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

Letter VIII: The Trial

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With this man's face before me as I write, I am reminded of some Maori chief waging war from the lust of blood or the pride of local dominion. His complexion is bloodless, yet so healthy that a passing observer would afterward speak of it as ruddy. His face is broad, with a character nose, sensual lips, and very high cheek bones; the cranium is full and the brow speaking, while the head runs back to an abnormal apex at the tip of the cerebellum. His straight, lusterless black hair, duly parted, is at the summit so disturbed that tufts of it rise up like Red Jacket's or Tecumseh's; but the head is kept well up, and rests upon a wonderfully broad throat, muscular as one's thigh, and without any trace, as he sits, of the protuberance called Adam's apple. Withal, the eye is the man Payne's power. It is dark and speechless, and rolls here and there like that of a beast in a cage which strives in vain to understand the language of its captors. It seems to say, if anything, that, it has no sympathy with anybody approximate, and has submitted, like a lion bound, to the logic of conviction and of chains.

Payne looks at none of his fellow-prisoners: assassins caught seldom cares to recognise each other; for while there is faithfulness among thieves, there is none among murderers. His great white eyeball never roves to anybody's in the dock, nor theirs to his. He has confessed his crime and they know it; so they have no mutual hope; they listen to the evidence because it concerns them; ho looks at it only, because it cannot save him. He is entirely beardless, yet in his boyish chin more of a man physically than the rest, combined.

While I watch this man I am constantly repeating to myself that stanza of Bryant's:

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    "Upon the market place he stood,--
    A man of giant frame,
    Amid the gathering multitude
    That shrank to hear his name;
    All proud of step and firm of limb,
    His dark eye on the ground--
    And silently they gazed on him,
    As on a lion bound."

His dress, which we scarcely notice in the grander contrast of his pose and stature, is an old shirt of woolen blue, with a white nap at the button-holes, and upon his knees of black cloth he twirls, as if for relaxation, between his powerful manacles, a soiled white handkerchief--if from his mother, we conjecture, a gift to a bloodhound from his dam. His heavy handcuffs make his broad shoulders more narrow. Yet we can see by the outline of the sleeves what girth the muscles has, and the hand at the end of his long and bony arm is wide and huge, as if it could wield a claymore as well as a dirk. He also wears carpet slippers, but his ankles are clogged with so heavy irons that two men must carry them when he enters or leaves the dock. For this man there can be no sentiment--no more than for a bull. The flesh on his face is hard, as if cast, rather than generated, and while we see how he towers above the entire court, we watch him in wonder, as if he were some maniac denizen of a zone where men without minds grow to the stature and power of fiends.

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

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