Fifty men are sitting in the barracks of the canning factory listening to Morphy rail about the factory, the boss, the equipment, the pay. They are described as “migratory workmen”, which means they were Americans who traveled the USA doing those jobs that Americans won’t do.
Feach laughs, which is considered a huge faux pas. Morphy asks what is so funny. He says, “I’ve saw worse, and I expect to see worse” ironically not referring to his grammar.
The next night Morphy proclaims there is no God. Feach clearly believes otherwise. Morphy demands proof of God’s existence. Several nights later, Feach wags his finger at Morphy and screeches, “Of course there’s a God! There’s got to be!” It took him a week to come with that? Pascal put more thought into it. He also cites “the moon and the sun and the stars and flowers and rain.” Morphy is unimpressed and says “Edison could have made them for all you know.” Yeah, except he wouldn’t have let God get the credit.
Feach’s most convincing argument is that he knows there is a God because God cursed him. He had a wife and kid in Ohio — lightning burned down his house with them in it. He started work in a coal mine and 3 days later a cave-in killed 14 men. He worked in a box factory that burned down within a week. He was sleeping in a house in Galveston that was destroyed by a hurricane. He shipped out of Charleston and all hands except him drowned. Tough break about the wife and kid, but I’m not seeing the curse. Feach thinks God is trying to kill him — what a glass-half-empty kind of guy.
Feach says it is happening “because I done a thing” but doesn’t elaborate. Morphy says “A hell of a Jonah you are!” Feach warns them that something bad is coming, and not just that last episode of Ray Bradbury Theater in 5 days.
That night, Feach pours gasoline around the 2 barracks and burns them to the ground. His excuse to Morphy is “Maybe I done it. And maybe Something used me to do it. Anyways, if it hadn’t been that, it’d maybe been something worse.”
I’m not sure where Hammett was going with this one. Are Feach’s tragedies self-inflicted? Maybe he set the fire that killed his wife and kid, but he didn’t cause a hurricane.
Or was killing his family the thing he done and God really was trying to kill him with the other calamities? If so, then Hammett muddled the narrative by having the box factory burn down — that could have been by Feach’s human hand.
Was the box factory the same situation as the barracks — him causing a disaster to prevent a larger disaster? We know he is a fire-bug. Or was God indeed working through him?
I liked the story and the style. Of course, it was unpublished, therefore maybe not finished. If you take it as a fragment, it’s pretty good.