|I.||Romance and Reality|
|III.||A Crab Chapter|
|V.||Mines and Counter-Mines|
|VI.||A Monologue and a Dialogue|
|VII.||Facing the World|
|IX.||Happiness by Proxy|
|XII.||His First Client|
|XIV.||New York Justice|
|XVII.||A New Friend|
Mr. Pierce was talking. Mr. Pierce was generally talking. From the day that his proud mamma had given him a sweetmeat for a very inarticulate “goo” which she translated into “papa,” Mr. Pierce had found speech profitable. He had been able to talk his nurse into granting him every indulgence. He had talked his way through school and college. He had talked his wife into marrying him. He had talked himself to the head of a large financial institution. He had talked his admission into society. Conversationally, Mr. Pierce was a success. He could discuss Schopenhauer or cotillion favors; St. Paul, the apostle, or St. Paul, the railroad. He had cultivated the art as painstakingly as a professional musician. He had countless anecdotes, which he introduced to his auditors by a “that reminds me of.” He had endless quotations, with the quotation marks omitted. Finally he had an idea on every subject, and generally a theory as well. Carlyle speaks somewhere of an “inarticulate genius.” He was not alluding to Mr. Pierce.
Like most good talkers, Mr. Pierce was a tongue despot. Conversation must take his course, or he would none of it. Generally he controlled. If an upstart endeavored to turn the subject, Mr. Pierce waited till the intruder had done speaking, and then quietly, but firmly would remark: “Relative to the subject we were discussing a moment ago—” If any one ventured to speak, even sotto voce, before Mr. Pierce had finished all he had 2 to say, he would at once cease his monologue, wait till the interloper had finished, and then resume his lecture just where he had been interrupted. Only once had Mr. Pierce found this method to fail in quelling even the sturdiest of rivals. The recollection of that day is still a mortification to him. It had happened on the deck of an ocean steamer. For thirty minutes he had fought his antagonist bravely. Then, humbled and vanquished, he had sought the smoking-room, to moisten his parched throat, and solace his wounded spirit, with a star cocktail. He had at last met his superior. He yielded the deck to the fog-horn.
At the present moment Mr. Pierce was having things very much his own way. Seated in the standing-room of a small yacht, were some eight people. With a leaden sky overhead, and a leaden sea about it, the boat gently rose and fell with the ground swell. Three miles away could be seen the flash-light marking the entrance to the harbor. But though slowly gathering clouds told that wind was coming, the yacht now lay becalmed, drifting with the ebb tide. The pleasure-seekers had been together all day, and were decidedly talked out. For the last hour they had been singing songs—always omitting Mr. Pierce, who never so trifled with his vocal organs. During this time he had been restless. At one point he had attempted to deliver his opinion on the relation of verse to music, but an unfeeling member of the party had struck up “John Brown’s Body,” and his lecture had ended, in the usual serial style, at the most interesting point, without even the promise of a “continuation in our next.” Finally, however, the singers had sung themselves hoarse in the damp night air, the last “Spanish Cavalier” had been safely restored to his inevitable true-love, and the sound of voices and banjo floated away over the water. Mr. Pierce’s moment had come.
Some one, and it is unnecessary to mention the sex, had given a sigh, and regretted that nineteenth century life was so prosaic and unromantic. Clearing his throat, quite as much to pre-empt the pause as to articulate the better, Mr. Pierce spoke:
“That modern times are less romantic and interesting than bygone centuries is a fallacy. From time immemorial, 3 love and the battle between evil and good are the two things which have given the world romance and interest. Every story, whether we find it in the myths of the East, the folklore of Europe, the poems of the Troubadours, or in our newspaper of this morning, is based on one or the other of these factors, or on both combined. Now it is a truism that love never played so important a part as now in shaping the destinies of men and women, for this is the only century in which it has obtained even a partial divorce from worldly and parental influences. Moreover the great battle of society, to crush wrong and elevate right, was never before so bravely fought, on so many fields, by so many people as to-day. But because our lovers and heroes no longer brag to the world of their doings; no longer stand in the moonlight, and sing of their ‘dering does,’ the world assumes that the days of tourneys and guitars were the only days of true love and noble deeds. Even our professed writers of romance join in the cry. ‘Draw life as it is,’ they say. ‘We find nothing in it but mediocrity, selfishness, and money-loving.’ By all means let us have truth in our novels, but there is truth and truth. Most of New York’s firemen presumably sat down at noon to-day to a dinner of corned-beef and cabbage. But perhaps one of them at the same moment was fighting his way through smoke and flame, to save life at the risk of his own. Boiled dinner and burned firemen are equally true. Are they equally worthy of description? What would the age of chivalry be, if the chronicles had recorded only the brutality, filthiness and coarseness of their contemporaries? The wearing of underclothing unwashed till it fell to pieces; the utter lack of soap; the eating with fingers; the drunkenness and foul-mouthedness that drove women from the table at a certain point, and so inaugurated the custom, now continued merely as an excuse for a cigar? Some one said once that a man finds in a great city just the qualities he takes to it. That’s true of romance as well. Modern novelists don’t find beauty and nobility in life, because they don’t look for them. They predicate from their inner souls that the world is ‘cheap and nasty’ and that is what they find it to be. There is more true romance in a New York tenement than there ever was in a baron’s tower—braver battles, 4 truer love, nobler sacrifices. Romance is all about us, but we must have eyes for it. You are young people, with your lives before you. Let me give you a little advice. As you go through life look for the fine things—not for the despicable. It won’t make you any richer. It won’t make you famous. It won’t better you in a worldly way. But it will make your lives happier, for by the time you are my age, you’ll love humanity, and look upon the world and call it good. And you will have found romance enough to satisfy all longings for mediæval times.”
“But, dear, one cannot imagine some people ever finding anything romantic in life,” said a voice, which, had it been translated into words would have said, “I know you are right, of course, and you will convince me at once, but in my present state of unenlightenment it seems to me that—” the voice, already low, became lower. “Now”—a moment’s hesitation—“there is—Peter Stirling.”
“Exactly,” said Mr. Pierce. “That is a very case in point, and proves just what I’ve been saying. Peter is like the novelists of whom I’ve been talking. I don’t suppose we ought to blame him for it. What can you expect of a son of a mill-foreman, who lives the first sixteen years of his life in a mill-village? If his hereditary tendencies gave him a chance, such an experience would end it. If one lives in the country, one may get fine thoughts by contact with Nature. In great cities one is developed and stimulated by art, music, literature, and contact with clever people. But a mill-village is one vast expanse of mediocrity and prosaicness, and it would take a bigger nature than Peter’s to recognize the beautiful in such a life. In truth, he is as limited, as exact, and as unimaginative as the machines of his own village. Peter has no romance in him; hence he will never find it, nor increase it in this world. This very case only proves my point; that to meet romance one must have it. Boccaccio said he did not write novels, but lived them. Try to imagine Peter living a romance! He could be concerned in a dozen and never dream it. They would not interest him even if he did notice them. And I’ll prove it to you.” Mr. Pierce raised his voice. “We are discussing romance, Peter. Won’t you stop that unsocial tramp of yours long enough to give us your opinion on the subject?”5
A moment’s silence followed, and then a singularly clear voice, coming from the forward part of the yacht, replied: “I never read them, Mr. Pierce.”
Mr. Pierce laughed quietly. “See,” he said, “that fellow never dreams of there being romance outside of novels. He is so prosaic that he is unconscious of anything bigger than his own little sphere of life. Peter may obtain what he wants in this world, for his desires will be of the kind to be won by work and money. But he will never be controlled by a great idea, nor be the hero of a true romance.”
Steele once wrote that the only difference between the Catholic Church and the Church of England was, that the former was infallible and the latter never wrong. Mr. Pierce would hardly have claimed for himself either of these qualities. He was too accustomed in his business to writing, “E. and O. E.” above his initials, to put much faith in human dicta. But in the present instance he felt sure of what he said, and the little group clearly agreed. If they were right, this story is like that recounted in Mother Goose, which was ended before it was begun. But Mr. Pierce had said that romance is everywhere to those who have the spirit of it in them. Perhaps in this case the spirit was lacking in his judges—not in Peter Stirling.
The unconscious illustration of Mr. Pierce’s theory was pacing backwards and forwards on the narrow space between the cuddy-roof and the gunwale, which custom dignifies with the name of deck. Six strides forward and turn. Six strides aft and turn. That was the extent of the beat. Yet had Peter been on sentry duty, he could not have continued it more regularly or persistently. If he were walking off his supper, as most of those seated aft would have suggested, the performance was not particularly interesting. The limit and rapidity of the walk resembled the tramp of a confined animal, exercising its last meal. But when one stands in front of the lion’s 6 cage, and sees that restless and tireless stride, one cannot but wonder how much of it is due to the last shin-bone, and how much to the wild and powerful nature under the tawny skin. The question occurs because the nature and antecedents of the lion are known. For this same reason the yachters were a unit in agreeing that Stirling’s unceasing walk was merely a digestive promenade. The problem was, whether they were right? Or whether, to apply Mr. Pierce’s formula, they merely imposed their own frame of mind in place of Stirling’s, and decided, since their sole reason for walking at the moment would be entirely hygienic, that he too must be striding from the same cause?
Dr. Holmes tells us that when James and Thomas converse there are really six talkers. First, James as James thinks he is, and Thomas as Thomas thinks he is. Second, James as Thomas thinks him, and Thomas as James thinks him. Finally, there are James and Thomas as they really are. Since this is neither an autobiography nor an inspired story, the world’s view of Peter Stirling must be adopted without regard to its accuracy. And because this view was the sum of his past and personal, these elements must be computed before we can know on what the world based its conclusions concerning him.
His story was as ordinary and prosaic as Mr. and Mrs. Pierce seemed to think his character. Neither riches nor poverty had put a shaping hand to it. The only child of his widowed mother, he had lived in one of the smaller manufacturing cities of New England a life such as falls to most lads. Unquestionably he had been rather more shielded from several forms of temptation than had most of his playmates, for his mother’s isolation had made him not merely her son, but very largely her companion. In certain ways this had tended to make him more manly than the average fellow of his age, but in others it had retarded his development; and this backwardness had been further accentuated by a deliberate mind, which hardly kept pace with his physical growth. His school record was fair: “Painstaking, but slow,” was the report in studies. “Exemplary,” in conduct. He was not a leader among the boys, but he was very generally liked. A characteristic fact, for good or bad, was that he had no enemies. From the clergyman to the “hired help,” 7 everybody had a kind word for him, but tinctured by no enthusiasm. All spoke of him as “a good boy,” and when this was said, they had nothing more to say.
One important exception to this statement is worthy of note. The girls of the High School never liked him. If they had been called upon for reasons, few could have given a tangible one. At their age, everything this world contains, be it the Falls of Niagara, or a stick of chewing gum, is positively or negatively “nice.” For some crime of commission or omission, Peter had been weighed and found wanting. “He isn’t nice,” was the universal verdict of the scholars who daily filed through the door, which the town selectmen, with the fine contempt of the narrow man for his unpaid “help,” had labelled, “For Females.” If they had said that he was “perfectly horrid,” there might have been a chance for him. But the subject was begun and ended with these three words. Such terseness in the sex was remarkable and would have deserved a psychological investigation had it been based on any apparent data. But women’s opinions are so largely a matter of instinct and feeling, and so little of judgment and induction, that an analysis of the mental processes of the hundred girls who had reached this one conclusion, would probably have revealed in each a different method of obtaining this product. The important point is to recognize this consensus of opinion, and to note its bearing on the development of the lad.
That Peter could remain ignorant of this feeling was not conceivable. It puzzled him not a little when he first began to realize the prejudice, and he did his best to reverse it. Unfortunately he took the very worst way. Had he avoided the girls persistently and obviously, he might have interested them intensely, for nothing is more difficult for a woman to understand than a woman-hater; and from the days of mother Eve the unknown is rumored to have had for her sex a powerful fascination. But he tried to win their friendship by humbleness and kindness, and so only made himself the more cheap in their eyes. “Fatty Peter,” as they jokingly called him, epitomized in two words their contempt of him.
Nor did things mend when he went to Harvard. Neither his mother’s abilities nor his choice were able to secure for him an entrée to the society which Cambridge 8 and Boston dole out stintedly to certain privileged collegians. Every Friday afternoon he went home, to return by an early train Monday morning. In his first year it is to be questioned if he exchanged ten words with women whose names were known to him, except during these home-visits. That this could long continue, was impossible. In his second year he was several times taken by his chum, Watts D’Alloi, to call. But always with one result. Invariably Peter would be found talking to Mamma, or, better still, from his point of view, with Pater-familias, while Watts chatted with the presumptive attractions. Watts laughed at him always. Laughed still more when one of these calls resulted in a note, “requesting the pleasure” of Mr. Peter Stirling’s company to dinner. It was Watts who dictated the acceptance, helped Peter put the finishing touches to his toilet, and eventually landed him safely in Mrs. Purdie’s parlor. His description to the boys that night of what followed is worthy of quotation:
“The old fellow shook hands with Mrs. P., O. K. Something was said about the weather, and then Mrs. P. said, ‘I’ll introduce you to the lady you are to take down, Mr. Stirling, but I shan’t let you talk to her before dinner. Look about you and take your choice of whom you would like to meet?’ Chum gave one agonized look round the room. There wasn’t a woman over twenty-five in sight! And what do you think the wily old fox said? Call him simple! Not by a circumstance! A society beau couldn’t have done it better. Can’t guess? Well, he said, ‘I’d like to talk to you, Mrs. Purdie.’ Fact! Of course she took it as a compliment, and was as pleased as could be. Well, I don’t know how on earth he ever got through his introduction or how he ever reached the dining-room, for my inamorata was so pretty that I thought of nothing till we were seated, and the host took her attention for a moment. Then I looked across at chum, who was directly opposite, to see how he was getting on. Oh, you fellows would have died to see it! There he sat, looking straight out into vacancy, so plainly laboring for something to say that I nearly exploded. Twice he opened his lips to speak, and each time closed them again. The girl of course looked surprised, but she caught my eye, and entered into the joke, and we both 9 waited for developments. Then she suddenly said to him, ‘Now let’s talk about something else.’ It was too much for me. I nearly choked. I don’t know what followed. Miss Jevons turned and asked me something. But when I looked again, I could see the perspiration standing on Peter’s forehead, while the conversation went by jerks and starts as if it was riding over a ploughed field. Miss Callender, whom he took in, told me afterwards that she had never had a harder evening’s work in her life. Nothing but ‘yeses’ and ‘noes’ to be got from him. She wouldn’t believe what I said of the old fellow.”
Three or four such experiences ended Peter’s dining out. He was recognized as unavailable material. He received an occasional card to a reception or a dance, for anything in trousers passes muster for such functions. He always went when invited, and was most dutiful in the counter-calls. In fact, society was to him a duty which he discharged with the same plodding determination with which he did his day’s studies. He never dreamed of taking his social moments frivolously. He did not recognize that society is very much like a bee colony—stinging those who approached it shyly and quietly, but to be mastered by a bold beating of tin pans. He neither danced nor talked, and so he was by the really pleasant girls and clever women, and passed his time with wall-flowers and unbearables, who, in their normal sourness, regarded and, perhaps, unconsciously made him feel, hardly to his encouragement, that his companionship was a sort of penance. If he had been asked, at the end of his senior year, what he thought of young women and society, he would probably have stigmatized them, as he himself had been formerly: “not nice.” All of which, again to apply Mr. Pierce’s theory, merely meant that the phases which his own characteristics had shown him, had re-acted on his own mind, and had led him to conclude that girls and society were equally unendurable.
The condition was a dangerous one, and if psychology had its doctors they would have predicted a serious heart illness in store for him. How serious, would depend largely on whether the fever ran its natural course, or whether it was driven inwards by disappointment. If 10 these doctors had ceased studying his mental condition and glanced at his physical appearance, they would have had double cause to shake their heads doubtingly.
Peter was not good-looking. He was not even, in a sense, attractive. In spite of his taking work so hardly and life so seriously, he was entirely too stout. This gave a heaviness to his face that neutralized his really pleasant brown eyes and thick brown hair, which were his best features. Manly the face was, but, except when speaking in unconscious moments, dull and unstriking. A fellow three inches shorter, and two-thirds his weight would have been called tall. “Big” was the favorite adjective used in describing Peter, and big he was. Had he gone through college ten years later, he might have won unstinted fame and admiration as the full-back on the team, or stroke on the crew. In his time, athletics were but just obtaining, and were not yet approved of either by faculties or families. Shakespeare speaks of a tide in the affairs of men. Had Peter been born ten years later the probabilities are that his name would have been in all the papers, that he would have weighed fifty pounds less, have been cheered by thousands, have been the idol of his class, have been a hero, have married the first girl he loved (for heroes, curiously, either marry or die, but never remain bachelors) and would have——but as this is a tale of fact, we must not give rein to imagination. To come back to realism, Peter was a hero to nobody but his mother.
Such was the man, who, two weeks after graduation from Harvard, was pacing up and down the deck of Mr. Pierce’s yacht, the “Sunrise,” as she drifted with the tide in Long Island Sound. Yet if his expression, as he walked, could for a moment have been revealed to those seated aft, the face that all thought dull and uninteresting would have riveted their attention, and set each one questioning whether there might not be something both heroic and romantic underneath. The set determination of his look can best be explained by telling what had given his face such rigid lines.11
Mr. Pierce and those about him had clearly indicated by the conversation, or rather monologue, already recorded that Peter was in a sense an odd number in the “Sunrise’s” complement of pleasure-seekers. Whether or no Mr. Pierce’s monologue also indicated that he was not a man who dealt in odd numbers, or showered hospitality on sons of mill-overseers, the fact was nevertheless true. “For value received,” or “I hereby promise to pay,” were favorite formulas of Mr. Pierce, and if not actually written in such invitations as he permitted his wife to write at his dictation to people whom he decided should be bidden to the Shrubberies, a longer or shorter time would develop the words, as if written in sympathetic ink. Yet Peter had had as pressing an invitation and as warm a welcome at Mr. Pierce’s country place as had any of the house-party ingathered during the first week of July. Clearly something made him of value to the owner of the Shrubberies. That something was his chum, Watts D’Alloi.
Peter and Watts were such absolute contrasts that it seemed impossible that they could have an interest or sympathy, in common. Therefore they had become chums. A chance in their freshman year had brought them together. Watts, with the refined and delicate sense of humor abounding in collegians, had been concerned with sundry freshmen in an attempt to steal (or, in collegiate terms, “rag”) the chapel Bible, with a view to presenting it to some equally subtle humorists at Yale, expecting a similar courtesy in return from that college. Unfortunately for the joke, the college authorities had had the bad taste to guard against the annually attempted substitution. Two of the marauders were caught, while Watts only escaped by leaving his coat in the hands of the watchers. Even then he would have been captured had he not met Peter in his flight, and borrowed the latter’s 12 coat, in which he reached his room without detection. Peter was caught by the pursuers, and summoned before the faculty, but he easily proved that the captured coat was not his, and that he had but just parted from one of the tutors, making it certain that he could not have been an offender. There was some talk of expelling him for aiding and abetting in the true culprit’s escape, and for refusing to tell who it was. Respect for his motives, however, and his unimpeachable record saved him from everything but an admonition from the president, which changed into a discussion of cotton printing before that august official had delivered half of his intended rebuke. People might not enthuse over Peter, but no one ever quarrelled with him. So the interview, after travelling from cotton prints to spring radishes, ended with a warm handshake, and a courteous suggestion that he come again when there should be no charges nor admonitions to go through with. Watts told him that he was a “devilish lucky” fellow to have been on hand to help, for Peter had proved his pluck to his class, had made a friend of the president and, as Watts considerately put it: “but for your being on the corner at 11:10 that evening, old chap, you’d never have known me.” Truly on such small chances do the greatest events of our life turn. Perhaps, could Peter have looked into the future, he would have avoided that corner. Perhaps, could he have looked even further, he would have found that in that chance lay the greatest happiness of his life. Who can tell, when the bitter comes, and we later see how we could have avoided it, what we should have encountered in its place? Who can tell, when sweet comes, how far it is sweetened by the bitterness that went before? Dodging the future in this world is a success equal to that of the old woman who triumphantly announced that she had borrowed money enough to pay all her debts.
