Part 2 out of 3
"It don't cost nothin', bein' square in hard times," Matt retorted. "It's
bein' square in prosperity that counts. When we ain't got nothin', we
can't help bein' square. We're prosperous now, an' we've got to be
business men--honest business men. Understand?"
"That's the talk for me," Jim approved, but deep down in the meagre soul of
him,--and in spite of him,--wanton and lawless thoughts were stirring like
Matt stepped to the food shelf behind the two-burner kerosene cooking
stove. He emptied the tea from a paper bag, and from a second bag emptied
some red peppers. Returning to the table with the bags, he put into them
the two sizes of small diamonds. Then he counted the large gems and
wrapped them in their tissue paper and chamois skin.
"Hundred an' forty-seven good-sized ones," was his inventory; "twenty real
big ones; two big boys and one whopper; an' a couple of fistfuls of teeny
ones an' dust."
He looked at Jim.
"Correct," was the response.
He wrote the count out on a slip of memorandum paper, and made a copy of
it, giving one slip to his partner and retaining the other.
"Just for reference," he said.
Again he had recourse to the food shelf, where he emptied the sugar from a
large paper bag. Into this he thrust the diamonds, large and small,
wrapped it up in a bandanna handkerchief, and stowed it away under his
pillow. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed and took off his shoes.
"An' you think they're worth a hundred thousan'?" Jim asked, pausing and
looking up from the unlacing of his shoe.
"Sure," was the answer. "I seen a dance-house girl down in Arizona once,
with some big sparklers on her. They wasn't real. She said if they was
she wouldn't be dancin'. Said they'd be worth all of fifty thousan', an'
she didn't have a dozen of 'em all told."
"Who'd work for a livin'?" Jim triumphantly demanded. "Pick an' shovel
work!" he sneered. "Work like a dog all my life, an' save all my wages,
an' I wouldn't have half as much as we got tonight."
"Dish washin's about your measure, an' you couldn't get more'n twenty a
month an' board. Your figgers is 'way off, but your point is well taken.
Let them that likes it, work. I rode range for thirty a month when I was
young an' foolish. Well, I'm older, an' I ain't ridin' range."
He got into bed on one side. Jim put out the light and followed him in on
the other side.
"How's your arm feel?" Jim queried amiably.
Such concern was unusual, and Matt noted it, and replied--
"I guess there's no danger of hydrophoby. What made you ask?"
Jim felt in himself a guilty stir, and under his breath he cursed the
other's way of asking disagreeable questions; but aloud he answered--
"Nothin', only you seemed scared of it at first. What are you goin' to do
with your share, Matt?"
"Buy a cattle ranch in Arizona an' set down an' pay other men to ride range
for me. There's some several I'd like to see askin' a job from me, damn
them! An' now you shut your face, Jim. It'll be some time before I buy
that ranch. Just now I'm goin' to sleep."
But Jim lay long awake, nervous and twitching, rolling about restlessly and
rolling himself wide awake every time he dozed. The diamonds still blazed
under his eyelids, and the fire of them hurt. Matt, in spite of his heavy
nature, slept lightly, like a wild animal alert in its sleep; and Jim
noticed, every time he moved, that his partner's body moved sufficiently to
show that it had received the impression and that it was trembling on the
verge of awakening. For that matter, Jim did not know whether or not,
frequently, the other was awake. Once, quietly, betokening complete
consciousness, Matt said to him: "Aw, go to sleep, Jim. Don't worry about
them jools. They'll keep." And Jim had thought that at that particular
moment Matt had been surely asleep.
In the late morning Matt was awake with Jim's first movement, and
thereafter he awoke and dozed with him until midday, when they got up
together and began dressing.
"I'm goin' out to get a paper an' some bread," Matt said. "You boil the
As Jim listened, unconsciously his gaze left Matt's face and roved to the
pillow, beneath which was the bundle wrapped in the bandanna handkerchief.
On the instant Matt's face became like a wild beast's.
"Look here, Jim," he snarled. "You've got to play square. If you do me
dirt, I'll fix you. Understand? I'd eat you, Jim. You know that. I'd
bite right into your throat an' eat you like that much beefsteak."
His sunburned skin was black with the surge of blood in it, and his
tobacco-stained teeth were exposed by the snarling lips. Jim shivered and
involuntarily cowered. There was death in the man he looked at. Only the
night before that black-faced man had killed another with his hands, and it
had not hurt his sleep. And in his own heart Jim was aware of a sneaking
guilt, of a train of thought that merited all that was threatened.
Matt passed out, leaving him still shivering. Then a hatred twisted his
own face, and he softly hurled savage curses at the door. He remembered
the jewels, and hastened to the bed, feeling under the pillow for the
bandanna bundle. He crushed it with his fingers to make certain that it
still contained the diamonds. Assured that Matt had not carried them away,
he looked toward the kerosene stove with a guilty start. Then he hurriedly
lighted it, filled the coffee-pot at the sink, and put it over the flame.
The coffee was boiling when Matt returned, and while the latter cut the
bread and put a slice of butter on the table, Jim poured out the coffee.
It was not until he sat down and had taken a few sips of the coffee, that
Matt pulled out the morning paper from his pocket.
"We was way off," he said. "I told you I didn't dast figger out how fat it
was. Look at that."
He pointed to the head-lines on the first page.
"SWIFT NEMESIS ON BUJANNOFF'S TRACK," they read. "MURDERED IN HIS SLEEP
AFTER ROBBING HIS PARTNER."
"There you have it!" Matt cried. "He robbed his partner--robbed him like a
"Half a million of jewels missin'," Jim read aloud. He put the paper down
and stared at Matt.
"That's what I told you," the latter said. "What in hell do we know about
jools? Half a million!--an' the best I could figger it was a hundred
thousan'. Go on an' read the rest of it."
They read on silently, their heads side by side, the untouched coffee
growing cold; and ever and anon one or the other burst forth with some
salient printed fact.
"I'd like to seen Metzner's face when he opened the safe at the store this
mornin'," Jim gloated.
"He hit the high places right away for Bujannoff's house," Matt explained.
"Go on an' read."
"Was to have sailed last night at ten on the Sajoda for the South Seas--
steamship delayed by extra freight--"
"That's why we caught 'm in bed," Matt interrupted. "It was just luck--
like pickin' a fifty-to-one winner."
"Sajoda sailed at six this mornin'--"
"He didn't catch her," Matt said. "I saw his alarm-clock was set at five.
That'd given 'm plenty of time . . . only I come along an' put the kibosh
on his time. Go on."
"Adolph Metzner in despair--the famous Haythorne pearl necklace--
magnificently assorted pearls--valued by experts at from fifty to seventy
Jim broke off to swear vilely and solemnly, concluding with, "Those damn
oyster-eggs worth all that money!"
He licked his lips and added, "They was beauties an' no mistake."
"Big Brazilian gem," he read on. "Eighty thousan' dollars--many valuable
gems of the first water--several thousan' small diamonds well worth forty
"What you don't know about jools is worth knowin'," Matt smiled good-
"Theory of the sleuths," Jim read. "Thieves must have known--cleverly kept
watch on Bujannoff's actions--must have learned his plan and trailed him to
his house with the fruits of his robbery--"
"Clever--hell!" Matt broke out. "That's the way reputations is made . . .
in the noospapers. How'd we know he was robbin' his pardner?"
"Anyway, we've got the goods," Jim grinned. "Let's look at 'em again."
He assured himself that the door was locked and bolted, while Matt brought
out the bundle in the bandanna and opened it on the table.
"Ain't they beauties, though!" Jim exclaimed at sight of the pearls; and
for a time he had eyes only for them. "Accordin' to the experts, worth
from fifty to seventy thousan' dollars."
"An' women like them things," Matt commented. "An' they'll do everything
to get 'em--sell themselves, commit murder, anything."
"Just like you an' me."
"Not on your life," Matt retorted. "I'll commit murder for 'em, but not
for their own sakes, but for sake of what they'll get me. That's the
difference. Women want the jools for themselves, an' I want the jools for
the women an' such things they'll get me."
"Lucky that men an' women don't want the same things," Jim remarked.
"That's what makes commerce," Matt agreed; "people wantin' different
In the middle of the afternoon Jim went out to buy food. While he was
gone, Matt cleared the table of the jewels, wrapping them up as before and
putting them under the pillow. Then he lighted the kerosene stove and
started to boil water for coffee. A few minutes later, Jim returned.
"Most surprising," he remarked. "Streets, an' stores, an' people just like
they always was. Nothin' changed. An' me walking along through it all a
millionaire. Nobody looked at me an' guessed it."
Matt grunted unsympathetically. He had little comprehension of the lighter
whims and fancies of his partner's imagination.
"Did you get a porterhouse?" he demanded.
"Sure, an' an inch thick. It's a peach. Look at it."
He unwrapped the steak and held it up for the other's inspection. Then he
made the coffee and set the table, while Matt fried the steak.
"Don't put on too much of them red peppers," Jim warned. "I ain't used to
your Mexican cookin'. You always season too hot."
Matt grunted a laugh and went on with his cooking. Jim poured out the
coffee, but first, into the nicked china cup, he emptied a powder he had
carried in his vest pocket wrapped in a rice-paper. He had turned his back
for the moment on his partner, but he did not dare to glance around at him.
Matt placed a newspaper on the table, and on the newspaper set the hot
frying-pan. He cut the steak in half, and served Jim and himself.
"Eat her while she's hot," he counselled, and with knife and fork set the
"She's a dandy," was Jim's judgment, after his first mouthful. "But I tell
you one thing straight. I'm never goin' to visit you on that Arizona
ranch, so you needn't ask me."
"What's the matter now?" Matt asked.
"Hell's the matter," was the answer. "The Mexican cookin' on your ranch'd
be too much for me. If I've got hell a-comin' in the next life, I'm not
goin' to torment my insides in this one. Damned peppers!"
He smiled, expelled his breath forcibly to cool his burning mouth, drank
some coffee, and went on eating the steak.
"What do you think about the next life anyway, Matt?" he asked a little
later, while secretly he wondered why the other had not yet touched his
"Ain't no next life," Matt answered, pausing from the steak to take his
first sip of coffee. "Nor heaven nor hell, nor nothin'. You get all
that's comin' right here in this life."
"An' afterward?" Jim queried out of his morbid curiosity, for he knew that
he looked upon a man that was soon to die. "An' afterward?" he repeated.
"Did you ever see a man two weeks dead?" the other asked.
Jim shook his head.
"Well, I have. He was like this beefsteak you an' me is eatin'. It was
once steer cavortin' over the landscape. But now it's just meat. That's
all, just meat. An' that's what you an' me an' all people come to--meat."
Matt gulped down the whole cup of coffee, and refilled the cup.
"Are you scared to die?" he asked.
