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Three Photographs
by [?]

“Photograph all the prisoners? But why?” demanded Sir Felix Felix-Williams. Old Canon Kempe shrugged his shoulders; Admiral Trewbody turned the pages of the Home Secretary’s letter. They sat at the baize-covered table in the Magistrates’ Room–the last of the Visiting Justices who met, under the old regime, to receive the Governor’s report and look after the welfare of the prisoners in Tregarrick County Gaol.

“But why, in the name of common-sense?” Sir Felix persisted.

“I suppose,” hazarded the Admiral, “it helps the police in identifying criminals.”

“But the letter says ‘all the prisoners.’ You don’t seriously tell me that anyone wants a photograph to identify Poacher Tresize, whom I’ve committed a score of times if I’ve committed him once? And perhaps you’ll explain to me this further demand for a ‘Composite Photograph’ of all the prisoners, male and female. A ‘Composite Photograph!’–have you ever seen one?”

“No,” the Admiral mused; “but I see what the Home Office is driving at. Someone has been persuading them to test these new theories in criminology the doctors are so busy with, especially in Italy.”

“In Italy!” pish’d Sir Felix Felix-Williams.

“My dear Sir Felix, science has no nationality.” The Admiral was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and kept a microscope to amuse his leisure.

“It has some proper limits, I should hope,” Sir Felix retorted. It annoyed him–a Chairman of Quarter Sessions for close upon twenty years–to be told that the science of criminology was yet in its infancy; and he glanced mischievously at the Canon, who might be supposed to have a professional quarrel with scientific men. But the Canon was a wary fighter and no waster of powder and shot.

“Well, well,” said he, “I don’t see what harm it can do, or what good. If the Home Secretary wants his Composite Photograph, let him have it. The only question is, Have we a photographer who knows how to make one? Or must we send the negatives up to Whitehall?”

So the Visiting Justices sent for the local photographer and consulted him. And he, being a clever fellow, declared it was easy enough– a mere question of care in superimposing the negatives. He had never actually made the experiment; his clients (so he called his customers) preferring to be photographed singly or in family groups. But he asked to be given a trial, and suggested (to be on the safe side) preparing two or three of these composite prints, between which the Justices might choose at their next meeting.

This was resolved, and the resolution entered in the minutes; and next day the photographer set to work. Some of the prisoners resisted and “made faces” in front of the camera, squinting and pulling the most horrible mouths. A female shoplifter sat under protest, because she was not allowed to send home for an evening gown. But the most consented obediently, and Jim Tresize even asked for a copy to take home to his wife.

The Admiral (who had married late in life) resided with his wife and young family in a neat villa just outside the town, where his hobby was to grow pelargoniums. The photographer passed the gate daily on his way to and from the prison, and was usually hailed and catechised on his progress.

His patience with the recalcitrant prisoners delighted the Admiral, who more than once assured his wife that Smithers was an intelligent fellow and quite an artist in his way. “I wonder how he manages it,” said Mrs. Trewbody. “He told baby last autumn that a little bird would fly out of the camera when he took off the cap, and everyone allows that the result is most lifelike. But I don’t like the idea, and I think it may injure his trade.”

The Admiral could not always follow his wife’s reasoning. “What is it you dislike?” he asked.