"After this little sickness of yours—and that harum scarum wedding," he said, "I feel we're both entitled to a good long rest in mountain air."
"We'll have it, too," she murmured.
"With Edith's little youngsters. They're all the medicine you need." He paused for a moment, hesitating. But it was now or never. "The only trouble with you," he said, "is that you've let yourself be caught by the same disease which has its grip upon this whole infernal town. You're like everyone else, you're tackling about forty times what you can do. You're actually trying not only to teach but to bring 'em all up as your own, three thousand tenement children. And this is where it gets you."
Again he halted, frowning. What next?
"Go on, dear, please," said Deborah, in demure and even tones. "This is very interesting."
"Now then," he continued, "in this matter of your school. I wouldn't ask you to give it up, I've already seen too much of it. But so long as you've got it nicely started, why not give somebody else a chance? One of those assistants of yours, for example—capable young women, both. You could stand right behind 'em with help and advice—"
"Not yet," was Deborah's soft reply. She had turned her head on her pillow and was looking at him affectionately. "Why not?" he demanded.
"Because it's not nicely started at all. There's nothing brilliant about me, dear—I'm a plodder, feeling my way along. And what I have done in the last ten years is just coming to a stage at last where I can really see a chance to make it count for something. When I feel I've done that, say in five years more—"
"Those five years," said her father, "may cost you a very heavy price." As Deborah faced his troubled regard, her own grew quickly serious.
"I'd be willing to pay the price," she replied.
"But why?" he asked with impatience. "Why pay when you don't have to? Why not by taking one year off get strength for twenty years' work later on? You'd be a different woman!"
"Yes, I think I should be. I'd never be the same again. You don't quite understand, you see. This work of mine with children—well, it's like Edith's having a baby. You have to do it while you're young."
"That works both ways," her father growled.
"What do you mean?" He hesitated:
"Don't you want any children of your own?"
Again she turned her eyes toward his, then closed them and lay perfectly still. "Now I've done it," he thought anxiously. She reached over and took his hand.
"Let's talk of our summer's vacation," she said.
A little while later she fell asleep.
Downstairs he soon grew restless and after a time he went out for a walk. But he felt tired and oppressed, and as he had often done of late he entered a little "movie" nearby, where gradually the pictures, continually flashing out of the dark, drove the worries from his mind. For a half an hour they held his gaze. Then he fell into a doze. He was roused by a roar of laughter, and straightening up in his seat with a jerk he looked angrily around. Something broadly comic had been flashed upon the screen; and men and women and children, Italians, Jews and Irish, jammed in close about him, a dirty and perspiring mass, had burst into a terrific guffaw. Now they were suddenly tense again and watching the screen in absorbed suspense, while the crude passions within themselves were played upon in the glamorous dark. And Roger scanned their faces—one moment smiling, all together, as though some god had pulled a string; then mawkish, sentimental, soft; then suddenly scowling, twitching, with long rows of animal eyes. But eager—eager all the time! Hungry people—yes, indeed! Hungry for all the good things in the town, and for as many bad things, too! On one who tried to feed this mob there was no end to their demands! What was one woman's life to them? Deborah's big family!
* * * * *
Edith came to the house one afternoon, and she was in Deborah's room when her father returned from his office. Her convalescence over at last, she was leaving for the mountains.
"Do learn your lesson, Deborah dear," she urged upon her sister. "Let Sarah pack your trunk at once and come up with me on Saturday night."
"I can't get off for two weeks yet."
"Why can't you?" Edith demanded. And when Deborah spoke of fresh air camps and baby farms and other work, Edith's impatience only grew. "You'll have to leave it to somebody else! You're simply in no condition!" she cried.
"Impossible," said Deborah. Edith gave a quick sigh of exasperation.
"Isn't it enough," she asked, "to have worked your nerves to a frazzle already? Why can't you be sensible? You've got to think of yourself a little!"
"You'd like me to marry, wouldn't you, dear?" her sister put in wearily.
"Yes, I should, while there is still time! Just now you look far from it! It's exactly as Allan was saying! If you keep on as you're going you'll be an old woman at thirty-five!"
"Thank you!" said Deborah sharply. Two spots of color leaped in her checks. "You'd better leave me, Edith! I'll come up to the mountains as soon as I can! And I'll try not to look any more like a hag than I have to! Good-night!"
Roger followed Edith out of the room.
"That last shot of mine struck home," she declared to him in triumph.
"I wouldn't have done it," her father said. "I gave you that remark of Baird's in strict confidence, Edith—"
"Now father," was her good-humored retort, "suppose you leave this matter to me. I know just what I'm doing."
"Well," he reflected uneasily, after she had left him, "here's more trouble in the family. If Edith isn't careful she'll make a fine mess of this whole affair."
After dinner he went up to Deborah's room, but through the open doorway he caught a glimpse of his daughter which made him instinctively draw back. Sitting bolt upright in her bed, sternly she was eyeing herself in a small mirror in her hand. Her father chuckled noiselessly. A moment later, when he went in, the glass had disappeared from view. Soon afterwards Baird himself arrived, and as they heard him coming upstairs Roger saw his daughter frown, but she continued talking.
"Hello, Allan," she said with indifference. "I'm feeling much better this evening."
"Are you? Good," he answered, and he started to pull up an easy chair. "I was hoping I could stay awhile—I've been having one of those long mean days—"
"I'd a little rather you wouldn't," Deborah put in softly. Allan turned to her in surprise. "I didn't sleep last night," she murmured, "and I feel so drowsy." There was a little silence. "And I really don't think there's any need of your dropping in to-morrow," she added. "I'm so much better—honestly."
Baird looked at her a moment.
"Right—O," he answered slowly. "I'll call up to-morrow night."
Roger followed him downstairs.
"Come into my den and smoke a cigar!" he proposed in hearty ringing tones. Allan thanked him and came in, but the puzzled expression was still on his face, and through the first moments of their talk he was very absent-minded. Roger's feeling of guilt increased, and he cursed himself for a meddlesome fool.
"Look here, Baird," he blurted out, "there's something I think you ought to know." Allan slightly turned his head, and Roger reddened a little. "The worst thing about living in a house chock full of meddling women is that you get to be one yourself," he growled. "And the fact is—" he cleared his throat—"I've put my foot in it, Baird," he said. "I was fool enough the other day to quote you to Edith."
"To what effect?"
"That if Deborah keeps on like this she'll be an old woman at thirty-five."
Allan sat up in his chair:
"Was Edith here this afternoon?"
"She was," said Roger.
"Say no more."
Baird had a wide, likable, generous mouth which wrinkled easily into a smile. He leaned back now and enjoyed himself. He puffed a little cloud of smoke, looked over at Roger and chuckled aloud. And Roger chuckled with relief. "What a decent chap he is," he thought.
"I'm sorry, of course," he said to Baird. "I thought of trying to explain—"
"Don't," said Allan. "Leave it alone. It won't do Deborah any harm—may even do her a little good. After all, I'm her physician—"
"Are you?" Roger asked with a twinkle. "I thought upstairs you were dismissed."
"Oh no, I'm not," was the calm reply. And the two men went on smoking. Roger's liking for Baird was growing fast. They had had several little talks during Deborah's illness, and Roger was learning more of the man. Raised on a big cattle ranch that his father had owned in New Mexico, riding broncos on the plains had given him his abounding health of body, nerve and spirit, his steadiness and sanity in all this feverish city life.
"Are you riding these days?" he inquired.
"No," said Roger, "the park is too hot—and they don't sprinkle the path as they should. I've had my cob sent up to the mountains. By the way," he added cordially, "you must come up there and ride with me."
"Thanks, I'd like to," Allan said, and with a little inner smile he added dryly to himself, "He's getting ready to meddle again." But whatever amusement Baird had in this thought was concealed behind his sober gray eyes. Soon after that he took his leave.
"Now then," Roger reflected, with a little glow of expectancy, "if Edith will only leave me alone, she may find I'm smarter then she thinks!"
* * * * *
One evening in the following week, after Edith had left town, Roger had Bruce to dine at his club, a pleasant old building on Madison Square, where comfortably all by themselves they could discuss Baird's chances.
"A. Baird and I have been chums," said Bruce, "ever since we were in college. Take it from me I know his brand. And he isn't the kind to be pushed."
"Who wants to push him?" Roger demanded, with a sudden guilty twinge.
"Edith does," Bruce answered. "And I tell you that won't do with A. Baird. He has his mind set on Deborah sure. He's been setting it harder and harder for months—and he knows it—and so does she. But they're both the kind of people who don't like interference, they've got to get to it by themselves. Edith must keep out of the way. She mustn't take it on herself to ask him up to the mountains." Roger gave a little start. "If she does, there'll be trouble with Deborah."
Roger smoked for a moment in silence and then sagely nodded his head.
"That's so," he murmured thoughtfully. "Yes, my boy, I guess you're right."
Bruce lifted his mint julep:
"God, but it's hot in here to-night. How about taking a spin up the river?"
"Delighted," replied his father-in-law.
And a half hour later in Bruce's new car, which was the pride and joy of his life, they were far up the river. On a long level stretch of road Bruce "let her out to show what she could do." And Roger with his heart in his mouth and his eye upon the speedometer, saw it creep to sixty-three.
"Almost as good as a horse," remarked Bruce, when the car had slowed a little.
"Almost," said Roger, "but not quite. It's—well, it's dissipation."
"And a horse?"
"Is life," was the grave reply. "You'll have a crash some day, my boy, if you go on at your present speed. It gets me worried sometimes. You see you're a family man."
