FICTION

Two Make a Team

JOSEPH LISTER RUTLEDGE October 15 1932
FICTION

Two Make a Team

JOSEPH LISTER RUTLEDGE October 15 1932

Two Make a Team

A young wife’s tender solicitude nearly ruined her husband’s career and their own home life

JOSEPH LISTER RUTLEDGE

ALLIE HOLLAND drew herself up to a militant five foot two, and faced her husband with a determined air.

“You really ought to stand up for your rights, Jim.”

This idea had been the culminating point of so many other friendly arguments that Jim Holland greeted it with a smile.

Allie always thought that she knew about things like that. It wasn’t as though she had to stand up for her own rights either. She got them without an effort; probably a little more than her rights. She expected them so confidently, and accepted them with such a natural and appealing graciousness, that they came to her unasked. If people sometimes spoke of her as a selfish little thing, it wasn’t to Jim. If the words had been repeated to him, he would have dismissed them as the outburst of a jealous spirit. Jim was frankly her slave, and bore his bonds with an amused tolerance.

At the moment, however, Allie Holland’s attention was centred on other things. After all, it was only a coat and not so very expensive. Plenty of girls would have bought it without another thought. She had a virtuous feeling that, in consulting Jim, she had made all the sacrifice the occasion called for. But Jim had hesitated.

“I’m sorry, dear, but I don’t think you had better get it just now. Things are a bit uncertain, you know, these days. We’ve been going out a lot too, and, one way and another, it costs more than you’d imagine.”

“But we have to go out,” she said, looking at him with wide, innocent eyes. “How can you get on unless you know a lot of people?”

He had a sudden, almost uncontrollable, impulse to pro-

test that the going out which they did couldn’t conceivably benefit his work with the Cartwright Construction Company; couldn’t, anyway, compensate for the dragged, weary feeling that was always with him. Just today, while he had been fighting for that Hazlett contract, it had come to him suddenly that he was fagged out. Of course he shouldn’t have thought of it, especially then. He should have been listening with that concentrated patience that all the books on salesmanship taught—agreeing where he could, but always alert for some chance suggestion that would enable him to use the other’s argument as the foundation for a new approach. But he had thought of it. That fellow Porter had noticed it, too. He had seemed almost surprised that there

hadn’t been more of a fight. Jim Holland’s brow clouded. The mere fact that he had coupled Allie in his thoughts with this unsuccessful interview made him feel mean and abashed.

“Of course I won’t get it,’’ Allie was saying. “It’s just that it was a dear of a coat, and awfully cheap really, and 1 thought I could wear it to the Frasers. Dill Fraser always has such a lot of things. But I don’t need it, not the littlest bit. I can wear my old blue.”

She came over and perched herself on the arm of his chair.

“I’m not thinking of the old coat, Jim; really I'm not.” Her face wore the serious air that always foreshadowed this argument. "But I won’t have you worried. You ought to tell them that you must have more money. If your old J. J. is as clever as you think he is, he’d know that it’s just a pittance they give you.”

“It’s not such a pittance,” Jim said, trying to sjjeak with a light air, "especially when you know how business is just now. Besides, J. J. Cartwright is president of the Cartwright Construction Company, you know, not just my special guardian angel. I'll have to earn more before I get more.” His face grew sober again. “Now if I'd put across that Hazlett deal—”

But Allie’s mind had reached out for more interesting things.

“Hurry up and dress,” she said, ' that’s a dear. The Frasers are calling for us in half an hour.”

“Allie,” he said, the backwash of those old worries giving a heaviness to his voice. “we can’t keep up with the Frasers. It’s all right for them to spend twenty-five dollars on an evening’s foolishness. They’ve got it; but we haven't. We may as well remember that.”

“Pff !” she said, dismissing the whole matter with a gesture.

That was Allie, Jim reminded himself; not a bit of a serious-minded person.

THE insistent ringing of the alarm clock finally forced its way into his dulled consciousness. He reached for it, smothering its clamor under the pillow, while he sought for the contraption that would silence it so that it might not disturb Allie. The cold shower brought a momentary exhilaration that vanished almost before he had finished dressing. A glance at his watch told him that he was already late. He ate a hurried breakfast, and stole softly up the stairs again to see Allie in the healthy, undisturbed sleep of childhood. She would awake about eleven, he knew, refreshed and hungry and ready for anything the day had to offer.

