AN EVENING CALL.
But Peter's social gadding did not end with these bread-and-butter calls. One afternoon in March, he went into the shop of a famous picture-dealer, to look over an exhibition then advertised, and had nearly finished his patient examination of each picture, which always involved quite as much mental gymnastics as aesthetic pleasure to Peter, when he heard a pleasant:
"How do you do, Mr. Stirling?"
Turning, he found Miss De Voe and a well-dressed man at his elbow. Peter's face lighted up in a way which made the lady say to herself: "I wonder why he wouldn't buy another ticket?" Aloud she said, "I want you to know another of my cousins. Mr. Ogden, Mr. Stirling."
"Charmed," said Mr. Ogden genially. Any expression which Peter had thought of using seemed so absolutely lame, beside this passive participle, that he merely bowed.
"I did not know you cared for pictures," said Miss De Voe.
"I see most of the public exhibitions," Peter told her. "I try to like them."
Miss De Voe looked puzzled.
"Don't," said Mr. Ogden. "I tried once, when I first began. But it's much easier to notice what women say, and answer 'yes' and 'no' at the right points."
Peter looked puzzled.
"Nonsense, Lispenard," said Miss De Voe. "He's really one of the best connoisseurs I know, Mr. Stirling."
"There," said Lispenard. "You see. Only agree with people, and they think you know everything."
"I suppose you have seen the pictures, and so won't care to go round with us?" inquired Miss De Voe.
"I've looked at them, but I should like to go over again with you," said Peter. Then he added, "if I shan't be in the way."
"Not a bit," said Lispenard heartily. "My cousin always wants a listener. It will be a charity to her tongue and my ears." Miss De Voe merely gave him a very pleasant smile. "I wonder why he wouldn't buy a ticket?" she thought.
Peter was rather astonished at the way they looked at the pictures. They would pass by a dozen without giving them a second glance, and then stop at one, and chat about it for ten minutes. He found that Miss De Voe had not exaggerated her cousin's art knowledge. He talked familiarly and brilliantly, though making constant fun of his own opinions, and often jeering at the faults of the picture. Miss De Voe also talked well, so Peter really did supply the ears for the party. He was very much pleased when they both praised a certain picture.
"I liked that," he told them, making the first remark (not a question) which he had yet made. "It seemed to me the best here."
"Unquestionably," said Lispenard. "There is poetry and feeling in it."
Miss De Voe said: "That is not the one I should have thought of your liking."
"That's womanly," said Lispenard, "they are always deciding what a man should like."
"No," denied Miss De Voe. "But I should think with your liking for children, that you would have preferred that piece of Brown's, rather than this sad, desolate sand-dune."
"I cannot say why I like it, except, that I feel as if it had something to do with my own mood at times."
"Are you very lonely?" asked Miss De Voe, in a voice too low for Lispenard to hear.
"Sometimes," said Peter, simply.
"I wish," said Miss De Voe, still speaking low, "that the next time you feel so you would come and see me."
"I will," said Peter.
When they parted at the door, Peter thanked Lispenard: "I've really learned a good deal, thanks to Miss De Voe and you. I've seen the pictures with eyes that know much more about them than mine do."
"Well, we'll have to have another turn some day. We're always in search of listeners."
"If you come and see me, Mr. Stirling," said Miss De Voe, "you shall see my pictures. Good-bye."
"So that is your Democratic heeler?" said Lispenard, eyeing Peter's retreating figure through the carriage window.
"Don't call him that, Lispenard," said Miss De Voe, wincing.
Lispenard laughed, and leaned back into a comfortable attitude. "Then that's your protector of sick kittens?"
Miss De Voe made no reply. She was thinking of that dreary wintry stretch of sand and dune.
Thus it came to pass that a week later, when a north-easter had met a south-wester overhead and both in combination had turned New York streets into a series of funnels, in and through which wind, sleet and snow fought for possession, to the almost absolute dispossession of humanity and horses, that Peter ended a long stare at his blank wall by putting on his dress-suit, and plunging into the streets. He had, very foolishly, decided to omit dinner, a couple of hours before, rather than face the storm, and a north-east wind and an empty stomach are enough to set any man staring at nothing, if that dangerous inclination is at all habitual. Peter realized this, for the opium eater is always keenly alive to the dangers of the drug. Usually he fought the tendency bravely, but this night he felt too tired to fight himself, and preferred to battle with a little thing like a New York storm. So he struggled through the deserted streets until he had reached his objective point in the broad Second Avenue house. Miss De Voe was at home, but was "still at dinner."
Peter vacillated, wondering what the correct thing was under the circumstances. The footman, remembering him of old, and servants in those simple days being still open to impressions, suggested that he wait. Peter gladly accepted the idea. But he did not wait, for hardly had the footman left him than that functionary returned, to tell Peter that Miss De Voe would see him in the dining-room.
"I asked you to come in here, because I'm sure, after venturing out such a night, you would like an extra cup of coffee," Miss De Voe explained. "You need not sit at the table. Morden, put a chair by the fire."
So Peter found himself sitting in front of a big wood-fire, drinking a cup of coffee decidedly better in quality than his home-brew. Blank walls ceased to have any particular value for the time.
In a moment Miss De Voe joined him at the fire. A small table was moved up, and a plate of fruit, and a cup of coffee placed upon it.
"That is all, Morden," she said. "It is so nice of you to have come this evening. I was promising myself a very solitary time, and was dawdling over my dinner to kill some of it. Isn't it a dreadful night?"
"It's blowing hard. Two or three times I thought I should have to give it up."
"You didn't walk?"
"Yes. I could have taken a solitary-car that passed, but the horses were so done up that I thought I was better able to walk."
Miss De Voe touched the bell. "Another cup of coffee, Morden, and bring the cognac," she said. "I am not going to let you please your mother to-night," she told Peter. "I am going to make you do what I wish." So she poured a liberal portion of the eau-de-vie into Peter's second cup, and he most dutifully drank it. "How funny that he should be so obstinate sometimes, and so obedient at others," thought Miss De Voe. "I don't generally let men smoke, but I'm going to make an exception to-night in your case," she continued.
It was a sore temptation to Peter, but he answered quickly, "Thank you for the thought, but I won't this evening."
"You have smoked after dinner already?"
"No. I tried to keep my pipe lighted in the street, but it blew and sleeted too hard."
"Then you had better."
"Thank you, no."
Miss De Voe thought her former thought again.
"Where do you generally dine?" she asked.
"I have no regular place. Just where I happen to be."
Peter was not good at dodging. He was silent for a moment. Then he said, "I saw rather a curious thing, as I was walking up. Would you like to hear about it?"
Miss De Voe looked at him curiously, but she did not seem particularly interested in what Peter had to tell her, in response to her "yes." It concerned an arrest on the streets for drunkenness.
"I didn't think the fellow was half as drunk as frozen," Peter concluded, "and I told the policeman it was a case for an ambulance rather than a station-house. He didn't agree, so I had to go with them both to the precinct and speak to the superintendent."
"That was before your dinner?" asked Miss De Voe, calmly.
It was a very easily answered question, apparently, but Peter was silent again.
"It was coming up here," he said finally.
"What is he trying to keep back?" asked Miss De Voe mentally. "I suppose some of the down-town places are not quite—but he wouldn't—" then she said out loud: "I wonder if you men do as women do, when they dine alone? Just live on slops. Now, what did you order to-night? Were you an ascetic or a sybarite?"
"Usually," said Peter, "I eat a very simple dinner."
"Why do you want to know about to-day?"
"Because I wish to learn where you dined, and thought I could form some conclusion from your menu." Miss De Voe laughed, so as to make it appear a joke, but she knew very well that she was misbehaving.
"I didn't reply to your question," said Peter, "because I would have preferred not. But if you really wish to know, I'll answer it."
"Yes. I should like to know." Miss De Voe still smiled.
"I haven't dined."
"Mr. Stirling! You are joking?" Miss De Voe's smile had ended, and she was sitting up very straight in her chair. Women will do without eating for an indefinite period, and think nothing of it, but the thought of a hungry man fills them with horror—unless they have the wherewithal to mitigate the consequent appetite. Hunger with woman, as regards herself, is "a theory." As regards a man it is "a condition."
"No," said Peter.
Miss De Voe touched the bell again, but quickly as Morden answered it, Peter was already speaking.
"You are not to trouble yourself on my account, Miss De Voe. I wish for nothing."
"You must have—"
Peter was rude enough to interrupt with the word "Nothing."
"But I shall not have a moment's pleasure in your call if I think of you as—"
Peter interrupted again. "If that is so," he said, rising, "I had better go."
"No," cried Miss De Voe. "Oh, won't you please? It's no trouble. I'll not order much."
