Part 1 out of 4
BY MARGARET MAYO
To my Helper and Husband
Even in college Alfred Hardy was a young man of fixed ideas and
high ideals and proud of it.
His friend, Jimmy Jinks, had few ideas and no ideals, and was
glad of it, and before half of their first college term had
passed, Jimmy had ridded himself of all such worries as making up
his own mind or directing his own morals. Alfred did all these
things so much better, argued Jimmy, furthermore, Alfred LIKED to
do them--Jimmy owed it to his friend to give him that pleasure.
The fact that Jimmy was several years Alfred's senior and twice
his size, in no way altered his opinion of Alfred's judgment, and
through their entire college course they agreed as one man in all
their discussions--or rather--in all Alfred's discussions.
But it was not until the close of their senior year that Alfred
favoured Jimmy with his views on matrimony.
Sitting alone in a secluded corner of the campus waiting for
Alfred to solve a problem in higher mathematics, Jimmy now
recalled fragments of Alfred's last conversation.
"No twelve dollar shoes and forty dollar hats for MY wife," his
young friend had raged and he condemned to Jimmy the wicked
extravagance of his own younger sisters. "The woman who gets me
must be a home-maker. I'll take her to the theatre occasionally,
and now and then we'll have a few friends in for the evening; but
the fireside must be her magnet, and I'll be right by her side
each night with my books and my day's worries. She shall be
taken into my confidence completely; and I'll take good care to
let her know, before I marry her, just what I expect in return."
"Alfred certainly has the right idea about marriage," mused
Jimmy, as the toe of his boot shoved the gravel up and down the
path. "There's just one impractical feature about it." He was
conscious of a slight feeling of heresy when he admitted even ONE
flaw in his friend's scheme of things. "Where is Alfred to find
such a wife?"
Jimmy ran through the list of unattached girls to whom Alfred had
thus far presented him. It was no doubt due to his lack of
imagination, but try as he would, he could not see any one of
these girls sitting by the fireside listening to Alfred's
"worries" for four or five nights each week. He recalled all the
married women whom he had been obliged, through no fault of his
own, to observe.
True, all of them did not boast twelve dollar shoes or forty
dollar hats--for the very simple reason that the incomes or the
tempers of their husbands did not permit of it. In any case,
Jimmy did not remember having seen them spend many evenings by
the fireside. Where then was Alfred to find the exceptional
creature who was to help "systematise his life"? Jimmy was not
above hoping that Alfred's search might be a long one. He was
content for his friend to go jogging along by his side,
theorising about marriage and taking no chances with facts.
Having come to this conclusion, he began to feel uneasy at
Alfred's non- appearance. Alfred had promised to meet him on
this spot at four-thirty, and Alfred had decided ideas about
punctuality. It was now five- thirty. Ought Jimmy to look for
him, or would he be wiser to remain comfortably seated and to try
to digest another of his friend's theories?
While Jimmy was trying to decide this vexed question, his ear
caught the sound of a girlish titter. Turning in embarrassment
toward a secluded path just behind him, whom did he see coming
toward him but Alfred, with what appeared to be a bunch of
daffodils; but as Alfred drew nearer, Jimmy began to perceive at
his elbow a large flower-trimmed hat, and--"horrors!"-- beneath
it, with a great deal of filmy white and yellow floating from it,
was a small pink and white face.
Barely had Jimmy reversed himself and rearranged his round,
astonished features, when Alfred, beaming and buoyant, brought
the bundle of fluff to a full stop before him.
"Sorry to be late, old chap," said Alfred. "I have brought my
excuse with me. I want you to know Miss Merton." Then turning
to the small creature, whose head peeped just above his elbow,
Alfred explained to her graciously that Jimmy Jinks was his very
best friend, present company excepted, of course, and added that
she and Jimmy would no doubt "see a great deal of each other in
In his embarrassment, Jimmy's eyes went straight to the young
lady's shoes. It was possible that there might be more expensive
shoes in this world, but Jimmy had certainly never seen daintier.
"I hope we didn't disturb you," a small voice was chirping; and
innocent and conventional as the remark surely was, Jimmy was
certain of an undercurrent of mischief in it. He glanced up to
protest, but two baby-blue eyes fixed upon him in apparent
wonderment, made him certain that anything he could say would
seem rude or ridiculous; so, as usual when in a plight, he looked
to Alfred for the answer.
