Chapter XXIII. A Dangerous Step
 

Edith took her deed, and went first to Mr. Hard. There were both coldness and curiosity in his manner, but he could gather little from Edith's face through her thick veil.

She had a painful shrinking from meeting people again after what had happened, and this was greatly increased by the curious and significant looks she saw turned toward her as soon as it was surmised who she was.

Mr. Hard promptly declined to lend any money. He "never did such things," he said.

"Where would I be apt to get it?" asked Edith, despondently.

"I scarcely know. Money is scarce, and people don't like to lend it on country mortgages, especially when there may be trouble. Lawyer Keen might give you some information."

To his office Edith went, with slow, heavy steps, and presented her case.

Mr. Keen was a red-faced, burly-looking man, hiding the traditional shrewdness of a village lawyer under a bluff, outspoken manner. He had a sort of good-nature, which, though not lending him to help others who were in trouble, kept him from trying to get them into more trouble, and he quite prided himself on this. He heard Edith partly through, and then interrupted her, saying:

"Couldn't think of it, miss. Widows, orphans, and churches are institutions on which a fellow can never foreclose. I'll give you good advice, and won't charge you anything for it. You had better keep out of debt."

"But I must have the money," said Edith.

"Then you have come to the wrong shop for it," replied the lawyer, coolly. "Here's Crowl, now, he lends where I wouldn't. He's got money of his own, while I invest mainly for other people."

Edith's attention was thus directed to another red-faced man, whom, thus far, she had scarcely noticed, though he had been watching her with the closest scrutiny. He was quite corpulent, past middle age, and not much taller than herself. He was quite bald, and had what seemed a black moustache, but Edith's quick eye noted that it was unskilfully dyed. There seemed a wide expanse in his heavy, flabby cheeks, and the rather puggish nose appeared insignificant between them. A slight tobacco stain in one corner of his mouth did not increase his attractions to Edith, and she positively shrank from the expression of his small, cunning black eyes. He was dressed both showily and shabbily, and a great breastpin was like a blotch upon his rumpled shirt-bosom.

"Let me see your deed, my dear," he said, with coarse familiarity.

"My name is Miss Allen," replied Edith, with dignity.

The man paid little heed to her rebuke, but looked over the deed with slow and microscopic scrutiny. At last he said to Edith, whom nothing but dire necessity impelled to have dealings with so disagreeable a person:

"Will you come with me to my office?"

Reluctantly she followed. At first she had a strong impulse to have nothing to do with him, but then she thought, "It makes no difference of whom I borrow the money, for it must be paid in any case, and perhaps I can't get it anywhere else."

"Are you sure there is no other mortgage?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Edith.

"How much do you want?"

"I will try to make four hundred answer."

"I suppose you know how hard it is to borrow money now," said Mr. Crowl, in a depressing manner, "especially in cases like this. I don't believe you'd get a dollar anywhere else in town. Even where everything is good and promising, we usually get a bonus on such a loan. The best I could do would be to let you have three hundred and sixty on such a mortgage."

"Then give me my deed. The security is good, and I'm not willing to pay more than seven per cent."

Old Crowl looked a moment at her resolute face, beautiful even in its pallor and pain, and a new thought seemed to strike him.

"Well, well," said he, with an awkward show of gallantry, "one can't do business with a pretty girl as with a man. You shall make your own terms."

"I wish to make no terms whatever," said Edith, frigidly. "I only expect what is right and just."

"And I'm the man that'll do what's right and just when appealed to by the fair unfortunate," said Mr. Crowl, with a wave of his hand.

Edith's only response to this sentiment was a frown, and an impatient tapping of the floor with her foot.

"Now, see how I trust you," he continued, filling out a check. "There is the money. I'll draw up the papers, and you may sign them at your leisure. Only just put your name to this receipt, which gives the nature of our transaction;" and, in a scrawling hand, he soon stated the case.

It was with strong misgivings that Edith took the money and gave her signature, but she did not see what else to do, and she was already very weary.

"You may call again the first time you are in the village, and by that time I'll have things fixed up. You see now what it is to have a friend in need."

Edith's only reply was a bow, and she hastened to the bank. The cashier looked curiously at her, and as he saw Crowl's check, smiled a little significant smile which she did not like; but, at her request, he placed the amount, and what was left from the second sale of jewelry, to her credit, and gave her a small check-book.