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   Chapter 17 No.17

Amanda: A Daughter of the Mennonites By Anna Balmer Myers Characters: 7930

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Martin's Dark Hour

That summer Martin Landis was well pleased with the world in general. He enjoyed his work at the bank, where his cordiality and adeptness, his alert, receptive mind, were laying for him a strong foundation for a successful career.

He called often at the home of Isabel Souders, listened to her playing, made one in an occasional game of cards, escorted her to musicals and dramas. He played and talked and laughed with her, but he soon discovered that he could not interest her in any serious matter. At the mention of his work, beyond the merest superficialities, she lifted her hands and said in laughing tones, "Please, Martin, don't talk shop! Father never does. I'm like Mother, I don't want to hear the petty details of money-making--all that interests me is the money itself. Dad says I'm spoiled--I suppose I am."

At such times the troublesome memory of his father's words came to him, "You need a wife that will work with you and be a partner and not fail you when trouble comes." Try as he would the young man could not obliterate those haunting words from his brain. Sometimes he felt almost convinced in his own heart that he loved Isabel Souders--she was so appealing and charming and, while she rebuffed his confidences about his work, nevertheless showed so deep an interest in him generally, that he was temporarily blinded by it and excused her lack of real interest on the world-old ground that pretty women are not supposed to bother about prosaic affairs of the male wage-earners of the race.

There were moments when her beauty so thrilled him that he felt moved to tell her he loved her and wanted to marry her, but somewhere in the subconscious mind of him must have dwelt the succinct words of the poster, "When in doubt, don't!" So the moments of fascination passed and the words of love were left unsaid.

"Some day," he thought, "I'll know, I'll be sure. It will probably come to me like a flash of lightning whether I love her or not. I shouldn't be so undecided. I think if it were the real thing I feel for her there would be not the shadow of a doubt in my heart concerning it. A man should feel that the woman he wants to marry is the only one in the universe for him. Somehow, I can't feel that about her. But there's no hurry about marrying. We'll just go on being capital friends. Meanwhile I can be saving money so that if the time comes when I marry I'll be able to support a wife. Things look pretty rosy for me at present. Since Father is fixed with that legacy and the boys are old enough to take my place on the farm I have time to study and advance. I'm in luck all around; guess I got a horseshoe round my neck!"

But the emblem of good luck must have soon lost its potency. The bank force was surprised one day by an unexpected examination of the books.

"What's the trouble?" asked Martin of another worker in the bank.

"I don't know. Ask old Buehlor. He acts as though he knew."

Martin approached the gray-haired president, who was stamping about his place like an angry dog on leash. "Anything the matter, sir? Can I help in any way?"

"Why, yes, there seems to be," he snapped. "Come in, Landis." He opened the door of his private office and Martin followed him inside. He gave one long look into the face of the young man--"I'm going to tell you. Perhaps you can make things easier for us to adjust in case there's anything wrong. An investigation has been ordered. One of our heaviest depositors seems to have some inside information that some one is spending the bank's money for personal use."

"Good guns! In this bank? A thief?" Horror was printed on the face of Martin.

The man opposite searched that face. "Yes--I might as well tell you--I feel like a brute to do so--if it's false it's a damnable trick, for such a thing is a fiendish calumny for an honest man to bear--you're the man under suspicion."

Martin sat up, his eyes wide in horror, then his ches

t collapsed and his neck felt limber. "Oh, my God," he whispered, as though in appeal to the Infinite Father of Mercy and Justice, "what a thing to say about me! What a lie!"

"It's a lie?" asked the older man tersely.

"Absolutely! I've never stolen anything since the days I wore short pants and climbed the neighbors' trees for apples. Who says it?"

"Well, I can't divulge that now. Perhaps later."

Martin groaned. To be branded a thief was more than he could bear. His face went whiter.

"See here," said the old man, "I almost shocked you to death, but I had a purpose in it. I couldn't believe that of you and knew I'd be able to read your face. You know, I believe you! It's all some infernal mistake or plot. You're not a clever enough actor to feign such distress and innocence. Go out and get some air and come back to-morrow morning. I'll stand for you in the meantime. I believe in you."

"Thank you, sir," Martin managed to blurt out between dry lips that seemed almost paralyzed. "I'll be back in the morning. Hope you'll find I'm telling the truth."

He walked as a somnambulist down the street. In his misery he thought of Isabel Souders. He would go to her for comfort. She'd understand and believe in him! He yearned like a hurt child for the love and tenderness of some one who could comfort him and sweep the demons of distress from his soul. He wanted to see Isabel, only Isabel! He felt relieved that no older member of the household was at home at that time, that the colored servant who answered his ring at the bell said Isabel was alone and would see him at once.

"What's wrong?" the girl asked as she entered the room where he waited for her. "You look half dead!"

"I am, Isabel," he said chokingly. "I've had a death-blow. They are accusing me of stealing the bank's money."

"Oh, Martin! Oh, how dreadful! I'll never forgive you!" The girl spoke in tearful voice. "How perfectly dreadful to have such a thing said after Father got you into the bank! Your reputation is ruined for life! You can never live down such a disgrace."

"But I didn't do it!" he cried. "You must know I couldn't have done it!"

"Oh, I suppose you didn't if you say so, but people always are ready to say that where there's smoke there must be some fire! Oh, dear, people know you're a friend of mine and next thing the papers will link our names in the notoriety and--oh, what a dreadful thing to happen! They'll print horrible things about you and may drag me into it, too! Say you spent the money on me, or something like that! Father will be so mortified and sorry he helped you. Oh, dear, I think it's dreadful, dreadful!" She burst into weeping.

As Martin watched her and listened to her utterly selfish words, in spite of the misery in his heart, he was keenly conscious that she was being weighed in the balance and found wanting. The lightning flash had come to him and revealed how impotent she was, how shallow and selfish.

"Well, don't cry about it," he said, half bitterly, yet too crushed to be aught but gentle. "It won't hurt you. I'll see to that. If there's anything to bear I'll bear it alone. My shoulders are broad."

There was more futile exchange of words, words that lacked any comfort or hope for the broken-hearted man. Martin soon left and started for his home.

Home--he couldn't go there and tell his people that he was suspected of a crime. Home--its old sweet meaning would be changed for all of them if one of its flock was blackened.

He flurried past the Reist farmhouse, head down like a criminal so that none should recognize him. With quick steps that almost merged into a run he went up the road. When he reached the little Crow Hill schoolhouse a sudden thought came to him. He climbed the rail fence and entered the woods, plodded up the hill to the spot where Amanda's moccasins grew each spring. There he threw himself on the grassy slope, face down, and gave vent to his despair.

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