The Ten Dollar Bill by George Barr McCutcheon
A CHRISTMAS STORY
Mr. and Mrs. Digby Trotter had been married just five years. Five years
before Digby had gone to his father to tell him that he intended to
marry Kate Anderson. The old gentleman grew very red in the face and
observed, more forcibly than considerately:
"You must be a dod-gasted idiot! You get married? And to that brainless
little fool whose father exhorts or extorts religion for $600 a year at
that miserable little church over there on Queen Street—is that the
girl you mean?" And then Trotter, pere, ceased speaking to look
searchingly into his son's face; an embarrassed smile brightened his
grim old countenance and he went on, good humour growing stronger in
each succeeding word: "You rascal! Why did you tell me that? Do you
know, for a moment, I actually thought you were in earnest, and—well,
demme! it did work me up a little. I ought to have known better,
too—but, then, you did say it as if you meant it. Excuse me, boy; I
guess I'm the fool, myself."
"That remains to be seen, sir," was the most polite thing that his son
could say under the circumstances, taking his hands out of his pockets
and putting them back again at once. "You see, it's this way, Father,
you laughed too soon. It's not so devilish much of a joke as you think.
I meant it."
Mr. Trotter's smile faded away as does the sunshine that hides itself
in the dusk of eventide. Father and son grew warm in the discussion of
this most amazing determination on the part of the latter and it all
came to a sharp end when both lost temper. When Digby jammed his hat
down over his eyes, buttoned close his overcoat and dashed out of the
bank into the street, he might have been heard to say, as a parting
"I'll marry her now if I starve for two thousand years!"
And marry her he did.
Trotter, senior, did not attend the wedding, did not send the young
couple a present, nor a greeting; in fact, he did nothing but ignore
them completely. He had told Digby that he would never forgive him and
had gone so far as to call on poor little Dr. Anderson, the unfortunate
possessor of a pretty daughter and a $600 charge, expressing himself as
earnestly averse to the union of their children. When he had concluded
his interview with the minister the latter was extremely pale and
nervous, but he was master of the situation. He stood, holding open the
door to his plain, pitiful old study and Mr. Trotter, very much injured
and crestfallen, was passing out with these words stinging his ears:
"I am sorry, sir—just as sorry as you. I like Digby; he is a good,
open-hearted boy, but I had hoped to see Kate better wedded!" Then he
closed the door and seated himself in the old cushioned chair, staring
at the grate until the glare seemed to hurt his eyes. At least, they
grew very hot and dry, then streaming wet.
And so they were married five years ago. Since then their struggle had
been a hard one; both ends would not meet, no matter how firmly Digby
persevered in his efforts to bring about such a union. He would not,
could not ask his father for assistance, nor would that patient,
faithful little wife have permitted him to harbour such a design had he
weakened in his avowed intention to "get along without a dollar from
dad." Notwithstanding their feeble warfare against privation, in which
defeat hovered constantly over fields where victory seemed assured,
theirs had been a happy sort of misery. Digby loved Kate and Kate
worshipped him; his pity for her was overwhelmed by the earnestness
with which she pitied him. No struggle of his failed but that she
shouldered and bore the failure with him, cheering him when he felt
like lagging, smiling when he despaired the deepest. Between them a
speck of joy grew larger, brighter each day despite the gloom that
surrounded it. Their child was their one possession of worth,
4-year-old Helen—sunny-faced Helen—Helen who suffered none of the
pangs because of the sacrifices made by those whose darkness she
Trotter had married Kate with a heart overrunning with the glorious
ambition of untried youth, the happy confidence of strength, fully
convinced that nothing was necessary toward securing success save the
establishment of a purpose. And that is quite, quite the fact.
They began with a dollar and they had seen but few, since the
beginning, that they could call their own. Too late did Digby learn
that he knew but little and that the world was full of young men whose
beginning in life had been so much worse than his that necessity had
made them equal to the struggle for which he had been so illy prepared
by an indulgent parent. Digby found the banks in which he had hoped to
secure positions thronged with clerks and accountants who had worked
slowly, painfully from the bottom upward. Grey-haired men, whose lives
had been spent in the one great battle for gold, told him of their
years in the patient ranks; thoughtful-faced young men told him how
they had been office boys, messenger boys, even janitor boys, in the
climb up the Matterhorn of success. Here he was a man of 25, strong,
bright and the possessor of an unusual intelligence, a college man, a
rich man's son, but poorer than the smallest clerk that had ever bent
his throbbing, ambitious head over the desk in his father's bank, and
who had often envied the life of his employer's son. Now that son was
beneath them all because he did not know how to work!
Work—toil—slave! The definition of success.
At first the failures originating from inexperience had been of small
consequence to Digby. His old-time independence resisted the harsh
criticisms of his first employers and he had, on more than one
occasion, thrown away fair positions because the spirit could not
endure the thumb of mastery. For months he rebelled against the
requirements of servitude, but gradually it dawned upon him that though
the rich man was his father he was no longer the rich man's son.
So, when the first year of their wedded life had rolled by, Digby
Trotter, still neat, still independent, yet not so defiant—wore a
haggard look which could no longer be disguised. The once fashionable
garments were beginning to look shabby; his recently purchased clothing
had come from the bargain counters in cheap "ready-made"
establishments; his once constantly used evening dress suit hung in a
closet, lonely and forlorn, minus the trousers. He was keeping the
books in a street car office and his salary was $40 a month.
