His Family


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.

[182]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, "Ça 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 [183]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 [184]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?"

[185]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.

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