Peter: A Novel of Which He is Not the Hero
F. Hopkinson Smith
Part 1 out of 8
Robert Rowe, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
A Novel Of Which He Is Not the Hero
BY F. HOPKINSON SMITH
Peter was still poring over his ledger one dark afternoon in
December, his bald head glistening like a huge ostrich egg under
the flare of the overhead gas jets, when Patrick, the night
watchman, catching sight of my face peering through the outer
grating, opened the door of the Bank.
The sight so late in the day was an unusual one, for in all the
years that I have called at the Bank--ten, now--no, eleven since
we first knew each other--Peter had seldom failed to be ready for
our walk uptown when the old moon-faced clock high up on the wall
above the stove pointed at four.
"I thought there was something up!" I cried. "What is it, Peter--
He did not answer, only waved his hand in reply, his bushy gray
eyebrows moving slowly, like two shutters that opened and closed,
as he scanned the lines of figures up and down, his long pen
gripped tight between his thin, straight lips, as a dog carries a
I never interrupt him when his brain is nosing about like this; it
is better to keep still and let him ferret it out. So I sat down
outside the curved rail with its wooden slats backed by faded
green curtains, close to the big stove screened off at the end of
the long room, fixed one eye on the moon-face and the other on the
ostrich egg, and waited.
There are no such banks at the present time--were no others then,
and this story begins not so very many years' ago--A queer, out-
of-date, mouldy old barn of a bank, you would say, this Exeter--
for an institution wielding its influence. Not a coat of paint for
half a century; not a brushful of whitewash for goodness knows how
much longer. As for the floor, it still showed the gullies and
grooves, with here and there a sturdy knot sticking up like a nut
on a boiler, marking the track of countless impatient depositors
and countless anxious borrowers, it may be, who had lock-stepped
one behind the other for fifty years or more, in their journey
from the outer door to the windows where the Peters of the old
days, and the Peter of the present, presided over the funds
entrusted to their care.
Well enough in its day, you might have said, with a shrug, as you
looked over its forlorn interior. Well enough in its day! Why,
man, old John Astor, James Beekman, Rhinelander Stewart, Moses
Grinnell, and a lot of just such worthies--men whose word was as
good as their notes--and whose notes were often better than the
Government's, presided over its destinies. and helped to stuff the
old-fashioned vault with wads of gilt-edged securities--millions
in value if you did but know it--and making it what it is to-day.
If you don't believe the first part of my statement, you've only
to fumble among the heap of dusty ledgers piled on top of the
dusty shelves; and if you doubt the latter part, then try to buy
some of the stock and see what you have to pay for it. Although
the gas was turned off in the directors' room, I could still see
from where I sat the very mahogany table under which these same
ruffle-shirted, watch-fobbed, snuff-taking old fellows tucked
their legs when they decided on who should and who should not
share the bank's confidence.
And the side walls and surroundings were none the less shabby and
quite as dilapidated. Even the windows had long since given up the
fight to maintain a decent amount of light, and as for the grated
opening protected by iron shutters which would have had barely
room to swing themselves clear of the building next door, no
Patrick past or present had ever dared loosen their bolts for a
peep even an inch wide into the canyon below, so gruesome was the
collection of old shoes, tin cans, broken bottles and battered
hats which successive generations had hurried into the narrow un-
get-at-able space that lay between the two structures.
Indeed the only thing inside or out of this time-worn building
which the most fertile of imaginations could consider as being at
all up to date was the clock. Not its face--that was old-timey
enough with its sun, moon and stars in blue and gold, and the name
of the Liverpool maker engraved on its enamel; nor its hands,
fiddle-shaped and stiff, nor its case, which always reminded me of
a coffin set up on end awaiting burial--but its strike. Whatever
divergences the Exeter allowed itself in its youth, or whatever
latitude or longitude it had given its depositors, and that, we
may be sure, was precious little so long as that Board of
Directors was alive, there was no wabbling or wavering, no being
behind time, when the hour hand of the old clock reached three and
its note of warning rang out.
Peter obeyed the ominous sound and closed his Teller's window with
a gentle bang. Patrick took notice and swung to the iron grating
of the outer door. You might peer in and beg ever so hard--unless,
of course, you were a visitor like myself, and even then Peter
would have to give his consent--you might peer through, I say, or
tap on the glass, or you might plead that you were late and very
sorry, but the ostrich egg never turned in its nest nor did the
eyebrows vibrate. Three o'clock was three o'clock at the Exeter,
and everybody might go to the devil--financially, of course--
before the rule would be broken. Other banks in panicky times
might keep a side door open until four, five or six--that is, the
bronze-rail, marble-top, glass-front, certify-your-checks-as-
early-as-ten-in-the-morning-without-a-penny-on-deposit kind of
banks--but not the Exeter--that is, not with Peter's consent--and
Peter was the Exeter so far as his department was concerned--and
had been for nearly thirty years--twenty as bookkeeper, five as
paying teller and five as receiving teller.
And the regularity and persistency of this clock! Not only did it
announce the hours, but it sounded the halves and quarters,
clearing its throat with a whirr like an admonitory cough before
each utterance. I had samples of its entire repertoire as I sat
there: One ...two...three...four...five--then half an hour later a
whir-r and a single note. "Half-past five," I said to myself.
"Will Peter never find that mistake?" Once during the long wait
the night watchman shifted his leg--he was on the other side of
the stove--and once Peter reached up above his head for a pile of
papers, spreading them out before him under the white glare of the
overhead light, then silence again, broken only by the slow,
dogged tock-tick, tock-tick, or the sagging of a hot coal
adjusting itself for the night.
Suddenly a cheery voice rang out and Peter's hands shot up above
"Ah, Breen & Co.! One of those plaguey sevens for a nine. Here we
are! Oh, Peter Grayson, how often have I told you to be careful!
Ah, what a sorry block of wood you carry on your shoulders. I
won't be a minute now, Major." A gratuitous compliment on the part
of my friend, I being a poor devil of a contractor without
military aspirations of any kind. "Well, well, how could I have
been so stupid. Get ready to close up, Patrick. No, thank you,
Patrick, my coat's inside; I'll fetch it."
He was quite another man now, closing the great ledger with a
bang; shouldering it as Moses did the Tables of the Law, and
carrying it into the big vault behind him--big enough to back a
buggy into had the great door been wider--shooting the bolts,
whirring the combination into so hopeless and confused a state
that should even the most daring and expert of burglars have tried
his hand or his jimmy on its steel plating he would have given up
in despair (that is unless big Patrick fell asleep--an unheard-of
occurrence) and all with such spring and joyousness of movement
that had I not seen him like this many times before I would have
been deluded into the belief that the real Peter had been locked
up in the dismal vault with the musty books and that an entirely
different kind of Peter was skipping about outside.
But that was nothing to the air with which he swept his papers
into the drawer of his desk, brushed away the crumpled sheets upon
which he had figured his balance, and darted to the washstand
behind the narrow partition. Nor could it be compared to the way
in which he stripped off his black bombazine office-coat with its
baggy pockets--quite a disreputable-looking coat I must say--
taking it by the nape of the neck, as if it were some loathsome
object to be got rid of, and hanging it upon a hook behind him;
nor to the way in which he pulled up his shirt sleeves and plunged
his white, long-fingered, delicately modeled hands into the basin,
as if cleanliness were a thing to be welcomed as a part of his
life. These carefully dried, each finger by itself--not forgetting
the small seal ring on the little one--he gave an extra polish to
his glistening pate with the towel, patted his fresh, smooth-
shaven cheeks with an unrumpled handkerchief which he had taken
from his inside pocket, carefully adjusted his white neck-cloth,
refastening the diamond pin--a tiny one but clear as a baby's
tear--put on his frock-coat with its high collar and flaring
tails, took down his silk hat, gave it a flourish with his
handkerchief, unhooked his overcoat from a peg behind the door (a
gray surtout cut something like the first Napoleon's) and stepped
out to where I sat.
You would never have put him down as being sixty years of age had
you known him as well as I did--and it is a great pity you
didn't. Really, now that I come to think of it, I never did put
him down as being of any age at all. Peter Grayson and age never
seemed to have anything to do with each other. Sometimes when I
have looked in through the Receiving Teller's window and have
passed in my book--I kept my account at the Exeter--and he has
lifted his bushy shutters and gazed at me suddenly with his merry
Scotch-terrier eyes, I have caught, I must admit, a line of
anxiety, or rather of concentrated cautiousness on his face, which
for the moment made me think that perhaps he was looking a trifle
older than when I last saw him; but all this was scattered to the
winds when I met him an hour afterward swinging up Wall Street
with that cheery lift of the heels so peculiarly his own, a lift
that the occupants of every office window on both sides of the
street knew to be Peter's even when they failed to recognize the
surtout and straight-brimmed high hat. Had any doubting Thomas,
however, walked beside him on his way up Broadway to his rooms on
Fifteenth Street, and had the quick, almost boyish lift of Peter's
heels not entirely convinced the unbeliever of Peter's youth, all
questions would have been at once disposed of had the cheery bank
teller invited him into his apartment up three flights of stairs
over the tailor's shop--and he would have invited him had he been
his friend--and then and there forced him into an easy chair near
the open wood fire, with some such remark as: "Down, you rascal,
and sit close up where I can get my hands on you!" No--there was
no trace of old age about Peter.
He was ready now--hatted, coated and gloved--not a hint of the
ostrich egg or shaggy shutters visible, but a well-preserved
bachelor of forty or forty-five; strictly in the mode and of the
mode, looking more like some stray diplomat caught in the wiles of
the Street, or some retired magnate, than a modest bank clerk on
three thousand a year. The next instant he was tripping down the
granite steps between the rusty iron railings--on his toes most of
the way; the same cheery spring in his heels, slapping his thin,
shapely legs with his tightly rolled umbrella, adjusting his hat
at the proper angle so that the well-trimmed side whiskers--the
veriest little dabs of whiskers hardly an inch long--would show as
well as the fringes of his grey hair.
Not that he was anxious to conceal these slight indications of
advancing years, nor did he have a spark of cheap personal vanity
about him, but because it was his nature always to put his best
foot foremost and keep it there; because, too, it behooved him in
manner, dress and morals, to maintain the standards he had set for
himself, he being a Grayson, with the best blood of the State in
his veins, and with every table worth dining at open to him from
Fourteenth Street to Murray Hill, and beyond.