Jim shook his head. "What's the use? I don't die anyway. I pass on an'
"To go stealin', an' lyin' an' snivellin' through another life, an' go on
that way forever an' ever an' ever?" Matt sneered.
"Maybe I'll improve," Jim suggested hopefully. "Maybe stealin' won't be
necessary in the life to come."
He ceased abruptly, and stared straight before him, a frightened expression
on his face.
"What's the matter!" Matt demanded.
"Nothin'. I was just wonderin'"--Jim returned to himself with an effort--
"about this dyin', that was all."
But he could not shake off the fright that had startled him. It was as if
an unseen thing of gloom had passed him by, casting upon him the intangible
shadow of its presence. He was aware of a feeling of foreboding.
Something ominous was about to happen. Calamity hovered in the air. He
gazed fixedly across the table at the other man. He could not understand.
Was it that he had blundered and poisoned himself? No, Matt had the nicked
cup, and he had certainly put the poison in the nicked cup.
It was all his own imagination, was his next thought. It had played him
tricks before. Fool! Of course it was. Of course something was about to
happen, but it was about to happen to Matt. Had not Matt drunk the whole
cup of coffee?
Jim brightened up and finished his steak, sopping bread in the gravy when
the meat was gone.
"When I was a kid--" he began, but broke off abruptly.
Again the unseen thing of gloom had fluttered, and his being was vibrant
with premonition of impending misfortune. He felt a disruptive influence
at work in the flesh of him, and in all his muscles there was a seeming
that they were about to begin to twitch. He sat back suddenly, and as
suddenly leaned forward with his elbows on the table. A tremor ran dimly
through the muscles of his body. It was like the first rustling of leaves
before the oncoming of wind. He clenched his teeth. It came again, a
spasmodic tensing of his muscles. He knew panic at the revolt within his
being. His muscles no longer recognized his mastery over them. Again they
spasmodically tensed, despite the will of him, for he had willed that they
should not tense. This was revolution within himself, this was anarchy;
and the terror of impotence rushed up in him as his flesh gripped and
seemed to seize him in a clutch, chills running up and down his back and
sweat starting on his brow. He glanced about the room, and all the details
of it smote him with a strange sense of familiarity. It was as though he
had just returned from a long journey. He looked across the table at his
partner. Matt was watching him and smiling. An expression of horror
spread over Jim's face.
"My God, Matt!" he screamed. "You ain't doped me?"
Matt smiled and continued to watch him. In the paroxysm that followed, Jim
did not become unconscious. His muscles tensed and twitched and knotted,
hurting him and crushing him in their savage grip. And in the midst of it
all, it came to him that Matt was acting queerly. He was travelling the
same road. The smile had gone from his face, and there was on it an intent
expression, as if he were listening to some inner tale of himself and
trying to divine the message. Matt got up and walked across the room and
back again, then sat down.
"You did this, Jim," he said quietly.
"But I didn't think you'd try to fix ME," Jim answered reproachfully.
"Oh, I fixed you all right," Matt said, with teeth close together and
shivering body. "What did you give me?"
"Same as I gave you," Matt volunteered. "It's a hell of a mess, ain't it?"
"You're lyin', Matt," Jim pleaded. "You ain't doped me, have you?"
"I sure did, Jim; an' I didn't overdose you, neither. I cooked it in as
neat as you please in your half the porterhouse.--Hold on! Where're you
Jim had made a dash for the door, and was throwing back the bolts. Matt
sprang in between and shoved him away.
"Drug store," Jim panted. "Drug store."
"No you don't. You'll stay right here. There ain't goin' to be any
runnin' out an' makin' a poison play on the street--not with all them jools
reposin' under the pillow. Savve? Even if you didn't die, you'd be in the
hands of the police with a whole lot of explanations comin'. Emetics is
the stuff for poison. I'm just as bad bit as you, an' I'm goin' to take a
emetic. That's all they'd give you at a drug store, anyway."
He thrust Jim back into the middle of the room and shot the bolts into
place. As he went across the floor to the food shelf, he passed one hand
over his brow and flung off the beaded sweat. It spattered audibly on the
floor. Jim watched agonizedly as Matt got the mustard-can and a cup and
ran for the sink. He stirred a cupful of mustard and water and drank it
down. Jim had followed him and was reaching with trembling hands for the
empty cup. Again Matt shoved him away. As he mixed a second cupful, he
"D'you think one cup'll do for me? You can wait till I'm done."
Jim started to totter toward the door, but Matt checked him.
"If you monkey with that door, I'll twist your neck. Savve? You can take
yours when I'm done. An' if it saves you, I'll twist your neck, anyway.
You ain't got no chance, nohow. I told you many times what you'd get if
you did me dirt."
"But you did me dirt, too," Jim articulated with an effort.
Matt was drinking the second cupful, and did not answer. The sweat had got
into Jim's eyes, and he could scarcely see his way to the table, where he
got a cup for himself. But Matt was mixing a third cupful, and, as before,
thrust him away.
"I told you to wait till I was done," Matt growled. "Get outa my way."
And Jim supported his twitching body by holding on to the sink, the while
he yearned toward the yellowish concoction that stood for life. It was by
sheer will that he stood and clung to the sink. His flesh strove to double
him up and bring him to the floor. Matt drank the third cupful, and with
difficulty managed to get to a chair and sit down. His first paroxysm was
passing. The spasms that afflicted him were dying away. This good effect
he ascribed to the mustard and water. He was safe, at any rate. He wiped
the sweat from his face, and, in the interval of calm, found room for
curiosity. He looked at his partner.
A spasm had shaken the mustard can out of Jim's hands, and the contents
were spilled upon the floor. He stooped to scoop some of the mustard into
the cup, and the succeeding spasm doubled him upon the floor. Matt smiled.
"Stay with it," he encouraged. "It's the stuff all right. It's fixed me
Jim heard him and turned toward him a stricken face, twisted with suffering
and pleading. Spasm now followed spasm till he was in convulsions, rolling
on the floor and yellowing his face and hair in the mustard.
Matt laughed hoarsely at the sight, but the laugh broke midway. A tremor
had run through his body. A new paroxysm was beginning. He arose and
staggered across to the sink, where, with probing forefinger, he vainly
strove to assist the action of the emetic. In the end, he clung to the
sink as Jim had clung, filled with the horror of going down to the floor.
The other's paroxysm had passed, and he sat up, weak and fainting, too weak
to rise, his forehead dripping, his lips flecked with a foam made yellow by
the mustard in which he had rolled. He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles,
and groans that were like whines came from his throat.
"What are you snifflin' about?" Matt demanded out of his agony. "All you
got to do is die. An' when you die you're dead."
"I . . . ain't . . . snifflin' . . . it's . . . the . . . mustard . . .
stingin' . . . my . . . eyes," Jim panted with desperate slowness.
It was his last successful attempt at speech. Thereafter he babbled
incoherently, pawing the air with shaking arms till a fresh convulsion
stretched him on the floor.
Matt struggled back to the chair, and, doubled up on it, with his arms
clasped about his knees, he fought with his disintegrating flesh. He came
out of the convulsion cool and weak. He looked to see how it went with the
other, and saw him lying motionless.
He tried to soliloquize, to be facetious, to have his last grim laugh at
life, but his lips made only incoherent sounds. The thought came to him
that the emetic had failed, and that nothing remained but the drug store.
He looked toward the door and drew himself to his feet. There he saved
himself from falling by clutching the chair. Another paroxysm had begun.
And in the midst of the paroxysm, with his body and all the parts of it
flying apart and writhing and twisting back again into knots, he clung to
the chair and shoved it before him across the floor. The last shreds of
his will were leaving him when he gained the door. He turned the key and
shot back one bolt. He fumbled for the second bolt, but failed. Then he
leaned his weight against the door and slid down gently to the floor.
CREATED HE THEM
She met him at the door.
"I did not think you would be so early."
"It is half past eight." He looked at his watch. "The train leaves at
He was very businesslike, until he saw her lips tremble as she abruptly
turned and led the way.
"It'll be all right, little woman," he said soothingly. "Doctor Bodineau's
the man. He'll pull him through, you'll see."
They entered the living-room. His glance quested apprehensively about,
then turned to her.
She did not answer, but with a sudden impulse came close to him and stood
motionless. She was a slender, dark-eyed woman, in whose face was stamped
the strain and stress of living. But the fine lines and the haunted look
in the eyes were not the handiwork of mere worry. He knew whose handiwork
it was as he looked upon it, and she knew when she consulted her mirror.
"It's no use, Mary," he said. He put his hand on her shoulder. "We've
tried everything. It's a wretched business, I know, but what else can we
do? You've failed. Doctor Bodineau's all that's left."
"If I had another chance . . . " she began falteringly.
"We've threshed that all out," he answered harshly. "You've got to buck
up, now. You know what conclusion we arrived at. You know you haven't the
ghost of a hope in another chance."
She shook her head. "I know it. But it is terrible, the thought of his
going away to fight it out alone."
"He won't be alone. There's Doctor Bodineau. And besides, it's a
She remained silent.
"It is the only thing," he said.
"It is the only thing," she repeated mechanically.
He looked at his watch. "Where's Al?"
"I'll send him."
When the door had closed behind her, he walked over to the window and
looked out, drumming absently with his knuckles on the pane.
He turned and responded to the greeting of the man who had just entered.
There was a perceptible drag to the man's feet as he walked across toward
the window and paused irresolutely halfway.
"I've changed my mind, George," he announced hurriedly and nervously. "I'm
He plucked at his sleeve, shuffled with his feet, dropped his eyes, and
with a strong effort raised them again to confront the other.
George regarded him silently, his nostrils distending and his lean fingers
unconsciously crooking like an eagle's talons about to clutch.
In line and feature, there was much of resemblance between the two men; and
yet, in the strongest resemblances there was a radical difference. Theirs
were the same black eyes, but those of the man at the window were sharp and
straight looking, while those of the man in the middle of the room were
cloudy and furtive. He could not face the other's gaze, and continually
and vainly struggled with himself to do so. The high cheek bones with the
hollows beneath were the same, yet the texture of the hollows seemed
different. The thin-lipped mouths were from the same mould, but George's
lips were firm and muscular, while Al's were soft and loose--the lips of an
ascetic turned voluptuary. There was also a sag at the corners. His flesh
hinted of grossness, especially so in the eagle-like aquiline nose that
must once have been like the other's, but that had lost the austerity the
other's still retained.
Al fought for steadiness in the middle of the floor. The silence bothered
him. He had a feeling that he was about to begin swaying back and forth.
He moistened his lips with his tongue.
"I'm going to stay," he said desperately.
He dropped his eyes and plucked again at his sleeve.
"And you are only twenty-six years old," George said at last. "You poor,
feeble old man."
"Don't be so sure of that," Al retorted, with a flash of belligerence.
"Do you remember when we swam that mile and a half across the channel?"
"Well, and what of it?" A sullen expression was creeping across Al's face.
