Ernest Poole.

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place in the spring, that day after day she lingered there - until one
afternoon in March her husband went to her office, gave her an hour to
finish up, and then brought her home with him. She had a fit of the blues
that night. Allan was called out on a case, and a little while later Roger
found his daughter alone in the living room, a book unopened in her lap,
her gray eyes glistening with tears. She smiled when she caught sight of

"It's so silly!" she muttered unsteadily. "Just my condition, I suppose. I
feel as though I had done with school for the remainder of my days!...
Better leave me now, dearie," she added. "I'm not very proud of myself
to-night - but I'll be all right in the morning."

The next day she was herself again, and went quietly on with her
preparations for the coming of her child. But still the ceaseless interests
of those hordes of other children followed her into the house. Not only her
successor but principals and teachers came for counsel or assistance. And
later, when reluctantly she refused to see such visitors, still the
telephone kept ringing and letters poured in by every mail. For in her
larger family there were weddings, births and deaths, and the endless
savage struggle for life; and there were many climaxes of dreams and
aspirations, of loves and bitter jealousies. And out of all this straining
and this fever of humanity, came messages to Deborah: last appeals for aid
and advice, and gifts for the child who was to be born; tiny garments
quaintly made by women and girls from Italy, from Russia and from Poland;
baby blankets, wraps and toys and curious charms and amulets. There were so
many of these gifts.

"There's enough for forty babies," Deborah told her father. "What on earth
am I to do, to avoid hurting anyone's feelings? And isn't it rather awful,
the way these inequalities will crop up in spite of you? I know of eight
tenement babies born down there in this one week. How much fuss and
feathers is made over them, and their coming into the world, poor mites?"
Roger smiled at his daughter.

"You remind me of Jekyll and Hyde," he said.

"Father! What a horrible thought! What have Jekyll and Hyde to do with me?"

"Nothing, my dear," he answered. "Only it's queer and a little uncanny,
something I've never seen before, this double mother life of yours."

* * * * *

It was only a few days later when coming home one evening he found that
Deborah's doctor had put her to bed and installed a nurse. There followed a
week of keen suspense when Roger stayed home from the office. She liked to
have him with her, and sitting at her bedside he saw how changed his
daughter was, how far in these few hours she had drawn into herself. He had
suspected for some time that all was not well with Deborah, and Allan
confirmed his suspicions. There was to be grave danger both for the mother
and the child. It would come out all right, of course, he strove to
reassure himself. Nothing else could happen now, with her life so
splendidly settled at last. That Fate could be so pitiless - no, it was

"This is what comes of your modern woman!" Roger exclaimed to Allan one
night. "This is the price she's paying for those nerve-racking years of

The crisis came toward the end of the week. And while for one entire night
and through the day that followed and far into the next night the doctors
and nurses fought for life in the room upstairs, Roger waited, left to
himself, sitting in his study or restlessly moving through the house. And
still that thought was with him - the price! It was kept in his mind by the
anxious demands which her big family made for news. The telephone kept
ringing. Women in motors from uptown and humbler visitors young and old
kept coming to make inquiries. More gifts were brought and flowers. And
Roger saw these people, and as he answered their questions he fairly
scowled in their faces - unconsciously, for his mind was not clear.
Reporters came. Barely an hour passed without bringing a man or a woman
from some one of the papers. He gave them only brief replies. Why couldn't
they leave his house alone? He saw her name in headlines: "Deborah Gale at
Point of Death." And he turned angrily away. Vividly, on the second night,
there came to him a picture of Deborah's birth so long ago in this same
house. How safe it had been, how different, how secluded and shut in. No
world had clamored _then_ for news. And so vivid did this picture grow,
that when at last there came to his ears the shrill clear cry of a new
life, it was some time before he could be sure whether this were not still
his dream of that other night so long ago.

But now a nurse had led him upstairs, and he stood by a cradle looking down
at a small wrinkled face almost wholly concealed by a soft woolly blanket.
And presently Allan behind him said,

"It's a boy, and he's to be named after you." Roger looked up.

"How's the mother?" he asked.

