Appreciating Peter

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APPRECIATING PETER

By Harold Titus

Author of “An Event," “A Yavapai Yarn," etc.

PETER HOWARD was one of those rare individuals who are always helping somebody. Not a philanthropist, understand, for most philanthropists are bound by an uneasy conscience or ambition to self service; but he had been so busy helping other people for so long that it had come to be his mission, his first purpose. And, even with a desire to avoid an intimation of cynicism, it must be recorded that his labor, tangible as were its results, was seldom approved. He was appreciated, though. Once.

Wolf didn’t appreciate Peter. He was chief shipping-clerk at Wolf’s and had devised a system of checking which saved the concern a surprising amount, but that didn’t matter when they found some one else who could do the work and whose chances of futurity on the job seemed more abundant. Merle Grinnell didn’t appreciate what Peter did for him; that is as certain as daylight.

Mrs. Brandt, who had never expected to come to it and complainingly conducted the boarding-house where Peter lived did not realize that he stood between her and her boarders, turning the edge of her contentiousness until the place was made habitable for those who slept in her lumpy beds and sat regularly about her monotonous table.

Neither did the group that paid its stipend for food and shelter under the steep slate roof give Peter credit for making the place brighter, more pleasant, because its majority were young people, impatiently ambitious, and they had no time for a man whose hair was white, whose shoulders were stooped, who was looking backward or about him instead of ahead to Saturday night or next month or next year, and who was so kindly that he was quite out of date.

Maybe Peter’s brother’s widow appreciated him, but she was continually off-stage and it is hard to tell. Mamie appreciated Peter, though. You bet she did! But even here the manner in which she demonstrated her esteem would have hurt him badly had he known. He never knew.

The house where Peter lived was in the heart of a row of such houses; door beneath the flight of steep brown steps, meaningless iron railings, three stories, woodwork theoretically white, impotent gas-lights in the dark halls, smells. From its black front door with the wobbly brass knob, Peter Howard emerged each morning at seven, paused on the top step to look up and down and smiled. He always smiled.

When the day was fine and dear he smiled with the joy of good weather; when the heat threatened to be excessive he smiled his apprehension and shrugged his shoulders, and when rain or wind or snow or any combination of the three prevailed he would button his collar closely about his throat and smile with an adventurous twinkle in his eye, because occasional rough weather was good for a man, he believed; tempered him, made him appreciate the fair day too.

His return at evening was not so regular, for he did not work by the gong at Wolf’s, but he was never late for dinner and invariably before all the clocks had tolled eight he appeared on the steps again, cane over his arm and raincoat or ulster on if necessary. Then he would practise that art of strolling which, in this pell-mell manner of life is rapidly falling out of fashion.

He strolled in many directions. Sometimes it was up Fifth Avenue; generally on rainy nights, because he liked the lights on the jet pavement, and the way the cathedral spires lost themselves in the dun murk and the many-eyed Plaza. Once in six months perhaps he moved along heedless Broadway with the theater crowd, but he did not care much for that; Broadway never strolls.

Often he went to Washington Square and traversed its four sides many times in the evening, seeing the buses come and go, watching the children play. He knew a fruit-stand man down in Sullivan Street whom he visited occasionally. Other times would find him over by the East River, poking around the dark wharves, watching the smudgy little boats swim up and down.

Always he was talking to people, strangers. When they saw his thin, shaven, kindly lips and looked into his sincere gray eyes they usually replied to his questions; and turned to look at him a last time as he moved away from them. It was not a rare thing for some of them—a policeman or a derelict on the docks or a liveried hotel foot man—to call him back and add something to what they had answered. He was that sort.

Then, usually between nine and ten, he would ascend Mrs. Brandt’s steps once more, close the door carefully to be certain that he disturbed no one, and tread softly to his room. His light generally burned until well after eleven. He had some books there, in a precise row on the one shelf.

