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I Conquered"" By Harold Titus Characters: 17004

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Denunciation

Danny Lenox wanted a drink. The desire came to him suddenly as he stood looking down at the river, burnished by bright young day. It broke in on his lazy contemplation, wiped out the indulgent smile, and made the young face serious, purposeful, as though mighty consequence depended on satisfying the urge that had just come up within him.

He was the sort of chap to whom nothing much had ever mattered, whose face generally bore that kindly, contented smile. His grave consideration had been aroused by only a scant variety of happenings from the time of a pampered childhood up through the gamut of bubbling boyhood, prep school, university, polo, clubs, and a growing popularity with a numerous clan until he had approached a state of established and widely recognized worthlessness.

Economics did not bother him. It mattered not how lavishly he spent; there had always been more forthcoming, because Lenox senior had a world of the stuff. The driver of his taxicab-just now whirling away-seemed surprised when Danny waved back change, but the boy did not bother himself with thought of the bill he had handed over.

Nor did habits which overrode established procedure for men cause him to class himself apart from the mass. He remarked that the cars zipping past between him and the high river embankment were stragglers in the morning flight businessward; but he recognized no difference between himself and those who scooted toward town, intent on the furtherance of serious ends.

What might be said or thought about his obvious deviation from beaten, respected paths was only an added impulse to keep smiling with careless amiability. It might be commented on behind fans in drawing rooms or through mouths full of food in servants' halls, he knew. But it did not matter.

However-something mattered. He wanted a drink.

And it was this thought that drove away the smile and set the lines of his face into seriousness, that sent him up the broad walk with swinging, decisive stride, his eyes glittering, his lips taking moisture from a quick-moving tongue. He needed a drink!

Danny entered the Lenox home up there on the sightly knoll, fashioned from chill-white stone, staring composedly down on the drive from its many black-rimmed windows. The heavy front door shut behind him with a muffled sound like a sigh, as though it had been waiting his coming all through the night, just as it had through so many nights, and let suppressed breath slip out in relief at another return.

A quick step carried him across the vestibule within sight of the dining-room doorway. He flung his soft hat in the general direction of a cathedral bench, loosed the carelessly arranged bow tie, and with an impatient jerk unbuttoned the soft shirt at his full throat. Of all things, from conventions to collars, Danny detested those which bound. And just now his throat seemed to be swelling quickly, to be pulsing; and already the glands of his mouth responded to the thought of that which was on the buffet in a glass decanter-amber-and clear-and-

At the end of the hallway a door stood open, and Danny's glance, passing into the room it disclosed, lighted on the figure of a man stooping over a great expanse of table, fumbling with papers-fumbling a bit slowly, as with age, the boy remarked even in the flash of a second his mind required to register a recognition of his father.

Danny stopped. The yearning of his throat, the call of his tightening nerves, lost potency for the moment; the glitter of desire in his dark eyes softened quickly. He threw back his handsome head with a gesture of affection that was almost girlish, in spite of its muscular strength, and the smile came back, softer, more indulgent.

His brow clouded a scant instant when he turned to look into the dining room as he walked down the long, dark, high-ceilinged hall, and his step hesitated. But he put the impulse off, going on, with shoulders thrown back, rubbing his palms together as though wholesomely happy.

So he passed into the library.

"Well, father, it's a good morning to you!"

At the spontaneous salutation the older man merely ceased moving an instant. He remained bent over the table, one hand arrested in the act of reaching for a document. It was as though he held his breath to listen-or to calculate quickly.

The son walked across to him, approaching from behind, and dropped a hand on the stooping, black-clothed shoulder.

"How go-"

Danny broke his query abruptly, for the other straightened with a half-spoken word that was, at the least, utmost impatience; possibly a word which, fully uttered, would have expressed disgust, perhaps-even loathing! And on Danny was turned such a mask as he had never seen before. The cleanly shaven face was dark. The cold blue eyes flashed a chill fire and the grim slit of a tightly closed mouth twitched, as did the fingers at the skirts of the immaculate coat.

Lenox senior backed away, putting out a hand to the table, edging along until a corner of it was between himself and his heir. Then the hand, fingers stiffly extended, pressed against the table top. It trembled.

The boy flushed, then smiled, then sobered. On the thought of what seemed to him the certain answer to the strangeness of this reception, his voice broke the stillness, filled with solicitude.

"Did I startle you?" he asked, and a smile broke through his concern. "You jumped as though-"

Again he broke short. His father's right hand, palm outward, was raised toward him and moved quickly from side to side. That gesture meant silence! Danny had seen it used twice before-once when a man of political power had let his angered talk rise in the Lenox house until it became disquieting; once when a man came there to plead. And the gesture on those occasions had carried the same quiet, ominous conviction that it now impressed on Danny.

