“It ain’t wuth nothin’. I couldn’t sell it to-day if I wanted to.”
“Gimme the land, then, an’ we’ll take the risk,” was the cry. “J’rome and the doctor have shelled out; now it’s your turn, or you’ll hev the officers after ye.”
Jerome pushed his way through the crowd. “What are you scaring him for?” he demanded. “He’s an old man, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
“He ain’t more’n seventy,” replied the young man, “an’ he’s smart as a cricket—he’s smart enough to gouge the whole town, old ’s he is.”
“That’s so, Eph!” chorused his supporters.
Jerome grasped Basset by the shoulder. “Don’t you know you are not obliged to give a dollar, if you don’t want to?” he asked. “That paper wasn’t legal.”
The old man shrank before him with craven terror, and yet with the look of a dog which will snap when he sees an unwary hand. “Ye don’t git me into none of yer traps,” he snarled. “What made Doctor Prescott give anythin’?”
“He gave because he wanted to keep his promise, not because he was forced to by that paper.”
“Likely story,” said Simon Basset.
“I tell you it’s so.”
“Likely story, Seth Prescott ever give it if he wa’n’t obliged to. Ye can’t trap me.”
“Go and ask him, if you don’t believe me,” said Jerome.
“Ye don’t trap me, I’m too old.”
“Go and ask Lawyer Means, then.”
“I guess, when ye git me into that pesky lawyer’s clutches, ye’ll know it! Ye can’t trap me. I guess I know more about law than ye do, ye damned little upstart ye! Why couldn’t ye have kept your dead man’s shoes to home, darn ye? Ye’ll come on the town yerself, yet; ye won’t have money enough to pay fer your buryin’, an’ I hope to God ye won’t! Curse ye! I’ll live to see ye in your pauper’s grave yet, old ’s I be. Ye thief! I tell ye, I ’ain’t got no money. I ’ain’t got more’n five thousand dollars, countin’ everythin’ in the world, an’ I’ll see ye all damned to hell afore I’ll give ye a dollar. Let me out, will ye?” Simon Basset made a clawing, cat-like rush through the crowd to the door.
“I tell you, Simon Basset, you haven’t got to give a dollar,” shouted Jerome; but he might as well have shouted to the wind.
“No use, J’rome,” chuckled the shock-headed young man, “he’s gone plumb crazy over it. You can’t make him listen to nothin’.”
“What do you mean, badgering him so?” cried Jerome, angrily.
“He’s a mean old cuss, anyhow,” said the young man, with a defiant laugh.
“That’s so! Serves him right,” grunted the others. They were all much younger than Jerome, and many of them were mere boys. It seemed strange that a man as sharp as Basset had taken them seriously.
Jerome, the more he thought it over, was convinced that Simon Basset was half crazed with the fear of parting with his money. When he came out of the store, he hesitated; he was half inclined to follow Basset home, and try to reason him into some understanding of the truth. Then, remembering his violent attitude towards himself, he decided that it would be useless, and went home. He planned to plough his garden that day.