Deborah choked a little:
"Allan! What do you think of us now?"
"I think," he answered, in a drawl, "that we'd better try to persuade the new firm to live with the new family."
"We will, and the sooner the better!" she said.
"I'm going up to the mountains," said Roger.
"Yes, but you're coming back in the fall, and when you do you're coming here! And you're going to live here years and years!"
"You're forgetting my doctor."
"Not at all. I had a long talk with him Sunday and I know just what I'm saying."
"You don't look it, my dear," said Roger, "but of course you may be right. If you take the proper care of me here—and John keeps booming things for the firm—"
"And George makes a huge success of the farm," Deborah added quickly.
"And Deborah of teaching the world—"
"Oh, Allan, hush up!"
"Look here," he said. "You go upstairs and tell Edith all this. Your father and I want to be alone."
And when the two men were left alone, they smoked and said nothing. They smiled at each other.
"It's hard to decide," grunted Roger at last. "Which did it—my wonderful sermon or your own long waiting game? I'm inclined to think it was the game. For any other man but you—with all you've done, without any talk—no, sir, there wouldn't have been a chance. For she's modern, Baird, she's modern. And I'm going to live just as long as I can. I want to see what happens here."
* * * * *
The next night in his study, how quiet it was. Edith was busy packing upstairs, Deborah and Allan were gone. Thoughts drifted slowly across his mind. Well, she was married, the last of his daughters, the one whom he cared most for, the one who had taken the heaviest risks. And this was the greatest risk of all. For although she had put it happily out of her thoughts for the moment, Roger knew the old troublesome question was still there in Deborah's mind. The tenement children or her own, the big family or the small? He felt there would still be struggles ahead. And with a kind of a wistfulness he tried to see into the future here.
He gave a sudden start in his chair.
"By George!" he thought. "They forgot the ring!" Scowling, he tried to remember. Yes, in the brief simple service that day, in which so much had been omitted—music, flowers, wedding gown—even the ring had been left out. Why? Not from any principle, he knew that they were not such fools. No, they had simply forgotten it, in the haste of getting married at once. Well, by thunder, for a girl whose father had been a collector of rings for the best part of his natural life, it was pretty shabby to say the least! Then he recollected that he, too, had forgotten it. And this quieted him immediately.
"I'll get one, though," he promised himself. "And no plain wedding ring either. I'll make A. Baird attend to that. No, I'll get her a ring worth while."
He sank deep in his chair and took peace to his soul by thinking of the ring he would choose. And this carried his thoughts back over the years. For there had been so many rings....
It was a clear beautiful afternoon toward the end of May. And as the train puffing up the grade wound along the Connecticut River, Roger sat looking out of the window. The orchards were pink and white on the hills. Slowly the day wore away. The river narrowed, the hills reared high, and in the sloping meadows gray ribs and shoulders of granite appeared. The air had a tang of the mountains. Everywhere were signs of spring, of new vigor and fresh life. But the voices at each station sounded drowsier than at the last, the eyes appeared more stolid, and to Roger it felt like a journey far back into old ways of living, old beliefs and old ideals. He had always had this feeling, and always he had relished it, this dive into his boyhood. But it was different to-day, for this was more than a journey, it was a migration, too. Close about him in the car were Edith and her children, bound for a new home up there in the very heart and stronghold of all old things in America.
Old things dear to Edith's heart. As she sat by the window staring out, he watched her shapely little head; he noted the hardening lines on her forehead and the gray which had come in her hair. It had been no easy move for her, this, she'd shown pluck to take it so quietly. He saw her smile a little, then frown and go on with her thinking. What was she thinking about, he wondered—all she had left behind in New York, or the rest of her life which lay ahead? She had always longed for things simple and old. Well, she would have them now with a vengeance, summer and winter, the year 'round, in the battered frame house on the mountain side, the birthplace of her family. A recollection came to him of a summer's dusk two years ago and a woman with a lawn mower cutting the grass on the family graves. Would Edith ever be like that, a mere custodian of the past? If she did, he thought, she would be false to the very traditions she tried to preserve. For her forefathers had never been mere guardians of things gone by. Always they had been pioneers. That house had not been old to them, but a thrilling new adventure. Their old homes they had left behind, far down in the valleys to the east. And even those valley homes had been new to the rugged men come over the sea. Would Edith ever understand? Would she see that for herself the new must emerge from her children, from the ideas, desires and plans already teeming in their minds? Would she show keen interest, sympathy? Would she be able to keep her hold?
In the seat behind her mother, Betsy was sitting with Bruce in her lap, looking over a picture book. Quietly Roger watched the girl.
"What are you going to be?" he asked. "A woman's college president, a surgeon or a senator? And what will your mother think of you then?"
They changed cars, and on a train made up of antiquated coaches they wound through a side valley, down which rushing and tumbling came the river that bore Roger's name. He went into the smoking car, and presently George joined him there. George did not yet smoke, (with his elders), but he had bought a package of gum and he was chewing absorbedly. Plainly the lad was excited over the great existence which he saw opening close ahead. Roger glanced at the boy's broad shoulders, noticed the eager lines of his jaw, looked down at his enormous hands, unformed as yet, ungainly; but in them was a hungriness that caused a glow in Roger's breast. One more of the family starting out.
"It's all going to depend on you," Roger gravely counseled. "Your whole life will depend on the start you make. Either you're going to settle down, like so many of your neighbors up there, or you're going to hustle, plan out your day, keep on with your studies and go to college—the State Agricultural College, I mean. In short, keep up to date, my boy, and become in time a big figure in farming."
"I'm going to do it," George replied. His grandfather glanced again at his face, so scowling, so determined. And a gleam of compassion and yearning came for a moment in Roger's eyes. His heavy hand lay on George's knee.
"That's right, son," he grunted. "Make the family proud of you. I'll do all I can to help you start. My business is picking up, thank God, and I'll be able to back you now. I'll stay up here a good part of the summer. We've both of us got a lot to learn—and not only from books—we want to remember we've plenty to learn from the neighbors, too. Take old Dave Royce, for instance, who when all is said and done has worked our farm for twenty odd years and never once run me into debt."
"But, Gee!" demurred George. "He's so 'way out of date!"
"I know he is, son, but we've got to go slow." And Roger's look passed furtively along the faces in the car. "We don't want to forget," he warned, "that this is still New England. Every new idea we have we want to go easy with, snake it in."
"I've got an awful lot of 'em," the boy muttered hungrily.
* * * * *
At the farm, the next morning at daybreak, Roger was awakened by the sound of George's voice. It was just beneath his window:
"But cattle are only part of it, Dave," the boy declared, in earnest tones, "just part of what we can have up here. Think what we've got—over three hundred acres! And we want to make every acre count! We want to get in a whole lot more of hogs—Belted Hampshires, if we can afford 'em—and a couple of hundred hens. White Leghorns ought to fill the bill. Of course that's just a starter. I've got a scheme for some incubators—electric—run by the dynamo which we'll put in down by the dam. And we can do wonders with bees, too, Dave—I've got a book on 'em I'd like you to read. And besides, there's big money in squab these days. Rich women in New York hotels eat thousands of 'em every night. And ducks, of course, and turkeys. I'd like a white gobbler right at the start, if we knew where we could get one cheap." The voice broke off and there was a pause. "We can do an awful lot with this place."
