A "GOOD FELLOW'S" WIFE
LIFE in the small towns of the older West moves slowly--almost as slowly as in the seaport villages or little towns of the East. Towns like Tyre and Bluff Siding have grown during the last twenty years, but very slowly, by almost imperceptible degrees. Lying too far away from the Mississippi to be affected by the lumber interest, they are merely trading points for the farmers, with no perceivable germs of boom in their quiet life.
A stranger coming into Belfast, Minnesota, excites much the same lanquid but persistent inquiry as in Belfast, New Hampshire. Juries of men, seated on salt barrels and nall kegs, discuss the stranger's appearance and his probable action, just as in Kittery, Maine, but with a lazier speech tune and with a shade less of apparent interest.
On such a rainy day as comes in May after the corn is planted--a cold, wet rainy day--the usual crowd was gathered in Wilson's grocery store at Bluff Siding, a small town in the "coulee country." They were farmers, for the most part, retired from active service. Their coats were of cheap diagonal or cassimere, much faded and burned by the sun; their hats, flapped about by winds and soaked with countless rains, were also of the same yellow-brown tints. One or two wore paper collars on their hickory shirts.
Mcllvaine, farmer and wheat buyer, wore a paper collar and a butterfly necktie, as befitted a man of his station in life. He was a short, squarely made Scotchman, with sandy whiskers much grayed and with a keen, intensely blue eye.
"Say," called McPhail, ex-sheriff of the county, in the silence that followed some remark about the rain, "any o' you fellers had any talk with this feller Sanford?"
"I hain't," said Vance. "You, Bill?"
"No; but somebody was sayin' he thought o' startin' in trade here."
"Don't Sam know? He generally knows what's goin' on.',
"Knows he registered from Pittsfield, Mass., an' that's all. Say, that's a mighty smart-lookin' woman o' his."
"Vance always sees how the women look, Where'd you see her?"
"Came in here the other day to look up prices."
"Wha'd she say 'bout settlin'?"
"Hadn't decided yet."
"He's too slick to have much business in him. That waxed mustache gives 'im away."
The discussion having reached that point where his word would have most effect, Steve Gilbert said, while opening the hearth to rap out the ashes of his pipe, "Sam's wife heerd that he was kind o' thinkin' some of goin' into business here, if things suited 'im first-rate."
They all knew the old man was aching to tell something, but they didn't purpose to gratify him by any questions. The rain dripped from the awning in front and fell upon the roof of the storeroom at the back with a soft and steady roar.
"Good f'r the corn," MePhail said after a long pause.
"Purty cold, though."
Gilbert was tranquil--he had a shot in reserve. "Sam's wife said his wife said he was thinkin' some of goin' into a bank here--"
"What in thunder--"
Vance turned, with a comical look on his long, placid face, one hand stroking his beard.
"Well, now, gents, I'll tell you what's the matter with this town. It needs a bank. Yes, sir! I need a bank."
"Yes, me. I didn't know just what did ail me, but I do how. It's the need of a bank that keeps me down."
"Well, you fellers can talk an' laugh, but I tell yeb they's a boom goin' to strike this town. It's got to come.. W'y, just look at Lumberville!"
"Their boom is our bust," was McPhail's comment.
"I don't think so," said Sanford, who had entered in time to hear these last two speeches. They all looked at him with deep interest. He was a smallish man. He wore a derby hat and a neat suit. "I've looked things over pretty close--a man don't like to invest his capital" (here the rest looked at one another) "till he does; and I believe there's an opening for a bank."
As he dwelt upon the scheme from day to day, the citizens, warmed to him, and he became "Jim" Sanford. He hired a little cottage and went to housekeeping at once; but the entire summer went by before he made his decision to settle. In fact, it was in the last week of August that the little paper announced it in the usual style:
Mr. James G. Sanford, popularly known as "Jim," has decided to open an' exchange bank for the convenienee of our citizens, who have hitherto been forced to transact business in Lumberville. The thanks of the town are due Mr. Sanford, who comes well recommended from Massachusetts and from Milwaukee, and, better still, with a bag of ducats. Mr. S. will be well patronized. Success, Jim!
The bank was open by the time the corn crop and the hogs were being marketed, and money was received on deposit while the carpenters were still at work on the building. Everybody knew now that he was as solid as oak.
He had taken into the bank, as bookkeeper, Lincoln Bingham, one of McPhail's multitudinous nephews; and this was a capital move. Everybody knew Link, and knew he was a McPhail, which meant that he "could be tied to in all kinds o' weather." Of course the McPhails, McIlvaines, and the rest of the Scotch contingency " banked on Link." As old Andrew McPhail put it:
"Link's there, an' he knows the bank an' books, an' just how things stand"; and so when he sold his hogs he put the whole sum--over fifteen hundred dollars--into the bank. The McIlvaines and the Binghams did the same, and the bank was at once firmly established among the farmers.
Only two people held out against Sanford, old Freeme Cole and Mrs. Bingham, Lincoln's mother; but they didn't count, for Freeme hadn't a cent, and Mrs. Bingham was too unreasoning in her opposition. She could only say:
"I don't like him, that's all. I knowed a man back in New York that curled his mustaches just that way, an' he wa'n't no earthiy good."
It might have been said by a cynic that Banker Sanford had all the virtues of a defaulting bank cashier. He had no bad habits beyond smoking. He was genial, companionable, and especially ready to help when sickness came. When old Freeme Cole got down with delirium tremens that winter, Sanford was one of the most heroic of nurses, and the service was so clearly disinterested and maguanimous that everyone spoke of it.
His wife and he were included in every dance or picnic; for Mrs. Sanford was as great a favorite as the banker himself, she was so sincere, and her gray eyes were so charmingly frank, and then she said "such funny things."
"I wish I had something to do besides housework. It's a kind of a putterin' job, best ye can do," she'd say merrily, just to see the others stare. "There's too much moppin' an' dustin'. Seems 's if a woman used up half her life on things that don't amount to anything, don't it?"
"I tell yeh that feller's a scallywag. I know it buh the way 'e walks 'long the sidewalk," Mrs. Bingham insisted to her son, who wished her to put her savings into the bank.
The youngest of a large family, Link had been accustomed all his life to Mrs. Biugham's many whimsicalities.
"I s'pose you can smell he's a thief, just as you can tell when it's goin' to rain, or the butter's comin', by the smell."
"Well, you needn't laugh, Lincoln. I can," maintained the old lady stoutly. "An' I ain't goin' to put a red cent o my money into his pocket--f'r there's where it 'ud go to."
She yielded at last, and received a little bankbook in return for her money. "Jest about all I'll ever get," she said privately; and thereafter out of her' brass-bowed spectacles with an eagle's gaze she watched the banker go by. But the banker, seeing the dear old soul at the window looking out at him, always smiled and bowed, unaware of her suspicion.
At the end of the year he bought the lot next to his rented house and began building one of his own, a modest little affair, shaped like a pork pie with a cupola, or a Tam o'Shanter cap--a style of architecture which became fashionable at once.
He worked heroically to get the location of the plow factory at Bluff Siding, and all but succeeded; but Tyre, once their ally, turned against them, and refused to consider the fact of the Siding's position at the center of the county. However, for some reason or other, the town woke up to something of a boom during the next two years. Several large farmers decided to retire and live off the sweat of some other fellow's brow, and so built some houses of the pork-pie order and moved into town.
