Chapter II. The Cost of Sacrifice
 

Perrotte was by all odds the best all-round man in the planing mill, and for the simple reason that for fifteen years he had followed the lumber from the raw wood through the various machines till he knew woods and machines and their ways as no other in the mill unless it was old Grant Maitland himself. Fifteen years ago Perrotte had drifted down from the woods, beating his way on a lumber train, having left his winter's pay behind him at the verge of civilisation, with old Joe Barbeau and Joe's "chucker out." It was the "chucker out" that dragged him out of the "snake room" and, all unwitting, had given him a flying start toward a better life. Perrotte came to Maitland when the season's work was at its height and every saw and planer were roaring night and day.

"Want a job?" Maitland had shouted over the tearing saw at him. "What can you do?"

"(H)axe-man me," growled Perrotte, looking up at him, half wistful, half sullen.

"See that slab? Grab it, pile it yonder. The boards, slide over the shoot." For these were still primitive days for labor-saving devices, and men were still the cheapest thing about a mill.

Perrotte grabbed the slab, heaved it down to its pile of waste, the next board he slid into the shoot, and so continued till noon found him pale and staggering.

"What's the matter with you?" said Maitland.

"Notting--me bon," said Perrotte, and, clutching at the door jamb, hung there gasping.

Maitland's keen blue eyes searched his face. "Huh! When did you last eat? Come! No lying!"

"Two day," said Perrotte, fighting for breath and nerve.

"Here, boy," shouted Maitland to a chore lad slouching by, "jump for that cook house and fetch a cup of coffee, and be quick."

The boss' tone injected energy into the gawky lad. In three minutes Perrotte was seated on a pile of slabs, drinking a cup of coffee; in five minutes more he stood up, ready for "(h)anny man, (h)anny ting." But Maitland took him to the cook.

"Fill this man up," he said, "and then show him where to sleep. And, Perrotte, to-morrow morning at seven you be at the tail of the saw."

"Oui, by gar! Perrotte be dere. And you got one good man too-day, for sure."

That was fifteen years ago, and, barring certain "jubilations," Perrotte made good his prophecy. He brought up from the Ottawa his Irish wife, a clever woman with her tongue but a housekeeper that scandalised her thrifty, tidy, French-Canadian mother-in-law, and his two children, a boy and a girl. Under the supervision of his boss he made for his family a home and for himself an assured place in the Blackwater Mills. His children fell into the hands of a teacher with a true vocation for his great work and a passion for young life. Under his hand the youth of the rapidly growing mill village were saved from the sordid and soul-debasing influences of their environment, were led out of the muddy streets and can-strewn back yards to those far heights where dwell the high gods of poesy and romance. From the master, too, they learned to know their own wonderful woods out of which the near-by farms had been hewn. Many a home, too, owed its bookshelf to Alex Day's unobtrusive suggestions.

The Perrotte children were prepared for High School by the master's quiet but determined persistence. To the father he held up the utilitarian advantages of an education.

"Your boy is quick--why should not Tony be a master of men some day? Give him a chance to climb."

"Oui, by gar! Antoine he's smart lee'le feller. I mak him steeck on his book, you mak him one big boss on some mill."

To the mother the master spoke of social advantages. The empty- headed Irish woman who had all the quick wit and cleverness of tongue characteristic of her race was determined that her girl Annette should learn to be as stylish as "them that tho't themselves her betters." So the children were kept at school by their fondly ambitious parents, and the master did the rest.

At the Public School, that greatest of all democratic institutions, the Perrotte children met the town youth of their own age, giving and taking on equal terms, sharing common privileges and advantages and growing into a community solidarity all their own, which in later years brought its own harvest of mingling joy and bitterness, but which on the whole made for sound manhood and womanhood.

With the girl Annette one effect of the Public School and its influences, educational and social, was to reveal to her the depth of the educational and social pit from which she had been taken. Her High School training might have fitted her for the teaching profession and completed her social emancipation but for her vain and thriftless mother, who, socially ambitious for herself but more for her handsome, clever children, found herself increasingly embarrassed for funds. She lacked the means with which to suitably adorn herself and her children for the station in life to which she aspired and for which good clothes were the prime equipment and to "eddicate" Tony as he deserved. Hence when Annette had completed her second year at the High School her mother withdrew her from the school and its associations and found her a place in the new Fancy Box Factory, where girls could obtain "an illigant and refoined job with good pay as well."

