Mary E. Wilkins

(Condensation by Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman — written at the suggestion of the Editor of the Condensed Novels.)

From Syracuse NY Herald November 8, 1919

For a poor New England boy, Jerome Edwards, the tragedy of life began at the age of ten. His father, Abel Edwards, had gone, that morning, with his wagon and old nodding white horse, to his woodlot to cut wood for Doctor Prescott.

Dr. Prescott had an obsession for owning land. When there was a lack of ready money to pay his exorbitant bills, he seized with avidity upon a mortgage, and he foreclosed without grace or mercy.

Dr. Prescott had held a thousand dollar mortgage upon the Edwards house for years. Jerome had always a fancy of it as a huge black bird with hissing beak perched upon the ridge pole.

The old white horse coming home in turning out at the beck of a phantom driver for the bad places in the country road, was met upon his arrival at the Edward's cottage with wild shrieks in a woman's voice, a child's frightened sob, and a boy's sober answers to the eager questions of a small mob of men and boys following after.

There was an immediate rush to the wood lot, but Jerome had reached the spot first of all. On the shore of a black pool of water, reputed to be bottomless, he found his father's hat. Jerome weighted it with stones and flung it in. Then he bolted for home by another route. “Let 'em say father drowned himself now,” he gasped out as he ran.

Abel Edwards had been missing two years when Jerome, studying the situation day and night, knew the truth: They could never, although they half starved themselves, meet the interest of the mortgage. He made a plan.

He went to consult Squire Eben Merritt. The Squire was a notable hunter and fisher, and had been bent that morning upon a fishing excursion. He was the kindest man in the place, not rich as had been his ancestors, but lived as a rich man, being possessed of generosity which is the real Horn of Plenty.

Jerome looked straight at the Squire, and made his little speech. He had rehearsed it often. When he had finished, the Squire burst into a roar of laughter, and caught the boy by the shoulder. “You don't mean you planned this all yourself?”

“Yes, sir. I've been layin' awake nights, plannin'.”

“How old are you?”

“Twelve, sir.”

“By Jove!”

Then a lovely, gentle little girl stole into the room. Her dimpled arms and neck were bare and her shower of gold curls fell to her waist. She wore a frock of soft blue below which showed the finest starched pantalets and little blue Morocco shoes. The Squire turned and caught her up, and she sat on one shoulder with his golden beard spreading over her blue skirt.

The Squire told Jerome to call on Dr. Prescott and show his plan.

A small dark, very kind and quick lady, who was the Squire's wife and Lucina's mother, showed Jerome the door, and he went down the street in a daze. Jerome almost forgot the important paper he carried. He had never seen a little girl like Lucina Merritt.

Jerome called on Dr. Prescott, who deigned to read his paper and then summarily dismissed him. He hated him in a strange way for a man to hate a boy. On his way home Jerome encountered Squire Merritt coming out of a woodland road, with a great string of fish. “What luck, son?” he called out.

“He turned me out. I'd like to kill him.”

The Squire laughed and made Jerome walk along with him to his sister Camilla's, who kept elderly maiden state in the old Merritt house.

Jerome always remembered that hour of tea-drinking and cake-eating in the arbor with Squire Merritt and his sister and little Lucina, as he would have an especially beautiful turn of his kaleidoscope of life.

Until he was much older, Jerome did not fully comprehend in what way Eben Merritt had solved his financial difficulties. Then he discovered that the Squire had made great sacrifices of his none too large competency to buy from Dr. Prescott, and take the Edwards' mortgage into his own hands.

Now life began to look brighter for Jerome. He could not go to school in the ordinary sense, so he went direct to Nature. He, in his scanty free time, roamed fields and woods. Jake Noyes, a queer character who ostensibly was Dr. Prescott's coach-man, but who had been permitted to assimilate, and some said had even been taught much of the doctors medical lore, taught Jerome much about simples.

Jerome attained a local under-celebrity, since he gave aid for nothing and with success.

Gradually, Jerome's business ideas developed and strengthened. There was an exceptional chance for a saw mill in the village. He went one evening to Lawyer Means with a request that he should sell $265 worth of his land on Graystone brook, and came away with the deed. He then began to save for the mill.

In those days he worked like a tiger, for he was in love. That meant he had become a conqueror of all foes in his path, and achiever of the impossible.

