HotFreeBooks.com
Jerome, A Poor Man - A Novel
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The white-clad girls on the stairs turned as with one accord their innocently abashed faces towards the door, then pushed one another on, and into the parlor, with soft titters and whispers.

Squire Eben Merritt's old servant, Hannah, gravely ponderous in purple delaine, with a wide white apron enhancing her great front, came forward from the room in the rear and motioned Jerome and Elmira to the stairs. She stared wonderingly after Jerome; she did not recognize him in his fine attire, though she had known him since he was a child.

When Jerome and Elmira came down-stairs he led the way at once into the north parlor, where the most of the guests were assembled. There were the village young women in their best attire, decked as to heads and bosoms with sweet drooping flowers, displaying all their humble stores of lace and ribbons and trinkets, jostling one another with slurring hisses of silk and crisp rattle of muslins, speaking affectedly with pursed lips, ending often a sibilant with a fine whistle, or silent, with mouths set in conscious smiles and cheeks hot with blushes. There were the village young men, in their Sunday clothes, standing aloof from the girls, now and then exchanging remarks with one another in a bravado of low bass. In the rear of the north parlor were Lucina and her parents, Mrs. Doctor Prescott and Lawrence, Miss Camilla Merritt, and the Squire's friends, Colonel Lamson, John Jennings, and Lawyer Means.

Jerome, with Elmira following, made his way slowly through the outskirts towards this fine nucleus of the party. Lawrence Prescott was talking gayly with Lucina, but when he saw Jerome and his sister approaching he stood back, with a slight flush and start, beside his mother, who with Miss Camilla was seated on the great sofa between the north windows. Mrs. Prescott fanned herself slowly with a large feather fan, and beamed abroad with a sweet graciousness. Her handsome face seemed to fairly shed a mild light of approval upon the company. She stirred with opulent foldings of velvet, shaking out vague musky odors; a brooch in the fine lace plaits over her high maternal bosom gave out a dull white gleam of old brilliants. Mrs. Prescott was more sumptuously attired than the Squire's wife, in her crimson and gold shot silk, which became her well, but was many seasons old, or than Miss Camilla, in her grand purple satin, that also was old, but so well matched to her own grace of age that it seemed like the garment of her youth, which had faded like it, in sweet communion with peaceful thoughts and lavender and rose-leaves.

Squire Eben Merritt stood between his wife and daughter. Lucina had fastened a pretty posy in his button-hole, and he wore his fine new broadcloths, to please her, which he had bought for this occasion.

The Squire, though scarcely at home in his north parlor, nor in his grand apparel, which had never figured in haunts of fish or game, was yet radiant with jovial and hearty hospitality, and not even impatient for the cards and punch which awaited him and his friends in the other room, when his social duties should be fulfilled.

Lucina herself had set out the cards and the tobacco, and made a garland of myrtle-leaves and violets for the punch-bowl in honor of the occasion. "I want you to have the best time of anybody at my party, father," she had said, "and as soon as all the guests have arrived, you must go and play cards with Colonel Lamson and the others."

No other in the whole world, not even her mother, did Lucina love as well as she loved her father, and the comfort and pleasure of no other had she so deeply at heart.

At the Squire's elbow, standing faithfully by him until he should get his release, were his three friends: John Jennings and Lawyer Eliphalet Means in their ancient swallow-tails—John Jennings's being of renowned London make, though nobody in Upham appreciated that—and Colonel Jack Lamson in his old dress uniform. Colonel Lamson, having grown stouter of late years, wore with a mighty discomfort of the flesh but with an unyielding spirit his old clothes of state.

"I'll be damned if I thought I could get into 'em at first, Eben," he had told the Squire when he arrived. "Haven't had them on since I was pall-bearer at poor Jim Pell's funeral. I was bound to do your girl honor, but I'll be damned if I'll dance in 'em—I tell you it wouldn't be safe, Eben."

The Colonel looked with intense seriousness at his friend, then laughed hoarsely. His laugh was always wheezy of late, and he breathed hard when he took exercise.

Sometime in his dim and shady past Colonel Lamson was reported to have had a wife. She had never been seen in Upham, and was commonly believed to have died at some Western post during the first years of their marriage. Probably the beautiful necklace of carved corals, which the Colonel had brought that night for a present to Lucina, had belonged to that long-dead young wife; but not even the Squire knew.

As for John Jennings, he had never had a wife, and the trinkets he had bestowed upon sweethearts remained still in their keeping; but he brought a pair of little pearly ear-rings for Lucina, and never wore his diamond shirt-button again. Lawyer Eliphalet Means brought for his offering a sandal-wood fan, a veritable lacework of wood, spreading it himself in his lean brown hand, which matched in hue, and eying it with a sort of dryly humorous satisfaction before he gave it into Lucina's keeping.

Squire Eben, despite his gratification for his daughter's sake, burst into a great laugh. "By the Lord Harry!" cried he; "you didn't go into a shop yourself and ask for that folderol?"

"Got it through a sea-captain, from India, years ago," replied the lawyer, laconically.

"Wouldn't she take it?" inquired Colonel Lamson, with sly meaning, his round, protruding eyes staring hard at his friend and the fan.

"Never gave her the chance," said Means, with a shrewd twinkle. Then he turned to Lucina, with a stiff but courtly bow, and presented the sandal-wood fan, and not one of them knew then, nor ever after, its true history.

Lucina had joyfully heard the clang of the knocker when Jerome arrived, thinking that they were the last guests, and her father could have his pleasure. Doctor Prescott had been called to Granby and would not come until late, if at all; the minister, it was reported, was ill with influenza—she and her mother had agreed that the Squire need not wait for them.

When Lucina saw the throng parting for the new-comers, she assumed involuntarily her pose of sweet and gracious welcome; but when Jerome and his sister stood before her, she started and lost composure.

Lucina remembered Elmira well enough, and had thought she remembered Jerome since last Sunday, when her father, calling to mind their frequent meetings in years back, had chidden her lightly for not speaking to him.

"He has grown and changed so, father," Lucina had said; "I did not mean to be discourteous, and I will remember him another time."

Lucina had really considered afterwards, saying nothing to her father or her mother, that the young man was very handsome. She had sat quite still that Sunday afternoon in the meeting-house, and, instead of listening to the sermon, had searched her memory for old pictures of Jerome. She had recalled distinctly the tea-drinking in her aunt Camilla's arbor, his refusal of cake, and gift of sassafras-root in the meadow; also his repulse of her childish generosity when she would have given him her little savings for the purchase of shoes. Old stings of the spirit can often be revived with thought, even when the cause is long passed. Lucina, sitting there in meeting, felt again the pang of her slighted benevolence. She was sure that she would remember Jerome at once the next time they met, but for a minute she did not. She bowed and shook hands prettily with Elmira, then turned to Jerome and stared at him, all unmindful of her manners, thinking vaguely that here was some grand young gentleman who had somehow gotten into her party unbidden. Such a fool do externals make of the memory, which needs long training to know the same bird in different feathers.

Lucina stared at Jerome, at first with grave and innocent wonder, then suddenly her eyes drooped and a soft blush crept over her face and neck, and even her arms. Lucina, in her short-sleeved India muslin gown, flowing softly from its gathering around her white shoulders to her slender waist, where a blue ribbon bound it, and thence in lines of transparent lights and blue shadows to her little pointed satin toe, stood before him with a sort of dumb-maiden appealing that he should not look at her so, but he was helpless, as with a grasp of vision which he could not loosen.

Jerome looked at her as the first man might have looked at the first woman; the world was empty but for him and her. The voices of the company were ages distant, their eyes dim across eternal spaces. The fragrance of sweet lavender and dried rose-leaves from Lucina's garments, and, moreover, a strange Oriental one, that seemed to accent the whole, from her sandal-wood fan, was to him, as by a transposing into a different key of sense, like some old melody of life which he had always known, and yet so forgotten that it had become new.

Jerome never knew how long he stood there, but suddenly he felt the Squire's kindly hand on his shoulder, and heard his loud, jovial voice in his ear. "Why, Jerome, my boy, what is the matter? Don't you remember my daughter? Lucina, where are your manners?"

And then Lucina curtesied low, with her fair curls drooping forward over her blushing face and neck, as pink as her corals, and Jerome bowed and strove to say something, but he knew not what, and never knew what he said, nor anybody else.

"'Twas the new clothes, boy," said the Squire in his ear. "By the Lord Harry, 'twas much as ever I knew you myself at first! I took you for an earl over from the old country. Lucina meant no harm. Go you now and have a talk with her."

Jerome wondered anxiously afterwards if he had spoken properly to the Squire's wife, to Mrs. Doctor Prescott, to Miss Camilla, and the others—if he had looked, even, at anybody but Lucina. He remembered the party as he might have remembered a kaleidoscope, of which only one combination of form and color abided with him. He realized all beside, as a broad effect with no detail. The card-playing and punch-drinking in the other room, the preliminary tuning of fiddles in the hall, the triumphant strains of a country dance, the weaving of the figures, the gay voices of the village youths, who lost all their abashedness as the evening went on, the supper, the table gleaming with the white lights of silver and the rainbow lustre of glass, the golden points of candles in the old candelabra, the fruity and spicy odors of cake and wine, were all as a dimness and vagueness of brilliance itself.

