* * * * *
In the evening, at home in his study, Roger heard a slight knock at the door. He looked up and saw John.
"May I come in, Mr. Gale, for a minute?"
"Yes, my boy." John hobbled in.
"Only a minute." His voice was embarrassed. "Just two or three things I thought of," he said. "The first was about your son-in-law. You see, I was his stenographer—and while I was in his office—this morning helping Doctor Baird—I found a good deal I can do there still—about things no one remembers but me. So I'll stay there awhile, if it's all right. Only—" he paused—"without any pay. See what I mean?"
"Yes, I see," said Roger. "And you'd better stay—in that way if you like."
"Thanks," said John. "Then about his wife and family. You're to take them up to the mountains, I hear—and—well, before this happened you asked me up this summer. But I guess I'd better not."
"I don't think you'd be in the way, my boy."
"I'd rather stay here, if you don't mind. When I'm through in your son-in-law's office I thought I might go back to yours. I could send you your mail every two or three days."
"I'd like that, John—it will be a great help."
"All right, Mr. Gale." John stopped at the door. "And Miss Deborah," he ventured. "Is she to get married just the same?"
"Oh, yes, I think so—later on."
And John went out of the room.
When would Deborah be married? It came over Roger, when he was alone, how his family had shifted its center. Deborah would have come here to live, to love and be happy, a mother perhaps, but now she must find a home of her own. In her place would come Edith with her children. All would center on her in her grief.
And for no cause! Just a trick of chance, a street accident! And Roger grew bitter and rebelled. Bruce was not the one of the family to die. Bruce, so shrewd and vigorous, so vital, the practical man of affairs. Bruce had been going the pace that kills—yes, Roger had often thought of it. But that had nothing to do with this! If Bruce had died at fifty, say, as a result of the life he had chosen, the fierce exhausting city which he had loved as a man will love drink, then at least there would have been some sense of fairness in it all! If the town had let him alone till his time! But to be knocked down by an automobile! The devilish irony of it! No reason—nothing! Just hideous luck!
Well, life was like that. As for Edith and her children, he would be glad to have them here. Only, it would be different, the house would have to change again. He was sorry, too, for Deborah. No wedding trip as she had planned, no home awaiting her return.
So his mind went over his family.
But suddenly such thoughts fell away as trivial and of small account. For these people would still be alive. And Bruce was dead, and Roger was old. So he thought about Bruce and about himself, and all his children grew remote. "You will live on in our children's lives." Was there no other immortality? The clock ticked on the mantle and beside it "The Thinker" brooded down. And Roger looked up unafraid, but grim and gravely wondering.
But there was a rugged practical side to the character of Roger Gale, and the next morning he was ashamed of the brooding thoughts which had come in the night. He shook them off as morbid, and resolutely set himself to what lay close before him. There was work to be done on Bruce's affairs, and the work was a decided relief. Madge Deering, in the meantime, had offered to go with Edith and the children to the mountains and see them all well settled there. And a little talk he had with Madge relieved his mind still further. What a recovery she had made from the tragedy of years ago. How alert and wide-awake she seemed. If Edith could only grow like that.
Soon after their departure, one night when he was dining alone, he had a curious consciousness of the mingled presence of Edith and of Judith his wife. And this feeling grew so strong that several times he looked about in a startled, questioning manner. All at once his eye was caught by an old mahogany sideboard. It was Edith's. It had been her mother's. Edith, when she married, had wanted something from her old home. Well, now it was back in the family.
The rest of Edith's furniture, he learned from Deborah that night, had been stored in the top of the house.
"Most of it," she told him, "Edith will probably want to use in fitting up the children's rooms." With a twinge of foreboding, Roger felt the approaching change in his home.
"When do you plan to be married?" he asked.
"About the end of August. We couldn't very well till then, without hurting poor Edith a little, you see. You know how she feels about such things—"
"Yes, I guess you're right," he agreed.
How everything centered 'round Edith, he thought. To pay the debts which Bruce had left would take all Roger had on hand; and from this time on his expenses, with five growing children here, would be a fast increasing drain. He would have to be careful and husband his strength, a thing he had always hated to do.
In the next few weeks, he worked hard in his office. He cut down his smoking, stayed home every evening and went to bed at ten o'clock. He tried to shut Deborah out of his mind. As for Laura, he barely gave her a thought. She dropped in one evening to bid him good-bye, for this summer again she was going abroad. She and her husband, she told him, were to motor through the Balkans and down into Italy. Her father gruffly answered that he hoped she would enjoy herself. It seemed infernally unfair that it should not be Deborah who was sailing the next morning. But when he felt himself growing annoyed, abruptly he put a check on himself. It was Edith he must think of now.
But curiously it happened, in this narrowing of his attention, that while he shut out two of his daughters, a mere outsider edged closer in.
Johnny Geer was a great help. He was back in Roger's office, and with the sharp wits he had gained in his eighteen years of fighting for a chance to stay alive, now at Roger's elbow John was watching like a hawk for all the little ways and means of pushing up the business. What a will the lad had to down bodily ills, what vim in the way he tackled each job. His shrewd and cheery companionship was a distraction and relief. John was so funny sometimes.
"Good-morning, Mr. Gale," he said, as Roger came into the office one day.
"Hello, Johnny. How are you?" Roger replied.
"Fine, thank you." And John went on with his work of opening the morning's mail. But a few minutes later he gave a cackling little laugh.
"What's so funny?" Roger asked.
"Fellers," was the answer. "Fellers. Human nature. Here's a letter from Shifty Sam."
"Who the devil is he? A friend of yours?"
"No," said John, "he's a 'con man.' He works about as mean a graft as any you ever heard of. He reads the 'ads' in the papers—see?—of servant girls who're looking for work. He makes a specialty of cooks. Then he goes to where they live and talks of some nice family that wants a servant right away. He claims to be the butler, and he's dressed to look the part. 'There ain't a minute to lose,' he says. 'If you want a chawnce, my girl, come quick.' He says 'chawnce' like a butler—see? 'Pack your things,' he tells her, 'and come right along with me.' So she packs and hustles off with him—Sam carrying her suit case. He puts her on a trolley and says, 'I guess I'll stay on the platform. I've got a bit of a headache and the air will do me good.' So he stays out there with her suit case—and as soon as the car gets into a crowd, Sam jumps and beats it with her clothes."
"I see," said Roger dryly. "But what's he writing you about?"
"Oh, it ain't me he's writing to—it's you," was John's serene reply. Roger started.
"What?" he asked.
"Well," said the boy in a cautious tone, vigilantly eyeing his chief, "you see, a lot of these fellers like Sam have been in the papers lately. They're being called a crime wave."
"Sam is up for trial this week—and half the Irish cooks in town are waiting 'round to testify. And Shifty seems to enjoy himself. His picture's in the papers—see? And he wants all the clippings. So he encloses a five dollar bill."
"He does, eh—well, you write to Sam and send his money back to him!" There was a little silence.
"But look here," said John with keen regret. "We've had quite a lot of these letters this week."
Roger wheeled and looked at him.
"John," he demanded severely, "what game have you been up to here?"
"No game at all," was the prompt retort. "Just getting a little business."
"Well, there's a club downtown," said John, "where a lot of these petty crooks hang out. I used to deliver papers there. And I went around one night this month—"
"To drum up business?"
"Yes, sir." Roger looked at him aghast.
"John," he asked, in deep reproach, "do you expect this office to feed the vanity of thieves?"
"Where's the vanity," John rejoined, "in being called a crime wave?" And seeing the sudden tremor of mirth which had appeared on Roger's face, "Look here, Mr. Gale," he went eagerly on. "When every paper in the town is telling these fellers where they belong—calling 'em crooks, degenerates, and preaching regular sermons right into their faces—why shouldn't we help 'em to read the stuff? How do we know it won't do 'em good? It's church to 'em, that's what it is—and business for this office. Nine of these guys have sent in their money just in the last week or so—"
"Look out, my boy," said Roger, with slow and solemn emphasis. "If you aren't extremely careful you'll find yourself a millionaire."
"But wait a minute, Mr. Gale—"
"Not in this office," Roger said. "Send 'em back, every one of 'em! Understand?"
"Yes, sir," was the meek reply. And with a little sigh of regret John turned his wits to other kinds and conditions of New Yorkers who might care to see themselves in print.
As they worked together day by day, Roger had occasional qualms over leaving John here in the hot town while he himself went up to the mountains. He even thought of writing to Edith that he was planning to bring John, too. But no, she wouldn't like it. So he did something else instead.
"John," he said, one morning, "I'm going to raise your salary to a hundred dollars a month." Instantly from the lad's bright eyes there shot a look of triumph.
"Thanks, Mr. Gale," was his hearty response.
"And in the meantime, Johnny, I want you to take a good solid month off."
"All right, sir, thank you," John replied. "But I guess it won't be quite a month. I don't feel as if I needed it."
The next day at the office he appeared resplendent in a brand-new suit of clothes, a summer homespun of light gray set off by a tie of flaming red. There was nothing soft about that boy. No, Johnny knew how to look out for himself.
And Roger went up to the farm.
George met him at the station, as he had done a year before. But at once Roger noticed a difference. In the short time since his father's death certain lines had come in the boy's freckled face, and they gave him a thoughtful, resolute look. George's voice was changing. One moment it was high and boyish, again a deep and manly bass. As he kept his eyes on the horses and talked about his mother, his grandfather from time to time threw curious side glances.
