Ernest Poole.

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New York

_All rights reserved_

COPYRIGHT, 1916 AND 1917


Set up and electrotyped. Published May, 1917.





He was thinking of the town he had known. Not of _old_ New York - he had
heard of that from old, old men when he himself had still been young and
had smiled at their garrulity. He was thinking of a _young_ New York, the
mighty throbbing city to which he had come long ago as a lad from the New
Hampshire mountains. A place of turbulent thoroughfares, of shouting
drivers, hurrying crowds, the crack of whips and the clatter of wheels; an
uproarious, thrilling town of enterprise, adventure, youth; a city of
pulsing energies, the center of a boundless land; a port of commerce with
all the world, of stately ships with snowy sails; a fascinating pleasure
town, with throngs of eager travellers hurrying from the ferry boats and
rolling off in hansom cabs to the huge hotels on Madison Square. A city
where American faces were still to be seen upon all its streets, a cleaner
and a kindlier town, with more courtesy in its life, less of the vulgar
scramble. A city of houses, separate homes, of quiet streets with rustling
trees, with people on the doorsteps upon warm summer evenings and groups of
youngsters singing as they came trooping by in the dark. A place of music
and romance. At the old opera house downtown, on those dazzling evenings
when as a boy he had ushered there for the sake of hearing the music, how
the rich joy of being alive, of being young, of being loved, had shone out
of women's eyes. Shimmering satins, dainty gloves and little jewelled
slippers, shapely arms and shoulders, vivacious movements, nods and smiles,
swift glances, ripples, bursts of laughter, an exciting hum of voices.
Then silence, sudden darkness - and music, and the curtain. The great wide
curtain slowly rising....

But all that had passed away.

Roger Gale was a rugged heavy man not quite sixty years of age. His broad,
massive features were already deeply furrowed, and there were two big
flecks of white in his close-curling, grayish hair. He lived in a narrow
red brick house down on the lower west side of the town, in a neighborhood
swiftly changing. His wife was dead. He had no sons, but three grown
daughters, of whom the oldest, Edith, had been married many years. Laura
and Deborah lived at home, but they were both out this evening. It was
Friday, Edith's evening, and as was her habit she had come from her
apartment uptown to dine with her father and play chess. In the living
room, a cheerful place, with its lamp light and its shadows, its
old-fashioned high-back chairs, its sofa, its book cases, its low marble
mantel with the gilt mirror overhead, they sat at a small oval table in
front of a quiet fire of coals. And through the smoke of his cigar Roger
watched his daughter.

Edith had four children, and was soon to have another. A small demure woman
of thirty-five, with light soft hair and clear blue eyes and limbs softly
rounded, the contour of her features was full with approaching maternity,
but there was a decided firmness in the lines about her little mouth. As he
watched her now, her father's eyes, deep set and gray and with signs of
long years of suffering in them, displayed a grave whimsical wistfulness.
For by the way she was playing the game he saw how old she thought him. Her
play was slow and absent-minded, and there came long periods when she did
not make a move. Then she would recall herself and look up with a little
affectionate smile that showed she looked upon him as too heavy with his
age to have noticed her small lapses.

He was grimly amused at her attitude, for he did not feel old at all. With
that whimsical hint of a smile which had grown to be a part of him, he
tried various moves on the board to see how far he could go without
interrupting her reveries. He checkmated her, re-lit his cigar and waited
until she should notice it. And when she did not notice, gravely he moved
back his queen and let the game continue. How many hundreds of games, he
thought, Edith must have played with him in the long years when his spirit
was dead, for her now to take such chances. Nearly every Friday evening for
nearly sixteen years.

Before that, Judith his wife had been here. It was then that the city had
been young, for to Roger it had always seemed as though he were just
beginning life. Into its joys and sorrows too he had groped his way as most
of us do, and had never penetrated deep. But he had meant to, later on.
When in his busy city days distractions had arisen, always he had promised
himself that sooner or later he would return to this interest or passion,
for the world still lay before him with its enthralling interests, its
beauties and its pleasures, its tasks and all its puzzles, intricate and
baffling, all some day to be explored.

