I'm the Man You Killed
A weirdly dramatic story of a man who wouldn't stay dead and the girl who convinced him that life belongs to the living
ELISABETH SANXAY HOLDING
WHEN AGNES had finished the dishes, she ran up the three flights of stairs to her room. It made her out of breath to run; there was a blazing color in her thin cheeks, but she didn’t care. Matt would be waiting for her, and she was in a hurry.
She put on her white raincoat and an old black hat, and ran down the stairs again. Mrs. Dorf was in the hall. “Where are you going, in this weather, Agnes?”
“Out,” said Agnes, looking straight at her.
It was queer how different she was since she had known Matt. Before that she had been almost afraid of Mrs. Dorf and the other people in the house. And she had been so tired all the time; she had never wanted to go out; if she had had any spare time, she went to sleep. She had liked to sleep better than anything.
She wasn’t a bit tired now, though. She went down the steps and along the street toward the boardwalk. The wind and the chilly rain blew in her face, but she didn’t mind that for herself. Only for Matt.
“It’s a shame !” she thought. “Raining like this, and it’s Saturday night.”
Last Saturday had been the first warm day of the season, and he had done such a grand business. The season was so short ... In just these few months he would have to make enough to pay for all that setup.
The lights along the waterfront were misty in the rain; the boardwalk felt spongy underfoot; the sea was invisible, except when a curling white crest rose on an inky wave, but she could hear it all the time, that thud against the sand, and the little hiss as the waters spread and were dragged back again. She was afraid of the sea, but she didn’t want Matt to know that, when he loved it so. “Loves it more than me,” she thought.
But that was all right. Matt was like that, and she didn’t want him any different. Even if sometimes it made her cry, that didn’t matter.
His place was all lighted up, and the ducks were going along, clicking and jerking, in an endless parade. They always made her smile, with an immense affection. Even when a rifle shot hit one of them, it just dived nose down for a moment, and then came up again, and went on with the others. Matt could shoot them, one after the other, never missing; he had wanted to teach her, but she had told him she didn’t like the crack of the rifle.
“You’re a sissy,” he had said, smiling at her.
He didn’t really mind that. In the beginning, she had been afraid that he would stop liking her if she couldn’t be lively and laughing; she had tried to be, but she couldn’t. And now she knew it was all right. Sometimes in the evenings when there was no crowd, he would close up his place early, and they would go down and sit on the beach. He would put his arm around her, and she would rest her head on his shoulder.
“Go to sleep, you lazy little devil.” he would say.
“It’s not much fun for you to be out with a girl that don’t talk.”
“I don’t want to hear you talk.”
SHE WENT to the door in the wall beside the ducks, and opened it. The back room, where Matt lived, was empty; the cot was neatly made up with an old grey blanket over it, the enamel coffee pot stood on the gas ring; it was all bare and clean and fresh with the salt air. She took off her raincoat and sat down in the rocking chair he had bought specially for her; she leaned back and rocked, listened to the rain and the clicking of the ducks.
“Matt’s gone for cigarettes, maybe,” she thought.
I íe knew she was coming, and he would be back in a few moments; she didn’t mind waiting. She liked to sit here in Matt’s clean bare room, and think about him. An unshaded electric bulb hung from the ceiling; it was so bright that she closed her eyes . . . Saturday was a bad day at the boarding-house; lots of extra people came for the week-end, and Mrs. Dorf always got mean and cranky.
“I’m not scared of her now, like I used to be,” thought Agnes.
It had used to make her feel sick, when Mrs. Dorf got yelling at her. But now she didn’t care. Didn’t care much, anyhow.
“The worst thing is, I get so tired,” she thought. “She hired me for a waitress. Never said anything about me helping do the rooms and all those stairs. I’m a fool to put up with it. I’d ought to look for another job. Only I get so little time off—and I’m so tired. . .”
