PEACE OF A SORT
The next morning there was a long,
whispered discussion as to whether Mrs. De Peyster
should go down to breakfast or have all her meals sent
up to this chamber of distempered green. In the
end two considerations decided the matter. In
the first place, meals sent to the room would undoubtedly
be charged extra. In the second, it was possible
that Mrs. De Peyster’s remaining in her room
might rouse suspicion. It seemed the cheaper
and safer course to try to merge herself, an unnoticed
figure, in the routine of the house.
The dining-room was low-ceilinged
and occupied the front basement and seemed to be ventilated
solely through the kitchen. Mrs. De Peyster hazily
saw perhaps a dozen people; from among whom a bare
arm, slipping from the sleeve of a pink silk wrapper,
languidly waved toward a small table. Into the
two chairs Mrs. Gilbert indicated the twain sank.
A colored maid who had omitted her
collar dropped before Mrs. De Peyster a heavy saucer
containing three shriveled black objects immured in
a dark, forbidding liquor that suggested some wry tincture
from a chemist’s shop. In response to Mrs.
De Peyster’s glance of shrinking inquiry Matilda
whispered that they were prunes. Next the casual-handed
maid favored them with thin, underdone oatmeal, and
with thin, bitter coffee; and last with two stacks
of pancakes, which in hardly less substantial incarnation
had previously been served them by every whiff of
While she pretended to eat this uneatable
usurper of her dainty breakfasts, Mrs. De Peyster
glanced furtively at the company. Utterly common.
And with such she had to associate for months,
perhaps! she who had mixed and mingled
only with the earth’s best!
Mrs. Gilbert naturally
Mrs. Gilbert was a widow did not give Mrs.
De Peyster a second glance. The other boarders,
after their first scrutiny, hardly looked at her again.
The effect was as if all had turned their backs upon
Certainly this was odd behavior.
Then, in a flash, she understood.
They were snubbing her as a social inferior!
Mrs. De Peyster was beginning to flame
when the clergyman they had glimpsed the night before
entered and pronounced a sonorous good-morning, all-inclusive,
as though intended for a congregation. He seated
himself at a small table just beyond Mrs. De Peyster’s
and was unfolding his napkin when his eyes fell upon
Mrs. De Peyster. And then Mrs. De Peyster saw
one of the oddest changes in a man’s face imaginable.
Mr. Pyecroft’s eyes, which had been large with
benedictory roundness, flashed with a smile.
And then, at an instant’s end, his face was
once more grave and clerically benign.
But that instant-long look made her
shiver. What was in this clergyman’s mind?
She watched him, in spite of herself strangely
fascinated; stole looks at him during this meal, and
the next, and when they passed upon the stairway.
He had a confusingly contradictory face, had the Reverend
Herbert E. Pyecroft for such she learned
was his full name; a face customarily sedate and elderish,
and then, almost without perceptible change, for swift
moments oddly youthful; with a wide mouth, which would
suddenly twist up at its right corner as though from
some unholy quip of humor, and whose as sudden straightening
into a solemn line would show that the unseemly humor
had been exorcised. In manner he was bland, ornate,
gestureish, ample; giving the sense that in nothing
less commodious than a church could he loose his person
and his powers to their full expression. He was
genially familiar; the church-man who is a good fellow.
Yet never did he let one forget the respect that was
due his cloth.
He was at present without a charge,
as she learned later. It was understood that
he was waiting an almost certain call from a church
in Kansas City.
As Mrs. De Peyster came out of her
room that first Sunday at supper-time, there emerged
from the room in front of hers the Reverend Mr. Pyecroft.
He held out his hand, and smiled parochially.
“Ah, Miss Thompson,” that
was the name she had given the landlady, “since
we are neighbors we should also be friends.”
And on he went, voluminously, in his full, upholstered
Somehow Mrs. De Peyster got away from
him. But thereafter he spoke to her whenever
he could waylay her in the hallway or upon the stairs.
And his attentions did not stop with words. Flowers,
even edibles, were continuously found against her
door, his card among them. The situation somehow
recalled to her the queer gentleman in shorts who
threw vegetables over Mrs. Nickleby’s garden
wall. Mrs. De Peyster felt outraged; she fumed;
yet she dared not be outspokenly resentful.
She had at first no inkling of the
meaning of these attentions. It was Matilda who
suggested the dismaying possibility.
