A difficult thing to measure. When no two crimes are exactly alike, and no two criminals shaped the same - how can a solution be fairly arrived at when the problem is always unique and so often? If a guilty conscience is not enough, then how should immoral people be made to pay?
Difficult indeed. And to do it correctly, any unpracticed criminal eventually discovers, requires a very grand building, many men in wigs and robes and a great deal of sonorous speeches.
In London, in 1895, that building was known as The Old Bailey, and in one of the cavernous courtrooms, on this gloomy day in February, the business at hand was measuring and prescribing a suitable punishment for two fourteen year old boys.
Although these two boys, James Hopewell and Baden Lambourne, were the subject of ongoing debate, they were the least and last to be heard. The room was jostling with people: twelve jurors had the front seats before the press and spectators. At tables in the well were the silvery bewigged men in black who argued whether James and Baden had committed a crime. The most important man in the room was, according to the heaviest wig of all, the Judge, and he sat high on his bench. Higher still, behind him, was the Arms of the Crown and London, bigger and better than them all. And between them, they decided just how much punishment was proper.
In such a grand and auspicious scenario, James tried to follow proceedings, he tried not to get overwhelmed by the pomp and gravity and so it was something of a relief for a mouse to catch his eye. It was a tiny, grey speck of a thing this far away and it might have believed, like James did, that it was of too little consequence to even be visible. The fate and future of the mouse was very plain to it, there was nothing a mouse had much to be sorry for, so it scurried about with its tail held clear of the dusty floor and James watched without really seeing. It went first under the table of the men in silvery wigs, black robes and spectacles. These were the men who had informed the judge that he and Baden had committed a heinous crime. It was a crime of negligence and recklessness.
The judge turned heavily sunk eyes to the two boys in the dock. Recklessness was a word that seemed to have triggered a response in the presiding gentleman. Negligence. As a result of their selfish negligence, Montgomery was overcome in the fire, trying to save the horses.
Montgomery was the young stablehand at Carneath. Many fine horses were bred and raced at Carneath, the stately pile that was Baden's inheritance, currently in the stewardship of his father, Sir Enoch Lambourne, and the place where James had lived since seven years of age. Monty had died, according to the Prosecutors, trying to do his job, to save the horses he loved. James had loved the horses too, and Monty's death had horrified him, but there was a reason he was in the stables, a reason he was trying to remember: he had been trying to save something even more precious.
The mouse must have been this way before. It hurried across the open space of oakwood floor and under the opposing table of men in wigs, the ones who were supposed to be defending James and Baden. Behind them sat the widower Sir Lambourne, still and mute. His face, which even on normal days had a hangdog aspect to it, with jowls and eyelids obscured under a landslide of skin, was now forlorn and only rarely raised to look at the two boys he'd raised alone for years.
The men for the defence appeared unconfident and had rarely spoken. The lawyer had made his point that James and Baden had been present in the barn, but with no other intent than to settle the horses on a windy night. The lantern had been knocked over from its place on a hay bale, its normal hook missing, put there without any real thought other than that it was convenient.
Misfortune prevails, the fire is started and Montgomery, in spite of his Uncle's protestations, had rushed in and attempted to free the horses by unlatching their stable doors. He is knocked over by one of the panicking beasts and is overcome. Hardly the fault of Masters' Hopewell and Lambourne, being, surely accidental and manslaughter at worst.
The jury had adjourned to deliberate on the evidence, and an hour later returned to their galley with solemn expressions, many of them glancing at James and Baden as they resumed their seats. The members of the jury were almost all middle aged or older, that skein of society considered respectable and experienced enough to fairly consider the evidence and facts laid before them. If their expressions could be relied upon, James was not hopeful, and watched as the mouse disappeared under the judge's bench.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury – have you reached a verdict?" asked the judge in a thick, heavy voice.
"Yes, your Honour," said the Foreman, standing, cap in hand.
"And how do you find Baden Lambourne, for his part in the destruction of property?"
"And for causing through negligence and recklessness the unfortunate demise of Gilbert Montgomery?"
"Also guilty, sir."
Beside him, James sensed a tremor pass through the stiffened frame of Baden. His knuckles whitened as he balled his hands into fists on the rail of the dock before him. But the groan James heard was not from Baden, it was from Sir Lambourne, who'd lowered his head to his chest.
"I see. And how do you find James Dearen Hopewell? For causing a fire?"
"Not arson, your Honour, but destruction."
"Are you quite sure? Master Hopewell has an egregious history with fire, as testified by the earlier witness."
"Yes sir. But we couldn't agree beyond doubt that he was the cause of the fire. And he was not the owner of the lamp."
"Very well," frowned the judge. "And for manslaughter?"
"Yes your Honour. Guilty."
This seemed to please the judge, for he nodded and indicated for the foreman to be seated. It did not please James. A cold energy clenched his heart and chest and seemed to draw strength from his legs, which suddenly wobbled.
