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Title: Peter: A Novel of Which He is Not the Hero
Author: Smith, Francis Hopkinson
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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PETER

A Novel of Which He is Not the Hero

By F. Hopkinson Smith



CHAPTER I


Peter was still poring over his ledger one dark afternoon in December,
his bald head glistening like a huge ostrich egg under the flare of the
overhead gas jets, when Patrick, the night watchman, catching sight of
my face peering through the outer grating, opened the door of the Bank.

The sight so late in the day was an unusual one, for in all the years
that I have called at the Bank--ten, now--no, eleven since we first knew
each other--Peter had seldom failed to be ready for our walk uptown when
the old moon-faced clock high up on the wall above the stove pointed at
four.

“I thought there was something up!” I cried. “What is it, Peter--balance
wrong?”

He did not answer, only waved his hand in reply, his bushy gray eyebrows
moving slowly, like two shutters that opened and closed, as he scanned
the lines of figures up and down, his long pen gripped tight between his
thin, straight lips, as a dog carries a bone.

I never interrupt him when his brain is nosing about like this; it is
better to keep still and let him ferret it out. So I sat down outside
the curved rail with its wooden slats backed by faded green curtains,
close to the big stove screened off at the end of the long room, fixed
one eye on the moon-face and the other on the ostrich egg, and waited.

There are no such banks at the present time--were no others then, and
this story begins not so very many years’ ago--A queer, out-of-date,
mouldy old barn of a bank, you would say, this Exeter--for an
institution wielding its influence. Not a coat of paint for half a
century; not a brushful of whitewash for goodness knows how much longer.
As for the floor, it still showed the gullies and grooves, with here
and there a sturdy knot sticking up like a nut on a boiler, marking the
track of countless impatient depositors and countless anxious borrowers,
it may be, who had lock-stepped one behind the other for fifty years
or more, in their journey from the outer door to the windows where the
Peters of the old days, and the Peter of the present, presided over the
funds entrusted to their care.

Well enough in its day, you might have said, with a shrug, as you looked
over its forlorn interior. Well enough in its day! Why, man, old John
Astor, James Beekman, Rhinelander Stewart, Moses Grinnell, and a lot of
just such worthies--men whose word was as good as their notes--and
whose notes were often better than the Government’s, presided over its
destinies, and helped to stuff the old-fashioned vault with wads of
gilt-edged securities--millions in value if you did but know it--and
making it what it is to-day. If you don’t believe the first part of my
statement, you’ve only to fumble among the heap of dusty ledgers piled
on top of the dusty shelves; and if you doubt the latter part, then try
to buy some of the stock and see what you have to pay for it. Although
the gas was turned off in the directors’ room, I could still see
from where I sat the very mahogany table under which these same
ruffle-shirted, watch-fobbed, snuff-taking old fellows tucked their
legs when they decided on who should and who should not share the bank’s
confidence.

And the side walls and surroundings were none the less shabby and quite
as dilapidated. Even the windows had long since given up the fight
to maintain a decent amount of light, and as for the grated opening
protected by iron shutters which would have had barely room to swing
themselves clear of the building next door, no Patrick past or present
had ever dared loosen their bolts for a peep even an inch wide into the
canyon below, so gruesome was the collection of old shoes, tin cans,
broken bottles and battered hats which successive generations had
hurried into the narrow un-get-at-able space that lay between the two
structures.

Indeed the only thing inside or out of this time-worn building which the
most fertile of imaginations could consider as being at all up to date
was the clock. Not its face--that was old-timey enough with its sun,
moon and stars in blue and gold, and the name of the Liverpool maker
engraved on its enamel; nor its hands, fiddle-shaped and stiff, nor
its case, which always reminded me of a coffin set up on end awaiting
burial--but its strike. Whatever divergences the Exeter allowed itself
in its youth, or whatever latitude or longitude it had given its
depositors, and that, we may be sure, was precious little so long as
that Board of Directors was alive, there was no wabbling or wavering, no
being behind time, when the hour hand of the old clock reached three and
its note of warning rang out.

Peter obeyed the ominous sound and closed his Teller’s window with a
gentle bang. Patrick took notice and swung to the iron grating of the
outer door. You might peer in and beg ever so hard--unless, of course,
you were a visitor like myself, and even then Peter would have to give
his consent--you might peer through, I say, or tap on the glass, or you
might plead that you were late and very sorry, but the ostrich egg never
turned in its nest nor did the eyebrows vibrate. Three o’clock was three
o’clock at the Exeter, and everybody might go to the devil--financially,
of course--before the rule would be broken. Other banks in panicky
times might keep a side door open until four, five or six--that is, the
bronze-rail, marble-top, glass-front, certify-your-checks-as-early-as-
ten-in-the-morning-without-a-penny-on-deposit kind of banks--but not the
Exeter--that is, not with Peter’s consent--and Peter was the Exeter so
far as his department was concerned--and had been for nearly thirty
years--twenty as bookkeeper, five as paying teller and five as receiving
teller.

And the regularity and persistency of this clock! Not only did it
announce the hours, but it sounded the halves and quarters, clearing its
throat with a whirr like an admonitory cough before each utterance.
I had samples of its entire repertoire as I sat there:

One...two...three...four...five--then half an hour later a whir-r and a
single note. “Half-past five,” I said to myself. “Will Peter never find
that mistake?” Once during the long wait the night watchman shifted his
leg--he was on the other side of the stove--and once Peter reached up
above his head for a pile of papers, spreading them out before him under
the white glare of the overhead light, then silence again, broken only
by the slow, dogged tock-tick, tock-tick, or the sagging of a hot coal
adjusting itself for the night.

Suddenly a cheery voice rang out and Peter’s hands shot up above his
head.

“Ah, Breen & Co.! One of those plaguey sevens for a nine. Here we are!
Oh, Peter Grayson, how often have I told you to be careful! Ah, what
a sorry block of wood you carry on your shoulders. I won’t be a minute
now, Major.” A gratuitous compliment on the part of my friend, I being
a poor devil of a contractor without military aspirations of any kind.
“Well, well, how could I have been so stupid. Get ready to close up,
Patrick. No, thank you, Patrick, my coat’s inside; I’ll fetch it.”

He was quite another man now, closing the great ledger with a bang;
shouldering it as Moses did the Tables of the Law, and carrying it into
the big vault behind him--big enough to back a buggy into had the great
door been wider--shooting the bolts, whirring the combination into
so hopeless and confused a state that should even the most daring and
expert of burglars have tried his hand or his jimmy on its steel plating
he would have given up in despair (that is unless big Patrick fell
asleep--an unheard-of occurrence) and all with such spring and
joyousness of movement that had I not seen him like this many times
before I would have been deluded into the belief that the real Peter
had been locked up in the dismal vault with the musty books and that an
entirely different kind of Peter was skipping about outside.

But that was nothing to the air with which he swept his papers into the
drawer of his desk, brushed away the crumpled sheets upon which he
had figured his balance, and darted to the washstand behind the narrow
partition. Nor could it be compared to the way in which he stripped
off his black bombazine office-coat with its baggy pockets--quite a
disreputable-looking coat I must say--taking it by the nape of the neck,
as if it were some loathsome object to be got rid of, and hanging it
upon a hook behind him; nor to the way in which he pulled up his shirt
sleeves and plunged his white, long-fingered, delicately modeled hands
into the basin, as if cleanliness were a thing to be welcomed as a
part of his life. These carefully dried, each finger by itself--not
forgetting the small seal ring on the little one--he gave an extra
polish to his glistening pate with the towel, patted his fresh,
smooth-shaven cheeks with an unrumpled handkerchief which he had
taken from his inside pocket, carefully adjusted his white neck-cloth,
refastening the diamond pin--a tiny one but clear as a baby’s tear--put
on his frock-coat with its high collar and flaring tails, took down
his silk hat, gave it a flourish with his handkerchief, unhooked his
overcoat from a peg behind the door (a gray surtout cut something like
the first Napoleon’s) and stepped out to where I sat.

You would never have put him down as being sixty years of age had you
known him as well as I did--and it is a great pity you didn’t. Really,
now that I come to think of it, I never did put him down as being of any
age at all. Peter Grayson and age never seemed to have anything to do
with each other. Sometimes when I have looked in through the Receiving
Teller’s window and have passed in my book--I kept my account at the
Exeter--and he has lifted his bushy shutters and gazed at me suddenly
with his merry Scotch-terrier eyes, I have caught, I must admit, a line
of anxiety, or rather of concentrated cautiousness on his face, which
for the moment made me think that perhaps he was looking a trifle older
than when I last saw him; but all this was scattered to the winds when I
met him an hour afterward swinging up Wall Street with that cheery lift
of the heels so peculiarly his own, a lift that the occupants of every
office window on both sides of the street knew to be Peter’s even when
they failed to recognize the surtout and straight-brimmed high hat. Had
any doubting Thomas, however, walked beside him on his way up Broadway
to his rooms on Fifteenth Street, and had the quick, almost boyish lift
of Peter’s heels not entirely convinced the unbeliever of Peter’s youth,
all questions would have been at once disposed of had the cheery bank
teller invited him into his apartment up three flights of stairs
over the tailor’s shop--and he would have invited him had he been his
friend--and then and there forced him into an easy chair near the open
wood fire, with some such remark as: “Down, you rascal, and sit close
up where I can get my hands on you!” No--there was no trace of old age
about Peter.

He was ready now--hatted, coated and gloved--not a hint of the ostrich
egg or shaggy shutters visible, but a well-preserved bachelor of forty
or forty-five; strictly in the mode and of the mode, looking more like
some stray diplomat caught in the wiles of the Street, or some retired
magnate, than a modest bank clerk on three thousand a year. The next
instant he was tripping down the granite steps between the rusty iron
railings--on his toes most of the way; the same cheery spring in his
heels, slapping his thin, shapely legs with his tightly rolled umbrella,
adjusting his hat at the proper angle so that the well-trimmed side
whiskers--the veriest little dabs of whiskers hardly an inch long--would
show as well as the fringes of his grey hair.

Not that he was anxious to conceal these slight indications of advancing
years, nor did he have a spark of cheap personal vanity about him, but
because it was his nature always to put his best foot foremost and keep
it there; because, too, it behooved him in manner, dress and morals, to
maintain the standards he had set for himself, he being a Grayson, with
the best blood of the State in his veins, and with every table worth
dining at open to him from Fourteenth Street to Murray Hill, and beyond.

“Now, it’s all behind me, my dear boy,” he cried, as we reached the
sidewalk and turned our faces up Wall Street toward Broadway. “Fifteen
hours to live my own life! No care until ten o’clock to-morrow.
Lovely life, my dear Major, when you think of it. Ah, old Micawber
was right--income one pound, expense one pound ten shillings; result,
misery: income one pound ten, expense one pound, outcome, happiness!
What a curse this Street is to those who abuse its power for good; half
of them trying to keep out of jail and the other half fighting to keep
out of the poor-house! And most of them get so little out of it. Just as
I can detect a counterfeit bill at sight, my boy, so can I put my ringer
on these money-getters when the poison of money-getting for money’s sake
begins to work in their veins. I don’t mean the laying up of money for a
rainy day, or the providing for one’s family. Every man should lay up a
six-months’ doctor’s bill, just as every man should lay up money enough
to keep his body out of Potter’s Field. It’s laying up the SURPLUS that
hurts.”

Peter had his arm firmly locked in mine now.

“Now that concern of Breen & Company, where I found my error, are no
better than the others. They are new to this whirlpool, but they will
soon get in over their heads. I think it is only the third or fourth
year since they started business, but they are already floating all
sorts of schemes, and some of them--if you will permit me in confidence,
strictly in confidence, my dear boy--are rather shady, I think: at least
I judge so from their deposits.”

“What are they, bankers?” I ventured. I had never heard of the firm; not
an extraordinary thing in my case when bankers were concerned.

Peter laughed:

“Yes, BANKERS--all in capital letters--the imitation kind. Breen
came from some place out of town and made a lucky hit in his first
year--mines or something--I forget what. Oh, but you must know that it
takes very little now-a-days to make a full-fledged banker. All you have
to do is to hoist in a safe--through the window, generally, with the
crowd looking on; rail off half the office; scatter some big ledgers
over two or three newly varnished desks; move in a dozen arm-chairs, get
a ticker, a black-board and a boy with a piece of chalk; be pleasant
to every fellow you meet with his own or somebody else’s money in his
pocket, and there you are. But we won’t talk of these things--it isn’t
kind, and, really, I hardly know Breen, and I’m quite sure he wouldn’t
know me if he saw me, and he’s a very decent gentleman in many ways, I
hear. He never overdraws his account, any way--never tries--and that’s
more than I can say for some of his neighbors.”

The fog, which earlier in the afternoon had been but a blue haze,
softening the hard outlines of the street, had now settled down in
earnest, choking up the doorways, wiping out the tops of the buildings,
their facades starred here and there with gas-jets, and making a smudged
drawing of the columns of the Custom House opposite.

“Superb, are they not?” said Peter, as he wheeled and stood looking at
the row of monoliths supporting the roof of the huge granite pile, each
column in relief against the dark shadows of the portico. “And they
are never so beautiful to me, my boy, as when the ugly parts of the old
building are lost in the fog. Follow the lines of these watchmen of the
temple! These grave, dignified, majestic columns standing out in the
gloom keeping guard! But it is only a question of time--down they’ll
come! See if they don’t!”

“They will never dare move them,” I protested. “It would be too great a
sacrilege.” The best way to get Peter properly started is never to agree
with him.

“Not move them! They will break them up for dock-filling before ten
years are out. They’re in the way, my boy; they shut out the light;
can’t hang signs on them; can’t plaster them over with theatre bills; no
earthly use. ‘Wall Street isn’t Rome or any other excavated ruin; it’s
the centre of the universe’--that’s the way the fellows behind these
glass windows talk.” Here Peter pointed to the offices of some prominent
bankers, where other belated clerks were still at work under shaded
gas-jets. “These fellows don’t want anything classic; they want
something that’ll earn four per cent.”

We were now opposite the Sub-Treasury, its roof lost in the settling
fogs, the bronze figure of the Father of His Country dominating the
flight of marble steps and the adjacent streets.

Again Peter wheeled; this time he lifted his hat to the statue.

“Good evening, your Excellency,” he said in a voice mellowed to the same
respectful tone with which he would have addressed the original in the
flesh.

Suddenly he loosened his arm from mine and squared himself so he could
look into my face.

“I notice that you seldom salute him, Major, and it grieves me,” he said
with a grim smile.

I broke into a laugh. “Do you think he would feel hurt if I didn’t.”

“Of course he would, and so should you. He wasn’t put there for
ornament, my boy, but to be kept in mind, and I want to tell you that
there’s no place in the world where his example is so much needed as
right here in Wall Street. Want of reverence, my dear boy”--here he
adjusted his umbrella to the hollow of his arm--“is our national sin.
Nobody reveres anything now-a-days. Much as you can do to keep people
from running railroads through your family vaults, and, as to one’s
character, all a man needs to get himself battered black and blue, is to
try to be of some service to his country. Even our presidents have to
be murdered before we stop abusing them. By Jove! Major, you’ve GOT to
salute him! You’re too fine a man to run to seed and lose your respect
for things worth while. I won’t have it, I tell you! Off with your hat!”

I at once uncovered my head (the fog helped to conceal my own identity,
if it didn’t Peter’s) and stood for a brief instant in a respectful
attitude.

There was nothing new in the discussion. Sometimes I would laugh at him;
sometimes I would only touch my hat in unison; sometimes I let him
do the bowing alone, an act on his part which never attracted
attention--looking more as if he had accosted some passing friend.

We had reached Broadway by this time and were crossing the street
opposite Trinity Churchyard.

“Come over here with me,” he cried, “and let us look in through the iron
railings. The study of the dead is often more profitable than knowledge
of the living. Ah, the gate is open! It is not often I am here at this
time, and on a foggy afternoon. What a noble charity, my boy, is a
fog--it hides such a multitude of sins--bad architecture for one,” and
he laughed softly.

I always let Peter run on--in fact I always encourage him to run on. No
one I know talks quite in the same way; many with a larger experience
of life are more profound, but none have the personal note which
characterizes the old fellow’s discussions.

“And how do you suppose these by-gones feel about what is going on
around them?” he rattled on, tapping the wet slab of a tomb with the end
of his umbrella. “And not only these sturdy patriots who lie here, but
the queer old ghosts who live in the steeple?” he added, waving his hand
upward to the slender spire, its cross lost in the fog. “Yes, ghosts and
goblins, my boy. You don’t believe it?--I do--or I persuade myself I
do, which is better. Sometimes I can see them straddling the chimes when
they ring out the hours, or I catch them peeping out between the slats
of the windows away up near the cross. Very often in the hot afternoons
when you are stretching your lazy body under the tents of the mighty--”
 (Peter referred to some friends of mine who owned a villa down on Long
Island, and were good enough to ask me down for a week in August) “I
come up here out of the rush and sit on these old tombstones and talk
to these old fellows--both kinds--the steeple boys and the old cronies
under the sod. You never come, I know. You will when you’re my age.”

I had it in my mind to tell him that the inside of a dry tent had some
advantages over the outside of a damp tomb, so far as entertaining one’s
friends, even in hot weather, was concerned, but I was afraid it might
stop the flow of his thoughts, and checked myself.

“It is not so much the rest and quiet that delights me, as the feeling
that I am walled about for the moment and protected; jerked out of the
whirlpool, as it were, and given a breathing spell. On these afternoons
the old church becomes a church once more--not a gate to bar out the
rush of commercialism. See where she stands--quite out to the very curb,
her warning finger pointing upward. ‘Thus far shalt thou come, and no
farther,’ she cries out to the Four Per Cents. ‘Hug up close to me, you
old fellows asleep in your graves; get under my lea. Let us fight it out
together, the living and the dead!’ And now hear these abominable Four
Per Cents behind their glass windows: ‘No place for a church,’ they say.
‘No place for the dead! Property too valuable. Move it up town. Move it
out in the country--move it any where so you get it out of our way. We
are the Great Amalgamated Crunch Company. Into our maw goes respect for
tradition, reverence for the dead, decency, love of religion, sentiment,
and beauty. These are back numbers. In their place, we give you
something real and up-to-date from basement to flagstaff, with fifty
applicants on the waiting list. If you don’t believe it read our
prospectus!’”

Peter had straightened and was standing with his hand lifted above
his head, as if he were about to pronounce a benediction. Then he said
slowly, and with a note of sadness in his voice:

“Do you wonder, now, my boy, why I touch my hat to His Excellency?”



CHAPTER II


All the way up Broadway he kept up his good-natured tirade, railing at
the extravagance of the age, at the costly dinners, equipages, dress
of the women, until we reached the foot of the dilapidated flight of
brown-stone steps leading to the front door of his home on Fifteenth
Street. Here a flood of gas light from inside a shop in the basement
brought into view the figure of a short, squat, spectacled little man
bending over a cutting-table, a pair of shears in his hand.

“Isaac is still at work,” he cried. “If we were not so late we’d go in
and have a word with him. Now there’s a man who has solved the problem,
my boy. Nobody will ever coax Isaac Cohen up to Fifth Avenue and into
a ‘By appointment to His Majesty’ kind of a tailor shop. Just pegs away
year after year--he was here long before I came--supporting his family,
storing his mind with all sorts of rare knowledge. Do you know he’s one
of the most delightful men you will meet in a day’s journey?”

“No--never knew anything of the kind. Thought he was just plain tailor.”

“And an intimate friend of many of the English actors who come over
here?” continued Peter.

“I never heard a word about it” I answered meekly; Peter’s acquaintances
being too varied and too numerous for me to keep track of. That he
should have a tailor among them as learned and wise as Solomon, and with
friends all over the globe, was quite to be expected.

“Well, he is,” answered Peter. “They always hunt him up the first thing
they do. He lived in London for years and made their costumes. There’s
no one, I assure you, I am more glad to see when he makes an excuse to
rap at my door. You’ll come up, of course, until I read my letters.”

“No, I’ll keep on to my rooms and meet you later at the club.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind, you restless mortal. You’ll come
upstairs with me until I open my mail. It’s really like touching the
spring of a Jack-in-the-box, this mail of mine--all sorts of things pop
out, generally the unexpected. Mighty interesting, I tell you,” and
with a cheery wave of the hand to his friend Isaac, whose eyes had been
looking streetward at the precise moment, Peter pushed me ahead of him
up the worn marble steps flanked by the rust-eaten iron railing which
led to the hallway and stairs, and so on up to his apartment.

It was just the sort of house Peter, of all men in the world, would have
picked out to live in--and he had been here for twenty years or more.
Not only did the estimable Isaac occupy the basement, but Madame
Montini, the dress-maker, had the first floor back; a real-estate agent
made free with the first floor front, and a very worthy teacher of
music, whose piano could be heard at all hours of the day, and far into
the night, was paying rent for the second, both front and back. Peter’s
own apartments ran the whole length of the third floor, immediately
under the slanting, low-ceiled garret, which was inhabited by the good
Mrs. McGuffey, the janitress, who, in addition to her regular duties,
took especial care of Peter’s rooms. Adjoining these was a small
apartment consisting of two rooms, connecting with Peter’s suite by
a door cut through for some former lodger. These were also under
Mrs. McGuffey’s special care and very good care did she take of them,
especially when Peter’s sister, Miss Felicia Grayson, occupied them for
certain weeks in the year.

These changes had all taken place in the time the old fellow had mounted
the quaint stairs with the thin mahogany banisters, and yet Peter stayed
on. “The gnarled pear tree in the back yard is so charming,” he would
urge in excuse, “especially in the spring, when the perfume of its
blossoms fills the air,” or, “the view overlooking Union Square is so
delightful,” or, “the fireplace has such a good draught.” What mattered
it who lived next door, or below, or overhead, for that matter, so that
he was not disturbed--and he never was. The property, of course, had
gone from bad to worse since the owner had died; the neighborhood had
run down, and the better class of tenants down, up, and even across the
street--had moved away, but none of these things had troubled Peter.

And no wonder, when once you got inside the two rooms and looked about!

There was a four-post bedstead with chintz curtains draped about
the posts, that Martha Washington might have slept in, and a chintz
petticoat which reached the floor and hid its toes of rollers, which the
dear lady could have made with her own hands; there was a most ancient
mahogany bureau to match, all brass fittings. There were easy chairs
with restful arms within reach of tables holding lamps, ash receivers
and the like; and rows and rows of books on open shelves edged with
leather; not to mention engravings of distinguished men and old
portraits in heavy gilt frames: one of his grandfather who fought in the
Revolution, and another of his mother--this last by Rembrandt Peale--a
dear old lady with the face of a saint framed in a head of gray hair,
the whole surmounted by a cluster of silvery curls. There were quaint
brass candelabra with square marble bases on each end of the mantel,
holding candles showing burnt wicks in the day time and cheery lights at
night; and a red carpet covering both rooms and red table covers and
red damask curtains, and a lounge with a red afghan thrown over it; and
last, but by no means least--in fact it was the most important thing
in the sitting-room, so far as comfort was concerned--there was a big
open-hearth Franklin, full of blazing red logs, with brass andirons and
fender, and a draught of such marvellous suction that stray scraps of
paper, to say nothing of uncommonly large sparks, had been known
more than once to have been picked up in a jiffy and whirled into its
capacious throat.

Just the very background for dear old Peter, I always said, whenever
I watched him moving about the cheery interior, pushing up a chair,
lighting a fresh candle, or replacing a book on the shelf. What a
half-length the great Sully would have made of him, with his high
collar, white shirt-front and wonderful neck-cloth with its pleats and
counterpleats, to say nothing of his rosy cheeks and bald head, the
high light glistening on one of his big bumps of benevolence. And what a
background of deep reds and warm mahoganys with a glint of yellow brass
for contrast!

Indeed, I have often thought that not only Peter’s love of red, but much
of Peter’s quaintness of dress, had been suggested by some of the old
portraits which lined the walls of his sitting-room--his grandfather,
by Sully, among them; and I firmly believe, although I assure you I have
never mentioned it to any human being before, that had custom permitted
(the directors of his bank, perhaps), Peter would not only have indulged
in the high coat-collar and quaint neck-cloths of his fathers, but would
also have worn a dainty cue tied with a flowing black ribbon, always
supposing, of course, that his hair had held out, and, what is more
important, always supposing, that the wisp was long enough to hold on.

The one article, however, which, more than any other one thing in his
apartment, revealed his tastes and habits, was a long, wide, ample
mahogany desk, once the property of an ancestor, which stood under
the window in the front room. In this, ready to his hand, were drawers
little and big, full of miscellaneous papers and envelopes; pigeon-holes
crammed full of answered and unanswered notes, some with crests on them,
some with plain wax clinging to the flap of the broken envelopes; many
held together with the gum of the common world. Here, too, were bundles
of old letters tied with tape; piles of pamphlets, quaint trays holding
pens and pencils, and here too was always to be found, in summer or
in winter, a big vase full of roses or blossoms, or whatever was in
season--a luxury he never denied himself.

To this desk, then, Peter betook himself the moment he had hung his gray
surtout on its hook in the closet and disposed of his hat and umbrella.
This was his up-town office, really, and here his letters awaited him.

First came a notice of the next meeting of the Numismatic Society of
which he was an honored member; then a bill for his semi-annual dues at
the Century Club; next a delicately scented sheet inviting him to dine
with the Van Wormleys of Washington Square, to meet an English lord and
his lady, followed by a pressing letter to spend Sunday with friends
in the country. Then came a long letter from his sister, Miss Felicia
Grayson, who lived in the Genesee Valley and who came to New York every
winter for what she was pleased to call “The Season” (a very remarkable
old lady, this Miss Felicia Grayson, with a mind of her own, sections of
which she did not hesitate to ventilate when anybody crossed her or her
path, and of whom we shall hear more in these pages), together with the
usual assortment of bills and receipts, the whole an enlivening
record not only of Peter’s daily life and range of taste, but of the
limitations of his purse as well.

One letter was reserved for the last. This he held in his hand until he
again ran his eye over the pile before him. It was from Holker Morris
the architect, a man who stood at the head of his profession.

“Yes, Holker’s handwriting,” he said as he inserted the end of the paper
cutter. “I wonder what the dear fellow wants now?” Here he ran his eye
over the first page. “Listen, Major. What an extraordinary man... He’s
going to give a dinner, he says, to his draughtsmen... in his offices
at the top of his new building, six stories up. Does the rascal think I
have nothing to do but crawl up his stairs? Here, I’ll read it to you.”

“‘You, dear Peter:’ That’s just like Holker! He begins that way when he
wants me to do something for him. ‘No use saying you won’t come, for I
shall be around for you at seven o’clock with a club--‘No, that’s not
it--he writes so badly--‘with a cab.’ Yes, that’s it--‘with a cab.’ I
wonder if he can drive me up those six flights of stairs? ‘There’ll
be something to eat, and drink, and there will be fifty or more of my
draughtsmen and former employees. I’m going to give them a dinner and a
house-warming. Bring the Major if you see him. I have sent a note to his
room, but it may not reach him. No dress suit, remember. Some of my men
wouldn’t know one if they saw it.”

As the letter dropped from Peter’s hand a scraping of feet was heard at
the hall door, followed by a cheery word from Mrs. McGuffey--she had her
favorites among Peter’s friends--and Holker Morris burst into the room.

“Ah, caught you both!” he cried, all out of breath with his run
upstairs, his hat still on his head. No one blew in and blew out
of Peter’s room (literally so) with the breeze and dash of the
distinguished architect. “Into your coats, you two--we haven’t a moment
to spare. You got my letter, of course,” he added, throwing back the
cape of his raincoat.

“Yes, Holker, just opened it!” cried Peter, holding out both hands to
his guest. “But I’m not going. I am too old for your young fellows--take
the Major and leave me behind.”

The architect grabbed Peter by the arm. “When did that mighty idea crack
its way through that shell of yours, you tottering Methusaleh! Old!
You’re spryer than a frolicking lamb in March. You are coming, too,
Major. Get into your coats and things!”

“But Isaac is pressing my swallow-tail.”

“I don’t mean your dress-coat, man--your OVERCOAT! Now I am sure you
didn’t read my letter? Some of my young fellows haven’t got such a
thing--too poor.”

“But look at YOURS!”

“Yes, I had to slip into mine out of respect to the occasion; my boys
wouldn’t like it if I didn’t. Sort of uniform to them, but they’d be
mighty uncomfortable if you wore yours. Hurry up, we haven’t a minute to
lose.”

Peter had forced the architect into one of the big chairs by the fire
by this time, and stood bending over him, his hands resting on Morris’s
broad shoulders.

“Take the Major with you, that’s a good fellow, and let me drop in about
eleven o’clock,” he pleaded, an expression on his face seen only when
two men understand and love each other. “There’s a letter from Felicia
to attend to; she writes she is coming down for a couple of weeks, and
then I’ve really had a devil of a day at the bank.”

“No, you old fraud, you can’t wheedle me that way. I want you before
everybody sits down, so my young chaps can look you over. Why, Peter,
you’re better than a whole course of lectures, and you mean something,
you beggar! I tell you” (here he lifted himself from the depths of the
chair and scrambled to his feet) “you’ve got to go if I have to tie
your hands and feet and carry you downstairs on my back! And you, too,
Major--both of you. Here’s your overcoat--into it, you humbug!... the
other arm. Is this your hat? Out you go!” and before I had stopped
laughing--I had refused to crowd the cab--Morris had buttoned the
surtout over Peter’s breast, crammed the straight-brimmed hat over his
eyes, and the two were clattering downstairs.



CHAPTER III



Long before the two had reached the top floor of the building in which
the dinner was to be given, they had caught the hum of the merrymakers,
the sound bringing a smile of satisfaction to Peter’s face, but it was
when he entered the richly colored room itself, hazy with cigarette
smoke, and began to look into the faces of the guests grouped about him
and down the long table illumined by myriads of wax candles that all his
doubts and misgivings faded into thin air. Never since his school days,
he told me afterwards, had he seen so many boisterously happy young
fellows grouped together. And not only young fellows, with rosy
cheeks and bright eyes, but older men with thoughtful faces, who had
relinquished for a day the charge of some one of the important buildings
designed in the distinguished architect’s office, and had spent the
night on the train that they might do honor to their Chief.

But it was when Morris, with his arm fast locked in his, began
introducing him right and left as the “Guest of Honor of the Evening,”
 the two shaking hands first with one and then another, Morris breaking
out into joyous salvos of welcome over some arrival from a distant city,
or greeting with marked kindness and courtesy one of the younger
men from his own office, that the old fellow’s enthusiasm became
uncontrollable.

“Isn’t it glorious, Holker!” he cried joyously, with uplifted hands.
“Oh, I’m so glad I came! I wouldn’t have missed this for anything in the
world. Did you ever see anything like it? This is classic, my boy--it
has the tang and the spice of the ancients.”

Morris’s greeting to me was none the less hearty, although he had left
me but half an hour before.

“Late, as I expected, Major,” he cried with out-stretched hand, “and
serves you right for not sitting in Peter’s lap in the cab. Somebody
ought to sit on him once in a while. He’s twenty years younger
already. Here, take this seat alongside of me where you can keep him
in order--they were at table when I entered. Waiter, bring back that
bottle--Just a light claret, Major--all we allow ourselves.”

As the evening wore away the charm of the room grew upon me. Vistas hazy
with tobacco smoke opened up; the ceiling lost in the fog gave one the
impression of out-of-doors--like a roof-garden at night; a delusion made
all the more real by the happy uproar. And then the touches here and
there by men whose life had been the study of color and effects; the
appointments of the table, the massing of flowers relieving the white
cloth; the placing of shaded candles, so that only a rosy glow filtered
through the room, softening the light on the happy faces--each scalp
crowned with chaplets of laurel tied with red ribbons: an enchantment
of color, form and light where but an hour before only the practical and
the commonplace had held sway.

No vestige of the business side of the offices remained. Peter pointed
out to me a big plaster model of the State House, which filled one end
of the room, and two great figures, original plaster casts, heroic in
size, that Harding, the sculptor, had modelled for either side of the
entrance of the building; but everything that smacked of T-square or
scale was hidden from sight. In their place, lining the walls, stood a
row of standards of red and orange silk, stretched on rods and supported
by poles; the same patterns of banners which were carried before
Imperial Caesars when they took an airing; and now emblazoned with the
titles of the several structures conceived in the brain of Holker Morris
and executed by his staff: the Imperial Library in Tokio; the great
Corn Exchange covering a city block; the superb Art Museum crowning
the highest hill in the Park; the beautiful chateau of the millionaire
surrounded by thousands of acres of virgin forest; the spacious
warehouses on the water front, and many others.

With the passing of the flagons an electric current of good fellowship
flashed around the circle. Stories that would have been received with
but a bare smile at the club were here greeted with shouts of laughter.
Bon-mots, skits, puns and squibs mouldy with age or threadbare with use,
were told with a new gusto and welcomed with delight.

Suddenly, and without any apparent reason, these burst forth a roar
like that of a great orchestra with every instrument played at its
loudest--rounds of applause from kettle-drums, trombones and big horns;
screams of laughter from piccolos, clarionettes and flutes, buzzings of
subdued talk by groups of bass viols and the lesser strings, the whole
broken by the ringing notes of a song that soared for an instant clear
of the din, only to be overtaken and drowned in the mighty shout of
approval. This was followed by a stampede from the table; the banners
were caught up with a mighty shout and carried around the room; Morris,
boy for the moment, springing to his feet and joining in the uproar.

The only guest who kept his chair, except Peter and myself, was a young
fellow two seats away, whose eyes, brilliant with excitement, followed
the merrymaking, but who seemed too much abashed, or too ill at ease,
to join in the fun. I had noticed how quiet he was and wondered at the
cause. Peter had also been watching the boy and had said to me that he
had a good face and was evidently from out of town.

“Why don’t you get up?” Peter called to him at last. “Up with you, my
lad. This is one of the times when every one of you young fellows should
be on your feet.” He would have grabbed a banner himself had any one
given him the slightest encouragement.

“I would, sir, but I’m out of it,” said the young man with a deferential
bow, moving to the empty seat next to Peter. He too had been glancing at
Peter from time to time.

“Aren’t you with Mr. Morris?”

“No, I wish I were. I came with my friend, Garry Minott, that young
fellow carrying the banner with ‘Corn Exchange’ marked on it.”

“And may I ask, then, what you do?” continued Peter.

The young fellow looked into the older man’s kindly eyes--something in
their expression implied a wish to draw him the closer--and said quite
simply: “I don’t do anything that is of any use, sir. Garry says that I
might as well work in a faro bank.”

Peter leaned forward. For the moment the hubbub was forgotten as
he scrutinized the young man, who seemed scarcely twenty-one, his
well-knit, well-dressed body, his soft brown hair curled about his
scalp, cleanly modelled ears, steady brown eyes, white teeth--especially
the mobile lips which seemed quivering from some suppressed emotion--all
telling of a boy delicately nurtured.

“And do you really work in a faro bank?” Peter’s knowledge of human
nature had failed him for once.

“Oh, no sir, that is only one of Garry’s jokes. I’m clerk in a stock
broker’s office on Wall Street. Arthur Breen & Company. My uncle is head
of the firm.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it?” answered Peter in a relieved tone.

“And now will you tell me what your business is, sir?” asked the young
man. “You seem so different from the others.”

“Me! Oh, I take care of the money your gamblers win,” replied Peter, at
which they both laughed, a spark of sympathy being kindled between them.

Then, seeing the puzzled expression on the boy’s face, he added with
a smile: “I’m Receiving Teller in a bank, one of the oldest in Wall
Street.”

A look of relief passed over the young fellow’s face.

“I’m very glad, sir,” he said, with a smile. “Do you know, sir, you look
something like my own father--what I can remember of him--that is, he
was--” The lad checked himself, fearing he might be discourteous. “That
is, he had lost his hair, sir, and he wore his cravats like you, too. I
have his portrait in my room.”

Peter leaned still closer to the speaker. This time he laid his hand on
his arm. The tumult around him made conversation almost impossible. “And
now tell me your name?”

“My name is Breen, sir. John Breen. I live with my uncle.”

The roar of the dinner now became so fast and furious that further
confidences were impossible. The banners had been replaced and every one
was reseated, talking or laughing. On one side raged a discussion as to
how far the decoration of a plain surface should go--“Roughing it,” some
of them called it. At the end of the table two men were wrangling as to
whether the upper or the lower half of a tall structure should have
its vertical lines broken; and, if so, by what. Further down high-keyed
voices were crying out against the abomination of the flat roof on the
more costly buildings; wondering whether some of their clients would
wake up to the necessity of breaking the sky-line with something less
ugly--even if it did cost a little more. Still a third group were in
shouts of laughter over a story told by one of the staff who had just
returned from an inspection trip west.

Young Breen looked down the length of the table, watched for a moment
a couple of draughtsmen who stood bowing and drinking to each other
in mock ceremony out of the quaint glasses filled from the borrowed
flagons, then glanced toward his friend Minott, just then the centre of
a cyclone that was stirring the group midway the table.

“Come over here, Garry,” he called, half rising to his feet to attract
his friend’s attention.

Minott waved his hand in answer, waited until the point of the story had
been reached, and made his way toward Peter’s end of the table.

“Garry,” he whispered, “I want to introduce you to Mr. Grayson--the very
dearest old gentleman you ever met in your whole life. Sits right next
to me.”

“What, that old fellow that looks like a billiard ball in a high
collar?” muttered Minott with a twinkle in his eye. “We’ve been
wondering where Mr. Morris dug him up.”

“Hush,” said Breen--“he’ll hear you.”

“All right, but hurry up. I must say he doesn’t look near so bad when
you get close to him.”

“Mr. Grayson, I want you to know my friend Garry Minott.”

Peter rose to his feet. “I DO know him,” he said, holding out his hand
cordially. “I’ve been knowing him all the evening. He’s made most of
the fun at his end of the table. You seem to have flaunted your Corn
Exchange banner on the smallest provocation, Mr. Minott,” and Peter’s
fingers gripped those of the young man.

“That’s because I’ve been in charge of the inside work. Great dinner,
isn’t it, Mr. Grayson. But it’s Britton who has made the dinner. He’s
more fun than a Harlem goat with a hoopskirt. See him--that’s Brit with
a red head and blue neck-tie. He’s been all winter in Wisconsin looking
after some iron work and has come back jam full of stories.” The dignity
of Peter’s personality had evidently not impressed the young man,
judging from the careless tone with which he addressed him. “And how are
you getting on, Jack--glad you came, ar’n’t you?” As he spoke he laid his
hand affectionately on the boy’s shoulder. “Didn’t I tell you it would
be a corker? Out of sight, isn’t it? Everything is out of sight around
our office.” This last remark was directed to Peter in the same casual
way.

“I should say that every stopper was certainly out,” answered Peter
in graver tones. He detested slang and would never understand it. Then
again the bearing and air of Jack’s friend jarred on him. “You know, of
course, the old couplet--‘When the wine flows the--’”

“No, I don’t know it,” interrupted Minott with an impatient glance. “I’m
not much on poetry--but you can bet your bottom dollar it’s flowing all
right.” Then seeing the shade of disappointment on Breen’s face at the
flippant way in which he had returned Peter’s courtesies, but without
understanding the cause, he added, tightening his arm around his
friend’s neck, “Brace up, Jack, old man, and let yourself go. That’s
what I’m always telling Jack, Mr. Grayson. He’s got to cut loose from
a lot of old-fashioned notions that he brought from home if he wants to
get anywhere around here. I had to.”

“What do you want him to give up, Mr. Minott?” Peter had put on his
glasses now, and was inspecting Garry at closer range.

“Oh, I don’t know--just get into the swing of things and let her go.”

“That is no trouble for you to do,” rejoined Jack, looking into his
friend’s face. “You’re doing something that’s worth while.”

“Well, aren’t you doing something that’s worth while? Why you’ll be
a millionaire if you keep on. First thing you know the lightning will
strike you just as it did your uncle.”

Morris leaned forward at the moment and called Minott by name. Instantly
the young man’s manner changed to one of respectful attention as he
stepped to his Chief’s side.

“Yes, Mr. Morris.”

“You tell the men up your way to get ready to come to order, or we won’t
get through in time--it’s getting late.”

“All right, sir, I’ll take care of ‘em. Just as soon as you begin to
speak you won’t hear a sound.”

As Minott moved from Morris’s seat another and louder shout arose from
the other end of the table:

“Garry, Garry, hurry up!” came the cry. It was evident the young man was
very popular.

Peter dropped his glasses from his nose, and turning toward Morris said
in a low voice:

“That’s a very breezy young man, Holker, the one who has just left us.
Got something in him, has he, besides noise?”

“Yes, considerable. Wants toning down once in a while, but there’s no
question of his ability or of his loyalty. He never shirks a duty and
never forgets a kindness. Queer combination when you think of it, Peter.
What he will make of himself is another matter.”

Peter drew his body back and sent his thoughts out on an investigating
tour. He was wondering what effect the influence of a young man like
Minott would have on a young man like Breen.

The waiters at this point brought in huge trays holding bowls of tobacco
and long white clay pipes, followed by even larger trays bearing coffee
in little cups. Morris waited a moment and then rapped for order.
Instantly a hush fell upon the noisy room; plates and glasses were
pushed back so as to give the men elbow room; pipes were hurriedly
lighted, and each guest turned his chair so as to face the Chief, who
was now on his feet.

As he stood erect, one hand behind his back, the other stretched toward
the table in his appeal for silence, I thought for the hundredth time
how kind his fifty years had been to him; how tightly knit his figure;
how well his clothes became him. A handsome, well-groomed man at all
times and in any costume--but never so handsome or so well groomed as
in evening dress. Everything in his make-up helped: the broad, square
shoulders, arms held close to his side; flat waist; incurving back and
narrow hips. His well-modelled, aristocratic head, too, seemed to gain
increased distinction when it rose clear from a white shirt-front which
served as a kind of marble pedestal for his sculptured head. There
was, moreover, in his every move and look, that quality of transparent
sincerity which always won him friends at sight. “If men’s faces are
clocks,” Peter always said, “Holker’s is fitted with a glass dial. You
can not only see what time it is, but you can see the wheels that move
his heart.”

He was about to speak now, his eyes roaming the room waiting for the
last man to be still. No fumbling of glasses or rearranging of napkin,
but erect, with a certain fearless air that was as much a part of his
nature as was his genius. Beginning in a clear, distinct voice which
reached every ear in the room, he told them first how welcome they were.
How great an honor it was for him to have them so close to him--so close
that he could look into all their faces with one glance; not only those
who came from a distance but those of his personal staff, to whom really
the success of the year’s work had been due. As for himself, he was, as
they knew, only the lead horse in the team, going ahead to show them
the way, while they did the effective pulling that brought the load to
market! Here he slipped his hand in his pocket, took from it a small box
which he laid beside his plate, and continued:

“At these festivals, as you know, and if my memory serves me this is our
third, it has always been our custom to give some slight token of our
appreciation to the man who has done most during the year to further the
work of the office. This has always been a difficult thing to decide,
because every one of you, without a single exception, has given the best
that is in you in the general result. Three years ago, you remember, it
was awarded to the man who by common consent had carried to completion,
and without a single error, the detailed drawings of the Museum which
was finished last year. I am looking at you, Mr. Downey, and again
congratulate you. Last year it was awarded to Mr. Buttrick for the
masterly way with which he put together the big arches of the Government
warehouses--a man whom it would have been my pleasure to congratulate
again to-night had it been possible for him to reach us. To-night I
think you will all agree with me that this small token, not only of my
own, but of your ‘personal regard and appreciation’” (here he opened
the box and took from it a man’s ring set with three jewels), “should
be given to the man who has carried out in so thorough a way the part
allotted to him in the Corn Exchange, and who is none other than Mr.
Garrison Minott, who for--”

The rest of the sentence was lost in the uproar.

“Garry! Garry! Garry Minott!” came from all parts of the room. “Bully
for Garry! You deserve it, old man! Three cheers for Garry Minott!
Hip... Hip...!”

Morris’s voice now dominated the room.

“Come this way, Mr. Minott.”

The face of the young superintendent, which had been in a broad laugh
all the evening, grew white and red by turns. Out of pure astonishment
he could neither move nor speak.

“All right--stay where you are!” cried Morris laughing. “Pass it up to
him, please.”

John Breen sprang from his chair with the alertness of a man who had
been accustomed to follow his impulse. In his joy over his friend’s
good fortune he forgot his embarrassment, forgot that he was a stranger;
forgot that he alone, perhaps, was the only young man in the room whose
life and training had not fitted him for the fullest enjoyment of
what was passing around him; forgot everything, in fact, but that his
comrade, his friend, his chum, had won the highest honors his Chief
could bestow.

With cheeks aflame he darted to Morris’s chair.

“Let me hand it to him, sir,” he cried, all the love for his friend
in his eyes, seizing the ring and plunging toward Garry, the shouts
increasing as he neared his side and placed the prize in his hand. Only
then did Minott find his breath and his feet.

“Why, Mr. Morris!--Why, fellows!--Why, there’s plenty of men in the
office who have done more than I have to--”

Then he sat down, the ring fast in his hand.

When the applause had subside--the young fellow’s modesty had caused a
fresh outburst--Morris again rose in his chair and once more the room
grew still.

“Twelve o’clock, gentlemen,” he said. “Mr. Downey, you are always our
stand-by in starting the old hymn.”

The diners--host and guests alike--rose to their feet as one man. Then
to Peter’s and my own intense surprise that most impressive of all
chants, the Doxology in long metre, surged out, gaining in volume and
strength as its strains were caught up by the different voices.

With the ending of the grand old hymn--it had been sung with every
mark of respect by every man in the room--John Breen walked back to his
chair, leaned toward Peter, and with an apologetic tone in his voice--he
had evidently noticed the unfavorable impression that Garry had made on
his neighbor--said:

“Don’t misjudge Garry, Mr. Grayson; he’s the kindest hearted fellow in
the world when you know him. He’s a little rough sometimes, as you can
see, but he doesn’t mean it. He thinks his way of talking and acting is
what he calls ‘up-to-date.’” Then he added with a sigh: “I wish I had a
ring like that--one that I had earned. I tell you, Mr. Grayson, THAT’S
something worth while.”

Peter laid his hand on the young man’s shoulder and looked him straight
in the face, the same look in his eyes that a proud father would have
given a son who had pleased him. He had heard with delight the boy’s
defence of his friend and he had read the boy’s mind as he sang the
words of the hymn, his face grave, his whole attitude one of devotion.
“You’d think he was in his father’s pew at home,” Peter had whispered
to me with a smile. It was the latter outburst though--the one that came
with a sigh--that stirred him most.

“And you would really have liked a ring yourself, my lad?”

“Would I like it! Why, Mr. Grayson, I’d rather have had Mr. Morris give
me a thing like that and DESERVED IT, than have all the money you could
pile on this table.”

One of those sudden smiles which his friends loved so well irradiated
Peter’s face.

“Keep on the way you’re going, my son,” he said, seizing the boy’s hand,
a slight tremble in his voice, “and you’ll get a dozen of them.”

“How?” The boy’s eyes were wide in wonderment.

“By being yourself. Don’t let go of your ideals no matter what Minott
or anybody else says. Let him go his way and do you keep on in yours.
Don’t... but I can’t talk here. Come and see me. I mean it.”

Breen’s eyes glistened. “When?”

“To-morrow night, at my rooms. Here’s my card. And you, too, Mr.
Minott--glad to see both of you.” Garry has just joined them.

“Thanks awfully,” answered Minott. “I’m very sorry, Mr. Grayson, but I’m
booked for a supper at the Magnolia. Lot of the fellows want to whoop
up this--” and he held the finger bearing the ring within an inch of
Peter’s nose. “And they want you, too, Jack.”

“No, please let me have him,” Peter urged. Minott, I could see, he did
not want; Breen he was determined to have.

“I would love to come, sir, and it’s very kind of you to ask me. There’s
to be a dance at my uncle’s tomorrow night, though I reckon I can be
excused. Would you--would you come to see me instead? I want you to see
my father’s portrait. It’s not you, and yet it’s like you when you turn
your head; and there are some other things. I’d like--” Here the boy
stopped.

Peter considered for a moment. Calling at the house of a man he did not
know, even to continue the acquaintance of so charming a young fellow
as his nephew, was not one of the things punctilious Mr.
Grayson--punctilious as to forms of etiquette--was accustomed to do. The
young man read his thoughts and added quickly:

“Of course I’ll do just as you say, but if you only would come we will
be entirely alone and won’t see anybody else in the house.”

“But couldn’t you possibly come to me?” Peter urged. The fact that young
Breen had a suite of rooms so sequestered as to be beyond the reach
even of a dance, altered the situation to some extent, but he was still
undecided. “I live all alone when my sister is not with me, and I, too,
have many things I am sure would interest you. Say you’ll come now--I
shall expect you, shall I not?”

The boy hesitated. “You may not know exactly what I mean,” he said
slowly. “Maybe you can’t understand, for everybody about here seems to
love you, and you must have lots of friends. The fact is, I feel out of
everything. I get pretty lonely sometimes. Garry, here, never stays five
minutes when he comes to see me, so many people are after him all the
time. Please say you’ll come!”

There was a note in the boy’s voice that swept away all the older man’s
scruples.

“Come, my son! Of course I’ll come,” burst out Peter. “I’ll be there at
nine o’clock.”

As Morris and the others passed between the table and the wall on
their way to the cloak-room, Minott, who had listened to the whole
conversation, waited until he thought Peter had gone ahead, and then,
with an impatient gesture, said:

“What the devil, Jack, do you want to waste your time over an old fellow
like that for?”

“Oh, Garry, don’t--”

“Don’t! A bald-headed old pill who ought to have--”

Then the two passed out of hearing.



CHAPTER IV



Breakfast--any meal for that matter--in the high-wainscoted,
dark-as-a-pocket dining-room of the successful Wall Street broker--the
senior member of the firm of A. Breen & Co., uncle, guardian and
employer of the fresh, rosy-cheeked lad who sat next to Peter on the
night of Morris’s dinner, was never a joyous function.

The room itself, its light shut out by the adjoining extensions,
prevented it; so did the glimpse of hard asphalt covering the scrap of a
yard, its four melancholy posts hung about with wire clothes-lines; and
so did the clean-shaven, smug-faced butler, who invariably conducted his
master’s guests to their chairs with the movement of an undertaker, and
who had never been known to crack a smile of any kind, long or short,
during his five years’ sojourn with the family of Breen.

Not that anybody wanted Parkins to crack one, that is, not his master,
and certainly not his mistress, and most assuredly not his other
mistress, Miss Corinne, the daughter of the lady whom the successful
Wall Street broker had made his first and only wife.

All this gloomy atmosphere might have been changed for the better had
there been a big, cheery open wood fire snapping and blazing away,
sputtering out its good morning as you entered--and there would have
been if any one of the real inmates had insisted upon it--fought for it,
if necessary; or if in summer one could have seen through the curtained
windows a stretch of green grass with here and there a tree, or one
or two twisted vines craning their necks to find out what was going on
inside; or if in any or all seasons, a wholesome, happy-hearted, sunny
wife looking like a bunch of roses just out of a bath, had sat behind
the smoking coffee-urn, inquiring whether one or two lumps of sugar
would be enough; or a gladsome daughter who, in a sudden burst of
affection, had thrown her arms around her father’s neck and kissed him
because she loved him, and because she wanted his day and her day
to begin that way:--if, I say, there had been all, or one-half, or
one-quarter of these things, the atmosphere of this sepulchral interior
might have been improved--but there wasn’t.

There was a wife, of course, a woman two years older than Arthur
Breen--the relict of a Captain Barker, an army officer--who had spent
her early life in moving from one army post to another until she had
settled down in Washington, where Breen had married her, and where the
Scribe first met her. But this sharer of the fortunes of Breen preferred
her breakfast in bed, New York life having proved even more wearing than
military upheavals. And there was also a daughter, Miss Corinne Barker,
Captain and Mrs. Barker’s only offspring, who had known nothing of army
posts, except as a child, but who had known everything of Washington
life from the time she was twelve until she was fifteen, and she was now
twenty; but that young woman, I regret to say, also breakfasted in bed,
where her maid had special instructions not to disturb her until my
lady’s jewelled fingers touched a button within reach of her dainty
hand; whereupon another instalment of buttered rolls and coffee would be
served with such accessories of linen, porcelain and silver as befitted
the appetite and station of one so beautiful and so accomplished.

These conditions never ceased to depress Jack. Fresh from a life out
of doors, accustomed to an old-fashioned dining-room--the living room,
really, of the family who had cared for him since his father’s death,
where not only the sun made free with the open doors and windows,
but the dogs and neighbors as well--the sober formality of this early
meal--all of his uncle’s meals, for that matter--sent shivers down his
back that chilled him to the bone.

He had looked about him the first morning of his arrival, had noted the
heavy carved sideboard laden with the garish silver; had examined the
pictures lining the walls, separated from the dark background of leather
by heavy gold frames; had touched with his fingers the dial of the
solemn bronze clock, flanked by its equally solemn candelabra; had
peered between the steel andirons, bright as carving knives, and into
the freshly varnished, spacious chimney up which no dancing blaze had
ever whirled in madcap glee since the mason’s trowel had left it and
never would to the end of time,--not as long as the steam heat held
out; had watched the crane-like step of Parkins as he moved about the
room--cold, immaculate, impassive; had listened to his “Yes, sir--thank
you, sir, very good, sir,” until he wanted to take him by the throat and
shake something spontaneous and human out of him, and as each cheerless
feature passed in review his spirits had sunk lower and lower.

This, then, was what he could expect as long as he lived under his
uncle’s roof--a period of time which seemed to him must stretch out
into dim futurity. No laughing halloos from passing neighbors through
wide-open windows; no Aunt Hannahs running in with a plate of cakes
fresh from the griddle which would cool too quickly if she waited for
that slow-coach of a Tom to bring them to her young master. No sweep of
leaf-covered hills seen through bending branches laden with blossoms; no
stretch of sky or slant of sunshine; only a grim, funereal, artificial
formality, as ungenial and flattening to a boy of his tastes, education
and earlier environment as a State asylum’s would have been to a red
Indian fresh from the prairie.

On the morning after Morris’s dinner (within eight hours really of the
time when he had been so thrilled by the singing of the Doxology), Jack
was in his accustomed seat at the small, adjustable accordion-built
table--it could be stretched out to accommodate twenty-four covers--when
his uncle entered this room. Parkins was genuflecting at the time with
his--“Cream, sir,--yes, sir. Devilled kidney, sir? Thank you, sir.”
 (Parkins had been second man with Lord Colchester, so he told Breen when
he hired him.) Jack had about made up his mind to order him out when
a peculiar tone in his uncle’s “Good morning” made the boy scan that
gentleman’s face and figure the closer.

His uncle was as well dressed as usual, looking as neat and as smart
in his dark cut-away coat with the invariable red carnation in his
buttonhole, but the boy’s quick eye caught the marks of a certain wear
and tear in the face which neither his bath nor his valet had been able
to obliterate. The thin lips--thin for a man so fat, and which showed,
more than any other feature, something of the desultory firmness of his
character--drooped at the corners. The eyes were half their size,
the snap all out of them, the whites lost under the swollen lids. His
greeting, moreover, had lost its customary heartiness.

“You were out late, I hear,” he grumbled, dropping into his chair. “I
didn’t get in myself until two o’clock and feel like a boiled owl.
May have caught a little cold, but I think it was that champagne of
Duckworth’s; always gives me a headache. Don’t put any sugar and cream
in that coffee, Parkins--want it straight.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the flunky, moving toward the sideboard.

“And now, Jack, what did you do?” he continued, picking up his napkin.
“You and Garry made a night of it, didn’t you? Some kind of an artist’s
bat, wasn’t it?”

“No, sir; Mr. Morris gave a dinner to his clerks, and--”

“Who’s Morris?”

“Why, the great architect.”

“Oh, that fellow! Yes, I know him, that is, I know who he is. Say the
rest. Parkins! didn’t I tell you I didn’t want any sugar or cream.”

Parkins hadn’t offered any. He had only forgotten to remove them from
the tray.

Jack kept straight on; these differences between the master and Parkins
were of daily occurrence.

“And, Uncle Arthur, I met the most wonderful gentleman I ever saw; he
looked just as if he had stepped out of an old frame, and yet he is down
in the Street every day and--”

“What firm?”

“No firm, he is--”

“Curbstone man, then?” Here Breen lifted the cup to his lips and as
quickly put it down. “Parkins!”

“Yes, sir,” came the monotone.

“Why the devil can’t I get my coffee hot?”

“Is it cold, sir?”--slight modulation, but still lifeless.

“IS IT COLD? Of course it’s cold! Might have been standing in a morgue.
Take that down and have some fresh coffee sent up. Servants running
o’er each other and yet I can’t get a--Go on, Jack! I didn’t mean to
interrupt, but I’ll clean the whole lot of ‘em out of here if I don’t
get better service.”

“No, Uncle Arthur, he isn’t a banker--isn’t even a broker; he’s only a
paying teller in a bank,” continued Jack.

The older man turned his head and a look of surprise swept over his
round, fat face.

“Teller in a BANK?” he asked in an altered tone.

“Yes, the most charming, the most courteous old gentleman I have ever
met; I haven’t seen anybody like him since I left home, and, just think,
he has promised to come and see me to-night.”

The drooping lips straightened and a shrewd, searching glance shot from
Arthur Breen’s eyes. There was a brain behind this sleepy face--as many
of his competitors knew. It was not always in working order, but when it
was the man became another personality.

“Jack--” The voice was now as thin as the drawn lips permitted, with
caution in every tone, “you stop short off. You mustn’t cotton to
everybody you pick up in New York--it won’t do. Get you into trouble.
Don’t bring him here; your aunt won’t like it. When you get into a hole
with a fellow and can’t help yourself, take him to the club. That’s one
of the things I got you into the Magnolia for; but don’t ever bring ‘em
here.”

“But he’s a personal friend of Mr. Morris, and a friend of another
friend of Mr. Morris’s they called ‘Major.’” It was not the first time
he had heard such inhospitable suggestions from his uncle.

“Oh, yes, I know; they’ve all got some old retainers hanging on that
they give a square meal to once a year, but don’t you get mixed up with
‘em.”

Parkins had returned by this time and was pouring a fresh cup of coffee.

“Now, Parkins, that’s something like--No, I don’t want any kidneys--I
don’t want any toast--I don’t want anything, Parkins--haven’t I told you
so?”

“Yes, sir; thank you sir.”

“Black coffee is the only thing that’ll settle this head. What you want
to do, Jack, is to send that old fossil word that you’ve got another
engagement, and... Parkins, is there anything going on here to-night?”

“Yes, sir; Miss Cocinne is giving a small dance.”

“There, Jack--that’s it. That’ll let you out with a whole skin.”

“No, I can’t, and I won’t, Uncle Arthur,” he answered in an indignant
tone. “If you knew him as I do, and had seen him last night, you
would--”

“No, I don’t want to know him and I don’t want to see him. You are all
balled up, I see, and can’t work loose, but take him upstairs; don’t let
your aunt come across him or she’ll have a fit.” Here he glanced at the
bronze clock. “What!--ten minutes past nine! Parkins, see if my cab is
at the door.... Jack, you ride down with me. I walked when I was your
age, and got up at daylight. Some difference, Jack, isn’t there, whether
you’ve got a rich uncle to look after you or not.” This last came with a
wink.

It was only one of his pleasantries. He knew he was not rich; not in
the accepted sense. He might be a small star in the myriads forming the
Milky-Way of Finance, but there were planets millions of miles beyond
him, whose brilliancy he was sure he could never equal. The fact was
that the money which he had accumulated had been so much greater sum
than he had ever hoped for when he was a boy in a Western State--his
father went to Iowa in ‘49--and the changes in his finances had come
with such lightning rapidity (half a million made on a tip given him by
a friend, followed by other tips more or less profitable) that he loved
to pat his pride, so to speak, in speeches like this.

That he had been swept off his feet by the social and financial rush
about him was quite natural. His wife, whose early life had been one
long economy, had ambitions to which there was no limit and her escape
from her former thraldom had been as sudden and as swift as the upward
spring of a loosened balloon. Then again all the money needed to make
the ascension successful was at her disposal. Hence jewels, laces, and
clothes; hence elaborate dinners, the talk of the town: hence teas,
receptions, opera parties, week-end parties at their hired country
seat on Long Island; dances for Corinne; dinners for Corinne; birthday
parties for Corinne; everything, in fact, for Corinne, from manicures to
pug dogs and hunters.

His two redeeming qualities were his affection for his wife and his
respect for his word. He had no child of his own, and Corinne, though
respectful never showed him any affection. He had sent Jack to a
Southern school and college, managing meanwhile the little property
his father had left him, which, with some wild lands in the Cumberland
Mountains, practically worthless, was the boy’s whole inheritance, and
of late had treated him as if he had been his own son.

As to his own affairs, close as he sailed to the wind in his money
transactions--so close sometimes that the Exchange had more than once
overhauled his dealings--it was generally admitted that when Arthur
Breen gave his WORD--a difficult thing often to get--he never broke it.
This was offset by another peculiarity with less beneficial results:
When he had once done a man a service only to find him ungrateful,
no amount of apologies or atonement thereafter ever moved him to
forgiveness. Narrow-gauge men are sometimes built that way.

It was to be expected, therefore, considering the quality of Duckworth’s
champagne and the impression made on Jack by his uncle’s outburst,
that the ride down town in the cab was marked by anything but cheerful
conversation between Breen and his nephew, each of whom sat absorbed in
his own reflections. “I didn’t mean to be hard on the boy,” ruminated
Breen, “but if I had picked up everybody who wanted to know me, as Jack
has done, where would I be now?” Then, his mind still clouded by the
night at the club (he had not confined himself entirely to champagne),
he began, as was his custom, to concentrate his attention upon the
work of the day--on the way the market would open; on the remittance
a belated customer had promised and about which he had some doubt; the
meeting of the board of directors in the new mining company--“The Great
Mukton Lode,” in which he had an interest, and a large one--etc.

Jack looked out of the windows, his eyes taking in the remnants of
the autumnal tints in the Park, now nearly gone, the crowd filling
the sidewalks; the lumbering stages and the swifter-moving horse-cars
crammed with eager men anxious to begin the struggle of the day--not
with their hands--that mob had swept past hours before--but with their
brains--wits against wits and the devil take the man who slips and
falls.

Nothing of it all interested him. His mind was on the talk at the
breakfast table, especially his uncle’s ideas of hospitality, all of
which had appalled and disgusted him. With his father there had always
been a welcome for every one, no matter what the position in life, the
only standard being one of breeding and character--and certainly Peter
had both. His uncle had helped him, of course--put him under obligations
he could never repay. Yet after all, it was proved now to him that he
was but a guest in the house enjoying only such rights as any other
guest might possess, and with no voice in the welcome--a condition
which would never be altered, until he became independent himself--a
possibility which at the moment was too remote to be considered. Then
his mind reverted to his conversation the night before with Mr. Grayson
and with this change of thought his father’s portrait--the one that hung
in his room--loomed up. He had the night before turned on the lights--to
their fullest--and had scanned the picture closely, eager to find some
trace of Peter in the counterfeit presentment of the man he loved best,
and whose memory was still almost a religion, but except that both Peter
and his father were bald, and that both wore high, old-fashioned collars
and neck-cloths, he had been compelled to admit with a sigh that there
was nothing about the portrait on which to base the slightest claim to
resemblance.

“Yet he’s like my father, he is, he is,” he kept repeating to himself
as the cab sped on. “I’ll find out what it is when I know him better.
To-night when Mr. Grayson comes I’ll study it out,” and a joyous smile
flashed across his features as he thought of the treat in store for him.

When at last the boy reached his office, where, behind the mahogany
partition with its pigeon-hole cut through the glass front he sat every
day, he swung back the doors of the safe, took out his books and papers
and made ready for work. He had charge of the check book, and he alone
signed the firm’s name outside of the partners. “Rather young,” one of
them protested, until he looked into the boy’s face, then he gave his
consent; something better than years of experience and discretion are
wanted where a scratch of a pen might mean financial ruin.

Breen had preceded him with but a nod to his clerks, and had disappeared
into his private office--another erection of ground glass and mahogany.
Here the senior member of the firm shut the door carefully, and turning
his back fished up a tiny key attached to a chain leading to the rear
pocket of his trousers. With this he opened a small closet near his
desk--a mere box of a closet--took from it a squatty-shaped decanter
labelled “Rye, 1840,” poured out half a glass, emptied it into his
person with one gulp, and with the remark in a low voice to himself that
he was now “copper fastened inside and out”--removed all traces of the
incident and took up his morning’s mail.

By this time the circle of chairs facing the huge blackboard in the
spacious outer office had begun to fill up. Some of the customers,
before taking their seats, hurried anxiously to the ticker, chattering
away in its glass case; others turned abruptly and left the room without
a word. Now and then a customer would dive into Breen’s private room,
remain a moment and burst out again, his face an index of the condition
of his bank account.

When the chatter of the ticker had shifted from the London quotations
to the opening sales on the Exchange, a sallow-faced clerk mounted a low
step-ladder and swept a scurry of chalk marks over the huge blackboard,
its margin lettered with the initials of the principal stocks. The
appearance of this nimble-fingered young man with his piece of chalk
always impressed Jack as a sort of vaudeville performance. On ordinary
days, with the market lifeless, but half of the orchestra seats would be
occupied. In whirl-times, with the ticker spelling ruin, not only were
the chairs full, but standing room only was available in the offices.

Their occupants came from all classes; clerks from up-town dry-goods
houses, who had run down during lunch time to see whether U.P. or Erie,
or St. Paul had moved up an eighth, or down a quarter, since they had
devoured the morning papers on their way to town; old speculators who
had spent their lives waiting buzzard-like for some calamity, enabling
them to swoop down and make off with what fragments they could pick up;
well-dressed, well-fed club men, who had had a run of luck and who never
carried less than a thousand shares to keep their hands in; gray-haired
novices nervously rolling little wads of paper between their fingers and
thumbs--up every few minutes to listen to the talk of the ticker, too
anxious to wait until the sallow-faced young man with the piece of chalk
could make his record on the board. Some of them had gathered together
their last dollar. Two per cent. or one percent, or even one-half of one
per cent. rise or fall was all that stood between them and ruin.

“Very sorry, sir, but you know we told you when you opened the account
that you must keep your margins up,” Breen had said to an old man. The
old man knew; had known it all night as he lay awake, afraid to tell his
wife of the sword hanging above their heads. Knew it, too, when without
her knowledge he had taken the last dollar of the little nest-egg to
make good the deficit owed Breen & Co. over and above his margins,
together with some other things “not negotiable”--not our kind of
collateral but “stuff” that could “lie in the safe until he could make
some other arrangement,” the cashier had said with the firm’s consent.

Queer safe, that of Breen & Co., and queer things went into it. Most of
them were still there. Jack thought some jeweller had sent part of his
stock down for safe-keeping when he first came across a tiny drawer of
which Breen alone kept the key. Each object could tell a story: a pair
of diamond ear-rings surely could, and so could four pearls on a gold
chain, and perhaps, too, a certain small watch, the case set with
jewels. One of these days they may be redeemed, or they may not,
depending upon whether the owners can scrape money enough together to
pay the balances owed in cash. But the four pearls on the gold chain are
likely to remain there--that poor fellow went overboard one morning off
Nantucket Light, and his secret went with him.

During the six months Jack had stood at his desk new faces had filled
the chairs--the talk had varied; though he felt only the weary monotony
of it all. Sometimes there had been hours of tense excitement, when even
his uncle had stood by the ticker, and when every bankable security in
the box had been overhauled and sent post-haste to the bank or trust
company. Jack, followed by the porter with a self-cocking revolver in
his outside pocket, had more than once carried the securities himself,
returning to the office on the run with a small scrap of paper good
for half a million or so tucked away in his inside pocket. Then the old
monotony had returned with its dull routine and so had the chatter and
talk. “Buy me a hundred.” “Yes, let ‘em go.” “No, I don’t want to risk
it.” “What’s my balance?” “Thought you’d get another eighth for that
stock.” “Sold at that figure, anyhow,” etc.

Under these conditions life to a boy of Jack’s provincial training and
temperament seemed narrowed down to an arm-chair, a black-board, a piece
of chalk and a restless little devil sputtering away in a glass case,
whose fiat meant happiness or misery. Only the tongue of the demon
was in evidence. The brain behind it, with its thousand slender nerves
quivering with the energy of the globe, Jack never saw, nor, for that
matter, did nine-tenths of the occupants of the chairs. To them its
spoken word was the dictum of fate. Success meant debts paid, a balance
in the bank, houses, horses, even yachts and estates--failure meant
obscurity and suffering. The turn of the roulette wheel or the roll of
a cube of ivory they well knew brought the same results, but these
turnings they also knew were attended with a certain loss of prestige.
Taking a flier in the Street was altogether different--great financiers
were behind the fluctuations of values told by the tongue of the ticker,
and behind them was the wealth of the Republic and still in the far
distance the power of the American people. Few of them ever looked below
the grease paint, nor did the most discerning ever detect the laugh on
the clown’s face.

The boy half hidden by the glass screen, through which millions were
passed and repassed every month, caught now and then a glimpse.

Once a faded, white-haired old man had handed Jack a check after banking
hours to make good an account--a man whose face had haunted him for
hours. His uncle told him the poor fellow had “run up solid” against a
short interest in a stock that some Croesus was manipulating to get even
with another Croesus who had manipulated HIM, and that the two
Croesuses had “buried the old man alive.” The name of the stock Jack had
forgotten, but the suffering in the victim’s face had made an indelible
impression. In reply to Jack’s further inquiry, his uncle had spoken as
if the poor fellow had been wandering about on some unknown highway
when the accident happened, failing to add that he himself had led him
through the gate and started him on the road; forgetting, too, to say
that he had collected the toll in margins, a sum which still formed
a considerable portion of Breen & Co.’s bank account. One bit of
information which Breen had vouchsafed, while it did not relieve the
gloom of the incident, added a note of courage to the affair:

“He was game, however, all the same, Jack. Had to go down into his
wife’s stocking, I hear. Hard hit, but he took it like a man.”



CHAPTER V.



While all this was going on downtown under the direction of the business
end of the house of Breen, equally interesting events were taking place
uptown under the guidance of its social head. Strict orders had
been given by Mrs. Breen the night before that certain dustings and
arrangings of furniture should take place, the spacious stairs swept,
and the hectic hired palms in their great china pots watered. I say “the
night before,” because especial stress was laid upon the fact that on
no account whatever were either Mrs. Breen or her daughter Corinne to be
disturbed until noon--neither of them having retired until a late hour
the night before.

So strictly were these orders carried out that all that did reach the
younger woman’s ear--and this was not until long after mid-day--was a
scrap of news which crept upstairs from the breakfast table via Parkins
wireless, was caught by Corinne’s maid and delivered in manifold with
that young lady’s coffee and buttered rolls. This when deciphered meant
that Jack was not to be at the dance that evening--he having determined
instead to spend his time up stairs with a disreputable old fellow whom
he had picked up somewhere at a supper the preceding night.

