The young fellow followed satirically at his mother's elbow, and made a mock of her pride in it, trying to catch Westover's eye when she led him through the kitchen with its immense range, and introduced him to a new chef, who wiped his hand on his white apron to offer it to Westover.
"Don't let him get away without seeing the laundry, mother," her son jeered at a final air of absent-mindedness in her, and she defiantly accepted his challenge.
"Jeff's mad because he wasn't consulted," she explained, "and because we don't run the house like his one-horse European hotels."
"Oh, I'm not in it at all, Mr. Westover," said the young fellow. "I'm as much a passenger as you are. The only difference is that I'm allowed to work my passage."
"Well, one thing," said his mother, "is that we've got a higher class of boarders than we ever had before. You'll see, Mr. Westover, if you stay on here till August. There's a class that boards all the year round, and that knows what a hotel is—about as well as Jeff, I guess. You'll find 'em at the big city houses, the first of the winter, and then they go down to Floridy or Georgy for February and March; and they get up to Fortress Monroe in April, and work along north about the middle of May to them family hotels in the suburbs around Boston; and they stay there till it's time to go to the shore. They stay at the shore through July, and then they come here in August, and stay till the leaves turn. They're folks that live on their money, and they're the very highest class, I guess. It's a round of gayety with 'em the whole year through."
Jeff, from the vantage of his greater worldly experience, was trying to exchange looks of intelligence with Westover concerning those hotel- dwellers whom his mother revered as aristocrats; but he did not openly question her conceptions. "They've told me how they do, some of the ladies have," she went on. "They've got the money for it, and they know how to get the most for their money. Why, Mr. Westover, we've got rooms in this house, now, that we let for thirty-five to fifty dollars a week for two persons, and folks like that take 'em right along through August and September, and want a room apiece. It's different now, I can tell you, from what it was when folks thought we was killin' 'em if we wanted ten or twelve dollars."
Westover had finished his dinner before this tour of the house began, and when it was over the two men strolled away together.
"You see, it's on the regular American lines," Jeff pursued, after parting with his mother. "Jackson's done it, and he can't imagine anything else. I don't say it isn't well done in its way, but the way's wrong; it's stupid and clumsy." When they were got so far from the hotel as to command a prospect of its ungainly mass sprawled upon the plateau, his smouldering disgust burst out: "Look at it! Did you ever see anything like it? I wish the damned thing would burn up—or down!"
Westover was aware in more ways than one of Jeff's exclusion from authority in the place, where he was constantly set aside from the management as if his future were so definitely dedicated to another calling that not even his advice was desired or permitted; and he could not help sympathizing a little with him when he chafed at his rejection. He saw a great deal of him, and he thought him quite up to the average of Harvard's Seniors in some essentials. He had been sobered, apparently, by experience; his unfortunate love-affair seemed to have improved him, as the phrase is.
They had some long walks and long talks together, and in one of them Jeff opened his mind, if not his heart, to the painter. He wanted to be the Landlord of the Lion's Head, which he believed he could make the best hotel in the mountains. He knew, of course, that he could not hope to make any changes that did not suit his mother and his brother, as long as they had the control, but he thought they would let him have the control sooner if his mother could only be got to give up the notion of his being a lawyer. As nearly as he could guess, she wanted him to be a lawyer because she did not want him to be a hotel-keeper, and her prejudice against that was because she believed that selling liquor made her father a drunkard.
"Well, now you know enough about me, Mr. Westover, to know that drink isn't my danger."
"Yes, I think I do," said Westover.
"I went a little wild in my Freshman year, and I got into that scrape, but I've never been the worse for liquor since; fact is, I never touch it now. There isn't any more reason why I should take to drink because I keep a hotel than Jackson; but just that one time has set mother against it, and I can't seem to make her understand that once is enough for me. Why, I should keep a temperance house, here, of course; you can't do anything else in these days. If I was left to choose between hotel- keeping and any other life that I know of, I'd choose it every time," Jeff went on, after a moment of silence. "I like a hotel. You can be your own man from the start; the start's made here, and I've helped to make it. All you've got to do is to have common-sense in the hotel business, and you're sure to succeed. I believe I've got common-sense, and I believe I've got some ideas that I can work up into a great success. The reason that most people fail in the hotel business is that they waste so much, and the landlord that wastes on his guests can't treat them well. It's got so now that in the big city houses they can't make anything on feeding people, and so they try to make it up on the rooms. I should feed them well—I believe I know how—and I should make money on my table, as they do in Europe.
"I've thought a good many things out; my mind runs on it all the time; but I'm not going to bore you with it now."
"Oh, not at all," said Westover. "I'd like to know what your ideas are."
Well, some time I'll tell you. But look here, Mr. Westover, I wish if mother gets to talking about me with you that you'd let her know how I feel. We can't talk together, she and I, without quarrelling about it; but I guess you could put in a word that would show her I wasn't quite a fool. She thinks I've gone crazy from seeing the way they do things in Europe; that I'm conceited and unpatriotic, and I don't know what all." Jeff laughed as if with an inner fondness for his mother's wrong- headedness.
"And would you be willing to settle down here in the country for the rest of your life, and throw away your Harvard training on hotel-keeping?"
"What do the other fellows do with their Harvard training when they go into business, as nine-tenths of them do? Business is business, whether you keep a hotel or import dry-goods or manufacture cotton or run a railroad or help a big trust to cheat legally. Harvard has got to take a back seat when you get out of Harvard. But you don't suppose that keeping a summer hotel would mean living in the country the whole time, do you? That's the way mother does, but I shouldn't. It isn't good for the hotel, even. If I had such a place as Lion's Head, I should put a man and his family into it for the winter to look after it, and I should go to town myself—to Boston or New York, or I might go to London or Paris. They're not so far off, and it's so easy to get to them that you can hardly keep away." Jeff laughed, and looked up at Westover from the log where he sat, whittling a pine stick; Westover sat on the stump from which the log had been felled eight or ten years before.
"You are modern," he said.
"That's what I should do at first. But I don't believe I should have Lion's Head very long before I had another hotel—in Florida, or the Georgia uplands, or North Carolina, somewhere. I should take my help back and forth; it would be as easy to run two hotels as one-easier! It would keep my hand in. But if you want to know, I'd rather stick here in the country, year in and year out, and run Lion's Head, than to be a lawyer and hang round trying to get a case for nine or ten years. Who's going to support me? Do you suppose I want to live on mother till I'm forty? She don't think of that. She thinks I can go right into court and begin distinguishing myself, if I can fight the people off from sending me to Congress. I'd rather live in the country, anyway. I think town's the place for winter, or two-three months of it, and after that I haven't got any use for it. But mother, she's got this old-fashioned ambition to have me go to a city and set up there. She thinks that if I was a lawyer in Boston I should be at the top of the heap. But I know better than that, and so do you; and I want you to give her some little hint of how it really is: how it takes family and money and a lot of influence to get to the top in any city."
It occurred to Westover, and not for the first time, that the frankest thing in Jeff Durgin was his disposition to use his friends. It seemed to him that Jeff was always asking something of him, and it did not change the fact that in this case he thought him altogether in the right. He said that if Mrs. Durgin spoke to him of the matter he would not keep the light from her. He looked behind him, now, for the first time, in recognition of the place where they had stopped. "Why, this is Whitwell's Clearing."
"Didn't you know it?" Jeff asked. "It changes a good deal every year, and you haven't been here for awhile, have you?"
"Not since Mrs. Marven's picnic," said Westover, and he added, quickly, to efface the painful association which he must have called up by his heedless words:
"The woods have crowded back upon it so. It can't be more than half its old size."
"No," Jeff assented. He struck his heel against a fragment of the pine bough he had been whittling, and drove it into the soft ground beside the log, and said, without looking up from it: "I met that woman at a dance last winter. It wasn't her dance, but she was running it as if it were, just the way she did with the picnic. She seemed to want to let bygones be bygones, and I danced with her daughter. She's a nice girl. I thought mother did wrong about that." Now he looked at Westover. "She couldn't help it, but it wasn't the thing to do. A hotel is a public house, and you can't act as if it wasn't. If mother hadn't known how to keep a hotel so well in other ways, she might have ruined the house by not knowing in a thing like that. But we've got some of the people with us this year that used to come here when we first took farm- boarders; mother don't know that they're ever so much nicer, socially, than the people that take the fifty-dollar rooms." He laughed, and then he said, seriously: "If I ever had a son, I don't believe I should let my pride in him risk doing him mischief. And if you've a mind to let her understand that you believe I'm set against the law for good and all—"
"I guess I shall not be your ambassador, so far as that. Why don't you tell her yourself?"
"She won't believe me," said Jeff, with a laugh. "She thinks I don't know my mind. And I don't like the way we differ when we differ. We differ more than we mean to. I don't pretend to say I'm always right. She was right about that other picnic—the one I wanted to make for Mrs. Vostrand. I suppose," he ended, unexpectedly, "that you hear from them, now and then?"
"No, I don't. I haven't heard from them for a year; not since—You knew Genevieve was married?"
