Society did not see much of Peter this winter. He called on his friends dutifully, but his long visits to Albany, his evenings with Dennis, and his drill nights, interfered badly with his acceptance of the invitations sent him. He had, too, made many friends in his commission work and politics, so that he had relatively less time to give to his older ones. The absence of Miss De Voe and Lispenard somewhat reduced his social obligations it is true, but the demands on his time were multiplying fast.
One of these demands was actual law work. The first real case to come to him was from the contractor who had served on the tenement-commission. He was also employed by the Health Board as special counsel in a number of prosecutions, to enforce clauses of his Food Bill. The papers said it was because of his familiarity with the subject, but Peter knew it was the influence of Green, who had become a member of that Board. Then he began to get cases from the "district," and though there was not much money in each case, before long the number of them made a very respectable total.
The growth of his practice was well proven by a suggestion from Dummer that they should join forces. "Mr. Bohlmann wants to give you some of his work, and it's easier to go into partnership than to divide his practice."
Peter knew that Dummer had a very lucrative business of a certain kind, but he declined the offer.
"I have decided never to take a case which has not right on its side."
"A lawyer is just as much bound to try a case as a physician is bound to take a patient."
"That is what lawyers say outside, but they know better."
"Well, have your scruples. We'll make the firm cases only such as you choose. I'll manage the others."
"I should like to," said Peter. "I'm very grateful for the offer—but we could hardly do that successfully. If the firm was good for anything, we should be known as belonging to it, and the public could not well discriminate."
So that chance of success was passed. But every now and then Bohlmann sent him something to do, and Dummer helped him to a joint case occasionally.
So, though friends grew steadily in numbers, society saw less and less of Peter. Those who cared to study his tastes came to recognize that to force formal entertaining on him was no kindness, and left it to Peter to drop in when he chose, making him welcome when he came.
He was pleased to get a letter from Lispenard during the winter, from Japan. It was long, but only the first paragraph need be quoted, for the rest related merely to his travels:
"The breezes of the Pacific have blown away all my bad temper," he wrote, "and I want to say that I was wrong, and regret my original fault, as well as what it later led me into. You are quite right. We must continue friends."
Peter wrote a reply, which led to a regular correspondence. He sent Miss De Voe, also, a line of Christmas greetings, and received a long letter from her at Nice, which told him something of Watts and Helen:
"She is now well again, but having been six years in Europe, she and her husband have become wedded to the life. I question if they ever return. I spoke of you, and they both inquired with great warmth about you."
Peter replied, sending his "remembrance to Mr. and Mrs. D'Alloi in case you again meet them." From that time on Miss De Voe and he corresponded, she telling him of her Italian, Greek and Egyptian wanderings, and he writing of his doings, especially in regard to a certain savings bank fund standing in the name of "Peter Stirling, trustee" to which Miss De Voe had, the winter before, arranged to contribute a thousand dollars yearly.
As his practice increased he began to indulge himself a little. Through the instrumentality of Mr. Pell, he was put first into one and later into a second of the New York clubs, and his dinners became far less simple in consequence. He used these comforters of men, indeed, almost wholly for dining, and, though by no means a club-man in other senses, it was still a tendency to the luxurious. To counteract this danger he asked Mr. Costell to pick him up a saddle-horse, whereupon that friend promptly presented him with one. He went regularly now to a good tailor, which conduct ought to have ruined him with the "b'ys," but it didn't. He still smoked a pipe occasionally in the saloons or on the doorsteps of the district, yet candor compels us to add that he now had in his room a box of cigars labelled "Habana." These were creature pleasures, however, which he only allowed himself on rare occasions. And most of these luxuries did not appear till his practice had broadened beyond the point already noted.
Broaden it did. In time many city cases were thrown in his way. As he became more and more a factor in politics, the judges began to send him very profitable referee cases. Presently a great local corporation, with many damage suits, asked him to accept its work on a yearly salary.
"Of course we shall want you to look out for us at Albany," it was added.
"I'll do what I can to prevent unfair legislation. That must be all, though. As for the practice, you must let me settle every case where I think the right is with the plaintiff." This caused demur at first, but eventually he was employed, and it was found that money was saved in the long run, for Peter was very successful in getting people to settle out of court.
Then the savings bank, for which Peter had done his best (not merely as recorded, but at other times), turned over its law business to him, giving him many real estate transactions to look into, besides papers to draw. "He brings us a good many depositors," Mr. Lapham told his trustees, "and is getting to be a large depositor himself."
Peter began to find help necessary, and took a partner. He did this at the suggestion of Ogden Ogden, who had concluded his clerkship, and who said to Peter:
"I have a lot of friends who promise me their work. I don't know how much it will be, but I should like to try it with you. Of course, yours is the bigger practice, but we can arrange that."
So after considerable discussion, the sign on Peter's door became "Stirling and Ogden," and the firm blossomed out with an office boy—one of Peter's original "angle" friends, now six years older than when Peter and he had first met.
Ogden's friends did materialize, and brought good paying cases. As the city, referee, corporation and bank work increased, their joint practice needed more help, and Ray Rivington was, on Ogden's request, taken in.
"He doesn't get on with his law studies, though he pretends to work over them hard. In fact he'll never be a good lawyer. He hasn't a legal mind. But he'll bring cases, for he's very popular in society, and he'll do all the palavering and running round very well. He's just the fellow to please people." This was what Ogden urged, adding, "I might as well tell you that I'm interested for another reason, too. He and Dorothy will marry, if he can ever get to the marrying point. This, of course, is to be between us."
"I'll be very glad to have him, both for his own sake, and for what you've just told me," said Peter.
Thus it was that the firm again changed its name, becoming "Stirling, Ogden and Rivington," and actually spread into two other rooms, Peter's original little "ten by twelve" being left to the possession of the office boy. That functionary gazed long hours at the map of Italy on the blank wall, but it did not trouble him. He only whistled and sang street songs at it. As for Peter, he was too busy to need blank walls. He had fought two great opponents. The world and himself. He had conquered them both.
If the American people had anglicized themselves as thoroughly into liking three-volume stories, as they have in other things, it would be a pleasure to trace the next ten years of Peter's life; for his growing reputation makes this period a far easier matter to chronicle than the more obscure beginnings already recorded. If his own life did not supply enough material we could multiply our characters, as did Dickens, or journey sideways, into little essays, as did Thackeray. His life and his biographer's pen might fail to give interest to such devices, but the plea is now for "realism," which most writers take to mean microscopical examination of minutia. If the physical and psychical emotions of a heroine as she drinks a glass of water can properly be elaborated so as to fill two printed pages, Peter's life could be extended endlessly. There were big cases, political fights, globe trottings, and new friends, all of which have unlimited potentialities for numerous chapters. But Americans are peculiar people, and do not buy a pound of sugar any the quicker because its bulk has been raised by a skilful admixture of moisture and sand. So it seems best partly to take the advice of the Bellman, in the "Hunting of the Snark," to skip sundry years. In resuming, it is to find Peter at his desk, reading a letter. He has a very curious look on his face, due to the letter, the contents of which are as follows:
DEAR OLD CHUM—
Here is the wretched old sixpence, just as bad as ever—if not worse—come back after all these years.
And as of yore, the sixpence is in a dreadful pickle, and appeals to the old chum, who always used to pull him out of his scrapes, to do it once more. Please come and see me as quickly as possible, for every moment is important. You see I feel sure that I do not appeal in vain. "Changeless as the pyramids" ought to be your motto.
Helen and our dear little girl will be delighted to see you, as will
Peter opened a drawer and put the letter into it. Then he examined his diary calendar. After this he went to a door, and, opening it, said:
"I am going uptown for the afternoon. If Mr. Murtha comes, Mr. Ogden will see him.".
Peter went down and took a cab, giving the driver a number in Grammercy Park.
The footman hesitated on Peter's inquiry. "Mr. D'Alloi is in, sir, but is having his afternoon nap, and we have orders he's not to be disturbed."
"Take him my card. He will see me."
The footman showed Peter into the drawing-room, and disappeared. Peter heard low voices for a moment, then the curtains of the back room were quickly parted, and with hands extended to meet him, Helen appeared.
"This is nice of you—and so unexpected!"
Peter took the hand, but said nothing. They sat down, and Mrs. D'Alloi continued:
"Watts is asleep, and I have given word that he is not to be disturbed. I want to see you for a moment myself. You have plenty of time?"
"That's very nice. I don't want you to be formal with us. Do say that you can stay to dinner?"
"I would, if I were not already engaged."
"Then we'll merely postpone it. It's very good of you to come to see us. I've tried to get Watts to look you up, but he is so lazy! It's just as well since you've found us out. Only you should have asked for both of us."
"I came on business," said Peter.
Mrs. D'Alloi laughed. "Watts is the poorest man in the world for that, but he'll do anything he can to help you, I know. He has the warmest feeling for you."
Peter gathered from this that Mrs. D'Alloi did not know of the "scrape," whatever it was, and with a lawyer's caution, he did not attempt to disabuse her of the impression that he had called about his own affairs.
"How you have changed!" Mrs. D'Alloi continued. "If I had not known who it was from the card, I am not sure that I should have recognized you."
It was just what Peter had been saying to himself of Mrs. D'Alloi. Was it her long ill-health, or was it the mere lapse of years, which had wrought such changes in her? Except for the eyes, everything had altered. The cheeks had lost their roundness and color; the hair had thinned noticeably; lines of years and pain had taken away the sweet expression that formerly had counted for so much; the pretty roundness of the figure was gone, and what charm it now had was due to the modiste's skill. Peter felt puzzled. Was this the woman for whom he had so suffered? Was it this memory that had kept him, at thirty-eight, still a bachelor? Like many another man, he found that he had been loving an ideal—a creation of his own mind. He had, on a boyish fancy, built a dream of a woman with every beauty and attraction, and had been loving it for many years, to the exclusion of all other womankind. Now he saw the original of his dream, with the freshness and glamour gone, not merely from the dream, but from his own eyes. Peter had met many pretty girls, and many sweet ones since that week at the Pierces. He had gained a very different point of view of women from that callow time.
