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in their funereal posture round the chained man. Neither of them spoke or moved.
There brooded over all a fearful calm.
What Gwynplaine saw was a ceil of torture. Such cells abounded in England.
The crypt of Beauchamp Tower long served this purpose, as did also the cell in the Lollards' prison. There is a place of this nature which may still be seen in London, called “the Vaults of Lady Place.” In this last-mentioned chamber there is a chimney on purpose for heating the irons.
All the prisons of King John's time, and the jail of Southwark was one, had their chambers of torture.
The scene which is about to follow was then frequent in England, and might, in an extreme case, by a criminal process, be carried out to-day, because all those laws still exist. England offers the curious spectacle of a barbarous code living on the best terms with liberty. We must confess they make an excellent family party. Some distrust, however, might not be undesirable. A crisis arising, a return to the penal code is not impossible. English legislation is a tamed tiger ; has velvet paws, but it also has claws. Cut the claws of the law, if
Law almost ignores right. On one side is penalty, on the other humanity. Philosophers protect; but it will take some time yet before the justice of man is united with the justice of God.
Respect for the law. That is the English phrase. In England they venerate so many laws, that they never repeal any. They save themselves from the consequences of this veneration by never putting them into execution. An old law falls into disuse like an old woman, and they never think of killing one or the other. They cease to make use of them, that is all. They are at liberty to consider themselves still young and beautiful. They may dream that they exist. This politeness is called respect.
Norman custom is very wrinkled. That does not hinder the English judge from casting sheeps' eyes at her. They preserve, amorously, an antiquated atrocity, so long as it is Norman. What can be more savage than the gallows? In 1867, they condemned a man to be cut into four quarters and offered to a woman—the Queen.a
However, torture was never exercised in England. History declares this fact. The assurance of history is wonderful.
Matthew of Westminster quotes an act of this “Saxon law, very
you be wise.
The Fenian, Burke, May, 1867.
clement and kind," which does not punish criminals by death; and adds that "it limits itself to cutting off the nose and scooping out the eyes.” That was all !
Gwynplaine, scared and haggard, stood at the top of the steps, trembling in all his limbs. He shuddered from head to foot. He tried to remember what crime he had committed. To the silence of the wapentake had succeeded the vision of condign punishment.
It was a step, certainly, forward ; but a tragic one. increasing in blackness, the sombre legal enigma under which he felt himself imprisoned.
The human form lying on the earth rattled in its throat a second time.
Gwynplaine felt that some one touched him gently on his shoulder.
He went down the stairs step by step. The stairs were very narrow, and eight or nine inches high. There was no hand-rail. They could only be used cautiously. Behind Gwynplaine followed the wapentake, at the distance of two steps, holding up his iron weapon; and behind the wapentake, at the same distance, followed the justice of the quorum.
Gwynplaine, in descending there, felt an indescribable extinction of hope. Death seeemed in each step.
In every stair that he went lower there died in him some portion of life.
Paler and paler, he reached the bottom of the stairs.
The kind of insect thrown to the earth and chained to the four pillars, continued to rattle in its throat.
A voice from the half shadow said-
The justice of the quorum murmured in the ear of Gwynplaine so gravely that the whisper seemed solemn, “You are before the sheriff of the county of Surrey.”
Gwynplaine advanced towards the victim he saw extended in the centre of the cell. The wapentake and the justice of the quorum remained where they were, and allowed Gwynplaine to advance alone.
When Gwynplaine, having arrived under the porch, and close to that miserable thing which he had hitherto perceived only at a
distance, and which was a living man, his fear became terror. The man tied to the ground was absolutely naked, excepting that rag so hideously modest, which might be called the vineleaf of punishment, and which was the succingulum of the Romans, and the christipannus of the Goths, of which the old Gaul jargon made cripagne. Jesus on the cross had only this shred.
The fearful sufferer whom Gwynplaine looked at, seemed a man about fifty or sixty years of age. He was bald. Grizzly hairs of beard bristled on his chin. His eyes were closed; his mouth open. All his teeth were visible. His thin and bony face was like a death'shead. His arms and legs fastened down by chains to the four stone pillars made the figure of X. He had on his breast and belly a plate of iron, and on the iron were built up five or six large stones. His rattle was sometimes a sigh, sometimes a roar.
The sheriff, without laying down his bunch of roses, took from the table with the hand which was free, his white wand, and standing up said, "Obedience to her majesty."
Then he replaced the wand on the table.
Then, with the slowness of a knell, without a gesture, and immoveable as the sufferer, the sheriff raised his voice.
“Man, who liest here fastened by chains, listen for the last time to the voice of justice; you have been taken from your dungeon and brought to this jail. Legally summoned in the usual forms, formaliis verbis pressus, without regard to warnings and communications which have been made, and which will be renewed ; inspired by a bad and perverse spirit of tenacity, you have retired into silence, and refused to answer the judge. This is a detestable licence, and which constitutes among deeds punishable by cashlit, the crime and delinquency of overseness.”