This deep zest in Roger Gale had been bred in his boyhood on a farm up in
the New Hampshire mountains. There his family had lived for many
generations. And from the old house, the huge shadowy barn and the crude
little sawmill down the road; from animals, grown people and still more
from other boys, from the meadows and the mountain above with its cliffs
and caves and forests of pine, young Roger had discovered, even in those
early years, that life was fresh, abundant, new, with countless glad

At seventeen he had come to New York. There had followed hard struggles in
lean years, but his rugged health had buoyed him up. And there had been
genial friendships and dreams and explorations, a search for romance, the
strange glory of love, a few furtive ventures that left him dismayed. But
though love had seemed sordid at such times it had brought him crude
exultations. And if his existence had grown more obscure, it had been
somber only in patches, the main picture dazzling still. And still he had
been just making starts.

He had ventured into the business world, clerking now at this, now at that,
and always looking about him for some big opportunity. It had come and he
had seized it, despite the warnings of his friends. What a wild adventure
it had been a bureau of news clippings, a business new and unheard of but
he had been sure that here was growth, he had worked at it day and night,
and the business widening fast had revealed long ramifications which went
winding and stretching away into every phase of American life. And this
life was like a forest, boundless and impenetrable, up-springing,
intertwining. How much could _he_ ever know of it all?

Then had come his marriage. Judith's family had lived long in New York, but
some had died and others had scattered until only she was left. This house
had been hers, but she had been poor, so she had leased it to some friends.
It was through them he had met her here, and within a few weeks he had
fallen in love. He had felt profound disgust for the few wild oats he had
sown, and in his swift reaction he had overworshipped the girl, her beauty
and her purity, until in a delicate way of her own she had hinted that he
was going too far, that she, too, was human and a passionate lover of
living, in spite of her low quiet voice and her demure and sober eyes.

And what beginnings for Roger now, what a piling up of intimate joys,
surprises, shocks of happiness. There had come disappointments, too, sudden
severe little checks from his wife which had brought him occasional
questionings. This love had not been quite _all_ he had dreamed, this woman
not so ardent. He had glimpsed couples here and there that set him to
imagining more consuming passions. Here again he had not explored very
deep. But he had dismissed regrets like these with only a slight
reluctance. For if they had settled down a bit with the coming of their
children, their love had grown rich in sympathies and silent
understandings, in humorous enjoyment of their funny little daughters'
chattering like magpies in the genial old house. And they had looked
happily far ahead. What a woman she had been for plans. It had not been all
smooth sailing. There had come reverses in business, and at home one baby,
a boy, had died. But on they had gone and the years had swept by until he
had reached his forties. Absorbed in his growing business and in his
thriving family, it had seemed to Roger still as though he were just
starting out.

But one day, quite suddenly, the house had become a strange place to him
with a strange remote figure in it, his wife. For he had learned that she
must die. There had followed terrible weeks. Then Judith had faced their
disaster. Little by little she had won back the old intimacy with her
husband; and through the slow but inexorable progress of her ailment, again
they had come together in long talks and plans for their children. At this
same chessboard, in this room, repeatedly she would stop the game and
smiling she would look into the future. At one such time she had said to

"I wonder if it won't be the same with the children as it has been with us.
No matter how long each one of them lives, won't their lives feel to them
unfinished like ours, only just beginning? I wonder how far they will go.
And then their children will grow up and it will be the same with them.
Unfinished lives. Oh, dearie, what children all of us are."

He had put his arm around her then and had held her very tight. And feeling
the violent trembling of her husband's fierce revolt, slowly bending back
her head and looking up into his eyes she had continued steadily:

"And when you come after me, my dear, oh, how hungry I shall be for all you
will tell me. For you will live on in our children's lives."

And she had asked him to promise her that.

