PROTECTIVE COLORING

ANITA GABRIELLE LAVACK October 15 1926

PROTECTIVE COLORING

ANITA GABRIELLE LAVACK October 15 1926

PROTECTIVE COLORING

ANITA GABRIELLE LAVACK

A big business office often is as much the scene of manifold intrigue as a Geneva Conference. In this story of executives and those who guard and watch over them, a wideawake stenographer plays the role of a feminine and gentle Machiavelli to a very satisfactory conclusion.

THE feathers are all that was left of the canary.

The clock in the office of the Promethean Fire Insurance Company pointed to five minutes to nine.

Before the cloakroom mirror girls brighthued and chattering as a flock of tropic birds, busied themselves with lipstick, powder and rouges of weird tints, each warranted to transform itself miraculously on the cheek to that “red . . . Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand laid on.”

Replicas of each other, done in diverse colorings, they were expecting two, Julia Beaton and Doris Norton.

A quiet lass, as unpainted and unpowdered, as free of visible artifice as when she came into the world, that was Doris Norton — “Puss”

they called her at home. She stood a little aside from the lively group and watched and listened with a tiny smile.

Julia Beaton—pale-blue, prominent eyes, a bony nose distinctly reddish at its tip, a manner that was tart—hunting ill-temperedly among the vanity-cases, the butterfly-bright handkerchiefs which littered the shelf in front of the mirror, gave an angry little sniff. Tradition had it that she had been with the Promethean twenty-three years. Yet it never occurred to the gay young things who baited her so pertly that Julia Beaton might have good cause to sniff at life.

Lulie Morrison, watching the peevish search, laughed. Marta Rollit, who had just finished smoothing her black, cropped hair till it looked like a neat little cap of lustrous slipper-satin, turned around.

“If you don’t see what you want, ask for it, Miss Beaton,” she suggested.

“Even if it isn’t leap year!” Vera Baynes murmured audaciously.

Spasmodic giggles broke out all over the room like a shower of raps at a successful seance.

“Every year is leap year if a woman isn’t an absolute dumb-bell,” slim, red-headed Persis Barnes drawled as she leaned toward the mirror, lipstick in hand. “But the hand-picked husband doesn’t realize it.”

Kay Allen—she was youngest and prettiest and sauciest of all the Promethean girls—giggled. “I pity the woman who tries to hand-pick Mac away from me.” Her shrill young treble reached to the farthest corner of the cloakroom. “I’m after Mac myself, I warn you.”

Blue eyes and black eyes and brown flirted a look through touched-up lashes toward Miss Beaton at that. For so many years it had been the office joke that she looked with favor on Macbeath, the crusty old bachelor who was head accountant of the Promethean, all suggestion of the apocryphal had long since left it, while the humor of the idea grew daily more vivid.

“Nine o’clock!” someone warned. Marta spoke as the girls left the cloakroom together.

“I saw our Mr. Beardsley at the Babylonian Gardens last night.”

“Oh, Marta!” Pretty, painted lips chorused the name. The Promethean’s chief clerk was much admired. “Did he dance with you, Marta?”

“Never saw me. He crashed in with his Limousine Lady and the rest of his high-hat bunch. Rackety! I’ll tell the world.”

Laughing, they scattered to their respective desks. It was a friendly office, the Promethean, in spite of its size.

No heinous sin was it there if one whispered to a neighbor, even if punctuating giggles made it unlikely that the whisper concerned reinsurance clauses or permits to store gasoline. Flippantly referred to by the other offices in the building as “Cupid’s own,” so numerous had been the marriages between members of the staff, the Promethean, far from feeling resentment, wore its sobriquet with a swagger. Why shouldn’t the Little Archer disport himself within their precincts, asked the men, since it was well known that the prettiest girls—“And the nicest men!” the girls interpolated warmly—in the whole building left the elevators at the Promethean’s floor! And, as pinch-penny Mac cannily observed, how much better for the rest when two of the staff married each other instead of outsiders, and only one subscription paper for the customary chest of silver had to be sent round!