As a matter of course Watts was grateful for the timely assistance, and was not slow either to say or show it. He told his own set of fellows that he was “going to take that Stirling up and make him one of us,” and Watts had a remarkable way of doing what he chose. At first Peter did not respond to the overtures and of the handsome, well-dressed, free-spending, New York swell. He was too conscious of the difference between 13 himself and Watts’s set, to wish or seek identification with them. But no one who ever came under Watts’s influence could long stand out against his sunny face and frank manner, and so Peter eventually allowed himself to be “taken up.” Perhaps the resistance encountered only whetted Watts’s intention. He was certainly aided by Peter’s isolation. Whether the cause was single or multiple, Peter was soon in a set from which many a seemingly far more eligible fellow was debarred.
Strangely enough, it did not change him perceptibly. He still plodded on conscientiously at his studies, despite laughter and attempts to drag him away from them. He still lived absolutely within the comfortable allowance that his mother gave him. He still remained the quiet, serious looking fellow of yore. The “gang,” as they styled themselves, called him “kill-joy,” “graveyard,” or “death’s head,” in their evening festivities, but Peter only puffed at his pipe good-naturedly, making no retort, and if the truth had really been spoken, not a man would have changed him a particle. His silence and seriousness added the dash of contrast needed to make the evening perfect. All joked him. The most popular verse in a class-song Watts wrote, was devoted to burlesquing his soberness, the gang never tiring of singing at all hours and places:
“Goodness gracious! Who’s that in the ‘yard’ a yelling in the rain?”
That’s the boy who never gave his mother any pain,
But now his moral character is sadly on the wane,
’Tis little Peter Stirling, bilin’ drunk again.
Oh, the Sunday-school boy,
His mamma’s only joy,
Is shouting drunk as usual, and raising Cain!
Yet joke Peter as they would, in every lark, be it drive, sail, feed, drink, or smoke, whoever’s else absence was commented upon, his never passed unnoticed.
In Sophomore year, Watts, without quite knowing why, proposed that they should share rooms. Nor would he take Peter’s refusal, and eventually succeeded in reversing it.
“I can’t afford your style of living,” Peter had said quietly, as his principal objection.
“Oh, I’ll foot the bills for the fixings, so it shan’t cost you a cent more,” said Watts, and when Peter had finally 14 been won over to give his assent, Watts had supposed it was on this uneven basis. But in the end, the joint chambers were more simply furnished than those of the rest of the gang, who promptly christened them “the hermitage,” and Peter had paid his half of the expense. And though he rarely had visitors of his own asking at the chambers, all cost of wine and tobacco was equally borne by him.
The three succeeding years welded very strong bands round these two. It was natural that they should modify each other strongly, but in truth, as in most cases, when markedly different characteristics are brought in contact, the only effect was to accentuate each in his peculiarities. Peter dug at his books all the harder, by reason of Watts’s neglect of them. Watts became the more free-handed with his money because of Peter’s prudence. Watts talked more because of Peter’s silence, and Peter listened more because of Watts’s talk. Watts, it is true, tried to drag Peter into society, yet in truth, Peter was really left more alone than if he had been rooming with a less social fellow. Each had in truth become the complement of the other, and seemed as mutually necessary as the positive and negative wires in electricity. Peter, who had been taking the law lectures in addition to the regular academic course, and had spent his last two summers reading law in an attorney’s office, in his native town, taking the New York examination in the previous January, had striven to get Watts to do the same, with the ultimate intention of their hanging out a joint legal shingle in New York.
“I’ll see the clients, and work up the cases, Watts, and you’ll make the speeches and do the social end,” said Peter, making a rather long speech in the ardor of his wishes.
Watts laughed. “I don’t know, old man. I rather fancy I shan’t do anything. To do something requires that one shall make up one’s mind what to do, and that’s such devilish hard work. I’ll wait till I’ve graduated, and had a chin with my governor about it. Perhaps he’ll make up my mind for me, and so save my brain tissue. But anyway, you’ll come to New York, and start in, for you must be within reach of me. Besides, New York’s the only place in this country worth living in.”
Such were the relations between the two at graduation 15 time. Watts, who had always prepared his lessons in a tenth part of the time it had taken Peter, buckled down in the last few weeks, and easily won an honorable mention. Peter had tried hard to win honors, but failed.
“You did too much outside work, old man,” said Watts, who would cheerfully have given his own triumph to his friend. “If you want success in anything, you’ve got to sacrifice other things and concentrate on the object. The Mention’s really not worth the ink it’s written with, in my case, but I knew it would please mammy and pappy, so I put on steam, and got it. If I’d hitched on a lot of freight cars loaded with stuff that wouldn’t have told in Exams, I never could have been in on time.”
Peter shook his head rather sadly. “You outclass me in brains, Watts, as much as you do in other things.”
“Nonsense,” said Watts. “I haven’t one quarter of your head. But my ancestors—here’s to the old coves—have been brain-culturing for three hundred years, while yours have been land-culturing; and of course my brain moves quicker and easier than yours. I take to a book, by hereditary instinct, as a duck to water, while you are like a yacht, which needs a heap of building and fitting before she can do the same. But you’ll beat me in the long run, as easily as the boat does the duck. And the Honor’s nothing.”
“Except, as you said, to one’s”—Peter hesitated for a moment, divided in mind by his wish to quote accurately, and his dislike of anything disrespectful, and then finished “to one’s mother.”
“That’s the last person it’s needed for, chum,” replied Watts. “If there’s one person that doesn’t need the world’s or faculty’s opinion to prove one’s merit, it’s one’s dear, darling, doating, self-deluded and undisillusioned mamma. Heigh-ho. I’ll be with mine two weeks from now, after we’ve had our visit at the Pierces’. I’m jolly glad you are going, old man. It will be a sort of tapering-off time for the summer’s separation. I don’t see why you insist on starting in at once in New York? No one does any law business in the summer time. Why, I even think the courts are closed. Come, you’d better go on to Grey-Court with me, and try it, at least. My mammy will kill the fatted calf for you in great style.”
“We’ve settled that once,” said Peter, who was evidently 16 speaking journalistically, for he had done the settling.
Watts said something in a half-articulate way, which certainly would have fired the blood of every dime museum-keeper in the country, had they been there to hear the conversation, for, as well as could be gathered from the mumbling, it related to a “pig-headed donkey” known of to the speaker. “I suppose you’ll be backing out of the Pierce affair yet,” he added, discontentedly.
“No,” said Peter.
“An invitation to Grey-Court is worth two of the Shrubberies. My mother knows only the right kind of people, while Mr. Pierce——”
“Is to be our host,” interrupted Peter, but with no shade of correction in his voice.
“Yes,” laughed Watts, “and he is a host. He’ll not let any one else get a word in edgewise. You are just the kind of talker he’ll like. Mark my word, he’ll be telling every one, before you’ve been two hours in the house, that you are a remarkably brilliant conversationalist.”
“What will he say of you?” said Peter, in a sentence which he broke up into reasonable lengths by a couple of pulls at his pipe in the middle of it.
“Mr. Pierce, chum,” replied Watts, with a look in his eyes which Peter had learned to associate with mischief on Watts’s part, “has too great an affection for yours truly to object to anything I do. Do you suppose, if I hadn’t been sure of my footing at the Shrubberies, that I should have dared to ask an invitation for”—then Watts hesitated for a moment, seeing a half-surprised, half-anxious look come into Peter’s face, “for myself?” he continued.
“Tell truth and shame the devil,” said Peter.
Watts laughed. “Confound you! That’s what comes of letting even such a stupid old beggar as you learn to read one’s thoughts. It’s mighty ungrateful of you to use them against me. Yes. I did ask to have you included in the party. But you needn’t put your back up, Mr. Unbendable, and think you were forced on them. Mr. Pierce gave me carte blanche, and if it hadn’t been you, it would have been some other donkey.”
“But Mrs. Pierce?” queried Peter.
“Oh,” explained Watts, “of course Mrs. Pierce wrote 17 the letter. I couldn’t do it in my name, and so Mr. Pierce told her to do it. They’re very fond of me, old man, because my governor is the largest stockholder, and a director in Mr. P.’s bank, and I was told I could bring down some fellows next week for a few days’ jollity. I didn’t care to do that, but of course I wouldn’t have omitted you for any amount of ducats.”
Which explanation solves the mystery of Peter’s presence at the Shrubberies. To understand his face we must trace the period between his arrival and the moment this story begins.
How far Watts was confining himself to facts in the foregoing dialogue is of no concern, for the only point of value was that Peter was invited, without regard to whether Watts first asked Mr. Pierce, or Mr. Pierce first asked Watts. A letter which the latter wrote to Miss Pierce, as soon as it was settled that Peter should go, is of more importance, and deserves quotation in full:
My Dear Helen—
Between your Pater and my Peter, it has taken an amount of diplomacy to achieve the scheme we planned last summer, which would be creditable to Palmerston at his palmiest and have made Bismarck even more marked than he is. But the deed, the mighty deed is done, and June twenty-ninth will see chum and me at the Shrubberies “if it kills every cow in the barn,” which is merely another way of saying that in the bright lexicon of youth, there’s no such word as fail.
Now a word as to the fellow you are so anxious to meet. I have talked to you so much about him, that you will probably laugh at my attempting to tell you anything new. I’m not going to try, and you are to consider all I say as merely a sort of underlining to what you already know. Please remember that he will never take a prize for his beauty—nor even for his grace. He has a pleasing way with girls, not only of not talking himself, but of making it nearly impossible for them to talk. For instance, if a girl asks me if I play croquet, which by the way, is becoming very passé (three last lines verge on poetry) being replaced by a new game called tennis, I probably say, “No. Do you?” In this way I make croquet good for a ten minutes’ chat, which in the end leads up to some other subject. Peter, however, doesn’t. He says “No,” and so the girl can’t go on with croquet, but must begin a new subject. It is safest to take the subject-headings from an encyclopædia, and introduce 18 them in alphabetical order. Allow about ninety to the hour, unless you are brave enough to bear an occasional silence. If you are, you can reduce this number considerably, and chum doesn’t mind a pause in the least, if the girl will only look contented. If she looks worried, however, Peter gets worried, too. Just put the old chap between you and your mamma at meals, and pull him over any rough spots that come along. You, I know, will be able to make it easy for him. Neglect me to any extent. I shan’t be jealous, and shall use that apparent neglect as an excuse for staying on for a week after he goes, so as to have my innings. I want the dear old blunderbuss to see how nice a really nice girl can be, so do your prettiest to him, for the sake of
Watts Clarkson D’Alloi.
When Watts and Peter saved the “cows in the barn” by stepping off the train on June 29th, the effect of this letter was manifest. Watts was promptly bestowed on the front seat of the trap with Mr. Pierce, while Peter was quickly sitting beside a girl on the back seat. Of course an introduction had been made, but Peter had acquired a habit of not looking at girls, and as a consequence had yet to discover how far Miss Pierce came up to the pleasant word-sketch Watts had drawn of her. Indeed, Peter had looked longingly at the seat beside Mr. Pierce, and had attempted, in a very obvious manner, though one which seemed to him the essence of tact and most unapparent, to have it assigned to him. But two people, far his superior in natural finesse and experience, had decided beforehand that he was to sit with Helen, and he could not resist their skilful manœuvres. So he climbed into place, hoping that she wouldn’t talk, or if that was too much to expect, that at least Watts would half turn and help him through.
Neither of these fitted, however, with Miss Pierce’s plans. She gave Peter a moment to fit comfortably into his seat, knowing that if she forced the running before he had done that, he would probably sit awry for the whole drive. Then: “I can’t tell you how pleased we all are over Watts’s success. We knew, of course, he could do it if he cared to, but he seemed to think the attempt hardly worth the making, and so we did not know if he would try.”
Peter breathed more easily. She had not asked a question, and the intonation of the last sentence was such as left him to infer that it was not his turn to say something; which, Peter had noticed, was the way in which girls generally ended their remarks.19
“Oh, look at that absurd looking cow,” was her next remark, made before Peter had begun to worry over the pause.
Peter looked at the cow and laughed. He would like to have laughed longer, for that would have used up time, but the moment he thought the laugh could be employed in place of conversation, the laugh failed. However, to be told to look at a cow required no rejoinder, so there was as yet no cause for anxiety.
“We are very proud of our roads about here,” said Miss Pierce. “When we first bought they were very bad, but papa took the matter in hand and got them to build with a rock foundation, as they do in Europe.”
Three subjects had been touched upon, and no answer or remark yet forced upon him. Peter thought of rouge et noir, and wondered what the odds were that he would be forced to say something by Miss Pierce’s next speech.
“I like the New England roadside,” continued Miss Pierce, with an apparent relativeness to the last subject that delighted Peter, who was used by this time to much disconnection of conversation, and found not a little difficulty in shifting quickly from one topic to another. “There is a tangled finish about it that is very pleasant. And in August, when the golden-rod comes, I think it is glorious. It seems to me as if all the hot sunbeams of the summer had been gathered up in—excuse the expression—it’s a word of Watts’s—into ‘gobs’ of sunshine, and scattered along the roads and fields.”
Peter wondered if the request to be excused called for a response, but concluded that it didn’t.
“Papa told me the other day,” continued Miss Pierce, “that there were nineteen distinct varieties of golden-rod. I had never noticed that there were any differences.”
Peter began to feel easy and comfortable. He made a mental note that Miss Pierce had a very sweet voice. It had never occurred to Peter before to notice if a girl had a pleasant voice. Now he distinctly remembered that several to whom he had talked—or rather who had talked to him—had not possessed that attraction.
“Last year,” said Miss Pierce, “when Watts was here, we had a golden-rod party. We had the whole house decked with it, and yellow lamps on the lawn.”
“He told me about it,” said Peter.20
“He really was the soul of it,” said Miss Pierce. “He wove himself a belt and chaplet of it and wore it all through the evening. He was so good-looking!”
Peter, quite unconscious that he had said anything, actually continued: “He was voted the handsomest man of the class.”
“Was he really? How nice!” said Miss Pierce.
“Yes,” said Peter. “And it was true.” Peter failed to notice that a question had been asked, or that he had answered it. He began to think that he would like to look at Miss Pierce for a moment. Miss Pierce, during this interval, remarked to herself: “Yes. That was the right way, Helen, my dear.”
“We had quite a houseful for our party,” Miss Pierce remarked, after this self-approval. “And that reminds me that I must tell you about whom you meet to-day.” Then the next ten minutes were consumed in naming and describing the two fashionable New York girls and their brother, who made the party then assembled.
During this time Peter’s eyes strayed from Watts’s shapely back, and took a furtive glance at Miss Pierce. He found that she was looking at him as she talked, but for some reason it did not alarm him, as such observation usually did. Before the guests were properly catalogued, Peter was looking into her eyes as she rambled on, and forgot that he was doing so.
The face that he saw was not one of any great beauty, but it was sweet, and had a most attractive way of showing every change of mood or thought. It responded quickly too, to outside influence. Many a girl of more real beauty was less popular. People liked to talk to Miss Pierce, and many could not escape from saying more than they wished, impelled thereto by her ready sympathy. Then her eyes were really beautiful, and she had the trimmest, dearest little figure in the world; “squeezable” was the word Watts used to describe it, and most men thought the same. Finally, she had a pleasant way of looking into people’s eyes as she talked to them, and for some reason people felt very well satisfied when she did.
It had this effect upon Peter. As he looked down into the large gray eyes, really slate-color in their natural darkness, made the darker by the shadows of the long lashes, 21 he entirely forgot place and circumstances; ceased to think whose turn it was to speak; even forgot to think whether he was enjoying the moment. In short he forgot himself and, what was equally important, forgot that he was talking to a girl. He felt and behaved as he did with men. “Moly hoses!” said Watts to himself on the front seat, “the old fellow’s getting loquacious. Garrulity must be contagious, and he’s caught it from Mr. Pierce.” Which, being reduced to actual facts, means that Peter had spoken eight times, and laughed twice, in the half hour that was passed between the station and the Shrubberies’ gate.
The sight of the party on the veranda of the Shrubberies brought a return of self-consciousness to Peter, and he braced himself, as the trap slowed up, for the agony of formal greetings. If Miss Pierce had been a less sweet, sympathetic girl, she could hardly have kept from smiling at the way Peter’s face and figure stiffened, as the group came in sight. But Miss Pierce had decided, before she met Peter, that she should like him, and, moreover, that he was a man who needed help. Let any woman reach these conclusions about a man, and for some reason quite beyond logic or philosophy, he ceases to be ridiculous. So instead of smiling, she bridged over the awful greetings with feminine engineering skill quite equal to some great strategic movement in war. Peter was made to shake hands with Mrs. Pierce, but was called off to help Miss Pierce out of the carriage, before speech was necessary. Then a bundle was missing in the bottom of the carriage, and Mr. Pawling, the New York swell, was summoned to help Peter find it, the incident being seized upon to name the two to each other. Finally, he was introduced to the two girls, but, almost instantly, Watts and Peter were sent to their rooms; and Miss Pierce, nodding her head in a way which denoted satisfaction, remarked as she went to her own room, “Really, Helen, 22 I don’t think it will be so very hard, after all. He’s very tractable.”
As Peter came downstairs, before dinner, he speculated on whether he should be able to talk to Miss Pierce. He rather doubted from past experience, if such a result was attainable, seeing that there were two other men, who would of course endeavor to do the same. But strangely enough the two men were already seated by the New York girls, and a vacant chair was next that holding Miss Pierce. What was more, he was at once summoned to fill it, and in five minutes was again entirely unconscious of everything but the slate-colored eyes, looking so pleasantly into his. Then he took Miss Pierce in to dinner, and sat between her and her mother, again becoming absorbed in the slate-colored eyes, which seemed quite willing to be absorbed. After dinner, too, when the women had succeeded the weed, Peter in some way found it very easy to settle himself near Miss Pierce. Later that night Peter sat in his room, or rather, with half his body out of the window, puffing his pipe, and thinking how well he had gone through the day. He had not made a single slip. Nothing to groan over. “I’m getting more experienced,” he thought, with the vanity noticeable in even the most diffident of collegians, never dreaming that everything that he had said or done in the last few hours, had been made easy for him by a woman’s tact.