Lucina Merritt had come home from school, and he had seen her in church. Lucina Merritt was a very great beauty, and her father contrived to deck her out like one. He bought a little white horse for her. Then Lawrence Prescott came home, and was often seen cantering about with Lucina, on a blooded horse his father owned.

Jerome worked harder. Occasions multiplied during which he and Lucina met. At first she wondered at him obviously with dilating eyes, then she began to blush softly.

Jerome's looks at her could have but one meaning.

In the meantime, Elmira Edwards had her own little romance with Lawrence Prescott, but it promised to be an unhappy one. Lawrence was threatened with disinheritance, and Elmira dismissed him. Then she fell ill, and that night was in a high fever. Lawrence came and she did not know him. Lawrence went home and had a scene with his father.

As under the circumstances Prescott could not be employed, a doctor from Westbrook was sent for. Elmira was ill several weeks. Lawrence and his mother were assiduous in care and attention.

Her illness cost so much that Jerome had not been able to make good the deficit caused by a loan to Osias Lamb, to prevent a foreclosure of a mortgage on his little home. The loan had postponed his mill. Sometimes Jerome reflected with bitter amusement upon the bet made in the village store a few years ago. Egged on by some village wags, Dr. Prescott and Simon Basset had signed before Lawyer Means a document whereby they promised to pay for the benefit of the poor $10,000 apiece, if Jerome Edwards should ever have $25,000 and give it all away.

Jerome though it the safest business deal in all creation. Meanwhile he worked so hard he seldom saw Lucina. He had not the time to call upon her. He was sure that they understood each other although no formal engagement had been made. He was sure that Lucina understood that he could not call because he was working so hard for her sake. But Lucina did not understand. She grew thin and pale and her parents fearing a decline, sent her West for a change.

But he was not sure when she returned from the West looking blooming and sent him a little note, informing him sweetly but firmly that they would be friends, but nothing more.

Even then Jerome did not believe. His faith in the girl was almost sublime. However, he made no attempt to see her, and did not answer the letter. I've worked harder and harder.

The mill was built, and work began. Jerome set himself a certain sum to be earned before he went to see Lucina.

One day the village was startled by the new that Col. Jack Lamson had come into a fortune of sixty-five thousand dollars from some old mining stock, and had gone to Boston with Lawyer Means upon business connected with it.

Shortly after that the village had another shock. Abel Edwards came home. He had been all the time on a farm fifty miles away and had brought home all his earnings in a tin box.

But nobody in the village knew that the box had been robbed in a country tavern where Abel had stayed over night and Jerome had replaced the stolen gold with some from a secret hoard of his own.

Jerome was prospering, when one night there came a rain that was almost a cloud burst, the brook ran in flood, and the next morning the mill was carried away.

Jerome for the first time gave up hope, when Colonel Lamson suddenly died and left $25,000 to him, $20,000 to Lucina, $5,000 to Eben Merritt, $10,000 to John Jennings, $5,000 to Lawyer Means.

People at once remembered the old bet in the store. Would Jerome give away the money. He soon set doubts at rest. He gave the money to the poor of the village, and a factory was to be set up, using the money as capital stock.

The bet was not binding legally. Prescott knew, but did not fail to abide by his word. Simon Bassett hanged himself before he knew he need not pay a dollar unless he choose.

Mrs. Merritt said that she inferred that he did not wish to marry Lucina. Jerome burst out with mad vows of his love for Lucina.

Mrs. Merritt returned that he loved his pride more. Finally Jerome yielded. They were standing outside under a tree talking and in the parlor were Elmira and Lawrence Prescott talking. Everything was settled happily for them. Dr. Prescott had given his consent.

When Jerome met Lucina in the parlor she clung to him and wept at first, then she drew him to a little damask sofa, and took a letter from her pocket. They read it together. It was from Colonel Jack Lamson, dated just before his death. In it he begged that the sum of $20,000 be regarded by Lucina as a dowry, “to be employed by both when you wed Jerome Edwards for your mutual good and profit during your married life.

“I am, dear Miss Lucina, your obedient servant to command and your affectionate foster father.       “JOHN LAMSON.”

“P. S. — I meant Jerome's $25,000 to be used as he used it. — J. L.”