Peter was not blunderer enough to tell Mrs. D'Alloi that he too, saw a change. His years had brought tact, if they had not made him less straightforward. So he merely said, "You think so?"
"Ever so much. You've really grown slender, in spite of your broad shoulders—and your face is so—so different."
There was no doubt about it. For his height and breadth of shoulder, Peter was now by no means heavy. His face, too, had undergone a great change. As the roundness had left it, the eyes and the forehead had both become more prominent features, and both were good. The square, firm jaw still remained, but the heaviness of the cheek and nose had melted into lines which gave only strength and character, and destroyed the dulness which people used to comment upon. The face would never be called handsome, in the sense that regular features are supposed to give beauty, but it was strong and speaking, with lines of thought and feeling.
"You know," laughed Mrs. D'Alloi, "you have actually become good-looking, and I never dreamed that was possible!"
"How long have you been here?"
"A month. We are staying with papa, till the house in Fifty-seventh Street can be put in order. It has been closed since Mrs. D'Alloi's death. But don't let's talk houses. Tell me about yourself."
"There is little to tell. I have worked at my profession, with success."
"But I see your name in politics. And I've met many people in Europe who have said you were getting very famous."
"I spend a good deal of time in politics. I cannot say whether I have made myself famous, or infamous. It seems to depend on which paper I read."
"Yes, I saw a paper on the steamer, that—" Mrs. D'Alloi hesitated, remembering that it had charged Peter with about every known sin of which man is capable. Then she continued, "But I knew it was wrong." Yet there was quite as much of question as of assertion in her remark. In truth, Mrs. D'Alloi was by no means sure that Peter was all that was desirable, for any charge made against a politician in this country has a peculiar vitality and persistence. She had been told that Peter was an open supporter of saloons, and that New York politics battened on all forms of vice. So a favorite son could hardly have retained the purity that women take as a standard of measurement. "Don't you find ward politics very hard?" she asked, dropping an experimental plummet, to see what depths of iniquity there might be.
"I haven't yet."
"But that kind of politics must be very disagreeable to gentlemen. The men must have such dirty hands!"
"It's not the dirty hands which make American politics disagreeable. It's the dirty consciences."
"Are—are politics so corrupt and immoral?"
"Politics are what the people make them."
"I suppose your life has not been of a kind to make you very familiar with it all. Tell me what these long years have brought you?"
"Perfect happiness! Oh, Mr. Stirling—may I call you Peter?—thank you. Peter, I have the finest, noblest husband that ever lived! He is everything that is good and kind!" Mrs. D'Alloi's face lighted up with happiness and tenderness.
"And your children?"
"We have only one. The sweetest, loveliest child you can imagine."
"Fie, fie, Rosebud," cried a voice from the doorway. "You shouldn't speak of yourself so, even if it is the truth. Leave that to me. How are you, Peter, old fellow? I'd apologize for keeping you waiting, but if you've had Helen, there's no occasion. Isn't it Boileau who said that: 'The best thing about many a man is his wife'?"
Mrs. D'Alloi beamed, but said, "It isn't so, Peter. He's much better than I."
Watts laughed. "You'll have to excuse this, old man. Will happen sometimes, even in the properest of families, if one marries an angel."
"There, you see," said Mrs. D'Alloi. "He just spoils me, Peter."
"And she thrives on it, doesn't she, Peter?" said Watts. "Isn't she prettier even than she was in the old days?"
Mrs. D'Alloi colored with pleasure, even while saying: "Now, Watts dear, I won't swallow such palpable flattery. There's one kiss for it—Peter won't mind—and now I know you two want to talk old times, so I'll leave you together. Good-bye, Peter—or rather au revoir—for you must be a regular visitor now. Watts, arrange with Peter to dine with us some day this week."
Mrs. D'Alloi disappeared through the doorway. Peter's pulse did not change a beat.
The moment she was gone, Watts held out his hand, saying: "Here, old man, let us shake hands again. It's almost like going back to college days to see my old chum. Come to the snuggery, where we shan't be interrupted." They went through two rooms, to one fitted up as a smoking-room and office. "It's papa-in-law's workshop. He can't drop his work at the bank, so he brings it home and goes on here. Sit down. Here, take a cigar. Now, are you comfortable?"
"Maintenant, I suppose you want to know why I wrote you to come so quickly?"
"Well, the truth of it is, I'm in an awful mess. Yesterday I was so desperate I thought I should blow my brains out. I went round to the club to see if I couldn't forget or drown my trouble, just as sick as a man could be. Fellows talking. First thing I heard was your name. 'Just won a great case.' 'One of the best lawyers in New York.' Thinks I to myself, 'That's a special providence.' Peter always was the fellow to pull me through my college scrapes. I'll write him.' Did it, and played billiards for the rest of the evening, secure in the belief that you would come to my help, just as you used to."
"Tell me what it is?"
"Even that isn't easy, chum. It's a devilish hard thing to tell even to you."
"Is it money trou—?"
"No, no!" Watts interrupted. "It isn't that. The truth is I've a great deal more money than is good for me, and apparently always shall have. I wish it were only that!"
"How can I help you?" began Peter.
"I knew you would," cried Watts, joyfully. "Just the same old reliable you always were. Here. Draw up nearer. That's it. Now then, here goes. I shan't mind if you are shocked at first. Be as hard on me as you like."
"Well, to make a long story short, I'm entangled with a woman, and there's the devil to pay. Now you'll pull me through, old man, won't you?"
"Don't say that, Peter! You must help me. You're my only hope.
"I do not care to mix myself in such a business," said Peter, very quietly. "I would rather know nothing about it." Peter rose.
"Don't desert me," cried Watts, springing to his feet, and putting his hand on Peter's shoulder, so as to prevent his progress to the door. "Don't. She's going to expose me. Think of the disgrace! My God, Peter, think—"
"Take your hand off my shoulder."
"But Peter, think—"
"The time to think was before—not now, Watts. I will not concern myself in this."
"But, old man. I can't face it. It will kill Helen!"
Peter had already thrown aside the arm, and had taken a step towards the doorway. He stopped and turned. "She does not know?"
"Not a suspicion. And nothing but absolute proof will make her believe it. She worships me. Oh, Peter, save her! Save Leonore—if you won't save me!"
"Can they be saved?"
"That's what I want to know. Here—sit down, please! I'll tell you all about it."
Peter hesitated a moment, and then sat down.
"It began in Paris twelve years ago. Such affairs have a way of beginning in Paris, old man. It's in the atmosphere. She—"
"Stop. I will ask questions. There's no good going over the whole story." Peter tried to speak calmly, and to keep his voice and face from showing what he felt. He paused a moment, and then said: "She threatens to expose you. Why?"
"Well, after three years I tired of it and tried to end it. Then she used it to blackmail me for ten years, till, in desperation, I came to America, to see if I couldn't escape her."
"And she followed you?"
"Yes. She was always tracking me in Europe, and making my life a hell on earth, and now she's followed me here."
"If it's merely a question of money, I don't see what you want of me."
"She says she doesn't want money now—but revenge. She's perfectly furious over my coming off without telling her—always had an awful temper—and—well, you know an infuriated woman is capable of anything. The Spaniard was right who said it was easier to take care of a peck of fleas than one woman, eh, chum?"
"So she threatens to tell your wife?"
"No. She says she's going to summon me into court."
"On what grounds?"
"That's the worst part of it. You see, chum, there's a child, and she says she's going to apply for a proper support for it. Proper support! Heavens! The money I've paid her would support ten children. It's only temper."
Peter said, "Watts, Watts," in a sad voice.
"Pretty bad, isn't it? If it wasn't for the child I could—"
Peter interrupted. "Has she any proofs of paternity besides—?"
Watts interrupted in turn. "Yes. Confound it! I was fool enough to write letters during my infatuation. Talleyrand was right when he said only fools and women wrote letters."
"How could you?"
"That's what I've asked myself a hundred times. Oh, I'm sorry enough. I've sworn never to put pen to paper again. Jamais!"
"I did not mean the letters. But your vow."
"Your marriage vow."
"Oh, yes. I know. But you know, chum, before you promise to love one woman for all time you should have seen them all."
"And that display ten minutes ago was all mockery?"
"No, no! Really, Peter, I'm awfully fond of the little woman. Really I am. And you know Daudet says a man can love two women at the same time."
"And if so, how about his honor?" Peter was trying to repress his emotion, but it would jerk out questions.
"Yes, I know. I've said that to myself over and over again. Why, look here." Watts pulled a small revolver from his hip pocket. "This will show you how close to the desperation point I have come. I've carried that for two days, so that if worse comes to worse—well. Phut!—Voila tout."
Peter rose, speaking in a voice ringing with scorn. "You would escape your sin, to leave it with added disgrace for your wife and daughter to bear! Put up your pistol, Watts D'Alloi. If I am to help you, I want to help a man—not a skulker. What do you want me to do?"
"That's what I wish to know. What can I do?"
"You have offered her money?"
"Yes. I told her that—"
"Never mind details," interrupted Peter, "Was it enough to put further offers out of the question?"
"Yes. She won't hear of money. She wants revenge."
"Give me her name and address."
"Celestine—" The rest was interrupted by a knock at the door. "Well?" said Watts.
The door was opened, and a footman entered. "If you please, Mr. D'Alloi, there's a Frenchwoman at the door who wants to see you. She won't give me her name, but says you'll know who it is."
"Say I won't see her. That I'm busy."
"She told me to say that if you were engaged, she'd see Mrs. D'Alloi."
"My God!" said Watts, under his breath.
"Ask the woman to come in here," said Peter, quietly, but in a way which made the man leave the room without waiting to see if Watts demurred.
A complete silence followed. Then came the rustle of skirts, and a woman entered the room. Peter, who stood aside, motioned to the footman to go, and closed the door himself, turning the key.
The woman came to the middle of the room. "So, Monsieur D'Alloi," she said in French, speaking very low and distinctly, "you thought it best not to order your groom to turn me out, as you did that last day in Paris, when you supposed your flight to America left you free to do as you pleased? But you did not escape me. Here I am."