The following week was practically a continuation of this first day. In truth Peter was out of his element with the fashionables; Mr. Pierce did not choose to waste his power on him; and Mrs. Pierce, like the yielding, devoted wife she was, took her coloring from her husband. Watts had intended to look after him, but Watts played well on the piano, and on the billiard table; he rowed well and rode well; he sang, he danced, he swam, he talked, he played all games, he read aloud capitally, and, what was more, was ready at any or all times for any or all things. No man who can do half these had better intend seriously to do some duty in a house-party in July. For, however good his intentions, he will merely add to the pavement of a warmer place than even a July temperature makes Long Island Sound. Instinctively, Peter turned to Miss Pierce at every opportunity. He should have asked himself if the girl was really enjoying his company 23 more than she did that of the other young people. Had he been to the manner born he would have known better than to force himself on a hostess, or to make his monopoly of a young girl so marked. But he was entirely oblivious of whether he was doing as he ought, conscious only that, for causes which he made no attempt to analyze, he was very happy when with her. For reasons best known to Miss Pierce, she allowed herself to be monopolized. She was even almost as devoted to Peter as he was to her, and no comparison could be stronger. It is to be questioned if she enjoyed it very much, for Peter was not talkative, and the little he did say was neither brilliant nor witty. With the jollity and “high jinks” (to use a word of Watts’s) going on about her, it is hardly possible that Peter’s society shone by contrast. Yet in drawing-room or carriage, on the veranda, lawn, or yacht’s deck, she was ever ready to give him as much of her attention and help as he seemed to need, and he needed a good deal. Watts jokingly said that “the moment Peter comes in sight, Helen puts out a sign ‘vacant, to let,’” and this was only one of many jokes the house-party made over the dual devotion.
It was an experience full of danger to Peter. For the first time in his life he was seeing the really charming phases which a girl has at command. Attractive as these are to all men, they were trebly so to Peter, who had nothing to compare with them but the indifferent attitudes hitherto shown him by the maidens of his native town, and by the few Boston women who had been compelled to “endure” his society. If he had had more experience he would have merely thought Miss Pierce a girl with nice eyes, figure and manner. But as a single glass of wine is dangerous to the teetotaller, so this episode had an overbalancing influence on Peter, entirely out of proportion to its true value. Before the week was over he was seriously in love, and though his natural impassiveness and his entire lack of knowledge how to convey his feelings to Miss Pierce, prevented her from a suspicion of the fact, the more experienced father and mother were not so blind.
“Really, Charles,” said Mrs. Pierce, in the privacy of their own room, “I think it ought to be stopped.”
“Exactly, my dear,” replied her other half, with an apparent yielding to her views that amazed and rather frightened Mrs. Pierce, till he continued: “Beyond 24 question it should be stopped, since you say so. It is neuter, and as neutral things are highly objectionable, stop it by all means.”
“I mean Mr. Stirling——” began Mrs. Pierce.
“Yes?” interrupted Mr. Pierce, in an encouraging, inquiring tone. “Peter is certainly neuter. I think one might say negative, without gross exaggeration. Still, I should hardly stop him. He finds enough difficulty in getting out an occasional remark without putting a stopper in him. Perhaps, though, I mistake your meaning, and you want Peter merely to stop here a little longer.”
“I mean, dear,” replied Mrs. Pierce, with something like a tear in her voice, for she was sadly wanting in a sense of humor, and her husband’s jokes always half frightened her, and invariably made her feel inferior to him, “I mean his spending so much time with Helen. I’m afraid he’ll fall in love with her.”
“My dear,” said Mr. Pierce, “you really should be a professional mind-reader. Your suggestion comes as an awful revelation to me. Just supposing he should—aye—just supposing he has, fallen in love with Helen!”
“I really think he has,” said Mrs. Pierce, “though he is so different from most men, that I am not sure.”
“Then by all means we must stop him. By the way, how does one stop a man’s falling in love?” asked Mr. Pierce.
“Charles!” said Mrs. Pierce.
This remark of Mrs. Pierce’s generally meant a resort to a handkerchief, and Mr. Pierce did not care for any increase of atmospheric humidity just then. He therefore concluded that since his wit was taken seriously, he would try a bit of seriousness, as an antidote.
“I don’t think there is any occasion to interfere. Whatever Peter does can make no difference, for it is perfectly evident that Helen is nice to him as a sort of duty, and, I rather suspect, to please Watts. So anything she may do will be a favor to him, while the fact that she is attractive to Peter will not lessen her value to—others.”
“Then you don’t think——?” asked Mrs. Pierce, and paused there.
“Don’t insult my intelligence,” laughed Mr. Pierce. “I do think. I think things can’t be going better. I 25 was a little afraid of Mr. Pawling, and should have preferred to have him and his sisters later, but since it is policy to invite them and they could not come at any other time, it was a godsend to have sensible, dull old Peter to keep her busy. If he had been in the least dangerous, I should not have interfered, but I should have made him very ridiculous. That’s the way for parents to treat an ineligible man. Next week, when all are gone but Watts, he will have his time, and shine the more by contrast with what she has had this week.”
“Then you think Helen and Watts care for each other?” asked Mrs. Pierce, flushing with pleasure, to find her own opinion of such a delightful possibility supported by her husband’s.
“I think,” said Mr. Pierce, “that the less we parents concern ourselves with love the better. If I have made opportunities for Helen and Watts to see something of each other, I have only done what was to their mutual interests. Any courtesy I have shown him is well enough accounted for on the ground of his father’s interest in my institution, without the assumption of any matrimonial intentions. However, I am not opposed to a marriage. Watts is the son of a very rich man of the best social position in New York, besides being a nice fellow in himself. Helen will make any man a good wife, and whoever wins her will not be the poorer. If the two can fix it between themselves, I shall cry nunc dimittis, but further than this, the deponent saith and doeth not.”
“I am sure they love each other,” said Mrs. Pierce.
“Well,” said Mr. Pierce, “I think if most parents would decide whom it was best for their child to marry, and see that the young people saw just enough of each other, before they saw too much of the world, they could accomplish their purpose, provided they otherwise kept their finger out of the pot of love. There is a certain period in a man’s life when he must love something feminine, even if she’s as old as his grandmother. There is a certain period in a girl’s life when it is well-nigh impossible for her to say ‘no’ to a lover. He really only loves the sex, and she really loves the love and not the lover; but it is just as well, for the delusion lasts quite as long as the more personal love that comes later. And, being young, they need less breaking for double harness.”26
Mrs. Pierce winced. Most women do wince when a man really verges on his true conclusions concerning love in the abstract, however satisfactory his love in the concrete may be to them. “I am sure they love each other,” she affirmed.
“Yes, I think they do,” replied Mr. Pierce. “But five years in the world before meeting would have possibly brought quite a different conclusion. And now, my dear, if we are not going to have the young people eloping in the yacht by themselves, we had better leave both the subject and the room, for we have kept them fifteen minutes as it is.”
It was at the end of this day’s yachting that Peter was having his “unsocial walk.” Early on the morrow he would be taking the train for his native town, and the thought of this, in connection with other thoughts, drew stern lines on his face. His conclusions were something to this effect:
“I suspected before coming that Watts and Miss Pierce loved each other. I was evidently wrong, for if they did they could not endure seeing so little of each other. How could he know her and not love her? But it’s very fortunate for me, for I should stand no chance against him, even supposing I should try to win the girl he loved. She can’t care for me! As Watts says, ‘I’m an old stupid naturally, and doubly so with girls.’ Still, I can’t go tomorrow without telling her. I shan’t see her again till next winter. I can’t wait till then. Some one else—I can’t wait.”
Then he strode up and down half a dozen times repeating the last three words over and over again. His thoughts took a new turn.
“It’s simply folly, and you have no right to give in to it. You have your own way to make. You have no right to ask mother for more than the fifteen hundred she says you are to have as an allowance, for you know that 27 even if she gave you more, it would be only by scrimping herself. What is fifteen hundred a year to such a girl? Why, her father would think I was joking!”
Then Peter looked out on the leaden waters and wished it was not cowardly to end the conflict by letting them close over him. The dark color made him think, however, of a pair of slate-colored eyes, so instead of jumping in, he repeated “I can’t wait” a few times, and walked with redoubled energy. Having stimulated himself thereby, he went on thinking.
“She has been so kind to me that—no—she can’t care for me. But if she—if by chance—if—supposing she does! Why, the money is nothing. We can wait.”
Peter repeated this last remark several times, clearly showing that he made a great distinction between “I can wait” and “We can wait.” Probably the same nice distinction has been made before, and lovers have good authority for the distinction, for many an editor’s public “We think” is the exact opposite of his private “I think.” Then Peter continued:
“Of course I shall have difficulty with Mr. Pierce. He’s a worldly man. That’s nothing, though, if she cares for me. If she cares for me?”
Peter repeated this last sentence a number of times and seemed to enjoy the prospect it conjured up. He saw Peter Stirling taking a fond farewell of a certain lady. He saw him entering the arena and struggling with the wild beasts, and of course conquering them. He saw the day when his successes would enable him to set up his own fireside. He saw that fireside made perfect by a pair of slate-colored eyes, which breakfast opposite him, follow him as he starts for his work, and greet him on his return. A pair of eyes to love when present, and think of when absent. Heigho! How many firesides and homes have been built out of just such materials!
From all this the fact can be gathered that Peter was really, despite his calm, sober nature, no more sensible in love matters than are other boys verging on twenty-one. He could not see that success in this love would be his greatest misfortune. That he could not but be distracted from his work. That he would almost certainly marry before he could well afford it, and thus overweight himself in his battle for success. He forgot prudence and 28 common-sense, and that being what a lover usually does, he can hardly be blamed for it.
Down came the air-castle. Home, fireside, and the slate-colored eyes dissolved into a wooden wharf. The dream was over.
“Bear a hand here with these lunch-baskets, chum,” called Watts. “Make yourself useful as well as ornamental.”
And so Peter’s solitary tramp ceased, and he was helping lunch-baskets and ladies to the wharf.
But the tramp had brought results which were quickly to manifest themselves. As the party paired off for the walk to the Shrubberies, both Watts and Peter joined Miss Pierce, which was not at all to Peter’s liking.
“Go on with the rest, Watts,” said Peter quietly.
Miss Pierce and Watts both stopped short in surprise.
“Eh?” said the latter.
“You join the rest of the party on ahead,” said Peter.
“I don’t understand,” said Watts, who could hardly have been more surprised if Peter had told him to drown himself.
“I want to say something to Miss Pierce,” explained Peter.
Watts caught his breath. If Peter had not requested his absence and given his reason for wishing it, in Miss Pierce’s hearing, Watts would have formed an instant conclusion as to what it meant, not far from the truth. But that a man should deliberately order another away, in the girl’s hearing, so that he might propose to her, was too great an absurdity for Watts to entertain for more than a second. He laughed, and said, “Go on yourself, if you don’t like the company.”
“No,” said Peter. “I want you to go on.” Peter spoke quietly, but there was an inflexion in his singularly clear voice, which had more command in it than a much louder tone in others. Watts had learned to recognize it, and from past experience knew that Peter was not to be moved when he used it. But here the case was different. Hitherto he had been trying to make Peter do something. Now the boot was on the other leg, and Watts saw therein a chance for some fun. He therefore continued to stand still, as they had all done since Peter had exploded his 29 first speech, and began to whistle. Both men, with that selfishness common to the sex, failed entirely to consider whether Miss Pierce was enjoying the incident.
“I think,” remarked Miss Pierce, “that I will leave you two to settle it, and run on with the rest.”
“Don’t,” spoke Peter quickly. “I have something to say to you.”
Watts stopped his whistling. “What the deuce is the old boy up to?” he thought to himself. Miss Pierce hesitated. She wanted to go, but something in Peter’s voice made it very difficult. “I had no idea he could speak so decidedly. He’s not so tractable as I thought I think Watts ought to do what he asks. Though I don’t see why Mr. Stirling wants to send him away,” she said to herself.
“Watts,” said Peter, “this is the last chance I shall really have to thank Miss Pierce, for I leave before breakfast to-morrow.”
There was nothing appealing in the way it was said. It seemed a mere statement of a fact. Yet something in the voice gave it the character of a command.
“’Nough said, chum,” said Watts, feeling a little cheap at his smallness in having tried to rob Peter of his farewell. The next moment he was rapidly overtaking the advance-party.
By all conventions there should have been an embarrassing pause after this extraordinary colloquy, but there was not. When Peter decided to do a thing, he never faltered in the doing. If making love or declaring it had been a matter of directness and plain-speaking, Peter would have been a successful lover. But few girls are won by lovers who carry business methods and habits of speech into their courtship.
“Miss Pierce,” said Peter, “I could not go without thanking you for your kindness to me. I shall never forget this week.”
“I am so glad you have enjoyed it,” almost sang Miss Pierce, in her pleasure at this reward for her week of self-sacrifice.
“And I couldn’t go,” said Peter, his clear voice suddenly husking, “without telling you how I love you.”
“Love me!” exclaimed Miss Pierce, and she brought the walk again to a halt, in her surprise.30
“Yes,” replied Peter simply, but the monosyllable meant more than the strongest protestations, as he said it.
“Oh,” almost cried his companion, “I am so sorry.”
“Don’t say that,” said Peter; “I don’t want it to be a sorrow to you.”
“But it’s so sudden,” gasped Miss Pierce.
“I suppose it is,” said Peter, “but I love you and can’t help telling it. Why shouldn’t one tell one’s love as soon as one feels it? It’s the finest thing a man can tell a woman.”
“Oh, please don’t,” begged Miss Pierce, her eyes full of tears in sympathy for him. “You make it so hard for me to say that—that you mustn’t.”
“I really didn’t think you could care for me—as I cared for you,” replied Peter, rather more to the voice than to the words of the last speech. “Girls have never liked me.”
Miss Pierce began to sob. “It’s all a mistake. A dreadful mistake,” she cried, “and it is my fault.”
“Don’t say that,” said Peter. “It’s nothing but my blundering.”
They walked on in silence to the Shrubberies, but as they came near to the glare of the lighted doorway, Peter halted a moment.
“Do you think,” he asked, “that it could ever be different?”
“No,” replied Miss Pierce.
“Because, unless there is—is some one else,” continued Peter, “I shall not——”
“There is,” interrupted Miss Pierce, the determination in Peter’s voice frightening her into disclosing her secret.
Peter said to himself, “It is Watts after all.” He was tempted to say it aloud, and most men in the sting of the moment would have done so. But he thought it would not be the speech of a gentleman. Instead he said, “Thank you.” Then he braced himself, and added: “Please don’t let my love cause you any sorrow. It has been nothing but a joy to me. Good-night and good-bye.”
He did not even offer to shake hands in parting. They went into the hallway together, and leaving the rest of the party, who were already raiding the larder 31 for an impromptu supper, to their own devices, they passed upstairs, Miss Pierce to bathe her eyes and Peter to pack his belongings.
“Where are Helen and Stirling?” inquired Mr. Pierce when the time came to serve out the Welsh rarebit he was tending.
“They’ll be along presently,” said Watts. “Helen forgot something, and they went back after it.”
“They will be properly punished by the leathery condition of the rarebit, if they don’t hurry. And as we are all agreed that Stirling is somewhat lacking in romance, he will not get a corresponding pleasure from the longer stroll to reward him for that. There, ladies and gentlemen, that is a rarebit that will melt in your mouth, and make the absent ones regret their foolishness. As the gourmand says in ‘Richelieu,’ ‘What’s diplomacy compared to a delicious pâté?’”
Army surgeons recognize three types of wounded. One type so nervous, that it drops the moment it is struck, whether the wound is disabling or not. Another so nerveless, that it fights on, unconscious that it has been hit. A third, who, feeling the wound, goes on fighting, sustained by its nerve. It is over the latter sort that the surgeons shake their heads and look anxious.
Peter did his packing quietly and quickly, not pausing for a moment in the task. Then he went downstairs, and joined the party, just finishing the supper. He refused, it is true, to eat anything, and was quiet, but this phase was so normal in him, that it occasioned no remark. Asked where Miss Pierce was, he explained briefly that he had left her in the hall, in order to do his packing and had not seen her since.
In a few moments the party broke up. Peter said a good-bye to each, quite conscious of what he was doing, yet really saying more and better things than he had said in 32 his whole visit, and quite surprising them all in the apparent ease with which he went through the duty.
“You must come and see us when you have put your shingle out in New York,” said Mr. Pierce, not quite knowing why, having previously decided that they had had enough of Peter. “We shall be in the city early in September, and ready to see our friends.”
“Thank you,” replied Peter. He turned and went upstairs to his room. He ought to have spent the night pacing his floor, but he did not. He went to bed instead. Whether Peter slept, we cannot say. He certainly lay very still, till the first ray of daylight brightened the sky. Then he rose and dressed. He went to the stables and explained to the groom that he would walk to the station, and merely asked that his trunk should be there in time to be checked. Then he returned to the house and told the cook that he would breakfast on the way. Finally he started for the station, diverging on the way, so as to take a roundabout road, that gave him a twelve-mile tramp in the time he had before the train left.
Perhaps the hardest thing Peter encountered was answering his mother’s questions about the visit. Yet he never flinched nor dodged from a true reply, and if his mother had chosen, she could have had the whole story. But something in the way Peter spoke of Miss Pierce made Mrs. Stirling careful, and whatever she surmised she kept to herself, merely kissing him good-night with a tenderness that was unusual not merely in a New-Englander, but even in her. During the rest of his stay, the Pierces were quite as much kept out of sight, as if they had never been known. Mrs. Stirling was not what we should call a “lady,” yet few of those who rank as such, would have been as considerate or tender of Peter’s trouble, if the power had been given them to lay it bare. Love, sympathy, unselfishness and forbearance are not bad equivalents for breeding and etiquette, and have the additional advantage of meeting new and unusual conditions which sometimes occur to even the most conventional.
One hope did come to her. “Perhaps, now that”—and Mrs. Stirling left “that” blank even in her thoughts; “now my boy, my Peter, will not be so set on going to New York.” In this, however, she was disappointed. 33 On the second day of his stay, Peter spoke of his intention to start for New York the following week.
“Don’t you think you could do as well here?” said Mrs. Stirling.
“Up to a certain point, better. But New York has a big beyond,” said Peter. “I’ll try it there first, and if I don’t make my way, I’ll come back here.”
Few mothers hope for a son’s failure, yet Mrs. Stirling allowed herself a moment’s happiness over this possibility. Then remembering that her Peter could not possibly fail, she became despondent. “They say New York’s full of temptations,” she said.
“I suppose it is, mother,” replied Peter, “to those who want to be tempted.”
“I know I can trust you, Peter,” said his mother, proudly, “but I want you to promise me one thing.”
“That if you do yield, if you do what you oughtn’t to, you’ll write and tell me about it?” Mrs. Stirling put her arms about Peter’s neck, and looked wistfully into his face.
Peter was not blind to what this world is. Perhaps, had his mother known it as he did, she might have seen how unfair her petition was. He did not like to say yes, and could not say no.
“I’ll try to go straight, mother,” he replied, “but that’s a good deal to promise.”
“It’s all I’m going to ask of you, Peter,” urged Mrs. Stirling.
“I have gone through four years of my life with nothing in it I couldn’t tell her,” thought Peter. “If that’s possible, I guess another four is.” Then he said aloud, “Well, mother, since you want it, I’ll do it.”
The reason of Peter’s eagerness to get to New York, was chiefly to have something definite to do. He tried to obtain this distraction of occupation, at present, in a characteristic way, by taking excessively long walks, and by struggling with his mother’s winter supply of wood. He thought that every long stride and every swing of the axe was working him free from the crushing lack of purpose that had settled upon him. He imagined it would be even easier when he reached New York. “There’ll be plenty to keep me busy there,” was his mental hope.
All his ambitions and plans seemed in a sense to have 34 become meaningless, made so by the something which but ten days before had been unknown to him. Like Moses he had seen the promised land. But Moses died. He had seen it, and must live on without it. He saw nothing in the future worth striving for, except a struggle to forget, if possible, the sweetest and dearest memory he had ever known. He thought of the epigram: “Most men can die well, but few can live well.” Three weeks before he had smiled over it and set it down as a bit of French cynicism. Now—on the verge of giving his mental assent to the theory, a pair of slate-colored eyes in some way came into his mind, and even French wit was discarded therefrom.
