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The Ten Dollar Bill, A Christmas Story by George Barr McCutcheon


Mr. and Mrs. Digby Trotter had been married just five years. Five years before Digby had gone to his father to tell him that he intended to marry Kate Anderson. The old gentleman grew very red in the face and observed, more forcibly than considerately:

"You must be a dod-gasted idiot! You get married? And to that brainless little fool whose father exhorts or extorts religion for $600 a year at that miserable little church over there on Queen Street—is that the girl you mean?" And then Trotter, pere, ceased speaking to look searchingly into his son's face; an embarrassed smile brightened his grim old countenance and he went on, good humour growing stronger in each succeeding word: "You rascal! Why did you tell me that? Do you know, for a moment, I actually thought you were in earnest, and—well, demme! it did work me up a little. I ought to have known better, too—but, then, you did say it as if you meant it. Excuse me, boy; I guess I'm the fool, myself."

"That remains to be seen, sir," was the most polite thing that his son could say under the circumstances, taking his hands out of his pockets and putting them back again at once. "You see, it's this way, Father, you laughed too soon. It's not so devilish much of a joke as you think. I meant it."

Mr. Trotter's smile faded away as does the sunshine that hides itself in the dusk of eventide. Father and son grew warm in the discussion of this most amazing determination on the part of the latter and it all came to a sharp end when both lost temper. When Digby jammed his hat down over his eyes, buttoned close his overcoat and dashed out of the bank into the street, he might have been heard to say, as a parting shot:

"I'll marry her now if I starve for two thousand years!"

And marry her he did.

Trotter, senior, did not attend the wedding, did not send the young couple a present, nor a greeting; in fact, he did nothing but ignore them completely. He had told Digby that he would never forgive him and had gone so far as to call on poor little Dr. Anderson, the unfortunate possessor of a pretty daughter and a $600 charge, expressing himself as earnestly averse to the union of their children. When he had concluded his interview with the minister the latter was extremely pale and nervous, but he was master of the situation. He stood, holding open the door to his plain, pitiful old study and Mr. Trotter, very much injured and crestfallen, was passing out with these words stinging his ears:

"I am sorry, sir—just as sorry as you. I like Digby; he is a good, open-hearted boy, but I had hoped to see Kate better wedded!" Then he closed the door and seated himself in the old cushioned chair, staring at the grate until the glare seemed to hurt his eyes. At least, they grew very hot and dry, then streaming wet.

And so they were married five years ago. Since then their struggle had been a hard one; both ends would not meet, no matter how firmly Digby persevered in his efforts to bring about such a union. He would not, could not ask his father for assistance, nor would that patient, faithful little wife have permitted him to harbour such a design had he weakened in his avowed intention to "get along without a dollar from dad." Notwithstanding their feeble warfare against privation, in which defeat hovered constantly over fields where victory seemed assured, theirs had been a happy sort of misery. Digby loved Kate and Kate worshipped him; his pity for her was overwhelmed by the earnestness with which she pitied him. No struggle of his failed but that she shouldered and bore the failure with him, cheering him when he felt like lagging, smiling when he despaired the deepest. Between them a speck of joy grew larger, brighter each day despite the gloom that surrounded it. Their child was their one possession of worth, 4- year-old Helen—sunny-faced Helen—Helen who suffered none of the pangs because of the sacrifices made by those whose darkness she illumined.

Trotter had married Kate with a heart overrunning with the glorious ambition of untried youth, the happy confidence of strength, fully convinced that nothing was necessary toward securing success save the establishment of a purpose. And that is quite, quite the fact.

They began with a dollar and they had seen but few, since the beginning, that they could call their own. Too late did Digby learn that he knew but little and that the world was full of young men whose beginning in life had been so much worse than his that necessity had made them equal to the struggle for which he had been so illy prepared by an indulgent parent. Digby found the banks in which he had hoped to secure positions thronged with clerks and accountants who had worked slowly, painfully from the bottom upward. Grey-haired men, whose lives had been spent in the one great battle for gold, told him of their years in the patient ranks; thoughtful-faced young men told him how they had been office boys, messenger boys, even janitor boys, in the climb up the Matterhorn of success. Here he was a man of 25, strong, bright and the possessor of an unusual intelligence, a college man, a rich man's son, but poorer than the smallest clerk that had ever bent his throbbing, ambitious head over the desk in his father's bank, and who had often envied the life of his employer's son. Now that son was beneath them all because he did not know how to work!

Work—toil—slave! The definition of success.

At first the failures originating from inexperience had been of small consequence to Digby. His old-time independence resisted the harsh criticisms of his first employers and he had, on more than one occasion, thrown away fair positions because the spirit could not endure the thumb of mastery. For months he rebelled against the requirements of servitude, but gradually it dawned upon him that though the rich man was his father he was no longer the rich man's son.

So, when the first year of their wedded life had rolled by, Digby Trotter, still neat, still independent, yet not so defiant—wore a haggard look which could no longer be disguised. The once fashionable garments were beginning to look shabby; his recently purchased clothing had come from the bargain counters in cheap "ready-made" establishments; his once constantly used evening dress suit hung in a closet, lonely and forlorn, minus the trousers. He was keeping the books in a street car office and his salary was $40 a month.