This change in Annette's outlook brought wrathful disappointment to the head master, Alex Day, who had taken a very special pride in Annette's brilliant school career and who had outlined for her a University course. To Annette herself the ending of her school days was a bitter grief, the bitterness of which would have been greatly intensified had she been able to measure the magnitude of the change to be wrought in her life by her mother's foolish vanity and unwise preference of her son's to her daughter's future.

The determining factor in Annette's submission to her mother's will was consideration for her brother and his career. For while for her father she cherished an affectionate pride and for her mother an amused and protective pity, her great passion was for her brother--her handsome, vivacious, audacious and mercurial brother, Tony. With him she counted it only joy to share her all too meagre wages whenever he found himself in financial straits. And a not infrequent situation this was with Tony, who, while he seemed to have inherited from his mother the vivacity, quick wit and general empty-headedness, from his father got nothing of the thrift and patient endurance of grinding toil characteristic of the French- Canadian habitant. But he did get from his father a capacity for the knowing and handling of machinery, which amounted almost to genius. Of the father's steadiness under the grind of daily work which had made him the head mechanic in the Mill, Tony possessed not a tittle. What he could get easily he got, and getting this fancied himself richly endowed, knowing not how slight and superficial is the equipment for life's stern fight that comes without sweat of brain and body. His cleverness deceived first himself and then his family, who united in believing him to be destined for high place and great things. Only two of those who had to do with him in his boyhood weighed him in the balance of truth. One was his Public School master, who labored with incessant and painful care to awaken in him some glimmer of the need of preparation for that bitter fight to which every man is appointed. The other was Grant Maitland, whose knowledge of men and of life, gained at cost of desperate conflict, made the youth's soul an open book to him. Recognising the boy's aptitude, he had in holiday seasons set Tony behind the machines in his planing mill, determined for his father's sake to make of him a mechanical engineer. To Tony each new machine was a toy to be played with; in a week or two he had mastered it and grown weary of it. Thenceforth he slacked at his work and became a demoralizing influence in his department, a source of anxiety to his steady-going father, a plague to his employer, till the holiday time was done.

"Were you my son, my lad, I'd soon settle you," Grant Maitland would say, when the boy was ready to go back to his school. "You will make a mess of your life unless you can learn to stick at your job. The roads are full of clever tramps, remember that, my boy."

But Tony only smiled his brilliant smile at him, as he took his pay envelope, which burned a hole in his pocket till he had done with it. When the next holiday came round Tony would present himself for a job with Jack Maitland to plead for him. For to Tony Jack was as king, to whom he gave passionate loyalty without stint or measure. And thus for his son Jack's sake, Jack's father took Tony on again, resolved to make another effort to make something out of him.

The bond between the two boys was hard to analyse. In games at Public and High School Jack was always Captain and Tony his right- hand man, held to his place and his training partly by his admiring devotion to his Captain but more by a wholesome dread of the inexorable disciplinary measures which slackness or trifling with the rules of the game would inevitably bring him. Jack Maitland was the one being in Tony's world who could put lasting fear into his soul or steadiness into his practice. But even Jack at times failed.

Then when both were eighteen they went to the War, Jack as an Officer, Tony as a Non-Commissioned Officer in the same Battalion, Jack hating the bloody business but resolute to play this great game of duty as he played all games for all that was in him, Tony aglow at first with the movement and glitter and later mad with the lust for deadly daring that was native to his Keltic Gallic soul. They returned with their respective decorations of D. S. O. and Military Medal and each with the stamp of war cut deep upon him, in keeping with the quality of his soul.

The return to peace was to them, as to the thousands of their comrades to whom it was given to return, a shock almost as great as had been the adventure of war. In a single day while still amid the scenes and with all the paraphernalia of war about them an unreal and bewildering silence had fallen on them. Like men in the unearthly realities of a dream they moved through their routine duties, waiting for the orders that would bring that well-known, sickening, savage tightening of their courage and send them, laden like beasts of burden, up once more to that hell of blood and mud, of nerve-shattering shell, of blinding glare and ear-bursting roar of gun fire, and, worse than all, to the place where, crouching in the farcical deceptive shelter of the sandbagged trench, their fingers gripping into the steel of their rifle hands, they would wait for the zero hour. But as the weeks passed and the orders failed to come they passed from that bewildering and subconscious anxious waiting, to an experience of wildly exultant, hysterical abandonment. They were done with all that long horror and terror; they were never to go back into it again; they were going back home; the New Day had dawned; war was no more, nor ever would be again. Back to home, to waiting hearts, to shining eyes, to welcoming arms, to peace, they were going.

