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Title: Baby Mine
Author: Mayo, Margaret
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Baby Mine" ***

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BABY MINE

By Margaret Mayo


To my Helper and Husband



CHAPTER I

Even in college Alfred Hardy was a young man of fixed ideas and high
ideals and proud of it.

His friend, Jimmy Jinks, had few ideas and no ideals, and was glad of
it, and before half of their first college term had passed, Jimmy
had ridded himself of all such worries as making up his own mind or
directing his own morals. Alfred did all these things so much better,
argued Jimmy, furthermore, Alfred LIKED to do them--Jimmy owed it to his
friend to give him that pleasure.

The fact that Jimmy was several years Alfred’s senior and twice his
size, in no way altered his opinion of Alfred’s judgment, and through
their entire college course they agreed as one man in all their
discussions--or rather--in all Alfred’s discussions.

But it was not until the close of their senior year that Alfred favoured
Jimmy with his views on matrimony.

Sitting alone in a secluded corner of the campus waiting for Alfred to
solve a problem in higher mathematics, Jimmy now recalled fragments of
Alfred’s last conversation.

“No twelve dollar shoes and forty dollar hats for MY wife,” his young
friend had raged and he condemned to Jimmy the wicked extravagance of
his own younger sisters. “The woman who gets me must be a home-maker.
I’ll take her to the theatre occasionally, and now and then we’ll have a
few friends in for the evening; but the fireside must be her magnet, and
I’ll be right by her side each night with my books and my day’s worries.
She shall be taken into my confidence completely; and I’ll take good
care to let her know, before I marry her, just what I expect in return.”

“Alfred certainly has the right idea about marriage,” mused Jimmy, as
the toe of his boot shoved the gravel up and down the path. “There’s
just one impractical feature about it.” He was conscious of a slight
feeling of heresy when he admitted even ONE flaw in his friend’s scheme
of things. “Where is Alfred to find such a wife?”

Jimmy ran through the list of unattached girls to whom Alfred had thus
far presented him. It was no doubt due to his lack of imagination, but
try as he would, he could not see any one of these girls sitting by the
fireside listening to Alfred’s “worries” for four or five nights each
week. He recalled all the married women whom he had been obliged,
through no fault of his own, to observe.

True, all of them did not boast twelve dollar shoes or forty dollar
hats--for the very simple reason that the incomes or the tempers of
their husbands did not permit of it. In any case, Jimmy did not remember
having seen them spend many evenings by the fireside. Where then was
Alfred to find the exceptional creature who was to help “systematise his
life”? Jimmy was not above hoping that Alfred’s search might be a long
one. He was content for his friend to go jogging along by his side,
theorising about marriage and taking no chances with facts. Having come
to this conclusion, he began to feel uneasy at Alfred’s non-appearance.
Alfred had promised to meet him on this spot at four-thirty, and Alfred
had decided ideas about punctuality. It was now five-thirty. Ought Jimmy
to look for him, or would he be wiser to remain comfortably seated and
to try to digest another of his friend’s theories?

While Jimmy was trying to decide this vexed question, his ear caught the
sound of a girlish titter. Turning in embarrassment toward a secluded
path just behind him, whom did he see coming toward him but Alfred, with
what appeared to be a bunch of daffodils; but as Alfred drew nearer,
Jimmy began to perceive at his elbow a large flower-trimmed hat,
and--“horrors!”--beneath it, with a great deal of filmy white and yellow
floating from it, was a small pink and white face.

Barely had Jimmy reversed himself and rearranged his round, astonished
features, when Alfred, beaming and buoyant, brought the bundle of fluff
to a full stop before him.

“Sorry to be late, old chap,” said Alfred. “I have brought my excuse
with me. I want you to know Miss Merton.” Then turning to the small
creature, whose head peeped just above his elbow, Alfred explained
to her graciously that Jimmy Jinks was his very best friend, present
company excepted, of course, and added that she and Jimmy would no doubt
“see a great deal of each other in the future.”

In his embarrassment, Jimmy’s eyes went straight to the young lady’s
shoes. It was possible that there might be more expensive shoes in this
world, but Jimmy had certainly never seen daintier.

“I hope we didn’t disturb you,” a small voice was chirping; and innocent
and conventional as the remark surely was, Jimmy was certain of an
undercurrent of mischief in it. He glanced up to protest, but two
baby-blue eyes fixed upon him in apparent wonderment, made him certain
that anything he could say would seem rude or ridiculous; so, as usual
when in a plight, he looked to Alfred for the answer.

Slapping Jimmy upon the shoulder in a condescending spirit, Alfred
suggested that they all sit down and have a chat.

“Oh, how nice,” chirped the small person.

Jimmy felt an irresistible desire to run, but the picture of himself,
in his very stout person, streaking across the campus to the giggled
delight of Miss Fluff, soon brought him submissively to the seat,
where he sat twiddling his straw hat between his fingers, and glancing
uncertainly at Alfred, who was thoughtful enough to sit next him.

“Goodness, one could almost dance out here, couldn’t one?” said the
small person, named Zoie, as her eyes roved over the bit of level green
before them.

“Would you like to try?” asked Alfred, apparently agreeable to her every
caprice.

“I’d love it!” cried Zoie. “Come along.” She sprang up and held out her
hands to him.

“I’m going to be unselfish,” answered Alfred, “and let Jimmy have that
fun.”

By this time, Jimmy had been seized with an intuitive feeling that his
friend was in immediate danger.

“Was this the young woman who was to sit opposite the fireside five
nights a week and systematise Alfred’s life?”

Jimmy stared at the intruder blankly. For answer, two small hands were
thrust out toward him and an impatient little voice was commanding him
to “Come, dance.” He heard Alfred’s laughter. He had no intention of
accommodating the small person in this or any other matter, yet, before
he realised quite how it had happened, he was two-stepping up and down
the grass to her piping little voice; nor did she release him until the
perspiration came rolling from his forehead; and, horror of horrors, his
one-time friend, Alfred, seemed to find this amusing, and laughed louder
and louder when Jimmy sank by his side exhausted.

When Jimmy was again able to think consecutively, he concluded that
considerable conversation must have taken place between Alfred and
the small one, while he was recovering his breath and re-adjusting his
wilted neckwear. He was now thrown into a fresh panic by an exclamation
from the excitable Zoie.

“You must both meet my friend, Aggie Darling,” she was saying. “I am
bringing her with me to the hop to-night. She is not at all like me.
You will like her dreadfully.” She smiled at Jimmy as though she were
conferring a great favour upon him.

“Like her dreadfully,” commented Jimmy to himself. “It was just the kind
of expression one might expect from a mind in such disorder as hers.
‘Systematise Alfred’s life,’ indeed!”

There was more nonsensical chatter, or so it seemed to Jimmy, then Zoie
and Alfred rose to go, and Jimmy was told by both of them that he was to
put in an appearance at the Fraternity “hop” that night.

“I’ll see you at dinner,” called Alfred gaily over his shoulder and
Jimmy was left to grapple with his first disappointment at his friend’s
lack of discrimination.

“It’s her fault,” concluded Jimmy, as he lifted himself heavily off
the bench and started down the campus, resolved to console himself with
food.



CHAPTER II

Now Jimmy had no intention of going to the “hop.” He had tried to
tell Alfred so a dozen times during dinner, but each time he had been
interrupted by one of Alfred’s enthusiastic rhapsodies about Zoie.

“Most marvellous girl I have ever met!” exclaimed Alfred over his soup.
“So sensible; so modest. And did you see how simply she dresses?” he
asked. Jimmy recalled his first vision of billowy fluff; but before he
could answer, Alfred had continued excitedly:

“I’ll tell you what first attracted me toward her.” He looked at Jimmy
as though he expected some especial mark of gratitude for the favour
about to be bestowed; then he explained with a serious weighing of his
words, “It was her love of children. I had barely been introduced to
her when she turned her back upon me and gave her whole attention to
Professor Peck’s little boy Willie. I said to myself, ‘any girl of that
age who prefers children to young chaps of my age, is the girl for me.’”

“I see,” assented Jimmy lamely. It was his first remark during dinner.

“After that, I no longer hesitated. You know, Jimmy, I have decision.”

“Yes, I have noticed,” admitted Jimmy, without conviction.

“In fifteen minutes,” said Alfred, “I had learned all about the young
lady’s antecedents.”

Having finished his soup, and resisted a childish impulse to tip the
plate and scrape the bottom of it, Jimmy was now looking anxiously
toward the door through which the roast ought to come.

“I’ll tell you all about her,” volunteered Alfred. But Jimmy’s eyes
were upon Alfred’s plate; his friend had not yet devoured more than two
spoonfuls of soup; at that rate, argued Jimmy, the roast would reach
them about the time that he was usually trying to make his dessert last
as long as possible.

“She is here with her aunt,” continued Alfred. “They are on a short
visit to Professor Peck.”

Jimmy approved of the “short.”

“That’s good,” he murmured, hopeful that a separation from the minx
might restore his friend’s reason.

“And Jimmy,” exclaimed Alfred with glistening eyes, “what do you think?”

Jimmy thought a great deal but he forebore to say it, and Alfred
continued very enthusiastically.

“She lives right in the same town with us.”

“What!” ejaculated Jimmy, and he felt his appetite going.

“Within a stone’s throw of my house--and yours,” added Alfred
triumphantly. “Think of our never having met her before!”

“I am thinking,” said Jimmy.

“Of course she has been away from home a great deal,” went on Alfred.
“She’s been in school in the East; but there were the summers.”

“So there were,” assented Jimmy, thinking of his hitherto narrow
escapes.

“Her father is old John Merton,” continued Alfred. “Merton the
stationer--you know him, Jimmy. Unfortunately, he has a great deal of
money; but that hasn’t spoilt her. Oh no! She is just as simple and
considerate in her behaviour as if she were some poor little struggling
school teacher. She is the one for me, Jimmy. There is no doubt about
it, and I’ll tell you a secret.”

Jimmy looked at him blankly.

“I am going to propose to her this very night.”

“Good Lord!” groaned Jimmy, as if his friend had been suddenly struck
down in the flower of his youth.

“That’s why you simply must come with me to the hop,” continued Alfred.
“I want you to take care of her friend Aggie, and leave me alone with
Zoie as much as possible.”

“Zoie!” sniffed Jimmy. The name to him was as flippant as its owner.

“True, strong name,” commented Alfred. “So simple, so direct, so like
her. I’ll have to leave you now,” he said, rising. “I must send her some
flowers for the dance.” He turned at the door. Suppose I add a few from
you for Aggie.”

“What!” exploded Jimmy.

“Just by way of introduction,” called Alfred gaily. “It’s a good idea.”

Before Jimmy could protest further, he found himself alone for the
second time that day. He ate his roast in gloomy silence. It seemed dry
and tasteless. Even his favourite desert of plum pudding failed to rouse
him from his dark meditations, and he rose from the table dejected and
forlorn.

A few hours later, when Alfred led Jimmy into the ballroom, the latter
was depressed, not only by his friend’s impending danger, but he felt
an uneasy foreboding as to his own future. With his college course
practically finished and Alfred attaching himself to unforeseen
entities, Jimmy had come to the ball with a curious feeling of having
been left suspended in mid-air.

Before he could voice his misgivings to Alfred, the young men were
surrounded by a circle of chattering females. And then it was that Jimmy
found himself looking into a pair of level brown eyes, and felt himself
growing hot and cold by turns. When the little knot of youths and
maidens disentangled itself into pairs of dancers, it became clear to
Jimmy that he had been introduced to Aggie, and that he was expected to
dance with her.

As a matter of fact, Jimmy had danced with many girls; true, it was
usually when there was no other man left to “do duty”; but still he
had done it. Why then should he feel such distressing hesitation about
placing his arm around the waist of this brown-eyed Diana? Try as he
would he could not find words to break the silence that had fallen
between them. She was so imposing; so self-controlled. It really seemed
to Jimmy that she should be the one to ask him to dance. As a matter
of fact, that was just what happened; and after the dance she suggested
that they sit in the garden; and in the garden, with the moonlight
barely peeping through the friendly overhanging boughs of the trees,
Jimmy found Aggie capable of a courage that filled him with amazement;
and later that night, when he and Alfred exchanged confidences, it
became apparent to the latter that Aggie had volunteered to undertake
the responsibility of outlining Jimmy’s entire future.

He was to follow his father’s wishes and take up a business career in
Chicago at once; and as soon as all the relatives concerned on both
sides had been duly consulted, he and Aggie were to embark upon
matrimony.

“Good!” cried Alfred, when Jimmy had managed to stammer his shame-faced
confession. “We’ll make it a double wedding. I can be ready to-morrow,
so far as I’m concerned.” And then followed another rhapsody upon the
fitness of Zoie as the keeper of his future home and hearth, and the
mother of his future sons and daughters. In fact, it was far into the
night when the two friends separated--separated in more than one sense,
as they afterward learned.

While Alfred and Jimmy were saying “good-night” to each other, Zoie and
Aggie in one of the pretty chintz bedrooms of Professor Peck’s modest
home, were still exchanging mutual confidences.

“The thing I like about Alfred,” said Zoie, as she gazed at the tip of
her dainty satin slipper, and turned her head meditatively to one side,
“is his positive nature. I’ve never before met any one like him. Do you
know,” she added with a sly twinkle in her eye, “it was all I could do
to keep from laughing at him. He’s so awfully serious.” She giggled to
herself at the recollection of him; then she leaned forward to Aggie,
her small hands clasped across her knees and her face dimpling with
mischief. “He hasn’t the remotest idea what I’m like.”

Aggie studied her young friend with unmistakable reproach. “I MADE
Jimmy know what I’M like,” she said. “I told him ALL my ideas about
everything.”

“Good Heavens!” exclaimed Zoie in shocked surprise.

“He’s sure to find out sooner or later,” said Aggie sagely. “I think
that’s the only sensible way to begin.”

“If I’d told Alfred all MY ideas about things,” smiled Zoie, “there’d
have BEEN no beginning.”

“What do you mean?” asked Aggie, with a troubled look.

“Well, take our meeting,” explained Zoie. “Just as we were introduced,
that horrid little Willie Peck caught his heel in a flounce of my skirt.
I turned round to slap him, but I saw Alfred looking, so I patted his
ugly little red curls instead. And what do you think? Alfred told me
to-night that it was my devotion to Willie that first made him adore
me.”

“And you didn’t explain to him?” asked Aggie in amazement.

“And lose him before I’d got him!” exclaimed Zoie.

“It might be better than losing him AFTER you’ve got him,” concluded the
elder girl.

“Oh, Aggie,” pouted Zoie, “I think you are horrid. You’re just trying to
spoil all the fun of my engagement.”

“I am not,” cried Aggie, and the next moment she was sitting on the arm
of Zoie’s chair.

“Goose!” she said, “how dare you be cross with me?”

“I am NOT cross,” declared Zoie, and after the customary apologies from
Aggie, confidence was fully restored on both sides and Zoie continued
gaily: “Don’t you worry about Alfred and me,” she said as she kicked off
her tiny slippers and hopped into bed. “Just you wait until I get him.
I’ll manage him all right.”

“I dare say,” answered Aggie; not without misgivings, as she turned off
the light.



CHAPTER III

The double wedding of four of Chicago’s “Younger Set” had been
adequately noticed in the papers, the conventional “honeymoon” journey
had been made, and Alfred Hardy and Jimmy Jinks had now settled down to
the routine of their respective business interests.

Having plunged into his office work with the same vigour with which
he had attacked higher mathematics, Alfred had quickly gained the
confidence of the elders of his firm, and they had already begun to give
way to him in many important decisions. In fact, he was now practically
at the head of his particular department with one office doing well in
Chicago and a second office promising well in Detroit.

As for Jimmy, he had naturally started his business career with fewer
pyrotechnics; but he was none the less contented. He seldom saw his old
friend Alfred now, but Aggie kept more or less in touch with Zoie;
and over the luncheon table the affairs of the two husbands were often
discussed by their wives. It was after one of these luncheons that Aggie
upset Jimmy’s evening repose by the fireside by telling him that she was
a wee bit worried about Zoie and Alfred.

“Alfred is so unreasonable,” said Aggie, “so peevish.”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Jimmy shortly. “If he’s peevish he has some good
reason. You can be sure of that.”

“You needn’t get cross with me, Jimmy,” said Aggie in a hurt voice.

“Why should I be cross with you?” snapped Jimmy. “It isn’t YOUR fault
if Alfred’s made a fool of himself by marrying the last person on earth
whom he should have married.”

“I think he was very lucky to get her,” argued Aggie in defence of her
friend.

“Oh, you do, do you?” answered Jimmy in a very aggrieved tone.

“She is one of the prettiest girls in Chicago,” said Aggie.

“You’re pretty too,” answered Jimmy, “but it doesn’t make an idiot of
you.”

“It’s TIME you said something nice to me,” purred Aggie; and her arm
stole fondly around Jimmy’s large neck.

“I don’t know why it is,” said Jimmy, shaking his head dejectedly, “but
every time Zoie Hardy’s name is mentioned in this house it seems to stir
up some sort of a row between you and me.”

“That’s because you’re so prejudiced,” answered Aggie with a touch of
irritation.

“There you go again,” said Jimmy.

“I didn’t mean it!” interposed Aggie contritely. “Oh, come now, Jimmy,”
 she pleaded, “let’s trundle off to bed and forget all about it.” And
they did.

But the next day, as Jimmy was heading for the La Salle restaurant to
get his luncheon, who should call to him airily from a passing taxi
but Zoie. It was apparent that she wished him to wait until she could
alight; and in spite of his disinclination to do so, he not only waited
but followed the taxi to its stopping place and helped the young woman
to the pavement.

“Oh, you darling!” exclaimed Zoie, all of a flutter, and looking exactly
like an animated doll. “You’ve just saved my life.” She called to the
taxi driver to “wait.”

“Are you in trouble?” asked the guileless Jimmy.

“Yes, dreadful,” answered Zoie, and she thrust a half-dozen small
parcels into Jimmy’s arms. “I have to be at my dressmaker’s in half an
hour; and I haven’t had a bite of lunch. I’m miles and miles from home;
and I can’t go into a restaurant and eat just by myself without being
stared at. Wasn’t it lucky that I saw you when I did?”

There was really very little left for Jimmy to say, so he said it; and a
few minutes later they were seated tete-a-tete in one of Chicago’s most
fashionable restaurants, and Zoie the unconscious flirt was looking up
at Jimmy with apparently adoring eyes, and suggesting all the eatables
which he particularly abominated.

No sooner had the unfortunate man acquiesced in one thing and
communicated Zoie’s wish to the waiter, than the flighty young person
found something else on the menu that she considered more tempting to
her palate. Time and again the waiter had to be recalled and the order
had to be given over until Jimmy felt himself laying up a store of
nervous indigestion that would doubtless last him for days.

When the coveted food at last arrived, Zoie had become completely
engrossed in the headgear of one of her neighbours, and it was only
after Jimmy had been induced to make himself ridiculous by craning his
neck to see things of no possible interest to him that Zoie at last gave
her attention to her plate.

In obeyance of Jimmy’s order the waiter managed to rush the lunch
through within three-quarters of an hour; but when Jimmy and Zoie at
length rose to go he was so insanely irritated, that he declared they
had been in the place for hours; demanded that the waiter hurry his
bill; and then finally departed in high dudgeon without leaving the
customary “tip” behind him.

But all this was without its effect upon Zoie, who, a few moments
later rode away in her taxi, waving gaily to Jimmy who was now late for
business and thoroughly at odds with himself and the world.

As a result of the time lost at luncheon Jimmy missed an appointment
that had to wait over until after office hours, and as a result of this
postponement, he missed Aggie, who went to a friend’s house for dinner,
leaving word for him to follow. For the first time in his life, Jimmy
disobeyed Aggie’s orders, and, later on, when he “trundled off to bed”
 alone, he again recalled that it was Zoie Hardy who was always causing
hard feeling between him and his spouse.

Some hours later, when Aggie reached home with misgivings because Jimmy
had not joined her, she was surprised to find him sleeping as peacefully
as a cherub. “Poor dear,” she murmured, “I hope he wasn’t lonesome.” And
she stole away to her room.

The next morning when Aggie did not appear at the breakfast table, Jimmy
rushed to her room in genuine alarm. It was now Aggie’s turn to sleep
peacefully; and he stole dejectedly back to the dining-room and for the
first time since their marriage, he munched his cold toast and sipped
his coffee alone.

So thoroughly was his life now disorganised, and so low were his spirits
that he determined to walk to his office, relying upon the crisp morning
air to brace him for the day’s encounters. By degrees, he regained his
good cheer and as usual when in rising spirits, his mind turned toward
Aggie. The second anniversary of their wedding was fast approaching--he
began to take notice of various window displays. By the time he had
reached his office, the weightiest decision on his mind lay in choosing
between a pearl pendant and a diamond bracelet for his now adorable
spouse.

But a more difficult problem awaited him. Before he was fairly in his
chair, the telephone bell rang violently. Never guessing who was at the
other end of the wire, he picked up his receiver and answered.

“What?” he exclaimed in surprise. “Mrs. Hardy?” Several times he opened
his lips to ask a question, but it was apparent that the person at the
other end of the line had a great deal to say and very little time to
say it, and it was only after repeated attempts that he managed to get
in a word or so edgewise.

“What’s happened?” he asked.

“Say nothing to anybody,” was Zoie’s noncommittal answer, “not even to
Aggie. Jump in a taxi and come as quickly as you can.”

“But what IS it?” persisted Jimmy. The dull sound of the wire told him
that the person at the other end had “hung up.”

Jimmy gazed about the room in perplexity. What was he to do? Why on
earth should he leave his letters unanswered and his mail topsy turvy to
rush forth in the shank of the morning at the bidding of a young woman
whom he abhorred. Ridiculous! He would do no such thing. He lit a cigar
and began to open a few letters marked “private.” For the life of him he
could not understand one word that he read. A worried look crossed his
face.

“Suppose Zoie were really in need of help, Aggie would certainly never
forgive him if he failed her.” He rose and walked up and down.

“Why was he not to tell Aggie?”

“Where was Alfred?” He stopped abruptly. His over excited imagination
had suggested a horrible but no doubt accurate answer. “Wedded to an
abomination like Zoie, Alfred had sought the only escape possible to a
man of his honourable ideals--he had committed suicide.”

Seizing his coat and hat Jimmy dashed through the outer office without
instructing his astonished staff as to when he might possibly return.

“Family troubles,” said the secretary to himself as he appropriated one
of Jimmy’s best cigars.



CHAPTER IV

LESS than half an hour later, Jimmy’s taxi stopped in front of the
fashionable Sherwood Apartments where Zoie had elected to live.
Ascending toward the fifth floor he scanned the face of the elevator boy
expecting to find it particularly solemn because of the tragedy that
had doubtless taken place upstairs. He was on the point of sending out
a “feeler” about the matter, when he remembered Zoie’s solemn injunction
to “say nothing to anybody.” Perhaps it was even worse than suicide. He
dared let his imagination go no further. By the time he had put out his
hand to touch the electric button at Zoie’s front door, his finger was
trembling so that he wondered whether he could hit the mark. The result
was a very faint note from the bell, but not so faint that it escaped
the ear of the anxious young wife, who had been pacing up and down the
floor of her charming living room for what seemed to her ages.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry!” Zoie cried through her tears to her neat little
maid servant, then reaching for her chatelaine, she daubed her small
nose and flushed cheeks with powder, after which she nodded to Mary to
open the door.

To Jimmy, the maid’s pert “good-morning” seemed to be in very bad taste
and to properly reprove her he assumed a grave, dignified air out of
which he was promptly startled by Zoie’s even more unseemly greeting.

“Hello, Jimmy!” she snapped. Her tone was certainly not that of a
heart-broken widow. “It’s TIME you got here,” she added with an injured
air.

Jimmy gazed at Zoie in astonishment. She was never what he would have
called a sympathetic woman, but really----!

“I came the moment you ‘phoned me,” he stammered; “what is it? What’s
the matter?”

“It’s awful,” sniffled Zoie. And she tore up and down the room
regardless of the fact that Jimmy was still unseated.

“Awful what?” questioned Jimmy.

“Worst I’ve ever had,” sobbed Zoie.

“Is anything wrong with Alfred?” ventured Jimmy. And he braced himself
for her answer.

“He’s gone,” sobbed Zoie.

“Gone!” echoed Jimmy, feeling sure that his worst fears were about to be
realised. “Gone where?”

“I don’t know,” sniffled Zoie, “I just ‘phoned his office. He isn’t
there.”

“Oh, is that all?” answered Jimmy, with a sigh of relief. “Just another
little family tiff,” he was unable to conceal a feeling of thankfulness.
“What’s up?”

Zoie measured Jimmy with a dangerous gleam in her eyes. She resented the
patronising tone that he was adopting. How dare he be cheerful when
she was so unhappy--and because of him, too? She determined that his
self-complacency should be short-lived.

“Alfred has found out that I lied about the luncheon,” she said,
weighing her words and their effect upon Jimmy.

“What luncheon?” stuttered Jimmy, feeling sure that Zoie had suddenly
marked him for her victim, but puzzled as to what form her persecution
was about to take.

“What luncheon?” repeated Zoie, trying apparently to conceal her disgust
at his dulness. “OUR luncheon yesterday.”

“Why did you LIE,” asked Jimmy, his eyes growing rounder and rounder
with wonder.

“I didn’t know he KNEW,” answered Zoie innocently.

“Knew what?” questioned Jimmy, more and more befogged.

“That I’d eaten with a man,” concluded Zoie impatiently. Then she turned
her back upon Jimmy and again dashed up and down the room occupied with
her own thoughts.

It was certainly difficult to get much understanding out of Zoie’s
disjointed observations, but Jimmy was doing his best. He followed her
restless movements about the room with his eyes, and then ventured a
timid comment.

“He couldn’t object to your eating with me.”

“Oh, couldn’t he?” cried Zoie, and she turned upon him with a look
of contempt. “If there’s anything that he DOESN’T object to,” she
continued, “I haven’t found it out yet.” And with that she threw herself
in a large arm chair near the table, and left Jimmy to draw his own
conclusions.

Jimmy looked about the room as though expecting aid from some unseen
source; then his eyes sought the floor. Eventually they crept to the tip
of Zoie’s tiny slipper as it beat a nervous tattoo on the rug. To save
his immortal soul, Jimmy could never help being hypnotised by Zoie’s
small feet. He wondered now if they had been the reason of Alfred’s
first downfall. He recalled with a sigh of relief that Aggie’s feet were
large and reassuring. He also recalled an appropriate quotation: “The
path of virtue is not for women with small feet,” it ran. “Yes, Aggie’s
feet are undoubtedly large,” he concluded. But all this was not solving
Zoie’s immediate problem; and an impatient cough from her made him
realise that something was expected of him.

“Why did you lunch with me,” he asked, with a touch of irritation, “if
you thought he wouldn’t like it?”

“I was hungry,” snapped Zoie.

“Oh,” grunted Jimmy, and in spite of his dislike of the small creature
his vanity resented the bald assertion that she had not lunched with him
for his company’s sake.

“I wouldn’t have made an engagement with you of course,” she continued,
with a frankness that vanquished any remaining conceit that Jimmy might
have brought with him. “I explained to you how it was at the time. It
was merely a case of convenience. You know that.”

Jimmy was beginning to see it more and more in the light of an
inconvenience.

“If you hadn’t been in front of that horrid old restaurant just when I
was passing,” she continued, “all this would never have happened. But
you were there, and you asked me to come in and have a bite with you;
and I did, and there you are.”

“Yes, there I am,” assented Jimmy dismally. There was no doubt about
where he was now, but where was he going to end? That was the question.
“See here,” he exclaimed with fast growing uneasiness, “I don’t like
being mixed up in this sort of thing.”

“Of course you’d think of yourself first,” sneered Zoie. “That’s just
like a man.”

“Well, I don’t want to get your husband down on me,” argued Jimmy
evasively.

“Oh, I didn’t give YOU away,” sneered Zoie. “YOU needn’t worry,” and she
fixed her eyes upon him with a scornful expression that left no doubt as
to her opinion that he was a craven coward.

“But you said he’d ‘found out,’” stammered Jimmy.

“He’s found out that I ate with a MAN,” answered Zoie, more and more
aggrieved at having to employ so much detail in the midst of her
distress. “He doesn’t know it was you.”

“But Zoie----” protested Jimmy.

She lifted a small hand, begging him to spare her further questions.
It was apparent that she must explain each aspect of their present
difficulty, with as much patience as though Jimmy were in reality only a
child. She sank into her chair and then proceeded, with a martyred air.

“You see it was like this,” she said. “Alfred came into the restaurant
just after we had gone out and Henri, the waiter who has taken care
of him for years, told him that I had just been in to luncheon with a
gentleman.”

Jimmy shifted about on the edge of his chair, ill at ease.

“Now if Alfred had only told me that in the first place,” she continued,
“I’d have known what to say, but he didn’t. Oh no, he was as sweet as
could be all through breakfast and last night too, and then just as he
was leaving this morning, I said something about luncheon and he said,
quite casually, ‘Where did you have luncheon YESTERDAY, my dear?’ So I
answered quite carelessly, ‘I had none, my love.’ Well, I wish you could
have seen him. He called me dreadful things. He says I’m the one thing
he can’t endure.”

“What’s that?” questioned Jimmy, wondering how Alfred could confine
himself to any “ONE thing.”

“He says I’m a liar!” shrieked Zoie tearfully.

“Well, aren’t you?” asked Jimmy.

“Of course I am,” declared Zoie; “but why shouldn’t I be?” She looked
at Jimmy with such an air of self-approval that for the life of him he
could find no reason to offer. “You know how jealous Alfred is,” she
continued. “He makes such a fuss about the slightest thing that I’ve got
out of the habit of EVER telling the TRUTH.” She walked away from
Jimmy as though dismissing the entire matter; he shifted his position
uneasily; she turned to him again with mock sweetness. “I suppose YOU
told AGGIE all about it?” she said.

Jimmy’s round eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped lower. “I--I--don’t
believe I did,” he stammered weakly. “I didn’t think of it again.”

“Thank heaven for that!” concluded Zoie with tightly pressed lips. Then
she knotted her small white brow in deep thought.

Jimmy regarded her with growing uneasiness. “What are you up to now?” he
asked.

“I don’t know yet,” mused Zoie, “BUT YOU’RE NOT GOING TO TELL
AGGIE--that’s ONE SURE thing.” And she pinned him down with her eyes.

“I certainly will tell her,” asserted Jimmy, with a wag of his very
round head. “Aggie is just the one to get you out of this.”

“She’s just the one to make things worse,” said Zoie decidedly. Then
seeing Jimmy’s hurt look, she continued apologetically: “Aggie MEANS
all right, but she has an absolute mania for mixing up in other people’s
troubles. And you know how THAT always ends.”

“I never deceived my wife in all my life,” declared Jimmy, with an air
of self approval that he was far from feeling.

“Now, Jimmy,” protested Zoie impatiently, “you aren’t going to have
moral hydrophobia just when I need your help!”

“I’m not going to lie to Aggie, if that’s what you mean,” said Jimmy,
endeavouring not to wriggle under Zoie’s disapproving gaze.

“Then don’t,” answered Zoie sweetly.

Jimmy never feared Zoie more than when she APPEARED to agree with him.
He looked at her now with uneasy distrust.

“Tell her the truth,” urged Zoie.

“I will,” declared Jimmy with an emphatic nod.

“And I’LL DENY IT,” concluded Zoie with an impudent toss of her head.

“What!” exclaimed Jimmy, and he felt himself getting onto his feet.

“I’ve already denied it to Alfred,” continued Zoie. “I told him I’d
never been in that restaurant without him in all my life, that the
waiter had mistaken someone else for me.” And again she turned her back
upon Jimmy.

“But don’t you see,” protested Jimmy, “this would all be so very much
simpler if you’d just own up to the truth now, before it’s too late?”