When, at the close of their first happy, miserable year, her father died and their baby was born, many changes came. They were forced to take the house for themselves and had to be accountable for the rent. Dr. Anderson had given them the right to call his home their own so long as he should live and it was the earnings of two men that kept the little establishment crowded with happiness, if not comforts, during his lifetime. One day a blow came to them. The landlord ejected them. Kate wept as she passed out through the little front gate, leaving behind the dear old home with its rose bushes, its lilacs, its gravelled walks, perhaps forever. Digby buttoned his coat tightly about his thinning figure and scowled as he followed her through the gate. He scowled at that invisible fate which preceded them both. Now, at the end of five years, they were living in a tenement house, a crowded, filthy place, ruled by a miserly, relentless landlord, whose gold was his god.

The young husband had been employed by many men and in many occupations during these five years. Fate pursued him always, despite his dogged determination, his earnest efforts to surmount the obstacles which crowded his path to happiness and peace. If a reduction was necessary in a working force he was one of the first to go: if any one was to be superseded by a new and favoured applicant he was the one. On many occasions he had taken up his coat and hat, stepping to the pavement with the crushed heart of a despairing man, tears in his wistful eyes, his tired brain filling, almost bursting with the thoughts of the little woman whose brave eyes would grow large and bright when he told her of the end, and who would kiss him and bid him not to despair. He could almost hear her suppressed sob as he thought of her, her head upon his shoulder, her soft voice blaming herself for having dragged him down to this.

In this warfare of poverty they had seen many hungry days, many hardships, but neither had relinquished faith in Digby's ability to baffle adversity and stem the tide. Like tennis balls, they had been batted from one end of the year to the other, and now, at this time, Digby Trotter and wife had become members of New York's "floating population." Seldom did they live in one place more than three months, sometimes less than one. Frequently they moved because their surroundings were so distasteful to Kate, whose natural sense of refinement was averse, not to poverty and squalor, but to the vice with which it often is associated in districts where an ignorant and vicious element flocks as if drawn by the magnetism of sin.

A man of strong will was Digby, and a woman of wonderful strength of purpose was his wife, or he would have lost heart, and lost her in the end. Only once had he come home to her intoxicated, driven to it through despair and by what he thought to be approaching illness. On awakening from the drunken sleep shame made him fear to meet the eyes of her who suffered with him. But she had gently said:

"Don't be ashamed, Digby; poor, dear boy! You couldn't help it, I know. But, dear, do try to be strong, stronger than ever, for baby's sake if not for your own and mine. We shall all be happy yet, I'm sure we shall, if you—if you will but resist that one misfortune."

He never drank another drop of liquor.

Then, at last, the brave little woman took in plain sewing, greatly to Digby's anguish and mortification. Never had he felt so little like a man as when she showed so plainly that it was necessary for her to assist in the maintenance of the little household over which he presided. The few dollars that she could earn kept them supplied with food—at least part of the time. His odd jobs helped; the dollar that he earned once in a while was made to go a long way. Not once did she complain, not once did she cry out against the son who had taken his father's curse for her sake. There are but few women who would be so considerate.

When he came home at nights, climbing the wearisome steps that led to their miserable home near the roof of the vast building he knew that she would smile and kiss him, that the baby would laugh and climb gaily upon his knee, and he knew that he would not have to tell her that he had failed to find the coveted employment. His face would be the indicator, and, beneath her first smile of welcome, he could always distinguish the searching glance of anxiety; under her warm kiss he could feel the words:

"Poor boy! I am sorry; you have tried so hard!"

Their home was poor, poorer than Digby had thought any man's home could be, but there was no sign of the filth that characterised the condition of other homes in the house. Mrs. Trotter kept it clean, kept it neat, and kept it as bright as possible. While they were as poor, if not poorer than the other inhabitants of this roofed world, they were looked upon as and called "the aristocrats." No poverty could remove nor deface the indelible stamp of superiority which good blood and culture had given them as birthrights. Their apparel was cleaner than anything of its kind in the building, fairly immaculate when compared with the wretched garb of the beings who were looked upon as human but who were—well, they were unfortunate to have that distinction; something less would have been more fitting.

When occasion presented, Digby would bring home flowers, plucked from the gardens that he passed. Kate would bedeck the room with the blossoms, her eyes glistening as she thought of the lovely spot she had known five long years ago. Once in awhile the more beautiful of his tributes would adorn her coal black hair, lending wealth to what seemed so much like waste.

They had curtains for their windows, too—muslin, of course—and, although the windows were almost paneless, they presented quite a home-like appearance, especially from the street, eight floors below. Heavy wads of cloth served as glass in most of the vacant places, but they did not serve well as light filterers. Besides all these valuables they owned a bedstead, a stove, some chairs, a table, a sewing machine and a mirror. Not another family in the house owned a mirror.