He did not know, even, that Lawrence Prescott was at Elmira's side all the evening, and after his father arrived, and that Elmira danced every time with him, and set people talking and Doctor Prescott frowning. He knew only that he had followed Lucina about, and that she seemed to encourage him with soft, leading smiles. That they sat on a sofa in a corner, behind a door, and talked, that once they stepped out on the stoop, and even strolled a little down the path, under the trees, when she complained of the room being hot and close. Then, without knowing whether he should do so or not, he bent towards her, with his arm crooked, and she slipped her hand in it, and they both trembled and were silent for a moment. He knew every word that Lucina had spoken, and gave a thousand different meanings to each. For the first time in his life, he tasted the sweets of praise from girlish lips. Lucina had heard of his good deeds from her father, how kind he was to the poor and sick, how hard he had worked, how faithful he had been to his mother and sister. Jerome listened with bliss, and shame that he should find it bliss. Then Lucina and he remembered together, with that perfect time of memory which is as harmonious as any duet, all the episodes of their childhood.

"I remember how you gave me sassafras," said Lucina, "and how you would not take the nice gingerbread that Hannah made, and how sad I felt about it."

"I will get some more sassafras for you to-morrow," said Jerome.

"And I will give you some more gingerbread if you will take it," said she, with a sweet coquettishness.

"I will, if you want me to," said Jerome.

They were out in the front yard then, a gust of wind pressed under the trees, and seemed to blow them together. Lucina's white muslin fluttered around Jerome's knees, her curls floated across his breast.

"Oh," murmured Lucina, confusedly, "this wind has come all of a sudden," and she stood apart from him.

"You will take cold; we had better go in," said Jerome. They went into the house, Jerome being a little hurt that Lucina had shrunk away from him so quickly, and Lucina disappointed that Jerome was so solicitous lest she take cold. Then they sat down again in the corner, and remembered that Jerome ate two pieces of cake at Miss Camilla's tea-party and she two and a half.

Somehow, before the party broke up that night, it was understood that Jerome was to come and see her the next Sunday night. And yet Lucina had not invited him, nor he asked permission to come.



Chapter XXIV

Jerome's mind, during the two days after the party, was in a sort of dazzle of efflorescence, and could not precipitate any clear ideas for his own understanding. Love had been so outside his calculation of life, that his imagination, even, had scarcely grasped the possibility of it.

He worked on stolidly, having all the time before his mental vision, like one with closed eyes in a bright room, a shifting splendor as of strange scenes and clouds.

He could not sleep nor eat, his spirit seemed to inhabit his flesh so thoroughly as to do away with the material needs of it. Still, all things that appealed to his senses seemed enhanced in power, becoming so loud and so magnified that they produced a confusion of hearing and vision. The calls of the spring birds sounded as if in his very ear, with an insistence of meaning; the spring flowers bloomed where he had never seen them, and the fragrance of each was as evident to him as a voice.

Jerome wondered vaguely if this strange exaltation of spirit were illness. Sunday morning, when he could not eat his breakfast, his mother told him that there were red spots on his cheeks, and she feared he was feverish.

He laughed scornfully at the idea, but looked curiously at himself in his little square of mirror, when he was dressing for meeting. The red spots were there, burning in his cheeks, and his eyes were brilliant. For a minute he wondered anxiously if he were feverish, if he were going to be ill, and, if so, what his mother and sister would do. He even felt his own pulse as he stood there, and discovered that it was quick. Then, all at once, his face in the glass looked out at him with a flash as from some sub-state of consciousness in the depths of his own being, which he could not as yet quite fathom.

"I don't know what ails me," he muttered, as he turned away. He felt as he had when puzzling over the unknown quantity in an algebraic equation. It was not until he was sitting in meeting, looking forward at Lucina's fair profile, cut in clear curves like a lily, that the solution came to him.

"I'm what they call in love," Jerome said to himself. He turned very pale, and looked away from Lucina. He felt as if suddenly he had come to the brink of some dread abyss of nature.

"That is why I want to go to see her to-night," he thought. "I won't go; I won't!"

Just before the bell stopped tolling, Doctor Prescott's family went up the aisle in stately file, the doctor marching ahead with an imperious state which seemed to force contributions from followers and beholders, as if a peacock were to levy new eyes for his plumage from all admiration along his path. The doctor's wife, in her satins and Indian cashmeres, followed him, moving with massive gentleness, a long ostrich plume in her bonnet tossing softly. Last came Lawrence, slight and elegantly erect, in his city broadcloth and linen, a figure so like his father as to seem almost his double, and yet with a difference beyond that of age, so palpable that a child might see it—a self-spelled word, with a different meaning in two languages.

The Merritt pew was just behind Doctor Prescott's. Lawrence had not been seated long before he turned slightly and cast a smiling glance around at beautiful Lucina, who inclined her head softly in response. Jerome had thus far never felt on his own account jealousy of any human being, he had also never been made ignominious by self-pity; now, both experiences came to him. Seeing that look of Lawrence Prescott's, he was suddenly filled with that bitterness of grudging another the sweet which one desires for one's self which is like no other bitterness on earth; and he who had hitherto pitied only the deprivations of others pitied his own, and so became the pauper of his own spirit. "He likes her," he told himself; "of course she'll like him. He's Doctor Prescott's son. He's got everything without working for it—I've got nothing."

Jerome looked at neither of them again. When meeting was over, he strode rapidly down the aisle, lest he encounter them.

"What ailed you in meeting, Jerome?" Elmira asked as they were going home.

"Nothing."

"You looked so pale once I thought you were going to faint away."

"I tell you nothing ailed me."

"You were dreadfully pale," persisted Elmira. She was so happy that morning that she had more self-assertion than usual. Lawrence Prescott had looked around at her three times; he had smiled at her once, when he turned to leave the pew at the close of meeting. Jerome had not noticed that, and she had not noticed Lawrence's smile at Lucina. She had been too fluttered to look up when Lawrence first entered.

That afternoon Jerome and Elmira set out for meeting again, but when they reached the turn of the road Jerome stopped.

"I guess I won't go this afternoon," said he.

"Why, what's the matter? Don't you feel well?" Elmira asked.

"Yes, I feel well enough, but it's warm. I guess I won't go." Elmira stared at him wonderingly. "Run along; you'll be late," said he, trying to smile.

"I'm afraid you are sick, Jerome."

"I tell you I am not. You'll be late."

Finally Elmira went on, though with many backward glances. Jerome sat down on the stone wall, behind a huge growth of lilac. He could see through a leafy screen the people in the main road wending their way to meeting. He had suddenly resolved not to go, lest he see Lucina Merritt again.

Presently there was out in the main road a graceful swing of light skirts and a gliding of shoulders and head which made his heart leap. Lucina was going to meeting with her mother. The moment she stirred the distance with dim advances of motion, Jerome knew her. It seemed to him that he would have known her shadow among a nightful, her step among a thousand. It was as if he had developed ultimate senses for her recognition.

Jerome, when he had once glimpsed her, looked away until he was sure that she had passed. When the bell had stopped ringing, he arose and climbed over the stone wall, then went across a field to the path skirting the poor-house which he had used to follow to school.

When he came opposite the poor-house in the hollow, he looked down at it. The day was so mild that the paupers were swarming into evidence like insects. Many of the house windows were wide open, and old heads with palsied nods, like Chinese toys, appeared in them; some children were tumbling about before the door.

Old Peter Thomas—who seemed to have become crystallized, as it were, in age and decrepitude, and advanced no further in either—was pottering around the garden, eying askant, like an old robin, the new plough furrows. Pauper women humped their calico backs over the green slopes of the fields, searching for dandelion greens, but not digging, because it was Sunday.

Their shrill, plaintive voices, calling to one another, came plainly to Jerome. When he reached the barn, there sat Mindy Toggs, as of old, chanting his accusatory refrain, "Simon Basset, Simon Basset."

Hitherto Jerome had viewed all this humiliation of poverty from a slight but no less real eminence of benefaction; to-day he had a miserable sense of community with it. "It is not having what we want that makes us all paupers," he told himself, bitterly; "I'm as much a pauper as any of them. I'm in a worse poor-house than the town of Upham's. I'm in the poor-house of life where the paupers are all fed on stones."

Then suddenly, as he went on, a brave spirit of revolt seized him. "It is wanting what we have not that makes us paupers," he said, "and I will not be one, if I tear my heart out."

Jerome climbed another stone wall into a shrubby pasture, and went across that to a pine wood, and thence, by devious windings and turnings, through field and forest, to his old woodland. It was his now; he had purchased it back from the Squire. Then he sat himself down and looked about him out of his silence and self-absorption, and it was as if he had come into a very workshop of nature. The hummings of her wheels and wings were loud in his ear, the fanning of them cool on his cheek. The wood here was very light and young, and the spring sun struck the roots of the trees.

Little swarms of gossamer gnats danced in the sunlit spaces; when he looked down there was the blue surprise of violets, and anemones nodded dimly out of low shadows. There was a loud shrilling of birds, and the tremulousness of the young leaves seemed to be as much from unseen wings as wind. However, the wind blew hard in soft, frequent gusts, and everything was tilting and bowing and waving.

Jerome looked at it all, and it had a new meaning for him. The outer world is always tinctured more or less to the sight by one's mental states; but who can say, when it comes to outlooks from the keenest stresses of spirit, how impalpable the boundary-lines between beholder and object may grow? Who knows if a rose does not really cease to be, in its own sense, to a soul in an extremity of joy or grief?

