The Return of Peter Grimm
NOVELISED FROM THE PLAY BY DAVID BELASCO
ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN RAE
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
COPYRIGHT, 1912, BY DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
I A MAN AND A MAID 3
II THE HEIR 19
III PETER GRIMM HAS A PLAN 37
IV A WARNING AND A THEORY 56
V A QUEER COMPACT 77
VI BREAKING THE NEWS 99
VII THE HAND RELAXES 108
VIII AFTERWARD 118
IX THE EVE OF A WEDDING 125
X A WASTED PLEA 134
XI THE LEGACIES 149
XII MOSTLY CONCERNING GRATITUDE 157
XIII THE RETURN 164
XIV "I CAN'T GET IT ACROSS" 184
XV A HALF-HEARD MESSAGE 209
XVI THE "SENSITIVE" 231
XVII MR. BATHOLOMMEY TESTIFIES 254
XVIII DR. MCPHERSON'S STATEMENT 265
XIX BACK TO THE STORY 278
XX THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT 290
XXI "ONLY ONE THING REALLY COUNTS" 302
XXII "ALL THAT HAPPENS, HAPPENS AGAIN" 313
XXIII THE DAWNING 324
XXIV THE GOOD-BYE 337
"I believe," said Peter irrelevantly, "that St. Paul was a single man, was he not, Pastor?" 86
"Who's in the room!" he demanded 202
"Sleep well," said Peter Grimm. "I wish you the very pleasantest of dreams a boy could have in this world" 321
A MAN AND A MAID
The train drew to a halt at the Junction. There was a fine jolt that ran the length of the cars, followed by a clank of couplings and a half-intelligible call from the conductor.
The passengers,—dusty, jaded, crossly annoyed at the need of changing cars,—gathered up their luggage and filed out onto the bare, roofless station platform. There, after a look down the long converging rails in vain hope of sighting the train they were to take, they fell to glancing about the cheerless station environs.
Far away were rolling hills, upland fields of wind-swept wheat, cool, dark stretches of woodland. But around the station were areas of ill-kept lots, with here and there a jerry-built cottage, sadly in need of shoring, and bereft of paint. Across the road on one side stood the general store with its clump of porch-step loafers and its windows full of gaudy advertisements. To the side, and parallel with the tracks, sprawled a huge, weather-buffeted signboard that read:
"Grimm's Botanical Gardens and Nurseries. 1 Mile."
The passengers eyed the half-defaced lettering, pessimistically. But almost at once they received a far pleasanter reminder of the botanical gardens. A boy, flushed with running, and evidently distressed at being late, pattered up the road and onto the platform. From one of his fragile arms hung a great basket. The lid had fallen aside and showed the basket piled to the brim with fresh flowers.
Hurrying to the nearest passenger—an obese travelling man who mopped a very red face,—the boy timidly held a Gloire de Dijon rose up to him and recited with parrot-like glibness:
"With the compliments of Peter Grimm."
The fat man half unconsciously took the rose from the little hand and stood looking as though in dire doubt what to do with it. The boy did not help him out. Already he had moved on to the next passenger,—this time a man of clerical bearing and suspiciously vivid nose,—and handed him a gleaming Madonna lily.
"With the compliments of Peter Grimm," he announced, passing on to the next.
And so on down the bunched line of waiting men and women the lad made his way. In front of each, he paused, presented a flower taken at random from the basket, recited his droning formula, and passed on.
The fat travelling man stared stupidly at his rose. Then he looked about him, half shamefacedly and in wonder.
"What in blazes——?" he began.
"You must be a stranger in this part of the state," volunteered a big young fellow, who had just come out of the waiting-room. "Did you never hear of the flower-giving at the Junction?"
"No. What's the idea? Is it done on a bet? Or is it an 'ad' for the man on the sign over there?"
"Neither. It has been Peter Grimm's custom for twenty years or more. Ever since I first knew him."
"And it isn't an ad?"
"No," was the enigmatic answer as the big young man moved off in the wake of the lad. "It's Peter Grimm."
The boy meanwhile had reached the last of the passengers. She was middle-aged and motherly-looking. She peered down at him with more than common interest as he went through his pat little presentation formula. A psychologist would have gathered much from the lad's tense, flushed face and in the oddly strained look of the big blue eyes. To this woman, he was only a thin, lonely looking youngster, whose face held an unconscious appeal that she answered without reading it.
"I am very much obliged to Mr. Peter Grimm for sending me this lovely flower," she said, a little patronisingly, as she sniffed at the half-opened Killarney rose she held.
"You need not be," answered the boy. "He didn't really send it to you. In fact, I'm quite sure he never even heard of you. He just sent it because he is good and because——"
"Because he loves flowers," suggested the woman as the boy hesitated.
"No," corrected the boy, in his gentle, old-fashioned diction, wherein lurked the faintest trace of foreign accent, "I never heard him say anything about loving flowers. But I know the flowers love him."
"You see, they grow for him as they don't grow for any one else. Much better I am sure," he added a little bitterly, "than they will ever grow for Frederik. I don't think flowers love Frederik."
"What queer ideas you have!" she laughed, embarrassed at his quiet statement of facts that seemed to her absurd. "Are you Mr. Grimm's son?"
"No, ma'am. He is not married. I don't think he has any sons at all. I'm Anne Marie's son."
"Anne Marie? Anne Marie—what?"
"Just Anne Marie. I'm Willem, you know."
"No, ma'am. Willem."
"No, ma'am. Anne Marie's Willem. I—Oh, Mr. Hartmann!" he broke off, catching sight of the big young man who drew near, "Mynheer Peter said you'd be on this train. Now I can have some one to walk back with."
Slipping his hand into Hartmann's, Willem turned his back on the platformful of perspiring beneficiaries and, together, the two struck off down the yellow, dusty road toward the double row of giant elms that marked the beginning of the village street.
Willem shuffled in high contentment alongside his big companion. And as he walked, he stole upward and sidelong glances of furtive hero worship at the tall, plainly clad figure. Jim Hartmann was of a build and aspect to rouse such worship in the frail little fellow. He had the shoulders, the chest girth, the stride of an athlete, tempered by the slight roundness of those same shoulders, the non-expansiveness of chest, and the heavy tread of the large man whose strength and physique have been acquired at manual labour instead of in athletics. A figure more common east of the Atlantic than in America.
His dark suit was neat and fitted honestly well. But it was palpably not the suit of a man whose father had worn custom-made clothes or whose own earlier youth had been blessed with such garments. Yet there was a breezy, staunch outdoorness about the whole man that reminded one of a breath of mountain air in a close room and left half unnoticed the details of costume and bearing.
"Weren't you glad to get away from New York City?" queried the boy as they came into the elm shade of Grimm Manor's one real street. "A week is an awful long time to be away from here."
"You bet it is. You're a lucky chap to be able to stay at Grimm Manor all the time instead of being sent here, there, and everywhere on business."
"I shouldn't like that," assented the boy; "I think people would be very liable of losing their way. I wonder if Mynheer Peter will send me 'here, there, and everywhere on business' when I'm older."
"Perhaps," agreed Hartmann, catching the slight note of wistfulness in Willem's voice. "You're beginning the way I began. It wasn't more than a week after my father got his gardening job with Mr. Grimm that I used to be sent up to meet the trains with a basket of flowers and 'the compliments of Peter Grimm.' It seems more like yesterday than eighteen years ago."
"I'm glad you're back from New York City," said the boy, circling back to the conversation's starting-point. "It's been rather lonely. Mynheer Peter has been so busy. And Frederik——"
"Well," queried Jim as the boy checked himself and looked nervously behind him, "what about Frederik? And why do you always look like that when you speak of him?"
"As if you were afraid some one would slap you. Is Frederik ever unkind to you?"
"No," denied the boy, in scared haste. "No, he never is. He—he doesn't notice me at all. That's what I was going to say. He doesn't seem to care to. But he likes to be with Kathrien, I think. Yes, I'm sure he does. I think Kathrien missed you, too, Mr. Hartmann."
The big man grew of a sudden vaguely embarrassed. He cast back along the trail of the talk for some divergent path, and found one.
"Yes," he said, "it's good to be back from New York. The city always seems to cramp me and make it hard for me to breathe. The pavements hurt my feet and I have a silly feeling as though the skyscrapers were going to topple inward."
He was talking to himself rather than to the boy. But Willem rejoined sympathetically:
"I don't like New York City either."
"You, why you surely can't remember when you used to live there?"
The boy's fair brow creased in an effort of memory.
"Sometimes," he hesitated, "I can. And sometimes I don't seem able to. But I remember Anne Marie. She cried."
"How is Mynheer Peter?" demanded Hartmann with galvanic suddenness. "And how are that last lot of Madonna lilies coming on? They ought to be——"
"Sometimes," went on the boy, still following his own line of thought and oblivious of the interruption, "sometimes I wonder why she cried. Sometimes for a minute or two—mostly at night, when I'm nearly asleep—I seem to remember why. But I always forget. Mr. Hartmann, did you see Anne Marie when you were in New York City?"
"No, of course not. How are Lad and Rex and Paddy? And do they still dig for moles in the flower-beds? Or did the dose of red pepper my father scattered over the beds cure them of digging?"
"I wonder," observed Willem, "why everybody always talks about everything else when I want to talk about Anne Marie. And if other fellows' mothers come to see them and live with them, why doesn't Anne Marie come and live with me? I asked Oom Peter once and he said——"
"I've got to leave you now and hurry over to Mynheer Grimm's office with my report," broke in Hartmann. "My train was a little late anyhow and you know how he hates to be kept waiting."
