"Oh, mother!" the girl protested, blushing daintily.
"I said you could never tell, Mr. Grant,—while handsome young men like yourself are at large." Mrs. LeCord laughed heartily, as much as to say that her remark must be regarded only as a little pleasantry. "But you will think I am a gossipy old body," she continued briskly. "I really came to discuss certain financial matters. Since Mr. LeCord's death I have taken charge of all the family business affairs with, if I may confess it, some success. We have lived, and my girls have been educated, and our little reserve against a rainy day has been almost doubled, in addition to giving Gretta a hundred thousand in her own right on the occasion of her marriage. Caroline is to have the same, and when I am done with it there will be a third of the estate for each. In the meantime I am directing my investments as wisely as I can. I want my daughters to be provided for, quite apart from any income marriage may bring them. I should be greatly humiliated to think that any daughter of mine would be dependent upon her husband for support. On the contrary, I mean that they shall bring to their husbands a sum which will be an appreciable contribution toward the family fortune."
"If I can help you in any way in your financial matters—" Grant suggested.
"Oh, yes, we must get back to that. How I wander! I'm afraid, Mr. Grant, I must be growing old."
Grant protested gallantly against such conclusion, and Mrs. LeCord, after asking his opinion on certain issues shortly to be floated, arose to leave.
"You must find life in this city somewhat lonely, Mr. Grant," she murmured as she drew on her gloves. "If ever you find a longing for a quiet hour away from business stress—a little domesticity, if I may say it—our house—"
"You are very kind. Business allows me very few intermissions. Still—"
She extended her hand with her sweetest smile. Caroline shook hands, too, and Grant bowed them out.
On other occasions Mrs. LeCord and her daughter were fortunate enough to find Grant alone, and at such times the mother's conversation became even more pointed than in their first interview. Grant hesitated to offend her, mainly on account of Caroline, for whom he admitted to himself it would not be at all difficult to muster up an attachment. There were, however, three barriers to such a development. One was the obvious purpose of Mrs. LeCord to arrange a match; a purpose which, as a mere matter of the game, he could not allow her to accomplish. One was Zen Transley. There was no doubt about it. Zen Transley stood between him and marriage to any girl. Not that he ever expected to take her into his life, or be admitted into hers, but in some way she hedged him about. He felt that everything was not yet settled; he found himself entertaining a foolish sense that everything was not quite irrevocable.... And then there was—perhaps—Phyllis Bruce.
When at length, for some reason, Mrs. LeCord visited him alone he decided to be frank with her.
"You have thought me clever enough to advise you on financial matters?" he queried, when his visitor had discussed at some length the new loan in which she was investing.
"Why, yes," she returned, detecting the personal note in his voice. "I sometimes think, Mr. Grant, you hardly do yourself justice. Even the hardest old heads on the Exchange are taking notice of you. I have heard your name mentioned—"
"Then it may be presumed," he interrupted, "that I am clever enough to know the real purpose of your visits to this office?"
She turned a little in her chair, facing him squarely. "I hardly understand you, Mr. Grant."
"Then I possess an advantage, because I quite clearly understand you. I have hesitated, out of consideration for your daughter, to show any resentment of your behavior. But I must now tell you that when I marry, if ever I do, I shall choose my wife without the assistance of her mother, and without regard to her dowry or the size of the family bank account."
"Oh, I protest!" exclaimed Mrs. LeCord, who had grown very red. "I protest against any such conclusion. I have seen fit to intrust my financial affairs to your firm; I have visited you on business—accompanied at times by my daughter, it is true—but only on business; recognizing in you a social equal I have invited you to my house, a courtesy which, so far, you have not found yourself able to accept; but in all this I have shown toward you surely nothing but friendliness and a respect amounting, if I may say it, to esteem. But now that you are frank, Mr. Grant, I too will be frank. You cannot be unaware of the rumors which have been associated with your name?"
"You mean about Miss Bruce?"
"Ah, then you know of them. You are a young man, and we older people are disposed to make allowance for the—for that. But you must realize the great mistake you would be making should you allow this matter to become more than—a rumor."
"I do not admit your right to question me on such a subject, Mrs. LeCord, but I shall not avoid a discussion of it. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I were to contemplate marriage with Miss Bruce; if she and her relatives were agreeable, what right would anyone have to object?"
"It would be a great mistake," Mrs. LeCord insisted, avoiding his question. "She is not in your class—"
"What do you mean by 'class'?"
"Why, I mean socially, of course. She lives in a different world. She has no standing, in a social way. She works in an office for a living—"
"So do I," he interrupted, "and your daughters do not. It would therefore appear that I am more in Miss Bruce's 'class' than in theirs."
"Ah, but you are an employer. You direct things. You work because you want to, not because you have to. That makes a difference."
"Apparently it does. Well, if I had my way, everybody would work, whether he wanted to or not. I would not allow any healthy man to spend money which he had not earned by the sweat of his own brow. I am convinced that that is the only economic system which is sound at the bottom, but it would destroy 'class,' as at present organized, so 'class' must fight it."
"I am afraid you are rather radical, Mr. Grant. You may be sure that a system which has served so long and so well is a good system."
"That introduces the clash between East and West. The East says because things are so, and have always been so, they must be right. The West says because things are so, and have always been so, they are in all probability wrong. I guess I am a Westerner."
"You should not allow your theories of economics to stand in the way of your success," Mrs. LeCord pursued. "Suppose I admit that Caroline would not be altogether deaf to your advances. Suppose I admit that much. Allowing for a mother's prejudice, will you not agree with me that Caroline has her attractions? She is well bred, well educated, and not without appearance. She belongs to the smartest set in town. Her circle would bring you not only social distinction, but valuable business connections. She would introduce that touch of refinement—"
But Grant, now thoroughly angry, had risen from his chair. "You speak of refinement," he exclaimed, in the quick, sharp tones which alone revealed the fighting Grant;—"you, who have been guilty of—I could use a very ugly word which I will give you the credit of not understanding. When I decide to buy myself a wife I will send to you for a catalogue of your daughter's charms."
Grant dismissed Mrs. LeCord from his office with the confident expectation that he soon would have occasion to know something of the meaning of the proverb about hell's furies and a woman scorned. She would strike at him, of course, through Phyllis Bruce. Well—
But his attention was at once to be turned to very different matters. A stock market, erratic for some days, went suddenly into a paroxysm. Grant escaped with as little loss as possible for himself and his clients, and after three sleepless nights called his staff together. They crowded into the board-room, curious, apprehensive, almost frightened, and he looked over them with an emotion that was quite new to his experience. Even in the aloofness which their standards had made it necessary for him to adopt there had grown up in his heart, quite unnoticed, a tender, sweet foliage of love for these men and women who were a part of his machine. Now, as he looked in their faces he realized how, like little children, they leaned on him—how, like little children, they feared his power and his displeasure—how, perhaps, like little children, they had learned to love him, too. He realized, as he had never done before, that they WERE children; that here and there in the mass of humanity is one who was born to lead, but the great mass itself must be children always, doing as they are bid.
"My friends," he managed to say, "we suddenly find ourselves in tremendous times. Some of you know my attitude toward this business in which we are engaged. I did not seek it; I did not approve of it; I tried to avoid it; yet, when the responsibility was forced upon me I accepted that responsibility. I gave up the life I enjoyed, the environment in which I found delight, the friends I loved. Well—our nation is now in a somewhat similar position. It has to go into a business which it did not seek, of which it does not approve, but which fate has thrust upon it. It has to break off the current of its life and turn it into undreamed-of channels, and we, as individuals who make up the nation, must do the same. I have already enlisted, and expect that within a few hours I shall be in uniform. Some of you are single men of military age; you will, I am sure, take similar steps. For the rest—the business will be wound up as soon as possible, so that you may be released for some form of national service. You will all receive three months' salary in lieu of notice. Mr. Murdoch will look after the details. When that has been done my wealth, or such part of it as remains, will be placed at the disposal of the Government. If we win it will be well invested in a good cause; if we lose, it would have been lost anyway."
"We are not going to lose!" It was one of the younger clerks who interrupted; he stood up and for a moment looked straight at his chief. In that instant's play of vision there was surely something more than can be told in words, for the next moment he rushed forward and seized one of Grant's hands in both his own. There was a moment's handclasp, and the boy had become a man.
"I'm going, Grant," he said. "I'm going—NOW!"
He turned and made his way out of the room, leaving his chief breathless in a rapture of joy and pride. Others crowded up. They too were going—NOW. Even old Murdoch tried to protest that he was as good a man as ever. It seemed to Grant that the drab everyday costumings of his staff had fallen away, and now they were heroes, they were gods!
No one knew just how the meeting broke up, but Grant had a confused remembrance of many handclasps and some tears. He was not sure that he had not, perhaps, added one or two to the flow, but they were all tears of friendship and of an emotion born of high resolve.... The most wonderful thing was that the youngster had called him Grant!
As he stood in his own office again, trying to get the events of these last few days into some sort of perspective, Phyllis Bruce entered. He motioned dumbly to a chair, but she came and stood by his desk. Her face was very white and her lips trembled with the words she tried to utter.
"I can't go," she managed to say at length.
"Can't go? I don't understand?"
"Hubert has joined," she said.
"Hubert, the boy! Why, he is only in school—"
"He is sixteen, and large for his age. He came home confessing, and saying it was his first lie, and the first important thing he ever did without consulting mother. He said he knew he wouldn't be able to stand it if he told her first."
"Foolish, but heroic," Grant commented. "Be proud of him. It takes more than wisdom to be heroic."
"And Grace is going to England. She was taking nursing, you know, and so gets a preference. We can't ALL leave mother."
He found it difficult to speak. "You wanted to go to the Front?" he managed.
"Of course; where else?"
Her hand was on the desk; his own slipped over until it closed on it.