"Now, it's all behind me, my dear boy," he cried, as we reached
the sidewalk and turned our faces up Wall Street toward Broadway.
"Fifteen hours to live my own life! No care until ten o'clock to-
morrow. Lovely life, my dear Major, when you think of it. Ah, old
Micawber was right--income one pound, expense one pound ten
shillings; result, misery: income one pound ten, expense one
pound, outcome, happiness! What a curse this Street is to those
who abuse its power for good; half of them trying to keep out of
jail and the other half fighting to keep out of the poor-house!
And most of them get so little out of it. Just as I can detect a
counterfeit bill at sight, my boy, so can I put my ringer on these
money-getters when the poison of money-getting for money's sake
begins to work in their veins. I don't mean the laying up of money
for a rainy day, or the providing for one's family. Every man
should lay up a six-months' doctor's bill, just as every man
should lay up money enough to keep his body out of Potter's Field.
It's laying up the SURPLUS that hurts."
Peter had his arm firmly locked in mine now.
"Now that concern of Breen & Company, where I found my error, are
no better than the others. They are new to this whirlpool, but
they will soon get in over their heads. I think it is only the
third or fourth year since they started business, but they are
already floating all sorts of schemes, and some of them--if you
will permit me in confidence, strictly in confidence, my dear boy
--are rather shady, I think: at least I judge so from their
"What are they, bankers?" I ventured. I had never heard of the
firm; not an extraordinary thing in my case when bankers were
"Yes, BANKERS--all in capital letters--the imitation kind. Breen
came from some place out of town and made a lucky hit in his first
year--mines or something--I forget what. Oh, but you must know
that it takes very little now-a-days to make a full-fledged
banker. All you have to do is to hoist in a safe--through the
window, generally, with the crowd looking on; rail off half the
office; scatter some big ledgers over two or three newly varnished
desks; move in a dozen arm-chairs, get a ticker, a black-board and
a boy with a piece of chalk; be pleasant to every fellow you meet
with his own or somebody else's money in his pocket, and there you
are. But we won't talk of these things--it isn't kind, and,
really, I hardly know Breen, and I'm quite sure he wouldn't know
me if he saw me, and he's a very decent gentleman in many ways, I
hear. He never overdraws his account, any way--never tries--and
that's more than I can say for some of his neighbors."
The fog, which earlier in the afternoon had been but a blue haze,
softening the hard outlines of the street, had now settled down in
earnest, choking up the doorways, wiping out the tops of the
buildings, their facades starred here and there with gas-jets, and
making a smudged drawing of the columns of the Custom House
"Superb, are they not?" said Peter, as he wheeled and stood
looking at the row of monoliths supporting the roof of the huge
granite pile, each column in relief against the dark shadows of
the portico. "And they are never so beautiful to me, my boy, as
when the ugly parts of the old building are lost in the fog.
Follow the lines of these watchmen of the temple! These grave,
dignified, majestic columns standing out in the gloom keeping
guard! But it is only a question of time--down they'll come! See
if they don't!"
"They will never dare move them," I protested. "It would be too
great a sacrilege." The best way to get Peter properly started is
never to agree with him.
"Not move them! They will break them up for dock-filling before
ten years are out. They're in the way, my boy; they shut out the
light; can't hang signs on them; can't plaster them over with
theatre bills; no earthly use. 'Wall Street isn't Rome or any
other excavated ruin; it's the centre of the universe'--that's
the way the fellows behind these glass windows talk." Here Peter
pointed to the offices of some prominent bankers, where other
belated clerks were still at work under shaded gas-jets. "These
fellows don't want anything classic; they want something that'll
earn four per cent."
We were now opposite the Sub-Treasury, its roof lost in the
settling fogs, the bronze figure of the Father of His Country
dominating the flight of marble steps and the adjacent streets.
Again Peter wheeled; this time he lifted his hat to the statue.
"Good evening, your Excellency," he said in a voice mellowed to
the same respectful tone with which he would have addressed the
original in the flesh.
Suddenly he loosened his arm from mine and squared himself so he
could look into my face.
"I notice that you seldom salute him, Major, and it grieves me,"
he said with a grim smile.
I broke into a laugh. "Do you think he would feel hurt if I
"Of course he would, and so should you. He wasn't put there for
ornament, my boy, but to be kept in mind, and I want to tell you
that there's no place in the world where his example is so much
needed as right here in Wall Street. Want of reverence, my dear
boy"--here he adjusted his umbrella to the hollow of his arm--"is
our national sin. Nobody reveres anything now-a-days. Much as you
can do to keep people from running railroads through your family
vaults, and, as to one's character, all a man needs to get himself
battered black and blue, is to try to be of some service to his
country. Even our presidents have to be murdered before we stop
abusing them. By Jove! Major, you've GOT to salute him! You're too
fine a man to run to seed and lose your respect for things worth
while. I won't have it, I tell you! Off with your hat!"
I at once uncovered my head (the fog helped to conceal my own
identity, if it didn't Peter's) and stood for a brief instant in a
There was nothing new in the discussion. Sometimes I would laugh
at him; sometimes I would only touch my hat in unison; sometimes I
let him do the bowing alone, an act on his part which never
attracted attention--looking more as if he had accosted some
We had reached Broadway by this time and were crossing the street
opposite Trinity Churchyard.
"Come over here with me," he cried, "and let us look in through
the iron railings. The study of the dead is often more profitable
than knowledge of the living. Ah, the gate is open! It is not
often I am here at this time, and on a foggy afternoon. What a
noble charity, my boy, is a fog--it hides such a multitude of
sins--bad architecture for one," and he laughed softly.
I always let Peter run on--in fact I always encourage him to run
on. No one I know talks quite in the same way; many with a larger
experience of life are more profound, but none have the personal
note which characterizes the old fellow's discussions.
"And how do you suppose these by-gones feel about what is going on
around them?" he rattled on, tapping the wet slab of a tomb with
the end of his umbrella. "And not only these sturdy patriots who
lie here, but the queer old ghosts who live in the steeple?" he
added, waving his hand upward to the slender spire, its cross lost
in the fog. "Yes, ghosts and goblins, my boy. You don't believe
it?--I do--or I persuade myself I do, which is better. Sometimes I
can see them straddling the chimes when they ring out the hours,
or I catch them peeping out between the slats of the windows away
up near the cross. Very often in the hot afternoons when you are
stretching your lazy body under the tents of the mighty--" (Peter
referred to some friends of mine who owned a villa down on Long
Island, and were good enough to ask me down for a week in August)
"I come up here out of the rush and sit on these old tombstones
and talk to these old fellows--both kinds--the steeple boys and
the old cronies under the sod. You never come, I know. You will
when you're my age."
I had it in my mind to tell him that the inside of a dry tent had
some advantages over the outside of a damp tomb, so far as
entertaining one's friends, even in hot weather, was concerned,
but I was afraid it might stop the flow of his thoughts, and
"It is not so much the rest and quiet that delights me, as the
feeling that I am walled about for the moment and protected;
jerked out of the whirlpool, as it were, and given a breathing
spell. On these afternoons the old church becomes a church once
more--not a gate to bar out the rush of commercialism. See where
she stands--quite out to the very curb, her warning finger
pointing upward. 'Thus far shalt thou come, and no farther,' she
cries out to the Four Per Cents. 'Hug up close to me, you old
fellows asleep in your graves; get under my lea. Let us fight it
out together, the living and the dead!' And now hear these
abominable Four Per Cents behind their glass windows: 'No place
for a church,' they say. 'No place for the dead! Property too
valuable. Move it up town. Move it out in the country--move it any
where so you get it out of our way. We are the Great Amalgamated
Crunch Company. Into our maw goes respect for tradition, reverence
for the dead, decency, love of religion, sentiment, and beauty.
These are back numbers. In their place, we give you something real
and up-to-date from basement to flagstaff, with fifty applicants
on the waiting list. If you don't believe it read our
Peter had straightened and was standing with his hand lifted above
his head, as if he were about to pronounce a benediction. Then he
said slowly, and with a note of sadness in his voice:
"Do you wonder, now, my boy, why I touch my hat to His
All the way up Broadway he kept up his good-natured tirade,
railing at the extravagance of the age, at the costly dinners,
equipages, dress of the women, until we reached the foot of the
dilapidated flight of brown-stone steps leading to the front door
of his home on Fifteenth Street. Here a flood of gas light from
inside a shop in the basement brought into view the figure of a
short, squat, spectacled little man bending over a cutting-table,
a pair of shears in his hand.
"Isaac is still at work," he cried. "If we were not so late we'd
go in and have a word with him. Now there's a man who has solved
the problem, my boy. Nobody will ever coax Isaac Cohen up to Fifth
Avenue and into a 'By appointment to His Majesty' kind of a tailor
shop. Just pegs away year after year--he was here long before I
came--supporting his family, storing his mind with all sorts of
rare knowledge. Do you know he's one of the most delightful men
you will meet in a day's journey?"
"No--never knew anything of the kind. Thought he was just plain
"And an intimate friend of many of the English actors who come
over here?" continued Peter.
"I never heard a word about it" I answered meekly; Peter's
acquaintances being too varied and too numerous for me to keep
track of. That he should have a tailor among them as learned and
wise as Solomon, and with friends all over the globe, was quite to
"Well, he is," answered Peter. "They always hunt him up the first
thing they do. He lived in London for years and made their
costumes. There's no one, I assure you, I am more glad to see when
he makes an excuse to rap at my door. You'll come up, of course,
until I read my letters."
"No, I'll keep on to my rooms and meet you later at the club."
"You'll do nothing of the kind, you restless mortal. You'll come
upstairs with me until I open my mail. It's really like touching
the spring of a Jack-in-the-box, this mail of mine--all sorts of
things pop out, generally the unexpected. Mighty interesting, I
tell you," and with a cheery wave of the hand to his friend Isaac,
whose eyes had been looking streetward at the precise moment,
Peter pushed me ahead of him up the worn marble steps flanked by
the rust-eaten iron railing which led to the hallway and stairs,
and so on up to his apartment.
