The theme of William de Mille's "Ruthless" is a karmic one. Judson finds evidence that someone drank his whiskey without his permission. As revenge, he poisons the bottle of whiskey with rodenticide, so anyone who drinks from it will become violently ill and die. Judson's wife begs him not to...
The theme of William de Mille's "Ruthless" is a karmic one. Judson finds evidence that someone drank his whiskey without his permission. As revenge, he poisons the bottle of whiskey with rodenticide, so anyone who drinks from it will become violently ill and die. Judson's wife begs him not to follow through with his vengeful plan. She tells him that the punishment is disproportionate to the crime and that he would be guilty of murder if someone were to drink from the bottle: "Don't do it, Judson...the law doesn't punish burglary by death; so what right have you?" Judson does not listen to his wife. Soon after, he falls and hits his head on a table. While trying to comfort the injured Judson, Alec, the local caretaker, gives Judson a glass of whiskey, unaware that it is poisoned. Judson, still dazed from his head injury, drinks the whiskey and is presumably killed by it, and by extension, his need for revenge.
In his short story, de Mille maintains an ominous and suspenseful tone. We are repeatedly reminded of the type of person Judson is. He is described as having a grim smile and we quickly learn that he is extremely possessive and prone to fits of rage:
"It was his special closet with a spring lock, and in it he kept guns, ammunition, fishing rods and liquor. Not even his wife was allowed to have a key, for Judson Webb loved his personal possessions and became furious if they were touched by any hand but his own."
Through his description of Judson and Mabel's reaction to Judson, de Mille paints an ominous picture. Mabel is fearful of her husband's rage: "She has learned to dread that tone of his voice..." She strongly disagrees with the manner in which her husband chooses to address the theft of his whiskey. She is shocked and appalled when she sees him poisoning the bottle. She begs him to stop, but her pleas fall on deaf ears. Judson is compared to a dog, animal-like in his rage and possessiveness: "His deep voice was like that of a big dog growling at the possible loss of a bone."
The dark and ominous tone presented throughout the short story builds suspense and warns the readers against treating others cruelly. Judson is ultimately undone by his own vindictiveness. The story is a cautionary tale of the downfalls of malicious and vengeful behavior.