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Jerome, A Poor Man - A Novel
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
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Jerome nodded.

"Well, sir," said the doctor, "knowing that fact myself, having it admitted by you and all others, I have yet determined to abide by my part of that instrument, and relinquish one fourth part of the property of which I stand possessed."

Jerome started; he could scarcely believe his ears.

"But," the doctor continued, "since I am in no wise bound by the terms of the instrument, as drawn up by Lawyer Means, I propose to alter some of them, as I deem judicious for the public welfare. One-fourth of my property, which consists largely of real estate, cannot manifestly be given in ready money without great delay and loss. Therefore I propose giving to a large extent in land, and in a few cases liquidations of mortgage deeds; and—I also propose giving in such proportions and to such individuals as I shall approve and select; a strictly indiscriminate division is directly opposed to my views. I trust that you do not consider that this method is to be objected to on the grounds of any infringement upon my legal restrictions."

"No, sir, I don't," replied Jerome.

"There is one other point, then I have done," said Doctor Prescott. "I have withdrawn my objection to my son's marriage with your sister. That is all. I have said and heard all I wish, and I will not detain you any longer." Doctor Prescott looked at him with a pale and forbidding majesty in his clear-cut face. Jerome arose, and was passing out without a word, as he was bidden, when the old man held out his hand. He had the air of extending a sceptre, and a haughty downward look, as if the whole world, and his own self, were under his feet. Jerome shook the proffered hand, and went. His hand was on the latch of the outer door, when the sitting-room door on the left opened, and he felt himself enveloped, as it were, in a softly gracious feminine presence, made evident by wide rustlings of silken skirts, pointed foldings of lavender-scented white wool over out-stretched arms, and heaving waves of white lace over a high, curving bosom. Doctor Prescott's wife drew Jerome to her as if he were still a child, and kissed him on his cheek. "Give your sister my fondest love, and may God give you your own reward, dear boy," she said, in her beautiful voice, which was like no other woman's for sweetness and softness, though she was as large as a queen.

Then she was gone, and Jerome went home, with the scent of lavender from her laces and silks and white wools still in his nostrils, and a subtler sweetness of womanhood and fine motherhood dimly perceived in his soul.

When he got home, he knew, by the light in the parlor windows, that Lawrence was with his sister. He had been in bed some time before he heard the front door shut.

Elmira, when she came up-stairs, opened his door a crack, and whispered, in a voice tremulous with happiness, "Jerome, you asleep?"

"No."

"Do—you know—about Lawrence and me?"

"Yes; I'm real glad, Elmira."

"I hope you'll forgive me for speaking to you the way I did, Jerome."

"That's all right, Elmira."



Chapter XL

The next morning Jerome was just going out of the yard when he met Paulina Maria Judd and Henry coming in. Paulina Maria held her blind son by the hand, but he walked with an air of resisting her guidance.

"J'rome, I've come to see you about that money," said Paulina Maria. "I hear you're goin' to give us two hundred and fifty dollars. I told you once we wouldn't take your money."

"This is different. This is the money Colonel Lamson left me, that I'd agreed to give away."

"It ain't any different to us. You can keep it."

"I sha'n't keep it, anyway. For God's sake, aunt, take it! Henry, take it, and get your eyes cured!"

"I sha'n't take money that's given in any such way, and neither will my son. I haven't changed my mind about what I said the other night, and neither has he. You need this money yourself. If the money had been left to us, it would have been different; we sha'n't take it, and you needn't offer it to us; you can count us out in your division. We sha'n't take what Doctor Prescott has offered neither—to give us the mortgage on our house. It's an honest debt, and we don't want to shirk it. If we're paupers, we'll be paupers of God, but of no man!"

"Henry," pleaded Jerome, "just listen to me." But it was of no avail. His cousin turned his blind face sternly away from his pleading voice, and went out of the yard, still seeming to strive against his mother's leading hand.

Jerome followed them, still arguing with them; he even walked with them a little, after the turn of the road. Then he gave it up, and went on to the store, where he had an errand. He resolved to see Adoniram, and try to influence him to take the money for his blind son. He could not believe that he would not do so. Long before he reached the store he could hear the gabble of excited voices, and loud peals of rough laughter. "What's going on?" he thought. When he entered, he saw Simon Basset backed up against a counter, at bay, as it were, before a great throng of village men and boys. Basset was deathly white through his grime and beard-stubble, his gaunt jaws snapping like a wolf's, his eyes fierce with terror.

