Peter - A Novel of Which He is Not the Hero
by F. Hopkinson Smith
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The Grande Dame of Geneseo did not agree with any of these makeshifts. There would be no Corklesville wedding if she could help it, with gaping loungers at the church door; nor would there be any Maryland wedding with a ten-mile ride over rough roads to a draughty country-house, where your back would freeze while your cheeks burned up; nor yet again any city wedding, with an awning over the sidewalk, a red carpet and squad of police, with Tom, Dick, and Harry inside the church, and Harry, Dick and Tom squeezed into an oak-panelled dining-room at high noon with every gas-jet blazing.

And she did not waste many seconds coming to this conclusion. Off went a telegram, after hearing the various propositions, followed by a letter, that might have melted the wires and set fire to the mail-sack, so fervid were the contents.

"Nonsense! My dear Ruth, you will be married in my house and the breakfast will be in the garden. If Peter and your father haven't got any common sense, that's no reason why you and Jack should lose your wits."

This, of course, ended the matter. No one living or dead had ever been found with nerve enough to withstand Felicia Grayson when she had once made up her mind.

And then, again, there was no time to lose in unnecessary discussions. Were not Ruth and her father picnicking in a hired villa, with half their household goods in a box-car at Morfordsburg?—and was not Jack still living in his two rooms at Mrs. Hicks's? The only change suggested by the lovers was in the date of the wedding, Miss Felicia having insisted that it should not take place until November, "FOUR WHOLE WEEKS AWAY." But the old lady would not budge. Four weeks at least, she insisted, would be required for the purchase and making of the wedding clothes, which, with four more for the honeymoon (at this both Jack and Ruth shouted with laughter, they having determined on a honeymoon the like of which had never been seen since Adam and Eve went to housekeeping in the Garden). These eight weeks, continued the practical old lady, would be required to provide a suitable home for them both; now an absolute necessity, seeing that Mr. Guthrie had made extensive contracts with MacFarlane, which, with Jack's one-fifth interest in the ore banks was sure to keep Jack and MacFarlane at Morfordsburg for some years to come.

So whizz went another telegram—this time from Jack—there was no time for letters these days—stopping all work on the nearly completed log cabin which the poor young superintendent had ordered, and which was all he could afford, before the sale of the ore lands. But then THAT seemed ages and ages ago.

"Don't tell me what I want, sir," roared Mr. Golightly at the waiter, in "Lend Me Five Shillings," when he brought a crust of bread and cheese and a pickle with which to entertain Mrs. Phobbs; Golightly in the meantime having discovered a purse full of sovereigns in the coat the waiter had handed him by mistake. "Don't tell me what I said, sir. I know what I said, sir! I said champagne, sir, and plenty of it, sir!—turkeys, and plenty of them!

Burgundy—partridges—lobsters—pineapple punch—pickled salmon—everything! Look sharp, Be off!" (Can't you hear dear Joe Jefferson's voice, gentle reader, through it all?)

And now listen to our proud Jack, with the clink of his own gold in his own pocket.

"What did you say? A six by nine log hut, with a sheet-iron stove in one corner and a cast-iron bedstead in another, and a board closet, and a table and two chairs—and this, too, for a princess of quality and station? Zounds, sirrah!—" (Holker Morris was the "Sirrah")—"I didn't order anything of the kind. I ordered a bungalow all on one floor—that's what I ordered—with a boudoir and two bedrooms, and an extra one for my honored father-in-law, and still another for my thrice-honored uncle, Mr. Peter Grayson, when he shall come to stay o' nights; and porches front and back where my lady's hammock may be slung: and a fireplace big enough to roll logs into as thick around as your body and wide enough to warm every one all over; and a stable for my lady's mare, with a stall for my saddle-horse. Out upon you, you Dago!"

Presto, what a change! Away went the completed roof of the modest cabin and down tumbled the sides. More post-holes were dug; more trenches excavated; more great oaks toppled over to be sliced into rafters, joists and uprights; more shingles—two carloads; more brick; more plaster; more everything, including nails, locks, hinges, sash; bath-tubs—two; lead pipe, basins, kitchen range—and so the new bungalow was begun.

