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his home. He heard Deborah on the floor above, and went up and found her
making his bed, for the chambermaid had not yet come. Her voice was a
little unnatural.

"It has been a hard day, hasn't it. I've got your bath-room ready," she
said. "Don't you want a nice cool bath? Supper will be ready soon."

When, a half hour later, somewhat refreshed, Roger came down to the table,
he noticed it was set for two.

"Isn't Allan coming?" he asked. Her mobile features tightened.

"Not till later," she replied.

They talked little and the meal was short. But afterwards, on the wooden
porch, Deborah turned to her father,

"Now tell me about your office," she said.

"There's not enough business to pay the rent."

"That won't last - "

"I'm not so sure."

"I am," she said determinedly. Her father slowly turned his head.

"Are you, with this war?" he asked. Her eyes met his and moved away in a
baffled, searching manner. "She has troubles of her own," he thought.

"How much can we run the house on, Deborah?" he asked her. At first she did
not answer. "What was it - about six thousand last year?"

"I think so," she said restlessly. "We can cut down on that, of course - "

"With Edith and the children here?"

"Edith will have to manage it! There are others to be thought of!"

"The children in your schools, you mean."

"Yes," she answered with a frown. "It will be a bad year for the tenements.
But please go on and tell me. What have you thought of doing?"

"Mortgage the house again," he replied. "It hasn't been easy, for money is
tight, but I think I'll be able to get enough to just about carry us
through the year. At home, I mean," he added.

"And the office?"

"Shut down," he said. She turned on him fiercely.

"You won't do that!"

"What else can I do?"

"Turn all those girls away?" she cried. At her tone his look grew troubled.

"How can I help myself, Deborah? If I kept open it would cost me over five
hundred a week to run. Have I five hundred dollars a week to lose?"

"But I tell you it won't last!" she cried, and again the baffled, driven
expression swept over her expressive face. "Can't you see this is only a
panic - and keep going somehow? Can't you see what it means to the
tenements? Hundreds of thousands are out of work! They're being turned off
every day, every hour - employers all over are losing their heads! And City
Hall is as mad as the rest! They've decided already down there to
retrench!"

He turned with a quick jerk of his head:

"Are they cutting you down?" She set her teeth:

"Yes, they are. But the work in my schools is going on - every bit of it
is - for every child! I'm going to find a way," she said. And he felt a
thrill of compassion.

"I'm sorry to hear it," he muttered.

"You needn't be." She paused a moment, smiled and went on in a quieter
voice: "Don't think I'm blind - I'm sensible - I see you can't lose five
hundred a week. But why not try what other employers, quite a few, have
decided to do? Call your people together, explain how it is, and ask them
to choose a committee to help you find which ones need jobs the most. Keep
all you can - on part time, of course - but at least pay them something,
carry them through. You'll lose money by it, I haven't a doubt. But you've
already found you can mortgage the house, and remember besides that I shall
be here. I'm not going to marry now" - her father looked at her
quickly - "and of course I'll expect to do my share toward meeting the
expenses. Moreover, I know we can cut down."

"Retrench," said Roger grimly. "Turn off the servants instead of the
clerks."

"No, only one of them, Martha upstairs - and she is to be married. We'll
keep the cook and the waitress. Edith will have to give up her nurse - and
it will be hard on her, of course - but she'll have to realize this is war,"
Deborah said sharply. "Besides," she urged, "it's not going to last.
Business everywhere will pick up - in a few weeks or months at most. The war
_can't_ go on - it's too horribly big!" She broke off and anxiously looked
at him. Her father was still frowning.

"I'm asking you to risk a good deal," she continued, her voice intense and
low. "But somehow, dearie, I always feel that this old house of ours is
strong. It can _stand_ a good deal. We can all of us stand so much, as soon
as we know we have to." The lines of her wide sensitive mouth tightened
firmly once again. "It's all so vague and uncertain, I know. But one thing
at least is sure. This is no time for people with money - no matter how
little - to shut themselves up in their own little houses and let the rest
starve or beg or steal. This is the time to do our share."

And she waited. But he made no reply.