They had entered a wide gateway and had come from suburban America, at a step, into rural Holland. The prim gravelled drive led between acres of prosaically regular flower-beds, flanked on one side by a domed green house and on the other by a creaking Dutch windmill with weather-browned sails.
Straight ahead and absurdly near the road for a country house that boasted so much land about it, was the stone and yellow stucco cottage that for centuries had sheltered successive generations of Grimms. Painfully neat, unpicturesquely ugly, the house stood among its great oaks. It did not nestle among them. It stood. As well expect a breadth of starched brown holland to nestle. To deprive the abode of any lingering taint of picturesqueness, a blue and white signboard, thirty feet long, stretching between it and the main street, flashed to all the passing world the news that this was the headquarters of the celebrated "Grimm's Botanical Gardens and Nurseries."
The interior of the house was as delightful as its outside was hideous. Here, neatness raised to the nth power chanced to strike the keynote of a certain beauty. The big living-room, with its stairway leading to the bedroom gallery above, was a repository of curios that would have set an antiquary mad. From the ancient clock to the priceless old blue china, three-fourths of the room's appointments might have served to deck a Holland museum. The remaining fourth contained such articles as a glaringly modern telephone on a nondescript desk, and a compromise between old and new in the shape of a square piano in the bay window, an ancient table. And several patently twentieth century articles helped still further to rob the place of any harmony or unison in effect.
An altogether charming Dutch maiden was dusting, and occasionally stopping to restore some slightly disarranged article to its mathematically neat position. In her blue Dutch cap, her blue delft gown, and white kerchief, she seemed to have danced down out of the past to strike the one note of vivid life in all that sombre-furnished place.
She paused in the sweep of sunshine that poured through the muslin-curtained bay window. A step had sounded in the passage leading from the rear of the house;—a step she evidently knew. For the full young lips broke into an involuntary smile of expectancy, while the big eyes grew all at once eager and happy. Jim Hartmann, a pen behind his ear, a bundle of mail in his hand, came into the room. He had reached the desk and deposited his packet there before he caught sight of her. Then, wide-eyed, silent, tense, he halted, gazing at the sunshine-bathed figure in the window embrasure. For an instant neither of them spoke. It was the girl who broke the silence, her voice charged with a strange shyness.
"Good-morning, James," she said primly.
"Good-morning, Miss Katie," he answered mechanically, his eyes still wide with the loveliness of the sun-kissed face that so suddenly broke in upon his workaday routine.
"I wondered if you'd gotten back yet," she continued, seeming to hunt industriously for a phrase of sufficiently meaningless decorum.
"I got back ten minutes ago. I reported to Mr. Grimm and brought the morning mail in here to look over for him. It seems strange to find the day so far advanced at this hour," he went on, talking at random. "After a week in New York, where no one thinks of doing business before nine in the morning, it's like coming into another world to be back here where the day's work begins at five."
He sat down, pleasantly regardless of the fact that she was still standing, and began to open and sort the letters before him. The girl noticed that his big hands fumbled at the unfamiliar task. But she noticed far more keenly the strength and massive shapeliness of the hands themselves.
"Do you like being secretary?" she queried.
"Yes, in a way. I've walked 'outside' in the gardens and nurseries so many years, it seems queer to be penned up indoors and have to scribble letters and open mail. But I'd sooner shovel dirt than not be here at all. I couldn't last a month at a job where there wasn't gardening going on all around me and where I couldn't sneak off once in a while and do a bit of it myself."
"That's the way I feel," she said simply, "though I never thought to put it in words before. I must live where things are growing. Where, every time I look out of the window, I can see orchards and shrubs and hothouses. Oh, it's all so beautiful! And, James, our orchids this season—but I forgot. You don't care for orchids."
"They're pretty enough, I suppose," vouchsafed Hartmann. "But the big men in the business are doing wonderful things with potatoes these days. And look at what Father Burbank's done in creating an edible cactus! Sometimes it makes me feel bitter when I think what I might have done with vegetables if I hadn't squandered so much God-given time studying Greek."
"Oh, yes. It made a hit with father to have me study a lot of things that would only help a college professor. He's worked in the dirt, in overalls, all his life. And like most people who never had one, he sets a crazy value on so-called 'education.' But all this can't interest you," he finished ruefully.
"It does interest me. You know it does. But there's something I'd like to say to you if you won't be angry."
"At you? Why——"
"It's this: I want you so much to get on. Why won't you try harder to—to please Uncle Peter?"
"I do try. I'm square with him. That's the trouble. That's why I don't make more of a hit. He asks me my 'honest opinion' about something or other. I give it. Then he blows up."
"But if you'd try to be more tactful——"
"You said that once before to me, Miss Katie. I asked you what 'tactful' meant. And when you told me——"
"When I told you, you said it was 'just a fancy name for being hypocritical.' But it isn't, a bit. Can't you try not to be quite so—so——?"
"No, blunt. It will smooth things over so much with Uncle Peter. He's really the gentlest, dearest——"
"I've noticed it," said Hartmann drily. "But I'll try if you want me to. I promise."
"Thank you," she answered.
And, perhaps to seal the pledge, their hands met. The sealing of a pledge is not a matter to slur over with careless haste, but requires due time. And it was but natural that the handclasp should be symbolic of that deliberation. Indeed, it is hard to say just how long his big hand and her little one might have remained clasped together had inclination been allowed to prevail. But, as usual in Hartmann's life, inclination was not consulted. The door behind them opened sharply, and the clasped hands parted as if at a signal. Hartmann slipped back into his chair at the desk, while the girl busied herself with a new and commendable activity in her task of setting the immaculate room to rights.
Both seemed to realise without turning around that one more of their too brief interviews had been unceremoniously cut short.
The man whose advent caused the curtailment of the promise's sealing was as foreign looking as the room itself. Dapper, dressed in a sort of elaborate carelessness, his figure alone carried with it an air of assurance that Hartmann always found almost as irritating as the man's gracefully exaggerated manner and speech. His blonde hair was brushed back from a high, narrow forehead. A turned-up moustache and a close-trimmed and pointed Van Dyke beard added to the foreign aspect.
The newcomer took in the scene with a glance that apparently grasped none of its details. He nodded curtly to Hartmann, then crossed to where the girl was dusting.
"Hello, Kitty," he said. "Good-morning."
"Good-morning, Frederik," responded the girl, and started toward the stairs.
But the man intercepted her. Catching her playfully by the arm he tried to draw her toward him.
"You're pretty as a June rose to-day," he laughed.
Hartmann, instinctively, had half-risen from his chair. The girl, noting his movement and the frown gathering on his face, checked her impulse to retort, quietly disengaged herself from the newcomer's familiar grasp, and ran up the short stair flight that led into the gallery.
In no way offended, the man glanced after her with another short laugh, then turned to Hartmann.
"Where's my uncle?" he asked.
Hartmann looked up with elaborate slowness from the notes he was making of the newly opened mail. His eyes at last rested on the dapper figure before him, with the impersonal, faintly irritated gaze one might bestow on a yelping puppy.
"Mr. Grimm is outside," he answered. "He's watching my father spray the plum trees. The black knot's getting ahead of us this year."
"I wonder," grumbled Frederik, lounging across to the window, "if it's possible once a year to ask a simple question of any inmate of this cursedly dreary old place without getting a botanical answer."
"That's what we are here for—those of us that work," said Hartmann, returning to his note making.
"Work, work, work!" mocked Frederik. "When I inherit my beloved uncle's fortune, I shall buy up all the dictionaries and have that wretched word crossed out of them."
Hartmann made no reply. He did not seem to have heard. But Frederik, absently ripping to atoms a Richmond rose from the window table vase, continued his muttered tirade. An inattentive audience was better than none.
"Work!" he growled. "When people here aren't talking about it, they're doing it. Grubby, earthy work. And it was to prepare for this sort of thing that I loafed through Leyden and Heidelberg! Yes, and loafed through, creditably, too; even if Oom Peter did bully me into making a specialty of botany. Botany! Dry as dust. After the University and after my wanderjahr, I thought it would be another easy task to come here, and 'learn the business.' Easy! As easy as the treadmill. And as congenial."
"I wonder you don't tell Mr. Grimm all that. I'm sure it would interest him."
"My dear, worthy uncle, who builds such wonderful hopes on me? Not I. It would break his noble heart. I hope you quite understand, Hartmann, that I keep quiet only through fear of wounding him and not with any fear that he might bequeath the business elsewhere."
"Quite," returned Hartmann drily. "That's why I keep my mouth shut when he holds you up to me as a paragon of zeal and industry and asks me why I don't pattern myself after you. But, for all that, you're taking chances when you talk to me about him as you do."
"I'm not," contradicted Frederik. "I may not know botany. But I know men. You love me about as much as you love smallpox. But you belong to the breed that doesn't tell tales. Besides, I've got to speak the truth to some one, once in a while, if I don't want to explode. You're a splendid safety valve, Hartmann."
The secretary bent over his notes. His forehead veins swelled, and his face darkened. But he gave no overt sign of offence. Frederik, watching keenly, seemed disappointed.
