The High Calling/Chapter 1
PAUL DOUGLAS and his wife, Esther, were holding a serious council together over their older boy, Walter.
"I can't help feeling a little disappointment over the way things are going. I did so want the boy to come into the office with me."
"I know," said Esther, with a grave smile, "but he seems to have his mind made up. I don't think we ought to thwart him if he is made to do that for his lifework."
"No," said Paul, looking at Esther with great thoughtfulness, "I have always believed that a boy should have freedom to choose his lifework. But what puzzles me is where did Walter get his leaning toward electrical engineering? None of my ancestors, so far as I know, ever had the slightest tendency that way, and the Darcys for generations have been business men.
"I was in the boy's room the other day," continued Paul, meditatively, "and he had the floor and his bed and the chairs covered with models of electrical machines. I was afraid to sit down or lean up against anything for fear it would go off and give me a shock or something. While I was asking questions, what did the boy do but start a contrivance that hung from the ceiling and it reached down a metallic arm that grabbed my hat off and began to comb my hair. I yelled, naturally, or unnaturally, and tried to get loose, but another contrivance shot out from the wall somewhere and clutched me by the leg and began to make frantic gestures at my shoes like a wild boot-blacking emporium. I decided to stand still rather than run the risk of getting hit somewhere else. Meanwhile Walter was laughing so hard he couldn't answer my emphatic request to know what the thing was going to do. He finally explained that it was a new device he was experimenting with to give the patient head treatment for nervous prostration, and black his shoes while he waited. I made him turn off the power and then I cautiously backed out of the room and gave him my testimonial on the efficacy of his invention adapted to give anyone nervous prostration and general paralysis who never had them."
Esther laughed, the same good, generous, contagious laugh she had always known, and Paul had always loved to hear.
"Walter is a genius. I always said he would make his mark."
"I was afraid he would make several on me before I could get away," said Paul, smiling. "Well, of course, we have really decided to let the boy go to Burrton. If he is going to have a thorough course in electricity, I want him to have the best there is."
"I shall miss him dreadfully. O, dear, my darling!" Esther suddenly yielded to a good cry that somewhat upset Paul. Only once in a while in their married life had Esther given way to such a display of feeling. But before Paul went down to the office that morning she had dried her tears and with a hopeful smile prepared to make out a list of Walter's school necessities for the eight months he would be away from home.
Walter was twenty years old, tall and slim, with his father's features and his mother's voice, and a very strong liking for all scientific and mechanical work. He had within the year graduated from the Milton high school with honors in the physics department, and had at once set his ambition on going to Burrton Electrical and Engineering School, the best school of its kind in the East. His father had made him a tempting offer to come into the _News_ office, but the boy had frankly told his father that if there was anything in the world he disliked it was a newspaper. So Paul, with a sigh of disappointment, had yielded to the inevitable and agreed to the Burrton plan, simply stipulating that Walter, who was disposed to be luxurious in his tastes, should make up his mind to a school course stripped of unnecessary expenses and devoted to the main thing.
"I am willing, of course, to help you with your education," he said, in a very plain, frank talk with Walter when the decision was finally made. "But I expect you to do something for yourself. The Burrton catalogue mentions stewardships which students are allowed to choose in part payment of tuition. Isn't that so?"
Walter looked annoyed and answered his father sullenly.
"Yes, but the stewards at Burrton have to wash dishes and mess around the clubhouses doing odd jobs for the other fellows. It cuts them out of pretty much all the best social life of the school."
Paul looked at his oldest boy indignantly. If there was anything he ever feared it was that his children would grow up to despise manual labor and shrink from it.
"Do you mean to say you are not willing to do your honest part at honest work to get through school? Or do you mean to say, Walter, that the social part of the school is so important that you are going to make it count in your program for an education?"
"No." Walter looked anxious and his tone was changed. "I--well--I naturally don't want to be rated in a class below the rest--I------"
"Do you mean that the stewards at Burrton are looked down on for doing physical work? I understood you to say that Jack Alwin said every fellow at Burrton stood on his merits, and that real scholarship really counted. If I thought there was a spirit of toadyism or aristocracy at Burrton, I wouldn't let you go there."