"Oh, yes," George was saying, "mother's all right, she's doing fine. It was pretty bad at first, though. She wouldn't let me sit up with her any—she treated me like a regular kid. But any fellow with any sense could see how she was feeling. She'd get thinking of the accident." George stopped short and clamped his jaws. "You know, my dad did a wonderful thing," he continued presently. "Even when he was dying, and mother and I were there by his bed, he remembered how she'd get thinking alone—all about the accident. You see he knew mother pretty darned well. So he told her to remember that he was the one to blame for it. If it hadn't been for him, he said, they would have gone home in the taxi. That's a pretty good point to keep in her mind. Don't you think so?" he inquired. And Roger glanced affectionately into the anxious face by his side.
"Yes," he said, "it's a mighty good point. Did you think of it?"
"Yes, sir," George replied. "I've told it to her a good many times—that and two other points I thought of."
"What are they, son?" asked Roger.
"First," the boy said awkwardly, "about how good she was to him. And second, that she let him buy the new car before he died. He had such a lot of fun out of that car—"
On the last words the lad's changing voice went from an impressive bass to a most undignified treble. He savagely scowled.
"Those three points," he continued, in more careful measured tones, "were about all I could think of. I had to use 'em over and over—on mother when things got bad, I mean." A flush of embarrassment came on his face. "And hold her and kiss her," he muttered. Then he whipped his horses. "We've had some pretty bad times this month," he continued, loud and manfully. "You see, mother isn't so young as she was. She's well on in her thirties." A glimmer of amusement appeared in Roger's heavy eyes. "But she don't cry often any more, and with you here we'll pull her through." He shot a quick look at his grandfather. "Gee, but I'm glad you're here!" he said.
"So am I," said Roger. And with a little pressure of his hand on George's shoulder, "I guess you've had about your share. Now tell me the news. How are things on the farm?"
With a breath of evident relief, the lad launched into the animal world. And soon he was talking eagerly.
* * * * *
In the next few days with his daughter Roger found that George was right. She had been through the worst of it. But she still had her reactions, her spells of emptiness, bleak despair, her moods of fierce rebellion or of sudden self-reproach for not having given Bruce more while he lived. And in such hours her father tried to comfort her with poor success.
"Remember, child, I'm with you, and I know how it feels," he said. "I went through it all myself: When your mother died—"
"But mother was so much older!" He looked at his daughter compassionately.
"How old are you?" he inquired.
"Your mother was thirty-nine," he replied. And at that Edith turned and stared at him, bewildered, shocked, brought face to face with a new and momentous fact in her life.
"Mother only my age when she died?"
"Yes," said Roger gently, "only three years older." With a twinge of pain he noticed two quite visible streaks of gray in his daughter's soft blonde hair. "And she felt as you do now—as though she were just starting out. And I felt the same way, my dear. If I'm not mistaken, everyone does. You still feel young—but the new generation is already growing up—and you can feel yourself being pushed on. And it is hard—it is very hard." Clumsily he took her hand. "Don't let yourself drop out," he said. "Be as your mother would have been if she had been left instead of me. Go straight on with your children."
To this note he could feel her respond. And at first, as he felt what a fight she was making, Roger glorified her pluck. As he watched her with her children at table, smiling at their talk with an evident effort to enter in, and again with her baby snug in her lap while she read bedtime stories to Bob and little Tad at her side, he kept noticing the resemblance between his daughter and his wife. How close were these two members of his family drawing together now, one of them living, the other dead.
But later, as the weeks wore on, she began to plan for her children. She planned precisely how to fit them all into the house in town, she planned the hours for their meals, for their going alone or with the nurse or a maid to their different private schools, to music lessons, to dancing school and uptown to the park to play. She planned their fall clothes and she planned their friends. And there came to her father occasional moods of anxiety. He remembered Bruce's grim remarks about those "simple" schools and clothes, the kind that always cost the most. And he began to realize what Bruce's existence must have been. For scarcely ever in their talks did Edith speak of anything outside of her family. Night after night, with a tensity born of her struggle with her grief, she talked about her children. And Roger was in Bruce's place, he was the one she planned with. At moments with a vague dismay he glimpsed the life ahead in his home.
George was hard at work each day down by the broken dam at the mill. He had an idea he could patch it up, put the old water-wheel back into place and make it run a dynamo, by which he could light the house and barn and run the machines in the dairy. In his new role as the man of his family, George was planning out his career. He was wrestling with a book entitled "Our New Mother Earth" and a journal called "The Modern Farm." And to Roger he confided that he meant to be a farmer. He wanted to go in the autumn to the State Agricultural College. But when one day, very cautiously, Roger spoke to Edith of this, with a hard and jealous smile which quite transformed her features, she said,
"Oh, I know all about that, father dear. It's just a stage he's going through. And it's the same way with Elizabeth, too, and her crazy idea of becoming a doctor. She took that from Allan Baird, and George took his from Deborah! They'll get over it soon enough—"
"They won't get over it!" Roger cried. "Their dreams are parts of something new! Something I'm quite vague about—but some of it has come to stay! You're losing all your chances—just as I did years ago! You'll never know your children!"
But he uttered this cry to himself alone. Outwardly he only frowned. And Edith had gone on to say,
"I do hope that Deborah won't come up this summer. She's been very good and kind, of course, and if she comes she'll be doing it entirely on my account. But I don't want her here—I want her to marry, the sooner the better, and come to her senses—be happy, I mean. And I wish you would tell her so."
Within a few days after this Deborah wrote to her father that she was coming the next week. He said nothing to Edith about it at first, he had William saddled and went for a ride to try to determine what he should do. But it was a ticklish business. For women were queer and touchy, and once more he felt the working of those uncanny family ties.
"Deborah," he reflected, "is coming up here because she feels it's selfish of her to stay away. If she marries at once, as she told me herself, she thinks Edith will be hurt. Edith won't be hurt—and if Deborah comes, there'll be trouble every minute she stays. But can I tell her so? Not at all. I can't say, 'You're not wanted here.' If I do, she'll be hurt. Oh Lord, these girls! And Deborah knows very well that if she does get married this month, with Laura abroad and Edith up here and only me at the wedding, Edith will smile to herself and say, 'Now isn't that just like Deborah?'"
As Roger slowly rode along a steep and winding mountain road, gloomily he reflected to what petty little troubles a family of women could descend, so soon after death itself. And he lifted his eyes up to the hills and decided to leave this matter alone. If women would be women, let them settle their own affairs. Deborah was due to arrive on the following Friday evening. All right, let her come, he thought. She would soon see she was in the way, and then in a little affectionate talk he would suggest that she marry right off and have a decent honeymoon before the school year opened.
So he dismissed it from his mind. And as he listened in the dusk to the numberless murmuring voices of living creatures large and small which rose out of the valley, and as from high above him the serenity of the mountains there towering over thousands of years stole into his spirit, Roger had a large quieting sense of something high and powerful looking down upon the earth, a sense of all humanity honeycombed with millions upon millions of small sorrows, absorbing joys and hopes and fears, and in spite of them all the Great Life sweeping on, with no Great Death to check its course, no immense catastrophe, all these little troubles like mere tiny specks of foam upon the surface of the tide.
Deborah's visit, the following week, was as he had expected. Within an hour after her coming he could feel the tension grow. Deborah herself was tense, both from the work she had left in New York where she was soon to have five schools, and from the thought of her marriage, only a few weeks ahead. She said nothing about it, however, until as a sisterly duty Edith tried to draw her out by showing an interest in her plans. But the cloud of Bruce's death was there, and Deborah shunned the topic. She tried to talk of the children instead. But Edith at once was on the defensive, vigilant for trouble, and as she unfolded her winter plans she grew distinctly brief and curt.
"If Deborah doesn't see it now, she's a fool," her father told himself. "I'll just wait a few days more, and then we'll have that little talk."
It had rained so hard for the past two days that no one had gone to the village, which was nearly three miles from the farm. But when the storm was over at last, George and Elizabeth tramped down and came back at dusk with a bag full of mail. Their clothes were mud-bespattered and they hurried upstairs to change before supper, while Roger settled back in his chair and spread open his New York paper. It was July 30, 1914.
From a habit grown out of thirty odd years of business life, Roger read his paper in a fashion of his own. By instinct his eye swept the page for news dealing with individual men, for it was upon people's names in print that he had made his living. And so when he looked at this strange front page it gave him a swift twinge of alarm. For the news was not of men but of nations. Austria was massing her troops along the Serbian frontier, and Germany, Italy, Russia, France and even England, all were in a turmoil, with panics in their capitals, money markets going wild.
Edith came down, in her neat black dress with its narrow white collar, ready for supper. She glanced at her father.
"Why, what's the matter?"
"Look at this." And he tossed her a paper.
"Oh-h-h," she murmured softly. "Oh, how frightful that would be." And she read on with lips compressed. But soon there came from a room upstairs the sudden cry of one of her children, followed by a shrill wail of distress. And dropping the paper, she hurried away.
Roger continued his reading.
Deborah came. She saw the paper Edith had dropped, picked it up and sat down to read, and there were a few moments of absolute silence. Then Roger heard a quivering breath, and glancing up he saw Deborah's eyes, intent and startled, moving down the columns of print in a swift, uncomprehending way.
"Pretty serious business," he growled.
"It can't happen!" she exclaimed.
And they resumed their reading.
