Source: Socialist Spirit
Source type: magazine
Document type: fiction
Document title: “The Last Guest”
Date of publication: November 1901
Volume number: 1
Issue number: 3
|“The Last Guest.” Socialist Spirit Nov. 1901 v1n3: pp. 13-14.|
|Leon Czolgosz (execution: fictional accounts).|
|Leon Czolgosz; Hannah; J. Warren Mead.|
The Last Guest
Warden Mead issued and mailed at Auburn Wednesday afternoon the invitations to the execution of Czolgosz.—Chicago Tribune.
She had not received an invitation. The warden
did not even know her name. She was called just “Hannah.” And yet if invitations
were to be had by earning them she should have had one. She had scrubbed the
cement floor of the Room until it was immaculate. The Angel of Death was to
walk on it, she thought. It was scarcely daylight.
The turnkey grinned at her. “Going to the party, Hannah?” he said, as the gate clicked. Then he added good-naturedly, “I’ll let you through.”
She shook her head. It was a round head, and the hair was scant upon it. A little knob of it on the crown, that was all. She was an old woman. She had been there a long time and had grown taciturn. She was not allowed to speak to the prisoners, so she had gotten out of the habit of speaking to anybody.
After going a few steps she put down the pail and wrung out the mop. Her arms were short and red and quite muscular. She was not an attractive woman. Then she picked up the pail again and went on up the corridor toward where it opened into the main hall-way.
At this gate the turnkey said nothing. He had been there as long as she had.
She turned away from the main doorway and went a few steps down the corridor in the opposite direction. Here she sat down on a small stool.
She could see the guests as they came in.
She did not wish to see the prisoner killed. She had never gone in when there was any one in the chair. One day they had killed a woman in it. She could have gone in then had she wanted to. Somehow it went against her. They seemed so much like other people as they peered through the bars at her.
The guests were coming in with their dirty feet. There would be more mopping to do after;—after the party.
“It does seem a little improvement over hanging.”
She heard a large man with gray hair and a very red nose say this as he turned down the passage with two others. She wondered if he were a judge.
She thought they must be talking about the chair. She could remember the week it was put in; only a few years ago. It was the week her son had had his arm torn off in the factory.
She remembered when they used to take them out and hang them. The man who pulled the drop always hid  himself. She never knew who it was. Perhaps some of the turnkeys could have told her, but she never liked to ask. Likely enough, he did not want any one to know. She wondered if the judges paid him well for it. It is so hard to get along.
With the chair you only press a button. That turns on the current. The prisoner is strapped in so he can’t wriggle. He can’t get away from it. There is a metal thing on his forehead. He just has to sit there with all the gentlemen looking at him. Then finally they kill him.
Pretty soon the guests began to come back up the corridor. They were all talking excitedly. “Remarkable!” said a short man with a big stomach and a flat forehead. “Remarkable power.”
She supposed he meant electricity. She wondered what electricity was. She wondered if God gave it to us, and if He did, how He meant us to use it. She wondered what God was anyhow.
She hung the stool on a nail in the stone wall, and picked up her pail. The turnkey opened the gate for her. He did not say anything.
She went down the corridor to the next gate. “It’s all over,” said the turnkey. The gate clicked again. Then she went on into the Room.
The chair was empty. They had taken the body out. She began to mop, but she needed more water, so she emptied the pail into the drain and went to the gate at the back of the corridor. The turnkey let her through. He was a silent man, too.
She went past the room where the body was.
Two men were there with it, and one of them asked her if she wanted to see it. One of the men was her nephew.
She nodded her head and they took the cloth off the face. The lips were parted a little. There was a slight burn near one of the temples. The eyes were wide open. It startled her a little. He looked so like a little boy. “Is he dead?” she asked, quietly.
“You bet he is,” said her nephew, “dead as a rabbit.” She started for fear he might waken.
She put the cloth back over the face herself, and went and got her pail of water.
When she reached the corridor where the chair was she set down the pail and straightened up. She seemed to see the face in the next room. She thought of the morning her own boy had come to her out of the Great Mystery. What awful agony it was. She looked instinctively at her hands. She had suffered so that long night that her nails had cut the flesh. One would never know it now.
She wondered which hurt the most; death or birth; the boy in the next room looked so peaceful.
She thought of the mothers everywhere writhing in mortal agony. Everybody had to be born. For every life a woman had to suffer.
Then she looked at the chair with its straps and metal plugs, and thought of the lives that had gone out in it. * * *
She seemed to see a Word floating above the chair. She could not make it out. Pretty soon it seemed scrawled along the wall. Then it faded; and then it came back again. Finally she made it out, but she could not understand it. It was the word FUTILITY.