WHEN Diotti and old Sanders left the house they walked rapidly down Fifth Avenue. It was after eleven, and the streets were bare of pedestrians, but blinking-eyed cabs came up the avenue, looking at a distance like a trail of Megatheriums, gliding through the darkness. The piercing wind made the men hasten their steps, the old man by a semi-rotary motion keeping up with the longer strides and measured tread of the younger.
When they reached Fourteenth Street, the elder said, "I live but a block from here," pointing eastward; "what do you say to a hot toddy? It will warm the cockles of your heart; come over to my house and I'll mix you the best drink in New York."
The younger thought the suggestion a good one and they turned toward the house of old Sanders.
It was a neat, red brick, two-story house, well in from the street, off the line of the more pretentious buildings on either side. As the old man opened the iron gate, the police officer on the beat passed; he peered into the faces of the men, and recognizing Sanders, said, "tough night, sir."
"Very," replied the addressed.
"All good old gentlemen should be in bed at this hour," said the officer, lifting one foot after the other in an effort to keep warm, and in so doing showing little terpsichorean grace.
"It's only the shank of the evening, officer," rejoined the old man, as he fumbled with the latch key and finally opened the door. The two men entered and the officer passed on.
Every man has a fad. One will tell you he sees nothing in billiards or pool or golf or tennis, but will grow enthusiastic over the scientific possibilities of mumble-peg; you agree with him, only you substitute "skittles" for "mumble-peg."
Old Sanders fad was mixing toddies and punches.
"The nectar of the gods pales into nothingness when compared with a toddy such as I make," said he. "Ambrosia may have been all right for the degenerates of the old Grecian and Roman days, but an American gentleman demands a toddy—a hot toddy." And then he proceeded with circumspection and dignity to demonstrate the process of decocting that mysterious beverage.
The two men took off their overcoats and went into the sitting-room. A pile of logs burned brightly in the fire-place. The old man threw another on the burning heap, filled the kettle with water and hung it over the fire. Next he went to the sideboard and brought forth the various ingredients for the toddy.
"How do you like America?" said the elder, with commonplace indifference, as he crunched a lump of sugar in the bottom of the glass, dissolving the particles with a few drops of water.
"Very much, indeed," said the Tuscan, with the air of a man who had answered the question before.
"Great country for girls!" said Sanders, pouring a liberal quantity of Old Tom gin in the glass and placing it where it gradually would get warm.
"And for men!" responded Diotti, enthusiastically.
"Men don't amount to much here, women run everything," retorted the elder, while he repeated the process of preparing the sugar and gin in the second glass. The kettle began to sing.
"That's music for you," chuckled the old man, raising the lid to see if the water had boiled sufficiently. "Do you know I think a dinner horn and a singing kettle beat a symphony all hollow for real down-right melody," and he lifted the kettle from the fire-place.
With mathematical accuracy the old man filled the two tumblers with boiling water.
"Try that," handing a glass of the toddy to Diotti; "you will find it all right," and the old man drew an arm-chair toward the fire-place, smacking his lips in anticipation.
The violinist placed his chair closer to the fire and sipped the drink.
"Your country is noted for its beautiful women?"
"We have exquisite types of femininity in Tuscany," said the young man, with patriotic ardor.
"Any as fine looking as—as—as—well, say the young lady we dined with to-night?"
"Miss Wallace?" queried the Tuscan.
"Yes, Miss Wallace," this rather impatiently.
"She is very beautiful," said Diotti, with solemn admiration.
"Have you ever seen any one prettier?" questioned the old man, after a second prolonged sip.
"I have no desire to see any one more beautiful," said the violinist, feeling that the other was trying to draw him out, and determined not to yield.
"You will pardon the inquisitiveness of an old man, but are not you musicians a most impressionable lot?"
"We are human," answered the violinist.
"I imagined you were like sailors and had a sweetheart in every port."
