MacRae laid down the last page and went outside to sit on the steps. Shadows were gathering on the Cove. Far out, the last gleam of the sun was touching the Gulf. A slow swell was rising before some far, unheralded wind. The Blanco came gliding in and dropped anchor. Trollers began to follow. They clustered about the big carrier like chickens under the mother wing. By these signs MacRae knew that the fish had stopped biting, that it was lumpy by Poor Man’s Rock. He knew there was work aboard. But he sat there, absent-eyed, thinking.
He was full of understanding pity for his father, and also for Horace Gower. He was conscious of being a little sorry for himself. But then he had only been troubled a short two years by this curious aftermath of old passions, whereas they had suffered all their lives. He had got a new angle from which to approach his father’s story. He knew now that he had reacted to something that was not there. He had been filled with a thirst for vengeance, for reprisal, and he had declared war on Gower, when that was not his father’s intent. Old Donald MacRae had hated Gower profoundly in the beginning. He believed that Gower hated him and had put the weight of his power against him, wherever and whenever he could. But life itself had beaten him,—and not Gower. That was what he had been trying to tell his son.
And life itself had beaten Gower in a strangely similar fashion. He too was old, a tired, disappointed man. He had reached for material success with one hand and happiness with the other. One had always eluded him. The other Jack MacRae had helped wrest from him. MacRae could see Gower’s life in detached pictures, life that consisted of making money and spending it, life with a woman who whined and sniffled and complained. These things had been a slow torture. MacRae could no longer regard this man as a squat ogre, merciless, implacable, ready and able to crush whatsoever opposed him. He was only a short, fat, oldish man with tired eyes, who had been bruised by forces he could not understand or cope with until he had achieved a wistful tolerance for both things and men.
Both these old men, MacRae perceived, had made a terrible hash of their lives. Neither of them had succeeded in getting out of life much that a man instinctively feels that he should get. Both had been capable of happiness. Both had struggled for happiness as all men struggle. Neither had ever securely grasped any measure of it, nor even much of content.
MacRae felt a chilly uncertainty as he sat on his doorstep considering this. He had been traveling the same road for many months,—denying his natural promptings, stifling a natural passion, surrendering himself to an obsession of vindictiveness, planning and striving to return evil for what he conceived to be evil, and being himself corrupted by the corrosive forces of hatred.
He had been diligently bestowing pain on Betty, who loved him quite openly and frankly as he desired to be loved; Betty, who was innocent of these old coils of bitterness, who was primitive enough in her emotions, MacRae suspected, to let nothing stand between her and her chosen mate when that mate beckoned.