 

IT WAS during one of these evening strolls that Peter Howard came on Mamie. He moved up Third Avenue, homeward bound, stepped down from the curb to cross one of the lower Twenties and stopped, for a tableau enacted under a lamp-post not a hundred paces away caught his attention like a pair of steel nippers.

A man and a girl—Mamie—were there on the sidewalk. She was a slight figure and the wind, whipping her light skirt about her slim legs, made her seem more reed-like, more frail. He was taller and the menacing manner in which he leaned forward and over her made the difference in their physiques seem still greater.

Mamie was backing from him, one hand, clasping something, behind her, the other arm raised, more in protest than defense! Her face was averted. She was trying to go away from the fellow but he followed closely, wanting not so much contact as obedience; that was evident from his imperative gestures, the emphatic, side-to-side movements of his head as he talked. Trains were passing and their roar drowned voices but Peter Howard could not fail to know that the girl was in extreme trouble.

He did not need to see the man grasp her by the wrist and give it a wrench that sent her half to her knees to stir him to action, for he was already moving toward the two. That sent him into a run, though; not a fast run, for shipping-clerks with silvery hair do not sprint. He trotted on, cane upraised and cried:

“Here, here! Young man, stop that!”

The roar of the trains had died to a growl and the fellow, hearing the shout, looked up quickly, still keeping his clutch on Mamie’s wrist, fingers of the other hand fastened on the purse the girl was holding from him.

“Young man, don’t do that!” cried Peter.

He was close enough then for them to see that his throat was thin, his hair silvered, and the overdressed lout snarled:

“Keep out, you old stiff; this ain’t your business!”

He wrenched Mamie again so viciously that she cried out and went to one knee on the walk, looking swiftly at Peter, helpless anxiety on her tight-drawn, white face.

“Give it up, you——!” the man demanded, using a word that no man should use. “I’ll beat you till you——

When his cane came down on the fellow’s forearm it made such a queer crunching that Peter stopped, frightened in spite of his righteous wrath.

“I had to do it,” he said, somewhat apologetically in spite of his severity, as the man, holding the injured limb close against his chest, staggered against the building, faint with the agony of it.

The girl turned and fled a few paces to put herself out of reach for the moment. Then she halted and looked back.

The man came through his first spasm of pain and faced Peter with much vile language. He advanced on the older man menacingly.

“Stand back!” Peter warned.

“Get out! She’s mine. I’ll take care of my business. She’s mi——

“Not yours to beat!” cried Peter valiantly and as the other rushed at him, threatening destruction, he grasped his cane-handle firmly, lifted the tip as a dueling gentleman would balance his rapier, swayed forward on well planted feet and with a hiss of breath through his teeth thrust mightily.

The other man’s breath came out, too, with a gulp—as the cane rammed into his stomach, and he stopped and doubled and groaned, leaning against the lamp-post.

Peter lowered his stick slowly, not quite certain that the affair had ended, glared in swift-breathing indignation at his vanquished foe, gave his head a severe, twisting nod and, wheeling with a squaring of his stooped shoulders, moved toward the girl.

“My dear young lady,” he said, some of the tensity going from his voice with each word, “you’ll walk with me.”

He offered his arm and Mamie, searching his face with her great black eyes, half timidly rested her trembling hand in its crook and moved beside him. The fire left Peter’s eyes; the fixity of the lines about his mouth dissolved and the expression again became complacent, tranquil, a hint of amusement replacing the sternness of a moment before and the only indication of disturbance whatever was evidenced in the ringing blows of his cane as it smote the pavement with the unconscious vigor of resentment.

The girl said nothing for a time. Her breath caught in repeated sobs and each time Peter squeezed her hand against his side and said: “There, there!” until her breathing was normal. With a ball of a handkerchief she dried her tears and giving a sorry little laugh said:

“Mister, you get my vote! If you hadn’t come along I’d be without nothin’.” She held out the purse ruefully. “As ’tis I lost my home,”—bitterness in the voice—“but I hung to my nine dollars.”

Peter eyed her speculatively.