"You are a little heroine," he murmured.
"No, I'm not. I'm a little fool to tell you this, but how can I stay—why should I stay—when you are gone?"
She was looking down, but after her confession she raised her eyes to his, and he wondered that he had never known how beautiful she was. He could have taken her in his arms, but something, with the power of invisible chains, held him back. In that supreme moment a vision swam before him; a vision of a mountain stream backed by tawny foothills, and a girl as beautiful as even this Phyllis who had wrapped him in her arms... and said, "We must go and forget." And he had not forgotten....
When he did not respond she drew herself slowly away. "You will hate me," she said.
"That is impossible," he corrected, quickly. "I am very sorry if I have let you think more than I intended. I care for you very, very much indeed. I care for you so much that I will not let you think I care for you more. Can you understand that?"
"Yes. You like me, but you love someone else."
He was disconcerted by her intuition and the terse frankness with which she stated the case.
"I will take you into my confidence, Phyllis, if I may," he said at length. "I DO like you; I DID love someone else. And that old attachment is still so strong that it would be hardly fair—it would be hardly fair—"
"Why didn't you marry her?" she demanded.
"Because some one else did."
Her hands found his this time. "I'm sorry," she said. "Sorry I brought this up—sorry I raised these memories. But now you—who have known—will know—"
"I know—I know," he murmured, raising her fingers to his lips....
"Time, they say, is a healer of all wounds. Perhaps—"
"No. It is better that you should forget. Only, I shall see you off; I shall wave my handkerchief to YOU; I shall smile on YOU in the crowd. Then—you will forget."...
Four years of war add only four years to the life of a man according to the record in the family Bible, if he happen to spring from stock in which that sacred document is preserved. But four years of war add twenty years to the grey matter behind the eyes—eyes which learn to dream and ponder strangely, and sometimes to shine with a hardness that has no part with youth. When Captain Grant and Sergeant Linder stepped off the train at Grant's old city there was, however, little to suggest the ageing process that commonly went on among the soldiers in the Great War. Grant had twice stopped an enemy bullet, but his fine figure and sunburned health now gave no evidence of those experiences. Linder counted himself lucky to carry only an empty sleeve.
They had fallen in with each other in France, and the friendship planted in the foothills of the range country had grown, through the strange prunings and graftings of war, into a tree of very solid timber. Linder might have told you of the time his captain found him with his arm crushed under a wrecked piece of artillery, and Grant could have recounted a story of being dragged unconscious out of No Man's Land, but for either to dwell upon these matters only aroused the resentment of the other, and frequently led to exchanges between captain and sergeant totally incompatible with military discipline. They were content to pay tribute to each other, but each to leave his own honors unheralded.
"First thing is a place to eat," Grant remarked, when they had been dismissed. Words to similar effect had, indeed, been his first remark upon every suitable opportunity for three months. An appetite which has been four years in the making is not to be satisfied overnight, and Grant, being better fortified financially against the stress of a good meal, sought to be always first to suggest it. Linder accepted the situation with the complacence of a man who has been four years on army pay.
When they had eaten they took a walk through the old town—Grant's old town. It looked as though he had stepped out of it yesterday; it was hard to realize that ages lay between. There are experiences which soak in slowly, like water into a log. The new element surrounds the body, but it may be months before it penetrates to the heart. Grant had some sense of that fact as he walked the old familiar streets, apparently unchanged by all these cataclysmic days.... In time he would come to understand. There was the name plate of Barrett, Jones, Barrett, Deacon & Barrett. There had not even been an addition to the firm. Here was the old Grant office, now used for some administration purpose. That, at least, was a move in the right direction.
They wandered along aimlessly while the sunset of an early summer evening marshalled its glories overhead. On a side street children played in the roadway; on a vacant spot a game of ball was in progress. Women sat on their verandas and shot casual glances after them as they passed. Handsome pleasure cars glided about; there was a smell of new flowers in all the air.
"What do you make of it, mate?" said Grant at last.
Linder pulled slowly on his cigarette. Even his training as a sergeant had not made him ready of speech, but when he spoke it was, as ever, to the point.
"It's all so unnecessary," he commented at length.
"That's the way it gets me, too. So unnecessary. You see, when you get down to fundamentals there are only two things necessary—food and shelter. Everything else may be described as trimmings. We've been dealing with fundamentals so long—-mighty bare fundamentals at that—that all these trimmings seem just a little irritating, don't you think?"
"I follow you. I simply can't imagine myself worrying over a stray calf."
"And I can't imagine myself sitting in an office and dealing with such unessential things as stocks and bonds.... And I'm not going to."
"Got any notion what you will do?" said Linder, when he had reached the middle of another cigarette.
"Not the slightest. I don't even know whether I'm rich or broke. I suppose if Jones and Murdoch are still alive they will be looking after those details. Doing their best, doubtless, to embarrass me with additional wealth. What are YOU going to do?"
"Don't know. Maybe go back and work for Transley."
The mention of Transley threw Grant's mind back into old channels. He had almost forgotten Transley. He told himself he had quite forgotten Zen Transley, but once he knew he lied. That was when they potted him in No Man's Land. As he lay there, waiting.... he knew he had not forgotten. And he had thought many times of Phyllis Bruce. At first he had written to her, but she had not answered his letters. Evidently she meant him to forget. Nor had she come to the station to welcome him home. Perhaps she did not know. Perhaps—Many things can happen in four years.
Suddenly it occurred to Grant that it might be a good idea to call on Phyllis. He would take Linder along. That would make it less personal. He knew his man well enough to keep his own counsel, and eventually they reached the gate of the Bruce cottage, as though by accident.
"Let's turn in here. I used to know these people. Mother and daughter; very fine folk."
Linder looked for an avenue of retreat, but Grant barred his way, and together they went up the path. A strange woman, with a baby on her arm, met them at the door. Grant inquired for Mrs. Bruce and her daughter.
"Oh, you haven't heard?" said the woman. "I suppose you are just back. Well, it was a sad thing, but these have been sad times. It was when Hubert was killed I came here first. Poor dear, she took that to heart awful, and couldn't be left alone, and Phyllis was working in an office, so I came here part time to help out. Then she was just beginning to brace up again when we got the word about Grace. Grace, you know, was lost on a hospital ship. That was too much for her."
Grant received this information with a strange catching about the heart. There had been changes, after all.
"What became of Phyllis?" He tried to ask the question in an even voice.
"I moved into the house after Mrs. Bruce died," the woman continued, "as my man came back discharged about that time. Phyllis tried to get on as a nurse, but couldn't manage it. Then her office was moved to another part of the city and she took rooms somewhere. At first she came to see us often, but not lately. I suppose she's trying to forget."
"Trying to forget," Grant muttered to himself. "How much of life is made up of trying to forget!"
Further questions brought no further information. The woman didn't know the firm for which Phyllis worked; she thought it had to do with munitions. Suddenly Grant found himself impelled by a tremendous desire to locate this girl. He would set about it at once; possibly Jones or Murdoch could give him information. Strangely enough, he now felt that he would prefer to be rid of Linder's company. This was a matter for himself alone. He took Linder to an hotel, where they arranged for lodgings, and then started on his search.
He located Murdoch without difficulty. It was now late, and the old clerk came down the stairs with inoffensive imprecations upon the head of his untimely caller, but his mutterings soon gave way to a cry of delight.
"My dear boy!" he exclaimed, embracing him. "My dear boy—excuse me, sir, I'm a blithering old man, but oh! sir—my boy, you're home again!" There was no doubting the depth of old Murdoch's welcome. He ran before Grant into the living-room and switched on the lights. In a moment he was back with his arm about the young man's shoulder; he was with difficulty restraining caresses.
"Sit you down, Mr. Grant; here—this chair—it's easier. I must get the women up. This is no night for sleeping. Why didn't you send us word?"
"There is a tradition that official word is sent in advance," Grant tried to explain.
"Aye, a tradition. There's a tradition that a Scotsman is a dour body without any sentiment. Well—I must call the women."
He hurried up the stairs and Grant settled back into his chair. So this was the home of Murdoch, the man who really had earned a considerable part of the Grant fortune. He had never visited Murdoch before; he had never thought of him in a domestic sense; Murdoch had always been to him a man of figures, of competent office routine, of almost too respectful deference. The light over the centre table fell subdued through a pinkish shade; the corners of the room lay in restful shadows; the comfortable furniture showed the marks of years. The walls suggested the need of new paper; the well-worn carpet had been shifted more than once for economy's sake. Grant made a hasty appraisal of these conditions; possibly his old clerk was feeling the pinch of circumstances—
Murdoch, returning, led in his wife, a motherly woman who almost kissed the young soldier. In the welcome of her greeting it was a moment before Grant became aware of the presence of a fourth person in the room.
"I am very glad to see you safely back," said Phyllis Bruce. "We have all been thinking about you a great deal."
"Why, Miss—Phyllis! It was you I was looking for!" The frank confession came before he had time to suppress it, and, having said so much, it seemed better to finish the job.
"Yes, Phyllis is making her home with us now," Mrs. Murdoch explained. "It is more convenient to her work."
Grant wondered how much of this arrangement was due to Mrs. Murdoch's sympathy for the bereaved girl, and how much to the addition which it made to the family income. No doubt both considerations had contributed to it.
"I called at your old home," he continued. "I needn't say how distressed I was to hear—The woman could tell me nothing of you, so I came to Murdoch, hoping—"
"Yes," she said, simply, as though there were nothing more to explain. Grant noticed that her eyes were larger and her cheeks paler than they had been, but the delight of her presence leapt about him. Her hurried costume seemed to accentuate her beauty despite of all that war had done to destroy it. There was a silence which lengthened out. They were all groping for a footing.
