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Sanford








From: Main-travelled Roads

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.

III

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."

"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 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:





Next: Bank Closed

Previous: Agood Fellow's Wife



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