Peter was taking his disappointment very seriously, if quietly. Had he only known other girls, he might have made a safe recovery, for love’s remedy is truly the homeopathic “similia similibus curantur,” woman plural being the natural cure for woman singular. As the Russian in the “Last Word” says, “A woman can do anything with a man—provided there is no other woman.” In Peter’s case there was no other woman. What was worse, there seemed little prospect of there being one in the future.
The middle of July found Peter in New York, eager to begin his grapple with the future. How many such stormers have dashed themselves against its high ramparts, from which float the flags of “worldly success;” how many have fallen at the first attack; how many have been borne away, stricken in the assault; how many have fought on bravely, till driven back by pressure, sickness or hunger; how few have reached the top, and won their colors!
As already hinted, Peter had chosen the law as his ladder to climb these ramparts. Like many another fellow he had but a dim comprehension of the struggle before him. His college mates had talked over professions, 35 and agreed that law was a good one in New York. The attorney in his native town, “had known of cases where men without knowing a soul in a place, had started in and by hard work and merit had built up a good practice, and I don’t see why it can’t be done as well in New York as in Lawrence or Lowell. If New York is bigger, then there is more to be done.” So Peter, whose New York acquaintances were limited to Watts and four other collegians, the Pierces and their fashionables, and a civil engineer originally from his native town, had decided that the way to go about it was to get an office, hang up a sign, and wait for clients.
On the morning after his arrival, his first object was a lodging. Selecting from the papers the advertisements of several boarding-houses, he started in search of one. Watts had told him about where to locate, “so as to live in a decent part of the city,” but after seeing and pricing a few rooms near the “Avenue,” about Thirtieth Street, Peter saw that Watts had been thinking of his own purse, rather than of his friend’s.
“Can you tell me where the cheaper boarding-houses are?” he asked the woman who had done the honors of the last house.
“If it’s cheapness you want, you’d better go to Bleecker Street,” said the woman with a certain contemptuousness.
Peter thanked her, and, walking away, accosted the first policeman.
“It’s Blaker Strate, is it? Take the Sixth Avenue cars, there beyant,” he was informed.
“Is it a respectable street?” asked Peter.
“Don’t be afther takin’ away a strate’s character,” said the policeman, grinning good-naturedly.
“I mean,” explained Peter, “do respectable people live there?”
“Shure, it’s mostly boarding-houses for young men,” replied the unit of “the finest.” “Ye know best what they’re loike.”
Reassured, Peter sought and found board in Bleecker Street, not comprehending that he had gone to the opposite extreme. It was a dull season, and he had no difficulty in getting such a room as suited both his expectations and purse. By dinner-time he had settled his simple household gods to his satisfaction, and slightly 36 moderated the dreariness of the third floor front, so far as the few pictures and other furnishings from his college rooms could modify the effect of well-worn carpet, cheap, painted furniture, and ugly wall-paper.
Descending to his dinner, in answer to a bell more suitable for a fire-alarm than for announcing such an ordinary occurrence as meals, he was introduced to the four young men who were all the boarders the summer season had left in the house. Two were retail dry-goods clerks, another filled some function in a butter and cheese store, and the fourth was the ticket-seller at one of the middle-grade theatres. They all looked at Peter’s clothes before looking at his face, and though the greetings were civil enough, Peter’s ready-made travelling suit, bought in his native town, and his quiet cravat, as well as his lack of jewelry, were proof positive to them that he did not merit any great consideration. It was very evident that the ticket-seller, not merely from his natural self-assertion but even more because of his enviable acquaintance with certain actresses and his occasional privileges in the way of free passes, was the acknowledged autocrat of the table. Under his guidance the conversation quickly turned to theatrical and “show” talk. Much of it was vulgar, and all of it was dull. It was made the worse by the fact that they all tried to show off a little before the newcomer, to prove their superiority and extreme knowingness to him. To make Peter the more conscious of this, they asked him various questions.
“Do you like ——?” a popular soubrette of the day.
“What, never seen her? Where on earth have you been living?”
“Oh! Well, got too good legs to waste herself on such a little place.”
They would like to have asked him questions about himself, but feared to seem to lower themselves from their fancied superiority, by showing interest in Peter. One indeed did ask him what business he was in.
“I haven’t got to work yet,” answered Peter.
“Looking for a place,” was the mental comment of all, for they could not conceive of any one entitled to practise law not airing his advantage. So they went on patronizing Peter, and glorifying themselves. When time had 37 developed the facts that he was a lawyer, a college graduate, and a man who seemed to have plenty of money (from the standpoint of dry-goods clerks) their respect for him considerably increased. He could not, however, overcome his instinctive dislike to them. After the manly high-minded, cultivated Harvard classmates, every moment of their society was only endurable, and he neither went to their rooms nor asked them to his. Peter had nothing of the snob in him, but he found reading or writing or a tramp about the city, much the pleasanter way of passing his evenings.
The morning after this first day in New York, Peter called on his friend, the civil engineer, to consult him about an office; for Watts had been rather hazy in regard to where he might best locate that. Mr. Converse shook his head when Peter outlined his plan.
“Do you know any New York people,” he asked, “who will be likely to give you cases?”
“No,” said Peter.
“Then it’s absolutely foolish of you to begin that way,” said Mr. Converse. “Get into a lawyer’s office, and make friends first before you think of starting by yourself. You’ll otherwise never get a client.”
Peter shook his head. “I’ve thought it out,” he added, as if that settled it.
Mr. Converse looked at him, and, really liking the fellow, was about to explain the real facts to him, when a client came in. So he only said, “If that’s so, go ahead. Locate on Broadway, anywhere between the Battery and Canal Street.” Later in the day, when he had time, he shook his head, and said, “Poor devil! Like all the rest.”
Anywhere between the Battery and Canal Street represented a fairly large range of territory, but Peter went at the matter directly, and for the next three days passed his time climbing stairs, and inspecting rooms and dark cells. At the end of that time he took a moderate-sized office, far back in a building near Worth Street. Another day saw it fitted with a desk, two chairs (for Peter as yet dreamed only of single clients) and a shelf containing the few law books that were the monuments of his Harvard law course, and his summer reading. On the following Monday, when Peter faced his office door he 38 felt a glow of satisfaction at seeing in very black letters on the very newly scrubbed glass the sign of:
Attorney and Counsellor-at-Law.
He had come to his office early, not merely because at his boarding place they breakfasted betimes, but because he believed that early hours were one way of winning success. He was a little puzzled what to do with himself. He sat down at his desk and thrummed it for a minute. Then he rose, and spread his books more along the shelf, so as to leave little spaces between them, thinking that he could make them look more imposing thereby. After that he took down a book—somebody “On Torts,”—and dug into it. In the Harvard course, he had had two hours a week of this book, but Peter worked over it for nearly three hours. Then he took paper, and in a very clear, beautifully neat hand, made an abstract of what he had read. Then he compared his abstract with the book. Returning the book to the shelf, very much pleased with the accuracy of his memory, he looked at his watch. It was but half-past eleven. Peter sat down at his desk. “Would all the days go like this?” he asked himself. He had got through the first week by his room and office-seeking and furnishing. But now? He could not read law for more than four hours a day, and get anything from it. What was to be done with the rest of the time? What could he do to keep himself from thinking of—from thinking? He looked out of his one window, over the dreary stretch of roofs and the drearier light shafts spoken of flatteringly as yards. He compressed his lips, and resorted once more to his book. But he found his mind wandering, and realized that he had done all he was equal to on a hot July morning. Again he looked out over the roofs. Then he rose and stood in the middle of his room, thinking. He looked at his watch again, to make sure that he was right. Then he opened his door and glanced about the hall. It was one blank, except for the doors. He went down the two flights of stairs to the street. Even that had the deserted look of summer. He turned and went back to his room. Sitting down once more at his desk, and opening somebody “On Torts” again, 39 he took up his pen and began to copy the pages literally. He wrote steadily for a time, then with pauses. Finally, the hand ceased to follow the lines, and became straggly. Then he ceased to write. The words blurred, the paper faded from view, and all Peter saw was a pair of slate-colored eyes. He laid his head down on the blotter, and the erect, firm figure relaxed.
There is no more terrible ordeal of courage than passive waiting. Most of us can be brave with something to do, but to be brave for months, for years, with nothing to be done and without hope of the future! So it was in Peter’s case. It was waiting—waiting—for what? If clients came, if fame came, if every form of success came,—for what?
There is nothing in loneliness to equal the loneliness of a big city. About him, so crowded and compressed together as to risk life and health, were a million people. Yet not a soul of that million knew that Peter sat at his desk, with his head on his blotter, immovable, from noon one day till daylight of the next.
The window of Peter’s office faced east, and the rays of the morning sun shining dazzlingly in his eyes forced him back to a consciousness of things mundane. He rose, and went downstairs, to find the night watchman just opening the building. Fortunately he had already met the man, so that he was not suspected as an intruder; and giving him a pleasant “good-morning,” Peter passed into the street. It was a good morning indeed, with all that freshness and coolness which even a great city cannot take from a summer dawn. For some reason Peter felt more encouraged. Perhaps it was the consciousness of having beaten his loneliness and misery by mere physical endurance. Perhaps it was only the natural spring of twenty years. At all events, he felt dimly, that miserable and unhopeful as the future looked, he was not conquered yet; that he was going to fight on, come what might.40
He turned to the river front, and after bargaining with a passing cart for a pint of what the poorer people of the city buy as milk, he turned north, and quickening his pace, walked till he had left the city proper and had reached the new avenue or “drive,” which, by the liberality of Mr. Tweed with other people’s money, was then just approaching completion. After walking the length of it, he turned back to his boarding-place, and after a plunge, felt as if he could face and fight the future to any extent.
As a result of this he was for the first time late at breakfast. The presider over the box-office had ascertained that Peter had spent the night out, and had concluded he would have a gird or two at him. He failed, however, to carry out his intention. It was not the first time that both he and his companions had decided to “roast” Peter, absent, but had done otherwise with Peter, present. He had also decided to say to Peter, “Who’s your dandy letter-writer?” But he also failed to do that. This last intention referred to a letter that lay at Peter’s place, and which was examined by each of the four in turn. That letter had an air about it. It was written on linen paper of a grade which, if now common enough, was not so common at that time. Then it was postmarked from one of the most fashionable summer resorts of the country. Finally, it was sealed with wax, then very unusual, and the wax bore the impression of a crest. They were all rather disappointed when Peter put that letter in his pocket, without opening it.
Peter read the letter at his office that morning. It was as follows:
Grey-Court, July 21st.
Dear Old Man—
Like a fool I overslept myself on the morning you left, so did not get my talk with you. You know I never get up early, and never can, so you have only your refusal to let me in that night to blame for our not having a last chat. If I had had the news to tell you that I now have, I should not have let you keep me out, even if you had forced me to break my way in.
Chum, the nicest girl in the world has told me that she loves me, and we are both as happy as happy can be. I know you will not be in a moment’s doubt as to who she is. I have only run down here to break it to my family, and shall go back to the Shrubberies early next week to talk to Mr. Pierce, you understand!
My governor has decided that a couple of years’ travel will keep me out of mischief as well as anything else he can devise, and as the prospect 41 is not unpleasant, I am not going to let my new plans interfere with it, merely making my journeyings a solitude à deux, instead of solus. So we shall be married in September, at the Shrubberies, and sail for Europe almost immediately.
Now, I want you to stand by me in this, as you have in other things, and help me through. I want you, in short, to be my “best man” as you have been my best friend. “Best man,” I should inform you, is an English wedding institution, which our swell people have suddenly discovered is a necessity to make a marriage ceremony legal. He doesn’t do much. Holding his principal’s hat, I believe, is the most serious duty that falls to him, though perhaps not stepping on the bridal dresses is more difficult.
My Mamma wants me to drive with her, so this must be continued in our next.
Peter did not read law that morning. But after sitting in his chair for a couple of hours, looking at the opposite wall, and seeing something quite different, he took his pen, and without pause, or change of face, wrote two letters, as follows:
You hardly surprised me by your letter. I had suspected, both from your frequent visits to the Shrubberies, and from a way in which you occasionally spoke of Miss Pierce, that you loved her. After seeing her, I felt that it was not possible you did not. So I was quite prepared for your news. You have indeed been fortunate in winning such a girl. That I wish you every joy and happiness I need not say.
I think you could have found some other of the fellows better suited to stand with you, but if you think otherwise, I shall not fail you.
You will have to tell me about details, clothes, etc. Perhaps you can suggest a gift that will do? I remember Miss Pierce saying she was very fond of pearls. Would it be right to give something of that kind?
Dear Miss Pierce:
A letter from Watts this morning tells me of his good fortune. Fearing lest my blindness may perhaps still give you pain, I write to say that your happiness is the most earnest wish of my life, and nothing which increases it can be other than good news to me. If I can ever serve you in any way, you will be doing me a great favor by telling me how.
Please give my regards to Mr. and Mrs. Pierce, and believe me,
Yours ever sincerely,
After these letters were written, Peter studied the wall again for a time. Studied it till long after the hour when he should have lunched. The wall had three cracks in it which approximated to an outline of Italy, but though Peter gazed at this particular wall a good many hours in the 42 next few weeks, he did not discover this interesting fact till long after this time of wall-gazing.
In the early morning and after dinner, in spite of the summer heat, he took long walks. During the day he sat in his office doing nothing, with the exception of an occasional letter to his mother, and one or two to Watts in respect to the coming wedding. Two visits to the tailor’s, and another to Tiffany’s, which resulted in a pearl pin rather out of proportion to his purse, were almost the sole variations of this routine. It was really a relief to this terrible inactivity, when he found himself actually at the Shrubberies, the afternoon before the wedding.
Peter was rather surprised at the ease with which he went through the next twenty-four hours. It is true that the house was too full, and each person too busy, to trouble the silent groomsman with attention, so he might have done pretty much what he wished, without being noticed. He arrived late, thus having no chance for greetings till after a hurried dressing for dinner, when they were made in the presence of the whole party, who had waited his coming to go to the meal. He went through the ordeal well, even that with Miss Pierce, actually showing less embarrassment than she did. What was more astonishing, he calmly offered his arm to the bridesmaid who fell to his lot, and, after seating her, chatted without thinking that he was talking. Indeed, he hardly heeded what he did say, but spoke mechanically, as a kind of refuge from thought and feeling.
“I didn’t find him a bit so,” the girl said to Miss Pierce, later in the evening, with an indefiniteness which, if not merely feminine, must presuppose a previous conversation. “He isn’t exactly talkative, but he is perfectly easy to get on with. I tried him on New York, and found he had gone into a good many odd places and can tell about them. He describes things very well, so that one sees them.”
“It must be your tact, then, Miss Leroy,” said Mrs. Pierce, “for we could get nothing out of him before.”
“No? I had nothing to do with it, and, between ourselves, I think he disapproved of me. If Helen hadn’t told me about him, I should have been very cool to him, his manner was so objectionable. He clearly talked to me because he felt it a duty, and not a pleasure.”43
“That’s only that unfortunate manner of his,” said Helen. “I really think at heart he’s dreadfully afraid of us. At least that’s what Watts says. But he only behaves as if—as if—well, you know what I mean, Alice!”
“Exactly,” said Alice. “You can’t describe it. He’s so cool, and stolid, and silent, that you feel shoddy and cheap, and any simple little remark doesn’t seem enough to say. You try to talk up to him, and yet feel small all the time.”
“Not at all,” said Helen. “You talk down to him, as if he were—were—your old grandfather, or some one else you admired, but thought very dull and old-fashioned.”
“But the worst is the way he looks at you. So gravely, even when you try to joke. Now I really think I’m passably pretty, but Mr. Stirling said as plainly as could be: ‘I look at you occasionally because that’s the proper thing to do, when one talks, but I much prefer looking at that picture over your head.’ I don’t believe he noticed how my hair was dressed, or the color of my eyes. Such men are absolutely maddening. When they’ve finished their smoke, I’m going to make him notice me.”
But Miss Leroy failed in her plan, try as she would. Peter did not notice girls any more. After worrying in his school and college days, over what women thought of him and how they treated him, he had suddenly ceased to trouble himself about them. It was as if a man, after long striving for something, had suddenly discovered that he did not wish it—that to him women’s opinions had become worthless. Perhaps in this case it was only the Fox and the Grapes over again. At all events, from this time on Peter cared little what women did. Courteous he tried to be, for he understood this to be a duty. But that was all. They might laugh at him, snub him, avoid him. He cared not. He had struck women out of his plan of life. And this disregard, as we have already suggested, was sure to produce a strange change, not merely in Peter, but in women’s view and treatment of him. Peter trying to please them, by dull, ordinary platitudes, was one thing. Peter avoiding them and talking to them when needs must, with that distant, uninterested look and voice, was quite another.
The next morning, Peter, after finding what a fifth wheel in a coach all men are at weddings, finally stood 44 up with his friend. He had not been asked to stay on for another night, as had most of the bridal party, so he slipped away as soon as his duty was done, and took a train that put him into New York that evening. A week later he said good-bye to the young couple, on the deck of a steamship.
“Don’t forget us, Peter,” shouted Watts, after the fasts were cast off and the steamer was slowly moving into mid-stream.
Peter waved his hat, and turning, walked off the pier.
“Could he forget them?” was the question he asked himself.
“My friend,” said an old and experienced philosopher to a young man, who with all the fire and impatience of his years wished to conquer the world quickly, “youth has many things to learn, but one of the most important is never to let another man beat you at waiting.”
Peter went back to his desk, and waited. He gave up looking at the wall of his office, and took to somebody “On Torts” again. When that was finished he went through the other law books of his collection. Those done, he began to buy others, and studied them with great thoroughness and persistence. In one of his many walks, he stumbled upon the Apprentices’ Library. Going in, he inquired about its privileges, and became a regular borrower of books. Peter had always been a reader, but now he gave from three or four hours a day to books, aside from his law study. Although he was slow the number of volumes, he not merely read, but really mastered was marvellous. Books which he liked, without much regard to their popular reputation, he at once bought; for his simple life left him the ability to indulge himself in most respects within moderation. He was particularly careful to read a classic occasionally to keep up his Greek and Latin, and for the same reason he read French and German books aloud to himself. Before the year was out, he was a recognized quantity in certain book-stores, and 45 was privileged to browse at will both among old and new books without interference or suggestion from the “stock” clerks. “There isn’t any good trying to sell him anything,” remarked one. “He makes up his mind for himself.”
His reading was broadened out from the classic and belles-lettres grooves that were still almost a cult with the college graduate, by another recreation now become habitual with him. In his long tramps about the city, to vary the monotony, he would sometimes stop and chat with people—with a policeman, a fruit-vender, a longshore-man or a truckster. It mattered little who it was. Then he often entered manufactories and “yards” and asked if he could go through them, studying the methods, and talking to the overseer or workers about the trade. When he occasionally encountered some one who told him “your kind ain’t got no business here” he usually found the statement “my father was a mill-overseer” a way to break down the barrier. He had to use it seldom, for he dressed plainly and met the men in a way which seldom failed to make them feel that he was one of them. After such inspection and chat, he would get books from the library, and read up about the business or trade, finding that in this way he could enjoy works otherwise too technical, and really obtain a very good knowledge of many subjects. Just how interesting he found such books as “Our Fire-Laddies,” which he read from cover to cover, after an inspection of, and chat with, the men of the nearest fire-engine station; or Latham’s “The Sewage Difficulty,” which the piping of uptown New York induced him to read; and others of diverse types is questionable. Probably it was really due to his isolation, but it was much healthier than gazing at blank walls.
