Ernest Poole.

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I tried to be sympathetic and give her a little sound advice, she said I
had had the wedding I liked and the kind of married life I liked, and she
was going to have hers. And she made it quite plain that her kind is to
include no children. It's to be simply an effort to find by 'experiment'
whether or not she loves Hal Sloane. If she doesn't - " Edith gave a slight
but emphatic wave of dismissal.

"Do you mean to say Laura told you that?" her father asked with an angry
frown.

"I mean she made me feel it - as plainly as I'm telling it! What I can't
understand," his daughter went on, "is Deborah's attitude in the affair."

"What's the matter with Deborah?" inquired Roger dismally.

"Oh, nothing's the matter with Deborah. She's quite self-sufficient. She at
least can play with modern ideas and keep her head while she's doing it.
But when poor Laura - a mere child with the mind of a chicken - catches
vaguely at such ideas, applies them to her own little self and risks her
whole future happiness, it seems to me perfectly criminal for Deborah not
to interfere! Not even a word of warning!"

"Deborah believes," said her father, "in everyone's leading his own life."

"That's rot," was Edith's curt reply. "Do I lead my own life? Does Bruce?
Do you?"

"No," growled Roger feelingly.

"Do my children?" Edith demanded. "I know Deborah would like them to.
That's her latest and most modern fad, to run a school where every child
shall sit with a rat in its lap or a goat, and do just what he
pleases - follow his natural bent, she says. I hope she won't come up to the
mountains and practice on my children. I should hate to break with
Deborah," Edith ended thoughtfully.

Roger rose and walked the room. The comforting idea entered his mind that
when the wedding was over he would take out his collection of rings and
carefully polish every one. But even this hope did not stay with him long.

"With Laura at home," he heard Edith continue, "you at least had a daughter
to run your house. If Deborah tries to move you out - "

"She won't!" cried Roger in alarm.

"If she does," persisted Edith, "or if she begins any talk of the kind - you
come to me and _I'll_ talk to her!"

Her father walked in silence, his head down, frowning at the floor.

"It seems funny," Edith continued, "that women like me who give children
their lives, and men like Bruce who are building New York - actually doing
it all the time - have so little to say in these modern ideas. I suppose
it's because we're a little too real."

"To come back to the wedding," Roger suggested.

"To come back to the wedding, father dear," his daughter said
compassionately. "I'm afraid it's going to be a 'mere form' which will make
you rather wretched. When you get so you can't endure it, come in and see
me and the baby."

As he started for home, her words of warning recurred to his mind. Yes,
here was the thing that disturbed him most, the ghost lurking under all
this confusion, the part which had to do with himself. It was bad enough to
know that his daughter, his own flesh and blood, was about to settle her
fate at one throw. But to be moved out of his house bag and baggage! Roger
strode wrathfully up the street.

"It's your duty to talk to her," Edith had said. And he meditated darkly on
this: "Maybe I will and maybe I won't. I know my duties without being told.
How does Edith know what her mother liked? We had our own likings, her
mother and I, and our own ideas, long after she was tucked into bed. And
yet she's always harping on 'what mother would have wanted.' What I should
like to know - right now - is what Judith would want if she were here!"

With a pang of utter loneliness amid these vexing problems, Roger felt it
crowding in, this city of his children's lives. As he strode on down
Broadway, an old hag selling papers thrust one in his face and he caught a
glimpse of a headline. Some bigwig woman re-divorced. How about Laura's
"experiment"? A mob of street urchins nearly upset him. How about Deborah?
How about children? How about schools, education, the country? How about
God? Was anyone thinking? Had anyone time? What a racket it made,
slam-banging along. The taxis and motor trucks thundered and brayed, dark
masses of people swept endlessly by, as though their very souls depended on
their dinners or their jobs, their movies, roaring farces, thrills, their
harum scarum dances, clothes. A plump little fool of a woman, her skirt so
tight she could barely walk, tripped by on high-heeled slippers. That was
it, he told himself, the whole city was high-heeled! No solid footing
anywhere! And, good Lord, how they chattered!

He turned into a less noisy street. What would Judith want if she were
here? It became disturbingly clear to him that she would undoubtedly wish
him to have a talk with Laura now, find out if she'd really made up her
mind not to have any children, and if so to tell her plainly that she was
not only going against her God but risking her own happiness. For though
Judith had been liberal about any number of smaller things, she had been
decidedly clear on this. Yes, he must talk to Laura.