“It IS too late,” declared Zoie. “Alfred wouldn’t believe me now,
whatever I told him. He says a woman who lies once lies all the time.
He’d think I’d been carrying on with you ALL ALONG.”

“Good Lord!” groaned Jimmy as the full realisation of his predicament
thrust itself upon him.

“We don’t DARE tell him now,” continued Zoie, elated by the demoralised
state to which she was fast reducing him. “For Heaven’s sake, don’t make
it any worse,” she concluded; “it’s bad enough as it is.”

“It certainly is,” agreed Jimmy, and he sank dejectedly into his chair.

“If you DO tell him,” threatened Zoie from the opposite side of the
table, “I’ll say you ENTICED me into the place.”

“What!” shrieked Jimmy and again he found himself on his feet.

“I will,” insisted Zoie, “I give you fair warning.”

He stared at her in absolute horror. “I don’t believe you’ve any
conscience at all,” he said.

“I haven’t,” she sniffled. “I’m too miserable.” And throwing herself
into the nearest armchair she wept copiously at the thought of her many
injuries.

Uncertain whether to fly or to remain, Jimmy gazed at her gloomily.
“Well, I’M not laughing myself to death,” he said.

For answer Zoie turned upon him vehemently. “I just wish I’d never laid
eyes on you, Jimmy,” she cried.

Jimmy was wishing the very same thing.

“If I cared about you,” she sobbed, “it wouldn’t be so bad; but to
think of losing my Alfred for----” words failed her and she trailed off
weakly,--“for nothing!”

“Thanks,” grunted Jimmy curtly. In spite of himself he was always miffed
by the uncomplimentary way in which she disposed of him.

His sarcasm was lost upon Zoie. Having finished all she had to say to
him, she was now apparently bent upon indulging herself in a first class
fit of hysterics.

There are critical moments in all of our lives when our future happiness
or woe hangs upon our own decision. Jimmy felt intuitively that he was
face to face with such a moment, but which way to turn? that was the
question. Being Jimmy, and soft-hearted in spite of his efforts to
conceal it, he naturally turned the wrong way, in other words, towards
Zoie.

“Oh, come now,” he said awkwardly, as he crossed to the arm of her
chair. “This will soon blow over.”

Zoie only sobbed the louder.

“This isn’t the first time you and Alfred have called it all off,” he
reminded her.

Again she sobbed.

Jimmy could never remember quite how it happened. But apparently he
must have patted Zoie on the shoulder. At any rate, something or other
loosened the flood-gates of her emotion, and before Jimmy could possibly
escape from her vicinity she had wheeled round in her chair, thrown her
arms about him, and buried her tear-stained face against his waist-coat.

“Good Lord!” exclaimed Jimmy, for the third time that morning, as he
glanced nervously toward the door; but Zoie was exclaiming in her own
way and sobbing louder and louder; furthermore she was compelling Jimmy
to listen to an exaggerated account of her many disappointments in her
unreasonable husband. Seeing no possibility of escape, without resorting
to physical violence, Jimmy stood his ground, wondering what to expect
next. He did not have long to wonder.



CHAPTER V

WITHIN an hour from the time Alfred had entered his office that morning
he was leaving it, in a taxi, with his faithful secretary at his
side, and his important papers in a bag at his feet. “Take me to the
Sherwood,” he commanded the driver, “and be quick.”

As they neared Alfred’s house, Johnson could feel waves of increasing
anger circling around his perturbed young employer and later when they
alighted from the taxi it was with the greatest difficulty that he could
keep pace with him.

Unfortunately for Jimmy, the outer door of the Hardy apartment had been
left ajar, and thus it was that he was suddenly startled from Zoie’s
unwelcome embraces by a sharp exclamation.

“So!” cried Alfred, and he brought his fist down with emphasis on the
centre table at Jimmy’s back.

Wheeling about, Jimmy beheld his friend face to face with him. Alfred’s
lips were pressed tightly together, his eyes flashing fire. It was
apparent that he desired an immediate explanation. Jimmy turned to the
place where Zoie had been, to ask for help; like the traitress that she
was, he now saw her flying through her bedroom door. Again he glanced at
Alfred, who was standing like a sentry, waiting for the pass-word that
should restore his confidence in his friend.

“I’m afraid I’ve disturbed you,” sneered Alfred.

“Oh, no, not at all,” answered Jimmy, affecting a careless indifference
that he did not feel and unconsciously shaking hands with the waiting
secretary.

Reminded of the secretary’s presence in such a distinctly family scene,
Alfred turned to him with annoyance.

“Go into my study,” he said. “I’ll be with you presently. Here’s your
list,” he added and he thrust a long memorandum into the secretary’s
hand. Johnson retired as unobtrusively as possible and the two old
friends were left alone. There was another embarrassed silence which
Jimmy, at least, seemed powerless to break.

“Well?” questioned Alfred in a threatening tone.

“Tolerably well,” answered Jimmy in his most pleasant but slightly
nervous manner. Then followed another pause in which Alfred continued to
eye his old friend with grave suspicion.

“The fact is,” stammered Jimmy, “I just came over to bring Aggie----” he
corrected himself--“that is, to bring Zoie a little message from Aggie.”

“It seemed to be a SAD one,” answered Alfred, with a sarcastic smile, as
he recalled the picture of Zoie weeping upon his friend’s sleeve.

“Oh no--no!” answered Jimmy, with an elaborate attempt at carelessness.

“Do you generally play the messenger during business hours?” thundered
Alfred, becoming more and more enraged at Jimmy’s petty evasions.

“Just SOMETIMES,” answered Jimmy, persisting in his amiable manner.

“Jimmy,” said Alfred, and there was a solemn warning in his voice,
“don’t YOU lie to me!”

Jimmy started as though shot. The consciousness of his guilt was strong
upon him. “I beg your pardon,” he gasped, for the want of anything more
intelligent to say.

“You don’t do it well,” continued Alfred, “and you and I are old
friends.”

Jimmy’s round eyes fixed themselves on the carpet.

“My wife has been telling you her troubles,” surmised Alfred.

Jimmy tried to protest, but the lie would not come.

“Very well,” continued Alfred, “I’ll tell you something too. I’ve done
with her.” He thrust his hands in his pockets and began to walk up and
down.

“What a turbulent household,” thought Jimmy and then he set out in
pursuit of his friend. “I’m sorry you’ve had a misunderstanding,” he
began.

“Misunderstanding!” shouted Alfred, turning upon him so sharply that he
nearly tripped him up, “we’ve never had anything else. There was never
anything else for us TO have. She’s lied up hill and down dale from the
first time she clinched her baby fingers around my hand--” he imitated
Zoie’s dainty manner--“and said ‘pleased to meet you!’ But I’ve caught
her with the goods this time,” he shouted, “and I’ve just about got
HIM.”

“Him!” echoed Jimmy weakly.

“The wife-stealer,” exclaimed Alfred, and he clinched his fists in
anticipation of the justice he would one day mete out to the despicable
creature.

Now Jimmy had been called many things in his time, he realised that he
would doubtless be called many more things in the future, but never by
the wildest stretch of imagination, had he ever conceived of himself in
the role of “wife-stealer.”

Mistaking Jimmy’s look of amazement for one of incredulity, Alfred
endeavoured to convince him.

“Oh, YOU’LL meet a wife-stealer sooner or later,” he assured him. “You
needn’t look so horrified.”

Jimmy only stared at him and he continued excitedly: “She’s had the
effrontery--the bad taste--the idiocy to lunch in a public restaurant
with the blackguard.”

The mere sound of the word made Jimmy shudder, but engrossed in his own
troubles Alfred continued without heeding him.

“Henri, the head-waiter, told me,” explained Alfred, and Jimmy
remembered guiltily that he had been very bumptious with the fellow.
“You know the place,” continued Alfred, “the LaSalle--a restaurant where
I am known--where she is known--where my best friends dine--where Henri
has looked after me for years. That shows how desperate she is. She
must be mad about the fool. She’s lost all sense of decency.” And again
Alfred paced the floor.

“Oh, I wouldn’t go as far as that,” stammered Jimmy.

“Oh, wouldn’t you?” cried Alfred, again turning so abruptly that Jimmy
caught his breath. Each word of Jimmy’s was apparently goading him on to
greater anger.

“Now don’t get hasty,” Jimmy almost pleaded. “The whole thing is no
doubt perfectly innocent. Talk to her gently. Win her confidence. Get
her to tell you the truth.”

“The truth!” shouted Alfred in derision. “Zoie! The truth!”

Jimmy feared that his young friend might actually become violent. Alfred
bore down upon him like a maniac.

“The truth!” he repeated wildly. “She wouldn’t know the truth if she saw
it under a microscope. She’s the most unconscionable little liar that
ever lured a man to the altar.”

Jimmy rolled his round eyes with feigned incredulity.

“I found it out before we’d been married a month,” continued Alfred.
“She used to sit evenings facing the clock. I sat with my back to it.
I used to ask her the time. Invariably she would lie half an hour,
backward or forward, just for practice. THAT was the BEGINNING. Here,
listen to some of these,” he added, as he drew half a dozen telegrams
from his inner pocket, and motioned Jimmy to sit at the opposite side of
the table.

Jimmy would have preferred to stand, but it was not a propitious time to
consult his own preferences. He allowed himself to be bullied into the
chair that Alfred suggested.

Throwing himself into the opposite chair, Alfred selected various
exhibits from his collection of messages. “I just brought these up from
the office,” he said. “These are some of the telegrams that she sent me
each day last week while I was away. This is Monday’s.” And he proceeded
to read with a sneering imitation of Zoie’s cloy sweetness.

“‘Darling, so lonesome without you. Cried all day. When are you coming
home to your wee sad wifie? Love and kisses. Zoie.’” Tearing the
defenceless telegram into bits, Alfred threw it from him and waited for
his friend’s verdict.

“She sent that over the wire?” gasped Jimmy.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” answered Alfred. “That’s a mild one.” And he
selected another from the same pocket. “Here, listen to this. This is
what she REALLY did. This is from my secretary the same night.”

“You spied upon her!” asked Jimmy, feeling more and more convinced that
his own deceptions would certainly be run to earth.

“I HAVE to spy upon her,” answered Alfred, “in self-defence. It’s the
only way I can keep her from making me utterly ridiculous.” And he
proceeded to read from the secretary’s telegram. “‘Shopped all
morning. Lunched at Martingale’s with man and woman unknown to
me--Martingale’s,’” he repeated with a sneer--“‘Motored through Park
with Mrs. Wilmer until five.’ Mrs. Wilmer,” he exclaimed, “there’s a
woman I’ve positively forbidden her to speak to.”

Jimmy only shook his head and Alfred continued to read.

“‘Had tea with Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and young Ardesley at the Park
View.’ Ardesley is a young cub,” explained Alfred, “who spends his time
running around with married women while their husbands are away trying
to make a living for them.”

“Shocking!” was the extent of Jimmy’s comment, and Alfred resumed
reading.

“‘Dinner and theatre same party. Supper at Wellingford. Home two A. M.’”
 He looked at Jimmy, expecting to hear Zoie bitterly condemned. Jimmy
only stared at him blankly. “That’s pretty good,” commented Alfred, “for
the woman who ‘CRIED’ all day, isn’t it?”

Still Jimmy made no answer, and Alfred brought his fist down upon the
table impatiently. “Isn’t it?” he repeated.

“She was a bit busy THAT day,” admitted Jimmy uneasily.

“The truth!” cried Alfred again, as he rose and paced about excitedly.
“Getting the truth out of Zoie is like going to a fire in the night. You
think it’s near, but you never get there. And when she begins by saying
that she’s going to tell you the ‘REAL truth’”--he threw up his hands in
despair--“well, then it’s time to leave home.”



CHAPTER VI

There was another pause, then Alfred drew in his breath and bore down
upon Jimmy with fresh vehemence. “The only time I get even a semblance
of truth out of Zoie,” he cried, “is when I catch her red-handed.”
 Again he pounded the table and again Jimmy winced. “And even then,” he
continued, “she colours it so with her affected innocence and her plea
about just wishing to be a ‘good fellow,’ that she almost makes me doubt
my own eyes. She is an artist,” he declared with a touch of enforced
admiration. “There’s no use talking; that woman is an artist.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Jimmy, for the want of anything better
to say.

“I am going to leave her,” declared Alfred emphatically. “I am going
away.”

A faint hope lit Jimmy’s round childlike face. With Alfred away there
would be no further investigation of the luncheon incident.

“That might be a good idea,” he said.

“It’s THE idea,” said Alfred; “most of my business is in Detroit anyhow.
I’m going to make that my headquarters and stay there.”

Jimmy was almost smiling.

“As for Zoie,” continued Alfred, “she can stay right here and go as far
as she likes.”

“Not with me,” thought Jimmy.

“But,” shrieked Alfred, with renewed emphasis, “I’m going to find out
who the FELLOW is. I’ll have THAT satisfaction!”

Jimmy’s spirits fell.

“Henri knows the head-waiter of every restaurant in this town,” said
Alfred, “that is, every one where she’d be likely to go; and he says
he’d recognise the man she lunched with if he saw him again.”

Jimmy’s features became suddenly distorted.

“The minute she appears anywhere with anybody,” explained Alfred, “Henri
will be notified by ‘phone. He’ll identify the man and then he’ll wire
me.”

“What good will that do?” asked Jimmy weakly.

“I’ll take the first train home,” declared Alfred.

“For what?” questioned Jimmy.

“To shoot him!” exclaimed Alfred.

“What!” gasped Jimmy, almost losing his footing.

Alfred mistook Jimmy’s concern for anxiety on his behalf.

“Oh, I’ll be acquitted,” he declared. “Don’t you worry. I’ll get my tale
of woe before the jury.”

“But I say,” protested Jimmy, too uneasy to longer conceal his real
emotions, “why kill this one particular chap when there are so many
others?”

“He’s the only one she’s ever lunched with, ALONE,” said Alfred. “She’s
been giddy, but at least she’s always been chaperoned, except with him.
He’s the one all right; there’s no doubt about it. He’s the beginning of
the end.”

“His own end, yes,” assented Jimmy half to himself. “Now, see here, old
man,” he argued, “I’d give that poor devil a chance to explain.”

“Explain!” shouted Alfred so sharply that Jimmy quickly retreated. “I
wouldn’t believe him now if he were one of the Twelve Apostles.”

“That’s tough,” murmured Jimmy as he saw the last avenue of honourable
escape closed to him.

“Tough!” roared Alfred, thinking of himself. “Hah.”

“On the Apostles, I mean,” explained Jimmy nervously.

Again Alfred paced up and down the room, and again Jimmy tried to think
of some way to escape from his present difficulty. It was quite apparent
that his only hope lay not in his own candor, but in Alfred’s absence.
“How long do you expect to be away?” he asked.

“Only until I hear from Henri,” said Alfred.

“Henri?” repeated Jimmy and again a gleam of hope shone on his dull
features. He had heard that waiters were often to be bribed. “Nice
fellow, Henri,” he ventured cautiously. “Gets a large salary, no doubt?”

“Does he!” exclaimed Alfred, with a certain pride of proprietorship. “No
tips could touch Henri, no indeed. He’s not that sort of a person.”

Again the hope faded from Jimmy’s round face.

“I look upon Henri as my friend,” continued Alfred enthusiastically. “He
speaks every language known to man. He’s been in every country in the
world. HENRI UNDERSTANDS LIFE.”

“LOTS of people UNDERSTAND LIFE,” commented Jimmy dismally, “but SOME
people don’t APPRECIATE it. They value it too lightly, to MY way of
thinking.”

“Ah, but you have something to live for,” argued Alfred.

“I have indeed; a great deal,” agreed Jimmy, more and more abused at the
thought of what he was about to lose.

“Ah, that’s different,” exclaimed Alfred. “But what have _I_?”

Jimmy was in no frame of mind to consider his young friend’s assets, he
was thinking of his own difficulties.

“I’m a laughing stock,” shouted Alfred. “I know it. A ‘good thing’ who
gives his wife everything she asks for, while she is running around
with--with my best friend, for all I know.”

“Oh, no, no,” protested Jimmy nervously. “I wouldn’t say that.”

“Even if she weren’t running around,” continued Alfred excitedly,
without heeding his friend’s interruption, “what have we to look forward
to? What have we to look backward to?”

Again Jimmy’s face was a blank.

Alfred answered his own question by lifting his arms tragically toward
Heaven. “One eternal round of wrangles and rows! A childless home! Do
you think she wants babies?” he cried, wheeling about on Jimmy, and
daring him to answer in the affirmative. “Oh, no!” he sneered. “All she
wants is a good time.”

“Well,” mumbled Jimmy, “I can’t see much in babies myself, fat, little,
red worms.”

Alfred’s breath went from him in astonishment

“Weren’t YOU ever a fat, little, red worm?” he hissed. “Wasn’t _I_
ever a little, fat, red----” he paused in confusion, as his ear became
puzzled by the proper sequence of his adjectives, “a fat, red, little
worm,” he stammered; “and see what we are now!” He thrust out his chest
and strutted about in great pride.

“Big red worms,” admitted Jimmy gloomily.

But Alfred did not hear him. “You and I ought to have SONS on the way to
what we are,” he declared, “and better.”

“Oh yes, better,” agreed Jimmy, thinking of his present plight. “Much
better.”

“But HAVE we?” demanded Alfred.

Jimmy glanced about the room, as though expecting an answering
demonstration from the ceiling.

“Have YOU?” persisted Alfred.

Jimmy shook his head solemnly.

“Have _I_?” asked the irate husband.

Out of sheer absent mindedness Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.

As usual Alfred answered his own question. “Oh, no!” he raged. “YOU have
a wife who spends her time and money gadding about with----”

Jimmy’s face showed a new alarm.

“--my wife,” concluded Alfred.

Jimmy breathed a sigh of relief.

“I have a wife,” said Alfred, “who spends her time and my money gadding
around with God knows whom. But I’ll catch him!” he cried with new fury.
“Here,” he said, pulling a roll of bills from his pocket. “I’ll bet you
I’ll catch him. How much do you want to bet?”

Undesirous of offering any added inducements toward his own capture,
Jimmy backed away both literally and figuratively from Alfred’s
proposition.

“What’s the use of getting so excited?” he asked.

Mistaking Jimmy’s unwillingness to bet for a disinclination to take
advantage of a friend’s reckless mood, Alfred resented the implied
insult to his astuteness.

“You think I can’t catch him?” he exclaimed. “Let’s see the colour of
your money,” he demanded.

But before Jimmy could comply, an unexpected voice broke into the
argument and brought them both round with a start.



CHAPTER VII

“Good Heavens,” exclaimed Aggie, who had entered the room while Alfred
was talking his loudest. “What a racket!”

Her eyes fell upon Jimmy who was teetering about uneasily just behind
Alfred. She stared at him in amazement. Was it possible that Jimmy, the
methodical, had left his office at this hour of the morning, and for
what?

Avoiding the question in Aggie’s eyes, Jimmy pretended to be searching
for his pocket handkerchief--but always with the vision of Aggie in her
new Fall gown and her large “picture” hat at his elbow. Never before had
she appeared so beautiful to him, so desirable--suppose he should lose
her? Life spread before him as a dreary waste. He tried to look up at
her; he could not. He feared she would read his guilt in his eyes. “What
guilt?” he asked himself. There was no longer any denying the fact--a
secret had sprung up between them.

Annoyed at receiving no greeting, Aggie continued in a rather hurt
voice:

“Aren’t you two going to speak to me?”

Alfred swallowed hard in an effort to regain his composure.

“Good-morning,” he said curtly.

Fully convinced of a disagreement between the two old friends, Aggie
addressed herself in a reproachful tone to Jimmy.

“My dear,” she said, “what are you doing here this time of day?”

Jimmy felt Alfred’s steely eyes upon him. “Why!” he stammered. “Why, I
just came over to--bring your message.”

“My message?” repeated Aggie in perplexity. “What message?”

Alfred’s eyebrows drew themselves sharply together.

Jimmy had told so many lies this morning that another more or less could
not matter; moreover, this was not a time to hesitate.

“Why, the message you sent to Zoie,” he answered boldly.

“But I sent no message to Zoie,” said Aggie.

“What!” thundered Alfred, so loud that Aggie’s fingers involuntarily
went to her ears. She was more and more puzzled by the odd behaviour of
the two.

“I mean yesterday’s message,” corrected Jimmy. And he assumed an
aggrieved air toward Aggie.

“You villain,” exclaimed Aggie. “I told you to ‘phone her yesterday
morning from the office.”

“Yes, I know,” agreed Jimmy placidly, “but I forgot it and I just came
over to explain.” Alfred’s fixed stare was relaxing and at last Jimmy
could breathe.

“Oh,” murmured Aggie, with a wise little elevation of her eye-brows,
“then that’s why Zoie didn’t keep her luncheon appointment with me
yesterday.”

Jimmy felt that if this were to go on much longer, he would utter one
wild shriek and give himself up for lost; but at present he merely
swallowed with an effort, and awaited developments.

It was now Alfred’s turn to become excited.

“Oh, IS it!” he cried with hysterical laughter.

Aggie regarded him with astonishment. Was this her usually
self-controlled friend?

“Oh, no!” sneered Alfred with unmistakable pity for her credulity.
“That’s not why my wife didn’t eat luncheon with you. She may TELL you
that’s why. She undoubtedly will; but it’s NOT why. Oh, no!” and running
his hands through his hair, Alfred tore up and down the room.

“What do you mean by that?” Aggie asked in amazement.

“Your dear husband Jimmy will doubtless explain,” answered Alfred with
a slur on the “dear.” Then he turned toward the door of his study. “Pray
excuse me--I’M TOO BUSY,” and with that he strode out of the room and
banged the study door behind him.

“Goodness gracious!” gasped Aggie. She looked after Alfred, then at
Jimmy. She was the picture of consternation. “What’s the matter with
him?” she asked.

“Just another little family tiff,” answered Jimmy, trying to assume a
nonchalant manner.

“Not about YOU!” gasped Aggie.

“Me!” cried Jimmy, his equilibrium again upset. “Certainly not!” he
declared. “What an idea!”

“Yes, wasn’t it?” answered Aggie. “That just shows how silly one can
be. I almost thought Alfred was going to say that Zoie had lunched with
you.”

“Me?” again echoed Jimmy, and he wondered if everybody in the world had
conspired to make him the target of their attention. He caught Aggie’s
eye and tried to laugh carelessly. “That would have been funny, wouldn’t
it?” he said.

“Yes, wouldn’t it,” repeated Aggie, and he thought he detected a slight
uneasiness in her voice.

“Speaking of lunch,” added Jimmy quickly, “I think, dearie, that I’ll
come home for lunch in the future.”

“What?” exclaimed Aggie in great amazement.

“Those downtown places upset my digestion,” explained Jimmy quickly.

“Isn’t this very SUDDEN,” she asked, and again Jimmy fancied that there
was a shade of suspicion in her tone.

His face assumed a martyred expression. “Of course, dear,” he said, “if
you insist upon my eating downtown, I’ll do it; but I thought you’d be
glad to have me at home.”

Aggie turned to him with real concern. “Why, Jimmy,” she said, “what’s
the matter with you?” She took a step toward him and anxiously studied
his face. “I never heard you talk like that before. I don’t think you’re
well.”

“That’s just what I’m telling you,” insisted Jimmy vehemently, excited
beyond all reason by receiving even this small bit of sympathy. “I’m
ill,” he declared. No sooner had he made the declaration than he began
to believe in it. His doleful countenance increased Aggie’s alarm.

“My angel-face,” she purred, and she took his chubby cheeks in her
hands and looked down at him fondly. “You know I ALWAYS want you to come
home.” She stooped and kissed Jimmy’s pouting lips. He held up his face
for more. She smoothed the hair from his worried brow and endeavoured
to cheer him. “I’ll run right home now,” she said, “and tell cook to get
something nice and tempting for you! I can see Zoie later.”

“It doesn’t matter,” murmured Jimmy, as he followed her toward the door
with a doleful shake of his head. “I don’t suppose I shall ever enjoy my
luncheon again--as long as I live.”

“Nonsense,” cried Aggie, “come along.”



CHAPTER VIII

WHEN Alfred returned to the living room he was followed by his
secretary, who carried two well-filled satchels. His temper was not
improved by the discovery that he had left certain important papers
at his office. Dispatching his man to get them and to meet him at the
station with them, he collected a few remaining letters from the drawer
of the writing table, then uneasy at remaining longer under the same
roof with Zoie, he picked up his hat, and started toward the hallway.
For the first time his eye was attracted by a thick layer of dust and
lint on his coat sleeve. Worse still, there was a smudge on his cuff.
If there was one thing more than another that Alfred detested it was
untidiness. Putting his hat down with a bang, he tried to flick the dust
from his sleeve with his pocket handkerchief; finding this impossible,
he removed his coat and began to shake it violently.

It was at this particular moment that Zoie’s small face appeared
cautiously from behind the frame of the bedroom door. She was quick to
perceive Alfred’s plight. Disappearing from view for an instant, she
soon reappeared with Alfred’s favourite clothes-brush. She tiptoed into
the room.

Barely had Alfred drawn his coat on his shoulders, when he was startled
by a quick little flutter of the brush on his sleeve. He turned
in surprise and beheld Zoie, who looked up at him as penitent and
irresistible as a newly-punished child.

“Oh,” snarled Alfred, and he glared at her as though he would enjoy
strangling her on the spot.

“Alfred,” pouted Zoie, and he knew she was going to add her customary
appeal of “Let’s make up.” But Alfred was in no mood for nonsense. He
thrust his hands in his pockets and made straight for the outer doorway.

Smiling to herself as she saw him leaving without his hat, Zoie slipped
it quickly beneath a flounce of her skirt. No sooner had Alfred reached
the sill of the door than his hand went involuntarily to his head; he
turned to the table where he had left his hat. His face wore a puzzled
look. He glanced beneath the table, in the chair, behind the table,
across the piano, and then he began circling the room with pent up rage.
He dashed into his study and out again, he threw the chairs about with
increasing irritation, then giving up the search, he started hatless
toward the hallway. It was then that a soft babyish voice reached his
ear.

“Have you lost something, dear?” cooed Zoie.

Alfred hesitated. It was difficult to lower his dignity by answering
her, but he needed his headgear. “I want my hat,” he admitted shortly.

“Your hat?” repeated Zoie innocently and she glanced around the room
with mild interest. “Maybe Mary took it.”

“Mary!” cried Alfred, and thinking the mystery solved, he dashed toward
the inner hallway.

“Let ME get it, dear,” pleaded Zoie, and she laid a small detaining hand
upon his arm as he passed.

“Stop it!” commanded Alfred hotly, and he shook the small hand from his
sleeve as though it had been something poisonous.

“But Allie,” protested Zoie, pretending to be shocked and grieved.

“Don’t you ‘but Allie’ me,” cried Alfred, turning upon her sharply. “All
I want is my hat,” and again he started in search of Mary.

“But--but--but Allie,” stammered Zoie, as she followed him.

“But--but--but,” repeated Alfred, turning on her in a fury. “You’ve
butted me out of everything that I wanted all my life, but you’re not
going to do it again.”

“You see, you said it yourself,” laughed Zoie.

“Said WHAT,” roared Alfred.

“But,” tittered Zoie.

The remnants of Alfred’s self-control were forsaking him. He clinched
his fists hard in a final effort toward restraint. “You’d just as well
stop all these baby tricks,” he threatened between his teeth, “they’re
not going to work. THIS time my mind is made up.”

“Then why are you afraid to talk to me?” asked Zoie sweetly.

“Who said I was afraid?” demanded Alfred hotly.

“You ACT like it,” declared Zoie, with some truth on her side. “You
don’t want----” she got no further.

“All I want,” interrupted Alfred, “is to get out of this house once and
for all and to stay out of it.” And again he started in pursuit of his
hat.

“Why, Allie,” she gazed at him with deep reproach. “You liked this place
so much when we first came here.”

Again Alfred picked at the lint on his coat sleeve. Edging her way
toward him cautiously she ventured to touch his sleeve with the brush.

“I’ll attend to that myself,” he said curtly, and he sank into the
nearest chair to tie a refractory shoe lace.

“Let me brush you, dear,” pleaded Zoie. “I don’t wish you to start out
in the world looking unbrushed,” she pouted. Then with a sly emphasis
she added teasingly, “The OTHER women might not admire you that way.”

Alfred broke his shoe string then and there. While he stooped to tie a
knot in it, Zoie managed to perch on the arm of his chair.

“You know, Allie,” she continued coaxingly, “no one could ever love you
as I do.”

Again Alfred broke his shoe lace.

“Oh, Allie!” she exclaimed with a little ripple of childish laughter,
“do you remember how absurdly poor we were when we were first married,
and how you refused to take any help from your family? And do you
remember that silly old pair of black trousers that used to get so thin
on the knees and how I used to put shoe-blacking underneath so the white
wouldn’t show through?” By this time her arm managed to get around his
neck.

“Stop it!” shrieked Alfred as though mortal man could endure no more.
“You’ve used those trousers to settle every crisis in our lives.”

Zoie gazed at him without daring to breathe; even she was aghast at his
fury, but only temporarily. She recovered herself and continued sweetly:

“If everything is SETTLED,” she argued, “where’s the harm in talking?”

“We’ve DONE with talking,” declared Alfred. “From this on, I act.”
 And determined not to be cheated out of this final decision, he again
started for the hall door.

“Oh, Allie!” cried Zoie in a tone of sharp alarm.

In spite of himself Alfred turned to learn the cause of her anxiety.

“You haven’t got your overshoes on,” she said.

Speechless with rage, Alfred continued on his way, but Zoie moved before
him swiftly. “I’ll get them for you, dear,” she volunteered graciously.

“Stop!” thundered Alfred. They were now face to face.

“I wish you wouldn’t roar like that,” pouted Zoie, and the pink tips of
her fingers were thrust tight against her ears.

Alfred drew in his breath and endeavoured for the last time to repress
his indignation. “Either you can’t, or you won’t understand that it is
extremely unpleasant for me to even talk to you--much less to receive
your attentions.”

“Very likely,” answered Zoie, unperturbed. “But so long as I am your
lawful wedded wife----” she emphasised the “lawful”--“I shan’t let any
harm come to you, if _I_ can help it.” She lifted her eyes to heaven
bidding it to bear witness to her martyrdom and looking for all the
world like a stained glass saint.

“Oh, no!” shouted Alfred, almost hysterical at his apparent failure to
make himself understood. “You wouldn’t let any harm come to me. Oh, no.
You’ve only made me the greatest joke in Chicago,” he shouted. “You’ve
only made me such a laughing stock that I have to leave it. That’s
all--that’s all!”

“Leave Chicago!” exclaimed Zoie incredulously. Then regaining her
self-composure, she edged her way close to him and looked up into his
eyes in baby-like wonderment. “Why, Allie, where are we going?” Her
small arm crept up toward his shoulder. Alfred pushed it from him
rudely.

“WE are not going,” he asserted in a firm, measured voice. “_I_ am
going. Where’s my hat?” And again he started in search of his absent
headgear.

“Oh, Allie!” she exclaimed, and this time there was genuine alarm in her
voice, “you wouldn’t leave me?”

“Wouldn’t I, though?” sneered Alfred. Before he knew it, Zoie’s arms
were about him--she was pleading desperately.

“Now see here, Allie, you may call me all the names you like,” she cried
with great self-abasement, “but you shan’t--you SHAN’T go away from
Chicago.”

“Oh, indeed?” answered Alfred as he shook himself free of her. “I
suppose you’d like me to go on with this cat and dog existence. You’d
like me to stay right here and pay the bills and take care of you, while
you flirt with every Tom, Dick and Harry in town.”

“It’s only your horrid disposition that makes you talk like that,”
 whimpered Zoie. “You know very well that I never cared for anybody but
you.”

“Until you GOT me, yes,” assented Alfred, “and NOW you care for
everybody BUT me.” She was about to object, but he continued quickly.
“Where you MEET your gentlemen friends is beyond me. _I_ don’t introduce
them to you.”