It was queer, she thought, that when you were so tired, you’d rather stay in a hard job that you hated than look for something else.
But when the summer was over, and Matt went away... ?
“He said maybe he’d go on a ship again,
That’s what he wants to do—be a sailor. And what’ll I do, with Matt gone?”
She would not think of that. He was here now, and he was so nice to her, nicer than anyone else had ever been.
“Maybe that’s just his way,” she thought.
“Maybe he don’t love me. He never said he did.”
She opened her eyes and sat up straight, at the sound of something knocking somewhere.
She listened, and then she got up and opened the door. There was a man standing at the counter, knocking on it; he turned toward her.
“I’m looking for a man by the name of Flynn,” he said.
AGREAT FEAR came over her. Like a scarecrow, the man was, slight and small, in a coat so big for him that the sleeves came halfway over his hands; his face was white as chalk, too, and his blue eyes were so bright; just blazing, they were.
“He’s out,” she said.
“Well, he’ll be in,” said the other. “I’ll wait.”
“If you give me your name, 1 11 tell him you came.” “Name’s Wilkin, but that won’t mean anything to him.” “Well, why do you want to see him?”
“That’s for him and me to talk about.; You his wife?” “No.”
Wilkin took off his sodden hat, and as he moved his head, she saw his profile, and was startled.
“He’s real good-looking ...” she thought, only half aware of the classic beauty of those pale and clean features,
the fine set of that head. Somehow it was dreadful for this scarecrow to have so noble a head.
“I’ll wait,” he said.
“If I knew where Matt had went ...” she thought. “If I could just tell him this fellow is here.”
For, without reason, she felt this scarecrow to be a menace. He was turning up the long sleeves of his overcoat now, showing delicate wrists and thin hands; he took up one of the rifles.
“You got to pay first,” she said.
“Me?” he said. “Not much!”
He began to shoot, and he never missed. At each crack.
a duck dipped forward, tail in the air, went on a little like that, and then came up again. He was reloading the rille.
“You stop that!” she cried, but he laughed again. Crack, went the rifle, and another duck dived down. She was crying now; she caught his sleeve, and the big overcoat slipped off one shoulder.
“Crying, are you?” he said. “Crying over Matt Flynn? You must love him, all right.”
“That’s none of your business.”
“You’re pretty,” he said. “Those big blue eyes. . . I wish I had a girl like you.”
His eyes were blue, too, very clear, a little hollow ; he was staring at her and smiling, and she hated him.
“Maybe you’ll leave Matt and take up with me,” he said.
“I wouldn’t look at you!” she said. “If Matt was to hear you, he’d kill you.”
He gave a loud, hooting laugh.
“He’d kill me, would he?”
“You better get out of here before Matt comes!” she said. “Because I’m going to tell him how fresh you been.”
They both heard the sound of footsteps then, coming quick and light along the boardwalk.
“All right. That’s him,” said Wilkin. “Tell him. Just go ahead and tell him!”
MATT CAME into the light then; he was wearing an old pair of pants and a grey sweater and his black curly hair was damp. His lashes were wet, too, and that made his grey eyes look gentle.
“Hello, kid,” he said. “Been waiting long? I had to go and see a fellow . . . Got a customer here?”
He looked down with a smile at Wilkin, that careless smile of his.
“No, mister,” said Wilkin. “I wouldn’t be a customer, because I haven’t got a cent. You and me was in a ship together once, and I thought maybe you’d give me a meal.” “What ship was that?” asked Matt.
“The Balamine, on Puerto Rico run. Maybe you forgot her.”
“I don’t forget a ship,” said Matt. “Only I don’t remember you.”
“I was in the galley. I haven’t got a berth now. I haven’t got a cent. I thought an old shipmate would maybe help me out.”
“Sure I’ll help you out,” said Matt. “I haven’t got so much myself, but I guess I’m better off than you.”
He smiled again; he didn’t worry about Wilkin, thought Agnes, and he ought to worry. Something about Wilkin. . .
