooped down and looked at the man's face. The feeble light of the lamp cast a sickly glare upon it, and the face was white enough besides.

"He is not drunk; he is dead!" said the Doctor.

He bent over him again. As he did so, a feeble voice said:

"Leave me alone. Let me die. It will be morning soon."

The voice, feeble as it was, he recognized; the face, white as it was, was like a face he knew.

"Durkey," he cried, "it is Fred Turpins."

He put his hand on Fred's coat, as he spoke, and drew it hurriedly back. He held his finger to the light, and the boys saw that it was covered with blood.

"Has somebody murdered him?" asked one of the boys, in a low voice.

"No," said the Doctor, who heard him; "he has had a hemorrhage; that was the danger all along. Go into the jail, Durkey," he added, "and tell the jailor to come here."

The jailor was eating his supper. It was a greasy mess; but he relished it. He had had a hard day's work, and now everybody was locked up for the night, and he was quite comfortable. His pipe lay already for him to smoke, and his wife, who was sitting in a low chair, putting a large piece of cloth into her boy's trousers, looked on approvingly, as he ate.

Robert Graham had been brought to the jail at the end of the afternoon. It seemed as though every one had forsaken him. His Grandmother was dying, at Danville. His uncle had refused to bail him out. There was no friend with him, and he was quite alone. The sheriff, who appeared to have taken a liking to him, shook hands with him as he left him at the jail, and told him to keep a stiff upper lip; but when he was gone, and Robert stood in the dirty hall of the jail, there came over him a feeling of terror. It was not lessened when the jailor hurried him through ano%er passage, up a flight of stairs, along a gallery, and opened a heavy oak door, at the end of it.

"Here," said the jailor, as they passed along another hall, with the doors of cells numbered up to twenty, "we keep the worst fellows." As he spoke, he unlocked a door, and putting his head in, said, "How do you feel to-night?"

"All right," was the answer.

"That's a man as has murdered his wife, and is going to be hung, if his friends can't buy the Governor off, and get him a pardon," he said, as if he felt a sort of satisfaction in the greatness of the man's crimes. He then opened a window on the other side of the passage way.

"Look out here," he said.

Robert looked out. He could only see, in the dim twilight, what seemed to be a large yard.

"That's where we hang 'em, when the executions is private. They mostly begins young, like you," he added, in a moralizing way. Indeed, the jailor felt that he was impressing upon Robert the dangers of the which he had embarked, and was desirous oft occasion. "Why didn't you plead guilty, and you wouldn't do so any more. You don't look who is very bad, anyhow."

"I couldn't" said Robert, "because I had not done The jailor gave a long whistle, and then said, " didn't your friends bail you out, and then you could run away, and turned over a new leaf, out west " As he spoke, he moved on, and presently,

"It won't do," he said. "There is a drunken man in

He moved on, a little further, and bjgan to unlock another door. Then he looked at Robert and paused.

"He's too decent-looking to put him in with such a creature as that is," he muttered. "We're mighty full to-night," he said in a louder tone. "I guess I have put you in the Infummery."

He walked on, a little further, as he spoke, and opened a door into quite a large room. There were two beds in it--one large and the other small.

"That's yours," he said, pointing to the smaller one. He then lighted a small piece of tallow candle, and placed

Robert sat down on .the bed. He felt forsaken by all. Every one believed him guilty except his Grandmother, and she was dying. And then his uncle was so cruel. Robert had said to him, "Uncle, do bail me out, and I can go home to Grandmother," and he had thought until the very last that his uncle would do so. He walked up and down the room in an agony. Suddenly it came into his head, "Was he not guilty after all?" "Had he not stolen?" "Did he not remember having done it?" Then as that passed away, another thought came crowding upon him. "Did God love him?" "Was it fair that he should be so punished?" "What had he done, that he should be put in jail?" "There were plenty of boys, at the Dorchester Academy, who lied and swore; why was he picked out?" Then, as he thought this, he felt how wicked it was, and he almost thought he heard some one say: "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth."

The impression was so strong upon him that some one had spoken, that he went to the door and listened; but there was no sound to be heard.

"Did any one speak?" he said; and then he felt frightened, at the sound of his own voice, and moved on tip-toe across the room, to the bed. Then he knelt down and prayed, and, as he prayed, somehow a sense of peace and trust came over him, and presently he lay quietly down in his clothes on the bed, and fell asleep.

The sound of the First Presbyterian Church clock, striking nine, mingled with his dreams, and somehow he thought it was the ringing of the bell of St. Mary's Church, at Danville, for a festival service. He dreamed that he passed into the church and knelt before the altar, and prayed to God to declare his innocence. Then, in his dream, everything changed; the bell, which had been ringing for a festival service, began to toll solemnly. He heard the sound of many feet, as though a funeral procession were entering the church. He heard, he thought, Dr. Neverasole's voice, and Edward Stebbins', and Popkins' and he was standing in the midst of the boys, at school and a voice came from the altar, "I will make thy righteousness as clear as light, and thy just dealing as the noonday;" and then the boys all came and shook hands with him, and no one seemed so glad as Popkins.

Some part of the dream, at least was real, for he was awakened by Popkins shaking him and saying, "some of us have come to see you, but don't make a noise for there is a man dying." Robert sat up on the bed, and. at first, could not make it all out. There was Dr. Neverasole and the boys, and, sure enough, Professor Poggers, but all turned towards a pale form, which lay upon the other bed of the Infirmary.

"Where am I?" said Fred, lifting himself up a little, and looking around the room.

"We found you on the steps of the jail, and brought you in here," replied Dr. Neverasole.

"It's all right," said Fred, "I ought to be in a jail. It is the only place for me."

They had given him some brandy, and he seemed somewhat nerved by it.

