The first thing Jerome did, when he reached home, was to brush and blacken his shoes, though there was no chance of Lucina’s seeing them. He felt as if he ought not to think of her when he had on dusty shoes.
The greater part of the next day Jerome passed, as usual, soling shoes in Ozias Lamb’s shop. When he came home to supper, he noticed something unusual about his mother and sister. They had the appearance of being strung tightly with repressed excitement, like some delicate musical instruments. To look at or to speak to them was to produce in them sensitive vibrations which seemed out of proportion to the cause.
Jerome asked no questions. These disturbances in the feminine current always produced a corresponding stiffness of calm in his masculine one, as if by an instinct to maintain the equilibrium of dangerous forces for the safety of the household.
Elmira and her mother kept looking at each other and at him, pulses starting up in their delicate cheeks, flushes coming and going, motioning each other with furtive gestures to speak, then countermanding the order with sharp negatory shakes of the head.
At last Mrs. Edwards called back Jerome as he was going to his chamber, books under arm and lighted candle in hand.
“Look here,” said she; “I want to show you something.”
Jerome turned. Elmira was extending towards him a nicely folded letter, with a little green seal on it.
“What is it?” asked Jerome.
“Read it,” said his mother. Jerome took it, unfolded it, and read, Elmira and his mother watching him. Elmira was quite pale. Mrs. Edwards’s mouth was set as if against anticipated opposition, her nervously gleaming eyes were fierce with ready argument. Jerome knit his brows over the letter, then he folded it nicely and gave it back to Elmira.
“You see what it is?” said his mother.
“Yes, I see,” replied Jerome, hesitatingly. He looked confused before her, for one of the few times of his life.
“An invitation for you an’ Elmira to Squire Merritt’s—to a party; it’s Lucina’s birthday,” said his mother, and she fairly smacked her lips, as if the words were sweet.
Elmira looked at her brother breathlessly. Nobody knew how eager she was to go; it was the first party worthy of a name to which she had been bidden in her whole life. She and her mother had been speculating, ever since the invitation had arrived, upon the possibility of Jerome’s refusing to accept it.
“Nobody can tell what he’ll do,” Mrs. Edwards had said. “He’s just as likely to take a notion not to go as to go.”
“I can’t go if he doesn’t,” said Elmira.
“Why can’t you, I’d like to know?”
Elmira shrank timidly. “I never went into Squire Merritt’s house in my life,” said she.
“I guess there ain’t anything there to bite you,” said her mother. “I’m goin’ to say all I can to have your brother go; but if he won’t, you can put on your new dress an’ go without him.” However, Mrs. Edwards privately resolved to use as an argument to Jerome, in case he refused to attend the party, the fact that his sister would not go without him.