Chapter 10: Prison Visit

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Father Simmons greeted the constable with a cheery smile.  "Good afternoon to you Inspector!"

"Good afternoon to you Father.  What can I be doing for you?"

"Well, it seems a poor girl of my flock has gotten herself involved in a misunderstanding Inspector.  Charlotte Caprice - would you be knowing her?"

"Aye, I know of her.  She's been charged with theft with intent to defraud, Father.  I'm sorry to hear that she's a Cath-o-lic, but then, it stands to reason, don't it?"

The priest peered at the constable uncertainly.  "I'm not sure I understand what you mean Inspector."

"Well, it stands to reason that a thieving, conniving member of the underclass would come from the ranks of such as your like, Father Simmons.  I mean, it would hardly be that a respectable member of His Majesty's Church of England, would demean themselves in the manner of stooping to deceit, treachery and theft now, would it?  Not against one's own countryman surely.  It's not as if one of ours would be as daft as to bite the hand of the one who feeds him - or her, as in this case hey?"

For a moment, Father Simmons stood stupefied by the constable's words.  Then recovering, he replied, "Rarely have I met Inspector, a man of such tremendous and overwhelming ignorance as yourself.  Against the sheer scale of bigotry such as you yourself exhibit, I am not sure that any response I might make would likely make any impression on you, would it?"  

Now it was the constable's turn to stare in confusion, offering no protest as the taller man entered the gaol and found his way to Charlotte's cell.

"Father Simmons!  I didn't do it Father!  I didn't, I swear it.  I don't know how it got into my trunk, but you must believe me.  I didn't put it there!"

"Hush child.  I DO believe you.  There are more eddies in that household swamp of Lamerton Manor, than there are flies in a pigsty in summer.  Aye and that's the truth of it!"

"Nobody will listen to me!  Oh Father," she sobbed as her face cracked with emotion, "what will happen to me?"

Father Simmons watched the girl struggle to overcome the onslaught of emotion and anxiety that threatened to overtake her.  In an effort of great self-control and grim determination, her face reassembled into its normal lines.  Anger breathed new life into her green eyes and translucent skin.  "The constable takes great delight in the prospect of my imminent death which he assures me is my inevitable punishment.  He says I will hang for sure and certain.  Sadie Clements was hanged last spring - and that was only for stealing two of Farmer Jenkins' chickens."   A short pause followed.  "Oh well, I imagine the theft of a ruby necklace will merit me greater notoriety in the law books than a few paltry chickens!  Don't you think so Father?"  She began to giggle - quietly at first and then, with accelerated gusto, her laughter descending into the mad hysteria of the quite shocked and mentally imbalanced.

"Charlotte", the priest whispered, perhaps more to himself than to her, for he was quite sure that her mind had moved beyond him for the moment, "don't despair.  I promise you, before God, that I will do everything in my power to save you."  And then, Father Sean Simmons did something he would never have believed possible of himself.  He struck her with an open palm.  Her head snapped back, her eyes clear and focused now, though hurt and bewildered too.

"Why did I do that Charlotte?  That's what you want to know don't you?  Don't lose it now Charlotte.  Gaol is a brutal place, not meant for the likes of children like you.  But you're strong girl.  You've endured the death of mother, father and sister.  You've seen suffering and you've known hunger, neglect and downright abuse.  But . . . . gaol is something else again child.  I know, because . . . I've been in prison before too.  Don't look so shocked.  First lesson:  never assume you know anyone.  Second lesson:  don't trust anyone either.  You've got to be tougher than everyone else.  I don't mean you have to be meaner.  You have to be able to take whatever is dished out without it breaking your spirit.  This is not the end for you Charlotte Caprice.  You are going to go on, grow into womanhood, make your own mistakes, love and be loved."

The fierceness of his own voice surprised him.  How did this child find her way so into his heart?  He turned to leave.  She rushed for him then and hugged his tall frame with all her might. 

"All right Charlotte, that will do."  He gently pushed her away and closed the cell door behind him.

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