The Street of Seven Stars
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 3 out of 6
that she had lost the anticipated pleasure of giving Peter a
piece of her mind. She walked along beside him without speaking
until they reached the street-car line. Then she turned.
"You called her--you spoke to her very affectionately, young
man," she accused him.
Peter smiled. The car was close. Some imp of recklessness, some
perversion of humor seized him.
"My dear Mrs. Boyer," he said, "that was in jest purely. Besides,
I did not know that you were there!"
Mrs. Boyer was a literal person without humor. It was outraged
American womanhood incarnate that got into the street-car and
settled its broadcloth of the best quality indignantly on the
cane seat. It was outraged American womanhood that flung open the
door of Marie Jedlicka's flat, and stalking into Marie Jedlicka's
sitting room confronted her husband as he read a month-old
newspaper from home.
"Did you ever hear of a woman doctor named Gates?" she demanded.
Boyer was not unaccustomed to such verbal attacks. He had learned
to meet domestic broadsides with a shield of impenetrable good
humor, or at the most with a return fire of mild sarcasm.
"I never hear of a woman doctor if it can be avoided."
"Dr. Gates--Anna Gates?"
"There are a number here. I meet them in the hospital, but I
don't know their names."
"Where does Peter Byrne live?"
"In a pension, I believe, my dear. Are we going to have anything
to eat or do we sup of Peter Byrne?"
Mrs. Boyer made no immediate reply. She repaired to the bedroom
of Marie Jedlicka, and placed her hat, coat and furs on one of
the beds with the crocheted coverlets. It is a curious thing
about rooms. There was no change in the bedroom apparent to the
eye, save that for Marie's tiny slippers at the foot of the
wardrobe there were Mrs. Boyer's substantial house shoes. But in
some indefinable way the room had changed. About it hung an
atmosphere of solid respectability, of impeccable purity that
soothed Mrs. Boyer's ruffled virtue into peace. Is it any wonder
that there is a theory to the effect that things take on the
essential qualities of people who use them, and that we are
haunted by things, not people? That when grandfather's wraith is
seen in his old armchair it is the chair that produces it, while
grandfather himself serenely haunts the shades of some vast
wilderness of departed spirits?
Not that Mrs. Boyer troubled herself about such things. She was
exceedingly orthodox, even in the matter of a hereafter, where
the most orthodox are apt to stretch a point, finding no
attraction whatever in the thing they are asked to believe. Mrs.
Boyer, who would have regarded it as heterodox to substitute any
other instrument for the harp of her expectation, tied on her
gingham apron before Marie Jedlicka's mirror, and thought of
Harmony and of the girls at home.
She told her husband over the supper-table and found him less
shocked than she had expected.
"It's not your affair or mine," he said. "It's Byrne's business."
"Think of the girl!"
"Even if you are right it's rather late, isn't it?"
"You could tell him what you think of him."
Dr. Boyer sighed over a cup of very excellent coffee. Much living
with a representative male had never taught his wife the reserves
among members of the sex masculine.
"I might, but I don't intend to," he said. "And if you listen to
me you'll keep the thing to yourself."
"I'll take precious good care that the girl gets no pupils,"
snapped Mrs. Boyer. And she did with great thoroughness.
We trace a life by its scars. Destiny, marching on by a thousand
painful steps, had left its usual mark, a footprint on a naked
soul. The soul was Harmony's; the foot--was it not encased at
that moment in Mrs. Boyer's comfortable house shoes?
Anna was very late that night. Peter, having put Mrs. Boyer on
her car, went back quickly. He had come out without his overcoat,
and with the sunset a bitter wind had risen, but he was too
indignant to be cold. He ran up the staircase, hearing on all
sides the creaking and banging with which the old house resented
a gale, and burst into the salon of Maria Theresa.
Harmony was sitting sidewise in a chair by the tea-table with her
face hidden against its worn red velvet. She did not look up when
he entered. Peter went over and put a hand on her shoulder. She
quivered under it and he took it away.
"A little," very smothered. "Just dis-disappointment. Don't mind
"You mean about the pupil?"
Harmony sat up and looked at him. She still wore her hat, now
more than ever askew, and some of the dye from the velvet had
stained her cheek. She looked rather hectic, very lovely.
"Why did she change so when she saw you?"
Peter hesitated. Afterward he thought of a dozen things he might
have said, safe things. Not one came to him.
"She--she is an evil-thinking old woman, Harry," he said gravely.
"She did not approve of the way we are living here, is that it?"
"She did not believe there was an Anna. Not that it matters," he
added hastily. "I'll make Anna go to her and explain. It's her
infernal jumping to a conclusion that makes me crazy."
"She will talk, Peter. I am frightened."
"I'll take Anna to-night and we'll go to Boyer's. I'll make that
woman get down on her knees to you. I'll--"
"You'll make bad very much worse," said Harmony dejectedly. "When
a thing has to be explained it does no good to explain it."
The salon was growing dark. Peter was very close to her again. As
in the dusky kitchen only a few days before, he felt the
compelling influence of her nearness. He wanted, as he had never
wanted anything in his life before, to take her in his arms, to
hold her close and bid defiance to evil tongues. He was afraid of
himself. To gain a moment he put a chair between them and stood,
strong hands gripping its back, looking down at her.
"There is one thing we could do."
"We could marry. If you cared for me even a little it--it might
not be so bad for you."
"But I am not in love with you. I care for you, of course,
but--not that way, Peter. And I do not wish to marry."
"Not even if I wish it very much?"
"If you are thinking of my future--"
"I'm thinking for both of us. And although just now you think you
care a little for me, you do not care enough, Peter. You are
lonely and I am the only person you see much, so you think you
want to marry me. You don't really. You want to help me."
Few motives are unmixed. Poor Peter, thus accused, could not deny
And in the face of his poverty and the little he could offer,
compared with what she must lose, he did not urge what was the
compelling motive after all, his need of her.
"It would be a rotten match for you," he agreed. "I only thought,
perhaps--You are right, of course; you ought not to marry."
"And what about you?"
"I ought not, of course."
Harmony rose, smiling a little.
"Then that's settled. And for goodness' sake, Peter, stop
proposing to me every time things go wrong." Her voice changed,
grew grave and older, much older than Peter's. "We must not
marry, either of us, Peter. Anna is right. There might be an
excuse if we were very much in love: but we are not. And
loneliness is not a reason."
"I am very lonely," said Peter wistfully.
Peter took the polished horns to the hospital the next morning
and approached Jimmy with his hands behind him and an atmosphere
of mystery that enshrouded him like a cloak. Jimmy, having had a
good night and having taken the morning's medicine without
argument, had been allowed up in a roller chair. It struck Peter
with a pang that the boy looked more frail day by day, more
"I have brought you," said Peter gravely, "the cod-liver oil."
"I've had it!"
"You've just had one. Don't be a piggy."
"Animal, vegetable, or mineral?"
"Vegetable," said Peter shamelessly.
"Soft or hard!"
This was plainly a disappointment. A pair of horns might be
vegetable; they could hardly be soft.
"A kitten is not vegetable, James."
"I know. A bowl of gelatin from Harry!" For by this time Harmony
was his very good friend, admitted to the Jimmy club, which
consisted of Nurse Elisabet, the Dozent with the red beard, Anna
and Peter, and of course the sentry, who did not know that he
"Gelatin, to be sure," replied Peter, and produced the horns.
It was a joyous moment in the long low ward, with its triple row
of beds, its barred windows, its clean, uneven old floor. As if
to add a touch of completeness the sentry outside, peering in,
saw the wheeled chair with its occupant, and celebrated this
advance along the road to recovery by placing on the window-ledge
a wooden replica of himself, bayonet and all, carved from a bit
of cigar box.
"Everybody is very nice to me," said Jimmy contentedly. "When my
father comes back I shall tell him. He is very fond of people who
are kind to me. There was a woman on the ship--What is bulging
your pocket, Peter?"
"That is not where you mostly carry your handkerchief."
Peter was injured. He scowled ferociously at being doubted and
stood up before the wheeled chair to be searched. The ward
watched joyously, while from pocket after pocket of Peter's old
gray suit came Jimmy's salvage--two nuts, a packet of figs, a
postcard that represented a stout colonel of hussars on his back
on a frozen lake, with a private soldier waiting to go through
the various salutations due his rank before assisting him. A gala
day, indeed, if one could forget the grave in the little mountain
town with only a name on the cross at its head, and if one did
not notice that the boy was thinner than ever, that his hands
soon tired of playing and lay in his lap, that Nurse Elisabet,
who was much inured to death and lived her days with tragedy,
caught him to her almost fiercely as she lifted him back from the
chair into the smooth white bed.
He fell asleep with Peter's arm under his head and the horns of
the deer beside him. On the bedside stand stood the wooden
sentry, keeping guard. As Peter drew his arm away he became aware
of the Nurse Elisabet beckoning to him from a door at the end of
the ward Peter left the sentinel on guard and tiptoed down the
room. Just outside, round a corner, was the Dozent's laboratory,
and beyond the tiny closet where he slept, where on a stand was
the photograph of the lady he would marry when he had become a
professor and required no one's consent.
