“There was more than present interest to pay; there was back interest, and I’ve been behind on taxes, and there was an old doctor bill, when I had the fever; an’ that wa’n’t all—I never told ye, nor anybody. I was fool enough to sign a note for George Henry Green, in Westbrook, some years ago. He come to me with tears in his eyes, said he wouldn’t care so much if it wa’n’t for his wife an’ children; he’d got to raise the money, an’ couldn’t get nobody to sign his note. I lost every dollar of it. It’s been all I could do to pay up, an’ I couldn’t keep even with the interest. I knew it was comin’.”
“How much interest do you owe?” asked Jerome, in an odd voice. He was very pale.
“Two hundred an’ seventy dollars—it’s twelve per cent.”
“And you can’t raise it?”
“Might as well try to raise the dead.”
“Well, I can let you have it,” said Jerome.
His uncle looked at him with his sharp, strained eyes; then he made a hoarse noise, between a sob and a cough. “Rob you of that money you’ve been savin’ to build your mill! We’ll take to the woods first!” he cried.
“I’ve saved a good deal more than two hundred and seventy dollars.”
“You want every dollar of it for your mill. Don’t talk to me.”
“I’d want every dollar if I was going to build it, but I am not,” said Jerome.
“What d’ye mean? Ain’t ye goin’ to start it to-morrow?”
“No, I’ve decided not to.”
“Why not, I’d like to know?”
“I’m going to wait until the Dale railroad seems a little nearer. I shouldn’t have much business for the mill now if I built it, and there’s no use in its standing rotting. I’m going to wait a little.”
Poor Ozias Lamb looked at him with his keen old eyes, which were, perhaps, dulled a little by the selfishness of his sore distress. “D’ye mean what ye say, J’rome?” he asked, wistfully, in a tone that was new to him.
“Yes, I do; you can have the money as well as not.”
“I’ll give ye my note, an’ ye can have this piece of land an’ the shop—this ain’t mortgaged—as security, an’ I’ll pay ye—fair per cent.,” Ozias said, hesitatingly.
“All right,” returned Jerome.
“An’,” Ozias faltered, “I’ll work my fingers to the bone; I’ll steal—but you shall have your money back before you are ready to begin the mill.”
“That may be quite a while,” Jerome said, laughing as openly as a child. His uncle suspected nothing, though once he could scarcely have been deceived.
“I’ve been round to Uncle Adoniram’s to-night,” Jerome added, “to get him to come here to-morrow and help with that lot of shoes. I’m going to take up with an offer I’ve had to cut some wood on shares. I think I can make some money out of it, and it’ll be a change from so much shoemaking, for a while.”
“You never was the build for a shoemaker,” said his uncle.