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Chapter 10

SQUIRE LEECH IS BAFFLED

Tuesday arrived, but as yet the check from Mr. Spencer had not been received.

"Never mind, mother," said Herbert, "you will get it before the end of the week."

"But I shall need it to pay the interest to Squire Leech. He will call for it today."

"How much it is?"

"Twenty-two dollars and a half."

"You forget the gold I handed you last week."

"I don't like to use it, Herbert; I want you to use it for yourself."

"I am as much interested in paying the interest as you, mother. Don't
I occupy the house?"

Seeing that Herbert was in earnest, Mrs. Carter overcame her scruples, and laid aside enough of the money to make up the amount required.

About five minutes of twelve Squire Leech was seen advancing to the front door with slow, pompous steps.

"There he comes, mother!" said Herbert. "I'll open the door."

"Is your mother at home, Herbert?" asked the squire, in a dignified tone.

"Yes, sir. Won't you walk in?"

"Ahem, yes! I think I will. I have a little matter of business with her."

Squire Leech entered the small sitting room, which seemed uncomfortably full when he was in it—not on account of his size, but because he seemed so swollen with a sense of his own importance as to convey the idea that he was cramped for space—very much like an owl in the cage of a canary.

"Good morning, Squire Leech," said the widow.

"Good morning, ma'am. I apprehend you know my errand."

"I suppose you come for the interest, Squire Leech."

"You are quite right. Of course you are prepared to pay it."

Though the squire said "of course," he by no means expected that it would be ready, nor, for reasons which we know, did he desire it. He was rather discomfited, therefore, when Mrs. Carter said: "Did you bring a receipt with you, squire?"

"A receipt in full?" queried the great man.

"Yes, sir."

"Are you prepared to pay the whole today?"

"Yes, sir."

This ought to have been gratifying intelligence, but it was not. The squire looked quite crestfallen.

"No, I didn't bring a receipt," he said, slowly.

"I'll bring writing materials," said Herbert, promptly.

He left the room, but appeared almost instantly with pen, ink, and paper.

The squire sat down to the table with a disappointed air, and slowly wrote the required document.

"He seems sorry to receive the money," thought Herbert, who was quick in reading the faces of others. "I wonder why?" and he gazed at the visitor in some perplexity.

The squire received the money, and handed the widow the receipt. Still he did not seem inclined to go. He was thinking how to broach the subject of selling the house.

"Mrs. Carter," he began, "forty-five dollars a year seems a good deal for you to pay."

"Yes, it is considerable," said the widow, surprised. Could it be that he intended to reduce the interest? That did not seem like him.

"For one in your circumstances I mean, of course. You've got to earn your own living, and your son's."

"Herbert does his share," said the mother. "When he is older I shall feel quite easy."

"But that time is a good way off. I've been thinking of your case, Mrs. Carter, and as a man of business I see my way clear to offer you a little advice."

"I shall be thankful for any advice, squire," said the widow, meekly. "Of course your judgment in business matters is much better than mine."

Herbert listened to this conversation with eager interest. What could the squire mean to advise?

"I've been thinking," said the squire, deliberately, "that it would be a good plan for you to sell this house."

"To sell it!" repeated Mrs. Carter, in surprise. "But where could I live?"

"You might hire a couple of rooms for yourself and Herbert."

"I don't see how mother would gain anything," interrupted Herbert.
"She would have to pay rent."

"Very true, but she would get some money down for the house, over and above the mortgage."

"I don't know as anybody would want to buy it," said Mrs. Carter.

"I would take it off your hands, simply to oblige you," said the squire, with an air of extraordinary consideration. "I don't know that it would be of any particular use to me. I might not get a tenant. Still, I am better able to take the risk than you are to keep it."

"How much would you be willing to pay for it?" asked Herbert, who somehow suspected that the squire was more selfish than benevolent in the plan he had broached.

"Why," said Squire Leech, assuming a meditative look, "over and above the mortgage, I would be willing to pay three hundred dollars cash."

"That would make the value of the place only ten hundred and fifty dollars," said Herbert.

"Well, you don't consider it worth any more than that do you?"

"My husband considered it worth fifteen hundred dollars," said the widow. "It cost him that."

The squire laughed heartily. "Really, my dear madam, that is utterly preposterous. Fifteen hundred dollars! Why, that is ridiculous."

"It cost that," said Herbert, sturdily.

"I very much doubt it," said the squire. "I don't believe it cost a cent over twelve hundred dollars."

"I have my husband's papers to show that it cost fifteen hundred," said the widow.

"Then all I have to say is, he was outrageously cheated," said the squire. "I believe I know as much about real estate as any man in town," he proceeded, pompously. "Indeed, I own more than any other man. I assure you, on my word, I have offered you a very good price."

"I would rather not sell," said the widow, gently, but decidedly.

"I will increase my offer to eleven hundred, including the mortgage," said the squire, who saw the prize slipping through his fingers, and felt it necessary to bid higher. "Eleven hundred dollars. That's three hundred and fifty dollars cash!"

"Mother, I am sure you won't think of selling for any such sum," expostulated Herbert.

"No," said his mother, "I don't want to sell."

"You stand very much in your own light, ma'am," said the squire, impatiently; "and you, Herbert, are too young to offer any advice on such a subject."

"I don't see why," said Herbert, independently. "I ought to feel interested in such a matter.

"You are a boy, and have no judgment. Boys of your age should be seen and not heard," said the squire, sternly.

"I can see what is best for my mother's interest," said Herbert.

"I decline to discuss the matter with you. I consider your interference impertinent," said the squire, becoming angry.

"Oh, Herbert!" said his mother, who was a little in awe of the great man of the village, "be respectful to Squire Leech."

"I mean to be," said Herbert, "but I'm sure he's wrong in thinking I have nothing to do with this matter."

"Reflect again, Mrs. Carter," persisted the squire, "of the advantages of my proposal. Think how comfortable you would feel in knowing that you had three hundred and fifty dollars on interest in the savings bank. I admit that I may not offer you quite as much as the place cost, but houses never fetch their first cost. I've made you a very fair offer, ma'am, very fair."

"I won't say anything as to that, Squire Leech, but this house my poor husband built—in this house I have passed many happy years—and while we can keep it, Herbert and I, we will. There is no other place in town that would seem so much like home."

"This is all very sentimental, ma'am; but, permit me to say, very ridiculous," said the impatient squire, rising to go. "I'll give you time to think over what I have said, and I'll call again."

"I'll have that place yet," he muttered to himself, as he left the cottage. "I won't be balked by an obstinate woman and an impertinent boy."

Horatio Alger