Mrs. Murdoch met the situation by insisting that she would put on the kettle, and Mr. Murdoch, in a burst of almost divine inspiration, insisted that his wife was quite incompetent to light the gas alone at that hour of the night. When the old folks had shuffled into the kitchen Grant found himself standing close to Phyllis Bruce.
"Why didn't you answer my letters?" he demanded, plunging to the issue with the directness of his nature.
"Because I had promised to let you forget," she replied. There was a softness in her voice which he had not noted in those bygone days; she seemed more resigned and yet more poised; the strange wizardry of suffering had worked new wonders in her soul. Suddenly, as he looked upon her, he became aware of a new quality in Phyllis Bruce—the quality of gentleness. She had added this to her unique self-confidence, and it had toned down the angularities of her character. To Grant, straight from his long exile from fine womanly domesticity, she suddenly seemed altogether captivating.
"But I didn't want to forget!" he insisted. "I wanted not to forget—YOU."
She could not misunderstand the emphasis he placed on that last word, but she continued as though he had not interrupted.
"I knew you would write once or twice out of courtesy. I knew you would do that. I made up my mind that if you wrote three times, then I would know you really wanted to remember me.... I did not get any third letter."
"But how could I know that you had placed such a test—such an arbitrary measurement—upon my friendship?"
"It wasn't necessary for you to know. If you had cared—enough—you would have kept on writing."
He had to admit to himself that there was just enough truth in what she said to make her logic unanswerable. His delight in her presence now did not alter the fact that he had found it quite possible to live for four years without her, and it was true that upon one or two great vital moments his mind had leapt, not to Phyllis Bruce, but to Zen Transley! He blushed at the recollection; it was an impossible situation, but it was true!
He was framing some plausible argument about honorable men not persisting in a correspondence when Murdoch bustled in again.
"Mother is going to set the dining-room table," he announced, "and the coffee will be ready presently. Well, sir, you do look well in uniform. You will be wondering how the business has gone?"
"Not half as much as I am wondering some other things," he said, with a significance intended for the ear of Phyllis. "You see—I was just talking it over with a pal to-day, a very good comrade whom I used to know in the West, and who pulled me out of No Man's Land where I would have been lying yet if he hadn't thought more of me than he did of himself—I was talking it over with him to-day, and we agreed that business isn't worth the effort. Fancy sitting behind a desk, wondering about the stock market, when you've been accustomed to leaning up against a parapet wondering where the next shell is going to burst! If that is not from the sublime to the ridiculous, it is at least from the vital to the inconsequential. You can't expect men to take a jump like that."
"No, not as a jump," Murdoch agreed. "They'll have to move down gradually. But they must remember that life depends quite as much on wheat-fields as it does on trenches, and that all the machinery of commerce and industry is as vital in its way as is the machinery of war. They must remember that, or instead of being at the end of our troubles we will find ourselves at the beginning."
"I suppose," Grant conceded, "but it all seems so unnecessary. No doubt you have been piling up more money to be a problem to my conscience."
"Your peculiar conscience, I might almost correct, sir. Your responsibilities do seem to insist upon increasing. Following your instructions I put the liquid assets into Government bonds. Interest, even on Government bonds, has a way of working while you sleep. Then, you may remember, we were carrying a large load of certain steel stocks. These I did not dispose of at once, with the result that they, in themselves, have made you a comfortable fortune."
"I suppose I should thank you for your foresight, Murdoch. I was rather hoping you would lose my money and so relieve me of an embarrassing situation. What am I to do with it?"
"I don't know, sir, but I feel sure you will use it for some good purpose. I was glad to get as much of it together for you as I did, because otherwise it might have fallen to people who would have wasted it."
"Upon my word, Murdoch, that smacks of my own philosophy. Is it possible even you are becoming converted?"
"Come, Mr. Grant; come, everybody!" a cheerful voice called from behind the sliding doors which shut off the dining-room. The fragrant smell of coffee was already in the air, and as Grant took his seat Mrs. Murdoch declared that for once she had decided to defy all the laws of digestion.
At the table their talk dribbled out into thin channels. It was as though there were at hand a great reservoir of thought, of experience, of deep gropings into the very well-springs of life, which none of them dared to tap lest it should rush out and overwhelm them. They seemed in some strange awe of its presence, and spoke, when they spoke at all, of trivial things. Grant proved uncommunicative, and perhaps, in a sense, disappointing. He preferred to forget both the glories and the horrors of war; when he drew on his experience at all it was to relate some humorous incident. That, it seemed, was all he cared to remember. He was conscious of a restraint which hedged him about and hampered every mental deployment.
Phyllis, too, must have been conscious of that restraint, for before they parted she said something about human minds being like pianos, which get out of tune for lack of the master-touch....
When Grant found himself in the street air again he was almost swallowed up in the rush of things which he might have said. His mental machinery, which seemed to have been out of mesh,—came back into adjustment with a jerk. He suddenly discovered that he could think; he could drive his mind from his own batteries. In soldiering the mind is driven from the batteries of the rank higher up. The business of discipline is to make man an automatic machine rather than a thinking individual. It seemed to Grant that in that moment the machine part of him gave way and the individual was restored. In his case the change came in a moment; he had been re-tuned; he was able to think logically in terms of civil life. He pieced together Murdoch's conversation. "Not as a jump," Murdoch had said, when he had argued that a man cannot emerge in a moment from the psychology of the trenches to that of the counting-house. Undoubtedly that would be true of the mass; they would experience no instantaneous readjustment....
There are moments when the mind, highly vitalized, reaches out into the universe of thought and grasps ideas far beyond its conscious intention. All great thoughts come from uncharted sources of inspiration, and it may be that the function of the mind is not to create thought, but only to record it. To do so it must be tuned to the proper key of receptivity. Grant had a consciousness, as he walked along the deserted streets toward his hotel, that he was in that key; the quietness, the domesticity of Murdoch's home, the loveliness of Phyllis Bruce, had, for the moment at least, shut out a background of horror and lifted his thought into an exalted plane. He paused at a bridge to lean against the railing and watch the trembling reflection of city lights in the river.
"I have it!" he suddenly exclaimed to the steel railing. "I have it!"
He paused for a moment to turn over his thought, as though to make sure it should not escape. Then, at a pace which aroused the wondering glance of one or two placid policemen, he hurried to the hotel.
Linder and Grant had been assigned to the same room, and the sergeant's dreams, if he dreamt at all, were of the sweet hay meadows of the West. Grant turned on the light and looked down into the face of his friend. A smile, born of fields afar from war's alarms, was playing about his lips. Even in his excitement Grant could not help reflecting what a wonderful thing it is to sleep in peace. Then—
"I have it!" he shouted. "Linder, I have it!"
The sergeant sat up with a start, blinking.
"I have it!" Grant repeated.
"THEM, you mean," said Linder, suddenly awake. "Why, man, what's wrong with you? You're more excited than if we were just going over the top."
"I've got my great idea. I know what I'm going to do with my money."
"Well, don't do it to-night," Linder protested. "Someone has to settle for this dug-out in the morning."
"We're leaving for the West to-morrow, Linder, old scout. Everybody will say we're crazy, but that's a good sign. They've said that of every reformer since—"
But Linder was again sleeping the sleep of a man four years in France.
The window was grey with the light of dawn before Grant's mind had calmed down enough for sleep. When Linder awoke him it was noon.
"You sleep well on your Big Idea," was his comment.
"No better than you did last night," retorted Grant, springing out of bed. "Let me see.... yes, I still have it clearly. I'll tell you about it sometime, if you can stay awake. When do we eat?"
"Now, or as soon as you are presentable. I've a notion to give you three days' C.B. for appearing on parade in your pyjamas."
"Make it a cash fine, Sergeant, old dear, and pay it out of what you owe me. Now that that is settled order up a decent meal. I'll be shaved and dressed long before it arrives. You know this is a first-class hotel, where prompt service would not be tolerated."
As they ate together Grant showed no disposition to discuss what Linder called his Big Idea, nor yet to give any satisfaction in response to his companion's somewhat pointed references as to his doings of the night before.
"There are times, Linder," he said, "when my soul craves solitude. You, being a sergeant, and therefore having no soul, will not be able to understand that longing for contemplation—"
"It's all right," said Linder. "I don't want her."
"Furthermore," Grant continued, "to-night I mean to resume my soliloquies, and your absence will be much in demand."
"The supply will be equal to the demand."
"Good! Here are some morsels of money. If you will buy our railway tickets and settle with the chief extortionist downstairs I will join you at the night train going west."
Linder sprang to attention, gave a salute in which mock deference could not entirely obscure the respect beneath, and set about on his commissions, while Grant devoted the afternoon to a session with Murdoch and Jones, to neither of whom would he reveal his plans further than to say he was going west "to engage in some development work." During the afternoon it was noted that Grant's interest centred more in a certain telephone call than in the very gratifying financial statement which Murdoch was able to place before him. And it was probably as a result of that telephone call that a taxi drew up in front of Murdoch's home at exactly six-thirty that evening and bore Miss Phyllis Bruce and an officer wearing a captain's uniform in the direction of the best hotel in the city.
The dining-room was sweet with the perfume of flowers, and soft strains of music stole vagrantly about its high arching pillars, mingling with the chatter of lovely women and of men to whom expense was no consideration. Grant was conscious of a delicious sense of intimacy as he helped Phyllis remove her wraps and seated himself by her at a secluded corner table.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "I don't make compliments for exercise, but you do look stunning to-night!"
A warmth of color lit up her cheek—he had noticed at Murdoch's how pale she was—and her eyes laughed back at him with some of their old-time vivacity.
"I am so glad," she said. "It seems almost like old times—"
They gave their orders, and sat in silence through an overture. Grant was delighting himself simply in her presence, and guessed that for her part she could not retract the confession her love had wrung from her so long ago.
