He took no notice, but that night he had a word with his sister after their mother had gone to bed. “If he has asked you to marry him, you ought to trust him,” said he. “I don’t believe his going to ride with that girl means anything. You ought to believe in him until you know he isn’t worthy of it.”
Elmira turned upon him with a flash of eyes like his own. “Worthy!” she cried—“don’t I think he would be worthy if he did leave me for her! Do you think I would blame him if he did leave anybody as poor as I am, worked ’most to skin and bone, of body and soul too, for anybody like that girl? I guess I wouldn’t blame him, and you needn’t. I don’t blame him; it’s true, I know, he’ll never come to see me again, but I don’t blame him.”
“If he doesn’t come to see you again he’ll have me to hear from,” Jerome said, fiercely.
“No, he won’t. Don’t you ever dare speak to him, or blame him, Jerome Edwards; I won’t have it.” Elmira ran into her chamber, leaving an echo of wild sobs in her brother’s ears.
The day after Thanksgiving, Lucina’s friends went away; when Jerome came home that night Elmira’s face wore a different expression, which Mrs. Edwards explained with no delay.
“Belinda Lamb has been here,” she said, “and that young man is that Boston girl’s beau; he ain’t Lucina’s, and Lawrence Prescott ain’t nothing to do with it. He was up there last night, but it wa’n’t anything. Why, Jerome Edwards, you look as pale as death!”
Jerome muttered some unintelligible response, and went out of the room, with his mother staring after him. He went straight to his own little chamber, and, standing there in the still, icy gloom of the winter twilight, repeated the promise which he had made in summer.
“If you are true to me, Lucina,” he said, in a straining whisper—“if you are true to me—but I’ll leave it all to you whether you are or not, I’ll work till I win you.”
On the evening of the next day Jerome went to call on Lawyer Eliphalet Means. Lawyer Means lived near the northern limit of the village, on the other side of the brook.
Jerome, going through the covered bridge which crossed the brook, paused and looked through a space between the side timbers. This brook was a sturdy little torrent at all times; in spring it was a river. Now, under the white concave of wintry moonlight, it broke over its stony bed with a fierce persistency of advance. Jerome looked down at the rapid, shifting water-hillocks and listened to their lapsing murmur, incessantly overborne by the gathering rush of onset, then nodded his head conclusively, as if in response to some mental question, and moved on.
Lawyer Eliphalet Means lived in the old Means house. It upreared itself on a bare moon-silvered hill at the right of the road, with a solid state of simplest New England architecture. It dated back to the same epoch as Doctor Prescott’s and Squire Merritt’s houses, but lacked even the severe ornaments of their time.