When he said “I can’t,” Jerome meant not so much any ultimate end of love as love itself. He never for a second had a thought that he could marry Lucina Merritt, Squire Eben Merritt’s daughter, nor indeed would if he could. He never fancied that that fair lady in her silk attire could come to love him so unwisely as to wed him, and had he fancied it the fierce revolt at receiving so much where he could give so little, which was one of his first instincts, would have seized him. Never once he thought that he could marry Lucina, and take her into his penury or profit by her riches. All he resolved against was the love itself, which would make him weak with the weakness of all unfed things, and he made a stand of rebellion.
“I’m going to put her out of my mind,” said Jerome, and stood up to his full height among the sweet spring growths, flinging back his head, as if he defied Nature herself, and went pushing rudely through the tremulous outreaching poplar branches, and elbowed a cluster of white flowering bushes huddling softly together, like maidens who must put themselves in a man’s way, though to their own shaming.
Jerome decided that he would not go to see Lucina Merritt that Sunday night. He knew that she expected him, though there had been no formal agreement to that effect; he knew that she would wonder at his non-appearance, and, even though she were not disappointed, that she would think him untruthful and unmannerly.
“Let her,” he told himself, harshly, fairly scourging himself with his resolution. “Let her think just as badly of me as she can. I’ll get over it quicker.”
The ineffable selfishness of martyrdom was upon him. He considered only his own glory and pain of noble renunciation, and not her agony of disillusion and distrust, even if she did not care for him. That last possibility he did not admit for a moment. In the first place, though he had loved her almost at first sight, the counter-reasoning he did not imagine could apply to her. It had been as simple and natural in his case as looking up at a new star, but in hers—what was there in him to arrest her sweet eyes and consideration, at a moment’s notice, if at all? As well expect the star to note a new eye of admiration upon the earth.
In all probability, Lucina’s heart had turned already to Lawrence Prescott, as was fitting. She had doubtless seen much of him—he was handsome and prosperous; both families would be pleased with such a match. Jerome faced firmly the jealousy in his heart. “You’ve got to get used to it,” he told himself.
He did not think much of his sister in this connection, but simply decided that his mother, and possibly Elmira, had overrated Lawrence Prescott’s attention, and jumped too hastily at conclusions. It was incredible that any one should fancy his sister in preference to Lucina. Lawrence had merely called in a friendly way. He did not once imagine any such feeling on Elmira’s part for young Prescott, as on his for Lucina, and had at the time more impatience than pity. However, he resolved to remonstrate if Lawrence should stay so late again with his sister.