“He sent ’em over, an’ says you may wear ’em to the funeral, if you’re real careful,” his aunt Belinda had said, and then added, with her gentle sniff of deprecation and apology: “He says you’ll have to give ’em back again—they ain’t to keep. He says he’s got so behindhand lately he ’ain’t got any tithes to give to the Lord. He says he ’ain’t got nothing that will divide up into ten parts, ’cause he ’ain’t got more’n half one whole part himself.” Belinda Lamb repeated her husband’s bitter saying out of his heart of poverty with a scared look, and yet with a certain relish and soft aping of his defiant manner.
“I don’t want anybody to give when I can’t give back again,” Ann had returned. “Ozias has always done full as much for us as we’ve done for him.” Then she had charged Jerome to be careful of the shoes, and not stub the toes, so his uncle would have difficulty in selling them.
“I’ll wear my old shoes,” Jerome had replied, sullenly, but then had been borne down by the chorus of feminine rebuke and misunderstanding of his position. They thought, one and all, that he was wroth because the shoes were not given to him, and the very pride which forbade him to wear them constrained him to do so.
However, this morning he had looked at them long, lifted them and weighed them, turning them this way and that, put them on his feet and stood contemplating them. He was ashamed to wear his old broken shoes to call on grand folks, but he was too proud and too honest, after all, to wear these borrowed ones.
So he stepped along now with an occasional uneasy glance at his feet, but with independence in his heart. Jerome walked straight down the road to Squire Eben Merritt’s. The cut across the fields would have been much shorter, for the road made a great curve for nearly half a mile, but the boy felt that the dignified highway was the only route for him, bent on such errands, in his best clothes.
Squire Eben Merritt’s house stood behind a file of dark pointed evergreen trees, which had grown and thickened until the sunlight never reached the house-front, which showed, in consequence, green patches of moss and mildew. One entering had, moreover, to turn out, as it were, for the trees, and take a circuitous route around them to the right to the front-door path, which was quite slippery with a film of green moss.
There had been, years ago, a gap betwixt the trees—a gate’s width—but now none could enter unless the branches were lopped, and Eben Merritt would not allow that. His respect for that silent file of sylvan giants, keeping guard before his house against winds and rains and fierce snows, was greater than his hospitality and concern for the ease of guests. “Let ’em go round—it won’t hurt ’em,” he would say, with his great merry laugh, when his wife sometimes suggested that the old gateway should be repaired. However, it