Corinne thought over the announcement for a moment, gazed into the
egg-shell cup that Hortense was filling from the tiny silver coffee-pot,
and a troubled expression crossed her face. “What has come over Jack?”
 she asked herself. “I never knew him to do anything like this before. Is
he angry, I wonder, because I danced with Garry the other night? It
WAS his dance, but I didn’t think he would care. He has always done
everything to please me--until now.” Perhaps the boy was about to slip
the slight collar he had worn in her service--one buckled on by him
willingly because--though she had not known it--he was a guest in the
house. Heretofore she said to herself Jack had been her willing slave,
a feather in her cap--going everywhere with her; half the girls were
convinced he was in love with her--a theory which she had encouraged.
What would they say now? This prospect so disturbed the young woman that
she again touched the button, and again Hortense glided in.

“Hortense, tell Parkins to let me know the moment Mr. John comes in--and
get me my blue tea-gown; I sha’n’t go out to-day.” This done she sank
back on her pillows.

She was a slight little body, this Corinne--blue-eyed, fair-haired, with
a saucy face and upturned nose. Jack thought when he first saw her that
she looked like a wren with its tiny bill in the air--and Jack was not
far out of the way. And yet she was a very methodical, level-headed
little wren, with several positive convictions which dominated her
life--one of them being that everybody about her ought to do, not as
they, but as she, pleased. She had begun, and with pronounced success,
on her mother as far back as she could remember, and had then tried
her hand on her stepfather until it became evident that as her mother
controlled that gentleman it was a waste of time to experiment further.
All of which was a saving of stones without the loss of any birds.

Where she failed--and she certainly had failed, was with Jack, who
though punctiliously polite was elusive and--never quite subdued. Yet
the discovery made, she neither pouted nor lost her temper, but merely
bided her time. Sooner or later, she knew, of course, this boy, who
had seen nothing of city life and who was evidently dazed with all the
magnificence of the stately home overlooking the Park, would find his
happiest resting-place beneath the soft plumage of her little wing. And
if by any chance he should fall in love with her--and what more natural;
did not everybody fall in love with her?--would it not be wiser to let
him think she returned it, especially if she saw any disposition on the
young man’s part to thwart her undisputed sway of the household?

For months she had played her little game, yet to her amazement none of
the things she had anticipated had happened. Jack had treated her as
he would any other young woman of his acquaintance--always with
courtesy--always doing everything to oblige her, but never yielding to
her sway. He would laugh sometimes at her pretensions, just as he would
have laughed at similar self-assertiveness on the part of any one else
with whom he must necessarily be thrown, but never by thought, word
or deed had he ever given my Lady Wren the faintest suspicion that he
considered her more beautiful, better dressed, or more entertaining,
either in song, chirp, flight or plumage, than the flock of other birds
about her. Indeed, the Scribe knows it to be a fact that if Jack’s
innate politeness had not forbidden, he would many times have told her
truths, some of them mighty unpleasant ones, to which her ears had been
strangers since her school-girl days.

This unstudied treatment, strange to say--the result really, of the
boy’s indifference--had of late absorbed her. What she could not have
she generally longed for, and there was not the slightest question up to
the present moment that Jack was still afield.

Again the girl pressed the button of the cord within reach of her hand,
and for the third time Hortense entered.

“Have you told Parkins I want to know the very instant Mr. John comes
in?”

“Yes, miss.”

“And, Hortense, did you understand that Mr. John was to go out to meet
the gentleman, or was the gentleman to come to his rooms?”

“To his rooms, I think, miss.”

She was wearing her blue tea-gown, stretched out on the cushions
of one of the big divans in the silent drawing-room, when she heard
Jack’s night-key touch the lock. Springing to her feet she ran toward
him.

“Why, Jack, what’s this I hear about your not coming to my dance? It
isn’t true, is it?” She was close to him now, her little head cocked on
one side, her thin, silken draperies dripping about her slender figure.

“Who told you?”

“Parkins told Hortense.”

“Leaky Parkins?” laughed Jack, tossing his hat on the hall table.

“But you are coming, aren’t you, Jack? Please do!”

“Not to-night; you don’t need me, Corinne.” His voice told her at once
that not only was the leash gone but that the collar was off as well.

“Yes, but I do.”

“Then please excuse me, for I have an old gentleman coming to pay me
a visit. The finest old gentleman, by the way, you ever saw! A regular
thoroughbred, Corinne--who looks like a magnificent portrait!” he added
in his effort to interest her.

“But let him come some other time,” she coaxed, holding the lapel of his
coat, her eyes searching his.

“What, turn to the wall a magnificent old portrait!” This came with a
mock grimace, his body bent forward, his eyes brimming with laughter.

“Be serious, Jack, and tell me if you think it very nice in you to stay
upstairs in your den when I am giving a dance? Everybody will know you
are at home, and we haven’t enough men as it is. Garry can’t come, he
writes me. He has to dine with some men at the club.”

“I really AM sorry, Corinne, but I can’t this time.” Jack had hold
of her hand now; for a brief moment he was sorry he had not postponed
Peter’s visit until the next day; he hated to cause any woman a
disappointment. “If it was anybody else I might send him word to call
another night, but you don’t know Mr. Grayson; he isn’t the kind of a
man you can treat like that. He does me a great honor to come, anyhow.
Just think of his coming to see a boy like me--and he so--”

“Well, bring him downstairs, then.” Her eyes began to flash; she had
tried all the arts she knew--they were not many--but they had won
heretofore. “Mother will take care of him. A good many of the girls’
fathers come for them.”

“Bring him downstairs to a dance!” Jack answered with a merry laugh. “He
isn’t that kind of an old gentleman, either. Why, Corinne, you ought to
see him! You might as well ask old Bishop Gooley to lead the german.”

Jack’s foot was now ready to mount the lower step of the stairs. Corinne
bit her lip.

“You never do anything to please me!” she snapped back. She knew she
was fibbing, but something must be done to check this new form of
independence--and then, now that Garry couldn’t come, she really needed
him. “You don’t want to come, that’s it--” She facing him now, her
little nose high in the air, her cheeks flaming with anger.

“You must not say that, Corinne,” he answered in a slightly indignant
tone.

Corinne drew herself up to her full height--toes included; not very
high, but all she could do--and said in a voice pitched to a high key,
her finger within a few inches of his nose:

“It’s true, and I will say it!”

The rustle of silk was heard overhead, and a plump, tightly laced woman
in voluminous furs, her head crowned by a picture hat piled high with
plumes, was making her way down the stairs. Jack looked up and waved his
hand to his aunt, and then stood at mock attention, like a corporal on
guard, one hand raised to salute her as she passed. The boy, with the
thought of Peter coming, was very happy this afternoon.

“What are you two quarrelling about?” came the voice. Rather a soft
voice with a thread of laziness running through it.

“Jack’s too mean for anything, mother. He knows we haven’t men enough
without him for a cotillion, now that Garry has dropped out, and he’s
been just stupid enough to invite some old man to come and see him this
evening.”

The furs and picture hat swept down and on, Jack standing at attention,
hands clasping an imaginary musket his face drawn down to its severest
lines, his cheeks puffed out to make him look the more solemn. When the
wren got “real mad” he would often say she was the funniest thing alive.

“I’m a pig, I know, aunty” (here Jack completed his salute with a great
flourish), “but Corinne does not really want me, and she knows it. She
only wants to have her own way. They don’t dance cotillions when they
come here--at least they didn’t last time, and I don’t believe they will
to-night. They sit around with each other in the corners and waltz with
the fellows they’ve picked out--and it’s all arranged between them, and
has been for a week--ever since they heard Corinne was going to give a
dance.” The boy spoke with earnestness and a certain tone of conviction
in his voice, although his face was still radiant.

“Well, can’t you sit around, too, Jack?” remarked his aunt, pausing in
her onward movement for an instant. “I’m sure there will be some lovely
girls.”

“Yes, but they don’t want me. I’ve tried it too often, aunty--they’ve
all got their own set.”

“It’s because you don’t want to be polite to any of them,” snapped
Corinne with a twist of her body, so as to face him again.

“Now, Corinne, that isn’t fair; I am never impolite to anybody in this
house, but I’m tired of--”

“Well, Garry isn’t tired.” This last shot was fired at random.

Again the aunt poured oil: “Come, children, come! Don’t let’s talk any
more about it. If Jack has made an engagement it can’t be helped, I
suppose, but don’t spoil your party, my dear. Find Parkins, Jack, and
send him to me.... Ah, Parkins--if any one calls say I’ll be out until
six o’clock.”

“Yes, my Lady.” Parkins knew on which side his bread was buttered. She
had reproved him at first, but his excuse was that she was so like his
former mistress, Lady Colchester, that he sometimes forgot himself.

And again “my Lady” swept on, this time out of the door and into her
waiting carriage.



CHAPTER VI



Jack’s impatience increased as the hour for Peter’s visit approached.
Quarter of nine found him leaning over the banisters outside his small
suite of rooms, peering down between the hand-rails watching the top of
every head that crossed the spacious hall three flights below--he dare
not go down to welcome his guest, fearing some of the girls, many
of whom had already arrived, would know he was in the house. Fifteen
minutes later the flash of a bald head, glistening in the glare of the
lower hall lantern, told him that the finest old gentleman in the world
had arrived, and on the very minute. Parkins’s special instructions,
repeated for the third time, were to bring Mr. Peter Grayson--it was
wonderful what an impressive note was in the boy’s voice when he rolled
out the syllables--up at once, surtout, straight-brimmed hat, overshoes
(if he wore any), umbrella and all, and the four foot-falls--two
cat-like and wabbly, as befitted the obsequious flunky, and two firm and
decided, as befitted a grenadier crossing a bridge--could now be heard
mounting the stairs.

“So here you are!” cried Peter, holding out both hands to the overjoyed
boy--“‘way up near the sky. One flight less than my own. Let me get my
breath, my boy, before I say another word. No, don’t worry, only Anno
Domini--you’ll come to it some day. How delightfully you are settled!”

They had entered the cosey sitting-room and Jack was helping with his
coat; Parkins, with his nose in the air (he had heard his master’s
criticism), having already placed his hat on a side table and the
umbrella in the corner.

“Where will you sit--in the big chair by the fire or in this long straw
one?” cried the boy, Peter’s coat still in his hand.

“Nowhere yet; let me look around a little.” One of Peter’s tests of a
man was the things he lived with. “Ah! books?” and he peered at a row
on the mantel. “Macaulay, I see, and here’s Poe: Good, very good--why,
certainly it is--Where did you get this Morland?” and again Peter’s
glasses went up. “Through that door is your bedroom--yes, and the bath.
Very charming, I must say. You ought to live very happily here; few
young fellows I know have half your comforts.”

Jack had interrupted him to say that the Morland print was one that he
had brought from his father’s home, and that the books had come from the
same source, but Peter kept on in his tour around the room. Suddenly he
stopped and looked steadily at a portrait over the mantel.

“Yes--your father--”

“You knew!” cried Jack.

“Knew! How could any one make a mistake? Fine head. About fifty I should
say. No question about his firmness or his kindness. Yes--fine head--and
a gentleman, that is best of all. When you come to marry always hunt up
the grandfather--saves such a lot of trouble in after life,” and one of
Peter’s infectious laughs filled the room.

“Do you think he looks anything like Uncle Arthur? You have seen him, I
think you said.”

Peter scanned the portrait. “Not a trace. That may also be a question of
grandfathers--” and another laugh rippled out. “But just be thankful
you bear his name. It isn’t always necessary to have a long line of
gentlemen behind you, and if you haven’t any, or can’t trace them, a
man, if he has pluck and grit, can get along without them; but it’s very
comforting to know they once existed. Now let me sit down and listen to
you,” added Peter, whose random talk had been inspired by the look of
boyish embarrassment on Jack’s face. He had purposely struck many notes
in order to see which one would echo in the lad’s heart, so that his
host might find himself, just as he had done when Jack with generous
impulse had sprang from his chair to carry Minott the ring.

The two seated themselves--Peter in the easy chair and Jack opposite.
The boy’s eyes roamed from the portrait, with its round, grave face, to
Peter’s head resting on the cushioned back, illumined by the light
of the lamp, throwing into relief the clear-cut lips, little gray
side-whiskers and the tightly drawn skin covering his scalp, smooth as
polished ivory.

“Am I like him?” asked Peter. He had caught the boy’s glances and had
read his thoughts.

“No--and yes. I can’t see it in the portrait, but I do in the way you
move your hands and in the way you bow. I keep thinking of him when I am
with you. It may, as you say, be a good thing to have a gentleman for a
father, sir, but it is a dreadful thing, all the same, to lose him just
as you need him most. I wouldn’t hate so many of the things about me if
I had him to go to now and then.”

“Tell me about him and your early life,” cried Peter, crossing one leg
over the other. He knew the key had been struck; the boy might now play
on as he chose.

“There is very little to tell. I lived in the old home with an aunt
after my father’s death. And went to school and then to college at
Hagerstown--quite a small college--where uncle looked after me--he paid
the expenses really--and then I was clerk in a law office for a while,
and at my aunt’s death about a year ago the old place was sold and I had
no home, and Uncle Arthur sent for me to come here.”

“Very decent in him, and you should never forget him for it,” and again
Peter’s eyes roamed around the perfectly appointed room.

“I know it, sir, and at first the very newness and strangeness of
everything delighted me. Then I began to meet the people. They were so
different from those in my part of the country, especially the young
fellows--Garry is not so bad, because he really loves his work and is
bound to succeed--everybody says he has a genius for architecture--but
the others--and the way they treat the young girls, and what is more
unaccountable to me is the way the young girls put up with it.”

Peter had settled himself deeper in his chair, his eyes shaded with one
hand and looked intently at the boy.

“Uncle Arthur is kind to me, but the life smothers me. I can’t breathe
sometimes. Nothing my father taught me is considered worth while here.
People care for other things.”

“What, for instance?” Peter’s hand never moved, nor did his body.

“Why stocks and bonds and money, for instance,” laughed Jack, beginning
to be annoyed at his own tirade--half ashamed of it in fact. “Stocks are
good enough in their way, but you don’t want to live with them from ten
o’clock in the morning till four o’clock in the afternoon, and then hear
nothing else talked about until you go to bed. That’s why that dinner
last night made such an impression on me. Nobody said money once.”

“But every one of those men had his own hobby--”

“Yes, but in my uncle’s world they all ride one and the same horse.
I don’t want to be a pessimist, Mr. Grayson, and I want you to set me
straight if I am wrong, but Mr. Morris and every one of those men about
him were the first men I’ve seen in New York who appear to me to be
doing the things that will live after them. What are we doing down-town?
Gambling the most of us.”

“But your life here isn’t confined to your uncle and his stock-gambling
friends. Surely these lovely young girls--two of them came in with me--”
 and Peter smiled, “must make your life delightful.”

Jack’s eyes sought the floor, then he answered slowly:

“I hope you won’t think me a cad, but--No, I’m not going to say a word
about them, only I can’t get accustomed to them and there’s no use of
my saying that I can. I couldn’t treat any girl the way they are treated
here. And I tell you another thing--none of the young girls whom I
know at home would treat me as these girls treat the men they know. I’m
queer, I guess, but I might as well make a clean breast of it all. I am
an ingrate, perhaps, but I can’t help thinking that the old life at home
was the best. We loved our friends, and they were welcome at our table
any hour, day or night. We had plenty of time for everything; we lived
out of doors or in doors, just as we pleased, and we dressed to suit
ourselves, and nobody criticised. Why, if I drop into the Magnolia on my
way up-town and forget to wear a derby hat with a sack coat, or a black
tie with a dinner-jacket, everybody winks and nudges his neighbor. Did
you ever hear of such nonsense in your life?”

The boy paused as if the memory of some incident in which he was
ridiculed was alive in his mind. Peter’s eyes were still fixed on his
face.

“Go on--I’m listening; and what else hurts you? Pour it all out. That’s
what I came for. You said last night nobody would listen--I will.”

“Well, then, I hate the sham of it all; the silly social distinctions;
the fits and starts of hospitality; the dinners given for show. Nothing
else going on between times; even the music is hired. I want to hear
music that bubbles out--old Hannah singing in the kitchen, and Tom, my
father’s old butler, whistling to himself--and the dogs barking, and
the birds singing outside. I’m ashamed of myself making comparisons, but
that was the kind of life I loved, because there was sincerity in it.”

“No work?” There was a note of sly merriment in the inquiry, but Jack
never caught it.

“Not much. My father was Judge and spent part of the time holding court,
and his work never lasted but a few hours a day, and when I wanted to go
fishing or shooting, or riding with the girls, Mr. Larkin always let me
off. And I had plenty of time to read--and for that matter I do here, if
I lock myself up in this room. That low library over there is full of my
father’s books.”

Again Peter’s voice had a tinge of merriment in it.

“And who supported the family?” he asked in a lower voice.

“My father.”

“And who supported him?”

The question brought Jack to a full stop. He had been running on,
pouring out his heart for the first time since his sojourn in New York,
and to a listener whom he knew he could trust.

“Why--his salary, of course,” answered Jack in astonishment, after a
pause.

“Anything else?”

“Yes--the farm.”

“And who worked that?”

“My father’s negroes--some of them his former slaves.”

“And have you any money of your own--anything your father left you?”

“Only enough to pay taxes on some wild lands up in Cumberland County,
and which I’m going to hold on to for his sake.”

Peter dropped his shading fingers, lifted his body from the depths of
the easy chair and leaned forward so that the light fell full on his
face. He had all the information he wanted now.

“And now let me tell you my story, my lad. It is a very short one. I
had the same sort of a home, but no father--none that I remember--and no
mother, they both died before my sister Felicia and I were grown up.
At twelve I left school; at fifteen I worked in a country store--up at
daylight and to bed at midnight, often. From twenty to twenty-five I
was entry clerk in a hardware store; then book-keeper; then cashier in
a wagon factory; then clerk in a village bank--then book-keeper again
in my present bank, and there I have been ever since. My only advantages
were a good constitution and the fact that I came of gentle people. Here
we are both alike--you at twenty--how old?--twenty two?... Well, make
it twenty-two.... You at twenty-two and I at twenty-two seem to have
started out in life with the same natural advantages, so far as years
and money go, but with this difference--Shall I tell you what it is?”

“Yes.”

“That I worked and loved it, and love it still, and that you are lazy
and love your ease. Don’t be offended--” Here Peter laid his hand on the
boy’s knee. He waited an instant, and not getting any reply, kept on:
“What you want to do is to go to work. It wouldn’t have been honorable
in you to let your father support you after you were old enough to
earn your own living, and it isn’t honorable in you, with your present
opinions, to live on your uncle’s bounty, and to be discontented
and rebellious at that, for that’s about what it all amounts to. You
certainly couldn’t pay for these comforts outside of this house on what
Breen & Co. can afford to pay you. Half of your mental unrest, my lad,
is due to the fact that you do not know the joy and comfort to be got
out of plain, common, unadulterated work.”

“I’ll do anything that is not menial.”

“What do you mean by ‘menial’?”

“Well, working like a day-laborer.”

“Most men who have succeeded have first worked with their hands.”

“Not my uncle.”

“No, not your uncle--he’s an exception--one among a million, and then
again he isn’t through.”

“But he’s worth two million, they say.”

“Yes, but he never earned it, and he never worked for it, and he doesn’t
now. Do you want to follow in his footsteps?”

“No--not with all his money.” This came in a decided tone. “But surely
you wouldn’t want me to work with my hands, would you?”

“I certainly should, if necessary.”

Jack looked at him, and a shade of disappointment crossed his face.

“But I COULDN’T do anything menial.”

“There isn’t anything menial in any kind of work from cleaning a stable
up! The menial things are the evasions of work--tricks by which men are
cheated out of their just dues.”

“Stock gambling?”

“Yes--sometimes, when the truth is withheld.”

“That’s what I think; that’s what I meant last night when I told
you about the faro-bank. I laughed over it, and yet I can’t see much
difference, although I have never seen one.”

“So I understood, but you were wrong about it. Your uncle bears a very
good name in the Street. He is not as much to blame as the system.
Perhaps some day the firm will become real bankers, than which there is
no more honorable calling.”

“But is it wrong to want to fish and shoot and have time to read.”

“No, it is wrong not to do it when you have the time and the money. I
like that side of your nature. My own theory is that every man should
in the twenty-four hours of the day devote eight to work, eight to sleep
and eight to play. But this can only be done when the money to support
the whole twenty-four hours is in sight, either in wages, or salary, or
invested securities. More money than this--that is the surplusage that
men lock up in their tin boxes, is a curse. But with that you have
nothing to do--not yet, anyhow. Now, if I catch your meaning, your idea
is to go back to your life at home. In other words you want to live the
last end of your life first--and without earning the right to it.
And because you cannot do this you give yourself up to criticising
everything about you. Getting only at the faults and missing all the
finer things in life. If you would permit me to advise you--” he still
had his hand on the lad’s knee, searching the soft brown eyes--“I would
give up finding fault and first try to better things, and I would begin
right here where you are. Some of the great banking houses which keep
the pendulum of the world swinging true have grown to importance through
just such young men as yourself, who were honest and had high ideals
and who so impressed their own personalities upon everybody about
them--customers and employers--that the tone of the concern was raised
at once and with it came a world-wide success. I have been thirty years
on the Street and have watched the rise of half the firms about me,
and in every single instance some one of the younger men--boys, many of
them--has pulled the concern up and out of a quagmire and stood it on
its feet. And the reverse is true: half the downfalls have come from
those same juniors, who thought they knew some short road to success,
which half the time was across disreputable back lots. Why not give
up complaining and see what better things you can do? I’m not quite
satisfied about your having stayed upstairs even to receive me.
Your aunt loves society and the daughter--what did you say her name
was--Corinne? Yes, Miss Corinne being young, loves to have a good time.
Listen! do you hear?--there goes another waltz. Now, as long as you do
live here, why not join in it too and help out the best you can?--and
if you have anything of your own to offer in the way of good cheer, or
thoughtfulness, or kindness, or whatever you do have which they lack--or
rather what you think they lack--wouldn’t it be wiser--wouldn’t it--if
you will permit me, my lad--be a little BETTER BRED to contribute
something of your own excellence to the festivity?”

It was now Jack’s turn to lean back in his chair and cover his face, but
with two ashamed hands. Not since his father’s death had any one talked
to him like this--never with so much tenderness and truth and with every
word meant for his good. All his selfrighteousness, his silly conceit
and vainglory stood out before him. What an ass he had been. What a
coxcomb. What a boor, really.

“What would you have me do?” he asked, a tone of complete surrender in
his voice. The portrait and Peter were one and the same! His father had
come to life.

“I don’t know yet. We’ll think about that another time, but we won’t do
it now. I ought to be ashamed of myself for having spoiled your evening
by such serious talk (he wasn’t ashamed--he had come for that very
purpose). Now show me some of your books and tell me what you read, and
what you love best.”

He was out of the chair before he ceased speaking, his heels striking
the floor, bustling about in his prompt, exact manner, examining the few
curios and keepsakes on the mantel and tables, running his eyes over the
rows of bindings lining the small bookcase; his hand on Jack’s shoulder
whenever the boy opened some favorite author to hunt for a passage to
read aloud to Peter, listening with delight, whether the quotation was
old or new to him.

Jack, suddenly remembering that his guest was standing, tried to lead
him back to his seat by the fire, but Peter would have none of it.

“No--too late. Why, bless me, it’s after eleven o’clock! Hear the
music--they are still at it. Now I’m going to insist that you go down
and have a turn around the room yourself; there were such a lot of
pretty girls when I came in.”

“Too late for that, too,” laughed Jack, merry once more. “Corinne
wouldn’t speak to me if I showed my face now, and then there will be
plenty more dances which I can go to, and so make it all up with her.
I’m not yet as sorry as I ought to be about this dance. Your being here
has been such a delight. May I--may--I come and see you some time?”

“That’s just what you will do, and right away. Just as soon as my dear
sister Felicia comes down, and she’ll be here very soon. I’ll send
for you, never fear. Yes, the right sleeve first, and now my hat and
umbrella. Ah, here they are. Now, good night, my boy, and thank you for
letting me come.”

“You know I dare not go down with you,” explained Jack with a smile.

“Oh, yes--I know--I know. Good night--” and the sharp, quick tread of
the old man grew fainter and fainter as he descended the stairs.

Jack waited, craning his head, until he caught a glimpse of the
glistening head as it passed once more under the lantern, then he went
into his room and shut the door.

Had he followed behind his guest he would have witnessed a little comedy
which would have gone far in wiping clean all trace of his uncle’s
disparaging remarks of the morning. He would have enjoyed, too,
Parkins’s amazement. As the Receiving Teller of the Exeter Bank
reached the hall floor the President of the Clearing House--the most
distinguished man in the Street and one to whom Breen kotowed with
genuflections equalling those of Parkins--accompanied by his daughter
and followed by the senior partner of Breen & Co., were making their
way to the front door. The second man in the chocolate livery with the
potato-bug waistcoat had brought the Magnate’s coat and hat, and Parkins
stood with his hand on the door-knob. Then, to the consternation of
both master and servant, the great man darted forward and seized Peter’s
hand.

“Why, my dear Mr. Grayson! This is indeed a pleasure. I didn’t see
you--were you inside?”

“No--I’ve been upstairs with young Mr. Breen,” replied Peter, with a
comprehensive bow to Host, Magnate and Magnate’s daughter. Then, with
the grace and dignity of an ambassador quitting a salon, he passed out
into the night.

Breen found his breath first: “And you know him?”

“Know him!” cried the Magnate--“of course I know him! One of the most
delightful men in New York; and I’m glad that you do--you’re luckier
than I--try as I may I can hardly ever get him inside my house.”

I was sitting up for the old fellow when he entered his cosey red room
and dropped into a chair before the fire. I had seen the impression the
young man had made upon him at the dinner and was anxious to learn the
result of his visit. I had studied the boy somewhat myself, noting
his bright smile, clear, open face without a trace of guile, and the
enthusiasm that took possession of him when his friend won the prize.
That he was outside the class of young men about him I could see from
a certain timidity of glance and gesture--as if he wanted to be kept in
the background. Would the old fellow, I wondered, burden his soul with
still another charge?

Peter was laughing when he entered; he had laughed all the way
down-town, he told me. What particularly delighted him--and here he
related the Portman incident--was the change in Breen’s face when old
Portman grasped his hand so cordially.

“Made of pinchbeck, my dear Major, both of them, and yet how genuine it
looks on the surface, and what a lot of it is in circulation. Quite as
good as the real thing if you don’t know the difference,” and again he
laughed heartily.

“And the boy,” I asked, “was he disappointing?”

“Young Breen?--not a bit of it. He’s like all the young fellows who come
up here from the South--especially the country districts--and he’s
from western Maryland, he says. Got queer ideas about work and what a
gentleman should do to earn his living--same old talk. Hot-house plants
most of them--never amount to anything, really, until they are pruned
and set out in the cold.”

“Got any sense?” I ventured.

“No, not much--not yet--but he’s got temperament and refinement and a
ten commandments’ code of morals.”

“Rather rare, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes--perhaps so.”

“And I suppose you are going to take him up and do for him, like the
others.”

Peter picked up the poker and made a jab at the fire; then he answered
slowly:

“Well, Major, I can’t tell yet--not positively. But he’s certainly worth
saving.”



CHAPTER VII



With the closing of the front door upon the finest Old Gentleman in the
World, a marked change took place in the mental mechanism of several of
our most important characters. The head of the firm of Breen & Co. was
so taken aback that for the moment that shrewdest of financiers was
undecided as to whether he or Parkins should rush out into the night
after the departing visitor and bring him back, and open the best in the
cellar. “Send a man out of my house,” he said to himself, “whom Portman
couldn’t get to his table except at rare intervals! Well, that’s one on
me!”

The lid that covered the upper half of Parkins’s intelligence also
received a jolt; it was a coal-hole lid that covered emptiness, but now
and then admitted the light.

“Might ‘ave known from the clothes ‘e wore ‘e was no common PUR-son,” he
said to himself. “To tell you the truth--” this to the second man in the
potato-bug waistcoat, when they were dividing between them the bottle
of “Extra Dry” three-quarters full, that Parkins had smuggled into the
pantry with the empty bottles (“Dead Men,” Breen called them)--“to tell
you the truth, Frederick, when I took ‘is ‘at and coat hupstairs ‘e give
me a real start ‘e looked that respectable”

As to Jack, not only his mind but his heart were in a whirl.

Half the night he lay awake wondering what he could do to follow Peter’s
advice while preserving his own ideals. He had quite forgotten that part
of the older man’s counsel which referred to the dignity of work, even
of that work which might be considered as menial. If the truth must be
told, it was his vanity alone which had been touched by the suggestion
that in him might lay the possibility of reforming certain conditions
around him. He was willing, even anxious, to begin on Breen & Co.,
subjecting his uncle, if need be, to a vigorous overhauling. Nothing he
felt could daunt him in his present militant state, upheld, as he felt
that he was, by the approval of Peter. Not a very rational state of
mind, the Scribe must confess, and only to be accounted for by the fact
that Peter’s talk, instead of clearing Jack’s mind of old doubts, had
really clouded it the more--quite as a bottle of mixture when shaken
sends its insoluble particles whirling throughout the whole.

It was not until the following morning, indeed, that the sediment began
to settle, and some of the sanity of Peter’s wholesome prescription to
produce a clarifying effect. As long as he, Jack, lived upon his uncle’s
bounty--and that was really what it amounted it--he must at least try to
contribute his own quota of good cheer and courtesy. This was what Peter
had done him the honor to advise, and he must begin at once if he wanted
to show his appreciation of the courtesy.

His uncle opened the way:

“Why, I didn’t know until I saw him go out that he was a friend of Mr.
Portman’s,” he said as he sipped his coffee.

“Neither did I. But does it make any difference?” answered Jack,
flipping off the top of his egg.

“Well I should think so--about ninety-nine and nine-tenths percent,”
 replied the older man emphatically. “Let’s invite him to dinner, Jack.
Maybe he’ll come to one I’m giving next week and--”

“I’ll ask him--that is... perhaps, though, you might write him a note,
uncle, and--”

“Of course,” interrupted Breen, ignoring the suggestion, “when I wanted
you to take him to the club I didn’t know who he was.”

“Of course you did not,” echoed Jack, suppressing a smile.

“The club! No, not by a damned sight!” exclaimed the head of the house
of Breen. As this latter observation was addressed to the circumambient
air, and not immediately to Jack, it elicited no response. Although
slightly profane, Jack was clever enough to read in its tones not
only ample apology for previous criticisms but a sort of prospective
reparation, whereupon our generous young gentleman forgave his uncle at
once, and thought that from this on he might like him the better.

Even Parkins came in for a share of Jack’s most gracious intentions,
and though he was as silent as an automaton playing a game of chess, a
slight crack was visible in the veneer of his face when Jack thanked him
for having brought Mr. Grayson--same reverential pronunciation--upstairs
himself instead of allowing Frederick or one of the maid-servants to
perform that service.

As for his apologies to Corinne and his aunt for having remained in his
room after Mr. Grayson’s departure, instead of taking part in the last
hours of the dance--one o’clock was the exact hour--these were reserved
until those ladies should appear at dinner, when they were made with
so penitential a ring in his voice that his aunt at once jumped to the
conclusion that he must have been bored to death by the old fellow,
while Corinne hugged herself in the belief that perhaps after all Jack
was renewing his interest in her; a delusion which took such possession
of her small head that she finally determined to send Garry a
note begging him to come to her at once, on business of the UTMOST
IMPORTANCE; two strings being better than one, especially when they were
to be played each against the other.

As to the uplifting of the house of Breen & Co., and the possibility of
so small a tail as himself being able to wag so large a dog as his uncle
and his partners, that seemed now to be so chimerical an undertaking
that he laughed when he thought of it.

This urbanity of mood was still with him when some days later he dropped
into the Magnolia Club on his way home, his purpose being to find Garry
and to hear about the supper which his club friends had given him to
celebrate his winning of the Morris ring.

Little Biffton was keeping watch when Jack swung in with that free
stride of his that showed more than anything else his muscular body and
the way he had taken care of and improved it. No dumb-bells or clubs for
fifteen minutes in the morning--but astride a horse, his thighs gripping
a bare-back, roaming the hills day after day--the kind of outdoor
experience that hardens a man all over without specializing his biceps
or his running gear. Little Biff never had any swing to his gait--none
that his fellows ever noticed. Biff went in for repose--sometimes hours
at a time. Given a club chair, a package of cigarettes and some one to
talk to him and Biff could be happy a whole afternoon.

“Ah, Breen, old man! Come to anchor.” Here he moved back a chair an inch
or two with his foot, and pushed his silver cigarette-case toward the
newcomer.

“Thank you,” replied Jack. “I’ve just dropped in to look for Garry
Minott. Has he been in?”

Biff was the bulletin-board of the Magnolia club. As he roomed upstairs,
he could be found here at any hour of the day or night.

Biff did not reply at once; there was no use in hurrying--not about
anything. Besides, the connection between Biff’s ears and his brain
was never very good. One had to ring him up several times before he
answered.

Jack waited for an instant, and finding that the message was delayed
in transmission, helped himself to one of Biff’s “Specials”--bearing in
gold letters his name “Brent Biffton” in full on the rice paper--dropped
into the proffered chair and repeated the question:

“Have you seen Garry?”

“Yes--upstairs. Got a deck in the little room. Been there all afternoon.
Might go up and butt in. Touch that bell before you go and say what.”

“No--I won’t drink anything, if you don’t mind. You heard about Garry’s
winning the prize?”

“No.” Biffton hadn’t moved since he had elongated his foot in search of
Jack’s chair.

“Why Garry got first prize in his office. I went with him to the supper;
he’s with Holker Morris, you know.”

“Yes. Rather nice. Yes, I did hear. The fellows blew him off upstairs.
Kept it up till the steward shut ‘em out. Awfully clever fellow, Minott.
My Governor wanted me to do something in architecture, but it takes
such a lot of time... Funny how a fellow will dress himself.” Biffton’s
sleepy eyes were sweeping the Avenue. “Pendergast just passed wearing
white spats--A month too late for spats--ought to know better. Touch the
bell, Breen, and say what.”

Again Jack thanked him, and again Biffton relapsed into silence. Rather
a damper on a man of his calibre, when a fellow wouldn’t touch a bell
and say what.

Jack having a certain timidity about “butting in”--outsiders didn’t do
such things where he came from--settled himself into the depths of the
comfortable leather-covered arm-chair and waited for Garry to finish
his game. From where he sat he could not only overlook the small tables
holding a choice collection of little tear-bottles, bowls of crushed ice
and high-pressure siphons, but his eye also took in the stretch beyond,
the club windows commanding the view up and down and quite across the
Avenue, as well as the vista to the left.

This outlook was the most valuable asset the Magnolia possessed. If the
parasol was held flat, with its back to the club-house, and no glimpse
of the pretty face possible, it was, of course, unquestionable evidence
to the member looking over the top of his cocktail that neither the
hour or the place was propitious. If, however, it swayed to the right or
left, or better still, was folded tight, then it was equally conclusive
that not only was the coast clear, but that any number of things might
happen, either at Tiffany’s, or the Academy, or wherever else one of
those altogether accidental--“Why-who-would-have-thought-of-seeing-you-
here” kind of meetings take place--meetings so delightful in themselves
because so unexpected.

These outlooks, too, were useful in solving many of the social problems
that afflicted the young men about town; the identity, for instance,
of the occupant of the hansom who had just driven past, heavily veiled,
together with her destination and her reason for being out at all; why
the four-in-hand went up empty and came back with a pretty woman beside
the “Tooler,” and then turned up a side street toward the Park, instead
of taking the Avenue into its confidence; what the young wife of the old
doctor meant when she waved her hand to the occupant of a third-story
window, and who lived there, and why--None of their business, of
course--never could be--but each and every escapade, incident and
adventure being so much thrice-blessed manna to souls stranded in the
desert waste of club conversation.

None of these things interested our hero, and he soon found himself
listening to the talk at an adjoining table. Topping, a young lawyer,
Whitman Bunce, a man of leisure--unlimited leisure--and one or two
others, were rewarming some of the day’s gossip.

“Had the gall to tell Bob’s man he couldn’t sleep in linen sheets; had
his own violet silk ones in his trunk, to match his pajamas. The goat
had ‘em out and half on the bed when Bob came in and stopped him. Awful
row, I heard, when Mrs. Bob got on to it. He’ll never go there again.”

“And I heard,” broke in Bunce, “that she ordered the trap and sent him
back to the station.”

Other bits drifted Jack’s way:

“Why he was waiting at the stage-door and she slipped out somewhere in
front. Billy was with her, so I heard.... When they got to Delmonico’s
there came near being a scrap.... No.... Never had a dollar on Daisy
Belle, or any other horse....”

Loud laughter was now heard at the end of the hall. A party of young
men had reached the foot of the stairs and were approaching Biffton and
Jack. Garry’s merry voice led the others.

“Still hard at work, are you, Biffy? Why, hello, Jack!--how long have
you been here? Morlon, you know Mr. Breen, don’t you?--Yes, of course
you do--new member--just elected. Get a move on that carcass of yours,
Biffy, and let somebody else get up to that table. Charles, take the
orders.”

Jack had shaken everybody’s hand by this time, Biffton having moved back
a foot or two, and the circle had widened so that the poker party could
reach their cocktails. Garry extended his arm till his hand rested on
Jack’s shoulder.

“Nothing sets me up like a game of poker, old man. Been on the building
all day. You ought to come up with me some time--I’ll show you the
greatest piece of steel construction you ever saw. Mr. Morris was all
over it to-day. Oh, by the way! Did that old chunk of sandstone come up
to see you last night? What did you say his name was?”

Jack repeated Peter’s cognomen--this time without rolling the syllables
under his tongue--said that Mr. Grayson had kept his promise; that the
evening had been delightful, and immediately changed the subject. There
was no use trying to convert Garry.

“And now tell me about the supper,” asked Jack.

“Oh, that was all right. We whooped it up till they closed the bar and
then went home with the milk. Had an awful head on me next morning;
nearly fell off the scaffold, I was so sleepy. How’s Miss Corinne? I’m
going to stop in on my way uptown this afternoon and apologize to her.
I have her note, but I haven’t had a minute to let her know why I didn’t
come. I’ll show her the ring; then she’ll know why. Saw it, didn’t you?”

Jack hadn’t seen it. He had been too excited to look. Now he examined
it. With the flash of the gems Biffy sat up straight, and the others
craned their heads. Garry slipped it off his finger for the hundredth
time for similar inspections, and Jack utilized the pause in the
conversation to say that Corinne had received the note and that in reply
she had vented most of her disappointment on himself, a disclosure which
sent a cloud across Garry’s face.

The cocktail hour had now arrived--one hour before dinner, an hour which
was fixed by that distinguished compounder of herbs and spirits, Mr.
Biffton--and the room began filling up. Most of the members were young
fellows but a few years out of college, men who renewed their Society
and club life within its walls; some were from out of town--students in
the various professions. Here and there was a man of forty--one even
of fifty-five--who preferred the gayer and fresher life of the younger
generation to the more solemn conclaves of the more exclusive clubs
further up and further down town. As is usual in such combinations, the
units forming the whole sought out their own congenial units and were
thereafter amalgamated into groups, a classification to be found in all
clubs the world over. While Biffy and his chums could always be found
together, there were other less-fortunate young fellows, not only
without coupon shears, but sometimes without the means of paying their
dues--who formed a little coterie of their own, and who valued and used
the club for what it brought them, their election carrying with it
a certain social recognition: it also widened one’s circle of
acquaintances and, perhaps, of clients.

The sound of loud talking now struck upon Jack’s ear. Something more
important than the angle of a parasol or the wearing of out-of-date
spats was engrossing the attention of a group of young men who had just
entered. Jack caught such expressions as--“Might as well have picked
his pocket....” “He’s flat broke, anyhow....” “Got to sell his house, I
hear....”

Then came a voice louder than the others.

“There’s Breen talking to Minott and Biffy. He’s in the Street; he’ll
know.... Say, Breen!”

Jack rose to his feet and met the speaker half way.

“What do you know, Breen, about that scoop in gold stock? Heard anything
about it? Who engineered it? Charley Gilbert’s cleaned out, I hear.”

“I don’t know anything,” said Jack. “I left the office at noon and came
up town. Who did you say was cleaned out?”

“Why, Charley Gilbert. You must know him.”

“Yes, I know him. What’s happened to him?”

“Flat broke--that’s what happened to him. Got caught in that gold
swindle. The stock dropped out of sight this afternoon, I hear--went
down forty points.”

Garry crowded his way into the group: “Which Mr. Gilbert?--not Charley
M., the--”

“Yes; Sam’s just left him. What did he tell you, Sam?”

“Just what you’ve said--I hear, too, that he has got to stop on his
house out in Jersey. Can’t finish it and can’t pay for what’s been
done.”

Garry gave a low whistle and looked at Jack.

“That’s rough. Mr. Morris drew the plan of Gilbert’s house himself. I
worked on the details.”

“Rough!” burst out the first speaker. “I should say it was--might as
well have burglared his safe. They have been working up this game for
months, so Charley told me. Then they gave out that the lode had petered
out and they threw it overboard and everybody with it. They said they
tried to find Charley to post him, but he was out of town.”

“Who tried?” asked Jack, with renewed interest, edging his way close to
the group. It was just as well to know the sheep from the goats, if he
was to spend the remainder of his life in the Street.

“That’s what we want to know. Thought you might have heard.”

Jack shook his head and resumed his seat beside Biffy, who had not moved
or shown the slightest interest in the affair. Nobody could sell Biff
any gold stock--nor any other kind of stock. His came on the first of
every month in a check from the Trust Company.

For some moments Jack did not speak. He knew young Gilbert, and he knew
his young and very charming wife. He had once sat next to her at dinner,
when her whole conversation had been about this new home and the keen
interest that Morris, a friend of her father’s, had taken in it. “Mr.
Breen, you and Miss Corinne must be among our earliest guests,” she had
said, at which Corinne, who was next to Garry, had ducked her little
head in acceptance. This was the young fellow, then, who had been caught
in one of the eddies whirling over the sunken rocks of the Street. Not
very creditable to his intelligence, perhaps, thought Jack; but, then,
again, who had placed them there, a menace to navigation?--and why?
Certainly Peter could not have known everything that was going on around
him, if he thought the effort of so insignificant an individual as
himself could be of use in clearing out obstructions like these.

Garry noticed the thoughtful expression settling over Jack’s face, and
mistaking the cause called Charles to take the additional orders.

“Cheer up--try a high-ball, Jack. It’s none of your funeral. You didn’t
scoop Gilbert; we are the worst sufferers. Can’t finish his house now,
and Mr. Morris is just wild over the design. It’s on a ledge of rock
overlooking the lake, and the whole thing goes together. We’ve got the
roof on, and from across the lake it looks as if it had grown there. Mr.
Morris repeated the rock forms everywhere. Stunning, I tell you!”

Jack didn’t want any high-ball, and said so. (Biffy didn’t care if he
did.) The boy’s mind was still on the scoop, particularly on the way in
which every one of his fellow-members had spoken of the incident.

“Horrid business, all of it. Don’t you think so, Garry?” Jack said after
a pause.

“No, not if you keep your eyes peeled,” answered Garry, emptying his
glass. “Never saw Gilbert but once, and then he looked to me like a
softy from Pillowville. Couldn’t fool me, I tell you, on a deal like
that. I’d have had a ‘stop order’ somewhere. Served Gilbert right; no
business to be monkeying with a buzz-saw unless he knew how to throw off
the belt.”

Jack straightened his shoulders and his brows knit. The lines of the
portrait were in the lad’s face now.

“Well, maybe it’s all right, Garry. My own opinion is that it’s no
better than swindling. Anyway, I’m mighty glad Uncle Arthur isn’t mixed
up in it. You heard what Sam and the other fellows thought, didn’t you?
How would you like to have that said of you?”

Garry tossed back his head and laughed.

“Biffy, are you listening to his Reverence, the Bishop of Cumberland?
Here endeth the first lesson.”

Biff nodded over his high-ball. He wasn’t listening--discussions of any
kind bored him.

“But what do you care, Jack, what they say--what anybody says?”
 continued Garry. “Keep right on. You are in the Street to make money,
aren’t you? Everybody else is there for the same purpose. What goes up
must come down. If you don’t want to get your head smashed, stand from
under. The game is to jump in, grab what you can, and jump out, dodging
the bricks as they come. Let’s go up-town, old man.”

Neither of the young men was expressing his own views. Both were too
young and too inexperienced to have any fixed ideas on so vital a
subject.

It was the old fellow in the snuff-colored coat, black stock and
dog-eared collar that was behind Jack. If he were alive to-day Jack’s
view would have been his view, and that was the reason why it was Jack’s
view. The boy could no more explain it than he could prove why his eyes
were brown and his hair a dark chestnut, or why he always walked with
his toes very much turned out, or made gestures with his hands when he
talked. Had any of the jury been alive--and some of them were--or the
prosecuting-attorney, or even any one of the old settlers who attended
court, they could have told in a minute which one of the two young men
was Judge Breen’s son. Not that Jack looked like his father. No young
man of twenty-two looks like an old fellow of sixty, but he certainly
moved and talked like him--and had the same way of looking at things.
“The written law may uphold you, sir, and the jury may so consider, but
I shall instruct them to disregard your plea. There is a higher law,
sir, than justice--a law of mercy--That I myself shall exercise.” The
old Judge had sat straight up on his bench when he said it, his face
cast-iron, his eyes burning. The jury brought in an acquittal without
leaving their seats. There was an outbreak, of course, but the man went
free. This young offshoot was from the same old stock, that was all;
same sap in his veins, same twist to his branch; same bud, same blossom
and--same fruit.

And Garry!

Not many years have elapsed since I watched him running in and out of
his father’s spacious drawing-rooms on Fourteenth Street--the court
end of town in those days. In the days, I mean, when his father was
Collector of the Port, and his father’s house with its high ceilings,
mahogany doors and wide hall, and the great dining-room overlooking a
garden with a stable in the rear. It had not been many years, I say,
since the Hon. Creighton Minott had thrown wide its doors to whoever
came--that is, whoever came properly accredited. It didn’t last long,
of course. Politics changed; the “ins” became the “outs.” And with the
change came the bridging-over period--the kind of cantilever which hope
thrusts out from one side of the bank of the swift-flowing stream of
adversity in the belief that somebody on the other side of the chasm
will build the other half, and the two form a highway leading to a
change of scene and renewed prosperity.

The hospitable Collector continued to be hospitable. He had always
taken chances--he would again. The catch-terms of Garry’s day, such as
“couldn’t fool him,” “keep your eye peeled,” “a buzz-saw,” etc., etc.,
were not current in the father’s day, but their synonyms were. He knew
what he was about. As soon as a particular member of the Board got back
from the other side the Honorable Collector would have the position
of Treasurer, and then it was only a question of time when he would be
President of the new corporation. I can see now the smile that lighted
up his rather handsome face when he told me. He was “monkeying with
a buzz-saw” all the same if he did but know it, and yet he always
professed to follow the metaphor that he could “throw off the belt” that
drove the pulley at his own good pleasure and so stop the connecting
machinery before the teeth of the whirling blade could reach his
fingers. Should it get beyond his control--of which there was not the
remotest possibility--he would, of course, rent his house, sell his
books and curtail. “In the meantime, my dear fellow, there is some of
the old Madeira left and a game of whist will only help to drive dull
care away.”

Garry never whimpered when the crash came. The dear mother died--how
patient and uncomplaining she was in all their ups and downs--and Garry
was all that was left. What he had gained since in life he had worked
for; first as office boy, then as draughtsman and then in charge of
special work, earning his Chief’s approval, as the Scribe has duly
set forth. He got his inheritance, of course. Don’t we all get ours?
Sometimes it skips a generation--some times two--but generally we are
wearing the old gentleman’s suit of clothes cut down to fit our
small bodies, making believe all the time that they are our very own,
unconscious of the discerning eyes who recognize their cut and origin.

Nothing tangible, it is safe to say, came with Garry’s share of the
estate--and he got it all. That is, nothing he could exchange for value
received--no houses or lots, or stocks or bonds. It was the INTANGIBLE
that proved his richest possession, viz.:--a certain buoyancy of
spirits; a cheery, optimistic view of life; a winning personality and
the power of both making and holding friends. With this came another
asset--the willingness to take chances, and still a third--an absolute
belief in his luck. Down at the bottom of the box littered with old
papers, unpaid tax bills and protested notes--all valueless--was
a fourth which his father used to fish out when every other asset
failed--a certain confidence in the turn of a card.

But the virtues and the peccadilloes of their ancestors, we may be sure,
were not interesting our two young men as they swung up the Avenue
arm in arm, this particular afternoon, the sidewalks crowded with the
fashion of the day, the roadway blocked with carriages. Nor did any
passing objects occupy their attention.

Garry’s mind was on Corinne, and what he would tell her, and how she
would look as she listened, the pretty head tucked on one side, her
sparkling eyes drinking in every word of his story, although he knew she
wouldn’t believe one-half of it. Elusive and irritating as she sometimes
was, there was really nobody exactly like Miss Corinne.

Jack’s mind had resumed its normal tone. Garry’s merry laugh and
good-natured ridicule had helped, so had the discovery that none of his
friends had had anything to do with Gilbert’s fall. After all, he said
to himself, as he strode up the street beside his friend, it was “none
of his funeral,” none of his business, really. Such things went on every
day and in every part of the world. Neither was it his Uncle Arthur’s.
That was the most comforting part of all.

Corinne’s voice calling over the banisters: “Is that you, Jack?” met the
two young men as they handed their hats to the noiseless Frederick. Both
craned their necks and caught sight of the Wren’s head framed by the
hand-rail and in silhouette against the oval sky-light in the roof
above.

“Yes, and Garry’s here, too. Come down.”

The patter of little feet grew louder, then the swish of silken skirts,
and with a spring she was beside them.

“No, don’t you say a word, Garry. I’m not going to listen and I won’t
forgive you no matter what you say.” She had both of his hands now.

“Ah, but you don’t know, Miss Corinne. Has Jack told you?”

“Yes, told me everything; that you had a big supper and everybody
stamped around the room; that Mr. Morris gave you a ring, or something”
 (Garry held up his finger, but she wasn’t ready to examine it yet), “and
that some of the men wanted to celebrate it, and that you went to the
club and stayed there goodness knows how long--all night, so Mollie
Crane told me. Paul, her brother, was there--and you never thought a
word about your promise to me” (this came with a little pout, her chin
uplifted, her lips quite near his face), “and we didn’t have half men
enough and our cotillion was all spoiled. I don’t care--we had a lovely
time, even if you two men did behave disgracefully. No--I don’t want
to listen to a thing. I didn’t come down to see either of you.” (She had
watched them both from her window as they crossed the street.) “What I
want to know, Jack, is, who is Miss Felicia Grayson?”

“Why, Mr. Grayson’s sister,” burst out Jack--“the old gentleman who came
to see me.”

“That old fellow!”

“Yes, that old fellow--the most charming--”

“Not that remnant!” interrupted Garry.

“No, Garry--not that kind of a man at all, but a most delightful old
gentleman by the name of Mr. Grayson,” and Jack’s eyes flashed. “He told
me his sister was coming to town. What do you know about her, Corinne?”
 He was all excitement: Peter was to send for him when his sister
arrived.

“Nothing--that’s why I ask you. I’ve just got a note from her. She says
she knew mamma when she lived in Washington, and that her brother
has fallen in love with you, and that she won’t have another happy
moment--or something like that--if you and I don’t come to a tea she
is giving to a Miss Ruth MacFarlane; and that I am to give her love to
mamma, and bring anybody I please with me.”

“When?” asked Jack. He could hardly restrain his joy.

“I think next Saturday--yes, next Saturday,” consulting the letter in
her hand.

“Where? At Mr. Grayson’s rooms?” cried Jack.

“Yes, at her brother’s, she says. Here, Jack--you read it. Some number
in East Fifteenth Street--queer place for people to live, isn’t it,
Garry?--people who want anybody to come to their teas. I’ve got a
dressmaker lives over there somewhere; she’s in Fifteenth Street,
anyhow, for I always drive there.”

Jack devoured the letter. This was what he had been hoping for. He knew
the old gentleman would keep his word!

“Well, of course you’ll go, Corinne?” he cried eagerly.

“Of course I’ll do nothing of the kind. I think it’s a great piece
of impudence. I’ve never heard of her. Because you had her brother
upstairs, that’s no reason why--But that’s just like these people. You
give them an inch and--”

Jack’s cheeks flushed: “But, Corinne! She’s offered you a
courtesy--asked you to her house, and--”

“I don’t care; I’m not going! Would you, Garry?”

The son of the Collector hesitated for a moment. He had his own ideas of
getting on in the world. They were not Jack’s--his, he knew, would never
succeed. And they were not exactly Corinne’s--she was too particular.
The fence was evidently the best place for him.

“Would be rather a bore, wouldn’t it?” he replied evasively, with a
laugh. “Lives up under the roof, I guess, wears a dyed wig, got
Cousin Mary Ann’s daguerreotype on the mantle, and tells you how Uncle
Ephraim--”

The door opened and Jack’s aunt swept in. She never walked, or ambled,
or stepped jauntily, or firmly, or as if she wanted to get anywhere in
particular; she SWEPT in, her skirts following meekly behind--half a
yard behind, sometimes.

Corinne launched the inquiry at her mother, even before she could return
Garry’s handshake. “Who’s Miss Grayson, mamma?”

“I don’t know. Why, my child?”

“Well, she says she knows you. Met you in Washington.”

“The only Miss Grayson I ever met in Washington, my dear, was an old
maid, the niece of the Secretary of State. She kept house for him after
his wife died. She held herself very high, let me tell you. A very grand
lady, indeed. But she must be an old woman now, if she is still living.
What did you say her first name was?”

Corinne took the open letter from Jack’s hand. “Felicia... Yes,
Felicia.”

“And what does she want?--money for some charity?” Almost everybody
she knew, and some she didn’t, wanted money for some charity. She was
loosening her cloak as she spoke, Frederick standing by to relieve my
lady of her wraps.

“No; she’s going to give a tea and wants us all to come. She’s the
sister of that old man who came to see Jack the other night, and--”

“Going to give a tea!--and the sister of--Well, then, she certainly
isn’t the Miss Grayson I know. Don’t you answer her, Corinne, until I
find out who she is.”

“I’ll tell you who she is,” burst out Jack. His face was aflame now.
Never had he listened to such discourtesy. He could hardly believe his
ears.

“It wouldn’t help me in the least, my dear Jack; so don’t you begin. I
am the best judge of who shall come to my house. She may be all right,
and she may not, you can never tell in a city like New York, and you
can’t be too particular. People really do such curious pushing things
now-a-days.” This to Garry. “Now serve tea, Parkins. Come in all of
you.”

Jack was on the point of blazing out in indignation over the false
position in which his friend had been placed when Peter’s warning voice
rang in his ears. The vulgarity of the whole proceeding appalled him,
yet he kept control of himself.

“None for me, please, aunty,” he said quietly. “I will join you later,
Garry,” and he mounted the stairs to his room.



CHAPTER VIII



Peter was up and dressed when Miss Felicia arrived, despite the early
hour. Indeed that gay cavalier was the first to help the dear lady off
with her travelling cloak and bonnet, Mrs. McGuffey folding her veil,
smoothing out her gloves and laying them all upon the bed in the
adjoining room--the one she kept in prime order for Miss Grayson’s use.

The old fellow was facing the coffee-urn when he told her Jack’s story
and what he himself had said in reply, and how fine the boy was in
his beliefs, and how well-nigh impossible it was for him to help him,
considering his environment.

The dear lady had listened with her eyes fixed on Peter. It was but
another of his benevolent finds; it had been the son of an old music
teacher the winter before, and a boy struggling through college last
spring;--always somebody who wanted to get ahead in one direction or
another, no matter how impracticable his ambitions might be. This
young man, however, seemed different; certain remarks had a true ring.
Perhaps, after all, her foolish old brother--foolish when his heart
misled him--might have found somebody at last who would pay for the time
he spent upon him. The name, too, had a familiar sound. She was quite
sure the aunt must be the same rather over-dressed persistent young
widow who had flitted in and out of Washington society the last year of
her own stay in the capital. She had finally married a rich New York man
of the same name. So she had heard.

The tea to which Jack and Corinne were invited was the result of this
conversation. Trust Miss Felicia for doing the right thing and in the
right way, whatever her underlying purpose might be; and then again she
must look this new protege over.

Peter at once joined in the project. Nothing pleased him so much as
a function of any kind in which his dear sister was the centre of
attraction, and this was always the case. Was not Mrs. McGuffey put to
it, at these same teas, to know what to do with the hats and coats,
and the long and short cloaks and overshoes, and lots of other things
beside--umbrellas and the like--whenever Miss Felicia came to town? And
did not the good woman have many of the cards of the former function
hidden in her bureau drawer to show her curious friends just how grand
a lady Miss Felicia was? General Waterbury, U.S.A., commanding the
Department of the East, with headquarters at Governors Island, was one
of them. And so were Colonel Edgerton, Judge Lambert and Mrs. Lambert;
and His Excellency the French Ambassador, whom she had known as an
attache and who was passing through the city and had been overjoyed to
leave a card; as well as Sir Anthony Broadstairs, who expected to spend
a week with her in her quaint home in Geneseo, but who had made it
convenient to pay his respects in Fifteenth Street instead: to say
nothing of the Coleridges, Thomases, Bordeauxs and Worthingtons,
besides any number of people from Washington Square, with plenty more
from Murray Hill and beyond.

Peter in his enthusiasm had made a mental picture of a repetition of all
this and had already voiced it in the suggestion of these and various
other prominent names, when Miss Felicia stopped him with:

“No, Peter--No. It’s not to be a museum of fossils, but a garden full of
rosebuds; nobody with a strand of gray hair will be invited. As for the
lame, the halt and the blind, they can come next week. I’ve just been
looking you over, Peter; you are getting old and wrinkled and pretty
soon you’ll be as cranky as the rest of them, and there will be no
living with you. The Major, who is half your age”--I had come early, as
was my custom, to pay my respects to the dear woman--“is no better. You
are both of you getting into a rut. What you want is some young blood
pumped into your shrivelled veins. I am going to hunt up every girl I
know and all the boys, including that young Breen you are so wild over,
and then I’ll send for dear Ruth MacFarlane, who has just come North
with her father to live, and who doesn’t know a soul, and nobody over
twenty-five is to be admitted. So if you and the Major want to come to
Ruth’s tea--Ruth’s, remember; not yours or the Major’s, or mine--you
will either have to pass the cake or take the gentlemen’s hats. Do you
hear?”

We heard, and we heard her laugh as she spoke, raising her gold lorgnon
to her eyes and gazing at us with that half-quizzical look which so
often comes over her face.

She was older than Peter--must have been: I never knew exactly. It would
not have been wise to ask her, and nobody else knew but Peter, and he
never told. And yet there was no mark of real old age upon her. She and
Peter were alike in this. Her hair, worn Pompadour, was gray--an honest
black-and-white gray; her eyes were bright as needle points; the skin
slightly wrinkled, but fresh and rosy--a spare, straight, well-groomed
old lady of--perhaps sixty--perhaps sixty-five, depending on her dress,
or undress, for her shoulders were still full and well rounded. “The
most beautiful neck and throat, sir, in all Washington in her day,” old
General Waterbury once told me, and the General was an authority. “You
should have seen her in her prime, sir. What the devil the men were
thinking of I don’t know, but they let her go back to Geneseo, and there
she has lived ever since. Why, sir, at a ball at the German Embassy she
made such a sensation that--” but then the General always tells such
stories of most of the women he knows.

There was but little left of that kind of beauty. She had kept her
figure, it is true--a graceful, easy moving figure, with the waist of a
girl; well-proportioned arms and small, dainty hands. She had kept,
too, her charm of manner and keen sense of humor--she wouldn’t have
been Peter’s sister otherwise--as well as her interest in her friend’s
affairs, especially the love affairs of all the young people about her.

Her knowledge of men and women had broadened. She read them more easily
now than when she was a girl--had suffered, perhaps, by trusting them
too much. This had sharpened the tip end of her tongue to so fine a
point that when it became active--and once in a while it did--it could
rip a sham reputation up the back as easily as a keen blade loosens the
seams of a bodice.

Peter fell in at once with her plan for a “Rosebud Tea,” in spite of her
raillery and the threatened possibility of our exclusion, promising not
only to assist her with the invitations, but to be more than careful at
the Bank in avoiding serious mistakes in his balances--so as to be on
hand promptly at four. Moreover, if Jack had a sweetheart--and there
was no question of it, or ought not to be--and Corinne had another,
what would be better than bringing them all down together, so that Miss
Felicia could look them over, and Miss Ruth and the Major could get
better acquainted, especially Jack and Miss Felicia; and more especially
Jack and himself.

Miss Felicia’s proposal having therefore been duly carried out, with
a number of others not thought of when the tea was first
discussed--including some pots of geraniums in the window, red, of
course, to match the color of Peter’s room--and the freshening up of
certain swiss curtains which so offended Miss Felicia’s ever-watchful
eyes that she burst out with: “It is positively disgraceful, Peter, to
see how careless you are getting--” At which Mrs. McGuffey blushed to
the roots of her hair, and washed them herself that very night before
she closed her eyes. The great day having arrived, I say the tea-table
was set with Peter’s best, including “the dearest of silver teapots”
 that Miss Felicia had given him for special occasions; the table covered
with a damask cloth and all made ready for the arrival of her guests.
This done, the lady returned to her own room, from which she emerged
an hour later in a soft gray silk relieved by a film of old lace at her
throat, blending into the tones of her gray hair brushed straight up
from her forehead and worn high over a cushion, the whole topped by a
tiny jewel which caught the light like a drop of dew.

And a veritable grand dame she looked, and was, as she took her seat and
awaited the arrival of her guests--in bearing, in the way she moved her
head; in the way she opened her fan--in the selection of the fan itself,
for that matter. You felt it in the color and length of her gloves; the
size of her pearl ear rings (not too large, and yet not too small), in
the choice of the few rings that encircled her slender and now somewhat
shrunken fingers (one hoop of gold had a history that the old French
Ambassador could have told if he wanted to, so Peter once hinted to
me)--everything she did in fact betrayed a wide acquaintance with the
great world and its requirements and exactions.

Other women of her age might of their choice drop into charities, or
cats, or nephews and nieces, railing against the present and living
only in the past; holding on like grim death to everything that made
it respectable, so that they looked for all the world like so many old
daguerreotypes pulled from the frames. Not so Miss Felicia Grayson of
Geneseo, New York. Her past was a flexible, india-rubber kind of a past
that she stretched out after her. She might still wear her hair as she
did when the old General raved over her, although the frost of many
winters had touched it; but she would never hold on to the sleeves of
those days or the skirts or the mantles: Out or in they must go,
be puffed, cut bias, or made plain, just as the fashion of the day
insisted. Oh! a most level-headed, common-sense, old aristocrat was Dame
Felicia!

With the arrival of the first carriage old Isaac Cohen moved his seat
from the back to the front of his shop, so he could see everybody who
got out and went in, as well as everybody who walked past and gazed up
at the shabby old house and its shabbier steps and railings. Not that
the shabby surroundings ever made any difference whether the guests were
“carriage company” or not, to quote good Mrs. McGuffey. Peter would not
be Peter if he lived anywhere else, and Miss Felicia wouldn’t be half
so quaint and charming if she had received her guests behind a marble
or brownstone front with an awning stretched to the curbstone and a
red velvet carpet laid across the sidewalk, the whole patrolled by a
bluecoat and two hired men.

The little tailor had watched many such functions before. So had the
neighbors, who were craning their heads from the windows. They all knew
by the carriages when Miss Felicia came to town and when she left, and
by the same token for that matter. The only difference between this
reception and former receptions, or teas, or whatever the great people
upstairs called them, was in the ages of the guests; not any gray
whiskers and white heads under high silk hats, this time; nor any demure
or pompous, or gentle, or, perhaps, faded old ladies puffing up Peter’s
stairs--and they did puff before they reached his door, where they
handed their wraps to Mrs. McGuffey in her brave white cap and braver
white apron. Only bright eyes and rosy faces today framed in tiny bon
nets, and well-groomed young fellows in white scarfs and black coats.

But if anybody had thought of the shabby surroundings they forgot all
about it when they mounted the third flight of stairs and looked in
the door. Not only was Peter’s bedroom full of outer garments, and
Miss Felicia’s, too, for that matter--but the banisters looked like a
clothes-shop undergoing a spring cleaning, so thickly were the coats
slung over its hand rail. So, too, were the hall, and the hall chairs,
and the gas bracket, and even the hooks where Peter hung his clothes to
be brushed in the morning--every conceivable place, in fact, wherever
an outer wrap of any kind could be suspended, poked, or laid flat. That
Mrs. McGuffey was at her wits’ end--only a short walk--was evident from
the way she grabbed my hat and coat and disappeared through a door which
led to her own apartments, returning a moment later out of breath and, I
fancied, a little out of temper.

And that was nothing to the way in which the owners of all these several
habiliments were wedged inside. First came the dome of Peter’s bald head
surmounting his merry face, then the top of Miss Felicia’s pompadour,
with its tiny diamond spark bobbing about as she laughed and moved
her head in saluting her guests and then mobs and mobs of young people
packed tight, looking for all the world like a matinee crowd leaving
a theatre (that is when you crane your neck to see over their heads),
except that the guests were without their wraps and were talking sixteen
to the dozen, and as merry as they could be.

“They are all here, Major,” Peter cried, dragging me inside. It was
wonderful how young and happy he looked. “Miss Corinne, and that loud
Hullaballoo, Garry Minott, we saw prancing around at the supper--you
remember--Holker gave him the ring.”

“And Miss MacFarlane?” I asked.

“Ruth! Turn your head, my boy, and take a look at her. Isn’t she a
picture? Did you ever see a prettier girl in all your life, and one more
charmingly dressed? Ruth, this is the Major... nothing else... just the
Major. He is perfectly docile, kind and safe, and--”

“--And drives equally well in single or double harness, I suppose,”
 laughed the girl, extending her hand and giving me the slightest dip of
her head and bend of her back in recognition, no doubt, of my advancing
years and dignified bearing--in apology, too, perhaps, for her metaphor.

“In SINGLE--not double,” rejoined Peter. “He’s the sourest, crabbedest
old bachelor in the world--except myself.”

Again her laugh bubbled out--a catching, spontaneous kind of laugh, as
if there were plenty more packed away behind her lips ready to break
loose whenever they found an opening.

“Then, Major, you shall have two lumps to sweeten you up,” and down went
the sugar-tongs into the silver bowl.

Here young Breen leaned forward and lifted the bowl nearer to her hand,
while I waited for my cup. He had not left her side since Miss
Felicia had presented him, so Peter told me afterward. I had evidently
interrupted a conversation, for his eyes were still fastened upon hers,
drinking in her every word and movement.

“And is sugar your cure for disagreeable people, Miss MacFarlane?” I
heard him ask under his breath as I stood sipping my tea.

“That depends on how disagreeable they are,” she answered. This came
with a look from beneath her eyelids.

“I must be all right, then, for you only gave me one lump--” still under
his breath.

“Only one! I made a mistake--” Eyes looking straight into Jack’s, with a
merry twinkle gathering around their corners.

“Perhaps I don’t need any at all.”

“Yes, I’m sure you do. Here--hold your cup, sir; I’ll fill it full.”

“No, I’m going to wait and see what effect one lump has. I’m beginning
to get pleasant already--and I was cross as two sticks when I--”

And then she insisted he should have at least three more to make him at
all bearable, and he said there would be no living with him he would be
so charming and agreeable, and so the talk ran on, the battledoor and
shuttlecock kind of talk--the same prattle that we have all listened
to dozens of times, or should have listened to, to have kept our hearts
young. And yet not a talk at all; a play, rather, in which words count
for little and the action is everything: Listening to the toss of a curl
or the lowering of an eyelid; answering with a lift of the hand--such
a strong brown hand, that could pull an oar, perhaps, or help her over
dangerous places! Then her white teeth, and the way the head bent; and
then his ears and how close they lay to his head; and the short,
glossy hair with the faintest bit of a curl in it. And then the sudden
awakening: Oh, yes--it was the sugar Mr. Breen wanted, of course. What
was I thinking of?

And so the game went on, neither of them caring where the ball went so
that it could be hit again when it came their way.

When it was about to stay its flight I ventured in with the remark that
she must not forget to give my kindest and best to her good father. I
think she had forgotten I was standing so near.

“And you know daddy!” she cried--the real girl was shining in her eyes
now--all the coquetry had vanished from her face.

“Yes--we worked together on the piers of the big bridge over the
Delaware; oh, long ago.”

“Isn’t he the very dearest? He promised to come here today, but I know
he won’t. Poor daddy, he gets home so tired sometimes. He has just
started on the big tunnel and there is so much to do. I have been
helping him with his papers every night. But when Aunt Felicia’s note
came--she isn’t my real aunt, you know, but I have called her so ever
since I was a little girl--daddy insisted on my coming, and so I have
left him for just a few days. He will be so glad when I tell him I have
met one of his old friends.” There was no question of her beauty, or
poise, or her naturalness.

“Been a lady all her life, my dear Major, and her mother before her,”
 Miss Felicia said when I joined her afterward, and Miss Felicia knew.
“She is not like any of the young girls about, as you can see for
yourself. Look at her now,” she whispered, with an approving nod of her
head.

Again my eyes sought the girl. The figure was willowy and graceful; the
shoulders sloping, the arms tapering to the wrists. The hair was jet
black--“Some Spanish blood somewhere,” I suggested, but the dear lady
answered sharply, “Not a drop; French Huguenot, my dear Major, and I am
surprised you should have made such a mistake.” This black hair parted
in the middle, lay close to her head--such a wealth and torrent of it;
even with tucking it behind her ears and gathering it in a coil in her
neck it seemed just ready to fall. The face was oval, the nose perfect,
the mouth never still for an instant, so full was it of curves and
twinkles and little quivers; the eyes big, absorbing, restful, with lazy
lids that lifted slowly and lay motionless as the wings of a resting
butterfly, the eyebrows full and exquisitely arched. Had you met her in
mantilla and high-heeled shoes, her fan half shading her face, you would
have declared, despite Miss Felicia’s protest, that only the click of
the castanets was needed to send her whirling to their rhythm. Had she
tied that same mantilla close under her lovely chin, and passed you with
upturned eyes and trembling lips, you would have sworn that the Madonna
from the neighboring church had strayed from its frame in search of the
helpless and the unhappy; and had none of these disguises been hers, and
she had flashed by you in the open some bright morning mounted on her
own black mare, face aglow, eyes like stars, her wonderful hair waving
in the wind, you would have stood stock-still in admiration, fear
gripping your throat, a prayer in your heart for the safe home-coming of
one so fearless and so beautiful.

There was, too, about her a certain gentleness, a certain disposition
to be kind, even when her inherent coquetry--natural in the Southern
girl--led her into deep waters; a certain tenderness that made friends
of even unhappy suitors (and I heard that she could not count them on
her fingers) who had asked for more than she could give--a tenderness
which healed the wound and made lovers of them all for life.

