Chapter XVI. I Face Flannigan
 

Dinner waited that night while everybody went to the coal cellar and stared at the hole in the wall, and watched while Max took a tracing of it and of some footprints in the coal dust on the other side.

I did not go. I went into the library with the guilty watch in the fold of my gown, and found Mr. Harbison there, staring through the February gloom at the blank wall of the next house, and quite unconscious of the reporter with a drawing pad just below him in the area-way. I went over and closed the shutters before his very eyes, but even then he did not move.

"Will you be good enough to turn around?" I demanded at last.

"Oh!" he said wheeling. "Are you here?"

There wasn't any reply to that, so I took the watch and placed it on the library table between us. The effect was all that I had hoped. He stared at it for an instant, then at me, and with his hand outstretched for it, stopped.

"Where did you find it?" he asked. I couldn't understand his expression. He looked embarrassed, but not at all afraid.

"I think you know, Mr. Harbison," I retorted.

"I wish I did. You opened it?"

"Yes."

We stood looking at each other across the table. It was his glance that wavered.

"About the picture--of you," he said at last. "You see, down there in South America, a fellow hasn't much to do in the evenings, and a--a chum of mine and I--we were awfully down on what we called the plutocrats, the--the leisure classes. And when that picture of yours came in the paper, we had--we had an argument. He said--" He stopped.

"What did he say?"

"Well, he said it was the picture of an empty-faced society girl."

"Oh!" I exclaimed.

"I--I maintained there were possibilities in the face." He put both hands on the table, and, bending forward, looked down at me. "Well, I was a fool, I admit. I said your eyes were kind and candid, in spite of that haughty mouth. You see, I said I was a fool."

"I think you are exceedingly rude," I managed finally. "If you want to know where I found your watch, it was down in the coal cellar. And if you admit you are an idiot, I am not. I--I know all about Bella's bracelet--and the board on the roof, and--oh, if you would only leave--Anne's necklace--on the coal, or somewhere--and get away--"

My voice got beyond me then, and I dropped into a chair and covered my face. I could feel him staring at the back of my head.

"Well, I'll be--" something or other, he said finally, and then he turned on his heel and went out. By the time I got my eyes dry (yes, I was crying; I always do when I am angry) I heard Jim coming downstairs, and I tucked the watch out of sight. Would anyone have foreseen the trouble that watch would make!

Jim was sulky. He dropped into a chair and stretched out his legs, looking gloomily at nothing. Then he got up and ambled into his den, closing the door behind him without having spoken a word. It was more than human nature could stand.

When I went into the den he was stretched on the davenport with his face buried in the cushions. He looked absolutely wilted, and every line of him was drooping.

"Go on out, Kit," he said, in a smothered voice. "Be a good girl and don't follow me around."

"You are shameless!" I gasped. "Follow you! When you are hung around my neck like a--like a--" Millstone was what I wanted to say, but I couldn't think of it.

He turned over and looked up from his cushions like an ill-treated and suffering cherub.

"I'm done for, Kit," he groaned. "Bella went up to the studio after we left, and investigated that corner."

"What did she find? The necklace?" I asked eagerly. He was too wretched to notice this.

"No, that picture of you that I did last winter. She is crazy--she says she is going upstairs and sit in Takahiro's room and take smallpox and die."

"Fiddlesticks!" I said rudely, and somebody hammered on the door and opened it.

"Pardon me for disturbing you," Bella said, in her best dear-me-I'm-glad-I-knocked manner. "But--Flannigan says the dinner has not come."

"Good Lord!" Jim exclaimed. "I forgot to order the confounded dinner!"

It was eight o'clock by that time, and as it took an hour at least after telephoning the order, everybody looked blank when they heard. The entire family, except Mr. Harbison, who had not appeared again, escorted Jim to the telephone and hung around hungrily, suggesting new dishes every minute. And then--he couldn't raise Central. It was fifteen minutes before we gave up, and stood staring at one another despairingly.

"Call out of a window, and get one of those infernal reporters to do something useful for once," Max suggested. But he was indignantly hushed. We would have starved first. Jim was peering into the transmitter and knocking the receiver against his hand, like a watch that had stopped. But nothing happened. Flannigan reported a box of breakfast food, two lemons, and a pineapple cheese, a combination that didn't seem to lend itself to anything.

We went back to the dining room from sheer force of habit and sat around the table and looked at the lemonade Flannigan had made. Anne would talk about the salad her last cook had concocted, and Max told about a little town in Connecticut where the restaurant keeper smokes a corn-cob pipe while he cooks the most luscious fried clams in America. And Aunt Selina related that in her family they had a recipe for chicken smothered in cream. And then we sipped the weak lemonade and nibbled at the cheese.

"To change this gridiron martyrdom," Dallas said finally, "where's Harbison? Still looking for his watch?"

"Watch!" Everybody said it in a different tone.

"Sure," he responded. "Says his watch was taken last night from the studio. Better get him down to take a squint at the telephone. Likely he can fix it."

Flannigan was beside me with the cheese. And at that moment I felt Mr. Harbison's stolen watch slip out of my girdle, slide greasily across my lap, and clatter to the floor. Flannigan stooped, but luckily it had gone under the table. To have had it picked up, to have had to explain how I got it, to see them try to ignore my picture pasted in it--oh, it was impossible! I put my foot over it.

"Drop something?" Dallas asked perfunctorily, rising. Flannigan was still half kneeling.

"A fork," I said, as easily as I could, and the conversation went on. But Flannigan knew, and I knew he knew. He watched my every movement like a hawk after that, standing just behind my chair. I dropped my useless napkin, to have it whirled up before it reached the floor. I said to Betty that my shoe buckle was loose, and actually got the watch in my hand, only to let it slip at the critical moment. Then they all got up and went sadly back to the library, and Flannigan and I faced each other.

Flannigan was not a handsome man at any time, though up to then he had at least looked amiable. But now as I stood with my hand on the back of my chair, his face grew suddenly menacing. The silence was absolute. I was the guiltiest wretch alive, and opposite me the law towered and glowered, and held the yellow remnant of a pineapple cheese! And in the silence that wretched watch lay and ticked and ticked and ticked. Then Flannigan creaked over and closed the door into the hall, came back, picked up the watch, and looked at it.

"You're unlucky, I'm thinkin'," he said finally. "You've got the nerve all right, but you ain't cute enough."

"I don't know what you mean," I quavered. "Give me that watch to return to Mr. Harbison."

"Not on your life," he retorted easily. "I give it back myself, like I did the bracelet, and--like I'm going to give back the necklace, if you'll act like a sensible little girl."

I could only choke.

"It's foolish, any way you look at it," he persisted. "here you are, lots of friends, folks that think you're all right. Why, I reckon there isn't one of them that wouldn't lend you money if you needed it so bad."

"Will you be still?" I said furiously. "Mr. Harbison left that watch--with me--an hour ago. Get him, and he will tell you so himself!"

"Of course he would," Flannigan conceded, looking at me with grudging approval. "He wouldn't be what I think he is, if he didn't lie up and down for you." There were voices in the hall. Flannigan came closer. "An hour ago, you say. And he told me it was gone this morning! It's a losing game, miss. I'll give you twenty-four hours and then--the necklace, if you please, miss."