In the midst of his protestations a clever scheme occurred to him. He lowered his voice in shame. There was a man, a young man, who used to come to see Jennie off and on. “Jennie asked me not to tell.” Peter hesitated a moment, and added his master-stroke. “Jennie explained to me that she was a free-lover; she told me all about free love. I told her I didn’t believe in it, but you know, Sadie, when Jennie believed in anything, she would stand by it and act on it. So I felt certain it wouldn’t do any good for me to butt in.”
Sadie almost went out of her mind at this. She glared at Peter. “Slanderer! Devil!” she cried. “Who was this man?”
Peter answered, “He went by the name of Ned. That’s what Jennie called him. It wasn’t my business to pin her down about him.”
“It wasn’t your business to look out for an innocent child?”
“Jennie herself said she wasn’t an innocent child, she knew exactly what she was doing—all Socialists did it.” And to this parting shot he added that he hadn’t thought it was decent, when he was a guest in a home, to spy on the morals of the people in it. When Sadie persisted in doubting him, and even in calling him names, he took the easiest way out of the difficulty—fell into a rage and stormed out of the house.
Peter felt pretty certain that Sadie would not spread the story very far; it was too disgraceful to her sister and to herself; and maybe when she had thought it over she might come to believe Peter’s story; maybe she herself was a “free lover.” McGivney had certainly said that all Socialists were, and he had been studying them a lot. Anyhow, Sadie would have to think first of the Goober case, just as little Jennie had done. Peter had them there all right, and realized that he could afford to be forgiving, so he went to the telephone and called up Sadie and said: “I want you to know that I’m not going to say anything about this story; it won’t become known except thru you.”
There were half a dozen people whom Sadie must have told. Miss Nebbins was icy-cold to Peter the next time he came in to see Mr. Andrews; also Miriam Yankovich lost her former cordiality, and several other women treated him with studied reserve. But the only person who spoke about the matter was Pat McCormick, the I. W. W. boy who had given Peter the news of little Jennie’s suicide. Perhaps Peter hadn’t been able to act satisfactorily on that occasion; or perhaps the young fellow had observed something for himself, some love-glances between Peter and Jennie. Peter had never felt comfortable in the presence of this silent Irish boy, whose dark eyes would roam from one person to another in the room, and seemed to be probing your most secret thoughts.
Now Peter’s worst fears were justified. “Mac” got him off in a corner, and put his fist under his nose, and told him that he was “a dirty hound,” and if it hadn’t been for the Goober case, he, “Mac,” would kill him without a moment’s concern.