When the courts opened, Peter kept track of the calendars, and whenever a case or argument promised to be interesting, or to call out the great lights of the profession, he attended and listened to them. He tried to write out the arguments used, from notes, and finally this practice induced him to give two evenings a week during the winter mastering shorthand. It was really only a mental discipline, for any case of importance was obtainable in print almost as soon as argued, but Peter was trying to put a pair of slate-colored eyes out of his thoughts, and employed this as one of the means.46
When winter came, and his long walks became less possible, he turned to other things. More from necessity than choice, he visited the art and other exhibitions as they occurred, he went to concerts, and to plays, all with due regard to his means, and for this reason the latter were the most seldom indulged in. Art and music did not come easy to him, but he read up on both, not merely in standard books, but in the reviews of the daily press, and just because there was so much in both that he failed to grasp, he studied the more carefully and patiently.
One trait of his New England training remained to him. He had brought a letter from his own Congregational church in his native town, to one of the large churches of the same sect in New York, and when admitted, hired a sitting and became a regular attendant at both morning and evening service. In time this produced a call from his new pastor. It was the first new friend he had gained in New York. “He seems a quiet, well-informed fellow,” was the clergyman’s comment; “I shall make a point of seeing something of him.” But he was pastor of a very large and rich congregation, and was a hard-worked and hard-entertained man, so his intention was not realized.
Peter spent Christmastide with his mother, who worried not a little over his loss of flesh.
“You have been overworking,” she said anxiously.
“Why mother, I haven’t had a client yet,” laughed Peter.
“Then you’ve worried over not getting on,” said his mother, knowing perfectly well that it was nothing of the sort. She had hoped that Peter would be satisfied with his six months’ trial, but did not mention her wish. She marvelled to herself that New York had not yet discovered his greatness.
When Peter returned to the city, he made a change in his living arrangements. His boarding-place had filled up with the approach of winter, but with the class of men he already knew too well. Even though he met them only at meals, their atmosphere was intolerable to him. When a room next his office fell vacant, and went begging at a very cheap price, he decided to use it as a bedroom. So he moved his few belongings on his return from his visit to his mother’s.47
Although he had not been particularly friendly to the other boarders, nor made himself obtrusive in the least, not one of them failed to speak of his leaving. Two or three affected to be pleased, but “Butter-and-cheese” said he “was a first-rate chap,” and this seemed to gain the assent of the table generally.
“I’m dreadfully sorry to lose him,” his landlady informed her other boarders, availing herself, perhaps, of the chance to deliver a side hit at some of them. “He never has complained once, since he came here, and he kept his room as neat as if he had to take care of it himself.”
“Well,” said the box-office oracle, “I guess he’s O. K., if he is a bit stiff; and a fellow who’s best man to a big New York swell, and gets his name in all the papers, doesn’t belong in a seven-dollar, hash-seven-days-a-week, Bleecker Street boarding-house.”
Peter fitted his room up simply, the sole indulgence (if properly so called) being a bath, which is not a usual fitting of a New York business office, consciences not yet being tubbable. He had made his mother show him how to make coffee, and he adopted the Continental system of meals, having rolls and butter sent in, and making a French breakfast in his own rooms. Then he lunched regularly not far from his office, and dined wherever his afternoon walk, or evening plans carried him. He found that he saved no money by the change, but he saved his feelings, and was far freer to come and go as he chose.
He did not hear from the honeymoon party. Watts had promised to write to him and send his address “as soon as we decide whether we pass the winter in Italy or on the Nile.” But no letter came. Peter called on the Pierces, only to find them out, and as no notice was taken of his pasteboard, he drew his own inference, and did not repeat the visit.
Such was the first year of Peter’s New York life. He studied, he read, he walked, and most of all, he waited. But no client came, and he seemed no nearer one than the day he had first seen his own name on his office door. “How much longer will I have to wait? How long will my patience hold out?” These were the questions he asked himself, when for a moment he allowed himself to lose courage. Then he would take to a bit of wall-gazing, while dreaming of a pair of slate-colored eyes.48
Mr. Converse had evidently thought that the only way for Peter to get on was to make friends. But in this first year Peter did not made a single one that could be really called such. His second summer broadened his acquaintance materially, though in a direction which promised him little law practice.
When the warm weather again closed the courts and galleries, and brought an end to the concerts and theatres, Peter found time harder to kill, the more, because he had pretty well explored the city. Still he walked much to help pass the time, and to get outside of his rooms into the air. For the same reason he often carried his book, after the heat of the day was over, to one of the parks, and did his reading there. Not far from his office, eastwardly, where two streets met at an angle, was a small open space too limited to be called a square, even if its shape had not been a triangle. Here, under the shade of two very sickly trees, surrounded by tall warehouses, were a couple of benches. Peter sat here many evenings smoking his pipe. Though these few square feet made perhaps the largest “open” within half a mile of his office, the angle was confined and dreary. Hence it is obvious there must have been some attraction to Peter, since he was such a walker, to make him prefer spending his time there rather than in the parks not far distant. The attraction was the children.
Only a few hundred feet away was one of the most densely crowded tenement districts of New York. It had no right to be there, for the land was wanted for business purposes, but the hollow on which it was built had been a swamp in the old days, and the soft land, and perhaps the unhealthiness, had prevented the erection of great warehouses and stores, which almost surrounded it. So it had been left to the storage of human souls instead of merchandise, for valuable goods need careful 49 housing, while any place serves to pack humanity. It was not a nice district to go through, for there was a sense of heat, and dirt, and smell, and crowd, and toil, and sorrow throughout. It was probably no nicer to live in, and nothing proved it better than the overflow of the children therefrom into the little, hot, paved, airless angle. Here they could be found from five in the morning till twelve at night. Here, with guards set, to give notice of the approach of the children’s joy-destroying Siva—otherwise the policeman—they played ball. Here “cat” and “one old cat” render bearable many a wilting hour for the little urchins. Here “Sally in our Alley” and “Skip-rope” made the little girls forget that the temperature was far above blood-heat. Here of an evening, Peter smoked and watched them.
At first he was an object of suspicion, and the sport visibly ceased when he put in an appearance. But he simply sat on one of the benches and puffed his pipe, and after a few evenings they lost all fear of him, and went on as if he were not there. In time, an intercourse sprang up between them. One evening Peter appeared with a stick of wood, and as he smoked, he whittled at it with a real jack-knife! He was scrutinized by the keen-eyed youngsters with interest at once, and before he had whittled long, he had fifty children sitting in the shape of a semicircle on the stone pavement, watching his doings with almost breathless interest. When the result of his work actually developed into a “cat” of marvellous form and finish, a sigh of intense joy passed through the boy part of his audience. When the “cat” was passed over to their mercies, words could not be found to express their emotions. Another evening, the old clothes-line that served for a jump-rope, after having bravely rubbed against the pavement many thousand times in its endeavor to lighten the joyless life of the little pack, finally succumbed, worn through the centre and quite beyond hope of further knotting. Then Peter rose, and going to one of the little shops that supplied the district, soon returned with a real jump-rope, with wooden handles! So from time to time, real tops, real dolls, real marbles and various other real, if cheap, things, hitherto only enjoyed in dreams, or at most through home-made attempts, found their way into the angle, and were distributed 50 among the little imps. They could not resist such subtle bribery, and soon Peter was on as familiar and friendly a footing as he could wish. He came to know each by name, and was made the umpire in all their disputes and the confidant in all their troubles. They were a dirty, noisy, lawless, and godless little community, but they were interesting to watch, and the lonely fellow grew to like them much, for with all their premature sharpness, they were really natural, and responded warmly to his friendly overtures.
After a time, Peter tried to help them a little more than by mere small gifts. A cheap box of carpenter’s tools was bought, and under his superintendence, evenings were spent in the angle, in making various articles. A small wheel barrow, a knife-and-fork basket, a clock-bracket and other easy things were made, one at a time. All boys, and indeed some girls, were allowed to help. One would saw off the end of a plank; another would rule a pencil line; the next would plane the plank down to that line; the next would bore the holes in it; the next would screw it into position; the next would sandpaper it. The work went very slowly, but every one who would, had his share in it, while the rest sat and watched. When the article was completed, lots were drawn for it, and happy was the fortunate one who drew the magnificent prize in life’s lottery!
Occasionally too, Peter brought a book with him, and read it aloud to them. He was rather surprised to find that they did not take to Sunday-school stories or fairy tales. Wild adventures in foreign lands were the most effective; and together they explored the heart of Africa, climbed the Swiss mountains, fought the Western Indians, and attempted to discover the North Pole. They had a curious liking for torture, blood-letting, and death. Nor were they without discrimination.
“I guess that fellow is only working his jaw,” was one little chap’s criticism at a certain point of the narrative of a well-known African explorer, rather famous for his success in advertising himself. Again, “that’s bully,” was the comment uttered by another, when Peter, rather than refuse their request to read aloud, had been compelled to choose something in Macaulay’s Essays, and had read the description of the Black Hole of Calcutta. “Say, mister,” 51 said another, “I don’t believe that fellow wasn’t there, for he never could a told it like that, if he wasn’t.”
As soon as his influence was secure, Peter began to affect them in other ways. Every fight, every squabble, was investigated, and the blame put where it belonged. Then a mandate went forth that profanity was to cease: and, though contrary to every instinct and habit, cease it did after a time, except for an occasional unconscious slip. “Sporadic swearing,” Peter called it, and explained what it meant to the children, and why he forgave that, while punishing the intentional swearer with exclusion from his favor. So, too, the girls were told that to “poke” tongues at each other, and make faces, was but another way of swearing; “for they all mean that there is hate in your hearts, and it is that which is wrong, and not the mere words or faces.” He ran the risk of being laughed at, but they didn’t laugh, for something in his way of talking to them, even when verging on what they called “goody-goody,” inspired them with respect.
Before many weeks of this intercourse, Peter could not stroll east from his office without being greeted with yells of recognition. The elders, too, gave him “good-evening” pleasantly and smiled genially. The children had naturally told their parents about him, of his wonderful presents, and great skill with knife and string.
“He can whittle anything you ask!”
“He knows how to make things you want!”
“He can tie a knot sixteen different kinds!”
“He can fold a newspaper into soldiers’ and firemen’s caps!”
“He’s friends with the policeman!”
Such laudations, and a hundred more, the children sang of him to their elders.
“Oh,” cried one little four-year-old girl, voicing the unanimous feeling of the children, “Mister Peter is just shplendid.”
So the elders nodded and smiled when they met him, and he was pretty well known to several hundred people whom he knew not.
But another year passed, and still no client came.52
Peter sat in his office, one hot July day, two years after his arrival, writing to his mother. He had but just returned to New York, after a visit to her, which had left him rather discouraged, because, for the first time, she had pleaded with him to abandon his attempt and return to his native town. He had only replied that he was not yet prepared to acknowledge himself beaten; but the request and his mother’s disappointment had worried him. While he wrote came a knock at the door, and, in response to his “come in,” a plain-looking laborer entered and stood awkwardly before him.
“What can I do for you?” asked Peter, seeing that he must assist the man to state his business.
“If you please, sir,” said the man, humbly, “it’s Missy. And I hope you’ll pardon me for troubling you.”
“Certainly,” said Peter. “What about Missy?”
“She’s—the doctor says she’s dying,” said the man, adding, with a slight suggestion of importance, blended with the evident grief he felt: “Sally, and Bridget Milligan are dead already.”
“And what can I do?” said Peter, sympathetically, if very much at sea.
“Missy wants to see you before she goes. It’s only a child’s wish, sir, and you needn’t trouble about it. But I had to promise her I’d come and ask you. I hope it’s no offence?”
“No.” Peter rose, and, passing to the next room, took his hat, and the two went into the street together.
“What is the trouble?” asked Peter, as they walked.
“We don’t know, sir. They were all took yesterday, and two are dead already.” The man wiped the tears from his eyes with his shirt-sleeve, smearing the red brick-dust with which it was powdered, over his face.
“You’ve had a doctor?”53
“Not till this morning. We didn’t think it was bad at first.”
“What is your name?”
“Blackett, sir—Jim Blackett.”
Peter began to see daylight. He remembered both a Sally and Matilda Blackett. That was probably “Missy.”
A walk of six blocks transferred them to the centre of the tenement district. Two flights of stairs brought them to the rooms. On the table of the first, which was evidently used both as a kitchen and sitting-room, already lay a coffin containing a seven-year-old girl. Candles burned at the four corners, adding to the bad air and heat. In the room beyond, in bed, with a tired-looking woman tending her, lay a child of five. Wan and pale as well could be, with perspiration standing in great drops on the poor little hot forehead, the hand of death, as it so often does, had put something into the face never there before.
“Oh, Mister Peter,” the child said, on catching sight of him, “I said you’d come.”
Peter took his handkerchief and wiped the little head. Then he took a newspaper, lying on a chair, twisted it into a rude fan, and began fanning the child as he sat on the bed.
“What did you want me for?” he asked.
“Won’t you tell me the story you read from the book? The one about the little girl who went to the country, and was given a live dove and real flowers.”
Peter began telling the story as well as he could remember it, but it was never finished. For while he talked another little girl went to the country, a far country, from which there is no return—and a very ordinary little story ended abruptly.
The father and mother took the death very calmly. Peter asked them a few questions, and found that there were three other children, the eldest of whom was an errand boy, and therefore away. The others, twin babies, had been cared for by a woman on the next floor. He asked about money, and found that they had not enough to pay the whole expenses of the double funeral.
“But the undertaker says he’ll do it handsome, and will let the part I haven’t money for, run, me paying it off in weekly payments,” the man explained, when Peter expressed 54 some surprise at the evident needless expense they were entailing on themselves.
While he talked, the doctor came in.
“I knew there was no chance,” he said, when told of the death. “And you remember I said so,” he added, appealing to the parents.
“Yes, that’s what he said,” responded the father.
“Well,” said the doctor, speaking in a brisk, lively way peculiar to him, “I’ve found what the matter was.”
“No?” said the mother, becoming interested at once.
“It was the milk,” the doctor continued. “I thought there was something wrong with it, the moment I smelt it, but I took some home to make sure.” He pulled a paper out of his pocket “That’s the test, and Dr. Plumb, who has two cases next door, found it was just the same there.”
The Blacketts gazed at the written analysis, with wonder, not understanding a word of it. Peter looked too, when they had satisfied their curiosity. As he read it, a curious expression came into his face. A look not unlike that which his face had worn on the deck of the “Sunrise.” It could hardly be called a change of expression, but rather a strengthening and deepening of his ordinary look.
“That was in the milk drunk by the children?” he asked, placing his finger on a particular line.
“Yes,” replied the doctor. “The milk was bad to start with, and was drugged to conceal the fact. These carbonates sometimes work very unevenly, and I presume this particular can of milk got more than its share of the
“There are almost no glycerides,” remarked Peter, wishing to hold the doctor till he should have had time to think.
“No,” said the doctor. “It was skim milk.”
“You will report it to the Health Board?” asked Peter.
“When I’m up there,” said the doctor. “Not that it will do any good. But the law requires it.”
“Won’t they investigate?”
“They’ll investigate too much. The trouble with them is, they investigate, but don’t prosecute.”
“Thank you,” said Peter. He shook hands with the parents, and went upstairs to the fourth floor. The crape 55 on a door guided him to where Bridget Milligan lay. Here preparations had gone farther. Not merely were the candles burning, but four bottles, with the corks partly drawn, were on the cold cooking stove, while a wooden pail filled with beer, reposed in the embrace of a wash-tub, filled otherwise with ice. Peter asked a few questions. There was only an elder brother and sister. Patrick worked as a porter. Ellen rolled cigars. They had a little money laid up. Enough to pay for the funeral. “Mr. Moriarty gave us the whisky and beer at half price,” the girl explained incidentally. “Thank you, sir. We don’t need anything.” Peter rose to go. “Bridget was often speaking of you to us. And I thank you for what you did for her.”
Peter went down, and called next door, to see Dr. Plumb’s patients. These were in a fair way for recovery. “They didn’t get any of the milk till last night,” the gray-haired, rather sad-looking doctor told him, “and I got at them early this morning. Then I suspected the milk at once, and treated them accordingly. I’ve been forty years doing this sort of thing, and it’s generally the milk. Dr. Sawyer, next door, is a new man, and doesn’t get hold quite as quick. But he knows more of the science of the thing, and can make a good analysis.”
“You think they have a chance?”
“If this heat will let up a bit” said the doctor, mopping his forehead. “It’s ninety-eight in here; that’s enough to kill a sound child.”
“Could they be moved?”
“Mrs. Dooley, could you take your children away to the country to-morrow, if I find a place for you?”
“It’s very little money I have, sir.”
“It won’t cost you anything. Can you leave your family?”
“There’s only Moike. And he’ll do very well by himself,” he was told.
“Then if the children can go, be ready at 10:15 tomorrow, and you shall all go up for a couple of weeks to my mother’s in Massachusetts. They’ll have plenty of good food there,” he explained to the doctor, “grass and flowers close to the house and woods not far away.”
“That will fix them,” said the doctor.56
“About this milk. Won’t the Health Board punish the sellers?” Peter asked.
“Probably not,” he was told. “It’s difficult to get them to do anything, and at this season so many of them are on vacations, it is doubly hard to make them stir.”
Peter went to the nearest telegraph, and sent a dispatch to his mother. Then he went back to his office, and sitting down, began to study his wall. But he was not thinking of a pair of slate-colored eyes. He was thinking of his first case. He had found a client.
Peter went to work the next morning at an hour which most of us, if we are indiscreet enough to wake, prefer to use as the preface to a further two to four hours’ nap. He had spent his evening in a freshening of his knowledge in certain municipal laws, and other details which he thought he might need, and as early as five o’clock he was at work in the tenement district, asking questions and taking notes. The inquiry took little skill. The milk had come from the cart of a certain company, which passed daily through the locality, not to supply orders, but to peddle milk to whoever cared to buy. Peter had the cart pointed out that morning, but, beyond making a note of the exact name of the company, he paid no attention to it. He was aiming at bigger game than a milk cart or its driver.
His work was interrupted only by his taking Mrs. Dooley and the two children to the train. That done, Peter walked northwardly and westwardly, till he had nearly reached the river front. It took some little inquiry, but after a while he stumbled on a small shanty which had a sign:
NATIONAL MILK COMPANY.
The place, however, was closed and no one around seemed connected with it, though a number of milk carts 57 were standing about. Close to these was a long line of sheds, which in turn backed up against a great brewery. A couple of men lounged at the door of the sheds. Peter walked up to them, and asked if they could tell him where he could find any one connected with the milk company.
“The boss is off for lunch,” said one. “I can take an order, if that’s what you want.”
Peter said it was not an order, and began chatting with the men. Before he had started to question them, a third man, from inside the sheds, joined the group at the door.
“That cow’s dead,” he remarked as he came up.
“Is it?” said the one called Bill. Both rose, and went into the shed. Peter started to go with them.
“You can’t come in,” said the new-comer.
But Peter passed in, without paying the least attention to him.
“Come back,” called the man, following Peter.
Peter turned to him: “You are one of the employees of the National Milk Company?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the man, “and we have orders——”
Peter usually let a little pause occur after a remark to him, but in this case he spoke before the man completed his speech. He spoke, too, with an air of decision and command that quieted the man.
“Go back to your work,” he said, “and don’t order me round. I know what I’m about.” Then he walked after the other two men as rapidly as the dimness permitted. The employee scratched his head, and then followed.
