There was poor old Mrs. Bradley, who must shortly leave the home in which she had lived nearly all her life, because she could no longer afford to pay the rent. There had been an attempt to raise enough money by subscription to give the old lady her home for another year, but this had not been very successful. Mrs. Cliff could easily have supplied the deficit, and it would have given her real pleasure to do so,—for she had almost an affection for the old lady,—but when she asked to be allowed to subscribe, she did not dare to give more than one dollar, which was the largest sum upon the list, and even then Betty had said that, under the circumstances, she could not have been expected to give anything.
When she went out into the little barn at the rear of the house, and saw the empty cow-stable, how she longed for fresh cream, and butter of her own making! And when she gazed upon her little phaeton, which she had not sold because no one wanted it, and reflected that her good, brown horse could doubtless be bought back for a moderate sum, she almost wished that she had come home as poor as people thought she ought to be.
Now and then she ordered something done or spent some money in a way that excited the astonishment of Willy Croup—the sharper-witted Betty had gone home, for, of course, Mrs. Cliff could not be expected to be able to afford her company now. But in attempting to account for these inconsiderable extravagances, Mrs. Cliff was often obliged to content herself with admitting that while she had been abroad she might have acquired some of those habits of prodigality peculiar to our Western country. This might be a sufficient excuse for the new bottom step to the side door, but how could she account for the pair of soft, warm Californian blankets which were at the bottom of the trunk, and which she had not yet taken out even to air?
Matters had gone on in this way for nearly a month,—every day Mrs. Cliff had thought of some new expenditure which she could well afford, and every night she wished that she dared to put her money in the town bank and so be relieved from the necessity of thinking so much about door-locks and window-fastenings,—when there came a letter from Edna, informing her of the captain’s safe arrival in Acapulco with the cargo of guano and gold, and inclosing a draft which first made Mrs. Cliff turn pale, and then compelled her to sit down on the floor and cry. The letter related in brief the captain’s adventures, and stated his intention of returning for the gold.
“To think of it!” softly sobbed Mrs. Cliff, after she had carefully closed her bedroom door. “With this and what I am to get, I believe I could buy the bank, and yet I can only sit here and try to think of some place to hide this dangerous piece of paper.”
The draft was drawn by a San Francisco house upon a Boston bank, and Edna had suggested that it might be well for Mrs. Cliff to open an account in the latter city. But the poor lady knew that would never do. A bank-account in Boston would soon become known to the people of Plainton, and what was the use of having an account anywhere if she could not draw from it? Edna had not failed to reiterate the necessity of keeping the gold discovery an absolute secret, and every word she said upon this point increased Mrs. Cliff’s depression.