When a Man Marries
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 3 out of 4
explode--under Aunt Selina.
I was sunk in dejected reverie when some one came on the roof.
When he was opposite the opening in the tent, I saw Mr. Harbison,
and at that moment he saw me. He paused uncertainly, then he made
an evident effort and came over to me.
"You are--better today?"
"Quite well, thank you."
"I am glad you find the tent useful. Does it keep off the wind?"
"It is quite a shelter"--frigidly.
He still stood, struggling for something to say. Evidently
nothing came to his mind, for he lifted the cap he was wearing,
and turning away, began to work with the wiring of the roof. He
was clever with tools; one could see that. If he was a
professional gentleman-burglar, no doubt he needed to be. After a
bit, finding it necessary to climb to the parapet, he took off
his coat, without even a glance in my direction, and fell to work
One does not need to like a man to admire him physically, any
more than one needs to like a race horse or any other splendid
animal. No one could deny that the man on the parapet was a
splendid animal; he looked quite big enough and strong enough to
have tossed his slender bridge across the gulf to the next roof,
without any difficulty, and coordinate enough to have crossed on
it with a flourish to safety.
Just then there was a rending, tearing sound from the corner and
a muttered ejaculation. I looked up in time to see Mr. Harbison
throw up his arms, make a futile attempt to regain his balance,
and disappear over the edge of the roof. One instant he was
standing there, splendid, superb; the next, the corner of the
parapet was empty, all that stood there was a broken, splintered
post and a tangle of wires.
I could not have moved at first; at least, it seemed hours before
the full significance of the thing penetrated my dazed brain.
When I got up I seemed to walk, to crawl, with leaden weights
holding back my feet.
When I got to the corner I had to catch the post for support. I
knew somebody was saying, "Oh, how terrible!" over and over. It
was only afterward that I knew it had been myself. And then some
other voice was saying, "Don't be alarmed. Please don't be
frightened. I'm all right."
I dared to look over the parapet, finally, and instead of a
crushed and unspeakable body, there was Mr. Harbison, sitting
about eight feet below me, with his feet swinging into space and
a long red scratch from the corner of his eye across his cheek.
There was a sort of mansard there, with windows, and just enough
coping to keep him from rolling off.
"I thought you had fallen--all the way," I gasped, trying to keep
my lips from trembling. "I--oh, don't dangle your feet like
He did not seem at all glad of his escape. He sat there gloomily,
peering into the gulf beneath.
"If it wasn't so--er--messy and generally unpleasant," he replied
without looking up, "I would slide off and go the rest of the
"You are childish," I said severely. "See if you can get through
the window behind you. If you can not, I'll come down and
unfasten it." But the window was open, and I had a chance to sit
down and gather up the scattered ends of my nerves. To my
surprise, however, when he came back he made no effort to renew
our conversation. He ignored me completely, and went to work at
once to repair the damage to his wires, with his back to me.
"I think you are very rude," I said at last. "You fell over there
and I thought you were killed. The nervous shock I experienced is
just as bad as if you had gone--all the way."
He put down the hammer and came over to me without speaking.
Then, when he was quite close, he said:
"I am very sorry if I startled you. I did not flatter myself that
you would be profoundly affected, in any event."
"Oh, as to that," I said lightly, "it makes me ill for days if my
car runs over a dog." He looked at me in silence. "You are not
going to get up on that parapet again?"
"Mrs. Wilson," he said, without paying the slightest attention to
my question, "will you tell me what I have done?"
"Or have not done? I have racked my brains--stayed awake all of
last night. At first I hoped it was impersonal, that, womanlike
you were merely venting general disfavor on one particular
individual. But--your hostility is to me, personally."
I raised my eyebrows, coldly interrogative.
"Perhaps," he went on calmly--"perhaps I was a fool here on the
roof--the night before last. If I said anything that I should
not, I ask your pardon. If it is not that, I think you ought to
I was angry enough then.
"There can be only one opinion about your conduct," I retorted
warmly. "It was worse than brutal. It--it was unspeakable. I have
no words for it--except that I loathe it--and you."
He was very grim by this time. "I have heard you say something
like that before--only I was not the unfortunate in that case."
"Oh!" I was choking.
"Under different circumstances I should be the last person to
recall anything so--personal. But the circumstances are unusual."
He took an angry step toward me. "Will you tell me what I have
done? Or shall I go down and ask the others?"
"You wouldn't dare," I cried, "or I will tell them what you did!
How you waylaid me on those stairs there, and forced your
caresses, your kisses, on me! Oh, I could die with shame!"
The silence that followed was as unexpected as it was ominous. I
knew he was staring at me, and I was furious to find myself so
emotional, so much more the excited of the two. Finally, I looked
"You can not deny it," I said, a sort of anti-climax.
"No." He was very quiet, very grim, quite composed. "No," he
repeated judicially. "I do not deny it."
He did not? Or he would not? Which?
Chapter XIV. ALMOST, BUT NOT QUITE
Dal had been acting strangely all day. Once, early in the
evening, when I had doubled no trump, he led me a club without
apology, and later on, during his dummy, I saw him writing our
names on the back of an envelope, and putting numbers after them.
At my earliest opportunity I went to Max.
"There is something the matter with Dal, Max," I volunteered.
"He has been acting strangely all day, and just now he was
making out a list--names and numbers."
"You're to blame for that, Kit," Max said seriously. "You put
washing soda instead of baking soda in those biscuits today, and
he thinks he is a steam laundry. Those are laundry lists he's
making out. He asked me a little while ago if I wanted a domestic
Yes, I had put washing soda in the biscuits. The book said soda,
and how is one to know which is meant?
"I do not think you are calculated for a domestic finish," I said
coldly as I turned away. "In any case I disclaim any such
responsibility. But--there is SOMETHING on Dal's mind."
Max came after me. "Don't be cross, Kit. You haven't said a nice
word to me today, and you go around bristling with your chin up
and two red spots on your cheeks--like whatever-her-name-was with
the snakes instead of hair. I don't know why I'm so crazy about
you; I always meant to love a girl with a nice disposition."
I left him then. Dal had gone into the reception room and closed
the doors. And because he had been acting so strangely, and
partly to escape from Max, whose eyes looked threatening, I
followed him. Just as I opened the door quietly and looked in,
Dallas switched off the lights, and I could hear him groping his
way across the room. Then somebody--not Dal--spoke from the
"Is that you, Mr. Brown, sir?" It was Flannigan.
"Yes. Is everything here?"
"All but the powder, sir. Don't step too close. They're spread
all over the place."
"Have you taken the curtains down?"
"Light one, will you, Flannigan? I want to see the time."
The flare showed Dallas and Flannigan bent over the timepiece.
And it showed something else. The rug had been turned back from
the windows which opened on the street, and the curtains had been
removed. On the bare hardwood floor just beneath the windows was
an array of pans of various sizes, dish pans, cake tins, and a
metal foot tub. The pans were raised from the floor on bricks,
and seemed to be full of paper. All the chairs and tables were
pushed back against the wall, and the bric-a-brac was stacked on
"Half an hour yet," Dal said, closing his watch. "Plenty of time,
and remember the signal, four short and two long."
"Four short and two long--all right, sir."
"And--Flannigan, here's something for you, on account."
"Thank you, sir."
Dal turned to go out, tripped over the rug, said something, and
passed me without an idea of my presence. A moment later
Flannigan went out, and I was left, huddled against the wall, and
It was puzzling enough. "Four long and two short!" "All but the
powder!" Not that I believed for a moment what Max had said, and
anyhow Flannigan was the sanest person I ever saw in my life. But
it all seemed a part of the mystery that had been hanging over us
for several days. I felt my way across the room and knelt by the
pans. Yes, they were there, full of paper and mounted on bricks.
It had not been a delusion.
And then I straightened on my knees suddenly, for an automobile
passing under the windows had sounded four short honks and two
long ones. The signal was followed instantly by a crash. The foot
bath had fallen from its supports, and lay, quivering and
vibrating with horrid noises at my feet. The next moment Mr.
Harbison had thrown open the door and leaped into the room.
"Who's there?" he demanded. Against the light I could see him
reaching for his hip pocket, and the rest crowding up around him.
"It's only me," I quavered, "that is, I. The--the dish pan
"Dish pan!" Bella said from back in the crowd. "Kit, of course!"
Jim forced his way through then and turned on the lights. I have
no doubt I looked very strange, kneeling there on the bare floor,
with a row of pans mounted on bricks behind me, and the furniture
all piled on itself in a back corner.
"Kit! What in the world--!" Jim began, and stopped. He stared
from me to the pans, to the windows, to the bric-a-brac on the
mantel, and back to me.
I sat stonily silent. Why should I explain? Whenever I got into a
foolish position, and tried to explain, and tell how it happened,
and who was really to blame, they always brought it back to ME
somehow. So I sat there on the floor and let them stare. And
finally Lollie Mercer got her breath and said, "How perfectly
lovely; it's a charade!"
And Anne guessed "kitchen" at once. "Kit, you know, and the pans
and--all that," she said vaguely. At that they all took to
guessing! And I sat still, until Mr. Harbison saw the storm in my
eyes and came over to me.
"Have you hurt your ankle?" he said in an undertone. "Let me help
"I am not hurt," I said coldly, "and even if I were, it would be
unnecessary to trouble you."
"I can not help being troubled," he returned, just as evenly.
