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The Clifton Mortgage by Horatio Alger, Jr.

Author: Alger, Horatio, 1832-1899.
Title: The Clifton Mortgage.
In: Vickery's fireside visitor. Augusta, Me. : P.O. Vickery, 1893. Vol. 19, no. 22 (Aug. 15, 1893).
Format: p. 13 ; 39 cm.
Other Name: Miller, Paul.
Horatio Alger Collection.
Other Title: Vickery's fireside visitor.
Location: PS 1029 .A3 C54 1893a (Special Collections Ovsze)
Optically scanned and encoded by Mark A. Williams
Edited by Sam S. Manivong
Horatio Alger Digital Serials Project, Northern llinois University Libraries
DeKalb, IL
11-June-1999


Mrs. Clifton had just finished ironing, and seated herself at her sewing, when there was a sound of feet on the graveled walk, and in a minute or two there was a loud knock at the door.

She lay down her work, and going to the front door opened it.

She saw before her Nathan Burton, commonly know as Squire Burton, who lived in the large brick house next to the church.

"Good morning, Mrs. Clifton," said the squire.

"Good morning, sir. Won't you walk in?"

"Thank you, I believe I will. I have a little matter of business with you."

They went together into the little sitting-room, plainly but neatly furnished, and Mrs. Clifton drew forward the rocking-chair in which the squire seated himself.

He was a little man, somewhat inclining to stoutness, with a cheek the color of parchment, and a wily look in his face, which did not impress those who met him favorably.

Mrs. Clifton sat in silent expectation, waiting for him to communicate the business upon which he had come.

"Ahem!" coughed Squire Burton, "I suppose Mrs. Clifton, you are aware that I hold a mortgage on this house to the amount of a thousand dollars."

"I am aware that you hold such a mortgage, but my husband paid you six hundred dollars upon it, but a short time before he died."

"Please to repeat that remark, Mrs. Clifton."

She did so looking at him in some surprise. "I am very much surprised to hear this— very," said the squire. "You are under a strange mistake."

"What do you mean?" demanded the widow, quickly.

"I mean that your husband never made me any such payment. The mortgage remains undiminished."

"Squire Burton" said Mrs. Clifton, slowly, looking him steadily in the face, "what your object in making this assertion is, I will not inquire. I will only say that Iknow my husband paid you six hundred dollars the week before his death."

''Do you mean to accuse me of intended fraud?" ejaculated the squire, blusteringly.

"I accuse you of nothing. Call it a mistake —call it forgetfulness—but my husband paid you that money."

"Did you see it paid?"

"No."

"How then are you so confident?"

"Because I knew of my husband going to your house on that errand. I saw the money which he counted out in my presence. When he returned he told me it was paid."

"Did he show you a receipt for it?" demanded Squire Burton.

"No," said the widow reluctantly. "He did not."

"And for a very good reason," sneered the squire. "He had none."

"Didn't you give him any?"

"I should if he had paid the money, as a matter of course."

"But he did pay you the money."

"You are mistaken. I will thank you not to say that again."

"But I shall say it and reiterate it!" said Mrs. Clifton warmly. "What could he have done with the money if he had not paid you, I should like to know?"

"I am sure I cannot say," said the squire, carelessly. "You probably know better than I do."

"Why should he say that he had paid you?"

"That is more than I can tell."

"I suppose you have come for something else besides giving me this information," said Mrs. Clifton. "If you have anything more to say I will hear it."

"I have this to say, that I have the right to foreclose the mortgage the first of next month," replied the squire, shortly.

"Do you intend to do it?"

"I don't want to be hard upon you. I am willing to take this cottage off your hands."

"You are very kind," said Mrs. Clifton, bitterly.

"At the most it is not worth over fifteen hundred dollars—I will cancel the mortgage, and pay you five hundred."

You are very generous, Squire Burton."

"I understand you, madam, but the offer is made in kindness to yourself. No doubt you would have a difficulty in raising the thousand dollars, and at auction you would be compelled to sacrifice your property. I don't care much about the house, but I will make you a fair offer for it."