When, at the close of their first happy, miserable year, her father
died and their baby was born, many changes came. They were forced to
take the house for themselves and had to be accountable for the rent.
Dr. Anderson had given them the right to call his home their own so
long as he should live and it was the earnings of two men that kept the
little establishment crowded with happiness, if not comforts, during
his lifetime. One day a blow came to them. The landlord ejected them.
Kate wept as she passed out through the little front gate, leaving
behind the dear old home with its rose bushes, its lilacs, its
gravelled walks, perhaps forever. Digby buttoned his coat tightly about
his thinning figure and scowled as he followed her through the gate. He
scowled at that invisible fate which preceded them both. Now, at the
end of five years, they were living in a tenement house, a crowded,
filthy place, ruled by a miserly, relentless landlord, whose gold was
The young husband had been employed by many men and in many occupations
during these five years. Fate pursued him always, despite his dogged
determination, his earnest efforts to surmount the obstacles which
crowded his path to happiness and peace. If a reduction was necessary
in a working force he was one of the first to go: if any one was to be
superseded by a new and favoured applicant he was the one. On many
occasions he had taken up his coat and hat, stepping to the pavement
with the crushed heart of a despairing man, tears in his wistful eyes,
his tired brain filling, almost bursting with the thoughts of the
little woman whose brave eyes would grow large and bright when he told
her of the end, and who would kiss him and bid him not to despair. He
could almost hear her suppressed sob as he thought of her, her head
upon his shoulder, her soft voice blaming herself for having dragged
him down to this.
In this warfare of poverty they had seen many hungry days, many
hardships, but neither had relinquished faith in Digby's ability to
baffle adversity and stem the tide. Like tennis balls, they had been
batted from one end of the year to the other, and now, at this time,
Digby Trotter and wife had become members of New York's "floating
population." Seldom did they live in one place more than three months,
sometimes less than one. Frequently they moved because their
surroundings were so distasteful to Kate, whose natural sense of
refinement was averse, not to poverty and squalor, but to the vice with
which it often is associated in districts where an ignorant and vicious
element flocks as if drawn by the magnetism of sin.
A man of strong will was Digby, and a woman of wonderful strength of
purpose was his wife, or he would have lost heart, and lost her in the
end. Only once had he come home to her intoxicated, driven to it
through despair and by what he thought to be approaching illness. On
awakening from the drunken sleep shame made him fear to meet the eyes
of her who suffered with him. But she had gently said:
"Don't be ashamed, Digby; poor, dear boy! You couldn't help it, I know.
But, dear, do try to be strong, stronger than ever, for baby's sake if
not for your own and mine. We shall all be happy yet, I'm sure we
shall, if you—if you will but resist that one misfortune."
He never drank another drop of liquor.
Then, at last, the brave little woman took in plain sewing, greatly to
Digby's anguish and mortification. Never had he felt so little like a
man as when she showed so plainly that it was necessary for her to
assist in the maintenance of the little household over which he
presided. The few dollars that she could earn kept them supplied with
food—at least part of the time. His odd jobs helped; the dollar that
he earned once in a while was made to go a long way. Not once did she
complain, not once did she cry out against the son who had taken his
father's curse for her sake. There are but few women who would be so
When he came home at nights, climbing the wearisome steps that led to
their miserable home near the roof of the vast building he knew that
she would smile and kiss him, that the baby would laugh and climb gaily
upon his knee, and he knew that he would not have to tell her that he
had failed to find the coveted employment. His face would be the
indicator, and, beneath her first smile of welcome, he could always
distinguish the searching glance of anxiety; under her warm kiss he
could feel the words:
"Poor boy! I am sorry; you have tried so hard!"
Their home was poor, poorer than Digby had thought any man's home could
be, but there was no sign of the filth that characterised the condition
of other homes in the house. Mrs. Trotter kept it clean, kept it neat,
and kept it as bright as possible. While they were as poor, if not
poorer than the other inhabitants of this roofed world, they were
looked upon as and called "the aristocrats." No poverty could remove
nor deface the indelible stamp of superiority which good blood and
culture had given them as birthrights. Their apparel was cleaner than
anything of its kind in the building, fairly immaculate when compared
with the wretched garb of the beings who were looked upon as human but
who were—well, they were unfortunate to have that distinction;
something less would have been more fitting.
When occasion presented, Digby would bring home flowers, plucked from
the gardens that he passed. Kate would bedeck the room with the
blossoms, her eyes glistening as she thought of the lovely spot she had
known five long years ago. Once in awhile the more beautiful of his
tributes would adorn her coal black hair, lending wealth to what seemed
so much like waste.
They had curtains for their windows, too—muslin, of course—and,
although the windows were almost paneless, they presented quite a
home-like appearance, especially from the street, eight floors below.
Heavy wads of cloth served as glass in most of the vacant places, but
they did not serve well as light filterers. Besides all these valuables
they owned a bedstead, a stove, some chairs, a table, a sewing machine
and a mirror. Not another family in the house owned a mirror.
