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clouds close above him had cleared, the other cloud too had drifted away,
until it was small, just on the horizon, far away from Roger's house. What
was Laura up to? He barely ever thought of that now.

* * * * *

But one night when he came home, Edith, who sat in the living room reading
aloud to her smaller boys, gave him a significant look which warned him
something had happened. And turning to take off his overcoat, in the hall
he almost stumbled upon a pile of hand luggage, two smart patent leather
bags, a hat trunk and a sable cloak.

"Hello," he exclaimed. "What's this? Who's here?"

"Laura," Edith answered. "She's up in Deborah's room, I think - they've been
up there for over an hour." Roger looked indignantly in at his daughter.

"What has happened?" he asked.

"I'm afraid I can't tell you," Edith replied. "They didn't seem to need me.
They made it rather plain, in fact. Another quarrel, I presume. She came
into the house like a whirlwind, asked at once for Deborah and flew up to
Deborah's room."

"Pshaw!" Roger heavily mounted the stairs. He at least did not feel like
flying. A whirlwind, eh - a nice evening ahead!

* * * * *

Meanwhile, in her room upstairs Deborah sat motionless, sternly holding her
feelings down, while in a tone now kindly but more often full of a sharp
dismay, she threw out question after question to Laura who was walking the
floor in a quick, feverish sort of way, with gestures half hysterical, her
voice bursting with emotions of mingled fright and rage.

"No, this time it's divorce!" she declared, at the end of her first
outburst, in which she had told in fragments of her husband's double life.
"I've stood it long enough! I'm through!"

"You mean you don't care for him," Deborah said. She was fighting for time
to think it out. "You want a divorce. Very well, Laura dear - but how do you
think you are going to get it? The laws are rather strict in this state.
They allow but one cause. Have you any proofs?"

"No, I haven't - but I don't need any proofs! He wants it as badly as I do!
Wait - I'll give you his very words!" Laura's face grew white with fury.
"'It's entirely up to you, Sweetie' - the beast! - 'You can have any kind of
divorce you like. You can let me bring suit on the quiet or you can try to
fight me in court, climb up into the witness chair in front of the
reporters and tell them all about yourself!'"

"_Your husband is to bring suit against you_?" Deborah's voice was loud and
harsh. "For God's sake, Laura, what do you mean?"

"Mean? I mean that _he has proofs_! He has used a detective, the mean
little cur, and he's treating me like the dirt under his feet! Just as
though it were one thing for a man, and another - quite - for a woman! He
even had the nerve to be mad, to get on a high horse, call me names! Turn
me! - turn me out on the street!" Deborah winced as though from a blow. "Oh,
it was funny, funny!" Laura was almost sobbing now.

"Stop, this minute!" Deborah said. "You say that you've been doing - what he
has?" she demanded.

"Why shouldn't I? What do you know about it? Are you going to turn against
me, too?"

"I am - pretty nearly - "

"Oh, good God!" Laura tossed up her hands and went on with her walking.

"Quiet! Please try to be clear and explain."

"Explain - to you? How can I? _You_ don't understand - you know nothing about
it - all you know about is schools! You're simply a nun when it comes to
this. I see it now - I didn't before - I thought you a modern woman - with
your mind open to new ideas. But it isn't, it seems, when it comes to a
pinch - it's shut as tight as Edith's is - "

"Yes, tight!"

"Thank you very much! Then for the love of Heaven will you kindly leave me
alone! I'll have a talk with father!"

"You will _not_ have a talk with father - "

"I most certainly will - and he'll understand! He's a man, at least - and he
led a man's life before he was married!"

"Laura!"

"_You_ can't see it in him - _but I can_!"

"You'll say not a word to him, not one word! He has had enough this year as
it is!"

"Has he? Then I'm sorry! If _you_ were any help to me - instead of acting
like a nun - "

"Will you please stop talking like a fool?"

"I'm not! I'm speaking the truth and you know it! You know no more about
love like mine than a nun of the middle ages! You needn't tell me about
Allan Baird. You think you're in love with him, don't you? Well then, I'll
tell you that you're not - your love is the kind that can wait for
years - because it's cold, it's cold, it's cold - it's all in your mind and
your reason! And so I say you're no help to me now! Here - look at yourself
in the glass over there! You're just plain angry - frightened!"

