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He would show Edith he did not begrudge her this use of her small
property. And more than that, he would do what he could to take her out of
her loneliness. How about reading aloud to her? He had been a capital
reader, during Judith's lifetime, for he had always enjoyed it so. Roger
rose and went to his shelves and began to look over the volumes there.
Perhaps a book of travel.... Stoddard's "Lectures on Japan."

Meanwhile Edith came into the room, sat down and took up her sewing. As she
did so he turned and glanced at her, and she smiled brightly back at him.
Yes, he thought with a genial glow, from this night on he would do his
part. He came back to his chair with a book in his hand, prepared to start
on his new course.

"Father," she said quietly. Her eyes were on the work in her lap.

"Yes, my child, what is it?"

"It's about John," she answered. And with a movement of alarm he looked at
his daughter intently.

"What's the matter with John?" he inquired.

"He has tuberculosis," she said.

"He has no such thing!" her father retorted. "John has Pott's Disease of
the spine!"

"Yes, I know he has," she replied. "And I'm sorry for him, poor lad. But in
the last year," she added, "certain complications have come. And now he's
tubercular as well."

"How do you know? He doesn't cough - his lungs are sound as yours or mine!"

"No, it's - " Edith pursed her lips. "It's different," she said softly.

"Who told you?" he demanded.

"Not Deborah," was the quick response. "She knew it, I'm certain, for I
find that she's been having Mrs. Neale, the woman who comes in to wash, do
John's things in a separate tub. I found her doing it yesterday, and she
told me what Deborah had said."

"It's the first I'd heard of it," Roger put in.

"I know it is," she answered. "For if you'd heard of it before, I don't
believe you'd have been as ready as Deborah was, apparently, to risk
infecting the children here." Edith's voice was gentle, slow and
relentless. There was still a reflection in her eyes of the tenderness
which had been there as she had soothed her child to sleep. "As time goes
on, John is bound to get worse. The risk will be greater every week."

"Oh, pshaw!" cried her father. "No such thing! You're just scaring yourself
over nothing at all!"

"Doctor Lake didn't think I was." Lake was the big child specialist in
whose care Edith's children had been for years. "I talked to him to-day on
the telephone, and he said we should get John out of the house."

Roger heartily damned Doctor Lake!

"It's easy to find a good home for the boy," Edith went on quietly, "close
by, if you like - in some respectable family that will be only too thankful
to take in a boarder."

"How about the danger to that family's children?" Roger asked malignantly.

"Very well, father, do as you please. Take any risk you want to."

"I'm taking no risk," he retorted. "If there were any risk they would have
told me - Allan and Deborah would, I mean."

"They wouldn't!" burst from Edith with a vehemence which startled him.
"They'd take the same risk for my children they would for any street urchin
in town! All children are the same in their eyes - and if you feel as they
do - "

"I don't feel as they do!"

"Don't you? Then I'm telling you that Doctor Lake said there was very
serious risk - every day this boy remains in the house!" Roger rose angrily
from his chair:

"So you want me to turn him out! To-night!"

"No, I want you to wait a few days - until we can find him a decent home."

"All right, I won't do it!"

"Very well, father - it's your house, not mine."

For a few moments longer she sat at her sewing, while her father walked the
floor. Then abruptly she rose, her eyes brimming with tears, and left the
room. And he heard a sob as she went upstairs.

"Now she'll shut herself up with her children," he reflected savagely, "and
hold the fort till I come to terms!" Rather than risk a hair on their
heads, Edith would turn the whole world out of doors! He thought of Deborah
and he groaned. She would have to be told of this; and when she was, what a
row there would be! For Johnny was one of _her_ family. He glanced at the
clock. She'd be coming home soon. Should he tell her? Not to-night! Just
for one evening he'd had enough!

He picked up the book he had meant to read - Stoddard's "Lectures on Japan."
And Roger snorted wrathfully. By George, how _he'd_ like to go to Japan - or
to darkest Africa! Anywhere!