But they were lovers ever—the same, sweet comrades in love. The baby
was their Cupid at whose shrine they worshipped. She ruled their
affections and there was no kingdom wider than her domain. Digby,
covered with shame, despair and bitterness against the world, turned
himself loose into the pasture of joy when she cooed her authority;
romped like a boy whose heart had never felt as heavy as a chunk of
lead; talked to her, sang to her with a voice that had never felt the
quiver of dismay. Upon these sad pleasantries Mrs. Trotter smiled her
worship. Better than all, Digby had never been compelled to walk with
her for two or three hours in the middle of the night. It is said that
she was the only child on earth that never had the colic.
On the 23d of December in the year of our story, Digby had gone, bright
and early, to the big queensware store of Balling and Peet, word having
reached him that they needed extra help during the holidays. When he
neared his old haunts, the prominent downtown streets, instead of going
boldly along the sidewalks as of yore, he slunk through alleys and
across corners avoiding all possible chance of meeting the
acquaintances of bygone days, the men about town, the women he had
known, none of whom would know him now. It was not that he feared their
recognition, but that they would refuse to look at him at all.
The morning was bright and crisp, cold and prophetic of still greater
chill. Men in great overcoats passed him, muffled to the chin, their
whiskers frosty with the whitened air of life that came from tingling
noses; ruddy cheeks abounded on this typical winter day. Mr. Trotter
possessed no overcoat, but presumably following the fashion set out by
other wintry pedestrians, his thin sack coat was buttoned tightly and
the collar turned up defiantly. His well-brushed though seedy Derby
looked chilly as it topped off his shivering features. His face was
blue, not ruddy. Here and there he passed companions in poverty, but
their rags were worse than his, their faces more haggard. Never did he
feel more like the gentleman than when he saw what he could be if he
were not one.
Something jaunty beneath his brow-beaten spirits told him that he was
to have work, that his mission would be productive of the result so
long desired. In three months he had earned but ten days' wages and he
had found it rather difficult, not to say annoying to be a gentleman
with nothing on which to keep up outward appearances.
With an exultant feeling he approached the big store, but as he entered
it the old trepidation returned, the old anxiety, the old shudder at
the thought of failure. Being directed to the manager of the busy
establishment, he accosted him in the office, something like meekness
underlying the apparent straightforwardness to which his manly exterior
seemed so well acquainted.
The manager was different from others of his ilk. He greeted the
applicant kindly and told him to come back the next day at noon and he
would be set to work in the express department. If he proved
satisfactory he would be retained during the whole week, perhaps
permanently. They were looking for good men there, he said. Digby's
whole being seemed lighter than it had been for months when he left the
place and hurried homeward.
Kate's heart thumped strangely when she heard him coming down the long
hall with great rapid strides, so unlike the usual slow, deliberate
tread. She opened the door to admit him and when he clasped her in his
arms and rained kisses upon her face she knew that she was but
receiving the proofs of her sudden guess. Their frugal meal was
dispatched slowly, the diners allowing their tongues to display greater
diligence than their teeth. They were all very happy.
The great rush of business was at its height when Digby strode between
the counters of Balling and Peet's store the next day noon, on his way
to the office. Hundreds of people thronged the place, and he could not
help thinking of the days when he, a lad, had accompanied his mother to
this same great store where purchases were made that now seemed like
dreams to him. The smallest priced article that stood on the counters
was now beyond his power of possession. Mr. Sampson, the manager, was
in the office when Digby entered.
"Ah, you are here, I see," he said, but his voice was not so friendly
as it had been on the day before. "I am sorry, Mr.—Mr.—"
"Trotter," volunteered Digby, forgetting to add the servile "sir." His
heart was cold with apprehension.
"We were forced by rush of business this morning to put extra men to
work much earlier than I had expected. Not knowing your address I could
not notify you, and we have filled the places with men who came in
early. We did not expect the rush quite so early, you see. I am sorry,
sir. Perhaps we can do something for you later on."
Digby's eyes were misty, but there was a gleam of proud resentment
beneath the mist. His first thought was: "How can I go home and tell
her of this?"
"Have you nothing else, sir, that I can do?" he asked, from the depths
of his disappointment. He actually hated the man who had failed to
remember him—unreasonably, he knew, but he hated him.
"Nothing, I believe, Mr.—Mr. Potter—no, there is nothing at all. Good
day." The manager turned to his desk and Digby, smarting to the very
centre of his heart, shot a glance of insulted pride toward him, while
beneath his breath there welled the unhappy threat: "I'll some day make
you remember me! I'll not always be at the bottom."
Defiantly he strode from the office, banging the door after him
indignantly. The manager looked around in mild surprise and muttered:
"Poor devil! I suppose he hasn't had a drink all day."
When Digby reached the sidewalk the bright sunlight sent him tumbling
back into the reality of his position. Hardly knowing what he did, he
turned the corner, meeting the cutting wind from the west. The moisture
that came into his tired eyes as he walked dejectedly along, however,
was not caused by the wind. It came from the cells of shame,
disconsolation and despair.
Ahead of him on the busy thoroughfare walked an old-time friend, Joe
Delapere. But a few years ago they had been boon companions, running
the same race, following the same course together. Now one slunk along,
shorn of his rapid spurs, while the other sped the gay course in happy
unconcern. If Joe had a care it was over his love affairs, and, as he
had admitted, they were annoyances more than cares after he had ceased
to care. Digby was bitter against the world he had once inhabited, his
father more than all the rest of it together. That was the difference
between their ways of looking at the world.