"Nothing, thank you," said Peter.
"Just a chop or—"
Peter held out his hand.
"No, no. Sit down. Of course you are to do as you please. But I should be so happy if—?" and Miss De Voe looked at Peter appealingly.
"No. Thank you."
"Nothing, Morden." They sat down again. "Why didn't you dine?" asked Miss De Voe.
"I didn't care to face the storm."
"Yet you came out?"
"Yes. I got blue, and thought it foolish to stay indoors by myself."
"I'm very glad you came here. It's a great compliment to find an evening with me put above dinner. You know I had the feeling that you didn't like me."
"I'm sorry for that. It's not so."
"If not, why did you insist on my twice asking you to call on me?"
"I did not want to call on you without being sure that you really wished to have me."
"Then why wouldn't you stay and dine at Saratoga?"
"Because my ticket wouldn't have been good."
"But a new ticket would only cost seven dollars."
"In my neighborhood, we don't say 'only seven dollars.'"
"But you don't need to think of seven dollars."
"I do. I never have spent seven dollars on a dinner in my life."
"But you should have, this time, after making seven hundred and fifty dollars in one month. I know men who would give that amount to dine with me." It was a foolish brag, but Miss De Voe felt that her usual means of inspiring respect were not working,—not even realized.
"Very likely. But I can't afford such luxuries. I had spent more than usual and had to be careful."
"Then it was economy?"
"I had no idea my dinner invitations would ever be held in so little respect that a man would decline one to save seven dollars." Miss De Voe was hurt. "I had given him five hundred dollars," she told herself, "and he ought to have been willing to spend such a small amount of it to please me." Then she said; "A great many people economize in foolish ways."
"I suppose so," said Peter. "I'm sorry if I disappointed you. I really didn't think I ought to spend the money."
"Never mind," said Miss De Voe. "Were you pleased with the nomination and election of Catlin?"
"I was pleased at the election, but I should have preferred Porter."
"I thought you tried to prevent Porter's nomination?"
"That's what the papers said, but they didn't understand."
"I wasn't thinking of the papers. You know I heard your speech in the convention."
"A great many people seem to have misunderstood me. I tried to make it clear."
"Did you intend that the convention should laugh?"
"No. That surprised and grieved me very much!"
Miss De Voe gathered from this and from what the papers had said that it must be a mortifying subject to Peter, and knew that she ought to discontinue it. But she could not help saying, "Why?"
"It's difficult to explain, I'm afraid. I had a feeling that a man was trying to do wrong, but I hoped that I was mistaken. It seemed to me that circumstances compelled me to tell the convention all about it, but I was very careful not to hint at my suspicion. Yet the moment I told them they laughed."
"Because they felt sure that the man had done wrong."
"Oh!" It was a small exclamation, but the expression Miss De Voe put into it gave it a big meaning. "Then they were laughing at Maguire?"
"At the time they were. Really, though, they were laughing at human weakness. Most people seem to find that amusing."
"And that is why you were grieved?"
"But why did the papers treat you so badly?"
"Mr. Costell tells me that I told too much truth for people to understand. I ought to have said nothing, or charged a bargain right out, for then they would have understood. A friend of—a fellow I used to know, said I was the best chap for bungling he ever knew, and I'm afraid it's true."
"Do you know Costell? I thought he was such a dishonest politician?"
"I know Mr. Costell. I haven't met the dishonest politician yet."
"He hasn't shown me the side the papers talk about."
"And when he does?"
"I shall be very sorry, for I like him, and I like his wife." Then Peter told about the little woman who hated politics and loved flowers, and about the cool, able manager of men, who could not restrain himself from putting his arms about the necks of his favorite horses, and who had told about the death of one of his mares with tears in his eyes. "He had his cheek cut open by a kick from one of his horses once, and he speaks of it just as we would speak of some unintentional fault of a child."
"Has he a great scar on his cheek?"
"Yes. Have you seen him?"
"Once. Just as we were coming out of the convention. He said something about you to a group of men which called my attention to him." Miss De Voe thought Peter would ask her what it was. "Would you like to know what he said?" she asked, when Peter failed to do so.
"I think he would have said it to me, if he wished me to hear it."
Miss De Voe's mind reverted to her criticism of Peter. "He is so absolutely without our standards." Her chair suddenly ceased to be comfortable. She rose, saying, "Let us go to the library. I shall not show you my pictures now. The gallery is too big to be pleasant such a night. You must come again for that. Won't you tell me about some of the other men you are meeting in politics?" she asked when they had sat down before another open fire. "It seems as if all the people I know are just alike—I suppose it's because we are all so conventional—and I am very much interested in hearing about other kinds."
So Peter told about Dennis and Blunkers, and the "b'ys" in the saloons; about Green and his fellow delegates; about the Honorable Mr., Mrs., and Miss Gallagher, and their dinner companions. He did not satirize in the least. He merely told various incidents and conversations, in a sober, serious way; but Miss De Voe was quietly amused by much of the narrative and said to herself, "I think he has humor, but is too serious-minded to yield to it." She must have enjoyed his talk for she would not let Peter go early, and he was still too ignorant of social usages to know how to get away, whether a woman wished or no. Finally he insisted that he must leave when the clock pointed dangerously near eleven.
"Mr. Stirling," said Miss De Voe, in a doubtful, "won't-you-please" voice, such as few men had ever heard from her, "I want you to let me send you home? It will only take a moment to have the carriage here."
"I wouldn't take a horse out in such weather," said Peter, in a very settling kind of voice.
"He's obstinate," thought Miss De Voe. "And he makes his obstinacy so dreadfully—dreadfully pronounced!" Aloud she said: "You will come again?"
"If you will let me."
"Do. I am very much alone too, as perhaps you know?" Miss De Voe did not choose to say that her rooms could be filled nightly and that everywhere she was welcome.
"No. I really know nothing about you, except what you have told me, and what I have seen."
Miss De Voe laughed merrily at Peter's frankness. "I feel as if I knew all about you," she said.
"But you have asked questions," replied Peter.
Miss De Voe caught her breath again. Try as she would, she could not get accustomed to Peter. All her social experience failed to bridge the chasm opened by his speech. "What did he mean by that plain statement, spoken in such a matter-of-fact voice?" she asked herself. Of course the pause could not continue indefinitely, and she finally said: "I have lived alone ever since my father's death. I have relatives, but prefer to stay here. I am so much more independent. I suppose I shall have to move some day. This part of the city is beginning to change so." Miss De Voe was merely talking against time, and was not sorry when Peter shook hands, and left her alone.
"He's very different from most men," she said to the blazing logs. "He is so uncomplimentary and outspoken! How can he succeed in politics? Still, after the conventional society man he is—he is—very refreshing. I think I must help him a little socially."
The last remark made by Miss De Voe to her fire resulted, after a few days, in Peter's receiving a formal dinner invitation, which he accepted with a promptness not to be surpassed by the best-bred diner-out. He regretted now his vamping of the old suit. Peter understood that he was in for quite another affair than the Avery, the Gallagher, or even the Purple dinner. He did not worry, however, and if in the dressing-room he looked furtively at the coats of the other men, he entirely forgot the subject the moment he started downstairs, and thought no further of it till he came to take off the suit in his own room.
When Peter entered the drawing-room, he found it well filled with young people, and for a moment a little of the bewildered feeling of four years before came over him. But he found himself chatting with Miss De Voe, and the feeling left him as quickly as it had come. In a moment he was introduced to a "Miss Lenox," who began talking in an easy way which gave Peter just as much or as little to say as he chose. Peter wondered if many girls were as easy to talk to as—as—Miss Lenox.
He took Miss De Voe in, and found Dorothy Ogden sitting on his other side. He had barely exchanged greetings with her, when he heard his name spoken from across the table, and looking up, he found Miss Leroy sitting opposite.
"I hope you haven't entirely forgotten me," that girl said, the moment his attention was caught.
"Not at all," said Peter.
"Nor my dress," laughed Miss Leroy.
"I remember the style, material, and train."
"Especially the train I am sure."
"Do explain these mysterious remarks," said Dorothy.
"Mr. Stirling and I officiated at a wedding, and I was in such mortal terror lest some usher should step on my gown, that it became a joke."
"Whose wedding was that?" asked Miss De Voe.
"Miss Pierce's and Watts D'Alloi's," said the bridesmaid.
"Do you know Watts D'Alloi?" exclaimed Miss De Voe to Peter.
"Are you a Harvard man?"
"You were Mr. D'Alloi's chum, weren't you?" said Miss Leroy.
"Watts D'Alloi?" again exclaimed Miss De Voe.
"But he's a mere boy."
"He's two years my senior."