Slapping Jimmy upon the shoulder in a condescending spirit,
Alfred suggested that they all sit down and have a chat.
"Oh, how nice," chirped the small person.
Jimmy felt an irresistible desire to run, but the picture of
himself, in his very stout person, streaking across the campus to
the giggled delight of Miss Fluff, soon brought him submissively
to the seat, where he sat twiddling his straw hat between his
fingers, and glancing uncertainly at Alfred, who was thoughtful
enough to sit next him.
"Goodness, one could almost dance out here, couldn't one?" said
the small person, named Zoie, as her eyes roved over the bit of
level green before them.
"Would you like to try?" asked Alfred, apparently agreeable to
her every caprice.
"I'd love it!" cried Zoie. "Come along." She sprang up and held
out her hands to him.
"I'm going to be unselfish," answered Alfred, "and let Jimmy have
By this time, Jimmy had been seized with an intuitive feeling
that his friend was in immediate danger.
"Was this the young woman who was to sit opposite the fireside
five nights a week and systematise Alfred's life?"
Jimmy stared at the intruder blankly. For answer, two small
hands were thrust out toward him and an impatient little voice
was commanding him to "Come, dance." He heard Alfred's laughter.
He had no intention of accommodating the small person in this or
any other matter, yet, before he realised quite how it had
happened, he was two-stepping up and down the grass to her piping
little voice; nor did she release him until the perspiration came
rolling from his forehead; and, horror of horrors, his one-time
friend, Alfred, seemed to find this amusing, and laughed louder
and louder when Jimmy sank by his side exhausted.
When Jimmy was again able to think consecutively, he concluded
that considerable conversation must have taken place between
Alfred and the small one, while he was recovering his breath and
re-adjusting his wilted neckwear. He was now thrown into a fresh
panic by an exclamation from the excitable Zoie.
"You must both meet my friend, Aggie Darling," she was saying.
"I am bringing her with me to the hop to-night. She is not at
all like me. You will like her dreadfully." She smiled at Jimmy
as though she were conferring a great favour upon him.
"Like her dreadfully," commented Jimmy to himself. "It was just
the kind of expression one might expect from a mind in such
disorder as hers. 'Systematise Alfred's life,' indeed!"
There was more nonsensical chatter, or so it seemed to Jimmy,
then Zoie and Alfred rose to go, and Jimmy was told by both of
them that he was to put in an appearance at the Fraternity "hop"
"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
"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
"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 entire future.
He was to follow his father's wishes and take up a business
career in Chicago at once; and as soon as all the relatives
concerned on both sides had been duly consulted, he and Aggie
were to embark upon matrimony.
"Good!" cried Alfred, when Jimmy had managed to stammer his
shame-faced confession. "We'll make it a double wedding. I can
be ready to-morrow, so far as I'm concerned." And then followed
another rhapsody upon the fitness of Zoie as the keeper of his
future home and hearth, and the mother of his future sons and
daughters. In fact, it was far into the night when the two
friends separated--separated in more than one sense, as they
While Alfred and Jimmy were saying "good- night" to each other,
Zoie and Aggie in one of the pretty chintz bedrooms of Professor
Peck's modest home, were still exchanging mutual confidences.
"The thing I like about Alfred," said Zoie, as she gazed at the
tip of her dainty satin slipper, and turned her head meditatively
to one side, "is his positive nature. I've never before met any
one like him. Do you know," she added with a sly twinkle in her
eye, "it was all I could do to keep from laughing at him. He's
so awfully serious." She giggled to herself at the recollection
of him; then she leaned forward to Aggie, her small hands clasped
across her knees and her face dimpling with mischief. "He hasn't
the remotest idea what I'm like."
Aggie studied her young friend with unmistakable reproach. "I
MADE Jimmy know what I'M like," she said. "I told him ALL my
ideas about everything."
"Good Heavens!" exclaimed Zoie in shocked surprise.
"He's sure to find out sooner or later," said Aggie sagely. "I
think that's the only sensible way to begin."
"If I'd told Alfred all MY ideas about things," smiled Zoie,
"there'd have BEEN no beginning."
"What do you mean?" asked Aggie, with a troubled look.
"Well, take our meeting," explained Zoie. "Just as we were
introduced, that horrid little Willie Peck caught his heel in a
flounce of my skirt. I turned round to slap him, but I saw
Alfred looking, so I patted his ugly little red curls instead.