Delapere stepped to the edge of the sidewalk and hailed a cab, a sudden
and increasing flurry of snow changing his desire to walk into the
necessity of riding. Cabby came dashing up and Joe pulled forth his
well filled purse.
"Get me to No. — Morton avenue in five minutes and another dollar is
yours. Be brisk, now!" Selecting a bill, he handed it to the driver and
sprang into the cab. To his box climbed the well-urged driver, crack
went his whip and once more the boon companions went their different
ways—in different fashion.
But as Delapere thrust his purse back into his coat pocket something
fluttered to the gutter. Digby's hungry eyes saw at a glance that it
was a bank note, and, calling to the cabman, he rushed to curbing and
fished the bill from the slush.
A ten dollar bill! And the cabman had not heard his shout! Putting his
cold fingers to his lips he gave vent to that shrill whistle which
always attracts the attention of Jehu, but the cabby was earning his
extra dollar and heard nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing but the big
flakes that struck his tingling face Digby stopped at the corner and
saw the cab disappear down the street.
"I'll take it to him tomorrow," he resolved. As he started to put the
bill into his pocket the thought came to him that Kate and the baby
were suffering. All the way home he battled with his conscience,
striving to convince himself that Delapere had not dropped the note,
that it belonged to him by virtue of discovery, and that he deserved it
if any one in the world did. At last there came a solution. He would
explain it all to Kate and take her advice. He knew she would insist
that he take it to the owner at once, and his conscience was
temporarily eased. But, he would have to confess that he had failed to
find work! Ah, that was the rub!
Another thought! Why should he tell her he had failed! Why not deceive
her? He had the amount of a week's wages in his pocket and he had but
to absent himself from the house during the days to carry out the
deception. Conscience was gone—everything was gone except the desire
to shield the ones at home.
At 5 o'clock he climbed the stairs, feeling like a joint thief and
millionaire, possessing the sort of conscience that both ignore. Kate
met him at the door of their room and he smiled gaily as he kissed her
then snatched the baby from between his feet where she had planted
herself precipitously. Kate was looking at him when he took his seat
near the stove in which burned the remnants of store boxes that he had
found that morning. His eyes could not meet hers when she asked:
"Is it all that you thought it would be, Digby?"
"Yes; I am pleased with the place. I only hope it will be permanent."
"Didn't they give you any satisfaction about the time that they will
"Not over a week, they said, but there is chance for a permanent place,
"What—er—what are they to pay you, dear?"
"Ten dollars a week—it will be a great help, won't it? The rent can be
paid and you can have something warm to wear and—and—" then he
interrupted himself to stir up the fire, a wave of guilt causing him to
withdraw from the ordeal imposed by her trusting blue eyes. "By the
way, Kate, we must be quite merry tonight—isn't that so, Nell? Pop's
got a job!" And with forced gaiety he juggled the laughing child toward
the ceiling. "We ought to eat, drink and be merry.
But—" (lugubriously)—"what have we to eat and drink, not counting the
"Bread, liver and water—a feast, isn't it? But, oh, Digby, how many
there are who have not even that. And tomorrow is Christmas, too. What
shall we have for our grand dinner?"
"We'll have to have a change, to be sure—you can warm over the water,
liver and bread."
"I have a few cents left, dear—I could have sent with you for a few
little extras for tonight, too. I wish I had; it would be so jolly,
"I haven't had a cent for so long that I—I don't know how it would
feel. Keep your money, Kate; I'll have some tomorrow. I have made
arrangements to draw my pay every day." He felt like a murderer as he
sat there with that fortune in his trousers pocket. Then he danced and
romped with Helen as only he could romp. In the midst of one of the
wildest figures Kate suddenly seized his arm and cried.
"Digby Trotter! Stoop over, this instant! Why, what kind of a wife am
I? Good gracious, but you need a patch there—it's positively
disgraceful. How long have you been going around with that hole there?"
"I don't know—in fact, I had not observed it," he answered, like a
"And your coat is so short, too. Take them off at once and I'll put a
patch there before I do another thing."
"I'll have to go to bed, my dear. Can't you patch 'em with 'em on me?"
"Of course not! I'd certainly sew them fast to your person. Go to bed,
if you please, then. I'll promise not to be long."
And so the head of the house had to go to bed while its mistress
repaired the garment.
"Say, Kate," called out Digby from the bed, where he was playing with
the baby, "that's a positive proof that I've been compelled to sit
around a good deal this year, isn't it?"
"The evidence is certainly damaging," she replied, laughingly, her
fingers busy with the repairs.
"Do the knees require patching, deary?"
"Not in the least; they are the soundest part of the pants," said his
Just then something slipped from one of the pockets and fell
noiselessly to the floor, Kate's eyes catching sight of it as it
fluttered before them.
A ten dollar bill!
