Ernest Poole.

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into his house. Angrily he shut out the scene. And alone in the darkness,
Roger said to his daughter all the ugly furious things he had not said to
her upstairs - until at last he was weary of it.

"Why am I working myself all up? I've got to take this. It's my medicine."


But as he watched Laura in the house, Roger's first emotions were
complicated more and more by a feeling of bewilderment. At dinner the next
evening he noticed with astonishment that she appeared like her natural
self. "She's acting," he decided. But this explanation he soon dismissed.
No, it was something deeper. She was actually unashamed, unafraid. That
first display of feelings, the night of her arrival, had been only the
scare of an hour. Within a few days she was back on her feet; and her cure
for her trouble, if trouble she felt, was not less but more pleasure, as
always. She went out nearly every evening now; and when she had spent what
money she had, she sold a part of her jewelry to the little old Galician
Jew in the shop around the corner. Yes, she was her natural self. And she
was as before to her father. Her attitude said plainly,

"It isn't fair to you, poor dear, to expect you to fully understand how
right I am in this affair. And considering your point of view, you're
acting very nicely."

Often as she talked to him a note of good-humored forgiveness crept into
his daughter's voice. And looking at her grimly out of the corner of his
eye, he saw that she looked down on him, far, far down from heights above.

"Yes," he thought, "this is modern." Then he grew angry all at once. "No,"
he added, "this is wrong! You can't fool me, young woman, you know it as
well as I do myself! You're not going to carry this off with an air - not
with your father! No, by George!"

And he would grow abrupt and stern. But days would pass and in spite of
himself into their talks would creep a natural friendly tone. Again he
found himself friends with her - friends as though nothing whatever had
happened! Could it be that a woman who had so sinned could go right on?
Here was Laura, serenely unconscious of guilt, and smiling into her future,
dreaming still of happiness, quite plainly sure of it, in fact! With a
curious dismayed relief Roger would scowl at this daughter of his - a
radiant enigma in his quiet sober house.

But Edith was not at all perplexed. When she learned from Deborah that
there was soon to be a divorce, she came at once to her father. Her face
was like a thundercloud.

"A nice example for my children!" she indignantly exclaimed.

"I'm sorry, my dear. But what can I do?"

"You can make her go back to her husband, can't you?"

"No, I can't," he flatly replied.

"Then I'd better try it myself!"

"You'll do no such thing!" he retorted. "I've gone clear to the bottom of
this - and I say you're to leave her alone!"

"Very well," she answered. And she did leave her sister alone, so severely
that Laura soon avoided being home for lunch or dinner. She had taken the
room which George had occupied ever since John had been turned out, and
there she breakfasted late in bed, until Edith put a stop to it. They
barely spoke to each other now. Laura still smiled defiance.

Days passed. Christmas came at last, and despite Edith's glum resolution to
make it a happy time for the children, the happiness soon petered out.
After the tree in the morning, the day hung heavy on the house. Roger
buried himself in his study. Laura had motored off into the country with a
gay party of her friends. Or was this just a ruse, he wondered, and was
she spending the day with her lover? Well, what if she was? Could he lock
her in?

About twilight he thought he heard her return, and later from his bedroom
he heard her voice and Edith's. Both voices sounded angry, but he would not

At the Christmas dinner that evening Laura did not put in an appearance,
but Edith sat stiff and silent there; and despite the obvious efforts which
Deborah and Allan made to be genial with the children, the very air in the
room was charged with the feeling of trouble close ahead. Again Roger
retreated into his den, and presently Laura came to him.

"Good-night - I'm going out," she said, and she pressed her cheek lightly to
his own. "What a dear you've been to me, dad," she murmured. And then she
was gone.

A few minutes later Edith came in. She held a small note in her hand, which
Roger saw was addressed to himself.

"Well, father, I learned this afternoon what you've been keeping from me,"
she said. Roger gave her a steady look.

"You did, eh - Laura told you?"

"Yes, she did!" his daughter exclaimed. "And I can't help wondering,
father - "

"Why did she tell you? Have you been at her again to-day?"

"Again? Not at all," she answered. "I've done as you asked me to, let her
alone. But to-day - mother's day - I got thinking of _her_."