"I am and I'm glad of it. Edith and the kiddies suit me right down to the ground. I'm crazy about 'em—you know that. But a chap with a job like mine," Bruce continued pleadingly, as he drove his car rushing around a curve, "needs a little dissipation, too. I can't tell you what it means to me, when I'm kept late at the office, to have this car for the run up home. Lower Broadway's empty then, and I know the cops. I swing around through Washington Square, and the Avenue looks clear for miles, nothing but two long rows of lights to the big hump at Murray Hill. It's the time between crowds—say about ten. And I know the cops."
"That's all right," said Roger. "No one was more delighted than I when you got this car. You deserve it. It's the work that I was speaking of. You've got it going at such a speed—"
"Only way on earth to get on—to get what I want for my family—"
"Yes, yes, I know," muttered Roger vaguely. Bruce began talking of his work for the steel construction concern downtown.
"Take it from me," he declared at the end, "this town has only just begun!"
"Has, eh," Roger grunted. "Aren't the buildings high enough?"
"My God, I wish they were twenty times higher," Bruce rejoined good-humoredly. "But they won't be—we've stopped going up. We've done pretty well in the air, and now we're going underground. And when we get through, this old rock of Manhattan will be such a network of tunnels there'll be a hole waiting at every corner to take you wherever you want to go. Speed? We don't even know what it means!"
And again Bruce "let her out" a bit. It was quite a bit. Roger grabbed his hat with one hand and the side of the car with the other.
"They'll look back on a mile a minute," said Bruce, "as we look back on stage coach days! And in the rush hour there'll be a rush that'll make you think of pneumatic tubes! Not a sound nor a quiver—just pure speed! Shooting people home at night at a couple of hundred miles an hour! The city will be as big as that! And there won't be any accidents and there won't be any smoke. Instead of coal they'll use the sun! And, my God, man, the boulevards—and parks and places for the kids! The way they'll use the River—and the ocean and the Sound! The Catskills will be Central Park! Sounds funny, don't it—but it's true. I've studied it out from A to Z. This town is choking itself to death simply because we're so damn slow! We don't know how to spread ourselves! All this city needs is speed!"
"Bruce," said Roger anxiously, "just go a bit easy on that gas. The fact is, it was a great mistake for me to eat those crabs to-night."
Bruce slowed down compassionately, and soon they turned and started home. And as they drew near the glow of the town, other streets and boulevards poured more motors into the line, until at last they were rushing along amid a perfect bedlam made up of honks and shrieks of horns. The air grew hot and acrid, and looking back through the bluish haze of smoke and dust behind him Roger could see hundreds of huge angry motor eyes. Crowding and jamming closer, pell mell, at a pace which barely slackened, they sped on, a wild uproarious crew, and swept into the city.
Roger barely slept that night. He felt the city clamoring down into his very soul. "Speed!" he muttered viciously. "Speed—speed! We need more speed!" The words beat in like a savage refrain. At last with a sigh of impatience he got up in his nightshirt and walked about. It was good to feel his way in the dark in this cool silent house which he knew so well. Soon his nerves felt quieter. He went back to his bed and lay there inert. How good it would be to get up to the farm.
* * * * *
The next Saturday evening, with Deborah, he started for the mountains. And Bruce came down to see them off.
"Remember, son," said Roger, as the two walked on the platform. "Come up this year for a month, my boy. You need it." The train was about to start.
"Oh, I'll be all right," was the answer. "My friend the Judge, who has hay fever, tells me he has found a cure."
"Damn his cure! You come to us!"
"Hold on a minute, live and learn. The Judge is quite excited about it. You drink little bugs, he says, a billion after every meal. They come in tall blue bottles. We're going to dine together next week and drink 'em till we're all lit up. Oh, we're going to have a hell of a time. His wife left town on Tuesday."
"Bruce," said Roger sternly, as the train began to move, "leave bugs alone and come up and breathe! And quit smoking so many cigarettes!" He stepped on the car.
"Remember, son, a solid month!" Bruce nodded as the train moved out.
"Good luck—good-bye—fine summer—my love to the wife and the kiddies—" and Bruce's dark, tense, smiling face was left behind. Roger went back into the smoker.
"Now for the mountains," he thought. "Thank God!"
A few hours later Roger awakened. His lower berth was still pitch dark. The train had stopped, and he had been roused by a voice outside his window. Rough and slow and nasal, the leisurely drawl of a mountaineer, it came like balm to Roger's ears. He raised the curtain and looked out. A train hand with a lantern was listening to a dairy man, a tall young giant in top boots. High overhead loomed a shadowy mountain and over its rim came the glow of the dawn. With a violent lurch the train moved on. And Roger, lying back on his pillow, looked up at the misty mountain sides all mottled in the strange blue light with patches of firs and birches and pines. In the narrow valley up which the train was thundering, were small herds of grazing cattle, a lonely farmhouse here and there. From one a light was twinkling. And the city with its heat and noise, its nervous throb, its bedlam nights, all dropped like a fever from his soul.
Now, close by the railroad track, through a shallow rocky gorge a small river roared and foamed. Its cool breath came up to his nostrils and gratefully he breathed it in. For this was the Gale River, named after one of his forefathers, and in his mind's eye he followed the stream back up its course to the little station where he and Deborah were to get off. There the narrowing river bed turned and wound up through a cleft in the hills to the homestead several miles away. On the dark forest road beside it he pictured George, his grandson, at this moment driving down to meet them in a mountain wagon with one of the two hired men, a lantern swinging under the wheels. What an adventure for young George.
Presently he heard Deborah stirring in the berth next to his own.
At the station George was there, and from a thermos bottle which Edith had filled the night before he poured coffee piping hot, which steamed in the keen, frosty air.
"Oh, how good!" cried Deborah. "How thoughtful of your mother, George. How is she, dear?"
"Oh, she's all right, Aunt Deborah." His blunt freckled features flushed from his drive, George stood beaming on them both. He appeared, if anything, tougher and scrawnier than before. "Everything's all right," he said. "There ain't a sick animal on the whole farm."
As Roger sipped his coffee he was having a look at the horses. One of them was William, his cob.
"Do you see it?" inquired his grandson.
"The boil," George answered proudly, "on William's rump. There it is—on the nigh side. Gee, but you ought to have seen it last week. It was a whale of a boil," said George, "but we poulticed him, me and Dave did—and now the swelling's nearly gone. You can ride him to-morrow if you like."
Luxuriously Roger lit a cigar and climbed to the front seat with George. Up the steep and crooked road the stout horses tugged their way, and the wagon creaked, and the Gale River, here only a brook, came gurgling, dashing to meet them—down from the mountains, from the farm, from Roger's youth to welcome him home. And the sun was flashing through the pines. As they drew near the farmhouse through a grove of sugar maples, he heard shrill cries of, "There they come!" And he glimpsed the flying figures of George's brothers, Bob and Tad. George whipped up the horses, the wagon gained upon the boys and reached the house but a few rods behind the little runners. Edith was waiting by the door, fresh and smiling, blooming with health. How well this suited her, Roger thought. Amid a gay chorus of greetings he climbed down heavily out of the wagon, looked about him and drew a deep breath. The long lazy days on the farm had begun.
From the mountain side the farm looked down on a wide sweeping valley of woods and fields. The old house straggled along the road, with addition after addition built on through generations by many men and women. Here lay the history, unread, of the family of Roger Gale. Inside there were steps up and down from one part to another, queer crooks in narrow passageways. The lower end was attached to the woodshed, and the woodshed to the barn. Above the house a pasture dotted with gray boulders extended up to a wood of firs, and out of this wood the small river which bore the name of the family came rushing down the field in a gully, went under the road, swept around to the right and along the edge of a birch copse just below the house. The little stream grew quieter there and widened into a mill pond. At the lower end was a broken dam and beside it a dismantled mill. Here was peace for Roger's soul. The next day at dawn he awakened, and through the window close by his bed he saw no tall confining walls; his eye was carried as on wings out over a billowy blanket of mist, soft and white and cool and still, reaching over the valley. From underneath to his sensitive ears came the numberless voices of the awakening sleepers there, cheeps and tremulous warbles from the birch copse just below, cocks crowing in the valley, and ducks and geese, dogs, sheep and cattle faintly heard from distant farms. Just so it had been when he was a boy. How unchanged and yet how new were these fresh hungry cries of life. From the other end of the house he heard Edith's tiny son lustily demanding his breakfast, as other wee boys before him had done for over a hundred years, as other babies still unborn would do in the many years to come. Soon the cry of the child was hushed. Quiet fell upon the house. And Roger sank again into deep happy slumber.
Here was nothing new and disturbing. Edith's children? Yes, they were new, but they were not disturbing. Their growth each summer was a joy, a renewal of life in the battered old house. Here was no huge tenement family crowding in with dirty faces, clamorous demands for aid, but only five delightful youngsters, clean and fresh, of his own blood. He loved the small excitements, the plans and plots and discoveries, the many adventures that filled their days. He spent hours with their mother, listening while she talked of them. Edith did so love this place and she ran the house so beautifully. It was so cool and fragrant, so clean and so old-fashioned.
Deborah, too, came under the spell. She grew as lazy as a cat and day by day renewed her strength from the hills and from Edith's little brood. Roger had feared trouble there, for he knew how Edith disapproved of her sister's new ideas. But although much with the children, Deborah apparently had no new ideas at all. She seemed to be only listening. One balmy day at sunset, Roger saw her lying on the grass with George sprawled by her side. Her head upon one arm, she appeared to be watching the cattle in the sloping pasture above. Slowly, as though each one of them was drawn by mysterious unseen chains, they were drifting down toward the barn where it was almost milking time. George was talking earnestly. She threw a glance at him from time to time, and Roger could see how intent were her eyes. Yes, Deborah knew how to study a boy.