"'You see, it makes me ill for days if my car runs over a dog.'"
Luckily, at that moment Dal came in. He pushed his way through
the crowd without a word, shut off the lights, crashed through
the pans and slammed the shutters closed. Then he turned and
addressed the rest.
"Of all the lunatics--!" he began, only there was more to it than
that. "A fellow goes to all kinds of trouble to put an end to
this miserable situation, and the entire household turns out and
sets to work to frustrate the whole scheme. You LIKE to stay
here, don't you, like chickens in a coop? Where's Flannigan?"
Nobody understood Dal's wrath then, but it seems he meant to
arrange the plot himself, and when it was ripe, and the hour
nearly come, he intended to wager that he could break the
quarantine, and to take any odds he could get that he would free
the entire party in half an hour. As for the plan itself, it was
idiotically simple; we were perfectly delighted when we heard it.
It was so simple and yet so comprehensive. We didn't see how it
COULD fail. Both the Mercer girls kissed Dal on the strength of
it, and Anne was furious. Jim was not so much pleased, for some
reason or other, and Mr. Harbison looked thoughtful rather than
merry. Aunt Selina had gone to bed.
The idea, of course, was to start an embryo fire just inside the
windows, in the pans, to feed it with the orange-fire powder that
is used on the Fourth of July, and when we had thrown open the
windows and yelled "fire" and all the guards and reporters had
rushed to the front of the house, to escape quietly by a rear
door from the basement kitchen, get into machines Dal had in
waiting, and lose ourselves as quickly as we could.
You can see how simple it was.
We were terribly excited, of course. Every one rushed madly for
motor coats and veils, and Dal shuffled the numbers so the people
going the same direction would have the same machine. We called
to each other as we dressed about Mamaroneck or Lakewood or
wherever we happened to have relatives. Everybody knew everybody
else, and his friends. The Mercer girls were going to cruise
until the trouble blew over, the Browns were going to Pinehurst,
and Jim was going to Africa to hunt, if he could get out of the
Only the Harbison man seemed to have no plans; quite suddenly
with the world so near again, the world of country houses and
steam yachts and all the rest of it, he ceased to be one of us.
It was not his world at all. He stood back and watched the
kaleidoscope of our coats and veils, half-quizzically, but with
something in his face that I had not seen there before. If he had
not been so self-reliant and big, I would have said he was
lonely. Not that he was pathetic in any sense of the word. Of
course, he avoided me, which was natural and exactly what I
wished. Bella never was far from him and at the last she loaded
him with her jewel case and a muff and traveling bag and asked
him to her cousins' on Long Island. I felt sure he was going to
decline, when he glanced across at me.
"Do go," I said, very politely. "They are charming people." And
he accepted at once!
It was a transparent plot on Bella's part: Two elderly maiden
ladies, house miles from anywhere, long evenings in the music
room with an open fire and Bella at the harp playing the two
songs she knows.
When we were ready and gathered in the kitchen, in the darkness,
of course, Dal went up on the roof and signaled with a lantern to
the cars on the drive. Then he went downstairs, took a last look
at the drawing room, fired the papers, shook on the powder,
opened the windows and yelled "fire!"
Of course, huddled in the kitchen we had heard little or nothing.
But we plainly heard Dal on the first floor and Flannigan on the
second yelling "fire," and the patter of feet as the guards ran
to the front of the house. And at that instant we remembered Aunt
That was the cause of the whole trouble. I don't know why they
turned on me; she wasn't my aunt. But by the time we had got her
out of bed, and had wrapped her in an eiderdown comfort, and
stuck slippers on her feet and a motor veil on her head, the
glare at the front of the house was beginning to die away. She
didn't understand at all and we had no time to explain. I
remember that she wanted to go back and get her "plate," whatever
that may be, but Jim took her by the arm and hurried her along,
and the rest, who had waited, and were in awful tempers, stood
aside and let them out first.
The door to the area steps was open, and by the street lights we
could see a fence and a gate, which opened on a side street. Jim
and Aunt Selina ran straight for the gate; the wind blowing Aunt
Selina's comfort like a sail. Then, with our feet, so to speak,
on the first rungs of the ladder of Liberty, it slipped. A
half-dozen guards and reporters came around the house and drove
us back like sheep into a slaughter pen. It was the most
humiliating moment of my life.
Dal had been for fighting a way through, and just for a minute I
think I went Berserk myself. But Max spied one of the reporters
setting up a flash light as we stood, undecided, at the top of
the steps, and after that there was nothing to do but retreat. We
backed down slowly, to show them we were not afraid. And when we
were all in the kitchen again, and had turned on the lights and
Bella was crying with her head against Mr. Harbison's arm, Dal
"Well, it has done some good, anyhow. We have lost Aunt Selina."
And we all shook hands on it, although we were sorry about Jim.
And Dal said we would have some champagne and drink to Aunt
Selina's comfort, and we could have her teeth fumigated and send
them to her. Somebody said "Poor old Jim," and at that Bella
She stared around the group, and then she went quite pale.
"Jim!" she gasped. "Do you mean--that Jim is--out there too?"
"Jim and Aunt Selina!" I said as calmly as I could for joy. You
can see how it simplified the situation for me. "By this time
they are a mile away, and going!"
Everybody shook hands again except Bella. She had dropped into a
chair, and sat biting her lip and breathing hard, and she would
not join in any of the hilarity at getting rid of Aunt Selina.
Finally she got up and knocked over her chair.
"You are a lot of cowards," she stormed. "You deserted them out
there, left them. Heaven knows where they are--a defenseless old
woman, and--and a man who did not even have an overcoat. And it
"Never mind," Dal said reassuringly. "He can borrow Aunt Selina's
comfort. Make the old lady discard from weakness. Anyhow, Bella,
if I know anything of human nature, the old lady will make it hot
enough for him. Poor old Jim!"
Then they shook hands again, and with that there came a terrible
banging at the door, which we had locked.
"Open the door!" some one commanded. It was one of the guards.
"Open it yourself!" Dallas called, moving a kitchen table to
reenforce the lock.
"Open that door or we will break it in!"
Dallas put his hands in his pockets, seated himself on the table,
and whistled cheerfully. We could hear them conferring outside,
and they made another appeal which was refused. Suddenly Bella
came over and confronted Dallas.
"They have brought them back!" she said dramatically. "They are
out there now; I distinctly heard Jim's voice. Open that door,
"Oh, DON'T let them in!" I wailed. It was quite involuntary, but
the disappointment was too awful. "Dallas, DON'T open that door!"
Dal swung his feet and smiled from Bella to me.
"Think what a solution it is to all our difficulties," he said
easily. "Without Aunt Selina I could be happy here indefinitely."
There was more knocking, and somebody--Max, I think--said to let
them in, that it was a fool thing anyhow, and that he wanted to
go to bed and forget it; his feet were cold. And just then there
was a crash, and part of one of the windows fell in. The next
blow from outside brought the rest of the glass, and--somebody
was coming through, feet first. It was Jim.
He did not speak to any of us, but turned and helped in a bundle
of red and yellow silk comfort that proved to be Aunt Selina,
also feet first. I had a glimpse of a half-dozen heads outside,
guards and reporters. Then Jim jerked the shade down and
unswathed Aunt Selina's legs so that she could walk, offered his
arm, and stalked past us and upstairs, without a word!
None of us spoke. We turned out the lights and went upstairs and
took off our wraps and went to bed. It had been almost a fiasco.
Chapter XV. SUSPICION AND DISCORD
Every one was nasty the next morning. Aunt Selina declared that
her feet were frost-bitten and kept Bella rubbing them with ice
water all morning. And Jim was impossible. He refused to speak to
any of us and he watched Bella furtively, as if he suspected her
of trying to get him out of the house.
When luncheon time came around and he had shown no indication of
going to the telephone and ordering it, we had a conclave, and
Max was chosen to remind him of the hour. Jim was shut in the
studio, and we waited together in the hall while Max went up.
When he came down he was somewhat ruffled.
"He wouldn't open the door, he reported, "and when I told him it
was meal time, he said he wasn't hungry, and he didn't give a
whoop about the rest of us. He had asked us here to dinner; he
hadn't proposed to adopt us."
So we finally ordered luncheon ourselves, and about two o'clock
Jim came downstairs sheepishly, and ate what was left. Anne
declared that Bella had been scolding him in the upper hall, but
I doubted it. She was never seen to speak to him unnecessarily.
The excitement of the escape over, Mr. Harbison and I remained on
terms of armed neutrality. And Max still hunted for Anne's
pearls, using them, the men declared, as a good excuse to avoid
tinkering with the furnace or repairing the dumb waiter, which
took the queerest notions, and stopped once, half-way up from the
kitchen, for an hour, with the dinner on it. Anyhow, Max was
searching the house systematically, armed with a copy of Poe's
Purloined Letter and Gaboriau's Monsieur LeCoq. He went through
the seats of the chairs with hatpins, tore up the beds, and
lifted rugs, until the house was in a state of confusion. And the
next day, the fourth, he found something--not much, but it was
curious. He had been in the studio, poking around behind the
dusty pictures, with Jimmy expostulating every time he moved
anything and the rest standing around watching him.
Max was strutting.
"We get it by elimination," he said importantly. "The pearls
being nowhere else in the house, they must be here in the studio.
