In these latter years Ann Edwards regarded her son Jerome with pride and admiration, and yet with a measure of disapproval. In spite of her fierce independence, a lifetime of poverty and struggle against the material odds of life had given a sordid taint to her character. She would give to the utmost out of her penury, though more from pride than benevolence; but when it came to labor without hire, that she did not understand.
“I ‘ain’t got anything to say against your watchin’ with sick folks, an’ nursin’ of ’em, if you’ve got the spare time an’ strength,” she said to Jerome; “but if you do doctorin’ for nothin’ nobody ’ll think anything of it. Folks ‘ll jest ride a free horse to death, an’ talk about him all the time they’re doin’ of it. You might just as well be paid for your work as folks that go ridin’ round in sulkies chargin’ a dollar a visit. You want to get the mortgage paid up.”
“It is almost paid up now, you know, mother,” Jerome replied.
“How?” cried his mother, sharply. “By nippin’ an’ tuckin’ an’ pinchin’, an’ Elmira goin’ without things that girls of her age ought to have.”
“I don’t complain, mother,” said Elmira, with a sweet, bright glance at her brother, as she gave a nervous jerk of her slender arm and drew the waxed thread through the shoe she was binding.
“You’d ought to complain, if you don’t,” returned her mother. Then she added, with an air of severe mystery, “It might make a difference in your whole life if you did have more; sometimes it does with girls.”
Jerome did not say anything, but he looked in a troubled way from his sister to his mother and back again. Elmira blushed hotly, and he could not understand why.
It was very early in a spring morning, not an hour after dawn, but they had eaten breakfast and were hurrying to finish closing and binding a lot of shoes for Jerome to take to his uncle’s for finishing. They all worked smartly, and nothing more was said, but Ann Edwards had an air of having conclusively established the subject rather than dropped it. Jerome kept stealing troubled glances at his sister’s pretty face. Elmira was a mystery to him, which was not strange, since he had not yet learned the letters of the heart of any girl; but she was somewhat of a mystery to her mother as well.
Elmira was then twenty-two, but she was very small, and looked no more than sixteen. She had the dreams and questioning wonder of extreme youth in her face, and something beyond that even, which was more like the wide-eye brooding and introspection of babyhood.
As one looking at an infant will speculate as to what it is thinking about, so Ann often regarded her daughter Elmira, sitting sewing with fine nervous energy which was her very own, but with bright eyes fixed on thoughts beyond her ken. “What you thinkin’ about, Elmira?” she would question sharply; but the girl would only start and color, and look at her as if she were half awake, and murmur that she did not know. Very likely she did not; often one cannot remember dreams when suddenly recalled from them; though Elmira had one dream which was the reality of her life, and in which she lived most truly, but which she would always have denied, even to her own mother, to guard its sacredness.