Ernest Poole.

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but of you! This physician - "

"No," he answered with stern pain, "you'll have to hear me out, my child.
We're talking of you - of you alone when I am gone. How will it be? Are you
quite sure? You will have your work, that vision of yours, and I know how
close it has been to you, vivid and warm, almost like a friend. But so was
my business once like that, when I was as young as you. And the business
grew and it got cold - impersonal, a mere machine. Thank God I had a family.
Isn't your work growing too? Are you sure it won't become a machine? And
won't you lose touch with the children then, unless you have a child of
your own? Friends won't be enough, you'll find, they're not bound up into
yourself. The world may reach a stage at last where we shall live on in the
lives of all - we may all be one big family. But that time is still far
off - we hold to our own flesh and blood. And so I'm sure it will be with
you. You see you have been young, my dear, and your spirit has been fresh
and new. But how are you going to keep it so, without the ties you've
always had?" He felt the violent clutch of her hand.

"_You won't die_!" she whispered. But he went on relentlessly:

"And what will you do without Allan Baird? For you see you have not even
worked alone. You have had this man who has loved you there. I've seen how
much he has helped you - how you have grown and he has grown since you two
got together. And if you throw him over now, it seems to me you are not
only losing what has done the most for your work, but you're running away
from life as well. You've never won by doing that, you've always won by
meeting life, never evading it, taking it all, living it full, taking
chances! If you marry Baird, I see you both go on together in your work,
while in your home you struggle through the troubles, tangles, joys and
griefs which most of us mortals know so well! I see you in a world of
children, but with children, too, of your own - to keep your spirit always
young! Living on in your children's lives!"

Roger stopped abruptly. He groped for something more to say.

"On the one side, all that," he muttered, "and on the other, a lonely life
which will soon grow old."

There fell a dangerous silence. And sharply without warning, the influence,
deep and invisible, of many generations of stolid folk in New England made
itself felt in each of them. Father and daughter grew awkward, both. The
talk had been too emotional. Each made, as by an instinct, a quick strong
effort at self-control, and felt about for some way to get back upon their
old easy footing. Roger turned to his daughter. Her head was still bent,
her hands clasped tight, but she was frowning down at them now, although
her face was still wet with tears. She drew a deep unsteady breath.

"Well, Deborah," he said simply, "here I've gone stumbling on like a fool.
I don't know what I've said or how you have listened."

"I've listened," she said thickly.

"I have tried," he went on in a steadier tone, "to give you some feeling of
what is ahead - and to speak for your mother as well as myself. And more
than that - much more than that - for the world has changed since she was
here. God knows I've tried to be modern." A humorous glint came into his
eyes, "Downright modern," he declared. "Have I asked you to give up your
career? Not at all, I've asked you to marry Baird, and go right on with him
in your work. And if you can't marry Allan Baird, after what he has done
for you, how in God's name can you modern women ever marry anyone? Now what
do you say? Will you marry him? Don't laugh at me! I'm serious! Talk!"

But Deborah was laughing - although her father felt her hands still cold
and trembling in his. Her gray eyes, bright and luminous, were shining up
into his own.

"What a time you've been having, haven't you, dear!" his daughter cried
unsteadily. "Fairly lying awake at night and racking your brains for
everything modern I've ever said - to turn it and twist it and use it
against me!"

"Well?" he demanded. "How does it twist?"

"It twists hard, thank you," she declared. "You've turned and twisted me
about till I barely see how I can live at all!"

"You can, though! Marry Allan Baird!"

"I'll think it over - later on."

"What is there left to think about? Can you point to one hole in all I've
said?"

"Yes, a good many - and one right off."

"Out with it!"

"You're not dying," Deborah told him calmly, "I feel quite certain you'll
live for years."

"Oh, you do, eh - then see my physician!"

"I will, I'll see him to-morrow. How long did you give yourself? Just a few
months?"

"No, he said it might be more," admitted Roger grudgingly. "If I had no
worries to wear me out - "

"Me, you mean."

"Exactly."

"Well, you've worried quite enough. You're going to leave it to me to
decide."

"Very well," he agreed. He looked at her. "You have listened - hard?" he
gruffly asked.

