Somehow, the day came to an end, and he went home with tumult in his soul.
An unerring knowledge of men in general and of his own son in particular indicated to Hector McKaye, upon the instant that the latter appeared at the family dinner-table, that his son’s first day in command had had a sobering effect upon that young man. He had gone forth that morning whistling, his eyes alert with interest and anticipation; and a feeling of profound contentment had come to The Laird as he watched Donald climb into his automobile and go briskly down the cliff highway to Port Agnew. Here was no unwilling exile, shackled by his father’s dollars to a backwoods town and condemned to labor for the term of his natural life. Gladly, eagerly, it seemed to Hector McKaye, his son was assuming his heritage, casting aside, without one longing backward glance, a brighter, busier, and more delightful world.
Although his son’s new arena of action was beautiful and The Laird loved it with a passionate love, he was sufficiently imaginative to realize that, in Port Agnew, Donald might not be as happy as had been his father. Old Hector was sufficiently unselfish to have harbored no resentment had this been so. It had been his one anxiety that Donald might take his place in the business as a matter of duty to himself rather than as a duty to his father, and because he had found his lifework and was approaching it with joy, for The Laird was philosopher enough to know that labor without joy is as dead-sea fruit. Indeed, before the first day of his retirement had passed, he had begun to suspect that joy without labor was apt to be something less than he had anticipated.
The Laird observed in his son’s eyes, as the latter took his place at table, a look that had not been there when Donald left for the mill that morning. His usually pleasant, “Evening, folks!” was perfunctory to-night; he replied briefly to the remarks addressed to him by his mother and sisters; the old man noted not less than thrice a slight pause with the spoon half-way to his mouth, as if his son considered some problem more important than soup. Mrs. McKaye and the girls chattered on, oblivious of these slight evidences of mental perturbation, but as The Laird carved the roast (he delighted in carving and serving his family, and was old-fashioned enough to insist upon his right, to the distress of the girls, who preferred to have the roast carved in the kitchen and served by the Japanese butler), he kept a contemplative eye upon his son, and presently saw Donald heave a slight sigh.
“Here’s a titbit you always liked, son!” he cried cheerfully, and deftly skewered from the leg of lamb the crisp and tender tail. “Confound you, Donald; I used to eat these fat, juicy little lamb’s tails while you were at college, but I suppose, now, I’ll have to surrender that prerogative along with the others.” In an effort to be cheerful and distract his son’s thoughts, he attempted this homely badinage.