"Yes - I am - I'm frightened." While she strove to think clearly, to form
some plan, she let her young sister talk rapidly on:

"I know you are! And you can't be fair! You're like nearly all American
women - married or single, young or old - you're all of you scared to death
about sex - just as your Puritan mothers were! And you leave it alone - you
keep it down - you never give it a chance - you're afraid! But I'm not
afraid - and I'm living my life! And let me tell you I'm not alone! There
are hundreds and thousands doing the same - right here in New York City
to-night! It's been so abroad for years and years - in Rome and Berlin, in
Paris and London - and now, thank God, it has come over here! If our
husbands can do it, why can't we? And we are - we're starting - it's come
with the war! You think war is hell and nothing else, don't you - but you're
wrong! It's not only killing men - it's killing a lot of hypocrisies
too - it's giving a jolt to marriage! You'll see what the women will do soon
enough - when there aren't enough men any longer - "

"Suppose you stop this tirade and tell me exactly what you've done,"
Deborah interrupted. A simple course of action had just flashed into her
mind.

"All right, I will. I'm not ashamed. I've given you this 'tirade' to show
you exactly how I feel - that it's not any question of sin or guilt or any
musty old rubbish like that! I know I'm right! I know just what I'm doing!"

"Who's the man? That Italian?"

"Yes."

"Where is he?"

"Right here in New York."

"Does he mean to stand by you?"

"Of course he does."

"Will he marry you, Laura?"

"Yes, he will - the minute I'm free from my beast of a husband!"

"And your husband will keep his suit quiet, you said, if you agree not to
fight him."

"Yes."

Deborah rose abruptly.

"Then will you stay right here to-night, and leave this matter to me?" she
asked.

"What do _you_ mean to do?"

"See your husband."

"What for? When?"

"To-night, if I can. I want to be sure."

Laura looked for the moment nonplussed.

"And what of my wishes?" she inquired.

"_Your_ wishes," said Deborah steadily. "You want a divorce, don't you - so
do I. And you want it quiet - and so do I. I want it so hard that I want to
make sure." Deborah's tone was kinder now, and she came over close to her
sister. "Look here, Laura, if I've been hard, forgive me - please - and let
me help. I'm not so narrow as you think. I've been through a good deal of
this before - downtown, I mean, with girls in my school. They come to me, we
have long talks. Maybe I _am_ a nun - as you say - but I'm one with a
confessional. Not for sins," she added, as Laura looked up angrily. "Sins
don't interest me very much. But troubles do. And heaven knows that
marriage is one," she said with a curious bitterness. "And when it has
failed and there's no love left - as in your case - I'm for divorce. Only - "
her wide sensitive lips quivered just a little, "I'm sorry it had to come
like this. But I love you, dear, and I want to help, I want to see you
safely through. And while I'm doing it, if we can, I want to keep dad out
of it - at least until it's settled." She paused a moment. "So if you agree,
I'll go to your husband. I want to be sure, absolutely, just what we can
count on. And until I come back, stay here in my room. You don't want to
talk to father and Edith - "

"Most certainly not!" Laura muttered.

"Good. Then stay here until I return. I'll send you up some supper."

"I don't want any, thank you."

Laura went and threw herself on the bed, while her sister finished
dressing.

"It's decent of you, Deborah." Her voice was muffled and relaxed. "I wasn't
fair," she added. "I'm sorry for some of the things I said."

"About me and marriage?" Deborah looked at herself in the glass in a
peculiar searching way. A slight spasm crossed her features. "I'm not sure
but that you were right. At times I feel far from certain," she said. Laura
lifted her head from the pillow, watched her sister a moment, dropped back.

"Don't let this affect _you_, Deborah."

"Oh, don't worry, dearie." And Deborah moved toward the door. "My affair is
just mine, you see, and this won't make any difference."

But in her heart she knew it would. What an utter loathing she had to-night
for all that people meant by sex! Suddenly she was quivering, her limbs and
her whole body hot.

"You say I'm cold," she was thinking. "Cold toward Allan, calm and cool,
nothing but mind and reason! You say it means little to me, all that! But
if I had had trouble with Allan, would I have come running home to talk?
Wouldn't I have hugged it tight? And isn't that love? What do _you_ know of
me and the life I've led? Do you know how it feels to want to work, to be
something yourself, without any man? And can't _that_ be a passion? Have
you had to live with Edith here and see what motherhood can be, what it can
do to a woman? And now you come with _another_ side, just as narrow as
hers, devouring everything else in sight! And because I'm a little afraid
of that, for myself and all I want to do, you say I don't know what love
is! But I do! And my love's worth more than yours! It's deeper, richer, it
will last!... Then why do I loathe it _all_ to-night?... But I don't, I
only loathe _your_ side!... But yours is the very heart of it!... All
right, then what am I going to do?"