“I should say not,” agreed Zoie, and there was a touch of vindictiveness
in her voice. “The only male creature that you ever introduced to me was
the family dog.”

“I introduce every man who’s fit to meet you,” declared Alfred with an
air of great pride.

“That doesn’t speak very well for your acquaintances,” snipped Zoie.
Even HER temper was beginning to assert itself.

“I won’t bicker like this,” declared Alfred.

“That’s what you always say, when you can’t think of an answer,”
 retorted Zoie.

“You mean when I’m tired of answering your nonsense!” thundered Alfred.



CHAPTER IX

Realising that she was rapidly losing ground by exercising her advantage
over Alfred in the matter of quick retort, Zoie, with her customary
cunning, veered round to a more conciliatory tone. “Well,” she cooed,
“suppose I DID eat lunch with a man?”

“Ah!” shrieked Alfred, as though he had at last run his victim to earth.

She retreated with her fingers crossed. “I only said suppose,” she
reminded him quickly. Then she continued in a tone meant to draw from
him his heart’s most secret confidence. “Didn’t you ever eat lunch with
any woman but me?”

“Never!” answered Alfred firmly.

There was an unmistakable expression of pleasure on Zoie’s small face,
but she forced back the smile that was trying to creep round her lips,
and sidled toward Alfred, with eyes properly downcast. “Then I’m very
sorry I did it,” she said solemnly, “and I’ll never do it again.”

“So!” cried Alfred with renewed indignation. “You admit it?”

“Just to please you, dear,” explained Zoie sweetly, as though she were
doing him the greatest possible favour.

“To please me?” gasped Alfred. “Do you suppose it pleases me to know
that you are carrying on the moment my back is turned, making a fool of
me to my friends?”

“Your friends?” cried Zoie with a sneer. This time it was her turn to be
angry. “So! It’s your FRIENDS that are worrying you!” In her excitement
she tossed Alfred’s now damaged hat into the chair just behind her. He
was far too overwrought to see it. “_I_ haven’t done you any harm,” she
continued wildly. “It’s only what you think your friends think.”

“You haven’t done me any harm?” repeated Alfred, in her same tragic key,
“Oh no! Oh no! You’ve only cheated me out of everything I expected to
get out of life! That’s all!”

Zoie came to a full stop and waited for him to enumerate the various
treasures that he had lost by marrying her. He did so.

“Before we were married,” he continued, “you pretended to adore
children. You started your humbugging the first day I met you. I refer
to little Willie Peck.”

A hysterical giggle very nearly betrayed her. Alfred continued:

“I was fool enough to let you know that I admire women who like
children. From that day until the hour that I led you to the altar,
you’d fondle the ugliest little brats that we met in the street, but the
moment you GOT me----”

“Alfred!” gasped Zoie. This was really going too far.

“Yes, I repeat it!” shouted Alfred, pounding the table with his fist for
emphasis. “The moment you GOT me, you declared that all children were
horrid little insects, and that someone ought to sprinkle bug-powder on
them.”

“Oh!” protested Zoie, shocked less by Alfred’s interpretation of her
sentiments, than by the vulgarity with which he expressed them.

“On another occasion,” declared Alfred, now carried away by the recital
of his long pent up wrongs, “you told me that all babies should be put
in cages, shipped West, and kept in pens until they got to be of an
interesting age. ‘Interesting age!’” he repeated with a sneer, “meaning
old enough to take YOU out to luncheon, I suppose.”

“I never said any such thing,” objected Zoie.

“Well, that was the idea,” insisted Alfred. “I haven’t your glib way of
expressing myself.”

“You manage to express yourself very well,” retorted Zoie. “When
you have anything DISAGREEABLE to say. As for babies,” she continued
tentatively, “I think they are all very well in their PLACE, but they
were NEVER meant for an APARTMENT.”

“I offered you a house in the country,” shouted Alfred.

“The country!” echoed Zoie. “How could I live in the country, with
people being murdered in their beds every night? Read the papers.”

“Always an excuse,” sighed Alfred resignedly. “There always HAS been
and there always would be if I’d stay to listen. Well, for once,” he
declared, “I’m glad that we have no children. If we had, I might feel
some obligation to keep up this farce of a marriage. As it is,” he
continued, “YOU are free and _I_ am free.” And with a courtly wave of
his arm, he dismissed Zoie and the entire subject, and again he started
in pursuit of Mary and his hat.

“If it’s your freedom you wish,” pouted Zoie with an abused air, “you
might have said so in the first place.”

Alfred stopped in sheer amazement at the cleverness with which the
little minx turned his every statement against him.

“It’s not very manly of you,” she continued, “to abuse me just because
you’ve found someone whom you like better.”

“That’s not true,” protested Alfred hotly, “and you know it’s not true.”
 Little did he suspect the trap into which she was leading him.

“Then you DON’T love anybody more than you do me?” she cried eagerly,
and she gazed up at him with adoring eyes.

“I didn’t say any such thing,” hedged Alfred.

“Then you DO,” she accused him.

“I DON’T,” he declared in self defence.

With a cry of joy, she sprang into his arms, clasped her fingers tightly
behind his neck, and rained impulsive kisses upon his unsuspecting face.

For an instant, Alfred looked down at Zoie, undecided whether to
strangle her or to return her embraces. As usual, his self-respect won
the day for him and, with a determined effort, he lifted her high in the
air, so that she lost her tenacious hold of him, and sat her down with
a thud in the very same chair in which she had lately dropped his hat.
Having acted with this admirable resolution, he strode majestically
toward the inner hall, but before he could reach it, Zoie was again
on her feet, in a last vain effort to conciliate him. Turning, Alfred
caught sight of his poor battered hat. This was the final spur to
action. Snatching it up with one hand, and throwing his latchkey on the
table with the other, he made determinedly for the outer door.

Screaming hysterically, Zoie caught him just as he reached the threshold
and threw the whole weight of her body upon him.

“Alfred,” she pleaded, “if you REALLY love me, you CAN’T leave me like
this!” Her emotion was now genuine. He looked down at her gravely--then
into the future.

“There are other things more important than what YOU call ‘love,’” he
said, very solemnly.

“There is such a thing as a soul, if you only knew it. And you have hurt
mine through and through.”

“But how, Alfred, how?” asked the small person, and there was a frown of
genuine perplexity on her tiny puckered brow. “What have I REALLY DONE,”
 She stroked his hand fondly; her baby eyes searched his face.

“It isn’t so much what people DO to us that counts,” answered Alfred in
a proud hurt voice. “It’s how much they DISAPPOINT us in what they do. I
expected better of YOU,” he said sadly.

“I’ll DO better,” coaxed Zoie, “if you’ll only give me a chance.”

He was half inclined to believe her.

“Now, Allie,” she pleaded, perceiving that his resentment was dying and
resolved to, at last, adopt a straight course, “if you’ll only listen,
I’ll tell you the REAL TRUTH.”

Unprepared for the electrical effect of her remark, Zoie found herself
staggering to keep her feet. She gazed at Alfred in amazement. His arms
were lifted to Heaven, his breath was coming fast.

“‘The REAL TRUTH!’” he gasped, then bringing his crushed hat down on his
forehead with a resounding whack, he rushed from her sight.

The clang of the closing elevator door brought Zoie to a realisation of
what had actually happened. Determined that Alfred should not escape
her she rushed to the hall door and called to him wildly. There was no
answer. Running back to the room, she threw open the window and threw
herself half out of it. She was just in time to see Alfred climb into
a passing taxi. “Alfred!” she cried. Then automatically she flew to the
‘phone. “Give me 4302 Main,” she called and she tried to force back her
tears. “Is this Hardy & Company?” she asked.

“Well, this is Mrs. Hardy,” she explained.

“I wish you’d ring me up the moment my husband comes in.” There was a
slight pause, then she clutched the receiver harder. “Not COMING back?”
 she gasped. “Gone!--to Detroit?” A short moan escaped her lips. She
let the receiver fall back on the hook and her head went forward on her
outstretched arms.



CHAPTER X

When Jimmy came home to luncheon that day, Aggie succeeded in getting a
general idea of the state of affairs in the Hardy household. Of course
Jimmy didn’t tell the whole truth. Oh, no--far from it. In fact, he
appeared to be aggravatingly ignorant as to the exact cause of the Hardy
upheaval. Of ONE thing, however, he was certain. “Alfred was going to
quit Chicago and leave Zoie to her own devices.”

“Jimmy!” cried Aggie. “How awful!” and before Jimmy was fairly out of
the front gate, she had seized her hat and gloves and rushed to the
rescue of her friend.

Not surprised at finding Zoie in a state of collapse, Aggie opened her
arms sympathetically to receive the weeping confidences that she was
sure would soon come.

“Zoie dear,” she said as the fragile mite rocked to and fro. “What is
it?” She pressed the soft ringlets from the girl’s throbbing forehead.

“It’s Alfred,” sobbed Zoie. “He’s gone!”

“Yes, I know,” answered Aggie tenderly. “Isn’t it awful? Jimmy just told
me.”

“Jimmy told you WHAT?” questioned Zoie, and she lifted her head and
regarded Aggie with sudden uneasiness. Her friend’s answer raised Jimmy
considerably in Zoie’s esteem. Apparently he had not breathed a word
about the luncheon.

“Why, Jimmy told me,” continued Aggie, “that you and Alfred had had
another tiff, and that Alfred had gone for good.”

“For GOOD!” echoed Zoie and her eyes were wide with terror. “Did Alfred
tell Jimmy that?”

Aggie nodded.

“Then he MEANS it!” cried Zoie, at last fully convinced of the strength
of Alfred’s resolve. “But he shan’t,” she declared emphatically. “I
won’t let him. I’ll go after him. He has no right----” By this time she
was running aimlessly about the room.

“What did you do to him?” asked Aggie, feeling sure that Zoie was as
usual at fault.

“Nothing,” answered Zoie with wide innocent eyes.

“Nothing?” echoed Aggie, with little confidence in her friend’s ability
to judge impartially about so personal a matter.

“Absolutely nothing,” affirmed Zoie. And there was no doubting that she
at least believed it.

“What does he SAY,” questioned Aggie diplomatically.

“He SAYS I ‘hurt his soul.’ Whatever THAT is,” answered Zoie, and
her face wore an injured expression. “Isn’t that a nice excuse,” she
continued, “for leaving your lawful wedded wife?” It was apparent that
she expected Aggie to rally strongly to her defence. But at present
Aggie was bent upon getting facts.

“HOW did you hurt him?” she persisted.

“I ate lunch,” said Zoie with the face of a cherub.

“With whom?” questioned Aggie slyly. She was beginning to scent the
probable origin of the misunderstanding.

“It’s of no consequence,” answered Zoie carelessly; “I wouldn’t have
wiped my feet on the man.” By this time she had entirely forgotten
Aggie’s proprietorship in the source of her trouble.

“But who WAS the man?” urged Aggie, and in her mind, she had already
condemned him as a low, unprincipled creature.

“What does that matter?” asked Zoie impatiently. “It’s ANY man with
Alfred--you know that--ANY man!”

Aggie sank in a chair and looked at her friend in despair. “Why DO you
do these things,” she said wearily, “when you know how Alfred feels
about them?”

“You talk as though I did nothing else,” answered Zoie with an aggrieved
tone. “It’s the first time since I’ve been married that I’ve ever eaten
lunch with any man but Alfred. I thought you’d have a little sympathy
with me,” she whimpered, “instead of putting me on the gridiron like
everyone else does.”

“Everyone else?” questioned Aggie, with recurring suspicion.

“I mean Alfred,” explained Zoie. “HE’S ‘everyone else’ to me.” And then
with a sudden abandonment of grief, she threw herself prostrate at her
friend’s knees. “Oh, Aggie, what can I do?” she cried.

But Aggie was not satisfied with Zoie’s fragmentary account of her
latest escapade. “Is that the only thing that Alfred has against you?”
 she asked.

“That’s the LATEST,” sniffled Zoie, in a heap at Aggie’s feet. And then
she continued in a much aggrieved tone, “You know he’s ALWAYS rowing
because we haven’t as many babies as the cook has cats.”

“Well, why don’t you get him a baby?” asked the practical, far-seeing
Aggie.

“It’s too late NOW,” moaned Zoie.

“Not at all,” reassured Aggie. “It’s the very thing that would bring him
back.”

“How COULD I get one?” questioned Zoie, and she looked up at Aggie with
round astonished eyes.

“Adopt it,” answered Aggie decisively.

Zoie regarded her friend with mingled disgust and disappointment. “No,”
 she said with a sigh and a shake of her head, “that wouldn’t do any
good. Alfred’s so fussy. He always wants his OWN things around.”

“He needn’t know,” declared Aggie boldly.

“What do you mean?” whispered Zoie.

Drawing herself up with an air of great importance, and regarding the
wondering young person at her knee with smiling condescension, Aggie
prepared to make a most interesting disclosure.

“There was a long article in the paper only this morning,” she told
Zoie, “saying that three thousand husbands in this VERY CITY are
fondling babies not their own.”

Zoie turned her small head to one side, the better to study Aggie’s
face. It was apparent to the latter that she must be much more explicit.

“Babies adopted in their absence,” explained Aggie, “while they were on
trips around the country.”

A dangerous light began to glitter in Zoie’s eyes.

“Aggie!” she cried, bringing her small hands together excitedly, “do you
think I COULD?”

“Why not?” asked Aggie, with a very superior air. Zoie’s enthusiasm was
increasing her friend’s admiration of her own scheme. “This same paper
tells of a woman who adopted three sons while her husband was in Europe,
and he thinks each one of them is his.”

“Where can we get some?” cried Zoie, now thoroughly enamoured of the
idea.

“You can always get TONS of them at the Children’s Home,” answered Aggie
confidently.

“I can’t endure babies,” declared Zoie, “but I’d do ANYTHING to get
Alfred back. Can we get one TO-DAY?” she asked.

Aggie looked at her small friend with positive pity. “You don’t WANT one
TO-DAY,” she explained.

Zoie rolled her large eyes inquiringly.

“If you were to get one to-day,” continued Aggie, “Alfred would know it
wasn’t yours, wouldn’t he?”

A light of understanding began to show on Zoie’s small features.

“There was none when he left this morning,” added Aggie.

“That’s true,” acquiesced Zoie.

“You must wait awhile,” counselled Aggie, “and then get a perfectly new
one.”

But Zoie had never been taught to wait.

“Now Aggie----” she began.

Aggie continued without heeding her.

“After a few months,” she explained, “when Alfred’s temper has had time
to cool, we’ll get Jimmy to send him a wire that he has an heir.”

“A few months!” exclaimed Zoie, as though Aggie had suggested an
eternity. “I’ve never been away from Alfred that long in all my life.”

Aggie was visibly annoyed. “Well, of course,” she said coldly, as she
rose to go, “if you can get Alfred back WITHOUT that----”

“But I can’t!” cried Zoie, and she clung to her friend as to her last
remaining hope.

“Then,” answered Aggie, somewhat mollified by Zoie’s complete
submission. “THIS is the only way. The President of the Children’s Home
is a great friend of Jimmy’s,” she said proudly.

It was at this point that Zoie made her first practical suggestion.
“Then we’ll LET JIMMY GET IT,” she declared.

“Of course,” agreed Aggie enthusiastically, as though they would be
according the poor soul a rare privilege. “Jimmy gives a hundred
dollars to the Home every Christmas,”--additional proof why he should be
selected for this very important office.

“Good Heavens!” exclaimed Zoie with shocked surprise. “If Alfred were to
give a hundred dollars to a Baby’s Home, I should suspect him.”

“Don’t be silly!” snapped Aggie curtly. In spite of her firm faith in
Jimmy’s innocence, she was undoubtedly annoyed by Zoie’s unpleasant
suggestion.

There was an instant’s pause, then putting disagreeable thoughts from
her mind, Aggie turned to Zoie with renewed enthusiasm.

“We must get down to business,” she said, “we’ll begin on the baby’s
outfit at once.”

“Its what?” queried Zoie.

“Its clothes,” explained Aggie.

“Oh, what fun!” exclaimed Zoie, and she clapped her hands merrily like a
very small child. A moment later she stopped with sudden misgiving.

“But, Aggie,” she said fearfully, “suppose Alfred shouldn’t come back
after I’ve got the baby? I’d be a widow with a child.”

“Oh, he’s sure to come back!” answered Aggie, with a confident air.
“He’ll take the first train, home.”

“I believe he will,” assented Zoie joyfully. All her clouds were again
dispelled. “Aggie,” she cried impulsively, “you are a darling. You have
just saved my life.” And she clasped her arms so tightly around Aggie’s
neck that her friend was in danger of being suffocated.

Releasing herself Aggie continued with a ruffled collar and raised
vanity: “You can write him an insinuating letter now and then, just to
lead up to the good news gradually.”

Zoie tipped her small head to one side and studied her friend
thoughtfully. “Do you know, Aggie,” she said, with frank admiration, “I
believe you are a better liar than I am.”

“I’m NOT a liar,” objected Aggie vehemently, “at least, not often,” she
corrected. “I’ve never lied to Jimmy in all my life.” She drew herself
up with conscious pride. “And Jimmy has NEVER LIED TO ME.”

“Isn’t that nice,” sniffed Zoie and she pretended to be searching for
her pocket-handkerchief.

But Aggie did not see her. She was glancing at the clock.

“I must go now,” she said. And she started toward the door.

“But, Aggie----” protested Zoie, unwilling to be left alone.

“I’ll run in again at tea time,” promised Aggie.

“I don’t mind the DAYS,” whined Zoie, “but when NIGHT comes I just MUST
have somebody’s arms around me.”

“Zoie!” gasped Aggie, both shocked and alarmed.

“I can’t help it,” confessed Zoie; “the moment it gets dark I’m just
scared stiff.”

“That’s no way for a MOTHER to talk,” reproved Aggie.

“A mother!” exclaimed Zoie, horrified at the sudden realisation that
this awful appellation would undoubtedly pursue her for the rest of
her life. “Oh, don’t call me that,” she pleaded. “You make me feel a
thousand years old.”

“Nonsense,” laughed Aggie, and before Zoie could again detain her she
was out of the room.

When the outside door had closed behind her friend, Zoie gazed about
the room disconsolately, but her depression was short-lived. Remembering
Aggie’s permission about the letter, she ran quickly to the writing
table, curled her small self up on one foot, placed a brand new pen in
the holder, then drew a sheet of paper toward her and, with shoulders
hunched high and her face close to the paper after the manner of a
child, she began to pen the first of a series of veiled communications
that were ultimately to fill her young husband with amazement.



CHAPTER XI

When Jimmy reached his office after his unforeseen call upon Zoie, his
subsequent encounter with Alfred, and his enforced luncheon at home
with Aggie, he found his mail, his ‘phone calls, and his neglected
appointments in a state of hopeless congestion, and try as he would, he
could not concentrate upon their disentanglement. Growing more and more
furious with the long legged secretary who stood at the corner of his
desk, looking down upon him expectantly, and waiting for his tardy
instructions, Jimmy rose and looked out of the window. He could feel
Andrew’s reproachful eyes following him.

“Shall Miss Perkins take your letters now?” asked Andrew, and he
wondered how late the office staff would be kept to-night to make up for
the time that was now being wasted.

Coming after repeated wounds from his nearest and dearest, Andrew’s
implied reproach was too much for Jimmy’s overwrought nerves. “Get out!”
 he answered unceremoniously. And when Andrew could assure himself that
he had heard aright, he stalked out of the door with his head high in
the air.

Jimmy looked after his departing secretary with positive hatred. It was
apparent to him that the whole world was against him. He had been
too easy he decided. His family, friends, and business associates
had undoubtedly lost all respect for him. From this day forth he was
determined to show himself to be a man of strong mettle.

Having made this important decision and having convinced himself that he
was about to start on a new life, Jimmy strode to the door of the office
and, without disturbing the injured Andrew, he called sharply to Miss
Perkins to come at once and take his letters.

Poor Jimmy! Again he tried in vain to concentrate upon the details of
the “cut-glass” industry. Invariably his mind would wander back to the
unexpected incidents of the morning. Stopping suddenly in the middle of
a letter to a competing firm, he began pacing hurriedly up and down the
room.

Had she not feared that her chief might misconstrue any suggestion from
her as an act of impertinence, Miss Perkins, having learned all the
company’s cut-glass quotations by rote, could easily have supplied the
remainder of the letter. As it was, she waited impatiently, tapping the
corner of the desk with her idle pencil. Jimmy turned at the sound, and
glanced at the pencil with unmistakable disapproval. Miss Perkins waited
in silence. After one or two more uneasy laps about the room, Jimmy went
to his ‘phone and called his house number.

“It’s undoubtedly domestic trouble,” decided Miss Perkins, and she
wondered whether it would be delicate of her, under the circumstances,
to remain in the room.

From her employer’s conversation at the ‘phone, it was clear to Miss
Perkins that Mrs. Jinks was spending the afternoon with Mrs Hardy,
but why this should have so annoyed MR. Jinks was a question that Miss
Perkins found it difficult to answer. Was it possible that Mr. Jinks’s
present state of unrest could be traced to the door of the beautiful
young wife of his friend? “Oh dear,” thought Miss Perkins, “how
scandalous!”

“That will do,” commanded Jimmy, interrupting Miss Perkins’s interesting
speculations, and he nodded toward the door.

“But----” stammered Miss Perkins, as she glanced at the unfinished
letters.

“I’ll call you when I need you,” answered Jimmy gruffly. Miss Perkins
left the room in high dudgeon.

“I’LL show them,” said Jimmy to himself, determined to carry out his
recent resolve to be firm.

Then his mind wend back to his domestic troubles. “Suppose, that Zoie,
after imposing secrecy upon him, should change that thing called her
‘mind’ and confide in Aggie about the luncheon?” Jimmy was positively
pale. He decided to telephone to Zoie’s house and find out how affairs
were progressing. At the ‘phone he hesitated. “If Aggie HAS found out
about the luncheon,” he argued, “my ‘phoning to Zoie’s will increase her
suspicions. If Zoie has told her nothing, she’ll wonder why I’m ‘phoning
to Zoie’s house. There’s only one thing to do,” he decided. “I must wait
and say nothing. I can tell from Aggie’s face when I meet her at dinner
whether Zoie has betrayed me.”

Having arrived at this conclusion, Jimmy resolved to get home as early
as possible, and again Miss Perkins was called to his aid.

The flurry with which Jimmy despatched the day’s remaining business
confirmed both Miss Perkins and Andrew in their previous opinion that
“the boss” had suddenly “gone off his head.” And when he at last left
the office and banged the door behind him there was a general sigh of
relief from his usually tranquil staff.

Instead of walking, as was his custom, Jimmy took a taxi to his home but
alas, to his surprise he found no wife.

“Did Mrs. Jinks leave any word?” he inquired from the butler.

“None at all,” answered that unperturbed creature; and Jimmy felt sure
that the attitude of his office antagonists had communicated itself to
his household servants.

When Jimmy’s anxious ear at last caught the rustle of a woman’s dress in
the hallway, his dinner had been waiting half an hour, and he had
worked himself into a state of fierce antagonism toward everything and
everybody.

At the sound of Aggie’s voice however, his heart began to pound with
fear. “Had she found him out for the weak miserable deceiver that he
was? Would she tell him that they were going to separate forever?”

Aggie’s first words were reassuring. “Awfully sorry to be so late,
dear,” she said.

Jimmy felt her kiss upon his chubby cheek and her dear arms about his
neck. He decided forthwith to tell her everything, and never, never
again to run the risk of deceiving her; but before he could open his
lips, she continued gaily:

“I’ve brought Zoie home with me, dear. There’s no sense in her eating
all alone, and she’s going to have ALL her dinners with us.” Jimmy
groaned. “After dinner,” continued Aggie, “you and I can take her to
the theatre and all those places and keep her cheered until Alfred comes
home.”

“Home?” repeated Jimmy in alarm. Was it possible that Alfred had already
relented?

“Oh, he doesn’t know it yet,” explained Aggie, “but he’s coming. We’ll
tell you all about it at dinner.” And they did.

While waiting for Aggie, Jimmy had thought himself hungry, but once
the two women had laid before him their “nefarious baby-snatching
scheme”--food lost its savour for him, and one course after another was
taken away from him untouched.

Each time that Jimmy ventured a mild objection to his part in the plan,
as scheduled by them, he met the threatening eye of Zoie; and by the
time that the three left the table he was so harassed and confused by
the chatter of the two excited women, that he was not only reconciled
but eager to enter into any scheme that might bring Alfred back, and
free him of the enforced companionship of Alfred’s nerve-racking wife.
True, he reflected, it was possible that Alfred, on his return, might
discover him to be the culprit who lunched with Zoie and might carry out
his murderous threat; but even such a fate was certainly preferable to
interminable evenings spent under the same roof with Zoie.

“All YOU need do, Jimmy,” explained Aggie sweetly, when the three of
them were comfortably settled in the library, “is to see your friend
the Superintendent of the Babies’ Home, and tell him just what kind of a
baby we shall need, and when we shall need it.”

“Can’t we see it ourselves?” chimed in Zoie.

“Oh yes, indeed,” said Aggie confidently, and she turned to Jimmy with
a matter-of-fact tone. “You’d better tell the Superintendent to have
several for us to look at when the time arrives.”

“Yes, that’s better,” agreed Zoie.

As for Jimmy, he had long ceased to make any audible comment, but
internally he was saying to himself: “man of strong mettle, indeed!”

“We’ll attend to all the clothes for the child,” said Aggie generously
to Jimmy.

“I want everything to be hand-made,” exclaimed Zoie enthusiastically.

“We can make a great many of the things ourselves, evenings,” said
Aggie, “while we sit here and talk to Jimmy.”

“I thought we were going OUT evenings!” objected Zoie.

Jimmy rolled his eyes toward her like a dumb beast of burden.

“MOST evenings,” assented Aggie. “And then toward the last, you know,
Zoie----” she hesitated to explain further, for Jimmy was already
becoming visibly embarrassed.

“Oh, yes, that’s true,” blushed Zoie.

There was an awkward pause, then Aggie turned again toward Jimmy, who
was pretending to rebuild the fire. “Oh yes, one more thing,” she said.
“When everything is quite ready for Alfred’s return, we’ll allow you,
Jimmy dear, to wire him the good news.”

“Thanks, so much,” said Jimmy.

“I wish it were time to wire now,” said Zoie pensively, and in his mind,
Jimmy fervently agreed with that sentiment.

“The next few months will slip by before you know it,” declared Aggie
cheerfully. “And by the way, Zoie,” she added, “why should you go back
to your lonesome flat to-night?”

Zoie began to feel for her pocket handkerchief--Jimmy sat up to receive
the next blow. “Stay here with us,” suggested Aggie. “We’ll be so glad
to have you.” She included Jimmy in her glance. “Won’t we, dear?” she
asked.

When the two girls went upstairs arm in arm that night, Jimmy remained
in his chair by the fire, too exhausted to even prepare for bed. “A man
of mettle!” he said again to himself.

This had certainly been the longest day of his life.



CHAPTER XII

WHEN Aggie predicted that the few months of waiting would pass quickly
for Zoie, she was quite correct. They passed quickly for Aggie as well;
but how about Jimmy? When he afterward recalled this interval in his
life, it was always associated with long strands of lace winding around
the legs of the library chairs, white things lying about in all the
places where he had once enjoyed sitting or lying, late dinners, lonely
breakfasts, and a sense of isolation from Aggie.

One evening when he had waited until he was out of all patience with
Aggie, he was told by his late and apologetical spouse that she had been
helping Zoie to redecorate her bedroom to fit the coming occasion.

“It is all done in pink and white,” explained Aggie, and then followed
detailed accounts of the exquisite bed linens, the soft lovely hangings,
and even the entire relighting of the room.

“Why pink?” asked Jimmy, objecting to any scheme of Zoie’s on general
principles.

“It’s Alfred’s favourite colour,” explained Aggie. “Besides, it’s so
becoming,” she added.

Jimmy could not help feeling that this lure to Alfred’s senses was
absolutely indecent, and he said so.

“Upon my word,” answered Aggie, quite affronted, “you are getting as
unreasonable as Alfred himself.” Then as Jimmy prepared to sulk, she
added coaxingly, “I was GOING to tell you about Zoie’s lovely new
negligee, and about the dear little crib that just matches it.
Everything is going to be in harmony.”

“With Zoie in the house?” asked Jimmy sceptically.

“I can’t think why you’ve taken such a dislike to that helpless child,”
 said Aggie.

A few days later, while in the midst of his morning’s mail, Jimmy was
informed that it was now time for him to conduct Aggie and Zoie to the
Babies’ Home to select the last, but most important, detail for
their coming campaign. According to instructions, Jimmy had been in
communication with the amused Superintendent of the Home, and he now led
the two women forth with the proud consciousness that he, at least, had
attended properly to his part of the business. By the time they reached
the Children’s Home, several babies were on view for their critical
inspection.

Zoie stared into the various cribs containing the wee, red mites with
puckered faces. “Oh dear!” she exclaimed, “haven’t you any white ones?”

“These are supposed to be white,” said the Superintendent, with an
indulgent smile, “the black ones are on the other side of the room.”

“Black ones!” cried Zoie in horror, and she faced about quickly as
though expecting an attack from their direction.

“Which particular one of these would you recommend?” asked the practical
Aggie of the Superintendent as she surveyed the first lot.

“Well, it’s largely a matter of taste, ma’am,” he answered. “This seems
a healthy little chap,” he added, and seizing the long white clothes
of the nearest infant, he drew him across his arm and held him out for
Aggie’s inspection.

“Let’s see,” cried Zoie, and she stood on tiptoe to peep over the
Superintendent’s elbow.

As for Jimmy, he stood gloomily apart. This was an ordeal for which
he had long been preparing himself, and he was resolved to accept it
philosophically.

“I don’t think much of that one,” snipped Zoie. And in spite of himself.
Jimmy felt his temper rising.

Aggie turned to him with a smile. “Which one do YOU prefer, Jimmy?”

“It’s not MY affair,” answered Jimmy curtly.

“Since when?” asked Zoie.

Aggie perceived trouble brewing, and she turned to pacify Jimmy. “Which
one do you think your FRIEND ALFRED would like?” she persisted.

“If I were in his place----” began Jimmy hotly.

“Oh, but you AREN’T,” interrupted Zoie; then she turned to the
Superintendent. “What makes some of them so much larger than others?”
 she asked, glancing at the babies he had CALLED “white.”

“Well, you see they’re of different ages,” explained the Superintendent
indulgently.

“We told Mr. Jinks they must all be of the same age,” said Zoie with a
reproachful look at Jimmy.

“What age is that?” asked the Superintendent.

“I should say a week old,” said Aggie.

“Then this is the one for you,” decided the Superintendent, designating
his first choice.

“I think we’d better take the Superintendent’s advice,” said Aggie
complacently.

Zoie looked around the room with a dissatisfied air. Was it possible
that all babies were as homely as these?

“You know, Zoie,” explained Aggie, divining her thought, “they get
better looking as they grow older.”

“They couldn’t look worse!” was Zoie’s disgusted comment.

“Fetch it home, Jimmy,” said Aggie.

“What!” exclaimed Jimmy, who had considered his mission completed.

“You don’t expect US to carry it, do you?” asked Aggie in a hurt voice.

The Superintendent settled the difficulty temporarily by informing them
that the baby could not possibly leave the home until the mother had
signed the necessary papers for its release.

“I thought all those details had been attended to,” said Aggie, and
again the two women surveyed Jimmy with grieved disappointment.

“I’ll get the mother’s signature the first thing in the morning,”
 volunteered the Superintendent.

“Very well,” said Zoie, “and in the meantime, I’ll send some new clothes
for it,” and with a lofty farewell to the Superintendent, she and Aggie
followed Jimmy down stairs to the taxi.

“Now,” said Zoie, when they were properly seated, “let’s stop at a
telegraph office and let Jimmy send a wire to Alfred.”