CHAPTER XXIX


But later in the evening, when Allan and Deborah came in, Roger, who in the
meantime had had a good hour in Japan and was somewhat relaxed and soothed,
decided at once this was the time to tell her and have done with it. For
Deborah was flushed with triumph, the meeting had been a huge success.
Cooper Union had been packed to the walls, with an overflow meeting out on
the street; thousands of dollars had been pledged and some big politicians
had promised support; and men and women, rich and poor, had volunteered
their services. She started to tell him about it, but noticed his troubled
expression and asked him what was on his mind.

"Oh, nothing tremendous," Roger said. "I hate to be any damper to-night. I
hadn't meant to tell you to-night - but I think I will now, for you look as
though you could find a solution for anything."

"Then I must look like an idiot," his daughter said good-humoredly. "What
is it?" she demanded.

"It's about John." Her countenance changed.

"Oh. Is he worse?"

"Edith thinks he is - and she says it's not safe."

"I see - she wants him out of the house. Tell me what she said to you." As
he did so she listened intently, and turning to Allan at the end, "What do
you say to this, Allan?" she asked. "Is there any real risk to the
children?"

"A little," he responded. "As much as they take every day in the trolley
going to school."

"They never go in the trolley," Deborah answered dryly. "They always go on
the top of the 'bus." She was silent for a moment. "Well, there's no use
discussing it. If Edith feels that way, John must go. The house won't be
livable till he does."

Roger looked at her in surprise. He felt both relieved and disappointed.
"John's only one of thousands to her," he told himself aggrievedly. "He
isn't close to her, she hasn't room, she has a whole mass meeting in her
head. But I haven't, by George, I like the boy - and I'm the one who will
have to tell him to pack up and leave the house! Isn't it the very devil,
how things all come back on me?"

"Look here, father," Deborah said, "suppose you let me manage this." And
Roger's heavy visage cleared.

"You mean you'll tell him?"

"Yes," she replied, "and he'll understand it perfectly. I think he has been
expecting it. I have, for a good many weeks," she added, with some
bitterness. "And I know some people who will be glad enough to take him in.
I'll see that he's made comfortable. Only - " her face clouded.

"It has meant a lot to him, being here," her father put in gruffly.

"Oh, John's used to getting knocks in this world." Her quiet voice grew
hard and stern. "I wasn't thinking of John just now. What frightens me at
times like this is Edith," she said slowly. "No, not just
Edith - motherhood. I see it in so many mothers these days - in the women
downtown, in their fight for their children against all other children on
earth. It's the hardest thing we have to do - to try to make them see and
feel outside of their own small tenement homes - and help each other - pull
together. They can't see it's their only chance! And all because of this
mother love! It's so blind sometimes, like an animal!" She broke off, and
for a moment she seemed to be looking deep into herself. "And I suppose
we're all like that, we women are," she muttered, "when we marry and have
children. If the pinch is ever hard enough - "

"_You_ wouldn't be," said Allan. And a sudden sharp uneasiness came into
Roger's mind.

"When are you two to be married?" he asked, without stopping to think. And
at once he regretted his question. With a quick impatient look at him,
Allan bent over a book on the table.

"I don't know," Deborah answered. "Next spring, I hope." The frown was
still on her face.

"Don't make it too long," said her father brusquely. He left them and went
up to bed.

* * * * *

Deborah sat motionless. She wished Allan would go, for she guessed what was
coming and did not feel equal to it to-night. All at once she felt tired
and unnerved from her long exciting evening. If only she could let go of
herself and have a good cry. She locked her hands together and looked up at
him with impatience. He was still at the table, his back was turned.

"Don't you _know_ I love you?" she was thinking fiercely. "Can't you see
it - haven't you seen it - growing, growing - day after day? But I don't want
you here to-night! Why can't you see you must leave me alone? Now! This
minute!"

He turned and came over in front of her, and stood looking steadily down.

"I wonder," he said slowly, "how well you understand yourself."

"I think I do," she muttered. With a sudden twitching of her lip she looked
quickly up at him. "Go on, Allan - let's talk it all over now if you must!"

"Not if you feel like that," he said. At his tone of displeasure she caught
his hand.

"Yes, yes, I want to! Please!" she cried. "It's better - really! Believe me,
it is - "

He hesitated a moment, his wide generous mouth set hard, and then in a tone
as sharp as hers he demanded, "Are you sure you'll marry me next spring?
Are you sure you _hope_ you will next spring? Are you sure this sister of
yours in the house, on your nerves day and night, with this blind narrow
motherhood, this motherhood which frightens you - isn't frightening you too
much?"

