Peter: A Novel of Which He is Not the Hero
F. Hopkinson Smith
Part 3 out of 8
him, so careful that he should be introduced to this and that
person; and Miss Felicia! What a great lady she was; and yet he
was not a bit afraid of her. What would they all think of him when
the facts of his uncle's crime came to their ears, and they MUST
come sooner or later. What, too, would Peter think of him for
breaking out on his uncle, which he firmly intended to do as soon
as the hour hand reached eleven? Nor would he mince his words.
That an outrage of this kind could be committed on an unsuspecting
man was bad enough, but that it should have taken place in his own
uncle's office, bringing into disrepute his father's and his own
good name, was something he could not tolerate for a moment. This
he intended saying to his uncle in so many plain words; and so
leaving our hero with his soul on fire, his mind bent on
inflammables, explosives, high-pressures--anything in fact that
once inserted under the solid body of the senior Breen would blow
that gentleman into space--we will betake ourselves to his
palatial home. The dinner being an important one, no expense had
All day long boys in white aprons had sprung from canvas-covered
wagons, dived in Arthur Breen's kitchen and dived out again after
depositing various eatables, drinkables and cookables--among them
six pair of redheads, two saddles of mutton, besides such uncanny
things as mushrooms, truffles and the like, all of which had been
turned over to the chef, who was expressly engaged for the
occasion, and whose white cap--to quote Parkins--"Gives a hair to
the scullery which reminded him more of 'ome than anything 'e 'ad
seen since 'e left 'is lordship's service."
Upstairs more wonderful things had been done. The table of the
sepulchral dining-room was trans formed into a bed of tulips, the
mantel a parterre of flowers, while the sideboard, its rear packed
with the family silver, was guarded by a row of bottles of various
sizes, shapes and colors; various degrees of cob webbed
shabbiness, too--containing the priceless vintages which the
senior member of the firm of Breen & Co. intended to set before
Finally, as the dinner hour approached, all the gas jets were
ablaze; not only the side lights in the main hall, and the
overhead lantern which had shed its rays on Peter's bald head, but
the huge glass chandelier hung in the middle of the satin-
upholstered drawing room, as well as the candelabra on the mantel
with their imitation wax candles and brass wicks--every thing, in
fact, that could add to the brilliancy of the occasion.
All this, despite the orderly way in which the millionaire's house
was run, had developed a certain nervous anxiety in the host
himself, the effect of which had not yet worn off, although but a
few minutes would elapse before the arrival of the guests. This
was apparent in the rise and fall of Breen's heels, as he seesawed
back and forth on the hearth-rug in the satin-lined drawing-room,
with his coattails spread to the life less grate, and from the way
he glanced nervously at the mirror to see that his cravat was
properly tied and that his collar did not ride up in the back.
The only calm person in the house was the ex-widow. With the eyes
of a major-general sweeping the field on the eve of an important
battle, she had taken in the disposition of the furniture, the
hang of the curtains and the placing of the cushions and lesser
comforts. She had also arranged with her own hands the masses of
narcissus and jonquils on the mantels, and had selected the exact
shade of yellow tulips which centred the dining-room table. It was
to be a "Gold-Mine Dinner," so Arthur had told her, "and
everything must be in harmony."
Then seeing Parkins, who had entered unexpectedly and caught her
in the act (it is bad form for a hostess to arrange flowers in
some houses--the butler does that), she asked in an indifferent
tone: "And how many are we to have for dinner, Parkins?" She knew,
of course, having spent an hour over a diagram placing the guests.
"Fourteen, my lady."
"Fourteen!--really, quite a small affair." And with the air of one
accustomed all her life to banquets in palaces of state, she swept
out of the room.
The only time she betrayed herself was just before the arrival of
the guests, when her mind reverted to her daughter.
"The Portmans are giving a ball next week, Arthur, and I want
Corinne to go. Are you sure he is coming?"
"Don't worry, Kitty, Portman's coming; and so are the Colonel, and
Crossbin, and Hodges, and the two Chicago directors, and Mason,
and a lot more. Everybody's coming, I tell you. If Mukton Lode
doesn't sit up and take notice with a new lease of life after
tonight, I'm a Dutchman. Run, there's the bell."
The merciful Scribe will spare the reader the details incident
upon the arrival of the several guests. These dinners are all
alike: the announcements by the butler; the passing of the
cocktails on a wine tray; the standing around until the last man
has entered the drawing-room; the perfunctory talk--the men who
have met before hobnobbing instantly with each other, the host
bearing the brunt of the strangers; the saunter into the dining-
room, the reading of cards, and the "Here you are, Mr. Portman,
right alongside Mr. Hodges. And Crossbin, you are down there
somewhere"; the spreading of napkins and squaring of everybody's
elbow as each man drops into his seat.
Neither will the reader be told of the various dishes or their
garnishings. These pages have so far been filled with little else
beside eating and drinking, and with reason, too, for have not all
the great things in life been begun over some tea-table, carried
on at a luncheon, and completed between the soup and the cordials?
Kings, diplomats and statesmen have long since agreed that for
baiting a trap there is nothing like a soup, an entree and a
roast, the whole moistened by a flagon of honest wine. The bait
varies when the financier or promoter sets out to catch a
capitalist, just as it does when one sets out to catch a mouse,
and yet the two mammals are much alike--timid, one foot at a time,
nosing about to find out if any of his friends have had a nibble;
scared at the least disturbing echo--then the fat, toothsome
cheese looms up (Breen's Madeira this time), and in they go.
But if fuller description of this special bait be omitted, there
is no reason why that of the baiters and the baited should be left
out of the narrative.
Old Colonel Purviance, of the Chesapeake Club, for one--a big-
paunched man who always wore, summer and winter, a reasonably
white waistcoat and a sleazy necktie; swore in a loud voice and
dropped his g's when he talked. "Bit 'em off," his friends said,
as he did the end of his cigars. He had, in honor of the occasion
so contrived that his black coat and trousers matched this time,
while his shoestring tie had been replaced by a white cravat. But
the waistcoat was of the old pattern and the top button loose, as
usual. The Colonel earned his living--and a very comfortable one
it was--by promoting various enterprises--some of them rather
shady. He had also a gift for both starting and maintaining a
boom. Most of the Mukton stock owned by the Southern contingent
had been floated by him. Another of his accomplishments was his
ability to label correctly, with his eyes shut, any bottle of
Madeira from anybody's cellar, and to his credit, be it said, he
never lied about the quality, be it good, bad or abominable.
Next to him sat Mason, from Chicago--a Westerner who had made his
money in a sudden rise in real estate, and who had moved to New
York to spend it: an out-spoken, common-sense, plain man, with
yellow eyebrows, yellow head partly bald, and his red face blue
specked with powder marks due to a premature blast in his mining
days. Mason couldn't tell the best Tiernan Madeira from corner-
grocery sherry, and preferred whiskey at any and all hours--and
what was more, never assumed for one instant that he could.
Then came Hodges, the immaculately dressed epicure--a pale, clean-
shaven, eye-glassed, sterilized kind of a man with a long neck and
skinny fingers, who boasted of having twenty-one different clarets
stored away under his sidewalk which were served to ordinary
guests, and five special vintages which he kept under lock and
key, and which were only uncorked for the elect, and who
invariably munched an olive before sampling the next wine. Then
followed such lesser lights, as Nixon, Leslie and the other
A most exacting group of bons vivants, these. The host had
realized it and had brought out his best. Most of it, to be sure,
had come from Beaver Street, something "rather dry, with an
excellent bouquet," the crafty salesman with gimlet eyes had said;
but, then, most of the old Madeira does come from Beaver Street,
except Portman's, who has a fellow with a nose and a palate
hunting the auction rooms for that particular Sunset of 1834 which
had lain in old Mr. Grinnells cellar for twenty-two years; and
that other of 1839, once possessed by Colonel Purviance, a wine
which had so sharpened the Colonel's taste that he was always
uncomfortable when dining outside of his club or away from the
tables of one or two experts like himself.
These, then, were the palates to which Breen catered. Back of them
lay their good-will and good feeling; still back of them, again,
their bank accounts and--another scoop in Mukton! Most of the
guests had had a hand in the last deal and they were ready to
share in the next. Although this particular dinner was supposed to
be a celebration of the late victory, two others, equally
elaborate, had preceded it; both Crossbin and Hodges having
entertained nearly this same group of men at their own tables.
That Breen, with his reputation for old Madeira and his supposed
acquaintance with the intricacies of a Maryland kitchen, would
outclass them both, had been whispered a dozen times since the
receipt of his invitation, and he knew it. Hence the alert boy,
the chef in the white cap, and hence the seesawing on the hearth-
"Like it, Crossbin?" asked Breen.
Parkins had just passed down the table with a dust covered bottle
which he handled with the care of a collector fingering a
peachblow vase. The precious fluid had been poured into that
gentleman's glass and its contents were now within an inch of his
The moment was too grave for instant reply; Mr. Crossbin was
allowing the aroma to mount to the innermost recesses of his
nostrils. It had only been a few years since he had performed this
same trick with a gourd suspended from a nail in his father's back
kitchen, overlooking a field of growing corn; but that fact was
not public property--not here in New York.
"Yes--smooth, and with something of the hills in it. Chateau
Lamont, is it not, of '61?" It was Chateau of something-or-other,
and of some year, but Breen was too wise to correct him. He
supposed it was Chateau Lafitte--that is, he had instructed
Parkins to serve that particular wine and vintage.
"Either '61 or '63," replied Breen with the air of positive
certainty. (How that boy in the white apron, who had watched the
boss paste on the labels, would have laughed had he been under the
Further down the cloth Hodges, the epicure, was giving his views
as to the proper way of serving truffles. A dish had just passed,
with an underpinning of crust. Hodges's early life had qualified
him as an expert in cooking, as well as in wines: Ten years in a
country store swapping sugar for sausages and tea for butter and
eggs; five more clerk in a Broadway cloth house, with varied
boarding-house experiences (boiled mutton twice a week, with
pudding on Sundays); three years junior partner, with a room over
Delmonico's; then a rich wife and a directorship in a bank (his
father-in-law was the heaviest depositor); next, one year in
Europe and home, as vice-president, and at the present writing
president of one of the certify-as-early-as-ten-o' clock-in-the-
morning kind of banks, at which Peter would so often laugh. With
these experiences there came the usual blooming and expanding--all
the earlier life for gotten, really ignored. Soon the food of the
country became unbearable. Even the canvasbacks must feed on a
certain kind of wild celery; the oysters be dredged from a
particular cove, and the terrapin drawn from their beds with the
Hodges' coat of arms cut in their backs before they would be
allowed a place on the ex-clerk's table.