It was just the sort of house Peter, of all men in the world,
would have picked out to live in--and he had been here for twenty
years or more. Not only did the estimable Isaac occupy the
basement, but Madame Montini, the dress-maker, had the first floor
back; a real-estate agent made free with the first floor front,
and a very worthy teacher of music, whose piano could be heard at
all hours of the day, and far into the night, was paying rent for
the second, both front and back. Peter's own apartments ran the
whole length of the third floor, immediately under the slanting,
low-ceiled garret, which was inhabited by the good Mrs. McGuffey,
the janitress, who, in addition to her regular duties, took
especial care of Peter's rooms. Adjoining these was a small
apartment consisting of two rooms, connecting with Peter's suite
by a door cut through for some former lodger. These were also
under Mrs. McGuffey's special care and very good care did she take
of them, especially when Peter's sister, Miss Felicia Grayson,
occupied them for certain weeks in the year.
These changes had all taken place in the time the old fellow had
mounted the quaint stairs with the thin mahogany banisters, and
yet Peter stayed on. "The gnarled pear tree in the back yard is so
charming," he would urge in excuse, "especially in the spring,
when the perfume of its blossoms fills the air," or, "the view
overlooking Union Square is so delightful," or, "the fireplace has
such a good draught." What mattered it who lived next door, or
below, or overhead, for that matter, so that he was not disturbed
--and he never was. The property, of course, had gone from bad to
worse since the owner had died; the neighborhood had run down, and
the better class of tenants down, up, and even across the street--
had moved away, but none of these things had troubled Peter.
And no wonder, when once you got inside the two rooms and looked
There was a four-post bedstead with chintz curtains draped about
the posts, that Martha Washington might have slept in, and a
chintz petticoat which reached the floor and hid its toes of
rollers, which the dear lady could have made with her own hands;
there was a most ancient mahogany bureau to match, all brass
fittings. There were easy chairs with restful arms within reach of
tables holding lamps, ash receivers and the like; and rows and
rows of books on open shelves edged with leather; not to mention
engravings of distinguished men and old portraits in heavy gilt
frames: one of his grandfather who fought in the Revolution, and
another of his mother--this last by Rembrandt Peale--a dear old
lady with the face of a saint framed in a head of gray hair, the
whole surmounted by a cluster of silvery curls. There were quaint
brass candelabra with square marble bases on each end of the
mantel, holding candles showing burnt wicks in the day time and
cheery lights at night; and a red carpet covering both rooms and
red table covers and red damask curtains, and a lounge with a red
afghan thrown over it; and last, but by no means least--in fact it
was the most important thing in the sitting-room, so far as
comfort was concerned--there was a big open-hearth Franklin, full
of blazing red logs, with brass andirons and fender, and a draught
of such marvellous suction that stray scraps of paper, to say
nothing of uncommonly large sparks, had been known more than once
to have been picked up in a jiffy and whirled into its capacious
Just the very background for dear old Peter, I always said,
whenever I watched him moving about the cheery interior, pushing
up a chair, lighting a fresh candle, or replacing a book on the
shelf. What a half-length the great Sully would have made of him,
with his high collar, white shirt-front and wonderful neck-cloth
with its pleats and counterpleats, to say nothing of his rosy
cheeks and bald head, the high light glistening on one of his big
bumps of benevolence. And what a background of deep reds and warm
mahoganys with a glint of yellow brass for contrast!
Indeed, I have often thought that not only Peter's love of red,
but much of Peter's quaintness of dress, had been suggested by
some of the old portraits which lined the walls of his sitting-
room--his grandfather, by Sully, among them; and I firmly believe,
although I assure you I have never mentioned it to any human being
before, that had custom permitted (the directors of his bank,
perhaps), Peter would not only have indulged in the high coat-
collar and quaint neck-cloths of his fathers, but would also have
worn a dainty cue tied with a flowing black ribbon, always
supposing, of course, that his hair had held out, and, what is
more important, always supposing, that the wisp was long enough to
The one article, however, which, more than any other one thing in
his apartment, revealed his tastes and habits, was a long, wide,
ample mahogany desk, once the property of an ancestor, which stood
under the window in the front room. In this, ready to his hand,
were drawers little and big, full of miscellaneous papers and
envelopes; pigeon-holes crammed full of answered and unanswered
notes, some with crests on them, some with plain wax clinging to
the flap of the broken envelopes; many held together with the gum
of the common world. Here, too, were bundles of old letters tied
with tape; piles of pamphlets, quaint trays holding pens and
pencils, and here too was always to be found, in summer or in
winter, a big vase full of roses or blossoms, or whatever was in
season--a luxury he never denied himself.
To this desk, then, Peter betook himself the moment he had hung
his gray surtout on its hook in the closet and disposed of his hat
and umbrella. This was his up-town office, really, and here his
letters awaited him.
First came a notice of the next meeting of the Numismatic Society
of which he was an honored member; then a bill for his semi-annual
dues at the Century Club; next a delicately scented sheet inviting
him to dine with the Van Wormleys of Washington Square, to meet an
English lord and his lady, followed by a pressing letter to spend
Sunday with friends in the country. Then came a long letter from
his sister, Miss Felicia Grayson, who lived in the Genesee Valley
and who came to New York every winter for what she was pleased to
call "The Season" (a very remarkable old lady, this Miss Felicia
Grayson, with a mind of her own, sections of which she did not
hesitate to ventilate when anybody crossed her or her path, and of
whom we shall hear more in these pages), together with the usual
assortment of bills and receipts, the whole an enlivening record
not only of Peter's daily life and range of taste, but of the
limitations of his purse as well.
One letter was reserved for the last. This he held in his hand
until he again ran his eye over the pile before him. It was from
Holker Morris the architect, a man who stood at the head of his
"Yes, Holker's handwriting," he said as he inserted the end of the
paper cutter. "I wonder what the dear fellow wants now?" Here he
ran his eye over the first page. "Listen, Major. What an
extraordinary man ... He's going to give a dinner, he says, to his
draughtsmen ... in his offices at the top of his new building, six
stories up. Does the rascal think I have nothing to do but crawl
up his stairs? Here, I'll read it to you."
"'You, dear Peter:' That's just like Holker! He begins that way
when he wants me to do something for him. 'No use saying you won't
come, for I shall be around for you at seven o'clock with a club--
'No, that's not it--he writes so badly--'with a cab.' Yes, that's
it--'with a cab.' I wonder if he can drive me up those six flights
of stairs? 'There'll be something to eat, and drink, and there
will be fifty or more of my draughtsmen and former employes. I'm
going to give them a dinner and a house-warming. Bring the Major
if you see him. I have sent a note to his room, but it may not
reach him. No dress suit, remember. Some of my men wouldn't know
one if they saw it."
As the letter dropped from Peter's hand a scraping of feet was
heard at the hall door, followed by a cheery word from Mrs.
McGuffey--she had her favorites among Peter's friends--and Holker
Morris burst into the room.
"Ah, caught you both!" he cried, all out of breath with his run
upstairs, his hat still on his head. No one blew in and blew out
of Peter's room (literally so) with the breeze and dash of the
distinguished architect. "Into your coats, you two--we haven't a
moment to spare. You got my letter, of course," he added, throwing
back the cape of his raincoat.
"Yes, Holker, just opened it!" cried Peter, holding out both hands
to his guest. "But I'm not going. I am too old for your young
fellows--take the Major and leave me behind."
The architect grabbed Peter by the arm. "When did that mighty idea
crack its way through that shell of yours, you tottering
Methusaleh! Old! You're spryer than a frolicking lamb in March.
You are coining, too, Major. Get into your coats and things!"
"But Isaac is pressing my swallow-tail."
"I don't mean your dress-coat, man--your OVERCOAT! Now I am sure
you didn't read my letter? Some of my young fellows haven't got
such a thing--too poor."
"But look at YOURS!"
"Yes, I had to slip into mine out of respect to the occasion; my
boys wouldn't like it if I didn't. Sort of uniform to them, but
they'd be mighty uncomfortable if you wore yours. Hurry up, we
haven't a minute to lose."
Peter had forced the architect into one of the big chairs by the
fire by this time, and stood bending over him, his hands resting
on Morris's broad shoulders.
"Take the Major with you, that's a good fellow, and let me drop in
about eleven o'clock," he pleaded, an expression on his face seen
only when two men understand and love each other. "There's a
letter from Felicia to attend to; she writes she is coming down
for a couple of weeks, and then I've really had a devil of a day
at the bank."
"No, you old fraud, you can't wheedle me that way. I want you
before everybody sits down, so my young chaps can look you over.
Why, Peter, you're better than a whole course of lectures, and you
mean something, you beggar! I tell you" (here he lifted himself
from the depths of the chair and scrambled to his feet) "you've
got to go if I have to tie your hands and feet and carry you
downstairs on my back! And you, too, Major--both of you. Here's
your overcoat--into it, you humbug! ... the other arm. Is this
your hat? Out you go!" and before I had stopped laughing--I had
refused to crowd the cab--Morris had buttoned the surtout over
Peter's breast, crammed the straight-brimmed hat over his eyes,
and the two were clattering downstairs.
Long before the two had reached the top floor of the building in
which the dinner was to be given, they had caught the hum of the
merrymakers, the sound bringing a smile of satisfaction to Peter's
face, but it was when he entered the richly colored room itself,
hazy with cigarette smoke, and began to look into the faces of the
guests grouped about him and down the long table illumined by
myriads of wax candles that all his doubts and misgivings faded
into thin air. Never since his school days, he told me afterwards,
had he seen so many boisterously happy young fellows grouped
together. And not only young fellows, with rosy cheeks and bright
eyes, but older men with thoughtful faces, who had relinquished
for a day the charge of some one of the important buildings
designed in the distinguished architect's office, and had spent
the night on the train that they might do honor to their Chief.
But it was when Morris, with his arm fast locked in his, began
introducing him right and left as the "Guest of Honor of the
Evening," the two shaking hands first with one and then another,
Morris breaking out into joyous salvos of welcome over some
arrival from a distant city, or greeting with marked kindness and
courtesy one of the younger men from his own office, that the old
fellow's enthusiasm became uncontrollable.
"Isn't it glorious, Holker!" he cried joyously, with uplifted
hands. "Oh, I'm so glad I came! I wouldn't have missed this for
anything in the world. Did you ever see anything like it? This is
classic, my boy--it has the tang and the spice of the ancients."
