Friends in San Rosario

by O. Henry

The west-bound train stopped at San Rosario on time at 8.20 a.m. A man with a thick black-leather wal­let under his arm left the train and walked rapidly up the main street of the town. There were other pas­sen­gers who also got off at San Rosario, but they ei­ther slouched lim­berly over to the rail­road eat­ing-house or the Sil­ver Dol­lar sa­loon, or joined the groups of idlers about the sta­tion.

In­de­ci­sion had no part in the move­ments of the man with the wal­let. He was short in stature, but strongly built, with very light, closely-trimmed hair, smooth, de­ter­mined face, and ag­gres­sive, gold-rimmed nose glasses. He was well dressed in the pre­vail­ing East­ern style. His air de­noted a quiet but con­scious re­serve force, if not ac­tual au­thor­ity.

After walk­ing a dis­tance of three squares he came to the cen­tre of the town’s busi­ness area. Here an­other street of im­por­tance crossed the main one, form­ing the hub of San Rosario’s life and com­merce. Upon one cor­ner stood the post-of­fice. Upon an­other Ruben­sky’s Cloth­ing Em­po­rium. The other two di­ag­o­nally op­pos­ing cor­ners were oc­cu­pied by the town’s two banks, the First Na­tional and the Stock­men’s Na­tional. Into the First Na­tional Bank of San Rosario the new­comer walked, never slow­ing his brisk step until he stood at the cashier’s win­dow. The bank opened for busi­ness at nine, and the work­ing force was al­ready as­sem­bled, each mem­ber prepar­ing his de­part­ment for the day’s busi­ness. The cashier was ex­am­in­ing the mail when he no­ticed the stranger stand­ing at his win­dow.

“Bank doesn’t open ’til nine,” he re­marked curtly, but with­out feel­ing. He had had to make that state­ment so often to early birds since San Rosario adopted city bank­ing hours.

“I am well aware of that,” said the other man, in cool, brit­tle tones. “Will you kindly re­ceive my card?”

The cashier drew the small, spot­less par­al­lel­o­gram in­side the bars of his wicket, and read:

J. F. C. Net­tlewick

Na­tional Bank Ex­am­iner

“Oh—er—will you walk around in­side, Mr.—er—Net­tlewick. Your first visit—didn’t know your busi­ness, of course. Walk right around, please.”

The ex­am­iner was quickly in­side the sa­cred precincts of the bank, where he was pon­der­ously in­tro­duced to each em­ployee in turn by Mr. Edlinger, the cashier—a mid­dle-aged gen­tle­man of de­lib­er­a­tion, dis­cre­tion, and method.

“I was kind of ex­pect­ing Sam Turner round again, pretty soon,” said Mr. Edlinger. “Sam’s been ex­am­in­ing us now, for about four years. I guess you’ll find us all right, though, con­sid­er­ing the tight­ness in busi­ness. Not overly much money on hand, but able to stand the storms, sir, stand the storms.”

“Mr. Turner and I have been or­dered by the Comp­trol­ler to ex­change dis­tricts,” said the ex­am­iner, in his de­ci­sive, for­mal tones. “He is cov­er­ing my old ter­ri­tory in South­ern Illi­nois and In­di­ana. I will take the cash first, please.”

Perry Dorsey, the teller, was al­ready ar­rang­ing his cash on the counter for the ex­am­iner’s in­spec­tion. He knew it was right to a cent, and he had noth­ing to fear, but he was ner­vous and flus­tered. So was every man in the bank. There was some­thing so icy and swift, so im­per­sonal and un­com­pro­mis­ing about this man that his very pres­ence seemed an ac­cu­sa­tion. He looked to be a man who would never make nor over­look an error.

Mr. Net­tlewick first seized the cur­rency, and with a rapid, al­most jug­gling mo­tion, counted it by pack­ages. Then he spun the sponge cup to­ward him and ver­i­fied the count by bills. His thin, white fin­gers flew like some ex­pert mu­si­cian’s upon the keys of a piano. He dumped the gold upon the counter with a crash, and the coins whined and sang as they skimmed across the mar­ble slab from the tips of his nim­ble dig­its. The air was full of frac­tional cur­rency when he came to the halves and quar­ters. He counted the last nickle and dime. He had the scales brought, and he weighed every sack of sil­ver in the vault. He ques­tioned Dorsey con­cern­ing each of the cash mem­o­randa—cer­tain checks, charge slips, etc., car­ried over from the pre­vi­ous day’s work—with unim­peach­able cour­tesy, yet with some­thing so mys­te­ri­ously mo­men­tous in his frigid man­ner, that the teller was re­duced to pink cheeks and a stam­mer­ing tongue.

