But as he watched Laura in the house, Roger's first emotions were complicated more and more by a feeling of bewilderment. At dinner the next evening he noticed with astonishment that she appeared like her natural self. "She's acting," he decided. But this explanation he soon dismissed. No, it was something deeper. She was actually unashamed, unafraid. That first display of feelings, the night of her arrival, had been only the scare of an hour. Within a few days she was back on her feet; and her cure for her trouble, if trouble she felt, was not less but more pleasure, as always. She went out nearly every evening now; and when she had spent what money she had, she sold a part of her jewelry to the little old Galician Jew in the shop around the corner. Yes, she was her natural self. And she was as before to her father. Her attitude said plainly,
"It isn't fair to you, poor dear, to expect you to fully understand how right I am in this affair. And considering your point of view, you're acting very nicely."
Often as she talked to him a note of good-humored forgiveness crept into his daughter's voice. And looking at her grimly out of the corner of his eye, he saw that she looked down on him, far, far down from heights above.
"Yes," he thought, "this is modern." Then he grew angry all at once. "No," he added, "this is wrong! You can't fool me, young woman, you know it as well as I do myself! You're not going to carry this off with an air—not with your father! No, by George!"
And he would grow abrupt and stern. But days would pass and in spite of himself into their talks would creep a natural friendly tone. Again he found himself friends with her—friends as though nothing whatever had happened! Could it be that a woman who had so sinned could go right on? Here was Laura, serenely unconscious of guilt, and smiling into her future, dreaming still of happiness, quite plainly sure of it, in fact! With a curious dismayed relief Roger would scowl at this daughter of his—a radiant enigma in his quiet sober house.
But Edith was not at all perplexed. When she learned from Deborah that there was soon to be a divorce, she came at once to her father. Her face was like a thundercloud.
"A nice example for my children!" she indignantly exclaimed.
"I'm sorry, my dear. But what can I do?"
"You can make her go back to her husband, can't you?"
"No, I can't," he flatly replied.
"Then I'd better try it myself!"
"You'll do no such thing!" he retorted. "I've gone clear to the bottom of this—and I say you're to leave her alone!"
"Very well," she answered. And she did leave her sister alone, so severely that Laura soon avoided being home for lunch or dinner. She had taken the room which George had occupied ever since John had been turned out, and there she breakfasted late in bed, until Edith put a stop to it. They barely spoke to each other now. Laura still smiled defiance.
Days passed. Christmas came at last, and despite Edith's glum resolution to make it a happy time for the children, the happiness soon petered out. After the tree in the morning, the day hung heavy on the house. Roger buried himself in his study. Laura had motored off into the country with a gay party of her friends. Or was this just a ruse, he wondered, and was she spending the day with her lover? Well, what if she was? Could he lock her in?
About twilight he thought he heard her return, and later from his bedroom he heard her voice and Edith's. Both voices sounded angry, but he would not interfere.
At the Christmas dinner that evening Laura did not put in an appearance, but Edith sat stiff and silent there; and despite the obvious efforts which Deborah and Allan made to be genial with the children, the very air in the room was charged with the feeling of trouble close ahead. Again Roger retreated into his den, and presently Laura came to him.
"Good-night—I'm going out," she said, and she pressed her cheek lightly to his own. "What a dear you've been to me, dad," she murmured. And then she was gone.
A few minutes later Edith came in. She held a small note in her hand, which Roger saw was addressed to himself.
"Well, father, I learned this afternoon what you've been keeping from me," she said. Roger gave her a steady look.
"You did, eh—Laura told you?"
"Yes, she did!" his daughter exclaimed. "And I can't help wondering, father—"
"Why did she tell you? Have you been at her again to-day?"
"Again? Not at all," she answered. "I've done as you asked me to, let her alone. But to-day—mother's day—I got thinking of her."
"Leave your mother out of it, please. What did you say to Laura?"
"I tried to make her go back, of course—"
"And she told you—"
"He wouldn't have her! And then in a perfect tantrum she went on to tell me why!" Edith's eyes were cold with disgust. "And I'm wondering why you let her stay here—in the same house with my children!"
Roger reached out his hand.
"Give me that note," he commanded. He read it quickly and handed it back. The note was from Laura, a hasty good-bye.
"Edith will explain," she wrote, "and you will see I cannot stay any longer. It is simply too impossible. I am going to the man I love—and in a few days we shall sail for Naples. I know you will not interfere. It will make the divorce even simpler and everything easier all round. Please don't worry about me. We shall soon be married over there. You have been so dear and sensible and I do so love you for it." Then came her name scrawled hastily. And at the bottom of the page: "I have paid every bill I can think of."
Edith read it in silence, her color slowly mounting.
"All right," said her father, "your children are safe." She gave him a quick angry look, burst into tears and ran out of the room.
Roger sat without moving, his heavy face impassive. And so he remained for a long time. Well, Laura was gone—no mistake about that—and this time she was gone for good. She was going to live in Rome. Try to stop her? No. What good would it do? Wings of the Eagles, Rome reborn. That was it, she had hit it, struck the keynote of this new age. Rome reborn, all clean, old-fashioned Christian living swept away by millions of men at each others' throats like so many wolves. And at last quite openly to himself Roger admitted that he felt old. Old and beaten, out of date. Moments passed, and hours—he took little note of time. Nor did he see on the mantle the dark visage of "The Thinker" there, resting on the huge clinched fist and brooding down upon him. Lower, imperceptibly, he sank into his leather chair.
Quiet had returned to his house.