Jerome climbed the shining slope of the hill to the house door, which was opened by Lawyer Means himself; then he followed him into the sitting-room. A great cloud of tobacco smoke came in his face when the sitting-room door was thrown open. Through it Jerome could scarcely see Colonel Jack Lamson, in a shabby old coat, seated before the blazing hearth-fire, with a tumbler of rum-and-water on a little table at his right hand.
“Sit down,” said Means to Jerome, and pulled another chair forward. “Quite a sharp night out,” he added.
“Yes, sir,” replied Jerome, seating himself.
Lawyer Means resumed his own chair and his pipe, at which he puffed with that jealous comfort which comes after interruption. Colonel Lamson, when he had given a friendly nod of greeting to the young man, without removing his pipe from his mouth, leaned back his head again, stretched his legs more luxuriously, and blew the smoke in great wreaths around his face. This sitting-room of Lawyer Means’s was a scandal to the few matrons of Upham who had ever penetrated it. “Don’t look as if a woman had ever set foot in it,” they said. The ancient female relative of Lawyer Means who kept his house had not been a notable house-keeper in her day, and her day was nearly past. Moreover, she had small control over this particular room.
The great apartment, with the purple clouds of tobacco smoke, which were settling against its low ceiling and in its far corners, transfused with golden gleams of candles and rosy flashes of fire-light, dingy as to wall-paper and carpet, with the dust of months upon all shiny surfaces, seemed a very fortress of bachelorhood wherein no woman might enter.
The lawyer’s books in the tall cases were arranged in close ranks of strictest order, as were also the neatly ticketed files of letters and documents in the pigeon-holes of the great desk; otherwise the whole room seemed fluttering and protruding out of its shadows with loose ends of paper and corners of books. All the free lines in the room were the tangents of irrelevancy and disorder.
The lawyer, puffing at his pipe, with eyes half closed, did not look at Jerome, but his attitude was expectant.
Jerome stared at the blazing fire with a hesitating frown, then he turned with sudden resolution to Means. “Can I see you alone a minute?” he asked.
The Colonel rose, without a word, and lounged out of the room; when the door had shut behind him, Jerome turned again to the lawyer. “I want to know if you are willing to sell me two hundred and sixty-five dollars’ worth of your land,” said he.
“Your land on Graystone brook. I want one hundred and thirty-two dollars and fifty cents’ worth on each side.”
“Why don’t you make it even dollars, and what in thunder do you want the land on two sides for?” asked the lawyer, in his dry voice, threaded between his lips and pipe.