Mirabelle's expression, as she wiped her eyes, was a pot-pourri of sentiments. "Humph! Can't say I like the idea much, kind of too tricky."
Mr. Mix played his last card. "Don't the ends justify the means? You and I'd be philanthropists, and Henry—" He watched her quiver. "And with a fund such as we'd have, we'd begin all over again, and next time we'd win, wouldn't we?"
"Theodore. I've got fifty one hundred in the bank. It has to last 'till August. If you took five thousand more—"
He snatched at the straw. "You bet I'll take it. It's for insurance. And you telephone to Masonic Hall and see what's left of the three grand you wired 'em from—"
"The money you sent from Chicago. Get what's left. Soon as I find out, I'll hustle down town and get busy."
Mirabelle wavered. "The Council's going to—"
Mr. Mix gave her a look which was a throwback to his cave-man ancestry. "To hell with the Council!"
For an instant, her whole being rebelled, and then she saw his eyes. "A-all right," she faltered. "I—I'll telephone!"
Inside of five minutes, she told him that of her loan, there was nothing left at all. The money had been wanted for the two-year rental of a new hall, at 300 Chestnut Street; the owner had made a marked concession in price for advance payment.
"Never mind, then," he rasped. "That's cold turkey. Give me a check for every nickel you've got.... And I'll want the car all day. I want a cup of coffee. And you wait right here until I get word to you what to do next."
"Couldn't I even—"
"You stay here! Far's I know, I'll have you making the rounds of the hock-shops to cash in your jewelry. But—" He relaxed slightly. "But when it's for reform, my dear—when it's for civilization—the League—isn't it worth any sacrifice?"
A spark of the old fire burned in her eyes. "Humph! Good thing one of us has got something to sacrifice, if anybody asked me. But here's your coffee.... Don't make such a horrid noise with it, Theodore."
* * * * *
At noon, he telephoned her two pieces of news. The Council, fairly swamped with hundreds of outraged voters, had promptly modified the existing ordinance, and rejected—unanimously—the Mix amendment. And Mr. Mix, who had spent three hours in conference, and in battle, had emerged victorious.
"Thank Heaven, we're safe!... And it only costs thirty-nine hundred. (Five of this was Mr. Mix's self-granted commission.) I've bought a second option on every last house in town. And I'll need the car all afternoon. I've got to run all over everywhere and close these deals.... What are you going to do?"
"Why," she said with a rueful glance at her check-book. "I guess I'll go down and see how soon I can get that loan back. I'm not used to—putting off tradesmen's bills, Theodore. I wasn't brought up to it."
Now after prolonged debate, and a trial of irresistible force (which was Henry's logic) against an immovable body (which was Anna's loyalty), she had finally consented to run up into the country for a week's respite from the hot weather. Before she left, however, she was first sworn to secrecy, and told of the discovery of the lurking comma, and of the plan for a militant referendum; she was properly convulsed, but a little later, when her practical instincts had had a chance to assert themselves, she inquired of Henry where there was any benefit to the Orpheum.
"Not a bit," he assured her cheerfully.
"Not even in the Council—"
"Dearest, it doesn't make the difference of the billionth part of a counterfeit Russian rouble."
She regarded him curiously. "Are you as cheerful as all that just because you're getting back at Mr. Mix? And maybe spoiling his boom for Mayor?"
Henry said that he was all as cheerful as that; yea, more so. He was merely snagging the rope which had already been paid out; and it was glory in his pocket, because so many people before him had found the rope twitched out of their hands. She thought that this indication of a vengeful spirit was out of place in his character, but she forgave it, because at least it was founded on humour. And when he took her to the train, she forgave it on another score, because she realized that not since last autumn had she seen him so fundamentally boyish and irresponsible. She was glad that so much of his spontaneity had come back to him, but at the same time she was puzzled, for it didn't seem altogether like Henry, as she had analyzed him, to gloat so thoroughly over mere retaliation, humourous or not.