"You don't mean it?"
"I thought you were over thirty."
"Most people do."
Miss De Voe said to herself, "I don't know as much about him as I thought I did. He may be very frank, but he doesn't tell all one thinks. Now I know where he gets his nice manner. I ought to have recognized the Harvard finish."
"When did you last hear from the D'Allois?" asked Miss Leroy.
"Not since they sailed," said Peter, wincing internally.
"Not really?" said the bridesmaid. "Surely you've heard of the baby?"
"No." Lines were coming into Peter's face which Miss De Voe had never before seen.
"How strange. The letters must have gone astray. But you have written him?"
"I did not know his address."
"Then you really haven't heard of the little baby—why, it was born two—no, three years ago—and of Helen's long ill-health, and of their taking a villa on the Riviera, and of how they hope to come home this spring?"
"Yes. They will sail in June if Helen is well enough. I'm to be god-mother."
"If you were Mr. D'Alloi's chum, you must have known Ray Rivington," said Dorothy.
"Yes. But I've not seen him since we graduated. He went out West."
"He has just returned. Ranching is not to his taste."
"Will you, if you see him, say that I'm in New York and should like to run across him?"
"I will. He and Laurence—my second brother—are old cronies, and he often drops in on us. I want you to know my brothers. They are both here this evening."
"I have met the elder one, I suppose."
"No. That was a cousin, Lispenard Ogden. He spoke of meeting you. You would be amused to hear his comment about you."
"Mr. Stirling doesn't like to have speeches repeated to him, Dorothy," said Miss De Voe.
"What do you mean?" asked Dorothy, looking from one to the other.
"He snubbed me the other evening when I tried to tell him what we heard, coming out of the convention last autumn," explained Miss De Voe, smiling slightly at the thought of treating Peter with a dose of his own medicine.
Peter looked at Miss De Voe. "I hope you don't mean that?"
"How else could I take it?"
"You asked me if I wished something, and I merely declined, I think."
"Oh, no. You reproved me."
"I'm very sorry if I did. I'm always blundering."
"Tell us what Lispenard said, Dorothy. I'm curious myself."
"May I, Mr. Stirling?
"I would rather not," said Peter.
And Dorothy did not tell him, but in the drawing-room she told Miss De Voe:
"He said that except his professor of archaeology at Heidelberg, Mr. Stirling was the nicest old dullard he'd ever met, and that he must be a very good chap to smoke with."
"He said that, Dorothy?" exclaimed Miss De Voe, contemptuously.
"How ridiculous," said Miss De Voe. "Lispenard's always trying to hit things off in epigrams, and sometimes he's very foolish." Then she turned to Miss Leroy. "It was very nice, your knowing Mr. Stirling."
"I only met him that once. But he's the kind of man somehow that you remember. It's curious I've never heard of him since then."
"You know he's the man who made that splendid speech when the poor children were poisoned summer before last."
"I can't believe it!"
"It's so. That is the way I came to know him."
Miss Leroy laughed. "And Helen said he was a man who needed help in talking!"
"Was Mrs. D'Alloi a great friend of his?"
"No. She told me that Watts had brought him to see them only once. I don't think Mr. Pierce liked him."
"He evidently was very much hurt at Watts's not writing him."
"Yes. I was really sorry I spoke, when I saw how he took it."
"Watts is a nice boy, but he always was thoughtless."
In passing out of the dining-room, Dorothy had spoken to a man for a moment, and he at once joined Peter.
"You know my sister, Miss Ogden, who's the best representative of us," he said. "Now I'll show you the worst. I don't know whether she exploited her brother Ogden to you?"
"Yes. She talked about you and your brother this evening."
"Trust her to stand by her family. There's more loyalty in her than there was in the army of the Potomac. My cousin Lispenard says it's wrecking his nervous system to live up to the reputation she makes for him."
"I never had a sister, but it must be rather a good thing to live up to."
"Yes. And to live with. Especially other fellows' sisters."
"Are you ready to part with yours for that purpose?"
"No. That's asking too much. By the way, I think we are in the same work. I'm in the office of Jarvis, Redburn and Saltus."
"I'm trying it by myself."
"You've been very lucky."
"Yes. I've succeeded much better than I hoped for. But I've had very few clients."
"Fortunately it doesn't take many. Two or three rich steady clients will keep a fellow running. I know a man who's only got one, but he runs him for all he's worth, and gets a pretty good living out of him."
"My clients haven't been of that sort." Peter smiled a little at the thought of making a steady living out of the Blacketts, Dooleys or Milligans.
"It's all a matter of friends."
Peter had a different theory, but he did not say so. Just at that point they were joined by Laurence Ogden, who was duly introduced, and in a moment the conversation at their end of the table became general. Peter listened, enjoying his Havana.
When they joined the ladies, they found Lispenard Ogden there, and he intercepted Peter.
"Look here," he said. "A friend of mine has just come back from Europe, with a lot of prints. He's a fellow who thinks he has discrimination, and he wants me to come up and look them over to-morrow evening. He hopes to have his own taste approved and flattered. I'm not a bit good at that, with men. Won't you go with me, and help me lie?"
"Of course I should like to."
"All right. Dine with me at six at the Union Club."
"I'm not going to let you talk to each other," said Miss De Voe. "Lispenard, go and talk with Miss McDougal."
"See how quickly lying brings its own punishment," laughed Lispenard, walking away.
"What does he mean?" asked Miss De Voe.
"The opposite of what he says, I think," said Peter.
"That is a very good description of Lispenard. Almost good enough to have been said by himself. If you don't mind, I'll tell him."
"Do tell me, Mr. Stirling, how you and Watts D'Alloi came to room together?"
"He asked me."
"Yes. But what ever made him do that?"
"I've often wondered myself."
"I can easily understand his asking you, but what first threw you together?"
"A college scrape."
"Were you in a college scrape?"
"Yes. I was up before the faculty twice."
"Do tell me what you had done?"
"I was charged with stealing the chapel Bible, and with painting a front door of one of the professors."
"And had you done these things?"
The guests began to say good-night, so the dialogue was interrupted. When it came Peter's turn to go, Miss De Voe said:
"I hope you will not again refuse my dinner invitations."
"I have had a very pleasant evening," said Peter. "But I had a pleasanter one, the other night."
"Good-evening," said Miss De Voe mechanically. She was really thinking "What a very nice speech. He couldn't have meant anything by his remark about the questions."
Peter dined the next evening with Lispenard, who in the course of the meal turned the conversation to Miss De Voe. Lispenard was curious to learn just what Peter knew of her.
"She's a great swell, of course," he said incidentally.
"I suppose so. I really know nothing about her, but the moment I saw her I felt that she was different from any other woman I had ever met."
"But you've found out about her since?"
"No. I was tempted to question Dr. Purple, but I didn't like to ask about a friend."
Lispenard laughed. "You've got a pretty bad case of conscience, I'm afraid. It's a poor thing to have in New York, too. Well, my cousin is one of the richest, best born women in this country, though I say it. You can't do better than cultivate her."
"Is that what you do?"
"No. You have me there. She doesn't approve of me at all. You see, women in this country expect a man to be serious and work. I can't do either. I suppose its my foreign education. She likes my company, and finds my escortage very convenient. But while she thinks I'm a pretty good companion, she is sure I'm a poor sort of a man. If she takes a shine to you, make the most of it. She can give you anything she pleases socially."
"I suppose you have anything you please socially?"
"And would you advise me to spend time to get it?"
"Um. I wouldn't give the toss of a copper for it—but I can have it. It's not being able to have it that's the bad thing."
"So I have found," said Peter gravely.
Lispenard laughed heartily, as he sipped his "Court France." "I wish," he said, "that a lot of people, whose lives are given to nothing else, could have heard you say that, in that tone of voice. You don't spell Society with a capital, do you?"
"Possibly," said Peter, "if I had more capital, I should use some on society."
"Good," said Lispenard. "Heavens," he said to himself, "he's made a joke! Cousin Anneke will never believe it."
He told her the next day, and his statement proved correct.
"I know you made the joke," she said. "He didn't."
"And why shouldn't he joke as well as I?"
"It doesn't suit him."
"Parlor tricks are all right in a lap-dog, but they only belittle a mastiff."
Lispenard laughed good-naturedly. He was used to his cousin's hits at his do-nothingness, and rather enjoyed them. "He is a big beast, isn't he? But he's a nice fellow. We had such a good time over Le Grand's etchings last night. Didn't get away till after one. It's really a pleasure to find a man who can smoke and keep quiet, and yet enjoy things strongly. Le Grand was taken with him too. We just fitted each other."
"I'm glad you took him. I'm going to give him some society."
