Authors: Howard Fast
Yet out of this thinking there emerged a glimmer of understanding of his own situation, his own life, his own destiny, and also some comprehension of the irresistible forces which had played upon him and taken him step by step to this terrible ending. Out of his thoughts there had come a degree of pity for himself as well as for others, and sometimes he wept and sometimes he prayed. At one point during an interval of prayer, the realization came to him that he must not allow these two men, Sacco and Vanzetti, to perish for a crime of which they were innocent, but which he himself had committed. Once he understood this, a sort of peace came upon him, a release from tensions within him. And now, so long afterwards, he remembered well the deep serenity with which he wrote out his first confession and tried to send it from jail to a newspaper he sometimes readâthe
. But instead of reaching the newspaper, the confession was brought to a man called Deputy Sheriff Curtis, who put the letter away, and tried to make that the end of it.
But Madeiros would not let it be the end, and he made a second confession, and this confession he gave to a trusty, and the trusty took it along the rows of cells and handed it to Nicola Sacco. Afterwards, the trusty described to Madeiros how Sacco had read it and how he had begun to tremble after reading it, and then how he had begun to weep, the tears pouring down his face. And when poor, bedeviled Madeiros heard this story, his heart once again swelled with joy, and once again he had that splendid feeling of tranquility and peace.
But many, many months had passed since then. Madeiros did not know all that had transpired after his confession had been made. But he did know that it had not changed a sequence of events already planned, either those events which concerned himself, or those events which concerned Sacco and Vanzetti. All three of them were going to die. He, Celestino Madeiros, for crimes of which he was guilty, and the shoemaker and the fish peddler for crimes of which they were innocent.â¦
The thief finished his prayers and rose to his feet and moved to the tiny window of his cell where he could look out upon the new light of a new day. In the swirling, cloudy mist of morning, he could see no more than an occasional section of the prison wall. But his imagination went beyond that wall, and suddenly and momentarily he experienced a surge of gladness that upon this day he would be set free, and his soul would leap in flight to whatever judgment place awaited it. But this surge of joy was only momentary. It died as it was born, and Madeiros turned back to his bed with cold fear once again his only companion.
He desired to pray again, but he could think of no more prayers which would be either fitting or necessary for him to say. He sat down on his bed and put his face in his hands, and after a little while, he began to weep again. Tears came more easily than prayers.
awakened from a dream that was not unfamiliar. There were some dreams that repeated themselves night after night like chronic illness, and in most of them, roles were reversed, and he who was warden became prisoner, and he who was prisoner became warden. Now he woke up into full daylight and sunshine and the glint of blue sky through the window; but the persons and colors and words that were in the dream, remained closer to him for the moment than the reality of his awakening.
In his dream, he always protested the same way. He always felt the same fear, the same terrible frustration. He always argued,
“But I am the Warden.”
“That cuts no ice.”
“But you don't seem to understand. I am the Warden of this prison.”
“It's you who don't understand. As we told you before, that cuts no ice here. None at all. Absolutely none.”
“Who are you?”
“That's not to the point, either. To the point is your own situationâto remain quiet and do as you are told. Make no trouble.”
“You don't seem to know who you are talking to. You are talking to the Warden. I can come as I please and go as I please. I can leave here any time I want to leave here.”
“Oh, no, you can't. You can't leave here any time you want to leave here. You can't leave here at all.”
“Of course I can.”
“These are your own delusions of grandeur. Grandeur has nothing at all to do with this, and we will not tolerate your delusions. You are here in a prison. You do as you are told. Button your lip, mind the orders, and do as you are told, and you'll get along.”
That was the usual flow of the dialogue. They never believed that he was the Warden. It didn't matter how much he pleaded or reasoned or argued or produced this evidence or that evidence to document his position. They in turn could produce their evidence. In his dreams once, he had been asked,
“Who decides to be or plans to be or dreams of being a jail guard, a turnkey, or even a warden? Who? A child wants to be a fireman, a policeman, a soldier, a doctor, a lawyer, a driver, of a four-horse teamâbut who on God's earth ever wanted to be a jail guard or a warden?”
Awake, the Warden reflected upon the deep truth of this: particular challenge of his dream. At moments when he pitied himself, it seemed to him that people who worked in prisons were wind-tossed people who arrived at a destination that was never of their own choice. This morning he wanted to believe this. He awakened with a woeful feeling of emptiness. Somewhere in his sleep, along the way, he had lost something; and there would be no finding it today. He tried to tell himself that today was a day he had neither made nor ordered.
With such thoughts, he sat up in his bed, put his feet into his slippers, and went to clean himself and shave, and make himself look like what a warden should look like. He gargled and he combed his hair, and all the while, he conducted an argument with himself, telling himself that this was not his doing. In the course of that kind of thing, he had a sudden realization that each and every person connected with the executions today must be saying the same thing; that each absolved himself. His own absolution was a middle matter. He was neither the most important nor the least important person concerned. He had been the Warden before today, and unquestionably he would be the Warden after today. Things would quiet down a little. One had to remember that people possessed the facility to forget. They could forget anything on earth. Never was a lover born who in time could not forget his own true love, and that notwithstanding how true the love was. The Warden, to some extent at least, was a philosopher. This was an affliction of the trade, an occupational disease. He knew that all wardens were philosophers. Like old sea captains, the very ark they ruled gave them a dignity at odds with the crew and passengers they carried.
“Well,” he said to himself on this particular morning, “it's no use going on thinking that way. Here's today which had to come, and in time it will be over. The thing to do is to get about it and see that everything is all right and make things as easy and comfortable as they can be made.”
