Had it not been for his mother, Jerome could not have carried out his own plans. Work as manfully as he might, he could not have paid Squire Merritt his first instalment of interest money, which was promptly done.
It was due the 1st of November, and, a day or two before, Squire Merritt, tramping across lots, over the fields, through the old plough ridges and corn stubble, with some plump partridges in his bag and his gun over shoulder, made it in his way to stop at the Edwards house and tell Ann that she must not concern herself if the interest money were not ready at the minute it was due.
But Ann laid down her work—she was binding shoes—straightened herself as if her rocking-chair were a throne and she an empress, and looked at him with an inscrutable look of pride and suspicion. The truth was that she immediately conceived the idea that this great fair-haired Squire, with his loud, sweet voice, and his loud, frank laugh and pleasant blue eyes, concealed beneath a smooth exterior depths of guile. She exchanged, as it were, nods of bitter confidence with herself to the effect that Squire Merritt was trying to make her put off paying the interest money, and pretending to be very kind and obliging, in order that he might the sooner get his clutches on the whole property.
All the horizon of this poor little feminine Ishmael seemed to her bitter fancy to be darkened with hands against her, and she sat on a constant watch-tower of suspicion.
“Elmira,” said she, “bring me that stockin’.”
Elmira, who also was binding shoes, sitting on a stool before the scanty fire, rose quickly at her mother’s command, went into the bedroom, and emerged with an old white yarn stocking hanging heavily from her hand.
“Empty it on the table and show Squire Merritt,” ordered her mother, in a tone as if she commanded the resources of the royal treasury to be displayed.
Elmira obeyed. She inverted the stocking, and from it jingled a shower of coin into a pitiful little heap on the table.
“There!” said Ann, pointing at it with a little bony finger. The smallest coins of the realm went to make up the little pile, and the Lord only knew how she and her children had grubbed them together. Every penny there represented more than the sweat of the brow: the sweat of the heart.
Squire Eben Merritt, with some dim perception of the true magnitude and meaning of that little hoard, gained partly through Ann’s manner, partly through his own quickness of sympathy, fairly started as he looked at it and her.
“There’s twenty-one dollars, all but two shillin’s, there,” said Ann, with hard triumph. “The two shillin’s Jerome is goin’ to have to-night. He’s been splittin’ of kindlin’-wood, after school, for your sister, this week, and she’s goin’ to pay him the same as she did for weedin’. You can take this now, if you want to, or wait and have it all together.”