"That would be a delightful prospect to one having polygamous aspirations, but for myself, one sweetheart is enough," laughingly said the musician.
"Only one! Well, here's to her! With this nectar fit for the gods and goddesses of Olympus, let us drink to her," said old Sanders, with convivial dignity, his glass raised on high. "Here's wishing health and happiness to the dreamy-eyed Tuscan beauty, whom you love and who loves you."
"Stop!" said Diotti; "we will drink to the first part of that toast," and holding his glass against that of his bibulous host, continued: "To the dreamy-eyed women of my country, exacting of their lovers; obedient to their parents and loyal to their husbands," and his voice rose in sonorous rhythm with the words.
"Now for the rest of the toast, to the one you love and who loves you," came from Sanders.
"To the one I love and who loves me, God bless her!" fervently cried the guest.
"Is she a Tuscan?" asked old Sanders slyly.
"She is an angel!" impetuously answered the violinist.
"Then she is an American!" said the old man gallantly.
"She is an American," repeated Diotti, forgetting himself for the instant.
"Let me see if I can guess her name," said old Sanders. "It's—it's Mildred Wallace!" and his manner suggested a child solving a riddle.
The violinist, about to speak, checked himself and remained silent.
"I sincerely pity Mildred if ever she falls in love," abstractedly continued the host while filling another glass.
"Pray why?" was anxiously asked.
The old man shifted his position and assumed a confidential tone and attitude: "Signor Diotti, jealousy is a more universal passion than love itself. Environment may develop our character, influence our tastes and even soften our features, but heredity determines the intensity of the two leading passions, love and jealousy. Mildred's mother was a beautiful woman, but consumed with an overpowering jealousy of her husband. It was because she loved him. The body-guard of jealousy—envy, malice and hatred—were not in her composition. When Mildred was a child of twelve I have seen her mother suffer the keenest anguish because Mr. Wallace fondled the child. She thought the child had robbed her of her husband's love."
"Such a woman as Miss Wallace would command the entire love and admiration of her husband at all times," said the artist.
"If she should marry a man she simply likes, her chances for happiness would be normal."
"In what manner?" asked the lover.
"Because she would be little concerned about him or his actions."
"Then you believe," said the musician, "that the man who loves her and whom she loves should give her up because her chances of happiness would be greater away from him than with him?"
"That would be an unselfish love," said the elder.
"Suppose they have declared their passion?" asked Diotti.
"A parting before doubt and jealousy had entered her mind would let the image of her sacrificing lover live within her soul as a tender and lasting memory; he always would be her ideal," and the accent old Sanders placed on always left no doubt of his belief.
"Why should doubt and jealousy enter her life?" said the violinist, falling into the personal character of the discussion despite himself.
"My dear sir, from what I observed to-night, she loves you. You are a dangerous man for a jealous woman to love. You are not a cloistered monk, you are a man before the public; you win the admiration of many; some women do not hesitate to show you their preference. To a woman like Mildred that would be torture; she could not and would not separate the professional artist from the lover or husband."
And Diotti, remembering Mildred's words, could not refute the old man's statements.
"If you had known her mother as I did," continued the old man, realizing his argument was making an impression on the violinist, "you would see the agony in store for the daughter if she married a man such as you, a public servant, a public favorite."
"I would live my life not to excite her suspicions or jealousy," said the artist, with boyish enthusiasm and simplicity.
"Foolish fellow," retorted Sanders, skeptically; "women imagine, they don't reason. A scented note unopened on the dressing table can cause more unhappiness to your wife than the loss of his country to a king. My advice to you is: do not marry; but if you must, choose one who is more interested in your gastronomic felicity than in your marital constancy."
Diotti was silent. He was pondering the words of his host. Instead of seeing in Mildred a possibly jealous woman, causing mental misery, she appeared a vision of single-hearted devotion. He felt: "To be loved by such a one is bliss beyond the dreams of this world."