Ernest Poole.

His Family online

. (page 11 of 22)
Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 11 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Deborah's victory. Flushed with success, for the moment engrossed in the
wider field she saw ahead, she had not a thought for anything else. But
after dinner the atmosphere changed.

"To hear me talk," she told them, "you'd think the whole world depended on
me, and on my school and my ideas. Me, me, me! And it has been me all
winter long! What a time I've given both of you!"

She grew repentant and grateful, first to her father and then to Allan, and
then more and more to Allan, with her happy eyes on his. And with a keen
worried look at them both, Roger rose and left the room.

* * * * *

Baird was leaning forward. He had both her hands in his own.

"Well?" he asked. "Will you marry me now?"

Her eyes were looking straight into his. They kept moving slightly,
searching his. Her wide, sensitive lips were tightly compressed, but did
not quite hide their quivering. When she spoke her voice was low and a
little queer and breathless:

"Do you want any children, Allan?"


"So do I. And with children, what of my work?"

"I don't want to stop your work. If you marry me we'll go right on. You see
I know you, Deborah, I know you've always grown like that - by risking what
you've got to-day for something more to-morrow."

"I've never taken a risk like this!"

"I tell you this time it's no risk! Because you're a grown woman - formed!
I'm not making a saint of you. You're no angel down among the poor because
you feel it's your duty in life - it's your happiness, your passion! You
couldn't neglect them if you tried!"

"But the time," she asked him quickly. "Where shall I find the time for it

"A man finds time enough," he answered, "even when he's married."

"But I'm not a man, I'm a woman," she said. And in a low voice which
thrilled him, "A woman who wants a child of her own!" His lean muscular
right hand contracted sharply upon hers. She winced, drew back a little.

"Oh - I'm sorry!" he whispered. Then he asked her again,

"Will you marry me now?" She looked suddenly up:

"Let's wait awhile, please! It won't be long - I'm in love with you, Allan,
I'm sure of that now! And I'm not drawing back, I'm not afraid! Oh, I want
you to feel I'm not running away! What I want to do is to face this square!
It may be silly and foolish but - you see, I'm made like that. I want a
little longer - I want to think it out by myself."

* * * * *

When Allan had gone she came in to her father. And her radiant expression
made him bounce up from his chair.

"By George," he cried, "he asked you!"


"And you've taken him!"


Roger gasped.

"Look here!" he demanded, angrily. "What's the matter? Are you mad?" She
threw back her head and laughed at him.

"No, I'm not - I'm happy!"

"What the devil about?" he snapped.

"We're going to wait a bit, that's all, till we're sure of everything!" she

"Then," said Roger disgustedly, "you're smarter than your father is. I'm
sure of nothing - nothing! I have never been sure in all my days! If I'd
waited, you'd never have been born!"

"Oh, dearie," she begged him smilingly. "Please don't be so unhappy just
now - "

"I've a right to be!" said Roger. "I see my house agog with this - in a
turmoil - in a turmoil!"

* * * * *

But again he was mistaken. It was in fact astonishing how the old house
quieted down. There came again one of those peaceful times, when his home
to Roger's senses seemed to settle deep, grow still, and gather itself
together. Day by day he felt more sure that Deborah was succeeding in
making her work fit into her swiftly deepening passion for a full happy
woman's life. And why shouldn't they live here, Allan and she? The thought
of this dispelled the cloud which hung over the years he saw ahead. How
smoothly things were working out. The monstrous new buildings around his
house seemed to him to draw back as though balked of their prey.

On the mantle in Roger's study, for many years a bronze figure there, "The
Thinker," huge and naked, forbidding in its crouching pose, the heavy chin
on one clenched fist, had brooded down upon him. And in the years that had
been so dark, it had been a figure of despair. Often he had looked up from
his chair and grimly met its frowning gaze. But Roger seldom looked at it
now, and even when it caught his eye it had little effect upon him. It
appeared to brood less darkly. For though he did not think it out, there
was this feeling in his mind:

"There is to be nothing startling in this quiet home of mine, no crashing
deep calamity here."

Only the steadily deepening love between a grown man and a woman mature,
both sensible, strong people with a firm control of their destinies. He
felt so sure of this affair. For now, her tension once relaxed with the
success which had come to her after so many long hard years, a new Deborah
was revealed, more human in her yieldings. She let Allan take her off on
the wildest little sprees uptown and out into the country. To Roger she
seemed younger, more warm and joyous and more free. He loved to hear her
laugh these nights, to catch the glad new tones in her voice.

