Chapter III. The Heathen Quest
 

They stood together by the open fire in the study, Jack and his father, alike in many ways yet producing effects very different. The younger man had the physical makeup of the older, though of a slighter mould. They had the same high, proud look of conscious strength, of cool fearlessness that nothing could fluster. But the soul that looked out of the grey eyes of the son was quite another from that which looked out of the deep blue eyes of the father-- yet, after all, the difference may not have been in essence but only that the older man's soul had learned in life's experience to look out only through a veil.

The soul of the youth was eager, adventurous, still believing, yet with a certain questioning and a touch of weariness, a result of the aftermath of peace following three years of war. There was still, however, the out-looking for far horizons, the outreaching imagination, the Heaven given expectation of the Infinite. In the older man's eye dwelt chiefly reserve. The veil was always there except when he found it wise and useful to draw it aside. If ever the inner light flamed forth it was when the man so chose. Self- mastery, shrewdness, power, knowledge, lay in the dark blue eyes, and all at the soul's command.

But to-night as the father's eyes rested upon his son who stood gazing into and through the blazing fire there were to be seen only pride and wistful love. But as the son turned his eyes toward his father the veil fell and the eyes that answered were quiet, shrewd, keen and chiefly kind.

The talk had passed beyond the commonplace of the day's doings. They were among the big things, the fateful thing--Life and Its Worth, Work and Its Wages, Creative Industry and Its Product, Capital and Its Price, Man and His Rights.

They were frank with each other. The war had done that for them. For ever since the night when his eighteen-year-old boy had walked into his den and said, "Father, I am eighteen," and stood looking into his eyes and waiting for the word that came straight and unhesitating, "I know, boy, you are my son and you must go, for I cannot," ever since that night, which seemed now to belong to another age, these two had faced each other as men. Now they were talking about the young man's life work.

"Frankly, I don't like it, Dad," said the son.

"Easy to see that, Jack."

"I'm really sorry. I'm afraid anyone can see it. But somehow I can't put much pep into it."

"Why?" asked the father, with curt abruptness.

"Why? Well, I hardly know. Somehow it hardly seems worth while. It is not the grind of the office, though that is considerable. I could stick that, but, after all, what's the use?"

"What would you rather do, Jack?" enquired his father patiently, as if talking to a child. "You tried for the medical profession, you know, and--"

"I know, I know, you are quite right about it. You may think it pure laziness. Maybe it is, but I hardly think so. Perhaps I went back to lectures too soon after the war. I was hardly fit, I guess, and the whole thing, the inside life, the infernal grind of lectures, the idiotic serious mummery of the youngsters, those blessed kids who should have been spanked by their mothers--the whole thing sickened me in three months. If I had waited perhaps I might have done better at the thing. I don't know--hard to tell." The boy paused, looking into the fire.

"It was my fault, boy," said the father hastily. "I ought to have figured the thing out differently. But, you see, I had no knowledge of what you had gone through and of its effect upon you. I know better now. I thought that the harder you went into the work the better it would be for you. I made a mistake."

"Well, you couldn't tell, Dad. How could you? But everything was so different when I came back. Mere kids were carrying on where we had been, and doing it well, too, by Jove, and we didn't seem to be needed."

"Needed, boy?" The father's voice was thick.

"Yes, but I didn't see that then. Selfish, I fear. Then, you know, home was not the same--"

The older man choked back a groan and leaned hard against the mantel.

"I know, Dad, I can see now I was selfish--"

"Selfish? Don't say that, my lad. Selfish? After all you had gone through? No, I shall never apply that word to you, but you-- you don't seem to realise--" The father hesitated a few moments, then, as if taking a plunge:

"You don't realise just how big a thing--how big an investment there is in that business down there--." His hand swept toward the window through which could be seen the lights of that part of the town which clustered about the various mills and factories of which he was owner.

"I know there is a lot, Dad, but how much I don't know."

"There's $250,000 in plant alone, boy, but there's more than money, a lot more than money--" Then, after a pause, as if to himself, "A lot more than money--there's brain sweat and heart agony and prayers and tears--and, yes, life, boy, your mother's life and mine. We worked and saved and prayed and planned--"

He stepped quickly toward the window, drew aside the curtain and pointed to a dark mass of headland beyond the twinkling lights.

"You see the Bluff there. Fifty years ago I stood with my father on that Bluff and watched the logs come down the river to the sawmill--his sawmill, into which he had put his total capital, five hundred dollars. I remember well his words, 'My son, if you live out your life you will see on that flat a town where thousands of men and women will find homes and, please God, happiness.' Your mother and I watched that town grow for forty years, and we tried to make people happy--at least, if they were not it was no fault of hers. Of course, other hands have been at the work since then, but her hands and mine more than any other, and more than all others together were in it, and her heart, too, was in it all."

The boy turned from the window and sat down heavily in a deep armchair, his hands covering his face. His heart was still sick with the ache that had smitten it that day in front of Amiens when the Colonel, his father's friend, had sent for him and read him the wire which had brought the terrible message of his mother's death. The long months of days and nights heavy with watching, toiling, praying, agonising, for her twin sons, and for the many boys who had gone out from the little town wore out her none too robust strength. Then, the sniper's bullet that had pierced the heart of her boy seemed to reach to her heart as well. After that, the home that once had been to its dwellers the most completely heart- satisfying spot in all the world became a place of dread, of haunting ghosts, of acutely poignant memories. They used the house for sleeping in and for eating in, but there was no living in it longer. To them it was a tomb, though neither would acknowledge it and each bore with it for the other's sake.

"Honestly, Dad, I wish I could make it go, for your sake--"

"For my sake, boy? Why, I have all of it I care for. Not for my sake. But what else can we do but stick it?"

"I suppose so--but for Heaven's sake give me something worth a man's doing. If I could tackle a job such as you and"--the boy winced--"you and mother took on I believe I'd try it. But that office! Any fool could sit in my place and carry on. It is like the job they used to give to the crocks or the slackers at the base to do. Give me a man's job."

The father's keen blue eyes looked his son over.

"A man's job?" he said, with a grim smile, realising as his son did not how much of a man's job it was. "Suppose you learn this one as I did?"

"What do you mean, Dad, exactly? How did you begin?"

"I? At the tail of the saw."

"All right, I'm game."

"Boy, you are right--I believe in my soul you are right. You did a man's job 'out there' and you have it in you to do a man's job again."

The son shrugged his shoulders. Next morning at seven they were down at the planing mill where men were doing men's work. He was at a man's job, at the tail of a saw, and drawing a man's pay, rubbing shoulders with men on equal terms, as he had in the trenches. And for the first time since Armistice Day, if not happy or satisfied, he was content to carry on.