Watts sat down in an easy-chair, and striking a match, lighted a cigarette. "That, Celestine," he said in French, "is what in English we call a self-evident proposition."
Celestine's foot began to tap the floor, "You needn't pretend you expected I would follow you. You thought you could drop me, like an old slipper."
Watts blew a whiff of tobacco from his mouth. "It was a remark of Ricard's, I believe, 'that in woman, one should always expect the unexpected.'"
"Mon Dieu!" shrieked Celestine. "If I—if I could kill you—you—"
She was interrupted by Peter's bringing a chair to her and saying in French, "Will you not sit down, please?"
She turned in surprise, for she had been too wrought up to notice that Peter was in the room. She stared at him and then sat down.
"That's right," said Watts. "Take it easy. No occasion to get excited."
"Ah!" screamed Celestine, springing to her feet, "your name shall be in all the papers. You shall—"
Peter again interrupted. "Madame, will you allow me to say something?" He spoke gently and deferentially.
Celestine looked at him again, saying rapidly: "Why should I listen to you? What are you to me? I don't even know you. My mind's made up. I tell you—" The woman was lashing herself into a fury, and Peter interrupted her again:
"Pardon me. We are strangers. If I ask anything of you for myself, I should expect a refusal. But I ask it for humanity, to which we all owe help. Only hear what I have to say. I do not claim it as a right, but as a favor."
Celestine sat down. "I listen," she said. She turned her chair from Watts and faced Peter, as he stood at the study table.
Peter paused a moment, and then said: "After what I have seen, I feel sure you wish only to revenge yourself on Mr. D'Alloi?"
"Now let me show you what you will do. For the last two days Mr. D'Alloi has carried a pistol in his pocket, and if you disgrace him he will probably shoot himself."
"But where is your revenge? He will be beyond your reach, and you will only have a human life upon your conscience ever after."
"I shall not grieve!"
"Nor is that all. In revenging yourself on him, you do one of the cruelest acts possible. A wife, who trusts and believes in him, will have her faith and love shattered. His daughter—a young girl, with all her life before her—must ever after despise her father and blush at her name. Do not punish the weak and innocent for the sin of the guilty!" Peter spoke with an earnestness almost terrible. Tears came into his eyes as he made his appeal, and his two auditors both rose to their feet, under the impulse of his voice even more than of his words. So earnest was he, and so spell-bound were the others, that they failed to hear the door from the dining-room move, or notice the entrance of Mrs. D'Alloi as Peter ended his plea.
A moment's silence followed Peter's outburst of feeling. Then the Frenchwoman cried:
"Truly, truly. But what will you do for me and my child? Haven't we been ill-treated? Don't you owe us help, too? Justice? Don't we deserve tenderness and protection?"
"Yes," said Peter. "But you wish revenge. Ask for justice, ask for help, and I will do what is within my power to aid you."
"Watts," cried Mrs. D'Alloi, coming forward, "of what child are you talking? Whose child? Who is this woman?"
Watts jumped as if he had been shot. Celestine even retreated before the terrible voice and face with which Mrs. D'Alloi asked her questions. A sad, weary look came into Peter's eyes. No one answered Mrs. D'Alloi.
"Answer me," she cried
"My dear little woman. Don't get excited. It's all right." Watts managed to say this much. But he did not look his last remark.
"Answer me, I say. Who is this woman? Speak!"
"It's all right, really, it's all right. Here. Peter will tell you it's all right."
"Peter," cried Mrs. D'Alloi. "Of whose child were you speaking?"
Peter was still standing by the desk. He looked sad and broken, as he said:
"This is the mother, Mrs. D'Alloi."
Peter raised his eyes to Helen's and looked at her. Then he said quietly:
"And Watts—will tell you that—I am its father."
The dramatic pause which followed Peter's statement was first broken by Mrs. D'Alloi, who threw her arms about Watt's neck, and cried: "Oh! my husband. Forgive me, forgive me for the suspicion!"
Peter turned to Celestine. "Madame," he said. "We are not wanted here." He unlocked the door into the hall, and stood aside while she passed out, which she did quietly. Another moment found the two on the sidewalk. "I will walk with you to your hotel, if you will permit me?" Peter said to her.
"Certainly," Celestine replied. Nothing more was said in the walk of ten blocks. When they reached the hotel entrance, Peter asked: "Can you see me for a few moments?"
"Yes. Come to my private parlor." They took the elevator, and were but a moment in reaching that apartment.
Peter spoke the moment the door was closed. "Madame," he said, "you saw that scene. Spare his wife and child? He is not worth your anger."
"Ah, Ciel!" cried Celestine, emotionally. "Do you think so lowly of me, that you can imagine I would destroy your sacrifice? Your romantic, your dramatic, mon Dieu! your noble sacrifice? Non, non. Celestine Lacour could never do so. She will suffer cruelty, penury, insults, before she behaves so shamefully, so perfidiously."
Peter did not entirely sympathize with the Frenchwoman's admiration for the dramatic element, but he was too good a lawyer not to accept an admission, no matter upon what grounds. He held out his hand promptly. "Madame," he said, "accept my thanks and admiration for your generous conduct."
Celestine took it and shook it warmly.
"Of course," said Peter. "Mr. D'Alloi owes you an ample income."
"Ah!" cried Celestine, shrugging her shoulders. "Do not talk of him—I leave it to you to make him do what is right."
"And you will return to France?"
"Yes, yes. If you say so?" Celestine looked at Peter in a manner known only to the Latin races. Just then a side door was thrown open, and a boy of about twelve years of age dashed into the room, followed by a French poodle.
"Little villain!" cried Celestine. "How dare you approach without knocking? Go. Go. Quickly."
"Pardon, Madame," said the child. "I thought you still absent."
"Is that the child?" asked Peter.
"Yes," said Celestine.
"Does he know?"
"Nothing. I do not tell him even that I am his mother."
"Then you are not prepared to give him a mother's care and tenderness?"
"Never. I love him not. He is too like his father. And I cannot have it known that I am the mother of a child of twelve. It would not be believed, even." Celestine took a look at herself in the tall mirror.
"Then I suppose you would like some arrangement about him?"
Peter stayed for nearly an hour with the woman. He stayed so long, that for one of the few times in his life he was late at a dinner engagement. But when he had left Celestine, every detail had been settled. Peter did not have an expression of pleasure on his face as he rode down-town, nor was he very good company at the dinner which he attended that evening.
The next day did not find him in any better mood. He went down-town, and called on an insurance company and talked for a while with the president. Then he called at a steamship office. After that he spent twenty minutes with the head of one of the large schools for boys in the city. Then he returned to his office.
"A Mr. D'Alloi is waiting for you in your private office, sir," he was told. "He said that he was an old friend and insisted on going in there."
Peter passed into his office.
Watts cried: "My dear boy, how can I ever—"
He was holding out his hand, but Peter failed to take it, and interrupted him.
"I have arranged it all with Madame Lacour," Peter said coldly. "She sails on La Bretagne on Thursday. You are to buy an annuity for three thousand dollars a year. In addition, you are to buy an annuity for the boy till he is twenty-five, of one thousand dollars a year, payable to me as his guardian. This will cost you between forty and fifty thousand dollars. I will notify you of the amount when the insurance company sends it to me. In return for your check, I shall send you the letters and other things you sent Madame Lacour, or burn them, as you direct. Except for this the affair is ended. I need not detain you further."
"Oh, I say, chum. Don't take it this way," cried Watts. "Do you think—?"
"I end it as suits me," said Peter. "Good-day."
"But, at least you must let me pay you a fee for your work?"
Peter turned on Watts quickly, but checked the movement and the words on his tongue. He only reiterated. "Good-day."
"Well, if you will have it so." Watts went to the door, but hesitated. "Just as you please. If, later, you change your mind, send me word. I shan't cherish any feeling for this. I want to be friends."
"Good-day," said Peter. Watts passed out, closing the door.
Peter sat down at his desk, doing nothing, for nearly an hour. How long he would have sat will never be known, if his brown study had not been ended by Rivington's entrance. "The Appeals have just handed down their decision in the Henley case. We win."
"I thought we should," said Peter mechanically.
"Why, Peter! What's the matter with you? You look as seedy as—"
"As I feel," said Peter. "I'm going to stop work and take a ride, to see if I can't knock some of my dulness out of me." Within an hour he was at the Riding Club.
"Hello," said the stable man. "Twice in one day! You're not often here at this hour, sir. Which horse will you have?"
"Give me whichever has the most life in him."
"It's Mutineer has the devil in him always, sir. Though it's not yourself need fear any horse. Only look out for the ice."
Peter rode into the Park in ten minutes. He met Lispenard at the first turn.
"Hello! It's not often you are here at this hour." Lispenard reined his horse up alongside.
"No," said Peter. "I've been through a very revolt—a very disagreeable experience, and I've come up here to get some fresh air. I don't want to be sociable."
"That's right. Truthful as ever. But one word before we separate. Keppel has just received two proofs of Haden's last job. He asks awful prices for them, but you ought to see them."
"Thanks." And the two friends separated as only true friends can separate.
Peter rode on, buried in his own thoughts. The park was rather empty, for dark comes on early in March, and dusk was already in the air. He shook himself presently, and set Mutineer at a sharp canter round the larger circle of the bridle path. But before they had half swung the circle, he was deep in thought again, and Mutineer was taking his own pace. Peter deserved to get a stumble and a broken neck or leg, but he didn't. He was saved from it by an incident which never won any credit for its good results to Peter, however much credit it gained him.
Peter was so deeply engrossed in his own thoughts that he did not hear the clutter of a horse's feet behind him, just as he struck the long stretch of the comparatively straight path along the Reservoir. But Mutineer did, and pricked up his ears. Mutineer could not talk articulately, but all true lovers of horses understand their language. Mutineer's cogitations, transmuted into human speech, were something to this effect:
"Hello! What's that horse trying to do? He can't for a moment expect to pass me!"
But the next moment a roan mare actually did pass him, going at a swift gallop.