"And she'll tell me," he reflected, "that Edith put me up to it!"

If only his oldest daughter would leave the other girls alone! Here she was
planning a row with Deborah over whether poor young George should be
allowed to play with rats! It was all so silly!... Yes, his three children
were drifting apart, each one of them going her separate way. And he rather
took comfort in the thought, for at least it would stop their wrangling.
But again he pulled himself up with a jerk. No, certainly Judith would not
have liked this. If she'd ever stood for anything, it was for keeping the
family together. It had been the heart and center of their last talks
before she died.

His face relaxed as he walked on, but in his eyes was a deeper pain. If
only Judith could be here. Before he reached home he had made up his mind
to talk with Laura that very night. He drew out his latchkey, opened his
door, shut it firmly and strode into his house. In the hall they were
putting down the new carpet. Cautiously picking his way upstairs, he
inquired for Laura and was told she was dressing for dinner. He knocked at
her door.

"Yes?" came her voice.

"It's I," he said, "your father."

"Oh, hello, dad," came the answer gaily, in that high sweet voice of hers.
"I'm frightfully rushed. It's a dinner dance to-night for the bridesmaids
and the ushers." Roger felt a glow of relief. "Come in a moment, won't
you?"

What a resplendent young creature she was, seated at her dresser. Behind
her the maid with needle and thread was swiftly mending a little tear in
the fluffy blue tulle she was wearing. The shaded light just over her head
brought a shimmer of red in her sleek brown hair. What lips she had, what a
bosom. She drew a deep breath and smiled at him.

"What are you doing to-morrow night?" her father asked her.

"Oh, dad, my love, we have every evening filled and crammed right up to the
wedding," she replied. "No - the last evening I'll be here. Hal's giving his
ushers a dinner that night."

"Good. I want to talk to you, my dear." He felt his voice solemn, a great
mistake. He saw the quick glance from her luminous eyes.

"All right, father - whenever you like."

Much embarrassed Roger left the room.

The few days which remained were a crowding confusion of dressmakers, gowns
and chattering friends and gifts arriving at all hours. As a part of his
resolve to do what he could for his daughter, Roger stayed home from his
office that week. But all he could do was to unpack boxes, take out
presents and keep the cards, and say, "Yes, my dear, it's very nice. Where
shall I put this one?" As the array of presents grew, from time to time
unconsciously he glanced at the engagement ring upon Laura's finger. And
all the presents seemed like that. They would suit her apartment
beautifully. He'd be glad when they were out of the house.

The only gift that appealed to his fancy was a brooch, neither rich nor
new, a genuine bit of old jewelry. But rather to his annoyance he learned
that it had been sent to Laura by the old Galician Jew in the shop around
the corner. It recalled to his mind the curious friendship which had
existed for so long between the old man and his daughter. And as she turned
the brooch to the light Roger thought he saw in her eyes anticipations
which made him uneasy. Yes, she was a child of his. "June in Paris - "
other Junes - "experiments" - no children. Again he felt he must have that
talk. But, good Lord, how he dreaded it.

The house was almost ready now, dismantled and made new and strange. It was
the night before the wedding. Laura was taking her supper in bed. What was
he going to say to her? He ate his dinner silently. At last he rose with
grim resolution.

"I think I'll go up and see her," he said. Deborah quickly glanced at him.

"What for?" she asked.

"Oh, I just want to talk to her - "

"Don't stay long," she admonished him. "I've a masseuse coming at nine
o'clock to get the child in condition to rest. Her nerves are rather tense,
you know."

"How about mine?" he said to himself as he started upstairs. "Never mind,
I've got to tackle it."

Laura saw what he meant to say the moment that he entered the room, and the
tightening of her features made it all the harder for Roger to think
clearly, to remember the grave, kind, fatherly things which he had intended
to tell her.

"I don't want to talk of the wedding, child, but of what's coming after
that - between you and this man - all your life." He stopped short, with his
heart in his mouth, for although he did not look at her he had a quick
sensation as though he had struck her in the face.

"Isn't this rather late to speak about that? Just now? When I'm nervous
enough as it is?"

