He waited quite a little time, however. He could hear the far-off tinkle of silver and clink of china, and knew the family were at dinner. “Won’t leave his dinner for me,” thought Jerome, with an unrighteous bitterness of humility, recognizing the fact that he could not expect him to. “Might have planted an hour longer.”
Then came a clang of the knocker, and this time the girl ushered into the study a clamping, red-faced man in a shabby coat. Jerome recognized him as a young farmer who lived three miles or so out of the village. He blushed and stumbled, with a kind of grim awkwardness, even before the simple girl delivering herself of her formula of welcome. He would not sit down; he stood by the corner of a medicine-cupboard, settling heavily into his boots, waiting.
When the girl had gone he looked at Jerome, and gave a vague and furtive “Hullo!” in simple recognition of his presence, as it were. He did not know who the boy was, never being easily certain as to identities of any but old acquaintances—not from high indifference and dislike, like the doctor, but from dulness of observation.
Jerome nodded in response to the man’s salutation. “I can’t ask the doctor before him,” he thought, anxiously.
The man rested heavily, first on one leg, then on the other. “Been waitin’ long?” he grunted, finally.
“Quite a while.”
“Hope my horse ‘ll stan’,” said the man; “headed towards home, an’ load off.”
“The doctor can tend to you first,” Jerome said, eagerly.
The man gave a nod of assent. Thanks, as elegancies of social intercourse, were alarming, and savored of affectation, to him. He had thanked the Lord, from his heart, for all his known and unknown gifts, but his gratitude towards his fellow-men had never overcome his bashful self-consciousness and found voice.
Often in prayer-meeting Jerome had heard this man’s fervent outpouring of the religious faith which seemed the only intelligence of his soul, and, like all single and concentrated powers, had a certain force of persuasion. Jerome eyed him now with a kind of pious admiration and respect, and yet with recollections.
“If I were a man, I’d stop colorin’ up and actin’ scared,” thought the boy; and then they both heard a door open and shut, and knew the doctor was coming.
Jerome’s heart beat hard, yet he looked quite boldly at the door. Somehow the young farmer’s clumsy embarrassment had roused his own pride and courage. When the doctor entered, he stood up with alacrity and made his manners, and the young farmer settled to another foot, with a hoarse note of greeting.
The doctor said good-day, with formal courtesy, with his fine, keen face turned seemingly upon both of them impartially; then he addressed the young man.
“How is your wife to-day?” he inquired.
The young man turned purple, where he had been red, at this direct address. “She’s pretty—comfortable,” he stammered.