Whatever it might be for others, the spring wood was not to-day what it had ever been before to Jerome. All its shining, and sweetening, and growing were so forced into accord with himself that the whole wood took, as it were, the motion of his own soul. Jerome looked at a fine young poplar-tree, and saw not a tree but a maid, revealing with innocent helplessness her white body through her skirts of transparent green. The branches flung out towards him like a maiden's arms, with shy intent of caresses. Every little flower upon which his idle gaze fell was no flower, but an eye of love—a bird called to his mate with the call of his own heart. Every sight, and sound, and sweetness of the wood wooed and tempted him, with the reflex motion of his own new ardor of love and passion. He had not gone to meeting lest he see Lucina Merritt again, and wished to drive her image from his mind, and here he was peopling his solitude with symbols of her which were bolder than she, and made his hunger worse to bear.

A childlike wonder was over him at the whole. "Why haven't I ever felt this way before?" he thought. He recalled all the young men he knew who had married during the last few years, and thought how they must have felt as he felt now, and he had no conception of it. He had been secretly rather proud that he had not encumbered himself with a wife and children, but had given his best strength to less selfish loves. He remembered his scorn of the school-master and his adoring girls, and realized that his scorn had been due, as scorn largely is, to ignorance. Instead of contempt, a fierce pity seized him for all who had given way to this great need of love, and yet he felt strange indignation and shame that he himself had come into the common lot.

"It is no use; I can't," he said, quite out loud, and set a hard face against all the soft lights and shadows which moved upon him with the motion of his own desires.

When he said "I can't," Jerome meant not so much any ultimate end of love as love itself. He never for a second had a thought that he could marry Lucina Merritt, Squire Eben Merritt's daughter, nor indeed would if he could. He never fancied that that fair lady in her silk attire could come to love him so unwisely as to wed him, and had he fancied it the fierce revolt at receiving so much where he could give so little, which was one of his first instincts, would have seized him. Never once he thought that he could marry Lucina, and take her into his penury or profit by her riches. All he resolved against was the love itself, which would make him weak with the weakness of all unfed things, and he made a stand of rebellion.

"I'm going to put her out of my mind," said Jerome, and stood up to his full height among the sweet spring growths, flinging back his head, as if he defied Nature herself, and went pushing rudely through the tremulous outreaching poplar branches, and elbowed a cluster of white flowering bushes huddling softly together, like maidens who must put themselves in a man's way, though to their own shaming.



Chapter XXV

Jerome decided that he would not go to see Lucina Merritt that Sunday night. He knew that she expected him, though there had been no formal agreement to that effect; he knew that she would wonder at his non-appearance, and, even though she were not disappointed, that she would think him untruthful and unmannerly.

"Let her," he told himself, harshly, fairly scourging himself with his resolution. "Let her think just as badly of me as she can. I'll get over it quicker."

The ineffable selfishness of martyrdom was upon him. He considered only his own glory and pain of noble renunciation, and not her agony of disillusion and distrust, even if she did not care for him. That last possibility he did not admit for a moment. In the first place, though he had loved her almost at first sight, the counter-reasoning he did not imagine could apply to her. It had been as simple and natural in his case as looking up at a new star, but in hers—what was there in him to arrest her sweet eyes and consideration, at a moment's notice, if at all? As well expect the star to note a new eye of admiration upon the earth.

In all probability, Lucina's heart had turned already to Lawrence Prescott, as was fitting. She had doubtless seen much of him—he was handsome and prosperous; both families would be pleased with such a match. Jerome faced firmly the jealousy in his heart. "You've got to get used to it," he told himself.

He did not think much of his sister in this connection, but simply decided that his mother, and possibly Elmira, had overrated Lawrence Prescott's attention, and jumped too hastily at conclusions. It was incredible that any one should fancy his sister in preference to Lucina. Lawrence had merely called in a friendly way. He did not once imagine any such feeling on Elmira's part for young Prescott, as on his for Lucina, and had at the time more impatience than pity. However, he resolved to remonstrate if Lawrence should stay so late again with his sister.

"She may think he means more than he does, girls are so silly," he said. He did not class Lucina Merritt among girls.

That Sunday night, after dark, though he was resolved not to visit Lucina, he strolled up the road, past her house. There was no light in the parlor. "She doesn't expect me, after all," he thought, but with a great pang of disappointment rather than relief. He judged such proceedings from the rustic standpoint. Always in Upham, when a girl expected a young man to come to spend an evening with her, she lighted the best parlor and entertained him there in isolation from the rest of her family. He did not know how different a training in such respects Lucina had had. She never thought, since he was not her avowed lover, of sequestering herself with him in the best parlor. She would have been too proudly and modestly fearful as to what he might think of her, and she of herself, and her parents of them both. She expected, as a matter of course, to invite him into the sitting-room, where were her father and mother and Colonel Jack Lamson.

However, she permitted herself a little innocent manoeuvre, whereby she might gain a few minutes of special converse with him without the presence of her elders. A little before dusk Lucina seated herself on the front door-step. Her mother brought presently a little shawl and feared lest she take cold, but Lucina said she should not remain there long, and there was no wind and no dampness.

Lucina felt uneasy lest she be deceiving her mother, but she could not bring herself to tell her, though she did not fairly know why, that she expected a caller.

The dusk gathered softly, like the shadow of brooding wings. She thought Jerome must come very soon. She could just see a glimmer of white road through the trees, and she watched that eagerly, never taking her eyes from it. Now and then she heard an approaching footstep, and a black shadow slanted athwart the road. Her heart sank, though she wondered at it, when that happened.

When Jerome came up the road she made sure at once that it was he. She even stirred to greet him, but after an indefinable pause he passed on also; then she thought she had been mistaken.

He saw the flutter of pale drapery on the door-step, but never dreamed that Lucina was actually there watching for him. After a while he went back. Lucina, who was still sitting there, saw him again, but this time did not stir, since he was going the other way.

When, at half-past eight, she saw the people from the evening prayer-meeting passing on the road, she made sure that Jerome would not come that night.

She gave a soft sigh, leaned her head back against the fluted door-post, and tried to recall every word he had said to her, and every word she had said to him, about his coming. She began to wonder if she had possibly not been cordial enough, if she could have made him fear he would not be welcome. She repeated over and over, trying to imagine him in her place as listener, all she had said to him. She gave it the furthest inflections of graciousness and coolness of which she could have been capable, and puzzled sorely as to which she had used.

"It makes so much difference as to how you say a thing," thought poor Lucina, "and I know I was afraid lest he think me too glad to have him come. I wonder if I did not say enough, or did not say it pleasantly."

It did not once occur to Lucina that Jerome might mean to slight her, and might stay away because he wished to do so. She had been so petted and held precious and desirable during her whole sweet life, that she could scarcely imagine any one would flout her, though so timid and fearful of hurting and being hurt was she by nature, that without so much love and admiration she would have been a piteous thing.

She decided that it must be her fault that Jerome had not come. She reflected that he was very proud; she remembered, and the memory stung her with something of the old pain of the happening, how he would not take the cakes when she was a child, how he would not take her money to buy shoes. She shrank even then, remembering the flash with which he had turned upon her.

"I did not say enough, I was so afraid of saying too much, and that is why he has not come," she told herself, and sadly troubled her gentle heart thereby.

The tears came into her eyes and rolled slowly down her fair cheeks as she sat there in the dusk. She did not yet feel towards Jerome as he towards her. She had been too young and childish when she had known him for love to have taken fast root in her heart; and she was not one to love fully until she felt her footing firm, and her place secure in a lover's affections. Still, who can tell what may be in the heart of the gentlest and most transparent little girl, who follows obediently at her mother's apron-strings? In those old days when Abigail had put her little daughter to bed, heard her say her prayers for forgiveness of her sins of innocence, and blessings upon those whom she loved best, then kissed the fair baby face sunken in its white pillow, she never dreamed what happened after she had gone down-stairs. Every night, for a long time after she had first spoken to Jerome, did the small Lucina, her heart faintly stirred into ignorant sweetness with the first bloom of young romance, slip out of her bed after her mother had gone, kneel down upon her childish knees, and ask another blessing for Jerome Edwards.

"Please, God, bless that boy, and give him shoes and gingerbread, because he won't take them from me," Lucina used to pray, then climb into bed again with a little wild scramble of hurry.

Sometimes, when she was a little girl, though her mother never knew it, Lucina used to be thinking about Jerome, and building artless air-castles when she bent her grave childish brow over her task of needle-work. Sometimes, on the heights of these castles reared by her innocent imagination, she and Jerome put arms around each other's necks and embraced and kissed, and her mother sat close by and did not know.

She also did not know that often, when she had curled Lucina's hair with special care on the Sabbath day, and dressed her in her best frock, that her little daughter, demurely docile under her maternal hands, was eagerly wondering if Jerome would not think her pretty in her finery.

Of course, when Lucina was grown up, and went away to school, these childish love-dreams seemed quite lost and forgotten, in her awakening under the light of older life. In those latter days Lucina had never thought about Jerome Edwards. She had even, perhaps, had her heart touched, at least to a fancy of love, by the admiration of others. It was whispered in the village that Lucina Merritt had had chances already. However, if she had, she had waved them back upon the donors before they had been fairly given, with that gentlest compassion which would permit no need of itself. Lucina, however her heart might have been swerved for a season to its natural inclination of love, had never yet admitted a lover, for, when it came to that last alternative of open or closed doors, she had immediately been seized with an impulse of flight into her fastness of childhood and maidenhood.

But now, though she scarcely loved Jerome as yet, the power of her old dreams was over her again. No one can over-estimate the tendency of the human soul towards old ways of happiness which it has not fully explored.

Lucina had begun, almost whether she would or not, to dream again those old sweet dreams, whose reality she had never yet tasted. Had life ever broken in upon the dreams, had a word or a caress ever become a fact, it is probable she would have looked now upon it all as upon some childish fruit of delight, whose sweetness she had proved and exhausted to insipidity. And this, with no disparagement to her, for the most faithful heart is in youth subject to growth and change, and not free as to the exercise of its own faithfulness.