This newly-im­ported ex­am­iner was so dif­fer­ent from Sam Turner. It had been Sam’s way to enter the bank with a shout, pass the cig­ars, and tell the lat­est sto­ries he had picked up on his rounds. His cus­tom­ary greet­ing to Dorsey had been, “Hello, Perry! Haven’t skipped out with the boo­dle yet, I see.” Turner’s way of count­ing the cash had been dif­fer­ent, too. He would fin­ger the pack­ages of bills in a tired kind of way, and then go into the vault and kick over a few sacks of sil­ver, and the thing was done. Halves and quar­ters and dimes? Not for Sam Turner. “No chicken feed for me,” he would say when they were set be­fore him. “I’m not in the agri­cul­tural de­part­ment.” But, then, Turner was a Texan, an old friend of the bank’s pres­i­dent, and had known Dorsey since he was a baby.

While the ex­am­iner was count­ing the cash, Major Thomas B. King­man—known to every one as “Major Tom”—the pres­i­dent of the First Na­tional, drove up to the side door with his old dun horse and buggy, and came in­side. He saw the ex­am­iner busy with the money, and, going into the lit­tle “pony cor­ral,” as he called it, in which his desk was railed off, he began to look over his let­ters.

Ear­lier, a lit­tle in­ci­dent had oc­curred that even the sharp eyes of the ex­am­iner had failed to no­tice. When he had begun his work at the cash counter, Mr. Edlinger had winked sig­nif­i­cantly at Roy Wil­son, the youth­ful bank mes­sen­ger, and nod­ded his head slightly to­ward the front door. Roy un­der­stood, got his hat, and walked leisurely out, with his col­lec­tor’s book under his arm. Once out­side, he made a bee-line for the Stock­men’s Na­tional. That bank was also get­ting ready to open. No cus­tomers had, as yet, pre­sented them­selves.

“Say, you peo­ple!” cried Roy, with the fa­mil­iar­ity of youth and long ac­quain­tance, “you want to get a move on you. There’s a new bank ex­am­iner over at the First, and he’s a stem-winder. He’s count­ing nick­les on Perry, and he’s got the whole out­fit bluffed. Mr. Edlinger gave me the tip to let you know.”

Mr. Buck­ley, pres­i­dent of the Stock­men’s Na­tional—a stout, el­derly man, look­ing like a farmer dressed for Sun­day—heard Roy from his pri­vate of­fice at the rear and called him.

“Has Major King­man come down to the bank yet?” he asked of the boy.

“Yes, sir, he was just dri­ving up as I left,” said Roy.

“I want you to take him a note. Put it into his own hands as soon as you get back.”

Mr. Buck­ley sat down and began to write.

Roy re­turned and handed to Major King­man the en­ve­lope con­tain­ing the note. The major read it, folded it, and slipped it into his vest pocket. He leaned back in his chair for a few mo­ments as if he were med­i­tat­ing deeply, and then rose and went into the vault. He came out with the bulky, old-fash­ioned leather note case stamped on the back in gilt let­ters, “Bills Dis­counted.” In this were the notes due the bank with their at­tached se­cu­ri­ties, and the major, in his rough way, dumped the lot upon his desk and began to sort them over.

By this time Net­tlewick had fin­ished his count of the cash. His pen­cil flut­tered like a swal­low over the sheet of paper on which he had set his fig­ures. He opened his black wal­let, which seemed to be also a kind of se­cret mem­o­ran­dum book, made a few rapid fig­ures in it, wheeled and trans­fixed Dorsey with the glare of his spec­ta­cles. That look seemed to say: “You’re safe this time, but—”

“Cash all cor­rect,” snapped the ex­am­iner. He made a dash for the in­di­vid­ual book­keeper, and, for a few min­utes there was a flut­ter­ing of ledger leaves and a sail­ing of bal­ance sheets through the air.

“How often do you bal­ance your pass-books?” he de­manded, sud­denly.

“Er—once a month,” fal­tered the in­di­vid­ual book­keeper, won­der­ing how many years they would give him.