Dim as the light was, Peter could discern that he was passing between two rows of cows, with not more than space enough for men to pass each other between the rows. It was filthy, and very warm, and there was a peculiar smell in the air which Peter did not associate with a cow stable. It was a kind of vapor which brought some suggestion to his mind, yet one he could not identify. Presently he came upon the two men. One had lighted a lantern and was examining a cow that lay on the ground. That it was dead was plain. But what most interested Peter, although he felt a shudder of horror at the sight, were the rotted tail and two great sores on the flank that lay uppermost.58
“That’s a bad-looking cow,” he said.
“Ain’t it?” replied the one with the lantern. “But you can’t help their havin’ them, if you feed them on mash.”
“Hold your tongue, Bill,” said the man who had followed Peter.
“Take some of your own advice,” said Peter, turning quickly, and speaking in a voice that made the man step back. A terrible feeling was welling up in Peter’s heart. He thought of the poor little fever-stricken children. He saw the poor fever-stricken He would like to—to——.
He dropped the arm he had unconsciously raised. “Give me that lantern,” he demanded.
The man hesitated and looked at the others.
“Give me that lantern,” said Peter, speaking low, but his voice ringing very clear.
The lantern was passed to him, and taking it, he walked along the line of cows. He saw several with sores more or less developed. One or two he saw in the advanced stages of the disease, where the tail had begun to rot away. The other men followed him on his tour of inspection and whispered together nervously. It did not take Peter long to examine all he wanted to see. Handing back the lantern at the door, he said: “Give me your names.”
The men looked nonplussed, and shifted their weights uneasily from leg to leg.
“You,” said Peter, looking at the man who had interfered with him.
“Wot do yer want with it?” he was asked.
“That’s my business. What’s your name?”
“Where do you live?”
“310 West 61st Street.”
Peter obtained and wrote down the names and addresses of the trio. He then went to the “office” of the company, which was now opened.
“Is this an incorporated company?” he asked of the man tilted back in a chair.
“No,” said the man, adding two chair legs to terra firma, and looking at Peter suspiciously.
“Who owns it?” Peter queried.
“I’m the boss.”
“That isn’t what I asked.”59
“That’s what I answered.”
“And your name is?”
“Do you intend to answer my question?”
“Not till I know your business.”
“I’m here to find out against whom to get warrants for a criminal prosecution.”
“The warrant will say.”
The man squirmed in his chair. “Will you give me till to-morrow?”
“No. The warrant is to be issued to-day. Decide at once, whether you or your principal, shall be the man to whom it shall be served.”
“I guess you’d better make it against me,” said the man.
“Very well,” said Peter. “Of course you know your employer will be run down, and as I’m not after the rest of you, you will only get him a few days’ safety at the price of a term in prison.”
“Well, I’ve got to risk it,” said the man.
Peter turned and walked away. He went down town to the Blacketts.
“I want you to carry the matter to the courts,” he told the father. “These men deserve punishment, and if you’ll let me go on with it, it shan’t cost you anything; and by bringing a civil suit as well, you’ll probably get some money out of it.”
Blackett gave his assent. So too did Patrick Milligan, and “Moike” Dooley. They had won fame already by the deaths and wakes, but a “coort case” promised to give them prestige far beyond what even these distinctions conferred. So the three walked away proudly with Peter, and warrants were sworn to and issued against the “boss” as principal, and the driver and the three others as witnesses, made returnable on the following morning. On many a doorstep of the district, that night, nothing else was talked of, and the trio were the most envied men in the neighborhood. Even Mrs. Blackett and Ellen Milligan forgot their grief, and held a joint soirée on their front stoop.
“Shure, it’s mighty hard for Mrs. Dooley, that she’s away!” said one. “She’ll be feeling bad when she knows what she’s missed.”60
The next morning, Peter, the two doctors, the Blacketts, the Milligans, Dooley, the milk quintet, and as many inhabitants of the “district” as could crush their way in, were in court by nine o’clock. The plaintiffs and their friends were rather disappointed at the quietness of the proceedings. The examinations were purely formal except in one instance, when Peter asked for the “name or names of the owner or owners” of the National Milk Company. Here the defendant’s attorney, a shrewd criminal lawyer, interfered, and there was a sharp passage at arms, in which an attempt was made to anger Peter. But he kept his head, and in the end carried his point. The owner turned out to be the proprietor of the brewery, as Peter had surmised, who thus utilized the mash from his vats in feeding cattle. But on Peter’s asking for an additional warrant against him, the defendant’s lawyer succeeded in proving, if the statement of the overseer proved it, that the brewer was quite ignorant that the milk sold in the “district” was what had been unsalable the day before to better customers, and that the skimming and doctoring of it was unknown to him. So an attempt to punish the rich man as a criminal was futile. He could afford to pay for straw men.
“Arrah!” said Dooley to Peter as they passed out of the court, “Oi think ye moight have given them a bit av yer moind.”
“Wait till the trial,” said Peter. “We mustn’t use up our powder on the skirmish line.”
So the word was passed through the district that “theer’d be fun at the rale trial,” and it was awaited with intense interest by five thousand people.
Peter saw the District Attorney the next morning for a few moments, and handed over to him certain memoranda of details that had not appeared in the committing court’s record.
“It shall go before the grand jury day after to-morrow,” 61 that official told him, without much apparent interest in the matter.
“How soon can it be tried, if they find a true bill?” asked Peter.
“Can’t say,” replied the official.
“I merely wished to know,” said Peter, “because three of the witnesses are away, and I want to have them back in time.”
“Probably a couple of weeks,” yawned the man, and Peter, taking the hint, departed.
The rest of the morning was spent in drawing up the papers in three civil suits against the rich brewer. Peter filed them as soon as completed, and took the necessary steps for their prompt service.
These produced an almost immediate result, in the shape of a call the next morning from the same lawyer who had defended the milkmen in the preliminary examination. Peter, as he returned from his midday meal, met the lawyer on the stairs.
“Ah, Mr. Stirling. Good-morning,” said the man, whose name was Dummer. “I’ve just left your office, finding it closed.”
“Come in,” said Peter.
The lawyer glanced around the plain room, and a quiet look of satisfaction came over his face. The two sat down.
“About those cases, Mr. Stirling?”
“For reasons you can easily understand, we don’t wish them to come to trial.”
“And we take it for granted that your clients will be quite willing to settle them.”
“We will talk about that, after the criminal trial is over.”
“Why not now?”
“Because we hope to make Coldman speak the truth in the trial, and thus be able to reach Bohlmann.”
“You’re wasting your time.”
“Not if there’s the smallest chance of sending the brewer to prison.”
“There isn’t. Coldman will stick to what he said if the thing is ever tried, which it won’t be.”62
Peter eyed Dummer without changing a muscle. “The District Attorney told me that it ought to be in the courts in a couple of weeks.”
Dummer smiled blandly, and slowly closed one eye. “The District Attorney tries to tell the truth,” he said, “and I have no doubt he thought that was what he was telling you. Now, name your figure?”
“The civil suits will not be compromised till the criminal one is finished.”
“But I tell you the criminal one is dead. Squashed. Bohlmann and I have seen the right people, and they’ve seen the District Attorney. That case won’t even go to the grand jury. So now, drop it, and say what you’ll settle the civil suits for?”
“James Coldman shall go to prison for killing those children,” said Peter, “and till he does, it is waste time to talk of dropping or settling anything.”
“Humph,” half laughed the lawyer, though with obvious disgust at the mulishness in Peter’s face and voice. “You think you know it all. But you don’t. You can work for ten years, and that case will be no nearer trial than it is to-day. I tell you, young man, you don’t know New York.”
“I don’t know New York,” said Peter, “but——”
“Exactly,” interrupted Dummer. “And I do.”
“Probably,” replied Peter quietly. “You may know New York, Mr. Dummer, but you don’t know me. That case shall be tried.”
“Well,” laughed Dummer, “if you’ll agree not to press the civil suits, till that’s out of the way, we shall have no need to compromise. Good-day.”
The next morning Peter went to the District Attorney’s office, and inquired for him.
“He’s gone to Bar Harbor for a couple of weeks’ vacation,” he was told.
“Whom must I see in his stead?” And after some time Peter was brought face to face with the acting official.
“Mr. Nelson told me he should present the Coldman case to the grand jury to-day, and finding he has left the city, I wish to know who has it in charge?” asked Peter.
“He left all the presentments with me,” the deputy replied, “but there was no such case as that.”63
“Could he have left it with some one else to attend to?”
Peter went back to his office, took down the Code and went over certain sections. His eyes had rather a sad look as they gazed at his wall, after his study, as if what he had read had not pleased him. But if the eyes were sad, the heavy jaw had a rigidness and setness which gave no indication of weakness or yielding.
For two weeks Peter waited, and then once more invaded officialdom.
“The District Attorney’s engaged, and can’t see you,” he was told. Peter came again in the afternoon, with the same result. The next morning, brought only a like answer, and this was duplicated in the afternoon. The third day he said he would wait, and sat for hours in the ante-room, hoping to be called, or to intercept the officer. But it was only to see man after man ushered into the private office, and finally to be told that the District Attorney had gone to lunch, and would not return that day. The man who told him this grinned, and evidently considered it a good joke, nor had Peter been unconscious that all the morning the clerks and underlings had been laughing, and guying him as he waited. Yet his jaw was only set the more rigidly, as he left the office.
He looked up the private address of the officer in the directory, and went to see him that evening. He was wise enough not to send in his name, and Mr. Nelson actually came into the hall to see him.
The moment he saw Peter, however, he said: “Oh, it’s you. Well, I never talk business except in business hours.”
“I have tried to see you——” began Peter.
“Try some more,” interrupted the man, smiling, and going toward the parlor.
Peter followed him, calmly. “Mr. Nelson,” he said, “do you intend to push that case?”
“Of course,” smiled Nelson. “After I’ve finished four hundred indictments that precede it.”
“Not till then?”
“Mr. Nelson, can’t you overlook politics for a moment, and think of——”64
“Who said anything of politics?” interrupted Nelson. “I merely tell you there are indictments which have been in my office for five years and are yet to be tried, and that your case is going to take its turn.” Nelson passed into the back room, leaving his caller alone.
Peter left the room, and passed out of the front door, just as a man was about to ring the bell.
“Is Mr. Nelson in?” asked the man.
“I have just left him, Mr. Dummer,” said Peter.
“Ah! Good-evening, Mr. Stirling. I think I can guess your business. Well. How do you come on?” Dummer was obviously laughing internally.
Peter started down the steps without answering.
“Perhaps I can help you?” said Dummer. “I know Mr. Nelson very well in politics, and so does Mr. Bohlmann. If you’ll tell me what you are after, I’ll try to say a good word for you?”
“I don’t need your help, thank you,” said Peter calmly.
“Good,” said Dummer. “You think a briefless lawyer of thirty can go it alone, do you, even against the whole city government?”
“I know I have not influence enough to get that case pushed, Mr. Dummer, but the law is on my side, and I’m not going to give up yet.”
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” said Dummer, sneeringly.
“Fight,” said Peter, walking away.
He went back to his office, and sitting at his desk, wrote a formal letter to the District Attorney, calling his attention to the case, and asking information as to when it would be brought to trial. Then he copied this, and mailed the original. Then he read the Code again. After that he went over the New York reports, making notes. For a second time the morning sun found Peter still at his desk. But this time his head was not bowed upon his blotter, as if he were beaten or dead. His whole figure was stiff with purpose, and his jaw was as rigid as a mastiff’s.65
The only reply which Peter received to his letter to the District-Attorney, was a mere formal reiteration of that officer’s verbal statement, that the case would be taken up in its due order, after those which preceded it had been dealt with. Peter knew enough of the numberless cases which never reach trial to understand that this meant in truth, the laying aside of the case, till it was killed by the statute of limitations.
On receiving this reply, Peter made another move, by going to three newspapers, and trying to see their managing editors. One declined to see him. A second merely told Peter, after his statement, which the editor only allowed him partly to explain, that he was very busy and could not take time to look into it, but that Peter might come again in about a month. The third let Peter tell his story, and then shook his head:
“I have no doubt you are right, but it isn’t in shape for us to use. Such a case rarely goes to trial for six months or a year, and so, if we begin an attack now, it will simply fall flat. If you can get us a written statement from the District Attorney that he doesn’t intend to push the case, we can do something, but I suppose he’s far too shrewd to commit himself.”
“Then there’s no use in beginning an attack, for you really have no powder. Come in again a year from now, and then we may be able to say something, if he hasn’t acted in the meantime.”
Peter left the office, knowing that that chance of pressure was gone. If the papers of the Republican party would not use it, it was idle spending time in seeing or trying to see the editors of the Democratic papers. He wasted therefore no more efforts on newspapers.
The next three days Peter passed in the New York Law Institute Library, deep in many books. Then he packed 66 his bag, and took an afternoon train for Albany. He was going to play his last card, with the odds of a thousand to one against his winning. But that very fact only nerved him the more.
Promptly at ten o’clock, the morning after his arrival at the state capital, he sent in his card to the Governor. Fortunately for him, the middle of August is not a busy time with that official, and after a slight delay, he was ushered into the executive chamber.
Peter had been planning this interview for hours, and without explanation or preamble, he commenced his statement. He knew that he must interest the Governor promptly, or there would be a good chance of his being bowed out. So he began with a description of the cow-stables. Then he passed to the death of the little child. He sketched both rapidly, not taking three minutes to do it, but had he been pleading for his own life, he could not have spoken more earnestly nor feelingly.
The Governor first looked surprised at Peter’s abruptness; then weary: then interested; and finally turned his revolving chair so as to put his back to Peter. And after Peter had ended his account, he remained so for a moment. That back was very expressive to Peter. For the first time he felt vanquished.
But suddenly the Governor turned, and Peter saw tears on his cheek. And he said, after a big swallow, “What do you want of me?” in a voice that meant everything to Peter.
“Will you listen to me for five minutes?” asked Peter, eagerly.
Then Peter read aloud a statement of the legal proceedings, and of his interviews with the District Attorney and with Dummer, in the clearest and most compact sentences he had been able to frame.
“You want me to interfere?” asked the Governor.
“I’m afraid it’s not possible. I can of course remove the District Attorney, but it must be for cause, and I do not see that you can absolutely prove his non intention to prosecute those scoundrels.”
“That is true. After study, I did not see that you could remove him. But there’s another remedy.”67
“What is that?”
“Through the State Attorney you can appoint a special counsel for this case.”
“Are you sure?”
Peter laid one of the papers in his hands before the Governor. After reading it, the Governor rang a bell.
“Send for Mr. Miller,” he said to the boy. Then he turned, and with Peter went over the court papers, till Mr. Miller put in an appearance.
“State the matter to Mr. Miller,” said the Governor, and Peter read his paper again and told what he wished.
“The power unquestionably exists,” said the Attorney General. “But it has not been used in many years. Perhaps I had better look into it a bit.”
“Go with Mr. Miller, Mr. Stirling, and work over your papers with him,” said the Governor.
“Thank you,” said Peter simply, but his hand and face and voice said far more, as he shook hands. He went out with the first look of hope his face had worn for two years.
The ground which the Attorney-General and his subordinates had to traverse was that over which Peter had so well travelled already, that he felt very much at home, while his notes indeed aided the study, and were doubly welcomed, because the summer season had drained the office of its underlings. Half as assistant, and half as principal, he worked till three o’clock, with pleasure that grew, as he saw that the opinion of the Attorney-General seemed to agree more and more with his own. Then they returned to the Governor, to whom the Attorney-General gave his opinion that his present conclusion was that the Governor could empower him, or some appointee, to prosecute the case.
“Well,” said the Governor, “I’m glad you think so. But if we find that it isn’t possible, Mr. Stirling, I’ll have a letter written to the District Attorney that may scare him into proceeding with the case.”
Peter thanked him, and rose to go.
“Are you going to New York at once?” asked the Governor.
“Yes. Unless I can be of use here.”
“Suppose you dine with me, and take a late train?”
“It will be a great pleasure,” said Peter.68
“Very well. Six sharp.” Then after Peter had left the room, the Governor asked, “How is he on law?”
“Very good. Clear-headed and balanced.”
“He knows how to talk,” said the Governor. “He brought my heart up in my mouth as no one has done in years. Now, I must get word to some of the people in New York to find out who he is, and if this case has any concealed boomerang in it.”
The dinner was a very quiet one with only the Governor and his wife. The former must have told his better-half something about Peter, for she studied him with a very kind look in her face, and prosaic and silent as Peter was, she did not seem bored. After the dinner was eaten, and some one called to talk politics with the Governor, she took Peter off to another room, and made him tell her about the whole case, and how he came to take it up, and why he had come to the Governor for help. She cried over it, and after Peter had gone, she went upstairs and looked at her own two sleeping boys, quite large enough to fight the world on their own account, but still little children to the mother’s heart, and had another cry over them. She went downstairs later to the Governor’s study, and interrupting him in the work to which he had settled down, put her arms about his neck, and kissed him. “You must help him, William,” she said. “Do everything you can to have those scoundrels punished, and let him do it.”
The Governor only laughed; but he pushed back his work, and his wife sat down, and told of her admiration and sympathy for Peter’s fight. There was a bad time ahead for the criminal and his backers. They might have political influence of the strongest character, fighting their battle, but there was a bigger and more secret one at work. Say what we please, the strongest and most subtle “pull” this world as yet contains is the undercurrent of a woman’s influence.
Peter went back to New York that night, feeling hopeful, yet doubtful. It almost seemed impossible that he had succeeded, yet at twenty-three, failure is hard to believe in. So he waited, hoping to see some move on the part of the State, and dreaming of nothing better. But better came, for only five days after his return his mail brought him a large envelope, and inside that envelope 69 was a special commission, which made Peter a deputy of the Attorney-General, to prosecute in the Court of Sessions, the case of “The People of the State of New York versus James Coldman.” If any one could have seen Peter’s face, as he read the purely formal instrument, he would not have called it dull or heavy. For Peter knew that he had won; that in place of justice blocking and hindering him, every barrier was crushed down; that this prosecution rested with no officials, but was for him to push; that that little piece of parchment bound every court to support him; that if necessary fifty thousand troops would enforce the power which granted it. Within three hours, the first formal steps to place the case in the courts had been taken, and Peter was working at the evidence and law in the matter.
These steps produced a prompt call from Dummer, who showed considerably less assurance than hitherto, even though he tried to take Peter’s success jauntily. He wanted Peter to drop the whole thing, and hinted at large sums of money, but Peter at first did not notice his hints, and finally told him that the case should be tried. Then Dummer pleaded for delay. Peter was equally obdurate. Later they had a contest in the court over this. But Peter argued in a quiet way, which nevertheless caught the attention of the judge, who ended the dispute by refusing to postpone. The judge hadn’t intended to act in this way, and was rather surprised at his own conduct. The defendant’s lawyer was furious.
No stone was left unturned, however, to prevent the case going to trial. Pressure of the sharpest and closest kind was brought to bear on the Governor himself—pressure which required backbone to resist. But he stood by his act: perhaps because he belonged to a different party than that in control of the city government; perhaps because of Peter’s account, and the truthfulness in his face as he told it; perhaps because the Attorney-General had found it legal; perhaps because of his wife; perhaps it was a blending of all these. Certain it is, that all attempts to block failed, and in the last week in August it came before the court.