"They are measured by scholarship," said Walter, in alarm now, lest his father would decide to withdraw his consent to the Burrton plan. "But, of course, if I go in with the stewards I can't expect to go out much, or--but I'm willing to apply for a place, father, I want to go. Don't change the plan, will you?"
"I want you to go, Walter. But I don't want you ever to think that the work of your hand is any less honorable than the work of your head. What little you do won't hurt you at all. And it makes no difference what others think. If you go to Burrton, you go to get an education. And perhaps one of the best parts of it will be in the training you receive outside of the classroom."
So Walter's ambition, so far as his school was concerned, was finally met, though secretly he chafed at the conditions imposed by his father, and when the day came for him to say goodbye and start on his journey of fifteen hundred miles he was not as happy as he should have been, anticipating his position in the school and feeling restless over the task it imposed. At the same time he was so eager to get on with his engineering that he would endure many hard and disagreeable experiences. Paul and Esther took leave of him at the station with a feeling, which they kept from being too sad on the boy's account, that he was going to face a new world and meet some overturning events in the course of the school year.
Helen Douglas, their second child, was eighteen, just entering Hope College, and beginning to face some questions that gave Paul and Esther much thought. She was a girl blessed with her mother's vigorous health, so overflowing with vitality that her mother said to her one day, "Helen, if you feel so strong and outbreaking, I don't know but I will let Jane go and put you in the kitchen."
"That's all right, mother," replied Helen, calmly. "You know I am going to be a professor of domestic science and I would just as soon practice on you and father and the boys as anybody. But I feel so well all the time I believe I would like to join a circus."
"Helen Douglas!" Esther said, shocked at her daughter's remark. And then she thanked God for the girl's abounding life. "There are so many sickly girls and women, Helen, you cannot be thankful enough for one of the most beautiful of all things, health."
"I am thankful, mother. You know I never even had a headache. Isn't it fine to be so well that you don't know what to do?"
Mrs. Douglas, however, had some serious thoughts of Helen, and at times she was anticipating possible sorrow for this creature with the strength and grace of some forest animal. Helen was careless and thoughtless in many ways, selfish and arbitrary in the home circle, although in many cases she was quickly penitent and ready to acknowledge her faults. She was inclined to be very critical and openly judged everyone, from the minister to her own father and mother. She was constantly calling Louis to account for his failings, and one of Mrs. Douglas's daily crosses was due to the habit Helen had of provoking Louis, partly in a spirit of banter, partly because Louis offended the girl's nice feelings about certain customs and courtesies in polite society. There were great possibilities in Helen for a rich and rare womanhood, but many a hard fight ahead for her in the overcoming, and many humiliations perhaps for her sensitive soul before she reached the place of victory.
Louis was fifteen, just entered high school, a little backward with his studies on account of trouble with his eyes and a nervous attack which left him somewhat irritable and timid. He was an average boy, a great lover of his mother and a hero-worshipper toward his father. He was a handsome-looking boy who bade fair to develop into a business career of some sort, but with doubtful habits which would be settled one way or another as his nervous physical condition improved or grew worse. Paul watched him closely and counselled much with Esther over Louis, realising more as the boy grew that his case was one which called for much wisdom and care.
Two months after Walter's departure his father received a letter from him which he read aloud to Esther in the family circle. It was Paul's custom to take the whole family into his confidence in all matters that belonged to all, and the habit was one that strengthened the ties of comradeship among them.
"Dear father and mother and all," Walter wrote, using a phrase common to the Douglas children whenever they had been away from home. "I'm having the time of my life at Burrton and thought you might like to hear about it.
"There are about five hundred in the school and some pretty fine fellows. They come from fifteen different States and of course I haven't met many of them yet and don't expect to for some time.
