Chapter XX. Tom's New Viewpoint
 

Pearl was quite disappointed in Tom's appearance the morning after the party. Egbert always wore a glorified countenance after he had seen Edythe; but Tom looked sleepy and somewhat cross.

He went to his work discontentedly. His mother's moroseness annoyed him. His father's hard face had never looked so forbidding to him as it did that morning. Mrs. Slater's hearty welcome, her good-natured motherly smiles, Mr. Slater's genial and kindly ways, contrasted sharply with his own home life, and it rankled in him.

"It's dead easy for them Slater boys to be smart and good, too," he thought bitterly; "they are brought right up to it. They may not have much money, but look at the fun they have. George and Fred will be off to college soon, and it must be fun in the city,--they're dressed up all the time, ridin' round on street cars, and with no chores to do."

The trees on the poplar bluff where he had made his toilet the evening before were beginning to show the approach of autumn, although there had been no frost. Pale yellow and rust coloured against the green of their hardier neighbours, they rippled their coin-like leaves in glad good-will as he drove past them on his way to the hayfield.

The sun had risen red and angry, giving to every cloud in the sky a facing of gold, and long streamers shot up into the blue of the mid-heaven.

There is no hour of the day so hushed and beautiful as the early morning, when the day is young, fresh from the hand of God. It is a new page, clean and white and pure, and the angel is saying unto us "Write!" and none there be who may refuse to obey. It may be gracious deeds and kindly words that we write upon it in letters of gold, or it may be that we blot and blur it with evil thoughts and stain it with unworthy actions, but write we must!

The demon of discontent laid hold on Tom that morning as he worked in the hayfield. New forces were at work in the boy's heart, forces mighty for good or evil.

A great disgust for his surrounding filled him. He could see from where he worked the big stone house, bare and gray. It was a place to eat in, a place to sleep in, the same as a prison. He had never known any real enjoyment there. He knew it would all be his some day, and he tried to feel the pride of possession, but he could not--he hated it.

He saw around him everywhere the abundance of harvest--the grain that meant money. Money! It was the greatest thing in the world. He had been taught to chase after it--to grasp it--then hide it, and chase again after more. His father put money in the bank every year, and never saw it again. When money was banked it had fulfilled its highest mission. Then they drew that wonderful thing called interest, money without work--and banked it--Oh, it was a great game!

It was the first glimmerings of manhood that was stirring in Tom's heart that morning, the new independence, the new individualism.

Before this he had accepted everything his father and mother had said or done without question. Only once before had he doubted them. It was several years before. A man named Skinner had bought from Tom's father the quarter section that Jim Russell now farmed, paying down a considerable sum of money, but evil days fell upon the man and his wife; sickness, discouragement, and then, the man began to drink. He was unable to keep up his payments and Tom's father had foreclosed the mortgage. Tom remembered the day the Skinners had left their farm, the woman was packing their goods into a box. She was a faded woman in a faded wrapper, and her tears were falling as she worked. Tom saw her tears falling, and he had told her with the awful cruelty of a child that it was their own fault that they had lost the farm. The woman had shrunk back as if he had struck her and cried "Oh, no! No! Tom, don't say that, child, you don't know what you say," then putting her hands on his shoulders she had looked straight into his face--he remembered that she had lost some teeth in front, and that her eyes were sweet and kind. "Some day, dear," she said, "when you are a man, you will remember with shame and sorrow that you once spoke hard to a broken-hearted, homeless woman." Tom had gone home wondering and vaguely unhappy, and could not eat his supper that night.

He remembered it all now, remembered it with a start, and with a sudden tightening of his heart that burned and chilled him. The hot blood rushed into his head and throbbed painfully.

He looked at the young Englishman who was loading the hay on the rack, with a sudden impulse. But Arthur was wrapped in his own mask of insular reserve, and so saw nothing of the storm that was sweeping over the boy's soul.

Then the very spirit of evil laid hold on Tom. When the powers of good are present in the heart, and can find no outlet in action, they turn to evil. Tom had the desire to be kind and generous; ambition was stirring in him. His sullenness and discontent were but the outward signs of the inward ferment. He could not put into action the powers for good without breaking away, in a measure at least, from his father and mother.

He felt that he had to do something. He was hungry for the society of other young people like himself. He wanted life and action and excitement.

There is one place where a young man can always go and find life and gaiety and good-fellowship. One door stands invitingly open to all. When the church of God is cold and dark and silent, and the homes of Christ's followers are closed except to the chosen few, the bar-room throws out its evil welcome to the young man on the street.

Tom had never heard any argument against intemperance, only that it was expensive. Now he hated all the petty meanness that he had been so carefully taught.

The first evening that Tom went into the bar-room of the Millford hotel he was given a royal welcome. They were a jolly crowd! They knew how to enjoy life, Tom told himself. What's the good of money if you can't have a little fun with it?

Tom had never had much money of his own, he had never needed it or thought anything about it. Now the injustice of it rankled in him. He had to have money. It was his. He worked for it. He would just take it, and then if it was missed he would tell his father and mother that he had taken it--taking your own is not stealing--and he would tell them so and have it out with them.

Thus the enemy sowed the tares.