In the next three days, as they read the news, they felt war like a whirlpool sucking in all their powers to think or feel, felt their own small personal plans whirled about like leaves in a storm. And while their minds—at first dazed and stunned by the thought of such appalling armies, battles, death and desolation—slowly cleared and they strove to think, and Roger thought of business shivered to atoms in every land, and Deborah thought of schools by thousands all over Europe closing down, in cities and in villages, in valleys and on mountain sides, of homes in panic everywhere, of all ideals of brotherhood shaken, bending, tottering—war broke out in Europe.
"What is this going to mean to me?"
Millions of people were asking that. And so did Roger and Deborah. The same night they left for New York, while Edith with a sigh of relief settled back into her family.
* * * * *
The next morning at his office Roger found John waiting with misery stamped on his face. John had paid small heed to war. Barely stopping for sleep in the last two days he had gone through scores and hundreds of papers, angrily skipping all those names of kings and emperors and czars, and searching instead for American names, names of patrons—business! Gone! Each hour he had been opening mail and piling up letters cancelling contracts, ordering service discontinued.
Roger sat down at his desk. As he worked and figured and dictated letters, glancing into the outer rooms he saw the long rows of girls at tables obviously trying to pretend that there was work for them to do. He felt them anxiously watching him—as in other offices everywhere millions of other employees kept furtively glancing at their chiefs.
"War," he thought. "Shall I close down?" He shrank from what it would mean to those girls. "Business will pick up again soon. A few days—weeks—that's all I need."
And he went to his bank. No credit there. He tried other sources, all he could think of, racking his brains as he went about town, but still he could not raise a loan. Finally he went to the firm which had once held a mortgage on his house. The chief partner had been close to Bruce, an old college friend. And when even this friend refused him aid, "It's a question of Bruce's children," Roger muttered, reddening. He felt like a beggar, but he was getting desperate. The younger man had looked away and was nervously tapping his desk with his pen.
"Bad as that, eh," he answered. "Then I guess it's got to be done." He looked anxiously up at Roger, who just at that moment appeared very old. "Don't worry, Mr. Gale," he said. "Somehow or other we'll carry you through."
"Thank you, sir." Roger rose heavily, feeling weak, and took his departure. "This is war," he told himself, "and I've got to look after my own."
But he had a sensation almost of guilt, as upon his return to his office he saw those suddenly watchful faces. He walked past them and went into his room, and again he searched for ways and means. He tried to see his business as it would be that autumn, to see the city, the nation, the world as it would be in the months ahead. Repeatedly he fought off his fears. But slowly and inexorably the sense of his helplessness grew clear.
"No, I must shut down," he thought.
* * * * *
On his way home that evening, in a crush at a turbulent corner he saw a big truck jam into a taxi, and with a throb of rebellion he thought of his son-in-law who was dead. Just the turn of a hair and Bruce might have lived and been here to look after the children! At the prospect of the crisis, the strain he saw before him, Roger again felt weak and old. He shook off his dread and strode angrily on.
In his house, the rooms downstairs were still dismantled for the summer. There was emptiness and silence but no serenity in them now, only the quiet before the storm which he could feel from far and near was gathering about his home. He heard Deborah on the floor above, and went up and found her making his bed, for the chambermaid had not yet come. Her voice was a little unnatural.
"It has been a hard day, hasn't it. I've got your bath-room ready," she said. "Don't you want a nice cool bath? Supper will be ready soon."
When, a half hour later, somewhat refreshed, Roger came down to the table, he noticed it was set for two.
"Isn't Allan coming?" he asked. Her mobile features tightened.
"Not till later," she replied.
They talked little and the meal was short. But afterwards, on the wooden porch, Deborah turned to her father,
"Now tell me about your office," she said.
"There's not enough business to pay the rent."
"That won't last—"
"I'm not so sure."
"I am," she said determinedly. Her father slowly turned his head.
"Are you, with this war?" he asked. Her eyes met his and moved away in a baffled, searching manner. "She has troubles of her own," he thought.
"How much can we run the house on, Deborah?" he asked her. At first she did not answer. "What was it—about six thousand last year?"
"I think so," she said restlessly. "We can cut down on that, of course—"
"With Edith and the children here?"
"Edith will have to manage it! There are others to be thought of!"
"The children in your schools, you mean."
"Yes," she answered with a frown. "It will be a bad year for the tenements. But please go on and tell me. What have you thought of doing?"
"Mortgage the house again," he replied. "It hasn't been easy, for money is tight, but I think I'll be able to get enough to just about carry us through the year. At home, I mean," he added.
"And the office?"
"Shut down," he said. She turned on him fiercely.
"You won't do that!"
"What else can I do?"
"Turn all those girls away?" she cried. At her tone his look grew troubled.
"How can I help myself, Deborah? If I kept open it would cost me over five hundred a week to run. Have I five hundred dollars a week to lose?"
"But I tell you it won't last!" she cried, and again the baffled, driven expression swept over her expressive face. "Can't you see this is only a panic—and keep going somehow? Can't you see what it means to the tenements? Hundreds of thousands are out of work! They're being turned off every day, every hour—employers all over are losing their heads! And City Hall is as mad as the rest! They've decided already down there to retrench!"
He turned with a quick jerk of his head:
"Are they cutting you down?" She set her teeth:
"Yes, they are. But the work in my schools is going on—every bit of it is—for every child! I'm going to find a way," she said. And he felt a thrill of compassion.
"I'm sorry to hear it," he muttered.
"You needn't be." She paused a moment, smiled and went on in a quieter voice: "Don't think I'm blind—I'm sensible—I see you can't lose five hundred a week. But why not try what other employers, quite a few, have decided to do? Call your people together, explain how it is, and ask them to choose a committee to help you find which ones need jobs the most. Keep all you can—on part time, of course—but at least pay them something, carry them through. You'll lose money by it, I haven't a doubt. But you've already found you can mortgage the house, and remember besides that I shall be here. I'm not going to marry now"—her father looked at her quickly—"and of course I'll expect to do my share toward meeting the expenses. Moreover, I know we can cut down."
"Retrench," said Roger grimly. "Turn off the servants instead of the clerks."
"No, only one of them, Martha upstairs—and she is to be married. We'll keep the cook and the waitress. Edith will have to give up her nurse—and it will be hard on her, of course—but she'll have to realize this is war," Deborah said sharply. "Besides," she urged, "it's not going to last. Business everywhere will pick up—in a few weeks or months at most. The war can't go on—it's too horribly big!" She broke off and anxiously looked at him. Her father was still frowning.
"I'm asking you to risk a good deal," she continued, her voice intense and low. "But somehow, dearie, I always feel that this old house of ours is strong. It can stand a good deal. We can all of us stand so much, as soon as we know we have to." The lines of her wide sensitive mouth tightened firmly once again. "It's all so vague and uncertain, I know. But one thing at least is sure. This is no time for people with money—no matter how little—to shut themselves up in their own little houses and let the rest starve or beg or steal. This is the time to do our share."
And she waited. But he made no reply.
"Every nation at war is doing it, dad—become like one big family—with everyone helping, doing his share. Must a nation be at war to do that? Can't we be brothers without the guns? Can't you see that we're all of us stunned, and trying to see what war will mean to all the children in the world? And while we're groping, groping, can't we give each other a hand?"
Still he sat motionless there in the dark. At last he stirred heavily in his chair.
"I guess you're right," he told her. "At least I'll think it over—and try to work out something along the lines you spoke of."
Again there was a silence. Then his daughter turned to him with a little deprecating smile.
"You'll forgive my—preaching to you, dad?"
"No preaching," he said gruffly. "Just ordinary common sense."
* * * * *
A little later Allan came in, and Roger soon left them and went to bed. Alone with Baird she was silent a moment.
"Well? Have you thought it over?" she asked. "Wasn't I right in what I said?" At the anxious ring in her low clear voice, leaning over he took her hand; and he felt it hot and trembling as it quickly closed on his. He stroked it slowly, soothingly. In the semi-darkness he seemed doubly tall and powerful.
"Yes, I'm sure you were right," he said.
"Spring at the latest—I'll marry you then—"
Her eyes were intently fixed on his.
"Come here!" she whispered sharply, and Baird bent over and held her tight. "Tighter!" she whispered. "Tighter!... There!... I said, spring at the latest! I can't lose you, Allan—now—"
She suddenly quivered as though from fatigue.
"I'm going to watch you close down there," he said in a moment, huskily.
Roger saw little of Deborah in the weeks that followed. She was gathering her forces for the long struggle she saw ahead. And his own worries filled his mind. On his house he succeeded in borrowing five thousand dollars at ten per cent, and in his office he worked out a scheme along the lines of Deborah's plan. At first it was only a struggle to save the remnants of what was left. Later the tide began to turn, new business came into the office again. But only a little, and then it stopped. Hard times were here for the winter.
Soon Edith would come with the children. He wondered how sensible she would be. It was going to mean a daily fight to make ends meet, he told himself, and guiltily he decided not to let his daughter know how matters stood in his office. Take care of your own flesh and blood, and then be generous as you please—that had always been his way. And now Deborah had upset it by her emotional appeal. "How dramatic she is at times!" he reflected in annoyance. "Just lets herself out and enjoys herself!" He grew angry at her interference, and more than once he resolved to shut down. But back in the office, before those watchful faces, still again he would put it off.
"Wait a little. We'll see," he thought.
* * * * *
In the meantime, in this interplay, these shifting lights and shadows which played upon the history of the life of Roger's home, there came to him a diversion from an unexpected source. Laura and Harold returned from abroad. Soon after landing they came to the house, and talking fast and eagerly they told how they had eluded the war.
