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

“Good Heavens,” exclaimed Aggie, who had entered the room while Alfred was talking his loudest. “What a racket!”

Her eyes fell upon Jimmy who was teetering about uneasily just behind Alfred. She stared at him in amazement. Was it possible that Jimmy, the methodical, had left his office at this hour of the morning, and for what?

Avoiding the question in Aggie’s eyes, Jimmy pretended to be searching for his pocket handkerchief but always with the vision of Aggie in her new Fall gown and her large “picture” hat at his elbow. Never before had she appeared so beautiful to him, so desirable suppose he should lose her? Life spread before him as a dreary waste. He tried to look up at her; he could not. He feared she would read his guilt in his eyes. “What guilt?” he asked himself. There was no longer any denying the fact a secret had sprung up between them.

Annoyed at receiving no greeting, Aggie continued in a rather hurt voice:

“Aren’t you two going to speak to me?”

Alfred swallowed hard in an effort to regain his composure.

“Good-morning,” he said curtly.

Fully convinced of a disagreement between the two old friends, Aggie addressed herself in a reproachful tone to Jimmy.

“My dear,” she said, “what are you doing here this time of day?”

Jimmy felt Alfred’s steely eyes upon him. “Why!” he stammered. “Why, I just came over to bring your message.”

“My message?” repeated Aggie in perplexity. “What message?”

Alfred’s eyebrows drew themselves sharply together.

Jimmy had told so many lies this morning that another more or less could not matter; moreover, this was not a time to hesitate.

“Why, the message you sent to Zoie,” he answered boldly.

“But I sent no message to Zoie,” said Aggie.

“What!” thundered Alfred, so loud that Aggie’s fingers involuntarily went to her ears. She was more and more puzzled by the odd behaviour of the two.

“I mean yesterday’s message,” corrected Jimmy. And he assumed an aggrieved air toward Aggie.

“You villain,” exclaimed Aggie. “I told you to ’phone her yesterday morning from the office.”

“Yes, I know,” agreed Jimmy placidly, “but I forgot it and I just came over to explain.” Alfred’s fixed stare was relaxing and at last Jimmy could breathe.

“Oh,” murmured Aggie, with a wise little elevation of her eye-brows, “then that’s why Zoie didn’t keep her luncheon appointment with me yesterday.”

Jimmy felt that if this were to go on much longer, he would utter one wild shriek and give himself up for lost; but at present he merely swallowed with an effort, and awaited developments.

It was now Alfred’s turn to become excited.

“Oh, is it!” he cried with hysterical laughter.

Aggie regarded him with astonishment. Was this her usually self-controlled friend?

“Oh, no!” sneered Alfred with unmistakable pity for her credulity. “That’s not why my wife didn’t eat luncheon with you. She may tell you that’s why. She undoubtedly will; but it’s not why. Oh, no!” and running his hands through his hair, Alfred tore up and down the room.

“What do you mean by that?” Aggie asked in amazement.

“Your dear husband Jimmy will doubtless explain,” answered Alfred with a slur on the “dear.” Then he turned toward the door of his study. “Pray excuse me I’m too busy,” and with that he strode out of the room and banged the study door behind him.

“Goodness gracious!” gasped Aggie. She looked after Alfred, then at Jimmy. She was the picture of consternation. “What’s the matter with him?” she asked.

“Just another little family tiff,” answered Jimmy, trying to assume a nonchalant manner.

“Not about you!” gasped Aggie.

“Me!” cried Jimmy, his equilibrium again upset. “Certainly not!” he declared. “What an idea!”

“Yes, wasn’t it?” answered Aggie. “That just shows how silly one can be. I almost thought Alfred was going to say that Zoie had lunched with you.”

“Me?” again echoed Jimmy, and he wondered if everybody in the world had conspired to make him the target of their attention. He caught Aggie’s eye and tried to laugh carelessly. “That would have been funny, wouldn’t it?” he said.

“Yes, wouldn’t it,” repeated Aggie, and he thought he detected a slight uneasiness in her voice.

“Speaking of lunch,” added Jimmy quickly, “I think, dearie, that I’ll come home for lunch in the future.”

“What?” exclaimed Aggie in great amazement.

“Those downtown places upset my digestion,” explained Jimmy quickly.

“Isn’t this very sudden,” she asked, and again Jimmy fancied that there was a shade of suspicion in her tone.

His face assumed a martyred expression. “Of course, dear,” he said, “if you insist upon my eating downtown, I’ll do it; but I thought you’d be glad to have me at home.”

Aggie turned to him with real concern. “Why, Jimmy,” she said, “what’s the matter with you?” She took a step toward him and anxiously studied his face. “I never heard you talk like that before. I don’t think you’re well.”

“That’s just what I’m telling you,” insisted Jimmy vehemently, excited beyond all reason by receiving even this small bit of sympathy. “I’m ill,” he declared. No sooner had he made the declaration than he began to believe in it. His doleful countenance increased Aggie’s alarm.

“My angel-face,” she purred, and she took his chubby cheeks in her hands and looked down at him fondly. “You know I always want you to come home.” She stooped and kissed Jimmy’s pouting lips. He held up his face for more. She smoothed the hair from his worried brow and endeavoured to cheer him. “I’ll run right home now,” she said, “and tell cook to get something nice and tempting for you! I can see Zoie later.”

“It doesn’t matter,” murmured Jimmy, as he followed her toward the door with a doleful shake of his head. “I don’t suppose I shall ever enjoy my luncheon again as long as I live.”

“Nonsense,” cried Aggie, “come along.”