Jerome went up the long hill under this fire of covert ridicule. Elmira, behind him, began to cry, holding up one little shawled arm like a wing before her face. Jerome never lowered his proud head; his unwinking black eyes stared straight ahead at the three; his face was deadly white; his hands twitched at his sides.
The great boy was ’Lisha Robinson; the girls were the pretty twin daughters of a farmer living three miles away, who had just brought them to school on his ox-sled. Their two sweet, rosy faces, full of pitiless childish merriment for him, and half-unconscious maiden wiles towards the young man at their side, towards whom they leaned involuntarily as they tittered, aroused Jerome to a worse frenzy than ’Lisha’s face with its coarse leer.
All three started back a little as he drew near; there was something in his unwinking eyes which was intimidating. However, ’Lisha had his courage to manifest before these girls. “Say, Jerome,” he shouted—“say, Jerome, got any room to spare in that coat? ’cause Abigail Mack is freezin’.”
“Go ’long, ’Lisha,” cried Abigail, sputtering with giggles, and giving the young man a caressing push with her elbow.
’Lisha, thus encouraged, essayed further wit. “Say, Jerome, s’pose you can fill out that coat of yours any quicker if I give ye half my dinner? Here’s a half a pie I can spare. Reckon you don’t have much to eat down to your house, ’cept chicken-fodder, and that ain’t very fat’nin’.”
Jerome came up. All at once through the glow of his black eyes flashed that spiritual lightning, evident when purpose is changed to action. The girls screamed and fled. ’Lisha swung about in a panic, but Jerome launched himself upon his averted shoulder. The girls, glancing back with terrified eyes from the school-house door, seemed to see the boy lift the grown man from the ground, and the two whirl a second in the air before they crashed down, and so declared afterwards. Jerome clung to his opponent like a wild-cat, a small but terrific body all made up of nerves and muscles and electric fire. He wound his arms with a violent jerk as of steel around ’Lisha’s neck; he bunted him with a head like a cannon-ball; he twisted little wiry legs under the hollows of ’Lisha’s knees. The two came down together with a great thud. The teacher and the scholars came rushing to the door. Elmira wailed and sobbed in the background. The slight boy was holding great ’Lisha on the ground with a strength that seemed uncanny.
’Lisha’s nose was bleeding; he breathed hard; his eyes, upturned to Jerome, had a ghastly roll. “Let me—up, will ye?” he choked, faintly.
“Will you ever say anything like that again?”
“Let me up, will ye?” ’Lisha gave a convulsive gasp that was almost a sob.