The painter who gave lessons to the ladies was already a man of forty, and he was strongly dragoned round by a wife almost as old, who had taken great pains to secure him for herself, and who worked him to far greater advantage in his profession than he could possibly have worked himself: she got him orders; sold his pictures, even in Boston, where they never buy American pictures; found him pupils, and kept the boldest of these from flirting with him. Westover, who was so newly from Paris, was able to console him with talk of the salons and ateliers, which he had not heard from so directly in ten years. After the first inevitable moment of jealousy, his wife forgave Westover when she found that he did not want pupils, and she took a leading part in the movement to have him read Browning at a picnic, organized by the ladies shortly after he came.
The picnic was held in Whitwell's Clearing, on the side of Lion's Head, where the moss, almost as white as snow, lay like belated drifts among the tall, thin grass which overran the space opened by the axe, and crept to the verge of the low pines growing in the shelter of the loftier woods. It was the end of one of Whitwell's "Tramps Home to Nature," as he called his walks and talks with the ladies, and on this day Westover's fellow-painter had added to his lessons in woodlore the claims of art, intending that his class should make studies of various bits in the clearing, and should try to catch something of its peculiar charm. He asked Westover what he thought of the notion, and Westover gave it his approval, which became enthusiastic when he saw the place. He found in it the melancholy grace, the poignant sentiment of ruin which expresses itself in some measure wherever man has invaded nature and then left his conquest to her again. In Whitwell's Clearing the effect was intensified by the approach on the fading wood road, which the wagons had made in former days when they hauled the fallen timber to the pulp-mill. In places it was so vague and faint as to be hardly a trail; in others, where the wheel-tracks remained visible, the trees had sent out a new growth of lower branches in the place of those lopped away, and almost forbade the advance of foot-passengers. The ladies said they did not see how Jeff was ever going to get through with the wagon, and they expressed fears for the lunch he was bringing, which seemed only too well grounded.
But Whitwell, who was leading them on, said: "You let a Durgin alone to do a thing when he's made up his mind to it. I guess you'll have your lunch all right"; and by the time that they had got enough of Browning they heard the welcome sound of wheels crashing upon dead boughs and swishing through the underbrush, and, in the pauses of these pleasant noises, the voice of Jeff Durgin encouraging his horses. The children of the party broke away to meet him, and then he came in sight ahead of his team, looking strong and handsome in his keeping with the scene: Before he got within hearing, the ladies murmured a hymn of praise to his type of beauty; they said he looked like a young Hercules, and Westover owned with an inward smile that Jeff had certainly made the best of himself for the time being. He had taken a leaf from the book of the summer folks; his stalwart calves revealed themselves in thick, ribbed stockings; he wore knickerbockers and a Norfolk jacket of corduroy; he had style as well as beauty, and he had the courage of his clothes and looks. Westover was still in the first surprise of the American facts, and he wondered just what part in the picnic Jeff was to bear socially. He was neither quite host nor guest; but no doubt in the easy play of the life, which Westover was rather proud to find so charming, the question would solve itself rationally and gracefully.
"Where do you want the things?" the young fellow asked of the company at large, as he advanced upon them from the green portals of the roadway, pulling off his soft wool hat, and wiping his wet forehead with his blue- bordered white handkerchief.
"Oh, right here, Jeff!" The nimblest of the nymphs sprang to her feet from the lounging and crouching circle about Westover. She was a young nymph no longer, but with a daughter not so much younger than herself as to make the contrast of her sixteen years painful. Westover recognized the officious, self-approving kind of the woman, but he admired the brisk efficiency with which she had taken possession of the affair from the beginning and inspired every one to help, in strict subordination to herself.
When the cloths were laid on the smooth, elastic moss, and the meal was spread, she heaped a plate without suffering any interval in her activities.
"I suppose you've got to go back to your horses, Jeff, and you shall be the first served," she said, and she offered him the plate with a bright smile and friendly grace, which were meant to keep him from the hurt of her intention.
Jeff did not offer to take the plate which she raised to him from where she was kneeling, but looked down at her with perfect intelligence. "I guess I don't want anything," he said, and turned and walked away into the woods.
The ill-advised woman remained kneeling for a moment with her ingratiating smile hardening on her face, while the sense of her blunder petrified the rest. She was the first to recover herself, and she said, with a laugh that she tried to make reckless, "Well, friends, I suppose the rest of you are hungry; I know I am," and she began to eat.
The others ate, too, though their appetites might well have been affected by the diplomatic behavior of Whitwell. He would not take anything, just at present, he said, and got his long length up from the root of a tree where he had folded it down. "I don't seem to care much for anything in the middle of the day; breakfast's my best meal," and he followed Jeff off into the woods.
"Really," said the lady, "what did they expect?" But the question was so difficult that no one seemed able to make the simple answer.
The incident darkened the day and spoiled its pleasure; it cast a lessening shadow into the evening when the guests met round the fire in the large, ugly new parlor at the hotel.
The next morning the ladies assembled again on the piazza to decide what should be done with the beautiful day before them. Whitwell stood at the foot of the flag-staff with one hand staying his person against it, like a figure posed in a photograph to verify proportions in the different features of a prospect.
The heroine of the unhappy affair of the picnic could not forbear authorizing herself to invoke his opinion at a certain point of the debate, and "Mr. Whitwell," she called to him, "won't you please come here a moment?"
Whitwell slowly pulled himself across the grass to the group, and at the same moment, as if she had been waiting for him to be present, Mrs. Durgin came out of the office door and advanced toward the ladies.
"Mrs. Marven," she said, with the stony passivity which the ladies used to note in her when they came over to Lion's Head Farm in the tally-hos, "the stage leaves here at two o'clock to get the down train at three. I want you should have your trunks ready to go on the wagon a little before two."
"You want I should have my—What do you mean, Mrs. Durgin?"
"I want your rooms."
"You want my rooms?"
Mrs. Durgin did not answer. She let her steadfast look suffice; and Mrs. Marven went on in a rising flutter: "Why, you can't have my rooms! I don't understand you. I've taken my rooms for the whole of August, and they are mine; and—"
"I have got to have your rooms," said Mrs. Durgin.
"Very well, then, I won't give them up," said the lady. "A bargain's a bargain, and I have your agreement—"
"If you're not out of your rooms by two o'clock, your things will be put out; and after dinner to-day you will not eat another bite under my roof."
Mrs. Durgin went in, and it remained for the company to make what they could of the affair. Mrs. Marven did not wait for the result. She was not a dignified person, but she rose with hauteur and whipped away to her rooms, hers no longer, to make her preparations. She knew at least how to give her going the effect of quitting the place with disdain and abhorrence.
The incident of her expulsion was brutal, but it was clearly meant to be so. It made Westover a little sick, and he would have liked to pity Mrs. Marven more than he could. The ladies said that Mrs. Durgin's behavior was an outrage, and they ought all to resent it by going straight to their own rooms and packing their things and leaving on the same stage with Mrs. Marven. None of them did so, and their talk veered around to something extenuating, if not justifying, Mrs. Durgin's action.
"I suppose," one of them said, "that she felt more indignant about it because she has been so very good to Mrs. Marven, and her daughter, too. They were both sick on her hands here for a week after they came, first one and then the other, and she looked after them and did for them like a mother."
"And yet," another lady suggested, "what could Mrs. Marven have done? What did she do? He wasn't asked to the picnic, and I don't see why he should have been treated as a guest. He was there, purely and simply, to bring the things and take them away. And, besides, if there is anything in distinctions, in differences, if we are to choose who is to associate with us—or our daughters—"
"That is true," the ladies said, in one form or another, with the tone of conviction; but they were not so deeply convinced that they did not want a man's opinion, and they all looked at Westover.
He would not respond to their look, and the lady who had argued for Mrs. Marven had to ask: "What do you think, Mr. Westover?"
"Ah, it's a difficult question," he said. "I suppose that as long as one person believes himself or herself socially better than another, it must always be a fresh problem what to do in every given case."
The ladies said they supposed so, and they were forced to make what they could of wisdom in which they might certainly have felt a want of finality.
Westover went away from them in a perplexed mind which was not simplified by the contempt he had at the bottom of all for something unmanly in Jeff, who had carried his grievance to his mother like a slighted boy, and provoked her to take up arms for him.
The sympathy for Mrs. Marven mounted again when it was seen that she did not come to dinner, or permit her daughter to do so, and when it became known later that she had refused for both the dishes sent to their rooms. Her farewells to the other ladies, when they gathered to see her off on the stage, were airy rather than cheery; there was almost a demonstration in her behalf, but Westover was oppressed by a kind of inherent squalor in the incident.
At night he responded to a knock which he supposed that of Frank Whitwell with ice-water, and Mrs. Durgin came into his room and sat down in one of his two chairs. "Mr. Westover," she said, "if you knew all I had done for that woman and her daughter, and how much she had pretended to think of us all, I don't believe you'd be so ready to judge me."
"Judge you!" cried Westover. "Bless my soul, Mrs. Durgin! I haven't said a word that could be tormented into the slightest censure."
"But you think I done wrong?"
"I have not been at all able to satisfy myself on that point, Mrs. Durgin. I think it's always wrong to revenge one's self."
"Yes, I suppose it is," said Mrs. Durgin, humbly; and the tears came into her eyes. "I got the tray ready with my own hands that was sent to her room; but she wouldn't touch it. I presume she didn't like having a plate prepared for her! But I did feel sorry for her. She a'n't over and above strong, and I'm afraid she'll be sick; there a'n't any rest'rant at our depot."
Westover fancied this a fit mood in Mrs. Durgin for her further instruction, and he said: "And if you'll excuse me, Mrs. Durgin, I don't think what you did was quite the way to keep a hotel."
More tears flashed into Mrs. Durgin's eyes, but they were tears of wrath now. "I would 'a' done it," she said, "if I thought every single one of 'em would 'a' left the house the next minute, for there a'n't one that has the first word to say against me, any other way. It wa'n't that I cared whether she thought my son was good enough to eat with her or not; I know what I think, and that's enough for me. He wa'n't invited to the picnic, and he a'n't one to put himself forward. If she didn't want him to stay, all she had to do was to do nothin'. But to make him up a plate before everybody, and hand it to him to eat with the horses, like a tramp or a dog—"Mrs. Durgin filled to the throat with her wrath, and the sight of her made Westover keenly unhappy.