Thereafter, when some weeks of peace had passed and the drums of peace had fallen quiet and the rushing, crowding, hurrahing people had melted away, and the streets and roads were filled again with men and women bent on business, with engagements to keep, the returned men found themselves with dazed, listless mind waiting for orders from someone, somewhere, or for the next movie show to open. But they were unwilling to take on the humdrum of making a living, and were in most cases incapable of initiating a congenial method of employing their powers, their new-found, splendid, glorious powers, by means of which they had saved an empire and a world. They had become common men again, they in whose souls but a few weeks ago had flamed the glory and splendour of a divine heroism!

Small wonder that some of these men, tingling with the consciousness of powers of which these busy, engaged people of the streets and shops knew nothing, turned with disdain from the petty, paltry, many of them non-manly tasks that men pursued solely that they might live. Live! For these last terrible, great and glorious fifty months they had schooled themselves to the notion that the main business of life was not to live. There had been for them a thing to do infinitely more worth while than to live. Indeed, had they been determined at all costs to live, then they had become to themselves, to their comrades, and indeed to all the world, the most despicable of all living things, deserving and winning the infinite contempt of all true men.

While the "gratuity money" lasted life went merrily enough, but when the last cheque had been cashed, and the grim reality that rations had ceased and Q. M. Stores were not longer available thrust itself vividly into the face of the demobilised veteran, and when after experiencing in job hunting varying degrees of humiliation the same veteran made the startling and painful discovery that for his wares of heroic self-immolation, of dogged endurance done up in khaki, there was no demand in the bloodless but none the less strenuous conflict of living; and that other discovery, more disconcerting, that he was not the man he had been in pre-war days and thought himself still to be, but quite another, then he was ready for one of two alternatives, to surrender to the inevitable dictum that after all life was really not worth a fight, more particularly if it could be sustained without one, or, to fling his hat into the Bolshevist ring, ready for the old thing, war--war against the enemies of civilisation and his own enemies, against those who possessed things which he very much desired but which for some inexplicable cause he was prevented from obtaining.

The former class, to a greater or less degree, Jack Maitland represented; the latter, Tony Perrotte. From their war experience they were now knit together in bonds that ran into life issues. Together they had faced war's ultimate horror, together they had emerged with imperishable memories of sheer heroic manhood mutually revealed in hours of desperate need.

At Jack's request Tony had been given the position of a Junior Foreman in one of the planing mill departments, with the promise of advancement.

"You can have anything you are fit for, Tony, in any of the mills. I feel that I owe you, that we both owe you more than we can pay by any position we can offer," was Grant Maitland's word.

"Mr. Maitland, neither you nor Jack owes me anything. Jack has paid, and more than once, all he owed me. But," with a rueful smile, "don't expect too much from me in this job. I can't see myself making it go."

"Give it a big try. Do your best. I ask no more," said Mr. Maitland.

"My best? That's a hard thing. Give me a bayonet and set some Huns before me, and I'll do my best. This is different somehow."

"Different, yet the same. The same qualities make for success. You have the brains and with your gift for machinery--Well, try it. You and Jack here will make this go between you, as you made the other go."

The door closed on the young man.

"Will he make good, Jack?" said the father, anxiously.

"Will any of us make good?"

"You will, Jack, I know. You can stick."

"Yes, I can stick, I suppose, but, after all--well, we'll have a go at it, anyway. But, like Tony, I feel like saying, 'Don't expect too much.'"

"Only your best, Jack, that's all. Take three months, six months, a year, and get hold of the office end of the business. You have brains enough. I want a General Manager right now, Wickes is hardly up to it. He knows the books and he knows the works but he knows nothing else. He doesn't know men nor markets. He is an office man pure and simple, and he's old, too old. The fact is, Jack, I have to be my own Manager inside and outside. My foremen are good, loyal, reliable fellows, but they only know their orders. I want someone to stand beside me. The plant has been doubled in capacity during the war. We did a lot of war work--aeroplane parts. We got the spruce in the raw and worked it up, good work, too, if I do say it myself. No better was done."

"I know something about that, Dad. I had a day with Badgley in Toronto. I know something about it, and I know where the money went, too, Dad."

