Through the falling rain he looked at the view before him, at the overgrown yard, at the manure heaps near the stable, at the grim rows of staves in the peanut field, at the sombre and deserted landscape. A raw wind blew in gusts from the northeast, and the distorted ailanthus tree in the yard moaned and wrung its twisted limbs. Sharp, unpleasant odours came from the pig-pen in the barnyard, where the rain was scattering the slops in the trough. A bull bellowed in a far-off pasture. Before the hen-house door several dripping fowls strutted with wilted feathers.
He saw it all in silence, with the dogged eyes of one whose gaze is turned inward. He made no gesture, uttered no exclamation. He was as motionless as the lintel of the door on which he leaned.
Suddenly a gust of wind whipped the rain into his face. He turned, reentered the house, closed the door carefully, and went upstairs.
The next morning Nicholas went into the judge’s study and declined the offer of the day before.
“I shan’t read law, after all,” he said slowly. “There is a business opening for me here, and I’ll take advantage of it.” He spoke in set phrases, as if he had rehearsed the sentences many times.
“Business!” echoed the judge incredulously. “Why, what business is going on in Kingsborough?”
Nicholas flushed a deep red, but his glance did not waver.
“Jerry Pollard wants me in his store, sir.”
The judge removed his glasses, wiped them deliberately on his silk handkerchief, put them on again, and regarded the younger man attentively.
“And you wish to go into Jerry Pollard’s store?” he inquired.
“I think it is the best thing I can do.”
“The best paying thing, I presume?”
“Bless my soul!” exclaimed the judge testily. “What is the world coming to? I suppose Tom will be writing me next that he intends to keep a stall in market. Well, you know best, of course. You may do as you please; but may I ask if you are going to bargain in Latin and multiply by criminal law in Jerry Pollard’s store?”
“Then, what in the—what in the—I really feel the need of a strong expression—what in the world did you take the trouble to educate yourself for?”
Nicholas was looking at the floor, and he did not raise his eyes. His face was hard and set.
“Because I was a fool,” he answered shortly.
“And now, if I may ask?”
“A fool still—but I’ve found it out.”
The judge leaned back in his chair and tapped the ledge of his desk meditatively.
“Have you fully decided?” he asked.
“I have thought it over,” he said quietly.
“Then there’s nothing to be done, I suppose. I hope the compensation will satisfy you. Jerry Pollard is said to be somewhat tight-fisted, but your business instincts may be equal to his acquirements. Now, I have a number of letters, so, if you don’t mind, I will bid you good-day.”