"No," he said in a small voice, barely louder than his friend the mouse. Then he tried again. "No! I didn't start a fire! I went into the stable to…to save…"
The warden, who'd been standing behind the dock, leaned across and cuffed him. "Oi! Quiet!"
"Shut it," hissed Baden.
James was cuffed a second time across the back of the head, enough that it made him tip forward.
"Contain yourself!" said the judge loudly. "This will not help you! You have been given a fair trial. You have not denied the events as they occurred. You do not deny an innocent man has been killed in the prime of his life for doing nothing other than attempt to redress the consequences of your careless actions. Our learned colleagues and sovereign have bestowed certain liberties on the youth and the accused, and, however freethinking these men may be, they are not presented day after day with the..the wilfulness, the thoughtlessness and the moral corruption cultivated in your generation, as though it were a matter of pride to carry yourselves so selfishly and flippantly. YOU AMUSED YOURSELF in the stable. You sought mischief, misadventure. With nary a concern for your wretched, widowed father, or indeed even for the priceless horseflesh contained in that building, you brought about events that were catastrophic – that barely even begins to describe it."
The judge narrowed his eyes at James, so that they became little more than slits. "And yet you argue it still." He shook his head, both condemning and despairing. "You demonstrate all too clearly that you and your kind may well be beyond salvation. You are all so addled with fripperies and self-preservation you cannot even accept in good grace when you have fallen. I fear for this great nation's future."
He took a heaving breath, his bulldog cheeks aflush. "Any words for the court before I sentence?"
The philosopher Seneca had once said that the first and greatest punishment of the sinner is his conscience. James had been asked if he felt guilty, and he'd said no. He had no reason to, his conscience was clear. But that just made it worse for him. Were there any words now?
James sought out the mouse, but it had abandoned him. The denial he'd had, the clamour in his brain: they'd died away. He was fighting tears now, he felt them hot and feverish in their desire to prove his innocence and he could only wrestle with them, and the fight took all he had. Equally, Baden was silent next to him.
"No, your Honour," said James, looking sorrowfully to the defence lawyers who did not seem surprised. Enoch Lambourne was abject, and his features, which had already given up their fight with gravity, looked even more subdued.
"Quite so," said the judge. "Time is of the essence. Then here is my judgement and ruling. You boys do not deserve the good and righteous association of Lambourne in my opinion. Your father works hard and has built a solid and reliable name and reputation in this great town, which you both seem hellbent on undoing by whatever means possible. This time you have gone too far – a promising young man has been cost his life, and I for one am not convinced that a standard repertoire of discipline will stem this tide of irresponsibility, or evict the ne'er-do-well imps that appear to be overriding your common sense. No, the time and age for that has passed, and now you are both fourteen, you must be severely and lastingly punished to accept properly the consequences and to do penance for your crimes. This time you will see the insides of a reformatory, and the walls of that reformatory will remain your home until such time as I receive a probationary report from the Governor that you have proved your ability to conform to societal expectations of upstanding men and citizenry. You are sentenced to a minimum of eighteen months in StORJO, and if you have not proved your new character by the time you are eighteen years, then you will be resentenced to Pentonville."
Where? thought James, as panic began to well under the drenching of condemnation. Storjo? What was that? Where was that – a reformatory? He'd heard of those alright, the schoolmaster, Mr Edwards, frequently referred to them, always in the context of a place of last resort, a final destination for the unsalvageable.
"You shall reside in the holding cells at Newgate with the others until the train for Edinburgh tomorrow morn," said the judge. "Supervised visits only. Case dismissed."
The gavel came down.
"No!" said James at the same time as the bang echoed around the court, and the warden took this moment to enter the dock and claim his charges. James turned in disbelief to Baden and saw the boy with his head hanging, hands still on the railing, his pale hair lank from constant wringing and sweeping. "Bade? Reformatory – they're sending us to reform -,"
"I know!" snapped Baden, jerked backwards as the warden seized their wrists to clamp manacles around them.
"StORJO, eh?" chuckled the warden. "That'll wipe the smirks off."
"What's storjo?" James asked him, feeling the cold iron press home. "Where is that?"
"You'll find out, mark my words," said the warden, grinning to reveal two missing front teeth, and pulled on the chain that now connected them. "I've done my time there. Made me what I am."
James and Baden were pushed before the warden with his cudgel along the short walkway to the door of the courtroom, and as they went, James could hear the sudden brushfire of gossip and commentary that swept the room, from the few in the press gallery to the jury and the family and friends of Montgomery, he could tell from the tone that the feelings were mixed and excitable. But there wasn't time to look for Sir Lambourne and he wondered if that would be the last he'd see of him for years.
Down some stone steps and along a narrow, wood-paneled room containing the desperate and despairing: men, women and youths waiting their turn to have their fate decided. They watched as James and Baden walked awkwardly, their connecting chain jerking their footsteps. "It's easier if you get your steps in time," the warden told them as they stumbled. "Like a march."
