Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/101

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URIAH’S SON

67

explanation goes back into the past, to the days when I’ first knew your mother and your father.

“There is no need of telling you what your mother was. She was an incomparable creature—a saint without pretence —the kindest and gentlest of women. Your mother gave me what happiness I have had, except the brief happiness that comes from crushing an obstacle; and if I have been able to live through these last years, it has been by remembering her. I do not demand that you believe this—but it is true.

“Your father was one of the most charming men that I have ever known—and one of the worst. He was one of those rare people whom life rots with too much sun—with too great good-fortune—and who spoil the lives closest to them with the careless cruelty of a pampered child. With every facility, with every opportunity, he was profligate, cowardly, eaten with mean little sins. I do not ask you to accept this statement on hearsay; I offer letters of his own—of your mother’s—of his friends—other testimony.

“He was breaking your mother’s heart when he died—and she did not know the worst—he had great skill in concealment. And now the worst is long dead and will not rise— I have seen to that. Here is the evidence, my son.”


Frank, white to the lips, examined the attached sheaf of papers. He did not have to read them to the end—the damnation of a soul was written too plainly across the mildest of them. They could not have been forged; every line had the accent of truth; he knew three of the handwritings at least; he knew his mother’s way of putting a thing. He sucked in a sobbing breath through tight lips, and went on reading:


“You will destroy these papers, of course.

“You must remember that I had known your mother from a child—slightly enough, but enough to know what she was. I know the men who work for me—I knew your father, too. And knowing that—I knew what the end would be, unless Chance intervened. Your mother was fatally loyal.

“Well, I took upon myself the prerogative of Chance—the prerogative of God. I was a younger man then, and I knew