But they were lovers ever—the same, sweet comrades in love. The baby was their Cupid at whose shrine they worshipped. She ruled their affections and there was no kingdom wider than her domain. Digby, covered with shame, despair and bitterness against the world, turned himself loose into the pasture of joy when she cooed her authority; romped like a boy whose heart had never felt as heavy as a chunk of lead; talked to her, sang to her with a voice that had never felt the quiver of dismay. Upon these sad pleasantries Mrs. Trotter smiled her worship. Better than all, Digby had never been compelled to walk with her for two or three hours in the middle of the night. It is said that she was the only child on earth that never had the colic.

On the 23d of December in the year of our story, Digby had gone, bright and early, to the big queensware store of Balling and Peet, word having reached him that they needed extra help during the holidays. When he neared his old haunts, the prominent downtown streets, instead of going boldly along the sidewalks as of yore, he slunk through alleys and across corners avoiding all possible chance of meeting the acquaintances of bygone days, the men about town, the women he had known, none of whom would know him now. It was not that he feared their recognition, but that they would refuse to look at him at all.

The morning was bright and crisp, cold and prophetic of still greater chill. Men in great overcoats passed him, muffled to the chin, their whiskers frosty with the whitened air of life that came from tingling noses; ruddy cheeks abounded on this typical winter day. Mr. Trotter possessed no overcoat, but presumably following the fashion set out by other wintry pedestrians, his thin sack coat was buttoned tightly and the collar turned up defiantly. His well-brushed though seedy Derby looked chilly as it topped off his shivering features. His face was blue, not ruddy. Here and there he passed companions in poverty, but their rags were worse than his, their faces more haggard. Never did he feel more like the gentleman than when he saw what he could be if he were not one.

Something jaunty beneath his brow-beaten spirits told him that he was to have work, that his mission would be productive of the result so long desired. In three months he had earned but ten days' wages and he had found it rather difficult, not to say annoying to be a gentleman with nothing on which to keep up outward appearances.

With an exultant feeling he approached the big store, but as he entered it the old trepidation returned, the old anxiety, the old shudder at the thought of failure. Being directed to the manager of the busy establishment, he accosted him in the office, something like meekness underlying the apparent straightforwardness to which his manly exterior seemed so well acquainted.

The manager was different from others of his ilk. He greeted the applicant kindly and told him to come back the next day at noon and he would be set to work in the express department. If he proved satisfactory he would be retained during the whole week, perhaps permanently. They were looking for good men there, he said. Digby's whole being seemed lighter than it had been for months when he left the place and hurried homeward.

Kate's heart thumped strangely when she heard him coming down the long hall with great rapid strides, so unlike the usual slow, deliberate tread. She opened the door to admit him and when he clasped her in his arms and rained kisses upon her face she knew that she was but receiving the proofs of her sudden guess. Their frugal meal was dispatched slowly, the diners allowing their tongues to display greater diligence than their teeth. They were all very happy.

The great rush of business was at its height when Digby strode between the counters of Balling and Peet's store the next day noon, on his way to the office. Hundreds of people thronged the place, and he could not help thinking of the days when he, a lad, had accompanied his mother to this same great store where purchases were made that now seemed like dreams to him. The smallest priced article that stood on the counters was now beyond his power of possession. Mr. Sampson, the manager, was in the office when Digby entered.

"Ah, you are here, I see," he said, but his voice was not so friendly as it had been on the day before. "I am sorry, Mr.—Mr.—"

"Trotter," volunteered Digby, forgetting to add the servile "sir." His heart was cold with apprehension.

"We were forced by rush of business this morning to put extra men to work much earlier than I had expected. Not knowing your address I could not notify you, and we have filled the places with men who came in early. We did not expect the rush quite so early, you see. I am sorry, sir. Perhaps we can do something for you later on."

Digby's eyes were misty, but there was a gleam of proud resentment beneath the mist. His first thought was: "How can I go home and tell her of this?"

"Have you nothing else, sir, that I can do?" he asked, from the depths of his disappointment. He actually hated the man who had failed to remember him—unreasonably, he knew, but he hated him.

"Nothing, I believe, Mr.—Mr. Potter—no, there is nothing at all. Good day." The manager turned to his desk and Digby, smarting to the very centre of his heart, shot a glance of insulted pride toward him, while beneath his breath there welled the unhappy threat: "I'll some day make you remember me! I'll not always be at the bottom."

Defiantly he strode from the office, banging the door after him indignantly. The manager looked around in mild surprise and muttered:

"Poor devil! I suppose he hasn't had a drink all day."

When Digby reached the sidewalk the bright sunlight sent him tumbling back into the reality of his position. Hardly knowing what he did, he turned the corner, meeting the cutting wind from the west. The moisture that came into his tired eyes as he walked dejectedly along, however, was not caused by the wind. It came from the cells of shame, disconsolation and despair.

Ahead of him on the busy thoroughfare walked an old-time friend, Joe Delapere. But a few years ago they had been boon companions, running the same race, following the same course together. Now one slunk along, shorn of his rapid spurs, while the other sped the gay course in happy unconcern. If Joe had a care it was over his love affairs, and, as he had admitted, they were annoyances more than cares after he had ceased to care. Digby was bitter against the world he had once inhabited, his father more than all the rest of it together. That was the difference between their ways of looking at the world.