"Shell out, Simon," shouted a young man, with a butting motion of a shock head towards the old man. "Shell out, I tell ye, or ye'll have a writ served on ye."

"I tell ye I won't; ye don't know nothin' about it; I 'ain't got no property!" shrieked Simon Basset, amidst a wild burst of laughter.

"He 'ain't got no property, he 'ain't, hi!" shouted the boys on the outskirts, with peals of goblin merriment.

"I tell ye I 'ain't got more'n five thousand dollars to my name!"

"You 'ain't, eh? Where's all your land, you old liar?" asked the young man, who seemed spokesman for the crowd.

"It ain't wuth nothin'. I couldn't sell it to-day if I wanted to."

"Gimme the land, then, an' we'll take the risk," was the cry. "J'rome and the doctor have shelled out; now it's your turn, or you'll hev the officers after ye."

Jerome pushed his way through the crowd. "What are you scaring him for?" he demanded. "He's an old man, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

"He ain't more'n seventy," replied the young man, "an' he's smart as a cricket—he's smart enough to gouge the whole town, old 's he is."

"That's so, Eph!" chorused his supporters.

Jerome grasped Basset by the shoulder. "Don't you know you are not obliged to give a dollar, if you don't want to?" he asked. "That paper wasn't legal."

The old man shrank before him with craven terror, and yet with the look of a dog which will snap when he sees an unwary hand. "Ye don't git me into none of yer traps," he snarled. "What made Doctor Prescott give anythin'?"

"He gave because he wanted to keep his promise, not because he was forced to by that paper."

"Likely story," said Simon Basset.

"I tell you it's so."

"Likely story, Seth Prescott ever give it if he wa'n't obliged to. Ye can't trap me."

"Go and ask him, if you don't believe me," said Jerome.

"Ye don't trap me, I'm too old."

"Go and ask Lawyer Means, then."

"I guess, when ye git me into that pesky lawyer's clutches, ye'll know it! Ye can't trap me. I guess I know more about law than ye do, ye damned little upstart ye! Why couldn't ye have kept your dead man's shoes to home, darn ye? Ye'll come on the town yerself, yet; ye won't have money enough to pay fer your buryin', an' I hope to God ye won't! Curse ye! I'll live to see ye in your pauper's grave yet, old 's I be. Ye thief! I tell ye, I 'ain't got no money. I 'ain't got more'n five thousand dollars, countin' everythin' in the world, an' I'll see ye all damned to hell afore I'll give ye a dollar. Let me out, will ye?" Simon Basset made a clawing, cat-like rush through the crowd to the door.

"I tell you, Simon Basset, you haven't got to give a dollar," shouted Jerome; but he might as well have shouted to the wind.

"No use, J'rome," chuckled the shock-headed young man, "he's gone plumb crazy over it. You can't make him listen to nothin'."

"What do you mean, badgering him so?" cried Jerome, angrily.

"He's a mean old cuss, anyhow," said the young man, with a defiant laugh.

"That's so! Serves him right," grunted the others. They were all much younger than Jerome, and many of them were mere boys. It seemed strange that a man as sharp as Basset had taken them seriously.

Jerome, the more he thought it over, was convinced that Simon Basset was half crazed with the fear of parting with his money. When he came out of the store, he hesitated; he was half inclined to follow Basset home, and try to reason him into some understanding of the truth. Then, remembering his violent attitude towards himself, he decided that it would be useless, and went home. He planned to plough his garden that day.

"I've got to work at something," Jerome told himself; "if it isn't one thing, it's got to be another." He dwelt always upon Lucina: what she was thinking of him; if she thought that he did not love her, because he had given her up; if she would look at him, if she were to see him, as his sister had done the night before. Jerome had not yet answered Lucina's letter. He did not know how to answer it; but he carried it with him night and day.

He went home, got his horse and plough, and fell to work in his hilly garden ground. His father came out and sat on a stone and watched him happily. Jerome was scarcely accustomed to his father yet, but he treated him as tenderly as if he were a child, and the old man followed him like one. Indeed, he seemed to prefer his son to his wife, though Ann watched him with jealous affection. Ann Edwards had never walked since the night of her husband's return. She never alluded to it; sometimes her children thought that she had not known it herself.