"There is to be no tragedy here."

So, certain of this union and wistful for all he felt it would bring, Roger
watched its swift approach. And when the news came, he was sure he'd been
right. Because it came so quietly.

"It's settled, dear, at last it's sure. Allan and I are to be married." She
was standing by his chair. Roger reached up and took her hand:

"I'm glad. You'll be very happy, my child."

She bent over and kissed him, and putting his arm around her he drew her
down on the side of his chair.

"Now tell me all your plans," he said. And her answer brought him a deep

"We're going abroad for the summer - and then if you'll have us we want to
come here." Roger abruptly shut his eyes.

"By George, Deborah," he said, "you do have a way of getting right into the
heart of things!" His arm closed about her with new strength and he felt
all his troubles flying away.

"What a time we'll have, what a rich new life." Her deep sweet voice was a
little unsteady. "Listen, dearie, how quiet it is." And for some moments
nothing was heard but the sober tick-tick of the clock on the mantle. "I
wonder what we're going to hear."

And they thought of new voices in the house.


Edith was radiant at the news.

"I do hope they're not going to grudge themselves a good long wedding
trip!" she exclaimed.

"They're going abroad," said Roger.

"Oh, splendid! And the wedding! Church or home?"

"Home," said Roger blissfully, "and short and simple, not a frill. Just the

"Oh, that's so nice," sighed Edith. "I was afraid she'd want to drag in her

"School will be out by then," he said.

"Well, I hope it stays out - for the remainder of her days. She can't do
both, and she'll soon see. Wait till she has a child of her own."

"Well, she wants one bad enough."

"Yes, but can she?" Edith asked, with the engrossed expression which came
on her pretty florid face whenever she neared such a topic. She spoke with
evident awkwardness. "That's the trouble. Is it too late? Deborah's
thirty-one, you know, and she has lived her life so hard. The sooner she
gives up her school the better for her chances."

The face of her father clouded.

"Look here," he said uneasily, "I wouldn't go talking to her - quite along
those lines, my dear."

"I'm not such an idiot," she replied. "She thinks me homely enough as it
is. And she's not altogether wrong. Bruce and I were talking it over last
night. We want to be closer, after this, to Deborah and Allan. Bruce says
it will do us _all_ good, and for once I think he's right. I _have_ given
too much time to my children, and Bruce to his office - I see it now. Not
that I regret it, but - well, we're going to blossom out."

* * * * *

She struck the same note with Deborah. And so did Bruce.

"Oh, Deborah dear," he said smiling, when he found a chance to see her
alone, "if you knew how long I've waited for this big fine thing to happen.
A. Baird is my best chum in the world. Don't yank him gently away from us
now. We'll keep close - eh? - all four of us."

"Very," said Deborah softly.

"And you mustn't get too solemn, you know. You won't pull too much of the
highbrow stuff."

"Heaven forbid!"

"That's the right idea. We'll have some fine little parties together. You
and A. Baird will give us a hand and get us out in the evenings. We need
it, God knows, we've been getting old." Deborah threw him a glance of

"Why, Brucie," she said, in admiring tones, "I knew you had it in you."

"So has Edith," he sturdily declared. "She only needs a little shove. We'll
show you two that we're regular fellows. Don't you be all school and we
won't be all home. We'll jump out of our skins and be young again."

* * * * *

In pursuance of this gay resolve, Bruce planned frequent parties to
theaters and musical shows, and to Edith's consternation he even began to
look about for a teacher from whom he could learn to dance. "A. Baird," he
told her firmly, "isn't going to be the only soubrette in this family."

One of the most hilarious of these small celebrations came early in June,
when they dined all four together and went to the summer's opening of "The
Follies of 1914." The show rather dragged a bit at first, but when Bert
Williams took the stage Bruce's laugh became so contagious that people in
seats on every hand turned to look at him and join in his glee. Only one
thing happened to mar the evening's pleasure. When they came outside the
theater Bruce found in his car something wrong with the engine. He tinkered
but it would not go. Allan hailed a taxi.

"Why not come with us?" asked Deborah.

"No, thanks," said Bruce. "I've got this car to look after."

"Oh, let it wait," urged Allan.