"And do you remember when we boxed in the barn after school?"
"I could take all you gave me."
"All I gave you!" George's voice rose momentarily to a higher pitch. "You
licked me four afternoons out of five. You were twice as strong as I--
three times as strong. And now I'd be afraid to land on you with a sofa
cushion; you'd crumple up like a last year's leaf. You'd die, you poor,
miserable old man."
"You needn't abuse me just because I've changed my mind," the other
protested, the hint of a whine in his voice.
His wife entered, and he looked appealingly to her; but the man at the
window strode suddenly up to him and burst out--
"You don't know your own mind for two successive minutes! You haven't any
mind, you spineless, crawling worm!"
"You can't make me angry." Al smiled with cunning, and glanced
triumphantly at his wife. "You can't make me angry," he repeated, as
though the idea were thoroughly gratifying to him. "I know your game.
It's my stomach, I tell you. I can't help it. Before God, I can't! Isn't
it my stomach, Mary?"
She glanced at George and spoke composedly, though she hid a trembling hand
in a fold of her skirt.
"Isn't it time?" she asked softly.
Her husband turned upon her savagely. "I'm not going to go!" he cried.
"That's just what I've been telling . . . him. And I tell you again, all
of you, I'm not going. You can't bully me."
"Why, Al, dear, you said--" she began.
"Never mind what I said!" he broke out. "I've said something else right
now, and you've heard it, and that settles it."
He walked across the room and threw himself with emphasis into a Morris
chair. But the other man was swiftly upon him. The talon-like fingers
gripped his shoulders, jerked him to his feet, and held him there.
"You've reached the limit, Al, and I want you to understand it. I've tried
to treat you like . . . like my brother, but hereafter I shall treat you
like the thing that you are. Do you understand?"
The anger in his voice was cold. The blaze in his eyes was cold. It was
vastly more effective than any outburst, and Al cringed under it and under
the clutching hand that was bruising his shoulder muscles.
"It is only because of me that you have this house, that you have the food
you eat. Your position? Any other man would have been shown the door a
year ago--two years ago. I have held you in it. Your salary has been
charity. It has been paid out of my pocket. Mary . . . her dresses . . .
that gown she has on is made over; she wears the discarded dresses of her
sisters, of my wife. Charity--do you understand? Your children--they are
wearing the discarded clothes of my children, of the children of my
neighbours who think the clothes went to some orphan asylum. And it is an
orphan asylum . . . or it soon will be."
He emphasized each point with an unconscious tightening of his grip on the
shoulder. Al was squirming with the pain of it. The sweat was starting
out on his forehead.
"Now listen well to me," his brother went on. "In three minutes you will
tell me that you are going with me. If you don't, Mary and the children
will be taken away from you--to-day. You needn't ever come to the office.
This house will be closed to you. And in six months I shall have the
pleasure of burying you. You have three minutes to make up your mind."
Al made a strangling movement, and reached up with weak fingers to the
"My heart . . . let me go . . . you'll be the death of me," he gasped.
The hand thrust him down forcibly into the Morris chair and released him.
The clock on the mantle ticked loudly. George glanced at it, and at Mary.
She was leaning against the table, unable to conceal her trembling. He
became unpleasantly aware of the feeling of his brother's fingers on his
hand. Quite unconsciously he wiped the back of the hand upon his coat.
The clock ticked on in the silence. It seemed to George that the room
reverberated with his voice. He could hear himself still speaking.
"I'll go," came from the Morris chair.
It was a weak and shaken voice, and it was a weak and shaken man that
pulled himself out of the Morris chair. He started toward the door.
"Where are you going?" George demanded.
"Suit case," came the response. "Mary'll send the trunk later. I'll be
back in a minute."
The door closed after him. A moment later, struck with sudden suspicion,
George was opening the door. He glanced in. His brother stood at a
sideboard, in one hand a decanter, in the other hand, bottom up and to his
lips, a whisky glass.
Across the glass Al saw that he was observed. It threw him into a panic.
Hastily he tried to refill the glass and get it to his lips; but glass and
decanter were sent smashing to the floor. He snarled. It was like the
sound of a wild beast. But the grip on his shoulder subdued and frightened
him. He was being propelled toward the door.
"The suit case," he gasped. "It's there in that room. Let me get it."
"Where's the key?" his brother asked, when he had brought it.
"It isn't locked."
The next moment the suit case was spread open, and George's hand was
searching the contents. From one side it brought out a bottle of whisky,
from the other side a flask. He snapped the case to.
"Come on," he said. "If we miss one car, we miss that train."
He went out into the hallway, leaving Al with his wife. It was like a
funeral, George thought, as he waited.
His brother's overcoat caught on the knob of the front door and delayed its
closing long enough for Mary's first sob to come to their ears. George's
lips were very thin and compressed as he went down the steps. In one hand
he carried the suit case. With the other hand he held his brother's arm.
As they neared the corner, he heard the electric car a block away, and
urged his brother on. Al was breathing hard. His feet dragged and
shuffled, and he held back.
"A hell of a brother YOU are," he panted.
For reply, he received a vicious jerk on his arm. It reminded him of his
childhood when he was hurried along by some angry grown-up. And like a
child, he had to be helped up the car step. He sank down on an outside
seat, panting, sweating, overcome by the exertion. He followed George's
eyes as the latter looked him up and down.
"A hell of a brother YOU are," was George's comment when he had finished
Moisture welled into Al's eyes.
"It's my stomach," he said with self-pity.
"I don't wonder," was the retort. "Burnt out like the crater of a volcano.
Fervent heat isn't a circumstance."
Thereafter they did not speak. When they arrived at the transfer point,
George came to himself with a start. He smiled. With fixed gaze that did
not see the houses that streamed across his field of vision, he had himself
been sunk deep in self-pity. He helped his brother from the car, and
looked up the intersecting street. The car they were to take was not in
Al's eyes chanced upon the corner grocery and saloon across the way. At
once he became restless. His hands passed beyond his control, and he
yearned hungrily across the street to the door that swung open even as he
looked and let in a happy pilgrim. And in that instant he saw the white-
jacketed bartender against an array of glittering glass. Quite
unconsciously he started to cross the street.
"Hold on." George's hand was on his arm.
"I want some whisky," he answered.
"You've already had some."
"That was hours ago. Go on, George, let me have some. It's the last day.
Don't shut off on me until we get there--God knows it will be soon enough."
George glanced desperately up the street. The car was in sight.
"There isn't time for a drink," he said.
"I don't want a drink. I want a bottle." Al's voice became wheedling.
"Go on, George. It's the last, the very last."
"No." The denial was as final as George's thin lips could make it.
Al glanced at the approaching car. He sat down suddenly on the curbstone.
"What's the matter?" his brother asked, with momentary alarm.
"Nothing. I want some whisky. It's my stomach."
"Come on now, get up."
George reached for him, but was anticipated, for his brother sprawled flat
on the pavement, oblivious to the dirt and to the curious glances of the
passers-by. The car was clanging its gong at the crossing, a block away.
"You'll miss it," Al grinned from the pavement. "And it will be your
George's fists clenched tightly.
"For two cents I'd give you a thrashing."
"And miss the car," was the triumphant comment from the pavement.
George looked at the car. It was halfway down the block. He looked at his
watch. He debated a second longer.
"All right," he said. "I'll get it. But you get on that car. If you miss
it, I'll break the bottle over your head."
He dashed across the street and into the saloon. The car came in and
stopped. There were no passengers to get off. Al dragged himself up the
steps and sat down. He smiled as the conductor rang the bell and the car
started. The swinging door of the saloon burst open. Clutching in his
hand the suit case and a pint bottle of whisky, George started in pursuit.
The conductor, his hand on the bell cord, waited to see if it would be
necessary to stop. It was not. George swung lightly aboard, sat down
beside his brother, and passed him the bottle.
"You might have got a quart," Al said reproachfully.
He extracted the cork with a pocket corkscrew, and elevated the bottle.
"I'm sick . . . my stomach," he explained in apologetic tones to the
passenger who sat next to him.
In the train they sat in the smoking-car. George felt that it was
imperative. Also, having successfully caught the train, his heart
softened. He felt more kindly toward his brother, and accused himself of
unnecessary harshness. He strove to atone by talking about their mother,
and sisters, and the little affairs and interests of the family. But Al
was morose, and devoted himself to the bottle. As the time passed, his
mouth hung looser and looser, while the rings under his eyes seemed to puff
out and all his facial muscles to relax.
"It's my stomach," he said, once, when he finished the bottle and dropped
it under the seat; but the swift hardening of his brother's face did not
encourage further explanations.
The conveyance that met them at the station had all the dignity and
luxuriousness of a private carriage. George's eyes were keen for the ear
marks of the institution to which they were going, but his apprehensions
were allayed from moment to moment. As they entered the wide gateway and
rolled on through the spacious grounds, he felt sure that the institutional
side of the place would not jar upon his brother. It was more like a
summer hotel, or, better yet, a country club. And as they swept on through
the spring sunshine, the songs of birds in his ears, and in his nostrils
the breath of flowers, George sighed for a week of rest in such a place,
and before his eyes loomed the arid vista of summer in town and at the
office. There was not room in his income for his brother and himself.
"Let us take a walk in the grounds," he suggested, after they had met
Doctor Bodineau and inspected the quarters assigned to Al. "The carriage
leaves for the station in half an hour, and we'll just have time."
"It's beautiful," he remarked a moment later. Under his feet was the
velvet grass, the trees arched overhead, and he stood in mottled sunshine.
"I wish I could stay for a month."
"I'll trade places with you," Al said quickly.
George laughed it off, but he felt a sinking of the heart.
"Look at that oak!" he cried. "And that woodpecker! Isn't he a beauty!"
"I don't like it here," he heard his brother mutter.
George's lips tightened in preparation for the struggle, but he said--
"I'm going to send Mary and the children off to the mountains. She needs
it, and so do they. And when you're in shape, I'll send you right on to
join them. Then you can take your summer vacation before you come back to
"I'm not going to stay in this damned hole, for all you talk about it," Al
"Yes you are, and you're going to get your health and strength back again,
so that the look of you will put the colour in Mary's cheeks where it used
"I'm going back with you." Al's voice was firm. "I'm going to take the
same train back. It's about time for that carriage, I guess."
"I haven't told you all my plans," George tried to go on, but Al cut him
"You might as well quit that. I don't want any of your soapy talking. You
treat me like a child. I'm not a child. My mind's made up, and I'll show
you how long it can stay made up. You needn't talk to me. I don't care a
rap for what you're going to say."
A baleful light was in his eyes, and to his brother he seemed for all the
world like a cornered rat, desperate and ready to fight. As George looked
at him he remembered back to their childhood, and it came to him that at
last was aroused in Al the same old stubborn strain that had enabled him,
as a child, to stand against all force and persuasion.