The Dozent was waiting for Peter. In the amiable conspiracy which
kept the boy happy he was arch-plotter. His familiarity with
Austrian intrigue had made him invaluable. He it was who had
originated the idea of making Jimmy responsible for the order of
the ward, so that a burly Trager quarreling over his daily
tobacco with the nurse in charge, or brawling over his soup with
another patient, was likely to be hailed in a thin soprano, and
to stand, grinning sheepishly, while Jimmy, in mixed English and
German, restored the decorum of the ward. They were a quarrelsome
lot, the convalescents. Jimmy was so busy some days settling
disputes and awarding decisions that he slept almost all night.
This was as it should be.
The Dozent waited for Peter. His red beard twitched and his white
coat, stained from the laboratory table, looked quite villainous.
He held out a letter.
"This has come for the child," he said in quite good English. He
was obliged to speak English. Day by day he taught in the clinics
Americans who scorned his native tongue, and who brought him the
money with which some day he would marry. He liked the English
language; he liked Americans because they learned quickly. He
held out an envelope with a black border and Peter took it.
"From Paris!" he said. "Who in the world--I suppose I'd better
"So I thought. It appears a letter of--how you say it? Ah, yes,
Peter opened the letter and read it. Then without a word he gave
it open to the Dozent. There was silence in the laboratory while
the Dozent read it, silence except for his canary, which was
chipping at a lump of sugar. Peter's face was very sober.
"So. A mother! You knew nothing of a mother?"
"Something from the papers I found. She left when the boy was a
baby--went on the stage, I think. He has no recollection of her,
which is a good thing. She seems to have been a bad lot."
"She comes to take him away. That is impossible."
"Of course it is impossible," said Peter savagely. "She's not
going to see the child if I can help it. She left because--she's
the boy's mother, but that's the best you can say of her. This
letter--Well, you've read it."
"She is as a stranger to him?"
"Absolutely. She will come in mourning--look at that black
border--and tell him his father is dead, and kill him. I know the
The canary chipped at his sugar; the red beard of the Dozent
twitched, as does the beard of one who plots. Peter re-read the
gushing letter in his hand and thought fiercely.
"She is on her way here," said the Dozent. "That is bad. Paris to
Wien is two days and a night. She may hourly arrive."
"We might send him away--to another hospital."
The Dozent shrugged his shoulders.
"Had I a home--" he said, and glanced through the door to the
portrait on the stand. "It would be possible to hide the boy, at
least for a time. In the interval the mother might be watched,
and if she proved a fit person the boy could be given to her. It
is, of course, an affair of police."
This gave Peter pause. He had no money for fines, no time for
imprisonment, and he shared the common horror of the great jail.
He read the letter again, and tried to read into the lines
Jimmy's mother, and failed. He glanced into the ward. Still Jimmy
slept. A burly convalescent, with a saber cut from temple to ear
and the general appearance of an assassin, had stopped beside the
bed and was drawing up the blanket round the small shoulders.
"I can give orders that the woman be not admitted to-day," said
the Dozent. "That gives us a few hours. She will go to the
police, and to-morrow she will be admitted. In the mean time--"
"In the mean time," Peter replied, "I'll try to think of
something. If I thought she could be warned and would leave him
"She will not. She will buy him garments and she will travel with
him through the Riviera and to Nice. She says Nice. She wishes to
be there for carnival, and the boy will die."
Peter took the letter and went home. He rode, that he might read
it again in the bus. But no scrap of comfort could he get from
it. It spoke of the dead father coldly, and the father had been
the boy's idol. No good woman could have been so heartless. It
offered the boy a seat in one of the least reputable of the Paris
theaters to hear his mother sing. And in the envelope, overlooked
before, Peter found a cutting from a French newspaper, a picture
of the music-hall type that made him groan. It was indorsed
Harmony had had a busy morning. First she had put her house in
order, working deftly, her pretty hair pinned up in a towel--all
in order but Peter's room. That was to have a special cleaning
later. Next, still with her hair tied up, she had spent two hours
with her violin, standing very close to the stove to save fuel
and keep her fingers warm. She played well that morning: even her
own critical ears were satisfied, and the Portier, repairing a
window lock in an empty room below, was entranced. He sat on the
window sill in the biting cold and listened. Many music students
had lived in the apartment with the great salon; there had been
much music of one sort and another, but none like this.
"She tears my heart from my bosom," muttered the Portier,
sighing, and almost swallowed a screw that he held in his teeth.
After the practicing Harmony cleaned Peter's room. She felt very
tender toward Peter that day. The hurt left by Mrs. Boyer's visit
had died away, but there remained a clear vision of Peter
standing behind the chair and offering himself humbly in
marriage, so that a bad situation might be made better. And as
with a man tenderness expresses itself in the giving of gifts, so
with a woman it means giving of service. Harmony cleaned Peter's
It was really rather tidy. Peter's few belongings did not spread
to any extent and years of bachelorhood had taught him the
rudiments of order. Harmony took the covers from washstand and
dressing table and washed and ironed them. She cleaned Peter's
worn brushes and brought a pincushion of her own for his one
extra scarfpin. Finally she brought her own steamer rug and
folded it across the foot of the bed. There was no stove in the
room; it had been Harmony's room once, and she knew to the full
how cold it could be.
Having made all comfortable for the outer man she prepared for
the inner. She was in the kitchen, still with her hair tied up,
when Anna came home.
Anna was preoccupied. Instead of her cheery greeting she came
somberly back to the kitchen, a letter in her hand. History was
making fast that day.
"Hello, Harry," she said. "I'm going to take a bite and hurry
off. Don't bother, I'll attend to myself." She stuffed the letter
in her belt and got a plate from a shelf. "How pretty you look
with your head tied up! If stupid Peter saw you now he would fall
in love with you."
"Then I shall take it off. Peter must be saved!"
Anna sat down at the tiny table and drank her tea. She felt
rather better after the tea. Harmony, having taken the towel off,
was busy over the brick stove. There was nothing said for a
"I am out of patience with Peter," said Anna.
"Because he hasn't fallen in love with you. Where are his eyes?"
"It's better as it is, no doubt, for both of you. But it's
superhuman of Peter. I wonder--"
"I think I'll not tell you what I wonder."
And Harmony, rather afraid of Anna's frank speech, did not
As she drank her tea and made a pretense at eating, Anna's
thoughts wandered from Peter to Harmony to the letter in her belt
and back again to Peter and Harmony. For some time she had been
suspicious of Peter. From her dozen years of advantage in age and
experience she looked down on Peter's thirty years of youth, and
thought she knew something that Peter himself did not suspect.
Peter being unintrospective, Anna did his heart-searching for
him. She believed he was madly in love with Harmony and did not
himself suspect it. As she watched the girl over her teacup,
revealing herself in a thousand unposed gestures of youth and
grace, a thousand lovelinesses, something of the responsibility
she and Peter had assumed came over her. She sighed and felt for
"I've had rather bad news," she said at last.
"Yes. My father--did you know I have a father?"
"You hadn't spoken of him."
"I never do. As a father he hasn't amounted to much. But he's
very ill, and--I 've a conscience."
Harmony turned a startled face to her.
"You are not going back to America?"
"Oh, no, not now, anyhow. If I become hag ridden with remorse and
do go I'll find some one to take my place. Don't worry."
The lunch was a silent meal. Anna was hurrying off as Peter came
in, and there was no time to discuss Peter's new complication
with her. Harmony and Peter ate together, Harmony rather silent.
Anna's unfortunate comment about Peter had made her constrained.
After the meal Peter, pipe in mouth, carried the dishes to the
kitchen, and there it was that he gave her the letter. What
Peter's slower mind had been a perceptible time in grasping
Harmony comprehended at onceÄand not only the situation, but its
"Don't let her have him!" she said, putting down the letter.
"Bring him here. Oh, Peter, how good we must be to him!"
And that after all was how the thing was settled. So simple, so
obvious was it that these three expatriates, these waifs and
estrays, banded together against a common poverty, a common
loneliness, should share without question whatever was theirs to
divide. Peter and Anna gave cheerfully of their substance,
Harmony of her labor, that a small boy should be saved a tragic
knowledge until he was well enough to bear it, or until, if God
so willed, he might learn it himself without pain.
The friendly sentry on duty again that night proved singularly
blind. Thus it happened that, although the night was clear when
the twin dials of the Votivkirche showed nine o'clock, he did not
notice a cab that halted across the street from the hospital.
Still more strange that, although Peter passed within a dozen
feet of him, carrying a wriggling and excited figure wrapped in a
blanket and insisting on uncovering its feet, the sentry was able
the next day to say that he had observed such a person carrying a
bundle, but that it was a short stocky person, quite lame, and
that the bundle was undoubtedly clothing going to the laundry.
Perhaps--it is just possible--the sentry had his suspicions. It
is undeniable that as Jimmy in the cab on Peter's knee, with
Peter's arm close about him, looked back at the hospital, the
sentry was going through the manual of arms very solemnly under
the stars and facing toward the carriage.
