After the first two months, Nicholas underwent a dogged and indifferent adaptation. He ceased to think of the judge, of Juliet, of Eugenia. He laughed at Jerry Pollard’s jokes and he winked at Jerry Pollard’s daughter. His horizon narrowed to the four walls of the shop; he told himself that he had a roof above his head and fuel for his stomach—that Bessie Pollard had skin that was fairer than Eugenia’s and lips as red. What did it matter, after all?
Sometimes Mrs. Webb entered the store, sweeping him, as she swept the counter, with her clear, cold glance, and once Sally Burwell ran in to do an errand for her mother and nodded with distant pleasantness as she met his eyes. At such times he flushed and ground his teeth, but after Mrs. Webb came farmer Turner, who shook his hand and said:
“Wall, I’m proud of you, Nick Burr.”
And after Sally Burwell pretty Bessie Pollard threw him a kiss from the doorway. It was not that he was ashamed of his work. He knew that at the close of the war better men than he sought and accepted gratefully such a livelihood as he disdained—that women in whose veins ran good old English blood left their wasted homes to teach in public schools, or turned their delicate hands to the needle for support. He was ashamed of his past ambition—of his vaunted aspiration—and he was ashamed of Jerry Pollard and his service.
The winter wore gradually to spring. A brilliant April melted into a watery May. Nicholas, coming to Kingsborough in the early mornings, would feel the long spring rains in his face as he splashed through the puddles in the road. In the wood the white blossoms of dogwood showed through interlacing branches like stars in a network of closely wrought iron. On their hardy shrubs the pale pink clusters of mountain laurel were beaten into shapeless colour-masses by the wind-blown rains. Sometimes, up above, where the fiery points of redbud trees shot skyward, a thrush sang or a blue jay scolded—and the bird-notes were laden, like the air, with the primal ripeness of spring.
Underfoot the earth was fecundating in dampness. Chill blue violets emerged from beneath the spread of rotting leaves, and where the washed-out sunlight had last shone it had left rays of wandering dandelions straying from the open roadside to the edges of the wood.
And the spring passed into Nicholas also. The wonderful renewal of surrounding life thrilled through the repression of his nature. With the flowing of the sap the blood flowed more freely in his veins. New possibilities were revealed to him; new emotions urged him into fresh endeavours. All his powerful, unspent youth spurred on to manhood.