“Wait until we get the baby,” cautioned Aggie.

“We’ll have it the first thing in the morning,” argued Zoie.

“Jimmy can send him a night-letter,” compromised Aggie, “that way Alfred
won’t get the news until morning.”

A few minutes later, the taxi stopped in front of Jimmy’s office and
with a sigh of thanksgiving he hurried upstairs to his unanswered mail.



CHAPTER XIII

When Alfred Hardy found himself on the train bound for Detroit, he tried
to assure himself that he had done the right thing in breaking away
from an association that had kept him for months in a constant state of
ferment. His business must come first, he decided. Having settled this
point to his temporary satisfaction, he opened his afternoon paper
and leaned back in his seat, meaning to divert his mind from personal
matters, by learning what was going on in the world at large.

No sooner had his eye scanned the first headline than he was startled by
a boisterous greeting from a fellow traveller, who was just passing down
the aisle.

“Hello, Hardy!” cried his well meaning acquaintance. “Where are you
bound for?”

“Detroit,” answered Alfred, annoyed by the sudden interruption.

“Where’s the missus?” asked the intruder.

“Chicago,” was Alfred’s short reply.

“THAT’S a funny thing,” declared the convivial spirit, not guessing how
funny it really was. “You know,” he continued, so loud that everyone in
the vicinity could not fail to hear him, “the last time I met you two,
you were on your honeymoon--on THIS VERY TRAIN,” and with that the
fellow sat himself down, uninvited, by Alfred’s side and started on a
long list of compliments about “the fine little girl” who had in his
opinion done Alfred a great favour when she consented to tie herself to
a “dull, money-grubbing chap” like him.

“So,” thought Alfred, “this is the way the world sees us.” And he began
to frame inaudible but desperate defences of himself. Again he told
himself that he was right; but his friend’s thoughtless words had
planted an uncomfortable doubt in his mind, and when he left the
train to drive to his hotel, he was thinking very little about the new
business relations upon which he was entering in Detroit, and very much
about the domestic relations which he had just severed in Chicago.

Had he been merely a “dull money-grubber”? Had he left his wife too much
alone? Was she not a mere child when he married her? Could he not, with
more consideration, have made of her a more understanding companion?
These were questions that were still unanswered in his mind when he
arrived at one of Detroit’s most enterprising hotels.

But later, having telephoned to his office and found that several
matters of importance were awaiting his decision, he forced himself to
enter immediately upon his business obligations.

As might have been expected, Alfred soon won the respect and serious
consideration of most of his new business associates, and this in a
measure so mollified his hurt pride, that upon rare occasions he was
affable enough to accept the hospitality of their homes. But each
excursion that he made into the social life of these new friends, only
served to remind him of the unsettled state of his domestic affairs.

“How your wife must miss you!” his hostess would remark before they were
fairly seated at table.

“They tell me she is so pretty,” his vis-a-vis would exclaim.

“When is she going to join you?” the lady on his left would ask.

Then his host would laugh and tell the “dear ladies” that in HIS
opinion, Alfred was afraid to bring his wife to Detroit, lest he might
lose her to a handsomer man.

Alfred could never quite understand why remarks such as this annoyed him
almost to the point of declaring the whole truth. His LEAVING Zoie, and
his “losing” her, as these would-be comedians expressed it, were
two separate and distinct things in his mind, and he felt an almost
irresistible desire to make this plain to all concerned.

But no sooner did he open his lips to do so, than a picture of Zoie in
all her child-like pleading loveliness, arose to dissuade him. He could
imagine his dinner companions all pretending to sympathise with him,
while they flayed poor Zoie alive. She would never have another chance
to be known as a respectable woman, and compared to most women of
his acquaintance, she WAS a respectable woman. True, according to
old-fashioned standards, she had been indiscreet, but apparently the
present day woman had a standard of her own. Alfred found his eye
wandering round the table surveying the wives of his friends. Was there
one of them, he wondered, who had never fibbed to her husband, or eaten
a simple luncheon unchaperoned by him? Of one thing he was certain,
there was not one of them so attractive as Zoie. Might she not be
forgiven, to some extent, if her physical charms had made her a source
of dangerous temptation to unprincipled scoundrels like the one with
whom she had no doubt lunched? Then, too, had she not offered at the
moment of his departure to tell him the “real truth”? Might this not
have been the one occasion upon which she would have done so? “She seemed
so sincere,” he ruminated, “so truly penitent.” Then again, how generous
it was of her to persist in writing to him with never an answer from
him to encourage her. If she cared for him so little as he had once
imagined, why should she wish to keep up even a presence of fondness?
Her letters indicated an undying devotion.

These were some of the thoughts that were going through Alfred’s mind
just three months after his departure from Chicago, and all the while
his hostess was mentally dubbing him a “dull person.”

“What an abstracted man he is!” she said before he was down the front
steps.

“Is he really so clever in business?” a woman friend inquired.

“It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?” commented a third, and his host
apologised for the absent Alfred by saying that he was no doubt worried
about a particular business decision that had to be made the next
morning.

But it was not the responsibility of this business decision that was
knotting Alfred’s brow, as he walked hurriedly toward the hotel, where
he had told his office boy to leave the last mail. This had been
the longest interval that Zoie had ever let slip without writing. He
recalled that her last letters had hinted at a “slight indisposition.”
 In fact, she had even mentioned “seeing the doctor”--“Good Heavens!” he
thought, “Suppose she were really ill? Who would look after her?”

When Alfred reached his rooms, the boy had not yet arrived. He crossed
to the library table and took from the drawer all the letters thus far
received from Zoie. He read them consecutively. “How could he have been
so stupid as not to have realised sooner that her illness--whatever it
was--had been gradually creeping upon her from the very first day of his
departure?”

The boy arrived with the mail. It contained no letter from Zoie and
Alfred went to bed with an uneasy mind.

The next morning he was down at his office early, still no letter from
Zoie.

Refusing his partner’s invitation to lunch, Alfred sat alone in his
office, glad to be rid of intrusive eyes. “He would write to Jimmy
Jinks,” he decided, “and find out whether Zoie were in any immediate
danger.”

Not willing to await the return of his stenographer, or to acquaint her
with his personal affairs, Alfred drew pen and paper toward him and sat
helplessly before it. How could he inquire about Zoie without appearing
to invite a reconciliation with her? While he was trying to answer
this vexed question, a sharp knock came at the door. He turned to see a
uniformed messenger holding a telegram toward him. Intuitively he felt
that it contained some word about Zoie. His hand trembled so that he
could scarcely sign for the message before opening it.

A moment later the messenger boy was startled out of his lethargy by a
succession of contradictory exclamations.

“No!” cried Alfred incredulously as he gazed in ecstasy at the telegram.
“Yes!” he shouted, excitedly, as he rose from his chair. “Where’s a
time table?” he asked the astonished boy, and he began rummaging rapidly
through the drawers of his desk.

“Any answer?” inquired the messenger.

“Take this,” said Alfred. And he thrust a bill into the small boy’s
hand.

“Yes, sir,” answered the boy and disappeared quickly, lest this madman
might reconsider his generosity.

Alfred threw down the time table in despair. “No train for Chicago until
night,” he cried; but his mind was working fast. The next moment he was
at the telephone, asking for the Division Superintendent of the railway
line.

When Alfred’s partner returned from luncheon he found a curt note
informing him that Alfred had left on a special for Chicago and would
“write.”

“I’ll bet it’s his wife!” said the partner.



CHAPTER XIV

During the evening of the same day that Alfred was enjoying such
pleasurable emotions, Zoie and Aggie were closeted in the pretty pink
and white bedroom that the latter had tried to describe to Jimmy. On
a rose-coloured couch in front of the fire sat Aggie threading ribbons
through various bits of soft white linen, and in front of her, at the
foot of a rose-draped bed, knelt Zoie. She was trying the effect of
a large pink bow against the lace flounce of an empty but inviting
bassinette.

“How’s that?” she called to Aggie, as she turned her head to one side
and surveyed the result of her experiment with a critical eye.

Aggie shot a grudging glance at the bassinette. “I wish you wouldn’t
bother me every moment,” she said. “I’ll never get all these things
finished.”

Apparently Zoie decided that the bow was properly placed, for she
applied herself to sewing it fast to the lining. In her excitement she
gave the thread a vicious pull. “Oh, dear, oh dear, my thread is always
breaking!” she sighed in vexation.

“You’re excited,” said Aggie.

“Wouldn’t YOU be excited,” questioned Zoie’”if you were expecting a baby
and a husband in the morning?”

“I suppose I should,” admitted Aggie.

For a time the two friends sewed in silence, then Zoie looked up with
sudden anxiety.

“You’re SURE Jimmy sent the wire?” she asked.

“I saw him write it,” answered Aggie, “while I was in the office
to-day.”

“When will Alfred get it?” demanded Zoie eagerly.

“Oh, he won’t GET it until to-morrow morning,” said Aggie. “I told you
that to-day. It’s a night message.”

“I wonder what he’ll be doing when he gets it?” mused Zoie. There was a
suspicion of a smile around her lips.

“What will he do AFTER he gets it?” questioned Aggie.

Looking up at her friend in alarm, Zoie suddenly ceased sewing. “You
don’t mean he won’t come?” she gasped.

“Of course I don’t,” answered Aggie. “He’s only HUMAN if he is a
husband.”

There was a sceptical expression around Zoie’s mouth, but she did not
pursue the subject. “How do you suppose that red baby will ever look in
this pink basket?” she asked. And then with a regretful little sigh, she
declared that she wished she’d “used blue.”

“I didn’t think the baby that we chose was so horribly red,” said Aggie.

“Red!” cried Zoie, “it’s magenta.” And again her thread broke. “Oh,
darn!” she exclaimed in annoyance, and once more rethreaded her needle.
“I couldn’t look at it,” she continued with a disgusted little pucker of
her face. “I wish they had let us take it this afternoon so I could have
got used to it before Alfred gets here.”

“Now don’t be silly,” scolded Aggie. “You know very well that the
Superintendent can’t let it leave the home until its mother signs the
papers. It will be here the first thing in the morning. You’ll have all
day to get used to it before Alfred gets here.”

“ALL DAY,” echoed Zoie, and the corners of her mouth began to droop.
“Won’t Alfred be here before TO-MORROW NIGHT?”

Aggie was becoming exasperated by Zoie’s endless questions. “I told
you,” she explained wearily, “that the wire won’t be delivered until
to-morrow morning, it will take Alfred eight hours to get here, and
there may not be a train just that minute.”

“Eight long hours,” sighed Zoie dismally. And Aggie looked at her
reproachfully, forgetting that it is always the last hour that
is hardest to bear. Zoie resumed her sewing resignedly. Aggie was
meditating whether she should read her young friend a lecture on the
value of patience, when the telephone began to ring violently.

Zoie looked up from her sewing with a frown. “You answer it, will you,
Aggie?” she said. “I can’t let go this thread.”

“Hello,” called Aggie sweetly over the ‘phone; then she added in
surprise, “Is this you, Jimmy dear?” Apparently it was; and as Zoie
watched Aggie’s face, with its increasing distress she surmised that
Jimmy’s message was anything but “dear.”

“Good heavens!” cried Aggie over the telephone, “that’s awful!”

“Isn’t Alfred coming?” was the first question that burst from Zoie’s
lips.

Aggie motioned to Zoie to be quiet. “TO-NIGHT!” she exclaimed.

“To-night!” echoed Zoie joyfully; and without waiting for more details
and with no thought beyond the moment, she flew to her dressing table
and began arranging her hair, powdering her face, perfuming her lips,
and making herself particularly alluring for the prodigal husband’s
return.

Now the far-sighted Aggie was experiencing less pleasant sensations at
the phone. “A special?” she was saying to Jimmy. “When did Alfred GET
the message?” There was a slight pause. Then she asked irritably, “Well,
didn’t you mark it ‘NIGHT message’?” From the expression on Aggie’s face
it was evident that he had not done so. “But, Jimmy,” protested Aggie,
“this is dreadful! We haven’t any baby!” Then calling to him to wait a
minute, and leaving the receiver dangling, she crossed the room to
Zoie, who was now thoroughly engrossed in the making of a fresh toilet.
“Zoie!” she exclaimed excitedly, “Jimmy made a mistake.”

“Of course he’d do THAT,” answered Zoie carelessly.

“But you don’t understand,” persisted Aggie. “They sent the ‘NIGHT
message’ TO-DAY. Alfred’s coming on a special. He’ll be here tonight.”

“Thank goodness for that!” cried Zoie, and the next instant she was
waltzing gaily about the room.

“That’s all very well,” answered Aggie, as she followed Zoie with
anxious eyes, “but WHERE’S YOUR BABY?”

“Good heavens!” cried Zoie, and for the first time she became conscious
of their predicament. She gazed at Aggie in consternation. “I forgot all
about it,” she said, and then asked with growing anxiety, “What can we
DO?”

“Do?” echoed Aggie, scarcely knowing herself what answer to make, “we’ve
got to GET it--TO-NIGHT. That’s all!”

“But,” protested Zoie, “how CAN we get it when the mother hasn’t signed
the papers yet?”

“Jimmy will have to arrange that with the Superintendent of the Home,”
 answered Aggie with decision, and she turned toward the ‘phone to
instruct Jimmy accordingly.

“Yes, that’s right,” assented Zoie, glad to be rid of all further
responsibility, “we’ll let Jimmy fix it.”

“Say, Jimmy,” called Aggie excitedly, “you’ll have to go straight to the
Children’s Home and get that baby just as quickly as you can. There’s
some red tape about the mother signing papers, but don’t mind about
that. Make them give it to you to-night. Hurry, Jimmy. Don’t waste a
minute.”

There was evidently a protest from the other end of the wire, for Aggie
added impatiently, “Go on, Jimmy, do! You can EAT any time.” And with
that she hung up the receiver.

“Its clothes,” called Zoie frantically. “Tell him about the clothes. I
sent them this evening.”

“Never mind about the clothes,” answered Aggie. “We’re lucky if we get
the baby.”

“But I have to mind,” persisted Zoie. “I gave all its other things to
the laundress. I wanted them to be nice and fresh. And now the horrid
old creature hasn’t brought them back yet.”

“You get into your OWN things,” commanded Aggie.

“Where’s my dressing gown?” asked Zoie, her elation revived by the
thought of her fine raiment, and with that she flew to the foot of the
bed and snatched up two of the prettiest negligees ever imported from
Paris. “Which do you like better?” she asked, as she held them both
aloft, “the pink or the blue?”

“It doesn’t matter,” answered Aggie wearily. “Get into SOMETHING, that’s
all.”

“Then unhook me,” commanded Zoie gaily, as she turned her back to Aggie,
and continued to admire the two “creations” on her arm. So pleased was
she with the picture of herself in either of the garments that she began
humming a gay waltz and swaying to the rhythm.

“Stand still,” commanded Aggie, but her warning was unnecessary, for at
that moment Zoie was transfixed by a horrible fear.

“Suppose,” she said in alarm, “that Jimmy can’t GET the baby?”

“He’s GOT to get it,” answered Aggie emphatically, and she undid the
last stubborn hook of Zoie’s gown and put the girl from her. “There,
now, you’re all unfastened,” she said, “hurry and get dressed.”

“You mean undressed,” laughed Zoie, as she let her pretty evening gown
fall lightly from her shoulders and drew on her pink negligee. “Oh,
Aggie!” she exclaimed, as she caught sight of her reflection in the
mirror, “isn’t it a love? And you know,” she added. “Alfred just adores
pink.”

“Silly!” answered Aggie, but in spite of herself, she was quite thrilled
by the picture of the exquisite young creature before her. Zoie had
certainly never looked more irresistible. “Can’t you get some of that
colour out of your cheeks,” asked Aggie in despair. “You look like a
washerwoman.”

“I’ll put on some cold cream and powder,” answered Zoie. She flew to her
dressing table; and in a moment there was a white cloud in her immediate
vicinity. She turned to Aggie to inquire the result. Again the ‘phone
rang. “Who’s that?” she exclaimed in alarm.

“I’ll see,” answered Aggie.

“It couldn’t be Alfred, could it?” asked Zoie with mingled hope and
dread.

“Of course not,” answered Aggie, as she removed the receiver from the
hook. “Alfred wouldn’t ‘phone, he would come right up.”



CHAPTER XV

Discovering that it was merely Jimmy “on the wire,” Zoie’s uneasiness
abated, but Aggie’s anxiety was visibly increasing.

“Where ARE you?” she asked of her spouse. “The Children’s Home!” she
repeated, then followed further explanations from Jimmy which were
apparently not satisfactory. “Oh, Jimmy!” cried his disturbed wife, “it
can’t be! That’s horrible!”

“What is it?” shrieked Zoie, trying to get her small ear close enough to
the receiver to catch a bit of the obviously terrifying message.

“Wait a minute,” called Aggie into the ‘phone. Then she turned to Zoie
with a look of despair. “The mother’s changed her mind,” she explained;
“she won’t give up the baby.”

“Good Lord!” cried Zoie, and she sank into the nearest chair. For an
instant the two women looked at each other with blank faces. “What can
we DO,” asked Zoie.

Aggie did not answer immediately. This was indeed a serious predicament;
but presently Zoie saw her friend’s mouth becoming very resolute, and
she surmised that Aggie had solved the problem. “We’ll have to get
ANOTHER baby, that’s all,” decided Aggie. “There must be OTHER babies.”

“Where?” asked Zoie.

“There, in the Children’s Home,” answered Aggie with great confidence,
and she returned to the ‘phone.

Zoie crossed to the bed and knelt at its foot in search of her little
pink slippers.

“Oh, Aggie,” she sighed, “the others were all so red!”

But Aggie did not heed her protest. “Listen, Jimmy,” she called in the
‘phone, “can’t you get another baby?” There was a pause, then Aggie
commanded hotly, “Well, GET in the business!” Another pause and then
Aggie continued very firmly, “Tell the Superintendent that we JUST MUST
have one.”

Zoie stopped in the act of putting on her second slipper and called a
reminder to Aggie. “Tell him to get a HE one,” she said, “Alfred wants a
boy.”

“Take what you can get!” answered Aggie impatiently, and again she gave
her attention to the ‘phone. “What!” she cried, with growing despair,
and Zoie waited to hear what had gone wrong now. “Nothing under three
months,” explained Aggie.

“Won’t that do?” asked Zoie innocently.

“Do!” echoed Aggie in disgust. “A three-months’ old baby is as big as a
whale.”

“Well, can’t we say it GREW UP?” asked Zoie, priding herself on her
power of ready resource.

“Overnight, like a mushroom?” sneered Aggie.

Almost vanquished by her friend’s new air of cold superiority, Zoie
was now on the verge of tears. “Somebody must have a new baby,” she
faltered. “Somebody ALWAYS has a new baby.”

“For their own personal USE, yes,” admitted Aggie, “but who has a new
baby for US?”

“How do I know?” asked Zoie helplessly. “You’re the one who ought to
know. You got me into this, and you’ve GOT to get me out of it. Can you
imagine,” she asked, growing more and more unhappy, “what would happen
to me if Alfred were to come home now and not find a baby? He wouldn’t
forgive a LITTLE lie, what would he do with a WHOPPER like this?” Then
with sudden decision, she rushed toward the ‘phone. “Let me talk to
Jimmy,” she said, and the next moment she was chattering so rapidly and
incoherently over the ‘phone that Aggie despaired of hearing one word
that she said, and retired to the next room to think out a new plan of
action.

“Say, Jimmy,” stammered Zoie into the ‘phone, “you’ve GOT to get me a
baby. If you don’t, I’ll kill myself! I will, Jimmy, I will. You got me
into this, Jimmy,” she reminded him. “You’ve GOT to get me out of it.”
 And then followed pleadings and coaxings and cajolings, and at length,
a pause, during which Jimmy was apparently able to get in a word or so.
His answer was not satisfactory to Zoie. “What!” she shrieked, tiptoeing
to get her lips closer to the receiver; then she added with conviction,
“the mother has no business to change her mind.”

Apparently Jimmy maintained that the mother had changed it none the
less.

“Well, take it away from her,” commanded Zoie. “Get it quick, while she
isn’t looking.” Then casting a furtive glance over her shoulder to make
sure that Aggie was still out of the room, she indulged in a few dark
threats to Jimmy, also some vehement reminders of how he had DRAGGED her
into that horrid old restaurant and been the immediate cause of all the
misfortunes that had ever befallen her.

Could Jimmy have been sure that Aggie was out of ear-shot of Zoie’s
conversation, the argument would doubtless have kept up indefinitely--as
it was--the result was a quick acquiescence on his part and by the time
that Aggie returned to the room, Zoie was wreathed in smiles.

“It’s all right,” she said sweetly. “Jimmy’s going to get it.”

Aggie looked at her sceptically. “Goodness knows I hope so,” she said,
then added in despair, “Look at your cheeks. They’re flaming.”

Once more the powder puff was called into requisition, and Zoie turned a
temporarily blanched face to Aggie. “Is that better?” she asked.

“Very much,” answered Aggie, “but how about your hair?”

“What’s the matter with it?” asked Zoie. Her reflection betrayed a
coiffure that might have turned Marie Antoinette green with envy.

“Would anybody think you’d been in bed for days?” asked Aggie.

“Alfred likes it that way,” was Zoie’s defence.

“Turn around,” said Aggie, without deigning to argue the matter further.
And she began to remove handfuls of hairpins from the yellow knotted
curls.

“What are you doing?” exclaimed Zoie, as she sprayed her white neck and
arms with her favourite perfume.

Aggie did not answer.

Zoie leaned forward toward the mirror to smooth out her eyebrows with
the tips of her perfumed fingers. “Good gracious,” she cried in horror
as she caught sight of her reflection. “You’re not going to put my hair
in a pigtail!”

“That’s the way invalids always have their hair,” was Aggie’s laconic
reply, and she continued to plait the obstinate curls.

“I won’t have it like that!” declared Zoie, and she shook herself free
from Aggie’s unwelcome attentions and proceeded to unplait the hateful
pigtail. “Alfred would leave me.”

Aggie shrugged her shoulders.

“If you’re going to make a perfect fright of me,” pouted Zoie, “I just
won’t see him.”

“He isn’t coming to see YOU,” reminded Aggie. “He’s coming to see the
baby.”

“If Jimmy doesn’t come soon, I’ll not HAVE any baby,” answered Zoie.

“Get into bed,” said Aggie, and she proceeded to turn down the soft lace
coverlets.

“Where did I put my cap?” asked Zoie. Her eyes caught the small knot of
lace and ribbons for which she was looking, and she pinned it on top of
her saucy little curls.

“In you go,” said Aggie, motioning to the bed.

“Wait,” said Zoie impressively, “wait till I get my rose lights on the
pillow.” She pulled the slender gold chain of her night lamp; instantly
the large white pillows were bathed in a warm pink glow--she studied
the effect very carefully, then added a lingerie pillow to the two
more formal ones, kicked off her slippers and hopped into bed. One more
glance at the pillows, then she arranged the ribbons of her negligee to
fall “carelessly” outside the coverlet, threw one arm gracefully above
her head, half-closed her eyes, and sank languidly back against her
pillows.

“How’s that?” she breathed faintly.

Controlling her impulse to smile, Aggie crossed to the dressing-table
with a business-like air and applied to Zoie’s pink cheeks a third
coating of powder.

Zoie sat bolt upright and began to sneeze. “Aggie,” she said, “I just
hate you when you act like that.” But suddenly she was seized with a new
idea.

“I wonder,” she mused as she looked across the room at the soft, pink
sofa bathed in firelight, “I wonder if I shouldn’t look better on that
couch under those roses.”

Aggie was very emphatic in her opinion to the contrary. “Certainly not!”
 she said.

“Then,” decided Zoie with a mischievous smile, “I’ll get Alfred to carry
me to the couch. That way I can get my arms around his neck. And once
you get your arms around a man’s neck, you can MANAGE him.”

Aggie looked down at the small person with distinct disapproval. “Now,
don’t you make too much fuss over Alfred,” she continued. “YOU’RE the
one who’s to do the forgiving. Don’t forget that! What’s more,” she
reminded Zoie, “you’re very, very weak.” But before she had time to
instruct Zoie further there was a sharp, quick ring at the outer door.

The two women glanced at each other inquiringly. The next instant a
man’s step was heard in the hallway.

“How is she, Mary?” demanded someone in a voice tense with anxiety.

“It’s Alfred!” exclaimed Zoie.

“And we haven’t any baby!” gasped Aggie.

“What shall I do?” cried Zoie.

“Lie down,” commanded Aggie, and Zoie had barely time to fall back
limply on the pillows when the excited young husband burst into the
room.



CHAPTER XVI

When Alfred entered Zoie’s bedroom he glanced about him in bewilderment.
It appeared that he was in an enchanted chamber. Through the dim rose
light he could barely perceive his young wife. She was lying white and
apparently lifeless on her pillows. He moved cautiously toward the bed,
but Aggie raised a warning finger. Afraid to speak, he grasped Aggie’s
hand and searched her face for reassurance; she nodded toward Zoie,
whose eyes were closed. He tiptoed to the bedside, sank on his knees and
reverently kissed the small hand that hung limply across the side of the
bed.

To Alfred’s intense surprise, his lips had barely touched Zoie’s
fingertips when he felt his head seized in a frantic embrace. “Alfred,
Alfred!” cried Zoie in delight; then she smothered his face with kisses.
As she lifted her head to survey her astonished husband, she caught
the reproving eye of Aggie. With a weak little sigh, she relaxed her
tenacious hold of Alfred, breathed his name very faintly, and sank back,
apparently exhausted, upon her pillows.

“It’s been too much for her,” said the terrified young husband, and he
glanced toward Aggie in anxiety.

Aggie nodded assent.

“How pale she looks,” added Alfred, as he surveyed the white face on the
pillows.

“She’s so weak, poor dear,” sympathised Aggie, almost in a whisper.

Alfred nodded his understanding to Aggie. It was then that his attention
was for the first time attracted toward the crib.

“My boy!” he exclaimed. And again Zoie forgot Aggie’s warning and
sat straight up in bed. But Alfred did not see her. He was making
determinedly for the crib, his heart beating high with the pride of
possession.

Throwing back the coverlets of the bassinette, Alfred stared at the
empty bed in silence, then he quickly turned to the two anxious women.
“Where is he?” he asked, his eyes wide with terror.

Zoie’s lips opened to answer, but no words came.

Alfred’s eyes turned to Aggie. The look on her face increased his worst
fears. “Don’t tell me he’s----” he could not bring himself to utter the
word. He continued to look helplessly from one woman to the other.

In vain Zoie again tried to answer. Aggie also made an unsuccessful
attempt to speak. Then, driven to desperation by the strain of the
situation, Zoie declared boldly: “He’s out.”

“Out?” echoed Alfred in consternation.

“With Jimmy,” explained Aggie, coming to Zoie’s rescue as well as she
knew how.

“Jimmy!” repeated Alfred in great astonishment.

“Just for a breath of air,” explained Zoie sweetly She had now entirely
regained her self-possession.

“Isn’t he very young to be out at night?” asked Alfred with a puzzled
frown.

“We told Jimmy that,” answered Aggie, amazed at the promptness
with which each succeeding lie presented itself. “But you see,” she
continued, “Jimmy is so crazy about the child that we can’t do anything
with him.”

“Jimmy crazy about my baby?” exclaimed Alfred incredulously. “He always
said babies were ‘little red worms.’”

“Not this one,” answered Zoie sweetly.

“No, indeed,” chimed in Aggie. “He acts as though he owned it.”

“Oh, DOES he?” exclaimed Alfred hotly. “I’ll soon put a stop to that,”
 he declared. “Where did he take him?”

Again the two women looked at each other inquiringly, then Aggie
stammered evasively.

“Oh, j-just downstairs--somewhere.”

“I’ll LOOK j-just downstairs somewhere,” decided Alfred, and he snatched
up his hat and started toward the door.

“Alfred!” cried Zoie in alarm.

Coming back to her bedside to reassure her, Alfred was caught in a
frantic embrace. “I’ll be back in a minute, dear,” he said, but Zoie
clung to him and pleaded desperately.

“You aren’t going to leave me the very first thing?”

Alfred hesitated. He had no wish to be cruel to Zoie, but the thought of
Jimmy out in the street with his baby at this hour of the night was not
to be borne.

Zoie renewed her efforts at persuasion. “Now, dearie,” she said, “I
wish you’d go get shaved and wash up a bit. I don’t wish baby to see you
looking so horrid.”

“Yes, do, Alfred,” insisted Aggie. “He’s sure to be here in a minute.”

“My boy won’t care HOW his father looks,” declared Alfred proudly, and
Zoie told Aggie afterward that his chest had momentarily expanded three
inches.

“But _I_ care,” persisted Zoie. “First impressions are so important.”

“Now, Zoie,” cautioned Aggie, as she crossed toward the bed with
affected solicitude. “You mustn’t excite yourself.”

Zoie was quick to understand the suggested change in her tactics, and
again she sank back on her pillows apparently ill and faint.

Utterly vanquished by the dire result of his apparently inhuman
thoughtlessness, Alfred glanced at Aggie, uncertain as to how to repair
the injury.

Aggie beckoned to him to come away from the bed.

“Let her have her own way,” she whispered with a significant glance
toward Zoie.

Alfred nodded understandingly and put a finger to his lips to signify
that he would henceforth speak in hushed tones, then he tiptoed back to
the bed and gently stroked the curls from Zoie’s troubled forehead.

“There now, dear,” he whispered, “lie still and rest and I’ll go shave
and wash up a bit.”

Zoie sighed her acquiescence.

“Mind,” he whispered to Aggie, “you are to call me the moment my boy
comes,” and then he slipped quietly into the bedroom.

No sooner had Alfred crossed the threshold, than Zoie sat up in bed and
called in a sharp whisper to Aggie, “What’s keeping them?” she asked.

“I can’t imagine,” answered Aggie, also in whisper.

“If I had Jimmy here,” declared Zoie vindictively, “I’d wring his little
fat neck,” and slipping her little pink toes from beneath the covers,
she was about to get out of bed, when Aggie, who was facing Alfred’s
bedroom door, gave her a warning signal.

Zoie had barely time to get back beneath the covers, when Alfred
re-entered the room in search of his satchel. Aggie found it for him
quickly.

Alfred glanced solicitously at Zoie’s closed eyes. “I’m so sorry,” he
apologised to Aggie, and again he slipped softly out of the room.

Aggie and Zoie drew together for consultation.

“Suppose Jimmy can’t get the baby,” whispered Zoie.

“In that case, he’d have ‘phoned,” argued Aggie.

“Let’s ‘phone to the Home,” suggested Zoie, “and find----” She was
interrupted by Alfred’s voice.

“Say, Aggie,” called Alfred from the next room.

“Yes?” answered Aggie sweetly, and she crossed to the door and waited.

“Hasn’t he come yet?” called Alfred impatiently.

“Not yet, Alfred,” said Aggie, and she closed the door very softly, lest
Alfred should hear her.

“I never knew Alfred could be so silly!” snapped Zoie.

“Sh! sh!” warned Aggie, and she glanced anxiously toward Alfred’s door.

“He doesn’t care a bit about me!” complained Zoie. “It’s all that horrid
old baby that he’s never seen.”

“If Jimmy doesn’t come soon, he never WILL see it,” declared Aggie, and
she started toward the window to look out.

Just then there was a short quick ring of the bell. The two women
glanced at each other with mingled hope and fear. Then their eyes sought
the door expectantly.



CHAPTER XVII

With the collar of his long ulster pushed high and the brim of his derby
hat pulled low, Jimmy Jinks crept cautiously into the room. When he at
length ceased to glance over his shoulder and came to a full stop, Aggie
perceived a bit of white flannel hanging beneath the hem of his tightly
buttoned coat.

“You’ve GOT it!” she cried.

“Where is it?” asked Zoie.

“Give it to me,” demanded Aggie.