To Jim, wrestling with a stubborn paper in a crowded

street car, it seemed to offer little. There was that Hazlett contract. Perhaps it wasn't quite hopeless even yet. Porter had turned their offer down. But then, Porter wasn’t the whole works. Suppose he went over Porter’s head, right to Hazlett himself. Yes, that was the thing to do. There was a nice fighting chance yet, if he got there fast, before Porter had time to queer the pitch. His head throbbed, and he was conscious of a feeling of irritation against a weak-eyed gentleman who stared at the news over his left shoulder. This irritation extended to all the jostling crowd.

It was in this mood that he reached his office. It had begun to rain. There was a streak of it down the window pane, and a little pool had gathered on the sill, where the sash had not been tightly closed. He looked at it and shivered a little. For a moment the thought of bearding Hazlett direct returned to him, but he put it aside. He didn't feel up to it; besides, there was a lot of routine stuff that he had to clean up. Just the day for that sort of thing.

At four o’clock his telephone rang, with a request that he see Mr. Cartwright.

Jim walked through the long corridor with an uneasy fear at his heart. He was in for it now, he supposed. At one of the doors he almost cannoned into somebody coming out. It was Doran. There was a rumor that Doran was leaving in a few months. There was a sweet job for somebody. He remembered how, when he liad first come into the business, he had looked on Doran as a sort of superman. That idea had passed, of course. Somebody has to get his berth, he thought. "If I could just get into my swing again ...” Then his mood changed. "A fat chance,” he thought, a little bitterly. "All I’ll get is one of J. J.’s farewell homilies about the way he has helped some of his borys by kicking them out into a cold world.”

As Jim opened the door, Cartwright looked up and nodded. He was sitting in his straight-backed chair—no soft ease for J. J. erect and soldierly and immaculately dressed.

Holland was conscious of an almost imperceptible speck of dust on his own coat sleeve, and it seemed to him that the cool grey eyes had seen it t<x). He brushed at it furtively.

"How are things going, Jim? Not very well. Mr. Nash tells me.”

Jim Holland braced himself for the argument, all the well tried excuses flashing in his mind. He murmured something about conditions, but Cartwright interrupted.

"We can talk about that later. What I called you in for, was to ask if you and Mrs. Holland wouldn’t have dinner with me. Dick’s away,” he growled. "Golf or something important like that." He caught himself suddenly. "Well, anyway, 1 rather hanker for young company.

Don’t believe I’ve ever met your wife, Jim.”

Jim Holland was too surprised to speak.

"Shall we say seventhirty. then?” Cartwright continued, taking his silence for acceptance. "We will expect you.”

As Holland walked back to his own office, his mind was going over that brief interview with a puzzled persistence. 1 le took a glimmer of comfort from it. After all. you didn’t invite a man to dinner to tel' him that his usefulness was over.

Perhaps it had something to do with Doran after all. Now, if he got that place he would show them something. At

least, it would lie a chance to let J. J. know that he was interested in the work and knew something about it.

In the act of telephoning Allie, he hesitated. Allie wouldn’t share his enthusiasm. She held the whole organization. he knew, in a light and scornful disregard. Better go home and tell her.

As he entered the house he heard her voice at the telephone. Its clear notes brought a wave of tenderness.

She heard the door close, and called a gay word of greeting. Then he heard her voice again.

"I have to go now that Jim’s home. Yes, we’ll tie there at eight.”

She came running down the hall to fling her arms about him.

"You’ll have to hurry, dear.” he said. “We’re having dinner at the Cartwrights at half-past seven. We’ll have to take a taxi.”

“But, Jim, we can’t. I’ve just said we would go to the Frasers.”

“Cancel it,” he said shortly.

She looked at him in mingled hurt and surprise.

“I’m sorry. Allie, if you were counting on the other, but J. J. asked us to come, and I couldn’t very well refuse. It’s

like a royal invitation." He smiled at her, trying to efface the memory of the curtness of his command. “When your boss asks you to eat his dinner, you don’t refuse.”

"I don’t like to be royally commanded to go uninteresting places,” she protested petulantly.

A sharp sense of impatience swept over Jim -surely she must see how important it was for him just at this time but he put the feeling aside.

