Timon Up To Date

by Charles Weathers Bump

The Doctor and his wife waited until their half dozen guests had finished the tasty supper Mrs. Harford had provided before they sprung upon them the purpose which had moved them to invite them. The entire party was made up of West Arlingtonites, neighbors from across the way, from down the block and from up near Carter Station. They had chatted gaily over neighborhood gossip in the dining-room, intermingled with nonsense of the sort that passes between people who have been a great deal in the same set. And now that they were seated on the front porch, two in a hammock and the others in comfortable rockers, the badinage continued as Dr. Harford passed cigars to the men and pretended to give them to the ladies, too.

"They don't seem to have taken offense at our not asking them," whispered Mrs. Caswell to plump little Mrs. Fremont.

"No, not a bit," responded Mrs. Fremont, in the same low tone. "All the same, I feel like a hypocrite for coming."

"Nonsense," said Mrs. Caswell; "you're too soft."

She might have added more, but Dr. Harford, who had been lounging against a post since he had handed around the cigars, was evidently trying to attract the attention of the entire group.

"I am reminded tonight," he began, slowly, "by this little affair of a larger party here last summer, when we entertained the card club."

In the stillness that ensued the song of the crickets in the fields beyond the town sounded most strangely plain.

"Mrs. Harford and I," pursued the Doctor, his voice growing more incisive, his manner more stern, "both enjoyed ourselves in that club, and we are most curious to know why we were not included this year."

The pair in the hammock stopped swinging so suddenly that their feet scraped the floor vigorously. Mrs. Fremont cleared her throat with evident nervousness. The others were still dumb—that is, all except Mr. Caswell.

"Why, old man," he burst out, "I was told you did not want to"——

"Joseph!" interrupted Mrs. Caswell, turning herself so that her husband could see her more plainly in the white light from the arc lamp at the corner. There was the menace of a curtain lecture in her face.

"We did want to join, Caswell," exclaimed Dr. Harford, quickly. "The plain fact is that we were not asked."

"There must be some mistake," said Mr. Caswell. "I'm sure I, for one, have been sorry"——

"Joseph!" again exclaimed Mrs. Caswell. This time she was unmistakably severe. Caswell subsided.

Dr. Harford addressed himself directly to Mrs. Caswell. "I intend to get to the bottom of this affair tonight," he said. "I have asked questions of several of you, and so has Effie, and the excuses given have been so various that they would be funny if I did not feel they are doing injury to me professionally, as well as socially. My purpose in having you all together here"——

A Garrison-avenue car crowded with Electric Park visitors rumbled noisily by and drowned some of the words of his sentence.

"I want it sifted thoroughly now."

Little Mrs. Fremont half rose from her chair, as she said weakly to her husband: "I don't feel well. I think I'd better be going."

"Pardon me, Mrs. Fremont," said Dr. Harford, "I beg of you that you will remain."

"Stick it out, Emily," remarked Mr. Fremont. "Harford has got us here to learn the truth." Nothing ever seemed to worry Fremont.

"Now, Mrs. Caswell," continued Dr. Harford, still addressing that lady directly and drawing nearer to her by a foot or two, "I will begin with you. Last week when you were in my office I asked you to tell me just what stories were being circulated about me in West Arlington, and after some demur you told me. Do you mind repeating them?"

Mrs. Caswell was scornful. "I have nothing to say," she exclaimed. "I think it better to hush the whole affair."

"Then, my dear madam, I am forced to repeat to my guests what you told me. You said, you will recollect, that one resident had accused me of having cheated at cards, and that another party had called me a 'tooth butcher,' and had declared I could not fix the teeth of her little dog. Was not that it?"

It was Mrs. Caswell's turn to rise. "This is a contemptible outrage," she cried. "I demand that it stop."

"No more contemptible than the injury you have done us," spiritedly said Mrs. Harford, speaking for the first time.

"Have I not quoted you right?" asked Dr. Harford of Mrs. Caswell.

"I shall say nothing," returned she. "You have cooked up a vile plot to trap us here."

"Then, my dear Mrs. Caswell, if you will affirm nothing, I have a way to make you speak." He stepped inside his hallway for an instant, while the others, all except his wife, watched him with great curiosity and some alarm. When he reappeared he was carrying a table on which was some large, heavy article hidden under a tablecloth. "There's a little surprise coming to you and the rest," he resumed. "You did not know, madame, that when I was pressing you with questions as you sat in my dental chair a phonograph was making a record of your answers." He whipped off the cover of the talking machine and busied himself with preparing it for action.

Consternation was writ large upon the countenances of those who could be seen in the stray beams of light that countered through the porch. But Mrs. Caswell's was the only voice heard. Again she protested against having been trapped.

"Silence," said Dr. Harford, and he started the machine to whirring. Everybody bent forward so as to miss nothing. But there was no need, for the familiar tones of Mrs. Caswell had been well recorded by the Edison invention and floated out in full and plain confirmation of the charges Dr. Harford had so carefully repeated.

Fremont's "Thunderation!" was the only audible one of several exclamations that were murmured as the quoted phrases died away. Dr. Harford raised a warning finger.

"Wait," he said; "there's more."

And as the machine kept revolving they heard his own voice say:

"And who was it, Mrs. Caswell, who told you that I had cheated at cards?"

There came a sharp interruption.

"Stop!" cried Mrs. Caswell, as in sheer desperation she bounced from her chair and made a vicious dive toward the tell-tale recording angel, only to be blocked by the watchful Dr. Harford. "Let go of me," she cried, as she shook off his restraining hand in furious anger. "I insist that you stop this outrage. Joseph, how can you stand idly by and see me so grossly insulted?"