"Yes, I knew that," said Jeff, steadily.
"I don't quite make it all out. Mr. Vostrand was very much opposed to it, Mrs. Vostrand told me; but he must have given way at last; and he must have put up the money." Jeff looked puzzled, and Westover explained. "You know the officers in the Italian army—and all the other armies in Europe, for that matter—have to deposit a certain sum with the government before they can marry and in the case of Count Grassi, Mr. Vostrand had to furnish the money."
Jeff said, after a moment: "Well, she couldn't help that."
"No, the girl wasn't to blame. I don't know that any one was to blame. But I'm afraid our girls wouldn't marry many titles if their fathers didn't put up the money."
"Well, I don't see why they shouldn't spend their money that way as well as any other," said Jeff, and this proof of his impartiality suggested to Westover that he was not only indifferent to the mercenary international marriages, which are a scandal to so many of our casuists, but had quite outlived his passion for the girl concerned in this.
"At any rate," Jeff added, "I haven't got anything to say against it. Mr. Westover, I've always wanted to say one thing to you. Then I came to your room that night, I wanted to complain of Mrs. Vostrand for not letting me know about the engagement; and I wasn't man enough to acknowledge that what you said would account for their letting me make a fool of myself. But I believe I am now, and I want to say it."
"I'm glad you can see it in that way," said Westover, "and since you do, I don't mind saying that I think Mrs. Vostrand might have been a little franker with you without being less kind. She was kind, but she wasn't quite frank."
"Well, it's all over now," said Jeff, and he rose up and brushed the whittlings from his knees. "And I guess it's just as well."
That afternoon Westover saw Jeff helping Cynthia Whitwell into his buckboard, and then, after his lively horse had made some paces of a start, spring to the seat beside her, and bring it to a stand. "Can I do anything for you over at Lovewell, Mr. Westover?" he called, and he smiled toward the painter. Then he lightened the reins on the mare's back; she squared herself for a start in earnest, and flashed down the sloping hotel road to the highway below, and was lost to sight in the clump of woods to the southward.
"That's a good friend of yours, Cynthy," he said, leaning toward the girl with a simple comfort in her proximity. She was dressed in a pale-pink color, with a hat of yet paler pink; without having a great deal of fashion, she had a good deal of style. She looked bright and fresh; there was a dash of pink in her cheeks, which suggested the color of the sweetbrier, its purity and sweetness, and if there was something in Cynthia's character and temperament that suggested its thorns too, one still could not deny that she was like that flower. She liked to shop, and she liked to ride after a good horse, as the neighbors would have said; she was going over to Lovewell to buy a number of things, and Jeff Durgin was driving her there with the swift mare that was his peculiar property. She smiled upon him without the usual reservations she contrived to express in her smiles.
"Well, I don't know anybody I'd rather have for my friend than Mr. Westover." She added: "He acted like a friend the very first time I saw him."
Jeff laughed with shameless pleasure in the reminiscence her words suggested. "Well, I did get my come-uppings that time. And I don't know but he's been a pretty good friend to me, too. I'm not sure he likes me; but Mr. Westover is a man that could be your friend if he didn't like you."
"What have you done to make him like you?" asked the girl.
"Nothing!" said Jeff, with a shout of laughter in his conviction. "I've done a lot of things to make him despise me from the start. But if you like a person yourself, you want him to like you whether you deserve it or not."
"I don't know as I do."
"You say that because you always deserve it. You can't tell how it is with a fellow like me. I should want you to like me, Cynthy, whatever you thought of me." He looked round into her face, but she turned it away.
They had struck the level, long for the hill country, at the foot of the hotel road, and the mare, that found herself neither mounting nor descending a steep, dropped from the trot proper for an acclivity into a rapid walk.
"This mare can walk like a Kentucky horse," said Jeff. "I believe I could teach her single-foot." He added, with a laugh, "If I knew how," and now Cynthia laughed with him.
"I was just going to say that."
"Yes, you don't lose many chances to give me a dig, do you?"
"Oh, I don't know as I look for them. Perhaps I don't need to." The pine woods were deep on either side. They whispered in the thin, sweet wind, and gave out their odor in the high, westering sun. They covered with their shadows the road that ran velvety between them.
"This is nice," said Jeff, letting himself rest against the back of the seat. He stretched his left arm along the top, and presently it dropped and folded itself about the waist of the girl.
"You may take your arm away, Jeff," she said, quietly.
"Because it has no right there, for one thing!" She drew herself a little aside and looked round at him. "You wouldn't put it round a town girl if you were riding with her."
"I shouldn't be riding with her: Girls don't go buggy-riding in town any more," said Jeff, brutally.
"Then I shall know what to do the next time you ask me."
"Oh, they'd go quick enough if I asked them up here in the country. Etiquette don't count with them when they're on a vacation."
"I'm not on a vacation; so it counts with me. Please take your arm away," said Cynthia.
"Oh, all right. But I shouldn't object to your putting your arm around me."
"You will never have the chance."
"Why are you so hard on me, Cynthy ?" asked Jeff. "You didn't used to be so."
"Not for the better."
Jeff was dumb. She was pleased with her hit, and laughed. But her laugh did not encourage him to put his arm round her again. He let the mare walk on, and left her to resume the conversation at whatever point she would.
She made no haste to resume it. At last she said, with sufficient apparent remoteness from the subject they had dropped: "Jeff, I don't know whether you want me to talk about it. But I guess I ought to, even if it isn't my place exactly. I don't think Jackson's very well, this summer."
Jeff faced round toward her. "What makes you think he isn't well?"
"He's weaker. Haven't you noticed it?"
"Yes, I have noticed that. He's worked down; that's all."
"No, that isn't all. But if you don't think so—"
"I want to know what you think, Cynthy," said Jeff, with the amorous resentment all gone from his voice. "Sometimes folks outside notice the signs more—I don't mean that you're an outsider, as far as we're concerned—"
She put by that point. "Father's noticed it, too; and he's with Jackson a good deal."
"I'll look after it. If he isn't so well, he's got to have a doctor. That medium's stuff can't do him any good. Don't you think he ought to have a doctor?"
"You don't think a doctor can do him much good?"
"He ought to have one," said the girl, noncommittally.
"Cynthia, I've noticed that Jackson was weak, too; and it's no use pretending that he's simply worked down. I believe he's worn out. Do you think mother's ever noticed it?"
"I don't believe she has."
"It's the one thing I can't very well make up my mind to speak to her about. I don't know what she would do." He did not say, "If she lost Jackson," but Cynthia knew he meant that, and they were both silent. "Of course," he went on, "I know that she places a great deal of dependence upon you, but Jackson's her main stay. He's a good man, and he's a good son. I wish I'd always been half as good."
Cynthia did not protest against his self-reproach as he possibly hoped she would. She said: "I think Jackson's got a very good mind. He reads a great deal, and he's thought a great deal, and when it comes to talking, I never heard any one express themselves better. The other night, we were out looking at the stars—I came part of the way home with him; I didn't like to let him go alone, he seemed so feeble and he got to showing me Mars. He thinks it's inhabited, and he's read all that the astronomers say about it, and the seas and the canals that they've found on it. He spoke very beautifully about the other life, and then he spoke about death." Cynthia's voice broke, and she pulled her handkerchief out of her belt, and put it to her eyes. Jeff's heart melted in him at the sight; he felt a tender affection for her, very unlike the gross content he had enjoyed in her presence before, and he put his arm round her again, but this time almost unconsciously, and drew her toward him. She did not repel him; she even allowed her head to rest a moment on his shoulder; though she quickly lifted it, and drew herself away, not resentfully, it seemed, but for her greater freedom in talking.
"I don't believe he's going to die," Jeff said, consolingly, more as if it were her brother than his that he meant. "But he's a very sick man, and he's got to knock off and go somewhere. It won't do for him to pass another winter here. He must go to California, or Colorado; they'd be glad to have him there, either of them; or he can go to Florida, or over to Italy. It won't matter how long he stays—"
"What are you talking about, Jeff Durgin?" Cynthia demanded, severely." What would your mother do? What would she do this winter?"
"That brings me to something, Cynthia," said Jeff, "and I don't want you to say anything till I've got through. I guess I could help mother run the place as well as Jackson, and I could stay here next winter."
"Now, you let me talk! My mind's made up about one thing: I'm not going to be a lawyer. I don't want to go back to Harvard. I'm going to keep a hotel, and, if I don't keep one here at Lion's Head, I'm going to keep it somewhere else."
"Have you told your mother?"
"Not yet: I wanted to hear what you would say first."
"I? Oh, I haven't got anything to do with it," said Cynthia.
"Yes, you have! You've got everything to do with it, if you'll say one thing first. Cynthia, you know how I feel about you. It's been so ever since we were boy and girl here. I want you to promise to marry me. Will you?"
The girl seemed neither surprised nor very greatly pleased; perhaps her pleasure had spent itself in that moment of triumphant expectation when she foresaw what was coming, or perhaps she was preoccupied in clearing the way in her own mind to a definite result.
