Ernest Poole.

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Let's stay mixed as long as we can - and keep together the family."

* * * * *

That afternoon, to distract him, Deborah took her father to a concert in
Carnegie Hall. She had often urged him to go of late, but despite his
liking for music Roger had refused before, simply because it was a change.
But why balk at going anywhere now, when Laura was up to such antics at
home?

"Do you mind climbing up to the gallery?" Deborah asked as they entered the
hall.

"Not at all," he curtly answered. He did mind it very much!

"Then we'll go to the very top," she said. "It's a long climb but I want
you to see it. It's so different up there."

"I don't doubt it," he replied. And as they made the slow ascent, pettishly
he wondered why Deborah must always be so eager for queer places.
Galleries, zoo schools, tenement slums - why not take a two dollar seat in
life?

Deborah seated him far down in the front of the great gallery, over at the
extreme right, and from here they could look back and up at a huge dim
arena of faces.

"Now watch them close," she whispered. "See what the music does to them."

As the symphony began below the faces all grew motionless. And as the music
cast its spell, the anxious ruffled feelings which had been with Roger all
that day little by little were dispelled, and soon his imagination began to
work upon this scene. He saw many familiar American types. He felt he knew
what they had been doing on Sundays only a few years before. After church
they had eaten large Sunday dinners. Then some had napped and some had
walked and some had gone to Sunday school. At night they had had cold
suppers, and afterwards some had gone back to church; while others, as in
Roger's house in the days when Judith was alive, had gathered around the
piano for hymns. Young men callers, friends of their daughters, had joined
in the family singing. Yes, some of these people had been like that. To
them, a few short years ago, a concert on the Sabbath would have seemed a
sacrilege. He could almost hear from somewhere the echo of "Abide With Me."

But over this memory of a song rose now the surging music of Tschaikovsky's
"Pathetique." And the yearnings and fierce hungers in this tumultuous music
swept all the hymns from Roger's mind. Once more he watched the gallery,
and this time he became aware that more than half were foreigners. Out of
the mass from every side individual faces emerged, swarthy, weird, and
staring hungrily into space. And to Roger the whole shadowy place, the very
air, grew pregnant, charged with all these inner lives bound together in
this mood, this mystery that had swept over them all, immense and
formless, baffling, this furious demanding and this blind wistful groping
which he himself had known so well, ever since his wife had died and he had
lost his faith in God. What was the meaning of it all if life were nothing
but a start, and there were nothing but the grave?

"You will live on in our children's lives."

He glanced around at Deborah. Was _she_ so certain, so serene? "What do I
know of her?" he asked. "Little or nothing," he sadly replied. And he tried
to piece together from things she had told him her life as it had passed
him by. Had there been no questionings, no sharp disillusionments? There
must have been. He recalled irritabilities, small acts and exclamations of
impatience, boredom, "blues." And as he watched her he grew sure that his
daughter's existence had been like his own. Despite its different setting,
its other aims and visions, it had been a mere beginning, a feeling for a
foothold, a search for light and happiness. And Deborah seemed to him still
a child. "How far will _you_ go?" he wondered.

Although he was still watching her even after the music had ceased, she did
not notice him for a time. Then she turned to him slowly with a smile.

"Well? What did you see?" she asked.

"I wasn't looking," he replied.

"Why, dearie," she retorted. "Where's that imagination of yours?"

"It was with you," he answered. "Tell me what you were thinking."

And still under the spell of the music, Deborah said to her father,

"I was thinking of hungry people - millions of them, now, this minute - not
only here but in so many places - concerts, movies, libraries. Hungry, oh,
for everything - life, its beauty, all it means. And I was thinking this is
youth - no matter how old they happen to be - and that to feed it we have
schools. I was thinking how little we've done as yet, and of all that
we're so sure to do in the many, many years ahead. Do you see what I mean?"
she squeezed his hand.

"Welcome back to school," she said, "back into the hungry army of youth!...
Sh-h-h!"

Again the music had begun. And sitting by her side he wondered whether it
was because she knew that Laura's affair had made him feel old that Deborah
had brought him here.

* * * * *

They went to Edith's for supper.

