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Authors: James Hilton

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BOOK: The Dawn of Reckoning
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She worked her way through the crowd, or rather the crowd gave way to her,
assuming no doubt that anybody who pushed hard enough must have some special
and important business. At last she reached the two expressionless policemen
who were guarding the gates.

“I’m Mrs. Monsell,” she gasped breathlessly. “I’ve got very important
evidence here “—she pointed to the package in her hand—“and I
must see the Governor at once.”

The two policemen looked down at her unmoved. “Nobody admitted without a
permit, mum,” said one. “Got a permit?”

“No, I haven’t—but surely—oh, you must let me see the
Governor—it’s a matter of life and death—”

“Nobody ain’t admitted without a permit,” said the other policeman, more
forcibly. “That’s orders.”

“And is an innocent man to die because of your orders?—Good
God—you mean
I can’t see anybody
?”

“Not without a permit, mum,” replied the first policeman stolidly.

By this time the crowd had become aware of her identity. Cries of “It’s
you that ought to be hung” and “She’s the one who made him do it” reached her
ears; she did not care about them, but they strengthened the dreadful
impression that every hand was against her. She stood looking first this way
and then that, absolutely crushed and bewildered. If she could not get inside
the prison to place her evidence before the responsible authorities, then she
might as well never have found the evidence. Ward would be hanged…Nothing
could save him. She was powerless…She felt panic, sheer panic, rising
inside her like a bubbling frothy tide. They would hang him without listening
to her…The cries of the crowd became more menacing…

“You’d better go away,” said one of the policemen. “You ‘aven’t got a
permit…Move on now…”

She suddenly turned round and darted through the crowd into the bleak
streets. The great smoke-mist of London was slowly covering up the last rays
of sunlight. She heard somebody on the fringe of the crowd say: “Go on, she
ain’t Mrs. Monsell…She’s got delusions—there’s always a lot like
that…Mrs. Monsell don’t care…she knows she’s damned lucky not to be
‘anged herself…”

She turned into a street of small dilapidated shops. A policeman stood at
the corner. Perhaps he would be more reasonable than those at the prison
gates.

“I want to see a police superintendent,” she said, forcing herself under
control. “I’ve got important evidence…I’m Mrs. Monsell…Will you please
take me to the nearest police-station…oh, quickly, quickly—it’s a
quarter to nine—there’s no time to lose.”

“You say you’re Mrs. Monsell?” The policeman glanced down at her
critically.

“Yes, yes—for God’s sake hurry.”

“I can’t leave my beat…The police-station’s down there on the
left…”

She raced down the road, cursing herself and the world. She was wildly out
of breath when she reached the grim, inhospitable building. Rushing up the
steps she stumbled and fell, covering her clothes with dirt and dust. “For
God’s sake listen to me!” she cried, plunging into the charge-room. “Listen
to me…Read this…It proves…Oh, where’s the chief—somebody who’ll
take notice of me…”

A policeman seized her by the arm. “Now then, lady, keep calm. The
superintendent’s out, but he won’t be long. Perhaps you’d like to wait. Just
take a seat in here, will you?”

She screamed at him: “I can’t wait. It’s a matter of life and death. In
ten minutes it will be too late. I’m Mrs. Monsell—”

“Oh, you’re Mrs. Monsell, are you?”

He led her by the arm to the street entrance. “Look ‘ere, mum, we don’t
want no trouble. You just go an’ take a walk. It’ll do you good.”

She suddenly divined his meaning. “Oh, you think I’m mad, do you?” Through
the glass swing-doors she caught sight at that moment of the superintendent
entering the charge-room. “See, your chief’s just come in…Let me see
him…I
must
come in…Oh, do give me a chance to talk to him. Let me
in, let me in, let me in—”

“You clear off. And quick, too!”

“You won’t let me in?” Her voice changed its tone quite suddenly. “You
won’t? Very well, I’ll make you.”

She ran down the steps and across the road to a shop. It was a
tobacconist’s. She took a running kick and smashed the window to splinters.
One of them fell against her cheek, cutting her below the eye…She stood
there on the pavement, waiting for them to fetch her, with face streaming
with blood and eyes wildly staring. In another moment she was in the
charge-room again, with a policeman on either side of her. Behind the desk a
heavy-jowled grey-haired blank-eyed machine faced her; a man whom nothing on
earth or in heaven could startle or surprise.

When she spoke to him he took no notice of her.

He opened a big lousy-looking book, and began to write in it with a
slow-moving scratchy pen. “What is the number of the shop?” he asked.

One of the policemen said it was 192; another was quite certain that it
was 194. In the midst of the discussion the tobacconist himself entered,
raging furiously. It was neither 192 nor 194, he said; it was 196.

The clock above the machine said five minutes to nine.


The book
!” she kept screaming, but the book lay on the desk
untouched and unnoticed.

The cut on her cheek looked ghastly, but it was not a bad one. She heard
them talking, just as if she were dreaming a dream, and they were the people
in it.

They thought she was babbling incoherently, but really she was protesting
and cursing vehemently—in Hungarian.

VIII

She was in a cell, and the four blank walls were coming
nearer to her and crushing her. Nearer—nearer—she screamed, and
they went away again slightly. Then they began to come nearer to her again,
and she had to scream a second time to frighten them off. Each time she
screamed they moved a little farther off, but she had to keep on screaming
louder and louder.

A clock somewhere was striking the hour. One, two, three, four…

She was dying. She knew that. It was not Ward whom they were hanging at
nine o’clock, but she herself. She could feel the drop quivering under her
feet, the noose about her neck, her eyes blindfold…

Five, six, seven, eight…

The drop fell, the noose tightened round her throat; she had a moment of
blinding, exquisite agony full of strange colours and sounds, half-delicious,
half-excruciating…

She knew then that she was dead.

Nine…

IX

A long silence. The silence of the tomb. Eternity.

Somebody was standing before her. She thought at first it was God. She
could not see him—she could only feel, as she had always felt.

“Madam…”

Would God call her “madam”? She stared into the blackness, and then she
saw that it was not God at all.

The cell-door was open, and the machine was standing beside it. For a
machine he seemed curiously concerned, almost moved.

“Madam…” he said again.

She looked up, and he cleared his throat raucously.

He went on, in his driest and most official tones: “I have examined
the—er—the book you—er—brought with you…”

She could hardly hear him; the sounds were all blurred; she caught stray
words now and then: “…seemed to me…wise…precaution…personal
authority…communicate…Holloway…fortunately…fortunately…fortunately…”

But the last sentence rang out clear and whole above all the rest.

“The execution has been delayed…”

THE END
GALLERY OF COVER IMAGES

 

Cover of First US Edition, 1934.

 

 

Cover of Penguin Books Edition, UK, 1937.

 

 

Cover of Italian Edition, Rome, 1946.

 

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BOOK: The Dawn of Reckoning
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