THE HONORABLE PETER STIRLING and WHAT PEOPLE THOUGHT OF HIM
PAUL LEICESTER FORD
Stitt Publishing Company New York Henry Holt & Co.
THOSE DEAR TO ME AT STONEY WOLDE, TURNERS, NEW YORK; PINEHURST; NORWICH, CONNECTICUT; BROOK FARM, PROCTORSVILLE, VERMONT; AND DUNESIDE, EASTHAMPTON, NEW YORK,
THIS BOOK, WRITTEN WHILE AMONG THEM, IS DEDICATED.
ROMANCE AND REALITY.
Mr. Pierce was talking. Mr. Pierce was generally talking. From the day that his proud mamma had given him a sweetmeat for a very inarticulate "goo" which she translated into "papa," Mr. Pierce had found speech profitable. He had been able to talk his nurse into granting him every indulgence. He had talked his way through school and college. He had talked his wife into marrying him. He had talked himself to the head of a large financial institution. He had talked his admission into society. Conversationally, Mr. Pierce was a success. He could discuss Schopenhauer or cotillion favors; St. Paul, the apostle, or St. Paul, the railroad. He had cultivated the art as painstakingly as a professional musician. He had countless anecdotes, which he introduced to his auditors by a "that reminds me of." He had endless quotations, with the quotation marks omitted. Finally he had an idea on every subject, and generally a theory as well. Carlyle speaks somewhere of an "inarticulate genius." He was not alluding to Mr. Pierce.
Like most good talkers, Mr. Pierce was a tongue despot. Conversation must take his course, or he would none of it. Generally he controlled. If an upstart endeavored to turn the subject, Mr. Pierce waited till the intruder had done speaking, and then quietly, but firmly would remark: "Relative to the subject we were discussing a moment ago—" If any one ventured to speak, even sotto voce, before Mr. Pierce had finished all he had to say, he would at once cease his monologue, wait till the interloper had finished, and then resume his lecture just where he had been interrupted. Only once had Mr. Pierce found this method to fail in quelling even the sturdiest of rivals. The recollection of that day is still a mortification to him. It had happened on the deck of an ocean steamer. For thirty minutes he had fought his antagonist bravely. Then, humbled and vanquished, he had sought the smoking-room, to moisten his parched throat, and solace his wounded spirit, with a star cocktail. He had at last met his superior. He yielded the deck to the fog-horn.
At the present moment Mr. Pierce was having things very much his own way. Seated in the standing-room of a small yacht, were some eight people. With a leaden sky overhead, and a leaden sea about it, the boat gently rose and fell with the ground swell. Three miles away could be seen the flash-light marking the entrance to the harbor. But though slowly gathering clouds told that wind was coming, the yacht now lay becalmed, drifting with the ebb tide. The pleasure-seekers had been together all day, and were decidedly talked out. For the last hour they had been singing songs—always omitting Mr. Pierce, who never so trifled with his vocal organs. During this time he had been restless. At one point he had attempted to deliver his opinion on the relation of verse to music, but an unfeeling member of the party had struck up "John Brown's Body," and his lecture had ended, in the usual serial style, at the most interesting point, without even the promise of a "continuation in our next." Finally, however, the singers had sung themselves hoarse in the damp night air, the last "Spanish Cavalier" had been safely restored to his inevitable true-love, and the sound of voices and banjo floated away over the water. Mr. Pierce's moment had come.
Some one, and it is unnecessary to mention the sex, had given a sigh, and regretted that nineteenth century life was so prosaic and unromantic. Clearing his throat, quite as much to pre-empt the pause as to articulate the better, Mr. Pierce spoke:
"That modern times are less romantic and interesting than bygone centuries is a fallacy. From time immemorial, love and the battle between evil and good are the two things which have given the world romance and interest. Every story, whether we find it in the myths of the East, the folklore of Europe, the poems of the Troubadours, or in our newspaper of this morning, is based on one or the other of these factors, or on both combined. Now it is a truism that love never played so important a part as now in shaping the destinies of men and women, for this is the only century in which it has obtained even a partial divorce from worldly and parental influences. Moreover the great battle of society, to crush wrong and elevate right, was never before so bravely fought, on so many fields, by so many people as to-day. But because our lovers and heroes no longer brag to the world of their doings; no longer stand in the moonlight, and sing of their 'dering does,' the world assumes that the days of tourneys and guitars were the only days of true love and noble deeds. Even our professed writers of romance join in the cry. 'Draw life as it is,' they say. 'We find nothing in it but mediocrity, selfishness, and money-loving.' By all means let us have truth in our novels, but there is truth and truth. Most of New York's firemen presumably sat down at noon to-day to a dinner of corned-beef and cabbage. But perhaps one of them at the same moment was fighting his way through smoke and flame, to save life at the risk of his own. Boiled dinner and burned firemen are equally true. Are they equally worthy of description? What would the age of chivalry be, if the chronicles had recorded only the brutality, filthiness and coarseness of their contemporaries? The wearing of underclothing unwashed till it fell to pieces; the utter lack of soap; the eating with fingers; the drunkenness and foul-mouthedness that drove women from the table at a certain point, and so inaugurated the custom, now continued merely as an excuse for a cigar? Some one said once that a man finds in a great city just the qualities he takes to it. That's true of romance as well. Modern novelists don't find beauty and nobility in life, because they don't look for them. They predicate from their inner souls that the world is 'cheap and nasty' and that is what they find it to be. There is more true romance in a New York tenement than there ever was in a baron's tower—braver battles, truer love, nobler sacrifices. Romance is all about us, but we must have eyes for it. You are young people, with your lives before you. Let me give you a little advice. As you go through life look for the fine things—not for the despicable. It won't make you any richer. It won't make you famous. It won't better you in a worldly way. But it will make your lives happier, for by the time you are my age, you'll love humanity, and look upon the world and call it good. And you will have found romance enough to satisfy all longings for mediaeval times."
"But, dear, one cannot imagine some people ever finding anything romantic in life," said a voice, which, had it been translated into words would have said, "I know you are right, of course, and you will convince me at once, but in my present state of unenlightenment it seems to me that—" the voice, already low, became lower. "Now"—a moment's hesitation—"there is—Peter Stirling."
"Exactly," said Mr. Pierce. "That is a very case in point, and proves just what I've been saying. Peter is like the novelists of whom I've been talking. I don't suppose we ought to blame him for it. What can you expect of a son of a mill-foreman, who lives the first sixteen years of his life in a mill-village? If his hereditary tendencies gave him a chance, such an experience would end it. If one lives in the country, one may get fine thoughts by contact with Nature. In great cities one is developed and stimulated by art, music, literature, and contact with clever people. But a mill-village is one vast expanse of mediocrity and prosaicness, and it would take a bigger nature than Peter's to recognize the beautiful in such a life. In truth, he is as limited, as exact, and as unimaginative as the machines of his own village. Peter has no romance in him; hence he will never find it, nor increase it in this world. This very case only proves my point; that to meet romance one must have it. Boccaccio said he did not write novels, but lived them. Try to imagine Peter living a romance! He could be concerned in a dozen and never dream it. They would not interest him even if he did notice them. And I'll prove it to you." Mr. Pierce raised his voice. "We are discussing romance, Peter. Won't you stop that unsocial tramp of yours long enough to give us your opinion on the subject?"
A moment's silence followed, and then a singularly clear voice, coming from the forward part of the yacht, replied: "I never read them, Mr. Pierce."
Mr. Pierce laughed quietly. "See," he said, "that fellow never dreams of there being romance outside of novels. He is so prosaic that he is unconscious of anything bigger than his own little sphere of life. Peter may obtain what he wants in this world, for his desires will be of the kind to be won by work and money. But he will never be controlled by a great idea, nor be the hero of a true romance."
Steele once wrote that the only difference between the Catholic Church and the Church of England was, that the former was infallible and the latter never wrong. Mr. Pierce would hardly have claimed for himself either of these qualities. He was too accustomed in his business to writing, "E. and O.E." above his initials, to put much faith in human dicta. But in the present instance he felt sure of what he said, and the little group clearly agreed. If they were right, this story is like that recounted in Mother Goose, which was ended before it was begun. But Mr. Pierce had said that romance is everywhere to those who have the spirit of it in them. Perhaps in this case the spirit was lacking in his judges—not in Peter Stirling.
The unconscious illustration of Mr. Pierce's theory was pacing backwards and forwards on the narrow space between the cuddy-roof and the gunwale, which custom dignifies with the name of deck. Six strides forward and turn. Six strides aft and turn. That was the extent of the beat. Yet had Peter been on sentry duty, he could not have continued it more regularly or persistently. If he were walking off his supper, as most of those seated aft would have suggested, the performance was not particularly interesting. The limit and rapidity of the walk resembled the tramp of a confined animal, exercising its last meal. But when one stands in front of the lion's cage, and sees that restless and tireless stride, one cannot but wonder how much of it is due to the last shin-bone, and how much to the wild and powerful nature under the tawny skin. The question occurs because the nature and antecedents of the lion are known. For this same reason the yachters were a unit in agreeing that Stirling's unceasing walk was merely a digestive promenade. The problem was whether they were right? Or whether, to apply Mr. Pierce's formula, they merely imposed their own frame of mind in place of Stirling's, and decided, since their sole reason for walking at the moment would be entirely hygienic, that he too must be striding from the same cause?
