Chapter XV. Suspicion and Discord
 

Every one was nasty the next morning. Aunt Selina declared that her feet were frost-bitten and kept Bella rubbing them with ice water all morning. And Jim was impossible. He refused to speak to any of us and he watched Bella furtively, as if he suspected her of trying to get him out of the house.

When luncheon time came around and he had shown no indication of going to the telephone and ordering it, we had a conclave, and Max was chosen to remind him of the hour. Jim was shut in the studio, and we waited together in the hall while Max went up. When he came down he was somewhat ruffled.

"He wouldn't open the door, he reported, "and when I told him it was meal time, he said he wasn't hungry, and he didn't give a whoop about the rest of us. He had asked us here to dinner; he hadn't proposed to adopt us."

So we finally ordered luncheon ourselves, and about two o'clock Jim came downstairs sheepishly, and ate what was left. Anne declared that Bella had been scolding him in the upper hall, but I doubted it. She was never seen to speak to him unnecessarily.

The excitement of the escape over, Mr. Harbison and I remained on terms of armed neutrality. And Max still hunted for Anne's pearls, using them, the men declared, as a good excuse to avoid tinkering with the furnace or repairing the dumb waiter, which took the queerest notions, and stopped once, half-way up from the kitchen, for an hour, with the dinner on it. Anyhow, Max was searching the house systematically, armed with a copy of Poe's Purloined Letter and Gaboriau's Monsieur LeCoq. He went through the seats of the chairs with hatpins, tore up the beds, and lifted rugs, until the house was in a state of confusion. And the next day, the fourth, he found something--not much, but it was curious. He had been in the studio, poking around behind the dusty pictures, with Jimmy expostulating every time he moved anything and the rest standing around watching him.

Max was strutting.

"We get it by elimination," he said importantly. "The pearls being nowhere else in the house, they must be here in the studio. Three parts of the studio having yielded nothing, they must be in the fourth. Ladies and gentlemen, let me have your attention for one moment. I tap this canvas with my wand--there is nothing up my sleeve. Then I prepare to move the canvas--so. And I put my hand in the pocket of this disreputable velvet coat, so. Behold!"

Then he gave a low exclamation and looked at something he held in his hand. Every one stepped forward, and on his palm was the small diamond clasp from Anne's collar!

Jimmy was apoplectic. He tried to smile, but no one else did.

"Well, I'll be flabbergasted!" he said. "I say, you people, you don't think for a minute that I put that thing there? Why, I haven't worn that coat for a month. It's--it's a trick of yours, Max."

But Max shook his head; he looked stupefied, and stood gazing from the clasp to the pocket of the old painting coat. Betty dropped on a folding stool, that promptly collapsed with her and created a welcome diversion, while Anne pounced on the clasp greedily, with a little cry.

"We will find it all now," she said excitedly. "Did you look in the other pockets, Max?"

Then, for the first time, I was conscious of an air of constraint among the men. Dallas was whistling softly, and Mr. Harbison, having rescued Betty, was standing silent and aloof, watching the scene with non-committal eyes. It was Max who spoke first, after a hurried inventory of the other pockets.

"Nothing else," he said constrainedly. "I'll move the rest of the canvases."

But Jim interfered, to every one's surprise.

"I wouldn't, if I were you, Max. There's nothing back there. I had em out yesterday." He was quite pale.

"Nonsense!" Max said gruffly. "If it's a practical joke, Jim, why don't you fess up? Anne has worried enough."

"The pearls are not there, I tell you," Jim began. Although the studio was cold, there were little fine beads of moisture on his face. "I must ask you not to move those pictures." And then Aunt Selina came to the rescue; she stalked over and stood with her back against the stack of canvases.

"As far as I can understand this," she declaimed, "you gentlemen are trying to intimate that James knows something of that young woman's jewelry, because you found part of it in his pocket. Certainly you will not move the pictures. How do you know that the young gentleman who said he found it there didn't have it up his sleeve?"

She looked around triumphantly, and Max glowered. Dallas soothed her, however.

"Exactly so," he said. "How do we know that Max didn't have the clasp up his sleeve? My dear lady, neither my wife nor I care anything for the pearls, as compared with the priceless pearl of peace. I suggest tea on the roof; those in favor--? My arm, Miss Caruthers."

It was all well enough for Jim to say later that he didn't dare to have the canvases moved, for he had stuck behind them all sorts of chorus girl photographs and life-class crayons that were not for Aunt Selina's eye, besides four empty siphons, two full ones, and three bottles of whisky. Not a soul believed him; there was a a new element of suspicion and discord in the house.

Every one went up on the roof and left him to his mystery. Anne drank her tea in a preoccupied silence, with half-closed eyes, an attitude that boded ill to somebody. The rest were feverishly gay, and Aunt Selina, with a pair of arctics on her feet and a hot-water bottle at her back, sat in the middle of the tent and told me familiar anecdotes of Jimmy's early youth (had he known, he would have slain her). Betty and Mr. Harbison had found a medicine ball, and were running around like a pair of children. It was quite certain that neither his escape from death nor my accusation weighed heavily on him.