Neither was there any time to be lost over the invitations. Miss Felicia, we may be sure, prepared the list. It never bothered her head whether the trip to Geneseo—and that, too, in the fall of the year, when early snows were to be expected—might prevent any of the invited guests from witnessing the glad ceremony. Those who loved Ruth she knew would come even if they had to be accompanied by St. Bernard dogs with kegs of brandy tied to their necks to get them across the glaciers, including Uncle Peter, of course; as would also Ruth's dear grandmother, who was just Miss Felicia's age, and MacFarlane's saintly sister Kate, who had never taken off her widow's weeds since the war, and two of her girl friends, with whom Ruth went to school, and who were to be her bridesmaids.

Then there were those who might or might not struggle through the drifts, if there happened to be any—the head of the house of Breen, for instance, and Mrs. B., and lots and lots of people of whom Jack had never heard, aunts and uncles and cousins by the dozens; and lots and lots of people of whom Ruth had never heard, of the same blood relationship; and lots more of people from Washington Square and Murray Hill, who loved the young people, and Peter, and his outspoken sister, all of whom must be invited to the ceremony; including the Rector and his wife from Corklesville, and—(no—that was all from Corklesville) together with such selected inhabitants of Geneseo as dame Felicia permitted inside of her doors. As for the several ambassadors, generals, judges, dignitaries, attaches, secretaries, and other high and mighty folks forming the circle of Miss Felicia's acquaintance, both here and abroad, they were only to receive "announcement" cards, just as a reminder that Miss Grayson of Geneseo was still in and of the world.

The hardest nut of all to crack was given to Jack. They had all talked it over, the dear girl saying "of course he shall come, Jack, if you would like to have him." Jack adding that he should "never forget his generosity," and MacFarlane closing the discussion by saying:

"Go slow, Jack. I'd say yes in a minute. I am past all those foolish prejudices, but it isn't your house, remember. Better ask Peter—he'll tell you."

Peter pursed his mouth when Jack laid the matter before him in Peter's room the next day, tipped his head so far on one side that it looked as if it might roll off any minute and go smash, and with an arching of his eyebrows said:

"Well, but why NOT invite Isaac? Has anybody ever been as good to you?"

"Never any one, Uncle Peter—and I think as you do, and so does Ruth and Mr. MacFarlane, but—" The boy hesitated and looked away.

"But what?" queried Peter.

"Well—there's Aunt Felicia. You know how particular she is; and she doesn't know how splendid Mr. Cohen has been, and if he came to the wedding she might not like it."

"But Felicia is not going to be married, my boy," remarked Peter, with a dry smile wrinkling the corners of his eyes.

Jack laughed. "Yes—but it's her house."

"Yes—and your wedding. Now go down and ask Mr. Cohen yourself. You'll send him a card, of course, but do more than that. Call on him personally and tell you want him to come, and why—and that I want him, too. That will please him still more. The poor fellow lives a great deal alone. Whether he will come or not, I don't know—but ask him. You owe it to yourself as much as you do to him."

"And you don't think Aunt Felicia will—"

"Hang Felicia! You do what you think is right; it does not matter what Felicia or anybody else thinks."

Jack wheeled about and strode downstairs and into the back room where the little man sat at his desk looking over some papers. Isaac's hand was out and he was on his feet before Jack had reached his side.

"Ah!—Mr. Millionaire. And so you have come to tell me some more good news. Have you sold another mine? I should have looked out to see whether your carriage did not stop at my door; and now sit down and tell me what I can do for you. How well you look, and how happy. Ah, it is very good to be young!"

"What you can do for me is this, Mr. Cohen. I want you to come to our wedding—will you? I have come myself to ask you," said Jack in all sincerity.