"Where's storjo? What is it?" James asked again, thinking the warden might be more obliging this time, but received nothing but a hoarse laugh.
Their passage through the antechamber opened into the cathedral-like proportions of the Old Bailey's main hall, where learned gentlemen in their legal attire hurried with papers towards the various courtrooms. The feet of James and Baden rang out on the marble until they arrived at an arched door, opened by the warden onto a long, brick tunnel with sloping, flagstone floor. Carved into the wall along its length were letters – the initials of the condemned - and sometimes a date. This in turn was terminated by a solid wood door with a barred viewing partition. The warden brought them to a standstill and, up at the partition, looked through, banging on the door at the same time. Apparently satisfied, the door was opened by a second warden from the other side and they were shoved through.
They had entered Newgate. A cacophony of banging, crashing, shouting and thudding assaulted their ears. "Holding cells only – these are sentenced for Storjo," their warden said to the one waiting on the inside, whose job was to process in-comers and who stood behind a desk in a windowed booth, and who, after appraising the boys disdainfully, wrote things in elaborate script on a ledger.
As he wrote, James leaned closer to Baden. "Where d'you think they're sending us?" he half-whispered, striving to be heard. "Do you know Storjo? D'you think it's in Australia?"
"Shut up! This is all your fault," Baden snarled. "Father will get me off, but I hope you rot wherever they send you. And it's not in Australia – the judge said a train to Edinburgh."
James blinked in surprise, then gathered his wits. "It's your fault! You took the lamp -,"
"I said shut up! We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you, you're so stupid!"
"Your father will get me off as well!"
"I'll tell him not to bother. You'd be better off in Storjo or whatever it's called."
James fleetingly wondered if Sir Lambourne would do such a thing, would save Baden at the expense of him, toss him like bycatch to be sent far away. Lambourne owed him nothing but had always treated both boys the same regardless. Baden, however, seemed very certain. "Father needs me. He needs me at his side to mentor. If I am to be punished for Monty, then so be it, I don't shirk my penance. But there is nothing to be gained by sending me to a reformatory. I should be placed on house arrest, that makes far more sense. So that I can continue my duty."
James gazed at him, open-mouthed. "Are you serious? Continue your duty? What duty?"
"I have responsibilities, you idiot. Things you wouldn't understand. Father tells me of them all the time." Baden's pale blue eyes had flared in that warning way James had come to recognize as lightning before a storm, and he stood back, entirely unconvinced any such conversations had occurred between Sir Lambourne and his son. Baden's time at Carneath comprised almost exclusively of leisure and self-indulgence; he spent more energy finding ways to avoid responsibility than actually fronting any.
Despite that, he felt a glimmer of hope. Perhaps Baden was right, and there were yet ways for Sir Lambourne to exercise his social standing and override the judge's decision, or at least circumvent it, a missed loophole that he and the lawyers would discover at the eleventh hour. His own recollection of what happened that night was so frail it was probable he'd missed an all important clue, a witness, some kind of evidence that proved he had only been there to help…to save something…something precious…
The documentation was finalized, mugshots subsequently attached and cell keys procured; the warden then shunted them forward toward the prison proper. "Quiet. Step short! Straight ahead, follow my orders."
James and Baden were marched as swiftly as their chained ankles would allow across filthy paved floors to a holding cell. Above them the galleried floors of Newgate held hundreds of male prisoners, the landings patrolled by the uniformed guards. Their warden opened a solid oak, iron-studded door and they entered a rectangular cell, lit only by daylight through a high, recessed window reinforced with bars. The room was already occupied by two other boys around their own age. Before James had time to absorb his surrounds and his cellmates, the guard removed the leg-irons and said: "Train leaves in the morning." He then withdrew, banging the door shut behind them and turning the great lock and bolts.
"Alright mate?" said a quiet voice. James turned to where it came from behind him and saw the two other boys standing away and watching warily. They looked pale, thin and disheveled, and their eyes were wide and fearful. One, the shorter and younger looking of the pair, scratched at his scalp incessantly.
"No. I'm not damned alright," James replied. "I've just been put in prison for something I didn't do. And I'm going somewhere I don't know, for I don't know how long. Are you alright?"
The pair looked at him reproachfully, and as he scowled at their silence he became latently aware that he had started trembling and goosebumps broke out along his arms. Looking about, he saw two frames of cots suspended by chains from the wall, a basin and tank of water, some rolled up bedding, two straw-filled mattresses and a chamber pot, currently full and its stench pervaded the room. On a corner shelf was a Bible and a couple of tin mugs.
Baden had gone to the door, trying to see out of the partition. "Will Mr Lambourne come here?" James asked him with urgency. "Will he see us before we're sent?"
"He'll come to save me," retorted Baden. "I'm sure of it."
"Then he'll save us both."
"No he won't!" Baden turned and knuckled James hard in the upper arm. "You're not coming home with us. It's not your home."
"It is my home!"
"Your home is nought but cinders! Carneath is my home!" Baden raised another fist, but James caught it and his eyes held Baden's with heat.
"Your father told me I could always call it home. He said I was as good as a son to him!"
"He was just being nice!" Baden spat, but still he backed down. He snatched his fist away and lowered it, glowering
"Storjo?" asked the taller boy eventually, as James rubbed at his left arm and looked about him.
"Yes. Storjo. And what in the Devil's fresh hell is that?" asked Baden.
"A reform'try," answered the boy. "On an island. In Scotland."
"Tis the hardest of all the reforms," added the shorter boy. "I heard lots of lads die there."
"Well I'm not going," retorted Baden. "I'm returning home as soon as my father gets here. He'll be on his way now with our lawyers."
The taller boy's eyes seemed to widen even further. "You're rich then? You can buy yourself out of here?"
"No," snapped Baden irritably, "I won't be paying a single farthing to these apes. I am going home because I'm innocent, and the judge made a mistake. My father will explain."
"All of us here reckons they're innocent," said the short boy looking unperturbed. "I'm innocent too."
"How long have you been here?" James asked, his teeth starting to chatter. It wasn't the temperature, even though no source of warmth was to be found, but he still had his jacket and woolen jumper beneath it. It was the shock making his throat close up.
"This is our fourth day. Saw't Judge on Monday. And tomorrow we're due to journey. I got lice already," said the tall boy. "My name is Tomtom, Tomtom McCabe. An' this is Sam. It's Sam Small but you can call him Small Sam if you want."
Baden glanced at them both disparagingly before turning back to the door of their cell. "I shan't need to know your names, and you needn't know mine."
James offered a small smile. "I'm James and he's Baden."
"Baden," scoffed Sam under his breath. "Too posh for Newgate."
"Guard! Guard!" called Baden and banged against the studded oak door. "Ow!" The two lads tittered and turned eyes to the ceiling when Baden glared at them.
"Toff Baden had better hope for Storjo," said Tomtom to James. "They'll eat him for breakfast here. They love a bit of pink meat, so I'm told."
Small Sam uttered exaggerated giggles and James smiled as well, but he didn't want to get Baden off-side. If he needed to convince Sir Lambourne to show leniency, then making a joke of his only son wasn't the way to go about it.
"Why are you here?" Small Sam asked him. "Did the Queen catch you tryin' on her jewels?"
Tomtom found this the height of hilarity, but James frowned a little. He'd never thought of himself as an object of derision to the working classes – his father had counted himself proudly among them.
"No…no…," he answered, having to raise his voice slightly. "I'm not rich like Baden."
"Most certainly not," said Baden from his position up at the door, where he grappled with the hatch in attempts to open it. "Barely above the help."
"Baden's father looks after me," James continued, uncertain why he was explaining, and the two boys studied him and scratched a little. "Both my parents are gone."
"They leave you behind?"
"No, I mean they died. My parents are…dead. They died in a fire."
Baden snorted laughter.
"They died in a fire," James repeated firmly. "And Baden's father kindly took me in. But the Lambournes are wealthy…not me."
"So why are you in here?" Tomtom asked again, clearly unmoved by James' orphan status. "Did you start the fire that killed your parents?"
"No!" James replied, outraged. "Of course not!" But the two boys were not looking at him, they were looking at Baden, who had swept his hair aside and turned to listen to James' response with curious interest, a slight smile on his lips.
"He lit another fire," Baden then said, the smile becoming a smirk. "And killed the stablehand instead."
"I didn't!" James shouted, taking two furious steps towards Baden. "It was just a horrible accident! You were there too, Baden, you carried the lamp."
"Then why didn't the judge set you free?!" Baden shouted in reply. "If you're indeed innocent? Because you're a liar as well as a murderer. And a common thief. You've been stealing from my father for years!"
"You're the liar!" James hollered, hearing with his own ears how impotent he sounded and infuriated by that as much as the deceits being uttered by Baden, he threw himself at him, crashing Baden to the floor whereupon he swung wildly and ineffectually, his fists only hitting Baden's arms which he'd brought up as a shield. Behind them their cellmates laughed and chanted, urging them on.
"OI! Cu' it the hell out!" The instruction, followed by a bout of wracking coughs, was delivered through the door hatch and effected immediate silence to the cell. "Visitor."
The grinding iron of key in lock was followed by a groan of hinges as the door was swung inwards by the guard, and the prisoners scrambled to their feet and assembled. Enoch Lambourne stepped inside, his steps deliberate, his carriage stiff.
He was wearing his London best and he stood uncomfortably in the entrance of their cell with one hand tucked into the pocket of his coat, the other held behind his back. The sickly-looking guard coughed some more before taking station outside the door, and Lambourne paled slightly, bringing forth a silk hanky from his pocket which he placed momentarily over his mouth.
