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Title: Silas Bradford's Boy (1928)
Author: Joseph C. Lincoln
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Language:   English
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Title: Silas Bradford's Boy (1928)
Author: Joseph C. Lincoln




CHAPTER I


Late on a late autumn afternoon in the year 1903 the Village of
Denboro, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was undergoing
inspection and appraisal.  It did not know that it was undergoing
anything of the kind, nor would it have been in the least troubled
if it had known.

Denboro was satisfied with itself.  "Not a city--no!  Not a crowded
metropolis, teeming with riches and poverty, its gilded palaces
rubbing elbows with its sin-soaked slums--not that indeed.  But a
community of homes, the homes of God-fearing men and noble women,
a town with churches and schools, of prosperous shops and a well-
patronized circulating library, whose sons have sailed the seven
seas, whose daughters have reared their children to be true
Americans--in short, my friends, perhaps as fine an example of what
a town should be as may be found between the surging billows of the
Atlantic upon the one hand and the blue bosom of the Pacific upon
the other."  (See the address of the Hon. Alonzo Pearson, delivered
at the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the
incorporation of the township of Denboro, and on file in the office
of Abel Snow, town clerk.)

No, Denboro would not have feared inspection, it would have
welcomed it; the more perfect the diamond the purer its glitter
beneath the magnifying glass.  If it had been aware that Banks
Bradford, as he strolled down Main Street toward home and supper
that afternoon, was looking it over with amused condescension it
would not have cared at all.  Several of its citizens looked young
Mr. Bradford over as he passed, and their comments were singularly
free from awe or uneasiness.

"Who did you say?" queried Ebenezer Tadgett, peering through the
panes of the window of his secondhand shop.  "Who did you say
'twas, Joe?"

Jotham Gott, the cards of the euchre hand which had just been dealt
him clutched in his huge fist, answered casually.  "Oh, it's that
boy of Margaret Bradford's," he said.  "Cap'n Silas Bradford's son.
He belongs here in town, but he's been away so much, up to college
and studyin' law and the like of that, that I guess you ain't seen
much of him since you come to Denboro to live, Ebenezer.  His first
name's Silas, same as his father's was, but they always call him by
his middle one--Banks.  Lord knows why!  If my old man was as smart
as Cap'n Silas was in his day and time I'd be proud to use his name
even if 'twas Judas; yes"--with a chuckle--"even if 'twas Eliab--
and that's stretchin' things up to the limit of eyesight, you'll
have to give in."

The third member of the euchre party was a tall, raw-boned, stoop-
shouldered individual with a long face, the most prominent feature
of which was nose.  His surname was Gibbons and his Christian name
Eliab.  He sniffed through the prominent feature just mentioned and
turned on his heel.

"Humph!" he growled.  "If my eyesight was so poor I played the king
thinkin' 'twas the right bower I'd keep still, seems to me.  Come
on, boys; come on!  You owe me seven cents so fur, Jotham, and I'm
cal'latin' to make it ten in a couple more hands, which is all
we've got time for."

The game of "cutthroat" euchre was resumed in the back shop, and
Banks Bradford was for the time forgotten.  Meanwhile Mr. Bradford
himself had turned the corner by the post office and was walking,
more rapidly now, along the Mill Road on his way to the house in
which he was born and where he knew his mother and his supper were
awaiting him.

The Bradford home was situated on the slope of Mill Hill, upon the
crest of which still stood the old windmill where, years before,
the dwellers in Denboro brought their corn and rye to be ground.
Capt. Silas Bradford had bought the land when he was a very young
man, unmarried and in command of his first ship.  He had bought it
because of the view, which was extensive.  From the Bradford porch
one looked out over the little harbor, with its wharf and fish
houses, the dories and catboats, across the bay to the lighthouse
and lifesaving station at Loon Point, and beyond to the waters of
the Sound.  The house was not large, nor architecturally beautiful,
judged by the standard of to-day.  When Captain Silas built it
there was a strong fancy for mansard roofs, and jig-sawed
ornamental work about the piazza pillars and edging the eaves.  It
was painted white, its window blinds were green, and surrounding
the property was a picket fence, also spotlessly white.

It was, in spite of the jig-sawing, an attractive house with a
homelike, comfortable look.  Not by any means, said Trumet, the
sort of house Silas Bradford would have built in his later days
when he was a member of the Boston shipping firm of Trent, Truman
& Bradford.  And distinctly not to be compared with the mansion on
the Old Ostable Road which his partner, Elijah Truman, also a
Denboro man, did build when, an old man, having made his pile, he
married, retired from business and came back to his native town,
bringing his bride, many years younger than he, with him.  Elijah
had been dead for some time; but his widow still occupied the big
house--that is, when she could forego European travel and
California winters long enough to settle down anywhere.

Elijah Truman was a smart man, so Denboro cheerfully admitted.  And
old Benjamin Trent, the senior partner of the firm, had been smart,
too, although he was foolish enough to choose Ostable rather than
Denboro as his abiding place.  But the community was practically
unanimous in agreeing that neither Trent nor Truman was ever, for
cleverness and acumen and general outstanding ability, a "patch"
upon Silas Bradford.  "If Captain Silas had lived he would have
made a name for himself, not only in Ostable County but in Boston
and all over.  Yes, he would!"  But he did not live.  In 1883, when
only thirty-five, he died in San Francisco, as the result of an
accident--careless handling of a gun or pistol or something.  And
Margaret Bradford--she that was Margaret Banks, one of the Bayport
Bankses--was left a widow, with a boy five years old.  Margaret was
a good enough woman, there was nothing to be said against her, but--
the older heads in Denboro had wagged over this many times--she
was not good enough to be the wife of a man like Captain Silas.  In
fact--more head-wagging here--his marriage was--you might as well
say it as think it--the one mistake of the captain's life.  "Only
twenty-five when he married," said Denboro.  "Too young, altogether
too young.  If he'd waited--"'

Silas Bradford had been dead twenty years and now his son was
twenty-five, the exact age of his father at the time when the
latter committed the "one mistake."  And during those twenty years,
seafaring and ship-owning had gone out of fashion as means of
livelihood for ambitious men.  Silas Banks Bradford had never
trodden a deck except as passenger.  Instead, he had attended
college, then law school; and now, after a summer's visit with a
college friend in the West, he was at home again, a freshly fledged
member of the Massachusetts bar.  He had no intention of remaining
at home, however; far from it.

He opened the side door of the house--side doors were in New
England, in those days, still the regulation family entrance--and
entered the sitting room.  Upon the wall above the mantel hung the
portrait of his father, a crayon enlargement of the latter's last
photograph, taken when he was thirty-three.  The crayon enlargement
was a gift from Abijah Bradford, Silas's younger brother.  Abijah
had two enlargements made.  One he gave to Margaret, the widow; the
other he kept.  It hung in his bachelor apartment in the Malabar
Hotel on Main Street.

Banks tossed his hat upon the sofa and went on into the adjoining
room, the dining room.  The supper table was laid and ready, and in
the Salem rocker by the plant-filled window sat his mother reading
the morning Advertiser.  She dropped the paper and rose as he
entered.

In her youth, when the handsome and dashing Silas Bradford came
a-courting and with his customary forceful domination pushed all
rivals from his path, Margaret Banks had been a pretty girl.  Now
her hair was white and her figure matronly, but as her face lighted
with a smile of welcome for her son she was good-looking still.

"Well, Banks," she said, "I had begun to wonder what had happened
to you.  Where have you been?  Sit right down.  Supper has been
ready a long time."

She brought the teapot and the plate of cream-o'-tartar biscuits
from the kitchen and they seated themselves at the table.

"Where have you been?" she asked again, as she poured the tea.

"Nowhere in particular, Mother.  Just walking around, looking
things over, that's all.  Sorry I'm late; I didn't mean to be."

"Oh, that's all right.  You weren't late--very.  Then"--she
hesitated an instant--"then you haven't been in to see your uncle?
I thought perhaps you had and that was what kept you so long."

"No, I haven't called on Uncle Bije yet.  I will to-morrow.  I've
been just tramping about, down by the wharf and up and down Main
Street.  Sort of sizing up Denboro, you know.  I've been away from
it so long that I thought I would see how it looked."

"Well," said his mother, handing him a brimming cup, "how did it
look?  Natural, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes, natural enough.  Precious little change, so far as it is
concerned.  The change is in me, I guess."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, I don't know--yes, I do too.  Denboro is a nice old town, but
Lord, it is sleepy and dead and one-horse!  I like it--that is, I
like to come back to it once in a while and--well, shake hands with
people and places I used to know when I was a kid.  I suppose every
man feels that way about the town he was born in, if he has any
sentiment at all."  He spoke as if he were at least an octogenarian.

His mother smiled.  "Yes," she agreed.

"Yes.  But honestly, Mother, it is funny the way one's ideas
change.  I remember I used to think Mill Hill here was only a few
feet lower than Mont Blanc and the town hall about as huge as the
Capitol at Washington.  They've shrunk.  The whole place has
shrunk; I give you my word it has."

Margaret Bradford's smile was broader.  There was a twinkle in her
eye.  "Banks," she observed, "you speak as if you had been away
from Denboro for twenty years instead of three months."

"Do I?  Well, I feel as if I had.  And, of course, I really have
been away for a long time.  Four years at college and then the law
school.  Home for vacations, but I was too busy having a good time
then to notice much.  Now, when I'm through getting ready to earn
my living and am thinking of making a start at the regular job, I--
well, I've come to realize things as they are.  I've broadened, I
guess.  That's the answer."

"I see.  Then you don't like Denboro?"

"Like it?  Of course I like it.  I just said I did."

"I mean you wouldn't like it as a place to stay in--to live and
work in?"

The young man's laugh was answer sufficient.  "I should say not!"
he declared, with derisive emphasis.  "How does anybody live in
Denboro?"

"They manage somehow.  Your Uncle Abijah has lived here all his
life."

"Yes, and so has Cousin Nellie, for that matter.  Well, you won't
have to live here much longer, Mother.  I told you that the other
day.  Just as soon as Bill Davidson gets back to Boston, after he
finishes his trip around the world and arranges about my having a
chance with his father's firm.  It won't be much of a job, so far
as pay is concerned--not at first, but I'll attend to that end of
it in time.  I'll get ahead, if hard work will do it."

"I am sure of that, Banks."

"Yes; why not?  Other fellows get on, with less start than I'll
have.  Father didn't have a cent when he began.  He went to sea as
cabin boy when he was fourteen or so, and look what he was when he
died.  What?"

"I didn't speak.  At least, I didn't know that I did."

"Oh, I thought you did.  Well, what I'm trying to say is that you
and I will shut this house up.  Oh, not sell it--I wouldn't do that
any more than you would.  We could rent it, though, if we really
need the extra money.  You and I will go up to Boston.  You will
keep house for us both in some nice apartment, say.  I'll go in
with Davidson's father, and the rest of it is up to me.  Sounds
good enough, doesn't it?"

"Yes, yes, Banks, it sounds very good indeed."

"Well, then," a trifle impatiently, "why, every time I mention it,
do you look so queer?  Why, Mother, what in the world--you're not
crying, are you?"

"No.  No, Banks, I hope I'm not crying.  Why should I cry?"

"Lord knows, but I swear I believe you are!  Mother, don't you want
to go to Boston to live--with me?  You would be happy there, I know
you would."

"I should be happy anywhere with you, dear."

"Then, what--"

"Hush!  Don't get so excited.  Banks, I--I wish you had gone in to
see Uncle Abijah this afternoon.  He asked you to come.  I am
afraid he may have waited, expecting you."

"Really?  I'm sorry if he did, but I didn't think it made any
difference whether I went to-day or to-morrow.  I will go the first
thing in the morning.  But look here, you act as if my seeing him
was important.  It isn't, is it?  What does he want to see me
about?"

Mrs. Bradford hesitated.  Her look, as she regarded her son across
the supper table, was anxious and troubled.  "I think he wants to
talk with you about--about your plans for the future.  The sort of
thing you have just been talking about to me."

Banks was surprised.  "He does!" he exclaimed.  "Why?"

"He is interested.  He is fond of you, you know."

"I'm fond of him, so far as that goes.  Uncle Bije is a good old
sport.  Pretty stubborn and always ordering people about as if he
were their skipper and they were foremast hands, but all right,
just the same.  He's forever bragging about Denboro and the
Bradfords and all that, but I don't mind.  Probably I should talk
the same way if I had never been anywhere else and was as ancient
as he is."

"He is only three or four years more ancient than I am.  And as for
his never having been anywhere, well, he has made two round-the-
world voyages that I know of.  Before he gave up the sea I don't
suppose he had spent more than three months at a time in Denboro
since he was a boy."

"Now, Mother, you know what I mean.  And what is all this, anyway?
Is this--er--conference that I am to have with Uncle Abijah so
terribly serious?  You act as if it was."

"Why yes, dear, it is."

"The deuce you say!  And it is about me and my plans for the
future?"

"Yes.  That, and money matters."

"Money matters!  Our money matters--yours and mine?  Mother, what's
gone wrong?  What has happened?"

"Nothing has happened.  But you see--"

"Wait!  Have we--have you had losses or--or things like that?"

She shook her head.  "No, Banks," she said, "I haven't had any
losses.  You see, I never had a great deal to lose."

He leaned back in the chair, but before he could speak a step
sounded upon the walk outside.  His mother heard it and turned.

"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed.  "Some one is coming.  I do hope it
isn't Hettie."

Banks rose to his feet.  "Bother!" he growled.  "Mother, can't you
tell whoever it is that we're busy?"

She did not have time to answer, for the side door had opened.
Capt. Abijah Bradford stood on the threshold of the dining room.

"Hello, Banks!" he hailed.  "Evenin', Margaret.  Sorry to break in
on your supper, thought you'd be through by this time."

Captain Abijah was tall, broad and bulky; scarcely a gray hair;
blue eyes, with the sailor's pucker about their corners.  He rolled
when he walked, like a ship in a seaway.  He was by no means
handsome, as his older brother had been, but he had the Bradford
nose and chin--Banks had these--and the Bradford air of assurance
and command.  He was a bachelor, a member of the board of
selectmen, a director in the Denboro National Bank, a Past Grand
Master in the Masonic Lodge--altogether a person of importance in
Denboro, and aware of the fact.

Mrs. Bradford and her son had risen.  They bade him good evening.

"You haven't broken in on our supper," Margaret assured him.  "We
were practically through.  Sit down, Abijah."

Banks was already bringing forward a chair, but his uncle declined
it.  "Don't believe I'll sit, Margaret," he said.  "Well, young
fellow"--addressing his nephew--"you didn't get in to see me this
afternoon.  Too busy, eh?"

Banks fancied he detected a slight tinge of sarcasm in the
question.  He colored.  "No, Uncle Bije," he answered, "I wasn't
too busy."

"Then why didn't you come?  I gave up a committee meetin' waitin'
for you."

"I'm sorry.  I just--well, I--"

His mother helped him out.  "Banks didn't realize that it was a
definite appointment for to-day," she explained.  "He intended to
come to-morrow, didn't you, Banks?"

"Yes."

"All right, all right.  Only--well, I don't know how it is in the
law business, but aboard ship it's pretty generally a mistake to
put to-day off for to-morrow.  The men who sailed under your father
learned that in a hurry.  Margaret, have you talked with him about
what you and I have talked so much lately?"

His sister-in-law sighed.  "No," she confessed, "I haven't, Abijah--
not yet."

"Why not?  You and I agreed that it ought to be talked about,
didn't we?"

"Yes.  But--well, he has been at home only a day or two.  I wanted
us both to be happy as long as we could."

"Happy!  Humph!  I don't see any reason why you shouldn't be happy
if my scheme goes through.  A whole lot happier, accordin' to my
judgment, than you'd be likely to be any other way.  Look here,
Margaret, you're not backin' water, are you?  You're not lettin'
your soft-heartedness over this one chick of yours affect your
common sense?"

"No, Abijah."

"You mustn't.  And if this boy of yours has got his share of common
sense, which, bein' a Bradford, he ought to have, he'll--"

But Banks interrupted.  "Wait!  Hold on a minute, Uncle Bije," he
ordered, in a tone which although pleasant was crisp enough to
cause his uncle to turn and stare at him.  "Now that you are
speaking of common sense, don't you think it might be more sensible
to stop calling me a boy?  I'm twenty-five years old."

Margaret Bradford smiled.  She glanced from her son to her brother-
in-law and the smile broadened.

Captain Abijah rubbed his chin.  "Humph!  So you are, that's a
fact," he admitted grudgingly.  "I know it, too, but it's hard to
realize.  You've just got through goin' to school.  I belong to
another generation and I'm old-fashioned, I guess.  When I was
twenty-five I'd commanded a ship for two years.  When your father
was twenty-five he--"

And again his nephew interrupted.  "Oh, let's cut out the family
history," he suggested impatiently.  "Apparently you and mother
have been discussing me and my affairs and you haven't thought it
worth while to let me in on the matter at all.  What is all this
about, anyway?  Don't you think it is time I knew?  After all, it
might be as interesting to me as any one, I should imagine."

Abijah Bradford's red face turned redder.  People in Denboro were
not in the habit of using sarcasm when addressing him--young people
especially.  He had mid-Victorian convictions concerning the
respect due by youth to age.  He might have expressed those
convictions, but Margaret, catching her son's eye, shook her head
ever so slightly.

Banks' tone changed.  "I'm sorry, Uncle Bije," he went on quickly.
"I didn't mean to be fresh.  I only--  Wait, Mother, please; I know
what I'm doing.  I only want to make you both understand that I
think it high time you took me into your confidence.  Mother has
just told me that I made a mistake in not calling on you this
afternoon as I intended to do.  She says you and I were to have a
very serious talk about something or other.  If she had told me
that at first I should have been on hand, but she didn't.  However,
we can have it now, can't we?"

Uncle Abijah looked at Margaret.  Their eyes met.  She rose.

"I must clear the table and do the dishes," she said.  "Banks, if
you and your uncle will go into the sitting room I'll join you by
and by."

Banks turned toward the sitting-room door, but Captain Bije
hesitated.  He drew a heavy, old-fashioned gold watch from his
pocket and looked at the dial.

"It's pretty likely," he growled, "that a couple of the selectmen
may drop in on me to-night.  I ought to be on deck if they do.  You
come to my rooms to-morrow mornin' about nine, boy, and we'll have
our talk.  Meantime, Margaret, if you want to--well, break the ice
to him, which seems to me you ought to have done before--you can do
it. . . .  To-morrow mornin' at nine, then.  That won't be too
early to fit in with your college habits, will it?"  He grinned as
he asked the question.

Banks did not even smile.  "No, sir," he replied.  "It won't be too
early.  I think it will be a good deal too late.  I'd like to get
through with this to-night, Uncle Bije."

"Oh, you would, eh?  Well, I'm sorry, but I can't stay here any
longer to-night.  I've told you why."

"Yes, sir, I know.  But I can go with you to the hotel.  If your
friends do come our talk will have to be postponed, I suppose.  If
they don't we can get on with it.  Good night, Mother.  I'll be
home as soon as I can, but don't sit up for me."

He went into the sitting room and took his hat from the sofa.  His
uncle, after a moment's perplexed chin rubbing, followed Mrs.
Bradford to the kitchen.

"Humph!" he grunted.  "What set him out this way all at once?  What
have you said to him, Margaret?"

"Nothing much.  I did tell him that you wanted to talk seriously
with him about his plans for the future and about--money matters.
That is all I said.  The rest of it you said yourself.  You weren't
very diplomatic, Bije."

"Diplomatic!  What do you mean by that?"

"Oh, never mind! . . .  Yes, Banks, he is coming. . . .  Abijah, do
please be as careful as you can.  Make him understand just why you
think this will be best for him in the end!"

"Best for him!  How about somethin' bein' best for YOU, for a
change?"

"I don't really count, and I mustn't.  Oh, Abijah, do be
considerate with him.  He is going to be dreadfully disappointed."

"Bosh!  Some disappointments are good for young fellows his age.
All right.  Then we'll get it over with to-night, provided those
selectmen don't turn up.  Margaret, don't you worry.  I tell you
the day's coming when he's goin' to thank us all.  It's a great
chance for a young lawyer.  I'll do my level best to make him see
it.  You go to bed and to sleep.  You will, won't you?"

"I'll go to bed. . . .  There, there, Abijah; run along.  Good
night."

During the walk down Mill Road to the post office neither Banks nor
his uncle was conversational.  Captain Abijah perfunctorily
observed that it was a fine night and Banks agreed with him.  Other
than this, little was said.  The captain's dignity was still
slightly ruffled by what he considered freshness on the part of his
nephew, and the latter's mind was occupied with disquieting
guesses.  What was this secret business between his mother and his
uncle?  It concerned him, but how?  And what did his mother mean by
saying that money matters were involved?

The Malabar Hotel was an ancient hostelry on Main Street.  It was
built in the late sixties by Capt. Rinaldo Bassett when, having
made money in New Bedford whaling, he retired from the sea.  His
son, also named Rinaldo, was its present proprietor and manager.
In the dingy lobby, with its settees and armchairs and brass
cuspidors, a trio of loungers sprawled smoking and watching two
others who, in their shirt sleeves, were playing pool on the table
in the corner.  Behind the counter, where the register lay open,
its page for the day blank except for the date, Mr. Bassett was
dozing over a newspaper.

Captain Bradford halted momentarily at the foot of the stairs.
"Anybody been here to see me, Rinaldo?" he asked.

Mr. Bassett started, blinked and sat up in his chair.  "Eh?" he
queried.  "Oh!  No, Cap'n Bije, not a soul."

"All right.  If anybody does come I'll be up in my room.  Come on,
boy."

He led the way to the top of the first flight, then along the
corridor, feebly illumined by two kerosene bracket lamps, to the
second door from the end of the building.  This door he unlocked.

"Stay where you are, son," he ordered, "till I light up."  Banks,
blinking in the shadows of the musty-smelling corridor, heard the
sound of a striking match.  "Heave ahead!" called his uncle.  "Come
aboard."

Captain Abijah occupied the two corner rooms, perhaps the best
suite in the hotel.  The one on the corner was his bedroom.  The
other, that which his nephew now entered, was his sitting room.  It
was of good size, neat and comfortably furnished--a walnut center
table with a marble top, two comfortable armchairs, a big wooden
rocker, a walnut secretary desk, its lid open and heaped high with
letters and papers, a haircloth sofa.  On the wall between the
windows was a ship's barometer in gimbals.  Opposite, by the door,
hung a sextant and a silver-plated speaking trumpet.  On the third
wall were two oil paintings of square-rigged ships, and over the
mantel was a third, of a bark this time, and flanked by a
chronometer.  On the mantel itself were a pair of whale's teeth and
a pie-crust "crimper" made of whale ivory.  Standing in the corner
was a polished narwhal's horn.  Over the sofa, in the place of
honor, hung the crayon enlargement of Silas Bradford, a replica of
the one in the house occupied by Silas Bradford's widow.  The room
smelt strongly of tobacco, a pleasant contrast to the smells of the
rest of the Malabar.

Captain Abijah hung his hat upon the back of the rocker and pointed
to an armchair by the center table.  "Sit down, Banks," he said.
Banks took the armchair.  His uncle pulled open one of the drawers
of the secretary and took out a box of cigars.  "I'm goin' to
smoke," he observed.  "I generally talk easier when I'm under
steam.  You haven't taken up smokin' yet, I presume likely."

Banks smiled.  "Thank you, sir, I'll smoke," he said.  His uncle
was rather taken aback.  He himself had learned to smoke--and
chew--when he was fifteen, but he had forgotten that, just as he
persisted in forgetting that his nephew was twenty-five.

"Oh," he grunted, "I--  Humph!  Well, help yourself."

Banks took one of the cigars--big and black they were--from the box
and lighted it with an easy nonchalance which caused his relative
to stare at him.  Captain Abijah lighted his own and sat down in
the other armchair.  The pair looked at each other through the
smoke.

"Well," observed Abijah.

"Well, Uncle Bije?"

"I suppose likely we might as well get under way, hadn't we?"

"I should say so, sir, decidedly."

"Yes. . . .  Humph! . . .  All right.  You're through studyin' law;
you're a lawyer now, ain't you?"

"Yes, I suppose I am.  Ready to be one, anyhow."

"Um-hum.  Have you made any plans where you're goin' to begin to be
one?"

"Yes, sir.  Hasn't mother told you?"

"She's told me a little--nothin' very particular.  Suppose you tell
me over again."

Banks was quite willing to tell.  His great plan, involving the
desk in the office of the law firm in Boston, his opportunities
there, the closing of the house on Mill Hill, his mother's
accompanying him to Boston, their living together in some nice
apartment in the Back Bay or in that neighborhood--all these were
thoroughly mapped in his mind and had occupied his thoughts for
months.  He grew enthusiastic as he unfolded the prospect.  His
uncle listened, not speaking a word until he had finished.

"So," concluded Banks, "those are my plans.  They look good to me.
What do you think, Uncle Bije?"

Capt. Abijah Bradford knocked the ashes from his cigar into the
brass cuspidor which he had thoughtfully kicked into position on
the floor between them.  He did not say what he thought; he asked a
question of his own.

"Have you told Margaret--your mother all this, same as you're
tellin' it to me?" he asked.

"Yes, sir."

"And she didn't raise any objections?"

"No.  Why should she?"

"No objections at all?  Just sat up and gave three cheers when you
told her, eh?"

Banks flushed.  "Just what does that mean?" he asked hotly.  "Look
here; Uncle Bije, it's plain enough that you and mother have
something up your sleeve.  I wish you'd get it out where I can see
it.  I'm tired of hints--yes, and sneers.  Why not say what you
have to say and get it over with?"

Abijah crossed his knees.  Again this nephew of his was addressing
him in a tone to which he was unaccustomed; but this time he did
not appear to resent it.  To the young man's surprise, he chuckled
grimly.  "You've got more sand in your craw than I thought you
had," he observed.  "You ain't all Banks, I guess.  There, there!
Keep your hair on.  Now about this big scheme of yours.  It sounds
good enough; for another fellow it might BE good enough; but for
you it won't do."

Banks sat up in the armchair.  "Won't do!" he repeated in
amazement.  "What do you mean?  It's one chance in a hundred."

"There, there!  Let me talk a spell.  I mean what I say.  For you
it won't do, that's all."

"Why won't it do?  Don't you understand--"

"I understand, all right.  You're the one that doesn't.  There are
a half dozen reasons why, accordin' to my notion, this plan of
yours might not work out as well as some others but we won't bother
with but one just now.  That one is important enough.  It is that
you can't afford it."

Banks had expected almost anything, but this he had not expected.
To his mind again flashed that puzzling phrase of his mother's--
"money matters."  He caught his breath.

"Why--why, Uncle Bije," he gasped, "what is it?  What has happened?
Has--has mother lost money?"

Abijah shook his head.  "You can't very well lose what you haven't
got," he said.  "Your mother hasn't got any money to speak of,
and"--with emphasis--"she never has had much of any, not since
Silas died."

Banks was completely dumfounded.  His mother that very evening had
told him that she had little to lose, but he had not taken the
statement literally.  There had always been money forthcoming to
pay his bills at college and at law school.  His allowance was not
large, but it was sufficient.  He had taken for granted the
apparent fact that his mother was in comfortable circumstances--not
rich by any means, but free from financial worries.  And now--  Oh,
there was a joke in this somewhere, even if it was a poor one and
in bad taste.  His uncle was watching him intently, and now he
brushed his expostulations aside with a brusque wave of a big hand.

"Don't waste time, boy," he ordered.  "What I'm tellin' you is the
truth, and if you had been my son you'd have known it long ago.
I've told your mother so more times than a few--but no, you were
her baby and you must have this and that, do what young fellows
with ten times your money did, and have your opportunity with the
best of 'em.  That's what she was always preachin' to me,
opportunities and advantages--you must have 'em and you were goin'
to have 'em and Hettie and I must keep our mouths shut.  Well, I've
kept mine shut; you've had your 'advantages.'  Now even your mother
agrees that you must understand just how things are.  Maybe she'd
never have told you on her own hook.  Most likely she'd have gone
on scrimpin' and sacrificin', goin' without clothes and hired help,
starvin' herself and livin' on next to nothin', so that you could--"

But Banks had heard enough--for the moment, at least.  He broke in.
"Nonsense!" he cried in fierce resentment.  "You're talking
nonsense.  Of course you are.  Mother--why, mother would have told
me if there had been anything like this."

"No, she wouldn't.  I'd have told, if I'd had my way, but she
wouldn't.  She was too soft-headed over you to do anything of the
kind.  Your father, if he had been alive, would have told you.  He
was as sensible as he was smart.  But not your mother.  She was a
Banks and they're different.  There, there!  WILL you sit down in
that chair and listen to me?  Don't keep puttin' in your oar.  You
were all on edge to find out what I had up my sleeve.  It's out of
my sleeve now, part of it.  Listen and you'll hear the rest."

But Banks Bradford put in his oar once more; he could not help it.
"I'll listen, sir, of course," he said.  "But honestly, Uncle Bije,
I am sure you're exaggerating, trying to frighten me for some
reason or other.  Ever since I've been old enough to understand
anything I've heard what a brilliant man father was--brilliant as
captain, and in business and everything.  You just called him smart
yourself.  Well then, if he was so smart, is it likely he would
leave mother with nothing?  Hardly, I should say."

Captain Abijah's brow clouded.  "I didn't say he left her nothin',"
he explained.  "I said he didn't leave much.  He died just when his
firm was in some trouble and--well, we won't go into that.  It
wasn't Silas' fault, of course.  Now--"

"Wait!  Father's partners--Mr. Trent and Captain Truman--they were
rich men.  Mrs. Truman is very rich now.  How is it that they had
so much money and he had so little?  Oh, come, Uncle Bije--"

"Sh-h-h!  I tell you we haven't got time to waste on all that to-
night.  Trent and Truman made the bulk of their money afterwards,
in Chicago real estate, lucky speculation and the like of that.
But never mind them and never mind how much or how little Silas
left.  What we're talkin' about now is you, and this plan of yours.
As I understand it, your scheme is to shut up the house here, take
your mother to Boston with you, hire some expensive flat or
somethin', and she is to keep house for you in it while you sit
around in that Boston lawyer's office, waitin' till you're of
importance enough to earn a dollar.  And while you're waitin' her
money supports you both, same as it has so far.  That's it, isn't
it?"

His nephew squirmed in the armchair.  Although bluntly and brutally
put, and distorted and exaggerated, as he saw it, nevertheless this
was essentially his plan.  And it was a good plan.  Yes, it was.
If this stubborn, arrogant old sea dog would only use reason
instead of prejudice--

"You don't get it, sir," he protested vehemently.  "You don't get
it at all.  This Mr. Davidson, the head of the firm, is the father
of one of my best friends."

"Hold on! hold on!  Let's stick to the channel.  You won't be paid
much wages for the first year or so, will you?"

"Why no, not a great deal probably.  I haven't gone into that yet.
In fact, the whole thing is rather up in the air until Bill--that's
my friend--gets back from the other side."

"Yes, yes.  Well, in the air's a good place for it to be, accordin'
to my judgment.  It had better stay there.  Now, son, here are the
plain facts.  You and your mother can't hire any flat or house in
Boston.  You haven't got the wherewithal to pay Boston rents.  You
could, maybe, stick her into a room in a one-horse boardin' house
and she could keep on stintin' and doin' without and sacrificin'
herself for you.  She probably will, too, if you are that kind of a
fellow and will let her.  But you're not, I hope.  If you are your
father's son I know you're not. . . .  Wait again!  I tell you she
can't afford to live in the city as her kind ought to live.  She
can't, and pay your bills too.  I know, because I've been her
adviser in money matters since Silas died.  She's taken my advice
about everything--except you.  If she'd taken my advice in your
quarter things would be easier sailin' for all hands this minute."

Banks tried to protest further, to do more explaining, but words
were hard to find.  "Well--well," he faltered, "I--oh, I don't know
what to say.  Of course, if all this is true, and mother has been
doing these things for me, I--well, I didn't know it and I'm
sorry."

"That's the trouble.  You ought to have known it.  She ought to
have told you."

"And I wouldn't think of taking her to the city unless--  Hang it
all, Uncle Bije, this is a devil of a thing you're telling me!  I
can't give up a chance like this one.  I won't.  I could leave
mother at home and go up there by myself, couldn't I?  _I_ could
live in a one-horse boarding house if I had to."

"Yes, so you could.  Might not do you any harm either.  But she'd
be payin' your bills even then and sacrificin' herself for you same
as she always has.  Thunderation, boy, can't you see?  It's high
time you did somethin' for HER.  And"--leaning forward and speaking
with careful deliberation--"I think I've got the way for you to do
it."

His manner was impressive, so impressive that Banks' curiosity
overshadowed, for the instant, his fierce disappointment.

"How?" he blurted.

"That's mainly what I got you here to tell you.  I've got a chance
for you to practice law right here at home.  In your own town."

"In Denboro!  Me--practice law in Denboro?  Oh, for heaven's sake!"

"No, for your mother's sake.  And for your own sake, too, in the
end.  There have been good lawyers in Denboro.  One of the best of
'em, Judge Blodgett--you knew him; everybody in Ostable County knew
and respected him--has just died.  He didn't leave anybody to carry
on where he left off.  There's a chance there, and a good chance
for somebody.  My proposition is that you be that somebody.  Most
of the judge's clients won't, of course, care to trust their
important affairs to a green hand like you--not at first, anyhow.
But they may be willin' to throw the little ones your way.  Some of
'em, I know, will risk that much for the sake of your father's son
and my nephew. . . .  Now, now, lay to!  There's more.  I've been
doin' a good deal of thinkin' lately on your account, young man,
and I want you to hear the rest."

He went on to disclose the results of his thinking.  The late Judge
Blodgett's law offices in the post-office block opposite the hotel
were still vacant.  The Blodgett furniture and effects had been
removed, of course, but so far no one had taken over the rooms.

"You won't need any such layout as the judge had," he said.  "He
had three rooms; one'll do you, I guess.  Unless you're busier than
most beginners, you won't be crowded in that for a spell.  And I've
made some inquiries and I've got a halfway option on one of the
back rooms--the big room in front is too expensive--at a rent that
won't break anybody.  So far as that goes, I'll undertake to be
responsible for that rent myself, for the first year.  I'll hire
that room for you, buy you a desk and a couple of chairs, or
whatever's necessary, and get you started.  I'll do that much;
after that it's up to you.  You won't be lapped in luxury, as the
books tell about; you won't look as important and high-toned as you
might if those Boston lawyers gave you a desk in their office.  But
you'll be skipper of your own vessel, you'll be makin' a stab at
earnin' your own livin' and, if your mother and I do have to pay
your bills a while longer, they won't be city bills.  There, that's
my proposition to you.  It's a good one, I honestly believe.  I
want you to think it over--and think hard."

He stopped.  His cigar had gone out; he threw it into the cuspidor
and, taking another from the box on the table, lighted it.  Banks
Bradford's cigar was out also, but he was unaware of the fact.  He
was leaning forward in the armchair, staring at the carpet.  His
world was spinning in circles.

"Well?" queried Captain Abijah after a moment.

Banks looked up.  He smiled feebly.  "I--I--  By George, you've
knocked me over, Uncle Bije!" he blurted.  "Of course I realize
that you're trying to help me, and--and I'm much obliged to you,
but--but honestly, I--"

"Well?  What?"

"Honestly, I can't believe things are as bad as you say they are.
According to you, mother and I are paupers, we always have been
paupers."

"Bosh!  I never said you were paupers.  Your mother's got a little
money, although she could have consider'ble more if she'd used
common sense with you instead of spoilin' you.  You ain't in the
poorhouse, or anywhere nigh it.  What I'm tryin' to hammer into
your head is that it is high time for you to be a man and begin to
take the load off her shoulders."

"But you say she has been--been starving herself all these years."

"Sh-h-h!  If I said she was starvin' I didn't mean that exactly.
I wouldn't have let her starve, so far as that goes.  She was my
brother's wife, and Silas Bradford's widow wouldn't starve while
'Bijah Bradford was alive, I'll tell you that.  Your father was a
man, my boy.  We were all proud of him.  And we're proud of his
memory--mighty proud."

"Yes, yes, of course.  But mother--"

"Oh," broke in Captain Bije impatiently, "your mother's all right
in her way.  I tell you I ain't findin' fault with her."

"No"--sharply.  "And you're not going to."

"Don't worry.  Look here, Banks, this talk of mine to you has been
pretty straight.  I haven't muffled it down.  I wanted to see how
much of Silas Bradford there was in you.  If there's any
consider'ble amount of him in you you'll face the music.  I know
you're all upset and disappointed, but disappointments are good
medicine when you're young.  Your father had a lot of 'em in his
time."

Banks shifted in the armchair.  "Yes, yes, sir, I know," he broke
in curtly.  "But it's mother I'm thinking of just now.  I can't
understand--I can't believe--"

His uncle struck the table with his palm.  "Ask her, then," he
ordered.  "Ask her yourself and see what she says."

"I shall.  Be sure of that."

"All right. . . .  Eh?  Yes?  What is it?"

Some one had rapped at the door.  Now it opened and the bald head
of Mr. Rinaldo Bassett was thrust between it and the jamb.

"Cap'n Beals and Emulous Higgins are down below, Cap'n Bije," he
drawled.  "Emulous says you and them had an appointment or
somethin'."

"Yes, so we did.  Tell 'em to come along up. . . .  Well, Banks,"
rising to his feet, "it looks as if this was all we'd have time for
to-night.  Maybe it's enough for the first dose.  You ask your
mother anything you want to.  Then you think over my proposition.
Only remember this, because I mean it:  If you don't fall in with
it, if you go ahead with this Boston foolishness, you'll do it on
your own hook.  And whatever happens to you and your mother
afterward, you'll be responsible--and sorry, I shouldn't wonder.
Come and see me when you've thought it out.  Good night."

He held out his hand.  Banks took it listlessly, said good night
and left the room.  On the stairs he met the two members of the
board of selectmen on the way to the conference with his uncle.



CHAPTER II


The windows of the sitting room of the Silas Bradford house were
faintly illumined as Banks came up the walk to the side door.  A
peep beneath the shade, however, showed him that although the lamp,
its wick turned down, was burning upon the center table, his
mother's chair beside that table was empty.  Evidently she had done
as he requested and had not waited up for him.  He was thankful; he
did not feel equal to another trying interview that night.  There
were so many questions he must ask and which she must answer, but
for those questions and answers his brain must be clear.

He took the lamp from the table and turned toward the door at the
foot of the stairs.  He passed the sofa above which, on the wall,
hung the portrait of his father.  He paused an instant.  From the
frame the face looked down at him, keen eyed, commanding,
confident, dignified.  To Banks his father was but a shadowy
memory.  Silas Bradford had died when his son was five years old,
and during those years Captain Silas was at home only at infrequent
intervals.

But all his life Banks had heard his praises chanted, not only by
Uncle Abijah and Cousin Hettie--who were, of course, Bradfords by
birth--but also by Denboro in general.  Banks had shared the family
pride.  It was a fine thing to be Capt. Silas Bradford's son, even
though, in boyhood, occasionally a trifle wearing to be reminded
that that son must study hard and do this and not do that if he
hoped ever to be as great a man as his father.

Now, as he stood there before the portrait, his thoughts were
strange enough.  For the first time there was a doubt, an
unanswered question, in his mind.  If Silas Bradford was so clever,
so able, so very successful, how could he have left his family, as
Uncle Abijah declared he did leave them, with almost no money?  And
if the other things he had just heard were true--but pshaw, they
could not be true!  Uncle Bije rated his native town, the town he
had always lived in, as a sort of suburb of heaven, and an
opportunity presenting even the faint hope of succeeding the late
Judge Blodgett as that town's legal adviser would seem to his mind
the special dispensation of a kind Providence.  The old chap
realized that his nephew might not share this conviction and so he
was trying to frighten him into it.  That was it, of course.

It must be.  For if the stories of his mother's economies and
sacrifices were true, if they were only half true, what a careless,
selfish, blind cub he, Banks Bradford, had been all these years.

Lamp in hand, he tiptoed up the stairs.  As he passed the door of
Margaret Bradford's room her voice spoke his name.

"Banks," she called.

"Yes, Mother.  I hoped you were asleep before this."

"I'm not.  Aren't you coming in?"

"No, I guess not.  It is late and I'm tired.  Good night."

"Banks."

"Now, Mother, go to sleep, please."

"Just one minute, dear.  Did--did you have your talk with Uncle
Abijah?"

"Yes."

"Did he tell you--"

"He told me a lot of things.  I'll tell them to you in the morning.
Good night."

"Banks, you're not--oh, my poor boy, I am so sorry!"

"Now, Mother, forget it.  I am all right.  Don't worry about me.
Go to sleep; that's what I am going to do."

He closed the door of his own room before she could say more.  He
undressed and went to bed, but not to sleep.  It was almost
daybreak before he succeeded in doing that.

He came down to breakfast a trifle haggard and heavy eyed, but his
good morning was cheerful and he announced that he was hungry.
Margaret, anxiously watching him, noticed that in spite of this
brave declaration he ate very little.  She ate even less.  He did
not mention the conference with his uncle and it was not until the
meal was almost over that she broached the subject.

"Banks," she sighed, putting down the spoon with which she had been
stirring her untasted coffee, "I just can't wait any longer.  You
must tell me about it.  Please do."

He smiled across the table.  "After breakfast," he said.

"We haven't either of us eaten any breakfast.  You know it.  How
could I eat when you--  Oh, my boy, you don't blame me too much, do
you?"

He threw down his napkin and rose.  "Leave the table just as it is,
Mother," he ordered.  "Come into the sitting room and we'll have it
out together.  Shall we?"

They went into the sitting room.  She took the rocker and he the
armchair.  They looked at each other.  Her fingers were nervously
twisting and untwisting in her lap and her gaze was fixed upon his
face.

"Banks," she pleaded, "please!  Don't keep me waiting any longer.
All night I--"

"I know.  Well, I had rather a night myself.  A fellow who is all
set to be handed a bouquet and gets a punch in the eye instead
doesn't get over the surprise, not in an hour or two.  Especially
when he isn't sure whether it was meant to be a real punch or a
bluff.  Now I'm going to tell you the whole business.  This is what
happened."

He told of his interview with Captain Abijah, told it succinctly,
without elaboration, but omitting nothing of importance.  Margaret
would have interrupted at certain points, but he would not let her
do so.

"There!" he said in conclusion.  "That is what Uncle Bije said to
me and what I said to him.  I didn't say much; I was pretty dizzy
after that first smash.  Now I want to say a good deal, and what I
want you to do, Mother, is to answer me yes or no.  Yes, if it
should be yes, and no if it shouldn't.  Will you do that?"

"Yes, Banks.  But first, do let me say that what your uncle said--
oh, so much of it--was only partly true.  He made mountains out of
molehills."

"Did he?  I imagined he did, but I want to be sure.  Now, Mother,
first of all, is it true that we haven't any money?"

"No, of course it isn't.  We're not rich--you know that."

"I'm beginning to think I have never known much of anything.
According to Uncle Abijah, you have taken pains that I shouldn't
know.  How much money have you?  How much did father leave?"

Margaret hesitated.

"Come, Mother.  You must tell me.  We're going through with this,
you know.  How much?"

"Why--why, not a very great deal, dear.  Not as much as most people
suppose.  There was a time when Silas was--when we all thought he
was on the way toward being very well off indeed.  Then"--she
hesitated once more--"then his firm had heavy losses."

"Yes, so Uncle Bije said.  And he died just at that time."

"Yes."

He nodded reflectively.  "Mother," he said, "last night when I was
lying awake upstairs there, I got to thinking things over and it
seemed to me that what I do know about father I learned from Uncle
Abijah and Cousin Hettie and the people in town.  I tried to
remember what you had told me about him and I couldn't remember
much.  That seemed queer to me as I thought of it; it seems queer
now.  Maybe it is my imagination--I did a lot of imagining--but it
set me to wondering if there was any reason why you didn't like to
talk about father--to me, anyhow.  Is there any such reason?"

"No," was the agitated protest.  "Oh, no, no, Banks!  You mustn't
say that.  Please don't say it, or think it.  Don't!  You make me
feel--oh, wicked."

"Do I?  I don't mean to.  It just seemed to me--"

"You imagined it, dear.  You mustn't think such things.  Your
father was--why, the whole town knows what he was.  They talk about
him still--all the older people.  He was one of the most able
captains that ever--"

"Yes, yes, I've been told all that a thousand times.  Do you
suppose I have listened to Cousin Hettie's hymns of praise for
twenty years without learning how smart he was?  Uncle Abijah was
glorifying him last night.  It just seemed to me, as I thought it
over, that you yourself never told me as much about him as other
people have.  Look here, Mother, there is no real reason why you
haven't, is there?"

"Banks, please don't say such things."

"He was always good to you, wasn't he?"

"He was always a kind, generous husband.  I was a very proud girl
when I married him.  You see, most people thought he was marrying
beneath his station.  He was a Bradford, and the Bradfords have
always been prominent in Ostable County; and besides, even then he
was counted a clever, rising man.  I was a Banks, and my people,
most of them, have been just everyday folks.  Perhaps," she added,
smiling tremulously "that may be why I haven't praised him as much
as Abijah and Hettie are always doing.  I may have been a little
jealous, you see.  I have heard it said that his marrying me, when
we were both so young, was a mistake on his part.  Perhaps I didn't
want my son to think of his mother as--as a mistake."

Banks's eyes snapped.  "They'd better not call you a mistake while
I'm around," he growled.  "Well, all right, Mother.  It was just my
fancy probably.  But now about father.  I knew about his going to
sea when he was fourteen and being a captain when he was twenty-
two, and being taken into the firm of Trent, Truman & Bradford
before he was thirty.  I knew all that.  But last night Uncle Bije
started to tell me about things I hadn't known.  He told me only a
little; those selectmen came just as he got started on that part.
I wish you would tell me the rest.  About those losses the firm
had, and--and that sort of thing."

Margaret Bradford was silent for a moment.  Her fingers as they lay
in her lap were trembling.  But her voice, when she spoke, was
calm.

"Very well, dear," she said.  "I will try and tell you what I know.
The firm of Trent & Truman was very successful indeed in the 50's.
Then came the Civil War and the privateers, and they lost some
ships, just as so many firms did.  Business was ever so much better
after the War, and when your father was taken into partnership
every one thought it a wonderful thing for him.  But it wasn't so
wonderful.  The shipping business--with sailing vessels, I mean--
was close to its end, although of course none of us realized it.
Freights grew scarcer, the steamers were taking most of them, there
was a wreck or two, and--well, there came a time when the firm was
in a critical situation.  I don't know all the details--Abijah
knows them better than I do--but at any rate, your father and his
partners were terribly worried; there were notes to be met and all
sorts of things like that.  Finally Silas decided to take command
of one of their ships himself to go to sea again.  The vessel was
the Golconda, and she sailed from New York around the Horn to San
Francisco.  She caught fire off the California coast and burned.
The officers and crew took to the boats and landed safely.  Your
father went to San Francisco and a month later he--died there."

"Yes.  By accident, something to do with a gun he was handling.  Of
course, I know that much."

His mother drew a long breath.  "It wasn't a gun, it was a pistol,"
she said.  "No one knows exactly how it happened.  He was in his
room at the hotel, cleaning the pistol or handling it in some way,
and it went off.  The mate wrote that to Mr. Trent.  His body was
sent home and--well, that is all, Banks.  I have told you this
before.  I don't talk about it unless I have to.  You can
understand why, dear."

He nodded absently.  "Yes," he said, "I understand that, I guess.
But there is a lot I don't understand.  Why did father decide to go
to sea again; take command of this ship--what was her name?"

"The Golconda.  Why, to save money for the firm, I suppose.  And it
was a very important voyage; her cargo was very valuable.  Uncle
Abijah will tell you all about it, if you ask him."

"I'll ask him sometime.  You see, Mother, what still puzzles me is
this money business.  Trent, Truman & Bradford were in a bad way
before this Golconda burned.  They must have been a lot worse off
afterward.  She was a total loss, wasn't she?"

His mother hesitated.  "Not exactly," she said.  "She and the cargo
were insured."

"I see.  But this is what gets me:  Old Benjamin Trent, over at
Ostable, was a very rich man when he died; so was Elijah Truman,
and his widow is rich now.  Oh, well, it doesn't matter much.  I
remember Uncle Bije did say something about their making fortunes
afterward, out West, somehow.  But here we are again, just where we
started.  How much money did father leave you?"

Margaret looked up.  Again she tried to smile.  "Well," she said
slowly, "he left me this house and land and another piece of land
in South Denboro.  I sold that afterward.  And his life was insured
for five thousand dollars.  Then--oh, there was more than that, of
course!"

"How much more?"

"There was his interest in the firm.  I got something from that
later on.  And he had some investments--some railroad stock and
some bonds."

"Mother, you are just dodging.  What I want to know is just how
much money we have had to live on since father died.  You must tell
me.  If you don't Uncle Abijah shall."

Margaret sighed.  "I have had an income of about sixteen hundred a
year, most of the time.  Oh," she added hastily, "it was enough.
We have got along.  It doesn't cost me much to live here."

He was staring at her, aghast and incredulous.  "Sixteen hundred a
year!" he gasped.  "And with that you have paid my bills at college
and in law school and kept this house?  Mother, you're crazy!"

She shook her head.  "No, no, I'm not," she protested.  "What I got
for the South Denboro land paid your college bills, or most of
them.  That was an extra, you know."

"But the law school?"

"Well," she faltered, "I--I have used a little of the principle for
that.  Not a great deal, but some.  You see, dear, you had to have
your education.  You always wanted to be a lawyer, and I was
determined you should be."

His face was flushed.  "Had to have my education," he repeated
slowly.  "And I had it.  And you have been starving yourself and--
and--  My God, Uncle Bije was right.  He was right!"

"Oh, no, no, he wasn't!  If he told you I was starving, or any such
ridiculous thing as that, he ought to be ashamed.  Do I look as if
I starved?"

"Hush!  Let me think this out, if I can.  And here I have been
sponging on you and taking your money, going to California on a
vacation."

"It was to be your last long vacation.  I wanted you to remember it
always.  Don't you see?"

"I see"--bitterly.  "Mother, I--oh, how could you?  If it hadn't
been for Uncle Abijah I suppose you would have let me go on for a
year or two more; let me drag you to Boston."

"No, no, Banks, I intended to tell you that I didn't think I could
do that."

"But you would have let ME go."

"I would have let you do anything that was best for you.  You are
the one interest I have in life and nothing--NOTHING shall stand in
your way if I can prevent it.  If you are sure that this place in
your friend's father's office is your best chance to get on in the
world, you must take it.  You must, Banks.  And you mustn't worry
about me.  I am capable of taking care of myself, perfectly
capable.  I am almost sorry I let you talk with Abijah last night.
He told you a lot of foolish things, as I was afraid he might."

He was not listening.  He was thinking, and now he spoke his
thoughts aloud.  "I wouldn't have believed it," he vowed.  "I
wouldn't have believed that a fellow as old as I am could have been
such a blind jackass.  To think that I have never even suspected;
never asked a question.  Just taken it for granted that we were
comfortably fixed and--and breezed along, while you--  Sixteen
hundred a year!  Good Lord!"

He turned away and began pacing the floor.  His mother, anxiously
watching him, saw him stop in his stride and look toward the
window.  She, too, looked.

"Who is it?" she cried hastily.  "Is it--oh, I hope it isn't!  Now,
of all times!"

He groaned.  "Your hopes are wasted," he muttered in utter disgust;
"it is.  Mother, you'll just have to excuse me.  With all I've got
on my mind this minute I can't stay here and listen to her chatter.
I'm going out."

She lifted a hand.  "Please don't, Banks," she begged.  "She'll
hear you go and she'll suspect that you are running away.  And I
shall have to answer more questions.  Stay a little while."

He was still hesitating when the side door opened.  There was a
swish of skirts, a brisk step, and Cousin Hettie marched into the
sitting room.

Marched is the only fitting word.  The progress of Miss Henrietta
Bradford was always martial.  She was the daughter of Abner
Bradford, younger brother of the father of Abijah and Silas
Bradford.  Uncle Abner earned his first dollar when he was eleven
years old; that identical dollar was in his possession when he
died.  His daughter inherited it and she had it yet.  She inherited
also the house on the Swamp Road where, except during the fall and
winter months, when she rented her upstairs front room to the
school-teacher or some other lodger, she lived alone.

She was fifty-eight and a spinster.  "Outside of father and Abijah--
and poor dear Cousin Silas, of course--I've never seen a man yet
I'd give twenty-five cents for," was her scornful declaration.  The
male population of Denboro was not deeply humiliated by this low
estimate.  "Show me somethin' Hettie Bradford will give twenty-five
cents for," sneered Jotham Gott, during one of the euchre games in
Ebenezer Tadgett's back room, "and I'll show you a bargain at
seventy-five.  And I've generally understood," he added with a
grin, "that it took two to make a bargain."

Cousin Hettie marched into the sitting room and, as Margaret had
risen from the rocker, she promptly sat down in it.  "There!" she
exclaimed, with a sigh of satisfaction.  "I got here finally.  Such
a morning as I've had!  Don't say a word!  My soul!"

The request--or command--was entirely superfluous.  Neither Banks
nor his mother had made any attempt to say a word.  Margaret was
regarding her with an expression of weary resignation which
changed, as she caught a glimpse of her son's face, to one of quiet
amusement.

"Don't say a word!" repeated Cousin Hettie with even more emphasis.
Then, an instant later, "Well?  Are you struck dumb, both of you?
What on earth's the matter?  You haven't opened your mouths since I
came in."

Margaret opened hers then.  "What is the trouble this time,
Hettie?" she asked.

"Trouble!  Don't say a word!  Is there anything BUT trouble in this
vale of tears for most of us?  I haven't found much else.  You read
your Bible, I suppose, Margaret?  I hope you do.  Of course"--
turning toward the other member of the trio--"I don't presume to
ask you that, Silie.  If half of what I see and hear tell of young
folks nowadays is true they don't waste much time on the
scriptures.  No, indeed! they want livelier reading than that.
I've just read--I had to read it, being on the choosing committee
for the library; otherwise than that I never would have soiled my
eyesight with such a thing, you'd better believe--I've just
finished a novel that was sent in on approval by some book-printing
people in New York or Boston or somewhere.  And really--  Written
by a woman 'twas, too, and of all the brazen things she must be!
About a man who was married to the wrong one, and there was
somebody else, of course, who was the right one.  And--but there!
sometime when we're alone, Margaret, I'll tell you the rest of it,
though I shall be ashamed to.  When I'd read the last word of that
book, thinks I to myself, 'Well, if--'  Eh?  you're not going away,
are you, Silie?  I've just got here and I came partly to see you."

Banks was strongly tempted to reply that her getting there was the
reason for his leaving.  He did not like Cousin Hettie.  He
considered her the family pest.  She insisted upon calling him
Silie--because Silas had been his father's name and it was his
name, too, and he ought to be grateful for it and proud to use it.
As a small boy she made him ridiculous in the eyes of his playmates
by screaming "Silie!  Silie!" at him from the window when he passed
her house.  Juvenile Denboro promptly changed this appellation to
"Silly," and it had cost him several black eyes and many bruises to
prevent being tagged with the nickname.  His earliest recollections,
the disagreeable ones, centered around Cousin Hettie--her
preachments about his behavior in Sunday school, about taking care
of his clothes, sitting up straight, like a little man, and not
gobbling his food at table.  At Christmas she gave him "useful"
presents.  Firecrackers on the Fourth were wicked wastes of money,
and dangerous besides.

And, always and forever, she told him what a wonderful man his
father had been and how far short of such perfection he was likely
to be.  If any one could have made him regard his father's memory
with detestation instead of pride that one would have been Cousin
Hettie Bradford.

"Why, yes," he admitted, not too graciously, "I was going out.  At
least I was thinking of it."

"What for, this early in the morning?"

"Oh, I--I had errands uptown."

"Whereabouts uptown?"

Margaret came to his rescue.  "You said you were in some sort of
trouble, didn't you, Hettie?" she suggested.

"Did I?  Yes, I guess likely I did.  Well, as I started to say in
the beginning before you two put me off, if you read your Bible, as
I hope and trust you do, you'll remember it tells us that man born
of woman is of few days and full of trouble.  It doesn't tell us
that woman is fuller.  Didn't think 'twas necessary, I presume
likely; anybody--every woman, anyhow--knows that without being
told. . . .  I'm not going to have my new sitting-room stove put up
after all."

"You're not?  Why, I thought you had bought it already."

"So I had.  For mercy sakes, Silie, come back here and sit down!
You make me nervous.  Those errands of yours can wait a minute or
two, can't they?"

The errands being purely fictitious, Banks had no satisfactory
answer ready.  He sat, though with reluctance, and in a chair close
by the kitchen door.  Cousin Hettie went on.

"No," she declared, "I've decided not to put that stove up yet
awhile.  For much as a year I've been looking forward to buying it
and setting it up and enjoying my Item and my library books in
comfort, cold winter nights.  The old airtight I've got there now
is the one father bought years and years before he died, and it
leaks smoke all around the pipe and the grate keeps falling down
and--and I don't know what all.  I've had it fixed and fixed and
fixed, but the last time Zenas Hubbard came to look at it he said,
'Hettie,' he said, 'fixing that stove again would be like putting
iron hoops on a cracked wooden leg; 'twould cost more than to buy a
new one and would be a waste of time besides.'  So finally I went
in and saw Ebenezer Tadgett and he had a real nice second-hand gas
burner, and after considerable beating down--you never want to pay
that man his first price for anything--I bought it.  And now I
can't put it up after all.  Do you wonder I'm sick and disgusted?"

It was evident that she expected her hearers to say something, so
Margaret said it was too bad.  Banks was silent.  His thoughts were
far away from air-tights and gas burners and his glance wandered
toward the kitchen door.

"I should say 'twas," agreed Cousin Hettie.  "And it's all on
account of that Mr. Payson, the high-school principal.  He's had my
upstairs front room for a year now and he's takin' it again for
this coming winter.  It's a real nice comfortable room; my own
father passed through his last sickness in it, as you know,
Margaret, and that shows what sort of room it is, for nobody on
earth was more particular about his comfort than father was.  Mr.
Payson rented it all last winter and never complained about it and--
well, it just goes to show you can't be too careful about keeping
your affairs to yourself.  Last night I happened to tell him I'd
bought the new gas burner, and what do you think he said?  Said
that was nice, because now I could put the old airtight up in his
room.  The Franklin grate that's there now, he said, was no good--
those were the words he used, no good--and most of the evenings
last winter he had to go to bed to keep warm.  Did you ever in your
born days!"

Mrs. Bradford said she never did.  There was a twinkle in her eye
as she glanced at her son.  He did not notice the twinkle; his
chair had been hitched perceptibly nearer the door.

"I GUESS you never did!" agreed Cousin Hettie.  "Well, you can
imagine I didn't sleep much after I had that said to me.  I just
laid awake thinking and thinking, and I came to the conclusion
there was only one thing to be done--I must do without my new stove
for this winter.  Perhaps Ebenezer Tadgett will take it back--I
don't know, but anyhow, I must do without it and get along best I
can with the old air-tight."

Margaret looked puzzled.  "But why?" she asked.

"Why?  I should think it was plain enough why.  That air-tight
can't be fixed for less than seven dollars.  Zenas Hubbard named
seven and a half as his figure, and it can't be used at all unless
it is fixed.  If I wouldn't have it fixed for myself, is it likely
I'll do it for that Payson man--and pay for a new stove besides?  I
shall tell him I've decided I can't afford the new gas burner, and
that I'll get along with the air-tight and he must get along with
the Franklin.  It's a shame, but that is how it always is.  I'm a
lone woman and every man in this town knows it and would take
advantage of me, if I was soft-minded enough to let 'em.  But you
can't imagine how disappointed I am about that gas burner.  It is
such a nice stove, and hardly worn at all.  Why, the hot-water urn
on top isn't even cracked."

She was out of breath by this time, and she finished the recital of
her grievances with a groan and a shake of the head.

"Well, there," she added a moment later.  "That's all of that, I
guess.  I just had to come and tell you about it.  It's a dreadful
thing to be alone in the world and have to do your own planning and
figuring and--and all like that.  You can be thankful you had such
a husband as you did have, Margaret Bradford, even though an all-
wise and seeing power took him away from you.  If Silie here only
turns out to be half as--  Oh, that reminds me!  It was what I came
here to talk about, mainly.  Silie, what in the world were you and
your Uncle 'Bijah up to last night?"

Banks, started out of his reverie by this unexpected question,
stared at her.  "Up to?" he repeated.

"Why, yes.  I've been told that you and he were shut up together in
his room at the hotel for much as an hour.  That's the story;
perhaps it isn't true."

Banks said nothing.  If Miss Bradford was expecting him to ask the
name of her informant she was disappointed.  He opened his lips as
if to speak, then frowned and closed them tightly.  He and his
mother exchanged looks.  Cousin Hettie went on:

"Of course," she said, with a toss of the head, "it isn't any of my
affairs.  I was a little surprised to hear it, that's all.
Considering that so far, since you came back home, you haven't as
much as dropped in to say howdydo to any of your relations, I--
Ah, hum! never mind.  It will be my turn some day perhaps.  When
your father got home from a voyage one of the first things he
always did was to run right around to my house.  But times change,
and manners change with 'em, I suppose.  It's all right.  I'm not
jealous; I haven't got a jealous disposition, I'm thankful to say."

"It wasn't a social call, Hettie," Margaret explained.  "Banks and
his uncle talked over a business matter, that's all."

"Business matter?  Dear me!  That sounds terribly important."

Banks put in a word.  "It was important," he said curtly.

"I want to know!  What sort of business did you talk about?"

"Oh--well, the law business."

"Law business!  Goodness gracious!  Nobody in our family is going
to law, is there?"

"Yes; I am."

It was a perfectly innocent if not very illuminating reply, but it
had a curious effect.  Miss Bradford caught her breath and leaned
forward in her chair.

"You are!" she repeated sharply.  "YOU are?  What's all this?  What
has Abijah Bradford been saying to you?  Has he--  What are you
talking about?  Come!  I want to know."

Banks and his mother gazed at her in amazement.  Her hands were
clenched and her tone was shrill and insistent.

"Why, Hettie!" protested Margaret.  "What--"

"I want to know what is going on behind my back.  That's what I
want to know."

"There, there!"  It was Banks who interrupted.  "Hush, Mother, I'll
tell her; it isn't any secret.  Nothing is going on behind your
back, Cousin Hettie.  Uncle Bije and I were talking over plans for
my practicing law.  I'm a lawyer now, and the important question is
where I shall begin to practice, or try to.  That's all.  There is
no conspiracy, and nothing for you to get excited about, so far as
I can see."

Cousin Hettie's odd and, to Margaret and her son, inexplicable
agitation, suspicion--whatever it might be--was apparently not yet
entirely allayed.  She regarded her young relative steadily for a
long instant.  Then she turned to Margaret and looked at her.

"Humph!" she mused.  Then addressing Banks, "So that's all 'twas,
eh?  Just about you practicing law?  You're sure there was nothing
else?"

"Of course I'm sure," he said impatiently.  "What else could there
be?  No one is trying to put anything over on you, if that's what
you're afraid of."

Miss Bradford's thin bosom rose and fell with a long sigh,
apparently of relief.  "Well, all right," she said.  "Only--well,
it does seem kind of funny that I never heard a word about all this
planning, or whatever 'twas, that's been going on between you and
Abijah.  I'm a Bradford as much as the rest of you, or I always
supposed I was.  Why didn't I know?"

"Oh, because nobody knew it.  I didn't know myself, until last
evening, that Uncle Bije had any plans for me.  Mother, I'm going
now."

He rose, but Cousin Hettie lifted a hand.  She was smiling now,
after a fashion.  "Oh, dear!" she groaned.  "Dear, deary me!  You
both think I'm queer in the head, I guess.  I don't wonder.  It's
my poor nerves.  Doctor Brand keeps dosing 'em and fussing with 'em
but they don't get any better and I'm about resigned to it.  It
takes next to nothing to get me all upset, and if one thing is
surer to do it than anything else it's the very name of a lawsuit.
Ever since that Baker man sued father for not paying for that cow
he never bought and I had to stand up over in that Ostable court
and testify before everybody, I--  Oh, dear!  I'm sorry if I scared
you.  I'm all right now. . . .  Yes, yes, Silie, of course I know
you're a lawyer, a real lawyer, and it makes me proud to think of
it.  But it's so hard to realize that you're a grown-up man and--
and all like that. . . .  So you and Abijah were making plans
together?  That's awfully interesting.  What did you decide?  Do
sit down again and tell me all about it, that's a nice boy."

But the nice boy refused to sit.  "We didn't decide anything," he
replied.  "When anything is decided you shall know about it; so
will every one else.  Mother, I'm going out.  I may be back at
dinner time or I may not.  I'll be all right, wherever I am, so
don't fret."

"But Banks, where are you going?"

"I don't know exactly.  Just out around--somewhere by myself.  See
you later.  Good morning, Cousin Hettie."

He walked to the hatrack in the entry.  Miss Bradford called after
him to say that if he were going uptown she was going that way
herself in a minute or two.  Apparently he did not hear her, for
the outer door closed behind him.



CHAPTER III


At two o'clock that afternoon Mr. Ebenezer Tadgett, in what he
called the "other back room" of his place of business on Main
Street, was kneeling before a battered piece of furniture and
humming a tune.  The other back room in Mr. Tadgett's shop must not
be confused with the back room; they were separate and quite
individual apartments.  The back room was small; the other back
room was of good size.

The former was Mr. Tadgett's office.  His flat-topped desk and desk
chair were there; also a table, two other chairs and a small and
ancient iron safe.  Ebenezer had bought the safe of its former
owner several years before, but at the time of its purchase the key
could not be found, nor had it been found since.  When asked, Mr.
Tadgett was accustomed to say that he had been meaning to fit
another key to that safe, but that he hadn't got round to it yet.
Consequently, the safe was never locked.

The desk--it, too, like every other article of furniture on the
premises, was secondhand--was heaped high with papers piled
higgledy-piggledy, except for a small space in the center where the
papers were pushed back to leave room for an ink-stand, a pen or
two and a can of smoking tobacco.  The chairs were of different
patterns, one of them mended with cod line.  The table was of the
"tip up" variety and it was upon it that Ebenezer and Jotham Gott
and Eliab Gibbons played cutthroat euchre at their regular
Wednesday afternoon sessions.

The back room opened from the shop itself, and the shop was crammed
with merchandise in various stages of dilapidation--chairs, tables,
glassware, trunks, sea chests, lamps, dory anchors, pictures,
books, rowlocks, clocks, garden tools, whatnots, crockery, oars,
household and nautical discards of all sorts.  When a Denboro
citizen, male or female, desired to get rid of something which had
outgrown use or fashion the invariable custom was to find out what
Tadgett would give for it.  If he would give nothing for it it was
burned or thrown away.  A thing he would not buy at some price was
worthless indeed.

The other back room was at the rear of the back room.  Its two
windows looked out upon the back yard; across that yard was the
garden gate of the Tadgett cottage, which faced on Mill Road.  In
the other back room Ebenezer kept his treasures.  If you liked fine
old things--really liked them and understood them, and showed that
you liked and understood them--you might be admitted to that room.
The craze for antiques was young yet, but Mr. Tadgett, although far
from young, was a sufferer from it.  He sold what he called junk to
any one, but in order to get him to part with, or even to exhibit a
really fine piece the would-be purchaser must possess tact and
prove knowledge.  Making believe helped very little.  "It don't
take me very long to spot a fake," boasted Ebenezer, "whether it's
dressed up in mahogany or diamonds."

He spent a great deal of his spare time in the other back room,
doing what he called resurrecting.  He was resurrecting now.  He
was kneeling before a small drop-leaf table and scraping carefully
at one of its edges with a sharp knife.  The table was of a
pleasing shape, but it was scarred and dented and had at some
period of its existence been painted a hideous blue green.  The
edge from which Mr. Tadgett was so carefully scraping the green
paint was beginning to show dully brown, and this brown surface was
bisected with a line of lighter wood.

Ebenezer paused in his labor, sat back upon his heels, inspected
the space he had just scraped, and smiled apparently with
satisfaction.  The tune he was humming grew louder, acquired words
and became the verse of a song:


     "Stick to your mother, Tom,
         When I am gone,
      Don't let her worry, lad,
         Don't let her mourn.
      Remember how she watched you
         When I was far away--"


The singing stopped, for the bell attached to the Main Street door
to the shop jingled, announcing the entrance of a visitor.  Mr.
Tadgett reluctantly laid the scraping knife on the floor and turned
his head to listen.  Then he slowly and stiffly rose from his knees
to his feet.


     "Stick to your mother
         When her hair turns gray,"


he finished deliberately.  Then he dusted his hands on his trousers
and strolled into the shop.

The person standing there was a young man.  Ebenezer, blinking
behind cloudy spectacles, did not at first recognize him.  "Yes,
sir," he observed cheerfully.

"Mr. Tadgett, is it?"

"The same.  Yes, sir."

"My name is Bradford."

"Eh?  Bradford?  Oh!  Yes, yes, of course."

It was the young fellow who had passed the shop the previous
afternoon; Jotham Gott had called him "Margaret Bradford's boy."
Any long-time resident of Denboro would have recognized him.
Ebenezer Tadgett was a comparative newcomer, having migrated from
South Harniss only three years before.

"Bradford," repeated Ebenezer.  "Oh, yes, yes.  Well, it's a good
seasonable day for this time of year, Mr. Bradford."

Banks Bradford agreed that it was.  Then he said, "Mr. Tadgett, I
noticed that card in your window."

"Did, eh?  Well, that's comfortin'.  I kind of hoped somebody might
notice one of 'em sometime.  Which one did you notice?"  It was a
fair question, for there were no less than seven lettered bits of
cardboard hanging in the shop windows.

"The one about the rooms to let in the post-office block; Judge
Blodgett's law offices, they used to be.  That one."

"O-oh!"  Mr. Tadgett shook his head.  "Too bad, too bad," he added
mournfully.

"Too bad?"

"Yes, sort of too bad, in a way.  I had hoped 'twas the one about
that secondhand mackerel sieve I've got for sale.  I'd like to get
rid of that seine.  It takes up consider'ble space and it don't
smell like lemon verbena, neither. . . .  But I have got the key to
Judge Blodgett's rooms.  Like to look at 'em, would you?"

"Why," said the other with an apologetic smile, "I have looked at
one of them already."

Ebenezer stared at him.  Then he took a bunch of keys from his
pocket and stared at that.  "Humph!" he grunted.  "You must have
eyes like a pair of gimlets.  Or did you peek through the window?"

"No, I went into the building, just to see where the rooms were
located, you know, and the door of the back room was open."

Mr. Tadgett regarded the bunch of keys thoughtfully.  "Humph!" he
grunted once more.  "I'd have swore I locked that door yesterday
forenoon, when Cap'n Bije Bradford and me went over to look at them
rooms."

"Yes.  Well, you see the key had been turned, but the door wasn't
shut tight."

Ebenezer nodded several times; then he put the keys in his pocket.
"I do see," he observed.  "Yes, yes, I see.  Well, I promised when
they put those rooms in my care that I wouldn't forget to keep 'em
locked up; but I don't remember promisin' to shut the doors afore I
locked 'em.  Half a loaf is better than no bread; they can't expect
too much for three dollars a week, now can they? . . .  So you
looked the premises over on your own hook, eh?"

"I looked at one room, the smaller one."

"Sho, that one isn't for rent--not exactly.  Cap'n Abijah Bradford
has took a sort of what he calls option on that room for a week or
so."

