The Colonel was radiant with satisfaction; he went about with his face beaming as unreservedly as a child’s who has gotten a treasure. He often confided to Means his perfect delight in his new wealth. “Hang it all, Means,” he would say, “I wouldn’t find a word of fault, not a word, I’d strut like a peacock, if that poor little girl I married was only alive, and I could buy her a damned thing out of it; then there’s something else, Means—” the Colonel’s face would take on an expression of mingled seriousness and humor—“Means,” he would conclude, in a hoarse, facetious whisper, “I bought those stocks when I was first married; thought I’d got to pitch in and provide for my family, and in order to save enough money to get them I ran in debt for a new uniform and some cavalry boots and a pony, and damned if I know if I ever paid for them.”
Jerome, going to the mill one day shortly afterwards, reached the Means house as the Colonel was coming down the hill. “Stop a moment,” the Colonel called, and Jerome waited until he reached him. “Fine day,” said the Colonel.
“Yes, sir, ’tis,” replied Jerome; then he added, “I was glad to hear of your good fortune, sir.”
“Suppose,” said the Colonel, abruptly, “that twenty-five thousand of it had come to you, what would you have done with it?”
Jerome looked at him in a bewildered fashion. “It wasn’t mine, and there’s no use talking about it,” he said.
“What would you do with it? Out with it! Would you stick to that bargain you made in Robinson’s that evening?”
“You needn’t be afraid to speak,” urged the Colonel. “If you’d stick to it, say so. I sha’n’t call it any reflection upon me; I haven’t the slightest intention of giving twenty-five thousand dollars to the poor, and if you’ve changed your mind, say so.”
“I haven’t changed my mind, and I would stick to it,” Jerome replied then.
“And,” said the Colonel, “you are sticking to that other resolution of yours, to work until you win a certain fair lady, are you?”
Jerome colored high. He was inclined to be indignant, but there was a strange earnestness in the Colonel’s manner.
“I’m not the sort of fellow not to stick to a resolution of that kind when I’ve once made it,” he replied, shortly.
The Colonel chuckled. “Well, I didn’t think you were,” he returned—“didn’t think you were, Jerome. That’s all. Good-day.” With that, to Jerome’s utter astonishment, Colonel Lamson trudged laboriously up the hill to the Means house again.
“He must have come down just to ask me those questions,” thought Jerome, and thought with more bewilderment still that the Colonel must even have been watching for him. He had no conception of his meaning, but he laughed to himself at the bare fancy of twenty-five thousand dollars coming to him, and also at the suggestion that he would not be true to his resolution to win Lucina. Jerome was beginning to feel as if she were already won. The next spring, if he continued to prosper, he had decided to speak to her, and, as the months went on, nothing happened to discourage him.