"Father!" exclaimed Baden, and with a little straightening of his waistcoat, went directly to Lambourne to stand before him. "At last! Let us leave immediately. Where are the lawyers?"
"Ah, son, settle yourself," said Lambourne, placing a hand on Baden's shoulder as his eyes cast about the cell. "I have not brought the lawyers. There would be no need. And I daresay they would be greatly disinclined to enter these premises without substantial cause."
"Without substantial clause?" repeated Baden. "My freedom indeed!"
"James? How do you fare?" Lambourne inquired, his gaze coming to rest on him.
James placed his hands to his side and bowed lightly. "I -," he swallowed hard. "I am quite well."
"When can we leave, father?" Baden demanded. "I should like a bath! Those lads are infested!"
Lambourne acknowledged Tomtom and Small Sam with the barest incline of his head, and the two boys, standing aside, shuffled and tugged their forelocks, averting their eyes to the floor.
"The judge is too busy to attend to me just now," the gentleman replied patiently. "I shall speak to him duly; you can rest assured. I shall explain that there was no pre-meditation in your actions, it was little more than a tragic accident. I am confident he will listen to reason."
"Well then, how soon?"
"I cannot rightly say, Baden, I will do my utmost."
"Make sure it is quickly. In an hour d'you think?"
"The judge is a busy man, son -,"
"Then at least can it be arranged for I to have a cell of my own? Until I can be released?"
"I shall speak to the warden on my departure."
Consternation was mounting on Baden's face and he searched his father's eyes for confidence that they were of a like mind, that his father was as aggrieved as he and that on his behalf would not rest until the situation was rectified. But Lambourne didn't having the bearing of someone indignant or in pursuit of swift retribution. To James he appeared sad and resigned.
"Sir?" said James. "Did the lawyers offer no further avenue? They did not recommend appeal?"
Lambourne's aspect softened a little when he looked at James, and his eyes almost disappeared within the folds of skins as he smiled ruefully. "I regret not. They had little to add. Their counsel was that you seek early probation as soon as this judge has moved on."
Baden was aghast. "Father, no! You can't seriously be considering it – you need me!"
"It is not a matter of me considering it; it is not something for which I am able to exert influence or control. I shall advocate tirelessly in your defence, but until I have secured the judge's sanction, my only advice is that you make the very best of it."
"The best of it?" echoed James. "You mean…the reformatory."
"It is not unlike a school," said Sir Lambourne appeasingly. "Not much worse than a boarding school. Heavens, I went to a boarding school and had a jolly time of it!"
A quick glance told James that the two other boys had listened to this with wide, hopeful eyes.
"Reformatory is nothing like a school!" cried Baden. "Don't pretend otherwise; don't try to trick me! These lads said a lot of boys died at this Storjo place!"
Lambourne harrumphed and looked askance at Tomtom and Sam. "Rumours, I should very well think. Do you honestly believe the venerable gentlemen and authorities that oversee such institutions would allow boys to die there? Certainly not. That they are strict, I do not doubt, but if you are well-behaved and civil, then you may do very well."
When Baden started to see the lay of the land his countenance become bloodless and panicky. Against the paleness, his blue eyes were starker so that they resembled two robins eggs in a bowl of milk. His hands balled into fists by his side and he regarded his parent with a belligerent frown. "You are to surrender me, father? Do I understand you correctly?"
"No indeed," replied Lambourne, and he placed one arm around the shoulder of Baden, and the other around James. "As I said, I shall fight to clear both your names and sentence. But alas you have been found guilty and so now the onus on me to prove otherwise. I don't have a great deal of support from our lawyers, I cannot accurately say how long it may take. I simply ask that you have faith, and that you make your time at the school as painless and moderate as possible. Be tractable. Behave as you'd expect of innocent boys, and that will ease things for me. Make the best of it; do you understand?"
James nodded, but tears welled in the eyes of Baden and he rubbed them away with the heel of his hand. "I can't agree with this Father."
"I am not seeking your agreement, only your compliance. You will do as I ask, Baden. You will protect and represent the Lambourne name in the Reformatory as I am doing here. I trust, James, that you also will conduct yourself befitting someone from Carneath?"
"Of course, sir."
"Stick together. Be as brothers."
"He's not my brother!" snapped Baden.
"He's the closest you'll ever have to brother, my boy. You never know when you'll have want of one," said Lambourne, with a cool edge to his tone.
"Sir – where are we being sent? And when?" asked James. Lambourne lifted his arms free and, with his handkerchief, rubbed his lower face in an agitated way before clasping his hands behind his back and hunching his shoulders.
"I believe you travel tomorrow by train. To far east Scotland, an off-shore habitation there. It is distant, that is true, the idea, I understand, being strict separation for the boys in order that they rehabilitate without distraction or interference. But I am told that the boys can be given leave to visit family, so you see, the time will fly by I am sure."