Then Dave's deep drawl:
"That's so, George—yes, I guess that's so. Only we don't want to fool ourselves. That ain't Noah's Ark over thar—it's a barn. And just for a starter, if I was you—" Here Dave deliberated. "Of course it's none of my business," he said, "it's for you and your grandfather to decide—and I don't propose to interfere in what ain't any of my affair—"
"Yes, yes, Dave, sure! That's all right! But go on! What, just for a starter?"
"Cows," came the tranquil answer. "I've been hunting around since you wrut me last month. And I know of three good milkers—"
"Three? Why, Dave, I wrote we want thirty or forty!"
"Yes—you wrut," Dave answered. "But I've druv all around these parts—and there ain't but three that I can find. And I ain't so sure of that third one. She looks like she might—" George cut in.
"But you only had a buggy, Dave! Gee! I'm going to have a Ford!"
"That so, George?"
"You bet it's so! And we'll go on a cow hunt all over the State!"
"Well—I dunno but what you're right," Dave responded cautiously. "You might get more cows if you had a Ford—an' got so you could run it. Yes, I guess it's a pretty good scheme. I believe in being conservative, George—but I dunno now but what a Ford—"
Their voices passed from under the window, and Roger relaxed and smiled to himself. It was a good beginning, he thought.
They bought a Ford soon afterwards and in the next few weeks of June they searched the farms for miles around, slowly adding to their herd. To Roger's surprise he found many signs of a new life stirring there—the farmers buying "autos" and improved machinery, thinking of new processes; and down in the lower valleys they found several big stock farms which were decidedly modern affairs. At one such place, the man in charge took a fancy to George and asked him to drop over often.
"You bet I'll drop over often!" George replied, as he climbed excitedly into his Ford. "I want to see more of those milking machines! We're going to have 'em some day ourselves! A dynamo too!"
And at home, down by the ruined mill he again set about rebuilding the dam.
Roger felt himself growing stronger. His sleeps were sound, and his appetite had come back to a surprising degree. The mountain air had got into his blood and George's warm vigor into his soul. One afternoon, watching the herd come home, some thirty huge animals swinging along with a slow heavy power in their limbs, he breathed the strong sweet scent of them on the mountain breeze. George came running by them and stopped a moment by Roger's side, watching closely and eagerly every animal as it passed. And Roger glanced at George's face. The herd passed on and George followed behind, his collie dog leaping and barking beside him. And Roger looked up at a billowy cloud resting on a mountain top and wondered whether after all that New York doctor had been right.
He followed the herd into the barn. In two long rows, the great heads of the cattle turned hungrily, lowing and sniffing deep, breathing harshly, stamping, as the fodder cart came down the lines. What a splendidly wholesome work for a lad, growing up with his roots in the soil, in these massive simple forces of life. What of Edith's other children? Would they be willing to stay here long? Each morning Roger breakfasted with Bruce the baby by his side. "What a thing for you, little lad," he thought, "if you could live here all your days. But will you? Will you want to stay? Won't you, too, get the fever, as I did, for the city?" In the joyous, shining, mysterious eyes of the baby he found no reply. He had many long talks with Betsy, who was eager to go away to school, and with Bob and little Tad who were going to school in the village that fall. And the feeling came to Roger that surely he would see these lives, at least for many years ahead. They were so familiar and so real, so fresh and filled with hopes and dreams. And he felt himself so a part of them all.
But one morning, climbing the steep upper field to a spring George wanted to show him, Roger suddenly swayed, turned faint. He caught hold of a boulder on the wall and held himself rigid, breathing hard. It passed, and he looked at his grandson. But George had noticed nothing. The boy had turned and his brown eyes were fixed on a fallow field below. Wistfully Roger watched his face. They both stood motionless for a long time.
As the summer drew slowly to a close, Roger spent many quiet hours alone by the copse of birches, where the glory of autumn was already stealing in and out among the tall slender stems of the trees. And he thought of the silent winter there, and of the spring which would come again, and the long fragrant summer. And he watched the glow on the mountains above and the rolling splendors of the clouds. At dusk he heard the voices of animals, birds and insects, murmuring up from all the broad valley, then gradually sinking to deep repose, many never to wake again. And the span of his life, from the boyhood which he could recall so vividly here among these children, seemed brief to him as a summer's day, only a part of a mighty whole made up of the innumerable lives, the many generations, of his family, his own flesh and blood, come out of a past he could never know, and going on without him now, branching, dividing, widening out to what his eyes would never see.
Vaguely he pictured them groping their way, just as he himself had done. It seemed to Roger that all his days he had been only entering life, as some rich bewildering thicket like this copse of birches here, never getting very deep, never seeing very clearly, never understanding all. And so it had been with his children, and so it was with these children of Edith's, and so it would be with those many others—always groping, blundering, starting—children, only children all. And yet what lives they were to lead, what joys and revelations and disasters would be theirs, in the strange remote world they would live in—"my flesh and blood that I never shall know."
But the stars were quiet and serene. The meadows and the forests on the broad sweep of the mountain side took on still brighter, warmer hues. And there was no gloom in these long good-byes.
* * * * *
On a frosty night in September, he left the farm to go to the city. From his seat in the small automobile Roger looked back at the pleasant old house with its brightly lighted windows, and then he turned to George by his side:
"We're in good shape for the winter, son."
But George did not get his full meaning.
At the little station, there were no other passengers. They walked the platform for some time. Then the train with a scream came around the curve. A quick grip on George's hand, and Roger climbed into the car. Inside, a moment later, he looked out through the window. By a trainman with a lantern, George stood watching, smiling up, and he waved his hand as the train pulled out.
The next morning on his arrival in town, Roger went to his office. He had little cause for uneasiness there, for twice in the summer he had come down to keep an eye on the business, while John had taken brief vacations at a seaside place nearby. The boy had no color now in his cheeks; as always, they were a sallow gray with the skin drawn tight over high cheek bones; his vigor was all in his eyes. But here was a new John, nevertheless, a successful man of affairs. He had on a spruce new suit of brown, no cheap ready-made affair but one carefully fitted to conceal and soften his deformity. He was wearing a bright blue tie and a cornflower in his buttonhole, and his sandy hair was sleekly brushed. He showed Roger into his private room, a small place he had partitioned off, where over his desk was a motto in gold: "This is no place for your troubles or mine."
"Lord, but you've got yourself fixed up fine in here," said Roger. John smiled broadly. "And you're looking like a new man, Johnny."
"I had a great time at the seashore. Learned to sail a boat alone. What do you think of this chair of mine?" And John complacently displayed the ingenious contrivance in front of his desk, somewhat like a bicycle seat. It was made of steel and leather pads.