Only once during the summer did she talk about her work. On a walk with her father one day she took him into a small forlorn building, a mere cabin of one room. The white paint had long been worn away, the windows were all broken, half the old shingles had dropped from the roof and on the flagpole was no flag. It was the district schoolhouse where for nearly half his life Deborah's grandfather had taught a score of pupils. Inside were a blackboard, a rusty stove, a teacher's desk and a dozen forms, grown mouldy and worm-eaten now. A torn and faded picture of Lincoln was upon one wall, half hidden by a spider's web and by a few old dangling rags which once had been red, white and blue. Below, still clinging to the wall, was an old scrap of paper, on which in a large rugged hand there had been written long ago a speech, but it had been worn away until but three words were legible—"conceived and dedicated—"
"Tell me about your school," she said. "All you can remember." Seated at her grandfather's desk she asked Roger many questions. And his recollections, at first dim and hazy, began to clear a little.
"By George!" he exclaimed. "Here are my initials!"
He stooped over one of the benches.
"Oh, dearie! Where?" He pointed them out, and then while he sat on the rude old bench for some time more she questioned him.
"But your school was not all here," she said musingly at last, "it was up on the farm, besides, where you learned to plough and sow and reap and take care of the animals in the barn, and mend things that were broken, and—oh, turn your hand to anything. But millions of children nowadays are growing up in cities, you see."
Half frowning and half smiling she began to talk of her work in town. "What is there about her," Roger asked, "that reminds me so of my mother?" His mind strayed back into the past while the low quiet voice of his daughter went on, and a wistful expression crept over his face. What would she do with the family name? What life would she lead in those many years?... "What a mother she would make." The words rose from within him, but in a voice which was not his own. It was Deborah's grandmother speaking, so clearly and distinctly that he gave a start almost of alarm.
"And if you don't believe they'll do it," Deborah was saying, "you don't know what's in children. Only we've got to help bring it out." What had she been talking about? He remembered the words "a new nation"—no more. "We've got to grope around in the dark and hunt for new ways and learn as we go. And when you've once got into the work and really felt the thrill of it all—well, then it seems rather foolish and small to bother about your own little life."
* * * * *
Roger spent much of his time alone. He took long rides on William along crooked, hilly roads. As the afternoon drew to its end, the shadows would creep up the mountain sides to their summits where glowed the last rays of the sun, painting the slate and granite crags in lovely pink and purple hues. And sometimes mighty banks of clouds would rear themselves high overhead, gigantic mountains of the air with billowy, misty caverns, cliffs and jagged peaks, all shifting there before his eyes. And he would think of Judith his wife. And the old haunting certainty, that her soul had died with her body, was gone. There came to him the feeling that he and his wife would meet again. Why did this hope come back to him? Was it all from the glory of the sun? Or was it from the presence, silent and invisible, of those many other mortals, folk of his own flesh and blood, who at their deaths had gone to their graves to put on immortality? Or was this deepening faith in Roger simply a sign of his growing old age?
He frowned at the thought and shook it off, and again stared up at the light on the hills. "You will live on in our children's lives." Was there no other immortality?
He often thought of his boyhood here. On a ride one day he stopped for a drink at a spring in a grove of maples surrounding a desolate farmhouse not more than a mile away from his own. And through the trees as he turned to go he saw the stark figure of a woman, poorly clad and gaunt and gray. She stood motionless watching him with a look of sullen bitterness. She was the last of "the Elkinses," a mountain family run to seed. As he rode away he saw in the field a boy with a pitchfork in his hands, a meager ragged little chap. He was staring into the valley at a wriggling, blue smoke serpent made by the night express to New York. And something leaped in Roger, for he had once felt just like that! But the woman's harsh voice cut in on his dream, as she shouted to her son below, "Hey! Why the hell you standin' thar?" And the boy with a jump of alarm turned back quickly to his work. At home a few days later, George with a mysterious air took his grandfather into the barn, and after a pledge of secrecy he said in swift and thrilling tones, "You know young Bill Elkins? Yes, you do—the boy up on the Elkins place who lives alone with his mother. Well, look here!" George swallowed hard. "Bill has cleared out—he's run away! I was up at five this morning and he came hiking down the road! He had a bundle on his back and he told me he was off for good! And was he scared? You bet he was scared! And I told him so and it made him mad! 'Aw, you're scared!' I said. 'I ain't neither!' he said. He could barely talk, but the kid had his nerve! 'Where you going?' I asked. 'To New York,' he said. 'Aw, what do you know of New York?' I said. And then, by golly, he busted right down. 'Gee!' he said, 'Gee! Can't you lemme alone?' And then he beat it down the road! You could hear the kid breathe, he was hustling so! He's way off now, he's caught the train! He wants to be a cabin boy on a big ocean liner!" For a moment there was silence. "Well?" the boy demanded, "What do you think of his chances?"
"I don't know," said Roger huskily. He felt a tightening at his throat. Abruptly he turned to his grandson.
"George," he asked, "what do you want to be?" The boy flushed under his freckles.
"I don't know as I know. I'm thinking," he answered very slowly.
"Talk it over with your mother, son."
"Yes, sir," came the prompt reply. "But he won't," reflected Roger.
"Or if you ever feel you want to, have a good long talk with me."
"Yes, sir," was the answer. Roger stood there waiting, then turned and walked slowly out of the barn. How these children grew up inside of themselves. Had boys always grown like that? Well, perhaps, but how strange it was. Always new lives, lives of their own, the old families scattering over the land. So the great life of the nation swept on. He kept noticing here deserted farms, and one afternoon in the deepening dusk he rode by a graveyard high up on a bare hillside. A horse and buggy were outside, and within he spied a lean young woman neatly dressed in a plain dark suit. With a lawn mower brought from home she was cutting the grass on her family lot. And she seemed to fit into the landscape. New England had grown very old.
* * * * *
Late one night toward the end of July, there came a loud honk from down the hill, then another and another. And as George in his pajamas came rushing from his bedroom shouting radiantly, "Gee! It's dad!"—they heard the car thundering outside. Bruce had left New York at dawn and had made the run in a single day, three hundred and eleven miles. He was gray with dust all over and he was worn and hollow eyed, but his dark visage wore a look of solid satisfaction.
"I needed the trip to shake me down," he pleaded, when Edith scolded him well for this terrific manner of starting his vacation. "I had to have it to cut me off from the job I left behind me. Now watch me settle down on this farm."
But it appeared he could not settle down. For the first few days, in his motor, he was busy exploring the mountains. "We'll make 'em look foolish. Eh, son?" he said. And with George, who mutely adored him, he ran all about them in a day. Genially he gave everyone rides. When he'd finished with the family, he took Dave Royce the farmer and his wife and children, and even both the hired men, for Bruce was an hospitable soul. But more than anyone else he took George. They spent hours working on the car, and at times when they came into the house begreased and blackened from their work, Edith reproved them like bad boys—but Deborah smiled contentedly.
But at the end of another week Bruce grew plainly restless, and despite his wife's remonstrances made ready to return to town. When she spoke of his hay fever he bragged to her complacently of his newly discovered cure.
"Oh, bother your little blue bugs!" she cried.
"The bugs aren't blue," he explained to her, in a mild and patient voice that drove Edith nearly wild. "They're so little they have no color at all. Poor friendly little devils—"
"Bruce!" his wife exploded.
"They've been almighty good to me. You ought to have heard my friend the Judge, the last night I was with him. He patted his bottle and said to me, 'Bruce, my boy, with all these simple animals right here as our companions why be a damn fool and run off to the cows?' And there's a good deal in what he says. You ought to be mighty thankful, too, that my summer pleasures are so mild. If you could see what some chaps do—"
And Bruce started back for the city. George rode with him the first few miles, then left him and came trudging home. His spirits were exceedingly low.
As August drew toward a close, Deborah, too, showed signs of unrest. With ever growing frequency Roger felt her eagerness to return to her work in New York.
"You're as bad as Bruce," he growled at her. "You don't have to be back," he argued. "School doesn't begin for nearly three weeks."
"There's the suffrage campaign," she answered. He gave her a look of exasperation.
"Now what the devil has suffrage to do with your schools?" he demanded.
"When the women get the vote, we'll spend more money on the children."
"Suppose the money isn't there," was Roger's grim rejoinder.
"Then we'll act like old-fashioned wives, I suppose," his daughter answered cheerfully, "and keep nagging till it is there. We'll keep up such a nagging," she added, in sweet even tones, "that you'll get the money by hook or crook, to save yourselves from going insane."
After this he caught her reading in the New York papers the list of campaign meetings each night, meetings in hot stifling halls or out upon deafening corners. And as she read there came over her face a look like that of a man who has given up tobacco and suddenly sniffs it among his friends. She went down the last night of August.
* * * * *
Roger stayed on for another two weeks, on into the best time of the year. For now came the nights of the first snapping frosts when the dome of the heavens was steely blue, and clear sparkling mornings, the woods aflame with scarlet and gold. And across the small field below the house, at sunset Roger would go down to the copse of birches there and find it filled with glints of light that took his glance far in among the slender, creamy stems of the trees, all slowly swaying to and fro, the leafage rich with autumn hues, warm orange, yellow and pale green. Lovely and silent and serene. So it had been when he was a boy and so it would be when he was dead. Countless trees had been cut down but others had risen in their stead. Now and then he could hear a bird warbling.
Long ago this spot had been his mother's favorite refuge from her busy day in the house. She had almost always come alone, but sometimes Roger stealing down would watch her sitting motionless and staring in among the trees. Years later in his reading he had come upon the phrase, "sacred grove," and at once he had thought of the birches. And sitting here where she had been, he felt again that boundless faith in life resplendent, conquering death, and serenely sweeping him on—into what he did not fear. For this had been his mother's faith. Sometimes in the deepening dusk he could almost see her sitting here.