"There are some things which don't change, Phyllis," he said, when the orchestra had ceased.
She looked back at him with eyes moist and dreamy. "I know," she murmured.
There seemed no reason why Grant should not there and then have laid himself, figuratively, at her feet. And there was not any reason—only one. He wanted first to go west. He almost hoped that out there some light of disillusionment would fall about him; that some sudden experience such as he had known the night before would readjust his personality in accordance with the inevitable...
"I asked you to dine with me to-night," he heard himself saying, "for two reasons: first, for the delight of your exquisite companionship; and second, because I want to place before you certain business plans which, to me at least, are of the greatest importance.
"You know the position which I have taken with regard to the spending of money, that one should not spend on himself or his friends anything but his own honest earnings for which he has given honest service to society. I have seen no reason to change my position. On the contrary the war has strengthened me in my convictions. It has brought home to me and to the world the fact that heroism is a flower which grows in no peculiar soil, and that it blossoms as richly among the unwashed and the underfed as among the children of fortune. This fact only aggravates the extremes of wealth and poverty, and makes them seem more unjust than ever.
"For myself I have accepted this view, but our financial system is founded upon very different ethics. I wonder if you have ever thought of the fact that when the barons at Runnymede laid the foundations of democratic government for the world they overlooked the almost equally important matter of creating a democratic system of finance. Well—let's not delve into that now. The point is that under our present system we do acquire wealth which we do not earn, and the only thing to be done for the time being is to treat that wealth as a trust to be managed for the benefit of humanity. That is what I call the new morality as applied to money, although it is not so new either. It can be traced back at least nineteen hundred years, and all our philanthropists, great and little, have surely caught some glimpse of that truth, unless, perhaps, they gave their alms that they might have honor of men. But giving one's money away does not solve the problem; it pauperizes the recipient and delays the evolution of new conditions in which present injustices would be corrected. I hope you are able to follow me?"
"Perfectly. It is easy for me, who have nothing to lose, to follow your logic. You will have more trouble convincing those whose pockets it would affect."
"I am not so sure of that. Humanity is pretty sound at heart, but we can't abandon the boat we're on until we have another that is proven seaworthy. However, it seems to me that I have found a solution which I can apply in my individual case. Have you thought what are the three greatest needs, commercially speaking, of the present day?"
"Production, I suppose, is the first."
"Yes—most particularly production of food. And the others are corollary to it. They are instruction and opportunity. I am thinking especially of returned men."
"Production—instruction—opportunity," she repeated. "How are you going to bring them about?"
"That is my Big Idea, as Linder calls it, although I have not yet confided in him what it is. Well—the world is crying for food, and in our western provinces are millions of acres which have never felt the plow—"
"In the East, too, for that matter."
"I know, but I naturally think of the West. I propose to form a company and buy a large block of land, cut it up into farms, build houses and community centres, and put returned men and their families on these farms, under the direction of specialists in agriculture. I shall break up the rectangular survey of the West for something with humanizing possibilities; I mean to supplant it with a system of survey which will permit of settlement in groups—villages, if you like—where I shall instal all the modern conveniences of the city, including movie shows. Our statesmen are never done lamenting that population continues to flow from the country to the city, but the only way to stop that flow is to make the country the more attractive of the two."
"But your company—who are to be the shareholders?"
"That is the keystone of the Big Idea. There never before was a company like this will be. In the first place, I shall put up all the money myself. Then, when I have prepared a farm ready to receive a man and his family, I will sell him shares equivalent to the value of his farm, and give him a perpetual lease, subject to certain restrictions. Let me illustrate. Suppose you are the prospective shareholder. I say, Miss Bruce, I can place you on a farm worth, with buildings and equipment, ten thousand dollars. I do not ask any cash from you; not a cent, but I want you to subscribe for ten thousand dollars stock in my company. That will make you a shareholder. When the farm begins to produce you are to have all you and your family—this is an illustration, you know—can consume for your own use. The balance is to be sold, and one-third of the proceeds is to be paid into the treasury of the company and credited on your purchase of shares. When you have paid for all your shares in this way you will have no further payments to make, except such levy as may be made by the company for running expenses. You, as a shareholder of the company, will have a voice with the other shareholders in determining what that levy shall be. You and your descendents will be allowed possession of that farm forever, subject only to your obeying the rules of the company. You—"
"But why the company? It simply amounts to buying the land on payments to be made out of each year's crop, except that you want me to pay for shares in the company instead of for the land itself."
"That, as I told you, is the keystone of my Big Idea. If I sold you the land you would be master of it; you could do as you liked with it. You could let it lie idle; you could allow your buildings and machinery to get out of repair; you could keep scrub stock; all your methods of husbandry might be slovenly or antiquated; you could even rent or sell the land to someone who might be morally or socially undesirable in the community. On the other hand you might be peculiarly successful, when you would proceed to buy out your less successful neighbors, or make loans on their land, and thus create yourself a land monopolist. But as a shareholder in the company you will be subject to the rules laid down by the company. If it says that houses must be painted every four years you will paint your house every fourth year. If it rules that hayracks are not to be left on the front lawn you will have to deposit yours somewhere else. If it orders that crops must be rotated to preserve the fertility of the soil you will obey those instructions. If you do not like the regulations you can use your influence with the board of directors to have them changed. If you fail there you can sell your shares to someone else—provided you can find a purchaser acceptable to the board—and get out. The Big Idea is that the community—the company in this case—shall control the individual, and the individual shall exert his proper measure of control over the community. The two are interlocked and interdependent, each exerting exactly the proper amount of power and accepting proportionate responsibility."
"But have you provided against the possibility of one man or a group of men buying up a majority of the stock and so controlling the company? They could then freeze out the smaller owners."
"Yes," said Grant, toying with his coffee, "I have made a provision for that which I think is rather ingenious. Don't imagine that this all came to me in a moment. The central thought struck me last night on my way home, and I knew then I had the embryo of the plan, but I lay awake until daylight working out details. I am going to allot votes on a very unique principle. It seems to me that a man's stake in a country should be measured, not by the amount of money he has, but by the number of mouths he has to feed. I will adopt that rule in my company, and the voting will be according to the number of children in the family. That should curb the ambitious."
They laughed over this proviso, and Phyllis agreed that it was all a very wonderful plan. "And when they have paid for all their shares you get your money back," she commented.
"Oh, no. I don't want my money back. I didn't explain that to you. I will advance the money on the bonds of the company, without interest. Suppose I am able to finance a hundred farms that way, then as the payments come in, still more farms. The thing will spread like a ripple in a pool, until it covers the whole country. When you turn a sum of money loose, WITH NO INTEREST CHARGE ATTACHED TO IT, there is no limit to what it can accomplish."
"But what will you do with your bonds, eventually? They will be perfectly secured. I don't see that you are getting rid of your money at all, except the interest, which you are giving away."
"That, Phyllis, is where autocracy and democracy meet. All progress is like the swinging of a pendulum, with autocracy at one end of the arc and democracy at the other, and progress is the mean of their opposing forces. But there are times when the most democratic countries have to use autocratic methods, as, for example, Great Britain and the United States in the late war. We must learn to make autocracy the servant of democracy, not its enemy. Well—I'm going to be the autocrat in this case. I am going to sit behind the scenes and as long as my company functions all right I will leave it alone, but if it shows signs of wrecking itself I will assume the role of the benevolent despot and set it to rights again. Oh, Phyllis, don't you see? It's not just MY company I'm thinking about. This is an experiment, in which my company will represent the State. If it succeeds I shall turn the whole machinery over to the State as my contribution to the betterment of humanity. If it fails—well, then I shall have demonstrated that the idea is unsound. Even that is worth something.
"I like to think of the great inventors, experimenting with the mysterious forces of nature. Their business is to find the natural laws that govern material things. And I am quite sure that there are also natural laws designed to govern man in his social and economic relationships, and when those laws have been discovered the impossibilities of to-day will become the common practice of to-morrow, just as steam and electricity have made the impossibilities of yesterday the common practice of to-day. The first need is to find the law, and to what more worthy purpose could a man devote himself? When I landed here yesterday—when I walked again through these old streets—I was a being without purpose; I was like a battery that had dried up. All these petty affairs of life seemed so useless, so humdrum, so commonplace, I knew I could never settle down to them again. Then last night from some unknown source came a new idea—an inspiration—and presto! the battery is re-charged, life again has its purposes, and I am eager to be at work.
"I said 'some unknown source,' but it was not altogether unknown. It had something to do with honest old Murdoch, and his good wife pouring coffee for the midnight supper in their cozy dining-room, and Phyllis Bruce across the table! We never know, Phyllis, how much we owe to our friends; to that charmed circle, be it ever so small, in which every note strikes in harmony. I know my Big Idea is only playing on the surface; only skimming about the edges. What the world needs is just friends."
Grant had talked himself out, but he continued to sit at the little table, reveling in the happiness of a man who feels that he has been called to some purpose worth while. His companion hesitated to interrupt his thoughts; her somewhat drab business experience made her pessimistic toward all idealism, and yet she felt that here, surely, was a man who could carry almost any project through to success. The unique quality in him, which distinguished him from any other man she had ever known, was his complete unselfishness. In all his undertakings he coveted no reward for himself; he was seeking only the common good.
"If all men were like you there would be no problems," she murmured, and while he could not accept the words quite at par they rang very pleasantly in his ears.
A movement among the diners reminded him of the flight of time, and with a glance at his watch he sprang up in surprise. "I had no idea the evening had gone!" he exclaimed. "I have just time to see you home and get back to catch my train."
He called a taxi and accompanied her into it. They seated themselves together, and the fragrance of her presence was very sweet about him. It would have been so easy to forget—all that he had been trying to forget—in the intoxication of such environment. Surely it was not necessary that he should go west—that he should see HER again—in order to be sure.
