Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/172

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you misbegotten nigger-hugger!” The supporting party cursed emphatic approval.

“Are you sure there’s enough of you to take him away from me?” Agard asked, pitifully sarcastic.

“Don’t you get smart!” was the unanswerable threat. “I could, take him away from you with one hand, you little old fool!"

“Yes, I know you could, Lieutenant, if you wanted to paw around with raw meat. This nigger has been shot to death in the first place—let him alone. I’ve called for the deputy sheriff; can’t you let the Law have a whack at him, either?”

“To hell with the lawyers! Agard, do you know what that black fiend’s done?” the younger man almost wept. “He cut Rafe Bascom’s heart out—Rafe Bascom!—the straightest white man God ever made .. . left his poor wife a widow and his girl an orphan—the black, dirty hound! But you don’t care for that—you don’t even care who your own mother was. All you want to do is to harbour dirty niggers and consort with your little painted nigger wench! Bring that rope, men. I’m goin’ to shoot this misbegotten white dog now, and break up some of this dirty business around here.”

The wretch, Agard, surely thought his last moment had arrived. His voice was a mere husk. "Go ahead and shoot.” He grimaced. He turned his limp hands to them, palm outward, his arms blood-stained to the elbow. “If my life has brought me no better esteem than that—if you believe I misconduct myself with the only woman I can hire for a nurse—if I am a dog for practising medicine—why, go ahead and shoot! B-But you might have a little mercy, Baldwin.”

The deadly finger seemed to hesitate on the trigger for an instant. Tense silence had fallen, broken now by the criminal’s groans and quiverings on the table.

“Watch that nigger—he’s tryin’ to get up!” an excited voice called.

My tongue, which had dried and cleaved to the roof of my mouth, loosed itself at Agard’s last utterance of the name, Baldwin.

“Don’t kill that man, Clifford!” I shouted, hysterically.

“In God’s name, don’t disgrace your family by shooting down defenceless invalids!”