The Intrusion of the Personal
THE INTRUSION OF THE PERSONAL
By SUSAN KEATING GLASPELL
IT was a very cutting editorial, and a very strong one. The Governor read it through twice, and then he spread it out on the desk before him, and sat there looking at it.
"In one respect Governor Henderson is proving a disappointment," it ran. "He is buying his personal comfort at the expense of justice. He finds it more pleasant to say yes than to say no; it is easier for him to grant the requests of sorrowing wives, mothers, daughters and sisters than it is to refuse them, and so it has become a matter of personalities with him rather than of justice. All of this is a great disappointment to the Governor's friends. They had believed that his sense of duty to the State would take precedence over everything that was personal, and that hysterical women could not so easily induce him to hold at naught the laws of the great State he has been elected to govern."
And then it went on to review some of the cases upon which the Governor had acted with leniency, to speak of the harm which would surely come of it, and to deplore again that a man, in many ways so strong, should allow his emotions to sweep away his sense of responsibilities.
It was the source of the editorial, even more than the nature of it, which moved him to seriousness. He had been very proud of the unqualified indorsement the Record had given him during the campaign, and of the strong manner in which it had championed him since he had taken the oath of office. The Record was an independent paper, and the strongest in the State. The Governor looked upon its editor, Frank Morton, as the most honorable as well as the most brainy man of his acquaintance. Morton was conservative, and yet he was fearless; he was slow to condemn, and yet there was no consideration in the world which could have held back the saying of harsh things when he was convinced the time had come for him to say them.
The really hard part of it was that the Governor was forced to concede that upon this, as upon other subjects, the Record's editorial was well balanced, far-seeing and fair. But he did not believe Morton appreciated how hard he had struggled, in many instances, against his so-called buying of his personal comfort.
A card was handed the Governor at that moment, and he looked at it, and frowned. Mrs. Frank Payne was a woman he did not care, at this time of all others, to see. He knew that it would be one of the most moving cases it had yet been his misfortune to hear, and he knew, that it was a case where justice cried out against clemency.
As he sat there holding the card uncertainly in his hand the telephone rang, and he reached over on his desk and took down the receiver. When he had concluded the conversation, and pushed back the 'phone, he looked again at the little card in his hand, and a strange light stole over his face. Then he smiled, and turning to the secretary said: "I will see Mrs. Payne at two o'clock this afternoon."
The telephone message had been from Frank Morton, and he had asked if he might see the Governor that afternoon relative to a certain commission of which Mr. Morton was chairman. The Governor had told the newspaper man that he would be glad to talk with him at two o'clock.
Frank Morton was an entirely unique personality in that State. He was unquestionably the State's most powerful private citizen. Seven years before he had taken the editorship of the Record, at a time when it was without prestige or power. He had come from somewhere in the West, and was unknown and unbacked. But nevertheless within three months the reading population of the State was rubbing its eyes and asking where this man had come from and what he intended to do. Where he had come from they did not learn; what he intended to do was soon made plain. He intended to make the Record the newspaper of thinking people. And he succeeded.
It was entirely characteristic of the man that when he entered the Governor's office that afternoon he had nothing to say in explanation of the attack he had just made upon him. The two shook hands warmly, for they had come to be close friends. Their difference in type may have been a factor in drawing them together. The Governor was a man of the world; he was a scholar—in the more conventional sense of the term. His face had never quite lost its boyishness; it was clean, clear-cut and attractive. Frank Morton, on the other hand, was undeniably homely. While the Governor was a man easy to get at, Morton was a man one did not attempt to fathom. He was not a man of the world, and his scholarly attainments had not given him that ease which so graces a great mind. He carried his size awkwardly, he did not dress well, and he was unfortunately conscious of his hands and feet. Nevertheless his friends thought of him only as the brainiest and fairest man they knew.
They had not been talking five minutes when the secretary entered and handed the Governor a card bearing the name of Mrs. Frank Payne.
The chief executive rubbed his hand across his head and uttered a bored exclamation. "Now here's a nice thing," he said impatiently. "It's the second time to-day this woman has been here to see me—and, I suppose, I've got to see her."
"Don't let me interfere," said the newspaper man rising at once. "I can wait in the other room."
The Governor let him get almost to the door, and then he called: "Say, Morton, I wish you'd come back and sit down."
Frank Morton looked around at him in some surprise. "It won't do any harm," said the Governor, "and as long as you've shown some interest in this pardon business I think it would be only fair to me to hear something of how the cases are presented."
The newspaper man stood there irresolutely for a minute, and then the request evidently appealed to him as a fair one, for he walked back to his seat. Thereupon the Governor instructed his secretary to show the lady in.
When the door opened both men rose to their feet. It was plain that the woman was very sick, and that it was with supreme effort she was walking toward them. When she had almost reached the Governor's desk she staggered, and would have fallen, had not the chief executive taken her by the arm and assisted her to a seat.
"I—I beg your pardon." she said, as soon as she was able to speak. "I thought I was strong enough to-day, but—but I guess the excitement it—it was a little too much."
It was the newspaper man who poured a glass of ice water from a pitcher near by and handed it in clumsy fashion to the woman. When she had partaken of it he returned the glass to its place on the table, and shoving his chair a little further back into the corner resumed his seat.
"I am sorry to trouble you, Governor," began the woman, her voice shaking with nervous excitement, "but—but, you see, Governor, its terribly vital with me."
The Governor bowed with the kind courteousness he unfailingly showed women, but said nothing. Frank Morton shoved his chair still further back in the comer, and looked longingly at the door.