“Come in the back room,” said Matt. “I’ll give you some coffee and something to eat.”
“No!” said Agnes.
, “What’s wrong with you?” asked Matt. “You can come along.”
“I want to talk to you,” she said. “Sure.” said Matt, laughing. “Wrait till I get this bird fixed up.” It was dreadful, to let Wilkin into the room where he lived. He just stood there, and watched Matt moving around in that quick, sure way
“I’ll make the coffee. Matt,” she said. “You can’t make it as good as me,” he said, and that was true. But it was mean of him to say it in front of Wilkin; it made her feel stupid and useless and ashamed. She sat down in the rocking chair, her rocking cliair that Matt had bought for her, and she too watched Matt.
lie had everything so neat. He had built a box onto the window, and he had butter in it. and bacon and eggs; a lot of things. He had made two shelves inside an upended box, and he had a little frying pan in there, a little saucepan, and some knives and spoons. He set the coffee pot on the gas ring, and made good, thick ham sandwiches.
“Why don’t you sit down?” he said to Wilkin.
“My clothes are soaked,” said Wilkin. “Gee, but it’s cold! Haven’t got a drop of whisky, have you, mate?” “Coffee’ll do for you,” said Matt. “Take off that coat.” Wilkin took off the big overcoat, and he had no shirt or jacket underneath, only a cotton singlet.
“Have a cigarette?” said Matt.
Wilkin took a cigarette and lit it and inhaled. And that made him cough. Agnes had never seen anyone cough like that; you could see that it hurt.
“What’s the matter with you?” asked Matt. “You sick, or something?”
“It’s me throat,” said Wilkin. “I had an accident.”
T_TE SAT down on a box, and went on smoking, with that -*• cough shaking him every few moments. He began to talk to Matt about ships and ports, and Matt got interested. He didn’t pay any attention to Agnes; he didn’t seem to notice how Wilkin kept looking at her.
“I’d go home,” she thought, "only I don’t want to leave Matt alone with him.”
It was just miserable, to sit there, with Matt not even looking at her.
“He don’t love me,” she thought. “He never really said he did. He never made love to me. Just kissed me once in a while. He’s been nice to me, but he’s nice to everybody. I guess he’s just sorry for me. . . ”
The wind had risen, and the rain came dashing against the window.
“What a night!” said Wilkin. “Can you maybe lend me a dollar, so’s I can get a room, shipmate?”
“No,” said Matt. “But vou can sleep here. I got another cot and a blanket.”
“That’s all I want,” said Wilkin. “A roof over me head and something to eat. That’s all there is to life.”
“The devil it is!” said Matt, staring at him. “That’s not living.”
“You’re different,” said Wilkin. “Strong as an ox, you are. And you got a nice girl, and everything. But I lost me health. I never got over that accident.”
“What kind of accident was it?”
“I don’t like to talk about it,” said Wilkin.
Agnes got up, and put on her hat and coat.
“I’m going home, Matt.”
“I’ll walk along with you,” he said.
“That’s right!” said Wilkin, with that loud, hooting laugh. “You want to look out, when you get a nice, pretty girl like her. Somebody might steal her.”
“Shut up,” said Matt. And she loved the way he said it ; she loved the way he took hold of her arm when they got outside in the wind and the rain.
“Matt . . . That’s a funny kind of a fellow ... I wish you’d put him out.”
“Couldn’t put a dog out in this weather.”
“Make him get out tomorrow morning, will you, Matt?” “Leave it to me.”
“You’re too easy, Matt. Matt ... I don’t like that fellow. .
“Why?” he asked, and his voice changed. “Did he try to get fresh with you?”
His fingers tightened on her arm.
“No,” she said.
“I’d wring his neck if he did.” said Matt.
She was laughing to herself in the dark, and crying, too. “ You wouldn’t care,” she said.
