|XX.||A Political Debut|
|XXI.||A Political Dinner|
|XXIV.||Misunderstandings and Understandings|
|XXV.||Various Kinds of Society|
|XXVI.||An Evening Call|
|XXIX.||In the Meantime|
|XXXII.||The End of the Conflict|
After this rush of work, Peter’s life became as routine as of yore. The winter passed without an event worth noting, if we except a steadily growing acquaintance with the dwellers of the district. But in July a new phase was injected into it by a call from Dennis Moriarty.
“Good-mornin’ to yez, sir, an’ a fine day it is,” said the latter, with his usually breezy way.
“Yes,” said Peter.
“Misther Stirling. An’ is it engaged yez are for this night?”
“No.” Peter had nothing.
“Then,” said Dennis, “maybe ye’ll be afther goin’ wid me to the primary?”
“For the election of delegates to the convention, shure.”
“No. What party?”
“What party is it?”
“Misther Stirling, do yez know my name?”
“Dennis Moriarty, isn’t it?”
“Yes. An’ what’s my business?”
“You keep a saloon.”
“Yes. An’ what ward do Oi live in?”
“The sixth, don’t you?”
“Then,” said Dennis, his upper lip twisting into a smile of enormous proportions, “Oi suppose yez afther thinkin’ Oi’m a dirty black Republican.”
Peter laughed, as few could help doing, when Dennis led the way. “Look here, Dennis,” he said, “don’t you run down that party. My father was a Democrat, but he voted for Lincoln, and fought for the blacks when the time came, and though I’m a Democrat like him, the Republicans are only black in their sympathies, and not in their acts.”
“An’ what do yez say to the whisky frauds, an’ black Friday, an’ credit mobilier?” asked Dennis.92
“Of course I don’t like them,” said Peter; “but that’s the politicians, not the party.”
“Shure,” said Dennis, “what’s the party but the men that run it?”
“You’ve seen something of Mr. Bohlmann lately, Dennis?”
“Well, he was the man who put Coldman in charge of that cow stable. Yet he’s an honest man.”
Dennis scratched his head. “It’s a convincin’ way yez have wid yez,” he said; “but it’s scoundrels the Republicans are, all the same. Look at them in the district; there’s not one a decent man would invite to drink wid him.”
“I think, Dennis,” said Peter, “that when all the decent men get into one party, there’ll be only one worth talking about.”
“Av course,” replied Dennis. “That’s the reason there’s only the Democratic party in New York City.”
“Tell me about this primary,” said Peter, concluding that abstract political philosophy was not the way to liberalize Dennis.
“It’s most important, it is,” he was told, “it’s on top Patsy Blunkers an’ his gang av dirty spalpeens (Dennis seemed to forget that he had just expressed the opinion that all the “decent” men were Democrats) have been this two years, but we’ve got orders for a new enrollment at last, an’ if we don’t knock them this time, my name isn’t Dinnis Moriarty.”
“What is the question before the meeting?”
“Afther the enrollment, it’s to vote for delegates.”
“Oh! Then it’s just a struggle over who shall be elected?”
“That’s it. But a fine, big fight it will be. The whole district’s so excited, sir, that it’s twice Oi’ve had to pound the b’ys a bit in my saloon to keep the peace.”
“What do you want of me?”
“Shure, every vote counts on a night like this. An’ ye’d be afther helpin’ us big, for the district likes yez.”
“But, Dennis, I can’t vote without knowing something about the way things are. I shouldn’t know whether I was voting rightly.”
“Why, a man votes right when he votes for his friends!”93
“No; a man votes right when he votes for his convictions.”
“Convictions, is it?”
“Yes. That is, he votes as he thinks is best for the country.”
“That, maybe, is the way yez do it where yez come from,” said Dennis, “but it’s no good it would be here. Convictions, whatever they be, are never nominated here. It’s real things we’re afther votin’ for in New York.”
Peter laughed. “I’ve got to take you in hand, Dennis, and you’ve got to take me in hand. I think we both need each other’s help. Yes, I’ll come to the primary. Will they let me vote?”
“The dirty spalpeens will never dare to stop yez! Thank yez, sir. Oi’ll be along for yez about eight.”
“Remember, though, Dennis—I don’t say how I’ll vote.”
“Yez just listen, an’ Oi’m not afraid av what ye’ll do.”
That evening, Peter was ushered into a large hot room, pretty well packed with men, and the interstices already filled in with dense tobacco smoke. He looked about him curiously, and was surprised to find how many of the faces he knew. Blackett, Dooley, and Milligan were there, and shook hands with him warmly. Judge Gallagher and Blunkers were in evidence. In plain clothes were two policemen, and three of the “fire-laddies,” who formed part of the “crew” of the nearest engine, with all of whom he had often chatted. Mr. Dummer, his rival lawyer in the case, and one of the jurymen in it, likewise were visible. Also many faces which were familiar to Peter by a former occasional friendly word or nod exchanged in passing. Intense excitement evidently reigned, and every one was whispering in a sort of breathless way, which showed how deeply interested they were.
At Dennis’s suggestion, made in walking to the room, Peter presented himself without guidance, at the desk. Some one behind him asked if he lived in the ward, and for how long, but this was the only apparent opposition made to the prompt entering of his name. Then Peter strolled round and talked to those whom he knew, and tried to find out, without much success, just what was the division. Every one knew that a fight was on, but in just what it consisted they seemed neither to know nor care. 94 He noticed that hot words were constantly exchanged at the enrolling desk, over would-be members, but not understanding the exact nature of the qualifications needed, he could not follow the disputes. Finally these ceased, for want of applicants.
“Misther Stirling,” said Dennis, coming up to him hurriedly. “Will yez be afther bein’ chairman for us?”
“No. I don’t know anything about the proceedings.”
“It don’t take any,” said Dennis. “It’s only fair play we’re afther.”
He was gone again before Peter could say anything. The next instant, the enrolling officer rose and spoke.
“Are there any more to be enrolled?” he called. No one came forward, so after a moment he said: “Will the meeting choose a presiding officer?”
“Mr. Chairman,” rang two voices so quickly that they in truth cut the presiding officer off in his suggestion.
“Mr. Muldoon,” said that officer.
“Oi spoke first,” shouted Dennis, and Peter felt that he had, and that he was not having fair play.
Instantly a wave of protest, denials, charges, and counter-charges swept through the room. Peter thought there was going to be a fight, but the position was too critical to waste a moment on what Dennis styled “a diversion.” It was business, not pleasure, just then.
“Mr. Muldoon,” said the officer again, not heeding the tempest in the least.
“Mr. Chairman,” shouted Muldoon, “I am proud to nominate Justice Gallagher, the pride of the bar, for chairman of this distinguished meeting, and I move to make his election unanimous.”
“Misther Chairman,” shouted Dennis.
“Mr. Moriarty,” said the officer.
“Misther Chairman, Oi have the honor to nominate for chairman av this meetin’ the people’s an’ the children’s friend, Misther Peter Stirling, an’ Oi don’t have to move to make it unanimous, for such is the intelligince an’ manhood av this meetin’ that it will be that way for shure.”
Peter saw a hurried consultation going on between Gallagher, Muldoon, and two others, during the latter part of this speech, and barely had Dennis finished his remarks, when Justice Gallagher spoke up.
“The Honorable Justice Gallagher,” said that gentleman.
“I take pride in withdrawing in favor of Mr. Stirling, who so justly merits the honor of presiding on this important occasion. From recent events too well known to need mention, I am sure we can all look to him for justice and fairness.”
“Bad cess to him!” groaned Dennis. “Oi hoped they’d be just fools enough to oppose yez, an’ then we’d have won the first blood.”
Peter was chosen without dissent, and was escorted to the seat behind the desk.
“What is the first business before the meeting?” he asked of Gallagher, aside, as he was taking his seat.
“Election of delegates to the State convention. That’s all to-night,” he was told.
Peter had presided at college in debates, and was not flurried. “Will you stay here so as to give me the names of those I don’t know?” he said to the enrolling officer. “The meeting will please come to order,” he continued aloud. “The nomination of delegates to the State convention is the business to be acted upon.”
“Misther Chairman,” yelled Dennis, evidently expecting to find another rival as before. But no one spoke.
“Mr. Moriarty,” said Peter.
“Misther Chairman. It’s my delight to nominate as delegates to the State convention, the Honorable Misther Schlurger, our distinguished representative in the Assembly, the Honorable Misther Kennedy, our noble Police-commissioner, an’ Misther Caggs, whom it would be insult for me to praise in this company.”
“Second the motion,” said some one.
“Mr. Chairman,” shouted a man.
“That’s Caggs,” said the enrolling officer.
“Mr. Caggs,” said Peter.
“Mr. Chairman,” said Caggs. “I must decline the honor offered me from such a source.”
“What?” shrieked Dennis, amazement and rage contesting for first place in voice and expression.
“Mr. Chairman,” said Dummer.
“Mr. Dummer,” said Peter.
“I have the honor to nominate the Honorable Justice Gallagher, Mr. Peter Sweeney, and Mr. Caggs, to whom 96 Mr. Moriarty has just paid so glowing a tribute, as delegates to the State convention.”
“Second the——” shouted some one, but the rest was drowned by another storm which swept through the room. Even above the tumult, Peter could hear Dennis challenging and beseeching Mr. Caggs to come “outside an’ settle it like gentlemen.” Caggs, from a secure retreat behind Blunkers’s right arm, declined to let the siren’s song tempt him forth. Finally Peter’s pounding brought a degree of quiet again.
“Misther Chairman,” said Dennis.
“Mr. Moriarty,” said Peter.
“Misther Chairman. Oi’ll not take the valuable time av this meetin’ to speak av dirty, cowardly, black-hearted, treacherous snakes, wid souls blacker than the divil’s own——”
“Order!” said Peter to the crowd.
“No,” continued Dennis, in answer to the audible remarks of the opposition. “It’s no names Oi’m callin’. If yez know such a beast, such a snake, fit it to him. Oi’m mentionin’ no names. As Oi was sayin’, Misther Chairman, Oi’ll not waste the time av this meetin’ wid discribin’ the conduct av a beast so vile that he must be the contempt av every honest man. Who would have been driven out by St. Patrick, wid the rest av the reptiles, if he’d lived at that time. Oi only rise to widdraw the name av Caggs from the list Oi nominated for delegates to the state convention, an’ to put in place av it that av a man who is as noble an’ true, as some are false an’ divilish. That of Misther Peter Stirling, God bless him!”
Once more chaos came. Peter pounded in vain. Both sides were at fever heat. Finally Peter rose.
“Gentlemen,” he shouted, in a voice that rang through the hall above even the tumult, “if this meeting does not come to order, I shall declare it adjourned.”
Instant quiet fell, for all had paused a moment to hear his words, and they concluded that he was in earnest.
“Was the last motion seconded?” asked the chairman calmly.
“I seconded it,” shouted Blackett and Milligan together.
“You have heard the nominations, gentlemen. Has any one any remarks to make?”97
A man next Justice Gallagher said, “Mr. Chairman,” and being duly recognized, proceeded to talk for ten minutes in a very useless way. But during this time, Peter noticed first a good deal of whispering among Blunkers’s friends, and then an interview between Gallagher and Dennis. The latter was apparently not reconcilable, and shook his head in a way that meant war. Then there was more consultation between the opposition, and another confab with Dennis, with more headshakes on his part. Finally a compromise having been evidently made impossible, the orator was “called down” and it was voted to proceed to an election. Peter named one of the firemen, Dooley, and Blunkers, tellers, who, after a ballot, announced that Dennis had carried his nominations, Peter heading the list with two hundred and twelve votes, and the others getting one hundred and seventy-two, and one hundred and fifty-eight respectively. The “snake” got but fifty-seven votes.
“Shure,” said Dennis, later, “maybe we don’t vote for convictions here, but we don’t vote for the likes av him!”
“Then you are voting for convictions,” said Peter.
“It’s yezself is the convictions then,” said Dennis.
Perhaps he was right.
Peter declared the meeting adjourned as soon as the results of the election had been read, and slipped away in the turmoil that immediately followed, without a word to any one. He was in truth not bewildered—because he had too much natural poise and phlegm—but he was surprised by the suddenness of it all, and wanted to think before talking with others. So he took advantage of the mutual bickerings and recriminations which seemed the order of the day, to get back to his office, and there he sat, studying his wall for a time. Then he went to bed, and slept as quickly and as calmly as if he had spent his evening in reading the “Modern Cottage Architecture” or “Questions de Sociologie,” which were on his table, 98 instead of presiding at a red-hot primary, and being elected a delegate.
The next morning Dennis came to see him as early as well could be.
“Misther Stirling,” he said, his face expanding into the broadest of grins, “let me salute the delegate to the State convention.”
“Look here, Dennis,” said Peter, “you know you had no business to spring that on me.”
“Ah, sir! Shure, when that dirty little spalpeen av a Caggs went back on us so, what could Oi do? Oi know it’s speak to yez Oi ought, but wid de room yellin’ like that it’s divilish tryin’ to do the right thing quick, barrin’ it’s not hittin’ some one’s head, which always comes natural.”
“Well,” said Peter, “of course I’m very much pleased to have been chosen, but I wish it could have been done with less hard feeling.”
“Hard feelin,’ is it?”
“Shure, the b’ys are as pleased an’ kindly this mornin’ as can be. It’s a fight like that makes them yieldin’ an’ friendly. Nothin’ but a little head-punchin’ could make them in a sweeter mood, an’ we’d a given them that if little Caggs had had any sense in him.”
“You mean Gallagher and Blunkers and the rest of them?”
“Av course. That little time last night didn’t mean much. No one feels bad over that. Shure, it’s Gallagher was in my place later last night, an’ we had a most friendly time, he treatin’ the whole crowd twice. We’ve got to fight in the primary to keep the b’ys interested, but it’s seldom that they’re not just as friendly the next day.”
Peter looked at his wall. He had not liked Gallagher at either time he had met him. “Still,” he thought to himself, “I have no right to prevent him and Dennis being friends, from the little I’ve seen.”
“Now, sir, about the convention?” said Dennis.
“I suppose Porter is the best man talked of for the nomination,” remarked Peter.
“Begobs, sir, that he’s not,” said Dennis. “It’s Justice Gallagher was tellin’ me himself that he was a poor kind av creature, wid a strong objection to saloons.”99
Peter’s eye lost its last suggestion of doubt. “Oh, Justice Gallagher told you that?” he asked. “When?”
“After the primary?”
“Whom does he favor?”
“Well, Dennis, you’ve made me a delegate, but I’ve got to vote my own way.”
“Shure, sir, Oi’d not have yez do any thin’ else. It’s yezself knows better than me. Oi was only tellin’ yez what the Justice——”
A knock at the door interrupted him. It proved to be Gallagher, who greeted them both in a hearty, friendly way. Peter brought another chair from his bedroom.
“Well, Mr. Stirling, that was a fine contest we had last night,” said his honor.
“It seemed to be earnest,” said Peter.
“It’s just as well our friend here sprang your nomination on us as a surprise, for if we had known, we should not have put up an opposition candidate. You are just the sort of a man we want to represent us in the convention.”
“I have never met my colleagues,” said Peter. “What kind of men are they?”
So he got Gallagher’s opinion, and Dennis’s opinion. Then he wanted to know about the candidates, asking questions about them at considerable length. The intentions of the other city delegates were next introduced. Finally the probable planks of the platform were brought up. While they were still under discussion Gallagher said the sitting of his court compelled him to leave.
“I’ll come in some time when I have more to spare.”
Gallagher went to his court, and found a man waiting for him there.
“He’s either very simple or very deep,” said Gallagher. “He did nothing but ask questions; and try my best I could not get him to show his hand, nor commit himself. It will be bad if there’s a split in a solid delegation!”
“I hope it will be a lesson to you to have things better arranged.”
“Blunkers would have it that way, and he’s not the kind of man to offend. We all thought he would win.”100
“Oh, let them have their fights,” said the man crossly; “but it’s your business to see that the right men are put up, so that it doesn’t make any difference which side wins.”
“Well,” said Gallagher, “I’ve done all I could to put things straight. I’ve made peace, and got Moriarty on our side, and I’ve talked to this Stirling, and made out a strong case for Catlin, without seeming to care which man gets the nomination.”
“Is there any way of putting pressure on him?”
“Not that I can find out. He’s a young lawyer, who has no business.”
“Then he’s a man we don’t need to conciliate, if he won’t behave?”
“No. I can’t say that. He’s made himself very popular round here by that case and by being friendly to people. I don’t think, if he’s going into politics, that it will do to fight him.”
“He’s such a green hand that we ought to be able to down him.”
“He’s new, but he’s a pretty cool, knowing chap, I think. I had one experience with him, which showed me that any man who picked him up for a fool would drop him quick.” Then he told how Dennis’s fine had been remitted.
In the next few weeks Peter met a good many men who wanted to talk politics with him. Gallagher brought some; Dennis others; his , more. But Peter could not be induced to commit himself. He would talk candidates and principles endlessly, but without expressing his own mind. Twice he was asked point blank, “Who’s your man?” but he promptly answered that he had not yet decided. He had always read a Democratic paper, but now he read two, and a Republican organ as well. His other reading lessened markedly, and the time gained was spent in talking with men in the “district.” He even went into the saloons and listened to the discussions.
“I don’t drink,” he had to explain several times, “because my mother doesn’t like it.” For some reason this explanation seemed to be perfectly satisfactory. One man alone sneered at him. “Does she feed yer still on milk, sonny?” he asked. “No,” said Peter, “but everything I have comes from her, and that’s the kind of a mother a 101 fellow wants to please; don’t you think so?” The sneerer hesitated, and finally said he “guessed it was.” So Peter was made one of them, and smoked and listened. He said very little, but that little was sound, good sense, and, if he did not talk, he made others do so; and, after the men had argued over something, they often looked at Peter, rather than at their opponents, to see if he seemed to approve of their opinions.
“It’s a fine way he has wid the b’ys,” Dennis told his mother. “He makes them feel that he’s just the likes av them, an’ that he wants their minds an’ opinions to help him. Shure, they’d rather smoke one pipe av his tobaccy than drink ten times at Gallagher’s expense.”
After Peter had listened carefully and lengthily, he wrote to “The Honorable Lemuel Porter, Hudson, N. Y.,” asking him if he could give him an hour’s talk some day. The reply was prompt, and told Peter that Porter would be glad to see him any time that should suit his convenience. So Peter took a day off and ran up to Hudson.
“I am trying to find out for whom I should vote,” he explained to Porter. “I’m a new man at this sort of thing, and, not having met any of the men talked of, I preferred to see them before going to the convention.”
Porter found that Peter had taken the trouble to go over a back file of papers, and read some of his speeches.
“Of course,” Peter explained, “I want, as far as possible, to know what you think of questions likely to be matters for legislation.”
“The difficulty in doing that, Mr. Stirling,” he was told, “is that every nominee is bound to surrender his opinions in a certain degree to the party platform, while other opinions have to be modified to new conditions.”
“I can see that,” said Peter. “I do not for a moment expect that what you say to-day is in any sense a pledge. If a man’s honest, the poorest thing we can do to him is to tie him fast to one course of action, when the conditions are constantly changing. But, of course, you have opinions for the present state of things?”
Something in Peter’s explanation or face pleased Mr. Porter. He demurred no more, and, for an hour before lunch, and during that meal, he talked with the utmost freedom.102
“I’m not easily fooled on men,” he told his secretary afterwards, “and you can say what you wish to that Stirling without danger of its being used unfairly or to injure one. And he’s the kind of man to be won by square dealing.”
Peter had spoken of his own district. “I think,” he said, “that some good can be done in the way of non-partisan legislation. I’ve been studying the food supplies of the city, and, if I can, I shall try to get a bill introduced this winter to have official inspections systematized.”
“That will receive my approval if it is properly drawn. But you’ll probably find the Health Board fighting you. It’s a nest of politicians.”
