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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHis Family - Chapter 15
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His Family - Chapter 15 Post by :ladyfaith Category :Long Stories Author :Ernest Poole Date :May 2012 Read :2994

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His Family - Chapter 15

CHAPTER XV

On his return to the city, Roger found that Deborah's school had apparently swept all other interests out of her mind. Baird hardly ever came to the house, and she herself was seldom there except for a hasty dinner at night. The house had to run itself more or less; and though Annie the cook was doing her best, things did not run so smoothly. Roger missed little comforts, attentions, and he missed Deborah most of all. When he came down to his breakfast she had already left the house, and often she did not return until long after he was in bed. She felt the difference herself, and though she did not put it in words her manner at times seemed to beg his forbearance. But there were many evenings when her father found it difficult to hold to the resolve he had made, to go slowly with his daughter until he could be more sure of his ground. She was growing so intense again. From the school authorities she had secured a still wider range and freedom for her new experiment, and she was working day and night to put her ideas into effect.

"It's only too easy," she remarked, "to launch an idea in this town. The town will put it in headlines at once, and with it a picture of yourself in your best bib and tucker, looking as though you loved the whole world. And you can make a wonderful splurge, until they go on to the next new thing. The real trouble comes in working it out."

And this she had set out to do. Many nights in the autumn Roger went down to the school, to try to get some clear idea of this vision of hers for children, which in a vague way he could feel was so much larger than his own, for he had seen its driving force in the grip it had upon her life. At first he could make nothing of it at all; everywhere chaos met his eyes. But he found something formless, huge, that made to him a strong appeal.

The big building fairly hummed at night with numberless activities. Fathers, mothers and children came pouring in together and went skurrying off to their places. They learned to speak English, to read and write; grown men and women scowled and toiled over their arithmetic. They worked at trades in the various shops; they hammered and sawed and set up type; they cooked and sewed and gossiped. "The Young Galician Socialist Girls" debated on the question: "Resolved that woman suffrage has worked in Colorado." "The Caruso Pleasure Club" gave a dance to "The Garibaldi Whirlwinds." An orchestra rehearsed like mad. They searched their memories for the songs and all the folk tales they had heard in peasant huts in Italy, in hamlets along rocky coasts, in the dark old ghettos of crowded towns in Poland and in Russia. And some of these songs were sung in school, and some of these tales were dramatized here. Children and parents all took part. And speakers emerged from the neighborhood. It was at times appalling, the number of young Italians and Jews who had ideas to give forth to their friends on socialism, poverty, marriage and religion, and all the other questions that rose among these immigrants jammed into this tenement hive. But when there were too many of these self-appointed guides, the neighborhood shut down on them.

"We don't want," declared one indignant old woman, "that every young loafer should shout in our face!"

Roger was slowly attracted into this enormous family life, and yielding to an impulse he took charge of a boys' club which met on Thursday evenings there. He knew well this job of fathering a small jovial group of lads; he had done it before, many years ago, in the mission school, to please his wife; he felt himself back on familiar ground. And from this point of vantage, with something definite he could do, he watched with an interest more clear the school form steadily closer ties with the tenements that hedged it 'round, gathering its big family. And this family by slow degrees began to make itself a part of the daily life of Roger's house. Committees held their meetings here, teachers dropped in frequently, and Roger invited the boys in his club to come up and see him whenever they liked.

His most frequent visitor was Johnny Geer, the cripple. He was working in Roger's office now and the two had soon become close friends. John kept himself so neat and clean, he displayed such a keen interest in all the details of office work, and he showed such a beaming appreciation of anything that was done for him.

"That boy is getting a hold on me lately almost like a boy of my own," Roger said one evening when Allan Baird was at the house. "He's the pluckiest young un I ever met. I've put him to work in my private office, where he can use the sofa to rest, and I've made him my own stenographer--partly because he's so quick at dictation and partly to try to make him slow down. He has the mind of a race horse. He runs at night to libraries until I should think he'd go insane. And his body can't stand it, he's breaking down--though whenever I ask him how he feels, he always says, 'Fine, thank you.'" Here Roger turned to Allan. "I wish you'd take the boy," he said, "to the finest specialist in town, and see what can be done for his spine. I'll pay any price."

"There won't be any price," said Allan, "but I'll see to it at once."

He had John examined the same week.

"Well?" asked Roger when next they met.