Morris's greeting to me was none the less hearty, although he had
left me but half an hour before.
"Late, as I expected, Major," he cried with out-stretched hand,
"and serves you right for not sitting in Peter's lap in the cab.
Somebody ought to sit on him once in a while. He's twenty years
younger already. Here, take this seat alongside of me where you
can keep him in order--they were at table when I entered. Waiter,
bring back that bottle--Just a light claret, Major--all we allow
As the evening wore away the charm of the room grew upon me.
Vistas hazy with tobacco smoke opened up; the ceiling lost in the
fog gave one the impression of out-of-doors--like a roof-garden at
night; a delusion made all the more real by the happy uproar. And
then the touches here and there by men whose life had been the
study of color and effects; the appointments of the table, the
massing of flowers relieving the white cloth; the placing of
shaded candles, so that only a rosy glow filtered through the
loom, softening the light on the happy faces--each scalp crowned
with chaplets of laurel tied with red ribbons: an enchantment of
color, form and light where but an hour before only the practical
and the commonplace had held sway.
No vestige of the business side of the offices remained. Peter
pointed out to me a big plaster model of the State House, which
filled one end of the room, and two great figures, original
plaster casts, heroic in size, that Harding, the sculptor, had
modelled for either side of the entrance of the building; but
everything that smacked of T-square or scale was hidden from
sight. In their place, lining the walls, stood a row of standards
of red and orange silk, stretched on rods and supported by poles;
the same patterns of banners which were carried before Imperial
Caesars when they took an airing; and now emblazoned with the
titles of the several structures conceived in the brain of Holker
Morris and executed by his staff: the Imperial Library in Tokio;
the great Corn Exchange covering a city block; the superb Art
Museum crowning the highest hill in the Park; the beautiful
chateau of the millionaire surrounded by thousands of acres of
virgin forest; the spacious warehouses on the water front, and
With the passing of the flagons an electric current of good
fellowship flashed around the circle. Stories that would have been
received with but a bare smile at the club were here greeted with
shouts of laughter. Bon-mots, skits, puns and squibs mouldy with
age or threadbare with use, were told with a new gusto and
welcomed with delight.
Suddenly, and without any apparent reason, these burst forth a
roar like that of a great orchestra with every instrument played
at its loudest--rounds of applause from kettle-drums, trombones
and big horns; screams of laughter from piccolos, clarionettes and
flutes, buzzings of subdued talk by groups of bass viols and the
lesser strings, the whole broken by the ringing notes of a song
that soared for an instant clear of the din, only to be overtaken
and drowned in the mighty shout of approval. This was followed by
a stampede from the table; the banners were caught up with a
mighty shout and carried around the room; Morris, boy for the
moment, springing to his feet and joining in the uproar.
The only guest who kept his chair, except Peter and myself, was a
young fellow two seats away, whose eyes, brilliant with
excitement, followed the merrymaking, but who seemed too much
abashed, or too ill at ease, to join in the fun. I had noticed how
quiet he was and wondered at the cause. Peter had also been
watching the boy and had said to me that he had a good face and
was evidently from out of town.
"Why don't you get up?" Peter called to him at last. "Up with you,
my lad. This is one of the times when every one of you young
fellows should be on your feet." He would have grabbed a banner
himself had any one given him the slightest encouragement.
"I would, sir, but I'm out of it," said the young man with a
deferential bow, moving to the empty seat next to Peter. He too
had been glancing at Peter from time to time.
"Aren't you with Mr. Morris?"
"No, I wish I were. I came with my friend, Garry Minott, that
young fellow carrying the banner with 'Corn Exchange' marked on
"And may I ask, then, what you do?" continued Peter.
The young fellow looked into the older man's kindly eyes--
something in their expression implied a wish to draw him the
closer--and said quite simply: "I don't do anything that is of any
use, sir. Garry says that I might as well work in a faro bank."
Peter leaned forward. For the moment the hubbub was forgotten as
he scrutinized the young man, who seemed scarcely twenty-one, his
well-knit, well-dressed body, his soft brown hair curled about his
scalp, cleanly modelled ears, steady brown eyes, white teeth--
especially the mobile lips which seemed quivering from some
suppressed emotion--all telling of a boy delicately nurtured.
"And do you really work in a faro bank?" Peter's knowledge of
human nature had failed him for once.
"Oh, no sir, that is only one of Garry's jokes. I'm clerk in a
stock broker's office on Wall Street. Arthur Breen & Company. My
uncle is head of the firm."
"Oh, that's it, is it?" answered Peter in a relieved tone.
"And now will you tell me what your business is, sir?" asked the
young man. "You seem so different from the others."
"Me! Oh, I take care of the money your gamblers win," replied
Peter, at which they both laughed, a spark of sympathy being
kindled between them.
Then, seeing the puzzled expression on the boy's face, he added
with a smile: "I'm Receiving Teller in a bank, one of the oldest
in Wall Street."
A look of relief passed over the young fellow's face.
"I'm very glad, sir," he said, with a smile. "Do you know, sir,
you look something like my own father--what I can remember of
him--that is, he was--" The lad checked himself, fearing he might
be discourteous. "That is, he had lost his hair, sir, and he wore
his cravats like you, too. I have his portrait in my room."
Peter leaned still closer to the speaker. This time he laid his
hand on his arm. The tumult around him made conversation almost
impossible. "And now tell me your name?"
"My name is Breen, sir. John Breen. I live with my uncle."
The roar of the dinner now became so fast and furious that further
confidences were impossible. The banners had been replaced and
every one was reseated, talking or laughing. On one side raged a
discussion as to how far the decoration of a plain surface should
go--"Roughing it," some of them called it. At the end of the table
two men were wrangling as to whether the upper or the lower half
of a tall structure should have its vertical lines broken; and, if
so, by what. Further down high-keyed voices were crying out
against the abomination of the flat roof on the more costly
buildings; wondering whether some of their clients would wake up
to the necessity of breaking the sky-line with something less
ugly--even if it did cost a little more. Still a third group were
in shouts of laughter over a story told by one of the staff who
had just returned from an inspection trip west.
Young Breen looked down the length of the table, watched for a
moment a couple of draughtsmen who stood bowing and drinking to
each other in mock ceremony out of the quaint glasses filled from
the borrowed flagons, then glanced toward his friend Minott, just
then the centre of a cyclone that was stirring the group midway
"Come over here, Garry," he called, half rising to his feet to
attract his friend's attention.
Minott waved his hand in answer, waited until the point of the
story had been reached, and made his way toward Peter's end of the
"Garry," he whispered, "I want to introduce you to Mr. Grayson--
the very dearest old gentleman you ever met in your whole life.
Sits right next to me."
"What, that old fellow that looks like a billiard ball in a high
collar?" muttered Minott with a twinkle in his eye. "We've been
wondering where Mr. Morris dug him up."
"Hush," said Breen--"he'll hear you."
"All right, but hurry up. I must say he doesn't look near so bad
when you get close to him."
"Mr. Grayson, I want you to know my friend Garry Minott."
Peter rose to his feet. "I DO know him," he said, holding out his
hand cordially. "I've been knowing him all the evening. He's made
most of the fun at his end of the table. You seem to have flaunted
your Corn Exchange banner on the smallest provocation, Mr.
Minott," and Peter's fingers gripped those of the young man.
"That's because I've been in charge of the inside work. Great
dinner, isn't it, Mr. Grayson. But it's Britton who has made the
dinner. He's more fun than a Harlem goat with a hoopskirt. See
him--that's Brit with a red head and blue neck-tie. He's been all
winter in Wisconsin looking after some iron work and has come back
jam full of stories." The dignity of Peter's personality had
evidently not impressed the young man, judging from the careless
tone with which he addressed him. "And how are you getting on,
Jack--glad you came, arn't you?" As he spoke he laid his hand
affectionately on the boy's shoulder. "Didn't I tell you it would
be a corker? Out of sight, isn't it? Everything is out of sight
around our office." This last remark was directed to Peter in the
same casual way.
"I should say that every stopper was certainly out," answered
Peter in graver tones. He detested slang and would never
understand it. Then again the bearing and air of Jack's friend
jarred on him. "You know, of course, the old couplet--'When the
wine flows the--'"
"No, I don't know it," interrupted Minott with an impatient
glance. "I'm not much on poetry--but you can bet your bottom
dollar it's flowing all right." Then seeing the shade of
disappointment on Breen's face at the flippant way in which he had
returned Peter's courtesies, but without understanding the cause,
he added, tightening his arm around his friend's neck, "Brace up,
Jack, old man, and let yourself go. That's what I'm always telling
Jack, Mr. Grayson. He's got to cut loose from a lot of old-
fashioned notions that he brought from home if he wants to get
anywhere around here. I had to."
"What do you want him to give up, Mr. Minott?" Peter had put on
his glasses now, and was inspecting Garry at closer range.
"Oh, I don't know--just get into the swing of things and let her
"That is no trouble for you to do," rejoined Jack, looking into
his friend's face. "You're doing something that's worth while."
"Well, aren't you doing something that's worth while? Why you'll
be a millionaire if you keep on. First thing you know the
lightning will strike you just as it did your uncle."
Morris leaned forward at the moment and called Minott by name.
Instantly the young man's manner changed to one of respectful
attention as he stepped to his Chief's side.
"Yes, Mr. Morris."
"You tell the men up your way to get ready to come to order, or we
won't get through in time--it's getting late."
"All right, sir, I'll take care of 'em. Just as soon as you begin
to speak you won't hear a sound."
As Minott moved from Morris's seat another and louder shout arose
from the other end of the table:
"Garry, Garry, hurry up!" came the cry. It was evident the young
man was very popular.
Peter dropped his glasses from his nose, and turning toward Morris
said in a low voice:
"That's a very breezy young man, Holker, the one who has just left
us. Got something in him, has he, besides noise?"
"Yes, considerable. Wants toning down once in a while, but there's
no question of his ability or of his loyalty. He never shirks a
duty and never forgets a kindness. Queer combination when you
think of it, Peter. What he will make of himself is another
Peter drew his body back and sent his thoughts out on an
investigating tour. He was wondering what effect the influence of
a young man like Minott would have on a young man like Breen.
