Chapter IX. Flannigan's Find
 

The most charitable thing would be to say nothing about the first day. We were baldly brutal--that's the only word for it. And Mr. Harbison, with his beautiful courtesy--the really sincere kind--tried to patch up one quarrel after another and failed. He rose superbly to the occasion, and made something that he called a South American goulash for luncheon, although it was too salty, and every one was thirsty the rest of the day.

Bella was horrid, of course. She froze Jim until he said he was going to sit in the refrigerator and cool the butter. She locked herself in the dressing room--it had been assigned to me, but that made no difference to Bella--and did her nails, and took three different baths, and refused to come to the table. And of course Jimmy was wild, and said she would starve. But I said, "Very well, let her starve. Not a tray shall leave my kitchen." It was a comfort to have her shut up there anyhow; it postponed the time when she would come face to face with Flannigan.

Aunt Selina got sick that day, as I have said. I was not so bitter as the others; I did not say that I wished she would die. The worst I ever wished her was that she might be quite ill for some time, and yet, when she began to recover, she was dreadful to me. She said for one thing, that it was the hard-boiled eggs and the state of the house that did it, and when I said that the grippe was a germ, she retorted that I had probably brought it to her on my clothing.

You remember that Betty had drawn the nurse's slip, and how pleased she had been about it. She got up early the morning of the first day and made herself a lawn cap and telephoned out for a white nurse's uniform--that is, of course, for a white uniform for a nurse. She really looked very fetching, and she went around all the morning with a red cross on her sleeve and a Saint Cecilia expression, gathering up bottles of medicine--most of it flesh reducer, which was pathetic, and closing windows for fear of drafts. She refused to help with the house work, and looked quite exalted, but by afternoon it had palled on her somewhat, and she and Max shook dice.

Betty was really pleased when Aunt Selina sent for her. She took in a bottle of cologne to bathe her brow, and we all stood outside the door and listened. Betty tiptoed in in her pretty cap and apron, and we heard her cautiously draw down the shades.

"What are you doing that for?" Aunt Selina demanded. "I like the light."

"It's bad for your poor eyes," Betty's tone was exactly the proper bedside pitch, low and sugary.

"Sweet and low, sweet and low, wind of the western sea!" Dal hummed outside.

"Put up those window shades!" Aunt Selina's voice was strong enough. "What's in that bottle?"

Betty was still mild. She swished to the window and raised the shade.

"I'm so sorry you are ill," she said sympathetically. "This is for your poor aching head. Now close your eyes and lie perfectly still, and I will cool your forehead."

"There's nothing the matter with my head," Aunt Selina retorted. "And I have not lost my faculties; I am not a child or a sick cow. If that's perfumery, take it out."

We heard Betty coming to the door, but there was no time to get away. She had dropped her mask for a minute and was biting her lip, but when she saw us she forced a smile.

"She's ill, poor dear," she said. "If you people will go away, I can bring her around all right. In two hours she will eat out of my hand."

"Eat a piece out of your hand," Max scoffed in a whisper.

We waited a little longer, but it was too painful. Aunt Selina demanded a mustard foot bath and a hot lemonade and her back rubbed with liniment and some strong black tea. And in the intervals she wanted to be read to out of the prayer book. And when we had all gone away, there came the most terrible noise from Aunt Selina's room, and every one ran. We found Betty in the hall outside the door, crying, with her fingers in her ears and her cap over her eye. She said she had been putting the hot water bottle to Aunt Selina's back, and it had been too hot. Just then something hit against the door with a soft thud, fell to the floor and burst, for a trickle of hot water came over the sill.

"She won't let me hold her hand," Betty wailed, "or bathe her brow, or smooth her pillow. She thinks of nothing but her stomach or her back! And when I try to make her bed look decent, she spits at me like a cat. Everything I do is wrong. She spilled the foot bath into her shoes, and blamed me for it."

It took the united efforts of all of us--except Bella, who stood back and smiled nastily--to get Betty back into the sick room again. I was supremely thankful by that time that I had not drawn the nurse's slip. With dinner ordered in from one of the clubs, and the omelet ten hours behind me, my position did not seem so unbearable. But a new development was coming.

While Betty was fussing with Aunt Selina, Max led a search of the house. He said the necklace and the bracelet must be hidden somewhere, and that no crevice was too small to neglect.

We made a formal search all together, except Betty and Aunt Selina, and we found a lot of things in different places that Jim said had been missing since the year one. But no jewels--nothing even suggesting a jewel was found. We had explored the entire house, every cupboard, every chest, even the insides of the couches and the pockets of Jim's clothes--which he resented bitterly--and found nothing, and I must say the situation was growing rather strained. Some one had taken the jewels; they hadn't walked away.

It was Flannigan who suggested the roof, and as we had tried every place else, we climbed there. Of course we didn't find anything, but after all day in the house with the shutters closed on account of reporters, the air was glorious. It was February, but quite mild and sunny, and we could look down over Riverside Drive and the Hudson, and even recognize people we knew on horseback and in cars. It was a pathetic joy, and we lined up along the parapet and watched the motor boats racing on the river, and tried to feel that we were in the world as well as of it, but it was very hard.