"Yes, dear." Her hands slowly tightened on his. "But don't speak of this
again. You're to leave it to me. You promise?"

"Yes."

And Roger left her.

He went to bed but he could not sleep. With a sudden sag in his spirits he
felt what a bungler he had been. He was not used to these solemn talks, he
told himself irately. What a fool to try it! And how had Deborah taken it
all? He did not mind her laughter, nor that lighter tone of hers. It was
only her way of ending the talk, an easy way out for both of them. But what
had she thought underneath? Had his points gone home? He tried to remember
them. Pshaw! He had been too excited, and he could recall scarcely
anything. He had not meant to speak of Baird - he had meant to leave him
out! Yes, how he must have bungled it! Doubtless she was smiling still.
Even the news about himself she had not taken seriously.

But as he thought about that news, Roger's mood completely changed. The
talk of the evening grew remote, his family no longer real, mere little
figures, shadowy, receding swiftly far away.... Much quieter now, he lay a
long time listening to the life of the house, the occasional sounds from
the various rooms. From the nursery adjoining came little Bruce's piping
laugh, and Roger could hear the nurse moving about. Afterwards for a long
time he could hear only creaks and breathings. Never had the old house
seemed so like a living creature. For nearly forty years it had held all
that he had loved and known, all he had been sure of. Outside of it was the
strange, the new, the uncertain, the vast unknown, stretching away to
infinity....

Again he heard Bruce's gay little laugh. What did it remind him of? He
puzzled. Then he had it. Edith had been a baby here. Her cradle had been in
this very room, close by the bed. And how she had laughed! What gurgles and
ripples of bursting glee! The first child in his family....




CHAPTER XXXVII


On the next day, which was Sunday, Deborah made an appointment with her
father's physician, and had a long talk with him at his house. Upon her
return she went to her room and stayed there until evening, but when she
came down to supper her manner was as usual. At the table she joined in the
talk of Edith and the children, already deep in their preparations for the
move up to the farm. George could hardly wait to start. That life would be
a change indeed in Edith's plans for her family, and as they talked about
it now the tension of hostility which had so long existed between the two
sisters passed away. Each knew the clash had come to an end, that they
would live together no more; and as though in remorse they drew close,
Deborah with her suggestions, Edith in her friendly way of taking and
discussing each one. Then Deborah went again to her room. Her room was just
over Roger's, and waking several times in the night he heard his daughter
walking the floor.

The next day she was up early and off to her school before he came down. It
was a fine spring morning, Roger had had a good night's sleep, and as he
walked to his office he was buoyed up by a feeling both of hope for his
daughter and of solid satisfaction in himself as he remembered all that he
had said to her. Curiously enough he could recall every word of it now.
Every point which he had made rose up before him vividly. How clear he had
been, how simple and true, and yet with what a tremendous effect he had
piled the points one on the other. "By George," he thought with a little
glow, "for a fellow who's never been in a pulpit I put up a devilish strong
appeal." And he added sagely, "Let it work on the girl, give it a chance.
She'll come out of this all right. This idea some fellows have, that every
woman is born a fool, isn't fair, it isn't true. Just let a line of
argument be presented to her strong and clear - straight from the
shoulder - by some man - "

And again with a tingle of pleasure his mind recurred to his sermon. His
pleasures had been few of late, so he dwelt on this little glow of pride
and made the most of it while it was here.

At the office, as he entered his room, he stopped with a slight shock of
surprise. John, standing on his crutches in front of a large table, had
been going through the morning's mail, sorting out the routine letters
Roger did not need to see. To-day he had just finished and was staring at
the window. The light fell full on his sallow face and showed an amazing
happiness. At Roger's step he started.

"Well, Johnny, how goes it this morning?"

"Fine, thank you," was the prompt reply. And John hobbled briskly over to
his typewriter in the corner. Roger sat down at his desk. As he did so he
glanced again at the cripple and felt a little pang of regret. "What will
become of him," he asked, "when I close out my business?" He still thought
of him as a mere boy, for looking at the small crooked form it was
difficult to remember that John was twenty years of age. The lad had worked
like a Trojan of late. Even Roger, engrossed as he had been in family
anxieties, had noticed it in the last few weeks. He would have to make some
provision for John. Deborah would see to it.... Roger went slowly through
his mail. One letter was from the real estate firm through whom he was to
sell the house. The deal had not been closed as yet, there were certain
points still to be settled. So Roger called John to his desk and dictated a
reply. When he finished there was a brief pause.