The waiters at this point brought in huge trays holding bowls of
tobacco and long white clay pipes, followed by even larger trays
bearing coffee in little cups. Morris waited a moment and then
rapped for order. Instantly a hush fell upon the noisy room;
plates and glasses were pushed back so as to give the men elbow
room; pipes were hurriedly lighted, and each guest turned his
chair so as to face the Chief, who was now on his feet.
As he stood erect, one hand behind his back, the other stretched
toward the table in his appeal for silence, I thought for the
hundredth time how kind his fifty years had been to him; how
tightly knit his figure; how well his clothes became him. A
handsome, well-groomed man at all times and in any costume--but
never so handsome or so well groomed as in evening dress.
Everything in his make-up helped: the broad, square shoulders,
arms held close to his side; flat waist; incurving back and narrow
hips. His well-modelled, aristocratic head, too, seemed to gain
increased distinction when it rose clear from a white shirt-front
which served as a kind of marble pedestal for his sculptured head.
There was, moreover, in his every move and look, that quality of
transparent sincerity which always won him friends at sight. "If
men's faces are clocks," Peter always said, "Holker's is fitted
with a glass dial. You can not only see what time it is, but you
can see the wheels that move his heart."
He was about to speak now, his eyes roaming the room waiting for
the last man to be still. No fumbling of glasses or rearranging of
napkin, but erect, with a certain fearless air that was as much a
part of his nature as was his genius. Beginning in a clear,
distinct voice which reached every ear in the room, he told them
first how welcome they were. How great an honor it was for him to
have them so close to him--so close that he could look into all
their faces with one glance; not only those who came from a
distance but those of his personal staff, to whom really the
success of the year's work had been due. As for himself, he was,
as they knew, only the lead horse in the team, going ahead to show
them the way, while they did the effective pulling that brought
the load to market! Here he slipped his hand in his pocket, took
from it a small box which he laid beside his plate, and continued:
"At these festivals, as you know, and if my memory serves me this
is our third, it has always been our custom to give some slight
token of our appreciation to the man who has done most during the
year to further the work of the office. This has always been a
difficult thing to decide, because every one of you, without a
single exception, has given the best that is in you in the general
result. Three years ago, you remember, it was awarded to the man
who by common consent had carried to completion, and without a
single error, the detailed drawings of the Museum which was
finished last year. I am looking at you, Mr. Downey, and again
congratulate you. Last year it was awarded to Mr. Buttrick for the
masterly way with which he put together the big arches of the
Government warehouses--a man whom it would have been my pleasure
to congratulate again to-night had it been possible for him to
reach us. To-night I think you will all agree with me that this
small token, not only of my own, but of your 'personal regard and
appreciation'" (here he opened the box and took from it a man's
ring set with three jewels), "should be given to the man who has
carried out in so thorough a way the part allotted to him in the
Corn Exchange, and who is none other than Mr. Garrison Minott, who
The rest of the sentence was lost in the uproar.
"Garry! Garry! Garry Minott!" came from all parts of the room.
"Bully for Garry! You deserve it, old man! Three cheers for Garry
Minott! Hip ... Hip ...!"
Morris's voice now dominated the room.
"Come this way, Mr. Minott."
The face of the young superintendent, which had been in a broad
laugh all the evening, grew white and red by turns. Out of pure
astonishment he could neither move nor speak.
"All right--stay where you are!" cried Morris laughing. "Pass it
up to him, please."
John Breen sprang from his chair with the alertness of a man who
had been accustomed to follow his impulse. In his joy over his
friend's good fortune he forgot his embarrassment, forgot that he
was a stranger; forgot that he alone, perhaps, was the only young
man in the room whose life and training had not fitted him for the
fullest enjoyment of what was passing around him; forgot
everything, in fact, but that his comrade, his friend, his chum,
had won the highest honors his Chief could bestow.
With cheeks aflame he darted to Morris's chair.
"Let me hand it to him, sir," he cried, all the love for his
friend in his eyes, seizing the ring and plunging toward Garry,
the shouts increasing as he neared his side and placed the prize
in his hand. Only then did Minott find his breath and his feet.
"Why, Mr. Morris!--Why, fellows!--Why, there's plenty of men in
the office who have done more than I have to--"
Then he sat down, the ring fast in his hand.
When the applause had subside--the young fellow's modesty had
caused a fresh outburst--Morris again rose in his chair and once
more the room grew still.
"Twelve o'clock, gentlemen," he said. "Mr. Downey, you are always
our stand-by in starting the old hymn."
The diners--host and guests alike--rose to their feet as one man.
Then to Peter's and my own intense surprise that most impressive
of all chants, the Doxology in long metre, surged out, gaining in
volume and strength as its strains were caught up by the different
With the ending of the grand old hymn--it had been sung with every
mark of respect by every man in the room--John Breen walked back
to his chair, leaned toward Peter, and with an apologetic tone in
his voice--he had evidently noticed the unfavorable impression
that Garry had made on his neighbor--said:
"Don't misjudge Garry, Mr. Grayson; he's the kindest hearted
fellow in the world when you know him. He's a little rough
sometimes, as you can see, but he doesn't mean it. He thinks his
way of talking and acting is what he calls 'up-to-date.'" Then he
added with a sigh: "I wish I had a ring like that--one that I had
earned. I tell you, Mr. Grayson, THAT'S something worth while."
Peter laid his hand on the young man's shoulder and looked him
straight in the face, the same look in his eyes that a proud
father would have given a son who had pleased him. He had heard
with delight the boy's defence of his friend and he had read the
boy's mind as he sang the words of the hymn, his face grave, his
whole attitude one of devotion. "You'd think he was in his
father's pew at home," Peter had whispered to me with a smile. It
was the latter outburst though--the one that came with a sigh--
that stirred him most.
"And you would really have liked a ring yourself, my lad?"
"Would I like it! Why, Mr. Grayson, I'd rather have had Mr. Morris
give me a thing like that and DESERVED IT, than have all the money
you could pile on this table."
One of those sudden smiles which his friends loved so well
irradiated Peter's face.
"Keep on the way you're going, my son," he said, seizing the boy's
hand, a slight tremble in his voice, "and you'll get a dozen of
"How?" The boy's eyes were wide in wonderment.
"By being yourself. Don't let go of your ideals no matter what
Minott or anybody else says. Let him go his way and do you keep on
in yours. Don't ... but I can't talk here. Come and see me. I mean
Breen's eyes glistened. "When?"
"To-morrow night, at my rooms. Here's my card. And you, too, Mr.
Minott--glad to see both of you." Garry has just joined them.
"Thanks awfully," answered Minott. "I'm very sorry, Mr. Grayson,
but I'm booked for a supper at the Magnolia. "Lot of the fellows
want to whoop up this--" and he held the finger bearing the ring
within an inch of Peter's nose. "And they want you, too, Jack."
"No, please let me have him," Peter urged. Minott, I could see, he
did not want; Breen he was determined to have.
"I would love to come, sir, and it's very kind of you to ask me.
There's to be a dance at my uncle's tomorrow night, though I
reckon I can be excused. Would you--would you come to see me
instead? I want you to see my father's portrait. It's not you, and
yet it's like you when you turn your head; and there are some
other things. I'd like--" Here the boy stopped.
Peter considered for a moment. Calling at the house of a man he
did not know, even to continue the acquaintance of so charming a
young fellow as his nephew, was not one of the things punctilious
Mr. Grayson--punctilious as to forms of etiquette--was accustomed
to do. The young man read his thoughts and added quickly:
"Of course I'll do just as you say, but if you only would come we
will be entirely alone and won't see anybody else in the house."
"But couldn't you possibly come to me?" Peter urged. The fact that
young Breen had a suite of rooms so sequestered as to be beyond
the reach even of a dance, altered the situation to some extent,
but he was still undecided. "I live all alone when my sister is
not with me, and I, too, have many things I am sure would interest
you. Say you'll come now--I shall expect you, shall I not?"
The boy hesitated. "You may not know exactly what I mean," he said
slowly. "Maybe you can't understand, for everybody about here
seems to love you, and you must have lots of friends. The fact is,
I feel out of everything. I get pretty lonely sometimes. Garry,
here, never stays five minutes when he comes to see me, so many
people are after him all the time. Please say you'll come!"
There was a note in the boy's voice that swept away all the older
"Come, my son! Of course I'll come," burst out Peter. "I'll be
there at nine o'clock."
As Morris and the others passed between the table and the wall on
their way to the cloak-room, Minott, who had listened to the whole
conversation, waited until he thought Peter had gone ahead, and
then, with an impatient gesture, said:
"What the devil, Jack, do you want to waste your time over an old
fellow like that for?"
"Oh, Garry, don't--"
"Don't! A bald-headed old pill who ought to have--"
Then the two passed out of hearing.
Breakfast--any meal for that matter--in the high-wainscoted, dark-
as-a-pocket dining-room of the successful Wall Street broker--the
senior member of the firm of A. Breen & Co., uncle, guardian and
employer of the fresh, rosy-cheeked lad who sat next to Peter on
the night of Morris's dinner, was never a joyous function.
The room itself, its light shut out by the adjoining extensions,
prevented it; so did the glimpse of hard asphalt covering the
scrap of a yard, its four melancholy posts hung about with wire
clothes-lines; and so did the clean-shaven, smug-faced butler, who
invariably conducted his master's guests to their chairs with the
movement of an undertaker, and who had never been known to crack a
smile of any kind, long or short, during his five years' sojourn
with the family of Breen.
Not that anybody wanted Parkins to crack one, that is, not his
master, and certainly not his mistress, and most assuredly not his
other mistress, Miss Corinne, the daughter of the lady whom the
successful Wall Street broker had made his first and only wife.
All this gloomy atmosphere might have been changed for the better
had there been a big, cheery open wood fire snapping and blazing
away, sputtering out its good morning as you entered--and there
would have been if any one of the real inmates had insisted upon
it--fought for it, if necessary; or if in summer one could have
seen through the curtained windows a stretch of green grass with
here and there a tree, or one or two twisted vines craning their
necks to find out what was going on inside; or if in any or all
seasons, a wholesome, happy-hearted, sunny wife looking like a
bunch of roses just out of a bath, had sat behind the smoking
coffee-urn, inquiring whether one or two lumps of sugar would be
enough; or a gladsome daughter who, in a sudden burst of
affection, had thrown her arms around her father's neck and kissed
him because she loved him, and because she wanted his day and her
day to begin that way:--if, I say, there had been all, or one-
half, or one-quarter of these things, the atmosphere of this
sepulchral interior might have been improved--but there wasn't.