Delapere stepped to the edge of the sidewalk and hailed a cab, a sudden and increasing flurry of snow changing his desire to walk into the necessity of riding. Cabby came dashing up and Joe pulled forth his well filled purse.

"Get me to No. — Morton avenue in five minutes and another dollar is yours. Be brisk, now!" Selecting a bill, he handed it to the driver and sprang into the cab. To his box climbed the well-urged driver, crack went his whip and once more the boon companions went their different ways—in different fashion.

But as Delapere thrust his purse back into his coat pocket something fluttered to the gutter. Digby's hungry eyes saw at a glance that it was a bank note, and, calling to the cabman, he rushed to curbing and fished the bill from the slush.

A ten dollar bill! And the cabman had not heard his shout! Putting his cold fingers to his lips he gave vent to that shrill whistle which always attracts the attention of Jehu, but the cabby was earning his extra dollar and heard nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing but the big flakes that struck his tingling face Digby stopped at the corner and saw the cab disappear down the street.

"I'll take it to him tomorrow," he resolved. As he started to put the bill into his pocket the thought came to him that Kate and the baby were suffering. All the way home he battled with his conscience, striving to convince himself that Delapere had not dropped the note, that it belonged to him by virtue of discovery, and that he deserved it if any one in the world did. At last there came a solution. He would explain it all to Kate and take her advice. He knew she would insist that he take it to the owner at once, and his conscience was temporarily eased. But, he would have to confess that he had failed to find work! Ah, that was the rub!

Another thought! Why should he tell her he had failed! Why not deceive her? He had the amount of a week's wages in his pocket and he had but to absent himself from the house during the days to carry out the deception. Conscience was gone—everything was gone except the desire to shield the ones at home.

At 5 o'clock he climbed the stairs, feeling like a joint thief and millionaire, possessing the sort of conscience that both ignore. Kate met him at the door of their room and he smiled gaily as he kissed her then snatched the baby from between his feet where she had planted herself precipitously. Kate was looking at him when he took his seat near the stove in which burned the remnants of store boxes that he had found that morning. His eyes could not meet hers when she asked:

"Is it all that you thought it would be, Digby?"

"Yes; I am pleased with the place. I only hope it will be permanent."

"Didn't they give you any satisfaction about the time that they will need you?"

"Not over a week, they said, but there is chance for a permanent place, of course."

"What—er—what are they to pay you, dear?"

"Ten dollars a week—it will be a great help, won't it? The rent can be paid and you can have something warm to wear and—and—" then he interrupted himself to stir up the fire, a wave of guilt causing him to withdraw from the ordeal imposed by her trusting blue eyes. "By the way, Kate, we must be quite merry tonight—isn't that so, Nell? Pop's got a job!" And with forced gaiety he juggled the laughing child toward the ceiling. "We ought to eat, drink and be merry. But— "(lugubriously)—"what have we to eat and drink, not counting the merriment, Kate?"

"Bread, liver and water—a feast, isn't it? But, oh, Digby, how many there are who have not even that. And tomorrow is Christmas, too. What shall we have for our grand dinner?"

"We'll have to have a change, to be sure—you can warm over the water, liver and bread."

"I have a few cents left, dear—I could have sent with you for a few little extras for tonight, too. I wish I had; it would be so jolly, wouldn't it?"

"I haven't had a cent for so long that I—I don't know how it would feel. Keep your money, Kate; I'll have some tomorrow. I have made arrangements to draw my pay every day." He felt like a murderer as he sat there with that fortune in his trousers pocket. Then he danced and romped with Helen as only he could romp. In the midst of one of the wildest figures Kate suddenly seized his arm and cried.

"Digby Trotter! Stoop over, this instant! Why, what kind of a wife am I? Good gracious, but you need a patch there—it's positively disgraceful. How long have you been going around with that hole there?"

"I don't know—in fact, I had not observed it," he answered, like a shame-faced boy.

"And your coat is so short, too. Take them off at once and I'll put a patch there before I do another thing."

"I'll have to go to bed, my dear. Can't you patch 'em with 'em on me?"

"Of course not! I'd certainly sew them fast to your person. Go to bed, if you please, then. I'll promise not to be long."

And so the head of the house had to go to bed while its mistress repaired the garment.

"Say, Kate," called out Digby from the bed, where he was playing with the baby, "that's a positive proof that I've been compelled to sit around a good deal this year, isn't it?"

"The evidence is certainly damaging," she replied, laughingly, her fingers busy with the repairs.

"Do the knees require patching, deary?"

"Not in the least; they are the soundest part of the pants," said his wife.

Just then something slipped from one of the pockets and fell noiselessly to the floor, Kate's eyes catching sight of it as it fluttered before them.

A ten dollar bill!

And he had told her that he had no money! Poor bewildered Kate picked up the bill and sat staring at it with wide-spread eyes, her thoughts chaos. Had he been lying to her all along? Was there money in his pockets all these months through which she had slaved to help him keep their little home together? Deep into her unwilling heart sank a shaft of distrust, the first it had ever felt. Then for shame she tried to withdraw the shaft, to ease the pain it had caused, but with all her tugging the thought went deeper, beyond control, becoming rooted, settled in that long unblemished home of fidelity, love and trustfulness.