"Yes, I know.  He told me.  He thinks it will make a good office
for me.  I am his nephew."

"Eh? . . .  Why, yes, so you are.  Yes, yes. . . .  Humph!  That
makes you Hettie Bradford's nephew, too, don't it?"

"No"--promptly.  "She is my cousin, that's all."

"Cousin, eh?  First or second?"

"Why, second or third, I guess, if that makes any difference."

Again Tadgett nodded.  "'Twould to me," he said with emphasis.
"However, that's neither here nor yonder, as the feller said.
Well, Mr. Bradford, what about them rooms?  You've seen 'em and
Cap'n Bije has seen 'em.  Cal'latin' to take up the option on the
one in back, are you?"

Banks hesitated.  "I don't know whether I can do that or not.  You
and my uncle have discussed rent, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"Would it be all right to ask what the rent of that back room, the
smallest one is?"

Ebenezer rubbed his chin.  "Why, it would be all right to ask," he
observed.

"I see.  Well, that matter is between you and Uncle Abijah, of
course.  I beg your pardon."

"Sho, sho!  Nothin' to beg about.  And considerin' who you are, I
don't see why I shouldn't tell you the figure.  That room can be
hired by Cap'n Bije, or anybody he stands responsible for, for
twelve dollars."

"Twelve dollars--a week?"

"Week!  Good Lord, no!  Twelve dollars a month."

The young man looked tremendously relieved.  "Why, that's awfully
cheap, isn't it!" he exclaimed.

"It would be cheap for a yoke of oxen, or a sealskin cape, but for
that room it's a plenty.  However, it's what Nathan Blodgett told
me was the lowest I could sublet it for.  Goin' to take it?"

A long breath, then a nod.  "Yes, I am," said Banks Bradford.  Then
he added, "And now, Mr. Tadgett, there is something else.  I
suppose I shall have to have a little furniture."

"Well, it is a pretty general habit to have a little, that's a
fact."

"Yes.  I must have a desk and--and a chair or two."

"Two's more convenient; unless you're cal'latin' to play solitaire."

"I thought perhaps I might try to find what I want here in your
place."  He looked about the huddled mass of odds and ends in the
shop.

The proprietor of the shop looked also.  "Uh-hum," he drawled.
"You never can tell till you do try.  I'm willin' to guarantee you
can find what you DON'T want; I make it a p'int to keep a good-
sized stock of that on hand.  But let's have a look.  Desk first,
eh?  Humph!  Now there's somethin'."  He pointed to an ancient
ruin, half hidden by a roll of musty rag carpet.

Banks pulled aside the carpet.  "Is that a desk?" he asked
dubiously.

"The folks I bought it of seemed sartin 'twas one once. . . .
Humph!  Well, there ought to be more somewheres."

There were several more, varying from a huge ugly walnut secretary
to pine tables with drawers missing or minus a leg.  As the search
proceeded Banks Bradford's expression grew more and more gloomy.

"Are these all you have, Mr. Tadgett?" he asked.  "Just these
here?"

"Just about. . . .  Eh?  What's the matter?"

The door of the other back room was open and Banks was standing on
its threshold looking in.  "Why, there is a desk," he exclaimed--
"that one in there."

Ebenezer peered over his shoulder.  "Yes," he admitted.  "That's a
desk, of a kind.  It's about as seedy, though, as the one I showed
you first."

"Yes, but it is such a corking shape."

"Think so, do you?"

"You bet!" said Banks enthusiastically.  "May I go in and look at
it?"

"Yes, if you want to.  It ain't for sale, though."

His visitor did not appear to have heard the last sentence.  He was
standing before the desk, regarding it with rapt interest.  It was
a small four-legged affair; a flat top covered with ragged faded
felt; a drawer beneath, with an ancient copper handle hanging by
one rivet; a low rack of pigeon-holes and tiny drawers, before
which sliding ribbed partitions were partially drawn.  It had been
painted a hideous shiny black, but most of the shine had
disappeared and the paint itself was peeling in patches.

"Some derelict, ain't it?" observed Tadgett, standing by the
Bradford elbow.  "'Bout ready for the kindlin' pile, eh?"

Banks did not answer.  He bent forward and pulled gently at a tiny
brass knob.  One of the ribbed partitions slid farther across the
rows of pigeonholes.

"A tambour desk!" he cried enthusiastically.  "And look at those
legs!  And that handle!  Why, it's the original handle--with the
eagle and the thirteen stars.  Yes, sir, it is! . . .  Lord, what a
pity the other one is lost!  But perhaps it isn't lost.  Have you
got it, Mr. Tadgett?"

Ebenezer pulled open a drawer.  The second handle was within.
"Don't suppose it's hardly wuth while puttin' it on," he said.
"A wreck like that must be pretty nigh past salvage, wouldn't you
say?"

Bradford turned on him.  "What are you talking about!" he cried.
"It's a peach of a thing.  I haven't seen so good a one for ever so
long."

"Well, well!  You don't tell me!  So you like it, do you?"

"Like it!  Who could help liking it?"

"Lots of folks, and without no trouble at all.  Your Cousin
Henrietta, now, she see it yesterday and what she said about it was
pretty discouragin'.  I told her the old codger I traded with for
it had it out in the barn to keep seed potatoes in, and she said he
couldn't have set much store by the potatoes."

"No?  Well, Cousin Hettie is--"

"Yes? . . .  What did you say she was?"

"She is Cousin Hettie."

"Um-hum; maybe that's enough.  She did offer to take it off my
hands, though.  If I'd take back a gas-burner stove I sold her last
month, she'd agree to take that old desk as a dollar's worth of
part pay."

"She didn't really!"

"She did.  I was the one that didn't.  But I'm kind of surprised
you like that desk--all painted up in mournin' so."

"That paint doesn't amount to anything.  I'll bet if you scraped
that paint off you'd find--  What are you smiling at?"

By way of answer Mr. Tadgett pulled the desk from the wall.  For
six inches along the top at the back a space had been scraped clean
of paint.

"Mahogany!" cried Banks Bradford.  "I knew it.  And look at that
grain!"

"Good old San Domingo.  You can't always tell what's underneath
paint, on women or furniture.  For instance, look at that table
behind you.  I'm resurrectin' it now."

Banks turned, saw the table and hastened to examine it.  His
enthusiastic exclamations seemed to please Ebenezer Tadgett
extremely.

"There's a crippled highboy over in the corner," he said.  "Cap'n
Seth Lamon see it a spell ago and wanted to know if I picked it up
on the beach when that schooner loaded with junk came ashore."

The highboy--it was a cripple--was examined and highly praised.
Bradford looked about the other back room.

"Look at that chair--and that lamp," he cried, pointing.  "This
place is full of wonderful stuff.  Why do you keep it all shut up
in here?"

Ebenezer closed one eye, opened it, and closed the other.  "We-ll,"
he drawled, "if you keep the wrecks out of sight the reg'lar
customers--them that buy the bargains in the front room--have more
confidence in your judgment. . . .  See here, you seem to know
consider'ble about old things--good things.  And you ain't by no
means an antique yourself.  How did you catch the disease?  Wasn't
born with it, was you?"

"I don't know," replied the other with a laugh.  "I have it, I'm
sure of that.  I have a friend whose family are--sort of
collectors, you know, and every time I visit their house I have an
acute attack.  I've got one now, and you are responsible, Mr.
Tadgett."

"Sho, sho!  Well, I suppose I'd ought to try and cure you, if I
can."

"You needn't mind; I don't want to be cured.  Gee, Mr. Tadgett,
you've got some fine stuff!  I suppose there is a lot more I
haven't seen."

"Well, there's some.  That's the only tambour desk, though."

"Of course"--this with a sigh and a longing look at the tambour
desk.  "And that would be too expensive for me, even if it was for
sale.  And you said it wasn't."

"Did I?  Well, it ain't for sale to your Cousin Henrietta, that's a
fact."

"I should say not; nor to any one else who didn't appreciate it, I
hope.  I musn't take any more of your time, Mr. Tadgett.  You were
working on that table when I interrupted you, I suppose."

"Yes, I was."

Bradford turned to go.  Then he paused.  "Would you mind if I
stayed and watched you work a little while?" he asked.  "I'd like
to.  I don't know what there is about old furniture and--and glass
and all that, but there must be something.  It gets me, that's all
I can say."

For the first time during their interview Ebenezer Tadgett showed
genuine enthusiasm.  He slapped his knee.  "That's it!" he vowed
heartily.  "That's what it does, it gets you.  It got me more'n
twenty years ago and it's got me for keeps now.  Maybe it's the
things themselves--maybe it's because each one of 'em is a sort of
storybook, you know, and you get to wonderin' who made it in the
fust place, and whose houses it had been in, and what it's seen, if
it could see, and the like of that.  I'd give more for one old
bureau that had the right stuff in it and was made by a feller that
knew how and cared, you understand, than I would for all the new
factory-built stuff there is in Boston this minute."

He picked up his scraping knife and turned to the drop-leaf table.
"Set down," he ordered.  "Haul up one of them chairs over there and
set down.  I'd like to have you, Banks.  Banks is your first name,
ain't it?"

"Yes."

"Sartin.  Sit right down, Banks.  You just let me scratch away here
for a spell, and by and by maybe we'll see what we can do about
locatin' a desk and a couple of chairs for you.  Oh, not out
yonder"--with a contemptuous wave toward the front shop; "in here,
amongst the storybooks. . . .  That's it--comfortable, be you?
Good!  Well, there!  I've preached, my sermon.  In a couple of
minutes, unless this service is different from most of mine, I'll
be liable to start in on a hymn.  Know anything about music, do
you?"

"Not much."

"That's good.  Then you'll appreciate my singin'."

He bent over the table and resumed his resurrecting.  A few minutes
later, in exact accordance with his prophecy, he broke into song.


     "The volley was fired at sunrise,
         Just at the break of day.
      And while its echo lingered
         A soul had passed away--


"Humph!  That's a nice line of holly inlay comin' out now.  See it?
Oh, I was pretty sartin 'twas there: I've run acrost this kind of
table afore.


     "Into the arms of its Maker
         There to meet its fate.
      A tear, a sigh, a sad good-by;
         The pardon came too late!"


Just before suppertime that evening Capt. Abijah Bradford threw
open the side door of his sister-in-law's house on Mill Hill and
strode through the sitting room and dining room into the kitchen.
Margaret Bradford was busy at the cook-stove.

"Why, hello, Bije!" she said.  "Going to have supper with us, are
you?"

Captain Abijah snorted.  "No," he declared.  "I'm too mad to eat.
Where's that durned boy of yours?"

"Banks?"

"He's the only boy you've got, ain't he?  And enough, too--of the
kind.  Where is he?"

"Upstairs in his room, writing a letter, I believe."

"Call him down here.  I want him."  Margaret opened the oven door
and peeped inside.  "Call him yourself, Bije," she said calmly.
"I'm busy."

Her brother-in-law's red face grew redder, but as Mrs. Bradford
seemed to consider the matter settled he yielded.  Striding back to
the foot of the stairs leading from the sitting room, he roared his
nephew's name.  "Banks?" he hailed.  "You up aloft there, are you?"

"Yes.  Is that you, Uncle Bije?"

"Sounds like me, doesn't it?"

"Yes, sir, very much."

It certainly did, but the captain was a trifle taken aback,
nevertheless.  "Well, come down this minute," he commanded.  "I
want to see you."

Banks descended promptly.  His uncle met him in the sitting room.

"Look here," he demanded, "what's this I've just heard about you?"

"I don't know, I'm sure."

"I guess you can guess, if you don't know.  You spent considerable
time with Ebenezer Tadgett this afternoon, I understand."

"Yes sir, I did."

"But that's all I understand about it.  Accordin' to Tadgett, you
told him you'd take that back office of Judge Blodgett's."

"He told me that you had a week's option on it and I told him the
option was taken on my behalf.  That is what you told me yourself
last night, Uncle Abijah."

"Humph!  Yes, it was.  But look here, boy, does this mean that you
have decided to give up your Boston scheme and stay here for good?"

"Yes, sir."

"Stay here and do your lawyerin' in Denboro, same as I told you
you'd ought to do?"

"Yes, sir."

Captain Bradford shook his head.  It was evident that he was
gratified, also that he was surprised and puzzled.  "Well," he
admitted, "I'm glad to know you've got that much common sense in
your manifest.  Changed your mind some in twenty-four hours,
haven't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Why?"

"I have been thinking, as you asked me to."

"Is that so!  Did you do the thinkin' for yourself, or did your
mother do it for you?"

Margaret would have spoken but her son spoke first.

"I thought a good deal last night after I left you," he replied
sharply.  "This morning I asked mother a lot of questions.  Then
I walked up and down the beach for two or three hours, thinking
again.  Then I went in and looked at the room you had picked out
for me.  After that I called on Mr. Tadgett."

"So I heard.  Why didn't you call on me?  As I recollect, you were
to see me as soon as you'd thought this business through."

"I did call on you, but you were out and Mr. Bassett said you told
him you probably wouldn't be back before five."

This was true, and the captain's guns were spiked for the moment.
But only for a moment.  "Well, all right," he growled.  "Nobody's
neck would have been broken if you'd waited till five--but that's
only part of it.  Here's the main thing.  Tadgett says you and he
picked out furniture for that room and that you went ahead and
bought it.  Considerin' that I'll be expected to pay for that
furniture it seems to me I might have some say in the buyin'.
What's your answer to that?"

Banks' answer was very prompt.  "Mr. Tadgett didn't tell you that
you were expected to pay for it," he said.

"How do you know he didn't?  And what difference does that make?
Who will pay for it, if I don't?  Your mother?  No, she won't.  She
can't afford it, for one reason; and for another, I won't let her."

"It is paid for already.  I paid for it myself."

Uncle Abijah was speechless.  He turned to look at his sister-in-
law.  She was smiling.  The captain swung back to glare at his
nephew.  "You paid for it?" he repeated.  "With whose money?"

"My own.  I had a little, about a hundred and twenty dollars.  Some
of it I saved from my allowance; of course that part was mother's
really.  The rest I earned this summer while I was out West.  I
looked up some legal records and things--oh, they didn't amount to
much--for Mr. Davidson, my college friend's uncle.  He was going to
have his lawyer do it, but I told him I believed I could, so he let
me try.  I wouldn't let him pay me, but he insisted on giving me
seventy-five dollars for what he called my traveling expenses.  I
meant to send it back to him, but--well, this morning I decided to
keep it.  I paid for the desk and table and two chairs I bought of
Mr. Tadgett."

Captain Abijah stared.  Then once more he turned to Mrs. Bradford.
"Margaret," he demanded, "did you know about this?"

"No, Abijah; not until a little while ago, when Banks came home.
Then he told me what he had done."

Banks himself broke in here.  "Nobody knew about it, Uncle Bije,"
he said.  "I thought it out for myself and I did it.  I've rented
the room in the post-office building and I've paid the first
month's rent in advance.  You may have to lend me enough to pay the
second; I hope you won't, but you may.  And mother, I suppose, will
have to board and lodge me gratis for a while.  I'm ever so much
obliged for your kindness and your interest and your telling me the
truth about things.  I only wish you had told me sooner.  Well, I
know now.  I've given up my Boston plan; I'm going to try my luck
here at home.  And," he ended very earnestly, "I'm going to get
along just as fast as I can, and as much on my own hook as I can.
You can depend on that, both of you."

Captain Bradford did stay for supper, after all.  On his way home
he dropped in--it was a sort of duty visit he paid once a week--on
Cousin Hettie at her home on the Swamp Road.  He told her of their
young relative's plans for a career as an attorney in Denboro.
Cousin Hettie was tremendously interested but somewhat spiteful.

"So that's what you and he talked about, Abijah," she observed.
"Why you hid it from me all this time is your own affairs, I
suppose, and I don't complain; I'm used to being pushed into a
corner.  When poor dear Silas was alive he always--"

"Oh, bosh!  Nobody's shoved you into a corner.  They'd have a
lively time keepin' you there, if they did!  And speakin' of Silas,
I'm beginnin' to believe that boy of his won't make us so
everlastin' ashamed of him as I was afraid he might.  Margaret's
done her best to spoil him, of course--"

"Certainly she has.  Did you expect anything else from one of her
family?  Oh, dear, why a Bradford, and the very best of the
Bradfords except dear father--oh, yes, and you and me, Abijah--why
Silas ever married so beneath him I can't see.  And never could.
But the best of us have our weak spots.  I presume likely I've got
some of my own, if I knew what they were."

Abijah, at that moment, looked as if he were tempted to enlighten
her.  He resisted the temptation, however.

"Well, anyhow," he said with decision, "I'm easier about that young
fellow than I have been before since his father died.  I can look
his portrait--Silas', I mean--in the eye tonight and feel better.
The boy may never be as smart a man as his father--"

"Nobody could be that."

"Probably not.  But he's beginnin' to show signs that he is a man,
and that's somethin'.  I tell you this, Hettie--no matter how much
Banks there is in him there's some Bradford along with it."



CHAPTER IV


The following day the rear room of what had been the Blodgett suite
of offices in the post-office building was scrubbed and swept.
Eliab Gibbons did the scrubbing and sweeping.  Mr. Gibbons was
regularly employed for three days of the week about the grounds of
the Truman estate on the Old Ostable Road, but during the other
three working days he was open to engagement for odd jobs.  He was
a close friend of Ebenezer Tadgett, and it was the latter who
summoned him for this particular job.  Banks Bradford, watching the
cleaning process, suggested that washing the windows might be an
improvement.

Eliab regarded the windows with languid interest.  "I don't know
but you're right!" he drawled thoughtfully.  "You could see out of
'em better, I suppose, if some of the crust was rubbed off."

So the crust was rubbed off and the little room became much lighter
in consequence.  The furniture purchased of Mr. Tadgett was carried
in and, after thought and several changes, finally placed.  The
desk--Ebenezer had unearthed it in a forgotten corner of his other
back room--was a walnut affair, old and rather shabby, but solid,
roomy and convenient enough.

"'Tain't the tambour, by no means," said Tadgett, "but maybe you
can make out with it for a spell.  And you can have it for fourteen
dollars, if you think that's fair enough."

Banks thought it altogether too fair, and said so.  "Why, that's a
ridiculous price, Mr. Tadgett," he protested.  "You can't be making
a cent on it."

"Yes, I am.  I took it in trade from Heman Bearse, over to the
Neck.  Swapped a chair and a clam hoe and an old pair of steelyards
for it.  Oh, yes--and he was to give me a dollar to boot.  When he
does, or IF he does, I'll have made money afore you come in on the
dicker at all, Banks.  You scratch along with it now, and maybe by
and by, when you get prosperous, we'll make another trade for the
tambour, eh?"

Bradford shook his head.  "That tambour desk will have gone long
before that happens," he said.

"Maybe not.  I ain't in any hurry to sell it.  Want to fix it all
up first and then keep it for a spell to look at and--er--gloat
over, you might say."

Uncle Abijah came in while the furniture was being placed.  He
suggested the need of another chair and a few shelves.  "You might
possibly have more than one client at a time, boy," he said with a
grin.  "Probably not at first, but later on.  And you'll want a
shelf or two to put your law books on.  Got some law books of your
own, I presume likely?"

"Yes, sir.  A few."

"Well, stack 'em up around.  You ought to look like an able seaman
even if you are a green hand.  Tadgett and I will paw over his
scrap pile together and see if we can't find a little more stuff to
help you out.  Oh, I'll take care of the cost.  You can pay me back
after you win your first case for the New York, New Haven and
Hartford Railroad.  Anyhow, I'd like to feel I'd given one shove to
help get your craft off the ways."

He gave several such shoves.  One was to commission Jacob Shell,
the local boat and wagon painter, to letter the glass door of his
nephew's office.  "S. B. Bradford, Attorney at Law" was the result
of Mr. Shell's labors.  The new attorney would have preferred
"Banks" to the "S. B.," but as long as his uncle had paid for the
lettering he felt that he should not criticize.

Cousin Hettie, when she saw it, did the criticizing for him.  "If I
was a young man with an honored name such as you've got," she
vowed, "I wouldn't miss a chance to put it up where folks could see
it.  I'D have had 'Silas Bradford' there; but if you must have
something in the middle, why not 'Silas Banks Bradford'?  I don't
believe Mr. Shell would have charged one cent more, and you might
as well have got your money's worth."

Another contribution of Captain Abijah's was delivered a week
later.  The captain came into the office bearing a large flat
parcel.  He ripped off the wrapping paper and exhibited a framed
photograph of the crayon-enlarged portrait of Capt. Silas Bradford,
copies of which hung in the Bradford sitting room and on his own
wall at the Malabar.

"We'll rig that right up over yonder opposite your desk, Banks," he
announced.  "Every time you lift up your head you'll see it.  It'll
be a kind of channel light for you.  Keep your eye on that father
of yours, boy, and you won't be liable to get far off the course."

Margaret Bradford, of course, was among the very first to inspect
the new office.  Her son would have liked her to come every day.

"It's going to be lonesome enough here for a while, Mother," he
said.  "Do run in any time you are out and cheer me up."

"I'll come sometimes, Banks, but not too often.  I don't want
Hettie and Abijah--no, nor any one else--to have an excuse for
saying I'm trying to keep you tied to my apron strings.  When you
come home for dinner and at night you must tell me everything that
has happened, every single thing.  Be sure you do, for"--with a
little smile--"I shouldn't wonder if I were as interested in all
this as you are."

When he told her of his uncle's gift of the portrait and the
accompanying counsel to keep his eye on it, she seemed about to
speak.

"Yes?" he asked, as she hesitated.

"It was very thoughtful of Abijah," was her only comment.

Banks laughed.  "Uncle Bije apparently doesn't think I can be
trusted unless there is another Bradford to keep watch over me," he
observed.  "If I could afford it I'd have your portrait there, too,
Mother.  Maybe I will some day."

She shook her head.  "I'm afraid my picture wouldn't bring you many
clients--in Denboro," she said.

Her son did not press the point.  He remembered her confession
during their conversation the morning following his fateful
interview with Captain Abijah.  She really was a little jealous of
his father, he decided.  That was silly, but natural, too,
everything considered.  He had a number of snapshots of her which
he had taken from time to time.  One of these he had framed and
placed it on his desk.

On the occasion of her second call at the office he showed it to
her.  She laughed and made fun of her appearance in the photograph,
"with that old dress on and my hair every which way."  But he could
see that she was pleased, nevertheless.

And now began the weary days, the long discouraging days of sitting
alone in the little room overlooking the back yards of the shops on
the first floor of the post-office building, waiting for clients
who did not come.  He read diligently in law books of his own and
others which had belonged to Judge Blodgett and which his uncle had
purchased for him at bargain prices.  Between readings he looked
out of the windows.

At first, every step in the corridor outside his door caused his
hopes to rise; but as they almost invariably passed the door or,
when they did pause and the door opened, proved to be the steps of
Captain Abijah or Cousin Hettie or Ebenezer Tadgett, or Eliab
Gibbons in quest of another odd job, he ceased to regard them.
There might be, as Uncle Bije had declared, plenty of work for a
lawyer in Denboro, but it was increasingly obvious that that work
was not brought to S. B. Bradford, Attorney at Law.

Captain Abijah counseled patience.  "It's the first days of the
voyage that's always longest," he said.  By way of encouragement he
entrusted his nephew with the drawing of a deed to a woodlot which
he had sold to a neighbor.  Banks got through this ordeal without
mistake; and the captain, who had been obviously nervous, seemed
much relieved and gratified.  "Eben Caldwell, who owns the hardware
and general store at the other corner," he said, "was talkin' with
me about some old accounts he'd had on his books for a long spell.
Said he didn't know's he wouldn't give 'em to a lawyer to try and
collect.  Seein' as you've handled this deed of mine all right,
maybe I'll suggest his trustin' 'em to you.  Think you could manage
'em without snarlin'?  I wouldn't want you to run aground and get
me in bad with Eben."

Banks replied that he guessed he could.

"Um-hum.  Well, I'll mention you to him.  Don't get the notion that
it's goin' to be an easy job.  Any bill that Caldwell can't collect
himself is liable to be a tough one."

They were all tough.  And as a test of a young lawyer's diplomacy
and tact they left little to be desired.  The delinquent debtors
were scattered throughout the outlying districts, one or two of
them had moved away, and each one had a plausible excuse for
nonpayment.  Some of the excuses were good and others were not, but
Banks was made aware of one thing, the New Englander's respect for
the law.  To each letter he wrote came a reply, and each call he
made found the recipient anxious not to face a suit.  "I've been
cal'latin' to pay that bill, Mr. Bradford.  It's worried me so's I
couldn't sleep nights.  But my wife's been ailin', and two of the
children have been laid up with the measles, and the fishin' ain't
worth a darn this fall"--and so on.

The worst of it was that most of these people were honest and did
mean to pay sometime or other.  Banks found himself respecting some
of them a good deal more than he did the grasping Caldwell.

He collected a little here and a little there.  In two instances
the entire bill was paid.  Six proved to be quite hopeless.  At the
end of a fortnight he laid the results before his employer.  The
latter seemed to be satisfied.  "I don't know but you've done full
well as I could expect," he admitted.  "Those there"--pointing to
the list of six--"nobody could get a cent out of without holdin'
'em over a hot fire, and not enough then to pay for the kindlin'.
I imagine," he added with a grin, "that all this hasn't made you
any too popular in some quarters, eh?  Never mind, business is
business, and a lawyer can't expect to be popular with all hands if
he attends to his job."

Banks laughed and agreed that he supposed not.  As a matter of
fact, he had lost little popularity.  He was far too new to be
popular or unpopular as yet, and he tried hard to be just, to show
a disposition to make allowances and to discriminate between
poverty-stricken honesty and plausible crookedness.  Practically
all the unpopularity pertaining to the collecting process centered
about Eben Caldwell.  "That feller wouldn't kill a skunk for fear
of losin' a scent," declared one individual disgustedly.

This burst of activity was like a puff of wind on a calm day in
summer--it was refreshing while it lasted, but it did not last
long.  Then followed another session of idleness, with nothing to
do but read the law books or look out of the window.

By way of relieving the monotony and diverting his thoughts, Banks
had formed the habit of dropping in on Mr. Tadgett and watching the
latter scrape and polish and "resurrect" in his other back room.
These calls were always made late in the afternoon, after the door
of the law office was locked for the day.  He and Ebenezer had
become good friends.  The love for antiques which they shared in
common was the basis for this friendship, but before long Banks had
learned to like the eccentric little man for himself.

Tadgett, he discovered, was a shrewd philosopher; he possessed a
dry humor and a faculty for appraising his fellow man and woman
which was close to genius.  Ebenezer liked Banks.  During one of
their conversations he gave some of his reasons for the liking, and
gave them in a characteristic way.

"Banks," he said, "you belong to what you might well call the
sheep, did you know it?"

"Sheep?  Why, no, I don't know it.  If that's a compliment it
doesn't sound like one."

"I don't know whether it's a compliment or not; that depends on how
you look at it.  On the day of judgment, so Scriptur' gives it to
us, the sheep are goin' to be shooed one way and the goats t'other.
I don't set myself up to part all creation right and left--off my
own premises I don't--but in here I'm a sort of secondhand Saint
Peter, as you might say.  There's nobody but sheep gets into this
other back room of mine, and only the right kind of them are asked
to stay in it."

Banks laughed.  "I see," he said.  "Well, if this particular sheep
gets to pasturing in this room too often, you just--"

"There, there!  I've been beggin' you for the last ten minutes to
pull off your coat and set down, haven't I?  The first time you
come in here I was pretty sartin you was my kind of mutton.  After
you made a fuss over that tambour desk I was sure of it.  Soon as I
found you didn't like Hettie Bradford, I knew it."

"Here, hold on!  I never told you I didn't like her."

"No, so you didn't.  And I never told you that I didn't like this
rheumatiz that gets holt of my knees every once in a while.  If
you've seen how I act when I have a twinge you don't need to be
told.  Accordin' to my experience, there's times when one look is
worth a barrel of talk."

"Come, Mr. Tadgett, you mustn't get the idea--"

"No, now, don't let your conscience fret you.  Diseases and
relations are laid onto us; we didn't ask for 'em, so we ain't to
blame if we have 'em. . . .  And see here, I've told you no less
than twenty times that my name is Ebenezer, and I answer my friends
quicker if they remember to hail me by it."

As he came to know the little man better Banks grew not only to
like but to respect him.  Underneath his veneer of business acumen,
his sharpness in trade when dealing with one trying to get the
better of him, his absent-mindedness and dry humor, were other
qualities inspiring respect.  His treatment of his wife was one of
these.

Banks had heard of Mrs. Tadgett's peculiarities.  He had heard
Cousin Hettie contemptuously refer to her as "that cracked Tadgett
woman."  Stories of her weird habit of dress, of things she had
said, of her "visions"--she was a devout Spiritualist--had come to
his ears while at home on holidays or vacations during the years of
the Tadgett residence in Denboro.  But until Ebenezer invited him
to his house and to dinner one day he had never seen or met her.
It was a meeting to be remembered.

Mr. Tadgett had in a measure prepared him for it.  "Banks," he
said, as he "washed up" in the back room preparatory to their short
walk through the yards to the cottage, "you've never been
introduced to Sheba--my wife, I mean--have you?"

"No."

"I know you ain't.  Well, you've heard about her, of course.
She's--hum--queer, kind of.  You knew that?"

Banks, much embarrassed, stammered that he supposed every one was
queer, in one way or another.

"Yes.  But Sheba's queerer.  When I married her she was teachin'
downstairs school over to Trumet.  Smart girl--my soul!  How she
ever come to marry me nobody could make out, and I ain't made it
out since.  Educated, great reader, knew more about history and
geography and all that in a minute than I'd know in a lifetime.
She reads a whole lot now; got a book in her hand most of her spare
time, fur's that goes. . . .  Ah, hum!  Well, about eleven years
ago she was took down awful sick.  What they used to call brain
fever 'twas; they call it somethin' else now.  All hands cal'lated
she'd die, and I was afraid she would and that I wouldn't.  She
didn't die, though.  She got well, all but her head--that never got
same as 'twas.  Since then she's been queer.  Now, as it's gettin'
on toward cold weather, she'll be most likely wearin' her hoods.
You've heard about her wearin' them hoods?"

Banks had heard many stories, all wildly absurd.  He murmured
something, he was not quite sure what.

Tadgett paid little attention.  "Course you have," he went on.
"They're town talk.  You see, a year or so after she got up from
the brain fever she commenced to complain that her head was cold.
'Twan't, of course, but she thought 'twas, which amounted to the
same thing.  Finally she made herself one of them old-fashioned
quilted hoods same as our grandmarms used to wear.  She wore that
pretty reg'lar and it seemed to help some, but not enough; so she
made another and wore that on top of the fust one.  Since then
she's made four more.  She'll probably have 'em all on when you and
me get there. . . .  Say, you'll try not to laugh when you see her,
won't you--so she'll know you're laughin' at her, I mean?"

"Certainly I shan't laugh.  Ebenezer, do you think I'd better dine
with you, after all?  Perhaps--"

"I want you to.  So does she; 'twas her own idea, askin' you.  I
tell you honest," he added with a one-sided grin.  "I shan't blame
you for wantin' to laugh, not one bit.  All them hoods do make her
head look like a punkin on a stick."

It was an apt comparison.  Mrs. Tadgett was tall--she towered above
her diminutive husband; she was thin, and her neck was long.  At
the end of the long neck her head swathed in layer upon layer of
quilted silk, waved back an forth like a sunflower on its stem, to
use another simile.

She seemed entirely unaware of her strange appearance.  She greeted
their guest with dignified solemnity.  The dinner--she had cooked
it herself--was good.  During the first half of the meal she said
very little, sitting in state at the foot of the table and gazing
fixedly at the wall above her husband's head.  Then all at once she
began to talk.  Banks dutifully listened, but he found her
discourse hard to follow.  She had a habit of beginning with some
simple statement, drifting from that into a long-winded wandering
peroration and finishing with a question or another statement miles
away from the starting point and having no discernible bearing upon
it.

"The winter is almost on us, Mr. Bradford," she proclaimed.  "Yes,
it's drawing nigh.  The melancholy days have come, the saddest of
the year.  There are three hundred and sixty-five days in the year.
And four seasons--spring, summer, autumn and winter.  Four is an
even number, and divided by two equals two, without remainder.  Two
is a pair.  We each have a pair of eyes and a pair of shoes and--
and this makes it a complete whole.  Don't you feel that way, Mr.
Bradford?"

Banks, very much bewildered, was struggling for a reply, but
Ebenezer saved him the trouble.

"Sure, sure, Sheba," he said hastily.  "That's the way we all feel.
Now I guess likely Banks'll have another biscuit, if you'll hand
across the plate."

On the way back to the post-office building he tried to explain.
"You see how 'tis," he said apologetically.  "She's apt to get this
way when strangers are around.  When she and I are alone there's
long stretches when she's just as sensible as anybody; but when she
gets nervous over havin' company or anything she's liable to get
moonin' on, same as she used to when she was teachin' the seven-
year-olders in the schoolhouse.  I don't mind.  You see, I remember
her as she used to be, clever and full of book learnin'.  Oh, well,
it's a tough old world. . . .  But she ain't crazy--you can see she
ain't that, can't you, Banks?" with pathetic eagerness.

Banks said of course he could see it.  Ebenezer nodded.  "Yes," he
said.  "Well, the general run of folks don't understand her.  I do.
She's my wife and I wouldn't swap her for anybody on earth."  Then
after a momentary hesitation he added, "I'm much obliged to you for
not laughin', Banks."

It was on the afternoon of the following day that he broached a
subject which was to result in the new attorney's first real case.
He entered the office just after five, when Banks, weary of reading
law and looking out of the window, was thinking of locking up and
going home to supper.  Being invited to sit down, Ebenezer did so
and took from his pocket a packet of letters and papers.

"Banks," he began, "you done pretty well with them accounts Eben
Caldwell give you to collect, didn't you?"

"Why, I managed to collect some of them.  Half a dozen or so stuck
me completely."

"Um-hum.  That needn't fret you.  If Eben hadn't been pretty sure
they were all stickers he'd never have risked havin' to pay you ten
per cent for collectin'.  He don't separate from money easy, Eben
don't.  The last time Doc Spear pulled a tooth for him, the only
time he groaned--this is Spear's story--was after 'twas over and he
was reachin' into his pocket for the dollar to pay for the job.  He
was really sufferin' then."

He chuckled and then lapsed into silence, shuffling the papers in
his hands.

"What have you got there?" inquired Bradford after a moment.

"Eh?  Why--well, I've got a sticker of my own.  A pretty bad one,
too, I'm afraid.  I was gettin' kind of desperate about it and the
notion struck me to run in here and ask your advice.  I don't
know's I'd better, though, after all."

"Why not?"

"Oh, because I ain't sure it's a thing you ought to be mixed up in--
for your own sake, I mean.  You've just started to paddle your own
canoe here in Denboro and it might not help you much to begin by
heavin' rocks at the skipper of one of the biggest craft in the
same channel."

"What's all this?  Canoes and channels and rocks!  What are you
talking about, Ebenezer?"

Tagdett was still hesitating.  Then he drew a long breath.  "I
guess," he said slowly--"yes, I guess I will tell you about it.
Seem's if I must tell somebody.  It'll be just between us two, and
when you hear it I shouldn't wonder if you thought that was where
it better stay."

He began his story, at first mentioning no names.  In May of that
year he sold a sideboard to a customer.  This customer had
commissioned him to find an American board, a good one, Sheraton
type preferred.  It must not be too long, nor too high; it must be
a genuine antique, and of course of fine mahogany and pattern and
in good condition.  Price was to be a secondary consideration.  He
had been on the lookout and at last discovered what seemed to him
precisely the article required.  He had brought the sideboard to
his shop; the customer had seen it and liked it.  He had spent
another two months "resurrecting" it and at last had delivered it
to his patron.  He had paid the original owner with his own money.

"That sounds all fair and square so far, don't it, Banks?" he went
on.  "Well, it sounded good to me--then.  I'd found and delivered
what my customer had been terribly anxious to get for a long spell,
and what I thought--and still believe--is about the best sideboard
of its kind I ever see.  I had to pay two hundred and eight dollars
for it, and I sold it to her--to this customer--for three hundred.
Considerin' my two months' work on it and the double cartin' and
all, I don't think that's a big profit; now, do you?"

"No.  I should say it was a very reasonable one."

"Um-hum.  So I figgered.  Well, then this customer of mine she went
away, shut up her house and cleared out for all summer.  She hadn't
paid my bill, but that didn't worry me much, though I could have
used the money.  Fur's that goes," he added reflectively, "I can
usually use money.  I'm funny that way--don't hardly ever have to
set down and look at a fifty-cent piece and strain my brain
wonderin' what I'll do with it. . . .  Well, now comes the trouble.
Three weeks ago, this customer havin' come back home and opened up
her house, I got reckless enough to write and ask if 'twould be
convenient to send me the three hundred.  And the next day after
that I got a letter.  Seems she doesn't want the sideboard after
all.  It's there at her house, or out in her barn where's she put
it, and all I've got to do is send a cart up there and haul it away
again.  Sounds simple enough; if the three hundred was in one of
the drawers and I could haul that away, too, 'twouldn't be."

"But--but she saw it in your shop, you say, and liked it and bought
it at your price.  I don't understand."

"Don't you?  Neither did I, but I didn't lose much time tryin' to
find out.  I went right up to see her.  And there's where I got my
heaviest jolt.  She explained everything--that is, everything but
what would explain the explanation.  She had decided that the board
I sold her wasn't a genuine antique.  She had strong doubts about
it; always had had so--"

"Wait a minute.  Did she express those doubts when she agreed to
buy the board?"

"No.  I told her then, just as I told her again when I went to her
house after gettin' the letter, that I knew who had owned it, the
house it was in and how long it had been there.  She seemed
satisfied; yes, and said she was."

"And you do know, don't you?"

"Know as well as a man in the secondhand business can know
anything.  I'll bet my Sunday go-to-meetin' clothes, hat and all,
that that board is real all the way through, and all of a hundred
year old besides."

"And you told her so again?"

"I spent two solid hours tellin' her.  I might have been there yet
if she hadn't called her hired girl to show me where the front door
was, in case I got lost tryin' to find it.  And after that I put in
a lot of time tryin' to get the real reason for her shovin' the
board back on my hands.  I guess I have found that reason; yes, I
guess I have."

"What is it?"

"She's bought another board, bought it up in Boston.  It suits her
better'n mine does.  That's the meat in the clamshell."

Banks laughed.  "If that's all," he said, "you're safe, Ebenezer.
She may have bought a dozen others, but she'll have to pay for the
one she bought of you."

Mr. Tadgett shook his head.  Apparently this confident assurance
did not hearten him greatly.  "Um-hum," he grunted, "maybe so; but
she vows she won't pay.  The board's a jim-dandy.  I could take it
back into stock and hang on to it for a couple more year and then
sell it, perhaps.  But I need the money.  Puttin' out the two
hundred for it in the first place made my bank account shrink like
a new flannel shirt in a rainstorm.  I've been short as that shirt
ever since.  And that ain't all--no, sir, it ain't half all.  The
real point I stick on is away one side of the money part.  She
says, or as much as says, that I sold her a fake article.  I never
sold a fake, except as a fake, in my life.  It hurts me to have her
say such a thing and--and get away with it.  I--well, I'm a
secondhand junk dealer, I know; but by thunder mighty, I'm an
honest one!"  He struck the arm of his chair with his fist.  His
face was red and his voice shook with earnestness.

Bradford was stirred to indignation.  "It's a shame, Ebenezer," he
declared hotly.  "She shan't get away with it.  You let me handle
this for you.  I believe I can collect your three hundred."

Another shake of the head.  "No," said Tadgett.  "No; I'm much
obliged to you, Banks, but you can't afford to meddle with it."

His friend misunderstood.  "Don't worry about that," he said.
"I'll be glad to do it for you for nothing.  It sounds as if it
might be fun; I think I shall enjoy it."

"No, no.  You don't understand what I mean.  You can't afford to
meddle with it for your own sake.  You don't know who this customer
of mine is."

"I know who you are--yes, and what you are.  That is enough."

"No, it ain't," said the other with a rueful grin.  "Not in Ostable
County.  I'm a--well, I'm a pretty small herrin' in these waters
and she's one of Denboro's pet whales.  'Twouldn't help you much,
as a brand-new lawyer, to start in by fightin' Mrs. Cap'n Elijah
Truman."

Bradford whistled.  "Mrs. Truman!" he repeated.  "Is that who it
is? . . .  Whew!"

"That's who.  She's the whale.  Well," concluded Ebenezer, rising
to his feet, "the herrin' must be swimmin' home to supper.  Much
obliged to you for listenin' to my woes and tribulations, Banks.
Good night."

He was at the door when Banks spoke again.  "Ebenezer," he said, "I
want a little time to think this over.  In the morning you come in
here again, will you?"

"No, I shan't.  You keep right out of this, Banks.  I shan't let
you do anything but keep out of it."

"Then you won't come here to-morrow morning?"

"No."

"Very well, then I'll be in to see you.  Good night."

That evening, for the first time, he did not tell his mother all
that had happened at the office during the day.  He said nothing of
Tadgett's call and the latter's disclosures concerning the sale of
the sideboard.  Ebenezer had asked that the matter be kept secret
and of course it must be for the present.

He did, however, ask some questions about Mrs. Truman.  He knew the
lady, as did every one in Denboro.  Her house on the Old Ostable
Road was one of the finest in the village.  He remembered when it
was built and he dimly remembered pompous old Captain Elijah, his
strut, his tall hat and gold-headed cane.

Captain Truman had died two years after the house was built and his
widow had gone abroad almost immediately.  Abroad or in Florida or
California she had lived much of the time since.  Banks himself had
been away at college and law school and, although he had often seen
the Truman span and brougham on the street and occasionally had
noticed Mrs. Truman's velvet bonnet and diamond earrings in the
Truman pew at church on Sunday, he and she had not spoken.

Once, since his return to Denboro to live, he had met her by the
door of the post office and had ventured to bow.  His bow was
acknowledged by a stiff little nod, but it was evident that she had
no idea whatever as to his identity.  There was a young woman in
the brougham with her, and he had seen them together once or twice
since.  Mrs. Truman's granddaughter, he was told.  Her name was
Cartwright, so his informant said.  Banks, with the appraising eye
of youth, decided that she was a very pretty girl.

"Mother," he said at the supper table that evening, "do you know
Mrs. Elijah Truman well?  You ought to, I should think; her husband
was father's partner."

Margaret looked up.  "I know her, yes," she replied.

"You don't know her very well, I take it?"

"Not so very.  She was Captain Elijah's second wife and he married
her after your father had been dead a year or two.  She and I don't
call on each other, if that is what you mean."

"Why not?"

"Oh, I don't know.  She doesn't call on many people here in
Denboro.  She is friendly with the Lathrops and the Badgers and
Capt. Gustavus Hall's people."

"The rich crowd.  I see."

"And she has some friends among the summer cottagers.  She has been
away so much that most of us haven't had many chances to be
sociable with her."

"What sort of a woman is she?"

"I don't know exactly what you mean, dear."

"I guess you do.  Sort of a newly rich, is that the idea?  Who was
she before she married Captain Truman?"

"Why--well, I don't know so very much about her, really.  There are
stories, of course.  According to them she came from the South
somewhere.  Her first husband's name was Rodgers; he was killed in
the Civil War.  She married Captain Elijah in 1885 or thereabouts.
The story is that she was keeping a sort of high-class boarding
house in Boston.  Elijah was one of her lodgers and he met her
there.  He was an old man when he married her.  She was years
younger than he."

"Humph!  She must be sixty herself."

"About that; but the captain has been dead seventeen years or so."

"She has a barrel of money, hasn't she?"

"She must have a great deal; Elijah Truman was rated a very rich
man--in his later years."

"Who is this girl I've seen with her, at church and out driving?"

Margaret smiled.  "Now I begin to see why you are so interested."

Banks shrugged impatiently.  "You are away off, Mother," he
declared.  "I am rather interested in the old lady--I'll tell you
why some day, perhaps--but the girl isn't mixed up in it.  I just
wondered who she was."

"She is Maybelle's--that is, Mrs. Capt. Elijah Truman's
granddaughter.  She had a daughter by her first husband.  Their
daughter--seems to me her name was Daisy--"

"Maybelle and Daisy!  Ran to flowery names in that family, I should
say."

"--this Daisy married a man named Cartwright.  Mrs. Cartwright died
when her own baby girl was born.  Then after two years or so Mr.
Cartwright died.  Mrs. Truman--she was a widow for the second time
then--took her granddaughter to live with her."

"And she is the one I've seen with the old lady.  What is her
name?"

"Elizabeth--Elizabeth Cartwright."

Banks whistled.  "There!" he exclaimed, with the air of one who has
solved a puzzle, "I knew I had seen her before--long ago, I mean.
Elizabeth Cartwright!  Why, of course, I remember now.  Don't you
remember, Mother?  Years and years ago it was.  I was a kid--nine
or ten, I should say--and you and I were down at the beach one
Sunday afternoon.  There was a little girl there with somebody, a
foreign woman as I remember--a French nurse she was, probably--and
this little girl was out on the end of Seth Nickerson's boat
landing and fell off.  I was on the pier, too, and I ducked over
head first, as far as my waist, and fished her out by the scruff of
her neck.  That girl's name was Elizabeth Cartwright.  You said it
was, afterward."

"Yes.  I remember it well enough."

"So do I"--with a chuckle.  "And I remember that the nurse had
hysterics first, and then gave the girl fits for falling in."

"Yes.  She--the nurse, I mean--was very much frightened;
principally, I guess, because of what Mrs. Truman would do and say
to her when they got home.  We all came back here to this house and
dried Elizabeth's clothes and ironed her dress and made her as good
as new.  I doubt if her grandmother knows to this day what
happened."

Banks was still chuckling.  "She has grown up since then," he
declared.  "When I saw her the other day in the Truman carriage she
was what the fellows would call a peach.  Is she as snobbish and
high and mighty as the old lady?"

"I don't know, I'm sure.  She doesn't know me now, of course.  But
then, she knows very few Denboro folks.  She has been away at
school and all over the world with her grandmother.  They're going
to stay here all winter this time, I believe--unless Mrs. Truman
changes her mind."

Banks asked many more questions.  Elizabeth Cartwright's name was
not again mentioned, but Mrs. Elijah Truman's was.  When Margaret
went up to bed she left her son in the armchair in the sitting
room, smoking and apparently deep in thought.  She bent over him
and touched his shoulder.

"What is it, Banks?" she asked.  "What have you got on your mind?
What set you to cross-questioning me about Mrs. Truman?  Come, tell
me."

He shook his head.  "Mother," he said, "I suppose anybody in
Denboro who dared to say 'Dum' when Mrs. Captain Elijah said 'Dee'
would be regarded as the complete darned fool, wouldn't he?"

"Why, what in the world--"

"Yes, he would.  Still--I don't know.  A lot of people must have
wanted to say it and didn't dare and they might sympathize with the
chap who did dare, especially if he came out on top.  Anyway"--he
gave a short laugh--"they would know who he was by the time the
saying was finished."  Then he laughed again and added, quoting a
slogan which was almost new at the time.  "It pays to advertise, so
I've heard.  This would certainly be advertising of one kind or
another. . . .  No, no, Mother, I shan't tell you what I mean--now.
Besides, I'm not certain yet that I do mean it.  Good night."



CHAPTER V


At three o'clock the next afternoon Mrs. Elijah Truman, in the
second-floor sitting room of the big house on the Old Ostable Road,
was reclining in an easy-chair, pampering a slight headache and
listening to her granddaughter, Elizabeth Cartwright, who was
reading aloud.  The novel Miss Cartwright was reading was one of
half a dozen which the Boston bookseller, who knew Mrs. Truman's
taste in literature, had sent down.  It was a romance just then
receiving considerable attention by newspaper reviewers.  The
majority of Denboro would have considered it decidedly daring.

Mrs. Truman was wearing an elaborate negligee.  Her brown hair was
carefully waved and arranged.  The jewels in her ears and upon her
soft plump fingers were expensive.  Her stockings--she had always
been proud of her ankles--were of fine silk.  There were tiny
wrinkles about her eyes and at the corners of her mouth, but her
cheeks were smooth and rosy.  She did not look her age, nor did she
intend to look it.  It was one of her possessions of which she was
not proud.

There was a knock at the door and Mary, the housemaid, appeared to
announce that a young man had called and wished to see her mistress
on a matter of business.

Mrs. Truman's headache had not helped her temper.  "I can't see any
one, Mary," she snapped.  "You know it perfectly well.  Who is he,
anyway?  What is this business of his?"

"I don't know, ma'am.  He said it was important.  His name is
Bradford."

Mrs. Truman appeared to forget her headache.  She sat up in the
chair.  "Bradford!" she repeated sharply.  "Bradford, did you say?"

"Yes, ma'am.  He--"

"What Bradford?  Do you know him, Mary?"

The maid was a Denboro product.  She had lived in the town all her
life.  "Yes, ma'am," she replied.  "I know who he is.  He's that
young lawyer that's just moved into Judge Blodgett's room down in
the post-office buildin'.  Mrs. Silas Bradford is his mother.  Him
and her live--"

But Mrs. Truman was on her feet by this time.  She did not wait to
hear more.  "Silas Bradford's son," she cried almost shrilly.
"What has he come here for?"

Miss Cartwright put in a word.  "Why, Grandmother," she begged,
"what is the matter?  Your head--"

"Hush! . . .  Where is he now?"

"Down in the library, ma'am.  I told him I didn't think you could
see him, but he--"

"Be still.  Tell him I'll be down at once.  Elizabeth, help me to
fix my wrapper; it must be a sight."

"But Grandmother, don't you think I had better see him for you?"

"No, I don't.  I shall see him myself.  Mary, don't stand there
like an idiot.  Go and tell him."

The maid departed.  Elizabeth, very much puzzled by her
grandmother's agitation, assisted her in tidying her negligee.
They descended the stairs together.  Halfway down Mrs. Truman
paused.

"It might be better for me to see him alone," she said.  "If I knew
what on earth brought him here, I--  Oh, well! you may come with
me, Elizabeth.  If I want you to go later I'll let you know."

Banks Bradford rose to meet them as they entered the library.  It
was a good-sized room with many books in it; the only private
library worthy the name in Denboro.  Mrs. Truman inspected the
caller through her gold and tortoise-shell eyeglasses.

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Truman," said Banks.

"How do you do?" she acknowledged curtly.  "Well, sir, what is it?"

She did not ask him to sit down again, nor did she sit, or
introduce her granddaughter.  She stared so steadily that Banks'
nervousness--for he was already more than a little nervous--
increased.

"I came to see you," he said, stammering slightly, "on behalf of--
er--of a friend of mine.  He isn't a client exactly--not yet; but
he has asked my advice in a matter in which you are concerned, Mrs.
Truman."

"What are you talking about?  What matter?  What friend?"

"The matter of an antique sideboard which you bought of him last
spring.  Mr. Tadgett says he sold you that sideboard and that at
the time you liked it and accepted it.  Now recently, so he says,
you tell him that you have changed your mind and don't want it.
This puts him in an embarrassing position, Mrs. Truman.  He paid
for the sideboard when he bought it for you--after you had accepted
it and it had been delivered here--with his own money.  It was a
good deal of money, more than he can spare."

Mrs. Elijah Truman interrupted.  She had listened to this
explanation intently and with the same searching, questioning stare
in her keen eyes.  Now her expression changed.

"Wait!" she ordered.  "One moment, please.  Am I to understand that
you are Ebenezer Tadgett's lawyer and that he sent you here to
collect what he says I owe him?"

"Why, not exactly, Mrs. Truman.  He didn't send me.  I came because
I thought a friendly talk, an explanation of his side of the
affair, might save a lot of trouble."

"Trouble?  For whom?"

"For both Mr. Tadgett and--yourself, Mrs. Truman."

"Hum!  And if I don't pay he will go to law about it?  And you will
help him?  Is that it, Mr.--er--Bradford?  Bradford is the name,
isn't it?"

"Yes, Mrs. Truman.  I am Banks Bradford.  As for going to law--
well, Mr. Tadgett would prefer not to do that, of course.  On the
other hand--"

"On the other hand he will unless I pay for his old sideboard.
Well, I shall do nothing of the kind and you may tell him so. . . .
No, Elizabeth, you needn't go; perhaps you had better hear the rest
of this.  Now, Mr. Bradford, is Ebenezer Tadgett's sideboard the
matter of business you came to see me about?"

"Yes, Mrs. Truman."

"The only one?  There was nothing else?"

"Why, no.  As I tried to explain, I--"

"Yes, yes.  Well then, if that is all, you may tell Mr. Tadgett I
don't like the board he tried to force on me.  It is out in my
carriage house now and he may have it any time he cares to send for
it.  Are you his lawyer?"

"Why--well--well, yes, I am."

"Then I shall refer you to my lawyer, Mr. Oscar Brooks, of Ostable.
He will look out for my interests and you and he may quibble and
squabble to your heart's content, so long as you don't trouble me.
That is all we need say on that subject, I think, Mr. Bradford."

She delivered this businesslike statement in a businesslike way
but--or so it seemed to him--with far less sharpness of tone and
manner than she had shown in the beginning.  He smiled.  "It would
seem to be all that needs to be said--to-day, Mrs. Truman," he
agreed pleasantly.

He turned to go, but she detained him.  "Wait," she said.  "That
being settled, temporarily at least, I am still a little curious.
How does it happen that you are representing that old fraud--
Tadgett, I mean?"

"He isn't a fraud, Mrs. Truman."

"That is a matter of opinion.  But why did he ask you to help him?"

As a matter of fact, Ebenezer had never asked for help, except in
the way of advice.  He was not aware of Bradford's visit to the
Truman house; Banks, having made up his mind, was acting entirely
on his own responsibility.  This, however, he deemed unnecessary to
explain.

"Mr. Tadgett is, as I said, a friend of mine.  I am practicing law
in Denboro now and my office, like Mr. Tadgett's shop, is in the
post-office building."

"I see.  You are Silas Bradford's son, aren't you?"

"Yes, Mrs. Truman."

"That is interesting.  It is odd that you and I have never met.
Your father was my husband's partner in business at one time."

Banks might have replied, and truthfully, that they had met several
times in the course of years but that the lady had never deigned to
remember him from one meeting to the next.  Instead, he said
simply, "Yes, Mrs. Truman."

"Hum!  So you are Silas Bradford's son.  You look like your father,
did you know it?"

"So people say, I believe."

"Yes.  Well, looks like his won't do you any harm.  And you are
living here in town--with your mother, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"Why did you decide to locate in this countrified place?"

Banks, suppressing a desire to tell her that he considered that no
one's affair but his own, explained briefly.  He had finished law
school, was of course compelled to begin practice somewhere, and
had decided to accept the opportunity which his uncle had called to
his attention.

She nodded.  "So Abijah Bradford was responsible," she observed.
"He would be.  This town is his idea of perfection.  Your father
was--different."

This being a statement and not a question, Banks made no comment.
"Is there anything else, Mrs. Truman?" he asked.

"No, I think not.  Considering that you are intending to drag me
into court and all that sort of thing, it is quite enough, I should
say.  However, we all make mistakes--and profit by them, if we have
brains enough to profit by anything.  If you have your father's
ability as well as his good looks, you will get along, I imagine,
even in Denboro--that is, provided you are not--  Well, good day,
Mr. Bradford."

Banks was at the door, but Miss Cartwright happened to be standing
in his path and they almost collided.  Elizabeth, having been
ordered by her grandmother to remain during the interview, had done
so.  Beyond giving her that order Mrs. Truman had ignored her
utterly and the girl was feeling decidedly awkward and out of
place.

"I beg your pardon," stammered Bradford.

Elizabeth murmured something.  Mrs. Truman spoke.  "Oh," she said
carelessly.  "Mr. Bradford, this is my granddaughter, Elizabeth
Cartwright.  If you put me in jail for stealing your beloved
Tadgett's sideboard you'll have to put her there too.  She goes
wherever I do."

The young people bowed.  Mrs. Truman rang the bell, and a moment
later Banks was shown to the front door by the maid.  His feelings
as he walked the mile between the Old Ostable Road and his office
were varied.  He stood committed now, without warrant from Ebenezer
himself, and whether the affair would or would not prove to be the
first great mistake of his life remained to be seen.  Well, no
matter--he was in for it.

Mrs. Truman had surprised him.  She had treated his cause and his
client cavalierly enough, but she had been polite, almost friendly,
to him personally.  Condescending, yes--but pleasant.  She must
have known his father well.  That was odd, for according to his
mother's story old Captain Elijah's second marriage had not taken
place until after Silas Bradford's death.  No doubt though Elijah
had told her about his former partner; praised him, probably, as
did all who had known him.

At any rate, Elizabeth Cartwright was a mighty pretty girl.  He
should like to know her better.  Not much chance for close
acquaintanceship now that he was to bring suit against her
grandmother for nonpayment of debt.

In the library of the big house, after the exit of their caller,
Mrs. Truman stood for a moment in silence by the window.

"Dear me," she sighed, turning away.  "I shall begin to believe in
ghosts after this.  When I walked into this room and saw him
standing there I could have sworn Silas Bradford had come to life."

Elizabeth, too, was thinking.  "I am almost sure I have met him
before," she mused.  "Have I, Grandmother?"

"No, you haven't"--sharply. . . ."  And he is going to live here in
Denboro!  Tut, tut!  I'm sorry."

"But why, Grandmother?  You're not afraid that he or that funny old
Mr. Tadgett can make you pay for a sideboard you didn't buy?"

"Humph!  I imagine he intends proving that I did buy it.  But that
doesn't trouble me.  I don't like ghosts, that's all. . . .  Oh,
dear, my poor head is beginning to ache again.  Get me upstairs,
child; come!  Careful--don't step on that ruffle.  I like this
wrapper; it suits my complexion and I don't want it ruined."



Banks' scene with Tadgett, when he told the latter what he had done
and what he proposed doing, was not so difficult as the young man
had anticipated.  Ebenezer seemed more stunned than rebellious, and
most of his anxiety appeared to be rather on his friend's account
than his own.

"You hadn't ought to have done it, boy," he declared over and over
again.  "And it's all my fault for runnin' to you with my troubles.
Why didn't I keep my mouth shut?  Now look at the mess you're in!"

"It's the other side that are in a mess.  This is going to be fun--
for you and me, Ebenezer."

"I want to know!  I'm old man Tadgett, the junk dealer, and she's
Elijah Truman's widow.  Fun!  Um--yes!  Dan'l in the lion's den was
nothin' to it, fur's fun is concerned."

"That's all right.  Daniel had all the fun there was in that
scrape, if I remember correctly.  Now I want you to tell me all
about this sideboard business--who you bought it of; what you and
they know about it; every last thing."

Tagdett told him.  Banks made many notes, jotting down names,
addresses and figures.

"If you're not mistaken and we can prove all this," he declared
gleefully, "the opposition hasn't got a leg to stand on.  I doubt
if they ever let it come into court at all.  Don't talk about it to
outsiders, Ebenezer."

"Needn't worry, I shan't.  But if this whole yarn, with extra
trimmin's and ruffles, ain't washed, rinsed and hung up to dry in
every back yard from South Denboro to Poket Neck afore this week's
over, then I miss my guess.  Wait till Cap'n 'Bijah knows what I've
got his nephew into!  And third cousin Hettie!  My grief!"



CHAPTER VI


Before another week had ended all Denboro was chuckling over the
joke.  Eb Tadgett had sold some of his secondhand junk to Mrs.
Capt. Elijah Truman and when she got the table, or bureau or
sideboard or whatever it was, home and had a chance to look at it
in a good light, naturally she didn't want it and wouldn't pay the
bill.  So Tadgett--ha, ha!--was calculating to sue her in court,
and he'd coaxed young Bradford into handling the case for him.  Did
you ever in your born days!  Ebenezer Tadgett trying to make Mrs.
Elijah Truman do something she didn't want to do!  And the Bradford
boy picking his chestnuts out of the fire for him!  Nice way for a
new lawyer to start in, wasn't it?

Most people professed to be sorry for Banks.  They blamed Abijah
Bradford for letting the young fellow make such a fool of himself.
Several well-meaning friends dropped in at the Malabar Hotel and
hinted to the captain that he use his influence to have the matter
quashed.  "Let the boy back out before Lawyer Brooks kicks him
out," was their counsel.  Captain Bije shrugged in pretended
indifference.

"A green hand has to learn by experience," he said.  "If Banks had
come to me in the beginnin' I'd have most likely said 'Hands off.'
He didn't come, so now he's got to steer his own course.  It'll do
him good in the long run.  And he might make port--you can't tell.
Trouble with you folks is that you've lived around here so long
that you're scared to death of the name of Truman.  When Cap'n
Elijah was alive all he had to do was hoist his flag and every last
one of you hauled yours down.  Banks has got a pretty good name of
his own; a Bradford doesn't have to dip his colors to anybody.  The
boy may be foolish and cocky--that goes with his age--but he's got
spunk enough to put up a fight, and it would tickle me to death to
see him win it."

In conversation with his nephew, however, he sang a different tune.
"You're makin' yourself the town goat," he declared indignantly.
"All hands are laughin' at you behind your back--and at me, too, I
presume likely.  Here I've been puttin' in a good word for you,
braggin' about what you did for Caldwell, and you have to go and
upset the kettle.  Gettin' in wrong with Maybelle Truman and her
tribe!  Suin' your father's partner's widow and makin' a laughin'-
stock of yourself just to help out a half-cracked tin peddler like
Eb Tadgett."

"Tadgett isn't cracked, Uncle Bije."

"Well, his wife is; and he's lived with her so long he has probably
caught the disease."

"Now wait a minute, Uncle.  I know all about this claim of
Ebenezer's and it is a good one."

"Huh!  And all for a matter of--what is it?--forty or fifty
dollars.  I declare I'd almost rather have paid Tadgett's bill
myself."

"It's a good deal more than fifty dollars.  And it isn't the money
altogether.  Mrs. Truman accuses Ebenezer of selling her a fake for
a genuine article.  He doesn't do that sort of thing.  His business
reputation is at stake and I'm going to clear it for him.  You are
going to be surprised, sir."

"Humph!  I'm surprised already, to find out that Silas' son has got
so little of his dad's common sense.  Hettie told you her opinion
of it yet, has she?"  In spite of his irritation his lip twitched
as he asked the question.

Banks laughed outright.  "Oh, yes!" he answered.  "Cousin Hettie is
sure I'm flying in the face of the Lord's anointed.  She all but
prays over me."

Abijah snorted and snatched his hat from the top of the desk.
"You're a young jackass," he declared, "and as stubborn as the
four-legged kind. . . .  Now what are you grinnin' at?  What's
funny now?"

"Oh, lots of things.  There is one thing I haven't told you, Uncle
Bije.  Mrs. Truman's lawyer was in here to see me this morning."

His uncle's eyes and mouth opened.  "What!" he cried.  "Oscar
Brooks came here--to see you?  Why?"

"I suppose because I wrote him I was too busy to go to Ostable and
see him.  He didn't say so exactly, but I have an idea that Mrs.
Truman is not anxious to have this case tried in open court.  Mr.
Brooks hinted--or he would if I had let him--that some sort of
compromise might be possible."

"What's that?  If you had let him!  Do you mean to say--"

"I don't want it compromised.  I told Brooks that."

"You told--  My Lord A'mighty!"

"Yes.  He suggested that we agree to a hearing before a referee.
Well, I don't mind that; provided, of course, that the referee is
satisfactory to our side.  I told him that I would consult my
client.  If Tadgett agrees--and I guess he will if I say so--I am
going to suggest that Judge Bangs, of Bayport, be the referee.  He
is a good lawyer and a square man, so everybody says.  He is, isn't
he?"

Captain Abijah's feelings were too deep for coherent expression.
"Why--why, you--" he spluttered.

"I shall see Ebenezer pretty soon and then get in touch with Mr.
Brooks.  When it is decided whether we go before a referee or the
court I'll let you know, of course.  It is all right either way, so
far as our side is concerned.  Don't you worry, Uncle Bije."

His uncle strode from the office.  "Either you need a keeper or I
do," was his parting observation.

A week or so later Denboro was discussing a fresh news item.  The
case of Tadgett versus Truman was not to go before the court at
Ostable, after all.  Instead, there was to be a hearing before ex-
Judge Freeman Bangs, who was coming over from Bayport to act as
referee, and the judge's decision was to be final.  The hearing was
to take place in the big and still vacant front room of what had
been Judge Blodgett's suite in the post-office building on Friday
afternoon.  So far no notice had been given that the public were
barred from attendance, and unless such notice was given a fair
share of the public meant to be on hand.

Captain Abijah made one more call upon his nephew.  The time was
Thursday, the day before the execution, so to speak, and the
captain's call was in the nature of a farewell visit to the
condemned.

Banks seemed glad to see him.  "Going to drop in on us to-morrow,
sir?" he asked cheerfully.  "I hope you will.  I may need all the
family support."

Abijah groaned.  "I'll be there," he said.  "Every loafer in town
is plannin' to come, and a few respectable folks ought to be 'round
to keep the place smellin' sweet.  I don't know as you know it, but
the general notion is that tomorrow's free show will be better than
the circus.  They're countin' on watchin' Oscar Brooks crack the
whip while you and Tadgett hop through the hoops.  Heavens and
earth, boy, have you got a chance or are you just bluffin'?"

"I've got all the chance in the world, sir.  Wait and see."

"I'm waitin'.  Look here, every time I talk with your mother she's
as serene as a flat calm in a mill pond.  That is, she is to me.
How does she talk to you?"

"Oh, she is nervous, of course.  She is afraid the Truman money and
influence may be too much for me.  But she is sure Mr. Tadgett is
an honest man and that I am doing the right thing in making his
fight for him."

"Ye-es," was the sarcastic comment, "I don't doubt it.  She'd think
'twas all right to sue the President of the United States if you
thought so first.  Is she comin' to the circus?"

"No.  She says she doesn't want Denboro to say that I can't move
unless my mother tags after me.  That is silly, of course.  Perhaps
there is some other reason, but if so I don't know what it is."

"Humph!  Well, probably she realizes that everybody would be
starin' at her and grinnin' at me.  I never wished more than I do
this minute that your father was alive to take the responsibility
for you off my hands.  By thunder, if you only could pull this off
I'd--I'd--  Say, don't you sink without a fight, boy.  Remember
you're a Bradford and give 'em all you've got."

The eighteen-by-twenty room which had been the Blodgett front
office held twenty or thirty people that Friday afternoon.  It
would have been crowded had seats been provided for spectators, but
as the row of chairs by the table were reserved for plaintiff,
defendant, witnesses and counsel, and as standing room was
uncomfortable, the attendance suffered.  Captain Abijah and Cousin
Hettie were provided with chairs; Banks brought them in from his
own room.

Cousin Hettie had called at the Malabar, without invitation, and
had insisted upon accompanying the captain to the hearing.  She
had arrived at the hotel in what she would have called a state.
Abijah, who was far from placid himself, lost patience.

"Oh, do shut up!" he ordered.  "I declare to man you make me feel
as if I was goin' to the boy's funeral!  Suppose he does take a
lickin' from Oscar Brooks and Maybelle Truman, what of it?  And
maybe he won't.  Why, for thunder sakes, don't you look on the
bright side once in a while?"

Cousin Hettie wiped her eyes.  "If you'll show me any bright side
to this mortifying business I'll be only too glad to look at it,"
she wailed.  "Just think of it--only just think of it!  Making
enemies of the most influential folks in this town.  And his
father's partner's own widow.  A Truman!  Where will us Bradfords
go to hide our diminished heads when this day's over, Abijah?  You
tell me that."

The captain's teeth snapped together.  "It takes all my main
strength to keep from tellin' one Bradford where to go this
minute," he vowed.  Cousin Hettie was offended and shocked.  The
conversation ended there and then and was not resumed during the
short walk to the room in the post-office building.

White-haired Judge Bangs made his appearance precisely at two
o'clock.  He took his seat behind the table and peered over his
spectacles.  He rapped for order.  "You represent Mr. Ebenezer
Tadgett in this matter, I believe, Mr. Bradford," he said.

"Yes, sir."

"I see.  I believe you and I have never met before, Mr. Bradford.
Capt. Silas Bradford was your father, I understand.  A very fine
man."

Score one for the Bradfords.  Those near Cousin Hettie heard her
stays creak as her bosom expanded with family pride.

"Will you state your client's case, Mr. Bradford."

Banks stated it.  He told the whole story of the commission to find
a sideboard such as Mrs. Truman desired, its discovery by Ebenezer,
its purchase by Mrs. Truman.  Then of the lady's belated refusal to
accept and her expressed disbelief in its genuineness.  Mr.
Tadgett, he said, had spent much money of his own for the board,
which he would not have done had not Mrs. Truman definitely agreed
to purchase and at a price agreed upon by them both.  Also he had
given two months' labor to its restoration.  The loss of money and
time were secondary, however, so he said in conclusion, to the
damage done his client by the slur upon his character as an honest
business man.  To clear the Tadgett character from stain was the
primary reason for this hearing.

Judge Bangs listened thoughtfully.  "That is all, Mr. Bradford?" he
asked.

"All that I have to say at present, sir.  We shall call witnesses."

"Yes, yes; of course.  Mr. Brooks, is it your intention, on behalf
of Mrs. Truman, to deny purchasing the sideboard?"

Mr. Brooks rose.  He was a stout elderly man, rather pompous; a
lawyer of the old school.  His manner of speech was inclined toward
the oratorical.  Just now he was not in the best of humors.  He had
neglected, in arranging with Banks for the hearing, to insist that
it be strictly private.  Mrs. Truman was irritated because of the
presence of spectators and had expressed her disapproval sharply.

"My only reason for wanting it kept out of court," she snapped,
"was to prevent being made part of a public show.  And here is a
good share of the town riffraff standing around with their mouths
open.  If you ask my opinion I don't mind calling it poor
management.  I will not be made a spectacle before all creation--
I'll pay the bill first."

So Mr. Brooks was unhappy.  Nevertheless, after clearing his throat
and adjusting his glasses, he smiled respectfully upon Judge Bangs
and condescendingly upon Banks Bradford.

"Your honor," he began, "my young friend here"--with a gesture
toward Banks--"has, I fear, plunged into this matter with the--er--
impetuosity of youth.  There is a well-known proverb which tells us
that a--er--well, a certain type of individual rushes in where
angels fear to tread.  Not that I am classifying my young brother
in the profession as that sort of individual; but he has rushed.
Indeed he has!"  He paused, blandly smiling acknowledgment of
chuckles from the rear of the room.

Judge Bangs broke in before he could resume.  "I was not, of
course, asking you to begin your defense just yet, Mr. Brooks," he
said.  "I thought it might expedite matters to have you tell us
what line that defense proposed to take.  Does your client deny
purchasing the sideboard?  Or does she refuse acceptance and
payment because the board is not what Mr. Tadgett represented it to
be when he sold it to her?"

"Why--er--principally the latter, your honor.  We feel that my
client has reasons, strong and adequate reasons, for doubting the
age and quality and consequently the value of the board delivered
at her house during her absence by the man Tadgett."

"I see.  Thank you, Mr. Brooks.  You may go on, Mr. Bradford."

Banks turned to Ebenezer, who was sitting next him.  "Mr. Tadgett,"
he said, "will you tell us how you found the board for Mrs. Truman--
at her request, I mean--and about selling it to her?"

Ebenezer rose and took the chair which had been set apart for the
use of witnesses.  He was dressed in his Sunday suit, which did not
fit him very well, and his hair, what there was of it, was
carefully "slicked."  He nodded to the referee.

