“JOHN WINGFIELD, YOU—”
John Wingfield, Sr. had often made the boast that he never worried; that he never took his business to bed with him. When his head touched the pillow there was oblivion until he awoke refreshed to greet the problems left over from yesterday. Such a mind must be a reliably co-ordinated piece of machinery, with a pendulum in place of a heart. It is overawing to average mortals who have not the temerity to say “Nonsense!” to great egos. Yet the best adjusted clocks may have a lapse in a powerful magnetic storm, and in an earthquake they might even be tipped off the shelf, with their metal parts rendered quite as helpless by the fall as those of a human organism subject to the constitutional weaknesses of the flesh.
It was also John Wingfield, Sr.’s boast to himself that he had never been beaten, which average mortals with the temerity to say “Nonsense!”—that most equilibratory of words—might have diagnosed as a bad case of self-esteem finding a way to forget the resented incidental reverses of success. Yet, even average mortals noted when John Wingfield, Sr. arrived late at the store the morning after Jack’s departure for the West that he had not slept well. His haggardness suggested that for once the pushbutton to the switch of oblivion had failed him. The smile of satisfied power was lacking. In the words of the elevator boy, impersonal observer and swinger of doors, “I never seen the old man like that before!”
But the upward flight through the streets of his city, if it did not bring back the smile, brought back the old pride of ownership and domination. He still had a kingdom; he was still king. Resentment rose against the cause of the miserable twelve hours which had thrown the machinery of his being out of order. He passed the word to himself that he should sleep to-night and that from this moment, henceforth things would be the same as they had been before Jack came home. Yes, there was just one reality for him. It was enthroned in his office. This morning was to be like any other business morning; like thousands of mornings to come in the many years of activity that stretched ahead of him.
“A little late,” he said, explaining his tardiness to his secretary; a superfluity of words in which he would not ordinarily have indulged. “I had some things to attend to on the outside.”
With customary quiet attentiveness, Mortimer went through the mail with his employer, who was frequently reassuring himself that his mind was as clear, his answers as sure, and his interest as concentrated as usual. This task finished, Mortimer, with his bundle of letters and notes in hand, instead of going out of the room when he had passed around the desk, turned and faced the man whom he had served for thirty years.
John Wingfield, Sr. looked up sharply, struck by Mortimer’s tone, which seemed to come from another man. In Mortimer’s eye was a placid, confident light and his stoop was less marked.