Ernest Poole.

His Family online

. (page 22 of 22)
Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 22 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

been making lately. He had nearly a dozen now.

Days passed. The house was still so quiet, Deborah was still upstairs. At
last, one night upon leaving his study, he stopped uncertainly in the hall.
He took more time than was his wont in closing up the house for the night,
in trying all the windows, in turning out the various lights. Room after
room he left in the dark. Then he went slowly up the stairs, his hand
gratefully feeling those guiding points grown so familiar to his touch
through many thousand evenings. His hand lingered on the banister and he
stopped again to listen there.

He did not come downstairs again.

He was able to sleep but little at night. Turning restlessly on his bed, he
would glance out of the window up at the beetling wall close by, tier on
tier of apartments from which faint voices dropped out of the dark.
Gradually as the night wore on, these voices would all die away into long
mysterious silences - for to him at least such silences had grown to be
very mysterious. Alone in the hours that followed, even these modern
neighbors and this strange new eager town pressing down upon his house
seemed no longer strange to him nor so appallingly immense, seemed even
familiar and small to him, as the eyes of his mind looked out ahead.

From his bed he could see on the opposite wall the picture Judith had given
him, always so fresh and cool and dim with its deep restful tones of blue,
of the herdsmen and the cattle on the dark mountain rim at dawn. And
vaguely he wondered whether it was because he saw more clearly, or whether
his mind in this curious haze could no longer see so well, that as he
looked before him he felt no fear nor any more uncertainty. All his doubts
had lifted, he was so sure of Judith now. As though she were coming to meet
him, her image grew more vivid, with memories emerging out of all the years
gone by. What memories, what vivid scenes! What intimate conversations they
had, her voice so natural, close in his ear, as together they planned for
their children.... Wistfully he would search the years for what he should
soon tell his wife - until the drowsiness returned, and then again came

But by day it was not so, for the life of the house would rouse him and at
intervals hold his attention.

One evening a slight rustle, a faint fragrance in the room, made Roger
suddenly open his eyes. And he saw Laura by his bed, her slender figure
clad in blue silk, something white at her full bosom. He noticed her
shapely shoulders, her glossy hair and moist red lips. She was smiling down
at him.

"See what I've brought you, dear," she said. And she turned to a chair
where, one on the other, tray after tray, was piled his whole collection of
rings. At sight of them his eyes grew fixed; he could feel his pulse beat

"How did you ever find them?" he asked his daughter huskily.

"Oh, I had a long hunt all by myself. But I found them at last and I've
brought them home. Shall we look them over a little while?"

"Yes," he said. She turned up the light, and came and sat down at the
bedside with a tray of rings in her lap. One by one she held them up to his
gaze, still smiling and talking softly on in that rich melodious voice of
hers, of which he heard but snatches. How good it felt to be so gay. No
solemn thoughts nor questionings, just these dusky glittering beauties
here, deep soft gleams of color, each with its suggestion of memories for
Roger, a procession of adventures reaching back into his life. He smiled
and lay in silence watching, until at last she bent over him, kissed him
softly, breathed a good-night and went out of the room. Roger followed her
with his glance. He knew he would never see her again. How graceful of her
to go like that.

He lay there thinking about her. In her large blue limousine he saw his gay
young daughter speeding up the Avenue, the purple gleaming pavement
reflecting studded lines of lights. And he thought he could see her smiling
still. He recalled scattered fragments of her life - the first luxurious
little ménage, and the second. How many more would there be? She was only
in her twenties still. Uneasily he tried to see into the years ahead for
her, and he thought he saw a lonely old age, childless, loveless, cynical,
hard. But this fear soon fell from his mind. No, whatever happened, she
would do it gracefully, an artist always, to the end. He sighed and gave up
the effort. For he could not think of Laura as old, nor could he think of
her any more as being a part of his family.

Edith came to him several times, and there was something in her face which
gave him sharp forebodings. Making a great effort he tried to talk to her

"It's hard to keep up with your children," he said. "It means keeping up
with everything new. And you stay in your rut and then it's too late.
Before you know it you are old."

But his words subsided in mutterings, and Roger wearily closed his eyes.
For a glance up into Edith's face had shown him only pity there and no heed
to his warning. He saw that she looked upon him as old and still upon
herself as young, though he noticed the threads of gray in her hair....
Then he realized she had gone and that his chamber had grown dark. He must
have been dreaming. Of what, he asked. He tried to remember. And suddenly
out of the darkness, so harsh and clear it startled him, a picture rose in
Roger's mind of a stark lonely figure, a woman in a graveyard cutting the
grass on family graves. Where had he seen it? He could not recall. What had
it to do with Edith? Was she not living in New York?... What had so
startled him just now? Some thought, some vivid picture, some nightmare he
could not recall.

His last talks were with Deborah. All through those days and the long
nights, too, he kept fancying she was in the room, and it brought deep balm
to his restless soul. He asked her to tell him about the schools, and
Deborah talked to him quietly. She was going back to her work in the fall.
She felt very humble about it - she told him she felt older now and she saw
that her work was barely begun. But she was even happier than before. Her
hand lay in his, and it tightened there. He opened his eyes and looked up
into hers.

"All so strange," he muttered, "life." There was a sharp contracting of her
wide and sensitive mouth.

"Yes, dear, strange!" she whispered.

"But I'm so glad you're going on." He frowned as he tried to be simple and
clear, and make her feel he understood what she had set herself to do. "All
people," he said slowly, "never counted so much as now. And never so
hungry - all - as now - for all of life - like children - children who should go
to school. Your work will grow - I can see ahead. Never a time when every
man and woman and child could grow so much - and hand it on - and hand it
on - as you will do to your small son."

