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JIM DOANE'S BANK BOOK
DURING the month of June that summer there was a very ambiguous affair at our old place.
Nowadays, if you lose your savings-bank book all you have to do is to notify the bank to stop payment on it. In many other ways, too, depositors are now safeguarded from loss. Forty years ago, however, when savings banks were newer and more autocratic, it was different. The bank book was then something tremendously important, or at least depositors thought so.
When the savings bank at the village, six miles from the old home farm in Maine, first opened for business, Mr. Burns, the treasurer, gave each new depositor a sharp lecture. He was a large man with a heavy black beard; as he handed the new bank book to the depositor, he would say in a dictatorial tone:
"Now here is your bank book." What emphasis he put on those words! "It shows you what you have at the bank. Don't fold it. Don't crumple it. Don't get it dirty. But above all things don't lose it, or let it be stolen from you. If you do, you may lose your entire deposit. We cannot remember you all. Whoever brings your book here may draw out your money. So put this book in a safe place, and keep a sharp eye on it. Remember every word I have told you, or we will not be responsible."
The old Squire encouraged us to have a nest egg at the bank, and by the end of the year there were seven bank books at the farm, all carefully put away under lock and key, in fact there were nine, counting the two that belonged to our hired men, Asa and Jim Doane. Acting on the old Squire's exhortation to practise thrift, they vowed that they would lay up a hundred dollars a year from their wages. The Doanes had worked for us for three or four years. Asa was a sturdy fellow of good habits; but Jim, his younger brother, had a besetting sin. About once a month, sometimes oftener, he wanted a playday; we always knew that he would come home from it drunk, and that we should have to put him away in some sequestered place and give him a day in which to recover.
For two or three days afterwards Jim would be the meekest, saddest, most shamefaced of human beings. At table he would scarcely look up; and there is not the least doubt that his grief and shame were genuine. Yet as surely as the months passed the same feverish restlessness would again show itself in him.
We came to recognize Jim's symptoms only too well, and knew, when we saw them, that he would soon have to have another playday. In fact, if the old Squire refused to let him off on such occasions, Jim would get more and more restless and two or three nights afterwards would steal away surreptitiously.
"Jim's a fool!" his brother, Asa, often said impatiently. "He isn't fit to be round here."
But the Squire steadily refused to turn Jim off. Many a time the old gentleman sat up half the night with the returned and noisy prodigal. A word from the Squire would calm Jim for the time and would occasionally call forth a burst of repentant tears. Jim's case, indeed, was one of the causes that led us at the old farm so bitterly to hate intoxicants.
That, however, is the dark side of Jim's infirmity; one of its more amusing sides was his bank book. When Jim was himself, as we used to say of him, he wanted to do well and to thrive like Asa, and he asked the old Squire to hold back ten dollars from his wages every month and to deposit it for him in the new savings bank. Mindful of his infirmity, Jim gave his bank book to grandmother to keep for him.
"Hide it," he used to say to her. "Even if I come and want it, don't you let me have it."
That was when Jim was himself; but when he had gone for a playday, he came rip-roariously home, time and again, and demanded his book, to get more money for drink. The scrimmages that grandmother had with him about that book would have been highly ludicrous if a vein of tragedy had not run underneath them.
One cause of Jim's inconsistent behavior about his bank account was the bad company he fell into on his playdays. After he had imbibed somewhat, those boon companions would urge him to go home and get his bank book; for under the influence of drink Jim was a noisy talker and likely to boast of his savings.
None of us, except grandmother, knew where Jim's bank book was, and after one memorable experience with him the old lady always disappeared when she saw him drive in. The second time, Jim actually searched the house for his book; but grandmother had taken it and stolen away to a neighbor's house. Once or twice afterwards Jim came and searched for his book; and I remember that the old Squire had doubts whether it was best for us to withhold it from him. Grandmother, however, had no such scruples.
"He shan't have it! Those rum sellers shan't get it from him!" she exclaimed.
