Mr. Stevens winced at this, but made no effort to reply.
Mr. Balch continued, “What I was going to remark is simply this. As we are in possession of these facts, and able to prove them by competent witnesses, we should not be willing to remain perfectly silent respecting it, unless you made what we regarded as a suitable provision for the children.”
“I’m willing, as I said before, to do something; but don’t flatter yourself I’ll do any more than I originally intended from any fear of disclosures from you. I’m not to be frightened,” said Mr. Stevens.
“I’m not at all disposed to attempt to frighten you: however, you know how far a mere statement of these facts would go towards rendering your position in society more agreeable. A person who has been arrested on suspicion of murder is apt to be shunned and distrusted. It can’t be helped; people are so very squeamish—they will draw back, you know, under such circumstances.”
“I don’t see how such a suspicion can attach itself to me,” rejoined Stevens, sharply.
“Oh, well, we won’t discuss that any further: let me hear what you will do for the children.”
Mr. Balch saw, from the nervous and embarrassed manner of Mr. Stevens, that the indirect threat of exposing him had had considerable effect; and his downcast looks and agitation rather strengthened in his mind the suspicions that had been excited by the disclosures of Mr. Walters.
After a few moments’ silence, Mr. Stevens said, “I’ll settle three thousand dollars on each of the children. Now I think that is treating them liberally.”
“Liberally!” exclaimed Balch, in a tone of contempt—“liberally! You acquire by the death of their father property worth one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and you offer these children, who are the rightful heirs, three thousand dollars! That, sir, won’t suffice.” “I think it should, then,” rejoined Stevens. “By the laws of Georgia these children, instead of being his heirs, are my slaves. Their mother was a slave before them, and they were born slaves; and if they were in Savannah, I could sell them both to-morrow. On the whole, I think I’ve made you a very fair offer, and I’d advise you to think of it.”
“No, Mr. Stevens; I shall accept no such paltry sum. If you wish a quick and peaceful possession of what you are pleased to regard as your rights, you must tender something more advantageous, or I shall feel compelled to bring this thing into court, even at the risk of loss; and there, you know, we should be obliged to make a clear statement of everything connected with this business. It might be advantageous to us to bring the thing fully before the court and public—but I’m exceedingly doubtful whether it would advance your interest.”
Stevens winced at this, and asked, “What would you consider a fair offer?”
“I should consider all a just offer, half a fair one, and a quarter as little as you could have the conscience to expect us to take.”