Jimmy stared at them as though stupefied, then glanced uneasily over his
shoulder, to make sure that no one was pursuing him. Aggie unbuttoned
his ulster, seized a wee mite wrapped in a large shawl, and clasped it
to her bosom with a sigh of relief. “Thank heaven!” she exclaimed, then
crossed quickly to the bassinette and deposited her charge.

In the meantime, having thrown discretion to the wind, Zoie had hopped
out of bed. As usual, her greeting to Jimmy was in the nature of a
reproach. “What kept you?” she demanded crossly.

“Yes,” chimed in Aggie, who was now bending over the crib. “What made
you so long?”

“See here!” answered Jimmy hotly, “if you two think you can do any
better, you’re welcome to the job,” and with that he threw off his
overcoat and sank sullenly on the couch.

“Sh! sh!” exclaimed Zoie and Aggie, simultaneously, and they glanced
nervously toward Alfred’s bedroom door.

Jimmy looked at them without comprehending why he should “sh.” They did
not bother to explain. Instead, Zoie turned her back upon him.

“Let’s see it,” she said, peeping into the bassinette. And then with a
little cry of disgust she again looked at Jimmy reproachfully. “Isn’t it
ugly?” she said. Jimmy’s contempt for woman’s ingratitude was too
deep for words, and he only stared at her in injured silence. But his
reflections were quickly upset when Alfred called from the next room, to
inquire again about Baby.

“Alfred’s here!” whispered Jimmy, beginning to realise the meaning of
the women’s mysterious behaviour.

“Sh! sh!” said Aggie again to Jimmy, and Zoie flew toward the bed,
almost vaulting over the footboard in her hurry to get beneath the
covers.

For the present Alfred did not disturb them further. Apparently he was
still occupied with his shaving, but just as Jimmy was about to ask for
particulars, the ‘phone rang. The three culprits glanced guiltily at
each other.

“Who’s that?” whispered Zoie in a frightened voice.

Aggie crossed to the ‘phone. “Hello,” she called softly. “The Children’s
Home?” she exclaimed.

Jimmy paused in the act of sitting and turned his round eyes toward the
‘phone.

Aggie’s facial expression was not reassuring. “But we can’t,” she was
saying; “that’s impossible.”

“What is it?” called Zoie across the foot of the bed, unable longer to
endure the suspense.

Aggie did not answer. She was growing more and more excited. “A thief!”
 she cried wildly, over the ‘phone. “How dare you call my husband a
thief!”

Jimmy was following the conversation with growing interest.

“Wait a minute,” said Aggie, then she left the receiver hanging by the
cord and turned to the expectant pair behind her. “It’s the Children’s
Home,” she explained. “That awful woman says Jimmy STOLE her baby!”

“What!” exclaimed Zoie as though such depravity on Jimmy’s part were
unthinkable. Then she looked at him accusingly, and asked in low,
measured tones, “DID you STEAL HER BABY, JIMMY?”

“Didn’t you tell me to?” asked Jimmy hotly. “Not literally,” corrected
Aggie.

“How else COULD I steal a baby?” demanded Jimmy.

Zoie looked at the unfortunate creature as if she could strangle him,
and Aggie addressed him with a threat in her voice.

“Well, the Superintendent says you’ve got to bring it straight back.”

“I’d like to see myself!” said Jimmy.

“He sha’n’t bring it back,” declared Zoie. “I’ll not let him!”

“What shall I tell the Superintendent?” asked Aggie, “he’s holding the
wire.”

“Tell him he can’t have it,” answered Zoie, as though that were the end
of the whole matter.

“Well,” concluded Aggie, “he says if Jimmy DOESN’T bring it back the
mother’s coming after it.”

“Good Lord!” exclaimed Zoie.

As for Jimmy, he bolted for the door. Aggie caught him by the sleeve as
he passed. “Wait, Jimmy,” she said peremptorily. There was a moment of
awful indecision, then something approaching an idea came to Zoie.

“Tell the Superintendent that it isn’t here,” she whispered to Aggie
across the footboard. “Tell him that Jimmy hasn’t got here yet.”

“Yes,” agreed Jimmy, “tell him I haven’t got here yet.”

Aggie nodded wisely and returned to the ‘phone. “Hello,” she called
pleasantly; then proceeded to explain. “Mr. Jinks hasn’t got here yet.”
 There was a pause, then she added in her most conciliatory tone, “I’ll
tell him what you say when he comes in.” Another pause, and she hung up
the receiver with a most gracious good-bye and turned to the others with
increasing misgivings. “He says he won’t be responsible for that mother
much longer--she’s half-crazy.”

“What right has she to be crazy?” demanded Zoie in an abused voice.
“She’s a widow. She doesn’t need a baby.”

“Well,” decided Aggie after careful deliberation, “you’d better take it
back, Jimmy, before Alfred sees it.”

“What?” exclaimed Zoie in protest. And again Jimmy bolted, but again he
failed to reach the door.



CHAPTER XVIII

His face covered with lather, and a shaving brush in one hand, Alfred
entered the room just as his friend was about to escape.

“Jimmy!” exclaimed the excited young father, “you’re back.”

“Oh, yes--yes,” admitted Jimmy nervously, “I’m back.”

“My boy!” cried Alfred, and he glanced toward the crib. “He’s here!”

“Yes--yes,” agreed Aggie uneasily, as she tried to place herself between
Alfred and the bassinette. “He’s here, but you mayn’t have him, Alfred.”

“What?” exclaimed Alfred, trying to put her out of the way.

“Not yet,” protested Aggie, “not just yet.”

“Give him to me,” demanded Alfred, and thrusting Aggie aside, he took
possession of the small mite in the cradle.

“But--but, Alfred,” pleaded Aggie, “your face. You’ll get him all wet.”

Alfred did not heed her. He was bending over the cradle in an ecstasy.
“My boy!” he cried, “my boy!” Lifting the baby in his arms he circled
the room cooing to him delightedly.

“Was he away from home when his fadder came? Oh, me, oh, my! Coochy!
Coochy! Coochy!” Suddenly he remembered to whom he owed this wondrous
treasure and forgetful of the lather on his unshaven face he rushed
toward Zoie with an overflowing heart. “My precious!” he exclaimed, and
he covered her cheek with kisses.

“Go away!” cried Zoie in disgust and she pushed Alfred from her and
brushed the hateful lather from her little pink check.

But Alfred was not to be robbed of his exaltation, and again he circled
the room, making strange gurgling sounds to Baby.

“Did a horrid old Jimmy take him away from fadder?” he said
sympathetically, in the small person’s ear; and he glanced at Jimmy with
frowning disapproval. “I’d just like to see him get you away from me
again!” he added to Baby, as he tickled the mite’s ear with the end of
his shaving brush. “Oh, me! oh, my!” he exclaimed in trepidation, as he
perceived a bit of lather on the infant’s cheek. Then lifting the boy
high in his arms and throwing out his chest with great pride, he looked
at Jimmy with an air of superiority. “I guess I’m bad, aye?” he said.

Jimmy positively blushed. As for Zoie, she was growing more and more
impatient for a little attention to herself.

“Rock-a-bye, Baby,” sang Alfred in strident tones and he swung the child
high in his arms.

Jimmy and Aggie gazed at Alfred as though hypnotised. They kept time to
his lullaby out of sheer nervousness. Suddenly Alfred stopped, held the
child from him and gazed at it in horror. “Good heavens!” he exclaimed.
The others waited breathlessly. “Look at that baby’s face,” commanded
Alfred.

Zoie and Aggie exchanged alarmed glances, then Zoie asked in
trepidation, “What’s the matter with his face?”

“He’s got a fever,” declared Alfred. And he started toward the bed to
show the child to its mother.

“Go away!” shrieked Zoie, waving Alfred off in wild alarm.

“What?” asked Alfred, backing from her in surprise.

Aggie crossed quickly to Alfred’s side and looked over his shoulder at
the boy. “I don’t see anything wrong with its face,” she said.

“It’s scarlet!” persisted Alfred.

“Oh,” said Jimmy with a superior air, “they’re always like that.”

“Nothing of the sort,” snorted Alfred, and he glared at Jimmy
threateningly. “You’ve frozen the child parading him around the
streets.”

“Let me have him, Alfred,” begged Aggie sweetly; “I’ll put him in his
crib and keep him warm.”

Reluctantly Alfred released the boy. His eyes followed him to the crib
with anxiety. “Where’s his nurse?” he asked, as he glanced first from
one to the other.

Zoie and Jimmy stared about the room as though expecting the desired
person to drop from the ceiling. Then Zoie turned upon her unwary
accomplice.

“Jimmy,” she called in a threatening tone, “where IS his nurse?”

“Does Jimmy take the nurse out, too?” demanded Alfred, more and more
annoyed by the privileges Jimmy had apparently been usurping in his
absence.

“Never mind about the nurse,” interposed Aggie. “Baby likes me better
anyway. I’ll tuck him in,” and she bent fondly over the crib, but Alfred
was not to be so easily pacified.

“Do you mean to tell me,” he exclaimed excitedly, “that my boy hasn’t
any nurse?”

“We HAD a nurse,” corrected Zoie, “but--but I had to discharge her.”

Alfred glanced from one to the other for an explanation.

“Discharge her?” he repeated, “for what?”

“She was crazy,” stammered Zoie.

Alfred’s eyes sought Aggie’s for confirmation. She nodded. He directed
his steady gaze toward Jimmy. The latter jerked his head up and down in
nervous assent.

“Well,” said Alfred, amazed at their apparent lack of resource, “why
didn’t you get ANOTHER nurse?”

“Aggie is going to stay and take care of baby to-night,” declared Zoie,
and then she beamed upon Aggie as only she knew how. “Aren’t you, dear?”
 she asked sweetly.

“Yes, indeed,” answered Aggie, studiously avoiding Jimmy’s eye.

“Baby is going to sleep in the spare room with Aggie and Jimmy,” said
Zoie.

“What!” exclaimed Jimmy, too desperate to care what Alfred might infer.

Ignoring Jimmy’s implied protest, Zoie continued sweetly to Alfred:

“Now, don’t worry, dear; go back to your room and finish your shaving.”

“Finish shaving?” repeated Alfred in a puzzled way. Then his hand went
mechanically to his cheek and he stared at Zoie in astonishment. “By
Jove!” he exclaimed, “I had forgotten all about it. That shows you how
excited I am.” And with a reluctant glance toward the cradle, he went
quickly from the room, singing a high-pitched lullaby.

Just as the three conspirators were drawing together for consultation,
Alfred returned to the room. It was apparent that there was something
important on his mind.

“By the way,” he said, glancing from one to another, “I forgot to
ask--what’s his name?”

The conspirators looked at each other without answering. To Alfred their
delay was annoying. Of course his son had been given his father’s name,
but he wished to HEAR someone say so.

“Baby’s, I mean,” he explained impatiently.

Jimmy felt instinctively that Zoie’s eyes were upon him. He avoided her
gaze.

“Jimmy!” called Zoie, meaning only to appeal to him for a name.

“Jimmy!” thundered the infuriated Alfred. “You’ve called my boy ‘Jimmy’?
Why ‘Jimmy’?”

For once Zoie was without an answer.

After waiting in vain for any response, Alfred advanced upon the
uncomfortable Jimmy.

“You seem to be very popular around here,” he sneered.

Jimmy shifted uneasily from one foot to the other and studied the
pattern of the rug upon which he was standing.

After what seemed an age to Jimmy, Alfred turned his back upon his old
friend and started toward his bedroom. Jimmy peeped out uneasily from
his long eyelashes. When Alfred reached the threshold, he faced about
quickly and stared again at Jimmy for an explanation. It seemed to Jimmy
that Alfred’s nostrils were dilating. He would not have been surprised
to see Alfred snort fire. He let his eyes fall before the awful
spectacle of his friend’s wrath. Alfred’s upper lip began to curl. He
cast a last withering look in Jimmy’s direction, retired quickly from
the scene and banged the door.

When Jimmy again had the courage to lift his eyes he was confronted by
the contemptuous gaze of Zoie, who was sitting up in bed and regarding
him with undisguised disapproval.

“Why didn’t you tell him what the baby’s name is?” she demanded.

“How do _I_ know what the baby’s name is?” retorted Jimmy savagely.

“Sh! sh!” cautioned Aggie as she glanced nervously toward the door
through which Alfred had just passed.

“What does it matter WHAT the baby’s name is so long as we have to send
it back?”

“I’ll NOT send it back,” declared Zoie emphatically, “at least not until
morning. That will give Jimmy a whole night to get another one.”

“Another!” shrieked Jimmy. “See here, you two can’t be changing babies
every five minutes without Alfred knowing it. Even HE has SOME sense.”

“Nonsense!” answered Aggie shortly. “You know perfectly well that all
young babies look just alike. Their own mothers couldn’t tell them
apart, if it weren’t for their clothes.”

“But where can we GET another?” asked Zoie.

Before Aggie could answer, Alfred was again heard calling from the next
room. Apparently all his anger had subsided, for he inquired in the most
amiable tone as to what baby might be doing and how he might be feeling.
Aggie crossed quickly to the door, and sweetly reassured the anxious
father, then she closed the door softly and turned to Zoie and Jimmy
with a new inspiration lighting her face. “I have it,” she exclaimed
ecstatically.

Jimmy regarded his spouse with grave suspicion.

“Now see here,” he objected, “every time YOU ‘HAVE IT,’ I DO IT. The
NEXT time you ‘HAVE IT’ YOU DO IT!”

The emphasis with which Jimmy made his declaration deserved
consideration, but to his amazement it was entirely ignored by both
women. Hopping quickly out of bed, without even glancing in his
direction, Zoie gave her entire attention to Aggie. “What is it?” she
asked eagerly.

“There must be OTHER babies’ Homes,” said Aggie, and she glanced at
Jimmy from her superior height.

“They aren’t open all night like corner drug stores,” growled Jimmy.

“Well, they ought to be,” decided Zoie.

“And surely,” argued Aggie, “in an extraordinary case--like----”

“This was an ‘extraordinary case,’” declared Jimmy, “and you saw what
happened this time, and the Superintendent is a friend of mine--at least
he WAS a friend of mine.” And with that Jimmy sat himself down on the
far corner of the couch and proceeded to ruminate on the havoc that
these two women had wrought in his once tranquil life.

Zoie gazed at Jimmy in deep disgust; her friend Aggie had made an
excellent suggestion, and instead of acting upon it with alacrity, here
sat Jimmy sulking like a stubborn child.

“I suppose,” said Zoie, as her eyebrows assumed a bored angle, “there
are SOME babies in the world outside of Children’s Homes.”

“Of course,” was Aggie’s enthusiastic rejoinder; “there’s one born every
minute.”

“But I was born BETWEEN minutes,” protested Jimmy.

“Who’s talking about you?” snapped Zoie.

Again Aggie exclaimed that she “had it.”

“She’s got it twice as bad,” groaned Jimmy, and he wondered what new
form her persecution of him was about to take.

“Where is the morning paper?” asked Aggie, excitedly.

“We can’t advertise NOW,” protested Zoie. “It’s too late for that.”

“Sh! Sh!” answered Aggie, as she snatched the paper quickly from
the table and began running her eyes up and down its third page.
“Married--married,” she murmured, and then with delight she found
the half column for which she was searching. “Born,” she exclaimed
triumphantly. “Here we are! Get a pencil, Zoie, and we’ll take down all
the new ones.”

“Of course,” agreed Zoie, clapping her hands in glee, “and Jimmy can get
a taxi and look them right up.”

“Oh, CAN he?” shouted Jimmy as he rose with clenched fists. “Now you
two, see here----”

Before Jimmy could complete his threat, there was a sharp ring of the
door bell. He looked at the two women inquiringly.

“It’s the mother,” cried Zoie in a hoarse whisper.

“The mother!” repeated Jimmy in terror and he glanced uncertainly from
one door to the other.

“Cover up the baby!” called Zoie, and drawing Jimmy’s overcoat quickly
from his arm, Aggie threw it hurriedly over the cradle.

For an instant Jimmy remained motionless in the centre of the room,
hatless, coatless, and shorn of ideas. A loud knock on the door decided
him and he sank with trembling knees behind the nearest armchair, just
as Zoie made a flying leap into the bed and prepared to draw the cover
over her head.

The knock was repeated and Aggie signalled to Zoie to answer it.

“Come in!” called Zoie very faintly.



CHAPTER XIX

From his hiding-place Jimmy peeped around the edge of the armchair and
saw what seemed to be a large clothes basket entering the room. Closer
inspection revealed the small figure of Maggie, the washerwoman’s
daughter, propelling the basket, which was piled high with freshly
laundered clothing. Jimmy drew a long sigh of relief, and unknotted his
cramped limbs.

“Shall I lay the things on the sofa, mum?” asked Maggie as she placed
her basket on the floor and waited for Zoie’s instructions.

“Yes, please,” answered Zoie, too exhausted for further comment.

Taking the laundry piece by piece from the basket, Maggie made excuses
for its delay, while she placed it on the couch. Deaf to Maggie’s
chatter, Zoie lay back languidly on her pillows; but she soon heard
something that lifted her straight up in bed.

“Me mother is sorry she had to kape you waitin’ this week,” said Maggie
over her shoulder; “but we’ve got twins at OUR house.”

“Twins!” echoed Zoie and Aggie simultaneously. Then together they stared
at Maggie as though she had been dropped from another world.

Finding attention temporarily diverted from himself, Jimmy had begun to
rearrange both his mind and his cravat when he felt rather than saw that
his two persecutors were regarding him with a steady, determined gaze.
In spite of himself, Jimmy raised his eyes to theirs.

“Twins!” was their laconic answer.

Now, Jimmy had heard Maggie’s announcement about the bountiful supply
of offspring lately arrived at her house, but not until he caught the
fanatical gleam in the eyes of his companions did he understand the
part they meant him to play in their next adventure. He waited for no
explanation--he bolted toward the door.

“Wait, Jimmy,” commanded Aggie. But it was not until she had laid firm
hold of him that he waited.

Surprised by such strange behaviour on the part of those whom she
considered her superiors, Maggie looked first at Aggie, then at Jimmy,
then at Zoie, uncertain whether to go or to stay.

“Anythin’ to go back, mum?” she stammered.

Zoie stared at Maggie solemnly from across the foot of the bed.
“Maggie,” she asked in a deep, sepulchral tone, “where do you live?”

“Just around the corner on High Street, mum,” gasped Maggie. Then,
keeping her eyes fixed uneasily on Zoie she picked up her basket and
backed cautiously toward the door.

“Wait!” commanded Zoie; and Maggie paused, one foot in mid-air. “Wait in
the hall,” said Zoie.

“Yes’um,” assented Maggie, almost in a whisper. Then she nodded her
head jerkily, cast another furtive glance at the three persons who were
regarding her so strangely, and slipped quickly through the door.

Having crossed the room and stealthily closed the door, Aggie returned
to Jimmy, who was watching her with the furtive expression of a trapped
animal.

“It’s Providence,” she declared, with a grave countenance.

Jimmy looked up at Aggie with affected innocence, then rolled his round
eyes away from her. He was confronted by Zoie, who had approached from
the opposite side of the room.

“It’s Fate,” declared Zoie, in awe-struck tones.

Jimmy was beginning to wriggle, but he kept up a last desperate presence
of not understanding them.

“You needn’t tell me I’m going to take the wash to the old lady,” he
said, “for I’m not going to do it.”

“It isn’t the WASH,” said Aggie, and her tone warned him that she
expected no nonsense from him.

“You know what we are thinking about just as well as we do,” said Zoie.
“I’ll write that washerwoman a note and tell her we must have one of
those babies right now.” And with that she turned toward her desk and
began rummaging amongst her papers for a pencil and pad. “The luck of
these poor,” she murmured.

“The luck of US,” corrected Aggie, whose spirits were now soaring. Then
she turned to Jimmy with growing enthusiasm. “Just think of it, dear,”
 she said, “Fate has sent us a baby to our very door.”

“Well,” declared Jimmy, again beginning to show signs of fight, “if
Fate has sent a baby to the door, you don’t need me,” and with that he
snatched his coat from the crib.

“Wait, Jimmy,” again commanded Aggie, and she took his coat gently but
firmly from him.

“Now, see here,” argued Jimmy, trying to get free from his strong-minded
spouse, “you know perfectly well that that washerwoman isn’t going to
let us have that baby.”

“Nonsense,” called Zoie over her shoulder, while she scribbled a hurried
note to the washerwoman. “If she won’t let us have it ‘for keeps,’ I’ll
just ‘rent it.’”

“Good Lord!” exclaimed Jimmy in genuine horror. “Warm, fresh,
palpitating babies rented as you would rent a gas stove!”

“That’s all a pose,” declared Aggie, in a matter-of-fact tone. “You
think babies ‘little red worms,’ you’ve said so.”

Jimmy could not deny it.

“She’ll be only too glad to rent it,” declared Zoie, as she glanced
hurriedly through the note just written, and slipped it, together with
a bill, into an envelope. “I’ll pay her anything. It’s only until I can
get another one.”

“Another!” shouted Jimmy, and his eyes turned heavenward for help. “An
endless chain with me to put the links together!”

“Don’t be so theatrical,” said Aggie, irritably, as she took up Jimmy’s
coat and prepared to get him into it.

“Why DO you make such a fuss about NOTHING,” sighed Zoie.

“Nothing?” echoed Jimmy, and he looked at her with wondering eyes.
“I crawl about like a thief in the night snatching babies from their
mother’s breasts, and you call THAT nothing?”

“You don’t have to ‘CRAWL,’” reminded Zoie, “you can take a taxi.”

“Here’s your coat, dear,” said Aggie graciously, as she endeavoured to
slip Jimmy’s limp arms into the sleeves of the garment.

“You can take Maggie with you,” said Zoie, with the air of conferring a
distinct favour upon him.

“And the wash on my lap,” added Jimmy sarcastically.

“No,” said Zoie, unruffled by Jimmy’s ungracious behaviour. “We’ll send
the wash later.”

“That’s very kind of you,” sneered Jimmy, as he unconsciously allowed
his arms to slip into the sleeves of the coat Aggie was urging upon him.

“All you need to do,” said Aggie complacently, “is to get us the baby.”

“Yes,” said Jimmy, “and what do you suppose my friends would say if they
were to see me riding around town with the wash-lady’s daughter and a
baby on my lap? What would YOU say?” he asked Aggie, “if you didn’t know
the facts?”

“Nobody’s going to see you,” answered Aggie impatiently; “it’s only
around the corner. Go on, Jimmy, be a good boy.”

“You mean a good thing,” retorted Jimmy without budging from the spot.

“How ridiculous!” exclaimed Zoie; “it’s as easy as can be.”

“Yes, the FIRST one SOUNDED easy, too,” said Jimmy.

“All you have to do,” explained Zoie, trying to restrain her rising
intolerance of his stupidity, “is to give this note to Maggie’s mother.
She’ll give you her baby, you bring it back here, we’ll give you THIS
one, and you can take it right back to the Home.”

“And meet the other mother,” concluded Jimmy with a shake of his head.

There was a distinct threat in Zoie’s voice when she again addressed the
stubborn Jimmy and the glitter of triumph was in her eyes.

“You’d better meet here THERE than HERE,” she warned him; “you know what
the Superintendent said.”

“That’s true,” agreed Aggie with an anxious face. “Come now,” she
pleaded, “it will only take a minute; you can do the whole thing before
you have had time to think.”

“Before I have had time to think,” repeated Jimmy excitedly. “That’s how
you get me to do everything. Well, this time I’ve HAD time to think and
I don’t think I will!” and with that he threw himself upon the couch,
unmindful of the damage to the freshly laundered clothes.

“Get up,” cried Zoie.

“You haven’t time to sit down,” said Aggie.

“I’ll TAKE time,” declared Jimmy. His eyes blinked ominously and he
remained glued to the couch.

There was a short silence; the two women gazed at Jimmy in despair.
Remembering a fresh grievance, Jimmy turned upon them.

“By the way,” he said, “do you two know that I haven’t had anything to
eat yet?”

“And do you know,” said Zoie, “that Alfred may be back at any minute? He
can’t stay away forever.”

“Not unless he has cut his throat,” rejoined Jimmy, “and that’s what I’d
do if I had a razor.”

Zoie regarded Jimmy as though he were beyond redemption. “Can’t you ever
think of anybody but yourself?” she asked, with a martyred air.

Had Jimmy been half his age, Aggie would have felt sure that she saw him
make a face at her friend for answer. As it was, she resolved to make
one last effort to awaken her unobliging spouse to a belated sense of
duty.

“You see, dear,” she said, “you might better get the washerwoman’s baby
than to go from house to house for one,” and she glanced again toward
the paper.

“Yes,” urged Zoie, “and that’s just what you’ll HAVE to do, if you don’t
get this one.”

Jimmy’s head hung dejectedly. It was apparent that his courage was
slipping from him. Aggie was quick to realise her opportunity, and
before Jimmy could protect himself from her treacherous wiles, she had
slipped one arm coyly about his neck.

“Now, Jimmy,” she pleaded as she pressed her soft cheek to his throbbing
temple, and toyed with the bay curl on his perspiring forehead, “wont
you do this little teeny-weepy thing just for me?”

Jimmy’s lips puckered in a pout; he began to blink nervously. Aggie
slipped her other arm about his neck.

“You know,” she continued with a baby whine, “I got Zoie into this, and
I’ve just got to get her out of it. You’re not going to desert me,
are you, Jimmy? You WILL help me, won’t you, dear?” Her breath was on
Jimmy’s cheek; he could feel her lips stealing closer to his. He had not
been treated to much affection of late. His head drooped lower--he began
to twiddle the fob on his watch chain. “Won’t you?” persisted Aggie.

Jimmy studied the toes of his boots.

“Won’t you?” she repeated, and her soft eyelashes just brushed the tip
of his retrousee nose.

Jimmy’s head was now wagging from side to side.

“Won’t you?” she entreated a fourth time, and she kissed him full on the
lips.

With a resigned sigh, Jimmy rose mechanically from the heap of crushed
laundry and held out his fat chubby hand.

“Give me the letter,” he groaned.

“Here you are,” said Zoie, taking Jimmy’s acquiescence as a matter of
course; and she thrust the letter into the pocket of Jimmy’s ulster.
“Now, when you get back with the baby,” she continued, “don’t come in
all of a sudden; just wait outside and whistle. You CAN WHISTLE, can’t
you?” she asked with a doubtful air.

For answer, Jimmy placed two fingers between his lips and produced a
shrill whistle that made both Zoie and Aggie glance nervously toward
Alfred’s bedroom door.

“Yes, you can WHISTLE,” admitted Zoie, then she continued her
directions. “If Alfred is not in the room, I’ll raise the shade and you
can come right up.”

“And if he is in the room?” asked Jimmy with a fine shade of sarcasm.

“If he IS in the room,” explained Zoie, “you must wait outside until I
can get rid of him.”

Jimmy turned his eyes toward Aggie to ask if it were possible that she
still approved of Zoie’s inhuman plan. For answer Aggie stroked his coat
collar fondly.

“We’ll give you the signal the moment the coast is clear,” she said,
then she hurriedly buttoned Jimmy’s large ulster and wound a muffler
about his neck. “There now, dear, do go, you’re all buttoned up,” and
with that she urged him toward the door.

“Just a minute,” protested Jimmy, as he paused on the threshold. “Let me
get this right, if the shade is up, I stay down.”

“Not at all,” corrected Aggie and Zoie in a breath. “If the shade is up,
you come up.”

Jimmy cast another martyred look in Zoie’s direction.

“You won’t hurry will you?” he said, “you know it is only twenty-three
below zero and I haven’t had anything to eat yet--and----”

“Yes, we know,” interrupted the two women in chorus, and then Aggie
added wearily, “go on, Jimmy; don’t be funny.”

“Funny?” snorted Jimmy. “With a baby on my lap and the wash lady’s
daughter, I won’t be funny, oh no!”

It is doubtful whether Jimmy would not have worked himself into another
state of open rebellion had not Aggie put an end to his protests by
thrusting him firmly out of the room and closing the door behind him.
After this act of heroic decision on her part, the two women listened
intently, fearing that he might return; but presently they heard the
bang of the outer door, and at last they drew a long breath of relief.
For the first time since Alfred’s arrival, Aggie was preparing to sink
into a chair, when she was startled by a sharp exclamation from Zoie.

“Good heavens,” cried Zoie, “I forgot to ask Maggie.”

“Ask her what?” questioned Aggie.

“Boys or girls,” said Zoie, with a solemn look toward the door through
which Jimmy had just disappeared.

“Well,” decided Aggie, after a moment’s reflection, “it’s too late now.
Anyway,” she concluded philosophically, “we couldn’t CHANGE it.”



CHAPTER XX

With more or less damage to himself consequent on his excitement, Alfred
completed his shaving and hastened to return to his wife and the babe.
Finding the supposedly ill Zoie careering about the centre of the room
expostulating with Aggie, the young man stopped dumbfounded on the
threshold.

“Zoie,” he cried in astonishment. “What are you doing out of bed?”

For an instant the startled Zoie gazed at him stupefied.

“Why, I--I----” Her eyes sought Aggie’s for a suggestion; there was no
answer there. It was not until her gaze fell upon the cradle that she
was seized by the desired inspiration.

“I just got up to see baby,” she faltered, then putting one hand giddily
to her head, she pretended to sway.

In an instant Alfred’s arms were about her. He bore her quickly to the
bed. “You stay here, my darling,” he said tenderly. “I’ll bring baby
to you,” and after a solicitous caress he turned toward baby’s crib and
bent fondly over the little one. “Ah, there’s father’s man,” he said.
“Was he lonesome baby? Oh, goodis g’acious,” then followed an incoherent
muttering of baby talk, as he bore the youngster toward Zoie’s bed.
“Come, my precious,” he called to Zoie, as he sank down on the edge of
the bed. “See mother’s boy.”

“Mother!” shrieked Zoie in horror. It had suddenly dawned upon her that
this was the name by which Alfred would no doubt call her for the rest
of her life. She almost detested him.

But Alfred did not see the look of disgust on Zoie’s face. He was wholly
absorbed by baby.

“What a funny face,” he cooed as he pinched the youngster’s cheek.
“Great Scott, what a grip,” he cried as the infant’s fingers closed
around his own. “Will you look at the size of those hands,” he
exclaimed.

Zoie and Aggie exchanged worried glances; the baby had no doubt
inherited his large hands from his mother.

“Say, Aggie,” called Alfred, “what are all of these little specks
on baby’s forehead?” He pointed toward the infant’s brow. “One, two,
three,” he counted.

Zoie was becoming more and more uncomfortable at the close proximity of
the little stranger.

“Oh,” said Aggie, with affected carelessness as she leaned over Alfred’s
shoulder and glanced at baby’s forehead. “That is just a little rash.”

“A rash!” exclaimed Alfred excitedly, “that’s dangerous, isn’t it? We’d
better call up the doctor.” And he rose and started hurriedly toward the
telephone, baby in arms.

“Don’t be silly,” called Zoie, filled with vague alarm at the thought of
the family physician’s appearance and the explanations that this might
entail.

Stepping between Alfred and the ‘phone, Aggie protested frantically.
“You see, Alfred,” she said, “it is better to have the rash OUT, it
won’t do any harm unless it turns IN.”

“He’s perfectly well,” declared Zoie, “if you’ll only put him in his
crib and leave him alone.”

Alfred looked down at his charge. “Is that right, son?” he asked, and he
tickled the little fellow playfully in the ribs. “I’ll tell you what,”
 he called over his shoulder to Zoie, “he’s a fine looking boy.” And then
with a mysterious air, he nodded to Aggie to approach. “Whom does he
look like?” he asked.

Again Zoie sat up in anxiety. Aggie glanced at her, uncertain what
answer to make.

“I--I hadn’t thought,” she stammered weakly.

“Go on, go on,” exclaimed the proud young father, “you can’t tell me
that you can look at that boy and not see the resemblance.”

“To whom?” asked Aggie, half fearfully.

“Why,” said Alfred, “he’s the image of Zoie.”

