Chapter IV. Unpleasant Business
 

It was now nine o'clock, rather a late hour for callers in the country, and Mrs. Barclay waited not without curiosity to hear the nature of the business which had brought her two visitors at that time.

"Take seats, gentlemen," she said, with the courtesy habitual to her.

Squire Davenport, who was disposed to consider that he had a right to the best of everything, seated himself in the rocking-chair, and signed his companion to a cane chair beside him.

"Mr. Kirk," he commenced, "is thinking of coming to Pentonville to live."

"I am glad to hear it," said Mrs. Barclay politely. Perhaps she would not have said this if she had known what was coming next.

"He is a carpenter," continued the squire, "and, as we have none in the village except old Mr. Wade, who is superannuated, I think he will find enough to do to keep him busy."

"I should think so," assented the widow.

"If he does not, I can employ him a part of the time on my land."

"What has all this to do with me?" thought Mrs. Barclay.

She soon learned.

"Of course he will need a house," pursued the squire, "and as his family is small, he thinks this house will just suit him."

"But I don't wish to sell," said the widow hurriedly. "I need this house for Ben and myself."

"You could doubtless find other accommodations. I dare say you could hire a couple of rooms from Elnathan Perkins."

"I wouldn't live in that old shell," said Mrs. Barclay rather indignantly, "and I am sure Ben wouldn't."

"I apprehend Benjamin will have no voice in the matter," said Squire Davenport stiffly. "He is only a boy."

"He is my main support, and my main adviser," said Mrs. Barclay, with spirit, "and I shall not take any step which is disagreeable to him."

Mr. Kirk looked disappointed, but the squire gave him an assuring look, as the widow could see.

"Perhaps you may change your mind," said the squire significantly. "I am under the impression that I hold a mortgage on this property."

"Yes, sir," assented Mrs. Barclay apprehensively.

"For the sum of seven hundred dollars, if I am not mistaken."

"Yes, sir."

"I shall have need of this money for other purposes, and will trouble you to take it up."

"I was to have three months' notice," said the widow, with a troubled look.

"I will give you three months' notice to-night," said the squire.

"I don't know where to raise the money," faltered Mrs. Barclay.

"Then you had better sell to my friend here. He will assume the mortgage and pay you three hundred dollars."

"But that will be only a thousand dollars for the place."

"A very fair price, in my opinion, Mrs. Barclay."

"I have always considered it worth fifteen hundred dollars," said the widow, very much disturbed.

"A fancy price, my dear madam; quite an absurd price, I assure you. What do you say, Kirk?"

"I quite agree with you, squire," said Kirk, in a strong, nasal tone. "But then, women don't know anything of business."

"I know that you and your cousin are trying to take advantage of my poverty," said Mrs. Barclay bitterly. "If you are a carpenter, why don't you build a house for yourself, instead of trying to deprive me of mine?"

"That's my business," said Kirk rudely.

"Mr. Kirk cannot spare the time to build at present," said the squire.

"Then why doesn't he hire rooms from Elnathan Perkins, as you just recommended to me?"

"They wouldn't suit him," said the squire curtly. "He has set his mind on this house."

"Squire Davenport," said Mrs. Barclay, in a softened voice, "I am sure you cannot understand what you ask of me when you seek to take my home and turn me adrift. Here I lived with my poor husband; here my boy was born. During my married life I have had no other home. It is a humble dwelling, but it has associations and charms for me which it can never have for no one else. Let Mr. Kirk see some other house and leave me undisturbed in mine."

"Humph!" said the squire, shrugging his shoulders; "you look upon the matter from a sentimental point of view. That is unwise. It is simply a matter of business. You speak of the house as yours. In reality, it is more mine than yours, for I have a major interest in it. Think over my proposal coolly, and you will see that you are unreasonable. Mr. Kirk may be induced to give you a little more--say three hundred and fifty dollars--over and above the mortgage, which, as I said before, he is willing assume."

"How does it happen that you are willing to let the mortgage remain, if he buys, when you want the money for other purposes?" asked the widow keenly.

"He is a near relative of my wife, and that makes the difference, I apprehend."

"Well, madam, what do you say?" asked Kirk briskly.

"I say this, that I will keep the house if I can."

"You needn't expect that I will relent," said the squire hastily.

"I do not, for I see there is no consideration in your heart for a poor widow; but I cannot help thinking that Providence will raise up some kind friend who will buy the mortgage, or in some other way will enable me to save my home."

You are acting very foolishly, Mrs. Barclay, as you will realize in time. I give you a week in which to change your mind. Till then my friend Kirk's offer stands good. After that I cannot promise. If the property sold at auction I shouldn't he surprised if it did not fetch more than the amount of my lien upon it."

"I will trust in Providence, Squire Davenport."

"Providence won't pay off your mortgage, ma'am," said Kirk, with a coarse laugh.

Mrs. Barclay did not answer. She saw that he was a man of coarse fiber and did not care to notice him.

"Come along, Kirk," said the squire. "I apprehend she will be all right after a while. Mrs. Barclay will see her own interest when she comes to reflect."

"Good-evening, ma'am," said Kirk.

Mrs. Barclay inclined her head slowly, but did not reply.

When the two had left the house she sank into a chair and gave herself to painful thoughts. She had known that Squire Davenport had the right to dispossess her, but had not supposed he would do so as long as she paid the interest regularly. In order to do this, she and Ben had made earnest efforts, and denied themselves all but the barest necessities. Thus far she had succeeded. The interest on seven hundred dollars at six per cent. had amounted to forty-two dollars, and this was a large sum to pay, but thus far they had always had it ready. That Squire Davenport, with his own handsome mansion, would fix covetous eyes on her little home, she had not anticipated, but it had come to pass.

As to raising seven hundred dollars to pay off the mortgage, or induce any capitalist to furnish it, she feared it would be quite impossible.

She anxiously waited for Ben's return from the Town Hall in order to consult with him.