"I know, I know." He spoke hurriedly, humbly. "I should have talked to you
long ago, I should have known you better, child. I've been slack and
selfish. But it's better late than never."

"But you needn't!" the girl exclaimed. "You needn't tell me anything! I
know more than you think - I know enough!" Roger looked at her, then at the
wall. She went on in a voice rather breathless: "I know what I'm
doing - exactly - just what I'm getting into. It's not as it was when you
were young - it's different - we talk of these things. Harold and I have
talked it all out." In the brief and dangerous pause which followed Roger
kept looking at the wall.

"Have you talked - about having children?"

"Yes," came the answer sharply, and then he felt the hot clutch of her
hand. "Hadn't you better go now, dad?" He hesitated.

"No," he said. His voice was low. "Do you mean to have children, Laura?"

"I don't know."

"I think you do know. Do you mean to have children?" Her big black eyes,
dilating, were fixed defiantly on his own.

"Well then, no, I don't!" she replied. He made a desperate effort to think
what he could say to her. Good God, how he was bungling! Where were all his
arguments?

"How about your religion?" he blurted out.

"I haven't any - which makes me do that - I've a right to be happy!"

"You haven't!" His voice had suddenly changed. In accent and in quality it
was like a voice from the heart of New England where he had been born and
bred. "I mean you won't be happy - not unless you have a child! It's what
you need - it'll fill your life! It'll settle you - deepen you - tone you
down!"

"Suppose I don't want to be toned down!" The girl was almost hysterical.
"I'm no Puritan - I want to live! I tell you we are different now! We're not
all like Edith - and we're not like our mothers! We want to live! And we
have a right to! Why don't you go? Can't you see I'm nearly crazy? It's my
last night, my very last! I don't want to talk to you - I don't even know
what I'm saying! And you come and try to frighten me!" Her voice caught
and broke into sobs. "You know nothing about me! You never did! Leave me
alone, can't you - leave me alone!"

"Father?" He heard Deborah's voice, abrupt and stern, outside the door.

"I'm sorry," he said hoarsely. He went in blind fashion out of the room and
down to his study. He lit a cigar and smoked wretchedly there. When
presently Deborah appeared he saw that her face was set and hard; but as
she caught the baffled look, the angry tortured light in his eyes, her own
expression softened.

"Poor father," she said, in a pitying way. "If Edith had only let you
alone."

"I certainly didn't do much good."

"Of course you didn't - you did harm - oh, so much more harm than you know."
Into the quiet voice of his daughter crept a note of keen regret. "I wanted
to make her last days in this house a time she could look back on, so that
she'd want to come home for help if ever she's in trouble. She has so
little - don't you see? - of what a woman needs these days. She has grown up
so badly. Oh, if you'd only let her alone. It was such a bad, bad time to
choose." She went to her father and kissed him. "Well, it's over now," she
said, "and we'll make the best we can of it. I'll tell her you're sorry and
quiet her down. And to-morrow we'll try to forget it has happened."

* * * * *

For Roger the morrow went by in a whirl. The wedding, a large church
affair, was to take place at twelve o'clock. He arose early, put on his
Prince Albert, went down and ate his breakfast alone. The waitress was
flustered, the coffee was burnt. He finished and anxiously wandered about.
The maids were bustling in and out, with Deborah giving orders pellmell.
The caterers came trooping in. The bridesmaids were arriving and hurrying
up to Roger's room. That place was soon a chaos of voices, giggles, peals
of laughter. Laura's trunks were brought downstairs, and Roger tagged them
for the ship, one for the cabin and three for the hold, and saw them into
the wagon. Then he strode distractedly everywhere, till at last he was
hustled by Deborah into a taxi waiting outside.

"It's all going so smoothly," Deborah said, and a faint sardonic glimmer
came into her father's hunted eyes. Deborah was funny!

Soon he found himself in the church. He heard whispers, eager voices, heard
one usher say to another, "God, what a terrible head I've got!" And Roger
glared at him for that. Plainly these youngsters, all mere boys, had been
up with the groom a good part of the night.... But here was Laura, pale and
tense. She smiled at him and squeezed his hand. There was silence, then the
organ, and now he was taking her up the aisle. Strange faces stared. His
jaw set hard. At last they reached the altar. An usher quickly touched his
arm and he stepped back where he belonged. He listened but understood
nothing. Just words, words and motions.