And he had told her that he had no money! Poor bewildered Kate picked
up the bill and sat staring at it with wide-spread eyes, her thoughts
chaos. Had he been lying to her all along? Was there money in his
pockets all these months through which she had slaved to help him keep
their little home together? Deep into her unwilling heart sank a shaft
of distrust, the first it had ever felt. Then for shame she tried to
withdraw the shaft, to ease the pain it had caused, but with all her
tugging the thought went deeper, beyond control, becoming rooted,
settled in that long unblemished home of fidelity, love and
A hundred excuses came to his defence, but her bewildered brain could
not complete them; they became chaotic conflicts between devotion and
suspicion. No sooner did she see her way clear than it was blocked
again. There was the bill! It had fallen from his pocket—more money
than she had known him to possess in months. And with that bill in his
pocket he had wilfully told her that he had no money, not even a cent.
Distrust grew stronger, faith faded away, resentment flooded the heart
of the loving little woman, and the years of happy misery she had spent
with him became the memory of deception and neglect. Tears welled up in
the glittering eyes; then her teeth came firmly together as if to
suppress the emotion with which she found herself struggling. The
bitterness of reproach came to her as she turned toward the bed on
which frolicked the husband and the child. The child! He played, toyed
with the little one, whose every want he had forgotten, with money in
his selfish pockets. His wife found herself beginning to hate, to
But words refused to come, the reproach was unuttered, for a sudden
thought intervened. The thought was mother to a resolution and Digby
Trotter was spared.
"I guess I'll go down town," said Digby when he stood clothed as he had
been before Kate discovered the necessity for a patch. "Perhaps I can
get a chance to help some one of the store-keepers this evening and
earn enough to get up a little dinner for tomorrow." He was buttoning
his little coat tightly around his neck as he made this declaration,
and he noticed that Kate did not respond. "Come, kiss popper good-bye,"
he cried to the child and the response was ready, eager. Then he looked
at Kate's quiet figure bending over the sewing near the candle flame. A
cold chill shot over him, piercing deeper than the chills of the night
without. Something like fear, suspense, grew in his heart as he bent
his eyes upon the form of one who had never allowed him to leave her
presence without a kiss, a cheery word. For an instant the thought came
to him that she had at last ceased to love the useless beggar, the
robber of her joys, the man who had dragged her from comfort to this
life of squalor. With inconsiderate swiftness came the memory of the
days when he and the same Joe Delapere had been rivals for her love,
both rich and influential. She had chosen the one who bore her down;
perhaps now she was regretting the choice in a heart that longed for
the other. She had spoken of Joe frequently during the past two weeks
and had told him of numerous accidental meetings with his old-time
rival. But, in an instant more, his heart had revolted against this
gross suspicion, hardly formed, and he almost cursed himself for the
moment of doubt. Dear, dear little Kate!
"Kate," he said, "aren't you going to kiss me?" He was astonished by
the flushed face she turned toward him and at the wavering eyes which
met his in a fashion so strange that he felt a second chill go through
"Certainly, dear," she said, coming to his side. "Baby shall not undo
me in politeness."
"Affection would sound better," he said, taking her cold, almost
lifeless hands in his. He stooped to kiss the lips upturned to his, but
drew back, a dismal uncertainty taking possession of him. "What is the
matter, Kate? Tell me, dear. Don't you want to kiss me?" He could not
prevent the moisture from dimming his eyes, drawn by the pride which
felt itself put to shame.
"I'll kiss you whether I want to or not," she said, smiling vaguely,
and their lips met—both cold, fearful.
As Digby hurried down the long, narrow stairways and out in the biting
air his fear and apprehension grew. Wonder, even dismay, charged upon
him, and his excited imagination recalled the many little short-comings
he had observed in Kate's behaviour of late, all of which began to
assume startling proportions, convincing him beyond all doubt that
something was wrong, woefully wrong. Could it be possible that he had
lost her love, her respect? Had she at last ceased to love the
unfortunate being who had battled so feebly in her behalf? Ah, his
heart waxed sore; he felt not the frost without, but the chill within.
What was he to do? What was left to do? He had started from home
intending to purchase a turkey, some toys for Helen, some sweet little
remembrance for the wife he had thought so loving, but his happy
designs had been frustrated. The chilling heart refused to return to
the warmth of expected joy, to recognise the feelings of anticipation.
"Ah, well," he sighed, almost aloud, to the hurrying wind, "what else
can I expect? I have done all I could; no man could do more and no
woman could have borne more than she. Truly she has borne too much—I
cannot blame her—but, oh, how can she—how can she turn against me
now. After all—after all!"
For blocks he rambled on in this manner, seeing no one as he passed,
observing nothing. At last his face grew brighter and a momentary
shadow of joy overspread it.
"I'll take home the turkey, the toys and the shawl to them. They shall
have them if Delapere never sees his money again—if Kate never kisses
me again in her life. I'll tell her the truth about the money!"
Nevertheless it was with a guilty feeling that he ran his hand into his
trousers pocket to fondle the bill. The fingers wriggled around in the
depths, poking into every corner, searching most anxiously. Then the
other dived into the opposite pocket and the fingers found no bill.
With a startled exclamation he came to a standstill on the sidewalk and
a vigorous investigation was begun, his expression growing more
bewildered and alarmed as the search grew more hopeless. The bill was
Passers-by noticed the abstracted man fumbling in his pockets,
muttering to himself, and one man asked, cheerfully:
"Lost something, pardner?"
Digby Trotter did not answer. He walked slowly down the street, his
cold hands reposing listlessly in his empty pockets, his heart in his
boots, his eyes looking vacantly toward his heart.
