Chapter 17




WHAT THE LETTER CONTAINED

Leaving the squire in the sitting room, Herbert went in quest of his mother.

"Squire Leech is here," he said.

"What shall we say to him?" asked his mother, soberly.

"Wait a minute and I will tell you," said Herbert, his face brightening.

"I've had a stroke of luck, mother. I've been engaged to work afternoons, at five dollars a week."

"Who has engaged to pay you such high wages?" asked Mrs. Carter, astonished.

"A young man staying at the hotel, whose eyes are weak. I am to read to him, and do whatever else he requires. I got the chance through the landlord."

"You are certainly fortunate," said his mother, gratified.

"Now, what I am going to propose to the squire is to wait two or three weeks for the balance of the interest till I can make it up out of my wages."

"If he weren't so anxious to get possession of the place he would; but
I am afraid on that account he will refuse But we ought to go in."

Mrs. Carter removed the apron which she had worn about her work, and entered the sitting room, followed by Herbert.

"I hope you will excuse my keeping you waiting, Squire Leech," she said.

"Certainly, ma'am, though I am rather in a hurry."

"I suppose you have come about the interest?"

"It is due to-day, as, of course, you know."

"Yes."

"I suppose you have it ready," said the squire, eyeing her shrewdly.

"I can pay you fifteen dollars of it," said the widow, nervously.

Squire Leech felt exultant, but he only frowned.

"It amounts to twenty-two dollars and a half," he said, sharply.

"I know that, and I shall be able to pay the remainder if you will be kind enough to wait two or three weeks."

Not knowing anything of Herbert's good fortune, Squire Leech utterly disbelieved this. He knew no source from which the widow could get the money.

"It is easy enough to make promises," he said, with a sneer, "but that doesn't satisfy me. I want my money."

Now Herbert felt it time for him to take part in the conversation.

"My mother can keep her promise," he said.

"Can she? Perhaps you will explain where you expect to get the money."

"From my wages," answered Herbert, proudly.

"I wasn't aware that you received any," sneered the squire.

"I have just made an engagement to work for five dollars a week," said our hero, enjoying the squire's look of surprise.

"Indeed! Who pays you that?"

"A gentleman boarding at the hotel has engaged me to read to him as his eyes are weak."

"A fool and his money are soon parted," said Squire Leech. "You may retain the position a week."

"I hope to keep it. I feel sure that I shall."

"I don't," said the squire, emphatically.

"Then are you willing to wait—say two weeks—for the rest of the interest?"

"No, I am not, and you ought to have known I shouldn't be. There is a way of arranging the whole matter."

"By selling the place, you mean?"

"Yes; I mean just that. It is folly for you to think of keeping the property with such a heavy mortgage upon it on which you are unable to pay the interest. I have offered you a fair price for it."

"You offered four hundred dollars less than it cost."

"That is nonsense! It never cost fifteen hundred dollars."

"I have my husband's word for it," said the widow.

"Then, he made some mistake, you may be sure."

"I am sure father was right," said Herbert. "Besides, we have his bills to prove it."

"That's neither here nor there," said Squire Leech, impatiently. "Even if it cost ten thousand dollars, it's only worth eleven hundred now; that is to say, three hundred and fifty dollars over and above the mortgage."

"You are hard upon me, Squire Leech," said Mrs. Carter, despondently.

"You are a woman, ma'am, and women never understand business. I make allowance for you; but your son ought to know better than to encourage you."

"I want my mother to be treated fairly and justly."

"Do you mean to imply that I would treat her otherwise, young man?" demanded the squire, angrily. "I advise you not to make an enemy of me."

Herbert looked sober. The squire might not be right but certainly he had the power to carry his point and that power he was certain to exercise.

"Will you give my mother and myself a little time to consult what is to be done?" he asked.

"Yes," said the squire, feeling that he had carried his point. "I might refuse, of course, but I wish to be easy with you and therefore I will give you till half past twelve. I will be back at that time."

He took his cane and left the house.

His reference to the post office reminded Herbert of the letter he had in his pocket for his mother.

"Here's a letter for you, mother," he said.

"A letter! Who can it be from?"

"It's postmarked at Randolph," said Herbert.

"Perhaps it's from Aunt Nancy," suggested the widow. "I don't know anyone else in Randolph that would be likely to write to me."

She opened the envelope and uttered a cry of surprise as two bills dropped out and fluttered to the floor.

Herbert picked them up eagerly and cried: "Why, mother, they are ten- dollar bills. Twenty dollars in all!"

"Twenty dollars!" repeated Mrs. Carter, in amazement.

"Hurrah! now we can pay the interest!" exclaimed Herbert. "Won't the squire be mad!" and he laughed joyously. "Read the letter aloud, mother."

Mrs. Carter read as follows:

"MY DEAR NIECE: I have thought of you often, and wish we were not so far distant from each other. I should enjoy seeing you and that good son of yours often. I am afraid you have had a hard time getting along. My wants are few and I have more than enough to supply them. I inclose twenty dollars in this letter. I shall not need them, for an old woman like me can live on very little.

"I wish you would write to me sometimes or ask Herbert to. I feel lonely and it would be a great favor to me. If it were not so far, I would ask you and Herbert to come over and spend a day or two with me. Perhaps you can manage to do it some time. Only don't delay too long, for I am getting old and can't expect to live much longer,

"Your affectionate aunt,

"NANCY CARTER."

"How good of Aunt Nancy! If her brother had possessed her kind heart, we should be better off to-day."

"It came just in the nick of time, mother. How lucky!"

"Say, rather, how providential, my son. We owe to the kindness of God.
He will not see us want."

"Of course you are right, mother; but the squire won't regard it in the same light. He will be terribly disappointed, for he thinks he has got us in his power."

"I am thankful that this is to be our home for six months more."

"Longer than that, mother. I am earning something now, and I will save up money to pay our next interest."

"Squire Leech is coming back," said Mrs. Carter.

"See how briskly he walks!" said Herbert. "I don't think he'll be so cheerful when he leaves the house."

"I don't think we ought to exult, Herbert."

"I can't help it, mother and I'm not ashamed of it, either. You are carrying benevolence too far."

Here the squire's knock was heard, and Herbert went to admit him.



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