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Peter - A Novel of Which He is Not the Hero
by F. Hopkinson Smith
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"Whew! what a cross examination. Wait—I'll draw up a set of specifications and hand them in with a new plan of my life."

"You will do nothing of the kind! You will draw up a chair—here, right alongside of me, and tell me about Kitty and—No, Peter, he is not going to be taken over and introduced to Ruth for at least five minutes. Peter has fallen in love with her, Holker, and I do not blame him. One of these young fellows—there he is still talking to her—hasn't left her side since he put his eyes on her. Now begin—The Medal?—

"Expected by next steamer."

"The Corn Exchange?"

"All finished but the inside work."

"Kitty?"

"All finished but the outside work."

Miss Felicia looked up. "Your wife, I mean, you stupid fellow."

"Yes, I know. She would have come with me but her dress didn't arrive in time."

Miss Felicia laughed: "And the boys?"

"Still in Paris—buying bric-a-brac and making believe they're studying architecture and—But I'm not going to answer another question. Attention! Miss Felicia Grayson at the bar!"

The dear lady straightened her back, her face crinkling with merriment.

"Present!" she replied, drawing down the corners Of her mouth.

"When did you leave home? How long will you stay? Can you come to dinner—you and Methusaleh—on Wednesday night?"

"I refuse to answer by advice of counsel. As to coming to dinner, I am not going anywhere for a week—then I am coming to you and Kitty, whether it is Wednesday or any other night. Now, Peter, take him away. He's so puffed up with his Gold Medal he's positively unbearable."

All this time Jack had been standing beside Ruth. He had heard the stir at the door and had seen Holker join Miss Felicia, and while the talk between the two lasted he had interspersed his talk to Ruth with accounts of the supper, and Garry's getting the ring, to which was added the boy's enthusiastic tribute to the architect himself. "The greatest man I have met yet," he said in his quick, impulsive way. "We don't have any of them down our way. I never saw one—nobody ever did. Here he comes with Mr. Grayson. I hope you will like him."

Ruth made a movement as if to start to her feet. To sit still and look her best and attend to her cups and hot water and tiny wafers was all right for men like Jack, but not with distinguished men like Mr. Morris.

Morris had his hand on her chair before she could move it back.

"No, my dear young lady—you'll please keep your seat. I've been watching you from across the room sand you make too pretty a picture as you are. Tea?—Not a drop."

"Oh, but it is so delicious—and I will give you the very biggest piece of lemon that is left."

"No—not a drop; and as to lemon—that's rank poison to me. You should have seen me hobbling around with gout only last week, and all because somebody at a reception, or tea, or some such plaguey affair, made me drink a glass of lemonade. Give it to this aged old gentleman—it will keep him awake. Here, Peter!"

Up to this moment no word had been addressed to Jack, who stood outside the half circle waiting for some sign of recognition from the great man; and a little disappointed when none came. He did not know that one of the great man's failings was his forgetting the names even of those of his intimate friends—such breaks as "Glad to see you—I remember you very well, and very pleasantly, and now please tell me your name," being a common occurrence with the great architect—a failing that everybody pardoned.

Peter noticed the boy's embarrassment and touched Morris' arm.

"You remember Mr. Breen, don't you, Holker? He was at your supper that night—and sat next to me."

Morris whirled quickly and held out his hand, all his graciousness in his manner.

"Yes, certainly. You took the ring to Minott, of course. Very glad to meet you again—and what did you say his name was, Peter?" This in the same tone of voice—quite as if Jack were miles away.

"Breen—John Breen," answered Peter, putting his arm on Jack's shoulder, to accentuate more clearly his friendship for the boy.

"All the better, Mr. John Breen—doubly glad to see you, now that I know your name. I'll try not to forget it next time. Breen! Breen! Peter, where have I heard that name before? Breen—where the devil have I—Oh, yes—I've got it now. Quite a common name, isn't it?"

Jack assured him with a laugh that it was; there were more than a hundred in the city directory. He wasn't offended at Morris forgetting his name, and wanted him to see it.

"Glad to know it; wouldn't like to think you were mixed up in the swindle. You ought to thank your stars, my dear fellow, that you got into architecture instead of into Wall—"

"But I am in—"

"Yes, I know—you're with Hunt—" (another instance of a defective memory) "and you couldn't be with a better man—the best in the profession, really. I'm talking of some scoundrels of your name—Breen & Co., the firm is—who, I hear, have cheated one of my clients—young Gilbert—fine fellow—just married—persuaded him to buy some gold stock—Mukton Lode, I think they called it—and robbed him of all he has. He must stop on his house I hear. And now, my dear Miss—" here he turned to the young girl—"I really forget—"

"Ruth," she answered with a smile. She had taken Morris's measure and had already begun to like him as much as Jack did.

"Yes—Miss Ruth—Now, please, my dear girl, keep on being young and very beautiful and very wholesome, for you are every one of these things, and I know you'll forgive me for saying so when I tell you that I have two strapping young fellows for sons who are almost old enough to make love to you. Come, Peter, show me that copy of Tacitus you wrote me about. Is it in good condition?" They were out of Jack's hearing now, Morris adding, "Fine type of Southern beauty, Peter. Big design, with broad lines everywhere. Good, too—good as gold. Something about her forehead that reminds me of the Italian school. Looks as if Bellini might have loved her. Hello, Major! What are you doing here all by yourself?"

Jack stood transfixed!

Horror, anger, humiliation over the exposure (it was unheard, if he had but known it, by anyone in the room except Peter and himself) rushed over him in hot concurrent waves. It was his uncle, then, who had robbed young Gilbert! The Mukton Lode! He had handled dozens of the certificates, just as he had handled dozens of others, hardly glancing at the names. He remembered overhearing some talk one day in which his uncle had taken part. Only a few days before he had sent a bundle of Mukton certificates to the transfer office of the company.

Then a chill struck him full in the chest and he shivered to his finger-tips. Had Ruth heard?—and if she had heard, would she understand? In his talk he had given her his true self—his standards of honor—his beliefs in what was true and worth having. When she knew all—and she must know—would she look upon him as a fraud? That his uncle had been accused of a shrewd scoop in the Street did not make his clerk a thief, but would she see the difference?

All these thoughts surged through his mind as he stood looking into her eyes, her hand in his while he made his adieux. He had determined, before Morris fired the bomb which shattered his hopes, to ask if he might see her again, and where, and if there could be found no place fitting and proper, she being motherless and Miss Felicia but a chaperon, to write her a note inviting her to walk up through the Park with him, and so on into the open where she really belonged. All this was given up now. The best thing for him was to take his leave as quietly as possible, without committing her to anything—anything which he felt sure she would repudiate as soon as she learned—if she did not know already—how undesirable an acquaintance John Breen, of Breen & Co., was, etc.

As to his uncle's share in the miserable transaction, there was but one thing to do—to find out, and from his own lips, if possible, if the story were true, and if so to tell him exactly what he thought of Breen & Co. and the business in which they were engaged. Peter's advice was good, and he wished he could follow it, but here was a matter in which his honor was concerned. When this side of the matter was presented to Mr. Grayson he would commend him for his course of action. To think that his own uncle should be accused of a transaction of this kind—his own uncle and a Breen! Could anything be more horrible!

So sudden was his departure from the room—just "I must go now; I'm so grateful to you all for asking me, and I've had such a good—Good-by—" that Miss Felicia looked after him in astonishment, turning to Peter with:

"Why, what's the matter with the boy? I wanted him to dine with us. Did you say anything to him, Peter, to hurt his feelings?"

Peter shook his head. Morris, he knew, was the unconscious culprit, but this was not for his sister's or Ruth's ears—not, at least, until he could get at the exact facts for himself.

"He is as sensitive as a plant," continued Peter; "he closes all up at times. But he is genuine, and he is sincere—that's better than poise, sometimes."

"Well, then, maybe Ruth has offended him," suggested Miss Felicia. "No—she couldn't. Ruth, what have you done to young Mr. Breen?"

The girl threw back her head and laughed.

"Nothing."

"Well, he went off as if he had been shot from a gun. That is not like him at all, I should say, from what I have seen of him. Perhaps I should have looked after him a little more. I tried once, but I could not get him away from you. His manner is really charming when he talks, and he is so natural and so well bred; not at all like his friend, of whom he seems to think so much. How did you like him, dear Ruth?"

"Oh, I don't know." She knew, but she didn't intend to tell anybody. "He's very shy and—"

"—And very young."

"Yes, perhaps."

"And very much of a gentleman," broke in Peter in a decided tone. None should misunderstand the boy if he could help it.

Again Ruth laughed. Neither of them had touched the button which had rung up her sympathy and admiration.

"Of course he is a gentleman. He couldn't be anything else. He is from Maryland, you know."



CHAPTER X



Reference has been made in these pages to a dinner to be given in the house of Breen to various important people, and to which Mr. Peter Grayson, the honored friend of the distinguished President of the Clearing House, was to be invited. The Scribe is unable to say whether the distinguished Mr. Grayson received an invitation or not. Breen may have thought better of it, or Jack may have discouraged it after closer acquaintance with the man who had delighted his soul as no other man except his father had ever done—but certain it is that he was not present, and equally certain is it that the distinguished Mr. Portman was, and so were many of the directors of the Mukton Lode, not to mention various others—capitalists whose presence would lend dignity to the occasion and whose names and influence would be of inestimable value to the future of the corporation.

As fate would have it the day for assuaging the appetites of these financial magnates was the same that Miss Felicia had selected for her tea to Ruth, and the time at which they were to draw up their chairs but two hours subsequent to that in which Jack, crushed sad humiliated by his uncle's knavery, had crept downstairs and into the street.