"It wasn't mine; I had no right to it," he murmured, time and again.
Aimlessly about the streets he wandered, turning homeward at last,
depressed, despising himself, ready to give up in spirit. He was going
home to Kate, expecting no love to greet him, feeling in his heart that
he deserved none.
As he passed the crowded stores he saw the turkeys, the chickens, the
oysters, the apples—all of which he might have bought with the lost
bill. "What use is there to be honest?" he asked of himself. Without
knowing what he did, nor from whence came the resolution, he discovered
that he determined to steal a turkey! And he did not feel guilty; it
seemed as if he had no conscience. Something stilled that hitherto
relentless foe to vice which virtue calls conscience and his whole
being throbbed with the delights of the sin that is condemned in the
ten commandments. Stealing? "Thou shalt not steal." But he did not feel
that he was stealing, so where was the sin? Despising only the level to
which his fortunes had fallen he saw without a conscience, without a
moral fear. It all seemed so natural that he should take home a turkey,
the cranberries and all the little "goodies" that his spare table
required to make it strain with surprise on the glad day-tomorrow.
Digby forgot that he had lost the bill, forgot that Kate had treated
him so strangely, forgot that but an hour ago he had been lamenting the
wrong he was doing Joe Delapere in spending his money. Approaching a
big grocery and general provision store he calmly stepped inside,
passing along the counters with the air of a man who lived solely on
turkey and wine sauce. Scores of purchasers thronged the big
establishment and dozens of clerks were kept busy, providing for them.
As Mr. Trotter walked through the store he viewed the baskets which
stood along the counters, laden with the belongings of customers, ready
for the delivery wagons or for their owners who had left them while
they visited other stores. Nearly every basket contained a bird of some
sort—a Christmas dinner, in fact. Each had a slip of paper on which
the name of the owner was written. As he passed the second counter he
observed a well-filled basket and he stopped to examine the name. "Mrs.
John P. Matthews," was written on the slip. This was his basket,
thought he, calmly and without compunction. Then he began to price the
articles on the shelves near by. This was his style of bargaining:
"What is your cocoa worth a pound? Sure it's fresh?"
"Certainly, sir; it's Baker's best."
"Baker's? We never use it. Let me look at that chocolate. I guess I'll
take some of it"—and his hand went slowly into his pocket—"but, hold
on! We've got chocolate! Confound my forgetfulness; I'll buy out your
store directly. Do you keep mince meat?"
"Yes, sir—over at that counter. Just step over there, please. Mr.
Carew will wait on you."
Digby felt that he had established an identity at the counter on which
stood the Matthews basket, so he walked over to the other counter,
priced sweet potatoes, and was immediately directed to the provision
department in the rear. He found the potatoes too high, the apples too
sweet, the macaroni too old and the buckwheat not the brand he
used—all of which was quite true.
Ten minutes later he drifted back to the second counter, smiled
cheerfully at the clerk, picked up the basket and started for the door,
stopping beside a barrel of dried apples to run his fingers through the
contents and to nibble one of the gritty chunks. He was squeezing his
way hastily through the crowd, nearing the door, when a hand was laid
firmly on his left shoulder. Turning quickly he found himself gazing
into the face of a stranger, fairly well dressed and not overly
intelligent in appearance.
"Is that your basket, sir?" asked the stranger, calmly.
"Of course, it is," exclaimed Digby, hastily, a red flush flying to his
now guilty cheek, fading away, as the snow goes before the sun, an
instant later. Caught!
"I think this basket belongs to a lady, sir."
"My wife," interjected the culprit. "She was with me and went on to
another store. Why, what do you mean!" he suddenly demanded, realising
that it was high time to appear injured. "Do you think I'm a thief!"
"No, sir; but will you tell me your name—or your wife's name? Merely
to satisfy me, you see; I'm a watchman here."
"Matthews is my name, sir—and so's my wife's—John P. Matthews. Is
The man slowly turned over the slip in the basket and read the name.
"Are you quite sure that it is your name?" he asked, deliberately,
looking keenly at Digby.
"Certainly! Do you think I don't know my own name?" demanded Digby with
an excellent show of asperity.
"Then this is not your basket, sir, and I am sorry to say that you will
have to be detained until you can give a satisfactory explanation."
Digby's eyes fairly stuck from his head and his face was as white as
the proverbial sheet.
"Not my—not Mrs. Matthews' basket!" he stammered, clutching the slip
in his trembling fingers. His eyes grew blurred with amazement an
instant later. He passed his hand before them and when he took it away
there was a wild, half insane stare in them. He looked again at the
slip and read: "Mrs. Digby Trotter, Voxburgh building."
His nerveless arm relinquished the basket to the hand of the stranger
and his puzzled eyes sought the floor in a long stare, broken presently
by the voice in his ear:
"Come along. Step back here with me."
Digby shook the man's hand from his arm and, as he turned to follow
him, asked hoarsely:
"Where is she now?"
"My wife of course—Mrs. Trotter."
"Well, you're a bird!" exclaimed his guardian. "How about Mrs.
"Good Heavens, what have I done—I—I—look here, man. It's a mistake—"
"No, you don't—mistakes don't go. A man ought to know his own name."
