The Honorable Peter Stirling and What People Thought of Him
by Paul Leicester Ford
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"She was speaking of their plans after returning from the wedding journey, and she said: 'I am going to have Peter keep up his bachelor quarters.' 'Does he say he'll do it?' I asked. 'I haven't spoken to him,' she replied, 'but of course he will.' I said: 'Leonore, all women think they rule their husbands, but they don't in reality, and Peter will be less ruled than any man I know.' Then what do you think she said?"

"Don't keep us in suspense."

"She said: 'None of you ever understood Peter. But I do.' Think of it! From that little chit, who's known Peter half the number of months that I've known him years!"

"I don't know," sighed Lispenard. "I'm not prepared to say it isn't so. Indeed, after seeing Peter, who never seemed able to understand women till this one appeared on the scene, develop into a regulation lover, I am quite prepared to believe that every one knows more than I do. At the same time, I can't afford to risk my reputation for discrimination and insight over such a simple thing as Peter's character. You've all tried to say what Peter is. Now I'll tell you in two words and you'll all find you are right, and you'll all find you are wrong."

"You are as bad as Leonore," cried Dorothy.

"Well," said Watts, "we are all listening. What is Peter?"

"He is an extreme type of a man far from uncommon in this country, yet who has never been understood by foreigners, and by few Americans."


"Peter is a practical idealist"



And how well had that "talk-it-over" group at the end of Peters wedding-day grasped his character? How clearly do we ever gain an insight into the feelings and motives which induce conduct even in those whom we best know and love? Each had found something in Peter that no other had discovered. We speak of rose-colored glasses, and Shakespeare wrote, "All things are yellow to a jaundiced eye." When we take a bit of blue glass, and place it with yellow, it becomes green. When we put it with red, it becomes purple. Yet blue it is all the time. Is not each person responsible for the tint he seems to produce in others? Can we ever learn that the thing is blue, and that the green or purple aspect is only the tinge which we ourselves help to give? Can we ever learn that we love and are loved entirely as we give ourselves colors which may harmonize with those about us? That love, wins love; kindness, kindness; hate, hate. That just such elements as we give to the individual, the individual gives back to us? That the sides we show are the sides seen by the world. There were people who could truly believe that Peter was a ward boss; a frequenter of saloons; a drunkard; a liar; a swearer; a murderer, in intention, if not in act; a profligate; and a compromiser of many of his own strongest principles. Yet there were people who could, say other things of him.

But more important than the opinion of Peter's friends, and of the world, was the opinion of Peter's wife. Was she right in her theory that she was the only one who understood him? Or had she, as he had once done, reared an ideal, and given that ideal the love which she supposed she was giving Peter? It is always a problem in love to say whether we love people most for the qualities they actually possess, or for those with which our own love endows them. Here was a young girl, inexperienced in world and men, joyfully sinking her own life in that of a man whom, but a few months before, had been only a matter of hearsay to her. Yet she had apparently taken him, as women will, for better, for worse, till death, as trustfully as if he and men generally were as knowable as A B C, instead of as unknown as the algebraic X. Only once had she faltered in her trust of him, and then but for a moment. How far had her love, and the sight of Peter's misery, led her blindly to renew that trust? And would it hold? She had seen how little people thought of that scurrilous article, and how the decent papers had passed it over without a word. But she had also seen, the scandal harped upon by partisans and noted that Peter failed to vindicate himself publicly, or vouchsafe an explanation to her. Had she taken Peter with trust or doubt, knowledge or blindness?

Perhaps a conversation between the two, a week later, will answer these questions. It occurred on the deck of a vessel. Yet this parting glimpse of Peter is very different from that which introduced him. The vessel is not drifting helplessly, but its great screw is whirling it towards the island of Martinique, as if itself anxious to reach that fairy land of fairy lands. Though the middle of November, the soft warmth of the tropics is in the air. Nor are the sea and sky now leaden. The first is turned into liquid gold by the phosphorescence, and the full moon silvers everything else. Neither is Peter pacing the deck with lines of pain and endurance on his face. He is up in the bow, where the vessel's forefoot throws up the white foam in silver drops in the moonlight. And he does not look miserable. Anything but that. He is sitting on an anchor stock, with his back comfortably braced against the rail. Another person is not far distant. What that person sits upon and leans against is immaterial to the narrative.

"Why don't you smoke?" asked that person.

"I'm too happy," said Peter, in a voice evidencing the truth of his words.

"Will you if I bite off the end?" asked Eve, Jr., placing temptation most temptingly.

"I like the idea exceedingly," said Peter. "But my right arm is so very pleasantly placed that it objects to moving."

"Don't move it. I know where they are. I even know about the matches." And Peter sat calmly while his pockets were picked. He even seemed to enjoy the sensation of that small hand rummaging in his waistcoat pockets. "You see, dear, that I am learning your ways," Leonore continued, in a tone of voice which suggested that that was the chief end of woman. Perhaps it is. The Westminster catechism only tells us the chief end of man.

