The whole of his unpopularity had its foundation in that one thing--the thing that made so much noise."
"That 'one thing,' indeed! As if that 'one thing' wasn't enough, all by itself."
"Plenty. Plenty. Only he wasn't guilty of it."
"How you talk! Not guilty of it! Everybody knows he WAS guilty."
"Mary, I give you my word--he was innocent."
"I can't believe it and I don't. How do you know?"
"It is a confession. I am ashamed, but I will make it. I was the only man who knew he was innocent. I could have saved him, and-- and--well, you know how the town was wrought up--I hadn't the pluck to do it. It would have turned everybody against me. I felt mean, ever so mean; ut I didn't dare; I hadn't the manliness to face that."
Mary looked troubled, and for a while was silent. Then she said stammeringly:
"I--I don't think it would have done for you to--to--One mustn't-- er--public opinion--one has to be so careful--so--" It was a difficult road, and she got mired; but after a little she got started again. "It was a great pity, but--Why, we couldn't afford it, Edward--we couldn't indeed. Oh, I wouldn't have had you do it for anything!"
"It would have lost us the good-will of so many people, Mary; and then--and then--"
"What troubles me now is, what HE thinks of us, Edward."
"He? HE doesn't suspect that I could have saved him."
"Oh," exclaimed the wife, in a tone of relief, "I am glad of that. As long as he doesn't know that you could have saved him, he--he-- well that makes it a great deal better. Why, I might have known he didn't know, because he is always trying to be friendly with us, as little encouragement as we give him. More than once people have twitted me with it. There's the Wilsons, and the Wilcoxes, and the Harknesses, they take a mean pleasure in saying 'YOUR FRIEND Burgess,' because they know it pesters me. I wish he wouldn't persist in liking us so; I can't think why he keeps it up."
"I can explain it. It's another confession. When the thing was new and hot, and the town made a plan to ride him on a rail, my conscience hurt me so that I couldn't stand it, and I went privately and gave him notice, and he got out of the town and stayed out till it was safe to come back."
"Edward! If the town had found it out--"
"DON'T! It scares me yet, to think of it. I repented of it the minute it was done; and I was even afraid to tell you lest your face might betray it to somebody. I didn't sleep any that night, for worrying. But after a few days I saw that no one was going to suspect me, and after that I got to feeling glad I did it. And I feel glad yet, Mary--glad through and through."
"So do I, now, for it would have been a dreadful way to treat him. Yes, I'm glad; for really you did owe him that, you know. But, Edward, suppose it should come out yet, some day!"
"Because everybody thinks it was Goodson."
"Of course they would!"
"Certainly. And of course HE didn't care. They persuaded poor old Sawlsberry to go and charge it on him, and he went blustering over there and did it. Goodson looked him over, like as if he was hunting for a place on him that he could despise the most; then he says, 'So you are the Committee of Inquiry, are you?' Sawlsberry said that was about what he was. 'H'm. Do they require particulars, or do you reckon a kind of a GENERAL answer will do?' 'If they require particulars, I will come back, Mr. Goodson; I will take the general answer first.' 'Very well, then, tell them to go to hell--I reckon that's general enough. And I'll give you some advice, Sawlsberry; when you come back for the particulars, fetch a basket to carry what is left of yourself home in.'"
"Just like Goodson; it's got all the marks. He had only one vanity; he thought he could give advice better than any other person."
"It settled the business, and saved us, Mary. The subject was dropped."
"Bless you, I'm not doubting THAT."
Then they took up the gold-sack mystery again, with strong interest. Soon the conversation began to suffer breaks--interruptions caused by absorbed thinkings.