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   Chapter 5 5

Baby Mine By Margaret Mayo Characters: 9268

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm afraid I've disturbed you," sneered Alfred.

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

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

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

"Well?" questioned Alfred in a threatening tone.

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

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

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

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

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

"Just SOMETIMES," answered Jimmy, persisting in his amiable manner.

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

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

"You don't do it well," continued Alfred, "and you and I are old friends."

Jimmy's round eyes fixed themselves on the carpet.

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

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

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

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

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

"Him!" echoed Jimmy weakly.

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

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

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

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

Jimmy only stared at him and he continued excitedly

: "She's had the effrontery-the bad taste-the idiocy to lunch in a public restaurant with the blackguard."

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

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

"Oh, I wouldn't go as far as that," stammered Jimmy.

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

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

"The truth!" shouted Alfred in derision. "Zoie! The truth!"

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

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

Jimmy rolled his round eyes with feigned incredulity.

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

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

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

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

"She sent that over the wire?" gasped Jimmy.

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

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

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

Jimmy only shook his head and Alfred continued to read.

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

"Shocking!" was the extent of Jimmy's comment, and Alfred resumed reading.

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

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

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

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

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