Lucina that Sunday evening had put on one of her prettiest muslin frocks, cross-barred with fine pink flowers set between the bars. She tied a pink ribbon around her waist, too, and wore her morocco shoes. She looked down at the crisp flow of muslin over her knees, and thought if Jerome had known that she had put on that pretty dress, he would have been sure she wanted him to come. Still, she would not have liked him to know she had taken as much pains as that, but she wished so she had invited him more cordially to come.

The tears rolled down her cheeks and dropped on the fair triangle of neck between the folds of her lace tucker; she was weeping for Jerome's hurt, but it seemed strangely like her own. She was half-minded to go into the house and tell her mother all about it, repeat that miserable little dialogue between herself and Jerome, which was troubling her so, and let her decide as to whether she had been lacking in hospitality or not, and give her advice. But she could not quite bring herself to do that.

The moon arose behind the house, she could not see it, but she knew it was there by the swarming of pale lights under the pine-trees, and the bristling of their tops as with needles of silver. She heard a whippoorwill in the distance calling as from some undiscovered country; there was an undertone of frogs from marshy meadows swelling and dying in even cadences of sound.

Lucina's mother came to the door and put her hand on the girl's head. "You must come in," she said; "your hair feels quite damp. You will take cold. Your dress is thin, too."

Lucina rose obediently and followed her mother into the sitting-room, where sat Squire Eben and Colonel Lamson in swirling clouds of tobacco smoke.

Lucina's cheeks had a wonderful clear freshness of red and white from the damp night air. There were no traces of tears on her sweet blue eyes. She came into the bright room with a smiling shrinking from the light, which gave her the expression of an angel. Both men gazed at her with a sort of passion of tenderest admiration, and also a certain sadness of yearning—the Squire because of that instinct of insecurity and possibility of loss to which possession itself gives rise, the Colonel because of the awakening of old vain longings in his own heart.

The Squire reached out a hand towards Lucina, caught her first by her flowing skirt, then by her fair arm, and drew her close to his side and pulled down her soft face to his. "Well, Pretty, how goes the world?" he said, with a laugh, which had almost the catch of a sob, so anxiously tender he was of her, and so timid before his own delight in her.

When she had kissed him and bade him good-night, Lucina went up to her own chamber and her mother with her.

"Abigail follows the child, since she came home, like a hen with one chicken," the Squire said, smiling almost foolishly in his utter pride of this beautiful daughter.

The Colonel nodded, frowning gravely over his pipe at the opposite window. "She makes me think a little of my wife at her age," he said.

The Squire started. It was the first time he had ever heard the Colonel mention his wife. He sighed, looked at him, and hesitated with a delicacy of reticence. "It must have been a hard blow," he ventured, finally.

The Colonel nodded.

"Any children?" asked the Squire, after a little.

"No," replied Colonel Lamson. He puffed at his pipe, his face was redder than usual. "Well, Eben," he said, after a pause, during which the two men smoked energetically, "I hope you'll keep her a while."

"You don't think she looks delicate?" cried the Squire, turning pale. "Her mother doesn't think so."

The Colonel laughed heartily. "When a girl blossoms out like that there'll be plenty trying the garden-gate," said he.

The Squire flushed angrily. "Let 'em try it and be damned!" he said.

"You can't lock the gate, Eben; if you do, she'll open it herself, and no blame to her."

"She won't, I tell you. She's too young, and there's not a man I know fit to tie her little shoes."

"How's young Prescott?"

"Young Prescott be damned!"

The Colonel hesitated. He had seen with an eye, sharpened with long and thorough experience, Jerome Edwards and Lucina the night of the party. "How's that young Edwards?"

Squire Merritt stared. "The smartest young fellow in this town," he said, with a kind of crusty loyalty, "but when it comes to Lucina—Lucina!"

"I've liked that boy, Eben, ever since that night in Robinson's store," said the Colonel, with a curious gravity.

"So have I," returned the Squire, defiantly, "and before that—ever since his father died. He was the bravest little rascal. He's a hero in his way. I was telling Lucina the other day what he'd done. But when it comes to his lifting his eyes to her, to her—by the Lord Harry, Jack, nobody shall have her, rich or poor, good or bad. I don't care if he's a prince, or an angel from heaven. Don't I know what men are? I'm going to keep my angel of a child a while myself. I'll tell you one thing, sir, and that is, Lucina thinks more to-day of her old father than any man living; I'll bet you a thousand she does!" Squire Eben's voice fairly broke with loving emotion and indignation.

"Can't take you up, Eben," said the Colonel, dryly; "I'd be too darned sure to lose, and I couldn't pay a dollar; but—to-morrow's coming."

Squire Eben Merritt stood looking at his friend, a frown of jealous reverie on his open face. Suddenly, with no warning, as if from a sudden uplifting of the spirit, it cleared away. He laughed out his great hearty laugh. "Well, by the Lord Harry, Jack," said he, "when the girl does lose her heart, though I hope it won't be for many a day yet, if it's to a good man that can take care of her and fight for her when he's gone, her old father won't stand in the way. Lucina always did have what she wanted, and she always shall."



Chapter XXVI

For three weeks after that Jerome never saw Lucina at all. He avoided the sight of her in every way in his power. He went to Dale and returned after dark; he stayed away from meeting. He also strove hard to drive, even the thought of her, from his mind. He got out his algebra and Latin books again; every minute during which he was not at work, and even during his work, he tried to keep his mind so full that Lucina's image could not enter. But sometimes he had a despairing feeling, that her image was so incorporated with his very soul, that he might as well strive to drive away a part of himself.

He had no longer any jealousy of Lawrence Prescott. One day Lawrence had come to the shop when he was at work, and asked to speak to him a moment outside. He told him how matters stood between himself and Elmira. "I like your sister," Lawrence had said, soberly and manfully. "I don't see my way clear to marrying her yet, and I told her so. I want you to understand it and know just what I mean. I've got my way to make first. I don't suppose—I can count on much encouragement from father in this. You know it's no disparagement to Elmira, Jerome. You know father."

"Does your father know about it?" asked Jerome.

"I told mother," Lawrence answered, "and she advised me to say nothing about it to father yet. Mother thought I had better go on and study medicine, and get ready to practice, and perhaps then father might think better of it. She says we are both young enough to wait two or three years."

Jerome, in his leather apron, with his grimy hands, and face even, darkened with the tan of the leather, looked half suspiciously and bitterly at this other young man in his fine cloth and linen, with his white hands that had never done a day's labor. "You know what you are about?" he said, almost roughly. "You know what you are, you know what she is, and what we all are. You know you can't separate her from anything."

"I don't want to," cried Lawrence, with a great blush of fervor. "I'll be honest with you, Jerome. I didn't know what to do at first. I knew how much I thought of your sister, and I hoped she thought something of me, but I knew how father would feel, and I was dependent on him. I knew there was no sense in my marrying Elmira, or any other girl, against his wishes, and starving her."

"There are others he would have you marry," said Jerome, a pallor creeping through the leather grime on his face.

Lawrence colored. "Yes, I suppose so," he said, simply; "but it's no use. I could never marry any other girl than Elmira, no matter how rich and handsome she was, nor how much she pleased father, even if she cared about me, and she wouldn't."

"You have been—going a little with some one else, haven't you?" Jerome asked, hoarsely.

Lawrence stared. "What do you mean?"

"I—saw you riding—"

"Oh," said Lawrence, laughing, "you mean I've been horseback-riding with Lucina Merritt. That was nothing."

"It wasn't nothing if she thought it was something," Jerome said, with a flash of white face and black eyes at the other.

Lawrence looked wonderingly at him, laughed first, then responded with some indignation, "Good Lord, Jerome, what are you talking about?"

"What I mean. My sister doesn't marry any man over another woman's heart if I know it."

"Good Lord!" said Lawrence. "Why, Jerome, do you suppose I'd hurt little Lucina? She doesn't care for me in that way, she never would. And as for me—why, look here, Jerome, I never so much as held her hand. I never looked at her even, in any way—" Lawrence shook his head in emphatic reiteration of denial.

"I might as well tell you that Lucina was the one I meant when I said father would like others better," continued Lawrence, "but Lucina Merritt would never care anything about me, even if I did about her, and I never could. Handsome as she is, and I do believe she's the greatest beauty in the whole county, she hasn't the taking way with her that Elmira has—you must see that yourself, Jerome."

Jerome laughed awkwardly. Nobody knew how much joy those words of Lawrence Prescott's gave him, and how hard he tried to check the joy, because it should not matter to him except for Elmira's sake.

"Did you ever see a girl with such sweet ways as your sister?" persisted Lawrence.

"Elmira is a good girl," Jerome admitted, confusedly. He loved his sister, and would have defended her against depreciation with his life, but he compared inwardly, with scorn, her sweet ways with Lucina's.

"There isn't a girl her equal in this world," cried her lover, enthusiastically. "Don't you say so, Jerome? You're her brother, you know what she is. Did you ever see anything like that cunning little face she makes, when she looks up at you?"

"Elmira's a good girl," Jerome repeated.

Lawrence had to be contented with that. He went on, to tell Jerome his plans with regard to the engagement between himself and Elmira. He was clearly much under the wise influence of his mother. "Mother says, on Elmira's account as well as my own, I had better not pay regular attention to her," he said, ruefully, yet with submission. "She says to go to see her occasionally, in a way that won't make talk, and wait. She's coming to see Elmira herself. I've talked it over with her, and she's agreed to it all, as, of course, she would. Some girls wouldn't, but she—Jerome, I don't believe when we've been married fifty years that your sister will ever have refused to do one single thing I thought best for her."

