Roger's hearing was extremely acute. Though the room where he was sitting, his study, was at the back of the house, he heard Deborah's key at the street door and he heard the door softly open and close.
"Are you there, dearie?" Her voice from the hallway was low; and his answer, "Yes, child," was in the same tone, as though she were with him in the room. This keen sense of hearing had long been a peculiar bond between them. To her father, Deborah's voice was the most distinctive part of her, for often as he listened the memory came of her voice as a girl, unpleasant, hurried and stammering. But she had overcome all that. "No grown woman," she had declared, when she was eighteen, "has any excuse for a voice like mine." That was eleven years ago; and the voice she had acquired since, with its sweet magnetic quality, its clear and easy articulation, was to him an expression of Deborah's growth. As she took off her coat and hat in the hall she said, in the same low tone as before,
"Edith has been here, I suppose—"
"I'm so sorry I missed her. I tried to get home early, but it has been a busy night."
Her voice sounded tired, comfortably so, and she looked that way as she came in. Though only a little taller than Edith, she was of a sturdier build and more decided features. Her mouth was large with a humorous droop and her face rather broad with high cheekbones. As she put her soft black hair up over her high forehead, her father noticed her birthmark, a faint curving line of red running up from between her eyes. Imperceptible as a rule, it showed when she was tired. In the big school in the tenements where she had taught for many years, she gave herself hard without stint to her work, but she had such a good time through it all. She had a way, too, he reflected, of always putting things in their place. As now she came in and kissed him and sank back on his leather lounge with a tranquil breath of relief, she seemed to be dropping school out of her life.
Roger picked up his paper and continued his reading. Presently they would have a talk, but first he knew that she wanted to lie quite still for a little while. Vaguely he pictured her work that night, her class-room packed to bursting with small Jews and Italians, and Deborah at the blackboard with a long pointer in her hand. The fact that for the last two years she had been the principal of her school had made little impression upon him.
And meanwhile, as she lay back with eyes closed, her mind still taut from the evening called up no simple class-room but far different places—a mass meeting in Carnegie Hall where she had just been speaking, some schools which she had visited out in Indiana, a block of tenements far downtown and the private office of the mayor. For her school had long curious arms these days.
"Was Bruce here too this evening?" she asked her father presently. Roger finished what he was reading, then looked over to the lounge, which was in a shadowy corner.
"Yes, he came in late." And he went on to tell her of Bruce's "engineering." At once she was interested. Rising on one elbow she questioned him good-humoredly, for Deborah was fond of Bruce.
"Has he bought that automobile he wanted?"
"No," replied her father. "Edith said they couldn't afford it."
"Poor Georgie," Deborah murmured. At the look of pain and disapproval on her father's heavy face, she smiled quietly to herself. George, who was Edith's oldest and the worry of her days, was Roger's favorite grandson. "Has he been bringing home any more sick dogs?"
"No, this time it was a rat—a white one," Roger answered. A glint of dry relish appeared in his eyes. "George brought it home the other night. He had on a pair of ragged old pants."
"What on earth—"
"He had traded his own breeches for the rat," said Roger placidly.
"No! Oh, father! Really!" And she sank back laughing on the lounge.
"His school report," said Roger, "was quite as bad as ever."
"Of course it was," said Deborah. And she spoke so sharply that her father glanced at her in surprise. She was up again on one elbow, and there was an eager expression on her bright attractive face. "Do you know what we're going to do some day? We're going to put the rat in the school," Deborah said impatiently. "We're going to take a boy like George and study him till we think we know just what interests him most. And if in his case it's animals, we'll have a regular zoo in school. And for other boys we'll have other things they really want to know about. And we'll keep them until five o'clock—when their mothers will have to drag them away." Her father looked bewildered.
"But arithmetic, my dear."
"You'll find they'll have learned their arithmetic without knowing it," Deborah answered.
"Sounds a bit wild," murmured Roger. Again to his mind came the picture of hordes of little Italians and Jews. "My dear, if I had your children to teach, I don't think I'd add a zoo," he said. And with a breath of discomfort he turned back to his reading. He knew that he ought to question her, to show an interest in her work. But he had a deep aversion for those millions of foreign tenement people, always shoving, shoving upward through the filth of their surroundings. They had already spoiled his neighborhood, they had flowed up like an ocean tide. And so he read his paper, frowning guiltily down at the page. He glanced up in a little while and saw Deborah smiling across at him, reading his dislike of such talk. The smile which he sent back at her was half apologetic, half an appeal for mercy. And Deborah seemed to understand. She went into the living room, and there at the piano she was soon playing softly. Listening from his study, again the feeling came to him of her fresh and abundant vitality. He mused a little enviously on how it must feel to be strong like that, never really tired.
And while her father thought in this wise, Deborah at the piano, leaning back with eyes half closed, could feel her tortured nerves relax, could feel her pulse stop throbbing so and the dull aching at her temples little by little pass away. She played like this so many nights. Soon she would be ready for sleep.
After she had gone to bed, Roger rose heavily from his chair. By long habit he went about the house trying the windows and turning out lights. Last he came to the front door. There were double outer doors with a ponderous system of locks and bolts and a heavy chain. Mechanically he fastened them all; and putting out the light in the hall, in the darkness he went up the stairs. He could so easily feel his way. He put his hand lightly, first on the foot of the banister, then on a curve in it halfway up, again on the sharper curve at the top and last on the knob of his bedroom door. And it was as though these guiding objects came out to meet him like old friends.
In his bedroom, while he slowly undressed, his glance was caught by the picture upon the wall opposite his bed, a little landscape poster done in restful tones of blue, of two herdsmen and their cattle far up on a mountainside in the hour just before the dawn, tiny clear-cut silhouettes against the awakening eastern sky. So immense and still, this birth of the day—the picture always gave him the feeling of life everlasting. Judith his wife had placed it there.
From his bed through the window close beside him he looked up at the cliff-like wall of the new apartment building, with tier upon tier of windows from which murmurous voices dropped out of the dark: now soft, now suddenly angry, loud; now droning, sullen, bitter, hard; now gay with little screams of mirth; now low and amorous, drowsy sounds. Tier upon tier of modern homes, all overhanging Roger's house as though presently to crush it down.
But Roger was not thinking of that. He was thinking of his children—of Edith's approaching confinement and all her anxious hunting about to find what was best for her family, of Bruce and the way he was driving himself in the unnatural world downtown where men were at each other's throats, of Deborah and that school of hers in the heart of a vast foul region of tenement buildings swarming with strange, dirty little urchins. And last he thought of Laura, his youngest daughter, wild as a hawk, gadding about the Lord knew where. She even danced in restaurants! Through his children he felt flowing into his house the seething life of this new town. And drowsily he told himself he must make a real effort, and make it soon, to know his family better. For in spite of the storm of long ago which had swept away his faith in God, the feeling had come to him of late that somewhere, in some manner, he was to meet his wife again. He rarely tried to think this out, for as soon as he did it became a mere wish, a hungry longing, nothing more. So he had learned to let it lie, deep down inside of him. Sometimes he vividly saw her face. After all, who could tell? And she would want to hear of her children. Yes, he must know them better. Some day soon he must begin.
Suddenly he remembered that Laura had not yet come home. With a sigh of discomfort he got out of bed and went downstairs, re-lit the gas in the hallway, unfastened the locks and the chain at the door. He came back and was soon asleep. He must have dozed for an hour or two. He was roused by hearing the front door close and a big motor thundering. And then like a flash of light in the dark came Laura's rippling laughter.