Jerome, when his mill went down, felt that his dearest hope in life went with it. His fighting spirit did not fail him; he had not the least inclination to settle back for the buffets of fate; but the combat henceforth would be for honor only, not victory. He felt that his defeats had established themselves in an endless ratio to his efforts.
“I shall go to work again, and save up money for a new mill. I shall build it after a long while; but something will always happen to put me back, and I shall never marry her,” he told himself.
Had he the money with which he had made good his father’s loss, he could have rebuilt in a short time, but he did not consider the possibility of taking that and, perhaps, supplementing it by a loan from his father. “It would break the old man’s heart to touch his money,” he said, “and the mill might go again, and it would all be lost.”
On the morning after the destruction of his mill, Squire Eben Merritt came to Jerome’s door, and gave him a daintily folded little note. “Lucina sent this to you,” he said, and eyed him with a sort of sad keenness as he took it and thanked him in a bewildered fashion, his haggard face reddening.
The Squire himself looked as if he had passed a sleepless night, his fresh color had faded, his face was elongated. “I’m sorry enough about your loss, my boy,” he said, “but I can’t say as much as I might, or feel as much as I might, if my old friend hadn’t gone down in—a deeper flood.” The Squire’s voice broke. Jerome looked away from his working face. He had scarcely, in his own selfishness of loss, grasped the news of Colonel Lamson’s death, which had taken place before the bridge went down and before the doctor arrived. He muttered something vaguely sympathetic in response. Lucina’s little letter seemed to burn his fingers.
The Squire dashed his hand across his eyes, coughed hard, then glanced at the letter. “Lucina has been talking to her mother,” he said, abruptly. “It seems the—Colonel Lamson had told her something that you said to him. We didn’t know how matters stood. By-and-by you and I will have a talk. Don’t be too down-hearted over the mill—there’s more than one way out of that difficulty. In the meantime, there’s her letter—I’ve read it. She’s cried all night because your damned mill has gone, and looks sick enough to call the doctor this morning, and, by the Lord Harry! sir, you can think yourself a lucky fellow!” With that the Squire shook his head fiercely and strode down the path with bowed shoulders. Jerome went up-stairs with his letter.
“What did the Squire want?” his mother called, but he did not heed her.
It was his first letter from Lucina. He opened it and read; there were only a few delicately formed lines, but for him they were as finely cut, with all possible lights of meaning, as a diamond: