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THE STRANGE WILL
One Minute to Live!
Farrell Ivins, standing on the gallows trap of Central City’s Municipal Prison, his hands tied tightly behind him, his feet strapped firmly together, the black execution cap lying in readiness loosely across his right shoulder, the noose about his throat with its cunning hangman’s knot snugly against the back of his neck, grimly surveyed the sea of faces gazing stiffly, steeply, up at him.
That is to say, Farrel Ivins surveyed that sea of faces as well as he could, dazzled as he was by the brilliant electric light in the ceiling of the execution room, not so far above the level of his own eyes.
The owners of those fifty or sixty faces, he realized contemptuously, were as innocent of pure civic virtue in attending his hanging as was he himself of that charge that had just been read to him, in his death warrant, fifteen minutes or so before, in his death cell. Indeed, the faces below him did not even look like human faces! For their eyes, almost without exception popped from the heads that held them like the eyes of fish. And the faces themselves dripped, ran, with perspiration, while he—he was cool! Cucumber cool. Iceberg cool. Cool, of course, he realized, because of that tiny precious vial of drug that had been smuggled into him late to-day by his attorney. And kept by him—within his black hair. And taken to-night—at 11 p.m. One hour—one hour before this hanging. A double dose, even, of it. Samarin—priceless drug from South America—which abolished in its taker all power of imagining pain, the details of pain, catastrophe, disaster, death—that intensified the mental faculties, mental co-ordination, to the ultimate degree—that made it possible for a man to stand on his own death trap and to—
At Farrel Ivins’ side, on the high-floored wooden platform, yet a couple of feet clear of the trap, stood the warden of the prison. Andrew Camplejohn, delegated by the Law of the State to carry this distressing affair through, was a man of about sixty, kindly of face, with warm sympathetic brown eyes and thin, sparse hair, and was dressed for this dread occasion in black swallowtail coat and voluminous black cravat. Dressed, indeed, for it, as much as was Farrel Ivins himself—who wore but the standard garb of all men about to be officially hanged: the belted blue cotton trousers and the collarless white silk shirt, open at the neck. Dressed for it as much, indeed, as had been those two blue-clad brass-buttoned guards, with black masks over their eyes, who but sixty seconds or so ago had expertly secured Ivins’ feet and wrists together, and who were now miraculously gone from the platform by some stairway back in one corner—were even now, Farrel Ivins well knew, in chairs on each side of that well below the platform which would give his body a full twenty-foot drop into Eternity.
Now that the dread moment was at hand, Camplejohn, the warden, wet his lips, and, with an uneasy premonitory cough, spoke to the man on the trap.
“Well, Farrel, this—this is the moment where, under the law of this State, I am compelled to ask you whether you have anything to say before I drop that cap over your head, draw out my handkerchief, and signal those men in the back of the room to—to throw their control-handles. And where you, under the law of this same State, have the full and incontestable right to say—what you may wish—and all of it.”
And Farrel Ivins spoke.
“That I well know,” was all he said, “and shall.” He gazed down again at that sea of faces, and more used to that dazzling ceiling light so near the level of his own eyes, was able to make out individual ones. He was able even to read the big black “P” on the huge red buttons in the lapels of those who occupied the frontmost row. “P” for “Press!” Newspapermen! Newsmen—syndicate men from out of town —feature-story men! Towards that row alone he spoke scornfully.
“You fellows just can’t take it, can you!”
A muttered exclamation came from somewhere in the row. A couple of handkerchiefs were whipped from pockets and mopped gleaming foreheads, No one answered.
It was Warden Andrew Camplejohn who spoke and, plainly, for all in the room.
“It is hard—very hard, Farrel, on us all. It would have been—less hard on you—had you but availed yourself of your other right—to have here—on the gallows with you—a spiritual adviser. Such as—as was offered you. But you have elected to—to go through it without—though how you manage to carry thr—but enough for that. So again—your rights in this affair—have you anything—to say?”
