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- Yollop - 4/15 -
if I keep this pistol pointed at you. Now we 'll do a little maneuvering. You may remain seated where you are. However, I must ask you to pull out the two lower drawers in the desk,--one on either side of where your knees go. You will find them quite empty and fairly commodious. Now, put your right foot in the drawer on this side and your left foot in the other one--yes, I know it's quite a stretch, but I dare say you can manage it. Sort of recalls the old days when evil-doers were put in the stocks, doesn't it? They seem to be quite a snug fit, don't they? If it is as difficult for you to extricate your feet from those drawers as it was to insert them, I fancy I'm pretty safe from a sudden and impulsive dash in my direction. Rather bright idea of mine, eh?"
"I'm beginnin' to change my opinion of you," announced Mr. Smilk.
Mr. Yollop pushed a big unholstered library chair up to the opposite side of the desk and, after several awkward attempts, succeeded in sitting down, tailor fashion, with his feet neatly tucked away beneath him.
"I wasn't quite sure I could do it," said he, rather proudly. "I suppose my feet will go to sleep in a very short time, but I am assuming, Cassius, that you are too much of a gentleman to attack a man whose feet are asleep."
"I wouldn't even attack you if they were snoring," said Cassius, grinning in spite of himself. "Say, this certainly beats anything I've ever come up against. If one of my pals was to happen to look in here right now and see me with my feet in these drawers and you squattin' on yours,--well, I can't help laughin' myself, and God knows I hate to."
"You were saying a little while ago," said Mr. Yollop, shifting his position slightly, "that you rather fancy the idea of being arrested. Isn't that a little quixotic, Mr. Smilk?"
"I mean to say, do you expect me to believe you when you say you relish being arrested?"
"I don't care a whoop whether you believe it or not. It's true."
"Have you no fear of the law?"
"Bless your heart, sir, I don't know how I'd keep body and soul together if it wasn't for the law. If people would only let the law alone, I'd be one of the happiest guys on earth. But, damn 'em, they won't let it alone. First, they put their heads together and frame up this blasted parole game on us. Just about the time we begin to think we're comfortably settled up the river, 'long cmes some doggone home-wrecker and gets us out on parole. Then we got to go to work and begin all over again. Sometimes, the way things are nowadays, it takes months to get back into the pen again. We got to live, ain't we? We got to eat, ain't we? Well, there you are. Why can't they leave us alone instead of drivin' us out into a cold, unfeelin' world where we got to either steal or starve to death? There wouldn't be one tenth as much stealin' and murderin' as there is if they didn't force us into it. Why, doggone it, I've seen some of the most cruel and pitiful sights you ever heard of up there at Sing Sing. Fellers leadin' a perfectly honest life suddenly chucked out into a world full of vice and iniquity and forced--absolutely forced,--into a life of crime. There they were, livin' a quiet, peaceful life, harmin' nobody, and bing! they wake up some mornin' and find themselves homeless. Do you realize what that means, Mr. Strumpet? It means--"
"Yollop, if you please."
"It means they got to go out and slug some innocent citizen, some poor guy that had nothing whatever to do with drivin' them out, and then if they happen to be caught they got to go through with all the uncertainty of a trial by jury, never knowin' but what some pin-headed juror will stick out for acquittal and make it necessary to go through with it all over again. And more than that, they got to listen to the testimony of a lot of policemen, and their own derned fool lawyers, tryin' to deprive them of their bread and butter, and the judge's instructions that nobody pays any attention to except the shorthand reporter,--and them just settin' there sort of helpless and not even able to say a word in their own behalf because the law says they're innocent till they're proved guilty,-- why, I tell you, Mr. Dewlap, it's heart-breakin'. And all because some weak-minded smart aleck gets them paroled. As I was sayin', the law's all right if it wasn't for the people that abuse it."
"This is most interesting," said Mr. Yollop. "I've never quite understood why ninety per cent of the paroled convicts go back to the penitentiary so soon after they've been liberated."
"Of course," explained Mr. Smilk, "there are a few that don't get back. That's because, in their anxiety to make good, they get killed by some inexperienced policeman who catches 'em comin' out of somebody's window or--"
"By the way, Cassius, let me interrupt you. Will you have a cigar? Nice, pleasant way to pass an hour or two--beg pardon?"
"I was only sayin', if you don't mind I'll take one of these cigarettes. Cigars are a little too heavy for me."