She was going slowly down the stairs. She stopped for a moment, frowning.




CHAPTER XXXII


On the floor below she met her father, who was coming out of his room. He
looked at her keenly:

"What's the trouble?"

"Laura's here," she answered. "Trouble again with her husband. Better leave
her alone for the present - she's going to stay in my room for a while."

"Very well," her father grunted, and they went down to dinner. There
Deborah was silent, and Edith did most of the talking. Edith, quite aware
of the fact that Laura and all Laura's ways were in disgrace for the
moment, and that she and her ways with her children shone by the
comparison, was bright and sweet and tactful. Roger glanced at her more
than once, with approval and with gratitude for the effort she was making
to smooth over the situation. Deborah rose before they had finished.

"Where are you off to?" Roger asked.

"Oh, there's something I have to attend to - "

"School again this evening, dear?" inquired Edith cheerfully, but her
sister was already out of the room. She looked at her father with quiet
concern. "I'm sorry she has to be out to-night - to-night of all nights,"
she murmured.

"Humph!" ejaculated her father. This _eternal_ school business of Deborah's
was beginning to get on his nerves. Yes, just a little on his nerves! Why
couldn't she give up one evening, just one, and get Laura out of this snarl
she was in? He heard her at the telephone, and presently she came back to
them.

"Oh, Edith," she said casually, "don't send any supper up to Laura. She
says she doesn't want any to-night. And ask Hannah to put a cot in my room.
Will you?"

"Yes, dear, I'll attend to it."

"Thanks." And again she left them. In silence, when the front door closed,
Edith looked at her father. This must be rather serious, Roger thought
excitedly. So Laura was to stay all night, while Deborah gallivanted off to
those infernal schools of hers! He had little joy in his paper that night.
The news of the world had such a trick of suddenly receding a million miles
away from a man the minute he was in trouble. And Roger was in trouble.
With each slow tick of the clock in the hall he grew more certain and more
disturbed. An hour passed. The clock struck nine. With a snort he tossed
his paper aside.

"Well, Edith," he said glumly, "how about some chess this evening?" In
answer she gave him a quick smile of understanding and sympathy.

"All right, father dear." And she fetched the board. But they had played
only a short time when Deborah's latchkey was heard in the door. Roger gave
an angry hitch to his chair. Soon she appeared in the doorway.

"May I talk to you, father?" she asked.

"I suppose so." Roger scowled.

"You'll excuse us, Edith?" she added.

"Oh, assuredly, dear." And Edith rose, looking very much hurt. "Of course,
if I'm not needed - "

At this her father scowled again. Why couldn't Deborah show her sister a
little consideration?

"What is it?" he demanded.

"Suppose we go into the study," she said.

He followed her there and shut the door.

* * * * *

"Well?" he asked, from his big leather chair. Deborah had remained
standing.

"I've got some bad news," she began.

"What is it?" he snapped. "School burnt down?" Savagely he bit off a
cigar.

"I've just had a talk with Harold," she told him. He shot a glance of
surprise and dismay.

"Have, eh - what's it all about?"

"It's about a divorce," she answered.

The lighted match dropped from Roger's hand. He snatched it up before it
was out and lit his cigar, and puffing smoke in a vigilant way again he
eyed his daughter.

"I've done what I could," she said painfully, "but they seem to have made
up their minds."

"Then they'll unmake 'em," he replied, and he leaned forward heavily.
"They'll unmake 'em," he repeated, in a thick unnatural tone. "I'm not
a'goin' to hear to it!" In a curious manner his voice had changed. It
sounded like that of a man in the mountains, where he had been born and
raised. This thought flashed into Deborah's mind and her wide resolute
mouth set hard. It would be very difficult.

"I'm afraid this won't do, father dear. Whether you give your consent or
not - "

"Wun't, wun't it! You wait and see if it wun't!" Deborah came close to him.

"Suppose you wait till you understand," she admonished sternly.

"All right, I'm waiting," he replied. She felt herself trembling deep
inside. She did not want him to understand, any more than she must to
induce him to keep out of this affair.

"To begin with," she said steadily, "you will soon see yourself, I think,
that they fairly loathe the sight of each other - that there is no real
marriage left."