“If they won’t yield, I shall have to antagonize them, but I have had some talks with the men there, in connection with the ‘swill-milk’ investigations, and I think I can frame a bill that will do what I want, yet which they will not oppose. I shall try to make them help me in the drafting, for they can make it much better through their practical experience.”
“If you do that, the opposition ought not to be troublesome. What else do you want?”
“I’ve been thinking of a general Tenement-house bill, but I don’t think I shall try for that this winter. It’s a big subject, which needs very careful study, in which a lot of harm may be done by ignorance. There’s no doubt that anything which hurts the landlord, hurts the tenant, and if you make the former spend money, the tenant pays for it in the long run. Yet health must be protected. I shall try to find out what can be done.”
“I wish you would get into the legislature yourself, Mr. Stirling.”
“I shall not try for office. I want to go on with my profession. But I shall hope to work in politics in the future.”
Peter took another day off, and spent a few minutes of it with the other most promising candidate. He did not see very much of him, for they were interrupted by another caller, and Peter had to leave before he could have a chance to continue the interview.
“I had a call to-day from that fellow Stirling, who’s a delegate from the sixth ward,” the candidate told a 103 “visiting statesman” later. “I’m afraid he’ll give us trouble. He asks too many questions. Fortunately Dewilliger came to see me, and though I shouldn’t have seen him ordinarily, I found his call very opportune as a means of putting an end to Stirling’s cross-examination.”
“He’s the one doubtful man on the city’s delegation,” said the statesman. “It happened through a mistake. It will be very unfortunate if we can’t cast a solid city vote.”
Peter talked more in the next few days. He gave the “b’ys” his impressions of the two candidates, in a way which made them trust his conclusions. He saw his two fellow delegates, and argued long and earnestly with them. He went to every saloon-keeper in the district, and discussed the change in the liquor law which was likely to be a prominent issue in the campaign, telling them what he had been able to draw from both candidates about the subject.
“Catlin seems to promise you the most,” he told them, “and I don’t want to say he isn’t trying to help you. But if you get the law passed which he promises to sign, you won’t be much better off. In the first place, it will cost you a lot of money, as you know, to pass it; and then it will tempt people to go into the business, so that it will cut your profits that way. Then, you may stir up a big public sentiment against you in the next election, and so lay yourselves open to unfriendly legislation. It is success, or trying to get too much, which has beaten every party, sooner or later, in this country. Look at slavery. If the Southerners had left things as they were under the Missouri Compromise, they never would have stirred up the popular outbreak that destroyed slavery. Now, Porter is said to be unfriendly to you, because he wants a bill to limit the number of licenses, and to increase the fee to new saloons. Don’t you see that is all in your favor, though apparently against you? In the first place, you are established, and the law will be drawn so as to give the old dealer precedence over a new one in granting fresh licenses. This limit will really give the established saloon more trade in the future, by reducing competition. While the increase in fee to new saloons will do the same.”
“By ——, yer right,” said Blunkers.104
“That’s too good a name to use that way,” said Peter, but more as if he were stating a fact than reproving.
Blunkers laughed good-naturedly. “Yer’ll be gittin’ usen to close up yet, Mister Stirling. Yer too good for us.”
Peter looked at him. “Blunkers,” he said warmly, “no man is too good not to tell the truth to any one whom he thinks it will help.”
“Shake,” said Blunkers. Then he turned to the men at the tables. “Step up, boys,” he called. “I sets it up dis time to drink der health of der feller dat don’t drink.”
The boys drank.
Peter had only a month for work after reaching his own conclusions, before the meeting of the convention but in that month he worked hard. As the result, a rumor, carrying dismay to the party leaders, became current.
“What’s this I hear?” said Gallagher’s former interviewer to that gentleman. “They say Schlurger says he intends to vote for Porter, and Kennedy’s getting cold?”
“If you’ll go through the sixth you’ll hear more than that.”
“What do you mean?”
“There was a torchlight last night, of nearly every voter in the ward, and nothing but Stirling prevented them from making the three delegates pledge themselves to vote for Porter. He said they must go unbound.”
The interviewer’s next remark is best represented by several “blank its,” no allusion however being intended to bed-coverings. Then he cited the lower regions to know what it all meant.
“It means that that chap Stirling has got to be fixed, and fixed big. I thought I knew how to wire pull, and manage men, but he’s taken hold and just runs it as he wants. It’s he makes all the trouble.”105
The interviewer left the court, and five minutes later was in Stirling’s office.
“My name’s Green,” he said. “I’m a delegate to the convention, and one of the committee who has the arranging of the special train and accommodations at Saratoga.”
“I’m glad you came in,” said Peter. “I bought my ticket yesterday, and the man at headquarters said he’d see that I was assigned a room at the United States.”
“There’ll be no trouble about the arrangements. What I want to see you for, is to ask if you won’t dine with me this evening? There’s to be several of the delegates and some big men there, to talk over the situation.”
“I should like to,” said Peter.
The man pulled out a card, and handed it to Peter. “Six o’clock sharp,” he said. Then he went to headquarters, and told the result of his two interviews. “Now who had better be there?” he asked. After consultation, a dinner of six was arranged.
The meal proved to be an interesting one to Peter. First, he found that all the guests were well-known party men, whose names and opinions were matters of daily notice in the papers. What was more, they talked convention affairs, and Peter learned in the two hours’ general conversation more of true “interests” and “influences” and “pulls” and “advantages” than all his reading and talking had hitherto gained him. He learned that in New York the great division of interest was between the city and country members, and that this divided interest played a part in nearly every measure. “Now,” said one of the best known men at the table, “the men who represent the city, must look out for the city. Porter’s a fine man, but he has no great backing, and no matter how well he intends by us, he can’t do more than agree to such bills as we can get passed. But Catlin has the Monroe members of the legislature under his thumb, and his brother-in-law runs Onandaga. He promises they shall vote for all we want. With that aid, we can carry what New York City needs, in spite of the country members.”
“Would the country members refuse to vote for really good and needed city legislation?” asked Peter.
“Every time, unless we agree to dicker with them on 106 some country job. The country members hold the interest of the biggest city in this country in their hands, and threaten or throttle those interests every time anything is wanted.”
“And when it comes to taxation,” added another, “the country members are always giving the cities the big end to carry.”
“I had a talk with Catlin,” said Peter. “It seemed to me that he wasn’t the right kind of man.”
“Catlin’s a timid man, who never likes to commit himself. That’s because he always wants to do what his backers tell him. Of course when a man does that, he hasn’t decided views of his own, and naturally doesn’t wish to express what he may want to take back an hour later.”
“I don’t like straw men,” said Peter.
“A man who takes other people’s opinions is not a bad governor, Mr. Stirling. It all depends on whose opinion he takes. If we could find a man who was able to do what the majority wants every time, we could re-elect him for the next fifty years. You must remember that in this country we elect a man to do what we want—not to do what he wants himself.”
“Yes,” said Peter. “But who is to say what the majority wants?”
“Arn’t we—the party leaders—who are meeting daily the ward leaders, and the big men in the different districts, better able to know what the people want than the man who sits in the governor’s room, with a doorkeeper to prevent the people from seeing him?”
“You may not choose to do what the people want.”
“Of course. I’ve push things that I knew were unpopular. But this is very unusual, because it’s risky. Remember, we can only do things when our party is in power, so it is our interest to do what will please the people, if we are to command majorities and remain in office. Individually we have got to do what the majority of our party wants done, or we are thrown out, and new men take our places. And it’s just the same way with the parties.”
“Well,” said Peter, “I understand the condition better, and can see what I could not fathom before, why the city delegates want Catlin. But my own ward has come out 107 strong for Porter. We’ve come to the conclusion that his views on the license question are those which are best for us, and besides, he’s said that he will stand by us in some food and tenement legislation we want.”
“I know about that change, and want to say, Mr. Stirling, that few men of your years and experience, were ever able to do as much so quickly. But there are other sides, even to these questions, which you may not have yet considered. Any proposed restriction on the license will not merely scare a lot of saloon-keepers, who will only understand that it sounds unfriendly, but it will alienate every brewer and distiller, for their interest is to see saloons multiplied. Then food and tenement legislation always stirs up bad feeling in the dealers and owners. If the opposite party would play fair, we could afford to laugh at it, but you see the party out of power can oppose about anything, knowing that a minority is never held responsible, and so by winning over the malcontents which every piece of legislation is sure to make, before long it goes to the polls with a majority, though it has really been opposing the best interests of the whole state. We can’t sit still, and do nothing, yet everything we do will alienate some interest.”
“It’s as bad as the doctrine of fore-ordination,” laughed another of the party:
“You can’t if you will,
You can if you won’t,
You’ll be damned if you do,
You’ll be damned if you don’t.”
“You just said,” stated Peter, “that the man who could do what the majority wants done every time, would be re-elected. Doesn’t it hold true as to a party?”
“No. A party is seldom retained in power for such reasons. If it has a long tenure of office it is generally due to popular distrust of the other party. The natural tendency otherwise is to make office-holding a sort of see-saw. Let alone change of opinion in older men, there are enough new voters every four years to reverse majorities in almost every state. Of course these young men care little for what either party has done in the past, and being young and ardent, they want to change things. The minority’s ready to please them, naturally. Reform 108 they call it, but it’s quite as often ‘Deform’ when they’ve done it.”
Peter smiled and said, “Then you think my views on license, and food-inspection, and tenement-house regulation are ‘Deformities’?”
“We won’t say that, but a good many older and shrewder heads have worked over those questions, and while I don’t know what you hope to do, you’ll not be the first to want to try a change, Mr. Stirling.”
“I hope to do good. I may fail, but it’s not right as it is, and I must try to better it.” Peter spoke seriously, and his voice was very clear. “I’m glad to have had this talk, before the convention meets. You are all experienced men, and I value your opinions.”
“But don’t intend to act on them,” said his host good-naturedly.
“No. I’m not ready to say that. I’ve got to think them over.”
“If you do that, Mr. Stirling, you’ll find we are right. We have not been twenty and thirty years in this business for nothing.”
“I think you know how to run a party—but poisoned milk was peddled in my ward. I went to law to punish the men who sold it. Now I’m going into politics to try and get laws and administration which will prevent such evils. I’ve told my district what I want I think it will support me. I know you can help me, and I hope you will. We may disagree on methods, but if we both wish the good of New York, we can’t disagree on results.” Peter stopped, rather amazed himself at the length of his speech.
“What do you want us to do?”
“You say that you want to remain in control. You say you can only do so by majorities. I want you to give this city such a government that you’ll poll every honest vote on our side,” said Peter warmly.
“That’s only the generalization of a very young man,” said the leader.
Peter liked him all the better for the snub. “I generalized, because it would make clear the object of my particular endeavors. I want to have the Health Board help me to draft a food-inspection bill, and I want the legislature to pass it, without letting it be torn to pieces for the 109 benefit of special interests. I don’t mind fair amendments, but they must be honest ones.”
“And if the Health Board helps you, and the bill is made a law?”
Peter looked Mr. Costell in the face, and spoke quietly: “I shall tell my ward that you have done them a great service.”
Two of the men moved uneasily in their seats, as if not comfortable, and a third scowled.
“And if we can give you some tenement-house legislation?”
“I shall tell my ward that you have done them a great service.” Peter spoke in the same tone of voice, and still looked Mr. Costell in the face.
“And if we don’t do either?”
“What I shall do then will depend on whether you refuse for a good reason or for none. In either case I shall tell them the facts.”
“This is damned——” began one of the dinner-party, but the lifting of Mr. Costell’s hand stopped the speech there.
“Mr. Stirling,” said Mr. Costell, rising as he spoke, “I hope when you come to think it over, that you will vote with us for Catlin. But whether you do or not, we want you to work with us. We can help you, and you can help us. When you are ready to begin on your bills, come and see me.”
“Thank you,” said Peter. “That is just what I want.” He said good-night to the company, and left the house.
“That fellow is going to be troublesome,” said Green.
“There’s no good trying to get anything out of him. Better split with him at once,” said the guest who had used the expletive.
“He can’t have any very big hold,” said a third. “It’s only that trial which has given him a temporary popularity.”
“Wait and see if he goes back on Catlin, and if he does, lay for him,” remarked Green.
A pause came, and they all looked at Costell, who was smiling a certain deep smile that was almost habitual with him, and which no one had ever yet been able to read. “No,” he said slowly. “You might beat him, but he isn’t the kind that stays beat. I’ll agree to outwit 110 any man in politics, except the man who knows how to fight and to tell the people the truth. I’ve never yet seen a man beaten in the long run who can do both those, unless he chose to think himself beaten. Gentlemen, that Stirling is a fighter and a truth-teller, and you can’t beat him in his ward. There’s no use having him against us, so it’s our business to see that we have him with us. We may not be able to get him into line this time, but we must do it in the long run. For he’s not the kind that lets go. He’s beaten Nelson, and he’s beaten Gallagher, both of whom are old hands. Mark my words, in five years he’ll run the sixth ward. Drop all talk of fighting him. He is in politics to stay, and we must make it worth his while to stay with us.”
Peter sat up later than was prudent that night, studying his blank wall. Yet when he rose to go to bed, he gave his head a puzzled shake. When he had gone through his papers, and drunk his coffee the next morning, he went back to wall-gazing again. He was working over two conundrums not very easy to answer, which were somewhat to this effect:
Does the best man always make the best official?
Is the honest judgment of a fellow verging on twenty-four better than the experienced opinion of many far older men?
Peter began to think life had not such clear and direct “right” and “wrong” roads as he had thought. He had said to himself long ago that it was easy to take the right one, but he had not then discovered that it is often difficult to know which is the right, in order to follow it. He had started in to punish Bohlmann, and had compromised. He had disapproved of Dennis breaking the law, and had compromised his disapproval. He had said he should not go into saloons, and had ended by going. Now he was confronted with the problem whether the interests of his ward would be better served by the nomination of a 111 man of good record, whom Peter personally liked, or by that of a colorless man, who would be ruled by the city’s leaders. In the one case Peter feared no support for his measures from his own party. In the other case he saw aid that was tantamount to success. Finally he shook himself.
“I believe Dennis is right,” he said aloud. “There are more ‘real’ things than ‘convictions’ in New York politics, and a ‘real’ thing is much harder to decide about in voting than a ‘conviction.’”
He went to his bedroom, packed his bag, and took his way to the station. There he found a dense crowd of delegates and “well-wishers,” both surrounding and filling the special train which was to carry New York’s contribution to the collected party wisdom, about to concentrate at Saratoga.
Peter felt like a stranger in the crowd, but on mingling in it he quickly found himself a marked man. He was seized upon by one of the diners of the evening before, and soon found himself forming part of a group, which constantly changed its components, but continued to talk convention affairs steadily. Nor did the starting of the train, with cheers, brass bands, flags, and other enthusing elements, make more than a temporary break. From the time the special started, till it rolled into Saratoga, six hours later, there was one long series of political debates and confabs. Peter listened much, and learned much, for the talk was very straight and plain. He had chats with Costell and Green. His two fellow-delegates from “de sixt” sought him and discussed intentions. He liked Schlurger, a simple, guileless German, who wanted only to do what his constituents wished him to do, both in convention and Assembly. Of Kennedy he was not so sure. Kennedy had sneered a little at Peter’s talk about the “best man,” and about “helping the ward,” and had only found that Peter’s ideas had value after he had been visited by various of the saloon-keepers, seen the vast torchlight meeting, and heard the cheers at Peter’s arguments. Still, Peter was by no means sure that Kennedy was not a square man, and concluded he was right in not condemning him, when, passing through one of the cars, he overheard the following:
“What kind of man is that Stirling, who’s raised such —— in the sixth?”112
“I don’t know him, but Kennedy told me, before he’d swung round, that he was a darned good sort of a cuss.”
This was flattery, Peter understood, however questionable the form might seem, and he was pleased. Very few of us do not enjoy a real compliment. What makes a compliment uncomfortable is either a suspicion that the maker doesn’t mean it, or a knowledge that it is not merited.
Peter went at once to his room on reaching the hotel in Saratoga, intending to make up the sleep of which his long “think” the night before had robbed him. But scarcely had the colored gentleman bowed himself out, after the usual “can I git de gentleman a pitcher of ice water” (which translated means: “has de gentleman any superfluous change?”) when a knock came at the door. Peter opened it, to find a man outside.
“Is this Mr. Stirling’s room?” inquired the individual.
“Can I see him?”
“Come in.” Peter moved his bag off one of his chairs, and his hat and overcoat off the other.
“Mr. Stirling,” said the stranger as he sat down, “I am Senator Maguire, and am, as perhaps you know, one of Porter’s managers.”
“We understand that you are friendly to us. Now, I needn’t say that New York is otherwise a unit in opposing us.”
“No,” said Peter. “My fellow-delegates from the sixth, Schlurger and Kennedy, stand as I do!”
“Are you sure?”
“The change must have been very sudden. They were elected as Catlin men, we were told.”
“Yes. But there’s quite a different feeling in the ward now, and they have yielded to it.”
“That’s good news.”
“We all three come here prepared to do what seems best.”
The Senator’s expression lost some of the satisfaction Peter’s news had put into it. He gave a quick look at Peter’s face, as if to try and find from it what lay behind 113 the words. He hesitated, as if divided in mind over two courses of action. Finally he said:
“I needn’t tell you that this opposition of practically the whole of the New York City delegation, is the most serious set-back to Porter’s chance. Now, we have talked it over, and it seemed to us that it would be a great card for him if he could be nominated by a city delegate. Will you do it?”
“I don’t know him well enough, do I? Doesn’t the nominating delegate have to make a speech in his favor?”
“Yes. But I can give you the material to-night. Or if you prefer, we’ll give it to you all written for delivery?”
“I don’t make other men’s speeches, Mr. Maguire.”
“Suit yourself about that. It shall be just as you please.”
“The difficulty is that I have not decided myself, yet, how I shall vote, and of course such an act is binding.”
Mr. Maguire’s countenance changed again. “I’m sorry to hear that. I hoped you were for Porter. He’s far away the best man.”
“So I think.”
The Senator leaned back in his chair, and tucked his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat. He thought he had fathomed Peter, and felt that the rest was plain sailing. “This is not a chap to be tolled. I’ll give him the gaff at once,” was his mental conclusion. Then he asked aloud:
“What do you want?”
It was a question susceptible of many different constructions, but as Mr. Maguire asked it, it seemed to him to have but one, and that not very honest. Peter hesitated. The temptation was strong to lead the Senator on, but he did not like to do it. It seemed to savor of traps, and Peter had never liked traps. Still he did want to know if the managers on Porter’s side would stoop to buy his support by some bargain. As Peter hesitated, weighing the pros and cons, Maguire spoke again.
“What does the other side offer you?”
Peter spoke quickly. “They haven’t offered me anything, but advice. That is, Costell said he’d try and help me on some legislation I want——”114
“Special?” interrupted Maguire.
“No. General. I’ve talked about it with Porter as well.”
“I’m really anxious to get that. Otherwise I want nothing.”
“Whew,” said the Senator to himself. “That was a narrow squeak. If he hadn’t spoken so quickly, I should have shown my hand before the call. I wonder if he got any inkling?” He never dreamed that Peter had spoken quickly to save that very disclosure.
“I needn’t say, Mr. Stirling, that if you can see your way to nominate Porter, we shall not forget it. Nor will he. He isn’t the kind of man who forgets his friends. Many a man in to-morrow’s convention would give anything for the privilege we offer you.”
“Well,” said Peter. “I realize the honor offered me, but I don’t see my way to take it. It will please me better to see him nominated by some one who has really stood close to him, than to gain his favor by doing it myself.”
“Think twice, Mr. Stirling.”
“If you would rather, I will not give you my answer till to-morrow morning?”
“I would,” said Maguire rising. “Try and make it favorable. It’s a great chance to do good for yourself and for your side. Good-night.”
Peter closed his door, and looked about for a bit of blank wall. But on second thought he sat down on his window-sill, and, filling his pipe, tried to draw conclusions as well as smoke from it.