Dr. Holmes tells us that when James and Thomas converse there are really six talkers. First, James as James thinks he is, and Thomas as Thomas thinks he is. Second James as Thomas thinks him, and Thomas as James thinks him. Finally, there are James and Thomas as they really are. Since this is neither an autobiography nor an inspired story, the world's view of Peter Stirling must be adopted without regard to its accuracy. And because this view was the sum of his past and personal, these elements must be computed before we can know on what the world based its conclusions concerning him.
His story was as ordinary and prosaic as Mr. and Mrs. Pierce seemed to think his character. Neither riches nor poverty had put a shaping hand to it. The only child of his widowed mother, he had lived in one of the smaller manufacturing cities of New England a life such as falls to most lads. Unquestionably he had been rather more shielded from several forms of temptation than had most of his playmates, for his mother's isolation had made him not merely her son, but very largely her companion. In certain ways this had tended to make him more manly than the average fellow of his age, but in others it had retarded his development; and this backwardness had been further accentuated by a deliberate mind, which hardly kept pace with his physical growth. His school record was fair: "Painstaking, but slow," was the report in studies. "Exemplary," in conduct. He was not a leader among the boys, but he was very generally liked. A characteristic fact, for good or bad, was that he had no enemies. From the clergyman to the "hired help," everybody had a kind word for him, but tinctured by no enthusiasm. All spoke of him as "a good boy," and when this was said, they had nothing more to say.
One important exception to this statement is worthy of note. The girls of the High School never liked him. If they had been called upon for reasons, few could have given a tangible one. At their age, everything this world contains, be it the Falls of Niagara, or a stick of chewing gum, is positively or negatively "nice." For some crime of commission or omission, Peter had been weighed and found wanting. "He isn't nice," was the universal verdict of the scholars who daily filed through the door, which the town selectmen, with the fine contempt of the narrow man for his unpaid "help," had labelled, "For Females." If they had said that he was "perfectly horrid," there might have been a chance for him. But the subject was begun and ended with these three words. Such terseness in the sex was remarkable and would have deserved a psychological investigation had it been based on any apparent data. But women's opinions are so largely a matter of instinct and feeling, and so little of judgment and induction, that an analysis of the mental processes of the hundred girls who had reached this one conclusion, would probably have revealed in each a different method of obtaining this product. The important point is to recognize this consensus of opinion, and to note its bearing on the development of the lad.
That Peter could remain ignorant of this feeling was not conceivable. It puzzled him not a little when he first began to realize the prejudice, and he did his best to reverse it. Unfortunately he took the very worst way. Had he avoided the girls persistently and obviously, he might have interested them intensely, for nothing is more difficult for a woman to understand than a woman-hater; and from the days of mother Eve the unknown is rumored to have had for her sex a powerful fascination. But he tried to win their friendship by humbleness and kindness, and so only made himself the more cheap in their eyes. "Fatty Peter," as they jokingly called him, epitomized in two words their contempt of him.
Nor did things mend when he went to Harvard. Neither his mother's abilities nor his choice were able to secure for him an entree to the society which Cambridge and Boston dole out stintedly to certain privileged collegians. Every Friday afternoon he went home, to return by an early train Monday morning. In his first year it is to be questioned if he exchanged ten words with women whose names were known to him, except during these home-visits. That this could long continue, was impossible. In his second year he was several times taken by his chum, Watts D'Alloi, to call. But always with one result. Invariably Peter would be found talking to Mamma, or, better still, from his point of view, with Pater-familias, while Watts chatted with the presumptive attractions. Watts laughed at him always. Laughed still more when one of these calls resulted in a note, "requesting the pleasure" of Mr. Peter Stirling's company to dinner. It was Watts who dictated the acceptance, helped Peter put the finishing touches to his toilet, and eventually landed him safely in Mrs. Purdie's parlor. His description to the boys that night of what followed is worthy of quotation:
"The old fellow shook hands with Mrs. P., O.K. Something was said about the weather, and then Mrs. P. said, 'I'll introduce you to the lady you are to take down, Mr. Stirling, but I shan't let you talk to her before dinner. Look about you and take your choice of whom you would like to meet?' Chum gave one agonized look round the room. There wasn't a woman over twenty-five in sight! And what do you think the wily old fox said? Call him simple! Not by a circumstance! A society beau couldn't have done it better. Can't guess? Well, he said, 'I'd like to talk to you, Mrs. Purdie.' Fact! Of course she took it as a compliment, and was as pleased as could be. Well, I don't know how on earth he ever got through his introduction or how he ever reached the dining-room, for my inamorata was so pretty that I thought of nothing till we were seated, and the host took her attention for a moment. Then I looked across at chum, who was directly opposite, to see how he was getting on. Oh, you fellows would have died to see it! There he sat, looking straight out into vacancy, so plainly laboring for something to say that I nearly exploded. Twice he opened his lips to speak, and each time closed them again. The girl of course looked surprised, but she caught my eye, and entered into the joke, and we both waited for developments. Then she suddenly said to him, 'Now let's talk about something else.' It was too much for me. I nearly choked. I don't know what followed. Miss Jevons turned and asked me something. But when I looked again, I could see the perspiration standing on Peter's forehead, while the conversation went by jerks and starts as if it was riding over a ploughed field. Miss Callender, whom he took in, told me afterwards that she had never had a harder evening's work in her life. Nothing but 'yeses' and 'noes' to be got from him. She wouldn't believe what I said of the old fellow."
Three or four such experiences ended Peter's dining out. He was recognized as unavailable material. He received an occasional card to a reception or a dance, for anything in trousers passes muster for such functions. He always went when invited, and was most dutiful in the counter-calls. In fact, society was to him a duty which he discharged with the same plodding determination with which he did his day's studies. He never dreamed of taking his social moments frivolously. He did not recognize that society is very much like a bee colony—stinging those who approached it shyly and quietly, but to be mastered by a bold beating of tin pans. He neither danced nor talked, and so he was shunted by the really pleasant girls and clever women, and passed his time with wall-flowers and unbearables, who, in their normal sourness, regarded and, perhaps, unconsciously made him feel, hardly to his encouragement, that his companionship was a sort of penance. If he had been asked, at the end of his senior year, what he thought of young women and society, he would probably have stigmatized them, as he himself had been formerly: "not nice." All of which, again to apply Mr. Pierce's theory, merely meant that the phases which his own characteristics had shown him, had re-acted on his own mind, and had led him to conclude that girls and society were equally unendurable.
The condition was a dangerous one, and if psychology had its doctors they would have predicted a serious heart illness in store for him. How serious, would depend largely on whether the fever ran its natural course, or whether it was driven inwards by disappointment. If these doctors had ceased studying his mental condition and glanced at his physical appearance, they would have had double cause to shake their heads doubtingly.
Peter was not good-looking. He was not even, in a sense, attractive. In spite of his taking work so hardly and life so seriously, he was entirely too stout. This gave a heaviness to his face that neutralized his really pleasant brown eyes and thick brown hair, which were his best features. Manly the face was, but, except when speaking in unconscious moments, dull and unstriking. A fellow three inches shorter, and two-thirds his weight would have been called tall. "Big" was the favorite adjective used in describing Peter, and big he was. Had he gone through college ten years later, he might have won unstinted fame and admiration as the full-back on the team, or stroke on the crew. In his time, athletics were but just obtaining, and were not yet approved of either by faculties or families. Shakespeare speaks of a tide in the affairs of men. Had Peter been born ten years later the probabilities are that his name would have been in all the papers, that he would have weighed fifty pounds less, have been cheered by thousands, have been the idol of his class, have been a hero, have married the first girl he loved (for heroes, curiously, either marry or die, but never remain bachelors) and would have—but as this is a tale of fact, we must not give rein to imagination. To come back to realism, Peter was a hero to nobody but his mother.
Such was the man, who, two weeks after graduation from Harvard, was pacing up and down the deck of Mr. Pierce's yacht, the "Sunrise," as she drifted with the tide in Long Island Sound. Yet if his expression, as he walked, could for a moment have been revealed to those seated aft, the face that all thought dull and uninteresting would have riveted their attention, and set each one questioning whether there might not be something both heroic and romantic underneath. The set determination of his look can best be explained by telling what had given his face such rigid lines.
A CRAB CHAPTER.
Mr. Pierce and those about him had clearly indicated by the conversation, or rather monologue, already recorded, that Peter was in a sense an odd number in the "Sunrise's" complement of pleasure-seekers. Whether or no Mr. Pierce's monologue also indicated that he was not a map who dealt in odd numbers, or showered hospitality on sons of mill-overseers, the fact was nevertheless true. "For value received," or "I hereby promise to pay," were favorite formulas of Mr. Pierce, and if not actually written in such invitations as he permitted his wife to write at his dictation to people whom he decided should be bidden to the Shrubberies, a longer or shorter time would develop the words, as if written in sympathetic ink. Yet Peter had had as pressing an invitation and as warm a welcome at Mr. Pierce's country place as had any of the house-party ingathered during the first week of July. Clearly something made him of value to the owner of the Shrubberies. That something was his chum, Watts D'Alloi.