George abandoned hope. He had lost. This creature was not human. The
last fine instinct of the human had fled. It was a brute, sluggish and
stolid, impossible to move--just the raw stuff of life, combative,
rebellious, and indomitable. And as he contemplated his brother he felt in
himself the rising up of a similar brute. He became suddenly aware that
his fingers were tensing and crooking like a thug's, and he knew the desire
to kill. And his reason, turned traitor at last, counselled that he should
kill, that it was the only thing left for him to do.
He was aroused by a servant calling to him through the trees that the
carriage was waiting. He answered. Then, looking straight before him, he
discovered his brother. He had forgotten it was his brother. It had been
only a thing the moment before. He began to talk, and as he talked the way
became clear to him. His reason had not turned traitor. The brute in him
had merely orientated his reason.
"You are no earthly good, Al, " he said. "You know that. You've made
Mary's life a hell. You are a curse to your children. And you have not
made life exactly a paradise for the rest of us."
"There's no use your talking," Al interjected. "I'm not going to stay
"That's what I'm coming to," George continued. "You don't have to stay
here." (Al's face brightened, and he involuntarily made a movement, as
though about to start toward the carriage.) "On the other hand, it is not
necessary that you should return with me. There is another way."
George's hand went to his hip pocket and appeared with a revolver. It lay
along his palm, the butt toward Al, and toward Al he extended it. At the
same time, with his head, he indicated the near-by thicket.
"You can't bluff me," Al snarled.
"It is not a bluff, Al. Look at me. I mean it. And if you don't do it
for yourself, I shall have to do it for you."
They faced each other, the proffered revolver still extended. Al debated
for a moment, then his eyes blazed. With a quick movement he seized the
"My God! I'll do it," he said. "I'll show you what I've got in me."
George felt suddenly sick. He turned away. He did not see his brother
enter the thicket, but he heard the passage of his body through the leaves
"Good-bye, Al," he called.
"Good-bye," came from the thicket.
George felt the sweat upon his forehead. He began mopping his face with
his handkerchief. He heard, as from a remote distance, the voice of the
servant again calling to him that the carriage was waiting. The woodpecker
dropped down through the mottled sunshine and lighted on the trunk of a
tree a dozen feet away. George felt that it was all a dream, and yet
through it all he felt supreme justification. It was the right thing to
do. It was the only thing.
His whole body gave a spasmodic start, as though the revolver had been
fired. It was the voice of Al, close at his back.
"Here's your gun," Al said. "I'll stay."
The servant appeared among the trees, approaching rapidly and calling
anxiously. George put the weapon in his pocket and caught both his
brother's hands in his own.
"God bless you, old man," he murmured ; "and"--with a final squeeze of the
"I'm coming," he called to the servant, and turned and ran through the
trees toward the carriage.
"The coral waxes, the palm grows, but man departs."
Ah Cho did not understand French. He sat in the crowded court room, very
weary and bored, listening to the unceasing, explosive French that now one
official and now another uttered. It was just so much gabble to Ah Cho,
and he marvelled at the stupidity of the Frenchmen who took so long to find
out the murderer of Chung Ga, and who did not find him at all. The five
hundred coolies on the plantation knew that Ah San had done the killing,
and here was Ah San not even arrested. It was true that all the coolies
had agreed secretly not to testify against one another; but then, it was so
simple, the Frenchmen should have been able to discover that Ah San was the
man. They were very stupid, these Frenchmen.
Ah Cho had done nothing of which to be afraid. He had had no hand in the
killing. It was true he had been present at it, and Schemmer, the overseer
on the plantation, had rushed into the barracks immediately afterward and
caught him there, along with four or five others; but what of that? Chung
Ga had been stabbed only twice. It stood to reason that five or six men
could not inflict two stab wounds. At the most, if a man had struck but
once, only two men could have done it.
So it was that Ah Cho reasoned, when he, along with his four companions,
had lied and blocked and obfuscated in their statements to the court
concerning what had taken place. They had heard the sounds of the killing,
and, like Schemmer, they had run to the spot. They had got there before
Schemmer--that was all. True, Schemmer had testified that, attracted by
the sound of quarrelling as he chanced to pass by, he had stood for at
least five minutes outside; that then, when he entered, he found the
prisoners already inside; and that they had not entered just before,
because he had been standing by the one door to the barracks. But what of
that? Ah Cho and his four fellow-prisoners had testified that Schemmer was
mistaken. In the end they would be let go. They were all confident of
that. Five men could not have their heads cut off for two stab wounds.
Besides, no foreign devil had seen the killing. But these Frenchmen were
so stupid. In China, as Ah Cho well knew, the magistrate would order all
of them to the torture and learn the truth. The truth was very easy to
learn under torture. But these Frenchmen did not torture--bigger fools
they! Therefore they would never find out who killed Chung Ga.
But Ah Cho did not understand everything. The English Company that owned
the plantation had imported into Tahiti, at great expense, the five hundred
coolies. The stockholders were clamouring for dividends, and the Company
had not yet paid any; wherefore the Company did not want its costly
contract labourers to start the practice of killing one another. Also,
there were the French, eager and willing to impose upon the Chinagos the
virtues and excellences of French law. There was nothing like setting an
example once in a while; and, besides, of what use was New Caledonia except
to send men to live out their days in misery and pain in payment of the
penalty for being frail and human?
Ah Cho did not understand all this. He sat in the court room and waited
for the baffled judgment that would set him and his comrades free to go
back to the plantation and work out the terms of their contracts. This
judgment would soon be rendered. Proceedings were drawing to a close. He
could see that. There was no more testifying, no more gabble of tongues.
The French devils were tired, too, and evidently waiting for the judgment.
And as he waited he remembered back in his life to the time when he had
signed the contract and set sail in the ship for Tahiti. Times had been
hard in his sea-coast village, and when he indentured himself to labour for
five years in the South Seas at fifty cents Mexican a day, he had thought
himself fortunate. There were men in his village who toiled a whole year
for ten dollars Mexican, and there were women who made nets all the year
round for five dollars, while in the houses of shopkeepers there were
maidservants who received four dollars for a year of service. And here he
was to receive fifty cents a day; for one day, only one day, he was to
receive that princely sum! What if the work were hard? At the end of the
five years he would return home--that was in the contract--and he would
never have to work again. He would be a rich man for life, with a house of
his own, a wife, and children growing up to venerate him. Yes, and back of
the house he would have a small garden, a place of meditation and repose,
with goldfish in a tiny lakelet, and wind bells tinkling in the several
trees, and there would be a high wall all around so that his meditation and
repose should be undisturbed.
Well, he had worked out three of those five years. He was already a
wealthy man (in his own country) through his earnings, and only two years
more intervened between the cotton plantation on Tahiti and the meditation
and repose that awaited him. But just now he was losing money because of
the unfortunate accident of being present at the killing of Chung Ga. He
had lain three weeks in prison, and for each day of those three weeks he
had lost fifty cents. But now judgment would soon be given, and he would
go back to work.
Ah Cho was twenty-two years old. He was happy and good-natured, and it was
easy for him to smile. While his body was slim in the Asiatic way, his
face was rotund. It was round, like the moon, and it irradiated a gentle
complacence and a sweet kindliness of spirit that was unusual among his
countrymen. Nor did his looks belie him. He never caused trouble, never
took part in wrangling. He did not gamble. His soul was not harsh enough
for the soul that must belong to a gambler. He was content with little
things and simple pleasures. The hush and quiet in the cool of the day
after the blazing toil in the cotton field was to him an infinite
satisfaction. He could sit for hours gazing at a solitary flower and
philosophizing about the mysteries and riddles of being. A blue heron on a
tiny crescent of sandy beach, a silvery splatter of flying fish, or a
sunset of pearl and rose across the lagoon, could entrance him to all
forgetfulness of the procession of wearisome days and of the heavy lash of
Schemmer, Karl Schemmer, was a brute, a brutish brute. But he earned his
salary. He got the last particle of strength out of the five hundred
slaves; for slaves they were until their term of years was up. Schemmer
worked hard to extract the strength from those five hundred sweating bodies
and to transmute it into bales of fluffy cotton ready for export. His
dominant, iron-clad, primeval brutishness was what enabled him to effect
the transmutation. Also, he was assisted by a thick leather belt, three
inches wide and a yard in length, with which he always rode and which, on
occasion, could come down on the naked back of a stooping coolie with a
report like a pistol-shot. These reports were frequent when Schemmer rode
down the furrowed field.
Once, at the beginning of the first year of contract labour, he had killed
a coolie with a single blow of his fist. He had not exactly crushed the
man's head like an egg-shell, but the blow had been sufficient to addle
what was inside, and, after being sick for a week, the man had died. But
the Chinese had not complained to the French devils that ruled over Tahiti.
It was their own look out. Schemmer was their problem. They must avoid
his wrath as they avoided the venom of the centipedes that lurked in the
grass or crept into the sleeping quarters on rainy nights. The Chinagos--
such they were called by the indolent, brown-skinned island folk--saw to it
that they did not displease Schemmer too greatly. This was equivalent to
rendering up to him a full measure of efficient toil. That blow of
Schemmer's fist had been worth thousands of dollars to the Company, and no
trouble ever came of it to Schemmer.
The French, with no instinct for colonization, futile in their childish
playgame of developing the resources of the island, were only too glad to
see the English Company succeed. What matter of Schemmer and his
redoubtable fist? The Chinago that died? Well, he was only a Chinago.
Besides, he died of sunstroke, as the doctor's certificate attested. True,
in all the history of Tahiti no one had ever died of sunstroke. But it was
that, precisely that, which made the death of this Chinago unique. The
doctor said as much in his report. He was very candid. Dividends must be
paid, or else one more failure would be added to the long history of
failure in Tahiti.
There was no understanding these white devils. Ah Cho pondered their
inscrutableness as he sat in the court room waiting the judgment. There
was no telling what went on at the back of their minds. He had seen a few
of the white devils. They were all alike--the officers and sailors on the
ship, the French officials, the several white men on the plantation,
including Schemmer. Their minds all moved in mysterious ways there was no
getting at. They grew angry without apparent cause, and their anger was
always dangerous. They were like wild beasts at such times. They worried
about little things, and on occasion could out-toil even a Chinago. They
were not temperate as Chinagos were temperate; they were gluttons, eating
prodigiously and drinking more prodigiously. A Chinago never knew when an
act would please them or arouse a storm of wrath. A Chinago could never
tell. What pleased one time, the very next time might provoke an outburst
of anger. There was a curtain behind the eyes of the white devils that
screened the backs of their minds from the Chinago's gaze. And then, on
top of it all, was that terrible efficiency of the white devils, that
ability to do things, to make things go, to work results, to bend to their
wills all creeping, crawling things, and the powers of the very elements
themselves. Yes, the white men were strange and wonderful, and they were
devils. Look at Schemmer.