“I wonder,” he pondered to himself, “how much of that was Maguire, and how much Porter? Ought I, for the sake of doing my best for my ward, to have let him go on? Has an agent any right to refuse what will help his client, even if it comes by setting pitfalls?”
Rap, rap, rap.
“Come in,” called Peter, forgetting he had turned down his light.
The door opened and Mr. Costell came in. “Having a quiet smoke?” he asked.
“Yes. I haven’t a cigar to offer you. Can you join me in a pipe?”115
“I haven’t come to that yet. Suppose you try one of my cigars.” Costell sat down on the window-ledge by Peter.
“Thank you,” said Peter. “I like a cigar, but it must be a good one, and that kind I can’t afford.” He lit the cigar, and leaned back to luxuriate in it.
“You’ll like that, I’m sure. Pretty sight, isn’t it?” Costell pointed to the broad veranda, three stories below them, gay with brilliant dresses.
“Yes. It’s my first visit here, so it’s new to me.”
“It won’t be your last. You’ll be attending other conventions than this.”
“I hope so.”
“One of my scouts tells me you’ve had a call from Maguire?”
“Yes.” Peter hesitated a moment. “He wants me to nominate Porter,” he continued, as soon as he had decided that plain speaking was fair to Maguire.
“We shall be very sorry to see you do it.”
“I don’t think I shall. They only want me because it would give the impression that Porter has a city backing, and to try to give that amounts to a deception.”
“Can they get Schlurger or Kennedy?”
“Schlurger is safe. I don’t know about Kennedy.”
“Can you find out for us?”
“Yes. When would you like to know?”
“Can you see him now? I’ll wait here.”
Peter rose, looking at his cigar with a suggestion of regret. But he rubbed out the light, and left the room. At the office, he learned the number of Kennedy’s room, and went to it. On knocking, the door was opened only a narrow crack.
“Oh! it’s you,” said Kennedy. “Come in.”
Peter entered, and found Maguire seated in an easy attitude on a lounge. He noticed that his thumbs were once more tucked into his waistcoat.
“Mr. Kennedy,” said Peter without seating himself, “there is an attempt being made to get a city delegate to nominate Porter. It seems to me that is his particular friends’ business.”
Maguire spoke so quickly that Kennedy had no chance to reply: “Kennedy’s promised to nominate him, Mr. Stirling, if you won’t.”116
“Do you feel that you are bound to do it?” asked Peter.
Kennedy moved uneasily in his chair. “Yes, I suppose I have promised.”
“Will you release Mr. Kennedy from his promise if he asks it?” Peter queried to Maguire.
“Why, Mr. Stirling, I don’t think either he or you ought to ask it.”
“That was not my question.”
It was the Senator’s turn to squirm. He did not want to say no, for fear of angering Peter, yet he did not like to surrender the advantage. Finally he said: “Yes, I’ll release him, but Mr. Kennedy isn’t the kind of a man that cries off from a promise. That’s women’s work.”
“No,” said Kennedy stiffening suddenly in backbone, as he saw the outlet opened by Maguire, between antagonizing Peter, and retracting his consent. “I don’t play baby. Not me.”
Peter stood thinking for a longer time than the others found comfortable. Maguire whistled to prove that he was quite at ease, but he would not have whistled if he had been.
“I think, Mr. Kennedy, that I’ll save you from the difficulty by nominating Mr. Porter myself,” said Peter finally.
“Good!” said Maguire; and Kennedy, reaching down into his hip pocket, produced a version of the holy text not yet included in any bibliography. Evidently the atmosphere was easier. “About your speech, Mr. Stirling?” continued the Senator.
“I shall say what I think right.”
Something in Peter’s voice made Maguire say: “It will be of the usual kind, of course?”
“I don’t know,” said Peter, “I shall tell the facts.”
“What sort of facts?”
“I shall tell how it is that a delegate of the sixth ward nominates Porter.”
“And that is?”
“I don’t see,” said Peter, “why I need say it. You know it as well as I do.”
“I know of many reasons why you should do it.”
“No,” said Peter. “There’s only one, and that has been created in the last ten minutes. Mr. Maguire, if 117 you insist on the sixth ward nominating Mr. Porter, the sixth ward is going to tell why it does so. I’m sorry, for I like Porter, but the sixth ward shan’t lend itself to a fraud, if I can help it.”
Kennedy had been combining things spiritual and aqueous at his wash-stand. But his interest in the blending seemed suddenly to cease. Maguire, too, took his thumbs from their havens of rest, and looked dissatisfied.
“Look here, Mr. Stirling,” he said, “it’s much simpler to leave it to Kennedy. You think you’re doing what’s right, but you’ll only do harm to us, and to yourself. If you nominate Porter, the city gang won’t forgive you, and unless you can say what we want said, we shall be down on you. So you’ll break with both sides.”
“I think that is so. That is why I want some real friend of Porter’s to do it.”
Maguire laughed rather a forced laugh. “I suppose we’ve got to satisfy you. We’ll have Porter nominated by one of our own crowd.”
“I think that’s best. Good-evening.” Peter went to the door.
“Mr. called Kennedy. “Won’t you stay and take some whisky and water with us?”
“Thank you,” said Peter. “Mr. Costell’s in my room and he must be tired of waiting.” He closed the door, and walked away.
The couple looked at each other blankly for a moment.
“The —— cuss is playing a double game,” Maguire gasped.
“I don’t know what it means!” said Kennedy.
“Mean?” cried Maguire. “It can mean only one thing. He’s acting under Costell’s orders.”
“But why should he give it away to us?”
“How the —— should I know? Look here, Kennedy, you must do it, after all.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Tut, tut, man, you must.”
“But my ward?”
“Come. We’ll make it quarantine, as you want. That’s six years, and you can —— your ward.”
“I’ll do it.”
“That’s the talk.”118
They sat and discussed plans and whisky for nearly an hour. Then Maguire said good-night.
“You shall have the speech the first thing in the morning,” he said at parting. Then as he walked down the long corridor, he muttered, “Now then, Stirling, look out for the hind heel of the mule.”
Peter found Costell still waiting for him.
“It took me longer than I thought, for Maguire was there.”
“Indeed!” said Costell, making room for Peter on the window-ledge.
Peter re-lit his cigar. “Maguire promises me that Porter shall be nominated by one of his friends.”
“He had been trying Kennedy?”
“I didn’t ask.”
Costell smiled. “I had no business to ask you that?”
“No,” Peter said frankly.
Both puffed their cigars for a time in silence.
Then Costell began talking about Saratoga. He told Peter where the “Congress” spring was, and what was worth seeing. Finally he rose to go. He held out his hand, and said:
“Mr. Stirling, you’ve been as true as steel with us, and with the other men. I don’t want you to suppose we are not conscious of it. I think you’ve done us a great service to-night, although it might have been very profitable to you if you had done otherwise. I don’t think that you’ll lose by it in the long run, but I’m going to thank you now, for myself. Good-night.”
Peter had a good night. Perhaps it was only because he was sleepy, but a pleasant speech is not a bad nightcap. At least it is better than a mental question-mark as to whether one has done wrong. Peter did not know how it was coming out, but he thought he had done right, and need not spend time on a blank wall that evening.119
Though Peter had not gone to bed so early as he hoped, he was up the next morning, and had tramped his eight miles through and around Saratoga, before the place gave many evidences of life. He ended his tramp at the Congress spring, and tasted the famous water, with exceeding disgust at the result. As he set down his half-finished tumbler, and turned to leave, he found Miss De Voe at his elbow, about to take her morning glass.
“This is a very pleasant surprise,” she said, holding out her hand. “When did you arrive?”
“I only came last night.”
“And how long shall you be here?”
“I cannot say. I am attending the convention, and my stay will depend on that.”
“Surely you are not a Democrat?” said Miss De Voe, a shade of horror showing itself in her face, in spite of her good breeding. In those days it was not, to put it mildly, a guarantee of respectability to belong to that party, and Miss De Voe had the strong prejudices of her social station, all the more because she was absolutely ignorant of political events.
Peter said he was.
“How can you be? When a man can ally himself with the best, why should he choose the worst?”
“I think,” said Peter quietly, “that a Pharisee said the same thing, in different words, many hundred years ago.”
Miss De Voe caught her breath and flushed. She also became suddenly conscious of the two girls who had come to the spring with her. They had been forgotten in the surprise over Peter, but now Miss De Voe wondered if they had heard his reply, and if they had enough Bible lore to enable them to understand the reproof.
“I am sure you don’t mean that,” she said, in the sting of the moment.120
“I am very sorry,” said Peter, “if I made an unkind speech. What I meant was that no one has a right to pick out the best for himself. I am sure, from your letter to me, that you think a man should help those not as well off as himself.”
“Oh, but that is very different. Of course we should be charitable to those who need our help, but we need not mix in their low politics.”
“If good laws, and good administration can give the poor good food, and good lodgings, don’t you think the best charity is to ‘mix’ in politics, and try to obtain such results?”
“I want you to know my two cousins,” Miss De Voe replied. “Dorothy, I wish to present Mr. Stirling. My cousin, Miss Ogden, and Miss Minna Ogden.”
Peter saw two very pretty girls, and made a bow to them.
“Which way are you walking?” asked Miss De Voe.
“I have been tramping merely for exercise,” said Peter, “and stopped here to try the spring, on my way to the United States.”
“It is hardly worth while, but if you will get into our carriage, we will drop you there. Or if you can spare the time, we will drive to our cottage, and then send you back to the hotel.”
“Thank you,” said Peter, “but I shall only crowd you, I fear.”
“No. There is plenty of room.”
“Will the convention be interesting to watch, Mr. Stirling?” asked one of the girls, as soon as they were seated.
“I don’t know,” Peter told her. “It is my first experience at it. There is pretty strong feeling, and that of course makes it interesting to the delegates, but I am not sure that it would be so to others.”
“Will there be speeches, and cheers, and all that sort of thing?”
“Cousin Anneke, won’t you take us? It will be such fun!”
“Are spectators admitted, Mr. Stirling?”
“I believe so. I heard something about tickets last night. If you care to go, I’ll see if I can get you some?”121
“Oh, please,” cried both girls.
“If you can do so, Mr. Stirling, we should like to see the interesting part,” said Miss De Voe.
“Send word back by Oliver.” The carriage had drawn up at the cottage, and farewells were made.
As soon as Peter reached the hotel, he went to the New York City delegation room, and saw Costell. He easily secured admissions, and pencilling on a card, “At headquarters they tell me that the nominations will begin at the afternoon session, about two o’clock,” he sent them back by the carriage. Then bearding the terrors of the colored “monarch of all he surveys,” who guards the dining-room of every well-ordered Saratoga hotel, he satisfied as large an appetite as he remembered in a long time.
The morning proceedings in the convention were purely formal. The election of the chairman, the roll-call, the naming of the committees, and other routine matter was gotten through with, but the real interest centred in the undertone of political talk, going on with little regard to the business in hand. After the committees were named, an unknown man came up to Peter, and introduced himself by a name which Peter at once recognized as that of one of the committee on the platform.
“Mr. Costell thinks you might like to see this, and can perhaps suggest a change,” explained Mr. Talcott, laying several sheets of manuscript on Peter’s desk and indicating with his finger a certain paragraph.
Peter read it twice before saying anything. “I think I can better it,” he said. “If you can give me I’m very slow about such things.”
“All right. Get it in shape as quickly as possible, and send it to the committee-room.”
Left alone Peter looked round for a blank wall. Failing in his search, he put his head into his hands, and tried to shut out the seething, excited mass of men about him. After a time he took a sheet of paper and wrote a paragraph for the platform. It pledged the party to investigate the food and tenement questions, and to pass such remedial legislation as should seem best. It pledged the party to do this, with as little disturbance and interference with present conditions as possible, “but fully 122 recognizing the danger of State interference, we place human life above money profits, and human health above annual incomes, and shall use the law to its utmost to protect both.” When it appeared in the platform, there was an addition that charged the failure to obtain legislation “which should have rendered impossible the recent terrible lesson in New York City” to “the obstruction in the last legislature in the interest of the moneyed classes and landlords, by the Republican party.” That had not been in Peter’s draft and he was sorry to see it. Still, the paragraph had a real ring of honesty and feeling in it. That was what others thought too. “Gad, that Stirling knows how to sling English,” said one of the committee, when the paragraph was read aloud. “He makes it take right hold.” Many an orator in that fall’s campaign read the nineteenth section of the Democratic platform aloud, feeling that it was ammunition of the right kind. It is in all the New York papers of September 24th, of that year.
Immediately after the morning adjournment, Green came up to Peter.
“We’ve had a count, and can’t carry Catlin. So we shan’t even put him up. What do you think of Milton?”
“I don’t know him personally, but he has a very good record, I believe.”
“He isn’t what we want, but that’s not the question. We must take what we can get.”
“I suppose you think Porter has a chance.”
“Not if we take Milton.”
“Between the two I have no choice.”
An hour later, the convention was called to order by the chairman. A few moments sufficed to complete the unfinished business, and then the chairman’s gavel fell, and every one knew without his announcement that the crucial moment had been reached.
Much to Peter’s surprise, Kennedy was one of the members who was instantly on his feet, and was the one selected for recognition by the chairman. He was still more surprised when Kennedy launched at once into a glowing eulogium of Porter. Peter was sitting next Kennedy, and though he sat quietly, a sad look came into the face usually so expressionless. He felt wronged. He felt that he had been an instrument in the deceiving 123 of others. Most of all he grieved to think that a delegate of his ward, largely through his own interference, was acting discreditably. Peter wanted others to do right, and he felt that that was not what Kennedy was doing.
The moment Kennedy finished, Peter rose, as did Maguire. The convention was cheering for Porter, and it took some time to quiet it to a condition when it was worth while recognizing any one. During this time the chairman leaned forward and talked with Green, who sat right below him, for a moment. Green in turn spoke to Costell, and a little slip of paper was presently handed up to the chairman, who from that moment became absolutely oblivious of the fact that Maguire was on his feet. When silence finally came, in spite of Maguire’s, “Mr. Chairman,” that individual said, “Mr. Stirling.”
Peter began in a low voice, “In rising, Mr. Chairman, to second the nomination of Mr. Porter, I feel that it would be idle in me to praise one so well known to all of us, even if he had not just been the subject of so appreciative a speech from my colleague——”
Here cries of “louder” interrupted Peter, during which interruption Green said to Costell, “We’ve been tricked.”
“I’m not so sure,” replied Costell, “Maguire’s on his feet yet, and doesn’t look happy. Something’s happening which has not been slated.”
When Peter resumed, there were no more cries of “louder.” His introduction had been a matter of trouble and doubt to him, for he liked Porter, and feared he might not show it. But now he merely had something to tell his audience, and that was easy work. So, his voice ringing very clear and distinct, he told them of the original election of the delegates; of the feeling of his ward; of the attempts to obtain a city nomination of Porter; of Maguire’s promise. “Gad, he hits from the shoulder,” said Green. As soon as the trend of his remarks was realized, Porter’s supporters began to hiss and hoot. Peter at once stopped, but the moment silence came he began again, and after a repetition of this a few times, they saw they could neither embarrass nor anger him, so they let him have his say. He brought his speech to an end by saying:
“I have already expressed my admiration of Mr. Porter, and as soon as I had made up my mind to vote for him, 124 I made no secret of that intention. But he should not have been nominated by a city delegate, for he is not the choice of New York City, and any attempt to show that he is, or that he has any true backing there, is only an attempt to deceive. In seconding his nomination therefore, I wish it to be distinctly understood that both his nomination and seconding are personal acts, and in no sense the act of the delegates of the city of New York.”
There was a mingling of hoots and cheers as Peter sat down, though neither was very strong. In truth, the larger part of the delegates were very much in the dark as to the tendency of Peter’s speech. “Was it friendly or unfriendly to Porter?” they wondered.
“Mr. Maguire,” said the chairman.
“Mr. Chairman, the gentleman who has just sat down is to be complimented on his speech. In my whole life I have never heard so deceptive and blinding a narration. We know of Brutus stabbing his friend. But what shall we say of a pretended Brutus who caresses while he stabs?”
Here the Porter adherents became absolutely sure of the character of Peter’s speech, and hissed.
“Nor is it Imperial Cæsar alone,” continued Maguire, “against whom he turns his poniard. Not content with one foul murder, he turns against Cæsar’s friends. By devilish innuendo, he charges the honorable Mr. Kennedy and myself with bargaining to deceive the American people. I call on him for proof or retraction.”
The convention laughed. Peter rose and said: “Mr. Chairman, I gave a truthful account of what actually took place last evening in the United States hotel. I made no charges.”
“But you left the impression that Mr. Kennedy and I had made a deal,” shrieked Maguire.
“If the gentleman draws that conclusion from what passed, it is not my fault.”
The convention laughed. “Do you mean to charge such a bargain?” angrily shouted Maguire.
“Will you deny it?” asked Peter calmly.
“Then you do charge it?”
Here the convention laughed for the third time. Green shouted “deny it,” and the cry was taken up by many of the delegates.125
“Yes,” screamed Maguire. “I do deny it.”
Peter turned to Kennedy. “Do you too, deny it?”
“Yes,” shouted Kennedy, loudly.
Again the convention laughed.
“Then,” said Peter, “if I had charged you with a bargain, I should now find it necessary to apologize.”
The convention roared. Maguire screamed something, but it could not be heard. The tenor of his remarks was indicated by his red face and clinched fist.
Costell smiled his deep smile. “I’m very glad,” he said to the man next him, “that we didn’t pick Stirling up.”
Then Milton was nominated and seconded, as were also Catlin, and four minor stars. That done, a ballot was taken and the vote stood:
A second ballot showed:
A third ballot gave:
“Porter’s done for on the next,” was whispered round the hall, though where it started, no one knew. Evidently his adherents thought so, for one made a motion to adjourn. It was voted down, and once more the roll call started.
“I shall vote for Milton,” Peter told Schlurger, and the changes in the delegations as the call proceeded, proved that many changes were being made the same way. Yet the fourth ballot showed:
The wildest excitement broke out in the Porter delegates. “They’ve beaten us,” screamed Kennedy, as much to himself as to those about “They’ve used Milton to break our ranks, meaning Catlin all the time.” So in truth, it was. Milton had been put up to draw off Porter’s delegates, but the moment they had begun to turn to Milton, enough New York City delegates had been transferred to Catlin to prevent Milton being chosen. Amid protests and angry words on all sides another ballot was taken:
Before the result was announced, Green was at Peter’s elbow.
“Will you move to make it unanimous?” he asked.
“Yes.” And Peter made the formal motion, which was carried by acclamation. Half an hour served to choose the Lieutenant-Governor and the rest of the ticket, for the bulk of it had already been slated. The platform was adopted, and the convention dissolved.
“Well,” said Kennedy angrily to Peter, “I guess you’ve messed it this time. A man can’t please both sides, but he needn’t get cussed by both.”
Peter went out and walked to his hotel. “I’m afraid I did mess it,” he thought, “yet I don’t see what else I could have done.”
“Did you understand what it all meant, Cousin Anneke?” asked Dorothy, as they were coming downstairs.
“No. The man who got so angry seemed to think Mr. Stirling had——”
She stopped short. A group of men on the sidewalk were talking, and she paused to hear one say:
“To see that young chap Stirling handling Maguire was an eye-opener.”127
Another man laughed, rather a deep, quiet laugh. “Maguire understands everything but honesty,” he said. “You can always beat him with that.”
Miss De Voe would have like to stay and listen, but there were too many men. So the ladies entered the carriage.
“At least we know that he said he was trying to tell the truth,” she went on, “and you just heard what that man said. I don’t know why they all laughed.”
“He didn’t seem to mind a bit.”
“No. Hasn’t he a funny half-embarrassed, half-cool manner?”
“He wasn’t embarrassed after he was fairly speaking. You know he was really fine-looking, when he spoke.”