"Yes, yes," he said, "it was a miserable business." He could not help adding: "If Jeff could have kept it to himself—but perhaps that wasn't possible."
"Mr. Westover!" said Mrs. Durgin, sternly. "Do you think Jeff would come to me, like a great crybaby, and complain of my lady boarders and the way they used him? It was Mr. Whit'ell that let it out, or I don't know as I should ever known about it."
"I'm glad Jeff didn't tell you," said Westover, with a revulsion of good feeling toward him.
"He'd 'a' died first," said his mother. "But Mr. Whit'ell done just right all through, and I sha'n't soon forget it. Jeff's give me a proper goin' over for what I done; both the boys have. But I couldn't help it, and I should do just so again. All is, I wanted you should know just what you was blamin' me for—"
"I don't know that I blame you. I only wish you could have helped it— managed some other way."
"I did try to get over it, and all I done was to lose a night's rest. Then, this morning, when I see her settin' there so cool and mighty with the boarders, and takin' the lead as usual, I just waited till she got Whit'ell across, and nearly everybody was there that saw what she done to Jeff, and then I flew out on her."
Westover could not suppress a laugh. "Well, Mrs. Durgin, your retaliation was complete; it was dramatic."
"I don't know what you mean by that," said Mrs. Durgin, rising and resuming her self-control; she did not refuse herself a grim smile. "But I guess she thought it was pretty perfect herself—or she will, when she's able to give her mind to it. I'm sorry for her daughter; I never had anything against her; or her mother, either, for that matter, before. Franky look after you pretty well? I'll send him up with your ice-water. Got everything else you want?"
I should have to invent a want if I wished to complain," said Westover.
"Well, I should like to have you do it. We can't ever do too much for you. Well, good-night, Mr. Westover."
"Good'-night, Mrs. Durgin."
Jeff Durgin entered Harvard that fall, with fewer conditions than most students have to work off. This was set down to the credit of Lovewell Academy, where he had prepared for the university; and some observers in such matters were interested to note how thoroughly the old school in a remote town had done its work for him.
None who formed personal relations with him at that time conjectured that he had done much of the work for himself, and even to Westover, when Jeff came to him some weeks after his settlement in Cambridge, he seemed painfully out of his element, and unamiably aware of it. For the time, at least, he had lost the jovial humor, not too kindly always, which largely characterized him, and expressed itself in sallies of irony which were not so unkindly, either. The painter perceived that he was on his guard against his own friendly interest; Jeff made haste to explain that he came because he had told his mother that he would do so. He scarcely invited a return of his visit, and he left Westover wondering at the sort of vague rebellion against his new life which he seemed to be in. The painter went out to see him in Cambridge, not long after, and was rather glad to find him rooming with some other rustic Freshman in a humble street running from the square toward the river; for he thought Jeff must have taken his lodging for its cheapness, out of regard to his mother's means. But Jeff was not glad to be found there, apparently; he said at once that he expected to get a room in the Yard the next year, and eat at Memorial Hall. He spoke scornfully of his boarding-house as a place where they were all a lot of jays together; and Westover thought him still more at odds with his environment than he had before. But Jeff consented to come in and dine with him at his restaurant, and afterward go to the theatre with him.
When he came, Westover did not quite like his despatch of the half-bottle of California claret served each of them with the Italian table d'hote. He did not like his having already seen the play he proposed; and he found some difficulty in choosing a play which Jeff had not seen. It appeared then that he had been at the theatre two or three times a week for the last month, and that it was almost as great a passion with him as with Westover himself. He had become already a critic of acting, with a rough good sense of it, and a decided opinion. He knew which actors he preferred, and which actresses, better still. It was some consolation for Westover to find that he mostly took an admission ticket when he went to the theatre; but, though he could not blame Jeff for showing his own fondness for it, he wished that he had not his fondness.
So far Jeff seemed to have spent very few of his evenings in Cambridge, and Westover thought it would be well if he had some acquaintance there. He made favor for him with a friendly family, who asked him to dinner. They did it to oblige Westover, against their own judgment and knowledge, for they said it was always the same with Freshmen; a single act of hospitality finished the acquaintance. Jeff came, and he behaved with as great indifference to the kindness meant him as if he were dining out every night; he excused himself very early in the evening on the ground that he had to go into Boston, and he never paid his dinner-call. After that Westover tried to consider his whole duty to him fulfilled, and not to trouble himself further. Now and then, however, Jeff disappointed the expectation Westover had formed of him, by coming to see him, and being apparently glad of the privilege. But he did not make the painter think that he was growing in grace or wisdom, though he apparently felt an increasing confidence in his own knowledge of life.
Westover could only feel a painful interest tinged with amusement in his grotesque misconceptions of the world where he had not yet begun to right himself. Jeff believed lurid things of the society wholly unknown to him; to his gross credulity, Boston houses, which at the worst were the homes of a stiff and cold exclusiveness, were the scenes of riot only less scandalous than the dissipation to which fashionable ladies abandoned themselves at champagne suppers in the Back Bay hotels and on their secret visits to the Chinese opium-joints in Kingston Street.
Westover tried to make him see how impossible his fallacies were; but he could perceive that Jeff thought him either wilfully ignorant or helplessly innocent, and of far less authority than a barber who had the entree of all these swell families as hair-dresser, and who corroborated the witness of a hotel night-clerk (Jeff would not give their names) to the depravity of the upper classes. He had to content himself with saying: "I hope you will be ashamed some day of having believed such rot. But I suppose it's something you've got to go through. You may take my word for it, though? that it isn't going to do you any good. It's going to do you harm, and that's why I hate to have you think it, for your own sake. It can't hurt any one else."
What disgusted the painter most was that, with all his belief in the wickedness of the fine world, it was clear that Jeff would have willingly been of it; and he divined that if he had any strong aspirations they were for society and for social acceptance. He had fancied, when the fellow seemed to care so little for the studies of the university, that he might come forward in its sports. Jeff gave more and more the effect of tremendous strength in his peculiar physique, though there was always the disappointment of not finding him tall. He was of the middle height, but he was hewn out and squared upward massively. He felt like stone to any accidental contact, and the painter brought away a bruise from the mere brunt of his shoulders. He learned that Jeff was a frequenter of the gymnasium, where his strength must have been known, but he could not make out that he had any standing among the men who went in for athletics. If Jeff had even this, the sort of standing in college which he failed of would easily have been won, too. But he had been falsely placed at the start, or some quality of his nature neutralized other qualities that would have made him a leader in college, and he remained one of the least forward men in it. Other jays won favor and liking, and ceased to be jays; Jeff continued a jay. He was not chosen into any of the nicer societies; those that he joined when he thought they were swell he could not care for when he found they were not.
Westover came into a knowledge of the facts through his casual and scarcely voluntary confidences, and he pitied him somewhat while he blamed him a great deal more, without being able to help him at all.
It appeared to him that the fellow had gone wrong more through ignorance than perversity, and that it was a stubbornness of spirit rather than a badness of heart that kept him from going right. He sometimes wondered whether it was not more a baffled wish to be justified in his own esteem than anything else that made him overvalue the things he missed. He knew how such an experience as that with Mrs. Marven rankles in the heart of youth, and will not cease to smart till some triumph in kind brines it ease; but between the man of thirty and the boy of twenty there is a gulf fixed, and he could not ask. He did not know that a college man often goes wrong in his first year, out of no impulse that he can very clearly account for himself, and then when he ceases to be merely of his type and becomes more of his character, he pulls up and goes right. He did not know how much Jeff had been with a set that was fast without being fine. The boy had now and then a book in his hand when he came; not always such a book as Westover could have wished, but still a book; and to his occasional questions about how he was getting on with his college work, Jeff made brief answers, which gave the notion that he was not neglecting it.
Toward the end of his first year he sent to Westover one night from a station-house, where he had been locked up for breaking a street-lamp in Boston. By his own showing he had not broken the lamp, or assisted, except through his presence, at the misdeed of the tipsy students who had done it. His breath betrayed that he had been drinking, too; but otherwise he seemed as sober as Westover himself, who did not know whether to augur well or ill for him from the proofs he had given before of his ability to carry off a bottle of wine with a perfectly level head. Jeff seemed to believe Westover a person of such influence that he could secure his release at once, and he was abashed to find that he must pass the night in the cell, where he conferred with Westover through the bars.
In the police court, where his companions were fined, the next morning, he was discharged for want of evidence against him; but the university authorities did not take the same view as the civil authorities. He was suspended, and for the time he passed out of Westover's sight and knowledge.
He expected to find him at Lion's Head, where he went to pass the month of August—in painting those pictures of the mountain which had in some sort, almost in spite of him, become his specialty. But Mrs. Durgin employed the first free moments after their meeting in explaining that Jeff had got a chance to work his way to London on a cattle-steamer, and had been abroad the whole summer. He had written home that the voyage had been glorious, with plenty to eat and little to do; and he had made favor with the captain for his return by the same vessel in September. By other letters it seemed that he had spent the time mostly in England; but he had crossed over into France for a fortnight, and had spent a week in Paris. His mother read some passages from his letters aloud to show Westover how Jeff was keeping his eyes open. His accounts of his travel were a mixture of crude sensations in the presence of famous scenes and objects of interest, hard-headed observation of the facts of life, narrow-minded misconception of conditions, and wholly intelligent and adequate study of the art of inn-keeping in city and country.
Mrs. Durgin seemed to feel that there was some excuse due for the relative quantity of the last. "He knows that's what I'd care for the most; and Jeff a'n't one to forget his mother." As if the word reminded her, she added, after a moment: "We sha'n't any of us soon forget what you done for Jeff—that time."
"I didn't do anything for him, Mrs. Durgin; I couldn't," Westover protested.
"You done what you could, and I know that you saw the thing in the right light, or you wouldn't 'a' tried to do anything. Jeff told me every word about it. I know he was with a pretty harum-scarum crowd. But it was a lesson to him; and I wa'n't goin' to have him come back here, right away, and have folks talkin' about what they couldn't understand, after the way the paper had it."