For them it had been a glorious game. In Venice in early August, Harold had seen a chance for a big stroke of business. He had a friend who lived in Rome, an Italian close to his government. At once they had joined forces, worked day and night, pulled wires, used money judiciously here and there, and so had secured large orders for munitions from the U.S.A. Then to get back to God's country! There came the hitch, they were too late. Naples, Genoa, and Milan, all were filled with tourist mobs. They took a train for Paris, and reaching the city just a week before the end of the German drive they found it worse than Italy. But there Hal had a special pull—and by the use of those wits of his, not to be downed by refusals, he got passage at last for Laura, himself and his new Italian partner. At midnight, making their way across the panic-stricken city, and at the station struggling through a wild and half crazed multitude of men and women and children, they boarded a train and went rushing westward right along the edge of the storm. To the north the Germans were so close that Laura was sure she could hear the big guns. The train kept stopping to take on troops. At dawn some twenty wounded men came crowding into their very car, bloody and dirty, pale and worn, but gaily smiling at the pain, and saying, "Ca n'fait rien, madame." Later Harold opened his flask for some splendid Breton soldier boys just going into action. And they stood up with flashing eyes and shouted out the Marseillaise, while Laura shivered and thrilled with delight.
"I nearly kissed them all!" she cried.
Roger greatly enjoyed the evening. He had heard so much of the horrors of war. Here was something different, something bright and vibrant with youth and adventure! Here at last was the thrill of war, the part he had always read about!
He glanced now and then at Deborah and was annoyed by what he saw. For although she said nothing and forced a smile, he could easily tell by the set of her lips that Deborah thoroughly disapproved. All right, that was her way, he thought. But this was Laura's way, shedding the gloom and the tragic side as a duck will shed water off its back, a duck with bright new plumage fresh from the shops of the Rue de la Paix and taking some pleasure out of life! What an ardent gleaming beauty she was, he thought as he watched this daughter of his. And underneath his enjoyment, too, though Roger would not have admitted it, was a sense of relief in the news that at least one man in the family was growing rich instead of poor. Already Hal and his partner—a fascinating creature according to Laura's description—were fast equipping shrapnel mills. Plainly they expected a tremendous rush of business. And no matter how you felt about war, the word "profits" at least had a pleasant sound.
"How has the war hit you, sir?" Harold asked his father-in-law.
"Oh, so-so, I'll get on, my boy," was Roger's quiet answer. For Harold was not quite the kind he would ever like to ask for aid. Still, if the worst came to the worst, he would have someone to turn to.
* * * * *
Long after they had left the house, he kept thinking over all they had said. What an amazing time they had had, the two young scalawags.
Deborah was still in the room. As she sat working at her desk, her back was turned and she did not speak. But little by little her father's mood changed. Of course she was right, he admitted. For now they were gone, the spell they had cast was losing a part of its glamor. Yes, their talk had been pretty raw. Sheer unthinking selfishness, a bold rush for plunder and a dash to get away, trampling over people half crazed, women and children in panicky crowds, and leaving behind them, so to speak, Laura's joyous rippling laugh over their own success in the game. Yes, there was no denying the fact that Hal was rushing headlong into a savage dangerous game, a scramble and a gamble, with adventurers from all over Europe gathering here and making a little world of their own. He would work and live at a feverish pitch, and Laura would go it as hard as he. Roger thought he could see their winter ahead. How they would pile up money and spend!
All at once, as though some figure silent and invisible were standing close beside him, from far back in his childhood a memory flashed into his mind of a keen and clear October night, when Roger, a little shaver of nine, had stood with his mother in front of the farmhouse and listened to the faint sharp roll of a single drum far down in the valley. And his mother's grip had hurt his hand, and a lump had risen in his throat—as Dan, his oldest brother, had marched away with his company of New Hampshire mountain boys. "We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more." Dan had been killed at Shiloh.
And it must be like that now in France. No, he did not like the look which he had seen on Laura's face as she had talked about the war and the fat profits to be made. Was this all we Yankees had to say to the people over in Europe?
Frowning and glancing at Deborah's back, he saw that she was tired. It was nearly midnight, but still she kept working doggedly on, moving her shoulder muscles at times as though to shake off aches and pains, then bending again to her labor, her fight against such heavy odds in the winter just beginning for those children in the tenements. He recalled a fragment of the appeal she had made to him only the month before:
"Can't you see that we're all of us stunned, and trying to see what war will mean to all the children in the world? And while we're groping, groping, can't we give each other a hand?"
And as he looked at his daughter, she made him think of her grandmother, as she had so often done before. For Deborah, too, was a pioneer. She, too, had lived in the wilderness. Clearing roads through jungles? Yes. And freeing slaves of ignorance and building a nation of new men. And now she was doggedly fighting to save what she had builded—not from the raids of the Indians but from the ravages of this war which was sweeping civilization aside. With her school behind her, so to speak, she stood facing this great enemy with stern and angry, steady eyes. Her pioneer grandmother come to life.
So, with the deep craving which was a part of his inmost self, Roger tried to bind together what was old and what was new. But his thoughts grew vague and drifting. He realized how weary he was, and said good-night and went to bed. There, just before he fell asleep, again he had a feeling of relief at the knowledge that one at least in the family was to be rich this year. With a guilty sensation he shook off the thought, and within a few moments after that his harsh regular breathing was heard in the room.
It was only a few days later that Edith arrived with her children.
Roger met her at the train at eight o'clock in the evening. The fast mountain express of the summer had been taken off some time before, so Edith had had to be up at dawn and to change cars several times on the trip. "She'll be worn out," he thought as he waited. The train was late. As he walked about the new station, that monstrous sparkling hive of travel with its huge halls and passageways, its little village of shops underground and its bewildering levels for trains, he remembered the interest Bruce had shown in watching this immense puzzle worked out, the day and night labor year after year without the stopping of a train, this mighty symbol of the times, of all the glorious power and speed in an age that had been as the breath to his nostrils. How Bruce had loved the city! As Roger paced slowly back and forth with his hands clasped behind his back, there came over his heavy visage a look of affection and regret which made even New Yorkers glance at him as they went nervously bustling by. From time to time he smiled to himself. "The Catskills will be Central Park! All this city needs is speed!"
But suddenly he remembered that Bruce had always been here before to meet his wife and children, and that Edith on her approaching train must be dreading her arrival. And when at last the train rolled in, and he spied her shapely little head in the on-coming throng of travellers, Roger saw by her set steady smile and the strained expression on her face that he had guessed right. With a quick surge of compassion he pressed forward, kissed her awkwardly, squeezed her arm, then hastily greeted the children and hurried away to see to the trunks. That much of it was over. And to his relief, when they reached the house, Edith busied herself at once in helping the nurse put the children to bed. Later he came up and told her that he had had a light supper prepared.
"Thank you, dear," she answered, "it was so thoughtful in you. But I'm too tired to eat anything." And then with a little assuring smile, "I'll be all right—I'm going to bed."
"Good-night, child, get a fine long sleep."
And Roger went down to his study, feeling they had made a good start.
* * * * *
"What has become of Martha?" Edith asked her father at breakfast the next morning.
"She left last month to be married," he said.
"And Deborah hasn't replaced her yet?" In her voice was such a readiness for hostility toward her sister, that Roger shot an uneasy glance from under his thick grayish brows.
"Has Deborah left the house?" he asked, to gain time for his answer. Edith's small lip slightly curled.
"Oh, yes, long ago," she replied. "She had just a moment to see the children and then she had to be off to school—to her office, I mean. With so many schools on her hands these days, I don't wonder she hasn't had time for the servants."
"No, no, you're mistaken," he said. "That isn't the trouble, it's not her fault. In fact it was all my idea."
"Your idea," she retorted, in an amused affectionate tone. And Roger grimly gathered himself. It would he extremely difficult breaking his unpleasant news.
"Yes," he answered. "You see this damnable war abroad has hit me in my business."
"Oh, father! How?" she asked him. In an instant she was all alert. "You don't mean seriously?" she said.
"Yes, I do," he answered, and he began to tell her why. But she soon grew impatient. Business details meant nothing to Edith. "I see," she kept saying, "yes, yes, I see." She wanted him to come to the point.
"So I've had to mortgage the house," he concluded. "And for very little money, my dear. And a good deal of that—" he cleared his throat—"had to go back into the business."
"I see," said Edith mechanically. Her mind was already far away, roving over her plans for the children. For in Roger's look of suspense she plainly read that other plans had been made for them in her absence. "Deborah's in this!" flashed through her mind. "Tell me what it will mean," she said.
"I'm afraid you'll have to try to do without your nurse for a while."
"Let Hannah go? Oh, father!" And Edith flushed with quick dismay. "How can I, dad? Five children—five! And two of them so little they can't even dress themselves alone! And there are all their meals—their baths—and the older ones going uptown to school! I can't let them go way uptown on the 'bus or the trolley without a maid—"
"But, Edith!" he interrupted, his face contracting with distress. "Don't you see that they can't go to school?" She turned on him. "Uptown, I mean, to those expensive private schools."
"Father!" she demanded. "Do you mean you want my children to go to common public schools?" There was rage and amazement upon her pretty countenance, and with it an instant certainty too. Yes, this was Deborah's planning! But Roger thought that Edith's look was all directed at himself. And for the first time in his life he felt the shame and humility of the male provider no longer able to provide. He reddened and looked down at his plate.
"You don't understand," he said. "I'm strapped, my child—I can't help it—I'm poor."
"Oh. Oh, dad. I'm sorry." He glanced up at his daughter and saw tears welling in her eyes. How utterly miserable both of them were.