Mutineer laid his ears back, "The impudence!" he said. "Does that little whiffet of a roan mare think she's going to show me her heels? I'll teach her!" It is a curious fact that both the men and horses who are most seldom passed by their kind, object to it most when it happens.
Peter suddenly came back to affairs earthly to find Mutineer just settling into a gait not permitted by Park regulations. He drew rein, and Mutineer, knowing that the fun was up, danced round the path in his bad temper.
"Really," he said to himself, "if I wasn't so fond of you, I'd give you and that mare, an awful lesson. Hello! not another? This is too much!"
The last remarks had relation to more clattering of hoofs. In a moment a groom was in view, going also at a gallop.
"Hout of the way," cried the groom, to Peter, for Mutineer was waltzing round the path in a way that suggested "no thoroughfare." "Hi'm after that runaway."
Peter looked after the first horse, already a hundred feet away. He said nothing to groom nor horse, but Mutineer understood the sudden change in the reins, even before he felt that maddening prick of the spurs. There was a moment's wild grinding of horse's feet on the slippery road and then Mutineer had settled to his long, tremendous stride.
"Now, I'll show you," he remarked, "but if only he wouldn't hold me so damned tight." We must forgive Mutineer for swearing. He lived so much with the stablemen, that, gentleman though he was, evil communications could not be entirely resisted.
Peter was riding "cool." He knew he could run the mare down, but he noticed that the woman, who formed the mount, was sitting straight, and he could tell from the position of her elbows that she was still pulling on her reins, if ineffectually. He thought it best therefore to let the mare wind herself before he forced himself up, lest he should only make the runaway horse the wilder. So after a hundred yards' run, he drew Mutineer down to the mare's pace, about thirty feet behind her.
They ran thus for another hundred yards. Then suddenly Peter saw the woman drop her reins, and catch at the saddle. His quick eye told him in a moment what had happened. The saddle-girth had broken, or the saddle was turning. He dug his spurs into Mutineer, so that the horse, who had never had such treatment, thought that he had been touched by two branding irons. He gave a furious shake of his ears, and really showed the blood of his racing Kentucky forebears. In fifteen seconds the horse was running even with the mare.
Peter had intended merely to catch the reins of the runaway, trusting to his strength to do what a woman's could not. But when he came up alongside, he saw that the saddle had turned so far that the rider could not keep her seat ten seconds longer. So he dropped his reins, bent over, and putting his arms about the woman lifted her off the precarious seat, and put her in front of him. He held her there with one arm, and reached for his reins. But Mutineer had tossed them over his head.
"Mutineer!" said Peter, with an inflection of voice decidedly commanding.
"I covered a hundred yards to your seventy," Mutineer told the roan mare. "On a mile track I could go round you twice, without getting out of breath. I could beat you now, even with double mount easily. But my Peter has dropped the reins and that puts me on my honor. Good-bye." Mutineer checked his great racing stride, broke to a canter; dropped to a trot; altered that to a walk, and stopped.
Peter had been rather astonished at the weight he had lifted. Peter had never lifted a woman before. His chief experience in the weight of human-kind had been in wrestling matches at the armory, and only the largest and most muscular men in the regiment cared to try a bout with him. Of course Peter knew as a fact that women were lighter than men, but after bracing himself, much as he would have done to try the cross-buttock with two hundred pounds of bone and brawn, he marvelled much at the ease with which he transferred the rider. "She can't weigh over eighty pounds," he thought. Which was foolish, for the woman actually weighed one hundred and eighteen, as Peter afterwards learned.
The woman also surprised Peter in another way. Scarcely had she been placed in front of him, than she put her arms about his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. She was not crying, but she was drawing her breath in great gasps in a manner which scared Peter terribly. Peter had never had a woman cling to him in that way, and frightened as he was, he made three very interesting discoveries:
1. That a man's shoulder seems planned by nature as a resting place for a woman's head.
2. That a man's arm about a woman's waist is a very pleasant position for the arm.
3. That a pair of woman's arms round a man's neck, with the clasped hands, even if gloved, just resting on the back of his neck, is very satisfying.
Peter could not see much of the woman. His arm told him that she was decidedly slender, and he could just catch sight of a small ear and a cheek, whose roundness proved the youth of the person. Otherwise he could only see a head of very pretty brown hair, the smooth dressing of which could not entirely conceal its longing to curl.
When Mutineer stopped, Peter did not quite know what to do. Of course it was his duty to hold the woman till she recovered herself. That was a plain duty—and pleasant. Peter said to himself that he really was sorry for her, and thought his sensations were merely the satisfaction of a father in aiding his daughter. We must forgive his foolishness, for Peter had never been a father, and so did not know the parental feeling.
It had taken Mutineer twenty seconds to come to a stand, and for ten seconds after, no change in the condition occurred. Then suddenly the woman stopped her gasps. Peter, who was looking down at her, saw the pale cheek redden. The next moment, the arms were taken from his neck and the woman was sitting up straight in front of him. He got a downward look at the face, and he thought it was the most charming he had ever seen.
The girl kept her eyes lowered, while she said firmly, though with traces of breathlessness and tremulo in her voice, "Please help me down."
Peter was out of his saddle in a moment, and lifted the girl down. She staggered slightly on reaching the ground, so that Peter said: "You had better lean on me."
"No," said the girl, still looking down, "I will lean against the horse." She rested against Mutineer, who looked around to see who was taking this insulting liberty with a Kentucky gentleman. Having looked at her he said: "You're quite welcome, you pretty dear!" Peter thought he would like to be a horse, but then it occurred to him that equines could not have had what he had just had, so he became reconciled to his lot.
The girl went on flushing, even after she was safely leaning against Mutineer. There was another ten seconds' pause, and then she said, still with downcast eyes, "I was so frightened, that I did not know what I was doing."
"You behaved very well," said Peter, in the most comforting voice he could command. "You held your horse splendidly."
"I wasn't a bit frightened, till the saddle began to turn." The girl still kept her eyes on the ground, and still blushed. She was undergoing almost the keenest mortification possible for a woman. She had for a moment been horrified by the thought that she had behaved in this way to a groom. But a stranger—a gentleman—was worse! She had not looked at Peter's face, but his irreproachable riding-rig had been noticed. "If it had only been a policeman," she thought. "What can I say to him?"
Peter saw the mortification without quite understanding it. He knew, however, it was his duty to ease it, and took the best way by giving her something else to think about.
"As soon as you feel able to walk, you had better take my arm. We can get a cab at the 72d Street entrance, probably. If you don't feel able to walk, sit down on that stone, and I'll bring a cab. It oughtn't to take me ten minutes."
"You are very good," said the girl, raising her eyes, and taking a look at Peter's face for the first time.
A thrill went through Peter.
The girl had slate-colored eyes!!
Something in Peter's face seemed to reassure the girl, for though she looked down after the glance, she ceased leaning against the horse, and said, "I behaved very foolishly, of course. Now I will do whatever you think best."
Before Peter had recovered enough from his thrill to put what he thought into speech, a policeman came riding towards them, leading the roan mare. "Any harm done?" he called.
"None, fortunately. Where can we get a cab? Or can you bring one here?"
"I'm afraid there'll be none nearer than Fifty-ninth Street. They leave the other entrances before it's as dark as this."
"Never mind the cab," said the girl. "If you'll help me to mount, I'll ride home."
"That's the pluck!" said the policeman.
"Do you think you had better?" asked Peter.
"Yes. I'm not a bit afraid. If you'll just tighten the girth."
It seemed to Peter he had never encountered such a marvellously fascinating combination as was indicated by the clinging position of a minute ago and the erect one of the present moment. He tightened the girth with a pull that made the roan mare wonder if a steam-winch had hold of the end, and then had the pleasure of the little foot being placed in his hand for a moment, as he lifted the girl into the saddle.
"I shall ride with you," he said, mounting instantly.
"Beg pardon," said the policeman. "I must take your names. We are required to report all such things to headquarters."
"Why, Williams, don't you know me?" asked Peter.
Williams looked at Peter, now for the first time on a level with him. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Stirling. It was so dark, and you are so seldom here afternoons that I didn't know you."
"Tell the chief that this needn't go on record, nor be given to the reporters."
"Very well, Mr. Stirling."
"I beg your pardon," said the girl in a frank yet shy way, "but will you tell me your first name?"
Peter was rather astonished, but he said "Peter."
"Oh!" cried the girl, looking Peter in the face. "I understand it now. I didn't think I could behave so to a stranger! I must have felt it was you." She was smiling joyfully, and she did not drop her eyes from his. On the contrary she held out her hand to him.
Of course Peter took it. He did not stop to ask if it was right or wrong to hold a young girl's hand. If it was wrong, it was certainly a very small one, judging from the size of the hand.
"I was so mortified! But if it's you it's all right."
Peter thought this mood of the girl was both delightful and complimentary, but he failed to understand anything of it, except its general friendliness. His manner may have suggested this, for suddenly the girl said:
"But of course, you do not know who I am? How foolish of me! I am Leonore D'Alloi."
It was Peter's turn to gasp. "Not—?" he began and then stopped.
"Yes," said the girl joyfully, as if Peter's "not" had had something delightful in it.
"But—she's a child."
"I'll be eighteen next week," said Leonore, with all the readiness of that number of years to proclaim its age.
Peter concluded that he must accept the fact. Watts could have a child that old. Having reached this conclusion, he said, "I ought to have known you by your likeness to your mother." Which was an unintentional lie. Her mother's eyes she had, as well as the long lashes; and she had her mother's pretty figure, though she was taller. But otherwise she was far more like Watts. Her curly hair, her curvy mouth, the dimple, and the contour of the face were his. Leonore D'Alloi was a far greater beauty than her mother had ever been. But to Peter, it was merely a renewal of his dream.
Just at this point the groom rode up. "Beg pardon, Miss D'Alloi," he said, touching his cap. "My 'orse went down on a bit of hice."
"You are not hurt, Belden?" said Miss D'Alloi.
Peter thought the anxious tone heavenly. He rather wished he had broken something himself.
"No. Nor the 'orse."
"Then it's all right. Mr. Stirling, we need not interrupt your ride. Belden will see me home."
