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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPeter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 9
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Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 9 Post by :beetee Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :2170

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Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 9

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 sand 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."

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