"It's the war," he said harshly and proudly. This made a difference to his pride, but not to his daughter's anxiety. She was not interested in the war, or in any other cause of the abyss she was facing. She strove to think clearly what to do. But no, she must do her thinking alone. With a sudden quiet she rose from the table, went around to her father's chair and kissed him very gently.
"All right, dear—I see it all now—and I promise I'll try my best," she said.
"You're a brave little woman," he replied.
But after she had gone, he reflected. Why had he called her a brave little woman? Why had it all been so intense, the talk upon so heroic a plane? It would be hard on Edith, of course; but others were doing it, weren't they? Think of the women in Europe these days! After all, she'd be very comfortable here, and perhaps by Christmas times would change.
He shook off these petty troubles and went to his office for the day.
* * * * *
As she busied herself unpacking the trunks, Edith strove to readjust her plans. By noon her head was throbbing, but she took little notice of that. She had a talk with Hannah, the devoted Irish girl who had been with her ever since George was born. It was difficult, it was brutal. It was almost as though in Edith's family there had been two mothers, and one was sending the other away.
"There, there, poor child," Edith comforted her, "I'll find you another nice family soon where you can stay till I take you back. Don't you see it will not be for long?" And Hannah brightened a little.
"But how in the wide wurrld," she asked, "will you ever do for the children, me gone?"
"Oh, I'll manage," said Edith cheerfully. And that afternoon she began at once to rearrange her whole intricate schedule, with Hannah and school both omitted, to fit her children into the house. But instead of this, as the days wore on, nerve-racking days of worry and toil, sternly and quite unconsciously she fitted the house to her children. And nobody made her aware of the fact. All summer long in the mountains, everyone by tacit consent had made way for her, had deferred to her grief in the little things that make up the everyday life in a home. And to this precedent once established Edith now clung unawares.
Her new day gave her small time to think. It began at five in the morning, when Roger was awakened by the gleeful cries of the two wee boys who slept with their mother in the next room, the room which had been Deborah's. And Edith was busy from that time on. First came the washing and dressing and breakfast, which was a merry, boisterous meal. Then the baby was taken out to his carriage on the porch at the back of the house. And after that, in her father's study from which he had fled with his morning cigar, for two hours Edith held school for her children, trying her best to be patient and clear, with text-books she had purchased from their former schools uptown. For two severe hours, shutting the world all out of her head, she tried to teach them about it. At eleven, their nerves on edge like her own, she sent them outdoors "to play," intrusting the small ones to Betsy and George, who took them to Washington Square nearby with strict injunctions to keep them away from all other children. No doubt there were "nice" children there, but she herself could not be along to distinguish the "nice" from the "common"—for until one o'clock she was busy at home, bathing the baby and making the beds, and then hurrying to the kitchen to pasteurize the baby's milk and keep a vigilant oversight on the cooking of the midday meal. And the old cook's growing resentment made it far from easy.
After luncheon, thank heaven, came their naps. And all afternoon, while again they went out, Edith would look over their wardrobes, mend and alter and patch and contrive how to make last winter's clothes look new. At times she would drop her work in her lap and stare wretchedly before her. This was what she had never known; this was what made life around her grim and hard, relentless, frightening; this was what it was to be poor. How it changed the whole city of New York. Behind it, the sinister cause of it all, she thought confusedly now and then of the Great Death across the sea, of the armies, smoking battle-fields, the shrieks of the dying, the villages blazing, the women and children flying away. But never for more than a moment. The war was so remote and dim. And soon she would turn back again to her own beloved children, whose lives, so full of happiness, so rich in promise hitherto, were now so cramped and thwarted. Each day was harder than the last. It was becoming unbearable!
No, they must go back to school. But how to manage it? How? How? It would cost eight hundred dollars, and this would take nearly all the money she would be able to secure by the sale of her few possessions. And then what? What of sickness, and the other contingencies which still lay ahead of her? How old her father seemed, these days! In his heavy shock of hair the flecks of white had doubled in size, were merging one into the other, and his tall, stooping, massive frame had lost its look of ruggedness. Suppose, suppose.... Her breath came fast. Was his life insured, she wondered.
On such afternoons, in the upstairs room as the dusk crept in and deepened, she would bend close to her sewing—planning, planning, planning. At last she would hear the children trooping merrily into the house. And making a very real effort, which at times was in truth heroic, to smile, she would rise and light the gas, would welcome them gaily and join in their chatter and bustle about on the countless tasks of washing them, getting their suppers, undressing the small ones and hearing their prayers. With smiling good-night kisses she would tuck her two babies into their cribs. Afterward, just for a moment or two, she would linger under the gas jet, her face still smiling, for a last look. A last good-night. Then darkness.
Darkness settling over her spirit, together with loneliness and fatigue. She would go into Betsy's room and throw herself dressed on her daughter's bed, and a dull complete indifference to everything under the moon and the stars would creep from her body up into her mind. At times she would try to fight it off. To-night at dinner she must not be what she knew she had been the night before, a wet blanket upon all the talk. But if they only knew how hard it was—what a perfect—hell it was! Her breath coming faster, she would dig her nails into the palms of her hands. One night she noticed and looked at her hand, and saw the skin was actually cut and a little blood was appearing. She had read of women doing this, but she had never done it before—not even when her babies were born. She had gripped Bruce's hand instead.
Roger found her like that one evening. He heard what he thought was a sob from the room, for she had forgotten to close the door. He came into the doorway but drew back, and closed the door with barely a sound. Frowning and irresolute, he stood for a moment in the hall, then turned and went into his room. Soon he heard Deborah enter the house and come slowly up the stairs. She too had had a hard day, he recalled, a day all filled with turbulence, with problems and with vexing toil, in her enormous family. And he felt he could not blame her for not being of more help at home. Still, he had been disappointed of late in her manner toward her sister. He had hoped she would draw closer to Edith, now that again they were living together in their old home where they had been born. But no, it had worked just the opposite way. They were getting upon each other's nerves. Why couldn't she make overtures, small kindly proffers of help and advice and sympathy, the womanly things?
From his room he heard her knock softly at the same door he had closed. And he heard her low clear voice:
"Are you there, Edith dear?" He listened a moment intently, but he could not hear the reply. Then Deborah said, "Oh, you poor thing. I'm awfully sorry. Edith—don't bother to come downstairs—let me bring you up your supper." A pause. "I wish you would. I'd love to."
He heard Deborah come by his door and go up the second flight of stairs to the room she had taken on the third floor.
"I was wrong," he reflected, "she has been trying—but it doesn't do any good. Women simply haven't it in 'em to see each other's point of view. Deborah doesn't admire Edith—she can't, she only pities her and puts her down as out of date. And Edith feels that, and it gets her riled, and she sets herself like an angry old hen against all Deborah's new ideas. Why the devil can't they live and let live?"
And he hesitated savagely between a pearl gray and a black cravat. Then he heard another step on the stairs. It was much slower than Deborah's, and cautious and dogged, one foot lifted carefully after the other. It was John, who had finished his kitchen supper and was silently making his way up through the house to his room at the top, there to keep out of sight for the evening. And it came into Roger's mind that John had been acting in just this fashion ever since Edith had been in the house.
"We'll have trouble there, too!" he told himself, as he jerked the black satin cravat into place, a tie he thoroughly disliked. Yes, black, by George, he felt like it to-night! These women! These evenings! This worry! This war! This world gone raving, driveling mad!
And frowning with annoyance, Roger went down to his dinner.
As he waited he grew impatient. He had eaten no lunch, he was hungry; and he was very tired, too, for he had had his own hard day. Pshaw! He got up angrily. Somebody must be genial here. He went into the dining room and poured himself a good stiff drink. Roger had never been much of a drinker. Ever since his marriage, cigars had been his only vice. But of late he had been having curious little sinking spells. They worried him, and he told himself he could not afford to get either too tired or too faint.
Nevertheless, he reflected, it was setting a bad example for George. But glancing into his study he saw that the lad was completely absorbed. With knees drawn up, his long lank form all hunched and huddled on the lounge, hair rumpled, George was reading a book which had a cover of tough gray cloth. At the sight of it his grandfather smiled, for he had seen it once before. Where George had obtained it, the Lord only knew. Its title was "Bulls and Breeding." A thoroughly practical little book, but nothing for George's mother to see. As his grandfather entered behind him, the boy looked up with a guilty start, and resumed with a short breath of relief.
Young Elizabeth, too, had a furtive air, for instead of preparing her history lesson she was deep in the evening paper reading about the war abroad. Stout and florid, rather plain, but with a frank, attractive face and honest, clear, appealing eyes, this curious creature of thirteen was sitting firmly in her chair with her feet planted wide apart, eagerly scanning an account of the work of American surgeons in France. And again Roger smiled to himself. (He was feeling so much better now.) So Betsy was still thinking of becoming a surgeon. He wondered what she would take up next. In the past two years in swift succession she had made up her mind to be a novelist, an actress and a women's college president. And Roger liked this tremendously.
He loved to watch these two in the house. Here again his family was widening out before him, with new figures arising to draw his attention this way and that. But these were bright distractions. He took a deep, amused delight in watching these two youngsters caught between two fires, on the one side their mother and upon the other their aunt; both obviously drawn toward Deborah, a figure who stood in their regard for all that thrilling outside world, that heaving sparkling ocean on which they too would soon embark; both sternly repressing their eagerness as an insult to their mother, whom they loved and pitied so, regarding her as a brave and dear but rapidly ageing creature "well on in her thirties," whom they must cherish and preserve. They both had such solemn thoughts as they looked at Edith in her chair. But as Roger watched them, with their love and their solemnity, their guilt and their perplexity, with quiet enjoyment he would wait to see the change he knew would come. And it always did. The sudden picking up of a book, the vanishing of an anxious frown, and in an instant their young minds had turned happily back into themselves, into their own engrossing lives, their plans, their intimate dreams and ambitions, all so curiously bound up with memories of small happenings which had struck them as funny that day and at which they would suddenly chuckle aloud.