This inflow of moneyed men from the country resulted in the establishment of a "seminary of learning" on the hillside, where the Soldiers' Home was to be located. This called in more farmers from the country, and a new hotel was built, a sash-and-door factory followed, and Burt McPhail set up a feed mill.
An this improvement unquestionably dated, from the opening of the bank, and the most unreasonmg partisans of the banker held him to be the chief cause of the resulting development of the town, though he himself modestly disclaimed any hand in the affair.
Had Bluff Siding been a city, the highest civic honors would have been open to Banker Sanford; indeed, his name was repeatedly mentioned in connection with the county offices.
"No, gentlemen," he explained firmly, but courteously, in Wilson's store one night; "I'm a banker, not a politician. I can't ride two horses."
In the second year of the bank's history he went up to the north part of the state on business, visiting West Superior, Duluth, Ashland, and other booming towns, and came back full of the wonders of what he saw.
"There's big money up there, Nell," he said to his wife.
But she had the woman's tendency to hold fast to what she had, and would not listen to any plans about moving.
"Build up your business here, Jim, and don't worry about what good chances there are somewhere else."
He said no more about it, but he took great interest in all the news the "boys" brought back from their annual deer hunts "up North." They were all enthusiastic over West Superior and Duluth, and their wonderful development was the never-ending theme of discussion in Wilson's store.
The first two years of the bank's history were solidly successful, and "Jim" and "Nellie" were the head and front of all good works and the provoking cause of most of the fun. No one seemed more carefree.
"We consider ourselves just as young as anybody," Mrs. Sanford would say, when joked about going out with the young people so much; but sometirnes at home, after the children were asleep, she sighed a little.
"Jim, I wish you was in some kind of a business so I could help. I don't have enough to do. I s'pose I could mop an' dust, an' dust an' mop; but it seems sinful to Waste time that way. Can't I do anything, Jim?"
"Why, no. If you 'tend to the children and keep house, that's all anybody asks of you."
She was silent, but not convinced. She had a desire to do something outside the walls of her house--a desire transmitted to her from her father, for a woman inherits these things.
In the spring of the second year a number of the depositors drew out money to invest in Duluth and Superior lots, and the whole town was excited over the matter.
The summer passed, Link and Sanford spending their time in the bank--that is, when not out swimming or fishing with the boys. But July and August were terribly hot and dry, and oats and corn were only half-crop; and the farmers were grumbling. Some of them were forced to draw on the bank instead of depositing.
McPhail came in, one day in November, to draw a thousand dollars to pay for a house and lot he had recently bought.
Sanford was alone. He whistled. "Phew! You're comin' at me hard. Come in tomorrow. Link's gone down to the city to get some money."
"All right," said MePhail; "any time."
"Goin' t' snow?"
"Looks like it. I'll haf to load a lot o' ca'tridges ready fr biz."
About an hour later old lady Bingham burst upon the banker, wild and breathless. "I want my money," she announced.
"Good morning, Mrs. Bingham. Pleasant--"
"I want my money. Where's Lincoln?"
She had read that morning of two bank failures--one in Nova Scotia and one in Massachusetts--and they seemed providential warnings to her. Lincoln's absence confirmed them.
"He's gone to St. Paul--won't be back till the five-o'clock train. Do you need some money this morning? How much?"
"All of it, sir. Every cent."
Sanford saw something was out of gear. He tried to explain. "I've sent your son to St. Paul after some money--"
"Where's my money? What have you done with that?" In her excitement she thought of her money just as she had handed it in--silver and little rolls and wads of bills.
"If you'll let me explain--"
"I don't want you to explain nawthin'. Jest hand me out my money."
Two or three loafers, seeing her gesticulate, stopped on the walk outside and looked in at the door. Sanford was annoyed, but he remained calm and persuasive. He saw that something had caused a panic in the good, simple old woman. He wished for Lincoln as one wishes for a policeman sometimes.
"Now, Mrs. Bingham, if you'll only wait till Lincoln--"
"I don't want 'o wait. I want my money, right now."
"Will fifty dollars do?"
"No, sir; I want it all--every cent of it--jest as it was."
"But I can't do that. Your money is gone--"
"Gone? Where is it gone? What have you done with it? You thief--"
"'Sh!" He tried to quiet her. "I mean I can't give you your money--"
"Why can't you?" she stormed, trotting nervously on her feet as she stood there.
"Because--if you'd let me explain--we don't keep the money just as it comes to us. We pay it out and take in other--"
Mrs. Bingham was getting more and more bewildered. She now had only one clear idea--she couldn't get her money. Her voice grew tearful like an angry child's.
"I want my money--I knew you'd steal it--that I worked for. Give me my money."
Sanford hastily handed her some money. "Here's fifty dollars. You can have the rest when--"
The old lady clutched the money, and literally ran out of the door, and went off up the sidewalk, talking incoherently. To everyone she met she told her story; but the men smiled and passed on. They had heard her predictions of calamity before.
But Mrs. Mcllvaine was made a triffe uneasy by it "He wouldn't give you y'r money? Or did he say he couldn't?" she inquired in her moderate way.
"He couldn't, an' he wouldn't!" she said. "If you've got any money there, you'd better get it out quick. It ain't safe a minute. When Lincoln comes home I'm goin' to see if I can't--"
"Well, I was calc'latin' to go to Lumberville this week, anyway, to buy a carpet and a chamber set. I guess I might 's well get the money today."
When she came in and demanded the money, Sanford was scared. Were these two old women the beginning of the deluge? Would McPhail insist on being paid also? There was just one hundred dollars left in the bank, together with a little silver. With rare strategy he smiled.
"Certainly, Mrs. McIlvaine. How much will you need?" She had intended to demand the whole of her deposit--one hundred and seventeen dollars--but his readiness mollified her a little. "I did 'low I'd take the hull, but I guess seventy-five dollars 'll do."
He paid the money briskly out over the little glass shelf. "How is your children, Mrs. McIlvaine?"
"Purty well, thanky," replied Mrs. Mcllvaine, laboriously counting the bills.
"Is it all right?"
"I guess so," she replied dubiously. "I'll count it after I get home."
She went up the street with the feeling that the bank was all right, and she stepped in and told Mrs. Bingham that she had no trouble in getting her money.
Alter she had gone Sanford sat down and wrote a telegram which he sent to St. Paul. This telegram, according to the duplicate at the station, read in this puzzling way:
E. O., Exchange Block, No.96. All out of paper. Send five hundred noteheads and envelopes to match. Business brisk. Press of correspondence just now. Get them out quick. Wire.
Two or three others came in after a little money, but he put them off easily. "Just been cashing some paper, and took all the ready cash I can spare. Can't you wait till tomorrow? Link's gone down to St. Paul to collect on some paper. Be back on the five o'clock. Nine o'clock, sure."
An old Norwegian woman came in to deposit ten dollars, and he counted it in briskly, and put the amount down on her little book for her. Barney Mace came in to deposit a hundred dollars, the proceeds of a horse sale, and this helped him through the day. Those who wanted small sums he paid.
