Read A KANSAS HELL: CHAPTER XII. A DARK HOUR of The Twin Hells, free online book, by John N. Reynolds, on ReadCentral.com.

It was a bright Sabbath morning. I had been detailed to assist the prison choir in their preparation for the religious services of the day. While engaged in this duty, the deputy warden sent for me. Meeting this official, he said to me, “John, I have sad news for you. Governor Martin has just telephoned from Atchison that your wife is dead, and that it was his wish to have you sent home at once.” This was a great surprise to me. I had heard from my wife only two days before this. At that time she was quite sick, but was thought to be improving. With a heart filled with sadness I now prepared for my journey home. The warden was absent, and the deputy warden said, “There was no precedent for permitting a prisoner to go home on a visit, as such a thing had never occurred before in the history of the State, but,” continued he, “if you will give me your word that you will return to the prison I will let you go.” I told him to set the time for my return and I would be back. Mr. Morgan, the turnkey of the prison, was my guard. My journey from the prison was the saddest of my life. It was a bright May morning. Everything around seemed joyful and happy, but to me the world was gloomy. I imagined my wife lying at home a corpse, surrounded by my weeping, motherless little ones. She had passed away without my being at her bedside to go with her to the brink of the dark river. Mr. Morgan, my attendant, had lost his mother but a short time before this, and he could sympathize with me in a manner that aided me in bearing my burdens.

After riding for a couple of hours we arrived at Atchison. The train on reaching the city passes on some two blocks beyond the depot; then backs down. As I thus passed by the depot I saw numerous friends who had heard of my coming, and were there waiting to welcome me to my home. They saluted me as I sat in the car at the window and passed on by the depot. I thought they exhibited too much joy in receiving a friend who was coming back to see his dead wife. I wondered at it. When the train stopped to back down to the depot, I got off and took the nearest cut to my residence. Walking some four blocks I reached my home. When nearing the gate, one of my little daughters came bounding across the street, full of joy and gladness, welcoming me home. I thought she acted rather strange for her mother to be lying in the house a corpse. Without saying anything I stepped to the door; it was standing ajar. Looking in, I saw my wife lying in the adjoining room not dead! Thank God! It seemed as if I had stepped into another world. My wife was very sick, but still conscious. Oh! what joy I felt at once more being able to see my wife and to talk with her. All the way from the prison to the door of my residence I was laboring under a false impression. I drank the cup to its very dregs. I could have suffered no more on that journey home if she had been dead. In fact I supposed she was. Governor Martin had made a mistake in transmitting the message, or had been wrongly informed.

I do not know how it came that I was permitted to return home. I was a United States’ prisoner. As such, Governor Martin had no control over me. No one had authority to send me home on such a furlough except President Cleveland. But I care nothing about this. I did not stop to inquire about the authority; when the prison doors came open I left for home. I was furnished a citizen’s suit of clothes. I remained at home for nearly a week. Many friends came to see me. This to me was one of the best weeks of my life.

A little occurrence took place, during this short stay at home, which I will mention here. I have a legal friend at Atchison by the name of Hon. D. C. Arnold. This man, when tested, proves himself true to those who have gained his good will. He conceived the idea that sending me out of the penitentiary, in citizen’s clothing, was without warrant in law or precedent in fact, and that, by releasing me in that way, they had lost control of me. Unknown to me he had prepared an application in “habeas corpus.” The judge of the District Court, Hon. W. D. Gilbert, who was on the bench at the time, was a personal friend of his and mine also, as I had something to do in his election, and had the application been presented to him, the judge would have inclined to turn me loose, and I would have been a free man. When Mr. Arnold informed me as to what he was doing, I told him that I had given my word of honor that I would return to the prison, and that I would keep it.

At the expiration of a week I returned to my prison cell. A petition, signed by nearly five thousand people, had been forwarded to President Cleveland for my pardon. I had some hopes of securing relief. I bade my wife good-by. I thought sure I would be sent home in a few days. My wife hopefully entertained the same opinion. We were both deceived. When I reached the prison, the deputy warden, Mr. Higgins, when he was informed by the officer, Mr. Morgan, who attended me home, how I refused my chances of liberty by means of the proceedings in “habeas corpus,” contemplated by my friends, choosing imprisonment rather than breaking my word, called me into his office, and said that there was not one man in ten placed in my circumstances that would have done as I did. He then said to me: “Reynolds, I will see that you have no more hard work to do while you are in the penitentiary; I would give you your liberty if I could, but that is beyond my power. I will make it as agreeable for you as possible in the prison.” He got another man to take my place in the mines, and I was given an easy task from that on. I was detailed to make out reports for the prison officials, and was kept busy, and was, as I was informed, a very valuable man in that capacity. This kind of work was in keeping with my labors when on the outside, and was not hard on me like digging coal. I was given the liberty of the prison; was allowed to converse with the prisoners, and because of these favors shown me, I was able to secure the material for this book.

The month following my return to the prison was the darkest, the most desolate, and the most sorrowful portion of my earthly pilgrimage yet experienced. My wife was at home dying! I was behind the prison walls! During that month I was entirely unfit for any kind of work. The prison officials, knowing my sorrows, took pity on me and did not insist upon my performing any kind of labor. I was left alone with my grief. None but God and the angels knew what I suffered. During the day I could think of nothing but my dying wife; in the night-time, when the angel Sleep closes the eyelids down to rest, none came to me; in my dreams the pale face of my dear one at home in the agonies of death was before me. I would but drop sometimes into a dull slumber when I fancied that I could hear her calling for me, and thus aroused, it seemed to me that I must burst the prison bars and go to her. Knowing how much deeper and stronger, purer and sweeter the affections and sympathies of woman are than those of man, what must my poor, dead wife have borne! For thirty days and nights I endured these torments. At last the hour came when her sufferings ceased. Reader, doubtless you have lost a loved one. If so, you were permitted to go down to the very brink of the River of Death; you were permitted to sit at the bedside and administer words of comfort and cheer. Not so with me. My loved one passed away, her husband kept from her side by prison bolts and bars. And, reader, when you buried your loved one, kind friends condoled with you, and in some degree assuaged your grief. Not so with me. When the news came that my wife was dead I sat down in my solitary cell and shed my tears alone. The cup that was placed to my lips was indeed a bitter one, and I drank to the dregs. My wife was one of earth’s purest and best. We lived together as husband and wife the fifth of a century. During those twenty years of married life my wife never uttered a cross word to her husband. What greater eulogy could be pronounced! In the sunshine, and as certainly amid the storms of life, she was constant and true. Because of her goodness of heart my home was cloudless. Many times during life have the storms and waves swept against my trembling barque, but in that little harbor called home no storms ever came. Oh, how much a man loses when a good wife dies! So great was my distress that, had it not been for the strength imparted by a pitying God, I never could have passed through that long night of suffering. Gone, never to return.

When my prison days were over, I returned to my old home in Atchison, but how changed it was. My wife in her grave; my motherless children among strangers; my home desolate. As I pen these lines, surrounded by the fogs and mists of time, the question comes to me ever and anon, when the hour shall come for me to close my eyes to the scenes of earth, will I be permitted to greet my sainted wife in the beautiful city above? Yes. I have the faith that the loving Galilean the man of sorrows, who was acquainted with grief will in that hour open the gates of pearl, and let me in. Until that happy hour until we meet in the land where none of life’s storms ever reach, my darling wife, farewell!