“Wouldn’t I? You’re my girl,” said Matt. “And don’t you forget it.”
“It’s a wonder you wouldn’t look at me, then, all the
“Come around tomorrow morning, before there’s any crowd.”
“Mrs. Dorf’d never let me off in the mornings!” she
“If I clean up, this summer,” said Matt, “you can walk out on Mrs. Dorf.”
SHE WAS afraid to ask him what he meant, afraid he didn’t mean anything. He was just being nice to her, maybe.
“I got my eye on a place down here,” he said. “It’s over a store. Steam heat, and everything. We’ll move your rocking chair in there, and you can just sit there and rock and get rested.”
“You mean— for us to get married?” she asked, unsteadily.
“What else would I mean?” he said, and squeezed her arm.
“Well, you might ask me do I want to marry you?” she said, haughtily.
He laughed, and put his arm around her shoulders.
“You got to,” he said. “It’s your fate.”
She was so happy that a sob came in her throat. But still she was afraid.
“Do you think it’s like that, Matt?” she asked. “I mean— fate?”
“Sure!” he said. “When I was only sixteen, an old black woman down in Trinidad told me I’d never get drowned. I believe it. There were times when anyone but me would’ve been drowned. But it couldn’t happen to me.”
"You won’t go to sea any more, will you, Matt? I mean—if we were ever to get married, you wouldn’t go?”
“I got to go,” he said. “You wouldn’t understand how it is. I’ve tried, two or three times . . . But after I been ashore a few months, I get sick of it. Only, I’ll come back to you, every time.”
Mrs. Dorf wouldn’t give her a key; she had to ring the bell and wait.
“Go on, Matt.” she said. “Or she’ll see you.”
“Let her see me!” he said, and stood beside her on the steps until Mrs. Dorf let her in.
“That’s a good-looking fellow,” Mrs. Dorf said, when she had closed the door. “You want to look out and not let him make a fool of you.”
“We’re going to get married,” said Agnes.
“That’s what they all say,” said Mrs. Dorf.
She couldn’t spoil things, though. Agnes went up to her room on the top floor, and undressed. The rain was drumming on the roof above her, and she remembered how it looked, falling on the black ocean.
“I’ll miss him something terrible while he’s away,” she thought. “But he’ll come back, like he said. I love him so. . . I didn’t know there’d ever be anything like this. .
WHEN THE alarm clock waked her in the morning, it was still raining. “He won’t make any money this weather,” she thought. “It’s a shame.” Her heart felt like lead. She tried to be happy, remembering how Matt had talked about them getting married, but it didn’t seem real.
“I feel so mis’able this morning,” she thought. “Could it be a sign? A sign something’s going to happen? That fellow that was there ... I wish Matt hadn’t of let him stay. I hope he’s gone. I just hope I’ll never set eyes on him again.” She wanted to hurry with her work today, but the boarders never would get up Sunday mornings. When she had finished waiting on the tables at lunch, she wanted to go, but Mrs. Dorf got angry.
“Seven rooms to do, and a big dinner to cook!” she cried. “And all you think of is running out after that fellow of yours.” Agnes helped her with the rooms, but then she would go.
“You got to be back by six !” Mrs. Dorf said.
“Well, I never was late yet, was I?” said Agnes.
“You going out, all dressed up like that, in this rain?”
“Well, they’re my clothes!” said Agnes, angry herself. “I paid for them. I guess I can wear what I like.”
She put on her raincoat over her long pink and black dress, and she took an umbrella to protect her big black hat. There wasn’t much wind today; the rain fell straight and steady, but the sea was running high, one long grey roller after the other breaking on the wet sand. There were twro men in swimming; they came out of the water and ran along the beach, fast, as if they had just escaped some danger in the heavy grey ocean. A woman passed her, pushing a baby in a gocart, almost running.
Maclean's Magazine, March I, 1937
“I’ll be mad if Wilkin’s still there, so’s I can’t talk to Matt,” she thought.