Belden see her home! Peter would see him do it! That was what Peter thought. He said, "I shall ride with you, of course." So they started their horses, the groom dropping behind.
"Do you want to try it again?" asked Mutineer of the roan.
"No," said the mare. "You are too big and strong."
Leonore was just saying: "I could hear the pound of a horse's feet behind me, but I thought it was the groom, and knew he could never overtake Fly-away. So when I felt the saddle begin to slip, I thought I was—was going to be dragged—as I once saw a woman in England—Oh!—and then suddenly I saw a horse's head, and then I felt some one take hold of me so firmly that I didn't have to hold myself at all, and I knew I was safe. Oh, how nice it is to be big and strong!"
Peter thought so too.
So it is the world over. Peter and Mutineer felt happy and proud in their strength, and Leonore and Fly-away glorified them for it. Yet in spite of this, as Peter looked down at the curly head, from his own and Mutineers altitude, he felt no superiority, and knew that the slightest wish expressed by that small mouth, would be as strong with him as if a European army obeyed its commands.
"What a tremendous horse you have?" said Leonore. "Isn't he?" assented Peter. "He's got a bad temper, I'm sorry to say, but I'm very fond of him. He was given me by my regiment, and was the choice of a very dear friend now dead."
"Who was that?"
"No one you know. A Mr. Costell."
"Oh, yes I do. I've heard all about him."
"What do you know of Mr. Costell?"
"What Miss De Voe told me."
"Miss De Voe?"
"Yes. We saw her both times in Europe. Once at Nice, and once in—in 1882—at Maggiore. The first time, I was only six, but she used to tell me stories about you and the little children in the angle. The last time she told me all she could remember about you. We used to drift about the lake moonlight nights, and talk about you."
"What made that worth doing to you?"
"Oh from the very beginning, that I can remember, papa was always talking about 'dear old Peter'"—the talker said the last three words in such a tone, shot such a look up at Peter, half laughing and half timid, that in combination they nearly made Peter reel in his saddle—"and you seemed almost the only one of his friends he did speak of, so I became very curious about you as a little girl, and then Miss De Voe made me more interested, so that I began questioning Americans, because I was really anxious to learn things concerning you. Nearly every one did know something, so I found out a great deal about you."
Peter was realizing for the first time in his life, how champagne made one feel.
"Tell me whom you found who knew anything about me?"
"Oh, nearly everybody knew something. That is, every one we've met in the last five years. Before that, there was Miss De Voe, and grandpapa, of course, when he came over in 1879—"
"But," interrupted Peter, "I don't think I had met him once before that time, except at the Shrubberies."
"No, he hadn't seen you. But he knew a lot about you, from Mr. Lapharn and Mr. Avery, and some other men who had met you."
"Miss Leroy, mamma's bridesmaid, who spent two weeks at our villa near Florence, and Dr. Purple, your clergyman, who was in the same house with us at Ober-Ammergau, and—and—oh the best were Mr. and Mrs. Rivington. They were in Jersey, having their honeymoon. They told me more than all the rest put together."
"I feel quite safe in their hands. Dorothy and I formed a mutual admiration society a good many years ago."
"She and Mr. Rivington couldn't say enough good of you."
"You must make allowance for the fact that they were on their wedding journey, and probably saw everything rose-colored."
"That was it. Dorothy told me about your giving Mr. Rivington a full partnership, in order that Mr. Ogden should give his consent."
"Ray swore that he wouldn't tell. And Dorothy has always appeared ignorant. And yet she knew it on her wedding trip."
"She couldn't help it. She said she must tell some one, she was so happy. So she told mamma and me. She showed us your photograph. Papa and mamma said it was like you, but I don't think it is."
Again Leonore looked up at him. Leonore, when she glanced at a man, had the same frank, fearless gaze that her mother had of yore. But she did not look as often nor as long, and did not seem so wrapped up in the man's remarks when she looked. We are afraid even at seventeen that Leonore had discovered that she had very fetching eyes, and did not intend to cheapen them, by showing them too much. During the whole of this dialogue, Peter had had only "come-and-go" glimpses of those eyes. He wanted to see more of them. He longed to lean over and turn the face up and really look down into them. Still, he could see the curly hair, and the little ear, and the round of the cheek, and the long lashes. For the moment Peter did not agree with Mr. Weller that "life isn't all beer and skittles."
"I've been so anxious to meet you. I've begged papa ever since we landed to take me to see you. And he's promised me, over and over again, to do it, but something always interfered. You see, I felt very strange and—and queer, not knowing people of my own country, and I felt that I really knew you, and wouldn't have to begin new as I do with other people. I do so dread next winter when I'm to go into society. I don't know what I shall do, I'll not know any one."
"You'll know me."
"But you don't go into society."
"Oh, yes, I do. Sometimes, that is. I shall probably go more next winter. I've shut myself up too much." This was a discovery of Peter's made in the last ten seconds.
"How nice that will be! And will you promise to give me a great deal of attention?"
"You'll probably want very little. I don't dance." Peter suddenly became conscious that Mr. Weller was right.
"But you can learn. Please. I do so love valsing."
Peter almost reeled again at the thought of waltzing with Leonore. Was it possible life had such richness in it? Then he said with a bitter note in his voice very unusual to him:
"I'm afraid I'm too old to learn."
"Not a bit," said Leonore. "You don't look any older than lots of men I've seen valsing. Young men I mean. And I've seen men seventy years old dancing in Europe."
Whether Peter could have kept his seat much longer is to be questioned. But fortunately for him, the horses here came to a stop in front of a stable.
"Why," said Leonore, "here we are already! What a short ride it has been."
Peter thought so too, and groaned over the end of it. But then he suddenly remembered that Leonore was to be lifted from her horse. He became cold with the thought that she might jump before he could get to her, and he was off his horse and by her side with the quickness of a military training. He put his hands up, and for a moment had—well, Peter could usually express himself but he could not put that moment into words. And it was not merely that Leonore had been in his arms for a moment, but that he had got a good look up into her eyes.
"I wish you would take my horse round to the Riding Club," he told the groom. "I wish to see Miss D'Alloi home."
"Thank you very much, but my maid is here in the brougham, so I need not trouble you. Good-bye, and thank you. Oh, thank you so much!" She stood very close to Peter, and looked up into his eyes with her own. "There's no one I would rather have had save me."
She stepped into the brougham, and Peter closed the door. He mounted his horse again, and straightening himself up, rode away.
"Hi thought," remarked the groom to the stableman, "that 'e didn't know 'ow to sit 'is 'orse, but 'e's all right, arter all. 'E rides like ha 'orse guards capting, w'en 'e don't 'ave a girl to bother 'im."
Would that girl bother him?
At first blush, judging from Peter's behavior, the girl was not going to bother him. Peter left his horse at the stable, and taking a hansom, went to his club. There he spent a calm half hour over the evening papers. His dinner was eaten with equal coolness. Not till he had reached his study did he vary his ordinary daily routine. Then, instead of working or reading, he rolled a comfortable chair up to the fire, put on a fresh log or two, opened a new box of Bock's, and lighting one, settled back in the chair. How many hours he sat and how many cigars he smoked are not recorded, lest the statement should make people skeptical of the narrative.
Of course Peter knew that life had not lost its troubles. He was not fooling himself as to what lay before him. He was not callous to the sufferings already endured. But he put them, past, and to come, from him for one evening, and sat smoking lazily with a dreamy look on his face. He had lately been studying the subject of Asiatic cholera, but he did not seem to be thinking of that. He had just been through what he called a "revolting experience," but it is doubtful if he was thinking of that. Whatever his thoughts were, they put a very different look on his face than that which it used to wear while he studied blank walls.
When Peter sat down, rather later than usual at his office desk the next morning, he took a sheet of paper, and wrote, "Dear sir," upon it. Then he tore it up. He took another and wrote, "My dear Mr. D'Alloi." He tore that up. Another he began, "Dear Watts." A moment later it was in the paper basket. "My dear friend," served to bring a similar fate to the fourth. Then Peter rose and strolled about his office aimlessly. Finally he went out into a gallery running along the various rooms, and, opening a door, put his head in.
"You hypocritical scoundrel," he said. "You swore to me that you would never tell a living soul."
"Well?" came a very guilty voice back.
"And Dorothy's known all this time."
"And you've both been as innocent as—as you were guilty."
"Look here, Peter, I can't make you understand, because you've—you've never been on a honeymoon. Really, old fellow, I was so happy over your generosity in giving me a full share, when I didn't bring a tenth of the business, and so happy over Dorothy, that If I hadn't told her, I should have simply—bust. She swore she'd never tell. And now she's told you!"
"No, but she told some one else."
"Then she's broken her word. She—"
"The Pot called the Kettle black."
"But to tell one's own wife is different. I thought she could keep a secret."
"How can you expect a person to keep a secret when you can't keep it yourself?" Peter and Ray were both laughing.
Ray said to himself, "Peter has some awfully knotty point on hand, and is resting the brain tissue for a moment." Ray had noticed, when Peter interrupted him during office hours, on matters not relating to business, that he had a big or complex question in hand.
Peter closed the door and went back to his room. Then he took a fifth sheet of paper, and wrote:
"WATTS: A day's thought has brought a change of feeling on my part. Neither can be the better for alienation or unkind thoughts. I regret already my attitude of yesterday. Let us cancel all that has happened since our college days, and put aside as if it had never occurred.
Just as he had finished this, his door opened softly. 'Peter did not hear it, but took the letter up and read it slowly.
Peter did not jump at the Boo. He looked up very calmly, but the moment he looked up, jump he did. He jumped so that he was shaking hands before the impetus was lost.
"This is the nicest kind of a surprise," he said.
"Bother you, you phlegmatic old cow," cried a merry voice. "Here we have spent ten minutes palavering your boy, in order to make him let us surprise you, and then when we spring it on you, you don't budge. Wasn't it shabby treatment, Dot?"
"You've disappointed us awfully, Mr. Stirling."
