Ernest Poole.

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"We decided to have no guest room," he heard Laura say to Deborah. And
glancing at his daughter then, sleek and smiling and demure, in her
tea-gown fresh from Paris, Roger darkly told himself that a child would be
an unwelcome guest. The whole place was as compact and sparkling as a jewel
box. The bed chamber was luxurious, with a gorgeous bath adjoining and a
dressing-room for Harold.

"And look at this love of a closet!" said Laura to Deborah eagerly. "Isn't
it simply enormous?" As Deborah looked, her father did, too, and his eye
was met by an array of shimmering apparel which made him draw back almost
with a start.

They found Harold in the pantry. Their Jap, it appeared, was a marvellous
cook and did the catering as well, so that Laura rarely troubled herself
to order so much as a single meal. But her husband had for many years been
famous for his cocktails, and although the Jap did everything else Hal had
kept this in his own hands.

"I thought this much of the house-keeping ought to remain in the family,"
he said.

Roger did not like this joke. But later, when he had imbibed the delicious
concoction Harold had made, and had eaten the dinner created by that
Japanese artist of theirs, his irritation subsided.

"They barely know we're here," he thought. "They're both in love up to
their ears."

Despite their genial attempts to be hospitable and friendly, time and again
he saw their glances meet in an intimate gleaming manner which made him
rather uncomfortable. But where was the harm, he asked himself. They were
married all right, weren't they? Still somehow - somehow - no, by George, he
didn't like it, he didn't approve! The whole affair was decidedly mixing.
Roger went away vaguely uneasy, and he felt that Deborah was even more
disturbed than himself.

"Those two," she remarked to her father, "are so fearfully wrapt up in each
other it makes me afraid. Oh, it's all right, I suppose, and I wouldn't for
worlds try to interfere. But I can't help feeling somehow that no two
people with such an abundance of youth and money and happiness have the
right to be so amazingly - selfish!"

"They ought to have children," Roger said.

"But look at Edith," his daughter rejoined. "She hasn't a single interest
that I can find outside her home. It seems to have swallowed her, body and
soul." A frowning look of perplexity swept over Deborah's mobile face, and
with a whimsical sigh she exclaimed, "Oh, this queer business of families!"

In December there came a little crash. Late one evening Laura came bursting
in upon them in a perfect tantrum, every nerve in her lithe body tense,
her full lips visibly quivering, her voice unsteady, and her big black eyes
aflame with rage. She was jealous of her husband and "that nasty little
cat!" Roger learned no more about it, for Deborah motioned him out of the
room. He heard their two voices talk on and on, until Laura's slowly
quieted down. Soon afterwards she left the house, and Deborah came in to
him.

"She's gone home, eh?" asked Roger.

"Yes, she has, poor silly child - she said at first she had come here to
stay."

"By George," he said. "As bad as that?"

"Of course it isn't as bad as that!" Deborah cried impatiently. "She just
built and built on silly suspicions and let herself get all worked up! I
don't see what they're coming to!" For a few moments nothing was said.
"It's so unnatural!" she exclaimed. "Men and women weren't _made_ to live
like that!" Roger scowled into his paper.

"Better leave 'em alone," he admonished her. "You can't help - they're not
your kind. Don't you mix into this affair."

But Deborah did. She remembered that her sister had once shown quite a
talent for amateur theatricals; and to give Laura something to do, Deborah
persuaded her to take a dramatic club in her school. And Laura, rather to
Roger's surprise, became an enthusiast down there. She worked like a slave
at rehearsals, and upon the costumes she spent money with a lavish hand.
Moreover, instead of being annoyed, as Edith was, at Deborah's prominence
in the press, Laura gloried in it, as though this "radical" sister of hers
were a distinct social asset among her giddy friends uptown. For even
Laura's friends, her father learned with astonishment, had acquired quite
an appetite for men and women with ideas - the more "radical," the better.
But the way Laura used this word at times made Roger's blood run cold. She
was vivid in her approval of her sister's whole idea, as a scheme of
wholesale motherhood which would give "a perfectly glorious jolt" to the
old-fashioned home with its overworked mothers who let their children
absorb their days.

"As though having children and bringing them up," she disdainfully
declared, "were something every woman must do, whether she happens to like
it or not, at the cost of any real growth of her own!"