He finished dressing, and decided that he would take a look at the death house before he had his breakfast. He walked across the yard and was greeted by the captain of the guards, and even by a trusty or two who were already about their work. The morning life of the prison he ruled had begun. Metal doors clanged open and rolled shut. Prisoners came by, pushing hand trucks full of laundry. The clatter of pots and dishes, a whole bustle of activity, went on around the kitchen and bakery doors, and already, corridors were being mopped, swabbed down, washed with gray lye-impregnated water. At this time of the morning, a little past seven o'clock, the prisoners were going to their morning meal. The Warden heard the regimental tread of their feet, the chopping sound of half a thousand men moving in rhythm, of a thousand leather shoes slapping the concrete. A little later, the sound of trays and spoons came to him through walls and along cell blocks. His ears were marvelously tuned to all the various sounds and noises of the prison, for these were the sounds and noises of his life. In that sense at least, his dream was most deeply true. He lived his whole life in jail.
Now he came to the death house. He chose Vanzetti to speak to, and that was natural, for it was never difficult to speak to Vanzetti. He walked up to Vanzetti's cell, rubbing his hands together, cheerful, brisk, business-like, determined that he would not make any funereal occasion out of this, but would go at it straightforwardly and directly, with no fuss or bother.
Vanzetti, who had been sitting on his bed, fully dressed, rose to meet the Warden, and they shook hands gravely.
“Good morning, Bartolomeo,” the Warden said. “I am very pleased to see you looking well. I am, indeed.”
“Perhaps better than I feel.”
“You couldn't be expected to feel very good. In your place, no one would feel very good.”
“I suppose that's true,” Vanzetti nodded. “I don't suppose that you think too much before you say something like that, but that doesn't change it. It remains a very true thing. So often, there are things that you say in such a fashion without thinking too much about them, and they remain very true and very direct.”
The Warden observed him with interest. The Warden understood that if he himself were in Vanzetti's place, he could not have behaved in this way. He would have been very afraid, very frightened, his voice would have choked up, his throat would have tightened, his skin would have become wet, and he would have trembled from head to foot. The Warden knew himself, and he knew that beyond a shadow of a doubt, this was the case with him; but it was not the case with Vanzetti. Vanzetti seemed quite calm. His deep-set eyes looked at the Warden appraisingly. His heavy mustache added a quizzical note to his appearance, and his strong, high-boned, melancholy face seemed to the Warden no different from what it had been at any other time.
“Have you seen Sacco yet this morning?” Vanzetti asked the Warden.
“Not yet. I will see him a little later.”
“I am worried about him. He is very weak because of the hunger strike. He is sick. I worry a good deal about him.”
“I worry about him, too,” the Warden said.
“Yes, of course. Anyway, I think you should see him and speak to him.”
“All right, I'll do that. What else would you like me to do?”
Suddenly, Vanzetti smiled. He looked at the Warden suddenly as a grown, mature man would smile at a child.
“Do you really want to know what I would like you to do?” Vanzetti asked.
“What I can do,” the Warden answered. “I can't do everything. Whatever I can do, Bartolomeo, I will be very happy to do. Today you have some privileges. You can have whatever you want to eat. You can have the Priest whenever you want him.”
“I would like to spend some time with Sacco. Can you arrange that? There is a great deal that I want to say to him, but somehow it has never been said. If you can arrange for me to spend some time with him, a few hours, I would be very grateful for that.”
“I think that can be arranged. I will try. But don't be disappointed if it can't be.”
“You must understand, it is not because I am stronger or braver than he is. Perhaps I am able to give that impression. But the appearance is a superficial one. Inside, he is as strong as I am, and braver than I am.”
“You are both very brave and good people,” the Warden said. “I am terribly sorry that all this has to happen.”
“There is nothing you can do about it. It wasn't your fault.”
“Anyway, I'm sorry,” the Warden said, “and I regret it. I wish it could be different.”
The Warden didn't want to talk any more. There was nothing more he could think of saying, and he also realized that this kind of talk was having a profoundly upsetting effect upon him. He asked Vanzetti to excuse him, explaining that today was a day when he had a great many things to do, more than he would usually have. Vanzetti appeared to understand.
When the Warden sat down to breakfastâusually he ate a fairly large breakfast, but this morning he had no appetite at allâhe was struck with the conviction that today, as had happened several times in the past, indeed, only a week ago, the execution would be postponed; and neither Sacco nor Vanzetti would die. He realized that even if this did happen, there would still be the execution of the thief, Celestino Madeiros; and while that would be painful and unpleasant, it would certainly not be as upsetting to his nerves as this particular business with Sacco and Vanzetti.
Having made this observation to himself, the Warden felt a good deal better, and the more he speculated on the possibility, the more it seemed that this would be the case. His whole demeanor changed. He became cheerful, and he smiled for the first time that morning as he observed to his wife that, in his opinion, the execution would be postponed.
He was the sort of man who had, over a period of years, suppressed his own excitement, for the particular events of his life gave no joy to excitement, and little fulfillment to anticipation. His wife, therefore, was rather surprised at the eager note in his voice and at the certainty with which he made this pronouncement. She asked him an obvious question,
“But why should they postpone it any further?”
The answer to this question, which leaped immediately into his mind, gave him reason to pause and to consider the entire proposition. He had intended to say, “The execution will be postponed because it is quite obvious to anyone who knows anything about this case, that these two men are innocent.”
But he hesitated to say this, even to his wife. He was unwilling to place himself directly on record with such an observation. He had said too many times that questions of guilt and innocence were not for him or for any warden to decide; therefore, he reviewed some of the aspects of the case, and reminded his wife that there were a number of reasonable doubts as to the guilt of the two men.
“But how can anyone survive this kind of thing?” his wife wondered. “For seven years it has been going on like thisâdeath and reprieve, death and reprieve. I don't know but that it wouldn't be better to finish with it. I couldn't live that way.”