For two days at Semmering it rained. The Raxalpe and the
Schneeberg sulked behind walls of mist. From the little balcony
of the Pension Waldheim one looked out over a sea of cloud,
pierced here and there by islands that were crags or by the tops
of sunken masts that were evergreen trees. The roads were masses
of slippery mud, up which the horses steamed and sweated. The
gray cloud fog hung over everything; the barking of a dog loomed
out of it near at hand where no dog was to be seen. Children
cried and wild birds squawked; one saw them not.
During the second night a landslide occurred on the side of the
mountain with a rumble like the noise of fifty trains. In the
morning, the rain clouds lifting for a moment, Marie saw the
narrow yellow line of the slip.
Everything was saturated with moisture. It did no good to close
the heavy wooden shutters at night: in the morning the air of the
room was sticky and clothing was moist to the touch. Stewart,
confined to the house, grew irritable.
Marie watched him anxiously. She knew quite well by what slender
tenure she held her man. They had nothing in common, neither
speech nor thought. And the little Marie's love for Stewart,
grown to be a part of her, was largely maternal. She held him by
mothering him, by keeping him comfortable, not by a great
reciprocal passion that might in time have brought him to her in
And now he was uncomfortable. He chafed against the confinement;
he resented the food, the weather. Even Marie's content at her
unusual leisure irked him. He accused her of purring like a cat
by the fire, and stamped out more than once, only to be driven in
by the curious thunderstorms of early Alpine winter.
On the night of the second day the weather changed. Marie,
awakening early, stepped out on to the balcony and closed the
door carefully behind her. A new world lay beneath her, a marvel
of glittering branches, of white plain far below; the snowy mane
of the Raxalpe was become a garment. And from behind the villa
came the cheerful sound of sleigh-bells, of horses' feet on crisp
snow, of runners sliding easily along frozen roads. Even the
barking of the dog in the next yard had ceased rumbling and
become sharp staccato.
The balcony extended round the corner of the house. Marie,
eagerly discovering her new world, peered about, and seeing no
one near ventured so far. The road was in view, and a small girl
on ski was struggling to prevent a collision between two plump
feet. Even as Marie saw her the inevitable happened and she went
headlong into a drift. A governess who had been kneeling before a
shrine by the road hastily crossed herself and ran to the rescue.
It was a marvelous morning, a day of days. The governess and the
child went on out of vision. Marie stood still, looking at the
shrine. A drift had piled about its foot, where the governess had
placed a bunch of Alpine flowers. Down on her knees on the
balcony went the little Marie, regardless of the snow, and prayed
to the shrine of the Virgin below--for what? For forgiveness? For
a better life? Not at all. She prayed that the heels of the
American girl would keep her in out of the snow.
The prayer of the wicked availeth nothing; even the godly at
times must suffer disappointment. And when one prays of heels,
who can know of the yearning back of the praying? Marie, rising
and dusting her chilled knees, saw the party of Americans on the
road, clad in stout boots and swinging along gayly. Marie
shrugged her shoulders resignedly. She should have gone to the
shrine itself; a balcony was not a holy place. But one thing she
determined--the Americans went toward the Sonnwendstein. She
would advise against the Sonnwendstein for that day.
Marie's day of days had begun wrong after all. For Stewart rose
with the Sonnwendstein in his mind, and no suggestion of Marie's
that in another day a path would be broken had any effect on him.
He was eager to be off, committed the extravagance of ordering an
egg apiece for breakfast, and finally proclaimed that if Marie
feared the climb he would go alone.
Marie made many delays: she dressed slowly, and must run back to
see if the balcony door was securely closed. At a little shop
where they stopped to buy mountain sticks she must purchase
postcards and send them at once. Stewart was fairly patient: air
and exercise were having their effect.
It was eleven o'clock when, having crossed the valley, they
commenced to mount the slope of the Sonnwendstein. The climb was
easy; the road wound back and forward on itself so that one
ascended with hardly an effort. Stewart gave Marie a hand here
and there, and even paused to let her sit on a boulder and rest.
The snow was not heavy; he showed her the footprints of a party
that had gone ahead, and to amuse her tried to count the number
of people. When he found it was five he grew thoughtful. There
were five in Anita's party. Thanks to Marie's delays they met the
Americans coming down. The meeting was a short one: the party
went on down, gayly talking. Marie and Stewart climbed silently.
Marie's day was spoiled; Stewart had promised to dine at the
Even the view at the tourist house did not restore Marie's fallen
spirits. What were the Vienna plain and the Styrian Alps to her,
with this impatient and frowning man beside her consulting his
watch and computing the time until he might see the American
again? What was prayer, if this were its answer?
They descended rapidly, Stewart always in the lead and setting a
pace that Marie struggled in vain to meet. To her tentative and
breathless remarks he made brief answer, and only once in all
that time did he volunteer a remark. They had reached the Hotel
Erzherzog in the valley. The hotel was still closed, and Marie,
panting, sat down on an edge of the terrace.
"We have been very foolish," he said.
"Being seen together like that."
"But why? Could you not walk with any woman?"
"It's not that," said Stewart hastily. "I suppose once does not
matter. But we can't be seen together all the time."
Marie turned white. The time had gone by when an incident of the
sort could have been met with scorn or with threats; things had
changed for Marie Jedlicka since the day Peter had refused to
introduce her to Harmony. Then it had been vanity; now it was
"What you mean," she said with pale lips, "is that we must not be
seen together at all. Must I--do you wish me to remain a prisoner
while you--" she choked.
"For Heaven's sake," he broke out brutally, "don't make a scene.
There are men cutting ice over there. Of course you are not a
prisoner. You may go where you like."
Marie rose and picked up her muff.
Marie's sordid little tragedy played itself out in Semmering.
Stewart neglected her almost completely; he took fewer and fewer
meals at the villa. In two weeks he spent one evening with the
girl, and was so irritable that she went to bed crying. The
little mountain resort was filling up; there were more and more
Americans. Christmas was drawing near and a dozen or so American
doctors came up, bringing their families for the holidays. It was
difficult to enter a shop without encountering some of them. To
add to the difficulty, the party at the hotel, finding it crowded
there, decided to go into a pension and suggested moving to the
Stewart himself was wretchedly uncomfortable. Marie's tragedy was
his predicament. He disliked himself very cordially, loathing
himself and his situation with the new-born humility of the
lover. For Stewart was in love for the first time in his life.
Marie knew it. She had not lived with him for months without
knowing his every thought, every mood. She grew bitter and hard
those days, sitting alone by the green stove in the Pension
Waldheim, or leaning, elbows on the rail, looking from the
balcony over the valley far below. Bitter and hard, that is,
during his absences; he had but to enter the room and her rage
died, to be replaced with yearning and little, shy, tentative
advances that he only tolerated. Wild thoughts came to Marie,
especially at night, when the stars made a crown over the Rax,
and in the hotel an orchestra played, while people dined and
laughed and loved.
She grew obstinate, too. When in his desperation Stewart
suggested that they go back to Vienna she openly scoffed.
"Why?" she demanded. "That you may come back here to her, leaving
"My dear girl," he flung back exasperated, "this affair was not a
permanent one. You knew that at the start."
"You have taken me away from my work. I have two months'
vacation. It is but one month."
"Go back and let me pay--"
In pursuance of the plan to leave the hotel the American party
came to see the Waldheim, and catastrophe almost ensued. Luckily
Marie was on the balcony when the landlady flung open the door,
and announced it as Stewart's apartment. But Stewart had a bad
five minutes and took it out, manlike, on the girl.
Stewart had another reason for not wishing to leave Semmering.
Anita was beautiful, a bit of a coquette, too; as are most pretty
women. And Stewart was not alone in his devotion. A member of the
party, a New Yorker named Adam, was much in love with the girl
and indifferent who knew it. Stewart detested him.
In his despair Stewart wrote to Peter Byrne. It was
characteristic of Peter that, however indifferent people might be
in prosperity,they always turned to him in trouble. Stewart's
"I have made out a poor case for myself; but I'm in a hole, as
you can see. I would like to chuck everything here and sail for
home with these people who go in January. But, confound it,
Byrne, what am I to do with Marie? And that brings me to what I
've been wanting to say all along, and haven't had the courage
to. Marie likes you and you rather liked her, didn't you? You
could talk her into reason if anybody could. Now that you know
how things are, can't you come up over Sunday? It's asking a lot,
and I know it; but things are pretty bad."
Peter received the letter on the morning of the day before
Christmas. He read it several times and, recalling the look he
had seen more than once in Marie Jedlicka's eyes, he knew that
things were very bad, indeed.
But Peter was a man of family in those days, and Christmas is a
family festival not to be lightly ignored. He wired to Stewart
that he would come up as soon as possible after Christmas. Then,
because of the look in Marie's eyes and because he feared for her
a sad Christmas, full of heartaches and God knows what
loneliness, he bought her a most hideous brooch, which he thought
admirable in every way and highly ornamental and which he could
not afford at all. This he mailed, with a cheery greeting, and
feeling happier and much poorer made his way homeward.