And smilingly she hinted at impending radical changes in the whole relation
of marriage, of which she was hearing in detail at a series of lectures to
young wives, delivered on Thursday mornings in a hotel ball-room.

What the devil was getting into the town? Roger frowned his deep dislike.
Here was Laura with her chicken's mind blithely taking her sister's
thoughts and turning them topsy-turvy, to make for herself a view of life
which fitted like a white kid glove her small and elegant "ménage." And
although her father had only inklings of it all, he had quite enough to
make him irate at this uncanny interplay of influences in his family. Why
couldn't the girls leave each other alone?

* * * * *

Early in the winter, Edith, too, had entered in. It had taken Edith just
one glance into the bride's apartment to grasp Laura's whole scheme of
existence.

"Selfish, indulgent and abnormal," was the way she described it. She and
Bruce were dining with Roger that night. "I wash my hands of the whole
affair," continued Edith curtly. "So long as she doesn't want my help, as
she has plainly made me feel, I certainly shan't stand in her way."

"You're absolutely right," said her father.

"Stick to it," said Bruce approvingly.

But Edith did not stick to it. In her case too, as the weeks wore on, those
subtle family ties took hold and made her feel the least she could do was
"to keep up appearances." So she and Bruce dined with the bride and groom,
and in turn had them to dinner. And these dinners, as Bruce confided to
Roger, were occasions no man could forget.

"They come only about once a month," he said in a tone of pathos, "but it
seems as though barely a week had gone by when Edith says to me again,
'We're dining with Laura and Hal to-night.' Well, and we dine. Young Sloane
is not a bad sort of a chap - works hard downtown and worships his wife. The
way he lives - well, it isn't mine - and mine isn't his - and we both let it
go at that. But the women can't, they haven't it in 'em. Each sits with her
way of life in her lap. You can't see it over the tablecloth, but, my God,
how you feel it! The worst of it is," he ended, "that after one of these
terrible meals each woman is more set than before in her own way of living.
Not that I don't like Edith's way," her husband added hastily.

Edith also disapproved of the fast increasing publicity which Deborah was
getting.

"I may be very old-fashioned," she remarked to her father, "but I can't get
used to this idea that a woman's place is in headlines. And I think it's
rather hard on you - the use she's making of your house."

One Friday night when she came to play chess, she found her father in the
midst of a boisterous special meeting of his club of Italian boys. It had
been postponed from the evening before. And though Roger, overcome with
dismay at having forgotten Edith's night, apologized profusely, the
time-honored weekly game took place no more from that day on.

"Edith's pretty sore," said Bruce, who dropped in soon afterwards. "She
says Deborah has made your house into an annex to her school."

Roger smoked in silence. His whole family was about his ears.

"My boy," he muttered earnestly, "you and I must stick together."

"We sure must," agreed his son-in-law. "And what's more, if we're to keep
the peace, we've got to try to put some punch into Deborah's so-called love
affair. She ought to get married and settle down."

"Yes," said Roger, dubiously. "Only let's keep it to ourselves."

"No chance of that," was the cheerful reply. "You can't keep Edith out of
it. It would only make trouble in _my_ family." Roger gave him a pitying
look and said,

"Then, for the Lord's sake, let her in!"

So they took Edith into their councils, and she gave them an indulgent
smile.

"Suppose you leave this to me," she commanded. "Don't you think I've been
using my eyes? There's no earthly use in stepping in now, for Deborah has
lost her head. She sees herself a great new woman with a career. But wait
till the present flare-up subsides, till the newspapers all drop her and
she is thoroughly tired out. Until then, remember, we keep our hands off."

"Do you think you can?" asked Roger, with a little glimmer of hope.

"I?" she retorted. "Most certainly! I mean to leave her alone
absolutely - until she comes to me herself. When she does, we'll know it's
time to begin."

* * * * *

"I'm afraid Edith is hurt about something," said Deborah to her father,
about a month after this little talk. "She hasn't been near us for over
three weeks."

"Let her be!" said Roger, in alarm. "I mean," he hastily added, "why can't
you let Edith come when she likes? There's nothing the matter. It's simply
her children - they take up her time."

"No," said Deborah calmly, "it's I. She as good as told me so last month.
She thinks I've become a perfect fanatic - without a spare moment or
thought for my family."