"You—you got both the petitions, Governor?" asked the wife of Frank Payne, timidly.
"Yes, Mrs. Payne," replied the Governor, "I have them both here in my desk."
"You noticed the signatures? The county attorney and—and all the prominent people of the place?"
"I saw the names of a number of people I recognized as leading citizens of your community, Mrs. Payne."
"And doesn't that have great weight, Governor? Governor!—in the name of pity can't you give a husband back to a dying woman?"
The Governor rested his hand on his desk, and he began, very slowly: "Mrs. Payne, I can say in all truthfulness that the refusal of such requests as yours is the hardest thing that falls to my lot. But there are only two instances which justify an exercise of the pardon power: when it can be shown justice was not done in the trial, or where there are such extenuating circumstances to make the crime less great in reality than shown to be under the technical construction of the law." He paused, and some way he could feel that the face of the newspaper man had grown red. "I do not find," he went on, his voice trying to take the sting from the words, "that your husband's case falls under either of these."
The woman pulled her chair close to the Governor's desk, and put out a shaking hand. "Governor," she said, in voice not above a whisper, "do you mean that you are going to refuse to let my husband go?"
"I do not see how I can do otherwise," he answered, after a pause.
Then she rose to her feet, her hands clutched passionately before her. "And they told me you were kind," she cried out. "So kind!—they said you would be to me. They said you would be as sorry as my own brother would be, that —oh, they lied!" and she sank upon her knees, her head falling to the Governor's desk, while sobs which it seemed the frail body could not have held, quivered through the big room.
The Governor heard a chair move behind him, he heard a slight cough, but he did not turn around. Instead he lay his hand upon the head which was resting on his desk, and said in the voice which had so endeared him to the people of the State: "You may not know it, but I am very, very sorry."
His touch seemed to give the woman new heart, and she raised her head. "Governor," she began, the flush of the consumptive deepening upon her cheeks, and the fatal glimmer growing more bright in her eyes, "you didn't quite understand. I see now that they hadn't told you just how it was, and that was why you said those awful things. But now I am going to tell you all about it, I am going to make it all plain to you, and then"—a smile of appeal overspread her wan features, "then you are going to let him go."
As she paused for breath the Governor tried to raise her to her feet, but her fingers clung tightly to his desk, and in low, throbbing tones, broken every now and then by a hollow cough, she went on: "You see, Governor, I am going to die. I saw the doctor again this morning, and he said it could not be more than six months. And Governor, for those six months I want my husband. When I die I want to die in his arms—can't you understand that, Governor? If you had just six months to live wouldn't you want to live them with the person you loved? If your very days were numbered, wouldn't you begrudge every hour, every minute even, that you spent away from that person? And, oh, Governor! when you woke up in the long nights with that awful pain in your side, and with that awful feeling in your heart that you were going to die, wouldn't you want to reach out your hand and feel that some one who loved you was there to care for you?—to be with you till the very end? Don't you see it? Don't you see what an awful, awful thing it would be to die alone? To be alone—think of it!—all alone—when you were in pain and dying. Oh!—I can't tell it right; it's hard to talk—but—" and then, in sheer weakness, her voice broke, and again the Governor attempted to raise her, but she clung tightly to the desk, and after a minute went on more quietly:—
"My father has given me some money. He has raised it for me, and he says if you will let Frank go we two shall go to Colorado. Governor, just suppose that the person dearest to you in all the world was dying, and that you were shut up somewhere and they wouldn't let you out to take care of her—to bathe her head, Governor, when it ached so hard, to hold her when she coughed, to love her and—and make it easier for her. Why, Governor, don't you think you'd go crazy? Do you think there is any crime in the world merits such a punishment as that? You say he stole money. I don't know anything about that. I'm not talking about that now. I'm telling you that I'm going to die, and that I'm afraid—oh, I'm afraid!"—her voice rang out with a kind of fierce terror—"to die alone. It's easy to be brave when you're well. But how can you be brave when you're sick, Governor? When—oh, I can't say any more! I'm tired—I'm—"
"Governor," broke in a stern voice behind him, "in God's name, why don't you end this scene? Why don't you tell this woman you will pardon her husband?"
The woman rose to her feet with a low, happy exclamation. "I knew it!" she cried. "I knew from the very first that you were my friend!"
She sank back in her chair and looked at him thankfully—expectantly. "You tell him," she whispered, and closed her tired eyes.
Governor Henderson looked into the face of his friend. It had grown white and it was twitching convulsively.
"The man was convicted of embezzlement," said the chief executive quietly, "and was sentenced to five years. He has served not quite two. I cannot see how, in the name of justice, I can write his pardon."
"Don't write it in the name of justice!" said the newspaper man defiantly. "Write it in the name of decency."
A soft little smile was playing about the Governor's mouth as he pulled a document from his desk and wrote his name. The look of supreme joy upon the thin, fever-eaten face spoke the thanks which would not come in words. And then, after she had started away, she turned back to the large man who was leaning heavily against the wall. "May God ever be good to you and yours," she said brokenly and left them.
There was a long silence. At last the newspaper man spoke. "For the first time since it has been my paper," he said. "the Record is bought with a price."
The Governor made no reply, and Frank Morton stood there twirling his hat in his hand. "It's a strange world," he said, taking a few steps toward the door. "We think things out, we lay down laws, we have it all fixed—theoretically. And then we meet the actual—confront conditions, and the first thing we do with our theories is to break them."
He went away then—forgetful of the commission, and the Governor resumed his work; but for a long time that soft little smile continued to play about the chief executive's mouth.