“Don’t you think, ma’am,
he’s trying to make love to you?”
“Make love to me!” rising
in horror from one of Mrs. Gilbert’s veteran
“I’m sure it’s that, ma’am,”
said the troubled Matilda.
“Matilda! Of all the effrontery!”
“Indeed, it is an insult to
you, ma’am. But that may not be the worst
of it. For if he really falls in love with you,
he may try to follow you when you get ready to leave.”
“Matilda!” gasped Mrs. De Peyster.
Thereafter, whenever he tried to speak
to her in the hallways she shrank from him in both
fear and indignation. But her rebuffs did not
lessen by one ray the smiling amicability of his bland
countenance He tried to become confidential, tried
to press toward intimacy; one evening he even had
the unbelievable audacity to ask if he might call
upon her! She flamed with the desire to destroy
him with a look, a word; Mrs. De Peyster knew well
how thus to snuff out presuming upstarts. But
caution warned her that she dared not unloose her
powers. So she merely turned and fled, choking.
But the reverend gentleman’s unperturbed overtures
Mrs. De Peyster and Matilda did not
speak of money at first; but it was constantly in
both their minds as a problem of foremost importance.
Their failure to buy fresh outfits, as they had told
Mrs. Gilbert they intended doing, thus supplying “baggage”
that would be security for their board, caused Mrs.
Gilbert to regard them with hostile suspicion.
Matilda saw eviction in their landlady’s penciled
eyes, and without a word as to her intention to Mrs.
De Peyster, she slipped out on the third day, returned
minus her two rings, and handed Mrs. Gilbert ten dollars.
They were secure to the week’s end. After
Fitfully Mrs. De Peyster pondered
this matter of finances. She had money so near,
yet utterly unreachable. Her house was filled
with negotiable wealth, but she dared not go near
it. Judge Harvey would secure her money gladly;
but if the previous Friday she could not accept his
aid, then a thousand times less could she accept it
now. To ask his aid would be to reveal, not alone
her presence in America, but the series of undignified
experiences which had involved her deeper and deeper.
That humiliation was unthinkable.
But on Thursday, locked in their room,
they spoke of the matter openly.
said Matilda, who had been maturing a plan, “you
might make out a check to me, dated last week, before
you sailed, and I could get it cashed. They’d
think it was for back wages.”
“I told you last Friday, when
everything happened, that I had drawn out my balance.”
“But your bank won’t mind
your overdrawing for a hundred or two,” urged
“That,” said Mrs. De Peyster
with an air of noble principle, “is a thing
I will not do.”
Matilda knew nothing of the secret
of Mrs. De Peyster’s exhausted credit at her
“My own money,” Matilda
remarked plaintively, “is all in a savings bank.
I have to give thirty days’ notice before I can
draw a penny.”
There was a brief silence. Matilda’s
gaze, which had several times wandered to a point
a few inches below Mrs. De Peyster’s throat,
now fixed themselves upon this spot. She spoke
“There’s your pearl pendant
you forgot and kept on when you put on my dress to
go out riding with William.” It was not
one of the world’s famous jewels; yet was of
sufficient importance to be known, in a limited circle,
as “The De Peyster Pearl.” “I
know the chain wouldn’t bring much; but you
could raise a lot on the pearl from a pawnbroker.”
Mrs. De Peyster tried to look shocked.
“What! I take my pearl to a pawnbroker!”
“Of course, I wouldn’t
expect you to go to a pawnshop, ma’am,”
Matilda apologized. “I’d take it.”
Mrs. De Peyster had a moment’s
picture of Matilda’s laying the pearl before
a pawnbroker and asking for a fraction of its worth,
a mere thousand or two; and of the hard-eyed usurer
glancing at it, announcing that the pearl was spoof,
and offering fifty cents upon it.
“Matilda, you should know that
I would not part with such an heirloom,” she
“But, ma’am, in a crisis like this
“That will do, Matilda!”
Matilda said no more about the pearl
then. She went to her bank and gave due notice
of her desire to withdraw her funds. That, however,
was provision merely for the next month and thereafter.
It did not help to-day.
But all the rest of that day, and
all of the following, Mrs. De Peyster felt Matilda’s
eyes, aggrieved, bitterly resentful, upon the spot
where beneath her black housekeeper’s dress hung
the pearl she was unwilling to pawn to save them.
It was most uncomfortable.