"Oh, my family!" Roger groaned. "I tell you, Deborah, you're wrong! Edith's
children are probably sick in bed!"

"Then I'll go and see," she answered.

* * * * *

"Something has happened to Deborah," Edith informed him blithely, over the
telephone the next night.

"Has, eh," grunted Roger.

"Yes, she was here to see me to-day. And something has happened - she's
changing fast. I felt it in all kinds of ways. She was just as dear as she
could be - and lonely, as though she were feeling her age. I really think we
can do something now."

"All right, let's do something," Roger growled.

And Edith began to do something. Her hostility to her sister had completely
disappeared. In its place was a friendly affection, an evident desire to
please. She even drew Laura into the secret, and there was a gathering of
the clan. There were consultations in Roger's den. "Deborah is to get
married." The feeling of it crept through the house. Nothing was said to
her, of course, but Deborah was made to feel that her two sisters had drawn
close. And their influence upon her choice was more deep and subtle than
she knew. For although Roger's family had split so wide apart, between his
three daughters there were still mysterious bonds reaching far back into
nursery days. And Deborah in deciding whether to marry Allan Baird was
affected more than she was aware by the married lives of her sisters. All
she had seen in Laura's ménage, all that she had ever observed in Edith's
growing family, kept rising from time to time in her thoughts, as she
vaguely tried to picture herself a wife and the mother of children.

So the family, with those subtle bonds from the past, began to press
steadily closer and closer around this one unmarried daughter, and help her
to make up her mind.




CHAPTER XVII


But she did not appear to care to be helped. Nor did Allan - he rarely came
to the house, and he went to Edith's not at all. He was even absent from
her Christmas tree for the children, a jolly little festivity which neither
he nor Deborah had missed in years.

"What has got into him?" Roger asked. And shortly after Christmas he called
the fellow up on the 'phone. "Drop in for dinner to-night," he urged. And
he added distinctly, "I'm alone."

"Are you? I'll be glad to."

"Thank you, Baird, I want your advice." And as he hung up the receiver he
said, "Now then!" to himself, in a tone of firm decision. But later, as the
day wore on, he cursed himself for what he had done. "Don't it beat the
devil," he thought, "how I'm always putting my foot in it?" And when Baird
came into the room that night he loomed, to Roger's anxious eye, if
anything taller than before. But his manner was so easy, his gruff voice so
natural, and he seemed to take this little party of two so quietly as a
matter of course, that Roger was soon reassured, and at table he and Allan
got on even better than before. Baird talked of his life as a student, in
Vienna, Bonn and Edinburgh, and of his first struggles in New York. His
talk was full of human bits, some tragic, more amusing. And Roger's liking
for the man increased with every story told.

"I asked you here," he bluntly began, when they had gone to the study to
smoke, "to talk to you about Deborah." Baird gave him a friendly look.

"All right. Let's talk about her."

"It strikes me you were right last year," said Roger, speaking slowly.
"She's already showing the strain of her work. She don't look to me as
strong as she was."

"She looks to me stronger," Allan replied. "You know, people fool doctors
now and then - and she seems to have taken a fresh start. I feel she may go
on for years." Roger was silent a moment, chagrined and disappointed.

"Have you had a good chance to watch her?" he asked.

"Yes, and I'm watching her still," said Baird. "I see her down there at the
school. She tells me you've been there yourself."

"Yes," said Roger, determinedly, "and I mean to keep on going. I'm trying
not to lose hold of her," he added with harsh emphasis. Baird turned and
frankly smiled at him.

"Then you have probably seen," he replied, "that to keep any hold at all on
her, you must make up your mind as I have done that, strength or no
strength, this job of hers is going to be a life career. When a woman who
has held a job without a break for eleven years can feel such a flame of
enthusiasm, you can be pretty sure, I think, it is the deepest part of her.
At least I feel that way," he said. "And I believe the only way to keep
near her - for the present, anyhow - is to help her in her work."

When Baird had gone, Roger found himself angry.