"Almost out of danger," was the reply. Then Roger glanced at Allan's face
and saw how drawn and gray it was. He drew a long breath and turned back to
the child. Allan had gone and so had the nurse, and he was alone by the
cradle. Relief and peace and happiness stole into his spirit. He felt the
deep remoteness of this strange new little creature from all the clamoring
world without - which he himself was soon to leave. The thought grew
clearer, clearer, as with a curious steady smile Roger stood there looking

"Well, little brother, you're here, thank God. And nobody knows how close
we'll be - for a little while," he thought. "For we're almost out of the
world, you and I."

* * * * *

Days passed, Deborah's strength increased, and soon they let Roger come
into the room. She, too, was remote from the world for a time. That great
family outside was anxious no longer, it left her alone. But soon it would
demand her. Never again, he told himself, would she be so close, so
intimate, as here in her bed with this child of hers to whom she had given
her father's name. "These hours are my real good-byes."

Two long quiet weeks of this happiness, and then in a twinkling it was
gone. The child fell sick, within a few hours its small existence hung by a
thread - and to Roger's startled eyes a new Deborah was revealed! Tense and
silent on her bed, her sensitive lips compressed with pain, her birthmark
showing a jagged line of fiery red upon her brow as her ears kept straining
to catch every sound from the nursery adjoining, through hours of stern
anguish she became the kind of mother that she had once so
dreaded - shutting out everything else in the world: people, schools, all
other children, rich or poor, well, sick or dying! Here was the crisis of
Deborah's life!

One night as she lay listening, with her hand gripping Roger's tight,
frowning abruptly she said to him, in a harsh, unnatural voice:

"They don't care any longer, none of them care! _I'm_ safe and they've
stopped worrying, for they know they'll soon have me back at work! The
work," she added fiercely, "that made my body what it is, not fit to bear a
baby!" She threw a quick and tortured look toward the door of the other
room. "My work for those others, all those years, will be to blame if this
one dies! And if it doesn't live I'm through! I won't go on! I couldn't!
I'd be too bitter after this - toward all of them - _those children_!"

These last two words were whispers so bitter they made Roger cold.

"But this child is going to live," he responded hoarsely. Its mother stared
up with a quivering frown. The next moment her limbs contracted as from an
electric shock. There had come a faint wail from the other room.

And this went on for three days and nights. Again Roger lived as in a
dream. He saw haggard faces from time to time of doctors, nurses, servants.
He saw Allan now and then, his tall ungainly figure stooped, his features
gaunt, his strong wide jaw set like a vise, but his eyes kind and steady
still, his low voice reassuring. And Roger noticed John at times hobbling
quickly down a hall and stopping on his crutches before a closed door,
listening. Then these figures would recede, and it was as though he were
alone in the dark.

At last the nightmare ended. One afternoon as he sat in his study, Allan
came in slowly and dropped exhausted into a chair. He turned to Roger with
a smile.

"Safe now, I think," he said quietly.

Roger went to Deborah and found her asleep, her face at peace. He went to
his room and fell himself into a long dreamless slumber.

In the days which followed, again he sat at her bedside and together they
watched the child in her arms. So feeble still the small creature appeared
that they both spoke in whispers. But as little by little its strength
returned, Deborah too became herself. And though still jealously watchful
of its every movement, she had time for other thinking. She had talks with
her husband, not only about their baby but about his work and hers. Slowly
her old interest in all they had had in common returned, and to the
messages from outside she gave again a kindlier ear.

"Allan tells me," she said one day, when she was alone with her father,
"that I can have no more children. And I'm glad of that. But at least I
have one," she added, "and he has already made me feel like a different
woman than before. I feel sometimes as though I'd come a million miles
along in life. And yet again it feels so close, all that I left back there
in school. Because I'm so much closer now - to every mother and every child.
At last I'm one of the family."


Of that greater family, one member had been in the house all through the
month which had just gone by. But he had been so quiet, so carefully
unobtrusive, that he had been scarcely noticed. Very early each morning,
day after day, John had gone outside for his breakfast and thence to the
office where he himself had handled the business as well as he could, only
coming to Roger at night now and then with some matter he could not settle
alone, but always stoutly declaring that he needed no other assistance.