In this frame of mind the poor boy had stopped at the Magnolia in the hope of finding Garry, who must, he thought, have left Corinne at home, and then retraced his steps to the club. He must explode somewhere and with someone, and the young architect was the very man he wanted. Garry had ridiculed his old-fashioned ideas and had advised him to let himself go. Was the wiping out of Gilbert's fortune part of the System? he asked himself.

As he hunted through the rooms, almost deserted at this hour, his eyes searching for his friend, a new thought popped into his head, and with such force that it bowled him over into a chair, where he sat staring straight in front of him. Tonight, he suddenly remembered, was the night of the dinner his uncle was to give to some business friends—"A Gold-Mine Dinner," his aunt had called it. His cheeks flamed again when he thought that these very men had helped in the Mukton swindle. To interrupt them, though, at their feast—or even to mention the subject to his uncle while the dinner was in progress—was, of course, out of the question. He would stay where he was; dine alone, unless Garry came in, and then when the last man had left his uncle's house he would have it out with him.

Biffton was the only man who disturbed his solitude. Biffy was in full evening dress—an enormous white carnation in his button-hole and a crush hat under his arm. He was booked for a "Stag," he said with a yawn, or he would stay and keep him company. Jack didn't want any company—certainly not Biffy—most assuredly not any of the young fellows who had asked him about Gilbert's failure. What he wanted was to be left alone until eleven o'clock, during which time he would get something to eat.

Dinner over, he buried himself in a chair in the library and let his mind roam. Angry as he was, Ruth's image still haunted him. How pretty she was—how gracefully she moved her arm as she lifted the cups; and the way the hair waved about her temples; and the tones of her voice—and dear Peter, so kind and thoughtful of him, so careful that he should be introduced to this and that person; and Miss Felicia! What a great lady she was; and yet he was not a bit afraid of her. What would they all think of him when the facts of his uncle's crime came to their ears, and they MUST come sooner or later. What, too, would Peter think of him for breaking out on his uncle, which he firmly intended to do as soon as the hour hand reached eleven? Nor would he mince his words. That an outrage of this kind could be committed on an unsuspecting man was bad enough, but that it should have taken place in his own uncle's office, bringing into disrepute his father's and his own good name, was something he could not tolerate for a moment. This he intended saying to his uncle in so many plain words; and so leaving our hero with his soul on fire, his mind bent on inflammables, explosives, high-pressures—anything in fact that once inserted under the solid body of the senior Breen would blow that gentleman into space—we will betake ourselves to his palatial home. The dinner being an important one, no expense had been spared.

All day long boys in white aprons had sprung from canvas-covered wagons, dived in Arthur Breen's kitchen and dived out again after depositing various eatables, drinkables and cookables—among them six pair of redheads, two saddles of mutton, besides such uncanny things as mushrooms, truffles and the like, all of which had been turned over to the chef, who was expressly engaged for the occasion, and whose white cap—to quote Parkins—"Gives a hair to the scullery which reminded him more of 'ome than anything 'e 'ad seen since 'e left 'is lordship's service."

Upstairs more wonderful things had been done. The table of the sepulchral dining-room was trans formed into a bed of tulips, the mantel a parterre of flowers, while the sideboard, its rear packed with the family silver, was guarded by a row of bottles of various sizes, shapes and colors; various degrees of cob webbed shabbiness, too—containing the priceless vintages which the senior member of the firm of Breen & Co. intended to set before his friends.

Finally, as the dinner hour approached, all the gas jets were ablaze; not only the side lights in the main hall, and the overhead lantern which had shed its rays on Peter's bald head, but the huge glass chandelier hung in the middle of the satin-upholstered drawing room, as well as the candelabra on the mantel with their imitation wax candles and brass wicks—every thing, in fact, that could add to the brilliancy of the occasion.

All this, despite the orderly way in which the millionaire's house was run, had developed a certain nervous anxiety in the host himself, the effect of which had not yet worn off, although but a few minutes would elapse before the arrival of the guests. This was apparent in the rise and fall of Breen's heels, as he seesawed back and forth on the hearth-rug in the satin-lined drawing-room, with his coattails spread to the life less grate, and from the way he glanced nervously at the mirror to see that his cravat was properly tied and that his collar did not ride up in the back.

The only calm person in the house was the ex-widow. With the eyes of a major-general sweeping the field on the eve of an important battle, she had taken in the disposition of the furniture, the hang of the curtains and the placing of the cushions and lesser comforts. She had also arranged with her own hands the masses of narcissus and jonquils on the mantels, and had selected the exact shade of yellow tulips which centred the dining-room table. It was to be a "Gold-Mine Dinner," so Arthur had told her, "and everything must be in harmony."

Then seeing Parkins, who had entered unexpectedly and caught her in the act (it is bad form for a hostess to arrange flowers in some houses—the butler does that), she asked in an indifferent tone: "And how many are we to have for dinner, Parkins?" She knew, of course, having spent an hour over a diagram placing the guests.

"Fourteen, my lady."

"Fourteen!—really, quite a small affair." And with the air of one accustomed all her life to banquets in palaces of state, she swept out of the room.

The only time she betrayed herself was just before the arrival of the guests, when her mind reverted to her daughter.

"The Portmans are giving a ball next week, Arthur, and I want Corinne to go. Are you sure he is coming?"

"Don't worry, Kitty, Portman's coming; and so are the Colonel, and Crossbin, and Hodges, and the two Chicago directors, and Mason, and a lot more. Everybody's coming, I tell you. If Mukton Lode doesn't sit up and take notice with a new lease of life after tonight, I'm a Dutchman. Run, there's the bell."

The merciful Scribe will spare the reader the details incident upon the arrival of the several guests. These dinners are all alike: the announcements by the butler; the passing of the cocktails on a wine tray; the standing around until the last man has entered the drawing-room; the perfunctory talk—the men who have met before hobnobbing instantly with each other, the host bearing the brunt of the strangers; the saunter into the dining-room, the reading of cards, and the "Here you are, Mr. Portman, right alongside Mr. Hodges. And Crossbin, you are down there somewhere"; the spreading of napkins and squaring of everybody's elbow as each man drops into his seat.

Neither will the reader be told of the various dishes or their garnishings. These pages have so far been filled with little else beside eating and drinking, and with reason, too, for have not all the great things in life been begun over some tea-table, carried on at a luncheon, and completed between the soup and the cordials? Kings, diplomats and statesmen have long since agreed that for baiting a trap there is nothing like a soup, an entree and a roast, the whole moistened by a flagon of honest wine. The bait varies when the financier or promoter sets out to catch a capitalist, just as it does when one sets out to catch a mouse, and yet the two mammals are much alike—timid, one foot at a time, nosing about to find out if any of his friends have had a nibble; scared at the least disturbing echo—then the fat, toothsome cheese looms up (Breen's Madeira this time), and in they go.

But if fuller description of this special bait be omitted, there is no reason why that of the baiters and the baited should be left out of the narrative.

Old Colonel Purviance, of the Chesapeake Club, for one—a big-paunched man who always wore, summer and winter, a reasonably white waistcoat and a sleazy necktie; swore in a loud voice and dropped his g's when he talked. "Bit 'em off," his friends said, as he did the end of his cigars. He had, in honor of the occasion so contrived that his black coat and trousers matched this time, while his shoestring tie had been replaced by a white cravat. But the waistcoat was of the old pattern and the top button loose, as usual. The Colonel earned his living—and a very comfortable one it was—by promoting various enterprises—some of them rather shady. He had also a gift for both starting and maintaining a boom. Most of the Mukton stock owned by the Southern contingent had been floated by him. Another of his accomplishments was his ability to label correctly, with his eyes shut, any bottle of Madeira from anybody's cellar, and to his credit, be it said, he never lied about the quality, be it good, bad or abominable.

Next to him sat Mason, from Chicago—a Westerner who had made his money in a sudden rise in real estate, and who had moved to New York to spend it: an out-spoken, common-sense, plain man, with yellow eyebrows, yellow head partly bald, and his red face blue specked with powder marks due to a premature blast in his mining days. Mason couldn't tell the best Tiernan Madeira from corner-grocery sherry, and preferred whiskey at any and all hours—and what was more, never assumed for one instant that he could.

Then came Hodges, the immaculately dressed epicure—a pale, clean-shaven, eye-glassed, sterilized kind of a man with a long neck and skinny fingers, who boasted of having twenty-one different clarets stored away under his sidewalk which were served to ordinary guests, and five special vintages which he kept under lock and key, and which were only uncorked for the elect, and who invariably munched an olive before sampling the next wine. Then followed such lesser lights, as Nixon, Leslie and the other guests.

A most exacting group of bons vivants, these. The host had realized it and had brought out his best. Most of it, to be sure, had come from Beaver Street, something "rather dry, with an excellent bouquet," the crafty salesman with gimlet eyes had said; but, then, most of the old Madeira does come from Beaver Street, except Portman's, who has a fellow with a nose and a palate hunting the auction rooms for that particular Sunset of 1834 which had lain in old Mr. Grinnells cellar for twenty-two years; and that other of 1839, once possessed by Colonel Purviance, a wine which had so sharpened the Colonel's taste that he was always uncomfortable when dining outside of his club or away from the tables of one or two experts like himself.