Ah Cho wondered why the judgment was so long in forming. Not a man on
trial had laid hand on Chung Ga. Ah San alone had killed him. Ah San had
done it, bending Chung Ga's head back with one hand by a grip of his queue,
and with the other hand, from behind, reaching over and driving the knife
into his body. Twice had he driven it in. There in the court room, with
closed eyes, Ah Cho saw the killing acted over again--the squabble, the
vile words bandied back and forth, the filth and insult flung upon
venerable ancestors, the curses laid upon unbegotten generations, the leap
of Ah San, the grip on the queue of Chung Ga, the knife that sank twice
into his flesh, the bursting open of the door, the irruption of Schemmer,
the dash for the door, the escape of Ah San, the flying belt of Schemmer
that drove the rest into the corner, and the firing of the revolver as a
signal that brought help to Schemmer. Ah Cho shivered as he lived it over.
One blow of the belt had bruised his cheek, taking off some of the skin.
Schemmer had pointed to the bruises when, on the witness-stand, he had
identified Ah Cho. It was only just now that the marks had become no
longer visible. That had been a blow. Half an inch nearer the centre and
it would have taken out his eye. Then Ah Cho forgot the whole happening in
a vision he caught of the garden of meditation and repose that would be his
when he returned to his own land.
He sat with impassive face, while the magistrate rendered the judgment.
Likewise were the faces of his four companions impassive. And they
remained impassive when the interpreter explained that the five of them had
been found guilty of the murder of Chung Ga, and that Ah Chow should have
his head cut off, Ah Cho serve twenty years in prison in New Caledonia,
Wong Li twelve years, and Ah Tong ten years. There was no use in getting
excited about it. Even Ah Chow remained expressionless as a mummy, though
it was his head that was to be cut off. The magistrate added a few words,
and the interpreter explained that Ah Chow's face having been most severely
bruised by Schemmer's strap had made his identification so positive that,
since one man must die, he might as well be that man. Also, the fact that
Ah Cho's face likewise had been severely bruised, conclusively proving his
presence at the murder and his undoubted participation, had merited him the
twenty years of penal servitude. And down to the ten years of Ah Tong, the
proportioned reason for each sentence was explained. Let the Chinagos take
the lesson to heart, the Court said finally, for they must learn that the
law would be fulfilled in Tahiti though the heavens fell.
The five Chinagos were taken back to jail. They were not shocked nor
grieved. The sentences being unexpected was quite what they were
accustomed to in their dealings with the white devils. From them a Chinago
rarely expected more than the unexpected. The heavy punishment for a crime
they had not committed was no stranger than the countless strange things
that white devils did. In the weeks that followed, Ah Cho often
contemplated Ah Chow with mild curiosity. His head was to be cut off by
the guillotine that was being erected on the plantation. For him there
would be no declining years, no gardens of tranquillity. Ah Cho
philosophized and speculated about life and death. As for himself, he was
not perturbed. Twenty years were merely twenty years. By that much was
his garden removed from him--that was all. He was young, and the patience
of Asia was in his bones. He could wait those twenty years, and by that
time the heats of his blood would be assuaged and he would be better fitted
for that garden of calm delight. He thought of a name for it; he would
call it The Garden of the Morning Calm. He was made happy all day by the
thought, and he was inspired to devise a moral maxim on the virtue of
patience, which maxim proved a great comfort, especially to Wong Li and Ah
Tong. Ah Chow, however, did not care for the maxim. His head was to be
separated from his body in so short a time that he had no need for patience
to wait for that event. He smoked well, ate well, slept well, and did not
worry about the slow passage of time.
Cruchot was a gendarme. He had seen twenty years of service in the
colonies, from Nigeria and Senegal to the South Seas, and those twenty
years had not perceptibly brightened his dull mind. He was as slow-witted
and stupid as in his peasant days in the south of France. He knew
discipline and fear of authority, and from God down to the sergeant of
gendarmes the only difference to him was the measure of slavish obedience
which he rendered. In point of fact, the sergeant bulked bigger in his
mind than God, except on Sundays when God's mouthpieces had their say. God
was usually very remote, while the sergeant was ordinarily very close at
Cruchot it was who received the order from the Chief Justice to the jailer
commanding that functionary to deliver over to Cruchot the person of Ah
Chow. Now, it happened that the Chief Justice had given a dinner the night
before to the captain and officers of the French man-of-war. His hand was
shaking when he wrote out the order, and his eyes were aching so dreadfully
that he did not read over the order. It was only a Chinago's life he was
signing away, anyway. So he did not notice that he had omitted the final
letter in Ah Chow's name. The order read "Ah Cho," and, when Cruchot
presented the order, the jailer turned over to him the person of Ah Cho.
Cruchot took that person beside him on the seat of a wagon, behind two
mules, and drove away.
Ah Cho was glad to be out in the sunshine. He sat beside the gendarme and
beamed. He beamed more ardently than ever when he noted the mules headed
south toward Atimaono. Undoubtedly Schemmer had sent for him to be brought
back. Schemmer wanted him to work. Very well, he would work well.
Schemmer would never have cause to complain. It was a hot day. There had
been a stoppage of the trades. The mules sweated, Cruchot sweated, and Ah
Cho sweated. But it was Ah Cho that bore the heat with the least concern.
He had toiled three years under that sun on the plantation. He beamed and
beamed with such genial good nature that even Cruchot's heavy mind was
stirred to wonderment.
"You are very funny," he said at last.
Ah Cho nodded and beamed more ardently. Unlike the magistrate, Cruchot
spoke to him in the Kanaka tongue, and this, like all Chinagos and all
foreign devils, Ah Cho understood.
"You laugh too much," Cruchot chided. "One's heart should be full of tears
on a day like this."
"I am glad to get out of the jail."
"Is that all?" The gendarme shrugged his shoulders.
"Is it not enough?" was the retort.
"Then you are not glad to have your head cut off?"
Ah Cho looked at him in abrupt perplexity, and said--
"Why, I am going back to Atimaono to work on the plantation for Schemmer.
Are you not taking me to Atimaono?"
Cruchot stroked his long moustaches reflectively. "Well, well," he said
finally, with a flick of the whip at the off mule, "so you don't know?"
"Know what?" Ah Cho was beginning to feel a vague alarm. "Won't Schemmer
let me work for him any more?"
"Not after to-day." Cruchot laughed heartily. It was a good joke. "You
see, you won't be able to work after to-day. A man with his head off can't
work, eh?" He poked the Chinago in the ribs, and chuckled.
Ah Cho maintained silence while the mules trotted a hot mile. Then he
spoke: "Is Schemmer going to cut off my head?"
Cruchot grinned as he nodded.
"It is a mistake," said Ah Cho, gravely. "I am not the Chinago that is to
have his head cut off. I am Ah Cho. The honourable judge has determined
that I am to stop twenty years in New Caledonia."
The gendarme laughed. It was a good joke, this funny Chinago trying to
cheat the guillotine. The mules trotted through a coconut grove and for
half a mile beside the sparkling sea before Ah Cho spoke again.
"I tell you I am not Ah Chow. The honourable judge did not say that my
head was to go off."
"Don't be afraid," said Cruchot, with the philanthropic intention of making
it easier for his prisoner. "It is not difficult to die that way." He
snapped his fingers. "It is quick--like that. It is not like hanging on
the end of a rope and kicking and making faces for five minutes. It is
like killing a chicken with a hatchet. You cut its head off, that is all.
And it is the same with a man. Pouf!--it is over. It doesn't hurt. You
don't even think it hurts. You don't think. Your head is gone, so you
cannot think. It is very good. That is the way I want to die--quick, ah,
quick. You are lucky to die that way. You might get the leprosy and fall
to pieces slowly, a finger at a time, and now and again a thumb, also the
toes. I knew a man who was burned by hot water. It took him two days to
die. You could hear him yelling a kilometre away. But you? Ah! so easy!
Chck!--the knife cuts your neck like that. It is finished. The knife may
even tickle. Who can say? Nobody who died that way ever came back to
He considered this last an excruciating joke, and permitted himself to be
convulsed with laughter for half a minute. Part of his mirth was assumed,
but he considered it his humane duty to cheer up the Chinago.
"But I tell you I am Ah Cho," the other persisted. "I don't want my head
Cruchot scowled. The Chinago was carrying the foolishness too far.
"I am not Ah Chow--" Ah Cho began.
"That will do," the gendarme interrupted. He puffed up his cheeks and
strove to appear fierce.
"I tell you I am not--" Ah Cho began again.
"Shut up!" bawled Cruchot.
After that they rode along in silence. It was twenty miles from Papeete to
Atimaono, and over half the distance was covered by the time the Chinago
again ventured into speech.
"I saw you in the court room, when the honourable judge sought after our
guilt," he began. "Very good. And do you remember that Ah Chow, whose
head is to be cut off--do you remember that he--Ah Chow--was a tall man?
Look at me."
He stood up suddenly, and Cruchot saw that he was a short man. And just as
suddenly Cruchot caught a glimpse of a memory picture of Ah Chow, and in
that picture Ah Chow was tall. To the gendarme all Chinagos looked alike.
One face was like another. But between tallness and shortness he could
differentiate, and he knew that he had the wrong man beside him on the
seat. He pulled up the mules abruptly, so that the pole shot ahead of
them, elevating their collars.
"You see, it was a mistake," said Ah Cho, smiling pleasantly.
But Cruchot was thinking. Already he regretted that he had stopped the
wagon. He was unaware of the error of the Chief Justice, and he had no way
of working it out; but he did know that he had been given this Chinago to
take to Atimaono and that it was his duty to take him to Atimaono. What if
he was the wrong man and they cut his head off? It was only a Chinago when
all was said, and what was a Chinago, anyway? Besides, it might not be a
mistake. He did not know what went on in the minds of his superiors. They
knew their business best. Who was he to do their thinking for them? Once,
in the long ago, he had attempted to think for them, and the sergeant had
said: "Cruchot, you are a fool? The quicker you know that, the better you
will get on. You are not to think; you are to obey and leave thinking to
your betters." He smarted under the recollection. Also, if he turned back
to Papeete, he would delay the execution at Atimaono, and if he were wrong
in turning back, he would get a reprimand from the sergeant who was waiting
for the prisoner. And, furthermore, he would get a reprimand at Papeete as
He touched the mules with the whip and drove on. He looked at his watch.
