It was the only joy he had in life; these hours were the only ones in the twenty-four which he looked forward to with eagerness and spent in happiness.
He thought of poison. No--that would not serve; the inquest would reveal where it was procured and who had procured it. He thought of a shot in the back in a lonely place when Flint would be homeward bound at midnight--his unvarying hour for the trip. No--somebody might be near, and catch him. He thought of stabbing him in his sleep. No--he might strike an inefficient blow, and Flint would seize him. He examined a hundred different ways--none of them would answer; for in even the very obscurest and secretest of them there was always the fatal defect of a risk, a chance, a possibility that he might be found out. He would have none of that.
But he was patient, endlessly patient. There was no hurry, he said to himself. He would never leave Flint till he left him a corpse; there was no hurry--he would find the way. It was somewhere, and he would endure shame and pain and misery until he found it. Yes, somewhere there was a way which would leave not a trace, not even the faintest clue to the murderer--there was no hurry--he would find that way, and then--oh, then, it would just be good to be alive! Meantime he would diligently keep up his reputation for meekness; and also, as always theretofore, he would allow no one to hear him say a resentful or offensive thing about his oppressor.
Two days before the before-mentioned October morning Flint had bought some things, and he and Fetlock had brought them home to Flint's cabin: a fresh box of candles, which they put in the corner; a tin can of blasting-powder, which they placed upon the candle-box; a keg of blasting-powder, which they placed under Flint's bunk; a huge coil of fuse, which they hung on a peg. Fetlock reasoned that Flint's mining operations had outgrown the pick, and that blasting was about to begin now. He had seen blasting done, and he had a notion of the process, but he had never helped in it. His conjecture was right--blasting-time had come. In the morning the pair carried fuse, drills, and the powder-can to the shaft; it was now eight feet deep, and to get into it and out of it a short ladder was used. They descended, and by command Fetlock held the drill--without any instructions as to the right way to hold it--and Flint proceeded to strike. The sledge came down; the drill sprang out of Fetlock's hand, almost as a matter of course.
"You mangy son of a nigger, is that any way to hold a drill? Pick it up! Stand it up! There--hold fast. D--you! I'll teach you!"
At the end of an hour the drilling was finished.
"Now, then, charge it."
The boy started to pour in the powder.
A heavy bat on the jaw laid the lad out.
"Get up! You can't lie sniveling there. Now, then, stick in the fuse first. Now put in the powder. Hold on, hold on! Are you going to fill the hole all up? Of all the sap-headed milksops I--Put in some dirt! Put in some gravel! Tamp it down! Hold on, hold on! Oh, great Scott! get out of the way!" He snatched the iron and tamped the charge himself, meantime cursing and blaspheming like a fiend. Then he fired the fuse, climbed out of the shaft, and ran fifty yards away, Fetlock following. They stood waiting a few minutes, then a great volume of smoke and rocks burst high into the air with a thunderous explosion; after a little there was a shower of descending stones; then all was serene again.
"I wish to God you'd been in it!" remarked the master.
They went down the shaft, cleaned it out, drilled another hole, and put in another charge.
"Look here! How much fuse are you proposing to waste? Don't you know how to time a fuse?"
"You don't! Well, if you don't beat anything I ever saw!"
He climbed out of the shaft and spoke down:
"Well, idiot, are you going to be all day? Cut the fuse and light it!"
The trembling creature began:
"If you please, sir, I--"
"You talk back to me? Cut it and light it!"
The boy cut and lit.