If he returns to making gold, he will probably sell the timber of the forest of Waignies and leave his children as naked as the little Saint Johns. The forest is now worth about fourteen hundred thousand francs; but from one day to another you are not sure your father won't cut it down, and then your thirteen hundred acres are not worth three hundred thousand francs.
"You have cut down the forest of Waignies. The ground has not been cleared and is therefore unproductive. As for your farms at Orchies, the rents scarcely suffice to pay the interest of the sums you have borrowed " "Then what are we living on?" he demanded. Marguerite held up her needle and continued:
"Because marriage will put you at once into possession of your property, my dear little cousin," said the lawyer in a tone of triumph. "If you marry you take your share of your mother's property. To give it to you, the whole property must be liquidated; to do that, it becomes necessary to sell the forest of Waignies.
As for the forest of Waignies, we shall be obliged to hold a consultation about that. Now let us turn to another matter. We must call a family council and appoint a guardian to protect the interests of the minor children. Monsieur Conyncks of Bruges is your nearest relative; but he has now become a Belgian.
"He is bringing some bad news; I would rather you heard it from me. Your father has sold all the timber in your forest at Waignies to speculators, who have resold it to dealers. The trees are already felled, and the logs are carried away.
Monsieur Claes attended to his business affairs, paid his debts by borrowing a considerable sum of money on his property, and went to see the forest at Waignies. About the middle of the year 1817, his grief, slowly abating, left him a prey to solitude and defenceless under the monotony of the life he was leading, which heavily oppressed him.
Pierquin, with an appraising eye, stated that Madame Claes's possessions in her own right to use the notarial phrase might still be recovered, and ought to amount to nearly a million and a half of francs; basing this estimate partly on the forest of Waignies, whose timber, counting the full-grown trees, the saplings, the primeval growths, and the recent plantations, had immensely increased in value during the last twelve years, and partly on Balthazar's own property, of which enough remained to "cover" the claims of his children, if the liquidation of their mother's fortune did not yield sufficient to release him.
These one hundred and seventy thousand francs belong to Mademoiselle Claes, who can dispose of them as she sees fit; but I have lent them on a pledge that she will sign a deed securing them to me on her share of the now denuded land of the forest of Waignies." Marguerite turned away her head that her lover might not see the tears that gathered in her eyes. She knew Emmanuel's purity of soul.
She was already strengthened by an inward voice, sounding in her heart the encouragement of angels and the gratitude of her mother, when her sister, her brother, Emmanuel, and Pierquin came in, after watching the carriage until it disappeared. "And now, mademoiselle, what do you intend to do!" said Pierquin. "Save the family," she answered simply. "We own nearly thirteen hundred acres at Waignies.
Come, come, let's be generous; I wish I was not so much of a lawyer: am I never to get that harness off my back? Bless my soul! I'll begin to fall in love with Felicie, and I won't budge from that sentiment. She will have a farm of four hundred and thirty acres, which, sooner or later, will be worth twelve or fifteen thousand francs a year, for the soil about Waignies is excellent.