“Accomplice, maybe,” remarked Peter’s third visitor, “just fooling you with that architect yarn.”
“Buncoed that pass out of somebody else,” suggested the second visitor.
“Perhaps,” Peter continued. “I give it up. It’s one of the things that can never be explained. The Bostonian was polite, but he still thinks me a cheat. He let me down as easy as he could, being a gentleman, but I can never forget that he saw me come in with them and order the dinner, and that then I tried to sneak out of paying for it. Oh, it’s dreadful! Dreadful!”
Peter settled in his seat until only the top of his red skull cap showed above the back of his easy chair. For some minutes he did not speak, then he said slowly, and as if talking to himself:
“Mean, mean people to serve me so!”
Some days later I again knocked at Peter’s door. I had determined, with or without his consent, to go myself to Foscari’s, redeem the miniature and explain the circumstances, and let them know exactly who Peter was. My hand had hardly touched the panel when his cheery voice rang out:
“Whoever you are, come in!”
He had sprung from his chair now and had advanced to greet me.
“Oh, is it you! So glad—come over here before you get your coat off. Look!”
“The Cosway! You paid the bill and redeemed it?”
“Didn’t cost me a cent.”
“They sent it to you, then, and apologized?”
“Nothing of the kind. Give me your hat and coat and plump yourself down on that chair by the fire. I’ve got the most extraordinary story to tell you you’ve ever heard in your whole life.”
He was himself again—the same bubbling spirit, the same warmth in his manner, foxes out frolicking, lighthouse flashing, everything let loose.
“Last night I was sitting here at my desk writing, about nine o’clock, as near as I can remember”— his voice dropped now to a tragic whisper, as if an encounter with a burglar was to follow—“When-I- heard-A-heavy-tread-on-the >-stairs, getting louder and louder as it reached my door. Then came a knock strong enough to crack the panels. I got up at once and turned the knob. In the corridor stood the Large Man. He was inside before I could stop him—I couldn’t have stopped him. You have no idea, my dear friend, how big and strong that man is. What he expected to see I don’t know, but it evidently was not what he found.
“‘I had a hell of a time finding you,’ he began, looking about him in astonishment. ’Been up and down everywhere inquiring. Only got your number from that red-headed plate-shover half an hour ago.’”
Peter’s voice had now regained its customary volume:
“I had backed to the fireplace by this time and had picked up the poker, as if to punch the fire, but I really intended to strike him if he advanced too close or tried to help himself to any of my things. He never took the slightest notice of my movements, or waited for any answer to his outburst—just kept right on talking.