And then her Southern speech, indescribable and impossible in cold type.
The softening of the consonants, the slipping away of the terminals, the
slurring of vowels, and all in that low, musical voice born out side of
the roar and crash of city streets and crowded drawing-rooms with each
tongue fighting for mastery.

All this Jack had taken in, besides a thousand other charms visible only
to the young enthusiast, before he had been two minutes in her presence.
As to her voice, he knew she was one of his own people when she had
finished pronouncing his name. Somebody worthwhile had crossed his path
at last!

And with this there had followed, even as he talked to her, the usual
comparisons made by all young fellows when the girl they don’t like is
placed side by side with the girl they do. Miss MacFarlane was tall
and Corinne was short; Miss MacFarlane was dark, and he adored dark,
handsome people--and Corinne was light; Miss MacFarlane’s voice was low
and soft, her movements slow and graceful, her speech gentle--as if she
were afraid she might hurt someone inadvertently; her hair and dress
were simple to severity. While Corinne--well, in every one of these
details Corinne represented the exact opposite. It was the blood! Yes,
that was it--it was her blood! Who was she, and where did she come from?
Would Corinne like her? What impression would this high bred Southern
beauty make upon the pert Miss Wren, whose little nose had gone down a
point or two when her mother had discovered, much to her joy, the week
before, that it was the REAL Miss Grayson and not an imitation Miss
Grayson who had been good enough to invite her daughter and any of her
daughter’s friends to tea; and it had fallen another point when she
learned that Miss Felicia had left her card the next day, expressing to
the potato-bug how sorry she was to hear that the ladies were out, but
that she hoped it would only be a matter of a few days before “she
would welcome them” to her own apartments, or words to that effect,
Frederick’s memory being slightly defective.

It was in answer to this request that Mrs. Breen, after consulting
her husband, had written three acceptances before she was willing that
Frederick should leave it with his own hands in Fifteenth Street--one
beginning, “It certainly is a pleasure after all these years”--which
was discarded as being too familiar; another, “So good of you, dear
Miss Grayson,” which had a similar fate; and the third, which ran, “My
daughter will be most happy, dear Miss Grayson, to be with you,” etc.,
which was finally sealed with the Breen crest--a four-legged beastie of
some kind on its hind legs, with a motto explanatory of the promptness
of his ancestors in times of danger. Even then Corinne had hesitated
about accepting until Garry said: “Well, let’s take it in, anyhow--we
can skip out if they bore us stiff.”

Knowing these things, therefore, and fearing that after all something
would happen to mar the pleasant relations he had established with
Peter, and with the honor of his uncle’s family in his keeping, so
to speak, Jack had awaited the arrival of Corinne and Garry with
considerable trepidation. What if, after all, they should stay
away, ignoring the great courtesy which this most charming of old
ladies--never had he seen one so lovable or distinguished--had extended
to them; and she a stranger, too, and all because her brother Peter had
asked her to be kind to a boy like himself.

The entrance of Corinne and Garry, therefore, into the crowded room half
an hour after his own had brought a relief to Jack’s mind (he had
been watching the door, so as to be ready to present them), which Miss
Felicia’s gracious salutation only intensified.

“I remember your dear mother perfectly,” he heard the old lady say as
she advanced to Corinne and took both her hands. “And she was quite
lovely. And this I am very sure is Mr. Breen’s friend, Mr. Minott, who
has carried off all the honors. I am delighted to see you both. Peter,
do you take these dear young people and present them to Ruth.”

The two had thereupon squeezed through to Ruth’s side; Peter in his
formal introduction awarding to Garry all the honors to which he was
entitled, and then Ruth, remembering her duties, said how glad she was
to know them; and would they have lemon or sugar?--and Corinne, with a
comprehensive glance of her rival, declined both, her excuse being that
she was nearly dead now with the heat and that a cup of tea would finish
her. Jack had winced when his ears caught the flippant answer, but
it was nothing to the way in which he shrivelled up when Garry, after
shaking Miss MacFarlane’s hand as if it had been a pump-handle instead
of a thing so dainty that no boy had a right to touch it except with
reverence in his heart, had burst out with: “Glad to see you. From the
South, I hear--” as if she was a kangaroo or a Fiji Islander. He had
seen Miss MacFarlane give a little start at Garry’s familiar way of
speaking, and had noticed how Ruth shrank behind the urn as if she
were afraid he would touch her again, although she had laughed quite
good-naturedly as she answered:

“Not very far South; only from Maryland,” and had then turned to Jack
and continued her talk with the air of one not wishing to be further
interrupted.

The Scribe does not dare to relate what would have become of one so
sensitive as our hero could he have heard the discussion going on later
between the two young people when they were backed into one of Peter’s
bookcases and stood surveying the room. “Miss MacFarlane isn’t at all my
kind of a girl,” Corinne had declared to Garry. “Really, I can’t see why
the men rave over her. Pretty?--yes, sort of so-so; but no style, and
SUCH clothes! Fancy wearing a pink lawn and a sash tied around her waist
like a girl at a college commencement--and as to her hair--why no one
has ever THOUGHT of dressing her hair that way for AGES and AGES.”

Her mind thus relieved, my Lady Wren had made a survey of the rooms,
wondering what they wanted with so many funny old portraits, and whether
the old gentleman or his sister read the dusty books, Garry remarking
that there were a lot of “swells” among the young fellows, many of whom
he had heard of but had never met before. This done, the two wedged
their way out, without ever troubling Peter or Miss Felicia with their
good-bys, Garry telling Corinne that the old lady wouldn’t know they
were gone, and Corinne adding under her breath that it didn’t make any
difference to her if she did.



CHAPTER IX



But Jack stayed on.

This was the atmosphere he had longed for. This, too, was where Peter
lived. Here were the chairs he sat in, the books he read, the pictures
he enjoyed. And the well-dressed, well-bred people, the hum of low
voices, the clusters of roses, the shaded candles, their soft rosy light
falling on the egg-shell cups and saucers and silver service, and the
lovely girl dispensing all this hospitality and cheer! Yes, here he
could live, breathe, enjoy life. Everything was worth while and just as
he had expected to find it.

When the throng grew thick about her table he left Ruth’s side, taking
the opportunity to speak to Peter or Miss Felicia (he knew few others),
but he was back again whenever the chance offered.

“Don’t send me away again,” he pleaded when he came back for the
twentieth time, and with so much meaning in his voice that she looked at
him with wide-open eyes. It was not what he said--she had been brought
up on that kind of talk--it was the way he said it, and the inflection
in his voice.

“I have been literally starving for somebody like you to talk to,” he
continued, drawing up a stool and settling himself determinedly beside
her.

“For me! Why, Mr. Breen, I’m not a piece of bread--” she laughed. “I’m
just girl.” He had begun to interest her--this brown-eyed young fellow
who wore his heart on his sleeve, spoke her dialect and treated her as
if she were a duchess.

“You are life-giving bread to me, Miss MacFarlane,” answered Jack with a
smile. “I have only been here six months; I am from the South, too.” And
then the boy poured out his heart, telling her, as he had told Peter,
how lonely he got sometimes for some of his own kind; and how the young
girl in the lace hat and feathers, who had come in with Garry, was his
aunt’s daughter; and how he himself was in the Street, signing checks
all day--at which she laughed, saying in reply that nothing would give
her greater pleasure than a big book with plenty of blank checks--she
had never had enough, and her dear father had never had enough, either.
But he omitted all mention of the faro bank and of the gamblers--such
things not being proper for her ears, especially such little pink shells
of ears, nestling and half hidden in her beautiful hair.

There was no knowing how long this absorbing conversation might have
continued (it had already attracted the attention of Miss Felicia) had
not a great stir taken place at the door of the outside hall. Somebody
was coming upstairs; or had come upstairs; somebody that Peter was
laughing with--great, hearty laughs, which showed his delight; somebody
that made Miss Felicia raise her head and listen, a light breaking over
her face. Then Peter’s head was thrust in the door:

“Here he is, Felicia. Come along, Holker--I have been wondering--”

“Been wondering what, Peter? That I’d stay away a minute longer than I
could help after this dear lady had arrived?... Ah, Miss Felicia! Just
as magnificent and as young as ever. Still got that Marie Antoinette
look about you--you ought really--”

“Stop that nonsense, Holker, right away,” she cried, advancing a step to
greet him.

“But it’s all true, and--”

“Stop, I tell you; none of your sugar-coated lies. I am seventy if I am
a day, and look it, and if it were not for these furbelows I would look
eighty. Now tell me about yourself and Kitty and the boys, and whether
the Queen has sent you the Gold Medal yet, and if the big Library is
finished and--”

“Whew! what a cross examination. Wait--I’ll draw up a set of
specifications and hand them in with a new plan of my life.”

“You will do nothing of the kind! You will draw up a chair--here, right
alongside of me, and tell me about Kitty and--No, Peter, he is not going
to be taken over and introduced to Ruth for at least five minutes. Peter
has fallen in love with her, Holker, and I do not blame him. One of
these young fellows--there he is still talking to her--hasn’t left her
side since he put his eyes on her. Now begin--The Medal?--

“Expected by next steamer.”

“The Corn Exchange?”

“All finished but the inside work.”

“Kitty?”

“All finished but the outside work.”

Miss Felicia looked up. “Your wife, I mean, you stupid fellow.”

“Yes, I know. She would have come with me but her dress didn’t arrive in
time.”

Miss Felicia laughed: “And the boys?”

“Still in Paris--buying bric-a-brac and making believe they’re studying
architecture and--But I’m not going to answer another question.
Attention! Miss Felicia Grayson at the bar!”

The dear lady straightened her back, her face crinkling with merriment.

“Present!” she replied, drawing down the corners of her mouth.

“When did you leave home? How long will you stay? Can you come to
dinner--you and Methusaleh--on Wednesday night?”

“I refuse to answer by advice of counsel. As to coming to dinner, I
am not going anywhere for a week--then I am coming to you and Kitty,
whether it is Wednesday or any other night. Now, Peter, take him away.
He’s so puffed up with his Gold Medal he’s positively unbearable.”

All this time Jack had been standing beside Ruth. He had heard the stir
at the door and had seen Holker join Miss Felicia, and while the
talk between the two lasted he had interspersed his talk to Ruth with
accounts of the supper, and Garry’s getting the ring, to which was added
the boy’s enthusiastic tribute to the architect himself. “The greatest
man I have met yet,” he said in his quick, impulsive way. “We don’t
have any of them down our way. I never saw one--nobody ever did. Here he
comes with Mr. Grayson. I hope you will like him.”

Ruth made a movement as if to start to her feet. To sit still and look
her best and attend to her cups and hot water and tiny wafers was all
right for men like Jack, but not with distinguished men like Mr. Morris.

Morris had his hand on her chair before she could move it back.

“No, my dear young lady--you’ll please keep your seat. I’ve been
watching you from across the room and you make too pretty a picture as
you are. Tea?--Not a drop.”

“Oh, but it is so delicious--and I will give you the very biggest piece
of lemon that is left.”

“No--not a drop; and as to lemon--that’s rank poison to me. You should
have seen me hobbling around with gout only last week, and all because
somebody at a reception, or tea, or some such plaguey affair, made me
drink a glass of lemonade. Give it to this aged old gentleman--it will
keep him awake. Here, Peter!”

Up to this moment no word had been addressed to Jack, who stood outside
the half circle waiting for some sign of recognition from the great man;
and a little disappointed when none came. He did not know that one of
the great man’s failings was his forgetting the names even of those of
his intimate friends--such breaks as “Glad to see you--I remember you
very well, and very pleasantly, and now please tell me your name,” being
a common occurrence with the great architect--a failing that everybody
pardoned.

Peter noticed the boy’s embarrassment and touched Morris’ arm.

“You remember Mr. Breen, don’t you, Holker? He was at your supper that
night--and sat next to me.”

Morris whirled quickly and held out his hand, all his graciousness in
his manner.

“Yes, certainly. You took the ring to Minott, of course. Very glad to
meet you again--and what did you say his name was, Peter?” This in the
same tone of voice--quite as if Jack were miles away.

“Breen--John Breen,” answered Peter, putting his arm on Jack’s shoulder,
to accentuate more clearly his friendship for the boy.

“All the better, Mr. John Breen--doubly glad to see you, now that I know
your name. I’ll try not to forget it next time. Breen! Breen! Peter,
where have I heard that name before? Breen--where the devil have I--Oh,
yes--I’ve got it now. Quite a common name, isn’t it?”

Jack assured him with a laugh that it was; there were more than a
hundred in the city directory. He wasn’t offended at Morris forgetting
his name, and wanted him to see it.

“Glad to know it; wouldn’t like to think you were mixed up in the
swindle. You ought to thank your stars, my dear fellow, that you got
into architecture instead of into Wall--”

“But I am in--”

“Yes, I know--you’re with Hunt--” (another instance of a defective
memory) “and you couldn’t be with a better man--the best in the
profession, really. I’m talking of some scoundrels of your name--Breen
& Co., the firm is--who, I hear, have cheated one of my clients--young
Gilbert--fine fellow--just married--persuaded him to buy some gold
stock--Mukton Lode, I think they called it--and robbed him of all he
has. He must stop on his house I hear. And now, my dear Miss--” here he
turned to the young girl--“I really forget--”

“Ruth,” she answered with a smile. She had taken Morris’s measure and
had already begun to like him as much as Jack did.

“Yes--Miss Ruth--Now, please, my dear girl, keep on being young and very
beautiful and very wholesome, for you are every one of these things, and
I know you’ll forgive me for saying so when I tell you that I have two
strapping young fellows for sons who are almost old enough to make love
to you. Come, Peter, show me that copy of Tacitus you wrote me about.
Is it in good condition?” They were out of Jack’s hearing now, Morris
adding, “Fine type of Southern beauty, Peter. Big design, with broad
lines everywhere. Good, too--good as gold. Something about her forehead
that reminds me of the Italian school. Looks as if Bellini might have
loved her. Hello, Major! What are you doing here all by yourself?”

Jack stood transfixed!

Horror, anger, humiliation over the exposure (it was unheard, if he had
but known it, by anyone in the room except Peter and himself) rushed
over him in hot concurrent waves. It was his uncle, then, who had
robbed young Gilbert! The Mukton Lode! He had handled dozens of the
certificates, just as he had handled dozens of others, hardly glancing
at the names. He remembered overhearing some talk one day in which his
uncle had taken part. Only a few days before he had sent a bundle of
Mukton certificates to the transfer office of the company.

Then a chill struck him full in the chest and he shivered to his
finger-tips. Had Ruth heard?--and if she had heard, would she
understand? In his talk he had given her his true self--his standards
of honor--his beliefs in what was true and worth having. When she knew
all--and she must know--would she look upon him as a fraud? That his
uncle had been accused of a shrewd scoop in the Street did not make his
clerk a thief, but would she see the difference?

All these thoughts surged through his mind as he stood looking into
her eyes, her hand in his while he made his adieux. He had determined,
before Morris fired the bomb which shattered his hopes, to ask if he
might see her again, and where, and if there could be found no place
fitting and proper, she being motherless and Miss Felicia but a
chaperon, to write her a note inviting her to walk up through the Park
with him, and so on into the open where she really belonged. All this
was given up now. The best thing for him was to take his leave as
quietly as possible, without committing her to anything--anything which
he felt sure she would repudiate as soon as she learned--if she did not
know already--how undesirable an acquaintance John Breen, of Breen &
Co., was, etc.

As to his uncle’s share in the miserable transaction, there was but one
thing to do--to find out, and from his own lips, if possible, if the
story were true, and if so to tell him exactly what he thought of Breen
& Co. and the business in which they were engaged. Peter’s advice was
good, and he wished he could follow it, but here was a matter in which
his honor was concerned. When this side of the matter was presented to
Mr. Grayson he would commend him for his course of action. To think that
his own uncle should be accused of a transaction of this kind--his own
uncle and a Breen! Could anything be more horrible!

So sudden was his departure from the room--just “I must go now; I’m so
grateful to you all for asking me, and I’ve had such a good--Good-by--”
 that Miss Felicia looked after him in astonishment, turning to Peter
with:

“Why, what’s the matter with the boy? I wanted him to dine with us. Did
you say anything to him, Peter, to hurt his feelings?”

Peter shook his head. Morris, he knew, was the unconscious culprit, but
this was not for his sister’s or Ruth’s ears--not, at least, until he
could get at the exact facts for himself.

“He is as sensitive as a plant,” continued Peter; “he closes all up at
times. But he is genuine, and he is sincere--that’s better than poise,
sometimes.”

“Well, then, maybe Ruth has offended him,” suggested Miss Felicia.
“No--she couldn’t. Ruth, what have you done to young Mr. Breen?”

The girl threw back her head and laughed.

“Nothing.”

“Well, he went off as if he had been shot from a gun. That is not like
him at all, I should say, from what I have seen of him. Perhaps I should
have looked after him a little more. I tried once, but I could not get
him away from you. His manner is really charming when he talks, and he
is so natural and so well bred; not at all like his friend, of whom he
seems to think so much. How did you like him, dear Ruth?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” She knew, but she didn’t intend to tell anybody.
“He’s very shy and--”

“--And very young.”

“Yes, perhaps.”

“And very much of a gentleman,” broke in Peter in a decided tone. None
should misunderstand the boy if he could help it.

Again Ruth laughed. Neither of them had touched the button which had
rung up her sympathy and admiration.

“Of course he is a gentleman. He couldn’t be anything else. He is from
Maryland, you know.”



CHAPTER X



Reference has been made in these pages to a dinner to be given in the
house of Breen to various important people, and to which Mr. Peter
Grayson, the honored friend of the distinguished President of the
Clearing House, was to be invited. The Scribe is unable to say whether
the distinguished Mr. Grayson received an invitation or not. Breen may
have thought better of it, or Jack may have discouraged it after closer
acquaintance with the man who had delighted his soul as no other man
except his father had ever done--but certain it is that he was not
present, and equally certain is it that the distinguished Mr. Portman
was, and so were many of the directors of the Mukton Lode, not to
mention various others--capitalists whose presence would lend dignity to
the occasion and whose names and influence would be of inestimable value
to the future of the corporation.

As fate would have it the day for assuaging the appetites of these
financial magnates was the same that Miss Felicia had selected for her
tea to Ruth, and the time at which they were to draw up their chairs but
two hours subsequent to that in which Jack, crushed and humiliated by
his uncle’s knavery, had crept downstairs and into the street.

In this frame of mind the poor boy had stopped at the Magnolia in the
hope of finding Garry, who must, he thought, have left Corinne at home,
and then retraced his steps to the club. He must explode somewhere and
with someone, and the young architect was the very man he wanted. Garry
had ridiculed his old-fashioned ideas and had advised him to let himself
go. Was the wiping out of Gilbert’s fortune part of the System? he asked
himself.

As he hunted through the rooms, almost deserted at this hour, his eyes
searching for his friend, a new thought popped into his head, and with
such force that it bowled him over into a chair, where he sat staring
straight in front of him. Tonight, he suddenly remembered, was the
night of the dinner his uncle was to give to some business friends--“A
Gold-Mine Dinner,” his aunt had called it. His cheeks flamed again when
he thought that these very men had helped in the Mukton swindle. To
interrupt them, though, at their feast--or even to mention the subject
to his uncle while the dinner was in progress--was, of course, out of
the question. He would stay where he was; dine alone, unless Garry came
in, and then when the last man had left his uncle’s house he would have
it out with him.

Biffton was the only man who disturbed his solitude. Biffy was in full
evening dress--an enormous white carnation in his button-hole and a
crush hat under his arm. He was booked for a “Stag,” he said with
a yawn, or he would stay and keep him company. Jack didn’t want any
company--certainly not Biffy--most assuredly not any of the young
fellows who had asked him about Gilbert’s failure. What he wanted was
to be left alone until eleven o’clock, during which time he would get
something to eat.

Dinner over, he buried himself in a chair in the library and let his
mind roam. Angry as he was, Ruth’s image still haunted him. How pretty
she was--how gracefully she moved her arm as she lifted the cups;
and the way the hair waved about her temples; and the tones of her
voice--and dear Peter, so kind and thoughtful of him, so careful that he
should be introduced to this and that person; and Miss Felicia! What a
great lady she was; and yet he was not a bit afraid of her. What would
they all think of him when the facts of his uncle’s crime came to their
ears, and they MUST come sooner or later. What, too, would Peter think
of him for breaking out on his uncle, which he firmly intended to do as
soon as the hour hand reached eleven? Nor would he mince his words. That
an outrage of this kind could be committed on an unsuspecting man was
bad enough, but that it should have taken place in his own uncle’s
office, bringing into disrepute his father’s and his own good name, was
something he could not tolerate for a moment. This he intended saying to
his uncle in so many plain words; and so leaving our hero with his
soul on fire, his mind bent on inflammables, explosives,
high-pressures--anything in fact that once inserted under the solid body
of the senior Breen would blow that gentleman into space--we will betake
ourselves to his palatial home. The dinner being an important one, no
expense had been spared.

All day long boys in white aprons had sprung from canvas-covered wagons,
dived in Arthur Breen’s kitchen and dived out again after depositing
various eatables, drinkables and cookables--among them six pair
of redheads, two saddles of mutton, besides such uncanny things as
mushrooms, truffles and the like, all of which had been turned over to
the chef, who was expressly engaged for the occasion, and whose white
cap--to quote Parkins--“Gives a hair to the scullery which reminded
him more of ‘ome than anything ‘e ‘ad seen since ‘e left ‘is lordship’s
service.”

Upstairs more wonderful things had been done. The table of the
sepulchral dining-room was transformed into a bed of tulips, the mantel
a parterre of flowers, while the sideboard, its rear packed with the
family silver, was guarded by a row of bottles of various sizes, shapes
and colors; various degrees of cob webbed shabbiness, too--containing
the priceless vintages which the senior member of the firm of Breen &
Co. intended to set before his friends.

Finally, as the dinner hour approached, all the gas jets were ablaze;
not only the side lights in the main hall, and the overhead lantern
which had shed its rays on Peter’s bald head, but the huge glass
chandelier hung in the middle of the satin-upholstered drawing room, as
well as the candelabra on the mantel with their imitation wax candles
and brass wicks--everything, in fact, that could add to the brilliancy
of the occasion.

All this, despite the orderly way in which the millionaire’s house was
run, had developed a certain nervous anxiety in the host himself, the
effect of which had not yet worn off, although but a few minutes would
elapse before the arrival of the guests. This was apparent in the
rise and fall of Breen’s heels, as he seesawed back and forth on the
hearth-rug in the satin-lined drawing-room, with his coattails spread to
the lifeless grate, and from the way he glanced nervously at the mirror
to see that his cravat was properly tied and that his collar did not
ride up in the back.

The only calm person in the house was the ex-widow. With the eyes of a
major-general sweeping the field on the eve of an important battle, she
had taken in the disposition of the furniture, the hang of the curtains
and the placing of the cushions and lesser comforts. She had also
arranged with her own hands the masses of narcissus and jonquils on the
mantels, and had selected the exact shade of yellow tulips which centred
the dining-room table. It was to be a “Gold-Mine Dinner,” so Arthur had
told her, “and everything must be in harmony.”

Then seeing Parkins, who had entered unexpectedly and caught her in the
act (it is bad form for a hostess to arrange flowers in some houses--the
butler does that), she asked in an indifferent tone: “And how many are
we to have for dinner, Parkins?” She knew, of course, having spent an
hour over a diagram placing the guests.

“Fourteen, my lady.”

“Fourteen!--really, quite a small affair.” And with the air of one
accustomed all her life to banquets in palaces of state, she swept out
of the room.

The only time she betrayed herself was just before the arrival of the
guests, when her mind reverted to her daughter.

“The Portmans are giving a ball next week, Arthur, and I want Corinne to
go. Are you sure he is coming?”

“Don’t worry, Kitty, Portman’s coming; and so are the Colonel, and
Crossbin, and Hodges, and the two Chicago directors, and Mason, and a
lot more. Everybody’s coming, I tell you. If Mukton Lode doesn’t sit up
and take notice with a new lease of life after tonight, I’m a Dutchman.
Run, there’s the bell.”

The merciful Scribe will spare the reader the details incident upon
the arrival of the several guests. These dinners are all alike: the
announcements by the butler; the passing of the cocktails on a
wine tray; the standing around until the last man has entered the
drawing-room; the perfunctory talk--the men who have met before
hobnobbing instantly with each other, the host bearing the brunt of the
strangers; the saunter into the dining-room, the reading of cards,
and the “Here you are, Mr. Portman, right alongside Mr. Hodges. And
Crossbin, you are down there somewhere”; the spreading of napkins and
squaring of everybody’s elbow as each man drops into his seat.

Neither will the reader be told of the various dishes or their
garnishings. These pages have so far been filled with little else beside
eating and drinking, and with reason, too, for have not all the great
things in life been begun over some tea-table, carried on at a luncheon,
and completed between the soup and the cordials? Kings, diplomats
and statesmen have long since agreed that for baiting a trap there is
nothing like a soup, an entree and a roast, the whole moistened by a
flagon of honest wine. The bait varies when the financier or promoter
sets out to catch a capitalist, just as it does when one sets out to
catch a mouse, and yet the two mammals are much alike--timid, one foot
at a time, nosing about to find out if any of his friends have had a
nibble; scared at the least disturbing echo--then the fat, toothsome
cheese looms up (Breen’s Madeira this time), and in they go.

But if fuller description of this special bait be omitted, there is no
reason why that of the baiters and the baited should be left out of the
narrative.

Old Colonel Purviance, of the Chesapeake Club, for one--a big-paunched
man who always wore, summer and winter, a reasonably white waistcoat
and a sleazy necktie; swore in a loud voice and dropped his g’s when
he talked. “Bit ‘em off,” his friends said, as he did the end of his
cigars. He had, in honor of the occasion so contrived that his black
coat and trousers matched this time, while his shoestring tie had been
replaced by a white cravat. But the waistcoat was of the old pattern
and the top button loose, as usual. The Colonel earned his living--and
a very comfortable one it was--by promoting various enterprises--some of
them rather shady. He had also a gift for both starting and maintaining
a boom. Most of the Mukton stock owned by the Southern contingent had
been floated by him. Another of his accomplishments was his ability
to label correctly, with his eyes shut, any bottle of Madeira from
anybody’s cellar, and to his credit, be it said, he never lied about the
quality, be it good, bad or abominable.

Next to him sat Mason, from Chicago--a Westerner who had made his money
in a sudden rise in real estate, and who had moved to New York to spend
it: an out-spoken, common-sense, plain man, with yellow eyebrows, yellow
head partly bald, and his red face blue specked with powder marks due
to a premature blast in his mining days. Mason couldn’t tell the best
Tiernan Madeira from corner-grocery sherry, and preferred whiskey at any
and all hours--and what was more, never assumed for one instant that he
could.

Then came Hodges, the immaculately dressed epicure--a pale,
clean-shaven, eye-glassed, sterilized kind of a man with a long neck
and skinny fingers, who boasted of having twenty-one different clarets
stored away under his sidewalk which were served to ordinary guests, and
five special vintages which he kept under lock and key, and which were
only uncorked for the elect, and who invariably munched an olive before
sampling the next wine. Then followed such lesser lights, as Nixon,
Leslie and the other guests.

A most exacting group of bons vivants, these. The host had realized
it and had brought out his best. Most of it, to be sure, had come from
Beaver Street, something “rather dry, with an excellent bouquet,” the
crafty salesman with gimlet eyes had said; but, then, most of the old
Madeira does come from Beaver Street, except Portman’s, who has a fellow
with a nose and a palate hunting the auction rooms for that particular
Sunset of 1834 which had lain in old Mr. Grinnells cellar for twenty-two
years; and that other of 1839, once possessed by Colonel Purviance,
a wine which had so sharpened the Colonel’s taste that he was always
uncomfortable when dining outside of his club or away from the tables of
one or two experts like himself.

These, then, were the palates to which Breen catered. Back of them lay
their good-will and good feeling; still back of them, again, their bank
accounts and--another scoop in Mukton! Most of the guests had had a hand
in the last deal and they were ready to share in the next. Although this
particular dinner was supposed to be a celebration of the late victory,
two others, equally elaborate, had preceded it; both Crossbin and Hodges
having entertained nearly this same group of men at their own tables.
That Breen, with his reputation for old Madeira and his supposed
acquaintance with the intricacies of a Maryland kitchen, would outclass
them both, had been whispered a dozen times since the receipt of his
invitation, and he knew it. Hence the alert boy, the chef in the white
cap, and hence the seesawing on the hearth-rug.

“Like it, Crossbin?” asked Breen.

Parkins had just passed down the table with a dust covered bottle which
he handled with the care of a collector fingering a peachblow vase.
The precious fluid had been poured into that gentleman’s glass and its
contents were now within an inch of his nose.

The moment was too grave for instant reply; Mr. Crossbin was allowing
the aroma to mount to the innermost recesses of his nostrils. It had
only been a few years since he had performed this same trick with a
gourd suspended from a nail in his father’s back kitchen, overlooking a
field of growing corn; but that fact was not public property--not here
in New York.

“Yes--smooth, and with something of the hills in it. Chateau Lamont, is
it not, of ‘61?” It was Chateau of something-or-other, and of some
year, but Breen was too wise to correct him. He supposed it was Chateau
Lafitte--that is, he had instructed Parkins to serve that particular
wine and vintage.

“Either ‘61 or ‘63,” replied Breen with the air of positive certainty.
(How that boy in the white apron, who had watched the boss paste on the
labels, would have laughed had he been under the table.)

Further down the cloth Hodges, the epicure, was giving his views as
to the proper way of serving truffles. A dish had just passed, with
an underpinning of crust. Hodges’s early life had qualified him as an
expert in cooking, as well as in wines: Ten years in a country store
swapping sugar for sausages and tea for butter and eggs; five more
clerk in a Broadway cloth house, with varied boarding-house experiences
(boiled mutton twice a week, with pudding on Sundays); three years
junior partner, with a room over Delmonico’s; then a rich wife and a
directorship in a bank (his father-in-law was the heaviest depositor);
next, one year in Europe and home, as vice-president, and at the
present writing president of one of the certify-as-early-as-ten
o’clock-in-the-morning kind of banks, at which Peter would so often laugh.
With these experiences there came the usual blooming and expanding--all
the earlier life forgotten, really ignored. Soon the food of the
country became unbearable. Even the canvasbacks must feed on a certain
kind of wild celery; the oysters be dredged from a particular cove, and
the terrapin drawn from their beds with the Hodges’ coat of arms cut
in their backs before they would be allowed a place on the ex-clerk’s
table.

It is no wonder, then, that everybody listened when the distinguished
epicure launched out on the proper way to both acquire and serve so rare
and toothsome a morsel as a truffle.

“Mine come by every steamer,” Hodges asserted in a positive tone--not to
anybody in particular, but with a sweep of the table to attract enough
listeners to make it worthwhile for him to proceed. “My man is aboard
before the gang-plank is secure--gets my package from the chief steward
and is at my house with the truffles within an hour. Then I at once take
proper care of them. That is why my truffles have that peculiar
flavor you spoke of, Mr. Portman, when you last dined at my house. You
remember, don’t you?”

Portman nodded. He did not remember--not the truffles. He recalled some
white port--but that was because he had bought the balance of the lot
himself.

“Where do they come from?” inquired Mason, the man from Chicago. He
wanted to know and wasn’t afraid to ask.

“All through France. Mine are rooted near a little village in the
Province of Perigord.”

“What roots ‘em?”

“Hogs--trained hogs. You are familiar, of course, with the way they are
secured?”

Mason--plain man as he was--wasn’t familiar with anything remotely
connected with the coralling of truffles, and said so. Hodges talked on,
his eye resting first on one and then another of the guests, his voice
increasing in volume whenever a fresh listener craned his neck, as if
the information was directed to him alone--a trick of Hodges’ when he
wanted an audience.

“And now a word of caution,” he continued; “some thing that most of
you may not know--always root on a rainy day--sunshine spoils their
flavor--makes them tough and leathery.”

“Kind of hog got anything to do with the taste?” asked Mason in all
sincerity. He was learning New York ways--a new lesson each day, and
intended to keep on, but not by keeping his mouth shut.

“Nothing whatever,” replied Hodges. “They must never be allowed to bite
them, of course. You can wound a truffle as you can everything else.”

Mason looked off into space and the Colonel bent his ear. Purviance’s
diet had been largely drawn from his beloved Chesapeake, and “dug-up
dead things”--as he called the subject under discussion--didn’t interest
him. He wanted to laugh--came near it--then he suddenly remembered how
important a man Hodges might be and how necessary it was to give him air
space in which to float his pet balloons and so keep him well satisfied
with himself.

Mason, the Chicago man, had no such scruples. He had twice as much money
as Hodges, four times his digestion and ten times his commonsense.

“Send that dish back here, Breen,” Mason cried out in a clear voice--so
loud that Parkins, winged by the shot, retraced his steps. “I want to
see what Mr. Hodges is talking about. Never saw a truffle that I know
of.” Here he turned the bits of raw rubber over with his fork. “No. Take
it away. Guess I’ll pass. Hog saw it first; he can have it.”

Hodges’s face flushed, then he joined in the laugh. The Chicago man
was too valuable a would-be subscriber to quarrel with. And, then, how
impossible to expect a person brought up as Mason had been to understand
the ordinary refinements of civilization.

“Rough diamond, Mason--Good fellow. Backbone of our country,” Hodges
whispered to the Colonel, who was sore from the strain of repressed
hilarity. “A little coarse now and then--but that comes of his early
life, no doubt.”

Hodges waited his chance and again launched out; this time it was upon
the various kinds of wines his cellar contained--their cost--who had
approved of them--how impossible it was to duplicate some of them,
especially some Johannesburg of ‘74.

“Forty-two dollars a bottle--not pressed in the ordinary way--just the
weight of the grapes in the basket in which they are gathered in the
vineyard, and what naturally drips through is caught and put aside,”
 etc.

Breen winced. First his truffles were criticised, and now his pet
Johannesburg that Parkins was pouring into special glasses--cooled to an
exact temperature--part of a case, he explained to Nixon, who sat on his
right, that Count Mosenheim had sent to a friend here. Something must be
done to head Hodges off or there was no telling what might happen. The
Madeira was the thing. He knew that was all right, for Purviance had
found it in Baltimore--part of a private cellar belonging some time in
the past to either the Swan or Thomas families--he could not remember
which.

The redheads were now in order, with squares of fried hominy, and for
the moment Hodges held his peace. This was Nixon’s opportunity, and he
made the most of it. He had been born on the eastern shore of Maryland
and was brought up on canvasbacks, soft-shell crabs and terrapin--not to
mention clams and sheepshead. Nixon therefore launched out on the habits
of the sacred bird--the crimes committed by the swivel-gun in the hands
of the marketmen, the consequent scarcity of the game and the near
approach of the time when the only rare specimens would be found in the
glass cases of the museums, ending his talk with a graphic description
of the great wooden platters of boiling-hot terrapin which were served
to passengers crossing to Norfolk in the old days. The servants would
split off the hot shell--this was turned top side down, used as a dish
and filled with butter, pepper and salt, into which toothsome bits of
the reptile, torn out by the guests’ forks, were dipped before being
eaten.

The talk now caromed from birds, reptiles and fish to guns and tackles,
and then to the sportsmen who used them, and then to the millionaires
who owned the largest shares in the ducking clubs, and so on to the
stock of the same, and finally to the one subject of the evening--the
one uppermost in everybody’s thoughts which so far had not been touched
upon--the Mukton Lode. There was no question about the proper mechanism
of the traps--the directors were attending to that; the quality of the
bait, too, seemed all that could be desired--that was Breen’s part. How
many mice were nosing about was the question, and of the number how many
would be inside when the spring snapped?

The Colonel, after a nod of his head and a reassuring glance from his
host, took full charge of the field, soaring away with minute accounts
of the last inspection of the mine. He told how the “tailings” at Mukton
City had panned out 30 per cent, to the ton--with two hundred thousand
tons in the dump thrown away until the new smelter was started and they
could get rid of the sulphides; of what Aetna Cobb’s Crest had done
and Beals Hollow and Morgan Creek--all on the same ridge, and was about
launching out on the future value of Mukton Lode when Mason broke the
silence by asking if any one present had heard of a mine somewhere in
Nevada which an Englishman had bought and which had panned out $1,200 to
the ton the first week and not a cent to the square mile ever afterward?
The Chicago man was the most important mouse of the lot, and the tone of
his voice and his way of speaking seemed fraught with a purpose.

Breen leaned forward in rapt attention, and even Hodges and Portman
(both of them were loaded to the scuppers with Mukton) stopped talking.

“Slickest game I ever heard of,” continued Mason. “Two men came into
town--two poor prospectors, remember--ran across the Englishman at the
hotel--told the story of their claim: ‘Take it or leave it after you
look it over,’ they said. Didn’t want but sixty thousand for it; that
would give them thirty thousand apiece, after which they’d quit and live
on a ranch. No, they wouldn’t go with him to inspect the mine; there
was the map. He couldn’t miss it; man at the hotel would drive him out
there. There was, of course, a foot of snow on the ground, which
was frozen hard, but they had provided for that and had cut a lot of
cord-wood, intending to stay till spring. The Englishman could have the
wood to thaw out the ground.”

“The Englishman went and found everything as the two prospectors had
said; thawed out the soil in half a dozen places; scooped up the dirt
and every shovelful panned out about twelve hundred to the ton. Then
he came back and paid the money; that was the last of it. Began to dig
again in the spring--and not a trace of anything.”

“What was the matter?” asked Breen. So far his interest in mines had
been centred on the stock.

“Oh, the same old swindle,” said Mason, looking around the table, a grim
smile on his face--“only in a different way.”

“Was it salted?” called out a man from the lower end of the table.

“Yes,” replied Mason; “not the mine, but the cord-wood. The two poor
prospectors had bored auger holes in each stick, stuffed ‘em full of
gold dust and plugged the openings. It was the ashes that panned out
$1,200 to the ton.”

Mason was roaring, as were one or two about him. Portman looked grave,
and so did Breen. Nothing of that kind had ever soiled their hands;
everything with them was open and above-board. They might start a
rumor that the Lode had petered out, throw an avalanche of stock on
the market, knock it down ten points, freezing out the helpless (poor
Gilbert had been one of them), buy in what was offered and then declare
an extra dividend, sending the stock skyward, but anything so low
as--“Oh, very reprehensible--scandalous in fact.”

Hodges was so moved by the incident that he asked Breen if he would not
bring back that Madeira (it had been served now in the pipe-stem glasses
which had been crossed in finger-bowls). This he sipped slowly and
thoughtfully, as if the enormity of the crime had quite appalled him.
Mason was no longer a “rough diamond,” but an example of what a “Western
training will sometimes do for a man,” he whispered under his breath to
Crossbin.

With the departure of the last guest--one or two of them were a little
unsteady; not Mason, we may be sure--Jack, who had come home and was
waiting upstairs in his room for the feast to be over, squared his
shoulders, threw up his chin and, like many another crusader bent on
straightening the affairs of the world, started out to confront his
uncle. His visor was down, his lance in rest, his banner unfurled, the
scarf of the blessed damosel tied in double bow-knot around his trusty
right arm. Both knight and maid were unconscious of the scarf, and yet
if the truth be told it was Ruth’s eyes that had swung him into battle.
Now he was ready to fight; to renounce the comforts of life and live
on a crust rather than be party to the crimes that were being daily
committed under his very eyes!

His uncle was in the library, having just bowed out his last guest,
when the boy strode in. About him were squatty little tables holding the
remnants of the aftermath of the feast--siphons and decanters and the
sample boxes of cigars--full to the lid when Parkins first passed them
(why fresh cigars out of a full box should have a better flavor than
the same cigars from a half-empty one has always been a mystery to the
Scribe).

That the dinner had been a success gastronomically, socially and
financially, was apparent from the beatific boozy smile that pervaded
Breen’s face as he lay back in his easy-chair. To disturb a reverie
of this kind was as bad as riding rough-shod over some good father
digesting his first meal after Lent, but the boy’s purpose was too lofty
to be blunted by any such considerations. Into the arena went his glove
and out rang his challenge.

“What I have got to say to you, Uncle Arthur, breaks my heart, but you
have got to listen to me! I have waited until they were all gone to tell
you.”

Breen laid his glass on the table and straightened himself in his chair.
His brain was reeling from the wine he had taken and his hand unsteady,
but he still had control of his arms and legs.

“Well, out with it! What’s it all about, Jack?”

“I heard this afternoon that my friend Gilbert was ruined in our office.
The presence of these men to-night makes me believe it to be true. If
it is true, I want to tell you that I’ll never enter the office again as
long as I live!”

Breen’s eyes flashed:

“You’ll never enter!... What the devil is the matter with you,
Jack!--are you drunk or crazy?”

“Neither! And I want to tell you, sir, too, that I won’t be pointed out
as having anything to do with such a swindling concern as the Mukton
Lode Company. You’ve stopped the work on Gilbert’s house--Mr. Morris
told me so--you’ve--”

The older man sprang from his seat and lunged toward the boy.

“Stop it!” he cried. “Now--quick!”

“Yes--and you’ve just given a dinner to the very men who helped steal
his money, and they sat here and laughed about it! I heard them as I
came in!” The boy’s tears were choking him now.

“Didn’t I tell you to stop, you idiot!” His fist was within an inch of
Jack’s nose: “Do you want me to knock your head off? What the hell is it
your business who I invite to dinner--and what do you know about Mukton
Lode? Now you go to bed, and damn quick, too! Parkins, put out the
lights!”

And so ended the great crusade with our knight unhorsed and floundering
in the dust. Routed by the powers of darkness, like many another gallant
youth in the old chivalric days, his ideals laughed at, his reforms
flouted, his protests ignored--and this, too, before he could fairly
draw his sword or couch his lance.



CHAPTER XI



That Jack hardly closed his eyes that night, and that the first thing he
did after opening them the next morning was to fly to Peter for comfort
and advice, goes without saying. Even a sensible, well-balanced young
man--and our Jack, to the Scribe’s great regret, is none of these--would
have done this with his skin still smarting from an older man’s verbal
scorching--especially a man like his uncle, provided, of course, he had
a friend like Peter within reach. How much more reasonable, therefore,
to conclude that a man so quixotic as our young hero would seek similar
relief.

As to the correctness of the details of this verbal scorching, so
minutely described in the preceding chapter, should the reader ask how
it is possible for the Scribe to set down in exact order the goings-on
around a dinner-table to which he was not invited, as well as the
particulars of a family row where only two persons participated--neither
of whom was himself--and this, too, in the dead of night, with the
outside doors locked and the shades and curtains drawn--he must plead
guilty without leaving the prisoner’s dock.

And yet he asks in all humility--is the play not enough?--or must he
lift the back-drop and bring into view the net-work of pulleys and
lines, the tanks of moonlight gas and fake properties of papier-mache
that produce the illusion? As a compromise would it not be the better
way after this for him to play the Harlequin, popping in and out at
the unexpected moment, helping the plot here and there by a gesture, a
whack, or a pirouette; hobnobbing with Peter or Miss Felicia, and their
friends; listening to Jack’s and Ruth’s talk, or following them at
a distance, whenever his presence might embarrass either them or the
comedy?

This being agreed upon, we will leave our hero this bright morning--the
one succeeding the row with his uncle--at the door of Peter’s bank,
confident that Jack can take care of himself.

And the confidence is not misplaced. Only once did the boy’s glance
waver, and that was when his eyes sought the window facing Peter’s desk.
Some egg other than Peter’s was nesting on the open ledger spread out on
the Receiving Teller’s desk--not an ostrich egg of a head at all, but an
evenly parted, well-combed, well-slicked brown wig, covering the careful
pate of one of the other clerks who, in the goodness of his heart, was
filling Peter’s place for the day.

Everybody being busy--too busy to answer questions outside of payments
and deposits--Patrick, the porter, must necessarily conduct the
negotiations.

“No, sur; he’s not down to-day--” was the ever-watchful Patrick’s answer
to Jack’s anxious inquiry. “His sister’s come from the country and he
takes a day off now and thin when she’s here. You’ll find him up at his
place in Fifteenth Street, I’m thinkin’.”

Jack bit his lip. Here was another complication. Not to find Peter at
the Bank meant a visit to his rooms--on his holiday, too--and when he
doubtless wished to be alone with Miss Felicia. And yet how could he
wait a moment longer? He himself had sent word to the office of Breen
& Co. that he would not be there that day--a thing he had never done
before--nor did he intend to go on the morrow--not until he knew where
he stood. While his uncle had grossly misunderstood him, and, for that
matter, grossly insulted him, he had neither admitted nor denied the
outrage on Gilbert.

When he did--this question had only now begun to loom up--where would
he go and what would he do? There was but little money due him at the
office--and none would come--until the next month’s pay--hardly enough,
in any event, to take him back to his Maryland home, even if that refuge
were still open to him. What then would become of him? Peter was, in
fact, his main and only reliance. Peter he must see, and at once.

Not that he wavered or grew faint at heart when he thought of his defeat
the night before. He was only thinking of his exit and the way to make
it. “Always take your leave like a gentleman,” was one of his father’s
maxims. This he would try his best to accomplish.

Mrs. McGuffey, in white cap and snow-white apron, now that Miss Felicia
had arrived, was the medium of communication this time:

“Indeed, they are both in--this way, sir, and let me have your hat and
coat.”

It was a delightful party that greeted the boy. Peter was standing on
the hearth-rug with his back to the fire, his coat-tails hooked over
his wrists. Miss Felicia sat by a small table pretending to sew. Holker
Morris was swallowed up in one of Peter’s big easy-chairs, only the
top of his distinguished head visible, while a little chub of a man,
gray-haired, spectacled and plainly dressed, was seated behind him, the
two talking in an undertone.

“Why, Breen!--why, my dear boy!--And you have a holiday, too? How did
you know I was home?” cried Peter, extending both hands in the joy of
his greeting.

“I stopped at the Bank, sir.”

“Did you?--and who told you?”

“The janitor, I suppose.”

“Oh, the good Patrick! Well, well! Holker, you remember young Breen.”

Holker did remember, for a wonder, and extended one hand to prove it,
and Felicia--but the boy was already bending over her, all his respect
and admiration in his eyes. The little chub of a man was now on his
feet, standing in an attentive attitude, ready to take his cue from
Peter.

“And now, my boy, turn this way, and let me introduce you to my very
dear friend, Mr. Isaac Cohen.”

A pudgy hand was thrust out and the spectacled little man, his eyes
on the boy, said he was glad to know any friend of Mr. Grayson, and
resuming his seat continued his conversation in still lower tones with
the great architect.

Jack stood irresolute for an instant, not knowing whether to make some
excuse for his evidently inopportune visit and return later, or to keep
his seat until the others had gone. Miss Felicia, who had not taken her
gaze from the lad since he entered the room, called him to her side.

“Now, tell me what you are all doing at home, and how your dear aunt is,
and--Miss Corinne, isn’t it? And that very bright young fellow who came
with you at Ruth’s tea?”

It was the last subject that Jack wanted to discuss, but he stumbled
through it as best he could, and ended in hoping, in a halting tone,
that Miss MacFarlane was well.

“Ruth! Oh, she is a darling! Didn’t you think so?”

Jack blushed to the roots of his hair, but Miss Felicia’s
all-comprehensive glance never wavered. This was the young man whom Ruth
had been mysterious about. She intended to know how far the affair
had gone, and it would have been useless, she knew, for Jack to try to
deceive her.

“All our Southern girls are lovely,” he answered in all sincerity.

“And you like them better than the New York belles?”

“I don’t know any.”

“Then that means that you do.”

“Do what?”

“Do like them better.”

The boy thought for a moment.

“Yes, and Miss MacFarlane best of all; she is so--so--” the boy
faltered--“so sincere, and just the kind of girl you would trust with
anything. Why, I told her all about myself before I’d known her half an
hour.”

“Yes, she was greatly pleased.” The match-making instinct was always
uppermost in Miss Felicia’s moves, and then, again, this young man had
possibilities, his uncle being rich and he being his only nephew.

“Oh, then she told you!” The boy’s heart gave a great leap. Perhaps,
after all, Ruth had not heard--at all events she did not despise him.

“No, I told her myself. The only thing that seemed to worry Ruth was
that you had not told her enough. If I remember right, she said you were
very shy.”

“And she did not say anything about--” Jack stopped. He had not intended
to put the question quite in this way, although he was still in doubt.
Give this keen-eyed, white-haired old lady but an inkling of what was
uppermost in his mind and he knew she would have its every detail.

“About what?” Here Miss Felicia’s eyes were suddenly diverted, and
became fastened on the short figure of Mr. Isaac Cohen, who had risen
to his feet and stood talking in the most confidential way with
Morris--Peter listening intently. Such phrases as “Better make the
columns of marble,” from Morris, and, “Well, I will talk it over with
the Rabbi,” from the tailor, reached his ears. Further relief came when
Miss Felicia rose from her chair with her hand extended to Morris, who
was already taking leave of Peter and all danger was passed when host
and hostess conducted the tailor and the architect to the door; Morris
bending over Miss Felicia’s hand and kissing it with the air of a
courtier suddenly aroused by the appearance of royalty (he had been
completely immersed in Cohen’s talk), and the tailor bowing to her on
his way out without even so much as touching the tips of her fingers.

“There, my dear Breen,” said Peter, when he had adjusted his cravat
before the glass and brushed a few stray hairs over his temples, “that’s
a man it would do you an immense amount of good to know; the kind of a
man you call worthwhile. Not only does he speak three languages, Hebrew
being one of them, but he can talk on any subject from Greek temples to
the raising of violets. Morris thinks the world of him--So do I.”

“Yes, I heard him say something about columns.”

“Oh!--then you overheard! Yes, they are for the new synagogue that
Morris is building. Cohen is chairman of the committee.”

“And he is the banker, too, I suppose?” rejoined Jack, in a tone which
showed his lack of interest in both man and subject. It was Peter’s ear
he wanted, and at once.

The old man’s eyes twinkled: “Banker!--not a bit of it. He’s a tailor,
my dear boy--a most delightful gentleman tailor, who works in the
basement below us and who only yesterday pressed the coat I have on.”
 Here Peter surveyed himself with a comprehensive glance. “All the
respectable people in New York are not money mad.” Then, seeing Jack’s
look of astonishment over the announcement, he laid his hand on the
boy’s shoulder and said with a twinkle of his eye and a little laugh:
“Only one tailor--not nine--my boy, was required to make Mr. Cohen a
man. And now about yourself. Why are you not at work? Old fellows like
me once in a while have a holiday--but young fellows! Come!--What is
it brings you here during business hours? Anything I can help you
in?--anything at home?” and Peter’s eyes bored holes in the boy’s brain.

Jack glanced at Miss Felicia, who was arranging the roses Morris had
brought her, and then said in a half whisper: “I have had a row with my
uncle, sir. Maybe I had better come some other day, when--”

“No--out with it! Row with your uncle, eh? Rows with one’s uncles are
too commonplace to get mysterious over, and, then, we have no secrets.
Ten chances to one I shall tell Felicia every word you say after you’ve
gone, so she might as well hear it at first-hand. Felicia, this young
fellow is so thin-skinned he is afraid you will laugh at him.”

“Oh, he knows better. I have just been telling him how charming he must
be to have won Miss MacFarlane’s good opinion,” rejoined his sister as
she moved her work-basket nearer her elbow.

And then, with mind at rest, now that he was sure Ruth had not heard,
and with eyes again blazing as his thoughts dwelt upon the outrage,
he poured out his story, Miss Felicia listening intently, a curious
expression on her face, Peter grave and silent, his gaze now on the boy,
now on the hearth-rug on which he stood. Only once did a flash illumine
his countenance; that was when Jack reached that part of his narrative
which told of the denunciation he had flung in his uncle’s face
concerning the methods by which poor Gilbert had been ruined.

“And you dared tell your uncle that, you young firebrand?”

“Yes, Mr. Grayson, I had to; what else could I say? Don’t you think it
cruel to cheat like that?”

“And what did he say?” asked Peter.

“He would not listen--he swore at me--told me--well, he ordered me out
of the room and had the lights put out.”

“And it served you right, you young dog! Well, upon my word! Here you
are without a dollar in the world except what your uncle pays you, and
you fly off at a tangent and insult him in his own house--and you his
guest, remember. Well! Well! What are we coming to? Felicia, did you
ever hear of such a performance?”

Miss Felicia made no answer. She knew from her brother’s tone that there
was not a drop of bitterness in any one of the words that fell from his
lips; she had heard him talk that way dozens of times before, when he
was casting about for some means of letting the culprit down the easier.
She even detected a slight wrinkling of the corners of his mouth as the
denunciation rolled out.

Not so Jack: To him the end of the world had come. Peter was his last
resort--that one so good and so clear-headed had not flared up at
once over the villainy was the severest blow of all. Perhaps he WAS
a firebrand; perhaps, after all, it was none of his business;
perhaps--perhaps--now that Ruth would not blame him, knew nothing, in
fact, of the disgraceful episode, it would have been better for him to
have ignored the whole matter and taken Garry’s advice.

“Then I have done wrong again, Mr. Grayson?” he said at last, in so
pleading a tone that even Miss Felicia’s reserve was on the point of
giving away.

“Yes, in the manner in which you acted. Your father wouldn’t have lost
his temper and called people names. Gentlemen, my dear boy, don’t do
that sort of thing. They make up their minds about what they want to
do and then do it quietly, and, let me say, with a certain amount of
courtesy.”

“Then, what must I do?” All the fight was out of the lad now.

“Why, go back to your desk in the office and your very delightful suite
of rooms at your uncle’s. Tell him you are sorry you let your feelings
get the best of you; then, when you have entirely quieted down, you
and I will put our heads together and see what can be done to improve
matters. And that, let me tell you, my dear boy, is going to be rather
a difficult thing, for you see you are rather particular as to what you
should and should not do to earn your living.” Peter’s wrinkles had now
crept up his cheeks and were playing hide and seek with the twinkles in
his eyes. “Of course any kind of healthy work--such, for instance, as
hauling a chain through a swamp, carrying a level, prospecting for oil,
or copper, or gold--all very respectable occupations for some men--are
quite impossible in your case. But we will think it out and find
something easier--something that won’t soil your hands, and--”

“Please don’t, Mr. Grayson,” interrupted Jack. The boy had begun to see
through the raillery now. “I will do anything you want me to do.”

Peter burst into a laugh and grabbed him by both shoulders: “Of course,
my dear boy, you will do anything except what you believe to be wrong.
That’s right--right as can be; nobody wants you to do any different,
and--”

The opening of a door leading into the hall caused Peter to stop in his
harangue and turn his head. Mrs. McGuffey was ushering in a young woman
whose radiant face was like a burst of sunshine. Peter strained his eyes
and then sprang forward:

“Why, Ruth!”

There was no doubt about it! That young woman, her cheeks like two June
peonies, her eyes dancing, the daintiest and prettiest hat in the world
on her head, was already half across the room and close to Peter’s rug
before Jack could even realize that he and she were breathing the same
air.

“Oh! I just could not wait a minute longer!” she cried in a joyous tone.
“I had such a good time yesterday, dear aunt Felicia, and--Why!--it is
you, Mr. Breen, and have you come to tell aunty the same thing? Wasn’t
it lovely?”

Then Jack said that it was lovely, and that he hadn’t come for any such
purpose--then that he had--and then Peter patted her hand and told her
she was the prettiest thing he had ever seen in all his life, and that
he was going to throw overboard all his other sweethearts at once and
cleave to her alone; and Miss Felicia vowed that she was the life of the
party; and Jack devoured her with his eyes, his heart thumping away at
high pressure; and so the moments fled until the blithesome young girl,
saying she had not a minute to spare, as she had to meet her father,
who would not wait, readjusted her wraps, kissed Miss Felicia on both
cheeks, sent another flying through the air toward Peter from the tips
of her fingers, and with Jack as escort--he also had to see a friend who
would not wait a minute--danced out of the room and so on down to the
street.

The Scribe will not follow them very far in their walk uptown. Both were
very happy, Jack because the scandal he had been dreading, since he had
last looked into her eyes, had escaped her ears, and Ruth because of all
the young men she had met in her brief sojourn in New York this young
Mr. Breen treated her with most consideration.

While the two were making their way through the crowded streets, Jack
helping her over the crossings, picking out the drier spots for her
dainty feet to step upon, shielding her from the polluting touch of the
passing throng, Miss Felicia had resumed her sewing--it was a bit of
lace that needed a stitch here and there--and Peter, dragging a chair
before the fire, had thrown himself into its depths, his long, thin
white fingers open fan-like to its blaze.

“You are just wasting your time, Peter, over that young man,” Miss
Felicia said at last, snipping the end of a thread with her scissors.
“Better buy him a guitar with a broad blue ribbon and start him off
troubadouring, or, better still, put him into a suit of tin armor and
give him a lance. He doesn’t belong to this world. It’s just as well
Ruth did not hear that rigmarole. Charming manners, I admit--lovely,
sitting on a cushion looking up into some young girl’s eyes, but he will
never make his way here with those notions. Why he should want to anger
his uncle, who is certainly most kind to him, is past finding out. He’s
stupid, that’s what he is--just stupid!”--to break with your bread
and butter and to defy those who could be of service to you being an
unpardonable sin with Miss Felicia. No, he would not do at all for Ruth.

Peter settled himself deeper in his chair and studied the cheery blaze
between his outspread fingers.

“That’s the very thing will save him, Felicia.”

“What--his manners?”

“No--his adorable stupidity. I grant you he’s fighting windmills, but,
then, my dear, don’t forget that he’s FIGHTING--that’s something.”

“But they are only windmills, and, more extraordinary still, this one is
grinding corn to keep him from starving,” and she folded up her sewing
preparatory to leaving the room.

Peter’s fingers closed tight: “I’m not so sure of that,” he answered
gravely.

Miss Felicia had risen from her seat and was now bending over the back
of his chair, her spare sharp elbows resting on its edge, her two hands
clasping his cheeks.

“And are you really going to add this stupid boy to your string,
you goose of a Peter?” she asked in a bantering tone, as her fingers
caressed his temples. “Don’t forget Mosenthal and little Perkins, and
the waiter you brought home and fed for a week, and sent away in your
best overcoat, which he pawned the next day; or the two boys at college.
Aren’t you ever going to learn?” and she leaned forward and kissed the
top of his bald head.

Peter’s only reply was to reach up and smooth her jewelled fingers with
his own. He remembered them all; there was an excuse, of course,
he reminded her, for his action in each and every case. But for him
Mosenthal--really a great violinist--would have starved, little Perkins
would have been sent to the reformatory, and the waiter to the dogs.
That none of them, except the two college boys, had ever thanked him for
his assistance--a fact well known to Miss Felicia--never once crossed
his mind--wouldn’t have made any difference if it had.

“But this young Breen is worth saving, Felicia,” he answered at last.

“From what--the penitentiary?” she laughed--this time with a slight note
of anger in her voice.

“No, you foolish thing--much worse.”

“From what, then?”

“From himself.”

Long after his sister had left the room Peter kept his seat by the fire,
his eyes gazing into the slumbering coals. His holiday had been a happy
one until Jack’s entrance: Morris had come to an early breakfast and
had then run down and dragged up Cohen so that he could talk with him in
comfort and away from the smell of the tailor’s goose and the noise of
the opening and shutting of the shop door; Miss Felicia had summoned
all her good humor and patience (she did not always approve of Peter’s
acquaintances--the little tailor being one), and had received Cohen as
she would have done a savant from another country--one whose personal
appearance belied his intellect but who on no account must be made aware
of that fact, and Peter himself had spent the hour before and after
breakfast--especially the hour after, when the Bank always claimed
him--in pulling out and putting back one book after another from the
shelves of his small library, reading a page here and a line there, the
lights and shadows that crossed his eager, absorbed face, an index of
his enjoyment.

All this had been spoiled by a wild, untamed colt of a boy whom he could
not help liking in spite of his peculiarities.

And yet, was his sister not right? Why bother himself any more about a
man so explosive and so tactless--and he WAS a man, so far as years and
stature went, who, no matter what he might attempt for his advancement,
would as surely topple it over as he would a house of cards. That the
boy’s ideals were high, and his sincerity beyond question, was true, but
what use would these qualities be to him if he lacked the common-sense
to put them into practice?

All this he told to the fire--first to one little heap of coals--then
another--snuggling together--and then to the big back-log scarred all
over in its fight to keep everybody warm and happy.

Suddenly his round, glistening head ceased bobbing back and forth; his
lips, which had talked incessantly without a sound falling from them,
straightened; his gesticulating fingers tightened into a hard knot and
the old fellow rose from his easy-chair. He had made up his mind.

Then began a search through his desk in and out of the pigeon-holes,
under a heap of letters--most of them unanswered; beneath a package
tied with tape, until his eyes fell upon an envelope sealed with wax,
in which was embedded the crest of the ancestors of the young gentleman
whose future had so absorbed his thoughts. It was Mrs. Breen’s
acceptance of Miss Felicia’s invitation to Miss MacFarlane’s tea.

“Ah, here it is! Now I’ll find the number--yes, 864--I thought it was a
“4”--but I didn’t want to make any mistake.”

This done, and the note with the number and street of Jack’s uncle’s
house spread out before him, Peter squared his elbows, took a sheet of
paper from a drawer, covered it with half a dozen lines beginning “My
dear Breen--” enclosed it in an envelope and addressed it to “Mr. John
Breen, care of Arthur Breen, Esq.,” etc. This complete, he affixed the
stamp in the upper left-hand corner, and with the letter fast in his
hand disappeared in his bedroom, from which he emerged ten minutes later
in full walking costume, even to his buckskin gloves and shiny high
hat, not to mention a brand-new silk scarf held in place by his diamond
tear-drop, the two in high relief above the lapels of his tightly
buttoned surtout.

“No, Mrs. McGuffey,” he said with a cheery smile as he passed out of
the door (she had caught sight of the letter and had stretched out her
hand)--“No--I am going for a walk, and I’ll mail it myself.”



CHAPTER XII



Whatever the function--whether it was a cosey dinner for the congenial
few, a crowded reception for the uncongenial many, or a coming-out party
for some one of the eager-expectant buds just bursting into bloom--most
of whom he had known from babyhood--Peter was always ready with his “Of
course I’ll come--” or “Nothing would delight me more--” or the formal
“Mr. Grayson accepts with great pleasure,” etc., unless the event
should fall upon a Saturday night; then there was certain to be a prompt
refusal.

Even Miss Felicia recognized this unbreakable engagement and made her
plans accordingly. So did good Mrs. McGuffey, who selected this night
for her own social outings; and so did most of his intimate friends who
were familiar with his habits.

On any other night you might, or you might not, find Peter at home,
dependent upon his various engagements, but if you really wanted to
get hold of his hand, or his ear, or the whole or any other part of
his delightful body, and if by any mischance you happened to select a
Saturday night for your purpose, you must search for him at the Century.
To spend this one evening at his favorite club had been his custom for
years--ever since he had been elected to full membership--a date so far
back in the dim past that the oldest habitue had to search the records
to make sure of the year, and this custom he still regularly kept up.

That the quaint old club-house was but a stone’s throw from his own
quarters in Fifteenth Street made no difference; he would willingly have
tramped to Murray Hill and beyond--even as far as the big reservoir, had
the younger and more progressive element among the members picked the
institution up bodily and moved it that far--as later on they did.

Not that he favored any such innovation: “Move up-town! Why, my dear
sir!” he protested, when the subject was first mentioned, “is there
nothing in the polish of these old tables and chairs, rubbed bright by
the elbows of countless good fellows, that appeals to you? Do you think
any modern varnish can replace it? Here I have sat for thirty years or
more, and--please God!--here I want to continue to sit.”

He was at his own small table in the front room overlooking the street
when he spoke--his by right of long use, as it was also of Morris,
MacFarlane, Wright, old Partridge the painter, and Knight the sculptor.
For years this group of Centurions, after circling the rooms on meeting
nights, criticising the pictures and helping themselves to the punch,
had dropped into these same seats by the side of Peter.

And these were not the only chairs tacitly recognized as carrying
special privileges by reason of long usage. Over in the corner between
the two rooms could be found Bayard Taylor’s chair--his for years,
from which he dispensed wisdom, adventure and raillery to a listening
coterie--King, MacDonough and Collins among them, while near the stairs,
his great shaggy head glistening in the overhead light, Parke Godwin
held court, with Sterling, Martin and Porter, to say nothing of still
older habitues who in the years of their membership were as much a part
of the fittings of the club as the smoke-begrimed portraits which lined
its walls.

On this Saturday night he had stepped into the clubhouse with more
than his usual briskness. Sweeping a comprehensive glance around as
he entered, as if looking for some one in the hall, he slipped off his
overcoat and hat and handed both to the negro servant in charge of the
cloak-room.

“George.”

“Yes, Mr. Grayson.”

“If anybody inquires for me you will find me either on this floor or in
the library above. Don’t forget, and don’t make any mistake.

“No, suh--ain’t goin’ to be no mistake.”

This done, the old gentleman moved to the mirror, and gave a sidelong
glance at his perfectly appointed person--he had been dining at the
Portmans’, had left the table early, and was in full evening dress.

The inspection proved that the points of his collar wanted straightening
the thousandth part of an inch, and that his sparse gray locks needed
combing a wee bit further toward his cheek bones. These, with a certain
rebellious fold in his necktie, having been brought into place, the
guardian of the Exeter entered the crowded room, picked a magazine from
the shelves and dropped into his accustomed seat.

Holker Morris and Lagarge now strolled in and drawing up to a small
table adjoining Peter’s touched a tiny bell. This answered, and the
order given, the two renewed a conversation which had evidently been
begun outside, and which was of so absorbing a character that for a
moment Peter’s face, half hidden by his book, was unnoticed.

“Oh!--that’s you, Methusaleh, is it!” cried Morris at last. “Move
over--have something?”

Peter looked up smiling: “Not now, Holker. I will later.”

Morris kept on talking. Lagarge, his companion--a thin,
cadaverous-looking man with a big head and the general air of having
been carved out of an old root--a great expert in ceramics--listening
intently, bobbing his head in toy-mandarin fashion whenever one of
Holker’s iconoclasms cleared the air.

“Suppose they did pay thirty thousand dollars for it,” Holker insisted,
slapping his knee with his outspread palm. “That makes the picture no
better and no worse. If it was mine, and I could afford it, I would sell
it to anybody who loved it for thirty cents rather than sell it to a man
who didn’t, for thirty millions. When Troyon painted it he put his soul
into it, and you can no more tack a price to that than you can stick
an auction card on a summer cloud, or appraise the perfume from a rose
garden. It has no money value, Legarge, and never will have. You might
as well list sunsets on the Stock Exchange.”

“But Troyon had to live, Holker,” chimed in Harrington, who, with
the freedom accorded every member of the club--one of its greatest
charms--had just joined the group and sat listening.

“Yes,” rejoined Morris, a quizzical expression crossing his face--“that
was the curse of it. He was born a man and had a stomach instead of
being born a god without one. As to living--he didn’t really live--no
great painter really lives until he is dead. And that’s the way it
should be--they would never have become immortal with a box full of
bonds among their assets. They would have stopped work. Now they can
rest in their graves with the consciousness that they have done their
level best.”

“There is one thing would lift him out of it, or ought to,” remarked
Harrington, with a glance around the circle. “I am, of course, speaking
of Troyon.”

“What?” asked Morris.

“The news that Roberts paid thirty thousand dollars for a picture for
which the painter was glad to get three thousand francs,” a reply which
brought a roar from the group, Morris joining in heartily.

The circle had now widened to the filling of a dozen chairs, Morris’s
way of putting things being one of the features of club nights, he, as
usual, dominating the talk, calling out “Period”--his way of notifying
some speaker to come to a full stop, whenever he broke away from the
facts and began soaring into hyperbolics--Morgan, Harrington and the
others laughing in unison at his sallies.

The clouds of tobacco smoke grew thicker. The hum of conversation
louder; especially at an adjoining table where one lean old Academician
in a velvet skull cap was discussing the new impressionistic craze which
had just begun to show itself in the work of the younger men. This had
gone on for some minutes when the old man turned upon them savagely and
began ridiculing the new departure as a cloak to hide poor drawing, an
outspoken young painter asserting in their defence, that any technique
was helpful if it would kill off the snuff-box school in which the man
under the skull cap held first place.

Morris had lent an ear to the discussion and again took up the cudgels.

“You young fellows are right,” he cried, twisting his body toward their
table. The realists have had their day; they work a picture to death;
all of them. If you did but know it, it really takes two men to paint a
great picture--one to do the work and the other to kill him when he has
done enough.”

“Pity some of your murderers, Holker, didn’t start before they stretched
their canvases,” laughed Harrington.

And so the hours sped on.

All this time Peter had been listening with one ear wide open--the one
nearest the door--for any sound in that direction. French masterpieces,
Impressionism and the rest of it did not interest him to-night.
Something else was stirring him--something he had been hugging to his
heart all day.

Only the big and little coals in his own fireplace in Fifteenth Street,
and perhaps the great back-log, beside himself, knew the cause. He
had not taken Miss Felicia into his confidence--that would never have
done--might, indeed, have spoilt everything. Even when he had risen from
Morris’s coterie to greet Henry MacFarlane--Ruth’s father--his intimate
friend for years, and who answered his hand-shake with--“Well, you
old rascal--what makes you look so happy?--anybody left you a
million?”--even then he gave no inkling of the amount of bottled
sunshine he was at the precise moment carrying inside his well-groomed
body, except to remark with all his twinkles and wrinkles scampering
loose:

“Seeing you, Henry--” an answer which, while it only excited derision
and a sly thrust of his thumb into Peter’s ribs, was nevertheless
literally true if the distinguished engineer did but know it.

It was only when the hours dragged on and his oft-consulted watch marked
ten o’clock that the merry wrinkles began to straighten and the eyes to
wander.

When an additional ten minutes had ticked themselves out, and then a
five and then a ten more, the old fellow became so nervous that he began
to make a tour of the club-house, even ascending the stairs, searching
the library and dining-room, scanning each group and solitary individual
he passed, until, thoroughly discouraged, he regained his seat only to
press a bell lying among some half-empty glasses. The summoned waiter
listened attentively, his head bent low to catch the whispered order,
and then disappeared noiselessly in the direction of the front door,
Peter’s fingers meanwhile beating an impatient staccato on the arm of
his chair.

Nothing resulting from this experiment he at last gave up all hope
and again sought MacFarlane who was trying to pound into the head of a
brother engineer some new theory of spontaneous explosions.

Hardly had he drawn up a chair to listen--he was a better listener
to-night, somehow, than a talker, when a hand was laid on his shoulder,
and looking up, he saw Jack bending over him.

With a little cry of joy Peter sprang to his feet, both palms
outstretched: “Oh!--you’re here at last! Didn’t I say nine o’clock, my
dear boy, or am I wrong? Well, so you are here it’s all right.” Then
with face aglow he turned to MacFarlane: “Henry, here’s a young fellow
you ought to know; his name’s John Breen, and he’s from your State.”

The engineer stopped short in his talk and absorbed Jack from his neatly
brushed hair, worn long at the back of his neck, to his well-shod feet,
and held out his hand.