"No - a little - but not too much." Her deep sweet voice was trembling.
"You're the one who frightens me. If you only knew! When you come like
this - with all you've done for me back of you - "

"Deborah! Don't be a fool!"

"Oh, I know you say you've done nothing, except what you've been glad to
do! You love me like that! But it's just that love! Giving up all your
practice little by little, and your reputation uptown - all for the sake of
me, Allan, me!"

"You're wrong," he replied. "Compared to what I'm getting, I've given up
nothing! Can't you see? You're just as narrow in your school as Edith is
right here in her home! You look upon my hospital as a mere annex to your
schools, when the truth of it is that the work down there is a chance I've
wanted all my life! Can't you understand," he cried, "that instead of your
being in debt to me it's I who am in debt to you? You're a suffragist, eh,
a feminist - whatever you want to call it! All right! So you want to be
equal with man! Then, for God's sake, why not begin? _Feel_ equal! I'm no
annex to you, nor you to me! It has happened, thank God, that our work fits
in - each with the other!"

He stopped and stared, seemed to shake himself; he walked the floor. And
when he turned back his expression had changed.

"Look here, Deborah," he asked, with an appealing humorous smile, "will you
tell me what I'm driving at?"

Deborah threw back her head and laughed, and her laughter thrilled with
relief. "How sure I feel now that I love him," she thought.

"You've proved I owe you nothing!" she cried. "And that men and women of
our kind can work on splendidly side by side, and never bother our poor
little heads about anything else - even marriage!"

"We will, though!" he retorted. The next moment she was in his arms. "Now,
Deborah, listen to reason, child. Why can't you marry me right away?"

"Because," she said, "when I marry you I'm going to have you all to
myself - for weeks and weeks as we planned before! And afterwards, with a
wonderful start - and with the war over, work less hard and the world less
dark and gloomy - we're going to find that at last we can live! But this
winter it couldn't be like that. This winter we've got to go on with our
work - and without any more silly worries or talk about whether or not we're
in love. _For we are_!" Her upturned face was close to his, and for some
moments nothing was said, "Well?" she asked. "Are you satisfied?"

"No - I want to get married. But it is now a quarter past one. And I'm your
physician. Go straight to bed."

She stopped him a minute at the front door:

"Are you sure, absolutely, you understand?"

He told her he did. But as he walked home he reflected. How tense she had
been in the way she had talked. Yes, the long strain was telling. "Why was
she so anxious to get me out of the house," he asked, "when we were alone
for the first time in days? And why, if she's really sure of her love, does
she hate the idea that she's in my debt?"

He walked faster, for the night was cold. And there was a chill, too, in
this long waiting game.


* * * * *

Roger heard Deborah come up to bed, and he wondered what they had been
talking about. Of the topic he himself had broached - each other, love and
marriage?

"Possibly - for a minute or two - but no more," he grumbled. "For don't
forget there's work to discuss, there's that mass meeting still on her
mind. And God knows a woman's mind is never any child's play. But when you
load a mass meeting on top - "

Here he yawned long and noisily. His head ached, he felt sore and
weak - "from the evening's entertainment my other daughter gave me." No, he
was through, he had had enough. They could settle things to suit
themselves. Let Edith squander her money on frills, the more expensive the
better. Let her turn poor Johnny out of the house, let her give full play
to her motherhood. And if that scared Deborah out of marrying, let her stay
single and die an old maid. He had worried enough for his family. He wanted
a little peace in his house.

Drowsily he closed his eyes, and a picture came into his mind of the city
as he had seen it only a few nights before. It had been so cool, so calm
and still. At dusk he had been in the building of the great tower on
Madison Square; and when he had finished his business there, on an impulse
he had gone up to the top, and through a wide low window had stood a few
moments looking down. A soft light snow was falling; and from high up in
the storm, through the silent whirling flakes, he had looked far down upon
lights below, in groups and clusters, dancing lines, between tall phantom
buildings, blurred and ghostly, faint, unreal. From all that bustle and
fever of life there had risen to him barely a sound. And the town had
seemed small and lonely, a little glow in the infinite dark, fulfilling its
allotted place for its moment in eternity. Suddenly from close over his
head like a brazen voice out of the sky, hard and deafening and clear, the
great bell had boomed the hour. Then again had come the silence, and the
cool, soft, whirling snow.

