from Century Magazine
Long Sam "Takes Out"
by Ellis Parker Butler
Long Sam Underbury opened the screen door of the Farmers & Citizens' Savings Bank of Riverbank, Capital $100,000, Surplus $18,000, Deposits $542,768, and slouched up to the cashier's window, inside of which Farragut C. Pierce was counting out a great pile of twenty-dollar bills and pinning them in neat bundles. Long Sam had put seven dollars in the bank once, and for four years he had been trying to get them out again. He was so tall he had to bend down to bring his head to the level of the cashier's window, and he smiled sheepishly as he said, "Good mornin', Mister Pierce."
"Good morning, Sam," said Mr. Pierce, cheerfully. "Just a minute!" and he went on with his counting and bundling. Long Sam leaned one elbow on the sill of the window, so as to bring his huge right hand before the cashier's eyes. The hand was carefully wrapped in a soiled bandana handkerchief and tied with string.
Long Sam was seven feet tall, loose-jointed, mild-eyed, and bearded, and he had a soft, ingratiating voice when asking favors. He had drifted down the Mississippi in a shanty-boat many years earlier, and had spent his first thirty days in Riverbank in jail, misfortune having overtaken him while he was gathering in a few chickens to which he had no legal title. When the jail turned him out, his shanty-boat was gone, -- stolen by some more fortunate thief, -- and Long Sam attached himself to Riverbank and became a citizen. It was not a matter on which to congratulate Riverbank.
For Long Sam remained a thief. He was, indeed, the town thief, and was tolerated as something like an institution, on the general supposition that he was a man-of-all-work and not much of a thief. As a thief he could be classed only as a sneak thief, and he was the poorest sneak thief that ever stole a spoon. He could not sneak, although he tried hard enough. His feet were wonderful in size. He wore number thirteen boots, wide in proportion, the leather distended into huge knobs and lumps. He was the most awkward man in Iowa. When he slouched gigantically along the street, one immense foot would often get caught behind the other and trip him up. Then he swore angrily. He had a mysterious habit of getting his feet tangled in chicken coops and arousing every barking dog within a mile. Probably in all his long career as a thief, he never managed to retain any article of the slightest value, and he was always at it. If, when putting up a stove-pipe, one of his big hands slid over a silver teaspoon, and he dropped the spoon into his pocket, the spoon would drop clatteringly to the floor through a hole in the pocket, or he would drop the spoon on top of his bandana handkerchief, only to pull out the handkerchief and send the spoon flying across the kitchen to the feet of the lady of the house. If, by any chance, he reached his shack with the spoon, it would be lying in plain sight when the loser came to ask about it.
Occasionally, in his early career in Riverbank, he was sent to jail; but this was so evidently a waste of prison food that it was discontinued, and the police adopted the simpler plan of asking Long Sam if he had "seen" any article that happened to be missing after he had done a "job of work" at a house. If Long Sam had "seen" the article, he admitted frankly that he had "seen" it, and promptly returned it.
"Now, say, was that hisn?" he would say self-reproachfully. "I wouldn't have took it if I had knowed it was hisn. I seen it layin' round somewheres, and I just picked it up so's it wouldn't get lost. I wouldn't have touched it if I'd knowed it was hisn or anybody's."
He took more trouble in explaining why he had not begun or finished a job of work he had promised to do. He was lazy in every bone of his long, lank frame, from which the clothing hung limply. He accepted "jobs of work" with profuse gratitude and eager alacrity, explaining profusely just how soon he would begin sawing the wood or whitewashing the fence, and ending by asking for a quarter to have his saw "set" or to buy a whitewash-brush. If he secured the quarter, he was never seen on that job. If his temporary employer was wise and refused the advance, Long Sam would work for half an hour, and then try to collect a quarter or a dime or even a nickel on account. If he got it, he deserted the job; if he did not get it, he deserted the job, anyway. In departing he would pick up a spoon or a clothespin, or even a brick from the edge of the garden walk. He would steal anything of value, or of no value, except "railroad iron." The vengeance on those stealing "railroad iron" was supposed to be dire. It was rumored there was a "law" against it. Even the smallest boy in Riverbank, the week before circus day, seeing a broken coupling-pin three miles from the railway would walk around it.
