Richards arrived, and while his wife was saying "I am SO glad you've come!" he was saying, "I am so tired--tired clear out; it is dreadful to be poor, and have to make these dismal journeys at my time of life. Always at the grind, grind, grind, on a salary--another man's slave, and he sitting at home in his slippers, rich and comfortable."
"I am so sorry for you, Edward, you know that; but be comforted; we have our livelihood; we have our good name--"
"Yes, Mary, and that is everything. Don't mind my talk--it's just a moment's irritation and doesn't mean anything. Kiss me--there, it's all gone now, and I am not complaining any more. What have you been getting? What's in the sack?"
Then his wife told him the great secret. It dazed him for a moment; then he said:
"It weighs a hundred and sixty pounds? Why, Mary, it's for-ty thou- sand dollars--think of it--a whole fortune! Not ten men in this village are worth that much. Give me the paper."
He skimmed through it and said:
"Isn't it an adventure! Why, it's a romance; it's like the impossible things one reads about in books, and never sees in life." He was well stirred up now; cheerful, even gleeful. He tapped his old wife on the cheek, and said humorously, "Why, we're rich, Mary, rich; all we've got to do is to bury the money and burn the papers. If the gambler ever comes to inquire, we'll merely look coldly upon him and say: 'What is this nonsense you are talking? We have never heard of you and your sack of gold before;' and then he would look foolish, and--"
"And in the meantime, while you are running on with your jokes, the money is still here, and it is fast getting along toward burglar- time."
"True. Very well, what shall we do--make the inquiry private? No, not that; it would spoil the romance. The public method is better. Think what a noise it will make! And it will make all the other towns jealous; for no stranger would trust such a thing to any town but Hadleyburg, and they know it. It's a great card for us. I must get to the printing-office now, or I shall be too late."
"But stop--stop--don't leave me here alone with it, Edward!"
But he was gone. For only a little while, however. Not far from his own house he met the editor--proprietor of the paper, and gave him the document, and said "Here is a good thing for you, Cox--put it in."
"It may be too late, Mr. Richards, but I'll see."
At home again, he and his wife sat down to talk the charming mystery over; they were in no condition for sleep. The first question was, Who could the citizen have been who gave the stranger the twenty dollars? It seemed a simple one; both answered it in the same breath--
"Yes," said Richards, "he could have done it, and it would have been like him, but there's not another in the town."
"Everybody will grant that, Edward--grant it privately, anyway. For six months, now, the village has been its own proper self once more- -honest, narrow, self-righteous, and stingy."
"It is what he always called it, to the day of his death--said it right out publicly, too."
"Yes, and he was hated for it."
"Oh, of course; but he didn't care. I reckon he was the best-hated man among us, except the Reverend Burgess."
"Well, Burgess deserves it--he will never get another congregation here. Mean as the town is, it knows how to estimate HIM. Edward, doesn't it seem odd that the stranger should appoint Burgess to deliver the money?"
"Well, yes--it does. That is--that is--"
"Why so much that-IS-ing? Would YOU select him?"
"Mary, maybe the stranger knows him better than this village does."
"Much THAT would help Burgess!"
The husband seemed perplexed for an answer; the wife kept a steady eye upon him, and waited. Finally Richards said, with the hesitancy of one who is making a statement which is likely to encounter doubt,
"Mary, Burgess is not a bad man."
His wife was certainly surprised.
"Nonsense!" she exclaimed.
"He is not a bad man. I know.