Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/98

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



and disproved him—or rather proved him wrong in a different way—for it came to seem to him as if every mistake he made counted doubly, against himself, and against his father in his grave. So the pitfalls that lie in wait for the fool and the rogue were evaded—and every day they were evaded brought Frank nearer to his goal.

Sometimes he had the fear that David might die before he was able to break him—but David seemed as unchanging and perdurable as his hate. And then, in the beginning of the fourth year of his purpose, Frank fell in love with Shirley Free.

He was lucky—Shirleys are infrequent. She was everything he had wanted rather dumbly and never had. They were very happy. But he did not tell her the whole of his purpose, for he knew her to be forgiving. Perhaps it was as well; for, abruptly, the invisible persecution tightened its net, and David appeared anew.

A glimpse of David, passing them in an automobile as Shirley and he were walking a country road; on another occasion looking out of the window and seeing a gaunt observant figure on the other side of the street—an ominous coincidence, too often repeated to be accidental.

The wedding was to be in October. The plans of the independents were coming to a head—and only the certainty of Shirley and Shirley’s devotion kept Frank up through the straining summer months. As it was, he grew nervous and edgy—and David walked through his dreams.

When Frank discovered, a month before the date of the wedding, that David had actually seen and talked with Shirley—it was the last straw.

“But, Frank,” said Shirley, puzzled, “after all—I’ll admit I was a little scared at first, he is rather scary. But he didn’t say anything that——”

“H’m,” said Frank, “did he try to—bully——”

“Why—no, dear. I don’t see quite why he came—except——”


“Well—I had a vague sort of feeling that he was—well— looking me over—like a judge—only I don’t know what he thought. He said he was coming again——”

“Well, he won’t,” said Frank, briefly. “This has to stop.