However, a plan which Jerome formed for some evening lessons with the school-master appeased her. It savored of a private tutor like Lawrence Prescott’s. Nobody knew how Ann Edwards had resented Doctor Prescott’s sending his son to Boston to be fitted for college, while hers could have nothing better than a few terms at the district school. Her jealous bitterness was enhanced twofold because her poor husband was gone, and the memory of his ambition for his son stung her to sharper effort. Often the imagined disappointments of the dead, when they are still loved and unforgotten, weigh more heavily upon the living than their own. “I dun’no’ what your father would have said if he’d thought Jerome had got to leave school so young,” she told Elmira; and her lost husband’s grievance in the matter was nearer her heart than her own.
Jerome’s plan for evening lessons did not work long. The school-master to whom he applied professed his entire readiness, even enthusiasm, to further such a laudable pursuit of knowledge under difficulties; but he was young himself, scarcely out of college, and the pretty girls in his school swayed his impressionable nature into many side issues, even when his mind was set upon the main track. Soon Jerome found himself of an evening in the midst of a class of tittering girls, who also had been fired with zeal for improvement and classical learning, who conjugated amo with foolish blushes and glances of sugared sweetness at himself and the teacher. Then he left.
Jerome at that time felt absolutely no need of the feminine element in creation, holding himself aloof from it with a patient, because measureless, superiority. Sometimes in growth the mental strides into life ahead of the physical; sometimes it is the other way. At seventeen Jerome’s mind took the lead of his body, and the imaginations thereof, though he was well grown and well favored, and young girls placed themselves innocently in his way and looked back for him to follow.
Jerome’s cold, bright glances met theirs, full of the artless appeal of love and passion, shameless because as yet unrecognized, and then he turned away with disdain.
“I came here to learn Latin and higher algebra, not to fool with a pack of girls,” he told the school-master, bluntly. The young man laughed and colored. He was honest and good; passion played over him like wildfire, not with any heat for injury, but with a dazzle to blind and charm.
He did not intend to marry until he had well established himself in life, and would not; but in the meantime he gave his resolution as loose a rein as possible, and conjugated amo with shades of meaning with every girl in the class.
“I don’t see what I can do, Edwards,” he said. “I cannot turn the girls out, and I could not refuse them an equal privilege with you, when they asked it.”
Jerome gave the school-master a look of such entire comprehension and consequent scorn that he fairly cast down his eyes before him; then he went out with his books under his arm.