"Glad this ain't a big demand. Rather close on cash today," he said, smiling, as Lincoln's wife's sister came in.
She laughed, "I guess it won't bust yeh. If I thought it would, I'd leave it in."
"Busted!" he said, when Vance wanted him to cash a draft. "Can't do it. Sorry, Van. Do it in the morning all right. Can you wait?"
"Oh, I guess so. Haf to, won't I?"
"Curious," said Sanford, in a confidential way. "I don't know that I ever saw things get in just such shape. Paper enough--but exchange, ye know, and readjustment of accounts."
"I don't know much about banking, myself," said Vance, good naturedly; "but I s'pose it's a good 'eal same as with a man. Git short o' cash, first they know--ain't got a cent to spare."
"That's the idea exactly. Credit all right, plenty o' property, but--" and he smiled and went at his books. The smile died out of his eyes as Vance went out, and he pulled a little morocco book from his pocket and began studying the beautiful columns of figures with which it seemed to be filled. Those he compared with the books with great care, thrusting the book out of sight when anyone entered.
He closed the bank as usual at five. Lincoln had not come couldn't come now till the nine-o'clock accommodation. For an hour after the shades were drawn he sat there in the semidarkness, silently pondering on his situation. This attitude and deep quiet were unusual to him. He heard the feet of friends and neighbors passing the door as he sat there by the smoldering coal fire, in the growing darkness. There was something impressive in his attitude.
He started up at last and tried to see what the hour was by turning the face of his watch to the dull glow from the cannon stoye's open door.
"Suppertime," he said and threw the whole matter off, as if he had decided it or had put off the decision till another time.
As he went by the post office Vance said to Mcllvaine in a smiling way, as if it were a good joke on Sanford:
"Little short o' cash down at the bank."
"He's a good fellow," Mcllvaine said.
"So's his wife," added Vance with a chuckle.
That night, after supper, Sanford sat in his snug little skting room with a baby on each knee, looking as cheerful and happy as any man in the village. The children crowed and shouted as he "trotted them to Boston," or rode them on the toe of his boot. They made a noisy, merry group.
Mrs. Sanford "did her own work," and her swift feet could be heard moving to and fro out in the kitchen. It was pleasant there; the woodwork, the furniture, the stove, the curtains--all had that look of newness just growing into coziness. The coal stove was lighted and the curtains were drawn.
After the work in the kitchen was done, Mrs. Sanford came in and sat awhile by the fire with the children, looking very wifely in her dark dress and white apron, her round, smiling face glowing with love and pride--the gloating look of a mother seeing her children in the arms of her husband.
"How is Mrs. Peterson's baby, Jim?" she said suddenly, her face sobering.
"Pretty bad, I guess. La, la, la-deedle-dee! The doctor seemed to think it was a tight squeak if it lived. Guess it's done for--oop 'e goes!"
She made a little leap at the youngest child and clasped it convulsively to her bosom. Her swift maternal imagination had made another's loss very near and terrible.
"Oh, say, Nell," he broke out, on seeing her sober, "I had the confoundedest time today with old lady Bingham--"
"'Sh! Baby's gone to sleep."
After the children had been put to bed in the little alcove off the sitting room, Mrs. Sanford came back, to find Jim absorbed over a little book of accounts.
"What are you studying, Jim?"
Someone knocked on the door before he had time to reply.
"Come in!" he said.
'Sh! Don't yell so," his wife whispered.
"Telegram, Jim," said a voice in the obscurity.
"Oh! That you, Sam? Come in.
Sam, a lathy fellow with a quid in his cheek, stepped in. "How d' 'e do, Mis' Sanford?"
"Set down, se' down."
"Can't stop; 'most train time."
Sanford tore the envelope open, read the telegram rapidly, the smile fading out of his face. He read it again, word for word, then sat looking at it.
"Any answer?" asked Sam.
"All right. Good night."
After the door slammed, Sanford took the sheet from the envelope and reread it. At length he dropped into his chair. "That settles it," he said aloud.
"Settles what? What's the news?" His wife came up and looked over his shoulder.
"Settles I've got to go on that nine-thirty train."
"Be back on the morning train?"
"Yes; I guess so--I mean, of course, I'll have to be--to open the bank."
Mrs. Sanford looked at him for a few seconds in silence. There was something in his look, and especially in his tone, that troubled her.
"What do you mean? Jim, you don't intend to come back!" She took his arm. "What's the matter? Now tell me! What are you going away for?"
He knew he could not deceive his wife's ears and eyes just then, so he remained silent. "We've got to leave, Nell," he admitted at last.
"Why? What for?"
"Because I'm busted--broke--gone up the spout--and all the rest!" he said desperately, with an attempt at fun. "Mrs. Bingham and Mrs. McIlvaine have busted me--dead."
"Why--why--what has become of the money--all the money the people have put in there?"
"Gone up with the rest."
"What 've you done with it? I don't--"
"Well, I've invested it--and lost it."
"James Gordon Sanford!" she exclaimed, trying to realize it. "Was that right? Ain't that a case of--of--"
"Shouldn't wonder. A case of embezzlement such as you read of in the newspapers." His tone was easy, but he avoided the look in his wife's beautiful gray eyes.
"But it's--stealing--ain't it?" She stared at him, bewildered by his reckless lightness of mood. "It is now, because I've lost. If I'd'a won it, it 'ud 'a' been financial shrewdness!"
She asked her next question after a pause, in a low voice, and through teeth almost set. "Did you go into this bank to--steal this money? Tell me that!"
"No; I didn't, Nell. I ain't quite up to that."
His answer softened her a little, and she sat looking at him steadlly as he went on. The tears began to roll slowly down her cheeks. Her hands were clenched.
"The fact is, the idea came into my head last fall when I went up to Superior. My partner wanted me to go in with him on some land, and I did. We speculated on the growth of the town toward the south. We made a strike; then he wanted me to go in on a copper mine. Of course I expected--"
As he went on with the usual excuses her mind made all the allowances possible for him. He had always been boyish, impulsive, and lacking in judgment and strength of character. She was humiliated and frightened, but she loved and sympathized with him.
Her silence alarmed him, and he made excuses for himself. He was speculating for her sake more than for his own, and so on.
"Cho-coo!" whistled the far-off train through the still air.
He sprang up and reached for his coat.
She seized his arm again. "Where are you going?" she sternly asked.
"To take that train."
'When are you coming back?"
"I don't know." But his tone said, "Never."
She felt it. Her face grew bitter. "Going to leave me and--the babies?"
"I'll send for you soon. Come, goodbye!" He tried to put his arm about her. She stepped back.
"Jim, if you leave me tonight" ("Choo-choo!" whistled the engine) " you leave me forever." There was a terrible resolution in her tone.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I'm going to stay here. If you go--I'll never be your wife again--never!" She glanced at the sleeping children, and her chin trembled.
"I can't face those fellows--they'll kill me," he said in a sullen tone.
"No, they won't. They'll respect you, if you stay and tell 'em exactly how-it-all-is. You've disgraced me and my children, that's what you've done! If you don't stay--"
The clear jangle of the engine bell sounded through the night as with the whiz of escaping steam and scrape and jar of gripping brakes and howl of wheels the train came to a stop at the station. Sanford dropped his coat and sat down again. + " I'll have to stay now." His tone was dry and lifeless. It had a reproach in it that cut the wife deep--deep as the fountain of tears; and she went across the room and knelt at the bedside, burying her face in the clothes on the feet of her children, and sobbed silently.