"Did it get into the papers?"
"Mm." Mrs. Durgin nodded. "And some dirty, sneakin' thing, here, wrote a letter to the paper and told a passel o' lies about Jeff and all of us; and the paper printed Jeff's picture with it; I don't know how they got a hold of it. So when he got that chance to go, I just said, 'Go.' You'll see he'll keep all straight enough after this, Mr. Westover."
"Old woman read you any of Jeff's letters?" Whit-well asked, when his chance for private conference with Westover came. "What was the rights of that scrape he got into?"
Westover explained as favorably to Jeff as he could; the worst of the affair was the bad company he was in.
Well, where there's smoke there's some fire. Cou't discharged him and college suspended him. That's about where it is? I guess he'll keep out o' harm's way next time. Read you what he said about them scenes of the Revolution in Paris?"
"Yes; he seems to have looked it all up pretty thoroughly."
"Done it for me, I guess, much as anything. I was always talkin' it up with him. Jeff's kep' his eyes open, that's a fact. He's got a head on him, more'n I ever thought."
Westover decided that Mrs. Durgin's prepotent behavior toward Mrs. Marven the summer before had not hurt her materially, with the witnesses even. There were many new boarders, but most of those whom he had already met were again at Lion's Head. They said there was no air like it, and no place so comfortable. If they had sold their birthright for a mess of pottage, Westover had to confess that the pottage was very good. Instead of the Irish woman at ten dollars a week who had hitherto been Mrs. Durgin's cook, under her personal surveillance and direction, she had now a man cook, whom she boldly called a chef and paid eighty dollars a month. He wore the white apron and white cap of his calling, but Westover heard him speak Yankee through his nose to one of the stablemen as they exchanged hilarities across the space between the basement and the barn-door. "Yes," Mrs. Durgin admitted, "he's an American; and he learnt his trade at one of the best hotels in Portland. He's pretty headstrong, but I guess he does what he's told—in the end. The meanyous? Oh, Franky Whitwell prints then. He's got an amateur printing-office in the stable-loft."
One morning toward the end of August, Whitwell, who was starting homeward, after leaving his ladies, burdened with their wishes and charges for the morrow, met Westover coming up the hill with his painting-gear in his hand. "Say!" he hailed him. "Why don't you come down to the house to-night? Jackson's goin' to come, and, if you ha'n't seen him work the plantchette for a spell, you'll be surprised. There a'n't hardly anybody he can't have up. You'll come? Good enough!"
What affected Westover first of all at the seance, and perhaps most of all, was the quality of the air in the little house; it was close and stuffy, mixed with an odor of mould and an ancient smell of rats. The kerosene-lamp set in the centre of the table, where Jackson afterward placed his planchette, devoured the little life that was left in it. At the gasps which Westover gave, with some despairing glances at the closed windows, Whitwell said: "Hot? Well, I guess it is a little. But, you see, Jackson has got to be careful about the night air; but I guess I can fix it for you." He went out into the ell, and Westover heard him raising a window. He came back and asked, "That do? It 'll get around in here directly," and Westover had to profess relief.
Jackson came in presently with the little Canuck, whom Whitwell presented to Westover: "Know Jombateeste?"
The two were talking about a landslide which had taken place on the other side of the mountain; the news had just come that they had found among the ruins the body of the farm-hand who had been missing since the morning of the slide; his funeral was to be the next day.
Jackson put his planchette on the table, and sat down before it with a sigh; the Canuck remained standing, and on foot he was scarcely a head higher than the seated Yankees. "Well," Jackson said, "I suppose he knows all about it now," meaning the dead farm-hand.
"Yes," Westover suggested, "if he knows anything."
"Know anything!" Whitwell shouted. "Why, man, don't you believe he's as much alive as ever he was?"
"I hope so," said Westover, submissively.
"Don't you know it?"
"Not as I know other things. In fact, I don't know it," said Westover, and he was painfully aware of having shocked his hearers by the agnosticism so common among men in towns that he had confessed it quite simply and unconsciously. He perceived that faith in the soul and life everlasting was as quick as ever in the hills, whatever grotesque or unwonted form it wore. Jackson sat with closed eyes and his head fallen back; Whitwell stared at the painter, with open mouth; the little Canuck began to walk up and down impatiently; Westover felt a reproach, almost an abhorrence, in all of them.
Whitwell asked: "Why, don't you think there's any proof of it?"
"Proof? Oh Yes. There's testimony enough to carry conviction to the stubbornest mind on any other point. But it's very strange about all that. It doesn't convince anybody but the witnesses. If a man tells me he's seen a disembodied spirit, I can't believe him. I must see the disembodied spirit myself."
"That's something so," said Whitwell, with a relenting laugh.
"If one came back from the dead, to tell us of a life beyond the grave, we should want the assurance that he'd really been dead, and not merely dreaming."
Whitwell laughed again, in the delight the philosophic mind finds even in the reasoning that hates it.
The Canuck felt perhaps the simpler joy that the average man has in any strange notion that he is able to grasp. He stopped in his walk and said: "Yes, and if you was dead and went to heaven, and stayed so long you smelt, like Lazarus, and you come back and tol' 'em what you saw, nobody goin' believe you."
"Well, I guess you're right there, Jombateeste," said Whitwell, with pleasure in the Canuck's point. After a moment he suggested to Westover: "Then I s'pose, if you feel the way you do, you don't care much about plantchette?"
"Oh yes, I do," said the painter. "We never know when we may be upon the point of revelation. I wouldn't miss any chance."
Whether Whitwell felt an ironic slant in the words or not, he paused a moment before he said: "Want to start her up, Jackson?"
Jackson brought to the floor the forefeet of his chair, which he had tilted from it in leaning back, and without other answer put his hand on the planchette. It began to fly over the large sheet of paper spread upon the table, in curves and angles and eccentrics.
"Feels pootty lively to-night," said Whitwell, with a glance at Westover.
The little Canuck, as if he had now no further concern in the matter, sat down in a corner and smoked silently. Whitwell asked, after a moment's impatience:
"Can't you git her down to business, Jackson?"
Jackson gasped: "She'll come down when she wants to."
The little instrument seemed, in fact, trying to control itself. Its movements became less wild and large; the zigzags began to shape themselves into something like characters. Jackson's wasted face gave no token of interest; Whitwell laid half his gaunt length across the table in the endeavor to make out some meaning in them; the Canuck, with his hands crossed on his stomach, smoked on, with the same gleam in his pipe and eye.
The planchette suddenly stood motionless.
"She done?" murmured Whitwell.
"I guess she is, for a spell, anyway," said Jackson, wearily.
"Let's try to make out what she says." Whitwell drew the sheets toward himself and Westover, who sat next him. "You've got to look for the letters everywhere. Sometimes she'll give you fair and square writin', and then again she'll slat the letters down every which way, and you've got to hunt 'em out for yourself. Here's a B I've got. That begins along pretty early in the alphabet. Let's see what we can find next."
Westover fancied he could make out an F and a T.
Whitwell exulted in an unmistakable K and N; and he made sure of an I, and an E. The painter was not so sure of an S. "Well, call it an S," said Whitwell. "And I guess I've got an O here, and an H. Hello! Here's an A as large as life. Pootty much of a mixture."
"Yes; I don't see that we're much better off than we were before," said Westover.
"Well, I don't know about that," said Whitwell.
"Write 'em down in a row and see if we can't pick out some sense. I've had worse finds than this; no vowels at all sometimes; but here's three."
He wrote the letters down, while Jackson leaned back against the wall, in patient quiet.
"Well, sir," said Whitwell, pushing the paper, where he had written the letters in a line, to Westover, "make anything out of 'em?"
Westover struggled with them a moment. "I can make out one word-shaft."
"Anything else?" demanded Whitwell, with a glance of triumph at Jackson.
Westover studied the remaining letters. "Yes, I get one other word- broken."
"Just what I done! But I wanted you to speak first. It's Broken Shaft. Jackson, she caught right onto what we was talkin' about. This life," he turned to Westover, in solemn exegesis, "is a broken shaft when death comes. It rests upon the earth, but you got to look for the top of it in the skies. That's the way I look at it. What do you think, Jackson? Jombateeste?"
"I think anybody can't see that. Better go and get some heye-glass."
Westover remained in a shameful minority. He said, meekly: "It suggests a beautiful hope."
Jackson brought his chair-legs down again, and put his hand on the planchette.
"Feel that tinglin'?" asked. Whitwell, and Jackson made yes with silent lips. "After he's been workin' the plantchette for a spell, and then leaves off, and she wants to say something more," Whitwell explained to Westover, "he seems to feel a kind of tinglin' in his arm, as if it was asleep, and then he's got to tackle her again. Writin' steady enough now, Jackson!" he cried, joyously. "Let's see." He leaned over and read, "Thomas Jefferson—" The planchette stopped, "My, I didn't go to do that," said Whitwell, apologetically. "You much acquainted with Jefferson's writin's?" he asked of Westover.
The painter had to own his ignorance of all except the diction that the government is best which governs least; but he was not in a position to deny that Jefferson had ever said anything about a broken shaft.
"It may have come to him on the other side," said Whitwell.
"Perhaps," Westover assented.
The planchette began to stir itself again. "She's goin' ahead !" cried Whitwell. He leaned over the table so as to get every letter as it was formed. "D—Yes! Death. Death is the Broken Shaft. Go on!" After a moment of faltering the planchette formed another letter. It was a U, and it was followed by an R, and so on, till Durgin had been spelled. "Thunder!" cried Whitwell. "If anything's happened to Jeff!"
Jackson lifted his hand from the planchette.
"Oh, go on, Jackson!" Whitwell entreated. "Don't leave it so!"
"I can't seem to go on," Jackson whispered, and Westover could not resist the fear that suddenly rose among them. But he made the first struggle against it. "This is nonsense. Or, if there's any sense in it, it means that Jeff's ship has broken her shaft and put back."
Whitwell gave a loud laugh of relief. "That's so! You've hit it, Mr. Westover."