"That's fiddlesticks!" snapped Roger. "Just modern talk and new
ideas - ideas you're to blame for! Yes, you are - you put 'em in her
head - you and your gabble about woman's rights!" He was angry now. He was
glad he was angry. He'd just begun!

"If you want me to leave her alone," his daughter cut in sharply, "just say
so! I'll leave it all to you!" And she saw him flinch a little. "What would
be _your_ idea?" she asked.

"My idea? She's to go straight home and make up with him!"

She hesitated. Then she said:

"Suppose there's another woman."

"Then he's a beast," growled Roger.

"And yet you want her to live with him?"

He scowled, he felt baffled, his mind in a whirl. And a wave of
exasperation suddenly swept over him.

"Well, why shouldn't she?" he cried. "Other wives have done it - millions!
Made a devilish good success of it, too - made new men of their husbands!
Let her show him she's ready to forgive! That's only Christian, ain't it?
Hard? Of course it's hard on her! But can you tell me one hard thing she
has ever had to do in her life? Hasn't it been pleasure, pleasure from the
word go? Can't she stand something hard? Don't we all of us have to? I
do - God knows - with all of you!" And he puffed his cigar in a fury. His
daughter smiled. She saw her chance.

"Father," she said, in a low clear voice, "You've had so _many_ troubles.
Why not leave this one to me? You can't help - no matter how hard you
try - you'll only make it worse and worse. And you've been through so much
this year - you've earned the right to be quiet. And that's what _they_
want, both of them - they both want it quiet, without any scandal." Her
father glared, for he knew about scandal, he handled it in his office each
day. "Let me manage this - please," she said. And her offer tempted him. He
struggled for a moment.

"No, I won't!" he burst out in reply. "I want quiet right enough, but not
at the price of her peace with her God!" This sounded foolish, he felt
that it did, and he flushed and grew the angrier. "No, I won't," he said
stubbornly. "She'll go back to him if I take her myself. And what's more,"
he added, rising, "she's to go straight back to-night!"

"She is not going back to-night, my dear." And Deborah caught her father's
arm. "Sit down, please - "

"I've heard enough!"

"I'm afraid you haven't," she replied.

"Very well." His smile was caustic. "Give me some more of it," he said.

"Her husband won't have her," said Deborah bluntly. "He told me so
himself - to-night."

"Did, eh - then _I'll_ talk to him!"

"He thinks," she went on in a desperate tone, "that Laura has been
leading - 'her own little life' - as he put it to me."

"_Eh_?"

"He is bringing suit himself."

"_Oh! He is_!" cried Roger hoarsely. "Then I _will_ talk to this young
man!" But she put out a restraining hand:

"Father! Don't try to fight this suit!"

"You watch me!" he snarled. Tears showed in her eyes:

"Think! Oh, please! Think what you're doing! Have you ever seen a
divorce-court - here, in New York? Do you know what it's like? What it _can_
be like?"

"Yes," Roger panted. He did know, and the picture came vividly into his
mind - a mass of eager devouring eyes fixed on a girl in a witness chair.
"To-morrow I see a lawyer!" he said.

"No - you won't do that, my dear," Deborah told him sadly. "Laura's husband
has got proofs."

Her father looked up slowly and glared into his daughter's face.

"I've seen them myself," she added. "And Laura has admitted it, too."

Still for a moment he stared at her. Then slowly he settled back in his
chair, his eyes dropped in their sockets, and very carefully, with a hand
which was trembling visibly, he lifted his cigar to his lips. It had gone
nearly out, but he drew on it hard until it began to glow again.

"Well," he asked simply, "what shall we do?"

Sharply Deborah turned away. To be quiet, to be matter of fact, to act as
though nothing had happened at all - she knew this was what he wanted now,
what he was silently begging her to be for his sake, for the family's sake.
For he had been raised in New England. And so, when she turned back to him,
her voice was flat and commonplace.

"Keep her here," she said. "Let him do what he likes. There'll be nothing
noisy, he promised me that. But keep her here till it's over."

Roger smoked for a moment, and said,

"There's Edith and her children."

"The children needn't know anything - and Edith only part of it."

"The less, the better," he grunted.

"Of course." She looked at him anxiously. This tractable mood of his might
not last. "Why not go up and see her now - and get it all over - so you can
sleep."

Over Roger's set heavy visage flitted a smile of grim relish at that.
Sleep! Deborah was funny. Resolutely he rose from his chair.

