And ever the eternal question was propounded to me: Where was the dynamite? Sometimes Warden Atherton was furious with me. On occasion, when I had endured an extra severe jacketing, he almost pleaded with me to confess. Once he even promised me three months in the hospital of absolute rest and good food, and then the trusty job in the library.
Dr. Jackson, a weak stick of a creature with a smattering of medicine, grew sceptical. He insisted that jacketing, no matter how prolonged, could never kill me; and his insistence was a challenge to the Warden to continue the attempt.
“These lean college guys ’d fool the devil,” he grumbled. “They’re tougher ’n raw-hide. Just the same we’ll wear him down. Standing, you hear me. What you’ve got ain’t a caution to what you’re going to get. You might as well come across now and save trouble. I’m a man of my word. You’ve heard me say dynamite or curtains. Well, that stands. Take your choice.”
“Surely you don’t think I’m holding out because I enjoy it?” I managed to gasp, for at the moment Pie-Face Jones was forcing his foot into my back in order to cinch me tighter, while I was trying with my muscle to steal slack. “There is nothing to confess. Why, I’d cut off my right hand right now to be able to lead you to any dynamite.”
“Oh, I’ve seen your educated kind before,” he sneered. “You get wheels in your head, some of you, that make you stick to any old idea. You get baulky, like horses. Tighter, Jones; that ain’t half a cinch. Standing, if you don’t come across it’s curtains. I stick by that.”
One compensation I learned. As one grows weaker one is less susceptible to suffering. There is less hurt because there is less to hurt. And the man already well weakened grows weaker more slowly. It is of common knowledge that unusually strong men suffer more severely from ordinary sicknesses than do women or invalids. As the reserves of strength are consumed there is less strength to lose. After all superfluous flesh is gone what is left is stringy and resistant. In fact, that was what I became—a sort of string-like organism that persisted in living.
Morrell and Oppenheimer were sorry for me, and rapped me sympathy and advice. Oppenheimer told me he had gone through it, and worse, and still lived.
“Don’t let them beat you out,” he spelled with his knuckles. “Don’t let them kill you, for that would suit them. And don’t squeal on the plant.”
“But there isn’t any plant,” I rapped back with the edge of the sole of my shoe against the grating—I was in the jacket at the time and so could talk only with my feet. “I don’t know anything about the damned dynamite.”
“That’s right,” Oppenheimer praised. “He’s the stuff, ain’t he, Ed?”
Which goes to show what chance I had of convincing Warden Atherton of my ignorance of the dynamite. His very persistence in the quest convinced a man like Jake Oppenheimer, who could only admire me for the fortitude with which I kept a close mouth.