Jackson said, quietly: "He didn't mean to start home till tomorrow. And how could he send any message unless he was—"
"Easily!" cried Westover. "It's simply an instance of mental impression- of telepathy, as they call it."
"That's so!" shouted Whitwell, with eager and instant conviction.
Westover could see that Jackson still doubted. "If you believe that a disembodied spirit can communicate with you, why not an embodied spirit? If anything has happened to your brother's ship, his mind would be strongly on you at home, and why couldn't it convey its thought to you?"
"Because he ha'n't started yet," said Jackson.
Westover wanted to laugh; but they all heard voices without, which seemed to be coming nearer, and he listened with the rest. He made out Frank Whitwell's voice, and his sister's; and then another voice, louder and gayer, rose boisterously above them. Whitwell flung the door open and plunged out into the night. He came back, hauling Jeff Durgin in by the shoulder.
"Here, now," he shouted to Jackson, "you just let this feller and plantchette fight it out together!"
"What's the matter with plantchette ?" said Jeff, before he said to his brother, "Hello, Jackson!" and to the Canuck, "Hello, Jombateeste!" He shook hands conventionally with them both, and then with the painter, whom he greeted with greater interest. "Glad to see you here, Mr. Westover. Did I take you by surprise?" he asked of the company at large.
"No, sir," said Whitwell. "Didn't surprise us any, if you are a fortnight ahead of time," he added, with a wink at the others.
"Well, I took a notion I wouldn't wait for the cattle-ship, and I started back on a French boat. Thought I'd try it. They live well. But I hoped I should astonish you a little, too. I might as well waited."
Whitwell laughed. "We heard from you—plantchette kept right round after you."
"That so?" asked Jeff, carelessly.
"Fact. Have a good voyage?" Whitwell had the air of putting a casual question.
"First-rate," said Jeff. "Plantchette say not?"
"No. Only about the broken shaft."
"Broken shaft? We didn't have any broken shaft. Plantchette's got mixed a little. Got the wrong ship."
After a moment of chop-fallenness, Whitwell said:
"Then somebody's been makin' free with your name. Curious how them devils cut up oftentimes."
He explained, and Jeff laughed uproariously when he understood the whole case. "Plantchette's been havin' fun with you."
Whitwell gave himself time for reflection. "No, sir, I don't look at it that way. I guess the wires got crossed some way. If there's such a thing as the spirits o' the livin' influencin' plantchette, accordin' to Mr. Westover's say, here, I don't see why it wa'n't. Jeff's being so near that got control of her and made her sign his name to somebody else's words. It shows there's something in it."
"Well, I'm glad to come back alive, anyway," said Jeff, with a joviality new to Westover. "I tell you, there a'n't many places finer than old Lion's Head, after all. Don't you think so, Mr. Westover? I want to get the daylight on it, but it does well by moonlight, even." He looked round at the tall girl, who had been lingering to hear the talk of planchette; at the backward tilt he gave his head, to get her in range, she frowned as if she felt his words a betrayal, and slipped out of the room; the boy had already gone, and was making himself heard in the low room overhead.
"There's a lot of folks here this summer, mother says," he appealed from the check he had got to Jackson. "Every room taken for the whole month, she says."
"We've been pretty full all July, too," said Jackson, blankly.
"Well, it's a great business; and I've picked up a lot of hints over there. We're not so smart as we think we are. The Swiss can teach us a thing or two. They know how to keep a hotel."
"Go to Switzerland?" asked Whitwell.
"I slipped over into the edge of it."
"I want to know! Well, now them Alps, now—they so much bigger 'n the White Hills, after all?"
"Well, I don't know about all of 'em," said Jeff. "There may be some that would compare with our hills, but I should say that you could take Mount Washington up and set it in the lap of almost any one of the Alps I saw, and it would look like a baby on its mother's knee."
"I want to know!" said Whitwell again. His tone expressed disappointment, but impartiality; he would do justice to foreign superiority if he must. "And about the ocean. What about waves runnin? mountains high?"
"Well, we didn't have it very rough. But I don't believe I saw any waves much higher than Lion's Head." Jeff laughed to find Whitwell taking him seriously. "Won't that satisfy you?"
"Oh, it satisfies me. Truth always does. But, now, about London. You didn't seem to say so much about London in your letters, now. Is it so big as they let on? Big—that is, to the naked eye, as you may say?"
"There a'n't any one place where you can get a complete bird's-eye view of it," said Jeff, "and two-thirds of it would be hid in smoke, anyway. You've got to think of a place that would take in the whole population of New England, outside of Massachusetts, and not feel as if it had more than a comfortable meal."
Whitwell laughed for joy in the bold figure.
"I'll tell you. When you've landed and crossed up from Liverpool, and struck London, you feel as if you'd gone to sea again. It's an ocean— a whole Atlantic of houses."
"That's right!" crowed Whitwell. "That's the way I thought it was. Growin' any?"
Jeff hesitated. "It grows in the night. You've heard about Chicago growing?"
"Well, London grows a whole Chicago every night."
"Good!" said Whitwell. "That suits me. And about Paris, now. Paris strike you the same way?"
"It don't need to," said Jeff. "That's a place where I'd like to live. Everybody's at home there. It's a man's house and his front yard, and I tell you they keep it clean. Paris is washed down every morning; scrubbed and mopped and rubbed dry. You couldn't find any more dirt than you could in mother's kitchen after she's hung out her wash. That so, Mr. Westover?"
Westover confirmed in general Jeff's report of the cleanliness of Paris.
"And beautiful! You don't know what a good-looking town is till you strike Paris. And they're proud of it, too. Every man acts as if he owned it. They've had the statue of Alsace in that Place de la Concorde of yours, Mr. Whitwell, where they had the guillotine all draped in black ever since the war with Germany; and they mean to have her back, some day."
"Great country, Jombateeste!" Whitwell shouted to the Canuck.
The little man roused himself from the muse in which he was listening and smoking. "Me, I'm Frantsh," he said.
"Yes, that's what Jeff was sayin'," said Whitwell. "I meant France."
"Oh," answered Jombateeste, impatiently, "I thought you mean the Hunited State."
"Well, not this time," said Whitwell, amid the general laughter.
"Good for Jombateeste," said Jeff. "Stand up for Canada every time, John. It's the livest country, in the world three months of the year, and the ice keeps it perfectly sweet the other nine."
Whitwell could not brook a diversion from the high and serious inquiry they had entered upon. "It must have made this country look pretty slim when you got back. How'd New York look, after Paris?"
"Like a pigpen," said Jeff. He left his chair and walked round the table toward a door opening into the adjoining room. For the first time Westover noticed a figure in white seated there, and apparently rapt in the talk which had been going on. At the approach of Jeff, and before he could have made himself seen at the doorway, a tremor seemed to pass over the figure; it fluttered to its feet, and then it vanished into the farther dark of the room. When Jeff disappeared within, there was a sound of rustling skirts and skurrying feet and the crash of a closing door, and then the free rise of laughing voices without. After a discreet interval, Westover said: "Mr. Whitwell, I must say good-night. I've got another day's work before me. It's been a most interesting evening."
"You must try it again," said Whitwell, hospitably. "We ha'n't got to the bottom of that broken shaft yet. You'll see 't plantchette 'll have something more to say about it: Heigh, Jackson?" He rose to receive Westover's goodnight; the others nodded to him.
As the painter climbed the hill to the hotel he saw two figures on the road below; the one in white drapery looked severed by a dark line slanting across it at the waist. In the country, he knew, such an appearance might mark the earliest stages of love-making, or mere youthful tenderness, in which there was nothing more implied or expected. But whatever the fact was, Westover felt a vague distaste for it, which, as it related itself to a more serious possibility, deepened to something like pain. It was probable that it should come to this between those two, but Westover rebelled against the event with a sense of its unfitness for which he could not give himself any valid reason; and in the end he accused himself of being a fool.
Two ladies sat on the veranda of the hotel and watched a cloud-wreath trying to lift itself from the summit of Lion's Head. In the effort it thinned away to transparency in places; in others, it tore its frail texture asunder and let parts of the mountain show through; then the fragments knitted themselves loosely together, and the vapor lay again in dreamy quiescence.
The ladies were older and younger, and apparently mother and daughter. The mother had kept her youth in face and figure so admirably that in another light she would have looked scarcely the elder. It was the candor of the morning which confessed the fine vertical lines running up and down to her lips, only a shade paler than the girl's, and that showed her hair a trifle thinner in its coppery brown, her blue eyes a little dimmer. They were both very graceful, and they had soft, caressing voices; they now began to talk very politely to each other, as if they were strangers, or as if strangers were by. They talked of the landscape, and of the strange cloud effect before them. They said that they supposed they should see the Lion's Head when the cloud lifted, and they were both sure they had never been quite so near a cloud before. They agreed that this was because in Switzerland the mountains were so much higher and farther off. Then the daughter said, without changing the direction of her eyes or the tone of her voice, "The gentleman who came over from the station with us last night," and the mother was aware of Jeff Durgin advancing toward the corner of the veranda where they sat.
"I hope you have got rested," he said, with the jovial bluntness which was characteristic of him with women.
"Oh, yes indeed," said the elder lady. Jeff had spoken to her, but had looked chiefly at the younger. "I slept beautifully. So quiet here, and with this delicious air! Have you just tasted it?"
"No; I've been up ever since daylight, driving round," said Jeff. "I'm glad you like the air," he said, after a certain hesitation. "We always want to have people do that at Lion's Head. There's no air like it, though perhaps I shouldn't say so."
"Shouldn't?" the lady repeated.
"Yes; we own the air here—this part of it." Jeff smiled easily down at the lady's puzzled face.
"Oh! Then you are—are you a son of the house?"
"Son of the hotel, yes," said Jeff, with increasing ease. The lady continued her question in a look, and he went on: "I've been scouring the country for butter and eggs this morning. We shall get all our supplies from Boston next year, I hope, but we depend on the neighbors a little yet."
"How very interesting!" said the lady. "You must have a great many queer adventures," she suggested in a provisional tone.
