Peter’s knees were shaking, his teeth were chattering, and he watched every motion of Guffey’s angry fingers, and every grimace of Guffey’s angry features. Peter had been fully prepared for the most horrible torture he had experienced yet; but gradually he realized that he wasn’t going to be tortured, he was only going to be scolded and raged at, and no words could describe the wave of relief in his soul. In the course of his street-rat’s life Peter had been called more names than Guffey could think of if he spent the next month trying. If all Guffey was going to do was to pace up and down the room, and shake his fist under Peter’s nose every time he passed him, and compare him with every kind of a domestic animal, Peter could stand it all night without a murmur.
He stopped trying to find out what it was that had happened, because he saw that this only drove Guffey to fresh fits of exasperation. Guffey didn’t want to talk to Peter, he didn’t want to hear the sound of Peter’s whining gutter-pup’s voice. All he wanted was to pour out his rage, and have Peter listen in abject abasement, and this Peter did. But meantime, of course, Peter’s wits were working at high speed, he was trying to pick up hints as to what the devil it could mean. One thing was quite clear—the damage, whatever it was, was done; the jig was up, it was all over but the funeral. They had taken Peter’s money to pay for the funeral, and that was all they hoped to get out of him.
Gradually came other hints. “So you thought you were going into business on your own!” snarled Guffey, and his fist, which was under Peter’s nose, gave an upward poke that almost dislocated Peter’s neck.
“Aha!” thought Peter. “Nelse Ackerman has given me away!”
“You thought you were going to make your fortune and retire for life on your income!”
Yes, that was it, surely! But what could Nelse Ackerman have told that was so very bad?
“You were going to have a spy of your own, set up your own bureau, and kick me out, perhaps!”
“My God!” thought Peter. “Who told that?”
Then suddenly Guffey stopped in front of him. “Was that what you thought?” he demanded. He repeated the question, and it appeared that he really wanted an answer, and so Peter stammered, “N-n-no, sir.” But evidently the answer didn’t suit Guffey, for he grabbed Peter’s nose and gave it a tweak that brought the tears into his eyes.
“What was it then?” A nasty sneer came on the head detective’s face, and he laughed at Peter with a laugh of venomous contempt. “I suppose you thought she really loved you! Was it that? You thought she really loved you?” And McGivney and Hammett and Guffey ha-ha-ed together, and to Peter it seemed like the mockery of demons in the undermost pit of hell. Those words brought every pillar of Peter’s dream castle tumbling in ruins about his ears. Guffey had found out about Nell!
Again and again on the automobile ride to Guffey’s office Peter had reminded himself of Nell’s command, “Stick it out, Peter! Stick it out!” He had meant to stick it out in spite of everything; but now in a flash he saw that all was lost. How could he stick it out when they knew about Nell, and when Nell, herself, was no longer sticking it out?