"Wonderful," said Roger. "Where'd you ever pick it up?"
"I had it made," was the grave reply. "When a fellow has got up in life enough to have a stenographer, it's high time he was sitting down."
"Let's see you do it." John sat down. "Now how is business?" Roger asked.
"Great. Since the little slump we had in August it has taken a new start—and not only war business, at that—the old people are sending in orders again. I tell you what it is, Mr. Gale, this country is right on the edge of a boom!"
And the junior member of the firm tilted triumphantly back in his chair.
With the solid comfort which comes to a man when he returns to find his affairs all going well, Roger worked on until five o'clock, and then he started for his home.
Deborah had not yet come in, and a deep silence reigned in the house. He looked through the rooms downstairs, and with content he noticed how little had been altered. His beloved study had not been touched. On the third floor, in the large back room, he found John comfortably installed. There were gay prints upon the walls, fresh curtains at the windows, a mandolin lying on a chair. And Roger, glancing down at the keen glad face of his partner, told himself that the doctor who had said this lad would die was a fool.
"These doctors fool themselves often," he thought.
Deborah and Allan had the front room on the floor below. Roger went in, and for a moment he stood looking about him. How restful and how radiant was this large old-fashioned chamber, so softly lighted, waiting. Through a passageway lined with cupboards he went into his room at the back. Deborah had repapered it, but with a pattern so similar that Roger did not notice the change. He only felt a vague freshness here, as though even this old chamber, too, were making a new start in life. And he felt as though he were to live here for years. Slowly he unpacked his trunk and took a bath and dressed at his leisure. Then he heard Deborah's voice at the door.
"Come in, come in!" he answered.
"Why, father! Dearie!" Deborah cried "Oh, how well you're looking, dad!" And she kissed him happily. "Oh, but I'm glad to have you back—"
"That's good," he said, and he squeezed her hand "Here, come to the light, let me look at you." He saw her cheeks a little flushed, the gladness in her steady eyes. "Happy? Everything just right?" His daughter nodded, smiling, and he gave a whimsical frown. "No ups and down at all? That's bad."
"Oh, yes, plenty—but all so small."
"Good fellow to live with."
"And your work?
"It's going splendidly. I'll tell you about it this evening, after you give me the news from the farm."
They chatted on for a short while, but he saw she was barely listening.
"Can't you guess what it means," she asked him softly, "to a woman of my age—after she has been so afraid she was too old, that she'd married too late—to know at last—to be sure at last—that she's to have a baby, dad?" He drew back a little, and a lump rose in his throat.
"By George!" he huskily exclaimed. "Oh, my dear, my dear!" And he held her close in his arms for some time, till both of them grew sensible.
Soon after she had gone to her room, he heard Allan coming upstairs. He heard her low sweet cry of welcome, a silence, then their voices. He heard them laughing together and later Deborah humming a song. And still thinking of what she had told him, he felt himself so close to it all. And again the feeling came to him that surely he would live here for years.
Allan came in and they had a talk.
"Deborah says she has told you the news."
"Yes. Everything's all right, I suppose—her condition, I mean," said Roger.
"Couldn't be better."
"Just as I thought."
"Those six weeks we had up in Maine—"
"Yes, you both show it. Working hard?"
"And Deborah?" Roger asked.
"You'll have to help me hold her in."
They talked a few moments longer and went down to the living room. John was there with Deborah. All four went in to dinner. And through the conversation, from time to time Roger noticed the looks that went back and forth between husband and wife; and again he caught Deborah smiling as though oblivious of them all. After dinner she went with him into his den.
"Well! Do you like the house?" she inquired.
"Better than ever," he replied.
"I wonder if you'll mind it. There'll be people coming to dinner, you know—"
"That won't bother me any," he said.
"And committee meetings now and then. But you're safe in here, it's a good thick door."
"Let 'em talk," he retorted, "as hard as they please. You're married now—they can't scare me a bit. Only at ten o'clock, by George, you've got to knock off and go to bed."
"Oh, I'll take care of myself," she said.
"If you don't, Allan will. We've had a talk."
"Yes. When will it be?"
"In April, I think."
"You'll quit work in your schools?"
"A month before."
"And in the meantime, not too hard."
"No, and not too easy. I'm so sure now that I can do both." And Deborah kissed him gently. "I'm so happy, dearie—and oh, so very glad you're here!"
There followed for Roger, after that, many quiet evenings at home, untroubled days in his office. Seldom did he notice the progress of his ailment. His attention was upon his house, as this woman who mothered thousands of children worked on for her great family, putting all in order, making ready for the crisis ahead when she would become the mother of one.
Now even more than ever before, her work came crowding into his home. The house was old, but the house was new. For from schools and libraries, cafes and tenements and streets, the mighty formless hunger which had once so thrilled her father poured into the house itself and soon became a part of it. He felt the presence of the school. He heard the daily gossip of that bewildering system of which his daughter was a part: a world in itself, with its politics, its many jarring factions, its jealousies, dissensions, its varied personalities, ambitions and conspiracies; but in spite of these confusions its more progressive elements downing all distrusts and fears and drawing steadily closer to life, fearlessly rousing everywhere the hunger in people to live and learn and to take from this amazing world all the riches that it holds: the school with its great challenge steadily increasing its demands in the name of its children, demands which went deep down into conditions in the tenements and ramified through politics to the City Hall, to Albany, and even away to Washington—while day by day and week by week, from cities, towns and villages came the vast prophetic story of the free public schools of the land.
And meanwhile, in the tenements, still groping and testing, feeling her way, keeping close watch on her great brood, their wakening desires, their widening curiosities, Deborah was bringing them, children, mothers and fathers too, together through the one big hope of brighter and more ample lives for everybody's children. Step by step this hope was spread out into the surrounding swamps and jungles of blind driven lives, to find surprising treasures there deep buried under dirt and din, locked in the common heart of mankind—old songs and fables, hopes and dreams and visions of immortal light, handed down from father to son, nurtured, guarded, breathed upon and clothed anew by countless generations, innumerable millions of simple men and women blindly struggling toward the sun. Over the door of one of the schools, were these words carved in the stone:
"Humanity is still a child. Our parents are all people who have lived upon the earth—our children, all who are to come. And the dawn at last is breaking. The great day has just begun."
This spirit of triumphal life poured deep into Roger's house. It was as though his daughter, in these last months which she had left for undivided service, were strengthening her faith in it all and pledging her devotion—as communing with herself she felt the crisis drawing near.
There came an interruption. One night when Deborah was out and Roger sat in his study alone, the maid came in highly flustered and said,
"Mr. Gale! It's Miss Laura to see you!"
He turned with a startled jerk of his head and his face slowly reddened. But when he saw the maid's eager expression and saw that she was expecting a scene, with a frown of displeasure he rose from his chair.
"Very well," he said, and he went to his daughter. He found her in the living room. No repentant Magdalene, but quite unabashed and at her ease, she came to her father quickly.