"Well, nothing's queer to me in the hill country. But you see some characters here." He nodded over his shoulder to where Whitwell stood by the flag-staff, waiting the morning impulse of the ladies. "There's one of the greatest of them now."
The lady put up a lorgnette and inspected Whitwell. "What are those strange things he has got in his hatband?"
"The flowers and the fungi of the season," said Jeff. "He takes parties of the ladies walking, and that collection is what he calls his almanac."
"Really?" cried the girl. "That's charming!"
"Delightful!" said the mother, moved by the same impulse, apparently.
"Yes," said Jeff. "You ought to hear him talk. I'll introduce him to you after breakfast, if you like."
"Oh, we should only be too happy," said the mother, and her daughter, from her inflection, knew that she would be willing to defer her happiness.
But Jeff did not. "Mr. Whitwell !" he called out, and Whitwell came across the grass to the edge of the veranda. "I want to introduce you to Mrs. Vostrand—and Miss Vostrand."
Whitwell took their slim hands successively into his broad, flat palm, and made Mrs. Vostrand repeat her name to him. "Strangers at Lion's Head, I presume?" Mrs. Vostrand owned as much; and he added: "Well, I guess you won't find a much sightlier place anywhere; though, accordin' to Jeff's say, here, they've got bigger mountains on the other side. Ever been in Europe?"
"Why, yes," said Mrs. Vostrand, with a little mouth of deprecation. "In fact, we've just come home. We've been living there."
"That so?" returned Whitwell, in humorous toleration. "Glad to get back, I presume?"
"Oh yes—yes," said Mrs. Vostrand, in a sort of willowy concession, as if the character before her were not to be crossed or gainsaid.
"Well, it 'll do you good here," said Whitwell. "'N' the young lady, too. A few tramps over these hills 'll make you look like another woman." He added, as if he had perhaps made his remarks too personal to the girl, "Both of you."
"Oh yes," the mother assented, fervently. "We shall count upon your showing us all their-mysteries."
Whitwell looked pleased. "I'll do my best-whenever you're ready." He went on: "Why, Jeff, here, has just got back, too. Jeff, what was the name of that French boat you said you crossed on? I want to see if I can't make out what plantchette meant by that broken shaft. She must have meant something, and if I could find out the name of the ship— Tell the ladies about it?" Jeff laughed, with a shake of the head, and Whitwell continued, "Why, it was like this," and he possessed the ladies of a fact which they professed to find extremely interesting. At the end of their polite expressions he asked Jeff again: "What did you say the name was?"
"Aquitaine," said Jeff, briefly.
"Why, we came on the Aquitaine!" said Mrs. Vostrand, with a smile for Jeff. "But how did we happen not to see one another?"
"Oh, I came second-cabin," said Jeff. "I worked my way over on a cattle- ship to London, and, when I decided not to work my way back, I found I hadn't enough money for a first-cabin passage. I was in a hurry to get back in time to get settled at Harvard, and so I came second-cabin. It wasn't bad. I used to see you across the rail."
"Well!" said Whitwell.
"How very—amusing!" said Mrs. Vostrand. "What a small world it is!" With these words she fell into a vagary; her daughter recalled her from it with a slight movement. "Breakfast? How impatient you are, Genevieve! Well!" She smiled the sweetest parting to Whitwell, and suffered herself to be led away by Jeff.
"And you're at Harvard? I'm so interested! My own boy will be going there soon."
"Well, there's no place like Harvard," said Jeff. "I'm in my Sophomore year now."
"Oh, a Sophomore! Fancy!" cried Mrs. Vostrand, as if nothing could give her more pleasure. "My son is going to prepare at St. Mark's. Did you prepare there?"
"No, I prepared at Lovewell Academy, over here." Jeff nodded in a southerly direction.
"Oh, indeed!" said Mrs. Vostrand, as if she knew where Lovewell was, and instantly recognized the name of the ancient school.
They had reached the dining room, and Jeff pushed the screen-door open with one hand, and followed the ladies in. He had the effect of welcoming them like invited guests; he placed the ladies himself at a window, where he said Mrs. Vostrand would be out of the draughts, and they could have a good view of Lion's Head.
He leaned over between them, when they were seated, to get sight of the mountain, and, "There!" he said. "That cloud's gone at last." Then, as if it would be modester in the proprietor of the view to leave them to their flattering raptures in it, he moved away and stood talking a moment with Cynthia Whitwell near the door of the serving-room. He talked gayly, with many tosses of the head and turns about, while she listened with a vague smile, motionlessly.
"She's very pretty," said Miss Vostrand to her mother.
"Yes. The New England type," murmured the mother.
"They all have the same look, a good deal," said the girl, glancing over the room where the waitresses stood ranged against the wall with their hands folded at their waists. "They have better faces than figures, but she is beautiful every way. Do you suppose they are all schoolteachers? They look intellectual. Or is it their glasses?"
"I don't know," said the mother. "They used to be; but things change here so rapidly it may all be different. Do you like it?"
"I think it's charming here," said the younger lady, evasively. "Everything is so exquisitely clean. And the food is very good. Is this corn-bread—that you've told me about so much?"
"Yes, this is corn-bread. You will have to get accustomed to it."
"Perhaps it won't take long. I could fancy that girl knowing about everything. Don't you like her looks?"
"Oh, very much." Mrs. Vostrand turned for another glance at Cynthia.
"What say?" Their smiling waitress came forward from the wall where she was leaning, as if she thought they had spoken to her.
"Oh, we were speaking—the young lady to whom Mr. Durgin was talking—she is—"
"She's the housekeeper—Miss Whitwell."
"Oh, indeed! She seems so young—"
"I guess she knows what to do-o-o," the waitress chanted. "We think she's about ri-i-ght." She smiled tolerantly upon the misgiving of the stranger, if it was that, and then retreated when the mother and daughter began talking together again.
They had praised the mountain with the cloud off, to Jeff, very politely, and now the mother said, a little more intimately, but still with the deference of a society acquaintance: "He seems very gentlemanly, and I am sure he is very kind. I don't quite know what to do about it, do you?"
"No, I don't. It's all strange to me, you know."
"Yes, I suppose it must be. But you will get used to it if we remain in the country. Do you think you will dislike it?"
"Oh no! It's very different."
"Yes, it's different. He is very handsome, in a certain way." The daughter said nothing, and the mother added: "I wonder if he was trying to conceal that he had come second-cabin, and was not going to let us know that he crossed with us?"
"Do you think he was bound to do so?"
"No. But it was very odd, his not mentioning it. And his going out on a cattle-steamer?" the mother observed.
"Oh, but that's very chic, I've heard," the daughter replied. "I've heard that the young men like it and think it a great chance. They have great fun. It isn't at all like second-cabin."
"You young people have your own world," the mother answered, caressingly.
Westover met the ladies coming out of the dining-room as he went in rather late to breakfast; he had been making a study of Lion's Head in the morning light after the cloud lifted from it. He was always doing Lion's Heads, it seemed to him; but he loved the mountain, and he was always finding something new in it.
He was now seeing it inwardly with so exclusive a vision that he had no eyes for these extremely pretty women till they were out of sight. Then he remembered noticing them, and started with a sense of recognition, which he verified by the hotel register when he had finished his meal. It was, in fact, Mrs. James W. Vostrand, and it was Miss Vostrand, whom Westover had know ten years before in Italy. Mrs. Vostrand had then lately come abroad for the education of her children, and was pausing in doubt at Florence whether she should educate them in Germany or Switzerland. Her husband had apparently abandoned this question to her, and he did not contribute his presence to her moral support during her struggle with a problem which Westover remembered as having a tendency to solution in the direction of a permanent stay in Florence.
In those days he liked Mrs. Vostrand very much, and at twenty he considered her at thirty distinctly middle-aged. For one winter she had a friendly little salon, which was the most attractive place in Florence to him, then a cub painter sufficiently unlicked. He was aware of her children being a good deal in the salon: a girl of eight, who was like her mother, and quite a savage little boy of five, who may have been like his father. If he was, and the absent Mr. Vostrand had the same habit of sulking and kicking at people's shins, Westover could partly understand why Mrs. Vostrand had come to Europe for the education of her children. It all came vividly back to him, while he went about looking for Mrs. Vostrand and her daughter on the verandas and in the parlors. But he did not find them, and he was going to send his name to their rooms when he came upon Jeff Durgin figuring about the office in a fresh London conception of an outing costume.
"You're very swell," said Westover, halting him to take full note of it.
"Like it? Well, I knew you'd understand what it meant. Mother thinks it's a little too rowdy-looking. Her idea is black broadcloth frock-coat and doeskin trousers for a gentleman, you know." He laughed with a young joyousness, and then became serious. "Couple of ladies here, somewhere, I'd like to introduce you to. Came over with me from the depot last night. Very nice people, and I'd like to make it pleasant for them—get up something—go somewhere—and when you see their style you can judge what it had better be. Mrs. Vostrand and her daughter."
"Thank you," said Westover. "I think I know them already at least one of them. I used to go to Mrs. Vostrand's house in Florence."
"That so? Well, fact is, I crossed with them; but I came second-cabin, because I'd spent all my money, and I didn't get acquainted with them on the ship, but we met in the train coming up last night. Said they had heard of Lion's Head on the other side from friends. But it was quite a coincidence, don't you think? I'd like to have them see what this neighborhood really is; and I wish, Mr. Westover, you'd find out, if you can, what they'd like. If they're for walking, we could get Whitwell to personally conduct a party, and if they're for driving, I'd like to show them a little mountain-coaching myself."
"I don't know whether I'd better not leave the whole thing to you, Jeff," Westover said, after a moment's reflection. "I don't see exactly how I could bring the question into a first interview."
"Well, perhaps it would be rather rushing it. But, if I get up something, you'll come, Mr. Westover?"
"I will, with great pleasure," said Westover, and he went to make his call.
A half-hour later he was passing the door of the old parlor which Mrs. Durgin still kept for hers, on his way up to his room, when a sound of angry voices came out to him. Then the voice of Mrs. Durgin defined itself in the words: "I'm not goin' to have to ask any more folks for their rooms on your account, Jeff Durgin—Mr. Westover! Mr. Westover, is that you?" her voice broke off to call after him as he hurried by, "Won't you come in here a minute?"
