“Why, you look as white as a sheet!” said Elmira, staring at him.
“I’ve seen enough this afternoon to make any man look white,” Jerome replied, evasively.
“Well, I suppose you have; it is awful about Simon Basset,” Elmira assented, shudderingly.
Jerome had to force himself to his work after he had received Mrs. Merritt’s message. The tragedy of Simon Basset had given him a terrible shock, and now this last set his nerves in a tumult in spite of himself.
“What can she want?” he questioned, over and over. “Shall I see Lucina? What can her mother have to say to me?”
One minute, thinking of Simon Basset, he stood convicted, to his shame, of the utter despicableness of all his desires pertaining to the earth and the flesh, by that clear apprehension of eternity which often comes to one at the sight of sudden death. He settled with himself that wealth and success and learning, and love itself even, where as nothing beside that one surety of eternity, which holds the sequence of good and evil, and is of the spirit.
Then, in a wild rebellion of honesty, he would own to himself that, whether he would have it so or not, to his understanding, still hampered by the conditions of the flesh, perhaps made morbid by resistance to them, but that he could not tell, love was the one truth and reality and source of all things; that life was because of love, not love because of life.
Jerome set his mouth hard as he ploughed. The newly turned sods clung to his feet and made them heavy, as the fond longings of the earth clung to his soul. It seemed to Jerome that he had never loved Lucina as he loved her then, that he had never wanted her so much. Also that he had never been so firmly resolved to give her up. If Lucina had seemed beyond his reach before, she seemed doubly so then, and her new wealth loomed between them like an awful golden flood of separation. “I have given away all my money,” he said. “Shall I marry a wife with money, to make good my loss?” He laughed at himself with bitter scorn for the fancy.
After supper, he dressed himself in his best clothes, and set out for Squire Merritt’s, evading as much as he could his mother’s questions and surmises. Ann’s bitterness at his disposal of his money was softened to loquacity by her curiosity.
“I s’pose,” said she, “that if that poor girl goes down on her knees to you, an’ tells you her heart is breakin’, that you’ll jest hand her over to the town poor, the way you did your money.”
“Don’t, mother,” whispered Elmira, as Jerome went out, making no response.
“I’m goin’ to say what I think ’s best. I’m his mother,” returned Ann. But when Jerome was gone, she broke down and cried, and complained that the poor boy hadn’t eat any supper, and she was afraid he’d be sick. Abel, sitting near her, snivelled softly for sympathy, not fairly comprehending her cause for tears. When she stopped weeping, and took up her knitting-work again, he drew a sigh of relief and fell to eating an apple.