The man sat with bent head, looking into the glowing coal, whistling through his teeth, a look of sullen resignation and endurance on his face that had never been there before. His very attitude was alien and ominous.
Neither spoke for a long time. At last he rose and began taking off his coat and vest.
"Well, I suppose there's nothing to do but go to bed."
She did not stir--she might have been asleep so far as any sound or motion was concerned. He went off to the bed in the little parlor, and she still knelt there, her heart full of anger, bitterness, sorrow.
The sunny uneventfulness of her past life made this great storm the more terrifying. Her trust in her husband had been absolute. A farmer's daughter, the bank clerk had seemed to her the equal of any gentleman in the world--her world; and when she knew his delicacy, his unfailing kindness, and his abounding good nature, she had accepted him as the father of her children, and this was the first revelation to her of his inherent moral weakness.
Her mind went over the whole ground again and again, in a sort of blinding rush. She was convinced of his lack of honor more by his tone, his inflections, than by his words. His lack of deep regret, his readiness to leave her to bear the whole shock of the discovery-- these were in his flippant tones; and everytime she thought of them the hot blood surged over her. At such moments she hated him, and her white teeth clenched.
To these moods succeeded others, when she remembered his smile, the dimple in his chin, his tender care for the sick, his buoyancy, his songs to the children--How could he sit there, with the children on his knees, and plan to run away, leaving them disgraced?
She went to bed at last with the babies, and with their soft, warm little bodies touching her side fell asleep, pondering, suffering as only a mother and wife can suffer when distrust and doubt of her husband supplant confidence and adoration.
The children awakened her by their delighted cooing and kissing. It was a great event, this waking to find mamma in their bed. It was hardly light, of a dull gray morning; and with the children tumbling about over her, feeling the pressure of the warm little hands and soft lips, she went over the whole situation again, and at last settled upon her action.
She rose, shook down the coal in the stove in the sitting room, and started a fire in the kitchen; then she dressed the children by the coal burner. The elder of them, as soon as dressed, ran in to wake " Poppa" while the mother went about breakfast-getting.
Sanford came out of his bedroom unwontedly gloomy, greeting the children in a subdued maimer. He shivered as he sat by the fire and stirred the stove as if he thought the room was cold. His face was pale and moist.
"Breakfast is ready, James," called Mrs. Sanford in a tone which she meant to be habitual, but which had a cadence of sadness in it.
Some way, he found it hard to look at her as he came out. She busied herself with placing the children at the table, in order to conceal her own emotion.
"I don't believe I'll eat any meat this morning, Nellie. I ain't very well."
She glanced at him quickly, keenly. "What's the matter?"
"I d'know. My stomach is kind of upset by this failure o' mine. I'm in great shape to go down to the bank this morning and face them fellows."
"It's got to be done."
"I know it; but that don't help me any." He tried to smile.
She mused, while the baby hammered on his tin plate. "You've got to go down. If you don't--I will," said she resolutely. "And you must say that that money will be paid back--every cent."
"But that's more'n I can do--"
"It must be done."
"But under the law--"
"There's nothing can make this thing right except paying every cent we owe. I ain't a-goin' to have it said that my children--that I'm livin' on somebody else. If you don't pay these debts, I will. I've thought it all out. If you don't stay and face it, and pay these men, I won't own you as my husband. I loved and trusted you, Jim--I thought you was honorable--it's been a terrible blow, but I've decided it all in my mind."
She conquered her little weakness and went on to the end firmly. Her face looked pale. There was a square look about the mouth and chin. The iron resolution and Puritanic strength of her father, old John Foreman, had come to the surface. Her look and tone mastered the man, for he loved her deeply.
She had set him a hard task, and when he rose and went down the street he walked with bent head, quite unlike his usual self.
There were not many men on the street. It seemed earlier than it was, for it was a raw, cold morning, promising snow. The sun was completely masked in a seamless dust-gray cloud. He met Vance with a brown parcel (beefsteak for breakfast) under his arm.
"Hello, Jim! How are ye, so early in the morning?"
"Blessed near used up."
"That so? What's the matter?"
"I d'know," said Jim, listlessly. "Bilious, I guess. Headache-- stomach bad."
"Oh! Well, now, you try them pills I was tellin' you of." Arrived at the bank, he let himself in and locked the door behind him. He stood in the middle of the floor a few minutes, then went behind the railing and sat down. He didn't build a fire, though it was cold and damp, and he shivered as he sat leaning on the desk. At length he drew a large sheet of paper toward him and wrote something on it in a heavy hand.
He was writing on this when Lincoln entered at the back, whistling boyishly. "Hello, Jim! Ain't you up early? No fire, eh?" He rattled at the stove.
Sanford said nothing, but finished his writing. Then he said, quietly, "You needn't build a fire on my account, Link."
"Well, I'm used up."
"What's the matter?"
"I'm sick, and the business has gone to the devil." He looked out of the window.
Link dropped the poker, and came around behind the counter, and stared at Sanford with fallen mouth.
"Wha'd you say?"
"I said the business had gone to the devil. We're broke busted--petered--gone up the spout." He took a sort of morbid pleasure in saying these things.
"What's busted us? Have--"
"I've been speciflatin' in copper. My partner's busted me."
Link came closer. His mouth stiffened and an ominous look came into his eyes. "You don't mean to say you've lost my money, and Mother's, and Uncle Andrew's, and all the rest?"
Sanford was getting irritated. "-- it! What's the use? I tell you, yes! It's all gone--very cent of it."
Link caught him by the shoulder as he sat at the desk. Sanford's tone enraged him. "You thief! But you'll pay me back, or I'll--"
"Oh, go ahead! Pound a sick man, if it'll do you any good," said Sanford with a peculiar recklessness of lifeless misery. "Pay y'rsell out of the safe. Here's the combination."
Lincoln released him and began turning the knob of the door. At last it swung open, and he searched the money drawers. Less than forty dollars, all told. His voice was full of helpless rage as he turned at last and walked up close to Sanford's bowed head.
"I'd like to pound the life out o' you!"
"You're at liberty to do so, if it'll be any satisfaction." This desperate courage awed the younger man. He gazed at Sanford in amazement.
"If you'll cool down and wait a little, Link, I'll tell you all about it. I'm sick as a horse. I guess I'll go home. You can put this up in the window and go home, too, if you want to."
Lincoln saw that Sanford was sick. He was shivering, and drops of sweat were on his white forehead. Lincoln stood aside silently and let him go out.
"Better lock up, Link. You can't do anything by staying here."
Lincoln took refuge in a boyish phrase that would have made anyone but a sick man laugh: "Well, this is a -- of a note!"
He took up the paper. It read:
TO MY CREDITORS AND DEPOSITORS
Through a combination of events I find myself obliged to temporarily suspend payment. I ask the depositors to be patient, and their claims will be met. I think I can pay twenty-five cents on the dollar, if given a little time. I shall not run away. I shall stay right here till all matters are honorably settled.
