ZOIE had barely time to arrange herself after the manner of an interesting invalid, when Alfred entered the room in the gayest of spirits.
"Hello, dearie," he cried as he crossed quickly to her side.
"Already?" asked Zoie faintly and she glanced uneasily toward the door, through which Jimmy and Aggie had just disappeared.
"I told you I shouldn't be long," said Alfred jovially, and he implanted a condescending kiss on her forehead. "How is the little mother, eh?" he asked, rubbing his hands together in satisfaction.
"You're all cold," pouted Zoie, edging away, "and you've been drinking."
"I had to have one or two with the boys," said Alfred, throwing out his chest and strutting about the room, "but never again. From now on I cut out all drinks and cigars. This is where I begin to live my life for our sons."
"How about your life for me?" asked Zoie, as she began to see long years of boredom stretching before her.
"You and our boys are one and the same, dear," answered Alfred, coming back to her side.
"You mean you couldn't go on loving me if it weren't for the boys?" asked Zoie, with anxiety. She was beginning to realise how completely her hold upon him depended upon her hideous deception.
"Of course I could, Zoie," answered Alfred, flattered by what he considered her desire for his complete devotion, "but -- -- "
"But not so much," pouted Zoie.
"Well, of course, dear," admitted Alfred evasively, as he sank down upon the edge of the bed by her side --
"You needn't say another word," interrupted Zoie, and then with a shade of genuine repentance, she declared shame-facedly that she hadn't been "much of a wife" to Alfred.
"Nonsense!" contradicted the proud young father, "you've given me the one thing that I wanted most in the world."
"But you see, dear," said Zoie, as she wound her little white arms about his neck, and looked up into his face adoringly, "you've been the `one' thing that I wanted `most' and I never realised until to-night how -- how crazy you are about things."
"What things?" asked Alfred, a bit puzzled.
"Well," said Zoie, letting her eyes fall before his and picking at a bit of imaginary lint on the coverlet, "babies and things."
"Oh," said Alfred, and he was about to proceed when she again interrupted him.
"But now that I do realise it," continued Zoie, earnestly, her fingers on his lips, lest he again interrupt, "if you'll only have a little patience with me, I'll -- I'll -- -- " again her eyes fell bashfully to the coverlet, as she considered the possibility of being ultimately obliged to replace the bogus twins with real ones.
"All the patience in the world," answered Alfred, little dreaming of the problem that confronted the contrite Zoie.
"That's all I ask," declared Zoie, her assurance completely restored, "and in case anything should happen to these -- -- " she glanced anxiously toward the door through which Aggie had borne the twins.
"But nothing is going to happen to these, dear," interrupted Alfred, rising and again assuming an air of fatherly protection. "I'll attend to that. There, there," he added, patting her small shoulder and nodding his head wisely. "That crazy woman has got on your nerves, but you needn't worry, I've got everything fixed. Donneghey sent a special officer over with me. He's outside watching the house, now."
"Now!" shrieked Zoie, fixing her eyes on the bedroom door, through which Jimmy had lately disappeared and wondering whether he had yet "slipped" down the fire-escape.
"Yes," continued Alfred, walking up and down the floor with a masterly stride. "If that woman is caught hanging around here again, she'll get a little surprise. My boys are safe now, God bless them!" Then reminded of the fact that he had not seen them since his return, he started quickly toward the bedroom door. "I'll just have a look at the little rascals," he decided.
"No, dear," cried Zoie. She caught Alfred's arm as he passed the side of her bed, and clung to him in desperation. "Wait a minute."
Alfred looked down at her in surprise.
She turned her face toward the door, and called lustily, "Aggie! Aggie!"
"What is it, dear?" questioned Alfred, thinking Zoie suddenly ill, "can I get you something?"
Before Zoie was obliged to reply, Aggie answered her summons.
"Did you call?" she asked, glancing inquiringly into Zoie's distressed face.
"Alfred's here," said Zoie, with a sickly smile as she stroked his hand and glanced meaningly at Aggie. "He's got the officer!"
"The officer?" cried Aggie, and involuntarily she took a step backward, as though to guard the bedroom door.
"Yes," said Alfred, mistaking Aggie's surprise for a compliment to his resource; "and now, Aggie,
"No, no!" exclaimed Aggie, nervously, and she placed herself again in front of the bedroom door.
Alfred was plainly annoyed by her proprietory air.
"They're asleep," explained Aggie.
"I'll not wake them," persisted Alfred, "I just wish to have a look at them," and with that he again made a move toward the door.
"But Alfred," protested Zoie, still clinging to his hand, "you're not going to leave me again -- so soon."
Alfred was becoming more and more restive under the seeming absurdity of their persistent opposition, but before he could think of a polite way of over-ruling them, Aggie continued persuasively.
"You stay with Zoie," she said. "I'll bring the boys in here and you can both have a look at them."
"But Aggie," argued Alfred, puzzled by her illogical behaviour, "would it be wise to wake them?"
"Just this once," said Aggie. "Now you stay here and I'll get them." Before Alfred could protest further she was out of the room and the door had closed behind her, so he resigned himself to her decision, banished his temporary annoyance
"This is certainly a great night, Zoie," he said.
"It certainly is," acquiesced Zoie, with an over emphasis that made Alfred turn to her with new concern.
"I'm afraid that mad woman made you very nervous, dear," he said.
"She certainly did," said Zoie.
Zoie's nerves were destined to bear still further strain, for at that moment, there came a sharp ring at the door.
Beside herself with anxiety Zoie threw her arms about Alfred, who had advanced to soothe her, drew him down by her side and buried her head on his breast.
"You are jumpy," said Alfred, and at that instant a wrangle of loud voices, and a general commotion was heard in the outer hall. "What's that?" asked Alfred, endeavouring to disentangle himself from Zoie's frantic embrace.
Zoie clung to him so tightly that he was unable to rise, but his alert ear caught the sound of a familiar voice rising above the din of dispute in the hallway.
"That sounds like the officer," he exclaimed.
"The officer?" cried Zoie, and she wound her arms more tightly about him.