“Yes,” said Dorothy. “You said he had a dull, heavy face.”
“That was the first time I saw him, Dorothy. It’s a face which varies very much. Oliver, drive to the United States. We will take him home to dinner.”
“Oh, good,” cried the youngest. “Then he will tell us why they laughed.”
As they drove up to the hotel, Peter had just reached the steps. He turned to the carriage, the moment he saw that they wanted him.
“We wish to carry you off to a simple country dinner,” Miss De Voe told him.
“I am going to take the special to New York, and that leaves in half an hour.”
“Take a later train.”
“My ticket wouldn’t be good on it.”
Most men Miss De Voe would have snubbed on the spot, but to Peter she said: “Then get another ticket.”
“I don’t care to do that,” said Peter.
“Oh, please, Mr. Stirling,” said Minna. “I want to ask you a lot of questions about the convention.”
“Hush, Minna,” said Miss De Voe. She was nettled that Peter should refuse, and that her niece could stoop to beg of “a criminal lawyer and ward politician,” as she put it mentally. But she was determined not to show it. “We are sorry. Good-evening. Home, Oliver.”
So they did not learn from Peter why the convention laughed. The subject was brought up at dinner, and Dorothy asked the opinion of the voters of the family.128
“Probably he had made a fluke of some kind,” one said.
“More probably he had out-sharped the other side,” suggested a second.
“It will be in the papers to-morrow,” said the first suggestor.
The three women looked in the next day’s papers, but the reporters were as much at sea in regard to the Stirling-sixth-ward incident, as had been the rank-and-file in the convention. Three took their views from Maguire, and called it “shameful treason,” and the like. Two called it “unprincipled and contradictory conduct.” One alone said that “Mr. Stirling seemed to be acting conscientiously, if erratically.” Just what effect it had had on the candidates none of the papers agreed in. One said it had killed Porter. Another, that “it was a purely personal matter without influence on the main question.” The other papers shaded between these, though two called it “a laughable incident.” The opposition press naturally saw in it an entire discrediting of both factions of the Democratic party, and absolute proof that the nominee finally selected was unfit for office.
Unable to sift out the truth, the ladies again appealed to the voters of the family.
“Oh,” said one, “Stirling did something tricky and was caught in it.”
“I don’t believe that,” said Miss De Voe.
“Nor I,” said Dorothy.
“Well, if you want to make your political heeler an angel, I have no objection,” laughed the enfranchised being.
“I don’t think a man who made that speech about the children can be a scoundrel,” said Dorothy.
“I don’t either,” said Minna.
“That’s the way you women reason,” responded he of the masculine intellect “Because a man looks out for some sick kittens, ergo, he is a political saint. If you must take up with politicians, do take Republicans, for then, at least, you have a small percentage of chance in your favor that they are gentlemen.”
“Don’t be a Pharisee, Lispenard,” said Miss De Voe, utilizing Peter’s rebuke.
“Then don’t trouble me with political questions. 129 Politics are so vulgar in this country that no gentleman keeps up with them.”
Miss De Voe and the two girls dropped the “vulgar” subject, but Miss De Voe said later:
“I should like to know what they laughed at?”
“Do ask him—if he comes to call on you, this winter, Cousin Anneke.”
“No. I asked him once and he did not come.” Miss De Voe paused a moment. “I shall not ask him again,” she added.
“I don’t think he intends to be rude,” said Dorothy.
“No,” responded Miss De Voe. “I don’t think he knows what he is doing. He is absolutely without our standards, and it is just as well for both that he shouldn’t call.” Woman-like, Miss De Voe forgot that she had said Peter was a gentleman.
If Peter had found himself a marked man in the trip up, he was doubly so on the return train. He sat most of the time by himself, pondering on what had happened, but he could not be unconscious of the number of people to whom he was pointed out. He was conscious too, that his course had not been understood, and that many of those who looked at him with interest, did so without approbation. He was not buoyed up either, by a sense that he had succeeded in doing the best. He had certainly hurt Porter, and had made enemies of Maguire and Kennedy. Except for the fact that he had tried to do right, he could see no compensating balance.
Naturally the newspapers the next morning did not cheer him, though perhaps he cared less for what they said than he ought. He sent them, good, bad, and indifferent, to his mother, writing her at the same time a long letter, telling her how and why he had taken this course. He wrote also a long letter to Porter, explaining his conduct. Porter had already been told that Peter was largely responsible for his defeat, but after reading Peter’s letter, he wrote him a very kind reply, thanking him for his support and for his letter. “It is not always easy to do what one wants in politics,” he wrote, “but if one tries with high motives, for high things, even defeat loses its bitterness. I shall not be able to help you, in your wished-for reforms as greatly as I hoped, but I am not quite a nonentity in politics even now, and if at any time you 130 think my aid worth the asking, do not hesitate to call on me for it. I shall always be glad to see you at my house for a meal or a night, whether you come on political matters or merely for a chat.”
Peter found his constituents torn with dissensions over his and Kennedy’s course in the convention. He did not answer in kind the blame and criticism industriously sowed by Kennedy; but he dropped into a half-a-dozen saloons in the next few days, and told “the b’ys” a pretty full history of the “behind-the-scenes” part.
“I’m afraid I made mistakes,” he frankly acknowledged, “yet even now I don’t see how I could have done differently. I certainly thought I was doing right.”
“An’ so yez were,” shouted Dennis. “An’ if that dirty beast Kennedy shows his dirty face inside these doors, it’s a washin’ it will get wid the drainin’ av the beer-glasses. We wants none av his dirty bargains here.”
“I don’t know that he had made any bargain,” said Peter.
“But we do,” shouted one of the men. “It’s a bargain he’s always makin’.”
“Yes,” said Dennis. “It’s Kennedy looks out for himself, an’ we’ll let him do it next time all by himself.” It could not be traced to its origin, but in less than a week the consensus of opinion in the ward was that: “Kennedy voted for himself, but Stirling for us.”
The ward, too, was rather proud of the celebrity it had achieved. The papers had not merely paragraphed Peter, and the peculiar position of the “district” in the convention, but they had begun now asking questions as to how the ward would behave. “Would it support Catlin?” “Was it true that the ward machine had split, and intended to nominate rival tickets?” “Had one faction made a deal with the Republicans?”
“Begobs,” said Dennis, “it’s the leaders an’ the papers are just afther discoverin’ there is a sixth ward, an’ it’s Misther Stirling’s made them do it.”
The chief party leaders had stayed over at Saratoga, but Peter had a call from Costell before the week was out.
“The papers gave it to you rather rough,” Costell said kindly, “but they didn’t understand it We thought you behaved very square.”131
“They tell me I did Porter harm.”
“No. It was Maguire did the harm. You simply told about it. Of course you get the blame.”
“My constituents stand by me.”
“How do they like Catlin?”
“I think they are entirely satisfied. I’m afraid they never cared much who got it.”
“I’m told Kennedy is growling, and running amuck?”
“He’s down on Catlin and me.”
“Well, if you think best, we’ll placate him? But Gallagher seemed to think he couldn’t do much?”
“I don’t think he has much of a following. Even Moriarty, who was his strong card, has gone back on him.”
“Will you make a couple of speeches for us in this ward?”
“If you’ll let me say what I want?”
“You can support us?”
“Then we’ll leave it to you. Only beware of making too many statements. You’ll get dates and places from the committee as soon as they are settled. We pay twenty-five dollars a night. If you hit the right key, we may want you in some of the other wards, too.”
“I shall be glad to talk. It’s what I’ve been doing to small crowds in the saloons.”
“So I’m told. You’ll never get a better place. Men listen there, as they never will at a mass-meeting.” Costell rose. “If you are free next Sunday, come up into Westchester and take a two o’clock dinner with me. We won’t talk politics, but you shall see a nice little woman, who’s good enough to make my life happier, and after we’ve looked over my stables, I’ll bring you back to the city behind a gray mare that will pass about anything there is on the road.”
So Peter had a half day in the country and enjoyed it very much. He looked over Mrs. Costell’s flower-garden, in which she spent almost her whole time, and chatted with her about it. He saw the beautiful stables, and their still more beautiful occupants. He liked the couple very much. Both were simple and silent people, of little culture, but it seemed to Peter that the atmosphere had a gentle, homely tone that was very pleasing. As he got into the light buggy, he said to Mrs. Costell:132
“I’ll get the seed of that mottled gillyflower from my mother as soon as possible. Perhaps you’ll let me bring it up myself?”
“Do,” she said. “Come again, whether you get the seed or not.”
After they had started, Mr. Costell said: “I’m glad you asked that. Mrs. Costell doesn’t take kindly to many of the men who are in politics with me, but she liked you, I could see.”
Peter spoke twice in the next week in small halls in his ward. He had good audiences, and he spoke well, if simply.
“There ain’t no fireworks in his stuff,” said the ward satirist. “He don’t unfurl the American flag, nor talk about liberty and the constitution. He don’t even speak of us as noble freemen. He talks just as if he thought we was in a saloon. A feller that made that speech about the babies ought to treat us to something moving.”
That was what many of the ward thought. Still they went because they wanted to see if he wouldn’t burst out suddenly. They felt that Peter had unlimited potentialities in the way of eloquence (for eloquence to them meant the ability to move the emotions) and merely saved his powers. Without quite knowing it they found what he had to say interesting. He brought the questions at issue straight back to elementary forms. He showed just how each paragraph in the platform would directly affect, not the state, but the “district.”
“He’s thoroughly good,” the party leaders were told. “If he would abuse the other side a little more, and stick in a little tinsel and calcium light he would be great.”
So he was called upon to speak elsewhere in the city. He worked at one of the polls on election day, and was pleased to find that he was able to prevent a little of the “trading” for which Kennedy had arranged. His ward went Democratic, as was a foregone conclusion, but by an unusually large majority, and Peter found that he and Dennis were given the credit for it, both in the ward, and at headquarters. Catlin was elected, and the Assembly had been won. So Peter felt that his three months’ work had not been an entire failure. The proceeds of his 133 speeches had added also two hundred and fifty dollars to his savings bank account, and one hundred more to the account of “Peter Stirling, Trustee.”
Peter spent Christmas with his mother, and found her very much worried over his “salooning.”
“It’s first steps, Peter, that do the mischief,” she told him.
“But, mother, I only go to talk with the men. Not to drink.”
“You’ll come to that later. The devil’s paths always start straight, my boy, but they end in wickedness. Promise me you won’t go any more.”
“I can’t do that, mother. I am trying to help the men, and you ought not ask me to stop doing what may aid others.”
“Oh, my boy, my boy!” sobbed the mother.
“If you could only understand it, mother, as I have come to, you wouldn’t mind. Here, the saloon is chiefly a loafing place for the lazy and shiftless, but in New York, it’s very different. It’s the poor man’s club. If you could see the dark, cold, foul-aired tenements where they live, and then the bright, warm, cheerful saloons, that are open to all, you would see that it isn’t the drink that draws the men. I even wish the women could come. The bulk of the men are temperate, and only take a glass or two of beer or whisky, to pay for their welcome. They really go for the social part, and sit and talk, or read the papers. Of course a man gets drunk, sometimes, but usually it is not a regular customer, and even such cases would be fewer, if we didn’t tax whisky so outrageously that the dishonest barkeepers are tempted to doctor their whisky with drugs which drive men frantic if they drink. But most of the men are too sensible, and too poor, to drink so as really to harm themselves.”
“Peter, Peter! To think that three years in New York should bring you to talk so! I knew New York was a 134 sink-hole of iniquity, but I thought you were too good a boy to be misled.”
“Mother, New York has less evil in it than most places. Here, after the mills shut down, there’s no recreation for the men, and so they amuse themselves with viciousness. But in a great place like New York, there are a thousand amusements specially planned for the evening hours. Exhibitions, theatres, concerts, libraries, lectures—everything to tempt one away from wrong-doing to fine things. And there wickedness is kept out of sight as it never is here. In New York you must go to it, but in these small places it hunts one out and tempts one.”
“Oh, Peter! Here, where there’s room in church of a Sabbath for all the folks, while they say that in New York there isn’t enough seats in churches for mor’n a quarter of the people. A missionary was saying only last week that we ought to help raise money to build churches in New York. Just think of there being mor’n ten saloons for every church! And that my son should speak for them and spend nights in them!”
“I’m sorry it troubles you so. If I felt I had any right to stop, I’d do it.”
“You haven’t drunk in them yet, Peter?”
“And you’ll promise to write me if you do.”
“I’ll promise you I won’t drink in them, mother.”
“Thank you, Peter.” Still his mother was terrified at the mere thought, and at her request, her clergyman spoke also to Peter. He was easier to deal with, and after a chat with Peter, he told Mrs. Stirling:
“I think he is doing no harm, and may do much good. Let him do what he thinks best.”
“It’s dreadful though, to have your son’s first refusal be about going to saloons,” sighed the mother.
“From the way he spoke I think his refusal was as hard to him as to you. He’s a good boy, and you had better let him judge of what’s right.”
On Peter’s return to the city, he found an invitation from Mrs. Bohlmann to come to a holiday festivity of which the Germans are so fond. He was too late to go, but he called promptly, to explain why he had not responded. He was very much surprised, on getting out his dress-suit, 135 now donned for the first time in three years, to find how badly it fitted him.
“Mother is right,” he had to acknowledge. “I have grown much thinner.”
However, the ill-fit did not spoil his evening. He was taken into the family room, and passed a very pleasant hour with the jolly brewer, his friendly wife, and the two “nice girls.” They were all delighted with Catlin’s election and Peter had to tell them about his part in it. They did not let him go when he rose, but took him into the dining-room, where a supper was served at ten. In leaving a box of candy, saved for him from the Christmas tree, was given him.
“You will come again, Mr. Stirling?” said Mrs. Bohlmann, warmly.
“Thank you,” said Peter. “I shall be very glad to.”
“Yah,” said Mr. Bohlmann. “You coom choost as ofden as you blease.”
Peter took his dress-suit to a tailor the next day, and ordered it to be taken in. That individual protested loudly on the ground that the coat was so old-fashioned that it would be better to make a new suit. Peter told him that he wore evening dress too rarely to make a new suit worth the having, and the tailor yielded rather than lose the job. Scarcely had it been put in order, when Peter was asked to dine at his clergyman’s, and the next day came another invitation, to dine with Justice Gallagher. Peter began to wonder if he had decided wisely in vamping the old suit.
He had one of the pleasantest evenings of his life at Dr. Purple’s. It was a dinner of ten, and Peter was conscious that a real compliment had been paid him in being included, for the rest of the men were not merely older than himself, but they were the “strong” men of the church. Two were trustees. All were prominent in the business world. And it pleased Peter to find that he was not treated as the youngster of the party, but had his opinions asked. At one point of the meal the talk drifted to a Bethel church then under consideration, and this in turn brought up the tenement-house question. Peter had been studying this, both practically and in books, for the last three months. Before long, the whole table was listening to what he had to say. When the ladies had withdrawn, there was political talk, in which Peter was much more a listener, 136 but it was from preference rather than ignorance. One of the men, a wholesale dealer in provisions, spoke of the new governor’s recommendation for food legislation.
“The leaders tell me that the legislature will do something about it,” Peter said.
“They’ll probably make it worse,” said Mr. Avery.
“Don’t you think it can be bettered?” asked Peter.
“Not by politicians.”
“I’m studying the subject,” Peter said. “Will you let me come down some day, and talk with you about it?”
“Yes, by all means. You’d better call about lunch hour, when I’m free, and we can talk without interruption.”
Peter would much have preferred to go on discussing with the men, when they all joined the ladies, but Mrs. Purple took him off, and placed him between two women. They wanted to hear about “the case,” so Peter patiently went over that well-worn subject. Perhaps he had his pay by being asked to call upon both. More probably the requests were due to what Mrs. Purple had said of him during the smoking time:
“He seems such a nice, solid, sensible fellow. I wish some of you would ask him to call on you. He has no friends, apparently.”
The dinner at Justice Gallagher’s was a horse of a very different color. The men did not impress him very highly, and the women not at all. There was more to eat and drink, and the talk was fast and lively. Peter was very silent. So quiet, that Mrs. Gallagher told her “take in” that she “guessed that young Stirling wasn’t used to real fashionable dinners,” and Peter’s partner quite disregarded him for the rattling, breezy talker on her other side. After the dinner Peter had a pleasant chat with the Justice’s seventeen-year-old daughter, who was just from a Catholic convent, and the two tried to talk in French. It is wonderful what rubbish is tolerable if only talked in a foreign tongue.
“I don’t see what you wanted to have that Stirling for?” said Honorable Mrs. Justice Gallagher, to him who conferred that proud title upon her, after the guests had departed.
“You are clever, arn’t you?” said Gallagher, bitingly.
“That’s living with you,” retorted the H. M. J., who was not easily put down.137
“Then you see that you treat Stirling as if he was somebody. He’s getting to be a power in the ward, and if you want to remain Mrs. Justice Gallagher and spend eight thousand—and pickings—a year, you see that you keep him friendly.”
“Oh, I’ll be friendly, but he’s awful dull.”
“Oh, no, mamma,” said Monica. “He really isn’t. He’s read a great many more French books than I have.”
Peter lunched with the wholesale provision-dealer as planned. The lunch hour proving insufficient for the discussion, a family dinner, a few days later, served to continue it. The dealer’s family were not very enthusiastic about Peter.
“He knows nothing but grub talk,” grumbled the heir apparent, who from the proud altitude of a broker’s office, had come to scorn the family trade.
“He doesn’t know any fashionable people,” said one of the girls, who having unfulfilled ambitions concerning that class, was doubly interested and influenced by its standards and idols.
“He certainly is not brilliant,” remarked the mother.
“Humph,” growled the pater-familias, “that’s the way all you women go on. Brilliant! Fashionable! I don’t wonder marriage is a failure when I see what you like in men. That Stirling is worth all your dancing men, but just because he holds his tongue when he hasn’t a sensible thing to say, you think he’s no good.”
“Still he is ‘a nobody.’”
“He’s the fellow who made that big speech in the stump-tail milk case.”
“Not that man?”
“Exactly. But of course he isn’t ‘brilliant.’”
“I never should have dreamed it.”
“Still,” said the heir, “he keeps his eloquence for cows, and not for dinners.”
“He talked very well at Dr. Purple’s,” said the mamma, whose opinion of Peter had undergone a change.
“And he was invited to call by Mrs. Dupont and Mrs. Sizer, which is more than you’ve ever been,” said Avery senior to Avery junior.
“That’s because of the prog,” growled the son, seeing his opportunity to square accounts quickly.
Coming out of church the next Sunday, Peter was laid 138 hold of by the Bohlmanns and carried off to a mid-day dinner, at which were a lot of pleasant Germans, who made it very jolly with their kindly humor. He did not contribute much to the laughter, but every one seemed to think him an addition to the big table.
Thus it came to pass that late in January Peter dedicated a week of evenings to “Society,” and nightly donning his dress suit, called dutifully on Mrs. Dupont, Mrs. Sizer, Mrs. Purple, Mrs. Avery, Mrs. Costell, Mrs. Gallagher and Mrs. Bohlmann. Peter was becoming very frivolous.
But Peter’s social gadding did not end with these bread-and-butter calls. One afternoon in March, he went into the shop of a famous picture-dealer, to look over an exhibition then advertised, and had nearly finished his patient examination of each picture, which always involved quite as much mental gymnastics as æsthetic pleasure to Peter, when he heard a pleasant:
“How do you do, Mr. Stirling?”
Turning, he found Miss De Voe and a well-dressed man at his elbow. Peter’s face lighted up in a way which made the lady say to herself: “I wonder why he wouldn’t buy another ticket?” Aloud she said, “I want you to know another of my cousins. Mr. Ogden, Mr. Stirling.”
“Charmed,” said Mr. Ogden genially. Any expression which Peter had thought of using seemed so absolutely tame, beside this passive participle, that he merely bowed.
“I did not know you cared for pictures,” said Miss De Voe.