"Oh, dad, I'm so glad to see you, dear!" And she gave him a swift impetuous kiss, her rich lips for an instant pressing warmly to his cheek.
"Laura!" he said thickly. "Come into my study, will you? I'm alone this evening."
"I'm so glad you are!" she replied. She followed him in and he closed the door. He glanced at her confusedly. In her warmth, her elegance, an indefinable change in the tone and accent of her high magnetic voice, and in her ardent smiling eyes, she seemed to him more the foreigner now. And Roger's thoughts were in a whirl. What had happened? Had she married again?
"Is Edith here still?" she was asking.
"No, she's up in the mountains. She's living there," he answered.
"Edith? In the mountains?" demanded Laura, in surprise. And she asked innumerable questions. He replied to each one of them carefully, slowly, meanwhile getting control of himself.
"And Deborah married—married at last! How has it worked? Is she happy, dad?"
"Very," he said.
"And is she still keeping up her schools?"
"Yes, for the present. She'll have to stop soon." Laura leaned forward, curious:
"Tell me, dad—a baby?"
"Yes." She stared a moment.
"Deborah!" she softly exclaimed; and in a moment, "I wonder."
"What do you mean?" her father asked, but Laura evaded his question. She plied him with her inquiries for a few minutes longer, then turned to him with a challenging smile:
"Well, father, don't you think you had better ask me now about myself?" He looked away a moment, but turned resolutely back:
"I suppose so. When did you land?"
"This morning, dear, from Italy—with my husband," she replied. And Roger started slightly. "I want you to meet him soon," she said.
"Very well," he answered. At his disturbed, almost guilty expression Laura laughed a little and rose and came over and hugged him tight.
"Oh, but, father dearest—it's working out so splendidly! I want you to know him and see for yourself! We've come to live in New York for a while—he has more to do here about war supplies."
"More shrapnel, eh, machine guns. More wholesale death," her father growled. But Laura smiled good-naturedly.
"Yes, love, from America. Aren't you all ashamed of yourselves—scrambling so, to get rich quick—out of this war you disapprove of."
"You look a bit rich," her father retorted.
"Rather—for the moment," was her cheerful answer.
"And you still like living in Italy?"
"Tremendously! Rome is wonderful now!"
"Reborn, eh. Wings of the Eagles."
"Yes, and we're doing rather well."
"I haven't noticed it," Roger said. "Why don't you send a few of your troops to help those plucky Frenchmen?"
"Because," she replied, "we have a feeling that this is a war where we had much better help ourselves."
"High ideals," he snorted.
"Rome reborn," she remarked, unabashed. And her father scowled at her whimsically.
"You're a heathen. I give you up," he declared. Laura had risen, smiling.
"Oh, no, don't give me up," she said. "For you see," she added softly, "I'm a heathen with a great deal of love in her heart for thee, my dearest dad. May I bring him down, my husband?"
"I'll telephone to Deborah to-morrow and arrange it."
When she had gone he returned to his chair and sat for a long time in a daze. He was still disturbed and bewildered. What a daughter of his! And what did it mean? Could she really go on being happy like this? Sinning? Yes, she was sinning! Laura had broken her marriage vows, she had "run off with another fellah." Those were the plain ugly facts. And now, divorced and re-married, she was careering gayly on! And her views of the war were plain heathenish! And yet there was something about her—yes, he thought, he loved her still! What for? For being so happy! And yet she was wrong to be happy, all wrong! His thoughts went 'round in circles.
And his confusion and dismay grew even deeper the next night when Laura brought her new husband to dine. For in place of the dark polished scoundrel whom Roger had expected, here was a spruce and affable youth with thick light hair and ruddy cheeks, a brisk pleasant manner of talking and a decidedly forcible way of putting the case of his country at war. They kept the conversation to that. For despite Deborah's friendly air, she showed plainly that she wanted to keep the talk impersonal. And Laura, rather amused at this, replied by treating Deborah and Allan and her father, too, with a bantering forbearance for their old-fashioned, narrow views and Deborah's religion of brotherhood, democracy. All that to Laura was passe.
From time to time Roger glanced at her face, into her clear and luminous eyes so warm with the joy of living with this new man, her second. How his family had split apart. He wrote Edith the news of her sister, and he received but a brief reply. Nor did Deborah speak of it often. She seemed to want to forget Laura's life as the crisis in her own drew near.
Deborah had not yet stopped work. Again and again she put it off. For in her busy office so many demands both old and new kept pressing in upon her, such unexpected questions and vexing little problems kept cropping up as Deborah tried to arrange her work for the colleague who was to take her place in the spring, that day after day she lingered there—until one afternoon in March her husband went to her office, gave her an hour to finish up, and then brought her home with him. She had a fit of the blues that night. Allan was called out on a case, and a little while later Roger found his daughter alone in the living room, a book unopened in her lap, her gray eyes glistening with tears. She smiled when she caught sight of him.
"It's so silly!" she muttered unsteadily. "Just my condition, I suppose. I feel as though I had done with school for the remainder of my days!... Better leave me now, dearie," she added. "I'm not very proud of myself to-night—but I'll be all right in the morning."
The next day she was herself again, and went quietly on with her preparations for the coming of her child. But still the ceaseless interests of those hordes of other children followed her into the house. Not only her successor but principals and teachers came for counsel or assistance. And later, when reluctantly she refused to see such visitors, still the telephone kept ringing and letters poured in by every mail. For in her larger family there were weddings, births and deaths, and the endless savage struggle for life; and there were many climaxes of dreams and aspirations, of loves and bitter jealousies. And out of all this straining and this fever of humanity, came messages to Deborah: last appeals for aid and advice, and gifts for the child who was to be born; tiny garments quaintly made by women and girls from Italy, from Russia and from Poland; baby blankets, wraps and toys and curious charms and amulets. There were so many of these gifts.
"There's enough for forty babies," Deborah told her father. "What on earth am I to do, to avoid hurting anyone's feelings? And isn't it rather awful, the way these inequalities will crop up in spite of you? I know of eight tenement babies born down there in this one week. How much fuss and feathers is made over them, and their coming into the world, poor mites?" Roger smiled at his daughter.
"You remind me of Jekyll and Hyde," he said.
"Father! What a horrible thought! What have Jekyll and Hyde to do with me?"
"Nothing, my dear," he answered. "Only it's queer and a little uncanny, something I've never seen before, this double mother life of yours."
* * * * *
It was only a few days later when coming home one evening he found that Deborah's doctor had put her to bed and installed a nurse. There followed a week of keen suspense when Roger stayed home from the office. She liked to have him with her, and sitting at her bedside he saw how changed his daughter was, how far in these few hours she had drawn into herself. He had suspected for some time that all was not well with Deborah, and Allan confirmed his suspicions. There was to be grave danger both for the mother and the child. It would come out all right, of course, he strove to reassure himself. Nothing else could happen now, with her life so splendidly settled at last. That Fate could be so pitiless—no, it was unthinkable!