JAMES G. SANFORD
Lincoln hastily pinned this paper to the windowsash so that it could be seen from without, then pulled down the blinds and locked the door. His fun-loving nature rose superior to his rage for the moment. "There'll be the devil to pay in this burg before two hours."
He slipped out the back way, taking the keys with him. "I'll go and tell uncle, and then we'll see if Jim can't turn in the house on our account," he thought as he harnessed a team to drive out to McPhail's.
The first man to try the door was an old Norwegian in a spotted Mackinac jacket and a fur cap, with the inevitable little red tippet about his neck. He turned the knob, knocked, and at last saw the writing, which he could not read, and went away to tell Johnson that the bank was closed. Johnson thought nothing special of that; it was early, and they weren't very particular to open on time, anyway.
Then the barber across the street tried to get in to have a bill changed. Trying to peer in the window, he saw the notice, which he read with a grin.
"One o' Link's jobs," he explained to the fellows in the shop. "He's too darned lazy to open on time, so he puts up notice that the bank is busted."
"Let's go and see."
"Don't do it! He's watchin' to see us all rush across and look. Just keep quiet, and see the solid citizens rear around."
Old Orrin McIlvaine came out of the post office and tried the door next, then stood for a long time reading the notice, and at last walked thoughtfully away. Soon he returned, to the merriment of the fellows in the barbershop, with two or three solid citizens who had been smoking an after-breakfast cigar and planning a deer hunt. They stood before the window in a row and read the notice. Mcllvaine gesticulated with his cigar.
"Gentlemen, there's a pig loose here."
"One o' Link's jokes, I reckon."
"But that's Sanford's writin'. An' here it is nine o'clock, and no one round. I don't like the looks of it, myself."
The crowd thickened; the fellows came out of the blacksmith shop, while the jokers in the barbershop smote their knees and yelled with merriment.
"What's up?" queried Vance, coming up and repeating the universal question.
McIlvaine pointed at the poster with his cigar.
Vance read the notice, while the crowd waited silently.
"What ye think of it?"asked someone impatiently. Vance smoked a moment. "Can't say. Where's Jim?"
"That's it! Where is he?"
"Best way to find out is to send a boy up to the house." He called a boy and sent him scurrying up the street.
The crowd now grew sober and discussed possibilities. "If that's true, it's the worst crack on the head I ever had," said Mcllvaine. " Seventeen hundred dollars is my pile in there." He took a seat on the windowsill.
"Well, I'm tickled to death to think I got my little stake out before anything happened."
"When you think of it, what security did he ever give?" Mcllvaine continued.
"Not a cent--not a red cent."
"No, sir; we simply banked on him. Now, he's a good fellow, an' this may be a joke o' Link's; but the fact is, it might 'a' happened. Well, sonny?" he said to the boy, who came running up.
"Link ain't to home, an' Mrs. Sanford she says Jim's sick an' can't come down."
There was a silence. "Anybody see him this morning?" asked Wilson.
"Yes; I saw him," said Vance. "Looked bad, too." The crowd changed; people came and went, some to get news, some to carry it away. In a short time the whole town knew the bank had "busted all to smash." Farmers drove along and stopped to find out what it all meant. The more they talked, the more excited they grew; and " scoundrel," and "I always had my doubts of that feller," were phrases growing more frequent.
The list of the victims grew until it was evident that neariy all of the savings of a dozen or. more depositors were swallowed up, and the sum reached was nearly twenty thousand dollars.
"What did he do with it?" was the question. He never gambled or drank. He lived frugally. There was no apparent cause for this failure of a trusted institution.
It was beginning to snow in great, damp, driving flakes, which melted as they fell, giving to the street a strangeness and gloom that were impressive. The men left the sidewalk at last and gathered in the saloons and stores to continue the discussion.
The crowd at the railroad saloon was very decided in its belief. Sanford had pocketed the money and skipped. That yarn about his being at home sick was a blind. Some went so far as to say that it was almighty curious where Link was, hinting darkly that the bank ought to be broken into, and so on.
Upon this company burst Barney and Sam Mace from "Hogan's Corners." They were excited by the news and already inflamed with drink.
"Say!" yelled Barney, "any o' you fellers know anything about Jim Sanford?"
"No. Why? Got any money there?"
"Yes; and I'm goin' to git it out, if I haf to smash the door in."
"That's the talk!" shouted some of the loafers. They sprang up and surrounded Barney. There was something in his voice that aroused all their latent ferocity. "I'm goin' to get into that bank an' see how things look, an' then I'm goin' to find Sanford an' get my money, or pound -- out of 'im, one o' the six."
"Go find him first. He's up home, sick--so's his wife."
"I'll see whether he's sick 'r not. I'll drag 'im out by the scruff o' the neck! Come on!" He ended with a sudden resolution, leading the way out into the street, where the falling snow was softening the dirt into a sticky mud.
A rabble of a dozen or two of men and boys followed Mace up the street. He led the way with great strides, shouting his threats. As they passed along, women thrust their heads out at the windows, asking, "What's the matter?" And someone answered each time in a voice of unconcealed delight:
"Sanford's stole all the money in the bank, and they're goin' up to lick 'im. Come on if ye want to see the fun."
In a few moments the street looked as if an alarm of fire had been sounded. Half the town seemed to be out, and the other half coming--women in shawls, like squaws; children capering and laughing; young men grinning at the girls who came out and stood at the gates.
Some of the citizens tried to stop it. Vance found the constable looking on and ordered him to do his duty and stop that crowd.
"I can't do anything," he said helplessly. "They ain't done nawthin' yet, an' I don't know--"
"Oh, git out! They're goin' up there to whale Jim, an' you know it. If you don't stop 'em, I'll telephone f'r the sheriff, and have you arrested with 'em."
Under this pressure, the constable ran along after the crowd, in an attempt to stop it. He reached them as they stood about the little porch of the house, packed closely around Barney and Sam, who said nothing, but followed Barney like his shadow. If the sun had been shining, it might not have happened as it did; but there was a semi-obscurity, a weird half-light shed by the thick sky and falling snow, which somehow encouraged the enraged ruffians, who pounded on the door just as the pleading voice of the constable was heard.
"Hold on, gentlemen! This is ag'inst the law
"Law to --!" said someone. "This is a case f'r something besides law."
"Open up there!" roared the raucous voice of Barney Mace as he pounded at the door fiercely.
The door opened, and the wife appeared, one child in her arms, the other at her side.
"What do you want?"
"Where's that banker? Tell the thief to come out here! We want to talk with him."
The woman did not quail, but her face seemed a ghastly yellow, seen through the falling snow.
"He can't come. He's sick."
"Sick! We'll sick 'im! Tell 'im t' come out, or we'll snake 'im out by the heels." The crowd laughed. The worst elements of the saloons surrounded the two half-savage men. It was amusing to them to see the woman face them all in that way.
"Where's McPhail?" Vance inquired anxiously. "Somebody find McPhail."
"Stand out o' the way!" snarled Barney as he pushed the struggling woman aside.
The wife raised her voice to that wild, animal-like pitch a woman uses when desperate.
"I shan't do it, I tell you! Help!"
"Keep out o' my way, or I'll wring y'r neck fr yeh." She struggled with him, but he pushed her aside and entered the room.
"What's goin' on here?" called the ringing voice of Andrew McPhail, who had just driven up with Link.