"Phyllis," he breathed, "do you imagine I could undertake these things if I cared only for myself—if it were not that I longed for someone's approval—for someone to be proud of me? The strongest man is weak enough for that, and the strongest man is stronger when he knows that the woman he loves—"
He would have taken her in his arms, but she resisted, gently, firmly.
"You have made me think too much of you, Dennison," she whispered.
On the way west Grant gradually unfolded his plan to Linder, who accepted it with his customary stoicism.
"I'm not very strong for a scheme that hasn't got any profits in it," Linder confessed. "It doesn't sound human."
"I don't notice that you have ever figured very high in profits on your own account," Grant retorted. "Your usefulness has been in making them for other people. I suppose if I would let you help to swell my bank account you would work for me for board and lodging, but as I refuse to do that I shall have to pay you three times Transley's rate. I don't know what he paid you, but I suspect that for every dollar you earned for yourself you earned two for him, so I am going to base your scale accordingly. You are to go on with the physical work at once; buy the horses, tractors, machinery; break up the land, fence it, build the houses and barns; in short, you are to superintend everything that is done with muscle or its substitute. I will bring Murdoch out shortly to take charge of the clerical details and the general organization. As for myself, after I have bought the land and placed the necessary funds to the credit of the company I propose to keep out of the limelight. I will be the heart of the undertaking; Murdoch will be the head, and you are to be the hands, and I hope you two conspirators won't give me palpitation. You think it a mistake to work without profits, but Murdoch thinks it a sin. When I lay my plans before him I am quite prepared to hear him insist upon calling in an alienist."
"It's YOUR money," Linder assented, laconically. "What are YOU going to do?"
"I'm going to buy a half section of my own, and I'm going to start myself on it on identically the same terms that I offer to the shareholders in my company. I want to prove by my own experience that it can be done, but I must keep away from the company. Human nature is a clinging vine at best, and I don't want it clinging about me. You will notice that my plan, unlike most communistic or socialist ventures, relieves the individual of no atom of responsibility. I give him the opportunity, but I put it up to him to make good with that opportunity. I have not overlooked the fact that a man is a man, and never can be made quite into a machine."
The two friends discussed at great length the details of the Big Idea, and upon arrival in the West Linder lost no time in preparing blue-prints and charts descriptive of the improvements to be made on the land and the order in which the work was to be carried on. Grant bought a tract suitable to his purpose, and the wheels of the machine which was to blaze a path for the State were set in motion. When this had been done Grant turned to the working out of his own individual experiment.
During the period in which these arrangements were being made it was inevitable that Grant should have heard more or less of Transley. He had not gone out of his way to seek information of the contractor, but it rather had been forced upon him. Transley's name was frequently heard in the offices of the business men with whom he had to do; it was mentioned in local papers with the regularity peculiar to celebrities in comparatively small centres. Transley, it appeared, had become something of a power in the land. Backed by old Y.D.'s capital he had carried some rather daring ventures through to success. He had seized the panicky moments following the outbreak of the war to buy heavily on the wheat and cattle markets, and increases in prices due to the world's demand for food had made him one of the wealthy men of the city. The desire of many young farmers to enlist had also afforded an opportunity to acquire their holdings for small considerations, and Transley had proved his patriotism by facilitating the ambitions of as many men in this position as came to his attention. The fact that even before the war ended the farms which he acquired in this way were worth several times the price he paid was only an incident in the transactions.
But no word of Transley's domestic affairs reached Grant, who told himself that he had ceased to be interested in them, but kept an alert ear nevertheless. It would seem that Transley rather eclipsed his wife in the public eye.
So Grant set about with the development of his own farm, and kept his mind occupied with it and with his larger experiment—except when it went flirting with thoughts of Phyllis Bruce. He was rather proud of the figure he had used to Linder, of the head, hands, and heart of his organization, but to himself he admitted that that figure was incomplete. There was a soul as well, and that soul was the girl whose inspiring presence had in some way jerked his mind out of the stagnant backwaters in which the war had left it. There was no doubt of that. He had written to Murdoch to come west and undertake new work for him. He had intimated that the change would be permanent, and that it might be well to bring the family....
He selected a farm where a ridge of foothills overlooked a broad valley receding into the mountains. The dealer had no idea of selling him this particular piece of land; they were bound for a half section farther up the slope when Grant stopped on the brow of the hill to feast his eyes on the scene that lay before him. It burst upon him with the unexpectedness peculiar to the foothill valleys; miles of gently undulating plain, lying apparently far below, but in reality rising in a sharp ascent toward the snow-capped mountains looking down silently through their gauze of blue-purple afternoon mist. At distances which even his trained eye would not attempt to compute lay little round lakes like silver coins on the surface of the prairie; here and there were dark green bluffs of spruce; to the right a ribbon of river, blue-green save where the rapids churned it white, and along its edge a fringe of leafy cottonwoods; at vast intervals square black plots of plowed land like sections on a chess-board of the gods, and farm buildings cut so clear in the mountain atmosphere that the sense of space was lost and they seemed like child-houses just across the way.
Grant turned to his companion with an animation in his face which almost startled the prosaic dealer in real estate.
"Wonderful! Wonderful!" he exclaimed. "We don't need to go any farther if you can sell me this."
"Sure I can sell you this," said the dealer, looking at him somewhat queerly. "That is, if you want it. I thought you were looking for a wheat farm."
The man's total lack of appreciation irritated Grant unreasonably. "Wheat makes good hog fodder," he retorted, "but sunsets keep alive the soul. What is the price?"
Again the dealer gave him a queer sidelong look, and made as though to argue with him, then suddenly seemed to change his purpose. Perhaps he reflected that strange things happened to the boys overseas.
"I'll get you the price in town," he said. "You are sure it will suit?"
"Suit? No king in Christendom has his palace on a site like this. I'd go round the world for it."
"You're the doctor," said the dealer, turning his car.
Grant completed the purchase, ordered lumber for a house and barn, and engaged a carpenter to superintend the construction. It was one of his whims that he would do most of the work himself.
"I guess I'm rather a man of whims," he reflected, as he stood on the brow of the hill where the material for his buildings had been delivered. "It was a whim which first brought me west, and a whim which has brought me west again. I have a whim about my money, a whim about my farm, a whim about my buildings. I do not do as other people do, which is the unpardonable sin. To Linder I am a jester, to Murdoch a fanatic, to our friend the real estate dealer a fool; I even noticed my honest carpenter trying to ask me something about shell shock! Well—they're MY whims, and I get an immense amount of satisfaction out of them."
The days that followed were the happiest Grant had known since childhood. The carpenter, a thin, twisted man, bowed with much labor at the bench, and answering to the name Peter, sold his services by the day and manifested a sympathy amounting to an indulgence toward the whims of his employer. So long as the wages were sure Peter cared not whether the house was finished this year or next—or not at all. He enjoyed Grant's cooking in the temporary work-shed they had built; he enjoyed Grant's stories of funny incidents of the war which would crop out at unexpected moments, and which were always good for a new pipe and a few minutes' rest; he even essayed certain flights of his own, which showed that Peter was a creature not entirely without humor. He developed an appreciation of scenery; he would stand for long intervals gazing across the valley. Grant was not deceived by these little devices, but he never took Peter to task for his loitering. He was prepared almost to suspend his rule that money must not be paid except for service rendered. "If the old dodger isn't quite paying his way now, no doubt he has more than paid it many times in the past," he mused. "This is an occasion upon which to temper justice with mercy."
But it was in the planning and building of the house he found his real delight. He laid it out on very modest lines, as became the amount of money he was prepared to spend. It was to be a single-story bungalow, with veranda round the south and west. The living-room ran across the south side; into its east wall he built a capacious fireplace, with narrow slits of windows to right and left, and in the western wall were deep French windows commanding the magic of the view across the valley. The dining-room, too, faced to the west, with more French windows to let in sun and soul. The kitchen was to the east, and off the kitchen lay Grant's bedroom, facing also to the east, as becomes a man who rises early for his day's labors. And then facing the west, and opening off the dining-room, was what he was pleased to call his whim-room.
The idea of the whim-room came upon him as he was working out plans on the smooth side of a board, and thinking about things in general, and a good deal about Phyllis Bruce, and wondering if he should ever run across Zen Transley. It struck him all of a sudden, as had the Big Idea that night when he was on his way home from Murdoch's house. He worked it out surreptitiously, not allowing even old Peter to see it until he had made it into his plan, and then he described it just as the whim-room. But it was to be by all means the best room in the house; special finishing and flooring lumber were to be bought for it; the fireplace had to be done in a peculiarly delicate tile; the French windows must be high and wide and of the most brilliant transparency....
The ring of the saw, the trill of the plane, the thwack of the hammer, were very pleasant music in his ears. Day by day he watched his dwelling grow with the infinite joy of creating, and night after night he crept with Peter into the work-shed and slept the sleep of a man tired and contented. In the long summer evenings the sunlight hung like a champagne curtain over the mountains even after bedtime, and Grant had to cut a hole in the wall of the shed that he might watch the dying colors of the day fade from crimson to purple to blue on the tassels of cloud-wraith floating in the western sky. At times Linder and Murdoch would visit him to report progress on the Big Idea, and the three would sit on a bench in the half-built house, sweet with the fragrance of new sawdust, and smoke placidly while they determined matters of policy or administration. It had been something of a disappointment to Grant that Murdoch had not considered Phyllis Bruce one of "the family." He had left her, regretfully, in the East, but had made provision that she was still to have her room in the old Murdoch home.
"Phyllis would have come west, and gladly, if I could have promised her a position," Murdoch explained, "but I could not do that, as I knew nothing of your plans, and a girl can't afford to trifle with her job these days, Mr. Grant."