“I see most of the public exhibitions,” Peter told her. “I try to like them.”
Miss De Voe looked puzzled.
“Don’t,” said Mr. Ogden. “I tried once, when I first began. But it’s much easier to notice what women say, and answer ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at the right points.”139
Peter looked puzzled.
“Nonsense, Lispenard,” said Miss De Voe. “He’s really one of the best connoisseurs I know, Mr. Stirling.”
“There,” said Lispenard. “You see. Only agree with people, and they think you know everything.”
“I suppose you have seen the pictures, and so won’t care to go round with us?” inquired Miss De Voe.
“I’ve looked at them, but I should like to go over again with you,” said Peter. Then he added, “if I shan’t be in the way.”
“Not a bit,” said Lispenard heartily. “My cousin always wants a listener. It will be a charity to her tongue and my ears.” Miss De Voe merely gave him a very pleasant smile. “I wonder why he wouldn’t buy a ticket?” she thought.
Peter was rather astonished at the way they looked at the pictures. They would pass by a dozen without giving them a second glance, and then stop at one, and chat about it for ten minutes. He found that Miss De Voe had not exaggerated her cousin’s art knowledge. He talked familiarly and brilliantly, though making constant fun of his own opinions, and often jeering at the faults of the picture. Miss De Voe also talked well, so Peter really did supply the ears for the party. He was very much pleased when they both praised a certain picture.
“I liked that,” he told them, making the first remark (not a question) which he had yet made. “It seemed to me the best here.”
“Unquestionably,” said Lispenard. “There is poetry and feeling in it.”
Miss De Voe said: “That is not the one I should have thought of your liking.”
“That’s womanly,” said Lispenard, “they are always deciding what a man should like.”
“No,” denied Miss De Voe. “But I should think with your liking for children, that you would have preferred that piece of Brown’s, rather than this sad, desolate sand-dune.”
“I cannot say why I like it, except that I feel as if it had something to do with my own mood at times.”
“Are you very lonely?” asked Miss De Voe, in a voice too low for Lispenard to hear.140
“Sometimes,” said Peter, simply.
“I wish,” said Miss De Voe, still speaking low, “that the next time you feel so you would come and see me.”
“I will,” said Peter.
When they parted at the door, Peter thanked Lispenard: “I’ve really learned a good deal, thanks to Miss De Voe and you. I’ve seen the pictures with eyes that know much more about them than mine do.”
“Well, we’ll have to have another turn some day. We’re always in search of listeners.”
“If you come and see me, Mr. Stirling,” said Miss De Voe, “you shall see my pictures. Good-bye.”
“So that is your Democratic heeler?” said Lispenard, eyeing Peter’s retreating figure through the carriage window.
“Don’t call him that, Lispenard,” said Miss De Voe, wincing.
Lispenard laughed, and leaned back into a comfortable attitude. “Then that’s your protector of sick kittens?”
Miss De Voe made no reply. She was thinking of that dreary wintry stretch of sand and dune.
Thus it came to pass that a week later, when a north-easter had met a south-wester overhead and both in combination had turned New York streets into a series of funnels, in and through which wind, sleet and snow fought for possession, to the almost absolute dispossession of humanity and horses, that Peter ended a long stare at his blank wall by putting on his dress-suit, and plunging into the streets. He had, very foolishly, decided to omit dinner, a couple of hours before, rather than face the storm, and a north-east wind and an empty stomach are enough to set any man staring at nothing, if that dangerous inclination is at all habitual. Peter realized this, for the opium eater is always keenly alive to the dangers of the drug. Usually he fought the tendency bravely, but this night he felt too tired to fight himself, and preferred to battle with a little thing like a New York storm. So he struggled through the deserted streets until he had reached his objective point in the broad Second Avenue house. Miss De Voe was at home, but was “still at dinner.”
Peter vacillated, wondering what the correct thing was under the circumstances. The footman, remembering him of old, and servants in those simple days being still 141 open to impressions, suggested that he wait. Peter gladly accepted the idea. But he did not wait, for hardly had the footman left him than that functionary returned, to tell Peter that Miss De Voe would see him in the dining-room.
“I asked you to come in here, because I’m sure, after venturing out such a night, you would like an extra cup of coffee,” Miss De Voe explained. “You need not sit at the table. Morden, put a chair by the fire.”
So Peter found himself sitting in front of a big wood-fire, drinking a cup of coffee decidedly better in quality than his home-brew. Blank walls ceased to have any particular value for the time.
In a moment Miss De Voe joined him at the fire. A small table was moved up, and a plate of fruit, and a cup of coffee placed upon it.
“That is all, Morden,” she said. “It is so nice of you to have come this evening. I was promising myself a very solitary time, and was dawdling over my dinner to kill some of it. Isn’t it a dreadful night?”
“It’s blowing hard. Two or three times I thought I should have to give it up.”
“You didn’t walk?”
“Yes. I could have taken a solitary car that passed, but the horses were so done up that I thought I was better able to walk.”
Miss De Voe touched the bell. “Another cup of coffee, Morden, and bring the cognac,” she said. “I am not going to let you please your mother to-night,” she told Peter. “I am going to make you do what I wish.” So she poured a liberal portion of the eau-de-vie into Peter’s second cup, and he most dutifully drank it. “How funny that he should be so obstinate sometimes, and so obedient at others,” thought Miss De Voe. “I don’t generally let men smoke, but I’m going to make an exception to-night in your case,” she continued.
It was a sore temptation to Peter, but he answered quickly, “Thank you for the thought, but I won’t this evening.”
“You have smoked after dinner already?”
“No. I tried to keep my pipe lighted in the street, but it blew and sleeted too hard.”
“Then you had better.”
“Thank you, no.”142
Miss De Voe thought her former thought again. “Where do you generally dine?” she asked.
“I have no regular place. Just where I happen to be.”
Peter was not good at dodging. He was silent for a moment. Then he said, “I saw rather a curious thing, as I was walking up. Would you like to hear about it?”
Miss De Voe looked at him curiously, but she did not seem particularly interested in what Peter had to tell her, in response to her “yes.” It concerned an arrest on the streets for drunkenness.
“I didn’t think the fellow was half as drunk as frozen,” Peter concluded, “and I told the policeman it was a case for an ambulance rather than a station-house. He didn’t agree, so I had to go with them both to the precinct and speak to the superintendent.”
“That was before your dinner?” asked Miss De Voe, calmly.
It was a very easily answered question, apparently, but Peter was silent again.
“It was coming up here,” he said finally.
“What is he trying to keep back?” asked Miss De Voe mentally. “I suppose some of the down-town places are not quite—but he wouldn’t—” then she said out loud: “I wonder if you men do as women do, when they dine alone? Just live on slops. Now, what did you order to-night? Were you an ascetic or a sybarite?”
“Usually,” said Peter, “I eat a very simple dinner.”
“Why do you want to know about to-day?”
“Because I wish to learn where you dined, and thought I could form some conclusion from your menu.” Miss De Voe laughed, so as to make it appear a joke, but she knew very well that she was misbehaving.
“I didn’t reply to your question,” said Peter, “because I would have preferred not. But if you really wish to know, I’ll answer it.”
“Yes. I should like to know.” Miss De Voe still smiled.
“I haven’t dined.”
“Mr. Stirling! You are joking?” Miss De Voe’s smile had ended, and she was sitting up very straight in her chair. Women will do without eating for an indefinite 143 period, and think nothing of it, but the thought of a hungry man fills them with horror—unless they have the wherewithal to mitigate the consequent appetite. Hunger with woman, as regards herself, is “a theory.” As regards a man it is “a condition.”
“No,” said Peter.
Miss De Voe touched the bell again, but quickly as Morden answered it, Peter was already speaking.
“You are not to trouble yourself on my account, Miss De Voe. I wish for nothing.”
“You must have——”
Peter was rude enough to interrupt with the word “Nothing.”
“But I shall not have a moment’s pleasure in your call if I think of you as——”
Peter interrupted again. “If that is so,” he said, rising, “I had better go.”
“No,” cried Miss De Voe. “Oh, won’t you please? It’s no trouble. I’ll not order much.”
“Nothing, thank you,” said Peter.
“Just a chop or——”
Peter held out his hand.
“No, no. Sit down. Of course you are to do as you please. But I should be so happy if——?” and Miss De Voe looked at Peter appealingly.
“No. Thank you.”
“Nothing, Morden.” They sat down again. “ didn’t you dine?” asked Miss De Voe.
“I didn’t care to face the storm.”
“Yet you came out?”
“Yes. I got blue, and thought it foolish to stay indoors by myself.”
“I’m very glad you came here. It’s a great compliment to find an evening with me put above dinner. You know I had the feeling that you didn’t like me.”
“I’m sorry for that. It’s not so.”
“If not, why did you insist on my twice asking you to call on me?”
“I did not want to call on you without being sure that you really wished to have me.”
“Then why wouldn’t you stay and dine at Saratoga?”
“Because my ticket wouldn’t have been good.”
“But a new ticket would only cost seven dollars.”144
“In my neighborhood, we don’t say ‘only seven dollars.’”
“But you don’t need to think of seven dollars.”
“I do. I never have spent seven dollars on a dinner in my life.”
“But you should have, this time, after making seven hundred and fifty dollars in one month. I know men who would give that amount to dine with me.” It was a foolish brag, but Miss De Voe felt that her usual means of inspiring respect were not working,—not even realized.
“Very likely. But I can’t afford such luxuries. I had spent more than usual and had to be careful.”
“Then it was economy?”
“I had no idea my dinner invitations would ever be held in so little respect that a man would decline one to save seven dollars.” Miss De Voe was hurt. “I had given him five hundred dollars,” she told herself, “and he ought to have been willing to spend such a small amount of it to please me.” Then she said: “A great many people economize in foolish ways.”
“I suppose so,” said Peter. “I’m sorry if I disappointed you. I really didn’t think I ought to spend the money.”
“Never mind,” said Miss De Voe. “Were you pleased with the nomination and election of Catlin?”
“I was pleased at the election, but I should have preferred Porter.”
“I thought you tried to prevent Porter’s nomination?”
“That’s what the papers said, but they didn’t understand.”
“I wasn’t thinking of the papers. You know I heard your speech in the convention.”
“A great many people seem to have misunderstood me. I tried to make it clear.”
“Did you intend that the convention should laugh?”
“No. That surprised and grieved me very much!”
Miss De Voe gathered from this and from what the papers had said that it must be a mortifying subject to Peter, and knew that she ought to discontinue it. But she could not help saying, “Why?”
“It’s difficult to explain, I’m afraid. I had a feeling 145 that a man was trying to do wrong, but I hoped that I was mistaken. It seemed to me that circumstances compelled me to tell the convention all about it, but I was very careful not to hint at my suspicion. Yet the moment I told them they laughed.”
“Because they felt sure that the man had done wrong.”
“Oh!” It was a small exclamation, but the expression Miss De Voe put into it gave it a big meaning. “Then they were laughing at Maguire?”
“At the time they were. Really, though, they were laughing at human weakness. Most people seem to find that amusing.”
“And that is why you were grieved?”
“But why did the papers treat you so badly?”
“Mr. Costell tells me that I told too much truth for people to understand. I ought to have said nothing, or charged a bargain right out, for then they would have understood. A friend of—a fellow I used to know, said I was the best chap for bungling he ever knew, and I’m afraid it’s true.”
“Do you know Costell? I thought he was such a dishonest politician?”
“I know Mr. Costell. I haven’t met the dishonest politician yet.”
“He hasn’t shown me the side the papers talk about.”
“And when he does?”
“I shall be very sorry, for I like him, and I like his wife.” Then Peter told about the little woman who hated politics and loved flowers, and about the cool, able manager of men, who could not restrain himself from putting his arms about the necks of his favorite horses, and who had told about the death of one of his mares with tears in his eyes. “He had his cheek cut open by a kick from one of his horses once, and he speaks of it just as we would speak of some unintentional fault of a child.”
“Has he a great scar on his cheek?”
“Yes. Have you seen him?”
“Once. Just as we were coming out of the convention. He said something about you to a group of men which called my attention to him.” Miss De Voe thought 146 Peter would ask her what it was. “Would you like to know what he said?” she asked, when Peter failed to do so.
“I think he would have said it to me, if he wished me to hear it.”
Miss De Voe’s mind reverted to her criticism of Peter. “He is so absolutely without our standards.” Her chair suddenly ceased to be comfortable. She rose, saying, “Let us go to the library. I shall not show you my pictures now. The gallery is too big to be pleasant such a night. You must come again for that. Won’t you tell me about some of the other men you are meeting in politics?” she asked when they had sat down before another open fire. “It seems as if all the people I know are just alike—I suppose it’s because we are all so conventional—and I am very much interested in hearing about other kinds.”
So Peter told about Dennis and Blunkers, and the “b’ys” in the saloons; about Green and his fellow delegates; about the Honorable Mr., Mrs., and Miss Gallagher, and their dinner companions. He did not satirize in the least. He merely told various incidents and conversations, in a sober, serious way; but Miss De Voe was quietly amused by much of the narrative and said to herself, “I think he has humor, but is too serious-minded to yield to it.” She must have enjoyed his talk for she would not let Peter go early, and he was still too ignorant of social usages to know how to get away, whether a woman wished or no. Finally he insisted that he must leave when the clock pointed dangerously near eleven.
“Mr. Stirling,” said Miss De Voe, in a doubtful, “won’t-you-please” voice, such as few men had ever heard from her, “I want you to let me send you home? It will only take a moment to have the carriage here.”
“I wouldn’t take a horse out in such weather,” said Peter, in a very settling kind of voice.
“He’s obstinate,” thought Miss De Voe. “And he makes his obstinacy so dreadfully—dreadfully pronounced!” Aloud she said: “You will come again?”
“If you will let me.”
“Do. I am very much alone too, as perhaps you know?” Miss De Voe did not choose to say that her 147 rooms could be filled nightly and that everywhere she was welcome.
“No. I really know nothing about you, except what you have told me, and what I have seen.”
Miss De Voe laughed merrily at Peter’s frankness. “I feel as if I knew all about you,” she said.
“But you have asked questions,” replied Peter.
Miss De Voe caught her breath again. Try as she would, she could not get accustomed to Peter. All her social experience failed to bridge the chasm opened by his speech. “What did he mean by that plain statement, spoken in such a matter-of-fact voice?” she asked herself. Of course the pause could not continue indefinitely, and she finally said: “I have lived alone ever since my father’s death. I have relatives, but prefer to stay here. I am so much more independent. I suppose I shall have to move some day. This part of the city is beginning to change so.” Miss De Voe was merely talking against time, and was not sorry when Peter shook hands, and left her alone.
“He’s very different from most men,” she said to the blazing logs. “He is so uncomplimentary and outspoken! How can he succeed in politics? Still, after the conventional society man he is—he is—very refreshing. I think I must help him a little socially.”
The last remark made by Miss De Voe to her fire resulted, after a few days, in Peter’s receiving a formal dinner invitation, which he accepted with a promptness not to be surpassed by the best-bred diner-out. He regretted now his vamping of the old suit. Peter understood that he was in for quite another affair than the Avery, the Gallagher, or even the Purple dinner. He did not worry, however, and if in the dressing-room he looked furtively at the coats of the other men, he entirely forgot the subject the moment he started downstairs, and thought no 148 further of it till he came to take off the suit in his own room.
When Peter entered the drawing-room, he found it well filled with young people, and for a moment a little of the bewildered feeling of four years before came over him. But he found himself chatting with Miss De Voe, and the feeling left him as quickly as it had come. In a moment he was introduced to a “Miss Lenox,” who began talking in an easy way which gave Peter just as much or as little to say as he chose. Peter wondered if many girls were as easy to talk to as—as—Miss Lenox.
He took Miss De Voe in, and found Dorothy Ogden sitting on his other side. He had barely exchanged greetings with her, when he heard his name spoken from across the table, and looking up, he found Miss Leroy sitting opposite.
“I hope you haven’t entirely forgotten me,” that girl said, the moment his attention was caught.
“Not at all,” said Peter.
“Nor my dress,” laughed Miss Leroy.
“I remember the style, material, and train.”
“Especially the train I am sure.”
“Do explain these mysterious remarks,” said Dorothy.
“Mr. Stirling and I officiated at a wedding, and I was in such mortal terror lest some usher should step on my gown, that it became a joke.”
“Whose wedding was that?” asked Miss De Voe.
“Miss Pierce’s and Watts D’Alloi’s,” said the bridesmaid.
“Do you know Watts D’Alloi?” exclaimed Miss De Voe to Peter.
“Are you a Harvard man?”
“You were Mr. D’Alloi’s chum, weren’t you?” said Miss Leroy.
“Watts D’Alloi?” again exclaimed Miss De Voe.
“But he’s a mere boy.”
“He’s two years my senior.”
“You don’t mean it?”149
“I thought you were over thirty.”
“Most people do.”
Miss De Voe said to herself, “I don’t know as much about him as I thought I did. He may be very frank, but he doesn’t tell all one thinks. Now I know where he gets his nice manner. I ought to have recognized the Harvard finish.”
“When did you last hear from the D’Allois?” asked Miss Leroy.
“Not since they sailed,” said Peter, wincing internally.
“Not really?” said the bridesmaid. “Surely you’ve heard of the baby?”
“No.” Lines were coming into Peter’s face which Miss De Voe had never before seen.
“How strange. The letters must have gone astray. But you have written him?”
“I did not know his address.”
“Then you really haven’t heard of the little baby—why, it was born two—no, three years ago—and of Helen’s long ill-health, and of their taking a villa on the Riviera, and of how they hope to come home this spring?”
“Yes. They will sail in June if Helen is well enough. I’m to be god-mother.”
“If you were Mr. D’Alloi’s chum, you must have known Ray Rivington,” said Dorothy.
“Yes. But I’ve not seen him since we graduated. He went out West.”
“He has just returned. Ranching is not to his taste.”
“Will you, if you see him, say that I’m in New York and should like to run across him?”
“I will. He and Laurence—my second brother—are old cronies, and he often drops in on us. I want you to know my brothers. They are both here this evening.”
“I have met the elder one, I suppose.”
“No. That was a cousin, Lispenard Ogden. He spoke of meeting you. You would be amused to hear his comment about you.”
“Mr. Stirling doesn’t like to have speeches repeated to him, Dorothy,” said Miss De Voe.
“What do you mean?” asked Dorothy, looking from one to the other.150
“He snubbed me the other evening when I tried to tell him what we heard, coming out of the convention last autumn,” explained Miss De Voe, smiling slightly at the thought of treating Peter with a dose of his own medicine.
Peter looked at Miss De Voe. “I hope you don’t mean that?”
“How else could I take it?”
“You asked me if I wished something, and I merely declined, I think.”
“Oh, no. You reproved me.”
“I’m very sorry if I did. I’m always blundering.”
“Tell us what Lispenard said, Dorothy. I’m curious myself.”
“May I, Mr. Stirling?”
“I would rather not,” said Peter.
And Dorothy did not tell him, but in the drawing-room she told Miss De Voe:
“He said that except his professor of archæology at Heidelberg, Mr. Stirling was the nicest old dullard he’d ever met, and that he must be a very good chap to smoke with.”
“He said that, Dorothy?” exclaimed Miss De Voe, contemptuously.
“How ridiculous,” said Miss De Voe. “Lispenard’s always trying to hit things off in epigrams, and sometimes he’s very foolish.” Then she turned to Miss Leroy. “It was very nice, your knowing Mr. Stirling.”
“I only met him that once. But he’s the kind of man somehow that you remember. It’s curious I’ve never heard of him since then.”
“You know he’s the man who made that splendid speech when the poor children were poisoned summer before last.”
“I can’t believe it!”
“It’s so. That is the way I came to know him.”
Miss Leroy laughed. “And Helen said he was a man who needed help in talking!”
“Was Mrs. D’Alloi a great friend of his?”
“No. She told me that Watts had brought him to see them only once. I don’t think Mr. Pierce liked him.”