"This faith in you has come from me. This is my memory living on in you, my son, though you do not know. How many times have I held you back, how many times have I urged you on, roused you up or soothed you, made you hope or fear or dream, through memories of long ago. For you were once a part of me. I moulded you, my little son. And as I have been to you, so you will be to your children. In their lives, too, we shall be there—silent and invisible, the dim strong figures of the past. For this is the power of families, this is the mystery of birth."
Suddenly he started. What was it that had thrilled him so? Only a tall dark fir in the birches. But looming in there like a shadowy phantom it had recalled a memory of a dusk far back in his boyhood, when seeing a shadow just like this he had thought it a ghost in very truth and had run for the house like a rabbit! How terribly real that fright had been! The recollection suddenly became so vivid in his mind, that as though a veil had been lifted he felt the living presence here, close by his side, of a small barefoot mountain lad, clothed in sober homespun gray, but filled with warm desires, dreams and curiosities, exploring upon every hand, now marching boldly forward, now stealing up so cautiously, now galloping away like mad! "I was once a child." To most of us these are mere words. To few is it ever given to attain so much as even a glimpse into the warm and quivering soul of that little stranger of long ago. We do not know how we were made.
"I moulded you, my little son. And as I have been to you, so you will be to your children. In their lives, too, we shall be there."
Darker, darker grew the copse and the chill of the night descended. But to Roger's eyes there was no gloom. For he had seen a vision.
On his return to the city, Roger found that Deborah's school had apparently swept all other interests out of her mind. Baird hardly ever came to the house, and she herself was seldom there except for a hasty dinner at night. The house had to run itself more or less; and though Annie the cook was doing her best, things did not run so smoothly. Roger missed little comforts, attentions, and he missed Deborah most of all. When he came down to his breakfast she had already left the house, and often she did not return until long after he was in bed. She felt the difference herself, and though she did not put it in words her manner at times seemed to beg his forbearance. But there were many evenings when her father found it difficult to hold to the resolve he had made, to go slowly with his daughter until he could be more sure of his ground. She was growing so intense again. From the school authorities she had secured a still wider range and freedom for her new experiment, and she was working day and night to put her ideas into effect.
"It's only too easy," she remarked, "to launch an idea in this town. The town will put it in headlines at once, and with it a picture of yourself in your best bib and tucker, looking as though you loved the whole world. And you can make a wonderful splurge, until they go on to the next new thing. The real trouble comes in working it out."
And this she had set out to do. Many nights in the autumn Roger went down to the school, to try to get some clear idea of this vision of hers for children, which in a vague way he could feel was so much larger than his own, for he had seen its driving force in the grip it had upon her life. At first he could make nothing of it at all; everywhere chaos met his eyes. But he found something formless, huge, that made to him a strong appeal.
The big building fairly hummed at night with numberless activities. Fathers, mothers and children came pouring in together and went skurrying off to their places. They learned to speak English, to read and write; grown men and women scowled and toiled over their arithmetic. They worked at trades in the various shops; they hammered and sawed and set up type; they cooked and sewed and gossiped. "The Young Galician Socialist Girls" debated on the question: "Resolved that woman suffrage has worked in Colorado." "The Caruso Pleasure Club" gave a dance to "The Garibaldi Whirlwinds." An orchestra rehearsed like mad. They searched their memories for the songs and all the folk tales they had heard in peasant huts in Italy, in hamlets along rocky coasts, in the dark old ghettos of crowded towns in Poland and in Russia. And some of these songs were sung in school, and some of these tales were dramatized here. Children and parents all took part. And speakers emerged from the neighborhood. It was at times appalling, the number of young Italians and Jews who had ideas to give forth to their friends on socialism, poverty, marriage and religion, and all the other questions that rose among these immigrants jammed into this tenement hive. But when there were too many of these self-appointed guides, the neighborhood shut down on them.
"We don't want," declared one indignant old woman, "that every young loafer should shout in our face!"
Roger was slowly attracted into this enormous family life, and yielding to an impulse he took charge of a boys' club which met on Thursday evenings there. He knew well this job of fathering a small jovial group of lads; he had done it before, many years ago, in the mission school, to please his wife; he felt himself back on familiar ground. And from this point of vantage, with something definite he could do, he watched with an interest more clear the school form steadily closer ties with the tenements that hedged it 'round, gathering its big family. And this family by slow degrees began to make itself a part of the daily life of Roger's house. Committees held their meetings here, teachers dropped in frequently, and Roger invited the boys in his club to come up and see him whenever they liked.
His most frequent visitor was Johnny Geer, the cripple. He was working in Roger's office now and the two had soon become close friends. John kept himself so neat and clean, he displayed such a keen interest in all the details of office work, and he showed such a beaming appreciation of anything that was done for him.
"That boy is getting a hold on me lately almost like a boy of my own," Roger said one evening when Allan Baird was at the house. "He's the pluckiest young un I ever met. I've put him to work in my private office, where he can use the sofa to rest, and I've made him my own stenographer—partly because he's so quick at dictation and partly to try to make him slow down. He has the mind of a race horse. He runs at night to libraries until I should think he'd go insane. And his body can't stand it, he's breaking down—though whenever I ask him how he feels, he always says, 'Fine, thank you.'" Here Roger turned to Allan. "I wish you'd take the boy," he said, "to the finest specialist in town, and see what can be done for his spine. I'll pay any price."
"There won't be any price," said Allan, "but I'll see to it at once."
He had John examined the same week.
"Well?" asked Roger when next they met.
"Well," said Baird, "it isn't good news."
"You mean he's hopeless?" Allan nodded:
"It's Pott's disease, and it's gone too far. John is eighteen. He may live to be thirty."
"But I tell you, Baird, I'll do anything!"
"There's almost nothing you can do. If he had been taken when he was a baby, he might have been cured and given a chance. But the same mother who dropped him then, when she was full of liquor, just went to the druggist on her block, and after listening to his advice she bought some patent medicine, a steel jacket and some crutches, and thought she'd done her duty."
"But there must be something we can do!" retorted Roger angrily.
"Yes," said Baird, "we can make him a little more comfortable. And meanwhile we can help Deborah here to get hold of other boys like John and give 'em a chance before it's too late—keep them from being crippled for life because their mothers were too blind and ignorant to act in time." Baird's voice had a ring of bitterness.
"Most of 'em love their children," Roger said uneasily. Baird turned on him a steady look.
"Love isn't enough," he retorted. "The time is coming very soon when we'll have the right to guard the child not only when it's a baby but even before it has been born."
Roger drew closer to John after this. Often behind the beaming smile he would feel the pain and loneliness, and the angry grit which was fighting it down. And so he would ask John home to supper on nights when nobody else was there. One day late in the afternoon they were walking home together along the west side of Madison Square. The big open space was studded with lights sparkling up at the frosty stars, in a city, a world, a universe that seemed filled with the zest and the vigor of life. Out of these lights a mighty tower loomed high up into the sky. And stopping on his crutches, a grim small crooked figure in all this rushing turmoil, John set his jaws, and with his shrewd and twinkling eyes fixed on the top of the tower, he said,
"I meant to tell you, Mr. Gale. You was asking me once what I wanted to be. And I want to be an architect."
"Do, eh," grunted Roger. He, too, looked up at that thing in the stars, and there was a tightening at his throat. "All right," he added, presently, "why not start in and be one?"
"How?" asked John alertly.
"Well, my boy," said Roger, "I'd hate to lose you in the office—"
"Yes, sir, and I'd hate to go." Just then the big clock in the tower began to boom the hour, and a chill struck into Roger.
"You'd have to," he said gruffly. "You haven't any time to lose! I mean," he hastily added, "that for a job as big as that you'd need a lot of training. But if it's what you want to be, go right ahead. I'll back you. My son-in-law is a builder at present. I'll talk to him and get his advice. We may be able to arrange to have you go right into his office, begin at the bottom and work straight up." In silence for a moment John hobbled on by Roger's side.
"I'd hate to leave your place," he said.
"I know," was Roger's brusque reply, "and I'd hate to lose you. We'll have to think it over."
A few days later he talked with Bruce, who said he'd be glad to take the boy. And at dinner that night with Deborah, Roger asked abruptly,
"Why not let Johnny come here for a while and use one of our empty bedrooms?"
With a quick flush of pleased surprise, Deborah gave her father a look that embarrassed him tremendously.
"Well, why not?" he snapped at her. "Sensible, isn't it?"
And sensible it turned out to be. When John first heard about it, he was apparently quite overcome, and there followed a brief awkward pause while he rapidly blinked the joy from his eyes. But then he said, "Fine, thank you. That's mighty good of you, Mr. Gale," in as matter of fact a tone as you please. And he entered the household in much the same way, for John had a sense of the fitness of things. He had always kept himself neat and clean, but he became immaculate now. He dined with Roger the first night, but early the next morning he went down to the kitchen and breakfasted there; and from this time on, unless he were especially urged to come up to the dining room, John took all his meals downstairs. The maids were Irish—so was John. They were good Catholics—so was John. They loved the movies—so did John. In short, it worked out wonderfully. In less than a month John had made himself an unobtrusive and natural part of the life of Roger's sober old house. It had had to stretch just a little, no more.
But that winter there was more in the house than Deborah's big family. Though at times Roger felt it surging in with its crude, immense vitality, there were other times when it was not so, and the lives of his other two daughters attracted his attention, for both were back again in town.