"I'm not in the habit, young man," he thought, "of throwing my daughter at
gentlemen's heads. If you feel as calm and contented as that you can go to
the devil! Far be it from me to lift a hand! In fact, as I come to think of
it, you would probably make her a mighty poor husband!" He worked himself
into quite a rage. But an hour later, when he had subsided, "Hold on," he
thought. "Am I right about this? Is the man as contented as he talks? No,
sir, not for a minute he isn't! But what can he do? If he tried making love
to Deborah he'd simply be killing his chances. Not the slightest doubt in
the world. She can't think of anything but her career. Yes, sir, when all's
said and done, to marry a modern woman is no child's play, it means thought
and care. And A. Baird has made up his mind to it. He has made up his mind
to marry her by playing a long waiting game. He's just slowly and quietly
nosing his way into her school, because it's her life. And a mighty shrewd
way of going about it. You don't need any help from me, my friend; all you
need is to be let alone."

In talks at home with Deborah, and in what he himself observed at school,
Roger began to get inklings of "A. Baird's long waiting game." He found
that several months before Allan had offered to start a free clinic for
mothers and children in connection with the school, and that he alone had
put it through, with only the most reluctant aid and gratitude from
Deborah - as though she dreaded something. Baird took countless hours from
his busy uptown practice; he hurt himself more than once, in fact, by
neglecting rich patients to do this work. Where a sick or pregnant mother
was too poor to carry out his advice, he followed her into her tenement
home, sent one of his nurses to visit her, and even gave money when it was
needed to ease the strain of her poverty until she should be well and
strong. Soon scores of the mothers of Deborah's children were singing the
praises of Doctor Baird.

Then he began coming to the house.

"I was right," thought Roger complacently.

He laid in a stock of fine cigars and some good port and claret, too; and
on evenings when Baird came to dine, Roger by a genial glow and occasional
jocular ironies would endeavor to drag the talk away from clinics,
adenoids, children's teeth, epidemics and the new education. But no joke
was so good that Deborah could not promptly match it with some amusing
little thing which one of her children had said or done. For she had a
mother's instinct for bragging fondly of her brood. It was deep, it was
uncanny, this queer community motherhood.

"This poor devil," Roger thought, with a pitying glance at Baird, "might
just as well be marrying a widow with three thousand brats."

But Baird did not seem in the least dismayed. On the contrary, his
assurance appeared to be deepening every week, and with it Deborah's air of
alarm. For his clinic, as it swiftly grew, he secured financial backing
from his rich women patients uptown, many of them childless and only too
ready to respond to the appeals he made to them. And one Saturday evening
at the house, while dining with Roger and Deborah, he told of an offer he
had had from a wealthy banker's widow to build a maternity hospital. He
talked hungrily of all it could do in co-operation with the school. He said
nothing of the obvious fact that it would require his whole time, but Roger
thought of that at once, and by the expression on Deborah's face he saw she
was thinking, too.

He felt they wanted to be alone, so presently he left them. From his study
he could hear their voices growing steadily more intense. Was it all about
work? He could not tell. "They've got working and living so mixed up, a man
can't possibly tell 'em apart."

Then his daughter was called to the telephone, and Allan came in to bid
Roger good-night. And his eyes showed an impatience he did not seem to care
to hide.

"Well?" inquired Roger. "Did you get Deborah's consent?"

"To what?" asked Allan sharply.

"To your acceptance," Roger answered, "of the widow's mite." Baird grinned.

"She couldn't help herself," he said.

"But she didn't seem to like it, eh - "

"No," said Baird, "she didn't." Roger had a dark suspicion.

"By the way," he asked in a casual tone, "what's this philanthropic widow
like?"

"She's sixty-nine," Baird answered.

"Oh," said Roger. He smoked for a time, and sagely added, "My daughter's a
queer woman, Baird - she's modern, very modern. But she's still a woman, you
understand - and so she's jealous - of her job." But A. Baird was in no
joking mood.

"She's narrow," he said sternly. "That's what's the matter with Deborah.
She's so centered on her job she can't see anyone else's. She thinks I'm
doing all this work solely in order to help her school - when if she'd use
some imagination and try to put herself in my shoes, she'd see the chance
it's giving _me_!"

"How do you mean?" asked Roger, looking a bit bewildered.

"Why," said Baird with an impatient fling of his hand, "there are men in my
line all over the country who'd leave home, wives and children for the
chance I've blundered onto here! A hospital fully equipped for research, a
free hand, an opportunity which comes to one man in a million! But can she
see it? Not at all! It's only an annex to her school!"

