Stubby looked at MacRae a second, at his work-torn hands and weary eyes.
“I guess you’re right,” he said slowly. “But the old stone house will still be up on the corner when the salmon run is over. Don’t forget that.”
MacRae went off to Coal Harbor to take over the second carrier. And he wondered as he went if it would all be such clear sailing, if it were possible that at the first thrust he had found an open crack in Gower’s armor through which he could prick the man and make him squirm.
He looked at his hands. When they fingered death as a daily task they had been soft, white, delicate,—dainty instruments equally fit for the manipulation of aerial controls, machine guns or teacups. Why should honest work prevent a man from meeting pleasant people amid pleasant surroundings? Well, it was not the work itself, it was simply the effects of that gross labor. On the American continent, at least, a man did not lose caste by following any honest occupation,—only he could not work with the workers and flutter with the butterflies. MacRae, walking down the street, communing with himself, knew that he must pay a penalty for working with his hands. If he were a drone in uniform—necessarily a drone since the end of war—he could dance and play, flirt with pretty girls, be a welcome guest in great houses, make the heroic past pay social dividends.
It took nearly as much courage and endurance to work as it had taken to fight; indeed it took rather more, at times, to keep on working. Theoretically he should not lose caste. Yet MacRae knew he would,—unless he made a barrel of money. There had been stray straws in the past month. There were, it seemed, very nice people who could not quite understand why an officer and a gentleman should do work that wasn’t,—well, not even clean. Not clean in the purely objective, physical sense, like banking or brokerage, or teaching, or any of those semi-genteel occupations which permit people to make a living without straining their backs or soiling their hands. He wasn’t even sure that Stubby Abbott—MacRae was ashamed of his cynicism when he got that far. Stubby was a real man. Even if he needed a man or a man’s activities in his business Stubby wouldn’t cultivate that man socially merely because he needed his producing capacity.
The solace for long hours and aching flesh and sleep-weary eyes was a glimpse of concrete reward,—money which meant power, power to repay a debt, opportunity to repay an ancient score. It seemed to Jack MacRae that his personal honor was involved in getting back all that broad sweep of land which his father had claimed from the wilderness, that he must exact an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That was the why of his unceasing energy, his uncomplaining endurance of long hours in sea boots, the impatient facing of storms that threatened to delay. Man strives under the spur of a vision, a deep longing, an imperative squaring of needs with desires. MacRae moved under the whip of all three.