A hundred excuses came to his defence, but her bewildered brain could not complete them; they became chaotic conflicts between devotion and suspicion. No sooner did she see her way clear than it was blocked again. There was the bill! It had fallen from his pocket—more money than she had known him to possess in months. And with that bill in his pocket he had wilfully told her that he had no money, not even a cent. Distrust grew stronger, faith faded away, resentment flooded the heart of the loving little woman, and the years of happy misery she had spent with him became the memory of deception and neglect. Tears welled up in the glittering eyes; then her teeth came firmly together as if to suppress the emotion with which she found herself struggling. The bitterness of reproach came to her as she turned toward the bed on which frolicked the husband and the child. The child! He played, toyed with the little one, whose every want he had forgotten, with money in his selfish pockets. His wife found herself beginning to hate, to despise him.

But words refused to come, the reproach was unuttered, for a sudden thought intervened. The thought was mother to a resolution and Digby Trotter was spared.

"I guess I'll go down town," said Digby when he stood clothed as he had been before Kate discovered the necessity for a patch. "Perhaps I can get a chance to help some one of the store-keepers this evening and earn enough to get up a little dinner for tomorrow." He was buttoning his little coat tightly around his neck as he made this declaration, and he noticed that Kate did not respond. "Come, kiss popper good-bye," he cried to the child and the response was ready, eager. Then he looked at Kate's quiet figure bending over the sewing near the candle flame. A cold chill shot over him, piercing deeper than the chills of the night without. Something like fear, suspense, grew in his heart as he bent his eyes upon the form of one who had never allowed him to leave her presence without a kiss, a cheery word. For an instant the thought came to him that she had at last ceased to love the useless beggar, the robber of her joys, the man who had dragged her from comfort to this life of squalor. With inconsiderate swiftness came the memory of the days when he and the same Joe Delapere had been rivals for her love, both rich and influential. She had chosen the one who bore her down; perhaps now she was regretting the choice in a heart that longed for the other. She had spoken of Joe frequently during the past two weeks and had told him of numerous accidental meetings with his old-time rival. But, in an instant more, his heart had revolted against this gross suspicion, hardly formed, and he almost cursed himself for the moment of doubt. Dear, dear little Kate!

"Kate," he said, "aren't you going to kiss me?" He was astonished by the flushed face she turned toward him and at the wavering eyes which met his in a fashion so strange that he felt a second chill go through his being.

"Certainly, dear," she said, coming to his side. "Baby shall not undo me in politeness."

"Affection would sound better," he said, taking her cold, almost lifeless hands in his. He stooped to kiss the lips upturned to his, but drew back, a dismal uncertainty taking possession of him. "What is the matter, Kate? Tell me, dear. Don't you want to kiss me?" He could not prevent the moisture from dimming his eyes, drawn by the pride which felt itself put to shame.

"I'll kiss you whether I want to or not," she said, smiling vaguely, and their lips met—both cold, fearful.

As Digby hurried down the long, narrow stairways and out in the biting air his fear and apprehension grew. Wonder, even dismay, charged upon him, and his excited imagination recalled the many little short- comings he had observed in Kate's behaviour of late, all of which began to assume startling proportions, convincing him beyond all doubt that something was wrong, woefully wrong. Could it be possible that he had lost her love, her respect? Had she at last ceased to love the unfortunate being who had battled so feebly in her behalf? Ah, his heart waxed sore; he felt not the frost without, but the chill within. What was he to do? What was left to do? He had started from home intending to purchase a turkey, some toys for Helen, some sweet little remembrance for the wife he had thought so loving, but his happy designs had been frustrated. The chilling heart refused to return to the warmth of expected joy, to recognise the feelings of anticipation.

"Ah, well," he sighed, almost aloud, to the hurrying wind, "what else can I expect? I have done all I could; no man could do more and no woman could have borne more than she. Truly she has borne too much—I cannot blame her—but, oh, how can she—how can she turn against me now. After all—after all!"

For blocks he rambled on in this manner, seeing no one as he passed, observing nothing. At last his face grew brighter and a momentary shadow of joy overspread it.

"I'll take home the turkey, the toys and the shawl to them. They shall have them if Delapere never sees his money again—if Kate never kisses me again in her life. I'll tell her the truth about the money!"

Nevertheless it was with a guilty feeling that he ran his hand into his trousers pocket to fondle the bill. The fingers wriggled around in the depths, poking into every corner, searching most anxiously. Then the other dived into the opposite pocket and the fingers found no bill. With a startled exclamation he came to a standstill on the sidewalk and a vigorous investigation was begun, his expression growing more bewildered and alarmed as the search grew more hopeless. The bill was gone! Lost!

Passers-by noticed the abstracted man fumbling in his pockets, muttering to himself, and one man asked, cheerfully:

"Lost something, pardner?"

Digby Trotter did not answer. He walked slowly down the street, his cold hands reposing listlessly in his empty pockets, his heart in his boots, his eyes looking vacantly toward his heart.