“Yes,” was Farrel Ivins’ swift and practically instantaneous response, firmly and calmly uttered. “I have!” He gazed again upon that sea of sweating faces. Then he directed his gaze towards two men who sat alone, in the rearmost of the five occupied rows of pewlike seats, not quite midmost of the row, but in perfect line with a gap that straggled down to them from the rows in front. “You cannot hang me to-night, Governor Homeier—” (Had it been possible at this moment for a brilliant searchlight beam to play, in complete dark, against the specific individual on whom Farrel Ivins’ eyes rested, it would have illumined a huge, beefy, distinctly Teutonic-looking man of a little over sixty, whose almost square, phlegmatic face was crowned by a stiffish grey pompa-dour, and was broken, farther down, by a wide Kaiser Wilhelm grey moustache with stiffly upturned ends. The massive head was set low in his oxlike shoulders which were draped in coat material of richest purple—purple that brought out the expansive grey silk tie he wore, with a diamond pin therein.) “—nor,” Farrel Ivins was continuing, with hardly a break in his words, but shifting his gaze a bare microscopic angle leftwise, “can you—in whose city the crime was committed—and who is doubtlessly here to-night representing it, or the State’s Attorney—permit him, Mayor McNellie—” (Now, had that same theoretical brilliant searchlight beam, playing in complete dark, illumined the companion of the Teutonic-looking man on whom Ivins’ eyes were now resting, it would have portrayed a fat, round-faced man in the middle forties, bald-headed, with narrow-set, beady eyes, the head surmounting what could be seen of a too loudly checked coat and crimson tie.) “—to allow it,” Ivins was continuing, “to go through. Indeed, Governor Homeier and Mayor McNellie, you can neither of you, separately or together, permit this trap to be sprung. You positively cannot.”
Now Gustav Homeier, who had been elected Governor by the so-great German population of this so-German state, made prompt and belligerent reply to this calm challenge uttered by a man standing on his death trap.
“Unt vy—I shoot lige to ask—iss it dot ve gant hang you? For vy?”
Now Mayor Bertram McNellie, of the bald head and close-set eyes, appeared likewise to get courage to answer the challenge of a man whose foot lay on the threshold of Eternity.
“Yes—why—why can’t we—aruah—hang you, Ivins?”
“Why?” retorted the man on the trap. “I’ll tell you why! Both of you—and everybody in this place. You can’t do it—because of a document written by a Chinese, dead now for half a century. A Chinese named Poo Ping Fu, who—”
“A—a Shinese?” grunted the Governor. “Hah! Vot der hell hass dad to do—mid your exycution? A—a Shinese—named Booping Fool!—fifty years deat? Id’s—”
“It has everything in the world to do with it,” said Farrel Ivins confidently. “As you will know—when I get done with my stateme—but if you please—a second! My attorney Max Goldstraw—where is Max Goldstraw? Max, where are—”
“Here am I, Varrel,” said a voice from somewhere back of the front row, and to the left of Ivins. “Here—in der secont row—to your left. Here!” A hand was raised.
The man who had raised the hand was of about thirty-five, clad in a loud black-and-white pin-striped suit—at least such of it as could be seen above the occluding pewback in front of it. He had a nose so huge that it was like the beak of a great eagle. His hairline was high and he wore tiny gold-rimmed glasses. A black bow-tie, tilted violently under his batwing collar, against his pink-striped shirt, suggested that in the last ten minutes or so he had many times run his finger uneasily beneath his collar edge.
Ivins nodded, as best a man could against the back of whose neck reposed a bulky hangman’s knot. Then he transferred his eyes back again to the Teutonic-looking man with the Kaiser Wilhelm moustache in the rear row.
“Yes, Governor Homeier, as I was saying, my statement—such as it is—has everything to do—with this proposed hanging. And note, please, that I use the word ‘proposed.’ Because, when I get done with that brief and simple statement, I predict, here and now, that you—aided and backed up by Mayor McNellie there at your side—will not permit the hanging to go through!”
The owner of that square face with the square grey pompadour broke out in fierce denial of this claim.
“Dod’s—dod’s maype vot you dink, I go oud-d-d from office in dwo—dree—days from now, but der last ding I do vile in office, you bet, iss to see dot you catch all vot der Law hass sait you catch.”