These, then, were the palates to which Breen catered. Back of them lay their good-will and good feeling; still back of them, again, their bank accounts and—another scoop in Mukton! Most of the guests had had a hand in the last deal and they were ready to share in the next. Although this particular dinner was supposed to be a celebration of the late victory, two others, equally elaborate, had preceded it; both Crossbin and Hodges having entertained nearly this same group of men at their own tables. That Breen, with his reputation for old Madeira and his supposed acquaintance with the intricacies of a Maryland kitchen, would outclass them both, had been whispered a dozen times since the receipt of his invitation, and he knew it. Hence the alert boy, the chef in the white cap, and hence the seesawing on the hearth-rug.

"Like it, Crossbin?" asked Breen.

Parkins had just passed down the table with a dust covered bottle which he handled with the care of a collector fingering a peachblow vase. The precious fluid had been poured into that gentleman's glass and its contents were now within an inch of his nose.

The moment was too grave for instant reply; Mr. Crossbin was allowing the aroma to mount to the innermost recesses of his nostrils. It had only been a few years since he had performed this same trick with a gourd suspended from a nail in his father's back kitchen, overlooking a field of growing corn; but that fact was not public property—not here in New York.

"Yes—smooth, and with something of the hills in it. Chateau Lamont, is it not, of '61?" It was Chateau of something-or-other, and of some year, but Breen was too wise to correct him. He supposed it was Chateau Lafitte—that is, he had instructed Parkins to serve that particular wine and vintage.

"Either '61 or '63," replied Breen with the air of positive certainty. (How that boy in the white apron, who had watched the boss paste on the labels, would have laughed had he been under the table.)

Further down the cloth Hodges, the epicure, was giving his views as to the proper way of serving truffles. A dish had just passed, with an underpinning of crust. Hodges's early life had qualified him as an expert in cooking, as well as in wines: Ten years in a country store swapping sugar for sausages and tea for butter and eggs; five more clerk in a Broadway cloth house, with varied boarding-house experiences (boiled mutton twice a week, with pudding on Sundays); three years junior partner, with a room over Delmonico's; then a rich wife and a directorship in a bank (his father-in-law was the heaviest depositor); next, one year in Europe and home, as vice-president, and at the present writing president of one of the certify-as-early-as-ten-o' clock-in-the-morning kind of banks, at which Peter would so often laugh. With these experiences there came the usual blooming and expanding—all the earlier life for gotten, really ignored. Soon the food of the country became unbearable. Even the canvasbacks must feed on a certain kind of wild celery; the oysters be dredged from a particular cove, and the terrapin drawn from their beds with the Hodges' coat of arms cut in their backs before they would be allowed a place on the ex-clerk's table.

It is no wonder, then, that everybody listened when the distinguished epicure launched out on the proper way to both acquire and serve so rare and toothsome a morsel as a truffle.

"Mine come by every steamer," Hodges asserted in a positive tone—not to anybody in particular, but with a sweep of the table to attract enough listeners to make it worthwhile for him to proceed. "My man is aboard before the gang-plank is secure—gets my package from the chief steward and is at my house with the truffles within an hour. Then I at once take proper care of them. That is why my truffles have that peculiar flavor you spoke of, Mr. Portman, when you last dined at my house. You remember, don't you?"

Portman nodded. He did not remember—not the truffles. He recalled some white port—but that was because he had bought the balance of the lot himself.

"Where do they come from?" inquired Mason, the man from Chicago. He wanted to know and wasn't afraid to ask.

"All through France. Mine are rooted near a little village in the Province of Perigord."

"What roots'em?"

"Hogs—trained hogs. You are familiar, of course, with the way they are secured?"

Mason—plain man as he was—wasn't familiar with anything remotely connected with the coralling of truffles, and said so. Hodges talked on, his eye resting first on one and then another of the guests, his voice increasing in volume whenever a fresh listener craned his neck, as if the information was directed to him alone—a trick of Hodges' when he wanted an audience.

"And now a word of caution," he continued; "some thing that most of you may not know—always root on a rainy day—sunshine spoils their flavor—makes them tough and leathery."

"Kind of hog got anything to do with the taste?" asked Mason in all sincerity. He was learning New York ways—a new lesson each day, and intended to keep on, but not by keeping his mouth shut.

"Nothing whatever," replied Hodges. "They must never be allowed to bite them, of course. You can wound a truffle as you can everything else."

Mason looked off into space and the Colonel bent his ear. Purviance's diet had been largely drawn from his beloved Chesapeake, and "dug-up dead things"—as he called the subject under discussion—didn't interest him. He wanted to laugh—came near it—then he suddenly remembered how important a man Hodges might be and how necessary it was to give him air space in which to float his pet balloons and so keep him well satisfied with himself.

Mason, the Chicago man, had no such scruples. He had twice as much money as Hodges, four times his digestion and ten times his commonsense.

"Send that dish back here, Breen," Mason cried out in a clear voice—so loud that Parkins, winged by the shot, retraced his steps. "I want to see what Mr. Hodges is talking about. Never saw a truffle that I know of." Here he turned the bits of raw rubber over with his fork. "No. Take it away. Guess I'll pass. Hog saw it first; he can have it."

Hodges's face flushed, then he joined in the laugh. The Chicago man was too valuable a would-be subscriber to quarrel with. And, then, how impossible to expect a person brought up as Mason had been to understand the ordinary refinements of civilization.

"Rough diamond, Mason—Good fellow. Backbone of our country," Hodges whispered to the Colonel, who was sore from the strain of repressed hilarity. "A little coarse now and then—but that comes of his early life, no doubt."

Hodges waited his chance and again launched out; this time it was upon the various kinds of wines his cellar contained—their cost—who had approved of them—how impossible it was to duplicate some of them, especially some Johannesburg of '74.

"Forty-two dollars a bottle—not pressed in the ordinary way—just the weight of the grapes in the basket in which they are gathered in the vineyard, and what naturally drips through is caught and put aside," etc.

Breen winced. First his truffles were criticised, and now his pet Johannesburg that Parkins was pouring into special glasses—cooled to an exact temperature—part of a case, he explained to Nixon, who sat on his right, that Count Mosenheim had sent to a friend here. Something must be done to head Hodges off or there was no telling what might happen. The Madeira was the thing. He knew that was all right, for Purviance had found it in Baltimore—part of a private cellar belonging some time in the past to either the Swan or Thomas families—he could not remember which.

The redheads were now in order, with squares of fried hominy, and for the moment Hodges held his peace. This was Nixon's opportunity, and he made the most of it. He had been born on the eastern shore of Maryland and was brought up on canvasbacks, soft-shell crabs and terrapin—not to mention clams and sheepshead. Nixon therefore launched out on the habits of the sacred bird—the crimes committed by the swivel-gun in the hands of the marketmen, the consequent scarcity of the game and the near approach of the time when the only rare specimens would be found in the glass cases of the museums, ending his talk with a graphic description of the great wooden platters of boiling-hot terrapin which were served to passengers crossing to Norfolk in the old days. The servants would split off the hot shell—this was turned top side down, used as a dish and filled with butter, pepper and salt, into which toothsome bits of the reptile, torn out by the guests' forks, were dipped before being eaten.

The talk now caromed from birds, reptiles and fish to guns and tackles, and then to the sportsmen who used them, and then to the millionaires who owned the largest shares in the ducking clubs, and so on to the stock of the same, and finally to the one subject of the evening—the one uppermost in everybody's thoughts which so far had not been touched upon—the Mukton Lode. There was no question about the proper mechanism of the traps—the directors were attending to that; the quality of the bait, too, seemed all that could be desired—that was Breen's part. How many mice were nosing about was the question, and of the number how many would be inside when the spring snapped?

The Colonel, after a nod of his head and a reassuring glance from his host, took full charge of the field, soaring away with minute accounts of the last inspection of the mine. He told how the "tailings" at Mukton City had panned out 30 per cent, to the ton—with two hundred thousand tons in the dump thrown away until the new smelter was started and they could get rid of the sulphides; of what Aetna Cobb's Crest had done and Beals Hollow and Morgan Creek—all on the same ridge, and was about launching out on the future value of Mukton Lode when Mason broke the silence by asking if any one present had heard of a mine somewhere in Nevada which an Englishman had bought and which had panned out $1,200 to the ton the first week and not a cent to the square mile ever afterward? The Chicago man was the most important mouse of the lot, and the tone of his voice and his way of speaking seemed fraught with a purpose.

Breen leaned forward in rapt attention, and even Hodges and Portman (both of them were loaded to the scuppers with Mukton) stopped talking.

"Slickest game I ever heard of," continued Mason. "Two men came into town—two poor prospectors, remember—ran across the Englishman at the hotel—told the story of their claim: 'Take it or leave it after you look it over,' they said. Didn't want but sixty thousand for it; that would give them thirty thousand apiece, after which they'd quit and live on a ranch. No, they wouldn't go with him to inspect the mine; there was the map. He couldn't miss it; man at the hotel would drive him out there. There was, of course, a foot of snow on the ground, which was frozen hard, but they had provided for that and had cut a lot of cord-wood, intending to stay till spring. The Englishman could have the wood to thaw out the ground."

"The Englishman went and found everything as the two prospectors had said; thawed out the soil in half a dozen places; scooped up the dirt and every shovelful panned out about twelve hundred to the ton. Then he came back and paid the money; that was the last of it. Began to dig again in the spring—and not a trace of anything."

"What was the matter?" asked Breen. So far his interest in mines had been centred on the stock.

"Oh, the same old swindle," said Mason, looking around the table, a grim smile on his face—"only in a different way."

"Was it salted?" called out a man from the lower end of the table.

"Yes," replied Mason; "not the mine, but the cord-wood. The two poor prospectors had bored auger holes in each stick, stuffed 'em full of gold dust and plugged the openings. It was the ashes that panned out $1,200 to the ton."