Three parts of the studio having yielded nothing, they must be in
the fourth. Ladies and gentlemen, let me have your attention for
one moment. I tap this canvas with my wand--there is nothing up
my sleeve. Then I prepare to move the canvas--so. And I put my
hand in the pocket of this disreputable velvet coat, so. Behold!"
Then he gave a low exclamation and looked at something he held in
his hand. Every one stepped forward, and on his palm was the
small diamond clasp from Anne's collar!
Jimmy was apoplectic. He tried to smile, but no one else did.
"Well, I'll be flabbergasted!" he said. "I say, you people, you
don't think for a minute that I put that thing there? Why, I
haven't worn that coat for a month. It's--it's a trick of yours,
But Max shook his head; he looked stupefied, and stood gazing
from the clasp to the pocket of the old painting coat. Betty
dropped on a folding stool, that promptly collapsed with her and
created a welcome diversion, while Anne pounced on the clasp
greedily, with a little cry.
"We will find it all now," she said excitedly. "Did you look in
the other pockets, Max?"
Then, for the first time, I was conscious of an air of constraint
among the men. Dallas was whistling softly, and Mr. Harbison,
having rescued Betty, was standing silent and aloof, watching the
scene with non-committal eyes. It was Max who spoke first, after
a hurried inventory of the other pockets.
"Nothing else," he said constrainedly. "I'll move the rest of the
But Jim interfered, to every one's surprise.
"I wouldn't, if I were you, Max. There's nothing back there. I
had em out yesterday." He was quite pale.
"Nonsense!" Max said gruffly. "If it's a practical joke, Jim, why
don't you fess up? Anne has worried enough."
"The pearls are not there, I tell you," Jim began. Although the
studio was cold, there were little fine beads of moisture on his
face. "I must ask you not to move those pictures." And then Aunt
Selina came to the rescue; she stalked over and stood with her
back against the stack of canvases.
"As far as I can understand this," she declaimed, "you gentlemen
are trying to intimate that James knows something of that young
woman's jewelry, because you found part of it in his pocket.
Certainly you will not move the pictures. How do you know that
the young gentleman who said he found it there didn't have it up
She looked around triumphantly, and Max glowered. Dallas soothed
"Exactly so," he said. "How do we know that Max didn't have the
clasp up his sleeve? My dear lady, neither my wife nor I care
anything for the pearls, as compared with the priceless pearl of
peace. I suggest tea on the roof; those in favor--? My arm, Miss
It was all well enough for Jim to say later that he didn't dare
to have the canvases moved, for he had stuck behind them all
sorts of chorus girl photographs and life-class crayons that were
not for Aunt Selina's eye, besides four empty siphons, two full
ones, and three bottles of whisky. Not a soul believed him; there
was a a new element of suspicion and discord in the house.
Every one went up on the roof and left him to his mystery. Anne
drank her tea in a preoccupied silence, with half-closed eyes, an
attitude that boded ill to somebody. The rest were feverishly
gay, and Aunt Selina, with a pair of arctics on her feet and a
hot-water bottle at her back, sat in the middle of the tent and
told me familiar anecdotes of Jimmy's early youth (had he known,
he would have slain her). Betty and Mr. Harbison had found a
medicine ball, and were running around like a pair of children.
It was quite certain that neither his escape from death nor my
accusation weighed heavily on him.
While Aunt Selina was busy with the time Jim had swallowed an
open safety pin, and just as the pin had been coughed up, or
taken out of his nose--I forget which--Jim himself appeared and
sulkily demanded the privacy of the roof for his training hour.
Yes, he was training. Flannigan claimed to know the system that
had reduced the president to what he is, and he and Jim had a
seance every day which left Jim feeling himself for bruises all
evening. He claimed to be losing flesh; he said he could actually
feel it going, and he and Flannigan had spent an entire afternoon
in the cellar three days before with a potato barrel, a
cane-seated chair and a lamp.
The whole thing had been shrouded in mystery. They sandpapered
the inside of the barrel and took out all the nails, and when
they had finished they carried it to the roof and put it in a
corner behind the tent. Everybody was curious, but Flannigan
refused any information about it, and merely said it was part of
his system. Dal said that if HE had anything like that in his
system he certainly would be glad to get rid of it.
At a quarter to six Jim appeared, still sullen from the events of
the afternoon and wearing a dressing gown and a pair of slippers,
Flannigan following him with a sponge, a bucket of water and an
armful of bath towels. Everybody protested at having to move, but
he was firm, and they all filed down the stairs. I was the last,
with Aunt Selina just ahead of me. At the top of the stairs, she
turned around suddenly to me.
"That policeman looks cruel," she said. "What's more, he's been
in a bad humor all day. More than likely he'll put James flat on
the roof and tramp on him, under pretense of training him. All
policemen are inhuman."
"He only rolls him over a barrel or something like that," I
"James had a bump like an egg over his ear last night," Aunt
Selina insisted, glaring at Flannigan's unconscious back. "I
don't think it's safe to leave him. It is my time to relax for
thirty minutes, or I would watch him. You will have to stay," she
said, fixing me with her imperious eyes.
So I stayed. Jim didn't want me, and Flannigan muttered mutiny.
But it was easier to obey Aunt Selina than to clash with her, and
anyhow I wanted to see the barrel in use.
I never saw any one train before. It is not a joyful spectacle.
First, Flannigan made Jim run, around and around the roof. He
said it stirred up his food and brought it in contact with his
liver, to be digested.
Flannigan, from meekness and submission, of a sort, in the
kitchen, became an autocrat on the roof.
"Once more," he would say. "Pick up your feet, sir! Pick up your
And Jim would stagger doggedly past me, where I sat on the
parapet, his poor cheeks shaking and the tail of his bath robe
wrapping itself around his legs. Yes, he ran in the bath robe in
deference to me. It seems there isn't much to a running suit.
"Head up," Flannigan would say. "Lift your knees, sir. Didn't you
ever see a horse with string halt?"
He let him stop finally, and gave him a moment to get his breath.
Then he set him to turning somersaults. They spread the cushions
from the couch in the tent on the roof, and Jim would poke his
head down and say a prayer, and then curve over as gracefully as
a sausage and come up gasping, as if he had been pushed off a
"Five pounds a day; not less, sir," Flannigan said encouragingly.
"You'll drop it in chunks."
Jim looked at the tin as if he expected to see the chunks lying
at his feet.
"Yes," he said, wiping the back of his neck. "If we're in here
thirty days that will be one hundred and fifty pounds. Don't
forget to stop in time, Flannigan. I don't want to melt away like
He was cheered, however, by the promise of reduction.
"What do you think of that, Kit?" he called to me. "Your uncle is
going to look as angular as a problem in geometry. I'll--I'll be
the original reductio ad absurdum. Do you want me to stand on my
head, Flannigan? Wouldn't that reduce something?"
"Your brains, sir," Flannigan retorted gravely, and presented a
pair of boxing gloves. Jim visibly quailed, but he put them on.
"Do you know, Flannigan," he remarked, as he fastened them, "I'm
thinking of wearing these all the time. They hide my character."
Flannigan looked puzzled, but he did not ask an explanation. He
demanded that Jim shed the bath robe, which he finally did, on my
promise to watch the sunset. Then for fully a minute there was no
sound save of feet running rapidly around the roof, and an
occasional soft thud. Each thud was accompanied by a grunt or two
from Jim. Flannigan was grimly silent. Once there was a smart
rap, an oath from the policeman, and a mirthless chuckle from
Jim. The chuckle ended in a crash, however, and I turned. Jim was
lying on his back on the roof, and Flannigan was wiping his ear
with a towel. Jim sat up and ran his hand down his ribs.
"They're all here," he observed after a minute. "I thought I
"The only way to take a man's weight down," Flannigan said dryly.
Jim got up dizzily.
"Down on the roof, I suppose you mean," he said.
The next proceedings were mysterious. Flannigan rolled the barrel
into the tent, and carried in a small glass lamp. With the
material at hand he seemed to be effecting a combination, no new
one, to judge by his facility. Then he called Jim.
At the door of the tent Jim turned to me, his bathrobe toga
fashion around his shoulders.
"This is a very essential part of the treatment," he said
solemnly. "The exercise, according to Flannigan, loosens up the
adipose tissue. The next step is to boil it out. I hope, unless
your instructions compel you, that you will at least have the
decency to stay out of the tent."
"I am going at once," I said, outraged. "I'm not here because I'm
mad about it, and you know it. And don't pose with that bath
robe. If you think you're a character out of Roman history, look
at your legs."
"I didn't mean to offend you," he said sulkily. "Only I'm tired
of having you choked down my throat every time I open my mouth,
Kit. And don't go just yet. Flannigan is going for my clothes as
soon as he lights the--the lamp, and--somebody ought to watch the
That was all there was to it. I said I would guard the steps, and
Flannigan, having ignited the combination, whatever it was, went
downstairs. How was I to know that Bella would come up when she
did? Was it my fault that the lamp got too high, and that
Flannigan couldn't hear Jim calling? Or that just as Bella
reached the top of the steps Jim should come to the door of the
tent, wearing the barrel part of his hot-air cabinet, and yelling
for a doctor?
Bella came to a dead stop on the upper step, with her mouth open.
She looked at Jim, at the inadequate barrel, and from them she
looked at me. Then she began to laugh, one of her hysterical
giggles, and she turned and went down again. As Jim and I stared
at each other we could hear her gurgling down the hall below.
