His Family

[153]CHAPTER XX

Roger had been spending a long quiet evening at home. He had asked John to dine with him and they had chatted for a time. Then John had started up to his room. And listening to the slow shuffling step of the cripple going upstairs, Roger had thought of the quick eager feet and the sudden scampers that would be heard as the silent old house renewed its life. Later he had gone to bed.

He awakened with a start. The telephone bell was ringing.

"Nice time to be calling folks out of bed," he grumbled, as he went into the hall. The next moment he heard Deborah's voice. It was clear and sharp with a note of alarm.

"Father—it's I! You must come to Edith's apartment at once! Bruce is hurt badly! Come at once!"

When Roger reached the apartment, it was Deborah who opened the door. Her face had changed, it was drawn and gray. She took him into the living room.

"Tell me," he said harshly.

"It was just outside the theater. Bruce and Edith were out in the street and got caught by some idiot of a chauffeur. Bruce threw Edith out of the way, but just as he did it he himself got struck in the back and went under a wheel. Allan brought him here at once, while I telephoned for a friend of his—a surgeon. They're with Bruce now."

"Where's Edith?"

"She's trying to quiet the children. They all woke up—" Deborah frowned—"when he was brought in," she added.

"[154]Well!" breathed Roger. "I declare!" Dazed and stunned, he sank into a chair. Soon the door opened and Allan came in.

"He's gone," he said. And Deborah jumped. "No, no, I meant the doctor."

"What does he say?"

"Bruce can't live," said Allan gently. In the tense silence there came a chill. "And he knows it," Allan added. "He made me tell him—he said he must know—for business reasons. He wants to see you both at once, before Edith gets that child asleep."

As they entered the room they saw Bruce on his bed. He was breathing quickly through his narrow tight-set jaws and staring up at the ceiling with a straining fixed intensity. As they entered he turned his head. His eyes met theirs and lighted up in a hard and terrible manner.

"I'm not leaving them a dollar!" he cried.

"We'll see to them, boy," said Roger, hoarsely, but Bruce had already turned to Baird.

"I make you my executor, Allan—don't need it in writing—there isn't time." He drew a sudden quivering breath. "I have no will," he muttered on. "Never made one—never thought of this. Business life just starting—booming!—and I put in every cent!" There broke from him a low, bitter groan. "Made my money settling other men's muddles! Never thought of making this mess of my own! But even in mine—I could save something still—if I could be there—if I could be there—"

The sweat broke out on his temples, and Deborah laid her hand on his head. "Sh-h-h," she breathed. He shut his eyes.

"Hard to think of anything any more. I can't keep clear." He shuddered with pain. "Fix me for them," he muttered to Baird. "George and his mother. Fix me up—give me a couple of minutes clear. And Deborah—when[155] you bring 'em in—don't let 'em know. You understand? No infernal last good-byes!" Deborah sharply set her teeth.

"No, dear, no," she whispered. She followed her father out of the room, leaving Allan bending over the bed with a hypodermic in his hand. And when, a few moments later, George came in with his mother, they found Bruce soothed and quieted. He even smiled as he reached up his hand.

"They say I've got to sleep, old girl—just sleep and sleep—it'll do me good. So you mustn't stay in the room to-night. Stay with the kiddies and get 'em to sleep." He was still smiling up at her. "They say it'll be a long time, little wife—and I'm so sorry—I was to blame. If I'd done as you wanted and gone in their taxi. Remember? You said it might rain." He turned to George: "Look here, my boy, I'm counting on you. I'll be sick, you know—no good at all. You must stand by your mother."

George gulped awkwardly:

"Sure I will, dad." His father sharply pressed his hand:

"That's right, old fellow, I know what you are. Now good-night, son. Good-night, Edith dear." He looked at her steadily just for a moment, then closed his eyes. "Oh, but I'm sleepy," he murmured. "Good-night."

And they left him. Alone with Allan, Bruce looked up with a savage glare.

"Look here!" he snarled, between his teeth. "If you think I'm going to lie here and die you're mistaken! I won't! I won't let go! I'll show you chaps you can be wrong! Been wrong before, haven't you, thousands of times! Why be so damnably sure about me?" He fell back suddenly, limp and weak. "So damnably sure," he panted.

"We're never sure, my dear old boy," said Allan very [156]tenderly. Again he was bending close over the bed. "We're not sure yet—by any means. You're so strong, old chap, so amazingly strong. You've given me hope—"

"What are you sticking into my arm?" But Allan kept talking steadily on:

"You've given me hope you'll pull through still. But not like this. You've got to rest. Let go, and try to go to sleep."

"I'm afraid to," came the whisper. But soon, as again the drug took hold, he mumbled in a drowsy tone, "Afraid to go to sleep in the dark.... Say, Allan—get Deborah in here, will you—just for a minute. One thing more."

When she came, he did not open his eyes.

"That you, Deborah? Where's your hand?... Oh—there it is. Just one more point. You—you—" Again his mind wandered, but with an effort he brought it back. "You and Edith," he said in a whisper. "So—so—so different. Not—not like each other at all. But you'll stick together—eh? Always—always. Don't let go—I mean of my hand."

"No, dear, no."

And with her hand holding his, she sat for a long time perfectly still. Then the baby was heard crying, and Deborah went to the nursery.

"Now, Edith, I'll see to the children," she said. "Allan says you can go to Bruce if you like."

Edith looked up at Deborah quickly, and as quickly turned away. She went in to her husband. And there, hour by hour through the night, while he lay inert with his hand in hers, little by little she understood. But she asked no question of anyone.

At last Bruce stirred a little and began breathing deep and fast.

And so death came into the family.


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