On the eve of his departure, Stanley Ransom was telling a few friends how one small event had set the course of his undertaking. He was a thoroughly trained and dynamic young man, about to engage in his first important commission for the American people.
"I came in with the century," he said. "I was fourteen years old when the war broke out in Europe. My oldest brother enlisted in the Canadian army and left at once. Later when America went in, I'd still have gone willingly enough, because I was not yet thoroughly disillusioned about the glory of war. But at that early age when my brother went, (and he never came back," he said in a subdued tone, and pausing as if to pay homage in his thought) "I was frantic to add years to my age or inches to my stature, somehow, anyhow, so I could go too.
"My old great-grandfather was living with us then, and this incident I have mentioned happened not long before he died. He was very old. To me he seemed like a man from another planet. His long white hair and patriarchal beard gave him an exotic appearance and all his thought and speech and action were foreign to our modern ways. I used to like to get him talking in order to argue with him, although I always came off defeated. He would go just so far, then turn away mumbling through his gums, stamp his cane on the floor, and relapse into silent thoughtfulness. It was a vivid agitated thoughtfulness, for he would lean forward in his easy chair, peering steadily into the fire for long moments. Finally shaking his head in discouragement he would fall asleep. He liked long evenings of talk about old times. He would often narrate in the most lucid and connected fashion stories of bygone days, of the Civil War, and of his experiences as Judge of the District Court, when he went from county to county on horseback to make his appointments.
"It was one evening when mother and father were out late that the thing happened. We were sitting by the evening fire, which grandfather must have until summer was blazing hot. The sinking of the Lusitania had been filling the news for some time, and President Wilson's notes to Berlin, and all that. I was more than usually unconsoled for not being old enough to go to war. My father had for years prophesied a war that would engage all Europe and he had many times said it would profoundly affect the United States; so I felt authoritative when I affirmed that no living man could afford not to have a hand in this war, and more to that effect. 'Making the world safe for Democracy' had not yet come into vogue.
"My grandfather turned on me savagely. The light from the fire made high lights in his blazing eyes. 'Boy,' he thundered, 'you don't know what you are talking about. War — war — when did war ever cause anything to live?'
"I had lost the thread of my argument. We sat very still for several minutes, grandfather pommeling the head of his cane with his cupped hand. Then he rose from his chair with great effort, but majestically. 'Come,' he demanded. 'Get your lantern and come.'
"I lighted the lantern very much in awe and followed him into the late spring night.
"I used to like to make a garden. I think I must have done it several successive seasons. This event caused me to remember my garden of that year. It was all in tender young plants. I had never seen the neat rows by lantern light, and it gave me a thrill nothing short of magic.
" 'Here are your beans,' grandfather pronounced, his voice vibrating with emotion. 'Here is the best plant in the row. Pull it up.'
"Pull it up! I didn't understand. 'Why,' I protested, 'it hasn't had any beans on it yet.'
" 'Pull it up,' grandfather repeated sternly.
"I obeyed, and I can feel right now how it tore my flesh as the white roots came out of the earth.
"He took the plant in his hand. He was tender now. He touched it gently. 'War has descended on this living plant. It will never have any beans now.' He pinched it slowly into bits as if he feared I might replant it and so invalidate this graphic example of his convictions. He turned and trod heavily ahead of the lantern.
"We were both in bed when father and mother came home. And I don't remember that I ever had another long talk with grandfather.
"But that object lesson has affected the whole course of my life. Because from it I have studied sociology, economics, and law, political science, history, and all the great religions. I have been trying to find out why the adult world of apparently enlightened intelligence continues to condone the outrage of war.
"During the twenties I coasted mostly on the smooth-going of inflated times. I know I never thought as far as to conclude that grandfather had been wrong without the sick feeling at the bottom of my subconscious mind that he was entirely right and that something else was wrong, terribly, terribly wrong. But mostly I did not think as far as a conclusion. I was too busy.
"But when things began to go to the bad it took me the briefest possible time to switch back to that moment in the lantern-lit garden and my beloved bean plant in grandfather's trembling palm. "When I learned at the age of thirty-five that grandfather had left his very small fortune to me, that he had planned I should not receive it or even know of it until that mature age, I at last realized that the incident of the bean plant had had a deep meaning for both grandfather and me. He had learned something by means of living to a very old age. No mortal, he knew, had ever passed on his hard won knowledge to another by wish or word of his own. But somehow he must cause me to become the heir of what he had in his mind. He had already set his heart on me as a likely medium. There remained for him to place upon my life the indelible stamp that would give him assurance. What he did that night he did with premeditation. Some dramatic moment was his only recourse. There was not a single request or recommendation embodied in his will.
"And grandfather was right. Grandfather still lives in my boyhood garden. I used the money he left me to transmute the degrees I had acquired into usable material of co-ordinated thought and first-hand knowledge. I am starting out now to discover where the gleam of that lantern leads me. The most prized bit of equipment I take with me is the light I see in the old man's eyes. It speaks plainly a very profound truth.
"It is that peace and the great glory of a great nation are tender plants that must be planted and watered and tended with great love in order to bear fruit. I know that intelligence put to this purpose can produce miracles without limit. Think of what a Burbank in the beautiful garden of our enlightened posterity will produce in the way of flowering humanity."
Stanley paused and looked inquiringly at each of us listeners. "There will be Burbanks," he said conclusively. "I shall be the great grandfather of at least one of them."
The company broke up almost immediately after Stanley left. It was as if the electric current had been switched off. We needed to think, not talk.