While Aunt Selina was busy with the time Jim had swallowed an open safety pin, and just as the pin had been coughed up, or taken out of his nose--I forget which--Jim himself appeared and sulkily demanded the privacy of the roof for his training hour.

Yes, he was training. Flannigan claimed to know the system that had reduced the president to what he is, and he and Jim had a seance every day which left Jim feeling himself for bruises all evening. He claimed to be losing flesh; he said he could actually feel it going, and he and Flannigan had spent an entire afternoon in the cellar three days before with a potato barrel, a cane-seated chair and a lamp.

The whole thing had been shrouded in mystery. They sandpapered the inside of the barrel and took out all the nails, and when they had finished they carried it to the roof and put it in a corner behind the tent. Everybody was curious, but Flannigan refused any information about it, and merely said it was part of his system. Dal said that if he had anything like that in his system he certainly would be glad to get rid of it.

At a quarter to six Jim appeared, still sullen from the events of the afternoon and wearing a dressing gown and a pair of slippers, Flannigan following him with a sponge, a bucket of water and an armful of bath towels. Everybody protested at having to move, but he was firm, and they all filed down the stairs. I was the last, with Aunt Selina just ahead of me. At the top of the stairs, she turned around suddenly to me.

"That policeman looks cruel," she said. "What's more, he's been in a bad humor all day. More than likely he'll put James flat on the roof and tramp on him, under pretense of training him. All policemen are inhuman."

"He only rolls him over a barrel or something like that," I protested.

"James had a bump like an egg over his ear last night," Aunt Selina insisted, glaring at Flannigan's unconscious back. "I don't think it's safe to leave him. It is my time to relax for thirty minutes, or I would watch him. You will have to stay," she said, fixing me with her imperious eyes.

So I stayed. Jim didn't want me, and Flannigan muttered mutiny. But it was easier to obey Aunt Selina than to clash with her, and anyhow I wanted to see the barrel in use.

I never saw any one train before. It is not a joyful spectacle. First, Flannigan made Jim run, around and around the roof. He said it stirred up his food and brought it in contact with his liver, to be digested.

Flannigan, from meekness and submission, of a sort, in the kitchen, became an autocrat on the roof.

"Once more," he would say. "Pick up your feet, sir! Pick up your feet!"

And Jim would stagger doggedly past me, where I sat on the parapet, his poor cheeks shaking and the tail of his bath robe wrapping itself around his legs. Yes, he ran in the bath robe in deference to me. It seems there isn't much to a running suit.

"Head up," Flannigan would say. "Lift your knees, sir. Didn't you ever see a horse with string halt?"

He let him stop finally, and gave him a moment to get his breath. Then he set him to turning somersaults. They spread the cushions from the couch in the tent on the roof, and Jim would poke his head down and say a prayer, and then curve over as gracefully as a sausage and come up gasping, as if he had been pushed off a boat.

"Five pounds a day; not less, sir," Flannigan said encouragingly. "You'll drop it in chunks."

Jim looked at the tin as if he expected to see the chunks lying at his feet.

"Yes," he said, wiping the back of his neck. "If we're in here thirty days that will be one hundred and fifty pounds. Don't forget to stop in time, Flannigan. I don't want to melt away like a candle."

He was cheered, however, by the promise of reduction.

"What do you think of that, Kit?" he called to me. "Your uncle is going to look as angular as a problem in geometry. I'll--I'll be the original reductio ad absurdum. Do you want me to stand on my head, Flannigan? Wouldn't that reduce something?"

"Your brains, sir," Flannigan retorted gravely, and presented a pair of boxing gloves. Jim visibly quailed, but he put them on.

"Do you know, Flannigan," he remarked, as he fastened them, "I'm thinking of wearing these all the time. They hide my character."

Flannigan looked puzzled, but he did not ask an explanation. He demanded that Jim shed the bath robe, which he finally did, on my promise to watch the sunset. Then for fully a minute there was no sound save of feet running rapidly around the roof, and an occasional soft thud. Each thud was accompanied by a grunt or two from Jim. Flannigan was grimly silent. Once there was a smart rap, an oath from the policeman, and a mirthless chuckle from Jim. The chuckle ended in a crash, however, and I turned. Jim was lying on his back on the roof, and Flannigan was wiping his ear with a towel. Jim sat up and ran his hand down his ribs.

"They're all here," he observed after a minute. "I thought I missed one."

"The only way to take a man's weight down," Flannigan said dryly.

Jim got up dizzily.

"Down on the roof, I suppose you mean," he said.

The next proceedings were mysterious. Flannigan rolled the barrel into the tent, and carried in a small glass lamp. With the material at hand he seemed to be effecting a combination, no new one, to judge by his facility. Then he called Jim.

At the door of the tent Jim turned to me, his bathrobe toga fashion around his shoulders.