“All right,” said the ex­am­iner, turn­ing and charg­ing upon the gen­eral book­keeper, who had the state­ments of his for­eign banks and their rec­on­cile­ment mem­o­randa ready. Every­thing there was found to be all right. Then the stub book of the cer­tifi­cates of de­posit. Flut­ter—flut­ter—zip—zip—check! All right. List of over-drafts, please. Thanks. H’m-m. Un­signed bills of the bank, next. All right.

Then came the cashier’s turn, and easy-go­ing Mr. Edlinger rubbed his nose and pol­ished his glasses ner­vously under the quick fire of ques­tions con­cern­ing the cir­cu­la­tion, un­di­vided prof­its, bank real es­tate, and stock own­er­ship.

Presently Net­tlewick was aware of a big man tow­er­ing above him at his elbow—a man sixty years of age, rugged and hale, with a rough, griz­zled beard, a mass of gray hair, and a pair of pen­e­trat­ing blue eyes that con­fronted the for­mi­da­ble glasses of the ex­am­iner with­out a flicker.

“Er—Major King­man, our pres­i­dent—er—Mr. Net­tlewick,” said the cashier.

Two men of very dif­fer­ent types shook hands. One was a fin­ished prod­uct of the world of straight lines, con­ven­tional meth­ods, and for­mal af­fairs. The other was some­thing freer, wider, and nearer to na­ture. Tom King­man had not been cut to any pat­tern. He had been mule-dri­ver, cow­boy, ranger, sol­dier, sher­iff, prospec­tor, and cat­tle­man. Now, when he was bank pres­i­dent, his old com­rades from the prairies, of the sad­dle, tent, and trail found no change in him. He had made his for­tune when Texas cat­tle were at the high tide of value, and had or­ga­nized the First Na­tional Bank of San Rosario. In spite of his large­ness of heart and some­times un­wise gen­eros­ity to­ward his old friends, the bank had pros­pered, for Major Tom King­man knew men as well as he knew cat­tle. Of late years the cat­tle busi­ness had known a de­pres­sion, and the major’s bank was one of the few whose losses had not been great.

“And now,” said the ex­am­iner, briskly, pulling out his watch, “the last thing is the loans. We will take them up now, if you please.”

He had gone through the First Na­tional at al­most record-break­ing speed—but thor­oughly, as he did every­thing. The run­ning order of the bank was smooth and clean, and that had fa­cil­i­tated his work. There was but one other bank in the town. He re­ceived from the Gov­ern­ment a fee of twenty-five dol­lars for each bank that he ex­am­ined. He should be able to go over those loans and dis­counts in half an hour. If so, he could ex­am­ine the other bank im­me­di­ately af­ter­ward, and catch the 11.45, the only other train that day in the di­rec­tion he was work­ing. Oth­er­wise, he would have to spend the night and Sun­day in this un­in­ter­est­ing West­ern town. That was why Mr. Net­tlewick was rush­ing mat­ters.

“Come with me, sir,” said Major King­man, in his deep voice, that united the South­ern drawl with the rhyth­mic twang of the West; “We will go over them to­gether. No­body in the bank knows those notes as I do. Some of ’em are a lit­tle wob­bly on their legs, and some are mav­er­icks with­out extra many brands on their backs, but they’ll most all pay out at the round-up.”

The two sat down at the pres­i­dent’s desk. First, the ex­am­iner went through the notes at light­ning speed, and added up their total, find­ing it to agree with the amount of loans car­ried on the book of daily bal­ances. Next, he took up the larger loans, in­quir­ing scrupu­lously into the con­di­tion of their en­dorsers or se­cu­ri­ties. The new ex­am­iner’s mind seemed to course and turn and make un­ex­pected dashes hither and thither like a blood­hound seek­ing a trail. Fi­nally he pushed aside all the notes ex­cept a few, which he arranged in a neat pile be­fore him, and began a dry, for­mal lit­tle speech.

“I find, sir, the con­di­tion of your bank to be very good, con­sid­er­ing the poor crops and the de­pres­sion in the cat­tle in­ter­ests of your state. The cler­i­cal work seems to be done ac­cu­rately and punc­tu­ally. Your past-due paper is mod­er­ate in amount, and promises only a small loss. I would rec­om­mend the call­ing in of your large loans, and the mak­ing of only sixty and ninety day or call loans until gen­eral busi­ness re­vives. And now, there is one thing more, and I will have fin­ished with the bank. Here are six notes ag­gre­gat­ing some­thing like $40,000. They are se­cured, ac­cord­ing to their faces, by var­i­ous stocks, bonds, shares, etc. to the value of $70,000. Those se­cu­ri­ties are miss­ing from the notes to which they should be at­tached. I sup­pose you have them in the safe or vault. You will per­mit me to ex­am­ine them.”