"It won’t tie as bad as you imagine. J. J. can be a mighty entertaining host, and Mrs. Kent— ”

“Who is Mrs. Kent?”

“Oh, she’s a sister or something of old J. J.—he’s a widower, you know —■ looks after his house. She’s a bit colorless but rather nice. I think you’ll like her.”

Allie’s pretty nose turned up scornfully at this mild encouragement.

"I know I like the Frasers.”

Again that flashing sense of resentment came to him, to be as instantly suppressed.

"I’m sorry, dear,” he persisted patiently but with a new firmness. "We can go there some other night.” "If I only had that coat.” she said, accepting the inevitable cheerfully enough. “But, of course, I don’t really need it.”

He laughed with relief, glad that the matter was settled without further argument.

“We’ll have to see what we can do about that coat.”

THE evening, if not riotously exciting, had been a success. Allie magnanimously conceded that, as she sat in the taxi with Jim’s arm discreetly about her.

"Your old J. J..” she said with a sleepy smile,

‘he’s rather nice.”

"He can be, and you

ought to know. You had him most of the evening. I’d have shared Mrs. Kent’s orphans with you. They're her {íet hobby. Glad I’m not an orphan. It seems it’s rather a tricky life.”

“Ile was awfully serious,” she said, following her own thoughts. “At least he seemed serious. But I had a feeling that he was saying things to see what I would answer, and was laughing at me when I gave the wrong ones.”

“What sort of things?”

"Oh. a lot of old stuif, like how a wife could help her husband in business—just as though every one didn’t know that. So I told him how I was helping to pull you out of your shell.”

I le winced a little. “You might have chosen a better line.”

But Allie wasn’t to be disturbed by any mcxid of annoyance. It had been a successful evening, and she had a pleasant sense of having made it so. She wanted Jim to share her triumph.

"I told him that what you were doing wasn’t the sort of thing for you at all, and that I'd said so to you often.”

"You didn’t !”

“But I did. Jim. He asked me. ano I told him.”

Jim Holland laughed shortly.

“And I was trying to suggest to him that I was the fellow to take Doran’s place.”

“If you really want it,” she said cheerfully, “why don’t you go to your old J. J. and ask for it. He’s not so terrible.”

“I've been skating on pretty thin ice lately.” he said.

“Instead of getting a boost, I’m more than likely to get kicked out the front door.”

Allie made no comment. It was evident she thought that this was just another of Jim’s funny ideas.

“I’m just telling you that,” he said, “so that you’ll be careful what you say to J. J. or any one. I’m in a tricky place.”

He felt rather mean about it, but it was a relief to speak of his fears. It wasn’t just the matter of a job. He was off color and everybody knew' it. He'd have a slim chance of getting another. No, he must hang on some way.

In the dark, with the comforting sense of Allie’s presence near at hand, the fear subsided. Every one ran into slumps. J. J. knew' that as well as any one. Anyway, what was the use of pouring it all out on Allie? If the worst came, she would know soon enough.

Drowsily he heard her question: “Do you like Winnipeg, Jim?”

He pulled himself back to consciousness with an effort. “Winnipeg? What about Winnipeg?”

“Your old J. J. asked me that, and I said that I would never go to Winnipeg, no matter w-hat happened, never, never, never! Then he said something rather funny. He said: ‘It’s sometimes a good thing for young married people to be separated for a while—gives them perspective.’ Now what did he mean by that? He’s hard to talk to, in a way. You never just know' what you’re supposed to be talking about. But Winnipeg who wants to go there?” Her voice droned off sleepily, and before he could question her further he heard her even breathing.

IT DID not surprise Holland to be summoned to J. J.’s office the following morning. After Allie’s well-intentioned outburst, he almost expected it. Mr. Nash, J. J.’s

faithful and competent, if unimaginative, second in command was with him when Holland arrived. He nodded without enthusiasm.

“This rather concerns you, Jim,” J. J. said. “We’ve just been talking about the Winnipeg office. Evans has been slipping rather badly of late, and something has to be done. Matter of fact, I’ve decided to send you in his place.”

Even in his own stunned surprise, Jim Holland realized that Mr. Nash was more surprised than he. His thin lips were drawn in a straight line and his eyes were unsmiling.