She had violent hysterics for an hour, with Anne rubbing her
forehead and Aunt Selina burning a feather out of the feather
duster under her nose. Only Jim and I understood, and we did not
tell. Luckily, the next thing that occurred drove Bella and her
nerves from everybody's mind.
At seven o'clock, when Bella had dropped asleep and everybody
else was dressed for dinner, Aunt Selina discovered that the
house was cold, and ordered Dal to the furnace.
It was Dal's day at the furnace; Flannigan had been relieved of
that part of the work after twice setting fire to a chimney.
In five minutes Dal came back and spoke a few words to Max, who
followed him to the basement, and in ten minutes more Flannigan
puffed up the steps and called Mr. Harbison.
I am not curious, but I knew that something had happened. While
Aunt Selina was talking suffrage to Anne--who said she had always
been tremendously interested in the subject, and if women got the
suffrage would they be allowed to vote?--I slipped back to the
The table was laid for dinner, but Flannigan was not in sight. I
could hear voices from somewhere, faint voices that talked
rapidly, and after a while I located the sounds under my feet.
The men were all in the basement, and something must have
happened. I flew back to the basement stairs, to meet Mr.
Harbison at the foot. He was grimy and dusty, with streaks of
coal dust over his face, and he had been examining his revolver.
I was just in time to see him slip it into his pocket.
"What is the matter?" I demanded. "Is any one hurt?
"No one," he said coolly. "We've been cleaning out the furnace."
"With a revolver! How interesting--and unusual!" I said dryly,
and slipped past him as he barred the way. He was not pleased; I
heard him mutter something and come rapidly after me, but I had
the voices as a guide, and I was not going to be turned back like
a child. The men had gathered around a low stone arch in the
furnace room, and were looking down a short flight of steps, into
a sort of vault, evidently under the pavement. A faint light came
from a small grating above, and there was a close, musty smell in
"I tell you it must have been last night," Dallas was saying.
"Wilson and I were here before we went to bed, and I'll swear
that hole was not there then."
"It was not there this morning, sir," Flannigan insisted. "It has
been made during the day."
"And it could not have been done this afternoon," Mr. Harbison
said quietly. "I was fussing with the telephone wire down here. I
would have heard the noise."
Something in his voice made me look at him, and certainly his
expression was unusual. He was watching us all intently while
Dallas pointed out to me the cause of the excitement. From the
main floor of the furnace room, a flight of stone steps
surmounted by an arch led into the coal cellar, beneath the
street. The coal cellar was of brick, with a cement floor, and in
the left wall there gaped an opening about three feet by three,
leading into a cavernous void, perfectly black--evidently a
similar vault belonging to the next house.
The whole place was ghostly, full of shadows, shivery with
possibilities. It was Mr. Harbison finally who took Jim's candle
and crawled through the aperture. We waited in dead silence,
listening to his feet crunching over the coal beyond, watching
the faint yellow light that came through the ragged opening in
the wall. Then he came back and called through to us.
"Place is locked, over here," he said. "Heavy oak door at the
head of the steps. Whoever made that opening has done a
prodigious amount of labor for nothing."
The weapon, a crowbar, lay on the ground beside the bricks, and
he picked it up and balanced it on his hand. Dallas' florid face
was almost comical in his bewilderment; as for Jimmy--he slammed
a piece of slag at the furnace and walked away. At the door he
"Why don't you accuse me of it?" he asked bitterly. "Maybe you
could find a lump of coal in my pockets if you searched me."
He stalked up the stairs then and left us. Dallas and I went up
together, but we did not talk. There seemed to be nothing to say.
Not until I had closed and locked the door of my room did I
venture to look at something that I carried in the palm of my
hand. It was a watch, not running--a gentleman's flat gold watch,
and it had been hanging by its fob to a nail in the bricks beside
In the back of the watch were the initials, T.H.H. and the
picture of a girl, cut from a newspaper.
It was my picture.
Chapter XVI. I FACE FLANNIGAN
Dinner waited that night while everybody went to the coal cellar
and stared at the hole in the wall, and watched while Max took a
tracing of it and of some footprints in the coal dust on the
I did not go. I went into the library with the guilty watch in
the fold of my gown, and found Mr. Harbison there, staring
through the February gloom at the blank wall of the next house,
and quite unconscious of the reporter with a drawing pad just
below him in the area-way. I went over and closed the shutters
before his very eyes, but even then he did not move.
"Will you be good enough to turn around?" I demanded at last.
"Oh!" he said wheeling. "Are YOU here?"
There wasn't any reply to that, so I took the watch and placed it
on the library table between us. The effect was all that I had
hoped. He stared at it for an instant, then at me, and with his
hand outstretched for it, stopped.
"Where did you find it?" he asked. I couldn't understand his
expression. He looked embarrassed, but not at all afraid.
"I think you know, Mr. Harbison," I retorted.
"I wish I did. You opened it?"
We stood looking at each other across the table. It was his
glance that wavered.
"About the picture--of you," he said at last. "You see, down
there in South America, a fellow hasn't much to do in the
evenings, and a--a chum of mine and I--we were awfully down on
what we called the plutocrats, the--the leisure classes. And when
that picture of yours came in the paper, we had--we had an
argument. He said--" He stopped.
"What did he say?"
"Well, he said it was the picture of an empty-faced society
"Oh!" I exclaimed.
"I--I maintained there were possibilities in the face." He put
both hands on the table, and, bending forward, looked down at me.
"Well, I was a fool, I admit. I said your eyes were kind and
candid, in spite of that haughty mouth. You see, I said I was a
"I think you are exceedingly rude," I managed finally. "If you
want to know where I found your watch, it was down in the coal
cellar. And if you admit you are an idiot, I am not. I--I know
all about Bella's bracelet--and the board on the roof, and--oh,
if you would only leave--Anne's necklace--on the coal, or
somewhere--and get away--"
My voice got beyond me then, and I dropped into a chair and
covered my face. I could feel him staring at the back of my head.
"Well, I'll be--" something or other, he said finally, and then
he turned on his heel and went out. By the time I got my eyes dry
(yes, I was crying; I always do when I am angry) I heard Jim
coming downstairs, and I tucked the watch out of sight. Would
anyone have foreseen the trouble that watch would make!
Jim was sulky. He dropped into a chair and stretched out his
legs, looking gloomily at nothing. Then he got up and ambled into
his den, closing the door behind him without having spoken a
word. It was more than human nature could stand.
When I went into the den he was stretched on the davenport with
his face buried in the cushions. He looked absolutely wilted, and
every line of him was drooping.
"Go on out, Kit," he said, in a smothered voice. "Be a good girl
and don't follow me around."
"You are shameless!" I gasped. "Follow you! When you are hung
around my neck like a--like a--" Millstone was what I wanted to
say, but I couldn't think of it.
He turned over and looked up from his cushions like an
ill-treated and suffering cherub.
"I'm done for, Kit," he groaned. "Bella went up to the studio
after we left, and investigated that corner."
"What did she find? The necklace?" I asked eagerly. He was too
wretched to notice this.
"No, that picture of you that I did last winter. She is
crazy--she says she is going upstairs and sit in Takahiro's room
and take smallpox and die."
"Fiddlesticks!" I said rudely, and somebody hammered on the door
and opened it.
"Pardon me for disturbing you," Bella said, in her best
dear-me-I'm-glad-I-knocked manner. "But--Flannigan says the
dinner has not come."
"Good Lord!" Jim exclaimed. "I forgot to order the confounded
It was eight o'clock by that time, and as it took an hour at
least after telephoning the order, everybody looked blank when
they heard. The entire family, except Mr. Harbison, who had not
appeared again, escorted Jim to the telephone and hung around
hungrily, suggesting new dishes every minute. And then--he
couldn't raise Central. It was fifteen minutes before we gave up,
and stood staring at one another despairingly.
"Call out of a window, and get one of those infernal reporters to
do something useful for once," Max suggested. But he was
indignantly hushed. We would have starved first. Jim was peering
into the transmitter and knocking the receiver against his hand,
like a watch that had stopped. But nothing happened. Flannigan
reported a box of breakfast food, two lemons, and a pineapple
cheese, a combination that didn't seem to lend itself to
We went back to the dining room from sheer force of habit and sat
around the table and looked at the lemonade Flannigan had made.
Anne WOULD talk about the salad her last cook had concocted, and
Max told about a little town in Connecticut where the restaurant
keeper smokes a corn-cob pipe while he cooks the most luscious
fried clams in America. And Aunt Selina related that in her
family they had a recipe for chicken smothered in cream. And then
we sipped the weak lemonade and nibbled at the cheese.
"To change this gridiron martyrdom," Dallas said finally,
"where's Harbison? Still looking for his watch?"
"Watch!" Everybody said it in a different tone.
"Sure," he responded. "Says his watch was taken last night from
the studio. Better get him down to take a squint at the
telephone. Likely he can fix it."
Flannigan was beside me with the cheese. And at that moment I
felt Mr. Harbison's stolen watch slip out of my girdle, slide
greasily across my lap, and clatter to the floor. Flannigan
stooped, but luckily it had gone under the table. To have had it
picked up, to have had to explain how I got it, to see them try
to ignore my picture pasted in it--oh, it was impossible! I put
my foot over it.
"Drop something?" Dallas asked perfunctorily, rising. Flannigan
was still half kneeling.