Several of the crowd looked over their shoulders at McPhail.
"Hello, Mac! Just in time. Oh, nawthin'. Barney's callin' on the banker, that's all."
Over the heads of the crowd, packed struggling about the door, came the woman's scream again. McPhail dashed around the crowd, running two or three of them down, and entered the back door. Vance, McIlvaine, and Lincoln followed him.
"Cowards!" the wife said as the ruffians approached the bed. They swept her aside, but paused an instant before the glance of the sick man's eye. He lay there, desperately, deathly sick. The blood throbbed in his whirling brain, his eyes were bloodshot and blinded, his strength was gone. He could hardly speak. He partly rose and stretched out his hand, and then fell back.
"Kill me--if you want to--but let her alone. She's--"
The children were crying. The wind whistled drearily across the room, carrying the evanescent flakes of soft snow over the heads of the pausing, listening crowd in the doorway. Quick steps were heard.
"Hold on there!" cried McPhail as he burst into the room. He seemed an angel of God to the wife and mother.
He spread his great arms in a gesture which suggested irresistible strength and resolution. "Clear out! Out with ye!"
No man had ever seen him look like that before. He awed them with the look in his eyes. His long service as sheriff gave him authority. He hustled them, cuffed them out of the door like schoolboys. Barney backed out, cursing. He knew McPhall too well to refuse to obey.
McPhail pushed Barney out, shut the door behind him, and stood on the steps, looking at the crowd.
"Well, you're a great lot! You fellers, would ye jump on a sick man? What ye think ye're all doin', anyhow?"
The crowd laughed. "Hey, Mac; give us a speech!"
"You ought to be booted, the whole lot o' yeh!" he replied.
"That houn' in there's run the bank into the ground, with every cent o' money we'd put in," said Barney. "I s'pose ye know that."
"Well, s'pose he has--what's the use o' jumpin' on
"Git it out of his hide."
"I've heerd that talk before. How much you got in?"
"Two hundred dollars."
"Well, I've got two thousand." The crowd saw the point.
"I guess if anybody was goin' t' take it out of his hide, I'd be the man; but I want the feller to live and have a chance to pay it back. Killin' 'im is a dead loss."
"That's so!" shouted somebody. "Mac ain't no fool, if he does chaw hay," said another, and the crowd laughed. They were losing that frenzy, largely imitative and involuntary, which actuates a mob. There was something counteracting in the ex-sheriff's cool, humorous tone.
"Give us the rest of it, Mac!"
"The rest of it is clear out o' here, 'r I'll boot every mother's son of yeh!"
"Can't do it!"
"Come down an' try it!"
McIlvaine opened the door and looked out. "Mac, Mrs. Sanford wants to say something--if it's safe."
"Safe as eatin' dinner."
Mrs. Sanford came out, looking pale and almost like a child as she stood beside her defender's towering bulk. But her face was resolute.
"That money will be paid back," she said, "dollar for dollar, if you'll just give us a chance. As soon as Jim gets well enough every cent will be paid, If I live."
The crowd received this little speech in silence. One or two said, in low voices: "That's business. She'll do it, too, if anyone can."
Barney pushed his way through the crowd with contemptuous. curses. "The -- she will!" he said.
"We'll see 't you have a chance," McPhall and McIlvaine assured Mrs. Sanford.
She went in and closed the door.
"Now git!" said Andrew, coming down the steps. The crowd scattered with laughing taunts. He turned and entered the house. The rest drifted off down the street through the soft flurries of snow, and in a few moments the street assumed its usual appearance.
The failure of the bank and the raid on the banker had passed into history.
In the light of the days of calm afterthought which followed, this attempt upon the peace of the Sanford home grew more monstrous and helped largely to mitigate the feeling against the banker. Besides, he had not run away; that was a strong point in his favor.
"Don't that show," argued Vance to the post office-- "don't that show he didn't intend to steal? An' don't it show he's goin' to try to make things square?"
"I guess we might as well think that as anything."
"I claim the boys has a right t' take sumpthin' out o' his hide," Bent Wilson stubbornly insisted.
"Ain't enough t' go 'round," laughed McPhail. "Besides, I can't have it. Link an' I own the biggest share in 'im, an' we can't have him hurt."
McIlvaine and Vance grinned. "That's a fact, Mac. We four fellers are the main losers. He's ours, an' we can't have him foundered 'r crippled 'r cut up in any way. Ain't that woman of his gritty?"
"Gritty ain't no name for her. She's goin' into business."
"So I hear. They say Jim was crawling around a little yesterday. I didn't see.
"I did. He looks pretty streak-id now, you bet."
"Wha'd he say for himself?"
"Oh, said give 'im time--he'd fix it all up."
"How much time?"
"Time enough. Hain't been able to look at a book since. Say, ain't it a little curious he was so sick just then--sick as a p'isened dog?"
The two men looked at each other in a manner most comically significant. The thought of poison was in the mind of each.
It was under these trying circumstances that Sanford began to crawl about, a week or ten days after his sickness. It was really the most terrible punishment for him. Before, everybody used to sing out, "Hello, Jim!" or "Mornin', banker," or some other jovial, heartwarming salutation. Now, as he went down the street, the groups of men smoking on the sunny side of the stores ignored him, or looked at him with scornfull eyes.
Nobody said, "Hello, Jim!", not even McPhail or Vance. They nodded merely, and went on with their smoking. The children followed him and stared at him without compassion. They had heard him called a scoundrel and a thief too often at home to feel any pity for his pale face.
After his first trip down the street, bright with the December sunshine, he came home in a bitter, weak mood, smarting, aching with a poignant self-pity over the treatment he had received from his old cronies.
"It's all your fault," he burst out to his wife. "If you'd only let me go away and look up another place, I wouldn't have to put up with all these sneers and insults."
"What sneers and insults?" she asked, coming over to him.
"Why, nobody 'll speak to me."
"Won't Mr. McPhail and Mr. Mcllvalne?"
"Yes; but not as they used to."
"You can't blame 'em, Jim. You must go to work and win back their confidence."
"I can't do that. Let's go away, Nell, and try again." Her mouth closed firmly. A hard look came into her eyes. "You can go if you want to, Jim, I'm goin' to stay right here till we can leave honorably. We can't run away from this. It would follow us anywhere we went; and it would get worse the farther we went"
He knew the unyielding quality of his wife's resolution, and from that moment he submitted to his fate. He loved his wife and children with a passionate love that made life with them, among the citizens he had robbed, better than life anywhere else on earth; he had no power to leave them.
As soon as possible he went over his books and found out that he owed, above all notes coming in, about eleven thousand dollars. This was a large sum to look forward to paying by anything he could do in the Siding, now that his credit was gone. Nobody would take him as a clerk, and there was nothing else to be done except manual labor, and he was not strong enough for that.
His wife, however, had a plan. She sent East to friends for a little money at once, and with a few hundred dollars opened a little store in time for the holiday trade--wallpaper, notions, light dry goods, toys, and millinery. She did her own housework and attended to her shop in a grim, uncomplaining fashion that made Sanford feel like a criminal in her presence. He couldn't propose to help her in the store, for he knew the people would refuse to trade with him, so he attended to the children and did little things about the house for the first few months of the winter.
