After dinner, as he was about to light the log fire, from force of habit, Mrs. Blackwell snatched the burning match from him just as he was setting it to the kindling. They grinned at each other wistfully, for the ruddy evening blaze was their chief delight. Mr. Blackwell manfully took off his coat and waistcoat and sat in his shirtsleeves until Belinda had gone to bed. Then he grew reckless and lit a roaring fire, by which they huddled in glee. He rebuilt the fire before retiring, so that Belinda might suspect nothing in the morning.
The next evening Mr. Blackwell appeared at dinner in a Palm Beach suit. Mrs. Blackwell countered by ordering iced tea. They both sneezed vigorously during the meal. “It was so warm in town to-day, I think I caught a cold,” said Mr. Blackwell.
Later Mrs. Blackwell found Belinda examining the thermometer with a puzzled air. That night they took it down and hid it in the attic. But the great stroke of the day was revealed when Mrs. Blackwell explained that Mr. and Mrs. Chester, next door, had promised to carry on a similar psychological campaign. Belinda and Mrs. Chester’s cook, Tulip–jocularly known as the Black Tulip–were friends, and would undoubtedly compare notes. Mrs. Chester had agreed not to start her furnace without consultation with Mrs. Blackwell.
October yielded to November. By good fortune the weather remained sunny, but the nights were crisp. Belinda was given an oil-stove for her attic bedroom. Mrs. Blackwell heard no more complaints of the cold, but sometimes she and her husband could hear uneasy creakings upstairs late at night. “I wonder if Barbados really is so warm?” she asked Bob. “I’m sure it can’t be warmer than Belinda’s room. She never opens the windows, and the oil-stove has to be filled every morning.”
“Perhaps some day we can get an Eskimo maid,” suggested Mr. Blackwell drowsily. He wore his Palm Beach suit every night for dinner, but underneath it he was panoplied in heavy flannels.
* * * * *
Through Mr. Chester the rumour of the Blackwells’ experiment in psychology spread far among suburban husbands. On the morning train less fortunate commuters, who had already started their fires, referred to him as “the little brother of the iceberg.” Mr. and Mrs. Chester came to dinner on the 16th of November. Both the men loudly clamoured for permission to remove their coats, and sat with blanched and chattering jaws. Mr. Blackwell made a feeble pretence at mopping his brow, but when the dessert proved to be ice-cream his nerve forsook him. “N-no, Belinda,” he said. “It’s too warm for ice-cream to-night. I don’t w–want to get chilled. Bring me some hot coffee.” As she brought his cup he noticed that her honest brown brow was beaded with perspiration. “By George,” he thought, “this mental suggestion business certainly works.” Late that evening he lit the log fire and revelled by the blaze in an ulster.
The next evening when Mr. Blackwell came home from business he met the doctor in the hall.
“Hello, doc,” he said, “what’s up?”
“Mrs. Blackwell called me in to see your maid,” said the doctor. “It’s the queerest thing I’ve met in twenty years’ practice. Here it is the 17th of November, and cold enough for snow. That girl has all the symptoms of sunstroke and prickly heat.”