The boy stared at her, and her sharply questioning eyes struck him dumb.
Ann Edwards had always been the dominant spirit in her own household. The fact that she was so, largely on masculine sufferance, had never been fully recognized by herself or others. Now, for the first time, the stratum of feminine dependence and helplessness, which had underlain all her energetic assertion, was made manifest, and poor little Jerome was spurred out of his boyhood into manhood to meet this new demand.
“What’s goin’ to be done?” his mother cried again. “Why don’t you speak, Jerome Edwards?”
Then Jerome drew himself up, and a new look came into his face. “I’ve been thinkin’ of it over,” he said, soberly, “an’—I’ve got a plan.”
“What’s goin’ to be done?” Ann raised herself in bed by her clutch at her son’s arm. Then she let go, and rocked herself to and fro, hugging herself with her little lean arms, and wailing weakly. “What’s goin’ to be done? Oh, oh! what’s goin’ to be done? Abel’s dead, he’s dead, and Doctor Prescott, he holds the mortgage. We ‘ain’t got any money, or any home. What’s goin’ to be done? What’s goin’ to be done? Oh, oh, oh, oh!”
Jerome grasped his mother by the shoulder and tried to force her back upon her pillows. “Come, mother, lay down,” said he.
“I won’t! I won’t! I never will. What’s goin’ to be done? What’s goin’ to be done?”
“Mother, you lay right down and stop your cryin’,” said Jerome; and his mother started, and hushed, and stared at him, for his voice sounded like his father’s. The boy’s wiry little hands upon her shoulders, and his voice like his father’s, constrained her strongly, and she sank back; and her face appeared again, like a thin wedge of piteous intelligence, in the great feather pillow.
“Now you lay still, mother,” said Jerome, and to his mother’s excited eyes he looked taller and taller, as if in very truth this sudden leap of his boyish spirit into the stature of a man had forced his body with it. He straightened the quilt over his mother’s meagre shoulders. “I’m goin’ to start the fire,” said he, “and put on the hasty-pudding, and when it’s all ready I’ll call Elmira, and we’ll help you up.”
“What’s goin’ to be done?” his mother quavered again; but this time feebly, as if her fierce struggles were almost hushed by contact with authority.
“I’ve got a plan,” said Jerome. “You just lay still, mother, and I’ll see what’s best.”
Ann Edwards’s eyes rolled after the boy as he went out of the room, but she lay still, obediently, and said not another word. An unreasoning confidence in this child seized upon her. She leaned strongly upon what, until now, she had held the veriest reed—to her own stupefaction and with doubtful content, but no resistance. Jerome seemed suddenly no longer her son; the memory of the time when she had cradled and swaddled him failed her. The spirit of his father awakened in him filled her at once with strangeness and awed recognition.