Read CHAPTER VI of Baby Mine, free online book, by Margaret Mayo, on ReadCentral.com.

There was another pause, then Alfred drew in his breath and bore down upon Jimmy with fresh vehemence. “The only time I get even a semblance of truth out of Zoie,” he cried, “is when I catch her red-handed.” Again he pounded the table and again Jimmy winced. “And even then,” he continued, “she colours it so with her affected innocence and her plea about just wishing to be a ‘good fellow,’ that she almost makes me doubt my own eyes. She is an artist,” he declared with a touch of enforced admiration. “There’s no use talking; that woman is an artist.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Jimmy, for the want of anything better to say.

“I am going to leave her,” declared Alfred emphatically. “I am going away.”

A faint hope lit Jimmy’s round childlike face. With Alfred away there would be no further investigation of the luncheon incident.

“That might be a good idea,” he said.

“It’s the idea,” said Alfred; “most of my business is in Detroit anyhow. I’m going to make that my headquarters and stay there.”

Jimmy was almost smiling.

“As for Zoie,” continued Alfred, “she can stay right here and go as far as she likes.”

“Not with me,” thought Jimmy.

“But,” shrieked Alfred, with renewed emphasis, “I’m going to find out who the fellow is. I’ll have that satisfaction!”

Jimmy’s spirits fell.

“Henri knows the head-waiter of every restaurant in this town,” said Alfred, “that is, every one where she’d be likely to go; and he says he’d recognise the man she lunched with if he saw him again.”

Jimmy’s features became suddenly distorted.

“The minute she appears anywhere with anybody,” explained Alfred, “Henri will be notified by ’phone. He’ll identify the man and then he’ll wire me.”

“What good will that do?” asked Jimmy weakly.

“I’ll take the first train home,” declared Alfred.

“For what?” questioned Jimmy.

“To shoot him!” exclaimed Alfred.

“What!” gasped Jimmy, almost losing his footing.

Alfred mistook Jimmy’s concern for anxiety on his behalf.

“Oh, I’ll be acquitted,” he declared. “Don’t you worry. I’ll get my tale of woe before the jury.”

“But I say,” protested Jimmy, too uneasy to longer conceal his real emotions, “why kill this one particular chap when there are so many others?”

“He’s the only one she’s ever lunched with, alone,” said Alfred. “She’s been giddy, but at least she’s always been chaperoned, except with him. He’s the one all right; there’s no doubt about it. He’s the beginning of the end.”

“His own end, yes,” assented Jimmy half to himself. “Now, see here, old man,” he argued, “I’d give that poor devil a chance to explain.”

“Explain!” shouted Alfred so sharply that Jimmy quickly retreated. “I wouldn’t believe him now if he were one of the Twelve Apostles.”

“That’s tough,” murmured Jimmy as he saw the last avenue of honourable escape closed to him.

“Tough!” roared Alfred, thinking of himself. “Hah.”

“On the Apostles, I mean,” explained Jimmy nervously.

Again Alfred paced up and down the room, and again Jimmy tried to think of some way to escape from his present difficulty. It was quite apparent that his only hope lay not in his own candor, but in Alfred’s absence. “How long do you expect to be away?” he asked.

“Only until I hear from Henri,” said Alfred.

“Henri?” repeated Jimmy and again a gleam of hope shone on his dull features. He had heard that waiters were often to be bribed. “Nice fellow, Henri,” he ventured cautiously. “Gets a large salary, no doubt?”

“Does he!” exclaimed Alfred, with a certain pride of proprietorship. “No tips could touch Henri, no indeed. He’s not that sort of a person.”

Again the hope faded from Jimmy’s round face.

“I look upon Henri as my friend,” continued Alfred enthusiastically. “He speaks every language known to man. He’s been in every country in the world. Henri understands life.”

“Lots of people understand life,” commented Jimmy dismally, “but some people don’t appreciate it. They value it too lightly, to my way of thinking.”

“Ah, but you have something to live for,” argued Alfred.

“I have indeed; a great deal,” agreed Jimmy, more and more abused at the thought of what he was about to lose.

“Ah, that’s different,” exclaimed Alfred. “But what have I?”

Jimmy was in no frame of mind to consider his young friend’s assets, he was thinking of his own difficulties.

“I’m a laughing stock,” shouted Alfred. “I know it. A ‘good thing’ who gives his wife everything she asks for, while she is running around with with my best friend, for all I know.”

“Oh, no, no,” protested Jimmy nervously. “I wouldn’t say that.”

“Even if she weren’t running around,” continued Alfred excitedly, without heeding his friend’s interruption, “what have we to look forward to? What have we to look backward to?”

Again Jimmy’s face was a blank.

Alfred answered his own question by lifting his arms tragically toward Heaven. “One eternal round of wrangles and rows! A childless home! Do you think she wants babies?” he cried, wheeling about on Jimmy, and daring him to answer in the affirmative. “Oh, no!” he sneered. “All she wants is a good time.”

“Well,” mumbled Jimmy, “I can’t see much in babies myself, fat, little, red worms.”

Alfred’s breath went from him in astonishment

“Weren’t you ever a fat, little, red worm?” he hissed. “Wasn’t I ever a little, fat, red ” he paused in confusion, as his ear became puzzled by the proper sequence of his adjectives, “a fat, red, little worm,” he stammered; “and see what we are now!” He thrust out his chest and strutted about in great pride.

“Big red worms,” admitted Jimmy gloomily.

But Alfred did not hear him. “You and I ought to have sons on the way to what we are,” he declared, “and better.”

“Oh yes, better,” agreed Jimmy, thinking of his present plight. “Much better.”

“But have we?” demanded Alfred.

Jimmy glanced about the room, as though expecting an answering demonstration from the ceiling.

“Have you?” persisted Alfred.

Jimmy shook his head solemnly.

“Have I?” asked the irate husband.

Out of sheer absent mindedness Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.

As usual Alfred answered his own question. “Oh, no!” he raged. “You have a wife who spends her time and money gadding about with ”

Jimmy’s face showed a new alarm.

“ my wife,” concluded Alfred.

Jimmy breathed a sigh of relief.

“I have a wife,” said Alfred, “who spends her time and my money gadding around with God knows whom. But I’ll catch him!” he cried with new fury. “Here,” he said, pulling a roll of bills from his pocket. “I’ll bet you I’ll catch him. How much do you want to bet?”

Undesirous of offering any added inducements toward his own capture, Jimmy backed away both literally and figuratively from Alfred’s proposition.

“What’s the use of getting so excited?” he asked.

Mistaking Jimmy’s unwillingness to bet for a disinclination to take advantage of a friend’s reckless mood, Alfred resented the implied insult to his astuteness.

“You think I can’t catch him?” he exclaimed. “Let’s see the colour of your money,” he demanded.

But before Jimmy could comply, an unexpected voice broke into the argument and brought them both round with a start.