"Every nation at war is doing it, dad - become like one big family - with
everyone helping, doing his share. Must a nation be at war to do that?
Can't we be brothers without the guns? Can't you see that we're all of us
stunned, and trying to see what war will mean to all the children in the
world? And while we're groping, groping, can't we give each other a hand?"

Still he sat motionless there in the dark. At last he stirred heavily in
his chair.

"I guess you're right," he told her. "At least I'll think it over - and try
to work out something along the lines you spoke of."

Again there was a silence. Then his daughter turned to him with a little
deprecating smile.

"You'll forgive my - preaching to you, dad?"

"No preaching," he said gruffly. "Just ordinary common sense."

* * * * *

A little later Allan came in, and Roger soon left them and went to bed.
Alone with Baird she was silent a moment.

"Well? Have you thought it over?" she asked. "Wasn't I right in what I
said?" At the anxious ring in her low clear voice, leaning over he took her
hand; and he felt it hot and trembling as it quickly closed on his. He
stroked it slowly, soothingly. In the semi-darkness he seemed doubly tall
and powerful.

"Yes, I'm sure you were right," he said.

"Spring at the latest - I'll marry you then - "

Her eyes were intently fixed on his.

"Come here!" she whispered sharply, and Baird bent over and held her
tight. "Tighter!" she whispered. "Tighter!... There!... I said, spring at
the latest! I can't lose you, Allan - now - "

She suddenly quivered as though from fatigue.

"I'm going to watch you close down there," he said in a moment, huskily.




CHAPTER XXV


Roger saw little of Deborah in the weeks that followed. She was gathering
her forces for the long struggle she saw ahead. And his own worries filled
his mind. On his house he succeeded in borrowing five thousand dollars at
ten per cent, and in his office he worked out a scheme along the lines of
Deborah's plan. At first it was only a struggle to save the remnants of
what was left. Later the tide began to turn, new business came into the
office again. But only a little, and then it stopped. Hard times were here
for the winter.

Soon Edith would come with the children. He wondered how sensible she would
be. It was going to mean a daily fight to make ends meet, he told himself,
and guiltily he decided not to let his daughter know how matters stood in
his office. Take care of your own flesh and blood, and then be generous as
you please - that had always been his way. And now Deborah had upset it by
her emotional appeal. "How dramatic she is at times!" he reflected in
annoyance. "Just lets herself out and enjoys herself!" He grew angry at her
interference, and more than once he resolved to shut down. But back in the
office, before those watchful faces, still again he would put it off.

"Wait a little. We'll see," he thought.

* * * * *

In the meantime, in this interplay, these shifting lights and shadows which
played upon the history of the life of Roger's home, there came to him a
diversion from an unexpected source. Laura and Harold returned from abroad.
Soon after landing they came to the house, and talking fast and eagerly
they told how they had eluded the war.

For them it had been a glorious game. In Venice in early August, Harold
had seen a chance for a big stroke of business. He had a friend who lived
in Rome, an Italian close to his government. At once they had joined
forces, worked day and night, pulled wires, used money judiciously here and
there, and so had secured large orders for munitions from the U.S.A. Then
to get back to God's country! There came the hitch, they were too late.
Naples, Genoa, and Milan, all were filled with tourist mobs. They took a
train for Paris, and reaching the city just a week before the end of the
German drive they found it worse than Italy. But there Hal had a special
pull - and by the use of those wits of his, not to be downed by refusals, he
got passage at last for Laura, himself and his new Italian partner. At
midnight, making their way across the panic-stricken city, and at the
station struggling through a wild and half crazed multitude of men and
women and children, they boarded a train and went rushing westward right
along the edge of the storm. To the north the Germans were so close that
Laura was sure she could hear the big guns. The train kept stopping to take
on troops. At dawn some twenty wounded men came crowding into their very
car, bloody and dirty, pale and worn, but gaily smiling at the pain, and
saying, "√Зa n'fait rien, madame." Later Harold opened his flask for some
splendid Breton soldier boys just going into action. And they stood up with
flashing eyes and shouted out the Marseillaise, while Laura shivered and
thrilled with delight.

"I nearly kissed them all!" she cried.

