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(c. 1929)

by Charles MacArthur

Chapter IV.

At the customary buffet luncheon tendered by the warden to the spectators following the execution, Stovich could not eat for the first time in years, so complete was the collapse of his castles in the air. The sight of heaps of pork and cheese sandwiches, bowls of dill pickles, and cases of bottled beer made him sick to his stomach, especially as the famous appetite of Ernest Fink was never better. Moreover, Ernest had divined the cause of his disappointment and was communicating his findings to everybody in the room.

“Look at the Sap!” he bawled boisterously. “He’s green around the gills! Two hundred iron men snatched right out of his mitt!”

Everybody joined in the loud laughter that followed this witticism. Stovich felt the blood rush to his head. He sensed that Ernest had somehow guessed the terms of his pact with Gracie. He felt that he was gloating over the delay in his plans. Unreasonably, he blamed Ernest for the reprieves and he longed to give him a black eye, right there in front of everybody.

Matters were not helped by Ernest’s attitude. He advanced toward Stovich with a pork sandwich in one hand and a cheese sandwich in the other. His mouth was filled with both, but not sufficiently filled to prevent him from making hardly articulate jests on the financial blow Stovich had suffered.

“What were you goin’ t’do with the dough -- if you’d a got it?” he inquired suggestively, a leer lighting his face.

This was the last lash and too much to endure. Stovich thought of a devastating reply.

“Marry your girl, if you really want to know,” he retorted. “Now laugh!”

Ernest’s reaction to this news was surprising. He swallowed heavily and held out his hand.

“Old boy,” he declared gruffly, “I know it. I heard about it this morning, and I want to congratulate you. Put her there!”

Stovich accepted his hand in odd astonishment.

“Who told you?” he asked.

“Gracie,” replied Ernest.

He laid down one of his sandwiches and turned away, applying a pocket handkerchief to his eye.

Stovich was touched. He could well imagine the scene that had taken place -- the lover’s wonted ardor and Gracie’s cruel disdain. He gripped his rival’s hand.

“Thanks, Ernie,” he said. “I hope there ain’t any hard feeling.”

“Hell -- no!” replied the other. “It’s just the way it goes.”

Ernest smiled.

Stovich thought it was the gamest smile he had ever seen, and he pitied the aching heart it so lightly disguised. He began to think more of Ernest.

Congratulations ensued. Ernest offered Stovich a cigar.

“Thanks,” said Stovich, sliding it into his upper vest pocket. “I’ll smoke it later on.”

He was pressed to have a bottle of beer, but he recalled an important engagement.

“It’s with Gracie, Ernest,” he vouchsafed awkwardly, “as long as you know about it anyways.”

“Oh, well, then, we won’t keep you,” Ernest generously interrupted. “Give her my best regards when you see her!”

Stovich said he would and departed, pausing at the sheriff’s office for his one-hundred-dollar fee. A loud peal of laughter arose from the sheriff’s quarters as he took his leave of the jail. Stovich guessed that the boys were kidding Ernest. He felt avenged and forgiving.

© 2003-04 The Estate of Charles G. MacArthur. All Rights Reserved.

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