Book Two
Chapter XVI. The White-Hope Link
 

The White Hope slept. The noise of the departing car, which had roused the birds, had made no impression on him. As Steve had said, dynamite could not do it. He slumbered on, calmly detached, unaware of the remarkable changes which, in the past twenty-four hours, had taken place in his life. An epoch had ended and a new one begun, but he knew it not.

And probably, if Kirk and Ruth, who were standing at his bedside, watching him, had roused him and informed him of these facts, he would have displayed little excitement. He had the philosophical temperament. He took things as they came. Great natural phenomena, like Lora Delane Porter, he accepted as part of life. When they were in his life, he endured them stoically. When they went out of it, he got on without them. Marcus Aurelius would have liked William Bannister Winfield. They belonged to the same school of thought.

The years have a tendency to destroy this placidity towards life and to develop in man a sense of gratitude to fate for its occasional kindnesses; and Kirk, having been in the world longer than William Bannister, did not take the gifts of the gods so much for granted. He was profoundly grateful for what had happened. That Lora Delane Porter should have retired from active interference with his concerns was much; but that he should have had the incredible good fortune to be freed from the burden of John Bannister's money was more.

If ever money was the root of all evil, this had been. It had come into his life like a poisonous blight, withering and destroying wherever it touched. It had changed Ruth; it had changed William Bannister; it had changed himself; it was as if the spirit of the old man had lived on, hating him and working him mischief. He always had superstitious fear of it; and events had proved him right.

And now the cloud had rolled away. A few crowded hours of Bailey's dashing imbecility had removed the curse forever.

He was alone with Ruth and his son in a world that contained only them, just as in the old days of their happiness. There was something symbolic, something suggestive of the beginning of a new order of things, in their isolation at this very moment. Steve had gone. Only he and Ruth and the child were left.

The child--the White Hope--he was the real hero of the story, the real principal of the drama of their three lives. He was the link that bound them together, the force that worked for coherence and against chaos. He stood between them, his hands in theirs; and while he did so there could be no parting of the ways. His grip was light, but as strong as steel. Time would bring troubles, moods, misunderstandings, for they were both human; but, while that grip held, there could be no gulf dividing Ruth and himself, as it had divided them in the past.

He faced the future calmly, with open eyes. It would be rough going at first, very rough going. It meant hard work, incessant work. No more vague masterpieces which might or might not turn into "Carmen" or "The Spanish Maiden." No more delightful idle days to be loafed through in the studio or the shops. No more dreams, seen hazily through the smoke of a cigar, as he lay on the couch and stared at the ceiling, of what he would do to-morrow. To-morrow must look after itself. His business was with the present and the work of the present.

He braced himself to the fight, confident of his power to win. He had found himself.

Bill stirred in his sleep and muttered. Ruth bent over him and kissed the honourable scratch on his cheek.

"Poor little chap! You'll wake up and find that you aren't a millionaire baby after all! I wonder if you'll mind. Kirk, do you mind?"

"Mind!"

"I don't," said Ruth. "I think it will be rather fun being poor again."

"Who's poor?" said Kirk stoutly. "I'm not. I've got you and I've got Bill. Do you remember--ages ago--what that Vince girl, the model, you know, said that her friend had called me? A plute. That's me. I'm the richest man in the world."