"Did you ever hear the story of Dr. Brown?"
"No. What is it?"
"A certain widow announced to her son that she was to marry Dr. Brown. 'Bully for you, Ma,' said the son, 'Does Dr. Brown know it?'"
"What do you mean?"
Lispenard laughed. "Does Stirling know it? Because I advise you to tell him before you decide to do anything with him. He's not easy to drive."
"Of course he'll be glad to meet nice people."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that Peter Stirling won't give a raparee for all the society you can give him."
"You don't know what you are talking about."
But Lispenard was right. Peter had enjoyed the dinner at Miss De Voe's and the evening at Mr. Le Grand's. Yet each night on reaching his rooms, he had sat long hours in his straight office chair, in the dark. He was thinking of what Miss Leroy had told him of—of—He was not thinking of "Society."
Peter made his dinner call at Miss De Voe's, but did not find her at home. He received a very pleasant letter expressing her regret at missing him, and a request to lunch with her two days later, and to go with some friends to an afternoon piano recital, "if you care for music. If not, merely lunch with us." Peter replied that he was very sorry, but business called him to Albany on that day.
"I really regret it," said Miss De Voe to Dorothy. "It is getting so late in the season, that unless he makes his call quickly, I shall hardly be able to give him more than one other chance."
Peter's business in Albany had been sprung on him suddenly. It was neither more nor less than a request sent verbally through Costell from Governor Catlin, to come up and see him.
"It's about the food and tenement commission bills," Costell told him. "They'll be passed by the Senate to-day or to-morrow, and be in Catlin's hands."
"I hope he'll make good appointments," said Peter, anxiously.
"I think he will," said Costell, smiling quietly. "But I don't believe they will be able to do much. Commissions are commonly a way of staving off legislation."
Peter went up to Albany and saw Catlin. Much to his surprise he found the Governor asking his advice about the bills and the personnel of the commissions. But after a few minutes he found that this seeking for aid and support in all matters was chronic, and meant nothing special in his own case.
"Mr. Schlurger tells me, though he introduced the bills, that you drafted both. Do you think I had better sign them?"
"Mr. Costell told me to take your advice. You really think I had better?"
The Governor evidently found something solacing in the firm voice in which Peter spoke his "yes." He drew two papers towards him.
"You really think I had better?"
The Governor dipped his pen in the ink, but hesitated.
"The amendments haven't hurt them?" he queried.
"But they have been hurt?"
"They have been made better in some ways."
Still the Governor hesitated, but finally began a big G. Having committed himself, he wrote the rest rapidly. He paused for a moment over the second bill, and fingered it nervously. Then he signed it quickly. "That's done." He shoved them both away much as if they were dangerous.
"I wonder," thought Peter, "if he enjoys politics?"
"There's been a great deal of trouble about the commissioners," said the Governor.
"I suppose so," said Peter.
"Even now, I can't decide. The leaders all want different men."
"The decision rests with you."
"That's the trouble," sighed the Governor. "If only they'd agree."
"You should make your own choice. You will be held responsible if the appointments are bad."
"I know I shall. Just look over those lists, and see if you think they'll do?"
Peter took the slips of paper and read them.
"I needn't say I'm pleased to see my name," he said. "I had no idea you would think of me."
"That was done by Costell," said the Governor, hastening to shift the responsibility.
"I really don't know any of the rest well enough to express an opinion. Personally, I should like to see some scientific men on each commission."
"Scientific! But we have none in politics."
"No? But this isn't politics."
"I hoped you'd think these lists right."
"I think they are good. And the bills give us the power to take evidence; perhaps we can get the scientific part that way."
Peter did his best to brace Catlin up; and his talk or other pressure seemed to have partially galvanized the backbone of that limp individual, for a week later the papers announced the naming of the two commissions. The lists had been changed, however. That on food consisted of Green, a wholesale grocer, and a member of the Health Board. Peter's name had been dropped. That on tenements, of five members, was made up of Peter; a very large property-owner in New York, who was a member as well of the Assembly; a professional labor agitator; a well-known politician of the better type, and a public contractor. Peter, who had been studying some reports of a British Royal Commission on the same subject, looked grave, thinking that what the trained men in England had failed in doing, he could hardly hope to accomplish with such ill-assorted instruments. The papers were rather down on the lists. "The appointments have destroyed any chance of possible benefit," was their general conclusion, and Peter feared they were right.
Costell laughed when Peter spoke of the commissions. "If you want Catlin to do anything well, you've got to stand over him till it's done. I wanted you on both commissions, so that you could see how useless they all are, and not blame us politicians for failing in our duty. Green promises to get you appointed Secretary of the Food Commission, which is the next best thing, and will give you a good salary for a time."
The Tenement Commission met with little delay, and Peter had a chance to examine its motley members. The big landlord was a great swell, who had political ambitions, but was too exclusive, and too much of a dilettante to be a real force. Peter took a prejudice against him before meeting him, for he knew just how his election to the Assembly had been obtained—even the size of the check—and Peter thought buying an election was not a very creditable business. He did not like what he knew of the labor agitator, for such of the latter's utterances and opinions as he had read seemed to be the cheapest kind of demagogism. The politician he had met and liked. Of the contractor he knew nothing.
The Commission organized by electing the politician as chairman. Then the naming of a secretary was discussed, each member but Peter having a candidate. Much to Peter's surprise, the landlord, Mr. Pell, named Ray Rivington.
"I thought he was studying law?" Peter said.
"He is," said Pell. "But he can easily arrange to get off for the few hours we shall meet a week, and the five dollars a day will be a very nice addition to his income. Do you know him?"
"We were in college together. I thought he was rich."
"No. He's of good family, but the Rivingtons are growing poorer every year. They try to live on their traditions, and traditions don't pay grocers. I hope you'll help him. He's a very decent fellow."
"I shall vote for him," replied Peter, marvelling that he should be able to give a lift to the man who, in the Harvard days, had seemed so thoroughly the mate of Watts and the other rich fellows of the "gang." Rivington being the only candidate who had two votes, he was promptly selected.
Thirty arduous minutes were spent in waiting for the arrival of the fifth member of the Commission, and in the election of chairman and secretary. A motion was then made to adjourn, on the ground that the Commission could not proceed without the secretary.
Peter promptly objected. He had been named secretary for this particular meeting, and offered to act until Rivington could be notified. "I think," he said, "that we ought to lay out our programme."
The labor agitator agreed with him, and, rising, delivered an extempore speech, declaring that "we must not delay. The leeches (here he looked at Mr. Pell) are sucking the life-blood of the people," etc.
The chairman started to call him to order, but Peter put his hand on the chairman's arm. "If you stop him," he said in a low voice, "he'll think we are against him, and he'll say so outside."
"But it's such foolishness."
"And so harmless! While he's talking, look over this." Peter produced an outline of action which he had drawn up, and having written it in duplicate, he passed one draft over to Mr. Pell.
They all let the speech go on, Peter, Mr. Pell and the chairman chatting over the plan, while the contractor went to sleep. The agitator tried to continue, but as the inattention became more and more evident, his speech became tamer and tamer. Finally he said, "That is my opinion," and sat down.
The cessation of the oration waked up the contractor, and Peter's outline was read aloud.
"I don't move its adoption," said Peter. "I merely submit it as a basis."
Not one of the members had come prepared with knowledge of how to go to work, except the chairman, who had served on other commissions. He said:
"I think Mr. Stirling's scheme shows very careful thought and is admirable. We cannot do better than adopt it."
"It is chiefly copied from the German committee of three years ago," Peter told them. "But I have tried to modify it to suit the different conditions."
Mr. Pell objected to the proposed frequent sittings. Thereupon the agitator praised that feature. The hour of meeting caused discussion. But finally the scheme was adopted, and the date of the first session fixed.
Peter went downstairs with Mr. Pell, and the latter offered to drop him at his office. So they drove off together, and talked about the Commission.
"That Kurfeldt is going to be a nuisance," said Pell
"I can't say yet. He evidently has no idea of what our aim is. Perhaps, though, when we really get to work, he'll prove useful."
Peter had a call the next day from Rivington. It was made up of thanks, of college chat, and of inquiry as to duties. Peter outlined the preliminary work, drafted the "Inquiries" and other printed papers necessary to be sent out before the first meeting, and told him about the procedure at the meetings.
"I know I shall get into all kinds of pickles," said Ray. "I write such a bad hand that often I can't read it myself. How the deuce am I to take down evidence?"
"I shall make notes for my own use, and you will be welcome to them, if they will help you."
"Thanks, Peter. That's like you."
