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   Chapter 26 No.26

I Conquered"" By Harold Titus Characters: 7606

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


To the Victor

Up the flagged walk to the house of chill, white stone overlooking the North River went a messenger, and through the imposing front portal he handed a letter, hidden away in a sheaf of others. A modest-appearing letter; indeed, perhaps something less than modest; possibly humble, for its corners were crumpled and its edges frayed. Yet, of all the packages handed him, Daniel Lenox, alone at his breakfast, singled it out for the earliest attention.

And what he read was this:

Dear Father:

In my last letter-written ten years ago, it seems-I promised to tell you my whereabouts when I had achieved certain ends. I now write to tell you that I am at the Thorpe Ranch, one hundred and thirty miles northwest of Colt, Colorado, the nearest railroad point.

I can inform you of this now because I have won my fight against the thing which would have stripped me of my manhood. And I want to make clear the point that it was you, father, who showed me the way, who made me realize to what depths I had gone.

I am very humble, for I know the powers that rule men.

When I left New York there was little in me to interest you, but I am making bold enough to tell you of the greatest thing in my life. I have won the love of a good woman. We are to be married here the twentieth, and some day I will want to bring her East with me. I hope you will want to see her.

Your son,

Danny.

While the hand of the big clock made a quarter circle the man sat inert in his chair; limp, weak in body, spirit, and mind, whipped by the bitterest lashes that human mind can conjure. Then he raised his chin from his breast and rested his head against the back of the chair, while his hands hung loose at his sides.

His lips moved. "Hope-you will want to see her," he repeated in a whisper.

A pause, and again words:

"He wouldn't even ask me-wouldn't dream I wanted to-be there!"

An old man, you would have said, old and broken. The snap, the precision that had been his outstanding characteristic, was gone. But not for long. The change came before the whispering had well died; the lines of purpose, of decision, returned to his face, his arms ceased to hang limp, the look in the eyes-none the less warm-became definite, focused.

Suddenly Daniel Lenox sat erect and raised the letter to the light once more.

"The twentieth!" he muttered. "And this is-"

Another train fumed at the distances, left cities behind, and crawled on across prairies to mountain ranges. As it progressed, dispatchers, one after another, sat farther forward in their chairs and the alert keenness of their expression grew a trifle sharper. For the Lenox Special, New York to Colt, Colorado, invited disaster with every mile of its frantic rush across country. Freights, passenger trains, even the widely advertised limiteds, edged off the tracks to let it shriek on unhampered.

In the swaying private car sat the man who had caused all this disarray of otherwise neat schedules. At regular, short intervals his hand traveled to watch-pocket and his blue eyes scrutinized the dial of his timepiece as though to detect a lie in the sharp, frank characters. In the other hand, much of the time, were held sheets of limp paper. They had been folded and smoothed out again so many times and, though he was an old man and one who thought mostly in figures, fondled so much, that the ink on them was all but obliterated in places.

He read and reread what was written there as the train tore over the miles, and as he read the great warmth came back to his eyes. With it, at times, a fear came. When fear was there, he tugged at his watch again.

Up grades, through ca?ons, the special roared its way. At every stop telegrams zitted ahead, and hours before the train was due an automobil

e waited by the depot platform at Colt.

Daniel Lenox heeded not the enthusiastic train-men who held watches and calculated the broken record as brakes screamed down and the race by rail ended. Bag in hand, he strode across the cinder platform and entered the waiting automobile, without a single glance for the group that looked at him wonderingly.

"You know the way to the Thorpe Ranch?" he asked the driver of the car.

"Like a book!"

"Can you drive all night?"

"I can."

"Good! We must be there as early to-morrow as possible."

And ten minutes before noon the next day the heavy-eyed driver threw out his clutch and slowed the car to a stop before the S Bar S ranch house. Saddled horses were there, a score of them standing with bridle reins down. Sounds of lifted voices came from the house, quickly lulled as an exclamation turned attention on the arrival.

From the ample door came a figure-tall and lean, well poised, shoulders square, feet firm on the ground. Pale, true, but surely returning strength was evidenced in his very bearing. VB's lips moved. His father, halfway to him, stopped.

"Dad!"

"Am I on time?" queried the older man.

"Dad!"

With a cry the boy was up on him, grasping both hands in his.

"I didn't-dare hope you'd want-Dad, it makes me so-"

The other looked almost fiercely into the boy's face, clinging to the hands that clutched his, shaking them tremblingly now and then. The penetrating blue eyes searched out every line in the boy's countenance, and the look in them grew to be such as VB had never seen before.

"Did you think I'd stay back there in New York and let you do all this alone? Did you think I wouldn't come on, in time if I could, and tell you how ashamed I am to have ever doubted you, my own blood, how mean a thing was that which I thought was faith?"

His gaze went from VB to Gail, coming toward him clad all in simple white, flushing slightly as she extended her hand. He turned to her, took the hand, and looked deep into her big eyes. He tried to speak, but words would not come and he shook his head to drive back the choking emotion.

"Bless you!" he finally muttered. "Bless you both. You're a man-Danny. And you-"

His voice failed again and he could only remain mute, stroking the girl's hand.

Then Jed came up and greeted the newcomer silently, a bit grimly, as though he had just forgiven him something.

"Come over here, you three," said VB, and led them over to where two horses stood together. One was the bay the boy had ridden that afternoon he charged down the ridge to make the great stallion his, and beside him, towering, head up, alert, regally self-conscious, stood the Captain. The bay bore VB's saddle. On the Captain's back perched one of smaller tree, silver mounted and hand tooled, with stirrups that were much too short for a man.

They looked the great horse over silently, moving about him slowly, and Danny pointed out his fine physical qualities to his father. A rattling of wheels attracted them and they looked up to see a team of free-stepping horses swing toward them, drawing a light buckboard. The vehicle stopped and from it stepped a man in the clothing of a clergyman.

"He's here, VB," Jed muttered. "To be sure, an' he's got his rope down, too. Th' iron's hot; th' corral gate's open and he's goin' to head you in. 'T ain't often you see such a pair of high-strung critters goin' in so plumb docile, Mister Lenox!"

And from the corner of his eye he saw the man beside him wipe his hand across his cheek, as though to brush something away.

The Captain pawed the ground sharply. Then he lifted his head high, drew a great breath, and peered steadily off toward the distant ridges, eagerly, confidently, as though he knew that much waited-out yonder.

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