"Leave your mother out of it, please. What did you say to Laura?"

"I tried to make her go back, of course - "

"And she told you - "

"He wouldn't have her! And then in a perfect tantrum she went on to tell me
why!" Edith's eyes were cold with disgust. "And I'm wondering why you let
her stay here - in the same house with my children!"

Roger reached out his hand.

"Give me that note," he commanded. He read it quickly and handed it back.
The note was from Laura, a hasty good-bye.

"Edith will explain," she wrote, "and you will see I cannot stay any
longer. It is simply too impossible. I am going to the man I love - and in a
few days we shall sail for Naples. I know you will not interfere. It will
make the divorce even simpler and everything easier all round. Please don't
worry about me. We shall soon be married over there. You have been so dear
and sensible and I do so love you for it." Then came her name scrawled
hastily. And at the bottom of the page: "I have paid every bill I can think

Edith read it in silence, her color slowly mounting.

"All right," said her father, "your children are safe." She gave him a
quick angry look, burst into tears and ran out of the room.

Roger sat without moving, his heavy face impassive. And so he remained for
a long time. Well, _Laura_ was gone - no mistake about that - and this time
she was gone for good. She was going to live in Rome. Try to stop her? No.
What good would it do? Wings of the Eagles, Rome reborn. That was it, she
had hit it, struck the keynote of this new age. Rome reborn, all clean,
old-fashioned Christian living swept away by millions of men at each
others' throats like so many wolves. And at last quite openly to himself
Roger admitted that he felt old. Old and beaten, out of date. Moments
passed, and hours - he took little note of time. Nor did he see on the
mantle the dark visage of "The Thinker" there, resting on the huge clinched
fist and brooding down upon him. Lower, imperceptibly, he sank into his
leather chair.

Quiet had returned to his house.


But the quiet was dark to Roger now. Each night he spent in his study
alone, for instinctively he felt the need of being by himself for a while,
of keeping away from his children - out of whose lives he divined that other
events would soon come forth to use up the last of the strength that was in

And Roger grew angry with the world. Why couldn't it let a man alone, an
old man in a silent house alive for him with memories? Repeatedly in such
hours his mind would go groping backward into the years behind him. What a
long and winding road, half buried in the jungle, dim, almost impenetrable,
made up of millions of small events, small worries, plans and dazzling
dreams, with which his days had all been filled. But the more he recalled
the more certain he grew that he was right. Life had never been like this:
the world had never come smashing into his house, his very family, with its
dirty teeming tenements, its schools, its prisons, electric chairs, its
feverish rush for money, its luxuries, its scandals. These things had
existed in the world, but remote and never real, mere things which he had
read about. War? Did he not remember wars that had come and gone in Europe?
But they hadn't come into his home like this, first making him poor when he
needed money for Edith and her children, then plunging Deborah into a
struggle which might very probably ruin her life, and now taking Laura and
filling her mind with thoughts of pagan living. Why was every man, woman
and child, these days, bound up in the whole life of the world? What would
come of it all? A new day out of this deafening night? Maybe so. But for
him it would come too late.

"What have I left to live for?"

One night with a sigh he went to his desk, lit a cigar and laid his hand
upon a pile of letters which had been mounting steadily. It was made up of
Laura's bills, the ones she had not remembered. Send them after her to Rome
for that Italian fellow to pay? No, it could not be thought of. Roger
turned to his dwindling bank account. He was not yet making money, he was
still losing a little each week. But he would not cut expenses. To the few
who were left in his employ, to be turned away would mean dire need. And
angrily he determined that they should not starve to pay Laura's bills.
"The world for the strong, eh? Not in my office!" In Rome or Berlin or
Vienna, all right! But not over here!

Grimly, when he had made out the checks, Roger eyed his balance. By spring
he would be penniless. And he had no one to turn to now, no rich young
son-in-law who could aid.

He set himself doggedly to the task of forcing up his business, and
meanwhile in the evenings he tried with Edith to get back upon their former
footing. To do this was not easy at first, for his bitterness still rankled
deep: "When you were in trouble I took you in, but when she was in trouble
you turned her out, as you turned out John before her." In the room again
vacated, young George had been reinstalled. One night Edith found her
father there looking in through the open doorway, and the look on his
massive face was hard.

