Most of us have our personal grievances, as a vantage-point for eloquence in behalf of the mass. Simon Basset had deprived Ozias Lamb, by shrewd management, of the old Lamb homestead; Doctor Prescott had been instrumental in hushing his voice in prayer and exhortation in prayer-meeting.
The village people were not slow to recognize a certain natural eloquence in Ozias Lamb’s remarks; oftentimes they appealed to their own secret convictions; yet they always trembled when he arose and looked about with that strange smile of his. Ozias said once they were half scared on account of the Lord, and half on account of Doctor Prescott. Ozias was often clearly unorthodox in his premises—no one could conscientiously demur when Doctor Prescott, a church meeting having been called, presented for approval, the minister being acquiescent, a resolution that Brother Lamb be requested to remain quiet in the sanctuary, and not lift up his voice unto the Lord in public unless he could do so in accordance with the tenets of the faith, and to the spiritual edification of his fellow-Christians. The resolution was passed, and Ozias Lamb never entered the door of the meeting-house again, though his name was not withdrawn from the church books.
Therefore the cuttle-fish was a sort of Circean revenge upon Doctor Prescott and Simon Basset for his own private wrongs. It takes a god to champion wrongs which have not touched him in his farthest imaginings.
Jerome Edwards, young as he was, had within him the noblest instinct of a reformer—that of deducting from all evils a first lesson for himself. He said to himself: “It is true, what Uncle Ozias says. It is wrong, the way things are. The rich have everything—all the land, all the good food, all the money; the poor have nothing. It is wrong.” Then he said, “If ever I am rich I will give to the poor.” This pride of good intentions, in comparison with others’ deeds, gave the boy a certain sense of superiority. Sometimes he felt as if he could see the top of Doctor Prescott’s head when he met him on the street.
Poor Jerome had few of the natural joys and amusements of boyhood; he was obliged to resort to his fertile and ardent imagination, or the fibre of his spirit would have been relaxed with the melancholy of age. While the other boys played in the present, whooping and frisking, as free of thought as young animals, Jerome worked and played in the future. Some air-castles he built so often that he seemed to fairly dwell in them; some dreams he dreamed so often that he went about always with them in his eyes. One fancy which specially commended itself to him was the one that he was rich, that he owned half the town, that in some manner Doctor Prescott’s and Simon Basset’s acres had passed into his possession, and he could give them away. He established all the town paupers in the doctor’s clover. He recalled old Peter Thomas from the poorhouse, and set him at Doctor Prescott’s front window in a broadcloth coat. An imbecile pauper by the name of Mindy Toggs he established in undisturbed possession of Simon Basset’s house and lands.