"It wasn't mine; I had no right to it," he murmured, time and again. Aimlessly about the streets he wandered, turning homeward at last, depressed, despising himself, ready to give up in spirit. He was going home to Kate, expecting no love to greet him, feeling in his heart that he deserved none.

As he passed the crowded stores he saw the turkeys, the chickens, the oysters, the apples—all of which he might have bought with the lost bill. "What use is there to be honest?" he asked of himself. Without knowing what he did, nor from whence came the resolution, he discovered that he determined to steal a turkey! And he did not feel guilty; it seemed as if he had no conscience. Something stilled that hitherto relentless foe to vice which virtue calls conscience and his whole being throbbed with the delights of the sin that is condemned in the ten commandments. Stealing? "Thou shalt not steal." But he did not feel that he was stealing, so where was the sin? Despising only the level to which his fortunes had fallen he saw without a conscience, without a moral fear. It all seemed so natural that he should take home a turkey, the cranberries and all the little "goodies" that his spare table required to make it strain with surprise on the glad day- tomorrow.

Digby forgot that he had lost the bill, forgot that Kate had treated him so strangely, forgot that but an hour ago he had been lamenting the wrong he was doing Joe Delapere in spending his money. Approaching a big grocery and general provision store he calmly stepped inside, passing along the counters with the air of a man who lived solely on turkey and wine sauce. Scores of purchasers thronged the big establishment and dozens of clerks were kept busy, providing for them.

As Mr. Trotter walked through the store he viewed the baskets which stood along the counters, laden with the belongings of customers, ready for the delivery wagons or for their owners who had left them while they visited other stores. Nearly every basket contained a bird of some sort—a Christmas dinner, in fact. Each had a slip of paper on which the name of the owner was written. As he passed the second counter he observed a well-filled basket and he stopped to examine the name. "Mrs. John P. Matthews," was written on the slip. This was his basket, thought he, calmly and without compunction. Then he began to price the articles on the shelves near by. This was his style of bargaining:

"What is your cocoa worth a pound? Sure it's fresh?"

"Certainly, sir; it's Baker's best."

"Baker's? We never use it. Let me look at that chocolate. I guess I'll take some of it"—and his hand went slowly into his pocket—"but, hold on! We've got chocolate! Confound my forgetfulness; I'll buy out your store directly. Do you keep mince meat?"

"Yes, sir—over at that counter. Just step over there, please. Mr. Carew will wait on you."

Digby felt that he had established an identity at the counter on which stood the Matthews basket, so he walked over to the other counter, priced sweet potatoes, and was immediately directed to the provision department in the rear. He found the potatoes too high, the apples too sweet, the macaroni too old and the buckwheat not the brand he used— all of which was quite true.

Ten minutes later he drifted back to the second counter, smiled cheerfully at the clerk, picked up the basket and started for the door, stopping beside a barrel of dried apples to run his fingers through the contents and to nibble one of the gritty chunks. He was squeezing his way hastily through the crowd, nearing the door, when a hand was laid firmly on his left shoulder. Turning quickly he found himself gazing into the face of a stranger, fairly well dressed and not overly intelligent in appearance.

"Is that your basket, sir?" asked the stranger, calmly.

"Of course, it is," exclaimed Digby, hastily, a red flush flying to his now guilty cheek, fading away, as the snow goes before the sun, an instant later. Caught!

"I think this basket belongs to a lady, sir."

"My wife," interjected the culprit. "She was with me and went on to another store. Why, what do you mean!" he suddenly demanded, realising that it was high time to appear injured. "Do you think I'm a thief!"

"No, sir; but will you tell me your name—or your wife's name? Merely to satisfy me, you see; I'm a watchman here."

"Matthews is my name, sir—and so's my wife's—John P. Matthews. Is that satisfactory?"

The man slowly turned over the slip in the basket and read the name.

"Are you quite sure that it is your name?" he asked, deliberately, looking keenly at Digby.

"Certainly! Do you think I don't know my own name?" demanded Digby with an excellent show of asperity.

"Then this is not your basket, sir, and I am sorry to say that you will have to be detained until you can give a satisfactory explanation."

Digby's eyes fairly stuck from his head and his face was as white as the proverbial sheet.

"Not my—not Mrs. Matthews' basket!" he stammered, clutching the slip in his trembling fingers. His eyes grew blurred with amazement an instant later. He passed his hand before them and when he took it away there was a wild, half insane stare in them. He looked again at the slip and read: "Mrs. Digby Trotter, Voxburgh building."

His nerveless arm relinquished the basket to the hand of the stranger and his puzzled eyes sought the floor in a long stare, broken presently by the voice in his ear:

"Come along. Step back here with me."

Digby shook the man's hand from his arm and, as he turned to follow him, asked hoarsely:

"Where is she now?"


"My wife of course—Mrs. Trotter."

"Well, you're a bird!" exclaimed his guardian. "How about Mrs. Matthews?"

"Good Heavens, what have I done—I—I—look here, man. It's a mistake—"

"No, you don't—mistakes don't go. A man ought to know his own name."