There was a wife, of course, a woman two years older than Arthur
Breen--the relict of a Captain Barker, an army officer--who had
spent her early life in moving from one army post to another until
she had settled down in Washington, where Breen had married her,
and where the Scribe first met her. But this sharer of the
fortunes of Breen preferred her breakfast in bed, New York life
having proved even more wearing than military upheavals. And there
was also a daughter, Miss Corinne Barker, Captain and Mrs.
Barker's only offspring, who had known nothing of army posts,
except as a child, but who had known everything of Washington life
from the time she was twelve until she was fifteen, and she was
now twenty; but that young woman, I regret to say, also
breakfasted in bed, where her maid had special instructions not to
disturb her until my lady's jewelled fingers touched a button
within reach of her dainty hand; whereupon another instalment of
buttered rolls and coffee would be served with such accessories of
linen, porcelain and silver as befitted the appetite and station
of one so beautiful and so accomplished.
These conditions never ceased to depress Jack. Fresh from a life
out of doors, accustomed to an old-fashioned dining-room--the
living room, really, of the family who had cared for him since his
father's death, where not only the sun made free with the open
doors and windows, but the dogs and neighbors as well--the sober
formality of this early meal--all of his uncle's meals, for that
matter--sent shivers down his back that chilled him to the bone.
He had looked about him the first morning of his arrival, had
noted the heavy carved sideboard laden with the garish silver; had
examined the pictures lining the walls, separated from the dark
background of leather by heavy gold frames; had touched with his
fingers the dial of the solemn bronze clock, flanked by its
equally solemn candelabra; had peered between the steel andirons,
bright as carving knives, and into the freshly varnished, spacious
chimney up which no dancing blaze had ever whirled in madcap glee
since the mason's trowel had left it and never would to the end of
time,--not as long as the steam heat held out; had watched the
crane-like step of Parkins as he moved about the room--cold,
immaculate, impassive; had listened to his "Yes, sir--thank you,
sir, very good, sir," until he wanted to take him by the throat
and shake something spontaneous and human out of him, and as each
cheerless feature passed in review his spirits had sunk lower and
This, then, was what he could expect as long as he lived under his
uncle's roof--a period of time which seemed to him must stretch
out into dim futurity. No laughing halloos from passing neighbors
through wide-open windows; no Aunt Hannahs running in with a plate
of cakes fresh from the griddle which would cool too quickly if
she waited for that slow-coach of a Tom to bring them to her young
master. No sweep of leaf-covered hills seen through bending
branches laden with blossoms; no stretch of sky or slant of
sunshine; only a grim, funereal, artificial formality, as ungenial
and flattening to a boy of his tastes, education and earlier
environment as a State asylum's would have been to a red Indian
fresh from the prairie.
On the morning after Morris's dinner (within eight hours really of
the time when he had been so thrilled by the singing of the
Doxology), Jack was in his accustomed seat at the small,
adjustable accordion-built table--it could be stretched out to
accommodate twenty-four covers--when his uncle entered this room.
Parkins was genuflecting at the time with his--"Cream, sir,--yes,
sir. Devilled kidney, sir? Thank you, sir." (Parkins had been
second man with Lord Colchester, so he told Breen when he hired
him.) Jack had about made up his mind to order him out when a
peculiar tone in his uncle's "Good morning" made the boy scan that
gentleman's face and figure the closer.
His uncle was as well dressed as usual, looking as neat and as
smart in his dark cut-away coat with the invariable red carnation
in his buttonhole, but the boy's quick eye caught the marks of a
certain wear and tear in the face which neither his bath nor his
valet had been able to obliterate. The thin lips--thin for a man
so fat, and which showed, more than any other feature, something
of the desultory firmness of his character--drooped at the
corners. The eyes were half their size, the snap all out of them,
the whites lost under the swollen lids. His greeting, moreover,
had lost its customary heartiness.
"You were out late, I hear," he grumbled, dropping into his chair.
"I didn't get in myself until two o'clock and feel like a boiled
owl. May have caught a little cold, but I think it was that
champagne of Duckworth's; always gives me a headache. Don't put
any sugar and cream in that coffee, Parkins--want it straight."
"Yes, sir," replied the flunky, moving toward the sideboard.
"And now, Jack, what did you do?" he continued, picking up his
napkin. "You and Garry made a night of it, didn't you? Some kind
of an artist's bat, wasn't it?"
"No, sir; Mr. Morris gave a dinner to his clerks, and--"
"Why, the great architect."
"Oh, that fellow! Yes, I know him, that is, I know who he is. Say
the rest. Parkins! didn't I tell you I didn't want any sugar or
Parkins hadn't offered any. He had only forgotten to remove them
from the tray.
Jack kept straight on; these differences between the master and
Parkins were of daily occurrence.
"And, Uncle Arthur, I met the most wonderful gentleman I ever saw;
he looked just as if he had stepped out of an old frame, and yet
he is down in the Street every day and--"
"No firm, he is--"
"Curbstone man, then?" Here Breen lifted the cup to his lips and
as quickly put it down. "Parkins!"
"Yes, sir," came the monotone.
"Why the devil can't I get my coffee hot?"
"Is it cold, sir?"--slight modulation, but still lifeless.
"IS IT COLD? Of course it's cold! Might have been standing in a
morgue. Take that down and have some fresh coffee sent up.
Servants running oer each other and yet I can't get a--Go on,
Jack! I didn't mean to interrupt, but I'll clean the whole lot of
'em out of here if I don't get better service."
"No, Uncle Arthur, he isn't a banker--isn't even a broker; he's
only a paying teller in a bank," continued Jack.
The older man turned his head and a look of surprise swept over
his round, fat face.
"Teller in a BANK?" he asked in an altered tone.
"Yes, the most charming, the most courteous old gentleman I have
ever met; I haven't seen anybody like him since I left home, and,
just think, he has promised to come and see me to-night."
The drooping lips straightened and a shrewd, searching glance shot
from Arthur Breen's eyes. There was a brain behind this sleepy
face--as many of his competitors knew. It was not always in
working order, but when it was the man became another personality.
"Jack--" The voice was now as thin as the drawn lips permitted,
with caution in every tone, "you stop short off. You mustn't
cotton to everybody you pick up in New York--it won't do. Get you
into trouble. Don't bring him here; your aunt won't like it. When
you get into a hole with a fellow and can't help yourself, take
him to the club. That's one of the things I got you into the
Magnolia for; but don't ever bring 'em here."
"But he's a personal friend of Mr. Morris, and a friend of another
friend of Mr. Morris's they called 'Major.'" It was not the first
time he had heard such inhospitable suggestions from his uncle.
"Oh, yes, I know; they've all got some old retainers hanging on
that they give a square meal to once a year, but don't you get
mixed up with 'em."
Parkins had returned by this time and was pouring a fresh cup of
"Now, Parkins, that's something like--No, I don't want any
kidneys--I don't want any toast--I don't want anything, Parkins--
haven't I told you so?"
"Yes, sir; thank you sir."
"Black coffee is the only thing that'll settle this head. What you
want to do, Jack, is to send that old fossil word that you've got
another engagement, and . . .Parkins, is there anything going on
"Yes, sir; Miss Cocinne is giving a small dance."
"There, Jack--that's it. That'll let you out with a whole skin."
"No, I can't, and I won't, Uncle Arthur," he answered in an
indignant tone. "If you knew him as I do, and had seen him last
night, you would--"
"No, I don't want to know him and I don't want to see him. You are
all balled up, I see, and can't work loose, but take him upstairs;
don't let your aunt come across him or she'll have a fit." Here he
glanced at the bronze clock. "What!--ten minutes past nine!
Parkins, see if my cab is at the door. . . . Jack, you ride down
with me. I walked when I was your age, and got up at daylight.
Some difference, Jack, isn't there, whether you've got a rich
uncle to look after you or not." This last came with a wink.
It was only one of his pleasantries. He knew he was not rich; not
in the accepted sense. He might be a small star in the myriads
forming the Milky-Way of Finance, but there were planets millions
of miles beyond him, whose brilliancy he was sure he could never
equal. The fact was that the money which he had accumulated had
been so much greater sum than he had ever hoped for when he was a
boy in a Western State--his father went to Iowa in '49--and the
changes in his finances had come with such lightning rapidity
(half a million made on a tip given him by a friend, followed by
other tips more or less profitable) that he loved to pat his
pride, so to speak, in speeches like this.
That he had been swept off his feet by the social and financial
rush about him was quite natural. His wife, whose early life had
been one long economy, had ambitions to which there was no limit
and her escape from her former thraldom had been as sudden and as
swift as the upward spring of a loosened balloon. Then again all
the money needed to make the ascension successful was at her
disposal. Hence jewels, laces, and clothes; hence elaborate
dinners, the talk of the town: hence teas, receptions, opera
parties, week-end parties at their hired country seat on Long
Island; dances for Corinne; dinners for Corinne; birthday parties
for Corinne; everything, in fact, for Corinne, from manicures to
pug dogs and hunters.
His two redeeming qualities were his affection for his wife and
his respect for his word. He had no child of his own, and Corinne,
though respectful never showed him any affection. He had sent Jack
to a Southern school and college, managing meanwhile the little
property his father had left him, which, with some wild lands in
the Cumberland Mountains, practically worthless, was the boy's
whole inheritance, and of late had treated him as if he had been
his own son.
As to his own affairs, close as he sailed to the wind in his money
transactions--so close sometimes that the Exchange had more than
once overhauled his dealings--it was generally admitted that when
Arthur Breen gave his WORD--a difficult thing often to get--he
never broke it. This was offset by another peculiarity with less
beneficial results: When he had once done a man a service only to
find him ungrateful, no amount of apologies or atonement
thereafter ever moved him to forgiveness. Narrow-gauge men are
sometimes built that way.
