'"That's what I say. It isn't reasonable, I refuse to believe it.' Just then something seemed to break loose in the back part of the house. Wash-boilers seemed to be falling on the kitchen range, and wild yells made Mrs. Henry turn pale.
'"That's your work, monster!' shrieked Henry.
"' Is it ?' I said. ' My opinion is she's broke into your wine-cellar. It's you to the police.'
"'Go calm her. Come, it's a fine chance to experiment.'
'" So it is—with a cannon. Do you mean to tell me seriously that she thinks I've hypnotized her?'
"Then he got down to business, and assured me that he was telling the truth. This interested me, and I thought I'd chance opening the door—particularly as everything was quiet inside."
His company was very tense now, so vividly had he set the whole scene before them. "I opened the door, and found her standing at the far side of the room, her hair in ropes and her eyes wild. She was 'bughouse' all right. 'Karen,' I said, in my most hypnotic voice,' I lift the spell. You are free. Go back to work.'"
"What happened?" asked Alice, breathless with excitement.
His face was grave and his voice sad. "Not a thing! My Svengali pass didn't work. I was as the idle wind to her. Therefore, I withdrew and 'phoned the police."
"What an extraordinary thing," said Ben.
Mrs. Congdon brightly answered: "It would be for any one else, but I'm so used to that now I don't mind. Whenever the telephone bell rings I expect to hear that Frank is sued for breach of promise, or arrested for burglary, or some little thing like that. If he were only a novelist he'd make our everlasting fortune. But I know why he started this story—he wants to head off my talk with you about the Haneys, and I don't intend to let him do it. Have you taken on Haney's legal business?"
"For good and all?"
"Yes. He's advanced me part of my fee, and I've spent it for desks, rugs, and office rent. I think I may say the offer is accepted."
"I'm sorry," she said, simply.
Her husband objected. "I don't see why. Haney is a man of large means, his mines are paying hugely, and he needs some one to look after the investment side of his income, and to keep tab on the output of the mines, and to be ready to settle any legal points that may come up. Ben's just the boy to do this."
Lee was firm. "That's one side of it. But these young people should not start in wrong. Haney's past is said to be criminal, and Mrs. Haney is called low—"
Congdon hotly interrupted. "Who says so? It's a lie!"
"That's the talk over town. It was all right for Crego to transact their business, for he is an old and well-known lawyer here; but it's different with Ben, who is just starting."
Ben laughed. "Yes, it is different. Crego didn't need the job, and I do."
"How bad do you need it?" she asked.
"Well, it makes it possible for us to marry at once and settle here." He looked at Alice with a renewal of the admiration he had felt for her in the days of their dancing feet. She shrank from his gaze, and Mrs. Congdon perceived it.
"You're not so poor as all that," she stated rather than asked.
"I don't suppose we're likely to need bread of a sort, but I don't feel able to buy or rent and keep house—or I didn't till Haney made this offer."
"How did he come to make it?"
His fair skin flushed at her question, for he couldn't quite bring himself to tell the whole truth. He knew the decision came from Bertha, and at the moment, and for the first time, he saw how it might be misconstrued. He evaded her. "Modesty forbids, but I suppose it must come out. It is all due to my open-faced Waterbury countenance. He thinks I am at once able and honest."
"There you have it, Lee. Haney knows a good thing when he sees it."
Mrs. Congdon, putting the rest of her lecture aside for future use, said: "Well, if it's all settled, then I've no more to say. Probably I'm too fussy about what the town thinks, anyway."
"Precisely my contention, Mrs. Congdon," replied her husband.
She was audaciously frank and truth-seeking, but she could not say to any one but her husband that Little Mrs. Haney, expanding into a dangerously attractive woman, was already in love with Ben Fordyce. "There are limits to advice, after all," she said to Frank, when they were alone.
"I'm glad you recognize the limit in this case," he replied, "but I don't intend to worry. Ben is all right, and the girl has got to have her tragedy sooner or later. If it isn't Ben, it will be somebody else. A wonder it wasn't with me."
"Oh, I don't know." She laughed. "I feel very secure about you."
"Am I such a bad shape?" he asked, with comical inflection.