Long Live the King
A Fine Night
In a shop where, that afternoon, the Countess had purchased some Lyons silks, one of the
clerks, Peter Niburg, was free at last. At seven o'clock, having put away the last rolls of
silk on the shelves behind him, and covered them with calico to keep off the dust; having
given a final glance of disdain at the clerk in the linens, across; having reached under the
counter for his stiff black hat of good quality and his silver-topped cane; having donned
the hat and hung the stick to his arm with two swaggering gestures; having prepared his
offensive, so to speak, he advanced.
Between Peter Niburg and Herman Spier of the linens, was a feud. Its source, in the
person of a pretty cashier, had gone, but the feud remained. It was of the sort that smiles
with the lips and scowls with the eyes, that speaks pleasantly quite awful things, although
it was Peter Niburg who did most of the talking. Herman Spier was a moody individual,
given to brooding. A man who stood behind his linens, and hated with his head down.
And he hated Peter. God, how he hated him! The cashier was gone, having married a
restaurant keeper, and already she waxed fat. But Herman's hatred grew with the days.
And business being bad, much of the time he stood behind his linens and thought about a
certain matter, which was this:
How did Peter Niburg do it?
They were paid the same scant wage. Each Monday they stood together, Peter smiling
and he frowning, and received into open palms exactly enough to live on, without extras.
And each Monday Peter pocketed his cheerfully, and went back to his post, twirling his
mustache as though all the money of the realm jingled in his trousers.
To accept the inevitable, to smile over one's poverty, that is one thing. But there was
more to it. Peter made his money go amazingly far. It was Peter, for instance, who on
name-days had been able to present the little cashier with a nosegay. Which had, by the
way, availed him nothing against the delicatessen offerings of the outside rival. When,
the summer before, the American Scenic Railway had opened to the public, with much
crossing of flags, the national emblem and the Stars and Stripes, it was Peter who had
invited the lady to an evening of thrills on that same railway at a definite sum per thrill.
Nay, more, as Herman had seen with his own eyes, taken her afterward to a coffee-house,
and shared with her a litre of white wine. A litre, no less.
Herman himself had been to the Scenic Railway, but only because he occupied a small
room in the house where the American manager lived. The manager had given tickets to
Black Humbert, the concierge, but Humbert was busy with other thing, and was, besides,
chary of foreign deviltries. So he had passed the tickets on.