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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 61)


Cowperwood did so, The former adjusted the weights and scanned the record carefully.

"Weight, one hundred and seventy-five," he called. "Now step over here."

He indicated a spot in the side wall where was fastened in a thin slat-which ran from the floor to about seven and one half feet above, perpendicularly-a small movable wooden indicator, which, when a man was standing under it, could be pressed down on his head. At the side of the slat were the total inches of height, laid off in halves, quarters, eighths, and so on, and to the right a length measurement for the arm. Cowperwood understood what was wanted and stepped under the indicator, standing quite straight.

"Feet level, back to the wall," urged the attendant. "So. Height, five feet nine and ten-sixteenths," he called. The clerk in the corner noted it. He now produced a tape-measure and began measuring Cowperwood's arms, legs, chest, waist, hips, etc. He called out the color of his eyes, his hair, his mustache, and, looking into his mouth, exclaimed, "Teeth, all sound."

After Cowperwood had once more given his address, age, profession, whether he knew any trade, etc.-which he did not-he was allowed to return to the bathroom, and put on the clothing which the prison provided for him-first the rough, prickly underwear, then the cheap soft roll-collar, white-cotton shirt, then the thick bluish-gray cotton socks of a quality such as he had never worn in his life, and over these a pair of indescribable rough-leather clogs, which felt to his feet as though they were made of wood or iron-oily and heavy. He then drew on the shapeless, baggy trousers with their telltale stripes, and over his arms and chest the loose-cut shapeless coat and waistcoat. He felt and knew of course that he looked very strange, wretched. And as he stepped out into the overseer's room again he experienced a peculiar sense of depression, a gone feeling which before this had not assailed him and which now he did his best to conceal. This, then, was what society did to the criminal, he thought to himself. It took him and tore away from his body and his life the habiliments of his proper state and left him these. He felt sad and grim, and, try as he would-he could not help showing it for a moment. It was always his business and his intention to conceal his real feelings, but now it was not quite possible. He felt degraded, impossible, in these clothes, and he knew that he looked it. Nevertheless, he did his best to pull himself together and look unconcerned, willing, obedient, considerate of those above him. After all, he said to himself, it was all a play of sorts, a dream even, if one chose to view it so, a miasma even, from which, in the course of time and with a little luck one might emerge safely enough. He hoped so. It could not last. He was only acting a strange, unfamiliar part on the stage, this stage of life that he knew so well.

Kendall did not waste any time looking at him, however. He merely said to his assistant, "See if you can find a cap for him," and the latter, going to a closet containing numbered shelves, took down a cap-a high-crowned, straight-visored, shabby, striped affair which Cowperwood was asked to try on. It fitted well enough, slipping down close over his ears, and he thought that now his indignities must be about complete. What could be added? There could be no more of these disconcerting accoutrements. But he was mistaken. "Now, Kuby, you take him to Mr. Chapin," said Kendall.

Kuby understood. He went back into the wash-room and produced what Cowperwood had heard of but never before seen-a blue-and-white-striped cotton bag about half the length of an ordinary pillow-case and half again as wide, which Kuby now unfolded and shook out as he came toward him. It was a custom. The use of this hood, dating from the earliest days of the prison, was intended to prevent a sense of location and direction and thereby obviate any attempt to escape. Thereafter during all his stay he was not supposed to walk with or talk to or see another prisonerЦ not even to converse with his superiors, unless addressed. It was a grim theory, and yet one definitely enforced here, although as he was to learn later even this could be modified here.

"You'll have to put this on," Kuby said, and opened it in such a way that it could be put over Cowperwood's head.

Cowperwood understood. He had heard of it in some way, in times past. He was a little shocked-looked at it first with a touch of real surprise, but a moment after lifted his hands and helped pull it down.

"Never mind," cautioned the guard, "put your hands down. I'll get it over."

Cowperwood dropped his arms. When it was fully on, it came to about his chest, giving him little means of seeing anything. He felt very strange, very humiliated, very downcast. This simple thing of a blue-and-white striped bag over his head almost cost him his sense of self-possession. Why could not they have spared him this last indignity, he thought?

"This way," said his attendant, and he was led out to where he could not say.