"How are you, Judge?" he said pleasantly.

There was more laughter from the rows of standees in the rear.
Judge Bangs rapped for order.  "Mr. Tadgett and I are old
acquaintances," he explained, smiling.  "Go on, Mr. Tadgett."

Ebenezer turned toward his attorney.  "What was it you said I'd
better tell fust, Banks?" he inquired.

More and louder laughter.  Judge Bangs rapped sharply.  "We must
have order here," he announced.  "Tell the whole story in your own
way, Mr. Tadgett."

"All right, Judge.  This is how she started."  He told of Mrs.
Truman's summoning him to her house and commissioning him to find
a sideboard for her.  "I didn't have what she was lookin' for in
stock," he said.  "I can't afford to keep them kind of things on
hand, generally speakin'--not in Denboro, I can't.  Course once in
a while I get hold of a good thing--get it cheap, you understand--
but most of my trade is in what I call junk.  The heft of what I
buy is junk and most of my customers are junk customers, as you
might say."

"Haw, haw!  That's a good one!"  It was Jotham Gott who had spoken,
and now he was endeavoring to efface himself behind the back row of
spectators.

Judge Bangs looked in his direction.  "One more outbreak of that
kind," he announced, "and the room will be cleared.  Go on, Mr.
Tadgett."

Tadgett went on.  He had known for a long time where-about such a
sideboard as Mrs. Truman desired was located, but he had never
tried to buy it because he was not sure it was for sale at any
price and certainly at no price such as he could afford to pay.

"The folks that owned it, they--well, they knew 'twas pretty good,"
he drawled.  "Or if they didn't, they would know it soon's I or
anybody else tried to buy it.  You see, Judge," he went on, leaning
confidentially across the arm of his chair, "buyin' antiques is a
funny kind of a game.  You've got a chair, say, that's been up
attic so long that a body can't hardly tell where the cobwebs leave
off and the busted rush seat begins.  It ain't no good to you and
you'd have chopped it up long ago only it's hardwood and 'twould
cost more to get your ax ground afterwards than the worth of
kindlin' you'd get out of it.  But"--he lifted a finger--"but you
let ME get up into that attic and say I'll give you fifty cents for
it and all to once you wouldn't sell it short of a dollar and a
half.  And if I'm crazy enough--course I wouldn't be buyin'
secondhand stuff if I wan't crazy--if I'm loony enough to say I'll
give you the dollar fifty, you jump your price to three.  And THEN
you won't sell it.  Why?  Lord A'mighty knows.  It's human nature,
I presume likely."

Even Judge Bangs laughed now.  "No doubt, Mr. Tadgett," he agreed.
"Well, go on.  Make it as brief as you can."

"All right, Judge.  These folks that owned this sideboard, they had
it stored up in their back loft, where they kept stuff they didn't
use but couldn't bear to part with.  Matter of fact, they ain't the
kind that part easy from anything they've got.  About the only
thing I've ever heard of their GIVIN' anybody was the mumps; and
that was a good many year ago."

Bangs rapped the table.  "Order!" he commanded.  "Mr. Tadgett, you
must keep to your subject or keep still. . . .  Mr. Bradford,
unless your witness tells his story in a proper manner I shall
refuse to hear him."

Ebenezer apologized.  "I'm sorry, Judge," he said earnestly, "I am
so.  When I get a-goin' I'm liable to think out loud, I guess.
Well, this is how 'twas."

He went on, still rambling a good deal, but in the main, and
prompted by Bradford, sticking to his text.  His story was a
repetition and expansion of that told by Banks in his statement of
the case.

"There!" he said in conclusion, "that's about all, I guess.  You
see how 'tis with me, don't you, Judge?  Sorry I was so long-
winded, but--"

"Yes, yes," hastily.  "Mr. Bradford, have you any questions you
wish to ask the witness?"

"No, sir."

"And you, Mr. Brooks?"

Brooks rose ponderously.  He stepped in front of Ebenezer and
leveled a finger at the latter's nose.  "Mr. Tadgett," he began,
"of whom did you buy the sideboard which you sold--that is, which
you attempted to sell to Mrs. Truman?"

"Eh?  Oh, I told her all about that."

"Never mind what you told her.  You told her a good many things, I
should imagine.  Where did you get that sideboard?"

"Got it of Mrs. Abial Simpkins.  She'll tell you all about it.
She's sittin' right there."  He pointed toward the occupant of the
chair next to that occupied by Banks.  "There she is," he repeated.
"She'll tell you--won't you, Susannah?"

Mrs. Simpkins bounced to her feet.  She was a small thin old woman,
and just now she was very much agitated.  "I should say I would
tell!" she cried in shrill indignation.  "If I ever get the chance,
that is.  How much longer have I got to set here?  Dragged away
from my housework, dinner dishes not done, and comp'ny comin' to-
morrow.  A body'd think all I had to do was listen to you men
talk."

Judge Bangs' rapping and Banks Bradford's persuasions forced her
back into the chair and a temporary silence.  Mr. Brooks again
leveled his finger at the Tadgett nose.

"Now, Mr. Tadgett," he ordered imperiously, "answer this.  Speak
up, so every one can hear what you say.  What price did you pay
Mrs. Simpkins for her sideboard?"

"Eh?  What price?"

"Price--yes.  It is a plain word, isn't it?  Will you tell us, or
won't you?"

"I'd just as soon tell as not.  Only I promised Susannah I'd kind
of keep it to myself, and--"

"Answer the question," commanded Bangs.

"Just as you say, Judge.  Stand between me and Susannah, that's all
I ask.  There was considerable hagglin' and higglin' back and
forth, but finally I paid her two hundred and eight dollars and
done my own cartin'."

"Two hundred and eight dollars!" Mr. Brooks looked triumphantly
about the room.  "You paid her two hundred and eight dollars and
you charged Mrs. Truman three hundred.  Three hundred!  Do you
consider that a fair profit, Mr. Tadgett?"

"No, I don't know's I do."

"What?  Oh, you don't!  You admit then that it was an unfair one."

"Kind of unfair to me.  I put in two months resurrectin' and
scrapin' and polishin'.  Cartin' cost me four dollars more--that's
two twelve; leaves eighty-eight.  Divide that by eight again--I put
in all of eight weeks on it; that's an average of eleven dollars a
week.  I don't hardly call that a fair profit.  You get more'n that
out of Mrs. Truman yourself, just for comin' over here and pickin'
a fuss with me, Oscar.  Come now, don't you?"

During the disturbance which followed this unexpected retort Mr.
Brooks and his client held a brief consultation.  The former turned
back.  He was red in the face.

"We'll leave the subject of price for a moment," he answered
snappishly.  "Now, Tadgett, answer this:  When you tried to sell
Mrs. Truman this sideboard did you or did you not tell her that it
was a genuine old one?  A fine specimen in every way?"

"Um-hum.  That's what I told her."

"And you told her that it was well worth three hundred dollars?"

"No.  I told her 'twas worth a darned sight more'n that.  And 'tis,
too, the way prices for them kind of boards are runnin' these
days."

"Yes"--sarcastically.  "Your honor," he said, turning to Judge
Bangs, "Mrs. Truman has consulted experts--Boston experts in old
furniture--and they assure her that three hundred dollars is a
ridiculous price for a sideboard like this.  Even if it were
genuinely old, and what this man represented it to her to be, it--"

But Ebenezer Tadgett cut in here.  "It is old," he declared loudly.
"There ain't a dowel in it that ain't old."

The referee's overworked gavel was called into action once more.
"That will do," he commanded.  "You will have an opportunity to
disprove its genuineness later, Mr. Brooks.  Have you finished with
Mr. Tadgett for the present? . . .  Very well. . . .  That will do,
Mr. Tadgett.  Go on, Mr. Bradford."

Banks was smiling.  "Judge Bangs," he said, "I should like to ask
Mr. Brooks if he and Mrs. Truman have one of those Boston 'experts'
here present to testify as to the qualities of the sideboard."

"Have you, Mr. Brooks?" inquired the judge.

Brooks shrugged impatiently.  "We have not, your honor," he
replied.  "They are very busy men, and frankly we did not consider
it necessary to bring them down from the city on such a trivial
matter."

Banks' smile broadened.  "Your honor," he said, "we are prepared to
prove that the 'experts' are partners in a Boston house which deals
in antiques and that they sold Mrs. Truman a sideboard from their
own stock after she had agreed to buy this one of Mr. Tadgett.  The
sideboard she bought of them is in her dining room now.  That is
true, isn't it, Mr. Brooks?"

"Why--  Your honor, the gentlemen are acknowledged by all
connoisseurs to be--"

Judge Bangs cut him short.  "All that must come later," he said.
"Have you any more witnesses, Mr. Bradford?"

"Yes, sir.  Mrs. Simpkins, we are ready for you now."

Mrs. Simpkins was herself more than ready.  She flounced into the
chair vacated by Ebenezer like a chicken flying to roost.  "Now
what do you want me to say?" she demanded crisply.  "Hurry up,
'cause it's high time I was home attendin' to somethin' worth
while."

"We should like to have you tell us what you know about the
sideboard Ebenezer Tadgett bought of you last May."

"Know about it?  I know everything about it.  The only thing I
didn't know was that anybody would pay three hundred dollars for
it.  If I had, Ebenezer Tadgett would never have wheedled it out of
me for two hundred and eight."

"Yes, of course.  Now please tell us what you know of its history."

"I know all the history it's got.  Man alive," she continued,
addressing Judge Bangs, "I've known that sideboard ever since
I was knee-high to it.  It belonged to my grandfather fust--my
grandfather on my mother's side, that is to say.  He was a Snow.
One of the Wapatomac Snows.  Wapatomac's where them kind of Snows
come from.  There's Snows over there yet, fur's that goes.  My
grandfather married a Bassett; she was his first wife--he married
her afore he married his second, you understand.  She was a widow
when she married him; a widow with two--no, seems to me 'twas three
children.  I ain't just sure about that because she was dead when
he married her--I mean, of course, when he married my own
grandmother.  Well--"

By this time the room was in a tumult.  When Judge Bangs had
succeeded in restoring order and a portion of his own composure he
broke in upon the flow of the Simpkins family history.  Mrs.
Simpkins had been talking straight on and was at present wandering
in pursuit of cousins and stepcousins many times removed.

"Yes, yes.  Wait, Mrs. Simpkins," he shouted.  "Wait--please.
About this sideboard.  It belonged to your grandfather, you say.
You know that to be a fact?"

"Course I know it.  Haven't I been tellin' you?"

"Wait.  How do you know it?"

"How do I know I'm seventy year old next January?  'Cause I ain't
quite a fool, that's how.  That sideboard was part of Grandfather
Snow's weddin' outfit of furniture.  His first weddin' outfit, I
mean--the Bassett one.  Land sakes, don't I remember him tellin' me
how he scrimped and saved to get married?  He was a skipper of a
little mite of a codfish schooner when he was cruisin' after this
Hepsy Bassett--she was the one with the children.  He didn't own
but one or two shares in her--in the schooner, I mean."

"Wait--wait, Mrs. Simpkins.  Your grandfather bought this board as
part of his wedding outfit, you say?"

"I didn't say he bought it.  He had it made for him.  A man named
Sylvanus Blount made it.  Folks used to have their furniture made
for 'em in those times.  This Blount had learned his trade up to--
to Providence, seems to me 'twas, and he was a real fine
cabinetmaker.  So Grandfather Snow he says to himself, says he:
'It's liable to take about the last shot I've got in the locker,
but Hepsy she's a dreadful fine woman.'  He wan't so everlastin'
sartin of it after he'd been married to her a spell, or so my own
grandmother give me to understand, but that's what he said then.
Anyhow--"

"A moment, Mrs. Simpkins.  We must keep to the subject.  You know
that this is the board your grandfather had made by the Blount man?
You're sure of it?"

"Mercy on us!  Of course I'm sure.  It's never been out of our
family since.  We used to use it when I was a young woman.  After
me and Abial bought the marble-top one we've got now--or I've got;
Abial's been in the Promised Land for nineteen years--we put this
one up garret.  It's been up there ever since, or was up to the
time when I was weak-minded enough to let Ebenezer Tadgett wheedle
me out of it for two hundred and eight dollars.  I thought he was
loose in the upper story to pay any such price, although a year ago
a summer man from New York offered me a hundred for it.  But if I'd
known Ebenezer was goin' to get three hundred--"

"Yes, yes.  And you are perfectly sure--"

"Sure!  Tut, tut!  Why, I've got the bill for it."

"What bill?"

"Sylvanus Blount's bill for makin' it for Grandfather Snow.  'Twas
in his trunk there in the loft.  When Banks Bradford came to me
tellin' me there was all this touse goin' on I went up and hunted
through all the old papers and I found it."

There was a new sensation in the room.  Banks stepped forward.
"Here is the bill, Judge Bangs," he said.  "You will notice that it
is dated October 10, 1804."

Bangs examined the time-yellowed paper.  "Humph!" he vowed.  "This
seems authentic.  Have you or Mrs. Truman seen this bill, Mr.
Brooks?"

It was evident that Mr. Brooks had neither seen it nor hitherto
been aware of its existence.  He took the bill from the judge's
hand.  "Why--why--" he stammered.

Mrs. Truman called to him.  "Let me see that, please," she
commanded.  He handed her the bill.  She and Miss Cartwright
examined it together.

"That is all, Mrs. Simpkins," said Banks.  "Thank you very much."

Mrs. Simpkins bounced to her feet.  "Can I go home now and do my
dishes like a decent Christian?" she demanded.

"So far as I am concerned--yes."

"Much obliged to you, Susannah," put in Ebenezer.

Mr. Oscar Brooks stepped to the front.  "One minute, Mrs. Simpkins,"
he ordered.  "That bill may or may not be what it--ahem--purports
to be, but even if it is it does not prove that the board mentioned
in it is the one which Tadgett tried to sell my client.  Mrs.
Simpkins, have you any other proof--any real proof--that the
sideboard you had in your loft is the one made for your grandfather
by this--er--Blount?"

Susannah Simpkins stared at him.  "There now," she exclaimed, "if I
didn't forget the very thing I'd ought to have said in the first
place.  If you haul out the second front drawer and turn it over
you'll find Sylvanus Blount's name and 'October, 1804' burned into
the drawer bottom with a hot poker.  Course I wouldn't swear 'twas
a poker he done it with, but it's there, anyhow.  And always has
been there, too. . . .  Now can I go home?"

She went.  Mr. Brooks had nothing further to say to her.  Mrs.
Truman had summoned him to her side and was whispering volubly in
his ear.  He seemed to be arguing and expostulating.

"Anything more, Mr. Bradford?" asked the referee.

Banks looked along the row of chairs.  "I should like to ask Mrs.
Truman a few questions," he said.  "Mrs. Truman--"

But Mrs. Truman paid no attention.  She and her lawyer were still
deep in argument.  Elizabeth Cartwright occasionally put in a word.

"Mrs. Truman," said Banks again.

Mr. Brooks came to the front.  He looked very much disturbed.
"Your honor," he stammered, "I--I--er--ahem--my client wishes me to
say that she does not care to--er--to continue this--er--hearing.
All this--er--publicity is extremely distasteful to her.  She--
well, she insists upon my saying that she will--er--pay the Tadgett
bill for--for the sideboard."

And now there WAS a sensation.

"Order!  Order!" cried Judge Bangs.  "Mrs. Truman, is this correct?
Do I understand--"

Mrs. Truman interrupted.  "I hope you do," she said crisply.
"I will pay the bill.  I'll pay it now, if that will end this
ridiculous affair."

More sensation.  Bangs looked at Bradford.  "Is this satisfactory
to you and Mr. Tadgett?" he asked.

Banks was standing.  Ebenezer was pulling excitedly at his sleeve
but he did not turn.

"Not entirely," he said.  "My client will not be satisfied with any
settlement other than payment of debt, interest and costs.  Also he
demands a written acknowledgment from Mrs. Truman that the
sideboard he sold to her is in every respect precisely as he
represented it to her."

Oscar Brooks gurgled.  "Outrageous!" he blustered.  "Under no
circumstances will I permit--"

But again Mrs. Truman spoke.  "He shall have his acknowledgment,"
she said, "and his interest and whatever else he wants.  I'll see
that they are handed to him at his shop to-morrow morning.  If I
had known--if I had had a lawyer with ordinary common sense, I
should never have--  But there!  I presume I'm not needed here any
longer.  Come, Elizabeth."



CHAPTER VII


If, as Captain Abijah had declared, Banks Bradford began that
hearing as the town goat, he ended it as the town lion.  Not a
mature and majestic lion, of course--the case of Tadgett versus
Truman was scarcely important enough for that--but certainly a lion
cub, for whom growth and majesty were prophesied.  He had made a
monkey of Oscar Brooks, and Denboro, the greater part of it,
chuckled.

Banks' triumph was, generally speaking, a popular one, even though
entirely unexpected.  Mrs. Elijah Truman was not loved in Denboro.
She was respected because of her money and social position, but she
had snubbed or ignored too many citizens, male and female, to be a
favorite.

Denboro took off its hat when she passed, but it whispered behind
her back.  "Stuck up"; "Thinks herself too good for common folks"--
these were criticisms often expressed in private.  And the
appraisal was likely to end with, "Humph!  If what they say is true
she wasn't so much before she married Cap'n Elijah and his money."
So the overthrow of her cause at the hearing was a source of
gleeful cackles at many Denboro supper tables that night.

The buttons of Captain Abijah's expansive waistcoat were,
fortunately, securely fastened or they must have burst from their
moorings.  He was blown up with pride.  But his manner, as he
greeted his nephew after Judge Bangs had announced the hearing at
an end, was elaborately careless and easy.  Any one watching him
could see that he had always been perfectly certain of the outcome.

"Well, boy," he said, in a voice sufficiently loud to be heard in
the corridor outside the room, "you did a good job, just as I knew
you would.  Handled everything first rate.  Can't find any fault at
all. . . .  Well--er--I may drop in down to the house by and by, if
I ain't too busy.  So long."

This was all, but the handshake which accompanied the "So long"
made Banks' fingers numb for several minutes.

Cousin Hettie did not offer congratulations--just then.  She looked
as if she were thinking of doing so and several times she moved in
Banks' direction, but each time she halted, glanced nervously
toward Mrs. Truman, and remained where she was.  Finally she went
away without joining the group surrounding her young relative.

She called at the Mill Hill cottage that evening, however.  Early
as it was--Banks and his mother had not finished supper--Captain
Abijah was already there.  The captain was making no effort to
repress his feelings now; they were bubbling over.

"Oh, my!  Oh, my!" he crowed, rocking back and forth in his chair
and pounding his knee in ecstasy, "if I haven't had a good time for
the last couple of hours.  And if I won't have a better one to-
morrow!  I walked into the lobby over at the hotel and Bassett was
sittin' astern of his desk, pretendin' to read the paper.  I tried
my best to look down in the mouth.  'Well, Cap'n Bije,' he says,
makin' believe he wasn't really interested, 'how'd it go?'  'I'm
kind of disappointed, Rinaldo,' I told him.  'Oh!' says he.  'Oh,
well--er--you mustn't mind.  A young fellow like Banks can't hardly
expect to win against an old-timer like Oscar Brooks; it's too
heavy odds.'

"I turned around to stare at him.  'What are you talkin' about?'
says I.  'Banks won, all right.'  His mouth flopped open like a
henhouse door in a gale.  'Wha--what!' says he.  'He won, you say?'
'Sure thing,' I said.  'He won--case, interests and costs.  I told
you he'd win, didn't I?'  'But--but I thought you said you were
disappointed,' he stuttered.  'So I am,' I said; 'it took him full
half an hour longer than I expected.'  Ho, ho, ho!  Dear me!  I
wish you could have seen his face."

He smote his knee again and whooped hilariously.  Banks laughed
also; he was flushed and excited.  Margaret smiled; she had said
very little, but the pride and happiness in her look as she
listened to her brother-in-law's praise of her son were quite as
expressive as his words.  Cousin Hettie's laugh was rather forced.
Abijah turned upon her.

"Well, Hettie," he demanded, "how about us Bradfords havin' to hunt
up a hole to stick our heads into?  If you know where there is that
kind of a hole I shouldn't wonder if Oscar Brooks would be glad to
have you point it out to him.  Looks as if he needed it more'n we
do.  Ho, ho!"

Henrietta smiled, or tried to.  "He did look pretty foolish, that's
a fact," she admitted.  "I wouldn't be in his place for something.
He's been the Truman adviser ever since Cap'n Elijah's last days,
but the way Mrs. Truman looked at him when that hearing was over
must have made him guess he wouldn't be much longer.  If I was her
I'd get a new lawyer right straight off."

"Well," chuckled Captain Bije, "we know where there's a good one
handy by--eh, Banks?" he added with a wink.  "Boy did pretty well
for a beginner; even you'll give in to that much, won't you,
Hettie?"

Cousin Hettie bristled.  "Don't you suppose I know Silie is real
smart as well as you do?" she demanded.  "I only hope it will do
him more good than harm, that's all--in the end, I mean."

"Harm!  For mercy sakes, what harm can it do him?"

"Oh, 'Bijah, be still; you know what I mean.  Will Mrs. Truman hold
a grudge?  That's what I'd like to be sure of."

"She won't; but suppose she does, what of it?"

"What of it?  A great deal of it.  Her husband and poor Silas were
close dear friends and partners.  Would you like to see a quarrel
between Elijah's widow and Silas' son?  I shouldn't."

Banks put in a word.  "I don't think there will be any quarrel,
Cousin Hettie," he said.  "It was all perfectly fair.  Mrs. Truman
bought that sideboard; she knew she bought it.  Three or four
hundred dollars, more or less, will make little difference to her.
Why should she hold a grudge--against me, anyhow?"

"Don't blame her if she holds it against Brooks," chuckled Abijah.

Cousin Hettie shook her head dubiously.  "I dread the thought of
any trouble between the Trumans and the Bradfords," she said.  "All
sorts of dead bygones would be raked up and talked over."

"What of it?"  This from Abijah, the irrepressible.  "The Bradfords
could stand the rakin', I guess likely.  We haven't buried anything
we need to be ashamed of.  Come now, Hettie, what's all this?  YOU
haven't got a pet skeleton planted down cellar, have you?  Ho, ho!"

It was intended as a joke, but Cousin Hettie did not take it as
one.  Her thin cheeks flushed crimson and she swung about to glare
at the speaker.  Then she rose to her feet.  "You talk like an
absolute fool, Abijah Bradford," she sputtered.  "And I don't want
to hear another word from you."

"Here, here, Hettie!  Don't get mad.  Where you goin'?"

"I'm going home.  You're enough to make a saint mad."  And home she
went forthwith, in spite of family remonstrances and urgings.

The captain shook his head.  "Now what in the world touched her off
like that?" he queried.  "Funny, ain't it?  And yet maybe it ain't
so funny, if you knew her and knew her father before her.  The
Trumans have got money, and to buck up against folks with money is
committin' sacrilege--'tis to Hettie, and it always was to Uncle
Abner when he lived.  Hettie's idea of heaven is a place where the
angels are all dead millionaires and the streets are paved with
gold so they'll feel at home when they get there.  Don't let what
she says fret you, Banks.  He needn't, need he, Margaret?"

Margaret said "No."  Nevertheless, at bedtime that evening, as
Banks kissed her good night, she put an arm about his shoulder.
"Banks," she said.

"Yes, Mother; what is it?"

"Banks, dear, you won't go out of your way to oppose Mrs. Truman,
will you?  Any more than you can help, I mean."

"Why, of course not.  I haven't got anything against her.  She
tried to play Tadgett a mean trick and I made up my mind she
shouldn't get away with it."

"Yes, I know.  You did exactly right and I am so proud of you.
But--oh, I do hope this ends it, so far as you and she are
concerned."

He laughed and drew her to him.  "Mother," he remonstrated, "you
mustn't be like Hettie, afraid of Mrs. Truman."

"Afraid!"  This with sudden scorn.  "Of her?"

"Of her money and influence in town, and all that, I mean.  Mother,
you don't like Mrs. Truman, do you?  Honestly, now?"

"Not very well, Banks."

"That's queer.  I thought you and she scarcely knew each other. . . .
Oh, well, it doesn't matter.  She and I are through--or will be
to-morrow, when I get her check for Tadgett's bill and costs.  She
can't hurt me.  Just forget her, Mother."

Margaret turned away to take her hand lamp from the table.  "Yes,"
she said slowly.  "Yes--forget her."

The next afternoon Banks walked into the Tadgett shop, summoned its
proprietor into the back room, and laid the Truman check upon the
desk in the middle of the clearing between the piles of papers.

"And there you are!" he announced.

Ebenezer picked up the check, adjusted his spectacles and stared at
it.  "Jerusalem the golden, with milk and honey blessed," he
intoned reverently.  "Whew!  Banks, I--I'm goin' to thank you in a
minute, soon's I get my breath."

"The thanks are all on my side.  You gave me the chance, you know."

"Chance!  Chance for what?  Don't talk foolishness.  First of all,
how much do I owe you?"

"You don't owe me anything.  The only expenses were the rent of
that room for half a day and Judge Bangs' fee.  The other side paid
those."

"Don't talk foolish, I tell you.  How much do I owe you?"

"Nothing.  Look here, you don't understand.  If I had taken a full
page in the Item for four weeks I couldn't have got the advertising
this thing has given me.  When I was in the post office this noon
at least half a dozen people came up to shake hands and pound me on
the back.  They know I'm alive now.  I'm satisfied, Ebenezer, if
you are, so we'll call it square."

"Banks Bradford, I want to know--"

"Oh, be still!  Talk about something else.  What did your wife say
when you told her?"

Tadgett, of course, refused to be still.  He protested and argued
and pleaded, but his friend only laughed.  At last the little man
yielded temporarily.  "All right," he sighed.  "Have it your own
way--till it's time for me to have mine.  Only don't you ever tell
me again that Hettie Bradford is any relation to you at all.  I
know better."

"Why?"

"Why? . . .  Did I ever tell you how Hettie found the pocketbook on
the first of April?  Some of the town kids had a wallet laid out on
the sidewalk up on the Swamp Road, with a string tied to it.  The
string was covered up with sand and whenever anybody tried to pick
up the wallet they yanked it out of the way and hollered 'April
Fool.'  They tried it on Hettie and she stepped on the string and
walked off with the pocketbook.  Then she stopped in here and sold
it to me for fifteen cents.  It'll take a smarter lawyer even than
you are, boy, to make me believe there's any of her blood in
you. . . .  Now come in the other back room and see how the tambour
desk is gettin' along.  I've been resurrectin' it some consider'ble
lately."

One morning a week later Banks was dumfounded when he opened his
office door to find that his own desk had disappeared.  The
resurrected tambour occupied its place.  He hastened down to the
Tadgett shop, demanding an explanation.  It was promptly given.

"I put it there myself," said Ebenezer.  "I gathered from what you
told me that you kind of liked it."

"Liked it!  I'm crazy about it.  It's perfectly stunning, of
course.  I can't afford it, that's all."

"Nobody's asked you to pay for it, as I know of."

"Great Scott, man!  You don't suppose I'll let you give me a thing
like that?"

"No givin' about it.  It cost me next to nothin' in the beginnin',
and I figger that the advertisin' I'll get from your tellin' folks
it come from my shop will be worth--what was it you said about that
sideboard case of mine?--oh, yes! a page in the Item for a month.
I'm satisfied if you are, Banks.  Remember I told you then you
could have your own way till 'twas time for me to have mine?"

So the tambour desk remained in the Bradford office, an article of
furniture both useful and ornamental.  Banks, quite aware of its
beauty and worth, felt guilty in accepting such a gift, but as
Ebenezer firmly refused to take it back or to listen to refusals or
remonstrances, he was obliged to yield.

"If you won't you won't," he said at last.  "But you shouldn't.
You told me yourself that you intended to keep it awhile to gloat
over.  That is what you said."

"I can gloat over it in here just as well as I could any place,
can't I?  Sartin sure I can--and better, 'cause there's more room.
Say, Banks, would it be all right if I fetched Sheba in here some
day so's she can see you usin' it?  I'll fetch her when you're
alone.  She'll probably be wearin' her hoods, you know, and--well,
some of your customers might not understand same as you and I do."

He brought her the very next day, just as Banks was on the point of
leaving for home.  The hoods, all of them, were very much in
evidence and their wearer very grave and dignified.  She expressed
approval of the desk and thanked Bradford for his labors on her
husband's behalf.  Her language was sometimes pedantic and
sometimes flowery, but her conversation was perfectly rational.
Banks was relieved and it was evident that Mr. Tadgett was more so.
The call was almost at an end and the callers had risen to go when
Banks became aware that the lady had ceased speaking and was
staring at him.  Ebenezer, too, noticed it.

"Now, Sheba," he said nervously, "you and I must get under way.
It's nigh suppertime for all hands of us.  Come!"

His wife was still staring fixedly at the wall above Banks' head.
Now she lifted a hand.  "Hush!" she ordered dreamily.  "Be still
and listen.  The spell of vision is on me.  The time of light has
come."

Banks turned to look at Mr. Tadgett.  The latter met his glance of
puzzled bewilderment with one of anxious appeal.  "It's all right--
it's all right," he explained hastily.  "I'll attend to her.  Now,
Sheba--"

Mrs. Tadgett's lifted hand moved slowly up and down.  "Peace; be
still," she commanded.  Then, lowering her voice to a sort of
graveyard whisper, she added, "I see--in my vision I seem to see a
young man.  He is climbing--climbing."

"Sure, sure!"  This from the frantic Ebenezer.  "I know who 'tis.
It's Sam Cahoon--he's been shinglin' our ell roof, Banks--and
you've been watchin' him, ain't you, Sheba?  The way he gallops up
and down them ladders is--"

"Hush!"  The graveyard whisper continued.  "I see a young man
climbing--up and up.  He is on his way to the heights.  There is a
young woman helping him.  They go up hand in hand."

"No, no, they don't.  You're wrong there, Sheba.  Sam's married,
and he wouldn't take his wife up no ladders.  They'd have to be
extra strong to hold her.  Why, she weighs all of two hundred and a
quarter."

"They rise--they rise.  And then--then there is a crash.  They
separate--he falls--"

Ebenezer seized her arm in desperation.  "Sh-h-h, Sheba!" he
begged, gently shaking her.  "Don't talk no more.  Come, let's go."

"He falls--falls--"

"Sartin he does!  Well, 'twon't hurt him none.  Now you just--
That's it, that's it."

The graveyard whisper was dying away.  "Falls," repeated Mrs.
Tadgett uncertainly.  Then, with sudden cheerfulness, "The falls of
Niagara are one hundred and sixty-seven feet high.  Feet--yes.  All
quadrupeds have four feet and--and--  Did you speak to me,
Ebenezer?"

Her husband sighed in huge relief.  "Yes, sure I did, Sheba," he
agreed with unction.  "I was just remindin' you that 'twas
suppertime and I was hungry.  Say good night to Mr. Bradford and
we'll trot right along."

The lady's good night was calm and not in the least out of the
ordinary.  Apparently she was quite unconscious that she had said
or done anything peculiar.  "I'm real glad you have got such a nice
office, Mr. Bradford," she observed.  "And I can't begin to tell
you how thankful Ebenezer and I are to you for helping him get his
money.  Do come and see us real often, won't you?"

Banks promised to do so.  The visitors departed.  A moment later
Tadgett reappeared.

"Left my hat," he explained in a loud tone.  Then, leaning across
the desk he whispered.  "Don't pay no attention to it, Banks.
She's fine now.  Be just the same as anybody for two or three days,
most likely.  Thank you for--for understandin'; 'tain't everybody
that would, I know.  So long."

Banks impulsively extended his hand.  "Ebenezer," he said with
feeling, "you're a brick."

"Eh?  What?  Oh, no, no; I just--  Yes, Sheba, I've found it; I'm
comin'.  By-by, Banks.  See you to-morrow probably."

When Banks dropped in at the secondhand shop next day Mr. Tadgett
referred to the incident of the "vision."  "They're kind of a new
wrinkle with her," he said confidentially.  "I was foolish enough
to take her over to the Harniss Spiritu'list camp meetin' two
summers ago, and right after that she commenced to be took with
'em--the visions, I mean.  Of course I don't take much stock in
what she thinks she sees.  I had my fortune told when I was
eighteen or so and 'twas forecast that I was goin' to be awful rich
and marry a beautiful woman with gold hair.  I'm edgin' up to sixty
and poorer than a shot herrin's shadow, and Sheba's hair is black,
so I'm off fortune tellin' for keeps.  It's kind of worryin',
though, this vision business," he added.  "I can't never be just
sure what she'll see.  She had a vision about the new Methodist
minister when he was to our house a fortni't ago and what she
started to tell him was--well, he ain't spoke to me since.  Say,
Banks--"

"Yes?  What is it?"

"Why, nothin'--only--well, you won't tell about it--about her--
outside and around, I mean?"

"Of course not, Ebenezer.  You can depend on me."

"I know it.  Dear, dear!  I used to be so proud of her. . . .
Well," he concluded stoutly, "I'm proud of her yet, and I shall be
long's I live. . . .  Now let's talk about some of the rest of the
neighbors."

Banks did not see him again for several days.  A new bit of
professional business had come to the young attorney.  He was
inclined to think it the result of his success in the matter of the
Tadgett-Truman sideboard, but whether this was true or not it was
welcome for its own sake.  Nothing weighty nor very profitable,
merely the matter of a title search for old Mr. Hezekiah Bartlett,
who lived in West Denboro; but as the old gentleman was a prominent
citizen, well-to-do, an ex-director in the local bank and retired
president of the lumber company, and his reputation that of an
extremely careful not to say cranky man of affairs, Banks could not
help feeling elated by this evidence of confidence on his part.  He
made several trips to the office of the registrar of probate in the
courthouse at Ostable, and it was not until the following Wednesday
that he found time to drop in at the Tadgett shop.

Ebenezer was in his back room--not the other back room, but the
office this time--and the little table was cleared and ready for
the weekly game of euchre with Jotham Gott and Eliab Gibbons.

"Hello, Banks!" he hailed.  "Glad to see you.  Thought maybe you'd
been made judge or somethin', way you've kept out of the way of
everyday folks lately."

Banks explained that he had been busy.  Tadgett was carefully
counting two battle-scarred decks of cards and singing, as he did
so:


     "Oh, the moonlight's fair to-night along the Wabash;
         From the fields there comes the breath of new-mown hay--


"Thought I'd make sure all the aces and bowers was present and
accounted for afore the gang got here," he observed.  "Last time we
played Jotham had a hand that looked as if 'twas goin' to make much
as four or five cents for him and then Eliab found the jack of
hearts on the floor.  My soul to Betsy, there was a time.  I
thought Jotham was goin' to break down and cry.  'Twas the first
good hand he'd had for an hour.  I don't know what he'd have done,
only we was makin' such a noise that he got scared somebody'd hear
us and fetch the constable.  Jotham was brought up strict, and
although he loves to play for a quarter of a cent a point he's all
of a tremble for fear he'll be caught at it. . . .


     "Through the sycamores the candlelights are gleaming
         On the banks of the Wabash, far away.


"Say, Banks, who do you suppose was in here to see me yesterday
afternoon?"

Banks suggested Cousin Hettie.

"No.  'Twan't so bad as all that.  And 'twant the constable,
neither.  Though," he continued with a chuckle, "when I see who
'twas I wouldn't have been too much surprised to see the sheriff
cruisin' right astern.  'Twas old lady Truman, that's who 'twas."

Banks whistled.  "Mrs. Truman!" he exclaimed.  "What is the trouble
now?"

"That's what I kept askin' myself for ten minutes after she hove in
sight.  But fur's I could make out there wan't any trouble at all.
She just happened in to see if I had an old maple lowboy that would
fit in to her second-best upstairs spare room."

Banks was more surprised than ever.  "She came to buy--from you?"
he cried.

"Oh, I know!  I felt the same way.  I kept watchin' the hand she
held behind her back to see if there was a brickbat in it.  But
there wasn't--she didn't seem to hold any grudge at all; was good-
natured and folksy as could be--as she could be to a mud worm like
me, I mean."

"And did she really buy anything?"

"She bought that lowboy I had in the other back room.  That is, she
agreed to buy it provided her granddaughter, the Cartwright girl,
liked it as well as she did.  She's goin' to fetch Elizabeth--
that's the girl's front name--in to see it in a day or so.  Don't
that beat all your goin' to sea?"

"It certainly does."

"It beat mine.  I kept sayin' to myself, 'Now what in the world are
you really here for?'  Well, afore she left I began to have a
glimmer of a notion.  I think the lowboy was just more or less of
an excuse.  If I had to make one guess to keep from goin' under for
the third time I'd guess she came here to talk about you."

"About me!  Ebenezer, you're dotty."

"That's no news; half of Denboro's been sartin of that for a long
spell.  But I swear I believe I'm sane enough this time.  The old
lady kept fetchin' your name into the talk.  I was haulin' the
drawers out of the lowboy and pointin' out the old-fashioned hand
dovetailin' and one thing or 'nother, and she'd say 'Yes,' and
'Very interestin',' and then she'd ask me more about you.  Oh, they
wan't what you might call downright out and aboveboard questions,
you know, but they was questions just the same."

"What sort of questions?"

"Oh, all sorts of kinds.  How old you was and where you learned law
and why you ever decided to open up shop in a place like Denboro--
that kind of stuff."

"But what for?  Why should she be interested in me?"

"Give it up.  I've been goin' over it ever since, and the only
answer I can get is that she may be thinkin' of signin' you on as
law pilot instead of Oscar Brooks.  She and him had an awful row
after that hearin' of ours and she's given him his walkin' papers--
at least that's the town talk."

Banks laughed aloud.  "When that happens I'll believe in Santa
Claus," he declared.  "Guess again, Ebenezer."

The little man shook his head.  "You can't never tell," he said
sagely.  "Some kinds of folks think a whole lot more of you after
you've hit 'em square on the nose.  They figger that anybody able
to treat them that way must be mighty smart.  I have the notion
Maybelle Truman may be that kind.  She's a sharp old girl, or I
don't know a razor edge when I see it.  Don't know why I keep
callin' her old," he added.  "matter of fact she can't be much
older than I am."

Banks laughed again.  The idea that Mrs. Truman should be
considering him in a professional sense struck him as highly
ridiculous.  The fact that she had questioned Tadgett concerning
him was odd, however.

"She used to know father," he mused aloud.  "She told me so that
day when I called at her house, I remember.  I imagine her interest
in me wasn't very keen, Ebenezer."

"'Twas interest, I'll swear to that. . . .  Mind countin' that pack
for me, Banks?  I've counted it myself three times, and every time
it's come different.  You try it."

Banks was counting when the bell attached to the street door rang.
Ebenezer grunted.  "That's Jotham, on the track of the four cents,"
he observed.  "he's ahead of time, but that's to be expected, I
presume likely. . . .  Eh?  No, don't sound like his step, though,
does it?"

He went out into the shop and Banks heard him speaking with some
one.  A moment later he returned.  "It ain't Jotham after all," he
whispered.  "It's Sarah Hubbard, and she wants me to go down to her
house and look at a table we've been dickerin' about.  I guess
likely I ought to go, for I've been after that table for a year,
off and on, and if I don't grab this chance she's liable to change
her mind for the fortieth time.  Say, Banks, if you ain't in any
hurry, would you mind stayin' here and tendin' shop till Eliab or
Jotham come?  They'll be here most any minute; then you can leave
the place in their charge.  Tell 'em I won't be but a little
while."

Banks said he was in no hurry, so Mr. Tadgett, hastily seizing his
coat and hat, hurried out.  Left alone, the young man recounted and
arranged the packs of cards and then, picking up the copy of the
weekly Item from the litter on the desk, sat down to read the
"Denboro Locals."  They were anything but exciting and the time
dragged.  He was growing impatient.  At last, however, the doorbell
again rang.

"All right," he hailed.  "That you, Ebenezer?"  There was no
answer.  Obviously it was not Tadgett; and Gott or Eliab, whichever
it might be, had not heard him.  "Come along!" he shouted.  "It's
perfectly safe.  The constable isn't here."

Footsteps crossed the floor of the outer shop and paused at the
threshold of the back room.  A voice said, "I beg your pardon."

Banks turned.  Then he dropped the paper and rose hastily.  The
person standing in the doorway was not one of the euchre players,
but a young woman.  The light in the back room at that time of day
was not brilliant, and Banks did not for the moment recognize her.

"I beg your pardon," she repeated.  "Is Mr. Tadgett in? . . .  Oh!
Why, how do you do, Mr. Bradford?"

He recognized her then.  She was Elizabeth Cartwright, Mrs.
Truman's granddaughter.  Banks was surprised and not a little
embarrassed.  "Why, Miss Cartwright!" he exclaimed.  "I didn't
know--I wasn't expecting--well, I wasn't expecting you."

She laughed.  "I guessed you weren't," she said.  "And yet I wasn't
quite sure.  When you mentioned the constable I thought perhaps Mr.
Tadgett wasn't satisfied and grandmother and I were criminals
again.  Where is Mr. Tadgett?"

Banks explained the Tadgett absence and his own excuse for tending
shop.  He added a word concerning the expected arrival of the
euchre players and his reference to the constable.  "That was
intended as a joke," he confessed ruefully.  "Of course, it didn't
take; most of my jokes don't. . . .  Won't you sit down, Miss
Cartwright?  Tadgett will be back soon, I'm sure."

She hesitated.  "I don't believe I had better wait.  I told
grandmother I was going down to the post office, just for the
walk--for the exercise, you know.  If I stay too long she will
be sending the carriage for me.  Grandmother doesn't approve of
exercise; apparently it wasn't considered genteel when she was a
girl."

"Ebenezer said he would be gone only a few minutes.  He has been
gone more than that already."

"Ebenezer?  Oh, you mean Mr. Tadgett.  Ebenezer Tadgett!  Isn't it
a perfectly gorgeous name?  Tell me, does he live up to it?  I'm
sure he does.  I heard him testify at that hearing the other day.
He and old Mrs. Simpkins were too funny for words.  The whole
affair was awfully funny, as far as that goes."  She ended with a
trill of laughter.

Banks rather resented her amusement.  To him that hearing had been
a very serious matter.  "I suppose it was," he said shortly.  "But
if it had ended the other way it wouldn't have been so funny for
Ebenezer.  That three hundred dollars meant a great deal to him."

"Did it really?  You and he weren't just pretending, then?"

"Pretending?"

"Yes.  You are a lawyer and it is a lawyer's business to pretend--
to make believe--be dreadfully in earnest no matter whether he
really is or not.  Isn't that true?"

"Perhaps so; but there wasn't any make-believe at that hearing--on
our side, anyway.  If Tadgett had lost that money it would have
been a hard blow."

"Well, he didn't lose it, thanks to you and that funny Mrs.
Simpkins.  I am glad he didn't."

"You are glad!" Banks exclaimed incredulously.

"Yes.  Why not?  Grandmother didn't really care about the money; it
was a matter of principle with her.  She thought she had been
cheated, and she won't stand that from any one.  I don't blame
her."

Banks could have retorted that Mrs. Truman's attitude seemed to him
to indicate a lack of principle rather than its possession.  He did
not, however.  "It was a matter of principle on Tadgett's part," he
declared.  "He prides himself on being an honest man.  And he IS an
honest man--as square as a brick; one of the finest fellows I ever
met."

His earnestness seemed to amuse her.  She sat down in the chair
which she had refused when he offered it.  "I believe I will stay a
minute or two," she said impulsively.  "All this is terribly
interesting.  You like this Mr. Tadgett--really like him, don't
you?"

"I do, very much."

She nodded.  "I think I should like him too.  That was my real
reason for coming in here.  I wanted to meet him and talk with him
and hear him talk.  I was sure it would be great fun."

"Fun?  Oh, yes--I see."

"No, you don't see at all.  I didn't mean to make fun OF him.  I
took a fancy to him when he sat in that chair and told his story
the other day.  I like the way he talked to Judge Bangs--just as if
he was a neighbor, you know, not a bit awkward or afraid, just--
just real."

"That is what he is."

"Yes.  And that is why I was glad when he beat pompous old Mr.
Brooks.  I never did like him."

This time Banks could not resist speaking his thought.  "Was Mrs.
Truman glad, too?" he asked dryly.

She laughed again.  Hers was a pleasant laugh, not in the least
forced or artificial.  "Grandmother was cross," she admitted.  "She
was cross at Mr. Brooks for making such a fool of himself and of
her.  But I don't think she was angry at Tadgett or at you.  In
fact, I know she wasn't, for she said to me that very night that
you were a clever boy, and if you kept on as you had begun you
would make a smart lawyer.  She has talked about you a good deal
since, and always in the same way.  That is the truth, really it
is."

Banks smiled.  "I am much obliged to her," he said.  "She is a good
loser, anyway."

"Yes.  And as for Mr. Tadgett--well, when she came home yesterday
she told me she had been in at this very shop and had looked at a
maple lowboy which she thought she might buy.  That doesn't sound
as if she were very spiteful, does it?"

"No; it doesn't, that's a fact."

"That lowboy was my excuse for coming in here just now.  Of course
my real reason was, as I told you, to meet Mr. Tadgett himself, but
the lowboy was the excuse.  Grandmother said she was going to bring
me with her the next time she came to look at it.  I intended
telling her that I had been in to look at it on my own account.
Well," she finished, rising, "I can come again, of course."

Banks rose also.  "I can't imagine what is keeping Ebenezer," he
said, "but so far as the lowboy is concerned, I know where it is
and I should be glad to show it to you."

She hesitated; then she glanced at her watch.  "Will you?" she
exclaimed.  "Why, if you could--  You see, grandmother will want to
know where I have been--she expects me to account for my time as if
I were a child--and if I could say that I have been inspecting that
lowboy it might save a lot of questions.  But I don't like to
trouble you."

It was no trouble, of course.  Banks led the way to the other back
room, dragged the lowboy from its corner and exhibited it.  She was
enthusiastic.

"Why, it is lovely!" she declared.  "And"--looking about the room--
"there are so many other lovely things in here.  Why does Mr.
Tadgett keep them hidden where no one can see them?  His shop is
full of the most awful trash, but this--why, it is a treasure
chest."

Banks repeated Ebenezer's reasons for concealing his beloved
pieces, quoting his friend's words.  She listened at first, but
when he finished he was aware that she was looking at him rather
than at the antiques.

"What is it?" he asked.

He was standing in the late afternoon light as it came in through
the dusty window panes, and her gaze was fixed upon his face.
There was a little pucker between her brows.

"Mr. Bradford," she asked suddenly, "haven't you and I met before,
somewhere?  Oh, I don't mean when you called at our house or the
other day at the hearing, but before that--a long time ago?"

He smiled; she did not wait for him to reply.  "I am almost sure we
have," she declared, the pucker a little deeper.  "That day when
you called, when grandmother was scolding you and Mr. Tadgett about
the sideboard and keeping me standing in the corner as if I were an
image, I kept thinking, 'I know him; I am certain I do.'  But
grandmother was perfectly sure I didn't know you and never did.
And yet--well, I believe she is mistaken.  Is she?"

His smile broadened.  "I wondered if you would remember," he said.
"I had the same feeling about you and I couldn't remember either,
at first.  And then I did.  It was a long time ago.  You were a
very little girl and I was a kid too.  You and your nurse--I
suppose it was the nurse--were down at the shore, on Nickerson's
pier.  And--"

She clapped her hands.  "Of course!  Of course!" she cried.  "I
fell into the water and you fished me out."

"Yes."

"And we went to your house and they dried my things, and Suzette
and I went home and never told grandmother a word.  Suzette made me
promise I wouldn't; I suppose because she was afraid of losing her
place.  Grandmother doesn't know of it to this day.  Why, this is
wonderful!  You were my hero for ever so long, just think of that!
Whenever I read, or was read to, of the noble youth saving the life
of the distressed maiden I put you in his place.  Oh, this is too
perfectly romantic."

They laughed together.  Just then voices became audible from the
platform outside the street door, masculine voices all talking at
once.  The door banged open.

"I can't help it, I tell you," protested Ebenezer.  "How did I know
it would take so long?  You fellows needn't have waited outside;
you could have come in here and set down just as well as not."

Eliab Gibbons' slow chuckle broke it.  "_I_ didn't mind where I
waited," he drawled.  "'Twas Jotham made all the fuss.  He was so
fidgety that I thought he'd have a fit."

"And no wonder," retorted the third voice, that of Mr. Gott.  "I
don't know how many folks see us standin' on the corner, and I bet
you every one of 'em was onto who we was waitin' for and what was
goin' on.  I keep tellin' you fellows that I've heard talk about us
playin' cards in here; the last time I went to church meetin'--"

"Eh?"  This from Eliab.  "How long ago was that, Jotham?"

"Never you mind.  I've been to church since you have, I'll bet, and
a darned sight oftener.  And the last time the minister preached
about gamblin' and he never took his eye off me from beginnin' to
end.  Maybe you didn't see in the Item how the sheriff raided
Rounce's barber shop over to Harniss and caught that gang playin'
seven-up for money.  I don't want to be hauled into no court, and
the surest way to fetch that around is for us to be seen standin'
outside this shop and lookin' secret.  If I'd suppose you and Sarah
G. was goin' to spend half the evenin' together, Ebenezer, I'd--
Who's that?"

It was Banks; he had emerged from the other back room.  "It's all
right, Gott," he said.  "Ebenezer, there is some one here to see
you.  Here is Mr. Tadgett, Miss Cartwright."

She was standing behind him.  "How do you do, Mr. Tadgett?" she
said.  "I stopped in a moment to look at that lowboy grandmother is
interested in.  Mr. Bradford showed it to me and I like it ever so
much. . . .  No, I mustn't stop any longer now; she and I will come
again--to-morrow, very likely.  Good night."  Then, soberly but
with a twinkle in her eye, she added, "I hope you have a nice
game."

Jotham's horrified gasp was distinctly audible.  Gibbons looked
uncomfortable.  Even Ebenezer Tadgett was nervous.  "Why--er--" he
stammered.

"Good night," she said again and walked briskly past them to the
outer door.  Banks impulsively followed her to the platform.  There
she broke into another bubble of laughter.

"The poor things looked frightened half to death," she said.  "A
guilty conscience is a terrible thing, isn't it?  Thank you ever so
much for showing me the lowboy, Mr. Bradford.  Good night."

He hesitated.  "Do you think you ought to walk home alone?" he
suggested.  "It--it's getting rather dark; shan't I--"

"No indeed.  It isn't dark enough for that.  Besides, I am sure
your supper must be ready and waiting.  I know mine is."

"But--oh, confound it, I--I--  There are so many things I should
like to talk about.  About that Nickerson pier business, and all.
Why, I remember--"

"Yes, so do I.  We must talk about it some day, of course."

"Well, when?"

"Oh, I don't know; pretty soon.  Why don't you call some evening?"

"I?  Oh, certainly.  Your grandmother would be overjoyed, wouldn't
she?"

"I don't think she would object.  She has talked about you a great
deal since the hearing and never unpleasantly.  In fact, as I told
you, she rather admires you for your cleverness."

"But for me to call on you!"

"Well, it isn't such an unheard-of thing.  Other people call on me
occasionally."  She stepped from the platform to the walk.  "I
shall tell grandmother I met you," she went on.  "And I think I
shall tell her of our life-saving adventure.  It will amuse her, I
know.  Of course, if she does object to your calling--"

"Yes?  If she does?"

"Well, then I shall remind her that I have a mind of my own.  I
have to do that occasionally."

"By George, I believe I will come up some evening!"

"Why not?  Good night, Mr. Bradford."



CHAPTER VIII


At supper that evening Banks told his mother of his meeting with
Elizabeth Cartwright in the Tadgett shop.  Also he told of Mrs.
Truman's visit to that shop and her conversation as repeated by
Ebenezer.  Her apparent interest in him--Banks Bradford--and
Tadgett's guess that she might be considering him as a successor to
Brooks as her legal adviser he treated as a joke.

Margaret was inclined to agree with him there.  "I imagine she will
want some one a little older and more experienced than you for
that," she said.

"Of course she will.  That is just Ebenezer's nonsense; he thinks I
am King Solomon the Second nowadays.  But why do you suppose she
asked him all those questions about me?  She did ask them; that
much is true, at least."

"What sort of questions were they?"

"Oh, about how old I was, and why I picked out Denboro as a place
to practice law and--well, that sort of thing.  When I went up to
her house that time--the only time I have ever been there--she gave
me to understand that she used to know father.  She said I looked
like him, I remember."  His mother made no comment; she was
clearing the table.  "It must have been before she married Truman.
Father had been dead several years when that happened, hadn't he?"

"Yes, Banks."

"And somebody--was it Tadgett or Uncle Bije?--told me the gossip
was that she was keeping a boarding house in Boston when Captain
Elijah fell in love with her.  Father was never one of her
boarders, was he?"

"Your father's home was here--in this house."

"Yes, I know.  But after he was made a member of the firm he must
have had to stay in Boston part of the time, I should think. . . .
Oh, well, it doesn't matter.  What have you been doing all day,
Mother?"

"The usual things.  Sweeping and cooking and cleaning house.
Cousin Hettie dropped in for a minute this afternoon."

"I'll bet.  Dropped in for a minute and stayed an hour.  Some day,
Mother, I hope to earn enough so that we can keep a servant."

"In a little house like this I shouldn't know what to do with a
servant if I had one."

"I should.  But we won't argue about that now.  Better wait until
I'm sure of earning enough to pay my own way before I begin paying
wages to some one else."

"How did you like the Cartwright girl?  Is she as nice as she
looks?"

"She's a corker--that is, I mean she seems to be nice enough.
She--"

"Yes?  What were you going to say?"

"Nothing.  What did Hettie have on her mind?  Has her spare-room
lodger frozen to death yet?"

He had been about to mention Miss Cartwright's invitation to call
on her at the Truman house, but changed his mind suddenly.  In the
first place, he was not quite sure that the invitation was
seriously given, and far from certain that he should accept it if
it were.  Then, too, he knew his mother did not like Mrs. Truman;
she had confessed as much.  Why trouble her?  In mother-fashion she
might begin to fancy all sorts of silly things.

His law practice was picking up a little.  The title search for
Hezekiah Bartlett having been brought to a satisfactory conclusion,
the old gentleman entrusted him with other commissions--minor
matters themselves, but encouraging as possible promises of more
important ones later on.  Bartlett was supposed to have retired
from active business, but he still kept an interest in the lumber
company and several other commercial enterprises in Ostable County.
Also he was administrator of two good-sized estates, and their
investments and his own were considerable.  He was cross-grained,
eccentric and crochety, but his reputation for shrewd judgment and
absolute honesty was of the best.  Captain Abijah knew him well, of
course, and counseled his nephew to work hard to please the old
fellow.

"He's got more kinds of queer quirks than a patent windlass,"
declared Uncle Bije, "and when he sets out to be he's stubborn as a
balky horse, but he's straight as a yardstick and square on all
four sides.  Lots of folks lose patience with him--I do myself
every little while--but nobody ever accused him of bein' dishonest.
He was one of Judge Blodgett's best clients and if he should take a
fancy to you, Banks boy, it might mean a lot.  If I had to pick out
some one man more than another in Denboro to have on my side in a
town rumpus I guess likely I'd pick Hezekiah.  Yes, I guess I
would."

It was during one of his frequent calls at Banks' office that he
made this declaration.  Having made it, he turned toward the door,
but paused and turned back again.  "Banks," he said.

Banks looked up from his seat at the tambour desk.  "Yes, Uncle
Bije."

His uncle was rubbing his chin reflectively.  "I was just goin' to
say somethin'," he observed, "but I mustn't--yet.  I'll tell you
this much, though:  You know I am a director in the Denboro
National Bank, of course?  Um-hum.  Well, Hezekiah Bartlett used
to be another.  And we bank fellows are liable to put out an
announcement pretty soon that'll make not only Denboro but three or
four other towns sit up and take notice.  If we do get it off the
ways it'll be a pretty big thing in Ostable County bankin'.  I'll
tell you the minute I can tell anybody, but meantime you stand in
with old Hez Bartlett.  Mum's the word, though.  Keep your main
hatch closed till I open mine."

Banks paid little heed to this strictly confidential tip from
headquarters.  With the superciliousness of youth he was inclined
to grin at the importance of the little Denboro National Bank in
the eyes of its officers and directors.  He was more heedful of
another item of advice given him by his uncle.

"You want to get out and around more, son," Captain Abijah had
said.  "Get out and into town doin's and affairs.  You don't want
word to spread that you're citified and too big for your boots.
Join the Masons--you ought to do that anyway; greatest thing in the
world, bein' a Free Mason is.  Go to lodge meetin's and meet folks.
And why don't you join the fire company?  Got a first-class new
chemical engine now and lots of good men in the crew.  Get popular.
Popularity is great for lawyers and doctors and ministers.  When
you've been here a year longer I'm goin' to have you nominated for
some kind of town office, no matter if it's only poundkeeper.  But
that can wait.  Folks must know you better before that happens."

So Banks shortly after this did join the fire company and later the
local Masonic lodge.  The former was more of a social organization
than a public utility, for fires in Denboro were rare indeed.  The
company met every Tuesday evening in the room above Caldwell's
store and the gatherings were almost always lively and amusing.
Men of all ages and classes belonged, including both the Methodist
and Universalist ministers, the druggist, the local clam and fish
peddler, storekeepers, fishermen and sailmakers.  Tadgett's name
was on the roll and so, too, were those of his cronies, Jotham Gott
and Eliab Gibbons.  Samuel Hayman, the undertaker, was foreman of
the company.

A day or two after Banks' meeting with Elizabeth Cartwright in
Tadgett's shop, Ebenezer informed him that Mrs. Truman and her
granddaughter had called again and had ordered the lowboy sent
home.

"Sorry, Banks," said Ebenezer, "but I'm afraid there ain't goin' to
be anything in this trade for you.  Maybelle paid cash down on the
nail and unless her money turns out to be counterfeit I can't see
that I'll need a lawyer.  Don't seem hardly fair, considerin' that
if you hadn't licked her in court she most likely never'd have had
anything to do with me again, but that's how it stands.  Don't lay
it up against me, will you?"

Nearly a week passed before Banks Bradford and Miss Cartwright
again met.  This time it was in the post office.  He had called at
the window for the family mail--that day it consisted of an
advertising circular and the Item--when, moving toward the door,
he came face to face with her.  They shook hands.

"Tadgett tells me that the lowboy is your property now," he said.
"I'm glad, not only because I think it is a beauty, but on
Ebenezer's account.  It is very seldom that he has the chance to
sell as expensive a piece as that at this time of year.  Honestly,
I think it was pretty fine of Mrs. Truman not to hold a grudge."

"Oh, grandmother doesn't hold grudges--at least, not little ones.
She has known about that lowboy for ever so long; Mr. Tadgett has
had it for more than a year.  Grandmother always gets what she
wants, in the end.  Besides, as I told you the other day, she isn't
a bit spiteful so far as Mr. Tadgett and you are concerned.  With
Mr. Brooks, now--well, that is different."

"It wasn't his fault really.  We had him in what my Uncle Abijah
would call a clove hitch."

"I don't know what that is, but judging by what grandmother said to
Mr. Brooks it must be something very unpleasant.  I told her I met
you in the Tadgett shop, and that I invited you to call."

"What did she say to that? . . .  Oh, you needn't tell me, if you
had rather not."

"Why shouldn't I?  She said--well, to tell the exact truth, she
said she wondered if you would have the courage to do it."

"Courage?  Oh, yes, I see--courage meant cheek, I suppose."

"I don't think so.  I think it meant exactly what it sounded like.
Grandmother isn't afraid of much of anything or anybody--or I
have never known her to be--and so she likes courage in other
people. . . .  Good afternoon, Mr. Bradford.  Tell Mr. Tadgett
that I am coming in again soon to see all his lovely things."

That very evening Banks Bradford rang the Truman doorbell.  The
maid who answered the ring was the same who had admitted him when
he called in the matter of the sideboard.  She looked surprised and
a little frightened to see him now.

"Is Miss Cartwright in?" he asked.

"I--I don't know."

"Well, will you find out, please?"

"Yes--yes, sir.  If you'll wait."

He did not have to wait long.  The maid was back in a minute or
two, looking more surprised than ever.  "You are to come into the
library," she announced.  "Miss Elizabeth will be right down."

She took his hat, but she did not ask him to remove his overcoat.
She ushered him into the library and he sat down on the huge
upholstered davenport.  A moment later he heard Elizabeth's step on
the stairs.

"Well!" she exclaimed, as she entered.  "Here you really are."

"Here I am--cheek, courage and all."

"I am ever so glad you came.  And so is grandmother.  She will be
down in a few minutes.  But why don't you take off your coat?
Aren't you going to stay long enough for that?"

He hesitated.  "Why, now that you ask me--" he said.

"Ask you?  Didn't that stupid Mary ask you to take it off?  No, of
course she didn't.  She looked frightened to death when she told us
you were here.  I don't know what sort of orders she expected.  She
is so ridiculous."  She rang the bell and Mary, still nervous,
appeared in the doorway.  "Take Mr. Bradford's coat," ordered Miss
Cartwright.  "Why in the world didn't you take it when he came?"

"Why Miss Elizabeth, I--I didn't know's you'd want me to.  Being as
who it was, I--"

"There, there!  Don't make it any worse.  Go away."

The maid departed with the overcoat.  Elizabeth and Banks looked at
each other.  Both burst out laughing.

"She thinks, of course, that I have come here to drag you into
court again," said Banks.  "She couldn't imagine any other reason.
Nobody in Denboro could, after that hearing."

"No, I suppose not.  And she lived in Denboro all her life until
grandmother hired her.  What a funny old town it is.  They take
little things so seriously.  Any one might think we had been
through a trial for murder."

"That isn't it exactly.  Your grandfather was one of our biggest
guns, you see.  So far as I can learn, the village took off its hat
when he walked down the street.  And his widow inherited the crown.
But Tadgett's just Ebenezer Tadgett and I am Capt. Silas Bradford's
boy--and shall be till I'm ninety.  For us to dare to bring suit
against your grandmother was--well, it was lese majesty and more."

"Oh, nonsense!  From what I've seen of Denboro I should call it
very democratic indeed.  And as for names, I have heard your
father's name mentioned ever so many times and always with
reverence.  I gathered that he was a sort of local idol.  When I
asked Eliab--Mr. Gibbons, I mean; he works for us three days in the
week, you know--when I asked him about your father I thought he
would fall on his knees to worship.  He did drop his shovel;
apparently he needed both hands to do the subject justice."  Her
laughter was contagious and Banks laughed too.  "Grandmother used
to know your father," she went on.  "She said so.  I wonder when
and how."

"So do I.  Hasn't she told you?"

"No.  She hasn't told me anything."

"I can't imagine when it could have been.  Of course my father and
your grandfather were partners in the shipping business at one
time.  Your grandfather--"

"He wasn't my real grandfather--Captain Truman, I mean.  Grandmother
was his second wife.  My mother was her daughter by her first
husband.  She was very young--only seventeen or eighteen, I think,
when she first married.  Her husband--my grandfather Rodgers, that
is--was killed in the Civil War.  My mother's name was Daisy Rodgers
and she married my father, George Cartwright.  Mother died when I
was born and I lived with father in Philadelphia until I was nine.
Then he died and I came to live with grandmother and Captain Truman;
they had been married the year before.  There! that is my family
history, and why I am boring you with it goodness knows.  But it
doesn't explain how grandmother and your father came to know each
other, does it?"

"No, it doesn't.  I asked mother and she didn't seem to know,
either.  Well, it isn't very important."

"No, I suppose it isn't, but like any other puzzle, it is fun to
guess.  Perhaps grandmother will tell me some day, when she is in
the mood.  She can be very secretive, and for no reason at all, if
it suits her to be.  Now tell me something about yourself--why you
decided to practice law in a little town like this.  Your uncle,
Captain Bradford, was responsible, I think you said when
grandmother asked you, that afternoon when you came threatening to
put us in jail."

He was telling her a little of the truth--not all of it; he omitted
all reference to money matters--when Mrs. Truman came into the
room.  She was, as usual, becomingly if rather youthfully gowned;
her face, in the shaded lamplight, showed scarcely a wrinkle; and
her speech and manner were almost vivacious.  It would have been
much easier to believe her to be Elizabeth's mother than her
grandmother.  She was certainly what people called a well-preserved
woman, he decided, even if the preservatives might be to some
extent artificial.

She greeted him graciously but cordially.  "Good evening, Banks,"
she said.  "You don't mind an old lady--I know that is what I am--
calling you by your Christian name, I hope?"

Banks murmured that he did not mind in the least.  She smiled and
sank rustling into a chair--the most comfortable in the room, by
the way.

"Elizabeth told me she had asked you to run in and see us," she
said.  "She seemed to think you might not care to do so because of
our--what shall I call it?--our little disagreement the other
afternoon.  I told her I hoped you wouldn't hesitate on that
account.  Oh, and I ought to congratulate you, oughtn't I?
Congratulations from a loser are not always sincere, but mine are.
You made me feel like a perfect ninny, but I admired you even while
I writhed.  They tell me that was almost your very first case; I
can scarcely believe it.  Was it really?"

Banks smiled.  "There isn't any almost, Mrs. Truman" he said.  "It
was my only case so far, and not much of one at that."

"Is it possible?  One might have thought you were an old hand--that
is, if so very young a hand could be old.  The way in which you
made an exhibition of me and that idiot, Brooks, was quite
masterly.  Well, I am through with him, I trust."

Her eyes snapped and her white teeth--very white and pearly they
were, and remarkably even--clicked together as she uttered the name
of her ex-attorney.  Banks could not help feeling a trifle sorry
for his brother in the legal profession.  He must have had an
unpleasant time after that hearing ended.

Elizabeth put in a word.  "Poor old Mr. Brooks," she said.  "I
should have pitied him if I hadn't felt that he deserved it.  He
was so pompous and so sure of himself at the beginning.  He
wouldn't listen to a word from grandmother or me.  He knew it all."

Mrs. Truman's pearly teeth clicked again.  "He listened to several
words from me before we parted company," she declared, with a nod
so emphatic that it set her diamond eardrops twinkling.  "I never
liked the fool.  He was a legacy from Elijah--Captain Truman, I
mean.  The captain swore by him and so I have permitted him to
handle my affairs--some of them, that is--ever since.  Well, he
will handle no more, thank goodness.  But there! why should we
waste time on him?  He is past history.  Now you children--that is
what you are, you know--must go on talking just as if I weren't
here.  By the way, what were you talking about when I interrupted?"

Elizabeth answered.  "We were talking past history, too,
Grandmother.  We were speaking of Mr. Bradford's father and trying
to guess where and when you knew him.  Of course you didn't marry
Grandfather Truman until after Captain Bradford died, so you
couldn't have met him here in Denboro."

Mrs. Truman turned to Banks.  "How did you know I knew your
father?" she asked quickly.  "Who told you I did?"

Again it was Elizabeth who answered.  "Why, you did yourself,
Grandmother," she said in surprise.  "Don't you remember?  That
very first day, when Mr. Bradford came about the sideboard, you
said you used to know his father and that he looked like him.  You
said the same thing to me after he had gone."

Mrs. Truman had leaned forward in her chair.  Now she slowly sank
back into it.  "Did I?" she queried.  "Oh, yes!  I believe I did.
So that was how you knew.  No one else would speak of it, of
course. . . .  No one did?"

She was addressing Banks, and it was he who replied.  "No, Mrs.
Truman.  No one else would know about it, would they?"

"Why--why, no; probably not.  Of course, your mother--"

"Oh, mother doesn't know.  She seemed surprised when I told her
what you said--about knowing father, I mean."

Mrs. Truman smoothed the shining front of her silk skirt.  She
laughed lightly.  "Now let me see," she mused.  "When did I meet
Captain Bradford?  Oh, yes! of course; Captain Truman introduced
us.  He was in the shipping business then in Boston and he and your
father were partners.  That was it.  We met several times--at my
house.  No doubt Captain Bradford never mentioned it at home here.
Probably he didn't consider it worth while, and it wasn't, of
course.  Did I say you looked like him?  That was presumptuous, and
yet I think you do--as I remember him, which isn't very clearly.
Now tell me about yourself--how you are getting on with your
practice.  I am interested, truly I am.  It isn't all idle
curiosity.  I have a reason for asking--or perhaps I may have by
and by."

Banks, remembering her interest in him as expressed to and quoted
by Ebenezer Tadgett, could not help feeling a thrill of excitement.
What did this interest mean?  To dream that he might fill the
position vacated, on compulsion, by Brooks was too silly even for a
dream.  But there must be something behind it all.

He told her what he had told Elizabeth; now, as then, omitting any
reference to his mother's straitened circumstances.  She listened,
asking questions occasionally--a more experienced lawyer might have
considered them leading questions; and without being aware of it he
told a great deal--of his college and law school, of his abandoned
plan for a career in Boston, of his uncle's interest and advice, of
his life at home with his mother.  She asked several questions
concerning Margaret Bradford.

"What did she think of your taking up the cudgels for poor abused
Ebenezer Tadgett?" she asked.  "She approved, I suppose?"

He smiled.  "She knows Ebenezer well," he said.  "And she was sure
he would not do anything which wasn't perfectly straight and
honest.  So she approved so far.  But I doubt if she entirely
approved my daring to bring a lawsuit against any one as
influential as you, Mrs. Truman."

"Bless me! how flattering.  She advised you not to have anything to
do with the suit--or me, I suppose?"

This, being so near the truth, embarrassed Banks slightly.  "Why--
er--well, you should have heard Uncle Abijah and Cousin Hettie on
the subject," he said.  "They were sure I was committing
professional suicide."

"Think of that!  I am flattered. . . .  Yes, Mary, what is it?"

The maid was at the doorway.  "It's Mr. Trent, ma'am," she said.
"He's in the parlor--the drawing-room, I mean."

"Is he?"  Mrs. Truman rose.  "You children must excuse me for a
little while," she announced.  "And glad enough to do so, I
imagine; I have done absolutely all the talking, I know.  Don't go
just yet, Mr. Bradford.  I want Mr. Trent to meet you.  Don't let
him go until I come back, Elizabeth, dear."

She rustled from the room and the young people, left alone, fell to
chatting of this and that.  They discussed town happenings, drifted
from these to Ebenezer Tadgett and his antiques, from these again
to the fire company--Banks had not yet joined it but was planning
to do so--to Captain Abijah and his pride in his native town.

"How do you like living in Denboro?" asked Banks.  "This will be
your first winter here, won't it?"

She nodded.  "I am not quite sure yet that I shall like it," she
admitted.  "It has been pretty dull so far.  Last winter we were in
Pasadena and the winter before that at Cannes.  Denboro is--well,
it is different."

"Yes.  There can't be much doubt of that."

"It is.  At first I thought it might be fun to live here in the
country, in this house--I have had some wonderful summers in this
house--and with just the country people and the quiet and the snow
and everything.  But I am beginning to wonder.  We don't see many
of the all-year-round people.  And then grandmother herself is so--
so unhappy."

"What do you mean?  Unhappy--why?"

"Perhaps discontented would be a better word.  She minds the quiet
and the dullness a good deal more than I do, I think.  Sometimes it
seems as if she hated the place."

"Hates Denboro, you mean?  Why does she stay here then?"

"I don't know.  She never has before--all the year, that is.  We
have been abroad or in California or in the South every winter,
except this one, since I left school.  And she was always away
somewhere while I was at school.  Grandmother is sixty, but she
loves gayety and society and all that sort of thing.  I can do
without them much better than she can.  We had planned to go to
Paris and after that to Italy, but all at once she changed her
plans and decided to stay here."

"Why, I wonder?"