J. J. did not wait for a reply.

“I think it would be wise to make the change as soon as possible. It will be temporary, of course, and, as I fancy you will not be taking Mrs. Holland along, you should be

able to leave almost any time.” He glanced at Holland. “It will be a matter of two, possibly three, months of fairly pressing work.” So this was to be his chance, a chance born of one of J. J.’s inexplicable decisions. “Yes, I can arrange it.” Jim said slowly. But Allie, when he told her, was in no such docile mood, “Of course, we won’t go,” she announced with decision. “Who ever heard of sending people off like that? It’s monstrous, that's what it is— monstrous.” “You don’t have to go, dear.” he reminded her. “You can just stay here and look after things and have a good time.” “Of course. I’m going.” Allie’s face wore a look of flushed determination. “If you think I’d let you go all alone—” “But, dear.” he urged patiently, “it will only be for a little while, perhaps only a few weeks.” He was trying to convince

himself as well as her. “I don’t know a soul in Winnipeg, and it would be awfully dull for you. I’ll have to work pretty hard. Besides, we would have to give up the apartment and store our furniture or sell it, and live in an uncomfortable little flat somewhere. And then," he reminded her, “you said that you would never, never, never go to Winnipeg. Remember?”

She stamped her foot in a rage.

“The horrid old snake in the grass! That’s what he is, pretending to be friendly and nice, asking me questions and getting me to answer.” Her face flushed a sudden scarlet. “Why, I believe he’s just sending you to Winnipeg so that I’ll have to go, and he’ll be able to laugh at me because I said I wouldn’t.”

Even in his uncertainty, Jim Holland couldn’t help smiling at the thought of J. J. diverting the orderly course of business in order that Allie might be shifted from her lightly

held opinion.”

“Now you are laughing at me,” she challenged.

He was grave at once. “Of course not,” he said. “We

won’t let him laugh at you. You stick to your guns."

In the end he triumphed, if it could be called a triumph when something of a sting remained; a feeling that he hadn’t been quite honest or loyal. It wasn’t that he wanted

to leave her. Decidedly it wasn’t that. Only Allie needed so much attention.

"DUT, for all that, he missed her. At night, in a com-

fortable if unpretentious room not too far from his work, he was swept with a sense of loneliness. He had a feeling.

too, that he should be doing something or going somewhere. That was habit, of course, artd in time it ceased to trouble him.

But Allie’s letters that waited for him nightly on his return from the office could still bring a feeling of loneliness for himself and her. They were so full of the old life, and yet there was a lack in them, as though some radiance had gone. He tried to think that it was only that cold words were powerless to show it; but he knew that it w’as more than that. The savor had gone out of things for her, just as it had come back for him. For it had come back. He realized that now—the savor of work that could be approached with a direct and confident attack.

But Allie wanted him home. Every letter bore that burden and, with it, the evidence of a steadily growing hatred for the firm.

It was idle for him to write that it was his big chance, that it was only for a short time. She had no patience with waiting, and she said so frankly. “I saw your old J. J.,” she wrote “and what do you think he said?” He could tell that she had been angry by the way the pen had spattered its course across the page. “He said that you were doing well, very well, but he thought you would have done a little better. A little better, indeed! I hate him,” she added fiercely, “and I think he knows it. I didn’t try to hide it anyway.”

Jim Holland frowned a little even while he smiled, filling in the details of that interview. Allie never could realize how a word could hurt. A few weeks ago that would have troubled him; now it was only a passing thought, more than half amusing. It showed the whole change in his manner of thought.

His mind returned to Allie. “Poor little kid,” he thought, “she doesn’t seem to be having much fun.” He spent a precious hour searching through the shops for something that would catch her fancy. I íe mailed it that night, with a long letter telling of his work. It was his only way of telling her how happy he was because of something deep down in himself that had blossomed again. l ie worked late that night to make up for lost time.

But Allie was not to be diverted from her main thought by any offering of gifts. It was dear of him to think of her. The letter swung back into what was evidently the main current of her thought. “You are just working yourself to death, I can see that by your letters. They’re not the least bit interesting any more just business, business, business. And when you’ve killed yourself for them, your old J. J. won’t be the littlest bit grateful. You know he won’t.”

He smiled at that. The idea of J. J. being grateful in the superlative degree that Allie expected struck him as amusing. And on tliat thought he went to sleep.

