Elmira kept staring at him, as if she doubted her eyes and ears. She felt a certain awe of her brother. “Where you goin’?” she inquired, half timidly.
“I’ll tell you when I get back,” replied Jerome. He went out with dignity, and Elmira heard him on the stairs. “He’s goin’ to dress up,” she thought.
She sat down by the window, well behind the curtain, that any one approaching might not see her, and waited. She had wakened that morning as into a new birth of sense, and greeted the world with helpless childish weeping, but now she was beginning to settle comfortably into this strange order of things. Her face, as she sat thus, wore the ready curves of smiles instead of tears. Elmira was one whose strength would always be in dependence. Now her young brother showed himself, as if by a miracle, a leader and a strong prop, and she could assume again her natural attitude of life and growth. She was no longer strange to herself in these strange ways, and that was wherein all the bitterness of strangeness lay.
When Jerome came down-stairs, in his little poor best jacket and trousers and his clean Sunday shirt, she stood in the door and looked at him curiously, but with a perfect rest of confidence.
Jerome looked at her with dignity, and yet with a certain childish importance, without which he would have ceased to be himself at all. “Look out for mother,” he whispered, admonishingly, and went out, holding his head up and his shoulders back, and feeling his sister’s wondering and admiring eyes upon him, with a weakness of pride, and yet with no abatement of his strength of purpose, which was great enough to withstand self-recognition.
The boy that morning had a new gait when he had once started down the road. The habit of his whole life—and, more than that, an inherited habit—ceased to influence him. This new exaltation of spirit controlled even bones and muscles.
Jerome, now he had fairly struck out in life with a purpose of his own, walked no longer like his poor father, with that bent shuffling lope of worn-out middle age. His soul informed his whole body, and raised it above that of any simple animal that seeks a journey’s end. His head was up and steady, as if he bore a treasure-jar on it, his back flat as a soldier’s; he swung his little arms at his sides and advanced with proud and even pace.
Jerome’s old gaping shoes were nicely greased, and he himself had made a last endeavor to close the worst apertures with a bit of shoemaker’s thread. He had had quite a struggle with himself, before starting, regarding these forlorn old shoes and another pair, spick and span and black, and heavily clamping with thick new soles, which Uncle Ozias Lamb had sent over for him to wear to the funeral.