Christmas-Eve in the saloon of Maria Theresa! Christmas-Eve, with
the great chandelier recklessly ablaze and a pig's head with
cranberry eyes for supper! Christmas-Eve, with a two-foot tree
gleaming with candles on the stand, and beside the stand, in a
huge chair, Jimmy!
It had been a busy day for Harmony. In the morning there had been
shopping and marketing, and such a temptation to be reckless,
with the shops full of ecstasies and the old flower women fairly
overburdened. There had been anxieties, too, such as the pig's
head, which must be done a certain way, and Jimmy, who must be
left with the Portier's wife as nurse while all of them went to
the hospital. The house revolved around Jimmy now, Jimmy, who
seemed the better for the moving, and whose mother as yet had
failed to materialize.
In the afternoon Harmony played at the hospital. Peter took her
as the early twilight was falling in through the gate where the
sentry kept guard and so to the great courtyard. In this grim
playground men wandered about, smoking their daily allowance of
tobacco and moving to keep warm, offscourings of the barracks,
derelicts of the slums, with here and there an honest citizen
lamenting a Christmas away from home. The hospital was always
pathetic to Harmony; on this Christmas-Eve she found it
harrowing. Its very size shocked her, that there should be so
much suffering, so much that was appalling, frightful,
insupportable. Peter felt her quiver under his hand. A hospital
in festivity is very affecting. It smiles through its tears. And
in every assemblage there are sharply defined lines of
difference. There are those who are going home soon, God willing;
there are those who will go home some time after long days and
longer nights. And there are those who will never go home and who
know it. And because of this the ones who are never going home
are most festively clad, as if, by way of compensation, the
nurses mean to give them all future Christmasses in one. They
receive an extra orange, or a pair of gloves, perhaps,--and they
are not the less grateful because they understand. And when
everything is over they lay away in the bedside stand the gloves
they will never wear, and divide the extra orange with a less
fortunate one who is almost recovered. Their last Christmas is
"How beautiful the tree was!" they say. Or, "Did you hear how the
children sang? So little, to sing like that! It made me think--of
Peter led Harmony across the courtyard, through many twisting
corridors, and up and down more twisting staircases to the room
where she was to play. There were many Christmas trees in the
hospital that afternoon; no one hall could have held the
thousands of patients, the doctors, the nurses. Sometimes a
single ward had its own tree, its own entertainment. Occasionally
two or three joined forces, preempted a lecture-room, and wheeled
or hobbled or carried in their convalescents. In such case an
imposing audience was the result.
Into such a room Peter led Harmony. It was an amphitheater, the
seats rising in tiers, half circle above half circle, to the dusk
of the roof. In the pit stood the tree, candle-lighted. There was
no other illumination in the room. The semi-darkness, the blazing
tree, the rows of hopeful, hoping, hopeless, rising above, white
faces over white gowns, the soft rustle of expectancy, the
silence when the Dozent with the red beard stepped out and began
to read an address--all caught Harmony by the throat. Peter,
keenly alive to everything she did, felt rather than heard her
Peter saw the hospital anew that dark afternoon, saw it through
Harmony's eyes. Layer after layer his professional callus fell
away, leaving him quick again. He had lived so long close to the
heart of humanity that he had reduced its throbbing to beats that
might be counted. Now, once more, Peter was back in the early
days, when a heart was not a pump, but a thing that ached or
thrilled or struggled, that loved or hated or yearned.
The orchestra, insisting on sadly sentimental music, was fast
turning festivity into gloom. It played Handel's "Largo"; it
threw its whole soul into the assurance that the world, after
all, was only a poor place, that Heaven was a better. It preached
resignation with every deep vibration of the cello. Harmony
"How terrible!" she whispered. "To turn their Christmas-Eve into
mourning! Stop them!"
"Stop a German orchestra?"
"They are crying, some of them. Oh, Peter!"
The music came to an end at last. Tears were dried. Followed
recitations, gifts, a speech of thanks from Nurse Elisabet for
the patients. Then--Harmony.
Harmony never remembered afterward what she had played. It was
joyous, she knew, for the whole atmosphere changed. Laughter
came; even the candles burned more cheerfully. When she had
finished, a student in a white coat asked her to play a German
Volkspiel, and roared it out to her accompaniment with much vigor
and humor. The audience joined in, at first timidly, then
Harmony stood alone by the tree, violin poised, smiling at the
applause. Her eyes, running along the dim amphitheater, sought
Peter's, and finding them dwelt there a moment. Then she began to
play softly and as softly the others sang.
"Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,"--they sang, with upturned eyes.
"Alles schlaeft, einsam wacht..."
Visions came to Peter that afternoon in the darkness, visions in
which his poverty was forgotten or mattered not at all. Visions
of a Christmas-Eve in a home that he had earned, of a tree, of a
girl-woman, of a still and holy night, of a child.
"Nur das traute, hoch heilige Paar Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar
Schlaf' in himmlischer Ruh', Schlaf' in himmlischer Ruh'," they
There was real festivity at the old lodge of Maria Theresa that
Jimmy had taken his full place in the household. The best room,
which had been Anna's, had been given up to him. Here, carefully
tended, with a fire all day in the stove, Jimmy reigned from the
bed. To him Harmony brought her small puzzles and together they
"Shall it be a steak to-night?" thus Harmony humbly. "Or chops?"
"With tomato sauce?"
"If Peter allows, yes."
Much thinking on Jimmy's part, and then:--
"Fish," he would decide. "Fish with egg dressing."
They would argue for a time, and compromise on fish.
The boy was better. Peter shook his head over any permanent
improvement, but Anna fiercely seized each crumb of hope. Many
and bitter were the battles she and Peter fought at night over
his treatment, frightful the litter of authorities Harmony put
straight every morning.
The extra expense was not much, but it told. Peter's carefully
calculated expenditures felt the strain. He gave up a course in
X-ray on which he had set his heart and cut off his hour in the
coffee-house as a luxury. There was no hardship about the latter
renunciation. Life for Peter was spelling itself very much in
terms of Harmony and Jimmy those days. He resented anything that
took him from them.
There were anxieties of a different sort also. Anna's father was
failing. He had written her a feeble, half-senile appeal to let
bygones be bygones and come back to see him before he died. Anna
was Peter's great prop. What would he do should she decide to go
home? He had built his house on the sand, indeed.
So far the threatened danger of a mother to Jimmy had not
materialized. Peter was puzzled, but satisfied. He still wrote
letters of marvelous adventure; Jimmy still watched for them,
listened breathless, treasured them under his pillow. But he
spoke less of his father. The open page of his childish mind was
being written over with new impressions. "Dad" was already a
memory; Peter and Harmony and Anna were realities. Sometimes he
called Peter "Dad." At those times Peter caught the boy to him in
an agony of tenderness.
And as the little apartment revolved round Jimmy, so was this
Christmas-Eve given up to him. All day he had stayed in bed for
the privilege of an extra hour propped up among pillows in the
salon. All day he had strung little red berries that looked like
cranberries for the tree, or fastened threads to the tiny cakes
that were for trimming only, and sternly forbidden to eat.
A marvelous day that for Jimmy. Late in the afternoon the
Portier, with a collar on, had mounted the stairs and sheepishly
presented him with a pair of white mice in a wooden cage. Jimmy
was thrilled. The cage was on his knees all evening, and one of
the mice was clearly ill of a cake with pink icing. The Portier's
gift was a stealthy one, while his wife was having coffee with
her cousin, the brushmaker. But the spirit Of Christmas does
strange things. That very evening, while the Portier was
roistering in a beer hall preparatory to the midnight mass, came
the Portier's wife, puffing from the stairs, and brought a puzzle
book that only the initiated could open, and when one succeeded
at last there was a picture of the Christ-Child within.
Young McLean came to call that evening--came to call and remained
to worship. It was the first time since Mrs. Boyer that a visitor
had come. McLean, interested with everything and palpably not
shocked, was a comforting caller. He seemed to Harmony, who had
had bad moments since the day of Mrs. Boyer's visit, to put the
hallmark of respectability on the household, to restore it to
something it had lost or had never had.
She was quite unconscious of McLean's admiration. She and Anna
put Jimmy to bed. The tree candles were burned out; Peter was
extinguishing the dying remnants when Harmony came back. McLean
was at the piano, thrumming softly. Peter, turning round
suddenly, surprised an expression on the younger man's face that
For that one night Harmony had laid aside her mourning, and wore
white, soft white, tucked in at the neck, short-sleeved,
trailing. Peter had never seen her in white before.
It was Peter's way to sit back and listen: his steady eyes were
always alert, good-humored, but he talked very little. That night
he was unusually silent. He sat in the shadow away from the lamp
and watched the two at the piano: McLean playing a bit of this or
that, the girl bending over a string of her violin. Anna came in
and sat down near him.
"The boy is quite fascinated," she whispered. "Watch his eyes!"
"He is a nice boy." This from Peter, as if he argued with
"As men go!" This was a challenge Peter was usually quick to
accept. That night he only smiled. "It would be a good thing for
her: his people are wealthy."