Jerome was still ploughing in the afternoon when his uncle Ozias Lamb came.

Ozias stumped softly through the new-turned mould. He had a folded paper in his hand, and he extended it towards Jerome. "D'ye know anythin' about this?" he asked. His face was ashy.

Jerome brought his horse to a stand. "What is it?"

"Don't ye know?"

"No, I don't."

"Well, it's that mortgage deed that Basset held on my place, with—the signature torn off, cancelled—" Ozias said, in a hoarse voice. "D'ye know anythin' about it now?"

"No, I don't," replied Jerome, with emphasis.

"Well," said Ozias, "I found it under the front door-sill. Belindy said she heard a knock on the front door, but when she went there wa'n't nobody there, an' there was this paper. She come runnin' out to the shop with it. It was jest before noon. What d'ye s'pose it means?"

Jerome took the deed and examined it closely. "Have you read what's written above the heading of it?" he asked.

"No; what is it, J'rome?"

Ozias put on his spectacles; Jerome pointed to a crabbed line above the heading of the mortgage deed.

"I giv as present the forth part of my proputty, this morgidge to Ozier Lamm.

"Simon Basset."

"He's took crazy!" cried Ozias, staring wildly at it.

"Guess he's been crazy over dollars and cents all his life, and this is just an acute phase of it," replied Jerome, calmly, taking up his plough handles again.

"I b'lieve the hull town's crazy. I've heard that Doctor Prescott has give his place back to John Upham, an' Peter Thomas is comin' out of the poor-farm an' goin' back to his old house. J'rome, I declar' to reason, I b'lieve you're crazy, an' the hull town has caught it. What's that? Who's comin'?"

A wild-eyed little boy, with fair hair stiff to the breeze, came racing across the plough ridges. "Come quick! Come quick!" he gasped. "They've sent me—Doctor Prescott's ain't to home—he's most dead! Come quick!"

"Where to?" shouted Jerome, pulling the tackle off the horse.

"Come quick, J'rome!"

"Where to?"

"Speak up, can't ye?" cried Ozias, shaking the boy by his small shoulder.

"To Basset's!" screamed the boy, shrilly, jerked away from Ozias, and was off, clearing the ground like a hound, with long leaps.

"Lord," said Ozias, looking at the deed, "it's killed him!"

Jerome had freed the horse from the plough, and now sprang upon his back.

"Ye ain't goin' to ride him bare-back?" asked Ozias.

"I'm not going to stop for a saddle. G'long!" Jerome bent forward, slapped the horse on the neck, dug his heels into his sides, and was off at a gallop.

Ozias followed, still clutching the deed. Abel Edwards came out as he reached the house. "Where's J'rome goin' to?" he asked.

"Down to Basset's; somethin's happened. He's fell dead or somethin'. I'm goin' to see what the matter is."

"Wait till I git my hat, an' I'll go with ye."

The two old men went at a fast trot down the road, and many joined them, all hurrying to Simon Basset's.

They had reached Lawyer Means's house, which stood in sight of Basset's, before they met a returning company. "It's no use your goin'," shouted a man in advance. "He's gone. J'rome Edwards said so the minute he see him, an' now Doctor Prescott he's come, an' he says so. He was dead before they cut him down."

With the throng of excited men and boys came one pale-faced, elderly woman, with her cap awry and her apron over her shoulders. She was Miss Rachel Blodgett, Eliphalet Means's house-keeper.

She took up her position by the Means's gate, and the crowd gathered about her as a nucleus. Other women came running out of neighboring houses, and pressed close to her skirts. Cyrus Robinson's son pushed before her, and, when she began to speak in a strained treble, overpowered it with a coarse volume of bass. "Let me tell what I've got to first," he ordered, importantly. "My part comes first, then it's your turn. I've got to go back to the store. It was just about noon that Simon Basset come in ag'in and asked for a piece of rope. Said he wanted it to tie his cow with. I got out some rope, and he tried to beat me down on it; asked me if I hadn't got some second-hand rope I'd let him have a piece of. Finally I got mad, and asked him why, if he wasn't willing to pay for rope what it was worth, he didn't use a halter or his clothes-line.