"This is what comes of your modern woman!" Roger exclaimed to Allan one night. "This is the price she's paying for those nerve-racking years of work!"
The crisis came toward the end of the week. And while for one entire night and through the day that followed and far into the next night the doctors and nurses fought for life in the room upstairs, Roger waited, left to himself, sitting in his study or restlessly moving through the house. And still that thought was with him—the price! It was kept in his mind by the anxious demands which her big family made for news. The telephone kept ringing. Women in motors from uptown and humbler visitors young and old kept coming to make inquiries. More gifts were brought and flowers. And Roger saw these people, and as he answered their questions he fairly scowled in their faces—unconsciously, for his mind was not clear. Reporters came. Barely an hour passed without bringing a man or a woman from some one of the papers. He gave them only brief replies. Why couldn't they leave his house alone? He saw her name in headlines: "Deborah Gale at Point of Death." And he turned angrily away. Vividly, on the second night, there came to him a picture of Deborah's birth so long ago in this same house. How safe it had been, how different, how secluded and shut in. No world had clamored then for news. And so vivid did this picture grow, that when at last there came to his ears the shrill clear cry of a new life, it was some time before he could be sure whether this were not still his dream of that other night so long ago.
But now a nurse had led him upstairs, and he stood by a cradle looking down at a small wrinkled face almost wholly concealed by a soft woolly blanket. And presently Allan behind him said,
"It's a boy, and he's to be named after you." Roger looked up.
"How's the mother?" he asked.
"Almost out of danger," was the reply. Then Roger glanced at Allan's face and saw how drawn and gray it was. He drew a long breath and turned back to the child. Allan had gone and so had the nurse, and he was alone by the cradle. Relief and peace and happiness stole into his spirit. He felt the deep remoteness of this strange new little creature from all the clamoring world without—which he himself was soon to leave. The thought grew clearer, clearer, as with a curious steady smile Roger stood there looking down.
"Well, little brother, you're here, thank God. And nobody knows how close we'll be—for a little while," he thought. "For we're almost out of the world, you and I."
* * * * *
Days passed, Deborah's strength increased, and soon they let Roger come into the room. She, too, was remote from the world for a time. That great family outside was anxious no longer, it left her alone. But soon it would demand her. Never again, he told himself, would she be so close, so intimate, as here in her bed with this child of hers to whom she had given her father's name. "These hours are my real good-byes."
Two long quiet weeks of this happiness, and then in a twinkling it was gone. The child fell sick, within a few hours its small existence hung by a thread—and to Roger's startled eyes a new Deborah was revealed! Tense and silent on her bed, her sensitive lips compressed with pain, her birthmark showing a jagged line of fiery red upon her brow as her ears kept straining to catch every sound from the nursery adjoining, through hours of stern anguish she became the kind of mother that she had once so dreaded—shutting out everything else in the world: people, schools, all other children, rich or poor, well, sick or dying! Here was the crisis of Deborah's life!
One night as she lay listening, with her hand gripping Roger's tight, frowning abruptly she said to him, in a harsh, unnatural voice:
"They don't care any longer, none of them care! I'm safe and they've stopped worrying, for they know they'll soon have me back at work! The work," she added fiercely, "that made my body what it is, not fit to bear a baby!" She threw a quick and tortured look toward the door of the other room. "My work for those others, all those years, will be to blame if this one dies! And if it doesn't live I'm through! I won't go on! I couldn't! I'd be too bitter after this—toward all of them—those children!"
These last two words were whispers so bitter they made Roger cold.
"But this child is going to live," he responded hoarsely. Its mother stared up with a quivering frown. The next moment her limbs contracted as from an electric shock. There had come a faint wail from the other room.
And this went on for three days and nights. Again Roger lived as in a dream. He saw haggard faces from time to time of doctors, nurses, servants. He saw Allan now and then, his tall ungainly figure stooped, his features gaunt, his strong wide jaw set like a vise, but his eyes kind and steady still, his low voice reassuring. And Roger noticed John at times hobbling quickly down a hall and stopping on his crutches before a closed door, listening. Then these figures would recede, and it was as though he were alone in the dark.
At last the nightmare ended. One afternoon as he sat in his study, Allan came in slowly and dropped exhausted into a chair. He turned to Roger with a smile.
"Safe now, I think," he said quietly.
Roger went to Deborah and found her asleep, her face at peace. He went to his room and fell himself into a long dreamless slumber.
In the days which followed, again he sat at her bedside and together they watched the child in her arms. So feeble still the small creature appeared that they both spoke in whispers. But as little by little its strength returned, Deborah too became herself. And though still jealously watchful of its every movement, she had time for other thinking. She had talks with her husband, not only about their baby but about his work and hers. Slowly her old interest in all they had had in common returned, and to the messages from outside she gave again a kindlier ear.
"Allan tells me," she said one day, when she was alone with her father, "that I can have no more children. And I'm glad of that. But at least I have one," she added, "and he has already made me feel like a different woman than before. I feel sometimes as though I'd come a million miles along in life. And yet again it feels so close, all that I left back there in school. Because I'm so much closer now—to every mother and every child. At last I'm one of the family."
Of that greater family, one member had been in the house all through the month which had just gone by. But he had been so quiet, so carefully unobtrusive, that he had been scarcely noticed. Very early each morning, day after day, John had gone outside for his breakfast and thence to the office where he himself had handled the business as well as he could, only coming to Roger at night now and then with some matter he could not settle alone, but always stoutly declaring that he needed no other assistance.
"Don't come, Mr. Gale," he had urged. "You look worn out. You'll be sick yourself if you ain't careful. And anyhow, if you hang around you'll be here whenever she wants you."
Early in Deborah's illness, John had offered to give up his room for the use of one of the nurses.
"That's mighty thoughtful of you, Johnny," Allan had responded. "But we've got plenty of room as it is. Just you stick around. We want you here."
"All right, Doc. If there's any little thing, you know—answering the 'phone at night or anything else that I can do—"
"Thank you, so; I'll let you know. But in the meantime go to bed."
From that day on, John had taken not only his breakfast but his supper, too, outside, and no one had noticed his absence. Coming in late, he had hobbled silently up to his room, stopping to listen at Deborah's door. He had kept so completely out of the way, it was not till the baby was three weeks old, and past its second crisis, that Deborah thought to ask for John. When he came to her bed, she smiled up at him with the baby in her arms.
"I thought we'd see him together," she said. John stood on his crutches staring down. And as Deborah watched him, all at once her look grew intent. "Johnny," she said softly, "go over there, will you, and turn up the light, so we can see him better."
And when this was done, though she still talked smilingly of the child, again and again she glanced up at John's face, at the strange self-absorbed expression, stern and sad and wistful, there. When he had gone the tears came in her eyes. And Deborah sent for her husband.
* * * * *
The next day, at the office, John came into Roger's room. Roger had been at work several days and they had already cleared up their affairs.
"Here's something," said John gruffly, "that I wish you'd put away somewhere."