She went straight into the back room, and Wilkin was there, asleep, she thought. He lay on a cot, covered with a blanket, and his overcoat on top of that. But then she saw that his eyes were staring at her.
“Hello, beautiful!” he said.
Wilkin sat up, still in his singlet and trousers.
“He took a boat and went somewheres to get us some fish,” said Wilkin. “Matt and me are going to have a nice bit of fried fish for our dinner.”
“How long d’you think you’re going to stay here?” she asked, one hand on her hip, the big hat making a shadow across her eyes. She threw off the raincoat and sat down in the rocking chair; she smiled insolently. But she was afraid she would cry in a minute. The very room was changed, spoiled; that cool, neat look was gone. The cot where Wilkin had slept gave it a curious air of disorder and poverty.
“Me?” said Wilkin. “Don’t you like me?”
“Well, you better like me. ’Cause I’m not going, see?”
“You think Matt’ll let you live here for ever and ever?” she demanded.
“Yes, I do! ’Cause he can’t help himself. I got a right to live here and eat here.
I got a right to take his girl.”
He stood up, barefoot, then, with that finely set head of his, that face that was strangely and horribly beautiful; his hollow eyes were fixed on her.
“And I’ll tell you why,” he said. “Matt don’t know. He don’t remember me. But I’m the man he killed.”
THE ROOM was dim this grey afternoon; the rain pattered on the roof and ran down the windowpanes. She could hear the music of the merry-go-round down at the end of the boardwalk; it was far away; everything was far away.
“You’re crazy,” she said. “If—if anyone’d killed you, you’d—be dead.”
“ƒ came back,” he said.
She could not look away from his face that was so pale, his hollow, brilliant blue eyes.
“Matt killed me,” he said. “But I came back.” !
“No . . . You couldn’t . . . No!” “And he can’t never hurt me again. You can’t kill a man twice.”
“You’re crazy!” she cried.
“Crazy? Not me! But it’s a wonder I ain’t. What I been through! I dream about it . . . Down in Martinique, it was. There was a kind of casino, on the hill, all lighted up, people sitting there drinking, some of them singing . . . Me. I was down by the water, talking to this yaller girl. Just the lowest of the low, she was. Couldn’t even speak English good. She wanted my money. Well, she didn’t have no right to it. I’d give her some, and it was plenty. Then she starts screaming at me.
I wasn’t going to hurt her. On’y the way she was screaming got on my nerves. It sounded—it got on my nerves. All I did was put my hand over her mouth. And then he comes along, running down the steps from the casino. The yaller girl gets at him ... He didn’t know what she was saying, no more than what I did, the lingo she talked . . . But he didn’t care. Wouldn’t listen to me. He hauled off and gave me a sock in the jaw, knocked me back into the sea. Cripes ! There’s sharks there, and barracuda that’s worse than sharks, and I can’t swim a stroke. I yelled to him. ‘Mate!’ I said. ‘I can’t swim!’ ‘All right, sink then,’ he says, and I drowned.”
“You couldn’t of drowned. Because you’re alive right now.”
“I drowned, I tell you!” he said, savagely. “Went down in that black water, and drowned. Died. A man knows it, if he dies, don’t he? Well, I died. It was. . .” His eyes dilated; he was looking at her, but she knew he did not see her.
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“So that’s what it’s like,” he said. “That’s the way it is when you die. At the end, when you’ve quit fighting and choking, it’s . . . There’s no use to try to tell you what it’s like. On’y, at the end, it’s all right. But they wouldn’t let me stay dead. Had to drag me out and get me back, and that was—Cripes!”
His eyes were as clear as blue water. “Brought me back,” he said. “Just when I’d got over all the bad part of it ... I was terribly sick. Got my throat sort of choked... I was in the hospital then, and I couldn’t figure why this had to happen to me . . . Why I had to die twice . . . Then it came to me why it happened that way. I was meant to come back and find the man who did that to me.”
