Ernest Poole.

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could talk together more easily, and he began to call him Harold. Harold
asked him with Laura to lunch at the Ritz to meet the aunt from Bridgeport,
a lady excessively stout and profound. But that ended the formalities. It
had all been so much easier than Roger had expected. So, in its calm sober
fashion, the old house took into its life this new member, these new plans,
and the old seemed stronger for the new - for Laura and Edith and Deborah
drew together closer than they had been in many years. But only because
they felt themselves on the eve of a still deeper and more lasting
separation, as the family of Roger Gale divided and went different ways. At
times he noticed it sadly. Laura, who had scarcely ever been home for
dinner, now spent many evenings here. She needed her home for her wedding,
he thought. Each daughter needed it now and then. But as the years wore
slowly on, the seasons when they needed it grew steadily wider and wider

Early in May, when Roger came home from his office one night he found
Edith's children in the house. From the hallway he could hear their gay
excited voices, and going into the dining room he found them at their
supper. Deborah was with them, and at once her father noticed how much
younger she appeared - as she always did with these children who all
idolized her so. She rose and followed him into the hall, and her quiet
voice had a note of compassion.

"Edith's baby is coming," she said.

"Good Lord. Is anything wrong?" he asked.

"No, no, it's all right - "

"But I thought the child wasn't due for three weeks."

"I know, and poor Edith is fearfully worried. It has upset all her plans.
I'd go up and see her if I were you. Your supper is ready; and if you like
you can have it with the children."

There followed a happy boisterous meal, with much expectant chatter about
the long summer so soon to begin at the farm up in the mountains. George,
whose hair was down over his eyes, rumpled it back absorbedly as he told of
a letter he had received from his friend Dave Royce, Roger's farmer, with
whom George corresponded. One of the cows was to have a calf, and George
was anxious to get there in time.

"I've never seen a real new calf, new absolutely," he explained. "And I
want a look at this one the very minute that he's born. Gee, I hope we can
get there in time - "

"Gee! So do I!" cried Bobby aged nine. And then Tad, the chubby
three-year-old who had been intently watching his brothers, slowly took the
spoon from his mouth and in his grave sweet baby voice said very softly,
"Gee." At her end of the table, Elizabeth, blonde and short and rather
plump, frowned and colored slightly. For she was eleven and she knew there
was something dark and shameful about the way calves appear in barns. And
so, with a quick conscious cough, she sweetly interrupted:

"Oh, Aunt Deborah! Won't you please tell us about - about - "

"About - about," jeered the ironical George. "About what, you little ninny?"
Poor Elizabeth blushed desperately. She was neither quick nor resourceful.

"Now, George," said his aunt warningly.

"Wasn't I talking?" the boy rejoined. "And didn't Betsy butt right
in - without even a thing to butt in about? About - about," he jeered again.

"About Paris!" cried his sister, successful at last in her frantic search
for a proper topic of conversation. "Aunt Deborah's trip to Paris!"

"How many times has she told it already?" her brother replied with
withering scorn. "And anyhow, I was talking of cows!"

"Very well," said his aunt, "we'll talk about cows, some cows I saw on a
lovely old farm in a little village over in France."

"There!" cried his young sister. "Did she ever tell of _that_ part of her
trip?" And she made a little face at her brother.

"I don't care," he answered doggedly. "She has told about Paris lots of
times - and that was what _you_ wanted. Yes, you did. You said, 'About
Paris.' Didn't she, Bob?"

"You bet she did," young Bob agreed.

"Now, children, children, what does it matter?"

"All right, go ahead with your barn in France," said George with patient
tolerance. "Did they have any Holsteins?"

Soon the questions were popping from every side, while little Tad beamed
from one to the other. To Tad it was all so wonderful, to be having supper
away from home, to be here, to go to bed upstairs, to take part perhaps in
a pillow fight.... And glancing at the glowing face and the parted lips of
his small grandson Roger felt a current of warm new life pour into his

Early in the evening he went up to Edith's apartment. He found his daughter
in her room, looking flushed and very tense. He took her arm and they
walked for a time. A trained nurse was soaping the windows. Roger asked the
reason for this and was told that in case the baby did not come till
morning the doctor wanted to pull up the shades in order to work by
daylight. "And neighbors in New York are such cats! You've no idea!" said
Edith. She looked out at the numberless windows crowding close about her
home, and she fairly bristled with scorn. "Oh, how I loathe apartments!"