And he handed to his partner a small blue leather album, filled with the newspaper clippings dealing with Deborah's illness. On the front page was one with her picture and a long record of her service to the children of New York.
"She wouldn't want to see it now," John continued awkwardly. "But I thought maybe later on the boy would like to have it. What do you think?" he inquired. Roger gave him a kindly glance.
"I think he will. It's a fine thing to keep." And he handed it back. "But I guess you'd better put it away, and give it to her later yourself."
John shifted his weight on his crutches, so quickly that Roger looked up in alarm:
"Look here! You're not well!" He saw now that the face of the cripple was white and the sweat was glistening on his brow. John gave a harsh little nervous laugh.
"Oh, it's nothing much, partner," he replied. "That's another thing I wanted to tell you. I've had some queer pains lately—new ones!" He caught his breath.
"Why didn't you tell me, you young fool?"
"You had your own troubles, didn't you?" John spoke with difficulty. "But I'll be all right, I guess! All I need is a few days off!"
Roger had pressed a button, and his stenographer came in.
"Call a taxi," he said sharply. "And, John, you go right over there and lie down. I'm going to take you home at once!"
"I've got a better scheme," said John, setting his determined jaws. The sweat was pouring down his cheeks. "It may be a week—but there's just a chance it—may be a little worse than that! So I've got a room in a hospital! See? Be better all round!" He swayed forward.
"Johnny!" Roger caught him just in time, and the boy lay senseless in his arms.
* * * * *
At home, a few hours later, Allan came with another physician down from John's small bedroom. He saw his colleague to the door and then came in to Roger.
"I'm afraid Johnny has come to the end."
For a moment Roger stared at him.
"Has, eh," he answered huskily. "You're absolutely sure he has? There's nothing—nothing on earth we can do?"
"Nothing more than we're doing now."
"He has fooled you fellows before, you know—"
"Not this time."
"How long will it be?"
"Days or hours—I don't know."
"He mustn't suffer!"
"I'll see to that." Roger rose and walked the floor.
"It was the last month did it, of course—"
"I blame myself for that."
"I wouldn't," said Allan gently. "You've done a good deal for Johnny Geer."
"He has done a good deal for this family! Can Deborah see him?"
"I wish she could."
"Better stretch a point for her, hadn't you? She's been a kind of a mother to John."
"I know. But she can't leave her bed."
"Then you won't tell her?"
"I think she knows. She talked to me about him last night."
"That's it, a mother!" Roger cried. "She was watching! We were blind!" He came back to his chair and dropped into it.
"Does John know this himself?" he asked.
"He suspects it, I think," said Allan.
"Then go and tell him, will you, that he's going to get well. And after you've done it I'll see him myself. I've got something in mind I want to think out."
After Allan had left the room, Roger sat thinking about John. He thought of John's birth and his drunken mother, the accident and his struggle for life, through babyhood and childhood, through ignorance and filth and pain, through din and clamor and hunger, fear; of the long fierce fight which John had made not to be "put away" in some big institution, of his battle to keep up his head, to be somebody, make a career for himself. He thought of John's becoming one of Deborah's big family, only one of thousands, but it seemed now to Roger that John had stood out from them all, as the figure best embodying that great fierce hunger for a full life, and as the link connecting, the one who slowly year by year had emerged from her greater family and come into her small one. And last of all he thought of John as his own companion, his only one, in the immense adventure on which he was so soon to embark.
A few moments later he stood by John's bed.
"Pretty hard, Johnny?" he gently asked.
"Oh, not so bad as it might be, I guess—"
"You'll soon feel better, they tell me, boy." John shut his eyes.
"Yes," he muttered.
"Can you stand my talking, just a minute?"
"Sure I can," John whispered. "I'm not suffering any now. He's given me something to put me to sleep. What is it you want to talk about? Business?"
"Not exactly, partner. It's about the family. You've got so you're almost one of us. I guess you know us pretty well."
"I guess I do. It's meant a lot to me, Mr. Gale—"
"But I'll tell you what you don't know, John," Roger went on slowly. "I had a son in the family once, and he died when he was three months old. That was a long time ago—and I never had another, you see—to take his place—till you came along." There fell a breathless silence. "And I've been thinking lately," Roger added steadily. "I haven't long to live, you know. And I've been wondering whether—you'd like to come into the family—take my name. Do you understand?"
John said nothing. His eyes were still closed. But presently, groping over the bed, he found Roger's hand and clutched it tight. After this, from time to time his throat contracted sharply. Tears welled from under his eyelids. Then gradually, as the merciful drug which Allan had given did its work, his clutch relaxed and he began breathing deep and hard. But still for some time longer Roger sat quietly by his side.
The next night he was there again. Death had come to the huddled form on the bed, but there had been no relaxing. With the head thrown rigidly far back and all the features tense and hard, it was a fighting figure still, a figure of stern protest against the world's injustice. But Roger was not thinking of this, but of the discovery he had made, that in their talk of the night before John had understood him—completely. For upon a piece of paper which Allan had given the lad that day, these words had been painfully inscribed:
"This is my last will and testament. I am in my right mind—I know what I am doing—though nobody else does—nobody is here. To my partner Roger Gale I leave my share in our business. And to my teacher Deborah Baird I leave my crutches for her school."
After John had gone away the house was very quiet. Only from the room upstairs there could be heard occasionally the faint clear cry of Deborah's child. And once again to Roger came a season of repose. He was far from unhappy. His disease, although progressing fast, gave him barely any pain; it rather made its presence felt by the manner in which it affected his mind. His inner life grew uneven. At times his thoughts were as in a fog, again they were amazingly clear and vistas opened far ahead. He could not control his thinking.
This bothered him at the office, in the work he still had to do. For some months he had been considering an offer from one of his rivals, a modern concern which wished to buy out his business together with that of three other firms and consolidate them all into one corporation. And Roger was selling, and it was hard; for the whole idea of bargaining was more distasteful than ever now. He had to keep reminding himself of Edith and her children.
At last it was over, his books were closed, and there was nothing left to be done. Nor did he care to linger. These rooms had meant but little to him; they had been but a place of transition from the old office far downtown, so full of memories of his youth, to the big corporation looming ahead, the huge impersonal clipping mill into which his business was to merge. And it came to his mind that New York was like that—no settled calm abiding place cherishing its memories, but only a town of transition, a great turbulent city of change, restlessly shaking off its past, tearing down and building anew, building higher, higher, higher, rearing to the very stars, and shouting, "Can you see me now?" What was the goal of this mad career? What dazzling city would be here? For a time he stared out of his window as into a promised land. Slowly at last he rose from his desk. Clippings, clippings, clippings. He looked at those long rows of girls gleaning in items large and small the public reputations of all kinds of men and women, new kinds in a new nation seething with activities, sweeping on like some wide river swollen at flood season to a new America, a world which Roger would not know. And yet it would be his world still, for in it he would play a part.
"In their lives, too, we shall be there—the dim strong figures of the past."