“Matt didn’t mean. . .” she said, faintly.
“I said, ‘Mate, I can’t swim!’ And he said, ‘Sink, then.’ He meant it all right. So I made up my mind I’d find him. My ship sailed without me, ’count of me being so sick. But soon as I got well, I went around asking questions, like I was looking for a friend. I found out what ships’d been there. I found out his name.”
“You could easy make a mistake.”
“I didn’t make no mistake. Last night, talking to him, I asked him was he down in Martinique at that time, on that ship. And he was. I’ve found him. It’s took me nearly a year, but I met a fellow who knew him and where he’d went. So here I am.”
SHE BELIEVED him. Looking at his white face and his clear blue eyes, she believed that he had come back.
“Now I got a right to everything he has,” he went on. “I can live off him, long as I like. And I can take his girl.”
“D’you think he’d let you?”
“He can’t help himself!” cried Wilkin. “He don’t remember me or anything, but he sort of knows he’s got to do what I want. In the end, I’ll tell him. The very last thing, I’ll tell him. I’ll say, Tm the man you killed down in Martinique.’ ”
“You mean you’re going to try to kill Matt?” she said. “Why, if you was to even say a word he didn’t like, he’d—kill you.”
“No,” said Wilkin. “He couldn’t kill me twice. The next time it’s my turn.” “I’m going to tell him—”
“No, you won’t. ’Cause as soon as he knows, it’s finished. Soon as you tell him, he’ll try to get rid of me, and then it’ll be my turn. I won’t have to do nothing much. Anything I do’ll kill him. Because it’s got to be that way.”
“Listen!” she said. “You know Matt didn’t mean to—to do that. He’s so strong, and all . . . He thought you’d be all right. Matt’s terrible kind. Real softhearted.”
“He stood there on the beach, and he said, ‘Sink, then.’ ”
“He didn’t know. He swims so good himself, he just couldn’t believe anyone else couldn’t swim. You just tell him— how it was, and he’ll be sorry. He’ll help you out. Look at how good he is to you anyways, without his knowing.”
“Can’t help himself. Something makes him do that. It’s justice. I got a right to everything he’s got. And I got a right to his life.”
She wanted to pray, but she could not. Maybe God would forgive Matt for what he had done, but He wouldn’t save him from Wilkin in this world. That was justice. And Matt couldn’t save himself, no matter how strong he was. She looked away from Wilkin; her glance fell upon the box with the shelves, where the pots and pans were neatly stowed away, and her fear was engulfed in a wild surge of tenderness. She could hear the ducks clicking along. . .
All this belonged to Matt. He was so strong and so smart ; he loved being alive. No one else was so much alive as he was.
“No!” she cried to herself. “Oh. no! He can’t die now, when he’s young. He wants to go back on a ship. He hasn’t had his life yet. He’s so full of fun. . .”
TT WAS as if she could hear Matt laughing, see him smiling down at her. It was as if he were still holding her arm, the way he had last night when they went along together in the rain.
“I couldn’t live without Matt,” she thought. “But he could get on without me. He’s real fond of me, but it’s different, with men. He’d go on a ship, and when he got to those far-off places, he’d forget.” Matt’s life was the most important thing in all the world. It was almost as if there wouldn’t be any world without Matt.
“I’ll stay here as long as I like,” said Wilkin. “And you’ll be nice to me, too.” “Suppose I was to tell Matt—all this?” she said.
“Go on and tell him ! He’ll get mad, and if he tries to do me any harm, I ’ll kill him. Take a good look at me ! Matt’d make two of me. But that don’t matter. He killed me once, and he can’t do it again. It’s my turn now, and you know it!”
He rose and came over to her.
“I got a right to everything he’s got,” he said. “You, too. You got to stop being so mean to me.”
