“Into the parlor to get a book.” He opened the door, but his mother beckoned him back mysteriously, and he closed it softly.
“What is it?” he asked, wonderingly. “Who is there? Has Elmira got company?”
“Belinda Lamb begun quizzin’ as soon as she got in here; said she thought she heard a man talkin’, an’ asked if it was you; an’ when I said it wa’n’t, wanted to know who it was. I told her right to her face it was none of her business.”
“Who is it in there, mother?” asked Jerome.
“It ain’t anybody to make any fuss about.”
“Who is it in there with Elmira?”
“It’s Lawrence Prescott, that’s who it is,” replied his mother, who was more wary in defence than attack, yet defiant enough when the struggle came. She looked at Jerome with unflinching eyes.
“Yes, what of it?”
“Mother, he isn’t going to pay attention to Elmira!”
“Why not, if he wants to? He’s as likely a young fellow as there is in town. She won’t be likely to do any better.”
Jerome stared at his mother in utter bewilderment. “Mother, are you out of your senses?” he gasped.
“I don’t know why I am,” said she.
“Don’t you know that Doctor Prescott would turn Lawrence out of house and home if he thought he was going to marry Elmira?”
“I guess she’s good enough for him. You can run down your own sister all you want to, Jerome Edwards.”
“I am not running her down. I don’t deny she’s good enough for any man on earth, but not with the kind of goodness that counts. Mother, don’t you know that nothing but trouble can come to Elmira from this? Lawrence Prescott can’t marry her.”
“I’d like to know what you mean by trouble comin’ to her,” demanded his mother. A hot red of shame and wrath flashed all over her little face and neck as she spoke, and Jerome, perceiving his mother’s thought, blushed at that, and not at his own.
“I meant that he would have to leave her, and make her miserable in the end, and that is all I did mean,” he said, indignantly. “He can’t marry her, and you know it as well as I. Then there is something else,” he added, as a sudden recollection flashed over his mind: “he was out riding horseback with Lucina Merritt Monday.”
“I don’t believe a word of it,” his mother said, hotly.
“I saw him.”
“Well, what of it if he did? She’s the only girl here that rides horseback, an’ I s’pose he wanted company. Mebbe her father asked him to go with her in case her horse got scared at anything. I shouldn’t be a mite surprised if he had to go and couldn’t help himself. He wouldn’t like to refuse if he was asked.”
“Mother, you know that Lucina Merritt is the only girl in this town that Doctor Prescott would think was fit to marry his son, and you know his family have always had to do just as he said.”
“I don’t know any such thing,” returned his mother; her voice of dissent had the shrill persistency of a cricket’s. “Doctor Prescott always took a sight of notice of Elmira when she was a little girl and he used to come here. He never took to you, I know, but he always did to Elmira.”