Geraldine Bonner.

The Black Eagle Mystery

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They all came back on Wednesday night, late, in the small hours. I had a wire from Babbitts – and Gosh, as I sat up waiting for him I thought I'd die right there on my own parlor carpet! For, of course, I supposed she'd tell them what I'd done and he was coming straight home to divorce me.

First off when he came in I was afraid to move, then, when I got a good look at his face, I saw he didn't know. He was so crazy with joy and triumph he didn't notice how I acted – trembly and excited about the things that didn't matter. How did she get there – what made her go – were the questions I was keen to have answered. Did it off her own bat – recognized the voice on the phone – instinct – knew all along something was wrong – and just rushed off without thinking of anything. She was a tip-topper – wonderful girl – seemed almost as if she was clairvoyant, didn't I think so? Yes, I did, but maybe when it was your father you felt that way, and I sank back against the cushions of the davenport, weak in the knees and swallowing down a lump in my throat as big as a new potato.

The next day I had a letter from her that made me sick – gratitude bubbling out of every line – and saying she'd told Jack and how never, as long as either of them lived, would they reveal it to a soul. That made me sicker – the two of them down on their bended knees! I've lied in my life, and though it's come back on me like a bad dream, I've been able to bear it. But having two people like that ready to worship you because you did something that you didn't do would take the spirit out of Theodore Roosevelt.

Then came the great excitement, the case going to the public, and Babbitts' getting his Big Story. It made a worse uproar than the suicide and disappearance, the city was stunned and thrilled and everything else it could be, and not a man, woman or child but was reading theDispatch and asking you if you'd ever heard of such an awful thing and enjoying every word of it. Babbitts' picture was in all the papers – and a raise, well, I guess so!

It would have been the proudest moment of my life, but who can be proud when they're full up with nothing but guilty conscience? Not me, anyway. Even when Babbitts came home Friday night with a set of black lynx furs, carrying them himself and putting them on me, I felt no joy. Can you understand it – having a secret from the one you love best, and not knowing if he knew that secret whether he wouldn't drop you out of his arms like a live coal and you'd see the love dying from his face? Oh, it was awful. I had to turn away from him to the mirror – getting up the right smile for a fur set when a rope of pearls wouldn't have lifted the misery off me.

Sunday Jack asked us to his place for dinner – just us two and Miss Whitehall. All the way downtown Babbitts was wondering why it was only Miss Whitehall – sort of funny he didn't include Mr. George, who was often there, and even the old man, seeing it was to be a dinner of the Harland case outfit.

I had my own ideas on the subject, and they made me limp, sitting small and peaked beside Babbitts, with my hands damp and clammy in my new white gloves.

It was a swell dinner, the finest things to eat I ever had, even there. Miss Whitehall, all in black with her neck bare, and Jack in his dress suit, were such a grand pair I'd have enjoyed the mere sight of them, only for that terrible secret.

It wasn't till the end of dinner – old David gone off into the kitchen – that the thing I'd been waiting for came out. Jack's face told me it was coming – happiness and pride were shining from it like a light. He'd asked us there – his best and truest friends – to tell us before anyone else, that he and Miss Whitehall were going to be married.

They looked across the table at each other – a beautiful beaming look – and Babbitts with his mouth open looked at them, and I looked down at my plate where the ice cream was melting in a pink pool. Then Jack poured champagne into our glasses and raising them high we drank their healths, and then clinked the rims together and laughed, and wished them joy. It ought to have been perfectly lovely and it would have been if that fiendish guilty conscience of mine could only have gone to sleep for a few minutes.

And then came the awful and unexpected. I didn't think he'd dare to do it but he did. Turning to me with his glass in his hand, and his face so kind it made me melt like the ice cream, Jack said:

"And there's going to be another health drunk – Molly's. Molly Babbitts, the best friend that any man and woman ever had, the person who did the biggest thing in the whole Harland case."

He wasn't going to tell – he knew enough for that, he knew that Babbitts wasn't on, but he wanted me to understand. I looked at their faces, Jack's with its grateful message, and Carol's saying the same, and Babbitts' red with pride and joy. Then I couldn't bear it. Feeling queer and weak, I sat dumb, not touching my glass, looking at the plate.

"Why, Mollie," said Babbitts surprised, "aren't you going to answer?"

"No," I said suddenly, "not till I've told something first."

I guess I looked about as cheerful as the skeletons they used to have at feasts in foreign countries. Anyway I saw them all amazed, their eyes fixed staring on me. I stiffened up and set both hands hard on the edge of the table, and looked at Carol. My lips were so shaky I could hardly get out the words:

"You're all wrong – you've made a mistake. I didn't do it for you the way you think – I – I – " I turned to Jack and the tears began to spill out of my eyes, "I did it for him."

"Me?" he exclaimed.

"Yes, you. We swore to be friends once and that's what I am. I saw you were going to tell her. I thought it would ruin you and I knew I couldn't stop you – so – so – as I didn't matter – I did it myself before you could."

He pushed back his chair all stirred and pale. Carol, with a catch of her breath, said my name – just "Molly," nothing more. But Babbitts, who didn't know where he was at, cried out:

"Did what? For Heaven's sake what's it all about?"

Then I told him – the whole thing – out it came with tears and sobs – all to him, every word of it, with not a voice to interrupt, and when it was done, down went my head on the table with my hair in the ice cream.

Well, what do you think happened? Was he mad – did he say, "You're a false, deceitful woman. Begone?" Oh, he didn't – he didn't! He got up and came around the table and Carol and Jack slipped away somewhere and left us alone.

Afterward in the parlor, me a sight with my nose red and the ice cream only half out of my hair, we talked it all out and they – Oh well, they said a lot of things – I can't tell you what – too many and sort of affecting. It made me feel awful uncomfortable, not knowing what to say, but Babbitts adored it, couldn't get enough of it, just sat there nodding like the Chinese image on the mantelpiece, while those two fine people sat and threw bouquets at his wife.

On the way up the street, we didn't say much, walking close together hand tucked in arm. But suddenly, up under one of those big arc lights in Gramercy Park, he stopped short, and looking strange and solemn, gave me a kiss, a good loud smack, and said, sort of husky:

"I love you more this evening, Morningdew, than I ever did since the first day I met you."

Well – that's the end. Jack and Carol are going to be married this spring and go to Firehill. Babbitts and I have a standing invitation down there for every Sunday and all summer if we want. There's a great lawsuit started to prove the claims of Mrs. Whitehall and Carol as Johnston Barker's wife and child. He died without a will, so in the end they'll get most all he left – piles and piles of money. It's in the Whitney office and last time I saw Mr. Whitney he told me Carol would some day be one of the richest women in New York.

It won't spoil her – she's not that kind – a grand, fine woman, true blue every inch of her. I've come to know her well and I'm satisfied she's just the girl I would have chosen for Jack Reddy. Queer, isn't it, the way things come about? Here was I, searching for a wife for him, turning them all down, and he goes and stumbles on the only one in the country I'd think good enough. That's the way it is with life – when it looks most like a muddle it's going straightest. It sure is sort of confusing – but it's a good old world after all.

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