Money, always money! Peter ground his teeth over his pipestem.
Eminently it would be a good thing for Harmony, this nice boy in
his well-made evening clothes, who spoke Harmony's own language
of music, who was almost speechless over her playing, and who
looked up at her with eyes in which admiration was not unmixed
Peter was restless. As the music went on he tiptoed out of the
room and took to pacing up and down the little corridor. Each
time as he passed the door he tried not to glance in; each time
he paused involuntarily. Jealousy had her will of him that night,
jealousy, when he had never acknowledged even to himself how much
the girl was to him.
Jimmy was restless. Usually Harmony's music put him to sleep; but
that night he lay awake, even after Peter had closed all the
doors. Peter came in and sat with him in the dark, going over now
and then to cover him, or to give him a drink, or to pick up the
cage of mice which Jimmy insisted on having beside him and which
constantly slipped off on to the floor. After a time Peter
lighted the night-light, a bit of wick on a cork floating in a
saucer of lard oil, and set it on the bedside table. Then round
it he arranged Jimmy's treasures, the deer antlers, the cage of
mice, the box, the wooden sentry. The boy fell asleep. Peter sat
in the room, his dead pipe in his teeth, and thought of many
It was very late when young McLean left. The two had played until
they stopped for very weariness. Anna had yawned herself off to
bed. From Jimmy's room Peter could hear the soft hum of their
"You have been awfully good to me," McLean said as he finally
rose to go. "I--I want you to know that I'll never forget this
"It has been splendid, hasn't it? Since little Scatchy left there
has been no one for the piano. I have been lonely sometimes for
some one to talk music to."
Lonely! Poor Peter!
"Then you will let me come back?"
"Will I, indeed! I--I'll be grateful."
"How soon would be proper? I dare say to-morrow you'll be
busy--Christmas and all that."
"Do you mean you would like to come to-morrow?"
"If old Peter wouldn't be fussed. He might think--"
"Peter always wants every one to be happy. So if you really
"And I'll not bore you?"
"How--about what time?"
"In the afternoon would be pleasant, I think. And then Jimmy can
listen. He loves music."
McLean, having found his fur-lined coat, got into it as slowly as
possible. Then he missed a glove, and it must be searched for in
all the dark corners of the salon until found in his pocket. Even
then he hesitated, lingered, loath to break up this little world
"You play wonderfully," he said.
"So do you."
"If only something comes of it! It's curious, isn't it, when you
think of it? You and I meeting here in the center of Europe and
both of us working our heads off for something that may never pan
There was something reminiscent about that to Harmony. It was not
until after young McLean had gone that she recalled. It was
almost word for word what Peter had said to her in the
coffee-house the night they met. She thought it very curious, the
coincidence, and pondered it, being ignorant of the fact that it
is always a matter for wonder when the man meets the woman, no
matter where. Nothing is less curious, more inevitable, more
amazing. "You and I," forsooth, said Peter!
"You and I," cried young McLean!
Quite suddenly Peter's house, built on the sand, collapsed. The
shock came on Christmas-Day, after young McLean, now frankly
infatuated, had been driven home by Peter.
Peter did it after his own fashion. Harmony, with unflagging
enthusiasm, was looking tired. Suggestions to this effect rolled
off McLean's back like rain off a roof. Finally Peter gathered up
the fur-lined coat, the velours hat, gloves, and stick, and
placed them on the piano in front of the younger man.
"I'm sorry you must go," said Peter calmly, "but, as you say,
Miss Wells is tired and there is supper to be eaten. Don't let me
The Portier was at the door as McLean, laughing and protesting,
went out. He brought a cablegram for Anna. Peter took it to her
door and waited uneasily while she read it.
It was an urgent summons home; the old father was very low. He
was calling for her, and a few days or week' would see the end.
There were things that must be looked after. The need of her was
imperative. With the death the old man's pension would cease and
Anna was the bread-winner.
Anna held the paper out to Peter and sat down. Her nervous
strength seemed to have deserted her. All at once she was a
stricken, elderly woman, with hope wiped out of her face and
something nearer resentment than grief in its place.
"It has come, Peter," she said dully. "I always knew it couldn't
last. They've always hung about my neck, and now--"
"Do you think you must go? Isn't there some way? If things are so
bad you could hardly get there in time, and--you must think of
yourself a little, Anna."
"I am not thinking of anything else. Peter, I'm an uncommonly
selfish woman, but I--"
Quite without warning she burst out crying, unlovely, audible
weeping that shook her narrow shoulders. Harmony heard the sound
and joined them. After a look at Anna she sat down beside her and
put a white arm over her shoulders. She did not try to speak.
Anna's noisy grief subsided as suddenly as it came. She patted
Harmony's hand in mute acknowledgment and dried her eyes.
"I'm not grieving, child," she said; "I'm only realizing what a
selfish old maid I am. I'm crying because I'm a disappointment to
myself. Harry, I'm going back to America."
And that, after hours of discussion, was where they ended. Anna
must go at once. Peter must keep the apartment, having Jimmy to
look after and to hide. What was a frightful dilemma to him and
to Harmony Anna took rather lightly.
"You'll find some one else to take my place," she said. "If I had
a day I could find a dozen."
"And in the interval?" Harmony asked, without looking at Peter.
"The interval! Tut! Peter is your brother, to all intents and
purposes. And if you are thinking of scandal-mongers, who will
Having determined to go, no arguments moved Anna, nor could
either of the two think of anything to urge beyond a situation
she refused to see, or rather a situation she refused to
acknowledge. She was not as comfortable as she pretended. During
all that long night, while snow sifted down into the ugly yard
and made it beautiful, while Jimmy slept and the white mice
played, while Harmony tossed and tried to sleep and Peter sat in
his cold room and smoked his pipe, Anna packed her untidy
belongings and added a name now and then to a list that was meant
for Peter, a list of possible substitutes for herself in the
She left early the next morning, a grim little person who bent
over the sleeping boy hungrily, and insisted on carrying her own
bag down the stairs. Harmony did not go to the station, but
stayed at home, pale and silent, hovering around against Jimmy's
awakening and struggling against a feeling of panic. Not that she
feared Peter or herself. But she was conventional; shielded girls
are accustomed to lean for a certain support on the proprieties,
as bridgeplayers depend on rules.
Peter came back to breakfast, but ate little. Harmony did not
even sit down, but drank her cup of coffee standing, looking down
at the snow below. Jimmy still slept.
"Won't you sit down?" said Peter.
"I'm not hungry, thank you."
"You can sit down without eating."
Peter was nervous. To cover his uneasiness he was distinctly
gruff. He pulled a chair out for her and she sat down. Now that
they were face to face the tension was lessened. Peter laid
Anna's list on the table between them and bent over it toward
"You are hurting me very much, Harry," he said. "Do you know
"I? I am only sorry about Anna. I miss her. I--I was fond of
"So was I. But that isn't it, Harry. It's something else."
"I'm uncomfortable, Peter."
"So am I. I'm sorry you don't trust me. For that's it."
"Not at all. But, Peter, what will people say?'
"A great deal, if they know. Who is to know? How many people know
about us? A handful, at the most, McLean and Mrs. Boyer and one
or two others. Of course I can go away until we get some one to
take Anna's place, but you'd be here alone at night, and if the
youngster had an attack--"
"Oh, no, don't leave him!"
"It's holiday time. There are no clinics until next week. If
you'll put up with me--"
"Put up with you, when it is your apartment I use, your food I
eat!" She almost choked. "Peter, I must talk about money."
"I'm coming to that. Don't you suppose you more than earn
everything? Doesn't it humiliate me hourly to see you working
"Peter! Would you rob me of my last vestige of self-respect?"
This being unanswerable, Peter fell back on his major premise.
"If you'll put up with me for a day or so I'll take this list of
Anna's and hunt up some body. Just describe the person you desire
and I'll find her." He assumed a certainty he was far from
feeling, but it reassured the girl. "A woman, of course?"
"Of course. And not young."
"'Not young,'" wrote Peter. "Fat?"
Harmony recalled Mrs. Boyer's ample figure and shook her head.
"Not too stout. And agreeable. That's most important."
"'Agreeable,'" wrote Peter. "Although Anna was hardly agreeable,
in the strict sense of the word, was she?"
"She was interesting, and--and human."
"'Human!'" wrote Peter. "Wanted, a woman, not young, not too
stout, agreeable and human. Shall I advertise?"
The strain was quite gone by that time. Harmony was smiling.
Jimmy, waking, called for food, and the morning of the first day
was under way.
Peter was well content that morning, in spite of an undercurrent
of uneasiness. Before this Anna had shared his proprietorship
with him. Now the little household was his. His vicarious
domesticity pleased him. He strutted about, taking a new view of
his domain; he tightened a doorknob and fastened a noisy window.
He inspected the coal-supply and grumbled over its quality. He
filled the copper kettle on the stove, carried in the water for
Jimmy's morning bath, cleaned the mouse cage. He even insisted on
peeling the little German potatoes, until Harmony cried aloud at
his wastefulness and took the knife from him.
