as agreed? the old man asked—three hundred
dollars down, and the balance at twelve dollars a
month, till the total of fifteen hundred dollars had
been paid? Yes, that was correct. And it
was for the sale of such and such a house—the
house and lot and everything? Yes,—and
the lawyer showed him where that was all written.
And it was all perfectly regular—there
were no tricks about it of any sort? They were
poor people, and this was all they had in the world,
and if there was anything wrong they would be ruined.
And so Szedvilas went on, asking one trembling question
after another, while the eyes of the women folks were
fixed upon him in mute agony. They could not understand
what he was saying, but they knew that upon it their
fate depended. And when at last he had questioned
until there was no more questioning to be done, and
the time came for them to make up their minds, and
either close the bargain or reject it, it was all
that poor Teta Elzbieta could do to keep from bursting
into tears. Jokubas had asked her if she wished
to sign; he had asked her twice—and what
could she say? How did she know if this lawyer
were telling the truth—that he was not in
the conspiracy? And yet, how could she say so—what
excuse could she give? The eyes of every one
in the room were upon her, awaiting her decision;
and at last, half blind with her tears, she began fumbling
in her jacket, where she had pinned the precious money.
And she brought it out and unwrapped it before the
men. All of this Ona sat watching, from a corner
of the room, twisting her hands together, meantime,
in a fever of fright. Ona longed to cry out and
tell her stepmother to stop, that it was all a trap;
but there seemed to be something clutching her by the
throat, and she could not make a sound. And so
Teta Elzbieta laid the money on the table, and the
agent picked it up and counted it, and then wrote
them a receipt for it and passed them the deed.
Then he gave a sigh of satisfaction, and rose and
shook hands with them all, still as smooth and polite
as at the beginning. Ona had a dim recollection
of the lawyer telling Szedvilas that his charge was
a dollar, which occasioned some debate, and more agony;
and then, after they had paid that, too, they went
out into the street, her stepmother clutching the deed
in her hand. They were so weak from fright that
they could not walk, but had to sit down on the way.
So they went home, with a deadly terror gnawing at
their souls; and that evening Jurgis came home and
heard their story, and that was the end. Jurgis
was sure that they had been swindled, and were ruined;
and he tore his hair and cursed like a madman, swearing
that he would kill the agent that very night.
In the end he seized the paper and rushed out of the
house, and all the way across the yards to Halsted
Street. He dragged Szedvilas out from his supper,
and together they rushed to consult another lawyer.
When they entered his office the lawyer sprang up,
for Jurgis looked like a crazy person, with flying
hair and bloodshot eyes. His companion explained
the situation, and the lawyer took the paper and began
to read it, while Jurgis stood clutching the desk
with knotted hands, trembling in every nerve.