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Sapphira
by [?]

Mr. Hemingway had transacted a great deal of business with Miss Tennant’s father; otherwise he must have shunned the proposition upon which she came to him. Indeed, wrinkling his bushy brows, he as much as told her that he was a banker and not a pawnbroker.

Outside, the main street of Aiken, broad enough to have made five New England streets, lay red and glaring in the sun. The least restless shifting of feet by horses and mules tied to hitching-posts raised clouds of dust, immense reddish ghosts that could not be laid. In the bank itself, ordinarily a cool retreat, smelling faintly of tobacco juice deposited by some of its clients, the mercury was swelling toward ninety. It was April Fools’ day, and unless Miss Tennant was cool, nobody was. She looked cool. If the temperature had been 40 deg. below zero she would have looked warm; but she would have been dressed differently.

It was her great gift always to look the weather and the occasion; no matter how or what she really felt. On the present occasion she wore a very simple, inexpensive muslin, flowered with faint mauve lilacs, and a wide, floppy straw-hat trimmed with the same. She had driven into town, half a mile or more, without getting a speck of dust upon herself. Even the corners of her eyes were like those of a newly laundered baby. She smelled of tooth-powder (precipitated chalk and orris root), as was her custom, and she wore no ring or ornament of any value. Indeed, such jewels as she possessed, a graceful diamond necklace, a pearl collar, a pearl pendant, and two cabochon sapphire rings, lay on the table between her and Mr. Hemingway.

“I’m not asking the bank to do this for me,” she said, and she looked extra lovely (on purpose, of course). “I’m asking you—-“

Mr. Hemingway poked the cluster of jewels very gingerly with his forefinger as if they were a lizard.

“And, of course,” she said, “they are worth twice the money; maybe three or four times.”

“Perhaps,” said Mr. Hemingway, “you will take offence if I suggest that your father—-“

The muslin over her shoulders tightened the least in the world. She had shrugged them.

“Of course,” she said, “papa would do it; but he would insist on reasons. My reasons involve another, Mr. Hemingway, and so it would not be honorable for me to give them.”

“And yet,” said the banker, twinkling, “your reasons would tempt me to accommodate you with the loan you ask for far more than your collateral.”

“Oh,” she said, “you are a business man. I could give you reasons, and be sure they would go no further–even if you thought them funny. But if papa heard them, and thought them funny, as he would, he would play the sieve. I don’t want this money for myself, Mr. Hemingway.”

“They never do,” said he.

She laughed.

“I wish to lend it in turn,” she said, “to a person who has been reckless, and who is in trouble, but in whom I believe…. But perhaps,” she went on, “the person, who is very proud, will take offence at my offer of help…. In which case, Mr. Hemingway, I should return you the money to-morrow.”

“This person–” he began, twinkling.

“Oh,” she said, “I couldn’t bear to be teased. The person is a young gentleman. Any interest that I take in him is a business interest, pure and simple. I believe that, tided over his present difficulties, he will steady down and become a credit to his sex. Can I say more than that?” She smiled drolly.

“Men who are a credit to their sex,” said Mr. Hemingway, “are not rare, but young gentlemen—-“

“This one,” said she, “has in him the makings of a man. Just now he is discouraged.”

“Is he taking anything for it?” asked Mr. Hemingway with some sarcasm.

“Buckets,” said Miss Tennant simply.

“Was it cards?” he asked.