The sergeant with the coif on the right of the sheriff interrupted, and said, with an indifference, which had an effect indescribably funereal, “ Ozerhernessa. Laws of Alfred and of Godrun, chapter six.”
The sheriff resumed.
“The law is venerated by all except by scoundrels who infest the woods where the hinds bear young.”
Like a clock after another clock, the sergeant said,
“He who refuses to answer to the magistrate,” said the sheriff, “is suspected of all vices. He is reputed capable of every evil.” The sergeant interposed. Vol. IV., N. S. 1870.
Prodigus, devorator profusus salax ruffianus, ebriosus, luxuriosus simulator consumptor patrimonii, elluo ambro, et gluto."
“ All vices,” said the sheriff, “supposes all crimes. Who avows nothing, confesses all. He who holds his peace before the questions of the judge, is in fact a liar and a parricide."
“ Mendax et parricida," said the sergeant. The sheriff said,
“Man, it is not permitted to you to absent yourself by silence. Contumacy is a wound given to the law. It resembles a Diomede wounding a goddess. Taciturnity before a judge, is a form of rebellion. Lèse justice, is lese majesty. Nothing can be more hateful or rash. Who resists interrogation, steals from truth. The law has provided for this. For similar cases, the English have always enjoyed the right of the foss, the gibbet, and the chains."
Anglica Charta, year 1088," said the sergeant. Then with the same mechanical gravity, he added, "ferrum, et fossam, et furcas cum alias libertatibus.”
The sheriff continued,
“ Man! Forasmuch as you have not chosen to break silence, though of sound mind and perfectly informed on the subject concerning which justice demands an answer ; since you are diabolically refractory, you have deserved torture, and you have been, by the terms of the criminal statutes, tried by the torture of 'La peine forte et dure.' This is what has been done to you. The law requires that I should inform you categorically. You have been brought to this dungeon ! You have been stript of all your clothes. You have been laid on your back naked on the earth, your limbs have been stretched and tied to the four pillars of the law; a sheet of iron has been placed on your chest, and they have heaped upon your body as many stones as you can bear, 'and more,' says the law."
“ Plusque," affirmed the sergeant. The sheriff pursued.
“In this situation, and before prolonging the torture, a second summons to answer and to speak has been made to you by me, sheriff of the county of Surrey, and you have satanically persevered in silence, though in the power of torture, chains, shackles, fetters, and irons."
“ Attachiamenta legalia," said the sergeant.
“On your refusal and contumacy," said the sheriff, “it being equitable that the obstinacy of the law should equal the obstinacy of the criminal, the torture has continued according to the edicts and texts. The first day they gave you nothing to eat or to drink.”
" Hoc est superjejunare," said the sergeant.
There was silence, the frightful hissing of the man's respiration might be heard under the heap of stones.
The sergeant on the right completed his interruption.
“ Adde augmentum abstinentiæ ciborum diminutione. Consuetudo brittanica. Article five hundred and fourth.”
These two men, the sheriff and the sergeant, alternated. Nothing could be more dreary than this imperturbable monotony. The mournful voice responded to the ominous voice; it might be said that the priest and the deacon of punishment were celebrating the ferocious mass of the law.
The sheriff resumed.
“On the first day they gave you nothing to eat or to drink. The second day they gave you to eat, and not to drink. They put between your teeth three mouthfuls of barley bread. On the third day they gave you to drink, and not to eat. They poured into your mouth three times, and in three glasses, a pint of water taken from the common sewer of the prison. The fourth day is come. It is to-day. Now, if you do not answer, you will be left here till you die. Justice wills it."
The sergeant, ready with his reply, appeared. “Mors rei homagium est bonæ legi."
“And whilst you will feel yourself to be dying lamentably," resumed the sheriff, “no one will assist you, even when the blood rushes from your throat, your beard, and your armpits, and all the openings of the body, from the mouth to the loins.”
“A throtabolla,” said the sergeant, et pabu et subhircis, et a grugno usque ad crupponum."
The sheriff continued,
“Man, attend. Because what follows concerns you. renounce your execrable silence; and if you confess, you will only be hanged, and you will have the right to the meldefeoh, which is a sum of money.”
“ Damnum confitens," said the sergeant, “ habeat le meldefeoh. Leges Ina, chapter the twentieth."
“Which sum,” insisted the sheriff, “shall be paid in doitkins, suskins and galihalpens, the only case in which this money can be employed, according to the terms of the statute of abolition, in the third of Henry Fifth, and you will have the right and enjoyment of scon tum ante mortem, and shall then be hanged on the gibbet. Such are the advantages of confession. Does it please you to answer to justice ?"