"So! And you have come yourself." He was greatly pleased; his face showed it. "Well, that is very kind of you, but let me first congratulate you. Yes—Mr. Grayson told me all about it, and how lovely the young lady is. And now tell me, when is your wedding?"

"Next month."

"And where will it be?"

"At Uncle Peter's old home up at Geneseo."

"Oh, at that grand lady's place—the magnificent Miss Grayson." "Yes, but it is only one night away. I will see that you are taken care of."

The little man paused and toyed with the papers on his desk. His black, diamond-pointed eyes sparkled and an irrepressible smile hung around his lips.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Breen—and thank your young lady too. You are very kind and you are very polite. Yes—I mean it—very polite. And you are sincere in what you say; that is the best of all. But I cannot go. It is not the travelling at night—that is nothing. You and your lady would be glad to see me and that would be worth it all, but the magnificent Miss Grayson, she would not be glad to see me. You see, my dear young man"—here the smile got loose and scampered up to his eyelids—"I am a most unfortunate combination—oh, most unfortunate—for the magnificent Miss Grayson. If I was only a tailor I might be forgiven; if I was just a Jew I might be forgiven; but when I am both a tailor and a Jew"—here the irrepressible went to pieces in a merry laugh—"don't you see how impossible it is? And you—you, Mr. Breen! She would never forgive you. 'My friend, Mr. Cohen,' you would have to say, and she could do nothing. She must answer that she is most glad to see me—or she might NOT answer, which would be worse. And it is not her fault. You can't break down the barriers of centuries in a day. No—no—I will not compromise you in that way. Let me come to see you some time when it is all over, when your good uncle can come too. He will bring me; perhaps. And now give my best respects to the lady—I forget her name, and say to her for me, that if she is as thoughtful of other people as you are, you deserve to be a very happy couple."

Jack shook the little man's hand and went his way. He was sorry and he was glad. He was also somewhat ashamed in his heart. It was not altogether himself who had been thoughtful of other people. But for Peter, perhaps, he might never have paid the visit.

As the blissful day approached Geneseo was shaken to its centre, the vibrations reaching to the extreme limits of the town. Not only was Moggins who drove the village 'bus and tucked small packages under the seat on the sly, overworked, but all the regular and irregular express companies had to put on extra teams. Big box, little box, band box, bundle, began to pour in, to say nothing of precious packages that nobody but "Miss Grayson" could sign for. And then such a litter of cut paper and such mounds of pasteboard boxes poked under Miss Felicia's bed, so she could defend them in the dead of night, and with her life if necessary, each one containing presents, big and little; the very biggest being a flamboyant service of silver from the head of the house of Breen and his wife, and the smallest a velvet-bound prayer-book from Aunt Kate with inter-remembrances from MacFarlane (all the linen, glass, and china); from Peter (two old decanters with silver coasters); from Miss Felicia (the rest of her laces, besides innumerable fans and some bits of rare jewelry); besides no end of things from the Holker Morrises and the Fosters and dozens of others, who loved either Ruth or Jack, or somebody whom each one or both of them loved, or perhaps their fathers and mothers before them. The Scribe has forgotten the list and the donors, and really it is of no value, except as confirmation of the fact that they are still in the possession of the couple, and that none of them was ever exchanged for something else nor will be until the end of time.

One curious-looking box, however, smelling of sandalwood and dried cinnamon, and which arrived the day the ceremony took place, is worthy of recall, because of the universal interest which it excited. It was marked "Fragile" on the outside, and was packed with extraordinary care. Miss Felicia superintended the unrolling and led the chorus of "Oh, how lovely!" herself, when an Imari jar, with carved teakwood stand, was brought to light. So exquisite was it in glaze, form, and color that for a moment no one thought of the donor. Then their curiosity got the better of them and they began to search through the wrappings for the card. It wasn't in the box; it wasn't hidden in the final bag; it wasn't—here a bright thought now flashed through the dear lady's brain—down went her shapely hand into the depths of the tall jar, and up came an envelope bearing Ruth's name and enclosing a card which made the grande dame catch her breath.

