By Jack London
E strolled to
the corner and glanced up and down the intersecting street, but saw nothing
save the oases of light shed by the street-lamps at the successive crossings.
Then he strolled back the way he had come. He was a shadow of a man, gliding
noiselessly and without undue movement through the semidarkness.
Also he was very alert, like a wild animal in the
jungle, keenly perceptive and receptive. The movement of another in the
darkness about him would need to have been more shadowy than his to have
In addition to the running advertisement of the
state of affairs carried to him by his senses, he had a subtler perception, a
feel, of the atmosphere around him. He knew that the house in front of
which he paused for a moment contained children. Yet by no willed effort of
perception did he have this knowledge. For that matter, he was not even aware
that he knew, so occult was the impressions. Yet, did a moment arise in which
action, in relation to that house, were imperative, he would have acted on the
assumption that it contained children. In the same way he knew that no danger
threatened in the footfalls that came up the cross-street. Before he saw the
walker he knew him for a belated pedestrian hurrying home. He came into view at
the crossing, and disappeared up the street. The man who watched noted a light
which flared up in the window of a house on the corner, and as it died down he
knew it for an expiring match. This was conscious identification of familiar
phenomena, and through his mind flitted the thought, "Wanted to know what
time." In another house one room was lighted. The light burned dimly but
steadily, and he had the feel that it was a sick-room.
He was especially interested in a house across
the street in the middle of the block. To this house he paid most attention. No
matter which way he looked, nor which way he watched, his looks and his steps
always returned to it. Except for an open window above the porch there was
nothing unusual about the house. Nothing went in or came out; nothing happened.
There were not lighted windows, nor had lights appeared and disappeared in any
of the windows. Yet it was the central point of his consideration. He returned
to it each time after a divination of the state of the neighborhood.
Despite his feel of things, he was not confident.
He was supremely conscious of the precariousness of his situation. Though
unperturbed by the footfalls of the chance pedestrian, he was as keyed up and
sensitive and ready to be startled as any timorous deer. He was aware of the
possibility of other intelligences prowling about in the
darkness—intelligences similar to his own in movement, perception, and
Far down the street he caught a glimpse of
something that moved, and at once knew it was no late home-goer, but menace and
danger. He whistled twice to the house across the street, and faded away
shadow-like around the corner. Here he paused and looked about him carefully.
Reassured, he peered around the corner, and studied the object that moved and
that was coming nearer. He had divined aright; it was a policeman. He went down
the cross-street to the next corner, from the shelter of which he watched the
corner he had just left. He saw the policeman pass by, going straight on up the
street. He paralleled the course, and from the next corner again watched him go
by; then he returned the way he had come. He whistled once to the house across
the street, and after a time whistled once again. There was reassurance in the
whistle, just as there had been warning in the previous double whistle.
Soon he saw a dark bulk outline itself on the
roof of the porch, and slowly descend a pillar. Then it came down the steps,
passed through the small iron gate, and went down the sidewalk, taking on the
form of a man. He that watched kept on his own side of the street, and moved on
abreast to the corner, where he crossed over and joined the other. He was quite
small alongside the man he accosted.
"How'd you make out, Matt?" he
The other grunted indistinctly, and walked on in
silence a few steps.
"I reckon I landed the goods, Jim," he
Jim chuckled in the darkness, and waited for
further information. The blocks passed by under their feet, and he grew
"Well, how about them goods?" he asked.
"What kind of a haul did you make, anyway?"
"I was too busy to figger it out, but it's
fat. I can tell you that much, Jim—it's fat. I don't dast to think how fat it
is. Wait till we get to the room."
Jim looked at him keenly under the street-lamp of
the next crossing, and saw that his face was a trifle grim and that he carried
his left arm peculiarly.
"What's the matter with your arm?" he
"The little cuss bit me. Hope I don't get
hydrophoby. Folks get hydrophoby from man-bite sometimes, don't they?"
"Gave you a fight, eh?" Jim asked
The other grunted.
"You're harder'n hell to get information
from," Jim burst out irritably. "Tell us about it. You ain't goin' to
lose money just a-tellin' a pal."