From his desk he gathered a few belongings. Then he looked into John's small room, with the big gold motto over the desk: "This is no place for your troubles or mine." On the desk lay that small album, John's parting gift to Deborah's boy. Roger picked it up and walked out of the office. He had never liked good-byes.
In the elevator he noticed that his shoes needed shining, and when he reached the street below he stopped at the stand on the corner. The stocky Greek with bushy black hair, who had run the stand for many years, gave him a cheery greeting; for Roger had stopped there frequently—not that he cared about his shoes, but he had always liked to watch the crowds of people passing.
"No hurry, boss?"
"None," said Roger.
"Then I give a fine shine! Polish, too?"
"Yes, polish, too." And Roger settled back to watch.
"And put in new shoe strings," he added, with a whimsical smile.
Men and women, girls and boys by thousands passed him, pushing, hurrying, shuffling by. Girls tittering and nudging and darting quick side glances. Bobbing heads and figures, vigorous steps and dancing eyes. Life bubbling over everywhere, in laughter, in sharp angry tones, in glad expectant chatter. Deborah's big family. Across the street was a movie between two lurid posters, and there was a dance hall overhead. The windows were all open, and faintly above the roar of the street he could hear the piano, drum, fiddle and horn. The thoroughfare each moment grew more tumultuous to his ears, with trolley cars and taxis, motor busses, trucks and drays. A small red motor dashed uptown with piles of evening papers; a great black motor hearse rushed by. In a taxi which had stopped in a jam, a man was kissing a girl in his arms, and both of them were laughing. The smart little toque of blue satin she wore was crushed to one side. How red were her lips as she threw back her head....
"Silk or cotton, boss? Which you like?" Roger glanced at the shoe strings and pondered.
"Silk," he grunted in reply. Idly for a moment he watched this busy little man. From whence had he come in far away Greece? What existence had he here, and what kind of life would he still have through those many years to come? A feeling half of sadness crept into Roger's heavy eyes as he looked at the man, at his smiling face and then at other faces in the multitudes sweeping past. The moment he tried to single them out, how doubly chaotic it became. What an ocean of warm desires, passions, vivid hopes and worries. Vaguely he could feel them pass. Often in the midst of his life, his active and self-centered life, Roger had looked at these crowds on the street and had thought these faces commonplace. But now at the end it was not so.
A woman with a baby carriage stopped directly in front of him and stood there anxiously watching for a chance to cross the street. And Roger thought of Deborah. Heavily he climbed down from his seat, paid the man and bade him good-night, and went home to see Deborah's baby.
For a long time he sat by the cradle. Presently Deborah joined him, and soon they were laughing heartily at the astonishing jerks and kicks and grimaces of the tiny boy. He was having his bath and he hated it. But safe at last on his mother's lap, wrapped to his ears in a big soft towel, he grew very gay and contented and looked waggishly about.
There followed long lazy days of spring, as April drifted into May. Early in the morning Roger could hear through his window the cries of the vendors of flowers and fruits. And he listened drowsily. He rose late and spent most of the day in the house; but occasionally he went out for a stroll. And one balmy evening when groups of youths came trooping by, singing in close harmony, Roger called a taxi and went far down through the tenement streets to a favorite haunt of his, a little Syrian pawnshop, where after long delving he purchased a ring to put in the new collection that he had been making lately. He had nearly a dozen now.
Days passed. The house was still so quiet, Deborah was still upstairs. At last, one night upon leaving his study, he stopped uncertainly in the hall. He took more time than was his wont in closing up the house for the night, in trying all the windows, in turning out the various lights. Room after room he left in the dark. Then he went slowly up the stairs, his hand gratefully feeling those guiding points grown so familiar to his touch through many thousand evenings. His hand lingered on the banister and he stopped again to listen there.
He did not come downstairs again.
He was able to sleep but little at night. Turning restlessly on his bed, he would glance out of the window up at the beetling wall close by, tier on tier of apartments from which faint voices dropped out of the dark. Gradually as the night wore on, these voices would all die away into long mysterious silences—for to him at least such silences had grown to be very mysterious. Alone in the hours that followed, even these modern neighbors and this strange new eager town pressing down upon his house seemed no longer strange to him nor so appallingly immense, seemed even familiar and small to him, as the eyes of his mind looked out ahead.
From his bed he could see on the opposite wall the picture Judith had given him, always so fresh and cool and dim with its deep restful tones of blue, of the herdsmen and the cattle on the dark mountain rim at dawn. And vaguely he wondered whether it was because he saw more clearly, or whether his mind in this curious haze could no longer see so well, that as he looked before him he felt no fear nor any more uncertainty. All his doubts had lifted, he was so sure of Judith now. As though she were coming to meet him, her image grew more vivid, with memories emerging out of all the years gone by. What memories, what vivid scenes! What intimate conversations they had, her voice so natural, close in his ear, as together they planned for their children.... Wistfully he would search the years for what he should soon tell his wife—until the drowsiness returned, and then again came visions.
But by day it was not so, for the life of the house would rouse him and at intervals hold his attention.
One evening a slight rustle, a faint fragrance in the room, made Roger suddenly open his eyes. And he saw Laura by his bed, her slender figure clad in blue silk, something white at her full bosom. He noticed her shapely shoulders, her glossy hair and moist red lips. She was smiling down at him.
"See what I've brought you, dear," she said. And she turned to a chair where, one on the other, tray after tray, was piled his whole collection of rings. At sight of them his eyes grew fixed; he could feel his pulse beat faster.
"How did you ever find them?" he asked his daughter huskily.
"Oh, I had a long hunt all by myself. But I found them at last and I've brought them home. Shall we look them over a little while?"
"Yes," he said. She turned up the light, and came and sat down at the bedside with a tray of rings in her lap. One by one she held them up to his gaze, still smiling and talking softly on in that rich melodious voice of hers, of which he heard but snatches. How good it felt to be so gay. No solemn thoughts nor questionings, just these dusky glittering beauties here, deep soft gleams of color, each with its suggestion of memories for Roger, a procession of adventures reaching back into his life. He smiled and lay in silence watching, until at last she bent over him, kissed him softly, breathed a good-night and went out of the room. Roger followed her with his glance. He knew he would never see her again. How graceful of her to go like that.
He lay there thinking about her. In her large blue limousine he saw his gay young daughter speeding up the Avenue, the purple gleaming pavement reflecting studded lines of lights. And he thought he could see her smiling still. He recalled scattered fragments of her life—the first luxurious little menage, and the second. How many more would there be? She was only in her twenties still. Uneasily he tried to see into the years ahead for her, and he thought he saw a lonely old age, childless, loveless, cynical, hard. But this fear soon fell from his mind. No, whatever happened, she would do it gracefully, an artist always, to the end. He sighed and gave up the effort. For he could not think of Laura as old, nor could he think of her any more as being a part of his family.
Edith came to him several times, and there was something in her face which gave him sharp forebodings. Making a great effort he tried to talk to her clearly.