He hesitated, and then Jeff called, "Yes, come in, Mr. Westover."
The painter found him sitting on the old hair-cloth sofa, with his stick between his hands and knees, confronting his mother, who was rocking excitedly to and fro in the old hair-cloth easy-chair.
"You know these folks that Jeff's so crazy about?" she demanded.
"Crazy!" cried Jeff, laughing and frowning at the same time. "What's crazy in wanting to go off on a drive and choose your own party?"
"Do you know them?" Mrs. Durgin repeated to Westover.
"The Vostrands? Why, yes. I knew Mrs. Vostrand in Italy a good many years ago, and I've just been calling on her and her daughter, who was a little girl then."
"What kind of folks are they?"
"What kind? Really! Why, they're very charming people—"
"So Jeff seems to think. Any call to show them any particular attention?"
"I don't know if I quite understand—"
"Why, it's just this. Jeff, here, wants to make a picnic for them, or something, and I can't see the sense of it. You remember what happened at that other picnic, with that Mrs. Marven"—Jeff tapped the floor with his stick impatiently, and Westover felt sorry for him—"and I don't want it to happen again, and I've told Jeff so. I presume he thinks it 'll set him right with them, if they're thinkin' demeaning of him because he came over second-cabin on their ship."
Jeff set his teeth and compressed his lips to bear as best he could, the give-away which his mother could not appreciate in its importance to him:
"They're not the kind of people to take such a thing shabbily," said Westover. "They didn't happen to mention it, but Mrs. Vostrand must have got used to seeing young fellows in straits of all kinds during her life abroad. I know that I sometimes made the cup of tea and biscuit she used to give me in Florence do duty for a dinner, and I believe she knew it."
Jeff looked up at Westover with a grateful, sidelong glance.
His mother said: "Well, then, that's all right, and Jeff needn't do anything for them on that account. And I've made up my mind about one thing: whatever the hotel does has got to be done for the whole hotel. It can't pick and choose amongst the guests." Westover liked so little the part of old family friend which he seemed, whether he liked it or not, to bear with the Durgins, that he would gladly have got away now, but Mrs. Durgin detained him with a direct appeal. "Don't you think so, Mr. Westover?"
Jeff spared him the pain of a response. "Very well," he said to his mother; "I'm not the hotel, and you never want me to be. I can do this on my own account."
"Not with my coach and not with my hosses," said his mother.
Jeff rose. "I might as well go on down to Cambridge, and get to work on my conditions."
"Just as you please about that," said Mrs. Durgin, with the same impassioned quiet that showed in her son's handsome face and made it one angry red to his yellow hair. "We've got along without you so far, this summer, and I guess we can the rest of the time. And the sooner you work off your conditions the better, I presume."
The next morning Jeff came to take leave of him, where Westover had pitched his easel and camp-stool on the slope behind the hotel.
"Why, are you really going?" he asked. "I was in hopes it might have blown over."
"No, things don't blow over so easy with mother," said Jeff, with an embarrassed laugh, but no resentment. "She generally means what she says."
"Well, in this case, Jeff, I think she was right."
"Oh, I guess so," said Jeff, pulling up a long blade of grass and taking it between his teeth. "Anyway, it comes to the same thing as far as I'm concerned. It's for her to say what shall be done and what sha'n't be done in her own house, even if it is a hotel. That's what I shall do in mine. We're used to these little differences; but we talk it out, and that's the end of it. I shouldn't really go, though, if I didn't think I ought to get in some work on those conditions before the thing begins regularly. I should have liked to help here a little, for I've had a good time and I ought to be willing to pay for it. But she's in good hands. Jackson's well—for him—and she's got Cynthia."
The easy security of tone with which Jeff pronounced the name vexed Westover. "I suppose your mother would hardly know how to do without her, even if you were at home," he said, dryly.
"Well, that's a fact," Jeff assented, with a laugh for the hit. "And Jackson thinks the world of her. I believe he trusts her judgment more than he does mother's about the hotel. Well, I must be going. You don't know where Mrs. Vostrand is going to be this winter, I suppose?"
"No, I don't," said Westover. He could not help a sort of blind resentment in the situation. If he could not feel that Jeff was the best that could be for Cynthia, he had certainly no reason to regret that his thoughts could be so lightly turned from her. But the fact anomalously incensed him as a slight to the girl, who might have been still more sacrificed by Jeff's constancy. He forced himself to add: "I fancy Mrs. Vostrand doesn't know herself."
"I wish I didn't know where I was going to be," said Jeff. "Well, good- bye, Mr. Westover. I'll see you in Boston."
"Oh, good-bye." The painter freed himself from his brush and palette for a parting handshake, reluctantly.
Jeff plunged down the hill, waving a final adieu from the corner of the hotel before he vanished round it.
Mrs. Vostrand and her daughter were at breakfast when Westover came in after the early light had been gone some time. They entreated him to join them at their table, and the mother said: "I suppose you were up soon enough to see young Mr. Durgin off. Isn't it too bad he has to go back to college when it's so pleasant in the country?"
"Not bad for him," said Westover. "He's a young man who can stand a great deal of hard work." Partly because he was a little tired of Jeff, and partly because he was embarrassed in their presence by the reason of his going, he turned the talk upon the days they had known together.
Mrs. Vostrand was very willing to talk of her past, even apart from his, and she told him of her sojourn in Europe since her daughter had left school. They spent their winters in Italy and their summers in Switzerland, where it seemed her son was still at his studies in Lausanne. She wished him to go to Harvard, she said, and she supposed he would have to finish his preparation at one of the American schools; but she had left the choice entirely to Mr. Vostrand.
This seemed a strange event after twelve years' stay in Europe for the education of her children, but Westover did not feel authorized to make any comment upon it. He fell rather to thinking how very pleasant both mother and daughter were, and to wondering how much wisdom they had between them. He reflected that men had very little wisdom, as far as he knew them, and he questioned whether, after all, the main difference between men and women might not be that women talked their follies and men acted theirs. Probably Mrs. Vostrand, with all her babble, had done fewer foolish things than her husband, but here Westover felt his judgment disabled by the fact that he had never met her husband; and his mind began to wander to a question of her daughter, whom he had there before him. He found himself bent upon knowing more of the girl, and trying to eliminate her mother from the talk, or, at least, to make Genevieve lead in it. But apparently she was not one of the natures that like to lead; at any rate, she remained discreetly in abeyance, and Westover fancied she even respected her mother's opinions and ideas. He thought this very well for both of them, whether it was the effect of Mrs. Vostrand's merit or Miss Vostrand's training. They seemed both of one exquisite gentleness, and of one sweet manner, which was rather elaborate and formal in expression. They deferred to each other as politely as they deferred to him, but, if anything, the daughter deferred most.
The Vostrands did not stay long at Lion's Head. Before the week was out Mrs. Vostrand had a letter summoning them to meet her husband at Montreal, where that mysterious man, who never came into the range of Westover's vision, somehow, was kept by business from joining them in the mountains.
Early in October the painter received Mrs. Vostrand's card at his studio in Boston, and learned from the scribble which covered it that she was with her daughter at the Hotel Vendome. He went at once to see them there, and was met, almost before the greetings were past, with a prayer for his opinion.
"Favorable opinion?" he asked.
"Favorable? Oh yes; of course. It's simply this. When I sent you my card, we were merely birds of passage, and now I don't know but we are— What is the opposite of birds of passage?"
Westover could not think, and said so.
"Well, it doesn't matter. We were walking down the street, here, this morning, and we saw the sign of an apartment to let, in a window, and we thought, just for amusement, we would go in and look at it."
"And you took it?"
"No, not quite so rapid as that. But it was lovely; in such a pretty 'hotel garni', and so exquisitely furnished! We didn't really think of staying in Boston; we'd quite made up our minds on New York; but this apartment is a temptation."
"Why not yield, then?" said Westover. "That's the easiest way with a temptation. Confess, now, that you've taken the apartment already!"
"No, no, I haven't yet," said Mrs. Vostrand.
"And if I advised not, you wouldn't?"
"Ah, that's another thing!"
"When are you going to take possession, Mrs. Vostrand?"
"Oh, at once, I suppose—if we do!"
"And may I come in when I'm hungry, just as I used to do in Florence, and will you stay me with flagons in the old way?"
"There never was anything but tea, you know well enough."
"The tea had rum in it."
"Well, perhaps it will have rum in it here, if you're very good."
"I will try my best, on condition that you'll make any and every possible use of me. Mrs. Vostrand, I can't tell you how very glad I am you're going to stay," said the painter, with a fervor that made her impulsively put out her hand to him. He kept it while he could add, "I don't forget —I can never forget—how good you were to me in those days," and at that she gave his hand a quick pressure. "If I can do anything at all for you, you will let me, won't you. I'm afraid you'll be so well provided for that there won't be anything. Ask them to slight you, to misuse you in something, so that I can come to your rescue."
"Yes, I will," Mrs. Vostrand promised. "And may we come to your studio to implore your protection?"
"The sooner the better." Westover got himself away with a very sweet friendship in his heart for this rather anomalous lady, who, more than half her daughter's life, had lived away from her daughter's father, upon apparently perfectly good terms with him, and so discreetly and self-respectfully that no breath of reproach had touched her. Until now, however, her position had not really concerned Westover, and it would not have concerned him now, if it had not been for a design that formed itself in his mind as soon as he knew that Mrs. Vostrand meant to pass the winter in Boston. He felt at once that he could not do things by halves for a woman who had once done them for him by wholes and something over, and he had instantly decided that he must not only be very pleasant to her himself, but he must get his friends to be pleasant, too. His friends were some of the nicest people in Boston; nice in both the personal and the social sense; he knew they would not hesitate to sacrifice themselves for him in a good cause, and that made him all the more anxious that the cause should be good beyond question.