Peter was shaking hands more deliberately with Leonore than he had with Watts. He had been rather clever in shaking hands with him first, so that he need not hurry himself over the second. So he had a very nice moment—all too short—while Leonore's hand lay in his. He said, in order to prolong the moment, without making it too marked, "It will take something more frightful than you, Miss D'Alloi, to make me jump." Then Peter was sorry he had said it, for Leonore dropped her eyes.
"Now, old man, give an account of yourself." Watts was speaking jauntily, but not quite as easily as he usually did. "Here Leonore and I waited all last evening, and you never came. So she insisted that we come this morning."
"I don't understand?" Peter was looking at Leonore as if she had made the remark. Leonore was calmly examining Peter's room.
"Why, even a stranger would have called last night to inquire about Dot's health, after such an accident. But for you not to do it, was criminal. If you have aught to say why sentence should not now be passed on you, speak now or forever—no—that's the wedding ceremony, isn't it? Not criminal sentence—though, on second thought, there's not much difference."
"Did you expect me, Miss D'Alloi?"
Miss D'Alloi was looking at a shelf of law books with her back to Peter, and was pretending great interest in them. She did not turn, but said "Yes."
"I wish I had known that," said Peter, with the sincerest regret in his voice.
Miss D'Alloi's interest in legal literature suddenly ceased. She turned and Peter had a momentary glimpse of those wonderful eyes. Either his words or tone had evidently pleased Miss D'Alloi. The corners of her mouth were curving upwards. She made a deep courtesy to him and said: "You will be glad to know, Mr. Stirling, that Miss D'Alloi has suffered no serious shock from her runaway, and passed a good night. It seemed to Miss D'Alloi that the least return she could make for Mr. Stirling's kindness, was to save him the trouble of coming to inquire about Miss D'Alloi's health, and so leave Mr. Stirling more time to his grimy old law books."
"There, sir, I hope you are properly crushed for your wrong-doing," cried Watts.
"I'm not going to apologize for not coming," said Peter, "for that is my loss; but I can say that I'm sorry."
"That's quite enough," said Leonore. "I thought perhaps you didn't want to be friends. And as I like to have such things right out, I made papa bring me down this morning so that I could see for myself." She spoke with a frankness that seemed to Peter heavenly, even while he grew cold at the thought that she should for a moment question his desire to be friends.
"Of course you and Peter will be friends," said Watts.
"But mamma told me last night—after we went upstairs, that she was sure Mr. Stirling would never call."
"Never, Dot?" cried Watts.
"Yes. And when I asked her why, she wouldn't tell me at first, but at last she said it was because he was so unsociable. I shan't be friends with any one who won't come to see me." Leonore was apparently looking at the floor, but from under her lashes she was looking at something else.
Whatever Peter may have felt, he looked perfectly cool. Too cool, Leonore thought. "I'm not going to make any vows or protestations of friendship," he said, "I won't even pledge myself to come and see you, Miss D'Alloi. Remember, friendship comes from the word free. If we are to be friends, we must each leave the other to act freely."
"Well," said Leonore, "that is, I suppose, a polite way of saying that you don't intend to come. Now I want to know why you won't?"
"The reasons will take too long to explain to you now, so I'll defer the telling till the first time I call on you." Peter was smiling down at her.
Miss D'Alloi looked up at Peter, to see what meaning his face gave his last remark. Then she held out her two hands. "Of course we are to be the best of friends," she said. Peter got a really good look down into those eyes as they shook hands.
The moment this matter had been settled, Leonore's manner changed. "So this is the office of the great Peter Stirling?" she said, with the nicest tone of interest in her voice, as it seemed to Peter.
"It doesn't look it," said Watts. "By George, with the business people say your firm does, you ought to do better than this. It's worse even than our old Harvard quarters, and those were puritanical enough."
"There is a method in its plainness. If you want style, go into Ogden's and Rivington's rooms."
"Why do you have the plain office, Mr. Stirling?"
"I have a lot of plain people to deal with, and so I try to keep my room simple, to put them at their ease. I've never heard of my losing a client yet, because my room is as it is, while I should have frightened away some if I had gone in for the same magnificence as my partners."
"But I say, chum, I should think that is the sort you would want to frighten away. There can't be any money in their business?"
"We weren't talking of money. We were talking of people. I am very glad to say, that with my success, there has been no change in my relations with my ward. They all come to me here, and feel perfectly at home, whether they come as clients, as co-workers, or merely as friends."
"Ho, ho," laughed Watts. "You wily old fox! See the four bare walls. The one shelf of law books. The one cheap cabinet of drawers. The four simple chairs, and the plain desk. Behold the great politician! The man of the people."
Peter made no reply. But Leonore said to him, "I'm glad you help the poor people still, Mr. Stirling," and gave Peter another glimpse of those eyes. Peter didn't mind after that.
"Look here, Dot," said Watts. "You mustn't call chum Mr. Stirling. That won't do. Call him—um—call him Uncle Peter."
"I won't," said Leonore, delighting Peter thereby. "Let me see. What shall I call you?" she asked of Peter.
"Honey," laughed Watts.
"What shall I call you?" Miss D'Alloi put her head on one side, and looked at Peter out of the corners of her eyes.
"You must decide that, Miss D'Alloi."
"I suppose I must. I—think—I—shall—call—you—Peter." She spoke hesitatingly till she said his name, but that went very smoothly. Peter on the spot fell in love with the five letters as she pronounced them.
"Plain Peter?" inquired Watts.
"Now what will you call me?"
"Miss D'Alloi," said Peter.
"Miss D'Alloi," re-affirmed Peter.
"Then I will call you Mr. Stirling, Peter."
"No, you won't."
"Because you said you'd call me Peter."
"But not if you won't—"
"You made no condition at the time of promise. Shall I show you the law?"
"No. And I shall not call you Peter, any more, Peter."
"Then I shall prosecute you."
"But I should win the case, for I should hire a friend of mine to defend me. A man named Peter." Leonore sat down in Peter's chair. "I'm going to write him at once about it." She took one of his printed letter sheets and his pen, and, putting the tip of the holder to her lips (Peter has that pen still), thought for a moment. Then she wrote:
I am threatened with a prosecution. Will you defend me? Address your reply to "Dear Leonore."
"Now" she said to Peter, "you must write me a letter in reply. Then you can have this note." Leonore rose with the missive in her hand.
"I never answer letters till I've received them." Peter took hold of the slender wrist, and possessed himself of the paper. Then he sat down at his desk and wrote on another sheet:
DEAR MISS D'ALLOI:
I will defend you faithfully and always.
"That isn't what I said," remarked Miss D'Alloi. "But I suppose it will have to do."
"You forget one important thing."
"What is that?"
"My retaining fee."
"Oh, dear," sighed Leonore. "My allowance is nearly gone. Don't you ever do work for very, very poor people, for nothing?"
"Not if their poverty is pretence."
"Oh, but mine isn't. Really. See. Here is my purse. Look for yourself. That's all I shall have till the first of the month."
She gave Peter her purse. He was still sitting at his desk, and he very deliberately proceeded to empty the contents out on his blotter. He handled each article. There was a crisp ten-dollar bill, evidently the last of those given by the bank at the beginning of the month. There were two one-dollar bills. There was a fifty-cent piece, two quarters and a dime. A gold German twenty-mark piece, about eight inches of narrow crimson ribbon, and a glove button, completed the contents. Peter returned the American money and the glove button to the purse and handed it back to Miss D'Alloi.
"You've forgotten the ribbon and the gold piece," said Leonore.
"You were never more mistaken in your life," replied Peter, with anything but legal guardedness concerning unprovable statements. He folded up the ribbon neatly and put it, with the coin, in his waistcoat pocket.
"Oh," said Leonore, "I can't let you have that That's my luck-piece."
"Is it?" Peter expressed much surprise blended with satisfaction in his tone.
"Yes. You don't want to take my good luck."
"I will think it over, and write you a legal opinion later.
"Please!" Miss D'Alloi pleaded.
"That is just what I have succeeded in doing—for myself."
"But I want my luck-piece. I found it in a crack of the rocks crossing the Ghemi. And I must have the ribbon. I need it to match for a gown it goes with." Miss D'Alloi put true anxiety into her voice, whatever she really felt.
"I shall be glad to help you match it," said Peter, "and any time you send me word, I will go shopping with you. As for your luck, I shall keep that for the present."
"Now I know," said Leonore crossly, "why lawyers have such a bad reputation. They are perfect thieves!" She looked at Peter with the corners of her mouth drawn down. He gazed at her with a very grave look on his face. They eyed each other steadily for a moment, and then the corners of Leonore's mouth suddenly curled upwards. She tried hard for a moment to keep serious. Then she gave up and laughed. Then they both laughed.
Many people will only see an amusing side to the dialogue here so carefully recorded. If so, look back to the time when everything that he or she said was worth listening to. Or if there has never been a he or a she, imitate Peter, and wait. It is worth waiting for.
It is not to be supposed from this last reflection of ours, that Leonore was not heart-whole. Leonore had merely had a few true friends, owing to her roving life, and at seventeen a girl craves friends. When, therefore, the return to America was determined upon, she had at once decided that Peter and she would be the closest of friends. That she would tell him all her confidences, and take all her troubles to him. Miss De Voe and Dorothy had told her about Peter, and from their descriptions, as well as from her father's reminiscences, Leonore had concluded that Peter was just the friend she had wanted for so long. That Leonore held her eyes down, and tried to charm yet tantalize her intended friend, was because Leonore could not help it, being only seventeen and a girl. If Leonore had felt anything but a friendly interest and liking, blended with much curiosity, in Peter, she never would have gone to see him in his office, and would never have talked and laughed so frankly with him.