"I guess I choked him some," came the
answer. Then by way of explanation, "He woke up on me."
"You did it neat; I never heard a
"Jim," the other said with seriousness,
"it's a hangin' matter. I fixed 'im. I had to; he woke up on me. You an'
me's got to do some layin' low for a spell."
Jim gave a low whistle of comprehension. Then,
"Did you hear me whistle?" he asked suddenly.
"Sure. I was all done, an' was just comin'
"It was a bull, but he wasn't on a little
bit. Went right by, an' kept a-paddin' the hoof outa sight. Then I come back
an' gave you the whistle. What made you take so long after that?"
"I was waitin' to make sure," Matt
explained. "I was mighty glad when I heard you whistle again. It's hard
work waitin'. I just sat there an' thought an' though—oh, all kinds of things.
It's remarkable what a fellow'll think about. And then there was a darn cat the
kept movin' around the house an' botherin' me with its noises."
"An' it's fat!" Jim exclaimed
irrelevantly and with joy.
"I'm sure tellin' you, Jim, it's fat. I'm
plumb anxious for another look at 'em."
Unconsciously the two men quickened their pace;
yet they did not relax from their caution. Twice they changed their course in
order to avoid policemen, and they made very sure that they were not observed
when they dived into the dark hallway of a cheap rooming-house downtown. Not
until they had gained their own room on the top floor did they scratch a match.
While Jim lighted a lamp, Matt locked the door and threw the bolts into place.
As he turned, he noticed that his partner was waiting expectantly. He smiled
to himself at the other's eagerness.
"Them search-lights is all right," he
said, drawing forth a small pocket electric lamp and examining it. "But we
got to get a new battery. It's runnin' pretty weak. I thought once or twice
it'd leave me in the dark. Funny arrangements in that house. I near got lost.
His room was on the left, an' that fooled me some."
"I told you it was on the left," Jim
"You told me it was on the right," Matt
went on. "I guess I know what you told me, an' there's the map you
Fumbling in his vest pocket, he drew out a folded
slip of paper. As he unfolded it, Jim bent over and looked.
"I did make a mistake," he
"You sure did. It got me guessin' some for a
"But it don't matter now," Jim cried.
"Let's see what you got."
"It does matter," Matt retorted.
"It matters a lot—to me. I've got to run all the risk. I put my head in
the trap while you stay on the street. You got to get on to yourself an' be more
careful. All right, I'll show you."
He dipped loosely into his trousers pocket, and
brought out a handful of small diamonds which he spilled out in a blazing stream
on the greasy table. Jim let out a great oath.
"That's nothing," Matt said with
triumphant complacence. "I ain't begun yet."
From one pocket after another he continued
bringing forth the spoil. There were many diamonds wrapped in chamois-skin that
were larger than those in the first handful. From one pocket he brought out a
handful of very small cut gems.
"Sun-dust," he remarked, as he spilled
them on the table in a space by themselves.
Jim examined them. "Just the same, they
retail for a couple of dollars each," he said. "Is that all?"
"Ain't that enough?" the other demanded
in an aggrieved tone.
"Sure it is," Jim answered with
unqualified approval. "Better'n I expected. I wouldn't take a cent less
than ten thousan' for the bunch."
"Ten thousan'," Matt sneered.
"They're worth twic't that, an' I don't know anything about joolery,
either." Look at that big boy!"
He picked it out from the sparkling heap, and held
it near to the lamp with the air of an expert weighing and judging.
"Worth a thousan' all by its lonely,"
was Jim's quicker judgement.
"A thousan', your grandmother!" was
Matt's scornful rejoinder. "You couldn't buy it for three."
"Wake me up! I'm dreamin'!" The sparkle
of the gems was in Jim's eyes, and he began sorting out the larger diamonds and
examining them. "We're rich men, Matt; we'll be regular swells."
"It'll take years to get rid of 'em,"
was Matt's more practical thought.
"But think how we'll live—nothin' to do but
spend the money an' go on gettin' rid of 'em!"