Roger greatly enjoyed the evening. He had heard so much of the horrors of
war. Here was something different, something bright and vibrant with youth
and adventure! Here at last was the thrill of war, the part he had always
read about!

He glanced now and then at Deborah and was annoyed by what he saw. For
although she said nothing and forced a smile, he could easily tell by the
set of her lips that Deborah thoroughly disapproved. All right, that was
her way, he thought. But this was Laura's way, shedding the gloom and the
tragic side as a duck will shed water off its back, a duck with bright new
plumage fresh from the shops of the Rue de la Paix and taking some pleasure
out of life! What an ardent gleaming beauty she was, he thought as he
watched this daughter of his. And underneath his enjoyment, too, though
Roger would not have admitted it, was a sense of relief in the news that at
least one man in the family was growing rich instead of poor. Already Hal
and his partner - a fascinating creature according to Laura's
description - were fast equipping shrapnel mills. Plainly they expected a
tremendous rush of business. And no matter how you felt about war, the word
"profits" at least had a pleasant sound.

"How has the war hit you, sir?" Harold asked his father-in-law.

"Oh, so-so, I'll get on, my boy," was Roger's quiet answer. For Harold was
not quite the kind he would ever like to ask for aid. Still, if the worst
came to the worst, he would have someone to turn to.

* * * * *

Long after they had left the house, he kept thinking over all they had
said. What an amazing time they had had, the two young scalawags.

Deborah was still in the room. As she sat working at her desk, her back was
turned and she did not speak. But little by little her father's mood
changed. Of course she was right, he admitted. For now they were gone, the
spell they had cast was losing a part of its glamor. Yes, their talk had
been pretty raw. Sheer unthinking selfishness, a bold rush for plunder and
a dash to get away, trampling over people half crazed, women and children
in panicky crowds, and leaving behind them, so to speak, Laura's joyous
rippling laugh over their own success in the game. Yes, there was no
denying the fact that Hal was rushing headlong into a savage dangerous
game, a scramble and a gamble, with adventurers from all over Europe
gathering here and making a little world of their own. He would work and
live at a feverish pitch, and Laura would go it as hard as he. Roger
thought he could see their winter ahead. How they would pile up money and
spend!

All at once, as though some figure silent and invisible were standing close
beside him, from far back in his childhood a memory flashed into his mind
of a keen and clear October night, when Roger, a little shaver of nine, had
stood with his mother in front of the farmhouse and listened to the faint
sharp roll of a single drum far down in the valley. And his mother's grip
had hurt his hand, and a lump had risen in his throat - as Dan, his oldest
brother, had marched away with his company of New Hampshire mountain boys.
"We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more." Dan had been
killed at Shiloh.

And it must be like that now in France. No, he did not like the look which
he had seen on Laura's face as she had talked about the war and the fat
profits to be made. Was this all we Yankees had to say to the people over
in Europe?

Frowning and glancing at Deborah's back, he saw that she was tired. It was
nearly midnight, but still she kept working doggedly on, moving her
shoulder muscles at times as though to shake off aches and pains, then
bending again to her labor, her fight against such heavy odds in the winter
just beginning for those children in the tenements. He recalled a fragment
of the appeal she had made to him only the month before:

"Can't you see that we're all of us stunned, and trying to see what war
will mean to all the children in the world? And while we're groping,
groping, can't we give each other a hand?"

And as he looked at his daughter, she made him think of her grandmother,
as she had so often done before. For Deborah, too, was a pioneer. She, too,
had lived in the wilderness. Clearing roads through jungles? Yes. And
freeing slaves of ignorance and building a nation of new men. And now she
was doggedly fighting to save what she had builded - not from the raids of
the Indians but from the ravages of this war which was sweeping
civilization aside. With her school behind her, so to speak, she stood
facing this great enemy with stern and angry, steady eyes. Her pioneer
grandmother come to life.

So, with the deep craving which was a part of his inmost self, Roger tried
to bind together what was old and what was new. But his thoughts grew vague
and drifting. He realized how weary he was, and said good-night and went to
bed. There, just before he fell asleep, again he had a feeling of relief at
the knowledge that one at least in the family was to be rich this year.
With a guilty sensation he shook off the thought, and within a few moments
after that his harsh regular breathing was heard in the room.




