You would understand why if you knew the man.
Just as this particular old house possessed two distinct personalities—one of the past and the other of the present—so did the occupant of the third floor.
Downtown in the custom house, where he was employed (he had something to do with invoices), he was just plain Mr. Griggs—a short, crisp, “Yes and so” little man—exact, precise and absurdly correct: never, in all his life, had he made a mistake.
Up in these rooms on the third floor he was dear old Peter—or Pete—or Griggsy—or whatever his many friends loved best to call him. Up here, too, he was the merriest companion possible; giving out as much as he absorbed, and always with his heart turned inside out. That he had been for more than thirty years fastened to a high stool facing his desk bespoke neither political influence nor the backing of rich friends. Nobody, really, had ever wanted his place. If they did they never dared ask for it—not above their breath. They would as soon have thought of ousting the old clock from its perch in the rotunda, or moving one of the great columns that faced the street. So he just stayed on ticking away at his post, quite like the old clock itself, and getting stiffer and stiffer in the line of his duty—quite like the columns —and getting more and more covered with the dust of long habit—quite like both of them.
This dust, being outside dust, and never sinking the thousandth part of an inch below the surface, left its mark on the man beneath as a live coal fading and whitening leaves its covering of ashes on the spark.
These two—the ashes and the spark—made up the sum of Peter’s individuality. The ash part was what he offered to the world of routine—the world he hated. The spark part—cheery, warm, enthusiastic, full of dreams, of imaginings, with an absorbing love for little bits of beauty, such as old Satsuma, Cloisonne, quaint miniatures and the like—all good, and yet within reach of his purse—this part he gave to his friends.
I am inside his room now, standing behind him taking in the glow of the fire and the red damask curtains shielding the door that leads to his bedroom; my eye roving over the bookcases crammed with books, the tables littered with curios and the mantel covered with miniatures and ivories. I invariably do this to discover his newest “find” before he calls my attention to it. As he has not yet moved or given me any other sign of recognition than a gruff “Draw up a chair,” in a voice that does not sound a bit like him—his eyes all the time on the smouldering fire, there is yet a chance to look him over before he begins to talk. (We shall all be busy enough listening when he does begin.)
I say “All,” for there is a second visitor close behind me, and the sound of still another footstep can already be heard in the hall below.