"But I despise Scotland," said Baden. "It's heathen!"
"Nonsense Baden! Wonderful grouse shooting, tremendous stags and the salmon are second to none."
"We are not on a hunting trip as you well know."
"My point simply being that many fine, educated fellows are more than content to take up a permanent residency in Scotland for its incomparable wilderness. There are numerous, highly reputable estates."
"Then I shall be sure to send you a postcard!" said Baden scornfully. "I hope you can send introduction to one of these fine fellows and perhaps make him a benefactor, somewhere I can make a lengthy stay?"
Sir Lambourne's response was to issue a long and despairing sigh.
"Are we to be escorted?" James asked, having never been on a train or a boat, and deeply uncertain how to find the far east of Scotland. He pondered whether absconding might be an option if they were expected to make their own way.
"I understand an officer from the Reformatory is to escort you there. There are a group of boys that make the trip once a month or so. You are lucky – some of them have been in Newgate for weeks waiting to go."
"We been here four days," offered Tomtom. "Ain't we Sam?"
Lambourne offered them a weary smile. "Then I expect you're feeling good and ready."
"I'm excited about a train!" agreed Sam Small. "Always wanted to go on one."
There was a rattling, wheezing sound from the doorway and then a loud banging on the oakwood. "Time's up, squire. Say your goodbyes," said the guard.
Lambourne had turned at the sound, and now his movements seemed agonized. He sniffed loudly and shoved his handkerchief in his coat pocket, then extended a gloved hand to Baden, who took it reluctantly. "Go well, my son. Be bricky. It shall be over before you know it, mark my words."
Baden gave two brief, limp shakes of his father's hand, his face averted before he even let his own hand drop uselessly to his side. He turned his back and walked away.
Lambourne lifted his gaze to James. Not since his father died had he seen the old man look so wretched. His hopeful words that James had seized upon now seemed empty and false, and fresh fear spun through him. "Sir?" said James. "You won't forget what you promised?"
Lambourne shook his head, but it lacked conviction. He held out his hand and James clasped it, then Lambourne took his arm with his other hand. "James, whatever happens, you can rely on yourself. You're strong and morally minded. Be true to who you are."
James cocked his head, perplexed. They sounded like parting words, forever words, but Lambourne turned away from his inquiring gaze. He nodded his head at the other two boys then made his way slowly to the door.
"You are a deserter!" Baden suddenly shouted at his back, followed by a choked sob. "You will do nothing!"
Lambourne gazed at him in a speechless, bewildered fashion, but made no rebuttal. There was no reply. And then he departed, and the door was pulled to a shut behind him with a loud thud. The lock could be heard driving the bolt home, and then inside the cell there was silence.
James felt a plummeting inside as though he'd fallen a great height. He almost didn't care about Baden, who was fiercely trying to stem his tears and now faced the wall, his shoulders hunched. Tomtom and Sam Small discreetly retreated to the cots and sat, eyes to the ground. Faintly, through the hatch in the door, the sounds of the wider prison drifted through - constant banging and slamming, shouting, wailing, coughing and clattering. It was bedlam. And yet all James seemed to hear was his own hammering heart.
While tears of his own threatened, he swallowed hard to keep them at bay, and feeling weak at the knees, he too sought respite on one of the rolled mattresses. He'd just sat down when there came the sound of the key being turned again and the door was pushed open. He jumped up and Baden lifted his head in sudden hope.
But only the warden entered and he carried two grey blankets, of wool so rough it would be possible to scour floorboards with them. He tossed these at Baden. "Courtesy of the gennelman," muttered the guard before locking them in once more.
"Extra blankets!" exclaimed Tomtom. "Your father must've paid the ward top brass if they got delivered! Your lucky awright!"
"Lucky?" retorted Baden, staring at Tomtom as though no madder words had ever been uttered. "You think this is lucky?"
"One blanket ain't enough! It's cold at night!" Tomtom countered, and James raised his hand wearily.
"Enough. Baden, give my blanket to the lads. We've no escape, no alternative now. We must make the best of this. We must work any little give to our advantage. Tomorrow, we'll think afresh, but for now, save your energy, spare us your fretting and petulance. It serves nothing. Sit and be quiet."
"Don't tell me what to do."
James ignored him and sank back down on the mattress, noticing his scalp beginning to itch, his stomach rumbling, his mind racing. It seemed so hopeless and so inevitable, like being tied to train-tracks and hearing the vibration of something terrifying far away…but coming. It was coming.
That evening passed in shocked and despondent silence. They were given rations and milk, but not permitted to leave the cell; the chamber pot was at least emptied in due course. Tomtom and Sam continued to talk quietly between themselves and eventually, what felt like late into the night, they lay down on their bunks and covered themselves in their scratchy old blankets. Baden eventually did the same, but James, feeling wide awake and anxious, remained sitting upright for hours and hours, occasionally taking solemn steps around the room to stretch tired muscles and gaze through the window at the night sky. The streets of London outside could be distantly heard, and the streetlights and carriage lights gave rise to a glow from the ground that James could sense, but none of it really registered. The only thing he could think about, and fail to truly grasp, was that he was a convict now; he was imprisoned, and if his parents were watching they would be dismayed and mortified. How had it happened? How had he fallen so far?