Laura and her husband had returned from abroad in October, and in a small but expensive apartment in a huge new building facing on Park Avenue they had gaily started the career of their own little family, or "menage," as Laura called it. This word had stuck in Roger's mind, for he had a suspicion that a "menage" was no place for babies. Grimly, when he went there first to be shown the new home by its mistress, he looked about him for a room which might be made a nursery. But no such room was in evidence. "We decided to have no guest room," he heard Laura say to Deborah. And glancing at his daughter then, sleek and smiling and demure, in her tea-gown fresh from Paris, Roger darkly told himself that a child would be an unwelcome guest. The whole place was as compact and sparkling as a jewel box. The bed chamber was luxurious, with a gorgeous bath adjoining and a dressing-room for Harold.
"And look at this love of a closet!" said Laura to Deborah eagerly. "Isn't it simply enormous?" As Deborah looked, her father did, too, and his eye was met by an array of shimmering apparel which made him draw back almost with a start.
They found Harold in the pantry. Their Jap, it appeared, was a marvellous cook and did the catering as well, so that Laura rarely troubled herself to order so much as a single meal. But her husband had for many years been famous for his cocktails, and although the Jap did everything else Hal had kept this in his own hands.
"I thought this much of the house-keeping ought to remain in the family," he said.
Roger did not like this joke. But later, when he had imbibed the delicious concoction Harold had made, and had eaten the dinner created by that Japanese artist of theirs, his irritation subsided.
"They barely know we're here," he thought. "They're both in love up to their ears."
Despite their genial attempts to be hospitable and friendly, time and again he saw their glances meet in an intimate gleaming manner which made him rather uncomfortable. But where was the harm, he asked himself. They were married all right, weren't they? Still somehow—somehow—no, by George, he didn't like it, he didn't approve! The whole affair was decidedly mixing. Roger went away vaguely uneasy, and he felt that Deborah was even more disturbed than himself.
"Those two," she remarked to her father, "are so fearfully wrapt up in each other it makes me afraid. Oh, it's all right, I suppose, and I wouldn't for worlds try to interfere. But I can't help feeling somehow that no two people with such an abundance of youth and money and happiness have the right to be so amazingly—selfish!"
"They ought to have children," Roger said.
"But look at Edith," his daughter rejoined. "She hasn't a single interest that I can find outside her home. It seems to have swallowed her, body and soul." A frowning look of perplexity swept over Deborah's mobile face, and with a whimsical sigh she exclaimed, "Oh, this queer business of families!"
In December there came a little crash. Late one evening Laura came bursting in upon them in a perfect tantrum, every nerve in her lithe body tense, her full lips visibly quivering, her voice unsteady, and her big black eyes aflame with rage. She was jealous of her husband and "that nasty little cat!" Roger learned no more about it, for Deborah motioned him out of the room. He heard their two voices talk on and on, until Laura's slowly quieted down. Soon afterwards she left the house, and Deborah came in to him.
"She's gone home, eh?" asked Roger.
"Yes, she has, poor silly child—she said at first she had come here to stay."
"By George," he said. "As bad as that?"
"Of course it isn't as bad as that!" Deborah cried impatiently. "She just built and built on silly suspicions and let herself get all worked up! I don't see what they're coming to!" For a few moments nothing was said. "It's so unnatural!" she exclaimed. "Men and women weren't made to live like that!" Roger scowled into his paper.
"Better leave 'em alone," he admonished her. "You can't help—they're not your kind. Don't you mix into this affair."
But Deborah did. She remembered that her sister had once shown quite a talent for amateur theatricals; and to give Laura something to do, Deborah persuaded her to take a dramatic club in her school. And Laura, rather to Roger's surprise, became an enthusiast down there. She worked like a slave at rehearsals, and upon the costumes she spent money with a lavish hand. Moreover, instead of being annoyed, as Edith was, at Deborah's prominence in the press, Laura gloried in it, as though this "radical" sister of hers were a distinct social asset among her giddy friends uptown. For even Laura's friends, her father learned with astonishment, had acquired quite an appetite for men and women with ideas—the more "radical," the better. But the way Laura used this word at times made Roger's blood run cold. She was vivid in her approval of her sister's whole idea, as a scheme of wholesale motherhood which would give "a perfectly glorious jolt" to the old-fashioned home with its overworked mothers who let their children absorb their days.
"As though having children and bringing them up," she disdainfully declared, "were something every woman must do, whether she happens to like it or not, at the cost of any real growth of her own!"
And smilingly she hinted at impending radical changes in the whole relation of marriage, of which she was hearing in detail at a series of lectures to young wives, delivered on Thursday mornings in a hotel ball-room.
What the devil was getting into the town? Roger frowned his deep dislike. Here was Laura with her chicken's mind blithely taking her sister's thoughts and turning them topsy-turvy, to make for herself a view of life which fitted like a white kid glove her small and elegant "menage." And although her father had only inklings of it all, he had quite enough to make him irate at this uncanny interplay of influences in his family. Why couldn't the girls leave each other alone?
* * * * *
Early in the winter, Edith, too, had entered in. It had taken Edith just one glance into the bride's apartment to grasp Laura's whole scheme of existence.
"Selfish, indulgent and abnormal," was the way she described it. She and Bruce were dining with Roger that night. "I wash my hands of the whole affair," continued Edith curtly. "So long as she doesn't want my help, as she has plainly made me feel, I certainly shan't stand in her way."
"You're absolutely right," said her father.
"Stick to it," said Bruce approvingly.
But Edith did not stick to it. In her case too, as the weeks wore on, those subtle family ties took hold and made her feel the least she could do was "to keep up appearances." So she and Bruce dined with the bride and groom, and in turn had them to dinner. And these dinners, as Bruce confided to Roger, were occasions no man could forget.
"They come only about once a month," he said in a tone of pathos, "but it seems as though barely a week had gone by when Edith says to me again, 'We're dining with Laura and Hal to-night.' Well, and we dine. Young Sloane is not a bad sort of a chap—works hard downtown and worships his wife. The way he lives—well, it isn't mine—and mine isn't his—and we both let it go at that. But the women can't, they haven't it in 'em. Each sits with her way of life in her lap. You can't see it over the tablecloth, but, my God, how you feel it! The worst of it is," he ended, "that after one of these terrible meals each woman is more set than before in her own way of living. Not that I don't like Edith's way," her husband added hastily.
Edith also disapproved of the fast increasing publicity which Deborah was getting.
"I may be very old-fashioned," she remarked to her father, "but I can't get used to this idea that a woman's place is in headlines. And I think it's rather hard on you—the use she's making of your house."
One Friday night when she came to play chess, she found her father in the midst of a boisterous special meeting of his club of Italian boys. It had been postponed from the evening before. And though Roger, overcome with dismay at having forgotten Edith's night, apologized profusely, the time-honored weekly game took place no more from that day on.
"Edith's pretty sore," said Bruce, who dropped in soon afterwards. "She says Deborah has made your house into an annex to her school."
Roger smoked in silence. His whole family was about his ears.
"My boy," he muttered earnestly, "you and I must stick together."
"We sure must," agreed his son-in-law. "And what's more, if we're to keep the peace, we've got to try to put some punch into Deborah's so-called love affair. She ought to get married and settle down."
"Yes," said Roger, dubiously. "Only let's keep it to ourselves."
"No chance of that," was the cheerful reply. "You can't keep Edith out of it. It would only make trouble in my family." Roger gave him a pitying look and said,
"Then, for the Lord's sake, let her in!"
So they took Edith into their councils, and she gave them an indulgent smile.
"Suppose you leave this to me," she commanded. "Don't you think I've been using my eyes? There's no earthly use in stepping in now, for Deborah has lost her head. She sees herself a great new woman with a career. But wait till the present flare-up subsides, till the newspapers all drop her and she is thoroughly tired out. Until then, remember, we keep our hands off."
"Do you think you can?" asked Roger, with a little glimmer of hope.
"I?" she retorted. "Most certainly! I mean to leave her alone absolutely—until she comes to me herself. When she does, we'll know it's time to begin."
* * * * *
"I'm afraid Edith is hurt about something," said Deborah to her father, about a month after this little talk. "She hasn't been near us for over three weeks."
"Let her be!" said Roger, in alarm. "I mean," he hastily added, "why can't you let Edith come when she likes? There's nothing the matter. It's simply her children—they take up her time."
"No," said Deborah calmly, "it's I. She as good as told me so last month. She thinks I've become a perfect fanatic—without a spare moment or thought for my family."
"Oh, my family!" Roger groaned. "I tell you, Deborah, you're wrong! Edith's children are probably sick in bed!"
"Then I'll go and see," she answered.
* * * * *
"Something has happened to Deborah," Edith informed him blithely, over the telephone the next night.
"Has, eh," grunted Roger.
"Yes, she was here to see me to-day. And something has happened—she's changing fast. I felt it in all kinds of ways. She was just as dear as she could be—and lonely, as though she were feeling her age. I really think we can do something now."
"All right, let's do something," Roger growled.
And Edith began to do something. Her hostility to her sister had completely disappeared. In its place was a friendly affection, an evident desire to please. She even drew Laura into the secret, and there was a gathering of the clan. There were consultations in Roger's den. "Deborah is to get married." The feeling of it crept through the house. Nothing was said to her, of course, but Deborah was made to feel that her two sisters had drawn close. And their influence upon her choice was more deep and subtle than she knew. For although Roger's family had split so wide apart, between his three daughters there were still mysterious bonds reaching far back into nursery days. And Deborah in deciding whether to marry Allan Baird was affected more than she was aware by the married lives of her sisters. All she had seen in Laura's menage, all that she had ever observed in Edith's growing family, kept rising from time to time in her thoughts, as she vaguely tried to picture herself a wife and the mother of children.
So the family, with those subtle bonds from the past, began to press steadily closer and closer around this one unmarried daughter, and help her to make up her mind.
