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

With the collar of his long ulster pushed high and the brim of his derby hat pulled low, Jimmy Jinks crept cautiously into the room. When he at length ceased to glance over his shoulder and came to a full stop, Aggie perceived a bit of white flannel hanging beneath the hem of his tightly buttoned coat.

“You’ve got it!” she cried.

“Where is it?” asked Zoie.

“Give it to me,” demanded Aggie.

Jimmy stared at them as though stupefied, then glanced uneasily over his shoulder, to make sure that no one was pursuing him. Aggie unbuttoned his ulster, seized a wee mite wrapped in a large shawl, and clasped it to her bosom with a sigh of relief. “Thank heaven!” she exclaimed, then crossed quickly to the bassinette and deposited her charge.

In the meantime, having thrown discretion to the wind, Zoie had hopped out of bed. As usual, her greeting to Jimmy was in the nature of a reproach. “What kept you?” she demanded crossly.

“Yes,” chimed in Aggie, who was now bending over the crib. “What made you so long?”

“See here!” answered Jimmy hotly, “if you two think you can do any better, you’re welcome to the job,” and with that he threw off his overcoat and sank sullenly on the couch.

“Sh! sh!” exclaimed Zoie and Aggie, simultaneously, and they glanced nervously toward Alfred’s bedroom door.

Jimmy looked at them without comprehending why he should “sh.” They did not bother to explain. Instead, Zoie turned her back upon him.

“Let’s see it,” she said, peeping into the bassinette. And then with a little cry of disgust she again looked at Jimmy reproachfully. “Isn’t it ugly?” she said. Jimmy’s contempt for woman’s ingratitude was too deep for words, and he only stared at her in injured silence. But his reflections were quickly upset when Alfred called from the next room, to inquire again about Baby.

“Alfred’s here!” whispered Jimmy, beginning to realise the meaning of the women’s mysterious behaviour.

“Sh! sh!” said Aggie again to Jimmy, and Zoie flew toward the bed, almost vaulting over the footboard in her hurry to get beneath the covers.

For the present Alfred did not disturb them further. Apparently he was still occupied with his shaving, but just as Jimmy was about to ask for particulars, the ’phone rang. The three culprits glanced guiltily at each other.

“Who’s that?” whispered Zoie in a frightened voice.

Aggie crossed to the ’phone. “Hello,” she called softly. “The Children’s Home?” she exclaimed.

Jimmy paused in the act of sitting and turned his round eyes toward the ’phone.

Aggie’s facial expression was not reassuring. “But we can’t,” she was saying; “that’s impossible.”

“What is it?” called Zoie across the foot of the bed, unable longer to endure the suspense.

Aggie did not answer. She was growing more and more excited. “A thief!” she cried wildly, over the ’phone. “How dare you call my husband a thief!”

Jimmy was following the conversation with growing interest.

“Wait a minute,” said Aggie, then she left the receiver hanging by the cord and turned to the expectant pair behind her. “It’s the Children’s Home,” she explained. “That awful woman says Jimmy stole her baby!”

“What!” exclaimed Zoie as though such depravity on Jimmy’s part were unthinkable. Then she looked at him accusingly, and asked in low, measured tones, “Did you steal her baby, Jimmy?”

“Didn’t you tell me to?” asked Jimmy hotly. “Not literally,” corrected Aggie.

“How else could I steal a baby?” demanded Jimmy.

Zoie looked at the unfortunate creature as if she could strangle him, and Aggie addressed him with a threat in her voice.

“Well, the Superintendent says you’ve got to bring it straight back.”

“I’d like to see myself!” said Jimmy.

“He sha’n’t bring it back,” declared Zoie. “I’ll not let him!”

“What shall I tell the Superintendent?” asked Aggie, “he’s holding the wire.”

“Tell him he can’t have it,” answered Zoie, as though that were the end of the whole matter.

“Well,” concluded Aggie, “he says if Jimmy doesn’t bring it back the mother’s coming after it.”

“Good Lord!” exclaimed Zoie.

As for Jimmy, he bolted for the door. Aggie caught him by the sleeve as he passed. “Wait, Jimmy,” she said peremptorily. There was a moment of awful indecision, then something approaching an idea came to Zoie.

“Tell the Superintendent that it isn’t here,” she whispered to Aggie across the footboard. “Tell him that Jimmy hasn’t got here yet.”

“Yes,” agreed Jimmy, “tell him I haven’t got here yet.”

Aggie nodded wisely and returned to the ’phone. “Hello,” she called pleasantly; then proceeded to explain. “Mr. Jinks hasn’t got here yet.” There was a pause, then she added in her most conciliatory tone, “I’ll tell him what you say when he comes in.” Another pause, and she hung up the receiver with a most gracious good-bye and turned to the others with increasing misgivings. “He says he won’t be responsible for that mother much longer she’s half-crazy.”

“What right has she to be crazy?” demanded Zoie in an abused voice. “She’s a widow. She doesn’t need a baby.”

“Well,” decided Aggie after careful deliberation, “you’d better take it back, Jimmy, before Alfred sees it.”

“What?” exclaimed Zoie in protest. And again Jimmy bolted, but again he failed to reach the door.