He threshed it all over back and forth and when he finally went to bed he was still undecided as to his course. The fact is, he could not escape all the time the standard he had been trained in at home. If Paul and Esther had done nothing else for their children they had certainly done this; they had implanted in their minds a deep and strong feeling that one of the things to be most desired in life is honesty; clean, frank, wholesome honesty, free from cant and hypocrisy and double dealing. And Walter knew in his heart that what he was going to do was not honest to Bauer, even after he had juggled with his conscience and proved to himself that Bauer had no real rights in the matter. He knew perfectly well that the German student did have rights of prior discovery. No amount of argument or defense of his own discoveries could remove that fact.
Nevertheless, next day in the shop after he had put Bauer's belongings, including the paper with the drawings, into Bauer's locker, Walter found himself working with nervous haste over his model. It went together with wonderful exactness and in spite of his feeling that he was acting the part of a miserable cheat, he was, at least, during a part of the time, in a glow of enthusiasm. For the most part he worked at night, when he was least liable to watching from the other fellows. There were several reasons why he could do this, among them an unusual interest in the school at that time in evening functions which drew most of the shop workers out.
Walter took parts of his model up to his room each night and studied them. At the end of two weeks he had completed the lamp and it remained only to give it an actual test. No word had been received from Bauer, and inquiry from different professors had failed to discover any news from him. It seemed to Walter almost certain that Bauer would not return, and each day of his absence gave Walter less uneasiness, if not an actual dulling of the keen edge of his conscience.
The day before he planned to test his lamp at the shop, Walter received another letter from his mother, one part of which annoyed him greatly. His mother wrote chiding him good-naturedly for not sending his usual weekly letter. In fact, since his discovery of Bauer's plan, Walter had failed to write home, for the first time since coming to Burrton. He could not account for this failure except on the ground that he was too busy.
But his mother wrote without any knowledge of all this, telling him bits of news that she thought he would most want to know.
"Your father has been asked by the Citizens' Committee, to let his name go on the primaries for senator from the Fifth district. I have my doubts about the wisdom of a newspaper editor going into politics, but your father, while he had some hesitation, has finally agreed to let his name go down. So now we can expect lively times in the Douglas family until after election next fall.
"Helen has two more beaus, one of them ten years older than herself. I am not making fun of this, as you know, for I have tried to teach you all that the love part of life is in some ways the most serious as well as the most happy of all your experiences. Helen has good sense when it comes to a final decision on anything. I am not afraid for her.
"Louis is better than he has been for a long time. His eyes are stronger and his headaches have almost ceased. He seems to enjoy his studies this term and is making progress. We all feel pleased of course. Louis has had an offer from his uncle to go into the store, but your father and I would much prefer to keep him in school if his health will allow. We are ambitious for all of you and want you to have an education and do in the world what you are best fitted to do.
"We want you to come home for Christmas. And from the different bits you have written about your German friend Bauer we have been wondering if he could not come with you. I understand from one of your letters that he is rather a lonesome fellow, without many friends. If he is not going to his own home at Christmas time, give him a good, strong invitation from father and me to come with you. You know we have never been separated at the holiday season, and it will be my treat to pay your expenses home this time unless you make a new arc light and get it patented and make a lot of money out of it. We are all interested in the light and speak of it almost every day. Your father was saying this morning that our street lights are a disgrace to Milton. There is a citizens' war going on at present over the situation and every number of the News contains letters from angry taxpayers calling the city government to account for the wretched nature of the street lighting. If you should happen to discover an economical and satisfactory city lamp, the people of Milton would be ready now to compel the council to purchase and install it. Of course this all sounds rather like a story, but stranger things have happened in the history of inventions. And if you should happen to be the fortunate discoverer, we would be very proud and happy.
"Don't forget to make the invitation to Mr. Bauer as hearty as you can.
I am anxious to see you, as all of us are.
"YOUR LOVING MOTHER."
The things which annoyed Walter in this letter were, first of all, his mother's invitation to Bauer. Of course if he did not return to school, that would be the end of it. But if he should return, why, then, under the peculiar conditions that existed it would be more than embarrassing for Walter to bring Bauer home with him. And to add to his annoyance Walter began to feel hard toward the German student, as if Bauer had done him a wrong. It is, of course, true that one of the surest ways to acquire a hatred of anyone is first of all to do him an injustice. Having already wronged Bauer in stealing his ideas, Walter was fast entering on the second stage of his relations to him and beginning to feel hateful toward him.
The other annoyance caused by his mother's letter was due to the fact that in her ignorance of the situation she was all unconsciously strengthening his temptation to complete the light and get it before the public as his own as soon as possible. The street-lighting conditions in Milton were duplicated in hundreds of municipalities all over the country. There was no doubt in Walter's mind that the first really successful economical lamp offered the public would find a quick and remunerative sale. With a growing excitement he began to see the great probabilities before his invention. And all that his mother had written simply tended to push him on to complete his work before Bauer could return and make the necessary discovery for himself.
He was vexed and annoyed to a degree he had never before experienced. And he knew deep down in his heart that it was because he was acting a dishonourable part toward the absent classmate. He began to lose sleep over it, and grew nervous and exceedingly unhappy. On the one hand, his home training had made him sensitive to moral standards. He would not have dared to write to his mother about the affair to ask her advice as to what he ought to do, because he knew without writing what she would say. On the other hand, his ambition goaded him to ignore what it called a technicality, tried to befog the issue by whispering that Bauer could not succeed without putting into the lamp the things which Walter had discovered already himself, and constantly insinuated that even if he had not happened to see Bauer's diagram, Walter would probably have worked it out in a day or two anyhow.
He replied to his mother's letter briefly, saying he was unusually busy and adding that he did not think Bauer could come with him because he had been called home and would not in all likelihood return to Burrton. He said nothing in this letter about the lamp; he could not bring himself to mention it. And he knew when he posted the letter that the tone of it would make his mother ask questions because it was so different from the enthusiastic, jolly letters he had written before.
It was during this week that he fixed on a certain evening to make a practical test of his lamp. He had guarded his secret successfully. Not a soul, including both instructors and students, knew the special work he had been doing. Among the great number of special and changing experiments going on in the shop it had not been difficult to keep his discovery to himself.
He chose a night when a great social event was occurring in hopes that he might have the shop to himself. There were a few enthusiastic specialists who did considerable night work, but on this particular evening they went out early and by nine o'clock he found himself alone. The power which lighted the town of Burrton was the