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The Last Ride Together by Richard Harding Davis

 

A SKETCH CONTAINING THREE POINTS OF VIEW

What the Poet Laureate wrote.
 
    "There are girls in the Gold Reef City
        There are mothers and children too!
    And they cry 'Hurry up for pity!'
        So what can a brave man do?
 
    "I suppose we were wrong, were mad men,
        Still I think at the Judgment Day,
    When God sifts the good from the bad men,
        There'll be something more to say."

What more the Lord Chief Justice found to say.

"In this case we know the immediate consequence of your crime. It has been the loss of human life, it has been the disturbance of public peace, it has been the creation of a certain sense of distrust of public professions and of public faith. . . . The sentence of this Court therefore is that, as to you, Leander Starr Jameson, you be confined for a period of fifteen months without hard labor; that you, Sir John Willoughby, have ten months' imprisonment; and that you, etc., etc."

                        London Times, July 29th.
 
        What the Hon. "Reggie" Blake thought about it.
 
                            "H. M. HOLLOWAY PRISON,
                                    "July 28th.

"I am going to keep a diary while I am in prison, that is, if they will let me. I never kept one before because I hadn't the time; when I was home on leave there was too much going on to bother about it, and when I was up country I always came back after a day's riding so tired that I was too sleepy to write anything. And now that I have the time, I won't have anything to write about. I fancy that more things happened to me today than are likely to happen again for the next eight months, so I will make this day take up as much room in the diary as it can. I am writing this on the back of the paper the Warder uses for his official reports, while he is hunting up cells to put us in. We came down on him rather unexpectedly and he is nervous.

"Of course, I had prepared myself for this after a fashion, but now I see that somehow I never really did think I would be in here, and all my friends outside, and everything going on just the same as though I wasn't alive somewhere. It's like telling yourself that your horse can't possibly pull off a race, so that you won't mind so much if he doesn't, but you always feel just as bad when he comes in a loser. A man can't fool himself into thinking one way when he is hoping the other.

"But I am glad it is over, and settled. It was a great bore not knowing your luck and having the thing hanging over your head every morning when you woke up. Indeed it was quite a relief when the counsel got all through arguing over those proclamations, and the Chief Justice summed up, but I nearly went to sleep when I found he was going all over it again to the jury. I didn't understand about those proclamations myself and I'll lay a fiver the jury didn't either. The Colonel said he didn't. I couldn't keep my mind on what Russell was explaining about, and I got to thinking how much old Justice Hawkins looked like the counsel in 'Alice in Wonderland' when they tried the knave of spades for stealing the tarts. He had just the same sort of a beak and the same sort of a wig, and I wondered why he had his wig powdered and the others didn't. Pollock's wig had a hole in the top; you could see it when he bent over to take notes. He was always taking notes. I don't believe he understood about those proclamations either; he never seemed to listen, anyway.

"The Chief Justice certainly didn't love us very much, that's sure; and he wasn't going to let anybody else love us either. I felt quite the Christian Martyr when Sir Edward was speaking in defence. He made it sound as though we were all a lot of Adelphi heroes and ought to be promoted and have medals, but when Lord Russell started in to read the Riot Act at us I began to believe that hanging was too good for me. I'm sure I never knew I was disturbing the peace of nations; it seems like such a large order for a subaltern.

"But the worst was when they made us stand up before all those people to be sentenced. I must say I felt shaky about the knees then, not because I was afraid of what was coming, but because it was the first time I had ever been pointed out before people, and made to feel ashamed. And having those girls there, too, looking at one. That wasn't just fair to us. It made me feel about ten years old, and I remembered how the Head Master used to call me to his desk and say, 'Blake Senior, two pages of Horace and keep in bounds for a week.' And then I heard our names and the months, and my name and 'eight months' imprisonment,' and there was a bustle and murmur and the tipstaves cried, 'Order in the Court,' and the Judges stood up and shook out their big red skirts as though they were shaking off the contamination of our presence and rustled away, and I sat down, wondering how long eight months was, and wishing they'd given me as much as they gave Jameson.

"They put us in a room together then, and our counsel said how sorry they were, and shook hands, and went off to dinner and left us. I thought they might have waited with us and been a little late for dinner just that once; but no one waited except a lot of costers outside whom we did not know. It was eight o'clock and still quite light when we came out, and there was a line of four- wheelers and a hansom ready for us. I'd been hoping they would take us out by the Strand entrance, just because I'd like to have seen it again, but they marched us instead through the main quadrangle--a beastly, gloomy courtyard that echoed, and out, into Carey Street--such a dirty, gloomy street. The costers and clerks set up a sort of a cheer when we came out, and one of them cried, 'God bless you, sir,' to the doctor, but I was sorry they cheered. It seemed like kicking against the umpire's decision. The Colonel and I got into a hansom together and we trotted off into Chancery Lane and turned into Holborn. Most of the shops were closed, and the streets looked empty, but there was a lighted clock-face over Mooney's public-house, and the hands stood at a quarter past eight. I didn't know where Holloway was, and was hoping they would have to take us through some decent streets to reach it; but we didn't see a part of the city that meant anything to me, or that I would choose to travel through again.

