Jerome got his hat, stole softly down-stairs, and out of the front door. “I’ve got to be alone somewhere, where I can think,” he said to himself, and forthwith made for the site of his mill; he could be sure of solitude there at that hour.
When he arrived, he sat down on a pile of logs and gazed unseeingly at the broad current of the brook, silvering out of the shadows to the light of a young moon. The roar of it was loud in his ears, but he did not seem to hear it. There are times when the spirit of the living so intensifies that it comes into a silence and darkness of nature like death.
Jerome, in the solitude of the woods, without another human soul near, could concentrate his own into full action. As he sat there, he began to defend his own case like a lawyer against a mighty opponent, whom he recognized from the dogmas of orthodoxy, and also from an insight inherited from generations of Calvinistic ancestors, as his own conscience.
Jerome presented his case tersely, the arguments were all clearly determined beforehand. “This twenty-five thousand dollars,” he said, “will lift me and mine out of grinding poverty. If I give it up, my father and mother and sister will have none of it. Father has come home unfit for any further struggles; mother has aged during the last few days. She was nerved up to bear trouble, the shock of joy has taken her last strength. She can do little now. This money will make them happy and comfortable through their last days. If I give up this money, they may come to want. I have lost my work in Dale, like the rest; I may not be able to get a living, even; we may all suffer. This money will give my sister a marriage-portion, and possibly influence Doctor Prescott to favor his son’s choice. If that does not, my failure to carry out my part of the agreement, and the doctor’s consequent release from his, may influence him to make no further opposition. If I give the money, and so force the doctor to give his, or put him to shame for refusing, Elmira can never marry Lawrence. I can give more to Uncle Ozias than he would receive as his share of a common division. I can send Henry Judd to Boston to have his eyes cured. And—I can marry Lucina Merritt. She loves me, she is waiting for me. I have not answered her letter. She is wondering now why I do not come. If I give up the money, I can never marry her—I can never come.”
Then the great still voice, which was, to his conception, within him, yet without, through all nature, had its turn, and Jerome listened.
Then he answered, fiercely, as to spoken arguments. “I know the whole is greater than the parts; I know that to make a whole village prosperous and happy is more than the welfare of three or four, but the three and the four come first, and that which I would have for myself is divine, and of God, and I cannot be what I would be without it, for no man who hungers gets his full strength. If I give this, it is all. I can make no more of my life.”