Like a dream it faded all away, and with a curious smile on his face
presently Roger fell asleep.




CHAPTER XXX


And now he felt the approach at last of another season of quiet, one of
those uneventful times which come in family histories. As he washed and
dressed for dinner, one night a little later, he thought with satisfaction,
"How nicely things are smoothing out." His dressing for dinner, as a rule,
consisted in changing his low wing collar and his large round detachable
cuffs; but to-night he changed his cravat as well, from a black to a pearl
gray one. He hoped the whole winter would be pearl gray.

The little storm which Edith had raised over John's presence in the house
had been allayed. Deborah had talked to John, and had moved him with his
belongings to a comfortable sunny room in the small but neat apartment of a
Scotch family nearby. And John had been so sensible. "Oh, I'm fine, thank
you," he had answered simply, when in the office Roger had asked him about
his new home. So that incident was closed. Already Edith was disinfecting
John's old room to her heart's content, for George was to occupy it now.
She was having the woodwork repainted and a new paper put on the walls. She
had already purchased a small new rug, and a bed and a bureau and one easy
chair, and was making a pair of fresh pretty curtains. All right, let her
do it - if only there could be peace in the house.

With his cravat adjusted and his thick-curling silver hair trim from having
just been cut by "Louis" over at the Brevoort, Roger went comfortably down
to his dinner. Edith greeted him with a smile.

"Deborah's dining out," she said.

"Very well," he replied, "so much the better. We'll go right in - I'm
hungry. And we'll have the evening to ourselves. No big ideas nor problems.
Eh, daughter?" He slipped his hand in hers, and she gave it a little
affectionate squeeze. With John safely out of the way, and not only the
health of her children but their proper schooling assured, Edith was
herself again, placid, sweet and kindly. And dinner that night was a
cheerful meal. Later, in the living room, as Roger contentedly lit his
cigar, Edith gave an appreciative sniff.

"You do smoke such good cigars, father," she said, smiling over her needle.
And glancing up at her daughter, "Betsy, dear," she added, "go and get your
grandfather's evening paper."

In quiet perusal of the news he spent the first part of his evening. The
war did not bother him to-night, for there had come a lull in the fighting,
as though even war could know its place. And times were better over here.
As, skipping all news from abroad his eye roved over the pages for what his
business depended upon, Roger began to find it now. The old familiar
headliness were reappearing side by side - high finance exposures, graft,
the antics and didos cut up by the sons and daughters of big millionaires;
and after them in cheery succession the Yale-Harvard game, a new man for
the Giants, a new college building for Cornell, a new city plan for
Seattle, a woman senator in Arizona and in Chicago a "sporting mayor." In
brief, all over the U.S.A., men and women old and new had risen up, to
power, fame, notoriety, whatever you chose to call it. Men and women?
Hardly. "Children" was the better word. But the thought did not trouble
Roger to-night. He had instead a heartening sense of the youth, the wild
exuberance, the boundless vigor in his native land. He could feel it rising
once again. Life was soon to go on as before; people were growing hungry to
see the names of their countrymen back in the headlines where they
belonged. And Roger's business was picking up. He was not sure of the
figure of his deficit last week - he had always been vague on the
book-keeping side - but he knew it was down considerably.

When Betsy and George had gone to bed, Roger put down his paper.

"Look here, Edith," he proposed, "how'd you like me to read aloud while you
sew?" She looked up with a smile of pleased surprise.

"Why, father dear, I'd love it." At once, she bent over her needle again,
so that if there were any awkwardness attending this small change in their
lives it did not reveal itself in her pretty countenance. "What shall we
read?" she affably asked.

"I've got a capital book," he replied. "It's about travel in Japan."

"I'd like nothing better," Edith replied. And with a slight glow of pride
in himself Roger took his book in hand. The experiment was a decided
success. He read again the next night and the next, while Edith sat at her
sewing. And so this hour's companionship, from nine to ten in the evening,
became a regular custom - just one hour and no more, which Roger spent with
his daughter, intimately and pleasantly. Yes, life was certainly smoothing
out.