"Don't come, Mr. Gale," he had urged. "You look worn out. You'll be sick
yourself if you ain't careful. And anyhow, if you hang around you'll be
here whenever she wants you."

Early in Deborah's illness, John had offered to give up his room for the
use of one of the nurses.

"That's mighty thoughtful of you, Johnny," Allan had responded. "But we've
got plenty of room as it is. Just you stick around. We want you here."

"All right, Doc. If there's any little thing, you know - answering the
'phone at night or anything else that I can do - "

"Thank you, so; I'll let you know. But in the meantime go to bed."

From that day on, John had taken not only his breakfast but his supper,
too, outside, and no one had noticed his absence. Coming in late, he had
hobbled silently up to his room, stopping to listen at Deborah's door. He
had kept so completely out of the way, it was not till the baby was three
weeks old, and past its second crisis, that Deborah thought to ask for
John. When he came to her bed, she smiled up at him with the baby in her

"I thought we'd see him together," she said. John stood on his crutches
staring down. And as Deborah watched him, all at once her look grew intent.
"Johnny," she said softly, "go over there, will you, and turn up the light,
so we can see him better."

And when this was done, though she still talked smilingly of the child,
again and again she glanced up at John's face, at the strange self-absorbed
expression, stern and sad and wistful, there. When he had gone the tears
came in her eyes. And Deborah sent for her husband.

* * * * *

The next day, at the office, John came into Roger's room. Roger had been at
work several days and they had already cleared up their affairs.

"Here's something," said John gruffly, "that I wish you'd put away

And he handed to his partner a small blue leather album, filled with the
newspaper clippings dealing with Deborah's illness. On the front page was
one with her picture and a long record of her service to the children of
New York.

"She wouldn't want to see it now," John continued awkwardly. "But I thought
maybe later on the boy would like to have it. What do you think?" he
inquired. Roger gave him a kindly glance.

"I think he will. It's a fine thing to keep." And he handed it back. "But I
guess you'd better put it away, and give it to her later yourself."

John shifted his weight on his crutches, so quickly that Roger looked up in

"Look here! You're not well!" He saw now that the face of the cripple was
white and the sweat was glistening on his brow. John gave a harsh little
nervous laugh.

"Oh, it's nothing much, partner," he replied. "That's another thing I
wanted to tell you. I've had some queer pains lately - new ones!" He caught
his breath.

"Why didn't you tell me, you young fool?"

"You had your own troubles, didn't you?" John spoke with difficulty. "But
I'll be all right, I guess! All I need is a few days off!"

Roger had pressed a button, and his stenographer came in.

"Call a taxi," he said sharply. "And, John, you go right over there and lie
down. I'm going to take you home at once!"

"I've got a better scheme," said John, setting his determined jaws. The
sweat was pouring down his cheeks. "It may be a week - but there's just a
chance it - may be a little worse than that! So I've got a room in a
hospital! See? Be better all round!" He swayed forward.

"Johnny!" Roger caught him just in time, and the boy lay senseless in his

* * * * *

At home, a few hours later, Allan came with another physician down from
John's small bedroom. He saw his colleague to the door and then came in to

"I'm afraid Johnny has come to the end."

For a moment Roger stared at him.

"Has, eh," he answered huskily. "You're absolutely sure he has? There's
nothing - nothing on earth we can do?"

"Nothing more than we're doing now."

"He has fooled you fellows before, you know - "

"Not this time."

"How long will it be?"

"Days or hours - I don't know."

"He mustn't suffer!"

"I'll see to that." Roger rose and walked the floor.

"It was the last month did it, of course - "

"Yes - "

"I blame myself for that."

"I wouldn't," said Allan gently. "You've done a good deal for Johnny Geer."

"He has done a good deal for this family! Can Deborah see him?"

"I wish she could."

"Better stretch a point for her, hadn't you? She's been a kind of a mother
to John."

"I know. But she can't leave her bed."

"Then you won't tell her?"

"I think she knows. She talked to me about him last night."