"In New York," he pursued with a sigh, "they're just about thinking of waking up. And look at the time I'm routed out of bed! Say, Hartmann, I wish you would give Oom Peter a hint to oil his shoes. Every morning he wakes me up at five o'clock, creaking down the stairs. It's a sort of pedal alarm clock. Creak! Creak! Creak!—Ach, Gott! Even yet I can hardly keep one eye open. If ever it pleases Providence to give me my heritage, the first thing I'll do will be to sleep till noon. And then to go to sleep again."
He stared moodily out of the window into the glowing, flower-starred June world.
"How I loathe this pokey, dead old village!" he complained. "And what wouldn't I give to be back with the old Leyden crowd for one little night!"
He lurched over to the piano, sat carelessly, sidewise, on its stool, and, thrumming at the keyboard, fell to humming in a slurring, reminiscent fashion, the old Leyden University chorus:
"Ach, daar koonet ye amuseeren! Io vivat—Io vivat Nostorum sanitas, hoc estamoris porculum, Dolores est anti gotum—Io vivat—Io vivat Nostorum sanitas—!
"Say, Hartmann," he broke off from his jumble of Dutch and Hollandised Latin, "the old man is aging. He's aging fast."
"Who?" asked Hartmann absently, glancing up from his work. "Oh, your uncle? Yes, he is mellowing. He is changing foliage with the years."
"Changing foliage? Not he. He changes nothing. What was good enough forty years ago seems to him quite good enough to-day. He's as old-fashioned as his hats. And they're the oldest things since Noah's time. He's just as old-fashioned in his financial ways. In my opinion, for instance, this would be a capital time to sell out the business. But he——"
"Sell out?" echoed Hartmann in genuine horror. "Sell out a business that's been in his family for—why, man, he'd as soon sell his soul. This business is his religion."
"Yes, and that's why it is so flourishing in spite of his back-date customs. It's at the very acme of its prosperity now. Why, the plant must be worth an easy half million. Yes, and more. Lord, but it would sell now! One, two, three,—Augenblick! By the way, speaking of selling,—what was the last offer the dear old gentleman turned down from Hicks of Rochester?"
But Hartmann did not hear the question. He was staring at Frederik in open-mouthed astonishment.
"Sell out?" he repeated dully. "This is a new one—even from you. There isn't a day your uncle doesn't tell me how triumphantly you are going to carry on the business after he is gone. He——"
"Oh, I am!" sneered Frederik. "I am. Of course I am. How can you doubt it. Wait and see. It's a big name—'Peter Grimm.' And the old gentleman knows his business. He assuredly knows his business."
"I don't mind being the repository of your confidences about hating work," burst out Hartmann, "any more than I mind listening to the mewing of a sick cat. But when you strike this new vein, you'll have to choose another audience. I'm afraid I'd be likely to take sudden charge of the meeting and break the talented orator's neck."
He gathered up some of his papers and stamped out. Frederik looked after him uncertainly, took a step toward the door through which the secretary had just vanished, then thought better of the idea, laughed shortly, and drew out a cigarette. But a creaking of heavy shoes on the walk outside led him to slip the cigarette back into its case, and to bend interestedly over the pile of office mail Hartmann had opened.
If Kathrien had typified all that was dainty and alluring in the room's Dutch art, the man who now stamped in from the front vestibule, assuredly was typical of all old Holland's solidity. Stocky, of medium height, he was clad more as though he had copied the fashions depicted in a daguerrotype than those of the twentieth century. His black broadcloth was of no recent cut. His low, upright collar and broad cravat were of stock-like aspect, while a high hat such as he wore has certainly appeared in no show window since 1870.
Withal, there was nothing ludicrous or even incongruous about the costume. It belonged with the wearer. And while on another man it would have been absurd, on him it seemed the only logical apparel.
Peter Grimm halted in the vestibule, laboriously removed his rubbers, and dropped his heavy ash stick into its place on the rack. Then he carefully lifted the antique hat from his head, deposited it on a peg, and came forward into the room. The face, revealed as he left the vestibule's gloom for the bright sunlight, was at first glance hard, deeply lined, and stubborn; the effect accented by a set mouth, the little truculently alert eyes under bushy brows, and the slightly uptilted nose.
A second look, however, would have revealed, to any one who could read faces, a lovable and almost tender light behind the eye's sharp twinkle and a kindly, humorous twist to the stubborn mouth. Hot temper, the physiognomist would have read, and obstinacy. But there the catalogue of faults would have ended abruptly. The rest was warm heart, trustfulness, eager sympathy,—an almost child-like friendliness toward the world at large that forever battled for mastery with native Dutch shrewdness.
There was far more kindness than shrewdness in the square old face just now, as Grimm noted his nephew's presence and his deep absorption in the contents of the mail. Frederik looked up as Grimm came forward.
"Good-morning, Oom Peter," said he.
"Good-morning, Fritzy," returned Grimm. "Hard at work, I see."
"Not so hard but that you were ahead of me. I felt unpardonably lazy when I heard you come downstairs at five."
"I'm sorry I woke you. Youngsters need their sleep. We old fellows have done about all the dozing we need to do; and we are coming so close to our Long Sleep that God gives us extra wakefulness for the little time left; so we may see as much as possible of this glorious old world of His."
"I ran over from the office——"
"Oh, I know why you ran over, Fritzy. A word with Kathrien—yes?"
"No, sir, I try to forget everything but work during business hours. I came to look for you. I've a suggestion——"
Grimm's face lighted with the rare smile that played over its harsh outlines like sunshine. Each proof of his nephew's interest in the work was as tonic to him.
"I came over," went on Frederik, by hard mental calisthenics creating an impromptu suggestion, "to propose that we insert a full-page cut of your new tulip in our midsummer floral almanac."
"H'—m!" muttered Grimm doubtfully. "I don't see why we——"
"Oh, sir, the public's expecting it."
"What makes you think so?"
"Why," now quite at home with his newly evolved notion, "you've no idea the stir the tulip has made. We get letters from everywhere——"
"It didn't seem to me anything so extraordinary," said Grimm modestly, albeit hugely gratified. "I'll think over the plan. What have you been doing all day?"
Frederik glanced at the clock. It registered three minutes before nine.
"Oh, I've had a busy morning," he answered. "In the packing house. Lots of orders to attend to. It's never safe to trust the more important ones to subordinates."
"That's right," approved Grimm. "Fritzy, it does me good, all through, to see you taking hold of the business the way you're doing."
Further praise was cut short by old Marta, the housekeeper, who bustled in to attend to her regular nine o'clock duty of winding the chain-weighted Dutch clock.
As she drew up the weights with a grate and a whirr that made audible conversation quite out of the question, she formed a study, in clothes and visage, that might have stepped direct from a Franz Hals canvas.
There was nothing American or modern about the old woman. Nothing about her save her face had changed since the day, sixty years back, when an earlier Grimm, returning from a visit from the Fatherland, had brought her to Grimm Manor as maid for his young American wife. Her task accomplished, Marta turned dutifully to courtesy to her master.
"Huge moroche, Mynheer Grimm," she saluted him. "Komt ujuist eut di teum?"
"Ja," replied Peter, dropping into the tongue of his fathers, yet with an odd twinkle in his little eyes. "En ik bin hongerig.—Taking her morning exercise," he added, noting the performance with the clock weights.
"You are always making fun of me!" sniffed Marta, trying not to grin as she swept indignantly out of the room.
In her departure she nearly collided with Hartmann who was entering from the offices. Seating himself at the desk, dictation pad in hand, Hartmann asked:
"Are you ready for me, sir?"
"Yes," answered Grimm.—"No, I'm not. But I will be in a minute. There's something I'd forgotten. Wait——"
Cupping his hands about his mouth, Grimm wheeled to face the gallery and shouted a curiously high-pitched dissyllable:
And, as though a sweeter, more silvery echo of the rough old voice, came from one of the gallery rooms an answering hail. Kathrien herself followed close upon her reply to the familiar signal call.
"Oh, Oom Peter!" she exclaimed, running lightly down the stairs and throwing her arms about his neck. "Good-morning. How careless I was not to come sooner and make your coffee. I didn't know you were in yet. You must be half starved."
She started for the dining-room. But Grimm's arm was about her waist, detaining her.
"This is the very busiest little woman you ever saw, Frederik," he announced. "She is forever thinking of things to do for me. And I'm never remembering to do anything for her."
"Shame!" cried Kathrien, "you do everything in this big world for me, Oom Peter, and you know it. I've got everything any girl's heart could ask."
"Oh, no, you haven't though," sagely contradicted Grimm. "Before you say that, wait till I give you some fine young chap for a husband. Hey, Frederik?"
She drew away from his embrace with gentle impatience.
"Don't, Oom Peter," she begged. "You're always talking about weddings lately. I don't know what's come over you."
"It's nesting time," Grimm defended himself. "Weddings are in the air. And then, I keep thinking of all the linen packed in my grandmother's chest upstairs. We must use it again some day. There, there, little girl! You shan't be teased any more. Only, I'll leave it to you, Fritzy, if she doesn't deserve a grand husband,—this little girl of mine. If for no other reason, to pay for all she's done for me."
"Done for you?" laughed Kathrien. "Truly, I was forgetting that. I do you the great favour of letting you do everything for me."
"Nonsense! Who lays out my linen and brushes my clothes and fixes wonderful little dishes for me, and puts my slippers and dressing gown in front of the fire on cold nights, and puts flowers on my desk every day? And, best of all, Kindchen, who floods this old house of mine with the glory of Youth?"
