We must now transfer the scene to the Walton homestead.
It looks very much the same as on the day when the reader was first introduced to it. There is not a single article of new furniture, nor is any of the family any better dressed. Poverty reigns with undisputed sway. Mr. Walton is reading a borrowed newspaper by the light of a candle--for it is evening--while Mrs. Walton is engaged in her never-ending task of mending old clothes, in the vain endeavor to make them look as well as new. It is so seldom that anyone of the family has new clothes, that the occasion is one long remembered and dated from.
"It seems strange we don't hear from Harry," said Mrs. Walton, looking up from her work.
"When was the last letter received?" asked Mr. Walton, laying down the paper.
"Over a week ago. He wrote that the professor was sick, and he was stopping at the hotel to take care of him."
"I remember. What was the name of the place?"
"Perhaps his employer is recovered, and he is going about with him."
"Perhaps so; but I should think he would write. I am afraid he is sick himself. He may have caught the same fever."
"It is possible; but I think Harry would let us know in some way. At any rate, it isn't best to worry ourselves about uncertainties."
"I wonder if Harry's grown?" said Tom.
"Of course he's grown," said Mary.
"I wonder if he's grown as much as I have," said Tom, complacently.
"I don't believe you've grown a bit."
"Yes, I have; if you don't believe it, see how short my pants are."
Tom did, indeed, seem to be growing out of his pants, which were undeniably too short for him.
"You ought to have some new pants," said his mother, sighing; "but I don't see where the money is to come from.'
"Nor I," said Mr. Walton, soberly. "Somehow I don't seem to get ahead at all. To-morrow my note for the cow comes due, and I haven't but two dollars to meet i."
"How large it the note?"
"With six months' interest, it amounts to forty-one dollars and twenty cents."
"The cow isn't worth that. She doesn't give as much milk as the one we lost."
"That's true. It was a hard bargain, but I could do no better.'
"You say you won't be able to meet the payment. What will be the consequence?"
"I suppose Squire Green will take back the cow."
"Perhaps you can get another somewhere else, on better terms."
"I am afraid my credit won't be very good. I agreed to forfeit ten dollars to Squire Green, if I couldn't pay at the end of six months."
"Will he insist on that condition?"
"I am afraid he will. He is a hard man."
"Then," said Mrs. Walton, indignantly, "he won't deserve to prosper."
"Worldly prosperity doesn't always go by merit. Plenty of mean men prosper."
Before Mrs. Walton had time to reply, a knock was heard at the door.
"Go to the door, Tom," said his father.
Tom obeyed, and shortly reappeared, followed by a small man with a thin figure and wrinkled face, whose deep-set, crafty eyes peered about him curiously as he entered the room.
"Good evening, Squire Green," said Mr. Walton, politely, guessing his errand.
"Good evenin', Mrs. Walton. The air's kinder frosty. I ain't so young as I was once, and it chills my blood."
"Come up to the fire, Squire Green," said Mrs. Walton, who wanted the old man to be comfortable, though she neither liked nor respected him.
The old man sat down and spread his hands before the fire.
"Anything new stirring, Squire?" asked Hiram Walton.
"Nothin' that I know on. I was lookin' over my papers to-night, neighbor, and I come across that note you give for the cow. Forty dollars with interest, which makes the whole come to forty-one dollars and twenty cents. To-morrow's the day for payin'. I suppose you'll be ready?" and the old man peered at Hiram Walton with his little keen eyes.
"Now for it," thought Hiram. "I'm sorry to say, Squire Green," he answered, "that I can't pay the note. Times have been hard, and my family expenses have taken all I could earn."
The squire was not much disappointed, for now he was entitled to exact the forfeit of ten dollars.
"The contrack provides that if you can't meet the note you shall pay ten dollars," he said. "I 'spose you can do that."
"Squire Green, I haven't got but two dollars laid by."
"Two dollars!" repeated the squire, frowning. "That ain't honest. You knew the note was comin' due, and you'd oughter have provided ten dollars, at least.'
"I've done as much as I could. I've wanted to meet the note, but I couldn't make money, and I earned all I could."
"You hain't been equinomical," said the squire, testily. "Folks can't expect to lay up money ef they spend it fast as it comes in"; and he thumped on the floor with his cane.
"I should like to have you tell us how we can economize any more than we have," said Mrs. Walton, with spirit. "Just look around you, and see if you think we have been extravagant in buying clothes. I am sure I have to darn and mend till I am actually ashamed."
"There's other ways of wastin' money," said the squire. "If you think we live extravagantly, come in any day to dinner, and we will convince you to the contrary," said Mrs. Walton, warmly.
"Tain't none of my business, as long as you pay me what you owe me," said the squire. "All I want is my money, and I'd orter have it."
"It doesn't seem right that my husband should forfeit ten dollars and lose the cow."
"That was the contrack, Mrs. Walton. Your husband 'greed to it, and--"
"That doesn't make it just."
"Tain't no more'n a fair price for the use of the cow six months. Ef you'll pay the ten dollars to-morrow, I'll let you have the cow six months longer on the same contrack."
"I don't see any possibility of my paying you the money, Squire Green. I haven't got it."
"Why don't you borrer somewhere?"
"I might as well owe you as another man, Besides, I don't know anybody that would lend me the money."
"You haven't tried, have you?"
"Then you'd better. I thought I might as well come round and remind you of the note as you might forget it."
"Not much danger," said Hiram Walton. "I've had it on my mind ever since I gave it."
"Well, I'll come round to-morrow night, and I hope you'll be ready. Good night."
No very cordial good night followed Squire Green as he hobbled out of the cottage--for he was lame--not--I am sure the reader will agree with me--did he deserve any. He was a mean, miserly, grasping man, who had no regard for the feelings or comfort of anyone else; whose master passion was a selfish love of accumulating money. His money did him little good, however, for he was as mean with himself as with others, and grudged himself even the necessaries of life, because, if purchased, it must be at the expense of his hoards. The time would come when he and his money must part, but he did not think of that.