DORIS sat down at her desk and drew from its lowest drawer a dustcloth and a type-brush. A little smile quirked her lips as she polished her machine and mused on the conversation in the dressing-room.

“Poor Miss Beaton . . . but she’s always spitting and clawing and scratching. Just like that old cat that followed me home and we hadn’t the heart to chase her off. Dad and the boys say I’m a puss-cat, but I hope I’ll never grow like her . . . sour old maid.” Her grey eyes narrowed. “ ‘Every year is leap year if—’ ” she quoted Persis Barnes.

A meditative flash of the grey eyes toward the conspicuously vacant desk belonging to the chief clerk informed her that, although punctuality was in the eyes of the Promethean a virtue than which there was none more admirable, Dick Beardsley had not yet come in.

“He needs straightening up,” Doris told herself sagely. “First thing Master Dick knows ...”

When "his buzzer rang at last for a stenographer, after the laggard had made a languid survey of the morning’s mail, although it was Marta’s place to answer, Doris caught up notebook and pencil. She stopped at Marta’s cluttered desk.

“I’ll go,” she said. “I know you’re busy.”

“Angel!” breathe Marta thankfully.

The chief der turned a listless ey toward Doris. H looked far from livel this morning, a Marta had said h had been last nigh’ Very definitely h needed to be taken i hand.

He yawned as h finished dictatin¡ Begged pardon Asked an idle que! tion.

“What do yo know about turnin over a new leaf, Mi¡ Norton?”

Slap, slap, quick 8 a cat’s sheathed claw fly out from a velv paw, Doris let hii have it.

“I think it woul be a very wise thin for you to do, M Beardsley,” she sai crisply.

The blue eyes smi ing lazily at ht opened in amuse surprise.

“You’ve been the last one in ever morning for weeks,” Doris chargee “You take longer than the presiden himself for lunch. And you’re usuall the first to get away in the aftei noon.”

“A friend of mine has been rathe exacting about my attending her a tea-dances. If I kept^her waiting ti our closing time—”

Doris, meeting his quizzical eyes flushed. “Of course you’re thinkin it’s none of my business.”

“In the mood I’m in,” declare' Beardsley pathetically, “I’m grateful for the least show o interest!” He hesitated. “The lady of the tea-dances cas me off in no half-hearted fashion last night,” he confide' with a smile that was only partly rueful. “So I’m quit ready to acknowledge the error of my ways.”

“It’s time,” said Doris soberly. “I don’t make a prac tice of repeating things I overhear, Mr. Beardsley, bu Mr. Howard and Mr. Barton were saying yesterda; that even if you are the nephew of the president’s bes friend—”

HOWARD, youngest of the officials of the Promethean was not much older than Beardsley, an even mor eligible bachelor. Sought after quite as much as Dick he never allowed his life outside the office to impinge oi his duty to the company. Between the two men then had always been a certain measure of antagonism.

“Mr. Howard said he felt he ought to speak to th president about how your work has been neglected,’ Doris continued gravely.

Beardsley whistled softly. “Bad as that, eh?” Sud denly he started. “Good night! The president told me i week ago to make sure those letters to our western office; went yesterday, at the latest. I put off dictating them til yesterday morning, and then I never came back aftc lunch.”

After a dismayed moment, he started to rise. In hi; abashment he looked very boyish, the charm for whicl he was distinguished was very much in evidence.

“I’ll have to go to the president right away,” he de dared. “Here’s where Howard scores!”

“Mr. Beardsley!” Doris’ voice was a little uncertain “I hope you won’t think I was too officious. I knew thost letters ought to go—so I signed your name and sent their myself.”