And what do you think? Alfred told me to-night that it was my
devotion to Willie that first made him adore me."
"And you didn't explain to him?" asked Aggie in amazement.
"And lose him before I'd got him!" exclaimed Zoie.
"It might be better than losing him AFTER you've got him,"
concluded the elder girl.
"Oh, Aggie," pouted Zoie, "I think you are horrid. You're just
trying to spoil all the fun of my engagement."
"I am not," cried Aggie, and the next moment she was sitting on
the arm of Zoie's chair.
"Goose!" she said, "how dare you be cross with me?"
"I am NOT cross," declared Zoie, and after the customary
apologies from Aggie, confidence was fully restored on both sides
and Zoie continued gaily: "Don't you worry about Alfred and me,"
she said as she kicked off her tiny slippers and hopped into bed.
"Just you wait until I get him. I'll manage him all right."
"I dare say," answered Aggie; not without misgivings, as she
turned off the light.
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
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 her friend.
"Oh, you do, do you?" answered Jimmy in a very aggrieved tone.
"She is one of the prettiest girls in Chicago," said Aggie.
"You're pretty too," answered Jimmy, "but it doesn't make an
idiot of you."
"It's TIME you said something nice to me," purred Aggie; and her
arm stole fondly around Jimmy's large neck.
"I don't know why it is," said Jimmy, shaking his head
dejectedly, "but every time Zoie Hardy's name is mentioned in
this house it seems to stir up some sort of a row between you and
"That's because you're so prejudiced," answered Aggie with a
touch of irritation.
"There you go again," said Jimmy.
"I didn't mean it!" interposed Aggie contritely. "Oh, come now,
Jimmy," she pleaded, "let's trundle off to bed and forget all
about it." And they did.
But the next day, as Jimmy was heading for the La Salle
restaurant to get his luncheon, who should call to him airily
from a passing taxi but Zoie. It was apparent that she wished
him to wait until she could alight; and in spite of his
disinclination to do so, he not only waited but followed the taxi
to its stopping place and helped the young woman to the pavement.
"Oh, you darling!" exclaimed Zoie, all of a flutter, and looking
exactly like an animated doll. "You've just saved my life." She
called to the taxi driver to "wait."
"Are you in trouble?" asked the guileless Jimmy.
"Yes, dreadful," answered Zoie, and she thrust a half-dozen small
parcels into Jimmy's arms. "I have to be at my dressmaker's in
half an hour; and I haven't had a bite of lunch. I'm miles and
miles from home; and I can't go into a restaurant and eat just by
myself without being stared at. Wasn't it lucky that I saw you
when I did?"
There was really very little left for Jimmy to say, so he said
it; and a few minutes later they were seated tete-a-tete in one
of Chicago's most fashionable restaurants, and Zoie the
unconscious flirt was looking up at Jimmy with apparently adoring
eyes, and suggesting all the eatables which he particularly
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
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
"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
"Why was he not to tell Aggie?"
"Where was Alfred?" He stopped abruptly. His over excited
imagination had suggested a horrible but no doubt accurate
answer. "Wedded to an abomination like Zoie, Alfred had sought
the only escape possible to a man of his honourable ideals--he
had committed suicide."
Seizing his coat and hat Jimmy dashed through the outer office
without instructing his astonished staff as to when he might
"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
"Hello, Jimmy!" she snapped. Her tone was certainly not that of
a heart-broken widow. "It's TIME you got here," she added with
an injured air.
Jimmy gazed at Zoie in astonishment. She was never what he would
have called a sympathetic woman, but really----!
"I came the moment you 'phoned me," he stammered; "what is it?
What's the matter?"
"It's awful," sniffled Zoie. And she tore up and down the room
regardless of the fact that Jimmy was still unseated.
"Awful what?" questioned Jimmy.
"Worst I've ever had," sobbed Zoie.
"Is anything wrong with Alfred?" ventured Jimmy. And he braced
himself for her answer.
"He's gone," sobbed Zoie.
"Gone!" echoed Jimmy, feeling sure that his worst fears were
about to be realised. "Gone where?"
"I don't know," sniffled Zoie, "I just 'phoned his office. He
"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
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 it again."
"Thank heaven for that!" concluded Zoie with tightly pressed
lips. Then she knotted her small white brow in deep thought.