“From Maryland? So am I; I was raised down in Prince George County. Glad
to know you. Are you any connection of the Breens of Ann Arundle?”

“Yes, sir--all my people came from Ann Arundle. My father was Judge
Breen,” answered Jack with embarrassment. He had not yet become
accustomed to the novelty of the scene around him.

“Now I know just where you belong. My father and yours were friends.
I have often heard him speak of Judge Breen. And did you not meet my
daughter at Miss Grayson’s the other day? She told me she had met a Mr.
Breen from our part of the country.”

Jack’s eyes danced. Was this what Peter had invited him to the club for?
Now it was all clear. And then again he had not said a word about his
being in the Street, or connected with it in any way. Was there ever
such a good Peter?

“Oh, yes, sir!--and I hope she is very well.”

The engineer said she was extremely well, never better in her life, and
that he was delighted to meet a son of his old friend--then, turning to
the others, immediately forgot Jack’s existence, and for the time being
his daughter, in the discussion still going on around him.

The young fellow settled himself in his seat and looked about him--at
the smoke-stained ceiling, the old portraits and quaint fittings and
furniture--more particularly at the men. He would have liked to talk to
Ruth’s father a little longer, but he felt dazed and ill at ease--out of
his element, somehow--although he remembered the same kind of people at
his father’s house, except that they wore different clothes.

But Peter did not leave him long in meditation. There were other
surprises for him upstairs, in the small dining-room opening out of
the library, where a long table was spread with eatables and
drinkables--salads, baby sausages, escaloped oysters, devilled crabs and
other dishes dear to old and new members. Here men were met standing in
groups, their plates in their hands, or seated at the smaller tables,
when a siphon and a beer bottle, or a mug of Bass would be added to
their comfort.

It was there the Scribe met him for the second time, my first being the
Morris dinner, when he sat within speaking distance. I had heard of him,
of course, as Peter’s new protege--indeed, the old fellow had talked of
nothing else, and so I was glad to renew the acquaintance. I found him
to be like all other young fellows of his class--I had lived among his
people, and knew--rather shy, with a certain deferential air toward
older people--but with the composure belonging to unconscious youth--no
fidgeting or fussing--modest, unassertive--his big brown eyes under
their heavy lashes studying everything about him, his face brightening
when you addressed him. I discovered, too, a certain indefinable charm
which won me to him at once. Perhaps it was his youth; perhaps it was a
certain honest directness, together with a total lack of all affectation
that appealed to me, but certain it is that not many minutes had passed
before I saw why Peter liked him, and I saw, too, why he liked Peter.

When I asked him--we had found three empty seats at a table--what
impressed him most in the club, it being his first visit, he answered
in his simple, direct way, that he thought it was the note of
good-fellowship everywhere apparent, the men greeting each other as if
they really meant it. Another feature was the dress and faces of the
members--especially the authors, to whom Peter had introduced him, whose
books he had read, and whose personalities he had heard discussed,
and who, to his astonishment, had turned out to be shabby-looking old
fellows who smoked and drank, or played chess, like other ordinary
mortals, and without pretence of any kind so far as he could detect.

“Just like one big family, isn’t it, Mr. Grayson?” the boy said. “Don’t
you two gentlemen love to come here?”

“Yes.”

“They don’t look like very rich men.”

“They’re not. Now and then a camel crawls through but it is a tight
squeeze,” remarked Peter arching his gray, bushy eyebrows, a smile
hovering about his lips.

The boy laughed: “Well, then, how did they get here?”

“Principally because they lead decent lives, are not puffed up with
conceit, have creative brains and put them to some honest use,” answered
Peter.

The boy looked away for a moment and remarked quietly that about
everybody he knew would fail in one or more of these qualifications.
Then he added:

“And now tell me, Mr. Grayson, what most of them do--that gentleman, for
instance, who is talking to the old man in the velvet cap.”

“That is General Norton, one of our most distinguished engineers. He is
Consulting Engineer in the Croton Aqueduct Department, and his opinion
is sought all over the country. He started life as a tow-boy on the Erie
Canal, and when he was your age he was keeping tally of dump-cars from a
cut on the Pennsylvania Railroad.”

Jack looked at the General in wonderment, but he was too much interested
in the other persons about him to pursue the inquiry any further.

“And the man next to him--the one with his hand to his head?”

“I don’t recall him, but the Major may.”

“That is Professor Hastings of Yale,” I replied--“perhaps the most
eminent chemist in this or any other country.”

“And what did he do when he was a boy?” asked young Breen.

“Made pills, I expect, and washed out test tubes and retorts,”
 interrupted Peter, with a look on his face as if the poor professor were
more to be pitied than commended.

“Did any of them dig?” asked the boy.

“What kind of digging?” inquired Peter.

“Well, the kind you spoke of the night you came to see me.”

“Oh, with their hands?” cried Peter with a laugh. “Well, now, let me
see--” and his glance roved about the room. “There is Mr. Schlessinger,
the Egyptologist, but of course he was after mummies, not dirt; and then
there is--yes--that sun-burned young fellow of forty, talking to Mr.
Eastman Johnson; he has been at work in Yucatan looking for Toltec
ruins, because he told me his experience only a few nights ago; but
then, of course, that can hardly be said to be--Oh!--now I have it.
You see that tall man with side-whiskers, looking like a young bank
president--my kind--my boy--well, he started life with a pick and
shovel. The steel point of the pick if I remember rightly, turned up a
nugget of gold that made him rich, but he DUG all the same, and he may
again some day--you can’t tell.”

It had all been a delightful experience for Jack and his face showed it,
but it was not until after I left that the story of why he had come
late was told. He had started several times to explain but the constant
interruption of members anxious to shake Peter’s hand, had always
prevented.

“I haven’t apologized for being late, sir,” Jack had said at last. “It
was long after ten, I am afraid, but I could not help it.”

“No; what was the matter?”

“I didn’t get the letter until half an hour before I reached here.”

“Why, I sent it to your uncle’s house, and mailed it myself, just after
you had gone out with Miss MacFarlane.”

“Yes, sir; but I am not at my uncle’s house any more. I am staying with
Garry Minott in his rooms; I have the sofa.”

Peter gave a low whistle.

“And you have given up your desk at the office as well?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Bless my soul, my boy! And what are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know; but I will not go on as I have been doing. I can’t, Mr.
Grayson, and you must not ask it. I would rather sweep the streets.
I have just seen poor Charley Gilbert and Mrs. Gilbert. He has not a
dollar in the world, and is going West, he tells me.”

Peter reflected for a moment. It was all he could do to hide his
delight.

“And what do your people say?”

“My aunt says I am an idiot, and Corinne won’t speak to me.”

“And your uncle?”

“Nothing, to me. He told Garry that if I didn’t come back in three days
I should never enter his house or his office again.”

“But you are going back? Are you not?”

“No,--never. Not if I starve!”

Peter’s eyes were twinkling when he related the conversation to me the
next day.

“I could have hugged him, Major,” he said, when he finished, “and I
would if we had not been at the club.”



CHAPTER XIII



The Scribe is quite positive that had you only heard about it as he
had, even with the details elaborated, not only by Peter, who was
conservatism itself in his every statement, but by Miss Felicia as
well--who certainly ought to have known--you would not have believed
it possible until you had seen it. Even then you would have had to drop
into one of Miss Felicia’s cretonne-upholstered chairs--big easy-chairs
that fitted into every hollow and bone in your back--looked the length
of the uneven porch, run your astonished eye down the damp, water-soaked
wooden steps to the moist brick pavement below, and so on to the beds of
crocuses blooming beneath the clustering palms and orange trees, before
you could realize (in spite of the drifting snow heaped up on the
door-steps of her house outside--some of it still on your shoes) that
you were in Miss Felicia’s tropical garden, attached to Miss Felicia’s
Geneseo house, and not in the back yard of some old home in the far-off
sunny South.

It was an old story, of course, to Peter, who had the easy-chair beside
me, and so it was to Morris, who had helped Miss Felicia carry out so
Utopian a scheme, but it had come to me as a complete surprise, and I
was still wide-eyed and incredulous.

“And what keeps out the cold?” I asked Morris, who was lying back
blowing rings into the summer night, the glow of an overhead lantern
lighting up his handsome face.

“Glass,” he laughed.

“Where?”

“There, just above the vines, my dear Major,” interrupted Miss Felicia,
pointing upward. “Come and let me show you my frog pond--” and away we
went along the brick paths, bordered with pots of flowers, to a tiny
lake covered with lily-pads and circled by water-plants.

“I did not want a greenhouse--I wanted a back yard,” she continued,
“and I just would have it. Holker sent his men up, and on three sides
we built a wall that looked a hundred years old--but it is not five--and
roofed it over with glass, and just where you see the little flight
of stairs is the heat. That old arbor in the corner has been here ever
since I was a child, and so have the syringa bushes and the green box
next the wall. I wanted them all the year round--not just for three or
four months in the year--and that witch Holker said he could do it, and
he has. Half the weddings in town have been begun right on that bench,
and when the lanterns are lighted and the fountain turned on outside, no
gentleman ever escapes. You and Peter are immune, so I sha’n’t waste
any of my precious ammunition on you. And now what will you wear in your
button-hole--a gardenia, or some violets? Ruth will be down in a minute,
and you must look your prettiest.”

But if the frog pond, damp porch and old-fashioned garden had come as a
surprise, what shall I say of the rest of Miss Felicia’s house which I
am now about to inspect under Peter’s guidance.

“Here, come along,” he cried, slipping his arm through mine. “You have
had enough of the garden, for between you and me, my dear Major”--here
he looked askance at Miss Felicia--“I think it an admirable place in
which to take cold, and that’s why--” and he passed his hand over
his scalp--“I always insist on wearing my hat when I walk here. Mere
question of imagination, perhaps, but old fellows like you and me should
take no chances--” and he laughed heartily.

“This room was my father’s,” continued Peter. “The bookcases have still
some of the volumes he loved; he liked the low ceiling and the big
fireplace, and always wrote here--it was his library, really. There
opens the old drawing-room and next to it is Felicia’s den, where she
concocts most of her deviltry, and the dining-room beyond--and that’s
all there is on this floor, except the kitchen, which you’ll hear from
later.”

And as Peter rattled on, telling me the history of this and that piece
of old furniture, or portrait, or queer clock, my eyes were absorbing
the air of cosey comfort that permeated every corner of the several
rooms. Everything had the air of being used. In the library the chairs
were of leather, stretched into saggy folds by many tired backs; the
wide, high fender fronting the hearth, though polished so that you could
see your face in it, showed the marks of many a drying shoe, while on
the bricks framing the fireplace could still be seen the scratchings of
countless matches.

The drawing-room, too--although, as in all houses of its class and
period, a thing of gilt frames, high mirrors and stiff furniture--was
softened by heaps of cushions, low stools and soothing arm-chairs,
while Miss Felicia’s own particular room was so veritable a symphony
in chintz, white paint and old mahogany, with cubby-holes crammed
with knickknacks, its walls hung with rare etchings; pots of flowers
everywhere and the shelves and mantels crowded with photographs of
princes, ambassadors, grand dukes, grand ladies, flossy-headed children,
chubby-cheeked babies (all souvenirs of her varied and busy life), that
it was some minutes before I could throw myself into one of her heavenly
arm-chairs, there to be rested as I had never been before, and never
expect to be again.

It being Peter’s winter holiday, he and Morris had stopped over on their
way down from Buffalo, where Holker had spoken at a public dinner. The
other present and expected guests were Ruth MacFarlane, who was already
upstairs; her father, Henry MacFarlane, who was to arrive by the next
train, and last and by no means lest, his confidential clerk, Mr. John
Breen, now two years older and, it is to be hoped, with considerable
more common-sense than when he chucked himself neck and heels out into
the cold world. Whether the expected arrival of this young gentleman had
anything to do with the length of time it took Ruth to dress, the Scribe
knoweth not. There is no counting upon the whims and vagaries of even
the average young woman of the day, and as Ruth was a long way above
that medium grade, and with positive ideas of her own as to whom she
liked and whom she did not like, and was, besides, a most discreet and
close-mouthed young person, it will be just as well for us to watch the
game of battledoor and shuttlecock still being played between Jack and
herself, before we arrive at any fixed conclusions.

Any known and admitted facts connected with either one of the
contestants are, however, in order, and so while we are waiting for old
Moggins, who drives the village ‘bus, and who has been charged by
Miss Felicia on no account to omit bringing in his next load a certain
straight, bronzed-cheeked, well-set-up young man with a springy step,
accompanied by a middle-aged gentleman who looked like a soldier, and
deliver them both with their attendant baggage at her snow-banked door,
any data regarding this same young man’s movements since the night Peter
wanted to hug him for leaving his uncle’s service, cannot fail to be of
interest.

To begin then with the day on which Jack, with Frederick, the second
man’s assistance, packed his belongings and accepted Garry’s invitation
to make a bed of his lounge.

The kind-hearted Frederick knew what it was to lose a place, and so his
sympathies had been all the more keen. Parkins’s nose, on the contrary,
had risen a full degree and stood at an angle of 45 degrees, for he had
not only heard the ultimatum of his employer, but was rather pleased
with the result. As for the others, no one ever believed the boy really
meant it, and everybody--even the maids and the high-priced chef--fully
expected Jack would turn prodigal as soon as his diet of husks had
whetted his appetite for dishes more nourishing and more toothsome. But
no one of them took account of the quality of the blood that ran in the
young man’s veins.

It was scheming Peter who saved the day.

“Put that young fellow to work, Henry,” he had said to MacFarlane the
morning after the three had met at the Century Club.

“What does he know, Peter?”

“Nothing, except to speak the truth.”

And thus it had come to pass that within twenty-four hours thereafter
the boy had shaken the dust of New York from his feet--even to resigning
from the Magnolia, and a day later was found bending over a pine desk
knocked together by a hammer and some ten-penny nails in a six-by-nine
shanty, the whole situated at the mouth of a tunnel half a mile from
Corklesville, where he was at work on the pay-roll of the preceding
week.

Many things had helped in deciding him to take the proffered place.
First, Peter had wanted it; second, his uncle did not want it, Corinne
and his aunt being furious that he should go to work like a common
laborer, or--as Garry had put it--“a shovel-spanked dago.” Third, Ruth
was within calling distance, and that in itself meant Heaven. Once
installed, however, he had risen steadily, both in MacFarlane’s
estimation and in the estimation of his fellow-workers; especially the
young engineers who were helping his Chief in the difficult task before
him. Other important changes had also taken place in the two years: his
body had strengthened, his face had grown graver, his views of life had
broadened and, best of all, his mind was at rest. Of one thing he
was sure--no confiding young Gilberts would be fleeced in his present
occupation--not if he knew anything about it.

Moreover, the outdoor life which he had so longed for was his again.
On Saturday afternoons and Sundays he tramped the hills, or spent hours
rowing on the river. His employer’s villa was also always open to him--a
privilege not granted to the others in the working force. The old tie
of family was the sesame. Judge Breen’s son was, both by blood and
training, the social equal of any man, and although the distinguished
engineer, being well born himself, seldom set store on such things,
he recognized his obligation in Jack’s case and sought the first
opportunity to tell him so.

“You will find a great change in your surroundings, Mr. Breen,” he had
said. “The little hotel where you will have to put up is rather rough
and uncomfortable, but you are always welcome at my home, and this I
mean, and I hope you will understand it that way without my mentioning
it again.”

The boy’s heart leaped to his throat as he listened, and a dozen
additional times that day his eyes had rested on the clump of trees
which shaded the roof sheltering Ruth.

That the exclusive Miss Grayson should now have invited him to pass some
days at her home had brought with it a thrill of greater delight. Her
opinion of the boy had changed somewhat. His willingness to put up with
the discomforts of the village inn--“a truly dreadful place,” to quote
one of Miss Felicia’s own letters--and to continue to put up with them
for more than two years, while losing nothing of his good-humor and good
manners, had shaken her belief in the troubadour and tin-armor theory,
although nothing in Jack’s surroundings or in his prospects for the
future fitted him, so far as she could see, to life companionship with
so dear a girl as her beloved Ruth--a view which, of course, she kept
strictly to herself.

But she still continued to criticise him, at which Peter would rub his
hands and break out with:

“Fine fellow!--square peg in a square hole this time. Fine fellow, I
tell you, Felicia!”

He receiving in reply some such answer as:

“Yes, quite lovely in fairy tales, Peter, and when you have taught
him--for you did it, remember--how to shovel and clean up underbrush
and split rocks--and that just’s what Ruth told me he was doing when she
took a telegram to her father which had come to the house--and he in
a pair of overalls, like any common workman--what, may I ask, will you
have him doing next? Is he to be an engineer or a clerk all his life?
He might have had a share in his uncle’s business by this time if he had
had any common-sense;” Peter retorting often with but a broad smile
and that little gulp of satisfaction--something between a chuckle and a
sigh--which always escaped him when some one of his proteges were living
up to his pet theories.

And yet it was Miss Felicia herself who was the first to welcome the
reprobate, even going to the front door and standing in the icy draught,
with the snowflakes whirling about her pompadoured head, until Jack had
alighted from the tail-end of Moggins’s ‘bus and, with his satchel in
his hand, had cleared the sidewalk with a bound and stood beside her.

“Oh, I’m so glad to be here,” Jack had begun, “and it was so good of you
to want me,” when a voice rang clear from the top of the stairs:

“And where’s daddy--isn’t he coming?”

“Oh!--how do you do, Miss Ruth? No; I am sorry to say he could not
leave--that is, we could not persuade him to leave. He sent you all
manner of messages, and you, too, Miss--”

“He isn’t coming? Oh, I am so disappointed! What is the matter, is he
ill?” She was half-way down the staircase now, her face showing how keen
was her disappointment.

“No--nothing’s the matter--only we are arranging for an important blast
in a day or two, and he felt he couldn’t be away. I can only stay the
night.” Jack had his overcoat stripped from his broad shoulders now and
the two had reached each other’s hands.

Miss Felicia watched them narrowly out of her sharp, kindly eyes. This
love-affair--if it were a love-affair--had been going on for years now
and she was still in the dark as to the outcome. There was no question
that the boy was head over heels in love with the girl--she could see
that from the way the color mounted to his cheeks when Ruth’s voice rang
out, and the joy in his eyes when they looked into hers. How Ruth felt
toward her new guest was what she wanted to know. This was, perhaps, the
only reason why she had invited him--another thing she kept strictly to
herself.

But the two understood it--if Miss Felicia did not. There may be shrewd
old ladies who can read minds at a glance, and fussy old men who can see
through blind millstones, and who know it all, but give me two lovers to
fool them both to the top of their bent, be they so minded.

“And now, dear, let Mr. Breen go to his room, for we dine in an hour,
and Holker will be cross as two sticks if we keep it waiting a minute.”

But Holker was not cross--not when dinner was served; nobody was
cross--certainly not Peter, who was in his gayest mood; and certainly
not Ruth or Jack, who babbled away next to each other. Peter’s heart
swelled with pride and satisfaction as he saw the change which two years
of hard work had made in Jack--not only in his bearing and in a certain
fearless independence which had become a part of his personality, but in
the unmistakable note of joyousness which flowed out of him, so marked
in contrast to the depression which used to haunt him like a spectre.
Stories of his life at his boarding-house--vaguely christened a hotel by
its landlady, Mrs. Hicks--bubbled out of the boy as well as accounts of
various escapades among the men he worked with--especially the younger
engineers and one of the foremen who had rooms next his own--all told
with a gusto and ring that kept the table in shouts of merriment--Morris
laughing loudest and longest, Peter whispering behind his hand to Miss
Felicia:

“Charming, isn’t he?--and please note, my dear, that none of the dirt
from his shovel seems to have clogged his wit--” at which there was
another merry laugh--Peter’s, this time, his being the only voice in
evidence.

“And she is such fun, Miss Felicia” (Mrs. Hicks was under
discussion), called out Jack, realizing that he had, perhaps--although
unconsciously--failed to include his hostess in his coterie of
listeners. “You should see her caps, and the magnificent airs she puts
on when we come down late to breakfast on Sunday mornings.”

“And tell them about the potatoes,” interrupted Ruth.

“Oh, that was disgraceful, but it really could not be helped--we had
greasy fried potatoes until we could not stand them another day, and
Bolton found them in the kitchen late one night ready for the skillet
the next morning, and filled them with tooth powder, and that ended it.”

“I’d have set you fellows out on the sidewalk if I’d been Mrs. Hicks,”
 laughed Morris. “I know that old lady--I used to stop with her myself
when I was building the town hall--and she’s good as gold. And now tell
me how MacFarlane is getting on--building a railroad, isn’t he? He told
me about it, but I forget.”

“No,” replied Jack, his face growing suddenly serious as he turned
toward the speaker; “the company is building the road. We have only got
a fill of half a mile and then a tunnel of a mile more.”

Miss Felicia beamed sententiously when Jack said “we,” but she did not
interrupt the speaker.

“And what sort of cutting?” continued the architect in a tone that
showed his entire familiarity with work of the kind.

“Gneiss rock for eleven hundred feet and then some mica schist that
we have had to shore up every time we move our drills,” answered Jack
quietly.

“Any cave-ins?” Morris was leaning forward now, his eyes riveted on the
boy’s. What information he wanted he felt sure he now could get.

“Not yet, but plenty of water. We struck a spring last week” (this time
the “we” didn’t seem so preposterous) “that came near drowning us out,
but we managed to keep it under with a six-inch centrifugal; but it
meant pumping night and day.”

“And when is he going to get through?”

“That depends on what is ahead of us. Our borings show up all
right--most of it is tough gneiss--but if we strike gravel or shale
again it means more timbering, of course. Perhaps another year--perhaps
a few months. I am not giving you my own opinion, for I’ve had very
little experience, but that is what Bolton thinks--he’s second in
command next to Mr. MacFarlane--and so do the other fellows at our
boarding house.”

And then followed a discussion on “struts,” roof timbers and tie-rods,
Jack describing in a modest, impersonal way the various methods used by
the members of the staff with which he was connected, Morris, as usual,
becoming so absorbed in the warding off of “cave-ins” that for the
moment he forgot the table, his hostess and everybody about him, a
situation which, while it delighted Peter, who was bursting with pride
over Jack, was beginning to wear upon Miss Felicia, who was entirely
indifferent as to whether the top covering of MacFarlane’s underground
hole fell in or not.

“There, now, Holker,” she said with a smile as she laid her hand on his
coat sleeve--“not another word. Tunnels are things everybody wants to
get through with as quick as possible--and I’m not going to spend all
night in yours--awful damp places full of smoke--No--not another word.
Ruth, ask that young Roebling next you to tell us another story--No,
wait until we have our coffee and you gentlemen have lighted your
cigars. Perhaps, Ruth, you had better take Mr. Breen into the
smoking-room. Now, give me your arm, Holker, and you come, too, Major,
and bring Peter with you to my boudoir. I want to show you the most
delicious copy of Shelley you ever saw. No, Mr. Breen, Ruth wants you;
we will be with you in a few minutes--” Then after the two had passed
on ahead--“Look at them, Major--aren’t they a joy, just to watch?--and
aren’t you ashamed of yourself that you have wasted your life? No arbor
for you! What would you give if a lovely girl like that wanted you all
to herself by the side of my frog pond?”

A shout ahead from Jack, and a rippling laugh from Ruth now floated our
way.

“Oh!--OH!--” and “Yes--isn’t it wonderful--come and see the arbor--” and
then a clatter of feet down the soggy steps and fainter footfalls on the
moist bricks, ending in silence.

“There!” laughed Miss Felicia, turning toward us and clapping her
hands--“they have reached the arbor and it’s all over, and now we will
all go out on the porch for our coffee. I haven’t any Shelley that you
have not seen a dozen times--I just intended that surprise to come to
the boy and in the way Ruth wanted it--she has talked of nothing else
since she knew he was coming. Mighty dangerous, I can tell you, that old
bench. Ruth can take care of herself, but that poor fellow will be in
a dreadful state if we leave them alone too long. Sit here, Holker,
and tell me about the dinner and what you said. All that Peter could
remember was that you never did better, and that everybody cheered, and
that the squabs were so dry he couldn’t eat them.”

But the Scribe refuses to be interested in Holker’s talk, however
brilliant, or in Miss Felicia’s crisp repartee. His thoughts are down
among the palms, where the two figures are entering the arbor, the
soft glow of half a dozen lanterns falling upon the joyous face of the
beautiful girl, as, with hand in Jack’s, she leads him to a seat beside
her on the bench.

“But it’s like home,” Jack gasped. “Why, you must remember your own
garden, and the porch that ran alongside of the kitchen, and the brick
walls--and just see how big it is and you never told me a word about it!
Why?”

“Oh, because it would have spoiled all the fun; I was so afraid daddy
would tell you that I made him promise not to say a word; and nobody
else had seen it except Mr. Morris, and he said torture couldn’t drag it
out of him. That old Major that Uncle Peter thinks so much of came near
spoiling the surprise, but Aunt Felicia said she would take care of him
in the back of the house--and she did; and I mounted guard at the top
of the stairs before anybody could get hold of you. Isn’t it too
lovely?--and, do you know, there are real live frogs in that pond and
you can hear them croak? And now tell me about daddy, and how he gets on
without me.”

But Jack was not ready yet to talk about daddy, or the work, or anything
that concerned Corklesville and its tunnel--the transition had been too
sudden and too startling. To be fired from a gun loaded with care, hard
work and anxiety--hurled through hours of winter travel and landed at a
dinner-table next some charming young woman, was an experience which had
occurred to him more than once in the past two years. But to be thrust
still further into space until he reached an Elysium replete with
whispering fountains, flowering vines and the perfume of countless
blossoms--the whole tucked away in a cosey arbor containing a seat for
two--AND NO MORE--and this millions of miles away, so far as he could
see, from the listening ear or watchful eye of mortal man or woman--and
with Ruth, too--the tips of whose fingers were so many little shrines
for devout kisses--that was like having been transported into Paradise.

“Oh, please let me look around a little,” he begged at last. “And this
is why you love to come here?”

“Yes--wouldn’t you?”

“I would not live anywhere else if I could--and it has just the air
of summer--and it feels like a summer’s night, too--as if the moon was
coming up somewhere.”

Ruth’s delight equalled his own; she must show him the new tulips just
sprouting, taking down a lantern so that he could see the better; and he
must see how the jessamine was twisted in and out the criss-cross slats
of the trellis, so that the flowers bloomed both outside and in; and
the little gully in the flagging of the pavement through which ran the
overflow of the tiny pond--till the circuit of the garden was made and
they were again seated on the dangerous bench, with a cushion tucked
behind her beautiful shoulders.

They talked of the tunnel and when it would be finished; and of the
village people and whom they liked and whom they didn’t--and why--and of
Corinne, whose upturned little nose and superior, dominating airs
Ruth thought were too funny for words; and of her recently announced
engagement to Garry Minott, who had started for himself in business and
already had a commission to build a church at Elm Crest--known to
all New Jersey as Corklesville until the real-estate agencies
took possession of its uplands--Jack being instrumental, with Mr.
MacFarlane’s help, in securing him the order; and of the dinner to be
given next week at Mrs. Brent Foster’s on Washington Square, to which
they were both invited, thanks to Miss Felicia for Ruth’s invitation,
and thanks to Peter for that of Jack, who, at Peter’s request, had
accompanied him one afternoon to one of Mrs. Foster’s receptions, where
he had made so favorable an impression that he was at once added to Mrs.
Foster’s list of eligible young men--the same being a scarce article.
They had discussed, I say, all these things and many more, in sentences,
the Scribe devoutly hopes, much shorter than the one he has just
written--when in a casual--oh, so casual a way--merely as a matter of
form--Ruth asked him if he really must go back to Corklesville in the
morning.

“Yes,” answered Jack--“there is no one to take charge of the new battery
but myself, and we have ten holes already filled for blasting.”

“But isn’t it only to put the two wires together? Daddy explained it to
me.”

“Yes--but at just the right moment. Half a minute too early might ruin
weeks of work. We have some supports to blow out. Three charges are at
their bases--everything must go off together.”

“But it is such a short visit.”

Some note in her voice rang through Jack’s ears and down into his heart.
In all their intercourse--and it had been a free and untrammelled one
so far as their meetings and being together were concerned--there was
invariably a barrier which he could never pass, and one that he was
always afraid to scale. This time her face was toward him, the rosy
light bathing her glorious hair and the round of her dimpled cheek. For
an instant a half-regretful smile quivered on her lips, and then faded
as if some indrawn sigh had strangled it.

Jack’s heart gave a bound.

“Are you really sorry to have me go, Miss Ruth?” he asked, searching her
eyes.

“Why should I not be? Is not this better than Mrs. Hicks’s, and Aunt
Felicia would love to have you stay--she told me so at dinner.”

“But you, Miss Ruth?” He had moved a trifle closer--so close that his
eager fingers almost touched her own: “Do you want me to stay?”

“Why, of course, we all want you to stay. Uncle Peter has talked of
nothing else for days.”

“But do you want me to stay, Miss Ruth?”

She lifted her head and looked him fearlessly in the eyes:

“Yes, I do--now that you will have it that way. We are going to have a
sleigh-ride to-morrow, and I know you would love the open country, it is
so beautiful, and so is--”

“Ruth! Ruth! you dear child,” came a voice--“are you two never coming
in?--the coffee is stone cold.”

“Yes, Aunt Felicia, right away. Run, Mr. Breen--” and she flew up the
brick path.

For the second time Miss Felicia’s keen, kindly eyes scanned the young
girl’s face, but only a laugh, the best and surest of masks, greeted
her.

“He thinks it all lovely,” Ruth rippled out. “Don’t you, Mr. Breen?”

“Lovely? Why, it is the most wonderful place I ever saw; I could hardly
believe my senses. I am quite sure old Aunt Hannah is cooking behind
that door--” here he pointed to the kitchen--“and that poor old Tom will
come hobbling along in a minute with ‘dat mis’ry’ in his back. How in
the world you ever did it, and what--”

“And did you hear my frogs?” interrupted his hostess.

“Of course he didn’t, Felicia,” broke in Peter. “What a question to
ask a man! Listen to the croakings of your miserable tadpoles with
the prettiest girl in seven counties--in seven States, for that
matter--sitting beside him! Oh!--you needn’t look, you minx! If he
heard a single croak he ought to be ducked in the puddle--and then
packed off home soaking wet.”

“And that is what he is going to do himself,” rejoined Ruth, dropping
into a chair which Peter had drawn up for her.

“Do what!” cried Peter.

“Pack himself off--going by the early train--nothing I can do or say has
made the slightest impression on him,” she said with a toss of her head.

Jack raised his hands in protest, but Peter wouldn’t listen.

“Then you’ll come back, sir, on Saturday and stay until Monday, and then
we’ll all go down together and you’ll take Ruth across the ferry to her
father’s.

“Thank you, sir, but I am afraid I can’t. You see, it all depends on the
work--” this last came with a certain tone of regret.

“But I’ll send MacFarlane a note, and have you detailed as an escort of
one to bring his only daughter----”

“It would not do any good, Mr. Grayson.”

“Stop your nonsense, Jack--” Peter called him so now--“You come back for
Sunday.” These days with the boy were the pleasantest of his life.

“Well, I would love to--” Here his eyes sought, Ruth--“but we have an
important blast to make, and we are doing our best to get things into
shape before the week is out.”

“Well, but suppose it isn’t ready?” demanded Peter.

“But it will be,” answered Jack in a more positive tone; this part of
the work was in his hands.

“Well, anyhow, send me a telegram.”

“I will send it, sir, but I am afraid it won’t help matters. Miss Ruth
knows how delighted I would be to return here and see her safe home.”

“Whether she does or whether she doesn’t,” broke in Miss Felicia,
“hasn’t got a single thing to do with it, Peter. You just go back to
your work, Mr. Breen, and look after your gunpowder plots, or
whatever you call them, and if some one of these gentlemen of elegant
leisure--not one of whom so far has offered his services--cannot manage
to escort you to your father’s house, Ruth, I will take you myself. Now
come inside the drawing-room, every one of you, or you will all blame me
for undermining your precious healths--you, too, Major, and bring your
cigars with you. So you don’t drop your ashes into my tea-caddy, I don’t
care where you throw them.”

It was late in the afternoon of the second day when the telegram
arrived, a delay which caused no apparent suffering to any one except,
perhaps, Peter, who wandered about with a “Nothing from Jack yet, eh?”
 A question which no one answered, it being addressed to nobody in
particular, unless it was to Ruth, who had started at every ring of the
door-bell. As to Miss Felicia--she had already dismissed the young man
from her mind.

When it did arrive there was a slight flutter of interest, but nothing
more; Miss Felicia laying down her book, Ruth asking in indifferent
tones--even before the despatch was opened--“Is he coming?” and Morris,
who was playing chess with Peter, holding his pawn in mid-air until the
interruption was over.

Not so Peter--who with a joyous “Didn’t I tell you the boy would keep
his promise--” sprang from his chair, nearly upsetting the chess-board
in his eagerness to hear from Jack, an eagerness shared by Ruth, whose
voice again rang out, this time in an anxious tone,

“Hurry up, Uncle Peter--is he coming?”

Peter made no answer; he was staring straight at the open slip, his face
deathly pale, his hand trembling.

“I’ll tell you all about it in a minute, dear,” he said at last with a
forced smile. Then he touched Morris’s arm and the two left the room.



CHAPTER XIV



The Scribe would willingly omit this chapter. Dying men, hurrying
doctors, improvised stretchers made of wrenched fence rails; silent,
slow-moving throngs following limp, bruised bodies,--are not pleasant
objects to write about and should be disposed of as quickly as possible.

Exactly whose fault it was nobody knew; if any one did, no one ever
told. Every precaution had been taken each charge had been properly
placed and tamped; all the fulminates inspected and the connections made
with the greatest care. As to the battery--that was known to be half a
mile away in the pay shanty, lying on Jack Breen’s table.

Nor was the weather unfavorable. True, there had been rain the day
before, starting a general thaw, but none of the downpour had soaked
through the outer crust of the tunnel to the working force inside and
no extra labor had devolved on the pumps. This, of course, upset
all theories as to there having been a readjustment of surface rock,
dangerous sometimes, to magnetic connections.

Then again, no man understood tunnel construction better than Henry
MacFarlane, C.E., Member of the American Society of Engineers, Fellow
of the Institute of Sciences, etc., etc. Nor was there ever an engineer
more careful of his men. Indeed, it was his boast that he had never lost
a life by a premature discharge in the twenty years of his experience.
Nor did the men, those who worked under him--those who escaped
alive--come to any definite conclusion as to the cause of the
catastrophe: the night and day gang, I mean,--those who breathed the
foul air, who had felt the chill of the clammy interior and who were
therefore familiar with the handling of explosives and the proper
tamping of the charges--a slip of the steel meaning instantaneous
annihilation.

The Beast knew and could tell if he chose.

I say “The Beast,” for that is what MacFarlane’s tunnel was to me. To
the passer-by and to the expert, it was, of course, merely a short cut
through the steep hills flanking one end of the huge “earth fill” which
MacFarlane was constructing across the Corklesville brook, and which,
when completed would form a road-bed for future trains; but to me it was
always The Beast.

This illusion was helped by its low-browed, rocky head, crouching close
to the end of the “fill,” its length concealed in the clefts of the
rocks--as if lying in wait for whatever crossed its path--as well as its
ragged, half-round, catfish gash of a mouth from out of which poured at
regular intervals a sickening breath--yellow, blue, greenish often--and
from which, too, often came dulled explosions, followed by belchings of
debris which centipedes of cars dragged clear of its slimy lips.

So I reiterate, The Beast knew.

Every day the gang had bored and pounded and wrenched, piercing his
body with nervous, nagging drills; propping up his backbone, cutting
out tender bits of flesh, carving--bracing--only to carve again. He had
tried to wriggle and twist, but the mountain had held him fast. Once he
had straightened out, smashing the tiny cars and the tugging locomotive;
breaking a leg and an arm, and once a head, but the devils had begun
again, boring and digging and the cruel wound was opened afresh. Another
time, after a big rain, with the help of some friendly rocks who had
rushed down to his help, he had snapped his jaws tight shut, penning the
devils up inside, but a hundred others had wrenched them open, breaking
his teeth, shoring up his lips with iron beams, tearing out what was
left of his tongue. He could only sulk now, breathing hard and grunting
when the pain was unbearable. One thought comforted him, and one only:
Far back in his bulk he knew of a thin place in his hide,--so thin,
owing to a dip in the contour of the hill,--that but a few yards of
overlying rock and earth lay between it and the free air.

Here his tormentors had stopped; why, he could not tell until he began
to keep tally of what had passed his mouth: The long trains of cars
had ceased; so had the snorting locomotives; so had the steam drills.
Curious-looking boxes and kegs were being passed in, none of which
ever came back; men with rolls of paper on which were zigzag markings
stumbled inside, stayed an hour and stumbled out again; these men wore
no lamps in their hats and were better dressed than the others. Then a
huge wooden drum wrapped with wire was left overnight outside his lips
and unrolled the next morning, every yard of it being stretched so far
down his throat that he lost all track of it.

On the following morning work of every kind ceased; not a man with a
lamp anywhere--and these The Beast hated most; that is, none that he
could see or feel. After an hour or more the head man arrived and with
two others went inside. The head man was tall and fair, had gray side
whiskers and wore a slouch hat; the second man was straight and well
built, with a boyish face tanned by the weather. The third man was short
and fat: this one carried a plan. Behind the three walked five other
men.

All were talking.

“The dip is to the eastward,” the head man said. “The uplift ought to
clear things so we won’t have to handle the stuff twice. Hard to rig
derricks on that slope. Let’s have powder enough, anyhow, Bolton.”

The fat man nodded and consulted his plan with the help of his
eye-glasses. Then the three men and the five men passed in out of
hearing.

The Beast was sure now. The men were going to blow out the side of the
hill where his hide was thinnest so as to make room for an air-shaft.

An hour later a gang in charge of a red-shirted foreman who were
shifting a section of toy track on the “fill” felt the earth shake under
them. Then came a dull roar followed by a cloud of yellow smoke mounting
skyward from an opening high up on the hillside. Flashing through this
cloud leaped tongues of flame intermingled with rocks and splintered
trees. From the tunnel’s mouth streamed a thin, steel-colored gas that
licked its way along the upper edges of the opening and was lost in the
underbrush fringing its upper lip.

“What’s that?” muttered the red-shirted foreman--“that ain’t no
blast--My God!--they’re blowed up!”

He sprang on a car and waved his arms with all his might: “Drop them
shovels! Git to the tunnel, every man of ye: here,--this way!” and he
plunged on, the men scrambling after him.

The Beast was a magnet now, drawing everything to its mouth. Gangs
of men swarmed up the side of the hill; stumbling, falling; picking
themselves up only to stumble and fall again. Down the railroad tracks
swept a repair squad who had been straightening a switch, their foreman
in the lead. From out of the cabins bareheaded women and children ran
screaming.

The end of the “fill” nearest the tunnel was now black with people;
those nearest to the opening were shielding their faces from the
deadly gas. The roar of voices was incessant; some shouted from sheer
excitement; others broke into curses, shaking their fists at The Beast;
blaming the management. All about stood shivering women with white
faces, some chewing the corners of their shawls in their agony.

Then a cry clearer than the others soared above the heads of the
terror-stricken mob as a rescue gang made ready to enter the tunnel:

“Water! Water! Get a bucket, some of ye! Ye can’t live in that smoke
yet! Tie your mouth up if you’re going in! Wet it, damn ye!--do ye want
to be choked stiff!”

A shrill voice now cut the air.

“It’s the boss and the clerk and Mr. Bolton that’s catched!”

“Yes--and a gang from the big shanty; I seen ‘em goin’ in,” shouted back
the red-shirted foreman.

The volunteers--big, brawny men, who, warned by the foreman, had been
binding wet cloths over their mouths, now sprang forward, peering
into the gloom. Then the sound of footsteps was heard--nearer--nearer.
Groping through the blue haze stumbled a man, his shirt sleeve shielding
his mouth. On he came, staggering from side to side, reached the edge of
the mouth and pitched head-foremost as the fresh air filled his lungs. A
dozen hands dragged him clear. It was Bolton.

His clothes were torn and scorched; his face blackened; his left hand
dripping blood. Two of the shanty gang were next hauled out and laid on
the back of an overturned dirt car. They had been near the mouth when
the explosion came, and throwing themselves flat had crawled toward the
opening.

Bolton was still unconscious, but the two shanty men gasped out the
terrible facts: “The boss and the clerk, was jes’ starting out when
everything let go”; they choked; “ther’ ain’t nothing left of the other
men. We passed the boss and the clerk; they was blowed agin a car; the
boss was stove up, the clerk was crawlin’ toward him. They’ll never git
out alive: none on ‘em. We fellers was jes’ givin’ up when we see the
daylight and heared you a-yellin’.”

A hush now fell on the mass of people, broken by the piercing shriek
of a woman,--the wife of a shanty man. She would have rushed in had not
some one held her.

Bolton sat up, gazing stupidly about him. Part of the story of the
escaped men had reached his ears. He struggled to his feet and staggerd
toward the opening of the tunnel. The red-shirted foreman caught him
under the armpits and whirled him back.

“That ain’t no place for you!” he cried--“I’ll go!”

A muffled cry was heard. It came from a bystander lying flat on his
belly inside the mouth: he had crawled in as far as he could.

“Here they come!”

New footfalls grew distinct, whether one or more the listeners could not
make out. Under the shouts of the red-shirted foreman to give them air,
the throng fell back.

Out of the grimy smoke two figures slowly loomed up; one carried the
other on his back; whether shanty men or not, no one could tell.

The crowd, no longer controlled by the foreman, surged about the
opening. Ready hands were held out, but the man carrying his comrade
waved them aside and staggered on, one hand steadying his load, the
other hanging loose. The big foreman started to rush in, but stopped.
Something in the burdened man’s eye had checked him, it was as if a team
were straining up a steep hill, making any halt fatal.

“It’s the boss and the clerk!” shouted the foreman. “Fall back,
men,--fall back, damn ye!”

The man came straight on, reached the lips of the opening, lunged
heavily to the right, tried to steady his burden and fell headlong.



CHAPTER XV



The street lamps were already lighted on the following afternoon--when
Ruth, with Peter and Miss Felicia, alighted at the small station of
Corklesville. All through the day she had gone over in her mind the
words of the despatch:

Explosion in tunnel. MacFarlane hurt--serious--will recover. Break news
gently to daughter.

Bolton Asst. Engineer

Other despatches had met the party on the way down; one saying, “No
change,” signed by the trained nurse, and a second one from Bolton
in answer to one of Peter’s: “Three men killed--others escaped.
MacFarlane’s operation successful. Explosion premature.”

Their anxiety only increased: Why hadn’t Jack telegraphed? Why leave it
to Bolton? Why was there no word of him,--and yet how could Bolton have
known that Peter was with Ruth, except from young Breen. In this mortal
terror Peter had wired from Albany: “Is Breen hurt?” but no answer had
been received at Poughkeepsie. There had not been time for it, perhaps,
but still there was no answer, nor had his name been mentioned in any of
the other telegrams. That in itself was ominous.

This same question Ruth had asked herself a dozen times. Jack was to
have had charge of the battery--he had told her so. Was he one of the
killed?--why didn’t somebody tell her?--why hadn’t Mr. Bolton said
something?--why--why--Then the picture of her father’s mangled body
would rise before her and all thought of Jack pass out of her mind.

As the train rolled into the grimy station she was the first to spring
from the car; she knew the way best, and the short cut from the station
to where her father lay. Her face was drawn; her eyes bloodshot from
restrained tears--all the color gone from her cheeks.

“You bring Aunt Felicia, Uncle Peter,--and the bags;--I will go ahead,”
 she said, tying her veil so as to shield her face. “No, I won’t wait for
anything.”

News of Ruth’s expected arrival had reached the village, and the crowd
at the station had increased. On its inner circle, close to a gate
leading from the platform, stood a young man in a slouch hat, with his
left wrist bandaged. The arm had hung in a sling until the train rolled
in, then the silk support had been slipped and hidden in his pocket.
Under the slouch hat, the white edge of a bandage was visible which
the wearer vainly tried to conceal by pulling the hat further on
his head,--this subterfuge also concealed a dark scar on his temple.
Whenever the young man pressed closer to the gate, the crowd would fall
back as if to give him room. Now and then one would come up, grab his
well hand and pat his shoulder approvingly. He seemed to be as much an
object of interest as the daughter of the injured boss.

When Ruth gained the gate the wounded man laid his fingers on her gloved
wrist. The girl started back, peered into his face, and uttered a cry of
relief.

“Mr. Breen!” For one wild moment a spirit of overwhelming joy welled up
in her heart and shone out of her eyes. Thank God he was not dead!

“Yes, Miss Ruth,--what is left of me. I wanted to see you as soon as you
reached here. You must not be alarmed about your father.” The voice did
not sound like Jack’s.

“Is he worse? Tell me quick!” she exclaimed, the old fear confronting
her.

“No. He is all right,” he wheezed, “and is going to get well. His left
arm is broken and his head badly cut, but he is out of danger. The
doctor told me so an hour ago.”

“And you?” she pleaded, clinging to his proffered hand.

“Oh! I am all right, too. The smoke got into my throat so I croak, but
that is nothing. Why, Mr. Grayson,--and Miss Felicia! I am so glad, Miss
Ruth, that you did not have to come alone! This way, everybody.”

Without other words they hurried into the carriage, driving like mad for
the cottage, a mile away; all the worn look gone from Ruth’s face.

“And you’re not hurt, my boy?” asked Peter in a trembling voice--Jack’s
well hand in his own.

“No, only a few scratches, sir; that’s all. Bolton’s hand’s in a bad
way, though; lose two of his fingers, I’m afraid.”

“And how did you escape?”

“I don’t know. I got out the best way I could. First thing I knew I was
lying on the grass and some one was pouring water over my head; then
they got me home and put me to bed.”

“And MacFarlane?”

“Oh, he came along with me. I had to help him some.”

Peter heaved a sigh of relief, then he asked:

“How did it happen?”

“Nobody knows. One of the shanty men might have dropped a box of
fulminates. Poor fellow,--he never knew; they could find nothing of
him,” Jack whispered behind his hand so Ruth would not hear.

“But when did you get out of bed?” continued Peter. He was less anxious
now.

Jack looked at Ruth and again lowered his voice; the sound of the
carriage preventing its hoarse notes from reaching her ears.

“About half an hour ago, sir; they don’t know I have gone, but I didn’t
want anybody to frighten Miss Ruth. I don’t look so bad, do I? I fixed
myself up as well as I could. I have got on Bolton’s hat; I couldn’t
get mine over the bandages. My wrist is the worst--sprained badly, the
doctor says.”

If Ruth heard she made no answer, nor did she speak during the ride. Now
and then she would gaze out of the window and once her fingers tightened
on Miss Felicia’s arm as she passed in full view of the “fill” with the
gaping mouth of the tunnel beyond. Miss Felicia was occupied in watching
Jack. In fact, she had not taken her eyes from him since they entered
the carriage. She saw what neither Peter nor Ruth had seen;--that the
boy was suffering intensely from hidden wounds and that the strain was
so great he was verging on a collapse. No telling what these foolish
Southerners will do, she said to herself, when a woman is to be looked
after,--but she said nothing of all this to Ruth.

When the carriage stopped and Ruth with a spring leaped from her seat
and bounded upstairs to her father’s bedside, Miss Felicia holding
Jack’s hand, her eyes reading the boy’s face, turned and said to Peter:

“Now you take him home where he belongs and put him to bed; and don’t
you let him get up until I see him. No--” she continued in a more
decided tone, in answer to Jack’s protest--“I won’t have it. You go to
bed just as I tell you--you can hardly stand now.”

“Perhaps I had better, Miss Felicia. I am a little shaky,” replied
Jack, in a faint voice, and the carriage kept on its way to Mrs. Hicks’s
leaving the good lady on MacFarlane’s porch.

MacFarlane was asleep when Ruth, trembling with excitement, reached the
house. Outside the sick room, lighted by a single taper, she met the
nurse whose few hurried words, spoken with authority, calmed her, as
Jack had been unable to do, and reassured her mind. “Compound fracture
of the right arm, Miss,” she whispered, “and badly bruised about the
head, as they all were. Poor Mr. Breen was the worst.”

Ruth looked at her in astonishment. That was why he had not lifted his
hat, she thought to herself, as she tiptoed into the sick room and sank
to her knees beside her father’s bed.

The injured man opened his eyes, and his free hand moved slowly till it
rested on his daughter’s head.

“I got an awful crack, Ruth, but I am all right now. Too bad to bring
you home. Who came with you?”

“Aunt Felicia and Uncle Peter,” she whispered as she stroked his
uninjured hand.

“Mighty good of them--just like old Peter. Send the old boy up--I want
to see him.”

Ruth made no answer; her heart was too full. That her father was alive
was enough.

“I’m not pretty to look at, am I, child, but I’ll pull out; I have been
hurt before--had a leg broken once in the Virginia mountains when you
were a baby. The smoke was the worst; I swallowed a lot of it; and I am
sore now all over my chest. Poor Bolton’s badly crippled, I hear--and
Breen--they’ve told you about Breen, haven’t they, daughter?” His voice
rose as he mentioned the boy’s name.

Ruth shook her head.

“Well, I wouldn’t be here but for him! He’s a plucky boy. I will never
forget him for it; you mustn’t either,” he continued in a more positive
tone.

The nurse now moved to the bed.

“I would not talk any more, Mr. MacFarlane. Miss Ruth is going to be at
home now right along and she will hear the story.”

“Well, I won’t, nurse, if you don’t want me to--but they won’t be able
to tell her what a fix we were in--I remember everything up to the time
Breen dragged me from under the dirt car. I knew right away what had
happened and what we had to do; I’ve been there before, but--”

“There,--that will do, Mr. MacFarlane,” interrupted the nurse. “Come,
Miss Ruth, suppose you go to your room for a while.”

The girl rose to her feet.

“You can come back as soon as I fix your father for the night.” She
pointed significantly to the patient’s head, whispering, “He must not
get excited.”

“Yes, dear daddy--I will come back just as soon as I can get the dust
out of my hair and get brushed up a little,” cried Ruth bravely, in the
effort to hide her anxiety, “and then Aunt Felicia is downstairs.”

Once outside she drew the nurse, who had followed her, to the window so
as to be out of hearing of the patient and then asked breathlessly:

“What did Mr. Breen do?”

“I don’t know exactly, but everybody is talking about him.”

At this moment Miss Felicia arrived at the top of the stairs: she had
heard Ruth’s question and had caught the dazed expression on the girl’s
face.

“I will tell you, my dear, what he did, for I have heard every word of
it from the servants. The blast went off before he and your father had
reached the opening of the tunnel. They left your father for dead, then
John Breen crawled back on his hands and knees through the dreadful
smoke until he reached him, lifted him up on his shoulders and carried
him out alive. That’s what he did; and he is a big, fine, strong, noble
fellow, and I am going to tell him so the moment I get my eyes on him.
And that is not all. He got out of bed this afternoon, though he could
hardly stand, and covered up all his bruises and his broken wrist so you
couldn’t see them, and then he limped down to the station so you would
get the truth about your father and not be frightened. And now he is in
a dead faint.”

Ruth’s eyes flamed and the color left her cheeks. She stretched out both
hands as if to keep from falling.

“Saved daddy!” she gasped--“Carried him out on--Oh! Aunt Felicia!--and I
have been so mean! To think he got up out of bed and--and--” Everything
swam before her eyes.

Miss Felicia sprang forward and caught her in her arms.

“Come!--none of this, Child. Pull yourself together right away. Get
her some water, nurse,--she has stood all she can. There now, dearie--”
 Ruth’s head was on her breast now. “There--there--Such a poor darling,
and so many things coming all at once. There, darling, put your head on
my shoulder and cry it all out.”

The girl sobbed on, the wrinkled hand patting her cheek.

“Oh, but you don’t know, aunty--” she crooned.

“Yes, but I do--you blessed child. I know it all.”

“And won’t somebody go and help him? He is all alone, he told me so.”

“Uncle Peter is with him, dearie.’”

“Yes,--but some one who can--” she straightened up--“I will go, aunty--I
will go now.”

“You will do nothing of the kind, you little goose; you will stay just
where you are.”

“Well, won’t you go, then? Oh, please--please--aunty.” Peter’s bald head
now rose above the edge of the banisters. Miss Felicia motioned him to
go back, but Ruth heard his step and raised her tear-drenched face half
hidden in her dishevelled hair.

“Oh, Uncle Peter, is Jack--is Mr. Breen--”

Miss Felicia’s warning face behind Ruth’s own, for once reached Peter in
time.

“In his bed and covered up, and his landlady, Mrs. Hicks, sitting beside
him,” responded Peter in his cheeriest tones.

“But he fainted from pain--and--”

“Yes, but that’s all over now, my dear,” broke in Miss Felicia.

“But you will go, anyhow--won’t you, aunty?” pleaded Ruth.

“Certainly--just as soon as I put you to bed, and that is just where you
have got to go this very minute,” and she led the overwrought trembling
girl into her room and shut the door.

Peter stood for an instant looking about him, his mind taking in the
situation. Ruth was being cared for now, and so was MacFarlane--the
white cap and apron of the noiseless nurse passing in and out of the
room in which he lay, assured him of that. Bolton, too, in the room next
to Jack’s, was being looked after by his sister who had just arrived.
He, too, was fairly comfortable, though a couple of his fingers had been
shortened. But there was nobody to look after Jack--no father, mother,
sister--nobody. To send for the boy’s uncle, or Corinne, or his aunt,
was out of the question, none of them having had more than a word with
him since his departure. Yet Jack needed attention. The doctor had just
pulled him out of one fainting spell only to have him collapse again
when his coat was taken off, and the bandages were loosened. He was
suffering greatly and was by no means out of danger.

If for the next hour or two there was anything to be done at
MacFarlane’s, Peter was ready to do it, but this accomplished, he would
shoulder his bag and camp out for the night beside the boy’s bed. He had
come, indeed, to tell Felicia so, and he meant to sleep there whatever
her protests. He was preparing himself for her objections, when she
reentered the room.

“How is young Breen?” Miss Felicia asked in a whisper, closing the door
behind her. She had put Ruth to bed, where she had again given way to an
uncontrollable fit of weeping.

“Pretty weak. The doctor is with him now.”

“What did the fool get up for?” She did not mean to surrender too
quickly about Jack despite his heroism--not to Peter, at any rate. Then,
again, she half suspected that Ruth’s tears were equally divided between
the rescuer and the rescued.

“He couldn’t help it, I suppose,” answered Peter, with a gleam in his
eyes--“he was born that way.”

“Born! What stuff, Peter--no man of any common-sense would have--”

“I quite agree with you, my dear--no man except a gentleman. There is
no telling what one of that kind might do under such circumstances.” And
with a wave of his hand and a twinkle in his merry scotch-terrier eyes,
the old fellow disappeared below the handrail.

Miss Felicia leaned over the banisters:

“Peter, PETER,” she called after him, “where are you going?”

“To stay all night with Jack.”

“Well, that’s the most sensible thing I have heard of yet. Will you take
him a message from me?”

Peter looked up: “Yes, Felicia, what is it?”

“Give him my love.”



CHAPTER XVI



Miss Felicia kept her promise to Ruth. Before that young woman, indeed,
tired out with anxiety, had opened her beautiful eyes the next morning
and pushed back her beautiful hair from her beautiful face--and it was
still beautiful, despite all the storms it had met and weathered, the
energetic, old lady had presented herself at the front door of Mrs.
Hicks’s Boarding Hotel (it was but a step from MacFarlane’s) and had
sent her name to the young man in the third floor back.

A stout person, with a head of adjustable hair held in place by a
band of black velvet skewered by a gold pin, the whole surmounted by a
flaring mob-cap of various hues and dyes, looked Miss Felicia all over
and replied in a dubious tone:

“He’s had a bad mash-up, and I don’t think--”

“I am quite aware of it, my dear madam, or I would not be here. Now,
please show me the way to Mr. Breen’s room--my brother was here last
night and--”

“Oh, the bald-headed gentleman?” exclaimed Mrs. Hicks. “Such a dear,
kind man; and it was as much as I could do to get him to bed and he a--”

But Miss Felicia was already inside the sitting-room, her critical eyes
noting its bare, forbidding furnishing and appointment--she had not
yet let down her skirts, the floor not being inviting. As each article
passed in review--the unsteady rocking-chairs upholstered in haircloth
and protected by stringy tidies, the disconsolate, almost bottomless
lounge, fly-specked brass clock and mantel ornaments, she could not
but recall the palatial entrance, drawing-room, and boudoir into which
Parkins had ushered her on that memorable afternoon when she had paid
a visit to Mrs. Arthur Breen--(her “last visit” the old lady would
say with a sly grimace at Holker, who had never forgiven “that pirate,
Breen,” for robbing Gilbert of his house).

“And this is what this idiot has got in exchange,” she said to herself
as she peered into the dining-room beyond, with its bespattered
table-cloth flanked by cheap china plates and ivory napkin rings--the
castors mounting guard at either end.

The entrance of the lady with the transferable hair cut short her
revery.

“Mr. Breen says come up, ma’am,” she said in a subdued voice. It was
astonishing how little time it took for Miss Felicia’s personality to
have its effect.

Up the uncarpeted stairs marched the great lady, down an equally bare
hall lined on either side by bedroom doors, some marked by unblacked
shoes others by tin trays holding fragments of late or early breakfasts,
the flaring cap obsequiously pointing the way until the two had reached
a door at the end of the corridor.

“Now I won’t bother you any more,” said Miss Felicia. “Thank you very
much. Are you in here Mr. Breen?” she called in a cheery voice as
she pushed open the door, and advanced to his bedside:--“Oh, you poor
fellow! Oh, I AM so sorry!”

The boy lay on a cot-bed pushed close to the wall. His face was like
chalk; his eyes deep set in his head; his scalp one criss-cross of
bandages, and his right hand and wrist a misshapen lump of cotton
wadding and splints.

“No, don’t move. Why, you did not look as bad as this yesterday,” she
added in sympathetic tones, patting his free hand with her own,
her glance wandering over the cramped little room with its meagre
appointments.

Jack smiled faintly and a light gleamed in his eyes. The memory of
yesterday evidently brought no regrets.

“I dared not look any other way,” he answered faintly; “I was so afraid
of alarming Miss Ruth.” Then after a pause in which the smile and
the gleam flickered over his pain-tortured face, he added in a more
determined voice: “I am glad I went, though the doctor was furious. He
says it was the worst thing I could have done--and thought I ought to
have had sense enough to--But don’t let’s talk any more about it, Miss
Felicia. It was so good of you to come. Mr. Grayson has just left. You’d
think he was a woman, he is so gentle and tender. But I’ll be around in
a day or two, and as soon as I can get on my feet and look less like a
scarecrow than I do, I am coming over to see you and Miss Ruth and--yes,
and UNCLE PETER--” Miss Felicia arched her eyebrows: “Oh, you needn’t
look!--that’s what I am going to call him after this; we settled all
that last night.”

A smile overspread Miss Felicia’s face. “Uncle Peter, is it? And I
suppose you will be calling me Aunt Felicia next?”

Jack turned his eyes: “That was just what I was trying to screw up my
courage to do. Please let me, won’t you?” Again Miss Felicia lifted her
eyebrows, but she did not say she would.

“And Ruth--what do you intend to call that young lady? Of course,
without her permission, as that seems to be the fashion.” And the old
lady’s eyes danced in restrained merriment.

The sufferer’s face became suddenly grave; for an instant he did not
answer, then he said slowly:

“But what can I call her except Miss Ruth?”

Miss Felicia laughed. Nothing was so delicious as a love affair which
she could see into. This boy’s heart was an open book. Besides, this
kind of talk would take his mind from his miseries.

“Oh, but I am not so sure of that,” she rejoined, in an encouraging
tone.

A light broke out in Jack’s eyes: “You mean that she WOULD let me call
her--call her Ruth?”

“I don’t mean anything of the kind, you foolish fellow. You have got to
ask her yourself; but there’s no telling what she would not do for you
now, she’s so grateful to you for saving her father’s life.”

“But I did not,” he exclaimed, an expression as of acute pain crossing
his brows. “I only helped him along. But she must not be grateful. I
don’t like the word. Gratitude hasn’t got anything to do with--” he did
not finish the sentence.

“But you DID save his life, and you know it, and I just love you for
it,” she insisted, ignoring his criticism as she again smoothed his
hand. “You did a fine, noble act, and I am proud of you and I came to
tell you so.” Then she added suddenly: “You received my message last
night, didn’t you? Now, don’t tell me that that good-for-nothing Peter
forgot it.”

“No, he gave it to me, and it was so kind of you.”

“Well, then I forgive him. And now,” here she made a little salaam with
both her hands--“now you have Ruth’s message.”

“I have what?” he asked in astonishment.

“Ruth’s message.” She still kept her face straight although her lips
quivered with merriment.

Jack tried to lift his head: “What is her message?” he asked with
expectant eyes--perhaps she had sent him a letter!

Miss Felicia tapped her bosom with her forefinger.

“ME!” she cried, “I am her message. She was so worried last night when
she found out how ill you were that I promised her to come and comfort
you; that is why it is ME. And now, don’t you think you ought to get
down on your knees and thank her? Why, you don’t seem a bit pleased!”

“And she sent you to me--because--because--she was GRATEFUL that I saved
her father’s life?” he asked in a bewildered tone.

“Of course--why shouldn’t she be; is there anything else you can give
her she would value as much as her father’s life, you conceited young
Jackanapes?”

She had the pin through the butterfly now and was watching it squirm;
not maliciously--she was never malicious. He would get over the prick,
she knew. It might help him in the end, really.

“No, I suppose not,” he replied simply, as he sank back on his pillow
and turned his bruised face toward the wall.

For some moments he lay in deep thought. The last half-hour in the arbor
under the palms came back to him; the tones of Ruth’s voice; the casual
way in which she returned his devouring glance. She didn’t love him;
never had loved him; wouldn’t ever love him. Anybody could carry
another fellow out on his back; was done every day by firemen and
life-savers,--everybody, in fact, who happened to be around when their
services were most needed. Grateful! Of course the rescued people and
their friends were grateful until they forgot all about it, as they were
sure to do the next day, or week, or month. Gratitude was not what he
wanted. It was love. That was the way he felt; that was the way he would
always feel. He who loved every hair on Ruth’s beautiful head, loved her
wonderful hands, loved her darling feet, loved the very ground on which
she walked “Gratitude!” eh! That was the word his uncle had used the
day he slammed the door of his private office in his face. “Common
gratitude, damn you, Jack, ought to put more sense in your head,” as
though one ought to have been “grateful” for a seat at a gambling
table and two rooms in a house supported by its profits. Garry had said
“gratitude,” too, and so had Corinne, and all the rest of them. Peter
had never talked gratitude; dear Peter, who had done more for him than
anybody in the world except his own father. Peter wanted his love if he
wanted anything, and that was what he was going to give him--big, broad,
all-absorbing LOVE. And he did love him. Even his wrinkled hands, so
soft and white, and his glistening head, and his dabs of gray whiskers,
and his sweet, firm, human mouth were precious to him. Peter--his
friend, his father, his comrade! Could he ever insult him by such a
mean, cowardly feeling as gratitude? And was the woman he loved as he
loved nothing else in life--was she--was Ruth going to belittle their
relations with the same substitute? It was a big pin, that which Miss
Felicia had impaled him on, and it is no wonder the poor fluttering
wings were nigh exhausted in the struggle!

Relief came at last.

“And now what shall I tell her?” asked Miss Felicia. “She worries more
over you than she does over her father; she can get hold of him any
minute, but you won’t be presentable for a week. Come, what shall I tell
her?”

Jack shifted his shoulders so that he could move the easier and with
less pain, and raised himself on his well elbow. There was no use of his
hoping any more; she had evidently sent Miss Felicia to end the matter
with one of her polite phrases,--a weapon which she, of all women, knew
so well how to use.

“Give Miss Ruth my kindest regards,” he said in a low voice, still husky
from the effects of the smoke and the strain of the last half-hour--“and
say how thankful I am for her gratitude, and--No,--don’t tell her
anything of the kind. I don’t know what you are to tell her.” The words
seemed to die in his throat.

“But she will ask me, and I have got to say something. Come,--out with
it.” Her eyes were still on his face; not a beat of his wings or a
squirm of his body had she missed.

“Well just say how glad I am she is at home again and that her father
is getting on so well, and tell her I will be up and around in a day
or two, and that I am not a bit worse off for going to the station
yesterday.”

“Anything else?”

“No,--unless you can think of something.”

“And if I do shall I add it?”

“Yes.”

“Oh,--then I know exactly what to do,--it will be something like this:
‘Please, Ruth, take care of your precious self, and don’t be worried
about me or anything else, and remember that every minute I am away from
you is misery, for I love you to distraction and--’”

“Oh, Miss Felicia!”

“No--none of your protests, sir!” she laughed. “That is just what I
am going to tell her. And now don’t you dare to move till Peter comes
back,” and with a toss of her aristocratic head the dear lady left the
room, closing the door behind her.

And so our poor butterfly was left flat against the wall--all his
flights ended. No more roaming over honeysuckles, drinking in the honey
of Ruth’s talk; no more soaring up into the blue, the sunshine of hope
dazzling his wings. It made no difference what Miss Felicia might say
to Ruth. It was what she had said to HIM which made him realize the
absurdity of all his hopes. Everything that he had longed for, worked
for, dreamed about, was over now--the long walks in the garden, her dear
hand in his, even the song of the choir boys, and the burst of joyous
music as they passed out of the church door only to enter their own for
life. All this was gone--never to return--never had existed, in fact,
except in his own wild imagination. And once more the disheartened boy
turned his tired pain-racked face toward the bare wall.

Miss Felicia tripped downstairs with an untroubled air, extended two
fingers to Mrs. Hicks, and without more ado passed out into the morning
air. No thought of the torment she had inflicted affected the dear
woman. What were pins made for except to curb the ambitious wings of
flighty young men who were soaring higher than was good for them. She
would let him know that Ruth was a prize not to be too easily won,
especially by penniless young gentlemen, however brave and heroic they
might be.

Hardly had she crossed the dreary village street encumbered with piles
of half-melted snow and mud, than she espied Peter picking his way
toward her, his silk hat brushed to a turn, his gray surtout buttoned
close, showing but the edge of his white silk muffler, his carefully
rolled umbrella serving as a divining rod the better to detect the
water holes. No one who met him and looked into his fresh, rosy face,
or caught the merry twinkle of his eyes, would ever have supposed he had
been pouring liniment over broken arms and bandaged fingers until
two o’clock in the morning of the night before. It had only been when
Bolton’s sister had discovered an empty “cell,” as Jack called the
bedroom next to his, that he had abandoned his intention of camping out
on Jack’s disheartened lounge, and had retired like a gentleman carrying
with him all his toilet articles, ready to be set out in the morning.

Long before that time he had captured everybody in the place: from Mrs.
Hicks, who never dreamed that such a well of tenderness over suffering
could exist in an old fellow’s heart, down to the freckled-faced boy who
came for his muddy shoes and who, after a moment’s talk with Peter as to
how they should be polished, retired later in the firm belief that they
belonged to “a gent way up in G,” as he expressed it, he never having
waited on “the likes of him before.” As to Bolton, he thought he was
the “best ever,” and as to his prim, patient sister who had closed her
school to be near her brother--she declared to Mrs. Hicks five minutes
after she had laid her eyes on him, that Mr. Breen’s uncle was “just too
dear for anything,”--to which the lady with the movable hair and mob-cap
not only agreed, but added the remark of her own, “that folks like him
was a sight better than the kind she was a-gettin’.”

All these happenings of the night and early hours of this bright,
beautiful morning--and it was bright and sunny overhead despite the old
fellow’s precautionary umbrella--had helped turn out the spick and span
gentleman who was now making his way carefully over the unpaved road
which stood for Corklesville’s principal street.

Miss Felicia saw him first.

“Oh! there you are!” she cried before he could raise his eyes. “Did you
ever see anything so disgraceful as this crossing--not a plank--nothing.
No--get out of my way, Peter; you will just upset me, and I would rather
help myself.”

In reply Peter, promptly ignoring her protest, stepped in front of her,
poked into several fraudulent solidities covering unfathomable depths,
found one hard enough to bear the weight of Miss Felicia’s dainty
shoe--it was about as long as a baby’s hand--and holding out his own
said, in his most courtly manner:

“Be very careful now, my dear: put your foot on mine; so! now give me
your hand and jump. There--that’s it.” To see Peter help a lady across
a muddy street, Holker Morris always said, was a lesson in all the finer
virtues. Sir Walter was a bungler beside him. But then Miss Felicia
could also have passed muster as the gay gallant’s companion.

And just here the Scribe remarks, parenthetically, that there is nothing
that shows a woman’s refinement more clearly than the way she crosses a
street.

Miss Felicia, for instance, would no more have soiled the toes of her
shoes in a puddle than a milk-white pussy would have dampened its feet
in the splash of an overturned bowl: a calm survey up and down; a taking
in of the dry and wet spots; a careful gathering up of her skirts,
and over skimmed the slender, willowy old lady with a one--two--and
three--followed by a stamp of her absurd feet and the shaking out of
ruffle and pleat. When a woman strides through mud without a shiver
because she has plenty of dry shoes and good ones at home, there are
other parts of her make-up, inside and out, that may want a looking
after.

Miss Felicia safely landed on the dry and comparatively clean sidewalk,
Peter put the question he had been framing in his mind since he first
caught sight of that lady picking her way among the puddles.

“Well, how is he now?”

“His head, or his heart?” she asked with a knowing smile, dropping her
still spotless skirts. “Both are broken; the last into smithereens. It
is hopeless. He will never be any better. Oh, Peter, what a mess you
have made of things!”

“What have I done?” he laughed.

“Got these two people dead in love with each other,--both of them--Ruth
is just as bad--and no more chance of their ever being married than you
or I. Perfectly silly, Peter, and I have always told you so--and now you
will have to take the consequences.”

“Beautiful--beautiful!” chuckled Peter; “everything is coming my way. I
was sure of Jack, for he told me so, but Ruth puzzled me. Did she tell
you she loved him?”

“No, stupid, of course she did not. But have I not a pair of eyes in my
head? What do you suppose I got up for this morning at such an unearthly
hour and went over to--Oh, such an awful place!--to see that idiot? Just
to tell him I was sorry? Not a bit of it! I went to find out what was
going on, and now I know; and what is to become of it all nobody can
tell. Here is her father with every penny he has in the world in this
work--so Holker tells me--and here are a lot of damages for dead men and
Heaven knows what else; and there is Jack Breen with not a penny to his
name except his month’s wages; and here is Ruth who can marry anybody
she chooses, bewitched by that boy--and I grant you she has every reason
for he is as brave as he can be, and what is better he is a gentleman.
And there lies Henry MacFarlane blind as a bat as to what is going on!
Oh!--really, Peter, there cannot be anything more absurd.”

During the outbreak Peter stood leaning on his umbrella, a smile playing
over his smooth-shaven face, his eyes snapping as if at some inwardly
suppressed fun. These were the kind of outbursts Peter loved. It was
only when Felicia was about to come over to your way of thinking that
she talked like this. It was her way of hearing the other side.