"That's it, a mother!" Roger cried. "She was watching! We were blind!" He
came back to his chair and dropped into it.

"Does John know this himself?" he asked.

"He suspects it, I think," said Allan.

"Then go and tell him, will you, that he's going to get well. And after
you've done it I'll see him myself. I've got something in mind I want to
think out."

After Allan had left the room, Roger sat thinking about John. He thought of
John's birth and his drunken mother, the accident and his struggle for
life, through babyhood and childhood, through ignorance and filth and pain,
through din and clamor and hunger, fear; of the long fierce fight which
John had made not to be "put away" in some big institution, of his battle
to keep up his head, to be somebody, make a career for himself. He thought
of John's becoming one of Deborah's big family, only one of thousands, but
it seemed now to Roger that John had stood out from them all, as the figure
best embodying that great fierce hunger for a full life, and as the link
connecting, the one who slowly year by year had emerged from her greater
family and come into her small one. And last of all he thought of John as
his own companion, his only one, in the immense adventure on which he was
so soon to embark.

A few moments later he stood by John's bed.

"Pretty hard, Johnny?" he gently asked.

"Oh, not so bad as it might be, I guess - "

"You'll soon feel better, they tell me, boy." John shut his eyes.

"Yes," he muttered.

"Can you stand my talking, just a minute?"

"Sure I can," John whispered. "I'm not suffering any now. He's given me
something to put me to sleep. What is it you want to talk about? Business?"

"Not exactly, partner. It's about the family. You've got so you're almost
one of us. I guess you know us pretty well."

"I guess I do. It's meant a lot to me, Mr. Gale - "

"But I'll tell you what you don't know, John," Roger went on slowly. "I had
a son in the family once, and he died when he was three months old. That
was a long time ago - and I never had another, you see - to take his
place - till you came along." There fell a breathless silence. "And I've
been thinking lately," Roger added steadily. "I haven't long to live, you
know. And I've been wondering whether - you'd like to come into the
family - take my name. Do you understand?"

John said nothing. His eyes were still closed. But presently, groping over
the bed, he found Roger's hand and clutched it tight. After this, from time
to time his throat contracted sharply. Tears welled from under his eyelids.
Then gradually, as the merciful drug which Allan had given did its work,
his clutch relaxed and he began breathing deep and hard. But still for some
time longer Roger sat quietly by his side.

The next night he was there again. Death had come to the huddled form on
the bed, but there had been no relaxing. With the head thrown rigidly far
back and all the features tense and hard, it was a fighting figure still,
a figure of stern protest against the world's injustice. But Roger was not
thinking of this, but of the discovery he had made, that in their talk of
the night before John had understood him - completely. For upon a piece of
paper which Allan had given the lad that day, these words had been
painfully inscribed:

"This is my last will and testament. I am in my right mind - I know what I
am doing - though nobody else does - nobody is here. To my partner Roger Gale
I leave my share in our business. And to my teacher Deborah Baird I leave
my crutches for her school."


After John had gone away the house was very quiet. Only from the room
upstairs there could be heard occasionally the faint clear cry of Deborah's
child. And once again to Roger came a season of repose. He was far from
unhappy. His disease, although progressing fast, gave him barely any pain;
it rather made its presence felt by the manner in which it affected his
mind. His inner life grew uneven. At times his thoughts were as in a fog,
again they were amazingly clear and vistas opened far ahead. He could not
control his thinking.

This bothered him at the office, in the work he still had to do. For some
months he had been considering an offer from one of his rivals, a modern
concern which wished to buy out his business together with that of three
other firms and consolidate them all into one corporation. And Roger was
selling, and it was hard; for the whole idea of bargaining was more
distasteful than ever now. He had to keep reminding himself of Edith and
her children.

