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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 24
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A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 24 Post by :janetyml Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :3280

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A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 24

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.


"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.

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A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 25 A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 25

A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 25
Chapter XXVJerome 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

A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 23 A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 23

A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 23
Chapter XXIIIThe most intimate friends in unwonted gala attire are always something of a revelation to one another. Butterflies, meeting for the first time after their release from chrysalis, might well have the same awe and confusion of old memories.On the night of the party, when they were dressed and had come down-stairs, Jerome, who had seen his sister every day of his life, looked at her as if for the first time, and she looked in the same way at him. Elmira's Aunt Belinda Lamb had given her, some time before, a white muslin gown of her girlhood."I 'ain't got