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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 11
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A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 11 Post by :lauco Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :1802

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A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 11

Chapter XI

Innocence and ignorance can be as easily hood-winked by kindness as by contumely.

This little Jerome, who had leaped, under the spur of necessity, to an independence of understanding beyond his years, allowed himself to be quite misled by the Squire as to his attitude in the matter of the mortgage. In spite of the momentary light reflected from the doctor's shrewder intelligence which had flashed upon his scheme, the Squire was able to delude him with a renewed belief in it, after he had informed him of the transfer of the mortgage-deed, which took place the next morning.

"I decided to buy that wood-lot of your father's, as your mother was willing," said the Squire; "and as I had not the money in hand to pay down, I gave my note to your mother for it, as you proposed the doctor should do, and allowed six per cent. interest."

Jerome looked at him in a bewildered way.

"Well, what is the matter? Aren't you as willing to take my note as the doctor's?" asked the Squire.

"Is it fair?" asked Jerome, hesitatingly.

"Fair to you?"

"No; to you."

"Of course it is fair enough to me. Why not?"

"The doctor didn't think it was," said the boy, getting more and more bewildered.

"Why didn't he?"

"I don't--know--" faltered Jerome; and he did not, for the glimmer of light which he had got from the doctor's worldly wisdom had quite failed him. He had seen quite clearly that it was not fair, but now he could not.

"Oh, well, I dare say it is fairer for me than for him," said the Squire, easily. "Probably he had the ready money; I haven't the ready money; that makes all the difference. Don't you see it does?"

"Yes--sir," replied Jerome, hesitatingly, and tried to think he saw; but he did not. A mind so young and immature as his is not unlike the gaseous age of planets, overlaid with great shifting masses of vapor, which part to disclose dazzling flame-points and incomparable gleams, then close again. Only time can accomplish a nearer balance of light in minds and planets.

Then, too, as the first strain of unwonted demands relaxed a little through use, Jerome's mental speed, which seemed to have taken him into manhood at a bound, slackened, and he even fell back somewhat in his tracks. He was still beyond what he had ever been before, for one cannot return from growth. He would never be as much of a child again, but he was more of a child than he had been yesterday.

His mother also had been instrumental towards replacing him in his old ways. Ann, after her day of crushed apathy, aroused herself somewhat. When the Squire, the lawyer, and Doctor Prescott came the next morning, she kept them waiting outside while she put on her best cap. She had a view of the road from her rocking-chair, and when she saw the three gentlemen advancing with a slow curve of progress towards her gate, which betokened an entrance, she called sharply to Elmira, who was washing dishes, "Go into the bedroom and get my best cap, quick," at the same time twitching off the one upon her head.

When poor little Elmira turned and stared, her pretty face quite pale, thinking her mother beside herself, she made a fierce, menacing gesture with her nervous elbow, and spoke again, in a whisper, lest the approaching guests hear: "Why don't you start? Take this old cap and get my best one, quick!" And the little girl scuttled into the bedroom just as the first knock came on the door. Ann kept the three dignitaries waiting until she adjusted her cap to her liking, and the knocks had been several times repeated before she sent the trembling Elmira to admit them and usher them into the best parlor, whither she followed, hitching herself through the entry in her chair, and disdainfully refusing all offers of assistance. She even thrust out an elbow repellingly at the Squire, who had sprung forward to her aid.

"No, thank you, sir," said she; "I don't need any help; I always go around the house so. I ain't helpless."

Ann, when she had brought her chair to a stand, sat facing the three callers, each of whose salutations she returned with a curtly polite bow. She had a desperate sense of being at bay, and that the hands of all these great men, whose supremacy she acknowledged with the futile uprearing of any angry woman, were against her. She eyed the lawyer, Eliphalet Means, with particular distrust. She had always held all legal proceedings as a species of quagmire to entrap the innocent and unwary. She watched while the lawyer took some documents from his bag and laid them on the table. "I won't sign a thing, nohow," she avowed to herself, and shut her mouth tight.

Squire Merritt discovered that besides dealing with his own scruples he had to overcome his beneficiary's.

It took a long time to convince Ann that she was not being overreached and cheated. She seemed absolutely incapable of understanding the transfer of the mortgage note from Doctor Prescott to Squire Merritt.

"I've signed one mortgage," said she, firmly; "I put my name under my husband's. I ain't goin' to sign another."

"But nobody wants you to sign anything, Mrs. Edwards. The mortgage note is simply transferred to Squire Merritt here. We only want you to understand it," said Lawyer Means. He had a curiously impersonal manner of dealing with women, being wont to say that only a man who expected good sense in womenkind was surprised when he did not find it.

"I ain't goin' to put two mortgages on this place," said Ann, fronting him with the utter stupidity of obstinacy.

"Let me explain it to you, Mrs. Edwards," said Eliphalet Means, with no impatience. He regarded a woman as so incontrovertibly a patience-tryer, from the laws of creation, that he would as soon have waxed impatient with the structural order of things. He endeavored to explain matters with imperturbable persistency, but Ann was still unconvinced.

"I ain't goin' to sign my name to any other mortgage," said she.