He would be half an hour late as it was, and the sergeant was bound to be
angry. He put the mules into a faster trot. The more Ah Cho persisted in
explaining the mistake, the more stubborn Cruchot became. The knowledge
that he had the wrong man did not make his temper better. The knowledge
that it was through no mistake of his confirmed him in the belief that the
wrong he was doing was the right. And, rather than incur the displeasure
of the sergeant, he would willingly have assisted a dozen wrong Chinagos to
As for Ah Cho, after the gendarme had struck him over the head with the
butt of the whip and commanded him in a loud voice to shut up, there
remained nothing for him to do but to shut up. The long ride continued in
silence. Ah Cho pondered the strange ways of the foreign devils. There
was no explaining them. What they were doing with him was of a piece with
everything they did. First they found guilty five innocent men, and next
they cut off the head of the man that even they, in their benighted
ignorance, had deemed meritorious of no more than twenty years'
imprisonment. And there was nothing he could do. He could only sit idly
and take what these lords of life measured out to him. Once, he got in a
panic, and the sweat upon his body turned cold; but he fought his way out
of it. He endeavoured to resign himself to his fate by remembering and
repeating certain passages from the "Yin Chih Wen" ("The Tract of the Quiet
Way"); but, instead, he kept seeing his dream-garden of meditation and
repose. This bothered him, until he abandoned himself to the dream and sat
in his garden listening to the tinkling of the windbells in the several
trees. And lo! sitting thus, in the dream, he was able to remember and
repeat the passages from "The Tract of the Quiet Way."
So the time passed nicely until Atimaono was reached and the mules trotted
up to the foot of the scaffold, in the shade of which stood the impatient
sergeant. Ah Cho was hurried up the ladder of the scaffold. Beneath him
on one side he saw assembled all the coolies of the plantation. Schemmer
had decided that the event would be a good object-lesson, and so he called
in the coolies from the fields and compelled them to be present. As they
caught sight of Ah Cho they gabbled among themselves in low voices. They
saw the mistake; but they kept it to themselves. The inexplicable white
devils had doubtlessly changed their minds. Instead of taking the life of
one innocent man, they were taking the life of another innocent man. Ah
Chow or Ah Cho--what did it matter which? They could never understand the
white dogs any more than could the white dogs understand them. Ah Cho was
going to have his head cut off, but they, when their two remaining years of
servitude were up, were going back to China.
Schemmer had made the guillotine himself. He was a handy man, and though
he had never seen a guillotine, the French officials had explained the
principle to him. It was on his suggestion that they had ordered the
execution to take place at Atimaono instead of at Papeete. The scene of
the crime, Schemmer had argued, was the best possible place for the
punishment, and, in addition, it would have a salutary influence upon the
half-thousand Chinagos on the plantation. Schemmer had also volunteered to
act as executioner, and in that capacity he was now on the scaffold,
experimenting with the instrument he had made. A banana tree, of the size
and consistency of a man's neck, lay under the guillotine. Ah Cho watched
with fascinated eyes. The German, turning a small crank, hoisted the blade
to the top of the little derrick he had rigged. A jerk on a stout piece of
cord loosed the blade and it dropped with a flash, neatly severing the
"How does it work?" The sergeant, coming out on top the scaffold, had
asked the question.
"Beautifully," was Schemmer's exultant answer. "Let me show you."
Again he turned the crank that hoisted the blade, jerked the cord, and sent
the blade crashing down on the soft tree. But this time it went no more
than two-thirds of the way through.
The sergeant scowled. "That will not serve," he said.
Schemmer wiped the sweat from his forehead. "What it needs is more
weight," he announced. Walking up to the edge of the scaffold, he called
his orders to the blacksmith for a twenty-five-pound piece of iron. As he
stooped over to attach the iron to the broad top of the blade, Ah Cho
glanced at the sergeant and saw his opportunity.
"The honourable judge said that Ah Chow was to have his head cut off," he
The sergeant nodded impatiently. He was thinking of the fifteen-mile ride
before him that afternoon, to the windward side of the island, and of
Berthe, the pretty half-caste daughter of Lafiere, the pearl-trader, who
was waiting for him at the end of it.
"Well, I am not Ah Chow. I am Ah Cho. The honourable jailer has made a
mistake. Ah Chow is a tall man, and you see I am short."
The sergeant looked at him hastily and saw the mistake. "Schemmer!" he
called, imperatively. "Come here."
The German grunted, but remained bent over his task till the chunk of iron
was lashed to his satisfaction. "Is your Chinago ready?" he demanded.
"Look at him," was the answer. "Is he the Chinago?"
Schemmer was surprised. He swore tersely for a few seconds, and looked
regretfully across at the thing he had made with his own hands and which he
was eager to see work. "Look here," he said finally, "we can't postpone
this affair. I've lost three hours' work already out of those five hundred
Chinagos. I can't afford to lose it all over again for the right man.
Let's put the performance through just the same. It is only a Chinago."
The sergeant remembered the long ride before him, and the pearl-trader's
daughter, and debated with himself.
"They will blame it on Cruchot--if it is discovered," the German urged.
"But there's little chance of its being discovered. Ah Chow won't give it
away, at any rate."
"The blame won't lie with Cruchot, anyway," the sergeant said. "It must
have been the jailer's mistake."
"Then let's go on with it. They can't blame us. Who can tell one Chinago
from another? We can say that we merely carried out instructions with the
Chinago that was turned over to us. Besides, I really can't take all those
coolies a second time away from their labour."
They spoke in French, and Ah Cho, who did not understand a word of it,
nevertheless knew that they were determining his destiny. He knew, also,
that the decision rested with the sergeant, and he hung upon that
"All right," announced the sergeant. "Go ahead with it. He is only a
"I'm going to try it once more, just to make sure." Schemmer moved the
banana trunk forward under the knife, which he had hoisted to the top of
Ah Cho tried to remember maxims from "The Tract of the Quiet Way." "Live
in concord," came to him; but it was not applicable. He was not going to
live. He was about to die. No, that would not do. "Forgive malice"--yes,
but there was no malice to forgive. Schemmer and the rest were doing this
thing without malice. It was to them merely a piece of work that had to be
done, just as clearing the jungle, ditching the water, and planting cotton
were pieces of work that had to be done. Schemmer jerked the cord, and Ah
Cho forgot "The Tract of the Quiet Way." The knife shot down with a thud,
making a clean slice of the tree.
"Beautiful!" exclaimed the sergeant, pausing in the act of lighting a
cigarette. "Beautiful, my friend."
Schemmer was pleased at the praise.
"Come on, Ah Chow," he said, in the Tahitian tongue.
"But I am not Ah Chow--" Ah Cho began.
"Shut up!" was the answer. "If you open your mouth again, I'll break your
The overseer threatened him with a clenched fist, and he remained silent.
What was the good of protesting? Those foreign devils always had their
way. He allowed himself to be lashed to the vertical board that was the
size of his body. Schemmer drew the buckles tight--so tight that the
straps cut into his flesh and hurt. But he did not complain. The hurt
would not last long. He felt the board tilting over in the air toward the
horizontal, and closed his eyes. And in that moment he caught a last
glimpse of his garden of meditation and repose. It seemed to him that he
sat in the garden. A cool wind was blowing, and the bells in the several
trees were tinkling softly. Also, birds were making sleepy noises, and
from beyond the high wall came the subdued sound of village life.
Then he was aware that the board had come to rest, and from muscular
pressures and tensions he knew that he was lying on his back. He opened
his eyes. Straight above him he saw the suspended knife blazing in the
sunshine. He saw the weight which had been added, and noted that one of
Schemmer's knots had slipped. Then he heard the sergeant's voice in sharp
command. Ah Cho closed his eyes hastily. He did not want to see that
knife descend. But he felt it--for one great fleeting instant. And in
that instant he remembered Cruchot and what Cruchot had said. But Cruchot
was wrong. The knife did not tickle. That much he knew before he ceased
Whatever you do, make westing! make westing!
--Sailing directions for Cape Horn.
For seven weeks the Mary Rogers had been between 5O degrees south in the
Atlantic and 5O degrees south in the Pacific, which meant that for seven
weeks she had been struggling to round Cape Horn. For seven weeks she had
been either in dirt, or close to dirt, save once, and then, following upon
six days of excessive dirt, which she had ridden out under the shelter of
the redoubtable Terra del Fuego coast, she had almost gone ashore during a
heavy swell in the dead calm that had suddenly fallen. For seven weeks she
had wrestled with the Cape Horn graybeards, and in return been buffeted and
smashed by them. She was a wooden ship, and her ceaseless straining had
opened her seams, so that twice a day the watch took its turn at the pumps.
The Mary Rogers was strained, the crew was strained, and big Dan Cullen,
master, was likewise strained. Perhaps he was strained most of all, for
upon him rested the responsibility of that titanic struggle. He slept most
of the time in his clothes, though he rarely slept. He haunted the deck at
night, a great, burly, robust ghost, black with the sunburn of thirty years
of sea and hairy as an orang-outang. He, in turn, was haunted by one
thought of action, a sailing direction for the Horn: Whatever you do, make
westing! make westing! It was an obsession. He thought of nothing else,
except, at times, to blaspheme God for sending such bitter weather.
Make westing! He hugged the Horn, and a dozen times lay hove to with the
iron Cape bearing east-by-north, or north-north-east, a score of miles
away. And each time the eternal west wind smote him back and he made
easting. He fought gale after gale, south to 64 degrees, inside the
antarctic drift-ice, and pledged his immortal soul to the Powers of
Darkness for a bit of westing, for a slant to take him around. And he made
easting. In despair, he had tried to make the passage through the Straits
of Le Maire. Halfway through, the wind hauled to the north'ard of north-
west, the glass dropped to 28.88, and he turned and ran before a gale of
cyclonic fury, missing, by a hair's-breadth, piling up the Mary Rogers on
the black-toothed rocks. Twice he had made west to the Diego Ramirez
Rocks, one of the times saved between two snow-squalls by sighting the
gravestones of ships a quarter of a mile dead ahead.
Blow! Captain Dan Cullen instanced all his thirty years at sea to prove
that never had it blown so before. The Mary Rogers was hove to at the time
he gave the evidence, and, to clinch it, inside half an hour the Mary
Rogers was hove down to the hatches. Her new maintopsail and brand new
spencer were blown away like tissue paper; and five sails, furled and fast
under double gaskets, were blown loose and stripped from the yards. And
before morning the Mary Rogers was hove down twice again, and holes were
knocked in her bulwarks to ease her decks from the weight of ocean that
pressed her down.
On an average of once a week Captain Dan Cullen caught glimpses of the sun.
Once, for ten minutes, the sun shone at midday, and ten minutes afterward a
new gale was piping up, both watches were shortening sail, and all was
buried in the obscurity of a driving snow-squall. For a fortnight, once,
Captain Dan Cullen was without a meridian or a chronometer sight. Rarely
did he know his position within half of a degree, except when in sight of
land; for sun and stars remained hidden behind the sky, and it was so
gloomy that even at the best the horizons were poor for accurate
observations. A gray gloom shrouded the world. The clouds were gray; the
great driving seas were leaden gray; the smoking crests were a gray
churning; even the occasional albatrosses were gray, while the snow-
flurries were not white, but gray, under the sombre pall of the heavens.