It was to be expected, therefore, considering the quality of
Duckworth's champagne and the impression made on Jack by his
uncle's outburst, that the ride down town in the cab was marked by
anything but cheerful conversation between Breen and his nephew,
each of whom sat absorbed in his own reflections. "I didn't mean
to be hard on the boy," ruminated Breen, "but if I had picked up
everybody who wanted to know me, as Jack has done, where would I
be now?" Then, his mind still clouded by the night at the club (he
had not confined himself entirely to champagne), he began, as was
his custom, to concentrate his attention upon the work of the day
--on the way the market would open; on the remittance a belated
customer had promised and about which he had some doubt; the
meeting of the board of directors in the new mining company--"The
Great Mukton Lode," in which he had an interest, and a large one--
Jack looked out of the windows, his eyes taking in the remnants of
the autumnal tints in the Park, now nearly gone, the crowd filling
the sidewalks; the lumbering stages and the swifter-moving horse-
cars crammed with eager men anxious to begin the struggle of the
day--not with their hands--that mob had swept past hours before--
but with their brains--wits against wits and the devil take the
man who slips and falls.
Nothing of it all interested him. His mind was on the talk at the
breakfast table, especially his uncle's ideas of hospitality, all
of which had appalled and disgusted him. With his father there had
always been a welcome for every one, no matter what the position
in life, the only standard being one of breeding and character--
and certainly Peter had both. His uncle had helped him, of course
--put him under obligations he could never repay. Yet after all, it
was proved now to him that he was but a guest in the house
enjoying only such rights as any other guest might possess, and
with no voice in the welcome--a condition which would never be
altered, until he became independent himself--a possibility which
at the moment was too remote to be considered. Then his mind
reverted to his conversation the night before with Mr. Grayson and
with this change of thought his father's portrait--the one that
hung in his room--loomed up. He had the night before turned on the
lights--to their fullest--and had scanned the picture closely,
eager to find some trace of Peter in the counterfeit presentment
of the man he loved best, and whose memory was still almost a
religion, but except that both Peter and his father were bald, and
that both wore high, old-fashioned collars and neck-cloths, he had
been compelled to admit with a sigh that there was nothing about
the portrait on which to base the slightest claim to resemblance.
"Yet he's like my father, he is, he is," he kept repeating to
himself as the cab sped on. "I'll find out what it is when I know
him better. To-night when Mr. Grayson comes I'll study it out,"
and a joyous smile flashed across his features as he thought of
the treat in store for him.
When at last the boy reached his office, where, behind the
mahogany partition with its pigeon-hole cut through the glass
front he sat every day, he swung back the doors of the safe, took
out his books and papers and made ready for work. He had charge of
the check book, and he alone signed the firm's name outside of the
partners. "Rather young," one of them protested, until he looked
into the boy's face, then he gave his consent; something better
than years of experience and discretion are wanted where a scratch
of a pen might mean financial ruin.
Breen had preceded him with but a nod to his clerks, and had
disappeared into his private office--another erection of ground
glass and mahogany. Here the senior member of the firm shut the
door carefully, and turning his back fished up a tiny key attached
to a chain leading to the rear pocket of his trousers. With this
he opened a small closet near his desk--a mere box of a closet--
took from it a squatty-shaped decanter labelled "Rye, 1840,"
poured out half a glass, emptied it into his person with one gulp,
and with the remark in a low voice to himself that he was now
"copper fastened inside and out"--removed all traces of the
incident and took up his morning's mail.
By this time the circle of chairs facing the huge blackboard in
the spacious outer office had begun to fill up. Some of the
customers, before taking their seats, hurried anxiously to the
ticker, chattering away in its glass case; others turned abruptly
and left the room without a word. Now and then a customer would
dive into Breen's private room, remain a moment and burst out
again, his face an index of the condition of his bank account.
When the chatter of the ticker had shifted from the London
quotations to the opening sales on the Exchange, a sallow-faced
clerk mounted a low step-ladder and swept a scurry of chalk marks
over the huge blackboard, its margin lettered with the initials of
the principal stocks. The appearance of this nimble-fingered young
man with his piece of chalk always impressed Jack as a sort of
vaudeville performance. On ordinary days, with the market
lifeless, but half of the orchestra seats would be occupied. In
whirl-times, with the ticker spelling ruin, not only were the
chairs full, but standing room only was available in the offices.
Their occupants came from all classes; clerks from up-town dry-
goods houses, who had run down during lunch time to see whether
U.P. or Erie, or St. Paul had moved up an eighth, or down a
quarter, since they had devoured the morning papers on their way
to town; old speculators who had spent their lives waiting
buzzard-like for some calamity, enabling them to swoop down and
make off with what fragments they could pick up; well-dressed,
well-fed club men, who had had a run of luck and who never carried
less than a thousand shares to keep their hands in; gray-haired
novices nervously rolling little wads of paper between their
fingers and thumbs--up every few minutes to listen to the talk of
the ticker, too anxious to wait until the sallow-faced young man
with the piece of chalk could make his record on the board. Some
of them had gathered together their last dollar. Two per cent. or
one percent, or even one-half of one per cent. rise or fall was
all that stood between them and ruin.
"Very sorry, sir, but you know we told you when you opened the
account that you must keep your margins up," Breen had said to an
old man. The old man knew; had known it all night as he lay awake,
afraid to tell his wife of the sword hanging above their heads.
Knew it, too, when without her knowledge he had taken the last
dollar of the little nest-egg to make good the deficit owed Breen
& Co. over and above his margins, together with some other things
"not negotiable"--not our kind of collateral but "stuff" that
could "lie in the safe until he could make some other
arrangement," the cashier had said with the firm's consent.
Queer safe, that of Breen & Co., and queer things went into it.
Most of them were still there. Jack thought some jeweller had sent
part of his stock down for safe-keeping when he first came across
a tiny drawer of which Breen alone kept the key. Each object could
tell a story: a pair of diamond ear-rings surely could, and so
could four pearls on a gold chain, and perhaps, too, a certain
small watch, the case set with jewels. One of these days they may
be redeemed, or they may not, depending upon whether the owners
can scrape money enough together to pay the balances owed in cash.
But the four pearls on the gold chain are likely to remain there--
that poor fellow went overboard one morning off Nantucket Light,
and his secret went with him.
During the six months Jack had stood at his desk new faces had
filled the chairs--the talk had varied; though he felt only the
weary monotony of it all. Sometimes there had been hours of tense
excitement, when even his uncle had stood by the ticker, and when
every bankable security in the box had been overhauled and sent
post-haste to the bank or trust company. Jack, followed by the
porter with a self-cocking revolver in his outside pocket, had
more than once carried the securities himself, returning to the
office on the run with a small scrap of paper good for half a
million or so tucked away in his inside pocket. Then the old
monotony had returned with its dull routine and so had the chatter
and talk. "Buy me a hundred." "Yes, let 'em go." "No, I don't want
to risk it." "What's my balance?" "Thought you'd get another
eighth for that stock." "Sold at that figure, anyhow," etc.
Under these conditions life to a boy of Jack's provincial training
and temperament seemed narrowed down to an arm-chair, a black-
board, a piece of chalk and a restless little devil sputtering
away in a glass case, whose fiat meant happiness or misery. Only
the tongue of the demon was in evidence. The brain behind it, with
its thousand slender nerves quivering with the energy of the
globe, Jack never saw, nor, for that matter, did nine-tenths of
the occupants of the chairs. To them its spoken word was the
dictum of fate. Success meant debts paid, a balance in the bank,
houses, horses, even yachts and estates--failure meant obscurity
and suffering. The turn of the roulette wheel or the roll of a
cube of ivory they well knew brought the same results, but these
turnings they also knew were attended with a certain loss of
prestige. Taking a flier in the Street was altogether different--
great financiers were behind the fluctuations of values told by
the tongue of the ticker, and behind them was the wealth of the
Republic and still in the far distance the power of the American
people. Few of them ever looked below the grease paint, nor did
the most discerning ever detect the laugh on the clown's face.
The boy half hidden by the glass screen, through which millions
were passed and repassed every month, caught now and then a
Once a faded, white-haired old man had handed Jack a check after
banking hours to make good an account--a man whose face had
haunted him for hours. His uncle told him the poor fellow had "run
up solid" against a short interest in a stock that some Croesus
was manipulating to get even with another Croesus who had
manipulated HIM, and that the two Croesuses had "buried the old
man alive." The name of the stock Jack had forgotten, but the
suffering in the victim's face had made an indelible impression.
In reply to Jack's further inquiry, his uncle had spoken as if the
poor fellow had been wandering about on some unknown highway when
the accident happened, failing to add that he himself had led him
through the gate and started him on the road; forgetting, too, to
say that he had collected the toll in margins, a sum which still
formed a considerable portion of Breen & Co.'s bank account. One
bit of information which Breen had vouchsafed, while it did not
relieve the gloom of the incident, added a note of courage to the
"He was game, however, all the same, Jack. Had to go down into his
wife's stocking, I hear. Hard hit, but he took it like a man."
While all this was going on downtown under the direction of the
business end of the house of Breen, equally interesting events
were taking place uptown under the guidance of its social head.
Strict orders had been given by Mrs. Breen the night before that
certain dustings and arrangings of furniture should take place,
the spacious stairs swept, and the hectic hired palms in their
great china pots watered. I say "the night before," because
especial stress was laid upon the fact that on no account whatever
were either Mrs. Breen or her daughter Corinne to be disturbed
until noon--neither of them having retired until a late hour the
So strictly were these orders carried out that all that did reach
the younger woman's ear--and this was not until long after mid-
day--was a scrap of news which crept upstairs from the breakfast
table via Parkins wireless, was caught by Corinne's maid and
delivered in manifold with that young lady's coffee and buttered
rolls. This when deciphered meant that Jack was not to be at the
dance that evening--he having determined instead to spend his time
up stairs with a disreputable old fellow whom he had picked up
somewhere at a supper the preceding night.
Corinne thought over the announcement for a moment, gazed into the
egg-shell cup that Hortense was filling from the tiny silver
coffee-pot, and a troubled expression crossed her face. "What has
come over Jack?" she asked herself. "I never knew him to do
anything like this before. Is he angry, I wonder, because I danced
with Garry the other night? It WAS his dance, but I didn't think
he would care. He has always done everything to please me--until
now." Perhaps the boy was about to slip the slight collar he had
worn in her service--one buckled on by him willingly because--
though she had not known it--he was a guest in the house.
