“Why! why! why! what’s the meaning of all this?” cried Mr. Himes, in tones of mingled anger, amazement, and rebuke; “did you actually go to bed leaving this outside door open, Belindy?”
It was early in the morning, some two or three weeks after the events related in our last chapter, and the two had but just risen to begin the new day.
“Me? Of course not!” returned the wife, in indignant surprise not unmingled with fright, running out, only half dressed as she was, to find her husband standing on the kitchen hearth, gazing in open-mouthed astonishment at the wide-open door.
He turned angrily upon her. “You must have done it; you was the last to go to bed.”
“Ketch me at it!” she said. “I’m too much afraid o’ them burglars by a great deal.”
“Burglars!” he echoed, and rushed wildly into the adjoining room. The lid of his strong-box was raised, papers were scattered about the floor. He seemed unable to believe the evidence of his senses; he rubbed his hand across his forehead, muttering, “I must be dreamin’. Nobody couldn’t never have broke that lock, nor picked it neither, and—”
He stepped to the box and stooped over it for a moment; then, straightening himself, turned toward his wife a face from which every vestige of color had fled.
“It’s gone!” he gasped; “every cent of it!”
“How much?” she asked, trembling and distressed.
“All I had; the earnin’s and savin’s o’ years and years o’ hard work!”
“Why didn’t you put it into the bank?”
“Because I was afeard o’ them; banks breaks now and agin, and they’re often robbed, too, by folks inside and out; nobody knows who’s honest and who isn’t. Oh, dear! oh, dear!”
He began picking up the papers and restoring them to their places, groaning and lamenting all the time, and even shedding tears.
“How quiet they must a done it all!” she said, shuddering, and glancing about, half expecting to see a burglar. “I never heard a sound. And they must have been in our room to get the key!” she exclaimed, with a fresh accession of fright at the thought.
“No, they wasn’t!” he said, sharply. “Can’t you see the lock’s broke?”
At that she walked back to the kitchen, closed the outer door, started the fire, and put the kettle on to boil, her thoughts all the while busy with their loss and the manner in which the robbery had been effected. She knew no more of it than he did. Phelim had not confided in her, and as yet she had no suspicion of his connection with the band of housebreakers and thieves infesting the valley.
The old man was so full of grief and despair that he could not eat; leaving his breakfast almost untasted, and bidding his wife attend to the outdoor work, which he usually did himself, he mounted his swiftest horse and hastened to the nearest town to see what steps could be taken toward the recovery of his stolen property.
But as before, when committing similar acts of depredation, the wily villains had managed their work so adroitly that no clew to their identity could be found.
Weeks passed on without any new light being thrown upon the matter, and under the grievous trial Mr. Himes grew constantly more morose, captious and niggardly toward his wife, till she declared that life spent alone with him—and she seldom had any other companion—was an intolerable burden.
Then he took to absenting himself frequently, sometimes being gone all day long, never telling her whither he went or on what errand.
At length he announced his intention to sell his place and move into an adjoining State.
“What fer?” Belinda asked, in surprise and dismay. “You couldn’t get a nicer place, and you’ve always bragged on it so. I’d never have thought you’d give it up.”
“There’s nothin’ wrong with the place,” he said, “but there’s too many burglars about. I sha’n’t stay here to be robbed agin soon as I get a little ahead.”
“You’ll stay on here till after harvest, won’t you?”
“I tell you, I’m a goin’ jest as soon’s I kin sell out!” he snapped.
Spring had opened, and the farmers were very busy. Once Mr. Himes would have been as much so as any, but now he seemed to feel that he had something else to attend to of more importance than the cultivation of his land.
Miriam Heath, out in the fields one bright morning with Sandy McAllister and Barney Nolan, overseeing and directing their operations there, heard aloud “Halloo, Miss Heath!” and turning her head, saw Mr. Himes waving his hand to her from the road.
“I must see what he wants,” she said to Sandy, whose attention had been arrested by the call as well as her own. “I think you can go on very well without me now.” And turning her horse about, she rode up to the fence that separated the field from the road, and with a courteous greeting to her caller, asked if he would go into the house.
“Well, yes; p’r’aps I might as well,” he replied, “if you can spare time fer a little business talk.”
“I must always do that,” she answered. “I was very sorry to hear, some time ago, that you, too, had been robbed.”
“Yes,” he returned, with a heavy sigh; “and them rascals made a bigger haul than they did here—got the savin’s o’ years. I hain’t much left but the farm and the stock. I hope you’ve got your notes back, Miss Heath. Fact is, I want that money awful bad now. I’d be glad if you’d pay the whole thing off, principal and interest, and take up your mortgage.”
“I wish I could, indeed,” she said, leading the way into the house and giving him a chair, “but it is utterly impossible. We have had no trace of the notes yet; and though we have used the closest economy, I have but one hundred dollars for you now. I will give you a check on the Prairieville bank for it.”
