Created He Them by Jack London
She met him at the door.
"I did not think you would be so early."
"It is half past eight." He looked at his watch. "The train leaves at
He was very businesslike, until he saw her lips tremble as she abruptly
turned and led the way.
"It'll be all right, little woman," he said soothingly. "Doctor Bodineau's
the man. He'll pull him through, you'll see."
They entered the living-room. His glance quested apprehensively about,
then turned to her.
She did not answer, but with a sudden impulse came close to him and stood
motionless. She was a slender, dark-eyed woman, in whose face was stamped
the strain and stress of living. But the fine lines and the haunted look
in the eyes were not the handiwork of mere worry. He knew whose handiwork
it was as he looked upon it, and she knew when she consulted her mirror.
"It's no use, Mary," he said. He put his hand on her shoulder. "We've
tried everything. It's a wretched business, I know, but what else can we
do? You've failed. Doctor Bodineau's all that's left."
"If I had another chance..." she began falteringly.
"We've threshed that all out," he answered harshly. "You've got to buck
up, now. You know what conclusion we arrived at. You know you haven't the
ghost of a hope in another chance."
She shook her head. "I know it. But it is terrible, the thought of his
going away to fight it out alone."
"He won't be alone. There's Doctor Bodineau. And besides, it's a beautiful
She remained silent.
"It is the only thing," he said.
"It is the only thing," she repeated mechanically.
He looked at his watch. "Where's Al?"
"I'll send him."
When the door had closed behind her, he walked over to the window and
looked out, drumming absently with his knuckles on the pane.
He turned and responded to the greeting of the man who had just entered.
There was a perceptible drag to the man's feet as he walked across toward
the window and paused irresolutely halfway.
"I've changed my mind, George," he announced hurriedly and nervously. "I'm
He plucked at his sleeve, shuffled with his feet, dropped his eyes, and
with a strong effort raised them again to confront the other.
George regarded him silently, his nostrils distending and his lean fingers
unconsciously crooking like an eagle's talons about to clutch.
In line and feature, there was much of resemblance between the two men;
and yet, in the strongest resemblances there was a radical difference.
Theirs were the same black eyes, but those of the man at the window were
sharp and straight looking, while those of the man in the middle of the
room were cloudy and furtive. He could not face the other's gaze, and
continually and vainly struggled with himself to do so. The high cheek
bones with the hollows beneath were the same, yet the texture of the
hollows seemed different. The thin-lipped mouths were from the same mould,
but George's lips were firm and muscular, while Al's were soft and loose—the
lips of an ascetic turned voluptuary. There was also a sag at the corners.
His flesh hinted of grossness, especially so in the eagle-like aquiline
nose that must once have been like the other's, but that had lost the
austerity the other's still retained.
Al fought for steadiness in the middle of the floor. The silence bothered
him. He had a feeling that he was about to begin swaying back and forth.
He moistened his lips with his tongue.
"I'm going to stay," he said desperately.
He dropped his eyes and plucked again at his sleeve.
"And you are only twenty-six years old," George said at last. "You poor,
feeble old man."
"Don't be so sure of that," Al retorted, with a flash of belligerence.
"Do you remember when we swam that mile and a half across the channel?"
"Well, and what of it?" A sullen expression was creeping across Al's face.
"And do you remember when we boxed in the barn after school?"
"I could take all you gave me."
"All I gave you!" George's voice rose momentarily to a higher pitch. "You
licked me four afternoons out of five. You were twice as strong as I—three
times as strong. And now I'd be afraid to land on you with a sofa cushion;
you'd crumple up like a last year's leaf. You'd die, you poor, miserable
"You needn't abuse me just because I've changed my mind," the other
protested, the hint of a whine in his voice.
His wife entered, and he looked appealingly to her; but the man at the
window strode suddenly up to him and burst out—
"You don't know your own mind for two successive minutes! You haven't any
mind, you spineless, crawling worm!"
"You can't make me angry." Al smiled with cunning, and glanced
triumphantly at his wife. "You can't make me angry," he repeated, as
though the idea were thoroughly gratifying to him. "I know your game. It's
my stomach, I tell you. I can't help it. Before God, I can't! Isn't it my
She glanced at George and spoke composedly, though she hid a trembling
hand in a fold of her skirt.
