He was a tall man of forty or thereabout, this Jules Chicot, the innkeeper of Spreville, with a red face and a round stomach, and said by those who knew him to be a smart business man. He stopped his buggy in front of Mother Magloire’s farmhouse, and, hitching the horse to the gatepost, went in at the gate.
Chicot owned some land adjoining that of the old woman, which he had been coveting for a long while, and had tried in vain to buy a score of times, but she had always obstinately refused to part with it.
“I was born here, and here I mean to die,” was all she said.
He found her peeling potatoes outside the farmhouse door. She was a woman of about seventy-two, very thin, shriveled and wrinkled, almost dried up in fact and much bent but as active and untiring as a girl. Chicot patted her on the back in a friendly fashion and then sat down by her on a stool.
“Well mother, you are always pretty well and hearty, I am glad to see.”
“Nothing to complain of, considering, thank you. And how are you, Monsieur Chicot?”
“Oh, pretty well, thank you, except a few rheumatic pains occasionally; otherwise I have nothing to complain of.”
“So much the better.”
And she said no more, while Chicot watched her going on with her work. Her crooked, knotted fingers, hard as a lobster’s claws, seized the tubers, which were lying in a pail, as if they had been a pair of pincers, and she peeled them rapidly, cutting off long strips of skin with an old knife which she held in the other hand, throwing the potatoes into the water as they were done. Three daring fowls jumped one after the other into her lap, seized a bit of peel and then ran away as fast as their legs would carry them with it in their beak.
Chicot seemed embarrassed, anxious, with something on the tip of his tongue which he could not say. At last he said hurriedly:
“Listen, Mother Magloire–”
“Well, what is it?”
“You are quite sure that you do not want to sell your land?”
“Certainly not; you may make up your mind to that. What I have said I have said, so don’t refer to it again.”
“Very well; only I think I know of an arrangement that might suit us both very well.”
“What is it?”
“Just this. You shall sell it to me and keep it all the same. You don’t understand? Very well, then follow me in what I am going to say.”
The old woman left off peeling potatoes and looked at the innkeeper attentively from under her heavy eyebrows, and he went on:
“Let me explain myself. Every month I will give you a hundred and fifty francs. You understand me! suppose! Every month I will come and bring you thirty crowns, and it will not make the slightest difference in your life–not the very slightest. You will have your own home just as you have now, need not trouble yourself about me, and will owe me nothing; all you will have to do will be to take my money. Will that arrangement suit you?”
He looked at her good-humoredly, one might almost have said benevolently, and the old woman returned his looks distrustfully, as if she suspected a trap, and said:
“It seems all right as far as I am concerned, but it will not give you the farm.”
“Never mind about that,” he said; “you may remain here as long as it pleases God Almighty to let you live; it will be your home. Only you will sign a deed before a lawyer making it over to me; after your death. You have no children, only nephews and nieces for whom you don’t care a straw. Will that suit you? You will keep everything during your life, and I will give you the thirty crowns a month. It is pure gain as far as you are concerned.”