“Your—husband?”—dryly.

Mamie looked up at him and away and sniffed.

“That’s what some thought.”

Peter still looked at her; not speculatively; neither with pity. Sympathy reflected in his face. Peter never presumed to lash another with pity. He just tried to understand.

“Well, nine dollars will go quite a ways, used judiciously,” he,said, optimistically. “If I can be of any service—advice or any thing— Let’s walk up this street; it’s quieter; we can talk this thing over.”

They turned and their pace slowed, the tapping of the cane became less vigorous and finally ceased altogether as Peter Howard listened, dropping his head lower and lower, leaning a bit toward the girl, as if in conscious attitude of the protector.

People always were eager to talk to him, it seemed. Mamie, in spite of a past that, though not unusual, is abnormal, was very much of a person, a human being. Opening her miserable, sick, frightened heart to Peter Howard that night opened a way to a way of living that was more usual, nearer normal.

 

PETER was among the first to answer the unglad tintinnabulations of the breakfast-bell at Mrs.Brandt’s the next morning. That lady herself sounded the call, her tinfoil curlers subdued but not concealed by a boudoir cap designed with no sense of the emphasis of repression, her temper at the indisposition of her second girl finding spiteful vent in the clanging summons.

Peter Howard rubbed a palm calculatingly across his chin after looking into his landlady’s forbidding face. Then he ventured:

“Mrs. Brandt, I had no opportunity to tell you last night, but I rented your second floor back. A young lady— She came to the door when you were out, it seems. No one else answered the bell. I knew you were anxious to have the room taken, so in your absence I showed it to her and——

“Absence! I wasn’t out of this house! You let her in without——

“Oh, no; indeed, no. She was quite business-like about it; she had so little luggage with her that she,”—a step sounded on the stair and Peter turned guiltily to see Mamie standing at the head of the flight—“that she insisted on paying a week in advance. Here——

The feel of crisp bills in her hand placated Mrs. Brandt. She had not been away the evening before. She was quite sure she had heard Peter Howard’s entrance very late in the night. She resented this usurpation of her duties. But she was glad to have the room filled; the crinkly currency was satisfying.

“Well, that’s funny,” she said petulantly as she went out into the kitchen, checking her first count of the money.

When the door had slammed behind her Mamie came downstairs with a rush.

“You mustn’t!” she said, shaking Peter’s arm. “I ain’t broke. You——

“Next thing to it, my dear. Only a loan; a loan. Mrs. Brandt is peculiar about these trifles. A fine woman; great heart. Peculiar, though, on first acquaintance.”

Before she could protest again Peter had passed into the dining-room where further discussion of the subject was inadvisable.

The meal was as usual except for a detail; Peter Howard read only the classified advertising in his morning paper and now and then he checked an item with his pencil. As he passed out he bowed to the new boarder and said in his mild, half-hesitant manner:

“Do you care about the newspaper?”

He handed the folded pages to her in such a way that she could not overlook his pencil markings.

That was the manner in which Mamie came to Mrs. Brandt’s. Within a day or two the table came to know that she was employed with a mimeographing concern. In about the same length of time the women set her down as chilly and unapproachable while toward the young men of the house she assumed a most forbiddingly contemptuous attitude.

Only with Peter Howard was she on terms beyond those of casual speech. She often walked with him nights. He talked to her of the city he knew, pointing out the things which interested him, and because he was the first man of her experience who had interested himself in her in that manner Mamie discovered a growing interest in those streets and buildings and people, too. He never preached. He never mentioned the girl’s past. Unknowingly he allowed his fine sympathy, his matchless understanding to work the miracle of rebirth.

In turn, Mamie unwittingly offered a vent for some of the confidences that had been in his heart for years, waiting for some one to stop rushing to stroll and listen. For one thing, he talked to her of his brother’s widow and her girls and of how he divided his meager salary with them, something that no other person knew.