Mason was roaring, as were one or two about him. Portman looked grave, and so did Breen. Nothing of that kind had ever soiled their hands; everything with them was open and above-board. They might start a rumor that the Lode had petered out, throw an avalanche of stock on the market, knock it down ten points, freezing out the helpless (poor Gilbert had been one of them), buy in what was offered and then declare an extra dividend, sending the stock skyward, but anything so low as—"Oh, very reprehensible—scandalous in fact."

Hodges was so moved by the incident that he asked Breen if he would not bring back that Madeira (it had been served now in the pipe-stem glasses which had been crossed in finger-bowls). This he sipped slowly and thoughtfully, as if the enormity of the crime had quite appalled him. Mason was no longer a "rough diamond," but an example of what a "Western training will sometimes do for a man," he whispered under his breath to Crossbin.

With the departure of the last guest—one or two of them were a little unsteady; not Mason, we may be sure—Jack, who had come home and was waiting upstairs in his room for the feast to be over, squared his shoulders, threw up his chin and, like many another crusader bent on straightening the affairs of the world, started out to confront his uncle. His visor was down, his lance in rest, his banner unfurled, the scarf of the blessed damosel tied in double bow-knot around his trusty right arm. Both knight and maid were unconscious of the scarf, and yet if the truth be told it was Ruth's eyes that had swung him into battle. Now he was ready to fight; to renounce the comforts of life and live on a crust rather than be party to the crimes that were being daily committed under his very eyes!

His uncle was in the library, having just bowed out his last guest, when the boy strode in. About him were squatty little tables holding the remnants of the aftermath of the feast—siphons and decanters and the sample boxes of cigars—full to the lid when Parkins first passed them (why fresh cigars out of a full box should have a better flavor than the same cigars from a half-empty one has always been a mystery to the Scribe).

That the dinner had been a success gastronomically, socially and financially, was apparent from the beatific boozy smile that pervaded Breen's face as he lay back in his easy-chair. To disturb a reverie of this kind was as bad as riding rough-shod over some good father digesting his first meal after Lent, but the boy's purpose was too lofty to be blunted by any such considerations. Into the arena went his glove and out rang his challenge.

"What I have got to say to you, Uncle Arthur, breaks my heart, but you have got to listen to me! I have waited until they were all gone to tell you."

Breen laid his glass on the table and straightened himself in his chair. His brain was reeling from the wine he had taken and his hand unsteady, but he still had control of his arms and legs.

"Well, out with it! What's it all about, Jack?"

"I heard this afternoon that my friend Gilbert was ruined in our office. The presence of these men to-night makes me believe it to be true. If it is true, I want to tell you that I'll never enter the office again as long as I live!"

Breen's eyes flashed:

"You'll never enter!... What the devil is the matter with you, Jack!—are you drunk or crazy?"

"Neither! And I want to tell you, sir, too, that I won't be pointed out as having anything to do with such a swindling concern as the Mukton Lode Company. You've stopped the work on Gilbert's house—Mr., Morris told me so—you've—"

The older man sprang from his seat and lunged toward the boy.

"Stop it!" he cried. "Now—quick!"

"Yes—and you've just given a dinner to the very men who helped steal his money, and they sat here and laughed about it! I heard them as I came in!" The boy's tears were choking him now.

"Didn't I tell you to stop, you idiot!" His fist was within an inch of Jack's nose: "Do you want me to knock your head off? What the hell is it your business who I invite to dinner—and what do you know about Mukton Lode? Now you go to bed, and damn quick, too! Parkins, put out the lights!"

And so ended the great crusade with our knight unhorsed and floundering in the dust. Routed by the powers of darkness, like many another gallant youth in the old chivalric days, his ideals laughed at, his reforms flouted, his protests ignored—and this, too, before he could fairly draw his sword or couch his lance.



CHAPTER XI



That Jack hardly closed his eyes that night, and that the first thing he did after opening them the next morning was to fly to Peter for comfort and advice, goes without saying. Even a sensible, well-balanced young man—and our Jack, to the Scribe's great regret, is none of these—would have done this with his skin still smarting from an older man's verbal scorching—especially a man like his uncle, provided, of course, he had a friend like Peter within reach. How much more reasonable, therefore, to conclude that a man so quixotic as our young hero would seek similar relief.

As to the correctness of the details of this verbal scorching, so minutely described in the preceding chapter, should the reader ask how it is possible for the Scribe to set down in exact order the goings-on around a dinner-table to which he was not invited, as well as the particulars of a family row where only two persons participated—neither of whom was himself—and this, too, in the dead of night, with the outside doors locked and the shades and curtains drawn—he must plead guilty without leaving the prisoner's dock.

And yet he asks in all humility—is the play not enough?—or must he lift the back-drop and bring into view the net-work of pulleys and lines, the tanks of moonlight gas and fake properties of papier-mache that produce the illusion? As a compromise would it not be the better way after this for him to play the Harlequin, popping in and out at the unexpected moment, helping the plot here and there by a gesture, a whack, or a pirouette; hobnobbing with Peter or Miss Felicia, and their friends; listening to Jack's and Ruth's talk, or following them at a distance, whenever his presence might embarrass either them or the comedy?

This being agreed upon, we will leave our hero this bright morning—the one succeeding the row with his uncle—at the door of Peter's bank, confident that Jack can take care of himself.

And the confidence is not misplaced. Only once did the boy's glance waver, and that was when his eyes sought the window facing Peter's desk. Some egg other than Peter's was nesting on the open ledger spread out on the Receiving Teller's desk—not an ostrich egg of a head at all, but an evenly parted, well-combed, well-slicked brown wig, covering the careful pate of one of the other clerks who, in the goodness of his heart, was filling Peter's place for the day.

Everybody being busy—too busy to answer questions outside of payments and deposits—Patrick, the porter, must necessarily conduct the negotiations.

"No, sur; he's not down to-day—" was the ever-watchful Patrick's answer to Jack's anxious inquiry. "His sister's come from the country and he takes a day off now and thin when she's here. You'll find him up at his place in Fifteenth Street, I'm thinkin'."

Jack bit his lip. Here was another complication. Not to find Peter at the Bank meant a visit to his rooms—on his holiday, too—and when he doubtless wished to be alone with Miss Felicia. And yet how could he wait a moment longer? He himself had sent word to the office of Breen & Co. that he would not be there that day—a thing he had never done before—nor did he intend to go on the morrow—not until he knew where he stood. While his uncle had grossly misunderstood him, and, for that matter, grossly insulted him, he had neither admitted nor denied the outrage on Gilbert.

When he did—this question had only now begun to loom up—where would he go and what would he do? There was but little money due him at the office—and none would come—until the next month's pay—hardly enough, in any event, to take him back to his Maryland home, even if that refuge were still open to him. What then would become of him? Peter was, in fact, his main and only reliance. Peter he must see, and at once.

Not that he wavered or grew faint at heart when he thought of his defeat the night before. He was only thinking of his exit and the way to make it. "Always take your leave like a gentleman," was one of his father's maxims. This he would try his best to accomplish.

Mrs. McGuffey, in white cap and snow-white apron, now that Miss Felicia had arrived, was the medium of communication this time:

"Indeed, they are both in—this way, sir, and let me have your hat and coat."

It was a delightful party that greeted the boy. Peter was standing on the hearth-rug with his back to the fire, his coat-tails hooked over his wrists. Miss Felicia sat by a small table pretending to sew. Holker Morris was swallowed up in one of Peter's big easy-chairs, only the top of his distinguished head visible, while a little chub of a man, gray-haired, spectacled and plainly dressed, was seated behind him, the two talking in an undertone.

"Why, Breen!—why, my dear boy!—And you have a holiday, too? How did you know I was home?" cried Peter, extending both hands in the joy of his greeting.

"I stopped at the Bank, sir."

"Did you?—and who told you?"

"The janitor, I suppose."

"Oh, the good Patrick! Well, well! Holker, you remember young Breen."

Holker did remember, for a wonder, and extended one hand to prove it, and Felicia—but the boy was already bending over her, all his respect and admiration in his eyes. The little chub of a man was now on his feet, standing in an attentive attitude, ready to take his cue from Peter.

"And now, my boy, turn this way, and let me introduce you to my very dear friend, Mr. Isaac Cohen."

A pudgy hand was thrust out and the spectacled little man, his eyes on the boy, said he was glad to know any friend of Mr. Grayson, and resuming his seat continued his conversation in still lower tones with the great architect.

Jack stood irresolute for an instant, not knowing whether to make some excuse for his evidently inopportune visit and return later, or to keep his seat until the others had gone. Miss Felicia, who had not taken her gaze from the lad since he entered the room, called him to her side.

"Now, tell me what you are all doing at home, and how your dear aunt is, and—Miss Corinne, isn't it? And that very bright young fellow who came with you at Ruth's tea?"

It was the last subject that Jack wanted to discuss, but he stumbled through it as best he could, and ended in hoping, in a halting tone, that Miss MacFarlane was well.

"Ruth! Oh, she is a darling! Didn't you think so?"

Jack blushed to the roots of his hair, but Miss Felicia's all-comprehensive glance never wavered. This was the young man whom Ruth had been mysterious about. She intended to know how far the affair had gone, and it would have been useless, she knew, for Jack to try to deceive her.

"All our Southern girls are lovely," he answered in all sincerity.

"And you like them better than the New York belles?"

"I don't know any."

"Then that means that you do."

"Do what?"

"Do like them better."

The boy thought for a moment.

"Yes, and Miss MacFarlane best of all; she is so—so—" the boy faltered—"so sincere, and just the kind of girl you would trust with anything. Why, I told her all about myself before I'd known her half an hour."

