His Family


It was only a few days later that Edith arrived with her children.

Roger met her at the train at eight o'clock in the evening. The fast mountain express of the summer had been taken off some time before, so Edith had had to be up at dawn and to change cars several times on the trip. "She'll be worn out," he thought as he waited. The train was late. As he walked about the new station, that monstrous sparkling hive of travel with its huge halls and passageways, its little village of shops underground and its bewildering levels for trains, he remembered the interest Bruce had shown in watching this immense puzzle worked out, the day and night labor year after year without the stopping of a train, this mighty symbol of the times, of all the glorious power and speed in an age that had been as the breath to his nostrils. How Bruce had loved the city! As Roger paced slowly back and forth with his hands clasped behind his back, there came over his heavy visage a look of affection and regret which made even New Yorkers glance at him as they went nervously bustling by. From time to time he smiled to himself. "The Catskills will be Central Park! All this city needs is speed!"

But suddenly he remembered that Bruce had always been here before to meet his wife and children, and that Edith on her approaching train must be dreading her arrival. And when at last the train rolled in, and he spied her shapely little head in the on-coming throng of travellers, Roger saw by her set steady smile and the strained expression on her face that he had guessed right. With a [187]quick surge of compassion he pressed forward, kissed her awkwardly, squeezed her arm, then hastily greeted the children and hurried away to see to the trunks. That much of it was over. And to his relief, when they reached the house, Edith busied herself at once in helping the nurse put the children to bed. Later he came up and told her that he had had a light supper prepared.

"Thank you, dear," she answered, "it was so thoughtful in you. But I'm too tired to eat anything." And then with a little assuring smile, "I'll be all right—I'm going to bed."

"Good-night, child, get a fine long sleep."

And Roger went down to his study, feeling they had made a good start.

"What has become of Martha?" Edith asked her father at breakfast the next morning.

"She left last month to be married," he said.

"And Deborah hasn't replaced her yet?" In her voice was such a readiness for hostility toward her sister, that Roger shot an uneasy glance from under his thick grayish brows.

"Has Deborah left the house?" he asked, to gain time for his answer. Edith's small lip slightly curled.

"Oh, yes, long ago," she replied. "She had just a moment to see the children and then she had to be off to school—to her office, I mean. With so many schools on her hands these days, I don't wonder she hasn't had time for the servants."

"No, no, you're mistaken," he said. "That isn't the trouble, it's not her fault. In fact it was all my idea."

"Your idea," she retorted, in an amused affectionate tone. And Roger grimly gathered himself. It would he extremely difficult breaking his unpleasant news.

"Yes," he answered. "You see this damnable war abroad has hit me in my business."

"[188]Oh, father! How?" she asked him. In an instant she was all alert. "You don't mean seriously?" she said.

"Yes, I do," he answered, and he began to tell her why. But she soon grew impatient. Business details meant nothing to Edith. "I see," she kept saying, "yes, yes, I see." She wanted him to come to the point.

"So I've had to mortgage the house," he concluded. "And for very little money, my dear. And a good deal of that—" he cleared his throat—"had to go back into the business."

"I see," said Edith mechanically. Her mind was already far away, roving over her plans for the children. For in Roger's look of suspense she plainly read that other plans had been made for them in her absence. "Deborah's in this!" flashed through her mind. "Tell me what it will mean," she said.

"I'm afraid you'll have to try to do without your nurse for a while."

"Let Hannah go? Oh, father!" And Edith flushed with quick dismay. "How can I, dad? Five children—five! And two of them so little they can't even dress themselves alone! And there are all their meals—their baths—and the older ones going uptown to school! I can't let them go way uptown on the 'bus or the trolley without a maid—"

"But, Edith!" he interrupted, his face contracting with distress. "Don't you see that they can't go to school?" She turned on him. "Uptown, I mean, to those expensive private schools."

"Father!" she demanded. "Do you mean you want my children to go to common public schools?" There was rage and amazement upon her pretty countenance, and with it an instant certainty too. Yes, this was Deborah's planning! But Roger thought that Edith's look was all directed at himself. And for the first time in his life he felt the shame and humility of the male provider [189]no longer able to provide. He reddened and looked down at his plate.

"You don't understand," he said. "I'm strapped, my child—I can't help it—I'm poor."

"Oh. Oh, dad. I'm sorry." He glanced up at his daughter and saw tears welling in her eyes. How utterly miserable both of them were.

"It's the war," he said harshly and proudly. This made a difference to his pride, but not to his daughter's anxiety. She was not interested in the war, or in any other cause of the abyss she was facing. She strove to think clearly what to do. But no, she must do her thinking alone. With a sudden quiet she rose from the table, went around to her father's chair and kissed him very gently.

"All right, dear—I see it all now—and I promise I'll try my best," she said.

"You're a brave little woman," he replied.