"There. Now are you really happy?"

"I don't know anybody more so."

"Then, dear, I want to talk with you."

"The wish is reciprocal. But what have we been doing for six days?"

"We've been telling each other everything, just as we ought. But now I want to ask two favors, dear."

"I don't think that's necessary. Just tell me what they are."

"Yes. These favors are. Though I know you'll say 'yes.'"


"First. I want you always to keep your rooms just as they are?"

"Dear-heart, after our six weeks' trip, we must be in Albany for three years, and when we come back to New York, we'll have a house of course."

"Yes. But I want you to keep the rooms just as they are, because I love them. I don't think I shall ever feel the same for any other place. It will be very convenient to have them whenever, we want to run down from Albany. And of course you must keep up with the ward."

"But you don't suppose, after we are back in New-York, that I'll stay down there, with you uptown?"

"Oh, no! Of course not. Peter! How absurd you are! But I shall go down very often. Sometimes we'll give little dinners to real friends. And sometimes, when we want to get away from people, we'll dine by ourselves and spend the night there. Then whenever you want to be at the saloons or primaries we'll dine together there and I'll wait for you. And then I think I'll go down sometimes, when I'm shopping, and lunch with you. I'll promise not to bother you. You shall go back to your work, and I'll amuse myself with your flowers, and books, till you are ready to go uptown. Then we'll ride together."

"Lispenard frightened me the other day, but you frighten me worse."


"He said you would be a much lovelier woman at thirty than you are now."

"And that frightened you?" laughed Leonore.

"Terribly. If you are that I shall have to give up law and politics entirely, so as to see enough of you."

"But what has that to do with my lunching with you?"

"Do you think I could work at law with you in the next room?"

"Don't you want me? I thought it was such a nice plan."

"It is. If your other favor is like that I shan't know what to say. I shall merely long for you to ask favors."

"This is very different. Will you try to understand me?"

"I shan't misunderstand you, at all events." Which was a crazy speech for any man to make any woman.

"Then, dear, I want to speak of that terrible time—only for a moment, dear. You mustn't think I don't believe what you said. I do! I do! Every word of it, and to prove it to you I shall never speak of it again. But when I've shown you that I trust you entirely, some stormy evening, when we've had the nicest little dinner together at your rooms, and I've given you some coffee, and bitten your cigar for you, I shall put you down before the fire, and sit down in your lap, as I am doing now, and put my arms about your neck so, and put my cheek so. And then I want you, without my asking to tell me why you told mamma that lie, and all about it."

"Dear-heart," said Peter, "I cannot tell. I promised."

"Oh, but that didn't include your wife, dear, of course. Besides, Peter, friends should tell each other everything. And we are the best of friends, aren't we?"

"And if I don't tell my dearest friend?"

"I shall never speak of it, Peter, but I know sometimes when I am by myself I shall cry over it. Not because I doubt you, dear, but because you won't give me your confidence."

"Do you know, Dear-heart, that I can't bear the thought of your doing that!"

"Of course not, dear. That's the reason I tell you. I knew you couldn't bear it."

"How did you know?"

"Because I understand you, dear. I know just what you are. I'm the only person who does."

"Tell me what I am."

"I think, dear, that something once came into your life that made you very miserable, and took away all your hope and ambition. So, instead of trying to make a great position or fortune, you tried to do good to others. You found that you could do the most good among the poor people, so you worked among them. Then you found that you needed money, so you worked hard to get that. Then you found that you could help most by working in politics, so you did that. And you have tried to gain power so as to increase your power for good. I know you haven't liked a great deal you have had to do. I know that you much prefer to sit before your study fire and read than sit in saloons. I know that you would rather keep away from tricky people than to ask or take their help. But you have sacrificed your own feelings and principles because you felt that they were not to be considered if you could help others. And, because people have laughed at you or misunderstood, you have become silent and unsocial, except as you have believed your mixing with the world to be necessary to accomplish good."

"What a little idealist we are!"

"Well, dear, that isn't all the little idealist has found out. She knows something else. She knows that all his life her ideal has been waiting and longing for some one who did understand him, so that he can tell her all his hopes and feelings, and that at last he has found her, and she will try to make up for all the misery and sacrifice he has endured She knows, too, that he wants to tell her everything. You mustn't think, dear, that it was only prying which made me ask you so many questions. I—I really wasn't curious except to see if you would answer, for I felt that you didn't tell other people your real thoughts and feelings, and so, whenever you told me, it was really getting you to say that you loved me. You wanted me to know what you really are. And that was why I knew that you told me the truth that night. And that is the reason why I know that some day you will tell me about that lie."

Peter, whatever he might think, did not deny the correctness of Leonore's theories concerning his motives in the past or his conduct in the future. He kissed the soft cheek so near him, tenderly, and said:

"I like your thoughts about me, dear one."

"Of course you do," said Leonore. "You said once that when you had a fine subject it was always easy to make a fine speech. It's true, too, of thoughts, dear."


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