Jerome nodded with a puzzled and wistful expression, puzzled because of any man's so exalting his sister when Lucina Merritt was in the world, wistful at the sight of a joy which he must deny himself.

When he went home that night he saw by the way his mother and sister looked up when he entered the room that they were wondering if Lawrence had told him the news, and what he thought of it. Elmira's face was so eager that he did not wait. "Yes, I've seen him," he said.

Elmira blushed, and quivered, and bent closer over her work.

"What did I tell you?" said his mother, with a kind of tentative triumph.

"You don't know now what Doctor Prescott will say," said Jerome.

"Lawrence says his mother thinks his father will come round by-and-by, when he gets started in his profession; he always liked Elmira."

"Well, there's one thing," said Jerome, "and that is—of course you and Elmira are not under my control, but no sister of mine will ever enter any family where she is not welcome, with my consent."

"Lawrence says he knows his father will be willing by-and-by," said Elmira, tremulously.

"You know Doctor Prescott always liked your sister," said Ann Edwards.

"Well, if he likes her well enough to have her marry his son, it's all right," said Jerome, and went out to wash his hands and face before supper.

That night Lawrence stole in for a short call. When Elmira came up-stairs after he had gone, Jerome, who had been reading in his room, opened his door and called her in.

"Look here, Elmira," said he, "I don't want you to think I don't want you to be happy. I do."

Elmira held out her arms towards him with an involuntary motion. "Oh, Jerome!" she whispered.

The brother and sister had always been chary of caresses, but now Jerome drew Elmira close, pressed her little head against his shoulder, and let her cry there.

"Don't, Elmira," he said, at length, brokenly, smoothing her hair. "You know brother wants you to be happy. You are the only little sister he's got."

"Oh, Jerome, I couldn't help it!" sobbed Elmira.

"Of course you couldn't," said Jerome. "Don't cry—I'll work hard and save, and maybe I can get enough money to give you a house and furniture when you're married, then you won't be quite so beholden."

"But you'll—get married yourself, Jerome," whispered Elmira, who had built a romance about her brother and Lucina after the night of the party.

"No, I shall never get married myself," said Jerome, "all my money is for my sister." He laughed, but that night after Elmira was fast asleep in her chamber across the way, he lay awake tasting to the fullest his own cup of bitterness from its contrast with another's sweet.

The longing to see Lucina, to have only the sight of her dear beautiful face to comfort him, grew as the weeks went on, but he would not yield to it. He had, however, to reckon against odds which he had not anticipated, and they were the innocent schemes of Lucina herself. She had hoped at first that his call was only deferred, that he would come to see her of his own accord, but she soon decided that he would not, and that all the advances must be from herself, since she was undoubtedly at fault. She had fully resolved to make amends for any rudeness and lack of cordiality of which she might have been guilty, at the first opportunity she should have. She planned to speak to him going home from meeting, or on some week day on the village street—she had her little speech all ready, but the chance to deliver it did not come.

But when she went to meeting Sunday after Sunday, dressed in her prettiest, looking like something between a rose and an angel, and no Jerome was there for her soft backward glances, and when she never met him when she was alone on the village street, she grew impatient.

About this time Lucina's father bought her a beautiful little white horse, like the milk-white palfrey of a princess in a fairy tale, and she rode every day over the county. Usually Squire Eben accompanied her on a tall sorrel which had been in his possession for years, but still retained much youthful fire. The sorrel advanced with long lopes and fretted at being reined to suit the pace of the little white horse, and Squire Eben had disliked riding from his youth, unless at a hard gallop with gun on saddle, towards a distant lair of game. Both he and the tall sorrel rebelled as to their nerves and muscles at this ladylike canter over smooth roads, but the Squire would neither permit his tender Lucina to ride fast, lest she get thrown and hurt, or to ride alone.

Lawrence Prescott never asked her to ride with him in those days. Lucina in her blue habit, with a long blue plume wound round her hat and floating behind in the golden blowing of her curls, on her pretty white horse, and the great booted Squire on his sorrel, to her side, reined back with an ugly strain on the bits, were a frequent spectacle for admiration on the county roads. No other girl in Upham rode.

It was one day when she was out riding with her father that Lucina made her opportunity to speak with Jerome. Now she had her horse, Jerome was finding it harder to avoid the sight of her. The night before, returning from Dale by moonlight, he had heard the quick tramp of horses' feet behind him, and had had a glimpse of Lucina and her father when they passed. Lucina turned in her saddle, and her moon-white face looked over her shoulder at Jerome. She nodded; Jerome made a stiff inclination, holding himself erect under his load of shoes. Lucina was too shy to ask her father to stop that she might speak to Jerome. However, before they reached home she said to her father, in a sweet little contained voice, "Does he go to Dale every night, father?"

"Who?" said the Squire.

"Jerome Edwards."

"No, I guess not every day; not more than once in three days, when the shoes are finished. He told me so, if I remember rightly."

"It is a long walk," said Lucina.

"It won't hurt a young fellow like him," the Squire said, laughing; but he gave a curious look at his daughter. "What set you thinking about that, Pretty?" he asked.

"We passed him back there, didn't we, father?"

"Sure enough, guess we did," said the Squire, and they trotted on over the moonlit road.

"Looks just like the back of that dapple-gray I had when you were a little girl, Pretty," said the Squire, pointing with his whip at the net-work of lights and shadows.

He never thought of any significance in the fact that for the two following days Lucina preferred riding in the morning in another direction, and on the third day preferred riding after sundown on the road to Dale. He also thought nothing of it that they passed Jerome Edwards again, and that shortly afterwards Lucina professed herself tired of riding so fast, though it had not been fast for him, and reined her little white horse into a walk. The sorrel plunged and jerked his head obstinately when the Squire tried to reduce his pace also.

"Please ride on, father," said Lucina; her voice sounded like a little silver flute through the Squire's bass whoas.

"And leave you? I guess not. Whoa, Dick; whoa, can't ye!"

"Please, father, Dick frightens me when he does so."

"Can't you ride a little faster, Pretty? Whoa, I tell ye!"

"In just a minute, father, I'll catch up with you. Oh, father, please! Suppose Dick should frighten Fanny, and make her run, I could never hold her. Please, father!"

The Squire had small choice, for the sorrel gave a fierce plunge ahead and almost bolted. "Follow as fast as you can, Pretty!" he shouted back.

There was a curve in the road just ahead, the Squire was out of sight around it in a flash. Lucina reined her horse in, and waited as motionless as a little equestrian statue. She did not look around for a moment or two—she hoped Jerome would overtake her without that. A strange terror was over her, but he did not.

Finally she looked. He was coming very slowly; he scarcely seemed to move, and was yet quite a distance behind. "I can't wait," Lucina thought, piteously. She turned her horse and rode back to him. He stopped when she came alongside. "Good-evening," said she, tremulously.

"Good-evening," said Jerome. He made such an effort to speak that his voice sounded like a harsh trumpet.

Lucina forgot her pretty little speech. "I wanted to say that I was sorry if I offended you," she said, faintly.

Jerome had no idea what she meant; he could, indeed, scarcely take in, until later, thinking of them, the sense of her words. He tried to speak, but made only an inarticulate jumble of sounds.

"I hope you will pardon me," said Lucina.

Jerome fairly gasped. He bowed again, stiffly.

Lucina said no more. She rode on to join her father. That night, after she had gone to bed, she cried a long while. She reflected how she had never even referred to the matter in question, in her suit for pardon.



Chapter XXVII

Lucina in those days was occupied with some pieces of embroidery in gay wools on cloth. There were varied designs of little dogs with bead eyes, baskets of flowers, wreaths, and birds on sprays. She had an ambition to embroider a whole set of parlor-chairs, as some young ladies in her school had done, and there was in her mind a dim and scarcely admitted fancy that these same chairs might add state to some future condition of hers.

Lucina had always innocently taken it for granted that she should some day be married and have a house of her own, and very near her father's. When she had begun the embroidery she had furnished a shadowy little parlor of a shadowy house with the fine chairs, and admitted at the parlor door a dim and stately presence, so shadowy to her timid maiden fancy that there was scarcely a suggestion of substance.

Now, however, the shadow seemed to deepen and clear in outline. Lucina fell to wondering if Jerome Edwards thought embroidered chairs pretty or silly. Often she would pause in her counting and setting even cross-barred stitches, lean her soft cheek on her slender white hand, and sit so a long while, with her fair curls drooping over her gentle, brooding face. Her mother often noticed her sitting so, and thought, partly from quick maternal intuition, partly from knowledge gained from her own experience, that if it were possible, she should judge her to have had her heart turned to some maiden fancy. But she knew that Lucina had cared for none of her lovers away from home, and at home there were none feasible, unless, perhaps, Lawrence Prescott. Lawrence had not been to see her lately; could it be possible the child was hurt by it? Abigail sounded cautiously the depths of her daughter's heart, and found to her satisfaction no image of Lawrence Prescott therein.

"Lawrence is a good boy," said Lucina; "it is a pity he is no taller, and looks so like his father; but he is very good. I do think, though, he might go to ride with me sometimes and save father from going. I would rather have father, but I know he does not like to ride. Lawrence had been planning to go to ride with me all through the summer. It was strange he stopped—was it not, mother?"

"Perhaps he is busy. I saw him driving with his father the other day," said Abigail.

