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

Letter IV: The Assassin's Death

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In the dead stillness, Baker dismounted and forced the outer gate; Conger kept close behind him, and the horsemen followed cautiously. They made no noise in the soft clay, nor broke the all-foreboding silence anywhere, till the second gate swung open gratingly, yet even then nor hoarse nor shrill response came back, save distant croaking, as of frogs or owls, or the whizz of some passing night-hawk. So they surrounded the pleasant old homestead, each horseman, carbine in poise, adjusted under the grove of locusts, so as to inclose the dwelling with a circle of fire. After a pause, Baker rode to the kitchen door on the side, and dismounting, rapped and halloed lustily. An old man, in drawers and night-shirt, hastily undrew the bolts, and stood on the threshold, peering shiveringly into the darkness.

Baker seized him by the throat at once, and held a pistol to his ear. "Who--who is it that calls me?" cried the old man. "Where are the men who stay with you?" challenged Baker. "If you prevaricate you are a dead man!" The old fellow, who proved to be the head of the family, was so overawed and paralysed that he stammered, and shook, and said not a word. "Go light a candle," cried Baker, sternly, "and be quick about it." The trembling old man obeyed, and in a moment the imperfect rays flared upon his whitening hairs and bluishly pallid face. Then the question was repeated, backed up by the glimmering pistol, "where are those men?" The old man held to the wall, and his knees smote each other. "They are gone," he said. "We hav'n't got them in the house, I assure you that they are gone." Here there were sounds and whisperings in the main building adjoining, and the lieutenant strode to the door. A ludicrous instant intervened, the old man's modesty outran his terror. "Don't go in there," he said, feebly; "there are women undressed in there." "Damn the women," cried Baker; "what if they are undressed? We shall go in if they haven't a rag." Leaving the old man in mute astonishment, Baker bolted through the door, and stood in an assemblage of bare arms and night robes. His loaded pistol disarmed modesty of its delicacy and substituted therefor a seasonable terror. Here he repeated his summons, and the half light of the candle gave to his face a more than bandit ferocity. They all denied knowledge of the strangers' whereabouts.

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In the interim Conger had also entered, and while the household and its invaders were thus in weird tableaux, a young man appeared, as if he had risen from the ground. The muzzles of everybody turned upon him in a second; but, while he blanched, he did not lose loquacity. "Father," he said, "we had better tell the truth about the matter. Those men whom you seek, gentlemen, are in the barn, I know. They went there to sleep." Leaving one soldier to guard the old man--and the soldier was very glad of the job, as it relieved him of personal hazard in the approaching combat--all the rest, with cocked pistols at the young man's head, followed on to the barn. It lay a hundred yards from the house, the front barndoor facing the west gable, and was an old and spacious structure, with floors only a trifle above the ground level.

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

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