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

Letter VIII: The Trial

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Mrs. Surratt is a graduate of that seminary which spits in soldiers faces, denounces brave generals upon the rostrum, and cries out for an interminable scaffold when all the bells are ringing peace.

How far her wicked love influenced her to participation in the murder rests in her own breast, and up to this time she has not differed from mothers at large--to twist her own bow-string rather than build his gibbet.

Beneath her shadowy bonnet, over her fan-tip, we see two large, sad eyes, rising and falling, and now and then when the fan sways to and fro, the hair just turning gray with trouble, and the round face growing wan and seamed with terrible reflection, are seen a moment crouching low, as if she would wish to grovel upon the floor and bury her forehead in her hands.

Yet, sometimes, across Mrs. Surratt's face a stealthiness creeps--a sort of furtive, feline flashing of the eye, like that of one which means to leap sideways. At these times her face seems to grow hard and colorless, as if that tiger expression which Pradier caught upon the face of Brinvilliers and fastened into a masque, had been repeated here. Not to grow mawkish while we must be kind, let us not forget that this woman is an old plotter. If she did not devise the assassination, she was privy to it long. She was an agent of contraband mails--a bold, crafty, assured rebel--perhaps a spy--and in the event of her condemnation, let those who would plead for her spend half their pity upon that victim whose heart was like a woman's, and whose hand was merciful as a mother's.

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Before the door sits an officer, uncovered, who does not seem to labor under any particular fear, chiefly because the captives are ironed to immovability, and he stares and smiles alternately, as if he were somewhat amiable and extremely bored.

Next to the officer is a shabby-looking boy, whose seat is by the right jamb of the jail door. Of all boys just old enough to feel their oats, this boy is the most commonplace. His parents would be likely to have no sanguine hopes of his reaching the presidency; for his head indicates latent dementia, and a slice or two from it would recommend him, without exanimation, to the school for the feeble-minded. Better dressed, and washed, and shaved, he might make a tolerable adornment to a hotel door, or even reach the dignity of a bar-keeper or an usher at a theatre. But that this fellow should occupy a leaf in history and be confounded with a tragedy entering into the literature of the world, reverses manifest destiny, and leaves neither phrenology nor physiognomy a place to stand upon.

Come up! Gall, Spurzheim, and Lavater, and remark his sallow face, attenuated by base excesses! Do you know any forehead so broad which means so little? the oyster could teach this man philosophy! His chin is sharp, his eyes are blank blue, his short black hair curls over his ears, and his beard is of a prickly black, with a moustache which does not help his general contemptibleness. A dirty grayish shirt without a linen collar, is seen between the lapels of the greasy and dusty cloth coat, sloping at the shoulders; and under his worn brown trowsers, the manacle of iron makes an ugly garter to his carpet clipper.

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

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