Digby saw no one, heard no one but the man beside him as he stumbled along, pleading with his eyes, his mouth, his every expression. He did not observe the lady against whom he roughly jostled, but the lady turned in time to hear him say in piteous accents:

"Man, for God's sake, don't be too hasty—; I—-"

"Oh, let up; we're onto you! This ain't your basket and you took it, that's all there is about it. Come on!" gruffly jerked out the man at his elbow.

"But where is Mrs. Trotter? I want to—I must see her."

"Here I am, Digby. What is the matter?" cried a well known voice in his ear. That voice had never sounded so sweet to him, nor had its sweetness ever sounded so much like condemnation to his wretched soul.

"Kate!" he gasped.

"What is it?" she demanded hurriedly. "What does this man want?" The man was staring blankly at the pair, stock still with amazement.

"He says I—I have been trying to steal this basket. It's our—yours, I mean, isn't it? Tell him so, Kate—quick!" cried the miserable man with the plaintive coat collar turned up about his neck.

"This is our basket, sir," indignantly exclaimed Mrs. Trotter.

"I know it is yours, Mrs. Trotter; I saw you buying the stuff, but—"

"Don't haggle here any longer!" exclaimed Mr. Trotter, boldly now. "Let go of my arm!"

"I beg your pardon, sir. If the lady says it's all right, why, it is— but you know you said your name was—"

"You lie, sir!" said Digby, sternly. "I never said anything of the kind. Mrs. Trotter have you paid for this stuff?"

"No—I was not through ordering, but what does all this mean, Digby?" whispered the mystified saviour, feeling herself the shame-faced centre of a group of wondering people.

"Never mind now," said her husband, with dignity. "And you, sir, unpack this basket. We don't want a cent's worth of your goods."

"Oh, Digby—" began Kate.

"My dear Mr. Trotter,"—began the luckless attache, but Digby silenced them both by suddenly grasping his wife's arm and striding toward the door, he defiantly, conscience stricken, she bewildered beyond all hope of description.

A moment later they were on the pavement and Digby was racking his brain for an explanation. How was he to account to her for his possession of that basket, even though it was hers? It did not occur to him to wonder how she came to be the owner of the coveted basket— his penniless Kate.

"Digby, what did that man mean?" asked Kate, finally pulling her wits together. There was something like sternness in her voice, something like resentment, something like tears. He tried to look into her eyes; eyes which were upturned to his so anxiously, but he could not. There was something creeping up in his throat that compelled him to gulp suddenly. A rush of shamed degradation flashed over him, overwhelming him completely, and before he could prevent it his honest, contrite heart had spoken.

"Little girl—God forgive me—I was trying to steal that—that basket."

He felt her start and gasp and he could distinguish the horror, the shock in her eyes, although he did not see them. Her hand relaxed its clasp upon his arm and her trembling voice murmured:

"Oh, Digby! Oh, Digby!"

"Don't—Don't, for heaven's sake, don't, Kate! Don't blame me! I did it for you, for the baby—I—I couldn't see you hungry on Christmas"— and here the tears rolled down his cheeks and the words came thick and choking. "Kate, I don't think I committed a crime—do you? Say you don't think so, darling!"

"You were stealing," she whispered, numbly.

"For you, darling—please—please forget it—I—I—Oh, I can't say anything more." Her clasp tightened again on his arm and he felt the warm spirit of forgiveness, of love communicating with his own miserable self. No word came to either as they faced the cutting wind, bound they knew not whither, so distraught were they with the importance of the moment.

Suddenly he stopped as if struck by a great blow. A glare came to his eyes and his brain fairly reeled. Pushing her away at arm's length from him he gave expression to the sudden thought which had so strangely affected him.

"Where did you get the money to buy that stuff with?" he demanded, and there was anger, suspicion, almost terror in his voice. His ready brain had resumed the thoughts of an hour ago. He saw but one solution and it came rushing along with the reawakened thoughts, firing his soul with jealousy. Joe Delapere had been providing his wife with money—he could not be mistaken. Horrible! Horrible!

But back came her answer, equally severe, and if as from a sudden recollection, also:

"Where did you get it?"

"Get what? he demanded, harshly. Joe Delapere! Joe Delapere! Joe Delapere—that lover of old filled his brain like a raging fire.

"You know what I mean, Digby Trotter—what is it that you mean? Where did you get that ten dollars you had in your pocket today?"

"Oh, heaven!" gasped Digby, almost falling over. Then he burst into rapturous laughter, and, right there on the sidewalk, embraced her vigorously. Not all the riches in the world could have purchased the one moment of relief.

"What ten?" he cried. "Was that the ten! Oh, you dear, dear little Kate—did you do it? I thought I had lost it on the street. Oh, this is rich!" and he laughed heartier than ever.

"Stop!" she cried, her face flaming. "Where did you get it? Why did you tell me that you had no money? Have you been doing this all along —all these bitter years?"

He sobered up in an instant, for he saw the situation as she had seen it.

"Why, Kate, I—now, listen a minute! You probably won't believe me, but I swear to you I found that bill—"

"Found it!" she sneered. "That's very likely, isn't it?"