Major Tom’s light-blue eyes turned un­flinch­ingly to­ward the ex­am­iner.

“No, sir,” he said, in a low but steady tone; “those se­cu­ri­ties are nei­ther in the safe nor in the vault. I have taken them. You may hold me per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for their ab­sence.”

Net­tlewick felt a slight thrill. He had not ex­pected this. He had struck a mo­men­tous trail when the hunt was draw­ing to a close.

“Ah!” said the ex­am­iner. He waited a mo­ment, and then con­tin­ued: “May I ask you to ex­plain more def­i­nitely?”

“The se­cu­ri­ties were taken by me,” re­peated the major. “It was not for my own use, but to save an old friend in trou­ble. Come in here, sir, and we’ll talk it over.”

He led the ex­am­iner into the bank’s pri­vate of­fice at the rear, and closed the door. There was a desk, and a table, and half-a-dozen leather-cov­ered chairs. On the wall was the mounted head of a Texas steer with horns five feet from tip to tip. Op­po­site hung the major’s old cav­alry saber that he had car­ried at Shiloh and Fort Pil­low.

Plac­ing a chair for Net­tlewick, the major seated him­self by the win­dow, from which he could see the post-of­fice and the carved lime­stone front of the Stock­men’s Na­tional. He did not speak at once, and Net­tlewick felt, per­haps, that the ice could be bro­ken by some­thing so near its own tem­per­a­ture as the voice of of­fi­cial warn­ing.

“Your state­ment,” he began, “since you have failed to mod­ify it, amounts, as you must know, to a very se­ri­ous thing. You are aware, also, of what my duty must com­pel me to do. I shall have to go be­fore the United States Com­mis­sioner and make—”

“I know, I know,” said Major Tom, with a wave of his hand. “You don’t sup­pose I’d run a bank with­out being posted on na­tional bank­ing laws and the re­vised statutes! Do your duty. I’m not ask­ing any favours. But, I spoke of my friend. I did want you to hear me tell you about Bob.”

Net­tlewick set­tled him­self in his chair. There would be no leav­ing San Rosario for him that day. He would have to tele­graph to the Comp­trol­ler of the Cur­rency; he would have to swear out a war­rant be­fore the United States Com­mis­sioner for the ar­rest of Major King­man; per­haps he would be or­dered to close the bank on ac­count of the loss of the se­cu­ri­ties. It was not the first crime the ex­am­iner had un­earthed. Once or twice the ter­ri­ble up­heaval of human emo­tions that his in­ves­ti­ga­tions had loosed had al­most caused a rip­ple in his of­fi­cial calm. He had seen bank men kneel and plead and cry like women for a chance—an hour’s time—the over­look­ing of a sin­gle error. One cashier had shot him­self at his desk be­fore him. None of them had taken it with the dig­nity and cool­ness of this stern old West­erner. Net­tlewick felt that he owed it to him at least to lis­ten if he wished to talk. With his elbow on the arm of his chair, and his square chin rest­ing upon the fin­gers of his right hand, the bank ex­am­iner waited to hear the con­fes­sion of the pres­i­dent of the First Na­tional Bank of San Rosario.

“When a man’s your friend,” began Major Tom, some­what di­dac­ti­cally, “for forty years, and tried by water, fire, earth, and cy­clones, when you can do him a lit­tle favour you feel like doing it.”

(“Em­bez­zle for him $70,000 worth of se­cu­ri­ties,” thought the ex­am­iner.)

“We were cow­boys to­gether, Bob and I,” con­tin­ued the major, speak­ing slowly, and de­lib­er­ately, and mus­ingly, as if his thoughts were rather with the past than the crit­i­cal pre­sent, “and we prospected to­gether for gold and sil­ver over Ari­zona, New Mex­ico, and a good part of Cal­i­for­nia. We were both in the war of ‘sixty-one, but in dif­fer­ent com­mands. We’ve fought In­di­ans and horse thieves side by side; we’ve starved for weeks in a cabin in the Ari­zona moun­tains, buried twenty feet deep in snow; we’ve rid­den herd to­gether when the wind blew so hard the light­ning couldn’t strike—well, Bob and I have been through some rough spells since the first time we met in the brand­ing camp of the old An­chor-Bar ranch. And dur­ing that time we’ve found it nec­es­sary more than once to help each other out of tight places. In those days it was ex­pected of a man to stick to his friend, and he didn’t ask any credit for it. Prob­a­bly next day you’d need him to get at your back and help stand off a band of Apaches, or put a tourni­quet on your leg above a rat­tlesnake bite and ride for whisky. So, after all, it was give and take, and if you didn’t stand square with your pard­ner, why, you might be shy one when you needed him. But Bob was a man who was will­ing to go fur­ther than that. He never played a limit.