Zoie gazed at the puckered red face in Alfred’s arms. “What!” she
shrieked in disgust, then fall back on her pillows and drew the lace
coverlet over her face.

Mistaking Zoie’s feeling for one of embarrassment at being over-praised,
Alfred bore the infant to her bedside. “See, dear,” he persisted, “see
for yourself, look at his forehead.”

“I’d rather look at you,” pouted Zoie, peeping from beneath the
coverlet, “if you would only put that thing down for a minute.”

“Thing?” exclaimed Alfred, as though doubting his own ears. But before
he could remonstrate further, Zoie’s arms were about his neck and she
was pleading jealously for his attention.

“Please, Alfred,” she begged, “I have scarcely had a look at you, yet.”

Alfred shook his head and turned to baby with an indulgent smile. It was
pleasant to have two such delightful creatures bidding for his entire
attention.

“Dear me,” he said to baby. “Dear me, tink of mudder wanting to look at
a big u’gy t’ing like fadder, when she could look at a ‘itty witty t’ing
like dis,” and he rose and crossed to the crib where he deposited the
small creature with yet more gurgling and endearing.

Zoie’s dreams of rapture at Alfred’s home coming had not included such
divided attention as he was now showing her and she was growing more and
more desperate at the turn affairs had taken. She resolved to put a stop
to his nonsense and to make him realise that she and no one else was the
lode star of his existence. She beckoned to Aggie to get out of the
room and to leave her a clear field and as soon as her friend had gone
quietly into the next room, she called impatiently to Alfred who was
still cooing rapturously over the young stranger. Finding Alfred deaf
to her first entreaty, Zoie shut her lips hard, rearranged her pretty
head-dress, drew one fascinating little curl down over her shoulder,
reknotted the pink ribbon of her negligee, and then issued a final and
imperious order for her husband to attend her.

“Yes, yes, dear,” answered Alfred, with a shade of impatience. “I’m
coming, I’m coming.” And bidding a reluctant farewell to the small
person in the crib, he crossed to her side.

Zoie caught Alfred’s hand and drew him down to her; he smiled
complacently.

“Well,” he said in the patronising tone that Zoie always resented. “How
is hubby’s little girl?”

“It’s about time,” pouted Zoie, “that you made a little fuss over me for
a change.”

“My own!” murmured Alfred. He stooped to kiss the eager lips, but just
as his young wife prepared to lend herself to his long delayed embrace,
his mind was distracted by an uneasy thought. “Do you think that Baby
is----”

He was not permitted to finish the sentence.

Zoie drew him back to her with a sharp exclamation.

“Think of ME for a while,” she commanded.

“My darling,” expostulated Alfred with a shade of surprise at her
vehemence. “How could I think of anyone else?” Again he stooped to
embrace her and again his mind was directed otherwise. “I wonder if Baby
is warm enough,” he said and attempted to rise.

“Wonder about ME for a while,” snapped Zoie, clinging to him
determinedly.

Again Alfred looked at her in amazement. Was it possible there was
anything besides Baby worth wondering about? Whether there was or not,
Zoie was no longer to be resisted and with a last regretful look at the
crib, he resigned himself to giving his entire attention to his spoiled
young wife.

Gratified by her hard-won conquest, Zoie now settled herself in Alfred’s
arms.

“You haven’t told me what you did all the time that you were away,” she
reminded him.

“Oh, there was plenty to do,” answered Alfred.

“Did you think of me every minute?” she asked jealously.

“That would be telling,” laughed Alfred, as he pinched her small pink
ear.

“I wish to be ‘told,’” declared Zoie; “I don’t suppose you realise it,
but if I were to live a THOUSAND YEARS, I’d never be quite sure what you
did during those FEW MONTHS.”

“It was nothing that you wouldn’t have been proud of,” answered Alfred,
with an unconscious expansion of his chest.

“Do you love me as much as ever?” asked Zoie.

“Behave yourself,” answered Alfred, trying not to appear flattered
by the discovery that his absence had undoubtedly caused her great
uneasiness.

“Well, SAY it!” demanded Zoie.

“You know I do,” answered Alfred, with the diffidence of a school boy.

“Then kiss me,” concluded Zoie, with an air of finality that left Alfred
no alternative.

As a matter of fact, Alfred was no longer seeking an alternative. He was
again under the spell of his wife’s adorable charms and he kissed her
not once, but many times.

“Foolish child,” he murmured, then he laid her tenderly against the
large white pillows, remonstrating with her for being so spoiled, and
cautioning her to be a good little girl while he went again to see about
Baby.

Zoie clung to his hand and feigned approaching tears.

“You aren’t thinking of me at all?” she pouted. “And kisses are no
good unless you put your whole mind on them. Give me a real kiss!” she
pleaded.

Again Alfred stooped to humour the small importunate person who was so
jealous of his every thought, but just as his lips touched her forehead
his ear was arrested by a sound as yet new both to him and to Zoie. He
lifted his head and listened.

“What was that?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” answered Zoie, wondering if the cat could have got into
the room.

A redoubled effort on the part of the young stranger directed their
attention in the right direction.

“My God!” exclaimed Alfred tragically, “it’s Baby. He’s crying.” And
with that, he rushed to the crib and clasped the small mite close to his
breast, leaving Zoie to pummel the pillows in an agony of vexation.

After vain cajoling of the angry youngster, Alfred bore him excitedly to
Zoie’s bedside.

“You’d better take him, dear,” he said.

To the young husband’s astonishment, Zoie waved him from her in terror,
and called loudly for Aggie. But no sooner had Aggie appeared on the
scene, than a sharp whistle was heard from the pavement below.

“Pull down the shade!” cried Zoie frantically.

Aggie hastened toward the window.

Attributing Zoie’s uneasiness to a caprice of modesty, Alfred turned
from the cradle to reassure her.

“No one can see in way up here,” he said.

To Zoie’s distress, the lowering of the shade was answered by a yet
shriller whistle from the street below.

“Was it ‘up’ or ‘down’?” cried Zoie to Aggie in an agony of doubt, as
she tried to recall her instructions to Jimmy.

“I don’t know,” answered Aggie. “I’ve forgotten.”

Another impatient whistle did not improve their memory. Alarmed by
Zoie’s increasing excitement, and thinking she was troubled merely by
a sick woman’s fancy that someone might see through the window, Alfred
placed the babe quickly in its cradle and crossed to the young wife’s
bed.

“It was up, dear,” he said. “You had Aggie put it down.”

“Then I want it up,” declared the seemingly perverse Zoie.

“But it was up,” argued Alfred.

A succession of emotional whistles set Zoie to pounding the pillows.

“Put it down!” she commanded.

“But Zoie----” protested Alfred.

“Did I say ‘up’ or did I say ‘down’?” moaned the half-demented Zoie,
while long whistles and short whistles, appealing whistles and impatient
whistles followed each other in quick succession.

“You said down, dear,” persisted Alfred, now almost as distracted as his
wife.

Zoie waved him from the room. “I wish you’d get out of here,” she cried;
“you make me so nervous that I can’t think at all.”

“Of course, dear,” murmured Alfred, “if you wish it.” And with a hurt
and perplexed expression on his face he backed quickly from the room.



CHAPTER XXI

When Zoie’s letter asking for the O’Flarety twin had reached that young
lady’s astonished mother, Mrs. O’Flarety felt herself suddenly lifted to
a position of importance.

“Think of the purty Mrs. Hardy a wantin’ my little Bridget,” she
exclaimed, and she began to dwell upon the romantic possibilities of
her offspring’s future under the care of such a “foine stylish lady and
concluded by declaring it ‘a lucky day entoirely.’”

Jimmy had his misgivings about it being Bridget’s “LUCKY day,” but it
was not for him to delay matters by dwelling upon the eccentricities
of Zoie’s character, and when Mrs. O’Flarety had deposited Bridget in
Jimmy’s short arms and slipped a well filled nursing bottle into his
overcoat pocket, he took his leave hastily, lest the excited woman add
Bridget’s twin to her willing offering.

Once out of sight of the elated mother, Jimmy thrust the defenceless
Bridget within the folds of his already snug ulster, buttoned the
garment in such places as it would meet, and made for the taxi which,
owing to the upset condition of the street, he had been obliged to
abandon at the corner.

Whether the driver had obtained a more promising “fare” or been run
in by the police, Jimmy never knew. At any rate it was in vain that he
looked for his vehicle. So intense was the cold that it was impossible
to wait for a chance taxi; furthermore, the meanness of the district
made it extremely unlikely that one would appear, and glancing guiltily
behind him to make sure that no one was taking cognisance of his strange
exploit, Jimmy began picking his way along dark lanes and avoiding the
lighted thoroughfare on which the “Sherwood” was situated, until he was
within a block of his destination.

Panting with haste and excitement, he eventually gained courage to
dash through a side street that brought him within a few doors of the
“Sherwood.” Again glancing behind him, he turned the well lighted corner
and arrived beneath Zoie’s window to find one shade up and one down. In
his perplexity he emitted a faint whistle. Immediately he saw the other
shade lowered. Uncertain as to what arrangement he had actually made
with Zoie, he ventured a second whistle. The result was a hysterical
running up and down of the shade which left him utterly bewildered as to
what disposition he was supposed to make of the wobbly bit of humanity
pressed against his shirt front.

Reaching over his artificially curved figure to grasp a bit of white
that trailed below his coat, he looked up to see a passing policeman
eyeing him suspiciously.

“Taking the air?” asked the policeman.

“Ye-yes,” mumbled Jimmy with affected nonchalence and he knocked the
heels of his boots together in order to keep his teeth from chattering.
“It’s a fi-fine ni-night for air,” he stuttered.

“Is it?” said the policeman, and to Jimmy’s horror, he saw the fellow’s
eyes fix themselves on the bit of white.

“Go-good-night,” stammered Jimmy hurriedly, and trying to assume an
easy stride in spite of the uncomfortable addition to his already rotund
figure, he slipped into the hotel, where avoiding the lighted elevator,
he laboured quickly, up the stairs.

At the very moment when Zoie was driving Alfred in consternation from
the room, Jimmy entered it uninvited.

“Get out,” was the inhospitable greeting received simultaneously from
Zoie and Aggie, and without waiting for further instructions he “got.”

Fortunately for all concerned, Alfred, who was at the same moment
departing by way of the bedroom door, did not look behind him; but it
was some minutes before Aggie who had followed Jimmy into the hall could
persuade him to return.

After repeated and insistent signals both from Aggie and Zoie, Jimmy’s
round red face appeared cautiously around the frame of the door. It bore
unmistakable indications of apoplexy. But the eyes of the women were not
upon Jimmy’s face, they too had caught sight of the bit of white that
hung below his coat, and dragging him quickly into the room and closing
the door, Aggie proceeded without inquiry or thanks to unbutton his coat
and to take from beneath it the small object for which she and Zoie had
been eagerly waiting.

“Thank Heaven!” sighed Zoie, as she saw Aggie bearing the latest
acquisition to Alfred’s rapidly increasing family safely toward the
crib.

Suddenly remembering something in his right hand coat pocket, Jimmy
called to Aggie, who turned to him and waited expectantly. After
characteristic fumbling, he produced a well filled nursing bottle.

“What’s that?” asked Zoie.

“For HER,” grunted Jimmy, and he nodded toward the bundle in Aggie’s
arms.

“HER!” cried Zoie and Aggie in chorus. Zoie shut her lips hard and gazed
at him with contempt.

“I might have known you’d get the wrong kind,” she said.

What Jimmy thought about the ingratitude of woman was not to be
expressed in language. He controlled himself as well as he could and
merely LOOKED the things that he would like to have said.

“Well, it can’t be helped now,” decided the philosophic Aggie; “here,
Jimmy,” she said, “you hold ‘HER’ a minute and I’ll get you the other
one.”

Placing the small creature in Jimmy’s protesting arms, Aggie turned
toward the cradle to make the proposed exchange when she was startled by
the unexpected return of Alfred.

Thanks to the ample folds of Jimmy’s ulster, he was able to effectually
conceal his charge and he started quickly toward the hall, but in making
the necessary detour around the couch he failed to reach the door before
Alfred, who had chosen a more direct way.

“Hold on, Jimmy,” exclaimed Alfred good-naturedly, and he laid a
detaining hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Where are you going?”

“I’ll be back,” stammered Jimmy weakly, edging his way toward the door,
and contriving to keep his back toward Alfred.

“Wait a minute,” said Alfred jovially, as he let his hand slip onto
Jimmy’s arm, “you haven’t told me the news yet.”

“I’ll tell you later,” mumbled Jimmy, still trying to escape. But
Alfred’s eye had fallen upon a bit of white flannel dangling below
the bottom of Jimmy’s ulster, it travelled upward to Jimmy’s unusually
rotund figure.

“What have you got there?” he demanded to know, as he pointed toward the
centre button of Jimmy’s overcoat.

“Here?” echoed Jimmy vapidly, glancing at the button in question, “why,
that’s just a little----” There was a faint wail from the depths of
the ulster. Jimmy began to caper about with elephantine tread. “Oochie,
coochie, oochie,” he called excitedly.

“What’s the matter with you?” asked Alfred. The wail became a shriek.
“Good Heavens!” cried the anxious father, “it’s my boy.” And with that
he pounced upon Jimmy, threw wide his ulster and snatched from his arms
Jimmy’s latest contribution to Zoie’s scheme of things.

As Aggie had previously remarked, all young babies look very much alike,
and to the inexperienced eye of this new and overwrought father, there
was no difference between the infant that he now pressed to his breast,
and the one that, unsuspected by him, lay peacefully dozing in the crib,
not ten feet from him. He gazed at the face of the newcomer with the
same ecstasy that he had felt in the possession of her predecessor. But
Zoie and Aggie were looking at each other with something quite different
from ecstasy.

“My boy,” exclaimed Alfred, with deep emotion, as he clasped the tiny
creature to his breast. Then he turned to Jimmy. “What were you doing
with my baby?” he demanded hotly.

“I--I was just taking him out for a little walk!” stammered Jimmy.

“You just try,” threatened Alfred, and he towered over the intimidated
Jimmy. “Are you crazy?”

Jimmy was of the opinion that he must be crazy or he would never have
found himself in such a predicament as this, but the anxious faces of
Zoie and Aggie, denied him the luxury of declaring himself so. He sank
mutely on the end of the couch and proceeded to sulk in silence.

As for Aggie and Zoie, they continued to gaze open-mouthed at Alfred,
who was waltzing about the room transported into a new heaven of delight
at having snatched his heir from the danger of another night ramble with
Jimmy.

“Did a horrid old Jimmy spoil his ‘itty nap’?” he gurgled to Baby. Then
with a sudden exclamation of alarm, he turned toward the anxious women.
“Aggie!” he cried, as he stared intently into Baby’s face. “Look--his
rash! It’s turned IN!”

Aggie pretended to glance over Alfred’s shoulder.

“Why so it has,” she agreed nervously.

“What shall we do?” cried the distraught Alfred.

“It’s all right now,” counselled Aggie, “so long as it didn’t turn in
too suddenly.”

“We’d better keep him warm, hadn’t we?” suggested Alfred, remembering
Aggie’s previous instructions on a similar occasion. “I’ll put him in
his crib,” he decided, and thereupon he made a quick move toward the
bassinette.

Staggering back from the cradle with the unsteadiness of a drunken man
Alfred called upon the Diety. “What is THAT?” he demanded as he pointed
toward the unexpected object before him.

Neither Zoie, Aggie, nor Jimmy could command words to assist Alfred’s
rapidly waning powers of comprehension, and it was not until he had
swept each face for the third time with a look of inquiry that Zoie
found breath to stammer nervously, “Why--why--why, that’s the OTHER
one.”

“The other one?” echoed Alfred in a dazed manner; then he turned to
Aggie for further explanation.

“Yes,” affirmed Aggie, with an emphatic nod, “the other one.”

An undescribable joy was dawning on Alfred’s face.

“You don’t mean----” He stared from the infant in his arms to the one in
the cradle, then back again at Aggie and Zoie. The women solemnly nodded
their heads. Even Jimmy unblushingly acquiesced. Alfred turned toward
Zoie for the final confirmation of his hopes.

“Yes, dear,” assented Zoie sweetly, “that’s Alfred.”

What Jimmy and the women saw next appeared to be the dance of a whirling
dervish; as a matter of fact, it was merely a man, mad with delight,
clasping two infants in long clothes and circling the room with them.

When Alfred could again enunciate distinctly, he rushed to Zoie’s side
with the babes in his arms.

“My darling,” he exclaimed, “why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was ashamed,” whispered Zoie, hiding her head to shut out the sight
of the red faces pressed close to hers.

“My angel!” cried Alfred, struggling to control his complicated
emotions; then gazing at the precious pair in his arms, he cast his eyes
devoutly toward heaven, “Was ever a man so blessed?”

Zoie peeped from the covers with affected shyness.

“You love me just as much?” she queried.

“I love you TWICE as much,” declared Alfred, and with that he sank
exhausted on the foot of the bed, vainly trying to teeter one son on
each knee.



CHAPTER XXII

When Jimmy gained courage to turn his eyes in the direction of the
family group he had helped to assemble, he was not reassured by the
reproachful glances that he met from Aggie and Zoie. It was apparent
that in their minds, he was again to blame for something. Realising that
they dared not openly reproach him before Alfred, he decided to make his
escape while his friend was still in the room. He reached for his hat
and tiptoed gingerly toward the door, but just as he was congratulating
himself upon his decision, Alfred called to him with a mysterious air.

“Jimmy,” he said, “just a minute,” and he nodded for Jimmy to approach.

It must have been Jimmy’s guilty conscience that made him powerless
to disobey Alfred’s every command. Anyway, he slunk back to the fond
parent’s side, where he ultimately allowed himself to be inveigled into
swinging his new watch before the unattentive eyes of the red-faced
babes on Alfred’s knees.

“Lower, Jimmy, lower,” called Alfred as Jimmy absent-mindedly allowed
the watch to swing out of the prescribed orbit. “Look at the darlings,
Jimmy, look at them,” he exclaimed as he gazed at the small creatures
admiringly.

“Yes, look at them, Jimmy,” repeated Zoie, and she glared at Jimmy
behind Alfred’s back.

“Don’t you wish you had one of them, Jimmy?’” asked Alfred.

“Well, _I_ wish he had,” commented Zoie, and she wondered how she was
ever again to detach either of them from Alfred’s breast.

Before she could form any plan, the telephone rang loud and
persistently. Jimmy glanced anxiously toward the women for instructions.

“I’ll answer it,” said Aggie with suspicious alacrity, and she crossed
quickly toward the ‘phone. The scattered bits of conversation that Zoie
was able to gather from Aggie’s end of the wire did not tend to soothe
her over-excited nerves. As for Alfred, he was fortunately so engrossed
with the babies that he took little notice of what Aggie was saying.

“What woman?” asked Aggie into the ‘phone. “Where’s she from?” The
answer was evidently not reassuring. “Certainly not,” exclaimed Aggie,
“don’t let her come up; send her away. Mrs. Hardy can’t see anyone at
all.” Then followed a bit of pantomime between Zoie and Aggie, from
which it appeared that their troubles were multiplying, then Aggie again
gave her attention to the ‘phone. “I don’t know anything about her,” she
fibbed, “that woman must have the wrong address.” And with that she hung
up the receiver and came towards Alfred, anxious to get possession of
his two small charges and to get them from the room, lest the mother who
was apparently downstairs should thrust herself into their midst.

“What’s the trouble, Aggie?” asked Alfred, and he nodded toward the
telephone.

“Oh, just some woman with the wrong address,” answered Aggie with
affected carelessness. “You’d better let me take the babies now,
Alfred.”

“Take them where?” asked Alfred with surprise.

“To bed,” answered Aggie sweetly, “they are going to sleep in the next
room with Jimmy and me.” She laid a detaining hand on Jimmy’s arm.

“What’s the hurry?” asked Alfred a bit disgruntled.

“It’s very late,” argued Aggie.

“Of course it is,” insisted Zoie. “Please, Alfred,” she pleaded, “do let
Aggie take them.”

Alfred rose reluctantly. “Mother knows best,” he sighed, but ignoring
Aggie’s outstretched arms, he refused to relinquish the joy of himself
carrying the small mites to their room, and he disappeared with the two
of them, singing his now favourite lullaby.

When Alfred had left the room, Jimmy, who was now seated comfortably in
the rocker, was rudely startled by a sharp voice at either side of him.

“Well!” shrieked Zoie, with all the disapproval that could be got into
the one small word.

“You’re very clever, aren’t you?” sneered Aggie at Jimmy’s other elbow.

Jimmy stared from one to the other.

“A nice fix you’ve got me into NOW,” reproved Zoie.

“Why didn’t you get out when you had the chance?” demanded Aggie.

“You would take your own sweet time, wouldn’t you,” said Zoie.

“What did I tell you?” asked Aggie.

“What does he care?” exclaimed Zoie, and she walked up and down the room
excitedly, oblivious of the disarrangement of her flying negligee. “He’s
perfectly comfortable.”

“Oh yes,” assented Jimmy, as he sank back into the rocker and
began propelling himself to and fro. “I never felt better,” but a
disinterested observer would have seen in him the picture of discomfort.

“You’re going to feel a great deal WORSE,” he was warned by Aggie. “Do
you know who that was on the telephone?” she asked.

Jimmy looked at her mutely.

“The mother!” said Aggie emphatically

“What!” exclaimed Jimmy.

“She’s down stairs,” explained Aggie.

Jimmy had stopped rocking--his face now wore an uneasy expression.

“It’s time you showed a little human intelligence,” taunted Zoie, then
she turned her back upon him and continued to Aggie, “what did she say?”

“She says,” answered Aggie, with a threatening glance toward Jimmy,
“that she won’t leave this place until Jimmy gives her baby back.”

“Let her have her old baby,” said Jimmy. “I don’t want it.”

“You don’t want it?” snapped Zoie indignantly, “what have YOU got to do
with it?”

“Oh nothing, nothing,” acquiesced Jimmy meekly, “I’m a mere detail.”

“A lot you care what becomes of me,” exclaimed Zoie reproachfully; then
she turned to Aggie with a decided nod. “Well, I want it,” she asserted.

“But Zoie,” protested Aggie in astonishment, “you can’t mean to keep
BOTH of them?”

“I certainly DO,” said Zoie.

“What?” cried Aggie and Jimmy in concert.

“Jimmy has presented Alfred with twins,” continued Zoie testily, “and
now, he has to HAVE twins.”

Jimmy’s eyes were growing rounder and rounder.

“Do you know,” continued Zoie, with a growing sense of indignation,
“what would happen to me if I told Alfred NOW that he WASN’T the father
of twins? He’d fly straight out of that door and I’d never see him
again.”

Aggie admitted that Zoie was no doubt speaking the truth.

“Jimmy has awakened Alfred’s paternal instinct for twins,” declared
Zoie, with another emphatic nod of her head, “and now Jimmy must take
the consequences.”

Jimmy tried to frame a few faint objections, but Zoie waved him aside,
with a positive air. “It’s no use arguing. If it were only ONE, it
wouldn’t be so bad, but to tell Alfred that he’s lost twins, he couldn’t
live through it.”

“But Zoie,” argued Aggie, “we can’t have that mother hanging around down
stairs until that baby is an old man. She’ll have us arrested, the next
thing.”

“Why arrest US?” asked Zoie, with wide baby eyes. “WE didn’t take it.
Old slow-poke took it.” And she nodded toward the now utterly vanquished
Jimmy.

“That’s right,” murmured Jimmy, with a weak attempt at sarcasm, “don’t
leave me out of anything good.”

“It doesn’t matter WHICH one she arrests,” decided the practical Aggie.

“Well, it matters to me,” objected Zoie.

“And to me too, if it’s all the same to you,” protested Jimmy.

“Whoever it is,” continued Aggie, “the truth is bound to come out.
Alfred will have to know sooner or later, so we might as well make a
clean breast of it, first as last.”

“That’s the first sensible thing you’ve said in three months,” declared
Jimmy with reviving hope.

“Oh, is that so?” sneered Zoie, and she levelled her most malicious look
at Jimmy. “What do you think Alfred would do to YOU, Mr. Jimmy, if he
knew the truth? YOU’RE the one who sent him the telegram; you are the
one who told him that he was a FATHER.”

“That’s true,” admitted Aggie, with a wrinkled forehead.

Zoie was quick to see her advantage. She followed it up. “And Alfred
hasn’t any sense of humour, you know.”

“How could he have?” groaned Jimmy; “he’s married.” And with that he
sank into his habitual state of dumps.

“Your sarcasm will do a great deal of good,” flashed Zoie. Then she
dismissed him with a nod, and crossed to her dressing table.

“But Zoie,” persisted Aggie, as she followed her young friend in
trepidation, “don’t you realise that if you persist in keeping this
baby, that mother will dog Jimmy’s footsteps for the rest of his life?”

“That will be nice,” murmured Jimmy.

Zoie busied herself with her toilet, and turned a deaf ear to Aggie.
There was a touch of genuine emotion in Aggie’s voice when she
continued.

“Just think of it, Zoie, Jimmy will never be able to come and go like a
free man again.”

“What do I care how he comes and goes?” exclaimed Zoie impatiently. “If
Jimmy had gone when we told him to go, that woman would have had her old
baby by now; but he didn’t, oh no! All he ever does is to sit around and
talk about his dinner.”

“Yes,” cried Jimmy hotly, “and that’s about as far as I ever GET with
it.”

“You’ll never get anywhere with anything,” was Zoie’s exasperating
answer. “You’re too slow.”

“Well, there’s nothing slow about you,” retorted Jimmy, stung to a
frenzy by her insolence.

“Oh please, please,” interposed Aggie, desperately determined to keep
these two irascible persons to the main issue. “What are we going to
tell that mother?”

“You can tell her whatever you like,” answered Zoie, with an impudent
toss of her head, “but I’ll NOT give up that baby until I get ANOTHER
one.’

“Another?” almost shrieked Jimmy. It was apparent that he must needs
increase the number of his brain cells if he were to follow this
extraordinary young woman’s line of thought much further. “You don’t
expect to go on multiplying them forever, do you?” he asked.

“YOU are the one who has been multiplying them,” was Zoie’s
disconcerting reply.

It was evident to Jimmy that he could not think fast enough nor clearly
enough to save himself from a mental disaster if he continued to argue
with the shameless young woman, so he contented himself by rocking to
and fro and murmuring dismally that he had “known from the first that it
was to be an endless chain.”

While Zoie and Jimmy had been wrangling, Aggie had been weighing the
pros and cons of the case. She now turned to Jimmy with a tone of firm
but motherly decision. “Zoie is quite right,” she said.

Jimmy rolled his large eyes up at his spouse with a “you too, Brutus,”
 expression.

Aggie continued mercilessly, “It’s the only way, Jimmy.”

No sooner had Aggie arrived at her decision than Zoie upset her
tranquillity by a triumphant expression of “I have it.”

Jimmy and Aggie gazed at Zoie’s radiant face in consternation. They were
accustomed to see only reproach there. Her sudden enthusiasm increased
Jimmy’s uneasiness.

“YOU have it,” he grunted without attempting to conceal his disgust.
“SHE’S the one who generally has it.” And he nodded toward Aggie.

Inflamed by her young friend’s enthusiasm, Aggie rushed to her eagerly.

“What is it, Zoie?” she asked.

“The washerwoman!” exclaimed Zoie, as though the revelation had come
straight from heaven. “SHE HAD TWINS,” and with that, two pairs of eyes
turned expectantly toward the only man in the room.

Tracing the pattern of the rug with his toe, Jimmy remained stubbornly
oblivious of their attentions. He rearranged the pillows on the couch,
and finally, for want of a better occupation, he wound his watch. All to
no avail. He could feel Zoie’s cat-like gaze upon him.

“Jimmy can get the other one,” she said.

“The hell I can,” exclaimed Jimmy, starting to his feet and no longer
considering time or place.

The two women gazed at him reproachfully.

“Jimmy!” cried Aggie, in a shocked, hurt voice. “That’s the first time
I’ve ever heard you swear.”

“Well, it won’t be the LAST time,” declared Jimmy hotly, “if THIS keeps
up.” His eyes were blazing. He paced to and fro like an infuriated lion.

“Dearest,” said Aggie, “you look almost imposing.”

“Nonsense,” interrupted Zoie, who found Jimmy unusually ridiculous. “If
I’d known that Jimmy was going to put such an idea into Alfred’s head,
I’d have got the two in the first place.”

“Will she let us HAVE the other?” asked Aggie with some misgiving.

“Of course she will,” answered Zoie, leaving Jimmy entirely out of
the conversation. “She’s as poor as a church mouse. I’ll pay her well.
She’ll never miss it. What could she do with one twin, anyway?”

A snort of rage from Jimmy did not disturb Zoie’s enthusiasm. She
proceeded to elaborate her plan.

“I’ll adopt them,” she declared, “I’ll leave them all Alfred’s money.
Think of Alfred having real live twins for keeps.”

“It would be nice, wouldn’t it?” commented Jimmy sarcastically.

Zoie turned to Jimmy, as though they were on the best of terms.

“How much money have you?” she asked.

Before Jimmy could declare himself penniless, Aggie answered for him
with the greatest enthusiasm, “He has a whole lot; he drew some today.”

“Good!” exclaimed Zoie to the abashed Jimmy, and then she continued in a
matter-of-fact tone, “Now, Jimmy,” she said, “you go give the washwoman
what money you have on account, then tell her to come around here in the
morning when Alfred has gone out and I’ll settle all the details with
her. Go on now, Jimmy,” she continued, “you don’t need another letter.”

“No,” chimed in Aggie sweetly; “you know her now, dear.”

“Oh, yes,” corroborated Jimmy, with a sarcastic smile and without
budging from the spot on which he stood, “we are great pals now.”

“What’s the matter?” asked Zoie, astonished that Jimmy was not starting
on his mission with alacrity. “What are you waiting for?”

Jimmy merely continued to smile enigmatically.

“You know what happened the last time you hesitated,” warned Aggie.

“I know what happened when I DIDN’T hesitate,” ruminated Jimmy, still
holding his ground.

Zoie’s eyes were wide with surprise. “You don’t mean to say,” she
exclaimed incredulously, “that you aren’t GOING--after we have thought
all this out just to SAVE you?”

“Say,” answered Jimmy, with a confidential air, “do me a favour, will
you? Stop thinking out things to ‘save me.’”

“But, Jimmy----” protested both women simultaneously; but before they
could get further Alfred’s distressed voice reached them from the next
room.

“Aggie!” he called frantically.



CHAPTER XVIII

What seemed to be a streak of pink through the room was in reality Zoie
bolting for the bed.

While Zoie hastened to snuggle comfortably under the covers, Aggie tried
without avail to get Jimmy started on his errand.

Getting no response from Aggie, Alfred, bearing one infant in his arms,
came in search of her. Apparently he was having difficulty with the
unfastening of baby’s collar.

“Aggie,” he called sharply, “how on earth do you get this fool pin out?”

“Take him back, Alfred,” answered Aggie impatiently; “I’ll be there in a
minute.”

But Alfred had apparently made up his mind that he was not a success as
a nurse.

“You’d better take him now, Aggie,” he decided, as he offered the small
person to the reluctant Aggie. “I’ll stay here and talk to Jimmy.”

“Oh, but Jimmy was just going out,” answered Aggie; then she turned to
her obdurate spouse with mock sweetness, “Weren’t you, dear?” she asked.

“Yes,” affirmed Zoie, with a threatening glance toward Jimmy. “He was
going, just now.”

Still Jimmy remained rooted to the spot.

“Out?” questioned Alfred. “What for?”

“Just for a little air,” explained Aggie blandly.

“Yes,” growled Jimmy, “another little heir.”

“Air?” repeated Alfred in surprise. “He had air a while ago with my
son. He is going to stay here and tell me the news. Sit down, Jimmy,”
 he commanded, and to the intense annoyance of Aggie and Zoie, Jimmy sank
resignedly on the couch.