"I knew you'd say that—but I found it, just the same," he went on patiently. "Joe Delapere dropped it as he was getting into a carriage —yes, he did, now—and he drove off before I could pick it up and return it to him. I kept the money, intending to give it back to him. That's true, dear—so help me God. Don't you believe me?" He was very, very much in earnest, but she was woman enough to question further.

"Why didn't you tell me of this before?"

"Because I—well, I didn't get that place at Balling and Feet's and I didn't have the heart to tell you I had failed again. I kept the hill just to deceive you. Heaven is my witness that I intended to pay it back to Joe, but the temptation was too great—I couldn't resist. Don't you understand now, dear? I wanted it for you and Helen; you don't know how I prized it. It meant so much. Why, when I started down town to buy the little dinner that I afterwards tried to steal—"

"From me," she interrupted.

"Yes, from you—I felt so happy in that I was sinning gently for you. Then I missed the bill and—well, the other followed; you know what I mean. You don't think I'm a real thief, do you, Kate?"

"No, no, dear; forgive me!" she cried, with true wifely penitence. "I see it all and I love you for it, better than ever before." She squeezed his arm tightly and squeezed her eyelids vainly. "But you must never do it again," she cautioned, tenderly. He laughed again, that unwilling thief and pauper.

"Oh, by the way, while I think of it, how did you happen to have that ten?" he asked, with cruel glee.

She felt even guiltier than he and her voice was quite feeble as she answered:

"Well, you remember when I was mending your trousers," she began. He gave her arm a tremendous pressure and interrupted:

"But the hole wasn't in the pocket, dear, was it?"

"Oh, you'll forgive me, won't you truly, Digby?" she almost wailed.

"But you were stealing!" he said, solemnly, recalling her condemnatory words.

"Don't say it that way, Digby," she protested, so faintly that his heart smote him and he changed the subject with almost ridiculous haste.

"Hadn't we better go to another grocery and buy our Christmas dinner," he suggested.

"No, indeed!" she exclaimed. "With what could we buy it!"

"With my—your ten, I mean."

"Digby Trotter, we may carry on our nefarious robberies as individuals, but I don't intend to form a partnership in the business. I don't approve of doing it collectively."

"But what will we do with the money? Burn it?"

"I thought you wanted to give it back to its owner."

"But he won't miss it—not just yet, anyhow," he expostulated.

"Neither shall you; you are never to see it again," she said, firmly, clasping the little purse defiantly.

"Well, I guess you're right. We'll do without our turkey dinner. It's pretty rough, though, when we are nearer being millionaires than we have been in months," he said, regretfully.

"I couldn't eat a mouthful of turkey bought with Joe Delapere's money," she said, and he felt his heart throb joyfully for some strange cause.

Homeward they wended their disconsolate way, her arm through his, clinging fondly to him, he proud of the honour she was bestowing upon him—poor, poor lovers! In spite of all, he felt better for that which had happened. He had begun what might have been a career of crime. Circumstance and her sweet influence had averted that career. She, too, had learned a lesson, deeper in its meaning than any logic could have been; she had distrusted him. Honour, love and duty bound them together again. They were going home to dine on dried beef, water and perhaps bread—Christmas day, too.

Firmly they turned their wistful eyes from the shop windows; they had nothing in common with them, save desire.

At last they came to the dingy entrance which led to the long halls and multigenerous stairways of their abiding place. Without a word they began to climb the steps, tired and with returning discouragement. They were thinking of the baby. Tears came to the father's eyes, but he turned his face away and attempted to whistle. She pressed his arm again in silence, but for the same reason she looked toward the wall. At the first landing he paused and drew her to his breast. As their lips met in one brave, compassionate kiss a sob fled from the heart of each.

Drawing nearer the top floor they heard strange sounds coming from their own room. A gruff, hoarse voice was prominent and they stopped to look into each other's eyes with hopeless alarm.

"It's the landlord," whispered Digby. "I might have known it would all come at once!"

"What shall we do?" asked Kate, with feminine dismay.

"Do? What do we usually do? Nothing! I don't know how I'm going to put him off again—we're over three weeks behind with the rent. Oh, Kate!" he almost sobbed.

"Well, dear!" She was trembling. So was he.

"What if he orders us to leave the place?" She could not reply and they stood silent, looking toward the door that they feared to enter.

"Where is the baby?" he finally asked.

"I left her with the woman across the hall."

"But I hear her voice in our room. What is she doing in there with that infernal old brute?" Digby's alert ear had caught the sound of the child's prattle, mingling with the discordant growls of the man.

"Oh, Digby, I'm so frightened! What can they be doing in there?"

"Don't be afraid. I'll chuck him out of there on his head if he has been tormenting that child with his compliments—and it would be just like the old scoundrel, too." He took several steps forward.

"Do be careful!" murmured his wife, following faithfully. Digby threw open the door defiantly and stood glaring into the little room.

A big, portly man was seated near the stove, little Helen on his knee. As the door opened he raised his chop-whiskered face and then, placing the child on the floor, drew himself erect and came hastily toward the pair in the doorway, exclaiming:

"My boy! At last I have got you! God knows I've searched the town over and over for you—and I find you in a hole like this! Come to my arms —oh, demme! demme! demme!"


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