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Jokubas translated her words. She expected the agent to fly into a
passion, but he was, to her bewilderment, as ever imperturbable; he even
offered to go and get a lawyer for her, but she declined this. They went
a long way, on purpose to find a man who would not be a confederate.
Then let any one imagine their dismay, when, after half an hour, they
came in with a lawyer, and heard him greet the agent by his first name!
They felt that all was lost; they sat like prisoners summoned to hear
the reading of their death warrant. There was nothing more that they
could do--they were trapped! The lawyer read over the deed, and when
he had read it he informed Szedvilas that it was all perfectly regular,
that the deed was a blank deed such as was often used in these sales.
And was the price 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.