"He whined out that his halter was broke, and he hadn't had a clothes-line for years. That last I believed, quick enough, for I knew he didn't ever have any washing done.

"Then I asked him why he didn't steal a rope if he was too poor to pay for it, and he said he was too poor. He wasn't worth more than five thousand dollars in the world, and he'd given away all he was going to of that. When he got started on that, he ripped and raved the way he did this morning; hang it, if I didn't begin to think he was out of his mind. Then he went off, about ten minutes past twelve, without his rope. I suppose there were pieces of rope enough around, but I got mad, he acted so darned mean about it, and wouldn't hunt it up for him, and I'm glad now I didn't."

Rachel Blodgett, who had been teetering with eagerness on her thin old ankles, interposing now and then sharp quavers of abortive speech, cut short Robinson's last words with the impetuosity of her delivered torrent. "I washed to-day," said she. "I didn't wash yesterday because it wasn't a good drying-day, and last week I had my clothes around three days in the tub, and I made up my mind I wouldn't do it again. So I washed to-day.

"I got my clothes all hung out before dinner. I had an uncommon heavy wash to-day, an extra table-cloth—Mr. Means tipped his coffee over yesterday morning—and the sheets of the spare chamber bed were in, so I put up a little piece of line I had, between those two trees, beside my regular clothes-line.

"About an hour ago I thought to myself the clothes ought to be dry, and I'd just step out and look. So I run out, and there were the clothes I'd hung on the little line—some dish-towels, and two of my aprons, and one of Mr. Means's shirts—down on the ground in the dirt, and the line was gone. Thinks I, 'Where's that line gone to?'

"I stood there gaping, I couldn't make head or tail of it. Then I see the little Crossman boy out in the yard, and I hollered to him—'Willy,' says I, 'come here a minute.'

"He come running over, and I asked him if he'd seen anybody in our yard since noon. He said he hadn't seen anybody but Mr. Basset. He saw him coming out of our yard tucking something under his coat.

"That put me on the track. If I do say it of the dead, and one that's gone to his account in an awful way, Mr. Basset had been over here time and time again, and helped himself. I ain't going to say he stole; he helped himself. He helped himself to our kindling wood, and our hammer, and our spade, and our rake. After the spade went, I made a notch on the rake-handle so I could tell it, and when that went, I slipped over to Mr. Basset's one day when I knew he wasn't there, and there was our rake in his shed. I said nothing to nobody, but I just brought our rake home again, and I hid it where he didn't find it again. Mr. Means, though he's a lawyer, looks out sharper for other folks' belongings than he does for his own. He'd never say anything; he went and bought another spade and hammer, and he'd bought another rake if I hadn't got that.

"When that little Crossman boy said he'd seen Mr. Basset coming out of our yard tucking something under his coat, it put me right on the track, though I couldn't think what he wanted with that little piece of rope. I should have thought he wanted it to mend a harness with, but his old horse died last winter; folks said he didn't have enough to eat, but I ain't going to pass any judgment on that, and I knew he sold his old harness, because the man he sold it to had been to Mr. Means to get damages for being taken in. The harness had broke, and his horse had run away, and the man declared that that harness had been glued together in places.

"But I don't know anything about that. The poor man is dead, and if he glued his harness, it's for him to give account of, not me. I couldn't think what he wanted that rope for, but I felt mad. The rope wasn't worth much, but it was his helping himself to it, without leave or license, that riled me, and there were my clean clothes all down in the dirt—there they are now, you can see 'em there—and I knew I'd got to wash 'em over.

"So I made up my mind I'd got spunk enough, and I'd go right over there and tell Simon Basset I wanted my rope. So I took off my apron and clapped it over my shoulders—I've had a little rheumatism lately, and the wind's kind of cold to-day—and I run over there.

"I—don't know what came over me. When I got to the house, a chill struck all through my bones. I trembled like a leaf. I felt as if something had happened. I thought, at first, I'd turn around and go home, and then I thought I wouldn't be so silly, that it was just nerves, and nothing had happened. I went round to the side door, and I didn't see him puttering around anywhere, so I peeked into the wood-shed. I thought if I saw my rope there I'd just take it, and run home and say nothing to nobody.

