The place was filled by a man who never tempered injustice with lemon-drops, and ruled generally with fair and equal measure. He was better for the school, and Jerome liked him; but he felt sad, though he kept it to himself, when the woman teacher went away. She gave him for a parting gift a little volume, a treasure of her own childhood, purporting to be the true tale of an ungodly youth who robbed an orchard on the Sabbath day, thereby combining two deadly sins, and was drowned in crossing a brook on his way home. The weight of his bag of stolen fruit prevented him from rising, but he would not let go, and thereby added to his other crimes that of greediness. There was a frontispiece representing this froward hero, in a tall hat and little frilled trousers, with a bag the size of a slack balloon dragging on the ground behind him, proceeding towards the neighbor’s apple-tree, which bore fruit as large as the thief’s head upon its unbending boughs.
“There’s a pretty picture in it,” the teacher said, when she presented the book; she had kept Jerome after school for that purpose. “I used to like to look at it when I was a little girl.” Then she added that she had crossed out the inscription, “Martha Maria Whittaker, from her father, Rev. Enos Whittaker,” on the fly-leaf, and written underneath, “Jerome Edwards, from his teacher, Martha Maria Whittaker,” and displayed her little delicate scratch.
Then the teacher had hesitated a little, and colored faintly, and looked at the boy. He seemed to this woman—meekly resigned to old-age and maidenhood at thirty—a mere child, and like the son which another woman might have had, but the missing of whom was a shame to her to contemplate. Then she had said good-bye to him, and bade him be always a good boy, and had leaned over and kissed him. It was the kiss of a mother spiritualized by the innocent mystery and imagination of virginity.
Jerome kept the little book always, and he never forgot the kiss nor the teacher, who returned to her native village and taught the school there during the summer months, and starved on the proceeds during the winter, until she died, some ten years later, being of a delicate habit, and finding no place of comfort in the world.
Jerome walked ten miles and back to her funeral one freezing day.
Jerome’s mother never knew about the rent in his father’s best coat, nor the fight. To do the boy justice, he kept it from her, neither because of cowardice nor deceit, but because of magnanimity. “It will just work her all up if she knew ’Lisha Robinson made fun of father’s best coat, and it’s tore,” Jerome told Elmira, who nodded in entire assent.
Elmira sat up in her cold chamber until long after midnight, and darned the rent painfully by the light of a tallow candle. Then it was a comparatively simple matter, when one had to deal with a woman confined to a rocking-chair, to never give her a full view of the mended coat-tail. Jerome cultivated a habit of backing out of the room, as from an audience with a queen. The sting from his wounded pride having been salved with victory, he was unduly important in his own estimation, until an unforeseen result came from the affair.