"It does look a little like rain," put in Edith. Bruce glanced up at the
cloudy sky and hesitated a moment.

"Rain, piffle," he said good-humoredly. "Come on, wifey, stick by me. I
won't be long." And he and Edith went back to his car.

"What a dear he is," said Deborah. Allan put his arm around her, and they
looked at each other and smiled. It was only nine days to the wedding.

Out of the street's commotion came a sharp cry of warning. It was followed
by a shriek and a crash. Allan looked out of the window, and then with a
low exclamation he jumped from the taxi and slammed the door.


Roger had been spending a long quiet evening at home. He had asked John to
dine with him and they had chatted for a time. Then John had started up to
his room. And listening to the slow shuffling step of the cripple going
upstairs, Roger had thought of the quick eager feet and the sudden scampers
that would be heard as the silent old house renewed its life. Later he had
gone to bed.

He awakened with a start. The telephone bell was ringing.

"Nice time to be calling folks out of bed," he grumbled, as he went into
the hall. The next moment he heard Deborah's voice. It was clear and sharp
with a note of alarm.

"Father - it's I! You must come to Edith's apartment at once! Bruce is hurt
badly! Come at once!"

When Roger reached the apartment, it was Deborah who opened the door. Her
face had changed, it was drawn and gray. She took him into the living room.

"Tell me," he said harshly.

"It was just outside the theater. Bruce and Edith were out in the street
and got caught by some idiot of a chauffeur. Bruce threw Edith out of the
way, but just as he did it he himself got struck in the back and went under
a wheel. Allan brought him here at once, while I telephoned for a friend of
his - a surgeon. They're with Bruce now."

"Where's Edith?"

"She's trying to quiet the children. They all woke up - " Deborah
frowned - "when he was brought in," she added.

"Well!" breathed Roger. "I declare!" Dazed and stunned, he sank into a
chair. Soon the door opened and Allan came in.

"He's gone," he said. And Deborah jumped. "No, no, I meant the doctor."

"What does he say?"

"Bruce can't live," said Allan gently. In the tense silence there came a
chill. "And he knows it," Allan added. "He made me tell him - he said he
must know - for business reasons. He wants to see you both at once, before
Edith gets that child asleep."

As they entered the room they saw Bruce on his bed. He was breathing
quickly through his narrow tight-set jaws and staring up at the ceiling
with a straining fixed intensity. As they entered he turned his head. His
eyes met theirs and lighted up in a hard and terrible manner.

"I'm not leaving them a dollar!" he cried.

"We'll see to them, boy," said Roger, hoarsely, but Bruce had already
turned to Baird.

"I make you my executor, Allan - don't need it in writing - there isn't
time." He drew a sudden quivering breath. "I have no will," he muttered on.
"Never made one - never thought of this. Business life just
starting - booming! - and I put in every cent!" There broke from him a low,
bitter groan. "Made my money settling other men's muddles! Never thought of
making this mess of my own! But even in mine - I could save something
still - if I could be there - if I could be there - "

The sweat broke out on his temples, and Deborah laid her hand on his head.
"Sh-h-h," she breathed. He shut his eyes.

"Hard to think of anything any more. I can't keep clear." He shuddered with
pain. "Fix me for _them_," he muttered to Baird. "George and his mother.
Fix me up - give me a couple of minutes clear. And Deborah - when you bring
'em in - don't let 'em know. You understand? No infernal last good-byes!"
Deborah sharply set her teeth.

"No, dear, no," she whispered. She followed her father out of the room,
leaving Allan bending over the bed with a hypodermic in his hand. And when,
a few moments later, George came in with his mother, they found Bruce
soothed and quieted. He even smiled as he reached up his hand.

"They say I've got to sleep, old girl - just sleep and sleep - it'll do me
good. So you mustn't stay in the room to-night. Stay with the kiddies and
get 'em to sleep." He was still smiling up at her. "They say it'll be a
long time, little wife - and I'm so sorry - I was to blame. If I'd done as
you wanted and gone in their taxi. Remember? You said it might rain." He
turned to George: "Look here, my boy, I'm counting on you. I'll be sick,
you know - no good at all. You must stand by your mother."

George gulped awkwardly:

"Sure I will, dad." His father sharply pressed his hand:

"That's right, old fellow, I know what you are. Now good-night, son.
Good-night, Edith dear." He looked at her steadily just for a moment, then
closed his eyes. "Oh, but I'm sleepy," he murmured. "Good-night."

