Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/97

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URIAH’S SON

63

Luck helped him somewhat, but not more than it generally helps the man who bullies rather than beseeches it. And the fires of his purpose never had time to grow cold, for whenever they sank down a little, his path and David’s would cross. After a time he began to suspect that David, in his kingly way, was keeping very close track of him, and the suspicion tightened his grip on his weapons. David was watching for a slip—he must make no slips.

There was the incident of Mrs. Dixon, for instance. Mrs. Dixon was, to the eye, merely a comely, rather flirtatious young widow with a certain quite pleasant foolishness about her. Frank liked her. They told stories about her, of course—and some not very nice ones; but they told stories about everyone. She had never been actually touched by scandal; and if she lived rather expensively and maintained a discreet silence about the presumably defunct Mr. Dixon—that was her own affair.

Frank’s friendship with her was progressing very pleasantly when, one evening as they were dining together in a restaurant whose reputation leaned toward the indiscreet, David came in, alone, and sat down at the table opposite them.

It spoiled an agreeable dinner party; Mrs. Dixon’s sallies began to seem vapid or a little too eager. Frank kept looking at David, who did not seem to observe him. But Frank knew he did. He could hear David’s voice—“like your father—worthless—useless——” Frank and David exchanged no words, but the dinner ended in unacknowledged discord. Nor did Frank accept Mrs. Dixon’s carefully casual invitation to stop in at her apartment for a last cigarette before he went home. After that, their friendship lapsed, in spite of Mrs. Dixon’s letters. When the Harcourt scandal broke next year, Frank was just as glad that he had not answered those letters. If David had not come that evening—David might have triumphed. So David’s wariness had done him a bad turn, for once. But that wariness kept on.

There were other incidents like that of Mrs. Dixon—other unexpected meetings with David in the flesh, a dour figure watching with terrible persistence for Frank to stumble and fall. And David in the spirit was always watching. “Just like your father,” the phantom said—and Frank buckled to