William F. Stratton
The Governor's Visitor
Oakes Magazine, Sep 19, 1903.
In the ambitious fancies of the governor, gazing through the window near the rear of his desk, the shifting clouds that capped the distant peaks assumed prophetic shapes
Masses of wild, gesticulating men, assembled in convention, slowly changed into a proud procession with flaunting banners, bands and prancing steeds; then spread and curled and drifted into the semblance of a marble hall, wherein sat senators in solemn state: then massed, and rose, and took the shape, of a gigantic chair, in which a president might sit to guide a mighty nation.
A pleasing, flattering vision from which the dreamer turned unwillingly when the little, wan woman with expectant face was ushered in.
“I am very sorry, madam," said the governor, gruffly, when his insistent visitor had paused for breath, “but I have examined your petition and find no grounds to justify a pardon. Your son pleaded guilty—did not deny the charge. Malefactors must be punished, and it is my duty to enforce tin law. That is all I have to say. I am very busy and see no reason for prolonging this discussion.”
He might have said that he had examined the signatures more carefully than the petition, and had found no name of political weight, but the little, wan woman could not have understood. She wiped away a tear and arose with a weary sigh.
"It’s ‘bout as I expected—though I did think mebbe you'd see it different. Because he told th’ truth he has to suffer. I 'most wish now he’d a-run away, as sum of ’em wanted him to.”
"Very foolish, madam.” remarked the governor, turning to his desk. “He could not have escaped.”
"O, I dunno. Sumtimes they git away. There was th’ Widder Bennington’s boy, back in New Hampshire, run away with th’ bank’s money, an’ they never ketched him. But th’ widder give up everything to make it good. I hain’t got nothin’ to give. That makes a difference.”
A faint pallor crept over the governor’s bearded face; there was a tremor in the resolute voice as he asked quietly: “You have lived in New Hampshire. Mrs. Appleby? Please be seated. Did you know Mrs. Bennington and her son?”
“I never seen th' boy. He run off before th’ widder moved to our town. I’ve heered a rumor that he changed his name an’ got to be sumbody out West here sumwhere—a jedge or sumthin’. I reckon it wasn't true.”
“Did Mrs. Bennington grieve much because of her son’s—misfortune?”
“Misfortune! I never heered enyone call it a misfortune. He took th' money, same’s my boy did. He took dollars where Joey took cents, an’ he run—Joey didn’t—that’s th' difference.”
The governor nervously fingered the piles of papers on his littered desk.
“There may have been mitigating circumstances in young Bennington's case. Did you ever hear that he had been led into speculation—that he was not naturally a criminal?”
"Neither was Joey,” said the little woman, bitterly. “Ain’t there mitigatin’ circumstances in his case? He’d never done it if I hadn't been down sick so long an’ nobody to pervide for me but that poor boy. An’ he stood up like a man. He wouldn’t run an' he wouldn’t lie. He’d-a paid back every cent, too, after I got well, if they’d-a give him a chance—though they wasn’t payin’ him half decent wages.”
"Yes—yes—no doubt. They all intend to do that. But you haven’t answered my question about Mrs. Bennington.”
"Did I know th’ widder? Well, nobody could git much acquainted with her, but we could all see she was' a-grievin’ herself to death 'bout somethin’, though we didn't hear 'bout th’ boy till she’d been in our town quite a spell.”
"Lived all alone in a-little three-room house, an’ didn’t go round an’ mix with folks. Sum ‘lowed she was proud an’ stuck up, but she wasn’t. As sweet an' gentle a-little woman as you ever seen, she was. I know, ‘cause she lived right next door to me, an' sometimes she spoke to me across th' fence. Seemed like she was lonesome an' jest hungry to talk to sumhody, an’ was afeard to. But whenever I mentioned callin’ on her she'd kind o’ shy off, an’ I never was in her house till th’ night she died.”
“Why, she never even let ennybody know she was took down, not even a doctor. She’d a-died there all alone if I hadn't suspected sumthin’, not seein’ her around, an' jest went in an’ found her purty nigh gone. Then we had th’ doctor, but we couldn’t do nothin’, only make the poor soul more cumferble. She didn’t say much—she couldn’t—only once, when I axed her was there ennything she wanted, she kind o’ sobbed an’ whispered. ‘My boy—if only I could see him once more.”
“She went purty soon after that—easy an’ peaceful, like goin’ to sleep—jest as th’ robins begun to sing in th’ mornin’; I was a-holdin’ her hand when she went. Jest grieved herself to death ‘bout that boy.”
“We laid her away, nice an’ decent—we didn’t grudge no expense. Had th’ minister, n’—was you tryin’ to say sumthin’ governor? If you’d jest turn your face this way—I’m a-might deaf. Mebbe I’m worrying’ you with my talk. I reckon I’d better go eh?”
The governor did not answer. His back was turned to the little, wan woman in rusty black; his eyes again saw visions in the distant, drifting clouds. No halls of marble there—only a quaint old mansion, elm-embowered, ‘mid odorous orchards on New Hampshire hills; no proud procession now—but white sails swelling in the salt sea breeze; no senators in solemn state—only one face, patient and sweet, haloed silver hair, that smiled and called him by a long-forgotten name.
And then the west wind rose and whipped the drifting clouds into long shafts that lay along the peaks like bars of iron across a granite cell.
The governor seized a pen, and with nervous haste filled up the spaces in a printed form, affixed his signature and the seal of state, and held out the document to the little woman.
With a choking cry of joy, and broken words of thanks, she sprang at it and hugged it to her breast.
“Yes—yes— I understand,” the governor interrupted, hoarsely. “It is not much in comparison to what you did for—Mrs. Bennington. Please go now Mrs. Appleby—I wish to be alone.”