"Better have the room disinfected again," he muttered when he saw her. He
turned and went slowly down the stairs. And she was late for dinner that

But Edith had her children. And as he watched her night by night hearing
their lessons patiently, reading them fairy stories and holding them
smilingly in her arms, the old appeal of her motherhood regained its hold
upon him. One evening when the clock struck nine, putting down his paper he
suggested gruffly,

"Well, daughter, how about some chess?"

Edith flushed a little:

"Why, yes, dear, I'd be glad to."

She rose and went to get the board. So the games were resumed, and part at
least of their old affection came to life. But only a part. It could never
be quite the same again.

And though he saw little of Deborah, slowly, almost unawares to them both,
she assumed the old place she had had in his home - as the one who had been
right here in the house through all the years since her mother had died,
the one who had helped and never asked help, keeping her own troubles to
herself. He fell back into his habit of going before dinner to his
daughter's bedroom door to ask whether she would be home that night. At one
such time, getting no response and thinking Deborah was not there, he
opened the door part way to make sure. And he saw her at her dresser,
staring at herself in the glass, rigid as though in a trance. Later in the
dining room he heard her step upon the stairs. She came in quietly and sat
down; and as soon as dinner was over, she said her good-nights and left the
house. But when she came home at midnight, he was waiting up for her. He
had foraged in the kitchen, and on his study table he had set out some
supper. While she sat there eating, her father watched her from his chair.

"Things going badly in school?" he inquired.

"Yes," she replied. There was silence.

"What's wrong?"

"To-night we had a line of mothers reaching out into the street. They had
come for food and coal - but we had to send most of them home empty-handed.
Some of them cried - and one of them fainted. She's to have a baby soon."

"Can't you get any money uptown?" he asked.

"I have," she answered grimly. "I've been a beggar - heaven knows - on every
friend I can think of. And I've kept a press agent hard at work trying to
make the public see that Belgium is right here in New York." She stopped
and went on with her supper. "But it's a bad time for work like mine," she
continued presently. "If we're to keep it going we must above all keep it
cheap. That's the keynote these days, keep everything cheap - at any
cost - so that men can expensively kill one another." Her voice had a bitter
ring to it. "You try to talk peace and they bowl you over, with facts on
the need of preparedness - for the defence of your country. And that doesn't
appeal to me very much. I want a bigger preparedness - for the defence of
the whole world - for democracy, and human rights, no matter who the people
are! I'd like to train every child to that!"

"What do you mean?" her father asked.

"To teach him what his life can be!" she replied in a hard quivering tone.
"A fight? Oh yes! So long as he lives - and even with guns if it must be so!
But a fight for all the people on earth! - and a world so full of happy
lives that men will think hard - before ever again letting themselves be led
by the nose - into war and death - for a place in the sun!" She rose from her
chair, with a weary smile: "Here I am making a speech again. I've made so
many lately it's become a habit. I'm tired out, dad, I'm going to bed." Her
father looked at her anxiously.

"You're seeing things out of proportion," he said. "You've worked so hard
you're getting stale. You ought to get out of it for a while."

"I can't!" she answered sharply. "You don't know - you don't even guess - how
it takes every hour - all the demands!"

"Where's Allan these days?"

"Working," was her harsh reply. "Trying to keep his hospital going with
half its staff. The woman who was backing him is giving her money to
Belgium instead."

"Do you see much of him?"

"Every day. Let's drop it. Shall we?"

"All right, my dear - "

And they said good-night ...

* * * * *

In the meantime, in the house, Edith had tried to scrimp and save, but it
was very difficult. Her children had so many needs, they were all growing
up so fast. Each month brought fresh demands on her purse, and the fund
from the sale of her belongings had been used up long ago. Her sole
resource was the modest allowance her father gave her for running the
house, and she had not asked him for more. She had put off trouble from
month to month. But one evening early in March, when he gave her the
regular monthly check, she said hesitatingly:

"I'm very sorry, father dear, but I'm afraid we'll need more money this
month." He glanced up from his paper:

"What's the matter?" She gave him a forced little smile, and her father
noticed the gray in her hair.