"That's all," said Roger gruffly.

"So you're sellin' the house," John ventured.

"Yes."

The lad limped back to his corner and went to work at his machine. But
presently he came over again and stood waiting awkwardly.

"What is it, Johnny?" Roger inquired, without looking up.

"Say, Mr. Gale," the boy began, in a carefully casual tone, "would you mind
talking business a minute or two?"

"No. Fire ahead."

"Well, sir, you've had your own troubles lately, you haven't had much time
for things here. The last time you went over the books was nearly a couple
of weeks ago."

John paused and his look was portentous.

"Well," asked Roger, "what about it? Business been picking up any since
then?"

"Yes, sir!" was the answer. "We didn't lose a cent last week! We made
money! Fifteen dollars!"

"Good Lord, Johnny, we're getting rich."

"But that's nothing," John continued. "The fact of the matter is, Mr. Gale,
I have been working lately on a new line I thought of. And now it's got
agoing so fast it's getting clean away from me!" Again he stopped, and
swallowed hard.

"Out with it, then," said Roger.

"I got it from the war," said John. "The papers are still half full of war
news, and that's what's keeping our business down - because we ain't
adopting ourselves to the new war conditions. So I figured it like this.
Say there are a million people over here in America who've got either
friends or relations in the armies over there. Say that all of 'em want to
get news - not just this stuff about battles, but real live news of what's
happened to Bill. Has Bill still got his legs and arms? Can he hold down a
job when he gets home? News which counts for something! See? A big new
market! Business for us! So I tried to see what I could do!" John
excitedly shifted his crutches. Roger was watching intently.

"Go on, Johnny."

"Sure, I'll go on! One night I went to a library where they have English
papers. I went over their files for about a month. I took one Canadian
regiment - see? - and traced it through, and I got quite a story. Then I used
some of the money I've saved and bought a whole bunch of papers. I piled
'em up in the room where I sleep and went through 'em nights. I hired two
kids to help me. Well, Mr. Gale, the thing worked fine! In less than a week
I had any amount of little bunches of clippings. See how I mean? Each bunch
was the story of one regiment for a month. So I knew we could deliver the
goods!

"Well, this was about ten days ago. And then I went after the market. I
went to a man I met last year in an advertising office, and for fifty
dollars we put an 'ad' in the Sunday Times. After that there was nothing to
do but wait. The next day - nothing doing! I was here at seven-thirty and I
went through every mail. Not a single answer to my 'ad' - and I thought I
was busted! But Tuesday morning there were three, with five dollar checks
inside of 'em! In the afternoon there were two more and the next day
eleven! By the end of last week we'd had forty-six! Friday I put in another
'ad' and there've been over seventy more since then! That makes a hundred
and twenty in all - six hundred dollars! And I'm swamped! I ain't done
nothing yet - I've just kept 'em all for you to see!"

He went quickly to the table, gathered a pile of letters there and brought
them over to Roger's desk. Roger glanced over a few of them, dazed. He
looked around into John's shrewd face, where mingled devotion and triumph
and business zeal were shining.

"Johnny," he said huskily, "you've adopted my business and no mistake."
John swallowed again and scowled with joy.

"Let's figure it out!" he proposed.

"We will!"

They were at it all day, laying their plans, "adopting" the work of the
office to the new conditions. They found they would need a larger force,
including a French and a German translator. They placed other "ads" in the
papers. They forgot to have lunch and worked steadily on, till the outer
rooms were empty and still. At last they were through. Roger wearily put on
his cuffs, and went and got his coat and hat.

"Say, Mr. Gale," John asked him, "how about this letter - the one you
dictated this morning to that firm about your house?" Roger turned and
looked at him.

"Throw it into the basket," he said. "We'll write 'em another to-morrow and
tell 'em we have changed our minds." He paused for just a moment, and then
he added brusquely, "If this goes through as I hope it will, I guess you'd
better come into the firm."