“I’m not mean to you,” she said. “It’s only because I love Matt such a lot.” “Well, you better stop loving him,” he said. “ ’Cause you’ll never have him. You better love me.”
She looked up at him, and smiled, a soft, provocative smile.
“Maybe,” she said. “I don’t know. . .” His hand fell on her shoulder, and she let it lie there.
“I got to go now,” she said. “D’you want to walk along with me a ways?” “You think you can fool me,” said Wilkin. “You’re just being nice to me, so’s I’ll let Matt alone.”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“All right!” she said. “I don’t care if you come or not. You’re not the only man in the world, and Matt isn’t, neither. There’s some fellows in the house where I work would be glad of a chance to take a walk with me.”
With that smile, her eyes narrowed; she looked insolent, she looked beautiful, and she knew it. She had never before been sure of her beauty, had never dared make use of it.
“I’m going,” she said. “You can come or not—I don’t care.”
“I’ll come,” he said. “Wait till I get me coat and hat.”
“I’ll wait outside,” she said. “I won’t wait long, neither.”
THE RAIN was falling steadily, and she had left her umbrella behind. But she wasn’t going back for it; she wasn’t ever going back into that room.
“Hello, missy,” said the Jap who had the place next to Matt’s. You rolled balls along a board, and if you got the ball into one of the right holes, there was a prize. A tea set, a funny little doll, things like that. “You get wet,” he said, laughing. He was always laughing.
Matt liked him, so she liked him, too; she laughed, too, with the rain blowing in her face. He had a light inside his place, and she could see those teacups hanging up, and a blue and white table cover, just as she had seen them so many times. An anguish of loneliness swept over her; it was dreadful to think that she wouldn’t see them again. It made her cry, but the Jap kept on laughing.
“You get wet,” he said.
“Sure, I’ll get wet,” she said, laughing. Then Wilkin came out, like a scarecrow
in that big overcoat; when he saw the little Jap, he laughed. It was so lonely, thought Agnes, for other people to laugh when she was crying.
She stopped crying almost at once, though.
“I’m supposed to be back and get that table ready,” she said. “But maybe I’ll take some time off. You’re a sailor, the same as Matt, aren’t you? Have you been all those places he’s been?”
“Yes, and one more place!” said Wilkin, with a hoot of laughter. “I been dead, and he hasn’t.”
“Well, I don’t want to hear about that any more,” she said. “If you’re going to talk about that, I’m not going to walk with you.”
“What do you want to talk about? All the pretty girls I seen?”
She let him boast; she pretended to believe him, so that he would go on. They came to the street where she should have turned off the boardwalk, but she did not stop. Her big black hat was limp now; the long skirt of her pink and black dress was wet and cold about her ankles. They were down at the end of the boardwalk now, the part where the fire had been a month ago. The little shops were black ruins; the rain brought out that smell of charred wood. Nobody ever came here any more.
“Let’s go out on the pier.” she said.
“You’re crazy!” said Wilkin. “Got a chain across to keep people off, ’cause it ain’t safe.”
“It’s safe enough for me,” she said, scornfully. “I been on it hundreds of times. That’s where I’m going, but you don’t have to come.”
“There’s a sign says, ‘Danger. Keep Off.’ ”
“All right, keep off!” said Agnes. “If you’re scared.”
SHE HAD only been here once before, taking a walk with Matt. It had been a bright day then, with the sun glittering on the water.
“First time there’s a heavy sea, that pier’ll go,” Matt had said. “The shorings are just about burnt through.”
She had thought it desolate then, that sunny day, with Matt beside her. But now, in the rain, with Wilkin . . . The sea would be grey underneath, and cold. But she wasn’t going to think of the sea. She had not looked toward it once since they started. She could hear it, though, and as she climbed over the chain, she could feel it, thudding against the rotten pier and making it tremble.
“It’s not safe, I tell you!” cried Wilkin. “Matt says it’s safe, and he knows. Matt and me often came out here, to look at the water.”