But she did not appear to care to be helped. Nor did Allan—he rarely came to the house, and he went to Edith's not at all. He was even absent from her Christmas tree for the children, a jolly little festivity which neither he nor Deborah had missed in years.
"What has got into him?" Roger asked. And shortly after Christmas he called the fellow up on the 'phone. "Drop in for dinner to-night," he urged. And he added distinctly, "I'm alone."
"Are you? I'll be glad to."
"Thank you, Baird, I want your advice." And as he hung up the receiver he said, "Now then!" to himself, in a tone of firm decision. But later, as the day wore on, he cursed himself for what he had done. "Don't it beat the devil," he thought, "how I'm always putting my foot in it?" And when Baird came into the room that night he loomed, to Roger's anxious eye, if anything taller than before. But his manner was so easy, his gruff voice so natural, and he seemed to take this little party of two so quietly as a matter of course, that Roger was soon reassured, and at table he and Allan got on even better than before. Baird talked of his life as a student, in Vienna, Bonn and Edinburgh, and of his first struggles in New York. His talk was full of human bits, some tragic, more amusing. And Roger's liking for the man increased with every story told.
"I asked you here," he bluntly began, when they had gone to the study to smoke, "to talk to you about Deborah." Baird gave him a friendly look.
"All right. Let's talk about her."
"It strikes me you were right last year," said Roger, speaking slowly. "She's already showing the strain of her work. She don't look to me as strong as she was."
"She looks to me stronger," Allan replied. "You know, people fool doctors now and then—and she seems to have taken a fresh start. I feel she may go on for years." Roger was silent a moment, chagrined and disappointed.
"Have you had a good chance to watch her?" he asked.
"Yes, and I'm watching her still," said Baird. "I see her down there at the school. She tells me you've been there yourself."
"Yes," said Roger, determinedly, "and I mean to keep on going. I'm trying not to lose hold of her," he added with harsh emphasis. Baird turned and frankly smiled at him.
"Then you have probably seen," he replied, "that to keep any hold at all on her, you must make up your mind as I have done that, strength or no strength, this job of hers is going to be a life career. When a woman who has held a job without a break for eleven years can feel such a flame of enthusiasm, you can be pretty sure, I think, it is the deepest part of her. At least I feel that way," he said. "And I believe the only way to keep near her—for the present, anyhow—is to help her in her work."
When Baird had gone, Roger found himself angry.
"I'm not in the habit, young man," he thought, "of throwing my daughter at gentlemen's heads. If you feel as calm and contented as that you can go to the devil! Far be it from me to lift a hand! In fact, as I come to think of it, you would probably make her a mighty poor husband!" He worked himself into quite a rage. But an hour later, when he had subsided, "Hold on," he thought. "Am I right about this? Is the man as contented as he talks? No, sir, not for a minute he isn't! But what can he do? If he tried making love to Deborah he'd simply be killing his chances. Not the slightest doubt in the world. She can't think of anything but her career. Yes, sir, when all's said and done, to marry a modern woman is no child's play, it means thought and care. And A. Baird has made up his mind to it. He has made up his mind to marry her by playing a long waiting game. He's just slowly and quietly nosing his way into her school, because it's her life. And a mighty shrewd way of going about it. You don't need any help from me, my friend; all you need is to be let alone."
In talks at home with Deborah, and in what he himself observed at school, Roger began to get inklings of "A. Baird's long waiting game." He found that several months before Allan had offered to start a free clinic for mothers and children in connection with the school, and that he alone had put it through, with only the most reluctant aid and gratitude from Deborah—as though she dreaded something. Baird took countless hours from his busy uptown practice; he hurt himself more than once, in fact, by neglecting rich patients to do this work. Where a sick or pregnant mother was too poor to carry out his advice, he followed her into her tenement home, sent one of his nurses to visit her, and even gave money when it was needed to ease the strain of her poverty until she should be well and strong. Soon scores of the mothers of Deborah's children were singing the praises of Doctor Baird.
Then he began coming to the house.
"I was right," thought Roger complacently.
He laid in a stock of fine cigars and some good port and claret, too; and on evenings when Baird came to dine, Roger by a genial glow and occasional jocular ironies would endeavor to drag the talk away from clinics, adenoids, children's teeth, epidemics and the new education. But no joke was so good that Deborah could not promptly match it with some amusing little thing which one of her children had said or done. For she had a mother's instinct for bragging fondly of her brood. It was deep, it was uncanny, this queer community motherhood.
"This poor devil," Roger thought, with a pitying glance at Baird, "might just as well be marrying a widow with three thousand brats."
But Baird did not seem in the least dismayed. On the contrary, his assurance appeared to be deepening every week, and with it Deborah's air of alarm. For his clinic, as it swiftly grew, he secured financial backing from his rich women patients uptown, many of them childless and only too ready to respond to the appeals he made to them. And one Saturday evening at the house, while dining with Roger and Deborah, he told of an offer he had had from a wealthy banker's widow to build a maternity hospital. He talked hungrily of all it could do in co-operation with the school. He said nothing of the obvious fact that it would require his whole time, but Roger thought of that at once, and by the expression on Deborah's face he saw she was thinking, too.
He felt they wanted to be alone, so presently he left them. From his study he could hear their voices growing steadily more intense. Was it all about work? He could not tell. "They've got working and living so mixed up, a man can't possibly tell 'em apart."
Then his daughter was called to the telephone, and Allan came in to bid Roger good-night. And his eyes showed an impatience he did not seem to care to hide.
"Well?" inquired Roger. "Did you get Deborah's consent?"
"To what?" asked Allan sharply.
"To your acceptance," Roger answered, "of the widow's mite." Baird grinned.
"She couldn't help herself," he said.
"But she didn't seem to like it, eh—"
"No," said Baird, "she didn't." Roger had a dark suspicion.
"By the way," he asked in a casual tone, "what's this philanthropic widow like?"
"She's sixty-nine," Baird answered.
"Oh," said Roger. He smoked for a time, and sagely added, "My daughter's a queer woman, Baird—she's modern, very modern. But she's still a woman, you understand—and so she's jealous—of her job." But A. Baird was in no joking mood.
"She's narrow," he said sternly. "That's what's the matter with Deborah. She's so centered on her job she can't see anyone else's. She thinks I'm doing all this work solely in order to help her school—when if she'd use some imagination and try to put herself in my shoes, she'd see the chance it's giving me!"
"How do you mean?" asked Roger, looking a bit bewildered.
"Why," said Baird with an impatient fling of his hand, "there are men in my line all over the country who'd leave home, wives and children for the chance I've blundered onto here! A hospital fully equipped for research, a free hand, an opportunity which comes to one man in a million! But can she see it? Not at all! It's only an annex to her school!"
"Yes," said Roger gravely, "she's in a pretty unnatural state. I think she ought to get married, Baird—" To his friendly and disarming twinkle Baird replied with a rueful smile.
"You do, eh," he growled. "Then tell her to plan her wedding to come before her funeral." As he rose to go, Roger took his hand.
"I'll tell her," he said. "It's sound advice. Good-night, my boy, I wish you luck."
A few moments later he heard in the hall their brief good-nights to each other, and presently Deborah came in. She was not looking quite herself.
"Why are you eyeing me like that?" his daughter asked abruptly.
"Aren't you letting him do a good deal for you?"
Deborah flushed a little:
"Yes, I am. I can't make him stop."
Her father hesitated.
"You could," he said, "if you wanted to. If you were sure," he added slowly, "that you didn't love him—and told him so." He felt a little panic, for he thought he had gone too far. But his daughter only turned away and restlessly moved about the room. At last she came to her father's chair:
"Hadn't you better leave this to me?"
"I had, my dear, I most certainly had. I was all wrong to mention it," he answered very humbly.
* * * * *
From this night on, Baird changed his tack. Although soon busy with the plans for the hospital, to be built at once, he said little about it to Deborah. Instead, he insisted on taking her off on little evening sprees uptown.
"Do you know what's the matter with both of us?" he said to her one evening. "We've been getting too durned devoted to our jobs and our ideals. You're becoming a regular school marm and I'm getting to be a regular slave to every wretched little babe who takes it into his head to be born. We haven't one redeeming vice."
And again he took up dancing. The first effort which he made, down at Deborah's school one evening, was a failure quite as dismal as his attempts of the previous year. But he did not appear in the least discouraged. He came to the house one Friday night.
"I knew I could learn to dance," he said, "in spite of all your taunts and jibes. That little fiasco last Saturday night—"
"Was perfectly awful," Deborah said.
"Did not discourage me in the least," he continued severely. "I decided the only trouble with me was that I'm tall and I've got to bend—to learn to bend."
"So I went to a lady professor, and she saw the point at once. Since then I've had five lessons, and I can fox-trot in my sleep. To-morrow is Saturday. Where shall we go?"
"To the theater."
"Good. We'll start with that. But the minute the play is over we'll gallop off to the Plaza Grill—just as the music is in full swing—"
"And we'll dance," she groaned, "for hours. And when I get home, I'll creep into bed so tired and sore in every limb—"
"That you'll sleep late Sunday morning. And a mighty good thing for you, too—if you ask my advice—"
"I don't ask your advice!"
"You're getting it, though," he said doggedly. "If you're still to be a friend of mine we'll dance at the Plaza to-morrow night—and well into the Sabbath."
"The principal of a public school—dancing on the Sabbath. Suppose one of my friends should see us there."
"Your friends," he replied with a fine contempt, "do not dance in the Plaza Grill. I'm the only roisterer you know."
"All right," she conceded grudgingly, "I'll roister. Come and get me. But I'd much prefer when the play is done to come home and have milk and crackers here."