"Isn't it time?" she asked softly.
Her husband turned upon her savagely. "I'm not going to go!" he cried.
"That's just what I've been telling... him. And I tell you again, all of
you, I'm not going. You can't bully me."
"Why, Al, dear, you said—" she began.
"Never mind what I said!" he broke out. "I've said something else right
now, and you've heard it, and that settles it."
He walked across the room and threw himself with emphasis into a Morris
chair. But the other man was swiftly upon him. The talon-like fingers
gripped his shoulders, jerked him to his feet, and held him there.
"You've reached the limit, Al, and I want you to understand it. I've tried
to treat you like... like my brother, but hereafter I shall treat you like
the thing that you are. Do you understand?"
The anger in his voice was cold. The blaze in his eyes was cold. It was
vastly more effective than any outburst, and Al cringed under it and under
the clutching hand that was bruising his shoulder muscles.
"It is only because of me that you have this house, that you have the food
you eat. Your position? Any other man would have been shown the door a
year ago—two years ago. I have held you in it. Your salary has been
charity. It has been paid out of my pocket. Mary... her dresses... that
gown she has on is made over; she wears the discarded dresses of her
sisters, of my wife. Charity—do you understand? Your children—they
are wearing the discarded clothes of my children, of the children of my
neighbours who think the clothes went to some orphan asylum. And it is an
orphan asylum... or it soon will be."
He emphasized each point with an unconscious tightening of his grip on the
shoulder. Al was squirming with the pain of it. The sweat was starting out
on his forehead.
"Now listen well to me," his brother went on. "In three minutes you will
tell me that you are going with me. If you don't, Mary and the children
will be taken away from you—to-day. You needn't ever come to the
office. This house will be closed to you. And in six months I shall have
the pleasure of burying you. You have three minutes to make up your mind."
Al made a strangling movement, and reached up with weak fingers to the
"My heart... let me go... you'll be the death of me," he gasped.
The hand thrust him down forcibly into the Morris chair and released him.
The clock on the mantle ticked loudly. George glanced at it, and at Mary.
She was leaning against the table, unable to conceal her trembling. He
became unpleasantly aware of the feeling of his brother's fingers on his
hand. Quite unconsciously he wiped the back of the hand upon his coat. The
clock ticked on in the silence. It seemed to George that the room
reverberated with his voice. He could hear himself still speaking.
"I'll go," came from the Morris chair.
It was a weak and shaken voice, and it was a weak and shaken man that
pulled himself out of the Morris chair. He started toward the door.
"Where are you going?" George demanded.
"Suit case," came the response. "Mary'll send the trunk later. I'll be
back in a minute."
The door closed after him. A moment later, struck with sudden suspicion,
George was opening the door. He glanced in. His brother stood at a
sideboard, in one hand a decanter, in the other hand, bottom up and to his
lips, a whisky glass.
Across the glass Al saw that he was observed. It threw him into a panic.
Hastily he tried to refill the glass and get it to his lips; but glass and
decanter were sent smashing to the floor. He snarled. It was like the
sound of a wild beast. But the grip on his shoulder subdued and frightened
him. He was being propelled toward the door.
"The suit case," he gasped. "It's there in that room. Let me get it."
"Where's the key?" his brother asked, when he had brought it.
"It isn't locked."
The next moment the suit case was spread open, and George's hand was
searching the contents. From one side it brought out a bottle of whisky,
from the other side a flask. He snapped the case to.
"Come on," he said. "If we miss one car, we miss that train."
He went out into the hallway, leaving Al with his wife. It was like a
funeral, George thought, as he waited.
His brother's overcoat caught on the knob of the front door and delayed
its closing long enough for Mary's first sob to come to their ears.
George's lips were very thin and compressed as he went down the steps. In
one hand he carried the suit case. With the other hand he held his
As they neared the corner, he heard the electric car a block away, and
urged his brother on. Al was breathing hard. His feet dragged and
shuffled, and he held back.
"A hell of a brother YOU are," he panted.
For reply, he received a vicious jerk on his arm. It reminded him of his
childhood when he was hurried along by some angry grown-up. And like a
child, he had to be helped up the car step. He sank down on an outside
seat, panting, sweating, overcome by the exertion. He followed George's
eyes as the latter looked him up and down.