It is no wonder, then, that everybody listened when the
distinguished epicure launched out on the proper way to both
acquire and serve so rare and toothsome a morsel as a truffle.
"Mine come by every steamer," Hodges asserted in a positive tone--
not to anybody in particular, but with a sweep of the table to
attract enough listeners to make it worthwhile for him to proceed.
"My man is aboard before the gang-plank is secure--gets my package
from the chief steward and is at my house with the truffles within
an hour. Then I at once take proper care of them. That is why my
truffles have that peculiar flavor you spoke of, Mr. Portman, when
you last dined at my house. You remember, don't you?"
Portman nodded. He did not remember--not the truffles. He recalled
some white port--but that was because he had bought the balance of
the lot himself.
"Where do they come from?" inquired Mason, the man from Chicago.
He wanted to know and wasn't afraid to ask.
"All through France. Mine are rooted near a little village in the
Province of Perigord."
"Hogs--trained hogs. You are familiar, of course, with the way
they are secured?"
Mason--plain man as he was--wasn't familiar with anything remotely
connected with the coralling of truffles, and said so. Hodges
talked on, his eye resting first on one and then another of the
guests, his voice increasing in volume whenever a fresh listener
craned his neck, as if the information was directed to him alone--
a trick of Hodges' when he wanted an audience.
"And now a word of caution," he continued; "some thing that most
of you may not know--always root on a rainy day--sunshine spoils
their flavor--makes them tough and leathery."
"Kind of hog got anything to do with the taste?" asked Mason in
all sincerity. He was learning New York ways--a new lesson each
day, and intended to keep on, but not by keeping his mouth shut.
"Nothing whatever," replied Hodges. "They must never be allowed to
bite them, of course. You can wound a truffle as you can
Mason looked off into space and the Colonel bent his ear.
Purviance's diet had been largely drawn from his beloved
Chesapeake, and "dug-up dead things"--as he called the subject
under discussion--didn't interest him. He wanted to laugh--came
near it--then he suddenly remembered how important a man Hodges
might be and how necessary it was to give him air space in which
to float his pet balloons and so keep him well satisfied with
Mason, the Chicago man, had no such scruples. He had twice as much
money as Hodges, four times his digestion and ten times his
"Send that dish back here, Breen," Mason cried out in a clear
voice--so loud that Parkins, winged by the shot, retraced his
steps. "I want to see what Mr. Hodges is talking about. Never saw
a truffle that I know of." Here he turned the bits of raw rubber
over with his fork. "No. Take it away. Guess I'll pass. Hog saw it
first; he can have it."
Hodges's face flushed, then he joined in the laugh. The Chicago
man was too valuable a would-be subscriber to quarrel with. And,
then, how impossible to expect a person brought up as Mason had
been to understand the ordinary refinements of civilization.
"Rough diamond, Mason--Good fellow. Backbone of our country,"
Hodges whispered to the Colonel, who was sore from the strain of
repressed hilarity. "A little coarse now and then--but that comes
of his early life, no doubt."
Hodges waited his chance and again launched out; this time it was
upon the various kinds of wines his cellar contained--their cost--
who had approved of them--how impossible it was to duplicate some
of them, especially some Johannesburg of '74.
"Forty-two dollars a bottle--not pressed in the ordinary way--just
the weight of the grapes in the basket in which they are gathered
in the vineyard, and what naturally drips through is caught and
put aside," etc.
Breen winced. First his truffles were criticised, and now his pet
Johannesburg that Parkins was pouring into special glasses--cooled
to an exact temperature--part of a case, he explained to Nixon,
who sat on his right, that Count Mosenheim had sent to a friend
here. Something must be done to head Hodges off or there was no
telling what might happen. The Madeira was the thing. He knew that
was all right, for Purviance had found it in Baltimore--part of a
private cellar belonging some time in the past to either the Swan
or Thomas families--he could not remember which.
The redheads were now in order, with squares of fried hominy, and
for the moment Hodges held his peace. This was Nixon's
opportunity, and he made the most of it. He had been born on the
eastern shore of Maryland and was brought up on canvasbacks, soft-
shell crabs and terrapin--not to mention clams and sheepshead.
Nixon therefore launched out on the habits of the sacred bird--the
crimes committed by the swivel-gun in the hands of the marketmen,
the consequent scarcity of the game and the near approach of the
time when the only rare specimens would be found in the glass
cases of the museums, ending his talk with a graphic description
of the great wooden platters of boiling-hot terrapin which were
served to passengers crossing to Norfolk in the old days. The
servants would split off the hot shell--this was turned top side
down, used as a dish and filled with butter, pepper and salt, into
which toothsome bits of the reptile, torn out by the guests'
forks, were dipped before being eaten.
The talk now caromed from birds, reptiles and fish to guns and
tackles, and then to the sportsmen who used them, and then to the
millionaires who owned the largest shares in the ducking clubs,
and so on to the stock of the same, and finally to the one subject
of the evening--the one uppermost in everybody's thoughts which so
far had not been touched upon--the Mukton Lode. There was no
question about the proper mechanism of the traps--the directors
were attending to that; the quality of the bait, too, seemed all
that could be desired--that was Breen's part. How many mice were
nosing about was the question, and of the number how many would be
inside when the spring snapped?
The Colonel, after a nod of his head and a reassuring glance from
his host, took full charge of the field, soaring away with minute
accounts of the last inspection of the mine. He told how the
"tailings" at Mukton City had panned out 30 per cent, to the ton--
with two hundred thousand tons in the dump thrown away until the
new smelter was started and they could get rid of the sulphides;
of what Aetna Cobb's Crest had done and Beals Hollow and Morgan
Creek--all on the same ridge, and was about launching out on the
future value of Mukton Lode when Mason broke the silence by asking
if any one present had heard of a mine somewhere in Nevada which
an Englishman had bought and which had panned out $1,200 to the
ton the first week and not a cent to the square mile ever
afterward? The Chicago man was the most important mouse of the
lot, and the tone of his voice and his way of speaking seemed
fraught with a purpose.
Breen leaned forward in rapt attention, and even Hodges and
Portman (both of them were loaded to the scuppers with Mukton)
"Slickest game I ever heard of," continued Mason. "Two men came
into town--two poor prospectors, remember--ran across the
Englishman at the hotel--told the story of their claim: "Take it
or leave it after you look it over," they said. Didn't want but
sixty thousand for it; that would give them thirty thousand
apiece, after which they'd quit and live on a ranch. No, they
wouldn't go with him to inspect the mine; there was the map. He
couldn't miss it; man at the hotel would drive him out there.
There was, of course, a foot of snow on the ground, which was
frozen hard, but they had provided for that and had cut a lot of
cord-wood, intending to stay till spring. The Englishman could
have the wood to thaw out the ground.
"The Englishman went and found everything as the two prospectors
had said; thawed out the soil in half a dozen places; scooped up
the dirt and every shovelful panned out about twelve hundred to
the ton. Then he came back and paid the money; that was the last
of it. Began to dig again in the spring--and not a trace of
"What was the matter?" asked Breen. So far his interest in mines
had been centred on the stock.
"Oh, the same old swindle," said Mason, looking around the table,
a grim smile on his face--"only in a different way."
"Was it salted?" called out a man from the lower end of the table.
"Yes," replied Mason; "not the mine, but the cord-wood. The two
poor prospectors had bored auger holes in each stick, stuffed 'em
full of gold dust and plugged the openings. It was the ashes that
panned out $1,200 to the ton."
Mason was roaring, as were one or two about him. Portman looked
grave, and so did Breen. Nothing of that kind had ever soiled
their hands; everything with them was open and above-board. They
might start a rumor that the Lode had petered out, throw an
avalanche of stock on the market, knock it down ten points,
freezing out the helpless (poor Gilbert had been one of them), buy
in what was offered and then declare an extra dividend, sending
the stock skyward, but anything so low as--"Oh, very
reprehensible--scandalous in fact."
Hodges was so moved by the incident that he asked Breen if he
would not bring back that Madeira (it had been served now in the
pipe-stem glasses which had been crossed in finger-bowls). This he
sipped slowly and thoughtfully, as if the enormity of the crime
had quite appalled him. Mason was no longer a "rough diamond," but
an example of what a "Western training will sometimes do for a
man," he whispered under his breath to Crossbin.
With the departure of the last guest--one or two of them were a
little unsteady; not Mason, we may be sure--Jack, who had come
home and was waiting upstairs in his room for the feast to be
over, squared his shoulders, threw up his chin and, like many
another crusader bent on straightening the affairs of the world,
started out to confront his uncle. His visor was down, his lance
in rest, his banner unfurled, the scarf of the blessed damosel
tied in double bow-knot around his trusty right arm. Both knight
and maid were unconscious of the scarf, and yet if the truth be
told it was Ruth's eyes that had swung him into battle. Now he was
ready to fight; to renounce the comforts of life and live on a
crust rather than be party to the crimes that were being daily
committed under his very eyes!
His uncle was in the library, having just bowed out his last
guest, when the boy strode in. About him were squatty little
tables holding the remnants of the aftermath of the feast--siphons
and decanters and the sample boxes of cigars--full to the lid when
Parkins first passed them (why fresh cigars out of a full box
should have a better flavor than the same cigars from a half-
empty one has always been a mystery to the Scribe).
That the dinner had been a success gastronomically, socially and
financially, was apparent from the beatific boozy smile that
pervaded Breen's face as he lay back in his easy-chair. To disturb
a reverie of this kind was as bad as riding rough-shod over some
good father digesting his first meal after Lent, but the boy's
purpose was too lofty to be blunted by any such considerations.