"I can't say that I like the steward business. I have to wait on the swells at one of the fraternity houses and I don't like it. Father, I wish you would let me do something else for my expenses. I can't complain of any treatment of the fellows. They are all civil enough, but I can't help feeling the difference between us. You see some of the fellows come from swell families in New York and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Six of the tables waited on have suites at the club house that beat anything I ever saw. Their furniture is hand carved and one of the fellows has paintings in his room that cost ten thousand dollars. Half the upper classmen keep automobiles and dog kennels and spend a lot of money on wine suppers and spreads. You can see for yourself that I'm not in the same class with these fellows, but it must be fine to have money and not have to scheme how to get on.
"As for the work, I enjoy the plant all right. There isn't anything like this equipment anywhere else. Lots of the fellows are here to fit themselves for work on the Isthmus. A good many of them are going to fail out on the finals. For all it's a rich man's son's school it's only fair to say the standard is kept up and I am told that over fifty failed to get through last half. I have been fortunate enough to get a position under the assistant foreman in the coil shop and he has been kind enough to say that if I keep on as I have begun I may have a place in the new experiment division just planned under Wallace, the government expert recently sent here. If I can get this position it will carry a scholarship and in that case I suppose you will not object to my dropping the stewardship. It takes an awful lot of time and I don't like it a little bit.
"There is fine boating here on the Wild River and we have a great crew this season. We row against Brainerd Technology School three months from now. Nothing else is talked about just now. There isn't much doubt about our winning. Everyone knows that Carlisle, our stroke, is the strongest man that ever sat in a Burrton boat and we have never had such a crew for team work since the big race in 1891. There is lots of betting on the game and the odds are four to one on Burrton.
"Now father, you won't object, will you, to my dropping the steward work if I get the Wallace appointment. I have almost no time for anything now but digging. I don't care to be known just as 'dig,' but that is all I am so far. The scholarship will pay me twice as much as the work I'm doing and give me leisure for something besides digging. I haven't had time to be homesick, but I would give a lot to see you all.
"With much love from the constant 'digger.'
Paul's reply to this was brief, and characteristic of his insight where Walter was concerned. After assuring him that he had no objections to his leaving the stewardship in case the scholarship was open to him, he wrote:
"I notice you speak several times with more or less disparagement of the fact that you are getting to be a 'dig.'
"I understand by this word is meant that the student is actually applying himself with unusual enthusiasm or persistence in his studies. I also understand that it is in some schools a term of reproach and that a 'dig' is regarded as a slow fellow who has made the mistake of supposing a college is a place where scholarships may be acquired.
"Now, I don't want you to miss the social side of college life and all the jolly things that rightly belong to it. But if it comes to a choice between being a 'dig' and being a 'jolly fellow' in college, you need never hesitate concerning which one of these two we want you to be. The main object of a college course is an all-around manhood and a fitting of yourself for the best possible service in the world. The world does not need jolly good fellows so much as it needs persons who know how to do things, and do them right, and do them when they are most needed. Wine suppers don't add anything to the happiness or well-being of the world. And I hope you will live to see the time, if I don't, when the American college will cease to be a soft retreat for rich men's sons and be a real training school for service. Service is the great word, my boy. No man is truly educated who does not have that word at the center of both his heart and his head.
"I inclose a check for a hundred dollars and leave it to your judgment as to its use. I want you to have all that rightfully goes with the college course, and I hope you can get the scholarship if that will mean for you more leisure for all-around development. But I don't think the work you have done so far has hurt you any.
"All send love; your father,
Esther felt relieved to know Paul had sent Walter some money. She had feared the boy was working too hard.
"Not a bit," said Paul, stoutly. "The boys that work their way through are not hurt by it. Walter is perfectly well and strong. He is able to stand it."
"His tastes are very refined," murmured Esther. "I can understand how he feels about waiting on the table."
"Waiting on the table is a great business," said Paul. "What would happen to the old world if everybody now waiting on tables should refuse to do it any more? It would disarrange our civilisation more than a universal war. There is nothing finer or more needed than waiting on tables."
But there was one phrase in Walter's letter that Paul dwelt over after he had gone back to the office. Walter had written of the luxury in the rooms of the rich fellows, evidently with some spirit of envy, and closed his brief comment by saying:
"You can see for yourself I am not in the same class with these fellows, but it must be fine to have money and not have to scheme how to get on."
