From the Bottom Up
MacRae did nothing but mark time until he found himself a plain citizen once more. He could have remained in the service for months without risk and with much profit to himself. But the fighting was over. The Germans were whipped. That had been the goal. Having reached it, MacRae, like thousands of other young men, had no desire to loaf in a uniform subject to military orders while the politicians wrangled.
But even when he found himself a civilian again, master of his individual fortunes, he was still a trifle at a loss. He had no definite plan. He was rather at sea, because all the things he had planned on doing when he came home had gone by the board. So many things which had seemed good and desirable had been contingent upon his father. Every plan he had ever made for the future had included old Donald MacRae and those wide acres across the end of Squitty. He had been deprived of both, left without a ready mark to shoot at. The flood of war had carried him far. The ebb of it had set him back on his native shores,—stranded him there, so to speak, to pick up the broken threads of his old life as best he could.
He had no quarrel with that. But he did have a feud with circumstance, a profound resentment with the past for its hard dealing with his father, for the blankness of old Donald’s last year or two on earth. And a good deal of this focused on Horace Gower and his works.
“He might have let up on the old man,” Jack MacRae would say to himself resentfully. He would lie awake in the dark thinking about this. “We were doing our bit. He might have stopped putting spokes in our wheel while the war was on.”
The fact of the matter is that young MacRae was deeply touched in his family pride as well as his personal sense of injustice. Gower had deeply injured his father, therefore it was any MacRae’s concern. It made no difference that the first blow in this quarrel had been struck before he was born. He smarted under it and all that followed. His only difficulty was to discern a method of repaying in kind, which he was thoroughly determined to do.
He saw no way, if the truth be told. He did not even contemplate inflicting physical injury on Horace Gower. That would have been absurd. But he wanted to hurt him, to make him squirm, to heap trouble on the man and watch him break down under the load. And he did not see how he possibly could. Gower was too well fortified. Four years of war experience, which likewise embraced a considerable social experience, had amply shown Jack MacRae the subtle power of money, of political influence, of family connections, of commercial prestige.
All these things were on Gower’s side. He was impregnable. MacRae was not a fool. Neither was he inclined to pessimism. Yet so far as he could see, the croakers were not lying when they said that here at home the war had made the rich richer and the poor poorer. It was painfully true in his own case. He had given four years of himself to his country, gained an honorable record, and lost everything else that was worth having.