There was nothing in the Irishman’s appearance to suggest the man of fashion whom Frank had known in Carolina. His clothes were of rough tweed, he wore an unpicturesque derby hat, and he had the unconsciousness of self which comes from intense occupation with great affairs.
Francis listened to the jolly laugh, the quick evasion, the masterful voice, leading, cajoling; he knew the men were wanting something from McDermott, and realized, as they did not, that it was something the Irishman had determined not to give.
It was of Frank’s own home they were speaking, disconnectedly, and in a strange jargon: of Loon Mountain, Way-Home River, road-beds, cost of production, capitalization, bridges.
As he sat wondering at them, their concentration, their unity of thought, their enthusiasm, by one of those throws of fate, which go far toward the making of our lives, Dermott’s voice came to him clear and scornful.
“I have heard much, I might say overmuch, recently, of family and ancestors, and have sometimes wondered what those boasted ancestors might think were they permitted to see the ineffective descendants who bear their names with neither achievement nor distinction. Now take my own case. My family was well and bitterly known in Ireland as far back as the ninth century. And at the end it availed only enough money to get me through college and over to America. But I’ve done some things, and with the conceit of the self-made man I’m fond of mentioning them. Directly or indirectly, five thousand people depend on me for daily bread. It’s helped the world that I’ve lived. It’s not what a man is born to, I ask. Family? To hell with family! The question is: What have you done?”
If the words had been spoken directly to him, they could not have stung Frank more than they did. What had he done? It was Katrine’s question, and he recalled the lovable, vibrant little figure on the lodge steps demanding of him if he had no desire to work, no wish to take part in the great constructive affairs of men.
The group at the next table rose with an approval of Dermott’s final words, and, cigars lighted, were going their several ways, when the Irishman turned and, apparently seeing Frank for the first time, came toward him with a smile, hand outstretched.
“It’s good to see you again, Ravenel!” he cried. “If you’re alone I’ll smoke at your table for a minute or two.” He waved a farewell to the men who awaited him. It was a farewell as well as a dismissal. “You’ve heard the news of Dulany, I suppose?”
“Only a few days ago. I have been fishing in the Canadian woods. I can scarcely say how sorry I am.”
“Ah, well! Ah, well! Ye did all ye could for him,” said McDermott, genially, “and it’s probably for the best. Everything is, you know,” he added. “But I thought you might be interested to hear something of the little girl. She has just sailed for France. I saw her off. Transatlantique—yesterday. She has gone to Paris to study with Josef.”