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

Letter IX: The Executions

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All these, captives, priests, guards, and officers, nearly twenty in all, climbed slowly and solemnly the narrow steps; and upon four arm chairs, stretching across the stage in the rear of the traps, the condemned were seated with their spiritual attendants behind them.

The findings and warrants were immediately read to the prisoners by General Hartrauft in a quiet and respectful tone, an aid holding an umbrella over him meantime. These having been already published, and being besides very uninteresting to any body but the prisoners, were paid little heed to, all the spectators interesting themselves in the prisoners.

There was a fortuitous delicacy in this distribution, the woman being placed farthest from the social and physical dirtiness of Atzerott, and nearest the unblanched and manly physiognomy of Payne.

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She was not so pale that the clearness of her complexion could not be seen, and the brightness of the sun made her vail quite transparent. Her eyes were seen to be of a soft gray; her brown hair lay smoothly upon a full, square forehead; the contour of her face was comely, but her teeth had the imperfectness of those of most southern women, being few and irregular. Until the lips were opened she did not reveal them. Her figure was not quite full enough to be denominated buxom, yet had all the promise of venerable old age, had nature been permitted its due course. She was of the medium height, and modest--as what woman would not be under such searching survey? At first she was very feeble, and leaned her head upon alternate sides of her arm-chair in nervous spasms; but now and then, when a sort of wail just issued from her lips, the priest placed before her the crucifix to lull her fearful spirit. All the while the good fathers Wigett and Walter murmured their low, tender cadences, and now and then the woman's face lost its deadly fear, and took a bold, cognizable survey of the spectators. She wore a robe of dark woolen, no collar, and common shoes of black listing. Her general expression was that of acute suffering, vanishing at times as if by the conjuration of her pride, and again returning in a paroxysm as she looked at the dreadful rope dangling before her. This woman, to whom, the priests have made their industrious moan, holding up the effigy of Christ when their own appeals became of no avail, perched there in the lofty air, counting her breaths, counting the winkfuls of light, counting the final wrestles of her breaking heart, had been the belle of her section, and many good men had courted her hand. She had led a pleasant life, and children had been born to her--who shared her mediocre ambition and the invincibility of her will. If the charge of her guilt were proven, she was the Lady Macbeth of the west.

But women know nothing of consequences. She alone of all her sex stands now in this thrilled and ghastly perspective, and in immediate association with three creatures in whose company it is no fame to die: a little crying boy, a greasy unkempt sniveller, and a confessed desperado. Her base and fugitive son, to know the infamy of his cowardice and die of his shame, should have seen his mother writhing in her seat upon the throne his wickedness established for her.

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

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