"It's hard to keep up with your children," he said. "It means keeping up with everything new. And you stay in your rut and then it's too late. Before you know it you are old."
But his words subsided in mutterings, and Roger wearily closed his eyes. For a glance up into Edith's face had shown him only pity there and no heed to his warning. He saw that she looked upon him as old and still upon herself as young, though he noticed the threads of gray in her hair.... Then he realized she had gone and that his chamber had grown dark. He must have been dreaming. Of what, he asked. He tried to remember. And suddenly out of the darkness, so harsh and clear it startled him, a picture rose in Roger's mind of a stark lonely figure, a woman in a graveyard cutting the grass on family graves. Where had he seen it? He could not recall. What had it to do with Edith? Was she not living in New York?... What had so startled him just now? Some thought, some vivid picture, some nightmare he could not recall.
His last talks were with Deborah. All through those days and the long nights, too, he kept fancying she was in the room, and it brought deep balm to his restless soul. He asked her to tell him about the schools, and Deborah talked to him quietly. She was going back to her work in the fall. She felt very humble about it—she told him she felt older now and she saw that her work was barely begun. But she was even happier than before. Her hand lay in his, and it tightened there. He opened his eyes and looked up into hers.
"All so strange," he muttered, "life." There was a sharp contracting of her wide and sensitive mouth.
"Yes, dear, strange!" she whispered.
"But I'm so glad you're going on." He frowned as he tried to be simple and clear, and make her feel he understood what she had set herself to do. "All people," he said slowly, "never counted so much as now. And never so hungry—all—as now—for all of life—like children—children who should go to school. Your work will grow—I can see ahead. Never a time when every man and woman and child could grow so much—and hand it on—and hand it on—as you will do to your small son."
He felt her hand on his forehead, and for some moments nothing was said. Vaguely in glimpses Roger saw his small grandson growing up; and he pictured other children here, not her own but of her greater family, as the two merged into one. He felt that she would not grow old. Children, lives of children; work, dreams and aspirations. How bright it seemed as he stared ahead. Then he heard the cry of her baby.
"Shall I nurse him here?" he heard her ask. He pressed her hand in answer. And when again he opened his eyes she was by his side with the child at her breast. Its large round eyes, so pure and clear, gazed into his own for a long, long time.
"Now he's so sleepy," she whispered. "Would you like him beside you a moment?"
He felt the faint scent of the tiny boy, and still those eyes looked into his. He forgot his daughter standing there; and as he watched, a sweet fresh sense of the mystery of this life so new stole deep into his spirit. All at once the baby fell asleep.
"Good-night, little brother," he whispered. "God grant the world be very kind." He could feel the mother lift it up, and he heard the door close softly.
Smiling he, too, fell asleep. And after that there were only dreams.
And his dreams were of children. Their faces passed before him. Now they were young again in the house. They were eating their suppers, three small girls, chattering like magpies. From her end of the table their mother smiled quietly across at him. "Come children," she was saying, "that will do for a little while." But Roger said, "Oh, let them talk."... Then he saw new-comers. Bruce came in with Edith, and George and young Elizabeth, and Allan came with Deborah who had a baby in her arms, and Laura stood beside them. Here were his three daughters, grown, but still in some uncanny way they looked to him like children still; and behind them he detected figures long forgotten, of boys and girls whom he had known far back in his own childhood. John, too, had come into the house. Strangely now the walls were gone, had lifted, and a clamorous throng, laughing, shouting, pummeling, hedged him in on every hand—Deborah's big family!
Soon the uproar wearied him, and Roger tried to shut them out, to bring back again the walls to his house. And sometimes he succeeded, and he was left for a while in peace with Judith and his three small girls. But despite his efforts to keep them there, new faces kept intruding. Swiftly his small family grew, split into other families, and these were merged with other figures pressing in from every side. Again he felt the presence of countless families all around, dividing, reuniting, with ceaseless changes and fresh life—a never ending multitude. Here they were singing and dancing, and Laura gaily waved to him. At another place were only men, and they were struggling savagely to clutch things from each other's hands. A sea of scowling visages, angry shouts, fists clinched in air. And he thought he saw Bruce for an instant. Behind them lay wide valleys obscured by heavy clouds of smoke, and he could hear the roar of guns. But they vanished suddenly, and he saw women mourning now, and Edith with her children turned to him her anxious eyes. He tried to reach and help her, but already she had gone. And behind her came huge bending forms, men heaving at great burdens, jaws set in scowls of fierce revolt. And John was there on his crutches, and near him was a figure bound into a chair of steel, with terror in the straining limbs, while in desperation Deborah tried to wrench him free. Abruptly Roger turned away.
And in a twinkling all was gone, the tumult and the clamor, and he was in a silent place high up on a mountain side. It was dusk. A herd of cattle passed, and George came close behind them. And around him Roger saw, emerging from the semi-dark, faces turning like his own to the summits of the mountains and the billowy splendors there. It grew so dark he could see no more. There fell a deep silence, not a sound but the occasional chirp of a bird or the faint whirr of an insect. Even the glow on the peaks was gone. Darkness, only darkness.
"Surely this is death," he thought. After that he was alone. And presently from far away he heard the booming of a bell, deep and slow, sepulchral, as it measured off his life. Another silence followed, and this time it was more profound; and with a breathless awe he knew that all the people who had ever lived on earth were before him in the void to which he himself was drifting: people of all nations, of countless generations reaching back and back and back to the beginnings of mankind: the mightiest family of all, that had stumbled up through the ages, had slaved and starved and dreamed and died, had blindly hated, blindly killed, had raised up gods and idols and yearned for everlasting life, had laughed and played and danced along, had loved and mated, given birth, had endlessly renewed itself and handed on its heritage, had striven hungrily to learn, had groped its way in darkness, and after all its struggles had come now barely to the dawn. And then a voice within him cried,
"What is humanity but a child? In the name of the dead I salute the unborn!"
Slowly a glow appeared in his dream, and once again the scene had changed. The light was coming from long rows of houses rising tall and steep out of a teeming city street. And from these lighted houses children now came pouring forth. They filled the street from wall to wall with a torrent of warm vivid hues, they joined in mad tempestuous games, they shouted and they danced with glee, they whirled each other 'round and 'round. The very air seemed quivering. Then was heard the crash of a band, and he saw them marching into school. In and in and in they pressed, till the school seemed fairly bursting. Out they came by another way, and went off marching down the street with the big flag waving at their head. He followed and saw the street divide into narrower streets and bye-ways, into roads and country lanes. And all were filled with children. In endless multitudes they came—marching, marching, spreading, spreading, like wide bobbing fields of flowers rolling out across the land, toward a great round flashing sun above a distant rim of hills.
The sun rose strangely dazzling. It filled the heavens with blinding light. He felt himself drawn up and up—while from somewhere far behind he heard the cry of Deborah's child. A clear sweet thrill of happiness came. And after that—we do not know.
For he had left his family.
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