It had come to the waiting holiday crowd down-town around the State-house, to the captain of the tug, fog-bound on the river, to the engineer sweeping across the white fields and sounding his welcome with his hand on the bell-cord, to the prisoners beyond the walls, and to the children all over the land, watching their stockings at the foot of their beds.
And then the three were instantly drawn down to earth again by the near, sharp click of opening bolts and locks, and the green gates swung heavily in before them. The jail-yard was light with whitewash, and two great lamps in front of round reflectors shone with blinding force in their faces, and made them start suddenly backward, as though they had been caught in the act and held in the circle of a policeman’s lantern. In the middle of the yard was the carriage in which the prisoner’s wife and her mother had come, and around it stood the wardens and turnkeys in their blue and gold uniforms. They saw them, dimly from behind the glare of the carriage lamps that shone in their faces, and saw the horses moving slowly towards them, and the driver holding up their heads as they slipped and slid on the icy stones. The girl put her hand on Bronson’s arm and clinched it with her fingers, but her eyes were on the advancing carriage. The horses slipped nearer to them and passed them, and the lights from the lamps now showed their backs and the paving stones beyond them, and left the cab in partial darkness. It was a four-seated carriage with a movable top, opening into two halves at the centre. It had been closed when the cab first entered the prison, a few hours before, but now its top was thrown back, and they could see that it held the two women, who sat facing each other on the farther side, and on the side nearer them, stretching from the forward seat to the top of the back, was a plain board coffin, prison-made and painted black.
The girl at Bronson’s side gave something between a cry and a shriek that turned him sick for an instant, and that made the office-boy drop his head between his shoulders as though some one had struck at him from above. Even the horses shied with sudden panic towards one another, and the driver pulled them in with an oath of consternation, and threw himself forward to look beneath their hoofs. And as the carriage stopped the girl sprang in between the wheels and threw her arms across the lid of the coffin, and laid her face down upon the boards that were already damp with the falling snow.
“Henry! Henry! Henry!” she moaned.
The surgeon who attended the prisoner through the sickness that had cheated the country of three hours of his sentence ran out from the hurrying crowd of wardens and drew the girl slowly and gently away, and the two women moved on triumphantly with their sorry victory.
* * * * *
Bronson gave his copy to Gallegher to take to the office, and Gallegher laid it and the roll of money on the city editor’s desk, and then, so the chief related afterwards, moved off quickly to the door. The chief looked up from his proofs and touched the roll of money with his pencil. “Here! what’s this?” he asked. “Wouldn’t he take it?”