JIM the HOLLAND steps, poised did in not eager see expectancy. the slight form He did standing not see on anything. In the brief case under his arm were rough notes jotted in haste, and his mind, as he walked, was going over them, shaping them, arranging them into a compelling argument. He had snatched a hasty mouthful on his way home, scarcely noticing what he ate. His mind was set on getting to the quiet of his rm with his papers. He would drop Allie her customary line in the morning. He wanted to get at this thing now, while it was hot in him.

It was then that Allie came down the steps and, in the sight of the whole street, threw her arms about his neck.

“Allie!” he said in a startled voice. "Allie, why—what is it?”

“It's me.” she laughed happily. “Me myself. Aren't you glad?”

She did not wait for hi? answer, but fell into step beside him, her feet moving in a little dancing motion of complete happiness.

“I was so tired of being alone, Jim, and then your letters were so dull and businessy that I just couldn't stand it any longer. So 1 came. I didn t tell you because I was afraid you would be wise and practical and tell me that it only meant waiting a little longer; and I couldn t wait. I just couldn’t. I found my way here all by myself. And I don’t know that Winnipeg is so bad after all.” She stopped for breath.

He glanced down at her, with an abstracted smile. He

Continued on page 40

Two Make a Team

Continued from page 9

could not quite escape from those ideas that still clamored for utterance.

She caught the glance and stopped short.

“Jim,” she said, aghast. “I don’t believe you’re glad to see me.”

This time he laughed outright.

“Of course, I’m glad, gladder than I can tell you.” And he was glad. His heart leajx'd with an absurd delight, a desire to take her and hold her close. All the long I loneliness of those past days crowded in to make this the one thing he had hoped and longed for. "Foolish,” he said, a little unsteadily; “of course; I’m glad.”

As he guided her up the dimly lighted i stair he was conscious, for the first time, of the faint aroma of distant cooking. He : threw open the rkxt;r and sUxxi back for her to enter.

“Home,” he said, smiling, happily conscious of Allic’s things already scattered about.

Unmindful of possible prying eyes from other dtxtrs, she threw her aims about his neck again.

“I just couldn’t let your old J. J. keep us apart any longer. So I came, and everything’s all right, isn’t it?”

She crossed the room and began pulling things from her bag. Her voice kept running on in gay little bursts of talk, filling in the incidents of the past weeks.

From where he stcxxl. by the table, one hand resting on his brief case, he watched her with a contented smile, while unconsciously his fingers undid the straps and took out a sheaf of notes. He glanced down at them with an abstracted air. Again arguments began arranging themselves in an orderly sequence. He picked up a pencil, glanced at her and laid it down again, almost guiltily.

Allie did not notice. She was standing before the mirror, that reflected a slightly distorted image.

"I’ve planned the most wonderful evening.” she said. “First, you’re going to take me out to dinner. And then we will go to some theatre. It will be just like old times. It will have to be a good dinner, too. for I’m just starving.”

“Of course,” he agreed, a trifle absently. “Of course, I should have thought of dinner. But don’t you think—after we’ve had dinner, I mean—that we could come back here? I’ve a good deal of work to do. dear, and it’s rather important. You see it’s a rather big thing I have on hand just now. A lot of people are after it. and it means quite a bit to get it planned just right, and there isn’t any time to lose. I planned to do it tonight.”

“But it’s our first night together,” she protested.

“I know. dear. 1 wouldn’t think of it, only it is more important than you imagine. We’ll go out and have dinner, of course, and then don’t you think, if you had an interesting book—”

“Here?” she said in a muffled little voice. “It looks”-the words trembled a little— “so so rather mousey.”

He glanced at her quickly. All the happiness had died out of her face, and the comers of her mouth trembled a little.

“I shouldn't have come,” she said.

A swift sense of compunction swept over him. stifling every other feeling.

“Of course you should have come,” he said heartily. “We’ll let the work go for tonight.”

“You’re quite sure,” she asked eagerly, “that I’m not in the way?” Already the smile of happiness was returning.

“Quite sure,” he said.

IT WAS late that night when they returned.

Allie threw herself into a chair with a little sigh of contented weariness. With her hands locked behind her head, she glanced at him. smiling.

“And tomorrow,” she said, “we will have : to And something different from this frowsy i old place. I’d die here.”