CHAPTER XXVI


It was only a few days later that Edith arrived with her children.

Roger met her at the train at eight o'clock in the evening. The fast
mountain express of the summer had been taken off some time before, so
Edith had had to be up at dawn and to change cars several times on the
trip. "She'll be worn out," he thought as he waited. The train was late. As
he walked about the new station, that monstrous sparkling hive of travel
with its huge halls and passageways, its little village of shops
underground and its bewildering levels for trains, he remembered the
interest Bruce had shown in watching this immense puzzle worked out, the
day and night labor year after year without the stopping of a train, this
mighty symbol of the times, of all the glorious power and speed in an age
that had been as the breath to his nostrils. How Bruce had loved the city!
As Roger paced slowly back and forth with his hands clasped behind his
back, there came over his heavy visage a look of affection and regret which
made even New Yorkers glance at him as they went nervously bustling by.
From time to time he smiled to himself. "The Catskills will be Central
Park! All this city needs is speed!"

But suddenly he remembered that Bruce had always been here before to meet
his wife and children, and that Edith on her approaching train must be
dreading her arrival. And when at last the train rolled in, and he spied
her shapely little head in the on-coming throng of travellers, Roger saw by
her set steady smile and the strained expression on her face that he had
guessed right. With a quick surge of compassion he pressed forward, kissed
her awkwardly, squeezed her arm, then hastily greeted the children and
hurried away to see to the trunks. That much of it was over. And to his
relief, when they reached the house, Edith busied herself at once in
helping the nurse put the children to bed. Later he came up and told her
that he had had a light supper prepared.

"Thank you, dear," she answered, "it was so thoughtful in you. But I'm too
tired to eat anything." And then with a little assuring smile, "I'll be all
right - I'm going to bed."

"Good-night, child, get a fine long sleep."

And Roger went down to his study, feeling they had made a good start.

* * * * *

"What has become of Martha?" Edith asked her father at breakfast the next
morning.

"She left last month to be married," he said.

"And Deborah hasn't replaced her yet?" In her voice was such a readiness
for hostility toward her sister, that Roger shot an uneasy glance from
under his thick grayish brows.

"Has Deborah left the house?" he asked, to gain time for his answer.
Edith's small lip slightly curled.

"Oh, yes, long ago," she replied. "She had just a moment to see the
children and then she had to be off to school - to her office, I mean. With
so many schools on her hands these days, I don't wonder she hasn't had time
for the servants."

"No, no, you're mistaken," he said. "That isn't the trouble, it's not her
fault. In fact it was all my idea."

"_Your_ idea," she retorted, in an amused affectionate tone. And Roger
grimly gathered himself. It would he extremely difficult breaking his
unpleasant news.

"Yes," he answered. "You see this damnable war abroad has hit me in my
business."

"Oh, father! How?" she asked him. In an instant she was all alert. "You
don't mean seriously?" she said.

"Yes, I do," he answered, and he began to tell her why. But she soon grew
impatient. Business details meant nothing to Edith. "I see," she kept
saying, "yes, yes, I see." She wanted him to come to the point.

"So I've had to mortgage the house," he concluded. "And for very little
money, my dear. And a good deal of that - " he cleared his throat - "had to
go back into the business."

"I see," said Edith mechanically. Her mind was already far away, roving
over her plans for the children. For in Roger's look of suspense she
plainly read that other plans had been made for them in her absence.
"Deborah's in this!" flashed through her mind. "Tell me what it will mean,"
she said.

"I'm afraid you'll have to try to do without your nurse for a while."

"Let Hannah go? Oh, father!" And Edith flushed with quick dismay. "How can
I, dad? Five children - five! And two of them so little they can't even
dress themselves alone! And there are all their meals - their baths - and the
older ones going uptown to school! I can't let them go way uptown on the
'bus or the trolley without a maid - "

"But, Edith!" he interrupted, his face contracting with distress. "Don't
you see that they can't go to school?" She turned on him. "Uptown, I mean,
to those expensive private schools."