"Oh, nothing in particular. Goodness knows I've tried to keep down
expenses, but - well, we're a pretty large household, you know - "

"Yes," said Roger kindly, "I know. Are the month's bills in?"


"Let me see them." She brought him the bills and he looked relieved. "Not
so many," he ventured.

"No, but they're large."

"Why, look here, Edith," he said abruptly, "these are bills for two
months - some for three, even four!"

"I know - that's just the trouble. I couldn't meet them at the time."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Laura was here - and I didn't want to bother you - you had enough on your
mind as it was. I've done the best I could, father dear - I've sold
everything, you know - but I've about come to the end of my rope." And her
manner said clearly, "I've done my part. I'm only a woman. I'll have to
leave the rest to you."

"I see - I see." And Roger knitted his heavy brows. "I presume I can get it
somehow." This would play the very devil with things!

"Father." Edith's voice was low. "Why don't you let Deborah help you? She
does very little, it seems to me - compared to the size of her salary."

"She can't do any more than she's doing now," was his decisive answer.
Edith looked at him, her color high. She hesitated, then burst out:

"I saw her check book the other day, she had left it on the table! She's
spending thousands - every month!"

"That's not her own money," Roger said.

"No - it's money she gets for her fads - her work for those tenement
children! She can get money enough for _them!_" He flung out his hand:

"Leave her out of this, please!"

"Very well, father, just as you say." And she sat there hurt and silent
while again he looked slowly through the bills. He jotted down figures and
added them up. They came to a bit over nine hundred dollars. Soon Deborah's
key was heard in the door, and Roger scowled the deeper. She came into the
room, but he did not look up. He heard her voice:

"What's the matter, Edith?"

"Bills for the house."

"Oh." And Deborah came to her father. "May I see what's the trouble, dear?"

"I'd rather you wouldn't. It's nothing," he growled. He wanted her to keep
out of this.

"Why shouldn't she see?" Edith tartly inquired. "Deborah is living
here - and before I came she ran the house. In her place I should certainly
want to know."

Deborah was already glancing rapidly over the bills.

"Why, Edith," she exclaimed, "most of these bills go back for months. Why
didn't you pay them when they were due?"

"Simply because I hadn't the money!"

"You've had the regular monthly amount."

"That didn't last long - "

"Why didn't you tell us?"

"Laura was here."

Deborah gave a shrug of impatience, and Roger saw how tired she was, her
nerves on edge from her long day.

"Never mind about it now," he put in.

"What a pity," Deborah muttered. "If we had been told, we could have cut

"I don't agree with you!" Edith rejoined. "I have already done that myself!
I've done nothing else!"

"Have the servants been paid?" her sister asked.

"No, they haven't-"

"Since when?"

"Three months!"

Roger got up and walked the room. Deborah tried to speak quietly:

"I can't quite see where the money has gone."

"Can't you? Then look at my check book." And Edith produced it with a
glare. Her sister turned over a few of the stubs.

"What's this item?"


"Here. A hundred and twenty-two dollars."

"The dentist," Edith answered. "Not extravagant, is it - for five children?"

"I see," said Deborah. "And this?"

"Bedding," was Edith's sharp response. "A mattress and more blankets. I
found there weren't half enough in the house."

"You burned John's, didn't you?"


All at once both grew ashamed.

"Let's be sensible," Deborah said. "We must do something, Edith - and we
can't till we're certain where we stand."

"Very well - "

They went on more calmly and took up the items one by one. Deborah finished
and was silent.

"Well, father, what's to be done?" she asked.

"I don't know," he answered shortly.

"Somehow or other," Deborah said, "we've got to cut our expenses down."

"I'm afraid that's impossible," Edith rejoined. "I've already cut as much
as I can."

"So did I, in my school," said her sister. "And when I thought I had
reached the end, I called in an expert. And he showed me ways of saving I
had never dreamed of."

"What kind of expert would you advise here?" Edith's small lip curled in

"Domestic science, naturally - I have a woman who does nothing else. She
shows women in their homes just how to make money count the most."

"What women? And what homes? Tenements?"

"Yes. She's one of my teachers."