"Youth?" she mocked with the true scorn of the young for their supreme gift. "Youth can't do very much. What does it amount to?"
"Nothing much," gravely answered her uncle. "Youth, as you say, is not anything worth mentioning. It is only the most priceless and most perishable treasure in God's storehouse. It is only the thing that means Beauty and Strength and Hope. It is the thing we all despise as long as we have it and would give our souls to get back as soon as we have lost it. No, as you say, Youth doesn't amount to much. It is only the nearest approach to Immortality that mortals have ever known. Why, where should I be now,—a grouchy old bachelor like me—without Youth in my house? Why, Frederik, this girl has made me feel kindlier toward all other women."
"Oh, I have, have I?" demanded Kathrien, "that's more than I bargained for."
"Don't flatter yourself," he joked. "It's only the way one feels about a pet. One likes all the rest of the breed."
"That's true," broke in Hartmann, throwing himself into the conversation on impulse. "It's so. A man studies one girl and then presently he begins to notice the same little traits in them all. It makes one feel differently toward the rest of them."
He glanced shamefacedly back at his dictation pad as the others turned and stared at him in astonishment. But not before he had noted the shy smile that crept over Kathrien's face or the unpleasant glint in Frederik's pale eyes.
Hartmann so seldom took part in general conversation and was so reticent concerning every phase of sentiment, that Grimm was for the moment almost as astounded as though one of his own bulbs had burst into speech.
"An expert opinion," commented Frederik sneeringly. "And from a confirmed bachelor like James!"
"A confirmed bachelor?" Grimm innocently caught up the slur. "What a life! I know. I have been one ever since I can remember. When a bachelor wants to order a three-rib standing roast, who is to eat it? Why, I never had the right sort of a roast on my table until Katje came into the family. And now that you're here too, Fritzy, the roasts get bigger. But not big enough, even yet. Oh, we must find the husband for——"
"Oom Peter!" protested Kathrien. "You promised you wouldn't tease——"
"Tease?" repeated Grimm, as though he heard the word for the first time. "Why, how could you have imagined such a thing, child? I was only telling Frederik about the sort of roasts I like on my table. And speaking of tables, Fritzy, I like a nice long table with plenty of young people at it. And myself at the head, carving and carving, and seeing the plates passed round and round and round;—getting them back and back and back—There, there, Katje! They shan't tease you. We'll keep the table just as it is. For you and Fritz and me. A nice little circle. All in the family."
The telephone bell set up a purring. Hartmann picked up the receiver.
"Hello," he called. "Yes, this is Mr. Grimm's house.—Yes.—Wait one moment, please."
He put his palm over the transmitter and turned to Grimm.
"It's Hicks again, sir," he reported. "He wants to talk more with you about buying the business."
"Buying the business, hey?" snorted Grimm in sudden rage. "No! No! I've told him ten million times it's not on the market and never will be. Tell him so again."
"Mr. Grimm says," called Hartmann into the transmitter, "that the business is not for sale. He says—what?—Wait a minute. Mr. Grimm, he insists on speaking to you personally."
"He does, hey?" growled Peter, advancing upon the telephone as though upon an enemy that must be crushed at a blow.
"Hello!" he roared wrathfully into the instrument. "Hello?—What?—Why, my old friend, how are you?—And how are your plum trees doing? Mine, too. Well, we can only pray and use Bordeaux Mixture.—What?"
He paused to listen. Then he went on as if to humour a cross child.
"No, no,—it's nonsense. Why, this business has been in the Grimm family for over a hundred years. Why should I sell? I'm going to arrange for it to stay in the family a hundred years longer.—Hey? What's that?—No, no. Of course not. Of course I don't propose to live a hundred years longer. But I propose that my plans shall. How can I make certain? Never mind how. I'm going to arrange all that. Yes, I know I'm a bachelor. You don't need to spend good money on long distance phoning, to remind me of that. Oh—good-bye!"
Grimm turned away from the table with a growl, to confront Kathrien.
"Why, girl!" he exclaimed, in quick concern. "You look as if you are going to cry. What is it? Tell Oom Peter!"
PETER GRIMM HAS A PLAN
"That man!" panted Kathrien. "He actually wants to buy our home—our gardens! Oh!" slipping for a moment back into the Dutch that was ever nearer to her heart than English, "Stel je zoon brutali tat!"
"Don't you worry!" consoled Peter. "He won't get a stick or a stone of ours. Wouldn't you think that girl had been born a Grimm, Fritzy? She's got the true spirit. No, no, dear. Of course we won't sell. Never. Never. Never. Hey, Fritz?"
"Certainly not!" declared Frederik. "The idea is preposterous."
"Fritzy!" exclaimed Grimm. "Speaking of ideas, I've got one, too. We'll print the Grimm history in our new Midsummer Almanac. That's better than a full-page cut of any tulip that ever sprouted. Katie, go get the Staaten Bible and read it aloud to us. We can tell, then, how it will strike the public."
The girl went to the side table where lay the great Bible, drew a chair up to it, seated herself, turned over the leaves until she found what she sought, then began to read in a manner that argued many previous renditions of the quaint old phraseology.
"In the spring of 1709 there settled on Quassic Creek, New York Colony, Johann Grimm, aged twenty-two—husbandman and vinedresser. Also, Johanna, his wife. To him Queen Anne furnished one square, one rule, one compass, two whipping saws, and several small pieces——"
"You left out 'two augers,'" prompted Grimm.
"Yes, 'and two augers.' To him was born a son and——"
"See?" cried Grimm. "That was the foundation of our family and our business here. And here we are, still. After seven generations. We'll print it. Hey, Fritzy?"
"Certainly, sir," approved Frederik, stifling a yawn with an access of filial enthusiasm. "By all means, we'll print it."
"And, Fritzy," continued Grimm, with heavy significance, "we're relying on you for the next line in the book."
Frederik glanced around him. Hartmann, during the reading, had gone from the room to get some papers he had left at the office. But Kathrien still lingered, restoring the Bible to its wonted place.
"Oh, by the way, Oom Peter," said Frederik, lowering his voice so as not to reach the girl's ears, "I want to speak to you about a private matter when you can spare me a moment. When I come back from the packing house will be time enough. I just want to give a glance to those last shipments."
"All right, lad," agreed Grimm. "Any time."
He looked fondly after the dapper figure.
"Isn't he a splendid, handsome, hustling young chap, Katje?" he demanded. "If only his mother had lived to see him now, wouldn't she have been proud of him? And what a complete little family we three make!"
"We three?" hesitated the girl.
"Surely. That's all there are of us—at present,—isn't it? I don't think I have made a miscount."
"You don't count in James!"
"James?" he queried sharply. "Why should I?"
"Why shouldn't you?" she retorted eagerly. "Oom Peter, if you don't mind my saying so, I think you're just a little unfair to James. He used to have dinner with us nearly every day. Can't you make him a little more at home—more like one of the family?"
"Why, you good, unselfish little girl!" applauded Grimm. "You think of everybody. James is——"
Hartmann came in with several newly typed letters to be signed, and Grimm turned to meet him with something akin to cordiality.
"James," said he, "will you have dinner with us to-day?"
"Why, yes," answered Hartmann, in pleased surprise. "Certainly. Thank you very much. Will you glance over these and sign them?" he added, wondering at the grateful smile Kathrien flashed at Peter as she passed into the dining-room and left the two men alone together.
Grimm, too, wondered a little at the warmth of the girl's smile.
"She has bloomed out lately like a rose," he mused as he looked over the letters the secretary proffered him.
"Yes, sir!" involuntarily agreed Hartmann.
"So you've noticed it, too?"
"Yes, sir," replied Hartmann stiffly as he recovered his self-control.
"Ach!" murmured Grimm, as he signed letter after letter and passed them over to Hartmann for sealing. "What a grip she has taken on my heart! A good girl, James. A good little girl. And I've sheltered her, ever since she came to me, as I shelter my violets from the cold. That's as it should be, hey?"
"Y-e-s,—in a way."
"What's that?" bristled Grimm, looking up at the unexpected answer to the question that had seemed to him to require none. "What do you mean? Oh, speak out, man!" as the secretary hesitated. "Never be afraid to express an honest opinion."
"I mean just this. No one can shape any one else's life. All people should be made to understand that they are—free."
"Free? Nonsense! Katje's free. Free as air. Do you mean to tell me a girl should be more free than she is? We must think for young people who can't think for themselves. And no girl can."
"But I believe——"
"Bah! Who cares what you believe. James, I'm sometimes afraid you're just a little bit set in your ways;—almost obstinate."
"But in this," stoutly maintained Hartmann, "I know I'm right. We can't think for other people any more than we can eat or sleep for them. Every happy creature is bound, by nature, to lead its own life. And, first of all, it must be free!"
"James," asked Grimm in amused contempt, "where on earth do you get these wild ideas?"
"By reading what modern thinkers write, sir."
"H'—m! I thought so. Change your mental diet. There's a set of Jost Vanden Vandell over on the shelves. Read it. Cultivate sentiment."
Hartmann shrugged his big shoulders and went on sealing and stamping letters. But Grimm would not let this topic drop so easily.
"Free!" he scoffed. "Maybe you've thought you noticed Katje was not happy?"
"No, sir. I can't honestly say I have."
"I should think not!" chimed in Peter. "These are the happiest hours of her whole life. Don't I know? Can't I tell? Don't I know her and love her better than any one else does? She's happy. Beautifully happy. And why shouldn't she be? She's young. She's in love. She's soon to be married. What girl wouldn't be happy?"
