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“Dayton, we had rather a cold afternoon, but the night is very compensating; it is becoming noticeably warmer, at least where we are. Do you know, I left instructions in
my will to be cremated. Slightly unnecessary, don't you think so?”
Then he solemnly puffed for a moment or two, or I judged he did, by the movement of his mouth, for notwithstanding the open window and the gale of wind, it was impossible to differentiate his smoke from the hotel's.
Then he continued, in a calm voice:
“I read the other day of a man who had been cremated with the bullet in his body that had caused his death, and after this preliminary hell on earth, they found the little bit of lead outweighed all his ashes. God, Dayton! it won't be long before we will be as light as thistle-down and a part of the air other people breathe. Whereas burial means a little mouth with straight lips cut in the face of the earth, where you are reverently placed and the earth swallows you down. That's all." Another silence, then he added:
“So you saved my wife first and then came back for me? Well, Dayton, my boy, doubtless you are a worthy gentleman, but you are a damned fool, all the same.”
Somehow his flippancy sickened me. I was no more afraid than he, but to my mind it was no time to pose. However, men die differently.
Again I went to the window. This time I looked up. Could I reach the gutter that ran around the eaves of the house? I stood on the window-sill. Yes, if I dared jump up about six inches; if I missed, -well, then what the newspapers call“
a dull, sickening thud” and my worries over. I tried it, B. looking on with an effort at an uninterested expression, but I saw the light of hope in his eyes. I jumped and caught the gutter with the palms of my hands turned in. Then slowly I began to curl my body upward. I heard the crowd give one tremendous yell as they saw me make the effort, then absolute silence as they watched, but I saw nothing but the vision of her face. I got about three-quarters of the way, but my stomach muscles were not strong enough; slowly my legs dropped till they were straight again. I had failed. Then I heard B.'s voice. I could not turn my head to see, but I knew he must be standing on the sill.
“ Try again," he called. “I'll give you a shove.” Slowly once more I curled up, and when I was almost upside down I felt my head in the hollow of his hand and with a mighty push I was on my belly on the roof. Keeping the same position, I told him to try. He did, and reached the same point I had, and failed, but I was ready for him; his leg came within reach; I grabbed it, and with a pull equal to his push we were side by side.
We slid back until we could stand in safety, but the roof was hot and burned our feet. We made our way to the house next to us, which was an office building almost as tall as the hotel; we had to drop over eighteen feet, but we dropped into safety.
As we sat on the scuttle of the adjoining house and waited and shivered, he said:
“Rather a happy thought of yours, Dayton.” As he spoke, a fireman's head appeared over the edge of the roof, and we were saved.
I am writing you at this great length, as I can't go out — I have no clothes.
It is all over now and I could laugh if it were not for one thing.
I walked away, Percy, and left him to die. I walked away. I shall never be able to forget that fact. If it had not been for God's quick thoughtfulness, I should have been lost.
Percy, the way of the transgressor is soft. It is nothing but sliding down a greased hill with accruing filth.