As for Peter, he did not put his feelings into good docketed shape. He did not attempt to label them at all. He had had a delicious half-hour yesterday. He had decided, the evening before, that he must see those slate-colored eyes again, if he had to go round the world in pursuit of them. How he should do it, he had not even thought out, till the next morning. He had understood very clearly that the owner of those slate-colored eyes was really an unknown quantity to him. He had understood, too, that the chances were very much against his caring to pursue those eyes after he knew them better. But he was adamant that he must see those eyes again, and prove for himself whether they were but an ignis fatuus, or the radiant stars that Providence had cast for the horoscope of Peter Stirling. He was studying those eyes, with their concomitants, at the present time. He was studying them very coolly, to judge from his appearance and conduct. Yet he was enjoying the study in a way that he had never enjoyed the study of somebody "On Torts." Somebody "On Torts," never looked like that. Somebody "On Torts," never had luck-pieces, and silk ribbons. Somebody "On Torts," never wrote letters and touched the end of pens to its lips. Somebody "On Torts," never courtesied, nor looked out from under its eyelashes, nor called him Peter.
While this investigation had been progressing, Watts had looked at the shelf of law books, had looked out of the window, had whistled, and had yawned. Finally, in sheer ennui he had thrown open a door, and looked to see what lay beyond.
"Ha, ha!" he cried. "All is discovered. See! Here sits Peter Stirling, the ward politician, enthroned in Jeffersonian simplicity. But here, behind the arras, sits Peter Stirling, the counsellor of banks and railroads, in the midst of all the gorgeousness of the golden East." Watts passed into the room beyond.
"What does he mean, Peter?"
"He has gone into my study. Would you like—"
He was interrupted by Watts calling, "Come in here, Dot, and see how the unsociable old hermit bestows himself."
So Leonore and Peter followed Watts's lead. The room into which they went was rather a curious one. It was at least twenty-five feet square, having four windows, two looking out on Broadway, and two on the side street. It had one other door besides that by which they had entered. Here the ordinary quality ended. Except for the six openings already noted and a large fireplace, the walls were shelved from floor to ceiling (which was not a low one), with dusky oak shelving. The ceiling was panelled in dark oak, and the floor was covered with a smooth surface of the same wood. Yet though the shelves were filled with books, few could be seen, for on every upright of the shelving, were several frames of oak, hinged as one sees them in public galleries occasionally, and these frames contained etchings, engravings, and paintings. Some were folded back against the shelves. Others stood out at right angles to them and showed that the frames were double ones, both sides containing something. Four easy-chairs, three less easy chairs, and a large table desk, likewise of dusky oak were the sole other fittings of the room, if we except two large polar bear skins.
"Oh," cried Leonore looking about, "I'm so glad to see this. People have told me so much about your rooms. And no two of them ever agreed."
"No," said Peter. "It seems a continual bone of contention with my friends. They scold me because I shelved it to the ceiling, because I put in one-colored wood, because I framed my pictures and engravings this way, and because I haven't gone in for rugs, and bric-a-brac, and the usual furnishings. At times I have really wondered, from their determination to change things, whether it was for them to live in, or for my use?"
"It is unusual," said Leonore, reluctantly, and evidently selecting a word that should not offend Peter.
"You ought to be hung for treating fine pictures so," said Watts.
"I had to give them those broad flat mats, because the books gave no background."
"It's—it's—" Leonore hesitated. "It's not so startling, after a moment."
"You see they had to hang this way, or go unhung. I hadn't wall space for both pictures and books. And by giving a few frames a turn, occasionally, I can always have fresh pictures to look at."
"Look here, Dot, here's a genuine Rembrandt's 'Three Crosses,'" called Watts. "I didn't know, old man, that you were such a connoisseur."
"I'm not," said Peter. "I'm fond of such things, but I never should have had taste or time to gather these."
"Then how did you get them?"
"A friend of mine—a man of exquisite taste—gathered them. He lost his money, and I bought them of him."
"That was Mr. Le Grand?" asked Leonore, ceasing her study of the "Three Crosses."
"Mrs. Rivington told me about it."
"It must have been devilish hard for him to part with such a collection," said Watts.
"He hasn't really parted with them. He comes down here constantly, and has a good time over them. It was partly his scheme to arrange them this way."
"And are the paintings his, too, Peter?"
Peter could have hugged her for the way she said Peter. "No," he managed to remark. "I bought some of them, and Miss De Voe and Lispenard Ogden the others. People tell me I spoil them by the flat framing, and the plain, broad gold mats. But it doesn't spoil them to me. I think the mixture of gold mats and white mats breaks the monotony. And the variation just neutralizes the monotone which the rest of the room has. But of course that is my personal equation."
"Then this room is the real taste of the 'plain man,' eh?" inquired Watts.
"Really, papa, it is plain. Just as simple as can be."
"Simple! Yes, sweet simplicity! Three-thousand-dollar-etching simplicity! Millet simplicity! Oh, yes. Peter's a simple old dog."
"No, but the woodwork and the furniture. Isn't this an enticing chair? I must try it." And Leonore almost dissolved from view in its depths. Peter has that chair still. He would probably knock the man down who offered to buy it.
It occurred to Peter that since Leonore was so extremely near the ground, and was leaning back so far, that she could hardly help but be looking up. So he went and stood in front of the fireplace, and looked down at her. He pretended that his hands were cold. Watts perhaps was right. Peter was not as simple as people thought.
It seemed to Peter that he had never had so much to see, all at once, in his life. There were the occasional glimpses of the eyes (for Leonore, in spite of her position, did manage to cover the larger part of them) not one of which must be missed. Then there was her mouth. That would have been very restful to the eye; if it hadn't been for the distracting chin below it. Then there were the little feet, just sticking out from underneath the tailor-made gown, making Peter think of Herrick's famous lines. Finally there were those two hands! Leonore was very deliberately taking off her gloves. Peter had not seen those hands ungloved yet, and waited almost breathlessly for the unveiling. He decided that he must watch and shake hands at parting before Leonore put those gloves on again.
"I say," said Watts, "how did you ever manage to get such a place here?"
"I was a tenant for a good many years of the insurance company that owns the building, and when it came to rebuild, it had the architect fit this floor for me just as I wished it. So I put our law-offices in front and arranged my other rooms along the side street. Would you like to see them?" Peter asked this last question very obviously of Leonore.
So they passed through the other door, to a little square hall, lighted by a skylight, with a stairway going up to the roof.
"I took the upper floor, so as to get good air and the view of the city and the bay, which is very fine," Peter said. "And I have a staircase to the roof, so that in good weather I can go up there."
"I wondered what the great firm was doing up ten stories," said Watts.
"Ogden and Rivington have been very good in yielding to my idiosyncracies. This is my mealing closet."
It was a room nine feet square, panelled, ceiled and floored in mahogany, and the table and six chairs were made of the same material.
"So this is what the papers call the 'Stirling political incubator?' It doesn't look like a place for hatching dark plots," said Watts.
"Sometimes I have a little dinner here. Never more than six, however, for it's too small."
"I say, Dot, doesn't this have a jolly cosy feeling? Couldn't one sit here blowy nights, with the candles lit, eating nuts and telling stories? It makes me think of the expression, 'snug as a bug.'"
"Miss Leroy told me, Peter, what a reputation your dinners had, and how every one was anxious to be invited just once," said Leonore.
"But not a second time, old man. You caught Dot's inference, I hope? Once is quite enough."
"Peter, will you invite me some day?"
"Would he?" Peter longed to tell her that the place and everything it contained, including its owner—Then Peter said to himself, "You really don't know anything about her. Stop your foolishness." Still Peter knew that—that foolishness was nice. He said, "People only care for my dinners because they are few and far between, and their being way down here in the city, after business hours, makes them something to talk about. Society wants badly something to talk about most of the time. Of course, my friends are invited." Peter looked down at Leonore, and she understood, without, his saying so, that she was to be a future guest.
"How do you manage about the prog, chum?"
"Mr. Le Grand had a man—a Maryland darky—whom he turned over to me. He looks after me generally, but his true forte is cooking. For oysters and fish and game I can't find his equal. And, as I never attempt very elaborate dinners, he cooks and serves for a party of six in very good shape. We are not much in haste down here after six, because it's so still and quiet. The hurry's gone up-town to the social slaves. Suppose you stay and try his skill at lunch to-day? My partners generally are with me, and Jenifer always has something good for them."
"By all means," said Watts.
But Leonore said: "No. We mustn't make a nuisance of ourselves the first time we come." Peter and Watts tried to persuade her, but she was not persuadable. Leonore had no intention, no matter how good a time it meant, of lunching sola with four men.
"I think we must be going," she said.
"You mustn't go without seeing the rest of my quarters," said Peter, hoping to prolong the visit.
Leonore was complaisant to that extent. So they went into the pantry, and Leonore proceeded, apparently, to show her absolute ignorance of food matters under the pretext that she was displaying great housekeeping knowledge. She told Peter that he ought to keep his champagne on ice. "That champagne will spoil if it isn't kept on ice." She complained because some bottles of Burgundy had dust on them. "That's not merely untidy," she said, "but it's bad for the wine. It ought to be stood on end, so that the sediment can settle." She criticised the fact that a brace of canvas-backs were on ice. "All your game should be hung," she said. She put her finger or her eyes into every drawer and cupboard, and found nothing to praise. She was absolutely grave over it, but before long Peter saw the joke and entered into it. It was wonderful how good some of the things that she touched tasted later.
Then they went into Peter's sleeping-room, Leonore said it was very ordinary, but promptly found two things to interest her.
"Do you take care of your window flowers?"
"No, Mrs. Costell comes down to lunch with me once a week, and potters with them. She keeps all the windows full of flowers—perhaps you have noticed them in the other rooms, as well?"
"Yes. I liked them, but I didn't think they could be yours. They grow too well for a man."
"It seems as if Mrs. Costell had only to look at a plant, and it breaks out blossoming," Peter replied.
"What a nice speech," said Leonore.
"It's on a nice subject," Peter told her. "When you have that, it's very easy to make a nice speech."
"I want to meet Mrs. Costell. I've heard all about her."
The second point of interest concerned the contents of what had evidently been planned as an umbrella-stand.
"Why do you have three swords?" she asked, taking the handsomest from its resting place.
"So that I can kill more people."
"Why, Dot, you ought to know that an officer wants a service sword and a dress-sword."
"But these are all dress-swords. I'm afraid you are very proud of your majorship."
Peter only smiled a reply down at her.
"Yes," said Leonore, "I have found out your weakness at last. You like gold lace and fixings."