Jimmy regarded her with growing uneasiness. "What are you up to
now?" he asked.
"I don't know yet," mused Zoie, "BUT YOU'RE NOT GOING TO TELL
AGGIE--that's ONE SURE thing." And she pinned him down with her
"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
"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
"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
"It IS too late," declared Zoie. "Alfred wouldn't believe me
now, whatever I told him. He says a woman who lies once lies all
the time. He'd think I'd been carrying on with you ALL ALONG."
"Good Lord!" groaned Jimmy as the full realisation of his
predicament thrust itself upon him.
"We don't DARE tell him now," continued Zoie, elated by the
demoralised state to which she was fast reducing him. "For
Heaven's sake, don't make it any worse," she concluded; "it's bad
enough as it is."
"It certainly is," agreed Jimmy, and he sank dejectedly into his
"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
His sarcasm was lost upon Zoie. Having finished all she had to
say to him, she was now apparently bent upon indulging herself in
a first class fit of hysterics.
There are critical moments in all of our lives when our future
happiness or woe hangs upon our own decision. Jimmy felt
intuitively that he was face to face with such a moment, but
which way to turn? that was the question. Being Jimmy, and
soft-hearted in spite of his efforts to conceal it, he naturally
turned the wrong way, in other words, towards Zoie.
"Oh, come now," he said awkwardly, as he crossed to the arm of
her chair. "This will soon blow over."
Zoie only sobbed the louder.
"This isn't the first time you and Alfred have called it all
off," he reminded her.
Again she sobbed.
Jimmy could never remember quite how it happened. But apparently
he must have patted Zoie on the shoulder. At any rate, something
or other loosened the flood-gates of her emotion, and before
Jimmy could possibly escape from her vicinity she had wheeled
round in her chair, thrown her arms about him, and buried her
tear-stained face against his waist-coat.
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Jimmy, for the third time that morning, as
he glanced nervously toward the door; but Zoie was exclaiming in
her own way and sobbing louder and louder; furthermore she was
compelling Jimmy to listen to an exaggerated account of her many
disappointments in her unreasonable husband. Seeing no
possibility of escape, without resorting to physical violence,
Jimmy stood his ground, wondering what to expect next. He did
not have long to wonder.
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
As they neared Alfred's house, Johnson could feel waves of
increasing anger circling around his perturbed young employer and
later when they alighted from the taxi it was with the greatest
difficulty that he could keep pace with him.
Unfortunately for Jimmy, the outer door of the Hardy apartment
had been left ajar, and thus it was that he was suddenly startled
from Zoie's unwelcome embraces by a sharp exclamation.
"So!" cried Alfred, and he brought his fist down with emphasis on
the centre table at Jimmy's back.
Wheeling about, Jimmy beheld his friend face to face with him.
Alfred's lips were pressed tightly together, his eyes flashing
fire. It was apparent that he desired an immediate explanation.
Jimmy turned to the place where Zoie had been, to ask for help;
like the traitress that she was, he now saw her flying through
her bedroom door. Again he glanced at Alfred, who was standing
like a sentry, waiting for the pass-word that should restore his
confidence in his friend.
"I'm afraid I've disturbed you," sneered Alfred.
"Oh, no, not at all," answered Jimmy, affecting a careless
indifference that he did not feel and unconsciously shaking hands
with the waiting secretary.
Reminded of the secretary's presence in such a distinctly family
scene, Alfred turned to him with annoyance.
"Go into my study," he said. "I'll be with you presently.
Here's your list," he added and he thrust a long memorandum into
the secretary's hand. Johnson retired as unobtrusively as
possible and the two old friends were left alone. There was
another embarrassed silence which Jimmy, at least, seemed
powerless to break.
"Well?" questioned Alfred in a threatening tone.
"Tolerably well," answered Jimmy in his most pleasant but
slightly nervous manner. Then followed another pause in which
Alfred continued to eye his old friend with grave suspicion.
"The fact is," stammered Jimmy, "I just came over to bring
Aggie----" he corrected himself-- "that is, to bring Zoie a
little message from Aggie."
"It seemed to be a SAD one," answered Alfred, with a sarcastic
smile, as he recalled the picture of Zoie weeping upon his
"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 began.
"Misunderstanding!" shouted Alfred, turning upon him so sharply
that he nearly tripped him up, "we've never had anything else.