The Commission began its inquiry, on the date fixed, and met three times a week from that time on. Peter did not try to push himself forward, but he was by far the best prepared on the subject, and was able to suggest the best sources of information. He asked good questions, too, of the various witnesses summoned. Finally he was the one regular attendant, and therefore was the one appealed to for information elicited at previous meetings. He found the politician his best helper. Pell was useful when he attended, which was not very often, and even this intermittent attendance ceased in June. "I'm going to Newport," he explained, and did not appear again till late in the fall. The contractor really took no part in the proceedings beyond a fairly frequent attendance, and an occasional fit of attention whenever the inquiry related to building. The labor-agitator proved quite a good man. He had, it is true, no memory, and caused them to waste much time in reading over the minutes of previous meetings. But he was in earnest, and proved to be perfectly reasonable as soon as he found that the commissioners' duties were to inquire and not to make speeches. Peter walked home with him several times, and they spent evenings together in Peter's rooms, talking over the evidence, and the possibilities.
Peter met a great many different men in the course of the inquiry; landlords, real-estate agents, architects, engineers, builders, plumbers, health officials, doctors and tenants. In many cases he went to see these persons after they had been before the Commission, and talked with them, finding that they were quite willing to give facts in private which they did not care to have put on record.
He had been appointed the Secretary of the Food Commission, and spent much time on that work. He was glad to find that he had considerable influence, and that Green not merely acted on his suggestions, but encouraged him to make them. The two inquiries were so germane that they helped him reciprocally. No reports were needed till the next meeting of the Legislature, in the following January, and so the two commissions took enough evidence to swamp them. Poor Ray was reduced almost to despair over the mass of "rubbish" as he called it, which he would subsequently have to put in order.
Between the two tasks, Peter's time was well-nigh used up. It was especially drawn upon when the taking of evidence ceased and the drafting of the reports began. Ray's notes proved hopeless, so Peter copied out his neatly, and let Ray have them, rather glad that irrelevant and useless evidence was thus omitted. It was left to Peter to draw the report, and when his draft was submitted, it was accompanied by a proposed General Tenement-house Bill. Both report and bill were slightly amended, but not in a way that Peter minded.
Peter drew the Food-Commission report as well, although it went before the Commission as Green's. To this, too, a proposed bill was attached, which had undergone the scrutiny of the Health Board, and had been conformed to their suggestions.
In November Peter carried both reports to Albany, and had a long talk with Catlin over them. That official would have preferred no reports, but since they were made, there was nothing to do but to submit them to the Legislature. Peter did not get much encouragement from him about the chances for the bills. But Costell told him that they could be "whipped through. The only danger is of their being amended, so as to spoil them."
"Well," said Peter, "I hope they will be passed. I've done my best, whatever happens."
A very satisfactory thing to be able to say of yourself, if you believe in your own truthfulness.
IN THE MEANTIME.
In spite of nine months' hard work on the two Commissions, it is not to be supposed that Peter's time was thus entirely monopolized. If one spends but seven hours of the twenty-four in sleep, and but two more on meals, there is considerable remaining time, and even so slow a worker as Peter found spare hours not merely for society and saloons, but for what else he chose to undertake.
Socially he had an evening with Miss De Voe, just before she left the city for the summer; a dinner with Mr. Pell, who seemed to have taken a liking to Peter; a call on Lispenard; another on Le Grand; and a family meal at the Rivingtons, where he was made much of in return for his aid to Ray.
In the saloons he worked hard over the coming primary, and spent evenings as well on doorsteps in the district, talking over objects and candidates. In the same cause, he saw much of Costell, Green, Gallagher, Schlurger and many other party men of greater or less note in the city's politics. He had become a recognized quantity in the control of the district, and the various ward factions tried hard to gain his support. When the primary met, the proceedings, if exciting, were never for a moment doubtful, for Gallagher, Peter, Moriarty and Blunkers had been able to agree on both programme and candidates. An attempt had been made to "turn down" Schlurger, but Peter had opposed it, and had carried his point, to the great gratitude of the silent, honest German. What was more important to him, this had all been done without exciting hard feelings.
"Stirling's a reasonable fellow," Gallagher told Costell, not knowing how much Peter was seeing of the big leader, "and he isn't dead set on carrying his own schemes. We've never had so little talk of mutiny and sulking as we have had this paring. Moriarty and Blunkers swear by him. It's queer. They've always been on opposite sides till now."
When the weather became pleasant, Peter took up his "angle"' visitings again, though not with quite the former regularity. Yet he rarely let a week pass without having spent a couple of evenings there. The spontaneous welcome accorded him was payment enough for the time, let alone the pleasure and enjoyment he derived from the imps. There was little that could raise Peter in their estimation, but they understood very well that he had become a man of vast importance, as it seemed to them. They had sharp little minds and ears, and had caught what the "district" said and thought of Peter.
"Cheese it, the cop, Tim," cried an urchin one evening to another, who was about to "play ball."
"Cheese it yerself. He won't dare tech me," shouted Tim, "so long as Mister Peter's here."
That speech alone showed the magnitude of his position in their eyes. He was now not merely, "friends wid de perlice;" he was held in fear by that awesome body!
"If I was as big as him," said one, "I'd fire all the peelers."
"Wouldn't that be dandy!" cried another.
He won their hearts still further by something he did in midsummer. Blunkers had asked him to attend what brilliant posters throughout that part of the city announced as:
HO FOR THE SEA-SHORE!
PATRICK N. BLUNKERS'S ASSOCIATION.
When Peter asked, he found that it was to consist of a barge party (tickets fifty cents) to a bit of sand not far away from the city, with music, clams, bathing and dancing included in the price of the ticket, and unlimited beer for those who could afford that beverage.
"The beer just pays for it," Blunkers explained. "I don't give um whisky cause some —— cusses don't drink like as dey orter." Then catching a look in Peter's face, he laughed rather shamefacedly. "I forgits," he explained. "Yer see I'm so da—" he checked himself—"I swears widout knowin' it."
"I shall be very glad to go," said Peter.
"Dat's bully," said Blunkers. Then he added anxiously: "Dere's somethin' else, too, since yer goin'. Ginerally some feller makes a speech. Yer wouldn't want to do it dis time, would yer?"
"What do they talk about?"
"Just what dey—" Blunkers swallowed a word, nearly choking in so doing, and ended "please."
"Yes. I shall be glad to talk, if you don't mind my taking a dull subject?"
"Yer just talk what yer want. We'll listen."
After Peter had thought it over for a day, he went to Blunkers's gin palace.
"Look here," he said. "Would it be possible to hire one more barge, and take the children free? I'll pay for the boat, and for the extra food, if they won't be in the way."
"I'm damned if yer do," shouted Blunkers. "Yer don't pay for nothinks, but der childers shall go, or my name ain't Blunkers."
And go they did, Blunkers making no secret of the fact that it was Peter's idea. So every child who went, nearly wild with delight, felt that the sail, the sand, the sea, and the big feed, was all owed to Peter.
It was rather an amusing experience to Peter. He found many of his party friends in the district, not excluding such men as Gallagher, Kennedy and others of the more prominent rank. He made himself very pleasant to those whom he knew, chatting with them on the trip down. He went into the water with the men and boys, and though there were many good swimmers, Peter's country and river training made it possible for him to give even the "wharf rats," a point or two in the way of water feats. Then came the regulation clam-bake, after which Peter talked about the tenement-house question for twenty minutes. The speech was very different from what they expected, and rather disappointed them all. However, he won back their good opinions in closing, for he ended with a very pleasant "thank you," to Blunkers, so neatly worded, and containing such a thoroughly apt local joke, that it put all in a good humor, and gave them something to tell their neighbors, on their return home. The advantage of seldom joking is that people remember the joke, and it gets repeated. Peter almost got the reputation of a wit on that one joke, merely because it came after a serious harangue, and happened to be quotable. Blunkers was so pleased with the end of the speech that he got Peter to write it out, and to this day the "thank you" part of the address, in Peter's neat handwriting, handsomely framed, is to be seen in Blunkers's saloon.
Peter also did a little writing this summer. He had gone to see three or four of the reporters, whom he had met in "the case," to get them to write up the Food and Tenement subjects, wishing thereby to stir up public feeling. He was successful to a certain degree, and they not merely wrote articles themselves, but printed three or four which Peter wrote. In two cases, he was introduced to "staff" writers, and even wrote an editorial, for which he was paid fifteen dollars. This money was all he received for the time spent, but he was not working for shekels. All the men told him to let them know when he had more "stories" for them, and promised him assistance when the reports should go in to the legislature.
Peter visited his mother as usual during August. Before going, he called on Dr. Plumb, and after an evening with him, went to two tenements in the district. As the result of these calls, he carried three children with him when he went home. Rather pale, thin little waifs. It is a serious matter to charge any one with so grave a crime as changling, but Peter laid himself open to it, for when he came back, after two weeks, he returned very different children to the parents. The fact that they did not prosecute for the substitution only proves how little the really poor care for their offspring.