“And I predict otherwise,” said the man on the gallows trap calmly. “For—”
“Varten Camplechon,” the Governor demanded, “carry on mit dis exycut—”
“Yes, Your Excellency—yes,” said the black-clad man on the platform. “But this man has not yet had—given—his statement. And he does have the ri—I’m awfully sorry, Governor, that this distressing incident has occurred. You have attended many hangings, and never before—”
“I haf attented efery hanking uf efery griminal in dis sdate,” corrected the Teuton Governor, “but nefer pefore dit anyding like as diss arise. Unt I demant dot you—”
“Yes, Your Excellency—yes!—but I do have to conform to the rules and regulations of my own office, you know, otherwise I could be—” Warden Camplejohn turned, with pained expression on his face, to the man on the trap. “How much of a statement—is your statement, Farrel?”
“Not very—but how much time am I permitted, Warden Camplejohn?”
“We-e-ell, Farrel, the—the law does not strictly specify. You—you have—whatever time you need to make—a so-called final statement. In view of the—the fact, however, that you came to this city of ours from the outside, some eight or nine months ago, and were arrested not long after you got here—and have spent all your time in jail since, I—I don’t see how you could have very much to—ah—state, or even reveal concerning your past, since you have said you had no people at all. But, whether or no, you—you do have whatever time you need for that statement. A minute, five minutes, ten minutes—if you have to. Even an hour—if you are able. And you seem to be all buoyed up to-night—as if by a drug. If I thought someone—”
“I am buoyed up,” Ivins lied gracefully, firmly protecting Max Goldstraw, “by nothing but the full understanding of the predicament where I stand at this moment, and by the fact that I do not intend to let this thing go through.” He turned his gaze back to the audience, swinging it first frontwise to the newspapermen, then leftwise and back to his attorney, then back to the general audience again.
“I shan’t make it any harder on you folks—who came here thinking to see me swiftly dropped into Eternity, and then to get right out again!—at least no harder than I have to. Oh, it may take me ten minutes to say all I have to—but it won’t be the hour that Warden Camplejohn says I could take if I wanted to. And if, after I have finished—” He half shook his head against the hangman’s knot pressing against the back of his neck, threw his gaze now back over the heads to where the two men sat in the rearmost row, and spoke. He spoke coolly, calmly, self assuredly, and in a clear firm voice that could not fail to reach anywhere within the room, let alone its two important objectives.
“Well, the reason, Governor Homeier, Mayor McNellie, why you two cannot permit me to be hanged to-night, has its roots in a number of diverse places. Such as, for one, London, England—Oxford Circus there, in case that means anything to anybody here; Lake City, for a second, in the home of a man supposedly—supposedly, I say—dead by his own hand; and Chicago, home of gangsters and gangsterism. I shall set forth those several diverse roots briefly and swiftly, rest assured, so that I may deal with the real and pivotal reason as to why you, Governor Homeier, and you, Mayor McNellie, cannot hang me—and, I dare at least to predict—will not. For this latter reason arises directly out of certain curious events which, according to definite knowledge I now possess, thanks solely to the brief interview I was permitted to have in my death cell early in the evening now gone, with Mr. Max Goldstraw down there, began in New York City some two days and ten hours ago. It began, moreover, in a place where very few white men have ever set foot or cast an inquisitive eye about; none other, in fact, than the colourful luxurious headquarters, on narrow curving Chinatown Crescent, of the Mon Sai Sing—or Lean Grey Rats—tong. Towards this headquarters, on the day and hour in question, two mysterious visitors were bound one yellow, hailing from far-off Liverpool, England—the other black, and hailing only from Brooklyn. Both were exceedingly vital to a certain bizarre plan in the cunning head of a strange old man who waited eagerly, within the tong headquarters, for each to arrive. This old man, though once upon a time a notorious New York hatchetman—none other, in fact, than the famous one known as The Hard!—and hence scarred of cheek, and with but single eye in head—was to-day the Mon Sai Sing’s tong’s venerable chieftain, who could quote speciously and sonorously from the seven and seventy-seven Chinese Classics and the Tu-Shih or Wisdom of the Ancient Wise Men, and who was known as....”
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