“Dreadful!--dreadful!” sighed Peter, looking the picture of woe. “Love
in a garret--everybody in rags,--one meal a day--awful situation!
Something’s got to be done at once. I’ll begin by taking up a collection
this very day. In the meantime, Felicia, I’ll just keep on to Jack’s and
see how his arm’s getting on and his head. As to his heart,--I’ll talk
to Ruth and see--”

“Are you crazy, Peter? You will do nothing of the kind. If you do, I
will--”

But Peter, his hat in the air, was now out of hearing. When he reached
the mud line he turned, drew his umbrella as if from an imaginary
scabbard, made a military salute, and, with a suppressed gurgle in his
throat, kept on to Jack’s room.

Somehow the sunshine had crept into the old fellow’s veins this morning.
None of Miss Felicia’s pins for him!

Ruth, from her place by the sitting-room window, had seen the two
talking and had opened the front door, before Miss Felicia’s hand
touched the bell. She had already subjected Peter to a running fire
of questions while he was taking his coffee and thus had the latest
intelligence down to the moment when Peter turned low Jack’s light and
had tucked him in. He was asleep when Peter had peered into his cramped
room early this morning, and the bulletin therefore could go no further.

“And how is he, aunty?” Ruth asked in a breathless tone before the front
door could be closed.

“Getting on splendidly, my dear. Slept pretty well. It is a dreadful
place for any one to be in, but I suppose he is accustomed to it by this
time.”

“And is he no worse for coming to meet us, Aunt Felicia?” Ruth asked,
her voice betraying her anxiety. She had relieved the old lady of her
cloak now, and had passed one arm around her slender waist.

“No, he doesn’t seem to be, dearie. Tired, of course--and it may keep
him in bed a day or two longer, but it won’t make any difference in his
getting well. He will be out in a week or so.”

Ruth paused for a moment and then asked in a hesitating way, all her
sympathy in her eyes:

“And I don’t suppose there is anybody to look after him, is there?”

“Oh, yes, plenty: Mrs. Hicks seems a kind, motherly person, and then Mr.
Bolton’s sister runs in and out.” It was marvellous how little interest
the dear woman took in the condition of the patient. Again the girl
paused. She was sorry now she had not braved everything and gone with
her.

“And did he send me any message, aunty?” This came quite as a matter of
form--merely to learn all the details.

“Oh, yes,--I forgot: he told me to tell you how glad he was to hear your
father was getting well,” replied Miss Felicia searching the mantel for
a book she had placed there.

Ruth bit her lips and a certain dull feeling crept about her heart.
Jack, with his broken arm and bruised head rose before her. Then another
figure supplanted it.

“And what sort of a girl is that Miss Bolton?” There was no
curiosity--merely for information. “Uncle Peter was so full of her
brother and how badly he had been hurt he hardly mentioned her name”

“I did not see her very well; she was just coming out of her brother’s
room, and the hall was dark. Oh, here’s my book--I knew I had left it
here.”

“Pretty?” continued Ruth, in a slightly anxious tone.

“No,--I should say not,” replied the old lady, moving to the door.

“Then you don’t think there is anything I can do?” Ruth called after
her.

“Not now.”

Ruth picked up Miss Felicia’s wrap from the chair where that lady had
thrown it, mounted the stairs, peered from between the pots of geraniums
screening a view of the street with the Hicks Hotel dominating one
corner, wondered which window along the desolate front gave Jack light
and air, and with whispered instructions to the nurse to be sure and let
her know when her father awoke, shut herself in her room.

As for the horrible old ogre who had made all the trouble, nipping off
buds, skewering butterflies and otherwise disporting herself after the
manner of busybodies who are eternally and forever poking their thin,
pointed noses into what doesn’t concern them, no hot, scalding tears,
the Scribe regrets to say, dimmed her knowing eyes, nor did any unbidden
sigh leap from her old heart. Foolish young people ought to thank her
really for what she had done--what she would still try to do--and they
would when they were a year older.

Poor, meddling Miss Felicia! Have you forgotten that night thirty years
ago when you stood in a darkened room facing a straight, soldierly
looking man, and listened to the slow dropping of words that scalded
your heart like molten metal? Have you forgotten, too, the look on
his handsome face when he uttered his protest at the persistent
intermeddling of another, and the square of his broad shoulders as he
disappeared through the open door never to return again?



CHAPTER XVII



Some of the sunshine that had helped dry the muddy road, making possible
the path between Jack’s abode and MacFarlane’s hired villa--where there
was only room for Miss Felicia, Peter still occupying his cell at Mrs.
Hicks’s, but taking his meals with Ruth, so that he could be within call
of MacFarlane when needed--some of this same sunshine, I say, may have
been responsible for the temporary drying up of Ruth’s tears and the
establishing of various ways of communication between two hearts that
had for some days been floundering in the deeps. Or, perhaps, the
rebound may have been due to the fact that Peter had whispered something
in Jack’s ear, or that Ruth had overheard Miss Felicia praising Jack’s
heroism to her father--it was common talk everywhere--or it may
have been that the coming of spring which always brings hope and
cheer--making old into new, may have led to the general lighting up
of the gloom that had settled over the house of MacFarlane and its
dependents; but certain it is that such was the case.

MacFarlane began by taking a sudden change for the better--so decided
a change that he was out of his room and dressed on the fifth day
(although half his coat hid his broken arm, tightly bandaged to his
side). He had even talked as far as the geraniums in the window, through
which he could not only see Jack’s hotel, but the big “earth fill” and
mouth of The Beast beyond.

Then Bolton surprised everybody by appearing outdoors, his hand alone in
a sling. What was left of the poor shanty men, too, had been buried,
the dreadful newspaper articles had ceased, and work was again in full
blast.

Jack, to be sure, was still in his room, having swallowed more gas and
smoke than the others, badly scorching his insides, as he had panted
under the weight of MacFarlane’s body. The crisis, however, brought on
by his imprudence in meeting Ruth at the station, had passed, and even
he was expected to be out in a few days.

As for Miss Felicia, although she had blown hot and blown cold on Ruth’s
heart, until that delicate instrument stood at zero one day and at fever
heat the next, she had, on the whole, kept up an equable temperature,
and meant to do so until she shook the dust of Corklesville from her
dainty feet and went back to the clean, moist bricks of her garden.

And as for Peter! Had he not been a continuous joy; cheering everybody;
telling MacFarlane funny stories until that harassed invalid laughed
himself, unconscious of the pain to his arm; bringing roses for the
prim, wizened-up Miss Bolton, that she might have a glimpse of something
fresh and alive while she sat by her brother’s bed. And last, and by
no means least, had he not the morning he had left for New York, his
holiday being over, taken Ruth in his arms and putting his lips close
to her ear, whispered something into its pink shell that had started
northern lights dancing all over her cheeks and away up to the roots of
her hair; and had she not given him a good hug and kissed him in return,
a thing she had never done in her whole life before? And had he not
stopped on his way to the station for a last hand-shake with Jack and
to congratulate him for the hundredth time for his plucky rescue of
MacFarlane--a subject he never ceased to talk about--and had he not at
the very last moment, told Jack every word of what he and Ruth talked
about, with all the details elaborated, even to the hug, which was no
sooner told than another set of northern lights got into action at once,
and another hug followed; only this time it took the form of a hearty
hand-shake and a pat on Peter’s back, followed by a big tear which the
boy tried his best to conceal? Peter had no theories detrimental to
penniless young gentlemen, pursued by intermeddling old ladies.

And yet with all this there was one corner deep down in Ruth’s heart so
overgrown with “wonderings” and “whys,” so thick with tangled doubts
and misgivings, that no cheering ray of certainty had yet been able
to pierce it. Nor had any one tried. Miss Felicia, good as she was and
loving as she had been, had done nothing in the pruning way--that is,
nothing which would let in any sunshine radiating from Jack. She had
talked about him, it is true; not to her, we may be sure, but to her
father, saying how handsome he had grown and what a fine man he was
making of himself. She had, too, more than once commented--and this
before everybody--on his good manners and his breeding, especially on
the way he had received her the first morning she called, and to
his never apologizing for his miserable surroundings, meagre as they
were--just a theodolite, his father’s portrait and half a dozen books
alone being visible, the white walls covered with working plans.
But when the poor girl had tried to draw from her some word that was
personal to himself, or one that might become personal--and she did
try even to the verge of betraying herself, which would never have
done--Miss Felicia had always turned the subject at once or had pleaded
forgetfulness. Not a word could she drag out of this very perverse and
determined old lady concerning the state of the patient, nothing except
that he was “better,” or “doing nicely,” or that the bandage was being
shortened, or some other commonplace. Uncle Peter had been kinder. He
understood--she saw that in his eyes. Still even Uncle Peter had not
told her all that she wanted to know, and of course she could not ask
him.

Soon a certain vague antagonism began to assert itself toward the old
lady who knew so much and yet who said so little! who was too old really
to understand--no old person, in fact, could understand--that is, no old
woman. This proved, too, that this particular person could never have
loved any other particular person in her life. Not that she, Ruth, loved
Jack--by no manner of means--not in that way, at least. But she would
have liked to know what he said, and how he said it, and whether his
eyes had lost that terrible look which they wore when he turned away
at the station to go back to his sick bed in the dingy hotel. All these
things her Aunt Felicia knew about and yet she could not drag a word out
of her.

What she ought to have done was to go herself that first night, bravely,
honestly, fearlessly as any friend had a right to do; go to him in his
miserable little hotel and try to cheer him up as Miss Felicia, and
perhaps Miss Bolton, had done. Then she might have found out all about
it. Exactly what it was that she wanted to find out all about--and this
increased her perplexity--she could not formulate, although she was
convinced it would help her to bear the anxiety she was suffering. Now
it was too late; more than a week had passed, and no excuse for going
was possible.

It was not until the morning after Peter’s departure,--she, sitting
alone, sad and silent in her chair at the head of her father’s breakfast
table (Miss Felicia, as was her custom, had her coffee in her room),
that the first ray of light had crept into her troubled brain. It had
only shone a brief moment,--and had then gone out in darkness, but it
held a certain promise for better days, and on this she had built her
hopes.

“I am going to send for Breen to-morrow, Ruth,” her father had said as
he kissed her good-night. “There are some things I want to talk over
with him, and then I want to thank him for what he did for me. He’s
a man, every inch of him; I haven’t told him so yet,--not to his
face,--but I will to-morrow. Fine fellow is Breen; blood will always
tell in the end, my daughter, and he’s got the best in the country in
his veins. Looks more like his father every day he lives.”

She had hardly slept all night, thinking of the pleasure in store
for her. She had dressed herself, too, in her most becoming breakfast
gown--one she had worn when Jack first arrived at Corklesville, and
which he said reminded him of a picture he had seen as a boy. There
were pink rosebuds woven in its soft texture, and the wide peach-blossom
ribbon that bound her dainty waist contrasted so delightfully, as he had
timidly hinted, with the tones of her hair and cheeks.

It was the puffy, bespectacled little doctor who shut out the light.

“No, your father has still one degree of fever,” he grumbled, with a
wise shake of his bushy head. “No--nobody, Miss MacFarlane,--do you
understand? He can see NOBODY--or I won’t be responsible,” and with this
the crabbed old fellow climbed into his gig and drove away.

She looked after him for a moment and two hot tears dropped from her
eyes and dashed themselves to pieces on the peach-blossom ribbon.

But the sky was clearing again--she didn’t realize it,--but it was.
April skies always make alternate lights and darks. The old curmudgeon
had gone, but the garden gate was again a-swing.

Ruth heard the tread on the porch and drawing back the curtains looked
out. The most brilliant sunbeams were but dull rays compared with what
now flashed from her eyes. Nor did she wait for any other hand than her
own to turn the knob of the door.

“Why, Mr. Breen!”

“Yes, Miss Ruth,” Jack answered, lifting his hat, an unrestrained
gladness at the sight of her beauty and freshness illumining his face.
“I have come to report for duty to your father.”

“But you cannot see him. You must report to me,” she laughed gayly, her
heart brimming over now that he was before her again. “Father was going
to send for you to-day, but the doctor would not let him. Hush! he
musn’t hear us.”

“He would not let me go out either, but as I am tired to death of being
cooped up in my room, I broke jail. Can’t I see him?” he continued in
a lower key. He had his coat off and had hung it on the rack, she
following him into the sitting-room, absorbing every inch of his strong,
well-knit body from his short-cropped hair where the bandages had been
wound, down to the sprained wrist which was still in splints. She noted,
too, with a little choke in her throat, the shadows under the cheek
bones and the thinness of the nose. She could see plainly how he had
suffered.

“I am sorry you cannot see father.” She was too moved to say more. “He
still has one degree of fever.”

“I have two degrees myself,” Jack laughed softly,--“one records how
anxious I was to get out of my cell and the other how eager I was to get
here. And now I suppose I can’t stay.”

“Oh, yes, you can stay if you will keep as still as a mouse so father
can’t hear you,” she whispered, a note of joy woven in her tones.

She was leading him to the sofa as she spoke. He placed a cushion for
her, and took his place beside her, resting his injured hand, which was
in a sling, on the arm. He was still weak and shaking.

“Daddy is still in his room,” she rattled on nervously, “but he may be
out and prowling about the upstairs hall any minute. He has a heap of
things to talk over with you--he told me so last night--and if he knew
you were here nothing would stop him. Wait till I shut the door. And now
tell me about yourself,” she continued in a louder voice, regaining her
seat. “You have had a dreadful time, I hear--it was the wrist, wasn’t
it?” She felt she was beginning badly; although conscious of her nervous
joy and her desire to conceal it, somehow it seemed hard for her to say
the right thing.

“Oh, I reckon it was everything, Miss Ruth, but it’s all over now.” He
was not nervous. He was in an ecstasy. His eyes were drinking in the
round of her throat and the waves of glorious hair that crowned her
lovely head. He noticed, too, some tiny threads that lay close to her
ears: he had been so hungry for a glimpse of them!

“Oh, I hope so, but you shouldn’t have come to the station that day,”
 she struggled on. “We had Uncle Peter with us, and only a hand-bag, each
of us,--we came away so suddenly.”

“I didn’t want you to be frightened about your father. I didn’t know
that Uncle Peter was with you; in fact, I didn’t know much of anything
until it was all over. Bolton sent the telegram as soon as he got his
breath.”

“That’s what frightened us. Why didn’t YOU send it?” she was gaining
control of herself now and something of her old poise had returned.

“I hadn’t got MY breath,--not all of it. I remember his coming into my
room where they were tying me up and bawling out something about how
to reach you by wire, and he says now that I gave him Mr. Grayson’s
address. I cannot remember that part of it, except that I--Well, never
mind about that--” he hesitated turning away his gaze--the memory seemed
to bring with it a certain pain.

“Yes,--tell me,” she pleaded. She was too happy. This was what she had
been waiting for. There was no detail he must omit.

“It was nothing, only I kept thinking it was you who were hurt,” he
stammered.

“Me!” she cried, her eyes dancing. The ray of light was breaking--one
with a promise in it for the future!

“Yes,--you, Miss Ruth! Funny, isn’t it, how when you are half dead you
get things mixed up.” Oh, the stupidity of these lovers! Not a thing
had he seen of the flash of expectation in her eyes or of the hot color
rising to her cheeks. “I thought somebody was trying to tell your father
that you were hurt, and I was fighting to keep him from hearing it. But
you must thank Bolton for letting you know.”

Ruth’s face clouded and the sparkle died out in her eyes. What was Mr.
Bolton to her, and at a time like this?

“It was most kind of Mr. Bolton,” she answered in a constrained voice.
“I only wish he had said something more; we had a terrible day. Uncle
Peter was nearly crazy about you; he telegraphed and telegraphed, but we
could get no answer. That’s why it was such a relief to find you at the
station.”

But the bat had not finished banging his head against the wall. “Then I
did do some good by going?” he asked earnestly.

“Oh, indeed you did.” If he did not care whether she had been hurt or
not, even in his delirium, she was not going to betray herself. “It was
the first time anybody had seen Uncle Peter smile; he was wretched all
day. He loves you very dearly, Mr. Breen.”

Jack’s hand dropped so suddenly to his side that the pain made him
tighten his lips. For a moment he did not answer.

“Then it was only Uncle Peter who was anxious, was it? I am glad he
loves me. I love him, too,” he said at last in a perfunctory tone--“he’s
been everything to me.”

“And you have been everything to him.” She determined to change the
subject now. “He told me only--well,--two days ago--that you had made him
ten years younger.”

“Me?--Miss Ruth!” Still the same monotonous cadence.

“Yes.”

“How?”

“Well,--maybe because he is old and you are young.” As she spoke her
eyes measured the width of his shoulders and his broad chest--she saw
now to what her father owed his life--“and another thing; he said that
he would always thank you for getting out alive. And I owe you a debt of
gratitude, too, Mr. Breen;--you gave me back my dear daddy,” she added
in a more assured tone. Here at last was something she could talk
unreservedly about. Something that she had wanted to say ever since he
came.

Jack straightened and threw back his shoulders: that word again! Was
that all that Ruth had to say?

“No, Miss Ruth, you don’t.” There was a slight ring of defiance
now. “You do not owe me anything, and please don’t think so, and
please--please--do not say so!”

“I don’t owe you anything! Not for saving my father’s life?” This came
with genuine surprise.

“No! What would you have thought of me, what would I have thought
of myself had I left him to suffocate when I could just as well have
brought him out? Do you think I could ever have looked you in the face
again? You might not have ever known I could have saved him--but I
should have hated myself every hour of my life. Men are not to be
thanked for these things; they are to be despised if they don’t do them.
Can’t you see the difference?”

“But you might have been killed, too!” she exclaimed. Her own voice was
rising, irritation and disappointment swaying it. “Everybody says it was
a miracle you were not.”

“Not a miracle at all. All I was afraid of was stumbling over something
in the dark--and it was nearly dark--only a few of the rock lights
burning--and not be able to get on my feet again. But don’t let us talk
about it any more.”

“Yes--but I will, I MUST. I must feel right about it all, and I cannot
unless you listen. I shall never forget you for it as long as I live.”
 There was a note of pathos in her voice. Why did he make it so hard for
her, she thought. Why would he not look in her face and see? Why would
he not let her thank him? “Nothing in the world is so precious to me
as daddy, and never will be,” she went on resolutely, driving back the
feeling of injustice that surged up in her heart at his attitude--“and
it is you, Mr. Breen, who have given him back to me. And daddy feels
the same way about it; and he is going to tell you so the minute he sees
you,” she insisted. “He has sent you a lot of messages, he says, but
they do not count. Please, now won’t you let me thank you?”

Jack raised his head. He had been fingering a tassel on the end of the
sofa, missing all the play of feeling in her eyes, taking in nothing but
the changes that she rang on that one word “gratitude.” Gratitude!--when
he loved the ground she stepped on. But he must face the issue fairly
now:

“No,--I don’t want you to thank me,” he answered simply.

“Well, what do you want, then?” She was at sea now,--compass and rudder
gone,--wind blowing from every quarter at once,--she trying to reach the
harbor of his heart while every tack was taking her farther from port.
If the Scribe had his way the whole coast of love would be lighted and
all rocks of doubt and misunderstanding charted for just such hapless
lovers as these two. How often a twist of the tiller could send them
into the haven of each other’s arms, and yet how often they go ashore
and stay ashore and worse still, stay ashore all their lives.

Jack looked into her eyes and a hopeless, tired expression crossed his
face.

“I don’t know,” he said in a barely audible voice:--“I just--please,
Miss Ruth, let us talk of something else; let me tell you how lovely
your gown is and how glad I am you wore it to-day. I always liked it,
and--”

“No,--never mind about my gown; I would rather you did not like
anything about me than misunderstand me!” The tears were just under the
lids;--one more thrust like the last and they would be streaming down
her cheeks.

“But I haven’t misunderstood you.” He saw the lips quiver, but it was
anger, he thought, that caused it.

“Yes, you have!”--a great lump had risen in her throat. “You have done a
brave, noble act,--everybody says so; you carried my dear father out on
your back when there was not but one chance in a thousand you would ever
get out alive; you lay in a faint for hours and once they gave you up
for dead; then you thought enough of Uncle Peter and all of us to get
that telegram sent so we wouldn’t be terrified to death and then at the
risk of your life you met us at the station and have been in bed ever
since, and yet I am to sit still and not say a word!” It was all she
could do to control herself. “I do feel grateful to you and I always
shall feel grateful to you as long as I live. And now will you take my
hand and tell me you are sorry, and let me say it all over again, and
with my whole heart? for that’s the way I mean it.”

She was facing him now, her hand held out, her head thrown back, her
dark eyes flashing, her bosom heaving. Slowly and reverently, as a
devotee would kiss the robe of a passing priest, Jack bent his head and
touched her fingers with his lips.

Then, raising his eyes to hers, he asked, “And is that all, Miss
Ruth? Isn’t there something more?” Not once had she mentioned his
own safety--not once had she been glad over him--“Something more?” he
repeated, an ineffable tenderness in his tones--“something--it isn’t
all, is it?”

“Why, how can I say anything more?” she murmured in a lowered voice,
withdrawing her hand as the sound of a step in the hall reached her ear.

The door swung wide: “Well, what are you two young people quarrelling
about?” came a soft, purring voice.

“We weren’t quarrelling, Aunty. Mr. Breen is so modest he doesn’t want
anybody to thank him, and I just would.”

Miss Felicia felt that she had entered just in time. Scarred and
penniless heroes fresh from battle-fields of glory and desirable young
women whose fathers have been carried bodily out of burning death pits
must never be left too long together.



CHAPTER XVIII



As the weeks rolled by, two questions constantly rose in Ruth’s mind:
Why had he not wanted her to thank him?--and what had he meant by--“And
is that all?”

Her other admirers--and there had been many in her Maryland home--had
never behaved like this. Was it because they liked her better than
she liked them? The fact was--and she might as well admit it once for
all--that Jack did not like her at all, he really DISliked her, and only
his loyalty to her father and that inborn courtesy which made him polite
to every woman he met--young or old--prevented his betraying himself.
She tried to suggest something like this to Miss Felicia, but that good
woman had only said: “Men are queer, my dear, and these Southerners are
the queerest of them all. They are so chivalrous that at times they get
tiresome. Breen is no better than the rest of them.” This had ended it
with Miss Felicia. Nor would she ever mention his name to her again.
Jack was not tiresome; on the contrary, he was the soul of honor and
as brave as he could be--a conclusion quite as illogical as that of her
would-be adviser.

If she could only have seen Peter, the poor child thought,--Peter
understood--just as some women not as old as her aunt would have
understood. Dear Uncle Peter! He had told her once what Jack had said
about her--how beautiful he thought her and how he loved her devotion to
her father. Jack MUST have said it, for Uncle Peter never spoke anything
but the exact truth. Then why had Jack, and everything else, changed
so cruelly? she would say--talking to herself, sometimes aloud. For the
ring had gone from his voice and the tenderness from his touch. Not that
he ever was tender, not that she wanted him to be, for that matter; and
then she would shut her door and throw herself on her bed in an agony of
tears--pleading a headache or fatigue that she might escape her father’s
inquiry, and often his anxious glance.

The only ray of light that had pierced her troubled heart--and this only
flashed for a brief moment--was the glimpse she had had of Jack’s mind
when he and her father first met. The boy had called to inquire after
his Chief’s health and for any instructions he might wish to give, when
MacFarlane, hearing the young hero’s voice in the hall below, hurried
down to greet him. Ruth was leaning over the banister at the time and
saw all that passed. Once within reach MacFarlane strode up to Jack, and
with the look on his face of a man who had at last found the son he had
been hunting for all his life, laid his hand on the lad’s shoulder.

“I think we understand each other, Breen,--don’t we?” he said simply,
his voice breaking.

“I think so, sir,” answered Jack, his own eyes aglow, as their hands
met.

Nothing else had followed. There was no outburst. Both were men; in the
broadest and strongest sense each had weighed the other. The eyes and
the quivering lips and the lingering hand-clasp told the rest. A sudden
light broke in on Ruth. Her father’s quiet words, and his rescuer’s
direct answer came as a revelation. Jack, then, did want to be thanked!
Yes, but not by her! Why was it? Why had he not understood? And why had
he made her suffer, and what had she done to deserve it?

If Jack suspected any of these heartaches and misgivings, no one would
have surmised it. He came and went as usual, passing an hour in the
morning and an hour at night with his Chief, until he had entirely
recovered his strength--bringing with him the records of the work; the
number of feet drilled in a day; cost of maintenance; cubic contents of
dump; extent and slope and angles of “fill”--all the matters which since
his promotion (Jack now had Bolton’s place) came under his immediate
supervision. Nor had any word passed between himself and Ruth, other
than the merest commonplace. He was cheery, buoyant, always ready to
help,--always at her service if she took the train for New York or
stayed after dark at a neighbor’s house, when he would insist on
bringing her home, no matter how late he had been up the night before.

If the truth were known, he neither suspected nor could he be made to
believe that Ruth had any troubles. The facts were that he had given her
all his heart and had been ready to lay himself at her feet, that being
the accepted term in his mental vocabulary--and she would have none of
him. She had let him understand so--rebuffed him--not once, but every
time he had tried to broach the subject of his devotion;--once in the
Geneseo arbor, and again on that morning when he had really crawled to
her side because he could no longer live without seeing her. The manly
thing to do now was to accept the situation: to do his work; look after
his employer’s interests, read, study, run over whenever he could to see
Peter--and these were never-to-be-forgotten oases in the desert of his
despair--and above all never to forget that he owed a duty to Miss Ruth
in which no personal wish of his own could ever find a place. She was
alone and without an escort except her father, who was often so absorbed
in his work, or so tired at night, as to be of little help to her.
Moreover, his Chief had, in a way, added his daughter’s care to his
other duties. “Can’t you take Ruth to-night--” or “I wish you’d meet
her at the ferry,” or “if you are going to that dinner in New York, at
so-and-so’s, would you mind calling for her--” etc., etc. Don’t start,
dear reader. These two came of a breed where the night key and the
daughter go together and where a chaperon would be as useless as a
policeman locked inside a bank vault.

And so the boy struggled on, growing in bodily strength and mental
experience, still the hero among the men for his heroic rescue of the
“Boss”--a reputation which he never lost; making friends every day both
in the village and in New York and keeping them; absorbed in his slender
library, and living within his means, which small as they were, now
gave him two rooms at Mrs. Hicks’s,--one of which he had fitted up as a
little sitting-room and in which Ruth had poured the first cup of tea,
her father and some of the village people being guests.

His one secret--and it was his only one--he kept locked up in his heart,
even from Peter. Why worry the dear old fellow, he had said to himself a
dozen times, since nothing would ever come of it.

While all this had been going on in the house of MacFarlane, much more
astonishing things had been developing in the house of Breen.

The second Mukton Lode scoop,--the one so deftly handled the night of
Arthur Breen’s dinner to the directors,--had somehow struck a snag
in the scooping with the result that most of the “scoopings” had been
spilled over the edge there to be gathered up by the gamins of the
Street, instead of being hived in the strong boxes of the scoopers. Some
of the habitues in the orchestra chairs in Breen’s office had cursed
loud and deep when they saw their margins melt away; and one or two of
the directors had broken out into open revolt, charging Breen with the
fiasco, but most of the others had held their peace. It was better to
crawl away into the tall grass there to nurse their wounds than to
give the enemy a list of the killed and wounded. Now and then an
outsider--one who had watched the battle from afar--saw more of the
fight than the contestants themselves. Among these was Garry Minott.

“You heard how Mason, the Chicago man, euchred the Mukton gang, didn’t
you?” he had shouted to a friend one night at the Magnolia--“Oh, listen!
boys. They set up a job on him,--he’s a countryman, you know a poor
little countryman--from a small village called Chicago--he’s got three
millions, remember, all in hard cash. Nice, quiet motherly old gentleman
is Mr. Mason--butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Went into Mukton with
every dollar he had--so kind of Mr. Breen to let him in--yes, put him
down for 2,000 shares more. Then Breen & Co. began to hoist her up--five
points--ten points--twenty points. At the end of the week they had,
without knowing it, bought every share of Mason’s stock.” Here Garry
roared, as did the others within hearing. “And they’ve got it yet. Next
day the bottom dropped out. Some of them heard Mason laugh all the way
to the bank. He’s cleaned up half a million and gone back home--‘so
afraid his mother would spank him for being out late o’ nights without
his nurse,’” and again Garry’s laugh rang out with such force and
earnestness that the glasses on Biffy’s table chinked in response.

This financial set-back, while it had injured, for the time, Arthur
Breen’s reputation for being “up and dressed,” had not, to any
appreciable extent, curtailed his expenditures or narrowed the area of
his social domain. Mrs. Breen’s dinners and entertainments had been as
frequent and as exclusive, and Miss Corinne had continued to run the
gamut of the gayest and best patronized functions without, the Scribe
is pained to admit, bringing home with her for good and all both her
cotillion favors and the gentleman who had bestowed them. Her little
wren-like head had moved from side to side, and she had sung her
sweetest and prettiest, but somehow, when the song was over and the
crumbs all eaten (and there were often two dinners a week and at least
one dance), off went the male birds to other and more captivating
roosts.

Mrs. Breen, of course, raved when Corinne at last opened the door of her
cage for Garry,--went to bed, in fact, for the day, to accentuate her
despair and mark her near approach to death because of it--a piece of
inconsistency she could well have spared herself, knowing Corinne as she
had, from the day of her birth, and remembering as she must have done,
her own escapade with the almost penniless young army officer who
afterward became Corinne’s father.

Breen did not rave; Breen rather liked it. Garry had no money, it is
true, except what he could earn,--neither had Corinne. Garry seemed to
do as he darned pleased,--so did Corinne;--Garry had no mother,--neither
had Corinne so far as yielding to any authority was concerned.
“Yes,--let ‘em marry,--good thing--begin at the bottom round and work
up--” all of which meant that the honorable banker was delighted over
the prospect of considerable more freedom for himself and considerable
less expense in the household.

And so the wedding had taken place with all the necessary trimmings:
awning over the carpeted sidewalk; four policemen on the curb;
detectives in the hall and up the staircase and in the front bedroom
where the jewels were exposed (all the directors of the Mukton Lode
were represented); crowds lining the sidewalk; mob outside the church
door--mob inside the church door and clear up to the altar; flowers,
palms, special choir, with little bank-notes to the boys and a big
bank-note to the leader; checks for the ranking clergyman and the two
assistant clergymen, not forgetting crisp bills for the sexton and the
janitor and the policemen and the detectives and everybody else who
could hold out a hand and not be locked up in jail for highway robbery.
Yes, a most fashionable and a most distinguished and a most exclusive
wedding--there was no mistake about that.

No one had ever seen anything like it before; some hoped they never
would again, so great was the crush in the drawing-room. And not only
in the drawing-room, but over every square inch of the house for that
matter, from the front door where Parkins’s assistant (an extra man from
Delmonico’s) shouted out--“Third floor back for the gentlemen and second
floor front for the ladies”--to the innermost recesses of the library
made over into a banquet hall, where that great functionary himself
was pouring champagne into batteries of tumblers as if it were so much
water, and distributing cuts of cold salmon and portions of terrapin
with the prodigality of a charity committee serving a picnic.

And then the heartaches over the cards that never came; and the presents
that were never sent, and the wrath of the relations who got below the
ribbon in the church and the airs of the strangers who got above it; and
the tears over the costly dresses that did not arrive in time and the
chagrin over those they had to wear or stay at home--and the heat and
the jam and tear and squeeze--and the aftermath of wet glasses on
inlaid tables and fine-spun table-cloths burnt into holes with careless
cigarettes; and the little puddles of ice cream on the Turkish rugs and
silk divans and the broken glass and smashed china!--No--there never had
been such a wedding!

This over, Corinne and Garry had gone to housekeeping in a dear little
flat, to which we may be sure Jack was rarely ever invited (he had only
received “cards” to the church, an invitation which he had religiously
accepted, standing at the door so he could bow to them both as they
passed)--the two, I say, had gone to a dear little flat--so dear, in
fact, that before the year was out Garry’s finances were in such a
deplorable condition that the lease could not be renewed, and another
and a cheaper nest had to be sought for.

It was at this time that the new church to be built at Corklesville
needed an architect--a fact which Jack communicated to Garry. Then
it happened that with the aid of MacFarlane and Holker Morris the
commission was finally awarded to that “rising young genius who had
so justly distinguished himself in the atelier of America’s greatest
architect--Holker Morris--” all of which Garry wrote himself and had
inserted in the county paper, he having called upon the editor for that
very purpose. This service--and it came at a most critical time in the
young man’s affairs--the Scribe is glad to say, Garry, with his old-time
generous spirit suddenly revived, graciously acknowledged thanking
Jack heartily and with meaning in his voice, as well as MacFarlane--not
forgetting Ruth, to whom he sent a mass of roses as big as a bandbox.

The gaining of this church building--the largest and most important
given the young architect since he had left Morris’s protection and
guidance--decided Garry to give up at once his expensive quarters in
New York and move to Corklesville. So far as any help from the house
of Breen was concerned, all hope had ended with the expensive and
much-advertised wedding (a shrewd financial move, really, for a firm
selling shady securities). Corinne had cooed, wept, and then succumbed
into an illness, but Breen had only replied: “No, let ‘em paddle their
own canoe.”

This is why the sign “To Let,” on one of the new houses built by the Elm
Crest Land and Improvement Company--old Tom Corkle who owned the market
garden farms that gave the village of Corklesville its name, would have
laughed himself sore had he been alive--was ripped off and various teams
loaded with all sorts of furniture, some very expensive and showy and
some quite the contrary--especially that belonging to the servants’
rooms--were backed up to the newly finished porch with its second coat
of paint still wet, and their contents duly distributed upstairs and
downstairs and in my lady Corinne’s chamber.

“Got to put on the brakes, old man,” Garry had said one day to Jack. The
boy had heard of the expected change in the architect’s finances before
the villa was rented, and so Garry’s confidential communication was not
news to him.

“Been up to look at one of those new houses. Regular bird cage, but we
can get along. Besides, this town is going to grow and I’m going to help
it along. They are all dead out here--embalmed, some of them--but dead.”
 Here he opened the pamphlet of the company--“See this house--an hour
from New York; high ground; view of the harbor--(all a lie, Jack, but it
goes all the same); sewers, running water, gas (lot of the last,--most
of it in the prospectus) It’s called Elm Crest--beautiful, isn’t
it,--and not a stump within half a mile.”

Jack always remembered the interview. That Garry should help along
anything that he took an interest in was quite in the line of his
ambition and ability. Minott was as “smart as a steel trap,” Holker
Morris had always said of him, “and a wonderful fellow among the men.
He can get anything out of them; he would really make a good politician.
His handling of the Corn Exchange showed that.”

And so it was not surprising,--not to Jack,--that when a new village
councilman was to be elected, Garry should have secured votes enough to
be included among their number. Nor was it at all wonderful that after
taking his seat he should have been placed in charge of the village
funds so far as the expenditures for contract work went. The prestige
of Morris’s office settled all doubts as to his fitness in construction;
and the splendor of the wedding--there could still be seen posted in
the houses of the workmen the newspaper cuts showing the bride and groom
leaving the church--silenced all opposition to “our fellow townsman’s”
 financial responsibility, even when that opposition was led by so
prominent a ward heeler as Mr. Patrick McGowan, who had planned to get
the position himself--and who became Garry’s arch enemy thereafter.

In these financial and political advancements Corinne helped but little.
None of the village people interested her, nor did she put herself out
in the least to be polite to them. Ruth had called and had brought her
hands full of roses--and so had her father. Garry had continued to thank
them both for their good word to the church wardens--and he himself now
and then spent an evening at MacFarlane’s house without Corinne, who
generally pleaded illness; but the little flame of friendship which had
flashed after their arrival in Corklesville had died down again.

This had gone on until the acquaintance had practically ended, except
when they met on the trains or in crossing the ferry. Then again, Ruth
and her father lived at one end of the village known as Corklesville,
and Garry and Corinne lived at the other end, known as Elm Crest, the
connecting link being the railroad, a fact which Jack told Garry with a
suggestive laugh, made them always turn their backs on each other when
they parted to go to their respective homes, to which Garry would reply
that it was an outrage and that he was coming up that very night--all
of which he failed to do when the proposed visit was talked over with
Corinne.

None of this affected Jack. He would greet Corinne as affectionately and
cordially as he had ever done. He had taken her measure years before,
but that made no difference to him, he never forgetting that she was his
uncle’s nominal daughter; that they had been sheltered by the same roof
and that she therefore in a way belonged to his people. Moreover, he
realized, that like himself, she had been compelled to give up many of
the luxuries and surroundings to which she had been accustomed and which
she loved,--worthless now to Jack in his freedom, but still precious
to her. This in itself was enough to bespeak his sympathy. Not that she
valued it;--she rather sniffed at it.

“I wish Jack wouldn’t stand with his hat off until I get aboard the
train,” she had told Garry one day shortly after their arrival--“he
makes me so conspicuous. And he wears such queer clothes. He was in
his slouch hat and rough flannel shirt and high boots the other day and
looked like a tramp.”

“Better not laugh at Jack, Cory,” Garry had replied; “you’ll be taking
your own hat off to him one of these days; we all shall. Arthur Breen
missed it when he let him go. Jack’s queer about some things, but he’s a
thoroughbred and he’s got brains!”

“He insulted Mr. Breen in his own house, that’s why he let him
go,” snapped Corinne. The idea of her ever taking off her hat, even
figuratively, to John Breen, was not to be brooked,--not for an instant.

“Yes, that’s one way of looking at it, Cory, but I tell you if Arthur
Breen had had Jack with him these last few months--ever since he left
him, in fact,--and had listened once in a while to what Jack thought
was fair and square, the firm of A. B. & Co. would have a better hold on
things than they’ve got now; and he wouldn’t have dropped that million
either. The cards don’t always come up the right way, even when they’re
stacked.”

“It just served my stepfather right for not giving us some of it, and
I’m glad he lost it,” Corinne rejoined, her anger rising again. “I have
never forgiven him for not making me an allowance after I married, and
I never will. He could, at least, have continued the one he always gave
me.”

Garry winked sententiously, and remarked in reply that he might be
making the distinguished money-bags an allowance himself one of these
fine days, and he could if some of the things he was counting on came
out top side up, but Corinne’s opinions did not change either toward
Jack or her stepfather.



CHAPTER XIX



When the pain in Jack’s heart over Ruth became unbearable, there was
always one refuge left--one balm which never failed to soothe, and that
was Peter.

For though he held himself in readiness for her call, being seldom
absent lest she might need his services, their constrained intercourse
brought with it more pain than pleasure. It was then that he longed for
the comfort which only his dear mentor could give.

On these occasions Mrs. McGuffey would take the lace cover off Miss
Felicia’s bureau, as a matter of precaution, provided that lady was
away and the room available, and roll in a big tub for the young
gentleman--“who do be washin’ hisself all the time and he that sloppy
that I’m afeared everything will be spi’lt for the mistress,” and Jack
would slip out of his working clothes (he would often come away in his
flannel shirt and loose tie, especially when he was late in paying off)
and shed his heavy boots with the red clay of Jersey still clinging to
their soles, and get into his white linen and black clothes and dress
shoes, and then the two chums would lock arms and saunter up Fifth
Avenue to dine either at one of Peter’s clubs or at some house where
he and that “handsome young ward of yours, Mr. Grayson--do bring him
again,” were so welcome.

If Miss Felicia was in town and her room in use, there was never any
change in the programme, Mrs. McGuffey rising to the emergency and
discovering another and somewhat larger apartment in the next house
but two--“for one of the finest gintlemen ye ever saw and that quiet,”
 etc.--into which Jack would move and which the good woman would insist
on taking full charge of herself.

It was on one of these blessed and always welcome nights, after the
two had been dining at “a little crack in the wall,” as Peter called a
near-by Italian restaurant, that he and Jack stopped to speak to Isaac
Cohen whom they found closing his shop for the night. Cohen invited
them in and Jack, after following the little tailor through the
deserted shop--all the work people had left--found himself, to his great
surprise, in a small room at the rear, which Isaac opened with a key
taken from his vest pocket, and which even in the dim light of a single
gas jet had more the appearance of the den of a scholar, or the workshop
of a scientist, than the private office of a fashioner of clothes.

Peter only stayed a moment--long enough to borrow the second volume of
one of Isaac’s books, but the quaint interior and what it contained
made a great impression on Jack,--so much so that when the two had
said good-night and mounted the stairs to Peter’s rooms, it was with
increased interest that the boy listened to the old fellow who stopped
on every landing to tell him some incident connected with the little
tailor and his life: How after his wife’s death some years before, and
his only daughter’s marriage--“and a great affair it was, my boy, I was
there and know,”--Cohen had moved down to his shop and fitted up the
back room for a little shelter of his own, where he had lived with his
books and his personal belongings and where he had met the queerest
looking people--with big heads and bushy beards--foreigners, some of
them--speaking all kinds of languages, as well as many highly educated
men in town.

Once inside his own cosey rooms Peter bustled about, poking the fire
into life, drawing the red curtains closer, moving a vase of roses so he
could catch their fragrance from where he sat, wheeling two big, easy,
all-embracing arm-chairs to the blaze, rolling a small table laden
with various burnables and pourables within reach of their elbows, and
otherwise disporting himself after the manner of the most cheery
and lovable of hosts. This done, he again took up the thread of his
discourse.

“Yes! He’s a wonderful old fellow, this Isaac Cohen,” he rattled on when
the two were seated. “You had only a glimpse of that den of his, but you
should see his books on costumes,--he’s an authority, you know,--and
his miniatures,--Oh, a Cosway, which he keeps in his safe, that is a
wonder!--and his old manuscripts. Those are locked up too. And he’s a
gentleman, too, Jack; not once in all the years I have known him have
I ever heard him mention the word money in an objectionable way, and he
has plenty of it even if he does press off my coat with his own hands.
Can you recall anybody you know, my boy--even in the houses where you
and I have been lately, who doesn’t let the word slip out in a dozen
different ways before the evening is over? And best of all, he’s
sane,--one of the few men whom it is safe to let walk around loose.”

“And you like him?”

“Immensely.”

“And you never remember he is a Jew?” This was one of the things Jack
had never understood.

“Never;--that’s not his fault,--rather to his credit.”

“Why?”

“Because the world is against both him and his race, and yet in all the
years I have known him, nothing has ever soured his temper.”

Jack struck a match, relit his cigar and settling himself more
comfortably in his chair, said in a positive tone:

“Sour or sweet,--I don’t like Jews,--never did.”

“You don’t like him because you don’t know him. That’s your fault, not
his. But you would like him, let me tell you, if you could hear him
talk. And now I think of it, I am determined you shall know him, and
right away. Not that he cares--Cohen’s friends are among the best men in
London, especially the better grade of theatrical people, whose
clothes he has made and whose purses he has kept full--yes--and whom he
sometimes had to bury to keep them out of Potter’s field; and those he
knows here--his kind of people, I mean, not yours.”

“All in his line of business, Uncle Peter,” Jack laughed. “How much
interest did they pay,--cent per cent?”

“I am ashamed of you, Jack. Not a penny. Don’t let your mind get clogged
up, my boy, with such prejudices,--keep the slate of your judgment
sponged clean.”

“But you believe everybody is clean, Uncle Peter.”

“And so must you, until you prove them dirty. Now, will you do me a very
great kindness and yourself one as well? Please go downstairs, rap three
times at Mr. Cohen’s shutters--hard, so that he can hear you--that’s my
signal--present my compliments and ask him to be kind enough to come up
and have a cigar with us.”

Jack leaned forward in his seat, his face showing his astonishment.

“You don’t mean it?”

“I do.”

“All right.”

The boy was out of his chair and clattering down-stairs before Peter
could add another word to his message. If he had asked him to crawl out
on the roof and drop himself into the third-story window of the next
house, he would have obeyed him with the same alacrity.

Peter wheeled up another chair; added some small and large glasses to
the collection on the tray and awaited Jack’s return. The experience
was not new. The stupid, illogical prejudice was not confined to
inexperienced lads.

He had had the same thing to contend with dozens of times before. Even
Holker had once said: “Peter, what the devil do you find in that little
shrimp of a Hebrew to interest you? Is he cold that you warm him, or
hungry that you feed him,--or lonely that--”

“Stop right there, Holker! You’ve said it,--lonely--that’s it--LONELY!
That’s what made me bring him up the first time he was ever here.
It seemed such a wicked thing to me to have him at one end of the
house--the bottom end, too--crooning over a fire, and I at the top end
crooning over another, when one blaze could warm us both. So up he came,
Holker, and now it is I who am lonely when a week passes and Isaac does
not tap at my door, or I tap at his.”

The distinguished architect understood it all a week later when the
new uptown synagogue was being talked of and he was invited to meet the
board, and found to his astonishment that the wise little man with the
big gold spectacles, occupying the chair was none other than Peter’s
tailor.

“Our mutual friend Mr. Grayson, of the Exeter Bank, spoke to me about
you, Mr. Morris,” said the little man without a trace of foreign accent
and with all the composure of a great banker making a government loan;
rising at the same time, with great dignity introducing Morris to his
brother trustees and then placing him in the empty seat next his own.
After that, and on more than one occasion, there were three chairs
around Peter’s blaze, with Morris in one of them.

All these thoughts coursed through Peter’s head as Jack and Cohen were
mounting the three flights of stairs.

“Ah, Isaac,” he cried at first sight of his friend, “I just wanted you
to know my boy, Jack Breen, better, and as his legs are younger than
mine, I sent him down instead of going myself--you don’t mind, do you?”

“Mind!--of course I do not mind,--but I do know Mr. Breen. I first met
him many months ago--when your sister was here--and then I see him going
in and out all the time--and--”

“Stop your nonsense, Isaac;--that’s not the way to know a man; that’s
the way not to know him, but what’s more to the point is, I want Jack to
know you. These young fellows have very peculiar ideas about a good many
things,--and this boy is like all the rest--some of which ought to
be knocked out of his head,--your race, for one thing. He thinks that
because you are a Jew that you--”

Jack uttered a smothered, “Oh, Uncle Peter!” but the old fellow who now
had the tailor in one of his big chairs and was filling a thin wineglass
with a brown liquid (ten years in the wood)--Holker sent it--kept
straight on. “Jack’s all right inside, or I wouldn’t love him, but there
are a good many things he has got to learn, and you happen to be one of
them.”

Cohen lay back in his chair and laughed heartily.

“Do not mind him, Mr. Breen,--do not mind a word he says. He mortifies
me that same way. And now--” here he turned his head to Peter--“what
does he think of my race?”

“Oh! He thinks you are a lot of money-getters and pawnbrokers, gouging
the poor and squeezing the rich.”

Jack broke out into a cold perspiration: “Really, Uncle Peter! Now,
Mr. Cohen, won’t you please believe that I never said one word of it,”
 exclaimed Jack in pleading tones, his face expressing his embarrassment.

“I never said you did, Jack,” rejoined Peter with mock solemnity in his
voice. “I said you THOUGHT so. And now here he is,--look at him. Does he
look like Scrooge or Shylock or some old skinflint who--” here he faced
Cohen, his eyes brimming with merriment--“What are we going to do with
this blasphemer, Isaac? Shall we boil him in oil as they did that old
sixteenth-century saint you were telling me about the other night, or
shall we--?”

The little tailor threw out his hands--each finger an exclamation
point--and laughed heartily, cutting short Peter’s tirade.

“No--no--we do none of these dreadful things to Mr. Breen; he is too
good to be a saint,” and he patted Jack’s knees--“and then again it
is only the truth. Mr. Breen is quite right; we are a race of
money-getters, and we are also the world’s pawnbrokers and will always
be. Sometimes we make a loan on a watch or a wedding ring to keep
some poor soul from starving; sometimes it is a railroad to give a
millionaire a yacht, or help buy his wife a string of pearls. It is
quite the same, only over one shop we hang three gilt balls: on the
other we nail a sign which reads: ‘Financial Agents.’ And it is the
same Jew, remember, who stands behind both counters. The first Jew is
overhauled almost every day by the police; the second Jew is regarded
as our public-spirited citizen. So you see, my young friend, that it is
only a question of the amount of money you have got whether you loan on
rings or railroads.”

“And whether the Christian lifts his hat or his boot,” laughed Peter.

Cohen leaned his elbows on his plump knees and went on, the slender
glass still in his hand, from which now and then he took a sip. Peter
sat buried in his chair, his cigar between his fingers. Jack held his
peace; it was not for him to air his opinions in the presence of the two
older men, and then again the tailor had suddenly become a savant.

“Of course, there are many things I wish were different,” the tailor
continued in a more thoughtful tone. “Many of my people forget their
birthright and force themselves on the Christian, trying to break down
the fence which has always divided us, and which is really our
best protection. As long as we keep to ourselves we are a power.
Persecution,--and sometimes it amounts to that--is better than
amalgamation; it brings out our better fighting qualities and makes us
rely on ourselves. This is the view of our best thinkers, and they are
right. Just hear me run on! Why talk about these things? They are
for graybeards, not young fellows with the world before them.” Cohen
straightened up--laid his glass on the small table, waved his hand in
denial to Peter who started to refill it, and continued, turning to
Jack: “And now let me hear something about your own work, Mr. Breen,” he
said in his kindest and most interested voice. “Mr. Grayson tells me you
are cutting a great tunnel. Under a mountain, is it not? Ah!--that is
something worth doing. And here is this old uncle of yours with his
fine clothes and his old wine, who does nothing but pore over his musty
bank-books, and here am I in the cellar below, who can only sew on
buttons, and yet we have the impudence to criticise you. Really, I never
heard of such conceit!”

“Oh!--but it isn’t my tunnel,” Jack eagerly protested, greatly amused
at the Jew’s talk; “I am just an assistant, Mr. Cohen.” Somehow he had
grown suddenly smaller since the little man had been talking.

“Yes,--of course, we are all assistants; Mr. Grayson assists at the
bank, and I assist my man, Jacob, who makes such funny mistakes in the
cut of his trousers. Oh, yes, that is quite the way life is made up. But
about this tunnel? It is part of this new branch, is it not? Some of
my friends have told me about it. And it is going straight through the
mountain.”

And then before Jack or Peter could reply the speaker branched out into
an account of the financing of the great Mt. Cenis tunnel, and why
the founder of the house of Rothschild, who had “assisted” in its
construction, got so many decorations from foreign governments; the talk
finally switching off to the enamelled and jewelled snuff boxes of Baron
James Rothschild, whose collection had been the largest in Europe; and
what had become of it; and then by one of those illogical jumps--often
indulged in by well-informed men discussing any subject that absorbs
them--brought up at Voltaire and Taine and the earlier days of the
Revolution in which one of the little tailor’s ancestors had suffered
spoliation and death.

Jack sat silent--he had long since found himself out of his
depth--drinking in every word of the talk, his wonderment increasing
every moment, not only over Cohen, but over Peter as well, whom he had
never before heard so eloquent or so learned, or so entertaining.
When at last the little man rose to go, the boy, with one of those
spontaneous impulses which was part of his nature, sprang from his seat,
found the tailor’s hat himself, and conducting him to the door, wished
him good-night with all the grace and well-meant courtesy he would show
a prince of the blood, should he ever be fortunate enough to meet one.

Peter was standing on the mat, his back to the fire, when the boy
returned.

“Jack, you delight me!” the old fellow cried. “Your father couldn’t have
played host better. Really, I am beginning to believe I won’t have to
lock you up in an asylum. You’re getting wonderfully sane, my boy,--real
human. Jack, do you know that if you keep on this way I shall really
begin to love you!”

“But what an extraordinary man,” exclaimed Jack, ignoring Peter’s
compliment and badinage. “Is there anything he does not know?”

“Yes,--many things. Oh! a great many things. He doesn’t know how to be
rude, or ill bred, or purse-proud. He doesn’t know how to snub people
who are poorer than he is, or to push himself in where he isn’t
wanted; or to talk behind people’s backs after he has accepted their
hospitality. Just plain gentleman journeyman tailor, Jack. And now, my
boy, be honest. Isn’t he a relief after some of the people you and I
meet every day?”

Jack settled again in his chair. His mind was not at all easy.

“Yes, he is, and that makes me afraid I was rude. I didn’t mean to be.”

“No,--you acted just right. I wanted to draw him out so you could hear,
and you must say that he was charming. And the best of it is that he
could have talked equally well on a dozen other subjects.”

For some time Jack did not answer. Despite Peter’s good opinion of him,
he still felt that he had either said or done something he should be
ashamed of. He knew it was his snap judgment about Cohen that had been
the cause of the object lesson he had just received. Peter had not
said so in so many words--it was always with a jest or a laugh that he
corrected his faults, but he felt their truth all the same.

For some minutes he leaned back in his chair, his eyes on the ceiling;
then he said in a tone of conviction:

“I WAS wrong about Mr. Cohen, Uncle Peter. I am always putting my
foot in it. He is an extraordinary man. He certainly is, to listen to,
whatever he is in his business.”

“No, Jack, my boy--you were only honest,” Peter rejoined, passing over
the covert allusion to the financial side of the tailor. “You didn’t
like his race and you said so. Act first. Then you found out you were
wrong and you said so. Act second. Then you discovered you owed him an
ample apology and you bowed him out as if he had been a duke. Act third.
And now comes the epilogue--Better be kind and human than be king! Eh,
Jack?” and the old gentleman threw back his head and laughed heartily.

Jack made no reply. He was through with Cohen;--something else was on
his mind of far more importance than the likes and dislikes of all the
Jews in Christendom. Something he had intended to lay before Peter at
the very moment the old fellow had sent him for Isaac--something he had
come all the way to New York to discuss with him; something that had
worried him for days. There was but half an hour left; then he must get
his bag and say good-night and good-by for another week or more.

Peter noticed the boy’s mood and laid his hand on his wrist. Somehow
this was not the same Jack.

“I haven’t hurt you, my son, have I?” he asked with a note of tenderness
in his voice.

“Hurt me! You couldn’t hurt me, Uncle Peter!” There was no question of
his sincerity as he spoke. It sprang straight from his heart.

“Well, then, what’s the matter?--out with it. No secrets from blundering
old Peter,” he rejoined in a satisfied tone.

Jack laughed gently: “Well, sir, it’s about the work.” It wasn’t; but it
might lead to it later on.

“Work!--what’s the matter with the work! Anything wrong?” There was a
note of alarm now that made Jack reply hastily:

“No, it will be finished next month: we are lining up the arches this
week and the railroad people have already begun to dump their cross ties
along the road bed. It’s about another job. Mr. MacFarlane, I am afraid,
hasn’t made much money on the fill and tunnel, but he has some other
work offered him up in Western Maryland, which he may take, and which,
if he does, may pay handsomely. He wants me to go with him. It means
a shanty and a negro cook, as near as I can figure it, but I shall get
used to that, I suppose. What do you think about it?”

“Well,” chuckled Peter--it was not news; MacFarlane had told him all
about it the week before at the Century--“if you can keep the shanty
tight and the cook sober you may weather it. It must be great fun living
in a shanty. I never tried it, but I would like to.”

“Yes, perhaps it is,--but it has its drawbacks. I can’t come to see you
for one thing, and then the home will be broken up. Miss Ruth will go
back to her grandmother’s for a while, she says, and later on she
will visit the Fosters at Newport and perhaps spend a month with Aunt
Felicia.” He called her so now.

Jack paused for some further expression of opinion from his always ready
adviser, but Peter’s eyes were still fixed on the slow, dying fire.

“It will be rather a rough job from what I saw of it,” Jack went on. “We
are to run a horizontal shaft into some ore deposits. Mr. MacFarlane and
I have been studying the plans for some time; we went over the ground
together last month. That’s why I didn’t come to you last week.”

Peter twisted his head: “What’s the name of the nearest town?”
 MacFarlane had told him but he had forgotten.

“Morfordsburg. I was there once with my father when I was a boy. He had
some ore lands near where these are;--those he left me. The Cumberland
property we always called it. I told you about it once. It will never
amount to anything,--except by expensive boring. That is also what hurts
the value of this new property the Maryland Mining Company owns. That’s
what they want Mr. MacFarlane for. Now, what would you do if you were
me?”

“What sort of a town is Morfordsburg?” inquired Peter, ignoring Jack’s
question, his head still buried between his shoulders.

“Oh, like all other country villages, away from railroad connection.”

“Any good houses,--any to rent?”

“Yes,--I saw two.”

“And you want my advice, do you, Jack?” he burst out, rising erect in
his seat.

“Yes.”

“Well, I’d stick to MacFarlane and take Ruth with me.”

Jack broke out into a forced laugh. Peter had arrived by a short cut!
Now he knew, he was a mind reader.

“She won’t go,” he answered in a voice that showed he was open to
conviction. Peter, perhaps, had something up his sleeve.

“Have you asked her?” The old fellow’s eyes were upon him now.

“No,--not in so many words.”

“Well, try it. She has always gone with her father; she loves the
outdoor life and it loves her. I never saw her look as pretty as she is
now, and she has her horse too. Try asking her yourself, beg her to come
along and keep house and make a home for the three of you.”

Jack leaned back in his seat, his face a tangle of hopes and fears. What
was Uncle Peter driving at, anyhow?

“I have tried other things, and she would not listen,” he said in a more
positive tone. Again the two interviews he had had with Ruth came into
his mind; the last one as if it had been yesterday.

“Try until she DOES listen,” continued Peter. “Tell her you will be
very lonely if she doesn’t go, and that she is the one and only thing
in Corklesville that interests you outside of your work--and be sure you
mention the dear girl first and the work last--and that you won’t have
another happy hour if she leaves you in the--”

“Oh!--Uncle Peter!”

“And why not? It’s a fact, isn’t it? You were honest about Isaac; why
not be honest with Ruth?”

“I am.”

“No, you’re not,--you only tell her half what’s in your heart. Tell
her all of it! The poor child has been very much depressed of late, so
Felicia tells me, over something that troubles her, and I wouldn’t be
at all surprised if you were at the bottom of it. Give yourself an
overhauling and find out what you have said or done to hurt her. She
will never forget you for pulling her father out of that hole, nor will
he.”

Jack bristled up: “I don’t want her to think of me in that way!”

“Oh, you don’t! don’t you? Oh, of course not! You want her to think of
you as a great and glorious young knight who goes prancing about
the world doing good from habit, and yet you are so high and mighty
that--Jack, you rascal, do you know you are the stupidest thing that
breathes? You’re like a turkey, my boy, trying to get over the top rail
of a pen with its head in the air, when all it has to do is to stoop a
little and march out on its toes.”

Jack rose from his seat and walked toward the fire, where he stood with
one hand on the mantel. He knew Peter had a purpose in all his raillery
and yet he dared not voice the words that trembled on his lips; he could
tell the old fellow everything in his life except his love for Ruth
and her refusal to listen to him. This was the bitterest of all his
failures, and this he would not and could not pour into Peter’s ears.
Neither did he want Ruth to have Peter’s help, nor Miss Felicia’s; nor
MacFarlane’s; not anybody’s help where her heart was concerned. If Ruth
loved him that was enough, but he wouldn’t have anybody persuade her to
love him, or advise with her about loving him. How much Peter knew he
could not say. Perhaps!--perhaps Ruth told him something!--something he
was keeping to himself!

As this last thought forced itself into his brain a great surge of joy
swept over him. For a brief moment he stood irresolute. One of Peter’s
phrases now rang clear: “Stoop a little!” Stoop?--hadn’t he done
everything a man could do to win a woman, and had he not found the bars
always facing him?

With this his heart sank again. No, there was no use of thinking
anything more about it, nor would he tell him. There were some things
that even Peter couldn’t understand,--and no wonder, when you think how
many years had gone by since he loved any woman.

The chime of the little clock rang out.

Jack turned quickly: “Eleven o’clock, Uncle Peter, and I must go; time’s
up. I hate to leave you.”

“And what about the shanty and the cook?” said Peter, his eyes searching
Jack’s.

“I’ll go,--I intended to go all the time if you approved.”

“And what about Ruth?”

“Don’t ask me, Uncle Peter, not now.” And he hurried off to pack his
bag.



CHAPTER XX



If Jack, after leaving Peter and racing for the ferry, had, under
Peter’s advice, formulated in his mind any plan by which he could break
down Ruth’s resolve to leave both her father and himself in the lurch
and go out in the gay world alone, there was one factor which he must
have left out of his calculations--and that was the unexpected.

One expression of Peter’s, however, haunted him all the way home:--that
Ruth was suffering and that he had been the cause of it. Had he hurt
her?--and if so, how and when? With this, the dear girl’s face, with
the look of pain on it which Miss Felicia had noticed, rose before him.
Perhaps Peter was right. He had never thought of Ruth’s side of the
matter--had never realized that she, too, might have suffered. To-morrow
he would go to her. If he could not win her for himself he could, at
least, find out the cause and help relieve her pain.

This idea so possessed him that it was nearly dawn before he dropped to
sleep.

With the morning everything changed.

Such a rain had never been known to fall--not in the memory of the
oldest moss-back in the village--if any such ancient inhabitant existed.
Twelve hours of it had made rivers of the streets, quagmires of the
roads, and covered the crossings ankle-deep with mud. It had begun in
the night while Isaac was expounding his views on snuff boxes, tunnels,
and Voltaire to Peter and Jack, had followed Jack across the river and
had continued to soak into his clothes until he opened Mrs. Hicks’s
front door with his private key. It was still pelting away the next
morning, when Jack, alarmed at its fury, bolted his breakfast, and,
donning his oilskins and rubber boots, hurried to the brick office from
whose front windows he could get a view of the fill, the culvert, and
the angry stream, and from whose rear windows could be seen half a mile
up the raging torrent, the curve of the unfinished embankment flanking
one side of the new boulevard which McGowan was building under a
contract with the village.

Hardly had he slipped off his boots and tarpaulins when MacFarlane, in
mackintosh and long rubber boots, splashed in:

“Breen,” said his Chief, loosening the top button of his storm coat and
threshing the water from his cap:

Jack was on his feet in an instant:

“Yes, sir.”

“I wish you would take a look at the boulevard spillway. I know
McGowan’s work and how he skins it sometimes, and I’m getting worried.
Coggins says the water is backing up, and that the slopes are giving
way. You can see yourself what a lot of water is coming down--” here
they both gazed through the open window. “I never saw that stream look
like that since I’ve been here; there must be a frightful pressure now
on McGowan’s retaining walls. We should have a close shave if anything
gave way above us. Our own culvert’s working all right, but it’s taxed
now to its utmost.”

Jack unhooked his water-proof from a nail behind the door--he had began
putting on his rubber boots again before MacFarlane finished speaking.

“He will have to pay the bills, sir, if anything gives way--” Jack
replied in a determined voice. “Garry told me only last week that
McGowan had to take care of his own water; that was part of his
contract. It comes under Garry’s supervision, you know.”

“Yes, I know, and that may all be so, Breen,” he replied with a
flickering smile, “but it won’t do us any good,--or the road either.
They want to run cars next month.”

The door again swung wide, and a man drenched to the skin, the water
glistening on his bushy gray beard stepped in.

“I heard you were here, sir, and had to see you. There’s only four
feet lee-way in our culvert, sir, and the scour’s eating into the
underpinning; I am just up from there. We are trying bags of cement, but
it doesn’t do much good.”

MacFarlane caught up his hat and the two hurried down stream to the
“fill,” while Jack, buttoning his oilskin jacket over his chest, and
crowding his slouch hat close to his eyebrows and ears strode out into
the downpour, his steps bent in the opposite direction.

The sight that met his eyes was even more alarming. The once quiet
little stream, with its stretch of meadowland reaching to the foot of
the steep hills, was now a swirl of angry reddish water careering toward
the big culvert under the “fill.” There it struck the two flanking walls
of solid masonry, doubled in volume and thus baffled, shot straight into
and under the culvert and so on over the broad fields below.

Up the stream toward the boulevard on the other side of its sky line,
groups of men were already engaged carrying shovels, or lugging pieces
of timber as they hurried along its edge, only to disappear for an
instant and reappear again empty-handed. Shouts could be heard, as if
some one were giving orders. Against the storm-swept sky, McGowan’s
short, squat figure was visible, his hands waving wildly to other gangs
of men who were running at full speed toward where he stood.

Soon a knife-edge of water glistened along the crest of the earth
embankment supporting the roadway of the boulevard, scattered into a
dozen sluiceways, gashing the sides of the slopes, and then, before
Jack could realize his own danger, the whole mass collapsed only to be
swallowed up in a mighty torrent which leaped straight at him.

Jack wheeled suddenly, shouted to a man behind him to run for his life,
and raced on down stream toward the “fill” a mile below where MacFarlane
and his men, unconscious of their danger, were strengthening the culvert
and its approaches.

On swept the flood, tearing up trees, cabins, shanties, fences; swirling
along the tortuous bed only to leap and swirl again, its solid front
bristling with the debris it had wrenched loose in its mad onslaught,
Jack in his line of flight keeping abreast of its mighty thrust,
shouting as he ran, pressing into service every man who could help in
the rescue.

But MacFarlane had already been forewarned. The engineer of the morning
express, who had crossed close to the boulevard at the moment the break
occurred, had leaned far out of his cab as the train thundered by at
right angles to the “fill,” and with cupped hands to his mouth, had
hurled this yell into the ravine:

“Water! Look out! Everything busted up above! Water! Water! Run, for
God’s sake!”

The men stood irresolute, but MacFarlane sprang to instant action.
Grabbing the man next him,--an Italian who understood no English--he
dragged him along, shouting to the others, the crowd swarming up,
throwing away their shovels in their flight until the whole posse
reached a point of safety near the mouth of the tunnel.

There he turned and braced himself for the shock. He realized fully what
had happened: McGowan’s ill-constructed culvert had sagged and choked;
a huge basin of water had formed behind it; the retaining walls had been
undermined and the whole mass was sweeping down upon him. Would there be
enough of it to overflow the crest line of his own “fill” or not? If it
could stand the first on-thrust there was one chance in a hundred of its
safety, provided the wing-walls and the foundations of the culvert held
up its arch, thus affording gradual relief until the flood should have
spent its force.

It was but a question of minutes. He could already see the trees sway as
the mad flood struck them, the smaller ones rebounding, the large ones
toppling over. Then came a dull roar like that of a tram through a
covered bridge, and then a great wall of yellow suds, boiling, curling,
its surface covered with sticks, planks, shingles, floating barrels,
parts of buildings, dashed itself against the smoothed earth slopes
of his own “fill,” surged a third of its height, recoiled on itself,
swirled furiously again, and then inch by inch rose toward the top.
Should it plunge over the crest, the “fill” would melt away as a
rising tide melts a sand fort, the work of months be destroyed, and his
financial ruin be a certainty.

But the man who had crawled out on the shore end of the great cantilever
bridge over the Ohio, and who had with his own hands practically set the
last rebellious steel girder one hundred feet above the water level, had
still some resources left. Grabbing a shovel from a railroad employee,
he called to his men and began digging a trench on the tunnel end of the
“fill” to form a temporary spillway should the top of the flood reach
the crest of the road bed.

Fifty or more men sprang to his assistance with pick and shovel wherever
one could stand and dig. The water had now reached within five feet of
the top: the rise was slower, showing that the volume had lessened; the
soakage, too, was helping, but the water still gained. The bottom of the
trench, cut transversely across the road bed of the “fill,” out of which
the dirt was still flying from scores of willing shovels, had reached
the height of the flood line. It was wide enough and deep enough to take
care of the slowly rising overflow and would relieve the pressure on the
whole structure; but the danger was not there. What was to be feared was
the scour on the down-stream--far side--slope of the “fill.” This also,
was of loose earth: too great a gulch might mean total collapse.

To lessen this scour MacFarlane had looted a carload of plank switched
on to a siding, and a gang of men in charge of Jack,--who had now
reached his Chief’s side,--were dragging them along the downstream slope
to form sluices with which to break the force of the scour.

The top of the flood now poured into the mouth of the newly dug trench,
biting huge mouthfuls of earth from its sides in its rush; spreading the
reddish water fan-like over the down-stream slope: first into gullies;
then a broad sluiceway that sunk out of sight in the soft earth; then
crumblings, slidings of tons of sand and gravel, with here and there
a bowlder washed clean; the men working like beavers,--here to free a
rock, there to drive home a plank, the trench all the while deepening,
widening--now a gulch ten feet across and as deep, now a canon through
which surged a solid mass of frenzied water.

With the completion of the first row of planking MacFarlane took up a
position where he could overlook all parts of the work. Every now and
then his eyes would rest on a water-gauge which he had improvised from
the handle of a pick; the rise and fall of the wet mark showing him both
the danger and the safety lines. He seemed the least interested man
in the group. Once in a while he would consult his watch, counting the
seconds, only to return to the gauge.

That thousands of dollars’ damage had so far been done did not seem to
affect him in the least. Only when Jack would call out that everything
so far was solid on the main “fill” did his calm face light up.

Tightening his wide slouch hat farther down on his head, he drew up
the tops of his high-water boots and strode through the slush to the
pick-handle. His wooden record showed that half an hour before the water
had been rising at the rate of an inch every three minutes; that it had
then taken six, and now required eight! He glanced at the sky; it had
stopped raining and a light was breaking in the West.

Pocketing his watch he beckoned to Jack:

“The worst is over, Breen,” he said in a voice of perfect calmness--the
tone of a doctor after feeling a patient’s pulse. “Our culvert is doing
its work and relieving the pressure. This water will be out of here by
morning. Tell the foreman to keep those planks moving wherever they do
any good, but they won’t count much longer. You can see the difference
already in the overflow. And now go up to the house and tell Ruth. She
may not know we are all right and will be worrying.”

Jack’s heart gave a bound. No more delightful duty could devolve on him.

“What shall I tell her about the damage if she asks me, sir?” he
demanded, hiding his pleasure in a perfunctory, businesslike tone, “and
she will.”

“Tell her it means all summer here for me and no new bonnets for her
until next winter,” replied MacFarlane with a grim smile.

“Yes, I suppose, but I referred to the money loss,” Jack laughed in
reply. “There is no use worrying her if we are not to blame for this.”
 He didn’t intend to worry her. He was only feeling about for some topic
which would prolong his visit and encourage conversation.

“If we are, it means some thousands of dollars on the wrong side of the
ledger,” answered MacFarlane after a pause, a graver tone in his
voice. “But don’t tell Ruth that. Just give her my message about the
bonnet--she will understand.”

“But not if McGowan is liable,” argued Jack. If Ruth was to hear bad
news it could at least be qualified.

“That depends somewhat on the wording of his contract, Breen, and a good
deal on whether this village wants to hold him to it. I’m not crossing
any bridges of that kind, and don’t you. What I’m worrying about is the
number of days and nights it’s going to take to patch this work so they
can get trains through our tunnel--And, Breen--”

“Yes, sir,” answered Jack, as he stopped and looked over his shoulder.
There were wings on his feet now.

“Get into some dry clothes before you come back.”

While all this had been going on Ruth had stood at the window in the
upper hall opposite the one banked with geraniums, too horrified to
move. She had watched with the aid of her opera-glass the wild torrent
rushing through the meadow, and she had heard the shouts of the people
in the streets and the prolonged roar when the boulevard embankment gave
way.