But this was not his only summering. He spent four days with the Costells, as well as two afternoons later, thoroughly enjoying, not merely the long, silent drives over the country behind the fast horses, but the pottering round the flower-garden with Mrs. Costell. He had been reading up a little on flowers and gardening, and he was glad to swap his theoretical for her practical knowledge. Candor compels the statement that he enjoyed the long hours stretched on the turf, or sitting idly on the veranda, puffing Mr. Costell's good Havanas.
Twice Mr. Bohlmann stopped at Peter's office of a Saturday and took him out to stay over Sunday at his villa in one of the Oranges. The family all liked Peter and did not hesitate to show it. Mr. Bohlmann told him:
"I sbend about dree dousand a year on law und law-babers. Misder Dummer id does for me, but ven he does nod any longer it do, I gifts id you."
On the second visit Mrs. Bohlmann said:
"I tell my good man that with all the law-business he has, he must get a lawyer for a son-in-law."
Peter had not heard Mrs. Bohlmann say to her husband the evening before, as they were prinking for dinner:
"Have you told Mr. Stirling about your law business?"
Nor Mr. Bohlmann's prompt:
"Yah. I dells him der last dime."
Yet Peter wondered if there were any connection between the two statements. He liked the two girls. They were nice-looking, sweet, sincere women. He knew that Mr. Bohlmann was ranked as a millionaire already, and was growing richer fast. Yet—Peter needed no blank walls.
During this summer, Peter had a little more law practice. A small grocer in one of the tenements came to him about a row with his landlord. Peter heard him through, and then said: "I don't see that you have any case; but if you will leave it to me to do as I think best, I'll try if I can do something," and the man agreeing, Peter went to see the landlord, a retail tobacconist up-town.
"I don't think my client has any legal grounds," he told the landlord, "but he thinks that he has, and the case does seem a little hard. Such material repairs could not have been foreseen when the lease was made."
The tobacconist was rather obstinate at first. Finally he said, "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll contribute one hundred dollars towards the repairs, if you'll make a tenant named Podds in the same building pay his rent; or dispossess him if he doesn't, so that it shan't cost me anything."
Peter agreed, and went to see the tenant in arrears. He found that the man had a bad rheumatism and consequently was unable to work. The wife was doing what she could, and even the children had been sent on the streets to sell papers, or by other means, to earn what they could. They also owed a doctor and the above-mentioned grocer. Peter went back to the landlord and told him the story.
"Yes," he said, "it's a hard case, I know, but, Mr. Stirling, I owe a mortgage on the place, and the interest falls due in September. I'm out four months' rent, and really can't afford any more." So Peter took thirty-two dollars from his "Trustee" fund, and sent it to the tobacconist. "I have deducted eight dollars for collection," he wrote. Then he saw his first client, and told him of his landlord's concession.
"How much do I owe you?" inquired the grocer.
"The Podds tell me they owe you sixteen dollars."
"Yes. I shan't get it."
"My fee is twenty-five. Mark off their bill and give me the balance."
The grocer smiled cheerfully. He had charged the Podds roundly for their credit, taking his chance of pay, and now got it paid in an equivalent of cash. He gave the nine dollars with alacrity.
Peter took it upstairs and gave it to Mrs. Podds. "If things look up with you later," he said, "you can pay it back. If not, don't trouble about it. Ill look in in a couple of weeks to see how things are going."
When this somewhat complicated matter was ended, he wrote about it to his mother:
"Many such cases would bankrupt me. As it is, my fund is dwindling faster than I like to see, though every lessening of it means a lessening of real trouble to some one. I should like to tell Miss De Voe what good her money has done already, but fear she would not understand why I told her. It has enabled me to do so much that otherwise I could not have afforded. There is only one hundred and seventy-six dollars left. Most of it though, is merely loaned and perhaps will be repaid. Anyway, I shall have nearly six hundred dollars for my work as secretary of the Food Commission, and I shall give half of it to this fund."
When the season began again, Miss De Voe seriously undertook her self-imposed work of introducing Peter. He was twice invited to dinner and was twice taken with opera parties to sit in her box, besides receiving a number of less important attentions. Peter accepted dutifully all that she offered him. Even ordered a new dress-suit of a tailor recommended by Lispenard. He was asked by some of the people he met to call, probably on Miss De Voe's suggestion, and he dutifully called. Yet at the end of three months Miss De Voe shook her head.
"He is absolutely a gentleman, and people seem to like him. Yet somehow—I don't understand it."
"Exactly," laughed Lispenard. "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."
"Lispenard," angrily said Miss De Voe, "Mr. Stirling is as much better than—"
"That's it," said Lispenard. "Don't think I'm depreciating Peter. The trouble is that he is much too good a chap to make into a society or a lady's man."
"I believe you are right. I don't think he cares for it at all."
"No," said Lispenard. "Barkis is not willin'. I think he likes you, and simply goes to please you."
"Do you really think that's it?"
Lispenard laughed at the earnestness with which the question was asked. "No," he replied. "I was joking. Peter cultivates you, because he wants to know your swell friends."
Either this conversation or Miss De Voe's own thoughts, led to a change in her course. Invitations to formal dinners and to the opera suddenly ceased, and instead, little family dinners, afternoons in galleries, and evenings at concerts took their place. Sometimes Lispenard went with them, sometimes one of the Ogden girls, sometimes they went alone. It was an unusual week when Peter's mail did not now bring at least one little note giving him a chance to see Miss De Voe if he chose.
In February came a request for him to call. "I want to talk with you about something," it said. That same evening he was shown into her drawing-rooms. She thanked him with warmth for coming so quickly, and Peter saw that only the other visitors prevented her from showing some strong feeling. He had stumbled in on her evening—for at that time people still had evenings—but knowing her wishes, he stayed till they were left alone together.
"Come into the library," she said. As they passed across the hall she told Morden, "I shall not receive any more to-night."
The moment they were in the smaller and cosier room, without waiting to sit even, she began: "Mr. Stirling, I dined at the Manfreys yesterday." She spoke in a voice evidently endeavoring not to break. Peter looked puzzled.
"Mr. Lapham, the bank president, was there."
Peter still looked puzzled.
"And he told the table about a young lawyer who had very little money, yet who put five hundred dollars—his first fee—into his bank, and had used it to help—" Miss De Voe broke down, and, leaning against the mantel, buried her face in her handkerchief.
"It's curious you should have heard of it," said Peter.
"He—he didn't mention names, b-bu-but I knew, of course."
"I didn't like to speak of it because—well—I've wanted to tell you the good it's done. Suppose you sit down." Peter brought a chair, and Miss De Voe took it.
"You must think I'm very foolish," she said, wiping her eyes.
"It's nothing to cry about." And Peter began telling her of some of the things which he had been able to do:—of the surgical brace it had bought; of the lessons in wood-engraving it had given; of the sewing-machine it had helped to pay for; of the arrears in rent it had settled. "You see," he explained, "these people are too self-respecting to go to the big charities, or to rich people. But their troubles are talked over in the saloons and on the doorsteps, so I hear of them, and can learn whether they really deserve help. They'll take it from me, because they feel that I'm one of them."
Miss De Voe was too much shaken by her tears to talk that evening. Miss De Voe's life and surroundings were not exactly weepy ones, and when tears came they meant much. She said little, till Peter rose to go, and then only:
"I shall want to talk with you, to see what I can do to help you in your work. Please come again soon. I ought not to have brought you here this evening, only to see me cry like a baby. But—I had done you such injustice in my mind about that seven dollars, and then to find that—Oh!" Miss De Voe showed signs of a recurring break-down, but mastered herself. "Good-evening."
Peter gone, Miss De Voe had another "good" cry—which is a feminine phrase, quite incomprehensible to men—and, going to her room, bathed her eyes. Then she sat before her boudoir fire, thinking. Finally she rose. In leaving the fire, she remarked aloud to it:
"Yes. He shall have Dorothy, if I can do it."
So Dorothy became a pretty regular addition to the informal meals, exhibitions and concerts. Peter was once more taken to the opera, but Dorothy and Miss De Voe formed with him the party in the box on such nights. Miss De Voe took him to call on Mrs. Odgen, and sang his praises to both parents. She even went so far as to say frankly to them what was in her mind.
Mr. Ogden said, "Those who know him speak very well of him. I heard 'Van' Pell praise him highly at Newport last summer. Said all the politicians thought of him as a rising man."
"He seems a nice steady fellow," said the mamma. "I don't suppose he has much practice?"
