From The Times Dispatch, July 11, 1914. By Alvin Hattorf.
“All’s well,” cried the prison guard, as he walked his beat—the echo came “All’s well.”
I was still in the silence as they cried away, twelve strokes had lately fell.
The lightning darted across the sky and a peal of thunder sounded plain,
The black forms of the pickets were seen, through the lightning and the rain.
It came in pouring torrents, drowning every sound,
The convicts in their cells slept on, in spite of the raging storm around.
But in one cell its prisoner slept, but was wide awake;
To him the storm was welcome; it seemed that God had sent it for his sake.
Over and over in his burning brain came the words as he paced the cell;
The words of the letter pressed to his lips, and again and again they fell:
“Come, I’m dying—come! ‘ere it be too late;
I must see you—come!—for my sake.”
“I’m coming,” he whispered hoarsely; “I’m coming from this prison hell!”
Then falling upon his knees, he prayed within his cell;
“Be with me now, Oh! God. Let all happen for the best;
I’m going; I give all to you—the rest.”
Quickly he arose; swiftly to the door; the guard had heard not;
Softly to the bed and he drew a file from his cot.
Then one by one he began to cut the huge iron bars,
In nervous anxiety and with many a trembling pause.
Half-past 12 struck the clock, and the storm raged on in fury;
One, two sounded, as he paused, tired and weary.
Again racing to the door and again his heart stopping dread;
To the window—let down the rope, and began his perilous tread.
Slowly, yard by yard, sometimes he swung in space,
Oft pausing to escape detection, then downward in hurrying haste.
The rain the while beat upon his face, but the lightning flashed less;
Only the roaring thunder; ’twas as if his escape were blessed.
At last he reached the ground with one mighty leap;
Here he crouched trembling, then slowly began to creep.
The guard paused—did he hear a noise? But no, he paces on.
The shivering convict pauses below and waits till he is gone.
Swiftly, cat-like, he climbs the wall, clinging to every rock;
At last reaching the end, lay panting at the top.
But only for a moment; he crouches over, high and steep,
As a crash of thunder drowns the noise of his daring leap.
Here, stretched upon the ground, then came a thought:
“What good to see his dying wife for a while—in life to part?”
He, innocent of crime, to spend the rest in a cell!
“No, no,” he muttered in his pain, “I’d rather go with her than back to that long, hard hell!”
In mute appeal he waited for a flash of lightning—and it came.
The guard saw the escaped, and his gun crashed deadly aim.
The convict clinched his bleeding breast, but with a smile of joy, better.
“’Tis best, thank God! Now I’ll be with her forever.”