Jerome said no more. He lighted a candle, took his parcel of new clothes, and went up-stairs to his chamber.
It was twelve o’clock before Lawrence Prescott went home. Jerome had not gone to bed; he was waiting to speak to his sister. When he heard her step on the stairs he opened his door. Elmira, candle in hand, came slowly up the stair, holding her skirt up lest she trip over it. When she reached the landing her brother confronted her, and she gave a little startled cry; then stood, her eyes cast down before him, and the candle-light shining over the sweet redness and radiance of her face, which was at that moment nothing but a sign and symbol of maiden love.
All at once Jerome seemed to grasp the full meaning of it. His own face deepened and glowed, and looked strangely like his sister’s. It was as if he began to learn involuntarily his own lesson from another’s text-book. Suddenly, instead of his sister’s face he seemed to see Lucina Merritt’s. That look of love which levels mankind to one family was over his memory of her.
“What did you want?” Elmira asked, at length, timidly, but laughing before him at the same time like a foolish child who cannot conceal delight.
“Nothing,” said her brother; “good-night,” and went into his chamber and shut his door.
The most intimate friends in unwonted gala attire are always something of a revelation to one another. Butterflies, meeting for the first time after their release from chrysalis, might well have the same awe and confusion of old memories.
On the night of the party, when they were dressed and had come down-stairs, Jerome, who had seen his sister every day of his life, looked at her as if for the first time, and she looked in the same way at him. Elmira’s Aunt Belinda Lamb had given her, some time before, a white muslin gown of her girlhood.
“I ‘ain’t got any daughter to make it over for,” said she, “an’ you might as well have it.” Belinda Lamb had looked regretfully at its voluminous folds, as she passed it over to Elmira. Privately she could not see why she should not wear it still, but she knew that she would not dare face Paulina Maria when attired in it.
Elmira, after much discussion with her mother, had decided upon refurbishing this old white muslin, and wearing that instead of her new green silk to the party.
“It will look more airy for an evenin’ company,” said Mrs. Edwards, “an’ the skirt is so full you can take out some of the breadths an’ make ruffles.”
Elmira and her mother had toiled hard to make those ruffles and finish their daily stent on shoes, but the dress was in readiness and Elmira arrayed in it before eight o’clock on Thursday night. Her dress had a fan waist cut low, with short puffs for sleeves. Her neck, displaying, as it did, soft hollows rather than curves, and her arms, delicately angular at wrists and elbows, were still beautiful. She was thin, but her bones were so small that little flesh was required to conceal harsh outlines.