He glanced about him with a puzzled air. It had seemed all right to him—a big room, with wide windows and comfortable chairs, with a bed in one corner, hidden by a screen, and a bathroom adjoining.

“There are the cutest little four-room apartments that would lie just what we want.” she told him. “You wait until you’ve seen them.”

His glance fell on the brief case, still lying on the table.

“I’ve a lot of work to do, Allie; don't forget that.”

“Oh, work !” she jeered. Then her face ! sobered. “Of course,” she said, “and you’ve been a dear to give me tonight. We won’t ¡ say ‘tomorrow’ then, but some day soon.” j

But it was scarcely eleven o'clock the next morning when she called him. Over the phone her voice sounded close to tears.

“I just can’t stand it, Jim. It’s so stuffy and horrid, and I think I'm a little lonely.”

He pushed his work aside impatiently, i but the plaintive voice went on.

“I think if 1 had some place some place a little more cheerful, 1 wouldn’t mind being alone so much. Don’t you think we j could have lunch together, and look for an apartment after?”

After all, it was lonesome in a big city, where you knew no one, especially for Allie who liked people so much.

“Get yourself dressed up,” he said, “and I’ll be there in half an hour.”

But the apartment was more elusive than he had expected. Allie loved shopping, and she shopped for an apartment.

“I’m not going to let these men urge me into taking something that I know won’t suit us when we get it.”

‘‘We’re not living here forever,” he reminded her. “It’s not like our heavenly home. We’ll be moving on again in only a few weeks.”

But Allie was enjoying herself. She poohpoohed that viewpoint.

“Think of the prices they’re asking. When we’re paying that much we certainly ought to have cupboards.”

It was fully ten days before the matter was definitely settled, and while Jim’s opinion did not seem to weigh largely in the matter, it seemed that his presence was essential. That meant more than one day when the office scarcely saw him.

“Well, that’s over,” he thought. “I’ll just have to slug at it and catch up.”

It was a furnished apartment, and Allie was inclined to be mildly critical of the original owners. “Still,” she conceded, “you can’t expect every one to have good taste.” She spent a contented evening, while Jim pushed piano and chairs as directed and the brief case lay accusingly on the table in the diminutive dining room that, they had conceded, would have to be partially his work room.

It didn’t take Allie long to discover the shops, and there were evenings when Jim was called upon to consider and enthuse over bargains that had been secured—gay bits of chintz and such like.

“For,” Allie assured him, “we don’t have to be uncomfortable and dingy just because we’re only here for a short time; and, besides, we can use them in the sun-room when we go home.”

So she sewed on cheerfully, and in the evening steadied the chair, placed on top of a rather uncertain kitchen table, while he hung them in place; and she was supremely happy. Jim would have been happy too but for that accusing brief case that seemed always scowling at him from the table that was to have been his work place.

When it was all completed Allie was so pleased that she needed others to share her pleasure with her. There was Mrs. Mason whom she had met on the train; she had seemed rather nice. In her anxiety to find Mrs. Mason's card, Allie dumped the contents of her purse on the bed. It made a creditable array. A compact, a handkerchief with her initial in the comer, a bill or

two and some silver, a package of hairpins that she had bought and forgotten, several samples of chintz and other samples not so easily placed, two theatre stubs dated a month or so previously —but no card. After a frantic search it was finally discovered in her bureau drawer.

Mrs. Mason came and seemed delighted with everything, and that pleased Allie, who went to visit Mrs. Mason in turn. A night or two later the circle was enlarged to take in Jim for an evening of cards.

He was not greatly impressed by the Masons and said so. But if Allie was happy, what did it matter?

Their circle enlarged with amazing speed, and Allie, who had tasted solitude and found it not at all to her liking, was delighted.

“It’s just like old times,” she laughed happily.

Jim Holland did not smile, though his mind echoed the words. Just like old times in the dragged weariness of his body, in the sense of depression and failure, in the knowledge that things were slipping from him.

BUT it was the failure of the venture he had been planning the night of Allie's arrival that cut him deepest. He had been so very confident of that. It seemed as if he couldn't lose. There wasn’t much consolation in the fact that if he had been a day or so earlier he mightn’t have lost. Well, he had known soon enough. The thought settled down on him in a mood of black depression, that came to a head with the receipt of J. J.’s letter. It was something more than an average letter. It startled him with its ironic hardness, startled him and brought a red flame of anger to his face. J. J. had always been fair but this -Jim went home with something rankling in his heart.