His life for a time was abjectly pitiful. He didn't know what to do. He had lost his footing, and, worst of all, he felt that his wife no longer respected him. She loved and pitied him, but she no longer looked up to him. She went about her work and down to her store with a silent, resolute, uncommunicative air, utterly unlike her former sunny, domestic self, so that even she seemed alien like the rest. If he had been ill, Vance and McPhail would have attended him; as it was, they could not help him.
She already had the sympathy of the entire town, and McIlvaine had said: "If you need more money, you can have it, Mrs. Sanford. Call on us at any time."
"Thank you. I don't think I'll need it. All I ask is your trade," she replied. "I don't ask anybody to pay more'n a thing's worth, either. I'm goin' to sell goods on business principles, and I expect folks to buy of me because I'm selling reliable goods as cheap as anybody else."
Her business was successful from the start, but she did not allow herself to get too confident.
"This is a kind of charity trade. It won't last on that basis. Folks ain't goin' to buy of me because I'm poor--not very long," she said to Vance, who went in to congratulate her on her booming trade during Christmas and New Year.
Vance called so often, advising or congratulating her, that the boys joked him. "Say, looky here! You're gom' to get into a peck o' trouble with your wife yet. You spend about hall y'r time in the new store."
Vance looked serene as he replied, "I'd stay longer and go oftener If I could."
"Well, if you ain't cheekier 'n ol' cheek! I should think you'd be ashamed to say it."
"'Shamed of it? I'm proud of it! As I tell my wife, if I'd 'a' met Mis' Sanford when we was both young, they wouldn't 'a' be'n no such present arrangement."
The new life made its changes in Mrs. Sanford. She grew thinner and graver, but as she went on, and trade steadily increased, a feeling of pride, a sort of exultation, came into her soul and shone from her steady eyes. It was glorious to feel that she was holding her own with men in the world, winning their respect, which is better than their flattery. She arose each day at five o'clock with a distinct pleasure, for her physical health was excellent, never better.
She began to dream. She could pay off five hundred dollars a year of the interest--perhaps she could pay some of the principal, if all went well. Perhaps in a year br two she could take a larger store, and, if Jim got something to do, in ten years they could pay it all off--every cent! She talked with businessmen, and read and studied, and felt each day a firmer hold on affairs.
Sanford got the agency of an insurance company or two and earned a few dollars during the spring. In June things brightened up a little. The money for a note of a thousand dollars fell due--a note he had considered virtually worthless, but the debtor, having had a " streak o' luck," sent seven hundred and fifty dollars. Sanford at once called a meeting of his creditors, and paid them, pro rata, a thousand dollars. The meeting took place in his wife's store, and in making the speech Sanford said:
"I tell you, gentlemen, if you'll only give us a chance, we'll clear this thing all up--that is, the principal. We can't--"
"Yes, we can, James. We can pay it all, principal and interest. We owe the interest just as much as the rest." It was evident that there was to be no letting down while she lived.
The effect of this payment was marked. The general feeling was much more kindly than before. Most of the fellows dropped back into the habit of calling him Jim; but, after all, it was not like the greeting of old, when he was "banker." Still the gain in confidence found a reflex in him. His shoulders, which had begun to droop a little, lifted, and his eyes brightened.
"We'll win yet," he began to say.
"She's a-holdin' of 'im right to time," Mrs. Bingham said.
It was shortly after this that he got the agency for a new cash-delivery system, and went on the road with it, traveling in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. He came back after a three weeks' trip, quite jubilant. "I've made a hundred dollars, Nell. I'm all right if this holds out, and I guess it will."
In the following November, just a year after the failure, they celebrated the day, at her suggestion, by paying interest on the unpaid sums they owed.
"I could pay a little more on the principal," she explained, "but I guess it'll be better to use it for my stock. I can pay better dividends next year.
"Take y'r time, Mrs. Sanford," Vance said.
Of course she could not escape criticism. There were the usual number of women who noticed that she kept her 'young uns" in the latest style, when as a matter of fact she sat up nights to make their little things. They also noticed that she retained her house and her furniture.
"If I was in her place, seems to me, I'd turn in some o' my fine furniture toward my debts," Mrs. Sam Gilbert said spitefully.
She did not even escape calumny. Mrs. Sam Gilbert darkly hinted at certain "goin's on durin' his bein' away. Lit up till after midnight some nights. I c'n see her winder from mine."
Rose McPhail, one of Mrs. Sanford's most devoted friends, asked quietly, "Do you sit up all night t' see?"
"S'posin' I do!" she snapped. "I can't sleep with such things goin' on."
"If it'll do you any good, Jane, I'll say that she's settin' up there sewin' for the children. If you'd keep your nose out o' other folks' affairs, and attend better to your own, your house wouldn't look' like a pigpen, all' your children like A-rabs."
But in spite of a few annoyances of this character Mrs. Sanford found her new life wholesomer and broader than her old life, and the pain of her loss grew less poignant.
One day in spring, in the lazy, odorous hush of the afternoon, the usual number of loafers were standing on the platform, waiting for the train. The sun was going down the slope toward the hills, through a warm April haze.
"Hello!" exclaimed the man who always sees things first. "Here comes Mrs. Sanford and the ducklings."
"Ain't goin' off, is she?"
"Nope; guess not. Meet somebody, prob'ly Sanford."
"Well, sornethin's up. She don't often get out o' that store."
"Le's see; he's been gone most o' the winter, hain't he?"
"Yes; went away about New Year's."
Mrs. Sanford came past, leading a child by each hand, nodding and smiling to friends--for all seemed friends. She looked very resolute and businesslike in her plain, dark dress, with a dull flame of color at the throat, while the broad hat she wore gave her face a touch of piquancy very charming. Evidently she was in excellent spirits, and laughed and chatted in quite a carefree way.
She was now an institution at the Siding. Her store had grown in proportions yearly, until it was as large and commodious as any in the town. The drummers for dry goods all called there, and the fact that she did not sell any groceries at all did not deter the drummers for grocery houses from calling to see each time if she hadn't decided to put in a stock of groceries.
These keen-eyed young fellows had spread her fame all up and down the road. She had captured them, not by beauty, but by her pluck, candor, honesty, and by a certain fearless but reserved camaraderie. She was not afraid of them, or of anybody else, now.
The train whistled, and everybody turned to watch it as it came pushing around the bluff like a huge hound on a trail, its nose close to the ground. Among the first to alight was Sanford, in a shining new silk hat and a new suit of clothes. He was smiling gaily as he fought his way through the crowd to his wife's side. "Hello!" he shouted. "I thought I'd see you all here."
"W'y, Jim, ain't you cuttin' a swell?"
"A swell! Well, who's got a better right? A man wants to look as well as he can when he comes home to such a family."
"Hello, Jim!. That plug 'll never do."
"Hello, Vance! Yes; but it's got to do. Say, you tell all the fellers that's got anything ag'inst me to come around tomorrow night to the store. I want to make some kind of a settlement."
"All right, Jim. Goin' to pay a new dividend?"
"That's what I am," he beamed as he walked off with his wife, who was studying him sharply.
"Jim, what ails you?"
"Nothin'; I'm all right."
