But the quiet was dark to Roger now. Each night he spent in his study alone, for instinctively he felt the need of being by himself for a while, of keeping away from his children—out of whose lives he divined that other events would soon come forth to use up the last of the strength that was in him.
And Roger grew angry with the world. Why couldn't it let a man alone, an old man in a silent house alive for him with memories? Repeatedly in such hours his mind would go groping backward into the years behind him. What a long and winding road, half buried in the jungle, dim, almost impenetrable, made up of millions of small events, small worries, plans and dazzling dreams, with which his days had all been filled. But the more he recalled the more certain he grew that he was right. Life had never been like this: the world had never come smashing into his house, his very family, with its dirty teeming tenements, its schools, its prisons, electric chairs, its feverish rush for money, its luxuries, its scandals. These things had existed in the world, but remote and never real, mere things which he had read about. War? Did he not remember wars that had come and gone in Europe? But they hadn't come into his home like this, first making him poor when he needed money for Edith and her children, then plunging Deborah into a struggle which might very probably ruin her life, and now taking Laura and filling her mind with thoughts of pagan living. Why was every man, woman and child, these days, bound up in the whole life of the world? What would come of it all? A new day out of this deafening night? Maybe so. But for him it would come too late.
"What have I left to live for?"
One night with a sigh he went to his desk, lit a cigar and laid his hand upon a pile of letters which had been mounting steadily. It was made up of Laura's bills, the ones she had not remembered. Send them after her to Rome for that Italian fellow to pay? No, it could not be thought of. Roger turned to his dwindling bank account. He was not yet making money, he was still losing a little each week. But he would not cut expenses. To the few who were left in his employ, to be turned away would mean dire need. And angrily he determined that they should not starve to pay Laura's bills. "The world for the strong, eh? Not in my office!" In Rome or Berlin or Vienna, all right! But not over here!
Grimly, when he had made out the checks, Roger eyed his balance. By spring he would be penniless. And he had no one to turn to now, no rich young son-in-law who could aid.
He set himself doggedly to the task of forcing up his business, and meanwhile in the evenings he tried with Edith to get back upon their former footing. To do this was not easy at first, for his bitterness still rankled deep: "When you were in trouble I took you in, but when she was in trouble you turned her out, as you turned out John before her." In the room again vacated, young George had been reinstalled. One night Edith found her father there looking in through the open doorway, and the look on his massive face was hard.
"Better have the room disinfected again," he muttered when he saw her. He turned and went slowly down the stairs. And she was late for dinner that night.
But Edith had her children. And as he watched her night by night hearing their lessons patiently, reading them fairy stories and holding them smilingly in her arms, the old appeal of her motherhood regained its hold upon him. One evening when the clock struck nine, putting down his paper he suggested gruffly,
"Well, daughter, how about some chess?"
Edith flushed a little:
"Why, yes, dear, I'd be glad to."
She rose and went to get the board. So the games were resumed, and part at least of their old affection came to life. But only a part. It could never be quite the same again.
And though he saw little of Deborah, slowly, almost unawares to them both, she assumed the old place she had had in his home—as the one who had been right here in the house through all the years since her mother had died, the one who had helped and never asked help, keeping her own troubles to herself. He fell back into his habit of going before dinner to his daughter's bedroom door to ask whether she would be home that night. At one such time, getting no response and thinking Deborah was not there, he opened the door part way to make sure. And he saw her at her dresser, staring at herself in the glass, rigid as though in a trance. Later in the dining room he heard her step upon the stairs. She came in quietly and sat down; and as soon as dinner was over, she said her good-nights and left the house. But when she came home at midnight, he was waiting up for her. He had foraged in the kitchen, and on his study table he had set out some supper. While she sat there eating, her father watched her from his chair.
"Things going badly in school?" he inquired.
"Yes," she replied. There was silence.
"To-night we had a line of mothers reaching out into the street. They had come for food and coal—but we had to send most of them home empty-handed. Some of them cried—and one of them fainted. She's to have a baby soon."
"Can't you get any money uptown?" he asked.