"Thank you!" said Edith indignantly. "But I don't care to have my children
brought down to tenement standards!"

"I didn't mean to _have_ them! But I know she could show you a great many
things you can buy for less!"

"I'm afraid I shouldn't agree with her!"

"Why not, Edith?"

"Because she knows only tenement children - nothing of children bred like

Deborah drew a quick short breath, her brows drew tight and she looked
away. She bit her lip, controlled herself:

"Very well, I'll try again. This house is plenty large enough so that by a
little crowding we could make room for somebody else. And I know a teacher
in one of my schools who'd be only too glad - "

"Take a boarder, you mean?"

"Yes, I do! We've got to do something!"


Deborah threw up her hands:

"All right, Edith, I'm through," she said. "Now what do you propose?"

"I can try to do without Hannah again - "

"That will be hard - on all of us. But I guess you'll have to."

"So it seems."

"But unfortunately that won't he enough."

Edith's face grew tenser:

"I'm afraid it will have to be - just now - I've had about all I can stand
for one night!"

"I'm sorry," Deborah answered. For a moment they confronted each other. And
Edith's look said to Deborah plainly, "You're spending thousands,
thousands, on those tenement children! You can get money enough for them,
but you won't raise a hand to help with mine!" And as plainly Deborah
answered, "My children are starving, shivering, freezing! What do yours
know about being poor?" Two mothers, each with a family, and each one
baffled, brought to bay. There was something so insatiable in each angry
mother's eyes.

"I think you'd better leave this to me," said Roger very huskily. And both
his daughters turned with a start, as though in their bitter absorption
they had forgotten his presence there. Both flushed, and now the glances of
all three in that room avoided each other. For they felt how sordid it had
been. Deborah turned to her sister.

"I'm sorry, Edith," she said again, and this time there were tears in her

"So am I," said Edith unsteadily, and in a moment she left the room.
Deborah stood watching her father.

"I'm ashamed of myself," she said. "Well? Shall we talk it over?"

"No," he replied. "I can manage it somehow, Deborah, and I prefer that you
leave it to me."

Roger went into his study and sank grimly into his chair. Yes, it had been
pretty bad; it had been ugly, ominous. He took paper and pencil and set to
work. How he had come to hate this job of wrestling with figures. Of the
five thousand dollars borrowed in August he had barely a thousand left. The
first semi-annual interest was due next week and must be paid. The balance
would carry them through March and on well into April. By that time he
hoped to be making money, for business was better every week. But what of
this nine hundred dollars in debts? Half at least must be paid at once.
Lower and lower he sank in his chair. But a few moments later, his blunt
heavy visage cleared, and with a little sigh of relief he put away his
papers, turned out the lights and went upstairs. The dark house felt
friendly and comforting now.

In his room he opened the safe in the corner where his collection of
curious rings had lain unnoticed for many months. He drew out a tray, sat
down by the light and began to look them over. At first only small
inanimate objects, gradually as from tray after tray they glittered duskily
up at him, they began to yield their riches as they had so often done
before. Spanish, French, Italian, Bohemian, Hungarian, Russian and Arabian,
rings small and rings enormous, religious rings and magic rings, poison
rings, some black with age for all his careful polishing - again they
stole deep into Roger's imagination with suggestions of the many hands that
had worn them through the centuries, of women kneeling in old churches,
couples in dark crooked streets, adventures, love, hate, jealousy. Youth
and fire, dreams and passion....

At last he remembered why he was here. He thought of possible purchasers.
He knew so many dealers, but he knew, too, that the war had played the
devil with them as with everyone else. Still, he thought of several who
would find it hard to resist the temptation. He would see them to-morrow,
one by one, and get them bidding, haggling. Roger frowned disgustedly.

No help for it, though, and it was a relief. It would bring a truce in his
house for a time.

* * * * *

But the truce was brief.

On the afternoon when he sold his collection Roger came home all out of
sorts. He had been forced to haggle long; it had been a mean inglorious
day; one of the brightest paths in his life had ended in a pigstie. But at
least he had bought some peace in his home! Women, women, women! He shut
the front door with a slam and went up to his room for a little rest, a

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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 17 of 22)