"But I didn't see it, so I went back to the door and knocked. I knocked three times, and nobody came. Then I opened the door a crack, and hollered—'Mr. Basset!' says I, 'Mr. Basset!'

"I called a number of times, then I got out of patience. I thought he'd gone away somewhere, and I might as well go in and see if I couldn't find my rope. So I opened the door wide and stepped in.

"It was awful still in there—somehow the stillness seemed to hit my ears. It was just like a tomb. That dreadful horror came over me again. I felt the cold stealing down my back. I made up my mind I'd just peek into the kitchen, and if I didn't see my rope, I wouldn't look any farther; I'd go home.

"So—the kitchen door was ajar, and I pushed it, and it swung open, and—I looked, and there—there!"

Suddenly the woman's shrill monologue was intensified by hysteria. She pointed wildly, as if she saw again the awful sight which she had seen through that open door.

"There, there!" she shrieked—"there! He was—there—oh—Willy—the doctor—Jerome Edwards—Willy—oh, there, there!" She caught her breath with choking sobs, she laughed, and the laugh ended in a wailing scream; she clutched her throat, she struggled, she was beside herself for the time, run off her track of reason by her panic-stricken nerves.

Two pale, chattering women, nearly as hysterical as she, led her, weeping shrilly all the way, into the house, and the crowd dispersed; some, whose curiosity was not yet satisfied, to seek the scene of the tragedy, some to return home with the news. Two men of the latter, walking along the village street, discussed the amount of the property left by the dead man. "It's as much as fifty thousand dollars," said one.

"Every dollar of it," assented the other.

"It ain't likely he's made a will. Who's goin' to heir it? He 'ain't got a relation that I know of. All the folks I ever heard of his havin', since I can remember, was his step-father an' his brother Sam, an' they died twenty odd years ago."

"Adoniram Judd's father was Simon Basset's mother's cousin."

"He wa'n't."

"Yes, he was. They both come from Westbrook, where I was born."

"Now they can pay off the mortgage, and get Henry's eyes fixed."

"Adoniram Judd ain't goin' to get all that money!"

"I wouldn't sell ye his chance on 't for forty thousand dollars."



Chapter XLI

During Jerome's absence at Simon Basset's, Squire Eben Merritt's wife came across lots to the Edwardses' house. A little red shawl over her shoulders stood out triangularly to the gusts of spring wind; a forked end of red ribbon on her bonnet fluttered sharply. Abigail Merritt moved with nervous impetus across the fields, like an erratic thread of separate purpose through an even web. All the red of the spring landscape was in the swift passing of her garments. All that was not in straight parallels of accord with the universal yielding of nature to the simplest law of growth was in her soul. She passed on her own errand, cutting, as it were, a swath of spirit through the soft influence of the spring. Abigail Merritt's mouth was tightly shut, her eyes were narrow gleams of resolution, there were red spots on her cheeks. She had left Lucina weeping on the bed in her little chamber; she had said nothing to her, nor her husband, but she had resolved upon her own course of action.

"It is time something was done," said Abigail Merritt, nodding to herself in the glass as she tied on her bonnet, "and I am going to do it."

When she reached the Edwardses' house, she stepped briskly up the path, bowing to Mrs. Edwards in the window, and Elmira opened the door before she knocked.

"Good-afternoon; I would like to see your brother a moment," Abigail announced, abruptly.

"He isn't at home," said Elmira; "something has happened at Simon Basset's—I don't know what. A boy came after Jerome, and he hurried off. Father's gone too." Elmira blushed all over her face and neck as she spoke. "Jerome will be sorry he wasn't at home," she added. She had a curious sense of innocent confusion over the situation.

Mrs. Edwards blushed too, like an echo, though she gave her little dark head an impatient toss.

"Then please ask your brother if he will be so kind as to come to the Squire's after supper to-night," she returned, in her smart, prettily dictatorial way, and took leave at once, though Elmira urged her politely to come in and rest and wait for her brother's return.

She gave the message to Jerome when he came home. "What do you suppose she wants of you?" she asked, wonderingly. Jerome shook his head.

"Why, you look as white as a sheet!" said Elmira, staring at him.

"I've seen enough this afternoon to make any man look white," Jerome replied, evasively.

"Well, I suppose you have; it is awful about Simon Basset," Elmira assented, shudderingly.