“Life-saver!” Beardsley’s tone of relief was convine ingly sincere. “How am I going to repay you? A box ol chocolates and a few kind words are hardly sufficient foi the person who pulls you out as you sink for the thirc time, you know. Name your own reward, woman!” Doris did not answer. Her eyes were following How

ard, who was crossing the office. After a moment she turned back to Dick. A little flush blossomed in her cheeks.

“Do you mean it?” she asked. “The half of my kingdom, Esther! Howard’s head on a silver charger, Salome!” “Something I heard the girls say in the dressing-room this morning put an idea into my head,” said Doris. Her blush grew rosier. “Supposing there was a man in this office I’d like to have notice me. What could I do about it, I wondered? Because I’m not naturally one of those ‘Stop! Look! Listen!’ girls,” she mourned. “I knew it wouldn’t be any use cutting my hair. It isn’t coarse enough to look well short—and it did seem a pity to cut it when it’s so long.” Beardsley, gazing intently at her head, was seeing for the first time how fine and abundant her fawn colored hair was. “And if you ever saw me with my eyelashes darkened!” Doris laughed. “The only thing that saves them from looking like upholstery fringe is that they’re lightcolored.” “Light-colored—they’re golden,” Beardsley corrected her. “And they certainly are thick. And long!” “It isn’t that I disapprove of rouge—that’s not the reason I never use it,” pursued Doris. “My skin isn’t the right sort for it, I guess.” Beardsley scrutinized the skin in question carefully. “No more than a baby’s skin is,” he decided. “I never saw anyone over three with a skin like that before.” “While my ankles really aren’t bad—they’re about my only asset,” Doris commented dispassionately, sticking both ankles stiffly out for inspection, “what use are they? Mother won’t let me wear those lovely sheer stockings like Kay Allen does, so how am I ever going to get anyone to look at them?” Beardsley was still taring at the ankles when Doris resumed briskly. “Well, here’s the point! You think you owe me a reward. And I’ve shown you I need advertising. So—if you’d just pretend to be interested in me—men are such sheep, you know!” Her wheedling voice, the laughing eyes above her bright blush, implied that he, of course, was different from his fellows. “If they thought that you found me worth noticing!” she flattered. ' I 'HERE was just one subject for conversation in the Promethean offices in the weeks following. It began at the staff dance, an annual event honored by the attendance of the wives and daughters of the officials, rendered decorative by Marta and Lulie and Kay Allen and the rest of the Promethean girls, all in still gayer frocks, gauzier stockings and with more spike-like heels than those sported during office hours. To the surprise of the entire staff, Beardsley, who had heretofore politely regretted a previous engagement, appeared at this dance. Still more amazingly, he was there as the escort of that quiet little Norton girl whom one always turned to when in need of efficient help and forgot afterward . . “cunning little thing, wasn’t she?” everyone was asking. Doris Norton, who had been in their midst unnoticed for nearly three years, suddenly became the centre of attention.

But Beardsley’s attentions were not confined to the office. He was continually taking Doris out, calling on her at home, where he learned the family name for her and took to calling her “Puss” as easily as if he had done it all his life. When Doris demurred—she hadn’t expected him to keep up their game when there was none of the Prometheans to see, she declared—he assured her he was a bear for verisimilitude. “I’m the sort of actor who has to lose himself in his part,” he told her gaily. “Besides, don’t you see how much good keeping early hours with you is doing me? Haven’t you noticed how sore Howard is because I don’t give him any chance to criticize?” Although Marta Rollit, not Doris, was supposed to write the chief clerk’s letters, Marta was always glad to shift as much of her work as possible to anyone who would help her out, and Doris was ever obliging. One morning, a couple of months after the office dance which had marked the beginning of her intimacy with Beardsley Doris, with notebook and pencil, was in Beardsley’s office when the telephone rang. From his answers, she soon realized what was happening. The Limousine Lady—chinchilla furs, orchids, a Marie-Antoinettish, “Why, then, do they not eat cake?” expression, (Doris had seen her once when her long, sleek car purred to the curb to pick up Dick) after casting him off, was now calling him back.