Since his last return from Paris he had been rather a fad as a teacher, and his class had been kept quite strictly to the ladies who got it up and to such as they chose to let enter it. These were not all chosen for wealth or family; there were some whose gifts gave the class distinction, and the ladies were glad to have them. It would be easy to explain Mrs. Vostrand to these, but the others might be more difficult; they might have their anxieties, and Westover meant to ask the leader of the class to help him receive at the studio tea he had at once imagined for the Vostrands, and that would make her doubly responsible.
He found himself drawing a very deep and long breath before he began to mount the many stairs to his studio, and wishing either that Mrs. Vostrand had not decided to spend the winter in Boston, or else that he were of a slacker conscience and could wear his gratitude more lightly. But there was some relief in thinking that he could do nothing for a month yet. He gained a degree of courage by telling the ladies, when he went to find them in their new apartment, that he should want them to meet a few of his friends at tea as soon as people began to get back to town; and he made the most of their instant joy in accepting his invitation.
His pleasure was somehow dashed a little, before he left them, by the announcement of Jeff Durgin's name.
"I felt bound to send him my card," said Mrs. Vostrand, while Jeff was following his up in the elevator. "He was so very kind to us the day we arrived at Zion's Head; and I didn't know but he might be feeling a little sensitive about coming over second-cabin in our ship; and—"
"How like you, Mrs. Vostrand !" cried Westover, and he was now distinctly glad he had not tried to sneak out of doing something for her. "Your kindness won't be worse wasted on Durgin than it was on me, in the old days, when I supposed I had taken a second-cabin passage for the voyage of life. There's a great deal of good in him; I don't mean to say he got through his Freshman year without trouble with the college authorities, but the Sophomore year generally brings wisdom."
"Oh," said Mrs. Vostrand, "they're always a little wild at first, I suppose."
Later, the ladies brought Jeff with them when they came to Westover's studio, and the painter perceived that they were very good friends, as if they must have met several times since he had seen them together. He interested himself in the growing correctness of Jeff's personal effect. During his Freshman year, while the rigor of the unwritten Harvard law yet forbade him a silk hat or a cane, he had kept something of the boy, if not the country boy. Westover had noted that he had always rather a taste for clothes, but in this first year he did not get beyond a derby-hat and a sack-coat, varied toward the end by a cutaway. In the outing dress he wore at home he was always effective, but there was something in Jeff's figure which did not lend itself to more formal fashion; something of herculean proportion which would have marked him of a classic beauty perhaps if he had not been in clothes at all, or of a yeomanly vigor and force if he had been clad for work, but which seemed to threaten the more worldly conceptions of the tailor with danger. It was as if he were about to burst out of his clothes, not because he wore them tight, but because there was somehow more of the man than the citizen in him; something native, primitive, something that Westover could not find quite a word for, characterized him physically and spiritually. When he came into the studio after these delicate ladies, the robust Jeff Durgin wore a long frockcoat, with a flower in his button-hole, and in his left hand he carried a silk hat turned over his forearm as he must have noticed people whom he thought stylish carrying their hats. He had on dark-gray trousers and sharp-pointed enamelled- leather shoes; and Westover grotesquely reflected that he was dressed, as he stood, to lead Genevieve Vostrand to the altar.
Westover saw at once that when he made his studio tea for the Vostrands he must ask Jeff; it would be cruel, and for several reasons impossible, not to do so, and he really did not see why he should not. Mrs. Vostrand was taking him on the right ground, as a Harvard student, and nobody need take him on any other. Possibly people would ask him to teas at their own houses, from Westover's studio, but he could not feel that he was concerned in that. Society is interested in a man's future, not his past, as it is interested in a woman's past, not her future.
But when he gave his tea it went off wonderfully well in every way, perhaps because it was one of the first teas of the fall. It brought people together in their autumnal freshness before the winter had begun to wither their resolutions to be amiable to one another, to dull their wits, to stale their stories, or to give so wide a currency to their sayings that they could not freely risk them with every one.
Westover had thought it best to be frank with the leading lady of his class, when she said she should be delighted to receive for him, and would provide suitable young ladies to pour: a brunette for the tea, and a blonde for the chocolate. She took his scrupulosity very lightly when he spoke of Mrs. Vostrand's educational sojourn in Europe; she laughed and said she knew the type, and the situation was one of the most obvious phases of the American marriage.
He protested in vain that Mrs. Vostrand was not the type; she laughed again, and said, Oh, types were never typical. But she was hospitably gracious both to her and to Miss Genevieve; she would not allow that the mother was not the type when Westover challenged her experience, but she said they were charming, and made haste to get rid of the question with the vivid demand: "But who was your young friend who ought to have worn a lion-skin and carried a club?"
Westover by this time disdained palliation. He said that Jeff was the son of the landlady at Lion's Head Mountain, which he had painted so much, and he was now in his second year at Harvard, where he was going to make a lawyer of himself; and this interested the lady. She asked if he had talent, and a number of other things about him and about his mother; and Westover permitted himself to be rather graphic in telling of his acquaintance with Mrs. Durgin.
After all, it was rather a simple-hearted thing of Westover to have either hoped or feared very much for the Vostrands. Society, in the sense of good society, can always take care of itself, and does so perfectly. In the case of Mrs. Vostrand some ladies who liked Westover and wished to be civil to him asked her and her daughter to other afternoon teas, shook hands with them at their coming, and said, when they went, they were sorry they must be going so soon. In the crowds people recognized them now and then, both of those who had met them at Westover's studio, and of those who had met them at Florence and Lausanne. But if these were merely people of fashion they were readily, rid of the Vostrands, whom the dullest among them quickly perceived not to be of their own sort, somehow. Many of the ladies of Westover's class made Genevieve promise to let them paint her; and her beauty and her grace availed for several large dances at the houses of more daring spirits, where the daughters made a duty of getting partners for her, and discharged it conscientiously. But there never was an approach to more intimate hospitalities, and toward the end of February, when good society in Boston goes southward to indulge a Lenten grief at Old Point Comfort, Genevieve had so many vacant afternoons and evenings at her disposal that she could not have truthfully pleaded a previous engagement to the invitations Jeff Durgin made her. They were chiefly for the theatre, and Westover saw him with her and her mother at different plays; he wondered how Jeff had caught on to the notion of asking Mrs. Vostrand to come with them.
Jeff's introductions at Westover's tea had not been many, and they had not availed him at all. He had been asked to no Boston houses, and when other students, whom he knew, were going in to dances, the whole winter he was socially as quiet, but for the Vostrands, as at the Mid-year Examinations. Westover could not resent the neglect of society in his case, and he could not find that he quite regretted it; but he thought it characteristically nice of Mrs. Vostrand to make as much of the friendless fellow as she fitly could. He had no doubt but her tact would be equal to his management in every way, and that she could easily see to it that he did not become embarrassing to her daughter or herself.
One day, after the east wind had ceased to blow the breath of the ice- fields of Labrador against the New England coast, and the buds on the trees along the mall between the lawns of the avenue were venturing forth in a hardy experiment of the Boston May, Mrs. Vostrand asked Westover if she had told him that Mr. Vostrand was actually coming on to Boston. He rejoiced with her in this prospect, and he reciprocated the wish which she said Mr. Vostrand had always had for a meeting with himself.
A fortnight later, when the leaves had so far inured themselves to the weather as to have fully expanded, she announced another letter from Mr. Vostrand, saying that, after all, he should not be able to come to Boston, but hoped to be in New York before she sailed.
"Sailed!" cried Westover.
"Why, yes! Didn't you know we were going to sail in June? I thought I had told you!"
"Why, yes. We must go out to poor Checco, now; Mr. Vostrand insists upon that. If ever we are a united family again, Mr. Westover—if Mr. Vostrand can arrange his business, when Checco is ready to enter Harvard —I mean to take a house in Boston. I'm sure I should be contented to live nowhere else in America. The place has quite bewitched me—dear old, sober, charming Boston! I'm sure I should like to live here all the rest of my life. But why in the world do people go out of town so early? Those houses over there have been shut for a whole month past!"
They were sitting at Mrs. Vostrand's window looking out on the avenue, where the pale globular electrics were swimming like jelly-fish in the clear evening air, and above the ranks of low trees the houses on the other side were close-shuttered from basement to attic.
Westover answered: "Some go because they have such pleasant houses at the shore, and some because they want to dodge their taxes."
"To dodge their taxes?" she repeated, and he had to explain how if people were in their country-houses before the 1st of May they would not have to pay the high personal tax of the city; and she said that she would write that to Mr. Vostrand; it would be another point in favor of Boston. Women, she declared, would never have thought of such a thing; she denounced them as culpably ignorant of so many matters that concerned them, especially legal matters. "And you think," she asked, "that Mr. Durgin will be a good lawyer? That he will-distinguish himself?"
Westover thought it rather a short-cut to Jeff from the things they had been talking of, but if she wished to speak of him he had no reason to oppose her wish. "I've heard it's all changed a good deal. There are still distinguished lawyers, and lawyers who get on, but they don't distinguish themselves in the old way so much, and they get on best by becoming counsel for some powerful corporation."
"And you think he has talent?" she pursued. "For that, I mean."
"Oh, I don't know," said Westover. "I think he has a good head. He can do what he likes within certain limits, and the limits are not all on the side I used to fancy. He baffles me. But of late I fancy you've seen rather more of him than I have."
"I have urged him to go more to you. But," said Mrs. Vostrand, with a burst of frankness, "he thinks you don't like him."
"He's wrong," said Westover. "But I might dislike him very much."
"I see what you mean," said Mrs. Vostrand, "and I'm glad you've been so frank with me. I've been so interested in Mr. Durgin, so interested! Isn't he very young?"
The question seemed a bit of indirection to Westover. But he answered directly enough. "He's rather old for a Sophomore, I believe. He's twenty-two."
"And Genevieve is twenty. Mr. Westover, may I trust you with something?"
"With everything, I hope, Mrs. Vostrand."