"I have," she answered grimly. "I've been a beggar—heaven knows—on every friend I can think of. And I've kept a press agent hard at work trying to make the public see that Belgium is right here in New York." She stopped and went on with her supper. "But it's a bad time for work like mine," she continued presently. "If we're to keep it going we must above all keep it cheap. That's the keynote these days, keep everything cheap—at any cost—so that men can expensively kill one another." Her voice had a bitter ring to it. "You try to talk peace and they bowl you over, with facts on the need of preparedness—for the defence of your country. And that doesn't appeal to me very much. I want a bigger preparedness—for the defence of the whole world—for democracy, and human rights, no matter who the people are! I'd like to train every child to that!"
"What do you mean?" her father asked.
"To teach him what his life can be!" she replied in a hard quivering tone. "A fight? Oh yes! So long as he lives—and even with guns if it must be so! But a fight for all the people on earth!—and a world so full of happy lives that men will think hard—before ever again letting themselves be led by the nose—into war and death—for a place in the sun!" She rose from her chair, with a weary smile: "Here I am making a speech again. I've made so many lately it's become a habit. I'm tired out, dad, I'm going to bed." Her father looked at her anxiously.
"You're seeing things out of proportion," he said. "You've worked so hard you're getting stale. You ought to get out of it for a while."
"I can't!" she answered sharply. "You don't know—you don't even guess—how it takes every hour—all the demands!"
"Working," was her harsh reply. "Trying to keep his hospital going with half its staff. The woman who was backing him is giving her money to Belgium instead."
"Do you see much of him?"
"Every day. Let's drop it. Shall we?"
"All right, my dear—"
And they said good-night ...
In the meantime, in the house, Edith had tried to scrimp and save, but it was very difficult. Her children had so many needs, they were all growing up so fast. Each month brought fresh demands on her purse, and the fund from the sale of her belongings had been used up long ago. Her sole resource was the modest allowance her father gave her for running the house, and she had not asked him for more. She had put off trouble from month to month. But one evening early in March, when he gave her the regular monthly check, she said hesitatingly:
"I'm very sorry, father dear, but I'm afraid we'll need more money this month." He glanced up from his paper:
"What's the matter?" She gave him a forced little smile, and her father noticed the gray in her hair.
"Oh, nothing in particular. Goodness knows I've tried to keep down expenses, but—well, we're a pretty large household, you know—"
"Yes," said Roger kindly, "I know. Are the month's bills in?"
"Let me see them." She brought him the bills and he looked relieved. "Not so many," he ventured.
"No, but they're large."
"Why, look here, Edith," he said abruptly, "these are bills for two months—some for three, even four!"
"I know—that's just the trouble. I couldn't meet them at the time."
"Laura was here—and I didn't want to bother you—you had enough on your mind as it was. I've done the best I could, father dear—I've sold everything, you know—but I've about come to the end of my rope." And her manner said clearly, "I've done my part. I'm only a woman. I'll have to leave the rest to you."
"I see—I see." And Roger knitted his heavy brows. "I presume I can get it somehow." This would play the very devil with things!
"Father." Edith's voice was low. "Why don't you let Deborah help you? She does very little, it seems to me—compared to the size of her salary."
"She can't do any more than she's doing now," was his decisive answer. Edith looked at him, her color high. She hesitated, then burst out:
"I saw her check book the other day, she had left it on the table! She's spending thousands—every month!"
"That's not her own money," Roger said.
"No—it's money she gets for her fads—her work for those tenement children! She can get money enough for them!" He flung out his hand:
"Leave her out of this, please!"
"Very well, father, just as you say." And she sat there hurt and silent while again he looked slowly through the bills. He jotted down figures and added them up. They came to a bit over nine hundred dollars. Soon Deborah's key was heard in the door, and Roger scowled the deeper. She came into the room, but he did not look up. He heard her voice:
"What's the matter, Edith?"
"Bills for the house."
"Oh." And Deborah came to her father. "May I see what's the trouble, dear?"
"I'd rather you wouldn't. It's nothing," he growled. He wanted her to keep out of this.
Deborah was already glancing rapidly over the bills.
"Why, Edith," she exclaimed, "most of these bills go back for months. Why didn't you pay them when they were due?"
"Simply because I hadn't the money!"
"You've had the regular monthly amount."
