If ever a man deliberately committed murder, Al Hutchins did that morning in solitary at the Warden’s bidding. He robbed me of the little space I stole. And, having robbed me of that, my body was defenceless, and, with his foot in my back while he drew the lacing light, he constricted me as no man had ever before succeeded in doing. So severe was this constriction of my frail frame upon my vital organs that I felt, there and then, immediately, that death was upon me. And still the miracle of faith was mine. I did not believe that I was going to die. I knew—I say I knew—that I was not going to die. My head was swimming, and my heart was pounding from my toenails to the hair-roots in my scalp.
“That’s pretty tight,” Captain Jamie urged reluctantly.
“The hell it is,” said Doctor Jackson. “I tell you nothing can hurt him. He’s a wooz. He ought to have been dead long ago.”
Warden Atherton, after a hard struggle, managed to insert his forefinger between the lacing and my back. He brought his foot to bear upon me, with the weight of his body added to his foot, and pulled, but failed to get any fraction of an inch of slack.
“I take my hat off to you, Hutchins,” he said. “You know your job. Now roll him over and let’s look at him.”
They rolled me over on my back. I stared up at them with bulging eyes. This I know: Had they laced me in such fashion the first time I went into the jacket, I would surely have died in the first ten minutes. But I was well trained. I had behind me the thousands of hours in the jacket, and, plus that, I had faith in what Morrell had told me.
“Now, laugh, damn you, laugh,” said the Warden to me. “Start that smile you’ve been bragging about.”
So, while my lungs panted for a little air, while my heart threatened to burst, while my mind reeled, nevertheless I was able to smile up into the Warden’s face.
The door clanged, shutting out all but a little light, and I was left alone on my back. By the tricks I had long since learned in the jacket, I managed to writhe myself across the floor an inch at a time until the edge of the sole of my right shoe touched the door. There was an immense cheer in this. I was not utterly alone. If the need arose, I could at least rap knuckle talk to Morrell.
But Warden Atherton must have left strict injunctions on the guards, for, though I managed to call Morrell and tell him I intended trying the experiment, he was prevented by the guards from replying. Me they could only curse, for, in so far as I was in the jacket for a ten days’ bout, I was beyond all threat of punishment.