There was a moment, not of hesitation but of completing a thought, before he looked up and rose to his feet. In that moment, John Wingfield, Sr. had his own shock over the change in the room. The muscles of his face twitched in irritation, as if his wife’s very frailty were baffling invulnerability. Straightening his features into a mask, his eyes still spoke his emotion in a kind of stare of resentment at the picture.
Then he saw his son’s shoulders rising above his own and looked into his son’s eyes to see them smiling. Long isolated by his power from clashes of will under the roof of his store or his house, the father had a sense of the rippling flash of steel blades. A word might start a havoc of whirling, burning sentences, confusing and stifling as a desert sandstorm; or it might bring a single killing flash out of gathering clouds.
Thus the two were facing each other in a silence oppressive to both, which neither knew how to break, when relief came in the butler’s announcement of dinner. Indeed, by such small, objective interruptions do dynamic inner impulses hang that this little thing may have suppressed the lightnings.
The father was the first to speak. He hoped that a first day in New York had brought Jack a good appetite; certainly, he could see that the store had given him a wonderful fit for a rush order.
BY RIGHT OF ANCESTRY
There were to be no stories of Little Rivers at dinner; no questions asked about desert life. This chapter of Jack’s career was a past rung of the ladder to John Wingfield, Sr. who was ever looking up to the rungs above. The magnetism and charm with which he won men to his service now turned to the immediate problem of his son, whom he was to refashion according to his ideas.
“Are you ready to settle down?” he asked, half fearful lest that scene in the drawing-room might have wrought a change of purpose.
In answer he was seeing another Jack; a Jack relaxed, amiable, even amenable.
“If you have the patience,” said Jack. “You know, father, I haven’t a cash-register mind. I’m starting out on a new trail and I am likely to go lame at times. But I mean to be game.”
He looked very frankly and earnestly into his father’s eyes.
“Wild oats sown! My boy, after all!” thought the father. “Respected his mother! Well, didn’t I respect mine? Of course—and let him! It is good principles. It is right. He has health; that is better than schooling.”
In place of the shock of the son’s will against his, he was feeling it as a force which might yet act in unison with his. He expanded with the pride of the fortune-builder. He told how a city within a city is created and run; of tentacles of investment and enterprise stretching beyond the store in illimitable ambition; how the ball of success, once it was set rolling, gathered bulk of its own momentum and ever needed closer watching to keep it clear of obstacles.