But he had not kept his promise. For after Judith's dying he had felt
himself terribly alone, with eternity around him, his wife slipping far
away. And the universe had grown stark and hard, impersonal, relentless,
cold. A storm of doubts had attacked his faith. And though he had resisted
long, for his faith in God had been rooted deep in the mountains of New
England, in the end it had been wrenched away, and with it he had lost all
hope that either for Judith or himself was there any existence beyond the
grave. So death had come to Roger's soul. He had been deaf and blind to his
children. Nights by the thousand spent alone. Like a gray level road in his
memory now was the story of his family.

When had his spirit begun to awaken? He could not tell, it had been so
slow. His second daughter, Deborah, who had stayed at home with her father
when Laura had gone away to school, had done little things continually to
rouse his interest in life. Edith's winsome babies had attracted him when
they came to the house. Laura had returned from school, a joyous creature,
tall and slender, with snapping black eyes, and had soon made her presence
felt. One day in the early afternoon, as he entered the house there had
burst on his ears a perfect gale of laughter; and peering through the
portières he had seen the dining-room full of young girls, a crew as wild
as Laura herself. Hastily he had retreated upstairs. But he had enjoyed
such glimpses. He had liked to see her fresh pretty gowns and to have her
come in and kiss him good-night.

Then had come a sharp heavy jolt. His business had suffered from long
neglect, and suddenly for two anxious weeks he had found himself facing
bankruptcy. Edith's husband, a lawyer, had come to his aid and together
they had pulled out of the hole. But he had been forced to mortgage the
house. And this had brought to a climax all the feelings of guiltiness
which had so long been stirring within him over his failure to live up to
the promise he had made his wife.

And so Roger had looked at his children.

And at first to his profound surprise he had had it forced upon him that
these were three grown women, each equipped with her own peculiar feminine
traits and desires, the swift accumulations of lives which had expanded in
a city that had reared to the skies in the many years of his long sleep.
But very slowly, month by month, he had gained a second impression which
seemed to him deeper and more real. To the eye they were grown women all,
but inwardly they were children still, each groping for her happiness and
each held back as he had been, either by checks within herself or by the
gay distractions of the absorbing city. He saw each of his daughters, parts
of himself. And he remembered what Judith had said: "You will live on in
our children's lives." And he began to get glimmerings of a new
immortality, made up of generations, an endless succession of other lives
extending into the future.

Some of all this he remembered now, in scattered fragments here and there.
Then from somewhere far away a great bell began booming the hour, and it
roused him from his revery. He had often heard the bell of late. A calm
deep-toned intruder, it had first struck in upon his attention something
over two years ago. Vaguely he had wondered about it. Soon he had found it
was on the top of a tower a little to the north, one of the highest
pinnacles of this tumultuous modern town. But the bell was not tumultuous.
And as he listened it seemed to say, "There is still time, but you have not

Edith, sitting opposite him, looked up at the sound with a stir of relief.
Ten o'clock. It was time to go home.

"I wonder what's keeping Bruce," she said. Bruce was still in his office
downtown. As a rule on Friday evenings he came with his wife to supper
here, but this week he had some new business on hand. Edith was vague about
it. As she tried to explain she knitted her brows and said that Bruce was
working too hard. And her father grunted assent.

"Bruce ought to knock off every summer," he said, "for a good solid month,
or better two. Can't you bring him up to the mountains this year?" He
referred to the old New Hampshire home which he had kept as a summer place.
But Edith smiled at the idea.

"Yes, I could bring him," she replied, "and in a week he'd be perfectly
crazy to get back to his office again." She compressed her lips. "I know
what he needs - and we'll do it some day, in spite of him."

"A suburb, eh," her father said, and his face took on a look of dislike.
They had often talked of suburbs.

