“Worth a thousan’ all by its lonely,” was Jim’s quicker judgment.
“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 sombrely, as his phlegmatic nature woke up.
“I told you I didn’t dast think how fat it was,” he murmured in a low voice.
“What a killin’! What a killin’!” was the other’s more ecstatic utterance.
“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, weazened man, nervous, irritable, high-strung, and anaemic–a typical child of the gutter, with unbeautiful twisted features, small eyes, with face and mouth perpetually and feverishly hungry, brutish in a catlike way, 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. For him there was no unseen world. His 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 his eyes 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 remarked suddenly.
“A hundred thousan’,” Matt said.
The silence returned and endured a long time, to be broken again by Jim.
“What in blazes 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 just 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 getting 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 other.”
A queer, nervous look came in 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 all.”
The 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 too 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. Understand?”
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 menacingly.
“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 business men. Understand?”
“That’s the talk for me,” Jim approved, but deep down in the meagre soul of him,–and in spite of him,–wanton and lawless thoughts were stirring like chained beasts.