"A fork," I said, as easily as I could, and the conversation went
on. But Flannigan knew, and I knew he knew. He watched my every
movement like a hawk after that, standing just behind my chair. I
dropped my useless napkin, to have it whirled up before it
reached the floor. I said to Betty that my shoe buckle was loose,
and actually got the watch in my hand, only to let it slip at the
critical moment. Then they all got up and went sadly back to the
library, and Flannigan and I faced each other.
Flannigan was not a handsome man at any time, though up to then
he had at least looked amiable. But now as I stood with my hand
on the back of my chair, his face grew suddenly menacing. The
silence was absolute. I was the guiltiest wretch alive, and
opposite me the law towered and glowered, and held the yellow
remnant of a pineapple cheese! And in the silence that wretched
watch lay and ticked and ticked and ticked. Then Flannigan
creaked over and closed the door into the hall, came back, picked
up the watch, and looked at it.
"You're unlucky, I'm thinkin'," he said finally. "You've got the
nerve all right, but you ain't cute enough."
"I don't know what you mean," I quavered. "Give me that watch to
return to Mr. Harbison."
"Not on your life," he retorted easily. "I give it back myself,
like I did the bracelet, and--like I'm going to give back the
necklace, if you'll act like a sensible little girl."
I could only choke.
"It's foolish, any way you look at it," he persisted. "here you
are, lots of friends, folks that think you're all right. Why, I
reckon there isn't one of them that wouldn't lend you money if
you needed it so bad."
"Will you be still?" I said furiously. "Mr. Harbison left that
watch--with me--an hour ago. Get him, and he will tell you so
"Of course he would," Flannigan conceded, looking at me with
grudging approval. "He wouldn't be what I think he is, if he
didn't lie up and down for you." There were voices in the hall.
Flannigan came closer. "An hour ago, you say. And he told me it
was gone this morning! It's a losing game, miss. I'll give you
twenty-four hours and then--the necklace, if you please, miss."
Chapter XVII. A CLASH AND A KISS
The clash that came that evening had been threatening for some
time. Take an immovable body, represented by Mr. Harbison and his
square jaw, and an irresistible force, Jimmy and his weight, and
there is bound to be trouble.
The real fault was Jim's. He had gone entirely mad again over
Bella, and thrown prudence to the winds. He mooned at her across
the dinner table, and waylaid her on the stairs or in the back
halls, just to hear her voice when she ordered him out of her
way. He telephoned for flowers and candy for her quite
shamelessly, and he got out a book of photographs that they had
taken on their wedding journey, and kept it on the library table.
The sole concession he made to our presumptive relationship was
to bring me the responsibility for everything that went wrong,
and his shirts for buttons.
The first I heard of the trouble was from Dal. He waylaid me in
the hall after dinner that night, and his face was serious.
"I'm afraid we can't keep it up very long, Kit," he said. "With
Jim trailing Bella all over the house, and the old lady keener
every day, it's bound to come out somehow. And that isn't all.
Jim and Harbison had a set-to today--about you."
"About me!" I repeated. "Oh, I dare say I have been falling short
again. What was Jim doing? Abusing me?"
Dal looked cautiously over his shoulder, but no one was near.
"It seems that the gentle Bella has been unusually beastly today
to Jim, and--I believe she's jealous of you, Kit. Jim followed
her up to the roof before dinner with a box of flowers, and she
tossed them over the parapet. She said, I believe, that she
didn't want his flowers; he could buy them for you, and be damned
to him, or some lady-like equivalent."
"Jim is a jellyfish," I said contemptuously. "What did he say?"
"He said he only cared for one woman, and that was Bella; that he
never had really cared for you and never would, and that divorce
courts were not unmitigated evils if they showed people the way
to real happiness. Which wouldn't amount to anything if Harbison
had not been in the tent, trying to sleep!"
Dal did not know all the particulars, but it seems that relations
between Jim and Mr. Harbison were rather strained. Bella had left
the roof and Jim and the Harbison man came face to face in the
door of the tent. According to Dal, little had been said, but
Jim, bound by his promise to me, could not explain, and could
only stammer something about being an old friend of Miss Knowles.
And Tom had replied shortly that it was none of his business, but
that there were some things friendship hardly justified, and
tried to pass Jim. Jim was instantly enraged; he blocked the door
to the roof and demanded to know what the other man meant. There
were two or three versions of the answer he got. The general
purport was that Mr. Harbison had no desire to explain further,
and that the situation was forced on him. But if he
insisted--when a man systematically ignored and neglected his
wife for some one else, there were communities where he would be
tarred and feathered.
"Meaning me?" Jim demanded, apoplectic.
"The remark was a general one," Mr. Harbison retorted, "but if
you wish to make a concrete application--!"
Dal had gone up just then, and found them glaring at each other,
Jim with his hands clenched at his sides, and Mr. Harbison with
his arms folded and very erect. Dal took Jim by the elbow and led
him downstairs, muttering, and the situation was saved for the
time. But Dal was not optimistic.
"You can do a bit yourself, Kit," he finished. "Look more
cheerful, flirt a little. You can do that without trying. Take
Max on for a day or so; it would be charity anyhow. But don't let
Tom Harbison take into his head that you are grieving over Jim's
neglect, or he's likely to toss him off the roof."
"I have no reason to think that Mr. Harbison cares one way or the
other about me," I said primly. "You don't think he's--he's in
love with me, do you, Dal?" I watched him out of the corner of my
eye, but he only looked amused.
"In love with you!" he repeated. "Why bless your wicked little
heart, no! He thinks you're a married woman! It's the principle
of the thing he's fighting for. If I had as much principle as he
has, I'd--I'd put it out at interest."
Max interrupted us just then, and asked if we knew where Mr.
"Can't find him," he said. "I've got the telephone together and
have enough left over to make another. Where do you suppose
Harbison hides the tools? I'm working with a corkscrew and two
I heard nothing more of the trouble that night. Max went to Jim
about it, and Jim said angrily that only a fool would interfere
between a man and his wife--wives. Whereupon Max retorted that a
fool and his wives were soon parted, and left him. The two
principals were coldly civil to each other, and smaller issues
were lost as the famine grew more and more insistent. For famine
They worked the rest of the evening, but the telephone refused to
revive and every one was starving. Individually our pride was at
low ebb, but collectively it was still formidable. So we sat
around and Jim played Grieg with the soft stops on, and Aunt
Selina went to bed. The weather had changed, and it was sleeting,
but anything was better than the drawing room. I was in a mood to
battle with the elements or to cry--or both--so I slipped out,
while Dal was reciting "Give me three grains of corn, mother,"
threw somebody's overcoat over my shoulders, put on a man's soft
hat--Jim's I think--and went up to the roof.
It was dark in the third floor hall, and I had to feel my way to
the foot of the stairs. I went up quietly, and turned the knob of
the door to the roof. At first it would not open, and I could
hear the wind howling outside. Finally, however, I got the door
open a little and wormed my way through. It was not entirely dark
out there, in spite of the storm. A faint reflection of the
street lights made it possible to distinguish the outlines of the
boxwood plants, swaying in the wind, and the chimneys and the
tent. And then--a dark figure disentangled itself from the
nearest chimney and seemed to hurl itself at me. I remember
putting out my hands and trying to say something, but the figure
caught me roughly by the shoulders and knocked me back against
the door frame. From miles away a heavy voice was saying, "So
I've got you!" and then the roof gave from under me, and I was
floating out on the storm, and sleet was beating in my face, and
the wind was whispering over and over, "Open your eyes, for God's
I did open them after a while, and finally I made out that I was
laying on the floor in the tent. The lights were on, and I had a
cold and damp feeling, and something wet was trickling down my
I seemed to be alone, but in a second somebody came into the
tent, and I saw it was Mr. Harbison, and that he had a double
handful of half-melted snow. He looked frantic and determined,
and only my sitting up quickly prevented my getting another snow
bath. My neck felt queer and stiff, and I was very dizzy. When he
saw that I was conscious he dropped the snow and stood looking
down at me.
"Do you know," he said grimly, "that I very nearly choked you to
death a little while ago?"
"It wouldn't surprise me to be told so," I said. "Do I know too
much, or what is it, Mr. Harbison?" I felt terribly ill, but I
would not let him see it. "It is queer, isn't it--how we always
select the roof for our little--differences?" He seemed to relax
somewhat at my gibe.
"I didn't know it was you," he explained shortly. "I was waiting
for--some one, and in the hat you wore and the coat, I mistook
you. That's all. Can you stand?"
"No," I retorted. I could, but his summary manner displeased me.
The sequel, however, was rather amazing, for he stooped suddenly
and picked me up, and the next instant we were out in the storm
together. At the door he stooped and felt for the knob.
"Turn it," he commanded. "I can't reach it."
"I'll do nothing of the kind," I said shrewishly. "Let me down; I
can walk perfectly well."
He hesitated. Then he slid me slowly to my feet, but he did not
open the door at once. "Are you afraid to let me carry you down
those stairs, after--Tuesday night?" he asked, very low. "You
still think I did that?"
I had never been less sure of it than at that moment, but an imp
of perversity made me retort, "Yes."
He hardly seemed to hear me. He stood looking down at me as I
leaned against the door frame.
"Good Lord!" he groaned. "To think that I might have killed you!"
And then--he stooped and suddenly kissed me.
The next moment the door was open, and he was leading me down
into the house. At the foot of the staircase he paused, still
holding my hand, and faced me in the darkness.