Long Sam was suave and gracious to every one in Riverbank except "Niggers." Whenever he saw a "Nigger" he swore at him. There were twenty or thirty colored men in Riverbank, and at least half of them could be depended upon to do a "job of work" when they promised, and when a citizen with wood to saw went to the bank corner -- that being the unattached labor market -- and couldn't find John Gutman, whose one sound sense was industry, he chose by preference one of the dependable Negroes. From this Long Sam drew a hatred of the Negroes on the ground that they were "always doin' a white man outen a job of work."
To many it was a mystery how Long Sam managed to live; but those who knew noticed that about noon every day he deserted the bank corner and slouched up the street to Jacob Schultz & Brothers' grocery store. Here every noon Jake Schultz and his brothers ate a hasty lunch of crackers from the box back of the counter, cheese from under the wire fly-screen, and perhaps a couple of cans of five-cent-packed-in-Maine-and-preserved-in-cotton-seed-oil sardines. At this luncheon Long Sam was always welcome. His shack was in the creek bottom, down a long flight of rickety wooden steps behind the grocery, and to this shack, after he had eaten his crackers and cheese, Long Sam carried the Schultz Brothers' morning sales of live chickens, chopped off their heads, and picked and dressed them. For this work he received ten cents a chicken, and he stuck to it as he stuck to no other job. Perhaps chickens had a peculiar fascination for him.
It was when Jacob Schultz & Brothers moved across the street to their new building that Long Sam earned the seven dollars he had put in the Farmers & Citizens' Savings-Bank. For a week he pushed loaded handcarts across the street to the new store, wiped and shelved cans of corn and tomatoes, and made himself generally useful, and earned seven dollars. It was the week of the opening of the Farmers & Citizens' Savings Bank, with Farragut C. Pierce, late of the Riverbank Savings Bank, as cashier, and in a moment of weakness Long Sam heeded Jake Schultz's advice, and put the money in the new bank. It was one of the great moments of his life when he pushed the money across the glass shelf and received from Farragut C. Pierce the crisp, new passbook in its clean envelope. The next week he went into the bank to take it out again. He did not get it.
Only those who live in a small town know the close, fatherly relationship of a savings bank cashier to his depositors, and Farragut C. Pierce was even more interested in his depositors than is usual. He felt himself the financial shepherd of his flock, a sort of monetary pastor, bound to encourage converts and to steady the back-sliders. He was genial, firm, encouraging, and friendly. He had left a prosperous bank to take charge of a new one, and it was his pride to see the deposits grow; but even more deeply did he believe that in encouraging depositors to maintain and increase their accounts he was doing a great work of good. It was one of his proverbs that the beginning of a bank account is the beginning of prosperity. As he looked over his ledgers he could say,
"That young man is doing well because I urged him to leave his money in," and "This young fellow is a changed man since I made him start an account with us."
Mr. Pierce was a handsome man, his temples just touched with gray, and he had no "take out" expression of countenance; he seemed able to look at visitors to the bank with a confident "You are going to put in" expression only. It was intended to strengthen the weak-kneed, and it did. Those who came to "take out" explained the dire necessity of so doing, as though Farry Pierce was a father confessor and had a right to know all.
"I've just got to have a new suit of clothes; the seat of my pants is out," the grocer's clerk would say. "You'll have to let me have ten dollars, Mr. Pierce."
"Can't wait until payday?" the cashier would ask. "It's a bad habit to begin drawing out."
"Got to pay my month's board next payday, Mr. Pierce," the young fellow would plead, and then add: "Well, give me five dollars, anyway. Mebby I can get along with a new pair of pants."
The five dollars that remained untouched were a triumph for Farry Pierce and thrift in general.