“He evidently was very much hurt at Watts’s not writing him.”151
“Yes. I was really sorry I spoke, when I saw how he took it.”
“Watts is a nice boy, but he always was thoughtless.”
In passing out of the dining-room, Dorothy had spoken to a man for a moment, and he at once joined Peter.
“You know my sister, Miss Ogden, who’s the best representative of us,” he said. “Now I’ll show you the worst. I don’t know whether she exploited her brother Ogden to you?”
“Yes. She talked about you and your brother this evening.”
“Trust her to stand by her family. There’s more loyalty in her than there was in the army of the Potomac. My cousin Lispenard says it’s wrecking his nervous system to live up to the reputation she makes for him.”
“I never had a sister, but it must be rather a good thing to live up to.”
“Yes. And to live with. Especially other fellows’ sisters.”
“Are you ready to part with yours for that purpose?”
“No. That’s asking too much. By the way, I think we are in the same work. I’m in the office of Jarvis, Redburn and Saltus.”
“I’m trying it by myself.”
“You’ve been very lucky.”
“Yes. I’ve succeeded much better than I hoped for. But I’ve had very few clients.”
“Fortunately it doesn’t take many. Two or three rich steady clients will keep a fellow running. I know a man who’s only got one, but he runs him for all he’s worth, and gets a pretty good living out of him.”
“My clients haven’t been of that sort.” Peter smiled a little at the thought of making a steady living out of the Blacketts, Dooleys or Milligans.
“It’s all a matter of friends.”
Peter had a different theory, but he did not say so. Just at that point they were joined by Laurence Ogden, who was duly introduced, and in a moment the conversation at their end of the table became general. Peter listened, enjoying his Havana.
When they joined the ladies, they found Lispenard Ogden there, and he intercepted Peter.152
“Look here,” he said. “A friend of mine has just come back from Europe, with a lot of prints. He’s a fellow who thinks he has discrimination, and he wants me to come up and look them over to-morrow evening. He hopes to have his own taste approved and flattered. I’m not a bit good at that, with men. Won’t you go with me, and help me lie?”
“Of course I should like to.”
“All right. Dine with me at six at the Union Club.”
“I’m not going to let you talk to each other,” said Miss De Voe. “Lispenard, go and talk with Miss McDougal.”
“See how quickly lying brings its own punishment,” laughed Lispenard, walking away.
“What does he mean?” asked Miss De Voe.
“The opposite of what he says, I think,” said Peter.
“That is a very good description of Lispenard. Almost good enough to have been said by himself. If you don’t mind, I’ll tell him.”
“Do tell me, Mr. Stirling, how you and Watts D’Alloi came to room together?”
“He asked me.”
“Yes. But what ever made him do that?”
“I’ve often wondered myself.”
“I can easily understand his asking you, but what first threw you together?”
“A college scrape.”
“Were you in a college scrape?”
“Yes. I was up before the faculty twice.”
“Do tell me what you had done?”
“I was charged with stealing the chapel Bible, and with painting a front door of one of the professors.”
“And had you done these things?”
The guests began to say good-night, so the dialogue was interrupted. When it came Peter’s turn to go, Miss De Voe said:
“I hope you will not again refuse my dinner invitations.”
“I have had a very pleasant evening,” said Peter. “But I had a pleasanter one, the other night.”
“Good-evening,” said Miss De Voe mechanically. She was really thinking “What a very nice speech. He 153 couldn’t have meant anything by his remark about the questions.”
Peter dined the next evening with Lispenard, who in the course of the meal turned the conversation to Miss De Voe. Lispenard was curious to learn just what Peter knew of her.
“She’s a great swell, of course,” he said incidentally.
“I suppose so. I really know nothing about her, but the moment I saw her I felt that she was different from any other woman I had ever met.”
“But you’ve found out about her since?”
“No. I was tempted to question Dr. Purple, but I didn’t like to ask about a friend.”
Lispenard laughed. “You’ve got a pretty bad case of conscience, I’m afraid. It’s a poor thing to have in New York, too. Well, my cousin is one of the richest, best born women in this country, though I say it. You can’t do better than cultivate her.”
“Is that what you do?”
“No. You have me there. She doesn’t approve of me at all. You see, women in this country expect a man to be serious and work. I can’t do either. I suppose my foreign education. She likes my company, and finds my escortage very convenient. But while she thinks I’m a pretty good companion, she is sure I’m a poor sort of a man. If she takes a shine to you, make the most of it. She can give you anything she pleases socially.”
“I suppose you have anything you please socially?”
“And would you advise me to spend time to get it?”
“Um. I wouldn’t give the toss of a copper for it—but I can have it. It’s not being able to have it that’s the bad thing.”
“So I have found,” said Peter gravely.
Lispenard laughed heartily, as he sipped his “Court France.” “I wish,” he said, “that a lot of people, whose lives are given to nothing else, could have heard you say that, in that tone of voice. You don’t spell Society with a capital, do you?”
“Possibly,” said Peter, “if I had more capital, I should use some on society.”
“Good,” said Lispenard. “Heavens,” he said to himself, 154 “he’s made a joke! Cousin Anneke will never believe it.”
He told her the next day, and his statement proved correct.
“I know you made the joke,” she said. “He didn’t.”
“And why shouldn’t he joke as well as I?”
“It doesn’t suit him.”
“Parlor tricks are all right in a lap-dog, but they only belittle a mastiff.”
Lispenard laughed good-naturedly. He was used to his cousin’s hits at his do-nothingness, and rather enjoyed them. “He is a big beast, isn’t he? But he’s a nice fellow. We had such a good time over Le Grand’s etchings last night. Didn’t get away till after one. It’s really a pleasure to find a man who can smoke and keep quiet, and yet enjoy things strongly. Le Grand was taken with him too. We just fitted each other.”
“I’m glad you took him. I’m going to give him some society.”
“Did you ever hear the story of Dr. Brown?”
“No. What is it?”
“A certain widow announced to her son that she was to marry Dr. Brown. ‘Bully for you, Ma,’ said the son, ‘Does Dr. Brown know it?’”
“What do you mean?”
Lispenard laughed. “Does Stirling know it? Because I advise you to tell him before you decide to do anything with him. He’s not easy to drive.”
“Of course he’ll be glad to meet nice people.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that Peter Stirling won’t give a raparee for all the society you can give him.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about.”
But Lispenard was right. Peter had enjoyed the dinner at Miss De Voe’s and the evening at Mr. Le Grand’s. Yet each night on reaching his rooms, he had sat long hours in his straight office chair, in the dark. He was thinking of what Miss Leroy had told him of—of—— He was not thinking of “Society.”155
Peter made his dinner call at Miss De Voe’s, but did not find her at home. He received a very pleasant letter expressing her regret at missing him, and a request to lunch with her two days later, and to go with some friends to an afternoon piano recital, “if you care for music. If not, merely lunch with us.” Peter replied that he was very sorry, but business called him to Albany on that day.
“I really regret it,” said Miss De Voe to Dorothy. “It is getting so late in the season, that unless he makes his call quickly, I shall hardly be able to give him more than one other chance.”
Peter’s business in Albany had been sprung on him suddenly. It was neither more nor less than a request sent verbally through Costell from Governor Catlin, to come up and see him.
“It’s about the food and tenement commission bills,” Costell told him. “They’ll be passed by the Senate to-day or to-morrow, and be in Catlin’s hands.”
“I hope he’ll make good appointments,” said Peter, anxiously.
“I think he will,” said Costell, smiling quietly. “But I don’t believe they will be able to do much. Commissions are commonly a way of staving off legislation.”
Peter went up to Albany and saw Catlin. Much to his surprise he found the Governor asking his advice about the bills and the personnel of the commissions. But after a few minutes he found that this seeking for aid and support in all matters was chronic, and meant nothing special in his own case.
“Mr. Schlurger tells me, though he introduced the bills, that you drafted both. Do you think I had better sign them?”
“Mr. Costell told me to take your advice. You really think I had better?”
The Governor evidently found something solacing in the firm voice in which Peter spoke his “yes.” He drew two papers towards him.
“You really think I had better?”
The Governor dipped his pen in the ink, but hesitated.
“The amendments haven’t hurt them?” he queried.
“But they have been hurt?”
“They have been made better in some ways.”
Still the Governor hesitated, but finally began a big G. Having committed himself, he wrote the rest rapidly. He paused for a moment over the second bill, and fingered it nervously. Then he signed it quickly. “That’s done.” He shoved them both away much as if they were dangerous.
“I wonder,” thought Peter, “if he enjoys politics?”
“There’s bean a great deal of trouble about the commissioners,” said the Governor.
“I suppose so,” said Peter.
“Even now, I can’t decide. The leaders all want different men.”
“The decision rests with you.”
“That’s the trouble,” sighed the Governor. “If only they’d agree.”
“You should make your own choice. You will be held responsible if the appointments are bad.”
“I know I shall. Just look over those lists, and see if you think they’ll do?”
Peter took the slips of paper and read them.
“I needn’t say I’m pleased to see my name,” he said. “I had no idea you would think of me.”
“That was done by Costell,” said the Governor, hastening to shift the responsibility.
“I really don’t know any of the rest well enough to express an opinion. Personally, I should like to see some scientific men on each commission.”
“Scientific! But we have none in politics.”157
“No? But this isn’t politics.”
“I hoped you’d think these lists right.”
“I think they are good. And the bills give us the power to take evidence; perhaps we can get the scientific part that way.”
Peter did his best to brace Catlin up; and his talk or other pressure seemed to have partially galvanized the backbone of that limp individual, for a week later the papers announced the naming of the two commissions. The lists had been changed, however. That on food consisted of Green, a wholesale grocer, and a member of the Health Board. Peter’s name had been dropped. That on tenements, of five members, was made up of Peter; a very large property-owner in New York, who was a member as well of the Assembly; a professional labor agitator; a well-known politician of the better type, and a public contractor. Peter, who had been studying some reports of a British Royal Commission on the same subject, looked grave, thinking that what the trained men in England had failed in doing, he could hardly hope to accomplish with such ill-assorted instruments. The papers were rather down on the lists. “The appointments have destroyed any chance of possible benefit,” was their general conclusion, and Peter feared they were right.
Costell laughed when Peter spoke of the commissions. “If you want Catlin to do anything well, you’ve got to stand over him till it’s done. I wanted you on both commissions, so that you could see how useless they all are, and not blame us politicians for failing in our duty. Green promises to get you appointed Secretary of the Food Commission, which is the next best thing, and will give you a good salary for a time.”
The Tenement Commission met with little delay, and Peter had a chance to examine its motley members. The big landlord was a great swell, who had political ambitions, but was too exclusive, and too much of a dilettante to be a real force. Peter took a prejudice against him before meeting him, for he knew just how his election to the Assembly had been obtained—even the size of the check—and Peter thought buying an election was not a very creditable business. He did not like what he knew of the labor agitator, for such of the latter’s utterances and opinions as he had read seemed to be the cheapest 158 kind of demagogism. The politician he had met and liked. Of the contractor he knew nothing.
The Commission organized by electing the politician as chairman. Then the naming of a secretary was discussed, each member but Peter having a candidate. Much to Peter’s surprise, the landlord, Mr. Pell, named Ray Rivington.
“I thought he was studying law?” Peter said.
“He is,” said Pell. “But he can easily arrange to get off for the few hours we shall meet a week, and the five dollars a day will be a very nice addition to his income. Do you know him?”
“We were in college together. I thought he was rich.”
“No. He’s of good family, but the Rivingtons are growing poorer every year. They try to live on their traditions, and traditions don’t pay grocers. I hope you’ll help him. He’s a very decent fellow.”
“I shall vote for him,” replied Peter, marvelling that he should be able to give a lift to the man who, in the Harvard days, had seemed so thoroughly the mate of Watts and the other rich fellows of the “gang.” Rivington being the only candidate who had two votes, he was promptly selected.
Thirty arduous minutes were spent in waiting for the arrival of the fifth member of the Commission, and in the election of chairman and secretary. A motion was then made to adjourn, on the ground that the Commission could not proceed without the secretary.
Peter promptly objected. He had been named secretary for this particular meeting, and offered to act until Rivington could be notified. “I think,” he said, “that we ought to lay out our programme.”
The labor agitator agreed with him, and, rising, delivered an extempore speech, declaring that “we must not delay. The leeches (here he looked at Mr. Pell) are sucking the life-blood of the people,” etc.
The chairman started to call him to order, but Peter put his hand on the chairman’s arm. “If you stop him,” he said in a low voice, “he’ll think we are against him, and he’ll say so outside.”
“But it’s such foolishness.”
“And so harmless! While he’s talking, look over this.” Peter produced an outline of action which he had drawn 159 up, and having written it in duplicate, he passed one draft over to Mr. Pell.
They all let the speech go on, Peter, Mr. Pell and the chairman chatting over the plan, while the contractor went to sleep. The agitator tried to continue, but as the inattention became more and more evident, his speech became tamer and tamer. Finally he said, “That is my opinion,” and sat down.
The cessation of the oration waked up the contractor, and Peter’s outline was read aloud.
“I don’t move its adoption,” said Peter. “I merely submit it as a basis.”
Not one of the members had come prepared with knowledge of how to go to work, except the chairman, who had served on other commissions. He said:
“I think Mr. Stirling’s scheme shows very careful thought, and is admirable. We cannot do better than adopt it.”
“It is chiefly copied from the German committee of three years ago,” Peter told them. “But I have tried to modify it to suit the different conditions.”
Mr. Pell objected to the proposed frequent sittings. Thereupon the agitator praised that feature. The hour of meeting caused discussion. But finally the scheme was adopted, and the date of the first session fixed.
Peter went downstairs with Mr. Pell, and the latter offered to drop him at his office. So they drove off together, and talked about the Commission.
“That Kurfeldt is going to be a nuisance,” said Pell.
“I can’t say yet. He evidently has no idea of what our aim is. Perhaps, though, when we really get to work, he’ll prove useful.”
Peter had a call the next day from Rivington. It was made up of thanks, of college chat, and of inquiry as to duties. Peter outlined the preliminary work, drafted the “Inquiries” and other printed papers necessary to be sent out before the first meeting, and told him about the procedure at the meetings.
“I know I shall get into all kinds of pickles,” said Ray. “I write such a bad hand that often I can’t read it myself. How the deuce am I to take down evidence?”
“I shall make notes for my own use, and you will be welcome to them, if they will help you.”160
“Thanks, Peter. That’s like you.”
The Commission began its inquiry, on the date fixed, and met three times a week from that time on. Peter did not try to push himself forward, but he was by far the best prepared on the subject, and was able to suggest the best sources of information. He asked good questions, too, of the various witnesses summoned. Finally he was the one regular attendant, and therefore was the one appealed to for information elicited at previous meetings. He found the politician his best helper. Pell was useful when he attended, which was not very often, and even this intermittent attendance ceased in June. “I’m going to Newport,” he explained, and did not appear again till late in the fall. The contractor really took no part in the proceedings beyond a fairly frequent attendance, and an occasional fit of attention whenever the inquiry related to building. The labor-agitator proved quite a good man. He had, it is true, no memory, and caused them to waste much time in reading over the minutes of previous meetings. But he was in earnest, and proved to be perfectly reasonable as soon as he found that the commissioners’ duties were to inquire and not to make speeches. Peter walked home with him several times, and they spent evenings together in Peter’s rooms, talking over the evidence, and the possibilities.
Peter met a great many different men in the course of the inquiry; landlords, real-estate agents, architects, engineers, builders, plumbers, health officials, doctors and tenants. In many cases he went to see these persons after they had been before the Commission, and talked with them, finding that they were quite willing to give facts in private which they did not care to have put on record.
He had been appointed the Secretary of the Food Commission, and spent much time on that work. He was glad to find that he had considerable influence, and that Green not merely acted on his suggestions, but encouraged him to make them. The two inquiries were so germane that they helped him reciprocally. No reports were needed till the next meeting of the Legislature, in the following January, and so the two commissions took enough evidence to swamp them. Poor Ray was reduced almost to despair over the mass of “rubbish” as he called it, which he would subsequently have to put in order.161
Between the two tasks, Peter’s time was well-nigh used up. It was especially drawn upon when the taking of evidence ceased and the drafting of the reports began. Ray’s notes proved hopeless, so Peter copied out his neatly, and let Ray have them, rather glad that irrelevant and useless evidence was thus omitted. It was left to Peter to draw the report, and when his draft was submitted, it was accompanied by a proposed General Tenement-house Bill. Both report and bill were slightly amended, but not in a way that Peter minded.
Peter drew the Food-Commission report as well, although it went before the Commission as Green’s. To this, too, a proposed bill was attached, which had undergone the scrutiny of the Health Board, and had been conformed to their suggestions.
In November Peter carried both reports to Albany, and had a long talk with Catlin over them. That official would have preferred no reports, but since they were made, there was nothing to do but to submit them to the Legislature. Peter did not get much encouragement from him about the chances for the bills. But Costell told him that they could be “whipped through. The only danger is of their being amended so as to spoil them.”
“Well,” said Peter, “I hope they will be passed. I’ve done my best, whatever happens.”
A very satisfactory thing to be able to say of yourself, if you believe in your own truthfulness.
In spite of nine months’ hard work on the two Commissions, it is not to be supposed that Peter’s time was thus entirely monopolized. If one spends but seven hours of the twenty-four in sleep, and but two more on meals, there is considerable remaining time, and even so slow a worker as Peter found spare hours not merely for society and saloons, but for what else he chose to undertake.
Socially he had an evening with Miss De Voe, just before she left the city for the summer; a dinner with Mr. Pell, 162 who seemed to have taken a liking to Peter; a call on Lispenard; another on Le Grand; and a family meal at the Rivingtons, where he was made much of in return for his aid to Ray.
In the saloons he worked hard over the coming primary, and spent evenings as well on doorsteps in the district, talking over objects and candidates. In the same cause, he saw much of Costell, Green, Gallagher, Schlurger and many other party men of greater or less note in the city’s politics. He had become a recognized quantity in the control of the district, and the various ward factions tried hard to gain his support. When the primary met, the proceedings, if exciting, were never for a moment doubtful, for Gallagher, Peter, Moriarty and Blunkers had been able to agree on both programme and candidates. An attempt had been made to “turn down” Schlurger, but Peter had opposed it, and had carried his point, to the great gratitude of the silent, honest German. What was more important to him, this had all been done without exciting hard feelings.
“Stirling’s a reasonable fellow,” Gallagher told Costell, not knowing how much Peter was seeing of the big leader, “and he isn’t dead set on carrying his own schemes. We’ve never had so little talk of mutiny and sulking as we have had this spring. Moriarty and Blunkers swear by him. It’s queer. They’ve always been on opposite sides till now.”
When the weather became pleasant, Peter took up his “angle” visitings again, though not with quite the former regularity. Yet he rarely let a week pass without having spent a couple of evenings there. The spontaneous welcome accorded him was payment enough for the time, let alone the pleasure and enjoyment he derived from the imps. There was little that could raise Peter in their estimation, but they understood very well that he had become a man of vast importance, as it seemed to them. They had sharp little minds and ears, and had caught what the “district” said and thought of Peter.
“Cheese it, the cop, Tim,” cried an urchin one evening to another, who was about to “play ball.”
“Cheese it yerself. He won’t dare tech me,” shouted Tim, “so long as Mister Peter’s here.”
That speech alone showed the magnitude of his position 163 in their eyes. He was now not merely, “friends wid de perlice;” he was held in fear by that awesome body!
“If I was as big as him,” said one, “I’d fire all the peelers.”
“Wouldn’t that be dandy!” cried another.
He won their hearts still further by something he did in midsummer. Blunkers had asked him to attend what brilliant posters throughout that part of the city announced, as:
HO FOR THE SEA-SHORE!
PATRICK N. BLUNKERS’S ASSOCIATION
When Peter asked, he found that it was to consist of a barge party (tickets fifty cents) to a bit of sand not far away from the city, with music, clams, bathing and dancing included in the price of the ticket, and unlimited beer for those who could afford that beverage.