"Well, perhaps he is," assented Lucina, easily. Then she asked advice as to this or that shade in the ears of the little poodle-dog which she was embroidering.

"Lucina is as transparent as glass," her mother thought. "She could never speak of Lawrence Prescott in that way if she were in love with him, and there is no one else in town."

Abigail Merritt, acute and tender mother as she was, settled into the belief that her daughter was merely given to those sweetly melancholy and wondering reveries natural to a maiden soul upon the threshold of discovery of life. "I used to do just so, busy as I always was, before Eben came," she thought, with a little pang of impatient shame for herself and her daughter that they must yield to such necessities of their natures. Abigail Merritt had never been a rebel, indeed, but there had been unruly possibilities within her. She remembered well what she had told her mother when her vague dreams had ended and Eben Merritt had come a-wooing. "I like him, and I suppose, because I like him I've got to marry him, but it makes me mad, mother."

Looking now at this daughter of hers, with her exceeding beauty and delicacy, which a touch would seem to profane and soil as much as that of a flower or butterfly, she had an impulse to hide her away and cover her always from the sight and handling of all except maternal love. She took much comfort in the surety that there was as yet no definite lover in Lucina's horizon. She did not reflect that no human soul is too transparent to be clouded to the vision of others, and its own, by the sacred intimacy with its own desires. Her daughter, looking up at her with limpid blue eyes, replying to her interrogation with sweet readiness, like a bird that would pipe to a call, was as darkly unknown to her as one beyond the grave. She could not even spell out clearly her hieroglyphics of life with the key in her own nature.

The day after Lucina had met Jerome on the Dale road, and had failed to set the matter right, she took her embroidery-work over to her Aunt Camilla's. She had resolved upon a plan which was to her quite desperate, involving, as it did, some duplicity of manoeuvre which shocked her.

The afternoon was a warm one, and she easily induced, as she had hoped, her Aunt Camilla to sit in the summer-house in the garden. Everything was very little changed from that old summer afternoon of years ago. If Miss Camilla had altered, it had been with such a fine conservation of general effect, in spite of varying detail, that the alteration was scarcely visible. She wore the same softly spreading lilac gown, she wrote on her portfolio with the same gold pencil presumably the same thoughts. If her softly drooping curls were faded and cast lighter shadows over thinner cheeks, one could more easily attribute the dimness and thinness to the lack of one's own memory than to change in her.

The garden was the same, sweetening with the ardor of pinks and mignonette, the tasted breaths of thyme and lavender, like under-thoughts of reason, and the pungent evidence of box.

Lucina looked out of the green gloom of the summer-house at the same old carnival of flowers, swarming as lightly as if untethered by stems, upon wings of pink and white and purpling blue, blazing out to sight as with a very rustle of color from the hearts of green bushes and the sides of tall green-sheathed stalks, in spikes and plumes, and soft rosettes of silken bloom. Even the yellow cats of Miss Camilla's famous breed, inheriting the love of their ancestors for following the steps of their mistress, came presently between the box rows with the soft, sly glide of the jungle, and established themselves for a siesta on the arbor bench.

Lucina was glad that it was all so like what it had been, even to the yellow cats, seeming scarcely more than a second rendering of a tune, and it made it possible for her to open truthfully and easily upon her plan. She herself, whose mind was so changed from its old childish habit of simple outlook and waiting into personal effort for its own ends, and whose body was so advanced in growth of grace, was perhaps the most altered of all. However, there was much of the child left in her.

"Aunt Camilla," said she, in almost the same tone of timid deprecation which the little Lucina of years before might have used.

Camilla looked up, with gentle inquiry, from her portfolio.

"I have been thinking," said Lucina, bending low over her embroidery that her aunt might not see the pink confusion of her face, which she could not, after all, control, "how I came here and spent the afternoon, once, years ago; do you remember?"

"You came here often—did you not, dear?"

"Yes," said Lucina, "but that once in particular, Aunt Camilla?"

"I fear I do not remember, dear," said Camilla, whose past had been for years a peaceful monotone as to her own emotions, and had so established a similar monotone of memory.

"Don't you remember, Aunt Camilla? I came first with a stent to knit on a garter, and we sat out here. Then the yellow cats came, and father had been fishing, and he brought some speckled trout, and—then—the Edwards boy—"

"Oh, the little boy I had to weed my garden! A good little boy," Camilla said.

Lucina winced a little. She did not quite like Jerome to be spoken of in that mildly reminiscent way. "He's grown up now, you know, Aunt Camilla," said she.

"Yes, my dear, and he is as good a young man as he was a boy, I hear."

"Father speaks very highly of him," said Lucina, with a soft tremor and mounting of color, to which her aunt responded sensitively.

People said that Camilla Merritt had never had a lover, but the same wind can strike the same face of the heart.

"I have heard him very highly spoken of," she agreed; and there was a betraying quiver in her voice also.

"We had plum-cake, and tea in the pink cups—don't you remember, Aunt Camilla?"

"So many times we had them—did we not, dear?"

"Yes, but that one time?"

"I fear that I cannot distinguish that time from the others, dear."

There was a pause. Lucina took a few more stitches on her embroidery. Miss Camilla poised her gold pencil reflectively over her portfolio. "Aunt Camilla," said Lucina then.

"Well, dear?"

"I have been thinking how pleasant it would be to have another little tea-party, here in the arbor; would you have any objections?"

"My dear Lucina!" cried Miss Camilla, and looked at her niece with gentle delight at the suggestion.

The early situation was not reversed, for Lucina still admired and revered her aunt as the realization of her farthest ideal of ladyhood, but Miss Camilla fully reciprocated. The pride in her heart for her beautiful niece was stronger than any which she had ever felt for herself. She pictured Lucina instead of herself to her fancy; she seemed to almost see Lucina's face instead of her own in her looking-glass. When it came to giving Lucina a pleasure, she gave twofold.

"Thank you, Aunt Camilla," said Lucina, delightedly, and yet with a little confusion. She felt very guilty—still, how could she tell her aunt all her reasons for wishing the party?

"Shall we have your father and mother, or only young people, dear?" asked Miss Camilla.

"Only young people, I think, aunt. Mother comes any time, and as for father, he would rather go fishing."

"You would like the Edwards boy, since he came so long ago?"

"Yes, I think so, aunt."

"He is poor, and works hard, and has not been in fine company much, I presume, but that is nothing against him. He will enjoy it all the more, if he is not too shy. You do not think he is too shy to enjoy it, dear?"

"I should never have known from his manners at my party that he had not been in fine company all his life. He is not like the other young men in Upham," protested Lucina, with a quick rise of spirit.

"Well, I used to hear your grandfather say that there are those who can suit their steps to any gait," her aunt said. "I understand that he is a very good young man. We will have him and—"

"I think his sister," said Lucina; "she is such a pretty girl—the prettiest girl in the village, and it will please her so to be asked."

"The Edwards boy and his sister, and who else?"

"No one else, I think, Aunt Camilla, except Lawrence Prescott. There will not be room for more in the arbor."

Lucina did not blush when she said Lawrence Prescott, but her aunt did. She had often romanced about the two. "Well, dear," she said, "when shall we have the tea-party?"

"Day after to-morrow, please, Aunt Camilla."

"That will give 'Liza time to make cake," said Camilla. "I will send the invitations to-morrow, dear."

"'Liza will be too busy cake-making to run on errands," said Lucina, though her heart smote her, for this was where the true gist of her duplicity came in; "write them now, Aunt Camilla, and give them to me. I will see that they are delivered."

The afternoon of the next day Lucina, being out riding, passed Doctor Prescott's house, and called to Jake Noyes in the yard to take Miss Camilla's little gilt-edged, lavender-scented note of invitation. "Please give this to Mr. Lawrence," said she, prettily, and rode on. The other notes were in her pocket, but she had not delivered them when she returned home at sunset.

"I am going to run over to Elmira Edwards and carry them," she told her mother after supper, and pleaded that she would like the air when Mrs. Merritt suggested that Hannah be sent.

Thus it happened that Jerome Edwards, coming home about nine o'clock that night, noticed, the moment he opened the outer door, the breath of roses and lavender, and a subtle thrill of excitement and almost fear passed over him. "Who is it?" he thought. He listened, and heard voices in the parlor. He wanted to pass the door, but he could not. He opened it and peered in, white-faced and wide-eyes, and there was Lucina with his mother and sister.

Mrs. Edwards and Elmira looked nervously flushed and elated; there were bright spots on their cheeks, their eyes shone. On the table were Miss Camilla's little gilt-edged missives. Lucina was somewhat pale, and her face had been furtively watchful and listening. When Jerome opened the door, her look changed to one of relief, which had yet a certain terror and confusion in it. She rose at once, bowed gracefully, until the hem of her muslin skirt swept the floor, and bade Jerome good-evening. As for Jerome, he stood still, looking at her.

"Why, J'rome, don't you see who 'tis?" cried his mother, in her sharp, excited voice, yet with an encouraging smile—the smile of a mother who would put a child upon its best behavior for the sake of her own pride.

Jerome murmured, "Good-evening." He made a desperate grasp at his self-possession, but scarcely succeeded.

Lucina pulled a little fleecy white wrap over her head, and immediately took leave. Jerome stood aside to let her pass. Elmira followed her to the outer door, and his mother called him in a sharp whisper, "J'rome, come here."

When he had reached his mother's side she pinched his arm hard. "Go home with her," she whispered.

Jerome stared at her.

"Do ye hear what I say? Go home with her."

"I can't," he almost groaned then.

"Can't? Ain't you ashamed of yourself? What ails ye? Lettin' of a lady like her go home all alone this dark night."