Peter and Watts were such absolute contrasts that it seemed impossible that they could have an interest or sympathy, in common. Therefore they had become chums. A chance in their freshman year had brought them together. Watts, with the refined and delicate sense of humor abounding in collegians, had been concerned with sundry freshmen in an attempt to steal (or, in collegiate terms, "rag") the chapel Bible, with a view to presenting it to some equally subtle humorists at Yale, expecting a similar courtesy in return from that college. Unfortunately for the joke, the college authorities had had the bad taste to guard against the annually attempted substitution. Two of the marauders were caught, while Watts only escaped by leaving his coat in the hands of the watchers. Even then he would have been captured had he not met Peter in his flight, and borrowed the latter's coat, in which he reached his room without detection. Peter was caught by the pursuers, and summoned before the faculty, but he easily proved that the captured coat was not his, and that he had but just parted from one of the tutors, making it certain that he could not have been an offender. There was some talk of expelling him for aiding and abetting in the true culprit's escape, and for refusing to tell who it was. Respect for his motives, however, and his unimpeachable record saved him from everything but an admonition from the president, which changed into a discussion of cotton printing before that august official had delivered half of his intended rebuke. People might not enthuse over Peter, but no one ever quarrelled with him. So the interview, after travelling from cotton prints to spring radishes, ended with a warm handshake, and a courteous suggestion that he come again when there should be no charges nor admonitions to go through with. Watts told him that he was a "devilish lucky" fellow to have been on hand to help, for Peter had proved his pluck to his class, had made a friend of the president and, as Watts considerately put it: "but for your being on the corner at 11:10 that evening, old chap, you'd never have known me." Truly on such small chances do the greatest events of our life turn. Perhaps, could Peter have looked into the future, he would have avoided that corner. Perhaps, could he have looked even further, he would have found that in that chance lay the greatest happiness of his life. Who can tell, when the bitter comes, and we later see how we could have avoided it, what we should have encountered in its place? Who can tell, when sweet comes, how far it is sweetened by the bitterness that went before? Dodging the future in this world is a success equal to that of the old woman who triumphantly announced that she had borrowed money enough to pay all her debts.
As a matter of course Watts was grateful for the timely assistance, and was not slow either to say or show it. He told his own set of fellows that he was "going to take that Stirling up and make him one of us," and Watts had a remarkable way of doing what he chose. At first Peter did not respond to the overtures and insistance of the handsome, well-dressed, free-spending, New York swell. He was too conscious of the difference between himself and Watts's set, to wish or seek identification with them. But no one who ever came under Watts's influence could long stand out against his sunny face and frank manner, and so Peter eventually allowed himself to be "taken up." Perhaps the resistance encountered only whetted Watts's intention. He was certainly aided by Peter's isolation. Whether the cause was single or multiple, Peter was soon in a set from which many a seemingly far more eligible fellow was debarred.
Strangely enough, it did not change him perceptibly. He still plodded on conscientiously at his studies, despite laughter and attempts to drag him away from them. He still lived absolutely within the comfortable allowance that his mother gave him. He still remained the quiet, serious looking fellow of yore. The "gang," as they styled themselves, called him "kill-joy," "graveyard," or "death's head," in their evening festivities, but Peter only puffed at his pipe good-naturedly, making no retort, and if the truth had really been spoken, not a man would have changed him a particle. His silence and seriousness added the dash of contrast needed to make the evening perfect. All joked him. The most popular verse in a class-song Watts wrote, was devoted to burlesquing his soberness, the gang never tiring of singing at all hours and places:
"Goodness gracious! Who's that in the 'yard' a yelling in the rain? That's the boy who never gave his mother any pain, But now his moral character is sadly on the wane, 'Tis little Peter Stirling, bilin' drunk again. Oh, the Sunday-school boy, His mamma's only joy, Is shouting drunk as usual, and raising Cain!"
Yet joke Peter as they would, in every lark, be it drive, sail, feed, drink, or smoke, whoever's else absence was commented upon, his never passed unnoticed.
In Sophomore year, Watts, without quite knowing why, proposed that they should share rooms. Nor would he take Peter's refusal, and eventually succeeded in reversing it.
"I can't afford your style of living," Peter had said quietly, as his principal objection.
"Oh, I'll foot the bills for the fixings, so it shan't cost you a cent more," said Watts, and when Peter had finally been won over to give his assent, Watts had supposed it was on this uneven basis. But in the end, the joint chambers were more simply furnished than those of the rest of the gang, who promptly christened them "the hermitage," and Peter had paid his half of the expense. And though he rarely had visitors of his own asking at the chambers, all cost of wine and tobacco was equally borne by him.
The three succeeding years welded very strong bands round these two. It was natural that they should modify each other strongly, but in truth, as in most cases, when markedly different characteristics are brought in contact, the only effect was to accentuate each in his peculiarities. Peter dug at his books all the harder, by reason of Watts's neglect of them. Watts became the more free-handed with his money because of Peter's prudence. Watts talked more because of Peter's silence, and Peter listened more because of Watts's talk. Watts, it is true, tried to drag Peter into society, yet in truth, Peter was really left more alone than if he had been rooming with a less social fellow. Each had in truth become the complement of the other, and seemed as mutually necessary as the positive and negative wires in electricity. Peter, who had been taking the law lectures in addition to the regular academic course, and had spent his last two summers reading law in an attorney's office, in his native town, taking the New York examination in the previous January, had striven to get Watts to do the same, with the ultimate intention of their hanging out a joint legal shingle in New York.
"I'll see the clients, and work up the cases, Watts, and you'll make the speeches and do the social end," said Peter, making a rather long speech in the ardor of his wishes.
Watts laughed. "I don't know, old man. I rather fancy I shan't do anything. To do something requires that one shall make up one's mind what to do, and that's such devilish hard work. I'll wait till I've graduated, and had a chin with my governor about it Perhaps he'll make up my mind for me, and so save my brain tissue. But anyway, you'll come to New York, and start in, for you must be within reach of me. Besides, New York's the only place in this country worth living in."
Such were the relations between the two at graduation time. Watts, who had always prepared his lessons in a tenth part of the time it had taken Peter, buckled down in the last few weeks, and easily won an honorable mention. Peter had tried hard to win honors, but failed.
"You did too much outside work, old man," said Watts, who would cheerfully have given his own triumph to his friend. "If you want success in anything, you've got to sacrifice other things and concentrate on the object. The Mention's really not worth the ink it's written with, in my case, but I knew it would please mammy and pappy, so I put on steam, and got it. If I'd hitched on a lot of freight cars loaded with stuff that wouldn't have told in Exams, I never could have been in on time."
Peter shook his head rather sadly. "You outclass me in brains, Watts, as much as you do in other things"
"Nonsense," said Watts. "I haven't one quarter of your head. But my ancestors—here's to the old coves—have been brain-culturing for three hundred years, while yours have been land-culturing; and of course my brain moves quicker and easier than yours. I take to a book, by hereditary instinct, as a duck to water, while you are like a yacht, which needs a heap of building and fitting before she can do the same. But you'll beat me in the long run, as easily as the boat does the duck. And the Honor's nothing."
"Except, as you said, to one's"—Peter hesitated for a moment, divided in mind by his wish to quote accurately, and his dislike of anything disrespectful, and then finished "to one's mother."
"That's the last person it's needed for, chum," replied Watts. "If there's one person that doesn't need the world's or faculty's opinion to prove one's merit, it's one's dear, darling, doating, self-deluded and undisillusioned mamma. Heigh-ho. I'll be with mine two weeks from now, after we've had our visit at the Pierces'. I'm jolly glad you are going, old man. It will be a sort of tapering-off time for the summer's separation. I don't see why you insist on starting in at once in New York? No one does any law business in the summertime. Why, I even think the courts are closed. Come, you'd better go on to Grey-Court with me, and try it, at least. My mammy will kill the fatted calf for you in great style."
"We've settled that once," said Peter, who was evidently speaking journalistically, for he had done the settling.
Watts said something in a half-articulate way, which certainly would have fired the blood of every dime museum-keeper in the country, had they been there to hear the conversation, for, as well as could be gathered from the mumbling, it related to a "pig-headed donkey" known of to the speaker. "I suppose you'll be backing out of the Pierce affair yet," he added, discontentedly.
"No," said Peter.
"An invitation to Grey-Court is worth two of the Shrubberies. My mother knows only the right kind of people, while Mr. Pierce—"
"Is to be our host," interrupted Peter, but with no shade of correction in his voice.
"Yes," laughed Watts, "and he is a host. He'll not let any one else get a word in edgewise. You are just the kind of talker he'll like. Mark my word, he'll be telling every one, before you've been two hours in the house, that you are a remarkably brilliant conversationalist."
"What will he say of you?" said Peter, in a sentence which he broke up into reasonable lengths by a couple of pulls at his pipe in the middle of it.
"Mr. Pierce, chum," replied Watts, with a look in his eyes which Peter had learned to associate with mischief on Watts's part, "has too great an affection for yours truly to object to anything I do. Do you suppose, if I hadn't been sure of my footing at the Shrubberies, that I should have dared to ask an invitation for"—then Watts hesitated for a moment, seeing a half-surprised, half-anxious look come into Peter's face, "for myself?" he continued.
"Tell truth and shame the devil," said Peter.
Watts laughed. "Confound you! That's what comes of letting even such a stupid old beggar as you learn to read one's thoughts. It's mighty ungrateful of you to use them against me. Yes. I did ask to have you included in the party. But you needn't put your back up, Mr. Unbendable, and think you were forced on them. Mr. Pierce gave me carte blanche, and if it hadn't been you, it would have been some other donkey."
"But Mrs. Pierce?" queried Peter.
"Oh," explained Watts, "of course Mrs. Pierce wrote the letter. I couldn't do it in my name, and so Mr. Pierce told her to do it. They're very land of me, old man, because my governor is the largest stockholder, and a director in Mr. P.'s bank, and I was told I could bring down some fellows next week for a few days' jollity. I didn't care to do that, but of course I wouldn't have omitted you for any amount of ducats."
