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0105_001E The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter VIII: The Trial

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They chat with their polite guides, many of whom are gallant captains, and go one after another up the little flight of steps which leads to the room of the officer of the day.

He passes them, if he pleases, up the crooked stairways, and when they have climbed three of these, they enter a sort of garret-room, oblong, and plastered white, and about as large as an ordinary town-house parlor.

Four doors open into it--that by which we have entered, two from the left, where the witnesses wait, and one at the end, near the left far corner, which is the outlet from the cells.

A railing, close up to the stairway door, gives a little space in the foreground for witnesses; two tables, transverse to this rail, are for the commission and the press, the first-named being to the right; between these are a raised platform and pivot arm-chair for the witness; below are the sworn phonographers and the counsel for the accused, and then another rail like that separating the crowd from the court, holds behind it the accused and their guards.

These are they who are living not by years nor by weeks, but by breaths. They are motley enough, for the most part, sitting upon a long bench with their backs against the wall,--ill-shaved, haggard, anxious, and the dungeon door at their left opens now and then to show behind it a moving bayonet. There are women within the court proper, edging upon the reporters, introduced there by a fussy usher, and through four windows filters the imperfect daylight, making all things distinguishable, yet shadowy. The coup d'oeil of this small and crowded scene is lively as a popular funeral.

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There is the witness with raised hand, pointing toward heaven, and looking at Judge Holt. The gilt stars, bars, and orange-colored sashes of the commission; the women's brilliant silks and bonnets; the crowding spectators, with their brains in their eyes; the blue coats of the guards; the working scribes; and last of all the line of culprits, whose suspected guilt has made them worthy of all illustration.

Between the angle of the wall and the studded door, under the heavy bar of dressed stone which marks above the thickness of the gaol, sits all alone a woman's figure, clothed in solemn black. Her shadowy skirt hides her feet, so that we cannot see whether they are riveted; her sleeves of sable sweep down to her wrist, and dark gloves cover the plumpness of her hand, while a palm-leaf fan nods to and fro to assist the obscurity of her vail of crape, descending from her widow's bonnet.

A solitary woman, beginning the line of coarse indicted men, shrinking beneath the scornful eyes of her sex, and the as bold survey of men more pitiful, may well excite, despite her guilt, a moment of sympathy.

Let men remember that she is the mother of a son who has fled to save his forfeit life by deserting her to shame, and perhaps, to death. Let women, who will not mention her in mercy, learn from her end, in all succeeding wars, to make patriotism of their household duties and not incite to blood.

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

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