“Twenty years ago I was sher­iff of this county, and I made Bob my chief deputy. That was be­fore the boom in cat­tle when we both made our stake. I was sher­iff and col­lec­tor, and it was a big thing for me then. I was mar­ried, and we had a boy and a girl—a four and a six year old. There was a com­fort­able house next to the cour­t­house, fur­nished by the county, rent free, and I was sav­ing some money. Bob did most of the of­fice work. Both of us had seen rough times and plenty of rustling and dan­ger, and I tell you it was great to hear the rain and the sleet dash­ing against the win­dows of nights, and be warm and safe and com­fort­able, and know you could get up in the morn­ing and be shaved and have folks call you ‘mis­ter.’ And then, I had the finest wife and kids that ever struck the range, and my old friend with me en­joy­ing the first fruits of pros­per­ity and white shirts, and I guess I was happy. Yes, I was happy about that time.”

The major sighed and glanced ca­su­ally out of the win­dow. The bank ex­am­iner changed his po­si­tion, and leaned his chin upon his other hand.

“One win­ter,” con­tin­ued the major, “the money for the county taxes came pour­ing in so fast that I didn’t have time to take the stuff to the bank for a week. I just shoved the checks into a cigar box and the money into a sack, and locked them in the big safe that be­longed to the sher­iff’s of­fice.

“I had been over­worked that week, and was about sick, any­way. My nerves were out of order, and my sleep at night didn’t seem to rest me. The doc­tor had some sci­en­tific name for it, and I was tak­ing med­i­cine. And so, added to the rest, I went to bed at night with that money on my mind. Not that there was much need of being wor­ried, for the safe was a good one, and no­body but Bob and I knew the com­bi­na­tion. On Fri­day night there was about $6,500 in cash in the bag. On Sat­ur­day morn­ing I went to the of­fice as usual. The safe was locked, and Bob was writ­ing at his desk. I opened the safe, and the money was gone. I called Bob, and roused every­body in the court-house to an­nounce the rob­bery. It struck me that Bob took it pretty quiet, con­sid­er­ing how much it re­flected upon both him and me.

“Two days went by and we never got a clew. It couldn’t have been bur­glars, for the safe had been opened by the com­bi­na­tion in the proper way. Peo­ple must have begun to talk, for one af­ter­noon in comes Alice—that’s my wife—and the boy and girl, and Alice stamps her foot, and her eyes flash, and she cries out, ‘The lying wretches—Tom, Tom!’ and I catch her in a faint, and bring her ’round lit­tle by lit­tle, and she lays her head down and cries and cries for the first time since she took Tom King­man’s name and for­tunes. And Jack and Zilla—the young­sters—they were al­ways wild as tiger cubs to rush at Bob and climb all over him when­ever they were al­lowed to come to the court-house—they stood and kicked their lit­tle shoes, and herded to­gether like scared par­tridges. They were hav­ing their first trip down into the shad­ows of life. Bob was work­ing at his desk, and he got up and went out with­out a word. The grand jury was in ses­sion then, and the next morn­ing Bob went be­fore them and con­fessed that he stole the money. He said he lost it in a poker game. In fif­teen min­utes they had found a true bill and sent me the war­rant to ar­rest the man with whom I’d been closer than a thou­sand broth­ers for many a year.

“I did it, and then I said to Bob, point­ing: ‘There’s my house, and here’s my of­fice, and up there’s Maine, and out that way is Cal­i­for­nia, and over there is Florida—and that’s your range ’til court meets. You’re in my charge, and I take the re­spon­si­bil­ity. You be here when you’re wanted.’

“‘Thanks, Tom,’ he said, kind of care­lessly; ‘I was sort of hop­ing you wouldn’t lock me up. Court meets next Mon­day, so, if you don’t ob­ject, I’ll just loaf around the of­fice until then. I’ve got one favour to ask, if it isn’t too much. If you’d let the kids come out in the yard once in a while and have a romp I’d like it.’