Paul had a perfect horror of money-loving, of soft and toadying habits, of the worship of style and society, and nonsense of high life generally. Nothing cut him deeper at heart than the feeling, as Walter grew up, that the boy had a streak in his character somewhere of the very thing that his father detested. It was this knowledge of a weakness in Walter that led to Paul's great desire to give the boy another Standard, to impress on him the nobility of labor and the disgrace of getting something for nothing. The one thing so far that was saving Walter from becoming a victim to his luxurious tastes was his real love of scientific knowledge and his desire to make of himself a first-class engineer. Paul counted on this factor to keep Walter steady to the main thing, but he realised as he read the boy's letter that there were influences in the Burrton school powerfully pulling him in other directions, away from the simple and plain habits he had always known at home.
Walter's next letter acknowledged with much evident gratitude the receiving of the money his father had sent and spoke again of the scholarship opening. That matter, however, would not be settled until a trying out of several applicants for the honour.
Two months later Paul received a short letter from Walter, written evidently in some bitterness, saying the scholarship had been finally given to an upper class man, "one with a pull," Walter declared, adding, "I shall have to keep at the steward business, I suppose. I can't make much more than my board at it, father, and the midterm tuition is due in two weeks. I haven't money enough to settle. My laboratory fees have been doubled since Wallace came in with his expert division work and expenses generally are heavy."
Paul replied by sending Walter another check and writing as encouragingly to him as possible. Walter answered briefly and seemed to be feeling somewhat more reconciled to the disappointment connected with the scholarship matter.
Two weeks later Paul had a letter from the publisher of one of his books, asking him to come East on business relating to the book. He decided hastily to go on and found he could visit Burrton school on the way. He wrote Walter of his intention, giving him the date of the day he should probably reach Burrton. Esther, Helen, and Louis sent many special messages and Paul was glad of an opportunity to see Walter in his school surroundings.
When he reached Burrton it happened to be the date of the great boat race with the Brainerd Technology School. For several stations before the train reached Burrton, crowds came aboard for the college town. When Paul reached Burrton an immense and yelling mob filled the station and swarmed out to the racing course at the meadows, below the school grounds.
Walter was watching for his father, and in the excitement at the time Paul did not note what he afterward could not help marking. When the two were finally seated on the great bank of seats at the end of the river course, just before the crews were given the signal to start, Paul thought to himself he had never seen Walter so nervous or so ill at ease. He attributed it all at first to the general excitement, but the more he looked at Walter and the more he watched his actions, the less he could account for them, even making allowance for all the unusual outbursts of hilarious feeling on the part of two great schools met in rivalry.
"I never thought about the date of the boat race, Walter, when I left home. I'll be glad to see it. I haven't seen a boat race since the Harvard-Yale contest in ninety-three."
"It's going to be a great race, father. We're sure to win, don't you think? Carlisle is a power. We can't lose, can we?"
"You know more about it than I do, of course."
"But they say Brainerd has a great crew. I don't believe they can beat us, though, do you?"
"I don't know a thing about it, Walter. Naturally, I'll yell for Burrton with you."
"We'll win, I think. Yes, I'm sure we will."
Walter grew more and more nervous as the time slipped away and the signal was hoisted up the river that in five minutes the race would be on. His father looked at him curiously, conscious that the boy was unduly excited over something more than the race.
But when the signal went up, Douglas was absorbed with all the rest of the howling, jumping, gesticulating crowd of undergraduates.
A gun went off up the river. The white smoke puff rose gracefully above the trees on the bank. The course was a straight-away three miles. Two thin black streaks side by side on the water began to move toward the red and green goal posts, and the great race was on. The minute the starting gun was fired, Paul saw Walter lean forward and put his face in his hands. He then lifted his head, put both hands on the rail of the seat in front of him, and gazed up the river with a look so intense that even the faces about him by contrast were calm. Paul found himself looking oftener at Walter than at the race. From where they sat it was impossible to tell which crew was in the lead. The black streaks up the river grew more distinct and another gun fired sent the news along the course that the first mile of the race had been covered, with Burrton slightly in the lead.