"They seem to have come to stay, my dear. In a few years more New York will
be a city without a house," he said. "Only a palace here and there." The
thought flashed in his mind, "But I shall be gone."

"Then we'll move out to the country!" she cried. Still walking the floor
with her father, she talked of the perplexities which in her feverish state
of mind had loomed suddenly enormous. She had planned everything so nicely
for the baby to come the first of June, but now her plans were all upset.
She did not want the children here, it would make too much confusion. They
had much better go up to the mountains, even though George and Elizabeth
lost their last few weeks at school. But who could she find to take them?
Bruce was simply rushed to death with his new receivership. Laura was
getting her trousseau. Deborah, said Edith, had time for nothing on earth
but school.

"Suppose I take them," Roger ventured. But she only smiled at this. "My
dear," he urged, "your nurse will be with me, and when we arrive there's
the farmer's wife." But Edith impatiently shook her head. Her warm bright
eyes seemed to picture it all, hour by hour, day and night, her children
there without her.

"You poor dear," she told him, "you haven't the slightest idea what it
means. The summer train is not on yet, and you have to change three times
on the way - with all the children - luggage, too. And there are their naps,
and all their meals. You don't arrive till late at night. No," she decided
firmly, "Bruce will simply have to go." She drew a breath of discomfort.
"You go and talk to him," she said.

"I will, my dear." Roger looked at his daughter in deep concern. Awkwardly
his heavy hand touched her small plump shoulder, and he felt the constant
quivering there. "Now, now," he muttered, uneasily, "it's going to be all
right, you know - " And at that she gave him a rapid glance out of those
warm hunted eyes, as though to ask, "What do you know of this?" And Roger
flinched and turned to the door.

Bruce was working at his desk, with an old briar pipe in his teeth. He
looked up with a quick nervous smile which showed his dread of the coming
ordeal, but his voice had a carefully casual tone.

"Does she want me now?" he asked.

"No," said Roger. And he told of her plan for the children. "I volunteered
myself," he added, "but she wouldn't hear to it."

"Oh, my God, man, you wouldn't do," said Bruce, in droll disparagement.
"You with forty-nine bottles of pasteurized milk? Suppose you smashed one?
Where'd you be? Moving our family isn't a job; it's a science, and I've got
my degree." He rose and his face softened. "Poor girl, she mustn't worry
like that. I'll run in and tell her I'll do it myself - just to get it off
her mind."

He went to his wife. And when he came back his dark features appeared a
little more drawn.

"Poor devil," thought Roger, "he's scared to death - just as I used to be

"Pretty tough on a woman, isn't it?" Bruce muttered, smiling constrainedly.

"Did Baird say everything's going well?" Baird was Edith's physician.

"Yes. He was here this afternoon, and he said he'd be back this evening."
Bruce stopped with a queer little scowl of suspense. "I told her I'd see to
the trip with the kiddies, and it seemed to relieve her a lot." His eye
went to a pile of documents that lay on the desk before him. "It'll play
the very devil with business, taking three days off just now. But I guess I
can manage it somehow - "

A muscle began to twitch on his face. He re-lit his pipe with elaborate
care and looked over at Roger confidingly:

"Do you know what's the matter with kids these days? It's the twentieth
century," he said. "It's a disease. It starts in their teeth. No modern
girl can get married unless she has had her teeth straightened for years.
Our dentist's bill, this year alone, was over eight hundred dollars. But
that isn't all. It gets into their young intestines, God bless 'em, and
makes you pasteurize all they eat. It gets into their nerves and tears 'em
up, and your only chance to save 'em is school - not a common school but a
'simple' school, tuition four hundred dollars a year. And you hire a
dancing teacher besides - I mean a rhythm teacher - and let 'em shake it out
of their feet. And after that you buy 'em clothes - not fluffy clothes, but
'simple' clothes, the kind which always cost the most. And then you build a
simple home, in a simple place like Morristown. The whole idea is
simplicity. If you can't make enough to buy it, you're lost. If you can
make enough, just barely enough, you get so excited you lose your head - and
do what I did Monday."

The two men smiled at each other. Roger was very fond of Bruce.