“‘Why not?’ I an­swered him. ‘They’re wel­come, and so are you. And come to my house, the same as ever.’ You see, Mr. Net­tlewick, you can’t make a friend of a thief, but nei­ther can you make a thief of a friend, all at once.”

The ex­am­iner made no an­swer. At that mo­ment was heard the shrill whis­tle of a lo­co­mo­tive pulling into the depot. That was the train on the lit­tle, nar­row-gauge road that struck into San Rosario from the south. The major cocked his ear and lis­tened for a mo­ment, and looked at his watch. The nar­row-gauge was in on time—10.35. The major con­tin­ued:

“So Bob hung around the of­fice, read­ing the pa­pers and smok­ing. I put an­other deputy to work in his place, and after a while, the first ex­cite­ment of the case wore off.

“One day when we were alone in the of­fice Bob came over to where I was sit­ting. He was look­ing sort of grim and blue—the same look he used to get when he’d been up watch­ing for In­di­ans all night or herd-rid­ing.

“‘Tom,’ says he, ‘it’s harder than stand­ing off red­skins; it’s harder than lying in the lava desert forty miles from water; but I’m going to stick it out to the end. You know that’s been my style. But if you’d tip me the small­est kind of a sign—if you’d just say, “Bob I un­der­stand,” why, it would make it lots eas­ier.’

“I was sur­prised. ‘I don’t know what you mean, Bob,’ I said. ‘Of course, you know that I’d do any­thing under the sun to help you that I could. But you’ve got me guess­ing.’

“‘All right, Tom,’ was all he said, and he went back to his news­pa­per and lit an­other cigar.

“It was the night be­fore court met when I found out what he meant. I went to bed that night with that same old, light-headed, ner­vous feel­ing come back upon me. I dropped off to sleep about mid­night. When I awoke I was stand­ing half dressed in one of the court-house cor­ri­dors. Bob was hold­ing one of my arms, our fam­ily doc­tor the other, and Alice was shak­ing me and half cry­ing. She had sent for the doc­tor with­out my know­ing it, and when he came they had found me out of bed and miss­ing, and had begun a search.

“‘Sleep-walk­ing,’ said the doc­tor.

“All of us went back to the house, and the doc­tor told us some re­mark­able sto­ries about the strange things peo­ple had done while in that con­di­tion. I was feel­ing rather chilly after my trip out, and, as my wife was out of the room at the time, I pulled open the door of an old wardrobe that stood in the room and dragged out a big quilt I had seen in there. With it tum­bled out the bag of money for steal­ing which Bob was to be tried—and con­victed—in the morn­ing.

“‘How the jump­ing rat­tlesnakes did that get there?’ I yelled, and all hands must have seen how sur­prised I was. Bob knew in a flash.

“‘You darned old snoozer,’ he said, with the old-time look on his face, ‘I saw you put it there. I watched you open the safe and take it out, and I fol­lowed you. I looked through the win­dow and saw you hide it in that wardrobe.’

“‘Then, you blan­kety-blank, flop-eared, sheep-headed coy­ote, what did you say you took it, for?’

“‘Be­cause,’ said Bob, sim­ply, ‘I didn’t know you were asleep.’

“I saw him glance to­ward the door of the room where Jack and Zilla were, and I knew then what it meant to be a man’s friend from Bob’s point of view.”

Major Tom paused, and again di­rected his glance out of the win­dow. He saw some one in the Stock­men’s Na­tional Bank reach and draw a yel­low shade down the whole length of its plate-glass, big front win­dow, al­though the po­si­tion of the sun did not seem to war­rant such a de­fen­sive move­ment against its rays.

Net­tlewick sat up straight in his chair. He had lis­tened pa­tiently, but with­out con­sum­ing in­ter­est, to the major’s story. It had im­pressed him as ir­rel­e­vant to the sit­u­a­tion, and it could cer­tainly have no ef­fect upon the con­se­quences. Those West­ern peo­ple, he thought, had an ex­ag­ger­ated sen­ti­men­tal­ity. They were not busi­ness-like. They needed to be pro­tected from their friends. Ev­i­dently the major had con­cluded. And what he had said amounted to noth­ing.