Digby saw no one, heard no one but the man beside him as he stumbled
along, pleading with his eyes, his mouth, his every expression. He did
not observe the lady against whom he roughly jostled, but the lady
turned in time to hear him say in piteous accents:
"Man, for God's sake, don't be too hasty—; I—-"
"Oh, let up; we're onto you! This ain't your basket and you took it,
that's all there is about it. Come on!" gruffly jerked out the man at
"But where is Mrs. Trotter? I want to—I must see her."
"Here I am, Digby. What is the matter?" cried a well known voice in his
ear. That voice had never sounded so sweet to him, nor had its
sweetness ever sounded so much like condemnation to his wretched soul.
"Kate!" he gasped.
"What is it?" she demanded hurriedly. "What does this man want?" The
man was staring blankly at the pair, stock still with amazement.
"He says I—I have been trying to steal this basket. It's our—yours, I
mean, isn't it? Tell him so, Kate—quick!" cried the miserable man with
the plaintive coat collar turned up about his neck.
"This is our basket, sir," indignantly exclaimed Mrs. Trotter.
"I know it is yours, Mrs. Trotter; I saw you buying the stuff, but—"
"Don't haggle here any longer!" exclaimed Mr. Trotter, boldly now. "Let
go of my arm!"
"I beg your pardon, sir. If the lady says it's all right, why, it
is—but you know you said your name was—"
"You lie, sir!" said Digby, sternly. "I never said anything of the
kind. Mrs. Trotter have you paid for this stuff?"
"No—I was not through ordering, but what does all this mean, Digby?"
whispered the mystified saviour, feeling herself the shame-faced centre
of a group of wondering people.
"Never mind now," said her husband, with dignity. "And you, sir, unpack
this basket. We don't want a cent's worth of your goods."
"Oh, Digby—" began Kate.
"My dear Mr. Trotter,"—began the luckless attache, but Digby silenced
them both by suddenly grasping his wife's arm and striding toward the
door, he defiantly, conscience stricken, she bewildered beyond all hope
A moment later they were on the pavement and Digby was racking his
brain for an explanation. How was he to account to her for his
possession of that basket, even though it was hers? It did not occur to
him to wonder how she came to be the owner of the coveted basket—his
"Digby, what did that man mean?" asked Kate, finally pulling her wits
together. There was something like sternness in her voice, something
like resentment, something like tears. He tried to look into her eyes;
eyes which were upturned to his so anxiously, but he could not. There
was something creeping up in his throat that compelled him to gulp
suddenly. A rush of shamed degradation flashed over him, overwhelming
him completely, and before he could prevent it his honest, contrite
heart had spoken.
"Little girl—God forgive me—I was trying to steal that—that basket."
He felt her start and gasp and he could distinguish the horror, the
shock in her eyes, although he did not see them. Her hand relaxed its
clasp upon his arm and her trembling voice murmured:
"Oh, Digby! Oh, Digby!"
"Don't—Don't, for heaven's sake, don't, Kate! Don't blame me! I did it
for you, for the baby—I—I couldn't see you hungry on Christmas"—and
here the tears rolled down his cheeks and the words came thick and
choking. "Kate, I don't think I committed a crime—do you? Say you
don't think so, darling!"
"You were stealing," she whispered, numbly.
"For you, darling—please—please forget it—I—I—Oh, I can't say
anything more." Her clasp tightened again on his arm and he felt the
warm spirit of forgiveness, of love communicating with his own
miserable self. No word came to either as they faced the cutting wind,
bound they knew not whither, so distraught were they with the
importance of the moment.
Suddenly he stopped as if struck by a great blow. A glare came to his
eyes and his brain fairly reeled. Pushing her away at arm's length from
him he gave expression to the sudden thought which had so strangely
"Where did you get the money to buy that stuff with?" he demanded, and
there was anger, suspicion, almost terror in his voice. His ready brain
had resumed the thoughts of an hour ago. He saw but one solution and it
came rushing along with the reawakened thoughts, firing his soul with
jealousy. Joe Delapere had been providing his wife with money—he could
not be mistaken. Horrible! Horrible!
But back came her answer, equally severe, and if as from a sudden
"Where did you get it?"
"Get what? he demanded, harshly. Joe Delapere! Joe Delapere! Joe
Delapere—that lover of old filled his brain like a raging fire.
"You know what I mean, Digby Trotter—what is it that you mean? Where
did you get that ten dollars you had in your pocket today?"
"Oh, heaven!" gasped Digby, almost falling over. Then he burst into
rapturous laughter, and, right there on the sidewalk, embraced her
vigorously. Not all the riches in the world could have purchased the
one moment of relief.
"What ten?" he cried. "Was that the ten! Oh, you dear, dear little
Kate—did you do it? I thought I had lost it on the street. Oh, this is
rich!" and he laughed heartier than ever.
"Stop!" she cried, her face flaming. "Where did you get it? Why did you
tell me that you had no money? Have you been doing this all along—all
these bitter years?"
He sobered up in an instant, for he saw the situation as she had seen
"Why, Kate, I—now, listen a minute! You probably won't believe me, but
I swear to you I found that bill—"
"Found it!" she sneered. "That's very likely, isn't it?"
