Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/102

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

68

PRIZE STORIES OF 1924

my strength. I made a resolve—if Chance did not intervene within a certain space of time, I would.

“Yes, I was in love with your mother. But I gave him his chance—I stuck to my bargain. I had him in and talked to him, with some frankness. I had the right, considering his position in the company. He was as sneering as he dared— what business was it of mine? What he did in private—his private life was his own affair. He as much as boasted of your mother’s forgiveness of him—he seemed to think it a little absurd. That was hard for me to bear—but I gave him his chance.

“If he had been anything but appetites and grace, the place where I sent him might have made a man of him. But he was not—I had thought he would not be. He died there as I had thought he would die. I killed him—if you like. Deliberately! Those who assume God’s prerogative of mortal justice have their own punishment. Your mother married me—and we were happy, for a time. Yes, she was happy. Then the people began to whisper—and she died. I had not calculated upon the strength of whispers. She died. That was my punishment. But in spite of everything, I cannot regret what I did—for if it were to do over again, I would do the same.

“At least your mother trusted me till the end. If she had not, she would not have left you in my charge.

“You may never have seen your father’s picture as a child. Your physical likeness to him was startling—and it went to more than externals. You have some of his tricks of manner, even now. And, when you were a boy, you were almost entirely his.

“You could have been spoiled and petted as he was spoiled. You could have been trained in his precise likeness, body and mind—a child is impressionable, and you were very like him from the start. Sometimes it frightened me to see how like him you were. But I had a charge from your mother. I could not see you grow and become like him while I had my strength.

“You may often have thought your training a rigorous one. It was. I made it so. You may have thought me unfriendly, scornful, hateful. I was. I chose to be your enemy rather than your friend, because it is by wrestling with an