On Monday, he met her at the station, and as soon as she saw him, she remarked again the extraordinary uplift of his mood. She had read the Herald, and taken deep enjoyment from it; but Henry had a hundred unpublished incidents to tell her,—one of them concerned his own escape from possible complications by closing the Orpheum, issuing passes good for the following week; and spending the day in the library of the Citizens Club—and in her amusement, and also in her happiness to be back with him, she didn't notice that Henry was driving her to the Orpheum instead of to their apartment.
"Why, what are we stopping here for, dear?"
Henry's laugh had a pronounced overtone. "To meet Mr. Archer. I thought you'd like to be in on it."
"In on what?" She caught his arm. "Henry! Has something happened? Has it?" She stared at him, and as she recognized what might be hidden behind his expression of exquisite, unreserved joy, she was almost as frightened as if he had looked despairing instead of joyful.
"It wasn't settled until last week," he said, still with that wide, speculative smile, like a baby's. "It really wasn't settled until Saturday. And it won't be positively settled until we've seen Archer.... And there he is waiting for us! I couldn't get him before—he was in the country for the week-end."
* * * * *
With no clear recollection of how she got there, she was sitting in Henry's tiny office, and Mr. Archer was sitting beside her, and Henry was standing at his desk, pawing over a heap of ledgers and cash-books. To Anna, there was something commanding in his attitude, something more of crest than she had ever seen in him, even during the early period of his intrepid youth. And yet she could see, too, that his hands were a trifle unsteady, and that his lips betrayed an immense excitement.
"Mr. Archer," he said. "There's no use waiting until the first of the year. Either we've made good by this time, or we never will. Here's the books. They'll show a net profit, including Saturday's deposit, of ten thousand five hundred."
Anna turned weak and faint, and she wanted to laugh and cry in the same breath, but she gripped the arms of her chair, and clung fast to what was left of her poise. If Henry had a miracle to report, Anna must hear it.
"It's a matter of interpretation," he went on, with his voice shaking for an instant. "And you're the interpreter. It came up so suddenly last week that I couldn't get hold of you. But I took a chance, anyway.... Does a lease count?"
The lawyer looked very sober. "A lease?"
"Yes. If I leased part of the theatre to somebody, would the income from that count?"
During the resultant silence, Anna distinctly heard her own heart beating. She looked at Mr. Archer, and saw that his brows were drawn down, and that his eyes were distant. Fearfully, she hung on his reply.
"That's a delicate question, Henry. You were supposed to make your profit from the operation of the theatre."
Henry was tense. "I don't mean if I leased the theatre. I mean if I leased some part of it—some part that wouldn't interfere with the show."
Anna closed her eyes. Mr. Archer's brows had risen to normal. "Why, in that case, I should certainly say that the income would count, Henry. Let's see the lease?"
Anna wished that Henry would come over to her, and hold her in his arms while Mr. Archer, with maddening deliberation, glanced through the long typewritten document—but Henry had turned his back, and was gazing out of the window.
"Peter McClellan? What's he want so much space for?"
Henry made no response. There was a long hiatus, broken only by the rustling of the pages.
"Just a minute, Henry. Some of this is all right—and some isn't. The space you mention is what you're using now for the—er—nursery, I take it. And the privilege of the lessee to enlarge the upper story at his own expense is all right." His brows had gone down again, and Anna shivered. "But even if you've got your whole rental in advance, you aren't entitled to claim all of it belongs to this year's income. As a matter of fact, you actually earn a twenty-fourth of that whole payment every month for twenty-four months."
Henry spoke over his shoulder. "You haven't read far enough."
"Oh!" Mr. Archer laughed, but his voice was no lighter. "Why, how on earth did you persuade anybody to execute such an agreement as that?"
Henry faced around. "Bob Standish engineered it. Told this chap as long as he paid in advance anyway, to get a bargain, it wouldn't make any difference to him, and it made a lot to me. Nine hundred and fifty a month for July and August and fifty a month for the next twenty-two months."
