“Well, I don’t know that it makes any difference to me whether they give or not,” said Jerome, proudly.
“Do you mean that you will abide by your part of the agreement if the others do not abide by theirs?”
“I mean, that I keep my promise when I can; and if every other man under God’s footstool breaks his, it is no reason why I should break mine.”
“That sounds very fine,” said the lawyer, dryly; “but do you realize, my young friend, how far your large fortune alone would go when divided among the poor of this village?”
“Yes, sir; I have reckoned it up. There are about one hundred who would come under the terms of the agreement. My money alone, divided among them, would give about two hundred and fifty dollars apiece.”
“That is a large sum.”
“It is large to a man who has never seen fifty dollars at once in his hand, and it is large when several unite and form a company for a new factory, with machines.”
“Do you think they will do that?”
“Yes, sir. Henry Eames will set it going; give him a chance.”
“Why don’t you, instead of parting with your money, set up the factory yourself, and employ the whole village?”
“That is not what I said I would do, and it is better for the village to employ itself. I might fail, or my factory might go, as my mill has.”
“How long do you suppose it will be that every man will have his two hundred and fifty dollars after you have given it to him? Tell me that, if you can.”
“That isn’t my lookout.”
“Why isn’t it your lookout? A careless giver is as bad as a thief, sir.”
“I am not a careless giver,” replied Jerome, stoutly. “I can’t tell, and no man can tell, how long they will keep what I give them, or how long it will be before the stingiest and wisest get their shares away from the weak; but that is no more reason why I should not give this money than it is a reason why the Lord Almighty should not furnish us all with fingers and toes, and our five senses, and our stomachs.”
“You might add, our immortal souls, which the parsons say we’ll get snatched away from us if we don’t watch out,” said Means, with a short laugh. “Well, Jerome, it is too late for me to attend to this business to-night. I am worn out, too, by what I have been through lately. Come to-morrow, and, if you are of the same mind, we’ll fix it up.”
Somewhat to Jerome’s surprise, the lawyer extended a lean, brown hand for his, which he shook warmly, with a hearty “Good-night, sir.”
“I don’t believe he was trying to hinder me from giving it, after all,” Jerome thought, as he went down the hill.
Eliphalet Means, shuffling in loose slippers, returned to his sitting-room, where were John Jennings and Eben Merritt. There were no cards, and no punch, and no conviviality for the three bereaved friends that night. The three sat before the fire, and each smoked a melancholy pipe, and each, when he looked at or spoke to the others, looked and spoke, whatever his words might be, to the memory of their dead comrade.