There was a long pause. Peter was reading over the last letter of the budget. Hartmann was staring at him aghast.
"Soon to be married?" breathed the secretary when he could steady his voice. "Then—then it's all settled, sir?"
"No," replied Peter. "But it soon will be. I'm going to settle it. Any one can see how she feels toward Frederik."
"But," faltered Hartmann lamely, "isn't she very—very young to be married?"
"Not when she marries into the family. Not when I'm here to watch over her. You see—Sit down again, James. I like to talk about it to some one who is interested. And you are interested, aren't you?"
"Yes, sir," the secretary managed to say.
"Very good. Now, in following out my plans——"
"Oom Peter," called Kathrien from the dining-room, "I have your coffee all ready. Shall I bring it in?"
"By and by, dear. By and by. I am busy now. I'll let you know. Shut the door, won't you?"
She obeyed. And to the hungrily watching secretary it seemed as if the door were closing, in his very face, upon the gates of Paradise.
"In following my plans," Grimm was repeating, "I've had to be pretty shrewd and secretive. For it wouldn't do to let either of them suspect too soon. And I flatter myself they didn't. Here's my notion. I made up in my mind to keep Katje in the family. I'm a rich man. And so I've had to guard against young fellows who would dangle around after a girl for her money. I've guarded that point rather well. The whole town, for instance, understands that Katje hasn't a penny. Doesn't it?"
"I believe so."
"I've made a number of wills. But I've destroyed them all, one after another. And any time any of her boy friends called, I've—well, I've had business that kept me here in the room. When she goes to a dance, how does she go? With me. When she goes to the theatre, how does she go? With me. When she has had candy or any other present, who gave it to her? I did. And so it has been from the first. Every pleasure—she's had 'em all. And she had 'em all from me. What's the result? She's perfectly happy and——"
"But," argued Hartmann, "did you want her to be happy simply because you were happy? Didn't you want her to be happy because she——?"
"So long as she is happy," retorted Grimm, "why should I care what does it?"
"If she's happy," repeated the secretary.
"If she's happy?" mocked Grimm, his Dutch temper beginning to smoulder behind his gentle, obstinate little eyes. "If? What do you mean? That's the second time you've—Why do you harp on that if?"
His voice rose threateningly. The silver grey mane on his head bristled like a boar's. Hartmann rose and started quietly for the door.
"Where are you going?" shouted Grimm.
"Excuse me, sir," said the secretary, continuing his doorward progress.
"Come back here!" ordered Grimm fiercely. "Come back here, I say! Sit down! So! Now, tell me what you mean! What do you know—or think you know?"
"Mr. Grimm," answered Hartmann, cornered and desperate, "you are the greatest living authority on tulips. You can perform miracles with them. But you can't mate people as you graft tulips. You can't do it. More than once I have caught Miss Katie crying. And I've——"
"Pooh!" snorted Grimm. "Caught her crying, have you? Of course. So have I. What does that amount to? Was there ever a girl that didn't cry? All women cry until they have something to cry about. Then they're too busy living to waste time in such luxuries as tears. Why, time and time again, I've asked her why she was crying. And always she'd answer: 'For no reason at all. For nothing.' And that is the answer. They love to cry. But that's what they all cry over;—'Nothing!'"
Hartmann did not answer. Grimm's gust of anger had been blown away by the wind of his own words. He went on in a half-amused reminiscent tone:
"James, did I ever tell you how I happened to get Katje? She was prescribed for me by Dr. McPherson."
"Yes, just that. As an antidote for getting to be a fussy old bachelor with queer notions in my head. And the cure worked to perfection. When my old friend Staats died——"
"Oh, yes, I've often heard——"
But Peter Grimm was no more to be balked in the repetition of his favourite narrative merely because his hearer chanced to be familiar with its every detail, than he would have been balked in hearing the Grimm genealogy re-read for the thousandth time.
"When my old friend Staats died," he said, "McPherson brought Staats's motherless baby over here; and he said: 'Peter, this is what you need in the house.' Those were his very words: 'Peter, this is what you need in the house.' And, sure enough, the very first time I carried her up those stairs over there, all my fine, cranky, crotchety bachelor notions flew out of my head. I knew then, in a flash, that all my knowledge and all my queer ideas of life were just humbug! I had missed the Child in the House. Yes,"—his voice dropped with a strain of soft regret,—"I had missed many children in the house. James, I was born in that little room up there. The room I sleep in. And one day, please God, Katje's children shall play in the room where I was born."
"Yes," acquiesced Hartmann as Grimm ceased,—and the secretary's voice and words grated like a file on the old man's tender mood,—"it's a very pretty picture—if it turns out at all the way you are trying to paint it."
"How can it turn out wrong?" demanded Peter, in fresh irritation. "What's the matter with the way I'm 'painting the picture'?"
"From your standpoint, as I say, it's very pretty. But it's more than a mere question of sentiment. Her children can play anywhere."
"What? You're talking rubbish! I pick out a husband here—and her children can play in China if they want to? Are you crazy? Pshaw," turning away in disgust, "I just waste words in opening my heart's dear secrets to a dolt like you."
"Perhaps," assented Hartmann, quite unruffled, as he set to work enveloping some seed catalogues that lay on the table. Grimm evidently was about to pursue the flying foe with fresh invective. But Marta came in from the kitchen, and, with her, Willem. At sight of the boy, Grimm's frown softened into a smile of welcome.
"Come seg huge moroche tegen, Mynheer Grimm," said Marta, while Willem, walking over to Peter, held out a thin little hand in greeting, with the salutation:
"Huge moroche, Mynheer Grimm."
"Huge moroche, Willem," replied Grimm kindly, pressing the boy's hand.
"I'm all ready to take the flowers over to the rectory," announced Willem, drifting into English.
"If you're tired after going to the station, Otto can take them," said Grimm.
"Oh, I'm not a bit tired."
"And you're getting real well again?"
"Ja, Mynheer. The doctor says I'm all right now."
"That's good. Tell Otto to give you a big armful of flowers for the rectory. A big armful, remember."
Marta's grandmotherly gaze fancied it detected a twist in the boy's neatly tied cravat. So she swooped down upon him and bore him away to the window seat, where her blurring eyes would have light enough to readjust the tie to her satisfaction. Grimm, with a quick glance to make sure they were not in earshot, tapped Hartmann on the shoulder and whispered:
"There's a nice result of the 'freedom' you said young girls ought to have. Marta's Anne Marie had nothing but freedom. She was the worst spoiled child in town. Marta let her come and go as she pleased. Come and go—Heaven knows where. And Heaven knows where the poor shamed girl is now. Every time I look at Willem," raising his voice to normal pitch as Marta and her grandson passed into the kitchen, "I realise how right I've been in the way I've brought up Katje. H'—m! Want me to give Katje a chance for more freedom, do you? Why——"
"Mr. Grimm," interrupted Hartmann, suddenly getting to his feet and facing his employer, "I'd like to be transferred to your Florida headquarters. At once, if it is convenient to you. I want to work out in the open for a while."
"What?" exclaimed Grimm dumfounded. "Florida? At this time of the year? And you were so glad to get back here to—Pshaw! You've just got a cranky fit on you, lad. Get rid of it. Put on your overalls and go out and potter around among those beloved vegetables of yours. Change your ideas, I say. Change the whole lot of them. They're all wrong. You don't know what you want."
Hartmann's lips were parted for a retort. But he closed them, turned on his heel, and left the room. Grimm shook his head as over a problem he could not solve and did not greatly care to. Then he fell to sorting a box full of bulbs.
But in a minute or two he was interrupted by Frederik.
"I saw Hartmann crossing the yard," said the younger man, "so I stepped over for a little chat with you, if you've time to listen to me."
"I've always got time to listen to you, Fritzy," replied Grimm, still busy with his bulbs. "It'll be a relief after that pig-headed James. Lord, how I do hate an obstinate man! You said a while ago you wanted to see me on a private matter. What was it? If it's that full-page coloured cut of the new tulip, I may as well tell you——"
"It isn't. It's about your pig-headed friend, James."
"James? What about him?"
"Just this, Oom Peter: I think he is interested in Kathrien."
"Who? James? Bah! You're dreaming. That's just like a lover. Thinks every one is trying to steal his sweetheart. Why, James is too much wrapped up in his work to care about anything else. His work and his crazy theories that he gets out of books. Interested in Kathrien? Just to show you how foolish you are to think that, he asked me not five minutes ago to transfer him to the Florida headquarters. And, even if he weren't so absorbed in the business, he'd never even presume to think of Kathrien. It's preposterous!"
"Is it?" said Frederik, quite unconvinced. "Yet I've reason to believe he has been making love to her."
There was a quiet certainty in his nephew's voice that caught Grimm's reluctant credence.
"We'll find out mighty soon," he declared. "Katje!"
"No, no!" expostulated Frederik. "It would be better not to bring her into it or give her the idea that——"
"Yes, Oom Peter," answered the girl, hurrying in from the dining-room in response to the bellowed summons. "What's the matter?"
"Katje," began the old man in visible embarrassment, "has—has James——?"
"What?" queried Kathrien, as Grimm paused and broke into a shamefaced laugh.
"Has—has James ever shown any special interest in you? Ever made love to you, or——?"
"Oh, Oom Peter!" expostulated Kathrien, reddening to the roots of her hair. "Whatever gave you such an idea as that?"