"What did you do Monday?" he asked.

"I bought that car I told you about."

"Splendid! Best thing in the world for you! Tell me all about it!"

And while Bruce rapidly grew engrossed in telling of the car's fine points,
Roger pictured his son-in-law upon hot summer evenings (for Bruce spent his
summers in town) forgetting his business for a time and speeding out into
the country. Then he thought of Edith and the tyranny of her motherhood,
always draining her husband's purse and keeping Edith so wrapt up in her
children and their daily needs that she had lost all interest in anything
outside her home. What was there wrong about it? He knew that Edith prided
herself on being like her mother. But Judith had always found time for her
friends. He himself had been more as Edith was now. How quickly after
Judith died he had dropped all friends, all interests. "That's it," he
ruefully told himself, "Edith takes after her father." And the same curious
feeling which he had had with Laura, came back to him with her sister. This
daughter, too, was a part of himself. His deep instinctive craving to keep
to himself and his family was living on in Edith, was already dominating
her home. What a queer mysterious business it was, this tie between a man
and his child.

He was thinking of this when Baird arrived. Allan Baird was not only the
doctor who had brought Edith's children into the world, he was besides an
intimate friend, he had been Bruce's room-mate at college. As he came
strolling into the room with his easy greeting of "Well, folks - " his low
gruff voice, his muscular frame, over six feet two, and the kindly calm
assurance in his lean strong visage, gave to Bruce and Roger the feeling of
safety they needed. For this kind of work was his life. He had specialized
on women, and after over fifteen years of toilsome uphill labor he had
become at thirty-seven one of the big gynecologists. He was taking his
success with the quiet relish of a man who had had to work for it hard. And
yet he had not been spoiled by success. He worked even harder than
before - so hard, in fact, that Deborah, with whom through Bruce and Edith
he had long ago struck up an easy bantering friendship, had sturdily set
herself the task of prying open his eyes a bit. She had taken him to her
school at night and to queer little foreign cafés. And Baird, with a humor
of his own, had retaliated by dragging her to the Astor Roof and to musical

"If my eyes are to be opened," he had doggedly declared, "I propose to have
some diamonds in the scenery, and a little cheery ragtime, too. You've got
a good heart, Deborah Gale, but your head is full of tenements."

To-night to divert Bruce's thoughts from his wife, Baird started him
talking of his work. In six weeks Bruce had crammed his mind with the
details of skyscraper building, and his talk was bewildering now, bristling
with technical terms, permeated through and through with the feeling of
strain and fierce competition. As Roger listened he had again that sharp
and oppressive sensation of a savage modern town unrelentingly pressing,
pressing in. Restlessly he glanced at Baird who sat listening quietly. And
Roger thought of the likeness between their two professions. For Bruce,
too, was a surgeon. His patients were the husbands in their distracting
offices. Baird's were the wives and mothers in their equally distracting
homes. Which were more tense, the husbands or wives? And, good Lord, what
was it all about, this feverish strain of getting and spending? What were
they spending? Their very life's blood. And what were they getting?
Happiness? What did most of them know of real happiness? How little they
knew, how blind they were, and yet how they laughed and chattered along,
how engrossed in their little games. What children, oh, what children!

"And am I any better than the rest? Do I know what I'm after - what I'm

He left them soon, for he felt very tired. He went to his daughter to say
good-night. And in her room the talk he had heard became to him suddenly
remote, that restless world of small account. For in Edith, in the one
brief hour since her father had seen her last, there had come a great
transformation, into her face an eager light. She was slipping down into a
weird small world which for a brief but fearful season was to be utterly
her own, with agony and bloody sweat, and joy and a deep mystery. Clumsily
he took her hand. It was moist and he felt it clutch his own. He heard her
breathing rapidly.

"Good-night," he said in a husky tone. "I'll be so glad, my dear, so

For answer she gave him a hurried smile, a glance from her bright restless
eyes. Then he went heavily from the room.

* * * * *

At home he found Deborah sitting alone, with a pile of school papers in her
lap. As he entered she slowly turned her head.

"How is Edith?" she asked him. Roger told of his visit uptown, and spoke of
Edith's anxiety over getting the children up to the farm.

"I'll take them myself," said Deborah.

"But how can you get away from school?"

