Last words such as those are self defining; you are dead because you deliver them. Consider Billy the Kid’s last words, delivered into a darkened bedroom he had just entered. Billy was looking for a little comfort in the arms of Paulita Maxwell. But Paulita was bound and gagged on her bed. And sitting in the dark next to that bed was Sheriff Pat Garritt and Paulita's brother, Pedro. As Billy stepped through the door somebody made a sound. Billy asked, “Who’s there?” And Garritt responded with both barrels of his 12 gauge shotgun, at close range. That may be the ultimate definative answer to that particular question.
There is a school of thought that last words reveal some insight into character. I’m not referring to suicide notes or pompous words meant for posterity, but the spontaneous utterances of those who know they are facing an imminent death. As one example consider Thomas de Mahay, the Marquis de Favras, who in 1790 was handed his death warrant as he climbed the steps to the guillotine. Thomas actually spent his last moments on earth reading the document, as if he were looking for a loophole. And his last words on earth were addressed to the clerk who had handed him the legal justification for his execution. The Marquis interupted his own demise long enough to point out the offiical, “I see that you have made three spelling mistakes.” That was not a helpful remark if he was hoping for a delay in the proceedings, but it did tell us a great deal about Thomas. As did the immediate observation of the clerk, who must have been heard to utter, "Touche".
Or consider the final words of Lady Nancy Langhorne Astor, the first female member the English Parliament. Lady Astor awoke on her deathbed to discover her family had gathered around her. Quite logically she asked, “Am I dying or is this my birthday?” Unfortunately, the family’s response was not recorded, and I am the kind of person who wonders what they replied to that question.
I have also wondered about the last words of Margaretha Geertfuida Zella, the little Dutch girl better known by her stage name, Mata Hari. She was a dancer who became a stripper because, as she admitted, “I could never dance very well.” During the First World War she became a famous spy merely because she was so bad at it. It is not clear even today who she was spying for, if anybody.
But at 5:00 A.M. on October 15, 1917, as she stood in front of the French firing squad, Margaretha was asked if she had any last words. Her reply was, "Il est incroyable."This roughly translates as “This is unbelievable.” And then the idiots shot her. They did not even ask what she meant by that. What was unbelievable, unbelievable to whom? I would like to know. What, they couldn't take five minutes to ask?
- 30 -