Which explanation solves the mystery of Peter's presence at the Shrubberies. To understand his face we must trace the period between his arrival and the moment this story begins.
How far Watts was confining himself to facts in the foregoing dialogue is of no concern, for the only point of value was that Peter was invited, without regard to whether Watts first asked Mr. Pierce, or Mr. Pierce first asked Watts. A letter which the latter wrote to Miss Pierce, as soon as it was settled that Peter should go, is of more importance, and deserves quotation in full:
MY DEAR HELEN—
Between your Pater and my Peter, it has taken an amount of diplomacy to achieve the scheme we planned last summer, which would be creditable to Palmerston at his palmiest and have made Bismarck even more marked than he is. But the deed, the mighty deed is done, and June twenty-ninth will see chum and me at the Shrubberies "if it kills every cow in the barn," which is merely another way of saying that in the bright lexicon of youth, there's no such word as fail.
Now a word as to the fellow you are so anxious to meet. I have talked to you so much about him, that you will probably laugh at my attempting to tell you anything new. I'm not going to try, and you are to consider all I say as merely a sort of underlining to what you already know. Please remember that he will never take a prize for his beauty—nor even for his grace. He has a pleasing way with girls, not only of not talking himself, but of making it nearly impossible for them to talk. For instance, if a girl asks me if I play croquet, which by the way, is becoming very passe (three last lines verge on poetry) being replaced by a new game called tennis, I probably say, "No. Do you?" In this way I make croquet good for a ten minutes' chat, which in the end leads up to some other subject. Peter, however, doesn't. He says "No," and so the girl can't go on with croquet, but must begin a new subject. It is safest to take the subject-headings from an encyclopaedia, and introduce them in alphabetical order. Allow about ninety to the hour, unless you are brave enough to bear an occasional silence. If you are, you can reduce this number considerably, and chum doesn't mind a pause in the least, if the girl will only look contented. If she looks worried, however, Peter gets worried, too. Just put the old chap between you and your mamma at meals, and pull him over any rough spots that come along. You, I know, will be able to make it easy for him. Neglect me to any extent. I shan't be jealous, and shall use that apparent neglect as an excuse for staying on for a week after he goes, so as to have my innings. I want the dear old blunderbuss to see how nice a really nice girl can be, so do your prettiest to him, for the sake of
WATTS CLARKSON D'ALLOI.
When Watts and Peter saved the "cows in the barn" by stepping off the train on June 29th, the effect of this letter was manifest. Watts was promptly bestowed on the front seat of the trap with Mr. Pierce, while Peter was quickly sitting beside a girl on the back seat. Of course an introduction had been made, but Peter had acquired a habit of not looking at girls, and as a consequence had yet to discover how far Miss Pierce came up to the pleasant word-sketch Watts had drawn of her. Indeed, Peter had looked longingly at the seat beside Mr. Pierce, and had attempted, in a very obvious manner, though one which seemed to him the essence of tact and most un-apparent, to have it assigned to him. But two people, far his superior in natural finesse and experience, had decided beforehand that he was to sit with Helen, and he could not resist their skilful manoeuvres. So he climbed into place, hoping that she wouldn't talk, or if that was too much to expect, that at least Watts would half turn and help him through.
Neither of these fitted, however, with Miss Pierce's plans. She gave Peter a moment to fit comfortably into his seat, knowing that if she forced the running before he had done that, he would probably sit awry for the whole drive. Then: "I can't tell you how pleased we all are over Watts's success. We knew, of course, he could do it if he cared to, but he seemed to think the attempt hardly worth the making, and so we did not know if he would try."
Peter breathed more easily. She had not asked a question, and the intonation of the last sentence was such as left him to infer that it was not his turn to say something; which, Peter had noticed, was the way in which girls generally ended their remarks.
"Oh, look at that absurd looking cow," was her next remark, made before Peter had begun to worry over the pause.
Peter looked at the cow and laughed. He would like to have laughed longer, for that would have used up time, but the moment he thought the laugh could be employed in place of conversation, the laugh failed. However, to be told to look at a cow required no rejoinder, so there was as yet no cause for anxiety.
"We are very proud of our roads about here," said Miss Pierce. "When we first bought they were very bad, but papa took the matter in hand and got them to build with a rock foundation, as they do in Europe."
Three subjects had been touched upon, and no answer or remark yet forced upon him. Peter thought of rouge et noir, and wondered what the odds were that he would be forced to say something by Miss Pierce's next speech.
"I like the New England roadside," continued Miss Pierce, with an apparent relativeness to the last subject that delighted Peter, who was used by this time to much disconnection of conversation, and found not a little difficulty in shifting quickly from one topic to another. "There is a tangled finish about it that is very pleasant. And in August, when the golden-rod comes, I think it is glorious. It seems to me as if all the hot sunbeams of the summer had been gathered up in—excuse the expression—it's a word of Watts's—into 'gobs' of sunshine, and scattered along the roads and fields."
Peter wondered if the request to be excused called for a response, but concluded that it didn't.
"Papa told me the other day," continued Miss Pierce, "that there were nineteen distinct varieties of golden-rod. I had never noticed that there were any differences."
Peter began to feel easy and comfortable. He made a mental note that Miss Pierce had a very sweet voice. It had never occurred to Peter before to notice if a girl had a pleasant voice. Now he distinctly remembered that several to whom he had talked—or rather who had talked to him—had not possessed that attraction.
"Last year," said Miss Pierce, "when Watts was here, we had a golden-rod party. We had the whole house decked with it, and yellow lamps on the lawn."
"He told me about it," said Peter.
"He really was the soul of it," said Miss Pierce, "He wove himself a belt and chaplet of it and wore it all through the evening. He was so good-looking!"
Peter, quite unconscious that he had said anything, actually continued: "He was voted the handsomest man of the class."
"Was he really? How nice!" said Miss Pierce.
"Yes," said Peter. "And it was true." Peter failed to notice that a question had been asked, or that he had answered it. He began to think that he would like to look at Miss Pierce for a moment. Miss Pierce, during this interval, remarked to herself: "Yes. That was the right way, Helen, my dear."
"We had quite a houseful for our party," Miss Pierce remarked, after this self-approval. "And that reminds me that I must tell you about whom you meet to-day." Then the next ten minutes were consumed in naming and describing the two fashionable New York girls and their brother, who made the party then assembled.
During this time Peter's eyes strayed from Watts's shapely back, and took a furtive glance at Miss Pierce. He found that she was looking at him as she talked, but for some reason it did not alarm him, as such observation usually did. Before the guests were properly catalogued, Peter was looking into her eyes as she rambled on, and forgot that he was doing so.
The face that he saw was not one of any great beauty, but it was sweet, and had a most attractive way of showing every change of mood or thought. It responded quickly too, to outside influence. Many a girl of more real beauty was less popular. People liked to talk to Miss Pierce, and many could not escape from saying more than they wished, impelled thereto by her ready sympathy. Then her eyes were really beautiful, and she had the trimmest, dearest little figure in the world; "squeezable" was the word Watts used to describe it, and most men thought the same. Finally, she had a pleasant way of looking into people's eyes as she talked to them, and for some reason people felt very well satisfied when she did.
It had this effect upon Peter. As he looked down into the large gray eyes, really slate-color in their natural darkness, made the darker by the shadows of the long lashes, he entirely forgot place and circumstances; ceased to think whose turn it was to speak; even forgot to think whether he was enjoying the moment. In short he forgot himself and, what was equally important, forgot that he was talking to a girl. He felt and behaved as he did with men. "Moly hoses!" said Watts to himself on the front seat, "the old fellow's getting loquacious. Garrulity must be contagious, and he's caught it from Mr. Pierce." Which, being reduced to actual facts, means that Peter had spoken eight times, and laughed twice, in the half hour that was passed between the station and the Shrubberies' gate.
MINES AND COUNTER-MINES.
The sight of the party on the veranda of the Shrubberies brought a return of self-consciousness to Peter, and he braced himself, as the trap slowed up, for the agony of formal greetings. If Miss Pierce had been a less sweet, sympathetic girl, she could hardly have kept from smiling at the way Peter's face and figure stiffened, as the group came in sight. But Miss Pierce had decided, before she met Peter, that she should like him, and, moreover, that he was a man who needed help. Let any woman reach these conclusions about a man, and for some reason quite beyond logic or philosophy, he ceases to be ridiculous. So instead of smiling, she bridged over the awful greetings with feminine engineering skill quite equal to some great strategic movement in war. Peter was made to shake hands with Mrs. Pierce, but was called off to help Miss Pierce out of the carriage, before speech was necessary. Then a bundle was missing in the bottom of the carriage, and Mr. Pawling, the New York swell, was summoned to help Peter find it, the incident being seized upon to name the two to each other. Finally, he was introduced to the two girls, but, almost instantly, Watts and Peter were sent to their rooms; and Miss Pierce, nodding her head in a way which denoted satisfaction, remarked as she went to her own room, "Really, Helen, I don't think it will be so very hard, after all. He's very tractable."
