Again the tanned face and broad shoulders stood between him and the page. Jack was strong; yes, strong; and he was worth having. All the old desire of possession reappeared, in company with his hatred of defeat. He was thinking of the bare spot on the wall in the drawing-room in place of the Velasquez. There would be an end of his saying: “The boy is the spit of the ancestor and just as good a fighter, too; only his abilities are turned into other channels more in keeping with the spirit of the age!” An end of: “Fine son you have there!” from men at the club who had given him only a passing nod in the old days. For he was not displeased that the boy was liked, where he himself was not. The men whom he admired were those who had faced him with “No!” across the library desk; who had got the better of him, even if he did not admit it to himself. And the strength of his son, baffling to his cosmos, had won his admiration. No, he would not lose Jack’s strength without an effort; he wanted it for his own. Perhaps something else, too, there in the loneliness of the office in the face of that bunch of roses was pulling him: the thrill that he had felt when he saw the moisture in Jack’s eyes and felt the warmth of his grasp before Jack left the library.
And Jack and John Prather were speeding West to the same destination! They would meet! What then? There was no use of trying to work in an office on Broadway when the forces which he had brought into being over twenty years ago were in danger of being unloosed out on the desert, with Jack riding free and the fingers of the ancestor-devil on the reins. John Wingfield, Sr. called in the general manager.
“You are in charge until I return,” he said; and a few hours later he was in a private car, bound for Little Rivers.
HE FINDS HIS PLACE IN LIFE
BACK TO LITTLE RIVERS
As with the gentle touch of a familiar hand, the ozone of high altitudes gradually and sweetly awakened Jack. The engine was puffing on an upgrade; the car creaked and leaned in taking a curve. Raising the shade of his berth he looked out on spectral ranges that seemed marching and tumbling through dim distances. With pillows doubled under his head he lay back, filling sight and mind with the indistinctness and spacious mystery of the desert at night; recalling his thoughts with his last view of it over two months ago in the morning hours after leaving El Paso and seeing his future with it now, where then he had seen his future with the store.
“Think of old Burleigh raising oranges! I am sure that the trees will be well trimmed,” he whispered. “Think of Mamie Devore in the thick of the great jelly competition, while the weight of Joe Mathewson’s shoulders starts a spade into the soil as if it were going right to the centre of the earth. Why, Joe is likely to get us into international difficulties by poking the ribs of a Chinese ancestor! Yes—if we don’t lose our Little Rivers; and we must not lose it!”