With such a man to face when he wished to "take out," Long Sam Underbury would almost sooner have abandoned the seven dollars altogether than to ask for it; but seven dollars is a lot of money. After the first two or three unavailing attempts away back in 1904, Long Sam had given it up. That he had seven dollars he could spend "all in a lump" rankled in his mind; but every time he slouched up to the window Farry Pierce had given him such a strong talk on the beauty of saving that, instead of taking out, only the deepest-seated aversion to real work prevented Long Sam from going out and earning another whole dollar to put in. By the winter of 1904, Long Sam had decided pretty definitely that those seven dollars were as good as gone as far as he was concerned, and that they must continue to lie idle and draw interest for the benefit of Long Sam's heirs after he was dead. The worst of this was that he had no heirs, and it was the contemplation of this fact that gradually convinced Long Sam that he ought to have a wife, if only to draw those seven dollars and interest after he was dead.
Only the god of love knows why Long Sam ever settled on the Widow Wirtz as his wife-to-be. She had six young children, drank more beer than was good for her or them, lived in a rickety shack on which she paid rent with difficulty, and was at least twenty years older than Long Sam; but when Long Sam had once shuffled up to her and suggested the union, it was virtually settled. All settled, that is, but the finances.
"If you want to marry me," said the widow, frankly, "you got to buy some things for the shanty. I ain't goin' to marry no man that can't."
"Well, of course I'd aim to do that," Sam told her in that mollifying voice of his. "You see, I've got some money in the bank. Jus' as soon as I can I'm goin' to take that out, an' then we'll get married."
"What's stoppin' you from takin' it out now?" asked the widow.
"I'd take it out in a minute," Long Sam said, "only it wouldn't be business. It ain't business t' take money outen a savings bank till the first of the year. I guess I know that. First of January an' first of July is the time to take out. If you take out any other time you lose your interest. And Farry Pierce --"
He was going to say, "And Farry Pierce won't let you," but he didn't.
"And Farry Pierce what?" asked the widow.
"And Farry fierce would be only too glad to have you lose your interest," said Long Sam. "But I'm too slick for that."
"Well, I ain't in no hurry," said the widow. "I'll be wuss off when I'm married than when I ain't, anyway."
Promptly on the second of January, the first being a holiday. Long Sam entered the bank as Mr. Pierce unlocked the door. He leaned against the sill of the cashier's window until Farry Pierce opened it, and then pushed his passbook under the grill,
"Happy New Year, Sam," said Mr. Pierce, taking the book. "First depositor to have interest written in his book this year, Sam. We expect to see this account grow this year. It did not grow much last year, but this year we expect better things of you."
"I guess an onmarried man don't save much, Mr. Pierce," said Long Sam. "Bachelors sort of spend all they earn, so I sort of thought -- I mean I guess mebby -- well, I guess I'd ought to get married."
"Wouldn't hurt you a bit." said Mr. Pierce, promptly. "It might be the best thing in the world for you. Pick out some clean, strong girl, Sam, and then when you have a couple of hundred dollars in the bank -- Oh, Happy New Year, Mrs. Murphy!"
Long Sam stood for a minute with his passbook in his hand, grinning his ingratiating grin, and then he shuffled out of the bank. He simply could not tell Farry Pierce he was going to marry the Widow Wirtz and six children and that he had only seven dollars and interest to marry on. He knew what Farry Pierce would say.
From time to time during 1905, Long Sam slouched into the bank, having boosted his courage; but he never took out the money. Face to face with Farry Pierce, his courage oozed. To take out seven dollars all in a lump meant that he would have to explain the reason to Farry Pierce, and he simply did not dare; but in June 1905, he had a happy thought. He would take out the money bit by bit. He waited until the bank was empty of customers, and approached the window with a long face.
"Mr. Pierce," he said, "I guess I got to take out a dollar. I ain't had a job of work for over a week, and I don't know where I can borrow a cent. Every time a job of work comes along them Niggers just grab it. I ain't ate for two days, I got to have money."
"Well, Sam," said Mr. Pierce, cheerfully, "we won't have to touch your account. Hughson left a cord of kitchen wood at my house this morning, and you can go right up and saw and pile it for me. And we'll see, when you finish the job, if you can't add a dollar to your account. That's better than lessening it, isn't it?"
"Why. I'm ever so much obliged to you, Mr. Pierce," Long Sam was forced to say, and he had to saw that cord of wood; but for weeks he did not dare enter the bank lest Mr. Pierce inquire why he had not put a dollar of his pay in the bank as had been suggested.