"What do you say, Cynthia?" Jeff pursued, with more injury than misgiving in his voice at her delay in answering. "Don't you-care for me?"
"Oh yes, I presume I've always done that—ever since we were boy and girl, as you say. But——"
"Well?" said Jeff, patiently, but not insecurely.
"Have I what?"
"Always cared for me."
He could not find his voice quite as promptly as before. He cleared his throat before he asked: "Has Mr. Westover been saying anything about me?"
"I don't know what you mean, exactly; but I presume you do."
"Well, then—I always expected to tell you—I did have a fancy for that girl, for Miss Vostrand, and I told her so. It's like something that never happened. She wouldn't have me. That's all."
"And you expect me to take what she wouldn't have?"
"If you like to call it that. But I should call it taking a man that had been out of his head for a while, and had come to his senses again."
"I don't know as I should ever feel safe with a man that had been out of his head once."
"You wouldn't find many men that hadn't," said Jeff, with a laugh that was rather scornful of her ignorance.
"No, I presume not," she sighed. "She was beautiful, and I believe she was good, too. She was very nice. Perhaps I feel strangely about it. But, if she hadn't been so nice, I shouldn't have been so willing that you should have cared for her."
"I suppose I don't understand," said Jeff, "but I know I was hard hit. What's the use? It's over. She's married. I can't go back and unlive it all. But if you want time to think—of course you do—I've taken time enough—"
He was about to lift the reins on the mare's back as a sign to her that the talk was over for the present, and to quicken her pace, when Cynthia put out her hand and laid it on his, and said with a certain effect of authority: "I shouldn't want you should give up your last year in Harvard."
"Just as you say, Cynthy;" and in token of intelligence he wound his arm round her neck and kissed her. It was not the first kiss by any means; in the country kisses are not counted very serious, or at all binding, and Cynthia was a country girl; but they both felt that this kiss sealed a solemn troth between them, and that a common life began for them with it.
Cynthia came back in time to go into the dining-room and see that all was in order there for supper before the door opened. The waitresses knew that she had been out riding, as they called it, with Jeff Durgin; the fact had spread electrically to them where they sat in a shady angle of the hotel listening to one who read a novel aloud, and skipped all but the most exciting love parts. They conjectured that the pair had gone to Lovewell, but they knew nothing more, and the subtlest of them would not have found reason for further conjecture in Cynthia's behavior, when she came in and scanned the tables and the girls' dresses and hair, where they stood ranged against the wall. She was neither whiter nor redder than usual, and her nerves and her tones were under as good control as a girl's ever are after she has been out riding with a fellow. It was not such a great thing, anyway, to ride with Jeff Durgin. First and last, nearly all the young lady boarders had been out with him, upon one errand or another to Lovewell.
After supper, when the girls had gone over to their rooms in the helps' quarters, and the guests had gathered in the wide, low office, in the light of the fire kindled on the hearth to break the evening chill, Jeff joined Cynthia in her inspection of the dining-room. She always gave it a last look, to see that it was in perfect order for breakfast, before she went home for the night. Jeff went home with her; he was impatient of her duties, but he was in no hurry when they stole out of the side door together under the stars, and began to stray sidelong down the hill over the dewless grass.
He lingered more and more as they drew near her father's house, in the abandon of a man's love. He wished to give himself solely up to it, to think and to talk of nothing else, after a man's fashion. But a woman's love is no such mere delight. It is serious, practical. For her it is all future, and she cannot give herself wholly up to any present moment of it, as a man does.
"Now, Jeff," she said, after a certain number of partings, in which she had apparently kept his duty clearly in mind, "you had better go home and tell your mother."
"Oh, there's time enough for that," he began.
"I want you to tell her right away, or there won't be anything to tell."
"Is that so?" he joked back. "Well, if I must, I must, I suppose. But I didn't think you'd take the whip-hand so soon, Cynthia."
"Oh, I don't ever want to take the whip-hand with you, Jeff. Don't make me!"
"Well, I won't, then. But what are you in such a hurry to have mother know for? She's not going to object. And if she does—"
"It isn't that," said the girl, quickly. "If I had to go round a single day with your mother hiding this from her, I should begin to hate you. I couldn't bear the concealment. I shall tell father as soon as I go in."
"Oh, your father 'll be all right, of course."
"Yes, he'll be all right, but if he wouldn't, and I knew it, I should have to tell him, all the same. Now, good-night. Well, there, then; and there! Now, let me go!"
She paused for a moment in her own room, to smooth her tumbled hair, and try to identify herself in her glass. Then she went into the sitting- room, where she found her father pulled up to the table, with his hat on, and poring over a sheet of hieroglyphics, which represented the usual evening with planchette.
"Have you been to help Jackson up?" she asked.
"Well, I wanted to, but he wouldn't hear of it. He's feelin' ever so much better to-night, and he wanted to go alone. I just come in."
"Yes, you've got your hat on yet."
Whitwell put his hand up and found that his daughter was right. He laughed, and said: "I guess I must 'a' forgot it. We've had the most interestin' season with plantchette that I guess we've about ever had. She's said something here—"
"Well, never mind; I've got something more important to say than plantchette has," said Cynthia, and she pulled the sheet away from under her father's eyes.
This made him look up at her. "Why, what's happened?"
"Nothing. Jeff Durgin has asked me to marry him."
"He has!" The New England training is not such as to fit people for the expression of strong emotion, and the best that Whitwell found himself able to do in view of the fact was to pucker his mouth for a whistle which did not come.
"Yes—this afternoon," said Cynthia, lifelessly. The tension of her nerves relaxed in a languor which was evident even to her father, though his eyes still wandered to the sheet she had taken from him.
"Well, you don't seem over and above excited about it. Did—did your— What did you say—"
"How should I know what I said? What do you think of it, father?"
"I don't know as I ever give the subject much attention," said the philosopher. "I always meant to take it out of him, somehow, if he got to playin' the fool."
"Then you wanted I should accept him?"
"What difference 'd it make what I wanted? That what you done?"
"Yes, I've accepted him," said the girl, with a sigh. "I guess I've always expected to."
"Well, I thought likely it would come to that, myself. All I can say, Cynthy, is 't he's a lucky feller."
Whitwell leaned back, bracing his knees against the table, which was one of his philosophic poses. "I have sometimes believed that Jeff Durgin was goin' to turn out a blackguard. He's got it in him. He's as like his gran'father as two peas, and he was an old devil. But you got to account in all these here heredity cases for counteractin' influences. The Durgins are as good as wheat, right along, all of 'em; and I guess Mis' Durgin's mother must have been a pretty good woman too. Mis' Durgin's all right, too, if she has got a will of her own." Whitwell returned from his scientific inquiry to ask: "How 'll she take it?"
"I don't know," said Cynthia, dreamily, but without apparent misgiving. "That's Jeff's lookout."
"So 'tis. I guess she won't make much fuss. A woman never likes to see her son get married; but you've been a kind of daughter to her so long. Well, I guess that part of it 'll be all right. Jackson," said Whitwell, in a tone of relief, as if turning from an irrelevant matter to something of real importance, "was down here to-night tryin' to ring up some them spirits from the planet Mars. Martians, he calls 'em. His mind's got to runnin' a good deal on Mars lately. I guess it's this apposition that they talk about that does it. Mars comin' so much nearer the earth by a million of miles or so, it stands to reason that he should be more influenced by the minds on it. I guess it's a case o' that telepathy that Mr. Westover tells about. I judge that if he kept at it before Mars gits off too far again he might make something out of it. I couldn't seem to find much sense in what plantchette done to-night; we couldn't either of us; but she has her spells when you can't make head or tail of her. But mebbe she's just leadin' up to something, the way she did about that broken shaft when Jeff come home. We ha'n't ever made out exactly what she meant by that yet."
Whitwell paused, and Cynthia seized the advantage of his getting round to Jeff again. "He wanted to give up going to Harvard this last year, but I wouldn't let him."
"Jeff did?" asked her father. "Well, you done a good thing that time, anyway, Cynthy. His mother 'd never get over it."
"There's something else she's got to get over, and I don't know how she ever will. He's going to give up the law."
"Give up the law!"
"Yes. Don't tease, father! He says he's never cared about it, and he wants to keep a hotel. I thought that I'd ought to tell him how we felt about Jackson's having a rest and going off somewhere; and he wanted to begin at once. But I said if he left off the last year at Harvard I wouldn't have anything to do with him."
Whitwell put his hand in his pocket for his knife, and mechanically looked down for a stick to whittle. In default of any, he scratched his head. "I guess she'll make it warm for him. She's had her mind set on his studyin' law so long, 't she won't give up in a hurry. She can't see that Jackson ain't fit to help her run the hotel any more—till he's had a rest, anyway—and I believe she thinks her and Frank could run it—and you. She'll make an awful kick," said Whitwell, solemnly. "I hope you didn't encourage him, Cynthy?"