"Yes," his daughter answered, "I've picked out the very house." He threw at
her a glance of impatience. He knew what had started her on this line.
Edith's friend, Madge Deering, was living out in Morristown. All very well,
he reflected, but her case was not at all the same. He had known Madge
pretty well. Although the death of her husband had left her a widow at
twenty-nine, with four small daughters to bring up, she had gone on
determinedly. Naturally smart and able, Madge was always running to town,
keeping up with all her friends and with every new fad and movement there,
although she made fun of most of them. Twice she had taken her girls
abroad. But Edith was quite different. In a suburb she would draw into her
house and never grow another inch. And Bruce, poor devil, would commute and
take work home from the office. But Roger couldn't tell her that.

"I'd be sorry to see you do it," he said. "I'd miss you up in the

"Oh, we'd come up in the summer," she answered. "I wouldn't miss the
mountains for worlds!"

Then they talked of summer plans. And soon again Edith's smooth pretty
brows were wrinkling absorbedly. It was hard in her planning not to be sure
whether her new baby would come in May or early June. It was only the first
of April now. While she talked her father watched her. He liked her quiet
fearlessness in facing the ordeal ahead. Into the bewildering city he felt
her searching anxiously to find good things for her small brood, to make
every dollar count, to keep their little bodies strong, to guard their
hungry little souls from many things she thought were bad. Of all his
daughters, he told himself, she was the one most like his wife.

While she was talking Bruce came in. Of medium height and a wiry build, his
quick kindly smile of greeting did not conceal the fine tight lines about
his mouth and between his eyes. His small trim moustache was black, but his
hair already showed streaks of gray although he was not quite thirty-eight,
and as he lit a cigarette his right hand twitched perceptibly.

Bruce Cunningham had married just after he left law school. He had worked
in a law office which took receiverships by the score, and through managing
bankrupt concerns by slow degrees he had made himself a financial surgeon.
He had set up an office of his own and was doing splendidly. But he worked
under fearful tension. Bruce had to deal with bankrupts who had barely
closed their eyes for weeks, men half out of their minds from the strain,
the struggle to keep up their heads in those angry waters of finance which
Roger vaguely pictured as a giant whirlpool. Though honest enough in his
own affairs, Bruce showed a genial relish for all the tricks of the savage
world which was as the breath to his nostrils. And at times he appeared so
wise and keen he made Roger feel like a child. But again it was Bruce who
seemed the child. He seemed to be so naïve at times, and Edith had him so
under her thumb. Roger liked to hear Bruce's stories of business, when
Edith would let her husband talk. But this she would not often do, for she
said Bruce needed rest at night. She reproved him now for staying so late,
she wrung from him the fact that he'd had no supper.

"Well, Bruce," she exclaimed impatiently, "now isn't that just like you?
You're going straight home - that's where you're going - "

"To be fed up and put to bed," her husband grumbled good-naturedly. And
while she made ready to bundle him off he turned to his father-in-law.

"What do you think's my latest?" he asked, and he gave a low chuckle which
Roger liked. "Last week I was a brewer, to-day I'm an engineer," he said.
"Can you beat it? A building contractor. Me." And as he smoked his
cigarette, in laconic phrases he explained how a huge steel construction
concern had gone to the wall, through building skyscrapers "on spec" and
outstripping even the growth of New York. "They got into court last week,"
he said, "and the judge handed me the receivership. The judge and I have
been chums for years. He has hay fever - so do I."

"Come, Bruce, I'm ready," said his wife.

"I've been in their office all day," he went on. "Their general manager was
stark mad. He hadn't been out of the office since last Sunday night, he
said. You had to ask him a question and wait - while he looked at you and
held onto his chair. He broke down and blubbered - the poor damn fool - he'll
be in Matteawan in a week - "

"You'll be there yourself if you don't come home," broke in Edith's voice

"And out of that poor devil, and out of the mess his books are in, I've
been learning engineering!"

He had followed his wife out on the steps. He turned back with a quick
appealing smile:

"Well, good-night - see you soon - "

"Good-night, my boy," said Roger. "Good luck to the engineering."

"Oh, father dear," cried Edith, from the taxi down below. "Remember supper
Sunday night - "

"I won't forget," said Roger.