Into the arena went his glove and out rang his challenge.
"What I have got to say to you, Uncle Arthur, breaks my heart, but
you have got to listen to me! I have waited until they were all
gone to tell you."
Breen laid his glass on the table and straightened himself in his
chair. His brain was reeling from the wine he had taken and his
hand unsteady, but he still had control of his arms and legs.
"Well, out with it! What's it all about, Jack?"
"I heard this afternoon that my friend Gilbert was ruined in our
office. The presence of these men to-night makes me believe it to
be true. If it is true, I want to tell you that I'll never enter
the office again as long as I live!"
Breen's eyes flashed:
"You'll never enter! ... What the devil is the matter with you,
Jack!--are you drunk or crazy?"
"Neither! And I want to tell you, sir, too, that I won't be
pointed out as having anything to do with such a swindling concern
as the Mukton Lode Company. You've stopped the work on Gilbert's
house--Mr., Morris told me so--you've--"
The older man sprang from his seat and lunged toward the boy.
"Stop it!" he cried. "Now--quick!"
"Yes--and you've just given a dinner to the very men who helped
steal his money, and they sat here and laughed about it! I heard
them as I came in!" The boy's tears were choking him now.
"Didn't I tell you to stop, you idiot!" His fist was within an
inch of Jack's nose: "Do you want me to knock your head off? What
the hell is it your business who I invite to dinner--and what do
you know about Mukton Lode? Now you go to bed, and damn quick,
too! Parkins, put out the lights!"
And so ended the great crusade with our knight unhorsed and
floundering in the dust. Routed by the powers of darkness, like
many another gallant youth in the old chivalric days, his ideals
laughed at, his reforms flouted, his protests ignored--and this,
too, before he could fairly draw his sword or couch his lance.
That Jack hardly closed his eyes that night, and that the first
thing he did after opening them the next morning was to fly to
Peter for comfort and advice, goes without saying. Even a
sensible, well-balanced young man--and our Jack, to the Scribe's
great regret, is none of these--would have done this with his skin
still smarting from an older man's verbal scorching--especially a
man like his uncle, provided, of course, he had a friend like
Peter within reach. How much more reasonable, therefore, to
conclude that a man so quixotic as our young hero would seek
As to the correctness of the details of this verbal scorching, so
minutely described in the preceding chapter, should the reader ask
how it is possible for the Scribe to set down in exact order the
goings-on around a dinner-table to which he was not invited, as
well as the particulars of a family row where only two persons
participated--neither of whom was himself--and this, too, in the
dead of night, with the outside doors locked and the shades and
curtains drawn--he must plead guilty without leaving the
And yet he asks in all humility--is the play not enough?--or must
he lift the back-drop and bring into view the net-work of pulleys
and lines, the tanks of moonlight gas and fake properties of
papier-mache that produce the illusion? As a compromise would it
not be the better way after this for him to play the Harlequin,
popping in and out at the unexpected moment, helping the plot here
and there by a gesture, a whack, or a pirouette; hobnobbing with
Peter or Miss Felicia, and their friends; listening to Jack's and
Ruth's talk, or following them at a distance, whenever his
presence might embarrass either them or the comedy?
This being agreed upon, we will leave our hero this bright
morning--the one succeeding the row with his uncle--at the door of
Peter's bank, confident that Jack can take care of himself.
And the confidence is not misplaced. Only once did the boy's
glance waver, and that was when his eyes sought the window facing
Peter's desk. Some egg other than Peter's was nesting on the open
ledger spread out on the Receiving Teller's desk--not an ostrich
egg of a head at all, but an evenly parted, well-combed, well-
slicked brown wig, covering the careful pate of one of the other
clerks who, in the goodness of his heart, was filling Peter's
place for the day.
Everybody being busy--too busy to answer questions outside of
payments and deposits--Patrick, the porter, must necessarily
conduct the negotiations.
"No, sur; he's not down to-day--" was the ever-watchful Patrick's
answer to Jack's anxious inquiry. "His sister's come from the
country and he takes a day off now and thin when she's here.
You'll find him up at his place in Fifteenth Street, I'm thinkin."
Jack bit his lip. Here was another complication. Not to find Peter
at the Bank meant a visit to his rooms--on his holiday, too--and
when he doubtless wished to be alone with Miss Felicia. And yet
how could he wait a moment longer? He himself had sent word to the
office of Breen & Co. that he would not be there that day--a thing
he had never done before--nor did he intend to go on the morrow--
not until he knew where he stood. While his uncle had grossly
misunderstood him, and, for that matter, grossly insulted him, he
had neither admitted nor denied the outrage on Gilbert.
When he did--this question had only now begun to loom up--where
would he go and what would he do? There was but little money due
him at the office--and none would come--until the next month's
pay--hardly enough, in any event, to take him back to his
Maryland home, even if that refuge were still open to him. What
then would become of him? Peter was, in fact, his main and only
reliance. Peter he must see, and at once.
Not that he wavered or grew faint at heart when he thought of his
defeat the night before. He was only thinking of his exit and the
way to make it. "Always take your leave like a gentleman," was one
of his father's maxims. This he would try his best to accomplish.
Mrs. McGuffey, in white cap and snow-white apron, now that Miss
Felicia had arrived, was the medium of communication this time:
"Indeed, they are both in--this way, sir, and let me have your hat
It was a delightful party that greeted the boy. Peter was standing
on the hearth-rug with his back to the fire, his coat-tails hooked
over his wrists. Miss Felicia sat by a small table pretending to
sew. Holker Morris was swallowed up in one of Peter's big easy-
chairs, only the top of his distinguished head visible, while a
little chub of a man, gray-haired, spectacled and plainly dressed,
was seated behind him, the two talking in an undertone.
"Why, Breen!--why, my dear boy!--And you have a holiday, too? How
did you know I was home?" cried Peter, extending both hands in the
joy of his greeting.
"I stopped at the Bank, sir."
"Did you?--and who told you?"
"The janitor, I suppose."
"Oh, the good Patrick! Well, well! Holker, you remember young
Holker did remember, for a wonder, and extended one hand to prove
it, and Felicia--but the boy was already bending over her, all his
respect and admiration in his eyes. The little chub of a man was
now on his feet, standing in an attentive attitude, ready to take
his cue from Peter.
"And now, my boy, turn this way, and let me introduce you to my
very dear friend, Mr. Isaac Cohen."
A pudgy hand was thrust out and the spectacled little man, his
eyes on the boy, said he was glad to know any friend of Mr.
Grayson, and resuming his seat continued his conversation in still
lower tones with the great architect.
Jack stood irresolute for an instant, not knowing whether to make
some excuse for his evidently inopportune visit and return later,
or to keep his seat until the others had gone. Miss Felicia, who
had not taken her gaze from the lad since he entered the room,
called him to her side.
"Now, tell me what you are all doing at home, and how your dear
aunt is, and--Miss Corinne, isn't it? And that very bright young
fellow who came with you at Ruth's tea?"
It was the last subject that Jack wanted to discuss, but he
stumbled through it as best he could, and ended in hoping, in a
halting tone, that Miss MacFarlane was well.
"Ruth! Oh, she is a darling! Didn't you think so?"
Jack blushed to the roots of his hair, but Miss Felicia's all-
comprehensive glance never wavered. This was the young man whom
Ruth had been mysterious about. She intended to know how far the
affair had gone, and it would have been useless, she knew, for
Jack to try to deceive her.
"All our Southern girls are lovely," he answered in all sincerity.
"And you like them better than the New York belles?"
"I don't know any."
"Then that means that you do."
"Do like them better."
The boy thought for a moment.
"Yes, and Miss MacFarlane best of all; she is so--so--" the boy
faltered--"so sincere, and just the kind of girl you would trust
with anything. Why, I told her all about myself before I'd known
her half an hour."
"Yes, she was greatly pleased." The match-making instinct was
always uppermost in Miss Felicia's moves, and then, again, this
young man had possibilities, his uncle being rich and he being his
"Oh, then she told you!" The boy's heart gave a great leap.
Perhaps, after all, Ruth had not heard--at all events she did not
"No, I told her myself. The only thing that seemed to worry Ruth
was that you had not told her enough. If I remember right, she
said you were very shy."
"And she did not say anything about--" Jack stopped. He had not
intended to put the question quite in this way, although he was
still in doubt. Give this keen-eyed, white-haired old lady but an
inkling of what was uppermost in his mind and he knew she would
have its every detail.
"About what?" Here Miss Felicia's eyes were suddenly diverted, and
became fastened on the short figure of Mr. Isaac Cohen, who had
risen to his feet and stood talking in the most confidential way
with Morris--Peter listening intently. Such phrases as "Better
make the columns of marble," from Morris, and, "Well, I will talk
it over with the Rabbi," from the tailor, reached his ears.
Further relief came when Miss Felicia rose from her chair with her
hand extended to Morris, who was already taking leave of Peter and
all danger was passed when host and hostess conducted the tailor
and the architect to the door; Morris bending over Miss Felicia's
hand and kissing it with the air of a courtier suddenly aroused by
the appearance of royalty (he had been completely immersed in
Cohen's talk), and the tailor bowing to her on his way out without
even so much as touching the tips of her fingers.
"There, my dear Breen," said Peter, when he had adjusted his
cravat before the glass and brushed a few stray hairs over his
temples, "that's a man it would do you an immense amount of good
to know; the kind of a man you call worthwhile. Not only does he
speak three languages, Hebrew being one of them, but he can talk
on any subject from Greek temples to the raising of violets.
Morris thinks the world of him--So do I."
"Yes, I heard him say something about columns."
"Oh!--then you overheard! Yes, they are for the new synagogue that
Morris is building. Cohen is chairman of the committee."
"And he is the banker, too, I suppose?" rejoined Jack, in a tone
which showed his lack of interest in both man and subject. It was
Peter's ear he wanted, and at once.
The old man's eyes twinkled: "Banker!--not a bit of it. He's a
tailor, my dear boy--a most delightful gentleman tailor, who works
in the basement below us and who only yesterday pressed the coat I
have on." Here Peter surveyed himself with a comprehensive glance.