"This is a very essential part of the treatment," he said solemnly. "The exercise, according to Flannigan, loosens up the adipose tissue. The next step is to boil it out. I hope, unless your instructions compel you, that you will at least have the decency to stay out of the tent."

"I am going at once," I said, outraged. "I'm not here because I'm mad about it, and you know it. And don't pose with that bath robe. If you think you're a character out of Roman history, look at your legs."

"I didn't mean to offend you," he said sulkily. "Only I'm tired of having you choked down my throat every time I open my mouth, Kit. And don't go just yet. Flannigan is going for my clothes as soon as he lights the--the lamp, and--somebody ought to watch the stairs."

That was all there was to it. I said I would guard the steps, and Flannigan, having ignited the combination, whatever it was, went downstairs. How was I to know that Bella would come up when she did? Was it my fault that the lamp got too high, and that Flannigan couldn't hear Jim calling? Or that just as Bella reached the top of the steps Jim should come to the door of the tent, wearing the barrel part of his hot-air cabinet, and yelling for a doctor?

Bella came to a dead stop on the upper step, with her mouth open. She looked at Jim, at the inadequate barrel, and from them she looked at me. Then she began to laugh, one of her hysterical giggles, and she turned and went down again. As Jim and I stared at each other we could hear her gurgling down the hall below.

She had violent hysterics for an hour, with Anne rubbing her forehead and Aunt Selina burning a feather out of the feather duster under her nose. Only Jim and I understood, and we did not tell. Luckily, the next thing that occurred drove Bella and her nerves from everybody's mind.

At seven o'clock, when Bella had dropped asleep and everybody else was dressed for dinner, Aunt Selina discovered that the house was cold, and ordered Dal to the furnace.

It was Dal's day at the furnace; Flannigan had been relieved of that part of the work after twice setting fire to a chimney.

In five minutes Dal came back and spoke a few words to Max, who followed him to the basement, and in ten minutes more Flannigan puffed up the steps and called Mr. Harbison.

I am not curious, but I knew that something had happened. While Aunt Selina was talking suffrage to Anne--who said she had always been tremendously interested in the subject, and if women got the suffrage would they be allowed to vote?--I slipped back to the dining room.

The table was laid for dinner, but Flannigan was not in sight. I could hear voices from somewhere, faint voices that talked rapidly, and after a while I located the sounds under my feet. The men were all in the basement, and something must have happened. I flew back to the basement stairs, to meet Mr. Harbison at the foot. He was grimy and dusty, with streaks of coal dust over his face, and he had been examining his revolver. I was just in time to see him slip it into his pocket.

"What is the matter?" I demanded. "Is any one hurt?

"No one," he said coolly. "We've been cleaning out the furnace."

"With a revolver! How interesting--and unusual!" I said dryly, and slipped past him as he barred the way. He was not pleased; I heard him mutter something and come rapidly after me, but I had the voices as a guide, and I was not going to be turned back like a child. The men had gathered around a low stone arch in the furnace room, and were looking down a short flight of steps, into a sort of vault, evidently under the pavement. A faint light came from a small grating above, and there was a close, musty smell in the air.

"I tell you it must have been last night," Dallas was saying. "Wilson and I were here before we went to bed, and I'll swear that hole was not there then."

"It was not there this morning, sir," Flannigan insisted. "It has been made during the day."

"And it could not have been done this afternoon," Mr. Harbison said quietly. "I was fussing with the telephone wire down here. I would have heard the noise."

Something in his voice made me look at him, and certainly his expression was unusual. He was watching us all intently while Dallas pointed out to me the cause of the excitement. From the main floor of the furnace room, a flight of stone steps surmounted by an arch led into the coal cellar, beneath the street. The coal cellar was of brick, with a cement floor, and in the left wall there gaped an opening about three feet by three, leading into a cavernous void, perfectly black--evidently a similar vault belonging to the next house.

The whole place was ghostly, full of shadows, shivery with possibilities. It was Mr. Harbison finally who took Jim's candle and crawled through the aperture. We waited in dead silence, listening to his feet crunching over the coal beyond, watching the faint yellow light that came through the ragged opening in the wall. Then he came back and called through to us.

"Place is locked, over here," he said. "Heavy oak door at the head of the steps. Whoever made that opening has done a prodigious amount of labor for nothing."

The weapon, a crowbar, lay on the ground beside the bricks, and he picked it up and balanced it on his hand. Dallas' florid face was almost comical in his bewilderment; as for Jimmy--he slammed a piece of slag at the furnace and walked away. At the door he turned around.

"Why don't you accuse me of it?" he asked bitterly. "Maybe you could find a lump of coal in my pockets if you searched me."

He stalked up the stairs then and left us. Dallas and I went up together, but we did not talk. There seemed to be nothing to say. Not until I had closed and locked the door of my room did I venture to look at something that I carried in the palm of my hand. It was a watch, not running--a gentleman's flat gold watch, and it had been hanging by its fob to a nail in the bricks beside the aperture.

In the back of the watch were the initials, T.H.H. and the picture of a girl, cut from a newspaper.

It was my picture.