"Well," said Baird, "it isn't good news."

"You mean he's hopeless?" Allan nodded:

"It's Pott's disease, and it's gone too far. John is eighteen. He may live to be thirty."

"But I tell you, Baird, I'll do anything!"

"There's almost nothing you can do. If he had been taken when he was a baby, he might have been cured and given a chance. But the same mother who dropped him then, when she was full of liquor, just went to the druggist on her block, and after listening to his advice she bought some patent medicine, a steel jacket and some crutches, and thought she'd done her duty."

"But there must be something we can do!" retorted Roger angrily.

"Yes," said Baird, "we can make him a little more comfortable. And meanwhile we can help Deborah here to get hold of other boys like John and give 'em a chance before it's too late--keep them from being crippled for life because their mothers were too blind and ignorant to act in time." Baird's voice had a ring of bitterness.

"Most of 'em love their children," Roger said uneasily. Baird turned on him a steady look.

"Love isn't enough," he retorted. "The time is coming very soon when we'll have the right to guard the child not only when it's a baby but even before it has been born."

Roger drew closer to John after this. Often behind the beaming smile he would feel the pain and loneliness, and the angry grit which was fighting it down. And so he would ask John home to supper on nights when nobody else was there. One day late in the afternoon they were walking home together along the west side of Madison Square. The big open space was studded with lights sparkling up at the frosty stars, in a city, a world, a universe that seemed filled with the zest and the vigor of life. Out of these lights a mighty tower loomed high up into the sky. And stopping on his crutches, a grim small crooked figure in all this rushing turmoil, John set his jaws, and with his shrewd and twinkling eyes fixed on the top of the tower, he said,

"I meant to tell you, Mr. Gale. You was asking me once what I wanted to be. And I want to be an architect."

"Do, eh," grunted Roger. He, too, looked up at that thing in the stars, and there was a tightening at his throat. "All right," he added, presently, "why not start in and be one?"

"How?" asked John alertly.

"Well, my boy," said Roger, "I'd hate to lose you in the office--"

"Yes, sir, and I'd hate to go." Just then the big clock in the tower began to boom the hour, and a chill struck into Roger.

"You'd have to," he said gruffly. "You haven't any time to lose! I mean," he hastily added, "that for a job as big as that you'd need a lot of training. But if it's what you want to be, go right ahead. I'll back you. My son-in-law is a builder at present. I'll talk to him and get his advice. We may be able to arrange to have you go right into his office, begin at the bottom and work straight up." In silence for a moment John hobbled on by Roger's side.

"I'd hate to leave your place," he said.

"I know," was Roger's brusque reply, "and I'd hate to lose you. We'll have to think it over."

A few days later he talked with Bruce, who said he'd be glad to take the boy. And at dinner that night with Deborah, Roger asked abruptly,

"Why not let Johnny come here for a while and use one of our empty bedrooms?"

With a quick flush of pleased surprise, Deborah gave her father a look that embarrassed him tremendously.

"Well, why not?" he snapped at her. "Sensible, isn't it?"

"Perfectly."

And sensible it turned out to be. When John first heard about it, he was apparently quite overcome, and there followed a brief awkward pause while he rapidly blinked the joy from his eyes. But then he said, "Fine, thank you. That's mighty good of you, Mr. Gale," in as matter of fact a tone as you please. And he entered the household in much the same way, for John had a sense of the fitness of things. He had always kept himself neat and clean, but he became immaculate now. He dined with Roger the first night, but early the next morning he went down to the kitchen and breakfasted there; and from this time on, unless he were especially urged to come up to the dining room, John took all his meals downstairs. The maids were Irish--so was John. They were good Catholics--so was John. They loved the movies--so did John. In short, it worked out wonderfully. In less than a month John had made himself an unobtrusive and natural part of the life of Roger's sober old house. It had had to stretch just a little, no more.

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CHAPTER XIVA few hours later Roger awakened. His lower berth was still pitch dark. The train had stopped, and he had been roused by a voice outside his window. Rough and slow and nasal, the leisurely drawl of a mountaineer, it came like balm to Roger's ears. He raised the curtain and looked out. A train hand with a lantern was listening to a dairy man, a tall young giant in top boots. High overhead loomed a shadowy mountain and over its rim came the glow of the dawn. With a violent lurch the train moved on. And Roger, lying back
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