There was no answer to the summons from Caswell. His wife evidently expected none, for she continued right along in wrathful denunciations of Harford, threatening law suits and other means of dire vengeance. "I declare she frightens me," whispered timid Mrs. Fremont, as she drew her chair closer to that of her husband.

The phonograph was pursuing the even tenor of its paraffine way. Those who could hearken to it above the irate tones of Mrs. Caswell heard her refuse several times to name her informant; heard the Doctor's earnest pleading for no concealment, and finally heard her say:

"Well, if you really must know, Doctor, who it was who said you cheated at cards, it was Mrs. Fremont."

Dr. Harford quickly shut off the record and turned to face the others. Mrs. Fremont had risen from her chair and leveled her finger at Mrs. Caswell. She was timid no longer.

"How dared you tell such a lie about me, Irene Caswell?" she gasped.

"You know you said it, Mary Fremont."

"I did not. She is telling what is not true, Dr. Harford. She came to me when we were re-forming the club and said she would not join this year if you were to be a member. She uttered a lot of things against you, and finally she said she was sure you would not hesitate to cheat at cards, and she only wished she could catch you once. And then I reminded her—perhaps I was wrong to do it—of the time when I was your partner and you sprouted an extra point and presently we got into a dispute about the score."

"You mean the night at Mrs. Parkin's?"

"Yes; don't you remember you were the first one to call attention to it and wanted to take off the point, but after some time it was shown that we had the right number? That's honestly all I said to her about you and the cards."

"I believe you, Mrs. Fremont."

From the chair into which Mrs. Caswell had subsided there came a snort. "Go ahead," she sneered. "Play out your little comedy. You're all in it together. Nobody will believe me."

"We take you at your word, Mrs. Caswell," rejoined Dr. Harford. "There is more of the truth to be got at."

Again the phonograph was in motion, and the listeners heard these questions and answers:

"And who was it, Mrs. Caswell, who told you I was a 'tooth butcher' and could not fix the teeth of her little dog?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, Doctor, it was Mrs. Parkin who said her husband had called you a 'tooth butcher,' and it was Mrs. Somerset who said you could not fix the teeth of her little dog."

Both the Parkins rose from their place in the hammock. The husband was so angry that he moved toward Mrs. Caswell with upraised hand until he recollected himself and halted with a muttered exclamation. The wife, a tall, graceful blonde, who had made herself well liked since they had moved out to West Arlington, chose to ignore the woman who had involved her, and so addressed herself directly to the host.

"My husband and I," she began, coolly and cuttingly, "are very much indebted to you, Dr. Harford, for so cleverly unmasking the traitor in our midst. This woman has called it a miserable trap, and I want to say that I feel that only by such a contrived plot has it been possible to uncover the truth and lay the trouble at the door of the right scandal-monger.

"Of course, it is unnecessary to say to you," and she pulled herself up to her full queenly height and spoke with most dignified impressiveness, "that my husband did not call you a 'tooth butcher' and that I did not tell her he had said so. What he did say was merely to repeat jokingly that old jest about a dentist being a 'tooth carpenter.' I forget the way he put it, but it sounded funny to me at the time, and when I was out with Mrs. Caswell in her auto that very afternoon I told her. She laughed, but Mrs. Somerset, who was with us, thought the expression horrid, and said if she were to think of you as a 'tooth carpenter' and not as a good, careful dentist, she would not let you attend her dog. Thus, you see, Doctor, how two harmless little expressions have been perverted into nasty gossip against you.

"I cannot tell you of the things that she alleged against you that afternoon or at other times. I did not give heed to them, and I have too much respect for you to repeat them here just now. I am only sorry that we yielded to Mrs. Caswell's insistent urging that we exclude you from the card club this summer. I am sure it was only done because we felt there had been ill feeling between you and her and because she had been the one to start the club and lead it each year."

"And I want to add, Harford," said Parkin, heartily, "that you will either be in the club henceforth or there will be no club. Am I not right?" he queried, turning to the Fremonts.

The prompt assent from both must have settled Mrs. Caswell's last hope of appeal from a unanimous verdict. She rose and made a sign to her husband. Her blazing anger had given way to a chilly hauteur that showed that, although beaten, she had not hauled down the flag. "I hope your little farce has quite ended," she remarked to Dr. Harford, with exaggerated dignity.

"Quite," he replied, with sweet acquiescence.

"Then I suppose I will be allowed to go?"

"As soon as convenient."

"I leave you," she pursued, "in the hands of your friends. Oh! if you only knew the things they have said about you! And now they honey you!"

"I am willing to trust them," he said, equably.

For the life of her, Mrs. Caswell could think of no other biting thing to say, so she took her departure.

"Come, Joseph," she ordered, as she passed down the steps to the hedge-bordered walk.

Caswell stopped for an instant to hold out his hand to the dentist.

"Sorry, immensely sorry, old chap. Awful mess she's made. If there's any way I can"——

"Joseph!" reiterated Mrs. Caswell from the gateway.

And Joseph obeyed.

"Have a fresh cigar, Parkin. And you, Fremont," said Dr. Harford, as the six left behind settled back in their chairs and hammock for a good half-hour review of Mrs. Caswell and her mischief-making.

"By George! this was an original plan of yours, Harford," exclaimed Fremont.

"Indeed it was," murmured little Mrs. Fremont.

"It was not my idea at all. I got it from Shakespeare. Do you not recall a scene in 'Timon of Athens' where Timon invites his false friends to a banquet to show them up?"

"Well, you worked it neatly, anyhow," said Parkin, who had never read Shakespeare in his life.

"I had one great advantage over 'old Bill,'" continued Dr. Harford.

"In what way?" asked Mrs. Parkin, smiling at him.

"I had the phonograph."