And they left him. Alone with Allan, Bruce looked up with a savage glare.

"Look here!" he snarled, between his teeth. "If you think I'm going to lie
here and die you're mistaken! I won't! I won't let go! I'll show you chaps
you can be wrong! Been wrong before, haven't you, thousands of times! Why
be so damnably sure about _me_?" He fell back suddenly, limp and weak. "So
damnably sure," he panted.

"We're never sure, my dear old boy," said Allan very tenderly. Again he
was bending close over the bed. "We're not sure yet - by any means. You're
so strong, old chap, so amazingly strong. You've given me hope - "

"What are you sticking into my arm?" But Allan kept talking steadily on:

"You've given me hope you'll pull through still. But not like this. You've
got to rest. Let go, and try to go to sleep."

"I'm afraid to," came the whisper. But soon, as again the drug took hold,
he mumbled in a drowsy tone, "Afraid to go to sleep in the dark.... Say,
Allan - get Deborah in here, will you - just for a minute. One thing more."

When she came, he did not open his eyes.

"That you, Deborah? Where's your hand?... Oh - there it is. Just one more
point. You - you - " Again his mind wandered, but with an effort he brought
it back. "You and Edith," he said in a whisper. "So - so - so different.
Not - not like each other at all. But you'll stick together - eh?
Always - always. Don't let go - I mean of my hand."

"No, dear, no."

And with her hand holding his, she sat for a long time perfectly still.
Then the baby was heard crying, and Deborah went to the nursery.

"Now, Edith, I'll see to the children," she said. "Allan says you can go to
Bruce if you like."

Edith looked up at Deborah quickly, and as quickly turned away. She went in
to her husband. And there, hour by hour through the night, while he lay
inert with his hand in hers, little by little she understood. But she asked
no question of anyone.

At last Bruce stirred a little and began breathing deep and fast.

And so death came into the family.


Roger went through the next two days in a kind of a stupor. He remembered
holding Edith and feeling her shudder as though from a chill. He remembered
being stopped in the hall by George who had dressed himself with care in
his first suit with long trousers. "I just wanted you to remember," the boy
whispered solemnly, "that I'm nearly sixteen and I'll be here. He said to
stand by her and I will." The rest of that ghastly time was a blank,
punctuated by small quiet orders which Roger obeyed. Thank God, Deborah was
there, and she was attending to everything.

But when at last it was over, and Roger had spent the next day in his
office, had found it impossible to work and so had gone home early, Deborah
came to him in his room.

"Now we must have a talk," she said. "Allan has gone through Bruce's
affairs, and there are still debts to be settled, it seems."

"How much do they come to, Deborah?"

"About five thousand dollars," she said. And for a moment neither spoke. "I
wish I could help you out," she went on, "but I have nothing saved and
neither has Allan. We've both kept using our money downtown - except just
enough for the trip abroad - and we'll need almost all of that to settle for
the funeral."

"I can manage," Roger said, and again there was a silence.

"Edith will have to come here to live," Deborah said presently. Her
father's heavy face grew stern.

"I'd thought of that," he answered. "But it will be hard on her,
Deborah - "

"I know it will - but I don't see anything else to be done." The deep quiet
voice of his daughter grew sweet with pity as she spoke. "At least we can
try to make it a little easier for her. You can take her up to the
mountains and I can close her apartment. But of course she won't agree to
it unless she knows how matters stand." Deborah waited a little. "Don't you
think you're the best one to tell her?"

"Yes," said Roger, after a pause.

"Then suppose we go to her. I'm sleeping up there for the next few nights."

* * * * *

They found Edith in her living room. She had sent the nurse out, put the
children to bed, and left alone with nothing to do she had sat facing her
first night. Her light soft hair was disheveled, her pretty features pale
and set. But the moment Roger entered he saw that she had herself in hand.

"Well, father," she said steadily. "You'd better tell me about our affairs.
_My_ affairs," she corrected herself. When he had explained, she was silent
a moment, and then in a voice harsh, bitter, abrupt, "That will be hard on
the children," she said. On an impulse he started to take her hand, but she
drew a little away from him.

"The children, my dear," he said huskily, "will be taken care of always."