Jerome had to force himself to his work after he had received Mrs. Merritt's message. The tragedy of Simon Basset had given him a terrible shock, and now this last set his nerves in a tumult in spite of himself.

"What can she want?" he questioned, over and over. "Shall I see Lucina? What can her mother have to say to me?"

One minute, thinking of Simon Basset, he stood convicted, to his shame, of the utter despicableness of all his desires pertaining to the earth and the flesh, by that clear apprehension of eternity which often comes to one at the sight of sudden death. He settled with himself that wealth and success and learning, and love itself even, where as nothing beside that one surety of eternity, which holds the sequence of good and evil, and is of the spirit.

Then, in a wild rebellion of honesty, he would own to himself that, whether he would have it so or not, to his understanding, still hampered by the conditions of the flesh, perhaps made morbid by resistance to them, but that he could not tell, love was the one truth and reality and source of all things; that life was because of love, not love because of life.

Jerome set his mouth hard as he ploughed. The newly turned sods clung to his feet and made them heavy, as the fond longings of the earth clung to his soul. It seemed to Jerome that he had never loved Lucina as he loved her then, that he had never wanted her so much. Also that he had never been so firmly resolved to give her up. If Lucina had seemed beyond his reach before, she seemed doubly so then, and her new wealth loomed between them like an awful golden flood of separation. "I have given away all my money," he said. "Shall I marry a wife with money, to make good my loss?" He laughed at himself with bitter scorn for the fancy.

After supper, he dressed himself in his best clothes, and set out for Squire Merritt's, evading as much as he could his mother's questions and surmises. Ann's bitterness at his disposal of his money was softened to loquacity by her curiosity.

"I s'pose," said she, "that if that poor girl goes down on her knees to you, an' tells you her heart is breakin', that you'll jest hand her over to the town poor, the way you did your money."

"Don't, mother," whispered Elmira, as Jerome went out, making no response.

"I'm goin' to say what I think 's best. I'm his mother," returned Ann. But when Jerome was gone, she broke down and cried, and complained that the poor boy hadn't eat any supper, and she was afraid he'd be sick. Abel, sitting near her, snivelled softly for sympathy, not fairly comprehending her cause for tears. When she stopped weeping, and took up her knitting-work again, he drew a sigh of relief and fell to eating an apple.

As for Elmira, she tried to comfort her mother, and she had an anxious curiosity about Jerome and his call at the Merritts'; but Lawrence Prescott was coming that evening.

Presently Ann heard her singing up-stairs in her chamber, whither she had gone to curl her hair and change her gown.

"I'm glad somebody can sing," muttered Ann; but in the depths of her heart was a wish that her son, instead of her daughter, could have had the reason for song, if it were appointed to one only. "Women don't take things so hard as men," reasoned Ann Edwards.

When Jerome knocked at Squire Merritt's door that evening, Mrs. Merritt opened it. For a minute everything was dark before him; he had thought that he might see Lucina. His voice sounded strange in his own ears when he replied to Mrs. Merritt's greeting; he almost reeled when he followed her into the parlor. It was a cool, spring night, and there was a fire on the hearth. A silver branch of candles on the mantel-shelf lit the room.

Mrs. Merritt looked anxiously at Jerome as she placed a chair. "I hope you are well," she said, in her quick way, but her voice was kind. Jerome thought it sounded like Lucina's. He stammered that he was quite well.

"You look pale."

When he made no response to that, she added, with a motherly cadence, that he had been through a great deal lately; that she had felt very sorry about the loss of his mill.

Jerome thanked her. He sat opposite, in a great mahogany arm-chair, holding himself very erect; but his pulses sang in his ears, and his downcast eyes scanned the roses in the carpet. He did not understand it, but he was for the moment like a school-boy before the aroused might of feminity of this little woman.

"It is partly about your mill that I want to see you," said Abigail Merritt. "The Squire has something which he wishes to propose, but he has begged me to do so for him. He thinks my chances of success are better. I don't know about that," she finished, smiling.

Jerome looked up then, with quick attention, and she came at once to the point. Abigail Merritt, her mind once made up, was not a woman to beat long about a bush. "The Squire has, as you know," she said, "a legacy of five thousand dollars from poor Colonel Lamson. He wishes to invest part of it. He would like to rebuild your mill."

