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   Chapter 4 4

Baby Mine By Margaret Mayo Characters: 13481

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

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

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

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

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

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

"I came the moment you 'phoned me," he stammered; "what is it? What's the matter?"

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

"Awful what?" questioned Jimmy.

"Worst I've ever had," sobbed Zoie.

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

"He's gone," sobbed Zoie.

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

"I don't know," sniffled Zoie, "I just 'phoned his office. He isn't there."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I didn't know he KNEW," answered Zoie innocently.

"Knew what?" questioned Jimmy, more and more befogged.

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

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

"He couldn't object to your eating with me."

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

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

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

"I was hungry," snapped Zoie.

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

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

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

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

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

"Of course you'd think of yourself first," sneered Zoie. "That's just like a man."

"Well, I don't want to get your husband down on me," argued Jimmy evasively.

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

"But you said he'd 'found out,'" stammered Jimmy.

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

"But Zoie--" protested Jimmy.

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

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

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

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

"What's that?" questioned Jimmy, wondering how Alfred could confine himself to any "ONE thing."

"He says I'm a liar!" shrieked Zoie tearfully.

"Well, aren't you?" asked Jimmy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Then don't," answered Zoie sweetly.

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

"Tell her the truth," urged Zoie.

"I will," declared Jimmy with an emphatic nod.

"And I'LL DENY IT," concluded Zoie with an impudent toss of her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I will," insisted Zoie, "I give you fair warning."

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

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

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

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

Jimmy was wishing the very same thing.

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

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

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

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

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

Zoie only sobbed the louder.

"This isn't the first time you and Alfred have called it all off," he reminded her.

Again she sobbed.

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

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

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