The hurried entrance and startled cry of the grocer’s boy in the kitchen
below, and the loud talk that followed, made her move to the head of
the stairs. There she stood listening, her heart in her mouth, her knees
trembling. Such expressions as “drownded,”--“more’n a hundred of ‘em--”
 reached her ears. Then came the words--“de boss’s work busted; ain’t
nobody seen him alive, so dey say.”

For an instant she clutched the hand rail to keep her from falling, then
with a cry of terror she caught up an old cloth cape, bound a hat to her
head with a loose veil, and was downstairs and into the street before
the boy had reached the curb.

“Yes, mum,” he stammered, breathlessly, his eyes bulging from his
head,--“Oh! it’s awful, mum! Don’t know how many’s drownded! Everybody’s
shovelin’ on de railroad dump, but dere ain’t nothin’ kin save it, dey
say!”

She raced on--across the long street, avoiding the puddles as best she
could; past the Hicks Hotel--no sign of Jack anywhere--past the factory
fence, until she reached the railroad, where she stopped, gathered her
bedraggled skirts in her hand and then sped on over the cross-ties like
a swallow, her little feet scarce touching the cinders.

Jack had caught sight of the flying girl as she gained the railroad
and awaited her approach; he supposed she was the half-crazed wife or
daughter of some workman, bringing news of fresh disaster, until she
approached near enough for him to note the shape and size of her boots
and the way the hat and veil framed her face. But it was not until
she uttered a cry of agony and ran straight toward him, that he sprang
forward to meet her and caught her in his aims to keep her from falling.

“Oh, Jack!--where is daddy--where--” she gasped.

“Why, he is all right, Miss Ruth,--everybody’s all right! Why did
you come here? Oh! I am so sorry you have had this fright! Don’t
answer,--just lean on me until you get your breath.”

“Yes--but are you sure he is safe? The grocer’s boy said nobody had seen
him alive.”

“Of course I am sure! Just look across--there he is; nobody could ever
mistake that old slouch hat of his. And look at the big ‘fill.’ It
hasn’t given an inch, Miss Ruth--think of it! What a shame you have had
such a fright,” he continued as he led her to a pile of lumber beside
the track and moved out a dry plank where he seated her as tenderly as
if she had been a frightened child, standing over her until she breathed
easier.

“But then, if he is safe, why did you leave daddy? You are not hurt
yourself, are you?” she exclaimed suddenly, reaching up her hand and
catching the sleeve of his tarpaulin, a great lump in her throat.

“Me, hurt!--not a bit of it,--not a scratch of any kind,--see!” As an
object-lesson he stretched out his arm and with one clenched hand smote
his chest gorilla fashion.

“But you are all wet--” she persisted, in a more reassured tone. “You
must not stand here in this wind; you will get chilled to the bone. You
must go home and get into dry clothes;--please say you will go?”

Something warm and scintillating started from Jack’s toes as the words
left her lips, surged along his spinal column, set his finger tips
tingling and his heart thumping like a trip hammer. She had called him
“Jack!” She had run a mile to rescue him and her father, and she was
anxious lest he should endanger his precious life by catching cold.
Cold!--had he been dragged through the whirlpool of Niagara in the
dead of winter with the thermometer at zero and then cast on a stranded
iceberg he would now be sizzling hot.

Again she repeated her command,--this time in a more peremptory tone,
the same anxious note in her voice.

“Please come, if daddy doesn’t want you any more you must go home
at once. I wouldn’t have you take cold for--” she did not finish the
sentence; something in his face told her that her solicitude might
already have betrayed her.

“Of course, I will go just as soon as you are rested a little, but you
mustn’t worry about me, Miss Ruth, I am as wet as a rat, I know, but I
am that way half the time when it rains. These tarpaulins let in a
lot of water--” here he lifted his arms so she could see the openings
herself--“and then I got in over my boots trying to plug the holes in
the sluiceway with some plank.” He was looking down into her eyes now.
Never had he seen her so pretty. The exercise had made roses of her
cheeks, and the up-turned face framed by the thatch of a bonnet bound
with the veil, reminded him of a Madonna.

“And is everything all right with daddy? And was there nobody in the
shanties?” she went on. “Perhaps I might better try to get over where he
is;--do you think I can? I would just like to tell him how glad I am it
is no worse.”

“Yes, if you change boots with me,” laughed Jack, determined to divert
her mind; “I was nearly swamped getting back here. That is where most of
this mud came from--” and Jack turned his long, clay-encrusted boot so
that Ruth could see how large a section of the “fill” he had brought
with him.

Ruth began to laugh. There was no ostensible reason why she should
laugh; there was nothing about Jack’s make-up to cause it. Indeed, she
thought he had never looked so handsome, even if his hair were plastered
to his temples under his water-soaked hat and his clothes daubed with
mud.

And yet she did laugh:--At the way her veil got knotted under her
chin,--so tightly knotted that Jack had to take both hands to loosen it,
begging pardon for touching her throat, and hoping all the while that
his clumsy fingers had not hurt her;--at the way her hat was crumpled,
the flowers “never,--never, being of the slightest use to anybody
again”; at her bedraggled skirts--“such a sight, and sopping wet.”

And Jack laughed, too,--agreeing to everything she said, until she
reached that stage in the conversation, never omitted on occasions of
this kind, when she declared, arching her head, that she must look like
a perfect fright, which Jack at once refuted exclaiming that he had
never seen her look so--he was going to say “pretty,” but checked
himself and substituted “well,” instead, adding, as he wiped off
her ridiculously small boots, despite her protests, with his wet
handkerchief,--that cloud-bursts were not such bad things, after all,
now that he was to have the pleasure of escorting her home.

And so the two walked back to the village, the afternoon sun, which
had now shattered the lowering clouds, gilding and glorifying their
two faces, Jack stopping at Mrs. Hicks’s to change his clothes and Ruth
keeping on to the house, where he was to join her an hour later, when
the two would have a cup of tea and such other comforts as that young
lady might prepare for her water-soaked lover.



CHAPTER XXI



If ten minutes make half an hour, then it took Jack that long to rush
upstairs, two steps at a time, burst into his room, strip off his boots,
tear off his wet clothes, struggle into others jerked from his wardrobe,
tie a loose, red-silk scarf under the rolling collar of his light-blue
flannel shirt, slip into a grey pea-jacket and unmentionables, give his
hair a brush and a promise, tilt a dry hat on one side of his head and
skip down-stairs again.

Old Mrs. Hicks had seen him coming and had tried to catch him as he
flew out the door, hoping to get some more definite news of the calamity
which had stirred the village, but he was gone before she could reach
the front hall.

He had not thought of his better clothes; there might still be work to
do, and his Chief might again need his services. Ruth would understand,
he said to himself--all of which was true. Indeed, she liked him better
in his high-water rubber boots, wide slouch hat and tarpaulins than in
the more conventional suit of immaculate black with which he clothed his
shapely body whenever he took her to one of the big dinners at one of
the great houses on Washington Square.

And she liked this suit best of all. She had been peeping through the
curtains and her critical admiring eyes had missed no detail. She
saw that the cavalier boots were gone, but she recognized the short
pea-jacket and the loose rolling collar of the soft flannel shirt
circling the strong, bronzed throat, and the dash of red in the silken
scarf.

And so it is not surprising that when he got within sight of her
windows, his cheeks aflame with the crisp air, his eyes snapping with
the joy of once more hearing her voice, her heart should have throbbed
with an undefinable happiness and pride as she realized that for a time,
at least, he was to be all her own. And yet when he had again taken her
hand--the warmth of his last pressure still lingered in her palm--and
had looked into her eyes and had said how he hoped he had not kept her
waiting, all she could answer in reply was the non-committal remark:

“Well, now you look something like”--at which Jack’s heart gave a great
bound, any compliment, however slight, being so much manna to his hungry
soul; Ruth adding, as she led the way into the sitting-room, “I lighted
the wood fire because I was afraid you might still be cold.”

And ten minutes had been enough for Ruth.

It had been one of those lightning changes which a pretty girl can
always make when her lover is expected any instant and she does not want
to lose a moment of his time, but it had sufficed. Something soft and
clinging it was now; her lovely, rounded figure moving in its folds as
a mermaid moves in the surf; her hair shaken cut and caught up again in
all its delicious abandon; her cheeks, lips, throat, rose-color in the
joy of her expectancy.

He sat drinking it all in. Had a mass of outdoor roses been laid by
his side, their fragrance filling the air, the beauty of their coloring
entrancing his soul, he could not have been more intoxicated by their
beauty.

And yet, strange to say, only commonplaces rose to his lips. All the
volcano beneath, and only little spats of smoke and dying bits of ashes
in evidence! Even the message of his Chief about her not getting a new
bonnet all summer seemed a godsend under the circumstances. Had there
been any basis for her self-denial he would not have told her, knowing
how much anxiety she had suffered an hour before. But there was no real
good reason why she should economize either in bonnets or in anything
else she wanted. McGowan, of course, would be held responsible; for
whatever damage had been done he would have to pay. He had been present
when the young architect’s watchful and trained eye had discovered some
defects in the masonry of the wing walls of the McGowan culvert bridging
the stream, and had heard him tell the contractor, in so many words that
if the water got away and smashed anything below him he would charge the
loss to his account. McGowan had groveled in dissent, but it had made no
impression on Garry, whose duty it was to see that the work was properly
carried out and whose signature loosened the village purse strings.

None of these details would interest Ruth; nor was it necessary that
they should. The bonnet, however, was another matter. Bonnets were
worn over pretty heads and framed lovely hair and faces and eyes--one
especially! And then again any pleasantry of her father’s would tend to
relieve her mind after the anxiety of the morning. Yes, the bonnet by
all means!

“Oh, I never gave you your father’s message,” he began, laying aside
his cup, quite as if he had just remembered it. “I ought to have done so
before you hung up the hat you wore a while ago.”

Ruth looked up, smiling: “Why?” There was a roguish expression about her
mouth as she spoke. She was very happy this afternoon.

“He says you won’t get a new bonnet all summer,” continued Jack, toying
with the end of the ribbon that floated from her waist.

Ruth put down her cup and half rose from her chair All the color had
faded from her cheeks.

“Did he tell you that?” she cried, her eyes staring into his, her voice
trembling as if from some sudden fright.

Jack gazed at her in wonderment:

“Yes--of course he did and--Why, Miss Ruth!--Why, what’s the matter!
Have I said anything that--”

“Then something serious has happened,” she interrupted in a decided
tone. “That is always his message to me when he is in trouble. That is
what he telegraphed me when he lost the coffer-dam in the Susquehanna.
Oh!--he did not really tell you that, did he, Mr. Breen?” The old
anxious note had returned--the one he had heard at the “fill.”

“Yes--but nothing serious HAS happened, Miss Ruth,” Jack persisted, his
voice rising in the intensity of his conviction, his earnest, truthful
eyes fixed on hers--“nothing that will not come out all right in the
end. Please, don’t be worried, I know what I am talking about.”

“Oh, yes, it is serious,” she rejoined with equal positiveness. “You do
not know daddy. Nothing ever discourages him, and he meets everything
with a smile--but he cannot stand any more losses. The explosion was bad
enough, but if this ‘fill’ is to be rebuilt, I don’t know what will be
the end of it. Tell me over again, please--how did he look when he said
it?--and give me just the very words. Oh, dear, dear daddy! What will he
do?” The anxious note had now fallen to one of the deepest suffering.

Jack repeated the message word for word, all his tenderness in his
tones--patting her shoulder in his effort to comfort her--ending with
a minute explanation of what Garry had told him: but Ruth would not be
convinced.

“But you don’t know daddy,” she kept repeating “You don’t know him.
Nobody does but me. He would not have sent that message had he not meant
it. Listen! There he is now!” she cried, springing to her feet.

She had her arms around her father’s neck, her head nestling on his
shoulder before he had fairly entered the door. “Daddy, dear, is it very
bad?” she murmured.

“Pretty bad, little girl,” he answered, smoothing her cheek tenderly
with his chilled fingers as he moved with her toward the fire, “but it
might have been worse but for the way Breen handled the men.”

“And will it all have to be rebuilt?”

She was glad for Jack, but it was her father who now filled her mind.

“That I can’t tell, Puss”--one of his pet names for her, particularly
when she needed comforting--“but it’s safe for the night, anyway.”

“And you have worked so hard--so hard!” Her beautiful arms, bare from
the elbow, were still around his neck, her cheek pressed close--her
lovely, clinging body in strong contrast to the straight, gray, forceful
man in the wet storm-coat, who stood with arms about her while he
caressed her head with his brown fingers.

“Well, Puss, we have one consolation--it wasn’t our fault--the ‘fill’
is holding splendidly although it has had a lively shaking up. The worst
was over in ten minutes, but it was pretty rough while it lasted. I
don’t think I ever saw water come so fast. I saw you with Breen, but I
couldn’t reach you then. Look out for your dress, daughter. I’m pretty
wet.”

He released her arms from his neck and walked toward the fire, stripping
off his gray mackintosh as he moved. There he stretched his hands to the
blaze sod went on: “As I say, the ‘fill’ is safe and will stay so, for
the water is going down rapidly; dropped ten feet, Breen, since you
left. My!--but this fire feels good! Got into something dry--did
you, Breen? That’s right. But I am not satisfied about the way the
down-stream end of the culvert acts”--this also was addressed to
Jack--“I am afraid some part of the arch has caved in. It will be bad if
it has--we shall know in the morning. You weren’t frightened, Puss, were
you?”

She did not answer. She had heard that cheery, optimistic note in her
father’s voice before; she knew how much of it was meant for her ears.
None of his disasters were ever serious, to hear daddy talk--“only the
common lot of the contracting engineer, little girl,” he would say,
kissing her good-night, while he again pored over his plans, sometimes
until daylight.

She crept up to him the closer and nestled her fingers inside his
collar--an old caress of hers when she was a child, then looking up into
his eyes she asked with almost a throb of suffering in her voice, “Is it
as bad as the coffer-dam, daddy?”

Jack looked on in silence. He dared not add a word of comfort of his own
while his Chief held first place in soothing her fears.

MacFarlane passed his hand over her forehead--“Don’t ask me, child! Why
do you want to bother your dear head over such things, Puss?” he asked,
as he stroked her hair.

“Because I must and will know. Tell me the truth,” she demanded, lifting
her head, a note of resolve in her voice. “I can help you the
better if I know it all.” Some of the blood of one of her
great-great-grandmothers, who had helped defend a log-house in Indian
times, was asserting itself. She could weep, but she could fight, too,
if necessary.

“Well, then, I’m afraid it is worse than the coffer-dam,” he answered
in all seriousness. “It may be a matter of twelve or fifteen thousand
dollars--maybe more, if we have to rebuild the ‘fill.’ I can’t tell
yet.”

Ruth released her grasp, moved to the sofa and sank down, her chin
resting on her hand. Twelve or fifteen thousand dollars! This meant
ruin to everybody--to her father, to--a new terror now flashed into
her mind--to Jack--yes, Jack! Jack would have to go away and find other
work--and just at the time, too, when he was getting to be the old Jack
once more. With this came another thought, followed by an instantaneous
decision--what could she do to help? Already she had determined on her
course. She would work--support herself--relieve her father just that
much.

An uncomfortable silence followed. For some moments no one spoke. Her
father, stifling a sigh, turned slowly, pushed a chair to the fire and
settled into it, his rubber-encased knees wide apart, so that the warmth
of the blaze could reach most of his body. Jack found a seat beside him,
his mind on Ruth and her evident suffering, his ears alert for any fresh
word from his Chief.

“I forgot to tell you, Breen,” MacFarlane said at last, “that I came up
the track just now as far as the round-house with the General Manager of
the Road. He has sent one of his engineers to look after that Irishman’s
job before he can pull it to pieces to hide his rotten work--that is,
what is left of it. Of course it means a lawsuit or a fight in the
Village Council. That takes time and money, and generally costs more
than you get. I’ve been there before, Breen, and know.”

“Does he understand about McGowan’s contract?” inquired Jack
mechanically, his eyes on Ruth. Her voice still rang in his ears--its
pathos and suffering stirred him to his very depths.

“Yes--I told him all about it,” MacFarlane replied. “The Road will stand
behind us--so the General Manager says--but every day’s delay is ruinous
to them. It will be night-and-day work for us now, and no let-up. I have
notified the men.” He rose from his seat and crossed to his daughter’s
side, and leaning over, drew her toward him: “Brace up, little girl,”
 there was infinite tenderness in his cadences--“it’s all in a lifetime.
There are only two of us, you know--just you and me, daughter--just you
and me--just two of us. Kiss me, Puss.”

Regaining his full height he picked up his storm-coat from the chair
where he had flung it, and with the remark to Jack, that he would change
his clothes, moved toward the door. There he beckoned to him, waited
until he had reached his side, and whispering in his ear: “Talk to her
and cheer her up, Breen. Poor little girl--she worries so when anything
like this happens”--mounted the stairs to his room.

“Don’t worry, Miss Ruth,” said Jack in comforting tones as he returned
to where she sat. “We will all pull out yet.”

“It is good of you to say so,” she replied, lifting her head and leaning
back so that she could look into his eyes the better, “but I know
you don’t think so. Daddy was just getting over his losses on the
Susquehanna bridge. This work would have set him on his feet. Those were
his very words--and he was getting so easy in his mind, too--and we had
planned so many things!”

“But you can still go to Newport,” Jack pleaded. “We will be here some
months yet, and--”

“Oh--but I won’t go a step anywhere. I could not leave him now--that is,
not as long as I can help him.”

“But aren’t you going to the Fosters’ and Aunt Felicia’s?” She might not
be, but it was good all the same to hear her deny it.

“Not to anybody’s!” she replied, with an emphasis that left no doubt in
his mind.

Jack’s heart gave a bound.

“But you were going if we went to Morfordsburg,” he persisted. He was
determined to get at the bottom of all his misgivings. Perhaps, after
all, Peter was right.

Ruth caught her breath. The name of the town had reopened a vista which
her anxiety over her father’s affairs had for the moment shut out.

“Well, but that is over now. I am going to stay here and help daddy.”
 Again the new fear tugged at her heart. “You are going to stay, too,
aren’t you, Mr. Breen?” she added in quick alarm. “You won’t leave him,
will you?--not if--” again the terrible money loss rose before her. What
if there should not be money enough to pay Jack?

“Me! Why, Miss Ruth!”

“But suppose he was not able to--” she could not frame the rest of the
sentence.

“You can’t suppose anything that would make me leave him, or the work.”
 This also came with an emphasis of positive certainty. “I have never
been so happy as I have been here. I never knew what it was to be
myself. I never knew,” he added in softened tones, “what it was to
really live until I joined your father. Only last night Uncle Peter and
I were talking about it. ‘Stick to Mac,’ the dear old fellow said.” It
was to Ruth, but he dared not express himself, except in parables. “Then
you HAD thought of going?” she asked quickly, a shadow falling across
her face.

“No--” he hesitated--“I had only thought of STAYING. It was you who were
going--I was all broken up about being left here alone, and Uncle Peter
wanted to know why I did not beg you to stay, and I--”

Ruth turned her face toward him.

“Well, I am going to stay,” she answered simply. She did not dare to
trust herself further.

“Yes!--and now I don’t care what happens!” he exclaimed with a thrill
in his voice. “If you will only trust me, Miss Ruth, and let me come in
with you and your father. Let me help! Don’t let there be only two--let
us be three! Don’t you see what a difference it would make? I will work
and save every penny I can for him and take every bit of the care from
his shoulders; but can’t you understand how much easier it would be if
you would only let me help you too? I could hardly keep the tears back
a moment ago when I saw you sink down here. I can’t see you unhappy like
this and not try to comfort you.”

“You do help me,” she murmured softly. Her eyes had now dropped to the
cushion at her side.

“Yes, but not--Oh, Ruth, don’t you see how I love you! What difference
does this accident make--what difference does anything make if we have
each other?” He had his hand on hers now, and was bending over, his eyes
eager for some answer in her own. “I have suffered so,” he went on, “and
I am so tired and so lonely without you. When you wouldn’t understand me
that time when I came to you after the tunnel blew up, I went about like
one in a dream--and then I determined to forget it all, and you, and
everything--but I couldn’t, and I can’t now. Maybe you won’t listen--but
please--”

Ruth withdrew her hand quickly and straightened her shoulders. The
mention of the tunnel and what followed had brought with it a rush of
memories that had caused her the bitterest tears of her life. And then
again what did he mean by “helping”?

“Jack,” she said slowly, as if every word gave her pain, “listen to
me. When you saved my father’s life and I wanted to tell you how much I
thanked you for it, you would not let me tell you. Is not that true?”

“I did not want your gratitude, Ruth,” he pleaded in excuse, his lips
quivering, “I wanted your love.”

“And why, then, should I not say to you now that I do not want your
pity? Is it because you are--” her voice sank to a whisper, every note
told of her suffering--“you are--sorry for me, Jack, that you tell me
you love me?”

Jack sprang to his feet and stood looking down upon her. The cruelty of
her injustice smote his heart. Had a man’s glove been dashed in his face
he could not have been more incensed. For a brief moment there surged
through him all he had suffered for her sake; the sleepless nights, the
days of doubts and misunderstandings! And it had come to this! Again he
was treated with contempt--again his heart and all it held was trampled
on. A wild protest rose in his throat and trembled on his lips.

At that instant she raised her eyes and looked into his. A look so
pleading--so patient--so weary of the struggle--so ready to receive the
blow--that the hot words recoiled in his throat. He bent his head to
search her eyes the better. Down in their depths, as one sees the bottom
of a clear pool he read the truth, and with it came a reaction that sent
the hot blood rushing through his veins.

“Sorry for you, my darling!” he burst out joyously--“I who love you like
my own soul! Oh, Ruth!--Ruth!--my beloved!”

He had her in his arms now, her cheek to his, her yielding body held
close.

Then their lips met.

The Scribe lays down his pen. This be holy ground on which we tread. All
she has she has given him: all the fantasies of her childhood, all the
dreams of her girlhood, all her trust, her loyalty--her reverence--all
to the very last pulsation of her being.

And this girl he holds in his arms! So pliant, so yielding, so pure and
undefiled! And the silken sheen and intoxicating perfume of her hair,
and the trembling lashes shading the eager, longing, soul-hungry eyes;
and the way the little pink ears nestle; and the fair, white, dovelike
throat, with its ripple of lace. And then the dear arms about his neck
and the soft clinging fingers that are intertwined with his own! And
more wonderful still, the perfect unison, the oneness, the sameness; no
jar, no discordant note; mind, soul, desire--a harmony.

The wise men say there are no parallels in nature; that no one thing in
the wide universe exactly mates and matches any other one thing; that
each cloud has differed from every other cloud-form in every hour of the
day and night, to-day, yesterday and so on back through the forgotten
centuries; that no two leaves in form, color, or texture, lift the same
faces to the sun on any of the million trees; that no wave on any beach
curves and falls as any wave has curved and fallen before--not since the
planet cooled. And so it is with the drift of wandering winds; with the
whirl and crystals of driving snow, with the slant and splash of rain.
And so, too, with the flight of birds; the dash and tumble of restless
brooks; the roar of lawless thunder and the songs of birds.

The one exception is when we hold in our arms the woman we love, and
for the first time drink in her willing soul through her lips. Then,
and only then, does the note of perfect harmony ring true through the
spheres.

For a long time they sat perfectly still. Not many words had passed, and
these were only repetitions of those they had used before. “Such dear
hands,” Jack would say, and kiss them both up and down the fingers,
and then press the warm, pink shell palm to his lips and kiss it again,
shutting his eyes, with the reverence of a devotee at the feet of the
Madonna.

“And, Jack dear,” Ruth would murmur, as if some new thought had welled
up in her heart--and then nothing would follow, until Jack would loosen
his clasp a little--just enough to free the dear cheek and say:

“Go on, my darling,” and then would come--

“Oh, nothing, Jack--I--” and once more their lips would meet.

It was only when MacFarlane’s firm step was heard on the stairs outside
that the two awoke to another world. Jack reached his feet first.

“Shall we tell him?” he asked, looking down into her face.

“Of course, tell him,” braved out Ruth, uptilting her head with the
movement of a fawn surprised in the forest.

“When?” asked Jack, his eager eyes on the opening door.

“Now, this very minute. I never keep anything from daddy.”

MacFarlane came sauntering in, his strong, determined, finely cut
features illumined by a cheery smile. He had squared things with himself
while he had been dressing: “Hard lines, Henry, isn’t it?” he had asked
of himself, a trick of his when he faced any disaster like the present.
“Better get Ruth off somewhere, Henry, don’t you think so? Yes, get her
off to-morrow. The little girl can’t stand everything, plucky as she
is.” It was this last thought of his daughter that had sent the cheery
smile careering around his firm lips. No glum face for Ruth!

They met him half-way down the room, the two standing together, Jack’s
arm around her waist.

“Daddy!”

“Yes, dear.” He had not yet noted the position of the two, although he
had caught the joyous tones in her voice.

“Jack and I want to tell you something. You won’t be cross, will you?”

“Cross, Puss!” He stopped and looked at her wonderingly. Had Jack
comforted her? Was she no longer worried over the disaster?

Jack released his arm and would have stepped forward, but she held him
back.

“No, Jack,--let me tell him. You said a while ago, daddy, that there
were only two of us--just you and I--and that it had always been so
and--”

“Well, isn’t it true, little girl?” It’s extraordinary how blind and
stupid a reasonably intelligent father can be on some occasions, and
this one was as blind as a cave-locked fish.

“Yes, it WAS true, daddy, when you went upstairs, but--but--it isn’t
true any more! There are three of us now!” She was trembling all over
with uncontrollable joy, her voice quavering in her excitement.

Again Jack tried to speak, but she laid her hand on his lips with--

“No, please don’t, Jack--not yet--you will spoil everything.”

MacFarlane still looked on in wonderment. She was much happier, he could
see, and he was convinced that Jack was in some way responsible for the
change, but it was all a mystery yet.

“Three of us!” MacFarlane repeated mechanically--“well, who is the
other, Puss?”

“Why, Jack, of course! Who else could it be but Jack? Oh!
Daddy!--Please--please--we love each other so!”

That night a telegram went singing down the wires leaving a trail of
light behind. A sleepy, tired girl behind an iron screen recorded it
on a slip of yellow paper, enclosed it in an envelope, handed it to a
half-awake boy, who strolled leisurely up to Union Square, turned into
Fifteenth Street, mounted Peter’s front stoop and so on up three flights
of stairs to Peter’s door. There he awoke the echoes into life with his
knuckles.

In answer, a charming and most courtly old gentleman in an embroidered
dressing-gown and slippers, a pair of gold spectacles pushed high up on
his round, white head, his index finger marking the place in his book,
opened the door.

“Telegram for Mr. Grayson,” yawned the boy.

Ah! but there were high jinks inside the cosey red room with its low
reading lamp and easy chairs, when Peter tore that envelope apart.

“Jack--Ruth--engaged!” he cried, throwing down his book. “MacFarlane
delighted--What!--WHAT? Oh, Jack, you rascal!--you did take my advice,
did you? Well I--well! I’ll write them both--No, I’ll telegraph
Felicia--No, I won’t!--I’ll--Well!--well!--WELL! Did you ever hear
anything like that?” and again his eyes devoured the yellow slip.

Not a word of the freshet; of the frightful loss; of the change of
plans for the summer; of the weeks of delay and the uncertain financial
outlook! And alas, dear reader--not a syllable, as you have perhaps
noticed, of poor daddy tottering on the brink of bankruptcy; nor the
slightest reference to brave young women going out alone in the cold,
cold world to earn their bread! What were floods, earthquakes, cyclones,
poverty, debt--what was anything that might, could, would or should
happen, compared to the joy of their plighted troth!



CHAPTER XXII



Summer has come: along the banks of the repentant stream the willows are
in full leaf; stretches of grass, braving the coal smoke and dust hide
the ugly red earth. The roads are dry again; the slopes of the “fill”
 once more are true; all the arches in the mouth of the tunnel are
finished; the tracks have been laid and the first train has crawled out
on the newly tracked road where it haggled, snorted and stopped, only to
crawl back and be swallowed by The Beast.

And with the first warm day came Miss Felicia. “When your wretched,
abominable roads, my dear, dry up so that a body can walk without
sinking up to their neck in mud--” ran Miss Felicia’s letter in answer
to Ruth’s invitation,--“I’ll come down for the night,” and she did,
bringing Ruth half of her laces, now that she was determined to throw
herself away on “that good-for nothing--Yes, Jack, I mean you and nobody
else, and you needn’t stand there laughing at me, for every word of it’s
true; for what in the world you two babes in the wood are going to live
on no mortal man knows;” Ruth answering with her arm tight around
the dear lady’s neck,--a liberty nobody,--not even Peter, ever dared
take--and a whisper in her ear that Jack was the blessedest ever,
and that she loved him so sometimes she was well-nigh distracted--a
statement which the old lady remarked was literally true.

And we may be sure that Peter came too--and we may be equally positive
that no impassable roads could have held him back. Indeed, on the very
afternoon of the very day following the receipt of the joyful telegram,
he had closed his books with a bang, performed the Moses act until he
had put them into the big safe, slipped on his coat, given an extra
brush to his hat and started for the ferry. All that day his face had
been in a broad smile; even the old book-keeper noticed it and so did
Patrick, the night-watchman and sometimes porter; and so did the line
of depositors who inched along to his window and were greeted with a
flash-light play of humor on his face instead of the more sedate, though
equally kindly expression which always rested on his features when
at work. But that was nothing to the way he hugged Jack and
Ruth--separately--together--then Ruth, then Jack--and then both together
again, only stopping at MacFarlane, whose hand he grabbed with a “Great
day! hey? Great day! By Cricky, Henry, these are the things that put new
wine into old leather bottles like you and me.”

And this was not all that the spring and summer had brought. Fresh sap
had risen in Jack’s veins. This girl by his side was his own--something
to work for--something to fight for. MacFarlane felt the expansion and
put him in full charge of the work, relieving him often in the night
shifts, when the boy would catch a few hours’ sleep, and when, you may
be sure, he stopped long enough at the house to get his arms around Ruth
before he turned in for the night or the morning, or whenever he did
turn in.

As to the injury which McGowan’s slipshod work had caused to the “fill,”
 the question of damages and responsibility for the same still hung in
the air. The “fill” did not require rebuilding--nor did any part of the
main work--a great relief. The loss had not, therefore, been as great as
MacFarlane had feared. Moreover, the scour and slash of the down-stream
slope, thanks to Jack’s quick work, required but few weeks to repair;
the culvert, contrary to everybody’s expectation, standing the test, and
the up-stream slope showing only here and there marks of the onslaught.
The wing walls were the worst; these had to be completely rebuilt,
involving an expense of several thousands of dollars, the exact amount
being one point in the discussion.

Garry, to his credit, had put his official foot down with so strong
a pressure that McGowan, fearing that he would have to reconstruct
everything from the bed of the stream up, if he held out any longer,
agreed to arbitrate the matter, he selecting one expert and MacFarlane
the other; and the Council--that is, Garry--the third. MacFarlane had
chosen the engineer of the railroad who had examined McGowan’s masonry
an hour after the embankment had given way. McGowan picked out a brother
contractor and Garry wrote a personal letter to Holker Morris, following
it up by a personal visit to the office of the distinguished architect,
who, when he learned that not only Garry, MacFarlane, and Jack were
concerned in the outcome of the investigation, but also Ruth--whose
marriage might depend on the outcome,--broke his invariable rule of
never getting mixed up in anybody’s quarrels, and accepted the position
without a murmur.

This done everybody interested sat down to await the result of the
independent investigations of each expert, Garry receiving the reports
in sealed envelopes and locking them in the official safe, to be opened
in full committee at its next monthly meeting, when a final report, with
recommendations as to liability and costs, would be drawn up; the same,
when adopted by a majority of the Council the following week, to be
binding.

It was during this suspense--it happened really on the morning
succeeding the one on which Garry had opened the official
envelopes--that an envelope of quite a different character was laid on
Jack’s table by the lady with the adjustable hair, who invariably made
herself acquainted with as much of that young gentleman’s mail as could
be gathered from square envelopes sealed in violet wax, or bearing
family crests in low relief, or stamped with monograms in light blue
giving out delicate perfumes, each one of which that lady sniffed
with great satisfaction; to say nothing of business addresses and
postal-cards,--the latter being readable, and, therefore, her delight.

This envelope, however, was different from any she had ever fumbled,
sniffed at, or pondered over. It was not only of unusual size, but it
bore in the upper left-hand corner in bold black letters the words:

ARTHUR BREEN & COMPANY, BANKERS.

It was this last word which set the good woman to thinking. Epistles
from banks were not common,--never found at all, in fact, among the
letters of her boarders.

Jack was even more astonished.

“Call at the office,” the letter ran, “the first time you are in New
York,--the sooner the better. I have some information regarding the ore
properties that may interest you.”

As the young fellow had not heard from his uncle in many moons, the
surprise was all the greater. Nor, if the truth be known, had he laid
eyes on that gentleman since he left the shelter of his home, except at
Corinne’s wedding,--and then only across the church, and again in
the street, when his uncle stopped and shook his hand in a rather
perfunctory way, complimenting him on his bravery in rescuing
MacFarlane, an account of which he had seen in the newspapers, and
ending by hoping that his new life would “drop some shekels into his
clothes.” Mrs. Breen, on the contrary, while she had had no opportunity
of expressing her mental attitude toward the exile, never having seen
him since he walked out of her front door, was by no means oblivious to
Jack’s social and business successes. “I hear Jack was at Mrs. Portman’s
last night,” she said to her husband the morning after one of the
ex-Clearing House Magnate’s great receptions. “They say he goes
everywhere, and that Mr. Grayson has adopted him and is going to leave
him all his money,” to which Breen had grunted back that Jack was
welcome to the Portmans and the Portmans to Jack, and that if old
Grayson had any money, which he very much doubted, he’d better hoist
it overboard than give it to that rattlebrain. Mrs. Breen heaved a deep
sigh. Neither she nor Breen had been invited to the Portmans’, nor
had Corinne (the Scribe has often wondered whether the second scoop
in Mukton was the cause)--and yet Ruth MacFarlane, and Jack and Miss
Felicia Grayson, and a lot more out-of-town people--so that insufferable
Mrs. Bennett had told her--had come long distances to be present, the
insufferable adding significantly that “Miss MacFarlane looked too
lovely and was by all odds the prettiest girl in the room, and as for
young Breen, really she could have fallen in love with him herself!”

Jack tucked his uncle’s letter in his pocket, skipped over to read it to
Ruth and MacFarlane, in explanation of his enforced absence for the
day, and kept on his way to the station. The missive referred to the
Morfordsburg contract, of course, and was evidently an attempt to gain
information regarding the proposed work, Arthur Breen & Co. being the
financial agents of many similar properties.

“I will take care of him, sir,” Jack had said as he left his Chief. “My
uncle, no doubt, means all right, and it is just as well to hear what
he says--besides he has been good enough to write to me, and of course I
must go, but I shall not commit myself one way or the other--” and with
a whispered word in Ruth’s ear, a kiss and a laugh, he left the house.

As he turned down the short street leading to the station, he caught
sight of Garry forging ahead on his way to the train. That rising young
architect, chairman of the Building Committee of the Council, trustee of
church funds, politician and all-round man of the world--most of which
he carried in a sling--seemed in a particularly happy frame of mind
this morning judging from the buoyancy with which he stepped. This had
communicated itself to the gayety of his attire, for he was dressed in a
light-gray check suit, and wore a straw hat (the first to see the light
of summer) with a green ribbon about the crown,--together with a white
waistcoat and white spats, the whole enriched by a red rose bud which
Corinne had with her own hands pinned in his buttonhole.

“Why, hello! Jack, old man! just the very fellow I’m looking for,” cried
the joyous traveller. “You going to New York?--So am I,--go every day
now,--got something on ice,--the biggest thing I’ve ever struck. I’ll
show that uncle of yours that two can play at his game. He hasn’t lifted
his hand to help us, and I don’t want him to,--Cory and I can get along;
but you’d think he’d come out and see us once in a while, wouldn’t you,
or ask after the baby; Mrs. Breen comes, but not Breen. We live in the
country and have tar on our heels, he thinks. Here,--sit by the window!
Now let’s talk of something else. How’s Miss Ruth and the governor? He’s
a daisy;--best engineer anywhere round here. Yes, Cory’s all right. Baby
keeps her awake half the night; I’ve moved out and camp upstairs;
can’t stand it. Oh, by the way, I see you are about finishing up on the
railroad work. I’ll have something to say to you next week on the damage
question. Got all the reports in last night. I tell you, my old chief,
Mr. Morris, is a corker! What he doesn’t know about masonry isn’t worth
picking up;--can’t fool him! That’s what’s the matter with half of our
younger men; they sharpen lead-pencils, mix ink, and think they are
drawing; or they walk down a stone wall and don’t know any more what’s
behind it and what holds it up than a child. Mr. Morris can not only
design a wall, but he can teach some first-class mechanics how to lay
it.”

Jack looked out the window and watched the fences fly past. For the
moment he made no reply to Garry’s long harangue--especially the part
referring to the report. Anxious as he was to learn the result of the
award, he did not want the facts from the chairman of the committee in
advance of the confirmation by the Council.

“What is it you have on ice, Garry?” he asked at last with a laugh,
yielding to an overpowering conviction that he must change the
subject--“a new Corn Exchange? Nobody can beat you in corn exchanges.”

“Not by a long shot, Jack,--got something better; I am five thousand
ahead now, and it’s all velvet.”

“Gold-mine, Garry?” queried Jack, turning his head. “Another Mukton
Lode? Don’t forget poor Charlie Gilbert; he’s been clerking it ever
since, I hear.”

“No, a big warehouse company; I’ll get the buildings later on. That
Mukton Lode deal was a clear skin game, Jack, if it is your uncle, and
A. B. & Co. got paid up for it--downtown and uptown. You ought to hear
the boys at the Magnolia talk about it. My scheme is not that kind;
I’m on the ground floor; got some of the promoter’s stock. When you are
through with your railroad contract and get your money, let me know.
I can show you a thing or two;--open your eyes! No Wall Street racket,
remember,--just a plain business deal.”

“There won’t be much money left over, Garry, from the ‘fill’ and tunnel
work, if we keep on. We ought to have a cyclone next to finish up with;
we’ve had about everything else.”

“You’re all through, Jack,” replied Garry with emphasis.

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” said Jack with a smile.

“I tell you, Jack, YOU ARE ALL THROUGH. Do you understand? Don’t ask
me any questions and I won’t tell you any lies. The first thing that
strikes you will be a check, and don’t you forget it!”

Jack’s heart gave a bound. The information had come as a surprise and
without his aid, and yet it was none the less welcome. The dreaded
anxiety was over; he knew now what the verdict of the Council would
be. He had been right from the first in this matter, and Garry had
not failed despite the strong political pressure which must have been
brought against him. The new work now would go on and he and Ruth could
go to Morfordsburg together! He could already see her trim, lovely
figure in silhouette against the morning light, her eyes dancing, her
face aglow in the crisp air of the hills.

Garry continued to talk on as they sped into the city, elaborating the
details of the warehouse venture in which he had invested his present
and some of his future commissions, but his words fell on stony ground.
The expected check was the only thing that filled Jack’s thoughts. There
was no doubt in his mind now that the decision would be in MacFarlane’s
favor, and that the sum, whether large or small, would be paid without
delay,--Garry being treasurer and a large amount of money being still
due McGowan on the embankment and boulevard. It would be joyous news to
Ruth, he said to himself, with a thrill surging through his heart.

Jack left Garry on the Jersey side and crossed alone. The boy loved
the salt air in his face and the jewelled lights flashed from the
ever-restless sea. He loved, too, the dash and vim of it all. Forcing
his way through the crowds of passengers to the forward part of the
boat, he stood where he could get the full sweep of the wonderful
panorama:

The jagged purple line of the vast city stretching as far as the eye
could reach; with its flat-top, square-sided, boxlike buildings, with
here and there a structure taller than the others; the flash of light
from Trinity’s spire, its cross aflame; the awkward, crab-like movements
of innumerable ferry-boats, their gaping alligator mouths filled with
human flies; the impudent, nervous little tugs, spitting steam in every
passing face; the long strings of sausage-linked canalers kept together
by grunting, slow-moving tows; the great floating track-yards bearing
ponderous cars--eight days from the Pacific without break of bulk; the
skinny, far-reaching fingers of innumerable docks clutching prey
of barge, steamer, and ship; the stately ocean-liner moving to sea,
scattering water-bugs of boats, scows and barges as it glided on its
way:--all this stirred his imagination and filled him with a strange
resolve. He, too, would win a place among the masses--Ruth’s hand fast
in his.



CHAPTER XXIII



When Jack, in reply to Breen’s note, stepped into his uncle’s office, no
one would have recognized in the quick, alert, bronze-faced young fellow
the retiring, almost timid, boy who once peered out of the port-hole of
the cashier’s desk. Nor did Jack’s eyes fall on any human being he had
ever seen before. New occupants filled the chairs about the ticker. A
few lucky ones--very few--had pulled out and stayed out, and could now
be found at their country seats in various parts of the State, or on the
Riviera, or in Egypt; but by far the larger part had crawled out of the
fight to nurse their wounds within the privacy of their own homes where
the outward show had to be kept up no matter how stringent the inside
economies, or how severe the privations. Others, less fortunate, had
disappeared altogether from their accustomed haunts and were to be found
filling minor positions in some far Western frontier town or camp, or
menial berths on a railroad, while at least one victim, too cowardly
to leave the field, had haunted the lunch counters, hotel lobbies, and
race-tracks for months, preying on friends and acquaintances alike until
dire poverty forced him into crime, and a stone cell and a steel grille
had ended the struggle.

Failing to find any face he recognized, Jack approached a group around
the ticker, and inquired for the head of the firm. The answer came from
a red-cheeked, clean-shaven, bullet-headed, immaculately upholstered
gentleman--(silk scarf, diamond horse-shoe stick-pin, high collar,
cut-away coat, speckled-trout waistcoat--everything perfect)--who stood,
paring his nails in front of the plate-glass window overlooking the
street, and who conveyed news of the elder Breen’s whereabouts by a bob
of his head and a jerk of his fat forefinger in the direction of the
familiar glass door.

Breen sat at his desk when Jack entered, but it was only when he spoke
that his uncle looked up;--so many men swung back that door with favors
to ask, that spontaneous affability was often bad policy.

“I received your letter, Uncle Arthur,” Jack began.

Breen raised his eyes, and a deep color suffused his face. In his heart
he had a sneaking admiration for the boy. He liked his pluck. Strange,
too, he liked him the better for having left him and striking out for
himself, and stranger still, he was a little ashamed for having brought
about the revolt.

“Why, Jack!” He was on his feet now, his hand extended, something of his
old-time cordiality in his manner. “You got my letter, did you? Well, I
wanted to talk to you about that ore property. You own it still, don’t
you?” The habit of his life of going straight at the business in hand,
precluded every other topic. Then again he wanted a chance to look the
boy over under fire,--“size him up,” in his own vocabulary. He might
need his help later on.

“Oh, we don’t own a foot of it,--don’t want to. If Mr. MacFarlane
decides to--”

“I’m not talking about MacFarlane’s job; I’m talking about your own
property,--the Cumberland ore property,--the one your father left you.
You haven’t sold it, have you?” This came in an anxious tone.

“No,” answered Jack simply, wondering what his father’s legacy had to do
with his Chief’s proposed work.

“Have you paid the taxes?” Arthur’s eyes were now boring into his.

“Yes, every year; they were not much. Why do you ask?”

“I’ll tell you that later on,” answered his uncle with a more satisfied
air. “You were up there with MacFarlane, weren’t you?--when he went to
look over the ground of the Maryland Mining Company where he is to cut
the horizontal shaft?” Jack nodded. “So I heard. Well, it may interest
you to learn that some of our Mukton people own the property. It was I
who sent MacFarlane up, really, although he may not know it.”

“That was very kind of you, sir,” rejoined Jack, without a trace of
either gratitude or surprise.

“Well, I’m glad you think so. Some of our directors also own a block of
that new road MacFarlane is finishing. They wouldn’t hire anybody else
after they had gone up to Corklesville and had seen how he did his work,
so I had the secretary of the company write MacFarlane, and that’s how
it came about.”

Jack nodded and waited; his uncle’s drift was not yet apparent.

“Well, what I wanted to see you about, Jack, is this:” here he settled
his fat back into the chair. “All the ore in that section of the
county,--so our experts say, dips to the east. They’ve located the vein
and they think a horizontal shaft and gravity will get the stuff to
tide water much cheaper than a vertical shaft and hoist. Now if the
ore should peter out--and the devil himself can’t tell always about
that--we’ve got to get some ore somewhere round there to brace up and
make good our prospectus, even if it does cost a little more, and that’s
where your Cumberland property might come in,--see? One of our lawyers
looked over a record of your deed in the town hall of Mulford--” here
he bent forward and consulted a paper on his desk--“No,--that’s not
it,--Morfordsburg,--yes, that’s it,--Morfordsburg,--looked up the deed,
I say, Jack, and from what he says I don’t believe your property is
more than a quarter of a mile, as the crow flies, from where they want
MacFarlane to begin cutting. If the lawyer’s right there may be a few
dollars in it for you--not much, but something; and if there is,--of
course, I don’t want to commit myself, and I don’t want to encourage you
too much--but if he’s right I should advise your bringing me what papers
you’ve got and have our attorney look them over, and if everything’s
O.K. in the title, your property might be turned over to the new company
and form part of the deal. You can understand, of course, that we don’t
want any other deposits in that section but our own.”

Breen’s meaning was clear now. So was the purpose of the letter.

Jack leaned back in his chair, an expression first of triumph and then
of disgust crossing his face. That his uncle should actually want him
back in his business in any capacity was as complimentary as it was
unexpected. That the basis of the copartnership--and it was this that
brought the curl to his lip--was such that neither a quarter of a mile
nor two miles would stand in the way of a connecting vein of ore on
paper, was to be expected by any one at all familiar with his uncle’s
methods.

“Thank you, Uncle Arthur,” he answered simply, “but there’s nothing
decided yet about the Morfordsburg work. I heard a bit of news coming
down on the train this morning that may cause Mr. MacFarlane to look
upon the proposed work more favorably, but that is for him to say. As
to my own property, when I am there again, if I do go,--I will look
over the ground myself and have Mr. MacFarlane go with me and then I can
decide.”

Breen knitted his brows. It was not the answer he had expected. In fact,
he was very much astonished both at the reply and the way in which it
was given. He began to be sorry he had raised the question at all. He
would gladly have helped Jack in getting a good price for his property,
provided it did not interfere with his own plans, but to educate him up
to the position of an obstructionist, was quite another matter.

“Well, think it over,” he replied in a tone that was meant to show his
entire indifference to the whole affair,--“and some time when you are in
town drop in again. And now tell me about Ruth, as we must call her,
I suppose. Your aunt just missed her at the Cosgroves’ the other day.”
 Then came a short disquisition on Garry and Corinne and their life at
Elm Crest, followed by an embarrassing pause, during which the head of
the house of Breen lowered the flow line on a black bottle which he took
from a closet behind his desk,--“his digestion being a little out that
morning,” he explained. And so with renewed thanks for the interest he
had taken in his behalf, and with his whole mind now concentrated on
Peter and the unspeakable happiness in store for him when he poured
into the old gentleman’s willing and astonished ears the details of the
interview, Mr. John Breen, Henry MacFarlane’s Chief Assistant in Charge
of Outside Work, bowed himself out.

He had not long to wait.

Indeed, that delightful old gentleman had but a short time before called
to a second old gentleman, a more or less delightful fossil in black wig
and spectacles, to take his place at the teller’s window, and the first
delightful old gentleman was at the precise moment standing on the top
step of the Exeter, overlooking the street, where he had caught sight of
Jack wending his way toward him.

“Jack! JACK!” Peter cried, waving his hand at the boy.

“Oh! that’s you, Uncle Peter, is it? Shall I--?”

“No, Jack, stay where you are until I come to you.”

“And where are you going now?” burst out Jack, overjoyed at reaching his
side.

“To luncheon, my dear boy! We’ll go to Favre’s, and have a stuffed
pepper and a plate of spaghetti an inch deep, after my own
receipt. Botti cooks it deliciously;--and a bottle of red wine, my
boy,--WINE,--not logwood and vinegar. No standing up at a trough, or
sitting on a high stool, or wandering about with a sandwich between your
fingers,--ruining your table manners and your digestion. And now tell
me about dear Ruth, and what she says about coming down to dinner next
week?”

It was wonderful how young he looked, and how happy he was, and how spry
his step, as the two turned into William Street and so on to the cheap
little French restaurant with its sanded floor, little tables for two
and four, with their tiny pots of mustard and flagons of oil and
red vinegar,--this last, the “left-overs” of countless bottles of
Bordeaux,--to say nothing of the great piles of French bread weighing
down a shelf beside the proprietor’s desk, racked up like cordwood, and
all of the same color, length, and thickness.

Every foot of the way through the room toward his own table--his for
years, and which was placed in the far corner overlooking the doleful
little garden with its half-starved vine and hanging baskets--Peter had
been obliged to speak to everybody he passed (some of the younger men
rose to their feet to shake his hand)--until he reached the proprietor
and gave his order.

Auguste, plump and oily, his napkin over his arm, drew out his chair (it
was always tipped back in reserve until he arrived), laid another plate
and accessories for his guest, and then bent his head in attention until
Peter indicated the particular brand of Bordeaux--the color of the wax
sealing its top was the only label--with which he proposed to entertain
his friend.

All this time Jack had been on the point of bursting. Once he had
slipped his hand into his pocket for Breen’s letter, in the belief that
the best way to get the most enjoyment out of the incident of his visit
and the result,--for it was still a joke to Jack,--would be to lay the
half sheet on Peter’s plate and watch the old fellow’s face as he read
it. Then he decided to lead gradually up to it, concealing the best
part of the story--the prospectus and how it was to be braced--until the
last.

But the boy could not wait; so, after he had told Peter about
Ruth,--and that took ten minutes, try as hard as he could to shorten the
telling,--during which the stuffed peppers were in evidence,--and after
Peter had replied with certain messages to Ruth,--during which the
spaghetti was served sizzling hot, with entrancing frazzlings of brown
cheese clinging to the edges of the tin plate--the Chief Assistant
squared his elbows and plunged head-foremost into the subject.

“And now, I have got a surprise for you, Uncle Peter,” cried Jack,
smothering his eagerness as best he could.

The old fellow held up his hand, reached for the shabby, dust-begrimed
bottle, that had been sound asleep under the sidewalk for years; filled
Jack’s glass, then his own; settled himself in his chair and said with a
dry smile:

“If it’s something startling, Jack, wait until we drink this,” and he
lifted the slender rim to his lips. “If it’s something delightful, you
can spring it now.”

“It is both,” answered Jack. “Listen and doubt your ears. I had a letter
from Uncle Arthur this morning asking me to come and see him about my
Cumberland ore property, and I have just spent an hour with him.”

Peter put down his glass:

“You had a letter from Arthur Breen--about--what do you mean, Jack.”

“Just what I say.”

Peter moved close to the table, and looked at the boy in wonderment.

“Well, what did he want?” He was all attention now. Arthur Breen sending
for Jack!--and after all that had happened! Well--well!

“Wants me to put the Cumberland ore property father left me into one of
his companies.”

“That fox!” The explosion cleared the atmosphere for an instant.

“That fox!” answered Jack, in a confirmatory tone; and then followed an
account of the interview, the boy chuckling at the end of every sentence
in his delight over the situation.

“And what are YOU going to do?” asked Peter in an undecided tone. He had
heard nothing so comical as this for years.

“Going to do nothing,--that is, nothing with Uncle Arthur. In the first
place, the property is worthless, unless half a million of money is
spent upon it.”

“Or is SAID to have been spent upon it,” rejoined Peter with a smile,
remembering the Breen methods.

“Exactly so;--and in the second place, I would rather tear up the deed
than have it added to Uncle Arthur’s stock of balloons.”

Peter drummed on the table-cloth and looked out of the window. The boy
was right in principle, but then the property might not be a balloon at
all; might in fact be worth a great deal more than the boy dreamed of.
That Arthur Breen had gone out of his way to send for Jack--knowing,
as Peter did, how systematically both he and his wife had abused and
ridiculed him whenever his name was mentioned--was positive evidence
to Peter’s mind not only that the property had a value of some kind but
that the discovery was of recent origin.

“Would you know yourself, Jack, what the property was worth,--that is,
do you feel yourself competent to pass upon its value?” asked Peter,
lifting his glass to his lips. He was getting back to his normal
condition now.

“Yes, to a certain extent, and if I fail, Mr. MacFarlane will help me
out. He was superintendent of the Rockford Mines for five years. He
received his early training there,--but there is no use talking about
it, Uncle Peter. I only told you to let you see how the same old thing
is going on day after day at Uncle Arthur’s. If it isn’t Mukton, it’s
Ginsing, or Black Royal, or some other gas bag.”

“What did you tell him?”

“Nothing,--not in all the hour I talked with him. He did the talking; I
did the listening.”

“I hope you were courteous to him, my boy?”

“I was,--particularly so.”

“He wants your property, does he?” ruminated Peter, rolling a crumb of
bread between his thumb and forefinger. “I wonder what’s up? He has made
some bad breaks lately and there were ugly rumors about the house for
a time. He has withdrawn his account from the Exeter and so I’ve lost
sight of all of his transactions.” Here a new idea seemed to strike him:
“Did he seem very anxious about getting hold of the land?”

A queer smile played about Jack’s lips:

“He seemed NOT to be, but he was”

“You’re sure?”

“Very sure; and so would you be if you knew him as well as I do. I have
heard him talk that way to dozens of men and then brag how he’d ‘covered
his tracks,’ as he used to call it.”

“Then, Jack,” exclaimed Peter in a decided tone, “there is something
in it. What it is you will find out before many weeks, but something. I
will wager you he has not only had your title searched but has had test
holes driven all over your land. These fellows stop at nothing. Let him
alone for a while and keep him guessing. When he writes to you again to
come and see him, answer that you are too busy, and if he adds a word
about the ore beds tell him you have withdrawn them from the market.
In the meantime I will have a talk with one of our directors who has
an interest, so he told me, in a new steel company up in the Cumberland
Mountains, somewhere near your property, I believe. He may know
something of what’s going on, if anything is going on.”

Jack’s eyes blazed. Something going on! Suppose that after all he and
Ruth would not have to wait. Peter read his thoughts and laid his hand
on Jack’s wrist:

“Keep your toes on the earth, my boy:--no balloon ascensions and no
bubbles,--none of your own blowing. They are bad things to have burst in
your hands--four hands now, remember, with Ruth’s. If there’s any money
in your Cumberland ore bank, it will come to light without your help.
Keep still and say nothing, and don’t you sign your name to a piece of
paper as big as a postage stamp until you let me see it.”

Here Peter looked at his watch and rose from the table.

“Time’s up, my boy. I never allow myself but an hour at luncheon, and
I am due at the bank in ten minutes. Thank you, Auguste,--and Auguste!
please tell Botti the spaghetti was delicious. Come, Jack.”

It was when he held Ruth in his arms that same afternoon--behind the
door, really,--she couldn’t wait until they reached the room,--that
Jack whispered in her astonished and delighted ears the good news of the
expected check from Garry’s committee.

“And daddy won’t lose anything; and he can take the new work!” she
cried joyously. “And we can all go up to the mountains together! Oh,
Jack!--let me run and tell daddy!”

“No, my darling,--not a word, Garry had no business to tell me what he
did; and it might leak out and get him into trouble:--No, don’t say a
word. It is only a few days off. We shall all know next week.”

He had led her to the sofa, their favorite seat.

“And now I am going to tell you something that would be a million times
better than Garry’s check if it were only true,--but it isn’t.”

“Tell me, Jack,--quick!” Her lips were close to his.

“Uncle Arthur wants to buy my ore lands.”

“Buy your--And we are going to be--married right away! Oh, you darling
Jack!”

“Wait,--wait, my precious, until I tell you!” She did not wait, and he
did not want her to. Only when he could loosen her arms from his neck
did he find her ear again, then he poured into it the rest of the story.

“But, oh, Jack!--wouldn’t it be lovely if it were true,--and just think
of all the things we could do.”

“Yes,--but it Isn’t true.”

“But just suppose it WAS, Jack! You would have a horse of your own and
we’d build the dearest little home and--”

“But it never can be true, blessed,--not out of the Cumberland
property--” protested Jack.

“But, Jack! Can’t we SUPPOSE? Why, supposing is the best fun in the
world. I used to suppose all sorts of things when I was a little girl.
Some of them came true, and some of them didn’t, but I had just as much
fun as if they HAD all come true.”

“Did you ever suppose ME?” asked Jack. He knew she never had,--he wasn’t
worth it;--but what difference did it make what they talked about!

“Yes,--a thousand times. I always knew, my blessed, that there was
somebody like you in the world somewhere,--and when the girls would
break out and say ugly things of men,--all men,--I just knew they were
not true of everybody. I knew that you would come--and that I should
always look for you until I found you! And now tell me! Did you suppose
about me, too, you darling Jack?”

“No,--never. There couldn’t be any supposing;--there isn’t any now. It’s
just you I love, Ruth,--you,--and I love the ‘YOU’ in you--That’s the
best part of you.”

And so they talked on, she close in his arms, their cheeks together;
building castles of rose marble and ivory, laying out gardens with
vistas ending in summer sunsets; dreaming dreams that lovers only dream.



CHAPTER XXIV



The check “struck” MacFarlane just as the chairman had said it would,
wiping out his losses by the flood with something ahead for his next
undertaking.

That the verdict was a just one was apparent from the reports of both
McGowan’s and the Railroad Company’s experts. These showed that the
McGowan mortar held but little cement, and that not of the best; that
the backing of the masonry was composed of loose rubble instead of split
stone, and that the collapse of his structure was not caused by the
downpour, but by the caving in of culverts and spillways, which
were built of materials in direct violation of the provisions of the
contract. Even then there might have been some doubt as to the outcome
but for Holker Morris’s testimony. He not only sent in his report, but
appeared himself, he told the Council, so as to answer any questions Mr.
McGowan or his friends might ask. He had done this, as he said openly at
the meeting, to aid his personal friend, Mr. MacFarlane, and also that
he might raise his voice against the slipshod work that was being done
by men who either did not know their business or purposely evaded their
responsibilities. “This construction of McGowan’s,” he continued, “is
especially to be condemned, as there is not the slightest doubt that the
contractor has intentionally slighted his work--a neglect which, but
for the thorough manner in which MacFarlane had constructed the lower
culvert, might have resulted in the loss of many lives.”

McGowan snarled and sputtered, denouncing Garry and his “swallow-tails”
 in the bar rooms and at the board meetings, but the decision was
unanimous, two of his friends concurring, fearing, as they explained
afterward, that the “New York crowd” might claim even a larger sum in a
suit for damages.

The meeting over, Morris and Jack dined with MacFarlane and again
the distinguished architect won Ruth’s heart by the charm of his
personality, she telling Jack the next day that he was the only OLD
MAN--fifty was old for Ruth--she had ever seen with whom she could have
fallen in love, and that she was not sure after all but that Jack
was too young for her, at which there was a great scrimmage and a
blind-man’s-buff chase around the table, up the front stairs and into
the corner by the window, where she was finally caught, smothered in
kisses and made to correct her arithmetic.

This ghost of damages having been laid--it was buried the week after
Jack had called on his uncle--the Chief, the First Assistant, and
Bangs, the head foreman, disappeared from Corklesville and reappeared at
Morfordsburg.

The Chief came to select a site for the entrance of the shaft; the First
Assistant came to compare certain maps and documents, which he had taken
from the trunk he had brought with him from his Maryland home, with the
archives resting in the queer old courthouse; while Foreman Bangs was to
help with the level and target, should a survey be found necessary.

The faded-out old town clerk looked Jack all over when he asked to see
the duplicate of a certain deed, remarking, as he led the way to the
Hall of Records,--it was under a table in the back room,--“Reckon
there’s somethin’ goin’ on jedgin’ from the way you New Yorkers is
lookin’ into ore lands up here. There come a lawyer only last month from
a man named Breen, huntin’ up this same property.”

The comparisons over and found to be correct, “starting from a certain
stone marked ‘B’ one hundred and eighty-seven feet East by South,” etc.,
etc., the whole party, including a small boy to help carry the level
and target and a reliable citizen who said he could find the property
blindfold--and who finally collapsed with a “Goll darn!--if I know where
I’m at!”--the five jumped onto a mud-encrusted vehicle and started for
the site.

Up hill and down hill, across one stream and then another; through
the dense timber and into the open again. Here their work began, Jack
handling the level (his Chief had taught him), Bangs holding the target,
MacFarlane taking a squint now and then so as to be sure,--and then the
final result,--to wit:--First, that the Maryland Company’s property,
Arthur Breen & Co., agents, lay under a hill some two miles from
Morfordsburg; that Jack’s lay some miles to the south of Breen’s.
Second, that outcroppings showed the Maryland Mining Company’s ore
dipped, as the Senior Breen had said, to the east, and third, that
similar outcroppings showed Jack’s dipped to the west.

And so the airy bubble filled with his own and Ruth’s iridescent
hopes,--a bubble which had floated before him as he tramped through the
cool woods, and out upon the hillside, vanished into thin air.

For with Ruth’s arms around him, her lips close to his, her boundless
enthusiasm filling his soul, the boy’s emotions had for the time
overcome his judgment. So much so that all the way up in the train he
had been “supposing” and resupposing. Even the reply of the town clerk
had set his heart to thumping; his uncle had sent some one then! Then
came the thought,--Yes, to boom one of his misleading prospectuses--and
for a time the pounding had ceased: by no possible combination now,
either honest or dishonest, could the two properties be considered one
and the same mine.

Again his thoughts went back to Ruth. He knew how keenly she would be
disappointed. She had made him promise to telegraph her at once if his
own and her father’s inspection of the ore lands should hold out any
rose-colored prospects for the future. This he had not now the heart to
do. One thing, however, he must do, and at once, and that was to write
to Peter, or see him immediately on his return. There was no use now
of the old fellow talking the matter over with the director; there was
nothing to talk over, except a bare hill three miles from anywhere,
covering a possible deposit of doubtful richness and which, whether good
or bad, would cost more to get to market than it was worth.

They were on the extreme edge of the forest when the final decision was
reached, MacFarlane leaning against a rock, the level and tripod tilted
against his arm, Jack sitting on a fallen tree, the map spread out on
his knees.

For some minutes Jack sat silent, his eyes roaming over the landscape.
Below him stretched an undulating mantle of velvet, laid loosely over
valley, ravine and hill, embroidered in tints of corn-yellow, purplings
of full-blossomed clover and the softer greens of meadow and swamp. In
and out, now straight, now in curves and bows, was threaded a ribbon
of silver, with here and there a connecting mirror in which flashed the
sun. Bordering its furthermost edge a chain of mountains lost themselves
in low, rolling clouds, while here and there, in its many crumplings,
were studded jewels of barn stack and house, their facets aflame in the
morning light.

Jack absorbed it all, its beauty filling his soul, the sunshine bathing
his cheeks. Soon all trace of his disappointment vanished: with Ruth
here,--with his work to occupy him,--and this mighty, all-inspiring,
all-intoxicating sweep of loveliness spread out, his own and Ruth’s
every hour of the day and night, what did ore beds or anything else
matter?

MacFarlane’s voice woke him to consciousness. He had called to him
before, but the boy had not heard.

“As I have just remarked, Jack,” MacFarlane began again, “there is
nothing but an earthquake will make your property of any use. It is a
low-grade ore, I should say, and tunnelling and shoring would eat it up.
Wipe it off the books. There are thousands of acres of this kind of land
lying around loose from here to the Cumberland Valley. It may get better
as you go down--only an assay can tell about that--but I don’t think
it will. To begin sinking shafts might mean sinking one or a dozen; and
there’s nothing so expensive. I am sorry, Jack, but wipe it out. Some
bright scoundrel might sell stock on it, but they’ll never melt any of
it up into stove plate.”

“All right, sir,” Jack said at last, with a light laugh. “It is the same
old piece of bread, I reckon, and it has fallen on the same old buttered
side. Uncle Peter told me to beware of bubbles--said they were hard
to carry around. This one has burst before I got my hand on it. All
right--let her go! I hope Ruth won’t take it too much to heart. Here,
boy, get hold of this map and put it with the other traps in the wagon.
And now, Mr. MacFarlane, what comes next?”

Before the day was over MacFarlane had perfected his plans. The town was
to be avoided as too demoralizing a shelter for the men, and barracks
were to be erected in which to house them. Locations of the principal
derricks were selected and staked, as well as the sites for the entrance
to the shaft, for the machine and blacksmith’s shops and for a storage
shanty for tools: the Maryland Mining Company’s work would require
at least two years to complete, and a rational, well-studied plan of
procedure was imperative.

“And now, Jack, where are you going to live,--in the village?” asked his
Chief, resting the level and tripod carefully against a tree trunk and
seating himself beside Jack on a fallen log.

“Out here, if you don’t mind, sir, where I can be on top of the work all
the time. It’s but a short ride for Ruth and she can come and go all the
time. I am going to drop some of these trees; get two or three choppers
from the village and knock up a log-house like the one I camped in when
I was a boy.”

“Where will you put it?” asked MacFarlane with a smile, as he turned
his head as if in search of a site. It was just where he wanted Jack to
live, but he would not have suggested it.

“Not a hundred yards from where we sit, sir--a little back of those
two big oaks. There’s a spring above on the hill and sloping ground for
drainage; and shade, and a great sweep of country in front. I’ve been
hungry for this life ever since I left home; now I am going to have it.”

“It will be rather lonely, won’t it?” The engineer’s eyes softened as
they rested on the young fellow, his face flushed with the enthusiasm of
his new resolve. He and Ruth’s mother had lived in just such a shanty,
and not so very long ago, either, it seemed,--those were the happiest
years of his life.

“No!” exclaimed Jack. “It’s only a step to the town; I can walk it in
half an hour. No, it won’t be lonely. I will fix up a room for Uncle
Peter somewhere, so he can be comfortable,--he would love to come here
on his holidays; and Ruth can come out for the day,--she will be crazy
about it when I tell her. No, I will get along. If the lightning had
struck my ore beds I would probably have painted and papered some musty
back room in the village and lived a respectable life. Now I am going to
turn savage.”

The next day the contracts were signed: work to commence in three
months. Henry MacFarlane, Engineer-in-Chief, John Breen in charge of
construction.

It was on that same sofa in the far corner of the sitting-room that
Jack told Ruth,--gently, one word at a time,--making the best of it, but
telling her the exact truth.

“And then we are not going to have any of the things we dreamed about,
Jack,” she said with a sigh.

“I am afraid not, my darling,--not now, unless the lightning strikes us,
which it won’t.”

She looked out of the window for a moment, and her eyes filled with
tears. Then she thought of her father, and how hard he had worked,
and what disappointments he had suffered, and yet how, with all his
troubles, he had always put his best foot foremost--always encouraging
her. She would not let Jack see her chagrin. This was part of Jack’s
life, just as similar disappointments had been part of her father’s.

“Never mind, blessed. Well, we had lots of fun ‘supposing,’ didn’t we,
Jack. This one didn’t come true, but some of the others will and what
difference does it make, anyway, as long as I have you,” and she nestled
her face in his neck. “And now tell me what sort of a place it is and
where daddy and I are going to live, and all about it.”

And then, to soften the disappointment the more and to keep a new bubble
afloat, Jack launched out into a description of the country and how
beautiful the view was from the edge of the hill overlooking the valley,
with the big oaks crowning the top and the lichen-covered rocks and
fallen timber blanketed with green moss, and the spring of water that
gushed out of the ground and ran laughing down the hillside, and the
sweep of mountains losing themselves in the blue haze of the distance,
and then finally to the log-cabin he was going to build for his own
especial use.

“And only two miles away,” she cried in a joyous tone,--“and I can ride
out every day! Oh, Jack!--just think of it!” And so, with the breath
of this new enthusiasm filling their souls, a new bubble of hope
and gladness was floated, and again the two fell to planning, and
“supposing,” the rose-glow once more lightening up the peaks.

For days nothing else was talked of. An onslaught was at once made on
Carry’s office, two doors below Mrs. Hicks, for photographs, plans
of bungalows, shanties, White Mountain lean-tos, and the like, and
as quickly tucked under Ruth’s arm and carried off, with only the
permission of the office boy,--Garry himself being absent owing to
some matters connected with a big warehouse company in which he was
interested, the boy said, and which took him to New York on the early
train and did not allow his return sometimes, until after midnight.

These plans were spread out under the lamp on the sitting-room table,
the two studying the details, their heads together, MacFarlane sitting
beside them reading or listening,--the light of the lamp falling on his
earnest, thoughtful face,--Jack consulting him now and then as to the
advisability of further extensions, the same being two rooms shingled
inside and out, with an annex of bark and plank for Ruth’s horse, and a
kitchen and laundry and no end of comforts, big and little,--all to be
occupied whenever their lucky day would come and the merry bells ring
out the joyful tidings of their marriage.

Nor was this all this particularly radiant bubble contained. Not only
was there to be a big open fireplace built of stone, and overhead
rafters of birch, the bark left on and still glistening,--but there
were to be palms, ferns, hanging baskets, chintz curtains, rugs, pots of
flowers, Chinese lanterns, hammocks, easy chairs; and for all Jack knew,
porcelain tubs, electric bells, steam heat and hot and cold water, so
enthusiastic had Ruth become over the possibilities lurking in the 15
X 20 log-hut which Jack proposed to throw together as a shelter in his
exile.



CHAPTER XXV



The news of MacFarlane’s expected departure soon became known in the
village. There were not many people to say good-by, the inhabitants
having seen but little of the engineer and still less of his daughter,
except as she flew past, in a mad gallop, on her brown mare, her hair
sometimes down her back. The pastor of the new church came, however, to
express his regrets, and to thank Mr. MacFarlane for his interest in the
church building. He also took occasion to say many complimentary things
about Garry, extolling him for the wonderful manner in which that
brilliant young architect had kept within the sum set apart by the
trustees for its construction, and for the skill with which the work was
being done, adding that as a slight reward for such devotion the church
trustees had made Mr. Minott treasurer of the building fund, believing
that in this way all disputes could the better be avoided,--one of some
importance having already arisen (here the reverend gentleman lowered
his voice) in which Mr. McGowan, he was sorry to say, who was building
the masonry, had attempted an overcharge which only Mr. Minott’s
watchful eye could have detected, adding, with a glance over his
shoulder, that the collapse of the embankment had undermined the
contractor’s reputation quite as much as the freshet had his culvert, at
which MacFarlane smiled but made no reply.

Corinne also came to express her regrets, bringing with her a scrap of
an infant in a teetering baby carriage, the whole presided over by a
nurse in a blue dress, white cap, and white apron, the ends reaching to
her feet: not the Corinne, the Scribe is pained to say, who, in the old
days would twist her head and stamp her little feet and have her way in
everything. But a woman terribly shrunken, with deep lines in her face
and under her eyes. Jack, man-like, did not notice the change, but Ruth
did.