As Peter came downstairs, before dinner, he speculated on whether he should be able to talk to Miss Pierce. He rather doubted from past experience, if such a result was attainable, seeing that there were two other men, who would of course endeavor to do the same. But strangely enough the two men were already seated by the New York girls, and a vacant chair was next that holding Miss Pierce. What was more, he was at once summoned to fill it, and in five minutes was again entirely unconscious of everything but the slate-colored eyes, looking so pleasantly into his. Then he took Miss Pierce in to dinner, and sat between her and her mother again becoming absorbed in the slate-colored eyes, which seemed quite willing to be absorbed. After dinner, too, when the women had succeeded the weed, Peter in someway found it very easy to settle himself near Miss Pierce. Later that night Peter sat in his room, or rather, with half his body out of the window, puffing his pipe, and thinking how well he had gone through the day. He had not made a single slip. Nothing to groan over. "I'm getting more experienced," he thought, with the vanity noticeable in even the most diffident of collegians, never dreaming that everything that he had said or done in the last few hours, had been made easy for him by a woman's tact.
The following week was practically a continuation of this first day. In truth Peter was out of his element with the fashionables; Mr. Pierce did not choose to waste his power on him; and Mrs. Pierce, like the yielding, devoted wife she was, took her coloring from her husband. Watts had intended to look after him, but Watts played well on the piano, and on the billiard table; he rowed well and rode well; he sang, he danced, he swam, he talked, he played all games, he read aloud capitally, and, what was more, was ready at any or all times for any or all things. No man who can do half these had better intend seriously to do some duty in a house-party in July. For, however good his intentions, he will merely add to the pavement of a warmer place than even a July temperature makes Long Island Sound. Instinctively, Peter turned to Miss Pierce at every opportunity. He should have asked himself if the girl was really enjoying his company more than she did that of the other young people. Had he been to the manner born he would have known better than to force himself on a hostess, or to make his monopoly of a young girl so marked. But he was entirely oblivious of whether he was doing as he ought, conscious only that, for causes which he made no attempt to analyze, he was very happy when with her. For reasons best known to Miss Pierce, she allowed herself to be monopolized. She was even almost as devoted to Peter as he was to her, and no comparison could be stronger. It is to be questioned if she enjoyed it very much, for Peter was not talkative, and the little he did say was neither brilliant nor witty. With the jollity and "high jinks" (to use a word of Watts's) going on about her, it is hardly possible that Peter's society shone by contrast. Yet in drawing-room or carriage, on the veranda, lawn, or yacht's deck, she was ever ready to give him as much of her attention and help as he seemed to need, and he needed a good deal. Watts jokingly said that "the moment Peter comes in sight, Helen puts out a sign 'vacant, to let,'" and this was only one of many jokes the house-party made over the dual devotion.
It was an experience full of danger to Peter. For the first time in his life he was seeing the really charming phases which a girl has at command. Attractive as these are to all men, they were trebly so to Peter, who had nothing to compare with them but the indifferent attitudes hitherto shown him by the maidens of his native town, and by the few Boston women who had been compelled to "endure" his society. If he had had more experience he would have merely thought Miss Pierce a girl with nice eyes, figure and manner. But as a single glass of wine is dangerous to the teetotaller, so this episode had an over-balancing influence on Peter, entirely out of proportion to its true value. Before the week was over he was seriously in love, and though his natural impassiveness and his entire lack of knowledge how to convey his feelings to Miss Pierce, prevented her from a suspicion of the fact, the more experienced father and mother were not so blind.
"Really, Charles," said Mrs. Pierce, in the privacy of their own room, "I think it ought to be stopped."
"Exactly, my dear," replied her other half, with an apparent yielding to her views that amazed and rather frightened Mrs. Pierce, till he continued: "Beyond question it should be stopped, since you say so. It is neuter, and as neutral things are highly objectionable, stop it by all means."
"I mean Mr. Stirling—" began Mrs. Pierce.
"Yes?" interrupted Mr. Pierce, in an encouraging, inquiring tone. "Peter is certainly neuter. I think one might say negative, without gross exaggeration. Still, I should hardly stop him. He finds enough difficulty in getting out an occasional remark without putting a stopper in him. Perhaps, though, I mistake your meaning, and you want Peter merely to stop here a little longer."
"I mean, dear," replied Mrs. Pierce, with something like a tear in her voice, for she was sadly wanting in a sense of humor, and her husband's jokes always half frightened her, and invariably made her feel inferior to him, "I mean his spending so much time with Helen. I'm afraid he'll fall in love with her."
"My dear," said Mr. Pierce, "you really should be a professional mind-reader. Your suggestion comes as an awful revelation to me. Just supposing he should—aye—just supposing he has, fallen in love with Helen!"
"I really think he has," said Mrs. Pierce, "though he is so different from most men, that I am not sure."
"Then by all means we must stop him. By the way, how does one stop a man's falling in love?" asked Mr. Pierce.
"Charles!" said Mrs. Pierce.
This remark of Mrs. Pierce's generally meant a resort to a handkerchief, and Mr. Pierce did not care for any increase of atmospheric humidity just then. He therefore concluded that since his wit was taken seriously, he would try a bit of seriousness, as an antidote.
"I don't think there is any occasion to interfere. Whatever Peter does can make no difference, for it is perfectly evident that Helen is nice to him as a sort of duty, and, I rather suspect, to please Watts. So anything she may do will be a favor to him, while the fact that she is attractive to Peter will not lessen her value to—others."
"Then you don't think—?" asked Mrs. Pierce, and paused there.
"Don't insult my intelligence," laughed Mr. Pierce. "I do think. I think things can't be going better. I was a little afraid of Mr. Pawling, and should have preferred to have him and his sisters later, but since it is policy to invite them and they could not come at any other time, it was a godsend to have sensible, dull old Peter to keep her busy. If he had been in the least dangerous, I should not have interfered, but I should have made him very ridiculous. That's the way for parents to treat an ineligible man. Next week, when all are gone but Watts, he will have his time, and shine the more by contrast with what she has had this week."
"Then you think Helen and Watts care for each other?" asked Mrs. Pierce, flushing with pleasure, to find her own opinion of such a delightful possibility supported by her husband's.
"I think," said Mr. Pierce, "that the less we parents concern ourselves with love the better. If I have made opportunities for Helen and Watts to see something of each other, I have only done what was to their mutual interests. Any courtesy I have shown him is well enough accounted for on the ground of his father's interest in my institution, without the assumption of any matrimonial intentions. However, I am not opposed to a marriage. Watts is the son of a very rich man of the best social position in New York, besides being a nice fellow in himself. Helen will make any man a good wife, and whoever wins her will not be the poorer. If the two can fix it between themselves, I shall cry nunc dimittis, but further than this, the deponent saith and doeth not."
"I am sure they love each other," said Mrs. Pierce.
"Well," said Mr. Pierce, "I think if most parents would decide whom it was best for their child to marry, and see that the young people saw just enough of each other, before they saw too much of the world, they could accomplish their purpose, provided they otherwise kept their finger out of the pot of love. There is a certain period in a man's life when he must love something feminine, even if she's as old as his grandmother. There is a certain period in a girl's life when it is well-nigh impossible for her to say 'no' to a lover. He really only loves the sex, and she really loves the love and not the lover; but it is just as well, for the delusion lasts quite as long as the more personal love that comes later. And, being young, they need less breaking for double harness."
Mrs. Pierce winced. Most women do wince when a man really verges on his true conclusions concerning love in the abstract, however satisfactory his love in the concrete may be to them. "I am sure they love each other," she affirmed.
"Yes, I think they do," replied Mr. Pierce. "But five years in the world before meeting would have possibly brought quite a different conclusion. And now, my dear, if we are not going to have the young people eloping in the yacht by themselves, we had better leave both the subject and the room, for we have kept them fifteen minutes as it is."
A MONOLOGUE AND A DIALOGUE.
It was at the end of this day's yachting that Peter was having his "unsocial walk." Early on the morrow he would be taking the train for his native town, and the thought of this, in connection with other thoughts, drew stern lines on his face. His conclusions were something to this effect:
"I suspected before coming that Watts and Miss Pierce loved each other. I was evidently wrong, for if they did they could not endure seeing so little of each other. How could he know her and not love her? But it's very fortunate for me, for I should stand no chance against him, even supposing I should try to win the girl he loved. She can't care for me! As Watts says, 'I'm an old stupid naturally, and doubly so with girls.' Still, I can't go to-morrow without telling her. I shan't see her again till next winter. I can't wait till then. Some one else—I can't wait."
Then he strode up and down half a dozen times repeating the last three words over and over again. His thoughts took a new turn.
"It's simply folly, and you have no right to give in to it. You have your own way to make. You have no right to ask mother for more than the fifteen hundred she says you are to have as an allowance, for you know that if she gave you more, it would be only by scrimping herself. What is fifteen hundred a year to such a girl? Why, her father would think I was joking!"
Then Peter looked out on the leaden waters and wished it was not cowardly to end the conflict by letting them close over him. The dark color made him think, however, of a pair of slate-colored eyes, so instead of jumping in, he repeated "I can't wait" a few times, and walked with redoubled energy. Having stimulated himself thereby, he went on thinking.
"She has been so kind to me that—no—she can't care for me. But if she—if by chance—if—supposing she does! Why, the money is nothing. We can wait."
Peter repeated this last remark several times, clearly showing that he made a great distinction between "I can wait" and "We can wait." Probably the same nice distinction has been made before, and lovers have good authority for the distinction, for many an editor's public "We think" is the exact opposite of his private "I think." Then Peter continued:
"Of course I shall have difficulty with Mr. Pierce. He's a worldly man. That's nothing, though, if she cares for me. If she cares for me?"