"Yes, she was greatly pleased." The match-making instinct was always uppermost in Miss Felicia's moves, and then, again, this young man had possibilities, his uncle being rich and he being his only nephew.

"Oh, then she told you!" The boy's heart gave a great leap. Perhaps, after all, Ruth had not heard—at all events she did not despise him.

"No, I told her myself. The only thing that seemed to worry Ruth was that you had not told her enough. If I remember right, she said you were very shy."

"And she did not say anything about—" Jack stopped. He had not intended to put the question quite in this way, although he was still in doubt. Give this keen-eyed, white-haired old lady but an inkling of what was uppermost in his mind and he knew she would have its every detail.

"About what?" Here Miss Felicia's eyes were suddenly diverted, and became fastened on the short figure of Mr. Isaac Cohen, who had risen to his feet and stood talking in the most confidential way with Morris—Peter listening intently. Such phrases as "Better make the columns of marble," from Morris, and, "Well, I will talk it over with the Rabbi," from the tailor, reached his ears. Further relief came when Miss Felicia rose from her chair with her hand extended to Morris, who was already taking leave of Peter and all danger was passed when host and hostess conducted the tailor and the architect to the door; Morris bending over Miss Felicia's hand and kissing it with the air of a courtier suddenly aroused by the appearance of royalty (he had been completely immersed in Cohen's talk), and the tailor bowing to her on his way out without even so much as touching the tips of her fingers.

"There, my dear Breen," said Peter, when he had adjusted his cravat before the glass and brushed a few stray hairs over his temples, "that's a man it would do you an immense amount of good to know; the kind of a man you call worthwhile. Not only does he speak three languages, Hebrew being one of them, but he can talk on any subject from Greek temples to the raising of violets. Morris thinks the world of him—So do I."

"Yes, I heard him say something about columns."

"Oh!—then you overheard! Yes, they are for the new synagogue that Morris is building. Cohen is chairman of the committee."

"And he is the banker, too, I suppose?" rejoined Jack, in a tone which showed his lack of interest in both man and subject. It was Peter's ear he wanted, and at once.

The old man's eyes twinkled: "Banker!—not a bit of it. He's a tailor, my dear boy—a most delightful gentleman tailor, who works in the basement below us and who only yesterday pressed the coat I have on." Here Peter surveyed himself with a comprehensive glance. "All the respectable people in New York are not money mad." Then, seeing Jack's look of astonishment over the announcement, he laid his hand on the boy's shoulder and said with a twinkle of his eye and a little laugh: "Only one tailor—not nine—my boy, was required to make Mr. Cohen a man. And now about yourself. Why are you not at work? Old fellows like me once in a while have a holiday—but young fellows! Come!—What is it brings you here during business hours? Anything I can help you in?—anything at home?" and Peter's eyes bored holes in the boy's brain.

Jack glanced at Miss Felicia, who was arranging the roses Morris had brought her, and then said in a half whisper: "I have had a row with my uncle, sir. Maybe I had better come some other day, when—"

"No—out with it! Row with your uncle, eh? Rows with one's uncles are too commonplace to get mysterious over, and, then, we have no secrets. Ten chances to one I shall tell Felicia every word you say after you've gone, so she might as well hear it at first-hand. Felicia, this young fellow is so thin-skinned he is afraid you will laugh at him."

"Oh, he knows better. I have just been telling him how charming he must be to have won Miss MacFarlane's good opinion," rejoined his sister as she moved her work-basket nearer her elbow.

And then, with mind at rest, now that he was sure Ruth had not heard, and with eyes again blazing as his thoughts dwelt upon the outrage, he poured out his story, Miss Felicia listening intently, a curious expression on her face, Peter grave and silent, his gaze now on the boy, now on the hearth-rug on which he stood. Only once did a flash illumine his countenance; that was when Jack reached that part of his narrative which told of the denunciation he had flung in his uncle's face concerning the methods by which poor Gilbert had been ruined.

"And you dared tell your uncle that, you young firebrand?"

"Yes, Mr. Grayson, I had to; what else could I say? Don't you think it cruel to cheat like that?"

"And what did he say?" asked Peter.

"He would not listen—he swore at me—told me—well, he ordered me out of the room and had the lights put out."

"And it served you right, you young dog! Well, upon my word! Here you are without a dollar in the world except what your uncle pays you, and you fly off at a tangent and insult him in his own house—and you his guest, remember. Well! Well! What are we coming to? Felicia, did you ever hear of such a performance?"

Miss Felicia made no answer. She knew from her brother's tone that there was not a drop of bitterness in any one of the words that fell from his lips; she had heard him talk that way dozens of times before, when he was casting about for some means of letting the culprit down the easier. She even detected a slight wrinkling of the corners of his mouth as the denunciation rolled out.

Not so Jack: To him the end of the world had come. Peter was his last resort—that one so good and so clear-headed had not flared up at once over the villainy was the severest blow of all. Perhaps he WAS a firebrand; perhaps, after all, it was none of his business; perhaps—perhaps—now that Ruth would not blame him, knew nothing, in fact, of the disgraceful episode, it would have been better for him to have ignored the whole matter and taken Garry's advice.

"Then I have done wrong again, Mr. Grayson?" he said at last, in so pleading a tone that even Miss Felicia's reserve was on the point of giving away.

"Yes, in the manner in which you acted. Your father wouldn't have lost his temper and called people names. Gentlemen, my dear boy, don't do that sort of thing. They make up their minds about what they want to do and then do it quietly, and, let me say, with a certain amount of courtesy."

"Then, what must I do?" All the fight was out of the lad now.

"Why, go back to your desk in the office and your very delightful suite of rooms at your uncle's. Tell him you are sorry you let your feelings get the best of you; then, when you have entirely quieted down, you and I will put our heads together and see what can be done to improve matters. And that, let me tell you, my dear boy, is going to be rather a difficult thing, for you see you are rather particular as to what you should and should not do to earn your living." Peter's wrinkles had now crept up his cheeks and were playing hide and seek with the twinkles in his eyes. "Of course any kind of healthy work—such, for instance, as hauling a chain through a swamp, carrying a level, prospecting for oil, or copper, or gold—all very respectable occupations for some men—are quite impossible in your case. But we will think it out and find something easier—something that won't soil your hands, and—"

"Please don't, Mr. Grayson," interrupted Jack. The boy had begun to see through the raillery now. "I will do anything you want me to do."

Peter burst into a laugh and grabbed him by both shoulders: "Of course, my dear boy, you will do anything except what you believe to be wrong. That's right—right as can be; nobody wants you to do any different, and—"

The opening of a door leading into the hall caused Peter to stop in his harangue and turn his head. Mrs. McGuffey was ushering in a young woman whose radiant face was like a burst of sunshine. Peter strained his eyes and then sprang forward:

"Why, Ruth!"

There was no doubt about it! That young woman, her cheeks like two June peonies, her eyes dancing, the daintiest and prettiest hat in the world on her head, was already half across the room and close to Peter's rug before Jack could even realize that he and she were breathing the same air.

"Oh! I just could not wait a minute longer!" she cried in a joyous tone. "I had such a good time yesterday, dear aunt Felicia, and—Why!—it is you, Mr. Breen, and have you come to tell aunty the same thing? Wasn't it lovely?"

Then Jack said that it was lovely, and that he hadn't come for any such purpose—then that he had—and then Peter patted her hand and told her she was the prettiest thing he had ever seen in all his life, and that he was going to throw overboard all his other sweethearts at once and cleave to her alone; and Miss Felicia vowed that she was the life of the party; and Jack devoured her with his eyes, his heart thumping away at high pressure; and so the moments fled until the blithesome young girl, saying she had not a minute to spare, as she had to meet her father, who would not wait, readjusted her wraps, kissed Miss Felicia on both cheeks, sent another flying through the air toward Peter from the tips of her fingers, and with Jack as escort—he also had to see a friend who would not wait a minute—danced out of the room and so on down to the street.

The Scribe will not follow them very far in their walk uptown. Both were very happy, Jack because the scandal he had been dreading, since he had last looked into her eyes, had escaped her ears, and Ruth because of all the young men she had met in her brief sojourn in New York this young Mr. Breen treated her with most consideration.

While the two were making their way through the crowded streets, Jack helping her over the crossings, picking out the drier spots for her dainty feet to step upon, shielding her from the polluting touch of the passing throng, Miss Felicia had resumed her sewing—it was a bit of lace that needed a stitch here and there—and Peter, dragging a chair before the fire, had thrown himself into its depths, his long, thin white fingers open fan-like to its blaze.

"You are just wasting your time, Peter, over that young man," Miss Felicia said at last, snipping the end of a thread with her scissors. "Better buy him a guitar with a broad blue ribbon and start him off troubadouring, or, better still, put him into a suit of tin armor and give him a lance. He doesn't belong to this world. It's just as well Ruth did not hear that rigmarole. Charming manners, I admit—lovely, sitting on a cushion looking up into some young girl's eyes, but he will never make his way here with those notions. Why he should want to anger his uncle, who is certainly most kind to him, is past finding out. He's stupid, that's what he is—just stupid!"—to break with your bread and butter and to defy those who could be of service to you being an unpardonable sin with Miss Felicia. No, he would not do at all for Ruth.

Peter settled himself deeper in his chair and studied the cheery blaze between his outspread fingers.

"That's the very thing will save him, Felicia."

"What—his manners?"

"No—his adorable stupidity. I grant you he's fighting windmills, but, then, my dear, don't forget that he's FIGHTING—that's something."