"A hell of a brother YOU are," was George's comment when he had finished
Moisture welled into Al's eyes.
"It's my stomach," he said with self-pity.
"I don't wonder," was the retort. "Burnt out like the crater of a volcano.
Fervent heat isn't a circumstance."
Thereafter they did not speak. When they arrived at the transfer point,
George came to himself with a start. He smiled. With fixed gaze that did
not see the houses that streamed across his field of vision, he had
himself been sunk deep in self-pity. He helped his brother from the car,
and looked up the intersecting street. The car they were to take was not
Al's eyes chanced upon the corner grocery and saloon across the way. At
once he became restless. His hands passed beyond his control, and he
yearned hungrily across the street to the door that swung open even as he
looked and let in a happy pilgrim. And in that instant he saw the
white-jacketed bartender against an array of glittering glass. Quite
unconsciously he started to cross the street.
"Hold on." George's hand was on his arm.
"I want some whisky," he answered.
"You've already had some."
"That was hours ago. Go on, George, let me have some. It's the last day.
Don't shut off on me until we get there—God knows it will be soon
George glanced desperately up the street. The car was in sight.
"There isn't time for a drink," he said.
"I don't want a drink. I want a bottle." Al's voice became wheedling. "Go
on, George. It's the last, the very last."
"No." The denial was as final as George's thin lips could make it.
Al glanced at the approaching car. He sat down suddenly on the curbstone.
"What's the matter?" his brother asked, with momentary alarm.
"Nothing. I want some whisky. It's my stomach."
"Come on now, get up."
George reached for him, but was anticipated, for his brother sprawled flat
on the pavement, oblivious to the dirt and to the curious glances of the
passers-by. The car was clanging its gong at the crossing, a block away.
"You'll miss it," Al grinned from the pavement. "And it will be your
George's fists clenched tightly.
"For two cents I'd give you a thrashing."
"And miss the car," was the triumphant comment from the pavement.
George looked at the car. It was halfway down the block. He looked at his
watch. He debated a second longer.
"All right," he said. "I'll get it. But you get on that car. If you miss
it, I'll break the bottle over your head."
He dashed across the street and into the saloon. The car came in and
stopped. There were no passengers to get off. Al dragged himself up the
steps and sat down. He smiled as the conductor rang the bell and the car
started. The swinging door of the saloon burst open. Clutching in his hand
the suit case and a pint bottle of whisky, George started in pursuit. The
conductor, his hand on the bell cord, waited to see if it would be
necessary to stop. It was not. George swung lightly aboard, sat down
beside his brother, and passed him the bottle.
"You might have got a quart," Al said reproachfully.
He extracted the cork with a pocket corkscrew, and elevated the bottle.
"I'm sick... my stomach," he explained in apologetic tones to the
passenger who sat next to him.
In the train they sat in the smoking-car. George felt that it was
imperative. Also, having successfully caught the train, his heart
softened. He felt more kindly toward his brother, and accused himself of
unnecessary harshness. He strove to atone by talking about their mother,
and sisters, and the little affairs and interests of the family. But Al
was morose, and devoted himself to the bottle. As the time passed, his
mouth hung looser and looser, while the rings under his eyes seemed to
puff out and all his facial muscles to relax.
"It's my stomach," he said, once, when he finished the bottle and dropped
it under the seat; but the swift hardening of his brother's face did not
encourage further explanations.
The conveyance that met them at the station had all the dignity and
luxuriousness of a private carriage. George's eyes were keen for the ear
marks of the institution to which they were going, but his apprehensions
were allayed from moment to moment. As they entered the wide gateway and
rolled on through the spacious grounds, he felt sure that the
institutional side of the place would not jar upon his brother. It was
more like a summer hotel, or, better yet, a country club. And as they
swept on through the spring sunshine, the songs of birds in his ears, and
in his nostrils the breath of flowers, George sighed for a week of rest in
such a place, and before his eyes loomed the arid vista of summer in town
and at the office. There was not room in his income for his brother and
"Let us take a walk in the grounds," he suggested, after they had met
Doctor Bodineau and inspected the quarters assigned to Al. "The carriage
leaves for the station in half an hour, and we'll just have time."