Because of this intimacy with a white-haired man, Mamie was snickered at and generally depreciated at the Brandt house. Perhaps the change in the girl had something to do with this disfavor, because she ceased to be so thin and took on better color. Though she lost none of her alert self-sufficiency, the hardness of her lip and eye gave way to a charming simplicity, making the women more critical and the young men more disgusted because she would choose Peter above them.

Not so long after Mamie was an established character at the house Merle Grinnell came to the city. He was an Ohio boy with light hair and dark eyes and a manner of dressing that caused him to approximate the lithograph lures of manufacturers of smart clothing; bandy legs, narrow shoulders and in between an abdomen so negligible that it was a marvel how it contained essential organs.

People would judge Merle in just one of two ways, either with envy or contempt; that is, all people except Peter Howard.

Young Grinnell went to work at Wolf’s, toiling in the shipping department under Peter. You might have detested the youth but, after watching him, you would have been forced to admit his mental agility. It was a ferret-like intelligence, looking ahead, prying, hard and cunning.

The job did not satisfy the youth and before he had been there a week his eyes lingered often on Peter Howard as he sat behind his wire wicket, green eye-shade on his pale forehead, checking and counter checking the factory’s product by the system he had devised after years of experience.

The new boy began his overtures by falling in beside Peter at lunch-time. He assumed an earnest, respectful attitude and before the meal was over he had reached out a tentacle of flattery, telling Peter with evident shyness that he must be of inestimable value to a place like Wolf’s. It was human of Peter to respond.

A day or two afterward the youth, again at lunch, broached the future, talking of ambition that was truly lusty but in terms that were wholly counterfeit. Peter, Howard, watching the eagerness in the young face, overlooked the craft lurking behind it.

And so the lad manipulated himself into Howard’s confidence. A half-laughing, cunningly designed complaint about the place in which he lived and he was recommended to and installed at Mrs. Brandt’s, where the rides to and from Wolf’s, the meals, the occasional walks together, brought him still closer to the man under whom he worked.

 

THE people at Mrs. Brandt’s represent two opinions of Grinnell. With one exception they considered him the life of the house, for he was dressy and glib and stirred them to frequent laughter.

The one exception was Mamie. She regarded Grinnell skeptically the first time he sat across from her; she listened to his chatter and a faint suggestion of a curl showed on her lip. Her surprise was evident when Peter Howard appeared to be mildly amused at the boy’s bragging.

The newcomer talked much of himself from the first, boasting of his home-town importance even while he ridiculed the life of the hinterlands, predicting lavishly his immediate future in the city. His wit was cheap and hard, largely coarse, and his anecdotes were chiefly concerned with the so-called gay life, of drinks—mostly mixed—and capacities for them, of cafés and dancing-places and all the rest that went with the style of clothing he wore.

“Oh, he’s only a boy; that will all wear off,” Peter laughed when Mamie ventured a criticism of the youth as they walked along the reservoir in Central Park one Sunday morning. “He’s in earnest about his work. This dissipation talk is only talk.”

“It don’t take a mind-reader to tell that,” said Mamie significantly, grimly; for Mamie had suffered to know what she knew of excesses.

“Only a boy,” Peter repeated. “He’s all right.”

But Mamie, old in experience, knew that Grinnell was not all right long before he approached her—as she knew he would approach her. He had tried without success to draw her into suggestive conversation at the table and once or twice made a joke of her unresponsiveness. Mamie, though, stood pat until, meeting her in a darkened hallway one evening Grinnell grasped her hand and said:

“Listen, little sister, what’s th——

“Don’t little-sister me, you jay-town false alarm!” Mamie snapped and jerked her hand from him in a fury that was quite startling.

“Why, I didn’t mean an——

But the slam of the front door cut off his apology and the youth from Ohio walked slowly upstairs, face flushed, pride wounded. He hat the taint of a small town; like all pretenders he cringed from the accusation of pretense.

