The teller returned the papers to their case, and consulted a stout, short-visaged man, whose lips and brows drew themselves together in an effort of recollection.
The two men stood near enough to hear Nancy’s voice. She pressed her weather-beaten face close to the gilded bars.
“I am Mrs. Watson. I came down to see you about it; my husband’s been poorly and couldn’t come. We’d like to get a little more time; we’ve had bad luck with the barley so far, but we think we can make it another season.”
The men gave her a bland, impersonal attention.
“Yes?” inquired the teller, with tentative sympathy, running his pencil through his upright hair, and tapping his forefinger with it nervously. “I believe that’s one of Bartlett’s personal matters,” he said in an undertone.
The older man nodded, slowly at first, and then with increasing affirmation.
“You’re right,” he said, untying the knot in his face, and turning away.
The teller came back to his place.
“Mr. Bartlett, the cashier, has charge of that matter, Mrs. Watson. He has not been down for two or three days: one of his children is very sick. I’ll make a note of it, however, and draw his attention to it when he comes in.” He wrote a few lines hurriedly on a bit of paper, and impaled it on an already overcrowded spindle.
“Can you tell me where he lives?” asked Nancy.
The young man hesitated.
“I don’t believe I would go to the house; they say it’s something contagious”–
“I’m not afraid,” interrupted Nancy grimly.
The teller wrote an address, and slipped it toward her with a nimble motion, keeping his hand outstretched for the next comer, and smiling at him over Nancy’s dusty shoulder.
The woman turned away, suddenly aware that she had been blocking the wheels of commerce, and made her way through the knot of men that had gathered behind her. Outside she could feel the sea in the air, and at the end of the street she caught a glimpse of a level blue plain with no purple mountains on its horizon.
Someway, the mortgage had grown smaller; no one seemed to care about it but herself. She had felt vaguely that they would be expecting her and have themselves steeled against her request. On the way from the station she had thought that people were looking at her curiously as the woman from “up toward Pinacate” who was about to lose her home on a mortgage. She had even felt that some of them knew of the little wire-fenced grave on the edge of the barley-field.
She showed the card to a boy at the corner, who pointed out the street and told her to watch for the number over the door.
“It isn’t very far; ’bout four blocks up on the right-hand side. Yuh kin take the street car fer a nickel, er yuh kin walk fi’ cents cheaper,” he volunteered, whereupon an older boy kicked him affectionately, and advised him in a nauseated tone to “come off.”
Nancy walked along the smooth cement pavement, looking anxiously at the houses behind their sentinel palms. The vagaries of Western architecture conveyed no impression but that of splendor to her uncritical eye. The house whose number corresponded to the one on her card was less pretentious than some of the others, but the difference was lost upon her in the general sense of grandeur.
She went up the steps and rang the bell, with the same stifling clutch on her throat that she had felt in the bank. There was a little pause, and then the door opened, and Nancy saw a fragile, girl-like woman with a tear-stained face standing before her.
“Does Mr. Bartlett live here?” faltered the visitor, her chin trembling.
The young creature leaned forward like a flower wilting on its stem, and buried her face on Nancy’s dusty shoulder.
“Oh, I’m so glad to see you,” she sobbed; “I thought no one ever would
come. I didn’t know before that people were so afraid of scarlet fever. They have taken my baby away for fear he would take it. Do you know anything about it? Please come right in where she is, and tell me what you think.”