"Goodness knows.  One of her moods, I suppose.  Oh, well, I don't
really mind.  Perhaps I shall like Denboro when I know it better.
I wish I knew the people in it as you do.  If I were a man I could
get out and meet them.  I am glad I met Mr. Tadgett.  He is jolly
and he says such funny things.  I like him."

Which brought them back to Ebenezer once more and they were still
talking of him when Mrs. Truman returned.  Following her was a tall
man whom Banks recognized as Christopher Trent, of Ostable,
grandson of the Benjamin Trent who had been Silas Bradford's senior
partner in the old days.

Banks and Trent had never met, but Captain Abijah had pointed the
latter out to his nephew one day at the entrance of the Denboro
National Bank.  Trent was a banker himself--that is, he was
president of the little Ostable Bank, as his father had been before
him.  He was one of the county's rich men.  A bachelor, middle-
aged, he lived alone, except for two servants, in the old Trent
house in Ostable.  Other than his bank presidency he had no active
business or profession, but he was reported to have interests in
various enterprises scattered throughout New England.  He owned and
drove several fast horses, was one of the very first in his section
to purchase that new contraption, an automobile, and he lived the
life of a country squire, so far as that life could be lived in
America.  He dressed smartly and his scanty graying hair was
carefully combed forward to cover his bald spot.

Mrs. Truman introduced him to the visitor.

"Chris," she said, "this is Banks Bradford.  It is perfectly
amazing that you and he haven't met before, but I know you haven't.
Banks, Mr. Trent's grandfather and your grandfather and my husband
were partners back in the dark ages.  You knew that, of course.
And here tonight is a Trent and a Truman and a Bradford together
again.  Isn't it a coincidence!  Aren't you thrilled by it,
Elizabeth?  I am, but when I was a girl it was fashionable to be
sentimental."

Banks and Trent shook hands.  They looked each other over, Banks
with an idle curiosity, Trent with a longer and more appraising
stare.

"How are you, Bradford?" he said cordially enough.  "It is queer
that we haven't run into each other before now.  I have heard about
you, though.  Been making a sensation in Denboro lately, so they
tell me.  You gave Maybelle here a spanking the other day.  Ho, ho!
that must have been fun; sorry I missed it."

Banks scarcely knew what answer to make.  The idea of spanking Mrs.
Capt. Elijah Truman was rather shocking to his sense of propriety.
But the lady herself laughed gayly and Elizabeth was smiling, so he
too smiled and said that he was lucky, that was all.

"No luck about it," declared Mrs. Truman.  "Just common sense and
smartness, that is what it was.  You'll admit I took my spanking
gracefully, won't you, Banks?"

"You've been awfully nice, Mrs. Truman.  Making trouble for you was
a pretty nervy thing for me to do.  I realize it well enough."

Christopher Trent was still chuckling.  "I'll say it was," he
agreed.  "But that's all right.  Maybelle's a good sport.  She
appreciates nerve when it wins.  So do I.  How is the law game
going, Bradford?  Getting ahead, are you?"

Banks said he supposed he was doing as well as he ought to expect,
everything considered.

"It's a slow race and a long pull, I guess.  But from what I hear,
you are on the right track.  I may be able to throw something your
way once in a while; will if I can.  If you ever get over to
Ostable run in and see me.  If I'm not at the house you'll probably
find me at the bank, or out around somewhere.  Well"--turning to
Elizabeth--"how's the girl?  Haven't seen you for a week; that's a
long seven days--altogether too long."

Banks left the Truman mansion with a pretty firm conviction that
he did not like Christopher Trent.  He was too cocky, too self-
satisfied, too patronizing and off-hand to him, and altogether too
familiar and disrespectful to Elizabeth Cartwright.  A man as old
as he must be should not take advantage of his age to pat a girl's
shoulder and look at her as if--as if she were his property or
something.  But he also realized that he must not permit Mr. Trent
to perceive his dislike.  That might be bad policy for a struggling
young lawyer.  Trent had repeated his invitation to call the next
time he, Bradford, visited Ostable.  And as Banks was leaving he
added something even more expressive of real interest.

"I may drop in at your shop myself some time or other," he said.
"Just for a chin, and a smoke perhaps.  By the way, you don't know
much about-er--bank law, I suppose?  Haven't had any experience
with that sort of thing, of course?"

Banks did not understand exactly.  "I--I don't know what you mean
by bank law, Mr. Trent," he replied.  "If you mean contracts and
loans and corporation law, why, I studied that sort of thing, of
course, but I haven't had any practical experience."

"No reason why you should have--yet.  Well, I'll see you later,
here or over my way, probably.  Good night."

Mrs. Truman, as she bade him good night, said, "We have enjoyed
your call very much, Banks.  Elizabeth will tell you that I do love
to have young people about me.  So you must come again, and soon."

The maid brought him his coat and hat, but it was Elizabeth who
accompanied him to the door.  "There!" she said impulsively, "I
have had a really pleasant evening for the first time in ever so
long.  You see, I was right--grandmother doesn't hold any grudge
and she did want you to call.  So you must come again.  Good
night."



CHAPTER IX


Margaret Bradford was in the sitting room, in the rocking-chair by
the table with the lamp upon it, when Banks came up the walk.  The
window shade was partially raised and he could see her plainly.

A book was propped up on the table beneath the lamp and she was
reading, the needles in her busy fingers flashing, for she had had
what she would have called an old-fashioned bringing up and was one
of the accomplished few who could read and knit at the same time.
She was knitting a sock and he knew perfectly whose sock it was to
be.  On the wall he could see his father's portrait.

Like most healthy young men, Banks despised sentimentality, but the
sight of the little domestic tableau in the sitting room gave him a
thrill of warm-hearted affection.  She was a pretty fine woman,
that mother of his; by George, she was!

She looked up from her knitting as he entered.

"Hello, Mother," he hailed cheerfully.  "You're up late, aren't
you?"

"Why, perhaps I am.  I have been busy, reading and knitting, and I
don't believe I know what time it is.  Where have you been all the
evening, son?"

"I?  Oh, just out and around."

"I see.  Did you have a good time?"

"Yes, I did."  He hesitated; then, with a laugh which was not as
free from embarrassment as he intended, he added, "Mother, I'll bet
you can't guess where I have been.  Come, now."

She put down her knitting and looked at him.  "Perhaps I can," she
said quietly.  "I guess you have been calling on--well, on
Elizabeth Cartwright."

He gasped in utter astonishment.  "For heaven's sake," he demanded,
"how did you know that?"

"I didn't know it.  You dared me to guess and I did, that's all.
It was a good guess, too, wasn't it?"

"It certainly was.  But--why did you guess that?  Who told you?
Come now, Mother, you're laughing at me.  How did you know?"

Her smile broadened.  "I didn't really know, Banks, but Hettie
dropped in this evening after prayer meeting, and she told me that
about eight o'clock she saw you hurrying along up the Old Ostable
Road.  At least, she was almost sure it was you, but as she was
fifteen minutes late for meeting she didn't call after you to make
sure.  She couldn't imagine where you were going and so she stopped
in on her way home."

"To find out, of course.  Well, you couldn't tell her; I'm glad of
that."

"I didn't tell her; but as the Truman house is on that road I
guessed you were going there."

"Humph!  It's a wonder she didn't guess.  Not that I should have
cared if she had."

"Oh, she did!  She was very much excited about it.  I think she was
afraid you might be going to bring another lawsuit against Mrs.
Truman.  She hasn't quite got over her shivers at your daring to
bring the other one.  She gave me a good talking to about your
choice of friends--taking up with a Tadgett against a Truman was
foolish if not wicked.  I pacified her, I think; told her you were
probably just taking a walk.  That was what you told me you were
going to do, if I remember."

Her son blushed and was uneasily conscious of it.  He sat down upon
the sofa beneath his father's portrait.  "Hettie is a darned
nuisance," he declared pettishly.  "But hang it all, Mother, I
don't understand yet.  How did you know I was going to call on
Elizabeth--on the Cartwright girl?"

"Well, you were rather carefully dressed, for just a walk.  And
according to Hettie you were on the Old Ostable Road.  Miss
Cartwright is the only young woman living on that road, so far as I
know."

"Mother, you are too smart altogether.  Dad must have had to watch
his step; he couldn't have put much over on you, I guess, even if
he had wanted to."  She did not answer; she picked up her knitting
and bent over it.  "You were right, anyway," he went on.  "I did go
up to call on her.  She asked me to come--asked me two or three
times, as a matter of fact.  And when she said she had told her
grandmother about asking me and the old lady didn't offer any
objections, I--well, I went."

Margaret had dropped a stitch and she picked it up with care.  "Did
you have a pleasant call?" was her next question.

"Why, yes.  Just sat around and talked, of course."

"That is about all that is expected of a caller, isn't it?  Did you
see Mrs. Truman?"

"Yes.  She was with us most of the time.  Then that Trent man came,
and I met him."

"Trent?  Christopher Trent, from Ostable?"

"Yes."

"He calls there a good deal, doesn't he?"

"Does he?  I don't know; but I shouldn't wonder.  He and Mrs.
Truman seem to be pretty good friends.  It was odd, wasn't it--a
Trent, a Truman, and a Bradford being together again?  The three
names in father's old firm, you know.  Mrs. Truman spoke of that."

"Did she?  What else did she speak of?"

He told as much of Mrs. Truman's conversation as he could remember.
At the end he mentioned Trent's apparent interest in him and his
practice.  "He hinted--or it seemed to me that he did--at his being
able to throw some work my way by and by.  And Mrs. Truman said as
much or more, on her own account, before he came.  Trent is a
pretty big man in the county--president of the Ostable bank and all
that.  If he should take a fancy to me--he and Mrs. Truman--why, it
might mean a lot, you know."

Margaret looked up.  Her face was very grave.  "Banks," she said
impulsively, "be careful, won't you?"

"Careful!  Careful of what?"

"Of--of--well, I don't know."

He laughed.  "I'm sure I don't," he declared.  "If influential
people like Mrs. Truman and Christopher Trent should take a fancy
to me and throw practice my way, it would be about as fine a bit of
luck as a fellow could have, I'd say.  What in the world is there
to be careful about, Mother?"

She knit for a moment without speaking; then she said, "Why,
nothing, dear, I suppose.  Now tell me a little about the
Cartwright girl.  She is very pretty, I know.  And she is nice?
You like her?"

"Yes," said Banks with rather elaborate nonchalance.  "I like her.
She's good fun and sensible, and she can talk about something
besides the weather and the neighbors.  I think you would like her,
too, Mother; she is your kind, I shouldn't wonder.  She's good
company, and good company of my age isn't any too plentiful in
Denboro--in the winter months anyhow."

"Why, Banks!  That sounds a little snobbish, doesn't it?"

"Snobbish!  What in blazes have I got to be snobbish about?  And it
isn't snobbish, it's the plain truth.  There is scarcely one of the
fellows and girls I used to know when I was a little chap who stays
in this town all the year.  Every one of 'em--those that aren't
married--are away at work in Boston or somewhere.  You know it as
well as I do, Mother."

She did know it and she did not contradict him.  Her next remark
had to do with his work at the office, and Elizabeth Cartwright's
name was not mentioned again until they parted for the night.  Then
it was he who mentioned it.

"Look here, Mother," he said earnestly, "you don't mind my being
friendly with Elizabeth, do you?  Calling once in a while and--and
that sort of thing?"

"Mind dear?  Why should I mind?"

"I don't think you should, but she's Mrs. Truman's granddaughter
and I know you are prejudiced against Mrs. Truman, goodness knows
why.  To be honest, I think the old lady has been pretty decent to
me, considering everything.  And Elizabeth is a nice girl.  I like
her a lot.  Oh, nothing serious; I'm not quite an idiot, I hope.  I
just like her, that's all."

"I understand. . . .  Mr. Trent likes her pretty well, too, doesn't
he?"

He turned to stare.  "Trent?" he repeated.  "What do you mean,
likes her?  Trent is an old man; he must be close to forty.  Almost
old enough to be her father."

"Yes, I suppose he is. . . .  Good night, my boy."

"But Mother, what sort of ridiculous idea have you got in your
head?  Trent!  Why, he's a typical old bachelor, a regular old
sport.  Chris Trent and Elizabeth Cartwright--good Lord--that
sounds like Cousin Hettie."

"Does it?  Then I am ashamed of myself.  Good night--pleasant
dreams."

He and Elizabeth met the next day at the post office and again a
few days later in Tadgett's shop, where she had dropped in to see
more of Ebenezer's "lovely things."  He walked home with her that
afternoon and called at the Truman house the following evening.
Mrs. Truman was confined to her room with one of her frequent sick
headaches and Trent did not put in an appearance, so the young
people had the library to themselves.  During their conversation it
developed that Miss Cartwright liked exercise and frequently took
long walks across the country or along the beach, so it was agreed
that they should take one together on Sunday afternoon.  They did,
and as it was a clear, snappy early winter day they walked far and
had a thoroughly enjoyable tramp--so enjoyable that they agreed to
repeat it the next Sunday.  And in the interim he called again at
the Truman mansion.

This call was not quite as satisfactory, for Mrs. Truman was in
good health and shared the library with them.  She was her
vivacious chatty self and practically monopolized the conversation.
As before, she seemed greatly interested in Banks' progress as a
lawyer, especially when he chanced to tell her of his business
dealings with old Hezekiah Bartlett.  When at ten he said good
night, it was she who bade him be sure to come again.

"It is so nice to have young people about," she declared.
"Sometimes when I drive downtown it seems as if there wasn't a soul
in this forsaken place who will ever see fifty again.  Oh, I mean
of our class, of course; there are fishermen and shop clerks and
that sort of thing.  Ah, me!  It is wonderful to be young.  I was
young myself once, though I suppose that seems quite unbelievable
to you two children," she ended with a titter.

During their Sunday walk Elizabeth referred to her grandmother's
apparent liking for their acquaintance.

"She has taken a real fancy to you," she said.  "She talks about
you a great deal, and seems very much interested to learn how you
are getting on with that fussy old Mr. Bartlett.  I wonder why?
She doesn't know him at all herself.  She said so when I asked her.
Chris--Mr. Trent, I mean--asked about that, too, the last time he
called."

"He calls pretty often, seems to me."

"Yes, I suppose he does.  Two or three times a week.  He and
grandmother are great friends.  Which reminds me that we mustn't
walk far to-day, for I promised to ride with him late this
afternoon.  He has beautiful horses--he's going to have one brought
over for me to use."

Banks had no comment to make on this statement.  He was rather glum
during the remainder of the short walk.  However, when he made his
next call at the house on the Old Ostable Road, Mrs. Truman was out
and Mr. Trent did not appear, so the evening was perfectly
satisfactory.

This sort of thing could not go on long in Denboro without
attracting some notice.  And, notice having been attracted, gossip
followed.  Nothing serious--merely hints and laughs--and as usual,
neither hints nor laughs reached the ears of the parties most
intimately concerned.

But one evening in the Bradford house on Mill Road there was a sort
of impromptu conference; its subject was the growing friendship
between Silas Bradford's son and Maybelle Truman's granddaughter.
Cousin Hettie was present--she had just happened to drop in, she
said; and a little later Captain Abijah came.  Banks was out; he
had not said where he was going, but, as Hettie observed with a
significant smile, anybody was privileged to guess.  It was this
remark which turned the gathering into a family council.

"What do you mean by that, Hettie?" demanded Abijah.  "You look sly
as a stuffed tomcat.  What are you hintin' at?"

Cousin Hettie bridled.  "Hinting isn't one of my habits," she said
crushingly.  "What I have to say I speak right out.  I'm plain-
spoken, if I'm nothing else."

"Well, I'll call you somethin' else if you don't stop winkin' and
bobbin' your head up and down.  Speak out now.  Come!"

Hettie smiled.  "I guess Margaret knows what I mean without my
speakin'," she observed.  "Don't you, Margaret?"

Margaret looked up from her sewing.  "I suppose you mean that Banks
has probably gone to call on the Cartwright girl," she answered.

"There, there, don't act so innocent; it doesn't fool anybody.  You
know just as well as I do that that's where he's gone."

"We don't either of us know, Hettie."

Captain Abijah's big laugh made the little room echo.  "Good Lord!"
he exclaimed.  "Is that all the mystery?  I judged he must have
gone to steal somebody's chickens and had promised Hettie one for
keepin' her mouth shut.  Chicken is expensive these days, Hettie,
and you're great for savin' money, you know."  He laughed again.

Cousin Hettie turned her back upon him.  "I do wish you hadn't been
born with the notion that you were funny," she sneered.  "Everybody
knows by this time that Silie is chasing up to Maybelle Truman's
two or three times a week.  And he and Elizabeth meet down to the
post office and in Ebenezer Tadgett's junk shop.  And they go to
walk by themselves every Sunday."

"By themselves?  What did you expect--that they'd take the band and
the fire company along and make a parade out of it?  Young folks
don't do that, Hettie.  You never had much experience, maybe"--with
a wink at Margaret--"but you can take my word for it they don't."

Henrietta's back was more rigid than ever.  "The whole town is
talking about it," she said.  "Not that that worries me, of
course."

Margaret would have spoken, but the captain was enjoying himself
and he spoke first.  "Well, what of it?" he demanded.  "If they
talk about that it may give some other folks' private business a
rest.  And as for bein' troubled, why should any of us be troubled?
So long as the girl and her grandmother don't object, why should
we?  It'll all amount to nothin', probably; young folks like to be
with young folks, that's all.  I was chasin' around with a dozen
different girls when I was Banks' age."

The opportunity was too tempting for Hettie to resist.

"Nothing ever came of any of your chasing, that's sure," she put in
tartly.  "Chasing is one thing and catchin's another."

Abijah ignored the thrust.  "And suppose somethin' should come of
it," he went on, in earnest this time, "what of that?  If Banks and
this Cartwright girl should decide to get married sometime it
wouldn't be what us Bradfords could call a shipwreck fur's our end
of it is concerned.  She's a good enough girl, I guess, and a
darned pretty one, too, or I've lost the judgment I used to have.
The boy picks 'em well, I'll say that for him."

Another sniff from Cousin Hettie.  "There's no fool like an old
fool," she observed with apparent irrelevance.

"Glad you feel that way; confession's good for the soul, or so they
tell."

Margaret cut in hurriedly.  "Abijah, stop teasing; don't mind him,
Hettie.  I can't think there is anything of consequence in Banks'
friendship for Elizabeth.  He is just beginning his career.  He
has nothing as yet of his own.  Is it likely he would consider
anything--serious?  Or is it the least likely that she would
consider him?"

Abijah grinned.  "Boys and girls their age don't stop to do much
considerin'," he said.  "And if it should be serious by and by,
when Banks gets his feet under him--again I ask you, why should we
worry?  Marryin' Lije Truman's granddaughter--or step-granddaughter,
or whatever she is--wouldn't be bad luck for your boy, Margaret.
Eh?  That's so, isn't it?"

Margaret was silent.  It was Cousin Hettie who spoke.  "It would be
too good luck for me to believe could ever happen," she declared.
"I guess likely Mrs. Cap'n Truman may have a few plans of her own.
And I doubt if your Silie's name is written down in 'em, Margaret;
I doubt it very much."

Margaret's sewing slipped from her lap to the floor.  "If I thought
it was serious I should be wretched indeed," she said with sudden
emotion.  Her brother-in-law and Cousin Hettie looked their
astonishment.

"Well, that's pretty tart, I'll tell the neighbors!" exclaimed
Abijah.  "What's all this, Margaret?  Course I know you've got a
spite against Lije's widow and always have had, for no reason I
could ever see.  But I didn't think you'd let it stand in Banks'
way."

"I should let nothing stand in his way--if I thought it the right
way."

"Maybelle Truman's a kind of perky old poll parrot, I grant you;
I'm not very strong for her myself.  She's pompous and toplofty,
and it makes me sick to see her riggin' herself up to look thirty-
five when she's sixty-odd.  But that don't made me blind to what
Banks' marryin' her granddaughter might mean.  She's loaded to the
gunnels with money, and Elizabeth's the only nigh relation she's
got.  If the boy should nab the girl 'twould be a pretty good joke
on the old woman.  Yes, and a mighty good deal for him too.  I
believe Hettie'll agree with me, for once.  You feel that way,
don't you, Hettie?"

Hettie's agreement--her expression of it, at least--was only
partial.  "It's the 'if' that's the sticker there," she proclaimed.
"Of course," she hastened to add, with sudden recollection of many
previous proclamations, "to marry Silas Bradford's son would be a
good marriage for anybody's granddaughter, in one way, but--well,
it is all too foolish even to think about.  There is Christopher
Trent, for one reason."

Abijah nodded.  "Yes," he agreed.  "I guess you're right there.  At
least, everybody seems to think he's steerin' pretty steady in that
direction."  He seemed to reflect for a moment and then added with
a nod, "I shouldn't like to see any row develop between Chris Trent
and my nephew--not just now.  There's too much of importance
hangin' in the wind.  If I get a chance I must tell Banks to keep
as friendly with Chris as he can, for all our sakes."

Hettie, of course, immediately demanded what he meant by that.
"What is it that's hanging in the wind, as you call it?" she asked
eagerly.  "Margaret, do you know what he's talking about?"

"No, Hettie."

"He's got something more that he's hiding from us.  If it has
anything to do with our family I have a right to know it."

Captain Abijah rose from his chair.  "It hasn't," he snapped.
"Nothin' to do with Banks or you or Margaret or any other Bradford
except me.  Everybody'll know it pretty soon, if it goes through.
Meantime they'll have to wait till the bombshell bursts.  That
won't be very long--or I hope it won't," he finished with a gesture
of impatience.

"But Abijah--"

"Oh, be still!  I'm going now.  Good night, everybody."

"'Bijah, you wait.  I'll walk along with you.  Wait till I get my
things on."  She hurried to the rack in the entry.

The captain turned to his sister-in-law.  "That woman is a regular
dogfish," he growled.  "You can't heave a calico rag overboard but
she jumps to grab it and find out if it's good to eat.  What in
time did I let my tongue slip for?  I've had this thing on my mind
for a month and it makes me think out loud.  Ought to have had more
sense.  She'll pester me from here to the corner of the Swamp
Road."

Which was precisely what she did.  Banks and Elizabeth Cartwright
completely forgotten, she begged and pleaded until they reached
that very corner.  And there, as they parted, her curiosity was
still unsatisfied.

"I think you are real mean, Abijah Bradford," she vowed spitefully.
"You've got a secret and you won't tell your own relation what it
is.  There aren't many of us Bradfords left, and when they begin
hiding things from each other it's a pretty state of affairs, I
must say."

"Oh, run along home to bed.  I ain't hiding anything except what
I've got to hide--for a spell.  If anything comes of it you'll hear
and so will everybody else."

"Oh, you provoking thing!  I'll bet that I--your own cousin--won't
hear it a bit sooner than everybody else, either."

Her tormenting relative patted her shoulder.  "See if you can't
place that bet somewheres, Hettie," he said with a chuckle.  "It
sounds like a winner to me."



CHAPTER X


Margaret Bradford sewed no more that evening.  After her visitors
went she sat in the rocking-chair, thinking, thinking.  It was
nearly eleven when she went to her room and almost midnight when
she heard Banks close the outer door and come tiptoeing up the
stairs.

During breakfast she was very quiet, and her son noticed it.
"What's the trouble, Mother?" he asked.  "Didn't you sleep well?"

"Not very--no."

"Not sick, I hope?"

"No."

"Worried about something?  Tell your troubles to the family lawyer.
What's the use of having one in the house if you don't use him?"

She smiled.  "I may do that some day," she replied.

"Well, why not now?  Seriously, Mother, you are not really worried,
are you?"

"Why--yes, dear, a little."

"It isn't about money, is it?  I ought to have a small check almost
any day now.  Crowell owes me a little, and so does old Mr.
Bartlett.  They are good pay, or they are supposed to be."

"Banks, you--you are getting on with your practice?  You are
gaining a little?"

"A little, yes.  I was figuring yesterday that during the past
three weeks I had actually earned expenses and a little over.  By
expenses I mean not only my office rent but enough to pay you some
of the back board I owe.  Of course I shall pay it just as soon as
I am able to collect."

"You don't owe me anything."

"Don't I?  I think I owe you almost everything--you and Uncle
Bije."

"Your uncle was here last night."

"Was he?  Sorry I missed him.  He hasn't been in at the office for
two or three days.  He seems to have something on his mind, some
business matter that he occasionally hints about, but won't--or
can't--speak of openly."

"Is Mr. Trent concerned in it, do you know?"

"Mr. Trent?  Not that I know of.  Did he mention Mr. Trent?"

"Yes.  We were speaking of Miss Cartwright--Elizabeth, I mean.
Hettie said something--"

"Hettie?  Oh, yes, yes!  She was here too?  Then I'm glad I wasn't.
They wanted to know where I was, I suppose?"

"No.  They seemed to be quite certain where you were."

He put down his cup.  "How should they know?" he demanded.  "Why,
you didn't yourself, Mother.  I don't remember telling you where I
was going."

She smiled.  "Was it necessary, dear?" she asked quietly.

He flushed.  "Necessary?"

"Why, yes.  You have been there a great deal of late.  And you and--
and--Elizabeth have been walking together every Sunday."

"How on earth did you know that?  Not that we have been hiding it
from any one.  Confound it, there is nothing to hide!"

She ignored the latter part of this indignant outburst.  "According
to Hettie every one in Denboro knows it," she said quietly.  "And
are talking and joking about it.  They would, you know.  Denboro
isn't a very large place."

He struck the table with his fist.  "This town makes me sick," he
blurted angrily.  "Just because she and I are--are friendly, and
are interested in the same things and enjoy each other's company,
they think--  Here! tell me, what DO they think?"

"I don't know; they don't tell me, of course.  What do you think
yourself, Banks?"

"I?  I think they are snooping, gossiping busybodies.  That is what
I think of them.  They--why, they'll be having us engaged next."

She looked at him across the table.  "Well, are you?" she asked.

"Are we?" he gasped.  "Are we what?"

"Are you and she engaged?"

He pushed back his chair.  "Mother," he cried angrily, "you ought
to be ashamed of yourself.  Do you think I--  Oh, for heaven's
sake, what kind of a fellow do you think I am?"

"I think you are the dearest fellow in the world.  And I don't see
how any girl can help thinking the same thing."

"Oh--oh, this is ridiculous!  This is what you are worried about,
of course.  Well, I am not engaged, and I have no thought of being.
She and I are just--just--"

"I know, my boy.  You haven't either of you considered where this
friendship of yours may lead.  As your uncle said last evening,
young folks don't stop to consider, as we older ones have learned
to do.  And that is what troubled me and why I have dared to speak
to you now.  Don't you think you ought to consider, Banks, dear--
before it is too late?  People are talking already--oh, I know you
don't care what they say, but perhaps you ought to a little.  You
ought to think of yourself and of her--and now is the time to do
it--now while you are, as you say, just good friends."

"That is all we shall ever be."

"Are you sure?  Oh, I know!  I was very young when I married, and
your father was only a few years older."

"Good Lord!  Why do you say that?  You're not sorry you married
father, are you?"

She sighed.  "I shan't say much more," she went on.  "Perhaps I
shouldn't have said so much.  But Banks, do be careful.  You are a
poor man's son, with your own way to make.  She is the granddaughter
of a rich woman."

"But Mother, Mrs. Truman knows I am friendly with Elizabeth.  She
likes to have me call--she says so."

"Yes," agreed his mother with a troubled frown, "I know; and that
is what I particularly don't understand.  There, dear, that is all.
I shall never mention this again.  But do please think it all over
very carefully.  I am sure you haven't thought at all as yet.  Try
and think, not only for your sake but for hers, just what your
feelings for Elizabeth are or may be.  Think whether it is wise to
see her as often as you do.  Think whether it is wise for you and
wise--and quite fair--to her. . . .  You're not too cross with me?
Try not to be, please.  Perhaps I am, as you say, ridiculous; but"--
with a sudden catch in her voice--"I am your mother."

He laughed, patted her shoulder, and assured her that he was not
cross in the least.  "Of course," he added, "you are taking this
whole thing too seriously.  You are worrying when there is nothing
to worry about; but that is natural, I suppose.  Women," said he,
speaking from his long experience, "are that way, I know.  It's all
right, Mother; I'll behave."

"And you will think--and you will be careful?"

"Oh, sure!  Don't fret.  I've got a grain of common sense, even if
Cousin Hettie won't believe it."

On his way to the office he reviewed the interview at the breakfast
table and decided that it was all nonsense, his mother's anxiety
and caution.  Nonsense prompted, of course, by that pest, Cousin
Hettie.  At his desk, however, although he tried to shift his
thoughts to other subjects, they did not shift easily.  He had had
a pleasant call the previous evening.  Mrs. Truman was out--out at
some consultation about business with Trent, he remembered
Elizabeth had told him--and the young people were alone and their
chatter uninterrupted.

They were quite confidential now; he spoke openly of his plans and
ambitions, and her interest in them seemed very genuine.  She liked
Denboro ever so much better than she had at first, she said.  She
was beginning to understand why he, ambitious and clever and--well,
different, you know--had been willing to live and work in such a
little place.

"It is home to you," she said.  "That is something I have never
had, a real home.  I used to say I didn't care, travel was ever so
much more fun than being tied to one place; but now I'm not sure.
I am getting to be countrified, I guess.  Grandmother accused me of
that the other day, when I told her I had a perfectly wonderful
time at the church sociable."

Banks had attended that sociable and he, also, had had a wonderful
time.  His opinion of Denboro had, like hers, changed for the
better.  Now, as he sat in his office, his mother's warning fresh
in his mind, he began to consider why it had changed.  The answer
to the question was undeniable:  It had changed since he knew
Elizabeth Cartwright.  Prior to that it had been merely a town, a
community to which he had been sentenced by Fate and where, for the
immediate future at least, he must do as well as he could and
pretend to like it.  Now he did like it, without any pretense.  And
as long as she was there he should continue to like it.  But
suppose--next summer, next winter, any time--her grandmother took
her away again.  She almost surely would do that very thing.  And
suppose, while away, Elizabeth should meet some one else.

Here is where his cogitations brought up with a sudden and
disturbing jolt.  The shock shook his serene complacency to the
foundations.  He began for the first time to wonder just what his
feeling for Mrs. Truman's granddaughter had come to be.  It was
easy to call it friendship and just as easy to say, as he had said
to his mother, that the idea of any other feeling was absurd.
But--

He seized his hat and went out.  His work must wait awhile; he
could not fix his attention on it just then.  He had no definite
destination in mind, but he was going somewhere where the air was
clear and a fellow could get away from fool ideas.  He walked as
far as the front door of the Tadgett secondhand shop, and as the
ideas seemed to be walking with him he went into that shop to shake
them off.  Ebenezer was not in the other back room this time; he
was seated at his desk in the little office, his spectacles on his
nose, and humming a ditty.  He looked up when the bell rang.

"Yes," he shouted; "here I be--in here. . . .  Oh, hello, Banks!
What fetched you out so early in the forenoon?  Ain't come to serve
a subpeeny or anything on me, have you?  I was just lookin' over my
first of the month bills, and whenever I do that I always shiver if
the doorbell rings.  Set down--set down.  What's on your mind?"

"Nothing at all--that is, nothing in particular.  I--er--just ran
in.  Don't mind me; keep on with your bills."

"Humph!  Well, all right, maybe I will, till I finish addin' up
this one.  It's Caldwell's last month's grocery bill, and I never
feel safe to pay it till I've added it two or three times.  Eben's
bookkeeper's got a system, and it's a pretty good one--for Eben.
I judge her motto is, 'Never make mistakes, but when you do, be
sure there's a little profit in 'em.'  Have a cigar while you're
waitin', Banks.  There's a couple yonder on the corner of the
shelf.  No, no! not that one, for the land sakes!  Jotham gave me
that; I'm savin' it for the tax collector.  Try the other one;
that's made of tobacco. . . .  Now just let me add this thing
again."

He bent over the desk, his stubby finger moving down the lines of
figures and his lips moving in song:


     "We'll have beefsteak and sparerib stew
      And nice biled onions dipped in dew,
      Sing a hally-hally-hally-hallelujah!
      In the morn-in', in the mornin' by the bright light,
      When Gabriel blows his trumpet in the morn-in'."


Banks lighted the cigar and was surprised to find it a very good
one.  Ebenezer finished his adding and swung about in his chair.

"That bill was right," he announced.  "Yes, sir, 'twas just right.
That bookkeeper'll be losin' her job if she ain't more careless.
Well, how's the cigar?  It ought to be firstrate, considerin' who
gave it to me?"

Banks idly asked who had given it to him.

"Mr. Christopher Trent--Chris Trent, from Ostable, I mean.  He's
got money enough to buy himself good stuff, and judgin' by the
looks of him that's what he does."

Banks took the cigar from his lips.  "So Mr. Trent comes in to see
you, does he?"

"He's been in two or three times lately.  I guess the Cartwright
girl's responsible.  He's talkin' about buyin' that set of rush-
bottom chairs I've got in yonder.  Thinks they might do for what he
calls a breakfast room he's cal'latin' to add onto his house.
That's what he called it--a breakfast room.  What do you suppose he
asked me?  Ho, ho!  Wanted to know if I considered they'd be good
enough for a breakfast room.  I said, 'They'd be too good for
mine,' I says.  'I generally eat breakfast in the kitchen.'  You
ought to have heard that Cartwright girl laugh.  She can see a joke
every time without a spyglass."

Banks did not laugh; nor did he relight the cigar, which had gone
out.  "So she was here with him?"

"Oh, sure!  She and he are great friends, seems so.  He and the old
lady Truman have always been chummy, but lately he's let his
chumminess branch out so it takes in the rest of the family.  He
and Elizabeth are around together a whole lot; haven't you noticed
it?  Ridin' horseback together and out in his automobile and all."

Banks said nothing.  Tadgett went on:  "Breakfast room," he
chuckled.  "Say, you'd think a lone old bach like him could manage
to eat breakfast in the same room with dinner and supper and not
feel crowded, wouldn't you?  Oh, well, maybe he's figgerin' not to
stay an old bach always.  That's what folks are beginnin' to hint,
anyhow.  He wouldn't be takin' much risk, I guess.  He must have
money enough to support as many wives as King Solomon, if he takes
the notion. . . .  Why, here!  You ain't goin' so soon, are you?"

His caller had risen.  "I must get back to work," he said shortly.
"See you later, Ebenezer."

When he reached the sidewalk he threw the partially smoked cigar
savagely into the street and strode up the stairs to his office.
There, again seated at his desk, he found work harder to
concentrate upon than before he left it.  All that forenoon he sat
idle, his hands jammed in his pockets and his brows drawn together
in a frown.  When at noon he rose to go home for dinner he had
reached a conclusion in his thinking.  His mother's advice was
sound, and it had been given just in time.  He would not--he must
not--see Elizabeth Cartwright so frequently.  He would cease
calling at the Truman house.

She would think it queer, of course, his gradually dropping their
acquaintanceship.  She would not understand; perhaps she might feel
hurt at first.  Never mind; HE understood.  He was a poor man, a
struggling country lawyer, and always would be just that.  It was
his destiny, he could not avoid it.

But Trent!  That conceited, patronizing, forty-year-old rounder!
Oh, the devil! THAT was foolishness, anyhow.

When he came back from dinner he found a note tucked under the
door.  It was from Uncle Abijah:


I was just too late to catch you this noon, Banks, and I must go to
Bayport right off.  I will be back about four, though, and I will
come right over.  Wait for me if I'm late.  I want to see you about
something important.



CHAPTER XI


Just before three Banks heard footsteps in the hall outside his
door.  He looked up, as the door opened, expecting to see his
uncle.  But it was not Captain Abijah who came in; it was
Christopher Trent.

Banks would have been surprised to see him there at any time; just
now he was more than surprised.  Trent, at the beginning of their
acquaintance, had condescendingly intimated that he might drop in
at the Bradford office some day, when he happened to be in Denboro.
Although he had been in the village a great many times since then,
he never had called.  Banks had long since ceased to expect him,
nor was he in the least disappointed; the contrary, rather.

He had not been favorably impressed by the patronizing Christopher
when they first met, and nothing he had seen or heard in subsequent
meetings had changed that impression for the better.  And of late
he had been hearing other things--from his mother, from Tadgett,
from Captain Abijah; and though these things had nothing to do with
him, Banks Bradford, they were--well, they were not pleasant to
hear.

His thoughts--some of his most disturbing and irritating thoughts
of this disturbing and discouraging day--had centered about Mr.
Christopher Trent.  He was thinking of him when aroused from
meditation by the footstep in the hall.  And now, as if these
thoughts had been a summons, which they most distinctly were not
intended to be, here he was in the flesh.  Substantial, well-
nourished, self-satisfied flesh it was, too.

He walked briskly in and, pulling a glove from his right hand, held
out that hand.  "How are you, Bradford?" he said carelessly.  Then,
with an amused smile, "What's the matter?  Expecting some one
else, were you?"

Banks rose in hasty confusion and shook the proffered hand.  "How
do you do, Mr. Trent?" he stammered.  "I--why, yes, I was expecting
some one.  It's all right, though; it's too early for him.  Won't
you sit down, sir?"

"Don't want to interfere with your--er--clients, of course.
Perhaps I should have made an appointment with a busy man like you,
eh?  Sorry."

This speech was gravely made, but Banks did not like it.  It might
not be sarcastic in intention, but it was in fact.  "I wasn't
expecting a client," he admitted rather stiffly.  "That is, not
just now.  Uncle Abijah said he would be in this afternoon, that's
all.  Sit down, Mr. Trent, please."

Trent did not sit.  "So Cap'n Bije was coming, eh?" he observed.
"Humph!  Anything important?  Business matter, was it?"

"I don't know.  He left a note saying he wished to see me about
something or other.  No, it probably wasn't important.  Something
to do with the bank, perhaps.  I don't know what it was, really."

His visitor was regarding him keenly.  "About the bank?" he
repeated.  "What bank?"

"Why, the Denboro Bank.  He is one of the directors, you know."

Trent was pulling off the other glove.  His gaze was fixed upon his
companion's face.  "See here, Bradford," he demanded suddenly, "do
you know about it already?  Has he told you?"

"Told me?  Told me what?  I don't know what you mean, Mr. Trent."

Another searching look.  "No-o"--slowly--"I guess you don't.  Cap'n
Bije hasn't let you in on any news connected with the Denboro
National, then?  How did you happen to guess he might be going to
talk about the bank?"

Banks was beginning to resent this brusque cross-questioning.
There was no need of it, so far as he could see.  "I don't know
what you are driving at, Mr. Trent," he said.  "Uncle Abijah has
hinted once or twice that he might have something to tell me pretty
soon, and I remember he gave me to understand that bank affairs had
something to do with it.  I didn't try to find out what it was; I
wasn't greatly interested."

Trent nodded.  "I see," he said.  "Well, it's a wonder the old
rooster could keep his mouth shut so long.  I'm glad he has,
though.  I wanted the chance to talk first.  Yes, I will sit down,
thank you--now that you've made me feel easier about taking your
valuable time."

Again there was no trace of a smile; but the look which he cast
about the sparsely furnished little office was ironically
expressive.  Banks pulled forward a chair; as he was feeling at the
moment he would have preferred using it as a club.  Trent
unbuttoned and threw back his overcoat, seated himself and crossed
his knees.  His hat, which he did not remove, was set a trifle on
one side.  His shoes--they had not been purchased at Eben
Caldwell's general store--were brightly polished.  His trousers
were precisely creased.  His overcoat was of expensive material and
stylish cut.

Banks' overcoat, hanging on the hook by the door, was growing
rather shabby, and he knew that he could not afford a new one that
winter.  He could not help asking himself the question, not exactly
original with him, why some people in this world had everything
they wanted, while others could not have even what they needed.
Yet this man's grandfather had been his own father's partner and
according to Denboro's estimate was not half the man Silas Bradford
had been, at that.

"Here, Bradford," said Christopher Trent, "have a cigar."

Banks declined the cigar.  He remembered with wicked satisfaction
that he had thrown its mate into the street an hour or two before.
There was always something about this man, aside from his
impeccable apparel, which aroused his resentment.  Perhaps it was
Trent's air of worldly wisdom, of self-assurance and patronizing,
prosperous serenity.  Or perhaps it was--something else.  At any
rate, each time they met the struggling young lawyer felt younger
and more struggling than ever.  He was thinking all this when his
visitor, his cigar lighted, leaned forward and spoke.

"Bradford," he said briskly, "how would you like to work for me?"

Banks, who had been trying to guess the purpose behind the call,
had not guessed anything like this.  "Why, what--" he stammered, in
amazement.  "I--I don't understand--"

"No, no," impatiently, "of course you don't--yet.  If you'll listen
you will.  How would you like to work for me, I say?  Or for the
Ostable National Bank, which amounts to the same thing?  Be the
bank's lawyer, that is what I mean.  Does that sound good to you?
It ought to."

It sounded to Banks just then like a poor attempt at a joke, too
absurd to be anything else.  But Christopher Trent was not smiling,
nor was there now any hint of sarcasm in his tone or manner.  He
appeared to be very serious indeed.

"You needn't answer now," he went on.  "I don't expect you to.  Let
me say my say and then you can talk.  Here!  Perhaps we'd better
lock that door first.  Don't want your uncle or anybody else
butting in till we finish."

He rose and turned the key himself.  Then he came back to his
chair.

"Bradford," he said.  "I told you I might drop in and see you some
day when I happened to be in Denboro--told you that the first time
we met, up at Mrs. Truman's.  Do you remember?"

Banks remembered.  "Yes, sir," he admitted.  "I remember you said
you might."

Without intending to do so he had emphasized the "said" slightly.
Trent grinned.

"But you thought I didn't mean it, of course?  Well, you're wrong.
I did mean it.  I've had you in the back of my head ever since that
day when you gave Maybelle and that windbag, Brooks, such a
beautiful trimming in her sideboard scrape.  That was a smart piece
of work.  It took a clever youngster to get away with it as you
did.  Everybody around here considers Elijah Truman's widow a sort
of close relation to the Almighty.  You were just a kid, so to
speak, and they expected to see you spanked and stood in the corner
in jig time.  You fooled 'em.  You fooled her, too--and anybody
that can do that has to get up before breakfast.  Oh, well!  She's
no woodenhead; she isn't spiteful.  She knows what I'm going to say
to you, and she is for it. . . .  Eh?  You're listening, aren't
you?"

"Yes, sir.  I--I'm listening."

"You want to, for your own sake, because this is straight business.
Now we'll get down to brass tacks. . . .  Oh, just one more
question:  You are pretty thick with old Bartlett these days,
aren't you?  Old Hez Bartlett, I mean."

"I have been doing some work for Mr. Bartlett.  I don't know that
I'm thick with him."

"He's taken a fancy to you, I know that, for he has been singing
your praises around the county, and he doesn't do that for many of
us.  For instance, you never have heard the cross-grained old skunk
waste much music on me, I guess.  I'm right there--eh?"

He was.  Banks remembered having heard Hezekiah mention the Trent
name only once, and then but casually; nevertheless on that
occasion it was not mentioned with enthusiasm.  He made no reply,
and his visitor did not wait for him to do so.

"Well," he grunted, "he likes me as well as I like him, anyhow, so
we're square so far.  Now then, Bradford, here is my proposition to
you:  I am president of the Ostable Bank; you know that, of
course."

"Why--yes, sir."

"Everybody knows it.  My grandfather was its first president.  The
old man--my father, I mean--was president of it for awhile.  Then,
when he died, I took over the job.  The Ostable Bank is a sort of
Trent heirloom, as you might say.  It isn't a very big institution;
not quite so big as the Denboro National, as a matter of fact.  But
it's all right.  It's my own baby, and I've been nursing it for
twelve years or more.  Now I'm thinking of sharing that nursing
with somebody else."

His manner became even more earnest.  He leaned forward and
emphasized his points with a lifted finger.  The time had come, he
said, when it seemed apparent that two banks in towns as near each
other as Ostable and Denboro were unnecessary.  Far better to have
one institution of the kind, and that one strong and united.  He
and his directors had felt that way for some time.  Within the past
few months the officers and directors of the Denboro Bank had come
to the same conclusion.  During those months a merger of the two
banks had been under consideration; in fact, had been agreed upon.
The Denboro Bank, larger and more powerful of the two, was to take
over the Ostable Bank.

"It is plain common sense," he declared emphatically.  "There isn't
business enough for two banks, but there is quite enough for one
sound, strong one.  We see it at our end of the line.  The Denboro
crowd--your uncle and his bunch--see it at theirs.  So we are going
to merge.  That is all settled, details and everything.  It has
been kept a close secret so far, though how it has been kept so
quiet in this gabby neck of the woods is nothing short of a
miracle.  You say you haven't heard a word about it, Bradford?
Not a word."

Banks shook his head.  "No," he replied slowly.  "By George, that
IS a miracle down here."

"I'll say it is!  And of course you understand that what I am
telling you now is strictly confidential--doctor and patient,
lawyer and client business, you know?  You're not to tell a soul
until the word is given and public announcement is made.  You'll
swear to that, eh?"

"Why--why, yes, Mr. Trent.  I'll promise not to tell what you have
told me so far, of course."

"Nor what I tell you afterward, either?  All right; I'll take the
chance.  From what I've seen of you I guess you can keep your mouth
shut, and Maybelle Truman has been sizing you up and she's sure you
can.  She's a pretty shrewd judge of a man.  Had more or less
experience, I shouldn't wonder," he chuckled.

Banks shifted in his chair.  "What has Mrs. Truman to do with it?"
he blurted.

"Why--nothing"--sharply.  "Why should you think she had anything to
do with it?"

"But you said--"

"I said she had been sizing you up.  So she has.  So has Elizabeth.
They both think you are a clever kid and know which side your bread
is buttered."

"Here!  Wait a minute!  What do you mean by that?  Has Elizabeth--
has Miss Cartwright been--"

"There, there!  She hasn't been doing anything.  She doesn't know
anything--about this deal, I mean.  Her grandmother does, because
she--oh, well, because the Trumans and the Trents have been pals
ever since the beginning and I have looked after her investments
for her occasionally, when she has asked me to."

"But--but Miss Cartwright--"

Mr. Trent's foot patted the floor.  He interrupted.  "We're not
talking about Miss Cartwright," he snapped.  "We're talking
business, and she isn't your business--or mine either, just now.
We've got to keep on the track if we are to reach the agreement I
hope we may, and reach it this afternoon.  Now listen again."

He went on more rapidly.  The details of the merger had all been
arranged for some time, he said, but in carrying them into effect
some obstacles had developed.  It was necessary that the
stockholders of both banks agree to exchange their present stock
for stock in the new institution.  So far as the shareholders of
his own bank, the Ostable Bank, were concerned, that would be
comparatively easy.  In fact, most of them had already agreed.
There were a few scattered holdouts, but they could be persuaded or
at any rate bought up.  In the Denboro Bank, however, there were a
few who would not, so far, listen to reason.  Of these Hezekiah
Bartlett was the chief.  The old man held a good-sized block of
shares and he flatly refused to trade them for shares in the new
combination.

"You see," growled Trent, "the old fool used to be a director in
the Denboro National himself at one time, but he was so cantankerous
that nobody could get along with him, and finally he was forced off
the board.  Then, too, the Denboro crowd's lawyer is Judge Bangs,
the old chap who presided at that hearing of yours.  He's a fussy
old fogy, according to my ideas, but he's honest enough and capable
in his way.  The rub is that Bartlett and he had a row over a
lawsuit at one time, and Bartlett hasn't spoken to him since.  So he
can't do anything toward making Bartlett come in on the merger.  The
whole game is stuck in the mud for the present, and unless there is
a brand-new deal somewhere, there it will keep on sticking.  Every
day it does stick the more danger there is of the news leaking out
and getting talked about.  When it does there are bound to be more
holdouts looking for fancy figures.  Something has to be done; we
insiders know it.  So that's why I've come to you.  I want you to
be the one who gives us the new deal.  See?"

Banks was beginning to see--a little, but even that very dimly.
"You mean," he hesitated, "you mean you want me to--to--"

"I want you--the Ostable Bank wants you to act as its attorney, its
representative in this business, just as Judge Bangs is acting for
the Denboro National.  You're young but you're sharp, and I take it
for granted you are ambitious.  We've had enough of old-fogyism.
Oscar Brooks was our lawyer for years, but we're through with him.
The way you showed him up at that hearing proved to us, just as it
proved to Maybelle Truman, that he is worn out, no good--a plain
fool, if you ask me.  We need somebody who has go-ahead and brains
and won't hem and haw over trifles.  We need a chap like you, and
the job is yours, if you'll take it.  You will take it, of course,
unless you're crazy.  This merger is only the beginning; so far as
my personal affairs are concerned, there is likely to be a lot
more.  Now what do you say?"

Banks was still too bewildered to say much, but he did ask the all-
important question.  "What will I be expected to do?" he stammered.

"Everything you can to shove the merger through; that's the first
thing.  See the holdouts--there aren't many--in our Ostable crowd.
Get them into line.  Then"--with an impressive wave of the finger--
"use your influence with Bartlett to get him to turn in his Denboro
Bank shares.--Now, wait, wait!  You are the only one who can do it,
I honestly believe.  He hates most of us, but he likes you.  He has
told people I know that he likes you not only because you are Silas
Bradford's son but for yourself.  You can put the thing straight to
him.  There's nothing underhand about it.  You'll be doing him a
good turn, a mighty good turn.  You'll be helping your uncle and
his crowd.  They are stronger for this merger even than we are.
And believe me, boy, there is nothing on earth that will make you
so solid with the county you've picked to practice law in as
merging those two banks.  There, that's what I came here to put up
to you.  And you are for it, of course."

Banks drew a long breath.  He passed his hand across his forehead.
"Great Scott!" he exclaimed fervently.

Mr. Trent grinned.  "Gets hold of you, doesn't it?" he observed.
"I should think it might.  Some chance for a young fellow just out
of law school."

"You--you are right there, Mr. Trent; it sounds wonderful enough.
Only--well, honestly, I still can't see why you picked me out.
With all the experienced lawyers in the towns about--"

"Bosh!  We don't want experience; we want brains and push and
ambition.  For old Bangs and his kind this would be only another
law job; for you it is a paid-up ticket to success in your
profession.  I didn't do the picking all on my own responsibility.
Mrs. Truman was the first to put the flea in my ear.  She said,
'Get young Bradford and get him before somebody else does.'  And
now I have got you, or I hope I have."

Banks sighed.  "I guess you have got me, all right, Mr. Trent," he
confessed.  "I would be an idiot to say no, I suppose.  Only--only
just let me think it over a little while--until to-morrow, say.
I should hate to say yes and then make a mess of it."

"You won't make a mess of it.  I'll bet I know what is worrying
you.  You think I'm holding something back.  You are afraid I am
trying to pull a trick on Cap'n Abijah and his crowd.  Come now,
I'll make you a sporting proposition.  When he comes to see you
this afternoon I give you leave to tell him about the offer I've
made and that you have decided to accept it.  If he says you
shouldn't take it--if he doesn't agree that it is a great chance
for you and that you ought to take it--well, then you can back out.
Fair enough, eh?"  He grinned broadly.

Banks, too, smiled.  "It sounds fair," he admitted.

"It is fair.  And I'm making it because I know he'll tell you to go
ahead.  The Denboro National is just as anxious to put this merger
through as we are, and don't you forget it.  All right, Bradford,
it's settled.  I'll come in here about ten to-morrow morning, and
we'll talk ways and means.  You better do a little thinking
yourself along that line in the meantime.  Good-by."

He unlocked the door and walked out of the office, a fresh cigar in
the corner of his mouth and self-satisfaction in his manner.
Banks, left alone, sat in the chair before the tambour desk and
tried to begin the "little thinking."  There were so many thoughts,
so many kinds of thoughts, and all crowding for precedence, that he
made slow progress.

This was--why, if it was what it seemed on the surface to be, it
meant opportunity, publicity, advancement--everything.  But why was
the opportunity given HIM?  Trent had said--oh, yes, he had said;
but were those his real reasons?  Mrs. Truman, according to
Christopher, had been the first to suggest and urge his selection.
Why had she done it?  Why should she, unless some one else had made
the suggestion to her?

Elizabeth!  Was it possible that she--  He thrilled from head to
foot.  She might have done it.  If she were really interested in
him and his success, she might.  And with this astounding
possibility as a starting point his thinking drifted far away from
bank mergers.

It was nearly five when Captain Abijah breezed in.  Banks' thoughts
descended from the clouds and came to earth.  His uncle threw
himself into a chair and growled a greeting.

"Why in time did you go home so early this noon?" he demanded
fretfully.  "I came in here with my mind made up to tell you
somethin' that's been on it for more'n a month.  When I get that
way I don't like to be put off, and your bein' out did put me off.
What have you got to say for yourself?"

His nephew apologized.  He had gone to dinner a little early for no
particular reason.  He was sorry.  "I have something to tell you,
Uncle Abijah," he added.

"Humph!  Well, you'll have to let me do my tellin' first, I guess.
I've held it in till my lid's leakin' steam.  I don't know's I'd
ought to tell you--some of the rest of 'em might give me the devil
if they knew I was cal'latin' to--but I've thought it through, and
maybe you can help.  If you can't, I don't know who can. . . .  See
here, boy--you and Hezekiah Bartlett are pretty good friends now,
ain't you? . . .  What are you grinnin' at?  If you think I'm
cracking jokes you never made a bigger mistake."

"Wait a minute, Uncle Bije.  I imagine we may save time if I tell
my story first.  I have an idea it is very much like yours."

"Like mine!"

"Yes.  Mr. Christopher Trent has been here this afternoon.  He
stayed over an hour."

"Chris Trent!  What did he want with you?"

"That's what I'm going to tell you.  He gave me permission to tell.
In fact, he ordered me to tell--you, and no one else.  Now listen."

Captain Abijah listened, and as the amazing tale developed his
florid face was a study in changing expressions.  As his nephew
finished he slapped his knee.

"Whew!" he puffed excitedly.  "Well, I'll be everlastin'ly sunk!
If this isn't balm in Gilead then I'll sell the farm and go to sea!
You're dead sure you're puttin' it straight, Banks?  He made you a
honest-to-God offer to be a lawyer for his bank?  No leak holes
anywhere and no anchor draggin' astern?"

"I couldn't see any.  It sounded straight enough."

"Well . . . whew!  Boy, I came here to-day to tell you about this
bank-mergin' business, just the same's he told it.  I've set my
heart on our bank takin' over that concern of his, and I've worked
my head off for it.  But until we can get those holdouts, as he
calls 'em, into line we're hard and fast aground.  And old Hez
Bartlett is the main sticker.  Bangs can't do anything with him;
he's tried and tried, but the old crank won't even see him, to say
nothin' of listenin' while he talks.  I knew he'd taken a shine to
you, and so I decided, all of my own hook, to come to you with the
facts and ask you to try your influence.  You couldn't be our
reg'lar lawyer--Judge Bangs is that--but I was goin' to take it on
myself to offer you a special fee from the Denboro National,
provided you won out with Bartlett.  And now--now I don't have to.
You're hired by the Ostable crowd, and whatever you do for them
will be the same as done for us. . . .  Great!  Great!"

"Then you think I should accept the offer?"

"Think!  I know you must.  It'll be fine for the banks and the
depositors and Ostable and Denboro--oh, Lord, yes!  But see what it
will mean for you!  Twenty-six year old, or whatever it is, and
picked out for such an important job as this.  Mean?  Why, if you
pull it off, and there's no good reason why you shouldn't, it'll
mean you aren't young Silie Bradford trying to play law any longer--
you're a big man in Ostable County.  By thunder, Banks, it'll make
'em stop talking about who your father was and just remember who
you are!  That's what it'll mean.  It's the chance of a lifetime."

"I suppose it is.  But, Uncle Bije, why do you suppose Mr. Trent
ever thought of choosing me?"

"Why shouldn't he choose you?  You're Cap'n Silas Bradford's boy,
aren't you?"

Banks burst out laughing.  "That doesn't sound much like the
forgetting who my father was that you just prophesied," he said.

Abijah, too, was obliged to laugh.  "Prophecies don't come true the
minute they're made," he retorted.  "Moses rated A. B. as a
prophet, accordin' to Scripture, but he sweated through a good many
years before he got the Jews into the Land of Canaan. . . .  Now
you go home and tell your mother the glad tidin's.  I'll be down
after supper and help with the hallelujahs.  My, my!  I do hope I
get there before Hettie.  She'll--why, she'll be so drunk with
family pride that she's liable to run straight uptown and spend
five cents for peppermints.  That's her idea of a spree.  Ho, ho!
Well, see you later, 'Judge Bradford.'  Ho, ho!"

Banks told his mother the news as soon as he reached home.  He did
not wait even until supper was on the table.  The codfish "tongues
and sounds"--a time-honored New England seashore dish--grew cold on
the platter as he revealed the purpose which had brought
Christopher Trent to his office that afternoon.  Margaret listened,
scarcely interrupting, until he finished.  Long before the
marvelous tale had ended she sank into a chair, and when her son
concluded with the recital of Captain Abijah's approval and
enthusiasm she did not rise but sat there, looking at the oilcloth
on the kitchen floor, her fingers making plaits in her apron.  Upon
her face an expression which Banks did not understand at all.

"Why, Mother!" he cried.  "What's the matter with you?  Surely you
must understand what a tremendous piece of luck this is.  I thought
you would be happier than any of us.  And you just sit there and
don't say a word.  Aren't you glad for me?"

She looked up then.  "It is very wonderful, dear," she said.

"Wonderful!  I should say it was!  You don't--you can't understand
how wonderful it is."

"I think I do, Banks."

"You don't act as if you did.  By George, I--I didn't expect this!"

The speech and disappointment in his tone had their effect.  She
rose from the chair, put her arms about him and kissed him.  "I am
glad for you, my boy," she faltered.  "Truly I am.  I--it just
troubles me a little, that's all.  I don't quite see--"

"See?  What is there to see?  It is plain enough, isn't it?  Mr.
Trent said--"

"Yes, yes; I know.  But why did he say it to you?  A man with the
money he must have could afford to hire any lawyer he wanted, I
should think.  And you are--are so young."

He was losing patience.  "No, Mother," he protested, "I have
explained all that.  It is on account of my knowing Mr. Bartlett so
well, and his liking me.  That is the principal reason, of course.
But there is more than that.  Mr. Trent said my winning that case
for Ebenezer Tadgett proved to him and to Mrs. Truman--  Now what
is it?"

"Nothing."

He laughed.  "I see," he declared.  "Mother, Mother!  You are the
best woman on earth, and no one knows that as well as I do, but you
don't like Mrs. Truman, and so you don't like her liking me.  That
is it, isn't it?"

Margaret shook her head.  "She couldn't help liking you," she said.
"It is just that--that--well, do you really trust her, Banks?"

"Why shouldn't I?  You don't, though, that's evident.  For what
reason?"  She was silent.  He repeated his question.  "Why don't
you trust her?  You scarcely know her.  And yet every time I
mention her name you act this way.  Come, Mother; this isn't like
you.  If you actually had any good cause for distrusting and
disliking Mrs. Truman, then--"  He stopped in astonishment.

She had turned toward him, and on her face was an expression he had
never seen there before.  "Cause!" she repeated, with bitter scorn.
"Cause!  Oh, don't talk that way!  If you do I--I shall--"  She
left the sentence unfinished.

He took a step toward her.  "Mother!" he said.  "What is it?"  She
was sobbing on his shoulder.  He stroked her hair.  "There, there,
Mother," he begged.  "I--I don't know what this is all about, of
course.  If there is something behind this--something I don't know
about--then why not tell me?"

Her sobbing ceased.  A moment later she lifted her head and smiled
faintly.  "What a silly old woman I am getting to be," she sighed.
"Kiss me, Banks.  It is all right, I am sure.  Go on; take your big
chance and get to be the great man we all know you will be.  No,
son, don't ask me any more questions.  I am tired, I guess, and my
head aches a little.  You mustn't pay any attention to my tantrums
and--and prejudices.  If I didn't love you so much I shouldn't have
them, I suppose.  No; no more foolishness.  Now we must have our
supper and you can tell me more about the bank merger and what Mr.
Trent expects you to do."

The supper was pretty well spoiled by this time, but during the
meal she refused to let him mention the little scene through which
they had just passed, and when he told again of the Trent offer and
dilated upon what it meant for him she was as eager and
enthusiastic as he had expected her to be in the beginning.

And later when Captain Abijah and Cousin Hettie came and during
what the former called the "hallelujah session," she was just as
eager and optimistic.

The captain's delight was unrestrained.  "The boy's got his start,"
he vowed.  "He's earned it, too; I'll say that for him.  If he tows
old Hez Bartlett into port and the Denboro National takes over the
Ostable National, there'll be nothin' in the county too good for
him.  We'll have him representative up in the Boston State House
yet.  Ain't you sorry you ain't a man, so's you can vote for him,
Hettie?"

Cousin Hettie tossed her head.  "It would take more'n that to make
me wish I was a man, 'Bijah Bradford," she sniffed contemptuously.
"I'd rather be a first-class CAT than most any man I've ever run
across in my life.  That's what I think of men."

Abijah nodded.  "We all have pet ambitions, of course," he agreed
solemnly "There's a mouse hole up in my closet at the Malabar,
Hettie.  Come up and set alongside it any time, if it'll make you
feel more contented."



CHAPTER XII


Mr. Trent was on hand in the office of S. B. Bradford, Attorney at
Law, promptly at ten the next morning.  He was plainly very much
pleased to learn that his offer had been accepted, although he took
pains to declare that he had expected nothing else.

"No one but a fool would turn it down," he said, "and if we thought
you were a fool we shouldn't hire you.  The next thing for you to
do, Bradford, is to get to work on those holdouts and hurry up
about it.  Why not go and see old Bartlett to-day?"

But Banks demurred.  He must brush up on his banking law first, he
explained.  He must be as thoroughly posted on the laws relating to
consolidations as possible before trying to influence as shrewd a
person as Hezekiah Bartlett.

"And, of course," he added, "I know nothing at all about the
details of this particular merger, Mr. Trent.  I ought to know
everything if I am to work intelligently.  I must have copies of
both banks' statements of condition, the amount of their deposits,
lists of their loans and securities--everything of that sort.  I
must be as much on the inside as you and Uncle Abijah are before I
attempt a convincing argument.  Before I can show others I must be
shown.  You understand that, of course."

Trent nodded.  "Certainly I do," he admitted impatiently.  "Let's
get at it and not waste time, that's the main thing.  I've got most
of what you want in my pocket now.  We'll go through them together.
Then, if there is anything more necessary, you can jump in my car
and we'll go over to the Ostable Bank or my house and finish up.
Come!  Lock that door and we'll start in."

It was noon before the conference in the office came to an end.
Then Banks boarded the Trent automobile and was driven to Ostable.
It was not his first ride of the kind, although motor-driven
vehicles were still very much of a novelty, and it was a thrilling
experience.  The car clanked and puffed over the frozen rutted
roads at a dizzy speed of from twelve to twenty-five miles an hour.
Horses reared as they passed, and excited residents of the outlying
districts ran to their gates and windows to stare and vow that you
wouldn't catch them riskin' their lives in one of them contraptions--
not much you wouldn't.  Children shouted "Get a horse!" and dogs
howled madly.  The car stopped at the foot of one small hill and
refused to stir until its owner crawled underneath and hammered and
swore for five minutes.

"There!" exclaimed Trent, as they chugged up to the row of hitching
posts before the Ostable National Bank.  "Here we are, Bradford!
Sixteen miles in not much over an hour and only had to stop once.
That's moving, I guess you'll agree."

They dined together at the Trent house, and Banks was duly
impressed by its size and comfort and luxurious appointments.  Then
they walked down to the bank again and spent two more hours in
going over figures and lists.  Bradford, his pockets filled with
papers, took the evening train for Denboro, tired and hungry but
feeling that he had already learned all important particulars
concerning the merger and would soon be thoroughly conversant with
the minor points.

"Plug up on that bank law you're so fussy about," was Trent's
parting order.  "And keep in touch with me right along.  Time!
time! that's what you must think about.  This deal has hung fire
too long already."

All the next day and the next the new attorney of the Ostable
National Bank read deeply in his law books and pored diligently
over the details of the proposed deal.  Still another day was spent
in a similar fashion.  Captain Abijah dropped in occasionally to
see how his nephew and protege was progressing, and he would have
asked many questions had questioning been permitted.

"I can't tell you that, Uncle Bije," Banks explained good-naturedly
but firmly.  "I'm the other side's hired man now, and if they made
one point clear in law school it was that a lawyer's relations with
his client were absolutely confidential, just as secret as the
confessional.  You mustn't expect me to tell you anything.  I
can't."

The captain grinned.  "That's the way to talk," he agreed.
"Anybody that can really keep a secret ought to have a monument put
up to him when he dies.  Down here in Denboro it ought to be as
tall as the Bunker Hill one.  When I ask you somethin' that's none
of my business I give you leave to tell me to go where Hettie keeps
remindin' me I am bound for.  Only get action as soon as you can;
that's all any of us want.  There's talk stirrin' around town
already--I've heard it.  They don't know what's up, but there are
rumors.  Get goin' quick as ever you can."

Banks had so far adhered to his resolution not to call at the
Truman home.  As a matter of fact, he had had no opportunity to
call since Christopher Trent came to him with the dazzling
proposition.  His study and his work had occupied the evenings as
well as the daylight hours.

He had thought of Elizabeth, of course.  In the intervals of his
labors he thought of her a great deal.  He wondered again if it
could have been she who suggested his employment by the Ostable
people--suggested it to her grandmother, who in turn suggested it
to Christopher Trent.  He wondered if in spite of Trent's statement
she did know of his great opportunity and if she was glad it had
been given him.  He wished he might talk it over with her.

His recently aroused jealousy of Trent he had begun to think
nonsensical.  Trent had said, in that very office, that he and Mrs.
Truman were "pals" and had been for years.  No wonder they visited
back and forth.  And Elizabeth was--well, after all, compared to
the middle-aged Christopher, she was just a young girl.  If they
rode together and saw a great deal of each other, why--well, what
of it?  Of course--  But, oh, pshaw! what of it?

As for Trent himself, his antipathy toward that self-satisfied
individual had been softened by this new relationship.  Chris Trent
had been mighty decent to him, after all.  If, as Uncle Abijah
prophesied, he was destined to be a great man in the county it was
entirely owing to Trent's interest and influence.

And then, one afternoon early in the following week, he dropped in
on Ebenezer Tadgett and was given a message.  Miss Cartwright had
been in the shop that day, said Ebenezer, and they had spoken of
him--Banks.

"Just happened to mention your name," said Tadgett solemnly.
"Don't know how it came up, I'm sure.  We was talkin' about
antiques and cranberries and the new addition to the Ostable jail
and how little snow we'd had so fur this winter and cows and three-
handed euchre and new hats and the revival meetin's they're goin'
to have at the Baptist church--one thing naturally leadin' to
another, you know--and pretty soon we was talkin' about you.  I
don't know whether 'twas the jail or the revivals that fetched you
into it, but anyhow--"

"Oh, drive along, Ebenezer!" broke in Banks, with a laugh.  "You've
got something to tell me, I know.  What is it?"

Tadgett rubbed his chin.  "Never see such a fellow for bein' in a
hurry," he observed.  "Who said I had anything special to tell you?
Fur's I recollect 'twan't anything so terrible important.
Elizabeth she happened to say that she hadn't seen you for a month
of Sundays and wondered why.  I told her you was busy, maybe, and
she laughed--kind of knowin', seemed to me--and said that was just
it; she had been rather expectin' you to come up and talk that
business over.  Perhaps you know what she meant; I don't."

Banks thought he knew, but he did not reveal his knowledge.  "Was
that all she said?" he asked with elaborate indifference.

Mr. Tadgett's eyes twinkled.  "No-o," he drawled.  "Seems to me she
said somethin' more about expectin' you.  Acted kind of anxious
about it.  Wanted to know in time to lock up the spoons, or the
like of that, perhaps."

The receipt of this bit of information resulted in Banks Bradford's
ringing the doorbell of the Truman mansion at eight-thirty that
evening.  He had not told his mother where he was going.  If she
had asked he would have told her, but she did not ask.  He had not
forgotten certain resolutions made not so long before, but he had
managed to convince his conscience that those resolutions were not
intended to preclude his seeing Elizabeth altogether.

He had not seen her for a week.  If she were even partially
responsible he certainly ought to see and thank her.  His mother
did not dislike Elizabeth Cartwright; it was Mrs. Truman against
whom she was, for no discernible reason, so bitterly prejudiced,
and he was not calling upon Mrs. Truman.  And so on.  Common-sense
arguments these were, calculated to soothe any honest conscience.

Elizabeth herself welcomed him in the library.  Her grandmother was
out, she said; she and Mr. Trent were having another financial
conference--investments or something like that; she would be back
before long, Elizabeth was sure.  Banks bore the news of the loss
of Mrs. Truman's society with fortitude and the young people
settled down to speak of matters of real importance.

Yes, Elizabeth did know of his appointment as the Ostable Bank's
attorney.  She was delighted to know of it.  Her grandmother had
told her just after it happened, and grandmother was as glad as she
was.  Didn't he think it a splendid opportunity?

"_I_ think it is," she declared, her eyes shining.  "Grandmother
says it is a very responsible position for such a young man, but
that she is sure you will be equal to it.  I am, too.  In fact,
I--"  She hesitated.

"Yes?" he prompted.

"Oh, I was going to say that perhaps I helped a little in getting
it for you.  I didn't really, of course.  My opinion in such things
doesn't count; I don't know anything about them.  But when
grandmother--either grandmother or Mr. Trent, I forget which--first
mentioned to me that your name was being considered I--oh, I said
you were a perfectly marvelous lawyer, or words to that effect.
Which had great weight," she added with a trill of laughter,
"because naturally I have had long experience and my judgment is
marvelous.  Oh, don't mind my being silly, please.  I have been
longing to congratulate you, Mr. S. B. Bradford, Attorney at Law."

This was a good beginning.  They shook hands upon the congratulations.

"I knew you did it for me," cried Banks impulsively.  "I was sure
you were responsible."

"But I wasn't. . . .  How did you know?"

"I--I just felt it somehow.  I don't believe it was Mrs. Truman who
first thought of me for the place; I believe you gave her the
suggestion."

"Oh, no, I didn't!  Honestly, I didn't."

"Then you gave it to Mr. Trent?"

It seemed to him that her manner changed, became a little more
constrained.  "No," she said.  "Nor to him, either."

"But he--"

"Oh, don't talk about him!  Talk about yourself.  Tell me what you
have done so far and are planning to do next.  What did your mother
say when you told her?  And your uncle?  I have met him several
times recently; I like him, too.  Grandmother doesn't seem to; I'm
sure I don't know why, for she does like you so much.  But what did
they say?  Tell me all about everything."

He told her a great deal; not everything--he said nothing
concerning his mother's odd behavior when he came to her with the
news and, of course, not a word of her expressed distrust of Mrs.
Truman.  There was enough to tell without that, and the telling and
the answers to her questions took a long time.  When at last the
subject was pumped pretty thoroughly dry he began questioning of
his own account.  What had she been doing all the week?  It seemed
as if he had not seen her for an age.

The mahogany and glass tall clock ticked off the minutes and chimed
the hours, but neither of the young people noticed it.  The
conversation never flagged.  A disinterested auditor might have
considered it rather trivial, at times almost inane and full of
repetitions, but as no such auditor was present this did not matter
in the least.

It was only when Banks mentioned the name of Mr. Christopher Trent
that--or so it seemed to him--Miss Cartwright's enthusiasm waned.
Apparently she was not anxious to talk about Mr. Trent.  Late in
the evening, when for the third or fourth time his reference to
that gentleman was ignored, curiosity got the better of his
discretion.

