Jack’s hands lay cold and limp in his father’s; so limp that it seemed only a case of leading, now. Yet there was always the uncertain in the boy; the uncertain hovering under that face of ashes that the father was so keenly watching; a face so clearly revealing the throes of a struggle that sent cold little shivers into his father’s warm grasp. Jack’s eyes were looking into the distance through a mist. He dropped the lids as if he wanted darkness in which to think. When he raised them it was to look in his father’s eyes firmly. There was a half sob, as if this sentimentalist, this Senor Don’t Care, had wrung determination from a precipice edge, even as Mary Ewold had. He gripped his father’s hands strongly and lifted them on a level with his breast.
“You have been very fine, father! I want you to be patient and go on helping me. The trail is a rough one, but straight, now. I—I’m too brimming full to talk!” And blindly he left the library.
When the door closed, John Wingfield, Sr. seized the telegram, rolled it up with a glad, fierce energy and threw it into the waste-basket. His head went up; his eyes became points of sharp flame; his lips parted in a smile of relief and triumph and came together in a straight line before he sank down in his chair in a collapse of exhaustion. After a while he had the decanter brought in; he gulped a glass of brandy, lighted another cigar, and, swinging around, fell back at ease, his mind a blank except for one glowing thought:
“He will not go! He will give up the girl! He is to be all mine!”
It is said that the best actors never go on the stage. They play real parts in private life, making their own lines as they watch the other players. One of this company, surveying the glint of his bookcases, was satisfied with the greatest effort of his life in his library.
PRATHER SEES THE PORTRAIT
It did not occur to Jack to question a word of the narrative that had reduced a dismal enigma to luminous, connected facts. With the swift processes of reason and the promptness of decision of which he was capable on occasion, he had made up his mind as to his future even as he ascended the stairs to his room. The poignancy of his father’s appeal had struck to the bed-rock of his affection and his conscience, revealing duty not as a thing that you set for yourself, but which circumstances set for you.
Never before had he realized how hopelessly he had been a dreamer. Firio, P.D., Wrath of God, and Jag Ear became the fantastic memory of another incarnation. His devil should never again rejoice in having his finger on a trigger or send him off an easy traveller in search of gorgeous sunrises. His devil should be transformed into a backbone of unremitting apprenticeship in loving service for the father who had built for him in love. Though his head split, he would master every detail of the business. And when Jack stepped into the Rubicon he did not splash around or look back. He went right over to the new country on the other bank.