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Squire Leech was reluctant to give up his intended purchase. He had an idea that Herbert stood in the way, and he contrived to call upon the widow in the course of the following week, at a time when he knew our hero was away from home.
But he failed again.
"I'm very sorry to go contrary to your advice, Squire Leech," said Mrs. Carter, deprecatingly, "but I can't give up my home. Herbert, too, would be very much disappointed."
"I hope you will not allow yourself to be guided by the judgment of an inexperienced boy, ma'am," said the squire, mortified.
"I think I ought to consult my boy's wishes," said the widow.
"He doesn't know what is best for him."
"Perhaps not; but I feel with him at present. I'm sorry to disappoint you, Squire Leech."
"As to that, ma'am, I have no interest in the matter. I was only advising you for your good."
"I'm sure I'm much obliged to you."
"In fact, as your means are limited, I will stretch a point, and offer you fifty dollars more. I shouldn't be at all sure of getting my money back."
"Thank you; but I think we'll keep the house for the present. If I should find we couldn't afford it, I will let you know."
"I don't agree to keep to my offer after this week. 'Now or never' is my motto. I can draw the papers right out."
The widow shook her head, and reiterated in gentle tones her refusal. Squire Leech was provoked, and did not hide his feeling. As he only proposed to take the house to oblige her, as he represented, Mrs. Carter was surprised at his display of feeling. She was not a shrewd woman, and it did not occur to her that he had any selfish object in view in his advice.
"I didn't succeed, Mr. Banks," said the squire to his superintendent. "That Carter woman is dreadfully obstinate. Between ourselves, I judge it's her son that influences her."
"I think I have seen him—a boy of fourteen or fifteen."
"Yes, he's a very self-willed boy."
"You said you thought you would be able to foreclose, on account of their failing to pay the interest."
"They paid it. I was surprised at their promptness, till I learned from my son that they had received a legacy of a hundred dollars or so from a relative."
"That won't last always."
"No, the time will come when I can get the place on my own terms. I am determined to have it."
"Then Brown will have to find a different house."
"Yes; I have heard of an old house that will do temporarily, till I get the widow Carter's. It's a little out of the village, and is in rather a dilapidated condition, but it will do for a few months or a year, and that will fetch round the Carters."
The house referred to was secured, and the superintendent's cousin moved to Wrayburn. But neither the squire nor Mr. Banks forgave Herbert for his assumed instrumentality in thwarting their plans.
The next winter Mrs. Carter was unfortunate enough to be laid up with severe sickness from December to March. Herbert devoted himself to her comfort, and performed nearly all his mother's customary work. Washing and ironing, however, he was obliged to have done. When the sickness commenced, the hundred dollars left by his uncle was unbroken, but for three months neither he nor, of course, his mother, was able to earn anything of any amount, while their expenses were necessarily increased.
At the opening of April, Herbert had the satisfaction of seeing his mother, fully recovered, assume her usual place in the little household. This was pleasant, but there was a drawback to his satisfaction. The legacy had dwindled to twenty-five dollars.
He reported this to his mother.
"How unlucky that I should have been sick so long!" said Mrs. Carter, sighing.
"How lucky we had the legacy to fall back upon!" said Herbert.
"I don't know how we could have got along without that, truly."
"Mother, I must look about for work. I ought to be earning four or five dollars a week at my age."
"You are only fifteen."
"But I am stout and strong of my age. I shall soon be a man. Don't you see my mustache coming, mother?" said Herbert, with a laugh.
"Not very distinctly; but perhaps my eyesight is growing poor," answered his mother, smiling.
"The trouble is," said Herbert, thoughtfully, "there is very little chance of work in this town."
"I wonder whether Squire Leech wouldn't hire you through the spring and summer on one of his farms. I heard that he is going to hire a boy."
"I am not sure whether he would be willing to hire me, however much he wanted a boy."
"He don't seem to like me, nor does Mr. Banks like me."
"What can they have against you? I thought everybody liked you."
"That's because you are my mother, but the squire doesn't feel maternal so far as I am concerned. I didn't understand it at first, but now I do."
"What is it?"
"You remember the squire tried hard to get you to sell this place."
"That was last year."
"And you wouldn't sell. That is why he is angry with both of us."
"But I don't understand why he should be," said the widow, innocently.
"He said he would take it only as a favor to me."
"That was all 'gammon.' Excuse the word, which isn't very elegant, I admit, but it's the right word for all that. The squire wanted the place very much."
"What could he do with it? He couldn't live in it himself."
"Not much. I can imagine the look of disgust James's face would wear at the idea of such a thing. He wanted it for Nahum Brown, who lives in the old house up the road. You know Brown, who is a cousin of Mr. Banks, the superintendent, and he is very anxious to get hold of our house."
"How did you learn all this, Herbert? I never knew it before."
"Tom Banks let it out one day."
"I don't see how the squire can dislike us for wanting to stay in our old home."
"There are a good many things you don't understand—about selfish men —mother. That is why I am afraid it won't be much use to ask the squire for employment."
"You may be mistaken about his feelings, Herbert."
"At any rate, I'll go to him, if I can't find employment anywhere else in the village."
"I wish you would, that is, if you don't think farm work will be too hard for you."
"I'll risk that."
In pursuance of this promise, Herbert, after ascertaining that there was no work to be had anywhere else in the village, called one fine morning at the imposing residence of Squire Leech.
James was in the yard, at work on a kite.
"Have you come to see me?" said James, superciliously.
"No; I wanted to see your father."
Herbert was about to answer "on business," but it occurred to him that it would be better policy to keep on friendly terms with James, and he said: "I am looking for work, and I thought he might have some for me."
"Perhaps so," said James, patronizingly. "Of course, one in your position must work for a living."
"Don't you expect to work?" asked Herbert, in some curiosity.
"Not with my hands, of course," said James. "I may study some genteel profession, such as law."
"I am too poor to be genteel," said Herbert, amused.
"Of course. You will probably be a day laborer."
"I hope to rise to something better in time," said Herbert. "For the present I shall be glad to work by the day, or the month, if your father will engage me."
"I think my father is at home; you can ring and see," said James, who could be kind to one who was willing to acknowledge his inferiority.
Herbert rang the bell, and was ushered into the presence of Squire
Leech, who was examining some papers in the back parlor.
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