Squire Eben Merritt, towering over him, with a long string of trout at his side, looked at him with a puzzled frown; then he reached down and pulled him to his feet with a mighty and gentle jerk. “How old are you, sir?” he demanded. “Thought you were a man; thought you were going to learn to fire my gun. Guess you haven’t been out of petticoats long enough, after all!”
Jerome drew his sleeve fiercely across his eyes, and then looked up at the Squire proudly. “Didn’t cry before him,” said he.
Squire Eben laughed, and gave his back a hard pat. “I guess you’ll do, after all,” said he. “So you didn’t have much luck with the doctor?”
“Well, don’t you fret. I’ll see what can be done. I’ll see him to-night myself.”
Jerome looked up in his face, like one who scarcely dares to believe in offered comfort.
The Squire nodded kindly at him. “You leave it all to me,” said he; “don’t you worry.”
Jerome belonged to a family in which there had been little demonstration of devotion and affection. His parents never caressed their children; he and his sister had scarcely kissed each other since their infancy. No matter how fervid their hearts might be, they had also a rigidity, as of paralyzed muscles, which forbade much expression as a shame and an affectation. Jerome had this tendency of the New England character from inheritance and training; but now, in spite of it, he fell down before Squire Eben Merritt, embraced his knees, and kissed his very feet in their great boots, and then his hand.
Squire Eben laughed, pulled the boy to his feet again, and bade him again to cheer up and not to fret. The same impulse of kindly protection which led him to spare the lives and limbs of old trees was over him now towards this weak human plant.
“Come along with me,” said Squire Eben, and forthwith Jerome had followed him out of the woods into the road, and down it until they reached his sister’s, Miss Camilla Merritt’s, house, not far from Doctor Prescott’s. There Squire Eben was about to part with Jerome, with more words of reassurance, when suddenly he remembered that his sister needed such a boy to weed her flower-beds, and had spoken to him about procuring one for her. So he had bidden Jerome follow him; and the boy, who would at that moment have gone over a precipice after him, went to Miss Camilla’s tea-drinking in her arbor.
When he went home, in an hour’s time, he was engaged to weed Miss Camilla’s flower-garden all summer, at two shillings per week, and it was understood that his sister could weed as well as he when his home-work prevented his coming.
In early youth exaltation of spirit requires but slight causes; only a soft puff of a favoring wind will send up one like a kite into the ether. Jerome, with the prospect of two shillings per week, and that great, kindly strength of the Squire’s underlying his weakness, went home as if he had wings on his feet.