by Margaret Mayo
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
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
"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
"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
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
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.
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
"After that, I no longer hesitated. You know, Jimmy, I have
"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
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
"So there were," assented Jimmy, thinking of his hitherto narrow
"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
"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
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
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
"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
Aggie studied her young friend with unmistakable reproach. "I
MADE Jimmy know what I'M like," she said. "I told him ALL my ideas
"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.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
Seizing his coat and hat Jimmy dashed through the outer office
without instructing his astonished staff as to when he might possibly
"Family troubles," said the secretary to himself as he
appropriated one of Jimmy's best cigars.
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
"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
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
"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
Jimmy was beginning to see it more and more in the light of an
"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
"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
"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
"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
"What!" exclaimed Jimmy, and he felt himself getting onto his
"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
"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
"It certainly is," agreed Jimmy, and he sank dejectedly into his
"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
"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.
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
"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
"Oh no--no!" answered Jimmy, with an elaborate attempt at
"Do you generally play the messenger during business hours?"
thundered Alfred, becoming more and more enraged at Jimmy's petty
"Just SOMETIMES," answered Jimmy, persisting in his amiable
"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
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
"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
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
" '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
"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
" '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."
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
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
"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!" 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,
"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.
"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
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
"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.
"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
Annoyed at receiving no greeting, Aggie continued in a rather hurt
"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
"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
"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
"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."
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
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
"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
"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
"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
Zoie gazed at him without daring to breathe; even she was aghast
at his fury, but only temporarily. She recovered herself and
"If everything is SETTLED," she argued, "where's the harm in
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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,"
"You mean when I'm tired of answering your nonsense!" thundered
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
" 'The REAL TRUTH!' " he gasped, then bringing his crushed hat
down on his forehead with a resounding whack, he rushed from her
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
"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.
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
"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
"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?"
"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
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,
"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
"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
"You can always get TONS of them at the Children's Home," answered
"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
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
"Don't be silly!" snapped Aggie curtly. In spite of her firm
faith in Jimmy's innocence, she was undoubtedly annoyed by Zoie's
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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,
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"I'll bet it's his wife!" said the partner.
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"Of course not," answered Aggie, as she removed the receiver from
the hook. "Alfred wouldn't 'phone, he would come right up."
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"If Jimmy doesn't come soon, I'll not HAVE any baby," answered
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"My boy won't care HOW his father looks," declared Alfred proudly,
and Zoie told Aggie afterward that his chest had momentarily expanded
"But _I_ care," persisted Zoie. "First impressions are so
"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
"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?"
"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
Alfred glanced solicitously at Zoie's closed eyes. "I'm so
sorry," he apologised to Aggie, and again he slipped softly out of
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
"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
"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.
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
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
"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
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
"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,"
"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
"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
"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
"Tell the Superintendent that it isn't here," she whispered to
Aggie across the footboard. "Tell him that Jimmy hasn't got here
"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.
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
"Yes--yes," agreed Aggie uneasily, as she tried to place herself
between Alfred and the bassinette. "He's here, but you mayn't have
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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,"
"What!" exclaimed Jimmy, too desperate to care what Alfred might
Ignoring Jimmy's implied protest, Zoie continued sweetly to
"Now, don't worry, dear; go back to your room and finish your
"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
"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
"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
"Another!" shrieked Jimmy. "See here, you two can't be changing
babies every five minutes without Alfred knowing it. Even HE has
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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.
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
"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
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
"Here's your coat, dear," said Aggie graciously, as she
endeavoured to slip Jimmy's limp arms into the sleeves of the
"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
"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
"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
There was a distinct threat in Zoie's voice when she again
addressed the stubborn Jimmy and the glitter of triumph was in her
"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
"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
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
"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
"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."
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
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
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
"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,
Alfred shook his head and turned to baby with an indulgent smile.
It was pleasant to have two such delightful creatures bidding for his
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"Well, SAY it!" demanded Zoie.
"You know I do," answered Alfred, with the diffidence of a school
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"What's that?" asked Zoie.
"For HER," grunted Jimmy, and he nodded toward the bundle in
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"Jimmy," he said, "just a minute," and he nodded for Jimmy to
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
"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
"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
"Oh, just some woman with the wrong address," answered Aggie with
affected carelessness. "You'd better let me take the babies now,
"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
"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
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
"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 says," answered Aggie, with a threatening glance toward
Jimmy, "that she won't leave this place until Jimmy gives her baby
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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,
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
Inflamed by her young friend's enthusiasm, Aggie rushed to her
"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
"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
"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,
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
"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
"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.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Oh," said Alfred, with the relief of sudden comprehension; "the
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
"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
"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 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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
"Is this the Fullerton Street Police Station?" asked Alfred.
"The Police!" echoed Aggie, and her eyes sought Zoie's
"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 jovialiy. "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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"You hear," chided Zoie, in a fury at Jimmy, "what did Aggie tell
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
" 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.
Zoie had barely time to arrange herself after the manner of an
interesting invalid, when Alfred entered the room in the gayest of
"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
"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
"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
"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!
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"OURS, dear," she murmured softly, with a bashful droop of her
"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
"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
"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
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
Finding a wide circle prescribed about himself and the babies,
Alfred suddenly stopped and gazed about from one astonished face to
"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
"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
"So am I," assented Jimmy, and unconsciously his hand sought the
spot where his dinner should have been, but Alfred was not to be
"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
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.
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
" '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
"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
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
"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
"Sounded like breaking glass," said Alfred.
"Burglars!" exclaimed Zoie, for want of anything better to
"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
"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.
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
"There," said Maggie, and she pointed to the cradle beneath his
"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
"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.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"I guess I've got somethin' here that you folks need in your
business," he called, nodding toward the now utterly demoralised
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Luncheon?" exclaimed Aggie and she regarded him with a puzzled
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
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.