And this was only one stage in their growth. What would be the next, he asked, and all the others after that? What kind of world would they live in? Please heaven, there would be no wars. Many old things, no doubt, would be changed, by the work of Deborah and her kind—but not too many, Roger hoped. And these young people, meanwhile, would be bringing up children in their turn. So the family would go on, and multiply and scatter wide, never to unite again. And he thought he could catch glimpses, very small and far away but bright as patches of sunlight upon distant mountain tops, into the widening vista of those many lives ahead. A wistful look crept over his face.
"In their lives too we shall be there, the dim strong figures of the past."
* * * * *
Deborah came into the room, and at once the whole atmosphere changed. Her niece sprang up delightedly.
"Why, Auntie, how lovely you look!" she exclaimed. And Roger eyed Deborah in surprise. Though she did not believe in mourning, she had been wearing dark gowns of late to avoid hurting Edith's feelings. But to-night she had donned bright colors instead; her dress was as near decollete as anything that Deborah wore, and there was a band of dull blue velvet bound about her hair.
"Thanks, dearie," she said, smiling. "Shall we go in to dinner now?" she added to her father. "Edith said not to wait for her—and I'll have to be off rather early this evening."
"What is it to-night?" he inquired.
"A big meeting at Cooper Union."
And at dinner she went on to say that in her five schools the neighborhood clubs had combined to hold this meeting, and she herself was to preside. At once her young niece was all animation.
"Oh, I wish I could go and hear you!" she sighed.
"Afraid you can't, Betsy," her aunt replied. And at this, with an instinctive glance toward the door where her mother would soon come in to stop by her mere presence all such conversation, Elizabeth eagerly threw out one inquiry after the other, pell mell.
"How on earth do you do it?" she wanted to know. "How do you get a speech ready, Aunt Deborah—how much of it do you write out ahead? Aren't you just the least bit nervous—now, I mean—this minute? And how will you feel on the platform? What on earth do you do with your feet?"
As the girl bent forward there with her gaze fixed ardently on her aunt, her grandfather thought in half comic dismay, "Lord, now she'll want to be a great speaker—like her aunt. And she will tell her mother so!"
"What's the meeting all about?" he inquired. And Deborah began to explain.
In her five schools the poverty was rapidly becoming worse. Each week more children stayed away or came to school ragged and unkempt, some without any overcoats, small pitiful mites wearing shoes so old as barely to stick on their feet. And when the teachers and visitors followed these children into their homes they found bare, dirty, chilly rooms where the little folk shivered and wailed for food and the mothers looked distracted, gaunt and sullen and half crazed. Over three hundred thousand workers were idle in the city. Meanwhile, to make matters worse, half the money from uptown which had gone in former years into work for the tenements was going over to Belgium instead. And the same relentless drain of war was felt by the tenement people themselves; for all of them were foreigners, and from their relatives abroad, in those wide zones of Europe already blackened and laid waste, in endless torrents through the mails came wild appeals for money.
In such homes her children lived. And Deborah had set her mind on vigorous measures of relief. Landlords must be made to wait and the city be persuaded to give work to the most needy, food and fuel must be secured. As she spoke of the task before her, with a flush of animation upon her bright expressive face at the thought that in less than an hour she would be facing thousands of people, the gloom of the picture she painted was dispelled in the spirit she showed.
"These things always work out," she declared, with an impatient shrug of her shoulders. And watching her admiringly, young Betsy thought, "How strong she is! What a wonderful grown-up woman!" And Roger watching thought, "How young."
* * * * *
"What things?" It was Edith's voice at the door, and among those at the table there was a little stir of alarm. She had entered unnoticed and now took her seat. She was looking pale and tired. "What things work out so finely?" she asked, and with a glance at Deborah's gown,
"Where are you going?" she added.
"To a meeting," Deborah answered.
"Oh." And Edith began her soup. In the awkward pause that followed, twice Deborah started to speak to her sister, but checked herself, for at other dinners just like this she had made such dismal failures.
"By the way, Edith," she said, at last, "I've been thinking of all that furniture of yours which is lying in storage." Her sister looked up at her, startled.
"What about it?" she asked.
"There's so much of it you don't care for," Deborah answered quietly. "Why don't you let a part of it go? I mean the few pieces you've always disliked."
"For what purpose?"
"Why, it seems such a pity not to have Hannah back in the house. She would make things so much easier." Roger felt a glow of relief.
"A capital plan!" he declared at once.
"It would be," Edith corrected him, "if I hadn't already made other plans." And then in a brisk, breathless tone, "You see I've made up my mind," she said, "to sell not only part but all my furniture—very soon—and a few other belongings as well—and use the money to put George and Elizabeth and little Bob back in the schools where they belong."
"Mother!" gasped Elizabeth, and with a prolonged "Oh-h" of delight she ran around to her mother's chair.
"But look here," George blurted worriedly, "I don't like it, mother, darned if I do! You're selling everything—just for school!"
"School is rather important, George," was Edith's tart rejoinder. "If you don't think so, ask your aunt." "What do you think of it, Auntie?" he asked. The cloud which had come on Deborah's face was lifted in an instant.
"I think, George," she answered gently, "that you'd better let your mother do what she thinks best for you. It will make things easier here in the house," she added, to her sister, "but I wish you could have Hannah, too."
"Oh, I'll manage nicely now," said Edith. And with a slight smile of triumph she resumed her dinner.
"The war won't last forever," muttered Roger uneasily. And to himself: "But suppose it should last—a year or more." He did not approve of Edith's scheme. "It's burning her bridges all at once, for something that isn't essential," he thought. But he would not tell her so.
Meanwhile Deborah glanced at the clock.
"Oh! It's nearly eight o'clock! I must hurry or I'll be late," she said. "Good-night, all—"
And she left them.
Roger followed her into the hall.
"What do you think of this?" he demanded. Her reply was a tolerant shrug.
"It's her own money, father—"
"All her money!" he rejoined. "Every dollar she has in the world!"
"But I don't just see how it can be helped."
"Can't you talk to her, show her what folly it is?"
"Hardly," said Deborah, smiling. Already she had on her coat and hat and was turning to go. And her father scowled with annoyance. She was always going, he told himself, leaving him to handle her sister alone. He would like to go out himself in the evenings—yes, by George, this very night—it would act like a tonic on his mind. Just for a moment, standing there, he saw Cooper Union packed to the doors, he heard the ringing speeches, the cheers. But no, it was not to be thought of. With this silent war going on in his house he knew he must stay neutral. Watchful waiting was his course. If he went out with Deborah, Edith would be distinctly hurt, and sitting all evening here alone she would draw still deeper into herself. And so it would be night after night, as it had been for many weeks. He would be cooped up at home while Deborah did the running about.... In half the time it takes to tell it, Roger had worked himself into a state where he felt like a mighty badly used man.
"I wish you would speak to her," he said. "I wish you could manage to find time to be here more in the evenings. Edith worries so much and she's trying so hard. A little sympathy now and then—"
"But she doesn't seem to want any from me," said his daughter, a bit impatiently. "I know it's hard—of course it is. But what can I do? She won't let me help. And besides—there are other families, you know—thousands—really suffering—for the lack of all that we have here." She smiled and kissed him quickly. "Good-night, dad dear, I've got to run."
And the door closed behind her.
After dinner that night, in the living room the two older children studied their lessons and Edith sat mending a pair of rompers for little Tad. Presently Roger came out from his den with the evening paper in his hand and sat down close beside her. He did this conscientiously almost every evening. With a sigh he opened his paper to read, again there was silence in the room, and in this silence Roger's mind roamed far away across the sea.
For the front page of his paper was filled with the usual headlines, tidings which a year before would have made a man's heart jump into his throat, but which were getting commonplace now. Dead and wounded by the thousands, famine, bombs and shrapnel, hideous atrocities, submarines and floating mines, words once remote but now familiar, always there on the front page and penetrating into his soul, becoming a part of Roger Gale, so that never again when the war was done would he be the same man he was before. For he had forever lost his faith in the sanity and steadiness of the great mind of humanity. Roger had thought of mankind as mature, but there had come to him of late the same feeling he had had before in the bosom of his family. Mankind had suddenly unmasked and shown itself for what it was—still only a precocious child, with a terrible precocity. For its growth had been one sided. Its strength was growing at a speed breathless and astounding. But its vision and its poise, its sense of human justice, of kindliness and tolerance and of generous brotherly love, these had been neglected and were being left behind. Vaguely he thought of its ships of steel, its railroads and its flaming mills, its miracles, its prodigies. And the picture rose in his mind of a child, standing there of giant's size with dangerous playthings in its hands, and boastfully declaring,
"I can thunder over the earth, dive in the ocean, soar on the clouds! I can shiver to atoms a mountain, I can drench whole lands with blood! I can look up and laugh at God!"
And Roger frowned as he read the news. What strange new century lay ahead? What convulsing throes of change? What was in store for his children? Tighter set his heavy jaw.
"It shall be good," he told himself with a grim determination. "For them there shall be better things. Something great and splendid shall come out of it at last. They will look back upon this time as I look on the French Revolution."
