The next day Jerome went again to Lawyer Means’s. It was near noon when he returned; he met many people on the road, and they all looked at him strangely. Men stood in knots, and the hum of their conversation died low when he drew near. They nodded to him with curious respect and formality; after he had passed, the rumble of voices began anew. One woman, whom he met just before he turned the corner of his own road, stopped and held out a slender, trembling hand.
“I want to shake hands with you, J’rome,” she said, in a sweet, hysterical voice. Then she raised to his a worn face, with the piteous downward lines of old tears at mouth and eyes, and a rasped red, as of tears and frost, on thin cheeks. “That money is goin’ to save my little home for me; I didn’t know but I’d got to go on the town. God bless you, J’rome,” she whispered, quaveringly.
“The Colonel’s the one to be thanked,” Jerome said.
“I come under that agreement, don’t I?” she asked, anxiously. “They told me that lone women without anybody to support ’em came under it.”
“Yes, you do, Miss Patch.”
“Oh, God bless you, God bless you, J’rome Edwards!” she cried, with a fervor strange upon a New England tongue.
“Colonel Lamson is the one to have the thanks and the credit,” Jerome repeated, pushing gently past her. His face was hot. He wondered, as he approached his house, if his own family had heard the news. As soon as he opened the door he saw that they had. Elmira did not lift a white, dumbly accusing face from her work; his father looked at him with curious, open-mouthed wonder; his mother spoke.
“I want to know if it’s true,” she said.
“Yes, mother, it is.”
“You’ve given it all away?”
“Your own folks won’t get none of it?”
Jerome shook his head. He had a feeling as if he were denying his own flesh and blood; for the moment even his own conscience turned upon him, and accused him of injustice and lack of filial love and gratitude.
Ann Edwards looked at her son, with a face of pale recrimination and awe. She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it without a word. “I never had a black silk dress in my life,” said she, finally, in a shaking voice, and that was all the reproach which she ever offered.
“You shall have a black silk dress anyhow, mother,” Jerome replied, piteously. He went out of the room, and his father got up and followed him, closing the door mysteriously.
“That was a good deal to give away, J’rome,” he whispered.
“I know it, father, and I’ll work my fingers to the bone to make it good to you and mother. That’s all I’ve got to live for now.”
“J’rome,” whispered the father, thrusting his old face into his son’s, with an angelic expression.
“What is it, father?”