Peter repeated this last sentence a number of times and seemed to enjoy the prospect it conjured up. He saw Peter Stirling taking a fond farewell of a certain lady. He saw him entering the arena and struggling with the wild beasts, and of course conquering them. He saw the day when his successes would enable him to set up his own fireside. He saw that fireside made perfect by a pair of slate-colored eyes, which breakfast opposite him, follow him as he starts for his work, and greet him on his return. A pair of eyes to love when present, and think of when absent. Heigho! How many firesides and homes have been built out of just such materials!
From all this the fact can be gathered that Peter was really, despite his calm, sober nature, no more sensible in love matters than are other boys verging on twenty-one. He could not see that success in this love would be his greatest misfortune. That he could not but be distracted from his work. That he would almost certainly marry before he could well afford it, and thus overweight himself in his battle for success. He forgot prudence and common-sense, and that being what a lover usually does, he can hardly be blamed for it.
Down came the air-castle. Home, fireside, and the slate-colored eyes dissolved into a wooden wharf. The dream was over.
"Bear a hand here with these lunch-baskets, chum," called Watts. "Make yourself useful as well as ornamental."
And so Peter's solitary tramp ceased, and he was helping lunch-baskets and ladies to the wharf.
But the tramp had brought results which were quickly to manifest themselves. As the party paired off for the walk to the Shrubberies, both Watts and Peter joined Miss Pierce, which was not at all to Peter's liking.
"Go on with the rest, Watts," said Peter quietly.
Miss Pierce and Watts both stopped short in surprise.
"Eh?" said the latter.
"You join the rest of the party on ahead," said Peter.
"I don't understand," said Watts, who could hardly have been more surprised if Peter had told him to drown himself.
"I want to say something to Miss Pierce," explained Peter.
Watts caught his breath. If Peter had not requested his absence and given his reason for wishing it, in Miss Pierce's hearing, Watts would have formed an instant conclusion as to what it meant, not far from the truth. But that a man should deliberately order another away, in the girl's hearing, so that he might propose to her, was too great an absurdity for Watts to entertain for more than a second. He laughed, and said, "Go on yourself, if you don't like the company."
"No," said Peter. "I want you to go on." Peter spoke quietly, but there was an inflexion in his singularly clear voice, which had more command in it than a much louder tone in others. Watts had learned to recognize it, and from past experience knew that Peter was not to be moved when he used it. But here the case was different. Hitherto he had been trying to make Peter do something. Now the boot was on the other leg, and Watts saw therein a chance for some fun. He therefore continued to stand still, as they had all done since Peter had exploded his first speech, and began to whistle. Both men, with that selfishness common to the sex, failed entirely to consider whether Miss Pierce was enjoying the incident.
"I think," remarked Miss Pierce, "that I will leave you two to settle it, and run on with the rest."
"Don't," spoke Peter quickly. "I have something to say to you."
Watts stopped his whistling. "What the deuce is the old boy up to?" he thought to himself. Miss Pierce hesitated. She wanted to go, but something in Peter's voice made it very difficult. "I had no idea he could speak so decidedly. He's not so tractable as I thought. I think Watts ought to do what he asks. Though I don't see why Mr. Stirling wants to send him away," she said to herself.
"Watts," said Peter, "this is the last chance I shall really have to thank Miss Pierce, for I leave before breakfast to-morrow."
There was nothing appealing in the way it was said. It seemed a mere statement of a fact. Yet something in the voice gave it the character of a command.
"'Nough said, chum," said Watts, feeling a little cheap at his smallness in having tried to rob Peter of his farewell. The next moment he was rapidly overtaking the advance-party.
By all conventions there should have been an embarrassing pause after this extraordinary colloquy, but there was not. When Peter decided to do a thing, he never faltered in the doing. If making love or declaring it had been a matter of directness and plain-speaking, Peter would have been a successful lover. But few girls are won by lovers who carry business methods and habits of speech into their courtship.
"Miss Pierce," said Peter, "I could not go without thanking you for your kindness to me. I shall never forget this week."
"I am so glad you have enjoyed it," almost sang Miss Pierce, in her pleasure at this reward for her week of self-sacrifice.
"And I couldn't go," said Peter, his clear voice suddenly husking, "without telling you how I love you."
"Love me!" exclaimed Miss Pierce, and she brought the walk again to a halt, in her surprise.
"Yes," replied Peter simply, but the monosyllable meant more than the strongest protestations, as he said it.
"Oh," almost cried his companion, "I am so sorry."
"Don't say that," said Peter; "I don't want it to be a sorrow to you."
"But it's so sudden," gasped Miss Pierce.
"I suppose it is," said Peter, "but I love you and can't help telling it. Why shouldn't one tell one's love as soon as one feels it? It's the finest thing a man can tell a woman."
"Oh, please don't," begged Miss Pierce, her eyes full of tears in sympathy for him. "You make it so hard for me to say that—that you mustn't"
"I really didn't think you could care for me—as I cared for you," replied Peter, rather more to the voice than to the words of the last speech. "Girls have never liked me."
Miss Pierce began to sob. "It's all a mistake. A dreadful mistake," she cried, "and it is my fault."
"Don't say that," said Peter, "It's nothing but my blundering."
They walked on in silence to the Shrubberies, but as they came near to the glare of the lighted doorway, Peter halted a moment.
"Do you think," he asked, "that it could ever be different?"
"No," replied Miss Pierce.
"Because, unless there is—is some one else," continued Peter, "I shall not——"
"There is," interrupted Miss Pierce, the determination in Peter's voice frightening her info disclosing her secret.
Peter said to himself, "It is Watts after all." He was tempted to say it aloud, and most men in the sting of the moment would have done so. But he thought it would not be the speech of a gentleman. Instead he said, "Thank you." Then he braced himself, and added: "Please don't let my love cause you any sorrow. It has been nothing but a joy to me. Good-night and good-bye."
He did not even offer to shake hands in parting. They went into the hallway together, and leaving the rest of the party, who were already raiding the larder for an impromptu supper, to their own devices, they passed upstairs, Miss Pierce to bathe her eyes and Peter to pack his belongings.
"Where are Helen and Stirling?" inquired Mr. Pierce when the time came to serve out the Welsh rarebit he was tending.
"They'll be along presently," said Watts. "Helen forgot something, and they went back after it."
"They will be properly punished by the leathery condition of the rarebit, if they don't hurry. And as we are all agreed that Stirling is somewhat lacking in romance, he will not get a corresponding pleasure from the longer stroll to reward him for that. There, ladies and gentlemen, that is a rarebit that will melt in your mouth, and make the absent ones regret their foolishness. As the gourmand says in 'Richelieu,' 'What's diplomacy compared to a delicious pate?'"
FACING THE WORLD.
Army surgeons recognize three types of wounded. One type so nervous, that it drops the moment it is struck, whether the wound is disabling or not. Another so nerveless, that it fights on, unconscious that it has been hit. A third, who, feeling the wound, goes on fighting, sustained by its nerve. It is over the latter sort that the surgeons shake their heads and look anxious.
Peter did his packing quietly and quickly, not pausing for a moment in the task. Then he went downstairs, and joined the party, just finishing the supper. He refused, it is true, to eat anything, and was quiet, but this phase was so normal in him, that it occasioned no remark. Asked where Miss Pierce was, he explained briefly that he had left her in the hall, in order to do his packing and had not seen her since.
In a few moments the party broke up. Peter said a good-bye to each, quite conscious of what he was doing, yet really saying more and better things than he had said in his whole visit, and quite surprising them all in the apparent ease with which he went through the duty.
"You must come and see us when you have put your shingle out in New York," said Mr. Pierce, not quite knowing why, having previously decided that they had had enough of Peter. "We shall be in the city early in September, and ready to see our friends."
"Thank you," replied Peter. He turned and went upstairs to his room. He ought to have spent the night pacing his floor, but he did not. He went to bed instead Whether Peter slept, we cannot say. He certainly lay very still, till the first ray of daylight brightened the sky. Then he rose and dressed. He went to the stables and explained to the groom that he would walk to the station, and merely asked that his trunk should be there in time to be checked. Then he returned to the house and told the cook that he would breakfast on the way. Finally he started for the station, diverging on the way, so as to take a roundabout road, that gave him a twelve-mile tramp in the time he had before the train left.
Perhaps the hardest thing Peter encountered was answering his mother's questions about the visit. Yet he never flinched nor dodged from a true reply, and if his mother had chosen, she could have had the whole story. But something in the way Peter spoke of Miss Pierce made Mrs. Stirling careful, and whatever she surmised she kept to herself, merely kissing him good-night with a tenderness that was unusual not merely in a New-Englander, but even in her. During the rest of his stay, the Pierces were quite as much kept out of sight, as if they had never been known. Mrs. Stirling was not what we should call a "lady," yet few of those who rank as such, would have been as considerate or tender of Peter's trouble, if the power had been given them to lay it bare. Love, sympathy, unselfishness and forbearance are not bad equivalents for breeding and etiquette, and have the additional advantage of meeting new and unusual conditions which sometimes occur to even the most conventional.
One hope did come to her, "Perhaps, now that"—and Mrs. Stirling left "that" blank even in her thoughts; "now my boy, my Peter, will not be so set on going to New York." In this, however, she was disappointed. On the second day of his stay, Peter spoke of his intention to start for New York the following week.
"Don't you think you could do as well here?" said Mrs. Stirling.
"Up to a certain point, better. But New York has a big beyond," said Peter. "I'll try it there first, and if I don't make my way, I'll come back here"
Few mothers hope for a son's failure, yet Mrs. Stirling allowed herself a moment's happiness over this possibility. Then remembering that her Peter could not possibly fail, she became despondent. "They say New York's full of temptations," she said.