As gracefully as he could, Dick pleaded business as an excuse for not accepting the invitations proffered him. Vainly he tried to cut the conversation short. The Limousine Lady was accustomed to lengthy telephone talks; and, before his new leaf had been turned, Dick had not been averse to spending as much time on the wire as the exigent little lady wished. By and by—he was a gallant lad by nature and persiflage came easily to him—Beardsley seemed to be making fewer efforts to cut the conversation short. Doris began to get a little bored ... a little annoyed. Dick caught her eyes over the telephone and looked regret for keeping her waiting. There was something in his expression, as he shrugged a tiny apology, which irritated Doris. She suspected he was not displeased that Doris should see how insistent was this charming fair. There came a little flash to Doris’ grey eyes; just such a shining glint as one may see in the seemingly sleepy eyes of a puss for an instant before it strikes and leaves a red and stinging scratch behind. She rose from her chair. Beardsley, the receiver pressed to his ear, looked at her interrogatively. His unanswered letters still piled the desk in front of him. “Ring for me when you’re ready,” said Doris succinctly. “I’ve work to do.” There was a dash of amusement in the expression with which Beardsley, still at the telephone, watched her go. Amusement which changed swiftly to another emotion as he saw Doris halted midway by the assistant to the president on his way to his own office. Busy as she was, Doris found time to stand smiling up into Howard’s face as he talked for minute after minute. She was in no haste now to get to that work which had seemed so urgent a little while ago. It was certainly not of Prome-

thean concerns, thought Beardsley, that Howard was talking with that insufferably self-satisfied smile on his smugly handsome face. When, the Limousine Lady having at last said good-by, Dick, instead of ringing for Doris, went himself to tell her he was ready to go on with his correspondence, Howard was still talking to her. Hanging over her desk he was now, while Doris listened. The thick, gold-colored lashes; the grey eyes that could narrow sleepily, then fly suddenly open with a wicked spark that spoke of unsheathed claws; the silky hair that was far too long to cut; the skin so finely textured that she could not rouge it—Howard seemed thoroughly awake to all these charms. The ankles, Beardsley savagely assured himself he was sur-

prised to note, were not on exhibition at the mofiiëht' they were snugly tucked away under Doris’ desk, well out of sight. He hesitated. It was certainly not his place to interrupt any conversation one of the officials might choose to indulge in with a member of the staff. Beardsley thought irritably of the pile of unanswered letters on his desk, virtuously of his own commendable anxiety to get at them. Two girls behind him giggled. Marta Rollit and Lulie Morrison. “Little Norton’s not out for small fry, is she?” “Leave it to these gentle cats!” Beardsley went back to his own desk. Rang the bell smartly for Marta, Marta who was supposed to write all his letters. “Oh,” said Marta aggrievedly. “Did you want me, Mr. Beardsley? I thought Miss Norton was going to take your letters. I’m dreadfully rushed to-day.” “Miss Norton seems very busy herself,” Beardsley declared stiffly. After answering a bare half-dozen letters, Beardsley dismissed Marta. “Ask Miss Norton to come here if she has any time to spare, Miss Rollit,” he said austerely. Doris came immediately. Beardsley paid no attention to the letters on his desk. “Look here, Puss!” his tone was more dictatorial than he realized; “there’s something I want to know. That man you said the other day you were interested in, was it Howard?” Doris looked at him, grey eyes very sleepy, her face inscrutable. “Why?” she asked blandly. I think it’s only fair for you to tell me,” he declared truculently. “Did I say there was any particular man?” “Of course there was. Was it Howard?”’ “I’m not going to tell you.” “You’re in love with Howard!” Beardsley accused.