But after she had gone, he reflected. Why had he called her a brave little woman? Why had it all been so intense, the talk upon so heroic a plane? It would be hard on Edith, of course; but others were doing it, weren't they? Think of the women in Europe these days! After all, she'd be very comfortable here, and perhaps by Christmas times would change.

He shook off these petty troubles and went to his office for the day.

As she busied herself unpacking the trunks, Edith strove to readjust her plans. By noon her head was throbbing, but she took little notice of that. She had a talk with Hannah, the devoted Irish girl who had been with her ever since George was born. It was difficult, it was brutal. It was almost as though in Edith's family there had been two mothers, and one was sending the other away.

"There, there, poor child," Edith comforted her, "I'll find you another nice family soon where you can stay till[190] I take you back. Don't you see it will not be for long?" And Hannah brightened a little.

"But how in the wide wurrld," she asked, "will you ever do for the children, me gone?"

"Oh, I'll manage," said Edith cheerfully. And that afternoon she began at once to rearrange her whole intricate schedule, with Hannah and school both omitted, to fit her children into the house. But instead of this, as the days wore on, nerve-racking days of worry and toil, sternly and quite unconsciously she fitted the house to her children. And nobody made her aware of the fact. All summer long in the mountains, everyone by tacit consent had made way for her, had deferred to her grief in the little things that make up the everyday life in a home. And to this precedent once established Edith now clung unawares.

Her new day gave her small time to think. It began at five in the morning, when Roger was awakened by the gleeful cries of the two wee boys who slept with their mother in the next room, the room which had been Deborah's. And Edith was busy from that time on. First came the washing and dressing and breakfast, which was a merry, boisterous meal. Then the baby was taken out to his carriage on the porch at the back of the house. And after that, in her father's study from which he had fled with his morning cigar, for two hours Edith held school for her children, trying her best to be patient and clear, with text-books she had purchased from their former schools uptown. For two severe hours, shutting the world all out of her head, she tried to teach them about it. At eleven, their nerves on edge like her own, she sent them outdoors "to play," intrusting the small ones to Betsy and George, who took them to Washington Square nearby with strict injunctions to keep them away from all other children. No doubt there were "nice" children there, but she herself could not be along to distinguish [191]the "nice" from the "common"—for until one o'clock she was busy at home, bathing the baby and making the beds, and then hurrying to the kitchen to pasteurize the baby's milk and keep a vigilant oversight on the cooking of the midday meal. And the old cook's growing resentment made it far from easy.

After luncheon, thank heaven, came their naps. And all afternoon, while again they went out, Edith would look over their wardrobes, mend and alter and patch and contrive how to make last winter's clothes look new. At times she would drop her work in her lap and stare wretchedly before her. This was what she had never known; this was what made life around her grim and hard, relentless, frightening; this was what it was to be poor. How it changed the whole city of New York. Behind it, the sinister cause of it all, she thought confusedly now and then of the Great Death across the sea, of the armies, smoking battle-fields, the shrieks of the dying, the villages blazing, the women and children flying away. But never for more than a moment. The war was so remote and dim. And soon she would turn back again to her own beloved children, whose lives, so full of happiness, so rich in promise hitherto, were now so cramped and thwarted. Each day was harder than the last. It was becoming unbearable!

No, they must go back to school. But how to manage it? How? How? It would cost eight hundred dollars, and this would take nearly all the money she would be able to secure by the sale of her few possessions. And then what? What of sickness, and the other contingencies which still lay ahead of her? How old her father seemed, these days! In his heavy shock of hair the flecks of white had doubled in size, were merging one into the other, and his tall, stooping, massive frame had lost its look of ruggedness. Suppose, suppose.... Her breath came fast. Was his life insured, she wondered.

[192]On such afternoons, in the upstairs room as the dusk crept in and deepened, she would bend close to her sewing—planning, planning, planning. At last she would hear the children trooping merrily into the house. And making a very real effort, which at times was in truth heroic, to smile, she would rise and light the gas, would welcome them gaily and join in their chatter and bustle about on the countless tasks of washing them, getting their suppers, undressing the small ones and hearing their prayers. With smiling good-night kisses she would tuck her two babies into their cribs. Afterward, just for a moment or two, she would linger under the gas jet, her face still smiling, for a last look. A last good-night. Then darkness.

Darkness settling over her spirit, together with loneliness and fatigue. She would go into Betsy's room and throw herself dressed on her daughter's bed, and a dull complete indifference to everything under the moon and the stars would creep from her body up into her mind. At times she would try to fight it off. To-night at dinner she must not be what she knew she had been the night before, a wet blanket upon all the talk. But if they only knew how hard it was—what a perfect—hell it was! Her breath coming faster, she would dig her nails into the palms of her hands. One night she noticed and looked at her hand, and saw the skin was actually cut and a little blood was appearing. She had read of women doing this, but she had never done it before—not even when her babies were born. She had gripped Bruce's hand instead.

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