Mr. Paige, who found the stimulus of Port Arthur exactly suited to him, apologized to Noll because the place was only twenty-seven years old. But there were seven hundred graves on Dead Island, and an enormous occupancy of the asylum—a charming building, and he hoped Oliver liked the clock-tower—and all this should surely count for something, protested Mr. Paige. O'Hara Booth, he explained, feeling very much at one with that intrepid gentleman, O'Hara Booth, commandant for eleven years in the early days, was the outstanding personality of the settlement. He had discovered the plan of setting each man at the job he could do best. Architects to design and raise the buildings; tinsmiths, farriers, workers in the night school, boat-builders, cooks …"He found chaos and left a civilization. Or, if you prefer to put it so, he was the first to come through the horses, and a gigantic task that must have been with seven thousand men at a time."
Oliver did not care how Mr. Paige put it. Port Arthur with its blue bay circled by little tapering hills and shining bush; with its low pretty houses sunk in almost tropical gardens, its stately avenues of English trees, its pleasant songs of birds and swathes of sunlight, was really charming. Even to the most brutalized man going with chained and straddling feet to his work in the quarries or on the cultivated slopes it must be nearer heaven than the fetid English hulks.
"Aha! not always." Mr. Paige looked sly; took him with zest up a steep yellow road beside grey sagging timber buildings which had housed the prisoners before a great stone block of stores on the beach had become the penitentiary; introduced him past high walls and warders with keys to unlock heavy doors, and so into the Model Prison.
"Shocking horrors have occurred here," said Mr. Paige, page 216evidently much stimulated in the musty shadows. "Men have died in the Dumb Cell. The asylum is principally supplied from it. Aw … observe the clever arrangement here for solitary confinement." The corridors went off from the centre like spokes of a wheel. There were little wedge-shaped high-walled yards bristling with iron spikes wherein each prisoner (masked) took exercise. There was a chapel into which each prisoner (masked) was separately conducted, to be locked in a kind of cupboard: "So that during the service he could see but the parson and his … aw … God," said Mr. Paige, impressively.
Oliver wondered what that God looked like to the prisoned men and refused to inspect the Dumb Cell (which was also a Blind Cell) although it was empty. "It usually is empty," regretted Mr. Paige. "The fellows here now are all old lags who've had their lesson. Most of them appear to see the error of their ways."
Judging by those furtive smug restrained faces everywhere, Oliver guessed that what these old lags saw was the way to trick their jailers. Mr. Paige was certainly tricked, and so enthusiastic about the system that he had almost lost his languor. "Brisked up," old Nurse was used to say. Mr. Paige was very much brisked up, and Oliver did not like him the better. It would be well to retrieve Mr. Paige as soon as might be.
"Of course you won't remain here after your marriage," he said.
"Most certainly I shall. I find a stimulus, a realization of the value of perfect discipline on men's bodies and … aw … on a body of men, if you will allow the quip," said Mr. Paige, archly. The dank prison smell was now shut in behind them by clanging doors and they stood in the low bush by the reservoir. "There goes a gang of fifty to the quarry, with only five warders. We are deuced short-handed now, you know, and the warders could be overpowered in a minute. But the men don't dare. We have them cowed. All the camps are run so now. Timber-getters, coal-miners, road-makers, invalid-depôts throughout the peninsula. But are there any attempts at escape of violence? No. We have the rascals cowed. That," said Mr. Paige, with conviction, "is the way to handle men. Cow them."page 217
"I should have said you dogged them. What of the string of dogs between Eaglehawk Neck and the mainland?"
"They are merely a detail. I am speaking of principles." Mr. Paige looked at his watch. "I find I am about due at a … aw … a flogging. You would wish to see it?"
Oliver thought he might as well. "Part of the show," he said. But what he really wished to observe were Mr. Paige's reactions during the business. Seeing that he meant to make the fellow support him for the rest of his life, it was well to know the worst of him, thought Oliver (who knew that he could have gone to the guillotine even more delightfully than his ancestress and was feeling his aristocratic gorge rising just now). He did not care for skimming his emotions off other people, which seemed to be this fellow's only method of procuring them, and he had always avoided floggings, even while knowing that the ordinary magisterial affairs were not a circumstance to these.
"An excellent situation for a garden-party," he said when they stood on the green lawn by a brattling stream and watched the triangles being set up against a yellow wall lined with flowers. Mr. Paige explained that all Port Arthur seemed laid out for garden-parties and the officers' ladies did their best about it. They were giving Jenny a garden-party to-morrow. "And on that slope the hospital sick and the tractable lunatics are lined up to watch the flogging. A splendid deterrent," he said, and for the moment Oliver thought he was going to rub his hands.
The hospital sick sat stolidly on the slope, but Oliver had no doubt that they were wagering on the result—nuggets of square-fig, pinches of tea, any valuables the poor wretches might have. They will get their fun somehow, he thought, as the principal actor, just marched down from the dark Model Prison, blinked owlishly in the strong light. Oliver felt his skin crawl as the fellow was stripped and spread-eagled and the flagellator cleared the knotted cat-o'nine-tail thongs with his horny fingers.
"Back here for the third time. He'll die here," said Paige. He gave Noll the record. Bush-ranging, stealing, incendiarism, escape from military pursuit on a blood racer stolen from Beverley of Tingvalley, attempted burglary of Connorville. Surprised, Oliver re-heard these tales of his youth. So this was the famous Little page 218Bunt, forgotten for so long: this small old, old bent man with grey hairs on his fibrous sunken chest, a grey crafty light in his sunken eyes.
Mr. Paige gave the signal and Oliver found the result sufficiently unpleasant. Little Bunt apparently knew what would please Mr. Paige, what was expected of him by his backers. He was at first very silent, and then very noisy …
"And now we will go and see my little Jenny," cried Paige, gaily, as Little Bunt, bleeding and moaning, was carried back to the prison.
"Good God!" said Oliver. "Don't you want to wash first?"
Mr. Paige examined his military person closely, expressed surprise. "No blood has splashed me," he said.