Elmira made a little expressive sound; she could not help it. She gave one horrified, wondering look at her mother. Not a morsel of cooked food was there on the bare pantry shelves. By-and-by a little Indian meal and water would be boiled for supper. There were some vegetables in the cellar, otherwise no food in the house. Ann lied.
Squire Eben Merritt then displayed what would have been tact in a keenly calculating and analytic nature. “Oh, throw them out for the dogs, if you don’t want them, Mrs. Edwards,” he returned, gayly. “I’ve got more than my wife can use here. We are getting rather tired of partridges, we have had so many. I stopped at Lawyer Means’s on my way here and left a pair for him.”
A sudden change came over Ann’s face. She beamed with a return of her fine company manners. She even smiled. “Thank ye,” said she; “then I will take them, if you are sure you ain’t robbing yourself.”
“Not at all,” said the Squire—“not at all, Mrs. Edwards. You’d better baste them well when you cook them.” Then he took his leave, with many exchanges of courtesies, and went his way, wondering what had worked this change; for a simple, benevolent soul can seldom gauge its own wisdom of diplomacy.
Squire Eben did not dream that his gift to one who was not needy had enabled him to give to one who was, by establishing a sort of equality among the recipients, which had overcome her proud scruples. On the way home he met Jerome, scudding along in the early dusk, having finished his task early. “Hurry home, boy,” he called out, in that great kind voice which Jerome so loved—“hurry home; you’ve got something good for supper!” and he gave the boy, ducking low before him with the love and gratitude which had overcome largely the fierce and callous pride in his young heart, a hearty slap on the shoulder as he went past.
There was a good district school in the village, and Jerome, before his father’s disappearance, had attended it all the year round; now he went only in winter. Jerome rose at four o’clock in the dark winter mornings, and went to bed at ten, getting six hours’ sleep. It was fortunate that he was a hardy boy, with a wirily pliant frame, adapting itself, with no lesions, to extremes of temperature and toil, even to extremes of mental states. In spite of all his hardships, in spite of scanty food, Jerome thrived; he grew; he began to fill out better his father’s clothes, to which he had succeeded. The first time Jerome wore his poor father’s best coat to school—Ann had set in the buttons so it folded about him in ludicrous fashion, bringing the sleeves forward and his arms apparently into the middle of his chest—one of the big boys and two big girls at his side laughed at him, the boy with open jeers, the girls with covert giggles behind their hands. They were standing in front of the school-house at the top of the long hill when Jerome was ascending it with Elmira. It was late and cold, and only these three scholars were outside. The girls, who were pretty and coquettish, had detained this great boy, who was a man grown.