More than once his throat tightened, and a lone tear slipped down his cheek. With no one to see, he almost welcomed the peculiar relief it brought. His remorse was real, surely his parents would see that as clearly as his crime of fallibility. He was shivering; and wrapping his arms around himself he pretended it was a cuddle from his mother because she would have believed him and forgiven him, he knew that beyond doubt.
This was some solace and kept him company as he watched the sky outside brighten and eventually become pale with low, cold white cloud. Only now did his exhaustion engulf him and he felt the compulsion to sleep turn his muscles to liquid and his eyelids to wood, but the other boys were rousing, talking, and in Baden's case, snuffling.
"Could eat me own arm off," Sam Small declared, sitting up and commencing an all-over scratching, soon joined by Tomtom.
"Ow!" said Tomtom and paused in this exercise a moment to draw up one trouser leg to the height of his knee. His lower leg was covered in small, red dots, but some were larger than the others and an angrier, darker shade, weeping slightly. He gritted his teeth. "These bites are getting' infected I'm thinkin'. They hurt like a tart's fanny and they're hot. I reckon I can smell 'em."
"Bed bugs," observed Small Sam. "Me Mam thinks you should keep hedgehogs in the house for 'em. Sometimes she washes the whole mattress with turps and boilin' water and we sleep on the floor for a week 'til it dries."
Standing stiffly against the far wall with his arms folded, Baden said to them, "When is breakfast? I'm hungry. And when do we leave?"
Tomtom and Sam returned his slightly accusatory scowl with wide, unblinking eyes, clearly non the wiser, and Baden huffed with impatience. His hair, which he normally kept elegantly in place with wax, now persistently flopped around his face and he raked it back as if to punish it.
"What a swell," muttered Sam to Tomtom. "Breakfast. La di da."
"I'm hungry!" Baden said indignantly, and the two boys laughed openly at this. Baden turned his eyes to the floor while colour rose in his cheeks, and James knew that had the work boys around Carneath shown such contempt he would have insisted on a flogging. Actual floggings hadn't occurred at the Manor for over fifty years, but Baden liked to act as if they did, and demonstrate his ruthless indifference to the fate of those about to be subjected to the empty threat.
James' stomach was rumbling as well, and he considered it traitorous. How could it be concerned with the likes of food at a time like this? It ought to be worried, like he was, his every cell should be straining to find solutions and realise the point where the course of his life sheared off towards disaster. And yet there it was, complaining, single-minded in its sole occupation.
The patch of sky that was their view had lightened a little more by the time a warden arrived and escorted the four boys, along with the juvenile occupants of several other holding cells, to the refectory. There were perhaps ten of them, and they sat on long, cold wooden benches while in tin bowls they were served, by a man with arrow-marked prison uniform, a single ladleful of grey, thin gruel, and a quarter cup of milk to drink. Nobody spoke – only the sound of clattering spoons could be heard as the ravenous boys devoured their rations within seconds. Though bland and unsatisfying, the gruel was a least warmed, and James could feel it almost radiating out from his stomach against the chill of his bones.
What seemed like only minutes later they were once more rounded up and returned to their cell, where they were informed they'd be collected by the StORJO House Master in a little while. James thought he should be worried, but he was inordinately glad that someone was coming for them and that soon they'd be putting Newgate behind them. Nothing could be worse, surely. Tomtom and Sam were talking in low, but excited whispers and an air of anticipation filled the room; even Baden glanced at the door repeatedly with barely suppressed expectation.
From the shadows of the bars on the window, James guessed it was mid-morning before there came the sound of heavy boots and jangling chains approaching their cell. "Look alive! Mark up!" shouted the warden through their door, banging on it first before unlocking the bolts. James and his companions stood to attention, staring fixedly, and he felt his heart begin to hammer.
The door swung in and all fell quiet but for the soft creak of leather as a pair of sturdy buckle and strap boots carried their owner into the room. The four boys raised their eyes, and Baden stepped backwards in alarm.
A man entered and seemed to fill all the available space – it was impossible to look anywhere else. He wore an ankle-length black coat and a black derby hat on a bald head and carried a cane. His eyes, shadowed beneath dark, drawn brows, scanned the boys up and down, and one corner of his mouth twitched upwards. James noticed the vastness of his gloved hands and the cord-like muscles in his neck and jaw hinted at strength. Calmly, unhurried, he put his hands and cane behind his back and murmured, "Names?"
They supplied their names without compunction, Small's voice barely a squeak.
