“I would,” declared a clear young voice from the outskirts of the crowd. Everybody turned and looked, and saw Jerome beside Squire Merritt, his handsome face all eager and challenging. Jerome was nearly as tall as the Squire, though more slender, and there was not a handsomer young fellow in the village. He had, in spite of his shoemaking, a carriage like a prince, having overcome by some erectness of his spirit his hereditary stoop.
Simon Basset looked at him. “If ye had a big fortune left ye, s’pose ye’d give it all away, would ye?”
“Yes, sir, I would.” Jerome blushed a little with a brave modesty before the concentrated fire of eyes, but he never unbent his proud young neck as he faced Simon Basset.
“S’pose ye’d give away every dollar?”
“Yes, sir, I would—every dollar.”
“Lord!” ejaculated Simon Basset, and his bristling, grimy jaws worked again.
Squire Eben Merritt looked at Jerome almost as he might have done at his pretty Lucina. “By the Lord Harry, I believe you would, boy!” he said, under his breath.
“Such idle talk is not to the purpose,” Doctor Seth Prescott said, with a stately aside to the minister, who nodded with the utter accordance of motion of any satellite.
But Simon Basset spoke again, and as he spoke he hit the doctor, who sat next him, a hard nudge in his broadcloth side with a sharp elbow. “Stan’ ye any amount ye want to put up that that young bob-squirt won’t give away a damned dollar, if he ever gits it to give,” he said, with a wink of curious confidential scorn.
“I do not bet,” replied the doctor, shortly.
“Lord! ye needn’t be pertickler, doctor; it’s safe ’nough,” returned Simon Basset, with a sly roll of facetious eyes towards the company.
The doctor deigned no further reply.
“I’ll stan’ any man in this company anything he’ll put up,” cried Simon Basset, who was getting aroused to a singular energy.
Nobody responded. Squire Eben Merritt, indeed, opened his mouth to speak, then turned it off with a laugh. “I’d make the bet, boy,” he whispered to Jerome, “if it were anybody else that proposed it, but that old—”
Simon Basset stood up; the men looked at him with wonder. His eyes glowed with strange fire. The lawyer eyed him keenly. “I should think from his face that the man was defending himself in the dock,” he whispered to Colonel Lamson.
“I’ll tell ye what I’ll do, then,” shouted Simon Basset, “if ye won’t none of ye take me up. I’ll be damned if I believe that any rich man on the face of this earth is capable of givin’ away every dollar he’s got, for the fear of the Lord or the love of his fellow-men. I’ll be damned if I believe, if the Lord Almighty spoke to him from on high, and told him to, he’d do it, an’ I’m goin’ to prove that I don’t believe it. I’ll tell ye all what I’ll do. Lawyer Means is here, an’ he can take it down in black an’ white, if he wants to, an’ I’ll sign it reg’lar an’ have it witnessed. If that young man there,” he pointed at Jerome, “ever comes into any property, an’ gives away every dollar of it, I’ll give away one quarter of all I’ve got in the world to the poor of this town, an’ I’ll take my oath on it.