And he left the room abruptly. Behind him there was not a sound.

* * * * *

At home in his study, that evening, he made some more calculations. In a
few weeks he would have money enough to start Edith and her family in their
new life on the farm. For the present at least, the house was safe.

"Why, father." Edith came into the room. "I didn't know you had come home.
What kept you so long at the office?"

"Oh, business, my dear - "

"Have you had any supper?"

"No, and I'd like some," he replied.

"I'll see to it myself," she said. Edith was good at this sort of thing,
and the supper she brought was delicious. He ate it with keen relish. Then
he went back to his study and picked up a book, an old favorite. He
started to read, but presently dozed. The book dropped from his hands and
he fell asleep.

He awakened with a start, and saw Deborah looking down at him. For a moment
he stared up, as he came to his senses, and in his daughter's clear gray
eyes he thought he saw a happiness which set his heart to beating fast.

"Well?" he questioned huskily.

"We're to be married right away."

He stared a moment longer; "Oh, I'm so glad, so glad, my dear. I was afraid
you - " he stopped short. Deborah bent close to him, and he felt her squeeze
his arm:

"I've been over and over all you said," she told him, in a low sweet voice.
"I had a good many ups and downs. But I'm all through now - I'm sure you
were right." And she pressed her cheek to his. "Oh, dad, dad - it's such a
relief! And I'm so happy!... Thank you, dear."

"Where is Allan?" he asked presently.

"I'll get him," she said. She left the room, and in a moment Allan's tall
ungainly form appeared in the doorway.

"Well, Allan, my boy," Roger cried.

"Oh, Roger Gale," said Allan softly. He was wringing Roger's hand.

"So she decided to risk you, eh," Roger said unsteadily. "Well, Baird, you
look like a devilish risk for a woman like her - who has the whole world on
her back as it is - "

"I know - I know - and how rash she has been! Only two years and her mind was
made up!"

"But that's like her - that's our Deborah - always acting like a flash - "

"Stop acting like children!" Deborah cried. "And be sensible and listen to
me! We're to be married to-morrow morning - "

"Why to-morrow?" Roger asked.

"Because," she said decidedly, "there has been enough fuss over this
affair. So we'll just be married and have it done. And when Edith and the
children go up next week to the mountains, we want to move right into this
house."

"This house?" exclaimed her father.

"I know - it's sold," she answered. "But we're going to get a lease. We'll
see the new owner and talk him around."

"Then you'll have to talk _your father_ around - "

"_You_ around?" And Deborah stared. "You mean to say you're not going to
sell?"

"I do," said Roger blithely. He told them the story of John's new scheme.
"And if things turn out in the office as I hope they will," he ended,
"we'll clear the mortgage on the house and then make it your wedding
gift - from the new firm to the new family."

Deborah choked a little:

"Allan! What do you think of us now?"

"I think," he answered, in a drawl, "that we'd better try to persuade the
new firm to live with the new family."

"We will, and the sooner the better!" she said.

"I'm going up to the mountains," said Roger.

"Yes, but you're coming back in the fall, and when you do you're coming
here! And you're going to live here years and years!"

"You're forgetting my doctor."

"Not at all. I had a long talk with him Sunday and I know just what I'm
saying."

"You don't look it, my dear," said Roger, "but of course you may be right.
If you take the proper care of me here - and John keeps booming things for
the firm - "

"And George makes a huge success of the farm," Deborah added quickly.

"And Deborah of teaching the world - "

"Oh, Allan, hush up!"

"Look here," he said. "You go upstairs and tell Edith all this. Your father
and I want to be alone."

And when the two men were left alone, they smoked and said nothing. They
smiled at each other.

"It's hard to decide," grunted Roger at last. "Which did it - my wonderful
sermon or your own long waiting game? I'm inclined to think it was the
game. For any other man but you - with all you've done, without any
talk - no, sir, there wouldn't have been a chance. For she's modern, Baird,
she's modern. And I'm going to live just as long as I can. I want to see
what happens here."