"Neither of us talked, and I imagined that the people in the streets knew we were going to prison, and I kept my eyes on the enamel card on the back of the apron. I suppose I read, 'Two- wheeled hackney carriage: if hired and discharged within the four-mile limit, 1s.' at least a hundred times. I got more sensible after a bit, and when we had turned into Gray's Inn Road I looked up and saw a tram in front of us with 'Holloway Road and King's X,' painted on the steps, and the Colonel saw it about the same time I fancy, for we each looked at the other, and the Colonel raised his eyebrows. It showed us that at least the cabman knew where we were going.

"'They might have taken us for a turn through the West End first, I think,' the Colonel said. 'I'd like to have had a look around, wouldn't you? This isn't a cheerful neighborhood, is it?'

"There were a lot of children playing in St. Andrew's Gardens, and a crowd of them ran out just as we passed, shrieking and laughing over nothing, the way kiddies do, and that was about the only pleasant sight in the ride. I had quite a turn when we came to the New Hospital just beyond, for I thought it was Holloway, and it came over me what eight months in such a place meant. I believe if I hadn't pulled myself up sharp, I'd have jumped out into the street and run away. It didn't last more than a few seconds, but I don't want any more like them. I was afraid, afraid--there's no use pretending it was anything else. I was in a dumb, silly funk, and I turned sick inside and shook, as I have seen a horse shake when he shies at nothing and sweats and trembles down his sides.

"During those few seconds it seemed to be more than I could stand; I felt sure that I couldn't do it--that I'd go mad if they tried to force me. The idea was so terrible--of not being master over your own legs and arms, to have your flesh and blood and what brains God gave you buried alive in stone walls as though they were in a safe with a time-lock on the door set for eight months ahead. There's nothing to be afraid of in a stone wall really, but it's the idea of the thing--of not being free to move about, especially to a chap that has always lived in the open as I have, and has had men under him. It was no wonder I was in a funk for a minute. I'll bet a fiver the others were, too, if they'll only own up to it. I don't mean for long, but just when the idea first laid hold of them. Anyway, it was a good lesson to me, and if I catch myself thinking of it again I'll whistle, or talk to myself out loud and think of something cheerful. And I don't mean to be one of those chaps who spends his time in jail counting the stones in his cell, or training spiders, or measuring how many of his steps make a mile, for madness lies that way. I mean to sit tight and think of all the good times I've had, and go over them in my mind very slowly, so as to make them last longer and remember who was there and what we said, and the jokes and all that; I'll go over house-parties I have been on, and the times I've had in the Riviera, and scouting parties Dr. Jim led up country when we were taking Matabele Land.

"They say that if you're good here they give you things to read after a month or two, and then I can read up all those instructive books that a fellow never does read until he's laid up in bed.

"But that's crowding ahead a bit; I must keep to what happened to-day. We struck York Road at the back of the Great Western Terminus, and I half hoped we might see some chap we knew coming or going away: I would like to have waved my hand to him. It would have been fun to have seen his surprise the next morning when he read in the paper that he had been bowing to jail-birds, and then I would like to have cheated the tipstaves out of just one more friendly good-by. I wanted to say good-by to somebody, but I really couldn't feel sorry to see the last of any one of those we passed in the streets--they were such a dirty, unhappy-looking lot, and the railroad wall ran on forever apparently, and we might have been in a foreign country for all we knew of it. There were just sooty gray brick tenements and gas-works on one side, and the railroad cutting on the other, and semaphores and telegraph wires overhead, and smoke and grime everywhere, it looked exactly like the sort of street that should lead to a prison, and it seemed a pity to take a smart hansom and a good cob into it.

"It was just a bit different from our last ride together--when we rode through the night from Krugers-Dorp with hundreds of horses' hoofs pounding on the soft veldt behind us, and the carbines clanking against the stirrups as they swung on the sling belts. We were being hunted then, harassed on either side, scurrying for our lives like the Derby Dog in a race-track when every one hoots him and no man steps out to help--we were sick for sleep, sick for food, lashed by the rain, and we knew that we were beaten; but we were free still, and under open skies with the derricks of the Rand rising like gallows on our left, and Johannesburg only fifteen miles away."

 
 
 

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