There was never anything else for us TO have. She's lied up hill
and down dale from the first time she clinched her baby fingers
around my hand--" he imitated Zoie's dainty manner-- "and said
'pleased to meet you!' But I've caught her with the goods this
time," he shouted, "and I've just about got HIM."
"Him!" echoed Jimmy weakly.
"The wife-stealer," exclaimed Alfred, and he clinched his fists
in anticipation of the justice he would one day mete out to the
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
"Oh, I wouldn't go as far as that," stammered Jimmy.
"Oh, wouldn't you?" cried Alfred, again turning so abruptly that
Jimmy caught his breath. Each word of Jimmy's was apparently
goading him on to greater anger.
"Now don't get hasty," Jimmy almost pleaded. "The whole thing is
no doubt perfectly innocent. Talk to her gently. Win her
confidence. Get her to tell you the truth."
"The truth!" shouted Alfred in derision. "Zoie! The truth!"
Jimmy feared that his young friend might actually become
violent. Alfred bore down upon him like a maniac.
"The truth!" he repeated wildly. "She wouldn't know the truth if
she saw it under a microscope. She's the most unconscionable
little liar that ever lured a man to the altar."
Jimmy rolled his round eyes with feigned incredulity.
"I found it out before we'd been married a month," continued
Alfred. "She used to sit evenings facing the clock. I sat with
my back to it. I used to ask her the time. Invariably she would
lie half an hour, backward or forward, just for practice. THAT
was the BEGINNING. Here, listen to some of these," he added, as
he drew half a dozen telegrams from his inner pocket, and
motioned Jimmy to sit at the opposite side of the table.
Jimmy would have preferred to stand, but it was not a propitious
time to consult his own preferences. He allowed himself to be
bullied into the chair that Alfred suggested.
Throwing himself into the opposite chair, Alfred selected various
exhibits from his collection of messages. "I just brought these
up from the office," he said. "These are some of the telegrams
that she sent me each day last week while I was away. This is
Monday's." And he proceeded to read with a sneering imitation of
Zoie's cloy sweetness.
" 'Darling, so lonesome without you. Cried all day. When are
you coming home to your wee sad wifie? Love and kisses. Zoie.' "
Tearing the defenceless telegram into bits, Alfred threw it from
him and waited for his friend's verdict.
"She sent that over the wire?" gasped Jimmy.
"Oh, that's nothing," answered Alfred. "That's a mild one." And
he selected another from the same pocket. "Here, listen to this.
This is what she REALLY did. This is from my secretary the same
"You spied upon her!" asked Jimmy, feeling more and more
convinced that his own deceptions would certainly be run to
"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,
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
Jimmy's features became suddenly distorted.
"The minute she appears anywhere with anybody," explained Alfred,
"Henri will be notified by 'phone. He'll identify the man and
then he'll wire me."
"What good will that do?" asked Jimmy weakly.
"I'll take the first train home," declared Alfred.
"For what?" questioned Jimmy.
"To shoot him!" exclaimed Alfred.
"What!" gasped Jimmy, almost losing his footing.
Alfred mistook Jimmy's concern for anxiety on his behalf.
"Oh, I'll be acquitted," he declared. "Don't you worry. I'll
get my tale of woe before the jury."
"But I say," protested Jimmy, too uneasy to longer conceal his
real emotions, "why kill this one particular chap when there are
so many others?"
"He's the only one she's ever lunched with, ALONE," said Alfred.
"She's been giddy, but at least she's always been chaperoned,
except with him. He's the one all right; there's no doubt about
it. He's the beginning of the end."
"His own end, yes," assented Jimmy half to himself. "Now, see
here, old man," he argued, "I'd give that poor devil a chance to
"Explain!" shouted Alfred so sharply that Jimmy quickly
retreated. "I wouldn't believe him now if he were one of the
"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
"Only until I hear from Henri," said Alfred.
"Henri?" repeated Jimmy and again a gleam of hope shone on his
dull features. He had heard that waiters were often to be
bribed. "Nice fellow, Henri," he ventured cautiously. "Gets a
large salary, no doubt?"
"Does he!" exclaimed Alfred, with a certain pride of
proprietorship. "No tips could touch Henri, no indeed. He's not
that sort of a person."
Again the hope faded from Jimmy's round face.
"I look upon Henri as my friend," continued Alfred
enthusiastically. "He speaks every language known to man. He's
been in every country in the world. HENRI UNDERSTANDS LIFE."