"I'm not sorry," he said steadily. "I suppose I ought to be, but
I'm not. Only--I want you to know that I was not guilty--before.
I didn't intend to now. I am--almost as much surprised as you
I was quite unable to speak, but I wrenched my hand loose. He
stepped back to let me pass, and I went down the hall alone.
Chapter XVIII. IT'S ALL MY FAULT
I didn't go to the drawing room again. I went into my own room
and sat in the dark, and tried to be furiously angry, and only
succeeded in feeling queer and tingly. One thing was absolutely
certain: not the same man, but two different men had kissed me on
the stairs to the roof. It sounds rather horrid and
discriminating, but there was all the difference in the world.
But then--who had? And for whom had Mr. Harbison been waiting on
the roof? "Did you know that I nearly choked you to death a few
minutes ago?" Then he rather expected to finish somebody in that
way! Who? Jim, probably. It was strange, too, but suddenly I
realized that no matter how many suspicious things I mustered up
against him--and there were plenty--down in my heart I didn't
believe him guilty of anything, except this last and unforgivable
offense. Whoever was trying to leave the house had taken the
necklace, that seemed clear, unless Max was still foolishly
trying to break quarantine and create one of the sensations he so
dearly loves. This was a new idea, and some things upheld it, but
Max had been playing bridge when I was kissed on the stairs, and
there was still left that ridiculous incident of the comfort.
Bella came up after I had gone to bed, and turned on the light to
brush her hair.
"If I don't leave this mausoleum soon, I'll be carried out," she
declared. "You in bed, Lollie Mercer and Dal flirting, Anne
hysterical, and Jim making his will in the den! You will have to
take Aunt Selina tonight, Kit; I'm all in."
"If you'll put her to bed, I'll keep her there," I conceded,
after some parley.
"You're a dear." Bella came back from the door. "Look here, Kit,
you know Jim pretty well. Don't you think he looks ill? Thinner?"
"He's a wreck," I said soberly. "You have a lot to answer for,
Bella went over to the cheval glass and looked in it. "I avoid
him all I can," she said, posing. "He's awfully funny; he's so
afraid I'll think he's serious about you. He can't realize that
for me he simply doesn't exist."
Well, I took Aunt Selina, and about two o'clock, while I was in
my first sleep, I woke to find her standing beside me, tugging at
"There's somebody in the house," she whispered. "Thieves!"
"If they're in they'll not get out tonight," I said.
"I tell you, I saw a man skulking on the stairs," she insisted.
I got up ungraciously enough, and put on my dressing gown. Aunt
Selina, who had her hair in crimps, tied a veil over her head,
and together we went to the head of the stairs. Aunt Selina
leaned far over and peered down.
"He's in the library," she whispered. "I can see a light."
The lust of battle was in Aunt Selina's eye. She girded her robe
about her and began to descend the stairs cautiously. We went
through the hall and stopped at the library door. It was empty,
but from the den beyond came a hum of voices and the cheerful
glow of fire light. I realized the situation then, but it was too
"Then why did you kiss her in the dining room?" Bella was saying
in her clear, high tones. "You did, didn't you?"
"It was only her hand," Jim, desperately explaining. "I've got to
pay her some attention, under the circumstances. And I give you
my word, I was thinking of you when I did it." THE WRETCH!
Aunt Selina drew her breath in suddenly.
"I am thinking of marrying Reggie Wolfe." This was Bella, of
course. "He wants me to. He's a dear boy."
"If you do, I will kill him."
"I am so very lonely," Bella sighed. We could hear the creak of
Jim's shirt bosom that showed that he had sighed also. Aunt
Selina had gripped me by the arm, and I could hear her breathing
hard beside me.
"It's only Jim," I whispered. "I--I don't want to hear any more."
But she clutched me firmly, and the next thing we heard was
another creak, louder and--
"Get up! Get up off your knees this instant!" Bella was saying
frantically. "Some one might come in."
"Don't send me away," Jim said in a smothered voice. "Every one
in the house is asleep, and I love you, dear."
Aunt Selina swallowed hard in the darkness.
"You have no right to make love to me," Bella. "It's--it's highly
improper, under the circumstances."
And then Jim: "You swallow a camel and stick at a gnat. Why did
you meet me here, if you didn't expect me to make love to you?
I've stood for a lot, Bella, but this foolishness will have to
end. Either you love me--or you don't. I'm desperate." He drew a
long, forlorn breath.
"Poor old Jim!" This was Bella. A pause. Then--"Let my hand
alone!" Also Bella.
"It is MY hand!"--Jim;'s most fatuous tone. "THERE is where you
wore my ring. There's the mark still." Sounds of Jim kissing
Bella's ring finger. "What did you do with it? Throw it away?"
Aunt Selina crossed the library swiftly, and again I followed.
Bella was sitting in a low chair by the fire, looking at the
logs, in the most exquisite negligee of pink chiffon and ribbon.
Jim was on his knees, staring at her adoringly, and holding both
"I'll tell you a secret," Bella was saying, looking as coy as she
knew how--which was considerable. "I--I still wear it, on a chain
around my neck."
On a chain around her neck! Bella, who is decollete whenever it
is allowable, and more than is proper!
That was the limit of Aunt Selina's endurance. Still holding me,
she stepped through the doorway and into the firelight, a fearful
Jim saw her first. He went quite white and struggled to get up,
smiling a sickly smile. Bella, after her first surprise, was
superbly indifferent. She glanced at us, raised her eyebrows, and
then looked at the clock.
"More victims of insomnia!" she said. "Won't you come in? Jim,
pull up a chair by the fire for your aunt."
Aunt Selina opened her mouth twice, like a fish, before she could
"James, I demand that that woman leave the house!" she said
Bella leaned back and yawned.
"James, shall I go?" she asked amiably.
"Nonsense," Jim said, pulling himself together as best he could.
"Look here, Aunt Selina, you know she can't go out, and what's
more, I--don't want her to go."
"You--what?" Aunt Selina screeched, taking a step forward. "You
have the audacity to say such a thing to me!"
Bella leaned over and gave the fire log a punch.
"I was just saying that he shouldn't say such things to me,
either," she remarked pleasantly. "I'm afraid you'll take cold,
Miss Caruthers. Wouldn't you like a hot sherry flip?"
Aunt Selina gasped. Then she sat down heavily on one of the
carved teakwood chairs.
"He said he loved you; I heard him," she said weakly. "He--he
was going to put his arm around you!"
"Habit!" Jim put in, trying to smile. "You see, Aunt Selina,
it's--well, it's a habit I got into some time ago, and I--my arm
does it without my thinking about it."
"Habit!" Aunt Selina repeated, her voice thick with passion. Then
she turned to me. "Go to your room at once!" she said in her most
awful tone. "Go to your room and leave this--this shocking affair
But if she had reached her limit, so had I. If Jim chose to ruin
himself, it was not my fault. Any one with common sense would
have known at least to close the door before he went down on his
knees, no matter to whom. So when Aunt Selina turned on me and
pointed in the direction of the staircase, I did not move.
"I am perfectly wide awake," I said coldly. "I shall go to bed
when I am entirely ready, and not before. And as for Jim's
conduct, I do not know much about the conventions in such cases,
but if he wishes to embrace Miss Knowles, and she wants him to,
the situation is interesting, but hardly novel."
Aunt Selina rose slowly and drew the folds of her dressing gown
around her, away from the contamination of my touch.
"Do you know what you are saying?" she demanded hoarsely.
"I do." I was quite white and stiff from my knees up, but below I
was wavery. I glanced at Jim for moral support, but he was
looking idolatrously at Bella. As for her, quite suddenly she had
dropped her mask of indifference; her face was strained and
anxious, and there were deep circles I had not seen before, under
her eyes. And it was Bella who finally threw herself into the
breach--the family breach.
"It is all my fault, Miss Caruthers," she said, stepping between
Aunt Selina and myself. "I have been a blind and wicked woman,
and I have almost wrecked two lives."
Two! What of mine?
"You see," she struggled on, against the glint in Aunt Selina's
eyes. "I--I did not realize how much I cared, until it was too
late. I did so many things that were cruel and wrong--oh, Jim,
She turned and buried her head on his shoulder and cried; real
tears. I could hardly believe that it was Bella. And Jim put both
his arms around her and almost cried, too, and looked
nauseatingly happy with the eye he turned to Bella, and scared to
death out of the one he kept on Aunt Selina.
She turned on me, as of course I knew she would.
"That," she said, pointing at Jim and Bella, "that shameful
picture is due to your own indifference. I am not blind; I have
seen how you rejected all his loving advances." Bella drew away
from Jim, but he jerked her back. "If anything in the world would
reconcile me to divorce, it is this unbelievable situation.
James, are you shameless?"
But James was and didn't care who knew it. And as there was
nothing else to do, and no one else to do it, I stood very
straight against the door frame, and told the whole miserable
story from the very beginning. I told how Dal and Jim had
persuaded me, and how I had weakened and found it was too late,
and how Bella had come in that night, when she had no business to
come, and had sat down in the basement kitchen on my hands and
almost turned me into a raving maniac. As I went on I became
fluent; my sense of injury grew on me. I made it perfectly clear
that I hated them all, and that when people got divorces they
ought to know their own minds and stay divorced. And at that a
great light broke on Aunt Selina, who hadn't understood until
In view of her principles, she might have been expected to turn
on Jim and Bella, and disinherit them, and cast them out,
figuratively, with the flaming sword of her tongue. BUT SHE DID
She turned on me in the most terrible way, and asked me how I
dared to come between husband and wife, because divorce or no
divorce, whom God hath joined together, and so on. And when Jim
picked up his courage in both hands and tried to interfere, she
pushed him back with one hand while she pointed the other at me
and called me a Jezebel.