As the days grew warm that year, Farry Pierce, in the lulls of business, began stepping out of the bank in his shirtsleeves to have a few minutes of conversation with the half-dozen men-of-all-work and general loafers that always clustered at the bank corner. Of these only Long Sam and John Gutman had bank accounts, and Farry Pierce used them as examples for the others to follow. He talked thrift so well that one by one the Negroes and poor whites opened small accounts; but being held up as a proud example made it still harder for Long Sam to take out his money. He had forty wiles for coaxing a quarter out of the unwary citizen on the promise of doing a job of work, but not one of the many wiles he tried on Farry Pierce availed, and Mr. Pierce, when 1905 made way for 1906, began to recognize that it was a sort of battle between himself, as representing thrift, and Long Sam, as standing for indigence. When Long Sam entered the bank, Mr. Pierce did not wait to be attacked with a "take out" plea; he attacked Long Sam with a demand for more deposits. Long Sam became the archetype of withdrawing depositor in Mr. Pierce's mind, and every time he sent him away with the account unscathed he felt a glow of triumph. By 1908, Long Sam, while not exactly discouraged, began to be rather hopeless. He began to doubt that he would ever he able to "take out" unless Farry Pierce died; but fate, in the form of Mrs. Rosalie Hiffen, aided him.
Long Sam held his bandaged hand before the window so that Farry Pierce could see it, and when the cashier had bundled all the twenty-dollar bills and had stacked the bundles, he gave his attention to Sam.
"I guess I'll have to take out my money, Mr. Pierce," said Sam. "I cut my hand so bad I can't tackle a job of work, and I've got to have a doctor for it; and I've got to live. So I guess --"
"Just a minute, Sam," said Farry Pierce. "What is it, Madam?"
Long Sam stepped aside to make room for the daintiest little woman Riverbank had ever seen. She had sparkling brown eyes, and her cheeks dimpled when she smiled, and when she laughed or was much interested in a merry conversation she had a charming way of tossing her head.
"Is this Mr. Pierce, the cashier of the bank?" she asked. "I thought you were. I want to open an account with you, Mr. Pierce."
Farry Pierce took the check she pushed under the wicket and examined it, turning it over, as a cashier does, and noting that it was properly indorsed.
"You are Mrs. Rosalie Hiffen?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, indeed," said Mrs. Hiffen, smiling.
"We shall be very glad to open an account with you, Mrs. Hiffen," said Farry in the kindly explanatory manner of cashiers when speaking to pretty women and sometimes to other women, "but you will have to be identified first. It is a rule of the bank, merely a matter of form. You know some one in Riverbank?"
"Oh, dear!" pouted Mrs. Hiffen. "And I did so want to buy some things this morning!"
"I'm very sorry," said Mr. Pierce, and there was no doubt of that.
It seemed that Mrs. Hiffen did not know many people in Riverbank, for she knew only one, and that one was Mrs. Wilcox, on Ash Street, with whom she had just taken a room. Mr. Pierce did not know Mrs. Wilcox, but he had no doubt that Mrs. Wilcox knew some one who knew Mr. Pierce, and it could be arranged. But Ash Street was far from Main Street, and Mrs. Hiffen almost coaxed. She had come from Derlingport, she said, because she was sure she could live less expensively in Riverbank. Mr. Hiffen was dead. She actually must make some purchases that morning.
Mr. Pierce shook his head sadly. The very fact that she did nor mention, as most of his patrons did, what the important purchases were to be gave a suggestion that they were things intimate, such as a lady coming from Derlingport might require to replenish a wardrobe. A flood of pink that suffused her face as Mr. Pierce's eyes met her eyes seemed to substantiate this, and Mr. Pierce was distressed that he could not take her check and hand her the money she needed. She had half turned from the window when Long Sam Underbury, who had been folded down in a gangling manner over the customer's desk by the street window, shuffled to the cashier's window and bent down until his face was on a level with it.
"I know this here lady, Mr. Pierce," he said. "I can introduce her, if that's all you want."
Mrs. Hiffen turned and looked at the long, lank creature in surprise; then she smiled.