Allie’s hands, stretched out in greeting, dropped to her side at the sight of his moody face.

“What is it?” she asked, her eyes wide with sudden fear for him. “What is it. Jim?”

“Nothing,” he answered shortly. “Another of J. J.’s wet blankets.” And he tossed the letter on the table beside her.

She watched him as he removed his coat and hat in almost sullen silence. She picked up the letter, opened it, and her face took on an angry flush. Then suddenly her voice lilted through the room in clear, untroubled laughter. She caught his arm and drew him toward the blazing fire.

“That funny old man,” she said. “What is there to be mopy about?”

She missed the responsive pressure of his arm, and glanced up.

“I lost out on that big contract I told you about,” he said heavily. “Lost out by a week.”

She looked at him, still smiling. “Everything goes wrong just as soon as I turn up. I must be a lady Jonah.” She waited for his quick denial.

He did not answer or look at her.

“Jim,” she said, a sudden hushed breathlessness in her voice. “It isn’t true. You you don’t mean that it’s true?”

He turned swiftly and saw her face, and caught her to him, laughing almost fiercely.

“No,” he jeered. “It’s just me, and a rotten run of luck.” *

Her eyes were on his flushed face, dark and still and troubled.

“To hell with them,” he said roughly.

She watched him strutting about the room in a grotesque mimicry of J. J.’s soldierly stride, heard his bitter voice keyed to the older man’s slightly hesitant drawl. “Jim,” she said unsteadily. “Jim!”

He quieted at that.

“Sorry, old girl,” he said weakly. “But I’m sick of the whole thing, sick to death of it.” His face darkened again.

She laid a hand on his arm.

“Jim.” she said unsteadily. “You’re sure that it isn’t just me?”

“Sure.” he said. “Surer than sure.” But his eyes did not meet her glance, and long after he had fallen asleep that night she lay awake, crying softly into her pillow without just knowing why.

AFTER that, life seemed to open up for !

Allie. It was all just as she would have planned it in the old days, with Jim con; stantly at her beck and call. But, for all that, she wasn’t quite happy. Jim was different. It wasn’t anything that you could lay your finger on. But Allie, watching him, felt the same half suspicion that had sent her to sleep, with her eyes wet, growing into a fear that clutched at her heart.

Even the excursions that she planned so happily and that Jim agreed to now without demur never seemed so pleasant as she had expected. It was almost as if the day had taken its coloring from his moody face.

“Didn’t you want to come. Jim?”

“Eat, drink and be merry.” he laughed shortly. “Tomorrow He broke off suddenly. “Forget it. kid,” he said with a laugh.

But there was no answering smile from Allie, as there would have been in the old days; no jaunty acceptance of that easy philosophy. Her eyes were troubled.

Sometimes, too, sitting a little outside the group of men who gathered in their little living room, her troubled eyes would seek Jim’s face as though she found something strange in what had been dear and familiar. And, as she listened to the flow of talk disillusioned, embittered, carping, a swift feeling of impatience would sweep over her that Jim should be of that group.

“I'll show you fellows something,” he said suddenly. "Where’s that letter of J. J.'s, Allie?” Then he was reading it, seeming to take a sombre pleasure in its acid phrases. “There, you fellows, how ! would you like a letter like that? Fill you up with pep, eh?”

Before they could answer. Allie had spoken.

"But you did lose out, Jim; you told me so yourself."

He turned on her swiftly.

“You,” he said, “you’re a fine one to throw that in my teeth."

She didn't answer. She sat there with a little frozen smile on her face, while something seemed to clutch at her and drive all the bhxxl from it. So it was true. Jim didn’t mean to hurt her. It was true.

She saw the flush die from his face, lie came over and patted her on the shoulder.

"Sorry, kid,” he said. “I just got mad for a minute. It seemed sort of funny, you taking sides with old J. J.”

She looked up at him and smiled.

"Perhaps he just meant to be kind.”

Somehow, though they laughed at. her, it was pleasant laughter, and even Jim joined in it, and there was a new note in his voice.

When they had left he came over and seated himself on the arm of her chair.

“You’re a queer one, Allie. What made you go off on that slant, set the lads all in a heap?”