"All the respectable people in New York are not money mad." Then,
seeing Jack's look of astonishment over the announcement, he laid
his hand on the boy's shoulder and said with a twinkle of his eye
and a little laugh: "Only one tailor--not nine--my boy, was
required to make Mr. Cohen a man. And now about yourself. Why are
you not at work? Old fellows like me once in a while have a
holiday--but young fellows! Come!--What is it brings you here
during business hours? Anything I can help you in?--anything at
home?" and Peter's eyes bored holes in the boy's brain.
Jack glanced at Miss Felicia, who was arranging the roses Morris
had brought her, and then said in a half whisper: "I have had a
row with my uncle, sir. Maybe I had better come some other day,
"No--out with it! Row with your uncle, eh? Rows with one's uncles
are too commonplace to get mysterious over, and, then, we have no
secrets. Ten chances to one I shall tell Felicia every word you
say after you've gone, so she might as well hear it at first-
hand. Felicia, this young fellow is so thin-skinned he is afraid
you will laugh at him."
"Oh, he knows better. I have just been telling him how charming he
must be to have won Miss MacFarlane's good opinion," rejoined his
sister as she moved her work-basket nearer her elbow.
And then, with mind at rest, now that he was sure Ruth had not
heard, and with eyes again blazing as his thoughts dwelt upon the
outrage, he poured out his story, Miss Felicia listening intently,
a curious expression on her face, Peter grave and silent, his gaze
now on the boy, now on the hearth-rug on which he stood. Only once
did a flash illumine his countenance; that was when Jack reached
that part of his narrative which told of the denunciation he had
flung in his uncle's face concerning the methods by which poor
Gilbert had been ruined.
"And you dared tell your uncle that, you young firebrand?"
"Yes, Mr. Grayson, I had to; what else could I say? Don't you
think it cruel to cheat like that?"
"And what did he say?" asked Peter.
"He would not listen--he swore at me--told me--well, he ordered
me out of the room and had the lights put out."
"And it served you right, you young dog! Well, upon my word! Here
you are without a dollar in the world except what your uncle pays
you, and you fly off at a tangent and insult him in his own house
--and you his guest, remember. Well! Well! What are we coming to?
Felicia, did you ever hear of such a performance?"
Miss Felicia made no answer. She knew from her brother's tone that
there was not a drop of bitterness in any one of the words that
fell from his lips; she had heard him talk that way dozens of
times before, when he was casting about for some means of letting
the culprit down the easier. She even detected a slight wrinkling
of the corners of his mouth as the denunciation rolled out.
Not so Jack: To him the end of the world had come. Peter was his
last resort--that one so good and so clear-headed had not flared
up at once over the villainy was the severest blow of all. Perhaps
he WAS a firebrand; perhaps, after all, it was none of his
business; perhaps--perhaps--now that Ruth would not blame him,
knew nothing, in fact, of the disgraceful episode, it would have
been better for him to have ignored the whole matter and taken
"Then I have done wrong again, Mr. Grayson?" he said at last, in
so pleading a tone that even Miss Felicia's reserve was on the
point of giving away.
"Yes, in the manner in which you acted. Your father wouldn't have
lost his temper and called people names. Gentlemen, my dear boy,
don't do that sort of thing. They make up their minds about what
they want to do and then do it quietly, and, let me say, with a
certain amount of courtesy."
"Then, what must I do?" All the fight was out of the lad now.
"Why, go back to your desk in the office and your very delightful
suite of rooms at your uncle's. Tell him you are sorry you let
your feelings get the best of you; then, when you have entirely
quieted down, you and I will put our heads together and see what
can be done to improve matters. And that, let me tell you, my dear
boy, is going to be rather a difficult thing, for you see you are
rather particular as to what you should and should not do to earn
your living." Peter's wrinkles had now crept up his cheeks and
were playing hide and seek with the twinkles in his eyes. "Of
course any kind of healthy work--such, for instance, as hauling a
chain through a swamp, carrying a level, prospecting for oil, or
copper, or gold--all very respectable occupations for some men--
are quite impossible in your case. But we will think it out and
find something easier--something that won't soil your hands, and--"
"Please don't, Mr. Grayson," interrupted Jack. The boy had begun
to see through the raillery now. "I will do anything you want me
Peter burst into a laugh and grabbed him by both shoulders: "Of
course, my dear boy, you will do anything except what you believe
to be wrong. That's right--right as can be; nobody wants you to do
any different, and--"
The opening of a door leading into the hall caused Peter to stop
in his harangue and turn his head. Mrs. McGuffey was ushering in a
young woman whose radiant face was like a burst of sunshine. Peter
strained his eyes and then sprang forward:
There was no doubt about it! That young woman, her cheeks like two
June peonies, her eyes dancing, the daintiest and prettiest hat in
the world on her head, was already half across the room and close
to Peter's rug before Jack could even realize that he and she were
breathing the same air.
"Oh! I just could not wait a minute longer!" she cried in a joyous
tone. "I had such a good time yesterday, dear aunt Felicia, and--
Why!--it is you, Mr. Breen, and have you come to tell aunty the
same thing? Wasn't it lovely?"
Then Jack said that it was lovely, and that he hadn't come for any
such purpose--then that he had--and then Peter patted her hand and
told her she was the prettiest thing he had ever seen in all his
life, and that he was going to throw overboard all his other
sweethearts at once and cleave to her alone; and Miss Felicia
vowed that she was the life of the party; and Jack devoured her
with his eyes, his heart thumping away at high pressure; and so
the moments fled until the blithesome young girl, saying she had
not a minute to spare, as she had to meet her father, who would
not wait, readjusted her wraps, kissed Miss Felicia on both
cheeks, sent another flying through the air toward Peter from the
tips of her fingers, and with Jack as escort--he also had to see a
friend who would not wait a minute--danced out of the room and so
on down to the street.
The Scribe will not follow them very far in their walk uptown.
Both were very happy, Jack because the scandal he had been
dreading, since he had last looked into her eyes, had escaped her
ears, and Ruth because of all the young men she had met in her
brief sojourn in New York this young Mr. Breen treated her with
While the two were making their way through the crowded streets,
Jack helping her over the crossings, picking out the drier spots
for her dainty feet to step upon, shielding her from the polluting
touch of the passing throng, Miss Felicia had resumed her sewing
--it was a bit of lace that needed a stitch here and there--and
Peter, dragging a chair before the fire, had thrown himself into
its depths, his long, thin white fingers open fan-like to its
"You are just wasting your time, Peter, over that young man," Miss
Felicia said at last, snipping the end of a thread with her
scissors. "Better buy him a guitar with a broad blue ribbon and
start him off troubadouring, or, better still, put him into a suit
of tin armor and give him a lance. He doesn't belong to this
world. It's just as well Ruth did not hear that rigmarole.
Charming manners, I admit--lovely, sitting on a cushion looking up
into some young girl's eyes, but he will never make his way here
with those notions. Why he should want to anger his uncle, who is
certainly most kind to him, is past finding out. He's stupid,
that's what he is--just stupid!"--to break with your bread and
butter and to defy those who could be of service to you being an
unpardonable sin with Miss Felicia. No, he would not do at all for
Peter settled himself deeper in his chair and studied the cheery
blaze between his outspread fingers.
"That's the very thing will save him, Felicia."
"No--his adorable stupidity. I grant you he's fighting windmills,
but, then, my dear, don't forget that he's FIGHTING--that's
"But they are only windmills, and, more extraordinary still, this
one is grinding corn to keep him from starving," and she folded up
her sewing preparatory to leaving the room.
Peter's fingers closed tight: "I'm not so sure of that," he
Miss Felicia had risen from her seat and was now bending over the
back of his chair, her spare sharp elbows resting on its edge, her
two hands clasping his cheeks.
"And are you really going to add this stupid boy to your string,
you goose of a Peter?" she asked in a bantering tone, as her
fingers caressed his temples. "Don't forget Mosenthal and little
Perkins, and the waiter you brought home and fed for a week, and
sent away in your best overcoat, which he pawned the next day; or
the two boys at college. Aren't you ever going to learn?" and she
leaned forward and kissed the top of his bald head.
Peter's only reply was to reach up and smooth her jewelled fingers
with his own. He remembered them all; there was an excuse, of
course, he reminded her, for his action in each and every case.
But for him Mosenthal--really a great violinist--would have
starved, little Perkins would have been sent to the reformatory,
and the waiter to the dogs. That none of them, except the two
college boys, had ever thanked him for his assistance--a fact well
known to Miss Felicia--never once crossed his mind--wouldn't have
made any difference if it had.
"But this young Breen is worth saving, Felicia," he answered at
"From what--the penitentiary?" she laughed--this time with a
slight note of anger in her voice.
"No, you foolish thing--much worse."
"From what, then?"
Long after his sister had left the room Peter kept his seat by the
fire, his eyes gazing into the slumbering coals. His holiday had
been a happy one until Jack's entrance: Morris had come to an
early breakfast and had then run down and dragged up Cohen so that
he could talk with him in comfort and away from the smell of the
tailor's goose and the noise of the opening and shutting of the
shop door; Miss Felicia had summoned all her good humor and
patience (she did not always approve of Peter's acquaintances--the
little tailor being one), and had received Cohen as she would have
done a savant from another country--one whose personal appearance
belied his intellect but who on no account must be made aware of
that fact, and Peter himself had spent the hour before and after
breakfast--especially the hour after, when the Bank always claimed
him--in pulling out and putting back one book after another from
the shelves of his small library, reading a page here and a line
there, the lights and shadows that crossed his eager, absorbed
face, an index of his enjoyment.
All this had been spoiled by a wild, untamed colt of a boy whom he
could not help liking in spite of his peculiarities.
And yet, was his sister not right? Why bother himself any more
about a man so explosive and so tactless--and he WAS a man, so
far as years and stature went, who, no matter what he might
attempt for his advancement, would as surely topple it over as lie
would a house of cards. That the boy's ideals were high, and his
sincerity beyond question, was true, but what use would these
qualities be to him if he lacked the common-sense to put them
All this he told to the fire--first to one little heap of coals--
then another--snuggling together--and then to the big back-log
scarred all over in its fight to keep everybody warm and happy.
