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A Mountain Woman Elia W. Peattie

A Resuscitation

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AFTER being dead twenty years, he walked out into the sunshine.

It was as if the bones of a bleached skeleton should join themselves on some forgotten plain, and look about them for the vanished flesh.

To be dead it is not necessary to be in the grave. There are places where the worms creep about the heart instead of the body.

The penitentiary is one of these. David Culross had been in the penitentiary twenty years. Now, with that worm-eaten heart, he came out into liberty and looked about him for the habiliments with which he had formerly clothed himself, -- for hope, self-respect, courage, pugnacity, and industry.

But they had vanished and left no trace, like the flesh of the dead men on the plains, and so, morally unapparelled, in the hideous skeleton of his manhood, he walked on down the street under the mid-June sunshine.

You can understand, can you not, how a skeleton might wish to get back into its comfortable grave? David Culross had not walked two blocks before he was seized with an almost uncontrollable desire to beg to be shielded once more in that safe and shameful retreat from which he had just been released. A horrible perception of the largeness of the world swept over him. Space and eternity could seem no larger to the usual man than earth -- that snug and insignificant planet -- looked to David Culross.

"If I go back," he cried, despairingly, looking up to the great building that arose above the stony hills, "they will not take me in." He was absolutely without a refuge, utterly without a destination; he did not have a hope. There was nothing he desired except the surrounding of those four narrow walls between which he had lain at night and dreamed those ever-recurring dreams, -- dreams which were never prophecies or promises, but always the hackneyed history of what he had sacrificed by his crime, and relinquished by his pride.

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The men who passed him looked at him with mingled amusement and pity. They knew the "prison look," and they knew the prison clothes. For though the State gives to its discharged convicts clothes which are like those of other men, it makes a hundred suits from the same sort of cloth. The police know the fabric, and even the citizens recognize it. But, then, were each man dressed in different garb he could not be disguised. Every one knows in what dull school that sidelong glance is learned, that aimless drooping of the shoulders, that rhythmic lifting of the heavy foot.

David Culross wondered if his will were dead. He put it to the test. He lifted up his head to a position which it had not held for many miserable years. He put his hands in his pockets in a pitiful attempt at non-chalance, and walked down the street with a step which was meant to be brisk, but which was in fact only uncertain. In his pocket were ten dollars. This much the State equips a man with when it sends him out of its penal halls. It gives him also transportation to any point within reasonable distance that he may desire to reach. Culross had requested a ticket to Chicago. He naturally said Chicago. In the long colorless days it had been in Chicago that all those endlessly repeated scenes had been laid. Walking up the street now with that wavering ineffectual gait, these scenes came back to surge in his brain like waters ceaselessly tossed in a wind-swept basin.

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A Mountain Woman
Elia W. Peattie

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