Alfred was about to seat himself beside his friend, when the ‘phone rang
violently. Being nearest to the instrument, Alfred reached it first and
Zoie and Aggie awaited the consequences in dread. What they heard did
not reassure them nor Jimmy.

“Still down there?” exclaimed Alfred into the ‘phone.

Jimmy began to wriggle with a vague uneasiness.

“Well,” continued Alfred at the ‘phone, “that woman has the wrong
number.” Then with a peremptory “Wait a minute,” he turned to Zoie, “The
hall boy says that woman who called a while ago is still down stairs and
she won’t go away until she has seen you, Zoie. She has some kind of an
idiotic idea that you know where her baby is.”

“How absurd,” sneered Zoie.

“How silly,” added Aggie.

“How foolish,” grunted Jimmy.

“Well,” decided Alfred, “I’d better go down stairs and see what’s
the matter with her,” and he turned toward the door to carry out his
intention.

“Alfred!” called Zoie sharply. She was half out of bed in her anxiety.
“You’ll do no such thing. ‘Phone down to the boy to send her away. She’s
crazy.”

“Oh,” said Alfred, “then she’s been here before? Who is she?”

“Who is she?” answered Zoie, trying to gain time for a new inspiration.
“Why, she’s--she’s----” her face lit up with satisfaction--the idea had
arrived. “She’s the nurse,” she concluded emphatically.

“The nurse?” repeated Alfred, a bit confused.

“Yes,” answered Zoie, pretending to be annoyed with his dull memory.
“She’s the one I told you about, the one I had to discharge.”

“Oh,” said Alfred, with the relief of sudden comprehension; “the crazy
one?”

Aggie and Zoie nodded their heads and smiled at him tolerantly, then
Zoie continued to elaborate. “You see,” she said, “the poor creature was
so insane about little Jimmy that I couldn’t go near the child.”

“What!” exclaimed Alfred in a mighty rage. “I’ll soon tell the boy what
to do with her,” he declared, and he rushed to the ‘phone. Barely had
Alfred taken the receiver from the hook when the outer door was heard
to bang. Before he could speak a distracted young woman, whose excitable
manner bespoke her foreign origin, swept through the door without seeing
him and hurled herself at the unsuspecting Zoie. The woman’s black hair
was dishevelled, and her large shawl had fallen from her shoulders. To
Jimmy, who was crouching behind an armchair, she seemed a giantess.

“My baby!” cried the frenzied mother, with what was unmistakably an
Italian accent. “Where is he?” There was no answer; her eyes sought
the cradle. “Ah!” she shrieked, then upon finding the cradle empty, she
redoubled her lamentations and again she bore down upon the terrified
Zoie.

“You,” she cried, “you know where my baby is!”

For answer, Zoie sank back amongst her pillows and drew the bed covers
completely over her head. Alfred approached the bed to protect his young
wife; the Italian woman wheeled about and perceived a small child in his
arms. She threw herself upon him.

“I knew it,” she cried; “I knew it!”

Managing to disengage himself from what he considered a mad woman, and
elevating one elbow between her and the child, Alfred prevented the
mother from snatching the small creature from his arms.

“Calm yourself, madam,” he commanded with a superior air. “We are very
sorry for you, of course, but we can’t have you coming here and going on
like this. He’s OUR baby and----”

“He’s NOT your baby!” cried the infuriated mother; “he’s MY baby.
Give him to me. Give him to me,” and with that she sprang upon the
uncomfortable Alfred like a tigress. Throwing her whole weight on his
uplifted elbow, she managed to pull down his arm until she could look
into the face of the washerwoman’s promising young offspring. The air
was rent by a scream that made each individual hair of Jimmy’s head
stand up in its own defence. He could feel a sickly sensation at the top
of his short thick neck.

“He’s NOT my baby,” wailed the now demented mother, little dreaming that
the infant for which she was searching was now reposing comfortably on a
soft pillow in the adjoining room.

As for Alfred, all of this was merely confirmation of Zoie’s statement
that this poor soul was crazy, and he was tempted to dismiss her with
worthy forbearance.

“I am glad, madam,” he said, “that you are coming to your senses.”

Now, all would have gone well and the bewildered mother would no doubt
have left the room convinced of her mistake, had not Jimmy’s nerves got
the better of his judgment. Having slipped cautiously from his position
behind the armchair he was tiptoeing toward the door, and was flattering
himself on his escape, when suddenly, as his forward foot cautiously
touched the threshold, he heard the cry of the captor in his wake, and
before he could possibly command the action of his other foot, he felt
himself being forcibly drawn backward by what appeared to be his too
tenacious coat-tails.

“If only they would tear,” thought Jimmy, but thanks to the excellence
of the tailor that Aggie had selected for him, they did NOT “tear.”

Not until she had anchored Jimmy safely to the centre of the rug did the
irate mother pour out the full venom of her resentment toward him. From
the mixture of English and Italian that followed, it was apparent that
she was accusing Jimmy of having stolen her baby.

“Take me to him,” she demanded tragically; “my baby--take me to him!”

Jimmy appealed to Aggie and Zoie. Their faces were as blank as his own.
He glanced at Alfred.

“Humour her,” whispered Alfred, much elated by the evidence of his
own self-control as compared to Jimmy’s utter demoralisation under the
apparently same circumstances.

Still Jimmy did not budge.

Alfred was becoming vexed; he pointed first to his own forehead, then
to that of Jimmy’s hysterical captor. He even illustrated his meaning
by making a rotary motion with his forefinger, intended to remind Jimmy
that the woman was a lunatic.

Still Jimmy only stared at him and all the while the woman was becoming
more and more emphatic in her declaration that Jimmy knew where her baby
was.

“Sure, Jimmy,” said Alfred, out of all patience with Jimmy’s stupidity
and tiring of the strain of the woman’s presence. “You know where her
baby is.”

“Ah!” cried the mother, and she towered over Jimmy with a wild light in
her eyes. “Take me to him,” she demanded; “take me to him.”

Jimmy rolled his large eyes first toward Aggie, then toward Zoie and at
last toward Alfred. There was no mercy to be found anywhere.

“Take her to him, Jimmy,” commanded a concert of voices; and pursued by
a bundle of waving colours and a medley of discordant sounds, Jimmy shot
from the room.



CHAPTER XXIV

The departure of Jimmy and the crazed mother was the occasion for a
general relaxing among the remaining occupants of the room. Exhausted
by what had passed Zoie had ceased to interest herself in the future. It
was enough for the present that she could sink back upon her pillows and
draw a long breath without an evil face bending over her, and without
the air being rent by screams.

As for Aggie, she fell back upon the window seat and closed her eyes.
The horrors into which Jimmy might be rushing had not yet presented
themselves to her imagination.

Of the three, Alfred was the only one who had apparently received
exhilaration from the encounter. He was strutting about the room with
the babe in his arms, undoubtedly enjoying the sensations of a hero.
When he could sufficiently control his feeling of elation, he looked
down at the small person with an air of condescension and again lent
himself to the garbled sort of language with which defenceless infants
are inevitably persecuted.

“Tink of dat horrid old woman wanting to steal our own little oppsie,
woppsie, toppsie babykins,” he said. Then he turned to Zoie with an
air of great decision. “That woman ought to be locked up,” he declared,
“she’s dangerous,” and with that he crossed to Aggie and hurriedly
placed the infant in her unsuspecting arms. “Here, Aggie,” he said, “you
take Alfred and get him into bed.”

Glad of an excuse to escape to the next room and recover her self
control, Aggie quickly disappeared with the child.

For some moments Alfred continued to pace up and down the room; then he
came to a full stop before Zoie.

“I’ll have to have something done to that woman,” he declared
emphatically.

“Jimmy will do enough to her,” sighed Zoie, weakly.

“She’s no business to be at large,” continued Alfred; then, with a
business-like air, he started toward the telephone.

“Where are you going?” asked Zoie.

Alfred did not answer. He was now calling into the ‘phone, “Give me
information.”

“What on earth are you doing?” demanded Zoie, more and more disturbed by
his mysterious manner.

“One can’t be too careful,” retorted Alfred in his most paternal
fashion; “there’s an awful lot of kidnapping going on these days.”

“Well, you don’t suspect information, do you?” asked Zoie.

Again Alfred ignored her; he was intent upon things of more importance.

“Hello,” he called into the ‘phone, “is this information?” Apparently it
was for he continued, with a satisfied air, “Well, give me the Fullerton
Street Police Station.”

“The Police?” cried Zoie, sitting up in bed and looking about the room
with a new sense of alarm.

Alfred did not answer.

“Aggie!” shrieked the over-wrought young wife.

Alfred attempted to reassure her. “Now, now, dear, don’t get nervous,”
 he said, “I am only taking the necessary precautions.” And again he
turned to the ‘phone.

Alarmed by Zoie’s summons, Aggie entered the room hastily. She was not
reassured upon hearing Alfred’s further conversation at the ‘phone.

“Is this the Fullerton Street Police Station?” asked Alfred.

“The Police!” echoed Aggie, and her eyes sought Zoie’s inquiringly.

“Sh! Sh!” called Alfred over his shoulder to the excited Aggie, then
he continued into the ‘phone. “Is Donneghey there?” There was a pause.
Alfred laughed jovially. “It is? Well, hello, Donneghey, this is your
old friend Hardy, Alfred Hardy at the Sherwood. I’ve just got back,”
 then he broke the happy news to the no doubt appreciative Donneghey.
“What do you think?” he said, “I’m a happy father.”

Zoie puckered her small face in disgust.

Alfred continued to elucidate joyfully at the ‘phone.

“Doubles,” he said, “yes--sure--on the level.”

“I don’t know why you have to tell the whole neighbourhood,” snapped
Zoie. Her colour was visibly rising.

But Alfred was now in the full glow of his genial account to his friend.
“Set ‘em up?” he repeated in answer to an evident suggestion from the
other end of the line, “I should say I would. The drinks are on me. Tell
the boys I’ll be right over. And say, Donneghey,” he added, in a more
confidential tone, “I want to bring one of the men home with me. I
want him to keep an eye on the house to-night”; then after a pause, he
concluded confidentially, “I’ll tell you all about it when I get there.
It looks like a kidnapping scheme to me,” and with that he hung up the
receiver, unmistakably pleased with himself, and turned his beaming face
toward Zoie.

“It’s all right, dear,” he said, rubbing his hands together with evident
satisfaction, “Donneghey is going to let us have a Special Officer to
watch the house to-night.”

“I won’t HAVE a special officer,” declared Zoie vehemently; then
becoming aware of Alfred’s great surprise, she explained half-tearfully,
“I’m not going to have the police hanging around our very door. I would
feel as though I were in prison.”

“You ARE in prison, my dear,” returned the now irrepressible Alfred. “A
prison of love--you and our precious boys.” He stooped and implanted a
gracious kiss on her forehead, then turned toward the table for his hat.
“Now,” he said, “I’ll just run around the corner, set up the drinks for
the boys, and bring the officer home with me,” and drawing himself up
proudly, he cried gaily in parting, “I’ll bet there’s not another man in
Chicago who has what I have to-night.”

“I hope not,” groaned Zoie. as the door closed behind him. Then,
thrusting her two small feet from beneath the coverlet and perching on
the side of the bed, she declared to Aggie that “Alfred was getting more
idiotic every minute.”

“He’s worse than idiotic,” corrected Aggie. “He’s getting dangerous. If
he gets the police around here before we give that baby back, they’ll
get the mother. She’ll tell all she knows and that will be the end of
Jimmy!”

“End of Jimmy?” exclaimed Zoie, “it’ll be the end of ALL of us.”

“I can see our pictures in the papers, right now,” groaned Aggie. “Jimmy
will be the villain.”

“Jimmy IS a villain,” declared Zoie. “Where is he? Why doesn’t he come
back? How am I ever going to get that other twin?”

“There is only one thing to do,” decided Aggie, “I must go for it
myself.” And she snatched up her cape from the couch and started toward
the door.

“You?” cried Zoie, in alarm, “and leave me alone?”

“It’s our only chance,” argued Aggie. “I’ll have to do it now, before
Alfred gets back.”

“But Aggie,” protested Zoie, clinging to her departing friend, “suppose
that crazy mother should come back?”

“Nonsense,” replied Aggie, and before Zoie could actually realise what
was happening the bang of the outside door told her that she was alone.



CHAPTER XXV

Wondering what new terrors awaited her, Zoie glanced uncertainly from
door to door. So strong had become her habit of taking refuge in the
bed, that unconsciously she backed toward it now. Barely had she reached
the centre of the room when a terrific crash of breaking glass from the
adjoining room sent her shrieking in terror over the footboard, and head
first under the covers. Here she would doubtless have remained until
suffocated, had not Jimmy in his backward flight from one of the
inner rooms overturned a large rocker. This additional shock to Zoie’s
overstrung nerves forced a wild scream from her lips, and an answering
exclamation from the nerve-racked Jimmy made her sit bolt upright. She
gazed at him in astonishment. His tie was awry, one end of his collar
had taken leave of its anchorage beneath his stout chin, and was now
just tickling the edge of his red, perspiring brow. His hair was on end
and his feelings were undeniably ruffled. As usual Zoie’s greeting did
not tend to conciliate him.

“How did YOU get here?” she asked with an air of reproach.

“The fire-escape,” panted Jimmy and he nodded mysteriously toward the
inner rooms of the apartment.

“Fire-escape?” echoed Zoie. There was only one and that led through the
bathroom window.

Jimmy explained no further. He was now peeping cautiously out of the
window toward the pavement below.

“Where’s the mother?” demanded Zoie.

Jimmy jerked his thumb in the direction of the street. Zoie gazed at him
with grave apprehension.

“Jimmy!” she exclaimed. “You haven’t killed her?”

Jimmy shook his head and continued to peer cautiously out of the window.

“What did you do with her?” called the now exasperated Zoie.

“What did _I_ do with her?” repeated Jimmy, a flash of his old
resentment returning. “What did SHE do with ME?”

For the first time, Zoie became fully conscious of Jimmy’s ludicrous
appearance. Her overstrained nerves gave way and she began to laugh
hysterically.

“Say,” shouted Jimmy, towering over the bed and devoutly wishing that
she were his wife so that he might strike her with impunity. “Don’t you
sic any more lunatics onto me.”

It is doubtful whether Zoie’s continued laughter might not have provoked
Jimmy to desperate measures, had not the ‘phone at that moment directed
their thoughts toward worse possibilities. After the instrument had
continued to ring persistently for what seemed to Zoie an age, she
motioned to Jimmy to answer it. He responded by retreating to the other
side of the room.

“It may be Aggie,” suggested Zoie.

For the first time, Jimmy became aware that Aggie was nowhere in the
apartment.

“Good Lord!” he exclaimed, as he realised that he was again tete-a-tete
with the terror of his dreams. “Where IS Aggie?”

“Gone to do what YOU should have done,” was Zoie’s characteristic
answer.

“Well,” answered Jimmy hotly, “it’s about time that somebody besides me
did something around this place.”

“YOU,” mocked Zoie, “all YOU’VE ever done was to hoodoo me from the very
beginning.”

“If you’d taken my advice,” answered Jimmy, “and told your husband the
truth about the luncheon, there’d never have been any ‘beginning.’”

“If, if, if,” cried Zoie, in an agony of impatience, “if you’d tipped
that horrid old waiter enough, he’d never have told anyway.”

“I’m not buying waiters to cover up your crimes,” announced Jimmy with
his most self-righteous air.

“You’ll be buying more than that to cover up your OWN crimes before
you’ve finished,” retorted Zoie.

“Before I’ve finished with YOU, yes,” agreed Jimmy. He wheeled upon her
with increasing resentment. “Do you know where I expect to end up?” he
asked.

“I know where you OUGHT to end up,” snapped Zoie.

“I’ll finish in the electric chair,” said Jimmy. “I can feel blue
lightning chasing up and down my spine right now.”

“Well, I wish you HAD finished in the electric chair,” declared Zoie,
“before you ever dragged me into that awful old restaurant.”

“Oh, you do, do you?” answered Jimmy shaking his fist at her across the
foot of the bed. For the want of adequate words to express his further
feelings, Jimmy was beginning to jibber, when the outer door was
heard to close, and he turned to behold Aggie entering hurriedly with
something partly concealed by her long cape.

“It’s all right,” explained Aggie triumphantly to Zoie. “I’ve got it.”
 She threw her cape aside and disclosed the fruits of her conquest.

“So,” snorted Jimmy in disgust, slightly miffed by the apparent ease
with which Aggie had accomplished a task about which he had made so much
ado, “you’ve gone into the business too, have you?”

Aggie deigned no reply to him. She continued in a businesslike tone to
Zoie.

“Where’s Alfred?” she asked.

“Still out,” answered Zoie.

“Thank Heaven,” sighed Aggie, then she turned to Jimmy and addressed him
in rapid, decided tones. “Now, dear,” she said, “I’ll just put the new
baby to bed, then I’ll give you the other one and you can take it right
down to the mother.”

Jimmy made a vain start in the direction of the fire-escape. Four
detaining hands were laid upon him.

“Don’t try anything like that,” warned Aggie; “you can’t get out of this
house without that baby. The mother is down stairs now. She’s guarding
the door. I saw her.” And Aggie sailed triumphantly out of the room to
make the proposed exchange of babies.

Before Jimmy was able to suggest to himself an escape from Aggie’s last
plan of action, the telephone again began to cry for attention.

Neither Jimmy nor Zoie could summon courage to approach the impatient
instrument, and as usual Zoie cried frantically for Aggie.

Aggie was not long in returning to the room and this time she bore in
her arms the infant so strenuously demanded by its mad mother.

“Here you are, Jimmy,” she said; “here’s the other one. Now take him
down stairs quickly before Alfred gets back.” She attempted to place the
unresisting babe in Jimmy’s chubby arms, but Jimmy’s freedom was not to
be so easily disposed of.

“What!” he exclaimed, backing away from the small creature in fear and
abhorrence, “take that bundle of rags down to the hotel office and have
that woman hystericing all over me. No, thanks.”

“Oh well,” answered Aggie, distracted by the persistent ringing of the
‘phone, “then hold him a minute until I answer the ‘phone.”

This at least was a compromise, and reluctantly Jimmy allowed the now
wailing infant to be placed in his arms.

“Jig it, Jimmy, jig it,” cried Zoie. Jimmy looked down helplessly at
the baby’s angry red face, but before he had made much headway with the
“jigging,” Aggie returned to them, much excited by the message which she
had just received over the telephone.

“That mother is making a scene down stairs in the office,” she said.

“You hear,” chided Zoie, in a fury at Jimmy, “what did Aggie tell you?”

“If she wants this thing,” maintained Jimmy, looking down at the bundle
in his arms, “she can come after it.”

“We can’t have her up here,” objected Aggie.

“Alfred may be back at any minute. He’d catch her. You know what
happened the last time we tried to change them.”

“You can send it down the chimney, for all I care,” concluded Jimmy.

“I have it!” exclaimed Aggie, her face suddenly illumined.

“Oh Lord,” groaned Jimmy, who had come to regard any elation on Zoie’s
or Aggie’s part as a sure forewarner of ultimate discomfort for him.

Again Aggie had recourse to the ‘phone.

“Hello,” she called to the office boy, “tell that woman to go around to
the back door, and we’ll send something down to her.” There was a slight
pause, then Aggie added sweetly, “Yes, tell her to wait at the foot of
the fire-escape.”

Zoie had already caught the drift of Aggie’s intention and she now fixed
her glittering eyes upon Jimmy, who was already shifting about uneasily
and glancing at Aggie, who approached him with a business-like air.

“Now, dear,” said Aggie, “come with me. I’ll hand Baby out through the
bathroom window and you can run right down the fire-escape with him.”

“If I do run down the fire-escape,” exclaimed Jimmy, wagging his large
head from side to side, “I’ll keep right on RUNNING. That’s the last
you’ll ever see of me.”

“But, Jimmy,” protested Aggie, slightly hurt by his threat, “once that
woman gets her baby you’ll have no more trouble.”

“With you two still alive?” asked Jimmy, looking from one to the other.

“She’ll be up here if you don’t hurry,” urged Aggie impatiently, and
with that she pulled Jimmy toward the bedroom door.

“Let her come,” said Jimmy, planting his feet so as to resist Aggie’s
repeated tugs, “I’m going to South America.”

“Why will you act like this,” cried Aggie, in utter desperation, “when
we have so little time?”

“Say,” said Jimmy irrelevantly, “do you know that I haven’t had any----”

“Yes,” interrupted Aggie and Zoie in chorus, “we know.”

“How long,” continued Zoie impatiently, “is it going to take you to slip
down that fire-escape?”

“That depends on how fast I ‘slip,’” answered Jimmy doggedly.

“You’ll ‘slip’ all right,” sneered Zoie.

Further exchange of pleasantries between these two antagonists was cut
short by the banging of the outside door.

“Good Heavens!” exclaimed Aggie, glancing nervously over her shoulder,
“there’s Alfred now. Hurry, Jimmy, hurry,” she cried, and with that she
fairly forced Jimmy out through the bedroom door, and followed in his
wake to see him safely down the fire-escape.



CHAPTER XXVI

Zoie had barely time to arrange herself after the manner of an
interesting invalid, when Alfred entered the room in the gayest of
spirits.

“Hello, dearie,” he cried as he crossed quickly to her side.

“Already?” asked Zoie faintly and she glanced uneasily toward the door,
through which Jimmy and Aggie had just disappeared.

“I told you I shouldn’t be long,” said Alfred jovially, and he implanted
a condescending kiss on her forehead. “How is the little mother, eh?” he
asked, rubbing his hands together in satisfaction.

“You’re all cold,” pouted Zoie, edging away, “and you’ve been drinking.”

“I had to have one or two with the boys,” said Alfred, throwing out his
chest and strutting about the room, “but never again. From now on I cut
out all drinks and cigars. This is where I begin to live my life for our
sons.”

“How about your life for me?” asked Zoie, as she began to see long years
of boredom stretching before her.

“You and our boys are one and the same, dear,” answered Alfred, coming
back to her side.

“You mean you couldn’t go on loving ME if it weren’t for the BOYS?”
 asked Zoie, with anxiety. She was beginning to realise how completely
her hold upon him depended upon her hideous deception.

“Of course I could, Zoie,” answered Alfred, flattered by what he
considered her desire for his complete devotion, “but----”

“But not so MUCH,” pouted Zoie.

“Well, of course, dear,” admitted Alfred evasively, as he sank down upon
the edge of the bed by her side--

“You needn’t say another word,” interrupted Zoie, and then with a shade
of genuine repentance, she declared shame-facedly that she hadn’t been
“much of a wife” to Alfred.

“Nonsense!” contradicted the proud young father, “you’ve given me the
ONE thing that I wanted most in the world.”

“But you see, dear,” said Zoie, as she wound her little white arms about
his neck, and looked up into his face adoringly, “YOU’VE been the ‘ONE’
thing that I wanted ‘MOST’ and I never realised until to-night how--how
crazy you are about things.”

“What things?” asked Alfred, a bit puzzled.

“Well,” said Zoie, letting her eyes fall before his and picking at a bit
of imaginary lint on the coverlet, “babies and things.”

“Oh,” said Alfred, and he was about to proceed when she again
interrupted him.

“But now that I DO realise it,” continued Zoie, earnestly, her fingers
on his lips, lest he again interrupt, “if you’ll only have a little
patience with me, I’ll--I’ll----” again her eyes fell bashfully to the
coverlet, as she considered the possibility of being ultimately obliged
to replace the bogus twins with real ones.

“All the patience in the world,” answered Alfred, little dreaming of the
problem that confronted the contrite Zoie.

“That’s all I ask,” declared Zoie, her assurance completely restored,
“and in case anything SHOULD happen to THESE----” she glanced anxiously
toward the door through which Aggie had borne the twins.

“But nothing is going to happen to these, dear,” interrupted Alfred,
rising and again assuming an air of fatherly protection. “I’ll attend
to that. There, there,” he added, patting her small shoulder and nodding
his head wisely. “That crazy woman has got on your nerves, but you
needn’t worry, I’ve got everything fixed. Donneghey sent a special
officer over with me. He’s outside watching the house, now.”

“Now!” shrieked Zoie, fixing her eyes on the bedroom door, through which
Jimmy had lately disappeared and wondering whether he had yet “slipped”
 down the fire-escape.

“Yes,” continued Alfred, walking up and down the floor with a masterly
stride. “If that woman is caught hanging around here again, she’ll get a
little surprise. My boys are safe now, God bless them!” Then reminded of
the fact that he had not seen them since his return, he started quickly
toward the bedroom door. “I’ll just have a look at the little rascals,”
 he decided.

“No, dear,” cried Zoie. She caught Alfred’s arm as he passed the side of
her bed, and clung to him in desperation. “Wait a minute.”

Alfred looked down at her in surprise.

She turned her face toward the door, and called lustily, “Aggie! Aggie!”

“What is it, dear?” questioned Alfred, thinking Zoie suddenly ill, “can
I get you something?”

Before Zoie was obliged to reply, Aggie answered her summons.

“Did you call?” she asked, glancing inquiringly into Zoie’s distressed
face.

“Alfred’s here,” said Zoie, with a sickly smile as she stroked his hand
and glanced meaningly at Aggie. “He’s GOT the OFFICER!”

“The OFFICER?” cried Aggie, and involuntarily she took a step backward,
as though to guard the bedroom door.

“Yes,” said Alfred, mistaking Aggie’s surprise for a compliment to his
resource; “and now, Aggie, if you’ll just stay with Zoie for a minute
I’ll have a look at my boys.”

“No, no!” exclaimed Aggie, nervously, and she placed herself again in
front of the bedroom door.

Alfred was plainly annoyed by her proprietory air.

“They’re asleep,” explained Aggie.

“I’ll not WAKE them,” persisted Alfred, “I just wish to have a LOOK at
them,” and with that he again made a move toward the door.

“But Alfred,” protested Zoie, still clinging to his hand, “you’re not
going to leave me again--so soon.”

Alfred was becoming more and more restive under the seeming absurdity of
their persistent opposition, but before he could think of a polite way
of over-ruling them, Aggie continued persuasively.

“You stay with Zoie,” she said. “I’ll bring the boys in here and you can
both have a look at them.”

“But Aggie,” argued Alfred, puzzled by her illogical behaviour, “would
it be wise to wake them?”

“Just this once,” said Aggie. “Now you stay here and I’ll get them.”
 Before Alfred could protest further she was out of the room and the door
had closed behind her, so he resigned himself to her decision, banished
his temporary annoyance at her obstinacy, and glanced about the room
with a new air of proprietorship.

“This is certainly a great night, Zoie,” he said.

“It certainly is,” acquiesced Zoie, with an over emphasis that made
Alfred turn to her with new concern.

“I’m afraid that mad woman made you very nervous, dear,” he said.

“She certainly did,” said Zoie.

Zoie’s nerves were destined to bear still further strain, for at that
moment, there came a sharp ring at the door.

Beside herself with anxiety Zoie threw her arms about Alfred, who had
advanced to soothe her, drew him down by her side and buried her head on
his breast.

“You ARE jumpy,” said Alfred, and at that instant a wrangle of loud
voices, and a general commotion was heard in the outer hall. “What’s
that?” asked Alfred, endeavouring to disentangle himself from Zoie’s
frantic embrace.

Zoie clung to him so tightly that he was unable to rise, but his alert
ear caught the sound of a familiar voice rising above the din of dispute
in the hallway.

“That sounds like the officer,” he exclaimed.

“The officer?” cried Zoie, and she wound her arms more tightly about
him.



CHAPTER XXVII

Propelled by a large red fist, attached to the back of his badly wilted
collar, the writhing form of Jimmy was now thrust through the outer
door.

“Let go of me,” shouted the hapless Jimmy.

The answer was a spasmodic shaking administered by the fist; then a
large burly officer, carrying a small babe in his arms, shoved the
reluctant Jimmy into the centre of the room and stood guard over him.

“I got him for you, sir,” announced the officer proudly, to the
astonished Alfred, who had just managed to untwine Zoie’s arms and to
struggle to his feet.

Alfred’s eyes fell first upon the dejected Jimmy, then they travelled to
the bundle of long clothes in the officer’s arms.

“My boy!” he cried. “My boy!” He snatched the infant from the officer
and pressed him jealously to his breast. “I don’t understand,” he said,
gazing at the officer in stupefaction. “Where was he?”

“You mean this one?” asked the officer, nodding toward the unfortunate
Jimmy. “I caught him slipping down your fire-escape.”

“I KNEW it,” exclaimed Zoie in a rage, and she cast a vindictive look at
Jimmy for his awkwardness.

“Knew WHAT, dear?” asked Alfred, now thoroughly puzzled.

Zoie did not answer. Her powers of resource were fast waning. Alfred
turned again to the officer, then to Jimmy, who was still flashing
defiance into the officer’s threatening eyes.

“My God!” he exclaimed, “this is awful. What’s the matter with you,
Jimmy? This is the third time that you have tried to take my baby out
into the night.”

“Then you’ve had trouble with him before?” remarked the officer. He
studied Jimmy with new interest, proud in the belief that he had brought
a confirmed “baby-snatcher” to justice.

“I’ve had a little trouble myself,” declared Jimmy hotly, now resolved
to make a clean breast of it.

“I’m not asking about your troubles,” interrupted the officer savagely,
and Jimmy felt the huge creature’s obnoxious fingers tightening again on
his collar. “Go ahead, sir,” said the officer to Alfred.

“Well,” began Alfred, nodding toward the now livid Jimmy, “he was out
with my boy when I arrived. I stopped him from going out with him
a second time, and now you, officer, catch him slipping down the
fire-escape. I don’t know what to say,” he finished weakly.

“_I_ do,” exclaimed Jimmy, feeling more and more like a high explosive,
“and I’ll say it.”

“Cut it,” shouted the officer. And before Jimmy could get further,
Alfred resumed with fresh vehemence.

“He’s supposed to be a friend of mine,” he explained to the officer, as
he nodded toward the wriggling Jimmy. “He was all right when I left him
a few months ago.”

“You’ll think I’m all right again,” shouted Jimmy, trying to get free
from the officer, “before I’ve finished telling all I----”

“That won’t help any,” interrupted the officer firmly, and with another
twist of Jimmy’s badly wilted collar he turned to Alfred with his most
civil manner, “What shall I do with him, sir?”

“I don’t know,” said Alfred, convinced that his friend was a fit subject
for a straight jacket. “This is horrible.”

“It’s absurd,” cried Zoie, on the verge of hysterics, and in utter
despair of ever disentangling the present complication without
ultimately losing Alfred, “you’re all absurd,” she cried wildly.

“Absurd?” exclaimed Alfred, turning upon her in amazement, “what do you
mean?”

“It’s a joke,” said Zoie, without the slightest idea of where the joke
lay. “If you had any sense you could see it.”

“I DON’T see it,” said Alfred, with hurt dignity.

“Neither do I,” said Jimmy, with boiling resentment.

“Can you call it a joke,” asked Alfred, incredulously, “to have our
boy----” He stopped suddenly, remembering that there was a companion
piece to this youngster. “The other one!” he exclaimed, “our other
boy----” He rushed to the crib, found it empty, and turned a terrified
face to Zoie. “Where is he?” he demanded.

“Now, Alfred,” pleaded Zoie, “don’t get excited; he’s all right.”

“How do you know?” asked the distracted father.

Zoie did not know, but at that moment her eyes fell upon Jimmy, and as
usual he was the source of an inspiration for her.

“Jimmy never cared for the other one,” she said, “did you, Jimmy?”

Alfred turned to the officer, with a tone of command. “Wait,” he said,
then he started toward the bedroom door to make sure that his other
boy was quite safe. The picture that confronted him brought the hair
straight up on his head. True to her promise, and ignorant of Jimmy’s
return with the first baby, Aggie had chosen this ill-fated moment to
appear on the threshold with one babe on each arm.

“Here they are,” she said graciously, then stopped in amazement at sight
of the horrified Alfred, clasping a third infant to his breast.