* * * * *

He watched them start off up the street. The night was soft, refreshing,
and the place was quiet and personal. The house was one of a dozen others,
some of red brick and some of brown stone, that stood in an uneven row on a
street but a few rods in length, one side of a little triangular park
enclosed by a low iron fence, inside of which were a few gnarled trees and
three or four park benches. On one of these benches his eye was caught by
the figure of an old woman there, and he stood a moment watching her, some
memory stirring in his mind.

Occasionally somebody passed. Otherwise it was silent here. But even in the
silence could be felt the throes of change; the very atmosphere seemed
charged with drastic things impending. Already the opposite house line had
been broken near the center by a high apartment building, and another still
higher rose like a cliff just back of the house in which Roger lived. Still
others, and many factory lofts, reared shadowy bulks on every hand. From
the top of one an enormous sign, a corset pictured forth in lights, flashed
out at regular intervals; and from farther off, high up in the misty haze
of the night, could be seen the gleaming pinnacle where hour by hour that
great bell slowly boomed the time away. Yes, here the old was passing.
Already the tiny parklet was like the dark bottom of a pit, with the hard
sparkling modern town towering on every side, slowly pressing, pressing in
and glaring down with yellow eyes.

But Roger noticed none of these things. He watched the old woman on the
bench and groped for the memory she had stirred. Ah, now at last he had it.
An April night long, long ago, when he had sat where she was now, while
here in the house his wife's first baby, Edith, had begun her life....

Slowly he turned and went inside.


Roger's hearing was extremely acute. Though the room where he was sitting,
his study, was at the back of the house, he heard Deborah's key at the
street door and he heard the door softly open and close.

"Are you there, dearie?" Her voice from the hallway was low; and his
answer, "Yes, child," was in the same tone, as though she were with him in
the room. This keen sense of hearing had long been a peculiar bond between
them. To her father, Deborah's voice was the most distinctive part of her,
for often as he listened the memory came of her voice as a girl,
unpleasant, hurried and stammering. But she had overcome all that. "No
grown woman," she had declared, when she was eighteen, "has any excuse for
a voice like mine." That was eleven years ago; and the voice she had
acquired since, with its sweet magnetic quality, its clear and easy
articulation, was to him an expression of Deborah's growth. As she took off
her coat and hat in the hall she said, in the same low tone as before,

"Edith has been here, I suppose - "

"Yes - "

"I'm so sorry I missed her. I tried to get home early, but it has been a
busy night."

Her voice sounded tired, comfortably so, and she looked that way as she
came in. Though only a little taller than Edith, she was of a sturdier
build and more decided features. Her mouth was large with a humorous droop
and her face rather broad with high cheekbones. As she put her soft black
hair up over her high forehead, her father noticed her birthmark, a faint
curving line of red running up from between her eyes. Imperceptible as a
rule, it showed when she was tired. In the big school in the tenements
where she had taught for many years, she gave herself hard without stint to
her work, but she had such a good time through it all. She had a way, too,
he reflected, of always putting things in their place. As now she came in
and kissed him and sank back on his leather lounge with a tranquil breath
of relief, she seemed to be dropping school out of her life.

Roger picked up his paper and continued his reading. Presently they would
have a talk, but first he knew that she wanted to lie quite still for a
little while. Vaguely he pictured her work that night, her class-room
packed to bursting with small Jews and Italians, and Deborah at the
blackboard with a long pointer in her hand. The fact that for the last two
years she had been the principal of her school had made little impression
upon him.

And meanwhile, as she lay back with eyes closed, her mind still taut from
the evening called up no simple class-room but far different places - a mass
meeting in Carnegie Hall where she had just been speaking, some schools
which she had visited out in Indiana, a block of tenements far downtown and
the private office of the mayor. For her school had long curious arms these

"Was Bruce here too this evening?" she asked her father presently. Roger
finished what he was reading, then looked over to the lounge, which was in
a shadowy corner.

"Yes, he came in late." And he went on to tell her of Bruce's

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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 1 of 22)