"If you hold it out in front you can see to walk," said his guide; and Cowperwood pulled it out, thus being able to discern his feet and a portion of the floor below. He was thus conducted-seeing nothing in his transit-down a short walk, then through a long corridor, then through a room of uniformed guards, and finally up a narrow flight of iron steps, leading to the overseer's office on the second floor of one of the two-tier blocks. There, he heard the voice of Kuby saying: "Mr. Chapin, here's another prisoner for you from Mr. Kendall."

"I'll be there in a minute," came a peculiarly pleasant voice from the distance. Presently a big, heavy hand closed about his arm, and he was conducted still further.

"You hain't got far to go now," the voice said, "and then I'll take that bag off," and Cowperwood felt for some reason a sense of sympathy, perhaps-as though he would choke. The further steps were not many.

A cell door was reached and unlocked by the inserting of a great iron key. It was swung open, and the same big hand guided him through. A moment later the bag was pulled easily from his head, and he saw that he was in a narrow, whitewashed cell, rather dim, windowless, but lighted from the top by a small skylight of frosted glass three and one half feet long by four inches wide. For a night light there was a tin-bodied lamp swinging from a hook near the middle of one of the side walls. A rough iron cot, furnished with a straw mattress and two pairs of dark blue, probably unwashed blankets, stood in one corner. There was a hydrant and small sink in another. A small shelf occupied the wall opposite the bed. A plain wooden chair with a homely round back stood at the foot of the bed, and a fairly serviceable broom was standing in one corner. There was an iron stool or pot for excreta, giving, as he could see, into a large drain-pipe which ran along the inside wall, and which was obviously flushed by buckets of water being poured into it. Rats and other vermin infested this, and it gave off an unpleasant odor which filled the cell. The floor was of stone. Cowperwood's clear-seeing eyes took it all in at a glance. He noted the hard cell door, which was barred and cross-barred with great round rods of steel, and fastened with a thick, highly polished lock. He saw also that beyond this was a heavy wooden door, which could shut him in even more completely than the iron one. There was no chance for any clear, purifying sunlight here. Cleanliness depended entirely on whitewash, soap and water and sweeping, which in turn depended on the prisoners themselves.

He also took in Chapin, the homely, good-natured, cell overseer whom he now saw for the first time-a large, heavy, lumbering man, rather dusty and misshapen-looking, whose uniform did not fit him well, and whose manner of standing made him look as though he would much prefer to sit down. He was obviously bulky, but not strong, and his kindly face was covered with a short growth of grayish-brown whiskers. His hair was cut badly and stuck out in odd strings or wisps from underneath his big cap. Nevertheless, Cowperwood was not at all unfavorably impressed-quite the contrary-and he felt at once that this man might be more considerate of him than the others had been. He hoped so, anyhow. He did not know that he was in the presence of the overseer of the "manners squad," who would have him in charge for two weeks only, instructing him in the rules of the prison, and that he was only one of twenty-six, all told, who were in Chapin's care.

That worthy, by way of easy introduction, now went over to the bed and seated himself on it. He pointed to the hard wooden chair, which Cowperwood drew out and sat on.

"Well, now you're here, hain't yuh?" he asked, and answered himself quite genially, for he was an unlettered man, generously disposed, of long experience with criminals, and inclined to deal kindly with kindly temperament and a form of religious belief-Quakerism-had inclined him to be merciful, and yet his official duties, as Cowperwood later found out, seemed to have led him to the conclusion that most criminals were innately bad. Like Kendall, he regarded them as weaklings and ne'er-do-wells with evil streaks in them, and in the main he was not mistaken. Yet he could not help being what he was, a fatherly, kindly old man, having faith in those shibboleths of the weak and inexperienced mentally-human justice and human decency.

"Yes, I'm here, Mr. Chapin," Cowperwood replied, simply, remembering his name from the attendant, and flattering the keeper by the use of it.

To old Chapin the situation was more or less puzzling. This was the famous Frank A. Cowperwood whom he had read about, the noted banker and treasury-looter. He and his co-partner in crime, Stener, were destined to serve, as he had read, comparatively long terms here. Five hundred thousand dollars was a large sum of money in those days, much more than five million would have been forty years later. He was awed by the thought of what had become of it-how Cowperwood managed to do all the things the papers had said he had done. He had a little formula of questions which he usually went through with each new prisoner-asking him if he was sorry now for the crime he had committed, if he meant to do better with a new chance, if his father and mother were alive, etc.; and by the manner in which they answered these questions-simply, regretfully, defiantly, or otherwise-he judged whether they were being adequately punished or not. Yet he could not talk to Cowperwood as he now saw or as he would to the average second-story burglar, store-looter, pickpocket, and plain cheap thief and swindler. And yet he scarcely knew how else to talk.