He tried to peer into that world ahead, dazzling, distant as the sun. But then with a sigh he returned to the news, and little by little his mind again was gripped and held by the most compelling of all appeals so far revealed in humanity's growth, the appeal of war to the mind of a man. He frowned as he read, but he read on. Why didn't England send over more men?
The clock struck nine.
"Now, George. Now, Elizabeth," Edith said. With the usual delay and reluctance the children brought their work to an end, kissed their mother and went up to bed. And Edith continued sewing. Presently she smiled to herself. Little Tad had been so droll that day.
On the third page of his paper, Roger's glance was arrested by a full column story concerning Deborah's meeting that night. And as in a long interview he read here in the public print the same things she had told him at supper, he felt a little glow of pride. Yes, this daughter of his was a wonderful woman, living a big useful life, taking a leading part in work which would certainly brighten the lives of millions of children still unborn. Again he felt the tonic of it. Here was a glimmer of hope in the world, here was an antidote to war. He finished the column and glanced up.
Edith was still sewing. He thought of her plan to sell all she possessed in order to put her children back in their expensive schools uptown.
"Why can't she save her money?" he thought. "God knows there's little enough of it left. But I can't tell her that. If I do she'll sell everything, hand me the cash and tell me she's sorry to be such a burden. She'll sit like a thundercloud in my house."
No, he could say nothing to stop her. And over the top of his paper her father shot a look at her of keen exasperation. Why risk everything she had to get these needless frills and fads? Why must she cram her life so full of petty plans and worries and titty-tatty little jobs? For the Lord's sake, leave their clothes alone! And why these careful little rules for every minute of their day, for their washing, their dressing, their eating, their napping, their play and the very air they breathed! He crumpled his paper impatiently. She was always talking of being old-fashioned. Well then, why not be that way? Let her live as her grandmother had, up there in the mountain farmhouse. She had not been so particular. With one hired girl she had thought herself lucky. And not only had she cooked and sewed, but she had spun and woven too, had churned and made cheese and pickles and jam and quilts and even mattresses. Once in two months she had cut Roger's hair, and the rest of the time she had let him alone, except for something really worth while—a broken arm, for example, or church. She had stuck to the essentials!... But Edith was not old-fashioned, nor was she alive to this modern age. In short, she was neither here nor there!
Then from the nursery above, her smallest boy was heard to cry. With a little sigh of weariness, quickly she rose and went upstairs, and a few moments later to Roger's ears came a low, sweet, soothing lullaby. Years ago Edith had asked him to teach her some of his mother's cradle songs. And the one which she was singing to-night was a song he had heard when he was small, when the mountain storms had shrieked and beat upon the rattling old house and he had been frightened and had cried out and his mother had come to his bed in the dark. He felt as though she were near him now. And as he listened to the song, from the deep well of sentiment which was a part of Roger Gale rose memories that changed his mood, and with it his sense of proportions.
Here was motherhood of the genuine kind, not orating in Cooper Union in the name of every child in New York, but crooning low and tenderly, soothing one little child to sleep, one of the five she herself had borne, in agony, without complaint. How Edith had slaved and sacrificed, how bravely she had rallied after the death of her husband. He remembered her a few hours ago on the bed upstairs, spent and in anguish, sobbing, alone. And remorse came over him. Deborah's talk at dinner had twisted his thinking, he told himself. Well, that was Deborah's way of life. She had her enormous family and Edith had her small one, and in this hell of misery which war was spreading over the earth each mother was up in arms for her brood. And, by George, of the two he didn't know but that he preferred his own flesh and blood. All very noble, Miss Deborah, and very dramatic, to open your arms to all the children under the moon and get your name in the papers. But there was something pretty fine in just sitting at home and singing to one.
"All right, little mother, you go straight ahead. This is war and panic and hard times. You're perfectly right to look after your own."
He would show Edith he did not begrudge her this use of her small property. And more than that, he would do what he could to take her out of her loneliness. How about reading aloud to her? He had been a capital reader, during Judith's lifetime, for he had always enjoyed it so. Roger rose and went to his shelves and began to look over the volumes there. Perhaps a book of travel.... Stoddard's "Lectures on Japan."
Meanwhile Edith came into the room, sat down and took up her sewing. As she did so he turned and glanced at her, and she smiled brightly back at him. Yes, he thought with a genial glow, from this night on he would do his part. He came back to his chair with a book in his hand, prepared to start on his new course.
"Father," she said quietly. Her eyes were on the work in her lap.
"Yes, my child, what is it?"
"It's about John," she answered. And with a movement of alarm he looked at his daughter intently.
"What's the matter with John?" he inquired.
"He has tuberculosis," she said.
"He has no such thing!" her father retorted. "John has Pott's Disease of the spine!"
"Yes, I know he has," she replied. "And I'm sorry for him, poor lad. But in the last year," she added, "certain complications have come. And now he's tubercular as well."
"How do you know? He doesn't cough—his lungs are sound as yours or mine!"
"No, it's—" Edith pursed her lips. "It's different," she said softly.
"Who told you?" he demanded.
"Not Deborah," was the quick response. "She knew it, I'm certain, for I find that she's been having Mrs. Neale, the woman who comes in to wash, do John's things in a separate tub. I found her doing it yesterday, and she told me what Deborah had said."
"It's the first I'd heard of it," Roger put in.
"I know it is," she answered. "For if you'd heard of it before, I don't believe you'd have been as ready as Deborah was, apparently, to risk infecting the children here." Edith's voice was gentle, slow and relentless. There was still a reflection in her eyes of the tenderness which had been there as she had soothed her child to sleep. "As time goes on, John is bound to get worse. The risk will be greater every week."
"Oh, pshaw!" cried her father. "No such thing! You're just scaring yourself over nothing at all!"
"Doctor Lake didn't think I was." Lake was the big child specialist in whose care Edith's children had been for years. "I talked to him to-day on the telephone, and he said we should get John out of the house."
Roger heartily damned Doctor Lake!
"It's easy to find a good home for the boy," Edith went on quietly, "close by, if you like—in some respectable family that will be only too thankful to take in a boarder."
"How about the danger to that family's children?" Roger asked malignantly.
"Very well, father, do as you please. Take any risk you want to."
"I'm taking no risk," he retorted. "If there were any risk they would have told me—Allan and Deborah would, I mean."
"They wouldn't!" burst from Edith with a vehemence which startled him. "They'd take the same risk for my children they would for any street urchin in town! All children are the same in their eyes—and if you feel as they do—"
"I don't feel as they do!"
"Don't you? Then I'm telling you that Doctor Lake said there was very serious risk—every day this boy remains in the house!" Roger rose angrily from his chair:
"So you want me to turn him out! To-night!"
"No, I want you to wait a few days—until we can find him a decent home."
"All right, I won't do it!"
"Very well, father—it's your house, not mine."
For a few moments longer she sat at her sewing, while her father walked the floor. Then abruptly she rose, her eyes brimming with tears, and left the room. And he heard a sob as she went upstairs.
"Now she'll shut herself up with her children," he reflected savagely, "and hold the fort till I come to terms!" Rather than risk a hair on their heads, Edith would turn the whole world out of doors! He thought of Deborah and he groaned. She would have to be told of this; and when she was, what a row there would be! For Johnny was one of her family. He glanced at the clock. She'd be coming home soon. Should he tell her? Not to-night! Just for one evening he'd had enough!
He picked up the book he had meant to read—Stoddard's "Lectures on Japan." And Roger snorted wrathfully. By George, how he'd like to go to Japan—or to darkest Africa! Anywhere!
But later in the evening, when Allan and Deborah came in, Roger, who in the meantime had had a good hour in Japan and was somewhat relaxed and soothed, decided at once this was the time to tell her and have done with it. For Deborah was flushed with triumph, the meeting had been a huge success. Cooper Union had been packed to the walls, with an overflow meeting out on the street; thousands of dollars had been pledged and some big politicians had promised support; and men and women, rich and poor, had volunteered their services. She started to tell him about it, but noticed his troubled expression and asked him what was on his mind.
"Oh, nothing tremendous," Roger said. "I hate to be any damper to-night. I hadn't meant to tell you to-night—but I think I will now, for you look as though you could find a solution for anything."
"Then I must look like an idiot," his daughter said good-humoredly. "What is it?" she demanded.
"It's about John." Her countenance changed.
"Oh. Is he worse?"
"Edith thinks he is—and she says it's not safe."
"I see—she wants him out of the house. Tell me what she said to you." As he did so she listened intently, and turning to Allan at the end, "What do you say to this, Allan?" she asked. "Is there any real risk to the children?"
"A little," he responded. "As much as they take every day in the trolley going to school."
"They never go in the trolley," Deborah answered dryly. "They always go on the top of the 'bus." She was silent for a moment. "Well, there's no use discussing it. If Edith feels that way, John must go. The house won't be livable till he does."
Roger looked at her in surprise. He felt both relieved and disappointed. "John's only one of thousands to her," he told himself aggrievedly. "He isn't close to her, she hasn't room, she has a whole mass meeting in her head. But I haven't, by George, I like the boy—and I'm the one who will have to tell him to pack up and leave the house! Isn't it the very devil, how things all come back on me?"
"Look here, father," Deborah said, "suppose you let me manage this." And Roger's heavy visage cleared.
"You mean you'll tell him?"
"Yes," she replied, "and he'll understand it perfectly. I think he has been expecting it. I have, for a good many weeks," she added, with some bitterness. "And I know some people who will be glad enough to take him in. I'll see that he's made comfortable. Only—" her face clouded.