"Where have you been all day, since you left me, Fred," asked Dr. Neverasole, almost because he did not know what to say.

"I came into the town for wickedness, you know, but I could not do it, after what we talked about, and so I wandered about the town to find a church. Somehow, I thought there might be peace in some of them for me; but they were all locked up, as I might well know, for it isn't Sunday, is it?"

"No," answered the Doctor, "but you must not talk, you are not strong enough."

There was a slight pause. At last Fred said, "Lift me up in bed, please."

They did so, and propped him up with pillows. "Who is here?" he asked, and his eye wandered round the room. He looked first at Dr. Neverasole, then at Prof. Poggers, then at the boys, one by one. Durkey, it was afterwards noticed, stepped behind the rest, so that Fred could not see him.

"Come nearer," said Fred, "I cannot talk loud." They all drew nearer to the bed. "I am going to die, am I not," he asked.

Dr. Neverasole answered, "i am afraid so, Fred. I have sent for a physician, but there was a long distance to go."

"I don't care for the Doctor," said Fred, "I know it myself. Dr. Neverasole," he continued, "I cannot die with all this load upon me. I could not rest in my grave, and what shall I do in the other world!"

"God is very merciful," said Dr. Neverasole, a tear actually running down his cheek.

"You must hear me," said Fred, unheadingthe Doctor's answer. "Come nearer, all of you; I cannot speak so loud."

It was a strange sight, the pale face of the dying youth, as he lay propped up by pillows; Dr. Neverasole, his face moved by emotions unfelt for years, perhaps never before, standing at the foot of the bed; E.obert Graham standing by him, the other boys kneeling at the side of the bed, and Durkey sitting in the shadow, with his face hid in his hands; while Prof. Poggers was seated by a stand, alternately studying a small homeopathic manual, he always carried with him, at the article "hemorrhage."

In a low voice, Fred spoke. He gave the history of his life. And this was what would have amazed any one, but one who knew the human soul. He said nothing of the many things that had happened to him, of his outward surroundings, of whether he had been rich or poor, of his journeys hither and thither; the history of his life, was simply the history of his sins. Nor was it merely the telling of a few graver acts, recently done, and thus fresher in his memory; but he began far back, in his early childhood. The first lie he had told his mother; the first grave act of disobedience; the things which good-natured people call mischief in boys; and then there were coarser sins and deeper falls, yet never told in a coarse way; and so on, till the rill became a stream, and the stream a river, ready to pour its turbid torrent into the broad and shoreless ocean. This, too, was to be noticed. He made no excuses for anything. He did not plead any greatness of temptation, or that he had been led away by any one, or that he was the victim of circumstances, or that he had inherited tendencies. He stopped at no accessories; but it was the story of one long sin by the sinner, who, at last, saw himself as God beheld him. Each word he uttered, too, was like a barbed arrow to every one that heard him. The boys had done the very self-same things. They knew it. They were where, except God stopped them, they would follow on to what Fred had become. Some of these very sins, Dr. Neverasole, long years before, had himself committed, and the thought flashed upon him, perhaps, though I have not ruined myself like this poor boy has done, in the of God, my respectable cold-blooded sins are quite as terrible. The boys were much moved, and Popkins was sobbing almost uncontrollably, when poor Fred stopped.

"There is one thing more," resumed the dying youth. "I must tell it to you, Dr. Neverasole. There is one of your boys whom I have not led into evil; at least, he has sinned with me. He has lost money, over and over again, to me. He has paid it, too, and it was a large sum. I am afraid he got it wickedly."

As Fred spoke, Durkey rose from his seat, and made a movement as if he would leave the room.

"Don't go Durkey," said Dr. Neverasole.

"Is Durkey here?" asked Fred, with a trembling voice.

"Yes," answered Dr. Neverasole.

"Durkey," said Fred looking towards him, "do come here."

Shaking, half with alarm, half with strange and terrible emotions, Durkey knelt down by his bedside.

"O, Durkey," said Fred, "we have sinned together. See what I have come to. I would give all things only to be as strong as you are, and to be able to do better. Won't you promise me to amend?" Fred paused from weakness.

"Durkey," said Edward Stebbins, "speak, and tell what we have done. I shall die unless you do."

There was a moment's dreadful silence, when Durkey arose from his knees, his face white as the poor dying youth's.

"Dr. Neverasole," he said, "it is all true; I stole and spent Mr. Whooney's money; Robert Graham is as innocent as a child."

He only uttered the words, and then rushed out of the room. The rest could not stir, could not speak; for every eye saw a dreadful change pass over Fred's face. His breath came heavily, and with more and more difficulty.

"Pray for me," he said feebly.

"Robert Graham," said Dr. Neverasole, "pray--you can."

On his knees Robert sank down and prayed. He dosed with, "Lord Jesus, receive his spirit."

The dying youth said slowly, "Lord--Jesus," and he was dead. Just then, in the stillness, the clock on the First Presbyterian Church struck eleven.

Down in Danville, just a half hour earlier, Mrs. Dorothy, Mrs. Jones and Miss Nancy Hogie moved noiselessly about, and watched Mrs. Graham, who lay still and quiet, with life only fluttering in her heart. From time to time, they read a Psalm or a verse, or said a prayer. Thrice did Mrs. Dorothy read the Commendatory prayer, and twice the Widow Jones muttered, "She can not die, for Robert is on her mind; may the good Lord send her help." "What time is it?" whispered Mrs. Dorothy. "A quarter to eleven," answered Miss Nancy. As she spoke, Mrs. Graham's lips moved, and Mrs. Dorothy bent over her. She distinctly heard the dying woman say: "Blessed be God, who has heard and answered my prayer. Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." And so she fell asleep.

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