The impulse was strong upon him, then and there, to declare that he would take none of that hoard.
“Now look here, Mrs. Edwards,” said he, fairly coloring like a girl as he spoke, and smiling uneasily, “I don’t want that money.”
Ann looked at him with the look of one who is stung, and yet incredulous. Elmira gave a little gasp of delight. “Oh, mother!” she cried.
“Keep still!” ordered her mother. “I dun’no’ what you mean,” she said to Squire Merritt.
The Squire’s smile deepened, but he looked frightened; his eyes fell before hers. “Why, what I say—I don’t want this money, this time. I have all I need. Keep it over till the next half.”
Squire Eben Merritt had a feeling as if something actually tangible, winged and clawed and beaked, and flaming with eyes, pounced upon him. He fairly shrank back, so fierce was Ann’s burst of indignation; it produced a sense of actual contact.
“Keep it till next half?” repeated Ann. “Keep it till next half? What should we keep it till next half for, I’d like to know? It’s your money, ain’t it? We don’t want it; we ain’t beggars; we don’t need it. I see through you, Squire Eben Merritt; you think I don’t, but I do.”
“I fear I don’t know what you mean,” the Squire said, helplessly.
“I see through you,” repeated Ann. She had reverted to her first suspicion that his design was to gain possession of the whole property by letting the unpaid interest accumulate, but that poor Squire Eben did not know. He gave up all attempts to understand this woman’s mysterious innuendoes, and took the true masculine method of departure from an uncomfortable subject at right angles, with no further ado.
He opened his game-bag and held up a brace of fat partridges. “Well,” he said, laughing, “I want you to see what luck I’ve had shooting, Mrs. Edwards. I’ve bagged eight of these fellows to-day.”
But Ann could not make a mental revolution so easily. She gave a half-indifferent, half-scornful squint at the partridges. “I dun’no’ much about shootin’,” said she, shortly. Ann had always been, in her own family, a passionate woman, but among outsiders she had borne herself with dignified politeness and formal gentility, clothing, as it were, her intensity of spirit with a company garb. Now, since her terrible trouble had come upon her, this garb had often slipped aside, and revealed, with the indecency of affliction, the struggling naked spirit of the woman to those from whom she had so carefully hidden it.
Once Ann would not have believed that she would have so borne herself towards Squire Merritt. The Squire laid the partridges on the table. “I am going to leave these for your supper, Mrs. Edwards,” he said, easily; but he quaked a little, for this woman seemed to repel gifts like blows.
“Thank ye,” said Ann, dryly, “but I guess you’d better take ’em home to your wife. I’ve got a good deal cooked up.”