After the baby had been duly admired, Ruth tossing it in her arms until
it crowed, Corinne being too tired for much enthusiasm, had sent it
home, Ruth escorting it herself to the garden gate.

“I am sorry you are going,” Corinne said in Ruth’s absence. “I suppose
we must stay on here until Garry finishes the new church. I haven’t seen
much of Ruth,--or of you, either, Jack. But I don’t see much of anybody
now,--not even of Garry. He never gets home until midnight, or even
later, if the train is behind time, and it generally is.”

“Then he must have lots of new work,” cried Jack in a cheerful tone. “He
told me the last time I saw him on the train that he expected some big
warehouse job.”

Corinne looked out of the window and fingered the handle of her parasol.

“I don’t believe that is what keeps him in town, Jack,” she said slowly.
“I hoped you would come and see him last Sunday. Did Garry give you my
message? I heard you were at home to-day, and that is why I came.”

“No, he never said a single word about it or I would have come, of
course. What do you think, then, keeps him in town so late?” Something
in her voice made Jack leave his own and take a seat beside her. “Tell
me, Corinne. I’ll do anything I can for Garry and you too. What is it?”

“I don’t know, Jack,--I wish I did. He has changed lately. When I
went to his room the other night he was walking the floor; he said
he couldn’t sleep, and the next morning when he didn’t come down to
breakfast I went up and found him in a half stupor. I had hard work to
wake him. Don’t tell Ruth,--I don’t want anybody but you to know, but
I wish you’d come and see him. I’ve nobody else to turn to,--won’t you,
Jack?”

“Come! of course I’ll come, Corinne,--now,--this minute, if he’s home,
or to-night, or any time you say. Suppose I go back with you and wait.
Garry’s working too hard, that’s it,--he was always that way, puts his
whole soul into anything he gets interested in and never lets up until
it’s accomplished.” He waited for some reply, but she was still toying
with the handle of her parasol. Her mind had not been on his proffered
help,--she had not heard him, in fact.

“And, Jack,” she went on in the same heart-broken tone through which an
unbidden sob seemed to struggle.

“Yes, I am listening, Corinne,--what is it?”

“I want you to forgive me for the way I have always treated you. I
have--”

“Why, Corinne, what nonsense! Don’t you bother your head about such--”

“Yes, but I do, and it is because I have never done anything but be ugly
to you. When you lived with us I--”

“But we were children then, Corinne, and neither of us knew any better.
I won’t hear one word of such nonsense. Why, my dear girl--“he had
taken her hand as she spoke and the pair rested on his knee--“do you
think I am--No--you are too sensible a woman to think anything of the
kind. But that is not it, Corinne--something worries you;” he asked
suddenly with a quick glance at her face. “What is it? You shall have
the best in me, and Ruth will help too.”

Her fingers closed over his. The touch of the young fellow, so full of
buoyant strength and hope and happiness, seemed to put new life into
her.

“I don’t know, Jack.” Her voice fell to a whisper. “There may not be
anything, yet I live under an awful terror. Don’t ask me;--only tell me
you will help me if I need you. I have nobody else--my stepfather almost
turned me out of his office when I went to see him the other day,--my
mother doesn’t care. She has only been here half a dozen times, and that
was when baby was born. Hush,--here comes Ruth,--she must not know.”

“But she MUST know, Corinne. I never have any secrets from Ruth, and
don’t you have any either. Ruth couldn’t be anything but kind to you
and she never misunderstands, and she is so helpful. Here she is. Ruth,
dear, we were just waiting for you. Corinne is nervous and depressed,
and imagines all sorts of things, one of which is that we don’t care for
her: and I’ve just told her that we do?”

Ruth looked into Jack’s eyes as if to get his meaning--she must always
get her cue from him now--she was entirely unconscious of the cause of
it all, or why Corinne should feel so, but if Jack thought Corinne was
suffering and that she wanted comforting, all she had was at Corinne’s
and Jack’s disposal. With a quick movement she leaned forward and laid
her hand on Corinne’s shoulder.

“Why, you dear Corinne,--Jack and I are not like that. What has gone
wrong,--tell me,” she urged.

For a brief instant Corinne made no answer. Once she tried to speak but
the words died in her throat. Then, lifting up her hands appealingly,
she faltered out:

“I only said that I--Oh, Ruth!--I am so wretched!” and sank back on the
lounge in an agony of tears.



CHAPTER XXVI



At ten o’clock that same night Jack went to the station to meet Garry.
He and Ruth had talked over the strange scene--unaccountable to both of
them--and had determined that Jack should see Garry at once.

“I must help him, Ruth, no matter at what cost. Garry has been my friend
for years; he has been taken up with his work, and so have I, and
we have drifted apart a little, but I shall never forget him for his
kindness to me when I first came to New York. I would never have known
Uncle Peter but for Garry, or Aunt Felicia, or--you, my darling.”

Jack waited under the shelter of the overhanging roof until the young
architect stepped from the car and crossed the track. Garry walked with
the sluggish movement of a tired man--hardly able to drag his feet after
him.

“I thought I’d come down to meet you, Garry,” Jack cried in his old
buoyant tone. “It’s pretty rough on you, old fellow, working so hard.”

Garry raised his head and peered into the speaker’s face.

“Why, Jack!” he exclaimed in a surprised tone; the voice did not sound
like Garry’s. “I didn’t see you in the train. Have you been in New York
too?” He evidently understood nothing of Jack’s explanation.

“No, I came down to meet you. Corinne was at Mr. MacFarlane’s to-day,
and said you were not well,--and so I thought I’d walk home with you.”

“Oh, thank you, old man, but I’m all right. Corinne’s nervous;--you
mustn’t mind her. I’ve been up against it for two or three weeks
now,--lot of work of all kinds, and that’s kept me a good deal from
home. I don’t wonder Cory’s worried, but I can’t help it--not yet.”

They had reached an overhead light, and Jack caught a clearer view of
the man. What he saw sent a shiver through him. A great change had come
over his friend. His untidy dress,--always so neat and well kept;
his haggard eyes and shambling, unsteady walk, so different from his
springy, debonair manner, all showed that he had been and still was
under some terrible mental strain. That he had not been drinking was
evident from his utterance and gait. This last discovery when his
condition was considered, disturbed him most of all, for he saw that
Garry was going through some terrible crisis, either professional or
financial.

As the two advanced toward the door of the station on their way to the
street, the big, burly form of McGowan, the contractor, loomed up.

“I heard you wouldn’t be up till late, Mr. Minott,” he exclaimed
gruffly, blocking Garry’s exit to the street. “I couldn’t find you at
the Council or at your office, so I had to come here. We haven’t had
that last payment on the church. The vouchers is all ready for your
signature, so the head trustee says,--and the money’s where you can git
at it.”

Garry braced his shoulders and his jaw tightened. One secret of the
young architect’s professional success lay in his command over his men.
Although he was considerate, and sometimes familiar, he never permitted
any disrespect.

“Why, yes, Mr. McGowan, that’s so,” he answered stiffly. “I’ve been in
New York a good deal lately and I guess I’ve neglected things here. I’ll
try to come up in the morning, and if everything’s all right I’ll get a
certificate and fill it up and you’ll get a check in a few days.”

“Yes, but you said that last week.” There was a sound of defiance in
McGowan’s voice.

“If I did I had good reason for the delay,” answered Garry with a flash
of anger. “I’m not running my office to suit you.”

“Nor for anybody else who wants his money and who’s got to have it, and
I want to tell you, Mr. Minott, right here, and I don’t care who hears
it, that I want mine or I’ll know the reason why.”

Garry wheeled fiercely and raised his hand as if to strike the speaker,
then it dropped to his side.

“I don’t blame you, Mr. McGowan,” he said in a restrained, even voice.
“I have no doubt that it’s due you and you ought to have it, but I’ve
been pretty hard pressed lately with some matters in New York; so much
so that I’ve been obliged to take the early morning train,--and you can
see yourself what time I get home. Just give me a day or two longer and
I’ll examine the work and straighten it out. And then again, I’m not
very well.”

The contractor glared into the speaker’s face as if to continue the
discussion, then his features relaxed. Something in the sound of Carry’s
voice, or perhaps some line of suffering in his face must have touched
him.

“Well, of course, I ain’t no hog,” he exclaimed in a softer tone, which
was meant as an apology, “and if you’re sick that ends it, but I’ve got
all them men to pay and--”

“Yes, I understand and I won’t forget. Thank you, Mr. McGowan, and
good-night. Come along, Jack,--Corinne’s worrying, and will be till I
get home.”

The two kept silent as they walked up the hill Garry, because he was too
tired to discuss the cowardly attack; Jack, because what he had to say
must be said when they were alone,--when he could get hold of Garry’s
hand and make him open his heart.

As they approached the small house and mounted the steps leading to the
front porch, Corinne’s face could be seen pressed against a pane in one
of the dining-room windows. Garry touched Jack’s arm and pointed ahead:

“Poor Cory!” he exclaimed with a deep sigh, “that’s the way she is every
night. Coming home is sometimes the worst part of it all, Jack.”

The door flew open and Corinne sprang out: “Are you tired, dear?” she
asked, peering into his face and kissing him. Then turning to Jack:
“Thank you, Jack!--It was so good of you to go. Ruth sent me word you
had gone to meet him.”

She led the way into the house, relieving Garry of his hat, and moving
up an easy chair stood beside it until he had settled himself into its
depths.

Again she bent over and kissed him: “How are things to-day, dear?--any
better?” she inquired in a quavering voice.

“Some of them are better and some are worse, Cory; but there’s nothing
for you to worry about. That’s what I’ve been telling Jack. How’s baby?
Anybody been here from the board?--Any letters?”

“Baby’s all right,” the words came slowly, as if all utterance gave her
pain. “No, there are no letters. Mr. McGowan was here, but I told him
you wouldn’t be home till late.”

“Yes, I saw him,” replied Garry, dropping his voice suddenly to a
monotone, an expression of pain followed by a shade of anxiety settling
on his face: McGowan and his affairs were evidently unpleasant subjects.
At this instant the cry of a child was heard. Garry roused himself and
turned his head.

“Listen--that’s baby crying! Better go to her, Cory.”

Garry waited until his wife had left the room, then he rose from, his
chair, crossed to the sideboard, poured out three-quarters of a glass of
raw whiskey and drank it without drawing a breath.

“That’s the first to-day, Jack. I dare not touch it when I’m on a strain
like this. Can’t think clearly, and I want my head,--all of it. There’s
a lot of sharks down in New York,--skin you alive if they could. I beg
your pardon, old man,--have a drop?”

Jack waved his hand in denial, his eyes still on his friend: “Not now,
Garry, thank you.”

Garry dropped the stopper into the decanter, pushed back the empty
tumbler and began pacing the floor, halting now and then to toe some
pattern in the carpet, talking all the time to himself in broken
sentences, like one thinking aloud. All Jack’s heart went out to his
friend as he watched him. He and Ruth were so happy. All their future
was so full of hope and promise, and Garry--brilliant, successful
Garry,--the envy of all his associates, so harassed and so wretched!

“Garry, sit down and listen to me,” Jack said at last. “I am your oldest
friend; no one you know thinks any more of you than I do, or will be
more ready to help. Now, what troubles you?”

“I tell you, Jack, I’m not troubled!”--something of the old bravado
rang in his voice,--“except as everybody is troubled when he’s trying to
straighten out something that won’t straighten. I’m knocked out, that’s
all,--can’t you see it?”

“Yes, I see it,--and that’s not all I see. Is it your work here or in
New York? I want to know, and I’m going to know, and I have a right to
know, and you are not going to bed until you tell me,--nor will I. I
can and will help you, and so will Mr. MacFarlane, and Uncle Peter, and
everybody I ask. What’s gone wrong?--Tell me!”

Garry continued to walk the floor. Then he wheeled suddenly and threw
himself into his chair.

“Well, Jack,” he answered with an indrawn sigh,--“if you must know, I’m
on the wrong side of the market.”

“Stocks?”

“Not exactly. The bottom’s fallen out of the Warehouse Company.”

Jack’s heart gave a rebound. After all, it was only a question of money
and this could be straightened out. He had begun to fear that it might
be something worse; what, he dared not conjecture.

“And you have lost money?” Jack continued in a less eager tone.

“A whole lot of money.”

“How much?”

“I don’t know, but a lot. It went up three points to-day and so I am
hanging on by my eyelids.”

“Well, that’s not the first time men have been in that position,” Jack
replied in a hopeful tone. “Is there anything more,--something you are
keeping back?”

“Yes,--a good deal more. I’m afraid I’ll have to let go. If I do I’m
ruined.”

Jack kept silent for a moment. Various ways of raising money to help his
friend passed in review, none of which at the moment seemed feasible or
possible.

“How much will make your account good?” he asked after a pause.

“About ten thousand dollars.”

Jack leaned forward in his chair. “Ten thousand dollars!” he exclaimed
in a startled tone. “Why, Garry--how in the name of common-sense did you
get in as deep as that?”

“Because I was a damned fool!”

Again there was silence, during which Garry fumbled for a match, opened
his case and lighted a cigarette. Then he said slowly, as he tossed the
burnt end of the match from him:

“You said something, Jack, about some of your friends helping. Could Mr.
MacFarlane?”

“No,--he hasn’t got it,--not to spare. I was thinking of another kind of
help when I spoke. I supposed you had got into debt, or something, and
were depending on your commissions to pull you out, and that some new
job was hanging fire and perhaps some of us could help as we did on the
church.”

“No,” rejoined Garry, in a hopeless tone, “nothing will help but a
certified check. Perhaps your Mr. Grayson might do something,” he
continued in the same voice.

“Uncle Peter! Why, Garry, he doesn’t earn ten thousand dollars in three
years.”

Again there was silence.

“Well, would it be any use for you to ask Arthur Breen? He wouldn’t give
me a cent, and I wouldn’t ask him. I don’t believe in laying down
on your wife’s relations, but he might do it for you now that you’re
getting up in the world.”

Jack bent his head in deep thought. The proposal that his uncle had
made him for the ore lands passed in review. At that time he could have
turned over the property to Breen. But it was worthless now. He shook
his head:

“I don’t think so.” Then he added quickly--“Have you been to Mr.
Morris?”

“No, and won’t. I’d die first!” this came in a sharp, determined voice,
as if it had jumped hot from his heart.

“But he thinks the world of you; it was only a week ago that he told Mr.
MacFarlane that you were the best man he ever had in his office.”

“Yes,--that’s why I won’t go, Jack. I’ll play my hand alone and take
the consequences, but I won’t beg of my friends; not a friend like Mr.
Morris; any coward can do that. Mr. Morris believes in me,--I want him
to continue to believe in me. That’s worth twenty times ten thousand
dollars.” His eyes flashed for the first time. Again the old Garry shone
out.

“When must you have this money?”

“By the end of the week,--before next Monday, anyhow.”

“Then the situation is not hopeless?”

“No, not entirely. I have one card left;--I’ll play it to-morrow, then
I’ll know.”

“Is there a chance of its winning?”

“Yes and no. As for the ‘yes,’ I’ve always had my father’s luck. Minotts
don’t go under and I don’t believe I shall, we take risks and we win.
That’s what brought me to Corklesville, and you see what I have made of
myself. Just at present I’ve got my foot in a bear trap, but I’ll pull
out somehow. As for the ‘no’ part of it,--I ought to tell you that the
warehouse stock has been knocked endways by another corporation which
has a right of way that cuts ours and is going to steal our business.
I think it’s a put-up job to bear our stock so they can scoop it and
consolidate; that’s why I am holding on. I’ve flung in every dollar I
can rake and scrape for margin and my stocking’s about turned inside
out. I got a tip last week that I thought would land us all on our feet,
but it worked the other way.” Something connected with the tip must have
stirred him for his face clouded as he rose to his feet, exclaiming:
“Have a drop, Jack?--that last one braced me up.”

Again Jack shook his head, and again Garry settled himself back in his
chair.

“I am powerless, Garry,” said Jack. “If I had the money you should have
it. I have nothing but my salary and I have drawn only a little of that
lately, so as to help out in starting the new work. I thought I had
something in an ore bank my father left me, but it is valueless, I find.
I suppose I could put some life in it if I would work it along the lines
Uncle Arthur wants me to, but I can’t and won’t do that. Somehow, Garry,
this stock business follows me everywhere. It drove me out of Uncle
Arthur’s office and house, although I never regretted that,--and now
it hits you. I couldn’t do anything to help Charlie Gilbert then and I
can’t do anything to help you now, unless you can think of some way. Is
there any one that I can see except Uncle Arthur,--anybody I can talk
to?”

Garry shook his head.

“I’ve done that, Jack. I’ve followed every lead, borrowed every dollar
I could,--been turned down half a dozen times, but I kept on. Got it in
the neck twice to-day from some fellows I thought would help push.”

Jack started forward, a light breaking over his face.

“I have it, Garry! Suppose that I go to Mr. Morris. I can talk to him,
maybe, in a way you would not like to.”

Garry lifted his head and sat erect.

“No, by God!--you’ll do nothing of the kind!” he cried, as he brought
his fist down on the arm of his chair. “That man I love as I love
nothing else in this world--wife--baby--nothing! I’ll go under, but I’ll
never let him see me crawl. I’ll be Garry Minott to him as long as I
breathe. The same man he trusted,--the same man he loved,--for he does
love me, and always did!” He hesitated and his voice broke, as if a sob
clogged it. After a moment’s struggle he went on: “I was a damned fool
to leave him or I wouldn’t be where I am. ‘Garry,’ he said to me that
last day when he took me into his office and shut the door,--‘Garry,
stay on here a while longer; wait till next year. If it’s more pay you
want, fix it to suit yourself. I’ve got two boys coming along; they’ll
both be through the Beaux Arts in a year or so. I’m getting on and I’m
getting tired. Stay on and go in with them.’ And what did I do? Well,
what’s the use of talking?--you know it all.”

Jack moved his chair and put his arm over his shoulder as a woman would
have done. He had caught the break in his voice and knew how manfully he
was struggling to keep up.

“Garry, old man.”

“Yes, Jack.”

“If Mr. Morris thought that way, then, why won’t he help you now? What’s
ten thousand to him?”

“Nothing,--not a drop in the bucket! He’d begin drawing the check before
I’d finished telling him what I wanted it for. I’m in a hole and don’t
know which way to turn, but when I think of what he’s done for me I’ll
rot in hell before I’ll take his money.” Again his voice had the old
ring.

“But, Garry,” insisted Jack, “if I can see Morris in the morning and lay
the whole matter before him--”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind, do you hear!--keep still--somebody’s
coming downstairs. Not a word if it is Corinne. She is carrying now all
she can stand up under.”

He passed his hand across his face with a quick movement and brushed the
tears from his cheeks.

“Remember, not a word. I haven’t told her everything. I tried to, but I
couldn’t.”

“Tell her now, Garry,” cried Jack. “Now--to-night,” his voice rising on
the last word. “Before you close your eyes. You never needed her help as
you do now.”

“I can’t--it would break her heart. Keep still!--that’s her step.”

Corinne entered the room slowly and walked to Garry’s chair.

“Baby’s asleep now,” she said in a subdued voice, “and I’m going to take
you to bed. You won’t mind, Jack, will you? Come, dear,” and she slipped
her hand under his arm to lift him from his chair.

Garry rose from his seat.

“All right,” he answered assuming his old cheerful tone, “I’ll go. I AM
tired, I guess, Cory, and bed’s the best place for me. Good-night, old
man,--give my love to Ruth,” and he followed his wife out of the room.

Jack waited until the two had turned to mount the stairs, caught a
significant flash from Garry’s dark eyes as a further reminder of his
silence, and, opening the front door, closed it softly behind him.

Ruth was waiting for him. She had been walking the floor during the last
half hour peering out now and then into the dark, with ears wide open
for his step.

“I was so worried, my precious,” she cried, drawing his cheek down to
her lips. “You stayed so long. Is it very dreadful?”

Jack put his arm around her, led her into the sitting-room and shut the
door. Then the two settled beside each other on the sofa.

“Pretty bad,--my darling--” Jack answered at last,--“very bad, really.”

“Has he been drinking?”

“Worse,--he has been dabbling in Wall Street and may lose every cent he
has.”

Ruth leaned her head on her hand: “I was afraid it was something awful
from the way Corinne spoke. Oh, poor dear,--I’m so sorry! Does she know
now?”

“She knows he’s in trouble, but she doesn’t know how bad it is. I
begged him to tell her, but he wouldn’t promise. He’s afraid of hurting
her--afraid to trust her, I think, with his sufferings. He’s making an
awful mistake, but I could not move him. He might listen to you if you
tried.”

“But he must tell her, Jack,” Ruth cried in an indignant tone. “It
is not fair to her; it is not fair to any woman,--and it is not kind.
Corinne is not a child any longer;--she’s a grown woman, and a mother.
How can she help him unless she knows? Jack, dear, look into my eyes;”
 her face was raised to his;--“Promise me, my darling, that no matter
what happens to you you’ll tell me first.”

And Jack promised.



CHAPTER XXVII



When Jack awoke the next morning his mind was still intent on helping
Garry out of his difficulties. Where the money was to come from, and how
far even ten thousand dollars would go in bridging over the crisis, even
should he succeed in raising so large a sum, were the questions which
caused him the most anxiety.

A letter from Peter, while it did not bring any positive relief, shed a
ray of light on the situation:

I have just had another talk with the director of our bank--the one I
told you was interested in steel works in Western Maryland. He by no
means agrees with either you or MacFarlane as to the value of the ore
deposits in that section, and is going to make an investigation of your
property and let me know. You may, in fact, hear from him direct as I
gave him your address.

Dear love to Ruth and your own good self.

This was indeed good news if anything came of it, but it wouldn’t help
Garry. Should he wait till Garry had played that last card he had spoken
of, which he was so sure would win, or should he begin at once to try
and raise the money?

This news at any other time would have set his hopes to fluttering. If
Peter’s director was made of money and intent on throwing it away; and
if a blast furnace or a steel plant, or whatever could turn worthless
rock into pruning-hooks and ploughshares, should by some act of folly
be built in the valley at the foot of the hill he owned, why something
might come of it. But, then, so might skies fall and everybody have
larks on toast for breakfast. Until then his concern was with Garry.

He realized that the young architect was too broken down physically and
mentally to decide any question of real moment. His will power was gone
and his nerves unstrung. The kindest thing therefore that any friend
could do for him, would be to step in and conduct the fight without him.
Garry’s wishes to keep the situation from Corinne would be respected,
but that did not mean that his own efforts should be relaxed. Yet where
would he begin, and on whom? MacFarlane had just told him that Morris
was away from home and would not be back for several days. Peter was
out of the question so far as his own means--or lack of means--was
concerned, and he could not, of course, ask him to go into debt for a
man who had never been his friend, especially when neither he nor Garry
had any security to offer.

He finally decided to talk the whole matter over with MacFarlane and
act on his advice. The clear business head of his Chief cleared the
situation as a north-west wind blows out a fog.

“Stay out of it, Jack,” he exclaimed in a quick, positive voice that
showed he had made up his mind long before Jack had finished his
recital. “Minott is a gambler, and so was his father before him. He has
got to take his lean with his fat. If you pulled him out of this hole he
would be in another in six months. It’s in his blood, just as much as it
is in your blood to love horses and the woods. Let him alone;--Corinne’s
stepfather is the man to help; that’s his business, and that’s where
Minott wants to go. If there is anything of value in this Warehouse
Company, Arthur Breen & Co. can carry the certificates for Minott until
they go up and he can get out. If there is nothing, then the sooner
Garry sells out and lets it go the better. Stay out, Jack. It’s not in
the line of your duty. It’s hard on his wife and he is having a devil of
a row to hoe, but it will be the best thing for him in the end.”

Jack listened in respectful silence, as he always did, to MacFarlane’s
frank outburst, but it neither changed his mind nor cooled his ardor.
Where his heart was concerned his judgment rarely worked. Then, loyalty
to a friend in distress was the one thing his father had taught him. He
did not agree with his Chief’s view of the situation. If Garry was born
a gambler, he had kept that fact concealed from him and from his wife.
He recalled the conversation he had had with him some weeks before, when
he was so enthusiastic over the money he was going to make in the
new Warehouse deal. He had been selected as the architect for the
new buildings, and it was quite natural that he should have become
interested in the securities of the company. This threatened calamity
was one that might overtake any man. Get Garry out of this hole and he
would stay out; let him sink, and his whole career would be ruined. And
then there was a sentimental side to it even if Garry was a gambler--one
that could not be ignored when he thought of Corinne and the child.

Late in the afternoon, his mind still unsettled, he poured out his
anxieties to Ruth. She did not disappoint him. Her big heart swelled
only with sympathy for the wife who was suffering. It made no difference
to her that Corinne had never been even polite, never once during the
sojourn of the Minotts in the village having manifested the slightest
interest either in her own or Jack’s affairs--not even when MacFarlane
was injured, nor yet when the freshet might have ruined them all. Ruth’s
generous nature had no room in it for petty rancors or little hurts.
Then, too, Jack was troubled for his friend. What was there for her to
do but to follow the lamp he held up to guide her feet--the lamp which
now shed its glad effulgence over both? So they talked on, discussing
various ways and means, new ties born of a deeper understanding binding
them the closer--these two, who, as they sometimes whispered to each
other, were “enlisted for life,” ready to meet it side by side, whatever
the day developed.

Before they parted, she promised again to go and see Corinne and cheer
her up. “She cannot be left alone, Jack, with this terrible thing
hanging over her,” she urged, “and you must meet Garry when he returns
to-night. Then we can learn what he has done--perhaps he will have fixed
everything himself.” But though Jack went to the station and waited
until the arrival of the last train had dropped its passengers, there
was no sign of Garry. Nor did Ruth find Corinne. She had gone to the
city, so the nurse said, with Mr. Minott by the early train and would
not be back until the next day. Until their return Jack and Ruth found
their hands tied.

On the afternoon of the second day a boy called at the brick office
where Jack was settling up the final accounts connected with the “fill”
 and the tunnel, preparatory to the move to Morfordsburg, and handed him
a note. It was from Corinne.

“I am in great trouble. Please come to me at once,” it read. “I am here
at home.”

Corinne was waiting for him in the hall. She took his hand without a
word of welcome, and drew him into the small room where she had seen him
two nights before. This time she shut and locked the door.

“Mr. McGowan has just been here,” she moaned in a voice that showed how
terrible was the strain. “He tried to force his way up into Garry’s
room but I held him back. He is coming again with some one of the church
trustees. Garry had a bad turn in New York and we came home by the noon
train, and I have made him lie down and sent for the doctor. McGowan
must not see him; it will kill him if he does. Don’t leave us, Jack!”

“But how dare he come here and try to force his--”

“He will dare. He cursed and went on dreadfully. The door was shut, but
Garry heard him. Oh, Jack!--what are we to do?”

“Don’t worry, Corinne; I’ll take care of Mr. McGowan. I myself heard
Garry tell him that he would attend to his payments in a few days, and
he went away satisfied.”

“Yes, but McGowan says he has been to the bank and has also seen the
Rector, and will stop at nothing.”

Jack’s fingers tightened and his lips came together.

“He will stop on that threshold,” he said in a low, determined voice,
“and never pass it--no matter what he wants. I will go up and tell Garry
so.”

“No, not yet--wait,” she pleaded, in nervous twitching tones--with
pauses between each sentence. “You must hear it all first. Garry had not
told me all when you were here two nights ago; he did not tell me until
after you left. Then I knelt down by his bed and put my arms
around him and he told me everything--about the people he had
seen--and--McGowan--everything.” She ceased speaking and hid her eyes
with the back of one hand as if to shut out some spectre, then she
stumbled on. “We took the early train for New York, and I waited until
my stepfather was in his office and went into his private room. It was
Garry’s last hope. He thought Mr. Breen would listen to me on account
of mother. I told him of our dreadful situation; how Garry must have ten
thousand dollars, and must have it in twenty-four hours, to save us all
from ruin. Would you believe, Jack--that he laughed and said it was an
old story; that Garry had no business to be speculating; that he had
told him a dozen times to keep out of the Street; that if Garry had any
collaterals of any kind, he would loan him ten thousand dollars or any
other sum, but that he had no good money to throw after bad. I did all I
could; I almost went down on my knees to him; I begged for myself and my
mother, but he only kept saying--‘You go home, Corinne, and look after
your baby--women don’t understand these things.’ Oh, Jack!--I could not
believe that he was the same man who married my mother--and he isn’t.
Every year he has grown harder and harder; he is a thousand times worse
than when you lived with him. Garry was waiting outside for me, and when
I told him he turned as white as a sheet, and had to hold on to the iron
railing for a moment. It was all I could do to get him home. If he sees
Mr. McGowan now it will kill him; he can’t pay him and he must tell him
so, and it will all come out.”

“But he will pay him, Corinne, when he gets well.”

There came a pause. Then she said slowly as if each word was wrung from
her heart:

“There is no money. Garry took the trust funds from the church.”

“No money, Corinne! You don’t mean--you can’t--Oh! My God! Not Garry!
No--not Garry!”

“Yes! I mean it. He expected to pay it back, but the people he is with
in New York lied to him, and now it is all gone.” There was no change in
her voice.

She stood gazing into his face; not a tear in her eyes; no quiver of her
lips. She had passed that stage; she was like a victim led to the stake
in whom nothing but dull endurance is left.

Jack backed into a chair and sat with bowed head, his cheeks in his
hands. Had the earth opened under him he could not have been more
astounded. Garry Minott a defaulter! Garry a thief! Everything seemed
to whirl about him--only the woman remained quiet--still standing--her
calm, impassive eyes fixed on his bowed head; her dry, withering,
soulless words still vibrating in the hushed room.

“When did this happen, Corinne--this--this taking of Mr. McGowan’s
money?” The words came between his closed fingers, as if he, too, would
shut out some horrible shape.

“Some two weeks ago.”

“When did you know of it?”

“Night before last, after you left him. I knew he was in trouble, but
I did not know it was as bad as this. If Mr. Breen had helped me
everything would have been all right, for Garry sold out all the stock
he had in the Warehouse Company, and this ten thousand dollars is all he
owes.” She shivered as she spoke, and her pale, tired eyes closed as if
in pain. Nothing was said between them for a while, and neither of them
stirred. During the silence the front door was heard to open, letting in
the village doctor, who mounted the stairs, his footfalls reverberating
in Garry’s room overhead.

Jack raised his eyes at last and studied her closely. The frail body
seemed more crumpled and forlorn in the depths of the chair, where she
had sunk, than when she had been standing before him. The blonde hair,
always so glossy, was dry as hemp; the small, upturned nose, once
so piquant and saucy, was thin and pinched--almost transparent; the
washed-out, colorless eyes, which in her girlhood had flashed and
sparkled so roguishly, were half hidden under swollen lids. The arms
were flat, the hands like bird claws. The white heat of a furnace of
agony had shrivelled her poor body, drying up all the juices of its
youth.

And yet with the scorching there had crept into the wan face, and into
the tones of her tired, heart-broken voice something Jack had never
found in her as a girl--something of tenderness, unselfishness--of
self-sacrifice for another and with it there flamed up in his own heart
a determination to help--to wipe out everything--to sponge the record,
to reestablish the man who in a moment of agony had given way to an
overpowering temptation and brought his wife to this condition. A
lump rose in his throat, and a look of his old father shone out of his
face--that look with which in the years gone by he had defied jury,
district attorney, and public opinion for what he considered mercy. And
mercy should be exercised now. Garry had never done one dishonest act
before, and never, God helping, should he be judged for this.

He, John Breen, let Garry be called a common thief! Garry whose every
stand in Corklesville had been for justice; Garry whom Morris loved,
whose presence brought a cheery word of welcome from every room he
entered! Let him be proclaimed a defaulter, insulted by ruffians like
McGowan, and treated like a felon--brilliant, lovable, forceful Garry!
Never, if he had to go down on his knees to Holker Morris or any other
man who could lend him a dollar.

Corinne must have seen the new look in his face, for her own eyes
brightened as she asked:

“Have you thought of something that can help him?”

Jack did not answer. His mind was too intent on finding some thread
which would unravel the tangle.

“Does anybody else know of this, Corinne?” he asked at last in a
low-pitched voice.

“Nobody.”

“Nobody must,” he exclaimed firmly. Then he added gently--“Why did you
tell me?”

“He asked me to. It would all have come out in the end, and he didn’t
want you to see McGowan and not know the truth. Keep still--some one is
knocking,” she whispered, her fingers pressed to her lips in her fright.
“I know it is McGowan, Jack. Shall I see him, or will you?”

“I will--you stay here.”

Jack lifted himself erect and braced back his shoulders. He intended to
be polite to McGowan, but he also intended to be firm. He also intended
to refuse him any information or promise of any kind until the regular
monthly meeting of the Church Board which would occur on Monday. This
would give him time to act, and perhaps to save the situation, desperate
as it looked.

With this in his mind he turned the key and threw wide the door. It
was the doctor who stood outside. He seemed to be laboring under some
excitement.

“I heard you were here, Mr. Breen--come upstairs.”

Jacked obeyed mechanically. Garry had evidently heard of his being
downstairs and had some instructions to give, or some further confession
to make. He would save him now from that humiliation; he would get his
arms around him, as Corinne had done, and tell him he was still his
friend and what he yet intended to do to pull him through, and that
nothing which he had done had wrecked his affection for him.

As these thoughts rushed over him his pace quickened, mounting the
stairs two steps at a time so that he might save his friend even a
moment of additional suffering. The doctor touched Jack on the shoulder,
made a sign for him to moderate his steps, and the two moved to where
his patient lay.

Garry was on the bed, outside the covering, when they entered. He was
lying on his back, his head and neck flat on a pillow, one foot resting
on the floor. He was in his trousers and shirt; his coat and waistcoat
lay where he had thrown them.

“Garry,” began Jack in a low voice--“I just ran in to say that--”

The sick man did not move.

Jack stopped, and turned his head to the doctor.

“Asleep?” he whispered.

“No;--drugged. That’s why I wanted you to see him before I called his
wife. Is he accustomed to this sort of thing?” and he picked up a bottle
from the table.

Jack took the phial in his hand; it was quite small, and had a glass
stopper.

“What is it, doctor?”

“I don’t know. Some preparation of chloral, I should think; smells and
looks like it. I’ll take it home and find out. If he’s been taking this
right along he may know how much he can stand, but if he’s experimenting
with it, he’ll wake up some fine morning in the next world. What do you
know about it?”

“Only what I have heard Mrs. Minott say,” Jack whispered behind his
hand. “He can’t sleep without it, she told me. He’s been under a
terrible business strain lately and couldn’t stand the pressure, I
expect.”

“Well, that’s a little better,” returned the doctor, moving the
apparently lifeless arm aside and placing his ear close to the patient’s
breast. For a moment he listened intently, then he drew up a chair and
sat down beside him, his fingers on Garry’s pulse.

“You don’t think he’s in danger, do you, doctor?” asked Jack in an
anxious tone.

“No--he’ll pull through. His breathing is bad, but his heart is doing
fairly well. But he’s got to stop this sort of thing.” Here the old
doctor’s voice rose as his indignation increased (nothing would wake
Garry). “It’s criminal--it’s damnable! Every time one of you New York
people get worried, or short of money or stocks, or what not, off you
go to a two-cent drug shop and buy enough poison to kill a family. It’s
damnable, Breen--and you must tell Minott so when he wakes up.”

Jack made no protest against being included in the denunciation. He was
too completely absorbed in the fate of the man who lay in a stupor.

“Is there anything can be done for him?” he asked.

“I can’t tell yet. He may only have taken a small dose. I will watch him
for a while. But if his pulse weakens we must shake him awake somehow.
You needn’t wait I’ll call you if I want you, You’ve told me what I
wanted to know.”

Again Jack bent over Garry, his heart wrung with pity and dismay. He was
still there when the door opened softly and a servant entered, tiptoed
to where he stood, and whispered in his ear:

“Mrs. Minott says, sir, that Mr. McGowan and another man are
downstairs.”

The contractor was standing in the hall, his hat still on his head.
The other man Jack recognized as Murphy, one of the church building
trustees. That McGowan was in an ugly mood was evident from the
expression on his face, his jaw setting tighter when he discovered
that Jack and not Garry was coming down to meet him; Jack having been
associated with MacFarlane, who had “robbed him of damages” to the
“fill.”

“I came to see Mr. Minott,” McGowan blurted out before Jack’s feet had
touched the bottom step of the stairs. “I hear he’s in--come home at
dinner time.”

Jack continued his advance without answering until he had reached their
side. Then with a “Good-evening, gentlemen,” he said in a perfectly even
voice:

“Mr. Minott is ill and can see no one. I have just left the doctor
sitting beside his bed. If there is anything I can do for either of you
I will do it with pleasure.”

McGowan shoved his hat back on his forehead as if to give himself more
air.

“That kind of guff won’t go with me no longer,” he snarled, his face
growing redder every instant. “This ill business is played out. He
promised me three nights ago he’d make out a certificate next day--you
heard him say it--and I waited for him all the morning and he never
showed up. And then he sneaks off to New York at daylight and stays away
for two nights more, and then sneaks home again in the middle of the day
when you don’t expect him, and goes to bed and sends for the doctor.
How many kinds of a damned fool does he take me for? That work’s been
finished three weeks yesterday; the money is all in the bank to pay
for it just as soon as he signs the check, and he don’t sign it, and ye
can’t get him to sign it. Ain’t that so, Jim Murphy?”

Murphy nodded, and McGowan blazed on: “If you want to know what I think
about it--there’s something crooked about the whole business, and it
gets crookeder all the time. He’s drunk, if he’s anything--boiling drunk
and--”

Jack laid the full weight of his hand on the speaker’s shoulder:

“Stop short off where you are, Mr. McGowan.” The voice came as if
through tightly clenched teeth. “If you have any business that I can
attend to I am here to do it, but you can’t remain here and abuse Mr.
Minott. My purpose in coming downstairs was to help you if I could, but
you must act like a man, not like a ruffian.”

Murphy stepped quickly between the two men:

“Go easy, Mac,” he cried in a conciliatory tone. “If the doctor’s with
him ye can’t see him. Hear what Mr. Breen has to say; ye got to wait
anyhow. Of course, Mr. Breen, Mr. McGowan is het up because the men is
gettin’ ugly, and he ain’t got money enough for his next pay-roll, and
the last one ain’t all paid yit.”

McGowan again shifted his hat--this time he canted it on one side. His
companion’s warning had had its effect, for his voice was now pitched in
a lower key.

“There ain’t no use talking pay-roll to Mr. Breen, Jim,” he growled. “He
knows what it is; he gits up agin’ it once in a while himself. If he’ll
tell me just when I’m going to get my money I’ll wait like any decent
man would wait, but I want to know, and I want to know now.”

At that instant the door of the sitting-room opened, and Corinne,
shrinking as one in mortal fright, glided out and made a hurried escape
upstairs. Murphy sagged back against the wall and waited respectfully
for her to disappear. McGowan did not alter his position nor did he
remove his hat, though he waited until she had reached the landing
before speaking again:

“And now, what are you going to do, Mr. Breen?” he demanded in
threatening tones.

“Nothing,” said Jack in his same even voice, his eyes never moving from
the contractor’s. “Nothing, until you get into a different frame of
mind.” Then he turned to Murphy: “When Mr. McGowan removes his hat, Mr.
Murphy, and shows some sign of being a gentleman I will take you both
into the next room and talk this matter over.”

McGowan flushed scarlet and jerked his hat from his head.

“Well she come on me sudden like and I didn’t see her till she’d got by.
Of course, if you’ve got anything to say, I’m here to listen, Where’ll
we go?”

Jack turned and led the way into the sitting-room, where he motioned
them both to seats.

“And now what is the exact amount of your voucher?” he asked, when he
had drawn up a chair and sat facing them.

McGowan fumbled in his inside pocket and drew forth a slip of paper.

“A little short of ten thousand dollars,” he answered in a business-like
tone of voice. “There’s the figures,” and he handed the slip to Jack.

“When is this payment to be made?” continued Jack, glancing at the slip.

“Why, when the money is due, of course,” he cried in a louder key.
“Here’s the contract--see--read it; then you’ll know.”

Jack ran his eye over the document until it fell on the payment clause.
This he read twice, weighing each word.

“It says at the monthly meeting of the Board of Trustees, does it not?”
 he answered, smothering all trace of the relief the words brought him.

McGowan changed color. “Well, yes--but that ain’t the way the payments
has always been made,” he stammered out.

“And if I am right, the meeting takes place on Monday next?” continued
Jack in a decided tone, not noticing the interruption.

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Well, then, Monday night, Mr. McGowan, either Mr. Minott or I will be
on hand. You must excuse me now. Mrs. Minott wants me, I think,” and he
handed McGowan the contract and walked toward the door, where he stood
listening. Something was happening upstairs.

McGowan and his friend looked at each other in silence. The commotion
overhead only added to their discomfiture.

“Well, what do you think, Jim?” McGowan said at last in a subdued,
baffled voice.

“Well, there ain’t no use thinkin’, Mac. If it’s writ that way, it’s
writ that way; that’s all there is to it--” and the two joined Jack
who had stepped into the hall, his eyes up the stairway as if he was
listening intensely.

“Then you say, Mr. Breen, that Mr. Minott will meet us at the Board
meeting on Monday?”

Jack was about to reply when he caught sight of the doctor, his hand
sliding rapidly down the stair-rail as he approached.

McGowan, fearing to be interrupted, repeated his question in a louder
voice:

“Then you say I’ll see Mr. Minott on Monday?”

The doctor crossed to Jack’s side. He was breathing heavily, his lips
quivering; he looked like a man who had received some sudden shock.

“Go up to Mrs. Minott,” he gasped. “It’s all over, Breen. He’s dying. He
took the whole bottle.”

At this instant an agonizing shriek cut the air. It was the voice of
Corinne.



CHAPTER XXVIII



No one suspected that the young architect had killed himself. Garry was
known to have suffered from insomnia, and was supposed to have taken an
overdose of chloral. The doctor so decided, and the doctor’s word was
law in such MATTERS, and so there was no coroner’s inquest. Then again,
it was also known that he was doing a prosperous business with
several buildings still in course of construction, and that his wife’s
stepfather was a prominent banker.

McGowan and his friends were stupefied. One hope was left, and that was
Jack’s promise that either he or Garry would be at the trustees’ meeting
on Monday night.

Jack had not forgotten. Indeed nothing else filled his mind. There were
still three days in which to work. The shock of his friend’s death,
tremendous as it was, had only roused him to a greater need of action.
The funeral was to take place on Sunday, but he had Saturday and Monday
left. What he intended to do for Garry and his career he must now do
for Garry’s family and Garry’s reputation. The obligation had really
increased, because Garry could no longer fight his battles himself;
nor was there a moment to lose. The slightest spark of suspicion would
kindle a flame of inquiry, and the roar of an investigation would
follow. McGowan had already voiced his own distrust of Garry’s methods.
No matter what the cost, this money must be found before Monday night.

The secret of both the suicide and the defalcation was carefully guarded
from MacFarlane, who, with his daughter, went at once to Minott’s house,
proffering his services to the stricken widow, but nothing was withheld
from Ruth. The serious financial obligations which Jack was about to
undertake would inevitably affect their two lives; greater, therefore,
than the loyalty he owed to the memory of his dead friend, was the
loyalty which he owed to the woman who was to be his wife, and from whom
he had promised to hide no secrets. Though he felt sure what her answer
would be, his heart gave a great bound of relief when she answered
impulsively, without a thought for herself or their future:

“You are right, dearest. These things make me love you more. You are so
splendid, Jack. And you never disappoint me. It is Garry’s poor little
boy who must be protected. Everybody would pity the wife, but nobody
would pity the child. He will always be pointed at when he grows up.
Dear little tot! He lay in my arms so sweet and fresh this morning,
and put his baby hands upon my cheek, and looked so appealingly into my
face. Oh, Jack, we must help him. He has done nothing.”

They were sitting together as she spoke, her head on his shoulder, her
fingers held tight in his strong, brown hand. She could get closer to
him in this position, she always told him: these hands and cheeks were
the poles of a battery between which flowed and flashed the vitality of
two sound bodies, and through which quivered the ecstasy of two souls.

Suddenly the thought of Garry and what he had been, in the days of his
brilliancy, and of what he had done to crush the lives about him came to
her. Could she not find some excuse for him, something which she might
use as her own silent defence of him in the years that were to come?

“Do you think Garry was out of his mind, Jack? He’s been so depressed
lately?” she asked, all her sympathy in her voice.

“No, my blessed, I don’t think so. Everybody is more or less insane who
succumbs to a crisis. Garry believed absolutely in himself and his luck,
and when the cards went against him he collapsed. And yet he was no
more a criminal at heart than I am. But that is all over now. He has his
punishment, poor boy, and it is awful when you think of it. How he could
bring himself to prove false to his trust is the worst thing about it.
This is a queer world, my darling, in which we live. I never knew much
about it until lately. It is not so at home, or was not when I was a
boy--but here you can take away a man’s character, rob him of his
home, corrupt his children. You can break your wife’s heart, be cruel,
revengeful; you can lie and be tricky, and no law can touch you--in
fact, you are still a respectable citizen. But if you take a dollar-bill
out of another man’s cash drawer, you are sent to jail and branded as a
thief. And it is right--looked at from one standpoint--the protection
of society. It is the absence of all mercy in the enforcement of the law
that angers me.”

Ruth moved her head and nestled the closer. How had she lived all the
years of her life, she thought to herself, without this shoulder to lean
on and this hand to guide her? She made no answer. She had never thought
about these things in that way before, but she would now. It was so
restful and so blissful just to have him lead her, he who was so strong
and self-reliant, and whose vision was so clear, and who never dwelt
upon the little issues. And it was such a relief to reach up her arms
and kiss him and say, “Yes, blessed,” and to feel herself safe in his
hands. She had never been able to do that with her father. He had always
leaned on her when schemes of economies were to be thought out, or
details of their daily lives planned. All this was changed now. She had
found Jack’s heart wide open and had slipped inside, his strong will
henceforth to be hers.

Still cuddling close, her head on his shoulder, her heart going out
to him as she thought of the next morning and the task before him, she
talked of their coming move to the mountains, and of the log-cabin
for which Jack had already given orders; of the approaching autumn and
winter and what they would make of it, and of dear daddy’s plans and
profits, and of how long they must wait before a larger log-cabin--one
big enough for two--would be theirs for life--any and every topic which
she thought would divert his mind--but Garry’s ghost would not down.

“And what are you going to do first, my darling?” she asked at last,
finding that Jack answered only in monosyllables or remained silent
altogether.

“I am going to see Uncle Arthur in the morning,” he answered quickly,
uncovering his brooding thoughts. “It won’t do any good, perhaps, but I
will try it. I have never asked him for a cent for myself, and I won’t
now. He may help Corinne this time, now that Garry is dead. There
must be some outside money due Garry that he has not been able to
collect--commissions on unfinished work. This can be turned in when it
is due. Then I am going to Uncle Peter, and after that to some of the
people we trade with.”

Breen was standing by the ticker when Jack entered. It was a busy day in
the Street and values were going up by leaps and bounds. The broker was
not in a good humor; many of his customers were short of the market.

He followed Jack into his private office and faced him.

“Funeral’s at one o’clock Sunday, I see,” he said in a sharp voice, as
if he resented the incident. “Your aunt and I will be out on the noon
train. She got back this morning, pretty well bunged up. Killed himself,
didn’t he?”

“That is not the doctor’s opinion, sir, and he was with him when he
died.”

“Well, it looks that way to me. He’s busted--and all balled up in the
Street. If you know anybody who will take the lease off Corinne’s hands,
let me know. She and the baby are coming to live with us.”

Jack replied that he would make it his business to do so, with pleasure,
and after giving his uncle the details of Garry’s death he finally
arrived at the tangled condition of his affairs.

Breen promptly interrupted him.

“Yes, so Corinne told me. She was in here one day last week and wanted
to borrow ten thousand dollars. I told her it didn’t grow on trees.
Suppose I had given it to her? Where would it be now. Might as well have
thrown it in the waste-basket. So I shut down on the whole business--had
to.”

Jack waited until his uncle had relieved his mind. The state of the
market had something to do with his merciless point of view; increasing
irritability, due to loss of sleep, and his habits had more. The
outburst over, Jack said in a calm direct voice, watching the effect of
the words as a gunner watches a shell from his gun:

“Will you lend it to me, sir?”

Arthur was pacing his private office, casting about in his mind how to
terminate the interview, when Jack’s shot overhauled him. Garry’s sudden
death had already led him to waste a few more minutes of his time than
he was accustomed to on a morning like this, unless there was business
in it.

He turned sharply, looked at Jack for an instant, and dropped into the
revolving chair fronting his desk.

Then he said in a tone of undisguised surprise:

“Lend you ten thousand dollars! What for?”

“To clear up some matters of Garry’s at Corklesville. The Warehouse
matter has been closed out, so Corinne tells me.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it? I thought you wanted it for yourself. Who signs
for it?”

“I do.”

“On what collateral?”

“My word.”

Breen leaned back in his chair. The unsophisticated innocence of this
boy from the country would be amusing if it were not so stupid.

“What are you earning, Jack?” he said at last, with a half-derisive,
half-humorous expression on his face.

“A thousand dollars a year.” Jack had never taken his eyes from his
uncle’s face, nor had he moved a muscle of his body.

“And it would take you ten years to pay it if you dumped it all in?”

“Yes.”

“Got anything else to offer?” This came in a less supercilious tone. The
calm, direct manner of the young man had begun to have its effect.

“Nothing but my ore property.”

“That’s good for nothing. I made a mistake when I wanted you to put it
in here. Glad you didn’t take me up.”

“So am I. My own investigation showed the same thing.”

“And the ore’s of poor quality,” continued Breen in a decided tone.

“Very poor quality, what I saw of it,” rejoined Jack.

“Well, we will check that off. MacFarlane got any thing he could turn
in?”

“No--and I wouldn’t ask him.”

“And you mean to tell me, Jack, that you are going broke yourself to
help a dead man pay his debts?”

“If you choose to put it that way.”

“Put it that way? Why, what other way is there to put it? You’ll excuse
me, Jack--but you always were a fool when your damned idiotic notions
of what is right and wrong got into your head--and you’ll never get over
it. You might have had an interest in my business by this time, and be
able to write your check in four figures; and yet here you are cooped up
in a Jersey village, living at a roadside tavern, and getting a thousand
dollars a year. That’s what your father did before you; went round
paying everybody’s debts; never could teach him anything; died poor,
just as I told him he would.”

Jack had to hold on to his chair to keep his mouth closed. His father’s
memory was dangerous ground for any man to tread on--even his father’s
brother; but the stake for which he was playing was too great to be
risked by his own anger.

“No, Jack,” Breen continued, gathering up a mass of letters and jamming
them into a pigeon-hole in front of him, as if the whole matter was set
forth in their pages and he was through with it forever. “No--I guess
I’ll pass on that ten thousand-dollar loan. I am sorry, but A. B. &
Co, haven’t any shekels for that kind of tommy-rot. As to your helping
Minott, what I’ve got to say to you is just this: let the other fellow
walk--the fellow Garry owes money to--but don’t you butt in. They’ll
only laugh at you. Now you will have to excuse me--the market’s kiting,
and I’ve got to watch it. Give my love to Ruth. Your aunt and I will be
out on the noon train for the funeral. Good-by.”

It was what he had expected. He would, perhaps, have stood a better
chance if he had read him Peter’s encouraging letter of the director’s
opinion of his Cumberland property, and he might also have brought him
up standing (and gone away with the check in his pocket) if he had told
him that the money was to save his own wife’s daughter and grandchild
from disgrace--but that secret was not his. Only as a last, desperate
resource would he lay that fact bare to a man like Arthur Breen, and
perhaps not even then. John Breen’s word was, or ought to be, sacred
enough on which to borrow ten thousand dollars or any other sum. That
meant a mortgage on his life until every cent was paid.

Do not smile, dear reader. He is only learning his first lesson in
modern finance. All young men “raised” as Jack had been--and the Scribe
is one of them--would have been of the same mind at his age. In a great
city, when your tea-kettle starts to leaking, you never borrow a whole
one from your neighbor; you send to the shop at the corner and buy
another. In the country--Jack’s country, I mean--miles from a store, you
borrow your neighbor’s, who promptly borrows your saucepan in return.
And it was so in larger matters: the old Chippendale desk with its
secret drawer was often the bank--the only one, perhaps, in a week’s
journey. It is astonishing in these days to think how many dingy,
tattered or torn bank-notes were fished out of these same receptacles
and handed over to a neighbor with the customary--“With the greatest
pleasure, my dear sir. When you can sell your corn or hogs, or that
mortgage is paid off, you can return it.” A man who was able to lend,
and who still refused to lend, to a friend in his adversity, was a
pariah. He had committed the unpardonable sin. And the last drop of the
best Madeira went the same way and with equal graciousness!

Peter, at Jack’s knock, opened the door himself. Isaac Cohen had just
come in to show him a new book, and Peter supposed some one from the
shop below had sent upstairs for him.

“Oh! it’s you, my boy!” Peter cried in his hearty way, his arms around
Jack’s shoulders as he drew him inside the room. Then something in the
boy’s face checked him, bringing to mind the tragedy. “Yes, I read it
all in the papers,” he exclaimed in a sympathetic voice. “Terrible,
isn’t it! Poor Minott. How are his wife and the poor little baby--and
dear Ruth. The funeral is to-morrow I see by the papers. Yes, of course
I’m going.” As he spoke he turned his head and scanned Jack closely.

“Are you ill, my boy?” he asked in an anxious tone, leading him to a
seat on the sofa. “You look terribly worn.”

“We all have our troubles, Uncle Peter,” Jack replied with a glance at
Cohen, who had risen from his chair to shake his hand.

“Yes--but not you. Out with it! Isaac doesn’t count. Anything you can
tell me you can tell him. What’s the matter?--is it Ruth?”

Jack’s face cleared. “No, she is lovely, and sent you her dearest love.”

“Then it’s your work up in the valley?”

“No--we begin in a month. Everything’s ready--or will be.”

“Oh! I see, it’s the loss of Minott. Oh, yes, I understand it all now.
Forgive me, Jack. I did not remember how intimate you and he were once.
Yes, it is a dreadful thing to lose a friend. Poor boy!”

“No--it’s not that altogether, Uncle Peter.”

He could not tell him. The dear old gentleman was ignorant of everything
regarding Garry and his affairs, except that he was a brilliant young
architect, with a dashing way about him, of whom Morris was proud. This
image he could not and would not destroy. And yet something must be
done to switch Peter from the main subject--at least until Cohen should
leave.

“The fact is I have just had an interview with Uncle Arthur, and he has
rather hurt my feelings,” Jack continued in explanation, a forced smile
on his face. “I wanted to borrow a little money. All I had to offer as
security was my word.”

Peter immediately became interested. Nothing delighted him so much as to
talk over Jack’s affairs. Was he not a silent partner in the concern?

“You wanted it, of course, to help out on the new work,” he rejoined.
“Yes, it always takes money in the beginning. And what did the old fox
say?”

Jack smiled meaningly. “He said that what I called ‘my word’ wasn’t
a collateral. Wanted something better. So I’ve got to hunt for it
somewhere else.”

“And he wouldn’t give it to you?” cried Peter indignantly. “No, of
course not! A man’s word doesn’t count with these pickers and stealers.
Half--three-quarters--of the business of the globe is done on a man’s
word. He writes it on the bottom or on the back of a slip of paper small
enough to light a cigar with--but it’s only his word that counts.
In these mouse-traps, however, these cracks in the wall, they want
something they can get rid of the moment somebody else says it is not
worth what they loaned on it; or they want a bond with the Government
behind it. Oh, I know them!”

Cohen laughed--a dry laugh--in compliment to Peter’s way of putting
it--but there was no ring of humor in it. He had been reading Jack’s
mind. There was something behind the forced smile that Peter had
missed--something deeper than the lines of anxiety and the haunted look
in the eyes. This was a different lad from the one with whom he had
spent so pleasant an evening some weeks before. What had caused the
change?

“Don’t you abuse them, Mr. Grayson--these pawn-brokers,” he said in his
slow, measured way. “If every man was a Turk we could take his word, but
when they are Jews and Christians and such other unreliable people, of
course they want something for their ducats. It’s the same old pound
of flesh. Very respectable firm this, Mr. Arthur Breen & Co.--VERY
respectable people. I used to press off the elder gentleman’s coat--he
had only two--one of them I made myself when he first came to New
York--but he has forgotten all about it now,” and the little tailor
purred softly.

“If you had pressed out his morals, Isaac, it would have helped some.”

“They didn’t need it. He was a very quiet young man and very polite; not
so fat, or so red or so rich, as he is now. I saw him the other day in
our bank. You see,” and he winked slyly at Jack, “these grand people
must borrow sometimes, like the rest of us; but he never remembers me
any more.” Isaac paused for a moment as if the reminiscence had
recalled some amusing incident. When he continued his face had a broad
smile--“and I must say, too, that he always paid his bills. Once, when
he was afraid he could not pay, he wanted to bring the coat back, but I
wouldn’t let him. Oh, yes, a very nice young man, Mr. Arthur Breen,” and
the tailor’s plump body shook with suppressed laughter.

“You know, of course, that he is this young man’s uncle,” said Peter,
laying his hand affectionately on Jack’s shoulder.

“Oh, yes, I know about it. I saw the likeness that first day you came
in,” he continued, nodding to Jack. “It was one of the times when your
sister, the magnificent Miss Grayson was here, Mr. Grayson.” Isaac
always called her so, a merry twinkle in his eye when he said it, but
with a face and voice showing nothing but the deepest respect; at
which Peter would laugh a gentle laugh in apology for his sister’s
peculiarities, a dislike of little tailors being one of them--this
little tailor especially.

“And now, Mr. Breen, I hope you will have better luck,” Isaac said,
rising from his chair and holding out his hand.

“But you are not going, Isaac,” protested Peter.

“Yes, this young gentleman, I see, is in a good deal of trouble and I
cannot help him much, so I will go away,” and with a wave of his pudgy
hand he shut the door behind him and trotted downstairs to his shop.

Jack waited until the sound of his retreating footsteps assured the
Jew’s permanent departure, then he turned to Peter.

“I did not want to say too much before Mr. Cohen, but Uncle Arthur’s
refusal has upset me completely. I could not have believed it of him.
You must help me somehow, Uncle Peter. I don’t mean with your own money;
you have not got it to spare--but so I can get it somewhere. I must have
it, and I can’t rest until I do get it.”

“Why, my dear boy! Is it so bad as that? I thought you were joking.”

“I tried to joke about it while Mr. Cohen was here, but he saw through
it, I know, from the way he spoke: but this really is a very serious
matter; more serious than anything that ever happened to me.”

Peter walked to the sofa and sat down. Jack’s manner and the tone of his
voice showed that a grave calamity had overtaken the boy. He sat looking
into Jack’s eyes.

“Go on,” he said, his heart in his mouth.

“I must have ten thousand dollars. How and where can I borrow it?”

Peter started. “Ten thousand dollars!” he repeated in undisguised
surprise. “Whew! Why, Jack, that’s a very large sum of money for you to
want. Why, my dear boy, this is--well--well!”

“It is not for me, Uncle Peter--or I would not come to you for it.”

“For whom is it, then?” Peter asked, in a tone that showed how great was
his relief now that Jack was not involved.

“Don’t ask me, please.”

Peter was about to speak, but he checked himself. He saw it all now.
The money was for MacFarlane, and the boy did not like to say so. He had
heard something of Henry’s financial difficulties caused by the damage
to the “fill.” He thought that this had been made good; he saw now that
he was misinformed.

“When do you want it, Jack?” he resumed. He was willing to help, no
matter who it was for.

“Before Monday night.”

Peter drew out his watch as if to find some relief from its dial, and
slipped it into his pocket again. It was not yet three o’clock and his
bank was still open, but it did not contain ten thousand dollars or
any other sum that he could draw upon. Besides, neither Jack, nor
MacFarlane, nor anybody connected with Jack, had an account at the
Exeter. The discounting of their notes was, therefore, out of the
question.

“To-day is a short business day, Jack, being Saturday,” he said with a
sigh. “If I had known of this before I might have--and yet to tell you
the simple truth, my boy, I don’t know a human being in the world who
would lend me that much money, or whom I could ask for it.”

“I thought maybe Mr. Morris might, if you went to him, but I understand
he is out of town,” returned Jack.

“Yes,” answered Peter in a perplexed tone--“yes--Holker has gone to
Chicago and won’t be back for a week.” He, too, had thought of Morris
and the instantaneous way in which he would have reached for his
check-book.

“And you must have it by Monday night?” Peter continued, his thoughts
bringing into review one after the other all the moneyed men he knew.
“Well--well--that IS a very short notice. It means Monday to hunt in,
really--to-morrow being Sunday.”

He leaned back and sat in deep thought, Jack watching every expression
that crossed his face. Perhaps Ruth was mixed up in it in some
way. Perhaps their marriage depended upon it--not directly, but
indirectly--making a long postponement inevitable. Perhaps MacFarlane
had some old score to settle. This contracting was precarious business.
Once before he had known Henry to be in just such straits. Again he
consulted his watch.

Then a new and cheering thought struck him. He rose quickly from his
seat on the sofa and crossed the room to get his hat.

“It is a forlorn hope, Jack, but I’ll try it. Come back here in an
hour--or stay here and wait.”

“No, I’ll keep moving,” replied Jack. “I have thought of some supply
men who know me; our account is considerable; they would lend it to Mr.
MacFarlane, but that’s not the way I want it. I’ll see them and get back
as soon as I can--perhaps in a couple of hours.”

“Then make it eight o’clock, so as to be sure. I have thought
of something else. Ten thousand dollars,” he kept muttering to
himself--“ten thousand dollars”--as he put on his hat and moved to the
door. There he stopped and faced about--his bushy brows tightening as
a new difficulty confronted him. “Well, but for how long?” That part of
the transaction Jack had forgotten to mention.

“I can’t tell; maybe a year--maybe more.”

Peter advanced a step as if to return to the room and give up the whole
business.

“But Jack, my boy, don’t you see how impossible a loan of that kind is?”

Jack stood irresolute. In his mad desire to save Garry he had not
considered that phase of the matter.

“Yes--but I’ve GOT TO HAVE IT,” he cried in a positive tone. “You would
feel just as I do, if you knew the circumstances.”

Peter turned without a word and opened the door leading into the hall.
“Be back here at eight,” was all he said as he shut the door behind him
and clattered down the uncarpeted stairs.

Shortly before the appointed hour Jack again mounted the three flights
of steps to Peter’s rooms. He had had a queer experience--queer for him.
The senior member of one supply firm had looked at him sharply, and
had then said with a contemptuous smile, “Well, we are looking for
ten thousand dollars ourselves, and will pay a commission to get it.”
 Another had replied that they were short, or would be glad to oblige
him, and as soon as Jack left the office had called to their bookkeeper
to “send MacFarlane his account, and say we have some heavy payments
to meet, and will he oblige us with a check”--adding to his
partner--“Something rotten in Denmark, or that young fellow wouldn’t
be looking around for a wad as big as that.” A third merchant heard
him out, and with some feeling in his voice said: “I’m sorry for you,
Breen”--Jack’s need of money was excuse enough for the familiarity--“for
Mr. MacFarlane thinks everything of you, he’s told me so a dozen
times--and there isn’t any finer man living than Henry MacFarlane. But,
just as your friend, let me tell you to stay out of the Street; it’s
no place for a young man like you. No--I don’t mean any offence. If I
didn’t believe in you myself, I wouldn’t say it. Take my advice and stay
out.”

And so footsore and heart-sore, his face haggard from hunger, for he
had eaten nothing since breakfast, his purpose misunderstood, his own
character assailed, his pride humiliated, and with courage almost gone,
he strode into Peter’s room and threw himself into a chair.

Peter heard his step and entered from his bedroom, where he had finished
dressing for dinner. The old fellow seemed greatly troubled. One glance
at Jack’s face told the story of the afternoon.

“You have done nothing, Jack?” he asked in a despondent tone.

“No--have you?”

“Nothing. Portman has gone to his place on Long Island, the others were
out. Whom did you see?”

“Some people we do business with; some of them laughed at me; some gave
me advice; none of them had any money.”

“I expected it. I don’t think you are quite aware of what you ask, my
dear boy.”

“Perhaps I am not, but I am beginning to see. It is a new experience for
me. If my father had wanted the money for the same purpose for which I
want this, he would not have had to drive a mile from his house before
he would have had it.”

“Your father lived in a different atmosphere, my boy; in another age,
really. In his environment money meant the education of children, the
comfort of women, and the hospitalities that make up social life.”

“Well, is not that true now, among decent people?” protested Jack, his
mind going back to some homes he remembered.

“No--not generally--not here in New York. Money here means the right to
exist on the planet; we fight for it as we do for our lives. Your own
need of this ten thousand dollars proves it. The men I tried to find
this afternoon have more than they need or ever will need; that’s why
I called on them. If I lost it, it wouldn’t matter to them, but I would
never hear the last of it all the same,” and a shudder ran through him.

Peter did not tell Jack that had Portman been at home and, out of
friendship for him, had agreed to his request, he would have required
the old fellow’s name on a demand note for the amount of the loan; and
that he would willingly have signed it, to relieve the boy’s mind and
ward off the calamity that threatened those he loved and those who loved
him--not one cent of which, the Scribe adds in all positiveness, would
the boy have taken had he known that the dear fellow had in any way
pledged himself for its return.

For some minutes Jack sat stretched out in his chair, his body aslant;
Peter still beside him. All the events of the day and night passed in
review before him; Garry’s face and heavy breathing; McGowan’s visit
and defiance; Corinne’s agonized shriek--even the remembrance made him
creep--then Ruth’s voice and her pleading look: “The poor little boy.
Jack. He has done no wrong--all his life he must be pointed at.”

He dragged himself to his feet.

“I will go back to Ruth now, Uncle Peter. Thank you for trying. I
know it is a wild goose chase, but I must keep moving. You will be
out to-morrow; we bury poor Garry at one o’clock. I still have all day
Monday. Good-night.”

“Come out and dine with me, my boy--we will go to--”

“No, Ruth is worrying. I will get something to eat when I get home.
Good-night!”



CHAPTER XXIX



Jack descended Peter’s stairs one step at a time, Each seemed to plunge
him the deeper into some pit of despair. Before he reached the bottom he
began to realize the futility of his efforts. He began to realize, too,
that both he and Ruth had been swept off their feet by their emotions.
MacFarlane, the elder Breen, and now Peter, had all either openly
condemned his course or had given it scant encouragement. There was
nothing to go new but go home and tell Ruth. Then, after the funeral was
over, he would have another talk with MacFarlane.

He had reached the cool air of the street, and stood hesitating whether
to cross the Square on his way to the ferry, or to turn down the avenue,
when the door of Isaac Cohen’s shop opened, and the little tailor put
out his head.

“I have been waiting for you.” he said in a measured voice. “Come
inside.”

Jack was about to tell him that he must catch a train, when something
in the tailor’s manner and the earnestness with which he spoke, made the
young fellow alter his mind and follow him.

The little man led the way through the now darkened and empty shop,
lighted by one gas jet--past the long cutting counter flanked by shelves
bearing rolls of cloth and paper patterns, around the octagon stove
where the irons were still warm, and through the small door which led
into his private room. There he turned up a reading lamp, its light
softened by a green shade, and motioning Jack to a seat, said abruptly,
but politely--more as a request than a demand:

“I have a question to ask you, and you will please tell me the truth.
How much money do you want, and what do you want it for?”

Jack bit his lip. He wanted money, and he wanted it badly, but the
tailor had no right to pry into his private affairs--certainly not in
this way.

“Well, that was something I was talking to Uncle Peter about,” he
rejoined stiffly. “I suppose you must have overheard.”

“Yes, I did. Go on--how much money do you want, and what do you want it
for?”

“But, Mr. Cohen, I don’t think I ought to bother you with my troubles.
They wouldn’t interest you.”

“Now, my dear young man, you will please not misunderstand me. You are
very intelligent, and you are very honest, and you always say what is in
your heart; I have heard you do it many times. Now say it to me.”

There was no mistaking the tailor’s earnestness. It evidently was not
mere curiosity which prompted him. It was something else. Jack wondered
vaguely if the Jew wanted to turn money-lender at a big percentage.

“Why do you want to know?” he asked; more to gain time to fathom his
purpose than with any intention of giving him the facts.

Isaac went to his desk, opened with great deliberation an ebony box,
took out two cigars, offered one to Jack, leaned over the lamp until his
own was alight, and took the chair opposite Jack’s. All this time Jack
sat watching him as a child does a necromancer, wondering what he meant
to do next.

“Why do I want to know, Mr. Breen? Well, I will tell you. I have loved
Mr. Grayson for a great many years. When he goes out in the morning he
always looks through the glass window and waves his hand. If I am not in
sight, he opens the door and calls inside, ‘Ah, good-morning, Isaac.’ At
night, when he comes home, he waves his hand again. I know every line in
his face, and it is always a happy face. Once or twice a week he comes
in here, and we talk. That is his chair--the one you are sitting in.
Once or twice a week I go up and sit in his chair and talk. In all the
years I have known him I have only seen him troubled once or twice. Then
I asked him the reason, and he told me. To-day I heard you speak about
some money you wanted, and then I saw that something had gone wrong.
After I left he came downstairs and passed my window and did not look
in. I watched him go up the street, he walked very slow, and his head
was down on his chest. I did not like it. A little while ago he came
back; I went out to meet him. I said, ‘Mr. Grayson, what troubles you?’
And he said--‘Nothing, Isaac, thank you,’ and went upstairs. That is the
first time in all the years I know him that he answered me like that.
So now I ask you once more--how much money do you want, and what do
you want it for? When I know this, then I will know what troubles Mr.
Grayson. There is always a woman or a sum of money at the bottom of
every complication. Mr. Grayson never worries over either. I do not
believe you do, but I have had many surprises in my life.”

Jack had heard him through without interruption. Most of it--especially
Cohen’s affection for Peter--he had known before. It was the last
statement that roused him.

“Well, if you must know, Mr. Cohen--it is not for myself, but for a
friend.”

The Jew smiled. He saw that the young man had told the truth. Peter’s
confidence in the boy, then, need not be shaken.

“And how much money do you need for your friend?” His eyes were still
reading Jack.

“Well, a very large sum.” Jack did not like the cross-examination, but
somehow he could not resent it.

“But, my dear young man, will you not tell me? If you buy a coat, do you
not want to know the price? If you pay for an indiscretion, is not the
sum named in the settlement?”

“Ten thousand dollars.”

There was no change in the Jew’s face. The smile did not alter.

“And this is the money that Mr. Grayson tried to borrow for you, and
failed? Is it not so?”

Jack nodded.

“And you have tried everywhere to get it yourself? All the afternoon you
have been at it?” Still the same queer smile--one of confirmation, as if
he had known it all the time.

Again Jack nodded. Isaac was either a mind reader or he must have been
listening at the keyhole when he poured out his heart to Peter.