"I should encourage him," said the girl. "He's got the right to shape his own life, and nobody else has got the right to do it; and I should tell his mother so, if she ever said anything to me about it."
"All right," said Whitwell. "I suppose you know what you're about."
"I do, father. Jeff would make a good landlord; he's got ideas about a hotel, and I can see that they're the right ones. He's been out in the world, and he's kept his eyes open. He will make Lion's Head the best hotel in the mountains."
"It's that already."
"He doesn't think it's half as good as he can make it."
"It wouldn't be half what it is now, if it wa'n't for you and Frank."
"I guess he understands that," said Cynthia. "Frank would be the clerk."
"Got it all mapped out!" said Whitwell, proudly, in his turn. "Look out you don't slip up in your calculations. That's all."
"I guess we cha'n't slip up."
Jeff came into the ugly old family parlor, where his mother sat mending by the kerosene-lamp which she had kept through all the household changes, and pushed enough of her work aside from the corner of the table to rest his arm upon it.
"Mother, I want you to listen to me, and to wait till I get done. Will you?"
She looked up at him over her spectacles from the stocking she was darning; the china egg gleamed through the frayed place. "What notion have you got in your head, now?"
"It's about Jackson. He isn't well. He's got to leave off work and go away."
The mother's hand dropped at the end of the yarn she had drawn through the stocking heel, and she stared at Jeff. Then she resumed her work with the decision expressed in her tone. "Your father lived to be sixty years old, and Jackson a'n't forty! The doctor said there wa'n't any reason why he shouldn't live as long as his father did."
"I'm not saying he won't live to a hundred. I'm saying he oughtn't to stay another winter here," Jeff said, decisively.
Mrs. Durgin was silent for a time, and then she said. "Jeff, is that your notion about Jackson, or whose is it?"
"It's mine, now."
Mrs, Durgin waited a moment. Then she began, with a feeling quite at variance with her words:
"Well, I'll thank Cynthy Whit'ell to mind her own business! Of course," she added, and in what followed her feeling worked to the surface in her words, "I know 't she thinks the world of Jackson, and he does of her; and I presume she means well. I guess she'd be more apt to notice, if there was any change, than what I should. What did she say?"
Jeff told, as nearly as he could remember, and he told what Cynthia and he had afterward jointly worked out as to the best thing for Jackson to do. Mrs. Durgin listened frowningly, but not disapprovingly, as it seemed; though at the end she asked: "And what am I going to do, with Jackson gone?"
Jeff laughed, with his head down. "Well, I guess you and Cynthy could run it, with Frank and Mr. Whitwell."
"Mr. Whit'ell!" said Mrs. Durgin, concentrating in her accent of his name the contempt she could not justly pour out on the others.
"Oh," Jeff went on, "I did think that I could take hold with you, if you could bring yourself to let me off this last year at Harvard."
"Jeff!" said his mother, reproachfully. "You know you don't mean that you'd give up your last year in college?"
"I do mean it, but I don't expect you to do it; and I don't ask it. I suggested it to Cynthy, when we got to talking it over, and she saw it wouldn't do."
"Well, she showed some sense that time," Mrs. Durgin said.
"I don't know when Cynthy hasn't shown sense; except once, and then I guess it was my fault."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, this afternoon I asked her to marry me some time, and she said she would." He looked at his mother and laughed, and then he did not laugh. He had expected her to be pleased; he had thought to pave the way with this confession for the declaration of his intention not to study law, and to make his engagement to Cynthia serve him in reconciling his mother to the other fact. But a menacing suspense followed his words.
His mother broke out at last: "You asked Cynthy Whit'ell to marry you! And she said she would! Well, I can tell her she won't, then!"
"And I can tell you she will!" Jeff stormed back. He rose to his feet and stood over his mother.
She began steadily, as if he had not spoken. "If that designin'—"
"Look out, mother! Don't you say anything against Cynthia! She's been the best girl to you in the world, and you know it. She's been as true to you as Jackson has himself. She hasn't got a selfish bone in her body, and she's so honest she couldn't design anything against you or any one, unless she told you first. Now you take that back! Take it back! She's no more designing than—than you are!"
Mrs. Durgin was not moved by his storming, but she was inwardly convinced of error. "I do take it back. Cynthy is all right. She's all you say and more. It's your fault, then, and you've got yourself to thank, for whosever fault it is, she'll pack—"
"If Cynthy packs, I pack!" said Jeff. "Understand that. The moment she leaves this house I leave it, too, and I'll marry her anyway. Frank 'd leave and—and—Pshaw! What do you care for that? But I don't know what you mean! I always thought you liked Cynthy and respected her. I didn't believe I could tell you a thing that would please you better than that she had said she would have me. But if it don't, all right."
Mrs. Durgin held her peace in bewilderment; she stared at her son with dazed eyes, under the spectacles lifted above her forehead. She felt a change of mood in his unchanged tone of defiance, and she met him half- way. "I tell you I take back what I called Cynthia, and I told you so. But—but I didn't ever expect you to marry her."
"Why didn't you? There isn't one of the summer folks to compare with her. She's got more sense than all of 'em. I've known her ever since I can remember. Why didn't you expect it?"
"I didn't expect it."
"Oh, I know! You thought I'd see somebody in Boston—some swell girl. Well, they wouldn't any of them look at me, and if they would, they wouldn't look at you."
"I shouldn't care whether they looked at me or not."
"I tell you they wouldn't look at me. You don't understand about these things, and I do. They marry their own kind, and I'm not their kind, and I shouldn't be if I was Daniel Webster himself. Daniel Webster! Who remembers him, or cares for him, or ever did? You don't believe it? You think that because I've been at Harvard—Oh, can't I make you see it? I'm what they call a jay in Harvard, and Harvard don't count if you're a jay."
His mother looked at him without speaking. She would not confess the ambition he taxed her with, and perhaps she had nothing so definite in her mind. Perhaps it was only her pride in him, and her faith in a splendid future for him, that made her averse to his marriage in the lot she had always known, and on a little lower level in it that her own. She said at last:
"I don't know what you mean by being a jay. But I guess we better not say anything more about this to-night."
"All right," Jeff returned. There never were any formal good-nights between the Durgins, and he went away now without further words.
His mother remained sitting where he left her. Two or three times she drew her empty darning-needle through the heel of the stocking she was mending.
She was still sitting there when Jackson passed on his way to bed, after leaving the office in charge of the night porter. He faltered, as he went by, and as he stood on the threshold she told him what Jeff had told her.
"That's good," he said, lifelessly. "Good for Jeff," he added, thoughtfully, conscientiously.
"Why a'n't it good for her, too?" demanded Jeff's mother, in quick resentment of the slight put upon him.
"I didn't say it wa'n't," said Jackson. "But it's better for Jeff."
"She may be very glad to get him!"
"I presume she is. She's always cared for him, I guess. She'll know how to manage him."
"I don't know," said Mrs. Durgin, "as I like to have you talk so, about Jeff. He was here, just now, wantin' to give up his last year in Harvard, so 's to let you go off on a vacation. He thinks you've worked yourself down."
Jackson made no recognition of Jeff's professed self-sacrifice. "I don't want any vacation. I'm feeling first-rate now. I guess that stuff I had from the writin' medium has begun to take hold of me. I don't know when I've felt so well. I believe I'm going to get stronger than ever I was. Jeff say I needed a rest?"
Something like a smile of compassion for the delusion of his brother dawned upon the sick man's wasted face, which was blotched with large freckles, and stared with dim, large eyes from out a framework of grayish hair, and grayish beard cut to the edges of the cheeks and chin.
Mrs. Durgin and Cynthia did not seek any formal meeting the next morning. The course of their work brought them together, but it was not till after they had transacted several household affairs of pressing importance that Mrs. Durgin asked: "What's this about you and Jeff?"
"Has he been telling you?" asked Cynthia, in her turn, though she knew he had.
"Yes," said Mrs. Durgin, with a certain dryness, which was half humorous. "I presume, if you two are satisfied, it's all right."
"I guess we're satisfied," said the girl, with a tremor of relief which she tried to hide.
Nothing more was said, and there was no physical demonstration of affection or rejoicing between the women. They knew that the time would come when they would talk over the affair down to the bone together, but now they were content to recognize the fact, and let the time for talking arrive when it would. "I guess," said Mrs. Durgin, "you'd better go over to the helps' house and see how that youngest Miller girl's gittin' along. She'd ought to give up and go home if she a'n't fit for her work."
"I'll go and see her," said Cynthia. "I don't believe she's strong enough for a waitress, and I have got to tell her so."
"Well," returned Mrs. Durgin, glumly, after a moment's reflection, "I shouldn't want you should hurry her. Wait till she's out of bed, and give her another chance."
Jeff had been lurking about for the event of the interview, and he waylaid Cynthia on the path to the helps' house.
"I'm going over to see that youngest Miller girl," she explained.
"Yes, I know all about that," said Jeff. "Well, mother took it just right, didn't she? You can't always count on her; but I hadn't much anxiety in this case. She likes you, Cynthia."