"Of course!" she said. "You are the man who carried up my trunks, aren't you?"
"You see," said Long Sam, volubly, "I was up there to Mrs. Wilcox's whitewashin' the woodshed --"
"If you know Mrs. Hiffen, that is all that is necessary," said Mr. Pierce.
"Well, I certainly do know her," said Long Sam. "I was whitewashin' the shed, an' Mrs. Wilcox come out and asked me if I could carry up a couple of trunks. And I says I could if they wasn't too heavy; so I went round front --"
"Mr. Underbury is one of our depositors," said Mr. Pierce. "Since he knows you are Mrs. Hiffen, it will he all right."
"I guess it ought to be all right," said Long Sam. "I got so tired carryin' them trunks up I couldn't finish that whitewashin' job, and then I went and cut my hand; but I'm always glad to do a favor for a lady. You know that, Mr. Pierce."
"That's all right, Sam," said Mr. Pierce. "Thank you."
"Yes, indeed, I do thank you," smiled Mrs. Hiffen.
"Oh, that's all right," said Sam; "I was in here, anyway. I come in to take out some money."
It seemed to take Farry Pierce an unusually long time to make out the widow's passbook, and several other customers were waiting when he handed it to her with two crisp bills between its pages. She rewarded him with one of her smiles and tripped away, and Mr. Pierce called Sam.
"Now, Sam," he said. "What about this hand?"
"Cut it," said Sam, "an' I got to have it doctored, and that takes money, Mr. Pierce."
"Not always. We are always glad to help our depositors keep their accounts intact when we can. Wait just a minute. Dr. McGlimp is in the trustees' room, and I'll have him look at the hand. He's proud of your account, Sam."
But when Dr. McGlimp, white-haired and spectacled, came from the trustees' room Sam was gone, and Farry smiled. He had guessed there was nothing the matter with the hand.
"I was afraid he might want to cut it off. Fust thine old McGlimp thinks of is 'operate,'" Sam said in explaining his flight the next time he saw Farry Pierce.
Mrs. Hiffen transacted considerable business at the bank in the next few months, depositing the interest on some small securities she held and withdrawing small sums as she needed them, and she sometimes lingered to chat with Farry Pierce through the wicket of the cashier's window. Now and then Farry would come from behind the inclosure in his shirt-sleeves and introduce Mrs. Hiffen to some one of the younger set of Riverbank doing business at his bank, and almost before she was aware of it Mrs. Hiffen was counted as one of the set; and when she was asked to join the Riverbank Cavalcade her social position was secure. Whenever she passed Long Sam loafing against the wall of the bank she nodded her head and smiled, and Long Sam pulled off his black felt hat and made a ceremonious bow,
"Seem' lak yo' know the widow right well, Sam," one of the Negroes said.
"Well, I guess so," he bragged. "I introduced her to that bank when she didn't know a body in town. I'd a took my money out long ago if 't wasn't for that. Seem' sort of mean to go back on the bank after I got her into it."
"The' ain' nothin' wrong wif de bank?" asked Silas, anxiously, for he had twenty-two dollars on deposit there himself.
"You don't need be afraid of that bank as long as I got my money in it," Long Sam bragged. "I don't put money where it ain't safe. When I take out will be plenty of time to get scared. An' I ain't no notion of takin' out. Not now."
He had shuffled in not half an hour earlier in another ineffectual attempt to take out, but Silas did not know that. The general opinion of the loafers in the bank corner sun was that Long Sam and Farry Pierce were confidentially close to each other. Long Sam certainly told Farry Pierce when any of the loafers had a spare dollar. Indeed, Long Sam used every excuse for entering the bank, hoping his courage would be strong enough sometime to insist on having his money. It never was. He began to believe he would have to get along without marrying Widow Wirtz.
But a day came when Mrs. Hiffen took her money out of the bank. By the time snow fell and the cavalcades ceased their gay weekly tour of the streets, Mrs. Hiffen began to be invited to the dances of the younger set, and this threw her constantly in company with Farry Pierce, who was a leader of the dancing contingent. Merry, happy, and knowing everything that was newest in dancing circles, Mrs. Hiffen brought a fresh Derlingport influence into the Riverbank dancing circle. With Farry Pierce she planned the dances, and then she danced with him, and walked on the cool verandas, hanging on his arm. Unsuspectingly they were falling in love.