"The money? Of course, I couldn't take the money--how could I with my boys at the war, and other men's boys?"

"Rather not. My God, Dad, if I thought--! But what's the use talking? They know in London all about the Ambulance Equipment and the Machine Gun Battery, and the Hospital. Do you know why Caramus took a job in the Permanent Force in England? It was either that or blowing out his brains. He could not face his father, a war millionaire. My God, how could he?"

The boy was walking about his room with face white and lips quivering.

"Caramus was in charge of that Machine Gun Section that held the line and let us get back. Every man wiped out, and Caramus carried back smashed to small pieces--and his father making a million out of munitions! My God! My God!"

A silence fell in the room for a minute.

"Poor old Caramus! I saw him in the City a month ago," said the father. "I pitied the poor wretch. He was alone in the Club, not a soul would speak to him. He has got his hell."

"He deserves it--all of it, and all who like him have got fat on blood money. Do you know, Dad, when I see those men going about in the open and no one kicking them I get fairly sick. I don't wonder at some of the boys seeing red. You mark my words, we are going to have bad times in this country before long."

"I am afraid of it, boy. Things look ugly. Even in our own works I feel a bad spirit about. There are some newcomers from the old country whom I can't say I admire much. They grouch and they won't work. Our production is lower than ever in our history and our labor cost is more than twice what it was in 1914."

"Well, Dad, give them a little time to settle down. I have no more use for a slacker than I have for a war millionaire."

"We can't stand much of that thing. Financially we are in fairly good shape. We broke even with our aeroplane work. But we have a big stock of spruce on hand--high-priced stuff, too--and a heavy, very heavy overhead. We shall weather it all right. I don't mind the wages, but we must have production. And that's why I want you with me."

"You must not depend on me for much use for some time at least. I know a little about handling men but about machinery I know nothing."

"Never fear, boy, you've got the machine instinct in you. I remember your holiday work in the mill, you see. But your place is in the office. Wickes will show you the ropes, and you will make good, I know. And I just want to say that you don't know how glad I am to have you come in with me, Jack. If your brother had come back he would have taken hold, he was cut out for the job, but--"

"Poor old Andy! He had your genius for the business. I wish he had been the one to get back!"

"We had not the choosing, Jack, and if he had come we should have felt the same about you. God knows what He is doing, and we can only do our best."

"Well, Dad," said Jack, rising and standing near his father's chair, "as I said before, I'll make a go at it, but don't count too much on me."

"I am counting a lot on you. You are all I have now." The father's voice ended in a husky whisper. The boy swallowed the rising lump in his throat but could find no more words to go on with. But in his heart there was the resolve that he would make an honest try to do for his father's sake what he would not for his own.

But before a month had gone he was heartily sick of the office. It was indoors, and the petty fussing with trivial details irked him. Accuracy was a sine qua non of successful office work, and accuracy is either a thing of natural gift or is the result of long and painful discipline, and neither by nature nor by discipline had Jack come into the possession of this prime qualification for a successful office man. His ledger wellnigh brought tears to old Wickes' eyes and added a heavy load to his day's work. Not that old Wickes grudged the extra burden, much less made any complaint; rather did he count it joy to be able to cover from other eyes than his own the errors that were inevitably to be found in Jack's daily work.

Had it seemed worth while, Jack would have disciplined himself to accuracy. But what was the end of it all? A larger plant with more machines to buy and more men to work them and to be overseen and to be paid, a few more figures in a Bank Book--what else? Jack's tastes were simple. He despised the ostentation of wealth in the accumulation of mere things. He had only pity for the plunger and for the loose liver contempt. Why should he tie himself to a desk, a well appointed desk it is true, but still a desk, in a four-walled room, a much finer room than his father had ever known, but a room which became to him a cage. Why? Of course, there was his father--and Jack wearily turned to his correspondence basket, sick of the sight of paper and letter heads and cost forms and production reports. For his father's sake, who had only him, he would carry on. And carry on he did, doggedly, wearily, bored to death, but sticking it. The reports from the works were often ominous. Things were not going well. There was an undercurrent of unrest among the men.

"I don't wonder at it," said Jack to old Wickes one day, when the bookkeeper set before him the week's pay sheet and production sheet, side by side. "After all, why should the poor devils work for us?"

"For us, sir?" said the shocked Wickes. "For themselves, surely. What would they do for a living if there was no work?"

