Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/90

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she must have trusted David, or she could not have borne ft to leave the boy alone with him. He was seven or so when she died—a handsome, charming child, a little delicate, with his father’s graces of manner.

So Frances’ story ended—and the prophets of her world were satisfied—for their prophecies had been fulfilled at last.

As for David, who had grimly adored her and loaded her docile fragility with gifts so properly kingly, they weighed her down like golden armour—no one knew if or what he suffered, or with what private agony of iron tears he tried to buy off Death. Kings have no time for long grief, and he went on—only something seemed to shut up in his mind with a click of steel. If he had been grim before, he was grimmer now—the rare, odd, awkward tenderness he had sometimes shown with Frances, the strange occasional attempts at light-heartedness, as at the playing of an unaccustomed game—these disappeared. His hair whitened; he grew leaner—but his mind retained the relentless precision of a strong machine—and D. Davenant and Co. prospered till few competitors dared stand in its shadow.

After a while men began to say jokingly that he would never die—unless, they added, half-believing it, the Devil flew away with him. For even after Frances’ death, he displayed no slightest sign of repentance for what he had done—though, by now, his story, and Frances’, and Dicky Jerome’s, had well nigh taken on the proportions of a legend—and people called him “King David,” under their breath.

Then, as the boy grew up, there began to be talk about “King David” and “Uriah’s son.”

Frank Jerome’s first real memory of his stepfather was one of fear. A gaunt figure stalking about the tiny apartment where Frances had gone to live after Dicky’s death—a figure so tall and strange and with such a frightening air of power about it that Frank always felt that he and his mother and the apartment lived only on sufferance in its presence—that, if it wished, it could stamp with its foot like a lanky master magician and crumple the neat little rooms to pieces like a house of cards. A gaunt face coming close to him, the eyes staring at him unblinkingly, seeming to count and judge every childish mistake without mercy or comprehension—knotty, powerful hands, bestowing mysterious parcels of toys that