When he had recovered from the effects of his play-day Jim was always fervently glad that he had not spent his savings.
But his bad habits rapidly grew on him, and we fully expected that his savings, which, thanks to grandmother's resolute efforts, now amounted to nearly four hundred dollars, would eventually be squandered on drink.
"It's no use," Addison often said. "It will all go that way in the end, and the more there is of it the worse will be the final crash."
Others thought so, too — among them Miss Wilma Emmons, who taught the district school that summer. Miss Emmons was tall, slight and pale, with dark hair and large light-blue eyes. She would have been very pretty except for her very high, narrow forehead that not even her hair, combed low, could prevent from being noticeable. She made you feel that she was constantly intent on something that worried her.
As time passed, we came to learn the cause of her anxiety. She had two brothers, younger than herself, bright, promising boys whom she was trying to help through college. The three were orphans, without means; and Wilma was working hard, summer and winter, at anything and everything that offered profit, in an effort to give those boys a liberal education; besides teaching school, she went round the countryside in all weathers selling books, maps and sewing machines. Her devotion to those brothers was of course splendid, yet I now think that Wilma, temperamental and overworked, had let it become a kind of monomania with her.
A few days after she came to board at the old Squire's — all the school-teachers boarded there — Addison said to me that he wondered what that girl had on her mind.
As the summer passed, Wilma Emmons came to know our affairs at the old farm very well, and of course heard about Jim and his bank book. Jim, in fact, had taken one of his playdays soon after she came; and grandmother asked Wilma to lock the book up in the drawer of her desk at the schoolhouse for a few days.
It was quite like Jim Doane's impulsive nature, already somewhat unbalanced by intoxicants, to be greatly attracted to the reserved Miss Emmons. Out by the garden gate one morning he rather foolishly made his admiration known to her. Addison and I were weeding a strawberry bed just inside the fence and could not avoid overhearing something of what passed.
Astonished and a little indignant, too, perhaps, Miss Emmons told Jim that a young man of his habits had no right to address himself in such a manner to any young woman.
"But I can reform!" Jim said.
"Let folks see that you have done so, then," Miss Emmons replied, and added that a young man who could not be trusted with his own bank book could hardly be depended on to make a home.
It is quite likely that Jim brooded over the rebuff; he was surly for a week afterwards. Then, like the weakling that he had become, he stole away for another playday; and again grandmother, with Theodora's and Miss Emmons's connivance, hid the book, this time somewhere in the wagon-house cellar.
Jim did not come home to demand his book, however; in fact, he did not come back at all. Shame perhaps restrained him. When on the third day the old Squire drove down to the village to get him, he found that Jim had gone to Bangor with two disreputable cronies.
A week or two passed, and then came a somewhat curt letter from Jim, asking grandmother to send his bank book to him at Oldtown, Maine. The letter put grandmother in a great state of mind, and she declared indignantly that she would not send it. In truth, we were all certain that now Jim would squander his savings in the worst possible way; but when another letter came, again demanding the book, the old Squire decided that we must send it.
"The poor fellow needs a guardian," he said. "But he hasn't one; he is his own man and has a right to his property."
With hot tears of resentment grandmother, accompanied by Theodora, went to the wagon-house cellar to get the book. After some minutes they returned, exclaiming that they could not find it!
No little stir ensued; what had become of it? For the moment Addison and I actually suspected that grandmother and Theodora had hidden the book again, in order to avoid sending it; but a few words with Theodora, aside, convinced us that the book had really disappeared from the cellar.
The old Squire was greatly disturbed. "Ruth," he said to grandmother, "are you sure you have not put it somewhere else?"
Grandmother declared that she had not. None the less, they searched in all the previous hiding places of the book and continued looking for it until after ten o'clock that night. We were in a very uncomfortable position.
Long after we had gone to bed Addison and I lay awake, talking of it in low tones; we tried to recollect everything that had gone on at home since the book was last seen. I dropped asleep at last, and probably slept for two hours or more, when Addison shook me gently.