"It's beautiful," he remarked a moment later. Under his feet was the
velvet grass, the trees arched overhead, and he stood in mottled sunshine.
"I wish I could stay for a month."
"I'll trade places with you," Al said quickly.
George laughed it off, but he felt a sinking of the heart.
"Look at that oak!" he cried. "And that woodpecker! Isn't he a beauty!"
"I don't like it here," he heard his brother mutter.
George's lips tightened in preparation for the struggle, but he said—
"I'm going to send Mary and the children off to the mountains. She needs
it, and so do they. And when you're in shape, I'll send you right on to
join them. Then you can take your summer vacation before you come back to
"I'm not going to stay in this damned hole, for all you talk about it," Al
"Yes you are, and you're going to get your health and strength back again,
so that the look of you will put the colour in Mary's cheeks where it used
"I'm going back with you." Al's voice was firm. "I'm going to take the
same train back. It's about time for that carriage, I guess."
"I haven't told you all my plans," George tried to go on, but Al cut him
"You might as well quit that. I don't want any of your soapy talking. You
treat me like a child. I'm not a child. My mind's made up, and I'll show
you how long it can stay made up. You needn't talk to me. I don't care a
rap for what you're going to say."
A baleful light was in his eyes, and to his brother he seemed for all the
world like a cornered rat, desperate and ready to fight. As George looked
at him he remembered back to their childhood, and it came to him that at
last was aroused in Al the same old stubborn strain that had enabled him,
as a child, to stand against all force and persuasion.
George abandoned hope. He had lost. This creature was not human. The last
fine instinct of the human had fled. It was a brute, sluggish and stolid,
impossible to move—just the raw stuff of life, combative,
rebellious, and indomitable. And as he contemplated his brother he felt in
himself the rising up of a similar brute. He became suddenly aware that
his fingers were tensing and crooking like a thug's, and he knew the
desire to kill. And his reason, turned traitor at last, counselled that he
should kill, that it was the only thing left for him to do.
He was aroused by a servant calling to him through the trees that the
carriage was waiting. He answered. Then, looking straight before him, he
discovered his brother. He had forgotten it was his brother. It had been
only a thing the moment before. He began to talk, and as he talked the way
became clear to him. His reason had not turned traitor. The brute in him
had merely orientated his reason.
"You are no earthly good, Al," he said. "You know that. You've made Mary's
life a hell. You are a curse to your children. And you have not made life
exactly a paradise for the rest of us."
"There's no use your talking," Al interjected. "I'm not going to stay
"That's what I'm coming to," George continued. "You don't have to stay
here." (Al's face brightened, and he involuntarily made a movement, as
though about to start toward the carriage.) "On the other hand, it is not
necessary that you should return with me. There is another way."
George's hand went to his hip pocket and appeared with a revolver. It lay
along his palm, the butt toward Al, and toward Al he extended it. At the
same time, with his head, he indicated the near-by thicket.
"You can't bluff me," Al snarled.
"It is not a bluff, Al. Look at me. I mean it. And if you don't do it for
yourself, I shall have to do it for you."
They faced each other, the proffered revolver still extended. Al debated
for a moment, then his eyes blazed. With a quick movement he seized the
"My God! I'll do it," he said. "I'll show you what I've got in me."
George felt suddenly sick. He turned away. He did not see his brother
enter the thicket, but he heard the passage of his body through the leaves
"Good-bye, Al," he called.
"Good-bye," came from the thicket.
George felt the sweat upon his forehead. He began mopping his face with
his handkerchief. He heard, as from a remote distance, the voice of the
servant again calling to him that the carriage was waiting. The woodpecker
dropped down through the mottled sunshine and lighted on the trunk of a
tree a dozen feet away. George felt that it was all a dream, and yet
through it all he felt supreme justification. It was the right thing to
do. It was the only thing.
His whole body gave a spasmodic start, as though the revolver had been
fired. It was the voice of Al, close at his back.
"Here's your gun," Al said. "I'll stay."
The servant appeared among the trees, approaching rapidly and calling
anxiously. George put the weapon in his pocket and caught both his
brother's hands in his own.
"God bless you, old man," he murmured; "and"—with a final squeeze of
the hands—"good luck!"
"I'm coming," he called to the servant, and turned and ran through the
trees toward the carriage.