"I knew you'd say that—but I found it, just the same," he went on
patiently. "Joe Delapere dropped it as he was getting into a
carriage—yes, he did, now—and he drove off before I could pick it up
and return it to him. I kept the money, intending to give it back to
him. That's true, dear—so help me God. Don't you believe me?" He was
very, very much in earnest, but she was woman enough to question
"Why didn't you tell me of this before?"
"Because I—well, I didn't get that place at Balling and Feet's and I
didn't have the heart to tell you I had failed again. I kept the hill
just to deceive you. Heaven is my witness that I intended to pay it
back to Joe, but the temptation was too great—I couldn't resist. Don't
you understand now, dear? I wanted it for you and Helen; you don't know
how I prized it. It meant so much. Why, when I started down town to buy
the little dinner that I afterwards tried to steal—"
"From me," she interrupted.
"Yes, from you—I felt so happy in that I was sinning gently for you.
Then I missed the bill and—well, the other followed; you know what I
mean. You don't think I'm a real thief, do you, Kate?"
"No, no, dear; forgive me!" she cried, with true wifely penitence. "I
see it all and I love you for it, better than ever before." She
squeezed his arm tightly and squeezed her eyelids vainly. "But you must
never do it again," she cautioned, tenderly. He laughed again, that
unwilling thief and pauper.
"Oh, by the way, while I think of it, how did you happen to have that
ten?" he asked, with cruel glee.
She felt even guiltier than he and her voice was quite feeble as she
"Well, you remember when I was mending your trousers," she began. He
gave her arm a tremendous pressure and interrupted:
"But the hole wasn't in the pocket, dear, was it?"
"Oh, you'll forgive me, won't you truly, Digby?" she almost wailed.
"But you were stealing!" he said, solemnly, recalling her condemnatory
"Don't say it that way, Digby," she protested, so faintly that his
heart smote him and he changed the subject with almost ridiculous haste.
"Hadn't we better go to another grocery and buy our Christmas dinner,"
"No, indeed!" she exclaimed. "With what could we buy it!"
"With my—your ten, I mean."
"Digby Trotter, we may carry on our nefarious robberies as individuals,
but I don't intend to form a partnership in the business. I don't
approve of doing it collectively."
"But what will we do with the money? Burn it?"
"I thought you wanted to give it back to its owner."
"But he won't miss it—not just yet, anyhow," he expostulated.
"Neither shall you; you are never to see it again," she said, firmly,
clasping the little purse defiantly.
"Well, I guess you're right. We'll do without our turkey dinner. It's
pretty rough, though, when we are nearer being millionaires than we
have been in months," he said, regretfully.
"I couldn't eat a mouthful of turkey bought with Joe Delapere's money,"
she said, and he felt his heart throb joyfully for some strange cause.
Homeward they wended their disconsolate way, her arm through his,
clinging fondly to him, he proud of the honour she was bestowing upon
him—poor, poor lovers! In spite of all, he felt better for that which
had happened. He had begun what might have been a career of crime.
Circumstance and her sweet influence had averted that career. She, too,
had learned a lesson, deeper in its meaning than any logic could have
been; she had distrusted him. Honour, love and duty bound them together
again. They were going home to dine on dried beef, water and perhaps
bread—Christmas day, too.
Firmly they turned their wistful eyes from the shop windows; they had
nothing in common with them, save desire.
At last they came to the dingy entrance which led to the long halls and
multigenerous stairways of their abiding place. Without a word they
began to climb the steps, tired and with returning discouragement. They
were thinking of the baby. Tears came to the father's eyes, but he
turned his face away and attempted to whistle. She pressed his arm
again in silence, but for the same reason she looked toward the wall.
At the first landing he paused and drew her to his breast. As their
lips met in one brave, compassionate kiss a sob fled from the heart of
Drawing nearer the top floor they heard strange sounds coming from
their own room. A gruff, hoarse voice was prominent and they stopped to
look into each other's eyes with hopeless alarm.
"It's the landlord," whispered Digby. "I might have known it would all
come at once!"
"What shall we do?" asked Kate, with feminine dismay.
"Do? What do we usually do? Nothing! I don't know how I'm going to put
him off again—we're over three weeks behind with the rent. Oh, Kate!"
he almost sobbed.
"Well, dear!" She was trembling. So was he.
"What if he orders us to leave the place?" She could not reply and they
stood silent, looking toward the door that they feared to enter.
"Where is the baby?" he finally asked.
"I left her with the woman across the hall."
"But I hear her voice in our room. What is she doing in there with that
infernal old brute?" Digby's alert ear had caught the sound of the
child's prattle, mingling with the discordant growls of the man.
"Oh, Digby, I'm so frightened! What can they be doing in there?"
"Don't be afraid. I'll chuck him out of there on his head if he has
been tormenting that child with his compliments—and it would be just
like the old scoundrel, too." He took several steps forward.
"Do be careful!" murmured his wife, following faithfully. Digby threw
open the door defiantly and stood glaring into the little room.
A big, portly man was seated near the stove, little Helen on his knee.
As the door opened he raised his chop-whiskered face and then, placing
the child on the floor, drew himself erect and came hastily toward the
pair in the doorway, exclaiming:
"My boy! At last I have got you! God knows I've searched the town over
and over for you—and I find you in a hole like this! Come to my
arms—oh, demme! demme! demme!"