"I guess so," said the girl, demurely; and she looked away from him to smile her pleasure in the fact.
"But I believe if she hadn't known you were with her about my last year in Harvard—it would have been different. I could see, when I brought it in that you wanted me to go back, her mind was made up for you."
"Why need you say anything about that?"
"Oh, I knew it would clinch her. I understand mother. If you want something from her you mustn't ask it straight out. You must propose something very disagreeable. Then when she refuses that, you can come in for what you were really after and get it."
"I don't know," said Cynthia, "as I should like to think that your mother had been tricked into feeling right about me."
"Tricked!" The color flashed up in Jeff's face.
"Not that, Jeff," said the girl, tenderly. "But you know what I mean. I hope you talked it all out fully with her."
"Fully? I don't know what you mean."
"About your not studying law, and—everything."
"I don't believe in crossing a river till I come to it," said Jeff. "I didn't say anything to her about that."
"No. What had it got to do with our being engaged?"
"What had your going back to Harvard to do with it? If your mother thinks I'm with her in that, she'll think I'm with her in the other. And I'm not. I'm with you." She let her hand find his, as they walked side by side, and gave it a little pressure.
"It's the greatest thing, Cynthy," he said, breathlessly, "to have you with me in that. But, if you said I ought to study law, I should do it."
"I shouldn't say that, for I believe you're right; but even if I believed you were wrong, I shouldn't say it. You have a right to make your life what you want it; and your mother hasn't. Only she must know it, and you must tell her at once."
"Yes—now. What good will it do to put it off? You're not afraid to tell her!"
"I don't like you to use that word."
"And I don't like to use it. But I know how it is. You're afraid that the brunt of it will come on ME. She'll think you're all right, but I'm all wrong because I agree with you."
"Something like that."
"Well, now, I'm not afraid of anything she can say; and what could she do? She can't part us, unless you let her, and then I should let her, too."
"But what's the hurry? What's the need of doing it right off?"
"Because it's a deceit not to do it. It's a lie!"
"I don't see it in that light. I might change my mind, and still go on and study law."
"You know you never will. Now, Jeff! Why do you act so?"
Jeff did not answer at once. He walked beside her with a face of trouble that became one of resolve in the set jaws. "I guess you're right, Cynthy. She's got to know the worst, and the sooner she knows it the better."
He had another moment of faltering. "You don't want I should talk it over with Mr. Westover?"
"What has he got to do with it?"
"If you want to see it in the right light, you can think you've let it run on till after you're out of college, and then you've got to tell her. Suppose she asked you how long you had made up your mind against the law, how should you feel? And if she asked me whether I'd known it all along, and I had to say I had, and that I'd supported and encouraged you in it, how should I feel?"
"She mightn't ask any such question," said Jeff, gloomily. Cynthia gave a little impatient "Oh!" and he hastened to add: "But you're right; I've got to tell her. I'll tell her to-night—"
"Don't wait till to-night; do it now."
"Yes; and I'll go with you as soon as I've seen the youngest Miller girl." They had reached the helps' house now, and Cynthia said: "You wait outside here, and I'll go right back with you. Oh, I hope it isn't doing wrong to put it off till I've seen that girl!" She disappeared through the door, and Jeff waited by the steps outside, plucking up one long grass stem after another and biting it in two. When Cynthia came out she said: "I guess she'll be all right. Now come, and don't-lose another second."
"You're afraid I sha'n't do it if I wait any longer!"
"I'm afraid I sha'n't." There was a silence after this.
"Do you know what I think of you, Cynthy?" asked Jeff, hurrying to keep up with her quick steps. "You've got more courage—"
"Oh, don't praise me, or I shall break down!"
"I'll see that you don't break down," said Jeff, tenderly. "It's the greatest thing to have you go with me!"
"Why, don't you SEE?" she lamented. "If you went alone, and told your mother that I approved of it, you would look as if you were afraid, and wanted to get behind me; and I'm not going to have that."
They found. Mrs. Durgin in the dark entry of the old farmhouse, and Cynthia said, with involuntary imperiousness: "Come in here, Mrs. Durgin; I want to tell you something."
She led the way to the old parlor, and she checked Mrs. Durgin's question, "Has that Miller girl—"
"It isn't about her," said Cynthy, pushing the door to. "It's about me and Jeff."
Mrs. Durgin became aware of Jeff's presence with an effect of surprise. "There a'n't anything more, is there?"
"Yes, there is!" Cynthia shrilled. "Now, Jeff!"
"It's just this, mother: Cynthy thinks I ought to tell you—and she thinks I ought to have told you last night—she expected me to—that I'm not going to study law."
"And I approve of his not doing it," Cynthia promptly followed, and she put herself beside Jeff where he stood in front of his mother's rocking- chair.
She looked from one to the other of the faces before her. "I'm sorry a son of mine," she said, with dignity, "had to be told how to act with his mother. But, if he had, I don't know as anybody had a better right to do it than the girl that's going to marry him. And I'll say this, Cynthia Whitwell, before I say anything else: you've begun right. I wish I could say Jeff had."
There was an uncomfortable moment before Cynthia said: "He expected to tell you."
"Oh Yes! I know," said his mother, sadly. She added, sharply: "And did be expect to tell me what he intended to do for a livin'?"
"Jeff took the word. "Yes, I did. I intend to keep a hotel."
"What hotel?" asked Mrs. Durgin, with a touch of taunting in her tone.
The mother of the bold, rebellious boy that Jeff had been stirred in Mrs. Durgin's heart, and she looked at him with the eyes, that used to condone his mischief. But she said: "I guess you'll find out that there's more than one has to agree to that."
"Yes, there are two: you and Jackson; and I don't know but what three, if you count Cynthy, here."
His mother turned to the girl. "You think this fellow's got sense enough to keep a hotel?"
"Yes, Mrs. Durgin, I do. I think he's got good ideas about a hotel."
"And what's he goin' to do with his college education?"
Jeff interposed. "You think that all the college graduates turn out lawyers and doctors and professors? Some of 'em are mighty glad to sweep out banks in hopes of a clerkship; and some take any sort of a place in a mill or a business house, to work up; and some bum round out West 'on cattle ranches; and some, if they're lucky, get newspaper reporters' places at ten dollars a week."
Cynthia followed with the generalization: "I don't believe anybody can know too much to keep a hotel. It won't hurt Jeff if he's been to Harvard, or to Europe, either."
"I guess there's a pair of you," said Mrs. Durgin, with superficial contempt. She was silent for a time, and they waited. "Well, there!" she broke out again. "I've got something to chew upon for a spell, I guess. Go along, now, both of you! And the next time you've got to face your mother, Jeff, don't you come in lookin' round anybody's petticoats! I'll see you later about all this."
They went away with the joyful shame of children who have escaped punishment.
"That's the last of it, Cynthy," said Jeff.
"I guess so," the girl assented, with a certain grief in her voice. "I wish you had told her first!"
"Oh, never mind that now!" cried Jeff, and in the dim passageway he took her in his arms and kissed her.
He would have released her, but she lingered in his embrace. "Will you promise that if there's ever anything like it again, you won't wait for me to make you?"
"I like your having made me, but I promise," he said.
Then she tightened her arms round his neck and kissed him.
The will of Jeff's mother relaxed its grip upon the purpose so long held, as if the mere strain of the tenacity had wearied and weakened it. When it finally appeared that her ambition for her son was not his ambition for himself and would never be, she abandoned it. Perhaps it was the easier for her to forego her hopes of his distinction in the world, because she had learned before that she must forego her hopes of him in other ways. She had vaguely fancied that with the acquaintance his career at Harvard would open to him Jeff would make a splendid marriage. She had followed darkling and stumbling his course in society as far as he would report it to her, and when he would not suffer her to glory in it, she believed that he was forbidding her from a pride that would not recognize anything out of the common in it. She exulted in his pride, and she took all his snubbing reserves tenderly, as so many proofs of his success.
At the bottom of her heart she had both fear and contempt of all towns- people, whom she generalized from her experience of them as summer folks of a greater or lesser silliness. She often found herself unable to cope with them, even when she felt that she had twice their sense; she perceived that they had something from their training that with all her undisciplined force she could never hope to win from her own environment. But she believed that her son would have the advantages which baffled her in them, for he would have their environment; and she had wished him to rivet his hold upon those advantages by taking a wife from among them, and by living the life of their world. Her wishes, of course, had no such distinct formulation, and the feeling she had toward Cynthia as a possible barrier to her ambition had no more definition. There had been times when the fitness of her marriage with Jeff had moved the mother's heart to a jealousy that she always kept silent, while she hoped for the accident or the providence which should annul the danger. But Genevieve Vostrand had not been the kind of accident or the providence that she would have invoked, and when she saw Jeff's fancy turning toward her, Mrs. Durgin had veered round to Cynthia. All the same she kept a keen eye upon the young ladies among the summer folks who came to Lion's Head, and tacitly canvassed their merits and inclinations with respect to Jeff in the often-imagined event of his caring for any one of them. She found that her artfully casual references to her son's being in Harvard scarcely affected their mothers in the right way. The fact made them think of the head waiters whom they had met at other hotels, and who were working their way through Dartmouth or Williams or Yale, and it required all the force of Jeff's robust personality to dissipate their erroneous impressions of him. He took their daughters out of their arms and from under their noses on long drives upon his buckboard, and it became a convention with them to treat his attentions somewhat like those of a powerful but faithful vassal.
