The next morning Jerome went early to his uncle Ozias Lamb for some finished shoes, which he was to take to Dale. For the first time in his life, when he entered the shop, he had an impulse to avert his eyes and not meet his uncle’s fully. Ozias had grown old rapidly of late. He sat, with his usual stiff crouch, on his bench and hammered away at a shoe-heel on his lapstone. His hair and beard were white and shaggy, his blue eyes peered sharply, as from a very ambush of old age, at Jerome loading himself with the finished shoes.
After the usual half-grunt of greeting, which was scarcely more than a dissyllabic note of salutation between two animals, Ozias was silent until Jerome was going out.
“Ain’t ye well this mornin’?” he asked then.
“Yes,” replied Jerome, “I’m well enough.”
“When a man’s smart,” said Ozias Lamb, “and has got money in his pocket, and don’t want folks to know it, he don’t keep feelin’ of it to see if it’s safe. He acts as if he hadn’t got any money, or any pocket, neither. I s’pose that’s what you’re tryin’ to do.”
“Don’t know what you mean,” returned Jerome, coloring.
“Oh, nothin’. Go along,” said his uncle.
But he spoke again before Jerome was out of hearing. “There ain’t any music better than a squeak, in the grind you an’ me have got to make out of life,” said he, “an’ don’t you go to thinkin’ there is. If you ever think you hear it, it’s only in your own ears, an’ you might as well make up your mind to it.”
“I made up my mind to it as long ago as I can remember,” Jerome answered back, yet scarcely with bitterness, for the very music which his uncle denied was too loud in his ears for him to disbelieve it.
When Jerome was returning from Dale, an hour later, his back bent beneath great sheaves of newly cut shoes, like a harvester’s with wheat, he heard a hollow echo of hoofs in the road ahead, then presently a cloud of dust arose like smoke, and out of it came two riders: Lawrence Prescott, on a fine black horse—which his father used seldom for driving, he was so unsuited for standing patiently at the doors of affliction, yet kept through a latent fondness for good horse-flesh—and Lucina Merritt, on his pretty bay mare. Lucina galloped past at Lawrence’s side, with an eddying puff of blue riding-skirt and a toss of yellow curls and blue plumes. Jerome stood back a little to give them space, and the dust settled slowly over him after they were by. Then he went on his way, with his heart beating hard, yet with no feeling of jealousy against Lawrence Prescott. He even thought that it would be a good match. Still, he was curiously disturbed, not by the reflection that he was laden with sheaves of leather—he would have been more ashamed had he been seen idling on a work-day—but because he feared he looked so untidy with the dust of the road on his shoes. She might have noticed his clothes, although she had galloped by so fast.