"Oh, Edward, the money is ours, and I am so grateful, OH, so grateful,--kiss me, dear, it's for ever since we kissed--and we needed it so--the money--and now you are free of Pinkerton and his bank, and nobody's slave any more; it seems to me I could fly for joy."
It was a happy half-hour that the couple spent there on the settee caressing each other; it was the old days come again--days that had begun with their courtship and lasted without a break till the stranger brought the deadly money. By-and-by the wife said:
"Oh, Edward, how lucky it was you did him that grand service, poor Goodson! I never liked him, but I love him now. And it was fine and beautiful of you never to mention it or brag about it." Then, with a touch of reproach, "But you ought to have told ME, Edward, you ought to have told your wife, you know."
"Well, I--er--well, Mary, you see--"
"Now stop hemming and hawing, and tell me about it, Edward. I always loved you, and now I'm proud of you. Everybody believes there was only one good generous soul in this village, and now it turns out that you--Edward, why don't you tell me?"
"Well--er--er--Why, Mary, I can't!"
"You CAN'T? WHY can't you?"
"You see, he--well, he--he made me promise I wouldn't."
The wife looked him over, and said, very slowly:
"Made--you--promise? Edward, what do you tell me that for?"
"Mary, do you think I would lie?"
She was troubled and silent for a moment, then she laid her hand within his and said:
"No . . . no. We have wandered far enough from our bearings--God spare us that! In all your life you have never uttered a lie. But now--now that the foundations of things seem to be crumbling from under us, we--we--" She lost her voice for a moment, then said, brokenly, "Lead us not into temptation. . . I think you made the promise, Edward. Let it rest so. Let us keep away from that ground. Now--that is all gone by; let us he happy again; it is no time for clouds."
Edward found it something of an effort to comply, for his mind kept wandering--trying to remember what the service was that he had done Goodson.
The couple lay awake the most of the night, Mary happy and busy, Edward busy, but not so happy. Mary was planning what she would do with the money. Edward was trying to recall that service. At first his conscience was sore on account of the lie he had told Mary--if it was a lie. After much reflection--suppose it WAS a lie? What then? Was it such a great matter? Aren't we always ACTING lies? Then why not tell them? Look at Mary--look what she had done. While he was hurrying off on his honest errand, what was she doing? Lamenting because the papers hadn't been destroyed and the money kept. Is theft better than lying?
THAT point lost its sting--the lie dropped into the background and left comfort behind it. The next point came to the front: HAD he rendered that service? Well, here was Goodson's own evidence as reported in Stephenson's letter; there could be no better evidence than that--it was even PROOF that he had rendered it. Of course. So that point was settled. . . No, not quite. He recalled with a wince that this unknown Mr. Stephenson was just a trifle unsure as to whether the performer of it was Richards or some other--and, oh dear, he had put Richards on his honour! He must himself decide whither that money must go--and Mr. Stephenson was not doubting that if he was the wrong man he would go honourably and find the right one. Oh, it was odious to put a man in such a situation--ah, why couldn't Stephenson have left out that doubt? What did he want to intrude that for?
Further reflection. How did it happen that RICHARDS'S name remained in Stephenson's mind as indicating the right man, and not some other man's name? That looked good. Yes, that looked very good. In fact it went on looking better and better, straight along--until by-and- by it grew into positive PROOF. And then Richards put the matter at once out of his mind, for he had a private instinct that a proof once established is better left so.