The voice of the old man was cold and hard, almost brittle for lack of feeling.

"How much will you take to go?" he asked, and breathed twice loudly, as though struggling to hold back a bursting emotion.

Danny leaned slightly forward from his hips and wrinkled his face in his inability to understand.

"What?" He drawled out the word. "Once more, please?"

"How much will you take to go?"

Again the crackling, colorless query, by its chill strength narrowing even the thought which must transpire in the presence of the speaker.

"How much will I take to go?" repeated Danny. "How much what? To go where?"

Lenox senior blinked, and his face darkened. His voice lost some of its edge, became a trifle muffled, as though the emotion he had breathed hard to suppress had come up into his throat and adhered gummily to the words.

"How much money-how much money will you take to go away from here? Away from me? Away from New York? Out of my sight-out of my way?"

Once more the fingers pressed the table top and the fighting jaw of the gray-haired man protruded slowly as the younger drew nearer a faltering step, two-three, until he found support against the table.

There across the corner of the heavy piece of furniture they peered at each other; one in silent, mighty rage; the other with eyes widening, quick, confusing lights playing across their depths as he strove to refuse the understanding.

"How much money-to go away from New York-from you? Out of your way?"

Young Danny's voice rose in pitch at each word as with added realization the strain on his emotions increased. His body sagged forward and the hands on the table bore much of its weight; so much that the elbows threatened to give, as had his knees.

"To go away-why? Why-is this?"

In his query was something of the terror of a frightened child; in his eyes something of the look of a wounded beast.

"You ask me why!"

Lenox senior straightened with a jerk and followed the exclamation with something that had been a laugh until, driven through the rage within him, it became only a rattling rasp in his throat.

"You ask me why!" he repeated. "You ask me why!"

His voice dropped to a thin whisper; then, anger carrying it above its normal tone:

"You stand here in this room, your face like suet from months and years of debauchery, your mind unable to catch my idea because of the poison you have forced on it, because of the stultifying thoughts you have let occupy it, because of the ruthless manner in which you have wasted its powers of preception, of judgment, and

ask me why!"

In quick gesture he leveled a vibrating finger at the face of his son and with pauses between the words declared: "You-are-why!"

Danny's elbows bent still more under the weight on them, and his lips worked as he tried to force a dry throat through the motions of swallowing. On his face was reflected just one emotion-surprise. It was not rage, not resentment, not shame, not fear-just surprise.

He was utterly confused by the abruptness of his father's attack; he was unable to plumb the depths of its significance, although an inherent knowledge of the other's moods told him that he faced disaster.

Then the older man was saying:

"You have stripped yourself of everything that God and man could give you. You have thrown the gems of your opportunity before your swinish desires. You have degenerated from the son your mother bore to a worthless, ambitionless, idealless, thoughtless-drunkard!"

Danny took a half-step closer to the table, his eyes held on those others with mechanical fixity.

"Father-but, dad-" he tried to protest.

Again the upraised, commanding palm.

"I have stood it as long as I can. I have suggested from time to time that you give serious consideration to things about you and to your future; suggested, when a normal young man would have gone ahead of his own volition to meet the exigencies every individual must face sooner or later.

"But you would have none of it! From your boyhood you have been a waster. I hoped once that all the trouble you gave us was evidence of a spirit that would later be directed toward a good end. But I was never justified in that.

"You wasted your university career. Why, you weren't even a good athlete! You managed to graduate, but only to befog what little hope then remained to me.

"You have had everything you could want; you had money, friends, and your family name. What have you done? Wasted them! You had your polo string and the ability to play a great game, but what came of it? You'd rather sit in the clubhouse and saturate yourself with drink and with the idle, parasitic thoughts of the crowd there!

"You have dropped low and lower until, everything else gone, you are now wasting the last thing that belongs to you, the fundamental thing in life-your vitality!

"Oh, don't try to protest! Those sacks under your eyes! Your shoulders aren't as straight as they were a year ago; you don't think as quickly as you did when making a pretense of playing polo; your hand isn't steady for a man of twenty-five. You're going; you're on the toboggan slide.

"You have wasted yourself, flung yourself away, and not one act or thought of your experience has been worth the candle! Now-what will you take to get out?"

The boy before him moved a slow step backward, and a flush came up over his drawn face.

"You-" he began. Then he stopped and drew a hand across his eyes, beginning the movement slowly and ending with a savage jerk. "You never said a word before! You never intimated you thought this! You never-you-"

He floundered heavily under the stinging conviction that of such was his only defense!