“Yes, that is what I thought when I saw you come in a little while ago,
dragging your feet as if they were lead, and your eyes on the ground.
The step and the eye, Mr. Breen, if you did but know it, make a very
good commercial agency. When the eye is bright and the walk is quick,
your customer has the money to pay either in his pocket or in his bank;
when the step is dull and sluggish, you take a risk; when the eye looks
about with an anxious glance and the step is stealthy, and then when you
take the measure for the coat, both go out dancing, you may never get
a penny. But that is only to tell you how I know,” the tailor chuckled
softly. “And now one thing more”--he was serious now--“when must you
have this ten thousand dollars?”

“Before Monday night.”

“In cash?”

“In cash or something I can get cash on.”

The tailor rose from his seat with a satisfied air--he had evidently
reached the point he had been striving for--laid the stump of his cigar
on the edge of the mantel, crossed the room, fumbled in the side pocket
of a coat which hung on a nail in an open closet; drew out a small
key; sauntered leisurely to his desk, all the while crooning a tune to
himself--Jack following his every movement, wondering what it all meant,
and half regretting that he had not kept on to the ferry instead of
wasting his time. Here he unlocked a drawer, took out a still smaller
key--a flat one this time--removed some books and a small Barye bronze
tiger from what appeared to be a high square table, rolled back the
cloth, bringing into view an old-fashioned safe, applied the key and
swung back a heavy steel door. Here, still crooning his song in a low
key, dropping it and picking it up again as he moved--quite as does the
grave-digger in “Hamlet”--he drew forth a long, flat bundle and handed
it to Jack.

“Take them, Mr. Breen, and put them in your inside pocket. There are ten
United States Government bonds. If these Breen people will not lend you
the amount of money you want, take them to Mr. Grayson’s bank. Only do
not tell him I gave them to you. I bought them yesterday and was going
to lock them up in my safe deposit vault, only I could not leave my
shop. Oh, you needn’t look so scared. They are good,” and he loosened
the wrapper.

Jack sprang from his seat. For a moment he could not speak.

“But, Mr. Cohen! Do you know I haven’t any security to offer you, and
that I have only my salary and--”

“Have I asked you for any?” Isaac replied with a slight shrug, a
quizzical smile crossing his face.

“No--but--”

“Ah, then, we will not talk about it. You are young--you are
hard-working; you left a very rich home on Fifth Avenue to go and live
in a dirty hotel in a country village--all because you were honest; you
risked your life to save your employer; and now you want to go into debt
to save a friend. Ah--you see, I know all about you, my dear Mr. John
Breen. Mr. Grayson has told me, and if he had not, I could read your
face. No--no--no--we will not talk about such things as cent per cent
and security. No--no--I am very glad I had the bonds where I could get
at them quick. There now--do you run home as fast as you can and tell
your friend. He is more unhappy than anybody.”

Jack had his breath now and he had also made up his mind. Every drop of
blood in his body was in revolt. Take money from a Jew tailor whom he
had not seen half a dozen times; with whom he had no business relations
or dealings, or even social acquaintance?

He laid the bonds back on the desk.

“I cannot take them, Mr. Cohen. I thank you most sincerely, but--no--you
must not give them to me. I--”

Isaac wheeled suddenly and drew himself up. His little mouse eyes were
snapping, and his face fiery red.

“You will not take them! Why?”

“I don’t know--I can’t!”

“I know!” he cried angrily, but with a certain dignity. “It is because
I am a Jew. Not because I am a tailor--you have too much sense for
that--but because I am a Jew!”

“Oh, Mr. Cohen!”

“Yes--I know--I see inside of you. I read you just as if you were a page
in a book. Who taught you to think that? Not your Uncle Peter; he loves
me--I love him. Who taught you such nonsense?” His voice had risen with
every sentence. In his indignation he looked twice his size. “Is not
my money as good as that man Breen’s--who insults you when you go to
him?--and who laughed at you? Have I laughed at you? Does Mr. Grayson
laugh?”

Jack tried to interrupt, but the tailor’s words poured on.

“And now let me tell you one thing more, Mr. John Breen. I do not give
you the bonds. I give them to Mr. Grayson. Never once has he insulted me
as you do now. All these years--fifteen years this winter--he has been
my friend. And now when the boy whom he loves wants some money for
a friend, and Mr. Grayson has none to give him, and I, who am
Mr. Grayson’s friend, come to help that boy out of his trouble,
you--you--remember, you who have nothing to do with it--you turn up your
nose and stop it all. Are you not ashamed of yourself?”

Jack’s eyes blazed. He was not accustomed to be spoken to in that way by
anybody; certainly not by a tailor.

“Then give them to Uncle Peter,” Jack flung back. “See what he will
say.”

“No, I will not give them to your Uncle Peter. It will spoil everything
with me if he knows about it. He always does things for me behind my
back. He never lets me know. Now I shall do something for him behind his
back and not let him know.”

“But--”

“There are no buts! Listen to me, young man. I have no son; I have no
grandchild; I live here alone--you see how small it is? Do you know
why?--because I am happiest here. I know what it is to suffer, and I
know what it is for other people to suffer. I have seen more misery in
London in a year than you will see in your whole life. Those ten bonds
there are of no more use to me than an extra coat of paint on that door.
I have many more like them shut up in a box. Almost every day people
come to me for money--sometimes they get it--oftener they do not. I have
no money for beggars, or for idlers, or for liars. I have worked all
my life, and shall to the end--and so must they. Now and then something
happens like this. Now do you understand?”

Again Jack tried to speak. His anger was gone; the pathos in the
Jew’s voice had robbed him of all antagonism, but Cohen would allow no
interruptions.

“And now one thing more before I let you speak, And then I am through.
In all the years I have known Mr. Grayson, this is the first time I
have ever been able to help him with the only thing I have that can help
him--my money. If it was five times what you want, he should have it. Do
you hear? Five times!”

Isaac threw himself into his chair and sat with his chin in his hand.
The last few words had come in a dry, choking whisper--as if they had
been pumped from the depths of his heart.

Jack instinctively put out his hand and touched the Jew’s knee.

“Will you please forgive me, Mr. Cohen--and will you please listen to
me. I won’t tell you a lie. I did feel that way at first--I do not now.
I will take the bonds, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for
them. You will never know how much good they will do; I have hardly
slept since I knew I had to get this money. I am, perhaps, too tired to
think straight, but you must do something for me--you must make it right
with my own conscience. I want to sign something--give you something
as security. I have only one thing in the world and that is some ore
property my father left me in Maryland. At present it is worthless and
may always be, but still it is all I have. Let me give you this. If it
turns out to be of value you can take out your loan with interest and
give me the rest; if it does not, I will pay it back as I can; it may be
ten years or it may be less, but I will pay it if I live.”

Isaac raised his head. “Well, that is fair.” His voice was again under
control. “Not for me--but for you. Yes, that is quite right for you to
feel that way. Next week you can bring in the papers.” He picked up the
bonds. “Now put these in your inside pocket and look out for them as you
cross the ferry. Good-by.”



CHAPTER XXX



Jack strode out into the night, his mind in a whirl. No sense of elation
over the money had possession of him. All his thoughts were on Isaac.
What manner of man was this Jew? he kept asking himself in a sort of
stunned surprise, who could handle his shears like a journeyman, talk
like a savant, spend money like a prince, and still keep the heart of a
child? Whoever heard of such an act of kindness; and so spontaneous and
direct; reading his heart, sympathizing with him in his troubles--as his
friend would have done--as his own father might have done.

And with the thought of Cohen’s supreme instantaneous response there
followed with a rush of shame and self-humiliation that of his own
narrow-mindedness, his mean prejudices, his hatred of the race, his
questionings of Peter’s intimacy, and his frequent comments on their
acquaintance--the one thing he could never understand in his beloved
mentor. Again Isaac’s words rang in his ears. “Is it because I am a Jew?
Who taught you such nonsense? Not your Uncle Peter--he loves me. I love
him.” And with them arose the vision of the man stretched to his full
height, the light of the lamp glinting on his moist forehead, his
bead-like eyes flashing in the rush of his anger.

As to the sacrifice both he and Ruth had just made, and it was now
final, this no longer troubled him. He had already weighed for her every
side of the question, taking especial pains to discuss each phase of the
subject, even going so far as to disagree with MacFarlane’s opinion
as to the worthlessness of the ore lands. But the dear child had never
wavered.

“No!--I don’t care,” she had answered with a toss of her head. “Let the
land go if there is no other way. We can get on without it, my darling,
and these poor people cannot.” She had not, of course, if the truth must
be told, weighed any of the consequences of what their double sacrifice
might entail, nor had she realized the long years of work which might
ensue, or the self-denial and constant anxiety attending its repayment.
Practical questions on so large a scale had been outside the range of
her experience. Hers was the spirit of Joan of old, who reckoned nothing
of value but her ideal.

Nor can we blame her. When your cheeks are twin roses; your hair black
as a crow’s wing and fine as silk; and your teeth--not one missing--so
many seed pearls peeping from pomegranate lips; when your blood goes
skipping and bubbling through your veins; when at night you sleep like
a baby, and at morn you spring from your bed in the joy of another day;
when there are two strong brown hands and two strong arms, and a great,
loving, honest heart every bit your own; and when, too, there are crisp
autumn afternoons to come, with gold and brown for a carpet, and long
winter evenings, the fire-light dancing on the overhead rafters; and
‘way--‘way--beyond this--somewhere in the far future there rises a
slender spire holding a chime of bells, and beneath it a deep-toned
organ--when this, I say, is, or will be, your own--the gold of the
Indies is but so much tinkling brass, and Cleopatra’s diadem a mere
bauble with which to quiet a child.

It was not until he was nearing Corklesville that the sense of the money
really came to him. He knew what it would mean to Ruth and what her eyes
would hold of gladness and relief. Suddenly there sprang to his lips an
unbidden laugh, a spontaneous overflow from the joy of his heart; the
first he had uttered for days. Ruth should know first. He would take her
in his arms and tell her to hunt in all his pockets, and then he would
kiss her and place the package in her hands. And then the two would go
to Corinne. It would be late, and she would be in bed, perhaps, but that
made no difference. Ruth would steal noiselessly upstairs; past where
Garry lay, the flowers heaped upon his coffin, and Corinne would learn
the glad tidings before to-morrow’s sun. At last the ghost which had
haunted them all these days was banished; her child would be safe, and
Corinne would no longer have to hide her head.

Once more the precious package became the dominant thought. Ten bonds!
More than enough! What would McGowan say now? What would his Uncle
Arthur say? He slipped his hand under his coat fondling the wrapper,
caressing it as a lover does a long-delayed letter, as a prisoner does a
key which is to turn darkness into light, as a hunted man a weapon which
may save his life.

It did not take Jack many minutes we may be sure to hurry from the
station to Ruth’s home. There it all happened just as he had planned and
schemed it should--even to the kiss and the hunting for the package of
bonds, and Ruth’s cry of joy, and the walk through the starlight night
to Corinne’s, and the finding her upstairs; except that the poor woman
was not yet in bed.

“Who gave it to you, Jack?” Corinne asked in a tired voice.

“A friend of Uncle Peter’s.”

“You mean Mr. Grayson?”

“Yes.”

There was no outburst, no cry of gratitude, no flood of long-pent-up
tears. The storm had so crushed and bruised this plant that many days
must elapse before it would again lift its leaves from the mud.

“It was very good of Mr. Grayson, Jack,” was all she said in answer, and
then relapsed into the apathy which had been hers since the hour when
the details of her husband’s dishonesty had dropped from his lips.

Poor girl! she had no delusions to sustain her. She knew right from
wrong. Emotions never misled her. In her earlier years she and her
mother had been accustomed to look things squarely in the face, and
to work out their own careers; a game of chance, it is true, until her
mother’s marriage with the elder Breen; but they had both been honest
careers, and they had owed no man a penny. Garry had fought the battle
for her within the last few years, and in return she had loved him as
much as she was able to love anybody but she had loved him as a man of
honor, not as a thief. Now he had lied to her, had refused to listen to
her pleadings, and the end had come. What was there left, and to whom
should she now turn--she without a penny to her name--except to her
stepfather, who had insulted and despised her. She had even been
compelled to seek help from Ruth and Jack; and now at last to accept it
from Mr. Grayson--he almost a stranger. These were the thoughts which,
like strange nightmares, swept across her tired brain, taking grewsome
shapes, each one more horrible than its predecessor.

At the funeral, next day, she presented the same impassive front. Breen
and her mother rode with her in the carriage to the church, and Jack and
Ruth helped her alight, but she might have been made of stone so far
as she evinced either sorrow or interest in what was taking place about
her. And yet nothing had been omitted by friend or foe expressive of the
grief and heart-felt sorrow the occasion demanded. Holker Morris sent a
wreath of roses with a special letter to her, expressing his confidence
in and respect for the man he had brought up from a boy. A committee was
present from the Society of Architects to which Garry belonged; half
a dozen of his old friends from the Magnolia were present, Biffy among
them; the village Council and the Board of Church Trustees came in a
body, and even McGowan felt it incumbent upon him to stand up during the
service and assume the air of one who had been especially bereft. Nor
were the notices in the country and city papers wanting in respect. “One
of our most distinguished citizens--a man who has reached the topmost
round of the ladder,” etc., etc., one editorial began.

It was only when the funeral was over, and she was once more at home,
that she expressed the slightest concern. Then she laid her hand in
Peter’s and threw back her heavy crepe veil: “You have saved me from
disgrace, Mr. Grayson,” she said, in a low, monotonous voice, “and my
little boy as well. I try to think that Garry must have been out of his
mind when he took the money. He would not listen to me, and he would not
tell me the truth. Jack is going to pay it back to-morrow, and nobody
will ever know that my husband did wrong; but I couldn’t let you go
away without thanking you for having saved us. My stepfather wouldn’t
help--nobody would help but you. I don’t know why you did it. It seems
so strange. I had given up all hope when Jack came back last night.”

Peter sat perfectly still, his hand on her wrist, where he had placed
it to show by a kindly touch his sympathy for her. Not knowing what her
lips would tell, he had begun to pat the back of her black glove when
she started to speak, as one would quiet a child who pours out its
troubles, but he stopped in amazement as she proceeded. He had not
loaned her a dollar, nor had Jack, as he knew, succeeded in getting a
penny, unless by a miracle he had met some one on the train who had come
to his rescue.

What did the poor woman mean? Disgrace! Trouble! Garry taking money, and
Jack paying it back on Monday! The horror of her husband’s sudden
death had undoubtedly turned her mind, distorting some simple business
transaction into a crime, or she would not be thanking him for something
that he had never done. This talk of Jack’s could only have been a ruse
to keep up her spirits and give her false strength until she had passed
through the agonizing ordeal of the funeral--he accepting all her
delusions as true--as one does when an insane person is to be coaxed
back into a cell. These thoughts went whirling through his mind, as
Peter watched her face closely, wondering what would be his course. He
had not met her often, yet he could see that she was terribly changed.
He noticed, too, that all through the interview she had not shed a tear.
Yes--there was no question that her mind was unbalanced. The best plan
would be to bring the interview to an end as quickly as possible, so she
should not dwell too long on her sorrow.

“If I have done anything to help you, my dear lady,” he said with gentle
courtesy, rising from his chair and taking her hand again, “or can do
anything for you in the future, I shall be most happy, and you must
certainly let me know. And now, may I not ask you to go upstairs and
lie down. You are greatly fatigued--I assure you I feel for you most
deeply.”

But his mind was still disturbed. Ruth and Jack wondered at his quiet
as he sat beside them on the way back to MacFarlane’s--gazing out of
the carriage window, his clean-shaven, placid face at rest, his straight
thin lips close shut. He hardly spoke until they reached the house,
and then it was when he helped Ruth alight. Once inside, however,
he beckoned Jack, and without a word led him alone into MacFarlane’s
study--now almost dismantled for the move to Morfordsburg--and closed
the door.

“Mrs. Minott has just told me the most extraordinary thing, Jack--an
unbelievable story. Is she quite sane?”

Jack scanned Peter’s face and read the truth. Corinne had evidently told
him everything. This was the severest blow of all.

“She supposed you knew, sir;” answered Jack quietly, further concealment
now being useless.

“Knew what?” Peter was staring at him with wide-open eyes.

“What she told you, sir,” faltered Jack.

The old man threw up his hands in horror.

“What! You really mean to tell me, Jack, that Minott has been stealing?”

Jack bent his head and his eyes sought the floor. He could hardly have
been more ashamed had he himself been the culprit.

“God bless my soul! From whom?”

“The church funds--he was trustee. The meeting is to-morrow, and it
would all have come out.”

A great light broke over Peter--as when a window is opened in a darkened
room in which one has bees stumbling.

“And you have walked the streets trying to beggar yourself, not to help
MacFarlane but to keep Minott out of jail!” Amazement had taken the
place of horror.

“He was my friend, sir--and there are Corinne and the little boy. It is
all over now. I have the money--that is, I have got something to raise
it on.”

“Who gave it to you?” He was still groping, blinded by the revelations,
his gray eyes staring at Jack, his voice trembling, beads of
perspiration moistening his forehead.

“Isaac Cohen. He has given me ten Government bonds. They are in that
drawer behind you. He overheard what I said to you yesterday about
wanting some money, and was waiting for me when I went downstairs. He
gave them to me because he loved you, he said. I am to give him my ore
property as security, although I told him it was of no value.”

Peter made a step forward, stretching out a hand as if to steady
himself. His face grew white then suddenly flushed. His breath seemed to
have left him.

“And Cohen did this!” he gasped--“and you for Minott! Why--why--”

Jack caught him in his arms, thinking he was about to fall.

“No! No! I’m all right,” he cried, patting Jack’s shoulder. “It’s
you!--you--YOU, my splendid boy! Oh!--how I love you!”



CHAPTER XXXI



The following morning Jack walked into Arthur Breen’s private office
while his uncle was reading his mail, and laid the package containing
the ten bonds on his desk. So far as their borrowing capacity was
concerned, he could have walked up the marble steps of any broker’s
office or bank on either side of the street--that is, wherever he was
known, and he was still remembered by many of them--thrust the package
through the cashier’s window, and walked down again with a certified
check for their face value in his pocket.

But the boy had other ends in view. Being human, and still smarting
under his uncle’s ridicule and contempt, he wanted to clear his own
name and character; being loyal to his friend’s memory and feeling that
Garry’s reputation must be at least patched up--and here in Breen’s
place and before the man who had so bitterly denounced it; and being
above all tender-hearted and gallant where a woman, and a sorrowing
one, was concerned, he must give Corinne and the child a fair and square
start in the house of Breen, with no overdue accounts to vex her
except such petty ones as a small life insurance and a few uncollected
commissions could liquidate.

These much-to-be-desired results could only be attained when the senior
member of the firm was made acquainted with the fact that, after all,
Garry’s debts could be paid and his reputation saved. The money must,
therefore, be borrowed of Arthur Breen & Co. His uncle would know then
beyond doubt; his axiom being that the only thing that talked loud
enough ever to make him listen was “money.”

It was therefore with a sense of supreme satisfaction, interwoven with
certain suppressed exuberance born of freedom and self-reliance, that
Jack, in answer to Breen’s “What’s this?” when his eyes rested on the
bundle of bonds, replied in an off-hand but entirely respectful manner:

“Ten United States Government bonds, sir; and will you please give me
a check drawn to my order for this amount?” and he handed the astounded
broker the slip of paper McGowan had given him, on which was scrawled
the total of the overdue vouchers.

Breen slipped off the rubber band, spread out the securities as a
lady opens a fan, noted the title, date, and issue, and having assured
himself of their genuineness, asked in a confused, almost apologetic
way, as he touched a bell to summon the cashier:

“Where did you get these? Did MacFarlane give them to you?”

“No--a friend,” answered Jack casually, and without betraying a trace of
either excitement or impatience.

“On what?” snapped Breen, something of his old dictatorial manner
asserting itself.

“On my word,” replied Jack, with a note of triumph, which he could not
wholly conceal.

The door opened and the cashier entered. Breen handed him the bonds,
gave instructions about the drawing of the check, and turned to Jack
again. He was still suffering from amazement, the boy’s imperturbable
manner being responsible for most of it.

“And does this pay Minott’s debts?” he asked in a more conciliatory
tone.

“Every dollar,” replied Jack.

Breen looked up. Where had the boy got this poise and confidence, he
asked himself, as a flush of pride swept through him; after all, Jack
was of his own blood, his brother’s son.

“And I suppose now that it’s you who will be doing the walking instead
of Minott’s creditors?” Breen inquired with a frown that softened into a
smile as he gazed the longer into Jack’s calm eyes.

“Yes, for a time,” rejoined Jack in the same even, unhurried voice.

The clerk brought in the slip of paper, passed it to his employer, who
examined it closely, and who then affixed his signature.

“If you get any more of that kind of stuff and want help in the new
work, let me know.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Jack, folding up the precious scrap and slipping
it into his pocket.

Breen waited until Jack had closed the door, pulled from a pigeon-hole
a bundle of papers labelled Maryland Mining Company, touched another
button summoning his stenographer, and said in a low voice to himself:

“Yes, I have it! Something is going on in that ore property. I’ll write
and find out.”



CHAPTER XXXII



The Board of Church Trustees met, as customary, on Monday night, but
there was no business transacted except the passing of a resolution
expressing its deep regret over the loss of “our distinguished
fellow-townsman, whose genius has added so much to the beautifying of
our village, and whose uprightness of character will always be,” etc.,
etc.

Neither Jack nor McGowan, nor any one representing their interests, was
present. A hurried glance over Garry’s check and bank-books showed that
the money to pay McGowan’s vouchers--the exact sum--had been drawn from
the fund and deposited to Garry’s personal credit in his own bank in New
York. Former payments to McGowan had been made in this way. There was
therefore no proof that this sum had been diverted into illegitimate
channels.

McGowan was paid that same Monday afternoon, Jack bringing the papers
to the contractor’s office, where they were signed in the presence of
Murphy and his clerk.

And so the matter was closed, each and every one concerned being
rejoiced over the outcome.

“Mr. Minott (it was ‘Mr.’ now) had a big stack of money over at his
stepfather’s bank,” was Murphy’s statement to a group around a table
in one of the bar-rooms of the village. “He was in a big deal, so Mac
thinks, and didn’t want to haul any of it out. So when he died Mr. Breen
never squawked--just went over and told the old man that Mac wanted the
money and to fork out; and he did, like a good one. I seen the check, I
tell ye. Oh! they’re all in together. Mr. Breen’s kin to them New York
folks, and so is Mrs. Minott. He’s her father, I hear. I think Mac shot
off his mouth too quick, and I told him so, but he was so het up he
couldn’t keep still. Why, them fellers has got more money than they can
throw away. Mac sees his mistake now. Heard him tell Mr. Breen that Mr.
Minott was the whitest man he ever knowed; and you bet yer life he’s
right.”

Nor was Murphy’s eulogium the only one heard in the village. Within a
week after the funeral a committee was appointed to gather funds for
the placing of a stained-glass window in the new church in memory of the
young architect who had designed and erected it; with the result
that Holker Morris headed the subscription list, an example which was
followed by many of the townspeople, including McGowan and Murphy and
several others of their class, as well as various members of the Village
Council, together with many of Garry’s friends in New York, all of which
was duly set forth in the county and New York papers; a fact which so
impressed the head of the great banking firm of Arthur Breen & Co.
that he immediately sent his personal check for a considerable amount,
desiring, as he stated at a club dinner that same night, to pay some
slight tribute to that brilliant young fellow, Minott, who, you know,
married Mrs. Breen’s daughter--a lovely girl, brought up in my own
house, and who has now come home again to live with us.

Peter listened attentively while Jack imparted these details, a peculiar
smile playing about the corners of his eyes and mouth, his only comment
at the strangeness of such posthumous honors to such a man, but he
became positively hilarious when Jack reached that part in the narrative
in which the head of the house of Breen figured as chief contributor.

“And you mean to tell me, Jack,” he roared, “that Breen has pushed
himself into poor Minott’s stained-glass window, with the saints and the
gold crowns, and--oh, Jack, you can’t be serious!”

“That’s what the Rector tells me, sir.”

“But, Jack--forgive me, my boy, but I have never in all my life heard
anything so delicious. Don’t you think if Holker spoke to the artist
that Mr. Iscariot, or perhaps the estimable Mr. Ananias, or Mr.
Pecksniff, or Uriah Heep might also be tucked away in the background?”
 And with this the old fellow, in spite of his sympathy for Jack and the
solemnity of the occasion, threw back his head and laughed so long and
so heartily that Mrs. McGuffey made excuse to enter the room to find out
what it was all about.

With the subletting of Garry’s house and the shipping of his
furniture--that which was not sold--to her step-father’s house, Jack’s
efforts on behalf of his dead friend and his family came to a close.
Ruth helped Corinne pack her personal belongings, and Jack found a
tenant who moved in the following week. Willing hands are oftenest
called upon, and so it happened that the two lovers bore all the brunt
of the domestic upheaval.

Their own packing had long since been completed; not a difficult matter
in a furnished house; easy always to Ruth and her father, whose nomadic
life was marked by constant changes. Indeed, the various boxes, cases,
crates, and barrels containing much of the linen, china, and glass, to
say nothing of the portieres, rugs and small tables, and the whole of
Ruth’s bedroom furniture, had already been loaded aboard a box car
and sent on its way to Morfordsburg, there to await the arrival of the
joyous young girl, whose clear brain and competent hands would bring
order out of chaos, no matter how desolate the interior and the
environment.

For these dainty white hands with their pink nails and soft palms, so
wonderfully graceful over teapot or fan, could wield a broom or even
a dust-pan did necessity require. Ruth in a ball gown, all frills and
ruffles and lace, was a sight to charm the eye of any man, but Ruth in
calico and white apron, her beautiful hair piled on top of her still
more beautiful head; her skirts pinned up and her dear little feet
pattering about, was a sight not only for men but for gods as well. Jack
loved her in this costume, and so would you had you known her. I myself,
old and wrinkled as I am, have never forgotten how I rapped at the wrong
door one morning--the kitchen door--and found her in that same costume,
with her arms bare to the elbows and covered with flour, where she had
been making a “sally lunn” for daddy. Nor can I forget her ringing laugh
as she saw the look of astonishment on my face, or my delight when she
ordered me inside and made me open the oven door so that she could slide
in the finished product without burning her fingers.

The packing up of their own household impedimenta complete, there came a
few days of leisure--the first breathing spell that either MacFarlane or
Jack, or Ruth, too, for that matter, had had for weeks. MacFarlane, in
view of the coming winter--a long and arduous one, took advantage of the
interim and went south, to his club, for a few days’ shooting--a rare
luxury for him of late years. Jack made up his mind to devote every
one of his spare hours to getting better acquainted with Ruth, and that
young woman, not wishing to be considered either neglectful or selfish,
determined to sacrifice every hour of the day and as much of the night
as was proper and possible to getting better acquainted with Jack; and
the two had a royal time in the doing.

Jack, too, had another feeling about it all. It seemed to him that
he had a debt of gratitude--the rasping word had long since lost its
edge--to discharge; and that he owed her every leisure hour he could
steal from his work. He had spent days and nights in the service of his
friends, and had, besides, laid the burden of their anxieties upon her.
He would pay her in return twice as many days of gladness to make up
for the pain she had so cheerfully borne. What could he do to thank
her?--how discharge the obligation? Every hour he would tell her, and
in different ways--by his tenderness, by his obedience to her slightest
wish, anticipating her every want--how much he appreciated her
unselfishness, and how much better, if that were possible, he loved her
for her sacrifice. Nor was there, when the day came, any limit to his
devotion or to her enjoyment. There were rides over the hills in the
soft September mornings--Indian summer in its most dreamy and summery
state; there were theatre parties of two and no more; when they sat in
the third row in the balcony, where it was cheaper, and where, too, they
wouldn’t have to speak to anybody else. There were teas in Washington
Square, where nobody but themselves and their hostess were present, as
well as other unexpected outings, in which all the rest of the world was
forgotten.

The house, too, was all their own. Nobody upstairs; nobody downstairs
but the servants; even the emptiness of daddy’s room, so grewsome in the
old days, brought a certain feeling of delight. “Just you and me,” as
they said a dozen times a day to each other. And then the long talks on
that blessed old sofa with its cushions--(what a wonderful old sofa it
was, and how much it had heard); talks about when she was a girl--as
if she had ever passed the age; and when he was a boy; and of what
they both thought and did in that blissful state of innocence and
inexperience. Talks about the bungalow they would build some day--that
bungalow which Garry had toppled over--and how it would be furnished;
and whether they could not persuade the landlord to sell them the dear
sofa and move it out there bodily; talks about their life during the
coming winter, and whether she should visit Aunt Felicia’s--and if so,
whether Jack would come too; and if she didn’t, wouldn’t it be just as
well for Jack to have some place in Morfordsburg where he could find a
bed in case he got storm-bound and couldn’t get back to the cabin that
same night. All kinds and conditions and sorts of talks that only two
lovers enjoy, and for which only two lovers can find the material.

Sometimes she thought he might be too lonely and neglected at the
log-cabin. Then she would make believe she was going to ask daddy to
let them be married right away, insisting that two rooms were enough
for them, and that she herself would do the washing and ironing and the
cooking, at which Jack would laugh over the joy of it all, conjuring up
in his mind the pattern of apron she would wear and how pretty her bare
arms would be bending over the tub, knowing all the time that he would
no more have allowed her to do any one of these things than he would
have permitted her to chop the winter’s wood.

Most of these day dreams, plots, and imaginings were duly reported by
letter to Miss Felicia to see what she thought of them all. For the
dear lady’s opposition had long since broken down. In these letters
Ruth poured out her heart as she did to no one except Jack; each missive
interspersed with asides as to how dear Jack was, and how considerate,
and how it would not be a very long time before she would soon get the
other half of the dear lady’s laces, now that daddy and Jack (the boy
had been given an interest in the business) were going to make lots of
money on the new work--to all of which Miss Felicia replied that love
in a garret was what might be expected of fools, but that love in a
log-cabin could only be practised by lunatics.

It was toward the close of this pre-honey-moon--it lasted only ten
days, but it was full moon every hour and no clouds--when, early one
morning--before nine o’clock, really--a night message was handed to
Jack. It had been sent to the brick office, but the telegraph boy,
finding that building closed and abandoned, had delivered it to Mrs.
Hicks, who, discovering it to be sealed, forwarded it at once, and by
the same hand, to the MacFarlane house, known now to everybody as
the temporary headquarters, especially in the day time, of the young
superintendent who was going to marry the daughter--“and there ain’t a
nicer, nor a better, nor a prettier.”

On this morning, then, the two had planned a day in the woods back of
the hills; Ruth’s mare was to be hooked up to a hired buggy, and such
comforts as a bucket of ice, lettuce sandwiches thin as wafers, a cold
chicken, a spirit lamp, teapot, and cups and saucers, not to mention a
big shawl for my sweetheart to sit on, and another smaller one for her
lovely shoulders when the cool of the evening came on, were to be stowed
away under the seat.

“That telegram is from Aunt Felicia, I know,” said Ruth. “She has set
her heart on my coming up to Geneseo, but I cannot go, Jack. I don’t
want to be a minute away from you.”

Jack had now broken the seal and was scanning the contents. Instantly
his face grew grave.

“No--it’s not from Aunt Felicia,” he said in a thoughtful tone, his eyes
studying the despatch. “I don’t know whom it’s from; it is signed T.
Ballantree; I never heard of him before. He wants me to meet him at the
Astor House to-day at eleven o’clock. Some business of your father’s, I
expect--see, it’s dated Morfordsburg. Too bad, isn’t it, blessed--but
I must go. Here, boy”--this to the messenger, who was moving out of the
door--“stop at the livery stable as you go by and tell them I won’t want
the horse and wagon, that I’m going to New York. All in a life-time, my
blessed--but I’m dreadfully sorry.”

“And you MUST go? Isn’t it mean, Jack--and it’s such a lovely day.”

“Yes--but it can’t be helped. What are you going to do with the
sandwiches and chicken and things? And you had so much trouble making
them. And you will be lonely, too.”

“Why, I shall keep them till you come back, and we’ll have a lovely
feast at home,” she said with a light laugh in her effort to hide her
feelings. “Oh, no, I shan’t be lonely. You won’t be gone long, Jack,
will you, dear?”

“I hope not.” His mind must no longer rest on the outing. There was work
to do for Ruth as well as himself. His play time had come to a sudden
end; the bell had rung and recess was over. He looked at his watch;
there was just time to catch the train.

She followed him to the door and kissed her hand as he swung down the
path and through the gate, and watched him until he had disappeared
behind the long wall of the factory; then she went in, put away the
sandwiches and chicken, and the teapot and the cups and saucers, and
emptied the ice.

Yes, the day was spoiled, she said to herself--part of it anyway; but
the night would come, and with it Jack would burst in with news of all
he had seen and done, and they would each have an end of the table;
their last dinner in the old home, where everything on which her eyes
rested revived some memory of their happiness. But then there would be
other outings at Morfordsburg, and so what mattered one day when there
were so many left? And with this thought her tears dried up and she
began to sing again as she busied herself about the house--bursting
into a refrain from one of the operas she loved, or crooning some of the
old-time melodies which her black mammy had taught her when a child.

But now for Jack and what the day held for him of wonders and surprises.

Some pessimistic wiseacre has said that all the dire and dreadful things
in life drop out of a clear sky; that it is the unexpected which is to
be feared, and that the unknown bridges are the ones in which dangers
lurk and where calamity is to be feared.

The optimistic Scribe bites his derisive thumb at such ominous
prophecies. Once in a while some rain does fall, and now and then a
roar of thunder, or sharp slash of sleet will split the air during our
journey through life, but the blue is always above, and the clouds but
drifting ships that pass and are gone. In and through them all the warm,
cheery sun fights on for joyous light and happy endings, and almost
always wins.

This time the unexpected took shape in the person of T. Ballantree, from
Morfordsburg--a plain, direct, straight-to-the-point kind of a man,
whom Jack found in the corridor of the Astor House with his eyes on the
clock.

“You are very prompt, Mr. Breen,” he said in clear-cut tones, “so am I.
What I wanted to see you about is just this: You own some ore property
three miles east of the Maryland Mining Company’s lay-out. Am I right?”

“Yes, you are right,” answered Jack with a comprehensive glance which
began at the speaker’s black derby hat, traversed his suit of store
clothes, and ended in a pair of boots which still showed some traces of
yellow clay, as if their wearer had been prospecting the day before.

“Are there any encumbrances on the property--any mortgages or liens not
yet recorded? I don’t mean taxes; I find they have been paid,” continued
Ballantree.

Jack shifted his seat so he could get a better view of the speaker’s
face, and said in answer:

“Why do you ask?”

“Because,” said the man with entire frankness, “we understand that the
Maryland Mining Company have an option on it. If that is so, I’ll stop
where I am. We don’t care to buck up against Breen & Co.”

“No,” answered Jack, now convinced of the man’s sincerity; “no--it’s
free and clear except for a loan of ten thousand dollars held by a
friend, which can be paid off at any time.”

Ballantree ducked his head in token of his satisfaction over the
statement and asked another question--this time with his eyes straight
on Jack.

“Is it for sale--now--for money?”

It was Jack’s turn to focus his gaze. This was the first time any one
had asked that question in the memory of the oldest inhabitant.

“Well, that depends on what it is wanted for, Mr. Ballantree,” laughed
Jack. He had already begun to like the man. “And perhaps, too, on who
wants it. Is it for speculation?”

Ballantree laughed in return. “No--not a square foot of it. I am the
general manager of the Guthrie Steel Company with head-quarters here
in New York. We have been looking for mineral up in that section of
the State, and struck yours. I might as well tell you that I made the
borings myself.”

“Are you an expert?” asked Jack. The way people searched his title,
examined his tax receipts and rammed hypodermics into his property
without permission was, to say the least, amusing.

“Been at it thirty years,” replied Ballantree in a tone that settled all
doubt on the subject.

“It is a low-grade ore, you know,” explained Jack, feeling bound to
express his own doubts of its value.

“No, it’s a high-grade ore,” returned Ballantree with some positiveness;
“that is, it was when we got down into it. But I’m not here to talk
about percentage--that may come in later. I came to save Mr. Guthrie’s
time. I was to bring you down to see him if you were the man and
everything was clean, and if you’ll go--and I wouldn’t advise you to
stay away--I’ll meet you at his office at twelve o’clock sharp; there’s
his card. It isn’t more than four blocks from here.”

Jack took the card, looked on both sides of it, tucked it in his
inside pocket, and said he would come, with pleasure. Ballantree nodded
contentedly, pulled a cigar from his upper breast pocket, bit off one
end, slid a match along his trousers until it burst into flame, held it
to the unbitten end until it was a-light, blew out the blaze, adjusted
his derby and with another nod to Jack--and the magic words--“Twelve
sharp”--passed out into Broadway.

Ten minutes later--perhaps five, for Jack arrived on the run--Jack
bounded into Peter’s bank, and slipping ahead of the line of depositors,
thrust his overheated face into the opening. There he gasped out a bit
of information that came near cracking the ostrich egg in two, so wide
was the smile that overspread Peter’s face.

“What--really! You don’t say so! Telegraphed you? Who?”

“A Mr. Ballantree,” panted Jack. “I have just left him at the Astor
House.”

“I never heard of him. Look out, my boy--don’t sign anything until
you--”

“Oh, he is only the general manager. It’s a Mr. Guthrie--Robert A.
Guthrie--who wants it. He sent Mr. Ballantree.”

“Robert Guthrie! The banker! That’s our director; that’s the man I told
you of. I gave him your address. Go and see him by all means and tell
him everything. Talk just as you would to me. One of the best men in the
Street. Not a crooked hair on his head, Jack. Well--well--this does look
like business.”

“Pardon me, sir, one minute, if you please--” interpolated Peter to an
insistent depositor whom Jack in his impatience had crowded out. “Now
your book--thank you--And Jack”--this over the hat of the depositor, his
face a marvel of delight--“come to my rooms at four--wait for me--I’ll
be there.”

Out again and around the block; anything to kill time until the precious
hour should arrive. Lord!--how the minutes dragged. The hands of the old
clock of Trinity spire must be stuck together. Any other day it would
take him at least half an hour to walk up Wall Street, down Broadway to
the Battery and back again--now ten minutes was enough. Would the minute
hand never climb up the face to the hour hand and the two get together
at twelve, and so end his impatience. He wished now he had telegraphed
to Ruth not to expect him until the late afternoon train. He thought
he would do it now. Then he changed his mind. No; it would be better to
await the result of his interview. Yet still the clock dragged on, and
still he waited for the magic hour. Ten minutes to twelve--five--then
twelve precisely--but by this time he was closeted inside Mr. Guthrie’s
private office.

Peter also found the hours dragging. What could it all mean? he kept
asking himself as he handed back the books through his window, his eyes
wandering up to the old-fashioned clock. Robert Guthrie the banker--a
REAL banker--had sent for the boy--Guthrie, who never made a too hurried
move. Could it be possible that good fortune was coming to Jack?--that
he and Ruth--that--Ah! old fellow, you nearly made a mistake with the
amount of that check! No--there was no use in supposing. He would just
wait for Jack’s story.

When he reached home he was still in the same overwrought, anxious
state--hoping against hope. When would the boy come? he asked himself a
hundred times as he fussed about his room, nipping off the dead leaves
from his geraniums, drawing the red curtains back; opening and shutting
the books, only to throw himself into his chair at last. Should he smoke
until four?--should he read? What a fool he was making of himself! It
was astonishing that one of his age should be so excited over a mere
business proposition--really not a proposition at all, when he came to
think of it--just an ordinary question asked. He must compose himself.
It was quite absurd for him to go on this way. But would the boy NEVER
come? It was four o’clock now--or would be in ten minutes, and--and--

Yes!

He sprang toward the door and caught the young fellow in his arms.

“Oh! such good news! Mr. Guthrie’s bought the property!” roared Jack.

He had made one long spring from the sidewalk up three flights of steps
to the old-fashioned door, but he still had breath to gasp the glad
tidings.

“Bought!--Who?--Not Guthrie!”

“Yes--I am to sign the papers to-morrow. Oh!--Uncle Peter, I am half
crazy with delight!”

“Hurrah,” shouted Peter. “HURRAH, I say! This IS good news!
Well!--Well!” He was still bending over him, his eyes blinking in his
joy, scurries of irradiating smiles chasing each other over his face.
Never had the old gentleman been in such a state.

“And how much, Jack?”

“Guess.”

“Will there be enough to pay Isaac’s ten thousand?”

“More!” Jack was nearly bursting, but he still held in.

“Twenty thousand?” This came timidly, fearing that it was too much, and
yet hoping that it might be true.

“More!” The strain on Jack was getting dangerous.

“Twenty-five thousand?” Peter’s voice now showed that he was convinced
that this sum was too small.

“More! Go on, Uncle Peter! Go on!”

“Thirty-five thousand, Jack?” It was getting hot; certainly this was the
limit. Was there ever such luck?

“Yes!--and five thousand more! Forty thousand dollars and one-fifth
interest in the output! Just think what Ruth will say. I’ve just sent
her a telegram. Oh!--what a home-coming!”

And then, with Peter drawn up beside him, his face radiant and his eyes
sparkling with joy, he poured out the story of the morning. How he had
begun by telling Mr. Guthrie of his own and Mr. MacFarlane’s opinion of
the property, as he did not want to sell anything he himself considered
worthless. How he had told him frankly what Peter had said of his--Mr.
Guthrie’s--fairness and honesty; how he was at work for his prospective
father-in-law, the distinguished engineer of whom Mr. Guthrie had no
doubt heard--at which the gentleman nodded. How this property had been
given him by his father, and was all he had in the world except what he
could earn; how he already owed ten thousand dollars and had pledged the
property as part payment, and how, in view of these facts, he would
take any sum over ten thousand dollars that Mr. Guthrie would give him,
provided Mr. Guthrie thought it was worth that much.

“But I am buying, not selling, your land, young man,” the banker had
said. “I know it, sir, and I am willing to take your own figures,” Jack
replied--at which Mr. Guthrie had laughed in a kindly way, and had then
called in Mr. Ballantree and another man how the three had then talked
in a corner, and how he had heard Mr. Guthrie say, “No, that is not
fair--add another five thousand and increase the interest to one-fifth”;
whereupon the two men went out and came back later with a letter in
duplicate, one of which Mr. Guthrie had signed, and the other which he,
Jack, signed--and here was Mr., Guthrie’s letter to prove it. With this
Jack took out the document and laid it before Peter’s delighted eyes;
adding that the deeds and Isaac’s release were to be signed in the
morning, and that Mr. Guthrie had sent a special message by him to the
effect that he very much wished Mr. Grayson would also be present when
the final transfers would be signed and the money paid.

Whereupon the Scribe again maintains--and he is rubbing his hands with
the joy of it all as he does it--that there was more sunshine than
clouds in this particular Unexpected, and that if all the boys in
the world were as frank and sincere as young Jack Breen, and all the
grown-ups as honest as old Robert Guthrie, the REAL banker, the jails
would be empty and the millennium knocking at our doors.

Peter had drunk in every word of the story, bowing his head, fanning out
his fingers, or interrupting with his customary “Well, well!” whenever
some particular detail seemed to tend toward the final success.

And then, the story over, there came the part that Peter never forgot;
that he has told me a dozen times, and always with the same trembling
tear under the eyelids, and the same quivering of his lower lip.

Jack had drawn his chair nearer the old gentleman, and had thrown one
arm over the shoulder of his dearest friend in the world. There was
a moment’s silence as they sat there, and then Jack began. “There is
something I want you to do for me, Uncle Peter,” he said, drawing his
arm closer till his own fresh cheek almost touched the head of the older
man. “Please, don’t refuse.”

“Refuse, my dear boy! I am too happy to-day to refuse anything. Come,
out with it.”

“I am going to give you half of this money. I love you better than any
one in this world except Ruth, and I want you to have it.”

Peter threw up his hands and sprang to his feet.

“What!--You want to--Why, Jack! Are you crazy! Me! My dear boy, it’s
very lovely of you to wish to do it, but just think. Oh, you dear
Jack! No!--no, no!” He was beating the air now deprecatingly with his
outspread fingers as he strode around the room, laughing short laughs in
his effort to keep back the tears.

Jack followed him in his circuit, talking all the while, until he had
penned the old gentleman in a corner between the open desk and the
window.

“But, Uncle Peter--think what you have done for me! Do you suppose for
one moment that I don’t know that it was you and not I who sold the
property? Do you think Mr. Guthrie would have added that five thousand
dollars to the price if he hadn’t wanted to help you as well as me?”

“Five thousand dollars, my dear Jack, is no more to Robert Guthrie than
a ferry ticket is to you or me. He gave you the full price because
you trusted to his honesty and told him the truth, and he saw your
inexperience.”

“No--it was YOU he was thinking of, I tell you,” protested Jack, with
eager emphasis. “He would never have sent Ballantree for me had you not
talked to him--and it has been so with everything since I knew you. You
have been father, friend, everybody to me. You gave me Ruth and my work.
Everything I am I owe to you. You must--you SHALL have half of this
money! Ruth and I can be married, and that is all we want, and what is
left I can put into our new work to help Mr. MacFarlane. Please, Uncle
Peter!--we will both be so much happier if we know you share it with
us.” Here his voice rose and a strain of determination rang through it.
“And, by George!--Uncle Peter, the more I think of it, the more I am
convinced that it is fair. It’s yours--not mine. I WILL have it that
way--you are getting old, and you need it.”

Peter broke into a laugh. It was the only way he could keep down the
tears.

“What a dear boy you are, Jack,” he said, backing toward the sofa and
regaining his seat. “You’ve got a heart as big as a house, and I’m proud
of you, but no--not a penny of your money. Think a moment! Your father
didn’t leave the property to me--not any part of it--he left it to you,
you spendthrift! When I get too old to work I am going up to Felicia’s
and pick out an easy-chair and sit in a corner and dry up gradually and
be laid away in lavender. No, my lad, not a penny! Gift money should go
to cripples and hypochondriacs, not to spry old gentlemen. I would not
take it from my own father’s estate when I was your age, and I certainly
won’t take it now from you. I made Felicia take it all.” Jack opened
his eyes. He had often wondered why Peter had so little and she so much.
“Oh, yes, nearly forty years ago! But I have never regretted it since!
And you must see how just it was, for there wasn’t enough for two, and
Felicia was a woman. No--be very careful of gift money, my boy, and be
very careful, also, of too much of anybody’s money--even your own. What
makes me most glad in this whole affair is that Guthrie didn’t give you
a million--that might have spoilt you. This is just enough. You and
Ruth can start square. You can help Henry--and you ought to, he has been
mighty good to you. And, best of all, you can keep at work. Yes--that’s
the best part of it--that you can keep at work. Go right on as you are;
work every single day of your life, and earn your bread as you have done
ever since you left New York, and, one thing more, and don’t you ever
forget it: Be sure you take your proper share of fun and rest as you
go. Eight hours’ work, eight hours’ play, eight hours’ sleep--that’s the
golden rule and the only one to live by. Money will never get its
grip on you if you keep this up. This fortune hasn’t yet tightened its
fingers around your throat, or you would never have come up here to give
me half of it--and never let it! Money is your servant, my boy, not your
master. And now go home and kiss Ruth for me, and tell her that I love
her dearly. Wait a moment. I will go with you as far as Isaac’s. I am
going to tell him the good news. Then I’ll have him measure me for a
coat to dance at your wedding.”

And the Unexpecteds are not yet over. There was still another, of quite
a different character, about to fall--and out of another clear sky,
too--a sort of April-shower sky, where you get wet on one side of the
street and keep dry on the other. Jack had the dry side this time, and
went on his way rejoicing, but the head of the house of Breen caught the
downpour, and a very wet downpour it was.

It all occurred when Jack was hurrying to the ferry and when he ran
into the senior member of the firm, who was hurrying in the opposite
direction.

“Ah, Jack!--the very man I wanted to see,” cried Breen. “I was going to
write you. There’s something doing up in that ore country. Better drop
in to-morrow, I may be able to handle it for you, after all.”

“I am sorry, sir, but it’s not for sale,” said Jack, trying to smother
his glee.

“Why?” demanded Breen bluntly.

“I have sold it to Mr. Robert Guthrie.”

“Guthrie! The devil you say!--When?”

“To-day. The final papers are signed to-morrow. Excuse me, I must catch
my boat--” and away he went, his cup now brimming over, leaving Breen
biting his lips and muttering to himself as he gazed after him.

“Guthrie!--My customer! Damn that boy--I might have known he would land
on his feet.”

But Jack kept on home to his sweetheart, most of the way in the air.

Down in the little room all this time in the rear of the tailor’s shop
the two old men sat talking. Peter kept nothing back; his lips quivering
again and another unbidden tear peeping over the edge of his eyelid when
he told of Jack’s offer.

“A dear boy, Isaac--yes, a dear boy. He never thinks with his head--only
with his heart. Never has since I knew him. Impulsive, emotional,
unpractical, no doubt--and yet somehow he always wins. Queer--very
queer! He comes upstairs to me and I start out on a fool’s errand. He
goes down to you, and you hand him out your money. He gives it all away
the next day, and then we have Guthrie doubling the price. Queer, I tell
you, Isaac--extraordinary, that’s what it is--almost uncanny.”

The Jew threw away his cigar, rested his short elbows on the arms of
his chair, and made a basket of his hands, the tips of all his fingers
touching.

“No, you are wrong, my good friend. It is not extraordinary and it is
not uncanny. It is very simple--exceedingly simple. Nobody runs over
a child if he can help it. Even a thief will bring you back your
pocket-book if you trust him to take care of it. It is the trusting that
does it. Few men, no matter how crooked, can resist the temptation of
reaching, if only for a moment, an honest man’s level.”



CHAPTER XXXIII



Peter’s coat was finished in time for the wedding--trust Isaac for
that--and so was his double-breasted white waistcoat--he had not changed
the cut in twenty years; and so were his pepper-and-salt trousers and
all his several appointments, little and big, even to his polka-dot
scarf of blue silk, patent-leather shoes and white gaiters. Quite the
best-dressed man in the room, everybody said, and they of all the people
in the world should have known.

And the wedding!

And all that went before it, and all that took place on that joyous day;
and all that came after that happiest of events!

Ruth and Jack, with Peter’s covert endorsement, had wanted to slip into
the village church some afternoon at dusk, with daddy and Peter and Miss
Felicia, and one or two more, and then to slip out again and disappear.
MacFarlane had been in favor of the old Maryland home, with Ruth’s
grandmother in charge, and the neighbors driving up in mud-encrusted
buggies and lumbering coaches, their inmates warmed by roaring fires and
roaring welcomes--fat turkeys, hot waffles, egg-nogg, apple-toddy, and
the rest of it. The head of the house of Breen expressed the opinion
(this on the day Jack gave his check for the bonds prior to returning
them to Isaac, who wouldn’t take a cent of interest) that the ceremony
should by all means take place in Grace Church, after which everybody
would adjourn to his house on the Avenue, where the wedding-breakfast
would be served, he being nearest of kin to the groom, and the bride
being temporarily without a home of her own--a proposition which, it is
needless to say, Jack declined on the spot, but in terms so courteous
and with so grand and distinguished an air that the head of the house of
Breen found his wonder increasing at the change that had come over the
boy since he shook the dust of the Breen home and office from his feet.

The Grande Dame of Geneseo did not agree with any of these makeshifts.
There would be no Corklesville wedding if she could help it, with gaping
loungers at the church door; nor would there be any Maryland wedding
with a ten-mile ride over rough roads to a draughty country-house, where
your back would freeze while your cheeks burned up; nor yet again any
city wedding, with an awning over the sidewalk, a red carpet and squad
of police, with Tom, Dick, and Harry inside the church, and Harry, Dick
and Tom squeezed into an oak-panelled dining-room at high noon with
every gas-jet blazing.

And she did not waste many seconds coming to this conclusion. Off went a
telegram, after hearing the various propositions, followed by a letter,
that might have melted the wires and set fire to the mail-sack, so
fervid were the contents.

“Nonsense! My dear Ruth, you will be married in my house and the
breakfast will be in the garden. If Peter and your father haven’t got
any common sense, that’s no reason why you and Jack should lose your
wits.”

This, of course, ended the matter. No one living or dead had ever been
found with nerve enough to withstand Felicia Grayson when she had once
made up her mind.

And then, again, there was no time to lose in unnecessary discussions.
Were not Ruth and her father picnicking in a hired villa, with half
their household goods in a box-car at Morfordsburg?--and was not Jack
still living in his two rooms at Mrs. Hicks’s? The only change suggested
by the lovers was in the date of the wedding, Miss Felicia having
insisted that it should not take place until November, “FOUR WHOLE
WEEKS AWAY.” But the old lady would not budge. Four weeks at least, she
insisted, would be required for the purchase and making of the wedding
clothes, which, with four more for the honeymoon (at this both Jack and
Ruth shouted with laughter, they having determined on a honeymoon
the like of which had never been seen since Adam and Eve went to
housekeeping in the Garden). These eight weeks, continued the practical
old lady, would be required to provide a suitable home for them both;
now an absolute necessity, seeing that Mr. Guthrie had made extensive
contracts with MacFarlane, which, with Jack’s one-fifth interest in the
ore banks was sure to keep Jack and MacFarlane at Morfordsburg for some
years to come.

So whizz went another telegram--this time from Jack--there was no time
for letters these days--stopping all work on the nearly completed log
cabin which the poor young superintendent had ordered, and which was all
he could afford, before the sale of the ore lands. But then THAT seemed
ages and ages ago.

“Don’t tell me what I want, sir,” roared Mr. Golightly at the waiter,
in “Lend Me Five Shillings,” when he brought a crust of bread and cheese
and a pickle with which to entertain Mrs. Phobbs; Golightly in the
meantime having discovered a purse full of sovereigns in the coat the
waiter had handed him by mistake. “Don’t tell me what I said, sir.
I know what I said, sir! I said champagne, sir, and plenty of
it, sir!--turkeys, and plenty of them!

Burgundy--partridges--lobsters--pineapple punch--pickled
salmon--everything! Look sharp, Be off!” (Can’t you hear dear Joe
Jefferson’s voice, gentle reader, through it all?)

And now listen to our proud Jack, with the clink of his own gold in his
own pocket.

“What did you say? A six by nine log hut, with a sheet-iron stove in one
corner and a cast-iron bedstead in another, and a board closet, and
a table and two chairs--and this, too, for a princess of quality and
station? Zounds, sirrah!--” (Holker Morris was the “Sirrah”)--“I
didn’t order anything of the kind. I ordered a bungalow all on one
floor--that’s what I ordered--with a boudoir and two bedrooms, and
an extra one for my honored father-in-law, and still another for my
thrice-honored uncle, Mr. Peter Grayson, when he shall come to stay o’
nights; and porches front and back where my lady’s hammock may be slung:
and a fireplace big enough to roll logs into as thick around as your
body and wide enough to warm every one all over; and a stable for my
lady’s mare, with a stall for my saddle-horse. Out upon you, you Dago!”

Presto, what a change! Away went the completed roof of the modest cabin
and down tumbled the sides. More post-holes were dug; more trenches
excavated; more great oaks toppled over to be sliced into rafters,
joists and uprights; more shingles--two carloads; more brick; more
plaster; more everything, including nails, locks, hinges, sash;
bath-tubs--two; lead pipe, basins, kitchen range--and so the new
bungalow was begun.

Neither was there any time to be lost over the invitations. Miss
Felicia, we may be sure, prepared the list. It never bothered her head
whether the trip to Geneseo--and that, too, in the fall of the year,
when early snows were to be expected--might prevent any of the invited
guests from witnessing the glad ceremony. Those who loved Ruth she knew
would come even if they had to be accompanied by St. Bernard dogs with
kegs of brandy tied to their necks to get them across the glaciers,
including Uncle Peter, of course; as would also Ruth’s dear grandmother,
who was just Miss Felicia’s age, and MacFarlane’s saintly sister Kate,
who had never taken off her widow’s weeds since the war, and two of
her girl friends, with whom Ruth went to school, and who were to be her
bridesmaids.

Then there were those who might or might not struggle through the
drifts, if there happened to be any--the head of the house of Breen,
for instance, and Mrs. B., and lots and lots of people of whom Jack had
never heard, aunts and uncles and cousins by the dozens; and lots
and lots of people of whom Ruth had never heard, of the same blood
relationship; and lots more of people from Washington Square and Murray
Hill, who loved the young people, and Peter, and his outspoken sister,
all of whom must be invited to the ceremony; including the Rector and
his wife from Corklesville, and--(no--that was all from Corklesville)
together with such selected inhabitants of Geneseo as dame Felicia
permitted inside of her doors. As for the several ambassadors, generals,
judges, dignitaries, attaches, secretaries, and other high and mighty
folks forming the circle of Miss Felicia’s acquaintance, both here
and abroad, they were only to receive “announcement” cards, just as a
reminder that Miss Grayson of Geneseo was still in and of the world.

The hardest nut of all to crack was given to Jack. They had all talked
it over, the dear girl saying “of course he shall come, Jack, if you
would like to have him.” Jack adding that he should “never forget his
generosity,” and MacFarlane closing the discussion by saying:

“Go slow, Jack. I’d say yes in a minute. I am past all those foolish
prejudices, but it isn’t your house, remember. Better ask Peter--he’ll
tell you.”

Peter pursed his mouth when Jack laid the matter before him in Peter’s
room the next day, tipped his head so far on one side that it looked as
if it might roll off any minute and go smash, and with an arching of his
eyebrows said:

“Well, but why NOT invite Isaac? Has anybody ever been as good to you?”

“Never any one, Uncle Peter--and I think as you do, and so does Ruth and
Mr. MacFarlane, but--” The boy hesitated and looked away.

“But what?” queried Peter.

“Well--there’s Aunt Felicia. You know how particular she is; and she
doesn’t know how splendid Mr. Cohen has been, and if he came to the
wedding she might not like it.”

“But Felicia is not going to be married, my boy,” remarked Peter, with a
dry smile wrinkling the corners of his eyes.

Jack laughed. “Yes--but it’s her house.”

“Yes--and your wedding. Now go down and ask Mr. Cohen yourself.
You’ll send him a card, of course, but do more than that. Call on him
personally and tell you want him to come, and why--and that I want him,
too. That will please him still more. The poor fellow lives a great deal
alone. Whether he will come or not, I don’t know--but ask him. You owe
it to yourself as much as you do to him.”

“And you don’t think Aunt Felicia will--”

“Hang Felicia! You do what you think is right; it does not matter what
Felicia or anybody else thinks.”

Jack wheeled about and strode downstairs and into the back room where
the little man sat at his desk looking over some papers. Isaac’s hand
was out and he was on his feet before Jack had reached his side.

“Ah!--Mr. Millionaire. And so you have come to tell me some more good
news. Have you sold another mine? I should have looked out to see
whether your carriage did not stop at my door; and now sit down and tell
me what I can do for you. How well you look, and how happy. Ah, it is
very good to be young!”

“What you can do for me is this, Mr. Cohen. I want you to come to our
wedding--will you? I have come myself to ask you,” said Jack in all
sincerity.

“So! And you have come yourself.” He was greatly pleased; his
face showed it. “Well, that is very kind of you, but let me first
congratulate you. Yes--Mr. Grayson told me all about it, and how lovely
the young lady is. And now tell me, when is your wedding?”

“Next month.”

“And where will it be?”

“At Uncle Peter’s old home up at Geneseo.”

“Oh, at that grand lady’s place--the magnificent Miss Grayson.” “Yes,
but it is only one night away. I will see that you are taken care of.”

The little man paused and toyed with the papers on his desk. His black,
diamond-pointed eyes sparkled and an irrepressible smile hung around his
lips.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Breen--and thank your young lady too. You are
very kind and you are very polite. Yes--I mean it--very polite. And you
are sincere in what you say; that is the best of all. But I cannot go.
It is not the travelling at night--that is nothing. You and your
lady would be glad to see me and that would be worth it all, but the
magnificent Miss Grayson, she would not be glad to see me. You see,
my dear young man”--here the smile got loose and scampered up to his
eyelids--“I am a most unfortunate combination--oh, most unfortunate--for
the magnificent Miss Grayson. If I was only a tailor I might be
forgiven; if I was just a Jew I might be forgiven; but when I am both
a tailor and a Jew”--here the irrepressible went to pieces in a merry
laugh--“don’t you see how impossible it is? And you--you, Mr. Breen! She
would never forgive you. ‘My friend, Mr. Cohen,’ you would have to say,
and she could do nothing. She must answer that she is most glad to see
me--or she might NOT answer, which would be worse. And it is not
her fault. You can’t break down the barriers of centuries in a day.
No--no--I will not compromise you in that way. Let me come to see you
some time when it is all over, when your good uncle can come too. He
will bring me; perhaps. And now give my best respects to the lady--I
forget her name, and say to her for me, that if she is as thoughtful of
other people as you are, you deserve to be a very happy couple.”

Jack shook the little man’s hand and went his way. He was sorry and
he was glad. He was also somewhat ashamed in his heart. It was not
altogether himself who had been thoughtful of other people. But for
Peter, perhaps, he might never have paid the visit.

As the blissful day approached Geneseo was shaken to its centre, the
vibrations reaching to the extreme limits of the town. Not only was
Moggins who drove the village ‘bus and tucked small packages under the
seat on the sly, overworked, but all the regular and irregular express
companies had to put on extra teams. Big box, little box, band box,
bundle, began to pour in, to say nothing of precious packages that
nobody but “Miss Grayson” could sign for. And then such a litter of cut
paper and such mounds of pasteboard boxes poked under Miss Felicia’s
bed, so she could defend them in the dead of night, and with her life
if necessary, each one containing presents, big and little; the very
biggest being a flamboyant service of silver from the head of the house
of Breen and his wife, and the smallest a velvet-bound prayer-book from
Aunt Kate with inter-remembrances from MacFarlane (all the linen, glass,
and china); from Peter (two old decanters with silver coasters); from
Miss Felicia (the rest of her laces, besides innumerable fans and some
bits of rare jewelry); besides no end of things from the Holker Morrises
and the Fosters and dozens of others, who loved either Ruth or Jack, or
somebody whom each one or both of them loved, or perhaps their fathers
and mothers before them. The Scribe has forgotten the list and the
donors, and really it is of no value, except as confirmation of the fact
that they are still in the possession of the couple, and that none of
them was ever exchanged for something else nor will be until the end of
time.

One curious-looking box, however, smelling of sandalwood and dried
cinnamon, and which arrived the day the ceremony took place, is worthy
of recall, because of the universal interest which it excited. It was
marked “Fragile” on the outside, and was packed with extraordinary care.
Miss Felicia superintended the unrolling and led the chorus of “Oh, how
lovely!” herself, when an Imari jar, with carved teakwood stand, was
brought to light. So exquisite was it in glaze, form, and color that
for a moment no one thought of the donor. Then their curiosity got the
better of them and they began to search through the wrappings for
the card. It wasn’t in the box; it wasn’t hidden in the final bag;
it wasn’t--here a bright thought now flashed through the dear lady’s
brain--down went her shapely hand into the depths of the tall jar, and
up came an envelope bearing Ruth’s name and enclosing a card which made
the grande dame catch her breath.

“Mr. Isaac Cohen! What--the little tailor!” she gasped out. “The Jew!
Well, upon my word--did you ever hear of such impudence!”

Isaac would have laughed the harder could he have seen her face.

Jack caught up the vase and ran with it to Ruth, who burst out with
another: “Oh, what a beauty!” followed by “Who sent it?”

“A gentleman journeyman tailor, my darling,” said Jack, with a flash of
his eye at Peter, his face wreathed in smiles.

And with the great day--a soft November day--summer had lingered on
a-purpose--came the guests: the head of the house of Breen and his
wife--not poor Corinne, of course, who poured out her heart in a letter
instead, which she entrusted to her mother to deliver; and Holker Morris
and Mrs. Morris, and the Fosters and the Granthams and Wildermings and
their wives and daughters and sons, and one stray general, who stopped
over on his way to the West, and who said when he entered, looking
so very grand and important, that he didn’t care whether he had been
invited to the ceremony or not, at which Miss Felicia was delighted,
he being a major-general on the retired list, and not a poor tailor
who--no, we won’t refer to that again; besides a very, VERY select
portion of the dear lady’s townspeople--the house being small, as she
explained, and Miss MacFarlane’s intimates and acquaintances being both
importunate and numerous.

And with the gladsome hour came the bride.

None of us will ever forget her. Not only was she a vision of rare
loveliness, but there was in her every glance and movement that
stateliness and grace that poise and sureness of herself that marks the
high-born woman the world over when she finds herself the cynosure of
all eyes.

All who saw her descend Miss Felicia’s stairs held their breath in
adoration: Not a flight of steps at all, but a Jacob’s ladder down which
floated a company of angels in pink and ivory--one all in white, her
lovely head crowned by a film of old lace in which nestled a single
rose.

On she came--slowly--proudly--her slippered feet touching the carpeted
steps as daintily as treads a fawn; her gown crinkling into folds of
silver about her knees, one fair hand lost in a mist of gauze, the
other holding the blossoms which Jack had pressed to his lips--until she
reached her father’s side.

“Dear daddy,” I heard her whisper as she patted his sleeve with her
fingers.

Ah! but it was a proud day for MacFarlane. I saw his bronzed and
weather-beaten face flush when he caught sight of her in all her
gracious beauty; but it was when she reached his side and laid her hand
on his arm, as he told me afterward, that the choke came. She was so
like her mother.

The two swept past me into the old-fashioned parlor, now a bower of
roses, where Jack and Peter and Felicia, with the elect, waited their
coming, and I followed, halting at the doorway. From this point of
vantage I peered in as best I could over and between the heads of the
more fortunate, but I heard all that went on; the precise, sonorous
voice of the bishop--(catch Miss Felicia having anybody but a bishop);
the clear responses--especially Jack’s--as if he had been waiting all
his life to say those very words and insisted on being heard; the soft
crush of satin as Ruth knelt; the rustle of her gown when she regained
her feet; the measured words: “Whom God hath joined together, let no
man put asunder”--and then the outbreak of joyous congratulations. As I
looked in upon them all--old fellow as I am--listening to their joyous
laughter; noting the wonderful toilettes, the festoons and masses of
flowers; watching Miss Felicia as she moved about the room (and never
had I seen her more the “Grande Dame” than she was that day), welcoming
her guests with a graciousness that must have opened some of their
eyes--even fat, red-faced Arthur Breen, perspiring in pearl-colored
gloves and a morning frock coat that fitted all sides of him except the
front, and Mrs. Arthur in moire antique and diamonds, were enchanted;
noting, too, Peter’s perfectly appointed dress and courtly manners,
he taking the whole responsibility of the occasion on his own
shoulders--head of the house, really, for the time; receiving people at
the door; bowing them out again; carrying glasses of punch--stopping to
hobnob with this or that old neighbor: “Ah, my dear Mrs. Townehalle, how
young and well you look; and you tell me this is your daughter. I
knew your mother, my dear, when she was your age, and she was the very
prettiest girl in the county. And now let me present you to a most
charming woman, Mrs. Foster, of New York, who--” etc., etc. Or greeting
some old gray-head with: “Well, well--of coarse it is--why, Judge,
I haven’t seen you since you left the bench which you graced so
admirably,” etc, etc.; watching, too, Ruth and Jack as they stood
beneath a bower of arching roses--(Miss Felicia had put it together with
her own hands)--receiving the congratulations and good wishes of those
they knew and those they did not know; both trying to remember the names
of strangers; both laughing over their mistakes, and both famished for
just one kiss behind some door or curtain where nobody could see. As I
looked on, I say, noting all these and a dozen other things, it was
good to feel that there was yet another spot in this world of care where
unbridled happiness held full sway and joy and gladness were contagious.

But it was in the tropical garden, with its frog pond, climbing roses in
full bloom, water-lilies, honeysuckle, and other warm-weather shrubs and
plants (not a single thing was a-bloom outside, even the chrysanthemums
had been frost-bitten), that the greatest fun took place. That was a
sight worth ten nights on the train to see.

Here the wedding breakfast was spread, the bride’s table being placed
outside that same arbor where Jack once tried so hard to tell Ruth he
loved her (how often have they laughed over it since); a table with
covers for seven, counting the two bridesmaids and the two gallants
in puffy steel-gray scarfs and smooth steel-gray gloves. The other
guests--the relations and intimate friends who had been invited to
remain after the ceremony--were to find seats either at the big or
little tables placed under the palms or beneath the trellises of
jasmine, or upon the old porch overlooking the tropical garden.

It was Jack’s voice that finally caught my attention. I could not see
clearly on account of the leaves and tangled vines, but I could hear.

“But we want you, and you must.”

“Oh, please, do,” pleaded Ruth; there was no mistaking the music of her
tones, or the southern accent that softened them.

“But what nonsense--an old duffer like me!” This was Peter’s voice--no
question about it.

“We won’t any of us sit down if you don’t,” Jack was speaking now.

“And it will spoil everything,” cried Ruth. “Jack and I planned it long
ago; and we have brought you out a special chair; and see your card--see
what it says: ‘Dear Uncle Peter--’”

“Sit down with you young people at your wedding breakfast!” cried Peter,
“and--” He didn’t get any farther. Ruth had stopped what was to follow
with a kiss. I know, for I craned my neck and caught the flash of the
old fellow’s bald head with the fair girl’s cheek close to his own.

“Well, then--just as you want it--but there’s the Major and Felicia and
your father.”

But they did not want any of these people, Ruth cried with a ringing
laugh; didn’t want any old people; they just wanted their dear Uncle
Peter, and they were going to have him; a resolution which was put
to vote and carried unanimously, the two pink bridesmaids and the two
steel-gray gentlemen voting the loudest.

The merriment ceased when Ruth disappeared and came back in a dark-blue
travelling dress and Jack in a brown suit. We were all in the doorway,
our hands filled with rose petals--no worn-out slippers or hail of
rice for this bride--when she tried to slip through in a dash for the
carriage, but the dear lady caught and held her, clasping the girl to
her heart, kissing her lips, her forehead, her hands--she could be very
tender when she loved anybody; and she loved Ruth as her life; Peter and
her father going ahead to hold open the door where they had their kisses
and handshakes, their blessings, and their last words all to themselves.

The honeymoon slipped away as do all honeymoons, and one crisp, cool
December day a lumbering country stage containing two passengers
struggled up a steep hill and stopped before a long, rambling building
nearing completion. All about were piles of partly used lumber, broken
bundles of shingles, empty barrels, and abandoned mortar beds. Straight
from the low slanting roof with its queer gables, rose a curl of blue
smoke, telling of comfort and cheer within. Back of it towered huge
trees, and away off in the distance swept a broad valley hazy in the
morning light.

“Oh, Jack--what a love!” cried one passenger--she had alighted with a
spring, her cheeks aglow with the bracing mountain air, and was standing
taking it all in. “And, oh--see the porch!--and the darling windows and
the dear little panes of glass! And, Jack--” she had reached the open
door now, and was sweeping her eyes around the interior--“Oh!--oh!--what
a fireplace!--and such ducky little shelves--and the flowers, and the
table and the big easy chairs and rugs! ISN’T it lovely!!”

And then the two, hand in hand, stepped inside and shut the door.

THE END.





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