Suddenly his round, glistening head ceased bobbing back and forth;
his lips, which had talked incessantly without a sound falling
from them, straightened; his gesticulating fingers tightened into
a hard knot and the old fellow rose from his easy-chair. He had
made up his mind.
Then began a search through his desk in and out of the pigeon-
holes, under a heap of letters--most of them unanswered; beneath a
package tied with tape, until his eyes fell upon an envelope
sealed with wax, in which was embedded the crest of the ancestors
of the young gentleman whose future had so absorbed his thoughts.
It was Mrs. Breen's acceptance of Miss Felicia's invitation to
Miss MacFarlane's tea.
"Ah, here it is! Now I'll find the number--yes, 864--I thought it
was a "4"--but I didn't want to make any mistake."
This done, and the note with the number and street of Jack's
uncle's house spread out before him, Peter squared his elbows,
took a sheet of paper from a drawer, covered it with half a dozen
lines beginning "My dear Breen--" enclosed it in an envelope and
addressed it to "Mr. John Breen, care of Arthur Breen, Esq.," etc.
This complete, he affixed the stamp in the upper left-hand corner,
and with the letter fast in his hand disappeared in his bedroom,
from which he emerged ten minutes later in full walking costume,
even to his buckskin gloves and shiny high hat, not to mention a
brand-new silk scarf held in place by his diamond tear-drop, the
two in high relief above the lapels of his tightly buttoned
"No, Mrs. McGuffey," he said with a cheery smile as he passed out
of the door (she had caught sight of the letter and had stretched
out her hand)--"No--I am going for a walk, and I'll mail it
Whatever the function--whether it was a cosey dinner for the
congenial few, a crowded reception for the uncongenial many, or a
coming-out party for some one of the eager-expectant buds just
bursting into bloom--most of whom he had known from babyhood--
Peter was always ready with his "Of course I'll come--" or
"Nothing would delight me more--" or the formal "Mr. Grayson
accepts with great pleasure," etc., unless the event should fall
upon a Saturday night; then there was certain to be a prompt
Even Miss Felicia recognized this unbreakable engagement and made
her plans accordingly. So did good Mrs. McGuffey, who selected
this night for her own social outings; and so did most of his
intimate friends who were familiar with his habits.
On any other night you might, or you might not, find Peter at
home, dependent upon his various engagements, but if you really
wanted to get hold of his hand, or his ear, or the whole or any
other part of his delightful body, and if by any mischance you
happened to select a Saturday night for your purpose, you must
search for him at the Century. To spend this one evening at his
favorite club had been his custom for years--ever since he had
been elected to full membership--a date so far back in the dim
past that the oldest habitue had to search the records to make
sure of the year, and this custom he still regularly kept up.
That the quaint old club-house was but a stone's throw from his
own quarters in Fifteenth Street made no difference; he would
willingly have tramped to Murray Hill and beyond--even as far as
the big reservoir, had the younger and more progressive element
among the members picked the institution up bodily and moved it
that far--as later on they did.
Not that he favored any such innovation: "Move up-town! Why, my
dear sir!" he protested, when the subject was first mentioned, "is
there nothing in the polish of these old tables and chairs, rubbed
bright by the elbows of countless good fellows, that appeals to
you? Do you think any modern varnish can replace it? Here I have
sat for thirty years or more, and--please God!--here I want to
continue to sit."
He was at his own small table in the front room overlooking the
street when he spoke--his by right of long use, as it was also of
Morris, MacFarlane, Wright, old Partridge the painter, and Knight
the sculptor. For years this group of Centurions, after circling
the rooms on meeting nights, criticising the pictures and helping
themselves to the punch, had dropped into these same seats by the
side of Peter.
And these were not the only chairs tacitly recognized as carrying
special privileges by reason of long usage. Over in the corner
between the two rooms could be found Bayard Taylor's chair--his
for years, from which he dispensed wisdom, adventure and raillery
to a listening coterie--King, MacDonough and Collins among them,
while near the stairs, his great shaggy head glistening in the
overhead light, Parke Godwin held court, with Sterling, Martin and
Porter, to say nothing of still older habitues who in the years of
their membership were as much a part of the fittings of the club
as the smoke-begrimed portraits which lined its walls.
On this Saturday night he had stepped into the clubhouse with more
than his usual briskness. Sweeping a comprehensive glance around
as he entered, as if looking for some one in the hall, he slipped
off his overcoat and hat and handed both to the negro servant in
charge of the cloak-room.
"Yes, Mr. Grayson."
"If anybody inquires for me you will find me either on this floor
or in the library above. Don't forget, and don't make any mistake.
"No, suh--ain't goin' to be no mistake."
This done, the old gentleman moved to the mirror, and gave a
sidelong glance at his perfectly appointed person--he had been
dining at the Portmans', had left the table early, and was in full
The inspection proved that the points of his collar wanted
straightening the thousandth part of an inch, and that his sparse
gray locks needed combing a wee bit further toward his cheek
bones. These, with a certain rebellious fold in his necktie,
having been brought into place, the guardian of the Exeter entered
the crowded room, picked a magazine from the shelves and dropped
into his accustomed seat.
Holker Morris and Lagarge now strolled in and drawing up to a
small table adjoining Peter's touched a tiny bell. This answered,
and the order given, the two renewed a conversation which had
evidently been begun outside, and which was of so absorbing a
character that for a moment Peter's face, half hidden by his book,
"Oh!--that's you, Methusaleh, is it!" cried Morris at last. "Move
Peter looked up smiling: "Not now, Holker. I will later."
Morris kept on talking. Lagarge, his companion--a thin,
cadaverous-looking man with a big head and the general air of
having been carved out of an old root--a great expert in
ceramics--listening intently, bobbing his head in toy-mandarin
fashion whenever one of Holker's iconoelasms cleared the air.
"Suppose they did pay thirty thousand dollars for it," Holker
insisted, slapping his knee with his outspread palm. "That makes
the picture no better and no worse. If it was mine, and I could
afford it, I would sell it to anybody who loved it for thirty
cents rather than sell it to a man who didn't, for thirty
millions. When Troyon painted it he put his soul into it, and you
can no more tack a price to that than you can stick an auction
card on a summer cloud, or appraise the perfume from a rose
garden. It has no money value, Legarge, and never will have. You
might as well list sunsets on the Stock Exchange."
"But Troyon had to live, Holker," chimed in Harrington, who, with
the freedom accorded every member of the club--one of its greatest
charms--had just joined the group and sat listening.
"Yes," rejoined Morris, a quizzjeal expression crossing his face--
"that was the curse of it. He was born a man and had a stomach
instead of being born a god without one. As to living--he didn't
really live--no great painter really lives until he is dead. And
that's the way it should be--they would never have become immortal
with a box full of bonds among their assets. They would have
stopped work. Now they can rest in their graves with the
consciousness that they have done their level best."
"There is one thing would lift him out of it, or ought to,"
remarked Harrington, with a glance around the circle. "I am, of
course, speaking of Troyon."
"What?" asked Morris.
"The news that Roberts paid thirty thousand dollors for a picture
for which the painter was glad to get three thousand francs," a
reply which brought a roar from the group, Morris joining in
The circle had now widened to the filling of a dozen chairs,
Morris's way of putting things being one of the features of club
nights, he, as usual, dominating the talk, calling out "Period"--
his way of notifying some speaker to come to a full stop, whenever
he broke away from the facts and began soaring into hyperbolics--
Morgan, Harrington and the others laughing in unison at his
The clouds of tobacco smoke grew thicker. The hum of conversation
louder; especially at an adjoining table where one lean old
Academician in a velvet skull cap was discussing the new
impressionistic craze which had just begun to show itself in the
work of the younger men. This had gone on for some minutes when
the old man turned upon them savagely and began ridiculing the new
departure as a cloak to hide poor drawing, an outspoken young
painter asserting in their defence, that any technique was helpful
if it would kill off the snuff-box school in which the man under
the skull cap held first place.
Morris had lent an ear to the discussion and again took up the
"You young fellows are right," he cried, twisting his body toward
their table. The realists have had their day; they work a picture
to death; all of them. If you did but know it, it really takes two
men to paint a great picture--one to do the work and the other to
kill him when he has done enough."
"Pity some of your murderers, Holker, didn't start before they
stretched their canvases," laughed Harrington.
And so the hours sped on.
All this time Peter had been listening with one ear wide open--the
one nearest the door--for any sound in that direction. French
masterpieces Impressionism and the rest of it did not interest him
to-night. Something else was stirring him--something he had been
hugging to his heart all day.
Only the big and little coals in his own fireplace in Fifteenth
Street, and perhaps the great back-log, beside himself, knew the
cause. He had not taken Miss Felicia into his confidence--that
would never have done--might, indeed, have spoilt everything. Even
when he had risen from Morris's coterie to greet Henry MacFarlane
--Ruth's father--his intimate friend for years, and who answered
his hand-shake with--"Well, you old rascal--what makes you look so
happy?--anybody left you a million?"--even then he gave no inkling
of the amount of bottled sunshine he was at the precise moment
carrying inside his well-groomed body, except to remark with all
his twinkles and wrinkles scampering loose:
"Seeing you, Henry--" an answer which, while it only excited
derision and a sly thrust of his thumb into Peter's ribs, was
nevertheless literally true if the distinguished engineer did but
It was only when the hours dragged on and his oft-consulted watch
marked ten o'clock that the merry wrinkles began to straighten and
the eyes to wander.
When an additional ten minutes had ticked themselves out, and then
a five and then a ten more, the old fellow became so nervous that
he began to make a tour of the club-house, even ascending the
stairs, searching the library and dining-room, scanning each group
and solitary individual he passed, until, thoroughly discouraged,
he regained his seat only to press a bell lying among some half-
empty glasses. The summoned waiter listened attentively, his head
bent low to catch the whispered order, and then disappeared
noiselessly in the direction of the front door, Peter's fingers
meanwhile beating an impatient staccato on the arm of his chair.