"Elizabeth," he asked bluntly, "what is it?"

"What is what?"

"Why do you always change the subject every time I say anything
about Mr. Trent?"

"Why--why, I didn't know that I did."

"It seems to me you do.  I thought you and he were very good
friends."

"We are.  He is a very good friend of grandmother's."

"Yes, I know.  But aren't you and he friendly nowadays?  Has
anything happened to--to--"

"Happened?  Why, how ridiculous!  What could have happened?"

"I don't know.  Don't you like him as well as you did?"

"Why shouldn't I?  . . . Do YOU like him?"

He hesitated.  "I like him a lot better than I did at first," he
said slowly.  "At first I thought he was--oh, well, supercilious
and--and too darned cocksure.  He used to make me feel so--so
innocent and green, you know.  Do you remember the valet in David
Copperfield--Littimer, I think his name was?  Whenever Copperfield
met him he made Copperfield sure he was saying to himself, 'You are
young.  You are very young.'  Well, Mr. Trent used to make me feel
just that way.  Probably you can't understand what I am trying to
get at."

"I think I can.  But you don't feel that way now?"

"Not so much.  Anyway, considering the chance to make good that he
has given me I should be an idiot to feel anything but gratitude."

"Yes, I suppose so.  But I know exactly what you mean.  He is so
certain that he is right.  And does he ever make you feel that he
intends to have what he wants and will have it, in the end, no
matter what you do or say; no matter what any one says or does?"

"Why, I don't know that he does that.  Of course, he is very much
older than we are."

"Ye-es, but don't think he considers himself old at all. . . .
Oh, well, what difference does it make?  Tell me more about Mrs.
Tadgett.  She must be awfully funny and rather pathetic, too."

When the big clock chimed eleven she turned to look at it.

"Good gracious!" she exclaimed.  "Is it as late as that?  Banks, I
am afraid you must go.  The maids are up, I suppose, and they will
be wondering and--and saying things.  Where grandmother is I can't
imagine; she said she would be home early.  That business
conference with Mr. Trent must be an important one.  She has been a
little worried lately and she gave me to understand it was over
some of her investments.  Your coat and hat are in the hall, aren't
they?  I'll get them for you."

The hanging lamp was turned low, and the paneled hall was in
semidarkness.  She helped Banks with his coat and they faced each
other to say good night.

"I--I can't tell you how grateful I am to you," he faltered.  "I
know you helped a lot in this opportunity that has come to me."

"No, I didn't.  There was so little I could do.  I'm only a girl,
and the older people don't pay much attention to my opinion."

"It is going to mean about everything to me here in Denboro.  If I
can swing it, I mean."

"Oh, you can!  I know you can!  I'm just sure of it.  And"--with a
little gasp--"I am so glad!"

The lamplight happened to be shining upon her face as she said it.
Banks Bradford's common-sense resolutions melted as if that light
were a white-hot flame.  He stepped forward, put his arms about
her, drew her toward him and kissed her.  Then for a long instant
their world stood still.

And then--well, then the front door latch clicked.  Banks' arms
relaxed; he stepped backward.  Elizabeth, pale-faced, gazed at the
opening door.  And Mrs. Capt. Elijah Truman stood on the threshold.

Mrs. Truman's eyes, beneath the brim of her fashionable and
youthful hat, took in the tableau.  They were keen eyes,
experienced eyes, and because of their experience they had learned
when to become expressionless.  She smiled graciously.

"Oh, good evening, Banks," she said.  "You were just going, of
course.  Elizabeth, I'm sure you must have begun to think I had
been kidnaped--or had eloped, in spite of my age.  I had no idea--
nor had Christopher--that our talk about money matters would be so
lengthy.  We had to go way over to Ostable to look up important
papers--some bonds I have in the bank vault. . . .  Come in, Chris,
won't you?  Your new lawyer is here."

Mr. Trent came up the steps.  Elizabeth, her face no longer pale
but crimson, stepped back into the shadow by the stairs.  Banks
had found the darkest corner by the door.  Trent, fur-coated, hat
a-tilt, blinked in the lamplight.

"Evening, Elizabeth," he hailed.  "How's the girl? . . .  Oh,
hello, Bradford!  Humph!  You're out late, for Denboro, aren't you?
Well, so long.  See you to-morrow probably."

"Don't hurry, Banks," urged Mrs. Truman sweetly.  "Stay and visit
with the old folks a little while--do."

But Banks was already on the step just vacated by his new employer.
He stammered something to the effect that he must be getting home;
his mother would be sitting up for him.  The heavy door banged.  If
Cousin Hettie, a prominent member of the Good Templar Society, had
seen him blundering along the dark Mill Road that night she would
have been more than ever certain that the modern university,
particularly when adjacent to a great and wicked city, was no place
to which she would ever send a son of hers.



CHAPTER XIII


Mr. Christopher Trent remained but a few minutes in the Truman hall
after Banks Bradford's departure.  He had a long drive before him,
he said, and must be on his way.  His manner was--or so it seemed
to Elizabeth--a trifle less cordial than usual.  His greeting to
Bradford had been curt enough, certainly.  He and Mrs. Truman
exchanged whispers on the step; the girl caught only a word or two.

"Well, maybe," she heard him say.  "There's getting to be a little
too much of it, though, according to my notion.  There's a limit,
you understand. . . .  Oh, I know, I know!  But there's a limit,
just the same; don't forget that."

Elizabeth heard this, but she paid little heed.  She scarcely knew
whether to be glad or sorry when the door closed behind him.  In
her present state of nerves and emotion she surely did not care to
exchange social amenities with Chris Trent.  On the other hand, his
going left her alone with her grandmother.  What had that shrewd
lady seen--or guessed?  What would happen now?

Nothing happened.  Mrs. Truman's tone and manner were as easy and
casual as they had been when she left the house after dinner.  She
was tired, she said; she had discussed investments and money until
her head ached.  It was late, and they must both go to bed without
waiting another minute.  At the door of her room they kissed good
night and parted.

Mrs. Truman's breakfast next morning was as usual brought to her
room by the maid.  Elizabeth ate alone in the dining room and then
went into the library, where she tried to fix her attention upon
the previous evening's Transcript.  The attention refusing to
remain fixed, she gave it up and sat looking out of the window,
rapt in a reverie so deep that she did not hear her grandmother
descend the stairs and enter the room.

"Good morning, my dear," said Mrs. Truman pleasantly.

Elizabeth looked up with a start.  "Why, good morning, Grandmother!"
she exclaimed.  "You are up early, aren't you?"

Mrs. Truman's appearance was as spick-and-span as usual.  She sank
into an easy-chair with a purr of satisfaction.  She was as fond of
soft upholstery as a pampered cat.

"I am up early," she admitted.  "Far too early for a person of my
age who was up so late last night.  How are you, my dear?"

"I am all right, Grandmother."

"Yes, I suppose you are.  At your time of life a girl can be an owl
at night and a lark in the morning.  Every dog has his day.  Hum!
I don't know why I am talking so like a Noah's ark, I'm sure. . . .
Did you and your--er--friend have a pleasant evening together?"

"Why--yes, Grandmother."

"Stayed later than usual, didn't he?"

"Yes, I'm afraid he did; we didn't notice the time.  He was just
going when you came."

"I imagined he was.  He went very soon after I did come, I noticed
that.  Well, my dear, what does it mean?  Or what do you think it
means?"

"Means?  Why, Grandmother!"

"There, there, child!  Don't try to pretend you don't know what I
mean.  The most complete ninny on earth would have known what had
been going on if he or she walked in unexpectedly on you two babes
in the wood as I did last night.  If ever a pair looked guilty--and
funny--you certainly did.  I didn't laugh, but I assure you I
wanted to."

She was laughing now.  Elizabeth's face was white and red by turns.
Mrs. Truman went on.

"I saw at once that I had interrupted a tender farewell," she said.
"Very tender, indeed.  It didn't occur to either of you, I suppose,
to bolt the door?  No, it wouldn't.  And yet, under such
circumstances, it is always safer."

Elizabeth sprang from her chair.  "Grandmother!" she cried,
blushing furiously.

Mrs. Truman lifted a hand.  "There, there, child, don't lose your
temper.  I have a sense of humor, I'm glad to say, and you must let
me enjoy my joke."

"Joke!"

"Why, yes, it is a joke, isn't it?  Surely there can be nothing
serious about it."  Elizabeth did not answer.  Her grandmother
smilingly persisted.  "Which," she said, "brings us back to the
question I asked in the beginning.  What do you--and he--think it
means?"

"I don't know that it means anything.  There was nothing--I--  How
can you sit there and say--and hint!  Oh, how can you!"

"There, there, child!  Listen to me!"

"I won't.  I won't listen while you talk to me in that way."

"I'm afraid you must.  Bless you, I don't blame you for not caring
to talk or to be talked to.  One doesn't, under such circumstances;
I never did myself.  But, Elizabeth, I am afraid we must talk, both
of us, and keep on talking for awhile.  I am more to blame for what
has happened than you are.  We should have talked sooner.  I forgot
that when a pretty girl and a nice boy are left to their own
devices as often as you and young Bradford have been, certain
things are bound to happen. . . .  Well, are you two engaged?"

"No," said the other fiercely, "of course we are not."

"When I opened the door last night it looked--well, as if the
preliminaries of an engagement might have been--er--partially
completed.  He kissed you, didn't he?"

"Grandmother!  Oh, I won't listen to you!  You--make me ashamed."

"Ashamed?  Dear me!"

"Not of myself, but of you.  You speak so--so--oh, you sound so--so
DREADFUL!"

"Do I?  That is too bad.  I meant to sound human, that's all.  This
kissing--it hasn't got to be a habit between you, I hope?"

"Grandmother, I won't hear another word.  You talk like a wicked
old woman.  I shall hate you!  No, I won't stay here.  I'm going."

"No, you're not.  Come, come, child, you mustn't hate me.  I don't
like to mention it, but it does seem to me that I have been at
least fairly--er--nice to you.  Rather indulgent, even generous.
Don't you think I have?"

"You know I do.  But now--"

"Now I am trying to be especially nice.  And you must be nice to
me.  I have taken pains to see that you had practically everything
you wanted since you lived with me.  Now it is my turn; _I_ want
something.  At least you should do me the favor of letting me tell
you what it is.  Sit down, Elizabeth."

Elizabeth still hesitated.  For a moment she remained standing.
Then she flung herself into the chair by the window, her hot face
turned away from her tormenter and tears of angry humiliation in
her eye.  Mrs. Truman calmly continued.  "There isn't any
engagement, then?"

"No. . . .  No!"

"Oh, of course I realize that a kiss--or several kisses--do not
necessarily mean an engagement.  At least they didn't in my day.
But they do imply a certain degree of--er--warmth of friendship.
Is he in love with you, Elizabeth?"

"I don't know."

"He hasn't told you, then.  Are you in love with him?"

"No.  That is, I--I don't think--I don't know.  At any rate," she
added with a sudden desperate burst of rebellion, "whether I am or
not is my own affair."

"Not altogether, perhaps, everything considered.  You are my
granddaughter, and you are--forgive me for reminding you of it--
dependent on me.  If you had means of your own, then you could tell
me to go to the mischief and marry any one you cared to.  Your
mother did that; though"--with a frown and a sudden snap of the
pearly teeth--"goodness knows she was poor enough, and the man she
married was poorer still.  I did it myself.  I ran away and married
a man without a penny, and I know what it means to be poor.  My
second husband was rich, and I know what that means too.  It is
your Grandfather Truman's money that has paid our way to Europe and
California and Florida.  It provides this house and the wherewithal
to keep it.  If it hadn't been for that money I might be taking
boarders yet, and you--I don't know where you might be.  So you see
I have some excuse--perhaps you might call it the right--to talk
with you like this.  Don't you think I have?"

Elizabeth stirred in the chair.  "Oh, Grandmother," she pleaded,
"please don't think I am ungrateful."

"Rubbish!  I haven't asked for gratitude.  Gratitude is one of
those words which sound well but don't mean anything.  In this
world every living soul is selfish underneath.  I took you to live
with me because I was lonesome and wanted something or somebody to
keep me from being bored with my own company.  You were a pretty
child; if you had been ugly I probably shouldn't have adopted you."

"Grandmother!  I never heard such--"

"Hush!  I am speaking the truth.  I don't, as a usual thing,
because it makes trouble and I dislike trouble.  But this is the
truth, and it sounds scandalous to you because you hear so little
of it from any one.  Very likely I shouldn't have adopted you if
you had been deformed or in any way a fright. . . .  Well, now I am
fond of you.  I hope you are fond of me."

"You know I am."

"I know you think you are.  And perhaps you really are, so long as
your own inclinations aren't interfered with.  Then you are
selfish, like every one else."

"I'm not!  Oh, I'm not!"

"No?  Then why do you fly up in arms when I suggest that your
falling in love with this Banks Bradford is partly my affair?"

"But Grandmother, I haven't said I was in love with him."

"You said you didn't know whether you were or not.  Very likely you
don't know--yet.  Probably last night's--er--seizure was
unexpected, like a chill.  Or a fever; perhaps fever is the better
word.  He had it first, and close contact spreads contagion. . . .
Now, now, don't fly up again.  I may not sound as if I were
earnest, but I am.  This Bradford boy of yours is, so far as I
know, a decent, agreeable young fellow.  I was willing you and he
should be acquainted."

"Acquainted!  Why, Grandmother, you yourself asked him to call
here.  You said--"

"I know, I know.  I asked him to call because I--well, for various
reasons.  I wanted to know him better, and so I told you he might
call.  I forgot--which was silly of me--that there were dangers of
that contagion I just mentioned."

"Grandmother, don't you like Banks?"

"Like him?  Certainly I like him.  He is good-looking, and I like
pretty things--and men; always did.  Then he is the image of his
father, and I suppose that--"

"Yes?  Why do you stop?"

Mrs. Truman shrugged.  "Because I was getting away from my subject
and wasting time.  People of my age are likely to be garrulous, I
suppose.  Elizabeth, you know this Banks Bradford better than I do.
Is he--well, do you think him the sort of person who might go just
so far with anything and then lose his nerve?  Is he what young
people nowadays call a quitter, do you think?"

"A quitter?  A coward, do you mean?  No," said the girl indignantly,
"he isn't.  I am sure he isn't.  Why do you ask that?  What makes
you think such a thing?"

For just an instant Mrs. Truman's self-control seemed to slip.
"Think!" she snapped, with a savage little laugh.  "Think!  He is
a Bradford, isn't he?  Ha!  Think, indeed!"

The girl stared at her in utter amazement.  "What DO you mean,
Grandmother?" she demanded.

Her grandmother bit her lip.  Then she shook her head ruefully.
"I AM getting old," she muttered; "I must be.  Oh, I don't mean
anything, child. . . .  Hush!  Let me do the talking.  I want to
get through with all this as soon as I can.  Elizabeth, you and I
are pretty nearly to the end of our rope."

Elizabeth said nothing.  The statement meant nothing--to her
understanding.

Her grandmother misinterpreted her silence.  "Listen!" she ordered
impatiently.  "For heaven's sake stop thinking about that--that boy
and listen to something of importance.  Are you listening?"

"Yes"--resentfully.  "Of course I am."

"Very well, then.  I say you and I are pretty nearly at the end of
our rope.  Our financial affairs are in a bad way.  I have been
extravagant, I suppose.  I don't care at all for money itself, but
I do care a great deal for what it brings me--the things which make
life worth while.  I don't want to die, but I give you my word I
had rather die than be poor again.  And so would you, if you knew
what poverty meant."

"Grandmother, what are you trying to tell me?"

"If you keep on interrupting and asking questions I can't tell you
anything.  Your grandfather--Captain Truman, of course I mean--left
me a good deal of money.  Oh, not a million nor half a million, but
enough to provide a very comfortable income.  I have lived up to
that income, and you have helped.  Now that income is--well, it is
in danger.  Unless you are very careful for a while we may be--
well, beggars, or the next thing to it."

Elizabeth's attention was not wandering now.  She did not
understand, of course, but she was beginning to be frightened.
"Unless _I_ am careful?" she repeated in bewilderment.

"Yes, you.  A great deal depends on you.  If you get yourself
tangled in a love affair with this Bradford fellow, if you are
silly enough to get engaged to him just now, you will spoil
everything."

"I'm not engaged to him.  I told you I wasn't.  I--"

"Hush!  Do hush!  Now don't ask me what this is all about, for I
can't tell you.  Some day, perhaps, but not for the present.  You
must take my word for it that our comfort in the future depends
upon your behaving with tact and common sense.  I want you--it was
the favor I told you in the beginning that I was going to ask--I
want you to promise me you won't give Banks Bradford any
encouragement, any at all.  Oh, I don't mean that you are never to
see him again.  I am not such a fool as to expect that or to ask
it.  If you two young idiots are in love with each other, if it
isn't the temporary attack I hope it is, you will come together by
and by and no amount of good advice from sane, sensible people can
prevent it.  All I am asking of you now, so far as he is concerned,
is that for the present you will be very circumspect.  There
mustn't be any more of those walks together, nor any touching good-
bys at the door.  I don't ask you to break with him altogether--not
now, certainly.  You may be friends, but you must keep him--well,
literally at arm's length.  Particularly there must be no excuse
for jealousy on the part of any one else."

"Jealousy!  Grandmother, what are you talking about?"

"I am talking of jealousy at the moment.  Last evening I had to
answer some fairly sharp questions concerning your--er--friendship
for that young man.  I flatter myself that I answered them rather
well, but there must be no excuse for my having to answer more."

Elizabeth's color came back with a rush.  She straightened in her
chair.  "Who asked you questions about me?" she demanded hotly.
"Who?"

Mrs. Truman smiled.  "Well now, who do you think would be likely to
ask them?" she inquired.  "Use your brain, child; it will save time
for both of us."

"Was it Chris Trent?  Did he dare--"

"Sh-h-h!  Mercy, what a pepper pot you are!  Yes, of course it was
Chris.  He likes you, my dear.  Surely you know that by this time."

"Likes me!  If you mean--  Well, I don't like him.  He is--he--  I
won't talk about him.  Not in that way, I won't."

"Then I will, for just a few minutes.  I am sorry you don't like
him--or think now that you don't--because he must not know it.
Really, Elizabeth, there are worse men than our Christopher.  I
know most of his faults, for I have known him for a long time, but
he isn't so bad.  He is settling down now.  And, child, he has
money; will have a great deal if--if all goes well."

"His money doesn't interest me.  And he doesn't either.  He is
nothing to me."

"I know, but I am pretty sure he hopes to be--more.  If you married
him--"

"Married HIM!  Grandmother, you can't be serious.  He is an old
man."

"Not so very.  Only forty-two, I believe."

"That is twenty years older than I am.  Don't be so ridiculous!"

"Not in the least ridiculous, young woman.  Captain Truman was
twenty years older than I, but we got along beautifully.  Very much
better, I am sure, than if we had been the same age."

"Oh, how can you!  When I am forty-two he would be--"

"He would be sixty-two.  A very comfortable arrangement.  At that
age a husband must be indulgent to a wife so much younger--he is
afraid not to be. . . .  There, there! let me have my joke; you
children are so absurdly serious.  As for ages--I ask you this,
Elizabeth:  Where will your precious Banks be when HE is forty-two?
He will be right here, a country lawyer in a little, narrow,
bigoted country town.  There will be no European trips for his
wife, indeed there won't!  She can stay at home and do the family
mending--oh, there will be a family; there always is in such cases!
His wife will be washing dishes and sweeping floors, and for social
excitement she can go to circle meetings and church sociables. . . .
There, there!  I've said enough--too much, perhaps.  Elizabeth,
I am not asking you to marry Chris Trent."

"I hope you are not!" was the scornful comment.

"I am not; I'm not even asking you to try and fall in love with
him, although I tell you frankly I should shed no tears if you did.
No, nor even if you married him without being very much in love
with him.  Love isn't everything, far from it.  I have been in love
myself more than once, and each time I have been sorry for it
afterward.  My first marriage was a love match, and the happiness
didn't last long.  And afterward, when the Lord knew I was old
enough to be sane, I nearly made a bigger mistake than that for
what I thought was love. . . .  Love!  Bah!"

She snorted in bitter disgust.  Elizabeth shuddered.  Mrs. Truman
drew a long breath.

"Then," she continued, "I married Captain Truman; as I said, a
safe, sensible, comfortable business arrangement. . . .  Ah, hum!
Now you are glaring at me as if I were a--a Jezebel.  Dear, dear!
it is poor policy to speak the truth, that's a fact."

She rose, went over and, stooping, kissed the girl's cheek.

"Don't glare," she said soothingly.  "And don't hate me, dear;
please don't.  I am very fond of you in spite of my--er--
worldliness.  Your hardened Jezebel grandmother has her soft spots,
and you are the softest of them.  Remember, I am not asking you to
commit murder by breaking your precious Bradford boy's heart.  And
I am not asking you to fall in love with Chris.  Keep them both
dangling for the present, if you can; that will be best, perhaps.
There must not--there MUST not be any trouble between them just
now, nor between Chris and ourselves.  Will you promise me to help
to that extent, Elizabeth?"

Elizabeth did not reply.  Mrs. Truman waited a moment.  Then she
added quietly but with significance, "It might help to convince me
that there is a meaning in that word 'gratitude' you mentioned a
few minutes ago."

It was the right touch, of course, and the girl responded to it.
She seized her grandmother's hand.  "Oh, I am grateful," she said
chokingly.  "I am.  And I--I will try to do what I can.  But oh, I
don't understand."

Mrs. Truman stroked her hair.  "Of course you don't, my dear.
There," she finished with a sigh of relief, "the medicine has been
given.  Now for the candy.  Elizabeth, you need some new clothes;
so do I.  We need to get this horrible salt-water fog out of our
heads.  Two months of Denboro at this season of the year is enough
to make a hermit commit suicide from sheer lonesomeness.  Shopping,
theaters, some good music and company that is alive--those are what
we need, and we are going to have them.  A fortnight in New York
will put us on our feet.  We start day after to-morrow."

Elizabeth looked up.  For the first time since the beginning of the
interview she looked as if she were going to smile in spite of
herself.  "Grandmother," she said with a shake of the head, "I
wonder at you.  I didn't suppose you could be so transparent."

Mrs. Truman laughed.  "Transparent?" she repeated.  "Yes, it is
partly to get you out of the way of--temptation, that's true.  But
it isn't altogether that.  I cannot stand this deadness any longer
without a recess.  I am going on a spree, and I need you to help
enjoy it. . . .  Oh, I can't afford the money, of course--just now;
but that shan't make any difference.  The happiest times of my life
have been those I couldn't afford."



CHAPTER XIV


That forenoon was a very long one for Banks Bradford.  It should
not have been, for the new attorney of the Ostable National Bank
had work enough to do, goodness knows.  The trouble was that he
found it hard to concentrate upon that work, important as it was.

The only subjects upon which his mind seemed perversely determined
to concentrate had nothing whatever to do with banks or
shareholders or mergers.  There were letters to be written and
answers to letters to be read and considered, and he would set his
teeth and square his shoulders over them and then, a few minutes
later, his pen would stop moving and his thoughts go drifting away
in another daydream--drifting always in one direction, that of a
certain house on the Old Ostable Road.

He came back from dinner to find Christopher Trent awaiting him in
the hall outside his office door.  It seemed to Banks that his
employer's greeting was less genial than usual.  He took his
accustomed chair by the desk, but although he was smoking he did
not offer his attorney a cigar.  His questioning, when he began it,
was brusque and to the point.

"Well?" he asked.  "What have you got to report?  What have you
done since I saw you last?"

Banks told of the letters he had written and the answers he had
received.

Trent did not seem greatly interested.  "Have you seen old Bartlett
yet?" he asked.

"No, sir; not yet."

"Well, why haven't you?  He is your principal job.  What have you
been doing for the past four days--and nights?"

"I have been writing those letters, and yesterday I went down to
see Mrs. Henry Gallup about her two shares.  She would rather sell,
I think, but perhaps--"

Trent struck the top of the tambour desk a blow with his palm.
"Jane Gallup be hanged!" he broke in.  "What does she amount to?"

"But I thought--"

"Who asked you to think?  I told you what we expected you to do,
didn't I?  Come, come, Bradford!  I guess you don't understand,
after all.  The reason I--the reason my bank picked out a young
fellow like you is because we figured you were a hustler who would
pitch in and work--days, nights, all the time.  Now if all you are
going to do is sit around this office daytimes and 'think' and
write letters; and"--with a sneer--"spend your Sundays taking walks
and your evenings making calls, it won't do, that's all.  It isn't
what you are paid for."

His face had grown steadily redder as he said it.  Banks was
astonished, but he was more than that--he was angry too.  There was
a hot retort at his lips, but he choked it back by main strength.
Losing his temper was an expensive luxury that he must not indulge
in if he could help it.

"I am sorry you feel that way about it, Mr. Trent," he said
stiffly.  "I have not meant to waste time.  Last night's call was
the first I have made since you employed me."

Trent appeared to be rather ashamed of himself.  "Humph!  Oh, well;
that's all right, I guess," he muttered.  "Sorry, Bradford; I'm
flying off the handle, I know.  The fact is this eternal wait,
wait, wait is getting on my nerves.  What our crowd and the Denboro
gang have kept under cover so long is beginning to be whispered
around.  Over in my own town this morning I was held up and
questioned.  If it isn't settled soon I'll be fighting with my best
friends.  When do you think you can see Bartlett?"

"I intended trying to see him to-morrow.  He has been up in New
Bedford, I believe, but they expect him back to-day.  If I don't
catch him the first time I shall keep on trying till I do."

"Fine!  That's the way I like to hear you talk.  You see, I may
have to go away myself, worse luck.  There is some business out in--
well, out West a way, that I ought to attend to, and I may get a
wire any minute.  I hate to leave with this bank game still up in
the air.  If you can nail Bartlett, with the block of Denboro stock
he owns, the deal is as good as through.  He's your big fish; get
after him."

He looked at his watch and rose to his feet.

"I must be on my way," he announced.  "I am supposed to go for a
ride with--with a young lady friend this afternoon, and she'll be
disappointed if I am late.  She counts on those rides. . . .  You
don't ride, yourself; eh, Bradford?"

"No."

"Ha, ha!  No, I suppose not.  Horses and their keep do cost money,
that's a fact.  Never mind, you'll come to it in time.  That's what
I tell Elizabeth.  She and I talk about you a good deal.  You and
your job are--well, sort of pet hobbies of hers just now.  It
pleases her to think she is helping me give a deserving fellow a
chance to make good.  Women are like that; they enjoy playing the
Lady Bountiful act. . . .  Well, good-by."

At the door he paused.  Apparently there was something else he was
considering saying.  He did not say it, however.  After an
instant's hesitation he turned and left the office.  Banks gazed
after him in a frame of mind divided between anger, resentment and--
yes, triumph.  He believed he understood now what was behind Mr.
Trent's bad temper, his sneering references to walks and calls.

He was jealous, that was it; jealous of him, Banks Bradford.  And--
he thrilled again at the memory of that moment in the Truman hall--
he had reason to be.  Yes, by George, he had!

The next afternoon, immediately after dinner, he tramped the long
three miles to the Bartlett homestead.  It was a cold walk, a
gloomy winter day, with the wind sweeping in over the drifting ice
in the bay and driving ragged clouds before it.  Nevertheless, he
enjoyed the exercise, and when he turned in under the bare,
threshing silver-leaf poplars in Hezekiah's front yard he was in a
glow.

Julia Bartlett--Cousin Hettie and Uncle Bije would have called her
"Julie M."--opened the door in answer to his knock.  She was
Hezekiah's cousin and his housekeeper.  Yes, she admitted a little
doubtfully, Mr. Bartlett was at home; he got back from New Bedford
the night before.

"But I don't know's he'll want to see you nor nobody else just
now," she added, lowering her voice and speaking behind her hand.
"He went up to New Bedford to some kind of meetin' or other.  He
belongs to a sort of--of lodge, I guess 'tis--of old-timers like
him who used to go whalin' when they was young.  He goes once a
year, when they a doin's--a banquet and the like of that.  'The
Sperm Ile Club' is the name of the thing.  Lord knows what they do
up to them reunions, but I do know that I never see him come home
yet that he wasn't all headaches and dyspepsy and so cranky he
ain't fit to live in the house with.  He is upstairs in his bedroom
now.  I'll tell him you're here, Mr. Bradford, but don't blame me
if he sends word for you to go back home as fast as you can travel.
He's liable to."

She returned from her trip to the second floor, looking a trifle
surprised and more than a trifle ruffled.

"Well?" laughed Banks.  "Am I ordered home?"

Julie M. sniffed.  "No, you ain't, for a miracle," she replied.
"You're to go up and see him.  Well"--with a sigh--"you can go, I
suppose, if you want to, but _I_ won't be responsible for what sort
of reception you get; so be it on top of your own head, as
Scriptur' says.  Straight through the hall and upstairs."

Mr. Bartlett was seated in a rocking-chair by his bedroom window.
His scanty gray hair was tousled, he was wearing a flowered
dressing gown of the period of the 60's, and ancient carpet
slippers of the same vintage were on his feet.  There was a pillow
behind his head, and a plate of milk toast and a teapot and cup
were on a table beside him.  He glanced at his visitor over his
spectacles.

"Well, what fetched you way over here?" he demanded.  "Anything
gone wrong with that deed you was handlin' for me?"

Banks assured him that all connected with the deed was going well.
"Sorry you are under the weather, Mr. Bartlett," he added.

The old man snorted.  "Who wouldn't be under the weather?" he
wanted to know.  "I'd be all right if I had what I'd ought to have
to eat.  I told her"--with a jerk of his thumb toward the lower
floor--"to fetch me a cup of black coffee and a fried salt mack'rel
soon's I woke up.  Salt mack'rel is what I needed and what I
wanted.  And look what she fetched," he finished with a scornful
gesture toward the toast.  "Gape-and-swallow, that's what _I_ call
it!"

Banks said it was too bad.  "I came to talk over a rather important
matter, Mr. Bartlett," he went on.  "Perhaps you don't feel up to
that sort of thing just now."

"Up!  I feel up to anything but that blasted toast.  Take off your
coat and sit down."

Banks sat.  Then he took from his pocket a packet of papers and
laid them on the table beside the toast.  To his surprise, Mr.
Bartlett, after a glance at the papers, began to chuckle.

"I thought so," he observed.  "Soon's she said you was downstairs I
guessed what 'twas for. . . .  Well, how do you like your new job?"

Banks looked up in surprise.  "My new job?" he repeated.

"That's what I said.  How do you like bein' Chris Trent's hired
man?  That's what you are, ain't you?  Or lawyer for that one-horse
bank of his, which amounts to the same thing."

"For heaven's sake!  Mr. Bartlett, how did you know that?"

Hezekiah seemed hugely amused.  His chuckle was long this time.
"There, there," he continued, "don't have a shock of palsy.  I
heard it over to New Bedford.  There are a couple of Ostable
fellows in that whalin' club of ours, and one of 'em whispered it
to me--strictly confidential, of course."

"But how did he know?  Did he know about the--the rest of it?"

"The merger or whatever you call it?  Sure he did!  Somebody had
told him about that over a week ago; told him in dead secret, which
was why he was tellin' it to me.  Half of Ostable County knows by
this time, and the other half'll know it to-morrow.  You can't keep
a thing like that hid always; there's been guesses and hints flyin'
around for a month.  Well, well"--irritably--"that don't make any
difference.  Why did Chris and his crowd pick a young green hand
like you to be lawyer for 'em?  That was what puzzled the Ostable
fellow."

Banks shook his head.  "It is what has puzzled me," he admitted
candidly.  "I don't understand it yet, Mr. Bartlett."

Hezekiah chuckled again.  "Don't you?" he said.  "Well, I cal'lated
I understood right off, though I didn't tell that fellow so.  I'm
your answer to that conundrum--me and my hundred and five shares of
Denboro Bank stock.  Oh, they're shrewd enough, that crew.  They
knew I'd been puttin' a little mite of business your way lately;
and that, bein' as I used to be a good friend of your father's, I
might be soft enough to do for you what I wouldn't do for old Bangs
and some of the rest of 'em--that is, hand over my stock and say
'Go ahead.'  They sent you down here to palaver me into doin' just
that, didn't they?  Yes, course they did. . . .  Huh!  Well, there
we are!"

There they were--yes.  But just where was that?  Banks Bradford's
carefully prepared plan of procedure in this fateful interview was
already badly shattered.  Bartlett knew why he had come; had been
expecting him.  Also judging by the old man's sneers and scornful
chuckles he was in no receptive mood.

Banks drew a long breath.  "Well, Mr. Bartlett," he began; but
Hezekiah interrupted him.

"Sho, sho!" he snapped crossly.  "Don't waste time.  No use goin'
over all the arguments that Bije Bradford and half a dozen of 'em
have been shootin' my way.  I've heard 'em all, and I've give the
same answer to every one of 'em.  That answer so far is no.  I'm
satisfied with things just as they are.  The Denboro Bank is
earnin' me good dividends on my stock, and I don't see any use
takin' chances.  The Ostable Bank may be all right, or it may not.
Let well enough alone, that's my motto."

"But Mr. Bartlett, you know as well as I do that one strong bank in
this neighborhood will be--"

"Sh-h-h, sh-h-h!  Don't you suppose I've heard all that before?
Look here, boy; what's in them papers you just laid down there?
Statements of condition and capital and earnin's and all that, I
presume likely; eh?"

"Why, yes, sir."

"Chris Trent give 'em to you, of course. . . .  No, no, I don't
want to see 'em.  I've seen 'em enough. . . .  Humph!  Is there
amongst 'em a list of the paper his Ostable concern is carryin'?
Loans, notes, and the like of that?"

"Yes, sir"--eagerly.  "It is right there."

"Yes--well, I've seen that too.  Go over there to that top bureau
drawer and you'll find my copy of that list, with a memorandum
pinned onto it.  Bring it to me, will you?"

The list and the memorandum were brought.  Hezekiah adjusted his
spectacles.

"Now you take that copy of yours off the table and we'll check up
for a minute," he said.  "You read 'em off.  Skip the little
fellows and them that are secured by collateral.  Give me the
rest."

Banks began reading.  There were many small loans, most of them
local and amply secured.  Then came three which were larger.

"Farraday Liquidation Company," he read.  "Four months' note for
twenty thousand dollars, dated November first."

Bartlett interrupted.  "No collateral behind that, is there?" he
asked.

"Why, no, sir, but--"

"Who's it endorsed by?"

"Christopher Trent and Maybelle Truman.  Mr. Trent explained about
that.  It--"

"I know, I know.  The Farraday Company is one that old Benjamin
Trent and Elijah Truman started when they was out West in the 80's.
Buyin' up assets of other concerns--land and machinery and that
sort of stuff; buyin' em cheap and sellin' 'em afterward high.
They made a barrel of money out of it, too, I guess.  Heave ahead!"

"The Comet Developing Company, four months' note for twenty
thousand, dated December tenth.  It is endorsed by A. S. Billings;
he is a capitalist out there--Mr. Trent mentioned that to me.  And
Mr. Trent himself has endorsed it also."

"Yup, so I notice.  What does that concern do for a livin'; do you
know?"

"Yes, sir, in a general way.  It has very large holdings of real
estate and buildings about the city of Blankton."

"Um-hum.  All right.  Go on.  There's one more big fellow."

"The Western World Sales Company.  That is in another state.  I
don't know so much about that, except that Mr. Trent assured me it
was a very successful corporation."

"Yes--yes--yes!  And that's for another twenty thousand, and Chris
and Lije's widow's names are on the back of it, same as the fust
one.  What's Maybelle Truman doin' so much endorsin' for?  Her
notion of fun, is it?"

Banks laughed.  "She is a heavy shareholder in the Ostable Bank,"
he said.  "She has four hundred shares, I believe."

"Yup.  And Chris has got six hundred.  There's only fifteen hundred
in the whole capitalization, and Trent and Truman own a thousand
between 'em."

"Yes, sir, but old Mr. Trent--Benjamin I mean--and Captain Elijah
founded the Ostable Bank.  They were its organizers in the
beginning."

"Um, hum, so they was.  You've got an answer to everything, ain't
you?  Well, I remember when old Cap'n Lije came to me asking me to
subscribe to some shares in that bank--that was at the beginnin'
too.  I wouldn't take a cent's worth, by godfreys!"

"But why, Mr. Bartlett?"

"'Cause I'd known them fellows for a long spell; knew 'em when they
was sailin' ships out of Boston.  I wouldn't trust either of 'em
fur's I could sight 'em with a spyglass."

Banks stiffened.  "They were my father's partners," he said rather
crisply.  "I don't think father would have associated himself with
them if they had not been perfectly honest."

"Humph!  Well, maybe not.  But you notice that he died poor and
they died rich."

"They made their money after his death--in this very Farraday
Company, and others like it, I understand.  But that doesn't make
any difference, Mr. Bartlett, does it?  It is all past history."

"Sartin 'tis, but you can larn considerable from history sometimes.
Well, well, I don't care about what's dead and gone.  I'll be dead
and gone myself afore many years; yes"--with rising indignation--
"and a darned sight sooner than that if all I get given me to eat
is sick folks' slops like tea and toast.  Bah! . . .  There,
there," he added with an impatient wave of the hand, "keep still a
minute.  I want to think."

Banks obeyed orders and kept still.  Hezekiah frowningly looked out
of the window.  Then he turned to face his visitor.

"Boy," he said, "you might as well understand that I had made up my
mind not to have anything to do with this bank get-together game.
I'm collectin' my six per cent on them hundred and five shares of
mine and the stock is worth a good many dollars more than I paid
for it.  They can tell me stock in the combination bank will climb
to the top of Mount Ararat, or such matter--I don't care.  You
can't climb like that without takin' some risk, and I don't have to
take risks; I can afford not to.  They can't do any combinin'
without me, and it--well, it kind of tickled me to sit still and
let 'em blow on their fingers. . . .  Humph," he ended with a
chuckle, "judgin' by your face you think I'm a selfish old dog in
the manger.  That's what you are thinkin', ain't it?"

It was; but Banks, of course, protested that he had not thought
anything of the kind.

Mr. Bartlett continued to chuckle.  "Well," he observed, "it's
partly my manger, so I've got as much right in it as the rest of
'em, I cal'late.  Anyhow I be hanged if I was goin' to have
Benjamin Trent's grandson crowdin' in on my hay. . . .  Humph!
Think I'm prejudiced, don't you?"

Banks' answer was more frank than diplomatic this time.  "Why, yes,
Mr. Bartlett," he said.  "I do."

Hezekiah did not appear to resent the frankness.  "Maybe you're
right, at that," he admitted.  "Still, a fellow my age has to have
some fun, and I was havin' it. . . .  And now you've come into the
mess and changed things all around.  Did you know that?"

"Why, I don't see--"

"Never mind," interrupted the other testily.  "I say you have.  To
begin with, you're Silas Bradford's boy, and I thought a sight of
Silas.  Then, too, I've seen consider'ble of you, and I've took a--
a--well, a shine to you for your own sake.  This job the Ostable
crowd has given you is your first big one, and it means a lot to
you, I know. . . .  So"--with an emphatic nod--"I've been thinkin'
it all over and I've decided to change my mind.  I'll come in on
the deal, stock and all--"

Banks could repress his feelings no longer.  "You will!" he cried.
"Oh, by George, that's splendid!  I'm sure you won't regret it, Mr.
Bartlett.  And I can't begin to tell you how obliged I am."

"Hush!  Hush, can't you!  I haven't finished yet.  I'll come in, I
say, provided you can satisfy me that this paper--them three big
notes in particular--that the Ostable Bank is carryin' are what
they pretend to be.  You do that, and bring me proof of it, and
I'll vote to have the Denboro National take over t'other one.  But
I won't unless you do.  See what I mean, boy?"

Banks did not see at all.  This seemed absolute nonsense to him.
The Denboro Bank people had examined all the Ostable outstanding
loans very carefully, he declared.  Judge Bangs and the directors
had approved them.  The bank examiner--

The old man cut him short.  "Bunkum!" he snorted.  "The bank
examiner is honest--yes, and capable enough, I don't doubt.  And
Bangs is a stubborn mule, but he's honest too.  Honesty ain't the
thing here.  'Cordin' to what I can larn them loans have been
standin' for some time; notes been renewed over and over?"

"Yes, sir.  But they are the best kind of loans.  The interest is
always paid regularly.  As for security, why, Mr. Trent's and Mrs.
Truman's endorsements alone are--"

"Here, here!  Now you've put your finger on the button.  That's
just it.  In this town, and in Ostable and the whole county, when
you say Trent or Truman you're sayin' Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
Anything with them two names, or either of 'em, on it has passed
for gospel for fifteen years.  Nobody--bank examiner nor nobody
else--is goin' to pry into any note with those Bible names on the
back of it.  Nobody but me; and all creation will tell you what a
darn crank _I_ am."

"But, Mr. Bartlett, surely you don't mean to suggest that those
notes are not good?"

"I don't suggest nothin'.  And I don't take nothin' for granted,
neither.  I want to KNOW.  Banks Bradford, you listen:  Here's
three notes tottin' up to sixty thousand dollars made out by
concerns out West somewheres and held and carried by a little
shoestring bank down East here.  Why?  Oh, I know that one of 'em
is the Farraday Company, and Chris Trent's grandfather was
interested in it.  But who except Chris himself knows even as much
as that about the other two?  Sixty thousand is a lot of money.
The Ostable National's capital is one hundred and fifty thousand,
and its surplus is another fifty.  That's what 'tis on paper, and
it's the basis the Denboro Bank--MY bank--is figurin' on when it
takes it over.  I've got to be satisfied that it's really there and
ain't liable to no sixty thousand shrinkage by and by, after it's
too late and the deal's made.  I tell you I want to know."

Banks' patience was sorely tried.  This perverse old curmudgeon,
with his hatred of dead men and envy of and prejudice against
living ones, was hard to treat with good-natured tolerance.  And
yet he must conceal his feelings; he must appear anxious to please.
Everything depended on it.

"I see, Mr. Bartlett," he said.  "Now just what do you wish me to
do?"

Hezekiah turned to look at him.  "I'll tell you," he said
earnestly.  "I want you, on your own hook, to get in touch with
somebody, or a set of somebodies, out in those places where these
notes come from and have them learn all they can about this
Farraday Company and the--what d'ye call it?--All Outdoor Peddlin'
Company and t'other one.  Get a good inside private report on 'em,
all three.  Then you fetch that report to me.  If it's satisfyin'
and--and healthy I'll give you my promise to turn in my Denboro
stock, and your dratted bank swap can go through. . . .  There!
will that do you, young fellow?"

"Indeed it will!  Yes, sir.  And Mr. Bartlett, I realize you are
doing this just to help me, and I--"

"Sho, sho! . . .  You're right, though; I AM doin' it to help you.
If it wan't for you I'd stay out and stand pat and let the whole
lot of 'em whistle.  You'll get that report, will you?"

"Certainly, sir.  That will be easy.  So far as that goes I can
probably get it from Mr. Trent himself."

"Here, here"--sharply.  "No, you don't.  That ain't in the dicker.
You won't get it from Chris Trent.  Unless you agree to do this for
me on the quiet the whole trade's off, and we're right back where
we started from.  That's understood, is it?"

Banks hesitated.  He did not know how to answer.  Christopher Trent
and the Ostable Bank were his employers now, and it seemed to him
that a question of professional ethics was involved.  Bartlett was
watching him intently, and it may be that he guessed his caller's
thought.

"See here, youngster," he went on, "Trent and his gang ain't bought
you body and soul, have they?  'Twan't part of your agreement with
them that you shouldn't take any outside business?"

"Why, no, sir.  I don't think it was."

"All right, all right.  You was my lawyer afore they hired you.  No
reason why you can't be mine now, so fur as this report job is
concerned.  You're gettin' it for me, not for them.  I'll pay you
for your work and time."

Banks still hesitated.  The question of ethics still troubled him.
He would not be disloyal.  But after all, was it disloyal?  Trent's
one overwhelming desire was to push the merger through; nothing
else counted beside that--he had said so.  And Hezekiah Bartlett
had made it clear that the obtaining of these perfectly needless
and superfluous reports was an essential to his consent.  Without
them he would stand pat in his refusal.

Banks made up his mind.  "All right, Mr. Bartlett," he said with a
smile.  "You can't pay me, of course, but I'll do my best to get
the information you want."

"Humph!  Good enough! . . .  Well, I cal'late that's all I can
stand just now.  This cussed head of mine is bangin' like a tin
shop.  No wonder, with nothin' in my stomach but disappointed
hopes.  You run along. . . .  And say, on your way out you tell
that woman of mine to fetch me up that salt mack'rel and coffee and
do it on the jump, unless she wants me to come down there askin'
why.  Tea and toast!  Gape-and-swallow!  Bah!"



CHAPTER XV


Cousin Hettie called at the Bradford cottage that evening.  So,
too, as it happened, did Captain Abijah.  Banks did not mention his
call upon old Mr. Bartlett, and he did his best to keep the subject
of what the latter had so contemptuously called the "bank swap" out
of the conversation.

It would not stay out altogether, of course.  Cousin Hettie dragged
it in.  She had a long tale to tell of more trouble with Mr. Payson,
her lodger, and before she finished the names of Christopher Trent
and "our Silie" were mentioned.

Banks paid little heed to the recital of Mr. Payson's outrageous
demands and Henrietta's righteous protests.  It seemed that the
lodger was still grumbling because the Franklin grate was not
supplying heat as he thought it should.  "Nobody could have been
nicer than I was to him.  I always try to be genteel and ladylike
to everybody--you know that, Margaret--and so when he came
downstairs on his way out to breakfast I said, 'Well, Mr. Payson,'
I said, 'and how are you this winter morning?  I hope you slept
well.'

"He smiled at me--one of those aggravating smiles of his that don't
get up his face any farther than the top of his teeth--and he says
'Thank you, Miss Bradford,' he says, 'I slept pretty well.  I
dreamed I was a polar bear, all covered with fur and sitting on a
cake of ice.  I was sorry when I woke up.'  'Sorry!' I said.
'Mercy me!  I shouldn't think anybody'd be sorry to wake up from
that kind of dream.'  'I was,' he said, 'I missed the fur.'  Now
what do you think of such talk as that!"

Captain Abijah broke out with a joyful "Ha, Ha!"

Cousin Hettie glared at him and went on.  "And that wasn't all,"
she sputtered.  "Indeed it wasn't!  He turned just at the door and
said smiling all the time--I do believe he knows there's nothing
makes me so mad as that everlasting polite smile of his--'By the
way, Miss Bradford,' he says, 'thank you for sending up the hot
water last evening.  I used part of it and then set the kettle on
top of the stove to keep for morning.  That was a mistake.'  I
didn't know what he meant.  'Why was it a mistake?' I asked him.
'Because it froze,' he said; and went off before I could think up
the answer he'd ought to have had."  Hettie glared at the hilarious
Abijah.  "You think that--that impudent--er--er--sauce is funny, I
presume likely.  You would!  Sit there and laugh!"

"I ain't laughin'.  I'm cryin'.  Can't you see I'm wipin' my eyes.
You're breakin' my heart, Hettie.  Say, that Franklin stove of
yours must be what you'd call an all-the-year-round convenience.
You can use it for an ice chest in summer."

Banks heard but a little of all this.  His thoughts were wandering
toward the house on the Old Ostable Road.  Tomorrow evening he
meant to wander there in the body.  It was the mention of his own
name which a few minutes later caught his attention.

"So," Cousin Hettie was saying, "when Susan Badger said that to me,
I told her I wasn't at liberty to talk.  'Mr. Trent has hired our
Silie to be his lawyer.'  I told her.  'There's no use my denyin'
that.'  And there wasn't either, because the news is all over town
and everybody knows it.  But when she asked me if I knew the
insides of this other talk about the Denboro National buying out
the Ostable Bank, I just shook my head.  'I know what I know,' says
I, 'but my tongue is tied.'  She looked so astonished!"

"Humph!" snorted Abijah.  "Yes, I should think she might."

"Eh?"--suspiciously.  "What was that?"

"Oh, nothin', nothin'.  You're right, though, Hettie; the news is
out.  Somebody's told tales out of school, and there's the craziest
yarns floatin' around that I ever heard. . . .  Humph!  It can't be
helped, I suppose, but the sooner we're free to publish the truth
in the Item the better 'twill be.  Banks, I know you can't answer
questions--I don't expect you to; but--hang it all, you're--you're
hopeful, ain't you?"

Banks laughed.  "Yes, Uncle Abijah," he said.  "I am decidedly
hopeful."

After the callers had gone and he was alone in his own room he sat
for hours thinking of the promise he had given Bartlett and of how,
in the quickest and most thorough manner, it could be carried out.
He must communicate at once with some one--some bank or lawyer or
credit agency in the city of Blankton, where the Farraday
Liquidation Company had its offices--and ask for complete
information concerning that company and the two others whose notes
were carried by the Ostable Bank.  And after a time he had an
inspiration.

Mr. John Davidson, the uncle of his college friend, the friend whom
he had visited in the West the previous summer, lived in Colesburg,
which was not so very far from Blankton.  It was this Mr. Davidson
for whom he had done the bit of legal work which had resulted in
his receiving the check for "expenses," the money which he had used
in buying his office furniture from Tadgett.

Davidson was, so his friend had told him, a prominent business man
in Colesburg.  Why not write to him, telling him what he wished to
learn?  If Davidson could not or did not care to get the
information himself he could turn the matter over to some one whose
business it was to make researches of that kind.  The more he
considered the idea the better it seemed.  He determined to write
to Mr. Davidson the very next day.

And in his office next morning he did that very thing.  He wrote
and rewrote the letter several times before it satisfied him.  When
at last it was signed and sealed he went out to the post office to
mail it.  And there drawn up by the curb in front of the post
office, was the Truman span and carriage, with the driver on the
box and Elizabeth Cartwright on the rear seat within.  She was
alone.

He hesitated.  Then he stepped across the sidewalk and spoke to
her.  She had been looking in the opposite direction, but as he
spoke her name she turned and saw him standing there, his hand upon
the handle of the carriage door.

They had not met since that evening--THE evening.  Banks' face
flushed and his breath caught in his throat.  There was no doubt
now as to his feeling.  He was madly, wildly in love with her.
There had been brief intervals since he closed the Truman front
gate behind him when remembrance of his mother's advice, of the
differences in their worldly position, his poverty and her riches,
had caused him to clench his teeth and to decide that he must be
crazy to dream she could ever be his.  But all these were forgotten
now, as he saw her sitting there, dainty, alluring, wonderful.  And
for a moment she had been his.  She had; and she had not resisted.

Through the glass of the door she was looking at him.  The color
was flooding her cheeks and her eyes were shining.  And then she
drew back into the shadow.  He opened the door.

"Elizabeth!" he said again.

Her answer--its words and tone--surprised and disappointed him.
"Why, good morning," she said.  "How do you do?"

The winter sunshine was very bright outside upon the walk, and the
interior of the closed carriage was dark by contrast.  He leaned
forward, trying to see her more clearly.

"Elizabeth," he said for the third time; and then, anxiously, "Why,
what is it?  Aren't you--  Why, what is the matter?"

She did not answer at once.  And when she did there was that same
constraint, that decidedly unsatisfactory lack of eagerness in her
reply.  "Nothing is the matter," she said.  "I am waiting for
grandmother.  She has gone into the post office."

He thought he did understand then.  Her grandmother was with her,
that explained it.  He lowered his voice.  "I have been crazy to
see you," he whispered.  "I had planned to come up to-night.  May
I?  Are you going to be at home?"

Again she seemed to hesitate.  "Why, no," she said.  "I am not."

"Oh!"--in sharp disappointment.  "That's too bad.  Well, I suppose
I can wait another twenty-four hours, though I don't know how.
I'll come to-morrow night, then."

She shook her head.  "I am not going to be at home then, either."

"You're not!  Good Lord! . . .  Why--well, then--Sunday.  If it is
good weather we can have our walk, can't we?"

"No-o, I'm afraid not.  You see--"

"Yes?  Yes?"

"You see--well, you see, grandmother and I--  Oh, here is
grandmother now!"

Mrs. Truman was rustling down the post-office steps.  Banks turned
reluctantly toward her.  He had never wanted to see any one less.

"Good morning, Mrs. Truman," he said.

Mrs. Truman peered at him through her eyeglasses.  "Oh, how do you
do, Banks?" she said graciously.  "How is our brilliant young
lawyer?  And how are the affairs in the financial world
progressing?"

Banks murmured that he guessed they were progressing, more or less.

"Let us hope rather more than less.  Has Elizabeth told you of our
little--er--excursion?"

The girl broke in.  "I haven't had time to tell him anything,
Grandmother," she said.

"Oh, I see!  Well, we are going on a little vacation, she and I.
We are fleeing from the--er--excitements of Denboro to the calm of
the outside world. . . .  Mercy! don't look like that.  Why are
people always petrified when I attempt a joke?  Elizabeth confided
to me that she was weary of socials and sewing circles--just as
weary as I am--and so we are running away from them. . . .  Yes,
Dennis?"

The coachman had got down from the box and now he touched her arm.
Mrs. Truman listened to what he had to say.

"Yes, you are right," she agreed with a nod.  "Dennis reminds me,
Elizabeth, that we have several more errands to do and our time is
very limited."

Dennis assisted her into the carriage.  She took the seat nearest
the window, her granddaughter, at her suggestion, moving to the
other side.

"Well, adieu, young man," she said.  "We leave the financial world
in your hands--yours and Christopher's.  He will keep us posted on
your progress.  He is a faithful correspondent.  You know that,
don't you, Elizabeth?"

The driver would have closed the door, but Elizabeth was too quick
for him.  She leaned across the seat and extended her hand.

"Good-by," she said.

Banks seized the hand and held it for one brief instant.  He was
struggling for words, but before he could ask the first of the
questions which were crowding for utterance the hand was withdrawn.
Dennis slammed the door, climbed to his seat and clucked to the
horses.  The Truman carriage moved away from the curb, leaving him
to stare after it in agitated, disconsolate amazement.  He watched
it turn the corner beyond the Malabar Hotel.  Then he slowly
mounted the post-office steps, went in and posted his letter.

He expected a call from Trent that afternoon, but instead came a
telegram.  The boy who brought it down from the railway station
which was also the telegraph office, seemed very much impressed.

"Jiminy, Mr. Bradford," he said, "there's pretty nigh forty words
in that telegrapht.  Eph"--Ephraim Baker was the depot master and
telegraph operator--"Mr. Baker, I mean, he says he bets that's the
longest telegrapht ever come to Denboro.  He says nobody but Chris
Trent would waste money that way.  Anybody else would write a
letter, but not him--no, sir!  When he does a thing he don't care
what it costs.  You bet yer he don't.  Eph says Trent's motto is,
'If you want anything, git it--and darn the expense.'  And he
always does git it, too, so Eph says.  It's great to be rich, ain't
it? . . .  Say, Mr. Bradford, it's lucky for you he didn't send
that telegrapht collect; eh?  You bet yer!"

Trent had wired that--as he had intimated might happen, when he
last saw Banks--he had been summoned by his western correspondent
and was leaving immediately.  "Cannot say how long shall be gone.
Leaving important matter in your hands.  Shall expect find it all
settled on return.  Get H. B. in line.  That your main business
now.  Do not disappoint.  Rely on you."

Banks found himself vaguely wondering if there could be any
connection between the mysterious vacation which Mrs. Truman had
mentioned and the departure of the president of the Ostable Bank.
No, of course there could not be.  Mrs. Truman had said that
Christopher would keep them posted--he was a faithful correspondent,
as her granddaughter knew.  What did that mean?  The intimation was
that Elizabeth was accustomed to receive letters from Trent.  Why
should he write her?  And did she answer his letters?  Elizabeth did
not like Mr. Trent.  She had hinted as much to him--or he thought
she had.

He tried to remember just what she said that evening--that
marvelous evening, the last they had spent together.  She said--why
yes, for one thing she asked if Trent ever made him--Banks--feel as
if he intended to have what he wanted and would have it, in the
end, no matter what any one did or said.  Why, confound it, that
was precisely what Eph Baker said about him, according to the
telegraph boy!  These were not pleasant reflections.

That evening he again rang the Truman bell.  His call was a sort of
forlorn hope.  Elizabeth was going away--yes; but she had not said
when she was going.  If she and her grandmother had not yet left
Denboro she might relent and see him, if only for a few minutes.
At any rate he was going to try to see her.

Mary, the maid, told him that Mrs. Truman and Miss Cartwright had
gone on the afternoon train.  No, she did not know where they had
gone nor when they would return.  No, no message of any kind had
been left for him.  He turned away with the "hope" crushed and
nothing left but the "forlorn."  There was quite enough of that.

Strolling dejectedly homeward, he noticed that the Tadgett sitting-
room windows were alight, and acting on the impulse of the moment
he turned in at the gate.  Ebenezer and his unique brand of
conversation might be temporary antidotes for the sense of
desertion and the misgivings which oppressed him.

He was welcome.  Mr. Tadgett himself opened the door and hailed him
with delight.  "Well, well, well!" he shouted.  "Look who's here!
Yes, yes; you are to goin' to take off your things and stay a
spell.  Here's Sheba, and we been sittin' here lonesome as the last
two crickets in a four-acre lot--nothin' to listen to but our own
squeakin'.  Come in!  Come in!"

Mrs. Tadgett rose to greet him.  Her head, with its layers of
hoods, was as remindful as ever of a pumpkin on a stick.  "How do
you do, Mr. Bradford?" she said graciously.  "We are very glad to
see you.  I was reading out loud to Ebenezer.  I was reading--er--
er--yes, I was reading--what was I reading, Ebenezer?"

"Poetry," replied her husband promptly.  "Book you got out of the
libr'y.  Don't you remember?"

"Yes.  Yes, of course.  Poems by Shelley.  They are lovely.
Ebenezer likes to have me read to him; don't you, Ebenezer?"

"Oh, sure, sure!"

"Yes, I know you do.  What was that poem you liked so much?  That
one I read first?"

Poor Tadgett looked rather puzzled.  "Now let me see," he mused.
"Let me see, now, Sheba. . . .  Er--er--oh, yes! that one about--
about what somebody owed to a--a--skylight, was it?"

Mrs. Tadgett received this suggestion rather vaguely.  She passed
her hand across her forehead.  Banks, catching the appeal in her
husband's eyes, came to the rescue.

"To a Skylark, perhaps," he put in.  "That is a very beautiful
poem, Mrs. Tadgett."

"Yes.  Oh, yes!  It is beautiful.  Beautiful . . . yes."

"Tell you the truth, Banks," said Ebenezer apologetically.  "I'm
afraid I didn't hear as much of them poems as I meant to when I
started in.  I've been workin' hard down to the shop to-day, and
this settin' room is pretty hot, so I--guess likely I dozed off
every now and again. . . .  But don't you fret--I got the sense of
it, Sheba."

Banks asked about the business.  Had he sold any of his treasures
recently?  Tadgett shook his head.

"No, I ain't," he said.  "Nighest I came to it was yesterday when
that Cartwright girl was in.  She see that comb-back chair I traded
Noah Davis' wife the black walnut what-not for.  She liked that
chair, Elizabeth did.  Said maybe, when she got back from where she
and her grandmother was goin' she might save up her pennies and buy
it.  She's a smart girl; she knows what's what."

Banks tried hard to appear only mildly interested.  "Did she say
where she was going?" he asked casually.

"No.  No, she didn't.  But you know all about it, don't you?  Land
sakes!  I was just goin' to ask you where she was bound to.
Supposed you'd know, if anybody did."

The significant wink which accompanied this remark was particularly
irritating to Banks just them.  Possibly Ebenezer noticed that his
facetiousness was not received with enthusiasm, for he went on
without waiting for a reply.

"Anyhow," he said, "they was off on the afternoon train, the pair
of 'em, bag and baggage.  Jotham Gott, he was up to the depot, and
accordin' to him they was totin' dunnage enough to last 'em as fur
as Jericho.  Funny, ain't it, how womenfolk can't go nowheres
without cartin' two, three trunks.  Now a man--  Eh?  Yes, Sheba,
what is it?"

Mrs. Tadgett, who had been listening with a dreamy expression, was
sitting erect in her chair, her forefinger lifted.  "The elephant,"
she said, with the air of one delivering a lecture, "is our largest
animal."

Banks stared at her in bewilderment.  Even Mr. Tadgett's customary
presence of mind, under such circumstances, was jolted.

"Now who in time said a word about elephants?" he gasped.

Mrs. Tadgett paid no attention.  "The elephant," she continued,
"lives in Africa and--and elsewhere.  In--in China, I believe. . . .
China.  We have china plates and cups.  Cups for our tea.  Tea
comes from--yes, tea comes from China.  China is--is where the
carved ivory is made.  Ivory is made from the tusks of elephants.
The elephant is our largest animal."

"Yes, I know.  That's where you started, wasn't it, Sheba?"

"The elephant has a trunk--"

Her husband slapped his knee.  "That's it!" he exclaimed in relief.
"Trunks!  See, don't you, Banks?  I was talkin' about womenfolk
havin' to cart trunks wherever they went.  Trunks reminded you of
elephants, didn't it, Sheba? . . .  Yes, of course; 'twould
anybody.  Speakin' of tea, now maybe Mr. Bradford would like a cup
this cold night.  You've got the kettle right on the stove, Sheba.
Won't be no trouble at all, will it?"

Mrs. Tadgett, after the question was twice repeated, declared that
it would not be the least trouble.  She could make the tea in a
minute.  She rose to do so.  Apparently she had forgotten all about
elephants, nor did she refer to them again.

Banks declined the tea, however.  Soon afterward he rose to go.
Ebenezer accompanied him to the door.  As usual he had a defense
for his wife's idiosyncrasies.

"I'm afraid she reads too much," he whispered.  "When she ain't
readin' to herself she's readin' out loud to me--generally, same as
to-night, somethin' I can't make head nor tail of.  I try to, but
what do I know about this Shellback, or whatever his name is? . . .
Oh, well! she gets so much comfort out of it I don't like to find
fault.  And I realize I'm ignorant, side of her. . . .  I don't
know"--with a sigh--"but sometimes seems as if all this readin'
wan't good for her.  Kind of mixes her up, you understand?  Makes
her fetch in--er--outside things like--well, like elephants and
such."

Banks, who was not particularly interested in elephants--or, at
that moment, in Mrs. Tadgett's reading--asked a question concerning
the matter which was to him all-important.

"Did Mrs. Truman and Miss Cartwright go away alone?" he asked.
"That is--I mean, no one was with them?"

Ebenezer scratched his chin.  "Not as I know of," he replied.
"Jotham never said there was, anyhow.  Oh, yes! come to think of
it, he did say somethin' about hearin' Mrs. Truman mention to
Elizabeth that, more'n likely, Mr. Trent might be takin' the same
train over at the Ostable station.  He was goin' somewhere on a
business trip, she said."

That was enough.  In vain did Banks try to convince himself that
Trent's boarding that train was a mere coincidence.  Each time he
succeeded in doing so he wandered off into further speculation
concerning the letters which the "faithful correspondent" was
expected to write, which in turn brought the unpleasant reminder
that Elizabeth had left no message for him--Banks.  She had gone
without a word; Trent had gone also--and on the same train.  And
so, like Mrs. Tadgett in her discourse on the elephant, he was back
exactly at his starting point.



CHAPTER XVI


For several days thereafter he eagerly looked through his mail,
hoping to find a letter or at least a note from her.  But none
came.  Nor did he hear from Trent.  Fortunately, there was plenty
of work to do, and he labored faithfully from morning till night.

One by one the few holdouts among the small stockholders of the
Ostable Bank were coming into line.  If Davidson would comply with
his request for speed in furnishing the particulars concerning the
three Western corporations and if, as of course they would be,
those particulars were satisfactorily reassuring, then he could
obtain Hezekiah Bartlett's proxy, and the merger would be a settled
thing.  His report to Trent when the latter did return would be
proof that the Ostable Bank had made no mistake in selecting its
new attorney.

His uncle called frequently, at the office as well as at the
cottage.  Captain Abijah asked few questions, and those he did ask
were answered but vaguely.

"All right, all right," said the captain.  "Course you can't tell
me any particulars; I don't expect you to.  Only for thunder sakes
don't discourage me, and do hurry up fast as ever you can.
Everybody in four towns around knows all about the deal by this
time, and most of what they know ain't so.  I get tired of sayin'
no, and I ain't allowed to say yes.  It'll be a comfort, by and by,
to be able to call a lie by its right name."

That every one--in Denboro, at least--did know, or thought they
did, was increasingly apparent.  Silas Bradford's boy had suddenly
become a prominent citizen.  At the post office or along the Main
Road he could not help noticing the winks and whispers which
accompanied his entrance or progress.  People who had paid little
attention to him heretofore now stopped to shake hands.  Eben
Caldwell, proprietor of the general store, slapped him on the back.

"Doin' pretty well, ain't you, Banks?" chuckled Mr. Caldwell.
"Bein' picked out to handle Chris Trent's affairs ought to mean
consider'ble to a young fellow your age.  Oh, well, I ain't
surprised.  I picked you before he did, didn't I?  To collect those
bills of mine, I mean.  Yes; and I said then, 'He'll go far, that
boy will.  He ain't Cap'n Silas' son for nothin'.  You watch him,'
I said.  Say, Banks"--with a confidential nudge--"don't know where
I can get a hold of a couple of shares of Denboro stock, do you?
I'd be willin' to take a chance if I could get 'em cheap.  If you
hear of a chance like that slip it my way, will you?  You won't
lose nothin' by it," he ended with another nudge.

A week passed, and as yet there was no reply from Mr. Davidson.
Then another four days.  The next noon, however, the postmaster
handed Banks a long fat envelope postmarked Colesburg and with the
Davidson name and address in the upper left-hand corner.  Banks put
the envelope in his pocket.  On the office steps he encountered
Eliab Gibbons.

"Hello, Banks!" hailed Eliab.  "Ain't seen much of you lately.
Don't get in to watch them euchre games of ours.  Gee"--with a
broad grin--"you'd have enjoyed the one we had day afore yesterday.
Jotham won seven cents on one hand, and he was screechin' over it
like a loon when old Judge Bangs came into the shop.  He'd drove
over from Bayport to bank meetin' or somethin', and his wife had
asked him to stop in and see if Tadgett had a pair of secondhand
andirons.

"Well, sir, I wish you could have seen Jotham when he realized
'twas the judge.  The way he scrabbled up them cards and the money--
oh, dear!  So scared and excited he dropped a nickel on the floor,
and we had to spend all of ten minutes huntin' for it later on.
Course Ebenezer and I told him the judge had sensed what was goin'
on, and he might expect to be arrested any minute.  I bet you he
ain't slept since.  Haw, haw!  My soul!

"You ain't very sociable up on the Old Ostable Road nuther, so Mrs.
Truman's hired girl told me," he added with another grin.  "Oh,
well.  I cal'late we all understand the reason for that.  Possess
your soul in patience; they'll be back pretty soon, I understand.
Chris Trent's been away, too--of course you know that.  He got back
last night, so the depot master said he heard.  Suppose he'll be
over here to-day to find out how his new hand is keepin' ship. . . .
Say, Banks--  Gosh! you're in a hurry these times, ain't you?"

Back in the office, Banks locked the door against interruption,
seated himself at the tambour desk and tore open the long envelope.
From it he took a packet of closely typewritten sheets.  Evidently
Mr. Davidson had not spared effort in obtaining the information he
wanted.

Then he began to read.  He read the whole--eight long pages--to the
finish.  His hands were trembling when he laid the last page upon
the desk.  He rose, paced the floor for a few moments and then,
coming back, read them all again.

Some one knocked at the door.  His uncle's voice called his name.
He did not answer but remained perfectly still until Captain Abijah
ceased calling and knocking and went away.  Then for the third time
he read the Davidson report.

At three that afternoon the Trent automobile heralded its approach
to Denboro's business center by mighty chuff-chuffs and wheezes.
Captain Abijah peered from his window in the Malabar; Eben Caldwell
ran to the door of his store; so did his clerks and their two
customers.  The postmaster left the monthly statement which he was
laboriously filling out for an exacting and overfussy government.
Ebenezer Tadgett hastened to his front windows.  Half a dozen dogs
burst into excited barking.  A small crowd of interested youths and
boys gathered about the car, to stare and point and exclaim.

In the office of "S. B. Bradford, Attorney at Law," the chuffing
and clanking and squeaking of brakes were faintly audible.  Banks
heard them and realized that they heralded the arrival of his
employer.  He had not gone home to dinner that noon but had sent
word by a messenger that he was too busy to leave and would get a
bite at the hotel.  He had not got that bite, however; he had no
desire for food.  What should he say to Trent when he came?  What
ought he to say--and do?

And now the crisis!  He heard steps in the hall and the latch
rattled.  He rose, turned the key and opened the door.  Christopher
Trent, smartly dressed, hat a-tilt, cigar in mouth, confident and
cocksure as always, bustled into the office.  He greeted its
occupant with his usual semi-facetious condescension.

"Hello, Bradford!" he hailed.  "Here I am, back again."

"Yes, sir," said Banks.

"Here I am, alive and kicking.  And how is the boy wonder?  Busy,
by the looks."

The eight sheets of the Davidson report were spread upon the desk.
Banks lingered to lock the door.  The precaution seemed to amuse
his visitor.

"Afraid of being robbed?" he asked with a laugh.  "Or have you got
something to show me you don't want any one else to see?"

Banks spoke for the first time.  "Yes, sir," he said briefly, "I
have."

Trent was pulling off his overcoat.  He turned to look at the
speaker.  "Humph!" he grunted.  "The devil you say?  What is it?
Nothing gone wrong?"

Banks had gone back to the desk.  Trent tossed his coat across the
back of the chair which Captain Abijah had insisted upon buying for
the use of the "second client," in the unlikely event of there ever
being more than one at a time.  He sat down in the third.

"Well?" he asked sharply.  "What is all this?  You look as if you
had lost your last friend.  Has--here!  Has old Bartlett gone back
on us?  Or haven't you seen him?  Is that it--and you are afraid to
tell me?  Eh?  Is that it?"

Banks shook his head.  "I went down and saw Mr. Bartlett the day
after you left, Mr. Trent," he said.  "I told you I would, and I
did."

"Well?  Well?  Go ahead!"

Banks looked at the papers on the desk before him.  "I saw him," he
went on, "and I put your side of the case as well as I knew how.  I
could tell him nothing new; he knew it all before.  At first I
thought he was going to refuse to have anything to do with the
affair--the Denboro Bank taking over the Ostable Bank, I mean.  He
was, he said, satisfied with the dividends he was getting from his
hundred and five shares of Denboro stock, and he saw no need of his
taking chances."

Trent grunted.  "The fool!" he cried angrily.  "What chance is
there in it?  Chance to clean up on a good thing, that's all."

"He seemed to think there might be a chance somewhere.  Mr. Trent,
he is very much prejudiced against the Trumans and yourself.
Apparently he had some trouble, some difficulty, long ago with your
grandfather and Captain Elijah, and--and--"

"Oh, be hanged!  Is there anybody he hasn't had a fight with?
Come, come!  Cut it short!  What did he say?"

"He said he wouldn't trust either of them--or any one of their
name--as far as he could see them with a spyglass."

Trent's teeth snapped together.  "I'd have broken his neck for him
if he dared say that to me," he snarled.  "Go on!  Go on!  You
didn't let that end it, of course?"

"No, sir!  That was only the beginning.  It is a pretty long story,
and I should like you to hear it all before you say any more.
Then--well, then we can talk the rest of it out together."