Heretofore she said to herself Jack had been her willing slave, a
feather in her cap--going everywhere with her; half the girls were
convinced he was in love with her--a theory which she had
encouraged. What would they say now? This prospect so disturbed
the young woman that she again touched the button, and again
Hortense glided in.
"Hortense, tell Parkins to let me know the moment Mr. John comes
in--and get me my blue tea-gown; I sha'n't go out to-day." This
done she sank back on her pillows.
She was a slight little body, this Corinne--blue-eyed, fair-
haired, with a saucy face and upturned nose. Jack thought when he
first saw her that she looked like a wren with its tiny bill in
the air--and Jack was not far out of the way. And yet she was a
very methodical, level-headed little wren, with several positive
convictions which dominated her life--one of them being that
everybody about her ought to do, not as they, but as she, pleased.
She had begun, and with pronounced success, on her mother as far
back as she could remember, and had then tried her hand on her
stepfather until it became evident that as her mother controlled
that gentleman it was a waste of time to experiment further. All
of which was a saving of stones without the loss of any birds.
Where she failed--and she certainly had failed, was with Jack, who
though punctiliously polite was elusive and--never quite subdued.
Yet the discovery made, she neither pouted nor lost her temper,
but merely bided her time. Sooner or later, she knew, of course,
this boy, who had seen nothing of city life and who was evidently
dazed with all the magificence of the stately home overlooking the
Park, would find his happiest resting-place beneath the soft
plumage of her little wing. And if by any chance he should fall in
love with her--and what more natural; did not everybody fall in
love with her?--would it not be wiser to let him think she
returned it, especially if she saw any disposition on the young
man's part to thwart her undisputed sway of the household?
For months she had played her little game, yet to her amazement
none of the things she had anticipated had happened. Jack had
treated her as he would any other young woman of his acquaintance
--always with courtesy--always doing everything to oblige her, but
never yielding to her sway. He would laugh sometimes at her
pretensions, just as he would have laughed at similar self-
assertiveness on the part of any one else with whom he must
necessarily be thrown, but never by thought, word or deed had he
ever given my Lady Wren the faintest suspicion that he considered
her more beautiful, better dressed, or more entertaining, either
in song, chirp, flight or plumage, than the flock of other birds
about her. Indeed, the Scribe knows it to be a fact that if Jack's
innate politeness had not forbidden, he would many times have told
her truths, some of them mighty unpleasant ones, to which her ears
had been strangers since her school-girl days.
This unstudied treatment, strange to say--the result really, of
the boy's indifference--had of late absorbed her. What she could
not have she generally longed for, and there was not the slightest
question up to the present moment that Jack was still afield.
Again the girl pressed the button of the cord within reach of her
hand, and for the third time Hortense entered.
"Have you told Parkins I want to know the very instant Mr. John
"And, Hortense, did you understand that Mr. John was to go out to
meet the gentleman, or was the gentleman to come to his rooms?"
"To his rooms, I think, miss."
She was wearing her blue tea-gown, stretched out on the cushions
of one of the big divans in the silent drawing-room, when she
heard Jack's night-key touch the lock. Springing to her feet she
ran toward him.
"Why, Jack, what's this I hear about your not coming to my dance?
It isn't true, is it?" She was close to him now, her little head
cocked on one side, her thin, silken draperies dripping about her
"Who told you?"
"Parkins told Hortense."
"Leaky Parkins?" laughed Jack, tossing his hat on the hall table.
"But you are coming, aren't you, Jack? Please do!"
"Not to-night; you don't need me, Corinne." His voice told her at
once that not only was the leash gone but that the collar was off
"Yes, but I do."
"Then please excuse me, for I have an old gentleman coming to pay
me a visit. The finest old gentleman, by the way, you ever saw! A
regular thoroughbred, Corinne--who looks like a magnificent
portrait!" he added in his effort to interest her.
"But let him come some other time," she coaxed, holding the lapel
of his coat, her eyes searching his.
"What, turn to the wall a magnificent old portrait!" This came
with a mock grimace, his body bent forward, his eyes brimming with
"Be serious, Jack, and tell me if you think it very nice in you to
stay upstairs in your den when I am giving a dance? Everybody will
know you are at home, and we haven't enough men as it is. Garry
can't come, he writes me. He has to dine with some men at the
"I really AM sorry, Corinne, but I can't this time." Jack had hold
of her hand now; for a brief moment he was sorry he had not
postponed Peter's visit until the next day; he hated to cause any
woman a disappointment. "If it was anybody else I might send him
word to call another night, but you don't know Mr. Grayson; he
isn't the kind of a man you can treat like that. He does me a
great honor to come, anyhow. Just think of his coming to see a boy
like me--and he so--"
"Well, bring him downstairs, then." Her eyes began to flash; she
had tried all the arts she knew--they were not many--but they had
won heretofore. "Mother will take care of him. A good many of the
girls' fathers come for them."
"Bring him downstairs to a dance!" Jack answered with a merry
laugh. "He isn't that kind of an old gentleman, either. Why,
Corinne, you ought to see him! You might as well ask old Bishop
Gooley to lead the german."
Jack's foot was now ready to mount the lower step of the stairs.
Corinne bit her lip.
"You never do anything to please me!" she snapped back. She knew
she was fibbing, but something must be done to check this new form
of independence--and then, now that Garry couldn't come, she
really needed him. "You don't want to come, that's it--" She
facing him now, her little nose high in the air, her cheeks
flaming with anger.
"You must not say that, Corinne," he answered in a slightly
Corinne drew herself up to her full height--toes included; not
very high, but all she could do--and said in a voice pitched to a
high key, her finger within a few inches of his nose:
"It's true, and I will say it!"
The rustle of silk was heard overhead, and a plump, tightly laced
woman in voluminous furs, her head crowned by a picture hat piled
high with plumes, was making her way down the stairs. Jack looked
up and waved his hand to his aunt, and then stood at mock
attention, like a corporal on guard, one hand raised to salute her
as she passed. The boy, with the thought of Peter coming, was very
happy this afternoon.
"What are you two quarrelling about?" came the voice. Rather a
soft voice with a thread of laziness running through it.
"Jack's too mean for anything, mother. He knows we haven't men
enough without him for a cotillion, now that Garry has dropped
out, and he's been just stupid enough to invite some old man to
come and see him this evening."
The furs and picture hat swept down and on, Jack standing at
attention, hands clasping an imaginary musket his face drawn down
to its severest lines, his cheeks puffed out to make him look the
more solemn. When the wren got "real mad" he would often say she
was the funniest thing alive.
"I'm a pig, I know, aunty" (here Jack completed his salute with a
great flourish), "but Corinne does not really want me, and she
knows it. She only wants to have her own way. They don't dance
cotillions when they come here--at least they didn't last time,
and I don't believe they will to-night. They sit around with each
other in the corners and waltz with the fellows they've picked
out--and it's all arranged between them, and has been for a week--
ever since they heard Corinne was going to give a dance." The boy
spoke with earnestness and a certain tone of conviction in his
voice, although his face was still radiant.
"Well, can't you sit around, too, Jack?" remarked his aunt,
pausing in her onward movement for an instant. "I'm sure there
will be some lovely girls."
"Yes, but they don't want me. I've tried it too often, aunty--
they've all got their own set."
"It's because you don't want to be polite to any of them," snapped
Corinne with a twist of her body, so as to face him again.
"Now, Corinne, that isn't fair; I am never impolite to anybody in
this house, but I'm tired of--"
"Well, Garry isn't tired." This last shot was fired at random.
Again the aunt poured oil: "Come, children, come! Don't let's talk
any more about it. If Jack has made an engagement it can't be
helped, I suppose, but don't spoil your party, my dear. Find
Parkins, Jack, and send him to me. ... Ah, Parkins--if any one
calls say I'll be out until six o'clock."
"Yes, my Lady." Parkins knew on which side his bread was buttered.
She had reproved him at first, but his excuse was that she was so
like his former mistress, Lady Colchester, that he sometimes
And again "my Lady" swept on, this time out of the door and into
her waiting carriage.
Jack's impatience increased as the hour for Peter's visit
approached. Quarter of nine found him leaning over the banisters
outside his small suite of rooms, peering down between the hand-
rails watching the top of every head that crossed the spacious
hall three flights below--he dare not go down to welcome his
guest, fearing some of the girls, many of whom had already
arrived, would know he was in the house. Fifteen minutes later the
flash of a bald head, glistening in the glare of the lower hall
lantern, told him that the finest old gentleman in the world had
arrived, and on the very minute. Parkins's special instructions,
repeated for the third time, were to bring Mr. Peter Grayson--it
was wonderful what an impressive note was in the boy's voice when
he rolled out the syllables--up at once, surtout, straight-brimmed
hat, overshoes (if he wore any), umbrella and all, and the four
foot-falls--two cat-like and wabbly, as befitted the obsequious
flunky, and two firm and decided, as befitted a grenadier crossing
a bridge--could now be heard mounting the stairs.
"So here you are!" cried Peter, holding out both hands to the
overjoyed boy--"'way up near the sky. One flight less than my own.
Let me get my breath, my boy, before I say another word. No, don't
worry, only Anno Domini--you'll come to it some day. How
delightfully you are settled!"
They had entered the cosey sitting-room and Jack was helping with
his coat; Parkins, with his nose in the air (he had heard his
master's criticism), having already placed his hat on a side table
and the umbrella in the corner.
"Where will you sit--in the big chair by the fire or in this long
straw one?" cried the boy, Peter's coat still in his hand.
"Nowhere yet; let me look around a little." One of Peter's tests
of a man was the things he lived with. "Ah! books?" and he peered
at a row on the mantel. "Macaulay, I see, and here's Poe: Good,
very good--why, certainly it is--Where did you get this Morland?"
and again Peter's glasses went up. "Through that door is your
bedroom--yes, and the bath. Very charming, I must say. You ought
to live very happily here; few young fellows I know have half your
Jack had interrupted him to say that the Morland print was one
that he had brought from his father's home, and that the books had
come from the same source, but Peter kept on in his tour around
the room. Suddenly he stopped and looked steadily at a portrait
over the mantel.
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