“Only a hundred! Why, that will leave fifty back of the interest due last fall—six months ago!”
“I know it,” she said, with a deeply troubled look; “but if you will only have patience, I am sure we will pay it all in time.”
“I don’t want to be hard on ye, but, as I said afore, I do want that money awful bad,” he answered, with a scowl. “I mean to leave the State, and I’m tryin’ to close things up so’s to take all I have with me.”
“Have we not always paid you the interest promptly up to last fall?” she asked.
“Yes, that’s so.”
“And can’t you trust us to send it to you as fast as we can raise it?”
“Well, I reckon likely ye’d do it, but I’d a heap rather take it all with me. I don’t want to be hard on ye,” he repeated, “and I should hate to foreclose; but I do want the money mighty bad.”
Miriam’s cheek had grown very pale. “Oh, Mr. Himes,” she said, clasping her hands entreatingly, “you wouldn’t do that? You couldn’t have the heart to do it—to take all we have and turn us out of house and home?”
“I’d hate to do it, but every man must look to his own interests first and foremost.”
“Do you remember,” she said, low and huskily, “that it was to save the country my father borrowed this money and mortgaged his farm to you? and he gave his life to the cause; my brother gave his health and strength and the use of his arm; and what would your property be worth to-day if the country had gone to ruin?”
“Well, maybe not much,” he acknowledged after a moment’s cogitation, leaning forward with his eyes on the floor, his hat in his hands and his elbows on his knees, “and I shouldn’t like to distress ye. Give me the check for the hundred, and I’ll wait a spell for the rest. You’re a girl in a thousand, Miss Miriam, and I hope you’ll pull through all right yet.”
“Thank you,” she said, a little tremulously; “if I do not, it shall not be for lack of trying. Thank you for your forbearance, Mr. Himes. You shall have all I can possibly save this year, and if the crops are good, that will be all the interest and a large part of the principal. Indeed, if we recover the stolen notes I dare hope to pay off the whole this year.”
He went away with the comfortable feeling that he had shown himself a model of generous forbearance, and was deserving of any amount of good fortune in requital of it all.
“You can just pass that over to my credit, I don’t care to draw it out to-day,” he said, as he handed in the check at the bank.
As he was stepping into the street again, he felt a tap on his shoulder, a voice asking, at the same time,“How are you to-day, Mr. Himes?”
“Ah! good-day, colonel; how are you?” he returned, looking round.
“I want a little chat with you on business,” said Bangs, offering his hand with an urbane smile. “Just step over to my office with me, won’t you?”
“You hain’t got on the track o’ them thieves, hev ye?” queried Himes, half incredulously, half eagerly, as they walked on together. “But I s’pose there hain’t no such good news.”
“I wish I could say there was,” was the gracious reply; “but they are cunning rogues, though we may promise ourselves that they’re sure to be caught finally. No; it’s another matter I want to speak of to-day. Just step in and take a chair. I hear you were offering your farm for sale. Have you found a purchaser yet?”
Himes answered in the negative.
“Well, I have a little money to invest, and don’t know but I might as well put it into land.”
Questions and answers followed—as to the size of the farm, buildings on it, quality of land, number of acres under cultivation, etc.
“Well, I must ride out and look at it before I can strike a bargain with you,” the lawyer said at length. “But haven’t you some other property for sale—railroad or other stock? mortgages?”
“Yes, sir; I have a mortgage that I’d like mightily to get the cash for,” returned Himes, catching at the suggestion with unmistakable avidity.
Bangs’s eyes shone; he saw Miriam in his power. “On what property?” he asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.
“Lakeside—the Heaths’ place. It’s a nice one.”
“Yes, I know it, and wouldn’t mind having a claim on it. First mortgage? and what’s the amount?”
“Yes, first—no other on it, fer’s I know; and it’s for two thousand dollars.”
“Interest all paid up?”
Himes shook his head; then went on to tell exactly how matters stood between the Heaths and himself.
“I’ll take it, and pay every cent down. Have you it with you?”
“No; it’s at home. I’ll bring it in to-morrow; that’ll be best, as I’ll want to put the money in bank for the present,” returned Himes, meditatively. “I don’t put no more in the way o’ them burglars, you see; guess they wouldn’t find it as easy to break into the bank as into my house. But—”
He stopped short, and seemed ill at ease.
“What now?” asked Bangs.
“Why, you see, I was just a thinkin’ I wouldn’t like them folks—the Heaths—to be foreclosed on and sold out. I kind o’ promised Miss Miriam to wait on ’em a bit, and she’s a girl in—”
“You needn’t be afraid to trust them to me,” smiled Bangs, graciously. “Why, to let you into a secret”—he leaned over and whispered the rest into the farmer’s ear—“I expect to marry the girl.”
“You do? Well, all I’ve got to say is, you’ll get a mighty handsome woman and a first-rate housekeeper and manager.”
“I know all that better than anybody can tell it to me,” returned Bangs, emphatically.