“Listen to me,” he said suddenly, checking Old Josselin in full flow. “You say, both of you, that Ruth here will live under disgrace; and I dare say you are right. Why not send her away? Get her out of this.”
The woman by the window turned her head with a vague simper. The old man, building a small heap of chips on the hearthstone, distended his cheeks and let out his breath slowly, as though coaxing a fire already kindled.
“All very well—but where? And where’s the money to come from? Besides, we can’t spare the child; she vittles us. Dorm it, Ruth,” he exclaimed, on a sudden recollection, “you don’t say you ha’n’t brought back the gun!”
“Why? The magistrates would have given it back. It’s ruination for us without the gun, and that you might have remembered. Better step over and ask ’em for it to-morrow.”
“Must I?” asked the girl slowly.
“’Course you’ll have to,” said her grandparent. “I can’t walk the distance, and that you know.—My eyesight’s poor,” he explained to the Collector, “and I can’t walk, because—” here he stated an organic complaint very frankly. “As for M’ria, she’s an eye like a fish-hawk; but you never saw such a born fool with firearms. Well, must heat some water, I reckon, to bathe the poor maid’s back.”
“First give her food,” said the Collector. He stepped forward and himself cut her a large manchet from the loaf the old man produced. She took it from him and ate ravenously, like a young wild animal, tearing at the crust with her white teeth. “They haven’t broken your body’s health, then,” he thought to himself. Aloud he said, “You don’t quite take my meaning, Mr. Josselin, and I’ll put it to you in a straight offer. Let her come with me to Boston. She shall be put to school there, say for three years; she shall live among folk who will treat her kindly, and teach her at any rate to build up her spirit again and be happy, as she will never be within these miles of Port Nassau; and in return—”
“Ah!” said the old man significantly.
“In return you shall accept from me a decent pension—enough, at any rate, to fend off want. We will not quarrel over the amount, up or down. Or, if you prefer, I will get the lawyers to look into this claim of your daughter-in-law’s, and maybe make you an offer for it.”
“Ah!” repeated Old Josselin, and nodded. “Taken your eye, has she? Oh, I’m not blamin’ your lordship! Flesh will after flesh, and—you can believe it or not—I was all for the women in my time.” He chuckled, and had added some gross particulars before the younger man could check him. Yet the old fellow was so naif and direct that his speech left no evil taste. He talked as one might of farm stock. “But we’re decent folk, we Josselins. It’s hard to starve and be decent too, and times enough I’ve been sorry for it; but decent we are.”