"It has meant a lot to him, being here," her father put in gruffly.
"Oh, John's used to getting knocks in this world." Her quiet voice grew hard and stern. "I wasn't thinking of John just now. What frightens me at times like this is Edith," she said slowly. "No, not just Edith—motherhood. I see it in so many mothers these days—in the women downtown, in their fight for their children against all other children on earth. It's the hardest thing we have to do—to try to make them see and feel outside of their own small tenement homes—and help each other—pull together. They can't see it's their only chance! And all because of this mother love! It's so blind sometimes, like an animal!" She broke off, and for a moment she seemed to be looking deep into herself. "And I suppose we're all like that, we women are," she muttered, "when we marry and have children. If the pinch is ever hard enough—"
"You wouldn't be," said Allan. And a sudden sharp uneasiness came into Roger's mind.
"When are you two to be married?" he asked, without stopping to think. And at once he regretted his question. With a quick impatient look at him, Allan bent over a book on the table.
"I don't know," Deborah answered. "Next spring, I hope." The frown was still on her face.
"Don't make it too long," said her father brusquely. He left them and went up to bed.
* * * * *
Deborah sat motionless. She wished Allan would go, for she guessed what was coming and did not feel equal to it to-night. All at once she felt tired and unnerved from her long exciting evening. If only she could let go of herself and have a good cry. She locked her hands together and looked up at him with impatience. He was still at the table, his back was turned.
"Don't you know I love you?" she was thinking fiercely. "Can't you see it—haven't you seen it—growing, growing—day after day? But I don't want you here to-night! Why can't you see you must leave me alone? Now! This minute!"
He turned and came over in front of her, and stood looking steadily down.
"I wonder," he said slowly, "how well you understand yourself."
"I think I do," she muttered. With a sudden twitching of her lip she looked quickly up at him. "Go on, Allan—let's talk it all over now if you must!"
"Not if you feel like that," he said. At his tone of displeasure she caught his hand.
"Yes, yes, I want to! Please!" she cried. "It's better—really! Believe me, it is—"
He hesitated a moment, his wide generous mouth set hard, and then in a tone as sharp as hers he demanded, "Are you sure you'll marry me next spring? Are you sure you hope you will next spring? Are you sure this sister of yours in the house, on your nerves day and night, with this blind narrow motherhood, this motherhood which frightens you—isn't frightening you too much?"
"No—a little—but not too much." Her deep sweet voice was trembling. "You're the one who frightens me. If you only knew! When you come like this—with all you've done for me back of you—"
"Deborah! Don't be a fool!"
"Oh, I know you say you've done nothing, except what you've been glad to do! You love me like that! But it's just that love! Giving up all your practice little by little, and your reputation uptown—all for the sake of me, Allan, me!"
"You're wrong," he replied. "Compared to what I'm getting, I've given up nothing! Can't you see? You're just as narrow in your school as Edith is right here in her home! You look upon my hospital as a mere annex to your schools, when the truth of it is that the work down there is a chance I've wanted all my life! Can't you understand," he cried, "that instead of your being in debt to me it's I who am in debt to you? You're a suffragist, eh, a feminist—whatever you want to call it! All right! So you want to be equal with man! Then, for God's sake, why not begin? Feel equal! I'm no annex to you, nor you to me! It has happened, thank God, that our work fits in—each with the other!"
He stopped and stared, seemed to shake himself; he walked the floor. And when he turned back his expression had changed.
"Look here, Deborah," he asked, with an appealing humorous smile, "will you tell me what I'm driving at?"
Deborah threw back her head and laughed, and her laughter thrilled with relief. "How sure I feel now that I love him," she thought.
"You've proved I owe you nothing!" she cried. "And that men and women of our kind can work on splendidly side by side, and never bother our poor little heads about anything else—even marriage!"
"We will, though!" he retorted. The next moment she was in his arms. "Now, Deborah, listen to reason, child. Why can't you marry me right away?"
"Because," she said, "when I marry you I'm going to have you all to myself—for weeks and weeks as we planned before! And afterwards, with a wonderful start—and with the war over, work less hard and the world less dark and gloomy—we're going to find that at last we can live! But this winter it couldn't be like that. This winter we've got to go on with our work—and without any more silly worries or talk about whether or not we're in love. For we are!" Her upturned face was close to his, and for some moments nothing was said, "Well?" she asked. "Are you satisfied?"
"No—I want to get married. But it is now a quarter past one. And I'm your physician. Go straight to bed."
She stopped him a minute at the front door:
"Are you sure, absolutely, you understand?"
He told her he did. But as he walked home he reflected. How tense she had been in the way she had talked. Yes, the long strain was telling. "Why was she so anxious to get me out of the house," he asked, "when we were alone for the first time in days? And why, if she's really sure of her love, does she hate the idea that she's in my debt?"
He walked faster, for the night was cold. And there was a chill, too, in this long waiting game.
* * * * *
Roger heard Deborah come up to bed, and he wondered what they had been talking about. Of the topic he himself had broached—each other, love and marriage?
"Possibly—for a minute or two—but no more," he grumbled. "For don't forget there's work to discuss, there's that mass meeting still on her mind. And God knows a woman's mind is never any child's play. But when you load a mass meeting on top—"
Here he yawned long and noisily. His head ached, he felt sore and weak—"from the evening's entertainment my other daughter gave me." No, he was through, he had had enough. They could settle things to suit themselves. Let Edith squander her money on frills, the more expensive the better. Let her turn poor Johnny out of the house, let her give full play to her motherhood. And if that scared Deborah out of marrying, let her stay single and die an old maid. He had worried enough for his family. He wanted a little peace in his house.
Drowsily he closed his eyes, and a picture came into his mind of the city as he had seen it only a few nights before. It had been so cool, so calm and still. At dusk he had been in the building of the great tower on Madison Square; and when he had finished his business there, on an impulse he had gone up to the top, and through a wide low window had stood a few moments looking down. A soft light snow was falling; and from high up in the storm, through the silent whirling flakes, he had looked far down upon lights below, in groups and clusters, dancing lines, between tall phantom buildings, blurred and ghostly, faint, unreal. From all that bustle and fever of life there had risen to him barely a sound. And the town had seemed small and lonely, a little glow in the infinite dark, fulfilling its allotted place for its moment in eternity. Suddenly from close over his head like a brazen voice out of the sky, hard and deafening and clear, the great bell had boomed the hour. Then again had come the silence, and the cool, soft, whirling snow.
Like a dream it faded all away, and with a curious smile on his face presently Roger fell asleep.
And now he felt the approach at last of another season of quiet, one of those uneventful times which come in family histories. As he washed and dressed for dinner, one night a little later, he thought with satisfaction, "How nicely things are smoothing out." His dressing for dinner, as a rule, consisted in changing his low wing collar and his large round detachable cuffs; but to-night he changed his cravat as well, from a black to a pearl gray one. He hoped the whole winter would be pearl gray.
The little storm which Edith had raised over John's presence in the house had been allayed. Deborah had talked to John, and had moved him with his belongings to a comfortable sunny room in the small but neat apartment of a Scotch family nearby. And John had been so sensible. "Oh, I'm fine, thank you," he had answered simply, when in the office Roger had asked him about his new home. So that incident was closed. Already Edith was disinfecting John's old room to her heart's content, for George was to occupy it now. She was having the woodwork repainted and a new paper put on the walls. She had already purchased a small new rug, and a bed and a bureau and one easy chair, and was making a pair of fresh pretty curtains. All right, let her do it—if only there could be peace in the house.
With his cravat adjusted and his thick-curling silver hair trim from having just been cut by "Louis" over at the Brevoort, Roger went comfortably down to his dinner. Edith greeted him with a smile.
"Deborah's dining out," she said.
"Very well," he replied, "so much the better. We'll go right in—I'm hungry. And we'll have the evening to ourselves. No big ideas nor problems. Eh, daughter?" He slipped his hand in hers, and she gave it a little affectionate squeeze. With John safely out of the way, and not only the health of her children but their proper schooling assured, Edith was herself again, placid, sweet and kindly. And dinner that night was a cheerful meal. Later, in the living room, as Roger contentedly lit his cigar, Edith gave an appreciative sniff.
"You do smoke such good cigars, father," she said, smiling over her needle. And glancing up at her daughter, "Betsy, dear," she added, "go and get your grandfather's evening paper."
In quiet perusal of the news he spent the first part of his evening. The war did not bother him to-night, for there had come a lull in the fighting, as though even war could know its place. And times were better over here. As, skipping all news from abroad his eye roved over the pages for what his business depended upon, Roger began to find it now. The old familiar headliness were reappearing side by side—high finance exposures, graft, the antics and didos cut up by the sons and daughters of big millionaires; and after them in cheery succession the Yale-Harvard game, a new man for the Giants, a new college building for Cornell, a new city plan for Seattle, a woman senator in Arizona and in Chicago a "sporting mayor." In brief, all over the U.S.A., men and women old and new had risen up, to power, fame, notoriety, whatever you chose to call it. Men and women? Hardly. "Children" was the better word. But the thought did not trouble Roger to-night. He had instead a heartening sense of the youth, the wild exuberance, the boundless vigor in his native land. He could feel it rising once again. Life was soon to go on as before; people were growing hungry to see the names of their countrymen back in the headlines where they belonged. And Roger's business was picking up. He was not sure of the figure of his deficit last week—he had always been vague on the book-keeping side—but he knew it was down considerably.