Elmira ran back into the parlor. "Oh, Jerome, you ought to go with her, you ought to!" she cried, softly. "It's real dark. She felt it, I know. She looked real sober. Run after her, quick, Jerome."

"When she came to invite you to a party, too!" said Mrs. Edwards, but Jerome did not hear that, he was out of the house and hurrying up the road after Lucina.

She had not gone far. Jerome did not know what to say when he overtook her, so he said nothing—he merely walked along by her side. A great anger at himself, that he had almost let this tender and beautiful creature go out alone in the night and the dark, was over him, but he knew not what to say for excuse.

He wondered, pitifully, if she were so indignant that she did not like him to walk home with her now. But in a moment Lucina spoke, and her voice, though a little tremulous, was full of the utmost sweetness of kindness.

"I fear you are too tired to walk home with me," she said, "and I am not afraid to go by myself."

"No, it is too dark for you to go alone; I am not tired," replied Jerome, quickly, and almost roughly, to hide the tumult of his heart.

But Lucina did not understand that. "I am not afraid," she repeated, in a little, grieved, and anxious way; "please leave me at the turn of the road, I am truly not afraid."

"No, it is too dark for you to go alone," said Jerome, hoarsely, again. It came to him that he should offer her his arm, but he dared not trust his voice for that. He reached down, caught her hand, and thrust it through his arm, thinking, with a thrill of terror as he did so, that she would draw it away, but she did not.

She leaned so slightly on his arm that it seemed more the inclination of spirit than matter, but still she accepted his support and walked along easily at his side. So far from her resenting his summary taking of her hand, she was grateful, with the humble gratitude of the primeval woman for the kindness of a master whom she has made wroth.

Lucina had attributed Jerome's stiffness at sight of her, and his delay in accompanying her home, to her unkind treatment of him. Now he showed signs of forgiveness, her courage returned. When they had passed the turn of the road, and were on the main street, she spoke quite sweetly and calmly.

"There is something I have been wanting to say to you," said she. "I tried to say it the other night when I was riding and met you, but I did not succeed very well. What I wanted to say was—I fear that when you suggested coming to see me, the Sunday night after my party, I did not seem cordial enough, and make you understand that I should be very happy to see you, and that was why you did not come."

"O—h!" said Jerome, with a long-drawn breath of wonder and despair. He had been thinking that he had offended her beyond forgiveness and of his own choice, and she, with her sweet humility, was twice suing him for pardon.

"I am very sorry," Lucina said, softly.

"That was not the reason why I did not," Jerome gasped.

"Then you were not hurt?"

"No; I—thought you spoke as if you would like to have me come—"

"Perhaps you were ill," Lucina said, hesitatingly.

"No, I was not. I did not—"

"Oh, it was not because you did not want to come!" Lucina cried out, quickly, and yet with exceeding gentleness and sad wonder, that he should force such a suspicion upon her.

"No, it was not. I—wanted to come more than—I wanted to come, but—I did not think it—best." Jerome said the last so defiantly that poor Lucina started.

"But it was because of nothing I had said, and it was not because you did not want to?" she said, piteously.

"No," said Jerome. Then he said, again, as if he found strength in the repetition. "I did not think it best."

"I thought you were coming that night," Lucina said, with scarcely the faintest touch of reproach but with more of wonder. Why should he not have thought it best?

"I am sorry," said Jerome. "I wanted to tell you, but I had no reason but that to give, and I—thought you might not understand."

Lucina made no reply. The path narrowed just there and gave her an excuse for quitting Jerome's arm. She did so with a gentle murmur of explanation, for she could do nothing abruptly, then went on before him swiftly. Her white shawl hung from her head to her waist in sharp slants. She moved through the dusk with the evanescent flit of a white moth.

"Of course," stammered Jerome, painfully and boyishly, "I—knew—you would not care if—I did not come. It was not as if—I had thought you—would."

Lucina said nothing to that either. Jerome thought miserably that she did not hear, or, hearing, agreed with what he said.

Soon, however, Lucina spoke, without turning her head. "I can understand," said she, with the gentlest and yet the most complete dignity, for she spoke from her goodness of heart, "that a person has often to do what he thinks best, and not explain it to any other person, because it is between him and his own conscience. I am quite sure that you had some very good reason for not coming to see me that Sunday night, and you need not tell me what it was. I am very glad that you did not, as I feared, stay away because I had not treated you with courtesy. Now, we will say no more about it." With that, the path being a little wider, she came to his side again, and looked up in his face with the most innocent friendliness and forgiveness in hers.

Jerome could have gone down at her feet and worshipped her.

"What a beautiful night it is!" said Lucina, tilting her face up towards the stars.

"Beautiful!" said Jerome, looking at her, breathlessly.

"I never saw the stars so thick," said she, musingly. "Everybody has his own star, you know. I wonder which my star is, and yours. Did you ever think of it?"

"I guess my star isn't there," said Jerome.

"Why, yes," cried Lucina, earnestly, "it must be!"

"No, it isn't there," repeated Jerome, with a soft emphasis on the last word.

Lucina looked up at him, then her eyes fell before his. She laughed confusedly. "Did you know what I came to your house to-night for?" said she, trying to speak unconsciously.

"To see Elmira?"

"No, to give both of you an invitation to tea at Aunt Camilla's to-morrow afternoon at five o'clock."

"I am very much obliged to you," said Jerome, "but—"

"You cannot come?"

"No, I am afraid not."

"The tea is to be in the arbor in the garden, the way it was that other time, when we were both children; there is to be plum-cake and the best pink cups. Nobody is asked but you and your sister and Lawrence Prescott," said Lucina, but with no insistence in her voice. Her gentle pride was up.

"I am very much obliged, but I am afraid I can't come," Jerome said, pleadingly.

Lucina did not say another word.

Jerome glanced down at her, and her fair face, between the folds of her white shawl, had a look which smote his heart, so full it was of maiden dignity and yet of the surprise of pain.

A new consideration came to Jerome. "Why should I stay away from her, refuse all her little invitations, and treat her so?" he thought. "What if I do get to wanting her more, and get hurt, if it pleases her? There is no danger for her; she does not care about me, and will not. The suffering will all be on my side. I guess I can bear it; if it pleases her to have me come I will do it. I have been thinking only of myself, and what is a hurt to myself in comparison with a little pleasure for her? She has asked me to this tea-party, and here I am hurting her by refusing, because I am so afraid of getting hurt myself!"

Suddenly Jerome looked at Lucina, with a patient and tender smile that her father might have worn for her. "I shall be very happy to come," said he.

"Not unless you can make it perfectly convenient," Lucina replied, with cold sweetness; "I would rather not urge you."

"It will be perfectly convenient," said Jerome. "I thought at first I ought not to go, that was all."

"Of course, Aunt Camilla and I will be very happy to have you come, if you can," said Lucina. Still, she was not appeased. Jerome's hesitating acceptance of this last invitation had hurt her more than all that had gone before. She began to wish, with a great pang of shame, that she had not gone to his house that night, had not tried to see him, had not proposed this miserable party. Perhaps he did mean to slight her, after all, though nobody ever had before, and how she had followed him up!

She walked on very fast; they were nearly home. When they reached her gate, she said good-night, quickly, and would have gone in without another word, but Jerome stopped her. He had begun to understand her understanding of it all, and had taken a sudden resolution. "Better anything than she should think herself shamed and slighted," he told himself.

"Will you wait just a minute?" he said; "I've got something I want to say."

Lucina waited, her face averted.

"I've made up my mind to tell you why I thought I ought not to come, that Sunday night," said Jerome; "I didn't think of telling you, but I can see now that you may think I meant to slight you, if I don't. I did not think at first that you could dream I could slight anybody like you, and not want to go to see you, but I begin to see that you don't just know how every one looks at you."

"I thought I ought not to come, because all of a sudden I found out that I was—what they call in love with you."

Lucina stood perfectly still, her face turned away.

"I hope you are not offended," said Jerome; "I knew, of course, that there is no question of—your liking me. I would not want you to. I am not telling you for that, but only that you may not feel hurt because I slighted your invitation the other night, and because I thought at first I could not accept this. But I was foolish about it, I guess. If you would like to have me come, that is enough."

"You have not known me long enough to like me," said Lucina, in a very small, sweet voice, still keeping her face averted.

"I guess time don't count much in anything like this," said Jerome.

"Well," said Lucina, with a soft, long breath, "I cannot see why your liking me should hinder you from coming."

"I guess you're right; it shouldn't if you want me to come."

"Why did you ever think it should?" Lucina flashed her blue eyes around at him a second, then looked away again.

"I was afraid if—I saw you too often I should want to marry you so much that I would want nothing else, not even to help other people," said Jerome.

"Why need you think about marrying? Can't you come to see me like a friend? Can't we be happy so?" asked Lucina, with a kind of wistful petulance.

"I needn't think about it, and we can—"

"I don't want to think about marrying yet," said Lucina; "I don't know as I shall ever marry. I don't see why you should think so much about that."

"I don't," said Jerome; "I shall never marry."

"You will, some time," Lucina said, softly.

"No; I never shall."

Lucina turned. "I must go in," said she.

Her hand and Jerome's found each other, with seemingly no volition of their own. "I am glad you didn't come because you didn't like me," Lucina said, softly; "and we can be friends and no need of thinking of that other."

"Yes," Jerome said, all of a tremble under her touch; "and—you won't feel offended because I told you?"

"No, only I can't see why you stayed away for that."