Doris’ face flamed with a sudden, scorching rose. Behind him, Beardsley heard Howard himself speak. Even in his moment of embarrassed wondering howmuch of the conversation Howard had overheard, he was aware of Doris’ turn in her chair, a change of position which brought silk-clad ankles (“my”—dispas sionately spoken—“only asset!”) promi nently into view. “And she made me believe she needed my help to attract masculine attention!” Beardsley reminded himself bitterly. He smiled coldly at Doris to let her know he had seen through her trick. Howard was speaking. Speaking to Beardsley, but smiling his insufferable smile at Doris: “How about that Mallison risk, Beardsley?” he was saying. “Have you got our policies back yet?” “No,” said Beardsley. Howard frowned. “But, why not? Our president himself spoke about it yesterday; someone at the club had told him they’re slated for bankruptcy inside a week. There’s a rumor there’ve been two attempts to burn the building already!” “I’ve been there twice,” said Beardsley, as soon as the other had done fuming. “They’ve a new accountant; he told me he couldn’t lay his hands on the policies just then. None of the heads were in. I ’phoned Eddie Mallinson and he said he’d look them up himself and mail them to me.” “But he hasn’t, of course.” “Not yet.” “Well, there’s no use waiting till it’s too late. Write the usual cancellation letter. Get us off that risk without another moment’s delay!” Howard went away, forgetting to smile at Doris in his perturbation ; his passion for perfectly safe “risks” was the best beloved joke of the office. If Howard had had his way, none but absolutely fire-proof, A-l moral risks would ever have been found on the Promethean’s books. He never could reconcile himself to the idea that a percentage of losses was to be expected in the fire insurance business. Doris poised her pencil expectantly and waited. “Just a moment,” said Beardsley with frigid politeness. “I want to telephone before I dictate the letter Mr. Howard is so anxious about.” IT WAS the Limousine Lady whose number he called. “Is your invitation still open?” he questioned dulcetly. “I’ve been thinking it over, and all work and no play are making me a decidedly dull boy. Can you forgive my not

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Protective Coloring

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knowing my own mind?” His voice simply dripped honey, thought Doris disdainfully. “Awfully sweet of you, Babs! This afternoon, then. Au ’voir!”

When Doris took in the typed cancellation letter, he was humming a love-song in apparently gay preoccupation. He thanked her with a dignified inclination of the head, and kept on humming. A little later he dashed out to lunch.

He didn’t come in that afternoon at all; the next morning the Promethean clock stared censoriously down, and with ample reason, when he tardily and tiredly reached his desk. His lunch hour was not unduly prolonged that day, but the approach of the tea-hour saw him blithely deserting the office as of old.

Chance arranged it that Doris was spared the smiles of her fellow-workers. The afternoon of the day the Limousine Lady recalled her erstwhile property, the president’s stenographer, Miss James, Was taken suddenly ill. Doris was summoned to replace her; and, for the next two weeks the little office adjoining the president’s afforded her a harbor.

Miss James had been away a fortnight when, one morning, Doris heard the president come puffingly into his office and seat himself at his desk. A moment later he was joined by Howard, always a favorite with the old man.

“Well, well! So you were right, Jimmy!” the president was chuckling. “I see the Mallison Building burned down last night. I haven’t had time to read more than the headlines yet. Bad business, bad business! Thanks to you, Jimmy, we got off in time. Barnes will be kicking himself. I guess they’re pretty well stung.”

The telephone rang while he was speaking.

“Yes, yes,” Doris heard him say. “I was just talking to Howard here about it. Pretty heavy loss, I understand.”

Doris, listening, knew that some of the Promethean’s sister companies had rung up either to condole or to jeer.

She heard the president chuckle. “We got off weeks ago. Jimmy Howard here was too shrewd to let us get caught. Got a nose for fires, that boy, like a terrier for rats!”

Doris heard a little sound from Howard. It seemed anything but one of deprecating pleasure at a compliment.

“What’s that?” the president was saying into the telephone. “We’re listed among the companies on the risk? A mistake. We cancelled three weeks ago. Thanks for your sympathy though; we’ll probably need it some other time.”