“Jim,” she said, “you’ve been different lately. I’m not very clever, but I’ve seen that.”

“It’s head office.” IIis face clouded again. “What chance have you got of keeping up any sort of morale these days, with some one always taking a kick at you?”

“It isn’t that, Jim. It’s me. I see it now. I’ve been stupid and selfish. Oh, yes. 1 have. Perhaps I can’t hope to be very clever or businesslike, but I don’t have to be the other things, do I?” I don’t mean to, truly I don’t.”

“You crazy kid,” he laughed, a little unsteadily. “All you have to do is to stop worrying. We’ll show ’em something. See if we don’t.”

IT WAS quite by chance that she saw J. J.

She had turned away, hoping that he had ! not seen her, when his pleasant, friendly ¡ voice spoke her name.

“I didn’t know you were here,” he said. “I thought that Jim was going to leave you to pine at home.”

“He did.” she said, trying to make her tone sound light and casual. “But I came, of my own accord, two months ago—just two months, almost to the day.”

He glanced at her quickly, as though questioning the emphasis on the word, but his face had a faintly satisfied smile.

“I came to see your husband,” he said, I “but I don’t suppose he would mind if we I had a cup of tea together.”

She sat before him, trembling a little despite herself.

“I’m troubled about Jim.’’ he said suddenly. “I’m not sure that I should speak to you about it—not sure at all.” He looked up and smiled at her. “Jim’s a good man — in a business sense. I mean. Yes, very good. I And then again, he isn’t. That’s the hardest sort of man to deal with. I don’t suppose you know it. but it is. I sent him a letter the other day, and I just came along to see about it.”

She turned to him quickly.

“I read it. It was cruel. I don’t know much about things like that, but that is the way it seemed to me cruel and unjust.” “Quite,” he said gently. “I’m not often cruel or unjust, I think, but sometimes people need a goad.”

“Not Jim,” she said.

“Well, perhaps not Jim.”

“Then, why—” And suddenly she was telling him of Jim’s wild anger. “It was like —like boys fighting and one of them running away, whimpering and crying and all the time screaming out defiance, because he was—he was—”

"Yes,” he said gently.

“Beaten,” she said. “I didn’t see it at first but I do now, and I ’ve been frightened because—because Jim shouldn’t ever be beaten.”

“Yes.” he said again, and paused as if waiting for something.

“You are a very clever man, Mr. Cartwright.” she said in a small voice. She aid not look at him. “I mean, every one says you’ve made a big business—you must be clever.”

“I’m not going to contradict you.” He smiled at her with kindly eyes.

She glanced up with the pale ghost of an answering smile.

“If you are so clever, you must have seen there isn’t anything wrong with Jim. It’s me. If he has failed ever, it’s just me. You must have known that.”

“So.” he said, glancing at her with a faintly quizzical smile. “And what,” he asked, “do you intend to do about it?” His voice was pleasantly conversational, as if comfortably far away from ¡personal interest.

“If I had the power to hurt him—” She stopped, and he looked up. nodding reassuringly. “If I had the power to hurt him.” she began again, “surely I have the power to help him, too. That is true, isn’t it?” she demanded, her voice almost fierce under its tremulousness, her hand on the table shaking a little.

He saw it, and his own hand rested on hers for a moment with a kindly pressure.

“Nothing could possibly he truer, my dear,” he said.

T. J. CARTWRIGHT glanced across the J desk at his second in command with a smile that was almost puckish in its faintly malicious amusement.

"You were talking about a man to take Horan’s place,” he said. “We have to move carefully there. We need a good man. one we can count on. I think we might tty Holland.”

Mr. Nash appeared to ponder the suggestion.

"A good man when things are right,” he agreed without enthusiasm, “but not much good in a pinch. I would say, and pinches have a way of happening every so often. Perhaps you haven’t studied his Winnipeg record. I think it will bear me out.”

“The trouble with you, Nash”—J. J. wagged an admonitory finger in his direction—“is that you’re an individualist. You think that every one works by himself just because you do. Now, I think that most men are a composite of a good many influences. When they are pulling every way. things just naturally go wrong. Get them pulling together and they ought to go right. Anyway, that’s my theory.” He smiled blandly at the other. “But to get back. Yes. I think we might do worse than try young Holland.”

The End