"But they are only windmills, and, more extraordinary still, this one is grinding corn to keep him from starving," and she folded up her sewing preparatory to leaving the room.

Peter's fingers closed tight: "I'm not so sure of that," he answered gravely.

Miss Felicia had risen from her seat and was now bending over the back of his chair, her spare sharp elbows resting on its edge, her two hands clasping his cheeks.

"And are you really going to add this stupid boy to your string, you goose of a Peter?" she asked in a bantering tone, as her fingers caressed his temples. "Don't forget Mosenthal and little Perkins, and the waiter you brought home and fed for a week, and sent away in your best overcoat, which he pawned the next day; or the two boys at college. Aren't you ever going to learn?" and she leaned forward and kissed the top of his bald head.

Peter's only reply was to reach up and smooth her jewelled fingers with his own. He remembered them all; there was an excuse, of course, he reminded her, for his action in each and every case. But for him Mosenthal—really a great violinist—would have starved, little Perkins would have been sent to the reformatory, and the waiter to the dogs. That none of them, except the two college boys, had ever thanked him for his assistance—a fact well known to Miss Felicia—never once crossed his mind—wouldn't have made any difference if it had.

"But this young Breen is worth saving, Felicia," he answered at last.

"From what—the penitentiary?" she laughed—this time with a slight note of anger in her voice.

"No, you foolish thing—much worse."

"From what, then?"

"From himself."

Long after his sister had left the room Peter kept his seat by the fire, his eyes gazing into the slumbering coals. His holiday had been a happy one until Jack's entrance: Morris had come to an early breakfast and had then run down and dragged up Cohen so that he could talk with him in comfort and away from the smell of the tailor's goose and the noise of the opening and shutting of the shop door; Miss Felicia had summoned all her good humor and patience (she did not always approve of Peter's acquaintances—the little tailor being one), and had received Cohen as she would have done a savant from another country—one whose personal appearance belied his intellect but who on no account must be made aware of that fact, and Peter himself had spent the hour before and after breakfast—especially the hour after, when the Bank always claimed him—in pulling out and putting back one book after another from the shelves of his small library, reading a page here and a line there, the lights and shadows that crossed his eager, absorbed face, an index of his enjoyment.

All this had been spoiled by a wild, untamed colt of a boy whom he could not help liking in spite of his peculiarities.

And yet, was his sister not right? Why bother himself any more about a man so explosive and so tactless—and he WAS a man, so far as years and stature went, who, no matter what he might attempt for his advancement, would as surely topple it over as lie would a house of cards. That the boy's ideals were high, and his sincerity beyond question, was true, but what use would these qualities be to him if he lacked the common-sense to put them into practice?

All this he told to the fire—first to one little heap of coals—then another—snuggling together—and then to the big back-log scarred all over in its fight to keep everybody warm and happy.

Suddenly his round, glistening head ceased bobbing back and forth; his lips, which had talked incessantly without a sound falling from them, straightened; his gesticulating fingers tightened into a hard knot and the old fellow rose from his easy-chair. He had made up his mind.

Then began a search through his desk in and out of the pigeon-holes, under a heap of letters—most of them unanswered; beneath a package tied with tape, until his eyes fell upon an envelope sealed with wax, in which was embedded the crest of the ancestors of the young gentleman whose future had so absorbed his thoughts. It was Mrs. Breen's acceptance of Miss Felicia's invitation to Miss MacFarlane's tea.

"Ah, here it is! Now I'll find the number—yes, 864—I thought it was a "4"—but I didn't want to make any mistake."

This done, and the note with the number and street of Jack's uncle's house spread out before him, Peter squared his elbows, took a sheet of paper from a drawer, covered it with half a dozen lines beginning "My dear Breen—" enclosed it in an envelope and addressed it to "Mr. John Breen, care of Arthur Breen, Esq.," etc. This complete, he affixed the stamp in the upper left-hand corner, and with the letter fast in his hand disappeared in his bedroom, from which he emerged ten minutes later in full walking costume, even to his buckskin gloves and shiny high hat, not to mention a brand-new silk scarf held in place by his diamond tear-drop, the two in high relief above the lapels of his tightly buttoned surtout.

"No, Mrs. McGuffey," he said with a cheery smile as he passed out of the door (she had caught sight of the letter and had stretched out her hand)—"No—I am going for a walk, and I'll mail it myself."



CHAPTER XII



Whatever the function—whether it was a cosey dinner for the congenial few, a crowded reception for the uncongenial many, or a coming-out party for some one of the eager-expectant buds just bursting into bloom—most of whom he had known from babyhood—Peter was always ready with his "Of course I'll come—" or "Nothing would delight me more—" or the formal "Mr. Grayson accepts with great pleasure," etc., unless the event should fall upon a Saturday night; then there was certain to be a prompt refusal.

Even Miss Felicia recognized this unbreakable engagement and made her plans accordingly. So did good Mrs. McGuffey, who selected this night for her own social outings; and so did most of his intimate friends who were familiar with his habits.

On any other night you might, or you might not, find Peter at home, dependent upon his various engagements, but if you really wanted to get hold of his hand, or his ear, or the whole or any other part of his delightful body, and if by any mischance you happened to select a Saturday night for your purpose, you must search for him at the Century. To spend this one evening at his favorite club had been his custom for years—ever since he had been elected to full membership—a date so far back in the dim past that the oldest habitue had to search the records to make sure of the year, and this custom he still regularly kept up.

That the quaint old club-house was but a stone's throw from his own quarters in Fifteenth Street made no difference; he would willingly have tramped to Murray Hill and beyond—even as far as the big reservoir, had the younger and more progressive element among the members picked the institution up bodily and moved it that far—as later on they did.

Not that he favored any such innovation: "Move up-town! Why, my dear sir!" he protested, when the subject was first mentioned, "is there nothing in the polish of these old tables and chairs, rubbed bright by the elbows of countless good fellows, that appeals to you? Do you think any modern varnish can replace it? Here I have sat for thirty years or more, and—please God!—here I want to continue to sit."

He was at his own small table in the front room overlooking the street when he spoke—his by right of long use, as it was also of Morris, MacFarlane, Wright, old Partridge the painter, and Knight the sculptor. For years this group of Centurions, after circling the rooms on meeting nights, criticising the pictures and helping themselves to the punch, had dropped into these same seats by the side of Peter.

And these were not the only chairs tacitly recognized as carrying special privileges by reason of long usage. Over in the corner between the two rooms could be found Bayard Taylor's chair—his for years, from which he dispensed wisdom, adventure and raillery to a listening coterie—King, MacDonough and Collins among them, while near the stairs, his great shaggy head glistening in the overhead light, Parke Godwin held court, with Sterling, Martin and Porter, to say nothing of still older habitues who in the years of their membership were as much a part of the fittings of the club as the smoke-begrimed portraits which lined its walls.

On this Saturday night he had stepped into the clubhouse with more than his usual briskness. Sweeping a comprehensive glance around as he entered, as if looking for some one in the hall, he slipped off his overcoat and hat and handed both to the negro servant in charge of the cloak-room.

"George."

"Yes, Mr. Grayson."

"If anybody inquires for me you will find me either on this floor or in the library above. Don't forget, and don't make any mistake.

"No, suh—ain't goin' to be no mistake."

This done, the old gentleman moved to the mirror, and gave a sidelong glance at his perfectly appointed person—he had been dining at the Portmans', had left the table early, and was in full evening dress.

The inspection proved that the points of his collar wanted straightening the thousandth part of an inch, and that his sparse gray locks needed combing a wee bit further toward his cheek bones. These, with a certain rebellious fold in his necktie, having been brought into place, the guardian of the Exeter entered the crowded room, picked a magazine from the shelves and dropped into his accustomed seat.

Holker Morris and Lagarge now strolled in and drawing up to a small table adjoining Peter's touched a tiny bell. This answered, and the order given, the two renewed a conversation which had evidently been begun outside, and which was of so absorbing a character that for a moment Peter's face, half hidden by his book, was unnoticed.

"Oh!—that's you, Methusaleh, is it!" cried Morris at last. "Move over—have something?"

Peter looked up smiling: "Not now, Holker. I will later."

Morris kept on talking. Lagarge, his companion—a thin, cadaverous-looking man with a big head and the general air of having been carved out of an old root—a great expert in ceramics—listening intently, bobbing his head in toy-mandarin fashion whenever one of Holker's iconoclasms cleared the air.

"Suppose they did pay thirty thousand dollars for it," Holker insisted, slapping his knee with his outspread palm. "That makes the picture no better and no worse. If it was mine, and I could afford it, I would sell it to anybody who loved it for thirty cents rather than sell it to a man who didn't, for thirty millions. When Troyon painted it he put his soul into it, and you can no more tack a price to that than you can stick an auction card on a summer cloud, or appraise the perfume from a rose garden. It has no money value, Legarge, and never will have. You might as well list sunsets on the Stock Exchange."

"But Troyon had to live, Holker," chimed in Harrington, who, with the freedom accorded every member of the club—one of its greatest charms—had just joined the group and sat listening.

"Yes," rejoined Morris, a quizzjeal expression crossing his face—"that was the curse of it. He was born a man and had a stomach instead of being born a god without one. As to living—he didn't really live—no great painter really lives until he is dead. And that's the way it should be—they would never have become immortal with a box full of bonds among their assets. They would have stopped work. Now they can rest in their graves with the consciousness that they have done their level best."

"There is one thing would lift him out of it, or ought to," remarked Harrington, with a glance around the circle. "I am, of course, speaking of Troyon."

"What?" asked Morris.

"The news that Roberts paid thirty thousand dollars for a picture for which the painter was glad to get three thousand francs," a reply which brought a roar from the group, Morris joining in heartily.

