When he rose, he staggered, and could scarcely see his way across the field. When he entered his uncle’s shop, Ozias looked at him sharply. “If you’re sick you’d better go home and go to bed,” he said, in a voice of harsh concern.
“I am not sick,” said Jerome, and fell to work with a sort of fury.
As the days went on it seemed to him that he could not bear life any longer if he did not hear how Lucina was, and yet the most obvious steps to hear he did not take. It never occurred to him to march straight to the Squire’s house, and inquire of him concerning his daughter’s health. Far from that, he actually dreaded to meet him, lest he read in his face that she was worse. He did not go to meeting, lest the minister mention her in his prayer for the sick; he stayed as little as possible in the company of his mother and sister, lest they repeat the sad news concerning her; if a neighbor came in, he got up and left the room directly. He never went to the village store of an evening; he ostracized himself from his kind, lest they stab him with the confirmation of his agonizing fear. For the first time in his life Jerome had turned coward.
One day, when Lucina had been gone about a month, he was coming home from Dale when he heard steps behind him and a voice shouting for him to stop. He turned and saw Colonel Jack Lamson coming with breathless quickening of his stiff military gait.
When the Colonel reached him he could scarcely speak; his wheezing chest strained his coat to exceeding tightness, his face was purple, he swung his cane with spasmodic jerks. “Fine day,” he gasped out.
“Yes, sir,” said Jerome.
It was near the end of February, the snow was thawing, and for the first time there was a suggestion of spring in the air which caused one, with the recurrence of an old habit of mind, to listen and sniff as for birds and flowers.
The two men stepped along, picking their way through the melting snow. “The doctor has ordered me out for a three-mile march every day. I’m going to stent myself,” said the Colonel, still breathing hard; then he looked keenly at Jerome. “What have you been doing to yourself, young fellow?” he asked.
“Nothing. I don’t know what you mean,” answered Jerome.
“Nothing! Why, you have aged ten years since I last saw you!”
“I am well enough, Colonel Lamson.”
“How about that deed I witnessed? Have you got enough money to build the mill yet?”
“No, I haven’t,” replied Jerome, with a curious tone of defiance and despair, which the Colonel interpreted wrongly.
“Oh, don’t give up yet,” he said, cheerfully. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.”
Jerome made no reply, but trudged on doggedly.
“How is she?” asked the Colonel, suddenly.
Jerome turned white and looked at him. “Who?” he said.
The Colonel laughed, with wheezy facetiousness. “Why, she—she. Young men don’t build nests or saw-mills unless there is a she in the case.”