"But this new suit? And the hat? And the necktie?" He laughed merrily--so merrily, in fact, that his wife looked at him the more anxiously. He appeared to be in a queer state of intoxication--a state that made him happy without impairing his faculties, however. He turned suddenly and put his lips down toward her ear. "Well, Nell, I can't hold in any longer. We've struck it!"
"Well, you see that derned fool partner o' mine got me to go into a lot o' land in the copper country. That's where all the trouble came. He got awfully let down. Well, he's had some surveyors to go up there lately and look it over, and the next thing we knew the Superior Mining Company came along an' wanted to buy it. Of course we didn't want to sell just then."
They had reached the store door, and he paused.
"We'll go right home to supper," she said. "The girls will look out for things till I get back."
They walked on together, the children laughing and playing ahead.
"Well, upshot of it is, I sold out my share to Osgood for twenty thousand dollars."
She stopped and stared at him. "Jim-Gordon Sanford!"
"Fact! I can prove it." He patted his breast pocket mysteriously. " Ten thousand right there."
"Gracious sakes alive! How dare you' carry so much money?"
"I'm mighty glad o' the chance." He grinned.
They walked on almost in silence, with only a word now and then. She seemed to be thinking deeply, and he didn't want to disturb her. It was a delicious spring hour. The snow was all gone, even under the hedges. The roads were warm and brown. The red sun was flooding the valley with a misty, rich-colored light, and against the orange and gold of the sky the hills stood in Tyrian purple. Wagons were rattling along the road. Men on the farms in the edge of the village could be heard whistling at their work. A discordant jangle of a neighboring farmer's supper bell announced that it was time "to turn out."
Sanford was almost as gay as a lover. He seemed to be on the point of regaining his old place in his wife's respect. Somehow the possession of the package of money in his pocket seemed to make him more worthy of her, to put him more on an equality with her.
As they reached the little one-story square cottage he sat down on the porch, where the red light fell warmly, and romped with the children, while his wife went in and took off her things. She "kept a girl" now, so that the work of getting supper did not devolve entirely upon her. She came out soon to call them all to the supper table in the little kitchen back of the sitting room.
The children were wild with delight to have "Poppa" back, and the meal was the merriest they had had for a long time. The doors and windows were open, and the spring evening air came in' laden with the sweet, suggestive smell of bare ground. The alert chuckle of an occasional robin could be heard.
Mrs. Sanford looked up from her tea. "There's one thing I don't like, Jim, and that's the way that money comes. You didn't--you didn't really earn it."
"Oh' don't worry yourself about that. That's the way things go. It's just luck."
"Well, I can't see it just that way. It seems to me just like gambling. You win' but--but somebody else must lose."
"Oh well, look a-here; if you go to lookin' too sharp into things like that, you'll find a good 'eal of any business like gamblin'."
She said no more, but her face remained clouded. On the way down to the store they met Lincoln.
"Come down to the store, Link, and bring Joe. I want to talk with yeh."
Lincoln stared, but said, "All right." Then added, as the others walked away, "Well, that feller ain't got no cheek t' talk to me like that--more cheek 'n a gov'ment mule!"
Jim took a seat near the door and watched his wife as she went about the store. She employed two clerks now, while she attended to the books and the cash. He thought how different she was, and he liked (and, in a way, feared) her cool, businesslike manner, her self-possession, and her smileless conversation with a drummer who came in. Jim was puzzled. He didn't quite understand the peculiar effect his wife's manner had upon him.
Outside, word had passed around that Jim had got back and that something was in the wind, and the fellows began to drop in. When McPhail came in and said, "Hello!" in his hearty way, Sanford went over to his wile and said:
"Say, Nell, I can't stand this. I'm goin' to get rid o' this money right off, now!"
"Very well; just as you please."
"Gents," he began, turning his back to the. counter and smiling blandly on them, one thumb in his vest pocket, "any o' you fellers got anything against the Lumber County Bank--any certificates of deposit, or notes?"
Two or three nodded, and McPhail said humorously, slapping his pocket, "I always go loaded."
"Produce your paper, gents," continued Sanford, with a dramatic whang of a leathern wallet down into his palm. "I'm buying up all paper on the bank."
It was a superb stroke. The fellows whistled and stared and swore at one another. This was coming down on them. Link was dumb with amazement as he received sixteen hundred and fifty dollars in crisp, new bills.
"Andrew, it's your turn next." Sanford's tone was actually patronizing as he faced McPhail.
"I was jokin'. I ain't got my certificate here."
"Don't matter--don't matter. Here's fifteen hundred dollars. Just give us a receipt, and bring the certif. any time. I want to get rid o' this stuff right now."
"Say, Jim, we'd like to know jest--jest where this windfall comes from," said Vance as he took his share.
"Comes from the copper country," was all he ever said about it.
"I don't see where he invested," Link said. "Wasn't a scratch of a pen to show that he invested anything while he was in the bank. Guess that's where our money went."
"Well, I ain't squealin'," said Vance. "I'm glad to get out of it without asking any questions. I'll tell yeh one thing, though," he added as they stood outside the door; "we'd 'a' never smelt of our money again if it hadn't 'a' been f'r that woman in there. She'd 'a' paid it alone if Jim hadn't 'a' made this strike, whereas he never'd 'a'--Well, all right. We're out of it."
It was one of the greatest moments of Sanford's life. He expanded in it. He was as pleasantly aware of the glances of his wife as he used to be when, as a clerk, he saw her pass and look in at the window where he sat dreaming over his ledger.
As for her, she was going over the whole situation from this new standpoint. He had been weak, he had fallen in her estimation, and yet, as he stood there, so boyish in his exultation, the father of her children, she loved him with a touch of maternal tenderness and hope, and her heart throbbed in an unconscious, swift determination to do him good. She no longer deceived herself. She was his equal--in some ways his superior. Her love had friendship in it, but less of sex, and no adoration.
As she blew out the lights, stepped out on the walk, and turned the key in the lock, he said, "Well, Nellie, you won't have to do that any more."
"No; I won't have to, but I guess I'll keep on just the same, Jim."
"Keep on? What for?"
"Well, I rather like it."
"But you don't need to--"
"I like being my own boss," she said. "I've done a lot o' figuring, Jim, these last three years, and it's kind o' broadened me, I hope. I can't go back where I was. I'm a better woman than I was before, and I hope and believe that I'm better able to be a real mother to my children." Jim looked up at the moon filling the warm, moist air with a transfiguring light that fell in a luminous mist on the distant hills. "I know one thing, Nellie; I'm a better man than I was before, and it's all owin' to you."
His voice trembled a little, and the sympathetic tears came into her eyes. She didn't speak at once--she couldn't. At last she stopped him by a touch on the arm.
"Jim, I want a partner in my store. Let us begin again, right here. I can't say that I'll ever feel just as I did once--I don't know as it's right to. I looked up to you too much. I expected too much of you, too. Let's' begin again, as equal partners." She held out her hand, as one man to another. He took it wonderingly.
"All right, Nell; I'll do it."
Then, as he put his arm around her, she held up her lips to be kissed. "And we'll be happy again--happy as we deserve, I s'pose," she said with a smile and a sigh.
"It's almost like getting married again, Nell--for me." As they walked off up the sidewalk in the soft moonlight, their arms were interlocked.
They loitered like a couple of lovers.