"Talk what out?  What in blazes do you mean by that?  What have you
got up your sleeve? . . .  Oh, never mind!  Give me the rest of
it!"

Banks told the story of his long session with Hezekiah Bartlett.
Trent listened without interrupting until the narrator reached the
point where Bartlett mentioned the three notes, aggregating sixty
thousand dollars, which the Ostable Bank was carrying among its
"live paper."  Then he uttered an exclamation.

"Yes, sir?" asked Banks, looking up.

"Nothing!  Nothing!  Go ahead!  And make it quick."

Banks went on, condensing as much as possible.  He told of
Hezekiah's desire to know more about those notes and the
corporations behind them, and of the condition which the old fellow
had imposed as absolutely essential to his consent to the merger.

"That was his ultimatum," he said.  "I must get that information
for him.  If it was satisfactory--to him, I mean--then he would
turn in his Denboro Bank stock and the merger could go through.
Otherwise not."

Trent jumped to his feet.  His face was fiery red.  He leaned
across the desk.  "The old sun of a skunk!" he sputtered
inarticulately.  "You told him to go plumb to blazes, of course?
Sure you did!"

Banks shook his head.  "Why, no, Mr. Trent," he said.  "I didn't.
I didn't have much time to consider what to do.  You had ordered me
to get him into line and not waste a minute.  He absolutely would
not move without a report on those three companies.  So I promised
to get it for him."

"You--you did what?"

"I promised him I would try to get such a report.  It seemed to me
the only thing to bring the quick action you and Uncle Abijah and
every one concerned was so anxious to get.  I know a man in
Colesburg--an uncle of a friend of mine, he is--and Colesburg is
only a little way from Blankton.  So I wrote stating what facts I
wanted.  The report came this morning.  Here it is--here."

He indicated the papers on the desk.  Trent looked at them, then at
Bradford, then at the papers again.

"Give 'em to me!" he ordered.  His hand shot out, but Banks
snatched the papers from his reach and kept his own hand upon them.

"No, Mr. Trent," he said firmly.  "I can't do that.  They aren't
yours, you know."

Trent's face was purple now.  For just an instant Banks thought he
intended taking the papers by force.  He did not make the attempt,
however.  He remained where he was, breathing heavily.

It was the younger man who spoke.  "Now wait, Mr. Trent--wait!" he
urged.  "I can't give you this report.  You see--"

"See be hanged!  Bradford, if you have shown those things to Hez
Bartlett, I'll--I'll--"

"No, no!  I haven't.  I haven't shown them to anybody yet.  I--I
only got them this morning.  I have been reading them over and over
ever since, trying to think what I ought to do."

"Do!" barked the other savagely.  "I'm telling you what to do.  You
give 'em to me.  Say, look here!  What do you mean by nosing into
what was none of your business?  What do you mean by it?"

"Getting Mr. Bartlett to consent to his bank taking over yours was
my business.  I took it for granted those notes, and the concerns
who had drawn them, were all right.  And"--with a sudden
inspiration--"I can't see why, if they are all right, you should
object in the least.  You don't know yet what is in this report.
I haven't told you."

This was perfectly true, and for the moment it took the wind from
the Trent sails.  He hesitated, choked and then brushed the retort
aside with a wave of his hand.

"It is your having the nerve to send for it that makes me sorest,"
he snarled.  "I hire you to look out for my interests, to play my
game, and you--why, confound you, you play old Bartlett's instead!
You let him make a monkey of you. . . .  Of course I don't know
what this Colesburg man has written in that fool thing.  And I
don't give a damn.  Why should I?  I know about those notes and
what is back of 'em. . . .  Here!  What does he say?  Let me read
it."

But Banks still refused.  "Perhaps I had better read it to you," he
said firmly.  "You see"--with a catch of the breath--"I have read
it so often that I know it almost by heart."

He began to read aloud.  Davidson had written at length concerning
the Farraday Liquidation Company and the two other corporations
whose notes were in question.  Some facts he had been able to
ascertain in the short time allowed him.  He presented figures in
confirmation of them.  The remainder of his report was--he admitted
it himself--based upon hearsay, rumor; but there was a great deal
of this, and in his opinion where there was so much smoke there
must be some fire.

Several times during the reading Christopher Trent started to
interrupt, but each time he seemed to think better of it and
signaled his companion to proceed.

"So," said Banks, when he had reached the foot of the eighth page,
"that is what he writes me.  According to him--if his opinion is
worth anything--the Farraday Company might have a little less than
even prospect of paying its note if payment were demanded now, or
in April.  The two other concerns--"

Trent broke in.  "Rot!  Bunkum!" he exclaimed.  "He doesn't know a
single thing about the other two companies.  He says himself he
doesn't.  He has gone around listening at keyholes and picking up
from competitors, and he has the gall to send his pickings on to
you.  I can tell you about those concerns, all three of them.  I
know.  Hang it, man!  I am interested in every one of 'em."

"Yes.  So Mr. Davidson says here.  I read that to you.  He says you
inherited the Farraday Company--a controlling interest in it--from
your grandfather.  He isn't so sure about the others, but--well, he
says, so you know--he has picked up enough to make him almost
certain that you control them also.  Every one out there believes
that they are practically just subsidiaries of the Farraday
Company."

"That's a lie.  He knows mighty well he couldn't prove a word of
it.  That report of his isn't worth the paper it is written on.
Why, Bradford, you young idiot, he has been fooling with you,
that's all.  More than likely he has got money in concerns these
companies are fighting."

"No.  I'm sure--I don't believe that, Mr. Trent.  He is a wealthy
man, and--"

"Good Lord!  You ARE a greenhorn!  It's rich men who do have money
to sink in business concerns, isn't it?  Aw, forget all that
rubbish!  All that counts are those notes, and I tell you they are
all right.  Safe as a church, every one of them.  Why, my bank has
carried them for two years."

"Yes, sir; with your endorsement."

"Sure, with my endorsement!  For heaven's sake, don't you suppose I
am good for sixty thousand dollars?  Yes, or three times that?  Me,
alone--to say nothing of the companies themselves?"

"No doubt you are, sir.  But I tried to make clear in the beginning
that Mr. Bartlett isn't the least interested in your endorsement.
Your name--oh, it is unreasonable and all that, but it is true--
your name on the back of those notes, Mr. Trent, is to his mind
against them, rather than for them."

Trent inserted a profanely emphatic opinion of Hezekiah Bartlett.
"Well, how about Maybelle Truman?" he demanded.  "She has endorsed
two of them."

"He is just as prejudiced against a Truman as a Trent.  He won't
pay any attention to endorsements by either of you."

"Then he ought to be in an asylum.  I wish I could be his keeper
for half an hour.  As for that report stuff, it isn't worth a tin
nickel, I tell you.  The only thing the fellow has really found out
is that the Farraday Company is good.  The rest of it is just a bad
guess--and spite.  Bah! forget it."

Banks looked at him.  "Then you are willing I should show this to
Mr. Bartlett?" he asked quietly.

Trent's fist struck the top of the tambour desk.  "Show it to him?"
he roared.  "You dare to show it to him!  Yes, or to any one else!
You try it and see where it will land you!"

"But I can tell him what you have just told me--that these
companies and their notes are perfectly sound.  Perhaps he will be
satisfied with that."

"You know darned well he won't."

"Well then, sir, what are we to do?  Unless we can satisfy him--he
made that perfectly clear--he won't turn in his hundred and five
shares of Denboro Bank stock.  And until he does that the merger is
off.  Honestly, Mr. Trent," he ended with a sigh, "I guess that's
just what it is--off."

Trent burst into a long argument, a plea.  Except for the language
which punctuated it, it would have sounded almost like a prayer.
Those notes were sure-fire; he knew it.  Possibly it was true that
one of the companies, the Western World Sales Company, provided
payment was pressed immediately, might have some temporary
difficulty, but in another year--yes, in six months even that would
be straightened out.  Did Banks suppose his bank--the Ostable Bank,
of which he was president--would have carried bad paper all this
time?  The Denboro Bank crowd had looked up those notes.  The bank
examiner had passed them time and again.  And so on.  Banks heard
him through.

"I know, I know, Mr. Trent," he admitted.  "But this doesn't alter
Mr. Bartlett's position, does it?  If you can suggest something for
me to do--"

"Haven't I been suggesting it?  In the first place you can hand
that blasted report, as you call it, over to me.  That's the first
thing."

"No, Mr. Trent."

"Why not?  You're my lawyer, aren't you?  I hired you to look after
my interests, didn't I?"

"Yes, sir.  But--"

"No buts at all.  You'll give me that pack of lies, and you'll keep
your mouth shut about 'em.  If you don't--well, I picked you out of
the scrap heap, and I swear I'll see that you're back on it again.
Why, you young jackass, do you realize what all this means to you?
I hired you because I figured you would see which side your bread
was buttered.  I didn't suppose you were soft enough to let Hez
Bartlett pull the wool over your eyes.  I didn't suppose you would
turn traitor to the hand that fed you.  Oh, for the Lord sake,
Bradford, don't smash your chances flat!  You keep your mouth shut
for a while, that's all I ask.  I'll think up something for you to
tell Bartlett.  There is nothing crooked in this.  Inside of a year
it will be--  Who's that at the door?"

Banks did not know.  There was some one there.  And if the dialogue
continued this person, whoever he or she might be, could hear it.
Trent leaned across the top of the desk.

"Bradford," he whispered earnestly, "you think this over and think
of my side of it for a change.  I'm the best friend you've got.
And Mrs. Truman is another.  Her name is on those notes.  She owns
almost as much stock in the Ostable Bank as I do.  What will she
think of you if you stir up fool talk and hang up this merger?"

He leaned still closer.  "Bradford," he urged, "give me your word
you won't show that report to anybody--anybody--until you and I
have another talk?  You'll be square enough to do that, won't you?"

Banks nodded gloomily.  "Yes, Mr. Trent, I'll promise that," he
said.

"Good!  Good enough!  Now don't you fret yourself.  This is all
honest and straight; we'll fix it up somehow.  I'll see you again--
to-morrow, probably."



CHAPTER XVII


The person at the door was Ebenezer Tadgett.  Trent paid no
attention to his "How d'ye do?" but pushed him unceremoniously out
of the way and strode down the hall.  Ebenezer stared after him.

"He's in a hurry, ain't he?" he queried.  "Looks as if his dinner
hadn't set well, or somethin'.  Say, Banks, I didn't bust up
anything important, did I?  'Twas kind of dull down to the shop,
and I just ran in a minute to get the dust off my mind.  I've got
to go right back, of course.  You look sort of shook up yourself.
Guess I better go out now, afore I come in--eh?"

Banks assured him that he was welcome and invited him to sit.

"No, thanks, I won't stay long enough for that.  You've got plenty
to do, by the looks of all the stuff on your desk.  Hum!  Well,
it's a nice day, ain't it.  By-by."

Banks called to him to come back, but he would not.

"No, no," he insisted.  "I'm goin'.  Fact is, Banks, you've hurt my
feelin's.  The sight of you with all that work to do--and doin' it--
has cut me up somethin' terrible.  I left a heap of bills and
truck in my desk; just thumbed my nose at it and went out.  Now
you've made me so ashamed I've got to go back and apologize.  That
ain't no way to treat a friend--settin' a good example for him.  So
long."

"Hold on, Ebenezer, you idiot!  I'm not working--now."

"Maybe not, but you would be if I hadn't come.  There, there!  I
didn't have nothin' to say, anyhow.  Eliab was in a spell ago and
happened to mention that Mrs. Truman and Elizabeth was expected
home on to-night's train.  Didn't know as you'd be interested in
knowin' that, but I was lookin' for an excuse to clear out and
leave them bills of mine, so I spread my butterfly wings and flew.
Now I'll flap back and leave the busy bee to shine up his improvin'
hour, or whatever 'tis.  Ta-ta!"

He went, paying no heed to the Bradford protests.  Banks settled
back in his chair.  The news of Elizabeth's expected return and the
knowledge that he should see her again, and soon, would ordinarily
have driven all other thoughts from his mind.  Just now, however,
the other thoughts were too overwhelming, too disturbing; they
frightened him.  The interview with Christopher Trent had settled
nothing.  The answer to the problem was merely postponed.  And in
the end he, Banks Bradford, must furnish that answer.

That evening, at home, he was so absent-minded and distraught that
his mother feared he was ill and asked him all sorts of questions
concerning wet feet and colds.  He answered her that he was all
right and, perhaps for the first time in his life, was actually
glad to see Cousin Hettie when she called.  Her arrival gave him
the opportunity to escape to his own room upstairs, where he locked
the door and put out the light.  When, later on, Margaret tapped
gently at that door, he pretended to be asleep.

All the next day he sat in his office, his mind no nearer to a
decision than at the beginning, expecting momentarily to hear
Trent's step in the hall.  But Trent did not come.  At four that
afternoon the Truman coachman brought a note:


MY DEAR BANKS,

As you see by this, Elizabeth and I are back again after our giddy
whirl in the big city.  We have had a wonderful time, and New York
was very good to us, but home is a pleasant place.  If you are not
otherwise engaged can you drop in for a little while this evening?
We shall be so glad to see you.

Yours faithfully,

MAYBELLE TRUMAN.


So once more Banks Bradford rang the Truman doorbell and waited in
the Truman library.  His mood was curiously divided between
eagerness and apprehension.  He was to see Elizabeth again, and his
heart leaped at the thought.  But when he remembered that it was
Mrs. Truman who had written the note it sank again.  He suspected
that it was she, far more than her granddaughter, who was
responsible for the invitation, and he believed he could guess why
she wished to see him.

Nevertheless, it was with a pang of disappointment that he saw Mrs.
Truman enter the room alone.  And with a still sharper pang he
heard her opening announcement.

"Oh, I am so sorry, Banks," she gushed, "and Elizabeth is sorrier
than I am.  The poor child is a complete wreck.  Whether it is the
reaction from our frivolous fortnight in New York, or whether it is
the result of a dreadful night on the train, I am sure I don't
know.  All day she has been trying to keep about, but at last she
has had to give up and go to bed.  Isn't it too bad--she did want
to see you so much!"

Banks agreed that it was too bad.  His agreement might have been
heartier had it not been for those suspicions already mentioned.

"She is not ill, is she?" he asked.

"Oh, no indeed!  Just--well, nerve fag, perhaps you might call it.
She has had a perfectly marvelous time.  It was such a relief to us
both to get away from--well, I mean to be where there is--er--
gayety and society--oh, everything she and I have been used to, you
know.  She has danced, and this little upset is a payment to the
piper.  Ha! ha!  Yes, that is it. . . .  Well, and how have you
been?  Very busy; I am sure of that."

"Yes, I have been busy."

"I know.  Chris--Mr. Trent, of course I mean; Elizabeth and I
always call him Chris; he is such a very close friend--was here
last evening and told me a little of how very busy you had been."

Called last evening, had he!  He had lost no time.  Banks asked the
question which had been in his mind for a long two weeks.  "Was Mr.
Trent with you in New York?" he asked casually.

"Eh?  Oh, no, no!  Certainly not.  What in the world made you think
that?  He went as far as Boston with us on the train, that's all.
There we separated.  He has been West, on a business trip."

There was a little comfort here.  At least, the "close friend" and
Elizabeth had not spent the fortnight in each other's company.
Mrs. Truman's next remark was not so comforting.

"We have heard from him regularly, of course," she added.  "He is
one of the best letter writers, for a man, I ever knew."

Banks made no reply.  Mrs. Truman glanced toward the door, then
crossed the room and took a chair close beside him.

"And now," she said, still smiling and vivacious, but lowering her
voice to a confidential whisper, "what is all this nonsense about
that fussy old Mr. Bartlett?  Chris was quite excited when he
called last evening.  I gathered that you and he had had a very--
what shall I call it?--lively session together.  I didn't
understand it very well, but according to him--Mr. Trent, I mean--
this Bartlett person had inveigled you into doing something which
was quite unnecessary and perfectly absurd.  Poor Chris seemed to
think that you had done something--well, almost disloyal.  Of
course I laughed; I knew better than that.  I said you were not
that kind.  'Banks Bradford is honorable; that I am willing to
swear to,' I declared.  'And Elizabeth, who knows him quite as well
as I do, will swear to the same thing.'  Those are precisely the
words I used."

She paused, perhaps expecting him to thank her for coming to his
defense.  He said nothing, however.  She went on.

"'You have made a mess of it, Chris,' I told him.  'You are so
loyal and conscientious yourself that you are suspicious where
there is no excuse for it.  You probably said things which offended
Mr. Bradford, and he refused to explain; exactly what I should have
done in his place.  I will talk to him,' I said, 'and I think he
will talk to me.  And when our talk is over you will find that you
have made a mountain out of a molehill.'  I was right, wasn't I,
Banks?  Come, now!  Tell me all about it."

Banks, who had been gazing moodily at a figure in the carpet,
looked up.  His suspicions were confirmed by this time.  Mrs.
Truman had asked him there for one reason only.  Elizabeth had had
no part in the invitation; probably she had not known that it was
issued.

"Mrs. Truman," he said, "you know all about this, I am sure.  Mr.
Trent must have told you what I did and why I did it.  His
instructions to me were to get Mr. Bartlett's consent to the bank
consolidation.  I found that I could not get it unless I could show
Bartlett proof that those three notes were absolutely safe.  I took
it for granted that they were and that there would be no difficulty
in proving it.  If I had known--if I had suspected--I don't know
what I might have done.  Nothing, perhaps."

She laid a hand upon his knee.  "You poor boy!" she said softly.
"You have been having a dreadful time, haven't you?  I am so sorry!
And it is all so needless.  Of course it isn't too late!  You
haven't shown that ridiculous report to Mr. Bartlett?"

"No, Mrs. Truman."

"Well, then!" said the other gayly.  "Then it is all right, isn't
it?  Hush, hush!  We mustn't get excited, you know.  Don't show it
to him, that is the answer.  To begin with, it is all nonsense;
there isn't a word of truth in it--real truth, I mean."

"Do you mean you know it isn't true, Mrs. Truman?"

She patted his knee.  "I think I know as much as this--er--
correspondent of yours knows about the Farraday Liquidation
Company.  My husband and old Mr. Trent--Christopher's grandfather--
were the organizers of that company.  I have stock in it still--a
good deal of stock.  Of course I am a woman, but I am not
altogether helpless in business matters; I watch my investments.
Come, come, young man!  I endorsed two of those notes myself.  Do
you suppose I would have done that if I had thought they were good
for nothing?"

It was a plausible statement, plausibly made.  But it was not new
to Banks' mind.  He had asked himself that very question, and more
than once.

"Mrs. Truman," he said, "those notes, the originals, were drawn
some time ago.  Conditions may have changed since then."

"Well?"  Mrs. Truman spoke a trifle more sharply.  "If they had I
should have known that, too, shouldn't I?  Now we mustn't argue
about that, for it isn't worth while.  Banks, I am going to speak
very plainly to you.  I am quite old enough to be your mother, and
so you won't mind if I talk like one.  You shouldn't have taken it
on yourself to write for that report.  Mr. Trent is your employer.
It is he who has given you the opportunity to rise in your
profession.  He has made you his attorney--his and the Ostable
Bank's.  And I was part responsible too.  Yes, and so is Elizabeth.
She and I suggested your name for the place.  We all believed in
you and trusted you.  We were certain you would be competent and--
yes, absolutely loyal.  Your writing for that report in our absence
was--you mustn't mind my speaking the truth--not quite loyal to any
of us.  Now, was it?"

"Mrs. Truman, I hadn't the slightest idea--"

"There, there!  I know you hadn't.  You were young and innocent,
and that Bartlett person took advantage of you.  He hated my
husband and Christopher's grandfather, and he is just grasping at
straws, hoping to find some excuse for disappointing us in the bank
affair.  Now you must not be a party to any such spiteful meanness.
You must pay him back in his own coin.  You must never show him
that report; you must never let him know that you received the
wretched thing."

Banks shook his head.  This, too, was no new alternative.  And the
answer to it was exactly the same as to all the others.

"That won't help at all, Mrs. Truman," he said.  "Unless I bring
him the report he asked for he will do what he told me he would--
stand pat and refuse to come in.  And that will mean that the
merger is off. . . .  Oh, I know!  I feel as badly about it as any
one can.  My uncle, Capt. Abijah Bradford, has set his heart on his
bank taking over yours--Mr. Trent's, I mean.  He is going to be
terribly disappointed.  But there it is, isn't it?"

"No," retorted Mrs. Truman still more sharply, "of course it isn't!
You can show Bartlett a report--a respectable, honest report.  Mr.
Trent will prepare one for you; in fact, he is preparing one now.
You can show Mr. Bartlett that.  You don't need to tell him where
it came from.  The old rascal doesn't deserve any consideration
whatever."

Banks was silent.  Mrs. Truman, her gaze fixed upon his face, bent
toward him.

"My boy," she faltered, "I--I am going to be confidential now.  If
I didn't feel that you were almost like my own son, if I didn't
trust you so absolutely--just as Elizabeth, dear girl, trusts you--
I should not dare to speak as I am going to.  All this is very,
very important to me personally.  And just as important to
Elizabeth and her future.  Banks, she and I are in financial
difficulties.  We--we may be paupers; I don't know."

"Paupers!  Why, Mrs. Truman, you--"

"Don't ask me about it, please.  Don't!  You must just take my word
for it.  I told you that I own stock in the Farraday Company.  I
do.  And I hold a great deal of stock in the Ostable Bank.  Now
just let it be whispered about that the Ostable Bank is carrying
sixty thousand dollars' worth of paper that is in the least
questionable and--well, you can guess what may happen."

He would have interrupted, but she lifted a hand.

"The Farraday Company is perfectly sound," she went on.  "So are
those others.  And those notes are sure to be paid--some day.  But
any hint of suspicion would reflect on the bank.  At the least the
stock would drop to--to I don't know what.  And now that our bank
has gone so far with this consolidation, what excuse would be given
for not going through with it?  It MUST go through, Banks!  My dear
boy, don't you see that it must?"

He saw clearly enough what she meant; only too clearly, he was
beginning to fear.  If those three notes were bad or if in the
future they should prove so, the combined institution, the result
of the merger, would be strong enough to meet the loss without dire
results to its standing and credit.  Whereas the Ostable Bank
alone--

"But it can't go through, Mrs. Truman," he protested desperately.
"How can it--now?"

"It will if you show Hezekiah Bartlett the report which Chris gives
you instead of the one you have.  Oh, don't misunderstand me!
Christopher's report will be the true one, with all the real facts.
There is nothing wrong about this; it is as honest as the day.  You
know I wouldn't ask you to do anything--er--wicked; you know that,
don't you?"

His answer was not so free from doubt as she hoped to hear.

"I suppose--why, yes, I am sure you would not ask me to do anything
you didn't think right, Mrs. Truman."

"You must know it.  And now, if you do feel in the least grateful
to me and to Elizabeth, if you care for--for us at all you will say
yes to what I have just asked.  Say it now, Banks dear, for all our
sakes."

He drew a long breath.  "I can't, Mrs. Truman," he declared
wretchedly.  "I have been thinking this thing through from
beginning to end, over and over again, and it keeps coming back to
one point, and that I can't get by.  I realize how much I owe to
you and Mr. Trent--indeed I do!  But I owe a great deal to my
uncle, too.  Yes, and to Mr. Bartlett, who has been a mighty good
friend to me.  This report that Mr. Trent is preparing may be all
right--"

"May be?  It is!  Haven't I just told you so?"

"Yes, but Mr. Davidson is just as confident that his is right.  He
has no interest in this bank merger; he doesn't know anything about
it.  So why should he have--"

She broke in.  "Stop!" she cried.  "Stop all this rigmarole and
answer my question!  Will you tear up that other report and show
this Bartlett man the one Chris is going to give you?"

"I can't, Mrs. Truman; not unless I tell Mr. Bartlett where it
comes from."

"Tell him!  Ridiculous!  How much attention do you suppose he would
pay to it, if you told him that?"

"Not much, I'm afraid.  But I can't show it to him without that
condition, Mrs. Truman."

"Oh, you--you provoking creature!  Then what will you do?"

"I don't know.  I might show him both reports, but I'm afraid that
wouldn't help."

"Idiotic!  Well, is that all you have to propose?  Is that the most
you will do to keep Elizabeth and me from--from poverty, perhaps?
Is it?"

"What can I do?  I can--yes, I will promise not to show Mr. Bartlett
my report at all.  Nor to tell him that I have one.  I will promise
that."

"Really?"  The word was weighted with sarcasm.  "How noble of you!
And will you give me your word--I was going to say your word of
honor, but with such a high-principled person as you are that isn't
necessary, of course--will you promise not to tell a living soul
about what I have told you to-night?"

He hesitated.  Then he nodded.  "Yes, Mrs. Truman," he said.
"Only"--

"Only what?"

"Only with one condition--that this bank consolidation doesn't go
through.  If I sat still, knowing what I know, and said nothing to
Uncle Abijah and his friends in the Denboro Bank, I--well, if there
should be anything wrong about it I should be as much to blame as
any one else.  So I can't do that."

She looked at him.  He met her gaze without faltering.  Then she
rose to her feet, her silk skirts rustling and her eyes ablaze.

"Bah!" she cried scornfully.  "You are a Bradford, aren't you!  I
should have known it; I have had experience.  You will go just so
far--just far enough to accept all you can without risk to
yourself--and then, when the crisis comes, when there may be some
danger to your own precious skin you back down and quit.  You are a
quitter, like your--like another of your breed.  And a coward!  You
may go.  I don't care to look at you again!"

She swept to the door.  He had risen also.  His face was white.

"I don't know what you mean by a quitter, Mrs. Truman" he said.
"If you mean that I won't show Mr. Bartlett something that has been
fixed up for him to see and tell him that I got it from a
disinterested party--if you mean I won't lie to him you are right.
If that is being a quitter I am just that."

She stopped him at the threshold.

"One minute," she sneered.  "How about your promise that you will
not tell any one--any one at all--of our talk to-night?  Do your
scruples against lying hold so far; or are you a quitter there
too?"

"I'll keep that promise, Mrs. Truman."

"I wonder.  Well, we'll see.  Good evening--and good-by, Mr. Banks
Bradford."

She drew the silk skirt contemptuously from his path.  "There is
one thing more I want to say," she declared.  "If the worst comes
to the worst--if I do lose everything I have, because of you and
your underhand dealing and disloyalty--well, my name shan't be the
only one that is smirched.  Indeed it shall not!  One Denboro saint
in particular shall come off his pedestal.  If ever I meant
anything in my life I mean that, and some day you may remember that
I told you so."

She turned her back upon him and went up the stairs.  He took his
coat and hat from the table in the hall, where the maid had left
them, and went out.  At the gate he paused to look back.  This
ended it, of course.  So far as his friendly relations with Mrs.
Truman were concerned this was the end.

But Elizabeth--that was different.  He would not give her up.  He
would see her and ask her to have faith in him.  He could not
explain fully--his promise bound him there--but she would
understand.  Yes, and believe in him and trust him; she was that
kind of girl.  He strode along the Old Ostable Road, his shoulders
squared and his courage high.



CHAPTER XVIII


This conviction was still with him next day, when, back at his desk
again, he wrote one letter and began another.  The first was a
formal resignation of his position as attorney for the Ostable
National Bank.  He might never have to use it, although that was
but the remotest chance, but at least it should be ready when Trent
came, as come he certainly would, to demand a final statement of
his lawyer's intentions concerning the substitution of his own
report for that of Davidson.

The second was to Elizabeth, and it was to his mind by far the more
important of the two.  He wrote that he must see her somewhere,
somehow.  He realized how she must be feeling toward him, but that
was because she did not understand.  Could she plan to meet him
Sunday afternoon?  At the boat house on the beach, where they had
met before for those glorious walks together?  If not Sunday--if it
was stormy or too cold--why, then Monday?

Twice he tore up what he had written and was beginning for the
third time, when the door opened.  He looked up and saw her
standing there before him.

"Elizabeth!" he cried joyfully.  "I might have known you would
come!  Of course you would!"

He sprang forward to take her hand; to do more than that if she had
given him the least encouragement.  But she did not even appear to
see the hand he held out to her.  She drew back, and her first move
was to close the door behind her.  When she turned again to face
him he saw that she was very pale.

"Elizabeth!" he cried again.

She was breathing, rapidly.  "Don't!  Oh, don't!" she begged.  "I
came to talk with you.  I--I had to come."

"Of course you did!  Oh, my dear--"

"Don't!  No, no!  You mustn't touch me.  I can stay only a minute
or two.  No one knows I am here.  Banks, is it true--what
grandmother says about you?"

"No," said Banks impulsively, "it isn't."

"Why, what do you mean?  How can you say that?  Do you know what
she said?"

He did not, of course, and he acknowledged it.  "But," he added,
"it is plain that she has been saying something which has brought
you here.  I know she can't say anything against me--to my
discredit, I mean--and speak the truth.  Come, Elizabeth, don't
look at me like that.  Surely you believe what I say, don't you?"

"I--I don't know what to believe, Banks, is it true that you and
Chris Trent have quarreled?"

"Quarreled!  No, we haven't quarreled.  We had a--a disagreement,
that's all.  He--well, you see, he didn't like something that I
did, and he said so."

"What was it?"

"I can't tell you that, Elizabeth.  I promised not to tell any one.
Some day perhaps I can tell you all about it, but not now."

"Why not now?"

"Because I promised."

"Whom did you promise?"

"Well, your grandmother, for one."

"You quarreled with grandmother, too, didn't you?"

"I shouldn't call it a quarrel.  Not on my part certainly.
Elizabeth, dear, I can't tell you--don't you see I can't?"

She was looking at him searchingly, doubtfully.  "I don't know,"
she answered slowly.  "I am not sure that I do see.  Grandmother
said nothing about any secret.  She said she begged you to do
something which was of the greatest importance to her--yes, and to
me.  And you refused."

"But she didn't tell you what that something was?"

"She said she couldn't, then.  And I did not ask.  I was sure you
would tell me and explain.  But that wasn't all she said.  She says
you had already promised Mr. Trent that you would do this thing,
whatever it was, and then you broke your word.  Instead, while he
was away and without his knowing anything about it you went to some
one else--some one on the other side--and agreed, for money, to
work for that person's interests and against ours.  She says--"

He had taken a step toward her.  "Wait!  Stop there!" he ordered.
"Elizabeth, do you believe I did that?  Do you?"

Her eyes flashed.  "If I did," she asked indignantly, "can you
imagine I should have come here at all?"

"No!  No, of course you wouldn't.  I know you wouldn't.  Forgive
me, please.  Well, you mustn't dream of believing it, for it isn't
true."

"I never thought it was, that part of it.  But something must be
true.  Grandmother did ask you to do something which meant a great
deal to her and to me, and you would not do it.  That much is
true?"

"Yes, I--I'm afraid it is."

"Well, what was it?  And why couldn't you do it?  Was it beneath
your dignity, or something like that?"

"I haven't any dignity in particular.  It was--well, it seemed to
me dishonorable."

"Dishonorable!  Do I understand you to say my grandmother asked you
to do a dishonorable thing?  I don't believe it!"

"I am sorry."

"And you won't tell me what it was?"

"I can't.  Elizabeth, if you will only trust me for a little
while--"

"Oh, don't!  Haven't I trusted you?  Haven't we all--grandmother
and Mr. Trent and I--trusted you?  Do you suppose if I hadn't
trusted you and believed in you--yes"--with a catch in her voice--
"and liked you, I should have been so--so happy when they made you
attorney for the Ostable Bank?  I thought it might mean everything
to you and--to--  Oh, well!  That is over."

"Over!  Elizabeth, my dear--"

"No!  No!  Listen to me.  There is something else.  Grandmother
hinted--Banks, tell me the truth!  Did you and Mr. Trent quarrel
about me?"

He was speechless for a moment.  This was so unexpected, so
undreamed of, that he could only stare.  "About YOU?" he gasped
finally.

"Yes, about me.  Was I the real cause of your trouble with him?
Grandmother as much as said that you hated Chris and tried to spoil
his plans because--because you were jealous of him; because you
thought he was too good a friend of mine. . . .  Oh, yes!  She said
so, and she believes it."

Banks' fists clenched.  So far he had controlled his feelings, had
answered her calmly and temperately.  But this was too much.  "And
you let her say it!" he cried angrily.  "You!"

"I could not prevent her saying it.  You see, Banks, she knows--or
guesses--a great deal.  She saw us that night--together, in the
hall."

"Well? . . .  Well"--defiantly--"I am glad she did.  I intended
telling her that I loved you and meant to marry you some day.  I
was only waiting until you and I could have another talk together.
I am not ashamed of loving you; I'm proud.  Oh, Elizabeth, you love
me, don't you?  You do; I know it."

Again he would have taken her in his arms, but again she avoided
him.

"You mustn't say that," she protested desperately.  "No, you
mustn't.  I--I won't listen if you do.  I won't!  I shall go away!"

"But you do love me, don't you?"

"I--I--oh, I don't know!  I liked you, and that night I was--was--
But we must not talk about it.  I love grandmother; she has given
me a home and all I have in the world.  No one could be more
generous than she has been.  And now there is this other thing.
She says you have been deceitful and ungrateful and disloyal to her
and to Chris Trent.  Yes, and to me, because their interests are
mine, and she told you so.  And after all, it is to Chris that you
owe your great opportunity."

He could stand it no longer.  "Don't call that fellow by his first
name," he broke in.  "I won't have it."

She drew back.  "Indeed!" she said coldly.  "And why not?  I have
known him much longer than I have you--Mr. Bradford."

"I don't care; he isn't the sort you ought to know.  He is--by
George, I'm not sure that he isn't a swindler!"

"A what?  He is grandmother's closest friend and her partner in a
great many business matters; that I know perfectly well.  Do you
mean that SHE is a swindler?"

As a matter of fact he was far from sure that he did not mean that,
or something approaching it.  But he was still sane enough to
realize that he must not say so.  "No, of course I don't.
Elizabeth, if you would only trust me!"

"Perhaps I should trust you better if you would explain just what
you do mean.  Apparently grandmother is right.  You are jealous--
spitefully, meanly jealous of Chris.  You hate him."

"No, I don't hate him.  I do distrust him; yes, and I have my
reasons.  And you don't like him either; you said as much to me
that night at your house.  If you like him now, you--well, you have
changed your mind, that is all I can say."

"Is it all you intend to say--to me?"

"If you mean about this business with Trent and your grandmother,
it is all I can say--now.  I am right, or think I am; and some day,
when you understand, you will think so too.  Yes, you will!"

In the old-fashioned melodramas, just at the most critical part of
a critical scene, the audience knew it might expect what was
supposed to be, to the persons on the stage, the unexpected
entrance of the hero or the villain.  Sometimes things like that do
happen in real life.  This was one of the times, for at that moment
Christopher Trent threw open the door and walked into the office.

The tableau before him was sufficiently expressive.  Banks
Bradford, pale and agitated, was standing in the middle of the
floor.  Elizabeth Cartwright, her cheeks flushed, was standing
facing him.  Mr. Trent glowered at the pair, and his own face
turned red.

"Humph!" he grunted.  "Hello, Elizabeth!  So you're here, are you?"

She was by far the calmest of the three.  "Yes, Chris," she
answered, "I am; but I am going now."

"Don't let me hurry you," he said sarcastically.  "If I have broken
in on any little--er--confidences between you and this fellow,
why--"

"You haven't; Mr. Bradford and I have said all we had to say to
each other.  Good morning."

She turned and went out.  Banks involuntarily started to follow,
but Trent was in his way and made no move to get out of it.

"Pardon me, Mr. Trent," said Banks.

Trent remained where he was.  "Say," he demanded angrily, "what has
been going on between you two?  What has she been doing here with
you?"

In Banks' present frame of mind this was precisely the tone he was
happy to hear.  He could answer it becomingly and without the least
effort.

"Doing?" he repeated with irritating suavity.  "Oh, nothing in
particular.  She just dropped in, that's all.  Won't you sit down,
Mr. Trent?"

"No, I won't.  Why did she come to see you?  Why were you two in
here with the door shut?"

"I usually shut the door when I have a visitor.  Shall I shut it
now?"

Trent shut it himself--slammed it, in fact.  Then he turned back.
"See here, young fellow," he snarled, "what is this I hear about
you?  You were up at her--at Mrs. Truman's house last night,
weren't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"So I've been told.  Well"--this with a sneer--"you weren't invited
to come again, were you?"  Banks did not answer.  Trent went on
without waiting.  "You weren't, I know that.  And you won't be.
Now, then, what have you decided to do about the thing you got from
that crank in Colesburg?  Are you going to give it to me?"

"No, Mr. Trent."

"Are you going to show it to Hez Bartlett?"

"No, Mr. Trent."

"Are you going to play straight with the people who pay you and
show him the report I have got ready for you--the honest report?
Have you decided to do that, after all?"

"No, Mr. Trent; not unless I tell him who gave it to me."

"Well, what are you going to do?  Come!"

"Nothing, I suppose.  What is there to do?"

"You know the merger won't go through unless you satisfy Bartlett
somehow, don't you?"

"I don't see how it can."

"You've made up your mind to double-cross me, then?  Been paid more
than I pay you; eh?"

"No."

"It's a lie; of course you have!  Well, do you think the Ostable
Bank is going to keep you on as its hired boy?  Going to let you
take its money with one hand and knife it in the back with the
other?  Because if you do you're mightily mistaken."

Banks reached over and took an envelope from his desk.  "I don't,"
he said.  "I had this ready for you when you came, Mr. Trent.  It
is my resignation as attorney for your bank."

Trent did not open the envelope.  It was evident that he had not
expected the resignation and was taken aback by it.  "By the Lord
Harry," he muttered, "you're independent, aren't you!  Must be a
whole lot richer than I ever heard you were.  Bradford, look here;
be sensible--come!"

"No, Mr. Trent.  I have thought this thing out.  I'm much obliged
for your confidence in me, when you made me your lawyer, but I am
through now.  I promised Mrs. Truman I would not show Mr. Bartlett
the report I got from Davidson or tell him I got it.  I shall keep
my promise, but--"

"But what?  There'd better not be any buts, for your sake."

"I tell you honestly I don't like this business, Mr. Trent.  It
doesn't look straight to me.  At any rate, my Uncle Abijah has been
too good a friend of mine to let me see him or his bank get into
trouble without knowing everything that I know.  So long as Mr.
Bartlett sits back and holds out his shares the merger is off.  In
case he changes his mind I shall show Mr. Davidson's report to
Uncle Abijah and let him do as he pleases about it.  That's final.
I mean it."

Trent choked.  He broke into an inarticulate torrent of abuse.
Banks waited until he calmed a little.

"I'm sorry you feel that way about me, Mr. Trent," he said.  "But I
can't see anything else for me to do."

"I tell you one thing you can do, you sneak!  You can keep away
from Elizabeth Cartwright.  She is on to you now, just as her
grandmother and I are, and she's got about as much use for you as
we have.  You poor fool, she was playing with you, that's what she
was doing.  And laughing at you behind your back.  She--"

Banks broke in.  "That's enough," he said ominously.  "There!  The
door is open.  Will you go out yourself, or would you like help?"

Christopher Trent went unassisted.



CHAPTER XIX


Margaret Bradford, across the supper table, was watching her son
intently.  At dinner that noon he had eaten little and had been
disinclined to talk.  She asked the usual questions about his work
at the office; he answered them perfunctorily, appearing
preoccupied and, it seemed to her, nervous and excited.

When he came home at six o'clock the excitement was less in
evidence, but the preoccupation and lack of appetite were more
pronounced than ever.  He looked tired, almost haggard, and when
she attempted to cheer him up with the story of a ludicrous
happening at sewing-circle meeting that afternoon his smile was a
pitiful effort.

During the latter part of the meal he was silent, eating nothing
and gazing abstractedly at the food on his plate.  Twice she spoke
his name, but he did not answer.  Then she rose and, passing around
the table, laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Banks!" she said softly, and for the third time.

He looked up with a start.  Apparently he had not noticed that she
had left her place and was surprised to find her there.  "Eh?" he
exclaimed.  "Yes, Mother?"

"Banks, dear, what is it?  You have said scarcely a word since you
came home.  And you look--well, you look as if something dreadful
had happened.  What is it?  Please tell me."

He leaned back in his chair.  "Now don't worry, Mother," he said.
"Something has happened, yes.  It isn't altogether unexpected; I
have seen it coming--part of it, at least.  I guess we shall live
through it somehow."

She bent to look at his face; what she saw there was not
reassuring.  "I guess we shall," she said brightly.  "Now tell me
about it--come!  Is it so very bad?"

"About as bad as it can be.  Mother, I am through with the Ostable
Bank.  Or they are through with me."

"Why!  Why, Banks!"

"Yes.  I am through.  I handed Mr. Trent my resignation this
morning.  Oh, don't misunderstand--my resigning was only a gesture
to save my face.  If I hadn't I should have been fired, kicked out.
And of course that is what every one will say has happened.  Uncle
Bije and all the rest.  Who would believe me, even if I took the
trouble to deny it--which I shan't?  It serves me right for being
such a fool."

He groaned in bitter self-disgust.  She put her arm about his
shoulder.

"Don't, dear, don't!" she begged.  "They won't say anything of the
sort.  Your uncle knows you, and he, surely, will believe you.
When you tell him--"

He interrupted.  "Tell him!" he cried impatiently.  "That is it; I
can't tell him.  I can't tell any one.  I can't tell you."

"Why Banks!  Of course you can.  Don't you suppose---"

"Oh, hush, hush!  You don't understand what I mean.  If I could
tell you and Uncle Abijah the whole business--all of it--you would
think I did right, both of you; I know it.  But I can't tell.  I
gave my word of honor that I wouldn't."  He went on angrily, "That
is what makes me sick!  If I had had sense enough to realize what
that promise meant I never would have given it.  I might have
promised not to tell certain people, but not every one.  I had been
accused of disloyalty and meanness and cowardice and heaven knows
what, and I wanted to do the fair thing.  So like the complete fool
I was I promised.  And now look at me!"

"There, there.  You mustn't speak like that.  Who accused you of
such things--Mrs. Truman?"

"She and Trent.  I--  Why, how did you know?"

"I didn't; I guessed.  Banks, dear, I have been afraid--very much
afraid--ever since she and Mr. Trent made you their bank's
attorney.  I was almost sure there was something more than
disinterested kindness behind it all.  Banks, you didn't like my
saying that I didn't trust Mrs. Truman.  Well, do you trust her--
now?"

He did not answer.

"Can't you tell me--anything?" she pleaded.

"No.  Nothing that matters."

"Sometimes a bad promise is better broken than kept, they say.
They wanted you to do something you couldn't do; is that it?"

"Something I wouldn't do.  Mother," he added sharply, "don't you
tell any one I said even as much as that.  Don't you do it."

"Very well, I won't.  My poor boy!  It is a terrible disappointment
to you, I know."

"Disappointment!  Do you realize what it means?  It means that
everything for me in Denboro--my big opportunity, my future,
everything--has gone to smash.  What will they think of me here in
town?  They'll think I am no good, incompetent, just a failure;
that's what they'll think.  And how can I square myself?  I can't
say a word."

She was silent for a moment.  Then she asked quietly, "Elizabeth
Cartwright--does she know about this?"

"Yes," said Banks gloomily, "she knows."

"All of it?  The part you can't tell me?"

"No.  If she did, perhaps--  But she doesn't, and she never will."

"Never is a long word.  Have you seen her since-"

"Since I was fired?  No.  But I have seen her, and she thinks--
well, she thinks what her grandmother and Trent want her to think.
Why shouldn't she?  Don't talk about her, Mother."

"Banks, I am afraid you will have to break that promise.  It was a
foolish one to make, and it ought to be broken."

"Maybe; but I'll keep it, just the same.  I have been accused of
being a quitter, along with the other things, and I'll show them
whether I am or not."

"Did Mrs. Truman call you that, too?"

"Yes, she did.  She said--Mother, what did she mean?--she said she
might have known I was a cowardly quitter.  She had had experience
with some one else of my breed, that's what she said.  I would
accept favors and agree to all sorts of things; and then when it
came to the point where there was some risk to myself I was like
this other one--I backed down and quit.  I don't know what she
meant; do you?"

Margaret Bradford did not answer.  He glanced up.  She was standing
beside him, gazing not at him but across the room--toward the door
of the sitting room, apparently.  And in her eyes was that same
strange look which he had never seen there except when their
conversation, as now, dealt with Mrs. Capt. Elijah Truman.

"Do you know, Mother?" he insisted.

She drew a long breath.  "Did she say anything more?" she asked.

"She said something else I didn't understand.  She said that,
provided she did get into trouble because of my cowardice and all
the rest, her name should not be the only one smirched; one Denboro
saint in particular should come off his pedestal.  Mother, are you
sure you don't know what she meant?  I have been wondering if--"

"Hush, hush!"  She clutched his shoulder tightly.  "You mustn't
wonder.  You mustn't think about it or mention it again, even to
me.  You mustn't, Banks!"

"Why not?  Mother, what--"

"You won't, will you?"

"Oh," sighed Banks with a shrug, "all right; what difference does
it make?  Mother, I have told you already more than I meant to.
And you mustn't tell any one else as much as this."

"I won't, dear.  But that promise of yours--"

"I'll keep it," he interrupted grimly; "I'll keep the damned thing
till I die!  They may call me a quitter, but they shan't be able to
prove it."

She was walking up and down the room.  "Banks," she said, turning
suddenly, "what are you going to do?"

"Do?  What do you mean?"

"Would you like to leave Denboro?  Go away--up to Boston or
somewhere--and start all over again?  Because if you want to do
that I will go with you."

It was what he had been considering for hours.  His face lighted.
"Would you do that, Mother?" he cried eagerly.  "Would you?"

"I will, if you make up your mind that is what you had rather do.
Of course, I had rather you stayed here.  It will be much harder
for you than going away, I know."

"Hard!" cried Banks with savage sarcasm.  "I guess you don't
realize how hard."

"But it would be braver, wouldn't it?  And perhaps I do realize.  I
have lived here alone, except for you, ever since your father died.
And there have been many times when I felt as if I could not stand
it a minute longer."

He said nothing.  She came over and, stooping, kissed his cheek.
"But I don't count in this," she said firmly.  "I don't count at
all.  If, after you have thought it over carefully, you decide to
go and would like to have me with you, go we will.  And I know we
shall be happy wherever we are.  There!  Now we won't talk any
more.  I have my dishes to do; and why don't you go to your room
and be alone for a while?  Hettie and Abijah may come, and perhaps
you won't want to talk with them to-night."

He did not come down again until morning.  At breakfast neither he
nor she mentioned the all-important subjects.  It was not until he
was leaving for the office that he mentioned one of them.

"Well, Mother," he said quietly.  "I am going to stick.  I am not
going to run away.  I'll stay right here in Denboro.  As I see it,
if I did go I should be just what she called me--a quitter.  I'll
prove that that is a lie, at any rate.  And you are a brick not to
ask me any more questions."

He wrote Hezekiah Bartlett a short letter and mailed it at once.
In it he did not mention the matter of the report which the old man
had commissioned him to prove.  "I have resigned my position as
attorney for the Ostable Bank," he wrote, "and am no longer acting
as its representative in the matter of the merger or any other."

He hoped that might be sufficient.  Perhaps, considering Bartlett's
indifferent attitude toward the proposed consolidation, he might
not trouble to ask about the report.  It was but a remote chance,
however--too good to be true, Banks feared.

And his fears were well founded.  The following afternoon Hezekiah
stumped into the office.  He was out of breath and out of temper as
well.  He threw his ancient fur cap on the floor, dropped his cane
with a clatter beside it and sat down.

"Consarn it all," he panted, "when a man gets so old and rickety
that he can't hitch a horse to a post and walk up a flight of steps
without puffin' like a porpoise it's pretty nigh time he was carted
to the graveyard.  Whew! . . .  What's all this, Bradford?  Eh?
What's this about your heavin' up your job for Chris Trent's bank?
Is it so--what you wrote?"

"Yes, sir."

"Huh!  I want to know!  You said you resigned--did you, or was you
handed your papers?"

"I resigned.  I decided that it was the best thing for me to do."

"Huh!  Pretty good job for a young fellow to chuck up, wan't it?
All hands seemed to think 'twas.  Kind of independent, ain't you?"

"Perhaps I am, Mr. Bartlett."

"That all you goin' to tell me about it?"

"Why, yes, sir.  The matter was between Mr. Trent and myself.  If
he cares to tell more I have no objection."

"Humph!  Your Uncle Bije know about it yet?"

"No, sir.  Not unless he has heard it from some one else.  You and
mother are the only ones I have told so far."

"I see. . . .  Humph! . . .  Well"--with a chuckle--"I cal'late
'Bijah'll be some surprised.  He's been braggin' from Dan to
Beersheby about his nephew bein' picked to handle Chris Trent's
affairs.  He, he!  Yes, sir, Bije and his crew are liable to be
fetched up with their sails slattin'.  Goin' to make any more
explanation to them than you have to me, be you?"

"No, sir."

"Huh!  All right, son.  Have your good time in your own way. . . .
Well, how about what you was goin' to find out for me about them
notes?  I've been waitin' to hear from you about them for quite a
spell.  Found it out, have you?"

This was the question Banks had been expecting, and he had an
answer ready.  "I have decided not to go on with that, Mr.
Bartlett," he said.  "I am through with the Ostable Bank and its
affairs."

"Yes, yes, I know.  But that wasn't the Ostable Bank's affair,
'twas mine.  I asked you to look up them notes; they didn't."

"Yes, sir, but in a way it is their affair.  They are holding the
notes.  And so I don't think I should meddle at all.  And," he
ended firmly, "I shan't."

He expected his client to be angry; apparently he was not.  He was
rubbing his chin, and to Banks' surprise there was a grim twinkle
in his eye.  "Well, well!" he exclaimed.  "So that's the way you
feel, eh?  Independent ain't no name for you, boy!  Goin' to resign
as my lawyer, too, be you?"

"If you wish me to, sir.  At any rate I can do nothing more about
getting that information you asked for."

"Humph!  Sho!  There's other lawyers around, you know.  Maybe
they'd get it if I ordered 'em to.  Don't you think likely they
would?  Oscar Brooks, now--maybe he'd jump at the chance."

Banks said nothing.  Hezekiah rose to his feet, grinning broadly.

"All right, son," he said cheerfully.  "I shan't order him to--him
nor nobody else.  I'm a hundred and fifty or so next birthday, but
I don't need extry spectacles to see into a barn when the door's
open.  Maybe I was a pretty good guesser when I told you to look up
them firms out West; maybe I'm a good guesser now.  Well, I'm
standin' pat on my guess.  So fur as my bank's takin' on Chris
Trent's is concerned I'm right where I was in the beginnin'.  They
can keep on whistlin' on their fingers."

He picked up his cap and cane.

"I judge you'd just as soon I didn't say nothin' about my askin'
you to get that report for me?" he observed.  "All right; if you
don't say it I shan't."

"Mr. Bartlett, I--I'm awfully sorry.  You've been very kind to me,
and--"

"Sh-h-h, sh-h-h.  Look here, ARE you goin' to keep all this to
yourself?  Not tell a soul any of it and let 'em think what they
darn please?"

"Yes, sir; I don't see that I can do anything else and play fair.
Of course, Mr. Bartlett, I hate to have you think that--"

"Hush up!  I don't think nothin'.  Yes, I do, too.  I think I
didn't make no mistake when I picked you out to do my lawin'.  I'll
stick by you.  As for the rest of 'em--well, let me tell you this,
young fellow:  The main fault I've had to find with you so far is
that it looked as if you was liable to be too almighty popular.
I'm the most unpopular critter there is in this county, and it's
lots of fun.  Now I'm goin' to have comp'ny, and we'll have the fun
together. . . .  So long!  See you in a couple of days or so."

So that was over and done with.  The interview which Banks had
dreaded and which he had hoped to avoid or at least postpone,
instead of leaving him more cast down and disheartened, had cheered
him.  The pledged support of the most unpopular man in the
community might not be of great material value, but it was
something.  S. B. Bradford, Attorney at Law, still had one client
who would stick by him.  If only Uncle Abijah would take him on
trust, would not press for explanations, but continue to believe in
him!  Breaking the news to Uncle Bije was sure to be hardest of
all.

He had seen his uncle but once since he ordered Christopher Trent
from his office, and then Cousin Hettie was present.  Any day, any
hour, the captain was likely to drop in; and then--another scene.
Banks was growing tired of scenes.

And when Captain Bradford visited that office the expression upon
his face was proof sufficient that he had learned something and
meant to learn more.

"What's this between you and Chris Trent?" he demanded.  "I just
met Chris on the street, and he wouldn't hardly speak to me.  When
I asked him how he and his new lawyer were makin' out he all but
hit me; I swear for a second I thought he was goin' to!  'If you
mean that nephew of yours,' he said, 'he's no lawyer of mine, nor
my bank's, either.  We kicked him out a week ago.'  Then he turned
on his heel and left me.  Well, now what's it mean?  Come!  I want
to know."

Banks told him--that is, he told what he had told his mother and
Hezekiah Bartlett.  Not quite so much as he had told the former,
for he did not mention Mrs. Truman or her granddaughter.

"Mr. Trent is wrong, though," he declared in conclusion, "when he
says he and the Ostable Bank kicked me out.  I resigned before they
had the chance to do that."

For a long half hour the captain stormed and argued.  He demanded
information, particulars.  "You tell me what all this is about; do
you hear?  Ain't I got the right to know?  Boy, I've done my best
to be like a father to you, and now you sit there and won't open
your mouth!  If you've got nothin' to be ashamed of then you
needn't be scared of me.  I'll stand behind you yet, if you can
prove to me you're right."

Banks was calm but obdurate.  "I can't tell you, Uncle Abijah," he
said over and over again.  "If I could tell any one I should tell
you first.  I know what you've done for me; don't think I don't.
All I can say is that I have played square--it seems to me I have--
and that you must trust me.  If you can't do that, then--well, then
you can't, I suppose."

At last Abijah gave it up.  "You're a pig-headed, ungrateful cub
after all," he snarled.  "I thought there was enough Bradford in
you to make you a man, but I was wrong.  You're all t'other side of
the house, I guess.  Of course, you realize your actin' this way is
liable to hang up that bank merger for I don't know how long.  We
all bet on you to fetch Hez Bartlett aboard, and now--now who's
goin' to do it?"

Banks shook his head.  "I shouldn't count on that bank consolidation
too much, Uncle Abijah," he said quietly.  "I am pretty sure it
will never go through."

"Hey?  What's that?  Won't go through!  Banks, what is it you're
keepin' hid from me?  Why won't it go through?"

"I have said all I can.  I don't believe it will, that's all."

"Has Hez Bartlett been tamperin' with you?  Has he?"

"No, he hasn't," Banks retorted sharply; "no one has tampered with
me.  If I could have been tampered with, perhaps--  Well, no
matter."

"What does that mean?  Banks, Banks, can't you see what your
fightin' with Trent is goin' to do to your chances in town here?
Folks'll take his word for it that you were no good and couldn't
hold the job.  And if you won't deny it--why, then what?"

"Then they will have to keep on believing it, I suppose.  That part
doesn't worry me so much.  I am sorry on your account, though; very
sorry.

"Humph!"  Captain Abijah looked at him intently for a long
interval.  "Humph!" he said again, "there's somethin' mighty funny
behind this, that's sure.  Well, you can't blame me for what's said
or what happens to you.  And I shan't take the blame.  Good-by.  If
you change your mind and decide to tell me more later on--well, you
know where I live."

It was his last visit to that office for many a day.  He continued
to call at the cottage, although not so frequently, and on those
occasions he had little to say to his nephew.  Of the merger he
said nothing whatever, nor did he ask a question concerning Banks'
practice, the subject in which he had been so keenly interested.
Banks made it a point to leave the sitting room soon after his
uncle entered it.  His presence, he felt, was embarrassing to them
both.

He missed Captain Abijah's companionship, his confidences, his
common-sense counsel and support and encouragement.  He had always
liked Uncle Bije, although in his school and college days the
liking had been qualified with a certain lofty, citified
condescension.  That condescension had quickly vanished, and
gratitude and a very warm affection had taken its place.  He did
not blame his uncle for his present attitude nor did he resent it.
The captain was hurt and disappointed, as any one would have been
in his place.  But Banks felt that he had lost a priceless
friendship; and he, too, was hurt.

He derived a little comfort from something his mother told him a
week or so later.  The news that Silas Bradford's boy had been
discharged from the employ of Christopher Trent and the Ostable
Bank was common property now.  The young fellow had been weighed in
the balance and found wanting.  The town, a large part of it, was
chuckling and saying "I told you so."

Cousin Hettie's "I told you so's" were, in the privacy of the
Bradford family, as loud as the rest, for there she would give vent
to the chagrin which the blow had brought to her aristocratic
bosom.

"I never was so ashamed in my life," she wailed.  "I don't hardly
put my nose out of doors without seeing somebody else's nose turned
up and hear 'em giggle when I go by 'em.  They don't say much--oh,
no!  But the way they look and act--my soul!  Every last one of 'em
knows that I was--well, I suppose you might almost say sinfully
proud when Silie was given that responsible place, and I presume
likely I talked too much about it.  And now I can't talk at all.
I can't tell 'em anything because--because--"

"Because you don't know," cut it Abijah sharply.  "Well, they don't
know, either."

"Yes, they do, too.  Mr. Trent--"

"Humph!  All he says is that his bank decided Banks was too young
and inexperienced for the job and they would have to let him go.
'Goin' to get somebody else?' I asked him.  Oh, yes, sure they was!
Well, so far as I can hear they haven't--yet.  And that's kind of
funny, too."

"I don't see anything so funny about it.  Probably they want to be
careful and not make another mistake.  Oh, why did Silie ever get
us all into such a shameful mess!  What did he do to make them get
rid of him?"

"Humph!  Accordin' to him it was he that got rid of them.
Somebody's lyin', and neither you nor I know which 'tis, Hettie."

"Well, there's plenty that claim to know."

"Yes, but claimin' is easy.  Chris Trent knows and he tells what
suits him; Banks knows, and he won't tell anything."

"That's just it.  Why won't he?"

"He says he can't because he promised not to."

"Oh, yes!  And you believe him, of course."

Captain Abijah's square chin became squarer than ever.  "Yes," he
vowed emphatically, "I do.  A fellow who won't break a promise,
when breakin' it might mean all the difference in the world to him,
ain't a liar, no matter what else he is.  That's plain sense."

Margaret spoke for the first time.  "Thank you, Abijah," she said.

"You needn't thank me.  He is an ungrateful, obstinate, selfish
young jackass, and sometimes I don't know but that's worse than
lyin'.  Don't say another word, either of you.  I've lost all
interest in that boy."

Margaret did not believe him, and she told her son so when later on
they were alone together.



CHAPTER XX


The days in the office now were even more discouraging than they
had been at the time when that office was first opened.  Then, at
least, Uncle Abijah was a daily visitor.  Now he did not come at
all.  Banks had been very busy during his short term of employment
by the Trent interests; now, by contrast, idleness was emphasized
and much harder to bear.

He had a little work--Hezekiah Bartlett, true to his promise,
brought in a few more deeds to be drawn and another trifling title
search.  Also he introduced a crony of his, almost his only firm
friend, one Solomon Dobbs, of North Harniss, who was involved in a
long-winded squabble over a cranberry-swamp property.  Having
quarreled with a former lawyer--his third--he needed another to
carry on.

Solomon was almost as great a crank as Bartlett, and Banks,
although he gratifyingly accepted the trust, was aware that it was
likely to be but temporary.  In the end, Dobbs would fight with him
as he had with his predecessors.  Nevertheless, while it lasted it
was a help toward keeping his mind occupied.

Denboro was now speculating about the delay in the bank merger.
That important deal was apparently hanging fire, and although there
were all sorts of guesses no guess was satisfactory.  The Denboro
Bank directors had nothing to report and admitted it.  "Just
waiting, that's all," said Judge Bangs.  From Ostable the report
was similar:  "When we have anything to report you will hear it"--
that was the Trent dictum, according to rumor.

Banks' losing his position as the Trent attorney was getting to be
an old story.  He was no longer conscious of nudges and grins when
he stopped in at the post office.  There were occasional sly digs
from acquaintances and a little patronizing sympathy, which was
harder to bear.  Eben Caldwell patted his shoulder.

"Don't give up the ship," said Caldwell.  "You're young yet, and
you'll get along all right by and by.  I tell 'em, 'What if he
couldn't swing a job like that?  Too much to expect of a fellow his
age.  Honest, I never could understand why a man with Chris Trent's
judgment ever let him make the try.  I blame Chris much as
anybody.'  That's what I tell 'em.  'You wait five or ten year,' I
says.  'He may turn out to be as smart a man as his father was,
after all.  I'm goin' to help him, that's what I'm goin' to do.'
And I am, too; shouldn't wonder if I had some more bills for you to
collect for me some of these days, Banks.  Want to make sure I
can't collect 'em myself fust, of course."

All this was annoying and trying to the patience, but Banks could
bear it with a measure of philosophy.  There was but one thing that
really mattered, and that mattered so much that there were times
when he felt that it could not be borne.

It was then that the prospect of leaving Denboro forever became a
great temptation, when his resolution faltered and his mind
hesitated between two alternatives--running away and forgetting,
or breaking the rash promise he had made Mrs. Truman.  The latter
temptation was the stronger.

He saw Elizabeth occasionally--on the street, at the post office or
in the Truman carriage.  He always bowed to her, and she bowed in
return, although her bow was cold and distant.  Mrs. Truman did not
bow; she ignored him utterly.  Then he would return to his office,
sit down behind the tambour desk and decide that he would play the
fool no longer.  He would go to Elizabeth, insist upon seeing her
and force her to listen while he told the whole and exact truth.
If she still persisted in misjudging him and his motives, at least
she would have heard his side of the case.  She would know that
those motives were honest.

How could he give her up?  How could he?  Now that their season of
sweet companionship and daydreams was over--ended, never to be
resumed--one overwhelming fact remained.  He was more deeply,
desperately in love with her than ever.

It was then that the injustice done him--or that he had done
himself--became most apparent.  Then that he realized fully that he
was just a ridiculous, impractical, quixotic idiot.  The Trent-
Truman combination must be laughing in its sleeve.  Just a word in
the right quarter, and the laughter, if there was any, might be on
the other side.

But Mrs. Truman had called him a quitter.  That sneering accusation
still rankled.  He might be a fool, but to tell any one, even
Elizabeth, would be quitting; and he would not do that.  So there
he was again, precisely where he started.

He saw a great deal of the Tadgetts during these dreary weeks.
Ebenezer was no fair-weather friend.  He ran into the law office at
least once a day.  When Banks, tired of thinking, looking at the
wall or re-reading the papers in Solomon Dobbs' cranberry-swamp
case, locked the door and adjourned to the secondhand shop for
companionship and solace Tadgett's hail of welcome was always
cheery and convincing.

Banks was invited to help in whatever "resurrecting" might be going
on; or even, if the afternoon happened to be Wednesday, to turn the
game of cutthroat euchre into a regular one by taking a hand.  This
invitation, however, he never accepted; it would have been a crime
to disturb the routine of that time-honored three-cornered battle.
Moreover, looking on and listening were far more entertaining.

He and Ebenezer attended an occasional lodge meeting or a meeting
of the fire company.  The latter gatherings were almost purely
social.  There was some pretense of listening to reports and of
drilling once a month with the "chemical engine," the only piece of
apparatus possessed by the company.  As for active service, there
was practically none.  Jotham Gott's henhouse--it was vacant;
Jotham had not kept hens for years--burned to the ground, but by
the heroic exertion of the brave fire laddies two sides of the
pigsty adjoining were saved.

Jotham was not so grateful as perhaps he should have been.  "What
in time is the good of half a pigpen?" he wanted to know.
"'Specially when it's so scorched up that any healthy pig could
bust right out through the broadside of it anywheres?  Why in the
nation didn't you let it all burn?  What have I been makin' them
insurance companies rich for?"

One evening in early March, Banks, having at last accepted an
urgently repeated invitation to sup again with the Tadgetts, walked
home with Ebenezer.  It had been a pleasant afternoon, and at six
o'clock it was still clear and bright, although cold for the
season.  A strong wind, blowing in from the sea, made the chill
doubly raw and penetrating.  Mr. Tadgett inspected the horizon.

"Goin' to blow a reg'lar drivin' gale afore mornin'," he
prophesied.  "See them clouds rollin' up?  Get 'em that brown color
and all raveled and dusty round the edges, and you want to nail
your hat on afore you go out."

In the Tadgett sitting room Banks was surprised to find another
guest.  Old Mrs. Abial Simpkins, star witness for the prosecution
at the sideboard hearing, was there, seated in a rocker and looking
very grand in black silk and a brown "transformation"--which, being
not quite large enough, showed an edging of gray hair at the sides
and the back of her neck.  She and Banks shook hands; they had not
met, except on the street, since the hearing.

"Well, young man," she said.  "I been hearin' quite consider'ble
about you since you and Ebenezer had me perched up on exhibition in
that court place, like a stuffed owl.  I don't s'pose you know it,
but I had a bowl of clams all chopped up and ready to make a pie
out of that day, and while I was down wastin' my time and breath
along with you and Ebenezer, Pinky--that's my cat--got up on the
table and eat half of 'em and upset the rest.  My blessed land of
Canaan! if I wasn't mad when I come home to that mess!  I had a
notion to sue you for them clams, Ebenezer Tadgett.  If they'd been
antique enough so they was worth a million dollars I don't know's I
wouldn't."

"What did you do, Susannah?" inquired Ebenezer.

"Well, I spent half an hour tryin' to lay hands on that pesky cat.
When I did locate him finally he was under the parlor sofy, sick to
his stomach.  The front parlor, you understand; nothin' would do
him to be sick in but the best room in the house.  There, there!
don't talk about it!  Well, how's your mother, Mr. Bradford--pretty
smart, I hope?"

Tadgett, under pretense of giving Banks an opportunity to wash up,
conducted him to the back kitchen, where he explained the excuse
for Mrs. Simpkins' presence.

"You see, Banks," he whispered, "Susannah used to know Sheba's
folks over to Trumet back in the old days.  Sheba's been plannin'
to have her to supper for a long spell, but--well, to tell you the
truth, I'm kind of sorry she picked out the same night you're here.
You nor I nor Sheba won't have a chance to say a word.  All we'll
have to do is keep her plate filled up and bend a listenin' ear, as
the hymn tune says.  She'll eat and talk and talk and eat.  She's
the only critter I ever saw that could do two jobs at the same time
and not slight either of 'em.  She's a kind of old-fashioned
muzzle-loader, but she's deadly with both barrels."

It was a shrewd appraisal.  Mrs. Simpkins' appetite was healthy
indeed, but satisfying it was not permitted to interfere with her
flow of conversation.  She talked and talked and talked.  She was
real glad to see Mr. Bradford again.  It was surprising, considering
what nigh neighbors they were--right in the same town--how seldom
they ran across each other.  There was a time, years ago, when her
folks and the Bradfords was real sort of thick, as you might say.

"That was when your father was livin', Mr. Bradford.  My
stepbrother-in-law, Henry Todd--Abial's first wife's half brother
he was--was with Cap'n Silas on the last ship he sailed, the one
that burned up out there off Californy.  Henry was second mate on
that Golgander, or whatever's the name.  Yes, he was.  He never
went to sea after that; had enough of the dangers of the briny
deep, as the Good Book tells us about, I guess.

"Anyhow, home he come, and the first thing we knew he'd got a real
nice easy job with Benjamin Trent--that's Mr. Christopher's
grandfather--and Cap'n 'Lijah Truman, up to Boston.  Must have got
good pay, 'cause when they went out of business he came back to
Bayport to stay till he died, and he lived soft and wore good
clothes and never seemed to worry at all.

"Abial, my husband, couldn't understand it.  He used to say to him,
'Well, Henry,' he'd say, 'goin' to sea must pay better'n I ever
thought it did, or else Trent and Truman must have give you big
wages, for you to put by enough to lay back and loaf the way you do
now.'  And Henry'd laugh--seems if I could hear him this minute--
and say, 'Well, 'Bial, I'm of a savin' disposition.  Ain't you
noticed that?'  We hadn't noticed it--'tother way round, if
anything--and so--I'll take another cup of tea, Sheba, if the pot
ain't run dry."

From this family reminiscence she turned to the matter of the bank
merger.  Her ideas concerning it were extraordinarily muddled, and
so were her questions concerning Banks' appointment as attorney for
the Ostable Bank.  She was particularly curious about the reasons
behind his losing that position.

"Of course," she announced, "that ain't any of my business, Mr.
Bradford.  Far be it from me to pry where I ain't wanted.  _I_
don't know why you and Chris Trent couldn't get along--I tell
everybody that's between you and him.  'Between them two,' I say--"

"Sartin!" cut in Mr. Tadgett with presence of mind.  "And those
riz biscuits are right between you and me, Susannah.  Help
yourself! . . .  Oh, say, Banks, what's this I hear about Mrs. Cap'n
'Lijah Truman bein' took sick?  Somebody said she had St. Vitus, or
somethin'."

This amazing statement had the effect for which it was designed,
that of switching Mrs. Simpkins' train of thought.  "St. Vitus!"
she squealed.  "Why, whoever told you such nonsense as that?  She
went over to Ostable the other night to Chris Trent's house.  He
was givin' a collation and ball."

"There, now!" exclaimed Ebenezer with satisfaction.  "Ball--that's
it!  I knew there was some kind of dance mixed up with it.  'Twan't
St. Vitus's though; I guess you're right."

"Course I'm right.  Maybelle and the Cartwright girl they went over
there and she--Maybelle, I mean--got all het up dancin'.  Perfectly
ridiculous at her age!  Oh, you can't fool me about how old she is,
no matter how hard she tries to make out she ain't.  She's old
enough to have a grown-up granddaughter, and that's no chicken."

"No, it's ham," agreed Mr. Tadgett innocently.  "Better have
another slice, hadn't you, Susannah?"

Mrs. Simpkins accepted the ham, but she refused to change the
subject.  She rattled on about Mrs. Truman's illness.  According to
her, Mrs. Truman had got overheated, had caught cold and was
confined to her room with rheumatism.

"And serve her right, I say!" she declared.  "Trippin' the light
frantic toe at her time of life!  Better leave them kind of didoes
to Elizabeth and Chris Trent.  They're willin' to be left, from
what I hear.  Folks are wonderin' when the weddin' bells are goin'
to ring."

Altogether it was not a happy meal for Banks Bradford.  And it
ended in a peculiar fashion.  Mrs. Tadgett, in hooded majesty, had
so far fulfilled her duties as hostess without unconventional
lapses.  She had taken but a small part in the conversation, but
the few remarks she did make were to the point.  Now she attracted
the company's attention by a sepulchral groan.

Mrs. Simpkins was in the middle of a long and tangled sentence, and
the interruption startled her.  "Heavens and earth!" she cried with
a jump.  "What kind of hark from the tomb was that?  Was it in the
kitchen, or where?"

Mrs. Tadgett answered the last question with another groan, deeper
than before.  They all turned to look at her.  Ebenezer sprang to
his feet.

"Sheba!" he pleaded anxiously.

His wife raised both hands in solemn protest.  "Hush! Hush!" she
commanded hollowly.  "The time of light--the time of light!  I see!
I see!"

Her husband sank back into his chair, "Oh, the devil!" he exclaimed
with fervor.  Mrs. Simpkins stared in amazement.  "What's the
matter with her?" she demanded, looking all about the table and
under it.  "What does she see?  I don't see nothin'."

She was shaking her skirts and would have risen, but Banks, sitting
next her, laid a hand on her arm.

"It's all right, Mrs. Simpkins," he whispered.  "Nothing to be
frightened about."