Edith's three older children had been reinstated in school. And although at
first, when deprived of their aid, she had found it nearly impossible to
keep her two small boys amused and give them besides the four hours a day
of fresh air they required, she had soon met this trouble by the same
simple process as before. Of her few possessions still unsold, she had
disposed of nearly all, and with a small fund thus secured she had sent for
Hannah to return. The house was running beautifully.

Christmas, too, was drawing near. And though Roger knew that in Edith's
heart was a cold dread of this season, she bravely kept it to herself; and
she set about so determinedly to make a merry holiday, that her father
admiring her pluck drew closer still to his daughter. He entered into her
Christmas plans and into all the conspiracies which were whispered about
the house. Great secrets, anxious consultations, found in him a ready
listener.

So passed three blessed quiet weeks, and he had high hopes for the winter.




CHAPTER XXXI


If there were any cloud upon his horizon, it was the thought of Laura. She
had barely been to the house since Edith had come back to town; and at
times, especially in the days when things had looked dark for Roger, he had
caught himself reproaching this giddy-gaddy youngest child, so engrossed in
her small "ménage" that apparently she could not spare a thought for her
widowed sister. Laura on her return from abroad had brought as a gift for
Edith a mourning gown from Paris, a most alluring creation - so much so, in
fact, that Edith had felt it simply indecent, insulting, and had returned
it to her sister with a stilted note of thanks. But Roger did not know of
this. There were so many ways, he thought, in which Laura might have been
nice to Edith. She had a gorgeous limousine in which she might so easily
have come and taken her sister off on little trips uptown. But no, she kept
her car to herself. And from her small apartment, where a maid whom she had
brought from Rome dressed her several times each day, that limousine rushed
her noiselessly forth, gay and wild as ever, immaculate and elegant,
radiant and very rich. To what places did she go? What new friends was she
making? What was Laura up to?

He did not like her manner, one evening when she came to the house. As he
helped her off with her cloak, a sleek supple leopard skin which fitted her
figure like a glove, he asked,

"Where's Hal this evening?" And she answered lightly,

"Oh, don't ask _me_ what he does with himself."

"You mean, I suppose," said Edith, with quiet disapproval, "that he is
rushed to death this year with all this business from the war."

"Yes, it's business," Laura replied, as she deftly smoothed and patted her
soft, abundant, reddish hair. "And it's war, too," she added.

"What do you mean?" her father asked. He knew what she meant, war with her
husband. But before Laura could answer him, Edith cut in hastily, for two
of her children were present. At dinner she turned the talk to the war. But
even on this topic, Laura's remarks were disturbing. She did not consider
the war wholly bad - by no means, it had many good points. It was clearing
away a lot of old rubbish, customs, superstitions and institutions out of
date. "Musty old relics," she called them. She spoke as though repeating
what someone else had told her. Laura with her chicken's mind could never
have thought it all out by herself. When asked what she meant, she was
smilingly vague, with a glance at Edith's youngsters. But she threw out
hints about the church and even Christianity, as though it were falling to
pieces. She spoke of a second Renaissance, "a glorious pagan era" coming.
And then she exploded a little bomb by inquiring of Edith.

"What do you think the girls over there are going to do for husbands, with
half the marriageable men either killed or hopelessly damaged? They're not
going to be nuns all their lives!"

Again her sister cut her off, and the rest of the brief evening was
decidedly awkward. Yes, she was changing, growing fast. And Roger did not
like it. Here she was spending money like water, absorbed in her pleasures,
having no baby, apparently at loose ends with her husband, and through it
all so cocksure of herself and her outrageous views about war, and smiling
about them with such an air, and in her whole manner, such a tone of amused
superiority. She talked about a world for the strong, bits of gabble from
Nietzsche and that sort of rot; she spoke blithely of a Rome reborn, the
"Wings of the Eagles" heard again. This part of it she had taken, no doubt,
from her new Italian friend, her husband's shrapnel partner.

Pshaw! What was Laura up to?

But that was only one evening. It was not repeated, another month went
quickly by, and Roger had soon shaken it from him, for he had troubles
enough at home. One daughter at a time, he had thought. And as the dark


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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 15 of 22)