"Well, now," he went on, "I don't suppose you ever thought you'd get to a place like this, did you, Mr. Cowperwood?"

"I never did," replied Frank, simply. "I wouldn't have believed it a few months ago, Mr. Chapin. I don't think I deserve to be here now, though of course there is no use of my telling you that."

He saw that old Chapin wanted to moralize a little, and he was only too glad to fall in with his mood. He would soon be alone with no one to talk to perhaps, and if a sympathetic understanding could be reached with this man now, so much the better. Any port in a storm; any straw to a drowning man.

"Well, no doubt all of us makes mistakes," continued Mr. Chapin, superiorly, with an amusing faith in his own value as a moral guide and reformer. "We can't just always tell how the plans we think so fine are coming out, can we? You're here now, an' I suppose you're sorry certain things didn't come out just as you thought; but if you had a chance I don't suppose you'd try to do just as you did before, now would yuh?"

"No, Mr. Chapin, I wouldn't, exactly," said Cowperwood, truly enough, "though I believed I was right in everything I did. I don't think legal justice has really been done me."

"Well, that's the way," continued Chapin, meditatively, scratching his grizzled head and looking genially about. "Sometimes, as I allers says to some of these here young fellers that comes in here, we don't know as much as we thinks we does. We forget that others are just as smart as we are, and that there are allers people that are watchin' us all the time. These here courts and jails and detectives-they're here all the time, and they get us. I gad"Ц Chapin's moral version of "by God"-"they do, if we don't behave."

"Yes," Cowperwood replied, "that's true enough, Mr. Chapin."

"Well," continued the old man after a time, after he had made a few more solemn, owl-like, and yet well-intentioned remarks, "now here's your bed, and there's your chair, and there's your wash-stand, and there's your water-closet. Now keep 'em all clean and use 'em right." (You would have thought he was making Cowperwood a present of a fortune.) "You're the one's got to make up your bed every mornin' and keep your floor swept and your toilet flushed and your cell clean. There hain't anybody here'll do that for yuh. You want to do all them things the first thing in the mornin' when you get up, and afterward you'll get sumpin' to eat, about six-thirty. You're supposed to get up at five-thirty."

"Yes, Mr. Chapin," Cowperwood said, politely. "You can depend on me to do all those things promptly."

"There hain't so much more," added Chapin. "You're supposed to wash yourself all over once a week an' I'll give you a clean towel for that. Next you gotta wash this floor up every Friday mornin'." Cowperwood winced at that. "You kin have hot water for that if you want it. I'll have one of the runners bring it to you. An' as for your friends and relations"-he got up and shook himself like a big Newfoundland dog. "You gotta wife, hain't you?"

"Yes," replied Cowperwood.

"Well, the rules here are that your wife or your friends kin come to see you once in three months, and your lawyer-you gotta lawyer hain't yuh?"

"Yes, sir," replied Cowperwood, amused.

"Well, he kin come every week or so if he likes-every day, I guess-there hain't no rules about lawyers. But you kin only write one letter once in three months yourself, an' if you want anything like tobaccer or the like o' that, from the store-room, you gotta sign an order for it, if you got any money with the warden, an' then I can git it for you."

The old man was really above taking small tips in the shape of money. He was a hold-over from a much more severe and honest regime, but subsequent presents or constant flattery were not amiss in making him kindly and generous. Cowperwood read him accurately.

"Very well, Mr. Chapin; I understand," he said, getting up as the old man did.

"Then when you have been here two weeks," added Chapin, rather ruminatively (he had forgot to state this to Cowperwood before), "the warden 'll come and git yuh and give yuh yer regular cell summers down-stairs. Yuh kin make up yer mind by that time what y'u'd like tuh do, what y'u'd like to work at. If you behave yourself proper, more'n like they'll give yuh a cell with a yard. Yuh never can tell."

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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