Through the doorway, Doris saw Howard frantically pawing at his chief’s arm.

“Mr. Henderson! Just a minute. I’m afraid we need that sympathy now.”

The president hung up the receiver and looked up at Howard’s disturbed face. “What’s that, Jimmy? What say?”

“I—I’m afraid we’re not off the Mallinson risk, Mr. Henderson. I know you decided to cancel. And Beardsley was instructed to get our policies back. Two weeks ago when I spoke to him about it he hadn’t done it yet. I told him to write the customary letter at once; and I went myself to Macbeath to make sure Beardsley got the check for the unearned balance of premium to be returned.” “Well?” Bullet sharp and short came the president’s query.

“I’ve been hunting ever since I came in this morning, and I can’t find any record

that the cancellation letter ever went.”

“You mean because of that—that puppy’s neglecting to obey orders, the Promethean is let in for a fifty-thousand dollar loss; and the Vulcan and the Hephaestus have the laugh on us beside?”

“I’m afraid so, sir.”

The president’s big forefinger fell on his buzzer . . . remained apparently glued to it. The wrath the sound successfully conveyed lifted the boy whose duty it was to respond as if he had been a feather over a hot air register.

“Tell Mr. Beardsley to come here at once,” the president exploded when the boy presented a startled front.

Howard interrupted. “Beardsley’s away just now, sir. He asked for leave of absence to go out of town—best man at a wedding. He’ll be back this afternoon.”

“Best man at a wedding while the Promethean pays the losses for his dam’ carelessness,” barked the president, “and the Hephaestus and the Vulcan jeer at us?”

Doris, in the adjoining office, cat-quiet, had listened throughout the conversation. She started up once, when Howard intimated that Dick had neglected writing. She knew better—but what was the use of writing a letter if it didn’t go! Had Dick ever signed it, that was the point? She knew very well what the answer to that must be since Howard could find no trace of its having been mailed. Such letters were always registered and their receipts pasted into a record book. That was the day the Limousine Lady had telephoned Dick, and he hadn’t come back after lunch. And Doris herself had been transferred to the president’s office that very afternoon.

Quietly she slipped out of her chair without even the squeak a caught mouse might make to give notice of her going.

It was evident the moment she reached Beardsley’s desk that Howard’s search had been thorough. And he hadn’t bothered putting in order again the papers he had disarranged. Doris could imagine that his zeal for the Promethean had not been entirely unleavened by his dislike for Dick Beardsley.

Doris sat down in Beardsley’s chair; a little bell was tinkling in her brain, warning her she ought to know . . . ought to know . . what had become of that

letter. She tried to reconstruct the scene the day she had brought Dick the typed letter. Dick had thanked her coldly, and had laid it down.

Doris’ little fist shot out in response to a sudden recollection. The slide above the tier of drawers on the left hand of the desk had been drawn out that day.

It stuck a little; she pulled harder, pulled it way out. There was the Mallinson letter, just as she had given it to him; backed by its carbon copy; neatly topped by its addressed envelope, into which, had she not that afternoon been transferred to the president’s office, it would have been her duty to tuck the letter after it had been signed.

Dick had thrust the slide back into his desk before hurrying away to the lunch from which he did not return. He had never pulled the slide out far enough since to recover the letter, which had been pushed to the back.

Doris laid the sheet flat on the desk and bent over it industriously. When she sat erect again, it bore a very fair imitation of Beardsley’s dashing signature.

She studied it critically. The ink was far too fresh. She turned on the desk lamp and held the paper dose to it, watching the ink change color against the warm bulb.

The check for the balance of premium which should have been enclosed with the letter, she could not guess what Dick had done with that. But they would think its omission merely further carelessness on her part. She folded the typed sheet into its envelope; sealed it with a cat-like flash of a pink tongue; held the sealed envelope for a moment against the light bulb to dry it thoroughly . . . until it was quite as dry as if it had been sealed up two weeks ago.