Matt's eyes were beginning to sparkle, though
somberly, has his phlegmatic nature woke up. "I told you I didn't dast
think how fat it was," he murmured in a low voice.
"I almost forgot," Matt said, thrusting
his hand into his inside coat pocket.
A string of large pearls emerged from wrappings of
tissue-paper and chamois-skin.
Jim scarcely glanced at them. "They're worth
money," he said, and returned to the diamonds.
A silence fell on the two men. Jim played with the
gems, running them through his fingers, sorting them into piles, and spreading
them out flat and wide. He was a slender, wizened man, nervous, irritable,
high-strung, and anemic—a typical child of the gutter, with unbeautiful twisted
features, small-eyed, with face and mouse perpetually and feverishly hungry,
brutish in a catlike way, and stamped to the core with degeneracy.
Matt did not finger the diamonds. He sat with chin
on hands and elbows on table, blinking heavily at the blazing array. He was in
every way a contrast to the other. No city had bred him. He was heavy-muscled
and hairy, gorilla-like in strength and aspect. HI eyes were full and wide
apart, and there seemed in them a certain bold brotherliness. They inspired
confidence; but a closer inspection would have shown that they were just a
trifle too full, just a shade too wide apart. He exceeded, spilled over, the
limits of normality, and his features told lies about the man beneath.
"The bunch is worth fifty thousan'," Jim
"A hundred thousan'," Matt said.
A long silence ensued, to be broken again by Jim.
"What the devil was he doin' with 'em all at the house? That's what I want
to know. I'd 'a' thought he'd kept 'em in the safe down at the store."
Matt had been considering the vision of the
throttled man as he had last looked upon him in the dim light of the electric
lantern; but he did not start at the mention of him.
"There's no tellin'," he answered.
"He might 'a' been gettin' ready to chuck his pardner. He might 'a' pulled
out in the mornin' for parts unknown, if we hadn't happened along. I guess
there's just as many thieves among honest men as there is among thieves. You
read about such things in the papers, Jim. Pardners is always knifin' each
A queer look came into the other's eyes. Matt did
not betray that he noted it, though he said,
"What was you thinkin' about, Jim?"
Jim was a trifle awkward for the moment.
"Nothin'," he answered. "Only I was thinkin' just how funny it
was—all them jools at his house. What made you ask?"
"Nothin'. I was just wonderin', that was
Silence settled down, broken by an occasional low
and nervous giggle on the part of Jim. He was overcome by the spread of gems. It
was not that he felt their beauty; he was unaware that they were beautiful in
themselves. But in them his swift imagination visioned the joys of life they
would buy; and all the desires and appetites of his diseased mind and sickly
flesh were tickled by the promise they extended. He builded wondrous,
orgy-haunted castles out of their brilliant fires, and was appalled at what he
builded. Then it was that he giggled; it was all to impossible to be real. And
yet there they blazed on the table before him, fanning the flame of the lust of
him, and he giggled again.
"I guess we might as well count 'em,"
Matt said suddenly, tearing himself away from his own visions. "You watch
me an' see that it's square, because you an' me has got to be on the square,
Jim did not like this, and betrayed it in his
eyes; while Matt did not like what he saw in his partner's eyes.
"Understand?" Matt repeated, almost
"Ain't we always been square?" the other
replied, on the defensive, what of the treachery already whispering in him.
"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 businessmen. Understand?"
"That's the talk for me," Jim approved;
but deep down in the meager soul of him, and in spite of him, wanton and lawless
thoughts were stirring like chained beasts.
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," ran 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, this time
emptying 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
"An' you think they're worth a hundred
thousan'?" Jim asked, pausing in the unlacing of his shoe and looking
"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 go to-night."
"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'
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
Such concern was unusual, and Matt noted it and
"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
"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 'em! 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,
tossing 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 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 was surely
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 coffee."
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
"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 beef-steak."
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 shivering. Then
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
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 turned toward the
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 he 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 BUJANOFF'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 dirty thief."
"'Half a million of jewels missing,'"
Jim read aloud. He put the paper down and stared at Matt.
"That's what I told you," Matt said.