The set noticed it before Farry Pierce and the widow were quite aware of their own feelings. Flirting was common enough in the dancing set. Some one was always making harmless eyes at another, and at times the flirtations became extremely violent on the surface; but nothing serious had ever happened. The set, however, began to talk about Farry Pierce and Mrs. Hiffen, and of how much money he was spending. They thought he was going it pretty strong; and he was. He bought a riding horse, and kept it at Rapp's livery; but Mrs. Hiffen rode the horse. It was rumored that Farry had given the horse to Mrs. Hiffen. It was known that Farry Pierce paid the telephone company's bill for the telephone put into Mrs. Wilcox's house, where the widow roomed and boarded, and customers of the bank often interrupted telephone conversations between Farry and the widow. But no one ever knew that Farry Pierce had dipped, however slightly, into the bank's funds to supply the widow's caprices.
Attachments of the sort are insidious in their growth, and before the winter was over Farry knew he had gone too far, and began to wonder how it would end. Mrs. Hiffen, too, wondered how it would end. She suspected that Farry was spending more than he should, but when it came to ending the flirtation she could not do it. The culmination arrived when Farry Pierce paid a withdrawing depositor one hundred dollars instead of ten. To the banker such an error was equivalent to the end of the world.
"I can't stand it, Rosalie," he said. "I'm no good any more. I might as well not go to the bank at all. I don't think dollars; I think Rosalie. I've got to end it somehow."
"Well?" said Mrs. Hiffen, softly. She was sitting close beside him on the steps of Mrs. Wilcox's veranda.
Fairy Pierce was silent for a full minute -- a minute in which his mind hurried through all the possible alternatives, and rejected them for the hundredth time.
"The only way out that I can see," he said, with a little laugh, "is for us to break. I must give you up. It has all been very pleasant -- innocent and pleasant, but --"
"Of course," said Rosalie, softly, "you might -- marry me."
Farry looked away and frowned. It was just this that he could not afford, to meet the whims of a socially ambitious, extravagant wife such as she would be. "That can't be," he said, and Rosalie sighed.
"But can't we go on as we are?" she begged. "Can't we just stay here and -- and see each other?"
"Oh, no, no," said Farry. "You don't know. I'd better be dead than try to keep on like this."
Rosalie arose, very white, and stood a moment looking down at him.
"I see," she said. "I have become an annoyance to the cashier of the bank. We must not let anything annoy the cashier, must we?"
Farry heard her close the street door, and then he arose wearily and went away.
The next morning Farry Pierce left his home as usual; but as soon as he reached the bank he sent a note to his housekeeper, saying he would be unable to get home for dinner at noon, that he was going to have a busy day. He was torn by a conflict of desire and duty. He did not know how the day would end for him. He wrote the note on the back of a deposit slip, put it in an envelope, and stepped to the door of the bank. Long Sam Underbury was already leaning against the sunny side of the bank building. He took the note from Farry's hand, which trembled a little, and shambled away.
When Sam returned to the bank corner he hesitated. Half a dozen or more of his fellow-loafers in the sun were on the sidewalk at the side of the bank; but Long Sam, after swaying on his big feet, entered the bank. He might as well try to get his money out.
Mrs. Hiffen was at the window when Long Sam entered. A suitcase stood on the floor at her side, and as Long Sam shuffled up to the window Farry Pierce handed her a bundle of bills, the balance of her account. She tucked it into her handbag and snapped it shut angrily.
"Mr. Pierce," said Long Sam, bending down to the window, "I guess I got to have some money. I got a chance to buy a --"
" How much do you want?" asked Farry Pierce.
"I guess I'll take it all," said Long Sam.
"Give me your book," said Farry Pierce, shortly, and Long Sam pushed the soiled, dog-eared book under the wicket. Mr. Pierce did not even suggest thrift. He slapped over the pages of his ledger, wrote the amount on a check, and slid it to Long Sam to sign. He had no time to waste with Long Sam, for he had the whole of his future to decide before he left the bank that evening. He pushed eight dollars and nineteen cents under the wicket, and turned away.
