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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 8
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A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 8 Post by :themadvlad Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :2242

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A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 8

Chapter VIII

That day had been one of those surprises of life which ever dwell with one. Jerome in it had discovered not only a new self, but new ways. He had struck paths at right angles to all he had followed before. They might finally verge into the old again, but for that day he saw strange prospects. Not the least strange of them was this tea-drinking with the Squire and the Squire's sister and the Squire's daughter in the arbor. He found it harder to reconcile that with his past and himself than anything else. So bewildered was he, drinking tea and eating cake, with the spread of Miss Camilla's lilac flounces brushing his knee, and her soft voice now and then in his ear, that he strove to remember how he happened to be there at all, and that shock of strangeness which obliterates the past wellnigh paralyzed his memory.

Yet it had been simple enough, as paths to strange conclusions always are. He had returned home from Squire Eben's that morning, changed his clothes, and resumed his work in the garden.

Elmira had questioned him, but he gave her no information. He had an instinct, which had been born in him, of secrecy towards womankind. Nobody had ever told him that women were not trustworthy with respect to confidences; he had never found it so from observation; he simply agreed within himself that he had better not confide any but fully matured plans, and no plans which should be kept secret, to a woman. He had, however, besides this caution, a generous resolution not to worry Elmira or his mother about it until he knew. "Wait till I find out; I don't know myself," he told Elmira.

"Don't you know where you've been? You can tell us that," she persisted, in her sweet, querulous treble. She pulled at his jacket sleeve with her little thin, coaxing hand, but Jerome was obdurate. He twitched his jacket sleeve away.

"I sha'n't tell you one thing, and there is no use in your teasin'," he said, peremptorily, and she yielded.

Elmira reported that their mother was sitting still in her rocking-chair, with her head leaning back and her eyes shut. "She seems all beat out," she said, pitifully; "she don't tell me to do a thing."

The two tiptoed across the entry and stood in the kitchen door, looking at poor Ann. She sat quite still, as Elmira had said, her head tipped back, her eyes closed, and her mouth slightly parted. Her little bony hands lay in her lap, with the fingers limp in utter nerveless relaxation, but she was not asleep. She opened her eyes when her children came to the door, but she did not speak nor turn her head. Presently her eyes closed again.

Jerome pulled Elmira back into the parlor. "You must go ahead and get the dinner, and make her some gruel, and not ask her a question, and not bother her about anything," he whispered, sternly. "She's resting; she'll die if she don't. It's awful for her. It's bad 'nough for us, but we don't know what 'tis for her."

Elmira assented, with wide, scared, piteous eyes on her brother.

"Go now and get the dinner," said Jerome.

"There's lots left over from yesterday," said Elmira, forlornly. "Shall we have anything after that's gone?"

"Have enough while I've got two hands," returned Jerome, gruffly. "Get some potatoes and boil 'em, and have some of that cold meat, and make mother the gruel."

Elmira obeyed, finding a certain comfort in that. Indeed, she belonged assuredly to that purely feminine order of things which gains perhaps its best strength through obedience. Give Elmira a power over her, and she would never quite fall.

Elmira went about getting dinner, tiptoeing around her mother, who still sat sunken in her strange apathy of melancholy or exhaustion, it was difficult to tell which, while Jerome spaded and dug in the garden, in the fury of zeal which he had inherited from her.

Elmira had dinner ready early, and called Jerome. When he went in he found her trying to induce her mother to swallow a bowl of gruel. "Won't you take it, mother?" she was pleading, with tears in her eyes; but her mother only lifted one hand feebly and motioned it away; she would not raise her head or open her eyes.

"Give me that bowl," said Jerome. He held it before his mother, and slipped one hand behind her neck, constraining her gently to raise her head. "Here, mother," said he, "here's your gruel."

She resisted faintly, and shook her weak, repelling hand again. "Sit up, mother, and drink your gruel," said Jerome, and his mother's eyes flew wide open at that, and stared up in his face with eager inquiry; for again she had that wild surmise that her lost husband spoke to her.

"Drink it, mother," said Jerome, again meeting her half-delirious gaze fully; and Ann seemed to see his father looking at her from his son's eyes, through his immortality after the flesh. She raised herself at once, held out her trembling hands for the bowl, and drank the gruel to the last drop. Then she gave the empty bowl to Jerome, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes again.

After dinner Jerome changed his clothes for his poor best for the second time, and set forth to Doctor Prescott's. Elmira's wistful eyes followed him as he went out, but he said not a word. He threw back his shoulders and stepped out with as much boldness of carriage as ever.

"How smart he is!" Elmira thought, watching him from the window.

However, it was true that his heart quaked within him, supported as he was by the advice and encouragement of Squire Merritt. Doctor Prescott had been the awe and the terror of all his childhood. Nobody knew how in his childish illnesses--luckily not many--he had dreaded and resented the advent of this great man, who represented to him absolute monarchy, if not despotism. He never demurred at his noxious doses, but swallowed them at a gulp, with no sweet after-morsel as an inducement, yet, strangely enough, never from actual submissiveness, but rather from that fierce scorn and pride of utter helplessness which can maintain a certain defiance to authority by depriving it of that victory which comes only from opposition.