And afterward, while Harmony in the sickroom read aloud and Jimmy
put the wooden sentry into the cage to keep order, he got out his
books and tried to study. But he did little work. His book lay on
his knee, his pipe died beside him. The strangeness of the
situation came over him, sitting there, and left him rather
frightened. He tried to see it from the viewpoint of an outsider,
and found himself incredulous and doubting. McLean would resent
the situation. Even the Portier was a person to reckon with. The
skepticism of the American colony was a thing to fear and avoid.
And over all hung the incessant worry about money; he could just
manage alone. He could not, by any method he knew of, stretch his
resources to cover a separate arrangement for himself. But he had
undertaken to shield a girl-woman and a child, and shield them he
would and could.
Brave thoughts were Peter's that snowy morning in the great salon
of Maria Theresa, with the cat of the Portier purring before the
fire; brave thoughts, cool reason, with Harmony practicing scales
very softly while Jimmy slept, and with Anna speeding through a
white world, to the accompaniment of bitter meditation.
Peter had meant to go to Semmering that day, but even the urgency
of Marie's need faded before his own situation. He wired Stewart
that he would come as soon as he could, and immediately after
lunch departed for the club, Anna's list in his pocket, Harmony's
requirements in mind. He paused at Jimmy's door on his way out.
"What shall it be to-day?" he inquired. "A postcard or a crayon?"
"I wish I could have a dog."
"We'll have a dog when you are better and can take him walking.
Wait until spring, son."
"Some more mice?"
"You will have them--but not to-day."
"What holiday comes next?"
"New Year's Day. Suppose I bring you a New Year's card."
"That's right," agreed Jimmy. "One I can send to Dad. Do you
think he will come back this year?" wistfully.
Peter dropped on his baggy knees beside the bed and drew the
little wasted figure to him.
"I think you'll surely see him this year, old man," he said
Peter walked to the Doctors' Club. On the way he happened on
little Georgiev, the Bulgarian, and they went on together. Peter
managed to make out that Georgiev was studying English, and that
he desired to know the state of health and the abode of the
Fraulein Wells. Peter evaded the latter by the simple expedient
of pretending not to understand. The little Bulgarian watched him
earnestly, his smouldering eyes not without suspicion. There had
been much talk in the Pension Schwarz about the departure
together of the three Americans. The Jew from Galicia still raved
over Harmony's beauty.
Georgiev rather hoped, by staying by Peter, to be led toward his
star. But Peter left him at the Doctors' Club, still amiable, but
absolutely obtuse to the question nearest the little spy's heart.
The club was almost deserted. The holidays had taken many of the
members out of town. Other men were taking advantage of the
vacation to see the city, or to make acquaintance again with
families they had hardly seen during the busy weeks before
Christmas. The room at the top of the stairs where the wives of
the members were apt to meet for chocolate and to exchange the
addresses of dressmakers was empty; in the reading room he found
McLean. Although not a member, McLean was a sort of honorary
habitue, being allowed the privilege of the club in exchange for
a dependable willingness to play at entertainments of all sorts.
It was in Peter's mind to enlist McLean's assistance in his
difficulties. McLean knew a good many people. He was popular,
goodlooking, and in a colony where, unlike London and Paris, the
great majority were people of moderate means, he was
conspicuously well off. But he was also much younger than Peter
and intolerant with the insolence of youth. Peter was thinking
hard as he took off his overcoat and ordered beer.
The boy was in love with Harmony already; Peter had seen that, as
he saw many things. How far his love might carry him, Peter had
no idea. It seemed to him, as he sat across the reading-table and
studied him over his magazine, that McLean would resent bitterly
the girl's position, and that when he learned it a crisis might
One of three things might happen: He might bend all his energies
to second Peter's effort to fill Anna's place, to find the right
person; he might suggest taking Anna's place himself, and insist
that his presence in the apartment would be as justifiable as
Peter's; or he might do at once the thing Peter felt he would do
eventually, cut the knot of the difficulty by asking Harmony to
marry him. Peter, greeting him pleasantly, decided not to tell
him anything, to keep him away if possible until the thing was
straightened out, and to wait for an hour at the club in the hope
that a solution might stroll in for chocolate and gossip.
In any event explanation to McLean would have required
justification. Peter disliked the idea. He could humble himself,
if necessary, to a woman; he could admit his asininity in
assuming the responsibility of Jimmy, for instance, and any woman
worthy of the name, or worthy of living in the house with
Harmony, would understand. But McLean was young, intolerant. He
was more than that, though Peter, concealing from himself just
what Harmony meant to him, would not have admitted a rival for
what he had never claimed. But a rival the boy was. Peter, calmly
reading a magazine and drinking his Munich beer, was in the grip
of the fiercest jealousy. He turned pages automatically, to
recall nothing of what he had read.
McLean, sitting across from him, watched him surreptitiously. Big
Peter, aggressively masculine, heavy of shoulder, direct of
speech and eye, was to him the embodiment of all that a woman
should desire in a man. He, too, was jealous, but humbly so.
Unlike Peter he knew his situation, was young enough to glory in
it. Shameless love is always young; with years comes discretion,
perhaps loss of confidence. The Crusaders were youths, pursuing
an idea to the ends of the earth and flaunting a lady's guerdon
from spear or saddle-bow. The older men among them tucked the
handkerchief or bit of a gauntleted glove under jerkin and armor
near the heart, and flung to the air the guerdon of some light o'
love. McLean would have shouted Harmony's name from the
housetops. Peter did not acknowledge even to himself that he was
in love with her.
It occurred to McLean after a time that Peter being in the club,
and Harmony being in all probability at home, it might be
possible to see her alone for a few minutes. He had not intended
to go back to the house in the Siebensternstrasse so soon after
being peremptorily put out; he had come to the club with the
intention of clinching his resolution with a game of cribbage.
But fate was playing into his hands. There was no cribbage player
round, and Peter himself sat across deeply immersed in a
magazine. McLean rose, not stealthily, but without unnecessary
So far so good. Peter turned a page and went on reading. McLean
sauntered to a window, hands in pockets. He even whistled a
trifle, under his breath, to prove how very casual were his
intentions. Still whistling, he moved toward the door. Peter
turned another page, which was curiously soon to have read two
columns of small type without illustrations.
Once out in the hall McLean's movements gained aim and precision.
He got his coat, hat and stick, flung the first over his arm and
the second on his head, and--
"Going out?" asked Peter calmly.
"Yes, nothing to do here. I've read all the infernal old
magazines until I 'm sick of them." Indignant, too, from his
"Mind if I go with you?"
"Not at all."
Peter, taking down his old overcoat from its hook, turned and
caught the boy's eye. It was a swift exchange of glances, but
illuminating--Peter's whimsical, but with a sort of grim
determination; McLean's sheepish, but equally determined.
"Rotten afternoon," said McLean as they started for the stairs.
"Half rain, half snow. Streets are ankle-deep."
"I'm not particularly keen about walking, but--I don't care for
this tomb alone."
Nothing was further from McLean's mind than a walk with Peter
that afternoon. He hesitated halfway down the upper flight.
"You don't care for cribbage, do you?"
"Don't know anything about it. How about pinochle?"
They had both stopped, equally determined, equally hesitating.
"Pinochle it is," acquiesced McLean. "I was only going because
there was nothing to do."
Things went very well for Peter that afternoon--up to a certain
point. He beat McLean unmercifully, playing with cold
deliberation. McLean wearied, fidgeted, railed at his luck. Peter
played on grimly.
The club filled up toward the coffee-hour. Two or three women,
wives of members, a young girl to whom McLean had been rather
attentive before he met Harmony and who bridled at the abstracted
bow he gave her. And, finally, when hope in Peter was dead, one
of the women on Anna's list.
Peter, laying down pairs and marking up score, went over
Harmony's requirements. Dr. Jennings seemed to fit them all, a
woman, not young, not too stout, agreeable and human. She was a
large, almost bovinely placid person, not at all reminiscent of
Anna. She was neat where Anna had been disorderly, well dressed
and breezy against Anna's dowdiness and sharpness. Peter, having
totaled the score, rose and looked down at McLean.
"You're a nice lad," he said, smiling. "Sometime I shall teach
you the game."
"How about a lesson to-night in Seven-Star Street?"
"To-night? Why, I'm sorry. We have an engagement for to-night."
The "we" was deliberate and cruel. McLean writhed. Also the
statement was false, but the boy was spared that knowledge for
Things went well. Dr. Jennings was badly off for quarters. She
would make a change if she could better herself. Peter drew her
off to a corner and stated his case. She listened attentively,
albeit not without disapproval.
She frankly discredited the altruism of Peter's motives when he
told her about Harmony. But as the recital went on she found
herself rather touched. The story of Jimmy appealed to her. She
scolded and lauded Peter in one breath, and what was more to the
point, she promised to visit the house in the Siebensternstrasse
the next day.
"So Anna Gates has gone home!" she reflected. "When?"
"Then the girl is there alone?"