"That didn't last long—"
"Why didn't you tell us?"
"Laura was here."
Deborah gave a shrug of impatience, and Roger saw how tired she was, her nerves on edge from her long day.
"Never mind about it now," he put in.
"What a pity," Deborah muttered. "If we had been told, we could have cut down."
"I don't agree with you!" Edith rejoined. "I have already done that myself! I've done nothing else!"
"Have the servants been paid?" her sister asked.
"No, they haven't-"
Roger got up and walked the room. Deborah tried to speak quietly:
"I can't quite see where the money has gone."
"Can't you? Then look at my check book." And Edith produced it with a glare. Her sister turned over a few of the stubs.
"What's this item?"
"Here. A hundred and twenty-two dollars."
"The dentist," Edith answered. "Not extravagant, is it—for five children?"
"I see," said Deborah. "And this?"
"You burned John's, didn't you?"
All at once both grew ashamed.
"Let's be sensible," Deborah said. "We must do something, Edith—and we can't till we're certain where we stand."
They went on more calmly and took up the items one by one. Deborah finished and was silent.
"Well, father, what's to be done?" she asked.
"I don't know," he answered shortly.
"Somehow or other," Deborah said, "we've got to cut our expenses down."
"I'm afraid that's impossible," Edith rejoined. "I've already cut as much as I can."
"So did I, in my school," said her sister. "And when I thought I had reached the end, I called in an expert. And he showed me ways of saving I had never dreamed of."
"What kind of expert would you advise here?" Edith's small lip curled in scorn.
"Domestic science, naturally—I have a woman who does nothing else. She shows women in their homes just how to make money count the most."
"What women? And what homes? Tenements?"
"Yes. She's one of my teachers."
"Thank you!" said Edith indignantly. "But I don't care to have my children brought down to tenement standards!"
"I didn't mean to have them! But I know she could show you a great many things you can buy for less!"
"I'm afraid I shouldn't agree with her!"
"Why not, Edith?"
"Because she knows only tenement children—nothing of children bred like mine!"
"Very well, I'll try again. This house is plenty large enough so that by a little crowding we could make room for somebody else. And I know a teacher in one of my schools who'd be only too glad—"
"Take a boarder, you mean?"
"Yes, I do! We've got to do something!"
Deborah threw up her hands:
"All right, Edith, I'm through," she said. "Now what do you propose?"
"I can try to do without Hannah again—"
"That will be hard—on all of us. But I guess you'll have to."
"So it seems."
"But unfortunately that won't he enough."
Edith's face grew tenser:
"I'm afraid it will have to be—just now—I've had about all I can stand for one night!"
"I'm sorry," Deborah answered. For a moment they confronted each other. And Edith's look said to Deborah plainly, "You're spending thousands, thousands, on those tenement children! You can get money enough for them, but you won't raise a hand to help with mine!" And as plainly Deborah answered, "My children are starving, shivering, freezing! What do yours know about being poor?" Two mothers, each with a family, and each one baffled, brought to bay. There was something so insatiable in each angry mother's eyes.
"I think you'd better leave this to me," said Roger very huskily. And both his daughters turned with a start, as though in their bitter absorption they had forgotten his presence there. Both flushed, and now the glances of all three in that room avoided each other. For they felt how sordid it had been. Deborah turned to her sister.
"I'm sorry, Edith," she said again, and this time there were tears in her eyes.
"So am I," said Edith unsteadily, and in a moment she left the room. Deborah stood watching her father.
"I'm ashamed of myself," she said. "Well? Shall we talk it over?"
"No," he replied. "I can manage it somehow, Deborah, and I prefer that you leave it to me."
Roger went into his study and sank grimly into his chair. Yes, it had been pretty bad; it had been ugly, ominous. He took paper and pencil and set to work. How he had come to hate this job of wrestling with figures. Of the five thousand dollars borrowed in August he had barely a thousand left. The first semi-annual interest was due next week and must be paid. The balance would carry them through March and on well into April. By that time he hoped to be making money, for business was better every week. But what of this nine hundred dollars in debts? Half at least must be paid at once. Lower and lower he sank in his chair. But a few moments later, his blunt heavy visage cleared, and with a little sigh of relief he put away his papers, turned out the lights and went upstairs. The dark house felt friendly and comforting now.