Still Peter only smiled.
"This sword is presented to Captain Peter Stirling in recognition of his gallant conduct at Hornellsville, July 25, 1877," Leonore read on the scabbard. "What did you do at Hornellsville?"
"But what did you do to get the sword?"
"I thought you knew all about me."
"I don't know this."
Peter only smiled at her.
"Tell me. If you don't, somebody else will. Please."
"Why, Dot, these are all presentation swords."
"Yes," said Peter; "and so gorgeous that I don't dare use them. I keep the swords I wear at the armory."
"Are you going to tell me what you did to get them?"
"That one was given me by my company when I was made captain. That was subscribed for by some friends. The one you have was given me by a railroad."
"For doing my duty."
"Come, papa. We'll go home."
Peter surrendered. "There were some substitutes for strikers in freight cars that were fitted up with bunks. The strikers fastened the doors on them, and pushed them into a car-shed."
"And what did you do?"
"We rolled the cars back."
"I don't think that was much. Nothing to give a sword for. Now, have you anything more to show us?"
"No. I have a spare room, and Jenifer has a kitchen and sleeping place beyond, but they are not worth showing."
They went out into the little square hall, and so into the study. Leonore began unfolding her gloves.
"I've had a very nice time," she said. "I think I shall come again very often, I like down-town New York." Leonore was making her first trip to it, so that she spoke from vast knowledge.
"I can't tell you how pleasant it has been to me. It isn't often that such sunshine gets in here," said Peter.
"Then you do prefer sunshine to grimy old law books?" inquired Leonore, smiling demurely.
"Some sunshine," said Peter, meaningly.
"Wherever there has been sunshine there ought to be lots of flowers. I have a good mind—yes, I will—leave you these violets," Leonore took a little bunch that she had worn near her throat and put them and her hand in Peter's. And she hadn't put her glove on yet! Then she put her gloves on, and Peter shook hands. Then he remembered that he ought to see them to the elevator, so he took them out—and shook hands again. After that he concluded it was his duty to see them to the carriage—and he shook hands again.
Peter was not an experienced hand, but he was doing very well.
Just as Peter came back to his office, his lunch was announced.
"What makes you look so happy?" asked Ray.
"Being so," said Peter, calmly.
"What a funny old chap he is?" Ray remarked to Ogden, as they went back to work. "He brought me his opinion, just after lunch, in the Hall-Seelye case. I suppose he had been grubbing all the morning over those awful figures, and a tougher or dryer job, you couldn't make. Yet he came in to lunch looking as if he was walking on air."
When Peter returned to his office, he would have preferred to stop work and think for a bit. He wanted to hold those violets, and smell them now and then. He wished to read that letter over again. He longed to have a look at that bit of ribbon and gold. But he resisted temptation. He said: "Peter Stirling, go to work." So all the treasures were put in a drawer of his study table, and Peter sat down at his office desk. First, after tearing up his note to Watts, he wrote another, as follows:
You can understand why I did not call last night, or bind myself as to the future. I shall hope to receive an invitation to call from Mrs. D'Alloi. How, I must leave to you; but you owe me this much, and it is the only payment I ask of you. Otherwise let us bury all that has occurred since our college days, forever.
Then he ground at the law till six, when he swung his clubs and dumb-bells for ten minutes; took a shower; dressed himself, and dined. Then he went into his study, and opened a drawer. Did he find therein a box of cigars, or a bunch of violets, gold-piece, ribbon and sheet of paper? One thing is certain. Peter passed another evening without reading or working. And two such idle evenings could not be shown in another week of his life for the last twenty years.
The next day Peter was considerably nearer earth. Not that he didn't think those eyes just as lovely, and had he been thrown within their radius, he would probably have been as strongly influenced as ever. But he was not thrown within their influence, and so his strong nature and common sense reasserted themselves. He took his coffee, his early morning ride, and then his work, in their due order. After dinner, that evening, he only smoked one cigar. When he had done that, he remarked to himself—apropos of the cigars, presumably—"Peter, keep to your work. Don't burn yourself again." Then his face grew very firm, and he read a frivolous book entitled: "Neun atiologische und prophylactische Satze ... uber die Choleraepidemien in Ostindien," till nearly one o'clock.
The following day was Sunday. Peter went to church, and in the afternoon rode out to Westchester to pass the evening there with Mrs. Costell. Peter thought his balance was quite recovered. Other men have said the same thing. The fact that they said so, proved that they were by no means sure of themselves.
This was shown very markedly on Monday in Peter's case, for after lunch he did not work as steadily as he had done in the morning hours. He was restless. Twice he pressed his lips, and started in to work very, very hard—and did it for a time. Then the restlessness would come on again. Presently he took to looking at his watch. Then he would snap it to, and go to work again, with a great determination in his face, only to look at the watch again before long. Finally he touched his bell.
"Jenifer," he said, "I wish you would rub off my spurs, and clean up my riding trousers."
"For lohd, sar, I done dat dis day yesserday."
"Never mind, then," said Peter. "Tell Curzon to ring me up a hansom."
When Peter rode into the park he did not vacillate. He put his horse at a sharp canter, and started round the path. But he had not ridden far when he suddenly checked his horse, and reined him up with a couple of riders. "I've been looking for you," he said frankly. Peter had not ceased to be straightforward.
"Hello! This is nice," said Watts.
"Don't you think it's about time?" said Leonore. Leonore had her own opinion of what friendship consisted. She was not angry with Peter—not at all. But she did not look at him.
Peter had drawn his horse up to the side on which Leonore was riding. "That is just what I thought," he said deliberately, "and that's why I'm here now."
"How long ago did that occur to you, please?" said Leonore, with dignity.
"About the time it occurred to me that you might ride here regularly afternoons."
"Don't you?" Leonore was mollifying.
"No. I like the early morning, when there are fewer people."
"You unsociable old hermit," exclaimed Watts.
"But now?" asked Leonore.
When Leonore said those two words Peter had not yet had a sight of those eyes. And he was getting desperately anxious to see them. So he replied: "Now I shall ride in the afternoons."
He was rewarded by a look. The sweetest kind of a look. "Now, that is very nice, Peter," said Leonore. "If we see each other every day in the Park, we can tell each other everything that we are doing or thinking about. So we will be very good friends for sure." Leonore spoke and looked as if this was the pleasantest of possibilities, and Peter was certain it was.
"I say, Peter," said Watts. "What a tremendous dude we have come out. I wanted to joke you on it the first time I saw you, but this afternoon it's positively appalling. I would have taken my Bible oath that it was the last thing old Peter would become. Just look at him, Dot. Doesn't he fill you with 'wonder, awe and praise?'"
Leonore looked at Peter a little shyly, but she said frankly:
"I've wondered about that, Peter. People told me you were a man absolutely without style."
Peter smiled. "Do you remember what Friar Bacon's brass head said?"
"Time is: Time was: Time will never be again?" asked Leonore.
"That fits my lack of style, I think."
"Pell and Ogden, and the rest of them, have made you what I never could, dig at you as I would. So you've yielded to the demands of your toney friends?"
"Of course I tried to dress correctly for my up-town friends, when I was with them. But it was not they who made me careful, though they helped me to find a good tailor, when I decided that I must dress better."
"Then it was the big law practice, eh? Must keep up appearances?"
"I fancy my dressing would no more affect my practice, than does the furnishing of my office."
"Then who is she? Out with it, you sly dog."
"Of course I shan't tell you that"
"Peter, will you tell me?" asked Leonore.
Peter smiled into the frank eyes. "Who she is?"
"No. Why you dress so nicely. Please?"
"You'll laugh when I tell you it is my ward."
"Oh, nonsense," laughed Watts. "That's too thin. Come off that roof. Unless you're guardian of some bewitching girl?"
"Your ward, Peter?"
"Yes. I don't know whether I can make you understand it. I didn't at first. You see I became associated with the ward, in people's minds, after I had been in politics for a few years. So I was sometimes put in positions to a certain extent representative of it. I never thought much how I dressed, and it seems that sometimes at public meetings, and parades, and that sort of thing, I wasn't dressed quite as well as the other men. So when the people of my ward, who were present, were asked to point me out to strangers, they were mortified about the way I looked. It seemed to reflect on the ward. The first inkling I had of it was after one of these parades, in which, without thinking, I had worn a soft hat. I was the only man who did not wear a silk one, and my ward felt very badly about it. So they made up a purse, and came to me to ask me to buy a new suit and silk hat and gloves. Of course that set me asking questions, and though they didn't want to hurt my feelings, I wormed enough out of them to learn how they felt. Since then I've spent a good deal of money on tailors, and dress very carefully."
"Good for 'de sixt'! Hurrah for the unwashed democracy, where one man's as good as another! So a 'Mick' ward wants its great man to put on all the frills? I tell you, chum, we may talk about equality, but the lower classes can't but admire and worship the tinsel and flummery of aristocracy."
"You are mistaken. They may like to see brilliant sights. Soldiers, ball-rooms or the like, and who does not? Beauty is aesthetic, not aristocratic. But they judge people less by their dress or money than is usually supposed. Far less than the people up-town do. They wanted me to dress better, because it was appropriate. But let a man in the ward try to dress beyond his station, and he'd be jeered out of it, or the ward, if nothing worse happened."
"Oh, of course they'd hoot at their own kind," said Watts. "The hardest thing to forgive in this world is your equal's success. But they wouldn't say anything to one of us."
"If you, or Pell, or Ogden should go into Blunkers's place in my ward, this evening, dressed as you are, or better, you probably would be told to get out. I don't believe you could get a drink. And you would stand a chance of pretty rough usage. Last week I went right from a dinner to Blunkers's to say a word to him. I was in evening dress, newcastle, and crush hat—even a bunch of lilies of the valley—yet every man there was willing to shake hands and have me sit down and stay. Blunkers couldn't have been dressed so, because it didn't belong to him. For the same reason, you would have no business in Blunkers's place, because you don't belong there. But the men know I dressed for a reason, and came to the saloon for a reason. I wasn't putting on airs. I wasn't intruding my wealth on them."