A man can't, when he knows to the contrary.'
'Did any of the men sell their bedding for drink?'
'There is some mistake on that point too, sir. Men were under the impression--I knew it for a fact at the time--that it was not allowed to take blankets or bedding on board, and so men who had things of that sort came to sell them purposely.'
'Did any of the men sell their clothes for drink?'
'They did, sir.' (I believe there never was a more truthful witness than the sergeant. He had no inclination to make out a case.)
'Some, sir' (considering the question). 'Soldier-like. They had been long marching in the rainy season, by bad roads--no roads at all, in short--and when they got to Calcutta, men turned to and drank, before taking a last look at it. Soldier-like.'
'Do you see any men in this ward, for example, who sold clothes for drink at that time?'
The sergeant's wan eye, happily just beginning to rekindle with health, travelled round the place and came back to me. 'Certainly, sir.'
'The marching to Calcutta in the rainy season must have been severe?'
'It was very severe, sir.'
'Yet what with the rest and the sea air, I should have thought that the men (even the men who got drunk) would have soon begun to recover on board ship?'
'So they might; but the bad food told upon them, and when we got into a cold latitude, it began to tell more, and the men dropped.'
'The sick had a general disinclination for food, I am told, sergeant?'
'Have you seen the food, sir?'
'Some of it.'
'Have you seen the state of their mouths, sir?'
If the sergeant, who was a man of a few orderly words, had spoken the amount of this volume, he could not have settled that question better. I believe the sick could as soon have eaten the ship, as the ship's provisions.
I took the additional liberty with my friend Pangloss, when I had left the sergeant with good wishes, of asking Pangloss whether he had ever heard of biscuit getting drunk and bartering its nutritious qualities for putrefaction and vermin; of peas becoming hardened in liquor; of hammocks drinking themselves off the face of the earth; of lime-juice, vegetables, vinegar, cooking accommodation, water supply, and beer, all taking to drinking together and going to ruin? 'If not (I asked him), what did he say in defence of the officers condemned by the Coroner's jury, who, by signing the General Inspection report relative to the ship Great Tasmania, chartered for these troops, had deliberately asserted all that bad and poisonous dunghill refuse, to be good and wholesome food?' My official friend replied that it was a remarkable fact, that whereas some officers were only positively good, and other officers only comparatively better, those particular officers were superlatively the very best of all possible officers.
My hand and my heart fail me, in writing my record of this journey. The spectacle of the soldiers in the hospital-beds of that Liverpool workhouse (a very good workhouse, indeed, be it understood), was so shocking and so shameful, that as an Englishman I blush to remember it. It would have been simply unbearable at the time, but for the consideration and pity with which they were soothed in their sufferings.
No punishment that our inefficient laws provide, is worthy of the name when set against the guilt of this transaction. But, if the memory of it die out unavenged, and if it do not result in the inexorable dismissal and disgrace of those who are responsible for it, their escape will be infamous to the Government (no matter of what party) that so neglects its duty, and infamous to the nation that tamely suffers such intolerable wrong to be done in its name.
CHAPTER IX--CITY OF LONDON CHURCHES
If the confession that I have often travelled from this Covent Garden lodging of mine on Sundays, should give offence to those who never travel on Sundays, they will be satisfied (I hope) by my adding that the journeys in question were made to churches.
Not that I have any curiosity to hear powerful preachers.