"Yes," said Roger gravely, "she's in a pretty unnatural state. I think she
ought to get married, Baird - " To his friendly and disarming twinkle Baird
replied with a rueful smile.

"You do, eh," he growled. "Then tell her to plan her wedding to come before
her funeral." As he rose to go, Roger took his hand.

"I'll tell her," he said. "It's sound advice. Good-night, my boy, I wish
you luck."

A few moments later he heard in the hall their brief good-nights to each
other, and presently Deborah came in. She was not looking quite herself.

"Why are you eyeing me like that?" his daughter asked abruptly.

"Aren't you letting him do a good deal for you?"

Deborah flushed a little:

"Yes, I am. I can't make him stop."

Her father hesitated.

"You could," he said, "if you wanted to. If you were sure," he added
slowly, "that you didn't love him - and told him so." He felt a little
panic, for he thought he had gone too far. But his daughter only turned
away and restlessly moved about the room. At last she came to her father's
chair:

"Hadn't you better leave this to me?"

"I had, my dear, I most certainly had. I was all wrong to mention it," he
answered very humbly.

* * * * *

From this night on, Baird changed his tack. Although soon busy with the
plans for the hospital, to be built at once, he said little about it to
Deborah. Instead, he insisted on taking her off on little evening sprees
uptown.

"Do you know what's the matter with both of us?" he said to her one
evening. "We've been getting too durned devoted to our jobs and our ideals.
You're becoming a regular school marm and I'm getting to be a regular slave
to every wretched little babe who takes it into his head to be born. We
haven't one redeeming vice."

And again he took up dancing. The first effort which he made, down at
Deborah's school one evening, was a failure quite as dismal as his attempts
of the previous year. But he did not appear in the least discouraged. He
came to the house one Friday night.

"I knew I could learn to dance," he said, "in spite of all your taunts and
jibes. That little fiasco last Saturday night - "

"Was perfectly awful," Deborah said.

"Did not discourage me in the least," he continued severely. "I decided the
only trouble with me was that I'm tall and I've got to bend - to learn to
bend."

"Tremendously!"

"So I went to a lady professor, and she saw the point at once. Since then
I've had five lessons, and I can fox-trot in my sleep. To-morrow is
Saturday. Where shall we go?"

"To the theater."

"Good. We'll start with that. But the minute the play is over we'll gallop
off to the Plaza Grill - just as the music is in full swing - "

"And we'll dance," she groaned, "for hours. And when I get home, I'll creep
into bed so tired and sore in every limb - "

"That you'll sleep late Sunday morning. And a mighty good thing for you,
too - if you ask my advice - "

"I don't ask your advice!"

"You're getting it, though," he said doggedly. "If you're still to be a
friend of mine we'll dance at the Plaza to-morrow night - and well into the
Sabbath."

"The principal of a public school - dancing on the Sabbath. Suppose one of
my friends should see us there."

"Your friends," he replied with a fine contempt, "do not dance in the Plaza
Grill. I'm the only roisterer you know."

"All right," she conceded grudgingly, "I'll roister. Come and get me. But
I'd much prefer when the play is done to come home and have milk and
crackers here."

"Deborah," he said cheerfully, "for a radical school reformer you're the
most conservative woman I know."




CHAPTER XVIII


In Deborah's school, in the meantime, affairs had drawn to a climax. The
moment had come for the city to say whether her new experiment should be
dropped the following year or allowed to go on and develop. There came a
day of sharp suspense when Deborah's friends and enemies on the Board of
Education sat down to discuss and settle her fate. They were at it for
several hours, but late in the afternoon they decided not only to let her
go on the next year but to try her idea in four other schools and place her
in charge with ample funds. The long strain came to an end at last in a
triumph beyond her wildest hopes; when the news arrived she relaxed, grew
limp, and laughed and cried a little. And her father felt her tremble as he
held her a moment in his arms.

"Now, Baird," he thought, "your chance has come. For God's sake, take it
while it's here!"

But in place of Baird that afternoon came men and women from the press, and
friends and fellow workers. The door-bell and the telephone kept ringing
almost incessantly. Why couldn't they leave her a moment's peace? Roger
buried himself in his study. Later, when he was called to dinner, he found
that Allan was there, too, but at first the conversation was all upon


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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 10 of 22)