“Good God!” exclaimed Alfred, stroking his forehead with his unoccupied
hand, and gazing at what he firmly believed must be an apparition,
“THOSE aren’t MINE,” he pointed to the two red mites in Aggie’s arms.

“Wh--why not, Alfred?” stammered Aggie for the want of something better
to say.

“What?” shrieked Alfred. Then he turned in appeal to his young wife,
whose face had now become utterly expressionless. “Zoie?” he entreated.

There was an instant’s pause, then the blood returned to Zoie’s face and
she proved herself the artist that Alfred had once declared her.

“OURS, dear,” she murmured softly, with a bashful droop of her lids.

“But THIS one?” persisted Alfred, pointing to the baby in his arms, and
feeling sure that his mind was about to give way.

“Why--why--why,” stuttered Zoie, “THAT’S the JOKE.”

“The joke?” echoed Alfred, looking as though he found it anything but
such.

“Yes,” added Aggie, sharing Zoie’s desperation to get out of their
temporary difficulty, no matter at what cost in the future. “Didn’t
Jimmy tell you?”

“Tell me WHAT?” stammered Alfred, “what IS there to tell?”

“Why, you see,” said Aggie, growing more enthusiastic with each
elaboration of Zoie’s lie, “we didn’t dare to break it to you too
suddenly.”

“Break it to me?” gasped Alfred; a new light was beginning to dawn on
his face.

“So,” concluded Zoie, now thoroughly at home in the new situation, “we
asked Jimmy to take THAT one OUT.”

Jimmy cast an inscrutable glance in Zoie’s direction. Was it possible
that she was at last assisting him out of a difficulty?

“You ‘ASKED Jimmy’?” repeated Alfred.

“Yes,” confirmed Aggie, with easy confidence, “we wanted you to get used
to the idea gradually.”

“The idea,” echoed Alfred. He was afraid to allow his mind to accept
too suddenly the whole significance of their disclosure, lest his joy
over-power him. “You--you--do--don’t mean----” he stuttered.

“Yes, dear,” sighed Zoie, with the face of an angel, and then with a
languid sigh, she sank back contentedly on her pillows.

“My boys! My boys!” cried Alfred, now delirious with delight. “Give
them to me,” he called to Aggie, and he snatched the surprised infants
savagely from her arms. “Give me ALL of them, ALL of them.” He clasped
the three babes to his breast, then dashed to the bedside of the
unsuspecting Zoie and covered her small face with rapturous kisses.

Feeling the red faces of the little strangers in such close proximity to
hers, Zoie drew away from them with abhorrence, but unconscious of her
unmotherly action, Alfred continued his mad career about the room, his
heart overflowing with gratitude toward Zoie in particular and mankind
in general. Finding Aggie in the path of his wild jubilee, he treated
that bewildered young matron to an unwelcome kiss. A proceeding which
Jimmy did not at all approve.

Hardly had Aggie recovered from her surprise when the disgruntled
Jimmy was startled out of his dark mood by the supreme insult of a
loud resounding kiss implanted on his own cheek by his excitable young
friend. Jimmy raised his arm to resist a second assault, and Alfred
veered off in the direction of the officer, who stepped aside just in
time to avoid similar demonstration from the indiscriminating young
father.

Finding a wide circle prescribed about himself and the babies, Alfred
suddenly stopped and gazed about from one astonished face to the other.

“Well,” said the officer, regarding Alfred with an injured air,
and feeling much downcast at being so ignominiously deprived of his
short-lived heroism in capturing a supposed criminal, “if this is all a
joke, I’ll let the woman go.”

“The woman,” repeated Alfred; “what woman?”

“I nabbed a woman at the foot of the fire-escape,” explained the
officer. Zoie and Aggie glanced at each other inquiringly. “I thought
she might be an accomplice.”

“What does she look like, officer?” asked Alfred. His manner was
becoming more paternal, not to say condescending, with the arrival of
each new infant.

“Don’t be silly, Alfred,” snapped Zoie, really ashamed that Alfred was
making such an idiot of himself. “It’s only the nurse.”

“Oh, that’s it,” said Alfred, with a wise nod of comprehension; “the
nurse, then she’s in the joke too?” He glanced from one to the other.
They all nodded. “You’re all in it,” he exclaimed, flattered to think
that they had considered it necessary to combine the efforts of so many
of them to deceive him.

“Yes,” assented Jimmy sadly, “we are all ‘in it.’”

“Well, she’s a great actress,” decided Alfred, with the air of a
connoisseur.

“She sure is,” admitted Donneghey, more and more disgruntled as he felt
his reputation for detecting fraud slipping from him. “She put up a
phoney story about the kid being hers,” he added. “But I could tell she
wasn’t on the level. Good-night, sir,” he called to Alfred, and ignoring
Jimmy, he passed quickly from the room.

“Oh, officer,” Alfred called after him. “Hang around downstairs. I’ll
be down later and fix things up with you.” Again Alfred gave his whole
attention to his new-found family. He leaned over the cradle and gazed
ecstatically into the three small faces below his. “This is too much,”
 he murmured.

“Much too much,” agreed Jimmy, who was now sitting hunched up on the
couch in his customary attitude of gloom.

“You were right not to break it to me too suddenly,” said Alfred, and
with his arms encircling three infants he settled himself on the couch
by Jimmy’s side. “You’re a cute one,” he continued to Jimmy, who was
edging away from the three mites with aversion. In the absence of any
answer from Jimmy, Alfred appealed to Zoie, “Isn’t he a cute one, dear?”
 he asked.

“Oh, yes, VERY,” answered Zoie, sarcastically.

Shutting his lips tight and glancing at Zoie with a determined effort at
self restraint, Jimmy rose from the couch and started toward the door.

“If you women are done with me,” he said, “I’ll clear out.”

“Clear out?” exclaimed Alfred, rising quickly and placing himself
between his old friend and the door. “What a chance,” and he laughed
boisterously. “You’re not going to get out of my sight this night,” he
declared. “I’m just beginning to appreciate all you’ve done for me.”

“So am I,” assented Jimmy, and unconsciously his hand sought the spot
where his dinner should have been, but Alfred was not to be resisted.

“A man needs someone around,” he declared, “when he’s going through a
thing like this. I need all of you, all of you,” and with his eyes he
embraced the weary circle of faces about him. “I feel as though I could
go out of my head,” he explained and with that he began tucking the
three small mites in the pink and white crib designed for but one.

Zoie regarded him with a bored expression’

“You act as though you WERE out of your head,” she commented, but Alfred
did not heed her. He was now engaged in the unhoped for bliss of singing
three babies to sleep with one lullaby.

The other occupants of the room were just beginning to relax and to show
some resemblance to their natural selves, when their features were again
simultaneously frozen by a ring at the outside door.



CHAPTER XXVIII

Annoyed at being interrupted in the midst of his lullaby, to three,
Alfred looked up to see Maggie, hatless and out of breath, bursting into
the room, and destroying what was to him an ideally tranquil home scene.
But Maggie paid no heed to Alfred’s look of inquiry. She made directly
for the side of Zoie’s bed.

“If you plaze, mum,” she panted, looking down at Zoie, and wringing her
hands.

“What is it?” asked Aggie, who had now reached the side of the bed.

“‘Scuse me for comin’ right in”--Maggie was breathing hard--“but me
mother sint me to tell you that me father is jus afther comin’ home from
work, and he’s fightin’ mad about the babies, mum.”

“Sh! Sh!” cautioned Aggie and Zoie, as they glanced nervously toward
Alfred who was rising from his place beside the cradle with increasing
interest in Maggie’s conversation.

“Babies?” he repeated, “your father is mad about babies?”

“It’s all right, dear,” interrupted Zoie nervously; “you see,” she
went on to explain, pointing toward the trembling Maggie, “this is our
washerwoman’s little girl. Our washerwoman has had twins, too, and it
made the wash late, and her husband is angry about it.”

“Oh,” said Alfred, with a comprehensive nod, but Maggie was not to be so
easily disposed of.

“If you please, mum,” she objected, “it ain’t about the wash. It’s about
our baby girls.”

“Girls?” exclaimed Zoie involuntarily.

“Girls?” repeated Alfred, drawing himself up in the fond conviction that
all his heirs were boys, “No wonder your pa’s angry. I’d be angry too.
Come now,” he said to Maggie, patting the child on the shoulder and
regarding her indulgently, “you go straight home and tell your father
that what HE needs is BOYS.”

“Well, of course, sir,” answered the bewildered Maggie, thinking that
Alfred meant to reflect upon the gender of the offspring donated by her
parents, “if you ain’t afther likin’ girls, me mother sint the money
back,” and with that she began to feel for the pocket in her red flannel
petticoat.

“The money?” repeated Alfred, in a puzzled way, “what money?”

It was again Zoie’s time to think quickly.

“The money for the wash, dear,” she explained.

“Nonsense!” retorted Alfred, positively beaming generosity, “who talks
of money at such a time as this?” And taking a ten dollar bill from his
pocket, he thrust it in Maggie’s outstretched hand, while she was trying
to return to him the original purchase money. “Here,” he said to the
astonished girl, “you take this to your father. Tell him I sent it to
him for his babies. Tell him to start a bank account with it.”

This was clearly not a case with which one small addled mind could deal,
or at least, so Maggie decided. She had a hazy idea that Alfred was
adding something to the original purchase price of her young sisters,
but she was quite at a loss to know how to refuse the offer of such
a “grand ‘hoigh” gentleman, even though her failure to do so would no
doubt result in a beating when she reached home. She stared at Alfred
undecided what to do, the money still lay in her outstretched hand.

“I’m afraid Pa’ll niver loike it, sir,” she said.

“Like it?” exclaimed Alfred in high feather, and he himself closed her
red little fingers over the bill, “he’s GOT to like it. He’ll GROW to
like it. Now you run along,” he concluded to Maggie, as he urged her
toward the door, “and tell him what I say.”

“Yes, sir,” murmured Maggie, far from sharing Alfred’s enthusiasm.

Feeling no desire to renew his acquaintance with Maggie, particularly
under Alfred’s watchful eye, Jimmy had sought his old refuge, the high
backed chair. As affairs progressed and there seemed no doubt of Zoie’s
being able to handle the situation to the satisfaction of all concerned,
Jimmy allowed exhaustion and the warmth of the firelight to have their
way with him. His mind wandered toward other things and finally into
space. His head dropped lower and lower on his chest; his breathing
became laboured--so laboured in fact that it attracted the attention of
Maggie, who was about to pass him on her way to the door.

“Sure an it’s Mr. Jinks!” exclaimed Maggie. Then coming close to the
side of the unsuspecting sleeper, she hissed a startling message in his
ear. “Me mother said to tell you that me fadder’s hoppin’ mad at you,
sir.”

Jimmy sat up and rubbed his eyes. He studied the young person at his
elbow, then he glanced at Alfred, utterly befuddled as to what had
happened while he had been on a journey to happier scenes. Apparently
Maggie was waiting for an answer to something, but to what? Jimmy
thought he detected an ominous look in Alfred’s eyes. Letting his hand
fall over the arm of the chair so that Alfred could not see it, Jimmy
began to make frantic signals to Maggie to depart; she stared at him the
harder.

“Go away,” whispered Jimmy, but Maggie did not move. “Shoo, shoo!” he
said, and waved her off with his hand.

Puzzled by Jimmy’s sudden aversion to this apparently harmless child,
Alfred turned to Maggie with a puckered brow.

“Your father’s mad at Jimmy?” he repeated. “What about?”

For once Jimmy found it in his heart to be grateful to Zoie for the
prompt answer that came from her direction.

“The wash, dear,” said Zoie to Alfred; “Jimmy had to go after the wash,”
 and then with a look which Maggie could not mistake for an invitation to
stop longer, Zoie called to her haughtily, “You needn’t wait, Maggie; we
understand.”

“Sure, an’ it’s more ‘an I do,” answered Maggie, and shaking her head
sadly, she slipped from the room.

But Alfred could not immediately dismiss from his mind the picture of
Maggie’s inhuman parent.

“Just fancy,” he said, turning his head to one side meditatively, “fancy
any man not liking to be the father of twins,” and with that he again
bent over the cradle and surveyed its contents. “Think, Jimmy,” he said,
when he had managed to get the three youngsters in his arms, “just think
of the way THAT father feels, and then think of the way _I_ feel.”

“And then think of the way _I_ feel,” grumbled Jimmy.

“You!” exclaimed Alfred; “what have you to feel about?”

Before Jimmy could answer, the air was rent by a piercing scream and a
crash of glass from the direction of the inner rooms.

“What’s that?” whispered Aggie, with an anxious glance toward Zoie.

“Sounded like breaking glass,” said Alfred.

“Burglars!” exclaimed Zoie, for want of anything better to suggest.

“Burglars?” repeated Alfred with a superior air; “nonsense! Nonsense!
Here,” he said, turning to Jimmy, “you hold the boys and I’ll go
see----” and before Jimmy was aware of the honour about to be thrust
upon him, he felt three red, spineless morsels, wriggling about in his
arms. He made what lap he could for the armful, and sat up in a stiff,
strained attitude on the edge of the couch. In the meantime, Alfred had
strode into the adjoining room with the air of a conqueror. Aggie looked
at Zoie, with dreadful foreboding.

“You don’t suppose it could be?” she paused.

“My baby!” shrieked the voice of the Italian mother from the adjoining
room. “Where IS he?”

Regardless of the discomfort of his three disgruntled charges, Jimmy
began to circle the room. So agitated was his mind that he could
scarcely hear Aggie, who was reporting proceedings from her place at the
bedroom door.

“She’s come up the fire-escape,” cried Aggie; “she’s beating Alfred to
death.”

“What?” shrieked Zoie, making a flying leap from her coverlets.

“She’s locking him in the bathroom,” declared Aggie, and with that she
disappeared from the room, bent on rescue.

“My Alfred!” cried Zoie, tragically, and she started in pursuit of
Aggie.

“Wait a minute,” called Jimmy, who had not yet been able to find
a satisfactory place in which to deposit his armful of clothes and
humanity. “What shall I do with these things?”

“Eat ‘em,” was Zoie’s helpful retort, as the trailing end of her
negligee disappeared from the room.



CHAPTER XXIX

Now, had Jimmy been less perturbed during the latter part of this
commotion, he might have heard the bell of the outside door, which
had been ringing violently for some minutes. As it was, he was wholly
unprepared for the flying advent of Maggie.

“Oh, plaze, sir,” she cried, pointing with trembling fingers toward
the babes in Jimmy’s arms, “me fadder’s coming right behind me. He’s
a-lookin’ for you sir.”

“For me,” murmured Jimmy, wondering vaguely why everybody on earth
seemed to be looking for HIM.

“Put ‘em down, sir,” cried Maggie, still pointing to the three babies,
“put ‘em down. He’s liable to wallop you.”

“Put ‘em where?” asked Jimmy, now utterly confused as to which way to
turn.

“There,” said Maggie, and she pointed to the cradle beneath his very
eyes.

“Of course,” said Jimmy vapidly, and he sank on his knees and strove to
let the wobbly creatures down easily.

Bang went the outside door.

“That’s Pa now,” cried Maggie. “Oh hide, sir, hide.” And with that
disconcerting warning, she too deserted him.

“Hide where?” gasped Jimmy.

There was a moment’s awful silence. Jimmy rose very cautiously from the
cradle, his eyes sought the armchair. It had always betrayed him. He
glanced toward the window. It was twelve stories to the pavement. He
looked towards the opposite door; beyond that was the mad Italian woman.
His one chance lay in slipping unnoticed through the hallway; he made
a determined dash in that direction, but no sooner had he put his head
through the door, than he drew it back quickly. The conversation between
O’Flarety and the maid in the hallway was not reassuring. Jimmy decided
to take a chance with the Italian mother, and as fast as he could, he
streaked it toward the opposite door. The shrieks and denunciations that
he met from this direction were more disconcerting than those of
the Irish father. For an instant he stood in the centre of the room,
wavering as to which side to surrender himself.

The thunderous tones of the enraged father drew nearer; he threw himself
on the floor and attempted to roll under the bed; the space between the
railing and the floor was far too narrow. Why had he disregarded Aggie’s
advice as to diet? The knob of the door handle was turning--he vaulted
into the bed and drew the covers over his head just as O’Flarety,
trembling with excitement, and pursued by Maggie, burst into the room.

“Lave go of me,” cried O’Flarety to Maggie, who clung to his arm in a
vain effort to soothe him, and flinging her off, he made straight for
the bed.

“Ah,” he cried, gazing with dilated nostrils at the trembling object
beneath the covers, “there you are, mum,” and he shook his fist above
what he believed to be the cowardly Mrs. Hardy. “‘Tis well ye may cover
up your head,” said he, “for shame on yez! Me wife may take in washing,
but when I comes home at night I wants me kids, and I’ll be after havin’
‘em too. Where ar’ they?” he demanded. Then getting no response from the
agitated covers, he glanced wildly about the room. “Glory be to God!”
 he exclaimed as his eyes fell on the crib; but he stopped short in
astonishment, when upon peering into it, he found not one, or two, but
three “barren.”

“They’re child stalers, that’s what they are,” he declared to Maggie,
as he snatched Bridget and Norah to his no doubt comforting breast. “Me
little Biddy,” he crooned over his much coveted possession. “Me little
Norah,” he added fondly, looking down at his second. The thought of his
narrow escape from losing these irreplaceable treasures rekindled
his wrath. Again he strode toward the bed and looked down at the now
semi-quiet comforter.

“The black heart of ye, mum,” he roared, then ordering Maggie to give
back “every penny of that shameless creetur’s money” he turned toward
the door.

So intense had been O’Flarety’s excitement and so engrossed was he in
his denunciation that he had failed to see the wild-eyed Italian woman
rushing toward him from the opposite door.

“You, you!” cried the frenzied woman and, to O’Flarety’s astonishment,
she laid two strong hands upon his arm and drew him round until he faced
her. “Where are you going with my baby?” she asked, then peering into
the face of the infant nearest to her, she uttered a disappointed
moan. “‘Tis not my baby!” she cried. She scanned the face of the second
infant--again she moaned.

Having begun to identify this hysterical creature as the possible mother
of the third infant, O’Flarety jerked his head in the direction of the
cradle.

“I guess you’ll find what you’re lookin’ for in there,” he said. Then
bidding Maggie to “git along out o’ this” and shrugging his shoulders
to convey his contempt for the fugitive beneath the coverlet, he swept
quickly from the room.

Clasping her long-sought darling to her heart and weeping with delight,
the Italian mother was about to follow O’Flarety through the door when
Zoie staggered into the room, weak and exhausted.

“You, you!” called the indignant Zoie to the departing mother. “How dare
you lock my husband in the bathroom?” She pointed to the key, which the
woman still unconsciously clasped in her hand. “Give me that key,” she
demanded, “give it to me this instant.”

“Take your horrid old key,” said the mother, and she threw it on the
floor. “If you ever try to get my baby again, I’ll lock your husband in
JAIL,” and murmuring excited maledictions in her native tongue, she took
her welcome departure.

Zoie stooped for the key, one hand to her giddy head, but Aggie, who had
just returned to the room, reached the key first and volunteered to go
to the aid of the captive Alfred, who was pounding desperately on the
bathroom door and demanding his instant release.

“I’ll let him out,” said Aggie. “You get into bed,” and she slipped
quickly from the room.

Utterly exhausted and half blind with fatigue Zoie lifted the coverlet
and slipped beneath it. Her first sensation was of touching something
rough and scratchy, then came the awful conviction that the thing
against which she lay was alive.

Without stopping to investigate the identity of her uninvited
bed-fellow, or even daring to look behind her, Zoie fled from the room
emitting a series of screams that made all her previous efforts in that
direction seem mere baby cries. So completely had Jimmy been enveloped
in the coverlets and for so long a time that he had acquired a vague
feeling of aloftness toward the rest of his fellows, and had lost all
knowledge of their goings and comings. But when his unexpected companion
was thrust upon him he was galvanised into sudden action by her scream,
and swathed in a large pink comforter, he rolled ignominiously from the
upper side of the bed, where he lay on the floor panting and enmeshed,
awaiting further developments. Of one thing he was certain, a great deal
had transpired since he had sought the friendly solace of the covers and
he had no mind to lose so good a friend as the pink comforter. By the
time he had summoned sufficient courage to peep from under its edge, a
babel of voices was again drawing near, and he hastily drew back in his
shell and waited.

Not daring to glance at the scene of her fright, Zoie pushed Aggie
before her into the room and demanded that she look in the bed.

Seeing the bed quite empty and noticing nothing unusual in the fact that
the pink comforter, along with other covers, had slipped down behind it,
Aggie hastened to reassure her terrified friend.

“You imagined it, Zoie,” she declared, “look for yourself.”

Zoie’s small face peeped cautiously around the edge of the doorway.

“Well, perhaps I did,” she admitted; then she slipped gingerly into the
room, “my nerves are jumping like fizzy water.”

They were soon to “jump” more, for at this instant, Alfred, burning with
anger at the indignity of having been locked in the bathroom, entered
the room, demanding to know the whereabouts of the lunatic mother, who
had dared to make him a captive in his own house.

“Where is she?” he called to Zoie and Aggie, and his eye roved wildly
about the room. Then his mind reverted with anxiety to his newly
acquired offspring. “My boys!” he cried, and he rushed toward the crib.
“They’re gone!” he declared tragically.

“Gone?” echoed Aggie.

“Not ALL of them,” said Zoie.

“All,” insisted Alfred, and his hands went distractedly toward his head.
“She’s taken them all.”

Zoie and Aggie looked at each other in a dazed way. They had a hazy
recollection of having seen one babe disappear with the Italian woman,
but what had become of the other two?

“Where did they go?” asked Aggie.

“I don’t know,” said Zoie, with the first truth she had spoken that
night, “I left them with Jimmy.”

“Jimmy!” shrieked Alfred, and a diabolical light lit his features.
“Jimmy!” he snorted, with sudden comprehension, “then he’s at it again.
He’s crazy as she is. This is inhuman. This joke has got to stop!” And
with that decision he started toward the outer door.

“But Allie!” protested Zoie, really alarmed by the look that she saw on
his face.

Alfred turned to his trembling wife with suppressed excitement, and
patted her shoulder condescendingly.

“Control yourself, my dear,” he said. “Control yourself; I’ll get
your babies for you--trust me, I’ll get them. And then,” he added with
parting emphasis from the doorway, “I’ll SETTLE WITH JIMMY!”

By uncovering one eye, Jimmy could now perceive that Zoie and Aggie
were engaged in a heated argument at the opposite side of the room. By
uncovering one ear he learned that they were arranging a line of action
for him immediately upon his reappearance. He determined not to wait for
the details.

Fixing himself cautiously on all fours, and making sure that he was
well covered by the pink comforter, he began to crawl slowly toward the
bedroom door.

Turning away from Aggie with an impatient exclamation, Zoie suddenly
beheld what seemed to her a large pink monster with protruding claws
wriggling its way hurriedly toward the inner room.

“Look!” she screamed, and pointing in horror toward the dreadful
creature now dragging itself across the threshold, she sank fainting
into Aggie’s outstretched arms.



CHAPTER XXX

Having dragged the limp form of her friend to the near-by couch, Aggie
was bending over her to apply the necessary restoratives, when Alfred
returned in triumph. He was followed by the officer in whose arms were
three infants, and behind whom was the irate O’Flarety, the hysterical
Italian woman, and last of all, Maggie.

“Bring them all in here, officer,” called Alfred over his shoulder.
“I’ll soon prove to you whose babies those are.” Then turning to Aggie,
who stood between him and the fainting Zoie he cried triumphantly,
“I’ve got them Aggie, I’ve got them.” He glanced toward the empty bed.
“Where’s Zoie?” he asked.

“She’s fainted,” said Aggie, and stepping from in front of the young
wife, she pointed toward the couch.

“Oh, my darling!” cried Alfred, with deep concern as he rushed to Zoie
and began frantically patting her hands. “My poor frightened darling!”
 Then he turned to the officer, his sense of injury welling high within
him, “You see what these people have done to my wife? She’s fainted.”
 Ignoring the uncomplimentary remarks of O’Flarety, he again bent over
Zoie.

“Rouse yourself, my dear,” he begged of her. “Look at me,” he pleaded.
“Your babies are safe.”

“HER babies!” snorted O’Flarety, unable longer to control his pent up
indignation.

“I’ll let you know when I want to hear from you,” snarled the officer to
O’Flarety.

“But they’re NOT her babies,” protested the Italian woman desperately.

“Cut it,” shouted the officer, and with low mutterings, the outraged
parents were obliged to bide their time.

Lifting Zoie to a sitting posture Alfred fanned her gently until she
regained her senses. “Your babies are all right,” he assured her. “I’ve
brought them all back to you.”

“All?” gasped Zoie weakly, and she wondered what curious fate had been
intervening to assist Alfred in such a prodigious undertaking.

“Yes, dear,” said Alfred, “every one,” and he pointed toward the three
infants in the officer’s arms. “See, dear, see.”

Zoie turned her eyes upon what SEEMED to her numberless red faces. “Oh!”
 she moaned and again she swooned.

“I told you she’d be afraid to face us,” shouted the now triumphant
O’Flarety.

“You brute!” retorted the still credulous Alfred, “how dare you
persecute this poor demented mother?”

Alfred’s persistent solicitude for Zoie was too much for the resentful
Italian woman.

“She didn’t persecute me, oh no!” she exclaimed sarcastically.

“Keep still, you!” commanded the officer.

Again Zoie was reviving and again Alfred lifted her in his arms and
begged her to assure the officer that the babies in question were hers.

“Let’s hear her SAY it,” demanded O’Flarety.

“You SHALL hear her,” answered Alfred, with confidence. Then he beckoned
to the officer to approach, explaining that Zoie was very weak.

“Sure,” said the officer; then planting himself directly in front of
Zoie’s half closed eyes, he thrust the babies upon her attention.

“Look, Zoie!” pleaded Alfred. “Look!”

Zoie opened her eyes to see three small red faces immediately opposite
her own.

“Take them away!” she cried, with a frantic wave of her arm, “take them
away!”

“What?” exclaimed Alfred in astonishment.

“What did I tell you?” shouted O’Flarety. This hateful reminder brought
Alfred again to the protection of his young and defenceless wife.

“The excitement has unnerved her,” he said to the officer.

“Ain’t you about done with my kids?” asked O’Flarety, marvelling how any
man with so little penetration as the officer, managed to hold down a
“good payin’ job.”

“What do you want for your proof anyway?” asked the mother. But Alfred’s
faith in the validity of his new parenthood was not to be so easily
shaken.

“My wife is in no condition to be questioned,” he declared. “She’s out
of her head, and if you don’t----”

He stepped suddenly, for without warning, the door was thrown open and a
second officer strode into their midst dragging by the arm the reluctant
Jimmy.

“I guess I’ve got somethin’ here that you folks need in your business,”
 he called, nodding toward the now utterly demoralised Jimmy.

“Jimmy!” exclaimed Aggie, having at last got her breath.

“The Joker!” cried Alfred, bearing down upon the panting Jimmy with a
ferocious expression.

“I caught him slipping down the fire-escape,” explained the officer.

“Again?” exclaimed Aggie and Alfred in tones of deep reproach.

“Jimmy,” said Alfred, coming close to his friend, and fixing his eyes
upon him in a determined effort to control the poor creature’s fast
failing faculties, “you know the truth of this thing. You are the one
who sent me that telegram, you are the one who told me that I was a
father.”

“Well, aren’t you a father?” asked Aggie, trying to protect her dejected
spouse.

“Of course I am,” replied Alfred, with every confidence, “but I have to
prove it to the officer. Jimmy knows,” he concluded. Then turning to
the uncomfortable man at his side, he demanded imperatively, “Tell the
officer the truth, you idiot. No more of your jokes. Am I a father or am
I not?”

“If you’re depending on ME for your future offspring,” answered Jimmy,
wagging his head with the air of a man reckless of consequences, “you
are NOT a father.”

“Depending on YOU?” gasped Alfred, and he stared at his friend in
bewilderment. “What do you mean by that?”

“Ask them,” answered Jimmy, and he nodded toward Zoie and Aggie.

Alfred appealed to Aggie.

“Ask Zoie,” said Aggie.

Alfred bent over the form of the again prostrate Zoie. “My darling,”
 he entreated, “rouse yourself.” Slowly she opened her eyes. “Now,” said
Alfred, with enforced self-control, “you must look the officer squarely
in the eye and tell him whose babies those are,” and he nodded toward
the officer, who was now beginning to entertain grave doubts on the
subject.

“How should _I_ know?” cried Zoie, too exhausted for further lying.

“What!” exclaimed Alfred, his hand on his forehead.

“I only borrowed them,” said Zoie, “to get you home,” and with that she
sank back on the couch and closed her eyes.

“What did I tell you?” cried the triumphant O’Flarety.

“I guess they’re your’n all right,” admitted the officer doggedly, and
he grudgingly released the three infants to their rightful parents.

“I guess they’d better be,” shouted O’Flarety; then he and the Italian
woman made for the door with their babes pressed close to their hearts.

“Wait a minute,” cried Alfred. “I want an understanding.”

O’Flarety turned in the doorway and raised a warning fist.

“If you don’t leave my kids alone, you’ll GIT ‘an understanding.’”

“Me too,” added the mother.

“On your way,” commanded the officer to the pair of them, and together
with Maggie and the officer, they disappeared forever from the Hardy
household.

Alfred gazed about the room. “My God!” he exclaimed; then he turned to
Jimmy who was still in the custody of the second officer: “If I’m not a
father, what am I?”

“I’d hate to tell you,” was Jimmy’s unsympathetic reply, and in utter
dejection Alfred sank on the foot of the bed and buried his head in his
hands.

“What shall I do with this one, sir?” asked the officer, undecided as to
Jimmy’s exact standing in the household.

“Shoot him, for all I care,” groaned Alfred, and he rocked to and fro.

“How ungrateful!” exclaimed Aggie, then she signalled to the officer to
go.

“No more of your funny business,” said the officer with a parting nod at
Jimmy and a vindictive light in his eyes when he remembered the bruises
that Jimmy had left on his shins.

“Oh, Jimmy!” said Aggie sympathetically, and she pressed her hot face
against his round apoplectic cheek. “You poor dear! And after all you
have done for us!”

“Yes,” sneered Zoie, having regained sufficient strength to stagger to
her feet, “he’s done a lot, hasn’t he?” And then forgetting that her
original adventure with Jimmy which had brought about such disastrous
results was still unknown to Aggie and Alfred, she concluded bitterly,
“All this would never have happened, if it hadn’t been for Jimmy and his
horrid old luncheon.”

Jimmy was startled. This was too much, and just as he had seemed to be
well out of complications for the remainder of his no doubt short life.
He turned to bolt for the door but Aggie’s eyes were upon him.

“Luncheon?” exclaimed Aggie and she regarded him with a puzzled frown.

Zoie’s hand was already over her lips, but too late.

Recovering from his somewhat bewildering sense of loss, Alfred, too, was
now beginning to sit up and take notice.

“What luncheon?” he demanded.

Zoie gazed from Alfred to Aggie, then at Jimmy, then resolving to make
a clean breast of the matter, she sidled toward Alfred with her most
ingratiating manner.

“Now, Alfred,” she purred, as she endeavoured to act one arm about
his unsuspecting neck, “if you’ll only listen, I’ll tell you the REAL
TRUTH.”

A wild despairing cry from Alfred, a dash toward the door by Jimmy, and
a determined effort on Aggie’s part to detain her spouse, temporarily
interrupted Zoie’s narrative.

But in spite of these discouragements, Zoie did eventually tell Alfred
the real truth, and before the sun had risen on the beginning of another
day, she had added to her confession, promises whose happy fulfillment
was evidenced for many years after by the chatter of glad young voices,
up and down the stairway of Alfred’s new suburban home, and the flutter
of golden curls in and out amongst the sunlight and shadows of his
ample, well kept grounds.





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