Then she drew a sheet of paper to her and addressed it to the Promethean. “I do hate telling lies if it can be helped!” she thought, so she wrote simply: “I am very sorry the enclosed letter was not mailed on the day it was written. I hereby tender my resignation to take effect immediately.” Dick’s initials and her own on the Mallinson letter were sufficient; they would know he had dictated

it and she had written it. Fortunately Miss James was returning next day, so Doris’ defection would cause little trouble.

When she had finished, she called an office boy. “Billy,” she said, “will you bring me my purse from the top drawer of Miss James’ desk? And, Billy, will you wait a little while and then give this letter to Mr. Howard? Take it to him while he’s with the president, Billy-boy.”

A LTHOUGH she left the Promethean -¿Aearly, Doris did not get home that afternoon till the usual time. She lunched leisurely downtown; did some shopping, both of the window and the more tangible sort; took in a movie; and on the whole spent a day of innocent pleasure. Nor, when she reached home, did she present the downcast appearance of a young woman who has just lost a well-paid, agreeable, and not too strenuous job. She was quite the usual light-hearted Puss the family was accustomed to.

But she did not wish to accompany her parents to the church concert they were bound for. Neither did the boys’ invitation to go with them to a show seem to tempt her. A magazine at home, she declared, was her idea of agreeable diversion for that evening.

Fortunately there was no one left at home to inquire why she found it necessary to put on her newest frock in order to enjoy her magazine. It was a knowing little frock of pussy-cat grey, weighted here and there with bands of shimmering fur. When once she had it on, and had a good look at herself in the mirror, one might almost have expected Doris to arch her back and mew. Her ankles—the ankles that were, judicially said, “my only asset”—in grey silk stockings of a sheerer weave than ever Doris’ mother dreamed her daugher possessed, were as graceful as any puss-cat ever owned; but surely no four-footed puss ever pushed her paws into such fetching, spike-heeled, grey suede slippers! And if that satin-smooth skin really wouldn’t stand rouge, as Doris had sighed, then Doris must have been running a temperature. For there was the most becoming flush on either cheek, a flush that made her grey eyes shinybright, and brought, out all the gold in the lashes that fortunately weren’t dark, else they would have looked like upholstery fringe, they were so long and thick!

When the bell rang, and Doris, opening the door, found Dick, she seemed very much surprised.

“Why did you do it, Puss?”

“Well . . partly because I knew

Mr. Howard wouldn’t get half the fun out of blaming me as you.”

“Howard! Look here, Puss! You know perfectly well the reason I’ve been acting as I have was because I thought you’d been making; use of me just to get Howard’s attention.”

“Well?” queried Doris.

“Whoever it was in the beginning, you can’t make me believe you don’t care for me now. To take the blame when you thought my carelessness—did you think I’d let you do it, Puss?”

“Thought your carelessness—do you mean it wasn’t that, Dicky?”

“I didn’t send that letter because I went myself to Eddie Mallinson with the check and waited till he dug up those policies. I did overlook—I was so busy getting even with you and Howard—turning them in and notifying our reinsuring companies; but the policies were locked in my desk, stamped ‘Cancelled’ in red ink, all the time. So you had your trouble for nothing, woman.”

Doris giggled. “I wonder what they thought at the office.”

“They know at the office exactly what happened. I wish you had heard the president chuckle when we got everything straightened out. Howard didn’t feel so much like chuckling, I can tell you.” Doris giggled again.

“Darling—if it was Howard at first, tell me you’ve changed your mind. Tell me it’s me you care for now.”

“I never change my mind. I always know what I want and go right after it,” said Doris serenely, as she went into his arms. Her grey eyes grew long and narrow, closed to sleepy slits of satisfaction, almost she purred. Over her face crept an expression comparable to nothing except that which adorns the cat that has just dined well at the expense of the canary.

“If one isn’t an absolute dumb-bell ...” she murmured.