He felt her hand on his forehead, and for some moments nothing was said.
Vaguely in glimpses Roger saw his small grandson growing up; and he
pictured other children here, not her own but of her greater family, as the
two merged into one. He felt that she would not grow old. Children, lives
of children; work, dreams and aspirations. How bright it seemed as he
stared ahead. Then he heard the cry of her baby.

"Shall I nurse him here?" he heard her ask. He pressed her hand in answer.
And when again he opened his eyes she was by his side with the child at her
breast. Its large round eyes, so pure and clear, gazed into his own for a
long, long time.

"Now he's so sleepy," she whispered. "Would you like him beside you a


He felt the faint scent of the tiny boy, and still those eyes looked into
his. He forgot his daughter standing there; and as he watched, a sweet
fresh sense of the mystery of this life so new stole deep into his spirit.
All at once the baby fell asleep.

"Good-night, little brother," he whispered. "God grant the world be very
kind." He could feel the mother lift it up, and he heard the door close

Smiling he, too, fell asleep. And after that there were only dreams.


And his dreams were of children. Their faces passed before him. Now they
were young again in the house. They were eating their suppers, three small
girls, chattering like magpies. From her end of the table their mother
smiled quietly across at him. "Come children," she was saying, "that will
do for a little while." But Roger said, "Oh, let them talk."... Then he saw
new-comers. Bruce came in with Edith, and George and young Elizabeth, and
Allan came with Deborah who had a baby in her arms, and Laura stood beside
them. Here were his three daughters, grown, but still in some uncanny way
they looked to him like children still; and behind them he detected figures
long forgotten, of boys and girls whom he had known far back in his own
childhood. John, too, had come into the house. Strangely now the walls were
gone, had lifted, and a clamorous throng, laughing, shouting, pummeling,
hedged him in on every hand - Deborah's big family!

Soon the uproar wearied him, and Roger tried to shut them out, to bring
back again the walls to his house. And sometimes he succeeded, and he was
left for a while in peace with Judith and his three small girls. But
despite his efforts to keep them there, new faces kept intruding. Swiftly
his small family grew, split into other families, and these were merged
with other figures pressing in from every side. Again he felt the presence
of countless families all around, dividing, reuniting, with ceaseless
changes and fresh life - a never ending multitude. Here they were singing
and dancing, and Laura gaily waved to him. At another place were only men,
and they were struggling savagely to clutch things from each other's
hands. A sea of scowling visages, angry shouts, fists clinched in air. And
he thought he saw Bruce for an instant. Behind them lay wide valleys
obscured by heavy clouds of smoke, and he could hear the roar of guns. But
they vanished suddenly, and he saw women mourning now, and Edith with her
children turned to him her anxious eyes. He tried to reach and help her,
but already she had gone. And behind her came huge bending forms, men
heaving at great burdens, jaws set in scowls of fierce revolt. And John was
there on his crutches, and near him was a figure bound into a chair of
steel, with terror in the straining limbs, while in desperation Deborah
tried to wrench him free. Abruptly Roger turned away.

And in a twinkling all was gone, the tumult and the clamor, and he was in a
silent place high up on a mountain side. It was dusk. A herd of cattle
passed, and George came close behind them. And around him Roger saw,
emerging from the semi-dark, faces turning like his own to the summits of
the mountains and the billowy splendors there. It grew so dark he could see
no more. There fell a deep silence, not a sound but the occasional chirp of
a bird or the faint whirr of an insect. Even the glow on the peaks was
gone. Darkness, only darkness.

"Surely this is death," he thought. After that he was alone. And presently
from far away he heard the booming of a bell, deep and slow, sepulchral, as
it measured off his life. Another silence followed, and this time it was
more profound; and with a breathless awe he knew that all the people who
had ever lived on earth were before him in the void to which he himself was
drifting: people of all nations, of countless generations reaching back and
back and back to the beginnings of mankind: the mightiest family of all,
that had stumbled up through the ages, had slaved and starved and dreamed
and died, had blindly hated, blindly killed, had raised up gods and idols
and yearned for everlasting life, had laughed and played and danced along,
had loved and mated, given birth, had endlessly renewed itself and handed
on its heritage, had striven hungrily to learn, had groped its way in
darkness, and after all its struggles had come now barely to the dawn. And
then a voice within him cried,

"What is humanity but a child? In the name of the dead I salute the

Slowly a glow appeared in his dream, and once again the scene had changed.
The light was coming from long rows of houses rising tall and steep out of
a teeming city street. And from these lighted houses children now came
pouring forth. They filled the street from wall to wall with a torrent of
warm vivid hues, they joined in mad tempestuous games, they shouted and
they danced with glee, they whirled each other 'round and 'round. The very
air seemed quivering. Then was heard the crash of a band, and he saw them
marching into school. In and in and in they pressed, till the school seemed
fairly bursting. Out they came by another way, and went off marching down
the street with the big flag waving at their head. He followed and saw the
street divide into narrower streets and bye-ways, into roads and country
lanes. And all were filled with children. In endless multitudes they
came - marching, marching, spreading, spreading, like wide bobbing fields of
flowers rolling out across the land, toward a great round flashing sun
above a distant rim of hills.

The sun rose strangely dazzling. It filled the heavens with blinding light.
He felt himself drawn up and up - while from somewhere far behind he heard
the cry of Deborah's child. A clear sweet thrill of happiness came. And
after that - we do not know.

For he had left his family.

Printed in the United States of America

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 22

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