He felt that Mamie was a menace to his prestige, knew, with a savage sort of hopelessness, that she was quicker, brighter than he; longed for a chance to show her that he was truly sophisticated, that he could live as largely as he talk. Also, she was so desirable—and persistently unattainable.

At Wolf’s the intimacy between Peter and Grinnell grew until, realizing that the lad actually wanted to know, Peter called him behind the wicket and patiently, in great detail, elaborated on the system he had evolved for his work.

“It isn’t simple, is it?” he chuckled when he had finished the first lesson and Grinnell, brow wrinkled, was making certain that he remembered all he had been told. “You see, we really do the work of two men in here, but it isn’t so difficult—not when your mind travels in this sort of groove. Once or twice we’ve tried to break in someone else to be ready if anything happened to me, but none of the boys we’ve tried have made a go of it.”

“It must be hard to learn. It’s a beaut, though!” said Merle, and Peter’s cheeks flushed with the inventor’s pride.

The tutoring continued at intervals for weeks and when he was well on his way toward the mastery of the system the cunning of the boy unearthed another fact. Wolf himself regularly returned from lunch during the middle of the noon hour and passed through the shipping department on the way to his office.

Consequently, as the head of the establishment walked hurriedly toward the stairway while the place was emptied for the midday rest, he heard a rustle of papers behind the chief shipping-clerk’s wicket. He looked up quickly through the dark glasses which he invariably wore and saw the newest member of that-department scanning the long narrow sheets which were spread before Peter all day long.

Wolf said gruffly:

“Well, ain’t you got lunch money?”

Grinnell looked up, feigning surprise, and smiled at the jest.

“I ate in a hurry to get back and study these sheets, Great system!”

The other looked at him speculatively but because of the dark glasses Merle could not determine that quality. Wolf grunted assent. Then asked skeptically—

“You make head or tail of it?”

The boy smiled again—with designed modesty—and tilted his head.

“Well, it took me quite a while, but I guess I’ve got it now.”

This industry touched Wolf’s business sense. No one in that department had ever demonstrated a like interest—except Peter Howard.

“Did Howard show you?” he asked.

“Oh yes—something about it,”—with a laugh which artfully suggested difficulties. “He—well, he isn’t very full of pep any how. We live at the same house and I can see that he’s about all in every night. Quite a strain, I guess.”

“Whump,” said Wolf, under his breath and passed on to the stairway.

After he had left, young Mr. Grinnell grinned to himself. He had gone a long way toward setting himself in Wolf’s favor; also, he had planted two varieties of the seeds of suspicion in the boss’s mind regarding Peter Howard.

The shipping department was but a detail; however, in efficient method detail is supremely important. Wolf was, that afternoon, at once worried and relieved. He had thought from time to time that with the going of Peter changes must be made; he would be unable to find a man at Peter’s price who could do Peter’s work.

But now came a youth out of the West who was at once intelligent, ambitious and unafraid of extra hours, bearing an intimation of Howard’s aversion to training another for his task, the task which was taxing his failing health. Hence the manufacturer’s mingled feeling of concern and assurance.

 

AT MRS. BRANDT’S young Merle easily managed to retain the center of the stage. Life was almost wholly good with him. The attention he commanded gratified his avid ego; his progress at the delicate task of undermining Peter Howard was more lively than he could have hoped for.

The one jarring note in the whole was the fact that Mamie’s attitude was such that he felt the others must be aware of the contempt with which she held him; and for Mamie’s good will he would have bartered that of all the rest. Never a spoken word indicated the girl’s condition of mind; neither did Mamie give the usual outward indications of disdain.

She seldom seemed aware of Grinnell’s presence in spite of the fact that she took no obvious pains to avoid him, that circumstance being evidence of a true sense of superiority. But now and then when he reverted to his favorite theme of life under the white lights, of luxurious drinking-places, of smart debauchery, of women and sleek automobiles, the very names of which signify speed in both its highly proper and colloquial uses, he felt Mamie’s disgusted eyes on him.