"If any man can show just cause why they may not be lawfully joined
together, let him now speak or else hereafter forever hold his peace."

"No," thought Roger, "I won't speak."

Just then he caught sight of Deborah's face, and at the look in her steady
gray eyes all at once he could feel the hot tears in his own.

At the wedding breakfast he was gay to a boisterous degree. He talked to
strange women and brought them food, took punch with men he had never laid
eyes on, went off on a feverish hunt for cigars, came back distractedly,
joked with young girls and even started some of them dancing. The whole
affair was over in no time. The bride and the groom came rushing
downstairs; and as they escaped from the shower of rice, Roger ran after
them down the steps. He gripped Sloane's hand.

"Remember, boy, it's her whole life!" entreated Roger hoarsely.

"Yes, sir! I'll look out! No fear!"

"Good-bye, daddy!"

"God bless you, dear!"

They were speeding away. And with the best man, who looked weary and spent,
Roger went slowly back up the steps. It was an effort now to talk. Thank
Heaven these people soon were gone. Last of all went the ponderous aunt of
the groom. How the taxi groaned as he helped her inside and started her off
to Bridgeport. Back in his study he found his cigars and smoked one
dismally with Bruce. Bruce was a decent sort of chap. He knew when to be
silent.

"Well," he spoke finally, rising, "I guess I'll have to get back to the
office." He smiled a little and put his hand on Roger's weary shoulder.
"We're glad it's over - eh?" he asked.

"Bruce," said Roger heavily, "you've got a girl of your own growing up.
Don't let her grow to feel you're old. Live on with her. She'll need you."
His massive blunt face darkened. "The world's so damnably new," he
muttered, "so choked up with fool ideas." Bruce still smiled
affectionately.

"Go up and see Edith," he said, "and forget 'em. She never lets one into
the flat. She said you were to be sure to come and tell her about the
wedding."

"All right, I'll go," said Roger. He hunted about for his hat and coat.
What a devilish mess they had made of the house. A half hour later he was
with Edith; but there, despite his efforts to answer all her questions, he
grew heavier and heavier, till at last he barely spoke. He sat watching
Edith's baby.

"Did you talk to Laura?" he heard her ask.

"Yes," he replied. "It did no good." He knew that Edith was waiting for
more, but he kept doggedly silent.

"Well, dear," she said presently, "at least you did what you could for
her."

"I've never done what I could," he rejoined. "Not with any one of you." He
glanced at her with a twinge of pain. "I don't know as it would have helped
much if I had. This town is running away with itself. I want a rest now,
Edith, I want things quiet for a while." He felt her anxious, pitying look.

"Where's Deborah?" she asked him. "Gone back to school already?"

"I don't know where she is," he replied. And then he rose forlornly. "I
guess I'll be going back home," he said.

On his way, as his thoughts slowly cleared, the old uneasiness rose in his
mind. Would Deborah want to keep the house? Suppose she suggested moving to
some titty-tatty little flat. No, he would not stand in her way. But, Lord,
what an end to make of his life.

His home was almost dark inside, but he noticed rather to his surprise that
the rooms had already been put in order. He sank down on the living room
sofa and lay motionless for a while. How tired he was. From time to time he
drearily sighed. Yes, Deborah would find him old and life here dull and
lonely. Where was she to-night, he wondered. Couldn't she quit her zoo
school for one single afternoon? At last, when the room had grown pitch
dark, he heard the maid lighting the gas in the hall. Roger loudly cleared
his throat, and at the sound the startled girl ejaculated, "Oh, my Gawd!"

"It's I," said Roger sternly. "Did Miss Deborah say when she'd be back?"

"She didn't go out, sir. She's up in her room."

Roger went up and found her there. All afternoon with both the maids she
had been setting the house to rights, and now she ached in every limb. She
was lying on her bed, and she looked as though she had been crying.

"Where have you been?" she inquired.

"At Edith's," her father answered. She reached up and took his hand, and
held it slowly tighter.

"You aren't going to find it too lonely here, with Laura gone?" she asked
him. And the wistfulness in her deep sweet voice made something thrill in
Roger.

"Why should I?" he retorted. Deborah gave a queer little laugh.

"Oh, I'm just silly, that's all," she said. "I've been having a fit of
blues. I've been feeling so old this afternoon - a regular old woman. I
wanted you, dearie, and I was afraid that you - " she broke off.