"Eh?  Nothin'!  Then what's she makin' them awful cat noises for?
And lookin'--why, she looks as if--"

"Peace, be still!  The spell of vision works."

"My land of Canaan!  I'm scart to death!  Why don't you get her
some ammonia or somethin'?  I never--"

"Shut UP!"  It was the exasperated Tadgett who roared the order.
"It's that blasted spiritu'list camp meetin', that's all 'tis," he
groaned.  "It's always breakin' out in the wrong place.  Now,
Sheba--"

"The vision comes!  I see a young man--"

"Yes, I know.  It's Banks.  He's right here at the table with you.
We all see him just as plain as you do.  Come, now!"

"I see him down--down--down."

"Yes, but you'll see him up in a minute.  We're through supper,
Sheba."

"With him I see a female.  He is close beside her.  She is strange
to look at."

"What!  Close beside him?  Who's she talkin' about?"  This from
Mrs. Simpkins, and with indignation.

"There, there!  She don't mean you, Susannah."

"My land, she better not!  If I'm any stranger to look at than she
is--well!"

Mrs. Tadgett was paying no heed to these asides.  She went on with
her sepulchral monologue.  "She is there with him.  He takes her in
his arms.  He--he--  Why," she went on vaguely, "I--I can't see any
more.  It is all dim--dim, like smoke."

Ebenezer's hand was on her shoulder.  "Yes, yes," he said soothingly.
"That's it--smoke.  Banks and I are just goin' to have a cigar
together.  Shall we have 'em here or in the sittin' room, Sheba?"

Mrs. Tadgett sighed.  "Why--why, yes, Ebenezer," she faltered
uncertainly.  "I guess so."

"So do I.  We'll have 'em in the sittin' room, Banks. . . .  Thank
the Lord!  Come on, all hands!"

A few minutes later he and Banks said good night at the door.
Ebenezer was, for him, rather downcast.

"Of all times on earth for her to have one of them conniptions!" he
grumbled disgustedly.  "With that Susannah Simpkins to listen and
tell it from here to yon. . . .  Eh?  Oh, I don't know whether
Susannah's a spirit believer or not.  What I do know is that she
heard Sheba talkin' about some young fellow havin' a strange woman
in his arms.  She may not believe, but, heavens and earth, how she
will GUESS!"

He looked up at the sky, where an occasional star showed between
the flying clouds.  "Blowin' a livin' hurricane, just as I thought
'twould," he added.  "And I'll have to see Susannah home pretty
soon.  Between her tongue and the gale 'twill be a windy cruise.
Well"--hopefully--"if it blows hard enough a squall might carry her
up and out to sea; she don't weigh much, you know. . . .  Good
night, Banks.  Sorry things happened as they did.  Won't hold it
against Sheba or me, will you?  No, I know you won't.  You're an
awful good fellow."

Banks found it a hard walk home through the bitter cold and the
savage wind.  More than once he heard sharp cracks and the sounds
of tearing and crashing in the boughs of the elms and silver-leaf
poplars by the roadside.

His mother called to him as he passed the door of her room.  "Your
Uncle Abijah was here," she said.  "He was very much disturbed.  At
his bank directors' meeting to-day they had a letter from the
directors of the Ostable Bank saying that, after considering, they
had changed their minds about the merger and that the deal was off
altogether, so far as they were concerned."

Banks did not answer at once.  Then he asked, "Did Uncle Bije say
any more?"

"He said a good deal, for he was dreadfully disappointed.  He is
very anxious to see you, dear.  He seems to think that you know a
great deal more about all this than you have told him--or any one."

Falling asleep was not easy for Banks that night.  For a long time
he lay in bed, listening to the screaming of the gale, the rattle
of blown twigs upon the roof and the distant roar of the sea along
the shoals.  At last he dropped into a doze, a doze filled with
dreams.

He woke with a start.  A bell was ringing somewhere, ringing
steadily and persistently.  Then he heard a voice outside the open
window, calling his name.  He leaped from the bed and ran to the
window.  Below in the yard was a figure, shouting, waving to him.
He recognized the voice.

"What is it, Ebenezer?" he yelled, for yelling was necessary in
order to carry above that wind.

"Fire!  Fire!  Turn out, Banks!  Cap'n 'Lijah Truman's house is on
fire!"



CHAPTER XXI


Ebenezer was waiting in the lee by the side porch when Banks came
rushing from the house a few minutes later.  They ran down the path
to the gate and along Mill Road.  It was a wild, eerie night.  The
southern and eastern horizons were pitchy black, but overhead the
stars were shining like diamond points, and the cold was piercing.

The gale, too, was fiercer than ever.  The keen gusts came
shrieking in from the sea, over the downs and across the fields,
and in the open stretches, where there were no buildings or trees
to break their force, the two men were obliged to lower their
shoulders and push against them to make headway.

Banks ran doggedly on without speaking.  Ahead, in the direction of
the Old Ostable Road, a crimson glow painted the sky; against it a
fringe of tree tops whipped and lashed in mad silhouette.

Ebenezer panted a protest.  "Hey!" he gasped.  "Pull up a second,
can't you!  I--I'm foundered."

Banks paused reluctantly.  "All right," he answered.  "Here!  Step
in behind here and get your breath."

He dragged his companion into the shelter of a high board fence.
They crouched there and waited.  Banks asked the question which had
been in his mind from the beginning.

"Do you know anything about it?" he asked, stooping to the Tadgett
ear.  "How long has it been burning?  Is every one safe?"

Ebenezer was still panting.  "Don't know nothin'," he replied, all
in one breath.  "I was asleep, and fust thing I woke up to was
Eliab bangin' the back door and tootin' like a steamboat whistle.
All he'd do first was yell, 'Fire!  Fire!  Fire!' over and over,
like a poll parrot.  Then, after I'd galloped down and shook some
sense into him he told me the Truman house was burnin' up.  I got
some clothes on--I swan I ain't sure yet whether they're mine or
Sheba's--and started.  Then I thought of you and turned back to
roust you out.  That's all I know. . . .  Whew!  Little more'n I'd
have bust a b'iler!"

They waited a moment longer.  Above the screaming wind they could
hear the ringing of the church bell.  Windows in the houses near at
hand were springing into light.  Some were open, and figures in all
sorts of dress--or lack of it--were peering out.

Tadgett puffed and gasped.  "I'll be ready for another hitch in a
jiffy," he wheezed.  "You go ahead, Banks.  I'll stick to your wake
best I can."

Banks took him at his word and began running once more.  On the
Main Road were other figures, running in the same direction.  As he
passed the Malabar he vaguely noticed that the windows of Captain
Abijah's room were alight.  Eben Caldwell came stumbling from his
house door, carrying a bucket in one hand and what looked like a
tin watering can in the other.  Farther on he passed old Benijah
Perry.  Benijah was kneeling by the roadside, apparently in
trouble.

"That you, Bradford?" he grunted.  "This is a divil of a note,
ain't it!  I put on the wrong shoes, somehow or 'nother, and these
ain't got any laces to 'em.  When one of the dratted things ain't
comin' off the other is!"

Banks did not linger to hear more; a half mile farther, and the
Truman house was in sight.  The fire was in the rear; the main body
of the building was still unscorched, but it was evident that it
would not be so long.  Sheets of flame and showers of sparks were
tossed high by the gale, to the accompaniment of an ominous roar
and crackle.  Backed by the clear starlit sky and in the biting
cold the scene was weird, unreal.

The doors and windows were open, and in and out of them men and
boys were darting.  The chemical engine was drawn up in the yard,
surrounded by an agitated group.  Banks, hurrying to join this
group, found Sam Hayman, undertaker and fire chief, more agitated
than any one else.  All Mr. Hayman's professional suavity had
vanished.

"Eh?" he snarled, as Bradford touched his shoulder.  "Don't bother
me now!--Oh, it's you, is it!  We're in a healthy fix.  Engine
busted; she ain't workin' right.  Can't get no action out of
her. . . .  Yes, yes!  We'll fix her pretty soon, but we need
her now. . . .  I don't know what to tell you to do.  Save the
furniture, if you can't do nothin' else.  Pass buckets--do
somethin'!"

Banks turned away.  He accosted a bystander, an elderly man whom he
knew, and asked him the one important question.  "Is every one out
of the house--and safe?" he demanded.

"Yes, everybody's out, so they say.  The hired girls are over in
Clem Baker's house up the road yonder.  Mrs. Truman is there, too,
I believe.  They had the dickens of a time getting her out.  She's
been sick, you know, and they had to wrap her up in blankets and
carry her down by main strength.  Somebody said she'd fainted when
they found her; I don't know how true it is."

"And--Miss Cartwright?  Is she--"

"Yes, she's all right, too.  With her grandmother, I suppose; I
haven't seen her."

Banks sighed in relief.  Then came a shout from the crowd, and he
turned to look.  A great section of the roof of the main building
had burst into bright flame, illuminating the yard as if a
searchlight had been turned upon it.  In that light scattered
figures upon the roof, figures holding futile buckets, stood out
clearly, cowering away from the blast of heat.

Banks hesitated, trying to think what to do.  Buckets--yes, and
even the chemical engine at its best--would be of no avail against
a fire like that on a night like this.  The only sane procedure was
to save whatever might be saved.  The furniture and the pictures--
the crowd would attend to them; was attending to them now, judging
by the crashing and bumping and banging about the front door.  Then
he remembered Mrs. Truman's jewelry--her rings and pins and
bracelets.  She had many of them, he knew, and they were valuable.
If, as his informant had said, she was ill--fainting when they
carried her out--there was little probability that she had given
them a thought.  They were in her bedroom, he imagined.  He might
not be able to find them, but at least he could try.

He pushed through the huddle by the door.  That door was blocked by
a mob who were trying to drag an upright piano through it and
meeting with little success.  Banks turned away and hurried to the
end of the long piazza.  There were French windows there, he knew,
opening from the library.  They were locked, of course, but he
broke a pane, turned the bolt and entered the room.

The volunteer salvage gangs had so far confined their strenuous
attentions to the hall and drawing-room; the library, save for
himself, was untenanted.  In the hurly-burly of roar and crash and
shouting it seemed strangely orderly and natural.  The books in
their cases, the lamps on the tables, Mrs. Truman's favorite
armchair with the velvet cushions, her footstool beside it--
everything looked just as it had in those happy evenings when he
and Elizabeth were there together.  For an instant he was oddly
conscious of this; then he ran into the front hall, fought his way
through the group struggling with the piano and rushed up the wide
stairway.

There were many rooms opening from the corridor on the second
floor, and he did not know which was Mrs. Truman's.  The smoke was
thicker here, and he covered his face with his coat collar as he
hurried through it.  A man--it was too dark to recognize him--with
a hatchet in one hand and an empty bucket in the other came tearing
along from the opposite direction, and they crashed together.  The
bucket dropped with a clatter.  The man swore.

"What you doin' up here?" he sputtered.  "Want to smother, do you?
Smoke's thicker'n a feather bed, and the fire's right astern of it.
Get downstairs while you can, you poor fool!"

He left the bucket where it had fallen and galloped toward the
stair.  Banks stumbled on, pausing to look into each room as he
passed its open door.  One, two, three--all guest rooms apparently,
and unlighted, except for the glow growing ever brighter beyond the
window panes.

The fourth door, however, was closed.  Banks turned the knob, but
it did not open.  he shook it, but still it remained firm.  He
tried again.  Then he threw all his weight against it.  The flimsy
lock gave a little, but just as he was setting his shoulder for a
final shove some one inside spoke sharply.

"Go away!" cried an angry feminine voice.  "Don't you do that
again!  Go away from there!"

Banks' shoulder relaxed.  He stared in amazement at the locked
door.  Who on earth--  The man in the yard had told him that every
occupant of the house was out and in safety.  A cloud of smoke
swept through the hall, causing him to cough and choke.

"Open the door!" he ordered, half strangled.

"Go away!" repeated the voice, more shrill and angry than before.
"I don't want you!  Go right away!"

He stepped back, then once more threw himself against the door.
With a snap it flew open, and he stepped into the room.  It was
large and luxurious.  A lamp was burning upon a mahogany table.
On that table and on chairs and bureau and drawers were heaps of
feminine apparel--gowns, hats, furs.  In the corner, opposite the
door, was an iron safe.

The safe was open, and crouching before it was a plump figure
sketchily arrayed in a lace-trimmed bed jacket and a silk
petticoat, its bare feet thrust into pink satin slippers with high
heels.  As Banks stood there, blinking in the sudden blaze of
light, this figure swung about and faced him.  It sprang erect,
glared and stamped one of the satin slippers.

"Go away!  Go away this minute!  How dare you come into my room!
How dare you!"

Banks Bradford did not answer.  He could not; he could only stare
and struggle with feelings akin to those of the patriarch when he
said that the hand was the hand of Esau, but the voice was the
voice of Jacob.  In this case, impossible as it seemed, the voice
was the voice of Mrs. Capt. Elijah Truman!  But could Mrs. Truman
ever look like that--or stamp or storm in that undignified fashion?

And Mrs. Truman's hair had always been brown and abundant and
elaborately arranged, whereas this being had very little hair--and
that gray--while its arrangement resembled the coiffure of the
Witch of Endor, as portrayed in the Illustrated Story of the Bible
on the shelf at home.

Besides, Mrs. Truman--he had just been told so--was safe in the
house of Clement Baker, across the road!

"Do you hear me?" demanded the voice furiously.  "Go away, you
impudent wretch!"

Banks came out of his trance.  "Mrs. Truman!" he gasped.  "Why--
why, Mrs. Truman!"

Mrs. Truman--for it was she--made no reply.  She ran to the bureau
and took from it a leather jewel case, which she thrust into the
safe.  A cloud of black smoke poured in through the open door
behind Banks Bradford.  He stepped forward.  The situation was
impossible, yes; but impossible or not it was one to be faced and
conquered without loss of time.

"Mrs. Truman," cried Banks sharply, "you can't stay here!  This
part of the house is beginning to burn, and you must get out.
Come!"

Still Mrs. Truman did not deign to answer.  From the heap on the
table she selected a sable neckpiece and thrust that also into the
safe.

"Mrs. Truman!  Listen!"

"Haven't you gone yet?  Mind your own business and go--now!"

"But, Mrs. Truman, don't you understand?  This room may be ablaze
in five minutes."

She turned and, apparently for the first time, recognized him.
"Oh!" she observed with a sneer, the haughtiness of which might
have been more withering and impressive had it not been that a
strand of the thin gray hair fell down across her nose.  "Oh, I
see--it is you!  And you want me to run away.  You would!  Well, I
shall go when I am quite ready and not before.  March out of that
door and shut it behind you!"

She selected a sable muff and crammed that into the crowded safe.
More and thicker smoke poured into the room.  Banks stepped nearer.
"Mrs. Truman," he said emphatically, "you are going now--with me.
Come!"

She swung about.  "When I have finished what I am doing and am
ready I shall leave," she announced.  "But not in your company,
thank you--Mister Quitter!"

He darted past her, slammed the safe door and whirled the dial upon
its face.  "Can you walk or shall I carry you?" he demanded.

"Carry me!  You DARE!  Stop!"  Mrs. Truman was frantic.  "Do you
expect me to make a public exhibition of myself, looking like this!
At least you can be gentleman enough to leave my bedroom while I
dress."

From somewhere in the house behind them came a thunderous crash; a
shower of sparks shot across the doorway.  Bradford ran to the bed
and seized an armful of quilts and blankets.

"Put these around you," he ordered.

"I shall not!  Stop!  Don't you touch me!  STOP!"

He did not stop; he began.  The rest of the tirade was smothered by
the quilts and blankets.  She fought and struggled, but he wrapped
her in the bedclothes by main strength, threw his arms about the
wriggling bundle and bore it to the door.

Head down, his mouth and nostrils sheltered by his coat collar, he
stumbled along the narrow corridor to the head of the stairway.
The hall at its foot was thronged with struggling figures.  He
dodged past half a dozen men who seemed to be playing at tug-of-war
with a mahogany dining table, pushed by another group carrying
chairs, stacks of dishes, umbrellas, linens, hats, and goodness
knew what, and plunged through the doorway to the top of the front
steps.  There, for an instant, he paused for breath.

The yard was now so brightly lighted by the flames that each blade
of grass cast its shadow.  Standing there on the upper step, Banks
and his burden made a tableau for all to see.  Mrs. Truman had not
stopped struggling for a moment since he carried her from the upper
room.  She had kicked off one satin slipper, and her bare foot, in
frantic motion, flashed with each kick.  Fire Chief Hayman,
brandishing a huge speaking trumpet, ran up to them.  He had been
roaring through the trumpet and was far too excited to remember to
take it from his mouth.  He pushed its open end almost in the
Bradford face and howled at the top of his lungs.

"Who-oo-oo-oo-oo?" he bellowed.

Banks, almost deafened, ducked his head.  "What?" he gasped.
"Don't DO that! . . .  What are you trying to say?"

Mr. Hayman removed the trumpet.  "What in time you luggin' them bed
comforters around for?" he demanded.  "They wouldn't have smashed
if you chucked 'em out of window.  Drop 'em and go fetch more
buckets.  I never saw such a gang of numbheads in my life! . . .
Godfreys mighty! what's that?"

"That" was the Truman foot, white, below the blankets.  And from
the other end of the bundle came a muffled command.  "Put me down!
Put me down this minute, you--you scoundrel!"

Hayman's eyes and mouth opened.  The hand holding the speaking
trumpet dropped to his side.  "Wha--wha--what!" he spluttered.

Banks did not linger to explain.  He ran down the steps and across
the yard.  The fire chief stared after him; so, too, did many
others whose attention had been attracted.  Near the gate, by the
engine, was a cluster of people--women and children, for the most
part.  They were gazing at him as he staggered up.

"Here!" he ordered savagely.  "Take her, somebody, for heaven's
sake!"

They took her; he forced her upon them.  At least eight pairs of
welcoming hands were extended as he stood Denboro's most
influential resident upon her feet.  The wrappings fell away from
her face.

"Oh!" groaned Mrs. Capt. Elijah Truman.  "Oh, you villain!"

There were shouts, exclamations, cackles of excitement.  Banks
swung on his heel.  He had taken but two steps when they called his
name.  He turned back.  Mrs. Truman, supported by the bystanders,
was pointing a shaking finger in his direction.  Her supporters
were trying to calm her, but she refused to be quieted.

"You--you--" she panted, the thin gray hair bristling.  "Oh, you
wretch!  How dared you do such a thing?  Didn't I tell you to go
away?  Didn't I tell you not to touch me!"

Banks Bradford bowed ironically.  "You did, Mrs. Truman," he said
with frigid politeness; "but this time, at least, I didn't quit."

He strode back to the front door.  He had never felt more angry or
so supremely ridiculous in his life.

The Truman mansion was soon a complete wreck.  Of its walls but one
section remained standing, and that only because the gale had at
last brought rain with it.  The downpour had done what the Denboro
fire department could not do.

One corner of the big house reared above the smoldering ruins, and
that corner, by a curious accident, included the bedroom from which
Banks Bradford had carried Mrs. Truman.  The room was smoked and
soaked, its furniture was damaged beyond repair; but neither floor
nor ceiling had fallen.

And Banks, gazing up, was acutely conscious that had he left its
occupant within it, as she had ordered him to do, she might
possibly have suffered no great harm.  That was the crowning irony
of the whole absurd business.  Playing the hero had been furthest
from his thoughts when he left that room.  As he saw it then, there
was a disagreeable job to be done, and Fate had selected him, of
all persons, to do it.

For a long fortnight Denboro had chuckled behind his back, deeming
him a swelled-headed young upstart who had had the cheek to accept
a task far beyond his capacity and had fallen down.  Now, when the
story of the idiotic rescue spread, the chuckles would become
roars.

The bitter truth of this conclusion was more than once forced upon
him before he left the Truman premises.  Sam Hayman slapped him on
the back.  Sam was aglow with pride.

"Well, boy," he chortled, "we done a pretty good job, if I do say
it.  Saved most one whole end of the main buildin' and the woodshed
and the cellar out back.  That ain't so bad for a volunteer fire
brigade, eh?  But, oh, my soul"--with a hilarious shout--"I'll
never forget the sight of you luggin' old lady Maybelle down those
steps!  Haw, haw, haw!"

Bradford turned away, but Hayman followed him.  "You see," he went
on, "all hands of us thought she was out long before and over to
Baker's.  The mistake was on account of that hired girl of hers--
Mary, you know.  Seems she'd wrapped herself up in blankets and
things and was up to Mrs. Truman's room door.  There, bein' scared
nigh to death, she fainted plumb away.  The fellows, seein' her
layin' there, took it for granted she was Maybelle and carried her
down and across to Clem's. . . .  You done a good job when you got
the old lady herself, but oh, Lord A'mighty.  'twas funny!  Haw,
haw!"

Old Benijah Perry came hobbling up.  "Well, how's the villain and
the scoundrel?" he wanted to know.  "I was right alongside when you
came totin' her acrost that yard--and the way she laid into you and
the names she called you for keepin' her from bein' burnt up!  Ho,
ho!  I'm most dead from laughin'!"

There was more of a similar nature.  Banks tried to avoid the crowd
at the gate, but as he was pushing through its outskirts some one
pushing in the opposite direction blocked his way.  He looked up,
and his eyes met those of Christopher Trent.  Trent was, as always,
carefully dressed, in marked contrast to the disheveled group about
them.

Banks nodded and pushed on.  Trent did not nod nor did he speak.
The light from the still-flickering ruins shone upon his face, and
he looked--or so it seemed to Bradford disgruntled and ugly.  For
an instant they faced each other; then the moving crowd separated
them.

The last words Banks heard before he entered the door of the
Bradford cottage were spoken by Jotham Gott.  Jotham was moving
down the Main Road at a rapid gait, but paused as he recognized the
person behind him.  His cheeks were blue and his teeth chattered.

"If I ain't got my death this night," he mumbled between shivers,
"then it's a mercy!  When I was turned out to go to the fire I
couldn't find my pants nowheres.  Everything else was right where I
put it afore I turned in, but them pants--no, sir!  Finally I put
on a pair of old wore-out overalls, and I give you my word that
gale blowed right straight through em, same as moskeeter nettin'.
I bet you my underpinnin's icicles!  If I've got any knee j'ints
I don't know it. . . .  Say, Banks, is it so that you toted Mrs.
Cap'n 'Lijah out of the house done up in baggin' or somethin'?
I heard you did. . . .  Aw, hold on, can't you?  I want to hear
about it."



By morning Banks Bradford's sense of humor had come to his rescue.
He even laughed a little as he told his mother the story.  But when
she, too, laughed he could not entirely conceal his feelings of
humiliation and chagrin.

"Idiotic, wasn't it," he observed with a shrug.  "I shall be more
than ever the town joke, after this, of course.  Well, a little
extra ridicule won't matter much."

She was still smiling, but she shook her head.  "You mustn't feel
that way, Banks," she said.  "People will laugh at first, I
suppose, for it WAS funny.  But they won't laugh long.  The
sensible ones will understand and appreciate what you did.  If it
hadn't been for you Mrs. Truman might not be living now.  She knows
that, and when she is herself again she can't help but be
grateful."

"Oh, yes!" agreed Banks sarcastically.  "She was grateful at the
time.  She expressed her gratitude; you should have heard her."

"Yes, I know.  But I think I can understand that.  She is a very
vain woman, and your carrying her out in such a state for every one
to see was the very thing above all others to make her furious.
She asked you to give her time to dress, you say?"

"She didn't ask--she ordered.  There she was, the smoke pouring
into that room and the fire close behind it, stuffing her furs and
jewelry into that safe."

"Yes"--with a nod--"I should have expected her to do that.  To her,
life without dress and jewelry and money would not be worth living.
They would be the first things she would think of at such a time,
and her personal appearance next.  She is an absolutely selfish and
unscrupulous woman, Banks. . . .  There!  I didn't mean to say
that.  I suppose I shouldn't say it now, but it is true; I have
reason to know it."

He had not heard her say it, for he was thinking of the happenings
of the previous night.  "I wish you could have seen her, Mother,"
he mused.  "Her hair--why, I have always admired her hair.  Last
night there was scarcely any and that was gray."

"And you wonder she was angry when you wrapped her up like a mummy
and put her on public exhibition!  Never mind, dear.  If they are
laughing at you they will soon get over it; but it will be many a
day before they stop laughing at her, I imagine."

He rose to his feet.  "Well," he said with a grim nod, "I don't
think she will call me a quitter again.  I told her she was going
out of that room with me, and she did!"

He called at the Tadgett shop on his way home to dinner that noon.
Ebenezer was in the other back room, scraping and singing, as
usual.


     "Oh, Bridget Donahue,
      I tell you what I'll do--


"Yes--who is it?  Come in!


     "You take the name of Rafferty
      And I'll take Donahue.


"Why, hello, Banks!  Well, how's the champion life-saver this
mornin'?  All creation's talkin' about you, did you know it?"

Banks replied dryly that he suspected he might be the subject of
some conversation.

"I bet you you are!  I ain't heard anything else since breakfast.
If it wan't for you Denboro might be short one leadin' citizen.
They'll be hangin' a medal on you up to the town hall some day
pretty soon."

"A leather medal, you mean.  Oh, shut up, Ebenezer!  Don't you
suppose I feel enough of a fool without being reminded that I am
one?"

Mr. Tadgett put down his scraping knife and looked keenly at his
visitor.  "What's all this?" he demanded.  "Do you think I'm
foolin'?  I ain't.  Folks are sayin' you saved Maybelle Truman;
everybody else took it for granted she was over to Clem Baker's.
You was the only cool head in the gang.  If it hadn't been for you
she'd have been burnt up--or stifled and smoke-cured, like a ham."

"Be quiet, will you!  I don't want to talk about it."

"All right, just as you say.  You may not talk yourself, but you'll
be talked to.  Has she sent word to thank you yet?"

"Scarcely!  I judge you didn't hear her thank me last night.  There
were plenty who did."

"Oh, I see!  Yes, yes!  Well, last night everybody was laughin'
over how ridiculous you and she looked.  Now they ain't laughin' so
much; they're praisin' you up.  Say, Banks, you ain't really payin'
any attention to her talk and actions last night, are you?  She'd
been sick abed for three or four days, and last night, with the
excitement and all, she went right off her head, as you might say.
'Cordin' to tell, she's pretty sick now.  Elizabeth Cartwright and
the doctor and the rest they're worried about her. . . .  You ain't
seen Elizabeth since the fire, I presume likely?"

"No," said Banks shortly.

"Well, she's busy, I suppose.  I see her for a minute--just after
you'd gone home, 'twas.  She was lookin' for you; wanted to thank
you for savin' her grandma, I judged.  She asked me a lot of
questions about it."

Banks said nothing.  Ebenezer went on.

"I see Chris Trent for just a minute.  He was over home, to
Ostable, and he never got to the fire till 'twas out.  Funny thing,
too, that was," he added, rubbing his chin with the scraping knife.
"She was talkin' to me when he came alongside.  He said somethin'
to her, and she hardly answered him.  Just turned on her heel and
walked off.  He looked after her ugly enough, seemed to me.  Them
two ain't had any row betwixt 'em, have they? . . .  No?  Well, I
wondered."

Banks did not linger long in the shop.  As he was leaving Tadgett
caught his arm.

"By mighty!" he exclaimed in an awe-struck tone, "I almost let you
get away without sayin' a word about it.  And it's been in my mind
ever since I caught a glimpse of you comin' across the yard with
Maybelle.  That camp-meetin' vision Sheba had--the one she was took
with that very night when you and Susannah Simpkins was havin'
supper at our house; do you remember?  Sheba gave out that she saw
you with a woman, a strange-lookin' woman, and you was huggin' her
in your arms.  Well, when I see you fetchin' out Mrs. Cap'n 'Lijah
that vision flashed over me.  It did, by the everlastin'!"

"Oh, pshaw!  Be sensible, Ebenezer!"

"Ain't it sensible?  Why ain't it?  You had her in your arms, and
if she wan't strange lookin' I never see anything that was.  Yes,
and Sheba saw smoke--don't you know she said she did?  Banks, I
don't know's there ain't somethin' TO those visions of hers, after
all."

Before that day and the next were over Banks Bradford was forced to
change his mind concerning the effect which his absurd rescue of
Mrs. Truman was to have upon his standing in the community.  Almost
every person whom he met had something to say about his coolness
and grit.  There were jokes and some laughter, of course, but with
them praise and appreciation.  People of standing in the town came
up, shook hands with him and said things which were pleasant to
hear.  He did not accept the praise seriously and made it a point
to laugh more heartily than any one else at the funny side of the
adventure.  But--well, at least the affair had not done him harm.

Captain Abijah surprised him by dropping in at the office--the
first time he had crossed its threshold since the interview
following his nephew's resignation from Trent's employ.  The
captain offered no explanation for calling.  He talked about the
fire, of course, and chuckled grimly when he mentioned Mrs. Truman.

"I've read considerable," he observed, "about a body bein' so
scared and worked up that their hair turned white in a single
night, but I never saw it happen afore.  You've got yourself talked
about again, son.  Little habit of yours, that seems to be."

Banks smiled one-sidedly.  "It does, that's a fact," he admitted.
"I seem to have the faculty of getting in wrong with my fellow
citizens."

His uncle's brows puckered.  "I wouldn't say you'd got in wrong,
exactly," he observed.  "Most everybody I know seems to think you
did a pretty good job.  Hettie's prouder of bein' a Bradford just
now than she's been for a long spell.  I heard her tellin' Rinaldo
Bassett that she wasn't surprised--you acted just the way any
sensible person might know your father's son would act."

"Humph!  She hasn't talked with Mrs. Truman, that's evident."

"Nobody's talked with her--nobody except her granddaughter and the
doctor.  She's a pretty sick woman, I hear.  She was sick afore the
fire started, and the shock and all the rest of it have made her
sicker still.  It's her heart they're afraid of.  She's still over
in Clem Baker's spare room; they don't dare move her.  You moved
her, though!  Ho, ho!  Your mother tells me when you broke in the
door she was busy stuffin' her duds into a safe."

"Yes, she was."

"Well, she must be glad to know the safe came through all right;
wasn't hurt a mite, they tell me.  She locked it, I suppose, afore
you made a package out of her."

"No; I locked it.  She might have, if I had given her time--but I
didn't."

"Ho, ho!  Good work!  That's the way I like to see a man act.
You've got the Bradford backbone, I guess, after all.  Don't you
worry about the names she called you afterward.  She was mad, but
probably she'll get over it.  Her kind of woman is pretty apt to
think more of the fellow that knocks her over the head.  Queer, but
it's so.  Why, one time I saw a Kanaka kick his wife halfway across
their shanty--jealous of me, he was, you know--and yet when I
started to take her part and kick HIM she was goin' to stick a
knife into me. . . .  Humph!  Don't know why I told you that, I'm
sure.  Good thing Hettie wasn't around, eh?"

He had turned to go before he referred to the subject Banks had
been expecting to hear.  "Your mother give you the word I left
about the merger bein' called off?" he asked.

"Yes, she told me."

"Surprised, were you?"

"Not so much.  You remember my telling you I very much doubted its
ever going through."

"Um, ye-es, I remember.  And I remember tellin' you that in my
opinion there was somethin' mighty queer behind it all.  Can you
tell me now what reason you had for thinkin' it wouldn't go
through?"

"No, Uncle Bije."

"Huh! . . .  Well, so long, boy.  I--er--I may have a little job
for you pretty soon; looks as if I might.  Think likely you won't
be too drove up with business to handle it for me?"

"I'm sure I shan't be.  And I'm ever so much obliged, Uncle
Abijah."

"That's all right.  It's a kind of private thing.  You won't talk
about it outside, of course?"

"No, Uncle Bije."

"No," commented the captain dryly.  "I know darned well you won't!
I'm beginnin' to believe you can know more and say less than any
other man on earth. . . .  I'll see you to-morrow or next day,
probably."

Banks went home that night in a far happier mood than for weeks.
And at the post office next morning he found something which made
him happier still.  This something was a note from Elizabeth
Cartwright--brief, formal, but still, in a way, satisfactory:


DEAR MR. BRADFORD,

I am writing this because I want you to know how grateful I am for
what you did at the fire the other night.  I realize perfectly well
what might have happened if you had not been so cool and brave.

Grandmother realizes it, too, I am sure, although I am afraid she
was too excited and humiliated to say the things she should have
said.  Please don't pay any attention to those she did say; she did
not mean them.

She would be glad, I know, to have me thank you, and that is what I
am trying to do now.  She can't do it herself, for she is very,
very ill.  I am frightfully worried about her condition, and so
this note is short and I am afraid, rather incoherent.  But I DO
thank you so much.

Yours gratefully,

ELIZABETH CARTWRIGHT.


Banks read the few lines over and over.  She, at least, did not
consider him a joke.  And she had written.  She could not hate him,
or she would not have done that.  His blackest cloud was showing a
silver edge.  He whistled as he sat at the tambour desk.  And when
Hezekiah Bartlett came in, hailing him as the "bundle boy" and
wanting to know what his price would be for doing up and shipping
half a dozen other Denboro householders, he laughed quite as
heartily as the old man himself.

But neither he nor others laughed much longer.  The farce was
rapidly becoming a tragedy.  Reports from Clement Baker's spare
room grew less and less encouraging.  And there came an evening
when Cousin Hettie burst into the Bradford sitting room to announce
that she was the bearer of the most dreadful news.

"I declare," gasped Hettie, "I don't know how to break it.  It's
all for the best, I suppose--that's what we're told to say--and
flesh is grass and cut down and withereth, and the like of that.
But when I think of some folks--that Payson person, for instance,
sitting up in my best room, poking fun at the Franklin grate that
I let him have just out of the kindness of my heart and that I've
spent as much as four dollars on since December--when I think of
such as him, healthy and strong and living along and eating three
meals a day and being paid seventy-five dollars a month, and we
taxpayers having to foot the bill, and--"

Margaret broke in.  "What is it, Hettie?" she demanded.  "Come,
come!  Tell us."

Cousin Hettie straightened her thin shoulders.  "I am telling you,"
she declared with dignity.  "What I've been trying to do is break
it gentle, but if you'd rather be shocked, then shocked you are to
be.  Mrs. Cap'n Elijah Truman has passed to her reward.  She died
at half-past six this very night."



CHAPTER XXII


Denboro was cooling down after a feverish two weeks.  As a usual
thing the winter months were dull and uneventful, merely a sleepy
interlude, a period of semi-hibernation, between the end of the
cranberry harvest in the fall, and the spring, with the beginning
of the mackerel season and the preparation for the summer influx of
boarders and cottagers.  This winter had been a marked exception.
The bank merger which, after all the surmises and wild prophecies,
had come to nothing; the gossip concerning Banks Bradford and his
losing his position as attorney for the Ostable Bank; the great
fire and its accompaniment of sensational happenings; then the
sudden death of Mrs. Capt. Elijah Truman; all these had given the
town sufficient to keep its temperature high.  Now, a fortnight
after the Truman funeral, there was a drop.  At the post office, at
lodge meetings and sewing circles, they were beginning to get back
to normalcy, to speak of everyday matters, such as whether or not
the hotel would build the addition it had long contemplated, and to
resume discussion concerning the amount of salary to be paid the
principal in the high school.

Of course the Truman name was still frequently mentioned.  The
amount of her estate and just how wealthy Elizabeth Cartwright, her
sole heir, would be were unfailing subjects of speculation.  Then,
too, the fact that Elizabeth had chosen Judge Bangs as her business
adviser was of great interest and the cause of surprised chatter.
Every one had taken it for granted that Christopher Trent would act
in that capacity, but she and Mr. Trent were, apparently, not as
intimate as they had been during her grandmother's life.  There
were all sorts of stories drifting about.  When he and she met, so
it was said, she was very cool, even distant.  At the funeral he
had ridden in the carriage with her, and had been one of the little
group of intimate friends and mourners beside the grave, but now,
when she was temporarily occupying a suite of rooms at the Malabar
Hotel, he never called.  No, that was not exactly true: Rinaldo
Bassett reported him as having called twice, but each time she had
seen him only in the lobby and he had remained but a very short
time.  "Chris was lookin' pretty sour and out of sorts," according
to the Bassett estimate.

Banks Bradford had not spoken with her since they parted at his
office.  He attended the funeral, although his mother did not.  He
had begged her to.  "The whole town will be there," he urged, "and
people will think it strange if you aren't with me."

She shook her head.  "No, Banks," she said, quietly but firmly.
"You will go, of course.  You must, for Elizabeth's sake; but I
shan't."

He was close to losing patience.  "Mother!" he remonstrated.  "I
know your opinion of Mrs. Truman, and--well, perhaps it wasn't
altogether wrong; but surely you won't carry your prejudices beyond
the grave.  She is dead now."

Margaret sighed.  "It isn't that," she said.  "It is only that--
well, if I went I should feel like a hypocrite.  No, dear, you
don't know why, of course; but she would know--and understand."

Possibly--but he, himself, was far from understanding.  Her
attitude toward Maybelle Truman had always been a source of
perplexity to him, coupled with a trifle of resentment.  Granted
that the widow of Captain Elijah had been worldly and selfish and
vain--he was willing to grant that now--and granting, too, that for
a time, while he and Elizabeth had been intimate, his mother, like
most mothers under such circumstances, might have been a little
jealous--for her to carry her dislike of the dead woman to such a
point was inexplicable.  Margaret Bradford was not a person to hold
spiteful grudges.  She was always charitable and forgiving and
tolerant.  For every one--even Cousin Hettie at her irritating
worst--she found excuses.  What conceivable hypocrisy on her part
could there be in attending the funeral?  There was some secret
behind all this--she had, practically, admitted as much.  The
thought that his mother had a secret which could not be shared with
him was distinctly unpleasant and disturbing.

At the services in the crowded church, where he sat in one of the
rear pews, and again at the cemetery, his eyes saw clearly but one
person--Elizabeth.  She came up the aisle on the arm of old Captain
Hall, whose wife was one of Mrs. Truman's few intimates among
Denboro's "all-the-year" round residents.  Christopher Trent
followed with Mrs. Hall.  Banks found a wicked satisfaction in the
thought that Trent was not her escort.  There could not be truth in
the rumors, as repeated by Mrs. Simpkins, that she and he were "as
good as engaged."  And, perhaps, a bit in Tadgett's surmise that
they had disagreed--quarreled.  Instead of listening to the
minister's eulogies upon the deceased, he drifted into all sorts of
vague speculations, dreams.

At the cemetery, forlorn and bleak that gray afternoon, he saw her
standing by the open grave, a slim, pathetic figure in black, the
wind whipping her skirts about her ankles.  She looked so lonely,
so forsaken, so in need of comfort, protection, love.  He walked
home, his head bent and his teeth again set upon the resolve that
he would not give her up without a struggle.  He loved her--he
believed she loved him.  Why shouldn't it end happily, as it did in
the books?  Then he remembered that she was now an heiress, rich in
her own right; and he--why, he was as far from success as he had
been when he came to Denboro.  What had he to offer her?  No, this
was reality, not fiction.

He wrote a letter of sympathy next day.  He tried hard to make it
impersonal, so far as any expression of his other and deeper
feelings were concerned.  He wrote as a friend, longing to be of
service, and so sorry for her in her great trouble.

No answer came; of course, he did not expect any.  He plunged into
work, Solomon Dobbs' cranberry case and his uncle's new commission,
the settling of a small estate of which Captain Abijah had been one
of the trustees.  The captain's calls were regular now.  He came to
the office almost every day and from him Banks learned how
Elizabeth's affairs progressed.

Abijah, like every one else, was very much surprised when she put
those affairs into the hands of Judge Bangs.

"I don't understand it, boy," he said, with a puzzled frown.  "I
don't understand it at all.  Her grandma and Chris Trent were as
close together as scales on a herrin'.  'Lijah and old Ebenezer
Trent were partners.  She was interested in the same investments
that Chris is--those Western concerns and all that. . . .  What
makes you look that way?  Goin' to say somethin', was you?"

"No, Uncle Bije."

"Oh, I thought you looked as if you was.  Well, and besides,
Maybelle had stock--had a good deal of it--in the Ostable National,
Chris's own bank.  Now you'd think, wouldn't you, that if the
Cartwright girl turned to anybody to help her straighten out her
grandmother's estate 'twould naturally be Chris himself?
Especially as, according to what folks was sayin' a while ago, she
and he were keepin' company, plannin' to marry, maybe?  Yes; well,
instead of that, when she wants help, she goes to Bangs, who has
always been lawyer for our bank and never had anything to do with
the Truman crowd.  Why?  Just tell me why, will you?"

"I can't, Uncle Bije."

"Humph!  I guess you can't, nor anybody else.  Not even the judge;
he was as surprised as the rest of us when she came to him.  Well,
he's found the will, finally.  Told me so himself, this mornin'.
And where do you suppose it was?"

"In the Ostable Bank vaults, I suppose.  Mrs. Truman had a safe-
deposit box there.  Elizabeth told me that, I think."

"Um-hum.  Yes, she did have a box there, with her securities and
stocks and all that in it.  But there wan't any will along with
'em.  There had been one; Elizabeth had seen it there.  But
Maybelle or somebody must have took it out.  Finally, when Bangs
was beginnin' to get worried, the Cartwright girl found a new will
in that safe in her grandmother's bedroom, the one she was stuffin'
things into when you broke in on her the night of the fire.  Good
thing that safe was saved whole, wasn't it?"

"Yes, sir.  That was good luck."

"Lucky enough!  Seems Elizabeth was goin' through the things in
that safe and, in one of the drawers, on top of a whole lot of
other papers, she found a big envelope with her name on it.  Inside
the envelope was the will, just a sheet of paper in Maybelle's
handwritin', sayin' that she left everything she possessed to her
granddaughter, Elizabeth Cartwright.  'Twas signed by her, of
course, and witnessed by two of the servants and Eliab Gibbons.  I
judge, from what Eliab tells me, that none of the witnesses really
knew what he or she was witnessin'.  Mrs. Truman just called 'em
in, signed some sort of a paper, and asked them to put their names
alongside.  Queer sort of a will for a shrewd woman like her to
make, but bindin' enough, so Bangs says.  Elizabeth was the only
direct heir, anyhow, and she's sole executor.  She ought to be
pretty well fixed for the rest of her days, I should imagine."

Banks nodded.  "Do you see her often, now that she is staying at
the hotel?" he asked.

"No.  That is, not to speak to.  We've never been very well
acquainted.  She looks pretty white-faced and peaked, poor girl,
and no wonder--all alone in the world.  You haven't been around to
call on her, have you?"

"No, sir."

"Hum! . . .  Well--oh, all right!  I didn't know.  There was a time
there when you and she were pretty sociable, as I remember."

Banks made no reply.  He was bending over the papers on his desk.
His uncle regarded him keenly, then turned on his heel and left the
office.

The evening of the following day, after supper in the Malabar
dining room, Captain Abijah was alone in his sitting room on the
second floor, reading the morning Herald and smoking a cigar.  When
his reading and the cigar were finished, he intended going over to
the lodge room above the post office.  There was a knock on the
door and he looked up.

"Come in!" he ordered.  The door opened and Abijah, turning and
peering through his spectacles, rose to his feet.

"Why--why, good evenin'!" he exclaimed, surprise in his tone.
Elizabeth Cartwright was standing in the doorway.  She had
apparently just come from her own room on the floor above, for,
although she was carrying a small hand bag, she wore no coat or
wrap.

"Good evening, Captain Bradford," she said.  "Are you alone?"

"Eh?  Yes--yes!  Come in, come in!"

"You weren't going out?  Or expecting any one?"

"No, indeed."

She entered the room, closing the door behind her.

"Then, I wonder," she said, with some hesitation, "if you could
spare me a few minutes?  There is--there is something I should like
to talk with you about, if you really aren't busy."

He assured her that he was not in the least busy, drew up a chair
and begged her to be seated.  She accepted the invitation.

"Let me take your bag," he urged, extending a hand.  She smiled
faintly and shook her head.

"No," she said.  "Thank you, but I shall need the bag.  You see,
there are some papers in it that--well, they are my excuses for
troubling you, Captain Bradford."

Abijah looked at the bag, then at her.  He could not imagine what
she meant.

"Oh!" he muttered, vaguely.

"Yes, I shall try not to take any more of your time than is
necessary.  I thought--well, I found these papers in the safe which
was in grandmother's room.  Of course, most of her important
certificates and securities were in her box at the Ostable Bank,
but in this small safe she kept her more personal things, letters
and so on.  There were ever so many of them, four or five
compartments crowded full.  Judge Bangs has taken charge of the
contents of the safe-deposit box, but these were so--so intimate,
that I felt sure she had rather I looked them over by myself,
before any one else saw them."

She paused.  Captain Abijah was completely at sea.  Her manner was
nervous and hesitant, yet she was very serious and, unless his
judgment was at fault, anxious and--yes, fearful.  But fearful of
what?  And why had she come to him with Mrs. Truman's private and
personal letters, papers, whatever they were?

"Sure!  That was just right, of course!" he said, for the sake of
saying something.

"Yes, I am certain that is what she would have wished me to do.
And that last day--a few hours before she died," with a catch in
her voice, "she said something to me about certain of those papers
which--which I couldn't understand then and I--I am not sure that I
understand now.  At least," with a sudden tightening of her fingers
upon the bag in her lap, "I HOPE I don't understand!"

"Eh? . . ." in amazement.  "You hope?"

"Yes!  Oh, yes!"  Then hastily, "Please don't ask me what I mean.
Perhaps I don't mean anything--or have no real reason for meaning
it.  I'll try and explain a little."

She opened the bag and took from it a packet of folded documents,
secured by rubber bands.  Under these bands was tucked a slip of
paper with something written upon it, the captain could not see
what.

"Captain Bradford," she went on, quickly, "your brother was
Grandfather Truman's and old Mr. Trent's partner in the shipping
business in Boston, wasn't he?  Yes, I shouldn't ask that; I know
he was."

"He was--sure!  Trent, Truman and Bradford, that was the firm name
along at the last of it.  Silas Bradford was my brother.  That's
his picture over yonder on the wall."

She turned and looked for a long interval at the crayon enlargement
hanging in the place of honor above the sofa.  Abijah, too, looked
at it, and there was pride in his voice when he spoke.

"There he is," he said.  "I keep that hung up there, as a reminder
of how smart and fine a man one Bradford was, and," with a rueful
smile, "how far astern of him his brother has always kept, in spite
of all his tryin'.  But when my nephew, Banks--his son, of course,
you know--went into the law business I had a copy of that picture
made and hung up in his office where he could have it always in
front of him.  Probably you've seen it there."

"Yes," she said, absently.  "Yes, I have.  They--they are very much
alike, aren't they?"

"Humph!  They LOOK alike, that's a fact.  As for the rest of it--
well, it's too early to tell that yet."

She turned away from the portrait and sat, holding the packet of
papers in her hands.  And those hands were trembling slightly.
Abijah Bradford noticed that.

"Well?" he hinted, after a moment.  "About those things you've got
there?  You wanted me to see 'em, did you?"

"Yes. . . .  Yes, I thought you ought to see them.  I was sure no
one else should--no one but a Bradford, I mean.  Captain Bradford,
your brother was in command of a ship just before he died; out
there in San Francisco, wasn't it?  I think Banks--your nephew,
I mean--told me his father died there."

"Yes, he did.  Shot, by accident, he was.  His ship was burned at
sea.  No fault of Silas's, you can bet!" with emphasis.

She was still looking down at the packet of papers.

"The name of that ship was the Golconda, wasn't it?" she asked.

"Yes."

She laid the packet upon the table.  He adjusted his spectacles and
bent to look at it.  Written in ink upon the slip of paper held by
the elastic bands were the words:  "Golconda Matter.  Strictly
Private."

He read and then looked up.  She had risen.

"What's all this?" he blurted.  "What do you want me to do with
those things?"

"I should like to have you look them over, if you will, please."

"But they're marked 'Strictly Private.'  Your grandmother marked
'em so, I suppose.  Do you think I--anybody outside the family, I
mean--ought to--to--"

"Yes, I do.  I think you should.  You will understand why when you
have read them.  And, afterward, perhaps, you may wish to show them
to your nephew.  I don't know about that.  They may be--oh, I hope
I am wrong about what they mean!  I don't know about--about ships
and business and such things, of course, but I--I--  Please take
them and read them, Captain Bradford.  Then, if they are what I am
afraid--I mean if they are important, I will see you again and we
can decide what is right--what to do.  Thank you very much. . . .
You won't show them to any one else, will you?  Any one except
Banks, I mean?  Or Mrs. Silas Bradford, perhaps? . . .  You won't?"

"Of course, I won't!  But what in the world--  Here, don't go!
I'll read 'em now, if you'll wait."

She did not wait; she went immediately.  Abijah whistled between
his teeth.  Then he removed the straps from the papers she had left
and began reading.



Banks had just arrived at his office, had unlocked the tambour
desk, and was inspecting the morning mail--a note from Hezekiah
Bartlett was the only item of importance in it--when the door was
flung open.  He looked up, expecting to see Bartlett himself, or
perhaps Mr. Tadgett.  But it was Captain Abijah who strode in and
one glance at his face caused his nephew to start to his feet and
cry out in alarm.

"Why, Uncle Bije!" he exclaimed.  "What is the matter?  What is
it?"

His uncle's first move was to close and lock the door.  Then he
crossed the room, seized a chair by the back and swung it into
place at his nephew's elbow.  He sank heavily into it, his legs a-
sprawl, his big hands hanging loosely down, his head bent.  He had
not removed his hat, but now as he brushed it off and it fell to
the floor, Banks noticed that the hair on his forehead was wet with
perspiration.

"Uncle Abijah," he persisted, laying a hand on his shoulder.
"Uncle Abijah, what is it?  Are you sick?"

The captain raised his eyes.  He looked tired and haggard and old.

"Eh?  Sick?" he repeated, vaguely.  "No, I guess I ain't sick.
Wouldn't be any wonder if I was--but I'm not.  I haven't slept a
wink all night, that's all."

"But why?  What has happened?"

"Happened! . . .  Everything's happened!  All hell has happened!
There, there!" with a sudden flash of impatience.  "Stop pawin' me
and askin' questions.  I'm goin' to tell you.  I've got to!  It's
what I came here for!"

He reached into the pocket of his coat and took from it the packet
of papers which had been left with him the evening before.  He
threw them on the desk.

"There it is, the whole of it," he said, wearily.  "Those things
were brought to me last night.  The Cartwright girl came to my room
with 'em.  She found 'em, she said, amongst Maybelle Truman's
private papers in the safe that she had in her bedroom.  She hasn't
shown 'em up to anybody else, and you and I can thank God for that;
but I give you my word if I'd known what I was goin' to find when I
commenced lookin' 'em over I'd have chucked them into the stove.
Yes," desperately, "and chucked myself off the wharf--I don't know
as I wouldn't!"

He put his hand before his eyes and groaned.  Banks looked at him
and then at the papers upon the desk before him.  He read what was
written upon the slip.

"'Golconda Matter.  Strictly Private,'" he read aloud.  "Why,
what--"

His uncle interrupted him.  "There, there!" he cut in, removing the
hand from his forehead and throwing his big body back in the chair.
"Wait!  I'll behave myself.  This is no way for a grown man to act,
I know.  But, Banks boy, I've been all shook to pieces.  All my
life long, or ever since he and I were kids together, I swore by
him.  I bragged about him and counted on him.  He was a whole lot
more than just a brother, he'd got to be a--a Lord A'mighty, sort
of, I guess; I worshiped him.  And so, now, when I know what he
really was, I--I take it mighty hard . . .  Yes, I do!"

"Uncle Bije! . . .  I don't know what you mean, of course.  Is it--
is it FATHER you are talking about?"

"Yes!  Good God, yes!  That's who 'tis!  Silas Bradford, my brother
and your father!  I thought he was an honest man, straight and
square as he was smart and able.  He wasn't; he was just a plain
state's prison crook.  A crook, by the everlastin'!  He and his
partners!  They were all crooks together!"

He struck the desk with his clenched fist.  Banks stared, aghast.
"Uncle Abijah," he demanded, "are you crazy?"

"No such luck!  I'm sane enough. . . .  Huh!" with a shrug of
disgust.  "I don't act very sane, I'll give in to that.  I meant to
come here and--and break this thing to you gentle; meant to prepare
you for it; and this is how I've done it! . . .  Well, you're a
man, too, and you've got to face it. . . .  Don't ask any more.
Read those devilish things," pointing to the papers.  "Then we'll
talk."

Banks opened his lips to speak, then changed his mind, took the
uppermost of the folded documents from the packet and began to
read.  He read it to the end, then, after a moment, took up the
next and read that.  He read them all.

The first was an agreement, signed by Ebenezer Trent, Elijah Truman
and Silas Bradford.  It concerned the last voyage of the ship
Golconda, owned by the firm of Trent, Truman and Bradford.  Under
the terms of the agreement, the Golconda, under command of Silas
Bradford, was to sail from the port of Boston on a specified date--
the year, in which, later on, Silas had died.  Ship and cargo were
heavily insured, the amount of insurance stated.  Provided she
never reached San Francisco, the port for which she had cleared,
the responsibility and blame for her loss was to be borne equally
by the three partners, this hereby agreed to and understood by each
of the three, and the insurance, when collected, was to be used for
the benefit of the firm.  The clause concerning the sharing of
blame and responsibility was underscored and, beside it, apparently
as an additional precaution, were the initials "E. T.," "E. T.,"
and "S. B.," in differing handwritings.

The second paper was a letter, with the name of a San Francisco
hotel printed at its head.  It was from Silas Bradford to his
partners and in it he stated that he had carried out his share of
the agreement which they had all signed and of which, as they knew,
he had a copy; and he expected and relied upon them to stand by
theirs.  "Of course you will stand by it," he had added, "but I
want you to thoroughly understand that, if there IS any trouble--
and I don't see why there should be--I won't be the scapegoat.  We
are all in this together, don't forget that."  There was a
postscript, obviously hurriedly added:  "The only person who may be
a nuisance is the second mate.  He has borrowed fifty dollars from
me since we were put ashore here and I didn't like his looks or
manner when he asked for it.  Look out for him."

Beneath this letter was a list in Elijah Truman's handwriting, of
payments made to certain people, with the notation, "Settling all
claims in full."  The items were:  "Abijah Bradford, $1,000.  March
10, 1883.  Margaret Bradford, $1,500.  March 10, 1882.  Abner
Bradford, $6,000.  August 3, 1883."

Captain Abijah, looking over his nephew's shoulder, put a finger on
the third item.  "See that, boy!" he growled.  "I had a thousand in
the Trent, Truman and Bradford firm and, when Ebenezer and Elijah
were gettin' ready to wind up the business, they paid it back to
me.  They paid your mother fifteen hundred for her share, all she
was entitled to, they said--and it did look so at the time.  But
Uncle Abner, Hettie's father, he only put a thousand in, same as I
did.  Why did they give him six times as much?  Eh?  Unless he knew
or guessed--somethin'?"

Banks, pale and agitated, looked up from his reading.

"Don't you remember," he asked, "how odd Cousin Hettie has always
acted about this Golconda business?  And how queer she was when you
and I had had our talk together, in your room, soon after I came
back here to live?  She seemed frightened and suspicious, very
anxious to know what secret we had between us. . . .  Do you
suppose she knows--has always known or suspected anything like--
like this?"

"I don't know. . . .  Maybe. . . .  Abner Bradford was my dad's
brother, but he was different from father as dark is from day, and
what he wouldn't do to get or save a dollar is somethin' I'd hate
to have to make a bet on.  And Hettie is just like him.  No, I
doubt if Hettie KNOWS much--Abner was too cagey a bird to tell even
her--but she's shrewd and she may have guessed a little.  Well,"
with a savage growl, "I'll find out how much she knows and find it
out in a hurry.  You can leave Hettie to me!"

The fourth, and last, paper in the packet was another signed
agreement.  Ebenezer Trent and Elijah Truman agreed to pay one
Henry Todd, whose signature, with theirs, was appended, a thousand
dollars yearly during the period of his life, "for services
rendered."

"And Henry Todd was second mate of the Golconda that voyage," put
in Abijah.  "He is the one Silas speaks of as 'liable to be a
nuisance,' in that letter of his you just read."

Banks nodded.  "The other night, over at Tadgett's," he said, "Mrs.
Simpkins was speaking of him.  He was some relation of her
husband's.  I remember now she said it was always a wonder to her
and others, that he could afford to live in idleness.  She
mentioned--I remember it now--that he was with father on that
ship."

He dropped the final papers upon the others.  The two men looked at
each other.  Abijah seemed to be waiting for his nephew to speak,
but he did not.  He sat there, picking absently at the corner of
the blotter upon the desk and gazing at the portrait of his father
upon the wall.  The captain bent toward him.

"Well?" he queried, hoarsely, "well, Banks?  You see, don't you?
You understand what it means?"

Banks drew a long breath.  "Yes, Uncle Bije," he said, slowly.
"Yes, I--I'm afraid I do."

"Afraid!  You know you do!  It's plain enough.  Those rascally
partners of his coaxed Silas into burnin' the Golconda for the
insurance money.  And he--he put the dirty job through for 'em!
It's all there, just as plain as print.  A blind man could see it!"

"There can't be any mistake?  It couldn't mean anything else?"

"Of course it couldn't!  Don't you suppose I hoped it might and
prayed it might?  Do you suppose _I_ believed it until my common
sense made me?  Oh, well!  What's the use?  There it is!  We've GOT
to believe it!"

"But why--why did father do it?"

"Why?  Why, for what that kind of thing is always done for--money!
And, in a way it explains a lot.  There was some talk when it
happened.  If anybody but Silas Bradford had captained that craft
there might have been more; but nobody believed HE was anything but
straight.  The firm was on the ragged edge of break and they risked
the crooked work and got away with it.  Probably the cargo was all
hokus.  Trent and Truman may have stolen the genuine stuff--and
sold it, for what I know.  And that, and the insurance money,
besides savin' 'em from failure, gave that pair their start out
West, later on.  It made 'em rich men in the end, darn 'em!  And
poor Silas, the fellow they made the monkey of, died.  That's all
he got out of it. . . .  Well," with a snap of his teeth, "perhaps
'twas a good thing he did die. . . .  That's a terrible thing for me
to say, but it's what I've been thinkin' half the night through.
Silas Bradford!  My brother!  This has cut the ground from under
me, boy!  I don't think I'll ever get over it."

He covered his eyes with his hand and groaned again.  Banks was
still looking at the portrait on the wall.

"I wonder why she kept these things all this time," he said,
slowly.  "Why didn't she, or her husband, get rid of them long ago?
They were the only evidence there was and I should have thought--"

Abijah broke in.  "Yes, yes, so should I have thought," he snapped.
"But I guess likely I can see why.  That--that devilish agreement
now!  There were other copies of that.  Silas had one--he says so
in that letter; and probably old Trent had another.  They didn't
any one of 'em trust the other two.  And after Silas was killed,
Lije Truman hung on to his copy, and his widow did when he died;
and, most likely, Chris Trent has got one hid somewheres.  Either
Maybelle or Chris could hold it over t'other in case anything did
come out.  They were all in it together and here was proof that
tied 'em in.  The Cartwright girl told me that her grandmother, in
her last sickness, told her somethin' about takin' care of those
papers. . . .  Oh, it's a thin explanation, I grant you.  _I_ don't
know why they were kept!  I don't care!  There they are--and we've
seen 'em, Lord help us!"

Banks was still picking at the blotter.

"Why did Elizabeth bring them to you, I wonder," he murmured,
thinking aloud.

"Eh?  Why, because she thought I ought to see 'em, I presume
likely.  I--and you.  She said I could show 'em to you, and to your
mother, if I thought best."

"Yes; and then what?  What does she expect us to do, Uncle Abijah?"

"Do!  There's nothin 'to be done, at this late day.  She said she'd
talk with me again sometime.  I don't know what about."

"I was just wondering--if--"

"Yes?  What?"

"I was wondering if she had an idea of--of making some sort of
restitution; paying back the money--or anything like that."

"Rubbish!  Who could she pay it back to?  And how--without draggin'
her grandfather's reputation and Maybelle's and Trent's in the
dirt?  No!  If she's got any such crazy notion as that she'll have
to get rid of it.  She'll have to, for her own sake and yours and
Margaret's and mine, if for nothin' else.  The name of Bradford has
been clean, so far as I know, since there was a Bradford in this
part of the country.  It'll be kept clean, if I have anything to
say about it. . . .  Besides," doggedly, "it'll take more than
these darned papers to make me believe Silas wasn't dragged into
the mess by main strength and against his will.  He was--why, the
whole county knows what he was!  I wish to God I could find out the
whole ins and outs of this!  I will, if there's any way possible.
I'm not satisfied yet.  If anybody knows more than I do I'll find
it out.  You hear me."

His fist struck the desk again.  Banks said nothing.  The captain
regarded him with surprise and stern disapproval.

"Honest, boy," he grumbled, "you astonish me.  This cursed thing
has shaken me all apart.  I thought you'd be worse off than I am.
He was your father!  Your own father!  And here he is mixed up in
the meanest, dirtiest crime a salt water man can be mixed up in.
Settin' fire to his vessel for the insurance!  And you just set
there and--and--"

"Hush, Uncle Abijah!  I feel it as keenly as you do, be sure of
that.  It is only that--well, perhaps I am not as completely
surprised as you are."  He paused, and then added:  "For some time
I have wondered if there wasn't something--queer--in father's
history.  About his sudden death and--and other things."

The captain gasped.  "You've wondered THAT!" he cried.  "For
heaven's sake, why?"

"Because--well, because of mother.  She has never told me much
about father.  When I have asked questions concerning the latter
part of his life she has never told me a great deal.  She--it
seemed to me that she hasn't liked to talk about him.  And,
besides, there is another thing--well, I guess I won't speak of
that.  It probably hasn't anything to do with the Golconda."

"Well?  Come!  What is it?"

"Nothing, perhaps.  I can't tell you, Uncle Abijah."

His uncle did not press the subject.  He was frowning deeply and it
was obvious that what he had just heard had aroused a new suspicion
in his mind.

"Banks," he demanded, very earnestly, "do you suppose Margaret
knows--has known all along--more than we do about all this?"

"I am not sure.  I think now that she may have."

Captain Abijah sprang to his feet.

"I'll settle that inside of twenty minutes!" he vowed, fiercely.

Banks, too, rose.  He caught the captain's arm.

"Uncle Bije," he ordered; "wait!  If you are going to mother now, I
don't want you to."

"Why not?  If she knows anything--anything at all--I'm goin' to
know it, too.  Ain't I got the right, for the Lord's sake?"

"Surely you have.  But perhaps I have even more right.  I had
rather see her first--alone.  I'll go home now.  You can come there
a little later.  We will be waiting for you."

Abijah hesitated.  His jaw was clenched and his fists were jammed
into his coat pockets.  Then with a shrug he turned away.

"All right," he growled.  "Go and see her, but don't stop by the
way.  I'll be at your house in half an hour."

"Thank you, Uncle Bije.  Where will you be in the meantime?"

"Be?  I'll be havin' a heart-to-heart talk with Hettie.  If SHE'S
been holdin' back anything all these years she won't hold it any
longer.  I'll get the last word out of her if I have to shake it
out. . . .  In half an hour then."

He strode out of the office.  A minute or two later Banks went out
also.



CHAPTER XXIII


He met several acquaintances during the walk from the office to the
cottage on Mill Road.  They bowed to him, two or three hailed him;
one--it was Hayman--would have stopped to chat if he had received
the least encouragement.  But Banks, although he returned the bows
and answered the hails, was scarcely conscious that he did so.
Afterward, had he been asked to name the persons whom he met, he
could not have done it.  Outwardly he was quite himself; beyond the
obvious fact that he was a trifle preoccupied and in a hurry, Mr.
Sam Hayman noticed nothing peculiar in his manner.  He agreed that
it was a particularly fine day for the time of year, smiled
pleasantly and hastened on, and the middle-aged undertaker and fire
chief, who was still suffering rheumatic twinges in consequence of
the cold he had contracted at the Truman fire, looked after him and
envied his youth and good looks.  It was wonderful to be twenty-
six, strong, healthy, and care free.

But Samuel's envy might have been greatly lessened had he been able
to look behind the smiling Bradford mask and read but a few of the
thoughts whirling in the Bradford brain.  They were so many and
they whirled so fast!  Captain Abijah had made an amazed and
shocked comment upon his nephew's coolness in the face of the
thunderbolt which had descended upon the family and set its ideal
tottering.  Banks had been cool then--cooler than his uncle, at
least--for it was true that the exposure of the Golconda plot had
not crushed him as completely as it had crushed Abijah.

He remembered his father only as a small child remembers.  All his
life the fact that he was Silas Bradford's boy had been drummed in
his ears, not only by Cousin Hettie and Uncle Bije, but by all
adult Denboro.  Long ago he had become despairingly reconciled to
the apparent fact that, no matter how hard he might try, he could
never be the paragon of perfection which his father had been.  Yet
that father was not, as he was to these others, the hallowed memory
of a flesh and blood personality; he was, to his son, but a shadow,
although, of course, a very wonderful and revered shadow.

Therefore the revelations contained in the papers hidden in Mrs.
Truman's safe had not had the effect upon him that they had upon
Abijah.  The latter had founded his life upon that of his brother.
Silas had been, to him, a veritable idol, a king who could do no
wrong.  And, this particular wrong was, in the eyes of the retired
seaman, the meanest, most contemptible of all crimes, the carefully
planned destruction of a ship by its commander.  Abijah Bradford
could have endorsed murder sooner than that.  No wonder he refused,
even yet, to believe absolutely.  Banks was forced to believe, and
he was disillusioned, humiliated and ashamed.  Abijah was all these
and more--he was heartbroken.

And, too, Banks' astonishment was not as entire and paralyzing as
his uncle's had been.  For a long time, for years, he had noticed
that his mother was always reticent when his father's name was
mentioned.  And, of late, he had been led to suspect that her
dislike of Mrs. Truman might be founded, in some way, upon past
happenings connected with Silas Bradford's history.  Mrs. Truman
had said that she knew his father.  She had said it to him, and to
Elizabeth. . . .  Well, perhaps, now, at last, he was to find out
what it all meant.  He would.  If Silas Bradford's widow knew more
than her son now knew--even though the knowledge might add to the
humiliation and shame--that son must share the knowledge.

She was in the dining room, hemming a tablecloth, when he came in.
She looked up in surprise.

"Why, Banks!" she exclaimed.  "what brings you home at half past
ten in the morning?  Did you forget something?"

He shook his head.  "No, Mother," he said.  "I came to have a talk
with you."

He threw off his coat, pulled forward a chair and seated himself
beside her.  She had dropped her sewing and was gazing at him.

"Banks!" she cried, anxiously.  "You look pale--and queer!  What is
it?"

"I am going to tell you, Mother.  You must listen at first, while I
tell you what I know.  Then," very earnestly, "I want you to tell
me what YOU know--all of it."

The tablecloth fell from her lap to the floor.

"What I know!" she repeated, slowly.

"Yes, just that.  I am sure you know a great deal.  Mother, Uncle
Bije has gone to see Cousin Hettie.  He thinks she knows--well,
something.  He is coming here directly from her house.  I hope you
and I may have our talk--part of it, at least--before he comes.  So
you will listen and not interrupt, won't you?"

Her eyes met his for a long instant.  The color was fading from her
cheeks.

"You will listen, Mother, until I have finished?" he said, again.

"Yes, Banks. . . .  Yes, of course!  Is it--you frighten me!"

"There is nothing to be frightened about.  I am almost sure that
you know--have known--what I am going to tell.  I learned it only
an hour ago.  Uncle Abijah learned it last night and he came to me
this morning.  Poor old chap!  He is completely knocked over by it.
It is terrible for him!"

She lifted a hand.  "Just one question, Banks," she faltered.
"Just one--please!  Is this--this that you have learned--you and
he--is it about--your father?"

"Yes, Mother, it is."

Her eyes closed.  Then they slowly opened.  "How did you--?" she
breathed.  "How--?  Oh, well; you are going to tell me that! . . .
Go on."

He told of his uncle's coming to the office, of Elizabeth's call at
the captain's rooms in the Malabar, of her discovery of the packet
of papers in the Truman safe, of her leaving them with Abijah.

"And now, mother," he continued.  "I am going to tell you what
Uncle Bije then--and I, this morning, when he brought them to me--
found in those papers.  It's a rotten mess, I'm afraid.  Yes, I
know it is.  And telling it to you would be next to impossible if--
if I weren't practically certain you knew it already."

He went on to disclose the contents of those papers, one by one,
beginning with the agreement signed by the three partners and
ending with the memoranda of payments to Henry Todd.  She did not
interrupt again, nor, when at last he finished, did she speak for a
long moment.  Then she sighed.

"Poor Abijah!" she said, sadly.  "Poor, poor Abijah!"

Banks nodded grimly.  "You would say that if you could have seen
him!" he agreed.  "Well, Mother, it is all true, isn't it?"

She hesitated.  She was still pale, but more composed than she had
been at the beginning.  He leaned toward her.

"It is all true, isn't it, Mother?" he insisted.  "You must tell
me--now."

"Yes, Banks, I am afraid it is."

"You know it is, don't you?"

"Why--yes, I do."

"How long have you known it?"

"Since your father's death--or very soon afterward.  That is, I had
no real proof, but I suspected--I was practically sure."

"And you have never mentioned it to any one?"

"No, Banks."

"Not even to your own son!  Mother," with a gesture of despair, "in
God's name why haven't you told me!  While I was a kid--yes, I
suppose I can understand your not telling me then.  But I've been a
man for years.  Why didn't you tell me; not leave me to find it out
like--like THIS?"

He sprang up and walked to the window, where he stood, looking out,
his hands jammed in his pockets and his foot patting the carpet.
She rose and, following him, put her arm about his shoulder.

"Banks!  Banks, dear!" she pleaded.  "Don't speak that way!  Don't
hold it against me!  How could I tell you?  How could I!"

"Why couldn't you?  I am his son; he was my father.  I had the
right to know."

"And I was his wife--and your mother.  And you WERE his son; that
was just it.  Every one was so proud of him!  You were proud of
him!  I hoped--I prayed that you might always be!  That you might
never know what I knew.  Don't you see?"

He did not answer.  Her arm about his shoulder tightened its hold.
Her voice trembled.

"For years and years," she went on, "I was so afraid--so terribly
afraid it might all come out, as it has come out now.  But it never
did and--and so, at last, I came to believe it never would and that
you and Abijah and the Denboro people might always think of him as
good and fine--and honest.  Nothing, as I saw it, was to be gained
by my talking, and there was so much to be lost.  Oh, Banks, you
MUST see!  Tell me you do and that you forgive me!"

He drew a long breath.  "Oh, I forgive you," he said, gloomily.
"I suppose I understand, in a way.  Perhaps there was nothing to
be gained by your telling now, so many years afterward.  But in
the beginning--there at first--why, Mother, it was a crime!  The
insurance companies, they were swindled!  They paid the money on
that ship and cargo."

"Yes--oh, yes!  I realized that, if something wicked had been done--
and I supposed it had--by keeping what I knew, or guessed, to
myself I was as wicked as he had been and as those others were.
But he was dead.  And he was my husband!  I loved him, Banks.  I
always loved him.  I couldn't help it, even when--when I thought he
did not love me.  Even when I knew--"

She paused.  He turned to look down at her, but her face was hidden
on his shoulder.  She was sobbing.

"Knew?" he repeated.  "Knew what? . . .  Is there more still that
you know and that I don't?  Is there, Mother?"

"No!  Oh, no!" desperately.  "Why DID I say that!  No, there isn't!
Don't!  Please don't!"

"Mother, there must not be any more between you and me. . . .
Come!"