He could never stop the flush that crept over his pallid face; for he knew, with the keen intuition which the counterfeit acquire for the real, that, compared to this girl, he was a babe in the worldly experience of which he boasted.

Thrice again Wolf saw Grinnell hard at the task of learning things behind Peter’s wicket and he asked:

“How’s he getting on?”

“Fine!” exclaimed Peter in a lowered tone. “He’s the brightest young chap we’ve ever had here. Why, I believe he could take my place tomorrow!”

Later in the day he could not help telling Merle that Wolf was pleased with his industry. Such was his way and thereby he gave the boy the cue for his last move.

And at the next opportunity Grinnell played his high trump with Wolf. Yes, he was sorry, but he felt that for his own good he’d better quit. There seemed to be nothing better ahead of him there—right away, anyhow. He had two or three other places on the string; so he guessed as soon as they could get somebody else to take his place he’d. . . .

Wolf, pinching his nose, stared at the floor through his dark glasses and opined that perhaps in a week or so something might happen; in fact, he advised young Merle to stay on at least a week. Thereupon Grinnell understood and rendered the impression that he did not understand, was very respectful and would be grateful for anything that. . . .

A few days later when Wolf said, “Oh, Howard, come up to the office, will you?” he was exceedingly glad that the condition of his sight demanded dark glasses.

He was not appreciative of what Peter had done, yet he did not like to have the man see his eyes when he explained that, in view of increasing duties it seemed advisable for younger men to bear the burden. The house was not ungrateful and that while they could scarcely afford to continue his present salary they might, in another department. . . .

Peter bore up like the noble he was. He was sorry that he’d been slowing up; hadn’t noticed it himself—with a brave smile—and, of course, he’d be glad to do anything toward breaking in the new man. He was thankful for the offer of work, too, and would think it over.

That night the clocks had finished their cycle before Mamie and Peter mounted the steps.

“We’ve walked four hours!” he said, in an attempt to be gay. “Think of that!”

Mamie didn’t. She was thinking only of Peter’s predicament. The whole tragic little story had come out, bit by bit, philosophically, blaming no one, even glad that young Grinnell was to be advanced, growing almost impatient when Mamie tried to speak her mind. His only admitted concern was over the temporary cessation of the draft to his brother’s widow; he was sure that he would have something in a week or so at the outside, but he hated to think of them stinting themselves.

Mamie bit her lips for she knew that when a man is stooped and has been a shipping-clerk until his hair is scant and silver he is not overly popular with many employers in Greater New York. She was not so sure that his brother’s widow would not be without that draft many, many weeks.

Then her agile little mind had commenced to pry and the things she found out about the ambition and industry of Merle Grinnell, abetted by her propensity for cataloging character, satisfied her as to the method by which Peter had been displaced.

 

GRINNELL knew of his fortune the next afternoon and at dinner he quite surpassed himself, specifying nothing in rendering the news, suggesting anything.

“A wine supper for us all my first payday!” he cried.

Mamie, cheeks hot, looked up to see the pain in Peter’s eyes as he tried to smile with the rest and be glad for the youngster. And she saw the nastiness in Grinnell’s leer as he turned to the older man and asked—

“You’ll be glad to come, won’t you?”

“Indeed, I will!” Peter said with mild graciousness, though Mamie felt the knife in her own heart.

“And will I be invited?” she asked quickly showing her teeth in a smile.

Grinnell’s heart leaped.

“You bet you will, kiddo!” he cried and held his eyes on her with an unpleasant glitter while his heart pumped with surprised exultation. He had banked much on his improved economic importance but he had not dared believe it would bring such immediate favor from Mamie.

The week which followed brought a marked change in the attitude of young Grinnell toward Peter Howard. In the past he had been respectful, gently flattering, but now he was eager to make sport of the other, creating tawdry fun at his expense, sneering at his kindliness; and all this stabbed Peter cruelly, though he made no protest, attempting only to see the fun and laugh with the others.