"Look here," said Roger sharply. "Do you really want to keep this house?"

"Keep this house? Why, father!"

"You think you can stand it here alone, just the two of us?" he demanded.

"I can," cried Deborah happily. Her father walked to the window. There as
he looked blindly out, his eyes were assaulted by the lights of all those
titty-tatty flats. And a look of vicious triumph appeared for a moment on
his face.

"Very well," he said quietly, turning back. "Then we're both suited." He
went to the door. "I'll go and wash up for supper," he said.




CHAPTER VIII


It was a relief to him to find how smoothly he and Deborah dropped back
into their old relations. It was good to get home those evenings; for in
this new stage of its existence, with its family of two, the house appeared
to have filled itself with a deep reposeful feeling. Laura had gone out of
its life. He glanced into her room one night, and it looked like a guest
room now. The sight of it brought him a pang of regret. But the big ship
which was bearing her swiftly away to "Paris in June" seemed bearing off
Roger's uneasiness too. He could smile at his former fears, for Laura was
safely married and wildly in love with her husband. Time, he thought, would
take care of the rest. Occasionally he missed her here - her voice,
high-pitched but musical, chatting and laughing at the 'phone, her bustle
of dressing to go out, glimpses of her extravagances, of her smart suits
and evening gowns, of all the joyous color and dash that she had given to
his home. But these regrets soon died away. The old house shed them easily,
as though glad to enter this long rest.

For the story of his family, from Roger's point of view at least, was a
long uneven narrative, with prolonged periods of peace and again with
events piling one on the other. And now there came one of those peaceful
times, and Roger liked the quiet. The old routine was re-established - his
dinner, his paper, his cigar and then his book for the evening, some good
old-fashioned novel or some pleasant book of travel which he and Judith had
read aloud when they were planning out their lives. They had meant to go
abroad so often when the children had grown up. And he liked to read about
it still. Life was so quiet over the sea, things were so old and mellow
there. He resumed, too, his horseback rides, and on the way home he would
stop in for a visit with Edith and her baby. The wee boy grew funnier every
day, with his sudden kicks and sneezes, his waving fists and mighty yawns.
And Roger felt drawn to his daughter here, for in these grateful seasons of
rest that followed the birth of each of her children, Edith loved to lie
very still and make new plans for her small brood.

Only once she spoke of Laura, and then it was to suggest to him that he
gather together all the bills his daughter had doubtless left behind.

"If you don't settle them," Edith said, "they'll go to her husband. And you
wouldn't like that, would you?"

Roger said he would see to it, and one evening after dinner he started in
on Laura's bills. It was rather an appalling time. He looked into his bank
account and found that Laura's wedding would take about all his surplus.
But this did not dismay him much, for money matters never did. It simply
meant more work in the office.

The next day he rose early and was in his office by nine o'clock. He had
not been so prompt in months, and many of his employees came in late that
morning. But nobody seemed very much perturbed, for Roger was an easy
employer. Still, he sternly told himself, he had been letting things get
altogether too slack. He had been neglecting his business again. The work
had become so cut and dried, there was nothing creative left to do. It had
not been so in years gone by. Those years had fairly bristled with ideas
and hopes and schemes. But even those old memories were no longer here to
hearten him. They had all been swept away when Bruce had made him move out
of his office in a dark creaky edifice down close under Brooklyn Bridge,
and come up to this new building, this steel-ribbed caravansary for all
kinds of business ventures, this place of varnished woodwork, floods of
daylight, concrete floors, this building fireproof throughout. That
expressed it exactly, Roger thought. Nothing could take fire here, not even
a man's imagination, even though he did not feel old. Now and then in the
elevator, as some youngster with eager eyes pushed nervously against him,
Roger would frown and wonder, "What are you so excited about?"

But again the business was running down, and this time he must jerk it back
before it got beyond him. He set himself doggedly to the task, calling in
his assistants one by one, going through the work in those outer rooms,
where at tables long rows of busy young girls, with colored pencils,
scissors and paste, were demolishing enormous piles of newspapers and
magazines. And vaguely, little by little, he came to a realization of how
while he had slumbered the life of the country had swept on. For as he


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Online LibraryErnest PooleHis Family → online text (page 5 of 22)