"No!" snapped his father, after waiting for more to come. "I never said anything before-not like this. You smiled away whatever I suggested. Nothing mattered-nothing except debauchery. Now you've passed the limit You're a common drunk!"

His voice rose high and higher; he commenced to gesticulate.

"You live only to wreck yourself. Yours is the fault-and the blame!

"It is natural for me to be concerned. I've hung on now too long, hoping that you would right yourself and justify the hopes people have had in you. I planned, years ago, to have you take up my work where I must soon leave off-to go on in my place, to finish my life for me as I began yours for you! I've had faith that you would do this, but you won't-you can't!

"That isn't all. You're holding me back. I must push on now harder than ever, but with the stench of your misdeeds always in my nostrils it is almost an impossibility."

Danny raised his hands in a half-gesture of pleading, but the old man motioned him back.

"Don't be sorry; don't try to explain. This had to come. It's an accumulation of years. I have no more faith in you. If I thought you could ever rally I'd give up everything and help you, but not once in your life have you shown me that you possessed one impulse to be of use."

His voice dropped with each word, and its return to the cold normal sent a stiffness into the boy's spine. His head went up, his chin out; his hands closed slowly.

"How much money will you take to get out?"

The old man moved from behind the table corner and approached Danny, walking slowly, with his hands behind him. He came to a stop before the boy, slowly unbuttoned his coat, reached to an inner pocket, and drew out a checkbook.

"How much?"

Danny's gesture, carried out, surely would have resulted in a blow strong enough to send the book spinning across the room; but he stopped it halfway.

His eyes were puffed and bloodshot; his pulse hammered loudly under his ears, and the rush of blood made his head roar. Before him floated a mist, fogging thought as it did his vision.

The boy's voice was scarcely recognizable as he spoke. It was hard and cold-somewhat like the one which had so scourged him.

"Keep your money," he said, looking squarely at his father at the cost of a peculiar, unreal effort. "I'll get out-and without your help. Some day I'll-I'll show you what a puny thing this faith of yours is!"

The elder Lenox, buttoning his coat with brisk motions, merely said, "Very well." He left the room.

Danny heard his footsteps cross the hall, heard the big front door sigh when it closed as though it rejoiced at the completion of a distasteful task.

Then he shut his eyes and struck his thighs twice with stiff forearms. He was boiling, blood and brain! At first he thought it anger; perhaps anger had been there, but it was not the chief factor of that tumult.

It was humiliation. The horrid, unanswerable truth had seared Danny's very body-witness the anguished wrinkles on his brow-and his molten consciousness could find no argument to justify himself, even to act as a balm!

"He never said it before," the boy moaned, and in that spoken thought was the nearest thing to comfort that he could conjure.

He stood in the library a long time, gradually cooling, gradually nursing the bitterness that grew up in the midst of conflicting impulses. The look in his eyes changed from bewilderment to a glassy cynicism, and he began to walk back and forth unsteadily.

He paced the long length of the room a dozen times. Then, with a quickened stride, he passed into the hall, crossed it, and entered the dining room, the tip of his tongue caressing his lips.

On the buffet stood a decanter, a heavy affair of finely executed glassworker's art. The dark stuff in it extended halfway up the neck, and as he reached for it Danny's lips parted. He lifted the receptacle and clutched at a whisky glass that stood on the same tray. He picked it up, looked calculatingly at it, set it down, and picked up a tumbler.

The glass stopper of the bottle thudded on the mahogany; his nervous hand held the tumbler under its gurgling mouth. Half full, two-thirds, three-quarters, to within a finger's breadth of the top he filled it.

Then, setting the decanter down, he lifted the glass to look through the amber at the morning light; his breath quick, his eyes glittering, Danny Lenox poised. A smile played about his eager lips-a smile that brightened, and lingered, and faded-and died.

The hand holding the glass trembled, then was still; trembled again, so severely that it spilled some of the liquor; came gradually down from its upraised position, down below his mouth, below his shoulder, and waveringly sought the buffet.

As the glass settled to the firm wood Danny's shoulders slacked forward and his head drooped. He turned slowly from the buffet, the aroma of whisky strong in his dilated nostrils. After the first faltering step he faced about, gazed at his reflection in the mirror, and said aloud:

"And it's not been worth-the candle!"

Savagery was in his step as he entered the hall, snatched up his hat, and strode to the door.

As the heavy portal swung shut behind the hurrying boy it sighed again, as though hopelessly. The future seemed hopeless for Danny. He had gone out to face a powerful foe.

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