As they reached the little one-story square cottage he sat down on the porch, where the red light fell warmly, and romped with the children, while his wife went in and took off her things. She "kept a girl" now, so that the work of getting supper did not devolve entirely upon her. She came out soon to call them all to the supper table in the little kitchen back of the sitting room.
The children were wild with delight to have "Poppa" back, and the meal was the merriest they had had for a long time. The doors and windows were open, and the spring evening air came in' laden with the sweet, suggestive smell of bare ground. The alert chuckle of an occasional robin could be heard.
Mrs. Sanford looked up from her tea. "There's one thing I don't like, Jim, and that's the way that money comes. You didn't-you didn't really earn it."
"Oh' don't worry yourself about that. That's the way things go. It's just luck."
"Well, I can't see it just that way. It seems to me just-like gambling. You win' but-but somebody else must lose."
"Oh well, look a-here; if you go to lookin' too sharp into things like that, you'll find a good 'eal of any business like gamblin'."
She said no more, but her face remained clouded. On the way down to the store they met Lincoln.
"Come down to the store, Link, and bring Joe. I want to talk with yeh."
Lincoln stared, but said, "All right." Then added, as the others walked away, "Well, that feller ain't got no cheek t' talk to me like that-more cheek 'n a gov'ment mule!"
Jim took a seat near the door and watched his wife as she went about the store. She employed two clerks now, while she attended to the books and the cash. He thought how different she was, and he liked (and, in a way, feared) her cool, businesslike manner, her self-possession, and her smileless conversation with a drummer who came in. Jim was puzzled. He didn't quite -understand the peculiar effect his wife's manner had upon him.
Outside, word had passed around that Jim had got back and that something was in the wind, and the fellows began to drop in. When McPhail came in and said, "Hello!" in his hearty way, Sanford went over to his wile and said:
"Say, Nell, I can't stand this. I'm goin' to get rid o' this money right off, now!"
"Very well; just as you please."
"Gents," he began, turning his back to the. counter and smiling blandly on them, one thumb in his vest pocket, "any o' you fellers got anything against the Lumber Cpunty Bank-any certificates of deposit, or notes?"
Two or three nodded, and McPhail said humorously, slapping his pocket, "I always go loaded."
"Produce your paper, gents," continued Sanford, with a dramatic whang of a leathern wallet down into his palm. "I'm buying up all paper on the bank."
It was a superb stroke. The fellows whistled and stared and swore at one another. This was coming down on them. Link was dumb with amazement as he received sixteen hundred and fifty dollars in crisp, new bills.
"Andrew, it's your turn next." Sanford's tone was actually patronizing as he faced McPhail.
"I was jokin'. I ain't got my certificate here."
"Don't .matter-don't matter. Here's fifteen hundred dollars. Just give us a receipt, and bring the certif. any time. I want to get rid o' this stuff right now."
"Say, Jim, we'd like to know jest-jest where this windfall comes from," said Vance as he took his share.
"Comes from the copper country," was all he ever said about it.
"I don't see where he invested," Link said. "Wasn't a scratch of a pen to show that he invested anything while he was in the bank. Guess that's where our money went."
"Well, I ain't squealin'," said Vance. "I'm glad to get out of it without asking any questions. I'll tell yeh one thing, though," he added as they stood outside the door; "we'd 'a' never smelt of our money again if it hadn't 'a' been f'r that woman in there. She'd 'a' paid it alone if Jim hadn't 'a' made this strike, whereas he never'd 'a'-Well, all right. We're out of it."
It was one of the greatest moments of Sanford's life. He expanded in it. He was as pleasantly aware of the glances of his wife as he used to be when, as a clerk, he saw her pass and look in at the window where he sat dreaming over his ledger.
As for her, she was going over the whole situation from this new standpoint. He had been weak, he had fallen in her estimation, and yet, as he stood there, so boyish in his exultation, the father of her children, she loved him with a touch of maternal tenderness and hope, and her heart throbbed in an unconscious, swift determination to do him good. She no longer deceived herself. She was his equal-in some ways his superior. Her love had friendship in it, but less of sex, and no adoration.
As she blew out the lights, stepped out on the walk, and turned the key in the lock, he said, "Well, Nellie, you won't have to do that any more."
"No; I won't have to, but I guess I'll keep on just the same, Jim."
"Keep on? What for?"
"Well, I rather like it."
"But you don't need to-"
"I like being my own boss," she said. "I've done a lot o' figuring, Jim, these last three years, and it's kind o' broadened me, I hope. I can't go back where I was. I'm a better woman than I was before, and I hope and believe that I'm better able to be a real mother to my children." Jim looked up at the moon filling the warm, moist air with a transfiguring light that fell in a luminous mist on the distant hills. "I know one thing, Nellie; I'm a better man than I was before, and it's all owin' to you."
His voice trembled a little, and the sympathetic tears came into her eyes. She didn't speak at once-she couldn't At last she stopped him by a touch on the arm.
"Jim, I want a partner in my store. Let us begin again, right here. I can't say that I'll ever feel just as I did once I don't know as it's right to. I looked up to you too much. I expected too much of you, too. Let's' begin again, as equal partners." She held out her hand, as one man to another. He took it wonderingly.
"All right, Nell; I'll do it."
Then, as he put his arm around her, she held up her lips to be kissed. "And we'll be happy again-happy as we deserve, I s'pose," she said with a smile and a sigh.
"It's almost like getting married again, Nell-for me." As they walked off up the sidewalk in the soft moon-light, their arms were interlocked.
They loitered like a couple of lovers.