Chapter XXVIII

The next afternoon Jerome went to Miss Camilla's tea-party. Sitting in the arbor, whose interior was all tremulous and vibrant with green lights and shadows, as with a shifting water-play, sipping tea from delicate china, eating custards and the delectable plum-cake, he tasted again one of the few sweet savors of his childhood.

Jerome, in the arbor with three happy young people, taking for the first time since his childhood a holiday on a work-day, seemed to comprehend the first notes of that great harmony of life which proves by the laws of sequence the last. The premonition of some final blessedness, to survive all renunciation and sacrifice, was upon him. He felt raised above the earth with happiness. Jerome seemed like another person to his companions. The wine of youth and certainty of joy stirred all the light within him to brilliancy. He had naturally a quicker, readier tongue than Lawrence Prescott, now he gave it rein.

He could command himself, when he chose and did not consider that it savored of affectation, to a grace of courtesy beyond all provincial tradition. In his manners he was not one whit behind even Lawrence Prescott, with his college and city training, and in face and form and bearing he was much his superior. Lawrence regarded him with growing respect and admiration, Elmira with wonder.

As for Miss Camilla, she felt as if tripping over her own inaccuracy of recollection of him. "I never saw such a change in any one, my dear," she told Lucina the next day. "I could scarcely believe he was the little boy who used to weed my garden, and with so few advantages as he has had it is really remarkable."

"Father says so, too," remarked Lucina, looking steadily at her embroidery.

Miss Camilla gazed at her reflectively. She had a mild but active imagination, which had never been dispelled by experience, for romance and hearts transfixed with darts of love. "I hope he will never be so unfortunate as to place his affections where they cannot be reciprocated, since he is in such poor circumstances that he cannot marry," she sighed, so gently that one could scarcely suspect her of any hidden meaning.

"I do not think," said Lucina, still with steadfast eyes upon her embroidery, "that a woman should consider poverty if she loves." Then her cheeks glowed crimson through her drooping curls, and Miss Camilla also blushed; still she attributed her niece's tender agitation to her avowal of general principles. She did not once consider any danger to Lucina from Jerome; but she had seen, on the day before, the young man's eyes linger upon the girl's lovely face, and had immediately, with the craft of a female, however gentle, for such matters, reached half-pleasant, half-melancholy conclusions.

It was gratifying and entirely fitting that her beautiful Lucina should have a heart-broken lover at her feet; still, it was sad, very sad, for the poor lover. "When the affections are enlisted, one should not hesitate to share poverty as well as wealth," she admitted, with a little conscious tremor of delicacy at such pronounced views.

"I do not think Jerome himself wants to be married," said Lucina, quickly.

Miss Camilla sighed. She remembered again the young man's fervent eyes. "I hope he does not, my dear," she said.

"I do not intend to marry either. I am never going to be married at all," said Lucina, with a seeming irrelevance which caused Camilla to make mild eyes of surprise and wonder sadly, after her niece had gone home, if it were possible that the dear child had, thus early, been crossed in love.

Lucina, ever since Jerome's confession of love, had experienced a curious revulsion from her maiden dreams. She had such instinctive docility of character that she was at times amenable to influences entirely beyond her own knowledge. Not understanding in the least Jerome's attitude of renunciation, she accepted it for herself also. She no longer builded bridal air-castles. She still embroidered her chair-covers, thinking that they would look very pretty in the north parlor, and some of the old chairs could be moved to the garret to make room for them. She gazed at her aunt Camilla with a peaceful eye of prophecy. Just so would she herself look years hence. Her hair would part sparsely to the wind, like hers, and show here and there silver instead of golden lustres. There would be a soft rosetted cap of lace to hide the thinnest places, and her cheeks, like her aunt's, would crumple and wrinkle as softly as old rose leaves, and, like her aunt, in this guise she would walk her path of life alone.

Lucina seemed to see, as through a long, converging tunnel of years, her solitary self, miniatured clearly in the distance, gliding on, like Camilla, with that sweet calm of motion of one who has left the glow of joy behind, but feels her path trend on peace.

"I dare say it may be just as well not to marry, after all," reasoned Lucina, "a great many people are not married. Aunt Camilla seems very happy, happier than many married women whom I have seen. She has nothing to disturb her. I shall be happy in the way she is. When I am such an old maid that my father and mother will have died, because they were too old to live longer, I will leave this house, because I could not bear to stay here with them away, and go to Aunt Camilla's. She will be dead, too, by that time, and her house will be mine. Then I, in my cap and spectacles, will sit afternoons in the summer-house, and—perhaps—he—he will be older than I then, and white-haired, and maybe stooping and walking with a cane—perhaps—he will come often, and sit with me there, and we will remember everything together."

In all her forecasts for a single life, Lucina could not quite eliminate her lover, though she could her husband. She and Jerome were always to be friends, of course, and he was to come and see her. Lucina, when once Jerome had begun to visit her, never contemplated the possibility of his ever ceasing to do so. He did not come regularly—the wisdom of that was tacitly understood between them; since there was to be no marriage, there could necessarily be no courtship. There was never any sitting up together in the north parlor, after the fashion of village lovers. Jerome merely spent an hour or two in the sitting-room with the Squire and his wife and Lucina. Sometimes he and the Squire talked politics and town affairs while Lucina and her mother sewed. Sometimes the four played whist, or bezique, for in those days Jerome was learning to take a hand at cards, but he had always Mrs. Merritt for his partner, and the Squire Lucina. Indeed, Lucina would have considered herself highly false and treacherous had she manifested an inclination to be the partner of any other than her father. Sometimes the Squire sat smoking and dozing, and sometimes he was away, and in those cases Mrs. Merritt sewed, and Jerome and Lucina played checkers.

It tried Jerome sorely to capture Lucina's men and bar her out from the king-row, and she sometimes chid him for careless playing.

Sometimes, after Jerome was gone and Lucina in bed, Abigail Merritt, who had always a kind but furtively keen eye upon the two young people, talked a little anxiously to the Squire. "I know that he does not come regularly and he sees us all, but—I don't know that it is wise for us to let them be thrown so much together," she would say, with a nervous frown on her little dark face.

The Squire's forehead wrinkled with laughter, but he was finishing his pipe before going to bed, and would not remove it. He rolled humorously inquiring eyes through the cloud of smoke, and his wife answered as if to a spoken question. "I know Jerome Edwards doesn't seem like other young men, but he is a young man, after all, and, if we shouldn't say it, I am afraid somebody will get hurt. We both know what Lucina is—"

"You don't mean to say you're afraid Lucina will get hurt," spluttered the Squire, quickly.

"It isn't likely that a girl like Lucina could get hurt herself," cried Abigail, with a fine blush of pride.

"I suppose you're right," assented the Squire, with a chuckle. "I suppose there's not a young fool in the country but would think himself lucky for a chance to tie the jade's shoestring. I guess there'll be no hanging back of dancers whenever she takes a notion to pipe, eh?"

"She has not taken a notion to pipe, and I doubt if she will at present," said Abigail, with a little bridle of feminine delicacy, "and—he is a good young man, though, of course, it would scarcely be advisable if she did fancy him, but she does not. Lucina has never concealed anything from me since she was born, and I know—"

"Then it's the boy you're worrying about?"

Abigail nodded. "He's a good young man, and he has had a hard struggle. I don't want his peace of mind disturbed through any means of ours," said she.

The Squire got up, shook the ashes out of his pipe, and laid it with tender care on the shelf. Then he put his great hands one upon each of his wife's little shoulders, and looked down at her. Abigail Merritt had a habit of mind which corresponded to that of her body. She could twist and turn, with the fine adroitness of a fox, round sudden, sharp corners of difficulty, when her husband might go far on the wrong road through drowsy inertia of motion; but, after all, he had sometimes a clearer view than she of ultimate ends, past the petty wayside advantages of these skilful doublings and turnings.

She could deal with details with little taper-finger touches of nicety, but she could not judge as well as he of generalities and the final scope of combinations. It was doubtful if Abigail ever fairly appreciated her own punch.

"Abigail," said the Squire, looking down at her, his great bearded face all slyly quirked with humor—"Abigail, look here. There are a good many things that you and I can do, and a few that we can't do. I can fish and shoot and ride with any man in the county, and bluster folks into doing what I want them to mostly, if I keep my temper; and as for you—you know what you can do in the way of fine stitching, and punch-making, and house-keeping, and you and I together have got the best, and the handsomest, and the most blessed"—the Squire's voice broke—"daughter in the county, by the Lord Harry we have. I can shoot any man who looks askance at her, I can lie down in the mud for her to walk over to keep her little shoes dry, and you can fix her pretty gowns and keep her curls smooth, and watch her lest she breathe too fast or too slow of a night, but there we've got to stop. You can't make the posies in your garden any color you have a mind, my girl, and I can't change the spots on the trout I land. We can't, either of us, make a sunset, or a rainbow, or stop a thunder-storm, or raise an east wind. There are things we run up blind against, and I reckon this is one of 'em. It's got to come out the way it will, and you and I can't hinder it, Abigail."

"We can hinder that poor boy from having his heart broken."

The Squire whistled. "Lock the stable-door after the colt is stolen, eh?"

"Eben Merritt, what do you mean?"

"I mean that the boy comes here now an then, not courting the girl, as I take it, at all, and shows so far no signs of anything amiss, and had, in my opinion, best be let alone. Lord, when I was his age, if a girl like Lucina had been in the question, and anybody had tried to rein me up short, I'd have kicked over the breeches entirely. I'd have either got her or blown my brains out. That boy can take care of himself, anyhow. He'll stop coming here of his own accord, if he thinks he'd better."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse