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ETCHING: RESPITED Edit

By George Barnard, Jr. Edit

Originally Published in Short Stories 1892

The day was drawing to its close, when up the one broad street of the little mountain town came six men : five stern and watchful, revolvers slung to their belts; one, with trembling form and haggard, ghastly face, walking in the centre of the group, with head thrown forward, his eyes fixed on the ground, for well he knows no glance of sympathy will meet his upward gaze. 

A convicted murderer is being brought there for execution. The day set for the execution is dawning; along the country roads are strung the wagons of the farmers, bringing their wives and daughters in holiday attire to see the show — laughing and jesting as in fair-time — while in the rough jail built of logs, tossing on his hard couch, muttering in uneasy sleep, lies the condemned man. Three miles away, in a little mountain station, a sleepy operator sits, watching the instrument before him. Though not on duty, he has sat there through the night — watching, listening, hoping — and now as the morning breaks, feeling that his vigil has been in vain, he ceases to struggle against the drowsiness which is overpowering him, and, bending forward, lays his head upon his arms — and sleeps. 

Click — click — click : are there no ears to hear the message flashing over the wire from the distant capital? — " The prisoner is respited. For God's sake, save his life." A hundred miles away, two men — about to be executed — have upon the scaffold confessed tlieir guilt of the crime of which the prisoner stands accused, and with the cord about their necks have sworn that ?ie is innocent. . . . 

An hour later in the condemned cell the guards stand grouped around a man — pale and trembling, bowed upon his knees in prayer — as for the last time he proclaims his innocence, and, with all the light of hope gone from his eyes, he looks his last farewell to earth 

In the little mountain station — his head thrown forward upon his arms — his hand resting, as if by instinct, upon the key of the instrument, the tired operator . . . sleeps.

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