That day had been one of those surprises of life which ever dwell with one. Jerome in it had discovered not only a new self, but new ways. He had struck paths at right angles to all he had followed before. They might finally verge into the old again, but for that day he saw strange prospects. Not the least strange of them was this tea-drinking with the Squire and the Squire’s sister and the Squire’s daughter in the arbor. He found it harder to reconcile that with his past and himself than anything else. So bewildered was he, drinking tea and eating cake, with the spread of Miss Camilla’s lilac flounces brushing his knee, and her soft voice now and then in his ear, that he strove to remember how he happened to be there at all, and that shock of strangeness which obliterates the past wellnigh paralyzed his memory.
Yet it had been simple enough, as paths to strange conclusions always are. He had returned home from Squire Eben’s that morning, changed his clothes, and resumed his work in the garden.
Elmira had questioned him, but he gave her no information. He had an instinct, which had been born in him, of secrecy towards womankind. Nobody had ever told him that women were not trustworthy with respect to confidences; he had never found it so from observation; he simply agreed within himself that he had better not confide any but fully matured plans, and no plans which should be kept secret, to a woman. He had, however, besides this caution, a generous resolution not to worry Elmira or his mother about it until he knew. “Wait till I find out; I don’t know myself,” he told Elmira.
“Don’t you know where you’ve been? You can tell us that,” she persisted, in her sweet, querulous treble. She pulled at his jacket sleeve with her little thin, coaxing hand, but Jerome was obdurate. He twitched his jacket sleeve away.
“I sha’n’t tell you one thing, and there is no use in your teasin’,” he said, peremptorily, and she yielded.
Elmira reported that their mother was sitting still in her rocking-chair, with her head leaning back and her eyes shut. “She seems all beat out,” she said, pitifully; “she don’t tell me to do a thing.”
The two tiptoed across the entry and stood in the kitchen door, looking at poor Ann. She sat quite still, as Elmira had said, her head tipped back, her eyes closed, and her mouth slightly parted. Her little bony hands lay in her lap, with the fingers limp in utter nerveless relaxation, but she was not asleep. She opened her eyes when her children came to the door, but she did not speak nor turn her head. Presently her eyes closed again.
Jerome pulled Elmira back into the parlor. “You must go ahead and get the dinner, and make her some gruel, and not ask her a question, and not bother her about anything,” he whispered, sternly. “She’s resting; she’ll die if she don’t. It’s awful for her. It’s bad ’nough for us, but we don’t know what ’tis for her.”