"Nothing at all," he answered her. "It was just a bit of silly nonsense. A joke. I can't help teasing you. Because you blush so prettily. But—but has he?"
"Why, of course not. I've always known James. Ever since I can remember. He's never shown any interest in me that he ought not to,—if that's what you mean. He's always been very respectful; in a perfectly—a perfectly friendly way."
She was scarlet and stammering. But Grimm apparently did not notice her confusion.
"Respectful," he repeated musingly. "In a perfectly friendly way. Surely we couldn't ask for anything more than that. Thank you, little girl. That's all I wanted to know. Run along."
Casting a puzzled look at Grimm and then at Frederik—who, since she first entered the room had been seated near the window, deeply absorbed in a book,—Kathrien returned to her work in the other part of the house.
Grimm's kind eyes had never for an instant left her troubled face, nor had they failed to note her evident relief at escaping from the room. As the door closed behind her, the kindly look faded from the old eyes, leaving them hard and cold. The firm jaw set more tightly. Yet, as he turned toward Frederik, there was no trace in his tone of anything but pleasant banter.
"There, Fritzy!" said he. "You see James was only 'respectful to her in a perfectly friendly way.' I hope you are quite satisfied?"
"I am," answered Frederik. "Quite. In fact I'm every bit as satisfied as you are, uncle."
Grimm sat very still for a moment or so, staring blindly into space, his head on his breast. Then, with a sigh, he roused himself. Reaching for the telephone he called up his office.
"Send Mr. Hartmann over here," he commanded.
He set down the instrument and resumed his blank stare into nothingness. Frederik was once more wholly engrossed in the book he was not reading. Hartmann broke in upon the strained silence.
"You sent for me, sir?" he asked, his breezy bigness waking the still room to life.
"Yes," replied Peter Grimm. "James, it has occurred to me—to ask—it has occurred to me that—James, please tell me your reason for asking a few minutes ago to be transferred to Florida?"
James made no immediate reply. He seemed ransacking his mind for the right words. Grimm eyed him closely, asking with sudden directness:
"Was it on account of my little girl?"
"Yes, sir," replied Hartmann.
The secretary's confusion had fled. Calm, self-contained, flinching not at all from the shrewd, searching eyes that were fixed on his own, he stood awaiting the breaking of the storm.
A WARNING AND A THEORY
But, to Hartmann's surprise, the storm did not break. Instead, Peter Grimm sat gazing at him with impassive face,—gazing long and without a word. And when at last Grimm spoke, the old man's voice was as emotionless as his face.
"You love her?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," answered Hartmann, as calmly as though stating some fact in botany.
"H'—m!" rumbled Grimm, half to himself. "Ja vis! Ja vis!"
Hartmann still waited for the storm. And still it did not come.
"You love her?" repeated Grimm. "Does she know?"
"No. She doesn't know. She need never know. I had not meant to say a word to any one."
Grimm rose and came toward him. The hard face was gentle again. The inquisitorial voice was once more kindly.
"James," said the old man, "go to the office and get your money. Then start for Florida headquarters. Good-bye."
"Good-bye, sir," replied James, grasping the outstretched hand. "I'm very sorry."
"I'm sorry, too, James. Good-bye!"
As Hartmann left the room, Grimm turned to Frederik, and his eyes were full of pain.
"That is settled, thank Heaven!" he announced; but there was no jubilance in his voice. "I wish—Hello, there's old McPherson!"
Glad to divert his mind he hurried to the front door to welcome the visitor and drew him into the room with friendly roughness.
Dr. McPherson would have borne the stamp, "Family physician of the Old School," even had he been found in the ranks of the Matabele army. Big, shaggy, bearded, he was of the ancient and puissant type that, under the tidal wave of "specialism" is fast being swept towards the shores where live the last survivors of the Great Auk, the Dinosaur, and the Spread Eagle Orator tribes.
"Good-morning, Peter," hailed the doctor, a Scotch burr faintly rasping his bluff voice. "Morning, Fred. I passed young Hartmann at the gate. He looks as if he was taking a pleasure trip to his own funeral. What ails him?"
No one answered.
"He's about the finest lad that ever I brought into the world. What's happened to make him so——? Good-morning, Kathrien," he broke off, as the girl, followed by Marta, came in with Grimm's long delayed breakfast.
"Good-morning, Doctor," she answered. "Oom Peter, you forgot to send for this. So I——"
"What's that?" roared McPherson, sniffing the air like a bull that scents an enemy. "Coffee? Why, damn it, Peter, I forbade you to touch coffee. It's rank poison to you. And you know it is. I told you——"
"Wouldn't you like a cup, Doctor?" asked Kathrien innocently.
"Of course he'll take a cup," interrupted Grimm. "He'll damn it. But he'll drink it."
"And look here!" proceeded McPherson, pointing an accusing finger at the breakfast tray. "Waffles! Actually waffles! And after I told you——"
"Yes, Katje," explained Grimm, "he'll damn the waffles, too. But, if you watch closely, you'll notice he'll eat some. Sit down, Andrew."
"I tell you," fumed the doctor, "I didn't come here to encourage you, by my example, in wrecking your system. I came for a serious talk with you, Peter."
Kathrien, at the hint, discreetly effaced herself. Frederik followed her example.
"Well? well?" queried Peter in mock despair, seating himself opposite his old crony and tyrant. "What new horrors of diet have you thought up for my misery? Out with it. Let me know the worst."
"It isn't your body this time, Peter," was the troubled answer. "It's something that means more. The matter's been keeping me awake all night. Tell me:—how is every one provided for in this house?"
"Provided for?" echoed Peter in bewilderment. "How do you mean? Everybody gets enough to eat and we are——"
"Why, you don't understand me. You're a wonderful man for making plans, Peter. But what have you done?"
"If you—if you were to die—say to-morrow, or—or any other time," went on the doctor with an effort at carelessness that sat on his rough honesty as ill as his Sunday broadcloth adorned his rugged shoulders, "if you—die—unexpectedly,—how would it be with the rest of them here?"
Grimm set down his coffee cup with slow precision. And slowly he raised his eyes to McPherson's worried gaze.
"What do you mean?" he asked with something very like awe in his tone. "If I were to die to-morrow——"
"You won't!" declared McPherson emphatically. "You won't. So don't worry. You're good for a long time yet. A score of years, perhaps. You're all right, if you take decent care of yourself. Which you never do. But we've all got to come to it, sooner or later. And it's well to make provision. For instance, what would Kathrien's position be in this house, in case you were taken out of it? Kathrien is a little 'prescription' of mine, you'll remember. And—I suppose your heart is still set on her marrying Frederik, so that what is one's will be the other's. Personally I've always thought it was rather a pity that Frederik wasn't James and James wasn't Frederik."
"Eh?" cried Peter. "What's that?"
"It's none of my business," answered McPherson. "And it's all very well as it stands—if she wants Frederik. But if you want to do anything for her future welfare, take my advice, and do it now."
"You mean," Peter said evenly, between stiffening lips, "you mean that I could—die?"
"Every one can," replied McPherson with elephantine lightness. "And at one time or another, every one does. It's a thing to be prepared for."
"One moment," urged Grimm, the keen little eyes piercing the other's badly woven cloak of indifference. "You think that I——!"
"I mean nothing more nor less, Peter, than that the machinery is wearing out. There's absolutely no cause for apprehension. Still, I thought I had better tell you."
"But," asked Grimm with a pathetic insistence, "if there's no cause for apprehension——?"
"Listen, Peter: when I cured you of that cold the other day—the cold you got by tramping around like an idiot among the wet flower-beds without rubbers—I made a discovery of—of something I can't cure."
Grimm studied his friend's unreadable face for an instant with an almost painful intensity. Then a smile swept away the worry from his own visage.
"Oh, Andrew, you old croaking Scotch raven," he cried. "Your professional ways will be the death of some one yet. But the 'some one' won't be Peter Grimm. That sick bed manner is splendid for bullying old maids into taking their tonic. But it's wasted on a grown man. No, no, Andrew. You can't make me out an invalid. You doctors are a sorry lot. You pour medicines of which you know little into systems of which you know nothing. You condemn people to death as the old Inquisition would have blushed to. Why, every day we read in the papers about some frisky boy a hundred years old whom the doctors gave up for lost when he was twenty-five. And," the forced gaiety in his voice merging into aggressive resolve, "I'm going to live to see children in this old house of mine. Katje's babies creeping about this very floor; sliding down those bannisters over there, pulling the ears of Lad, my collie."
"Good Lord, Peter! That dog is fifteen years old now! Argue yourself into miraculous longevity if you want to. But don't argue old Lad into it. Do you expect nothing will ever change in your home?"
"Perhaps," agreed Peter, with unshaken defiance. "But not before I live to see a new line of rosy-faced, fluffy-haired little Grimms."
McPherson leaned back with a sigh of discouragement. Then, with professional insight, he noted for the first time the gallant fight the old man opposite him was making to keep up that obstinate gay courage whose outward expression had so irritated the doctor. And, all at once, McPherson ceased to become the gruff friend and assumed the role that Ananias's physician probably acquired from his famous patient and which, most assuredly, he has handed down to all his medical successors.
"I see no reason, Peter," said he with judicial ponderousness, "why you shouldn't reach a ripe old age. You're quite likely to outlive me and a host of younger men. Only, take better care of yourself. And,—no matter how many probable years of life a man has before him, it does him no harm to set his house in order. Think over that part of my advice and forget the rest of it."