"I have some very light grade domestic--"
"I don't mean in quality. I mean in weight. What's the sense of wastin' a lot of strength holding a cigar in your mouth when it requires no effort at all to smoke a cigarette? Why, I got it all figured out scientifically. With the same amount of energy you expend in smokin' one cigar you could smoke between thirty and forty cigarettes, and being sort of gradual, you wouldn't begin to feel half as fatigued as if you--"
"Did I understand you to say 'scientifically', or was it satirically?"
"I'm tryin' to use common, every-day words, Mr. Shallop," said Mr. Smilk, with dignity, "and I wish you'd do the same."
"Ahem! Well, light up, Cassius. I think I'll smoke a cigar. When you get through with the matches, push 'em over this way, will you? Help yourself to those chocolate creams. There's a pound box of them at your elbow, Oassius. I eat a great many. They're supposed to be fattening. Help yourself." After lighting his cigar Mr. Yollop inquired: "By the way, since you speak so feelingly I gather that you are a paroled convict."
"That's what I am. And the worst of it is, it ain't my first offense. I mean it ain't the first time I've been paroled. To begin with, when I was somewhat younger than I am now, I was twice turned loose by judges on what they call 'suspended sentences.' Then I was sent up for two years for stealin' something or other,--I forgot just what it was. I served my time and a little later on went up again for three years for holdin' up a man over in Brooklyn. Well, I got paroled out inside of two years, and for nearly six months I had to report to the police ever' so often. Every time I reported I had my pockets full of loot I'd snitched durin' the month, stuff the bulls were lookin' for in every pawn-shop in town, but to save my soul I couldn't somehow manage to get myself caught with the goods on me. Say, I'd give two years off of my next sentence if I could cross my legs for five or ten minutes. This is gettin' worse and worse all the--"
"You might try putting your left foot in the right hand drawer and your right foot in the other one," suggested Mr. Yollop.
Mr. Smilk stared. "I've seen a lot of kidders in my time, but you certainly got 'em all skinned to death," said he.
Mr. Yollop puffed reflectively for awhile, pondering the situation. "Well, suppose you remove one foot at a time, Cassius. As soon it is fairly well rested, put it back again and then take the other one out for a spell,--and so on. Half a loaf is better than no loaf at all."
Smilk withdrew his left foot from its drawer and sighed gratefully.
"As I was sayin'," he resumed, "if we could only put some kind of a curb on these here tender-hearted boobs--and boobesses--the world would be a much better place to live in. The way it is now, nine tenths of the fellers up in Sing Sing never know when they'll have to pack up and leave, and it's a constant strain on the nerves, I tell you. There seems to be a well-organized movement to interfere with the personal liberty of criminals, Mr. Poppup. These here sentimental reformers take it upon themselves to say whether a feller shall stay in prison or not. First, they come up there and pick out some poor helpless feller and say 'it's a crime to keep a good-lookin', intelligent boy like you in prison, so we're going to get you out on parole and make an honest, upright citizen of you. We're going to get you a nice job',--and so on and so forth. Well, before he knows it, he's out and has to put up a bluff of workin' for a livin'. Course, he just has to go to stealin' again. It makes him sore when he thinks of the good, honest life he was leadin' up there in the pen, with nothin' to worry about, satisfactory hours, plenty to eat, and practically divorced from his wife without havin' to go through the mill. If my calculations are correct, more than fifty per cent of the crime that's bein' committed these days is the work of paroled convicts who depended on the law to protect and support them for a given period of time. And does the law protect them? It does not. It allows a lot of pinheads to interfere with it, and what's the answer? A lot of poor devils are forced to go out and risk their lives tryin' to--"
"Just a moment, please," interrupted Mr. Yollop. "You are talking a trifle too fast, Cassius. Moderate your speed a little. Before we go any further, I would like to be set straight on one point. Do you mean to tell me that you actually prefer being in prison?"
"Well, now, that's a difficult question to answer," mused Mr. Smilk. "Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. It's sort of like being married, I suppose. Sometimes you're glad you're married and sometimes you wish to God you wasn't. Course, I've only been married three or four times, and I've been in the pen six times, one place or another, so I guess I'm not what you'd call an unbiased witness. I seem to have a leanin' toward jail,--about three to one in favor of jail, you might say, with the odds likely to be increased pretty shortly if all goes well. Do you mind if I change drawers?"
"Eh! Oh, I see. Go ahead."
Mr. Smilk put his right foot back into its drawer and withdrew the left.
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