The circle had now widened to the filling of a dozen chairs, Morris's way of putting things being one of the features of club nights, he, as usual, dominating the talk, calling out "Period"—his way of notifying some speaker to come to a full stop, whenever he broke away from the facts and began soaring into hyperbolics—Morgan, Harrington and the others laughing in unison at his sallies.

The clouds of tobacco smoke grew thicker. The hum of conversation louder; especially at an adjoining table where one lean old Academician in a velvet skull cap was discussing the new impressionistic craze which had just begun to show itself in the work of the younger men. This had gone on for some minutes when the old man turned upon them savagely and began ridiculing the new departure as a cloak to hide poor drawing, an outspoken young painter asserting in their defence, that any technique was helpful if it would kill off the snuff-box school in which the man under the skull cap held first place.

Morris had lent an ear to the discussion and again took up the cudgels.

"You young fellows are right," he cried, twisting his body toward their table. The realists have had their day; they work a picture to death; all of them. If you did but know it, it really takes two men to paint a great picture—one to do the work and the other to kill him when he has done enough."

"Pity some of your murderers, Holker, didn't start before they stretched their canvases," laughed Harrington.

And so the hours sped on.

All this time Peter had been listening with one ear wide open—the one nearest the door—for any sound in that direction. French masterpieces Impressionism and the rest of it did not interest him to-night. Something else was stirring him—something he had been hugging to his heart all day.

Only the big and little coals in his own fireplace in Fifteenth Street, and perhaps the great back-log, beside himself, knew the cause. He had not taken Miss Felicia into his confidence—that would never have done—might, indeed, have spoilt everything. Even when he had risen from Morris's coterie to greet Henry MacFarlane—Ruth's father—his intimate friend for years, and who answered his hand-shake with—"Well, you old rascal—what makes you look so happy?—anybody left you a million?"—even then he gave no inkling of the amount of bottled sunshine he was at the precise moment carrying inside his well-groomed body, except to remark with all his twinkles and wrinkles scampering loose:

"Seeing you, Henry—" an answer which, while it only excited derision and a sly thrust of his thumb into Peter's ribs, was nevertheless literally true if the distinguished engineer did but know it.

It was only when the hours dragged on and his oft-consulted watch marked ten o'clock that the merry wrinkles began to straighten and the eyes to wander.

When an additional ten minutes had ticked themselves out, and then a five and then a ten more, the old fellow became so nervous that he began to make a tour of the club-house, even ascending the stairs, searching the library and dining-room, scanning each group and solitary individual he passed, until, thoroughly discouraged, he regained his seat only to press a bell lying among some half-empty glasses. The summoned waiter listened attentively, his head bent low to catch the whispered order, and then disappeared noiselessly in the direction of the front door, Peter's fingers meanwhile beating an impatient staccato on the arm of his chair.

Nothing resulting from this experiment he at last gave up all hope and again sought MacFarlane who was trying to pound into the head of a brother engineer some new theory of spontaneous explosions.

Hardly had he drawn up a chair to listen—he was a better listener to-night, somehow, than a talker, when a hand was laid on his shoulder, and looking up, he saw Jack bending over him.

With a little cry of joy Peter sprang to his feet, both palms outstretched: "Oh!—you're here at last! Didn't I say nine o'clock, my dear boy, or am I wrong? Well, so you are here it's all right." Then with face aglow he turned to MacFarlane: "Henry, here's a young fellow you ought to know; his name's John Breen, and he's from your State."

The engineer stopped short in his talk and absorbed Jack from his neatly brushed hair, worn long at the back of his neck, to his well-shod feet, and held out his hand.

"From Maryland? So am I; I was raised down in Prince George County. Glad to know you. Are you any connection of the Breens of Ann Arundle?"

"Yes, sir—all my people came from Ann Arundle. My father was Judge Breen," answered Jack with embarrassment. He had not yet become accustomed to the novelty of the scene around him.

"Now I know just where you belong. My father and yours were friends. I have often heard him speak of Judge Breen. And did you not meet my daughter at Miss Grayson's the other day? She told me she had met a Mr. Breen from our part of the country."

Jack's eyes danced. Was this what Peter had invited him to the club for? Now it was all clear. And then again he had not said a word about his being in the Street, or connected with it in any way. Was there ever such a good Peter?

"Oh, yes, sir!—and I hope she is very well."

The engineer said she was extremely well, never better in her life, and that he was delighted to meet a son of his old friend—then, turning to the others, immediately forgot Jack's existence, and for the time being his daughter, in the discussion still going on around him.

The young fellow settled himself in his seat and looked about him—at the smoke-stained ceiling, the old portraits and quaint fittings and furniture—more particularly at the men. He would have liked to talk to Ruth's father a little longer, but he felt dazed and ill at ease—out of his element, somehow—although he remembered the same kind of people at his father's house, except that they wore different clothes.

But Peter did not leave him long in meditation. There were other surprises for him upstairs, in the small dining-room opening out of the library, where a long table was spread with eatables and drinkables—salads, baby sausages, escaloped oysters, devilled crabs and other dishes dear to old and new members. Here men were met standing in groups, their plates in their hands, or seated at the smaller tables, when a siphon and a beer bottle, or a mug of Bass would be added to their comfort.

It was there the Scribe met him for the second time, my first being the Morris dinner, when he sat within speaking distance. I had heard of him, of course, as Peter's new protege—indeed, the old fellow had talked of nothing else, and so I was glad to renew the acquaintance. I found him to be like all other young fellows of his class—I had lived among his people, and knew—rather shy, with a certain deferential air toward older people—but with the composure belonging to unconscious youth—no fidgeting or fussing—modest, unassertive—his big brown eyes under their heavy lashes studying everything about him, his face brightening when you addressed him. I discovered, too, a certain indefinable charm which won me to him at once. Perhaps it was his youth; perhaps it was a certain honest directness, together with a total lack of all affectation that appealed to me, but certain it is that not many minutes had passed before I saw why Peter liked him, and I saw, too, why he liked Peter.

When I asked him—we had found three empty seats at a table—what impressed him most in the club, it being his first visit, he answered in his simple, direct way, that he thought it was the note of good-fellowship everywhere apparent, the men greeting each other as if they really meant it. Another feature was the dress and faces of the members—especially the authors, to whom Peter had introduced him, whose books he had read, and whose personalities he had heard discussed, and who, to his astonishment, had turned out to be shabby-looking old fellows who smoked and drank, or played chess, like other ordinary mortals, and without pretence of any kind so far as he could detect.

"Just like one big family, isn't it, Mr. Grayson?" the boy said. "Don't you two gentlemen love to come here?"

"Yes."

"They don't look like very rich men."

"They're not. Now and then a camel crawls through but it is a tight squeeze," remarked Peter arching his gray, bushy eyebrows, a smile hovering about his lips.

The boy laughed: "Well, then, how did they get here?"

"Principally because they lead decent lives, are not puffed up with conceit, have creative brains and put them to some honest use," answered Peter.

The boy looked away for a moment and remarked quietly that about everybody he knew would fail in one or more of these qualifications. Then he added:

"And now tell me, Mr. Grayson, what most of them do—that gentleman, for instance, who is talking to the old man in the velvet cap."

"That is General Norton, one of our most distinguished engineers. He is Consulting Engineer in the Croton Aqueduct Department, and his opinion is sought all over the country. He started life as a tow-boy on the Erie Canal, and when he was your age he was keeping tally of dump-cars from a cut on the Pennsylvania Railroad."

Jack looked at the General in wonderment, but he was too much interested in the other persons about him to pursue the inquiry any further.

"And the man next to him—the one with his hand to his head?"

"I don't recall him, but the Major may."

"That is Professor Hastings of Yale," I replied—"perhaps the most eminent chemist in this or any other country."

"And what did he do when he was a boy?" asked young Breen.

"Made pills, I expect, and washed out test tubes and retorts," interrupted Peter, with a look on his face as if the poor professor were more to be pitied than commended.

"Did any of them dig?" asked the boy.

"What kind of digging?" inquired Peter.

"Well, the kind you spoke of the night you came to see me."

"Oh, with their hands?" cried Peter with a laugh. "Well, now, let me see—" and his glance roved about the room. "There is Mr. Schlessinger, the Egyptologist, but of course he was after mummies, not dirt; and then there is—yes—that sun-burned young fellow of forty, talking to Mr. Eastman Johnson; he has been at work in Yucatan looking for Toltec ruins, because he told me his experience only a few nights ago; but then, of course, that can hardly be said to be—Oh!—now I have it. You see that tall man with side-whiskers, looking like a young bank president—my kind—my boy—well, he started life with a pick and shovel. The steel point of the pick if I remember rightly, turned up a nugget of gold that made him rich, but he DUG all the same, and he may again some day—you can't tell."

It had all been a delightful experience for Jack and his face showed it, but it was not until after I left that the story of why he had come late was told. He had started several times to explain but the constant interruption of members anxious to shake Peter's hand, had always prevented.

"I haven't apologized for being late, sir," Jack had said at last. "It was long after ten, I am afraid, but I could not help it."

"No; what was the matter?"

"I didn't get the letter until half an hour before I reached here."

"Why, I sent it to your uncle's house, and mailed it myself, just after you had gone out with Miss MacFarlane."

"Yes, sir; but I am not at my uncle's house any more. I am staying with Garry Minott in his rooms; I have the sofa."

Peter gave a low whistle.

"And you have given up your desk at the office as well?"

"Yes, sir."

"Bless my soul, my boy! And what are you going to do now?"