"Oh, I think I can manage it. We'll leave on Friday morning and I can be
back by Sunday night. I'll love it," Deborah answered.

"It'll be a great relief to her," said Roger, lighting a cigar. Deborah
resumed her work, and there was silence for a time.

"I let George sit up with me till an hour after his bedtime," she told her
father presently. "We started talking about white rats - you see it's still
white rats with George - and that started us wondering about God. George
wonders if God really knows about rats. 'Has he ever stuck his face right
down and had a good close look at one? Has God ever watched a rat stand up
and brush his whiskers with both paws? Has he ever really laughed at rats?
And that's another thing, Aunt Deborah - does God ever laugh at all? Does he
know how to take a joke? If he don't, we might as well quit right now!'"

Roger laughed with relish, and his daughter smiled at him:

"Then the talk turned from rats and God to a big dam out in the Rockies.
George has been reading about it, he's thinking of being an engineer. And
there was so much he wanted to know that he was soon upon the verge of
discovering my ignorance - when all of a sudden a dreamy look, oh, a very
dreamy look, came into his eyes - and he asked me this." And over her bright
expressive face came a scowl of boyish intensity: "Suppose I _was_ an
engineer - and I was working on a dam, or may be a bridge, in the Rockies.
And say it was pretty far down south - say around the Grand Canyon. I should
think they'd need a dam down there, or anyhow a bridge,' said George. And
he eyed me in a cautious way which said as plain as the nose on your face,
'Good Lord, she's only a woman, and she won't understand.' But I showed him
I was serious, and he asked me huskily, 'Suppose it was winter, Aunt
Deborah, and the Giants were in Texas. Do you think I could get a few days
off?' And then before he could tell me the Giants were a baseball nine, I
said I was sure he could manage it. You should have seen his face light up.
And he added very fervently, 'Gee, it must be wonderful to be an engineer
out there!'"

Roger chuckled delightedly and Deborah went on with her work. "How good she
is with young uns," he thought. "What a knack she has of drawing 'em out.
What a pity she hasn't some of her own."

He slept until late the next morning, and awoke to find Deborah by his bed.

"It's another boy," she told him. Roger sat up excitedly. "Bruce has just
telephoned the news. The children and I have breakfasted, and they're going
out with their nurse. Suppose you and I go up and see Bruce and settle this
trip to the mountains."

About an hour later, arriving at Edith's apartment, they found Bruce
downstairs with Allan Baird who was just taking his departure. Bruce's dark
eyes shone with relief, but his hand was hot and nervous. Allan, on the
contrary, held out to Edith's father a hand as steady and relaxed as was
the bantering tone of his voice.

"Bruce," he said, "has for once in his life decided to do something
sensible. He's going to drop his wretched job and take a week off with his

"And worry every minute he's gone," Deborah retorted, "and come back and
work day and night to catch up. But he isn't going to do it. I've decided
to take the children myself."

"You have?" cried Bruce delightedly.

"You'll do no such thing," said Allan, indignant.

"Oh, you go to thunder," Bruce put in. "Haven't you any delicacy? Can't you
see this is no business of yours?"

"It isn't, eh," Allan sternly rejoined. And of Deborah he demanded, "Didn't
you say you'd go with me to 'Pinafore' this Saturday night?"

"Ah," sneered Bruce. "So that's your game. And for one little night of your
pleasure you'd do me out of a week of my life!"

"Like that," said Baird, with a snap of his fingers.

"I'm going, though," said Deborah.

"Quite right, little woman," Bruce admonished her earnestly. "Don't let him
rob you of your happiness."

"Come here," growled Baird to Deborah. She followed him into the living
room, and Roger went upstairs with Bruce.

"If he ever hopes to marry that girl," said Bruce, with an anxious backward
glance, "he's got to learn to treat her with a little consideration."

"Quit your quarreling," Roger said. "What's a week in the mountains to you?
Hasn't your wife just risked her life?"

"Sure she has," said Bruce feelingly. "And I propose to stick by her, too."

"Can I see her?"

"No, you can't - another of Baird's fool notions."

"Then where's the baby?"

"Right in here."

Silently in front of the cradle Bruce and Roger stood looking down with the
content which comes to men on such occasions when there is no woman by
their side expecting them to say things.