"That's just it, Wickes. They get a living--is it worth while?"

"But, sir," gasped the old man, "they must live, and--"

"Why must they?"

"Because they want to! Wait till you see 'em sick, sir. My word! They do make haste for the Doctor."

"I fancy they do, Wickes. But all the same, I don't wonder that they grouch a bit."

"'Tis not the grumbling, sir, I deplore," said Wickes, "if they would only work, or let the machines work. That's the trouble, sir. Why, sir, when I came to your father, sir, we never looked at the clock, we kept our minds on the work."

"How long ago, Wickes?"

"Thirty-one years, sir, come next Michaelmas. And glad I was to get the job, too. You see, sir, I had just come to the country, and with the missus and a couple of kids--"

"Thirty-one years! Great Caesar! And you've worked at this desk for thirty-one years! And what have you got out of it?"

"Well, sir, not what you might call a terrible lot. I hadn't the eddication for much, as you might say--but--well, there's my little home, and we've lived happy there, the missus and me, and the kids-- at least, till the war came." The old man paused abruptly.

"You're right, Wickes, by Jove," exclaimed Jack, starting from his seat and gripping the old man's hand. "You have made a lot out of it--and you gave as fine a boy as ever stepped in uniform to your country. We were all proud of Stephen, every man of us."

"I know that, sir, and he often wrote the wife about you, sir, which we don't forget, sir. Of course, it's hard on her and the boys--just coming up to be somethin' at the school."

"By the way, Wickes, how are they doing? Two of them, aren't there? Let's see--there's Steve, he's the eldest--"

"No, sir, he's the youngest, sir. Robert is the eldest--fourteen, and quite clever at his books. Pity he's got to quit just now."

"Quit? Not a bit of it. We must see to that. And little Steve-- how is the back?"

"He's twelve. The back hurts a lot, but he is happy enough, if you give him a pencil. They're all with us now."

"Ah, well, well. I think you have made something out of it after all, Wickes. And we must see about Robert."

Thirty-one years at the desk! And to show for it a home for his wife and himself, a daughter in a home of her own, a son dead for his country, leaving behind him a wife and two lads to carry the name--was it worth while? Yes, by Jove, it was worth it all to be able to give a man like Stephen Wickes to his country. For Stephen Wickes was a fine stalwart lad, a good soldier, steady as a rock, with a patient, cheery courage that nothing could daunt or break. But for a man's self was it worth while?

Jack had no thought of wife and family. There was Adrien. She had been a great pal before the war, but since his return she had seemed different. Everyone seemed different. The war had left many gaps, former pals had formed other ties, many had gone from the town. Even Adrien had drifted away from the old currents of life. She seemed to have taken up with young Stillwell, whom Jack couldn't abide. Stillwell had been turned down by the Recruiting Officer during the war--flat feet, or something. True, he had done great service in Red Cross, Patriotic Fund, Victory Loan work, and that sort of thing, and apparently stood high in the Community. His father had doubled the size of his store and had been a great force in all public war work. He had spared neither himself nor his son. The elder Stillwell, high up in the Provincial Political world, saw to it that his son was on all the big Provincial War Committees. Rupert had all the shrewd foresight and business ability of his father, which was saying a good deal. He began to assume the role of a promising young capitalist. The sources of his income no one knew--fortunate investments, people said. And his Hudson Six stood at the Rectory gate every day. Well, not even for Adrien would Jack have changed places with Rupert Stillwell. For Jack Maitland held the extreme and, in certain circles, unpopular creed that the citizen who came richer out of a war which had left his country submerged in debt, and which had drained away its best blood and left it poorer in its manhood by well-nigh seventy thousand of its noblest youth left upon the battlefields of the various war fronts and by the hundreds of thousands who would go through life a burden to themselves and to those to whom they should have been a support--that citizen was accursed. If Adrien chose to be a friend of such a man, by that choice she classified herself as impossible of friendship for Jack. It had hurt a bit. But what was one hurt more or less to one whom the war had left numb in heart and bereft of ambition? He was not going to pity himself. He was lucky indeed to have his body and nerve still sound and whole, but they need not expect him to show any great keenness in the chase for a few more thousands that would only rank him among those for whom the war had not done so badly. Meantime, for his father's sake, who, thank God, had given his best, his heart's best and the best of his brain and of his splendid business genius to his country, he would carry on, with no other reward than that of service rendered.