"Yes." And again she was silent. "I've been thinking I'd like to go up to
the mountains - right away," she continued.

"Just our idea," he told her. "Deborah will arrange it at once."

"That's good of Deborah," she replied. And after another pause: "But take
her home with you - will you? I'd rather not have her here to-night."

"I think she'd better stay, my dear."

"All right." In a tone of weariness. "Madge Deering called me up to-night.
She's coming in town to-morrow, and she means to stay till I go."

"I'm glad," he said approvingly. Madge had been a widow for years. Living
out in Morristown with four daughters to bring up, she had determinedly
fought her way and had not only regained her hold but had even grown in
strength and breadth since the death of her husband long ago. "I'm glad,"
he said. "You and Madge - " he paused.

"Yes, we'll have a good deal in common," Edith finished out his thought.
"You look tired, dad. Hadn't you better go home now?" she suggested after a

"Yes," said Roger, rising. "Good-night, my child. Remember."

In the outer hallway he found Deborah with Laura. Laura had been here
several times. She was getting Edith's mourning.

"There's a love of a hat at Thurn's," she was saying softly, "if only we
can get her to wear it. It's just her type." And Laura drew an anxious
breath. "Anything," she added, "to escape that hideous heavy crepe."

Roger slightly raised his brows. He noticed a faint delicious perfume that
irritated him suddenly. But glancing again at his daughter, trim, fresh and
so immaculate, the joy of life barely concealed in her eyes, he stopped and
talked and smiled at her, as Deborah was doing, enjoying her beauty and her
youth, her love and all her happiness. And though they spoke of her sister,
she knew they were thinking of herself, and that it was quite right they
should, for it gave them a little relief from their gloom. She was honestly
sorry for Edith, but she was sorrier still for Bruce, who she knew had
always liked her more than he would have cared to say. She was sorrier for
Bruce because, while Edith had lost only her husband, Bruce had lost his
very life. And life meant so much to Laura, these days, the glowing,
coursing, vibrant life of her warm beautiful body. She was thinking of that
as she stood in the hall.

* * * * *

In the evening, at home in his study, Roger heard a slight knock at the
door. He looked up and saw John.

"May I come in, Mr. Gale, for a minute?"

"Yes, my boy." John hobbled in.

"Only a minute." His voice was embarrassed. "Just two or three things I
thought of," he said. "The first was about your son-in-law. You see, I was
his stenographer - and while I was in his office - this morning helping
Doctor Baird - I found a good deal I can do there still - about things no one
remembers but me. So I'll stay there awhile, if it's all right. Only - " he
paused - "without any pay. See what I mean?"

"Yes, I see," said Roger. "And you'd better stay - in that way if you like."

"Thanks," said John. "Then about his wife and family. You're to take them
up to the mountains, I hear - and - well, before this happened you asked _me_
up this summer. But I guess I'd better not."

"I don't think you'd be in the way, my boy."

"I'd rather stay here, if you don't mind. When I'm through in your
son-in-law's office I thought I might go back to yours. I could send you
your mail every two or three days."

"I'd like that, John - it will be a great help."

"All right, Mr. Gale." John stopped at the door. "And Miss Deborah," he
ventured. "Is she to get married just the same?"

"Oh, yes, I think so - later on."

"Good-night, sir."

And John went out of the room.

When _would_ Deborah be married? It came over Roger, when he was alone, how
his family had shifted its center. Deborah would have come here to live,
to love and be happy, a mother perhaps, but now she must find a home of her
own. In her place would come Edith with her children. All would center on
her in her grief.

And for no cause! Just a trick of chance, a street accident! And Roger grew
bitter and rebelled. Bruce was not the one of the family to die. Bruce, so
shrewd and vigorous, so vital, the practical man of affairs. Bruce had been
going the pace that kills - yes, Roger had often thought of it. But that had
nothing to do with this! If Bruce had died at fifty, say, as a result of
the life he had chosen, the fierce exhausting city which he had loved as a
man will love drink, then at least there would have been some sense of
fairness in it all! If the town had let him alone till his time! But to be
knocked down by an automobile! The devilish irony of it! No
reason - nothing! Just hideous luck!

Well, life was like that. As for Edith and her children, he would be glad
to have them here. Only, it would be different, the house would have to
change again. He was sorry, too, for Deborah. No wedding trip as she had

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 11 of 22)