Nothing resulting from this experiment he at last gave up all hope
and again sought MacFarlane who was trying to pound into the head
of a brother engineer some new theory of spontaneous explosions.
Hardly had he drawn up a chair to listen--he was a better listener
to-night, somehow, than a talker, when a hand was laid on his
shoulder, and looking up, he saw Jack bending over him.
With a little cry of joy Peter sprang to his feet, both palms
outstretched: "Oh!--you're here at last! Didn't I say nine
o'clock, my dear boy, or am I wrong? Well, so you are here it's
all right." Then with face aglow he turned to MacFarlane: "Henry,
here's a young fellow you ought to know; his name's John Breen,
and he's from your State."
The engineer stopped short in his talk and absorbed Jack from his
neatly brushed hair, worn long at the back of his neck, to his
well-shod feet, and held out his hand.
"From Maryland? So am I; I was raised down in Prince George
County. Glad to know you. Are you any connection of the Breens of
"Yes, sir--all my people came from Ann Arundle. My father was
Judge Breen," answered Jack with embarrassment. He had not yet
become accustomed to the novelty of the scene around him.
"Now I know just where you belong. My father and yours were
friends. I have often heard him speak of Judge Breen. And did you
not meet my daughter at Miss Grayson's the other day? She told me
she had met a Mr. Breen from our part of the country."
Jack's eyes danced. Was this what Peter had invited him to the
club for? Now it was all clear. And then again he had not said a
word about his being in the Street, or connected with it in any
way. Was there ever such a good Peter?
"Oh, yes, sir!--and I hope she is very well."
The engineer said she was extremely well, never better in her
life, and that he was delighted to meet a son of his old friend--
then, turning to the others, immediately forgot Jack's existence,
and for the time being his daughter, in the discussion still going
on around him.
The young fellow settled himself in his seat and looked about him
--at the smoke-stained ceiling, the old portraits and quaint
fittings and furniture--more particularly at the men. He would
have liked to talk to Ruth's father a little longer, but he felt
dazed and ill at ease--out of his element, somehow--although he
remembered the same kind of people at his father's house, except
that they wore different clothes.
But Peter did not leave him long in meditation. There were other
surprises for him upstairs, in the small dining-room opening out
of the library, where a long table was spread with eatables and
drinkables--salads, baby sausages, escaloped oysters, devilled
crabs and other dishes dear to old and new members. Here men were
met standing in groups, their plates in their hands, or seated at
the smaller tables, when a siphon and a beer bottle, or a mug of
Bass would be added to their comfort.
It was there the Scribe met him for the second time, my first
being the Morris dinner, when he sat within speaking distance. I
had heard of him, of course, as Peter's new protege--indeed, the
old fellow had talked of nothing else, and so I was glad to renew
the acquaintance. I found him to be like all other young fellows
of his class--I had lived among his people, and knew--rather shy,
with a certain deferential air toward older people--but with the
composure belonging to unconscious youth--no fidgeting or fussing
--modest, unassertive--his big brown eyes under their heavy lashes
studying everything about him, his face brightening when you
addressed him. I discovered, too, a certain indefinable charm
which won me to him at once. Perhaps it was his youth; perhaps it
was a certain honest directness, together with a total lack of all
affectation that appealed to me, but certain it is that not many
minutes had passed before I saw why Peter liked him, and I saw,
too, why he liked Peter.
When I asked him--we had found three empty seats at a table--what
impressed him most in the club, it being his first visit, he
answered in his simple, direct way, that he thought it was the
note of good-fellowship everywhere apparent, the men greeting each
other as if they really meant it. Another feature was the dress
and faces of the members--especially the authors, to whom Peter
had introduced him, whose books he had read, and whose
personalities he had heard discussed, and who, to his astonishment,
had turned out to be shabby-looking old fellows who smoked and
drank, or played chess, like other ordinary mortals, and without
pretence of any kind so far as he could detect.
"Just like one big family, isn't it, Mr. Grayson?" the boy said.
"Don't you two gentlemen love to come here?"
"They don't look like very rich men."
"They're not. Now and then a camel crawls through but it is a
tight squeeze," remarked Peter arching his gray, bushy eyebrows, a
smile hovering about his lips.
The boy laughed: "Well, then, how did they get here?"
"Principally because they lead decent lives, are not puffed up
with conceit, have creative brains and put them to some honest
use," answered Peter.
The boy looked away for a moment and remarked quietly that about
everybody he knew would fail in one or more of these
qualifications. Then he added:
"And now tell me, Mr. Grayson, what most of them do--that
gentleman, for instance, who is talking to the old man in the
"That is General Norton, one of our most distinguished engineers.
He is Consulting Engineer in the Croton Aqueduct Department, and
his opinion is sought all over the country. He started life as a
tow-boy on the Erie Canal, and when he was your age he was keeping
tally of dump-cars from a cut on the Pennsylvania Railroad."
Jack looked at the General in wonderment, but he was too much
interested in the other persons about him to pursue the inquiry
"And the man next to him--the one with his hand to his head?"
"I don't recall him, but the Major may."
"That is Professor Hastings of Yale," I replied--"perhaps the
most eminent chemist in this or any other country."
"And what did he do when he was a boy?" asked young Breen.
"Made pills, I expect, and washed out test tubes and retorts,"
interrupted Peter, with a look on his face as if the poor
professor were more to be pitied than commended.
"Did any of them dig?" asked the boy.
"What kind of digging?" inquired Peter.
"Well, the kind you spoke of the night you came to see me."
"Oh, with their hands?" cried Peter with a laugh. "Well, now, let
me see--" and his glance roved about the room. "There is Mr.
Schlessinger, the Egyptologist, but of course he was after
mummies, not dirt; and then there is--yes--that sun-burned young
fellow of forty, talking to Mr. Eastman Johnson; he has been at
work in Yucatan looking for Toltec ruins, because he told me his
experience only a few nights ago; but then, of course, that can
hardly be said to be--Oh!--now I have it. You see that tall man
with side-whiskers, looking like a young bank president--my kind--
my boy--well, he started life with a pick and shovel. The steel
point of the pick if I remember rightly, turned up a nugget of
gold that made him rich, but he DUG all the same, and he may again
some day--you can't tell."
It had all been a delightful experience for Jack and his face
showed it, but it was not until after I left that the story of why
he had come late was told. He had started several times to explain
but the constant interruption of members anxious to shake Peter's
hand, had always prevented.
"I haven't apologized for being late, sir," Jack had said at last.
"It was long after ten, I am afraid, but I could not help it."
"No; what was the matter?"
"I didn't get the letter until half an hour before I reached
"Why, I sent it to your uncle's house, and mailed it myself, just
after you had gone out with Miss MacFarlane."
"Yes, sir; but I am not at my uncle's house any more. I am staying
with Garry Minott in his rooms; I have the sofa."
Peter gave a low whistle.
"And you have given up your desk at the office as well?"
"Bless my soul, my boy! And what are you going to do now?"
"I don't know; but I will not go on as I have been doing. I can't,
Mr. Grayson, and you must not ask it. I would rather sweep the
streets. I have just seen poor Charley Gilbert and Mrs. Gilbert.
He has not a dollar in the world, and is going West, he tells me."
Peter reflected for a moment. It was all he could do to hide his
"And what do your people say?"
"My aunt says I am an idiot, and Corinne won't speak to me."
"And your uncle?"
"Nothing, to me. He told Garry that if I didn't come back in three
days I should never enter his house or his office again."
"But you are going back? Are you not?"
"No,--never. Not if I starve!"
Peter's eyes were twinkling when he related the conversation to me
the next day.
"I could have hugged him, Major," he said, when he finished, "and
I would if we had not been at the club."
The Scribe is quite positive that had you only heard about it as
he had, even with the details elaborated, not only by Peter, who
was conservatism itself in his every statement, but by Miss
Felicia as well--who certainly ought to have known--you would not
have believed it possible until you had seen it. Even then you
would have had to drop into one of Miss Felicia's cretonne-
upholstered chairs--big easy-chairs that fitted into every hollow
and bone in your back--looked the length of the uneven porch, run
your astonished eye down the damp, water-soaked wooden steps to
the moist brick pavement below, and so on to the beds of crocuses
blooming beneath the clustering palms and orange trees, before you
could realize (in spite of the drifting snow heaped up on the
door-steps of her house outside--some of it still on your shoes)
that you were in Miss Felicia's tropical garden, attached to Miss
Felicia's Geneseo house, and not in the back yard of some old home
in the far-off sunny South.
It was an old story, of course, to Peter, who had the easy-chair
beside me, and so it was to Morris, who had helped Miss Felicia
carry out so Utopian a scheme, but it had come to me as a complete
surprise, and I was still wide-eyed and incredulous.
"And what keeps out the cold?" I asked Morris, who was lying back
blowing rings into the summer night, the glow of an overhead
lantern lighting up his handsome face.
"Glass," he laughed.
"There, just above the vines, my dear Major," interrupted Miss
Felicia, pointing upward. "Come and let me show you my frog pond--
"and away we went along the brick paths, bordered with pots of
flowers, to a tiny lake covered with lily-pads and circled by
"I did not want a greenhouse--I wanted a back yard," she
continued, "and I just would have it. Holker sent his men up, and
on three sides we built a wall that looked a hundred years old--
but it is not five--and roofed it over with glass, and just where
you see the little flight of stairs is the heat. That old arbor in
the corner has been here ever since I was a child, and so have the
syringa bushes and the green box next the wall. I wanted them all
the year round--not just for three or four months in the year--
and that witch Holker said he could do it, and he has. Half the
weddings in town have been begun right on that bench, and when the
lanterns are lighted and the fountain turned on outside, no
gentleman ever escapes. You and Peter are immune, so I sha'n't
waste any of my precious ammunition on you. And now what will you
wear in your button-hole--a gardenia, or some violets? Ruth will
be down in a minute, and you must look your prettiest."
But if the frog pond, damp porch and old-fashioned garden had come
as a surprise, what shall I say of the rest of Miss Felicia's
house which I am now about to inspect under Peter's guidance.