"And shall you be willing to accept me as a tenant, when the house has become yours?"

"Why, ahem! I have partly promised to let it to a nephew of mine who is going to move into town in the course of the summer."

"It seems to me, Squire Burton, you are a little precipitate in letting a house that doesn't belong to you."

"I thought you would feel disposed to accept my offer."

"I must have time to think about this. The blow is very unexpected," said Mrs. Clifton.

"Oh, certainly, any reasonable time. Only I can't wait after the time expires. Of course if you can raise the thousand dollars I shall not object to receiving it."

"I presume not, as in that case you must have no resource but to accept it."

"I'll humble her cursed pride," muttered Squire Burton as he left the house, irritated by the contempt which he read in the widow's face. "I've got the whip-hand of her, as she'll find."

Weeks passed. Mrs. Clifton searched the house over for the lost receipt, but could not find it. It was a great mystery. She could not believe that her husband would neglect the precaution of taking a receipt in a matter of such importance. Yet where was it? It was easy to ask the question but hard to answer. She could only conclude that she had lost it, and Squire Burton had found it.

Mr. Clifton had died very suddenly. He was a victim of heart disease, and being attacked in the street, was carried insensible into Squire Burton's office—where medical aid was called. But he was then past help.

It was the night before the day on which the squire would have right to foreclose the mortgage, and still Mrs. Clifton was unprepared to meet it. She sat despondent in the little sitting room when there was a hurried knock at the door. The visitor proved to be Christopher Davenport, a youth of seventeen, who was employed in Squire Burton's office.

"Will you come in, Christopher?" said Mrs. Clifton.

"Thank you, I want to ask you one or two questions. Does Squire Burton hold a mortgage on this house?"

"He does."

"For how much?"

"A thousand dollars."

"Has any of it been paid?"

"He says not, and threatens to foreclose tomorrow."

"But your husband did pay a part—did he not?"

"He paid six hundred dollars, but I have no proof of it."

"Then Mrs. Clifton, I am glad to say that I can give you such proof."

"You can!" exclaimed the widow, joyously and eagerly.

"Yes, here it is," and Christopher drew from his pocket a receipt in form for six hundred dollars, duly signed by Nathan Burton, and made out to Mr. Clifton.

"Where did you get this, Christopher?" asked Mrs. Clifton eagerly.

"Mr. Burton gave me some letters to answer, and in the envelope of one I found this receipt. It must have got in through some carelessness of his. I knew he had no right to it, and I brought it to you."

"You have done me a service I can never forget, Christopher. Have you told any one of this?"

"Only my father, and he bids me say he will send you the balance of the money to pay the mortgage."

"God bless him and you! You have saved me from much misery."

The next day Squire Burton paid another visit to the cottage.

"Well Mrs. Clifton," he said, "have you thought of my offer?"

"I have."

"And will accept it?"

"No."

"Then you have the thousand dollars ready."

"I am ready to pay you four hundred dollars with interest."

"That won't do, ma'am."

"It must do. My husband paid you six hundred dollars, and I am not disposed to pay it to you twice."

"This is all folly, Mrs. Clifton. You know there is no evidence of that."

"What do you call that, sir?"

Squire Burton started back in dismay when the widow quietly produced the receipt. It was in his mind for a moment to deny his signature, but a moment's reflection convinced him that this would be folly.

"Where did you find this?" he stammered.

"Where you did not intend me to," she answered, coldly.

Squire Burton wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.

"This has been an awkward mistake," he said at length. "I—I believe I am growing forgetful. I hope you will not think——"

"I had better not tell you what I think," said Mrs. Clifton, coldly.

"Don't trouble yourself about the four hundred dollars. It can remain on the mortgage at present."

'I propose to pay it to-day. Henceforth, Squire Burton, there can be no business relations between us. And now as this house is wholly mine I must ask you never again to enter it."

Squire Burton left the house angry and discomfited. To this day he does not understand how the lost receipt found its way into Mrs. Clifton's hands.