The Cunninghams' apartment was on the west side, well uptown. It was not
the neighborhood which Edith would have chosen, for nearly all the nice
people she knew lived east of the park. But rents were somewhat lower here
and there was at least an abundance of fresh air for her family. Edith had
found that her days were full of these perplexing decisions. It was all
very simple to resolve that her children be old-fashioned, normal,
wholesome, nice. But then she looked into the city - into schools and
kindergartens, clothes and friends and children's parties, books and plays.
And through them all to her dismay she felt conflicting currents, clashes
between old and new. She felt New York. And anxiously she asked herself,
"What is old-fashioned? What is normal? What is wholesome? What is nice?"
Cautiously she made her way, testing and comparing, trying small
experiments. Often sharply she would draw in her horns. She had struck
something "common!" And she knew all this was nothing compared to the
puzzles that lay ahead. For from her friend, Madge Deering, whose girls
were well along in their 'teens, she heard of deeper problems. The girls
were so inquisitive. Dauntlessly Madge was facing each month the most
disturbing questions. Thank Heaven, Edith had only one daughter. Sons were
not quite so baffling.

So she had groped her way along.

When her father and Deborah arrived, placidly she asked them what they had
been doing. And when she heard that they had been at a concert on the
Sabbath, though this was far from old-fashioned and something she would not
have done herself, it did not bother her half so much as the fact that
Hannah, the Irish nurse, had slapped little Tad that afternoon. She had
never known Hannah to do it before. Could it be that the girl was tired or
sick? Perhaps she needed a few days off. "I must have a talk with her,"
Edith thought, "as soon as father and Deborah go."

Roger always liked to come here. Say what you would about Edith's habit of
keeping too closely to her home, the children to whom she had devoted
herself were a fine, clean, happy lot. Here were new lives in his family,
glorious fresh beginnings. He sat on the floor with her three boys,
watching the patient efforts of George to harness his perturbed white rat
to Tad's small fire engine. George was a lank sprawling lad of fourteen,
all legs and arms and elbows, with rumpled hair and freckled face, a quick
bright smile and nice brown eyes - frank, simple, understandable eyes. All
but one of Edith's children were boys, and boys were a blessed relief to a
man who had three grown-up daughters.

And while Roger watched them, with a gentle glow of anticipation he waited
for what should follow, when as had been already arranged Deborah should
break to her sister the news of Laura's engagement. And he was not
disappointed. The change in Edith was something tremendous. Until now so
quietly self-absorbed, at the news that Laura was to be married instantly
she was all alert. Sitting there in the midst of her children and facing a
time of agony only a few weeks ahead which would add one more to her
family, Edith's pretty florid face grew flushed and radiant as she
exclaimed,

"What a perfectly wonderful thing for Laura! Now if only she can have a
child!"

Her questions followed thick and fast, and with them her thoughts of what
should be done. Bruce must look up this suitor at once. Bruce demurred
stoutly but without avail. She eagerly questioned her sister as to Laura's
plans for the wedding, but plainly she considered that Deborah was no woman
to give her the full information she wanted. She must see Laura herself at
once. For though she had thoroughly disapproved of the gay helter-skelter
existence of her youngest sister, still Laura was now to be married, and
this made all the difference.

Just before Roger and Deborah left, Edith drew her father aside, and with a
curious concern and pity in her voice, she said,

"I'm so sorry I shan't be able to help you with the wedding, dear, and make
it the sweet old-fashioned kind that mother would have wanted. Of course
there's Deborah, she'll be there. But her head is so full of new ideas. I'm
afraid she may find the house rather a burden after Laura has gone away."
Edith gave a worried little sigh. "I'll be so glad," she added, "when we
get that place in Morristown. We'll want you out there often, and for good
long visits too. You may even find you'll care to try staying there with us
for a while."

Roger scowled and thanked her. She had given him a shock of alarm.

"So she thinks that Deborah will find the housekeeping too hard," he
reflected anxiously. And as he walked home with his daughter, he kept
glancing at her face, which for all its look of quiet had so much tensity
beneath. She had packed her life so full of school. What if she wanted to
give up their home? "She'll try, of course, she'll try her best - but she'll
find it too much of an added strain." And again he felt that sickening
dread. Deborah said nothing. He felt as though they had drifted apart.

And at night in his bed, as Roger stared up at the beetling cliff of
apartment windows just outside, drearily he asked himself how it would feel
to live like that.




CHAPTER V


One afternoon a few days later Roger was riding in the park. He rode
"William," a large lazy cob who as he advanced in age had so subtly and
insidiously slackened his pace from a trot to a jog that Roger barely
noticed how slowly he was riding. As he rode along he liked to watch the
broad winding bridle path with its bobbing procession of riders that kept
appearing before him under the tall spreading trees. Though he knew
scarcely anyone by name, he was a familiar figure here and he recognized
scores of faces. To many men he nodded at passing, and to not a few
alluring young dames, ardent creatures with bright eyes who gave him smiles
of greeting, Roger gravely raised his hat. One was "The Silver Lady" in a
Broadway musical show, but he thought she was "one of the Newport crowd."
He liked to make shrewd guesses like that. There were so many kinds of
people here. There were stout anxious ladies riding for figures and lean
morose gentlemen riding for health. There were joyous care-free girls,
chatting and laughing merrily. There were some gallant foreigners, and
there were riding masters, and Roger could not tell them apart. There were
mad boys from the Squadron who rode at a furious canter, and there were
groups of children, eager and flushed, excited and gay, with stolid grooms
behind them. The path in several places ran close beside the main road of
the park, and with the coming of the dusk this road took on deep purple
hues and glistened with reflections from countless yellow motor eyes. And
from the polished limousines, sumptuous young women smiled out upon the
riders.

At least so Roger saw this life. And after those bleak lonely years
confronted by eternity, it was good to come here and forget, to feel
himself for the moment a part of the thoughtless gaiety, the ease and
luxury of the town. Here he was just on the edge of it all. Often as a
couple passed he would wonder what they were doing that night. In the
riding school where he kept his horse, it was a lazy pleasure to have the
English "valet" there pull off his boots and breeches - though if anyone had
told him so, Roger would have denied it with indignation and surprise. For
was he not an American?

It had been a wonderful tonic, a great idea of Laura's, this forcing him up
here to ride. In one of her affectionate moods, just after a sick spell he
had been through, his gay capricious daughter had insisted that he have his
horse brought down from the mountains. She had promised to ride with him
herself, and she had done so - for a week. Since then he had often met her
here with one of her many smart young men. What a smile of greeting would
flash on her face - when Laura happened to notice him.

He was thinking of Laura now, and there was an anxious gleam in his eyes.
For young Sloane was coming to dinner to-night. What was he going to say to
the fellow? Bruce had learned that Sloane played polo, owned and drove a
racing car and was well liked in his several clubs. But what about women
and his past? Edith had urged her father to go through the lad's life with
a fine tooth comb, and if he should find anything there to kick up no end
of a row for the honor of the family. All of which was nothing but words,
reflected Roger pettishly. It all came to this, that he had a most ticklish
evening ahead! On the path as a rider greeted him, his reply was a dismal
frown.

* * * * *

Laura's suitor arrived at six o'clock. In his study Roger heard the bell,
listened a moment with beating heart, then raised himself heavily from his
chair and went into the hallway.

"Ah, yes! It's you!" he exclaimed, with a nervous cordiality. "Come in, my
boy, come right in! Here, let me help you with your coat. I don't know just
where Laura is. Ahem!" He violently cleared his throat. "Suppose while
we're waiting we have a smoke." He kept it up back into his den. There the
suitor refused a cigar and carefully lit a cigarette. Roger noticed again
how young the chap was, and marriage seemed so ridiculous! All this
feverish trouble was for something so unreal!

"Well, sir," the candidate blurted forth, "I guess I'd better come right to
the point. Mr. Gale, I want to marry your daughter."

"Laura?"

"Yes." Roger cursed himself. Why had he asked, "Laura?" Of course it was
Laura! Would this cub be wanting Deborah?

"Well, my boy," he said thickly. "I - I wish I knew you better."

"So do I, sir. Suppose we begin." The youth took a quick pull at his
cigarette. He waited, stirred nervously in his seat. "You'll have some
questions to ask, I suppose - "

"Yes, there are questions." Roger had risen mechanically and was slowly
walking the room. He threw out short gruff phrases. "I'm not interested in
your past - I don't care about digging into a man - I never have and I never
will - except as it might affect my daughter. That's the main question, I
suppose. Can you make her happy?"