"Deborah," he said cheerfully, "for a radical school reformer you're the most conservative woman I know."
In Deborah's school, in the meantime, affairs had drawn to a climax. The moment had come for the city to say whether her new experiment should be dropped the following year or allowed to go on and develop. There came a day of sharp suspense when Deborah's friends and enemies on the Board of Education sat down to discuss and settle her fate. They were at it for several hours, but late in the afternoon they decided not only to let her go on the next year but to try her idea in four other schools and place her in charge with ample funds. The long strain came to an end at last in a triumph beyond her wildest hopes; when the news arrived she relaxed, grew limp, and laughed and cried a little. And her father felt her tremble as he held her a moment in his arms.
"Now, Baird," he thought, "your chance has come. For God's sake, take it while it's here!"
But in place of Baird that afternoon came men and women from the press, and friends and fellow workers. The door-bell and the telephone kept ringing almost incessantly. Why couldn't they leave her a moment's peace? Roger buried himself in his study. Later, when he was called to dinner, he found that Allan was there, too, but at first the conversation was all upon Deborah's victory. Flushed with success, for the moment engrossed in the wider field she saw ahead, she had not a thought for anything else. But after dinner the atmosphere changed.
"To hear me talk," she told them, "you'd think the whole world depended on me, and on my school and my ideas. Me, me, me! And it has been me all winter long! What a time I've given both of you!"
She grew repentant and grateful, first to her father and then to Allan, and then more and more to Allan, with her happy eyes on his. And with a keen worried look at them both, Roger rose and left the room.
* * * * *
Baird was leaning forward. He had both her hands in his own.
"Well?" he asked. "Will you marry me now?"
Her eyes were looking straight into his. They kept moving slightly, searching his. Her wide, sensitive lips were tightly compressed, but did not quite hide their quivering. When she spoke her voice was low and a little queer and breathless:
"Do you want any children, Allan?"
"So do I. And with children, what of my work?"
"I don't want to stop your work. If you marry me we'll go right on. You see I know you, Deborah, I know you've always grown like that—by risking what you've got to-day for something more to-morrow."
"I've never taken a risk like this!"
"I tell you this time it's no risk! Because you're a grown woman—formed! I'm not making a saint of you. You're no angel down among the poor because you feel it's your duty in life—it's your happiness, your passion! You couldn't neglect them if you tried!"
"But the time," she asked him quickly. "Where shall I find the time for it all?"
"A man finds time enough," he answered, "even when he's married."
"But I'm not a man, I'm a woman," she said. And in a low voice which thrilled him, "A woman who wants a child of her own!" His lean muscular right hand contracted sharply upon hers. She winced, drew back a little.
"Oh—I'm sorry!" he whispered. Then he asked her again,
"Will you marry me now?" She looked suddenly up:
"Let's wait awhile, please! It won't be long—I'm in love with you, Allan, I'm sure of that now! And I'm not drawing back, I'm not afraid! Oh, I want you to feel I'm not running away! What I want to do is to face this square! It may be silly and foolish but—you see, I'm made like that. I want a little longer—I want to think it out by myself."
* * * * *
When Allan had gone she came in to her father. And her radiant expression made him bounce up from his chair.
"By George," he cried, "he asked you!"
"And you've taken him!"
"Look here!" he demanded, angrily. "What's the matter? Are you mad?" She threw back her head and laughed at him.
"No, I'm not—I'm happy!"
"What the devil about?" he snapped.
"We're going to wait a bit, that's all, till we're sure of everything!" she cried.
"Then," said Roger disgustedly, "you're smarter than your father is. I'm sure of nothing—nothing! I have never been sure in all my days! If I'd waited, you'd never have been born!"
"Oh, dearie," she begged him smilingly. "Please don't be so unhappy just now—"
"I've a right to be!" said Roger. "I see my house agog with this—in a turmoil—in a turmoil!"
* * * * *
But again he was mistaken. It was in fact astonishing how the old house quieted down. There came again one of those peaceful times, when his home to Roger's senses seemed to settle deep, grow still, and gather itself together. Day by day he felt more sure that Deborah was succeeding in making her work fit into her swiftly deepening passion for a full happy woman's life. And why shouldn't they live here, Allan and she? The thought of this dispelled the cloud which hung over the years he saw ahead. How smoothly things were working out. The monstrous new buildings around his house seemed to him to draw back as though balked of their prey.
On the mantle in Roger's study, for many years a bronze figure there, "The Thinker," huge and naked, forbidding in its crouching pose, the heavy chin on one clenched fist, had brooded down upon him. And in the years that had been so dark, it had been a figure of despair. Often he had looked up from his chair and grimly met its frowning gaze. But Roger seldom looked at it now, and even when it caught his eye it had little effect upon him. It appeared to brood less darkly. For though he did not think it out, there was this feeling in his mind:
"There is to be nothing startling in this quiet home of mine, no crashing deep calamity here."
Only the steadily deepening love between a grown man and a woman mature, both sensible, strong people with a firm control of their destinies. He felt so sure of this affair. For now, her tension once relaxed with the success which had come to her after so many long hard years, a new Deborah was revealed, more human in her yieldings. She let Allan take her off on the wildest little sprees uptown and out into the country. To Roger she seemed younger, more warm and joyous and more free. He loved to hear her laugh these nights, to catch the glad new tones in her voice.
"There is to be no tragedy here."
So, certain of this union and wistful for all he felt it would bring, Roger watched its swift approach. And when the news came, he was sure he'd been right. Because it came so quietly.
"It's settled, dear, at last it's sure. Allan and I are to be married." She was standing by his chair. Roger reached up and took her hand:
"I'm glad. You'll be very happy, my child."
She bent over and kissed him, and putting his arm around her he drew her down on the side of his chair.
"Now tell me all your plans," he said. And her answer brought him a deep peace.
"We're going abroad for the summer—and then if you'll have us we want to come here." Roger abruptly shut his eyes.
"By George, Deborah," he said, "you do have a way of getting right into the heart of things!" His arm closed about her with new strength and he felt all his troubles flying away.
"What a time we'll have, what a rich new life." Her deep sweet voice was a little unsteady. "Listen, dearie, how quiet it is." And for some moments nothing was heard but the sober tick-tick of the clock on the mantle. "I wonder what we're going to hear."
And they thought of new voices in the house.
Edith was radiant at the news.
"I do hope they're not going to grudge themselves a good long wedding trip!" she exclaimed.
"They're going abroad," said Roger.
"Oh, splendid! And the wedding! Church or home?"
"Home," said Roger blissfully, "and short and simple, not a frill. Just the family."
"Oh, that's so nice," sighed Edith. "I was afraid she'd want to drag in her school."
"School will be out by then," he said.
"Well, I hope it stays out—for the remainder of her days. She can't do both, and she'll soon see. Wait till she has a child of her own."
"Well, she wants one bad enough."
"Yes, but can she?" Edith asked, with the engrossed expression which came on her pretty florid face whenever she neared such a topic. She spoke with evident awkwardness. "That's the trouble. Is it too late? Deborah's thirty-one, you know, and she has lived her life so hard. The sooner she gives up her school the better for her chances."
The face of her father clouded.
"Look here," he said uneasily, "I wouldn't go talking to her—quite along those lines, my dear."
"I'm not such an idiot," she replied. "She thinks me homely enough as it is. And she's not altogether wrong. Bruce and I were talking it over last night. We want to be closer, after this, to Deborah and Allan. Bruce says it will do us all good, and for once I think he's right. I have given too much time to my children, and Bruce to his office—I see it now. Not that I regret it, but—well, we're going to blossom out."
* * * * *
She struck the same note with Deborah. And so did Bruce.
"Oh, Deborah dear," he said smiling, when he found a chance to see her alone, "if you knew how long I've waited for this big fine thing to happen. A. Baird is my best chum in the world. Don't yank him gently away from us now. We'll keep close—eh?—all four of us."
"Very," said Deborah softly.
"And you mustn't get too solemn, you know. You won't pull too much of the highbrow stuff."
"That's the right idea. We'll have some fine little parties together. You and A. Baird will give us a hand and get us out in the evenings. We need it, God knows, we've been getting old." Deborah threw him a glance of affection.
"Why, Brucie," she said, in admiring tones, "I knew you had it in you."
"So has Edith," he sturdily declared. "She only needs a little shove. We'll show you two that we're regular fellows. Don't you be all school and we won't be all home. We'll jump out of our skins and be young again."
* * * * *
In pursuance of this gay resolve, Bruce planned frequent parties to theaters and musical shows, and to Edith's consternation he even began to look about for a teacher from whom he could learn to dance. "A. Baird," he told her firmly, "isn't going to be the only soubrette in this family."
One of the most hilarious of these small celebrations came early in June, when they dined all four together and went to the summer's opening of "The Follies of 1914." The show rather dragged a bit at first, but when Bert Williams took the stage Bruce's laugh became so contagious that people in seats on every hand turned to look at him and join in his glee. Only one thing happened to mar the evening's pleasure. When they came outside the theater Bruce found in his car something wrong with the engine. He tinkered but it would not go. Allan hailed a taxi.
"Why not come with us?" asked Deborah.
"No, thanks," said Bruce. "I've got this car to look after."
"Oh, let it wait," urged Allan.
"It does look a little like rain," put in Edith. Bruce glanced up at the cloudy sky and hesitated a moment.
"Rain, piffle," he said good-humoredly. "Come on, wifey, stick by me. I won't be long." And he and Edith went back to his car.
"What a dear he is," said Deborah. Allan put his arm around her, and they looked at each other and smiled. It was only nine days to the wedding.
Out of the street's commotion came a sharp cry of warning. It was followed by a shriek and a crash. Allan looked out of the window, and then with a low exclamation he jumped from the taxi and slammed the door.
