But if Mrs. Athelstone was a new species to him, the office boy was not. He knew that youth down to the last button on his jacket. He knew, too, that an office boy often whiles away the monotonous hours by piecing together the president’s secrets from the scraps in his waste-basket. So at the noon hour he slipped out after Buttons, caught him as he was disappearing up a near-by alley in a cloud of cigarette smoke, like the disreputable little devil that he was, and succeeded in establishing friendly and even familiar relations with him.
It was not, however, until late in the afternoon, when he was called into the ante-chamber to discover the business of a caller, that he improved the opportunity to ask the youth some leading questions.
“Suppose you open up mornings?” he began carelessly.
“Naw; Mrs. A. does. She bunks here.”
“In a bed. She’s got rooms in de buildin’. That door by Booker T. leads to ’em.”
“Booker T.? Oh, sure! The brunette statue. And that other door—the one to the left. Where does that go?”
“Into Brander’s storeroom. He sells mummies on de side.”
“Does, eh? Curious business!” commented Simpkins. “Seems to rub it into you pretty hard. And stuck on himself! Don’t seem able to spit without ringing his bell for some one to see him do it. Guess you’d have to have four legs to satisfy him, all right.”
“Say, dat duck ain’t on de level,” the grievance for which Simpkins had been probing coming to the surface.
“Holds out on what he collects? Steals?”
“Sure t’ing—de loidies,” and the boy lowered his voice; “he’s dead stuck on Mrs. A.”
“Oh! nonsense,” commented Simpkins, an invitation to continue in his voice. “She’s a married woman.”
“Never min’, I’m tellin’ youse; an dat’s just where de stink comes in. Ain’t I seen ‘im wid my own eyes a-makin’ goo-goos at ‘er. An’ wasn’t there rough house for fair goin’ on in dere last mont’, just before de Doc. made his get-away? He tumbled to somethin’, all right, all right, or why don’t he write her? Say, I don’t expect him back in no hurry. He’s hived up in South Dakote right now, an’ she’s in trainin’ for alimony, or my name’s Dennis Don’tknow.”
“Does look sort of funny,” Simpkins replied, sympathetic, but not too interested. “When was it Doc. left? Last week?”
“Last week, not; more’n a mont’ ago, an’ he ain’t peeped since, for I’ve skinned every mail dat’s come in, an’ not a picture-postal, see?”
“That isn’t very affectionate of Doc., but I wouldn’t mention it to any one else; it might get you into trouble,” was Simpkins’ comment. “You better—Holy, jumping Pharaoh! what a husky pussy!” As he spoke a big black cat, with blinking, tawny eyes, sprang from the floor and curled itself up on the youth’s desk. “Where’d that——”
A snarl interrupted the question; for the temptation to pull the cat’s tail had proved too strong for the boy. Bowed over his desk in a fit of laughter at the result, he did not see the door behind him open, but Simpkins did. And he saw Mrs. Athelstone, her eyes blazing, spring into the room, seize the youth by the collar and shake him roughly.