Jerome colored high. "Thank him, and thank you," he said; "but—"

"He does not propose to give it to you," she interposed, quickly. "He would not venture to propose that, however much he might like to do so. His plan is to rebuild the mill, and for you to work it on shares—you to have your share of the profits for your labor. You could have the chance to buy him out later, when you were able."

Jerome was about to speak, but Abigail interrupted again. "I beg you not to make your final decision now," she said. "There is no necessity for it. I would rather, too, that you gave your answer to the Squire instead of me. I have nothing to do with it. It is simply a proposition of the Squire's for you to consider at your leisure. You know how much my husband has always thought of you since you were a child. He would be glad to help you, and help himself at the same time, if you will allow him to do so; but that can pass over. I have something else of more importance to me to say. Jerome Edwards," said she, suddenly, and there was a new tone in her voice, "I want you to tell me just how matters stand between you and my daughter, Lucina. I am her mother, and I have a right to know."

Jerome looked at her. His handsome young face was very white. "I—have been working hard to earn enough money to marry," he said, speaking quick, as if his breath failed him. "I lost my mill. I will not ask her to wait."

"You had a fortune, but you gave it away," returned Mrs. Merritt. "Well, we will not discuss that; that is not between you and me, or any human being, if you did what you thought right. Lucina has twenty thousand dollars, you know that?"

Jerome nodded. "Yes," he replied, hoarsely.

"What difference will it make whether you have the money or your wife?"

"It makes a difference to me," Jerome cried then, with that old flash of black eyes which had intimidated the little girl Lucina in years past.

"And yet you say you love my daughter," said Mrs. Merritt, looking at him steadily.

"I love her so much that I would lay down my life for her!" Jerome cried, fiercely, and there was a flare of red over his pale face.

"But not so much that you would sacrifice one jot or one tittle of your pride for her," responded Abigail Merritt, with sharp scorn. Suddenly she sprang up from her chair and stood before the young man, every nerve in her slight body quivering with the fire of eloquence. "Now listen, Jerome Edwards," said she. "I know who and what you are, and I know who and what my daughter is. I give you your full due. You have traits which are above the common, and out of the common; some which are noble, and some which render you dangerous to the peace of any one who loves you. I give you your full due, and I give my daughter hers. I can say it without vanity—it is the simple truth—Lucina has had her pick and choice among many. She could have wedded, had she chosen, in high stations. She has a face and character which win love for her wherever she goes. I am not here to offer or force my daughter upon any unwilling lover. If I had not been sure, from what she has told me, and from what I have observed, that you were perfectly honest in your affection for her, I should not have sent for you to-night. I—"

She stopped, for Jerome burst out with a passion which startled her. "Honest! Oh, my God! I love her so that I am nothing without her. I love her more than the whole world, more than my own life!"

"Then give up your pride for her, if you love her," said Abigail, sharply.

"My pride!"

"Yes, your pride. You have given away everything else, but how dare you think yourself generous when you have kept the thing that is dearest of all? You generous—you! Talk of Simon Basset! You are a miser of a false trait in your own character. You are a worse miser than he, unless you give it up. What are you, that you should say, 'I will go through life, and I will give, and not take?' What are you, that you should think yourself better than all around you—that you should be towards your fellow-creatures as a god, conferring everything, receiving nothing? If you love my daughter, prove it. Take what she has to give you, and give her, what is worth more than money, if you had the riches of Croesus, the pride of your heart."

Jerome stood before her, looking at her. Then, without a word, he went across the room to a window, and stood there, his back towards her, his face towards the moonlight night outside.

"Is it pride or principle?" he said, hoarsely, without turning his head.

"Pride."

Jerome stood silently at the window. Abigail watched him, her brows contracted, her fingers twitching; there were red spots on her cheeks. This had cost her dearly. She, too, had given up her pride for love of Lucina.

Jerome, with a sudden motion of his shoulders, as if he flung off a burden, left the window and crossed the room. He was very pale, but his eyes were shining. He towered over Mrs. Merritt with his splendid height, and she was woman enough, even then, to note how handsome he was. "Will you give me Lucina for my wife?" said he.

Tears sprang to Abigail's eyes, her little face quivered. She took Jerome's hand, pressed it, murmured something, and went out. Jerome understood that she had gone to call Lucina.