Chapter XIX. THE HARBISON MAN
She talked for an hour, having got between me and the door, and
she scolded Jim and Bella thoroughly. But they did not hear it,
being occupied with each other, sitting side by side meekly on
the divan with Jim holding Bella's hand under a cushion. She said
they would have to be very good to make up for all the deception,
but it was perfectly clear that it was a relief to her to find
that I didn't belong to her permanently, and as I have said
before, she was crazy about Bella.
I sat back in a chair and grew comfortably drowsy in the monotony
of her voice. It was a name that brought me to myself with a
"Mr. Harbison!" Aunt Selina was saying. "Then bring him down at
once, James. I want no more deception. There is no use cleaning a
house and leaving a dirty corner."
"It will not be necessary for me to stay and see it swept," I
said, mustering the rags she had left of my self-respect, and
trying to pass her. But she planted herself squarely before me.
"You can not stir up a dust like this, young woman, and leave
other people to sneeze in it," she said grimly. And I stayed.
I sat, very small, on a chair in a corner. I felt like Jezebel,
or whatever her name was, and now the Harbison man was coming,
and he was going to see me stripped of my pretensions to
domesticity and of a husband who neglected me. He was going to
see me branded a living lie, and he would hate me because I had
put him in a ridiculous position. He was just the sort to resent
Jim brought him down in a dressing gown and a state of
bewilderment. It was plain that the memory of the afternoon still
rankled, for he was very short with Jim and inclined to resent
the whole thing. The clock in the hall chimed half after three as
they came down the stairs, and I heard Mr. Harbison stumble over
something in the darkness and say that if it was a joke, he
wasn't in the humor for it. To which Jim retorted that it wasn't
anything resembling a joke, and for heaven's sake not to walk on
his feet; he couldn't get around the furniture any faster.
At the door of the den Mr. Harbison stopped, blinking in the
light. Then, when he saw us, he tried to back himself and his
dishabille out into the obscurity of the library. But Aunt Selina
was too quick for him.
"Come in," she called, "I want you, young man. It seems that
there are only two fools in the house, and you are one."
He straightened at that and looked bewildered, but he tried to
"I thought I was the only one," he said. "Is it possible that
there is another?"
"I am the other," she announced. I think she expected him to say
"Impossible," but, whatever he was, he was never banal.
"Is that so?" he asked politely, trying to be interested and to
understand at the same time. He had not seen me. He was gazing
fixedly at Bella, languishing on the divan and watching him with
lowered lids, and he had given Jim a side glance of contempt. But
now he saw me and he colored under his tan. His neck blushed
furiously, being much whiter than his face. He kept his eyes on
mine, and I knew that he was mutely asking forgiveness. But the
thought of what was coming paralyzed me. My eyes were glued to
his as they had been that first evening when he had called me
"Mrs. Wilson," and after an instant he looked away, and his face
was set and hard.
"It seems that we have all been playing a little comedy, Mr.
Harbison," Aunt Selina began, nasally sarcastic. "Or rather, you
and I have been the audience. The rest have played."
"I--I don't think I understand," he said slowly. "I have seen
very little comedy."
"It was not well planned," Aunt Selina retorted tartly. "The idea
was good, but the young person who was playing the part of Mrs.
"Oh, come, Aunt Selina, Jim protested, "Kit was coaxed and
cajoled into this thing. Give me fits if you like; I deserve all
I get. But let Kit alone--she did it for me."
Bella looked over at me and smiled nastily.
"I would stop doing things for Jim, Kit," she said. "It is SO
But Mr. Harbison harked back to Aunt Selina's speech.
"PLAYING the part of Mrs. Wilson!" he repeated. "Do you mean--?
"Exactly. Playing the part. She is not Mrs. Wilson. It seems that
that honor belonged at one time to Miss Knowles. I believe such
things are not unknown in New York, only why in the name of sense
does a man want to divorce a woman and then meet her at two
o'clock in the morning to kiss the place where his own wedding
ring used to rest?"
Jim fidgeted. Bella was having spasms of mirth to herself, but
the Harbison man did not smile. He stood for a moment looking at
the fire; then he thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his
dressing gown, and stalked over to me. He did not care that the
others were watching and listening.
"Is it true?" he demanded, staring down at me. "You are NOT Mrs.
Wilson? You are not married at all? All that about being
neglected--and loathing HIM, and all that on the roof--there was
no foundation of truth?"
I could only shake my head without looking up. There was no
defense to be made. Oh, I deserved the scorn in his voice.
"They--they persuaded you, I suppose, and it was to help
somebody? It was not a practical joke?"
"No," I rallied a little spirit at that. It had been anything but
He drew a long breath.
"I think I understand," he said slowly, "but--you could have
saved me something. I must have given you all a great deal of
"Oh, no," I protested. "I--I want to tell you--"
But he deliberately left me and went over to the door. There he
turned and looked down at Aunt Selina. He was a little white, but
there was no passion in his face.
"Thank you for telling me all this, Miss Caruthers," he said
easily. "Now that you and I know, I'm afraid the others will miss
their little diversion. Good night."
Oh, it was all right for Jim to laugh and say that he was only
huffed a little and would be over it by morning. I knew better.
There was something queer in his face as he went out. He did not
even glance in my direction. He had said very little, but he had
put me as effectually in the wrong as if he had not kissed
me--deliberately kissed me--that very evening, on the roof.
I did not go to sleep again. I lay wretchedly thinking things
over and trying to remember who Jezebel was, and toward morning I
distinctly heard the knob of the door turn. I mistrusted my ears,
however, and so I got up quietly and went over in the darkness.
There was no sound outside, but when I put my hand on the knob I
felt it move under my fingers. The counter pressure evidently
alarmed whoever it was, for the knob was released and nothing
more happened. But by this time anything so uncomplicated as the
fumbling of a knob at night had no power to disturb me. I went
back to bed.
Chapter XX. BREAKING OUT IN A NEW PLACE
Hunger roused everybody early the next morning, Friday. Leila
Mercer had discovered a box of bonbons that she had forgotten,
and we divided them around. Aunt Selina asked for the candied
fruit and got it--quite a third of the box. We gathered in the
lower hall and on the stairs and nibbled nauseating sweets while
Mr. Harbison examined the telephone.
He did not glance in my direction. Betty and Dal were helping
him, and he seemed very cheerful. Max sat with me on the stairs.
Mr. Harbison had just unscrewed the telephone box from the wall
and was squinting into it, when Bella came downstairs. It was her
first appearance, but as she was always late, nobody noticed.
When she stopped, just above us on the stairs, however, we looked
up, and she was holding to the rail and trembling perceptibly.
"Mr. Harbison, will you--can you come upstairs?" she asked. Her
voice was strained, almost reedy, and her lips were white.
Mr. Harbison stared up at her, with the telephone box in his
"Why--er--certainly," he said, "but, unless it's very important,
I'd like to fix this talking machine. We want to make a food
"I'd like to break a food record," Max put in, but Bella created
a diversion by sitting down suddenly on the stair just above us,
and burying her face in her handkerchief.
"Jim is sick," she said, with a sob. "He--he doesn't want
anything to eat, and his head aches. He--said for me--to go away
and let him die!"
Dal dropped the hammer immediately, and Lollie Mercer sat
petrified, with a bonbon halfway to her mouth. For, of course, it
was unexpected, finding sentiment of any kind in Bella, and none
of them knew about the scene in the den in the small hours of the
"Sick!" Aunt Selina said, from a hall chair. "Sick! Where?"
"All over," Bella quavered. "His poor head is hot, and he's
thirsty, but he doesn't want anything but water."
"Great Scott!" Dal said suddenly. "Suppose he should--Bella, are
you telling us ALL his symptoms?"
Bella put down her handkerchief and got up. From her position on
the stairs she looked down on us with something of her old
"If he is ill, you may blame yourselves, all of you," she said
cruelly. "You taunted him with being--fat, and laughed at him,
until he stopped eating the things he should eat. And he has been
exercising--on the roof, until he has worn himself out. And
now--he is ill. He--he has a rash."
Everybody jumped at that, and we instinctively moved away from
Bella. She was quite cold and scornful by that time.
"A rash!" Max exclaimed. "What sort of rash?"
"I did not see it," Bella said with dignity, and turning, she
went up the stairs.
There was a great deal of excitement, and nobody except Mr.
Harbison was willing to go near Jim. He went up at once with
Bella, while Max and Dal sat cravenly downstairs and wondered if
we would all take it, and Anne told about a man she knew who had
it, and was deaf and dumb and blind when he recovered.
Mr. Harbison came down after a while, and said that the rash was
there, right enough, and that Jim absolutely refused to be
quarantined; that he insisted that he always got a rash from
early strawberries and that if he DID have anything, since they
were so touchy he hoped they would all get it. If they locked him
in he would kick the door down.
We had a long conference in the hall, with Bella sitting red-eyed
and objecting to every suggestion we made. And finally we
arranged to shut Jim up in one of the servants' bedrooms with a
sheet wrung out of disinfectant hung over the door. Bella said
she would sit outside in the hall and read to him through the
closed door, so finally he gave a grudging consent. But he was in
an awful humor. Max and Dal put on rubber gloves and helped him
over, and they said afterward that the way he talked was fearful.