* * * * *

The next night in his study, how quiet it was. Edith was busy packing
upstairs, Deborah and Allan were gone. Thoughts drifted slowly across his
mind. Well, she was married, the last of his daughters, the one whom he
cared most for, the one who had taken the heaviest risks. And this was the
greatest risk of all. For although she had put it happily out of her
thoughts for the moment, Roger knew the old troublesome question was still
there in Deborah's mind. The tenement children or her own, the big family
or the small? He felt there would still be struggles ahead. And with a kind
of a wistfulness he tried to see into the future here.

He gave a sudden start in his chair.

"By George!" he thought. "They forgot the ring!" Scowling, he tried to
remember. Yes, in the brief simple service that day, in which so much had
been omitted - music, flowers, wedding gown - even the ring had been left
out. Why? Not from any principle, he knew that they were not such fools.
No, they had simply forgotten it, in the haste of getting married at once.
Well, by thunder, for a girl whose father had been a collector of rings for
the best part of his natural life, it was pretty shabby to say the least!
Then he recollected that he, too, had forgotten it. And this quieted him
immediately.

"I'll get one, though," he promised himself. "And no plain wedding ring
either. I'll make A. Baird attend to that. No, I'll get her a ring worth
while."

He sank deep in his chair and took peace to his soul by thinking of the
ring he would choose. And this carried his thoughts back over the years.
For there had been so many rings....




CHAPTER XXXVIII


It was a clear beautiful afternoon toward the end of May. And as the train
puffing up the grade wound along the Connecticut River, Roger sat looking
out of the window. The orchards were pink and white on the hills. Slowly
the day wore away. The river narrowed, the hills reared high, and in the
sloping meadows gray ribs and shoulders of granite appeared. The air had a
tang of the mountains. Everywhere were signs of spring, of new vigor and
fresh life. But the voices at each station sounded drowsier than at the
last, the eyes appeared more stolid, and to Roger it felt like a journey
far back into old ways of living, old beliefs and old ideals. He had always
had this feeling, and always he had relished it, this dive into his
boyhood. But it was different to-day, for this was more than a journey, it
was a migration, too. Close about him in the car were Edith and her
children, bound for a new home up there in the very heart and stronghold of
all old things in America.

Old things dear to Edith's heart. As she sat by the window staring out, he
watched her shapely little head; he noted the hardening lines on her
forehead and the gray which had come in her hair. It had been no easy move
for her, this, she'd shown pluck to take it so quietly. He saw her smile a
little, then frown and go on with her thinking. What was she thinking
about, he wondered - all she had left behind in New York, or the rest of her
life which lay ahead? She had always longed for things simple and old.
Well, she would have them now with a vengeance, summer and winter, the year
'round, in the battered frame house on the mountain side, the birthplace of
her family. A recollection came to him of a summer's dusk two years ago
and a woman with a lawn mower cutting the grass on the family graves. Would
Edith ever be like that, a mere custodian of the past? If she did, he
thought, she would be false to the very traditions she tried to preserve.
For her forefathers had never been mere guardians of things gone by. Always
they had been pioneers. That house had not been old to them, but a
thrilling new adventure. Their old homes they had left behind, far down in
the valleys to the east. And even those valley homes had been new to the
rugged men come over the sea. Would Edith ever understand? Would she see
that for herself the new must emerge from her children, from the ideas,
desires and plans already teeming in their minds? Would she show keen
interest, sympathy? Would she be able to keep her hold?

In the seat behind her mother, Betsy was sitting with Bruce in her lap,
looking over a picture book. Quietly Roger watched the girl.

"What are you going to be?" he asked. "A woman's college president, a
surgeon or a senator? And what will your mother think of you then?"

They changed cars, and on a train made up of antiquated coaches they wound
through a side valley, down which rushing and tumbling came the river that
bore Roger's name. He went into the smoking car, and presently George
joined him there. George did not yet smoke, (with his elders), but he had
bought a package of gum and he was chewing absorbedly. Plainly the lad was
excited over the great existence which he saw opening close ahead. Roger
glanced at the boy's broad shoulders, noticed the eager lines of his jaw,
looked down at his enormous hands, unformed as yet, ungainly; but in them
was a hungriness that caused a glow in Roger's breast. One more of the
family starting out.

"It's all going to depend on you," Roger gravely counseled. "Your whole
life will depend on the start you make. Either you're going to settle down,


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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 19 of 22)