It was not long before he heard Lucina's step on the stairs, and the rustle of her skirts. Then there was a suspensive silence, as if she hesitated at the door; then the latch was lifted and she came in.

Lucina, in a straight hanging gown of blue silk, stood still near the door, looking at Jerome with a wonderful expression of love and modest shrinking and trust and fear, and a gentle dignity and graciousness withal, which only a maiden's face can compass. Lucina did not blush nor tremble, though her steady poise seemed rather due to the repression of tremors than actual calm of spirit. Though no color came into Lucina's smooth, pale curves of cheek, and though her little hands were clasped before her, like hands of marble, her blue eyes were dilated, and pulses beat hard in her delicate throat and temples.

Jerome, on his part, was for a minute unable to speak or approach her. An awe of her, as of an angel, was over him, now that for the first time the certainty of possession was in his heart. It often happens that one receiving for the first time a great and long-desired blessing, can feel, for the moment, not joy and triumph so much as awe and fear at its sudden glory of fairness in contact with his unworthiness.

But, all at once, as Jerome hesitated a soft red came flaming over Lucina's face and neck, and tears of distress welled up in her eyes. Far it was from her to understand how her lover felt, for awe of herself was beyond her imagination, and a dreadful fear lest her mother had been mistaken and Jerome did not want her after all, was in her heart. She gave him a little look, at once proud and piteously shamed, and put her hand on the door-latch; but with that Jerome was at her side and his arms were around her.

"Oh, Lucina," he said, "I am poor—I am poorer than when I spoke to you before. You must give all and I nothing, except myself, which seems to me as nothing when I look at you. Will you take me so?"

Then Lucina looked straight up in his face, and her blushes were gone, and her blue eyes were dark, as if from unknown depths of love and faithfulness. "Don't you know," she said, with an authoritative seriousness, which seemed beyond her years and her girlish experience—"don't you know that when I give you all I give to myself, and that if I did not give you all I could never give to myself, but should be poor all my life?

"And, and—" continued Lucina, tremulously, for she was beginning to falter, being nerved to such length of assertive speech only by her wish to comfort and reassure Jerome, "don't you know—don't you know, Jerome, that—a woman's giving is all her taking, and—you wouldn't take the gingerbread, dear, and the money for the shoes, when we were both children—but, maybe your—taking from—somebody who loves you is your—best giving—"

With that Lucina was sobbing softly on Jerome's shoulder, and he was leaning his face close to hers, whispering brokenly and kissing her hair and her cheek.

"It doesn't matter, after all, because you lost your mill, dear," Lucina said, presently, "because we have money enough for everything, now."

"It is your money, for your own needs always," Jerome returned, quickly, and with a sudden recoil as from a touch upon a raw surface, for the sensitiveness of a whole life cannot be hardened in a moment.

"No, it is yours, too; he meant it so," said Lucina, with a little laugh. "You wait a minute and I will show you."

With that Lucina fumbled in the pocket of her silken gown and produced a letter.

"Read this, dear," said she, "and you will see what I mean."

"What is it?" asked Jerome, wonderingly, staring at the superscription, which was, "For Mistress Lucina Merritt, to be opened and read by herself, at her pleasure and discretion, and to be read by herself and Jerome Edwards jointly on the day of their betrothal."

"Come over to the light and we will read it together," said Lucina.

Jerome and Lucina sat down on the sofa under the branching candlestick and read the letter with their heads close together. The letter ran:

"Dear Mistress Lucina,—When this you read an old soldier will have fought his last battle, and his heart, which has held you as kindly as a father's, will have ceased to beat. But he prays that you will ever, in your own true and loving heart, save a place for his memory, and he begs you to accept as an earnest of his affection, with his fond wishes for your happiness, the sum of twenty thousand dollars, as specified in his last will and testament.

"And he furthermore begs that the said sum of twenty thousand dollars be regarded by you, when you wed Jerome Edwards, in the light of a dowry, to be employed by you both, for your mutual good and profit, during your married life. And this with my commendation for the wisdom of your choice, and my fervent blessing upon my foster son and daughter.

"I am, dear Mistress Lucina, your obedient servant to command, your devoted friend, and your affectionate foster father,

"John Lamson."

THE END

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