And there was a telephone in the maid's room, and he kept asking
for things every five minutes.
When the doctor came he said it was too early to tell positively,
and he ordered him liquid diet and said he would be back that
Which--the diet--takes me back to the famine. After they had
moved Jim, Mr. Harbison went back to the telephone, and found
everything as it should be. So he followed the telephone wire,
and the rest followed him. I did not; he had systematically
ignored me all morning, after having dared to kiss me the night
before. And any other man I know, after looking at me the way he
had looked a dozen times, would have been at least reasonably
glad to find me free and unmarried. But it was clear that he was
not; I wondered if he was the kind of man who always makes love
to the other man's wife and runs like mad when she is left a
widow, or gets a divorce.
And just when I had decided that I hated him, and that there was
one man I knew who would never make love to a woman whom he
thought married and then be very dignified and aloof when he
found she wasn't, I heard what was wrong with the telephone wire.
It had been cut! Cut through with a pair of silver manicure
scissors from the dressing table in Bella's room, where Aunt
Selina slept! The wire had been clipped where it came into the
house, just under a window, and the scissors still lay on the
It was mysterious enough, but no one was interested in the
mystery just then. We wanted food, and wanted it at once. Mr.
Harbison fixed the wire, and the first thing we did, of course,
was to order something to eat. Aunt Selina went to bed just after
luncheon with indigestion, to the relief of every one in the
house. She had been most unpleasant all morning.
When she found herself ill, however, she insisted on having
Bella, and that made trouble at once. We found Bella with her
cheek against the door into Jim's room, looking maudlin while he
shouted love messages to her from the other side. At first she
refused to stir, but after Anne and Max had tried and failed, the
rest of us went to her in a body and implored her. We said Aunt
Selina was in awful shape--which she was, as to temper--and that
she had thrown a mustard plaster at Anne, which was true.
So Bella went, grumbling, and Jim was a maniac. We had not
thought it would be so bad for Bella, but Aunt Selina fell asleep
soon after she took charge, holding Bella's hand, and slept for
three hours and never let go!
About two that afternoon the sun came out, and the rest of us
went to the roof. The sleet had melted and the air was fairly
warm. Two housemaids dusting rugs on the top of the next house
came over and stared at us, and somebody in an automobile down on
Riverside Drive stood up and waved at us. It was very cheerful
and hopelessly lonely.
I stayed on the roof after the others had gone, and for some time
I thought I was alone. After a while, I got a whiff of smoke, and
then I saw Mr. Harbison far over in the corner, one foot on the
parapet, moodily smoking a pipe. He was gazing out over the
river, and paying no attention to me. This was natural,
considering that I had hardly spoken to him all day.
I would not let him drive me away, so I sat still, and it grew
darker and colder. He filled his pipe now and then, but he never
looked in my direction. Finally, however, as it grew very dusk,
he knocked the ashes out and came toward me.
"I am going to make a request, Miss McNair," he said evenly.
"Please keep off the roof after sunset. There are--reasons." I
had risen and was preparing to go downstairs.
"Unless I know the reasons, I refuse to do anything of the kind,"
I retorted. He bowed.
"Then the door will be kept locked," he rejoined, and opened it
for me. He did not follow me, but stood watching until I was
down, and I heard him close the roof door firmly behind me.
Chapter XXI. A BAR OF SOAP
Late that evening Betty Mercer and Dallas were writing verses of
condolence to be signed by all of us and put under the door into
Jim's room when Bella came running down the stairs.
Dal was reading the first verse when she came. "Listen to this,
Bella," he said triumphantly:
"There was a fat artist named Jas,
Who cruelly called his friends nas.
When, altho' shut up tight,
He broke out over night
With a rash that is maddening, he clas."
Then he caught sight of Bella's face as she stood in the doorway,
"Jim is delirious!" she announced tragically. "You shut him in
there all alone and now he's delirious. I'll never forgive any of
"Delirious!" everybody exclaimed.
"He was sane enough when I took him his chicken broth," Mr.
Harbison said. "He was almost fluent."
"He is stark, staring crazy," Bella insisted hysterically. "I--I
locked the door carefully when I went down to my dinner, and when
I came up it--it was unlocked, and Jim was babbling on the bed,
with a sheet over his face. He--he says the house is haunted and
he wants all the men to come up and sit in the room with him."
"Not on your life," Max said. "I am young, and my career has only
begun. I don't intend to be cut off in the flower of my youth.
But I'll tell you what I will do; I'll take him a drink. I can
tie it to a pole or something."
But Mr. Harbison did not smile. He was thoughtful for a minute.
"I don't believe he is delirious," he said quietly, "and I
wouldn't be surprised if he has happened on something that--will
be of general interest. I think I will stay with him tonight."
After that, of course, none of the others would confess that he
was afraid, so with the South American leading, they all went
upstairs. The women of the party sat on the lower steps and
listened, but everything was quiet. Now and then we could hear
the sound of voices, and after a while there was a rapid slamming
of doors and the sound of some one running down to the second
floor. Then quiet again.
None of us felt talkative. Bella had followed the men up and had
been put out, and sat sniffling by herself in the den. Aunt
Selina was working over a jig-saw puzzle in the library, and
declaring that some of it must be lost. Anne and Leila Mercer
were embroidering, and Betty and I sat idle, our hands in our
laps. The whole atmosphere of the house was mysterious. Anne told
over again of the strange noises the night her necklace was
stolen. Betty asked me about the time when the comfort slipped
from under my fingers. And when, in the midst of the story, the
telephone rang, we all jumped and shrieked.
In an hour or so they sent for Flannigan, and he went upstairs.
He came down again soon, however, and returned with something
over his arm that looked like a rope. It seemed to be made of all
kinds of things tied together, trunk straps, clothesline, bed
sheets, and something that Flannigan pointed to with rage and
said he hadn't been able to keep his clothes on all day. He
refused to explain further, however, and trailed the nondescript
article up the stairs. We could only gaze after him and wonder
what it all meant.
The conclave lasted far into the night. The feminine contingent
went to bed, but not to sleep. Some time after midnight, Mr.
Harbison and Max went downstairs and I could hear them rattling
around testing windows and burglar alarms. But finally every one
settled down and the rest of the night was quiet.
Betty Mercer came into my room the next morning, Sunday, and said
Anne Brown wanted me. I went over at once, and Anne was sitting
up in bed, crying. Dal had slipped out of the room at daylight,
she said, and hadn't come back. He had thought she was asleep,
but she wasn't, and she knew he was dead, for nothing ever made
Dal get up on Sunday before noon.
There was no one moving in the house, and I hardly knew what to
do. It was Betty who said she would go up and rouse Mr. Harbison
and Max, who had taken Jim's place in the studio. She started out
bravely enough, but in a minute we heard her flying back. Anne
grew perfectly white.
"He's lying on the upper stairs!" Betty cried, and we all ran
out. It was quite true. Dal was lying on the stairs in a
bathrobe, with one of Jim's Indian war clubs in his hand. And he
was sound asleep.
He looked somewhat embarrassed when he roused and saw us standing
around. He said he was going to play a practical joke on somebody
and fell asleep in the middle of it. And Anne said he wasn't even
an intelligent liar, and went back to bed in a temper. But Betty
came in with me, and we sat and looked at each other and didn't
say much. The situation was beyond us.
The doctor let Jim out the next day, there having been nothing
the matter with him but a stomach rash. But Jim was changed; he
mooned around Bella, of course, as before, but he was abstracted
at times, and all that day--Sunday--he wandered off by himself,
and one would come across him unexpectedly in the basement or
along some of the unused back halls.
Aunt Selina held service that morning. Jim said that he always
had a prayer book, but that he couldn't find anything with so
many people in the house. So Aunt Selina read some religious
poetry out of the newspapers, and gave us a valuable talk on
Deception versus Honesty, with me as the illustration.
Almost everybody took a nap after luncheon. I stayed in the den
and read Ibsen, and felt very mournful. And after Hedda had shot
herself, I lay down on the divan and cried a little--over Hedda;
she was young and it was such a tragic ending--and then I fell
When I wakened Mr. Harbison was standing by the table, and he
held my book in his hands. In view of the armed neutrality
between us, I expected to see him bow to me curtly, turn on his
heel and leave the room. Indeed, considering his state of mind
the night before, I should hardly have been surprised if he had
thrown Hedda at my head. (This is not a pun. I detest them.) But
instead, when he heard me move he glanced over at me and even
smiled a little.
"She wasn't worth it," he said, indicating the book.
"Your tears. You were crying over it, weren't you?"
"She was very unhappy," I asserted indifferently. "She was
married and she loved some one else."
"Do you really think she did?" he asked. "And even so, was that a
"The other man cared for her; he may not have been able to help
"But he knew that she was married," he said virtuously, and then
he caught my eye and he saw the analogy instantly, for he colored
hotly and put down the book.
"Most men argue that way," I said. "They argue by the book,
and--they do as they like."
He picked up a Japanese ivory paper weight from the table, and
stood balancing it across his finger.
"You are perfectly right," he said at last. "I deserve it all. My
grievance is at myself. Your--your beauty, and the fact that I
thought you were unhappy, put me--beside myself. It is not an
excuse; it is a weak explanation. I will not forget myself
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