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Main-Travelled Roads by Hamlin Garland

Part 6 out of 6

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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 thediscovery-
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.

IV

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."

"Why not?"

"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:

BANK CLOSED

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 any-thing 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. "Some-body 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 be-fore 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.

V

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.

VI

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."

Everybody looked.

"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!"

"Struck what?"

"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 Cpunty 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 moon-light, their arms were
interlocked.

They loitered like a couple of lovers.

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