Roger had been spending a long quiet evening at home. He had asked John to dine with him and they had chatted for a time. Then John had started up to his room. And listening to the slow shuffling step of the cripple going upstairs, Roger had thought of the quick eager feet and the sudden scampers that would be heard as the silent old house renewed its life. Later he had gone to bed.
He awakened with a start. The telephone bell was ringing.
"Nice time to be calling folks out of bed," he grumbled, as he went into the hall. The next moment he heard Deborah's voice. It was clear and sharp with a note of alarm.
"Father—it's I! You must come to Edith's apartment at once! Bruce is hurt badly! Come at once!"
When Roger reached the apartment, it was Deborah who opened the door. Her face had changed, it was drawn and gray. She took him into the living room.
"Tell me," he said harshly.
"It was just outside the theater. Bruce and Edith were out in the street and got caught by some idiot of a chauffeur. Bruce threw Edith out of the way, but just as he did it he himself got struck in the back and went under a wheel. Allan brought him here at once, while I telephoned for a friend of his—a surgeon. They're with Bruce now."
"She's trying to quiet the children. They all woke up—" Deborah frowned—"when he was brought in," she added.
"Well!" breathed Roger. "I declare!" Dazed and stunned, he sank into a chair. Soon the door opened and Allan came in.
"He's gone," he said. And Deborah jumped. "No, no, I meant the doctor."
"What does he say?"
"Bruce can't live," said Allan gently. In the tense silence there came a chill. "And he knows it," Allan added. "He made me tell him—he said he must know—for business reasons. He wants to see you both at once, before Edith gets that child asleep."
As they entered the room they saw Bruce on his bed. He was breathing quickly through his narrow tight-set jaws and staring up at the ceiling with a straining fixed intensity. As they entered he turned his head. His eyes met theirs and lighted up in a hard and terrible manner.
"I'm not leaving them a dollar!" he cried.
"We'll see to them, boy," said Roger, hoarsely, but Bruce had already turned to Baird.
"I make you my executor, Allan—don't need it in writing—there isn't time." He drew a sudden quivering breath. "I have no will," he muttered on. "Never made one—never thought of this. Business life just starting—booming!—and I put in every cent!" There broke from him a low, bitter groan. "Made my money settling other men's muddles! Never thought of making this mess of my own! But even in mine—I could save something still—if I could be there—if I could be there—"
The sweat broke out on his temples, and Deborah laid her hand on his head. "Sh-h-h," she breathed. He shut his eyes.
"Hard to think of anything any more. I can't keep clear." He shuddered with pain. "Fix me for them," he muttered to Baird. "George and his mother. Fix me up—give me a couple of minutes clear. And Deborah—when you bring 'em in—don't let 'em know. You understand? No infernal last good-byes!" Deborah sharply set her teeth.
"No, dear, no," she whispered. She followed her father out of the room, leaving Allan bending over the bed with a hypodermic in his hand. And when, a few moments later, George came in with his mother, they found Bruce soothed and quieted. He even smiled as he reached up his hand.
"They say I've got to sleep, old girl—just sleep and sleep—it'll do me good. So you mustn't stay in the room to-night. Stay with the kiddies and get 'em to sleep." He was still smiling up at her. "They say it'll be a long time, little wife—and I'm so sorry—I was to blame. If I'd done as you wanted and gone in their taxi. Remember? You said it might rain." He turned to George: "Look here, my boy, I'm counting on you. I'll be sick, you know—no good at all. You must stand by your mother."
George gulped awkwardly:
"Sure I will, dad." His father sharply pressed his hand:
"That's right, old fellow, I know what you are. Now good-night, son. Good-night, Edith dear." He looked at her steadily just for a moment, then closed his eyes. "Oh, but I'm sleepy," he murmured. "Good-night."
And they left him. Alone with Allan, Bruce looked up with a savage glare.
"Look here!" he snarled, between his teeth. "If you think I'm going to lie here and die you're mistaken! I won't! I won't let go! I'll show you chaps you can be wrong! Been wrong before, haven't you, thousands of times! Why be so damnably sure about me?" He fell back suddenly, limp and weak. "So damnably sure," he panted.
"We're never sure, my dear old boy," said Allan very tenderly. Again he was bending close over the bed. "We're not sure yet—by any means. You're so strong, old chap, so amazingly strong. You've given me hope—"
"What are you sticking into my arm?" But Allan kept talking steadily on:
"You've given me hope you'll pull through still. But not like this. You've got to rest. Let go, and try to go to sleep."
"I'm afraid to," came the whisper. But soon, as again the drug took hold, he mumbled in a drowsy tone, "Afraid to go to sleep in the dark.... Say, Allan—get Deborah in here, will you—just for a minute. One thing more."
When she came, he did not open his eyes.
"That you, Deborah? Where's your hand?... Oh—there it is. Just one more point. You—you—" Again his mind wandered, but with an effort he brought it back. "You and Edith," he said in a whisper. "So—so—so different. Not—not like each other at all. But you'll stick together—eh? Always—always. Don't let go—I mean of my hand."
"No, dear, no."
And with her hand holding his, she sat for a long time perfectly still. Then the baby was heard crying, and Deborah went to the nursery.
"Now, Edith, I'll see to the children," she said. "Allan says you can go to Bruce if you like."
Edith looked up at Deborah quickly, and as quickly turned away. She went in to her husband. And there, hour by hour through the night, while he lay inert with his hand in hers, little by little she understood. But she asked no question of anyone.
At last Bruce stirred a little and began breathing deep and fast.
And so death came into the family.
Roger went through the next two days in a kind of a stupor. He remembered holding Edith and feeling her shudder as though from a chill. He remembered being stopped in the hall by George who had dressed himself with care in his first suit with long trousers. "I just wanted you to remember," the boy whispered solemnly, "that I'm nearly sixteen and I'll be here. He said to stand by her and I will." The rest of that ghastly time was a blank, punctuated by small quiet orders which Roger obeyed. Thank God, Deborah was there, and she was attending to everything.
But when at last it was over, and Roger had spent the next day in his office, had found it impossible to work and so had gone home early, Deborah came to him in his room.
"Now we must have a talk," she said. "Allan has gone through Bruce's affairs, and there are still debts to be settled, it seems."
"How much do they come to, Deborah?"
"About five thousand dollars," she said. And for a moment neither spoke. "I wish I could help you out," she went on, "but I have nothing saved and neither has Allan. We've both kept using our money downtown—except just enough for the trip abroad—and we'll need almost all of that to settle for the funeral."
"I can manage," Roger said, and again there was a silence.
"Edith will have to come here to live," Deborah said presently. Her father's heavy face grew stern.
"I'd thought of that," he answered. "But it will be hard on her, Deborah—"
"I know it will—but I don't see anything else to be done." The deep quiet voice of his daughter grew sweet with pity as she spoke. "At least we can try to make it a little easier for her. You can take her up to the mountains and I can close her apartment. But of course she won't agree to it unless she knows how matters stand." Deborah waited a little. "Don't you think you're the best one to tell her?"
"Yes," said Roger, after a pause.
"Then suppose we go to her. I'm sleeping up there for the next few nights."
* * * * *
They found Edith in her living room. She had sent the nurse out, put the children to bed, and left alone with nothing to do she had sat facing her first night. Her light soft hair was disheveled, her pretty features pale and set. But the moment Roger entered he saw that she had herself in hand.
"Well, father," she said steadily. "You'd better tell me about our affairs. My affairs," she corrected herself. When he had explained, she was silent a moment, and then in a voice harsh, bitter, abrupt, "That will be hard on the children," she said. On an impulse he started to take her hand, but she drew a little away from him.
"The children, my dear," he said huskily, "will be taken care of always."
"Yes." And again she was silent. "I've been thinking I'd like to go up to the mountains—right away," she continued.
"Just our idea," he told her. "Deborah will arrange it at once."
"That's good of Deborah," she replied. And after another pause: "But take her home with you—will you? I'd rather not have her here to-night."
"I think she'd better stay, my dear."
"All right." In a tone of weariness. "Madge Deering called me up to-night. She's coming in town to-morrow, and she means to stay till I go."
"I'm glad," he said approvingly. Madge had been a widow for years. Living out in Morristown with four daughters to bring up, she had determinedly fought her way and had not only regained her hold but had even grown in strength and breadth since the death of her husband long ago. "I'm glad," he said. "You and Madge—" he paused.
"Yes, we'll have a good deal in common," Edith finished out his thought. "You look tired, dad. Hadn't you better go home now?" she suggested after a moment.
"Yes," said Roger, rising. "Good-night, my child. Remember."
In the outer hallway he found Deborah with Laura. Laura had been here several times. She was getting Edith's mourning.
"There's a love of a hat at Thurn's," she was saying softly, "if only we can get her to wear it. It's just her type." And Laura drew an anxious breath. "Anything," she added, "to escape that hideous heavy crepe."
Roger slightly raised his brows. He noticed a faint delicious perfume that irritated him suddenly. But glancing again at his daughter, trim, fresh and so immaculate, the joy of life barely concealed in her eyes, he stopped and talked and smiled at her, as Deborah was doing, enjoying her beauty and her youth, her love and all her happiness. And though they spoke of her sister, she knew they were thinking of herself, and that it was quite right they should, for it gave them a little relief from their gloom. She was honestly sorry for Edith, but she was sorrier still for Bruce, who she knew had always liked her more than he would have cared to say. She was sorrier for Bruce because, while Edith had lost only her husband, Bruce had lost his very life. And life meant so much to Laura, these days, the glowing, coursing, vibrant life of her warm beautiful body. She was thinking of that as she stood in the hall.