The puffing locomotive had pushed the slag-pot car half-way to the track-end before Farley sat up as one dazed and seemed to be trying to get on his feet. Twice and once again he essayed it, falling back each time upon the bent and doubled leg. Then he looked up and saw the slag-car coming; saw and cried out as men scream in the death agony. The end rails of the dumping track were fairly above him.
Gordon heard the yell of terror and witnessed the frenzied efforts of the doomed man to rise and get out of the path of the impending torrent. Whereupon the murder devil whispered in his ear again. Farley’s foot was caught in one of the many scars or seams in the lava bed. It was only necessary to wait, to withhold the merciful bullet, to go away and leave the wretched man to his fate.
That fate was certain, lacking a miracle to avert it. There were no workmen in that part of the yard; and the two men in charge of the slag kettle were on the opposite side of the engine where the dumping mechanism was connected. Farley was screaming again, but now the safety-valve of the locomotive was blowing off steam with a din to drown all.
Gordon tossed the gun aside and turned away. It was better so. Possibly at the climaxing instant he might have lacked the firmness to aim and press the trigger. This was simpler, easier, more in keeping with Vincent Farley’s deserts; more satisfying to the thirst for vengeance.
Was it? Like a bolt from the heavens, into the very midst of the cold-blooded, murderous triumph, came a long-neglected form of words, writing itself in flaming letters in his brain: Thou shall do no murder. And after it another: But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.
He put his hands before his eyes, stumbled blindly and fell down, groveling in the yellow sand of the ore floor, as that one of old whom the possessing devils tore and rended. Hell and the furies!—was this to be the end of it? Did the old, time-worn fables planted in the lush and mellow soil of childhood wait only for the moment of superhuman trial to assert themselves truth of the very truth? God in Heaven! must he be flogged back into the ranks he had deserted when every drop of blood in his veins was crying out for shame?
Something gripped him and stood him on his feet, and before he realized what he was doing he was running, gasping, tripping and falling headlong, only to spring up and run again, with all thoughts trampled out and beaten down by one: would he still be in time?
There was something wrong with the dumping machinery of the slag-car, and two men were working with it on the side away from the spilling slope. Gordon had not breath wherewith to shout; moreover the safety-valve was still screeching to gulf all human cries. Farley was lying face down and motionless, with the twisted foot still held fast in a wedge-shaped crack in the cooled slag. Tom bent and lifted him; yelled, swore, tugged, strained, kicked fiercely at the imprisoned shoe-heel. Still the vise-grip held, and the great kettle on the height above was creaking and slowly careening under the winching of the engine crew. If the molten torrent should plunge down the slope now, there would be two human cinders instead of one.