Whether he was indifferent, or whether the young ladies were coy, none of these official flirtations came to anything. He seemed not to care for one more than another; he laughed and joked with them all, and had an official manner with each which served somewhat like a disparity of years in putting them at their ease with him. They agreed that he was very handsome, and some thought him very talented; but they questioned whether he was quite what you would call a gentleman. It is true that this misgiving attacked them mostly in the mass; singly, they were little or not at all troubled by it, and they severally behaved in an unprincipled indifference to it.
Mrs. Durgin had the courage of her own purposes, but she had the fear of Jeff's. After the first pang of the disappointment which took final shape from his declaration that he was going to marry Cynthia, she did not really care much. She had the habit of the girl; she respected her, she even loved her. The children, as she thought of them, had known each other from their earliest days; Jeff had persecuted Cynthia throughout his graceless boyhood, but he had never intimidated her; and his mother, with all her weakness for him, felt that it was well for him that his wife should be brave enough to stand up against him.
She formulated this feeling no more than the others, but she said to Westover, whom Jeff bade her tell of the engagement: "It a'n't exactly as I could 'a' wished it to be. But I don't know as mothers are ever quite suited with their children's marriages. I presume it's from always kind of havin' had her round under my feet ever since she was born, as you may say, and seein' her family always so shiftless. Well, I can't say that of Frank, either. He's turned out a fine boy; but the father! Cynthy is one of the most capable girls, smart as a trap, and bright as a biscuit. She's masterful, too! she NEED to have a will of her own with Jeff."
Something of the insensate pride that mothers have in their children's faults, as their quick tempers, or their wastefulness, or their revengefulness, expressed itself in her tone; and it was perhaps this that irritated Westover.
"I hope he'll never let her know it. I don't think a strong will is a thing to be prized, and I shouldn't consider it one of Cynthia's good points. The happiest life for her would be one that never forced her to use it."
"I don't know as I understand you exactly," said Mrs. Durgin, with some dryness. "I know Jeff's got rather of a domineering disposition, but I don't believe but she can manage him without meetin' him on his own ground, as you may say."
"She's a girl in a thousand," Westover returned, evasively.
"Then you think he's shown sense in choosin' of her?" pursued Jeff's mother, resolute to find some praise of him in Westover's words.
"He's a very fortunate man," said the painter.
"Well, I guess you're right," Mrs. Durgin acquiesced, as much to Jeff's advantage as she could. "You know I was always afraid he would make a fool of himself, but I guess he's kept his eyes pretty well open all the while. Well!" She closed the subject with this exclamation. "Him and Cynthy's been at me about Jackson," she added, abruptly. "They've cooked it up between 'em that he's out of health or run down or something."
Her manner referred the matter to Westover, and he said: "He isn't looking so well this summer. He ought to go away somewhere."
"That's what they thought," said Mrs. Durgin, smiling in her pleasure at having their opinion confirmed by the old and valued friend of the family.
Whereabouts do you think he'd best go?"
"Oh, I don't know. Italy—or Egypt—"
"I guess, if you could get Jackson to go away at all, it would be to some of them old Bible countries," said Mrs. Durgin. "We've got to have a fight to get him off, make the best of it, and I've thought it over since the children spoke about it, and I couldn't seem to see Jackson willin' to go out to Californy or Colorady, to either of his brothers. But I guess he would go to Egypt. That a good climate for the—his complaint?"
She entered eagerly into the question, and Westover promised to write to a Boston doctor, whom he knew very well, and report Jackson's case to him, and get his views of Egypt.
"Tell him how it is," said Mrs. Durgin, "and the tussle we shall have to have anyway to make Jackson believe he'd ought to have a rest. He'll go to Egypt if he'll go anywheres, because his mind keeps runnin' on Bible questions, and it 'll interest him to go out there; and we can make him believe it's just to bang around for the winter. He's terrible hopeful." Now that she began to speak, all her long-repressed anxiety poured itself out, and she hitched her chair nearer to Westover and wistfully clutched his sleeve. "That's the worst of Jackson. You can't make him believe anything's the matter. Sometimes I can't bear to hear him go on about himself as if he was a well young man. He expects that medium's stuff is goin' to cure him!"
"People sick in that way are always hopeful," said Westover.
"Oh, don't I know it! Ha'n't I seen my children and my husband—Oh, do ask that doctor to answer as quick as he can!"
Westover had a difficulty in congratulating Jeff which he could scarcely define to himself, but which was like that obscure resentment we feel toward people whom we think unequal to their good fortune. He was ashamed of his grudge, whatever it was, and this may have made him overdo his expressions of pleasure. He was sensible of a false cordiality in them, and he checked himself in a flow of forced sentiment to say, more honestly: "I wish you'd speak to Cynthia for me. You know how much I think of her, and how much I want to see her happy. You ought to be a very good fellow, Jeff!"
"I'll tell her that; she'll like that," said Jeff. "She thinks the world of you."
"Does she? Well!"
"And I guess she'll be glad you sent word. She's been wondering what you would say; she's always so afraid of you."
"Is she? You're not afraid of me, are you? But perhaps you don't think so much of me."
"I guess Cynthia and I think alike on that point," said Jeff, without abating Westover's discomfort.
There was a stress of sharp cold that year about the 20th of August. Then the weather turned warm again, and held fine till the beginning of October, within a week of the time when Jackson was to sail. It had not been so hard to make him consent when he knew where the doctor wished him to go, and he had willingly profited by Westover's suggestions about getting to Egypt. His interest in the matter, which he tried to hide at first under a mask of decorous indifference, mounted with the fire of Whitwell's enthusiasm, and they held nightly councils together, studying his course on the map, and consulting planchette upon the points at variance that rose between them, while Jombateeste sat with his chair tilted against the wall, and pulled steadily at his pipe, which mixed its strong fumes with the smell of the kerosene-lamp and the perennial odor of potatoes in the cellar under the low room where the companions forgathered.
Toward the end of September Westover spent the night before he went back to town with them. After a season with planchette, their host pushed himself back with his knees from the table till his chair reared upon its hind legs, and shoved his hat up from his forehead in token of philosophical mood.
"I tell you, Jackson," he said, "you'd ought to get hold o' some them occult devils out there, and squeeze their science out of 'em. Any Buddhists in Egypt, Mr. Westover?"
"I don't think there are," said Westover. "Unless Jackson should come across some wandering Hindu. Or he might push on, and come home by the way of India."
"Do it, Jackson!" his friend conjured him. "May cost you something more, but it 'll be worth the money. If it's true, what some them Blavetsky fellers claim, you can visit us here in your astral body—git in with 'em the right way. I should like to have you try it. What's the reason India wouldn't be as good for him as Egypt, anyway?" Whitwell demanded of Westover.
"I suppose the climate's rather too moist; the heat would be rather trying to him there."
"And he's taken his ticket for Alexandria," Westover pursued.
"Well, I guess that's so." Whitwell tilted his backward sloping hat to one side, so as to scratch the northeast corner of his bead thoughtfully.
"But as far as that is concerned," said Westover, "and the doctrine of immortality generally is concerned, Jackson will have his hands full if he studies the Egyptian monuments."
"What they got to do with it?"
"Everything. Egypt is the home of the belief in a future life; it was carried from Egypt to Greece. He might come home by way of Athens."
"Why, man!" cried Whitwell. "Do you mean to say that them old Hebrew saints, Joseph's brethren, that went down into Egypt after corn, didn't know about immortality, and them Egyptian devils did?"
"There's very little proof in the Old Testament that the Israelites knew of it."
Whitwell looked at Jackson. "That the idee you got?"
"I guess he's right," said Jackson. "There's something a little about it in Job, and something in the Psalms: but not a great deal."
"And we got it from them Egyptian d——"
"I don't say that," Westover interposed. "But they had it before we had. As we imagine it, we got it though Christianity."
Jombateeste, who had taken his pipe out of his mouth in a controversial manner, put it back again.
Westover added, "But there's no question but the Egyptians believed in the life hereafter, and in future rewards and punishments for the deeds done in the body, thousands of years before our era."
"Well, I'm dumned," said Whitwell.
Jombateeste took his pipe out again. "Hit show they got good sense. They know—they feel it in their bone—what goin' 'appen—when you dead. Me, I guess they got some prophet find it hout for them; then they goin' take the credit."
"I guess that's something so, Jombateeste," said Whitwell. "It don't stand to reason that folks without any alphabet, as you may say, and only a lot of pictures for words, like Injuns, could figure out the immortality of the soul. They got the idee by inspiration somehow. Why, here! It's like this. Them Pharaohs must have always been clawin' out for the Hebrews before they got a hold of Joseph, and when they found out the true doctrine, they hushed up where they got it, and their priests went on teachin' it as if it was their own."
