These were not particularly pleasant thoughts. There was nothing mawkish about Jack MacRae. He had never been taught to shrink from the inescapable facts of existence. Even if he had, the war would have cured him of that weakness. As it was, twelve months in the infantry, nearly three years in the air, had taught him that death is a commonplace after a man sees about so much of it, that it is many times a welcome relief from suffering either of the body or the spirit. He chose to believe that it had proved so to his father. So his feelings were not that strange mixture of grief and protest which seizes upon those to whom death is the ultimate tragedy, the irrevocable disaster, when it falls upon some one near and dear.
No, Jack MacRae, brooding by his fire, was lonely and saddened and heavy-hearted. But beneath these neutral phases there was slowly gathering a flood of feeling unrelated to his father’s death, more directly based indeed upon Donald MacRae’s life, upon matters but now revealed to him, which had their root in that misty period when his father was a young man like himself.
On the table beside him lay an inch-thick pile of note paper all closely written upon in the clear, small pen-script of his father.
My son: [MacRae had written] I have a feeling lately that I may never see you again. Not that I fear you will be killed. I no longer have that fear. I seem to have an unaccountable assurance that having come through so much you will go on safely to the end. But I’m not so sure about myself. I’m aging too fast. I’ve been told my heart is bad. And I’ve lost heart lately. Things have gone against me. There is nothing new in that. For thirty years I’ve been losing out to a greater or less extent in most of the things I undertook—that is, the important things.
Perhaps I didn’t
bring the energy and feverish ambition I might
have to my undertakings. Until you began to grow up I accepted
things more or less passively as I found them.
Until you have a son of your own, until you observe closely other men and their sons, my boy, you will scarcely realize how close we two have been to each other. We’ve been what they call good chums. I’ve taken a secret pride in seeing you grow and develop into a man. And while I tried to give you an education—broken into, alas, by this unending war—such as would enable you to hold your own in a world which deals harshly with the ignorant, the incompetent, the untrained, it was also my hope to pass on to you something of material value.
This land which runs across Squitty Island from the Cove to Cradle Bay and extending a mile back—in all a trifle over six hundred acres—was to be your inheritance. You were born here. I know that no other place means quite so much to you as this old log house with the meadow behind it, and the woods, and the sea grumbling always at our doorstep. Long ago