In his room he opened the safe in the corner where his collection of curious rings had lain unnoticed for many months. He drew out a tray, sat down by the light and began to look them over. At first only small inanimate objects, gradually as from tray after tray they glittered duskily up at him, they began to yield their riches as they had so often done before. Spanish, French, Italian, Bohemian, Hungarian, Russian and Arabian, rings small and rings enormous, religious rings and magic rings, poison rings, some black with age for all his careful polishing—again they stole deep into Roger's imagination with suggestions of the many hands that had worn them through the centuries, of women kneeling in old churches, couples in dark crooked streets, adventures, love, hate, jealousy. Youth and fire, dreams and passion....
At last he remembered why he was here. He thought of possible purchasers. He knew so many dealers, but he knew, too, that the war had played the devil with them as with everyone else. Still, he thought of several who would find it hard to resist the temptation. He would see them to-morrow, one by one, and get them bidding, haggling. Roger frowned disgustedly.
No help for it, though, and it was a relief. It would bring a truce in his house for a time.
But the truce was brief.
On the afternoon when he sold his collection Roger came home all out of sorts. He had been forced to haggle long; it had been a mean inglorious day; one of the brightest paths in his life had ended in a pigstie. But at least he had bought some peace in his home! Women, women, women! He shut the front door with a slam and went up to his room for a little rest, a little of what he had paid for! On the stairs he passed young Betsy, and he startled the girl by the sudden glare of reproach he bestowed upon her. Savagely he told himself he was no "feminist" that night!
The brief talk he had with Edith was far from reassuring. With no Deborah there to wound her pride, Edith quickly showed herself friendly to her father; but when he advised her to keep her nurse, she at once refused to consider it.
"I want you to," he persisted, with an anxious note in his voice. He had tried life without Hannah here and he did not care to try it again.
"It is already settled, father, I sent her away this morning."
"I don't care to give Deborah," she replied, "another chance to talk as she did."
Roger looked at her gloomily. "You will, though," he was thinking. "You two have only just begun. Let any little point arise, which a couple of men would settle offhand, and you two will get together and go it! There'll be no living in the house!"
With deepening displeasure he watched the struggle between them go on. Sometimes it seemed to Roger there was not a topic he could bring up which would not in some way bring on a clash. One night in desperation he proposed the theatre.
"I'm afraid we can't afford it," said Edith, glancing at Deborah. And she had the same answer, again and again, for the requests her children made, if they involved but the smallest expense. "No, dear, I'm afraid we can't afford that," she would say gently, with a sigh. And under this constant pressure, these nightly little thrusts and jabs, Deborah would grow rigid with annoyance and impatience.
"For Heaven's sake, Edith," she burst out, one night when the children had gone to their lessons, "can you think of nothing on earth, except your own little family?"
"Here it comes again," thought Roger, scowling into his paper. He heard Edith's curt reply:
"No, I can't, not nowadays. Nobody else seems to think of them."
"You mean that I don't!"
"Yes! I'm thinking of George! Do you want him killed in the trenches—in a war with Germany or Japan?"
"Are you utterly mad?" demanded Edith.
"No, I'm awake—my eyes are open! But yours are shut so tight, my dear, you can't see what has happened! You know this war has made us poor and your own life harder, but that's all. The big thing it has done you know nothing about!"
"Suppose you teach me," Edith said, with a prim provoking little smile. Deborah turned on her angrily:
"It has shown that all such mothers as you are out of date and have got to change! That we're bound together—all over the world—whether we like it or whether we don't! And that if we want to keep out of war, we've got to do it by coming right out of our own little homes—and thinking, Edith, thinking!"
"Votes for women," Edith said. Deborah looked at her, rose with a shrug.
"All right, Edith, I give up."
"Thank you. I'm not worth it. You'd better go back to your office now and go on with your work of saving the world. And use every hour of your time and every dollar you possess. I'll stay here and look after my children."
Deborah had gone into the hall. Roger, buried deep in his paper, heard the heavy street door close. He looked up with a feverish sigh—and saw at the open door of his study George and Betsy standing, curious, solemn and wide eyed. How long had they been listening?