"Yes. She is very young and inexperienced, and the boy--it's
myocarditis. She's afraid to be left with him."
"Is she quite alone?"
"Absolutely, and without funds, except enough for her lessons.
Our arrangement was that she should keep the house going; that
was her share."
Dr. Jennings was impressed. It was impossible to talk to Peter
and not believe him. Women trusted Peter always.
"You've been very foolish, Dr. Byrne," she said as she rose; "but
you've been disinterested enough to offset that and to put some
of us to shame. To-morrow at three, if it suits you. You said the
Peter went home exultant.
Christmas-Day had had a softening effect on Mrs. Boyer. It had
opened badly. It was the first Christmas she had spent away from
her children, and there had been little of the holiday spirit in
her attitude as she prepared the Christmas breakfast. After that,
however, things happened.
In the first place, under her plate she had found a frivolous
chain and pendant which she had admired. And when her eyes filled
up, as they did whenever she was emotionally moved, the doctor
had come round the table and put both his arms about her.
"Too young for you? Not a bit!" he said heartily. "You're
better-looking then you ever were, Jennie; and if you weren't
you're the only woman for me, anyhow. Don't you think I realize
what this exile means to you and that you're doing it for me?"
"I--I don't mind it."
"Yes, you do. To-night we'll go out and make a night of it, shall
we? Supper at the Grand, the theater, and then the Tabarin, eh?"
She loosened herself from his arms.
"What shall I wear? Those horrible things the children bought
"Throw 'em away."
"They're not worn at all."
"Throw them out. Get rid of the things the children got you. Go
out to-morrow and buy something you like--not that I don't like
you in anything or without--"
"Be happy, that's the thing. It's the first Christmas without the
family, and I miss them too. But we're together, dear. That's the
big thing. Merry Christmas."
An auspicious opening, that, to Christmas-Day. And they had
carried out the program as outlined. Mrs. Boyer had enjoyed it,
albeit a bit horrified at the Christmas gayety at the Tabarin.
The next morning, however, she awakened with a keen reaction. Her
head ached. She had a sense of taint over her. She was virtue
rampant again, as on the day she had first visited the old lodge
in the Siebensternstrasse.
It is hardly astonishing that by association of ideas Harmony
came into her mind again, a brand that might even yet be snatched
from the burning. She had been a bit hasty before, she admitted
to herself. There was a woman doctor named Gates, although her
address at the club was given as Pension Schwarz. She determined
to do her shopping early and then to visit the house in the
Siebensternstrasse. She was not a hard woman, for all her
inflexible morality, and more than once she had had an uneasy
memory of Harmony's bewildered, almost stricken face the
afternoon of her visit. She had been a watchful mother over a not
particularly handsome family of daughters. This lovely young girl
needed mothering and she had refused it. She would go back, and
if she found she had been wrong and the girl was deserving and
honest, she would see what could be done.
The day was wretched. The snow had turned to rain. Mrs. Boyer,
shopping, dragged wet skirts and damp feet from store to store.
She found nothing that she cared for after all. The garments that
looked chic in the windows or on manikins in the shops, were
absurd on her. Her insistent bosom bulged, straight lines became
curves or tortuous zigzags, plackets gaped, collars choked her or
shocked her by their absence. In the mirror of Marie Jedlicka,
clad in familiar garments that had accommodated themselves to the
idiosyncrasies of her figure, Mrs. Boyer was a plump, rather
comely matron. Here before the plate glass of the modiste, under
the glare of a hundred lights, side by side with a slim Austrian
girl who looked like a willow wand, Mrs. Boyer was grotesque,
ridiculous, monstrous. She shuddered. She almost wept.
It was bad preparation for a visit to the Siebensternstrasse.
Mrs. Boyer, finding her vanity gone, convinced that she was an
absurdity physically, fell back for comfort on her soul. She had
been a good wife and mother; she was chaste, righteous. God had
been cruel to her in the flesh, but He had given her the spirit.
"Madame wishes not the gown? It is beautiful--see the embroidery!
And the neck may be filled with chiffon."
"Young woman," she said grimly, "I see the embroidery; and the
neck may be filled with chiffon, but not for me! And when you
have had five children, you will not buy clothes like that
All the kindliness was gone from the visit to the
Siebensternstrasse; only the determination remained. Wounded to
the heart of her self-esteem, her pride in tatters, she took her
way to the old lodge and climbed the stairs.
She found a condition of mild excitement. Jimmy had slept long
after his bath. Harmony practiced, cut up a chicken for broth,
aired blankets for the chair into which Peter on his return was
to lift the boy.
She was called to inspect the mouse-cage, which, according to
Jimmy, had strawberries in it.
"Far back," he explained. "There in the cotton, Harry."
But it was not strawberries. Harmony opened the cage and very
tenderly took out the cotton nest. Eight tiny pink baby mice,
clean washed by the mother, lay curled in a heap.
It was a stupendous moment. The joy of vicarious parentage was
Jimmy's. He named them all immediately and demanded food for
them. On Harmony's delicate explanation that this was
unnecessary, life took on a new meaning for Jimmy. He watched the
mother lest she slight one. His responsibility weighed on him.
Also his inquiring mind was very busy.
"But how did they get there?" he demanded.
"God sent them, just as he sends babies of all sorts."
"Did he send me?"
"That's a good one on you, Harry. My father found me in a hollow
"But don't you think God had something to do with it?"
Jimmy pondered this.
"I suppose," he reflected, "God sent Daddy to find me so that I
would be his little boy. You never happened to see any babies
when you were out walking, did you, Harry?"
"Not in stumps--but I probably wasn't looking."
Jimmy eyed her with sympathy.
"You may some day. Would you like to have one?"
"Very much," said Harmony, and flushed delightfully.
Jimmy was disposed to press the matter, to urge immediate
maternity on her.
"You could lay it here on the bed," he offered, "and I'd watch
it. When they yell you let 'em suck your finger. I knew a woman
once that had a baby and she did that. And it could watch
Isabella." Isabella was the mother mouse. "And when I'm better I
could take it walking."
"That," said Harmony gravely, "is mighty fine of you, Jimmy boy.
I--I'll think about it." She never denied Jimmy anything, so now
"I'll ask Peter."
Harmony had a half-hysterical moment; then:
"Wouldn't it be better," she asked, "to keep anything of that
sort a secret? And to surprise Peter?"
The boy loved a secret. He played with it in lieu of other
occupation. His uncertain future was sown thick with secrets that
would never flower into reality. Thus Peter had shamelessly
promised him a visit to the circus when he was able to go,
Harmony not to be told until the tickets were bought. Anna had
similarly promised to send him from America a pitcher's glove and
a baseball bat. To this list of futurities he now added Harmony's
Harmony brought in her violin and played softly to him, not to
disturb the sleeping mice. She sang, too, a verse that the Big
Soprano had been fond of and that Jimmy loved. Not much of a
voice was Harmony's, but sweet and low and very true, as became
her violinist's ear.
"Ah, well! For us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes,"
she sang, her clear eyes luminous.
"And in the hereafter, angels may
Roll the stone from its grave away!"
Mrs. Boyer mounted the stairs. She was in a very bad humor. She
had snagged her skirt on a nail in the old gate, and although
that very morning she had detested the suit, her round of
shopping had again endeared it to her. She told the Portier in
English what she thought of him, and climbed ponderously, pausing
at each landing to examine the damage.
Harmony, having sung Jimmy to sleep, was in the throes of an
experiment. She was trying to smoke.
A very human young person was Harmony, apt to be exceedingly
wretched if her hat were of last year's fashion, anxious to be
inconspicuous by doing what every one else was doing,
conventional as are the very young, fearful of being an
And nearly every one was smoking. Many of the young women whom
she met at the master's house had yellowed fingers and smoked in
the anteroom; the Big Soprano had smoked; Anna and Scatchy had
smoked; in the coffee-houses milliners' apprentices produced
little silver mouth-pieces to prevent soiling their pretty lips
and smoked endlessly. Even Peter had admitted that it was not a
vice, but only a comfortable bad habit. And Anna had left a
handful of cigarettes.
Harmony was not smoking; she was experimenting. Peter and Anna
had smoked together and it had looked comradely. Perhaps, without
reasoning it out, Harmony was experimenting toward the end of
establishing her relations with Peter still further on friendly
and comradely grounds. Two men might smoke together; a man and a
woman might smoke together as friends. According to Harmony's
ideas, a girl paring potatoes might inspire sentiment, but
smoking a cigarette--never!
She did not like it. She thought, standing before her little
mirror, that she looked fast, after all. She tried pursing her
lips together, as she had seen Anna do, and blowing out the smoke
in a thin line. She smoked very hard, so that she stood in the
center of a gray nimbus. She hated it, but she persisted. Perhaps
it grew on one; perhaps, also, if she walked about it would choke
her less. She practiced holding the thing between her first and
second fingers, and found that easier than smoking. Then she went
to the salon where there was more air, and tried exhaling through
her nose. It made her sneeze.
On the sneeze came Mrs. Boyer's ring. Harmony thought very fast.