“The beer just pays for it,” Blunkers explained. “I don’t give um whisky cause some —— cusses don’t drink like as dey orter.” Then catching a look in Peter’s face, he laughed rather shamefacedly. “I forgits,” he explained. “Yer see I’m so da——” he checked himself— “I swears widout knowin’ it.”
“I shall be very glad to go,” said Peter.
“Dat’s bully,” said Blunkers. Then he added anxiously: “Dere’s somethin’ else, too, since yer goin’. Ginerally some feller makes a speech. Yer wouldn’t want to do it dis time, would yer?”
“What do they talk about?”
“Just what dey——” Blunkers swallowed a word, nearly choking in so doing, and ended “please.”
“Yes. I shall be glad to talk, if you don’t mind my taking a dull subject?”
“Yer just talk what yer want. We’ll listen.”
After Peter had thought it over for a day, he went to Blunkers’s gin palace.
“Look here,” he said. “Would it be possible to hire one more barge, and take the children free? I’ll pay for 164 the boat, and for the extra food, if they won’t be in the way.”
“I’m damned if yer do,” shouted Blunkers. “Yer don’t pay for nothinks, but der childers shall go, or my name ain’t Blunkers.”
And go they did, Blunkers making no secret of the fact that it was Peter’s idea. So every child who went, nearly wild with delight, felt that the sail, the sand, the sea, and the big feed, was all owed to Peter.
It was rather an amusing experience to Peter. He found many of his party friends in the district, not excluding such men as Gallagher, Kennedy and others of the more prominent rank. He made himself very pleasant to those whom he knew, chatting with them on the trip down. He went into the water with the men and boys, and though there were many good swimmers, Peter’s country and river training made it possible for him to give even the “wharf rats,” a point or two in the way of water feats. Then came the regulation clam-bake, after which Peter talked about the tenement-house question for twenty minutes. The speech was very different from what they expected, and rather disappointed them all. However, he won back their good opinions in closing, for he ended with a very pleasant “thank you,” to Blunkers, so neatly worded, and containing such a thoroughly apt local joke, that it put all in a good humor, and gave them something to tell their neighbors, on their return home. The advantage of seldom joking is that people remember the joke, and it gets repeated. Peter almost got the reputation of a wit on that one joke, merely because it came after a serious harangue, and happened to be quotable. Blunkers was so pleased with the end of the speech that he got Peter to write it out, and to this day the “thank you” part of the address, in Peter’s neat handwriting, handsomely framed, is to be seen in Blunkers’s saloon.
Peter also did a little writing this summer. He had gone to see three or four of the reporters, whom he had met in “the case,” to get them to write up the Food and Tenement subjects, wishing thereby to stir up public feeling. He was successful to a certain degree, and they not merely wrote articles themselves, but printed three or four which Peter wrote. In two cases, he was introduced to “staff” writers, and even wrote an editorial, for which 165 he was paid fifteen dollars. This money was all he received for the time spent, but he was not working for shekels. All the men told him to let them know when he had more “stories” for them, and promised him assistance when the reports should go in to the legislature.
Peter visited his mother as usual during August. Before going, he called on Dr. Plumb, and after an evening with him, went to two tenements in the district. As the result of these calls, he carried three children with him when he went home. Rather pale, thin little waifs. It is a serious matter to charge any one with so grave a crime as changling, but Peter laid himself open to it, for when he came back, after two weeks, he returned very different children to the parents. The fact that they did not prosecute for the substitution only proves how little the really poor care for their offspring.
But this was not his only summering. He spent four days with the Costells, as well as two afternoons later, thoroughly enjoying, not merely the long, silent drives over the country behind the fast horses, but the pottering round the flower-garden with Mrs. Costell. He had been reading up a little on flowers and gardening, and he was glad to swap his theoretical for her practical knowledge. Candor compels the statement that he enjoyed the long hours stretched on the turf, or sitting idly on the veranda, puffing Mr. Costell’s good Havanas.
Twice Mr. Bohlmann stopped at Peter’s office of a Saturday and took him out to stay over Sunday at his villa in one of the Oranges. The family all liked Peter and did not hesitate to show it. Mr. Bohlmann told him:
“I sbend about dree dousand a year on law und law-babers. Misder Dummer id does for me, but ven he does nod any longer it do, I gifts id you.”
On the second visit Mrs. Bohlmann said:
“I tell my good man that with all the law-business he has, he must get a lawyer for a son-in-law.”
Peter had not heard Mrs. Bohlmann say to her husband the evening before, as they were prinking for dinner:
“Have you told Mr. Stirling about your law business?”
Nor Mr. Bohlmann’s prompt:
“Yah. I dells him der last dime.”
Yet Peter wondered if there were any connection between the two statements. He liked the two girls. They 166 were nice-looking, sweet, sincere women. He knew that Mr. Bohlmann was ranked as a millionaire already, and was growing richer fast. Yet—Peter needed no blank walls.
During this summer, Peter had a little more law practice. A small grocer in one of the tenements came to him about a row with his landlord. Peter heard him through, and then said: “I don’t see that you have any case; but if you will leave it to me to do as I think best, I’ll try if I can do something,” and the man agreeing, Peter went to see the landlord, a retail tobacconist up-town.
“I don’t think my client has any legal grounds,” he told the landlord, “but he thinks that he has, and the case does seem a little hard. Such material repairs could not have been foreseen when the lease was made.”
The tobacconist was rather obstinate at first. Finally he said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll contribute one hundred dollars towards the repairs, if you’ll make a tenant named Podds in the same building pay his rent; or dispossess him if he doesn’t, so that it shan’t cost me anything.”
Peter agreed, and went to see the tenant in arrears. He found that the man had a bad rheumatism and consequently was unable to work. The wife was doing what she could, and even the children had been sent on the streets to sell papers, or by other means, to earn what they could. They also owed a doctor and the above-mentioned grocer. Peter went back to the landlord and told him the story.
“Yes,” he said, “it’s a hard case, I know, but, Mr. Stirling, I owe a mortgage on the place, and the interest falls due in September. I’m out four months’ rent, and really can’t afford any more.” So Peter took thirty-two dollars from his “Trustee” fund, and sent it to the tobacconist. “I have deducted eight dollars for collection,” he wrote. Then he saw his first client, and told him of his landlord’s concession.
“How much do I owe you?” inquired the grocer.
“The Podds tell me they owe you sixteen
“Yes. I shan’t get it.”
“My fee is twenty-five. Mark off their bill and give me the balance.”
The grocer smiled cheerfully. He had charged the 167 Podds roundly for their credit, taking his chance of pay, and now got it paid in an equivalent of cash. He gave the nine dollars with alacrity.
Peter took it upstairs and gave it to Mrs. Podds. “If things look up with you later,” he said, “you can pay it back. If not, don’t trouble about it. I’ll look in in a couple of weeks to see how things are going.”
When this somewhat complicated matter was ended, he wrote about it to his mother:
“Many such cases would bankrupt me. As it is, my fund is dwindling faster than I like to see, though every lessening of it means a lessening of real trouble to some one. I should like to tell Miss De Voe what good her money has done already, but fear she would not understand why I told her. It has enabled me to do so much that otherwise I could not have afforded. There is only one hundred and seventy-six dollars left. Most of it though, is merely loaned and perhaps will be repaid. Anyway, I shall have nearly six hundred dollars for my work as secretary of the Food Commission, and I shall give half of it to this fund.”
When the season began again, Miss De Voe seriously undertook her self-imposed work of introducing Peter. He was twice invited to dinner and was twice taken with opera parties to sit in her box, besides receiving a number of less important attentions. Peter accepted dutifully all that she offered him. Even ordered a new dress-suit of a tailor recommended by Lispenard. He was asked by some of the people he met to call, probably on Miss De Voe’s suggestion, and he dutifully called. Yet at the end of three months Miss De Voe shook her head.
“He is absolutely a gentleman, and people seem to like him. Yet somehow—I don’t understand it.”
“Exactly,” laughed Lispenard. “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
“Lispenard,” angrily said Miss De Voe, “Mr. Stirling is as much better than——”
“That’s it,” said Lispenard. “Don’t think I’m depreciating Peter. The trouble is that he is much too good a chap to make into a society or a lady’s man.”168
“I believe you are right. I don’t think he cares for it at all.”
“No,” said Lispenard. “‘Barkis is not willin’. I think he likes you, and simply goes to please you.”
“Do you really think that’s it?”
Lispenard laughed at the earnestness with which the question was asked. “No,” he replied. “I was joking. Peter cultivates you, because he wants to know your swell friends.”
Either this conversation or Miss De Voe’s own thoughts, led to a change in her course. Invitations to formal dinners and to the opera suddenly ceased, and instead, little family dinners, afternoons in galleries, and evenings at concerts took their place. Sometimes Lispenard went with them, sometimes one of the Ogden girls, sometimes they went alone. It was an unusual week when Peter’s mail did not now bring at least one little note giving him a chance to see Miss De Voe if he chose.
In February came a request for him to call. “I want to talk with you about something,” it said. That same evening he was shown into her drawing-rooms. She thanked him with warmth for coming so quickly, and Peter saw that only the other visitors prevented her from showing some strong feeling. He had stumbled in on her evening—for at that time people still had evenings—but knowing her wishes, he stayed till they were left alone together.
“Come into the library,” she said. As they passed across the hall she told Morden, “I shall not receive any more to-night.”
The moment they were in the smaller and cosier room, without waiting to sit even, she began: “Mr. Stirling, I dined at the Manfreys yesterday.” She spoke in a voice evidently endeavoring not to break. Peter looked puzzled.
“Mr. Lapham, the bank president, was there.”
Peter still looked puzzled.
“And he told the table about a young lawyer who had very little money, yet who put five hundred dollars—his first fee—into his bank, and had used it to help——” Miss De Voe broke down, and, leaning against the mantel, buried her face in her handkerchief.
“It’s curious you should have heard of it,” said Peter.169
“He—he didn’t mention names, b-bu-but I knew, of course.”
“I didn’t like to speak of it because—well—I’ve wanted to tell you the good it’s done. Suppose you sit down.” Peter brought a chair, and Miss De Voe took it.
“You must think I’m very foolish,” she said, wiping her eyes.
“It’s nothing to cry about.” And Peter began telling her of some of the things which he had been able to do:—of the surgical brace it had bought; of the lessons in wood-engraving it had given; of the sewing-machine it had helped to pay for; of the arrears in rent it had settled. “You see,” he explained, “these people are too self-respecting to go to the big charities, or to rich people. But their troubles are talked over in the saloons and on the door-steps, so I hear of them, and can learn whether they really deserve help. They’ll take it from me, because they feel that I’m one of them.”
Miss De Voe was too much shaken by her tears to talk that evening. Miss De Voe’s life and surroundings were not exactly weepy ones, and when tears came they meant much. She said little, till Peter rose to go, and then only:
“I shall want to talk with you, to see what I can do to help you in your work. Please come again soon. I ought not to have brought you here this evening, only to see me cry like a baby. But—I had done you such injustice in my mind about that seven dollars, and then to find that—Oh!” Miss De Voe showed signs of a recurring break-down, but mastered herself. “Good-evening.”
Peter gone, Miss De Voe had another “good” cry—which is a feminine phrase, quite incomprehensible to men—and, going to her room, bathed her eyes. Then she sat before her boudoir fire, thinking. Finally she rose. In leaving the fire, she remarked aloud to it:
“Yes. He shall have Dorothy, if I can do it.”
So Dorothy became a pretty regular addition to the informal meals, exhibitions and concerts. Peter was once more taken to the opera, but Dorothy and Miss De Voe formed with him the party in the box on such nights. Miss De Voe took him to call on Mrs. , and sang his praises to both parents. She even went so far as to say frankly to them what was in her mind.170
Mr. Ogden said, “Those who know him speak very well of him. I heard ‘Van’ Pell praise him highly at Newport last summer. Said all the politicians thought of him as a rising man.”
“He seems a nice steady fellow,” said the mamma. “I don’t suppose he has much practice?”
“Oh, don’t think of the money,” said Miss De Voe. “What is that compared to getting a really fine man whom one can truly love?”
“Still, money is an essential,” said the papa.
“Yes. But you both know what I intend to do for Dorothy and Minna. They need not think of money. If he and Dorothy only will care for each other!”
Peter and Dorothy did like each other. Dorothy was very pretty, and had all the qualities which make a girl a strong magnet to men. Peter could not help liking her. As for Dorothy, she was like other women. She enjoyed the talking, joking, “good-time” men in society, and chatted and danced with them with relish. But like other women, when she thought of marriage, she did not find these gingerbread ornamentations so attractive. The average woman loves a man, aside from his love for her, for his physical strength, and his stiff truth-telling. The first is attractive to her because she has it not. Far be it from man to say why the second attracts. So Dorothy liked Peter. She admired many qualities in him which she would not have tolerated in other men. It is true that she laughed at him, too, for many things, but it was the laughter of that peculiar nature which implies admiration and approval, rather than the lower feelings. When the spring separation came, Miss De Voe was really quite hopeful.
“I think things have gone very well. Now, Mr. Stirling has promised to spend a week with me at Newport. I shall have Dorothy there at the same time,” she told Mrs. Ogden.
Lispenard, who was present, laughed as usual. “So you are tired of your new plaything already?”
“What do you mean?”
“Arn’t you marrying him so as to get rid of his calls, and his escortage?”
“Of course not. We shall go on just the same.”
“Bully for you, Ma. Does Dr. Brown know it?”171
Miss De Voe flushed angrily, and put an end to her call. “What a foolish fellow Lispenard is!” she remarked unconsciously to Wellington at the carriage door.
“Beg pardon, mum?” said Wellington, blank wonderment filling his face.
“Home, Wellington,” said Miss De Voe crossly.
Peter took his week at Newport on his way back from his regular August visit to his mother. Miss De Voe had told him casually that Dorothy would be there, and Dorothy was there. Yet he saw wonderfully little of her. It is true that he could have seen more if he had tried, but Peter was not used to practice finesse to win minutes and hours with a girl, and did not feel called upon, bluntly, to take such opportunities. His stay was not so pleasant as he had expected. He had thought a week in the same house with Miss De Voe, Dorothy and Lispenard, without much regard to other possible guests, could not but be a continual pleasure. But he was conscious that something was amiss with his three friends. Nor was Peter the only one who felt it. Dorothy said to her family when she went home:
“I can’t imagine what is the matter with Cousin Anneke. All last spring she was nicer to me than she has ever been before, but from the moment I arrived at Newport, and before I could possibly have said or done anything to offend her, she treated me in the snippiest way. After two days I asked her what the matter was, but she insisted there was nothing, and really lost her temper at my suggesting the idea. There was something, I know, for when I said I was coming home sooner than I had at first intended, she didn’t try to make me stay.”
“Perhaps,” said Mrs. Ogden, “she was disappointed in something, and so vented her feeling on you.”
“But she wasn’t cross—except when I asked her what the matter was. She was just—just snippy.”
“Was Mr. Stirling there?”
“Yes. And a lot of other people. I don’t think anybody had a good time, unless it was Cousin Lispenard. And he wasn’t a bit nice. He had some joke to himself, and kept making remarks that nobody could understand, and chuckling over them. I told him once that he was rude, but he said that ‘when people went to a play they should laugh at the right points.’ That’s the nice thing 172 about Mr. Stirling. You know that what he says is the real truth.”
“Lispenard’s always trying to be clever.”
“Yes. What do you suppose he said to me as I came away!”
“He shook my hand, laughing, and said, ‘Exit villain. It is to be a comedy, not a tragedy.’ What could he mean?”
Lispenard stayed on to see the “comedy,” and seemed to enjoy it, if the amused expression on his face when he occasionally gave himself up to meditation was any criterion. Peter had been pressed to stay beyond the original week, and had so far yielded as to add three days to his visit These last three days were much pleasanter than those which had gone before, although Dorothy had departed and Peter liked Dorothy. But he saw much more of Miss De Voe, and Miss De Voe was in a much pleasanter mood. They took long drives and walks together, and had long hours of talk in and about the pleasant house and grounds. Miss De Voe had cut down her social duties for the ten days Peter was there, giving far more time for them to kill than usually fell to Newporters even in those simple days.
In one of these talks, Miss De Voe spoke of Dorothy.
“She is such a nice, sweet girl,” she said. “We all hope she’ll marry Lispenard.”
“Do you think cousins ought to marry?”
Miss De Voe had looked at Peter when she made her remark. Peter had replied quietly, but his question, as Miss De Voe understood it, was purely scientific, not personal. Miss De Voe replied:
“I suppose it is not right, but it is so much better than what may happen, that it really seems best. It is so hard for a girl in Dorothy’s position to marry as we should altogether wish.”
“Why?” asked Peter, who did not see that a girl with prospective wealth, fine social position, and personal charm, was not necessarily well situated to get the right kind of a husband.
“It is hard to make it clear—but—I’ll tell you my own story, so that you can understand. Since you don’t ask questions, I will take the initiative. That is, unless your 173 not asking them means you are not interested?” Miss De Voe laughed in the last part of this speech.
“I should like to hear it.”
People, no matter what Peter stated, never said “Really?” “You are in earnest?” or “You really mean it?” So Miss De Voe took him at his word.
“Both my father and mother were rich before they married, and the rise in New York real estate made them in time, much richer. They both belonged to old families. I was the only child—Lispenard says old families are so proud of themselves that they don’t dare to have large families for fear of making the name common. Of course they lavished all their thought, devotion and anxiety on me. I was not spoiled; but I was watched and tended as if I were the most precious thing the world contained. When I grew up, and went into society, I question if I ever was a half-hour out of the sight of one or the other of my parents. I had plenty of society, of course, but it was restricted entirely to our set. None other was good enough for me! My father never had any business, so brought no new element into our household. It was old families, year in and year out! From the moment I entered society I was sought for. I had many suitors. I had been brought up to fear fortune-hunting, and suspected the motives of many men. Others did not seem my equals—for I had been taught pride in my birth. Those who were fit as regarded family were, many of them, unfit in brains or morals—qualities not conspicuous in old families. Perhaps I might have found one to love—if it had not been for the others. I was surrounded wherever I went and if by chance I found a pleasant man to talk to, , we were interrupted by other men coming up. Only a few even of the men whom I met could gain an entrée to our house.—They weren’t thought good enough. If a working, serious man had ever been able to see enough of me to love me, he probably would have had very little opportunity to press his suit. But the few men I might have cared for were frightened off by my money, or discouraged by my popularity and exclusiveness. They did not even try. Of course I did not understand it then. I gloried in my success and did not see the wrong it was doing me. I was absolutely happy at home, and really had not the slightest inducement to 174 marry—especially among the men I saw the most. I led this life for six years. Then my mother’s death put me in mourning. When I went back into society, an almost entirely new set of men had appeared. Those whom I had known were many of them married—others were gone. Society had lost its first charm to me. So my father and I travelled three years. We had barely returned when he died. I did not take up my social duties again till I was thirty-two. Then it was as the spinster aunt, as you have known me. Now do you understand how hard it is for such a girl as Dorothy to marry rightly?”
“Yes. Unless the man is in love. Let a man care enough for a woman, and money or position will not frighten him off.”
“Such men are rare. Or perhaps it is because I did not attract them. I did not understand men as well then as I do now. Of some whom I thought unlovable or dull at that time, I have learned to think better. A woman does not marry to be entertained—or should not.”
“I think,” said Peter, “that one marries for love and sympathy.”
“Yes. And if they are given, it does not matter about the rest. Even now, thirty-seven though I am, if I could find a true man who could love me as I wish to be loved, I could love him with my whole heart. It would be my happiness not merely to give him social position and wealth, but to make his every hope and wish mine also.”