"Here, come along," he cried, slipping his arm through mine. "You
have had enough of the garden, for between you and me, my dear
Major"--here he looked askance at Miss Felicia--"I think it an
admirable place in which to take cold, and that's why--" and he
passed his hand over his scalp--"I always insist on wearing my hat
when I walk here. Mere question of imagination, perhaps, but old
fellows like you and me should take no chances--" and he laughed
"This room was my father's," continued Peter. "The bookcases have
still some of the volumes he loved; he liked the low ceiling and
the big fireplace, and always wrote here--it was his library,
really. There opens the old drawing-room and next to it is
Felicia's den, where she concocts most of her deviltry, and the
dining-room beyond--and that's all there is on this floor, except
the kitchen, which you'll hear from later."
And as Peter rattled on, telling me the history of this and that
piece of old furniture, or portrait, or queer clock, my eyes were
absorbing the air of cosey comfort that permeated every corner of
the several rooms. Everything had the air of being used. In the
library the chairs were of leather, stretched into saggy folds by
many tired backs; the wide, high fender fronting the hearth,
though polished so that you could see your face in it, showed the
marks of many a drying shoe, while on the bricks framing the
fireplace could still be seen the scratchings of countless
The drawing-room, too--although, as in all houses of its class and
period, a thing of gilt frames, high mirrors and stiff furniture--
was softened by heaps of cushions, low stools and soothing arm-
chairs, while Miss Felicia's own particular room was so veritable
a symphony in chintz, white paint and old mahogany, with cubby-
holes crammed with knickknacks, its walls hung with rare etchings;
pots of flowers everywhere and the shelves and mantels crowded
with photographs of princes, ambassadors, grand dukes, grand
ladies, flossy-headed children, chubby-cheeked babies (all
souvenirs of her varied and busy life), that it was some minutes
before I could throw myself into one of her heavenly arm-chairs,
there to be rested as I had never been before, and never expect to
It being Peter's winter holiday, he and Morris had stopped over on
their way down from Buffalo, where Holker had spoken at a public
dinner. The other present and expected guests were Ruth
MacFarlane, who was already upstairs; her father, Henry
MacFarlane, who was to arrive by the next train, and last and by
no means lest, his confidential clerk, Mr. John Breen, now two
years older and, it is to be hoped, with considerable more common-
sense than when he chucked himself neck and heels out into the
cold world. Whether the expected arrival of this young gentleman
had anything to do with the length of time it took Ruth to dress,
the Scribe knoweth not. There is no counting upon the whims and
vagaries of even the average young woman of the day, and as Ruth
was a long way above that medium grade, and with positive ideas of
her own as to whom she liked and whom she did not like, and was,
besides, a most discreet and close-mouthed young person, it will
be just as well for us to watch the game of battledoor and
shuttlecock still being played between Jack and herself, before we
arrive at any fixed conclusions.
Any known and admitted facts connected with either one of the
contestants are, however, in order, and so while we are waiting
for old Moggins, who drives the village 'bus, and who has been
charged by Miss Felicia on no account to omit bringing in his next
load a certain straight, bronzed-cheeked, well-set-up young man
with a springy step, accompanied by a middle-aged gentleman who
looked like a soldier, and deliver them both with their attendant
baggage at her snow-banked door, any data regarding this same
young man's movements since the night Peter wanted to hug him for
leaving his uncle's service, cannot fail to be of interest.
To begin then with the day on which Jack, with Frederick, the
second man's assistance, packed his belongings and accepted
Garry's invitation to make a bed of his lounge.
The kind-hearted Frederick knew what it was to lose a place, and
so his sympathies had been all the more keen. Parkins's nose, on
the contrary, had risen a full degree and stood at an angle of 45
degrees, for he had not only heard the ultimatum of his employer,
but was rather pleased with the result. As for the others, no one
ever believed the boy really meant it, and everybody--even the
maids and the high-priced chef--fully expected Jack would turn
prodigal as soon as his diet of husks had whetted his appetite for
dishes more nourishing and more toothsome. But no one of them took
account of the quality of the blood that ran in the young man's
It was scheming Peter who saved the day.
"Put that young fellow to work, Henry," he had said to MacFarlane
the morning after the three had met at the Century Club.
"What does he know, Peter?"
"Nothing, except to speak the truth."
And thus it had come to pass that within twenty-four hours
thereafter the boy had shaken the dust of New York from his feet--
even to resigning from the Magnolia, and a day later was found
bending over a pine desk knocked together by a hammer and some
ten-penny nails in a six-by-nine shanty, the whole situated at the
mouth of a tunnel half a mile from Corklesville, where he was at
work on the pay-roll of the preceding week.
Many things had helped in deciding him to take the proffered
place. First, Peter had wanted it; second, his uncle did not want
it, Corinne and his aunt being furious that he should go to work
like a common laborer, or--as Garry had put it--"a shovel-spanked
dago." Third, Ruth was within calling distance, and that in itself
meant Heaven. Once installed, however, he had risen steadily, both
in MacFarlane's estimation and in the estimation of his fellow-
workers; especially the young engineers who were helping his Chief
in the difficult task before him. Other important changes had also
taken place in the two years: his body had strengthened, his face
had grown graver, his views of life had broadened and, best of
all, his mind was at rest. Of one thing he was sure--no confiding
young Gilberts would be fleeced in his present occupation--not if
he knew anything about it.
Moreover, the outdoor life which he had so longed for was his
again. On Saturday afternoons and Sundays he tramped the hills, or
spent hours rowing on the river. His employer's villa was also
always open to him--a privilege not granted to the others in the
working force. The old tie of family was the sesame. Judge Breen's
son was, both by blood and training, the social equal of any man,
and although the distinguished engineer, being well born himself,
seldom set store on such things, he recognized his obligation in
Jack's case and sought the first opportunity to tell him so.
"You will find a great change in your surroundings, Mr. Breen," he
had said. "The little hotel where you will have to put up is
rather rough and uncomfortable, but you are always welcome at my
home, and this I mean, and I hope you will understand it that way
without my mentioning it again."
The boy's heart leaped to his throat as he listened, and a dozen
additional times that day his eyes had rested on the clump of
trees which shaded the roof sheltering Ruth.
That the exclusive Miss Grayson should now have invited him to
pass some days at her home had brought with it a thrill of greater
delight. Her opinion of the boy had changed somewhat. His
willingness to put up with the discomforts of the village inn--"a
truly dreadful place," to quote one of Miss Felicia's own letters
--and to continue to put up with them for more than two years,
while losing nothing of his good-humor and good manners, had
shaken her belief in the troubadour and tin-armor theory, although
nothing in Jack's surroundings or in his prospects for the future
fitted him, so far as she could see, to life companionship with so
dear a girl as her beloved Ruth--a view which, of course, she kept
strictly to herself.
But she still continued to criticise him, at which Peter would rub
his hands and break out with:
"Fine fellow!--square peg in a square hole this time. Fine fellow,
I tell you, Felicia!"
He receiving in reply some such answer as:
"Yes, quite lovely in fairy tales, Peter, and when you have taught
him--for you did it, remember--how to shovel and clean up
underbrush and split rocks--and that just's what Ruth told me he
was doing when she took a telegram to her father which had come to
the house--and he in a pair of overalls, like any common workman--
what, may I ask, will you have him doing next? Is he to be an
engineer or a clerk all his life? He might have had a share in his
uncle's business by this time if he had had any common-sense;"
Peter retorting often with but a broad smile and that little gulp
of satisfaction--something between a chuckle and a sigh--which
always escaped him when some one of his proteges were living up to
his pet theories.
And yet it was Miss Felicia herself who was the first to welcome
the reprobate, even going to the front door and standing in the
icy draught, with the snowflakes whirling about her pompadoured
head, until Jack had alighted from the tail-end of Moggins's 'bus
and, with his satchel in his hand, had cleared the sidewalk with a
bound and stood beside her.
"Oh, I'm so glad to be here," Jack had begun, "and it was so good
of you to want me," when a voice rang clear from the top of the
"And where's daddy--isn't he coming?"
"Oh!--how do you do, Miss Ruth? No; I am sorry to say he could not
leave--that is, we could not persuade him to leave. He sent you
all manner of messages, and you, too, Miss--"
"He isn't coming? Oh, I am so disappointed! What is the matter, is
he ill?" She was half-way down the staircase now, her face showing
how keen was her disappointment.
"No--nothing's the matter--only we are arranging for an important
blast in a day or two, and he felt he couldn't be away. I can only
stay the night." Jack had his overcoat stripped from his broad
shoulders now and the two had reached each other's hands.
Miss Felicia watched them narrowly out of her sharp, kindly eyes.
This love-affair--if it were a love-affair--had been going on for
years now and she was still in the dark as to the outcome. There
was no question that the boy was head over heels in love with the
girl--she could see that from the way the color mounted to his
cheeks when Ruth's voice rang out, and the joy in his eyes when
they looked into hers. How Ruth felt toward her new guest was what
she wanted to know. This was, perhaps, the only reason why she had
invited him--another thing she kept strictly to herself.
But the two understood it--if Miss Felicia did not. There may be
shrewd old ladies who can read minds at a glance, and fussy old
men who can see through blind millstones, and who know it all, but
give me two lovers to fool them both to the top of their bent, be
they so minded.
"And now, dear, let Mr. Breen go to his room, for we dine in an
hour, and Holker will be cross as two sticks if we keep it waiting
But Holker was not cross--not when dinner was served; nobody was
cross--certainly not Peter, who was in his gayest mood; and
certainly not Ruth or Jack, who babbled away next to each other.
Peter's heart swelled with pride and satisfaction as he saw the
change which two years of hard work had made in Jack--not only in
his bearing and in a certain fearless independence which had
become a part of his personality, but in the unmistakable note of
joyousness which flowed out of him, so marked in contrast to the
depression which used to haunt him like a spectre. Stories of his
life at his boarding-house--vaguely christened a hotel by its
landlady, Mrs. Hicks--bubbled out of the boy as well as accounts
of various escapades among the men he worked with--especially the
younger engineers and one of the foremen who had rooms next his
own--all told with a gusto and ring that kept the table in shouts
of merriment--Morris laughing loudest and longest, Peter
whispering behind his hand to Miss Felicia:
"Charming, isn't he?--and please note, my dear, that none of the
dirt from his shovel seems to have clogged his wit--" at which
there was another merry laugh--Peter's, this time, his being the
only voice in evidence.
