He paid for his few lessons with the first money he could save, in spite of the school-master’s remonstrances.
After that Jerome went on doggedly with his studies by himself, and asked assistance from nobody. In the silent night, after his mother and sister were in bed, he wrestled all alone with the angel of knowledge, and half the time knew not whether he was smitten hip and thigh or was himself the victor. Many a problem in his higher algebra Jerome was never sure of having solved rightly; renderings of many lines in his battered old Virgil, bought for a sixpence of a past collegian in Dale, might, and might not, have been correct.
However, if he got nothing else from his studies, he got the discipline of mental toil, and did not spend his whole strength in the labor of his hands.
Jerome pegged and closed shoes with an open book on the bench beside him; he measured his steps with conjugations of Latin verbs when he walked to Dale with his finished work over shoulder; he studied every spare moment, when his daily task was done, and kept this up, from a youthful and unreasoning thirst for knowledge and defiance of obstacles, until he was twenty-one. Then one day he packed away all his old school-books, and never studied them again regularly; for something happened which gave his energy the force of reason, and set him firmly in a new track with a definite end in view.
One evening, not long after his twenty-first birthday, Jerome Edwards went to Cyrus Robinson’s store on an errand.
When he entered he found a large company assembled, swinging booted legs over the counters, perched upon barrels and kegs, or tilting back in the old scooping arm-chairs around the red-hot stove. These last were the seats devoted to honor and age, when present, and they were worthily filled that night. Men who seldom joined the lounging, gossiping circle in the village store were there: Lawyer Means, John Jennings, Colonel Lamson, Squire Merritt, even Doctor Seth Prescott, and the minister, Solomon Wells.
The recent town-meeting, the elections and appropriations, accounted in some measure for this unusual company, though the bitter weather might have had something to do with it. Hard it was for any man that night to pass windows glowing with firelight, and the inward swing of hospitable doors; harder it was, when once within the radius of warmth and human cheer, to leave it and plunge again into that darkness of winter and death, which seemed like the very outer desolation of souls.
The Squire’s three cronies had been on their way to cards and punch with him, but the winking radiance of the store windows had lured them inside to warm themselves a bit before another half-mile down the frozen road; and once there, sunken into the battered hollows of the arm-chairs, within the swimming warmth from the stove, they had remained. Their prospective host, Squire Eben Merritt, also had shortly arrived, in quest of lemons for the brewing of his famous punch, and had been nothing loath to await the pleasure of his guests.