“Pinochle it is,” acquiesced McLean. “I was only going because there was nothing to do.”
Things went very well for Peter that afternoon—up to a certain point. He beat McLean unmercifully, playing with cold deliberation. McLean wearied, fidgeted, railed at his luck. Peter played on grimly.
The club filled up toward the coffee-hour. Two or three women, wives of members, a young girl to whom McLean had been rather attentive before he met Harmony and who bridled at the abstracted bow he gave her. And, finally, when hope in Peter was dead, one of the women on Anna’s list.
Peter, laying down pairs and marking up score, went over Harmony’s requirements. Dr. Jennings seemed to fit them all, a woman, not young, not too stout, agreeable and human. She was a large, almost bovinely placid person, not at all reminiscent of Anna. She was neat where Anna had been disorderly, well dressed and breezy against Anna’s dowdiness and sharpness. Peter, having totaled the score, rose and looked down at McLean.
“You’re a nice lad,” he said, smiling. “Sometime I shall teach you the game.”
“How about a lesson to-night in Seven-Star Street?”
“To-night? Why, I’m sorry. We have an engagement for to-night.”
The “we” was deliberate and cruel. McLean writhed. Also the statement was false, but the boy was spared that knowledge for the moment.
Things went well. Dr. Jennings was badly off for quarters. She would make a change if she could better herself. Peter drew her off to a corner and stated his case. She listened attentively, albeit not without disapproval.
She frankly discredited the altruism of Peter’s motives when he told her about Harmony. But as the recital went on she found herself rather touched. The story of Jimmy appealed to her. She scolded and lauded Peter in one breath, and what was more to the point, she promised to visit the house in the Siebensternstrasse the next day.
“So Anna Gates has gone home!” she reflected. “When?”
“Then the girl is there alone?”
“Yes. She is very young and inexperienced, and the boy—it’s myocarditis. She’s afraid to be left with him.”
“Is she quite alone?”
“Absolutely, and without funds, except enough for her lessons. Our arrangement was that she should keep the house going; that was her share.”
Dr. Jennings was impressed. It was impossible to talk to Peter and not believe him. Women trusted Peter always.
“You’ve been very foolish, Dr. Byrne,” she said as she rose; “but you’ve been disinterested enough to offset that and to put some of us to shame. To-morrow at three, if it suits you. You said the Siebensternstrasse?”
Peter went home exultant.
Christmas-Day had had a softening effect on Mrs. Boyer. It had opened badly. It was the first Christmas she had spent away from her children, and there had been little of the holiday spirit in her attitude as she prepared the Christmas breakfast. After that, however, things happened.