"I made it a rule in my family," Roger spoke up presently, "to have my
first look at each child alone."

"Same here," said Bruce. And they continued their silent communion. A few
moments later, as they were leaving, Deborah came into the room and went
softly to the cradle. Downstairs they found that Allan had gone, and when
Deborah rejoined them she said she was going to stick to her plan. It was
soon arranged that she and the youngsters should start on their journey the
following day.

Back at home she threw herself into the packing and was busy till late that
night. At daybreak she was up again, for they were to make an early start.
Bruce came with his new automobile, the children were all bundled in,
together with Deborah and their nurse, and a half hour later at the train
Bruce and Roger left them - Deborah flushed and happy, surrounded by
luggage, wraps, small boys, an ice box, toys and picture books. The small
red hat upon her head had already been jerked in a scrimmage, far down over
one of her ears.

"Don't worry about us, Bruce," she said. "We're going to have the time of
our lives!" Bruce fairly beamed his gratitude.

"If she don't marry," he declared, as he watched the train move slowly out,
"there'll be a great mother wasted."


In the weeks which followed, Roger found the peace of his home so
interrupted and disturbed by wedding preparations that often retreating
into his den he earnestly told himself he was through, that a man with
three grown daughters was a fool to show any sympathy with the utter folly
of their lives. Yield an inch and they took a mile! It began one night when
Deborah said,

"Now, dearie, I think you had better make up your mind to give Laura just
the kind of wedding she likes."

And Roger weakly agreed to this, but as time wore on he discovered that the
kind of wedding Laura liked was a thing that made his blood run cold. There
seemed to be no end whatever to the young bride's blithe demands. The
trousseau part of it he didn't mind. To the gowns and hats and gloves and
shoes and trunks and jaunty travelling bags which came pouring into the
house, he made no objection. All that, he considered, was fair play. But
what got on Roger's nerves was this frantic fuss and change! The faded hall
carpet had to come up, his favorite lounge was whisked away, the piano was
re-tuned while he was trying to take a nap, rugs were beaten, crates and
barrels filled the halls, and one whole bedroom stripped and bare was
transformed into a shop where the wedding presents were displayed. In the
shuffle his box of cigars disappeared. In short, there was the devil to

And Deborah, was as bad as the bride. At times it appeared to Roger as
though her fingers fairly itched to jab and tug at his poor old house,
which wore an air of mute reproach. She revealed a part of her nature that
he viewed with dark amazement. Every hour she could spare from school, she
was changing something or other at home - with an eager glitter in her eyes.
Doing it all for Laura, she said. Fiddlesticks and rubbish! She did it
because she liked it!

In gloomy wrath one afternoon he went up to see Edith and quiet down. She
was well on the way to recovery, but instead of receiving solace here he
only found fresh troubles. For sitting up in her old-fashioned bed, with an
old-fashioned cap of lace upon her shapely little head, Edith made her
father feel she had washed her hands of the whole affair.

"I'm sorry," she said in an injured tone, "that Laura doesn't care enough
about her oldest sister to put off the wedding two or three weeks so I
could be there. It seems rather undignified, I think, for a girl to hurry
her wedding so. I should have loved to make it the dear simple kind of
wedding which mother would have wanted. But so long as she doesn't care for
that - and in fact has only found ten minutes - once - to run in and see the
baby - "

In dismay her father found himself defending the very daughter of whom he
had come to complain. It was not such a short engagement, he said, he had
learned they had been engaged some time before they told him.

"Do you approve of that?" she rejoined. "When I was engaged, I made Bruce
go to you before I even let him - " here Edith broke off primly. "Of course
that was some time ago. An engagement, Laura tells me, is 'a mere
experiment' nowadays. They 'experiment' till they feel quite sure - then
notify their parents and get married in a week."

"She is rushing it, I admit," Roger soothingly replied. "But she has her
mind set on Paris in June."

"Paris in June," said Edith, "sums up in three words Laura's whole
conception of marriage. You really ought to talk to her, father. It's your
duty, it seems to me."

"What do you mean?"

"I'd rather not tell you." Edith's glance went sternly to the cradle by her
bed. "Laura pities me," she said, "for having had five children."

"Oh, now, my dear girl!"

"She does, though - she said as much. When she dropped in the other day and

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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 4 of 22)