"Forget the rest of it," echoed Grimm absently. "The rest——"
McPherson hesitated; then as though overcome by a temptation too strong for him to battle against, he blurted out half-shamefacedly:
"Peter—don't laugh at me. I want to make a strange compact with you. As I've told you, you're quite likely to outlive me. But—will you agree that whichever of us happens to—to go first,—shall come back and—and let the other fellow know? Let the other fellow know; so as to settle the Great Question once and for all?"
Grimm stared at him for a moment. Then he set the room ringing with a laugh of whose mocking heartiness there could be no doubt.
"Oh, Andrew! Andrew!" he cried, when he could get his breath. "Still riding your one crazy hobby! And you so sane in other ways!"
"But you'll make the compact?" begged McPherson. "You're a man of your word,——"
"Make a compact to——? Oh, no, no, man. No! I'd be ashamed to have people know I was such a fool."
"But," urged the doctor, "no one else need know anything about it. It'll be just between ourselves."
"No, no, dear old Andrew," laughed Grimm indulgently. "Positively no! I refuse, point-blank. I'll do you any favour in reason. But I draw the line at being dragged into any of your absurd spook tests."
"You sneer at 'spooks,' as you call them," retorted the doctor. "Most people do. Just as people scoffed when Columbus told them there was an America. But how many times do you think you have seen a spook, yourself?"
"A spook? I can't remember that I ever——"
"Yes, a ghost."
"A ghost," repeated Grimm with the utmost solemnity and wrinkling his forehead as in an effort of memory. "I can't just now recall——"
"That's right! Make fun of me! But you can't tell that man is complete—that he doesn't live more than one life;—that the soul doesn't pass on and on. Smile if you like. Wiser men than yourself have believed it. Why, man alive, every human being is surcharged with a persistent personal energy. And that energy must continue forever."
"Oh, Doctor, Doctor!" exclaimed Kathrien, coming in with a fresh supply of hot waffles. "Have you started on spooks again?"
"Yes, Katje," sighed Peter dolorously. "There can be no possible redeeming doubt about that. He's started."
"And," laughed the girl, "I wasn't on hand to hear him. Have I missed very much of it?"
"No," answered her uncle. "We're still in the painful early stages of the squabble. I'll tell you what I'll do, Andrew: I'll compromise with you. Instead of making the bargain you proposed, I'll stand aside and let you go ahead of me into the next world. Then you can come back at your leisure and keep the spook compact. It'll be quite interesting. Every time a knock sounds or a chair creaks or a door bangs or Lad growls in his sleep, I'll strike an attitude and say: 'Ssh! There's Doc!'"
"Don't guy me, old friend," urged McPherson. "I'm entirely serious. I'll make the promise and I want you to make it, too. Understand, I'm no so-called Spiritist. I'm just a groping seeker after the Truth."
"That's what they all say," scoffed Grimm. "Seekers after the truth! And madly eager to believe everything they hear or read except the commonsense truth. And you, a level-headed Scotchman, old enough to be your own father, actually gulp down such tomfoolery! Next we'll have you chasing around the streets at night, looking with a dark lantern for the bogey man."
"Laugh at me if you like. I know I'm right. I know the dead are alive. They're here. Right here. They're all about us, watching us, suffering with us, rejoicing with us, trying no doubt to speak the warnings and encouragements that our world-deafened mortal ears cannot hear. I'm not alone in the theory. Some of the greatest scientists—the wisest men of the century—are of the same opinion."
"Dreamers," smiled Grimm indulgently. "Dreamers like yourself."
"Dreamers, eh?" The doctor caught him up vehemently. "Dreamers? You can't call Sir William Crookes, the inventor of the Crookes' Tubes, a dreamer! No, nor Sir Oliver Lodge, the great biologist; or Curie, who discovered radium; or Dr. Lombroso, the founder of the science of criminology. Are Maxwell, Dr. Vesine, Richet, and our own American, Dr. Hyslop, dreamers? Why, even Professor James, the mighty Harvard psychologist, took a peep at ghosts. And, instead of laughing at 'spooks,' the big scientific men are trying to lay hold of them. I tell you, Peter, Science is just beginning to peer through the half-open door that a few years ago was shut tight."
"Trying to lay hold of ghosts, are they?" said Grimm. "I'd like to lay hold of one. I'd lug it to the nearest police station. That's the place for 'em. Just as the asylum's the place for folks who believe in 'em. When you 'pass over,' Andrew, you'd better not come back. You won't enjoy prowling around a world where sane people don't believe you exist."
"Peter," reproved McPherson, "I'm sorry—very, very sorry—that you and others like you think it's smart to make a joke of something you can't understand. Hyslop was right when he said Man will spend millions of dollars to discover the North Pole, but not one cent to throw a ray of light upon his immortal destiny."
"And, after the millions of times they've been exposed, you blame me for not joining in your belief in spook mediums!"
"A lot of mediums are humbugs, I grant you. Just as there are fakers in every profession. If there were no such thing as real money, there would be no object in making counterfeits. And some of the mediums have proven clearly that they are capable of real demonstrations."
"They are, hey? What's the use of mediums at all if the dead can really come back? If my friends who have died return to earth, why don't they walk straight up to me and say, 'Well, Peter Grimm. Here we are!' When they do that, I shall gladly be the first man to take off my hat to them and hold out my hand. But as long as they have to employ greasy mediums to make their presence known, and try to prove they are with me by knocking on tables and tipping chairs and scratching on slates, there is only one of two things to believe: Either mediums are fakes, or else folks all become imbecile practical jokers as soon as they die."
"Imbecile practical jokers!" repeated Kathrien, shocked.
"Yes," reiterated Peter Grimm. "That's what I said. And it's a mild way of putting it. Would any sane man play such tricks as the spiritualists attribute to our dead? It shatters every thought of the majesty of death. Would a sane live man walk into my house and announce his presence to me by rapping on a wall or tipping a table or scrawling idiotic messages on a slate or talking to me through some half-educated 'medium'? Would he——?"
"Yes, he would!" asserted the doctor. "He'd do all those things and more, if he couldn't make you see him or hear him in any other way. As to mediums,—why doesn't a telegram travel through the air as well as on a wire? Your friends could come back to you in the old way if you could but put yourself in a receptive condition. But you can't. So you must depend on a non-professional medium,—a 'sensitive'——"
"See, Katje," interpolated Grimm, "he has names for them all. All neatly classified like so many germs in a bottle. Well, Andrew, how many ghosts did you see last night? He has only to shut his eyes, Katje, and along comes the parade. Spooks! Spooks! Spooks! Nice, grisly, shivering, spooky spooks! And now he wants me to put my house in order and settle up my affairs and join the parade."
"Settle your affairs?" asked Kathrien puzzled.
"Oh, it's just his nonsense," Grimm hastened to assure her. "Andrew,"—he hurried on to turn the subject from dangerous personalities,—"you've seen a whole lot of people pass over to the Other Side. In fact, your patients seem to have quite a habit of doing that. Tell me: did you ever see one out of all that number come back again? Just one?"
"No," answered McPherson reluctantly. "I never did, but——"
"No," cried Grimm in triumph, "and what's more, you never will. Yet you——"
"There was not perhaps the intimate bond between doctor and patients to bring them back to me. But in my own family, I've known of a 'return' such as you speak of. A distant cousin of mine died in London. And at almost that very instant, she was seen in New York."
"Rubbish? Why? A century ago, if any one had tried to describe the telephone, people of your sort would have grunted 'Rubbish!' But if my voice can carry thousands of miles over the telephone, why cannot a soul, with God-given force behind it, dart over the entire universe? Is Thomas Edison greater than God?"
"Oh, Doctor," gasped the horrified Kathrien.
"And what's more," rushed on McPherson, unheeding, "they can't lay it all to telepathy. In the case of a spirit message giving the contents of a sealed letter known only to the person who has died—telepathy, eh? Not a bit of it. Here's a case you must have heard of, Peter. An officer on the Polar vessel Jeannette sent out by a New York newspaper, appeared one night at his wife's bedside. She was in Brooklyn. She knew perfectly well that he was on the Polar Sea. He said to her: 'Count!' Then she distinctly heard a ship's bell and her husband's voice saying again, 'Count!' She had counted 'six' when his voice said: 'Six bells! And the Jeannette is lost!' The ship, it turned out later, was really lost at the very time the woman had the vision. There! Account for that by telepathy or trickery if you can!"
"A bad dream!" was Grimm's unshaken verdict. "I have them every now and then. 'Six bells and'—suet pudding brings me messages from the North Pole. And I can get messages from Kingdom Come when I've had half a hot mince pie with melted cheese on it for supper. That disposes of your Jeannette case."
"Scoff if you like. There have been more than seventeen thousand other cases which the London Society of Psychical Research has found worth investigating."
"Well, Andrew," asked Grimm, with a covert wink at Kathrien, "supposing, for the sake of argument, that I did want to 'come back,' how could I manage it?"
At the question the doctor's rising irritation at the other's friendly mockery was swept away by the zeal of prospective proselyting.
"In this way, Peter," he declared. "Let me make it clear as simply as I can. In hypnotism our thoughts take possession of the person we hypnotise. When our personalities enter their bodies, something goes out of them:—a sort of Shadow Self. This 'Self' can be sent out of the room—out of the house—even to a long distance. This 'Self' is the force that, I firmly believe, departs from us entirely on the first or second or third day after death. This is the force you could send back. The astral envelope. Do I make it plain?"