And Grant said nothing, but he thought of his whim-room, and smiled.
Grant was almost sorry when the house was finished. "There's so much more enjoyment in doing things than in merely possessing them after they're done," he philosophized to Linder. "I think that must be the secret of the peculiar fascination of the West. The East, with all its culture and conveniences and beauty, can never win a heart which has once known the West. That is because in the East all the obvious things are done, but in the West they are still to do."
"You should worry," said Linder. "You still have the plowing."
"Yes, and as soon as the stable is finished I am going to buy four horses and get to work."
"I supposed you would use a tractor."
"Not this time. I can admire a piece of machinery, but I can't love it. I can love horses."
"You'll be housing them in the whim-room," Linder remarked dryly, and had to jump to escape the hammer which his chief shied at him.
But the plowing was really a great experience. Grant had an eye for horse-flesh, and the four dapple-greys which pressed their fine shoulders into the harness of his breaking plow might have delighted the heart of any teamster. As he sat on his steel seat and watched the colter cut the firm sod with brittle cracking sound as it snapped the tough roots of the wild roses, or looking back saw the regular terraces of shiny black mould which marked his progress, he felt that he was engaged in a rite of almost sacramental significance.
"To take a substance straight from the hand of the Creator and be the first in all the world to impose a human will upon it is surely an occasion for solemnity and thanksgiving," he soliloquized. "How can anyone be so gross as to see only materialism in such work as this? Surely it has something of fundamental religion in it! Just as from the soil springs all physical life, may it not be that deep down in the soil are, some way, the roots of the spiritual? The soil feeds the city in two ways; it fills its belly with material food, and it is continually re-vitalizing its spirit with fresh streams of energy which can come only from the land. Up from the soil comes all life, all progress, all development—"
At that moment Grant's plowshare struck a submerged boulder, and he was dumped precipitately into that element which he had been so generously apostrophizing. The well-trained horses came to a stop as he gathered himself up, none the worse, and regained his seat.
"That WAS a spill," he commented. "Ditched not only myself, but my whole train of thought. Never mind; perhaps I was dangerously close to the development of a new whim, and I am well supplied in that particular already. Hello, whom have we here?"
The horses had come to a stop a short distance before the end of the furrow, and Grant, glancing ahead, saw immediately in front of them a little chap of four or five obstructing the way. He stood astride of the furrow with widespread legs bridging the distance from the virgin prairie to the upturned sod. He was hatless, and curls of silky yellow hair fell about his round, bright face. His hands were stuck obtrusively in his trouser pockets.
"Well, son, what's the news?" said Grant, when the two had measured each other for a moment.
"I got braces," the boy replied proudly. "Don't you see?"
"Why, so you have!" Grant exclaimed. "Come around here until I see them better."
So encouraged, the little chap came skipping around the horses, and exhibited his braces for Grant's admiration. But he had already become interested in another subject.
"Are these your horses?" he demanded.
"Will they bite?"
"Why, no, I don't believe they would. They have been very well brought up."
"What do you call them?"
"This one is Prince, on the left, and the others are Queen, and King, and Knave. I call him Knave because he's always scheming, trying to get out of his share of the work, and I make him walk on the plowed land, too."
"That serves him right," the boy declared. "What's your name?"
"What does your mother call you?"
"Just Wilson. Sometimes daddy calls me Bill."
"What's your name?"
"Call me The Man on the Hill."
"Do you live on the hill?"
"Is that your house?"
"Did you make it?"
"No. Peter helped me."
"He is the man who helped me."
These credentials exchanged, the boy fell silent, while Grant looked down upon him with a whimsical admixture of humor and tenderness. Suddenly, without a word, the boy dashed as fast as his legs could carry him to the end of the field, and plunged into a clump of bushes. In a moment he emerged with something brown and chubby in his arms.
"He's my teddy," he said to Grant. "He was watching in the bushes to see if you were a nice man."
"And am I?" Grant was tempted to ask.
"Yes." There was no evasion about Wilson. He approved of his new acquaintance, and said so.
"Let us give teddy a ride on Prince?"
Grant carefully arranged teddy on the horse's hames, and the boy clapped his hands with delight.
"Now let us all go for a ride. You will sit on my knee, and teddy will drive Prince."
He took the boy carefully on his knee, driving with one hand and holding him in place with the other. The little body resting confidently against his side was a new experience for Grant.
"We must drive carefully," he remarked. "Here and there are big stones hidden in the grass. If we were to hit one it might dump us off."
The little chap chuckled. "Nothing could dump you off," he said.
Grant reflected that such implicit and unwarranted confidence implied a great responsibility, and he drove with corresponding care. A mishap now might nip this very delightful little bud of hero-worship.
They turned the end of the furrow with a fine jingle of loose trace-chains, and Prince trotted a little on account of being on the outer edge of the semicircle. The boy clapped his hands again as teddy bounced up and down on the great shoulders.
"Have you a little boy?" he asked, when they were started again.
"Why, no," Grant confessed, laughing at the question.
There was no evading this childish inquisitor. He had a way of pursuing a subject to bedrock.
"Well, you see, I've no wife."
"No—no wife. You see—"
"But I have a mother—"
"Of course, and she is your daddy's wife. You see they have to have that—"
Grant found himself getting into deep water, but the sharp little intellect had cut a corner and was now ahead of him.
"Then I'll be your little boy," he said, and, clambering up to Grant's shoulder pressed a kiss on his cheek. In a sudden burst of emotion Grant brought his team to a stop and clasped the little fellow in both his arms. For a moment everything seemed misty.
"And I have lived to be thirty-two years old and have never known what this meant," he said to himself.
"Daddy's hardly ever home, anyway," the boy added, naively.
"Where is your home?"
"Down beside the river. We live there in summer."
And so the conversation continued and the acquaintanceship grew as man and boy plied back and forth on their mile-long furrow. At length it occurred to Grant that he should send Wilson home; the boy's long absence might be occasioning some uneasiness. They stopped at the end of the field and carefully removed teddy from his place of prestige, but just at that moment a horsefly buzzing about caused Prince to stamp impatiently, and the big hoof came down on the boy's foot. Wilson sent up a cry proportionate to the possibilities of the occasion, and Grant in alarm tore off the boot and stocking. Fortunately the soil had been soft, and the only damage done was a slight bruise across the upper part of the foot.
"There, there," said Grant, soothingly, caressing the injury with his fingers. "It will be all right in a minute. Prince didn't mean to do it, and besides, I've seen much worse than that at the war."
At the mention of war the boy suspended a cry half uttered.
"Were you at the war?" he demanded.
"Did you kill a German?"
"I've seen a German killed," said Grant, evading a question which no soldier cares to discuss.
"Did you kill 'em in the tummy?" the boy persisted.
"We'll talk about that to-morrow. Now you hop up on to my shoulders, and I'll tie the horses and then carry you home."
He followed the boy's directions until they led him to a path running among pleasant trees down by the river. Presently he caught a glimpse of a cottage in a little open space, its brown shingled walls almost smothered in a riot of sweet peas.
"That's our house. Don't you like it?" said the boy, who had already forgotten his injury.
"I think it is splendid." And Grant, taking his young charge from his shoulder, stepped up on to the porch and knocked at the screen door.
In a moment it was opened by Zen Transley.
Sitting on his veranda that evening while the sun dropped low over the mountains and the sound of horses munching contentedly came up from the stables, Grant for the twentieth time turned over in his mind the events of a day that was to stand out as an epochal one in his career. The meeting with the little boy and the quick friendship and confidence which had been formed between them; the mishap, and the trip to the house by the river—these were logical and easily followed. But why, of all the houses in the world, should it have been Zen Transley's house? Why, of all the little boys in the world, should this have been the son of his rival and the only girl he had ever—the girl he had loved most in all his life? Surely events are ordered to some purpose; surely everything is not mere haphazard chance! The fatalism of the trenches forbade any other conclusion; and if this was so, why had he been thrown into the orbit of Zen Transley? He had not sought her; he had not dreamt of her once in all that morning while her child was winding innocent tendrils of affection about his heart. And yet—how the boy had gripped him! Could it be that in some way he was a small incarnation of the Zen of the Y.D., with all her clamorous passion expressed now in childish love and hero-worship? Had some intelligence above his own guided him into this environment, deliberately inviting him to defy conventions and blaze a path of broader freedom for himself, and for her? These were questions he wrestled with as the shadows crept down the mountain slopes and along the valley at his feet.
For neither Zen nor himself had connived at the situation which had made them, of all the people in the world, near neighbors in this silent valley. Her surprise on meeting him at the door had been as genuine as his. When she had made sure that the boy was not seriously hurt she had turned to him, and instinctively he had known that there are some things which all the weight of passing years can never crush entirely dead. He loved to rehearse her words, her gestures, the quick play of sympathetic emotions as one by one he reviewed them.
"You! I am surprised—I had not known—" She had become confused in her greeting, and a color that she would have given worlds to suppress crept slowly through her cheeks.
"I am surprised, too—and delighted," he had returned. "The little boy came to me in the field, boasting of his braces." Then they had both laughed, and she had asked him to come in and tell about himself.
The living-room, as he recalled it, was marked by the simplicity appropriate to the summer home, with just a dash of elegance in the furnishings to suggest that simplicity was a matter of choice and not of necessity. After soothing Wilson's sobs, which had broken out afresh in his mother's arms, she had turned him over to a maid and drawn a chair convenient to Grant's.
"You see, I am a farmer now," he had said, apologetically regarding his overalls.
"What changes have come! But I don't understand; I thought you were rich—very rich—and that you were promoting some kind of settlement scheme. Frank has spoken of it."
"All of which is true. You see, I am a man of whims. I choose to live joyously. I refuse to fit into a ready-made niche in society. I do what other people don't do—mainly for that reason. I have some peculiar notions—"
"I know. You told me." And it was then that their eyes had met and they had fallen into a momentary silence.