Life on board the Mary Rogers was gray--gray and gloomy. The faces of the
sailors were blue-gray; they were afflicted with sea-cuts and sea-boils,
and suffered exquisitely. They were shadows of men. For seven weeks, in
the forecastle or on deck, they had not known what it was to be dry. They
had forgotten what it was to sleep out a watch, and all watches it was,
"All hands on deck!" They caught snatches of agonized sleep, and they
slept in their oilskins ready for the everlasting call. So weak and worn
were they that it took both watches to do the work of one. That was why
both watches were on deck so much of the time. And no shadow of a man
could shirk duty. Nothing less than a broken leg could enable a man to
knock off work; and there were two such, who had been mauled and pulped by
the seas that broke aboard.
One other man who was the shadow of a man was George Dorety. He was the
only passenger on board, a friend of the firm, and he had elected to make
the voyage for his health. But seven weeks of Cape Horn had not bettered
his health. He gasped and panted in his bunk through the long, heaving
nights; and when on deck he was so bundled up for warmth that he resembled
a peripatetic old-clothes shop. At midday, eating at the cabin table in a
gloom so deep that the swinging sea-lamps burned always, he looked as blue-
gray as the sickest, saddest man for'ard. Nor did gazing across the table
at Captain Dan Cullen have any cheering effect upon him. Captain Cullen
chewed and scowled and kept silent. The scowls were for God, and with
every chew he reiterated the sole thought of his existence, which was make
westing. He was a big, hairy brute, and the sight of him was not
stimulating to the other's appetite. He looked upon George Dorety as a
Jonah, and told him so, once each meal, savagely transferring the scowl
from God to the passenger and back again.
Nor did the mate prove a first aid to a languid appetite. Joshua Higgins
by name, a seaman by profession and pull, but a pot-wolloper by capacity,
he was a loose-jointed, sniffling creature, heartless and selfish and
cowardly, without a soul, in fear of his life of Dan Cullen, and a bully
over the sailors, who knew that behind the mate was Captain Cullen, the
law-giver and compeller, the driver and the destroyer, the incarnation of a
dozen bucko mates. In that wild weather at the southern end of the earth,
Joshua Higgins ceased washing. His grimy face usually robbed George Dorety
of what little appetite he managed to accumulate. Ordinarily this
lavatorial dereliction would have caught Captain Cullen's eye and
vocabulary, but in the present his mind was filled with making westing, to
the exclusion of all other things not contributory thereto. Whether the
mate's face was clean or dirty had no bearing upon westing. Later on, when
5O degrees south in the Pacific had been reached, Joshua Higgins would wash
his face very abruptly. In the meantime, at the cabin table, where gray
twilight alternated with lamplight while the lamps were being filled,
George Dorety sat between the two men, one a tiger and the other a hyena,
and wondered why God had made them. The second mate, Matthew Turner, was a
true sailor and a man, but George Dorety did not have the solace of his
company, for he ate by himself, solitary, when they had finished.
On Saturday morning, July 24, George Dorety awoke to a feeling of life and
headlong movement. On deck he found the Mary Rogers running off before a
howling south-easter. Nothing was set but the lower topsails and the
foresail. It was all she could stand, yet she was making fourteen knots,
as Mr. Turner shouted in Dorety's ear when he came on deck. And it was all
westing. She was going around the Horn at last . . . if the wind held.
Mr. Turner looked happy. The end of the struggle was in sight. But
Captain Cullen did not look happy. He scowled at Dorety in passing.
Captain Cullen did not want God to know that he was pleased with that wind.
He had a conception of a malicious God, and believed in his secret soul
that if God knew it was a desirable wind, God would promptly efface it and
send a snorter from the west. So he walked softly before God, smothering
his joy down under scowls and muttered curses, and, so, fooling God, for
God was the only thing in the universe of which Dan Cullen was afraid.
All Saturday and Saturday night the Mary Rogers raced her westing.
Persistently she logged her fourteen knots, so that by Sunday morning she
had covered three hundred and fifty miles. If the wind held, she would
make around. If it failed, and the snorter came from anywhere between
south-west and north, back the Mary Rogers would be hurled and be no better
off than she had been seven weeks before. And on Sunday morning the wind
was failing. The big sea was going down and running smooth. Both watches
were on deck setting sail after sail as fast as the ship could stand it.
And now Captain Cullen went around brazenly before God, smoking a big
cigar, smiling jubilantly, as if the failing wind delighted him, while down
underneath he was raging against God for taking the life out of the blessed
wind. Make westing! So he would, if God would only leave him alone.
Secretly, he pledged himself anew to the Powers of Darkness, if they would
let him make westing. He pledged himself so easily because he did not
believe in the Powers of Darkness. He really believed only in God, though
he did not know it. And in his inverted theology God was really the Prince
of Darkness. Captain Cullen was a devil-worshipper, but he called the
devil by another name, that was all.
At midday, after calling eight bells, Captain Cullen ordered the royals on.
The men went aloft faster than they had gone in weeks. Not alone were they
nimble because of the westing, but a benignant sun was shining down and
limbering their stiff bodies. George Dorety stood aft, near Captain
Cullen, less bundled in clothes than usual, soaking in the grateful warmth
as he watched the scene. Swiftly and abruptly the incident occurred.
There was a cry from the foreroyal-yard of "Man overboard!" Somebody threw
a life-buoy over the side, and at the same instant the second mate's voice
came aft, ringing and peremptory--
"Hard down your helm!"
The man at the wheel never moved a spoke. He knew better, for Captain Dan
Cullen was standing alongside of him. He wanted to move a spoke, to move
all the spokes, to grind the wheel down, hard down, for his comrade
drowning in the sea. He glanced at Captain Dan Cullen, and Captain Dan
Cullen gave no sign.
"Down! Hard down!" the second mate roared, as he sprang aft.
But he ceased springing and commanding, and stood still, when he saw Dan
Cullen by the wheel. And big Dan Cullen puffed at his cigar and said
nothing. Astern, and going astern fast, could be seen the sailor. He had
caught the life-buoy and was clinging to it. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved.
The men aloft clung to the royal yards and watched with terror-stricken
faces. And the Mary Rogers raced on, making her westing. A long, silent
"Who was it?" Captain Cullen demanded.
"Mops, sir," eagerly answered the sailor at the wheel.
Mops topped a wave astern and disappeared temporarily in the trough. It
was a large wave, but it was no graybeard. A small boat could live easily
in such a sea, and in such a sea the Mary Rogers could easily come to. But
she could not come to and make westing at the same time.
For the first time in all his years, George Dorety was seeing a real drama
of life and death--a sordid little drama in which the scales balanced an
unknown sailor named Mops against a few miles of longitude. At first he
had watched the man astern, but now he watched big Dan Cullen, hairy and
black, vested with power of life and death, smoking a cigar.
Captain Dan Cullen smoked another long, silent minute. Then he removed the
cigar from his mouth. He glanced aloft at the spars of the Mary Rogers,
and overside at the sea.
"Sheet home the royals!" he cried.
Fifteen minutes later they sat at table, in the cabin, with food served
before them. On one side of George Dorety sat Dan Cullen, the tiger, on
the other side, Joshua Higgins, the hyena. Nobody spoke. On deck the men
were sheeting home the skysails. George Dorety could hear their cries,
while a persistent vision haunted him of a man called Mops, alive and well,
clinging to a life-buoy miles astern in that lonely ocean. He glanced at
Captain Cullen, and experienced a feeling of nausea, for the man was eating
his food with relish, almost bolting it.
"Captain Cullen," Dorety said, "you are in command of this ship, and it is
not proper for me to comment now upon what you do. But I wish to say one
thing. There is a hereafter, and yours will be a hot one."
Captain Cullen did not even scowl. In his voice was regret as he said--
"It was blowing a living gale. It was impossible to save the man."
"He fell from the royal-yard," Dorety cried hotly. "You were setting the
royals at the time. Fifteen minutes afterward you were setting the
"It was a living gale, wasn't it, Mr. Higgin?" Captain Cullen said, turning
to the mate.
"If you'd brought her to, it'd have taken the sticks out of her," was the
mate's answer. "You did the proper thing, Captain Cullen. The man hadn't
a ghost of a show."
George Dorety made no answer, and to the meal's end no one spoke. After
that, Dorety had his meals served in his state-room. Captain Cullen
scowled at him no longer, though no speech was exchanged between them,
while the Mary Rogers sped north toward warmer latitudes. At the end of
the week, Dan Cullen cornered Dorety on deck.
"What are you going to do when we get to 'Frisco?" he demanded bluntly.
"I am going to swear out a warrant for your arrest," Dorety answered
quietly. "I am going to charge you with murder, and I am going to see you
hanged for it."
"You're almighty sure of yourself," Captain Cullen sneered, turning on his
A second week passed, and one morning found George Dorety standing in the
coach-house companionway at the for'ard end of the long poop, taking his
first gaze around the deck. The Mary Rogers was reaching full-and-by, in a
stiff breeze. Every sail was set and drawing, including the staysails.
Captain Cullen strolled for'ard along the poop. He strolled carelessly,
glancing at the passenger out of the corner of his eye. Dorety was looking
the other way, standing with head and shoulders outside the companionway,
and only the back of his head was to be seen. Captain Cullen, with swift
eye, embraced the mainstaysail-block and the head and estimated the
distance. He glanced about him. Nobody was looking. Aft, Joshua Higgins,
pacing up and down, had just turned his back and was going the other way.
Captain Cullen bent over suddenly and cast the staysail-sheet off from its
pin. The heavy block hurtled through the air, smashing Dorety's head like
an egg-shell and hurtling on and back and forth as the staysail whipped and
slatted in the wind. Joshua Higgins turned around to see what had carried
away, and met the full blast of the vilest portion of Captain Cullen's
"I made the sheet fast myself," whimpered the mate in the first lull, "with
an extra turn to make sure. I remember it distinctly."
"Made fast?" the Captain snarled back, for the benefit of the watch as it
struggled to capture the flying sail before it tore to ribbons. "You
couldn't make your grandmother fast, you useless hell's scullion. If you
made that sheet fast with an extra turn, why in hell didn't it stay fast?
That's what I want to know. Why in hell didn't it stay fast?"
The mate whined inarticulately.
"Oh, shut up!" was the final word of Captain Cullen.
Half an hour later he was as surprised as any when the body of George
Dorety was found inside the companionway on the floor. In the afternoon,
alone in his room, he doctored up the log.
"Ordinary seaman, Karl Brun," he wrote, "lost overboard from foreroyal-yard
in a gale of wind. Was running at the time, and for the safety of the ship
did not dare come up to the wind. Nor could a boat have lived in the sea
that was running."
On another page, he wrote
"Had often warned Mr. Dorety about the danger he ran because of his
carelessness on deck. I told him, once, that some day he would get his
head knocked off by a block. A carelessly fastened mainstaysail sheet was
the cause of the accident, which was deeply to be regretted because Mr.