Jerome, who had stood listening in the door, slid up to his mother and touched her arm. "Oh, mother," he whispered, "I know all about it--it's all right!"

Ann gave him a thrust with a little sharp elbow. "What do you know about it?" she cried. "I'm here to look out for you and your sister, and take care of what little we've got, an' I'm goin' to. Go out an' tend to your work."

"Oh, mother, do let me stay!"

"Go right along, I tell you." And Jerome, who was the originator of all this, went out helplessly, slighted and indignant. He did think the Squire might have interceded for him to stay, knowing what he knew. Even youth has its disadvantages.

But Squire Eben stood somewhat aloof, looking at the small, frail, pugnacious woman in the rocking-chair with perplexity and growing impatience. He wanted to go fishing that morning, and the vision of the darting trout in their still, clear pool was before him, like a vision of his own earthly paradise. He gave a despairing glance at Doctor Prescott, who had hitherto said little. "Can't you convince her it is all right? She knows you better than the rest of us," he whispered.

Doctor Prescott nodded, arose--he had been sitting apart--went to Mrs. Edwards, and touched her shoulder. "Mrs. Edwards," said he--Ann gave a terrified yet wholly unyielding flash of her black eyes at him--"Mrs. Edwards, will you please attend to what we have come to tell you. I have transferred the mortgage note given me by your late husband to Squire Eben Merritt; there is nothing for you to sign. You will simply pay the interest money to him, instead of to me."

"You can tear me to pieces, if you want to," said Ann, "but I won't sign away what little my poor husband left to me and my children, for you or any other man."

"Look at me," said the doctor.

Ann never stirred her head.

"Look at me."

Ann looked.

"Now," said the doctor, "you listen and you understand. I can't waste any more time here. Squire Merritt has bought that mortgage which your husband gave me, and paid me for it in land. You have simply nothing to do with it, except to understand. Nobody wants you to sign anything."

Ann looked at him with some faint light of comprehension through her wild impetus of resistance. "I'd ruther it would stay the way it was before," said she. "My husband gave you the mortgage. He thought you were trustworthy. I'd jest as soon pay you interest money as Squire Merritt."

Then Eliphalet Means spoke dryly, still with that utter patience of preparation and expectation: "If Doctor Prescott retains this mortgage he intends to foreclose."

Ann looked at him, and then at Doctor Prescott. She gasped, "Foreclose!"

Doctor Prescott nodded.

"You mean to foreclose? You mean to take this place away from us?" Ann cried, shrilly. "You with all you've got, and we a widow and orphans! And you callin' yourself a good man an' a pillar of the sanctuary!"

Doctor Prescott's face hardened. "Your husband owed me for a half-year's interest," he began, calmly.

"My husband didn't owe you any interest money. He paid you in work and wood."

"That was for medical attendance," proceeded the doctor, imperturbably. "He owed me half a year's interest. I considered it best for your interests, as well as mine, to foreclose, and should have done so had not Squire Merritt taken the matter out of my hands. I should advise him to a like measure, but he is his own best judge."

"Squire Merritt will not foreclose," said Eliphalet Means; "and he will be easy about the payments."

"Well," said Ann, with a strange, stony look, "I guess I understand. I'm satisfied."

Doctor Prescott gathered up his medicine-chest, bade the others a gruff, ceremonious good-morning, and went out. His sulky had been drawn up before the gate for some time, and Jake Noyes had been lounging about the yard.

The lawyer and the Squire lingered, as they had yet the business regarding the sale of the woodland to arrange.

Curiously enough, Ann was docile as one could wish about that. Whether her previous struggle had exhausted her or whether she began to feel some confidence in her advisers, they could not tell. She made no difficulty, but after all was adjusted she looked at the lawyer with a shrewd, sharp gleam in her eyes.

"Doctor Prescott can't get his claws on it now, anyhow," she said; "and he always wanted it, 'cause it joined his."

The Squire and the lawyer looked at each other. The Squire with humorous amazement, the lawyer with a wink and glance of wise reminder, as much as to say: "You know what I have always said about women. Here is a woman."

Jerome was digging out in his garden-patch, and Elmira, in her blue sunbonnet, was standing, full of scared questioning, before him, when the Squire came lounging up the slope and reported as before said, to the convincing of the boy in innocent credulity.

When he had finished, he laid hold on Elmira's little cotton sleeve and pulled her up to her brother, and stood before them with a kindly hand on a shoulder of each, smiling down at them with infinite good-humor and protection.

"Don't you worry now, children," he said. "Be good and mind your mother, and you'll get along all right. We'll manage about the interest money, and there'll be meal in the barrel and a roof over your heads as long as you want it, according to the Scriptures, I'll guarantee."

With that Squire Eben gave each a shake, to conceal, maybe, the tenderness of pity in him, which he might, in his hearty and merry manhood, have accounted somewhat of a shame to reveal, as well as tears in his blue eyes, and was gone down the hill with a great laugh.

Elmira looked after him. "Ain't he good?" she whispered. But as for Jerome, he stood trembling and quivering and looking down at a print the Squire's great boot had made in the soft mould. When Elmira had gone, he went down on his knees and kissed it passionately.

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