"I suppose it is, mother," replied Peter, "to those who want to be tempted."
"I know I can trust you, Peter," said his mother, proudly, "but I want you to promise me one thing."
"That if you do yield, if you do what you oughtn't to, you'll write and tell me about it?" Mrs. Stirling put her arms about Peter's neck, and looked wistfully into his face.
Peter was not blind to what this world is. Perhaps, had his mother known it as he did, she might have seen how unfair her petition was. He did not like to say yes, and could not say no.
"I'll try to go straight, mother," he replied, "but that's a good deal to promise."
"It's all I'm going to ask of you, Peter," urged Mrs. Stirling.
"I have gone through four years of my life with nothing in it I couldn't tell her," thought Peter. "If that's possible, I guess another four is." Then he said aloud, "Well, mother, since you want it, I'll do it."
The reason of Peter's eagerness to get to New York, was chiefly to have something definite to do. He tried to obtain this distraction of occupation, at present, in a characteristic way, by taking excessively long walks, and by struggling with his mother's winter supply of wood. He thought that every long stride and every swing of the axe was working him free from the crushing lack of purpose that had settled upon him. He imagined it would be even easier when he reached New York. "There'll be plenty to keep me busy there," was his mental hope.
All his ambitions and plans seemed in a sense to have become meaningless, made so by the something which but ten days before had been unknown to him. Like Moses he had seen the promised land. But Moses died. He had seen it, and must live on without it. He saw nothing in the future worth striving for, except a struggle to forget, if possible, the sweetest and dearest memory he had ever known. He thought of the epigram: "Most men can die well, but few can live well." Three weeks before he had smiled over it and set it down as a bit of French cynicism. Now—on the verge of giving his mental assent to the theory, a pair of slate-colored eyes in some way came into his mind, and even French wit was discarded therefrom.
Peter was taking his disappointment very seriously, if quietly. Had he only known other girls, he might have made a safe recovery, for love's remedy is truly the homeopathic "similia similibus curantur," woman plural being the natural cure for woman singular. As the Russian in the "Last Word" says, "A woman can do anything with a man—provided there is no other woman." In Peter's case there was no other woman. What was worse, there seemed little prospect of there being one in the future.
The middle of July found Peter in New York, eager to begin his grapple with the future. How many such stormers have dashed themselves against its high ramparts, from which float the flags of "worldly success;" how many have fallen at the first attack; how many have been borne away, stricken in the assault; how many have fought on bravely, till driven back by pressure, sickness or hunger; how few have reached the top, and won their colors!
As already hinted, Peter had chosen the law as his ladder to climb these ramparts. Like many another fellow he had but a dim comprehension of the struggle before him. His college mates had talked over professions, and agreed that law was a good one in New York. The attorney in his native town, "had known of cases where men without knowing a soul in a place, had started in and by hard work and merit had built up a good practice, and I don't see why it can't be done as well in New York as in Lawrence or Lowell. If New York is bigger, then there is more to be done." So Peter, whose New York acquaintances were limited to Watts and four other collegians, the Pierces and their fashionables, and a civil engineer originally from his native town, had decided that the way to go about it was to get an office, hang up a sign, and wait for clients.
On the morning after his arrival, his first object was a lodging. Selecting from the papers the advertisements of several boarding-houses, he started in search of one. Watts had told him about where to locate, "so as to live in a decent part of the city," but after seeing and pricing a few rooms near the "Avenue," about Thirtieth Street, Peter saw that Watts had been thinking of his own purse, rather than of his friend's.
"Can you tell me where the cheaper boarding-houses are?" he asked the woman who had done the honors of the last house.
"If it's cheapness you want, you'd better go to Bleecker Street," said the woman with a certain contemptuousness.
Peter thanked her, and, walking away, accosted the first policeman.
"It's Blaker Strate, is it? Take the Sixth Avenue cars, there beyant," he was informed.
"Is it a respectable street?" asked Peter.
"Don't be afther takin' away a strate's character," said the policeman, grinning good-naturedly.
"I mean," explained Peter, "do respectable people live there?"
"Shure, it's mostly boarding-houses for young men," replied the unit of "the finest." "Ye know best what they're loike."
Reassured, Peter, sought and found board in Bleecker Street, not comprehending that he had gone to the opposite extreme. It was a dull season, and he had no difficulty in getting such a room as suited both his expectations and purse. By dinner-time he had settled his simple household goods to his satisfaction, and slightly moderated the dreariness of the third floor front, so far as the few pictures and other furnishings from his college rooms could modify the effect of well-worn carpet, cheap, painted furniture, and ugly wall-paper.
Descending to his dinner, in answer to a bell more suitable for a fire-alarm than for announcing such an ordinary occurrence as meals, he was introduced to the four young men who were all the boarders the summer season had left in the house. Two were retail dry-goods clerks, another filled some function in a butter and cheese store, and the fourth was the ticket-seller at one of the middle-grade theatres. They all looked at Peter's clothes before looking at his face, and though the greetings were civil enough, Peter's ready-made travelling suit, bought in his native town, and his quiet cravat, as well as his lack of jewelry, were proof positive to them that he did not merit any great consideration. It was very evident that the ticket-seller, not merely from his natural self-assertion but even more because of his enviable acquaintance with certain actresses and his occasional privileges in the way of free passes, was the acknowledged autocrat of the table. Under his guidance the conversation quickly turned to theatrical and "show" talk. Much of it was vulgar, and all of it was dull. It was made the worse by the fact that they all tried to show, off a little before the newcomer, to prove their superiority and extreme knowingness to him. To make Peter the more conscious of this, they asked him various questions.
"Do you like—?" a popular soubrette of the day.
"What, never seen her? Where on earth have you been living?"
"Oh? Well, she's got too good legs to waste herself on such a little place."
They would like to have asked him questions about himself, but feared to seem to lower themselves from their fancied superiority, by showing interest in Peter. One indeed did ask him what business he was in.
"I haven't got to work yet," answered Peter
"Looking for a place" was the mental comment of all, for they could not conceive of any one entitled to practise law not airing his advantage. So they went on patronizing Peter, and glorifying themselves. When time had developed the facts that he was a lawyer, a college graduate, and a man who seemed to have plenty of money (from the standpoint of dry-goods clerks) their respect for him considerably increased. He could not, however, overcome his instinctive dislike to them. After the manly high-minded, cultivated Harvard classmates, every moment of their society was only endurable, and he neither went to their rooms nor asked them to his. Peter had nothing of the snob in him, but he found reading or writing, or a tramp about the city, much the pleasanter way of passing his evenings.
The morning after this first day in New York, Peter called on his friend, the civil engineer, to consult him about an office; for Watts had been rather hazy in regard to where he might best locate that. Mr. Converse shook his head when Peter outlined his plan.
"Do you know any New York people," he asked, "who will be likely to give you cases?"
"No," said Peter.
"Then it's absolutely foolish of you to begin that way," said Mr. Converse. "Get into a lawyer's office, and make friends first before you think of starting by yourself. You'll otherwise never get a client."
Peter shook his head. "I've thought it out," he added, as if that settled it.
Mr. Converse looked at him, and, really liking the fellow, was about to explain the real facts to him, when a client came in. So he only said, "If that's so, go ahead. Locate on Broadway, anywhere between the Battery and Canal Street." Later in the day, when he had time, he shook his head, and said, "Poor devil! Like all the rest."
Anywhere between the Battery and Canal Street represented a fairly large range of territory, but Peter went at the matter directly, and for the next three days passed his time climbing stairs, and inspecting rooms and dark cells. At the end of that time he took a moderate-sized office, far back in a building near Worth Street. Another day saw it fitted with a desk, two chairs (for Peter as yet dreamed only of single clients) and a shelf containing the few law books that were the monuments of his Harvard law course, and his summer reading. On the following Monday, when Peter faced his office door he felt a glow of satisfaction at seeing in very black letters on the very newly scrubbed glass the sign of:
ATTORNEY AND COUNSELLOR-AT-LAW.
He had come to his office early, not merely because at his boarding place they breakfasted betimes, but because he believed that early hours were one way of winning success. He was a little puzzled what to do with himself. He sat down at his desk and thrummed it for a minute. Then he rose, and spread his books more along the shelf, so as to leave little spaces between them, thinking that he could make them look more imposing thereby. After that he took down a book—somebody "On Torts,"—and dug into it. In the Harvard course, he had had two hours a week of this book, but Peter worked over it for nearly three hours. Then he took paper, and in a very clear, beautifully neat hand, made an abstract of what he had read. Then he compared his abstract with the book. Returning the book to the shelf, very much pleased with the accuracy of his memory, he looked at his watch. It was but half-past eleven. Peter sat down at his desk. "Would all the days go like this?" he asked himself. He had got through the first week by his room and office-seeking and furnishing. But now? He could not read law for more than four hours a day, and get anything from it. What was to be done with the rest of the time? What could he do to keep himself from thinking of—from thinking? He looked out of his one window, over the dreary stretch of roofs and the drearier light shafts spoken of flatteringly as yards. He compressed his lips, and resorted once more to his book. But he found his mind wandering, and realized that he had done all he was equal to on a hot July morning. Again he looked out over the roofs. Then he rose and stood in the middle at his room, thinking. He looked at his watch again, to make sure that he was right. Then he opened his door and glanced about the hall. It was one blank, except for the doors. He went down the two flights of stairs to the street. Even that had the deserted look of summer. He turned and went back to his room. Sitting down once more at his desk, and opening somebody "On Torts" again, he took up his pen and began to copy the pages literally. He wrote steadily for a time, then with pauses. Finally, the hand ceased to follow the lines, and became straggly. Then he ceased to write. The words blurred, the paper faded from view, and all Peter saw was a pair of slate-colored eyes. He laid his head down on the blotter, and the erect, firm figure relaxed.