Dorety was a favourite with all of us."
Captain Dan Cullen read over his literary effort with admiration, blotted
the page, and closed the log. He lighted a cigar and stared before him.
He felt the Mary Rogers lift, and heel, and surge along, and knew that she
was making nine knots. A smile of satisfaction slowly dawned on his black
and hairy face. Well, anyway, he had made his westing and fooled God.
Doctor Bicknell was in a remarkably gracious mood. Through a minor
accident, a slight bit of carelessness, that was all, a man who might have
pulled through had died the preceding night. Though it had been only a
sailorman, one of the innumerable unwashed, the steward of the receiving
hospital had been on the anxious seat all the morning. It was not that the
man had died that gave him discomfort, he knew the Doctor too well for
that, but his distress lay in the fact that the operation had been done so
well. One of the most delicate in surgery, it had been as successful as it
was clever and audacious. All had then depended upon the treatment, the
nurses, the steward. And the man had died. Nothing much, a bit of
carelessness, yet enough to bring the professional wrath of Doctor Bicknell
about his ears and to perturb the working of the staff and nurses for
twenty-four hours to come.
But, as already stated, the Doctor was in a remarkably gracious mood. When
informed by the steward, in fear and trembling, of the man's unexpected
take-off, his lips did not so much as form one syllable of censure; nay,
they were so pursed that snatches of rag-time floated softly from them, to
be broken only by a pleasant query after the health of the other's eldest-
born. The steward, deeming it impossible that he could have caught the
gist of the case, repeated it.
"Yes, yes," Doctor Bicknell said impatiently; "I understand. But how about
Semper Idem? Is he ready to leave?"
"Yes. They're helping him dress now," the steward answered, passing on to
the round of his duties, content that peace still reigned within the
It was Semper Idem's recovery which had so fully compensated Doctor
Bicknell for the loss of the sailorman. Lives were to him as nothing, the
unpleasant but inevitable incidents of the profession, but cases, ah, cases
were everything. People who knew him were prone to brand him a butcher,
but his colleagues were at one in the belief that a bolder and yet a more
capable man never stood over the table. He was not an imaginative man. He
did not possess, and hence had no tolerance for, emotion. His nature was
accurate, precise, scientific. Men were to him no more than pawns, without
individuality or personal value. But as cases it was different. The more
broken a man was, the more precarious his grip on life, the greater his
significance in the eyes of Doctor Bicknell. He would as readily forsake a
poet laureate suffering from a common accident for a nameless, mangled
vagrant who defied every law of life by refusing to die, as would a child
forsake a Punch and Judy for a circus.
So it had been in the case of Semper Idem. The mystery of the man had not
appealed to him, nor had his silence and the veiled romance which the
yellow reporters had so sensationally and so fruitlessly exploited in
divers Sunday editions. But Semper Idem's throat had been cut. That was
the point. That was where his interest had centred. Cut from ear to ear,
and not one surgeon in a thousand to give a snap of the fingers for his
chance of recovery. But, thanks to the swift municipal ambulance service
and to Doctor Bicknell, he had been dragged back into the world he had
sought to leave. The Doctor's co-workers had shaken their heads when the
case was brought in. Impossible, they said. Throat, windpipe, jugular,
all but actually severed, and the loss of blood frightful. As it was such
a foregone conclusion, Doctor Bicknell had employed methods and done things
which made them, even in their professional capacities, shudder. And lo!
the man had recovered.
So, on this morning that Semper Idem was to leave the hospital, hale and
hearty, Doctor Bicknell's geniality was in nowise disturbed by the
steward's report, and he proceeded cheerfully to bring order out of the
chaos of a child's body which had been ground and crunched beneath the
wheels of an electric car.
As many will remember, the case of Semper Idem aroused a vast deal of
unseemly yet highly natural curiosity. He had been found in a slum
lodging, with throat cut as aforementioned, and blood dripping down upon
the inmates of the room below and disturbing their festivities. He had
evidently done the deed standing, with head bowed forward that he might
gaze his last upon a photograph which stood on the table propped against a
candlestick. It was this attitude which had made it possible for Doctor
Bicknell to save him. So terrific had been the sweep of the razor that had
he had his head thrown back, as he should have done to have accomplished
the act properly, with his neck stretched and the elastic vascular walls
distended, he would have of a certainty well-nigh decapitated himself.
At the hospital, during all the time he travelled the repugnant road back
to life, not a word had left his lips. Nor could anything be learned of
him by the sleuths detailed by the chief of police. Nobody knew him, nor
had ever seen or heard of him before. He was strictly, uniquely, of the
present. His clothes and surroundings were those of the lowest labourer,
his hands the hands of a gentleman. But not a shred of writing was
discovered, nothing, save in one particular, which would serve to indicate
his past or his position in life.
And that one particular was the photograph. If it were at all a likeness,
the woman who gazed frankly out upon the onlooker from the card-mount must
have been a striking creature indeed. It was an amateur production, for
the detectives were baffled in that no professional photographer's
signature or studio was appended. Across a corner of the mount, in
delicate feminine tracery, was written: "Semper idem; semper fidelis."
And she looked it. As many recollect, it was a face one could never
forget. Clever half-tones, remarkably like, were published in all the
leading papers at the time; but such procedure gave rise to nothing but the
uncontrollable public curiosity and interminable copy to the space-writers.
For want of a better name, the rescued suicide was known to the hospital
attendants, and to the world, as Semper Idem. And Semper Idem he remained.
Reporters, detectives, and nurses gave him up in despair. Not one word
could he be persuaded to utter; yet the flitting conscious light of his
eyes showed that his ears heard and his brain grasped every question put to
But this mystery and romance played no part in Doctor Bicknell's interest
when he paused in the office to have a parting word with his patient. He,
the Doctor, had performed a prodigy in the matter of this man, done what
was virtually unprecedented in the annals of surgery. He did not care who
or what the man was, and it was highly improbable that he should ever see
him again; but, like the artist gazing upon a finished creation, he wished
to look for the last time upon the work of his hand and brain.
Semper Idem still remained mute. He seemed anxious to be gone. Not a word
could the Doctor extract from him, and little the Doctor cared. He
examined the throat of the convalescent carefully, idling over the hideous
scar with the lingering, half-caressing fondness of a parent. It was not a
particularly pleasing sight. An angry line circled the throat--for all the
world as though the man had just escaped the hangman's noose--and,
disappearing below the ear on either side, had the appearance of completing
the fiery periphery at the nape of the neck.
Maintaining his dogged silence, yielding to the other's examination in much
the manner of a leashed lion, Semper Idem betrayed only his desire to drop
from out of the public eye.
"Well, I'll not keep you," Doctor Bicknell finally said, laying a hand on
the man's shoulder and stealing a last glance at his own handiwork. "But
let me give you a bit of advice. Next time you try it on, hold your chin
up, so. Don't snuggle it down and butcher yourself like a cow. Neatness
and despatch, you know. Neatness and despatch."
Semper Idem's eyes flashed in token that he heard, and a moment later the
hospital door swung to on his heel.
It was a busy day for Doctor Bicknell, and the afternoon was well along
when he lighted a cigar preparatory to leaving the table upon which it
seemed the sufferers almost clamoured to be laid. But the last one, an old
rag-picker with a broken shoulder-blade, had been disposed of, and the
first fragrant smoke wreaths had begun to curl about his head, when the
gong of a hurrying ambulance came through the open window from the street,
followed by the inevitable entry of the stretcher with its ghastly freight.
"Lay it on the table," the Doctor directed, turning for a moment to place
his cigar in safety. "What is it?"
"Suicide--throat cut," responded one of the stretcher bearers. "Down on
Morgan Alley. Little hope, I think, sir. He's 'most gone."
"Eh? Well, I'll give him a look, anyway." He leaned over the man at the
moment when the quick made its last faint flutter and succumbed.
"It's Semper Idem come back again," the steward said.
"Ay," replied Doctor Bicknell, "and gone again. No bungling this time.
Properly done, upon my life, sir, properly done. Took my advice to the
letter. I'm not required here. Take it along to the morgue."
Doctor Bicknell secured his cigar and relighted it. "That," he said
between the puffs, looking at the steward, "that evens up for the one you
lost last night. We're quits now."
A NOSE FOR THE KING
In the morning calm of Korea, when its peace and tranquillity truly merited
its ancient name, "Cho-sen," there lived a politician by name Yi Chin Ho.
He was a man of parts, and--who shall say?--perhaps in no wise worse than
politicians the world over. But, unlike his brethren in other lands, Yi
Chin Ho was in jail. Not that he had inadvertently diverted to himself
public moneys, but that he had inadvertently diverted too much. Excess is
to be deplored in all things, even in grafting, and Yi Chin Ho's excess had
brought him to most deplorable straits.
Ten thousand strings of cash he owed the Government, and he lay in prison
under sentence of death. There was one advantage to the situation--he had
plenty of time in which to think. And he thought well. Then called he the
jailer to him.
"Most worthy man, you see before you one most wretched," he began. "Yet
all will be well with me if you will but let me go free for one short hour
this night. And all will be well with you, for I shall see to your
advancement through the years, and you shall come at length to the
directorship of all the prisons of Cho-sen."
"How now?" demanded the jailer. "What foolishness is this? One short
hour, and you but waiting for your head to be chopped off! And I, with an
aged and much-to-be-respected mother, not to say anything of a wife and
several children of tender years! Out upon you for the scoundrel that you
"From the Sacred City to the ends of all the Eight Coasts there is no place
for me to hide," Yi Chin Ho made reply. "I am a man of wisdom, but of what
worth my wisdom here in prison? Were I free, well I know I could seek out
and obtain the money wherewith to repay the Government. I know of a nose
that will save me from all my difficulties."
"A nose!" cried the jailer.
"A nose," said Yi Chin Ho. "A remarkable nose, if I may say so, a most
The jailer threw up his hands despairingly. "Ah, what a wag you are, what
a wag," he laughed. "To think that that very admirable wit of yours must
go the way of the chopping-block!"
And so saying, he turned and went away. But in the end, being a man soft
of head and heart, when the night was well along he permitted Yi Chin Ho to
Straight he went to the Governor, catching him alone and arousing him from
"Yi Chin Ho, or I'm no Governor!" cried the Governor. "What do you here
who should be in prison waiting on the chopping-block?"
"I pray Your Excellency to listen to me," said Yi Chin Ho, squatting on his
hams by the bedside and lighting his pipe from the fire-box. "A dead man
is without value. It is true, I am as a dead man, without value to the
Government, to Your Excellency, or to myself. But if, so to say, Your
Excellency were to give me my freedom--"
"Impossible!" cried the Governor. "Beside, you are condemned to death."
"Your Excellency well knows that if I can repay the ten thousand strings of
cash, the Government will pardon me," Yi Chin Ho went on. "So, as I say,