"Sh!" he whispered. "Don't speak. Some one is going downstairs."
Listening, I heard a stair creak, as if under a stealthy tread. Addison slipped softly out of bed, and I followed him. Hastily donning some clothes, we went into the hall on tiptoe and descended the stairs. The door from the hall to the sitting-room was open, and also the door to the kitchen. It was not a dark night; and without striking a light we went out through the wood-house to the wagon-house, for we felt sure that some one was astir out there. Just then we heard the outer door of the wagon-house move very slowly and, stealing forward, discovered that it was open about a foot. Still on tiptoe we drew near and were just in time to see a person go out of sight down the lane that led to the road.
"Now who can that be?" Addison whispered. "Looks like a woman, bareheaded." .
We followed cautiously, and at the gate caught another glimpse of the mysterious pedestrian some distance down the road. We were quite sure now that it was a woman. We kept her in sight as far as the schoolhouse; there she opened the door — the schoolhouse was rarely locked by night or day — and disappeared inside.
Opposite the schoolhouse was a little copse of chokecherry bushes, and we stepped in among them to watch. Some moments passed. Twice we heard slight sounds inside. Then the dim figure in long clothes came slowly out and returned up the road toward the old Squire's.
"Who was it?" Addison said to me.
"Miss Emmons," I replied.
"Yes," Addison assented reluctantly.
We went into the schoolhouse, struck matches, and at last lighted a pine splint. The drawer to the teacher's desk was locked, but it was a worn old lock, and by inserting the little blade of his knife Addison at last pushed the bolt back.
Inside were the teacher's books and records. A Fifth Reader that we took up opened readily to Jim Doane's bank book.
"She brought that here to hide it!" I exclaimed.
Addison did not reply for a moment. "Perhaps she did," he admitted. "She was walking in her sleep."
"I don't believe it!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, she was," said Addison. "She was walking in her sleep. She must have been."
I was far from convinced, but, seeing that Addison was determined to have it so, I said no more. Taking the book, we returned home. The house was all quiet.
The next morning at the breakfast table Ellen, Theodora and grandmother began to speak of the lost bank book again. I think that Addison had already
said something in private to the old Squire, and that they had come to an agreement as to the best course to pursue.
"Don't fret, grandmother!" Addison cried, laughing. "The book's found! We found it late last night, after all the rest were in bed."
There was a general exclamation of surprise. I stole a glance at Miss Emmons. She looked amazed, and I thought that she turned pale; but she was always pale.
"Yes," Addison continued, "'twas great fun. Wilma," he cried familiarly, "did you know that you walk in your sleep?"
Miss Emmons uttered some sort of protest.
"Well, but you do!" Addison exclaimed. "Of course you don't remember it. Somnambulists never do. You walked as if you were walking a chalk line. 'Twas the fuss we made, searching for Jim's book last night, that set you off, I suppose."
Grandmother and the girls burst in with a hundred questions; but the old Squire said in a matter-of-fact tone:
"I used to walk in my sleep myself, when anything had excited me the previous evening. Sometimes, too, when I was a little ill of a cold."
Then the old gentleman went on to relate odd stories of persons who had walked in their sleep and hidden articles, particularly money, and of the efforts that had been made to find the misplaced articles afterwards. In fact, before we rose from the table he had more than half convinced us that Addison's view of the matter — if it were his view — was the right one.
Miss Emmons said very little and did not afterwards speak of the matter, although Addison, to keep up the illusion, sometimes asked her jocosely whether she had rested well, adding:
"I thought I heard you up walking again last night."
The incident was thus charitably passed over. I should not wish to say positively that it was not a case of sleepwalking, but I think every one of us feared that this devoted sister had made herself believe that, since Jim would squander his money in drink, it was right for her to use it for educating her brothers. She probably supposed that she could draw the money herself.
And what became of the hapless bank book? It was sent to Jim as he had demanded; and we may suppose that he drew the money and spent it. At any rate, when he next made his appearance at the old Squire's, two years later, he had neither book nor money.