THE ENGINEER AND THE SQUIRE
Marius amid the ruins of Carthage is not an inspiring figure to us while we are young; it is Marius riding up the Via Sacra at the head of his resounding legions that then dazzles us. But as we grow older we see how much greater he was when, seated amid the ruins, he sent his scornful message to Rome. So, Gordon Keith, when a boy, thought being a gentleman a very easy and commonplace thing. He had known gentlemen all his life—had been bred among them. It was only later on, after he got out into the world, that he saw how fine and noble that old man was, sitting unmoved amid the wreck not only of his life and fortunes, but of his world.
General Keith was unable to raise even the small sum necessary to send the boy to college, but among the debris of the old home still remained the relics of a once choice library, and General Keith became himself his son’s instructor. It was a very irregular system of study, but the boy, without knowing it, was browsing in those pastures that remain ever fresh and green. There was nothing that related to science in any form.
“I know no more of science, sir, than an Indian,” the General used to say. “The only sciences I ever thought I knew were politics and war, and I have failed in both.”
He knew very little of the world—at least, of the modern world. Once, at table, Gordon was wishing that they had money.
“My son,” said his father, quietly, “there are some things that gentlemen never discuss at table. Money is one of them.” Such were his old-fashioned views.
It was fortunate for his son, then, that there came to the neighborhood about this time a small engineering party, sent down by Mr. Wickersham to make a preliminary survey for a railroad line up into the Ridge country above General Keith’s home. The young engineer, Mr. Grinnell Rhodes, brought a letter to General Keith from Mr. Wickersham. He had sent his son down with the young man, and he asked that the General would look after him a little and would render Mr. Rhodes any assistance in his power. The tall young engineer, with his clear eyes, pleasant voice, and quick ways, immediately ingratiated himself with both General Keith and Gordon. The sight of the instruments and, much more, the appearance of the young “chief,” his knowledge of the world, and his dazzling authority as, clad in corduroy and buttoned in high yellow gaiters, he day after day strode forth with his little party and ran his lines, sending with a wave of his hand his rodmen to right or left across deep ravines and over eminences, awakened new ambitions in Gordon Keith’s soul. The talk of building great bridges, of spanning mighty chasms, and of tunnelling mountains inspired the boy. What was Newton making his calculations from which to deduce his fundamental laws, or Galileo watching the stars from his Florentine tower? This young captain was Archimedes and Euclid, Newton and Galileo, all in one. He made them live.