"LOTS of people UNDERSTAND LIFE," commented Jimmy dismally, "but
SOME people don't APPRECIATE it. They value it too lightly, to
MY way of thinking."
"Ah, but you have something to live for," argued Alfred.
"I have indeed; a great deal," agreed Jimmy, more and more abused
at the thought of what he was about to lose.
"Ah, that's different," exclaimed Alfred. "But what have _I_?"
Jimmy was in no frame of mind to consider his young friend's
assets, he was thinking of his own difficulties.
"I'm a laughing stock," shouted Alfred. "I know it. A 'good
thing' who gives his wife everything she asks for, while she is
running around with--with my best friend, for all I know."
"Oh, no, no," protested Jimmy nervously. "I wouldn't say that."
"Even if she weren't running around," continued Alfred excitedly,
without heeding his friend's interruption, "what have we to look
forward to? What have we to look backward to?"
Again Jimmy's face was a blank.
Alfred answered his own question by lifting his arms tragically
toward Heaven. "One eternal round of wrangles and rows! A
childless home! Do you think she wants babies?" he cried,
wheeling about on Jimmy, and daring him to answer in the
affirmative. "Oh, no!" he sneered. "All she wants is a good
"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 between them.
Annoyed at receiving no greeting, Aggie continued in a rather
"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 later."
"It doesn't matter," murmured Jimmy, as he followed her toward
the door with a doleful shake of his head. "I don't suppose I
shall ever enjoy my luncheon again--as long as I live."
"Nonsense," cried Aggie, "come along."
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
"Don't you 'but Allie' me," cried Alfred, turning upon her
sharply. "All I want is my hat," and again he started in search
"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
"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
"Stop!" thundered Alfred. They were now face to face.
"I wish you wouldn't roar like that," pouted Zoie, and the pink
tips of her fingers were thrust tight against her ears.
Alfred drew in his breath and endeavoured for the last time to
repress his indignation. "Either you can't, or you won't
understand that it is extremely unpleasant for me to even talk to
you-- much less to receive your attentions."
"Very likely," answered Zoie, unperturbed. "But so long as I am
your lawful wedded wife----" she emphasised the "lawful"--"I
shan't let any harm come to you, if _I_ can help it." She lifted
her eyes to heaven bidding it to bear witness to her martyrdom
and looking for all the world like a stained glass saint.
"Oh, no!" shouted Alfred, almost hysterical at his apparent
failure to make himself understood. "You wouldn't let any harm
come to me. Oh, no. You've only made me the greatest joke in
Chicago," he shouted. "You've only made me such a laughing stock
that I have to leave it. That's all--that's all!"
"Leave Chicago!" exclaimed Zoie incredulously. Then regaining
her self-composure, she edged her way close to him and looked up
into his eyes in baby-like wonderment. "Why, Allie, where are we
going?" Her small arm crept up toward his shoulder. Alfred
pushed it from him rudely.
"WE are not going," he asserted in a firm, measured voice. "_I_
am going. Where's my hat?" And again he started in search of his
"Oh, Allie!" she exclaimed, and this time there was genuine alarm
in her voice, "you wouldn't leave me?"
"Wouldn't I, though?" sneered Alfred. Before he knew it, Zoie's
arms were about him--she was pleading desperately.
"Now see here, Allie, you may call me all the names you like,"
she cried with great self-abasement, "but you shan't--you SHAN'T
go away from Chicago."
"Oh, indeed?" answered Alfred as he shook himself free of her.
"I suppose you'd like me to go on with this cat and dog
existence. You'd like me to stay right here and pay the bills
and take care of you, while you flirt with every Tom, Dick and
Harry in town."
"It's only your horrid disposition that makes you talk like
that," whimpered Zoie. "You know very well that I never cared
for anybody but you."
"Until you GOT me, yes," assented Alfred, "and NOW you care for
everybody BUT me." She was about to object, but he continued
quickly. "Where you MEET your gentlemen friends is beyond me.
_I_ don't introduce them to you."
"I should say not," agreed Zoie, and there was a touch of
vindictiveness in her voice. "The only male creature that you
ever introduced to me was the family dog."
"I introduce every man who's fit to meet you," declared Alfred
with an air of great pride.
"That doesn't speak very well for your acquaintances," snipped
Zoie. Even HER temper was beginning to assert itself.