"But it doesn't matter!  It doesn't matter at all now.  It didn't
really matter then.  It was you I thought of all the time.  You
were so proud of your father; I wanted you to be.  He loved you,
Banks!  And he loved me!  He had always loved me--he said so in his
last letter.  That has been my one comfort.  I KNOW he always loved
me!  I was the only one he ever really loved! . . .  As for the
rest of it--whatever he had done that was wrong--with his ship, I
mean--he did not profit by it.  And I didn't--nor you--nor Abijah!
I am glad I didn't tell any one!  I meant to keep it till I died!
Not for my sake, nor for his--but just for yours.  And if that
makes me wicked, too, then I don't care!"

She lifted her head and faced him.  He had heard all she said, but
he scarcely heeded it.  There was a new suspicion in his mind now
and it had crowded out everything else.

"Yes, Mother," he said, almost with impatience.  "Yes, yes! that is
clear enough, how you felt--and all that.  But you haven't answered
my question.  I think there is something more you are still hiding
from me."

"No, Banks!  Oh, no! . . .  Don't--"

"I've got to!  And I am going to!  Mother, I believe--"

He stopped.  The front gate had clicked and slammed shut.  Margaret
and her son turned to look.  Through the window they saw Abijah
Bradford striding up the path.  They drew apart and were facing the
door when he threw it open and entered the room.  He looked at
them.

"Huh!" he grunted.  "So you've told her, eh?"

Margaret answered.  "Yes, Abijah," she said, quietly.  "Banks has
told me."

"I see! . . .  And how much of it did you know already?  That's
what I want to find out."

Before his mother could reply, Banks asked a question.

"Have you seen Hettie?" he asked.

The captain nodded grimly.  "I've seen her."

"Did she--?"

"She and I have had it out, same as I told you we would.  I left
her sittin' in the middle of the floor, cryin'. . . .  Let her cry,
blast her!" with a growl of savage disgust.  "She deserves to.  It
may do her good."

"Did she know?  I mean has she always known?"

"She's always known somethin', a whole lot more than the rest of
us.  Unless," with a suspicious glare at his sister-in-law, "you
were in on it, too, Margaret!  Come now, were you?"

Banks persisted.  "Tell us about Hettie first," he urged.

"Huh!  All right!  But she doesn't know any particulars, any whys
and wherefores.  Somethin' Uncle Abner told her before he died, or
just when he was dyin'--you can bet your life he'd wait till the
last gasp before he took a chance where there was a dollar
concerned--some things he said to her then made her wonder if there
wasn't a strong smell of fish hangin' around the Golconda insurance
and the almighty liberal settlement Trent and Truman made with her
old man.  I dragged that out of her and she didn't hold back much
from me, I guess; she was too scared just at that minute, for I
wasn't what you'd call gentle.  I gather that she's never known
much of anything.  But she's guessed and suspicioned and has always
been frightened and nervous for fear I, or somebody else, might
learn more.  She knows it now, though!  I didn't muffle my engine
down, I gave it to her full steam.  I told her that if this was
true, Silas and Ebenezer Trent and Elijah Truman were crooks who'd
ought to have been in jail and that Uncle Abner belonged there with
'em.  Yes, and I said I shouldn't be a mite surprised if she landed
there herself afore long. . . .  Oh, I put the fear of the Lord
into HER, don't you worry!"

Margaret sighed.  "Poor Hettie!" she said.  "Well, I have always
believed she suspected something of the truth.  I am sorry for
her."

"You needn't be!  And," angrily, "why have YOU believed that?  You
knew yourself, then?  Yes, you did, of course. . . .  Answer me!
Come!  Good Lord, woman! don't you understand what this means to
me?  My--my own brother!"

"And my husband, Abijah."

"Eh? . . .  Yes, your husband!  And Banks' father!  Oh, Margaret,
it isn't true, is it?  There's a mistake somewhere.  I won't
believe it of Silas!  I can't!"

His face was working with emotion.  He choked and, reaching into
his pocket for his handkerchief, wiped his forehead.  Then,
frowning, he stepped toward her.

"Come now!" he ordered.  "You've as much as said you know
somethin'.  What DO you know?"

His nephew broke in.  "Wait, Mother," he said; "I'll tell him.  She
knows everything, Uncle Bije.  All that we know--and more, I am
afraid."

"More!  What the devil does that mean?  Is there more yet?"

"I think so.  Mother, you must tell us everything now.  Don't you
see you must?"

Margaret's face was white, but she met her brother-in-law's gaze
with calm defiance.

"I have told Banks all I know about the Golconda," she said.  "And
that is no more, perhaps a little less, than you and he have found
out."

"But, Mother," persisted Banks, "you haven't told--"

Abijah interrupted.  "Hold on!" he snapped.  "You say you know all
that.  How long have you known it?"

"Since soon after Silas died."

"And you've kept your mouth shut ever since!"

"Yes."

"Yes!  And you let Trent and Truman collect the insurance and
square themselves with all creation, and take the swag and go out
West and get rich and come back and live and die like honest men!
You knew it and you let 'em do that!  YOU did!"

"Yes, Abijah."

"Why?  Why?  Were you afraid of your own hide?  Were you in on the
game yourself?"

Banks stepped forward.  "Come, come, Uncle Bije," he protested.
"That's enough of that!"

"Is it?  Maybe it's enough for you!  You're her son and I presume
likely you can't help takin' after her.  But it don't satisfy me.
I'm Bradford all through.  There's no Banks in me and I thank God
for it!  I know that crowd!  When Silas married into 'em I told him
he was makin' the mistake of his life and he'd live to be sorry.
And I guess he did!  When he was home here the last time I could
see he was worried and fretted.  He didn't act like himself.  And
now I believe I know where the trouble lay.  And, long as we're
talkin' about this we may as well go through to the finish.  Ever
since he died, poor fellow, I've wondered and wondered why he
didn't leave more.  I never said much, but I've wondered.  He'd
always earned big wages; he'd made some sound investments.  What
had he done with his money?  He'd been extravagant maybe, spent
more'n he'd ought to.  Well, who was responsible for that?  It's
been my experience that a man with a savin' wife is savin' himself.
And a man with an honest wife doesn't often do crooked things.  So
that's why I ask you, Margaret--Banks, how much you knew of this
Golconda business afore it happened?  How much did you--"

But his nephew's voice stopped him in the middle of the sentence.

"Shut up, Uncle Bije!" he commanded.  "You're making a fool of
yourself."

The captain gasped.  His face was purple and he was brandishing a
clenched fist.

"You--you young scamp!  Are YOU takin' her part against--"

Margaret stepped between them.  "That is enough, Abijah," she said,
sternly.  "No, Banks!  I can take my own part. . . .  And--yes, I
think I will.  I didn't intend to; I never meant that you or he
should know--anything.  But you shall know it! . . .  Wait!"

She turned and left the room.  They heard her ascend the stairs.
The captain's fist fell to his side.

"I--I'm sorry, boy," he muttered.  "I've said more than I ought to,
perhaps.  I--well, I'm almost crazy, I guess.  I--I--"

"Hush!  It is only because I realize that you are crazy, or next
door to it, that keeps me from throwing you into the street.  I'll
do it yet, if you don't beg her pardon.  Now shut up!"

Perhaps for the first time since his days before the mast Captain
Abijah Bradford obeyed an order.  He did not say another word.
Sinking into a chair he stared moodily at the carpet.  They waited
in silence.  A few minutes later Margaret returned to the dining
room.  She was carrying an oblong box, of mahogany inlaid with
ebony and with a copper handle, sunk flush with the wood, at either
end.  The initials "S. B." were painted neatly on its top.  Banks
and his uncle recognized it.  It had been Silas Bradford's writing
desk, he had carried it with him on many voyages.

Margaret placed it upon the dining table.  With a key which she had
in her hand she unlocked it and lifted the lid.  Then she pulled
forward and extended the folded writing surface, covered with green
felt.

"You know what this is, of course?" she said.  Abijah did not
speak.  Banks nodded.

"It is father's desk, the one he always had with him on shipboard."

"Yes.  It was saved, with his trunk and other things belonging to
him, when the Golconda burned.  After he died all those things were
sent home to me.  I expected them.  He--" with a catch of the
breath, "had written me that they would be sent."

Abijah looked up.  "When did he write you?" he blurted, in
incredulous surprise.  "Not from San Francisco!  He didn't have
time for that?"

"Yes, he did.  He wrote and mailed the letter the very day he--he
died.  I got the telegram saying that he was dead about a week
before the letter came."

"But you never told me you got any such letter!"

"I didn't tell any one.  There were things in that letter I meant
no one should ever see.  At first I thought I must burn it.  Then,
because it was his last letter and--and because of one thing he did
say, I couldn't.  I kept it.  It is here, in this desk--with some
other letters.  Those I SHOULD have burned.  I didn't--and--and
perhaps now it is just as well.  They help to explain away some of
the dreadful things you accused me of just now, Abijah Bradford."

Banks spoke.  "Those things don't need explaining, Mother," he
declared, angrily.  "Uncle Bije ought to be ashamed of himself.  He
knew he was lying when he said them."

"Hush; hush, dear!  He did say them, and now they must be answered.
Don't interrupt me.  Let me get it over, once and for all."

She lifted and threw back the upper half of the felt-covered
writing surface.  Beneath was a compartment, empty.  Across its
upper end was a double row of small drawers and the rack for an ink
bottle and pens.

"You have seen this part ever and ever so many times, Banks," she
went on.  "But there are others you have never seen.  No one knew
of them except your father and I.  He showed them to me when we
were first married.  He told me all his secrets--then."

"Mother!" broke in Banks.  "You mustn't cry.  I don't pay any
attention to what Uncle Bije said just now.  He--"

"Hush, please!  I am not crying because of anything he said. . . .
Well, now I am going to show you both what Silas showed me when I
first saw this desk."

She lifted the ink bottle from its place.  Then she drew out
certain small vertical partitions--fixed and immovable partitions
Banks had always supposed them to be--and laid them upon the table.
Next she removed the little drawers.

"And now," she said, "you will see."

The drawers were shallow.  The framework in which they had been
set was covered with the wooden strip forming the pen rack.  The
vertical partitions had held this firmly in place, but their
removal permitted it to slide in a groove.  Beneath it, and at the
back of the drawers, was a three-inch space of the entire width and
depth of the desk itself.  And Abijah and Banks, leaning forward,
could see that in the space were papers, some loose and others in
packages.

"He always hid his very private papers here," she said.  "I knew
that, although no one else did.  And so, when they sent his desk
home to me, I knew where to look.  I didn't look at first; I was
afraid to.  I thought I might find what, just then, I couldn't bear
to think of finding.  But one day, alone in my own room, I did what
you have just seen me do and I found--these."

She took from the secret compartment three letters, in their
envelopes; one by itself, the other two held together by a rubber
strap.  She laid the little packet upon the table.  The envelopes
were yellowed by time, and each was stamped and postmarked.  Upon
the uppermost Banks read his father's name in what looked like a
woman's handwriting.  "Captain Silas Bradford, Maritime Hotel, San
Francisco, California."

Margaret was holding the single letter in her hand.

"This did not come to me with the others in the desk," she went on.
"I put it there myself, afterwards.  It is--it is that last letter
of his to me. . . .  I--no, no!  Please don't say anything!  I must
go through with this!  I--I will! . . .  But you must be patient."

Abijah, who had been about to speak, did not do so.  It was Banks
who sprang to his feet with a protest.

"Mother!" he pleaded.  "Don't!  Is it necessary?  Or, if it is,
can't Uncle Bije and I read those things by ourselves?  It is too
dreadful for you!  Please--"

She shook her head.  "No!" she said, firmly.  "No, I shall go
through with it--now.  This letter from him--this one here--
explained almost everything.  I want you to read it, both of you,
but before you do read it--and," with a shudder, "those others, I
must tell you--more.  Just be patient.  It won't take very long."

Her son sank back into his chair.  The captain was leaning forward,
his florid cheeks spotted with white, his breathing and the ticking
of the clock the only sounds breaking the quiet of the room.
Margaret Bradford continued.  It was to Banks she was speaking and
at him only she looked.  "Your father and I were very happy when we
were first married," she said.  "No two people could have been
happier than we were--then.  We didn't have much money, but we were
young and he was so able and smart and ambitious, and everybody
prophesied great things for him.  Oh, well, you know all that!  Of
course his marrying me was a mistake--every one said so--his own
people in particular.  They felt his marrying a girl whose family
had never amounted to much was--but Abijah has told you how he and
they felt about that. . . .  No, wait!  I shan't speak of it again.
Perhaps I shouldn't have let him marry me; but I was so young and
he was so masterful and--and I cared so much for him. . . .  We did
marry."

She paused a moment.  Then she continued.

"He went on doing well and succeeding and at last they took him
into the firm.  We built this house and you came and--and then--
then I began to be troubled about him.  At first I used to go up to
Boston and stay for weeks at a time, the baby and I, but by and by
he didn't seem to like to have me do that.  And he wasn't as--he
was different to me.  He was always kind, and anything I asked for
I could have, but there was something on his mind, I knew it.  At
first I thought it was money; the firm was having a hard fight of
it, he said.  But--but then I began to suspect--to wonder if there
wasn't something else. . . .  Yes, if there wasn't SOME ONE else.
I found a letter in a coat he had left here at home.  Perhaps
I shouldn't have read it, but it was signed by her Christian
name. . . .  Well, I didn't say anything to him about it, I was
ashamed of having read it.  And I tried to think it didn't really
mean anything."

She paused again.  Banks spoke involuntarily.

"Mother!" he cried.  "Who was the woman? . . .  Was it--?"

"Yes. . . .  Yes, it was.  She was unmarried then, a widow, and she
was keeping a sort of boarding house in Boston.  Captain Truman
lived there and I suppose your father began going there at first to
see him.  Then, afterwards, he--"

Abijah Bradford's hands clenched upon the arms of his chair.

"God A'mighty!" he gasped.  "Maybelle Truman!  And you dare to tell
me that Silas--"

"Hush, Abijah!  Let me finish.  She wasn't Mrs. Truman then; she
was Maybelle Rodgers.  She was older than he, but she was very
good-looking and--and fascinating, I suppose, and--  Oh, well!  I
don't know how far it went.  I don't want to know! . . .  You
accused me of being extravagant just now.  You couldn't understand
what became of the money Silas must have saved.  I don't know.  It
didn't come to me, that I do know; I didn't spend it. . . .  Well,
then he sailed in the Golconda on that last voyage.  He came home
and stayed a whole week before he left and--and that is the week I
like to remember.  He was more like himself than he had been for
ever so long.  Then he went away and I didn't hear a word until--
until the telegram came saying he was dead.  Then came his letter--
this letter--and then this desk and those letters there.  And when
I read them I wished I was dead, too.  But I couldn't die.  I had
my boy to live for.  I have been living for him ever since."

She sighed, wearily.  "That is all I can say now," she added.
"Those three letters I want you both to read.  I shall go away
while you read them; I shall be in my room upstairs.  When you want
me I will come down."

She turned and left the dining room.  Abijah might have tried to
detain her, but his nephew caught his arm.  After she had gone the
two men looked at each other.  The captain's hand moved toward the
letters on the table.

"You are going to--to read them?" faltered Banks.

"I am!" heavily.  "By the Lord, I am!  She has said things that--if
they're true, why--"

"They are true. . . .  I had begun to guess something like this,
though not so bad. . . .  Well, read them then!"

Abijah opened the first of the two letters bearing his brother's
name upon their envelopes.  Banks, looking over his shoulder, read
as he did.  They read the first, then the second.  Intimate letters
they were, impassioned, at times angry.  The first was pleading,
the second threatening.  It ended with this declaration:


You did not come to see me before you sailed.  You promised me you
would.  You did not even write me.  Does it mean that you are tired
of me and are trying to run away?  You shan't.  When I hear that
you are safe in San Francisco I shall know you have received this.
I shall give you time to answer.  Then, if I get no answer from
you, I shall come out there.  I don't care what people say or what
happens.  All that should mean nothing to you and me.  And,
remember, I KNOW A GREAT DEAL.  I shan't tell what I know unless it
is necessary.  Whether I do tell or not depends upon you and your
treatment of me when I come.


There were protests of undying affection and then the signature.

The sheet of paper fell from Abijah's hand.  He groaned aloud.
Banks took the third letter from the table.

"We must read this, Uncle Bije," he said.  "Mother wants us to."

"No! . . .  No, no!  I don't want to read it. . . .  Lord above!
ain't those others enough! . . .  Silas! . . .  Well, well! go
ahead, if you've got to!  What difference does anything make--now!"

The third letter was from Silas Bradford to his wife, written the
day he died.  It was heart-rending, almost incoherent in parts.
There were partial confessions of wrong done.  He had committed a
crime, what, he did not state.  But for the most part he begged
Margaret's forgiveness.


You are the only woman I ever cared for [he declared, again and
again].  I know you won't believe it, but it is true.  A dozen
times in the last two years I have been on the point of ending this
other thing, but I was in a trap and I couldn't get away.  Now I am
going to take the only possible way out.  Perhaps no one but you
will ever know that I did take it.  I mean to make it look like an
accident.  You see they have a hold on me, she and a man out here.
If she doesn't tell anything he will, unless he is paid and paid
and paid.  So it is good-by.  But, oh, Margaret, dear, if it
DOESN'T all come out, please, PLEASE never let our boy know the
kind of man his father was.  That is the only thing I ask.  If you
can forgive a little, and believe that I have always loved you and
no one else, so much the better.  But the boy--don't tell him, if
you can help it.  God bless you!


Banks read the pitiful thing aloud, stopping at intervals and then
forcing himself on to the end.  He staggered to his feet and walked
to the window.  His uncle remained where he was, his face buried in
his hands.

"Well?" said Banks, wretchedly.  "And now what?"

Captain Abijah looked up.  "He killed himself!" he moaned.  "It
wasn't an accident.  He killed himself, like--like a coward!"

"Yes. . . .  Well, that doesn't surprise me so much, either.  Since
I saw those papers you brought to the office I suspected that was
the truth of it. . . .  And now what, Uncle Abijah?"

Abijah shook his head.  "I don't know," he muttered.  "Eh? . . .
Yes, I do!  I know one thing."

He stepped to the sitting room and called.

"Margaret!" he cried.  "Come down, will you please?"

She came.  Her brother-in-law stood before her.  There was no trace
of red in his cheeks now.  He was white and he steadied himself
with a hand on the chair back.

"Margaret," he said.  "I want you to answer me one question.  Why--
for heaven's sake, why didn't you speak out twenty years ago when
you learned all this?  Why didn't you tell me--if nobody else?"

She smiled, faintly.  "How could I, Abijah!" she said.  "What good
would it have done?  I knew what Silas was to you--and to Hettie,
and all the Denboro people.  I hoped you might never know.  And
then--there was Banks.  I wanted him to respect his father.  In
that letter of his--you read it, didn't you?--he begged me never to
tell Banks."

"He begged you--yes!  But--but after the way he'd treated you--!
And then, when he was in a fair way to pay for that treatment, he
sneaked out of payin' by shootin' himself!  And left you to bear
the brunt! . . .  Margaret, I--I said some pretty rough things to
you a spell back.  I didn't really mean 'em.  I've never been quite
right with you.  I've prided myself on bein' a Bradford and I know
I've over and over let you see I thought Silas made a mistake by
marryin' as he did. . . .  And now!  Now, I realize that there
never was a Bradford fit to step foot on this earth with you!"

"There, there, Abijah!"

"It's so. . . .  I beg your pardon, Margaret.  I'll do more'n that,
if I live.  I'll try and make it up to you as far as I can.  But
you won't hold what I said against me?  God knows I'm ashamed of
it!"

"Of course not, Abijah!"

"Those letters--"

He stopped, open-mouthed, for she had taken two of the letters,
those signed by Maybelle Rodgers, and going to the stove, opened
its door and laid them upon the coals.

"That is done--at last," she said.



CHAPTER XXIV


There were other papers and letters in the secret compartment of
the writing desk, but it was not until the following day that Banks
and his uncle went through them together.  By that time Abijah was
more like himself, more composed and in a condition to think more
clearly.  They found nothing further of importance.  The copy of
the agreement between the partners--Silas Bradford's copy which his
brother was certain he must have had and kept for his own
protection--was not there, nor had Margaret ever seen it.

"He might have had it in his pocket or somewheres," suggested the
captain, "and 'twas lost when the ship burned.  It don't seem
likely he would, but he might.  Anyhow, it doesn't make any
difference.  We've seen one copy of the cussed thing and the Lord
knows that's enough!  Nobody else must ever see that.  They shan't,
if I can help it."

Banks was troubled.  "But that copy doesn't belong to us," he
suggested, "it is Elizabeth's.  All those papers she brought to you
are hers now."

"I know, but I'm goin' to try and get her to let me get rid of the
whole pack.  They'll be burnt up, if I have my way."

"Uncle Bije, have we the right to burn them?  We know now that a
crime was committed; although, of course, all those who were
responsible for it are dead."

"Yes, so they are.  And fetchin' it out to the daylight now would
only bring trouble and disgrace on innocent ones who aren't to
blame at all.  I grant you that the insurance folks were innocent,
too, but for twenty-odd years that loss has been marked off their
books.  Far as that goes, at least two of those companies have
changed hands, consolidated with others, and things like that. . . .
No, I say now what I said to you yesterday mornin' at your office--
practically no good and a whole lot of harm would come from makin'
this mess public.  It's been buried for twenty years.  It's got to
stay buried."

"But, Uncle Bije, will it stay buried--always, even if Elizabeth is
willing for you to destroy that agreement and the rest?  Father's
copy we can't find; it is lost, no doubt.  But don't you suppose
Trent may have his grandfather's copy?"

Abijah nodded.  "Why, yes," he admitted; "he may.  I've thought of
that, of course.  Suppose he has; he's the very last one who can
afford to show it.  He's rich and he's got big stakes everywhere,
out West and in Ostable and all around, Besides, I doubt if his
grandfather, old Benjamin, kept his copy long, even if 'Lijah and
that darned wife of his did.  It ain't a thing _I_ would have kept--
not after those that were in it with me had passed on.  We can
risk Chris, I guess."

"But, Uncle Abijah--"

"See here, boy!  Do YOU want this dead and gone crookedness dug up?
Do you think it would be treatin' the Cartwright girl fair?"

"No," emphatically, "I do not.  She isn't to blame.  She mustn't
suffer.  You are right, Uncle Bije."

"Seems to me I am.  You and I might face the music.  It would be
pretty tough on me to have the name of Bradford turned into a dirty
joke, but I guess likely I'd take my share of the dirt if I felt I
ought to.  I don't, though; I honestly don't!  And there's somebody
else who counts more than all hands of us together.  She's stood
enough.  She's heard the husband that treated her like--well, you
know how he treated her--preached up as the town wonder and a
plaster saint and the Lord knows what.  She's let me and Hettie and
others as much as tell her to her face that she was Silas Bradford's
one mistake.  And not a complaint from her, not even a hint!  For
your sake--just for yours--she's stood all that--"

Banks broke in.  "Don't!" he protested.  "Don't say any more!
After all, nothing or nobody should matter beside her.  She is--
is--"

He did not finish the sentence.  His uncle nodded.

"You bet she is!" he vowed, almost reverently.  "There's a lot of
back pay comin' to her, boy; and as long as I live I don't mean to
lose the chance of a payment.  Squarin' a little of that debt is
goin' to be my job from now on."

"And mine!"

"Yes, and yours.  Well, I'll see Elizabeth.  I think she'll be
willin' to abide by my judgment."

He came to the office two days afterward to report that he had had
a long talk with Elizabeth and had convinced her that silence was
the only just policy.  She had put her grandmother's papers in his
hands to do with as he saw fit.

"And they went into the stove," he added.  "I burned 'em up while
she was there to see me do it.  She's satisfied; she'll keep
still."

"You didn't say anything about--about her grandmother and--and my
father?"

"Eh! . . .  Indeed I didn't!  First place I couldn't have mentioned
that hussy's name without puttin' the other names on that belonged
with it.  Besides, she was pretty good to the girl, I guess, and
Elizabeth seems to have thought a sight of her.  What was the good
of smashin' more idols!  She don't know, and she needn't ever know,
so far as I can see. . . .  And, moreover," he added, gloomily, "to
have said anything about that would have meant rubbin' more muck on
your family name and mine.  It's true, of course, but we needn't
advertise it. . . .  Huh!" with a shrug, "that sounds as if I still
had a little pride left, doesn't it?  Well, maybe I have--but it's
precious little!"

He made one more comment before leaving.

"She's a pretty fine girl," he said.  "Her grandmother was--what
she was, but Elizabeth's all right.  She agreed right off that
Margaret mustn't suffer any more. . . .  Oh, yes!" with a glance at
his nephew, "and she seemed to be thinkin' about you, too.  She
said she was almost sorry that she hadn't burned those papers
herself instead of ever lettin' you see 'em.  She seemed to be
afraid you might blame her for fetchin' 'em to us.  Yes, she's all
right!"

Banks and his mother had one more heart-to-heart talk before, at
Margaret's insistence, it was agreed that the subject was to be
dropped for good and all and never to be mentioned by them again.

"We must forget it, dear," she said.  "You know now all that I
know.  We have each other and there are no secrets between us,
thank God!  Those bad years are gone and we are going to have, I
hope, many happy ones together.  Please don't--unless you
absolutely have to--unless something else happens that we don't
expect--spoil that happiness."

"All right, Mother, it's a bargain.  But let me ask this, because I
can't quite understand it:  Why do you suppose Mrs. Truman was--
well, so kind to me?  Got me that position with Trent and was
willing for me to call at her house, and all that?  Oh, I know that
she and he thought I was green and innocent and would be easy to
manage; but there were plenty of others who would have been just as
easy--might perhaps have been more easy, as it turned out.  Why do
you suppose she did it?  It seems queer."

"Yes, it does seem queer, but I think I can understand.  She was
selfish and unscrupulous and worldly, but--well, there must have
been some tenderness in her make-up.  She was always kind to her
granddaughter; apparently she loved her as much as she was capable
of loving anybody.  And I think--I think she loved, or thought she
loved, your father.  You look like him, Banks. . . .  I suppose--
Well, you see?"

"Yes, perhaps I do.  She said some things to me that I couldn't
understand at the time.  They are plainer now."

"Probably she wasn't all bad; no one is, I suppose. . . .  We won't
talk about her, either.  By the way, dear, you can't tell me yet
why you gave up your position with Mr. Trent?"

He shook his head.  "Some day, Mother," he said.  "Not yet.  She
wasn't the only one I promised.  I want to do the square thing--
now--more than I ever did."

He ceased speaking and seemed to fall into a reverie, not altogether
a pleasant one, judging from his expression.  She watched him for a
moment.

"Banks," she said.

He started.  "What! . . .  Yes, Mother?"

"Are you and she--still friendly?"

"She? . . .  Oh!  Elizabeth, you mean?"

"Yes.  You were thinking about her, weren't you?"

"Yes, I was.  How did you know?"

"I guessed.  You said you wanted to do the right thing now, more
than ever, and I guessed you were thinking of her when you said
it."

"You are a great mind reader, Mother.  Why, yes, I suppose we are
friendly, in a way.  Not as friendly as we used to be.  She didn't
understand my refusing to do what her grandmother and Trent asked
me to do and not explaining why.  You knew about that.  She wrote
me, after the fire, and I wrote her, but I haven't seen her to talk
with since Trent and I had our row."

"Shall you see her?"

"You mean go and see her? . . .  No, I think not."

"Why?"

"Oh. . . .  Because!  That situation hasn't changed; I still can't
explain.  And there are other reasons.  Now that Mrs. Truman is
dead she will be rich.  That is, she will be unless there was any
truth in that 'pauper' stuff.  And, of course, there wasn't; it was
just bluff to make me come to time."

"Pauper stuff?"

"Oh, Mrs. Truman said something about being in financial
difficulties.  I never believed it. . . .  No, Mother, I have
thought it out and, as I see it, my keeping away from her will be
the best thing for us both."

"But don't you think she might be glad to see you?  She is alone in
the world now and that is when friends mean a great deal."

"I can't take advantage of that, can I?  She will have friends
enough, by and by, friends of her own kind, with money and--
everything.  I used to try to make myself believe that didn't make
any difference, but all the time, underneath, I knew better.  It
does--or it ought to--on my side of the fence, at least.  I made a
fool of myself by promising what I had no business to promise, and,
perhaps, a bigger fool still by keeping that promise.  Trent
accused me of not playing straight with him.  I'll play straight
with her," doggedly.  "At any rate I won't be altogether selfish."

She regarded him with a rueful smile.

"Banks," she said, "I am afraid you are stubborn.  I can understand
that, for I am stubborn myself.  When I make up my mind to go
through with a thing it takes a great deal to make me change it.
But, my boy, I have lived fifty years in this world and that is
quite long enough to make me realize that stubbornness in the wrong
place is a dreadful mistake.  If I hadn't been proud and stubborn,
if I had spoken to your father in the beginning, when I first began
to--to suspect, I've afterward wondered how much of this terrible
nightmare of ours might never have happened.  Banks, if the time
ever comes when changing your mind is the only thing that stands
between you and happiness--happiness for you and perhaps some one
else--for heaven's sake, change it!"

He was silent.  She patted his shoulder.

"Banks," she said, "listen:  Here is one thing more.  I have never
in my life been jealous of but one person.  I promise you I never,
NEVER will be jealous of any one else!"



Banks' law practice was growing again.  Not a feverish growth; he
was not obliged to work very hard and he still had much spare time
on his hands, but there was an improvement.  His uncle's influence
was bringing him a few trifling commissions and Caldwell had
entrusted him with still more "stickers" in the shape of overdue
accounts.  Solomon Dobbs' cranberry case was pursuing its devious
way and Hezekiah Bartlett brought in yet another title search.  The
old man loved to gamble in petty deals in real estate.

Hezekiah, when he came, often remained to gossip.  One afternoon,
after the usual questions and answers concerning progress in the
searching, he made a remark which Banks did not understand.

"Ain't nobody but me ever asked you to do any investigatin' out
West for 'em, have they?" he asked with a chuckle.

Banks looked up.  "No, sir," he replied.

"And you ain't showed them reports you did get to nobody, eh?"

"I don't," with a smile, "remember having told any one that I ever
got such reports, Mr. Bartlett."

The old fellow was much amused.

"You never told ME, I give in to that!" he observed, still
chuckling.  "For shuttin' up tight you've got a quahaug beat a sea
mile.  But I've been given to understand that somebody else has
been lookin' into sartin matters and that what they larned so fur
ain't makin' 'em too joyful."

"What do you mean, Mr. Bartlett?"

"Maybe I don't mean nothin'.  What I've heard was just talk and the
heft of talk don't mean anything BUT nothin', that's a fact.  All
right, young fellow, let's wait and see.  Only I want to say this:
If somethin' comes out of the nothin' and that somethin' has saved
me from swappin' a hundred and odd shares of a good thing for some
more shares in a mighty shady one, there ought to be an extry
dividend declared with your name on it. . . .  Well, maybe there
might be yet; you can't never tell."

That was all he would say on the subject, but it set Banks to
wondering.  That evening, at home, Captain Abijah called and he,
too, had heard rumors and was much excited by them.

According to those rumors the Ostable Bank was in trouble of some
kind.  No one seemed to be quite sure what, but that it was real
trouble there appeared to be little doubt.  There had been a sort
of half-hearted "run" on the bank already and it looked as if the
next day might turn it into a genuine one.

"Folks are talkin' everywhere," said the captain.  "Just what
started it, or rather how it got out after it started, I'm sure I
don't know.  The bank examiner is mixed up in it somewhere and back
of it is the failure of a concern out West that Chris Trent, I'm
beginnin' to think now, may be pretty deep in.  He was carryin' one
of that firm's notes amongst his bank's papers.  I know that--knew
it when the merger was, or so we all thought, practically fixed up.
Accordin' to Chris, that concern was solid as Gibraltar.  And, as
the note was backed by him and Maybelle Truman, of course we
thought it MUST be good."

"It wasn't the Farraday Company?"  Banks asked the question, and he
spoke without considering the pre-knowledge which it implied.

"Eh? . . .  No, it was one of the others."

"The Western World Sales Company? . . .  I thought so!  That was
the one Mr. Davidson said was the most shaky of the three."

His uncle turned and looked at him.

"Ye-es," he said, slowly.  "That is the one.  And so--er--Davidson
said it was shaky, eh? . . .  I want to know!  Well, who is this
Davidson?  And who did he say that to--and when?"

Banks bit his lip.  His foot was in the trap and he himself had put
it there.  Abijah was regarding him between puckered lips.  A
corner of his lip was beginning to curl.

"Humph!" he grunted.  "Well, well!  So this--what's his name--
Davidson--told somebody that the Western World Company was shaky.
And did he tell this same somebody anything about those other two
notes; the Farraday one and the other? . . .  Come now, did he?"

His nephew was embarrassed, provoked at his own carelessness.  He
could not help smiling, however.  After all, it made little
difference now.

"Why--maybe, Uncle Bije," he admitted.

"I see. . . .  And maybe this same somebody told Chris Trent what
he'd found out and hinted that the Denboro National might be
interested? . . .  Was that it?"

"Now--now, Uncle Bije!  I can't tell you anything.  I warned you I
couldn't."

The captain whistled.  "Perhaps you don't need to," he observed.
He nodded, three or four times.  "Yes, yes!" he said, with
satisfaction.  "Well, I suspicioned somethin' of the sort.  You
looked into those concerns, or their notes or somethin', and what
you found out made you heave up your job with Trent's bank.  And
he, knowin' you knew what you knew, judged 'twas better business to
pull out of the merger. . . .  That's the answer, or pretty nigh
it, eh?"

"I can't tell you anything, sir."

"Humph! . . .  Who put you up to lookin' behind those notes? . . .
I wonder . . .  Eh?" suddenly.  "Was it--was it Hez Bartlett?"

Banks merely smiled.  Captain Bradford nodded once more.

"I declare it was old Bartlett!" he vowed.  "And when you told him
what you'd found out--"

"Stop!  Wait a minute, Uncle Bije!  I told Mr. Bartlett nothing,
absolutely nothing!"

"Is that so! . . .  Never mind.  The answer's right there and I'll
bet on it!  Boy, if it IS the answer, then I'm beginnin' to think
you--or you and Hezekiah together--have saved the Denboro National
from makin' what might have been a mighty big mistake."

He whistled again between his teeth.

"That helps along what Judge Bangs told me day before yesterday,"
he muttered.  "No wonder the judge is worried about the Cartwright
girl's affairs.  And it explains a little, too, why she got the
judge, instead of Chris Trent, to settle those affairs for her.
Perhaps she knew; maybe her grandmother told her to keep a weather
eye on Chris.  Yes, sir!  I shouldn't wonder if here was another
answer. . . .  Dear, dear!  I wonder if it's goin' to be very bad!
I hope not.  She's a fine girl, too.  Bangs says she's a wonder."

Margaret spoke.

"What do you mean, Abijah?" she asked.  "Why is Judge Bangs
troubled about Elizabeth's affairs?"

The captain hesitated.  If it had been his nephew who asked he
probably would have refused the information.  But the question was
his sister-in-law's and nowadays his manner toward her was a
curious mixture of tenderness and almost awe-stricken respect.  For
years he had filled the position of head of the Bradford family,
had issued brusque orders and, when he condescended to give advice,
had given it also as an order.  But now, since the crash of his
brother's downfall, he had, in Margaret's presence, walked humbly
and spoken softly.  Apparently, in his estimation, she had become
the head of the family.  She was skipper and he but a willing and
eager mate.

So when she asked the question he answered.  Nevertheless, he did
it with some reluctance.

"Well, Margaret," he said, "I don't know's I've got the right to
say much about that.  The judge told me kind of in confidence."

"Then you mustn't tell us, Abijah."

"Oh, no, no!  If you want to know you ought to know, of course.
If Hettie was here, I--  But she ain't here yet!  You expect her,
don't you?"

"She said she might drop in later in the evening."

"Um-hum!  She would, drat her!  Well," more cheerfully, "she isn't
here now, thank the Lord!  You see, Bangs has been goin' through
the stuff Maybelle Truman left, all to Elizabeth 'twas, and,
accordin' to him the estate is in a snarl.  There isn't much real
money.  She must have spent thousands and thousands, just chucked
it away, on goin' to Europe and livin' high and I don't know what
not.  And apparently she'd sold almost all her stocks and bonds and
spent that money, too, and with next to nothin' to show for it.
There's the insurance on the Truman house, when it's collected, but
there isn't a great deal of that.  And her jewelry, that's worth
somethin'.  But the rest--well, the judge says the rest is all
tangled up with Chris Trent.  If HIS affairs go to pot--why,
Elizabeth won't be rich; indeed she won't!"

He paused.  Then he added, reflectively:  "The Truman woman seems
to have had a lot of interest in this Farraday Company.  Her name
was with Chris's on the back of that company's note and at least
one of the others.  One of 'em's busted now, if what they say is
true; and of course her estate'll have to help make that note good,
and share responsibility for the other one.  She owned--inherited
it from Elijah--four hundred shares in the Ostable Bank.  This
trouble is bound to send the price of those shares down and down.
Bangs has been investigatin' those Western companies and he's found
out what," with a keen glance at his nephew, "I guess you found out
a spell ago, Banks.  Hum!  I don't wonder the judge is upset.  He's
gettin' along in years and such things fret him more than they used
to.  He gave up active practice a spell ago, but he's got a lot of
executorships and such and they weigh on him.  He told me that he
was beginning to believe he must take a partner.  He would, if he
knew where to get the right one."

Banks had heard but little of the last part of this long speech.
His thoughts were with Elizabeth and the calamity threatening her.
Mrs. Truman's mention of impending pauperism might not have been
all bluff; apparently there was a real fear behind it.

He would have asked for more information, but just then Cousin
Hettie made her appearance and the discussion of the subject ended
for the time.  Cousin Hettie's was a subdued personality these
days.  Her flow of conversation was still copious, but her manner
was, for her, amazingly meek and she accepted contradiction in a
way which, to those who had so long been accustomed to hearing her
statements delivered like blasts from Mount Olympus, was
astonishing--and funny.  She, of course, had not been told of the
new secret connected with the name of Silas Bradford, that which
coupled that name with Maybelle Truman's.

Margaret did not take advantage of new-found humility, but Captain
Abijah did.  In his present state of mind any scapegoat was a
godsend.  He "took it out" on Hettie.

She entered the sitting room, bade the company an ingratiating good
evening and accepted the chair Banks offered her.  She declined to
remove her hat, but threw back her jacket, folded her black-gloved
hands in her lap and heaved a long sigh.

"Well, Hettie," inquired Margaret, pleasantly; "how are you this
evening?"

Cousin Hettie sighed again.  "Oh, I don't know," she said, with the
martyr-like air which the captain always found most irritating.
"I'm still here, in this earthly vale, that's about all I can be
sure of.  Sometimes I declare seems as if I'd be willing to be
called away from it! . . .  Now DON'T look at me so disgusted,
'Bijah!  You're a great, strong man, not a poor, lone, weak woman,
so of course YOU don't ever get that way."

"Eh?  What are you talkin' about?  Get what way?"

"Why--why, the way I said."

"All I recollect hearin' you say was that you was IN somethin'--in
some kind of a--a pail, seems to me 'twas."

"Now, Abijah," with a feeble attempt at a smile, "how ridiculous
you are!  You know perfectly well I never said any such thing!  Why
in the world should I be in a pail?  Oh, you're SO funny!"

"Am I?  Well, if you asked me why you--and some of the rest of this
family--should be in JAIL, maybe I could tell you.  And that would
be funny, too, wouldn't it! . . .  Huh!"

Cousin Hettie was on the point of tears.  She wished to be informed
if her tormentor didn't have ANY heart.  Margaret tried to comfort
her.

"What is the news with you to-day, Hettie?" she asked.  "Has
anything in particular happened?"

Hettie rose to the bait.  She wiped her eyes and admitted that
something had happened.

"I've had another blow," she announced.  "Well," the martyr-like
resignation returning, "I'm getting used to 'em.  I am, as one
might say, prepared for blows."

From Captain Abijah's direction came a dry chuckle.

"You do seem to be cruisin' under bare poles, that's a fact," he
observed.  Miss Bradford looked at him, then downward where he was
looking, and, with a gasp of horror, detached and lowered her skirt
which had caught upon the upper round of the chair.  She then went
on to tell of the "blow" which had to do with her lodger, Mr.
Payson.  He, it seemed, had given notice that he should not occupy
her spare bedroom the following year.

"And after all I've done for him!" wailed Cousin Hettie.  "Tried
every way in my power to make him feel he was just the same as at
home.  And what he said when he gave me the notice cut as much as
anything.  'Twas so mean--so kind of sneering--so cheap!  That's
what it was--CHEAP!"

"He knew how to get YOU interested, anyway," muttered Abijah.  He
was ignored this time.

"Sarcasm," Cousin Hettie continued, "so the Good Book tells us, is
the lowest form of wit.  And this was SO that way!  I didn't
realize just what he meant till after he'd gone and then 'twas too
late to answer him back."

"What did he say?" asked Banks.

"I'm going to tell you.  I said to him first--maybe _I_ was a
little sarcastic, too; I didn't mean to be, but when I thought of
what I'd spent on that Franklin grate! . . .  Well, I said:  'Dear
me, Mr. Payson,' I said.  'So my house is not good enough for you
since the town raised your salary--and our taxes along with it!
You must have something more luxuriant, I presume likely!'  He
smiled--if it wasn't for that smooth smile of his I wouldn't ever
be HALF so provoked!  'Why, Miss Bradford,' he said, 'it isn't
that.  It is my health.  The doctor tells me I must spend my
winters in a warmer climate.  I am thinking of lodging on the other
side of the street.'  Now, you know perfectly well, Margaret, there
isn't anything across the street from my house but the town ice-
house that backs on Nickerson's Pond. . . .  THAT'S what he meant,
the saucy thing!"

The family conclave ended a half hour or so later and its ending
was peculiar.  Henrietta had talked and talked, gaining courage and
persistence as Captain Abijah's interruptions became fewer and
fewer.  The captain seemed to have lapsed into one of the fits of
gloomy abstraction which had become frequent with him during the
last few days.  He was sitting, hunched low in his chair, an
unlighted cigar in the corner of his mouth, his gaze resting upon
the crayon enlargement of his brother hanging above the sofa.
Suddenly, without speaking, he rose and, walking over, stood before
the portrait, his hands in his pockets, his head thrust forward.

Margaret Bradford and her son looked at him, then at each other.
Cousin Hettie looked also.  Then she, too, rose and, crossing,
stood at his elbow.  She heaved a long and very audible sigh.

"There he is!" she observed, pensively.  "There he is; isn't he,
'Bijah, dear!"

The captain neither answered nor changed his position.  She went
on.

"Ah me!" with another sigh.  "When I see him there, just as he used
to be, I--I can't hardly realize that he wasn't quite all we
thought him.  I don't realize it--no, and I don't mean to!  I don't
mean to, Abijah!  He may have been misled by guileful and wicked
men, perhaps he was; but you and I--we Bradfords--we remember him
as he used to be and I, for one, am glad his picture is hanging
here for his son to look at--always.  Yes, and for Margaret to look
at.  In spite of his--well, his mistake--in business, I mean--she
knows, as we do, that, underneath, he was always our Silas, smart
and brave and true--"

She never finished that eulogy--nor the sentence.  Abijah's right
hand shot from his pocket; it seized the portrait by the lower
corner of its frame, jerked it from the wall and sent it flying
across the room to land with a shattering crash in the corner.

Hettie screamed.  Margaret and her son sprang from their chairs.
Abijah Bradford said not one word.  He strode to the entry,
snatched his coat and hat from the rack, opened the outer door
and--was gone.

Cousin Hettie uttered another faint scream.  Banks shook his head.
Margaret was the first to speak.

"Poor Abijah!" she said, sadly.



CHAPTER XXV


For the next three or four days the interest of not only all
Denboro, but all Ostable and Bayport and Harniss and Orham,
centered about Mr. Christopher Trent and his bank.  The threatened
"run" became more than a threat, for a time it was an actuality and
excited depositors stood in lines reaching to the sidewalk,
brandishing passbooks and demanding their money.  Then, as all
claims were met, as usually happens in such cases the worst of the
flurry subsided.  But, among the wise ones, heads were still shaken
and prophecies made that the troubles of the Ostable National were
beginning, rather than ending.

"Us Denboro directors were talkin' it over at our meetin' this
mornin'," reported Abijah Bradford in conversation with his nephew,
"and we all agreed that we wouldn't want to be in Chris Trent's
shoes.  There's bound to be examinations now, real ones, and if
those other two notes and the concerns behind 'em are on the ragged
edge Chris will have to dig deep in his own pocket, and his
directors into theirs.  I'd hate to have much of my money in
Ostable Bank stock. . . .  By the way, Banks, there was more than
one prayer of thanksgivin' put up at our meetin'.  If that merger
had gone through it would be the consolidated bank that would have
to dig down and make good."

"Has any one talked with Trent?" asked Banks.  "What does he say
about it?"

"I haven't seen him for a long while.  Cap'n Hall had a chat with
him yesterday and, accordin' to him, although Chris pretends to be
as calm as a summer day in the doldrums, he looks as if he wasn't
sleepin' very well.  Oh, I guess likely there won't be any smash--
any flat smash--for the present at least, but in the end--well, I
don't know."

"Hall is consider'ble fretted about the Cartwright girl," he added.
"The Halls were about the closest friends she and her grandmother
had around here.  Cap'n Hall says she is mighty plucky, but he and
his wife gather that Maybelle's affairs are tied up altogether too
close with Trent's to make her happy.  And with all that Ostable
Bank stock!  Ah, hum!  It's too bad--too bad!"

He rubbed his chin and frowned.

"Cap'n Hall says he and his wife have been coaxin' her to come down
and live with them, for a while anyhow; but she won't do it.  She's
still got her rooms at the Malabar, and, accordin' to Bangs, she's
plannin' to stay in 'em for the present, or until he can give her
some idea what condition her grandmother's estate is in.  I meet
her in the hotel once in a while, but she doesn't seem very anxious
to talk.  She looks kind of thin and white and peaked, seems to
me."

Banks made no comment.  He, too, saw Elizabeth occasionally.
Several times they had met at the post office or on the street.  He
bowed and she returned the bow, but that was all.  At their first
meeting it had seemed to him that she hesitated, looked as if she
might have spoken had he given her the opportunity.  He did not
give it, but hurried on.  The statements he had made to his mother
were absolutely sincere and the result of much soul-searching and
self-sacrificing deliberation.  He could not trust himself to see
her and be with her; even though she might now have guessed or
surmised something of the nature of his promise to her grandmother
and to Trent, and why he could not reveal their secret to her.  She
might even be willing to forgive him; but forgiveness was not
enough.  Friendship was not enough.  And to ask for more, under the
circumstances--her circumstances and his--would be--well, for the
present at least he must not dream of it.

Whispers had come to his ears, during the period when he was
calling at the Truman mansion, that Silas Bradford's boy had a
weather eye out for the dollars, and knew a soft berth when he
sighted it; in that respect, at least, so the whispers said, he
was smart, like his father.  Banks had scornfully ignored these
insinuations then.  His love for Elizabeth had swept him off his
feet and he had refused to consider anything except the
determination to make her his.  Since their parting he had done
a great deal of thinking, had considered much.

And now, although he was still far from resigned to giving her up,
although he still meant to fight for her while a chance remained,
he had determined that the fight should be a fair one.  He would
take no mean advantage.  He would not, merely because she was
lonely and in trouble, force even his friendship upon her.
Certainly no one should again have the excuse for saying he was
trying to marry her for her money.  If the rumors of her losses
were true, if her inheritance had shrunk to little or nothing, then
he could go to her.  Then all that mattered would be her love for
him.  But meanwhile he would wait.  He would not be selfish.

All of which was, perhaps, unworldly and quixotic and stubborn;
but, like his dogged holding to those promises which had got him
into so much trouble, was quite characteristic of Banks Bradford.

During the hectic weeks following the fire and the disclosure of
the contents of Mrs. Truman's safe and Captain Bradford's writing
desk, he had seen comparatively little of the Tadgetts.  Ebenezer
had been running in at the law office occasionally, but his stays
were short, for he found his friend absent-minded and not
conversational.  Now they saw more of each other.  Banks had
resumed his habit of calling at the secondhand shop on his way to
and from work and sometimes on his way home for dinner.  Watching
the games of cutthroat euchre was an unfailing amusement and he
enjoyed listening to the chatter of the players.

From Eliab Gibbons he learned an item or two concerning the
progress of settlement of the Truman estate.  Mrs. Truman's horses
and carriages had been sold--to a Boston dealer, so Eliab said.
And, from Eliab, too, he heard a new rumor.  Mr. Gibbons reported
that Elizabeth Cartwright was thinking of going away, leaving
Denboro for a time, how long no one seemed to know.

"She ain't goin' for good," said Eliab.  "She'll come back and hang
around here until Judge Bangs has got her grand-ma's money bags
counted, but she's feelin's pretty tired and wore out, I
understand, and the doctor wants her to go away for a change and
rest.  Mrs. Cap'n Hall's goin' with her, or that's the story."

Banks heard the report with an uneasy sinking of the heart.  She
was going away!  Coming back--yes; but was that only for a brief
stay before leaving Denboro for good?  That evening he was closest
to breaking his resolution.  Almost was he on the point of going to
the Malabar and trying to see her. . . .  But, if he did, what
then?  He must not say the one thing he longed to say--and yet, if
he saw her alone, he feared that he should say it.  So he remained
at home with his mother.

The following afternoon just before five he wandered into the
Tadgett shop.  Ebenezer was in the other back room; he could hear
him there, and singing, as usual.


     "'Two little girls in blue, love,
         Two little girls in blue.
       They were sisters and we were brothers,
         And--'


"Yes? . . .  Who is it? . . .  Oh, hello, Banks!  Glad to see you.
Sit down!  That is, if you can find anything to sit on. . . .
Here, here!  I said 'on,' not in.  There's a glue pot underneath
that strip of baggin' in that chair seat.  I realize you've always
liked that chair, but I don't want you to be stuck on it as much as
that comes to. . . .  Well, how's the laws of the Medes and
Possums, as the fellow called 'em?"

Banks gave him a cigar, lit one himself, and smoked and listened
and looked on while Ebenezer puffed and sang and worked.  He had
unearthed a fresh treasure, a tall secretary desk which had been
the property of an aged spinster in North Bayport, and, although to
the undiscerning eye it might have appeared a hopeless ruin, the
Tadgett eye, which was far from undiscerning, saw great
possibilities beneath the battered exterior.

"Every time I get a hold of a good thing like this," he
philosophized, "it comes over me strong how much there is in common
between some old furniture and some old folks. Yes--but how
different they are, too.  Now Marietta Crocker, that I dickered
with for this, she's considerable of an antique herself; she ain't
much more ornamental than this secretary.  Both of 'em look pretty
shabby on the outside, but I KNOW the secretary's high grade
underneath and, from what I can hear about Marietta, she is, too.
Ah hum-a-day!  If you could only make humans as good as new by
scrapin' and polishin', the Old Ladies' Home would be a secondhand
shop worth patronizin'--eh?  A man lookin' for a wife might pick up
a bargain cheap.


     "'They were sisters and we were brothers,
         And we fell in love with the two.
       One little girl in blue, love,
         Stole your father's heart,
       Became your mother; I married the other,
         But we-e have drifted apart.'


"Why don't you come around to the house these days, Banks?  Sheba'd
like to see you, I know."

"How is she?  Has she had any more of those 'visions' of hers?"

"No, not since that one when she saw you totin' Mrs. Truman out of
the fire."

"You don't really believe that was what she saw, do you, Ebenezer?"

"I don't know.  'Cordin' to her tell she saw you--er--well, pretty
what you might call confidential with some woman; and afore that
very night was over half of Denboro saw you with your arms around
Maybelle.  You ain't treatin' anybody else that way, are you?"

"Ha, ha! . . .  No."

"I haven't heard you was. . . .  And she saw smoke besides.
Honest, Banks, I don't know what to think.  Sheba's--well, she's
kind of odd sometimes, with her hoods and all that, but she's a
wonderful woman.  And from what little I've read, some of the Bible
prophets was kind of out of the reg'lar run.  Take John the Baptist
now.  He picked out grasshoppers and honey to live on.  I'll bet
you the neighbors cal'lated that a man with that kind of
combination taste in vittles was some consider'ble odd, too."

How much of this was intended to be the nonsense it sounded like,
and what of serious belief there might be behind it, Banks could
not be certain.  He might have pressed the subject, but just then
they were interrupted by the very person of whom they had been
speaking.  Mrs. Tadgett herself opened the outer door and marched
majestically through the shop to the other back room.  She was
wearing the hoods, of course, and her thin figure was draped in an
old-fashioned black cloth cape which hung to her knees.  She was,
to say the least, a strange apparition.

She was, however, as always, the personification of dignity and,
just then her speech was direct and free from ramblings.  She was
on her way, she said, to the Caldwell store, to buy some material
for upholstering the parlor sofa, an operation which her husband
had promised to perform.

"Susannah Simpkins told me that Mr. Caldwell has had some very
pretty drapery stuff just come in," she said.  "I thought perhaps
you would go with me to look at it, Ebenezer."

Tadgett scratched his ear with the handle of his varnish brush.

"I'd like to first rate, Sheba," he said, "but I don't know's I
ought to leave just this minute."

"Don't let me keep you, Ebenezer," put in Banks.  "My business
isn't important, surely."

"'Taint that.  It's only that those folks who've rented the Cahoon
cottage over at the Neck give me to understand that they might be
in some time this afternoon to look at some of my chairs and
things.  Course they may not come; it's pretty late along--but--
humph!  Say, Banks, if you ain't in a hurry, maybe you'd be willin'
to sit here and keep the shop open till I get back.  You've done it
afore for me.  We won't be long, 'tain't likely; and, if they did
come, you could tell 'em to be prowlin' around and pawin' things
over till I hove in sight.  Of course, maybe you can't spare the
time?"

"I can.  I haven't a thing to do until dinner time, Ebenezer.  Go
ahead; and don't hurry back on my account."

So, after further protestations by Mr. Tadgett, and dignified
thanks from his wife, the pair departed.  They had been gone but a
minute or two when the outer door opened again.  Banks, who had
been sitting by the window looking out across the yard, had
scarcely time to rise and turn when Elizabeth Cartwright walked
quickly into the other back room.

"Good afternoon, Banks," she said.  She was breathing rapidly and
had, apparently, hurried.  She was dressed in black and the
sunshine--the days were long now--streaming in through the window,
fell upon her face, and its pallor was emphasized by contrast.
Banks tried to speak, to return her greeting, but he could only
stammer.  It was the first time he and she had met--alone--for what
had seemed to him a dreary eternity.

"Mr. Tadgett is out?" she asked; and then added quickly:  "Yes, I
know he is.  I saw him go."

"Yes. . . .  Yes, he is out, but he will be back soon, I am sure.
He has gone over to Caldwell's.  Shall I get him for you?"

"No. . . .  Please don't.  I didn't come to see him.  I came to see
you."

He stared.

"Oh!" he said, vaguely, after a moment.

"Yes.  Yes," hurriedly, "I came to see you.  I knew you were here.
From my window at the hotel I saw you when you came in.  Then I saw
Mrs. Tadgett come and, a few minutes later, she and her husband
went out.  You didn't go, so I knew you were still here and, I
hoped, alone.  I hurried over because--because I just HAD to see
you.  I have some things to say to you and I have been wanting to
say them for days and days.  You can imagine what they are; I am
sure you can."

He did not try to imagine.  Nor did he speak.  The fact that she
had come to see him was sufficiently wonderful.  That she was
there, with him, now--that she had called him "Banks" and not "Mr.
Bradford"--more wonderful still.  What she had come to say did not
seem to make much difference; he was not in the least curious.

She was reddening under his gaze.

"I know you are wondering," she went on, quickly, "why, if I wanted
to see you, I haven't called at your office.  I haven't because--
well, because I couldn't go there without--without some one seeing
me and--oh, you know how much I, and everything I do, are talked
about just now.  And yet I had to see you.  I wanted to beg your
pardon before I went away.  I wanted you to know that I understood."

He broke in.  "You are not going away to--to stay, are you?" he
demanded.

"Not to stay--always.  No, I shall come back.  I shall have to,
because Judge Bangs and I have a great deal of business connected
with grandmother's estate still to do.  I am going to Washington
with Mrs. Hall, just for a rest.  The doctor seems to think I need
rest.  Perhaps I do.  I am very tired and--nervous. . . .  But that
doesn't matter now."

It mattered to him; he longed to tell her so.  Perhaps, in spite of
those brave resolutions of his, he might have done it had she given
him the opportunity.  She did not; she hurried on.

"We mustn't waste time," she said.  "Those other things are all
that matter and I hope I can say them before Mr. Tadgett comes
back.  They have troubled me greatly.  I know now, I am almost sure
I do, what it was you promised grandmother and why, when I asked
you, you couldn't tell me."

"Did Mrs. Truman--?"

"No, she didn't tell me.  No one told me.  And perhaps I don't
really know.  But those papers I found in grandmother's safe made
me understand, or guess, some things and what Judge Bangs has
discovered about the Ostable Bank is making others pretty plain.
I suppose you found out about the Western World Company note and
perhaps more than that, and . . .  Oh well!  I didn't come here to
talk about that either.  Why AM I wasting time!"

He put in a word.  "Those--those papers of Mrs. Truman's, they--all
that was as great a surprise to me as it could have been to you.
I didn't know--I never suspected or dreamed anything like that.
Neither did Uncle Abijah.  You see--well, we always believed that
my father was--"

She extended her hand in protest.

"Don't!" she cried, impulsively.  "I know what a terrible shock it
must have been.  Your uncle, poor man, made that plain.  I--  Oh, I
wish I had burned the dreadful things without showing them to any
one!  I wish I had never seen them myself!  Why couldn't I have
been permitted to go on believing that Grandfather Truman was an
honest man and that grandmother's money--the money I helped her to
spend--was honestly earned!  What have we gained, any of us, by all
this? . . .  Oh," bitterly, "I feel--I feel as if I never should be
clean again.  I am almost glad that I am going to be poor."

He started.  "Poor!" he cried.  "Why, you are not going to be poor!
Of course you're not!  Why do you say that?"

She shrugged.  "I say it because it looks as if it were true.
Grandmother told me, weeks before she died, that her money affairs
were in a bad way.  I didn't pay much attention.  I thought she
said it because--oh, because she didn't want us to be too--
friendly."

"Us!  You and I, you mean?"

"Yes.  That is what I thought.  Of course I knew that she and--and
Mr. Trent were--well, partners in ever so many financial matters,
that she owned stock in his bank and in some corporations he was
interested in.  I knew that.  What I didn't know was that it was
all--all dishonest.  That she and he were trying to save themselves
by tricking your uncle's bank into sharing their responsibility,
taking the burden off their shoulders.  I didn't know--  How could
I dream that they, that we all, were--were criminals!  And that
they were trying to use you as their catspaw!"

"Elizabeth!"

"Hush!  Hush!  And I was so happy when they made you their
attorney!  I thought it was a wonderful opportunity for you and I
was proud and glad to think I had helped get it for you.  Yes,"
scornfully, "I actually thought I had helped!  And I was just
another catspaw, that is all."

"Elizabeth, you shouldn't say that."

"Why not?  It is true, isn't it?  Well, they made a mistake when
they chose you.  Indeed they did!  When you found out--  Oh, you
did find out!  Of course you did!  I don't know how and I don't
care!  You found out somehow and you wouldn't be their--their
instrument any longer.  Rather than do that you gave up the
position which meant--oh, everything to you!  And then when I
came to your office that day you let me say those wicked, unjust
things! . . .  Oh, if you had only told me the truth!  If you only
had!"

"I couldn't, Elizabeth.  At least it seemed to me then that I
couldn't."

"I know.  You had promised them you wouldn't tell any one.  And, of
course, being you, you kept that promise.  I--"

"Wait!  It wasn't altogether that.  There were a lot of other
complications, other people's affairs were tangled up in the
miserable mess.  It seemed to me that my hands were tied.  Not
being able to tell you was the only part that really hurt.  I am
not sure that I shouldn't have told you.  I have thought since
that perhaps I was a stubborn fool to hold my tongue when you asked
me. . . .  But, you see, Trent had accused me of being a traitor to
him--"

She broke in.  "Chris Trent!" she cried, with a stamp of her foot.
"I hate him!  I never liked him.  I HATE him now!  He knows it.  I
told him how I felt toward him.  Yes, I did!  And that was before I
learned any of this."

He stepped toward her.  "When was it?" he asked, eagerly.  "When
did you tell him that?"

"Oh, one evening after you and he had quarreled, after you had
resigned as his lawyer.  Grandmother had been saying some--some
dreadful things about you to me and I had told her I didn't believe
one word of them.  Then he came! and he treated me as if--oh, as if
I belonged to him!  As if--as if he took me for granted; I don't
know how to express it any clearer than that.  Well, then he--he
said some things about you--far worse than those grandmother had
said, they were--and I spoke my mind.  I have scarcely spoken to
him since.  I have never seen him alone again and I never shall."

She turned away toward the window.  He could not see her face, but
her fingers were tightly clenched and her shoulders moved as if she
were sobbing.  He took a step nearer.

"Elizabeth!" he cried, a choke in his voice.  "I--I am going to--"

She wheeled, her hand raised.

"Hush!" she whispered.  "I think I heard--  Didn't some one come
in?"

He hurried to the door, which was ajar.  Through the crack he
peered out into the shop.

"There is no one there," he said.  Then he came back to where she
was standing.

"Elizabeth," he went on, determinedly, "I'm going to tell you what
I promised I wouldn't tell.  I am going to tell you all of it."

She shook her head.  "No, no!" she protested.  "You mustn't!  You
shan't!  I don't want you to.  That would spoil everything.  I came
here to ask you to forgive me, to beg your pardon for not believing
in you.  I don't want to be told.  I don't want any explanations.
I came to tell you that I am ashamed of myself.  I want you to know
that I have been ashamed ever since it happened."

"But, Elizabeth, let me tell you."

"No.  I don't want to be told. . . .  There! now I must go. . . .
Good night."

He barred her way to the door.  The stalwart, high-minded
resolutions were anything but stalwart now; they were feeble
indeed.

"Wait!  Wait, please!" he begged.  "Something you said--I want to
know about it.  That about your being poor?"

"Well?" with a reckless little laugh.  "What about it?  I AM poor--
or it looks as if I should be.  Judge Bangs tells me that the
Farraday Company is, or he fears it is, on the edge of bankruptcy.
And the other is quite as bad, or worse.  And the shares in the
Ostable Bank are--well, you can imagine what they may be worth
soon.  Then there are the debts--heaven knows how many!  When they
are paid there will be little left.  I shan't have to go to the
poorhouse, perhaps.  I may have to go to work; I mean to, anyway.
Whatever I earn will be HONEST, at least."

"Then you won't stay here--in Denboro?"

"I shall stay, as I told you, until I know the worst--or the best.
Then I suppose I shall go away.  What is there here for me?"

The tottering resolutions swayed, crumpled--fell.

"_I_ am here," he said.  "Don't I count at all?"

His arms were outstretched, but she moved back, away from their
clasp.

"I--I don't know what you mean," she faltered.

"Don't you, Elizabeth?  You do!  Of course you do!"

She did not answer.  "DON'T you know, dear?" he pleaded.  "Don't
pretend!  Surely we can't have any more make-believe or
misunderstandings.  Do you WANT to go away from Denboro--and me?"

She looked at him for a long instant.  Then she said:

"Do you want me to stay?"

"If you can.  If you care enough to--to give up other things.  I
haven't any money.  It may be a good while before I earn enough to
take care of you.  I shall try hard, but we may have to wait--and
wait.  I haven't any right to ask you to do that.  But, if you do
care, and don't mind--perhaps the money, a little anyway, may come
and--"

She did not let him finish.  "Don't!" she begged, hysterically.
"Don't talk of money!  Money, and what people do to get it, has
been responsible for all this disgrace and horror.  Your family's
and--and mine!  Don't mention it!  I--  DO you want me to stay?"

The outstretched arms were nearer--they were holding her close.

"Do I want you! . . .  Oh, my darling!  Is there anything else I do
want?"

"I hope not, because--because I want to stay very much indeed."

The Tadgett errand at Mr. Caldwell's store took a surprisingly long
time.  It did not seem long to them, they had forgotten the
Tadgetts altogether.  They sat together on one of Ebenezer's
rickety antiques--a crippled settee, it was--and talked in whispers
of many things and many people, but principally of themselves.
Banks mentioned his mother.

"Oh, yes, yes!" she exclaimed.  "I want to know your mother.  Tell
me, dear, from something your uncle said, I gathered that she had
known of all this disgrace and wickedness--all that about the ship,
I mean--ever since your father's death.  Is that true?"

"Yes, it is true."

"And she had kept it a secret, even though she knew that--that
Captain Truman and grandmother and the Trents had made themselves
rich from their share of the insurance money?  That that was the
beginning of their prosperity, I mean?"

"Yes, she knew that."

"And she was poor, herself!"

"Yes.  But, you see, every one in Denboro thought father was pretty
near perfection.  I thought so; she meant that I always should.
So, for the sake of his name, and mine, she didn't speak."

"She must be a wonderful woman?"

"She is."

For a moment she was silent.  Then she said:  "Banks, dear, there
were other things in that compartment of grandmother's desk.
Things I didn't show your uncle.  There was a--a photograph of your
father, with writing upon it--and grandmother's name.  And in the
envelope with it was a lock of hair.  And, besides, there was a
letter or two."

He started.  "Letters from--"

"Yes, from him to her.  I burned them all.  But--they explain more
things, don't they?  Some things grandmother said to me that
evening after you had just called at the house. . . .  Tell me;
while that was going on was--was your father married?"

"Yes."

"And did your mother know?"

"She suspected.  And, after he died, when his trunk and desk were
sent home, she found proof--plenty of it."

"And still she didn't speak--to any one?  Not even your uncle?"

"Not to any one.  And for the same reason.  For his sake--and for
mine."

Elizabeth nodded, slowly.  "I can see now," she murmured, "why you
are what you are.  You are her son."

The appearance of Mr. and Mrs. Tadgett was heralded by much loud
talk and foot-scraping.  They gave the pair on the settee ample,
and needed, warning.  Ebenezer and Sheba crossed the threshold of
the other back room.  The former's apologies were profuse.

"Awful sorry to have kept you so long, Banks," he declared.  "Why,
hello, Elizabeth!  Is that you?  Well, well!"

The Tadgetts and Elizabeth shook hands.

"We found a real pretty piece of cloth for the sofy," went on
Ebenezer.  "It took us some time to pick it out, but it's goin' to
be fine.  And it didn't cost more than King Solomon's temple
carpet, neither--which is surprisin' when you consider who had the
sellin' of it.  Eh, Sheba?"

Mrs. Tadgett was in a rather muddled state of mind.  Considering
how long she had been standing on the platform before the shop,
this was not surprising.  She and her husband had finished their
bargaining with Caldwell twenty minutes before, and had then
returned.  The door to the outer shop had been left partially open
and so, when Ebenezer entered, the bell had not rung.  He had
caught one glimpse of the tableau on the settee and had hastily
tiptoed out again.  Since which time he had kept his wife engaged
in conversation, the subjects of which were very vague and he could
not, if asked, have repeated them.

"Eh?  That's so, ain't it, Sheba?" he asked again.

Mrs. Tadgett's gaze was fixed upon the center sash in the window.
She smiled, blandly.

"King Solomon," she proclaimed, "was a very wise man.  His temple
was built of--of cedar, I believe.  Cedar is a kind of tree like
a--like a fir.  Fir is--animals have fur.  Cats and--and bears--and
lions and--cows.  No, cows do not have fur.  Cows give us milk.
Milk is for babes.  If any of you have a baby brother--or sister--
or--or--"

Ebenezer, after a hasty glance at Miss Cartwright's face and its
expression of complete bewilderment, took his spouse gently by the
arm.

"You come over and sit down a minute, Sheba," he urged.  "That's
right--that's right.  Guess you and Elizabeth want to be movin'
along by this time, don't you, Banks?  Yes, course you do."

He accompanied them to the outer door.  There, after bidding them
good night, he whispered in Banks' ear.

"She's all right now," he whispered.  "Fussin' about that sofy
stuff got her kind of excited, you understand.  She's--yes, she's
odd sometimes, same as I've said to you, but--but she's a smart
woman, just the same."

He paused, drew a long breath, and then added, with absolute
conviction:

"As for them visions of hers--well, I declare to man I'll never
make fun of 'em again!  I KNOW there's somethin' to 'em--NOW."



On a day of the following week Banks Bradford sat in his uncle's
room at the Malabar Hotel.  He had come with news, to him
remarkable and encouraging news.  Judge Bangs had called at the
office of S. B. Bradford, Attorney at Law, and had surprised its
occupant with a business proposition, namely, that Banks become his
law partner.

Captain Abijah was not surprised.  The judge had discussed the
proposition with him before laying it before his nephew.

"It'll be a fine thing for you, boy," he declared.  "Not altogether
for the new business it'll fetch your way--you'll be the real
workin' lawyer for the Denboro National for one thing--but because
it'll tie you up with all these estates and outside interests the
judge has the handlin' of.  When he goes you'll have the whole of
'em.  What it really means is that your practice here in Denboro is
a sure thing from now on. . . .  Well, you deserve it; I'll say
that for you!"

Banks thanked him.

"I think I realize a little of what it means, Uncle Bije," he said.
"I only hope I can make good, and I'll surely try.  But this other
matter--what ought I to do about that?  When I opened that envelope
with my name on it in Mr. Bartlett's handwriting, and saw that five
hundred dollar check, I--well, I haven't got over the shock yet.
Should I keep it, do you think?"

Abijah grinned.  "What was it he wrote on the paper with it?" he
asked.  "An extry dividend?  Was that what he called it?"

"Yes.  'Here is that extra dividend on my Denboro shares.  I told
you it was coming to you, remember.'  That was all--except the
check."

"Humph!  Have any notions what he meant, do you?"

"Why--er--yes; in a way I do."

"So do I.  Anyhow I can guess somewhere in the latitude of the
meanin'.  You saved him a good deal more than that, I'm willin' to
bet.  Yes, and you saved us Denboro Bank fellows more still.
Besides," with a grim chuckle, "any fellow that can get five
hundred dollars out of old Hez Bartlett has earned a thousand, at
least.  Keep it and be proud, that's my advice."

He puffed thoughtfully at his cigar.  Then he motioned toward the
wall near the door.

"Notice any change over yonder?" he inquired.

Banks turned to look.  The wall was vacant.  The portrait of his
father was no longer there.

"I took it down," explained the captain, "that same night after I
smashed the one in your sittin' room.  I shouldn't have done that--
not in that crazy way, I suppose--but I was sick and mortified and
ashamed.  Then when Hettie began singin' her hymns of praise, same
as she always had and just as if things were as we used to think
they were, I--well, I couldn't stand it.  Humph!  She's hardly
spoke to me since, but THAT don't keep me awake nights."

He blew a cloud of smoke.  Then he added:

"Banks, some day--if you can find one around the house without her
knowin' it, I wish you'd fetch me some kind of picture of your
mother.  No matter if it's just a little card photograph; I'd like
to hang it up where that other used to be.  Then, perhaps, you'll
be havin' one taken of yourself, and I'll hang that alongside.
Silas Bradford's wife and Silas Bradford's boy--those are the only
two Bradfords I want to look at and think of--from now on."



THE END





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