"Plain? Plain as a flower in the mud on a dark night. But how do you know I've got an—'envelope'?"
"Every one has. Why, De Roche has actually photographed one, by means of radio-photography."
Grimm lay back in his chair and shouted aloud with laughter.
"Mind you," went on McPherson, laboriously anxious to make clear his point, "they could not see it when they were photographing it."
"No, I should imagine not. Nor the picture after it was taken. But in other respects, I don't doubt it was a splendid likeness."
"Wait, before you try to be funny. Wait till I tell you about it. This 'envelope' or Shadow Self stood a few feet away from the sleeper. It was invisible, of course, to the eye. It was only located by striking the air and watching for the corresponding portion of the sleeper's body to recoil. By pricking a certain part of the Shadow Self with a pin, the cheek of the patient could be made to bleed. It was at that spot that the camera was focussed for fifteen minutes! The result was——"
"A spoiled film."
"No, the profile of a head!" contradicted Dr. McPherson.
Grimm stared at him wonderingly.
"And you actually believe such idiocy?" he demanded.
"It isn't a mere question of belief," declared McPherson, "but of absolute knowledge. De Roche, who took the picture, is not a fraud, but a lawyer of high standing. A room full of famous scientists saw the picture taken."
"If they were honest, they were hypnotised."
"Perhaps you think the camera was hypnotised, too," retorted the doctor. "Lombroso says that once under similar circumstances an unnatural current of cold air went through the room and lowered the thermometer several degrees. These are facts. Can you hypnotise a thermometer?"
"Oh, isn't that wonderful?" breathed Kathrien.
Grimm patted her shoulder gently, smiling as one might smile who sees a dearly loved child taken in by a wonder-story. Then he turned to McPherson, the banter in face and voice changed to mild reproof.
"No, Andrew," said he, reaching for his long meerschaum pipe and holding its coffee-brown bowl lovingly between his thick fingers, as he proceeded to fill it from a pouch on the mantel, "No, Andrew. I refuse your compact. I'll have no part or parcel in it. Because it's an impossible thing you ask of me. We don't come back. One cannot pick the lock of Heaven's gate. It is no part of our terms with the Almighty. God did enough for us when He gave us life and gave us the strength to work, and then gave us work to do. He owes us no explanation. I'll take my chances on the old-fashioned Paradise—with a locked gate. No bogies for me."
With another reassuring smile at Kathrien as she went out with the tray of breakfast things, he lighted his pipe and repeated musingly:
"No bogies for me, I say. Who are you that you should take the Kingdom of Heaven by violence? Why," he broke out, "what ails you, man?"
A QUEER COMPACT
"Have you done?" rasped McPherson. "Have you quite done?"
"Then listen to me. Abuse is not argument. Neither is silly mockery. I console myself with the thought that men have laughed at the theory of the earth going round, and at vaccination, and lightning rods, and magnetism, and daguerreotypes, and steamboats, and cars, and telephones, and at the theory of the circulation of the blood, and at wireless telegraphy, and at flying in the air. So your gibing is forgivable. But—I'm very, very much disappointed, Peter, that so old a friend should refuse such a simple request. I'll be wishing you a very good day."
"Hold on, Andrew! Hold on!" cried Grimm, hastily setting down his pipe and hurrying forward to intercept his angrily departing guest. "Man, man, can't you keep your temper? I didn't mean to rile you. Come back. If you take the thing so seriously, I'll—I'll make the compact with you. Here's my hand on it. I know you're an old fool. And I'm another. So we're both in bad company. Shake hands. Now then! Whichever of us does go first is to come back and try to make himself known to the other. And——"
A fit of uncontrollable laughter cut across his words. The doctor frowned pettishly and made as though to turn away. But Peter still held his hand and would not let it go.
"There, Andrew!" he said remorsefully, as he wiped the laughter tears from his eyes. "I've riled you again. I'm sorry. We'll leave the matter this way: if I go first—and if I can come back, I will come back—and I'll apologise to you for being in the wrong. There! Does that satisfy you, Andrew? I say I'll come back and apologise."
"You mean it, Peter?" asked McPherson eagerly. "You're not joking?"
"No, I mean it. If I can, I'll come back. And if I come back I'll apologise to you. It's a deal. Now let's have a nip of my plum brandy to seal the compact."
"I'll step down to the cellar and get a fresh bottle of it. That one on the sideboard hasn't got two man's size drinks left in it. I'll be back in a minute and then we'll drink to spooks. Especially to spooks that come back and apologise."
With a chuckle at his own odd conceit, he vanished cellarward. As the door closed behind him, Kathrien came in from the dining-room, where evidently she had been awaiting a chance for a word alone with McPherson.
"Doctor," she asked almost breathlessly, "do you really believe the dead can come back?"
"Why not?" demanded McPherson, beginning to bristle for a new argument. "Why shouldn't they?"
"But—you mean to say you could come back to this room if you were dead, and I could see you?"
"You might not see me. I don't say you could. But I could come back."
"And—and could you talk to me?"
"I think so."
"But, could I hear you?"
"That I don't know. You see, that's what we gropers after the light are trying to make possible. Hello!" he interrupted himself, in a none too pleased whisper. "Here are some people that can talk and that one can't help hearing!"
Ushered in by Willem, the Rev. Mr. Batholommey, the local Episcopal clergyman of Grimm Manor, and his placid, portly wife, swept in from the vestibule on clerical visitation bent.
"Good-morning, Doctor," sighed Mrs. Batholommey, comprising the whole sunlit room in one all-compassionate glance.
"Good-morning, Mrs. Batholommey," answered Kathrien, loudly enough to drown McPherson's growl of unwelcoming welcome. "Good-morning, Pastor. Oom Peter will be back directly. I'll tell him you're here."
She hurried out of the room. McPherson showed strong inclination to follow her. But Mrs. Batholommey had already singled him out for her prey and bore down upon him with a becomingly woe-begone face.
"Oh, Doctor," she panted, wiping her eyes. "Does he know it yet? Does he?"
"Does who know what?" snapped the doctor, his glance straying wrathfully toward the rotund clergyman, who all at once assumed an abjectly apologetic air and interested himself in a picture on the farther wall.
"Poor dear Mr. Grimm," pursued Mrs. Batholommey. "Does he know he's going to die?"
Willem, who was halfway out of the room by this time, halted, turned back and, unobserved, stood listening with wide eyes and open mouth.
"What in blue blazes are you talking about?" thundered McPherson, glowering down on his rector's wife in a most unadmiring manner.
"About Mr. Grimm. Does he know yet that he must die?"
"Does the whole damned town know it?" roared the doctor.
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Batholommey in prim horror at the explosive adjective.
"You see, Doctor," put in the rector with urbane haste, before his spouse could recover breath to rebuke the blasphemer or return to the attack. "You see, it's this way: You consulted Mr. Grimm's lawyer. And his wife told my wife."
"Gabbed, did he?" snorted McPherson. "To perdition with the professional man who gabs to his wife!"
"Oh, Doctor!" expostulated Mrs. Batholommey. "How can——?"
"I am inexpressibly grieved," said her husband, "to learn that Mr. Grimm has an incurable malady. And is it true that the nature of it is——?"
"The nature of the whole affair is this," returned McPherson. "He isn't to be told. Understand that, please. He must not know. I didn't say he had to die at once. He may outlive us all. He probably will. And, in any event, no one must speak to him about it."
"I should think," said Mrs. Batholommey in lofty rebuke, "that a man's rector might be allowed to talk to him on such a theme. It seems to me, Dr. McPherson, if you can't do any more, it's his turn. From the way you doctors assume control of everything, it's a wonder to me you don't want to baptise the babies, too."
"Rose!" murmured the doctor in mild reproof.
"At the last moment," Mrs. Batholommey insisted, ignoring her husband, "Mr. Grimm will want to make a will. And you know he hasn't. He'll want to remember the Episcopal Church of Grimm Manor, and his charities—and his—friends. If he doesn't, the rector will be blamed as usual. You're not doing right, Doctor, in keeping——"
"Rose! My dear!" interjected her husband. "These private matters——"
"I'll trouble you, Mrs. Batholommey," shouted McPherson, "to attend to your own affairs, and——"
"Doctor!" bleated the rector.
"Oh, let him talk, Henry!" sniffed Mrs. Batholommey in semi-tearful exaltation. "I can bear it. Besides," coming to earth level, "no one in town pays any attention to what he says since he has taken up with spiritualism."
"Oh, Rose! My dear!"
"Shut up!" whispered McPherson wrathfully. "Here he comes. Remember what I——"
Peter Grimm put an end to the warning by reappearing from the cellar with a small demijohn in his hand. His face brightened into a smile of pleasant greeting as he saw his two new guests.
"Why," he exclaimed, "this is the jolliest sort of a surprise. I hope I haven't kept you waiting long?"
The rector and his wife glanced at each other in embarrassment. Mrs. Batholommey turned toward Peter with a lachrymose grimace, intended doubtless for a consoling smile, and seemed about to break into a torrent of speech. But the rector, after a timid look at McPherson, nervously forestalled her by coming hurriedly to the front.
"Good-morning, dear friend," said he. "This is just a little impromptu visit of gratitude. We wish to thank you for the lovely flowers that Willem brought us a few minutes ago, and for the noble check you sent yesterday."