"Father!" she demanded. "Do you mean you want my children to go to common
public schools?" There was rage and amazement upon her pretty countenance,
and with it an instant certainty too. Yes, this was Deborah's planning! But
Roger thought that Edith's look was all directed at himself. And for the
first time in his life he felt the shame and humility of the male provider
no longer able to provide. He reddened and looked down at his plate.

"You don't understand," he said. "I'm strapped, my child - I can't help
it - I'm poor."

"Oh. Oh, dad. I'm sorry." He glanced up at his daughter and saw tears
welling in her eyes. How utterly miserable both of them were.

"It's the war," he said harshly and proudly. This made a difference to his
pride, but not to his daughter's anxiety. She was not interested in the
war, or in any other cause of the abyss she was facing. She strove to think
clearly what to do. But no, she must do her thinking alone. With a sudden
quiet she rose from the table, went around to her father's chair and kissed
him very gently.

"All right, dear - I see it all now - and I promise I'll try my best," she
said.

"You're a brave little woman," he replied.

But after she had gone, he reflected. Why had he called her a brave little
woman? Why had it all been so intense, the talk upon so heroic a plane? It
would be hard on Edith, of course; but others were doing it, weren't they?
Think of the women in Europe these days! After all, she'd be very
comfortable here, and perhaps by Christmas times would change.

He shook off these petty troubles and went to his office for the day.

* * * * *

As she busied herself unpacking the trunks, Edith strove to readjust her
plans. By noon her head was throbbing, but she took little notice of that.
She had a talk with Hannah, the devoted Irish girl who had been with her
ever since George was born. It was difficult, it was brutal. It was almost
as though in Edith's family there had been two mothers, and one was sending
the other away.

"There, there, poor child," Edith comforted her, "I'll find you another
nice family soon where you can stay till I take you back. Don't you see it
will not be for long?" And Hannah brightened a little.

"But how in the wide wurrld," she asked, "will you ever do for the
children, me gone?"

"Oh, I'll manage," said Edith cheerfully. And that afternoon she began at
once to rearrange her whole intricate schedule, with Hannah and school both
omitted, to fit her children into the house. But instead of this, as the
days wore on, nerve-racking days of worry and toil, sternly and quite
unconsciously she fitted the house to her children. And nobody made her
aware of the fact. All summer long in the mountains, everyone by tacit
consent had made way for her, had deferred to her grief in the little
things that make up the everyday life in a home. And to this precedent once
established Edith now clung unawares.

Her new day gave her small time to think. It began at five in the morning,
when Roger was awakened by the gleeful cries of the two wee boys who slept
with their mother in the next room, the room which had been Deborah's. And
Edith was busy from that time on. First came the washing and dressing and
breakfast, which was a merry, boisterous meal. Then the baby was taken out
to his carriage on the porch at the back of the house. And after that, in
her father's study from which he had fled with his morning cigar, for two
hours Edith held school for her children, trying her best to be patient and
clear, with text-books she had purchased from their former schools uptown.
For two severe hours, shutting the world all out of her head, she tried to
teach them about it. At eleven, their nerves on edge like her own, she sent
them outdoors "to play," intrusting the small ones to Betsy and George, who
took them to Washington Square nearby with strict injunctions to keep them
away from all other children. No doubt there were "nice" children there,
but she herself could not be along to distinguish the "nice" from the
"common" - for until one o'clock she was busy at home, bathing the baby and
making the beds, and then hurrying to the kitchen to pasteurize the baby's
milk and keep a vigilant oversight on the cooking of the midday meal. And
the old cook's growing resentment made it far from easy.

After luncheon, thank heaven, came their naps. And all afternoon, while
again they went out, Edith would look over their wardrobes, mend and alter
and patch and contrive how to make last winter's clothes look new. At times
she would drop her work in her lap and stare wretchedly before her. This
was what she had never known; this was what made life around her grim and
hard, relentless, frightening; this was what it was to be poor. How it
changed the whole city of New York. Behind it, the sinister cause of it
all, she thought confusedly now and then of the Great Death across the sea,
of the armies, smoking battle-fields, the shrieks of the dying, the
villages blazing, the women and children flying away. But never for more


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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 13 of 22)