“You shall have my fifteen hundred, an’ build a new mill.”
“Father, I’d die before I’d touch a dollar of your money!” cried Jerome, passionately, and, tears in his eyes, flung away out to the barn, whither he was bound, to feed the horse.
He watched all day for a chance to speak alone to Elmira, but she gave him none, until after supper that night. Then, when he beckoned her into the parlor, she followed him.
“Elmira,” he said, “don’t feel any worse about this than you can help. I had to do it.”
“If you care more about strangers than you do about your own, that is all there is to it,” she said, in a quiet voice, looking coldly in his face.
“Elmira, it isn’t that. You don’t understand.”
“I have said all I have to say.”
“Let me tell you—”
“I have heard all I want to.”
“Elmira, don’t give up so. Maybe things will be brighter somehow. I had to do my duty.”
“It is a noble thing to do your duty,” she said, with a bitter smile on her little face. Elmira, that night, seemed like a stranger to Jerome, and maybe to herself. Despair had upstirred from the depths of her nature strange, tigerish instincts, which otherwise might have slept there unmanifest forever. She also had not failed to appreciate Jerome’s action in all its bearings upon herself and Lawrence Prescott, and, when she heard of it, had given up all her longing hope of happiness.
“You have to do it, whether it is noble or not,” returned Jerome.
“Of course,” said she, “and if your sister is in the way of it, trample her down; don’t stop for that.” She went out, but turned back, and added, harshly, “I saw Jake Noyes this afternoon on my way home. He was coming here to ask you to go up to Doctor Prescott’s this evening; he wants to see you. If he says anything about me, you can tell him that as long as he and you do your duty, I am satisfied. I ask nothing more, not even his precious son.” Elmira rushed across the entry, with a dry sob. Jerome stood still a moment; it seemed to him that he had undertaken more than he could bear. A dreadful thought came to him; suppose Lucina were to look upon him as his sister did. Suppose she were to take it all in the same way. It did not seem as if she could, but she was a woman, like his sister, and how could he tell?
Jerome got his hat and went to Doctor Prescott’s. He wondered why he had been summoned there, and braced himself for almost anything in the way of contumely, but with no dread of it. The prospect of legitimate combat, where he could hit back, acted like a stimulant after his experience with his sister.
Lawrence Prescott answered his knock, and Jerome wondered, vaguely, at his radiant welcome. He shook his hand with warm emphasis. “Father is in the study,” he said; “walk right in—walk right in, Jerome.” Then he added, speaking close to Jerome’s ear, “God bless you, old fellow!”