There is no more terrible ordeal of courage than passive waiting. Most of us can be brave with something to do, but to be brave for months, for years, with nothing to be done and without hope of the future! So it was in Peter's case. It was waiting—waiting—for what? If clients came, if fame came, if every form of success came,—for what?
There is nothing in loneliness to equal the loneliness of a big city. About him, so crowded and compressed together as to risk life and health, were a million people. Yet not a soul of that million knew that Peter sat at his desk, with his head on his blotter, immovable, from noon one day till daylight of the next.
HAPPINESS BY PROXY.
The window of Peter's office faced east, and the rays of the morning sun shining dazzlingly in his eyes forced him back to a consciousness of things mundane. He rose, and went downstairs, to find the night watch-man just opening the building. Fortunately he had already met the man, so that he was not suspected as an intruder; and giving him a pleasant "good-morning," Peter passed into the street. It was a good morning indeed, with all that freshness and coolness which even a great city cannot take from a summer dawn. For some reason Peter felt more encouraged. Perhaps it was the consciousness of having beaten his loneliness and misery by mere physical endurance. Perhaps it was only the natural spring of twenty years. At all events, he felt dimly, that miserable and unhopeful as the future looked, he was not conquered yet; that he was going to fight on, come what might.
He turned to the river front, and after bargaining with a passing cart for a pint of what the poorer people of the city buy as milk, he turned north, and quickening his pace, walked till he had left the city proper and had reached the new avenue or "drive," which, by the liberality of Mr. Tweed with other people's money, was then just approaching completion. After walking the length of it, he turned back to his boarding-place, and after a plunge, felt as if he could face and fight the future to any extent.
As a result of this he was for the first time late at breakfast The presider over the box-office had ascertained that Peter had spent the night out, and had concluded he would have a gird or two at him. He failed, however, to carry out his intention. It was not the first time that both he and his companions had decided to "roast" Peter, absent, but had done other wise with Peter, present. He had also decided to say to Peter, "Who's your dandy letter-writer?" But he also failed to do that. This last intention referred to a letter that lay at Peters place, and which was examined by each of the four in turn. That letter had an air about it. It was written on linen paper of a grade which, if now common enough, was not so common at that time. Then it was postmarked from one of the most, fashionable summer resorts of the country. Finally, it was sealed with wax, then very unusual, and the wax bore the impression of a crest. They were all rather disappointed when Peter put that letter in his pocket, without opening it.
Peter read the letter at his office that morning. It was as follows:
GREY-COURT, July 21st.
DEAR. OLD MAN—
Like a fool I overslept myself on the morning you left, so did not get my talk with you. You know I never get up early, and never can, so you have only your refusal to let me in that night to blame for our not having a last chat. If I had had the news to tell you that I now have, I should not have let you keep me out, even if you had forced me to break my way in.
Chum, the nicest girl in the world has told me that she loves me, and we are both as happy as happy can be, I know you will not be in a moment's doubt as to who she is, I have only run down here to break it to my family, and shall go back to the Shrubberies early next week—to talk to Mr. Pierce, you understand!
My governor has decided that a couple of years' travel will keep me out of mischief as well as anything else he can devise, and as the prospect is not unpleasant, I am not going to let my new plans interfere with it, merely making my journeyings a solitude a deux, instead of solus. So we shall be married in September, at the Shrubberies, and sail for Europe almost immediately.
Now, I want you to stand by me in this, as you have in other things, and help me through. I want you, in short, to be my "best man" as you have been my Best friend. "Best man," I should inform you, is an English wedding institution, which our swell people have suddenly discovered is a necessity to make a marriage ceremony legal. He doesn't do much. Holding his principal's hat, I believe, is the most serious duty that falls to him, though perhaps not stepping on the bridal dresses is more difficult.
My Mamma wants me to drive with her, so this must be continued in our next.
Peter did not read law that morning. But after sitting in his chair for a couple of hours, looking at the opposite wall, and seeing something quite different, he took his pen, and without pause, or change of face, wrote two letters, as follows:
You hardly surprised me by your letter. I had suspected, both from your frequent visits to the Shrubberies, and from a way in which you occasionally spoke of Miss Pierce, that you loved her. After seeing her, I felt that it was not possible you did not. So I was quite prepared for your news. You have indeed been fortunate in winning such a girl. That I wish you every joy and happiness I need not say.
I think you could have found some other of the fellows better suited to stand with you, but if you think otherwise, I shall not fail you.
You will have to tell me about details, clothes, etc. Perhaps you can suggest a gift that will do? I remember Miss Pierce saying she was very fond of pearls. Would it be right to give something of that kind?
DEAR MISS PIERCE:
A letter from Watts this morning tells me of his good fortune. Fearing lest my blindness may perhaps still give you pain, I write to say that your happiness is the most earnest wish of my life, and nothing which increases it can be other than good news to me. If I can ever serve you in any way, you will be doing me a great favor by telling me how.
Please give my regards to Mr. and Mrs. Pierce, and believe me,
Yours ever sincerely,
After these letters were written, Peter studied the wall again for a time. Studied it till long after the hour when he should have lunched. The wall had three cracks in it which approximated to an outline of Italy, but though Peter gazed at this particular wall a good many hours in the next few weeks, he did not discover this interesting fact till long after this time of wall-gazing.
In the early morning and after dinner, in spite of the summer heat, he took long walks. During the day he sat in his office doing nothing, with the exception of an occasional letter to his mother, and one or two to Watts in respect to the coming wedding. Two visits to the tailor's, and another to Tiffany's, which resulted in a pearl pin rather out of proportion to his purse, were almost the sole variations of this routine. It was really a relief to this terrible inactivity, when he found himself actually at the Shrubberies, the afternoon before the wedding.
Peter was rather surprised at the ease with which he went through the next twenty-four hours. It is true that the house was too full, and each person too busy, to trouble the silent groomsman with attention, so he might have done pretty much what he wished, without being noticed. He arrived late, thus having no chance for greetings till after a hurried dressing for dinner, when they were made in the presence of the whole party, who had waited his coming to go to the meal. He went through the ordeal well, even that with Miss Pierce, actually showing less embarrassment than she did. What was more astonishing, he calmly offered his arm to the bridesmaid who fell to his lot, and, after seating her, chatted without thinking that he was talking. Indeed, he hardly heeded what he did say, but spoke mechanically, as a kind of refuge from thought and feeling.
"I didn't find him a bit so," the girl said to Miss Pierce, later in the evening, with an indefiniteness which, if not merely feminine, must presuppose a previous conversation. "He isn't exactly talkative, but he is perfectly easy to get on with. I tried him on New York, and found he had gone into a good many odd places and can tell about them. He describes things very well, so that one sees them."
"It must be your tact, then, Miss Leroy," said Mrs. Pierce, "for we could get nothing out of him before."
"No? I had nothing to do with it, and, between ourselves, I think he disapproved of me. If Helen hadn't told me about him, I should have been very cool to him, his manner was so objectionable. He clearly talked to me because he felt it a duty, and not a pleasure."
"That's only that unfortunate manner of his," said Helen. "I really think at heart he's dreadfully afraid of us. At least that's what Watts says. But he only behaves as if—as if—well, you know what I mean, Alice!"
"Exactly," said Alice. "You can't describe it. He's so cool, and stolid, and silent, that you feel shoddy and cheap, and any simple little remark doesn't seem enough to say. You try to talk up to him, and yet feel small all the time."
"Not at all," said Helen. "You talk down to him, as if he were—were—your old grandfather, or some one else you admired, but thought very dull and old-fashioned."
"But the worst is the way he looks at you. So gravely, even when you try to joke. Now I really think I'm passably pretty, but Mr. Stirling said as plainly as could be: 'I look at you occasionally because that's the proper thing to do, when one talks, but I much prefer looking at that picture over your head.' I don't believe he noticed how my hair was dressed, or the color of my eyes. Such men are absolutely maddening. When they've finished their smoke, I'm going to make him notice me."
But Miss Leroy failed in her plan, try as she would. Peter did not notice girls any more. After worrying in his school and college days, over what women thought of him and how they treated him, he had suddenly ceased to trouble himself about them. It was as if a man, after long striving for something, had suddenly discovered that he did not wish it—that to him women's opinions had become worthless. Perhaps in this case it was only the Fox and the Grapes over again. At all events, from this time on Peter cared little what women did. Courteous he tried to be, for he understood this to be a duty. But that was all. They might laugh at him, snub him, avoid him. He cared not. He had struck women out of his plan of life. And this disregard, as we have already suggested, was sure to produce a strange change, not merely in Peter, but in women's view and treatment of him. Peter trying to please them, by dull, ordinary platitudes, was one thing. Peter avoiding them and talking to them when needs must, with that distant, uninterested look and voice, was quite another.
The next morning, Peter, after finding what a fifth wheel in a coach all men are at weddings, finally stood up with his friend. He had not been asked to stay on for another night, as had most of the bridal party, so he slipped away as soon as his duty was done, and took a train that put him into New York that evening. A week later he said good-bye to the young couple, on the deck of a steamship.
"Don't forget us, Peter," shouted Watts, after the fasts were cast off and the steamer was slowly moving into mid-stream.