Peter had kept his clients informed as to his struggles, and they were tremendously proud of the big battle and ultimate success, as indeed were the residents of the whole 70 district, who felt that it was really their own case. Then the politicians were furious and excited over it, while the almost unexampled act of the Governor had created a good deal of public interest in the case. So the court was packed and the press had reporters in attendance. Since the trial was fully reported, it is needless to go over the testimony here. What Peter could bring out, is already known. The defence, by “experts,” endeavored to prove that the cowsheds were not in a really unhygienic condition; that feeding cows on “mash” did not affect their milk, nor did mere “skin sores;” that the milk had been sold by mistake, in ignorance that it was thirty-six hours old, and skimmed; and that the proof of this particular milk being the cause of the deaths was extremely inadequate and doubtful. The only dramatic incident in the testimony was the putting the two little Dooleys (who had returned in fat and rosy condition, the day before) on the stand.
“Did you find country milk different from what you have here?” Peter asked the youngest.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Here it comes from a cart, but in the country it squirts from a cow.”
“Order,” said the judge to the gallery.
“Does it taste differently?”
“Yes. It’s sweet, as if they put sugar in it. It’s lovely! I like cow milk better than cart milk.”
“Damn those children!” said Dummer, to the man next him.
The event of the trial came, however, when Peter summed up. He spoke quietly, in the simplest language, using few adjectives and no invective. But as the girl at the Pierces’ dinner had said, “he describes things so that one sees them.” He told of the fever-stricken cows, and he told of the little fever-stricken children in such a way that the audience sobbed; his clients almost had to be ordered out of court; the man next Dummer mopped his eyes with his handkerchief; the judge and jury thoughtfully covered their eyes (so as to think the better); the reporters found difficulty (owing to the glary light), in writing the words despite their determination not to miss one; and even the prisoner wiped his eyes on his sleeve. Peter was unconscious that he was making a great speech; great in its simplicity, and great in its pathos. He afterwards 71 said he had not given it a moment’s thought and had merely said what he felt. Perhaps his conclusion indicated why he was able to speak with the feeling he did. For he said:
“This is not merely the case of the State versus James Coldman. It is the case of the tenement-house children, against the inhumanity of man’s greed.”
Dummer whispered to the man next him, “There’s no good. He’s done for us.” Then he rose, and made a clever defence. He knew it was wasting his time. The judge charged against him, and the jury gave the full verdict: “Man-slaughter in the first degree.” Except for the desire for it, the sentence created little stir. Every one was still feeling and thinking of Peter’s speech.
And to this day that speech is talked of in “the district.”
Nor was it the district alone which talked of the speech. Perhaps the residents of it made their feelings most manifest, for they organized a torch-light procession that night, and went round and made Peter an address of thanks, Mr. Dennis Moriarty being the spokesman. The judge shook hands with him after the trial, and said that he had handled his case well. The defendant’s lawyer told him he “knew his business.” A number of the reporters sought a few words with him, and blended praise with questions.
The reporters did far more than this, however. It was the dull newspaper season, and the case had turned out to be a thoroughly “journalistic” one. So they questioned and interviewed every one concerned, and after cleverly winnowing the chaff, which in this case meant the dull, from the gleanings, most of them gave several columns the next morning to the story. Peter’s speech was printed in full, and proved to read almost as well as it had sounded. The reporters were told, and repeated the tales without much attempt at verification, that Peter had taken the matter up without hope of profit; had paid 72 the costs out of his own pocket; had refused to settle, “though offered nine thousand dollars;” had “saved the Dooley children’s lives by sending them into the country;” and “had paid for the burials of the little victims.” So all gave him a puff, and two of the better sort wrote really fine editorials about him. At election time, or any other than a dull season, the case would have had small attention, but August is the month, to reverse an old adage, when “any news is good news.”
The press began, too, a crusade against the swill-milk dealers, and the men who had allowed all this to be possible. “What is the Health Board about, that poison for children can be sold in the public streets?” “Where is the District Attorney, that prosecutions for the public good have to be brought by public-spirited citizens?” they demanded. Lynx-eyed reporters tracked the milk-supplies of the city, and though the alarm had been given, and many cows had been hastily sent to the country, they were able to show up certain companies, and print details which were quite lurid enough, when sufficiently “colored” by their skilful pens. Most residents of New York can remember the “swill-milk” or “stump-tail milk” exposures and prosecutions of that summer, and of the reformation brought about thereby in the Board of Health. As the details are not pleasant reading, any one who does not remember is referred to the daily press, and, if they want horrible pictures, to Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. Except for the papers, it is to be questioned if Peter’s case would have resulted in much more than the punishment of the man actually convicted; but by the press taking the matter up, the moment’s indignation was deepened and intensified to a degree which well-nigh swept every cow-stable off the island, and drove the proper officials into an activity leading to great reforms.
No one was more surprised than Peter, at the sudden notoriety, or at the far-reaching results. He collected the articles, and sent them to his mother. He wrote:
“Don’t think that this means any great start. In truth, I am a hundred dollars the poorer for the case, and shall have to cut off a few expenses for the rest of the year. I tell you this, because I know you will not think for a moment that I grudge the money, and you are not to spoil my trifling self-denial by any offer of assistance. You did quite enough in taking in those two little imps. Were they 73 very bad? Did they tramp on your flowers, and frighten poor old Russet [Russet was the cat] out of his fast waning lives? It was a great pleasure to me to see them so plump and brown, and I thank you for it. Their testimony in court was really amusing, though at the same time pathetic. People tell me that my speech was a good one. What is more surprising, they tell me that I made the prisoner, and Mr. Bohlmann, the brewer, who sat next to Dummer, both cry. I confess I grieve over the fact that I was not prosecuting Bohlmann. He is the real criminal, yet goes scot free. But the moral effect is, I suppose, the important thing, and any one to whom responsibility could be traced (and convicted) gives us that. I find that Mr. Bohlmann goes to the same church I attend!”
His mother was not surprised. She had always known her Peter was a hero, and needed no “York papers” to teach her the fact. Still she read every line of the case, and of the subsequent crusade. She read Peter’s speech again and again, stopping to sob at intervals, and hugging the clipping to her bosom from time to time, as the best equivalent for Peter, while sobbing: “My boy, my darling boy.” Every one in the mill-town knew of it, and the clippings were passed round among Peter’s friends, beginning with the clergyman and ending with his schoolboy companions. They all wondered why Peter had spoken so briefly. “If I could talk like that,” said a lawyer to the proud mother, “I’d have spoken for a couple of hours.” Mrs. Stirling herself wished it had been longer. Four columns of evidence, and only a little over a half column of speech! It couldn’t have taken him twenty minutes at the most. “Even the other lawyer, who had nothing to say but lies, took over a column to his And his was printed close together, while that of Peter’s was spread out (e.g. solid and leaded) making the difference in length all the greater.” Mrs. Stirling wondered if there could be a conspiracy against her Peter, on the part of the Metropolitan press. She had promptly subscribed for a year to the New York paper which glorified Peter the most, supposing that from this time on his name would appear on the front page. When she found it did not and that it was not mentioned in the press and Health Board crusade against the other “swill-milk” dealers, she became convinced that there was some definite attempt to rob Peter of his due fame. “Why, Peter began it all,” she explained, “and now the papers and Health Board pretend it’s all their doings.” She wrote a letter to the editor of the paper—a letter which was passed round 74 the office, and laughed over not a little by the staff. She never received an answer, nor did the paper give Peter the more attention because of it.
Two days after the trial, Peter had another call from Dummer.
“You handled that case in great style, Mr. Stirling,” he told Peter. “You know the ropes as well as far older men. You got just the right evidence out of your witnesses, and not a bit of superfluous rubbish. That’s the mistake most young men make. They bury their testimony in unessential details. I tell you, those two children were worth all the rest put together. Did you send them to the country on purpose to get that kind of evidence?”
“No,” said Peter.
“Well, every man in that jury was probably a father, and that child’s talk took right hold of them. Not but that your speech would have done the business. You were mighty clever in just telling what you saw, and not going into the testimony. You could safely trust the judge to do that. It was a great speech.”
“Thank you,” said Peter.
“He’s not to be taffied,” thought the lawyer. “Plain talking’s the way to deal with him.” He ended his allusions to the trial, and said: “Now, Mr. Stirling, Mr. Bohlmann doesn’t want to have these civil suits go any further. Mr. Bohlmann’s a man of respectability, with a nice wife and some daughters. The newspapers are giving him quite enough music without your dragging him into court.”
“It’s the only way I can reach him,” said Peter.
“But you mustn’t want to reach him. He’s really a well-meaning man, and if you ask your clergyman—for I believe you go to Dr. Purple’s church?—you’ll find he’s very charitable and generous with his money.”
Peter smiled curiously. “Distributing money made that way is not much of a charity.”
“He didn’t know,” said the lawyer. Then catching a look which came into Peter’s face, he instantly added, “at least, he had no idea it was that bad. He tells me that he hadn’t been inside those cow-sheds for four years.”
“Come and see me to-morrow,” said Peter.
After Dummer had gone, Peter walked uptown, and saw his clergyman.75
“Yes,” he was told, “Mr. Bohlmann has always stood high in the church, and has been liberal and sensible with his money. I can’t tell you how this whole thing has surprised and grieved me, Mr. Stirling. It must be terrible for his wife. His daughters, too, are such nice sweet girls. You’ve probably noticed them in church?”
“No.” Peter had not noticed them. He did not add that he did not notice young girls—that for some reason they had not interested him since—since——
“Where does he live?” inquired Peter.
“Not ten blocks from here,” replied Dr. Purple, and named the street and number.
Peter looked at his watch and, thanking the clergyman, took his leave. He did not go back to his office, but to the address, and asked for Mr. Bohlmann. A respectable butler showed him into a handsome parlor and carried his name to the brewer.
There were already two girls in the room. One was evidently a caller. The other, a girl with a sweet, kindly, German face, was obviously one of the “nice” daughters. His arrival checked the flow of conversation somewhat, but they went on comparing their summer experiences. When the butler came back and said aloud, “Mr. Bohlmann will see you in the library, Mr. Stirling,” Peter noticed that both girls turned impulsively to look at him, and that the daughter flushed red.
He found Mr. Bohlmann standing uneasily on the rug by the fireplace, and a stout woman gazing out of the window, with her back to the room.
“I had a call from your lawyer this morning, Mr. Bohlmann,” said Peter, “and I have taken the liberty of coming to see you about the cases.”
“Sid down, sid down,” said his host, nervously, though not sitting himself.
Peter sat down. “I want to do what is best about the matter,” he said.
The woman turned quickly to look at him, and Peter saw that there were tears in her eyes.
“Vell,” said the brewer, “what is dat?”
“I don’t know,” said Peter, “and that’s why I’ve come to see you.”
Mr. Bohlmann’s face worked for a moment. Then suddenly he burst into tears. “I give you my word, Mr. 76 Stirling,” he said, “that I didn’t know it was so. I haven’t had a happy moment since you spoke that day in court.” He had heretofore spoken in English with a slight German accent. But this he said in German. He sat down at the table and buried his face in his arms. His wife, who was also weeping, crossed to him, and tried to comfort him by patting him on the back.
“I think,” said Peter, “we had best drop the suits.”
Mr. Bohlmann looked up. “It is not the money, Mr. Stirling,” he said, still speaking in German. “See.” He drew from a drawer in his desk a check-book, and filling up a check, handed it to Peter. It was dated and signed, but the amount was left blank. “There,” he said, “I leave it to you what is right.”
“I think Mr. Dummer will feel we have not treated him fairly,” said Peter, “if we settle it in this way.”
“Do not think of him. I will see that he has no cause for complaint,” the brewer said. “Only let me know it is ended, so that my wife and my daughters——” he choked, and ended the sentence thus.
“Very well,” said Peter. “We’ll drop the suits.”
The husband and wife embraced each other in true German fashion.
Peter rose and came to the table. “Three of the cases were for five thousand each, and the other two were for two thousand each,” he said, and then hesitated. He wished to be fair to both sides. “I will ask you to fill in the check for eight thousand dollars. That will be two each for three, and one each for two.”
Mr. Bohlmann disengaged himself from his wife, and took his pen. “You do not add your fee,” he said.
“I forgot it,” laughed Peter, and the couple laughed with him in their happiness. “Make it for eight thousand, two hundred and fifty.”
“Och,” said the brewer once more resuming his English. “Dat is too leedle for vive cases.”
“No,” said Peter. “It was what I had decided to charge in case I got any damages.”
So the check was filled in, and Peter, after a warm handshake from both, went back to his office.
“Dat iss a fine yoong mahn,” said the brewer.77
The day after this episode, Peter had the very unusual experience of a note by his morning’s mail. Except for his mother’s weekly letter, it was the first he had received since Watts had sailed, two years before. For the moment he thought that it must be from him, and the color came into his face at the mere thought that he would have news of—of—Watts. But a moment’s glance at the writing showed him he was wrong, and he tore the envelope with little interest in his face. Indeed after he had opened it, he looked at his wall for a moment before he fixed his mind on it.
It contained a brief note, to this effect:
“A recent trial indicates that Mr. Stirling needs neither praise nor reward as incentives for the doing of noble deeds.
“But one who prefers to remain unknown cannot restrain her grateful thanks to Mr. Stirling for what he did; and being debarred from such acts herself, asks that at least she may be permitted to aid him in them by enclosing a counsel fee for ‘the case of the tenement children of New York against the inhumanity of men’s greed.’
Peter looked at the enclosure, and found it was a check for five hundred dollars. He laid it on his desk, and read the note over again. It was beyond question written by a lady. Every earmark showed that, from the delicate scent of the paper, to the fine, even handwriting. Peter wanted to know who she was. He looked at the check to see by whom it was signed; to find that it was drawn by the cashier of the bank at which it was payable.
Half an hour later, a rapid walk had brought him to the bank the name of which was on the check. It was an uptown one, which made a specialty of family and women’s accounts. Peter asked for the cashier.
“I’ve called about this check,” he said, when that official materialized, handing the slip of paper to him.78
“Yes,” said the cashier kindly, though with a touch of the resigned sorrow in his voice which cashiers of “family’s” and women’s banks acquire. “You must sign your name on the back, on the left-hand end, and present it to the paying-teller, over at that window. You’ll have to be identified if the paying-teller doesn’t know you.”
“I don’t want the money,” said Peter. “I want to know who sent the check to me?”
The cashier looked at it more carefully. “Oh!” he said. Then he looked up quickly at Peter, with considerable interest. “Are you Mr. Stirling?”
“Well, I filled this up by order of the president, and you’ll have to see him about it, if you want more than the money.”
“Can I see him?”
“Come this way.”
They went into a small office at the end of the bank.
“Mr. Dyer,” said the cashier, “this is Mr. Stirling, and he’s come to see about that check.”
“Glad to see you, Mr. Stirling. Sit down.”
“I wish to learn who sent the check.”
“Very sorry we can’t oblige you. We had positive instructions from the person for whom we drew it, that no name was to be given.”
“Can you receive a letter?”
“That was forbidden too.”
“Nothing was said about that.”
“Then will you do me the favor to say to the lady that the check will not be cashed till Mr. Stirling has been able to explain something to her.”
“Certainly. She can’t object to that.”
“Not at all.” The president rose and escorted him to the door. “That was a splendid speech of yours, Mr. Stirling,” he added. “I’m not a bit ashamed to say that it put salt water in my old eyes.”
“I think,” said Peter, “it was the deaths of the poor little children, more than anything I said, that made people feel it.”79
The next morning’s mail brought Peter a second note, in the same handwriting as that of the day before. It read:
“Miss De Voe has received Mr. Stirling’s message and will be pleased to see him in regard to the check, at half after eleven to-day (Wednesday) if he will call upon her.
“Miss De Voe regrets the necessity of giving Mr. Stirling such brief notice, but she leaves New York on Thursday.”
As Peter walked up town that morning, he was a little surprised that he was so cool over his intended call. In a few minutes he would be in the presence of a lady, the firmness of whose handwriting indicated that she was not yet decrepit. Three years ago such a prospect would have been replete with terror to him. Down to that—that week at the , he had never gone to a place where he expected to “encounter” (for that was the word he formerly used) women without dread. Since that week—except for the twenty-four hours of the wedding, he had not “encountered” a lady. Yet here he was, going to meet an entire stranger without any conscious embarrassment or suffering. He was even in a sense curious. Peter was not given to self-analysis, but the change was too marked a one for him to be unconscious of it. Was it merely the poise of added years? Was it that he had ceased to care what women thought of him? Or was it that his discovery that a girl was lovable had made the sex less terrible to him? Such were the questions he asked himself as he walked, and he had not answered them when he rang the bell of the old-fashioned, double house on Second Avenue.
He was shown into a large drawing-room, the fittings of which were still shrouded in summer coverings, preventing Peter from inferring much, even if he had had time to do so. But the butler had scarcely left him when, with a well-bred promptness from which Peter might have drawn an inference, the rustle of a woman’s draperies was heard. Rising, Peter found himself facing a tall, rather slender woman of between thirty-five and forty. It did not need a second glance from even Peter’s untrained eye, to realize the suggestion of breeding in the whole atmosphere about her. The gown was of the simplest summer material, but its very simplicity, and a certain lack of “latest fashion” rather than “old-fashionedness” gave it 80 a quality of respectability. Every line of the face, the set of the head, and even more the carriage of the figure, conveyed the “look of race.”
“I must thank you, Mr. Stirling,” she said, speaking deliberately, in a low, mellow voice, by no means so common then as our women’s imitation of the English tone and inflexion has since made it, “for suiting your time to mine on such short notice.”
“You were very kind,” said Peter, “to comply with my request. Any time was convenient to me.”
“I am glad it suited you.”
Peter had expected to be asked to sit down, but, nothing being said, began his explanation.
“I am very grateful, Miss De Voe, for your note, and for the check. I thank you for both. But I think you probably sent me the latter through a mistake, and so I did not feel justified in accepting it.”
“Yes. The papers made many errors in their statements. I’m not a ‘poor young lawyer,’ as they said. My mother is comfortably off, and gives me an ample allowance.”
“And what is more,” continued Peter, “while they were right in saying that I paid some of the expenses of the case, yet I was more than repaid by my fees in some civil suits I brought for the relatives of the children, which we settled very advantageously.”
“Won’t you sit down, Mr. Stirling?” said Miss De Voe. “I should like to hear about the cases.”
Peter began a very simple narrative of the matter. But Miss De Voe interjected questions or suppositions here and there, which led to other explanations, and before Peter had finished, he had told not merely the history of the cases, but much else. His mention of the two Dooley children had brought out the fact of their visit to his mother, and this had explained incidentally her position in the world. The settlement of the cases involved the story of the visit to the brewer’s home, and Peter, to justify his action, added his interview with his pastor. Peter’s connection with the case compelled him to speak of his evenings in the “angle,” and the solitary life that had sent him there. Afterwards, Peter was rather surprised 81 at how much he had told. He did not realize that a woman with tact and experience can, without making it evident, lead a man to tell nearly anything and everything he knows, if she is so minded. If women ever really take to the bar seriously, may Providence protect the average being in trousers, when on the witness stand!
As Peter talked, a clock struck. Stopping short, he rose. “I must ask your pardon,” he said. “I had no idea I had taken so much of your time.” Then putting his hand in his pocket, he produced the check. “You see that I have made a very good thing out of the whole matter and do not need this.”
“One moment, Mr. Stirling,” said the lady, still sitting. “Can you spare the time to lunch with me? We will sit down at once, and you shall be free to go whenever you wish.”
Peter hesitated. He knew that he had the time, and it did not seem easy to refuse without giving an excuse, which he did not have. Yet he did not feel that he had the right to accept an invitation which he had perhaps necessitated by his long call.