Those who were most observant noticed another change in relationships. Mamie’s silence was broken. Her steadfast refusal to respond to Grinnell’s banalities had been overcome. Much of his conversation was now directed at her and she responded freely, smiling at him with a provoking light in her eyes.

“Say sister, I never knew what a queen you were!” he said once when they met on the steps, her cheeks rosy from the wind, eyes glowing in a manner that he did not understand and that roused him mightily.

“Some kid, ain’t I?” she laughed.

He pinched her arm familiarly as she passed into the house and she did not protest.

Another time he said:

“Wouldn’t you go out with me tonight? I’ll show you a party!”

“That’s swell of you, but this night life’s not for a working girl. Some other time, though. You—you eat lunch alone always?”

“Not always,”—leaping at the opening. “If you’ll let me take you to lunch I’ll open a cold one!”

“I’ll think it over,” she said.

The first day of the second week went down and Peter had five more days before him. He had been looking about a bit, he confessed to Mamie, and although he was certain of something equally as good at once he hadn’t managed to get trace of it yet—with a sigh which he could not quite smother.

The second day passed, and the third. That night he brought home a book that he had kept at the office and Mamie, from the hallway, saw him pat it fondly as he put it on his dresser; and she heard his “Oh-h-h-dear!” as he hung up his coat.

Grinnell’s spirits mounted meanwhile and never had he been in better feather than when he left the breakfast table the following morning. Next week he would go behind the wicket, with a better chance, more money, more prestige.

“Oh-ho—hello, chicken!” he said in surprise as he slammed the door behind him and saw Mamie standing on the steps.

“I waited for you,” she confessed. “Have you forgotten that lunch and that cold one?”—archly.

“Have I forgot? My —— no!”—stepping close and taking her hands in his.

“Well can’t it be this noon?”

“If it can’t come any sooner it’ll be all right; five hours is a long time to wait, though!”

“Don’t try to kid the teacher,” she warned with a responsive squeeze. “And—can’t you beat the clock a little? An hour’s hardly long enough to put over a real party.”

“You bet I can! I’m solid as rock with Wolf and the old mutt here wouldn’t say anything anyhow. Twelve, that— Where? Th’ Fashion Grill?”

“That’s good. Until then— Well, be as careful as you can!”

She ran from him and he stood looking after her, lips parted.

“Some baby!” he muttered excitedly.

 

EVENING came, and the Brandt boarders. Mrs. Brandt’s fluster was complete, her complaining incessant and at concert pitch.

“Without a word! Moved out without a word. Banged his trunk down-stairs an’ scratched that walnut newel post all up. Look at it! Can it be beat! Can it be beat?” she reiterated.

Mamie came in, a trifle tense, possibly a little pale.

“What’s the row?” she asked Peter as she heard the landlady’s voluble lament from the kitchen. “Has she mislaid her jooles or has her husband come back?”

“Come in,” he said agitatedly and drew her into his room.

He was white and shaken, and wet his lips nervously.

“Such a time!” he said under his breath. “That boy—young Grinnell—he was away almost three hours at lunch this noon and he came back terribly drunk! My! We all tried to stop him but he went right up to Mr. Wolf and talked so! By the Lord Harry, it was a trying experience!

“They had to throw him out; wanted to fight and everything—and then he came here and made a terrible disturbance taking his things away——

“Well for the love of Mike!” said Mamie, something of the old brittle quality in her manner. “Then he won’t—you won’t——

“Oh, no! I’ll stay on, now. He won’t do at all. They even gave me a raise, and said so many nice things and—I hate to think that it was because of that young man’s misfortune, though——

And later in the evening as they stood looking up at grim, suffering-saturated Bellevue, Peter shook his head and said;

“I can’t think what got into that boy, drinking so! I thought all the time it was all talk.”

“It was,” said Mamie. “Believe me, Peter, it was.”

He did not see the cynical little smile of triumph that fired her face, but he gave her small hand a fond patting as she squeezed his arm affectionately.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1967, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.