"I think so," said Sloane, decidedly. Roger gave him a glance of
displeasure.

"That's a large order, young man," he rejoined.

"Then let's take it in sections," the youngster replied. Confound his
boyish assurance! "To begin with," he was saying, "I rather think I have
money enough. We'd better go into that, hadn't we?"

"Yes," said Roger indifferently. "We might as well go into it." Of course
the chap had money enough. He was a money maker. You could hear it in his
voice; you could see it in his jaw, in his small aggressive blonde
moustache. Now he was telling briefly of his rich aunt in Bridgeport, of
the generous start she had given him, his work downtown, his income.

"Twenty-two thousand this year," he said. "We can live on that all right, I
guess."

"You won't starve," was the dry response. Roger walked for a moment in
silence, then turned abruptly on young Sloane.

"Look here, young man, I don't want to dig," he continued very huskily.
"But I know little or nothing of what may be behind you. I don't care to
ask you about it now - unless it can make trouble."

"It can't make trouble." At this answer, low but sharp, Roger wheeled and
shot a glance into those clear and twinkling eyes. And his own eyes gleamed
with pain. Laura had been such a little thing in the days when she had been
his pet, the days when he had known her well. What could he do about it?
This was only the usual thing. But he felt suddenly sick of life.

"How soon do you want to get married?" he demanded harshly.

"Next month, if we can."

"Where are you going?"

"Abroad," said Sloane. Roger caught at this topic as at a straw. Soon they
were talking of the trip, and the tension slackened rapidly. He had never
been abroad himself but had always dreamed of going there. With maps and
books of travel Judith and he had planned it out. In imagination they had
lived in London and Paris, Munich and Rome, always in queer old lodgings
looking on quaint crooked streets. He had dreamed of long delicious
rambles, glimpses into queer old shops, vast, silent, dark cathedrals. For
Laura how different it would be. This boy of hers knew Europe as a group
of gorgeous new hotels.

The moment Laura joined them, her father's eye was caught and held by the
ring upon her finger. Roger knew rings, they were his hobby, and this huge
yellow solitaire in its new and brilliant setting at once awakened his
dislike. It just fitted the life they were to lead! What life? As he
listened to his daughter he kept wondering if she were so sure. Had she
felt no uneasiness? She must have, he decided, for all her gay excitement.
One Laura in that smiling face; another Laura deep inside, doubting and
uncertain, reaching for her happiness, now elated, now dismayed,
exclaiming, "Now at last I'm starting!" Oh, what an ignorant child she was.
He wanted to cry out to her, "You'll _always_ be just starting! You'll
never be sure, you'll never be happy, you'll always be just beginning to
be! And the happier you are, the more you will feel it is only a start!...
And then-"

More and more his spirit withdrew from these two heedless children. Later
on, when Deborah came, he barely noticed her meeting with Sloane. And
through dinner, while they talked of plans for the wedding, the trip
abroad, still Roger took no part at all. He felt dull and heavy. Deborah
too, he noticed, after her first efforts to be welcoming and friendly, had
gradually grown silent. He saw her watching Laura with a mingled look of
affection and of whimsical dismay. Soon after dinner she left them, and
Roger smoked with the boy for a while and learned that he was twenty-nine.
Both had grown uneasy and rather dull with each other. It was a relief when
again Laura joined them, dressed to go out. She and her lover left the
house.

Roger sat motionless for some time. His cigar grew cold unheeded. One of
the sorrows of his life had been that his only son had died. Bruce had been
almost like a son. But this young man of Laura's? No.

Later he went for his evening walk. And as though drawn by invisible
chains he strayed far down into the ghetto. Soon he was elbowing his way
through a maze of uproarious tenement streets as one who had been there
many times. But he noticed little around him. He went on, as he had always
gone, seeing and hearing this seething life only as a background to his own
adventure. He reached his destination. Pushing his way through a swarm of
urchins playing in front of a pawnshop, he entered and was a long time
inside, and when he came out again at last the whole expression of his face
had undergone a striking change. As one who had found the solace he needed
for the moment, his pace unconsciously quickened and he looked about him
with brighter eyes.

Around the corner from his home, he went into a small jewelry shop, a
remnant of the town of the past. There were no customers in the place, and
the old Galician jeweler sat at the back playing solitaire. At sight of
Roger he arose; and presently in a small back room, beneath the glare of a
powerful lamp, the two were studying the ring which Roger had found in the
ghetto that night. It was plain, just a thin worn band of gold with an
emerald by no means large; but the setting was old and curious, and
personal, distinctive. Somebody over in Europe had worked on it long and
lovingly. Now as the Galician gently rubbed and polished and turned the
ring this way and that, the light revealed crude tiny figures, a man and a
woman under a tree. And was that a vine or a serpent? They studied it long
and absorbedly.

At home, up in his bedroom, Roger opened a safe which stood in one corner,
took out a large shallow tray and sat down with it by his lamp. A strange
array of rings was there, small and delicate, huge, bizarre; great signet
rings and poison rings, love tokens, charms and amulets, rings which had
been worn by wives, by mistresses, by favorite slaves and by young girls in
convents; rings with the Madonna and rings with many other saints graven
on large heavy stones; rings French and Russian, Polish, Italian, Spanish,
Syrian. Some were many centuries old. In nine shallow metal trays they
filled the safe in Roger's room. Although its money value was small, the
Gale collection was well known to a scattered public of connoisseurs, and
Roger took pride in showing it. But what had always appealed to him most
was the romance, the mystery, stored up in these old talismans that had
lived so many ages, travelled through so many lands, decked so many
fingers. Roger had found every one of them in the pawnshops of New York.
What new recruits to America had brought them here and pawned them? From
what old cities had they come? What passions of love and jealousy, of
hatred, faith, devotion were in this glittering array? Roger's own love
affair had been deep, but quiet and even and happy. All the wild
adventures, the might-have-beens in his sex life, were gathered in these
dusky trays with their richly colored glints of light.

Of his daughters, Laura had been the one most interested in his rings, and
so he thought of Laura now as he placed in the tray the new ring he had
bought, the one he would have liked for her. But a vague uneasiness filled
his mind, for he knew she had the same craving as he for what gleamed out
of these somber trays. The old Galician jeweler had long been quite a
friend of hers, she had often dropped in at his shop to ask him curious
questions about his women patrons. And it was just this side of him that
Roger did not care for. So many of those women were from a dubious
glittering world, and the old Galician took a weird vicarious joy in many
of the gay careers into which he sent his beloved rings, his brooches,
earrings, necklaces, his clasps and diamond garters. And Laura loved to
make him talk.... Yes, she was her father's child, a part of himself. He,
too, had had his yearnings, his burning curiosities, his youthful ventures
into the town. "You will live on in our children's lives." With her
inheritance what would she do? Would she stop halfway as he had done, or
would she throw all caution aside and let the flames within her rise?

He heard a step in the doorway, and Deborah stood there smiling.

"A new one?" she inquired. He nodded, and she bent over the tray. "Poor
father," Deborah murmured. "I saw you eyeing Laura's engagement ring at
dinner to-night. It wasn't like this one, was it?" He scowled:

"I don't like what I see ahead of her. Nor do you," he said. "Be honest."
She looked at him perplexedly.

"We can't stop it, can we? And even if we could," she said, "I'm not quite
sure I'd want to. It's her love affair, not yours or mine - grown out of a
life she made for herself - curious, eager, thrilled by it all - and in the
center of her soul the deep glad growing certainty, 'I'm going to be a
beautiful woman - I myself, I, Laura Gale!' Oh, you don't know - nor do I.
And so she felt her way along - eagerly, hungrily, making mistakes - and you
and I left her to do it alone. I'm afraid we both rather neglected her,
dad," Deborah ended sadly. "And all we can do now, I think, is to give her
the kind of wedding she wants."

Roger started to speak but hesitated.

"What is it?" she inquired.

"Queer," he answered gruffly, "how a man can neglect his children - as I
have done, as I do still - when the one thing he wants most in life is to
see each one of 'em happy."




CHAPTER VI


Roger soon grew accustomed to seeing young Sloane about the house. They


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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 3 of 22)