"I don't know; but I will not go on as I have been doing. I can't, Mr. Grayson, and you must not ask it. I would rather sweep the streets. I have just seen poor Charley Gilbert and Mrs. Gilbert. He has not a dollar in the world, and is going West, he tells me."

Peter reflected for a moment. It was all he could do to hide his delight.

"And what do your people say?"

"My aunt says I am an idiot, and Corinne won't speak to me."

"And your uncle?"

"Nothing, to me. He told Garry that if I didn't come back in three days I should never enter his house or his office again."

"But you are going back? Are you not?"

"No,—never. Not if I starve!"

Peter's eyes were twinkling when he related the conversation to me the next day.

"I could have hugged him, Major," he said, when he finished, "and I would if we had not been at the club."



CHAPTER XIII



The Scribe is quite positive that had you only heard about it as he had, even with the details elaborated, not only by Peter, who was conservatism itself in his every statement, but by Miss Felicia as well—who certainly ought to have known—you would not have believed it possible until you had seen it. Even then you would have had to drop into one of Miss Felicia's cretonne-upholstered chairs—big easy-chairs that fitted into every hollow and bone in your back—looked the length of the uneven porch, run your astonished eye down the damp, water-soaked wooden steps to the moist brick pavement below, and so on to the beds of crocuses blooming beneath the clustering palms and orange trees, before you could realize (in spite of the drifting snow heaped up on the door-steps of her house outside—some of it still on your shoes) that you were in Miss Felicia's tropical garden, attached to Miss Felicia's Geneseo house, and not in the back yard of some old home in the far-off sunny South.

It was an old story, of course, to Peter, who had the easy-chair beside me, and so it was to Morris, who had helped Miss Felicia carry out so Utopian a scheme, but it had come to me as a complete surprise, and I was still wide-eyed and incredulous.

"And what keeps out the cold?" I asked Morris, who was lying back blowing rings into the summer night, the glow of an overhead lantern lighting up his handsome face.

"Glass," he laughed.

"Where?"

"There, just above the vines, my dear Major," interrupted Miss Felicia, pointing upward. "Come and let me show you my frog pond—" and away we went along the brick paths, bordered with pots of flowers, to a tiny lake covered with lily-pads and circled by water-plants.

"I did not want a greenhouse—I wanted a back yard," she continued, "and I just would have it. Holker sent his men up, and on three sides we built a wall that looked a hundred years old—but it is not five—and roofed it over with glass, and just where you see the little flight of stairs is the heat. That old arbor in the corner has been here ever since I was a child, and so have the syringa bushes and the green box next the wall. I wanted them all the year round—not just for three or four months in the year—and that witch Holker said he could do it, and he has. Half the weddings in town have been begun right on that bench, and when the lanterns are lighted and the fountain turned on outside, no gentleman ever escapes. You and Peter are immune, so I sha'n't waste any of my precious ammunition on you. And now what will you wear in your button-hole—a gardenia, or some violets? Ruth will be down in a minute, and you must look your prettiest."

But if the frog pond, damp porch and old-fashioned garden had come as a surprise, what shall I say of the rest of Miss Felicia's house which I am now about to inspect under Peter's guidance.

"Here, come along," he cried, slipping his arm through mine. "You have had enough of the garden, for between you and me, my dear Major"—here he looked askance at Miss Felicia—"I think it an admirable place in which to take cold, and that's why—" and he passed his hand over his scalp—"I always insist on wearing my hat when I walk here. Mere question of imagination, perhaps, but old fellows like you and me should take no chances—" and he laughed heartily.

"This room was my father's," continued Peter. "The bookcases have still some of the volumes he loved; he liked the low ceiling and the big fireplace, and always wrote here—it was his library, really. There opens the old drawing-room and next to it is Felicia's den, where she concocts most of her deviltry, and the dining-room beyond—and that's all there is on this floor, except the kitchen, which you'll hear from later."

And as Peter rattled on, telling me the history of this and that piece of old furniture, or portrait, or queer clock, my eyes were absorbing the air of cosey comfort that permeated every corner of the several rooms. Everything had the air of being used. In the library the chairs were of leather, stretched into saggy folds by many tired backs; the wide, high fender fronting the hearth, though polished so that you could see your face in it, showed the marks of many a drying shoe, while on the bricks framing the fireplace could still be seen the scratchings of countless matches.

The drawing-room, too—although, as in all houses of its class and period, a thing of gilt frames, high mirrors and stiff furniture—was softened by heaps of cushions, low stools and soothing arm-chairs, while Miss Felicia's own particular room was so veritable a symphony in chintz, white paint and old mahogany, with cubby-holes crammed with knickknacks, its walls hung with rare etchings; pots of flowers everywhere and the shelves and mantels crowded with photographs of princes, ambassadors, grand dukes, grand ladies, flossy-headed children, chubby-cheeked babies (all souvenirs of her varied and busy life), that it was some minutes before I could throw myself into one of her heavenly arm-chairs, there to be rested as I had never been before, and never expect to be again.

It being Peter's winter holiday, he and Morris had stopped over on their way down from Buffalo, where Holker had spoken at a public dinner. The other present and expected guests were Ruth MacFarlane, who was already upstairs; her father, Henry MacFarlane, who was to arrive by the next train, and last and by no means lest, his confidential clerk, Mr. John Breen, now two years older and, it is to be hoped, with considerable more common-sense than when he chucked himself neck and heels out into the cold world. Whether the expected arrival of this young gentleman had anything to do with the length of time it took Ruth to dress, the Scribe knoweth not. There is no counting upon the whims and vagaries of even the average young woman of the day, and as Ruth was a long way above that medium grade, and with positive ideas of her own as to whom she liked and whom she did not like, and was, besides, a most discreet and close-mouthed young person, it will be just as well for us to watch the game of battledoor and shuttlecock still being played between Jack and herself, before we arrive at any fixed conclusions.

Any known and admitted facts connected with either one of the contestants are, however, in order, and so while we are waiting for old Moggins, who drives the village 'bus, and who has been charged by Miss Felicia on no account to omit bringing in his next load a certain straight, bronzed-cheeked, well-set-up young man with a springy step, accompanied by a middle-aged gentleman who looked like a soldier, and deliver them both with their attendant baggage at her snow-banked door, any data regarding this same young man's movements since the night Peter wanted to hug him for leaving his uncle's service, cannot fail to be of interest.

To begin then with the day on which Jack, with Frederick, the second man's assistance, packed his belongings and accepted Garry's invitation to make a bed of his lounge.

The kind-hearted Frederick knew what it was to lose a place, and so his sympathies had been all the more keen. Parkins's nose, on the contrary, had risen a full degree and stood at an angle of 45 degrees, for he had not only heard the ultimatum of his employer, but was rather pleased with the result. As for the others, no one ever believed the boy really meant it, and everybody—even the maids and the high-priced chef—fully expected Jack would turn prodigal as soon as his diet of husks had whetted his appetite for dishes more nourishing and more toothsome. But no one of them took account of the quality of the blood that ran in the young man's veins.

It was scheming Peter who saved the day.

"Put that young fellow to work, Henry," he had said to MacFarlane the morning after the three had met at the Century Club.

"What does he know, Peter?"

"Nothing, except to speak the truth."

And thus it had come to pass that within twenty-four hours thereafter the boy had shaken the dust of New York from his feet—even to resigning from the Magnolia, and a day later was found bending over a pine desk knocked together by a hammer and some ten-penny nails in a six-by-nine shanty, the whole situated at the mouth of a tunnel half a mile from Corklesville, where he was at work on the pay-roll of the preceding week.

Many things had helped in deciding him to take the proffered place. First, Peter had wanted it; second, his uncle did not want it, Corinne and his aunt being furious that he should go to work like a common laborer, or—as Garry had put it—"a shovel-spanked dago." Third, Ruth was within calling distance, and that in itself meant Heaven. Once installed, however, he had risen steadily, both in MacFarlane's estimation and in the estimation of his fellow-workers; especially the young engineers who were helping his Chief in the difficult task before him. Other important changes had also taken place in the two years: his body had strengthened, his face had grown graver, his views of life had broadened and, best of all, his mind was at rest. Of one thing he was sure—no confiding young Gilberts would be fleeced in his present occupation—not if he knew anything about it.

Moreover, the outdoor life which he had so longed for was his again. On Saturday afternoons and Sundays he tramped the hills, or spent hours rowing on the river. His employer's villa was also always open to him—a privilege not granted to the others in the working force. The old tie of family was the sesame. Judge Breen's son was, both by blood and training, the social equal of any man, and although the distinguished engineer, being well born himself, seldom set store on such things, he recognized his obligation in Jack's case and sought the first opportunity to tell him so.

"You will find a great change in your surroundings, Mr. Breen," he had said. "The little hotel where you will have to put up is rather rough and uncomfortable, but you are always welcome at my home, and this I mean, and I hope you will understand it that way without my mentioning it again."

The boy's heart leaped to his throat as he listened, and a dozen additional times that day his eyes had rested on the clump of trees which shaded the roof sheltering Ruth.

That the exclusive Miss Grayson should now have invited him to pass some days at her home had brought with it a thrill of greater delight. Her opinion of the boy had changed somewhat. His willingness to put up with the discomforts of the village inn—"a truly dreadful place," to quote one of Miss Felicia's own letters—and to continue to put up with them for more than two years, while losing nothing of his good-humor and good manners, had shaken her belief in the troubadour and tin-armor theory, although nothing in Jack's surroundings or in his prospects for the future fitted him, so far as she could see, to life companionship with so dear a girl as her beloved Ruth—a view which, of course, she kept strictly to herself.

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