"Mr. Isaac Cohen! What—the little tailor!" she gasped out. "The Jew! Well, upon my word—did you ever hear of such impudence!"

Isaac would have laughed the harder could he have seen her face.

Jack caught up the vase and ran with it to Ruth, who burst out with another: "Oh, what a beauty!" followed by "Who sent it?"

"A gentleman journeyman tailor, my darling," said Jack, with a flash of his eye at Peter, his face wreathed in smiles.

And with the great day—a soft November day—summer had lingered on a-purpose—came the guests: the head of the house of Breen and his wife—not poor Corinne, of course, who poured out her heart in a letter instead, which she entrusted to her mother to deliver; and Holker Morris and Mrs. Morris, and the Fosters and the Granthams and Wildermings and their wives and daughters and sons, and one stray general, who stopped over on his way to the West, and who said when he entered, looking so very grand and important, that he didn't care whether he had been invited to the ceremony or not, at which Miss Felicia was delighted, he being a major-general on the retired list, and not a poor tailor who—no, we won't refer to that again; besides a very, VERY select portion of the dear lady's townspeople—the house being small, as she explained, and Miss MacFarlane's intimates and acquaintances being both importunate and numerous.

And with the gladsome hour came the bride.

None of us will ever forget her. Not only was she a vision of rare loveliness, but there was in her every glance and movement that stateliness and grace that poise and sureness of herself that marks the high-born woman the world over when she finds herself the cynosure of all eyes.

All who saw her descend Miss Felicia's stairs held their breath in adoration: Not a flight of steps at all, but a Jacob's ladder down which floated a company of angels in pink and ivory—one all in white, her lovely head crowned by a film of old lace in which nestled a single rose.

On she came—slowly—proudly—her slippered feet touching the carpeted steps as daintily as treads a fawn; her gown crinkling into folds of silver about her knees, one fair hand lost in a mist of gauze, the other holding the blossoms which Jack had pressed to his lips—until she reached her father's side.

"Dear daddy," I heard her whisper as she patted his sleeve with her fingers.

Ah! but it was a proud day for MacFarlane. I saw his bronzed and weather-beaten face flush when he caught sight of her in all her gracious beauty; but it was when she reached his side and laid her hand on his arm, as he told me afterward, that the choke came. She was so like her mother.

The two swept past me into the old-fashioned parlor, now a bower of roses, where Jack and Peter and Felicia, with the elect, waited their coming, and I followed, halting at the doorway. From this point of vantage I peered in as best I could over and between the heads of the more fortunate, but I heard all that went on; the precise, sonorous voice of the bishop—(catch Miss Felicia having anybody but a bishop); the clear responses—especially Jack's—as if he had been waiting all his life to say those very words and insisted on being heard; the soft crush of satin as Ruth knelt; the rustle of her gown when she regained her feet; the measured words: "Whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder"—and then the outbreak of joyous congratulations. As I looked in upon them all—old fellow as I am—listening to their joyous laughter; noting the wonderful toilettes, the festoons and masses of flowers; watching Miss Felicia as she moved about the room (and never had I seen her more the "Grande Dame" than she was that day), welcoming her guests with a graciousness that must have opened some of their eyes—even fat, red-faced Arthur Breen, perspiring in pearl-colored gloves and a morning frock coat that fitted all sides of him except the front, and Mrs. Arthur in moire antique and diamonds, were enchanted; noting, too, Peter's perfectly appointed dress and courtly manners, he taking the whole responsibility of the occasion on his own shoulders—head of the house, really, for the time; receiving people at the door; bowing them out again; carrying glasses of punch—stopping to hobnob with this or that old neighbor: "Ah, my dear Mrs. Townehalle, how young and well you look; and you tell me this is your daughter. I knew your mother, my dear, when she was your age, and she was the very prettiest girl in the county. And now let me present you to a most charming woman, Mrs. Foster, of New York, who—" etc., etc. Or greeting some old gray-head with: "Well, well—of coarse it is—why, Judge, I haven't seen you since you left the bench which you graced so admirably," etc, etc.; watching, too, Ruth and Jack as they stood beneath a bower of arching roses—(Miss Felicia had put it together with her own hands)—receiving the congratulations and good wishes of those they knew and those they did not know; both trying to remember the names of strangers; both laughing over their mistakes, and both famished for just one kiss behind some door or curtain where nobody could see. As I looked on, I say, noting all these and a dozen other things, it was good to feel that there was yet another spot in this world of care where unbridled happiness held full sway and joy and gladness were contagious.