"But why are you farming?" she had exclaimed, brightly.
"For several reasons. First, the world needs food. Food is the greatest safeguard—I would almost say the only safeguard—against anarchy and chaos. Then, I want to learn by experience; to prove by my own demonstrations that my theories are workable—or that they're not. And then, most of all, I love the prairies and the open life. It's my whim, and I follow it."
"You are very wonderful," she had murmured. And then, with startling directness, "Are you happy?"
"As happy as I have any right to be. Happier than I have been since childhood."
She had risen and walked to the mantelpiece; then, with an apparent change of impulse, she had turned and faced him. He had noted that her figure was rounder than in girlhood, her complexion paler, but the sunlight still danced in her hair, and her reckless force had given way to a poise that suggested infinite resources of character.
"Frank has done well, too," she had said.
"So I have heard. I am told that he has done very well indeed."
"He has made money, and he is busy and excited over his pursuit of success—what he calls success. He has given it his life. He thinks of nothing else—"
She had stopped suddenly, as though her tongue had trapped her into saying more than she had intended.
"What do you think of my summer home?" she had exclaimed, abruptly. "Come out and admire the sweet peas," and with a gay little flourish she had led him into the garden. "They tell me Western flowers have a brilliance and a fragrance which the East, with all its advantages, cannot duplicate. Is that true?"
"I believe it is. The East has greater profusion—more varieties—but the individual qualities do not seem to be so well developed."
"I see you know something of Eastern flowers," she had said, and he fancied he had caught a note of banter—or was it inquiry?—in her voice. Then, with another abrupt change of subject, she had made him describe his house on the hill. But he had said nothing of the whim-room.
"I must go," he had exclaimed at length. "I left the horses tied in the field."
"So you must. I shall let Wilson visit you frequently, if he is not a trouble."
Then she had chosen a couple of blooms and pinned them on his coat, laughingly overriding his protest that they consorted poorly with his costume. And she had shaken hands and said good-bye in the manner of good friends parting.
The more Grant thought of it the more was he convinced that in her case, as in his own, the years had failed to extinguish the spark kindled in the foothills that night so long ago. He reminded himself continually that she was Transley's wife, and even while granting the irrevocability of that fact he was demanding to know why Fate had created for them both an atmosphere charged with unspoken possibilities. He had turned her words over again and again, reflecting upon the abrupt angles her speech had taken. In their few minutes' conversation three times she had had to make a sudden tack to safer subjects. What had she meant by that reference to Eastern and Western flowers? His answer reminded him how well he knew. And the confession about her husband, the worshipper of success—"what he calls success"—how much tragedy lay under those light words?
The valley was filled with shadow, and the level rays of the setting sun fell on the young man's face and splashed the hill-tops with gold and saffron as within his heart raged the age-old battle.... But as yet he felt none of its wounds. He was conscious only of a wholly irrational delight.
As the next forenoon passed Grant found himself glancing with increasing frequency toward the end of the field where the little boy might be expected to appear. But the day wore on without sign of his young friend, and the furrows which he had turned so joyously at nine were dragging leadenly at eleven. He had not thought it possible that a child could so quickly have won a way to his affections. He fell to wondering as to the cause of the boy's absence. Had Zen, after a night's reflection, decided that it was wiser not to allow the acquaintance to develop? Had Transley, returning home, placed his veto upon it? Or—and his heart paused at this prospect—had the foot been more seriously hurt than they had supposed? Grant told himself that he must go over that night and make inquiry. That would be the neighborly thing to do....
But early that afternoon his heart was delighted by the sight of a little figure skipping joyously over the furrows toward him. He had his hat crumpled in one hand, and his teddy-bear in the other, and his face was alive with excitement. He was puffing profusely when he pulled up beside the plow, and Grant stopped the team while he got his breath.
"My! My! What is the hurry? I see the foot is all better."
"We got a pig!" the lad gasped, when he could speak.
"Yessir! A live one, too! He's awful big. A man brought him in a wagon. That is why I couldn't come this morning."
Grant treated himself to a humble reflection upon the wisdom of childish preferments.
"What are you going to do with him?"
"Eat him up, I guess. Daddy said there was enough wasted about our house to keep a pig, so we got one. Aren't you going to take me up?"
"Of course. But first we must put teddy in his place."
"I'm to go home at five o'clock," the boy said, when he had got properly settled.
The hours slipped by all too quickly, and if the lad's presence did not contribute to good plowing, it at least made a cheerful plowman. It was plain that Zen had sufficient confidence in her farmer neighbor to trust her boy in his care, and his frequent references to his mother had an interest for Grant which he could not have analyzed or explained. During the afternoon the merits of the pig were sung and re-sung, and at last Wilson, after kissing his friend on the cheek and whispering, "I like you, Uncle Man-on-the-Hill," took his teddy-bear under his arm and plodded homeward.
The next morning he came again, but mournfully and slow. There were tear stains on the little round cheeks.
"Why, son, what had happened?" said Grant, his abundant sympathies instantly responding.
"Teddy's spoiled," the child sobbed. "I set him—on the side of—the pig pen, and he fell'd in, and the big pig et him—ate him—up. He didn't 'zactly eat him up, either—just kind of chewed him, like."
"Well that certainly is too bad. But then, you're going to eat the pig some day, so that will square it, won't it?"
"I guess it will," said the boy, brightening. "I never thought of that."
"But we must have a teddy for Prince. See, he is looking around, waiting for it." Grant folded his coat into the shape of a dummy and set it up on the hames, and all went merrily again.
That afternoon, which was Saturday, the boy came thoughtfully and with an air of much importance. Delving into a pocket he produced an envelope, somewhat crumpled in transit. It was addressed, "The Man on the Hill."
Grant tore it open eagerly and read this note:
"DEAR MAN-ON-THE-HILL,—That is the name Wilson calls you, so perhaps you will let me use it, too. Frank is to be home to-morrow, and will you come and have dinner with us at six? My father and mother will be here, and possibly one or two others. You had a clash with my men-folk once, but you will find them ready enough to make allowance for, even if they fail to understand, your point of view. Do come.—ZEN.
"P.S.—It just occurs to me that your associates in your colonization scheme may want to claim your time on Sunday. If any of them come out, bring them along. Our table is an extension one, and its capacity has never yet been exhausted."
Although Grant's decision was made at once he took some time for reflection before writing an acceptance. He was to enter Zen's house on her invitation, but under the auspices, so to speak, of husband and parents. That was eminently proper. Zen was a sensible girl. Then there was a reference to that ancient squabble in the hay meadow. It was evidently her plan to see the hatchet buried and friendly relations established all around. Eminently proper and sensible.
He turned the sheet over and wrote on the back:
"DEAR ZEN,—Delighted to come. May have a couple of friends with me, one of whom you have seen before. Prepare for an appetite long denied the joys of home cooking.—D. G."
It was not until after the child had gone home that Grant remembered he had addressed Transley's wife by her Christian name. That was the way he always thought of her, and it slipped on to paper quite naturally. Well, it couldn't be helped now.
Grant unhitched early and hurried to his house and the telephone. In a few minutes he had Linder on the line.
"Hello, Linder? I want you to go to a store for me and buy a teddy-bear."
The chuckle at the other end of the line irritated Grant. Linder had a strange sense of humor.
"I mean it. A big teddy, with electric eyes, and a deep bass growl, if they make 'em that way. The best you can get. Fetch it out to-morrow afternoon, and come decently dressed, for once. Bring Murdoch along if you can pry him loose."
Grant hung up the receiver. "Stupid chap, Linder, some ways," he muttered. "Why shouldn't I buy a teddy-bear if I want to?"
Sunday afternoon saw the arrival of Linder and Murdoch, with the largest teddy the town afforded. "What is the big idea now?" Linder demanded, as he delivered it into Grant's hands.
"It is for a little boy I know who has been bereaved of his first teddy by the activities of the family pig. You will renew some pleasant acquaintanceships, Linder. You remember Transley and his wife—Zen, of the Y.D?"
"You don't say! Thanks for that tip about dressing up. I may explain," Linder continued, turning to Murdoch, "there was a time when I might have been an also-ran in the race for Y.D.'s daughter, only Transley beat me on the getaway."
"You!" Grant exclaimed, incredulously.
"You, too!" Linder returned, a great light dawning.
"Well, Mr. Grant," said Murdoch, "I brought you a good cigar, bought at the company's expense. It comes out of the organization fund. You must be sick of those cheap cigars."
"Since the war it is nothing but Player's," Grant returned, taking the proffered cigar. "They tell me it has revolutionized the tobacco business. However, this does smell a bit all right. How goes our venture, Murdoch? Have I any prospect of being impoverished in a worthy cause?"
"None whatever. Your foreman here is spending every dollar in a way to make you two in spite of your daft notion—begging your pardon, sir—about not taking profits. The subscribers are coming along for stock, but fingering it gently, as though they can't well believe there's no catch in it. They say it doesn't look reasonable, and I tell them no more it is."
"And then they buy it?"
"Aye, they do. That's human nature. There's as many members booked now as can be accommodated in the first colony. I suppose they reason that they will be sure of their winter's housing, anyway."
"You don't seem to have much faith in human nature, Murdoch."
"Nor have I. Not in that kind of human nature which is always wanting something for nothing."
Linder's report was more cheerful. The houses and barns were built and were now being painted, the plowing was done, and the fences were being run. By the use of a triangular system of survey twelve farm homes had been centralized in one little community where a community building would be erected which would be used as a school in daytime, a motion-picture house at night, and a church on Sunday. A community secretary would have his office here, and would have charge of a select little library of fiction, poetry, biography, and works of reference. The leading periodicals dealing with farm problems, sociology, and economics, as well as lighter subjects, would be on file. In connection with this building would be an assembly-room suitable for dances, social events, and theatricals, and equipped with a player piano and concert-size talking machine. Arrangements were being made for a weekly exchange of records, for a weekly musical evening by artists from the city, for a semi-monthly vaudeville show, and for Sunday meetings addressed by the best speakers on the more serious topics of the time.