"I won't bicker like this," declared Alfred.
"That's what you always say, when you can't think of an answer,"
"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 it again."
"So!" cried Alfred with renewed indignation. "You admit it?"
"Just to please you, dear," explained Zoie sweetly, as though she
were doing him the greatest possible favour.
"To please me?" gasped Alfred. "Do you suppose it pleases me to
know that you are carrying on the moment my back is turned,
making a fool of me to my friends?"
"Your friends?" cried Zoie with a sneer. This time it was her
turn to be angry. "So! It's your FRIENDS that are worrying you!"
In her excitement she tossed Alfred's now damaged hat into the
chair just behind her. He was far too overwrought to see it.
"_I_ haven't done you any harm," she continued wildly. "It's
only what you think your friends think."
"You haven't done me any harm?" repeated Alfred, in her same
tragic key, "Oh no! Oh no! You've only cheated me out of
everything I expected to get out of life! That's all!"
Zoie came to a full stop and waited for him to enumerate the
various treasures that he had lost by marrying her. He did so.
"Before we were married," he continued, "you pretended to adore
children. You started your humbugging the first day I met you.
I refer to little Willie Peck."
A hysterical giggle very nearly betrayed her. Alfred continued:
"I was fool enough to let you know that I admire women who like
children. From that day until the hour that I led you to the
altar, you'd fondle the ugliest little brats that we met in the
street, but the moment you GOT me----"
"Alfred!" gasped Zoie. This was really going too far.
"Yes, I repeat it!" shouted Alfred, pounding the table with his
fist for emphasis. "The moment you GOT me, you declared that all
children were horrid little insects, and that someone ought to
sprinkle bug-powder on them."
"Oh!" protested Zoie, shocked less by Alfred's interpretation of
her sentiments, than by the vulgarity with which he expressed
"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
"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 outer
Screaming hysterically, Zoie caught him just as he reached the
threshold and threw the whole weight of her body upon him.
"Alfred," she pleaded, "if you REALLY love me, you CAN'T leave me
like this!" Her emotion was now genuine. He looked down at her
gravely-- then into the future.
"There are other things more important than what YOU call 'love,'
" he said, very solemnly.
"There is such a thing as a soul, if you only knew it. And you
have hurt mine through and through."
"But how, Alfred, how?" asked the small person, and there was a
frown of genuine perplexity on her tiny puckered brow. "What
have I REALLY DONE," She stroked his hand fondly; her baby eyes
searched his face.
"It isn't so much what people DO to us that counts," answered
Alfred in a proud hurt voice. "It's how much they DISAPPOINT us
in what they do. I expected better of YOU," he said sadly.
"I'll DO better," coaxed Zoie, "if you'll only give me a chance."
He was half inclined to believe her.
"Now, Allie," she pleaded, perceiving that his resentment was
dying and resolved to, at last, adopt a straight course, "if
you'll only listen, I'll tell you the REAL TRUTH."
Unprepared for the electrical effect of her remark, Zoie found
herself staggering to keep her feet. She gazed at Alfred in
amazement. His arms were lifted to Heaven, his breath was coming
" '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 asked.
"Well, this is Mrs. Hardy," she explained.
"I wish you'd ring me up the moment my husband comes in." There
was a slight pause, then she clutched the receiver harder. "Not
COMING back?" she gasped. "Gone!--to Detroit?" A short moan
escaped her lips. She let the receiver fall back on the hook and
her head went forward on her outstretched arms.
When Jimmy came home to luncheon that day, Aggie succeeded in
getting a general idea of the state of affairs in the Hardy
household. Of course Jimmy didn't tell the whole truth. Oh,
no--far from it. In fact, he appeared to be aggravatingly
ignorant as to the exact cause of the Hardy upheaval. Of ONE
thing, however, he was certain. "Alfred was going to quit
Chicago and leave Zoie to her own devices."
"Jimmy!" cried Aggie. "How awful!" and before Jimmy was fairly
out of the front gate, she had seized her hat and gloves and
rushed to the rescue of her friend.
Not surprised at finding Zoie in a state of collapse, Aggie
opened her arms sympathetically to receive the weeping
confidences that she was sure would soon come.
"Zoie dear," she said as the fragile mite rocked to and fro.
"What is it?" She pressed the soft ringlets from the girl's
"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.
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