When Last I Died

Chapter One


But thou, whose pen hath like a pack-horse served, Whose stomach unto gall hath turned thy food, Whose senses, like poor prisoners, hunger-starved, Whose grief hath parched thy body, dried thy blood....


THE lunch had consisted of sausage-meat roll, diced swede and mashed potatoes; these covered with thick floury gravy and followed by tinned plums and custard. The boys had consumed the first course in three minutes, the second in one and a half, and still, to Mrs. Bradley's possibly prejudiced eye—for she had nephews, great-nephews and, now that Ferdinand was married, a grandson—they retained a wolfish aspect which depressed her. Her notions on diet, she informed the Warden, when he canvassed her opinion of the menu, were, she thought, about a century out of date.

The Warden wisely decided to treat this reply as a witticism, and as he was essentially a serious-minded man the subject of conversation languished. Grace, which had, to Mrs. Bradley's embarrassment, preceded the meal, now, with suitable grammatical adjustments, indicated its conclusion, and, with remarkable orderliness and very little noise, the boys filed out except for one child who re-seated himself and continued to eat.

"What on earth is he doing?" said the Warden. He raised his voice. "Dinnie!" The boy, with a regretful glance at his plate, stood up. "Why haven't you finished?"


"Why haven't you finished? Come up here." The boy approached with considerable reluctance. "And step up smartly when you're called. Don't you know we have a visitor?"

"Yes, sir." He shot a half-glance at Mrs. Bradley, contemptuously, she thought.

"Well, where are your manners? Now, then, answer my question."

"It would only have gone into the swill-tub for the pigs," said the boy, in an almost inaudible voice. He had dark red hair and brown eyes flecked with lighter specks so that it seemed as though the sun danced on a trout stream. His brows slanted in an alarmingly Mephistophelean manner, and he had a wide mouth set in a grim jaw. The Americans, with their flair for good-humoured expressiveness, would have dubbed him a tough citizen, thought Mrs. Bradley, for whom bad boys had academic and occasionally—for she was a woman—sentimental interest.

They were all bad boys at the Institution. The Government, with one of those grandmotherly inspirations which are the dread and bane of progressive educationists, had decreed, some ten years previously, that its theories with regard to the preventive detention of delinquent children were a long way out of date, and were to be re-stated in accordance with the facts so far gleaned by child-guidance clinics.

Mrs. Bradley, among other psychologists, had been called into consultation, but her simple suggestion was that delinquent children, who, like delinquent adults, can be divided into those brands which can be snatched from the burning and those which, unfortunately, cannot, should (literally) be killed or cured. The former treatment was to be painless, the latter drastic. This view was received without enthusiasm by the authorities and was treated, even by the Press, with reserve.

Now, ten years later, she had been called in again; not (be it stated hastily to those who retain the uncivilized view that human life is necessarily sacred) to assist in translating her theory into fact, but because, strangely enough, the Government had discovered that the new methods in preventive detention had again sprung a leak and badly needed plugging.

Why they should have called into consultation one with whose thought upon the subject they would be bound to disagree, not even Mrs. Bradley herself could say, well-versed though she was in morbid psychology, but she had answered the summons as a good democrat should, promptly and