25. Stern Logic
Between Dr. Surtaine and his son had risen a barrier built up of reticences. At the outset
of their reunion, they had chattered like a pair of schoolboy friends, who, after long
separation, must rehearse to each other the whole roster of experiences. The Doctor was
an enthusiast of speech, glowingly loquacious above knife and fork, and the dinner hours
were enlivened for his son by his fund of far-gathered business incidents and adventures,
pointed with his crude but apt philosophy, and irradiated with his centripetal optimism.
He possessed and was conscious of this prime virtue of talk, that he was never tiresome.
Yet recently he had noted a restlessness verging to actual distaste on Hal's part, whenever
he turned the conversation upon his favorite topic, the greatness of Certina and the
commercial romance of the proprietary medicine business.
In his one close fellowship, the old quack cultivated even the minor and finer virtues.
With Hal he was scrupulously tactful. If the boy found his business an irksome subject,
he would talk about the boy's business. And he did, sounding the Pæan of Policy across
the Surtaine mahogany in a hundred variations supported by a thousand instances. But
here, also, Hal grew restive. He responded no more willingly to leads on journalism than
to encomiums of Certina. Again the affectionate diplomat changed his ground. He
dropped into the lighter personalities; chatted to Hal of his new friends, and was met
halfway. But in secret he puzzled and grieved over the waning of frankness and freedom
in their intercourse. Dinner, once eagerly looked forward to by both as the best hour of
the day, was now something of an ordeal, a contact in which each must move warily, lest,
all unknowing, he bruise the other.
Of the underlying truth of the situation Dr. Surtaine had no inkling. Had any one told him
that his son dared neither speak nor hear unreservedly, lest the gathering suspicions about
his father, against which he was fighting while denying to himself their very existence,
should take form and substance of unescapable facts, the Doctor would have failed utterly
of comprehension. He ascribed Hal's unease and preoccupation to a more definite cause.
Sedulous in everything which concerned his "Boyee," he had learned something of the
affair with Esmé Elliot, and had surmised distressfully how hard the blow had been: but
what worried him much more were rumors connecting Hal's name with Milly Neal.
Several people had seen the two on the day of the road-house adventure. Milly, with her
vivid femininity was a natural mark for gossip. The mere fact that she had been in Hal's
runabout was enough to set tongues wagging. Then, sometime thereafter, she had
resigned her position in the "Clarion" office without giving any reason, so Dr. Surtaine
understood. The whole matter looked ugly. Not that the charlatan would have been
particularly shocked had Hal exhibited a certain laxity of morals in the matter of women.
For this sort of offense Dr. Surtaine had an easy toleration, so long as it was kept decently
under cover. But that his son should become entangled with one of his—Dr. Surtaine's—
employees, a woman under the protection of his roof, even though it were but the factory
roof—that, indeed, would be a shock to his feudal conception of business honor.