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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter V: A Solution Of The Conspiracy

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"Nine o'clock and fifty-five minutes!" said the same relentless voice, after the next interval, each of which narrowed to a lesser span the life of the good President.

Ten o'clock here sounded, and conspiring echo said in reverberation:

"Ten o'clock!"

So like a creeping thing, from lip to lip, went:

"Ten o'clock and five minutes."

(An interval.)

"Ten o'clock and ten minutes!"

At this instant Wilkes Booth appeared in the door of the theater, and the men who had repeated the time so faithfully and so ominously scattered at his coming, as at some warning phantom. Fifteen minutes afterwards the telegraph wires were cut.

All this is so dramatic that I fear to excite a laugh when I write it. But it is true and proven, and I do not say it but report it.

All evil deeds go wrong. While the click of the pistol, taking the President's life, went like a pang through the theater, Payne was spilling blood in Mr. Seward's house from threshold to sick chamber. But Booth's broken leg delayed him or made him lose his general calmness and he and Harold left Payne no to his fate.

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I have not adverted to the hole bored with a gimlet in the entry door of Mr. Lincoln's box, and cut out with a penknife. The theory that the pistol-ball of Booth passed through this hole is exploded. And the stage carpenter may have to answer for this little orifice with all his neck. For when Booth leaped from the box he strode straight across the stage by the footlights, reaching the prompter's post, which is immediately behind that private box opposite Mr. Lincoln. From this box to the stage door in the rear, the passage-way leads behind the ends of the scenes, and if generally either closest up by one or more withdrawn scenes, or so narrow that only by doubling and turning sidewise can one pass along. On this fearful night, however, the scenes were so adjusted to the murderer's design that he had a free aisle from the foot of the stage to the exit door.

Within fifteen minutes after the murder the wires were severed entirely around the city, excepting only a secret wire for government uses, which leads to Old Point. I am told that by this wire the government reached the fortifications around Washington, first telegraphing all the way to Old Point, and then back to the outlying forts. This information comes to me from so many creditable channels that I must concede it.

Payne, having, as he thought, made an end of Mr. Seward--which would have been the case but for Robinson, the nurse--mounted his horse, and attempted to find. Booth. But the town was in alarm, and he galloped at once for the open country, taking as he imagined, the proper road for the East Branch. He rode at a killing pace, and when near Fort Lincoln, on the Baltimore pike, his horse threw him headlong. Afoot and bewildered, he resolved to return to the city, whose lights he could plainly see; but before doing so ho concealed himself some time, and made some almost absurd efforts to disguise himself. Cutting a cross section from the woolen undershirt which covered his muscular arm, he made a rude cap of it, and threw away his bloody coat. This has since been found in the woods, and blood has been found also on his bosom and sleeves. He also spattered himself plentifully with mud and clay, and, taking an abandoned pick from the deserted intrenchments near by, he struck at once for Washington.

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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