All this had been said in the same natural manner in which they both usually spoke. Miss De Voe had talked without apparent emotion. But when she began the last remark, she had stopped looking at Peter, and had gazed off through the window at the green lawn, merely showing him her profile. As a consequence she did not see how pale he suddenly became, nor the look of great suffering that came into his face. She did not see this look pass and his face, and especially his mouth, settle into a rigid determination, even while the eyes remained sad.
Miss De Voe ended the pause by beginning, “Don’t you”—but Peter interrupted her there, by saying:
“It is a very sad story to me—because I—I once craved love and sympathy.”
Miss De Voe turned and looked at him quickly. She 175 saw the look of suffering on his face, but read it amiss. “You mean?” she questioned.
“There was a girl I loved,” said Peter softly, “who did not love me.”
“And you love her still?”
“I have no right to.”
“She is married?”
“Will you tell me about it?”
“I—I would rather not.”
Miss De Voe sat quietly for a moment, and then rose. “Dear friend,” she said, laying her hand on Peter’s shoulder, “we have both missed the great prize in life. Your lot is harder than the one I have told you about. It is very,”—Miss De Voe paused a moment,—“it is very sad to love—without being loved.”
And so ended Lispenard’s comedy.
Lispenard went back with Peter to the city. He gave his reason on the train:
“You see I go back to the city occasionally in the sum mer, so as to make the country bearable, and then I go back to the country, so as to make the city endurable. I shall be in Newport again in a week. When will you come back?”
“My summering’s over.”
“Indeed. I thought my cousin would want you again!”
“She did not say so.”
“The deuce she didn’t. It must be the only thing she didn’t say, then, in your long confabs?”
Peter made no reply, though Lispenard looked as well as asked a question.
“Perhaps,” continued Lispenard, “she talked too much, and so did not remember to ask you?”
Still Peter said nothing.
“Are you sure she didn’t give you a chance to have more of her society?” Lispenard was smiling.176
“Ogden,” said Peter gently, “you are behaving contemptibly and you know it.”
The color blazed up into Lispenard’s face and he rose, saying:
“Did I understand you aright?” The manner and attitude were both threatening though repressed.
“If you tell me that I misunderstood you, I will apologize. If you think the statement insulting, I will withdraw it. I did not speak to insult you; but because I wished you to know how your questions impressed me.”
“When a man tells another he is contemptible, he cannot expect to escape results. This is no place to have a scene. You may send me your apology when we reach New York——”
Peter interrupted. “I shall, if you will tell me I wronged you in supposing your questions to be malicious.”
Lispenard paid no attention to the interjection. “Otherwise,” he finished, “we will consider our relations ended.” He walked away.
Peter wrote Lispenard that evening a long letter. He did not apologize in it, but it ended:
“There should be no quarrel between us, for we ought to be friends. If alienation has come, it is due to what has occurred to-day, and that shall not cause unkind feelings, if I can help it. An apology is due somewhere. You either asked questions you had no right to ask, or else I misjudged you. I have written you my point of view. You have your own. I leave the matter to your fairness. Think it over, and if you still find me in the wrong, and will tell me so, I will apologize.”
He did not receive a reply. Meeting Ogden Ogden a few days later, he was told that Lispenard had gone west for a hunting trip, quite unexpectedly. “He said not to expect him back till he came. He seemed out of sorts at something.” In September Peter had a letter from Miss De Voe. Merely a few lines saying that she had decided to spend the winter abroad, and was on the point of sailing. “I am too hurried to see my friends, but did not like to go without some good-byes, so I write them.” On the whole, as in the case of most comedies, there was little amusement for the actual performers. A great essayist has defined laughter as a “feeling of superiority in the laugher over the object laughed at.” If this is correct, it makes all humor despicable. Certainly much 177 coarseness, meanness and cruelty are every day tolerated, because of the comic covering with which it is draped.
It is not to be supposed that this comedy nor its winter prologue had diverted Peter from other things. In spite of Miss De Voe’s demands on his time he had enough left to spend many days in Albany when the legislature took up the reports of the Commissions. He found strong lobbies against both bills, and had a long struggle with them. He had the help of the newspapers, and he had the help of Costell, yet even with this powerful backing, the bills were first badly mangled, and finally were side-tracked. In the actual fight, Pell helped him most, and Peter began to think that a man might buy an election and yet not be entirely bad. Second only to Pell, was his whilom enemy, the former District-Attorney, now a state senator, who battled himself into Peter’s reluctant admiration and friendship by his devotion and loyalty to the bills. Peter concluded that he had not entirely done the man justice in the past. Curiously enough, his chief antagonist was Maguire.
Peter did not give up the fight with this defeat. His work for the bills had revealed to him the real undercurrents in the legislative body, and when it adjourned, making further work in Albany only a waste of time, he availed himself of the secret knowledge that had come to him, to single out the real forces which stood behind and paid the lobby, and to interview them. He saw the actual principals in the opposition, and spoke with utmost frankness. He told them that the fight would be renewed, on his part, at every session of the legislature till the bills were passed; that he was willing to consider proposed amendments, and would accept any that were honest. He made the fact very clear to them that they would have to pay yearly to keep the bills off the statute book. Some laughed at him, others quarrelled. But a few, after listening to him, stated their true objections to the bills, and Peter tried to meet them.
When the fall elections came, Peter endeavored to further his cause in another way. Three of the city’s assemblymen and one of her senators had voted against the bills. Peter now invaded their districts, and talked against them in saloons and elsewhere. It very quickly stirred up hard feeling, which resulted in attempts to down 178 him. But Peter’s blood warmed up as the fight thickened, and hisses, eggs, or actual attempts to injure him physically did not deter him. The big leaders were appealed to to call him off, but Costell declined to interfere.
“He wouldn’t stop anyway,” he told Green, “so we should do no good. Let them fight it out by themselves.” Both of which sentences showed that Mr. Costell understood his business.
Peter had challenged his opponents to a joint debate, and when that was declined by them, he hired halls for evenings and spoke on the subject. He argued well, with much more feeling than he had shown since his speech in “the case.” After the first attempt of this kind, he had no difficulty in filling his halls. The rumor came back to his own district that he was “talkin’ foin,” and many of his friends there turned out to hear him. The same news went through other wards of the city and drew men from them. People were actually excluded, for want of room, and therefore every one became anxious to hear his speeches. Finally, by subscription of a number of people who had become interested, headed by Mr. Pell, the Cooper Union was hired, and Peter made a really great speech to nearly three thousand people.
The papers came to his help too, and stood by him manfully. By their aid, it was made very clear that this was a fight against a selfish lobby. By their aid, it became one of the real questions of the local campaign, and was carried beyond the borders of the city, so as to play a part in the county elections. Peter met many of the editors, and between his expert knowledge, acquired on the Commissions, and his practical knowledge, learned at Albany, proved a valuable man to them. They repaid his help by kind words and praise in their columns, and brought him forward as the chief man in the movement. Mrs. Stirling concluded that the conspiracy to keep Peter in the background had been abandoned.
“Those York papers couldn’t help my Peter’s getting on,” was the way she put it.
The results of this fight were even better than he had hoped. One Assemblyman gave in and agreed no longer to oppose the bills. Another was defeated. The Senator had his majority so cut down that he retired from the opposition. The questions too had become so much more 179 discussed and watched, and the blame so fastened upon the lobby that many members from the country no longer dared to oppose legislation on the subject. Hence it was that the bills, newly drawn by Peter, to reduce opposition as far as possible, when introduced by Schlurger soon after the opening of the legislature, went through with a rush, not even ayes and nays being taken. Aided by Mr. Costell, Peter secured their prompt signing by Catlin, his long fight had ended in victory.
The “sixt” was wild with joy over the triumph. Whether it was because it was a tenement ward, or because Peter had talked there so much about it, or because his success was felt to redound to their credit, the voters got up a display of fireworks on the night when the news of the signing of the bills reached New York. When Peter returned to the city, he was called down to a hall one evening, to witness a torchlight procession and receive resolutions “engrossed and framed” from his admiring friends. Blunkers was chairman and made a plain speech which set the boys cheering by its combination of strong feeling and lack of grammar. Then Justice Gallagher made a fine-sounding, big-worded presentation. In the enthusiasm of the moment, Dennis broke the programme by rising and giving vent to a wild burst of feeling telling his audience all that they owed to Peter, and though they knew already what he told them, they cheered and cheered the strong, natural eloquence.
“Yer was out a order,” said Blunkers, at the end of the speech.
“Yez loi!” said Dennis, jumping on his feet again. “It’s never out av order to praise Misther Stirling.”
The crowd applauded his sentiment.
Peter had had some rough experiences two or three times in his fall campaign, and Dennis, who had insisted on escorting him, took him to task about his “physical culture.”180
“It’s thirty pounds yez are too heavy, sir,” he told Peter. “An’ it’s too little intirely yez afther knowin’ av hittin’.”
Peter asked his advice, bought Indian clubs, dumb-bells, and boxing-gloves, and under Dennis’s tutelage began to learn the art of self-defence. He was rather surprised, at the end of two months, to find how much flesh he had taken off, how much more easily he moved, how much more he was eating, and how much more he was able to do, both mentally and physically.
“It seems as if somebody had oiled my body and brain,” he told Dennis.
Dennis let him into another thing, by persuading him to join the militia regiment most patronized by the “sixth,” and in which Dennis was already a sergeant. Peter received a warm welcome from the regiment, for Dennis, who was extremely popular, had heralded his fame, and Peter’s physical strength and friendly way did the rest. Ogden Ogden laughed at him for joining a “Mick” regiment, and wanted to put Peter into the Seventh. Peter only said that he thought his place was where he was.
Society did not see much of Peter this winter. He called on his friends dutifully, but his long visits to Albany, his evenings with Dennis, and his drill nights, interfered badly with his acceptance of the invitations sent him. He had, too, made many friends in his commission work and politics, so that he had relatively less time to give to his older ones. The absence of Miss De Voe and Lispenard somewhat reduced his social obligations it is true, but the demands on his time were multiplying fast.
One of these demands was actual law work. The first real case to come to him was from the contractor who had served on the tenement-commission. He was also employed by the Health Board as special counsel in a number of prosecutions, to enforce clauses of his Food Bill. The papers said it was because of his familiarity with the subject, but Peter knew it was the influence of Green, who had become a member of that Board. Then he began to get cases from the “district,” and though there was not much money in each case, before long the number of them made a very respectable total.
The growth of his practice was well proven by a 181 suggestion from Dummer that they should join forces. “Mr. Bohlmann wants to give you some of his work, and it’s easier to go into partnership than to divide his practice.”
Peter knew that Dummer had a very lucrative business of a certain kind, but he declined the offer.
“I have decided never to take a case which has not right on its side.”
“A lawyer is just as much bound to try a case as a physician is bound to take a patient.”
“That is what lawyers say outside, but they know better.”
“Well, have your scruples. We’ll make the firm cases only such as you choose. I’ll manage the others.”
“I should like to,” said Peter. “I’m very grateful for the offer—but we could hardly do that successfully. If the firm was good for anything, we should be known as belonging to it, and the public could not well discriminate.”
So that chance of success was passed. But every now and then Bohlmann sent him something to do, and Dummer helped him to a joint case occasionally.
So, though friends grew steadily in numbers, society saw less and less of Peter. Those who cared to study his tastes came to recognize that to force formal entertaining on him was no kindness, and left it to Peter to drop in when he chose, making him welcome when he came.
He was pleased to get a letter from Lispenard during the winter, from Japan. It was long, but only the first paragraph need be quoted, for the rest related merely to his travels:
“The breezes of the Pacific have blown away all my bad temper,” he wrote, “and I want to say that I was wrong, and regret my original fault, as well as what it later led me into. You are quite right. We must continue friends.”
Peter wrote a reply, which led to a regular correspondence. He sent Miss De Voe, also, a line of Christmas greetings, and received a long letter from her at Nice, which told him something of Watts and Helen:
“She is now well again, but having been six years in Europe, she and her husband have become wedded to the life. I question if they ever return. I spoke of you, and they both inquired with great warmth about you.”
Peter replied, sending his “remembrance to Mr. and Mrs. D’Alloi in case you again meet them.” From that time on Miss De Voe and he corresponded, she telling him of her Italian, Greek and Egyptian wanderings, and he writing of his doings, especially in regard to a certain savings bank fund standing in the name of “Peter Stirling, trustee” to which Miss De Voe had, the winter before, arranged to contribute a thousand dollars yearly.
As his practice increased he began to indulge himself a little. Through the instrumentality of Mr. Pell, he was put first into one and later into a second of the New York clubs, and his dinners became far less simple in consequence. He used these comforters of men, indeed, almost wholly for dining, and, though by no means a club-man in other senses, it was still a tendency to the luxurious. To counteract this danger he asked Mr. Costell to pick him up a saddle-horse, whereupon that friend promptly presented him with one. He went regularly now to a good tailor, which conduct ought to have ruined him with the “b’ys,” but it didn’t. He still smoked a pipe occasionally in the saloons or on the doorsteps of the district, yet candor compels us to add that he now had in his room a box of cigars labelled “Habana.” These were creature pleasures, however, which he only allowed himself on rare occasions. And most of these luxuries did not appear till his practice had broadened beyond the point already noted.
Broaden it did. In time many city cases were thrown in his way. As he became more and more a factor in politics, the judges began to send him very profitable referee cases. Presently a great local corporation, with many damage suits, asked him to accept its work on a yearly salary.
“Of course we shall want you to look out for us at Albany,” it was added.
“I’ll do what I can to prevent unfair legislation. That must be all, though. As for the practice, you must let me settle every case where I think the right is with the plaintiff.” This caused demur at first, but eventually he was employed, and it was found that money was saved in the long run, for Peter was very successful in getting people to settle out of court.
Then the savings bank, for which Peter had done his 183 best (not merely as recorded, but at other times), turned over its law business to him, giving him many real estate transactions to look into, besides papers to draw. “He brings us a good many depositors,” Mr. Lapham told his trustees, “and is getting to be a large depositor himself.”
Peter began to find help necessary, and took a partner. He did this at the suggestion of Ogden Ogden, who had concluded his clerkship, and who said to Peter:
“I have a lot of friends who promise me their work. I don’t know how much it will be, but I should like to try it with you. Of course, yours is the bigger practice, but we can arrange that.”
So after considerable discussion, the sign on Peter’s door became “Stirling and Ogden,” and the firm blossomed out with an office boy—one of Peter’s original “angle” friends, now six years older than when Peter and he had first met.
Ogden’s friends did materialize, and brought good paying cases. As the city, referee, corporation and bank work increased, their joint practice needed more help, and Ray Rivington was, on Ogden’s request, taken in.
“He doesn’t get on with his law studies, though he pretends to work over them hard. In fact he’ll never be a good lawyer. He hasn’t a legal mind. But he’ll bring cases, for he’s very popular in society, and he’ll do all the palavering and running round very well. He’s just the fellow to please people.” This was what Ogden urged, adding, “I might as well tell you that I’m interested for another reason, too. He and Dorothy will marry, if he can ever get to the marrying point. This, of course, is to be between us.”
“I’ll be very glad to have him, both for his own sake, and for what you’ve just told me,” said Peter.
Thus it was that the firm again changed its name, becoming “Stirling, Ogden and Rivington,” and actually spread into two other rooms, Peter’s original little “ten by twelve” being left to the possession of the office boy. That functionary gazed long hours at the map of Italy on the blank wall, but it did not trouble him. He only whistled and sang street songs at it. As for Peter, he was too busy to need blank walls. He had fought two great opponents. The world and himself. He had conquered them both.
Dennis seemed to forget that he had just expressed the opinion that all the “decent” men were Democrats
[Careful there, Paul. “All A is B” is not the same as “All B is A.” (The formal term is “affirming the consequent,” probably the world’s single most common logical fallacy.)]
“Modern Cottage Architecture”
[It would seem a safe bet that by the 1890s, or even the 1870s, there would be several dozen books with this title. But in fact I can only find one—published in England in 1904. If you expand the search to “cottage architecture” without reference to modernity, the number does get closer to a hundred.]
He’s a young lawyer, who has no business.
[Query which has been nagging at me for several chapters: Why did Peter’s high-profile victory in the tainted-milk case not result in a flood of new clients?]
his fellow-ward delegates
[It may be an error for “fellow ward-delegates”.]
“The Honorable Lemuel Porter, Hudson, N. Y.”
[Typographic trivia: In the printed book, the abbreviation “N. Y.” is split across a line break. This gives me the fantods, so I always use a nonbreaking space.]
I want to go on with my profession.
[That is to say, the profession in which he has had one paying case in three years.]
Arn’t we—the party leaders
[About halfway through the book, the author will decide that it should be spelled “aren’t”, but for the time being it is consistently “arn’t”.]
I’ve helped push things that I knew were unpopular.
first “e” in “helped” invisible
I must try to better it . . . . to try and get laws
[Food for sociolinguistic thought: In both British and American English, the form “try and” has remained almost perfectly steady over the past century-plus, while the form “try to” has become ever more common.]
“Mr. Stirling,“ called Kennedy.
close quote invisible
you can —— your ward
[I would very much like to know what verb in 1894 was intended to fill in the blank.]
“I didn’t ask.”
[At first glance, this looks like the first outright lie we have heard Peter tell. But in fact he is being Jesuitically accurate: Maguire volunteered the information, unasked.]
If you can give me time.
final . invisible
[Or maybe a comma was intended. The word “time” comes at a line break, so it is obvious that something is supposed to be there.]
A second ballot showed:
[These tables would have been less confusing if the author had taken the trouble to name the four candidates subsumed under “Scattering”, and invent numbers for all of them. Who were the two delegates who changed their votes to Catlin on the second ballot, and then changed back again on the third? And why did nine men abstain on the fourth ballot (total votes dropping from 484 to 475) but then return for the fifth ballot?]
the leaders an’ the papers are just afther discoverin’ there is a sixth ward
[Hurrah! It’s the correct Irish use of “after”.]
“I’m told Kennedy is growling, and running amuck?”
[This is but the first of several dubious question marks on the page.]
he most dutifully drank it
[If you were paying attention, you will remember that Peter’s promise to his mother only involved drinking in saloons.]
“Why didn’t you dine?” asked Miss De Voe.
text has “Why, with superfluous comma
“Do explain these mysterious remarks,” said Dorothy.
[Thank you, Dorothy, for saving me the trouble of looking up Miss Leroy. I, unlike Peter, had entirely forgotten her.]
I suppose it’s my foreign education.
text has its
a family meal at the Rivingtons, where he was made much of in return for his aid to Ray
[When you consider that Peter’s “aid” consisted of arranging for Ray to be paid $5 a day for a job whose actual work is entirely done by Peter, a single meal seems pretty slim recompense.]
so grave a crime as changling
[Frankly I don’t believe there is such a word (er . . . changeling-ing?) but we know what he means.]
“The Podds tell me they owe you sixteen dollars.”
close quote missing
‘Barkis is not willin’.
[If you were hair-splittingly pedantic it would have to be printed willin’.’ with an apostrophe for the “dropped g” before the full stop, followed by a single close quote after it.]
Miss De Voe took him to call on Mrs. Ogden, and sang
text has Odgen
even in those comparatively simple days.
text has comparitively
a pleasant man to talk to, téte-à-téte
[If the accents in tête-à-tête had been missing entirely, I would have supplied the correct ones. But when the author, editor or typesetter insists on ostentatious error, I can only leave him to it.]
Meeting Ogden Ogden a few days later
[Dorothy and Minna’s brother has previously been met as “Mr. Ogden”, and as “Ogden” without title. Let us hope that, like Jerome K. Jerome, he at least has a middle name to break the monotony.]
A great essayist
[Hobbes, apparently, though the “superiority” interpretation goes back to Plato.]
Aided by Mr. Costell, Peter secured their prompt signing by Catlin, his long fight had ended in victory.
[There may be a word missing; flagrant comma splices simply aren’t characteristic of our author.]
One of these demands was actual law work.
[And about time, too. By now it has been six or seven years since Peter graduated from Harvard.]