The man breathed in deeply through slightly flared nostrils. "You're bound for St Odinel's Reformatory for Juvenile Offenders," he told them, apparently satisfied by their ostensible identities. "You're there at Her Majesty's leisure and I can tell you on her behalf that she don't want to see you or hear from you again 'til you know how to behave like Englishmen. You do as I say, when I say it and if I have to repeat myself, you'll be making the acquaintance of Cracker. Know who Cracker is?"
His right hand, bearing his thin, limber cane with a pewter handle, came slowly to his side and he leaned on it. The boys looked at it and him again and he nodded.
"Smart. That's good." He stood upright again and tapped the cane against his leg. "I am Gideon Stickles. I'm Master of the Junior House. You call me Master or Sir. Nothing else." He examined them, his cool eyes lingering on James. "What do you say lads?"
"Yes sir. Yes Master," was the hushed response.
"The Warden'll chain you up. Orderly fashion, like. Tallest first – you." He used Cracker to point at Baden, who stepped forward with eyes like saucers. Cracker then paused him by pointing into Baden's shoulder. "Nice coat. You rich?"
"Um -," Baden gulped.
"Take it off. C'mon, take it off. Hang it on Cracker."
"What?! What did you just say?" Gideon Stickles' voice dropped ominously, along with his brows.
Baden had enough sense not to speak again. He slowly removed his expensive wool coat and draped it over Cracker, held horizontally like a clothes horse. The cane then swung towards the Warden, who eyed the prize suspended on it.
"There you go, Ward. Tip for your troubles. Should do well down the market. Now – chain these boys up."
One by one, the Warden bound their ankles with one length of connected chain, the section between each boy long enough that it was required to be held off the ground by the owner, and which was ultimately connected to the first boy standing outside their cell in a chain possessing at least six others – James recognised them from the Refectory. They gazed at him and his cellmates with such deep resignation that James' heart sank to new depths, and he wondered if his very boots might fill with sorrow.
He was behind Baden, whom he noticed was shivering, but whether it was from cold that he was now down to his waistcoat and fine cotton shirt, or fear, he wasn't sure. Behind him were the other juvenile inmates, linked like fish on a long-line, and every bit as hopeless.
Above them came the sounds of prisoners in their galleried cells, banging and calling, some were crying. One hollered in a croaky voice: "Drown 'em! Drown 'em like mangy cats! Thievin' little beggars!" And another cried: "Take me with you! Take me! Take me!" James saw Master Stickles' frown deepen and his mouth tilt sourly as he strode to the front of the gang. He glared up at the cells and shouted:
"Shut your filthy maggot traps! There's no hope for you lot – the worms in hell would spit on you. Crawl back in your holes!"
This was received with an uproar of foul-mouthed objection and Stickles smirked. "They was all like you once," he said to his line of captives. "Ain't you lucky. Now follow me."
From there, the gang was led through the dank corridors of Newgate and, as Stickles approached the iron-studded front gate with its cross-hatched bars, the guard promptly undid the bolts and swung it open. "Nice to see yer, Gideon," muttered the guard, and Stickles doffed his hat.
From the dimness of the prison interior to the brightness of a London morning, the boys were led in a shuffle to the street, where there awaited a horse-drawn black carriage, its narrow windows barred. The driver alighted and opened a pair of doors at the back and dropped a step, and Stickles motioned for the gang to get inside. One by one, they climbed up and sat on hard benches within, five along one side, and five on the other. The coachman slammed shut the doors, and James could hear them being bolted from the outside, then there was a slight rocking as both the driver and Stickles mounted the box seat at the front.
There was a small window in the door and James' gaze was drawn to it, to the glimpses of crowded, noisy London streetlife going about its business. He felt desolation at the separation that now existed between he and those citizens, those freemen and women, their carelessness at his fate. The wheels creaked and the horses snorted as the coachman gee'd them into motion and James watched the scene outside draw away.
Then he glimpsed something that made him frown and blink. Outside, against the wall of Newgate, near the door they had just exited, was a wooden platform. He hadn't noticed it when they'd left – how that was possible he couldn't imagine because he recognized it instantly. The gallows. And suspended from the long timber crossbeam by a rope around his neck, hung the body of a man, slowly swinging.
The sight of it made him launch to his feet. There hadn't been a hanging at the Old Bailey in decades, they'd learnt about that at school, how could it be? He struggled to get closer to the window to look, causing the other boys to complain and the carriage to rock slightly, and as Stickles pounded the roof of the carriage with Cracker, James stared out through the bars.
But it was gone. Vanished.
"Gallows!" he said, and pointed. "I saw the gallows! There was a man…hanging…"
"Siddown!" said Tomtom, who'd been behind him and jerked on their connecting chain. "There ain't no gallows no more, you just got the jitters. Sit."
"Think I'd rather the gallows than where we're going," said one of the other boys dully.
James returned to his place, blinking, confused. It had been so clear. And all along his arms rose goosebumps.