Sample K05 from David Stacton, The Judges of the Secret Court. New York: Pantheon Books, Inc., 1961. Pp. 50-56. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,008 words 38 (1.9%) quotesK05

Used by permission of David Stacton.0010-1660

David Stacton, The Judges of the Secret Court. New York: Pantheon Books, Inc., 1961. Pp. 50-56.

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Payne dismounted in Madison Place and handed the reins to Herold . There was a fog , which increased the darkness of the night . Two gas lamps were no more than a misleading glow . He might have been anywhere or nowhere .

The pretence was that he was delivering a prescription from Dr. Verdi . Secretary of State Seward was a sick man . The idea had come from Herold , who had once been a chemist's clerk . The sick were always receiving medicines . No one would question such an errand . The bottle was filled up with flour .

Before Payne loomed the Old Clubhouse , Seward's home , where Key had once been killed . Now it would have another death . From the outside it was an ordinary enough house of the gentry . He clomped heavily up the stoop and rang the bell . Like the bell at Mass , the doorbell was pitched too high . It was still Good Friday , after all .

A nigger boy opened the door . Payne did not notice him . He was thinking chiefly of Cap . If their schedules were to synchronize , there was no point in wasting time . He pushed his way inside .

For a moment the hall confused him . This was the largest house he had ever been in , almost the largest building , except for a hotel . He had no idea where Seward's room would be . In the half darkness the banisters gleamed , and the hall seemed enormous . Above him somewhere were the bedrooms . Seward would be up there .

He explained his errand , but without bothering much to make it plausible , for he felt something well up in him which was the reason why he had fled the army . He did not really want to kill , but as in the sexual act , there was a moment when the impulse took over and could not be downed , even while you watched yourself giving way to it . He was no longer worried . Everything would be all right . He knew that in this mood he could not be stopped .

Still , the sensation always surprised him . It was a thrill he felt no part in . He could only watch with a sort of gentle dismay while his body did these quick , appalling , and efficient things .

He brushed by the idiotic boy and lumbered heavily up the stairs . They were carpeted , but made for pumps and congress gaiters , not the great clodhoppers he wore . The sound of his footsteps was like a muffled drum .

At the top of the stairs he ran into somebody standing there angrily in a dressing gown . He stopped and whispered his errand . Young Frederick Seward held out his hand . Panting a little , Payne shook his head . Dr. Verdi had told him to deliver his package in person .

Frederick Seward said his father was sleeping , and then went through a pantomime at his father's door , to prove the statement .

`` Very well '' , Payne said . `` I will go '' . He smiled , but now that he knew where the elder Seward was , he did not intend to go . He pulled out his pistol and fired it . It made no sound . It had misfired . Reversing it , he smashed the butt down on Frederick Seward's head , over and over again .

It was the first blow that was always difficult . After that , violence was exultantly easy . He got caught up into it and became a different person . Only afterwards did an act like that become meaningless , so that he would puzzle over it for days , whereas at the time it had seemed quite real .

The nigger boy fled down the stairs , screaming , `` Murder '' .

It was not murder at all . Payne was more methodical than that . He was merely clearing a way to what he had to do .

He ran for the sick room , found his pistol was broken , and threw it away . A knife would do . From childhood he had known all about knives . Someone blocked the door from inside . He smashed it in and tumbled into darkness . He saw only dimly moving figures , but when he slashed them they yelled and fled . He went for the bed , jumped on it , and struck where he could , repeatedly . It was like finally getting into one's own nightmares to punish one's dreams .

Two men pulled him off . Nobody said anything . Payne hacked at their arms . There was a lady there , in a nightdress . He would not have wanted to hurt a lady . Another man approached , this one fully dressed . When the knife went into his chest , he went down at once .

`` I'm mad '' , shouted Payne , as he ran out into the hall . `` I'm mad '' , and only wished he had been . That would have made things so much easier . But he was not mad . He was only dreaming .

He clattered down the stairs and out of the door . Somewhere in the fog , the nigger boy was still yelling murder . One always wakes up , even from one's own dreams . The clammy air revived him . Herold , he saw , had fled .

Well , one did not expect much of people like Herold .

He unhitched his horse , walked it away , mounted , and spurred it on . The nigger boy was close behind him . Then the nigger boy turned back and he was alone . He rode on and on . He had no idea where he was . After some time he came to an open field . An open field was better than a building , that was for sure , so he dismounted , turned off the horse , and plunged through the grass .

He felt curiously sleepy , the world seemed far away ; ; he knew he should get to Cap , but he didn't know how . He was sure , for he had done as he was told , hadn't he ? ? Cap would find him and take care of him . So choosing a good tree , he clambered up into it , found a comfortable notch , and curled up in it to sleep , like the tousled bear he was , with his hands across his chest , as though surfeited with honey .

