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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPeter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 5
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Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 5 Post by :beetee Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :2672

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Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 5


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 magificence 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.

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Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 6
CHAPTER VIJack'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

Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 4 Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 4

Peter: A Novel Of Which He Is Not The Hero - Chapter 4
CHAPTER IVBreakfast--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