"But my dear boy, you still don't earn more than a twenty-fourth of the whole rental each month. That's ordinary book-keeping. I should have thought you'd have learned it. It makes no difference when the lessee pays. All you can credit yourself in July and August is—"
"Oh, no, Mr. Archer. There's a consideration. You'll find it on the next page. I'm to keep the theatre closed every afternoon in July and August so the lessee can make his alterations to the second story. And the extra price for those months is to pay me for loss of revenue. So it does count on this year's income. Maybe I'm no impresario, but by gosh, I can keep a set of books."
Mr. Archer nodded briskly. "That is different. Why, Henry, as far as I can see ... what's this? 300 Chestnut Street? But the Orpheum's on Main."
"300 Chestnut is the back entrance," said Henry. He smiled across at Anna, and she stood up and came a perilous step towards him. "Well, old lady," said Henry, and the same wide, foolish smile of utter joy was on his lips. "I guess this fixes it. I—"
He was rudely interrupted by the violent opening of the door. His Aunt Mirabelle stood there, dynamic, and behind her, in a great fluster of dismay and apprehension, stood the chairman of the Quarters Committee of the Reform League.
"Henry! Henry Devereux! You—you swindler!" Her speech was seriously impeded by her wrath. "You—you—you." She flung a savage gesture towards the little man in the background. "You had an agent show him—show Mr. McClellan—this place through the back door!—He didn't know I—Henry Devereux, you've got my three thousand dollars, and you're going to give it straight back to me! This minute! Do you hear?"
Anna stared at her, and at Henry, and sat down plump and cried into her handkerchief, from sheer hysterical reaction.
"Oh, yes," said Henry. "Through the back door, if you say so. But that's the regular business entrance. I suppose the agent thought it looked better, too."
"The agent! That Standish man! You conspired. You—"
Henry's chin went up. "Excuse me, Aunt Mirabelle, but I didn't know the first thing about it until Bob Standish told me he had a client ready to close, and to pay in advance. I didn't even know your man by sight. I'd have rented it to anybody on earth on the same terms."
The little chairman edged forward. "Miss Starkweather—Mrs. Mix—I knew how you feel about motion pictures, of course, but how could I know you wouldn't even want to be in the same building with—"
"Oh, dry up!" She whirled on the lawyer. "Is that fair? Do you call that fair? Do you?"
Mr. Archer put his hand on Henry's shoulder, and nodded benignly. "To tell the truth, Mrs. Mix, I can't see where this concerns you personally at all. It's a straightforward commercial transaction between Henry and Mr. McClellan."
"It isn't, either! Mr. McClellan had authority from the League to get us a hall and sign a lease in his own name. I had the directors give it to him, myself. And it was my money that paid for it! Mine!"
Henry grinned at the lawyer. "I didn't know it until last Saturday. Bob told me if I'd make a dirt-low rent I could get it in advance, and up to Saturday I didn't even know who I was dickering with."
His aunt was menacing. "Henry Devereux, if you try to cheat me out of my rightful property by any such flim-flam as this, I ... I ... I don't know what I'll do!"
"Oh, don't, Aunt Mirabelle," said Henry compassionately. "You know I won't be a hog about it."
Some of the fury went out of her expression, and Mirabelle was on the verge of sniffling. "That's just exactly it. I know you won't. And the humiliation of it to me. When you know perfectly well if I'd—"
She stopped there, with her mouth wide open. They all waited, courteously, for her to speak, but Mirabelle was speechless. She was thinking partly of the past, and partly of the future, but chiefly of the present—the hideous, unnecessary present in which Mr. Mix was motoring serenely about the city, paying out good money to theatre managers. Mirabelle's money, not to be replaced. And then—she nearly collapsed!—the unspeakable humiliation of retracting her pledge to the national convention. Her pledge through Mr. Mix of twenty-five thousand dollars. How could she ever offer an excuse that would hold water? And how could she tell the truth? And to think of Mr. Mix's place in the community when it was shown—as inevitably it would be shown—that he had acted merely as a toy balloon, inflated by Mirabelle's vain expectations.
