Betty flushed slightly.
“Do you always go about with a chip on your shoulder?” she asked. “I should think you did enough fighting in France.”
“I learned to fight there,” he said. “I was a happy-go-lucky kid before that. Rich and poor looked alike to me. I didn’t covet anything that anybody had, and I didn’t dream that any one could possibly wish to take away from me anything that I happened to have. I thought the world was a kind and pleasant place for everybody. But things look a little different to me now. They sent us fellows to France to fight Huns. But there are a few at home, I find. Why shouldn’t I fight them whenever I see a chance?”
“But I’m not a Hun,” Betty said with a smile.
“I’m not so sure about that.”
The words leaped out before he was quite aware of what they might imply. They had come to a point on the path directly in front of his house. Betty stopped. Her gray eyes flashed angrily. Storm signals blazed in her cheeks, bright above the delicate white of her neck.
“Jack MacRae,” she burst out hotly, “you are a—a—a first-class idiot!”
Then she turned her back on him and went off up the path with a quick, springy step that somehow suggested extreme haste.
MacRae stood looking after her fully a minute. Then he climbed the steps, went into the front room and sat himself down in a deep, cushioned chair. He glowered into the fireplace with a look as black as the charred remains of his morning fire. He uttered one brief word after a long period of fixed staring.
“Damn!” he said.
It seemed a very inadequate manner of expressing his feelings, but it was the best he could do at the moment.
He sat there until the chill discomfort of the room stirred him out of his abstraction. Then he built a fire and took up a book to read. But the book presently lay unheeded on his knees. He passed the rest of the short forenoon sprawled in that big chair before the fireplace, struggling with chaotic mental processes.
It made him unhappy, but he could not help it. A tremendous assortment of mental images presented themselves for inspection, flickering up unbidden out of his brain-stuff,—old visions and new, familiar things and vague, troublesome possibilities, all strangely jumbled together. His mind hopped from Squitty Cove to Salisbury Plain, to the valley of the Rhone, to Paris, London, Vancouver, turned up all sorts of recollections, cameralike flashes of things that had happened to him, things he had seen in curious places, bits of his life in that somehow distant period when he was a youngster chumming about with his father. And always he came back to the Gowers,—father, son and daughter, and the delicate elderly woman with the faded rose-leaf face whom he had seen only once. Whole passages of Donald MacRae’s written life story took form in living words. He could not disentangle himself from these Gowers.