Aleck saw how true they were, and their influence was electric; her tears ceased to flow, and her great spirit rose to its full stature again. With flashing eye and grateful heart, and with hand uplifted in pledge and prophecy, she said:
"Now and here I proclaim--"
But she was interrupted by a visitor. It was the editor and proprietor of the SAGAMORE. He had happened into Lakeside to pay a duty-call upon an obscure grandmother of his who was nearing the end of her pilgrimage, and with the idea of combining business with grief he had looked up the Fosters, who had been so absorbed in other things for the past four years that they neglected to pay up their subscription. Six dollars due. No visitor could have been more welcome. He would know all about Uncle Tilbury and what his chances might be getting to be, cemeterywards. They could, of course, ask no questions, for that would squelch the bequest, but they could nibble around on the edge of the subject and hope for results. The scheme did not work. The obtuse editor did not know he was being nibbled at; but at last, chance accomplished what art had failed in. In illustration of something under discussion which required the help of metaphor, the editor said:
"Land, it's a tough as Tilbury Foster!--as WE say."
It was sudden, and it made the Fosters jump. The editor noticed, and said, apologetically:
"No harm intended, I assure you. It's just a saying; just a joke, you know--nothing of it. Relation of yours?"
Sally crowded his burning eagerness down, and answered with all the indifference he could assume:
"I--well, not that I know of, but we've heard of him." The editor was thankful, and resumed his composure. Sally added: "Is he-- is he--well?"
"Is he WELL? Why, bless you he's in Sheol these five years!"
The Fosters were trembling with grief, though it felt like joy. Sally said, non-committally--and tentatively:
"Ah, well, such is life, and none can escape--not even the rich are spared."
The editor laughed.
"If you are including Tilbury," said he, "it don't apply. HE hadn't a cent; the town had to bury him."
The Fosters sat petrified for two minutes; petrified and cold. Then, white-faced and weak-voiced, Sally asked:
"Is it true? Do you KNOW it to be true?"
"Well, I should say! I was one of the executors. He hadn't anything to leave but a wheelbarrow, and he left that to me. It hadn't any wheel, and wasn't any good. Still, it was something, and so, to square up, I scribbled off a sort of a little obituarial send-off for him, but it got crowded out."
The Fosters were not listening--their cup was full, it could contain no more. They sat with bowed heads, dead to all things but the ache at their hearts.
An hour later. Still they sat there, bowed, motionless, silent, the visitor long ago gone, they unaware.
Then they stirred, and lifted their heads wearily, and gazed at each other wistfully, dreamily, dazed; then presently began to twaddle to each other in a wandering and childish way. At intervals they lapsed into silences, leaving a sentence unfinished, seemingly either unaware of it or losing their way. Sometimes, when they woke out of these silences they had a dim and transient consciousness that something had happened to their minds; then with a dumb and yearning solicitude they would softly caress each other's hands in mutual compassion and support, as if they would say: "I am near you, I will not forsake you, we will bear it together; somewhere there is release and forgetfulness, somewhere there is a grave and peace; be patient, it will not be long."
They lived yet two years, in mental night, always brooding, steeped in vague regrets and melancholy dreams, never speaking; then release came to both on the same day.
Toward the end the darkness lifted from Sally's ruined mind for a moment, and he said:
"Vast wealth, acquired by sudden and unwholesome means, is a snare. It did us no good, transient were its feverish pleasures; yet for its sake we threw away our sweet and simple and happy life-- let others take warning by us."
He lay silent awhile, with closed eyes; then as the chill of death crept upward toward his heart, and consciousness was fading from his brain, he muttered:
"Money had brought him misery, and he took his revenge upon us, who had done him no harm.