"Humph!" she said at length, and her voice was a hoarse, thin whisper. "Well—you just wait—'till I get hold of him!"
* * * * *
The door had closed behind her: the door had been closed behind Mr. Archer, whose kindly congratulations had been the more affecting because he had learned to love and respect the boy who had won them: Henry and his wife stood gazing into each other's eyes. He took a step forward and held out his arms, and she ran to him, and held tightly to him, and sobbed a little for a postscript.
He stroked her hair, gently. "Well—Archer says it's going to be about seven hundred thousand. And I deserve about thirty cents. And you're responsible for all the rest of it.... What do you want first? Those golden pheasants, or humming-birds' wings?"
She lifted her face. "Both—b-because I won't have to cook 'em. Oh, my dear, my dear, I've l-loved it, I've loved it, I've loved working and saving and being poor with you and everything—b-but look at my h-hands, Henry, and don't laugh at me—but I'm going to have a cook! I'm going to have a cook! I'm going to have a cook!"
He kissed her hands.
"It's all over, isn't it? All over, and we're doing the shouting. No more wild men of Borneo, no more dishes to wash, no more Orpheum. Remember what Aunt Mirabelle said a year ago? She was dead right. Look! See the writing on the wall, baby?"
He swung her towards the door! she brushed away her tears, and beheld the writing. It was in large red letters, and what it said was very brief and very appropriate. It said: EXIT.
In the living-room of an unfashionable house on an unfashionable street, Mrs. Theodore Mix sat in stately importance at her desk, composing a vitriolic message to the unsympathetic world. As her husband entered, she glanced up at him with chronic disapproval; she was on the point of giving voice to it, not for any specific reason but on general principles, but Mr. Mix had learned something from experience, so his get-away was almost simultaneous with his entrance.
"Mail!" said Mr. Mix, and on the wing, he dropped it on his wife's desk, and went on out of the room.
The mail consisted of one letter; it contained the check which Henry sent her regularly, on the first of each month.
She sat back for a moment, and stared out at the unfashionable street. Mr. Mix was always urging her to live in a better neighbourhood, but with only her own two hundred and fifty a month, and four hundred more from Henry, she could hardly afford it,—certainly not while she gave so generously to the Reform League.
She thought of the big brick house on the hill and sighed profoundly. She would have made it a national shrine, and Henry—Henry was even worse than his uncle. He kept it full of people who were satisfied to squander the precious stuff of life by enjoying themselves. It made her sick, simply to think of Henry. People said he and Bob Standish were the two cleverest men that ever lived in town. Doubled the Starkweather business in two years. Directors of banks. Directors of the Associated Charities and trustees of the City Hospital. Humph! As if she didn't know Henry's capabilities. Just flippancy and monkey-tricks. And married to a girl who was a walking advertisement of exactly what every right-minded woman should revolt against. That girl to be the mother of children! Oh Lord, oh Lord, if Anna were a modern specimen, what would the next generation be?
She sighed again, and went back to the lecture she was composing. "The Influence of Dress on Modern Society." Suddenly, she cocked her head and sniffed. She rose cautiously, as one who is about to trail suspicion. She went to the side-window, and peered out. From a little grape-arbor on the lawn, there floated to her the unmistakable odour of tobacco—yes, and she could see a curling wisp of smoke.
A pause. "Yes, dear." Mr. Mix's voice had taken on, some months ago, a permanent quality of langour; and never, since the day that he was laughed out of politics, had he regained his former dignity and impressiveness.
"Is that you—smoking again?"
"Are you? Answer me."
"Come in here this minute."
Mr. Mix emerged from the arbor. "Yes, dear?"
She brandished her forefinger at him. "I told you what would happen next time I caught you. Not one single cent do you get out of me for many a long day, young man.... Come in here; I want you to listen to what I've written."
Mr. Mix's shoulders sagged, but he didn't stop to argue. "Yes, dear," he said, pacifically. "I'm coming."