"It's about Genevieve. Her father is so opposed to her making a foreign marriage. It seems to be his one great dread. And, of course, she's very much exposed to it, living abroad so much with me, and I feel doubly bound on that account to respect her father's opinions, or even prejudices. Before we left Florence—in fact, last winter—there was a most delightful young officer wished to marry her. I don't know that she cared anything for him, though he was everything that I could have wished: handsome, brilliant, accomplished, good family; everything but rich, and that was what Mr. Vostrand objected to; or, rather, he objected to putting up, as he called it, the sum that Captain Grassi would have had to deposit with the government before he was allowed to marry. You know how it is with the poor fellows in the army, there; I don't understand the process exactly, but the sum is something like sixty thousand francs, I believe; and poor Gigi hadn't it: I always called him Gigi, but his name is Count Luigi de' Popolani Grassi; and he is descended from one of the old republican families of Florence. He is so nice! Mr. Vostrand was opposed to him from the beginning, and as soon as he heard of the sixty thousand francs, he utterly refused. He called it buying a son-in-law, but I don't see why he need have looked at it in that light. However, it was broken off, and we left Florence—more for poor Gigi's sake than for Genevieve's, I must say. He was quite heart- broken; I pitied him."
Her voice had a tender fall in the closing words, and Westover could fancy how sweet she would make her compassion to the young man. She began several sentences aimlessly, and he suggested, to supply the broken thread of her discourse rather than to offer consolation, while her eyes seemed to wander with her mind, and ranged the avenue up and down: "Those foreign marriages are not always successful."
"No, they are not," she assented. "But don't you think they're better with Italians than with Germans, for instance."
"I don't suppose the Italians expect their wives to black their boots, but I've heard that they beat them, sometimes."
"In exaggerated cases, perhaps they do," Mrs. Vostrand admitted. "And, of course," she added, thoughtfully, "there is nothing like a purely American marriage for happiness."
Westover wondered how she really regarded her own marriage, but she never betrayed any consciousness of its variance from the type.
A young couple came strolling down the avenue who to Westover's artistic eye first typified grace and strength, and then to his more personal perception identified themselves as Genevieve Vostrand and Jeff Durgin.
They faltered before one of the benches beside the mall, and he seemed to be begging her to sit down. She cast her eyes round till they must have caught the window of her mother's apartment; then, as if she felt safe under it, she sank into the seat and Jeff put himself beside her. It was quite too early yet for the simple lovers who publicly notify their happiness by the embraces and hand-clasps everywhere evident in our parks and gardens; and a Boston pair of social tradition would not have dreamed of sitting on a bench in Commonwealth Avenue at any hour. But two such aliens as Jeff and Miss Vostrand might very well do so; and Westover sympathized with their bohemian impulse.
Mrs. Vostrand and he watched them awhile, in talk that straggled away from them, and became more and more distraught in view of them. Jeff leaned forward, and drew on the ground with the point of his stick; Genevieve held her head motionless at a pensive droop. It was only their backs that Westover could see, and he could not, of course, make out a syllable of what was effectively their silence; but all the same he began to feel as if he were peeping and eavesdropping. Mrs. Vostrand seemed not to share his feeling, and there was no reason why he should have it if she had not. He offered to go, but she said, No, no; he must not think of it till Genevieve came in; and she added some banalities about her always scolding when she had missed one of his calls; they would be so few, now, at the most.
"Why, do you intend to go so soon?" he asked.
She did not seem to hear him, and he could see that she was watching the young people intently. Jeff had turned his face up toward Genevieve, without lifting his person, and was saying something she suddenly shrank back from. She made a start as if to rise, but he put out his hand in front of her, beseechingly or compellingly, and she sank down again. But she slowly shook her head at what he was saying, and turned her face toward him so that it gave her profile to the spectators. In that light and at that distance it was impossible to do more than fancy anything fateful in the words which she seemed to be uttering; but Westover chose to fancy this. Jeff waited a moment in apparent silence, after she had spoken. He sat erect and faced her, and this gave his profile, too. He must have spoken, for she shook her head again; and then, at other words from him, nodded assentingly. Then she listened motionlessly while he poured a rapid stream of visible but inaudible words. He put out his hand, as if to take hers, but she put it behind her; Westover could see it white there against the belt of her dark dress.
Jeff went on more vehemently, but she remained steadfast, slowly shaking her head. When he ended she spoke, and with something of his own energy; he made a gesture of submission, and when she rose he rose, too. She stood a moment, and with a gentle and almost entreating movement she put out her hand to him. He stood looking down, with both his hands resting on the top of his stick, as if ignoring her proffer. Then he suddenly caught her hand, held it a moment; dropped it, and walked quickly away without looking back. Genevieve ran across the lawn and roadway toward the house.
"Oh, must, you go?" Mrs. Vostrand said to Westover. He found that he had probably risen in sympathy with Jeff's action. He was not aware of an intention of going, but he thought he had better not correct Mrs. Vostrand's error.
"Yes, I really must, now," he said.
"Well, then," she returned, distractedly, "do come often."
He hurried out to avoid meeting Genevieve. He passed her, on the public stairs of the house, but he saw that she did not recognize him in the dim light.
Late that night he was startled by steps that seemed to be seeking their way up the stairs to his landing, and then by a heavy knock on his door. He opened it, and confronted Jeff Durgin.
"May I come in, Mr. Westover?" he asked, with unwonted deference.
"Yes, come in," said Westover, with no great relish, setting his door open, and then holding onto it a moment, as if he hoped that, having come in, Jeff might instantly go out again.
His reluctance was lost upon Jeff, who said, unconscious of keeping his hat on: "I want to talk with you—I want to tell you something—"
"All right. Won't you sit down?"
At this invitation Jeff seemed reminded to take his hat off, and he put it on the floor beside his chair. "I'm not in a scrape, this time—or, rather, I'm in the worst kind of a scrape, though it isn't the kind that you want bail for."
"Yes," Westover prompted.
"I don't know whether you've noticed—and if you haven't it don't make any difference—that I've seemed to—care a good deal for Miss Vostrand?"
Westover saw no reason why he should not be frank, and said: "Too much, I've fancied sometimes, for a student in his Sophomore year."
"Yes, I know that. Well, it's over, whether it was too much or too little." He laughed in a joyless, helpless way, and looked deprecatingly at Westover. "I guess I've been making a fool of myself—that's all."
"It's better to make a fool of one's self than to make a fool of some one else," said Westover, oracularly.
"Yes," said Jeff, apparently finding nothing more definite in the oracle than people commonly find in oracles. "But I think," he went on, with a touch of bitterness, "that her mother might have told me that she was engaged—or the same as engaged."
"I don't know that she was bound to take you seriously, or to suppose you took yourself so, at your age and with your prospects in life. If you want to know"—Westover faltered, and then went on—"she began to be kind to you because she was afraid that you might think she didn't take your coming home second-cabin in the right way; and one thing led to another. You mustn't blame her for what's happened."
Westover defended Mrs. Vostrand, but he did not feel strong in her defence; he was not sure that Durgin was quite wrong, absurd as he had been. He sat down and looked up at his visitor under his brows.
"What are you here for, Jeff? Not to complain of Mrs. Vostrand?"
Jeff gave a short, shamefaced laugh. "No, it's this you're such an old friend of Mrs. Vostrand's that I thought she'd be pretty sure to tell you about it; and I wanted to ask—to ask—that you wouldn't say anything to mother."
"You are a boy! I shouldn't think of meddling with your affairs," said Westover; he got up again, and Jeff rose, too.
Before noon the next day a district messenger brought Westover a letter which he easily knew, from, the now belated tall, angular hand, to be from Mrs. Vostrand. It announced on a much criss-crossed little sheet that she and Genevieve were inconsolably taking a very sudden departure, and were going on the twelve-o'clock train to New York, where Mr. Vostrand was to meet them. "In regard to that affair which I mentioned last night, he withdraws his objections (we have had an overnight telegram), and so I suppose all will go well. I cannot tell you how sorry we both are not to see you again; you have been such a dear, good friend to us; and if you don't hear from us again at New York, you will from the other side. Genevieve had some very strange news when she came in, and we both feel very sorry for the poor young fellow. You must console him from us all you can. I did not know before how much she was attached to Gigi: but it turned out very fortunately that she could say she considered herself bound to him, and did everything to save Mr. D.'s feelings."
Westover was not at Lion's Head again till the summer before Jeff's graduation. In the mean time the hotel had grown like a living thing. He could not have imagined wings in connection with the main edifice, but it had put forth wings—one that sheltered a new and enlarged dining- room, with two stories of chambers above, and another that hovered a parlor and ball-room under a like provision of chambers. An ell had been pushed back on the level behind the house; the barn had been moved farther to the southward, and on its old site a laundry built, with quarters for the help over it. All had been carefully, frugally, yet sufficiently done, and Westover was not surprised to learn that it was all the effect of Jackson Durgin's ingenuity and energy. Mrs. Durgin confessed to having no part in it; but she had kept pace, with Cynthia Whitwell's help, in the housekeeping. As Jackson had cautiously felt his way to the needs of their public in the enlargement and rearrangement of the hotel, the two housewives had watchfully studied, not merely the demands, but the half-conscious instincts of their guests, and had responded to them simply and adequately, in the spirit of Jackson's exterior and structural improvements. The walls of the new rooms were left unpapered and their floors uncarpeted; there were thin rugs put down; the wood-work was merely stained. Westover found that he need not to ask especially for some hot dish at night; there was almost the abundance of a dinner, though dinner was still at one o'clock.
Mrs. Durgin asked him the first day if he would not like to go into the serving-room and see it while they were serving dinner. She tried to conceal her pride in the busy scene—the waitresses pushing in through one valve of the double-hinged doors with their empty trays, and out through the other with the trays full laden; delivering their dishes with the broken victual at the wicket, where the untouched portions were put aside and the rest poured into the waste; following in procession along the reeking steamtable, with its great tanks of soup and vegetables, where, the carvers stood with the joints and the trussed fowls smoking before them, which they sliced with quick sweeps of their blades, or waiting their turn at the board where the little plates with portions of fruit and dessert stood ready. All went regularly on amid a clatter of knives and voices and dishes; and the clashing rise and fall of the wire baskets plunging the soiled crockery into misty depths, whence it came up clean and dry without the touch of finger or towel. Westover could not deny that there were elements of the picturesque in it, so that he did not respond quite in kind to Jeff's suggestion—"Scene for a painter, Mr. Westover."