But it was in the tropical garden, with its frog pond, climbing roses in full bloom, water-lilies, honeysuckle, and other warm-weather shrubs and plants (not a single thing was a-bloom outside, even the chrysanthemums had been frost-bitten), that the greatest fun took place. That was a sight worth ten nights on the train to see.

Here the wedding breakfast was spread, the bride's table being placed outside that same arbor where Jack once tried so hard to tell Ruth he loved her (how often have they laughed over it since); a table with covers for seven, counting the two bridesmaids and the two gallants in puffy steel-gray scarfs and smooth steel-gray gloves. The other guests—the relations and intimate friends who had been invited to remain after the ceremony—were to find seats either at the big or little tables placed under the palms or beneath the trellises of jasmine, or upon the old porch overlooking the tropical garden.

It was Jack's voice that finally caught my attention. I could not see clearly on account of the leaves and tangled vines, but I could hear.

"But we want you, and you must."

"Oh, please, do," pleaded Ruth; there was no mistaking the music of her tones, or the southern accent that softened them.

"But what nonsense—an old duffer like me!" This was Peter's voice—no question about it.

"We won't any of us sit down if you don't," Jack was speaking now.

"And it will spoil everything," cried Ruth. "Jack and I planned it long ago; and we have brought you out a special chair; and see your card—see what it says: 'Dear Uncle Peter—'"

"Sit down with you young people at your wedding breakfast!" cried Peter, "and—" He didn't get any farther. Ruth had stopped what was to follow with a kiss. I know, for I craned my neck and caught the flash of the old fellow's bald head with the fair girl's cheek close to his own.

"Well, then—just as you want it—but there's the Major and Felicia and your father."

But they did not want any of these people, Ruth cried with a ringing laugh; didn't want any old people; they just wanted their dear Uncle Peter, and they were going to have him; a resolution which was put to vote and carried unanimously, the two pink bridesmaids and the two steel-gray gentlemen voting the loudest.

The merriment ceased when Ruth disappeared and came back in a dark-blue travelling dress and Jack in a brown suit. We were all in the doorway, our hands filled with rose petals—no worn-out slippers or hail of rice for this bride—when she tried to slip through in a dash for the carriage, but the dear lady caught and held her, clasping the girl to her heart, kissing her lips, her forehead, her hands—she could be very tender when she loved anybody; and she loved Ruth as her life; Peter and her father going ahead to hold open the door where they had their kisses and handshakes, their blessings, and their last words all to themselves.

The honeymoon slipped away as do all honeymoons, and one crisp, cool December day a lumbering country stage containing two passengers struggled up a steep hill and stopped before a long, rambling building nearing completion. All about were piles of partly used lumber, broken bundles of shingles, empty barrels, and abandoned mortar beds. Straight from the low slanting roof with its queer gables, rose a curl of blue smoke, telling of comfort and cheer within. Back of it towered huge trees, and away off in the distance swept a broad valley hazy in the morning light.

"Oh, Jack—what a love!" cried one passenger—she had alighted with a spring, her cheeks aglow with the bracing mountain air, and was standing taking it all in. "And, oh—see the porch!—and the darling windows and the dear little panes of glass! And, Jack—" she had reached the open door now, and was sweeping her eyes around the interior—"Oh!—oh!—what a fireplace!—and such ducky little shelves—and the flowers, and the table and the big easy chairs and rugs! ISN'T it lovely!!"

And then the two, hand in hand, stepped inside and shut the door.


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