Jerome swallowed castor-oil, rhubarb, and the rest with a glare of fierce eyes over spoon and a triumphant understanding with himself that he took it because he chose, and not because the doctor made him. It was odd, but Doctor Prescott seemed to have some intuition of the boy's mental attitude, for, in spite of his ready obedience, he had always a singular aversion to him. He was much more amenable to pretty little Elmira, who cried pitifully whenever he entered the house, and had always to be coaxed and threatened to make her take medicine at all. No one would have said, and Doctor Prescott himself would not have believed, that he, in his superior estate of age and life, would have stooped to dislike a child like that, thus putting him upon a certain equality of antagonism; but in truth he did. Doctor Prescott scarcely ever knew one boy from another when he met him upon the street, but Jerome Edwards he never mistook, though he never stirred his stately head in response to the boy's humble bob of courtesy. Once, after so meeting and passing the boy, he heard an audacious note of defiance at his back, with a preliminary sniff of scorn: "Hm! wonder if he thinks he was born grown up, with money in his pockets; wonder if he thinks he owns this whole town?" The doctor never turned to resent this sarcastic soliloquy whereby the boy's suppressed democracy asserted itself, but the next time he saw Jerome's father he told him he had better look to his son's manners, and Jerome had been called to account.

However, when he had repeated his speech which had given offence, he had only been charged to keep his thoughts to himself in future. "I'll think 'em, anyhow," said Jerome, with unabated defiance.

"You'll pay proper respect to your elders," said his father.

"You'll think what we tell you to," said his mother, but the eyes of the two met. Doctor Prescott might hold the mortgage and exact his pound of flesh, these poor backs might bend to the yoke, but there was no cringing in the hearts of Abel Edwards and his wife. It was easy to see where Jerome got his spirit.

However, spirit needs long experience and great strength to assert itself fully at all times before long-recognized power. Jerome, going up the road to Doctor Prescott's, felt rather a fierce submission and obligatory humility than defiance. He felt as if this great man held not only himself, but his mother and sister, their lives and fortunes, at his disposal. Awe of the reigning sovereign was upon him, but it was the surly awe of the peasant whose mouth is stopped by force from questions.

It was not long before Jerome, going along the country road, came to the beginning of Doctor Prescott's estate. He owned long stretches of fields along the main street of the village, comprising many fine house-lots, which, however, people were too poor to buy. Doctor Prescott fixed such high prices to his house-lots that no one could pay them. However, people thought he did not care to sell. He liked being a large land-owner, like an English lord, and feeling that he owned half the village, they said.

Moreover, his acres brought him a fair income. They were sowed to clover and timothy, and barley and corn, and gave such hay and such crops as no others in town.

As Jerome passed these fair fields, either golden-green with the young grass, or ploughed in even ridges for the new seeds, set with dandelions like stars, or pierced as to the brown mould with emerald spears of grain, he scowled at them, and his mouth puckered grimly and piteously. He thought of all this land which Doctor Prescott owned; he thought of the one poor little bit of soil which he was going to offer him, to keep a roof over his head. Why should this man have all this, and he and his so little? Was it because he was better? Jerome shook his head vehemently. Was it because the Lord loved him better? Jerome looked up in the blue spring sky. The problem of the rights of the soil of the old earth was upon the boy, but he could not solve it--only scowl and grieve over it.

Past the length of the shining fields, well back from the road, with a fine curve of avenue between lofty pine-trees leading up to it, stood Doctor Prescott's house. It was much the finest one in the village, massively built of gray stone in large irregular blocks, veined at the junctions with white stucco; a great white pillared piazza stretched across the front, and three flights of stone steps led over smooth terraces to it; for it was raised on an artificial elevation above the road-level. Jerome, having passed the last field, reached the avenue leading to the doctor's house, and stopped a moment. His hands and feet were cold; there was a nervous trembling all over his little body. He remembered how once, when he was much younger, his mother had sent him to the doctor's to have a tooth pulled, how he stood there trembling and hesitating as now, and how he finally took matters into his own hands. A thrill of triumph shot over him even then, as he recalled that mad race of his away up the road, on and on until he came to the woods, and the tying of the offending tooth to an oak-tree by a stout cord, and the agonized but undaunted pulling thereat until his object was gained.

"I'd 'nough sight rather go to an oak-tree to have my tooth out than to Doctor Prescott," he had said, stoutly, being questioned on his return; and his father and mother, being rather taken at a loss by such defiance and disobedience, scarcely knew whether to praise or blame.

But there was no oak-tree for this strait. Jerome, after a minute of that blind groping and feeling, as of the whole body and soul, with which one strives to find some other way to an end than a hard and repugnant one, gave it up. He went up the avenue, holding his head up, digging his toes into the pine-needles, with an air of stubborn boyish bravado, yet all the time the nervous trembling never ceased. However, half-way up the avenue he came into one of those warmer currents which sometimes linger so mysteriously among trees, seeming like a pool of air submerging one as visibly as water. This warm-air bath was, moreover, sweetened with the utmost breath of the pine woods. Jerome, plunging into it, felt all at once a certain sense of courage and relief, as if he had a bidding and a welcome from old friends.

There are times when a quick conviction, from something like a special favor or caress of the great motherhood of nature, which makes us all as child to child, comes over one. "His pine-trees ain't any different from other folks' pine-trees," flashed through Jerome's mind.

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Chapter IXHe went on straight round the house to the south-side door, whither everybody went to consult the doctor. He knocked, and in a moment the door opened, and a young girl with weak blue eyes, with a helpless droop of the chin, and mouth half opened in a silly smile, looked out at him. She was a girl whom Doctor Prescott had taken from the almshouse to assist in the lighter household duties. She was considered rather weak in her intellect, though she did her work well enough when she had once learned how.Jerome bent his head with a sudden
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Chapter VIIIn every household which includes a beloved child there is apt to be one above another, who acts as an intercessor towards furthering its little plans and ends. Little Lucina's was her father. Her mother was no less indulgent in effect, but she was anxiously solicitous lest too much concession spoil the child, and had often to reconcile a permission to her own conscience before giving it, even in trivial matters.Therefore little Lucina, having in mind some walk abroad or childish treasure, would often seek her father, and, lifting up her face like a flower against his rough-coated breast, beg
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