"Oh, don't think of the money," said Miss De Voe. "What is that compared to getting a really fine man whom one can truly love?"
"Still, money is an essential," said the papa.
"Yes. But you both know what I intend to do for Dorothy and Minna. They need not think of money. If he and Dorothy only will care for each other!"
Peter and Dorothy did like each other. Dorothy was very pretty, and had all the qualities which make a girl a strong magnet to men. Peter could not help liking her. As for Dorothy, she was like other women. She enjoyed the talking, joking, "good-time" men in society, and chatted and danced with them with relish. But like other women, when she thought of marriage, she did not find these gingerbread ornamentations so attractive. The average woman loves a man, aside from his love for her, for his physical strength, and his stiff truth-telling. The first is attractive to her because she has it not. Far be it from man to say why the second attracts. So Dorothy liked Peter. She admired many qualities in him which she would not have tolerated in other men. It is true that she laughed at him, too, for many things, but it was the laughter of that peculiar nature which implies admiration and approval, rather than the lower feelings. When the spring separation came, Miss De Voe was really quite hopeful.
"I think things have gone very well. Now, Mr. Stirling has promised to spend a week with me at Newport. I shall have Dorothy there at the same time," she told Mrs. Ogden.
Lispenard, who was present, laughed as usual. "So you are tired of your new plaything already?"
"What do you mean?"
"Arn't you marrying him so as to get rid of his calls and his escortage?"
"Of course not. We shall go on just the same."
"Bully for you, Ma. Does Dr. Brown know it?"
Miss De Voe flushed angrily, and put an end to her call.
"What a foolish fellow Lispenard is!" she remarked unconsciously to Wellington at the carriage door.
"Beg pardon, mum?" said Wellington, blank wonderment filling his face.
"Home, Wellington," said Miss De Voe crossly.
Peter took his week at Newport on his way back from his regular August visit to his mother. Miss De Voe had told him casually that Dorothy would be there, and Dorothy was there. Yet he saw wonderfully little of her. It is true that he could have seen more if he had tried, but Peter was not used to practice finesse to win minutes and hours with a girl, and did not feel called upon, bluntly, to take such opportunities. His stay was not so pleasant as he had expected. He had thought a week in the same house with Miss De Voe, Dorothy and Lispenard, without much regard to other possible guests, could not but be a continual pleasure. But he was conscious that something was amiss with his three friends. Nor was Peter the only one who felt it. Dorothy said to her family when she went home:
"I can't imagine what is the matter with Cousin Anneke. All last spring she was nicer to me than she has ever been before, but from the moment I arrived at Newport, and before I could possibly have said or done anything to offend her, she treated me in the snippiest way. After two days I asked her what the matter was, but she insisted there was nothing, and really lost her temper at my suggesting the idea. There was something, I know, for when I said I was coming home sooner than I had at first intended, she didn't try to make me stay."
"Perhaps," said Mrs. Ogden, "she was disappointed in something, and so vented her feeling on you."
"But she wasn't cross—except when I asked her what the matter was. She was just—just snippy."
"Was Mr. Stirling there?"
"Yes. And a lot of other people. I don't think anybody had a good time, unless it was Cousin Lispenard. And he wasn't a bit nice. He had some joke to himself, and kept making remarks that nobody could understand, and chuckling over them. I told him once that he was rude, but he said that 'when people went to a play they should laugh at the right points.' That's the nice thing about Mr. Stirling. You know that what he says is the real truth."
"Lispenard's always trying to be clever."
"Yes. What do you suppose he said to me as I came away!"
"He shook my hand, laughing, and said, 'Exit villain. It is to be a comedy, not a tragedy.' What could he mean?"
Lispenard stayed on to see the "comedy," and seemed to enjoy it, if the amused expression on his face when he occasionally gave himself up to meditation was any criterion. Peter had been pressed to stay beyond the original week, and had so far yielded as to add three days to his visit. These last three days were much pleasanter than those which had gone before, although Dorothy had departed and Peter liked Dorothy. But he saw much more of Miss De Voe, and Miss De Voe was in a much pleasanter mood. They took long drives and walks together, and had long hours of talk in and about the pleasant house and grounds. Miss De Voe had cut down her social duties for the ten days Peter was there, giving far more time for them to kill than usually fell to Newporters even in those comparitively simple days.
In one of these talks, Miss De Voe spoke of Dorothy.
"She is such a nice, sweet girl," she said. "We all hope she'll marry Lispenard."
"Do you think cousins ought to marry?"
Miss De Voe had looked at Peter when she made her remark. Peter had replied quietly, but his question, as Miss De Voe understood it, was purely scientific, not personal. Miss De Voe replied:
"I suppose it is not right, but it is so much better than what may happen, that it really seems best. It is so hard for a girl in Dorothy's position to marry as we should altogether wish."
"Why?" asked Peter, who did not see that a girl with prospective wealth, fine social position, and personal charm, was not necessarily well situated to get the right kind of a husband.
"It is hard to make it clear—but—I'll tell you my own story, so that you can understand. Since you don't ask questions, I will take the initiative. That is, unless your not asking them means you are not interested?" Miss De Voe laughed in the last part of this speech.
"I should like to hear it."
People, no matter what Peter stated, never said "Really?" "You are in earnest?" or "You really mean it?" So Miss De Voe took him at his word.
"Both my father and mother were rich before they married, and the rise in New York real estate made them in time, much richer. They both belonged to old families. I was the only child—Lispenard says old families are so proud of themselves that they don't dare to have large families for fear of making the name common. Of course they lavished all their thought, devotion and anxiety on me. I was not spoiled; but I was watched and tended as if I were the most precious thing the world contained. When I grew up, and went into society, I question if I ever was a half-hour out of the sight of one or the other of my parents. I had plenty of society, of course, but it was restricted entirely to our set. None other was good enough for me! My father never had any business, so brought no new element into our household. It was old families, year in and year out! From the moment I entered society I was sought for. I had many suitors. I had been brought up to fear fortune-hunting, and suspected the motives of many men. Others did not seem my equals—for I had been taught pride in my birth. Those who were fit as regarded family were, many of them, unfit in brains or morals—qualities not conspicuous in old families. Perhaps I might have found one to love—if it had not been for the others. I was surrounded wherever I went and if by chance I found a pleasant man to talk to, tete-a-tete, we were interrupted by other men coming up. Only a few even of the men whom I met could gain an entree to our house.—They weren't thought good enough. If a working, serious man had ever been able to see enough of me to love me, he probably would have had very little opportunity to press his suit. But the few men I might have cared for were frightened off by my money, or discouraged by my popularity and exclusiveness. They did not even try. Of course I did not understand it then. I gloried in my success and did not see the wrong it was doing me. I was absolutely happy at home, and really had not the slightest inducement to marry—especially among the men I saw the most. I led this life for six years. Then my mother's death put me in mourning. When I went back into society, an almost entirely new set of men had appeared. Those whom I had known were many of them married—others were gone. Society had lost its first charm to me. So my father and I travelled three years. We had barely returned when he died. I did not take up my social duties again till I was thirty-two. Then it was as the spinster aunt, as you have known me. Now do you understand how hard it is for such a girl as Dorothy to marry rightly?"
"Yes. Unless the man is in love. Let a man care enough for a woman, and money or position will not frighten him off."
"Such men are rare. Or perhaps it is because I did not attract them. I did not understand men as well then as I do now. Of some whom I thought unlovable or dull at that time, I have learned to think better. A woman does not marry to be entertained—or should not."
"I think," said Peter, "that one marries for love and sympathy."
"Yes. And if they are given, it does not matter about the rest. Even now, thirty-seven though I am, if I could find a true man who could love me as I wish to be loved, I could love him with my whole heart. It would be my happiness not merely to give him social position and wealth, but to make his every hope and wish mine also."
All this had been said in the same natural manner in which they both usually spoke. Miss De Voe had talked without apparent emotion. But when she began the last remark, she had stopped looking at Peter, and had gazed off through the window at the green lawn, merely showing him her profile. As a consequence she did not see how pale he suddenly became, nor the look of great suffering that came into his face. She did not see this look pass and his face, and especially his mouth, settle into a rigid determination, even while the eyes remained sad.
Miss De Voe ended the pause by beginning, "Don't you"—but Peter interrupted her there, by saying:
"It is a very sad story to me—because I—I once craved love and sympathy."
Miss De Voe turned and looked at him quickly. She saw the look of suffering on his face, but read it amiss. "You mean?" she questioned.
"There was a girl I loved," said Peter softly, "who did not love me."
"And you love her still?"
"I have no right to."
"She is married?"
"Will you tell me about it?"
"I—I would rather not."
