“I think I understand,” she said evenly,—when in truth she did not understand at all. “But after a while you’ll be glad. I know I should be if I were in the army, although of course no matter how horrible it all was it had to be done. For a long time I wanted to go to France myself, to do something. I was simply wild to go. But they wouldn’t let me.”
“And I,” MacRae said slowly, “didn’t want to go at all—and I had to go.”
“Oh,” she remarked with a peculiar interrogative inflection. Her eyebrows lifted. “Why did you have to? You went over long before the draft was thought of.”
“Because I’d been taught that my flag and country really meant something,” he said. “That was all; and it was quite enough in the way of compulsion for a good many like myself who didn’t hanker to stick bayonets through men we’d never seen, nor shoot them, nor blow them up with hand grenades, nor kill them ten thousand feet in the air and watch them fall, turning over and over like a winged duck. But these things seemed necessary. They said a country worth living in was worth fighting for.”
“And isn’t it?” Betty Gower challenged promptly.
MacRae looked at her and at the white cottage, at the great Gulf seas smashing on the rocks below, at the far vista of sea and sky and the shore line faintly purple in the distance. His gaze turned briefly to the leafless tops of maple and alder rising out of the hollow in which his father’s body lay—in a corner of the little plot that was left of all their broad acres—and came back at last to this fair daughter of his father’s enemy.
“The country is, yes,” he said. “Anything that’s worth having is worth fighting for. But that isn’t what they meant, and that isn’t the way it has worked out.”
He was not conscious of the feeling in his voice. He was thinking with exaggerated bitterness that the Germans in Belgium had dealt less hardly with a conquered people than this girl’s father had dealt with his.
“I’m afraid I don’t quite understand what you mean by that,” she remarked. Her tone was puzzled. She looked at him, frankly curious.
But he could not tell her what he meant. He had a feeling that she was in no way responsible. He had an instinctive aversion to rudeness. And while he was absolving himself of any intention to make war on her he was wondering if her mother, long ago, had been anything like Miss Betty Gower. It seemed odd to think that this level-eyed girl’s mother might have been his mother,—if she had been made of stiffer metal, or if the west wind had blown that afternoon.
He wondered if she knew. Not likely, he decided. It wasn’t a story either Horace Gower or his wife would care to tell their children.
So he did not try to tell her what he meant. He withdrew into his shell. And when Betty Gower seated herself on a rock and evinced an inclination to quiz him about things he did not care to be quizzed about, he lifted his cap, bade her a courteous good-by, and walked back toward the Cove.