It might be the bread or the milk, but again--She flung the
cigarette into the stove, shut the door, and answered the bell.
Mrs. Boyer's greeting was colder than she had intended. It put
Harmony on the defensive at once, made her uncomfortable. Like
all the innocent falsely accused she looked guiltier than the
guiltiest. Under Mrs. Boyer's searching eyes the enormity of her
situation overwhelmed her. And over all, through salon and
passage, hung the damning odor of the cigarette. Harmany, leading
the way in, was a sheep before her shearer.
"I'm calling on all of you," said Mrs. Boyer, sniping. "I meant
to bring Dr. Boyer's cards for every one, including Dr. Byrne."
"I'm sorry. Dr. Byrne is out."
"And Dr. Gates?"
"She--she is away."
Mrs. Boyer raised her eyebrows and ostentatiously changed the
subject, requesting a needle and thread to draw the rent
together. It had been in Harmony's mind to explain the situation,
to show Jimmy to Mrs. Boyer, to throw herself on the older
woman's sympathy, to ask advice. But the visitor's attitude made
this difficult. To add to her discomfort, through the grating in
the stove door was coming a thin thread of smoke.
It was, after all, Mrs. Boyer who broached the subject again. She
had had a cup of tea, and Harmony, sitting on a stool, had mended
the rent so that it could hardly be seen. Mrs. Boyer, softened by
the tea and by the proximity of Harmony's lovely head bent over
her task, grew slightly more expansive.
"I ought to tell you something, Miss Wells," she said. "You
remember my other visit?"
"Perfectly." Harmony bent still lower.
"I did you an injustice at that time. I've been sorry ever since.
I thought that there was no Dr. Gates. I'm sorry, but I'm not
going to deny it. People do things in this wicked city that they
wouldn't do at home. I confess I misjudged Peter Byrne. You can
give him my apologies, since he won't see me."
"But he isn't here or of course he'd see you."
"Then," demanded Mrs. Boyer grimly, "if Peter Byrne is not here,
who has been smoking cigarettes in this room? There is one still
burning in that stove!"
Harmony's hand was forced. She was white as she cut the
brown-silk thread and rose to her feet.
"I think," she said, "that I'd better go back a few weeks, Mrs.
Boyer, and tell you a story, if you have time to listen."
"If it is disagreeable--"
"Not at all. It is about Peter Byrne and myself, and--some
others. It is really about Peter. Mrs. Boyer, will you come very
quietly across the hall?"
Mrs. Boyer, expecting Heaven knows what, rose with celerity.
Harmony led the way to Jimmy's door and opened it. He was still
asleep, a wasted small figure on the narrow bed. Beside him the
mice frolicked in their cage, the sentry kept guard over Peter's
shameless letters from the Tyrol, the strawberry babies wriggled
in their cotton.
"We are not going to have him very long," said Harmony softly.
"Peter is making him happy for a little while."
Back in the salon of Maria Theresa she told the whole story. Mrs.
Boyer found it very affecting. Harmony sat beside her on a stool
and she kept her hand on the girl's shoulder. When the narrative
reached Anna's going away, however, she took it away. From that
point on she sat uncompromisingly rigid and listened.
"Then you mean to say," she exploded when Harmony had finished,
"that you intend to stay on here, just the two of you?"
"Bah! What has the child to do with it?"
"We will find some one to take Anna's place."
"I doubt it. And until you do?"
"There is nothing wicked in what we are doing. Don't you see,
Mrs. Boyer, I can't leave the boy."
"Since Peter is so altruistic, let him hire a nurse."
Bad as things were, Harmony smiled.
"A nurse!" she said. "Why, do you realize that he is keeping
three people now on what is starvation for one?"
"Then he's a fool!" Mrs. Boyer rose in majesty. "I'm not going to
leave you here."
"I'm sorry. You must see--"
"I see nothing but a girl deliberately putting herself in a
compromising portion and worse."
"Get your things on. I guess Dr. Boyer and I can look after you
until we can send you home."
"I am not going home--yet," said poor Harmony, biting her lip to
Back and forth waged the battle, Mrs. Boyer assailing, Harmony
offering little defense but standing firm on her refusal to go as
long as Peter would let her remain.
"It means so much to me," she ventured, goaded. "And I earn my
lodging and board. I work hard and--I make him comfortable. It
costs him very little and I give him something in exchange. All
men are not alike. If the sort you have known are--are
This was unfortunate. Mrs. Boyer stiffened. She ceased offensive
tactics, and retired grimly into the dignity of her high calling
of virtuous wife and mother. She washed her hands of Harmony and
Peter. She tied on her veil with shaking hands, and prepared to
leave Harmony to her fate.
"Give me your mother's address," she demanded.
"You absolutely refuse to save yourself?"
"From what? From Peter? There are many worse people than Peter to
save myself from, Mrs. Boyer--uncharitable people, and--and cruel
Mrs. Boyer shrugged her plump shoulders.
"Meaning me!" she retorted. "My dear child, people are always
cruel who try to save us from ourselves."
Unluckily for Harmony, one of Anna's specious arguments must pop
into her head at that instant and demand expression.
"People are living their own lives these days, Mrs. Boyer; old
standards have gone. It is what one's conscience condemns that is
wrong, isn't it? Not merely breaking laws that were made to fit
the average, not the exception."
Mrs. Boyer flung up her hands.
"You are impossible!" she snapped. "After all, I believe it is
Peter who needs protection! I shall speak to him."
She started down the staircase, but turned for a parting volley.
"And just a word of advice: Perhaps the old standards have gone.
But if you really expect to find a respectable woman to chaperon
YOU, keep your views to yourself."
Harmony, a bruised and wounded thing, crept into Jimmy's room and
sank on her knees beside the bed. One small hand lay on the
coverlet; she dared not touch it for fear of waking him--but she
laid her cheek close to it for comfort. When Peter came in, much
later, he found the boy wide awake and Harmony asleep, a crumpled
heap beside the bed.
"I think she's been crying," Jimmy whispered. "She's been sobbing
in her sleep. And strike a match, Peter; there may be more mice."
Mrs. Boyer, bursting with indignation, went to the Doctors' Club.
It was typical of the way things were going with Peter that Dr.
Boyer was not there, and that the only woman in the clubrooms
should be Dr. Jennings. Young McLean was in the reading room,
eating his heart out with jealousy of Peter, vacillating between
the desire to see Harmony that night and fear lest Peter forbid
him the house permanently if he made the attempt. He had found a
picture of the Fraulein Engel, from the opera, in a magazine, and
was sitting with it open before him. Very deeply and really in
love was McLean that afternoon, and the Fraulein Engel and
Harmony were not unlike. The double doors between the reading
room and the reception room adjoining were open. McLean, lost in
a rosy future in which he and Harmony sat together for indefinite
periods, with no Peter to scowl over his books at them, a future
in which life was one long piano-violin duo, with the candles in
the chandelier going out one by one, leaving them at last alone
in scented darkness together--McLean heard nothing until the
mention of the Siebensternstrasse roused him.
After that he listened. He heard that Dr. Jennings was
contemplating taking Anna's place at the lodge, and he
comprehended after a moment that Anna was already gone. Even then
the significance of the situation was a little time in dawning on
him. When it did, however, he rose with a stifled oath.
Mrs. Boyer was speaking.
"It is exactly as I tell you," she was saying. "If Peter Byrne is
trying to protect her reputation he is late doing it. Personally
I have been there twice. I never saw Anna Gates. And she is
registered here at the club as living in the Pension Schwarz.
Whatever the facts may be, one thing remains, she is not there
McLean waited to hear no more. He was beside himself with rage.
He found a "comfortable" at the curb. The driver was asleep
inside the carriage. McLean dragged him out by the shoulder and
shouted an address to him. The cab bumped along over the rough
streets to an accompaniment of protests from its frantic
The boy was white-lipped with wrath and fear. Peter's silence
that afternoon as to the state of affairs loomed large and
significant. He had thought once or twice that Peter was in love
with Harmony; he knew it now in the clearer vision of the moment.
He recalled things that maddened him: the dozen intimacies of the
little menage, the caress in Peter's voice when he spoke to the
girl, Peter's steady eyes in the semi-gloom of the salon while
At a corner they must pause for the inevitable regiment. McLean
cursed, bending out to see how long the delay would be. Peter had
been gone for half an hour, perhaps, but Peter would walk. If he
could only see the girl first, talk to her, tell her what she
would be doing by remaining--
He was there at last, flinging across the courtyard like a
madman. Peter was already there; his footprints were fresh in the
slush of the path. The house door was closed but not locked.
McLean ran up the stairs. It was barely twilight outside, but the
staircase well was dark. At the upper landing he was compelled to
fumble for the bell.
Peter admitted him. The corridor was unlighted, but from the
salon came a glow of lamplight. McLean, out of breath and
furious, faced Peter.
"I want to see Harmony," he said without preface.
Peter eyed him. He knew what had happened, had expected it when
the bell rang, had anticipated it when Harmony told him of Mrs.
Boyer's visit. In the second between the peal of the bell and his
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