Long Sam counted the money and pushed it deep into his pocket. He grinned triumphantly. He had "taken out," and it had required only four years of unremitting effort! When he turned from the window he saw John Gutman's thick nose flattened against the street window.
"You took out?" asked John when Long Sam stepped outside.
"You bet I took out," said Long Sam, vaingloriously. "You don't think I'd leave money in a bank when I want to take out, do you? When I want my money out, I get it out."
John Gutman, half-witted as he was, turned and hurried away. He remembered mistily that Long Sam had said he would not "take out" while the bank was deserving of confidence, and Long Sam knew Farry Pierce intimately.
A couple of Negroes tried to stop him as he went by.
"Where yo' goin'?" they asked. "Git a job o' work, John?"
"Goin' take my money outen the bank. Long Sam he took out," said John, and hurried away to get his bankbook. The Negroes looked at each other, and then turned to Long Sam.
"Yo' took out?"
"You're right I did," bragged Long Sam. "I don't want no more money in that bank. Been tryin' to get it out for four years. Farry Pierce hung on to it, and hung on to it, until I says: 'Look here, Mr. Pierce, you make me believe there ain't no money in this bank. I want my money now, right now.' So he --"
But his audience of frightened Negroes was gone. They had gone to get their passbooks from underneath mattresses and from behind wainscots. As they went they spread the news -- the Farmers & Citizens' was refusing to pay depositors. Such news spreads in a small town like a prairie fire, and before they returned there was a line of depositors at the window, and Farry Pierce, his brow creased, was explaining, exhorting, and paying out the money demanded. Each depositor, as he went from the bank, told how Farry Pierce had tried to prevent the withdrawal of money, and how he had been forced to pay. At eleven o'clock there was a crowd before the bank, and Farry had sent for the trustees. No savings bank in Riverbank had ever enforced the rule that depositors must give sixty-days' notice. To do so now would be to confess weakness; but the store of ready cash was fast disappearing.
Long Sam, a proud grin on his face, pushed among the crowd, bragging that he had had an idea of this all the time, and that he had got his money out, you bet. At two o'clock, or a few minutes after, it became evident that the sixty-day rule would have to be enforced, and a notice was posted in the lobby. From that time the depositors, instead of receiving their money, gave the proper notice of demand, and the trustees decided to keep the bank open until six o'clock, to give every one a chance. Nearly every one took it. At midnight Farry Pierce was still laboring over his books, oblivious of all else, when the telephone bell rang.
"Answer that confounded telephone," said Farry Pierce, angrily.
The clerk raised his head from the instrument.
"It's Mrs. Hiffen, on the long-distance wire," said the clerk. "She wants to speak to you personally, Mr. Pierce."
"Mrs. Hiffen?" said Farry Pierce, blankly. For a moment the name meant nothing to him, so deep was he in the intricacies of his banking details; and when he remembered, the affair of Rosalie seemed a thousand miles and a thousand years away, and like the pitiable silliness of another man. He was angry. "My heavens!" he cried, "does that woman think I have time for nonsense when there is a run on my bank? Tell her to ring off!"
With the click of the receiver on its holder Mrs. Rosalie Hiffen clicked out of the life of Farry Pierce, cashier. Long Sam had "taken out" in the nick of time.
At three o'clock in the morning the trustees, worn out, went home, and Farry let his clerks go, too, but himself lingered on. At four, exhausted, he fell asleep with his head on an open ledger. He was awakened by the rattling of the knob of the door, and looked up to see the light of early dawn dimming the artificial light of the banking office. He slid off his stool stiffly and unlocked the door. A woman with a gray shawl covering her head and encircling her sharp face stood there, and Long Sam stood sheepishly behind her.
"Is this bank open so I kin put in?" she asked crossly. "If 't is, I want to put in. I'm Mrs. Samuel Underbury, and have been since last night, and I know better than to trust money round a house where Long Sam is."
"Come inside," said Farry Pierce. "How much do you wish to deposit?"
"Eight dollars an' nineteen cents," said Mrs. Long Sam Underbury, triumphantly.