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- Amanda - 30/40 -
"Listen, look!" Amanda whispered. She laid a hand upon his arm while she pointed with the other to a tree near by.
There sat an indigo bunting, that tiny bird of blue so intense that the very skies look pale beside it and among all the blue flowers of our land only the fringed gentian can rival it. With no attempt to hide his gorgeous self he perched in full view on a branch of the tree and began to sing in rapid notes. What the song lacked in sweetness was quite forgotten as they looked at the lovely visitant.
"There's your blue bunting of hope," said Amanda as the bird suddenly became silent as though he were out of breath or too tired to finish the melody.
"He's wonderful," said Martin, a light of hope once more in his eyes.
"Yes, he is wonderful, not only because of his fine color but because he's the one bird that sultry August weather can't still. When all others are silent he sings, halts a while, then sings again. That is why I said he is your blue bunting of hope. Isn't it like that with us? When other feelings are gone hope stays with us, never quite deserts us--hear him!"
True to his reputation the indigo bird burst once more into song, then off he flew, still singing his clear, rapid notes.
"Amanda," the man said as the blue wings carried the bird out of sight, "you've helped me--I can't tell you how much! I'm going back to the bank and face that lie. If I could only find out who started it!"
"I don't know, but I'd like to bet Mr. Mertzheimer is back of it, somehow. The old man is a heavy depositor there, isn't he?"
"Yes, but why under the sun would he say such a thing about me? I never liked Lyman and he had no love for me, but he has no cause to bear me ill will. I haven't anything he wants, I'm sure."
"No?" The girl bit her lip and felt her cheeks burn.
Martin looked at her, amazed. Why was she blushing? Surely, she didn't like Lyman Mertzheimer!
"Oh, Martin," she was thinking, "how blind you are! You do have something Lyman Mertzheimer wants. I can see through it all. He thinks with you disgraced I'll have eyes for him at last. The cheat! The cheat!" she said out loud.
"What?" asked Martin.
"He's a cheat, Lyman is. I hope he gets what's coming to him some day and I get a chance to see it! You see if that precious father of his is not at the bottom of all this worry for you!"
"It may be. I'm going in to Lancaster and find out. If he is, and if I ever get my hands on him---"
"Good-bye Lyman!" said Amanda, laughing. "But you wouldn't want to touch anything as low as he is."
"I'd hate to have the chance; I'd pound him to jelly."
"Oh, no, you wouldn't. You'd just look at him and he'd shrivel till he'd look like a dried crabapple snitz!"
Both laughed at the girl's words. A moment later they rose from the old log and walked down the path. When they had climbed the fence and stood in the hot, sunny road Martin said, "I guess I'll go home and get cleaned up." He rubbed a hand through his tumbled hair.
"And get something to eat," she added. "By that time you'll be ready, like Luther, to face a horde of devils."
"Thanks to you," he said. "I'll never forget this half-hour just gone. Your blue bunting of hope will be singing in my heart whenever things go wrong. You said a few things to me that I couldn't forget if I wanted to--for instance, that nothing, nobody, can hurt _me_, except myself. That's something to keep in mind. I feel equal to fight now, fight for my reputation. Some kind providence must have sent you up the hill to find me."
"Ach," she said depreciatively, "I didn't do a thing but steady you up a bit. I'm glad I happened to come up and see you. Go tell them if they're hunting for a thief they're looking in the wrong direction when they look at Martin Landis! Hurry! So you can get back before they think you've run away. I'll be so anxious to hear how much the Mertzheimers have to do with this. I can see their name written all over it!"
Smiling, almost happy again, the man turned down the road to his home and Amanda went on to the Reist farmhouse. She, too, was smiling as she went. She had read between the lines of the man's story and had seen there the moving finger writing above the name of Isabel Souders, "_Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin_."
When Martin Landis entered the bank early in the afternoon of that same day he presented a different appearance from that of his departure in the morning. His head was held erect, his step determined, as he opened the swinging door of the bank and entered.
"What--Landis, you back?" Mr. Buehlor greeted him, while the quizzical eyes of the old man looked into those of the younger.
"I'm back and I'm back to get this hideous riddle solved and the slate washed clean."
"Come in, come in!" Mr. Buehlor drew him into a little room and closed the door. "Sit down, Landis."
"Well, how much is the bank short?" He looked straight into the eyes of the man who, several hours before, had dealt him such a death-blow.
"So far everything is right, right as rain! There's a mistake or a damnable dirty trick somewhere."
"Let's sift it out, Mr. Buehlor. Will you tell me who had the 'inside information' that I was taking bank's money?"
"I'll tell you! It was a farmer near your home---"
"Mr. Mertzheimer?" offered Martin.
"The same! He asked to have you watched, then changed it and insisted on having the books examined. Said your people are poor--forgive me, Landis, but I have to tell you the whole story."
"Don't mind that. That's a mere scratch after what I got this morning."
"Well, he said your father had a mortgage on his farm up to the time you came to work in the bank, then suddenly it was paid and soon after the house was painted, a new bathroom installed, electric lights put into the house and steam heat, a Victrola and an automobile bought. In fact, your people launched out as though they had found a gold mine, and that in spite of the fact that your crop of tobacco was ruined by hail and the other income from the farm products barely enough to keep things going until another harvest. He naturally thought you must have a hand in supplying the money and with your moderate salary you couldn't do half of that. He talked with several of the bank directors and an investigation was ordered. You'll admit his story sounded plausible. It looked pretty black for you."
"To you, yes! But not to him! Mr. Mertzheimer knows well enough where that money came from. My father had a legacy of ten thousand dollars this spring. You people could have found that out with very little trouble."
"We're a pack of asinine blunderers, Landis!" Mr. Buehlor looked foolish. Then he sighed relievedly. "That clears matters for you. I'm glad. I couldn't conceive of you as anything but honest, Landis. But tell me about that legacy--a pretty nice sum."
"It's a romantic little story. An old sweetheart of my father, one who must have carried under her prickly exterior a bit of tender romance and who liked to do things other people never dreamed of doing, left him ten thousand dollars. She was a queer old body. Had no direct heirs, so she left Father ten thousand dollars for a little remembrance! It was that honest money that paid for the conveniences in our house, the second-hand car Father bought and the Victrola he gave Mother because we are all crazy for music and had nothing to create any melody except an old parlor organ that sounded wheezy after nine babies had played on it."
"Landis, forgive me; we're a set of fools!" The old man extended his hand and looked humbly into the face of Martin. The two gripped hands, each feeling emotion too great for words.
After a moment's silence Mr. Buehlor spoke.
"This goes no farther. Your reputation is as safe as mine. If I have anything to say you'll be eligible for the first vacancy in the line of advancement. As for that Mertzheimer, he can withdraw his account from our bank to-day for all we care. We can do business without him. But it puzzles me--what object did he have? If he knew of the legacy, and he certainly did, he must have known you were O.K. Is he an enemy of yours?"
"Not particularly. I never liked his son but we never had any real tilts."
"You don't happen to want the same girl he wants, or anything like that?"
"No--well now--why, I don't know!" A sudden revelation came to Martin. Perhaps Lyman thought he had a rival in him. That would explain much. "There's a son, as I said, and we know a girl I think he's been crazy about for years. Perhaps he thinks I'm after her, too."
"I see," chuckled the old man. "Well, if the girl's the right sort she won't have to toss a penny to decide which one to choose." He noted the embarrassment of Martin and changed the subject.
But later in the afternoon as Martin walked down the road from the trolley and drew near the Reist farmhouse the old man's words recurred
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