“May I ask,” said the ex­am­iner, “if you have any­thing fur­ther to say that bears di­rectly upon the ques­tion of those ab­stracted se­cu­ri­ties?”

“Ab­stracted se­cu­ri­ties, sir!” Major Tom turned sud­denly in his chair, his blue eyes flash­ing upon the ex­am­iner. “What do you mean, sir?”

He drew from his coat pocket a batch of folded pa­pers held to­gether by a rub­ber band, tossed them into Net­tlewick’s hands, and rose to his feet.

“You’ll find those se­cu­ri­ties there, sir, every stock, bond, and share of ’em. I took them from the notes while you were count­ing the cash. Ex­am­ine and com­pare them for your­self.”

The major led the way back into the bank­ing room. The ex­am­iner, as­tounded, per­plexed, net­tled, at sea, fol­lowed. He felt that he had been made the vic­tim of some­thing that was not ex­actly a hoax, but that left him in the shoes of one who had been played upon, used, and then dis­carded, with­out even an inkling of the game. Per­haps, also, his of­fi­cial po­si­tion had been ir­rev­er­ently jug­gled with. But there was noth­ing he could take hold of. An of­fi­cial re­port of the mat­ter would be an ab­sur­dity. And, some­how, he felt that he would never know any­thing more about the mat­ter than he did then.

Frigidly, me­chan­i­cally, Net­tlewick ex­am­ined the se­cu­ri­ties, found them to tally with the notes, gath­ered his black wal­let, and rose to de­part.

“I will say,” he protested, turn­ing the in­dig­nant glare of his glasses upon Major King­man, “that your state­ments—your mis­lead­ing state­ments, which you have not con­de­scended to ex­plain—do not ap­pear to be quite the thing, re­garded ei­ther as busi­ness or hu­mour. I do not un­der­stand such mo­tives or ac­tions.”

Major Tom looked down at him serenely and not un­kindly.

“Son,” he said, “there are plenty of things in the chap­ar­ral, and on the prairies, and up the canyons that you don’t un­der­stand. But I want to thank you for lis­ten­ing to a gar­ru­lous old man’s prosy story. We old Tex­ans love to talk about our ad­ven­tures and our old com­rades, and the home folks have long ago learned to run when we begin with ‘Once upon a time,’ so we have to spin our yarns to the stranger within our gates.”

The major smiled, but the ex­am­iner only bowed coldly, and abruptly quit­ted the bank. They saw him travel di­ag­o­nally across the street in a straight line and enter the Stock­men’s Na­tional Bank.

Major Tom sat down at his desk, and drew from his vest pocket the note Roy had given him. He had read it once, but hur­riedly, and now, with some­thing like a twin­kle in his eyes, he read it again. These were the words he read:

Dear Tom:

I hear there’s one of Uncle Sam’s gray­hounds going through you, and that means that we’ll catch him in­side of a cou­ple of hours, maybe. Now, I want you to do some­thing for me. We’ve got just $2,200 in the bank, and the law re­quires that we have $20,000. I let Ross and Fisher have $18,000 late yes­ter­day af­ter­noon to buy up that Gib­son bunch of cat­tle. They’ll re­alise $40,000 in less than thirty days on the trans­ac­tion, but that won’t make my cash on hand look any pret­tier to that bank ex­am­iner. Now, I can’t show him those notes, for they’re just plain notes of hand with­out any se­cu­rity in sight, but you know very well that Pink Ross and Jim Fisher are two of the finest white men God ever made, and they’ll do the square thing. You re­mem­ber Jim Fisher—he was the one who shot that faro dealer in El Paso. I wired Sam Brad­shaw’s bank to send me $20,000, and it will get in on the nar­row-gauge at 10.35. You can’t let a bank ex­am­iner in to count $2,200 and close your doors. Tom, you hold that ex­am­iner. Hold him. Hold him if you have to rope him and sit on his head. Watch our front win­dow after the nar­row-gauge gets in, and when we’ve got the cash in­side we’ll pull down the shade for a sig­nal. Don’t turn him loose till then. I’m count­ing on you, Tom.

Your Old Pard,
Bob Buckly,
Prest. Stock­men’s Na­tional.

The major began to tear the note into small pieces and throw them into his waste bas­ket. He gave a sat­is­fied lit­tle chuckle as he did so.

“Con­founded old reck­less cow­puncher!” he growled, con­tent­edly, “that pays him some on ac­count for what he tried to do for me in the sher­iff’s of­fice twenty years ago.”


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