She had to go forward, to make him come. The hoards felt soft under foot, the whole structure shook. He was climbing over the chain now.
“Come back,” he said, angrily.
“All right! I’ll just walk out to the end/ and see if Matt’s boat is anywhere around.”
“I’m not coming.” he said. He was afraid; she heard fear in his voice. She looked back over her shoulder, and smiled at him.
“Aren’t you coming with me?” she asked. “When I get it in my head I want to do something. I just got to do it.” “That’s the way women are,” he said. “Curse them all !”
“We’ll just walk out to the end, and look for Matt’s boat,” she said. “And
then—maybe you’d like to come back to the house with me.”
He was coming after her. He was afraid, but he had to come.
“I’ll take a hold of your arm,” she said. “Case my heels catch between the boards.” He took her arm and drew her dose to him; he was speaking, but she did not hear him. Any minute now . . . The next board might be the one to go . . . And that would be the end of him. He couldn’t swim. The end of her, too.
“I wish I could’ve told Matt,” she thought.
The wind blew harder out here; a gull went screaming by overhead; the waves came crashing against the pier.
“There’s Matt!” cried Wilkin. “Wait till he sees me here with his girl !”
She had to look then. She saw the awful grey waste of water that moved upward to the horizon and down again, in a sickening swing. And she saw Matt rowing toward them, his boat sliding up the side of a great wave, and then lost, swallowed up, coming up again.
“Matt !” she called, with all her strength. “Hey, Matt!” cried Wilkin. “Ahoy, shipmate !”
A shift in the wind brought their cries to him; he turned. But he was too far away for her to see his face, or her eyes were blurred. She wanted to see his face once more . . . She pulled Wilkin forward, but he shook himself free.
“You’re crazy!” he shouted. “The
The boards crumbled beneath his feet; he clutched at the railing, and it was an empty shell. He went over backward, with a scream . . .
She stood alone on the end of the pier, with the gaping hole at her feet. The boards on which she stood shivered and swayed, the wind rushed at her.
“Don’t—move!” shouted Matt.
How had he come so near? When she looked down, she saw his boat almost beneath her. He was taking off his shoes. “Mate! Help! Help!”
That was Wilkin.
“Matt!” she cried. “Don’t! Don’t! Matt . . . He’ll kill you!”
Matt didn’t even look at her. He shifted the oars, and dived overboard. She saw him swimming; she saw Wilkin’s thin arm catch him round the neck, and they were both gone.
CHE HAD BEEN lying there so long in ^ the rain, not stirring, just like a wet heap of clothes. They thought at first that she was dead. It was hard to reach her, harder still to carry her back. But when they brought her into the coffee shop, she opened her eyes. She didn’t say a word, just lay there. The music from the merrygo-round was very loud; “O Sole Mio” it was playing. She turned her head a little, and looked up into Wilkin’s clear blue eyes.
It had to be like that.
“Matt. . .” she said, trying to tell Matt. “I tried...”
“Give her some whisky,” said a voice. “I think she’s going!”
“Listen!” cried Wilkin, frantically. “Don’t go! Don’t die! Matt’s going to be all right! Listen! He saved my life, see? There was a high sea on, but he jumped right in after me. I made a grab at him, ’cause I was so crazy-wild. But he saved my life ! D’you see? He took that chance. Risked his life. And he saved my life. D’you see? It’s square now.”
“Matt’s dead,” she said, so faintly that only Wilkin heard her.
“He’s not dead—and I’m not dead!” His blue eyes were blazing. “D’you see how it’s worked out? There was another chance given him, and he saved my life! I pretty near killed him, the crazy way I was fighting. But I didn’t! I couldn't! I couldn’t even hurt him now. D’you see now how it is? All square!”
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Someone raised her head, and held a flask to her lips; she swallowed a little of the liquor, and it went in a fiery course along lier nerves. Life, coming back. . .