Betty had been making tea for Aunt Selina, and of course when she heard us up there, she followed, tray and all, and we drank Aunt Selina's tea and had the first really nice time of the day. Bella had come up, too, but she was still standoffish and queer, and she stood leaning against a chimney and staring out over the river. After a little Mr. Harbison put down his cup and went over to her, and they talked quite confidentially for a long time. I thought it bad taste in Bella, under the circumstances, after snubbing Dallas and Max, and of course treating Jim like the dirt under her feet, to turn right around and be lovely to Mr. Harbison. It was hard for Jim.

Max came and sat beside me, and Flannigan, who had been sent down for more cups, passed tea, putting the tray on top of the chimney. Jim was sitting grumpily on the roof, with his feet folded under him, playing Canfield in the shadow of the parapet, buying the deck out of one pocket and putting his winnings in the other. He was watching Bella, too, and she knew it, and she strained a point to captivate Mr. Harbison. Any one could see that.

And that was the picture that came out in the next morning's papers, tea cups, cards and all. For when some one looked up, there were four newspaper photographers on the roof of the next house, and they had the impertinence to thank us!

Flannigan had seen Bella by that time, but as he still didn't understand the situation, things were just the same. But his manner to me puzzled me; whenever he came near me he winked prodigiously, and during all the search he kept one eye on me, and seemed to be amused about something.

When the rest had gone down to dress for dinner, which was being sent in, thank goodness, I still sat on the parapet and watched the darkening river. I felt terribly lonely, all at once, and sad. There wasn't any one any nearer than father, in the West, or mother in Bermuda, who really cared a rap whether I sat on that parapet all night or not, or who would be sorry if I leaped to the dirty bricks of the next door-yard--not that I meant to, of course.

The lights came out across the river, and made purple and yellow streaks on the water, and one of the motor boats came panting back to the yacht club, coughing and gasping as if it had overdone. Down on the street automobiles were starting and stopping, cabs rolling, doors slamming, all the maddening, delightful bustle of people who are foot-free to dine out, to dance, to go to the theater, to do any of the thousand possibilities of a long February evening. And above them I sat on the roof and cried. Yes, cried.

I was roused by some one coughing just behind me, and I tried to straighten my face before I turned. It was Flannigan, his double row of brass buttons gleaming in the twilight.

"Excuse me, miss," he said affably, "but the boy from the hotel has left the dinner on the doorstep and run, the cowardly little divil! What'll I do with it? I went to Mrs. Wilson, but she says it's no concern of hers." Flannigan was evidently bewildered.

"You'd better keep it warm, Flannigan," I replied. "You needn't wait; I'm coming." But he did not go.

"If--if you'll excuse me, miss," he said, "don't you think ye'd betther tell them?"

"Tell them what?"

"The whole thing--the joke," he said confidentially, coming closer. "It's been great sport, now, hasn't it? But I'm afraid they will get on to it soon, and--some of them might not be agreeable. A pearl necklace is a pearl necklace, miss, and the lady's wild."

"What do you mean?" I gasped. "You don't think--why, Flannigan--"

He merely grinned at me and thrust his hand down in his pocket. When he brought it up he had Bella's bracelet on his palm, glittering in the faint light.

"Where did you get it?" Between relief and the absurdity of the thing, I was almost hysterical. But Flannigan did not give me the bracelet; instead, it struck me his tone was suddenly severe.

"Now look here, miss," he said; "you've played your trick, and you've had your fun. The Lord knows it's only folks like you would play April fool jokes with a fortune! If you're the sinsible little woman you look to be, you'll put that pearl collar on the coal in the basement tonight, and let me find it."

"I haven't got the pearl collar," I protested. "I think you are crazy. Where did you get that bracelet?"

He edged away from me, as if he expected me to snatch it from him and run, but he was still trying in an elephantine way to treat the matter as a joke.

"I found it in a drawer in the pantry," he said, "among the dirty linen. And if you're as smart as I think you are, I'll find the pearl collar there in the morning--and nothing said, miss."

So there I was, suspected of being responsible for Anne's pearl collar, as if I had not enough to worry me before. Of course I could have called them all together and told them, and made them explain to Flannigan what I had really meant by my delirious speech in the kitchen. But that would have meant telling the whole ridiculous story to Mr. Harbison, and having him think us all mad, and me a fool.

In all that overcrowded house there was only one place where I could be miserable with comfort. So I stayed on the roof, and cried a little and then became angry and walked up and down, and clenched my hands and babbled helplessly. The boats on the river were yellow, horizontal streaks through my tears, and an early searchlight sent its shaft like a tangible thing in the darkness, just over my head. Then, finally, I curled down in a corner with my arms on the parapet, and the lights became more and more prismatic and finally formed themselves into a circle that was Bella's bracelet, and that kept whirling around and around on something flat and not over-clean, that was Flannigan's palm.