"What in blazes to we know about jools? Half a million!—an' the best I
could figger it was a hundred thousan'. Go an' read the rest of it."
They read on silently, theire heads side by side,
the untouched coffee growing cold; and ever and anon one of 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
"That's why we caught 'im in bed," Matt
interrupted. "It was just luck—like pickin' a fifty-to-one
"'Sajoda sailed at six this
"He didn't catch her," Matt said.
"I saw his alarm-clock was set at five. That'd given 'im 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 thousand dollars.'"
Jim broke off to swear vilely and solemnly,
concluding with "Those damn oyster-eggs worth all that money!" Then he
licked his lips and added,
"They was beauties an' no mistake."
"'Big Brazilian gems,'" he read on.
"'Eighty thousand dollars—many valuable gems of the first water—several
thousand small diamonds well worth forty thousand.'"
"What you don't know about jools is worth
knowin'," Matt smiled good-humoredly.
"'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
"Clever, nothing!" Matt broke out.
"That's the way reputations are made—in the noospapers. How'd we know he
was robbin' his pardner?"
"Anway, we've got the goods," Jim
grinned. "Let's look at 'em again."
He assured himself that the door was locked and
bolted, when Matt brought out the bundle 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'
"An' women like them things," Matt
commented. "An' they'll do everything to get 'em—sell themselves, commit
"Just like you an' me."
"Not on your life," Matt retorted.
"I'll commit murder for 'em, not for their own sakes, but for what they'll
get me. That's the difference. Women 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 things."
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 stove, and
started to boil water for the coffee. A few minutes later, Jim returned.
"Most surprisin'," he remarked.
"Streets an' stores an' people just like they always was. Nothin' changed.
An' me walkin' along through it all a millionaire. Nobody looked at me an'
Matt grunted unsympathetically. He had little
comprehension of the lighter whims and fancies of this partner's
"Did you get a porterhouse?" he
"Sure, an' an inch thick. It's a peach. Look
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
"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 he empted into the nicked china
cup 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 counseled,
and with knife and fork set the example.
"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.
"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 coffee.
"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 who 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 beef-steak
you an' me is eatin'. It was once steer cavortin' over the landscape. But now
it's just meat. Tha's all—just meat. An' that's what you an' me an' all people
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' live again."
"To go stealin', an lyin', and snivelin'
through another life, an' go on that way for ever, an' ever, an' ever?"
"Maybe I'll improve," Jim suggested
hopefully. "Maybe stealin' won't be necessary in the life to
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
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 no 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? He 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 by,
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 would not tense. This was
revolution within himself, this was anarchy; and the terror of impotence held
him as his flesh griped 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 his 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, that he was
traveling the same road. The smile was gone from his face, and there was in 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
"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 body shivering. "What did you give
"Same as I gave you," Mat volunteered.
"It's a bad 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 goin'?"
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
"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 again. As he went across the floor to the food
shelf, he passed one hand over his brow and flung off the beaded sweat. It
splattered audibly on the floor. Jim watched agonizingly 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 demanded:
"D'you think one cup'll do fo rme? You can
wait till I'm done."
Jim started to totter toward the door, but Matt
"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 man times
what you'd get if you did me dirt."
"But you did me dirt, too," Jim
articulated with an effort.
Mat was drinking the second cupful, and did not
answer. The seat had got into Jim's eyes, and eh could scarcely see his way to
the table, where he got a cup for himself. But Matt was mixing a third cupful,
and thrust him away, as before.
"I told you to wait till I was done," he
growled. "Get outa my way."
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 sing; 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 seat
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 next spasm doubled him up on the floor.
Matt smiled. "Stay with it," he urged.
"It's the stuff all right. It's fixed me up."
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 in the mustard.
Mat 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 table, and clung to it, filled with the
horror of going down to the floor.
Jim's paroxysm had passed, and he sat up, weak and
fainting. 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 do do is die, an' when you die
"I—ain't—snifflin'—it's—the—mustard—stingin'—my—eyes," Jim panted.
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, 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. In the midst of
it, with his body 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
against the door, and slid gently to the floor.
From the March 1907 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.
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