“Thank you,” said his hostess, before he had been able to frame an answer. “May I trouble you to pull that bell?”
Peter pulled the bell, and coming back, tendered the check rather awkwardly to Miss De Voe. She, however, was looking towards a doorway, which the next moment was darkened by the butler.
“Morden,” she said, “you may serve luncheon at once.”
“Luncheon is served, madam,” said Morden.
Miss De Voe rose. “Mr. Stirling, I do not think your explanation has really affected the circumstances which led me to send that check. You acknowledge yourself that you are the poorer for that prosecution, and received no fees for trying it. As I wrote you, I merely was giving a retaining fee in that case, and as none other has been given, I still wish to do it. I cannot do such things myself, but I am weal—I—I can well afford to aid others to do them, and I hope you will let me have the happiness of feeling that I have done my little in this matter.”
“Thank you,” said Peter. “I was quite willing to take the money, but I was afraid you might have sent it under a misconception.”82
Miss De Voe smiled at Peter with a very nice look in her face. “I am the one to say ‘thank you,’ and I am most grateful. But we will consider that as ended, and discuss luncheon in its place.”
Peter, despite his usual unconsciousness could not but notice the beauty of the table service. The meal itself was the simplest of summer luncheons, but the silver and china and glass were such as he had never seen before.
“What wine will you have with your luncheon, Mr. Stirling?” he was asked by his hostess.
“I don’t—none for me,” replied Peter.
“You don’t approve of wine?” asked his hostess.
“Personally I have no feeling about it.”
“But?” And there was a very big question mark in Miss De Voe’s voice.
“My mother is strongly prejudiced against it, so I do not take it. It is really no deprivation to me, while it would mean great anxiety to her if I drank.”
This started the conversation on Peter’s mother and his early years, and before it had ended, his hostess had succeeded in learning much more about his origin and his New York life. The clock finally cut him short again, for they lingered at the table long after the meal was finished, though Miss De Voe made the pretence of eating a grape occasionally. When three o’clock struck, Peter, without the least simulating any other cause for going, rose hastily.
“I have used up your whole afternoon,” he said, apologetically.
“I think,” smiled Miss De Voe, “that we are equal culprits in that. I leave town to-morrow, Mr. Stirling, but return to the city late in October, and if your work and inclination favor it, I hope you will come to see me again?”
Peter looked at the silver and the china. Then he looked at Miss De Voe, so obviously an aristocrat.
“I shall be happy to,” he said, “if, when you return, you will send me word that you wish to see me.”
Miss De Voe had slightly caught her breath while Peter hesitated. “I believe he is going to refuse!” she thought to herself, a sort of stunned amazement seizing her. She was scarcely less surprised at his reply.83
“I never ask a man twice to call on me, Mr. Stirling,” she said, with a slight hauteur in her voice.
“I’m sorry for that,” said Peter quietly.
Miss De Voe caught her breath again. “Good-afternoon,” she said, holding out her hand. “I shall hope to see you.”
“Good-bye,” said Peter, and the next moment was walking towards his office.
Miss De Voe stood for a moment thinking. “That was curious,” she thought, “I wonder if he intends to come?”
The next evening she was dining with relatives in one of the fashionable summering places, and was telling them about her call “from Mr. Stirling, the lawyer who made that splendid speech.”
“I thought,” she said, “when I received the message, that I was going to be buried under a bathos of thanks, or else have my gift declined with the expectation that I would gush over the disinterestedness of the refusal. Since I couldn’t well avoid seeing him, I was quite prepared to snub him, or to take back the money without a word. But he wasn’t a bit that kind of creature. He isn’t self-assured nor tonguey—rather the reverse. I liked him so, that I forced him to stay to luncheon, and made him tell me a good deal about himself, without his knowing I was doing so. He leads a very unusual life, without seeming conscious that he does, and he tells about it very well. Uses just the right word every time, so that you know exactly what he means, without taxing your own brain to fill up blanks. He has such a nice voice too. One that makes you certain of the absolute truth underneath. No. He isn’t good looking, though he has fine eyes, and hair. His face and figure are both too heavy.”
“Is he a gentleman, cousin Anneke?” asked one of the party.
“He is a little awkward, and over-blunt at moments, but nothing to which one would give a second thought. I was so pleased with him that I asked him to call on me.”
“It seems to me,” said another, “that you are overpaying him.”
“That was the most curious part,” replied Miss De Voe. “I’m not at all sure that he means to come. It 84 was really refreshing not to be truckled to, but it is rather startling to meet the first man who does not want to win his way to my visiting list. I don’t think he even knows who Miss De Voe is.”
“He will find out quick enough,” laughed a girl, “and then he will do what they all do.”
“No,” said Miss De Voe. “I suspect it will make no difference. He isn’t that kind, I think. I really am curious to see if I have to ask him a second time. It will be the only case I can remember. I’m afraid, my dears, your cousin is getting to be an old woman.”
Peter, had in truth, met, and spent over four hours in the company of a woman whom every one wished to know. A woman equally famous for her lineage, her social position, her wealth and her philanthropy. It would not have made any difference, probably, had he known it, though it might have increased his awkwardness a little. That he was not quite as unconscious as Miss De Voe seemed to think, is shown by a passage in a letter he wrote to his mother:
“She was very much interested in the case, and asked a good many questions about it, and about myself. Some which I would rather not have answered, but since she asked them I could not bring myself to dodge them. She asked me to come and see her again. It is probably nothing but a passing interest, such as this class feel for the moment.”—[Then Peter carefully inked out “such as this class feel for the moment,” and reproved himself that his bitterness at—at—at one experience, should make him condemn a whole class]—“but if she asks me again I shall go, for there is something very sweet and noble about her. I think she is probably some great personage.”
Later on in the letter he wrote:
“If you do not disapprove, I will put this money in the savings bank, in a special or trustee account, and use it for any good that I can do for the people about here. I gave the case my service, and do not think I am entitled to take pay when the money can be so much better employed for the benefit of the people I tried to help.”
Peter had seen his clients on the morning following the settlement of the cases, and told them of their good fortune. They each had a look at Bohlmann’s check, and then were asked how they would like their shares.85
“Sure,” said Dooley, “Oi shan’t know what to do wid that much money.”
“I think,” said Peter, “that your two thousand really belongs to the children.”
“That it does,” said Mrs. Dooley, quite willing to deprive her husband of it, for the benefit of her children.
“But what shall Oi do wid it?” asked Mr. Dooley.
“I’d like Mr. Stirling to take charge of mine,” said Blackett.
“That’s the idea,” said Dooley.
And so it was settled by all. Peter said the best thing would be to put it in the savings bank. “Perhaps later we’ll find something better.” They all went around to a well-known institution on the Bowery, and Peter interviewed the cashier. It proved feasible to endorse over the check to the bank, and credit the proper share to each.
“I shall have to ask you to give me the odd two hundred and fifty,” Peter said, “as that is my legal fee.”
“You had better let me put that in your name, Mr. Stirling?” said the president, who had been called into the consultation.
“Very well,” said Peter. “I shall want some of it before long, but the rest will be very well off here.” So a book was handed him, and the president shook him by the hand with all the warmth that eight thousand two hundred and fifty dollars of increased assets and four new depositors implied.
Peter did not need to draw any of the two hundred and fifty dollars, however. In November he had another knock at his door.
It proved to be Mr. Dennis Moriarty, of whom we have incidentally spoken in connection with the half-price drinks for the Milligan wake, and as spokesman of the torchlight procession.
“Good-mornin’ to yez, sir,” said the visitor.
It was a peculiarity of Peter’s that he never forgot faces. He did not know Mr. Moriarty’s name, never having had it given him, but he placed him instantly.
“Thank you,” said Peter, holding out his hand. Peter did not usually shake hands in meeting people, but he liked the man’s face. It would never take a prize for beauty. The hair verged on a fiery red, the nose was a 86 real sky-scraper and the upper lip was almost proboscidian in its length. But every one liked the face.
“It’s proud Oi’m bein’ shakin’ the hand av Misther Stirling,” said the Irishman.
“Sit down,” said Peter.
“My name’s Moriarty, sir, Dinnis Moriarty, an’ Oi keeps a saloon near Centre Street, beyant.”
“You were round here in the procession.”
“Oi was, sir. Shure, Oi’m not much at a speech, compared to the likes av yez, but the b’ys would have me do it.”
Peter said something appropriate, and then there was a pause.
“Misther Stirling,” finally said Moriarty, “Oi was up before Justice Gallagher yesterday, an’ he fined me bad. Oi want yez to go to him, an’ get him to be easier wid me. It’s yezself can do it.”
“What were you fined for?” asked Peter.
“For bein’ open on Sunday.”
“Then you ought to be fined.”
“Don’t say that till Oi tell yez. Oi don’t want to keep my place open, but it’s in my lease, an’ so Oi have to.”
“In your lease?” enquired Peter.
“Yes.” And the paper was handed over to him.
Peter ran over the three documents. “I see,” he said, “you are only the caretaker really, the brewer having an assignment of the lease and a chattel mortgage on your fixtures and stock.”
“That’s it,” said Dennis. “It’s mighty quick yez got at it. It’s caretaker Oi am, an’ a divil of a care it is. Shure, who wants to work seven days a week, if he can do wid six?”
“You should have declined to agree to that condition?”
“Then Oi’d have been turned out. Begobs, it’s such poor beer that it’s little enough Oi sell even in seven days.”
“Why don’t you get your beer elsewhere then?”
“Why, it’s Edelhein put me in there to sell his stuff, an he’d never let me sell anythin’ else.”
“Then Edelhein is really the principal, and you are only put in to keep him out of sight?”
“And you have put no money in yourself?”87
“Divil a cent.”
“Then why doesn’t he pay the fine?”
“He says Oi have no business to be afther bein’ fined. As if any one sellin’ his beer could help bein’ fined!”
“How is that?” said Peter, inferring that selling poor beer was a finable offence, yet ignorant of the statute.
“Why yez see, sir, the b’ys don’t like that beer—an’ sensible they are—so they go to other places, an’ don’t come to my place.”
“But that doesn’t explain your fines.”
“Av course it does. Shure, if the boys don’t come to my place, it’s little Oi can do at the primary, an’ so it’s no pull Oi have in politics, to get the perlice an’ the joodges to be easy wid me, like they are to the rest.”
Peter studied his blank wall a bit.
“Shure, if it’s good beer Oi had,” continued Moriarty, “Oi’d be afther beatin’ them all, for Oi was always popular wid the b’ys, on account of my usin’ my fists so fine.”
Peter smiled. “Why don’t you go into something else?” he asked.
“Well, there’s mother and the three childers to be supported, an’ then Oi’d lose my influence at the primary.”
“What kind of beer does Mr. Bohlmann make?” asked Peter, somewhat irrelevantly.
“Ah,” said Moriarty, “that’s the fine honest beer! There’s never anythin’ wrong wid his. An’ he treats his keepers fair. Lets them do as they want about keepin’ open Sundays, an’ never squeezes a man when he’s down on his luck.”
Peter looked at his wall again. Peter was learning something.
“Supposing,” he asked, “I was able to get your fine remitted, and that clause struck out of the lease. Would you open on Sunday?”
“Divil a bit.”
“When must you pay the fine?”
“Oi’m out on bail till to-morrow, sir.”
“Then leave these papers with me, and come in about this time.”
Peter studied his wall for a bit after his new client was gone. He did not like either saloon-keepers or law-breakers, but this case seemed to him to have—to have—extenuating 88 circumstances. His cogitations finally resulted in his going to Justice Gallagher’s court. He found the judge rather curt.
“He’s been up here three times in as many months, and I intend to make an example of him.”
“But why is only he arrested, when every saloon keeper in the neighborhood does the same thing?”
“Now, sir,” said the judge, “don’t waste any more of my time. What’s the next case?”
A look we have mentioned once or twice came into Peter’s face. He started to leave the court, but encountered at the door one of the policemen whom he was “friends with,” according to the children, which meant that they had chatted sometimes in the “angle.”
“What sort of a man is Dennis Moriarty?” he asked of him.
“A fine young fellow, supporting his mother and his younger brothers.”
“Why is Justice Gallagher so down on him?”
The policeman looked about a moment. “It’s politics, sir, and he’s had orders.”
“That’s more than we know. There was a row last spring in the primary, and we’ve had orders since then to lay for him.”
Peter stood and thought for a moment “What saloon-keeper round here has the biggest pull?” he asked.
“It’s all of them, mostly, but Blunkers is a big man.”
“Thank you,” said Peter. He stood in the street thinking a little. Then he walked a couple of blocks and went into Blunkers’s great gin palace.
“I want to see the proprietor,” he said.
“Dat’s me,” said a man who was reading a paper behind the bar.
“Do you know Justice Gallagher?”
“Do I? Well, I guess,” said the man.
“Will you do me the favor to go with me to his court, and get him to remit Dennis Moriarty’s fine?”
“Will I? No. I will not. Der’s too many saloons, and one less will be bully.”
“In that case,” said Peter quietly, “I suppose you won’t mind my closing yours up?”
“Wot der yer mean?” angrily inquired the man.89
“If it comes to closing saloons, two can play at that game.”
“Who is yer, anyway?” The man came out from behind the bar, squaring his shoulders in an ugly manner.
“My name’s Stirling. Peter Stirling.”
The man looked at him with interest. “How’ll yer close my place?”
“Get evidence against you, and prosecute you.”
“Dat ain’t de way.”
“It will be my way.”
“Wot yer got against me?”
“Nothing. But I intend to see Moriarty have fair play. You want to fight on the square too. You’re not a man to hit a fellow in the dark.”
Peter was not flattering the man. He had measured him and was telling him the result of that measure. He told it, too, in a way that made the other man realize the opinion behind the words.
“Come on,” said Blunkers, good-naturedly.
They went over to the court, and a whispered colloquy took place between the justice and the bartender.
“That’s all right, Mr. Stirling,” presently said the judge. “Clerk, strike Dennis Moriarty’s fine off the list.”
“Thank you,” said Peter to the saloon-keeper. “If I can ever do a turn for you, let me know it.”
“Dat’s hunky,” said the man, and they parted.
Peter went out and walked into the region of the National Milk Company, but this time he went to the brewery. He found Mr. Bohlmann, and told him the story, asking his advice at the end.
“Dondt you vool von minute mit dod Edelheim. I dells you vot I do. I harf choost a blace vacant down in Zender Streed, and your frient he shall it haf.”
So they chatted till all the details had been arranged. Dennis was to go in as caretaker, bound to use only Bohlmann’s beer, with a percentage on that, and the profits on all else. He was to pay the rent, receiving a sub-lease from Bohlmann, who was only a himself, and to give a chattel mortgage on the stock supplied him. Finally he was to have the right of redemption of stock, lease, and good-will at any time within five years, on making certain payments.90
“You draw up der babers, Misder Stirling, and send der bill to me. Ve vill give der yoonger a chance,” the brewer said.
When Dennis called the next day, he was “spacheless” at the new developments. He wrung Peter’s hand.
“Arrah, what can Oi say to yez?” he exclaimed finally. Then having found something, he quickly continued: “Now, Patsy Blunkers, look out for yezself. It’s the divil Oi’ll give yez in the primary this year.”
He begged Peter to come down the opening night, and help to “celebrate the event.”
“Thank you,” said Peter, “but I don’t think I will.”
“Shure,” said Dennis, “yez needn’t be afraid it won’t be orderly. It’s myself can do the hittin’, an’ the b’ys know it.”
“My mother brought me up,” Peter explained, “not to go into saloons, and when I came to New York I promised her, if I ever did anything she had taught me not to, that I would write her about it. She would hardly understand this visit, and it might make her very unhappy.”
Peter earned fifty dollars by drawing the papers, and at the end of the first month Dennis brought him fifty more.
“Trade’s been fine, sir, an’ Oi want to pay somethin’ for what yez did.”
So Peter left his two hundred and fifty dollars in the bank, having recouped the expenses of the first case out of his new client.
He wrote all about it to his mother:
“I am afraid you won’t approve of what I did entirely, for I know your strong feeling against men who make and sell liquor. But I somehow have been made to feel in the last few days that more can be done in the world by kindness and help than by frowns and prosecutions. I had no thought of getting money out of the case, so I am sure I was not influenced by that. It seemed to me that a man was being unfairly treated, and that too, by laws which are meant for other purposes. I really tried to think it out, and do what seemed right to me. My last client has a look and a way of speaking that makes me certain he’s a fine fellow, and I shall try to see something of him, provided it will not worry you to think of me as friendly with a saloon-keeper. I know I can be of use to him.”
Little did Peter know how useful his last client would be to him.
“That modern times are less romantic and interesting than bygone centuries is a fallacy.”
[Isn’t it infuriating when someone you dislike happens to be right?]
E. and O. E.
[Does the author assume we know what this means? “E and O” most often stands for Errors and Omissions, but if so, what’s the other E? “Edited”?]
In his first year it is to be questioned if he exchanged ten words with women whose names were known to him
[The feat becomes less noteworthy when you remember that Radcliffe College was not founded until 1879. Even then it wouldn’t have made a difference to Peter Stirling, since undergraduate classes were not merged until 1943.]
he was shunted by the really pleasant girls and clever women
text unchanged: error for “shunned”?
Peter did not respond to the overtures and insistance
whoever’s else absence was commented upon
[Later in the book we meet a “someone’s else”, so we’ll have to call it intentional.]
nineteen distinct varieties of golden-rod
[Goldenrod, genus Solidago in the aster family, has at least 100 species. (As we speak, I am working on George Shaw’s Naturalist’s Miscellany, dating from the beginning of Peter Stirling’s century. Looking up this kind of thing has therefore become automatic.)]
she’s got too good legs to waste herself
the liberality of Mr. Tweed with other people’s money
[This gives us a terminus ante quem, confirmed by later events in the novel. Boss Tweed’s rise to power began in the 1850s, peaked in the 1860s . . . and ended decisively in 1873 when he went to prison. (Saying “other people’s money” when talking about using tax funds to improve the city is a topic for another day.)]
But another year passed, and still no client came.
[I don’t believe Peter’s father was a factory foreman, as the author keeps insisting. He must have been a factory owner—and a reasonably successful one, at that.]
the Blacketts’ rooms
text has Blackett’s
got more than its share of the doctoring.”
close quote missing
He saw the poor fever-stricken cow.
final . invisible
Most residents of New York can remember the “swill-milk” or “stump-tail milk” exposures and prosecutions of that summer
[Allowing for necessary authorial license, including some fiddling of chronology, this really happened. It began with an exposé published in 1858—in, as our author says, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly—leading to state legislation in 1862.]
the other lawyer, who had nothing to say but lies, took over a column to his speech.
text has , for final .
(e.g. solid and leaded)
[I am inclined to think he means i.e. And it should have been in [brackets] like the previous paragraph’s explanation of Russet the cat.]
Fun fact: The word “cougar” in its slang sense originated in Canada in the year 1999.
that week at the Pierces’
text has Pierce’s
If women ever really take to the bar seriously
[Let us stipulate that “seriously” means “in large numbers”. According to the Library of Congress:
Arabella Mansfield was the first woman admitted to the bar in 1869 in Iowa. She had not studied at a law school but rather had studied in her brother’s office for two years before taking the bar examination. Curiously enough, in the same year Ada H. Kepley became the first woman in the United States to graduate from law school.
That forward-thinking law school, in case anyone wondered, was at Northwestern University.]
It was a peculiarity of Peter’s that he never forgot faces.
[Peter will go far in politics.]
who was only a lesee himself,