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Agood Fellow's Wife








From: Main-travelled Roads

I

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, in-tensely 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-"

"A bank!"

"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."

"You?"

"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 mto 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 Tamo'-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.

II

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 tirne 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 failure-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 hand 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.





Next: Sanford

Previous: God's Ravens



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