Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/91

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



were wonderful enough in themselves, but took a long time to get used to, because they, too, had an air of power and condescension from which he shrank.

Then the house on Riverside Drive—vast and gloomy, dark curtains, soft funereal carpets—and the first terrors of finding the gaunt figure unexpectedly there, at meals, following his mother about like a tall, overpowering shadow, asking penetrating questions for which there were no right answers, horrifically seated, smoking a gaunt cigar in rooms that had begun to seem a little familiar—everywhere!

The child can really have seen very little of David those first years—but the presence of him obsessed his days. And when he was told about God, he made Him in David’s image—a gaunt figure in white robes, spiky-crowned, appallingly just and omnipresent, striding the floors of heaven with a pitiless eye alert. Then the memories grew brighter and clearer—his mother’s death, the numb, uncomprehending shock, the gaunt figure with its face set and rigid, saying, “Frances! Frances!” In a harsh, dull voice—his mother, smiling tinily: ‘Take care of your father, Frank!”’ But David wasn’t his father—and as for taking care of him—Frank would as soon have thought of trying to take care of God.

A strange life, after that, for the two of them in the huge, melancholy house. Nurses and governesses—the servants—days and weeks when David hardly seemed to see the little boy who played in the corner. Did David hate him, or was it merely with bleak indifference that the deep eyes regarded him and his games? He didn’t know. But he began to think that David hated him, after the incident of the closet under the stairs.

Frank hated the stairs and the black and cavernous hall. Sinister shadows lurked there in the long, gray winter afternoons—dark, faceless shapes of shadow, ready to catch at a little boy’s feet. And the closet under the stairs was their most secret fastness.

Perhaps David noticed this aversion of Frank’s, with those bleak eyes that seemed to see nothing and everything. At any rate one afternoon, when they were alone, he spoke: “Frank.”

“Yes, sir”