Violence always made him tired , but he was not frightened .

In Boston , Edwin Booth was winding up a performance of A New Way To Pay Old Debts . It was a part so familiar to him that he did not bother to think about it any more . Acting soothed him . On a stage he always knew what to do , and tonight , to judge by the applause , he must be doing it better than usual .

As Sir Giles Overreach ( how often had he had to play that part , who did not believe a word of it ) , he raised his arm and declaimed : `` Where is my honour now '' ? ?

That was one of the high spots of the play . The audience , as usual , loved it . He was delighted to see them so happy . If he had any worries , it was only the small ones , about Mother in New York , and his daughter Edwina and what she might be doing at this hour , with her Aunt Asia , in Philadelphia .

Everyone is ambivalent about his profession , if he has practised it long enough , but there were still moments when he loved the stage and all those unseen people out there , who might cheer you or boo you , but that was largely , though not entirely , up to you .

They made the world seem friendly somehow , though he knew it was not .

7 , Wilkes was quite right about one thing . Laura Keene had been in the green room . The commotion had brought her into the wings . Since she could not act , one part suited her as well as any other , and so she was the first person to offer Mr. Lincoln a glass of water , holding it up to the box , high above her head , to Miss Harris , who had asked for it .

She had been one of the first to collect her wits .

It was not so much that the shot had stunned the audience , as that they had been stunned already . Most of them had seen Our American Cousin before , and unless Miss Keene was on stage , there was not much to it . The theatre was hot and they were drugged with boredom .

The stage had been empty , except for Harry Hawk , doing his star monologue . The audience was fond of Harry Hawk , he was a dear , in or out of character , but he was not particularly funny . At the end of the monologue the audience would applaud . Meanwhile it looked at the scenery .

`` Well , I guess I know enough to turn you inside out , you sockdologizing old mantrap '' ! ! Said Trenchard , otherwise Hawk . There was always a pause here , before the next line .

That was when the gun went off . Yet even that explosion did not mean much . Guns were going off all over Washington City these days , because of the celebrations , and the theatre was not soundproof .

Then the audience saw a small , dim figure appear at the edge of the Presidential box . `` Sic semper tyrannis '' , it said mildly . Booth had delivered his line . Behind him billowed a small pungent cloud of smoke .

They strained forward . They had not heard what had been said . They had been sitting too long to be able to stand up easily . The figure leapt from the box , almost lost its balance , the flag draped there tore in the air , the figure landed on its left leg , fell on its hands , and pressed itself up .

Harry Hawk still had his arm raised towards the wings . His speech faltered . He did not lower his arm .

The figure was so theatrically dressed , that it was as though a character from some other play had blundered into this one . The play for Saturday night was to be a benefit performance of The Octoroon . This figure looked like the slave dealer from that . But it also looked like a toad , hopping away from the light . There was something maimed and crazy about its motion that disturbed them .

Then it disappeared into the wings .

Harry Hawk had not shifted position , but he at last lowered his arm .

Mrs. Lincoln screamed . There was no mistaking that scream . It was what anyone who had ever seen her had always expected her to do . Yet this scream had a different note in it . That absence of an urgent self-indulgence dashed them awake like a pail of water .

Clara Harris , one of the guests in the box , stood up and demanded water . Her action was involuntary . When something unexpected happened , one always asked for water if one were a woman , brandy if one were a man .

Mrs. Lincoln screamed again .

In the Presidential box someone leaned over the balustrade and yelled : `` He has shot the President '' ! !

That got everybody up . On the stage , Harry Hawk began to weep . Laura Keene brushed by him with the glass of water . The crowd began to move . In Washington City everyone lived in a bubble of plots , and one death might attract another . It was not exactly panic they gave way to , but they could not just sit there . The beehive voices , for no one could bear silence , drowned out the sound of Mrs. Lincoln's weeping .

At the rear of the auditorium , upstairs , some men tried to push open the door to the box corridor . It would not give .

A Dr. Charles Taft clambered up on the stage and got the actors to hoist him up to the box . In the audience a man named Ferguson lost his head and tried to rescue a little girl from the mob , on the same principle which had led Miss Harris to demand water .

Someone opened the corridor door from the inside , and called for a doctor . Somehow Dr. Charles Leale was forced through the mob and squeezed out into the dingy corridor . He went straight to the Presidential box .

As usual , Mrs. Lincoln had lost her head , but nobody blamed her for doing so now . There was a little blood on the hem of her dress , for the assassin had slashed Miss Harris's companion , Major Rathbone , with a knife . Rathbone said he was bleeding to death . By the look of him he wasn't that far gone .