"You'll be careful, of course," she admonished him, and he nodded in reply.
At the door he turned back:

"Where's the other chap?"

"I don't know," she answered. "Surely you don't want to see _him_ - ." Her
father snorted his contempt:

"See him? No. Nor she neither. _She's_ not to see him. Understand?"

"I wouldn't tell her that to-night."

"Look here." Roger eyed his daughter a moment.

"You've done well. I've no complaint. But don't try to manage everything."

He went out and slowly climbed the stairs. Outside the bedroom door he
paused. When had he stood like this before? In a moment he remembered. One
evening some two years ago, the night before Laura's wedding, when they had
had that other talk. And so it had come to this, had it. Well, there was no
use making a scene. Again, with a sigh of weariness, Laura's father knocked
at her door.

"Come in, Deborah," she said.

"It isn't Deborah, it's I." There was a little silence.

"Very well, father, come in, please." Her voice sounded tired and lifeless.
He opened the door and found the room dark. "I'm over on the bed," she
said. "I've had a headache this evening."

He came over to the bedside and he could just see her there, a long shadow
upon the white. She had not taken off her clothes. He stood a moment
helplessly.

"Please don't _you_ talk to me!" His daughter fiercely whispered. "I can't
stand any more to-night!"

"I won't," he answered. "It's too late." Again there was a pause.

"What time is it?" she asked him. But he did not answer.

"Well, Laura," he said presently, "your sister has told me everything. She
has seen your husband - it's all arranged - and you're to stay here till it's
over ... You want to stay here, don't you?"

"Yes."

"Then it's settled," he went on. "There's only one thing - the other man. I
don't know who he is and I don't want to know. And I don't want you to know
him again. You're not to see him. Understand?" For a moment Laura was
silent.

"I'm going to marry him, father," she said. And standing in the darkened
room Roger stiffened sharply.

"Well," he answered, after a pause, "that's your affair. You're no longer a
child. I wish you were," he added.

Suddenly in the darkness Laura's hand came out clutching for his. But he
had already turned to the door.

"Good-night," he said, and left her.

In the hallway below he met Deborah, and to her questioning look he
replied, "All right, I guess. Now I'm going to bed." He went into his room
and closed the door.

As soon as Roger was alone, he knew this was the hardest part - to be here
by himself in this intimate room, with this worn blue rug, these pictures
and this old mahogany bed. For he had promised Judith his wife to keep
close to the children. What would she think of him if she knew?

Judith had been a broad-minded woman, sensible, big-hearted. But she never
would have stood for this. Once, he recollected, she had helped a girl
friend to divorce her husband, a drunkard who ran after chorus girls. But
that had been quite different. There the wife had been innocent and had
done it for her children. Laura was guilty, she hadn't a child, she was
already planning to marry again. And then what, he asked himself. "From bad
to worse, very likely. A woman can't stop when she's started downhill." His
eye was caught by the picture directly before him on the wall - the one his
wife had given him - two herdsmen with their cattle high up on a shoulder of
a sweeping mountain side, tiny blue figures against the dawn. It had been
like a symbol of their lives, always beginning clean glorious days. What
was Laura beginning?

"Well," he demanded angrily, as he began to jerk off his clothes, "what can
I do about it? Try to keep her from re-marrying, eh? And suppose I
succeeded, how long would it last? She wouldn't stay here and I couldn't
keep her. She'll be independent now - her looks will be her bank account.
There'd be some other chap in no time, and he might not even marry her!" He
tugged ferociously at his boots. "No, let well enough alone!"

He finished undressing, opened the window, turned out the gas and got into
bed. Wearily he closed his eyes. But after a time he opened them and stared
long through the window up at the beetling cliff of a building close by,
with its tier upon tier of lighted apartments, a huge garish hive of homes.
Yes, the town was crowding down on him to-night, on his house and on his
family. He realized it had never stopped, and that his three grown
children, each one of them a part of himself, had been struggling with it
all the time. Laura - wasn't she part of himself? Hadn't he, too, had his
little fling, back in his early twenties? "You will live on in our
children's lives." She was a part of him gone wild. She gave it free rein,
took chances. God, what a chance she had taken this time! The picture of
that court he had seen, with the girl in the witness chair and those many
rows of eyes avidly fixed upon her, came back to his mind so vividly they
seemed for a moment right here in the room, these eyes of the town boring


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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 16 of 22)