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|The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg||Mark Twain|
|Page 2 of 5||
"Oh, Edward, it is TOO bad!" And she held up the cheques and began to cry.
"Put them in the fire! quick! we mustn't be tempted. It is a trick to make the world laugh at US, along with the rest, and-- Give them to ME, since you can't do it!" He snatched them and tried to hold his grip till he could get to the stove; but he was human, he was a cashier, and he stopped a moment to make sure of the signature. Then he came near to fainting.
"Fan me, Mary, fan me! They are the same as gold!"
"Oh, how lovely, Edward! Why?"
"Signed by Harkness. What can the mystery of that be, Mary?"
"Edward, do you think--"
"Look here--look at this! Fifteen--fifteen--fifteen--thirty-four. Thirty-eight thousand five hundred! Mary, the sack isn't worth twelve dollars, and Harkness--apparently--has paid about par for it."
"And does it all come to us, do you think--instead of the ten thousand?"
"Why, it looks like it. And the cheques are made to 'Bearer,' too."
"Is that good, Edward? What is it for?"
"A hint to collect them at some distant bank, I reckon. Perhaps Harkness doesn't want the matter known. What is that--a note?"
"Yes. It was with the cheques."
It was in the "Stephenson" handwriting, but there was no signature. It said:
"I am a disappointed man. Your honesty is beyond the reach of temptation. I had a different idea about it, but I wronged you in that, and I beg pardon, and do it sincerely. I honour you--and that is sincere too. This town is not worthy to kiss the hem of your garment. Dear sir, I made a square bet with myself that there were nineteen debauchable men in your self-righteous community. I have lost. Take the whole pot, you are entitled to it."
Richards drew a deep sigh, and said:
"It seems written with fire--it burns so. Mary--I am miserable again."
"I, too. Ah, dear, I wish--"
"To think, Mary--he BELIEVES in me."
"Oh, don't, Edward--I can't bear it."
"If those beautiful words were deserved, Mary--and God knows I believed I deserved them once--I think I could give the forty thousand dollars for them. And I would put that paper away, as representing more than gold and jewels, and keep it always. But now-- We could not live in the shadow of its accusing presence, Mary."
He put it in the fire.
A messenger arrived and delivered an envelope. Richards took from it a note and read it; it was from Burgess:
"You saved me, in a difficult time. I saved you last night. It was at cost of a lie, but I made the sacrifice freely, and out of a grateful heart. None in this village knows so well as I know how brave and good and noble you are. At bottom you cannot respect me, knowing as you do of that matter of which I am accused, and by the general voice condemned; but I beg that you will at least believe that I am a grateful man; it will help me to bear my burden. [Signed] 'BURGESS.'"
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|The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg
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