It had taken the twain three months and twenty-one days to achieve the dugout. Although there was always a guard somewhere on the north wall, the particular spot where the dugout had come into being was sheltered from the wall-guard’s observation by a small tool-house. Also whenever the pair were able to dig, which was only at intervals, a bunch of convicts was always perched on the heap of dirt from various legitimate excavations within the yard, which Fate had piled up at that precise spot. The earth from the dugout and the earth from these other diggings mixed admirably.
Nor, likewise because of the dirt-pile, could any one detect the job from the south end of the yard. If a guard appeared from around the mat-shop or coming out of the Principal Keeper’s office, the convicts sunning themselves on the dirt-pile in the free hour of noon, or late in the afternoon, after the shops had closed, spoke with motionless lips to the two diggers. Plenty of time was thus afforded to shove a couple of boards over the aperture, kick dirt over the boards, and even push a barrow over the dugout’s entrance—and there you were!
One minute before this narrative opens, on July 17th, a third convict had dropped the boards over the hole into which Old Man Anderson, the lifer, and Detroit Jim, had crawled. This convict had then frantically kicked dirt over the boards, had clawed down still more dirt, to make sure nothing could be seen of the hole—had made the thing look just like part of the big dirt-pile indeed—and then had legged it to the ball-game now in progress on this midsummer Saturday afternoon, at the extreme south end of the yard, behind the mat-shop.
Dirt trickled down upon the gray hair of Old Man Anderson in the dark and stuffy hole he shared with his younger companion. But the darkness and the stuffiness and the filtering dirt were unsensed. Something far more momentous was in the minds of both. How soon would Slattery, the prison guard, whom they knew to be lying dead in the alley between the foundry and the tool-shop, be found? For years Slattery had been a fairly good friend to Old Man Anderson, but what did that count in the face of his becoming, for all his friendship, a last-minute and totally unexpected impediment to the get-away? He had turned into the alley just when Old Man Anderson and Detroit Jim were crouching for the final jump to the dugout! A blow—a thud—that was all....
Anderson lay now, staring wide-eyed into the black nothing of the hole. For the second time he had killed a man, and God knew he hadn’t intended to—either time! Fourteen years ago a man had tried to get his wife away from him, while he was serving a one-year bit in the county jail. Both men had had guns, and Old Man Anderson had killed the other or he would have been killed himself. So that was no murder at all! And as for Slattery—big, heavy, slow-moving, red-faced Slattery—Old Man Anderson would even have gone out of his way to do the guard a favour, under ordinary circumstances. But as between Slattery and the chance to escape—that was different.