Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/93

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URIAH’S SON

59

that indefinable engagingness that, in man or woman, makes the run of mankind follow the proverb and give to him that hath. He had his father’s facility—his father’s ease. And his school and college life could easily have been like his father’s, a pleasant, triumphal passage through an admiring throng. But it was not—because of David.

David did not fit in at all with the admiring throng. Indeed, he seemed often to grudge what success his stepson had, and certainly never praised him. Coming back to David, on vacations, was like stepping from a warm room under the freezing needles of a shower-bath. After a while Frank learned to brace and inure himself against that shock. The fact that David certainly disliked him, very possibly hated him, became merely a fact—a weight to carry, but not a crushing weight, for, oddly enough, Frank could never find the flicker of meanness or spite in those deep and hostile eyes. He knew what some of his friends thought of David’s attitude but he could not agree with them. The hate that was set against him was a superb hate. It had an iron quality. He strove against it as against a bar of iron—and grew strong.

David gave him a ridiculously tiny allowance, considering, but he lived within it rigidly, contracting none of the pleasant debts of some of his classmates. He would not give David the opportunity for easy scorn such debts might afford. He played football for four years on the scrub team, knowing perfectly well that he had no chance for a letter—but he would not give up the game and hear David’s voice: "So you've given up football, Frank?" and see the thought in his mind: "I thought you couldn't stick it out."

It must not be understood that his youth was either doleful or priggishly self—centred—it was not. He enjoyed himself greatly and was well liked; but under the surface of his days lay a certain backbone of purpose, rare among his fellows. When he was graduated, he received no votes for "most popular man," but he had, without knowing it, the respect of his entire class.

The war came when he was twenty-one, in his last year of college. David wrote a characteristic letter. "So you intend to enlist in the Marines. Considering your and the scarcity of officer material, you would probably be rather more useful if you tried for an officers' training camp