Good evening ladies and gentlemen, tonight in our third installment of The Story So Far we would like to present you with an interesting retelling of Charles Dickens’ “A Visit to Newgate” using characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories with a quiet nod to George Orwell.
(I would have been slapped if I turned in another seven page story instead of four like we are specified to do, so I apologize for the brevity of this. I hope you still enjoy it though.)
The Prisoner at Newgate
“My dear Watson, I’m glad you’ve arrived. I have a favour to ask of you. There is a particular prisoner at Newgate that is in need of medical attention. I want you to attend to this man. I would normally accompany you, of course, but this sick man would likely make an attempt at murder at the very sight of me. If you go alone he will behave properly.”
Watson barely had time to remove his hat and coat when he entered the door before Sherlock Holmes addressed him. Watson shrugged his shoulders back into the folds of his damp coat that the rain had taken a fondness to on his walk back from the club. He stole a glance at the clock.
“Do you wish me to see the prisoner at this time of evening, Holmes?” Watson asked perplexed. Holmes didn’t even turn in his seat where he sat smoking his pipe in front of the fireplace. A considerable cloud of tobacco smoke clung to the air in the sitting room.
“Yes, Watson, I do. The man may be condemned, but he is not scheduled to meet his the moment of his death soon. I see no reason why he should be allowed to leave this earth before then. He should wait each agonizing day and hour until the allotted time that due justice is mete out. Please do this for me, Watson.”
“Very well, Holmes. I’m certain you must have your reasons that this can not wait until tomorrow. I’ll do as you ask.” Watson reached for the door to leave with his bag in hand. Holmes voice interrupted Watson’s movements once more, this time he turned to look at Watson.
“A word of warning my friend, this prisoner is cunning. He is not to be trusted no matter what he says to you. Be wary, and never take your eyes away from him. He is called James, and you’ll find him in the condemned ward.” With that said, Holmes turned back to face the fire and returned to his fervent smoking. The blue smoke coiled up along the walls and hung from the ceiling like clouds.
Watson hailed a hansom to take him the short distance between the apartment on Baker Street and Newgate prison on Newgate Street. Watson was accustomed to the wet and dreary London weather, so was not affected by the potential dampening of spirits the weather can cause. However, as soon as the dark building was in sight, Watson felt an inexplicable chill creep up his spine. The trip was short, and soon Watson’s feet were upon the cobbled street before Newgate Prison. As he was walking up to the entrance a feeble old woman stumbled against him. She recoiled in the dark and peered at him beneath the brim of a tattered straw bonnet, her eyes rimmed in red with permanent tear trails marking her gaunt cheeks.
“No use anymore, I don’t know why I keep trying. If her father had stuck around she wouldn’t have done what she did. Sell herself she did, on the streets. She doesn’t care that she hurts me, she doesn’t care that she’s done wrong.” The woman lamented hysterically before continuing on her way down the street.
Watson knocked on the door of the governor’s house, explained his undertaking to the officer on duty, and was lead through the heavy oaken gate to the murky stone passage which led to the yards. Watson could hear pitiable crying as they crossed the yard for the more upright individuals of the prison population and headed towards the press-yard. Not just from the women, but likely from the boys and young men as well. The cries were eerie in the moonless night coupled with the sound of the rain pelting the stone and steel construct of the prison.
The turnkey opened the gate for Watson and his escorting officer. They crossed the yard swiftly while the chilly rain battered against their shoulders. Once the officer reached the building he led Watson to a narrow stair-case and the two men climbed upwards to access the condemned cells. The lights were out in the two lower cells, but candle light shone from the third cell at the top of the stairs throughout the small passageway. A man was heard singing a children’s rhyme, his voice carried softly from the cell.
“Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s;
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells at St. Martin’s;
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey;
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch;
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney;
I’m sure I don’t know,
Says the Great Bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed;
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.”
The officer unlocked the cell for Watson to enter. The prisoner was sitting upright on a bed on the floor eyeing Watson with keen expectancy as he entered. The man imprisoned inside must have indeed been wealthy for he resided in relative comfort when compared to the rest of the prisoners. He had a mattress, with a pillow, and a few blankets in his possession, as well as books for his personal convenience. He was not chained down in manacles either. He was relatively clean, which was also evident by the basket with the soap and bathing supplies inside. Watson could spy the signs of fever on him though, in the pallor of the man’s face and the rosy-colored spots visible on the man’s chest through his loosely buttoned shirt. Typhoid. This was not a surprise to Watson considering the conditions that most of the prisoners lived in. The man seemed familiar to Watson, but he could not quite place where he had seen the prisoner before.
“Good evening, James.” Watson greeted the man, setting his bag down beside the bed. “I’m here to inspect you and do what I can to make certain you stay healthy.” Prisoners died all the time in Newgate, despite this Watson was determined to do as Holmes asked, even if the act of kindness seemed to be cruel at heart. Sherlock wanted this man healthy and able to face his fate meeting the lady Justice standing strong, not sickly in bed.
“Your aid is much appreciated Doctor, thank you.” James replied. The comment may have been intended as sarcastic by the look in the man’s eyes, but the tone of voice implied only congeniality and gentlemanly manners. Watson proceeded in helping James stand on his feet and examining him over.
“You seem to be fighting off the fever fairly well by keeping clean as you are. Your condition could be worse, but I recommend immersing yourself in a cold bath, and I’ll speak to the governor about getting you fresher food and water.” Watson proclaimed after looking James over thoroughly. “May I ask why you were singing that children’s song?” Watson inquired of James, who had remained compliant and helpful the entire time.
“I was merely pondering on simpler times in life, of moments lost in the past that can never be recovered.” James answered graciously. Freed from Watson’s inspection he sat himself back down upon his bed gingerly. Watson packed up his bag, making certain all of his supplies and tools were accounted for.
“Do you feel any qualms for the life you have led? I imagine that in your situation you must have time now to be more introspective concerning yourself and what have you done so far in this world.” Watson’s hand was nearing the cell door to leave but he looked at James, waiting for his reply. At this point James laughed, a deep and dark laugh, not one of mirth or good humour. His dark eyes, shining with fever, narrowed at Watson.
“You will not find me clinging to a bible in my final hours, sir. I will not be begging God to forgive me for my trespasses. There is only a single regret I suffer from, but God can not help me in easing it.” Watson’s hand faltered at the sound of sinister fervor in James’ voice. “My only regret is that I failed to kill Sherlock Holmes. Goodnight Watson. Please send my regards to Holmes, with reverential enmity, M.”
Thank you folks for tuning in, and until next time, that’s The Story So Far.