“I’m going to retire,” Robert Sanderson, manager of the Bozeman Town Bank, announced to his assistant Theodore Jefferson. Theo had been unprepared for the announcement and sank, rather than sat, into the chair he’d been offered in the older man’s simple office. The rough walls and wooden floors were similar to other buildings in the area, and yet there was an aura of respectability in the bank that no one questioned. Theo saw none of these features at the moment. And as if that one phrase weren’t shocking enough, Robert added another. “And I want you to take my place.”
“Surely you’re not ready to stop working yet,” Theo managed to reply, not attempting to hide his astonishment to the man who was not yet sixty. His dark eyebrows shot up over startled blue eyes. “You have years left to offer the bank and the people of Bozeman. And on top of that, I’m not ready to assume full control of this establishment.” He perched on the edge of his seat, hands clenched into fists as though to protest the statements.
“That’s partly true,” Robert chuckled, shaking his head and relaxing into his chair. “And it’s also why I called you into my office today.” He paused momentarily to look out into the bank, which was humming with men and women going about their business. He smiled and nodded as he caught the eye of one person or another, his rapport with the people so very evident.
Theo took advantage of this interlude to collect himself. He’d been well-trained by the very many who sat in front of him. There was no reason why he shouldn’t be able to take over the running of the bank in four to five years. He wondered what Robert’s timeline was, but he didn’t have to wonder for long.
The older man refocused his attention on the man before him, a man who, over the past decade and a half, had become like a son to him. “Theo, I don’t often give such personal advice, but I’m going to make an exception here. You need to marry, preferably within a year. Ruth has told me that my health is being affected by the stressful hours I put in here and wants us to go abroad. She has heard great things about the restorative waters of Switzerland.” Robert smiled affectionately at the portrait on his desk, which displayed a likeness of his wife of nearly forty years. “So, there you have it. Your timeline to prepare for this job is one year or less.”
“You certainly aren’t talking the job up very well,” Theo joked feebly in an effort to hide his concern for the older man who’d taken him under his protection for thirteen years. Before coming to Bozeman, Theo had been a confused young man of only seventeen, on the run from some depraved men.
“Yes, well, you’re up for it, as long as you can find someone who will take your mind off it at the end of the day the way my Ruthie does. It is stressful holding another man’s finances in your hands, but you’ll do a good job of it. You’re honest, clever and compassionate. Believe it or not, those are the main ingredients to a good bank manager, or a manager of any sort really. You’re a good man and the people of Bozeman will be lucky, no, blessed, to have you.”
Theo considered his words and knew that they were more than a compliment. The older man was preparing him for something more.
“How bad is it?” he asked directly, forcing Robert to drop the pretenses. The older man paused for a moment, stroked his immaculate gray beard and frowned.
“It’s hard to say,” he replied, recognizing the futility of trying to hide something of such magnitude from one of the people who knew him best. “Dr. Richards doesn’t quite know what it is, but I feel more tired than I used to.”
“Don’t we all?” Theo exclaimed. “But if you want to hand over the reins, I’d be happy to take them.” He would do that today if it would prolong this man’s life, but he had a major concern. “However, this wife business isn’t as easy as