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- Youth Challenges - 30/62 -


CHAPTER XVIII

As Bonbright walked away from his father's house he came into possession for the first time of the word RESPONSIBILITY. It was defined for him as no dictionary could define it. Every young man meets a day when responsibility becomes to him something more than a combination of letters, and when it comes he can never be the same again. It marks definitely the arrival of manhood, the dropping behind of youth. He can never look upon life through the same eyes. Forever, now, he must peer round and beyond each pleasure to see what burden it entails and conceals. He must weigh each act with reference to the RESPONSIBILITY that rests upon him. Hitherto he had been swimming in life's pleasant, safe, shaded pools; now he finds himself struggling in the great river, tossed by currents, twirled by eddies, and with no bottom upon which to rest his feet. Forever now it will be swim--or sink. ...

To-morrow Bonbright was to undertake the responsibilities of family headship and provider; to-night he had sundered himself from his means of support. He was jobless. He belonged to the unemployed. ... In the office he had heard without concern of this man or that man being discharged. Now he knew how those men felt and what they faced.

Realization of his condition threw him into panic. In his panic he allowed his feet to carry him to the man whose help had come readily and willingly in another moment of need--to Malcolm Lightener.

The hour was still early. Lights shone in the Lightener home and Bonbright approached the door. Mr. Lightener was in and would see him in the office. It was characteristic of Lightener that the room in the house which was peculiarly his own was called by him his office, not his den, not the library. ... There were two interests in Lightener's life--his family and his business, and he stirred them together in a quaintly granite sort of way.

For the second time that evening Bonbright stood hesitating in a doorway.

"Well, young fellow?" said Lightener. Then seeing the boy's hesitation: "Come in. Come in. What's happened NOW?"

"Mr. Lightener," said Bonbright, "I want a job. I've got to have a job."

"Um!... Job! What's the matter with the job you've got?"

"I haven't any job. ... I--I'm through with Bonbright Foote, Incorporated--forever."

"That's a darn long time. Sit down. Waiting for it to pass will be easier that way. ... Now spit it out." He was studying the boy with his bright gray eyes, wondering if this was the row he had been expecting. He more than half hoped, as he would have expressed it, "that the kid had got his back up." Bonbright's face, his bearing, made Lightener believe his back WAS up.

"I've got to have a job--"

"You said that once. Why?"

"I'm going to be married to-morrow--"

"What?"

"I'm going to be married to-morrow--and I've got to support my wife-- decently..."

"It's that little Frazer girl who was crying all over my office to- day," said Lightener, deducing the main fact with characteristic shrewdness. "And your father wouldn't have it--and threw you out...or did the thing that stands to him for throwing out?"

"I got out. I had gotten out before. Yesterday morning. ... Somebody told him I'd been going to see Ruth--and he was nasty about it. Called it a liaison. ...I--I BURNED UP and left the office. I haven't been back."

"That accounts for his calling me up--looking for you. You had him worried."

"Then I got to thinking," said Bonbright, ignoring the interruption. "I was going back because it seemed as if I HAD to go back. You understand? As if there was something that compelled me to stick by the Family. ..."

"How long have you been going to marry this girl?"

"She said she would marry me to-night."

"Engaged to-night--and you're going to marry to-morrow?"

"Yes. ...And I went home to tell father. Mother was there--"

Lightener sucked in his breath. He could appreciate what Bonbright's mother's presence would contribute to the episode.

"--and she was worse than father. She--it was ROTTEN, Mr. Lightener-- ROTTEN. She said she'd never receive Ruth as her daughter, and that she'd see she was never received by anybody else, and she--she FORCED father to back her up. ...There wasn't anything for me to do but get out. ...I didn't begin to wonder how I was going to support Ruth till it was all over with."

"That's the time folks generally begin to wonder."

"So I came right here--because you CAN give me a job if you will--and I've got to have one to-night. I've got to know to-night how I'm going to get food and a place to live for Ruth."

"Um!...We'll come to that." He got up and went to the door. From thence he shouted--the word is used advisedly--for his wife and daughter. "Mamma. ... Hilda. Come here right off." He had decided that Bonbright's affairs stood in need of woman's counsel.

Mrs. Lightener appeared first. "Why, Bonbright!" she exclaimed.

"Where's Hilda?" asked Lightener. "Need her, too."

"She's coming, dear," said Mrs. Lightener.

There are people whose mere presence brings relief. Perhaps it is because their sympathy is sure; perhaps it is because their souls were given them, strong and simple, for other souls to lean upon. Mrs. Lightener was one of these. Before she knew why Bonbright was there, before she uttered a word, he felt a sense of deliverance. His necessities seemed less gnawing; there was a slackening of taut nerves. ...

Then Hilda appeared. "Evening, Bonbright," she said, and gave him her hand.

"Let's get down to business," Lightener said. "Tell 'em, Bonbright."

"I'm going to marry Ruth Frazer to-morrow noon," he said, boldly.

Mrs. Lightener was amazed, then disappointed, for she had come to hope strongly that she would have this boy for a son. She liked him, and trusted in his possibilities. She believed he would be a husband to whom she could give her daughter with an easy heart. ... Hilda felt a momentary shock of surprise, but it passed quickly. Like her father, she was sudden to pounce upon the concealed meaning of patent facts--and she had spent the morning with Ruth. She was first to speak.

"So you've decided to throw me over," she said, with a smile. ... "I don't blame you, Bonbright. She's a dear."

"But who is she?" asked Mrs. Lightener. "I seem to have heard the name, but I don't remember meeting her."

"She was my secretary," said Bonbright. "She's a stenographer in Mr. Lightener's office now."

"Oh," said Mrs. Lightener, and there was dubiety in her voice.

"Exactly," said Lightener.

"MOTHER!" exclaimed Hilda. "Weren't you a stenographer in the office where dad worked?"

"It isn't THAT," said Mrs. Lightener. "I wasn't thinking about the girl nor about Bonbright. I was thinking of his mother."

"That's why he's here," said Lightener. "The Family touched off a mess of fireworks. Mrs. Foote refuses to have anything to do with the girl if Bonbright marries her. Promised to see nobody else did, too. Isn't that it, Bonbright?"

"Yes."

"I don't like to mix in a family row..."

"You've GOT to, dad," said Hilda. "Of course Bonbright couldn't stand THAT." They understood her to mean by THAT the Foote family's position in the matter. "He couldn't stand it. ... I expect you and mother are disappointed. You wanted me to marry Bonbright, myself..."

"HILDA!" Mrs. Lightener's voice was shocked.

"Oh, Bonbright and I talked it over the night we met. Don't be a bit alarmed. I'm not being especially forward. ... We've got to do something. What does Bon want us to do?"

"He wants me to give him a job."

She turned to Bonbright. "They turned you out?"

"I turned myself out," he said.

She nodded understandingly. "You WOULD," she said, approvingly. "What kind of a job can you give him, dad?"

"H'm. THAT'S settled, is it? What do you think, mother?"

"Why, dear, he's got to support his wife," said Mrs. Lightener.

Malcolm Lightener permitted the granite of his face to relax in a rueful smile. "I called you folks in to get your advice--not to have you run the whole shebang."


Youth Challenges - 30/62

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