"And she is such fun, Miss Felicia" (Mrs. Hicks was under
discussion), called out Jack, realizing that he had, perhaps--
although unconsciously--failed to include his hostess in his
coterie of listeners. "You should see her caps, and the
magnificent airs she puts on when we come down late to breakfast
on Sunday mornings."
"And tell them about the potatoes," interrupted Ruth.
"Oh, that was disgraceful, but it really could not be helped--we
had greasy fried potatoes until we could not stand them another
day, and Bolton found them in the kitchen late one night ready for
the skillet the next morning, and filled them with tooth powder,
and that ended it."
"I'd have set you fellows out on the sidewalk if I'd been Mrs.
Hicks," laughed Morris. "I know that old lady--I used to stop with
her myself when I was building the town hall--and she's good as
gold. And now tell me how MacFarlane is getting on--building a
railroad, isn't he? He told me about it, but I forget."
"No," replied Jack, his face growing suddenly serious as he turned
toward the speaker; "the company is building the road. We have
only got a fill of half a mile and then a tunnel of a mile more."
Miss Felicia beamed sententiously when Jack said "we," but she did
not interrupt the speaker.
"And what sort of cutting?" continued the architect in a tone that
showed his entire familiarity with work of the kind.
"Gneiss rock for eleven hundred feet and then some mica schist
that we have had to shore up every time we move our drills,"
answered Jack quietly.
"Any cave-ins?" Morris was leaning forward now, his eyes riveted
on the boy's. What information he wanted he felt sure he now could
"Not yet, but plenty of water. We struck a spring last week" (this
time the "we" didn't seem so preposterous) "that came near
drowning us out, but we managed to keep it under with a six-inch
centrifugal; but it meant pumping night and day."
"And when is he going to get through?"
"That depends on what is ahead of us. Our borings show up all
right--most of it is tough gneiss--but if we strike gravel or
shale again it means more timbering, of course. Perhaps another
year--perhaps a few months. I am not giving you my own opinion,
for I've had very little experience, but that is what Bolton
thinks--he's second in command next to Mr. MacFarlane--and so do
the other fellows at our boarding house."
And then followed a discussion on "struts," roof timbers and tie-
rods, Jack describing in a modest, impersonal way the various
methods used by the members of the staff with which he was
connected, Morris, as usual, becoming so absorbed in the warding
off of "cave-ins" that for the moment he forgot the table, his
hostess and everybody about him, a situation which, while it
delighted Peter, who was bursting with pride over Jack, was
beginning to wear upon Miss Felicia, who was entirely indifferent
as to whether the top covering of MacFarlane's underground hole
fell in or not.
"There, now, Holker," she said with a smile as she laid her hand
on his coat sleeve--"not another word. Tunnels are things
everybody wants to get through with as quick as possible--and I'm
not going to spend all night in yours--awful damp places full of
smoke--No--not another word. Ruth, ask that young Roebling next
you to tell us another story--No, wait until we have our coffee
and you gentlemen have lighted your cigars. Perhaps, Ruth, you had
better take Mr. Breen into the smoking-room. Now, give me your
arm, Holker, and you come, too, Major, and bring Peter with you to
my boudoir. I want to show you the most delicious copy of Shelley
you ever saw. No, Mr. Breen, Ruth wants you; we will be with you
in a few minutes--" Then after the two had passed on ahead--"Look
at them, Major--aren't they a joy, just to watch?--and aren't you
ashamed of yourself that you have wasted your life? No arbor for
you! What would you give if a lovely girl like that wanted you all
to herself by the side of my frog pond?"
A shout ahead from Jack, and a rippling laugh from Ruth now
floated our way.
"Oh!--OH!--" and "Yes--isn't it wonderful--come and see the
arbor--" and then a clatter of feet down the soggy steps and
fainter footfalls on the moist bricks, ending in silence.
"There!" laughed Miss Felicia, turning toward us and clapping her
hands--"they have reached the arbor and it's all over, and now we
will all go out on the porch for our coffee. I haven't any Shelley
that you have not seen a dozen times--I just intended that
surprise to come to the boy and in the way Ruth wanted it--she has
talked of nothing else since she knew he was coming. Mighty
dangerous, I can tell you, that old bench. Ruth can take care of
herself, but that poor fellow will be in a dreadful state if we
leave them alone too long. Sit here, Holker, and tell me about the
dinner and what you said. All that Peter could remember was that
you never did better, and that everybody cheered, and that the
squabs were so dry he couldn't eat them."
But the Scribe refuses to be interested in Holker's talk, however
brilliant, or in Miss Felicia's crisp repartee. His thoughts are
down among the palms, where the two figures are entering the
arbor, the soft glow of half a dozen lanterns falling upon the
joyous face of the beautiful girl, as, with hand in Jack's, she
leads him to a seat beside her on the bench.
"But it's like home," Jack gasped. "Why, you must remember your
own garden, and the porch that ran alongside of the kitchen, and
the brick walls--and just see how big it is and you never told me
a word about it! Why?"
"Oh, because it would have spoiled all the fun; I was so afraid
daddy would tell you that I made him promise not to say a word;
and nobody else had seen it except Mr. Morris, and he said torture
couldn't drag it out of him. That old Major that Uncle Peter
thinks so much of came near spoiling the surprise, but Aunt
Felicia said she would take care of him in the back of the house--
and she did; and I mounted guard at the top of the stairs before
anybody could get hold of you. Isn't it too lovely?--and, do you
know, there are real live frogs in that pond and you can hear them
croak? And now tell me about daddy, and how he gets on without
But Jack was not ready yet to talk about daddy, or the work, or
anything that concerned Corklesville and its tunnel--the
transition had been too sudden and too startling. To be fired from
a gun loaded with care, hard work and anxiety--hurled through
hours of winter travel and landed at a dinner-table next some
charming young woman, was an experience which had occurred to him
more than once in the past two years. But to be thrust still
further into space until he reached an Elysium replete with
whispering fountains, flowering vines and the perfume of countless
blossoms--the whole tucked away in a cosey arbor containing a seat
for two--AND NO MORE--and this millions of miles away, so far as
he could see, from the listening ear or watchful eye of mortal man
or woman--and with Ruth, too--the tips of whose fingers were so
many little shrines for devout kisses--that was like having been
transported into Paradise.
"Oh, please let me look around a little," he begged at last. "And
this is why you love to come here?"
"I would not live anywhere else if I could--and it has just the
air of summer--and it feels like a summer's night, too--as if the
moon was coming up somewhere."
Ruth's delight equalled his own; she must show him the new tulips
just sprouting, taking down a lantern so that he could see the
better; and he must see how the jessamine was twisted in and out
the criss-cross slats of the trellis, so that the flowers bloomed
both outside and in; and the little gully in the flagging of the
pavement through which ran the overflow of the tiny pond--till the
circuit of the garden was made and they were again seated on the
dangerous bench, with a cushion tucked behind her beautiful
They talked of the tunnel and when it would be finished; and of
the village people and whom they liked and whom they didn't--and
why--and of Corinne, whose upturned little nose and superior,
dominating airs Ruth thought were too funny for words; and of her
recently announced engagement to Garry Minott, who had started for
himself in business and already had a commission to build a church
at Elm Crest--known to all New Jersey as Corklesville until the
real-estate agencies took possession of its uplands--Jack being
instrumental, with Mr. MacFarlane's help, in securing him the
order; and of the dinner to be given next week at Mrs. Brent
Foster's on Washington Square, to which they were both invited,
thanks to Miss Felicia for Ruth's invitation, and thanks to Peter
for that of Jack, who, at Peter's request, had accompanied him one
afternoon to one of Mrs. Foster's receptions, where he had made so
favorable an impression that he was at once added to Mrs. Foster's
list of eligible young men--the same being a scarce article. They
had discussed, I say, all these things and many more, in
sentences, the Scribe devoutly hopes, much shorter than the one he
has just written--when in a casual--oh, so casual a way--merely as
a matter of form--Ruth asked him if he really must go back to
Corklesville in the morning.
"Yes," answered Jack--"there is no one to take charge of the new
battery but myself, and we have ten holes already filled for
"But isn't it only to put the two wires together? Daddy explained
it to me."
"Yes--but at just the right moment. Half a minute too early might
ruin weeks of work. We have some supports to blow out. Three
charges are at their bases--everything must go off together."
"But it is such a short visit."
Some note in her voice rang through Jack's ears and down into his
heart. In all their intercourse--and it had been a free and
untrammelled one so far as their meetings and being together were
concerned--there was invariably a barrier which he could never
pass, and one that he was always afraid to scale. This time her
face was toward him, the rosy light bathing her glorious hair and
the round of her dimpled cheek. For an instant a half-regretful
smile quivered on her lips, and then faded as if some indrawn sigh
had strangled it.
Jack's heart gave a bound.
"Are you really sorry to have me go, Miss Ruth?" he asked,
searching her eyes.
"Why should I not be? Is not this better than Mrs. Hicks's, and
Aunt Felicia would love to have you stay--she told me so at
"But you, Miss Ruth?" He had moved a trifle closer--so close that
his eager fingers almost touched her own: "Do you want me to
"Why, of course, we all want you to stay. Uncle Peter has talked
of nothing else for days."
"But do you want me to stay, Miss Ruth?"
She lifted her head and looked him fearlessly in the eyes:
"Yes, I do--now that you will have it that way. We are going to
have a sleigh-ride to-morrow, and I know you would love the open
country, it is so beautiful, and so is--"
"Ruth! Ruth! you dear child," came a voice--"are you two never
coming in?--the coffee is stone cold."
"Yes, Aunt Felicia, right away. Run, Mr. Breen--" and she flew up
the brick path.
For the second time Miss Felicia's keen, kindly eyes scanned the
young girl's face, but only a laugh, the best and surest of masks,
"He thinks it all lovely," Ruth rippled out. "Don't you, Mr.
Back to Full Books