At last it was over, his books were closed, and there was nothing left to
be done. Nor did he care to linger. These rooms had meant but little to
him; they had been but a place of transition from the old office far
downtown, so full of memories of his youth, to the big corporation looming
ahead, the huge impersonal clipping mill into which his business was to
merge. And it came to his mind that New York was like that - no settled calm
abiding place cherishing its memories, but only a town of transition, a
great turbulent city of change, restlessly shaking off its past, tearing
down and building anew, building higher, higher, higher, rearing to the
very stars, and shouting, "Can you see me now?" What was the goal of this
mad career? What dazzling city would be here? For a time he stared out of
his window as into a promised land. Slowly at last he rose from his desk.
Clippings, clippings, clippings. He looked at those long rows of girls
gleaning in items large and small the public reputations of all kinds of
men and women, new kinds in a new nation seething with activities, sweeping
on like some wide river swollen at flood season to a new America, a world
which Roger would not know. And yet it would be his world still, for in it
he would play a part.

"In their lives, too, we shall be there - the dim strong figures of the

From his desk he gathered a few belongings. Then he looked into John's
small room, with the big gold motto over the desk: "This is no place for
your troubles or mine." On the desk lay that small album, John's parting
gift to Deborah's boy. Roger picked it up and walked out of the office. He
had never liked good-byes.

In the elevator he noticed that his shoes needed shining, and when he
reached the street below he stopped at the stand on the corner. The stocky
Greek with bushy black hair, who had run the stand for many years, gave him
a cheery greeting; for Roger had stopped there frequently - not that he
cared about his shoes, but he had always liked to watch the crowds of
people passing.

"No hurry, boss?"

"None," said Roger.

"Then I give a fine shine! Polish, too?"

"Yes, polish, too." And Roger settled back to watch.

"And put in new shoe strings," he added, with a whimsical smile.

Men and women, girls and boys by thousands passed him, pushing, hurrying,
shuffling by. Girls tittering and nudging and darting quick side glances.
Bobbing heads and figures, vigorous steps and dancing eyes. Life bubbling
over everywhere, in laughter, in sharp angry tones, in glad expectant
chatter. Deborah's big family. Across the street was a movie between two
lurid posters, and there was a dance hall overhead. The windows were all
open, and faintly above the roar of the street he could hear the piano,
drum, fiddle and horn. The thoroughfare each moment grew more tumultuous to
his ears, with trolley cars and taxis, motor busses, trucks and drays. A
small red motor dashed uptown with piles of evening papers; a great black
motor hearse rushed by. In a taxi which had stopped in a jam, a man was
kissing a girl in his arms, and both of them were laughing. The smart
little toque of blue satin she wore was crushed to one side. How red were
her lips as she threw back her head....

"Silk or cotton, boss? Which you like?" Roger glanced at the shoe strings
and pondered.

"Silk," he grunted in reply. Idly for a moment he watched this busy little
man. From whence had he come in far away Greece? What existence had he
here, and what kind of life would he still have through those many years to
come? A feeling half of sadness crept into Roger's heavy eyes as he looked
at the man, at his smiling face and then at other faces in the multitudes
sweeping past. The moment he tried to single them out, how doubly chaotic
it became. What an ocean of warm desires, passions, vivid hopes and
worries. Vaguely he could feel them pass. Often in the midst of his life,
his active and self-centered life, Roger had looked at these crowds on the
street and had thought these faces commonplace. But now at the end it was
not so.

A woman with a baby carriage stopped directly in front of him and stood
there anxiously watching for a chance to cross the street. And Roger
thought of Deborah. Heavily he climbed down from his seat, paid the man and
bade him good-night, and went home to see Deborah's baby.

For a long time he sat by the cradle. Presently Deborah joined him, and
soon they were laughing heartily at the astonishing jerks and kicks and
grimaces of the tiny boy. He was having his bath and he hated it. But safe
at last on his mother's lap, wrapped to his ears in a big soft towel, he
grew very gay and contented and looked waggishly about.

There followed long lazy days of spring, as April drifted into May. Early
in the morning Roger could hear through his window the cries of the vendors
of flowers and fruits. And he listened drowsily. He rose late and spent
most of the day in the house; but occasionally he went out for a stroll.
And one balmy evening when groups of youths came trooping by, singing in
close harmony, Roger called a taxi and went far down through the tenement
streets to a favorite haunt of his, a little Syrian pawnshop, where after
long delving he purchased a ring to put in the new collection that he had

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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 21 of 22)