Miss De Voe sat quietly for a moment, and then rose. "Dear friend," she said, laying her hand on Peter's shoulder, "we have both missed the great prize in life. Your lot is harder than the one I have told you about. It is very,"—Miss De Voe paused a moment,—"it is very sad to love—without being loved."
And so ended Lispenard's comedy.
Lispenard went back with Peter to the city. He gave his reason on the train:
"You see I go back to the city occasionally in the summer, so as to make the country bearable, and then I go back to the country, so as to make the city endurable. I shall be in Newport again in a week. When will you come back?"
"My summering's over."
"Indeed. I thought my cousin would want you again!"
"She did not say so."
"The deuce she didn't. It must be the only thing she didn't say, then, in your long confabs?"
Peter made no reply, though Lispenard looked as well as asked a question.
"Perhaps," continued Lispenard, "she talked too much, and so did not remember to ask you?"
Still Peter said nothing.
"Are you sure she didn't give you a chance to have more of her society?" Lispenard was smiling.
"Ogden," said Peter gently, "you are behaving contemptibly and you know it."
The color blazed up into Lispenard's face and he rose, saying:
"Did I understand you aright?" The manner and attitude were both threatening though repressed.
"If you tell me that I misunderstood you, I will apologize. If you think the statement insulting, I will withdraw it. I did not speak to insult you; but because I wished you to know how your questions impressed me."
"When a man tells another he is contemptible, he cannot expect to escape results. This is no place to have a scene. You may send me your apology when we reach New York—"
Peter interrupted. "I shall, if you will tell me I wronged you in supposing your questions to be malicious."
Lispenard paid no attention to the interjection. "Otherwise," he finished, "we will consider our relations ended." He walked away.
Peter wrote Lispenard that evening a long letter. He did not apologize in it, but it ended:
"There should be no quarrel between us, for we ought to be friends. If alienation has come, it is due to what has occurred to-day, and that shall not cause unkind feelings, if I can help it. An apology is due somewhere. You either asked questions you had no right to ask, or else I misjudged you. I have written you my point of view. You have your own. I leave the matter to your fairness. Think it over, and if you still find me in the wrong, and will tell me so, I will apologize."
He did not receive a reply. Meeting Ogden Ogden a few days later, he was told that Lispenard had gone west for a hunting trip, quite unexpectedly. "He said not to expect him back till he came. He seemed out of sorts at something." In September Peter had a letter from Miss De Voe. Merely a few lines saying that she had decided to spend the winter abroad, and was on the point of sailing. "I am too hurried to see my friends, but did not like to go without some good-byes, so I write them." On the whole, as in the case of most comedies, there was little amusement for the actual performers. A great essayist has defined laughter as a "feeling of superiority in the laugher over the object laughed at." If this is correct, it makes all humor despicable. Certainly much coarseness, meanness and cruelty are every day tolerated, because of the comic covering with which it is draped.
It is not to be supposed that this comedy nor its winter prologue had diverted Peter from other things. In spite of Miss De Voe's demands on his time he had enough left to spend many days in Albany when the legislature took up the reports of the Commissions. He found strong lobbies against both bills, and had a long struggle with them. He had the help of the newspapers, and he had the help of Costell, yet even with this powerful backing, the bills were first badly mangled, and finally were side-tracked. In the actual fight, Pell helped him most, and Peter began to think that a man might buy an election and yet not be entirely bad. Second only to Pell, was his whilom enemy, the former District-Attorney, now a state senator, who battled himself into Peter's reluctant admiration and friendship by his devotion and loyalty to the bills. Peter concluded that he had not entirely done the man justice in the past. Curiously enough, his chief antagonist was Maguire.
Peter did not give up the fight with this defeat. His work for the bills had revealed to him the real under-currents in the legislative body, and when it adjourned, making further work in Albany only a waste of time, he availed himself of the secret knowledge that had come to him, to single out the real forces which stood behind and paid the lobby, and to interview them. He saw the actual principals in the opposition, and spoke with utmost frankness. He told them that the fight would be renewed, on his part, at every session of the legislature till the bills were passed; that he was willing to consider proposed amendments, and would accept any that were honest. He made the fact very clear to them that they would have to pay yearly to keep the bills off the statute book. Some laughed at him, others quarrelled. But a few, after listening to him, stated their true objections to the bills, and Peter tried to meet them.
When the fall elections came, Peter endeavored to further his cause in another way. Three of the city's assemblymen and one of her senators had voted against the bills. Peter now invaded their districts, and talked against them in saloons and elsewhere. It very quickly stirred up hard feeling, which resulted in attempts to down him. But Peter's blood warmed up as the fight thickened, and hisses, eggs, or actual attempts to injure him physically did not deter him. The big leaders were appealed to to call him off, but Costell declined to interfere.
"He wouldn't stop anyway," he told Green, "so we should do no good. Let them fight it out by themselves." Both of which sentences showed that Mr. Costell understood his business.
Peter had challenged his opponents to a joint debate, and when that was declined by them, he hired halls for evenings and spoke on the subject. He argued well, with much more feeling than he had shown since his speech in "the case." After the first attempt of this kind, he had no difficulty in filling his halls. The rumor came back to his own district that he was "talkin' foin," and many of his friends there turned out to hear him. The same news went through other wards of the city and drew men from them. People were actually excluded, for want of room, and therefore every one became anxious to hear his speeches. Finally, by subscription of a number of people who had become interested, headed by Mr. Pell, the Cooper Union was hired, and Peter made a really great speech to nearly three thousand people.
The papers came to his help too, and stood by him manfully. By their aid, it was made very clear that this was a fight against a selfish lobby. By their aid, it became one of the real questions of the local campaign, and was carried beyond the borders of the city, so as to play a part in the county elections. Peter met many of the editors, and between his expert knowledge, acquired on the Commissions, and his practical knowledge, learned at Albany, proved a valuable man to them. They repaid his help by kind words and praise in their columns, and brought him forward as the chief man in the movement. Mrs. Stirling concluded that the conspiracy to keep Peter in the background had been abandoned.
"Those York papers couldn't help my Peter's getting on," was the way she put it.
The results of this fight were even better than he had hoped. One Assemblyman gave in and agreed no longer to oppose the bills. Another was defeated. The Senator had his majority so cut down that he retired from the opposition. The questions too had become so much more discussed and watched, and the blame so fastened upon the lobby that many members from the country no longer dared to oppose legislation on the subject. Hence it was that the bills, newly drawn by Peter, to reduce opposition as far as possible, when introduced by Schlurger soon after the opening of the legislature, went through with a rush, not even ayes and nays being taken. Aided by Mr. Costell, Peter secured their prompt signing by Catlin, his long fight had ended in victory.
The "sixt" was wild with joy over the triumph. Whether it was because it was a tenement ward, or because Peter had talked there so much about it, or because his success was felt to redound to their credit, the voters got up a display of fireworks on the night when the news of the signing of the bills reached New York. When Peter returned to the city, he was called down to a hall one evening, to witness a torchlight procession and receive resolutions "engrossed and framed" from his admiring friends. Blunkers was chairman and made a plain speech which set the boys cheering by its combination of strong feeling and lack of grammar. Then Justice Gallagher made a fine-sounding, big-worded presentation. In the enthusiasm of the moment, Dennis broke the programme by rising and giving vent to a wild burst of feeling, telling his audience all that they owed to Peter, and though they knew already what he told them, they cheered and cheered the strong, natural eloquence.
"Yer was out a order," said Blunkers, at the end of the speech.
"Yez loi!" said Dennis, jumping on his feet again. "It's never out av order to praise Misther Stirling."
The crowd applauded his sentiment.
THE END OF THE CONFLICT.
Peter had had some rough experiences two or three times in his fall campaign, and Dennis, who had insisted on escorting him, took him to task about his "physical culture."
"It's thirty pounds yez are too heavy, sir," he told Peter. "An' it's too little intirely yez afther knowin' av hittin'."
Peter asked his advice, bought Indian clubs, dumb-bells, and boxing-gloves, and under Dennis's tutelage began to learn the art of self-defence. He was rather surprised, at the end of two months, to find how much flesh he had taken off, how much more easily he moved, how much more he was eating, and how much more he was able to do, both mentally and physically.
"It seems as if somebody had oiled my body and brain," he told Dennis.
Dennis let him into another thing, by persuading him to join the militia regiment most patronized by the "sixth," and in which Dennis was already a sergeant. Peter received a warm welcome from the regiment, for Dennis, who was extremely popular, had heralded his fame, and Peter's physical strength and friendly way did the rest. Ogden Ogden laughed at him for joining a "Mick" regiment, and wanted to put Peter into the Seventh. Peter only said that he thought his place was where he was.