“Yes,” Jerome said, all of a tremble under her touch; “and—you won’t feel offended because I told you?”
“No, only I can’t see why you stayed away for that.”
The next afternoon Jerome went to Miss Camilla’s tea-party. Sitting in the arbor, whose interior was all tremulous and vibrant with green lights and shadows, as with a shifting water-play, sipping tea from delicate china, eating custards and the delectable plum-cake, he tasted again one of the few sweet savors of his childhood.
Jerome, in the arbor with three happy young people, taking for the first time since his childhood a holiday on a work-day, seemed to comprehend the first notes of that great harmony of life which proves by the laws of sequence the last. The premonition of some final blessedness, to survive all renunciation and sacrifice, was upon him. He felt raised above the earth with happiness. Jerome seemed like another person to his companions. The wine of youth and certainty of joy stirred all the light within him to brilliancy. He had naturally a quicker, readier tongue than Lawrence Prescott, now he gave it rein.
He could command himself, when he chose and did not consider that it savored of affectation, to a grace of courtesy beyond all provincial tradition. In his manners he was not one whit behind even Lawrence Prescott, with his college and city training, and in face and form and bearing he was much his superior. Lawrence regarded him with growing respect and admiration, Elmira with wonder.
As for Miss Camilla, she felt as if tripping over her own inaccuracy of recollection of him. “I never saw such a change in any one, my dear,” she told Lucina the next day. “I could scarcely believe he was the little boy who used to weed my garden, and with so few advantages as he has had it is really remarkable.”
“Father says so, too,” remarked Lucina, looking steadily at her embroidery.
Miss Camilla gazed at her reflectively. She had a mild but active imagination, which had never been dispelled by experience, for romance and hearts transfixed with darts of love. “I hope he will never be so unfortunate as to place his affections where they cannot be reciprocated, since he is in such poor circumstances that he cannot marry,” she sighed, so gently that one could scarcely suspect her of any hidden meaning.
“I do not think,” said Lucina, still with steadfast eyes upon her embroidery, “that a woman should consider poverty if she loves.” Then her cheeks glowed crimson through her drooping curls, and Miss Camilla also blushed; still she attributed her niece’s tender agitation to her avowal of general principles. She did not once consider any danger to Lucina from Jerome; but she had seen, on the day before, the young man’s eyes linger upon the girl’s lovely face, and had immediately, with the craft of a female, however gentle, for such matters, reached half-pleasant, half-melancholy conclusions.