"What has surprised me in making these arrangements," Linder confessed, "is the comparatively small outlay they involve. The building will cost no more than many communities spend on school and church which they use thirty hours a week and three hours a week respectively. This one can be used one hundred and sixty-eight hours a week, if needed. Lecturers on many subjects can be had for paying their expenses; in some cases they are employed by the Government, and will come without cost. Amateur theatrical companies from the city will be glad to come in return for an appreciative audience and a dance afterward, with a good fill-up on solid farm cooking. Even some of the professionals can be had on these terms. Of course, before long we will produce our own theatricals.
"Then there is to be a plunge bath big enough to swim in, open to men and women alternate nights, and to children every day. There will be a pool-room, card-room, and refreshment buffet; also a quiet little room for women's social events, and an emergency hospital ward. I think we should hire a trained nurse who would not be too dignified to cook and serve meals when there's no business doing in the hospital. You know how everyone gets hankering now and then for a meal from home,—not that it's any better, but it's different. I suppose there are farmer's wives who don't get a meal away from home once a year. I'm going to change all that, if I have to turn cook myself!"
"Bully for you, Linder!" said Grant, clapping him on the shoulder. "I believe you actually are enthusiastic for once."
"I understand my orders are to make the country give the city a run for its money, and I'm going to do it, or break you. If all I've mentioned won't do it I've another great scheme in storage."
"Good! What is it?"
"I am inventing a machine that will make a noise like a trolley-car and a smell like a sewer. That will add the last touch in city refinements."
When the laugh over Linder's invention had subsided Murdoch broached another.
"The office work is becoming pretty heavy, Mr. Grant, and I'm none too confident in the help I have. Now if I could send for Miss Bruce—"
"What do you think you should pay her?"
"I should say she is worth a hundred dollars a month."
"Then she must be worth two hundred. Wire her to come and start her at that figure."
Promptly at six Linder drew his automobile up in front of the Transley summer home with Grant and Murdoch on board. Wilson had been watching, and rushed down upon them, but before he could clamber up on Grant a great teddy-bear was thrust into his arms and sent him, wild with delight, to his mother.
"Look, mother! Look what The-Man-on-the-Hill brought! See! He has fire in his eyes!"
Transley and Y.D. met the guests at the gate. "How do, Grant? Glad to see you, old man," said Transley, shaking his hand cordially. "The wife has had so many good words for you I am almost jealous. What ho, Linder! By all that's wonderful! You old prairie dog, why did you never look me up? I was beginning to think the Boche had got you."
Grant introduced Murdoch, and Y.D. received them as cordially as had Transley. "Glad to see you fellows back," he exclaimed. "I al'us said the Western men 'ud put a crimp in the Kaiser, spite o' hell an' high water!"
"One thing the war has taught us," said Grant, modestly, "is that men are pretty much alike, whether they come from west or east or north or south. No race has a monopoly of heroism."
"Well, come on in," Transley beckoned, leading the way. "Dinner will be ready sharp on time twenty minutes late. Not being a married man, Grant, you will not understand that reckoning. You'll have to excuse Mrs. Transley a few minutes; she's holding down the accelerator in the kitchen. Come in; I want you to meet Squiggs."
Squiggs proved to be a round man with huge round tortoise-shell glasses and round red face to match. He shook hands with a manner that suggested that in doing so he was making rather a good fellow of himself.
"We must have a little lubrication, for Y.D.'s sake," said Transley, producing a bottle and glasses. "I suppose it was the dust on the plains that gave these old cow punchers a thirst which never can be slaked. These be evil days for the old-timers. Grant?"
"Not any, thanks."
"No? Well, there's no accounting for tastes. Squiggs?"
"I'm a lawyer," said Squiggs, "and as booze is now ultra vires I do my best to keep it down," and Mr. Squiggs beamed genially upon his pleasantry and the full glass in his hand.
"I take a snort when I want it and I don't care who knows it," said Y.D. "I al'us did, and I reckon I'll keep on to the finish. It didn't snuff me out in my youth and innocence, anyway. Just the same, I'm admittin' it's bad medicine in onskilful hands. Here's ho!"
The glasses had just been drained when Mrs. Transley entered the room, flushed but radiant from a strenuous half hour in the kitchen.
"Well, here you are!" she exclaimed. "So glad you could come, Mr. Grant. Why, Mr. Linder! Of all people—This IS a pleasure. And Mr.—?"
"Mr. Murdoch," Transley supplied.
"My chief of staff; the man who persists in keeping me rich," Grant elaborated.
"I mustn't keep you waiting longer. Dinner is ready. Dad, you are to carve."
"Hanged if I will! I'm a guest here, and I stand on my rights," Y.D. exploded.
"Then you must do it, Frank."
"I suppose so," said Transley, "although all I get out of a meal when I have to carve is splashing and profanity. You know, Squiggs, I've figured it out that this practice of requiring the nominal head of the house to carve has come down from the days when there wasn't usually enough to go 'round, and the carver had to make some fine decisions and, perhaps, maintain them by force. It has no place under modern civilization."
"Except that someone must do it, and it's about the only household responsibility man has not been able to evade," said Mrs. Transley.
As they entered the dining-room Zen's mother, whiter and it seemed even more distinguished by the years, joined them, accompanied by Mrs. Squiggs, a thin woman much concerned about social status, and the party was complete.
Transley managed the carving more skilfully than his protest might have suggested, and there was a lull in the conversation while the first demands of appetite were being satisfied.
"Tell us about your settlement scheme, Mr. Grant," Mrs. Transley urged when it seemed necessary to find a topic. "Mr. Grant has quite a wonderful plan."
"Yes, wise us up, old man," said Transley. "I've heard something of it, but never could see through it."
"It's all very simple," Grant explained. "I am providing the capital to start a few families on farms. Instead of lending the money directly to them I am financing a company in which each farmer must subscribe for stock to the value of the land he is to occupy. His stock he will pay for with a part of the proceeds of each year's crop, until it is paid in full, when he becomes a paid-up shareholder, subject to no further call except a levy which may be made for running expenses."
"And then your advances are returned to you with interest," Squiggs suggested. "A very creditable plan of benefaction; very creditable, indeed."
"No, that is not the idea. In the first place, I am accepting no interest on my advances, and in the second place the money, when repaid by the shareholders, will not be returned to me, but will be used to establish another colony on the same basis, and so on—the movement will be extended from group to group."
Mr. Squiggs readjusted his large round tortoise-shell glasses.
"Do I understand that you are charging no interest?"
"Not a cent."
"Then where do YOU come in?"
"I had hoped to make it clear that I am not seeking to 'come in.' You see, the money I am doing this with is not really mine at all."
"Not yours?" cried a chorus of voices.
"No. Mr. Squiggs, you are a lawyer, and therefore a man of perspicuity and accurate definitions. What is money?"
"You flatter me. I should say that money is a medium for the exchange of value."
"Very well. Therefore, if a man accepts money without giving value for it in exchange he is violating the fundamental principle underlying the use of money. He is, in short, an economic outlaw."
"I am afraid I don't follow you."
"Let me illustrate by my own experience, and that of my family. My father was possessed of a piece of land which at one time had little or no value. Eventually it became of great value, not through anything he had done, but as a result of the natural law that births exceed deaths. Yet he, although he had done nothing to create this value, was able, through a faulty economic system, to pocket the proceeds. Then, as a result of the advantages which his wealth gave him, he was able to extract from society throughout all the remainder of his life value out of all proportion to any return he made for it. Finally it came down to me. Holding my peculiar belief, which my right and left bower consider sinful and silly respectively, I found money forced upon me, regardless of the fact that I had given absolutely no value in exchange. Now if money is a medium for the exchange of value and I receive money without giving value for it, it is plain that someone else must have parted with money without receiving value in return. The thing is basically immoral."
"Your father couldn't take it with him."
"But why should I have it? I never contributed a finger-weight of service for it. From society the money came and to society it should return."
"You should worry," said Transley. "Society isn't worrying over you. Some more of the roast beef?"
"No, thank you. But to come down to date. It seems that I cannot get away from this wealth which dogs me at every turn. Before enlisting I had been margining certain steel stocks, purely in the ordinary course of affairs. With the demands made by the war on the steel industry my stocks went up in price and my good friend Murdoch was able to report that it had made a fortune for me while I was overseas.... And we call ourselves an intelligent people!"
"And so we are," said Mr. Squiggs. "We stick to a system we know to be sound. It has weathered all the gales of the past, and promises to weather those of the future. I tell you, Grant, communism won't work. You can't get away from the principle of individual reward for individual effort."
"My dear fellow, that's exactly what I'm pleading for. I have no patience with any claim that all men are equal, or capable of rendering equal service to society, and I want payment to be made according to service rendered, not according to the freaks of a haphazard system such as I have been trying to describe."
"But how are you going to bring that golden age about?" Murdoch inquired.
"By education. The first thing is to accept the principle that wealth cannot be accepted except in exchange for full-measure service. You, Mrs. Transley—you teach your little boy that he must not steal. As he grows older simply widen your definition of theft to include receiving value without giving value in exchange. When all the mothers begin teaching that principle the golden age which Mr. Murdoch inquires about will be in sight."
"How would you drive it home?" said Y.D. "We have too many laws already."
"Let us agree on that. The acceptance of this principle will make half the laws now cluttering our statute books unnecessary. I merely urge that we should treat the CAUSE of our economic malady rather than the symptoms."