“Dear Friend” [wrote Lucina],—“I beg you to accept my sympathy in the disaster which has befallen your property, and I implore you not to be disheartened, and not to consider me unmaidenly for signing myself your ever faithful and constant friend, through all the joys or vicissitudes of life.
This letter, modelled after the fashion which Lucina had learned at school, whereby she bound and laced over with set words and phrases, as with a species of emotional stays, her love and pity, not considering it decorous to give them full breath, filled Jerome with happiness and despair. He understood that Colonel Lamson had betrayed him, that Lucina, all unasked, had bound herself in love and faithfulness to him through all his failing efforts.
“I won’t have it—I won’t have it!” he muttered, fiercely, but he kissed the little letter with exulting rapture. “I’ve got this much, anyhow,” he thought.
He wondered if he should answer it. How could he refuse her dear constancy and affection, yet how could he accept it? He had no hope of marrying her, he reasoned that it would be better for her should he even repulse her rudely. It would be like screwing the rack for his own body to do that, but he declared to himself that he ought. “She’ll never marry at all, if she waits for you; it’ll hinder her looking at somebody else; she’ll be an old maid, she’ll be all alone in the world, with no husband or children, and you know it,” he told himself, with a kind of mental squaring of his own fists in his face. All the time, with that curious, dogmatic selfishness which has sometimes its roots in unselfishness itself, he never considered the effect upon poor Lucina of the repulse of her love and constancy. Such was his ardor for unselfishness that, in its pursuit, he would have made all others selfish nor cared.
That day the sun shone in a bright, windy sky. The snow was nearly gone, the brook still leaped in a furious torrent, but there was no more danger from it. The waters were, in fact, receding slowly. Jerome worked all day near the ruinous site of his mill, and Martin Cheeseman with him. He had a quantity of logs and lumber, which had escaped the flood, to care for. Cheeseman inquired if he was going to rebuild the mill.
“When I get money enough,” Jerome replied, with a sturdy fling of a log.
“’Ain’t ye got most enough?”
“Ye ought to have. What ye done with it?”
“Put it to a good use,” Jerome said, with no resentment of the other’s curiosity.
“Why don’t ye hire money, if ye ’ain’t got enough?”
“I don’t hire money,” answered Jerome, and heaved another log with a splendid swing from his shoulders.
Cheeseman looked at him doubtfully. “Well,” he said, “I ’ain’t got none to hire. I’ve got my money out of mills on the banks of roarin’ streams, an’ I’m goin’ to keep it out. I believe in Providence, but I don’t believe in temptin’ of it. I ’ain’t got no money to hire.”