"That's w'at I say. Got it from the 'Ebrew."
"Well, it don't matter a great deal where they got it, so they got it," said Jackson, as he rose.
"I believe I'll go with you," said Westover.
"All there is about it," said the sick man, solemnly, with a frail effort to straighten himself, to which his sunken chest would not respond, "is this: no man ever did figure that out for himself. A man sees folks die, and as far as his senses go, they don't live again. But somehow he knows they do; and his knowledge comes from somewhere else; it's inspired—"
"That's w'at I say," Jombateeste hastened to interpose. "Got it from the 'Ebrew. Feel it in 'is bone."
Out under the stars Jackson and Westover silently mounted the hill-side together. At one of the thank-you-marms in the road the sick man stopped, like a weary horse, to breathe. He took off his hat and wiped the sweat of weakness that had gathered upon his forehead, and looked round the sky, powdered with the constellations and the planets. "It's sightly," he whispered.
"Yes, it is fine," Westover assented. "But the stars of our Northern nights are nothing to what you'll see in Egypt."
Jackson repeated, vaguely: "Egypt! Where I should like to go is Mars." He fixed his eyes on the flaming planets, in a long stare. "But I suppose they have their own troubles, same as we do. They must get sick and die, like the rest of us. But I should like to know more about 'em. You believe it's inhabited, don't you?"
Westover's agnosticism did not, somehow, extend to Mars. "Yes, I've no doubt of it."
Jackson seemed pleased. "I've read everything I can lay my hands on about it. I've got a notion that if there's any choosin', after we get through here, I should like to go to Mars for a while, or as long as I was a little homesick still, and wanted to keep as near the earth as I could," he added, quaintly.
Westover laughed. "You could study up the subject of irrigation, there; they say that's what keeps the parallel markings green on Mars; and telegraph a few hints to your brother in Colorado, after the Martians perfect their signal code."
Perhaps the invalid's fancy flagged. He drew a long, ragged breath. "I don't know as I care to leave home, much. If it wa'n't a kind of duty, I shouldn't." He seemed impelled by a sudden need to say, "How do you think Jefferson and mother will make it out together?"
"I've no doubt they'll manage," said Westover.
"They're a good deal alike," Jackson suggested.
Westover preferred not to meet his overture. You'll be back, you know, almost as soon as the season commences, next summer."
"Yes," Jackson assented, more cheerfully. "And now, Cynthy's sure to be here."
"Yes, she will be here," said Westover, not so cheerfully.
Jackson seemed to find the opening he was seeking, in Westover's tone. "What do you think of gettin' married, anyway, Mr. Westover?" he asked.
"We haven't either of us thought so well of it as to try it, Jackson," said the painter, jocosely.
"Think it's a kind of chance?"
"It's a chance."
Jackson was silent. Then, "I a'n't one of them," he said, abruptly, "that think a man's goin' to be made over by marryin' this woman or that. If he a'n't goin' to be the right kind of a man himself, he a'n't because his wife's a good woman. Sometimes I think that a man's wife is the last person in the world that can change his disposition. She can influence him about this and about that, but she can't change him. It seems as if he couldn't let her if he tried, and after the first start-off he don't try."
"That's true," Westover assented. "We're terribly inflexible. Nothing but something like a change of heart, as they used to call it, can make us different, and even then we're apt to go back to our old shape. When you look at it in that light, marriage seems impossible. Yet it takes place every day!"
"It's a great risk for a woman," said Jackson, putting on his hat and stirring for an onward movement. "But I presume that if the man is honest with her it's the best thing she can have. The great trouble is for the man to be honest with her."
"Honesty is difficult," said Westover.
He made Jackson promise to spend a day with him in Boston, on his way to take the Mediterranean steamer at New York. When they met he yielded to an impulse which the invalid's forlornness inspired, and went on to see him off. He was glad that he did that, for, though Jackson was not sad at parting, he was visibly touched by Westover's kindness.
Of course he talked away from it. "I guess I've left 'em in pretty good shape for the winter at Lion's Head," he said. "I've got Whitwell to agree to come up and live in the house with mother, and she'll have Cynthy with her, anyway; and Frank and Jombateeste can look after the bosses easy enough."
He had said something like this before, but Westover could see that it comforted him to repeat it, and he encouraged him to do so in full. He made him talk about getting home in the spring, after the frost was out of the ground, but he questioned involuntarily, while the sick man spoke, whether he might not then be lying under the sands that had never known a frost since the glacial epoch. When the last warning for visitors to go ashore came, Jackson said, with a wan smile, while he held Westover's hand: "I sha'n't forget this very soon."
"Write to me," said Westover.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Crimson torch of a maple, kindled before its time Disposition to use his friends Fear of asking too much and the folly of asking too little Government is best which governs least Honesty is difficult I don't ever want to take the whip-hand I sha'n't forget this very soon Insensate pride that mothers have in their children's faults Iron forks had two prongs Jefferson Joyful shame of children who have escaped punishment Man that could be your friend if he didn't like you Married Man: after the first start-off he don't try Nothing in the way of sport, as people commonly understand it People whom we think unequal to their good fortune Society interested in a woman's past, not her future The great trouble is for the man to be honest with her We're company enough for ourselves Women talked their follies and men acted theirs World seems to always come out at the same hole it went in at
THE LANDLORD AT LION'S HEAD
By William Dean Howells
Jackson kept his promise to write to Westover, but he was better than his word to his mother, and wrote to her every week that winter.
"I seem just to live from letter to letter. It's ridic'lous," she said to Cynthia once when the girl brought the mail in from the barn, where the men folks kept it till they had put away their horses after driving over from Lovewell with it. The trains on the branch road were taken off in the winter, and the post-office at the hotel was discontinued. The men had to go to the town by cutter, over a highway that the winds sifted half full of snow after it had been broken out by the ox-teams in the morning. But Mrs. Durgin had studied the steamer days and calculated the time it would take letters to come from New York to Lovewell; and, unless a blizzard was raging, some one had to go for the mail when the day came. It was usually Jombateeste, who reverted in winter to the type of habitant from which he had sprung. He wore a blue woollen cap, like a large sock, pulled over his ears and close to his eyes, and below it his clean-shaven brown face showed. He had blue woollen mittens, and boots of russet leather, without heels, came to his knees; he got a pair every time he went home on St. John's day. His lean little body was swathed in several short jackets, and he brought the letters buttoned into one of the innermost pockets. He produced the letter from Jackson promptly enough when Cynthia came out to the barn for it, and then he made a show of getting his horse out of the cutter shafts, and shouting international reproaches at it, till she was forced to ask, "Haven't you got something for me, Jombateeste?"
"You expec' some letter?" he said, unbuckling a strap and shouting louder.
"You know whether I do. Give it to me."
"I don' know. I think I drop something on the road. I saw something white; maybe snow; good deal of snow."
"Don't plague! Give it here!"
"Wait I finish unhitch. I can't find any letter till I get some time to look."
"Oh, now, Jombateeste! Give me my letter!"
"W'at you want letter for? Always same thing. Well! 'Old the 'oss; I goin' to feel."
Jombateeste felt in one pocket after another, while Cynthia clung to the colt's bridle, and he was uncertain till the last whether he had any letter for her. When it appeared she made a flying snatch at it and ran; and the comedy was over, to be repeated in some form the next week.
The girl somehow always possessed herself of what was in her letters before she reached the room where Mrs. Durgin was waiting for hers. She had to read that aloud to Jackson's mother, and in the evening she had to read it again to Mrs. Durgin and Whitwell and Jombateeste and Frank, after they had done their chores, and they had gathered in the old farm- house parlor, around the air-tight sheet-iron stove, in a heat of eighty degrees. Whitwell listened, with planchette ready on the table before him, and he consulted it for telepathic impressions of Jackson's actual mental state when the reading was over.
He got very little out of the perverse instrument. "I can't seem to work her. If Jackson was here—"
"We shouldn't need to ask planchette about him," Cynthia once suggested, with the spare sense of humor that sometimes revealed itself in her.
"Well, I guess that's something so," her father candidly admitted. But the next time he consulted the helpless planchette as hopefully as before. "You can't tell, you can't tell," he urged.
"The trouble seems to be that planchette can't tell," said Mrs. Durgin, and they all laughed. They were not people who laughed a great deal, and they were each intent upon some point in the future that kept them from pleasure in the present. The little Canuck was the only one who suffered himself a contemporaneous consolation. His early faith had so far lapsed from him that he could hospitably entertain the wild psychical conjectures of Whitwell without an accusing sense of heresy, and he found the winter of northern New England so mild after that of Lower Canada that he experienced a high degree of animal comfort in it, and looked forward to nothing better. To be well fed, well housed, and well heated; to smoke successive pipes while the others talked, and to catch through his smoke-wreaths vague glimpses of their meanings, was enough. He felt that in being promoted to the care of the stables in Jackson's absence he occupied a dignified and responsible position, with a confidential relation to the exile which justified him in sending special messages to him, and attaching peculiar value to Jackson's remembrances.
The exile's letters said very little about his health, which in the sense of no news his mother held to be good news, but they were full concerning the monuments and the ethnological interest of life in Egypt.
They were largely rescripts of each day's observations and experiences, close and full, as his mother liked them in regard to fact, and generously philosophized on the side of politics and religion for Whitwell. The Eastern question became in the snow-choked hills of New England the engrossing concern of this speculative mind, and he was apt to spring it upon Mrs. Durgin and Cynthia at mealtimes and other defenceless moments. He tried to debate it with Jombateeste, who conceived of it as a form of spiritualistic inquiry, and answered from the hay-loft, where he was throwing down fodder for the cattle to Whitwell, volubly receiving it on the barn floor below, that he believed, him, everybody got a hastral body, English same as Mormons.
"Guess you mean Moslems," said Whitwell, and Jombateeste asked the difference, defiantly.
The letters which came to Cynthia could not be made as much a general interest, and, in fact, no one else cared so much for them as for Jackson's letters, not even Jeff's mother. After Cynthia got one of them, she would ask, perfunctorily, what Jeff said, but when she was told there was no news she did not press her question.
"If Jackson don't get back in time next summer," Mrs. Durgin said, in one of the talks she had with the girl, "I guess I shall have to let Jeff and you run the house alone."
"I guess we shall want a little help from you," said Cynthia, demurely. She did not refuse the implication of Mrs. Durgin's words, but she would not assume that there was more in them than they expressed.
When Jeff came home for the three days' vacation at Thanksgiving, he wished again to relinquish his last year at Harvard, and Cynthia had to summon all her forces to keep him to his promise of staying. He brought home the books with which he was working off his conditions, with a half- hearted intention of study, and she took hold with him, and together they fought forward over the ground he had to gain. His mother was almost willing at last that he should give up his last year in college.
"What is the use?" she asked. "He's give up the law, and he might as well commence here first as last, if he's goin' to."
The girl had no reason to urge against this; she could only urge her feeling that he ought to go back and take his degree with the rest of his class.
"If you're going to keep Lion's Head the way you pretend you are," she said to him, as she could not say to his mother, "you want to keep all your Harvard friends, don't you, and have them remember you? Go back, Jeff, and don't you come here again till after you've got your degree. Never mind the Christmas vacation, nor the Easter. Stay in Cambridge and work off your conditions. You can do it, if you try. Oh, don't you suppose I should like to have you here?" she reproached him.
He went back, with a kind of grudge in his heart, which he confessed in his first letter home to her, when he told her that she was right and he was wrong. He was sure now, with the impulse which their work on them in common had given him, that he should get his conditions off, and he wanted her and his mother to begin preparing their minds to come to his Class Day. He planned how they could both be away from the hotel for that day. The house was to be opened on the 20th of June, but it was not likely that there would be so many people at once that they could not give the 21st to Class Day; Frank and his father could run Lion's Head somehow, or, if they could not, then the opening could be postponed till the 24th. At all events, they must not fail to come. Cynthia showed the whole letter to his mother, who refused to think of such a thing, and then asked, as if the fact had not been fully set before her: "When is it to be?"
"The 21st of June."
"Well, he's early enough with his invitation," she grumbled.
"Yes, he is," said Cynthia; and she laughed for shame and pleasure as she confessed, "I was thinking he was rather late."
She hung her head and turned her face away. But Mrs. Durgin understood. "You be'n expectin' it all along, then."
"I guess so."
"I presume," said the elder woman, "that he's talked to you about it. He never tells me much. I don't see why you should want to go. What's it like?"
"Oh, I don't know. But it's the day the graduating class have to themselves, and all their friends come."
"Well, I don't know why anybody should want to go," said Mrs. Durgin. "I sha'n't. Tell him he won't want to own me when he sees me. What am I goin' to wear, I should like to know? What you goin' to wear, Cynthy?"
Jeff's place at Harvard had been too long fixed among the jays to allow the hope of wholly retrieving his condition now. It was too late for him to be chosen in any of the nicer clubs or societies, but he was not beyond the mounting sentiment of comradery, which begins to tell in the last year among college men, and which had its due effect with his class. One of the men, who had always had a foible for humanity, took advantage of the prevailing mood in another man, and wrought upon him to ask, among the fellows he was asking to a tea at his rooms, several fellows who were distinctly and almost typically jay. The tea was for the aunt of the man who gave it, a very pretty woman from New York, and it was so richly qualified by young people of fashion from Boston that the infusion of the jay flavor could not spoil it, if it would not rather add an agreeable piquancy. This college mood coincided that year with a benevolent emotion in the larger world, from which fashion was not exempt. Society had just been stirred by the reading of a certain book, which had then a very great vogue, and several people had been down among the wretched at the North End doing good in a conscience-stricken effort to avert the millennium which the book in question seemed to threaten. The lady who matronized the tea was said to have done more good than you could imagine at the North End, and she caught at the chance to meet the college jays in a spirit of Christian charity. When the man who was going to give the tea rather sheepishly confessed what the altruistic man had got him in for, she praised him so much that he went away feeling like the hero of a holy cause. She promised the assistance and sympathy of several brave girls, who would not be afraid of all the jays in college.
After all, only one of the jays came. Not many, in fact, had been asked, and when Jeff Durgin actually appeared, it was not known that he was both the first and the last of his kind. The lady who was matronizing the tea recognized him, with a throe of her quickened conscience, as the young fellow whom she had met two winters before at the studio tea which Mr. Westover had given to those queer Florentine friends of his, and whom she had never thought of since, though she had then promised herself to do something for him. She had then even given him some vague hints of a prospective hospitality, and she confessed her sin of omission in a swift but graphic retrospect to one of her brave girls, while Jeff stood blocking out a space for his stalwart bulk amid the alien elegance just within the doorway, and the host was making his way toward him, with an outstretched hand of hardy welcome.
At an earlier period of his neglect and exclusion, Jeff would not have responded to the belated overture which had now been made him, for no reason that he could divine. But he had nothing to lose by accepting the invitation, and he had promised the altruistic man, whom he rather liked; he did not dislike the giver of the tea so much as some other men, and so he came.
The brave girl whom the matron was preparing to devote to him stood shrinking with a trepidation which she could not conceal at sight of his strange massiveness, with his rust-gold hair coming down toward his thick yellow brows and mocking blue eyes in a dense bang, and his jaw squaring itself under the rather insolent smile of his full mouth. The matron felt that her victim teas perhaps going to fail her, when a voice at her ear said, as if the question were extorted, "Who in the world is that?"
She instantly turned, and flashed out in a few inspired syllables the fact she had just imparted to her treacherous heroine. "Do let me introduce him, Miss Lynde. I must do something for him, when he gets up to me, if he ever does."
"By all means," said the girl, who had an impulse to laugh at the rude force of Jeff's face and figure, so disproportioned to the occasion, and she vented it at the matron's tribulation. The matron was shaking hands with people right and left, and exchanging inaudible banalities with them. She did not know what the girl said in answer, but she was aware that she remained near her. She had professed her joy at seeing Jeff again, when he reached her, and she turned with him and said, "Let me present you to Miss Lynde, Mr. Durgin," and so abandoned them to each other.
As Jeff had none of the anxiety for social success which he would have felt at an earlier period, he now left it to Miss Lynde to begin the talk, or not, as she chose. He bore himself with so much indifference that she was piqued to an effort to hold his eyes, that wandered from her to this face and that in the crowd.
"Do you find many people you know, Mr. Durgin?"
"I don't find any."
"I supposed you didn't from the way you looked at them."
"How did I look at them?"
"As if you wanted to eat them, and one never wants to eat one's friends."
"Oh, I don't know. They wouldn't agree with one."
Jeff laughed, and he now took fuller note of the slender girl who stood before him, and swayed a little backward, in a graceful curve. He saw that she had a dull, thick complexion, with liquid eyes, set wide apart and slanted upward slightly, and a nose that was deflected inward from the straight line; but her mouth was beautiful and vividly red like a crimson blossom.
"Couldn't you find me some place to sit down, Mr. Durgin?" she asked.
He had it on his tongue to say, "Well, not unless you want to sit down on some enemy," but he did not venture this: when it comes to daring of that sort, the boldest man is commonly a little behind a timid woman.
Several of the fellows had clubbed their rooms, and lent them to the man who was giving the tea; he used one of the apartments for a cloak-room, and he meant the other for the social overflow from his own. But people always prefer to remain dammed-up together in the room where they are received, and Miss Lynde looked between the neighboring heads, and over the neighboring shoulders, and saw the borrowed apartment quite empty. At the moment of this discovery the host came fighting his way up to make sure that Jeff had been provided for in the way of introductions. He promptly introduced him to Miss Lynde. She said: "Oh, that's been done! Can't you think of something new?" Jeff liked the style of this. "I don't mind it, but I'm afraid Mr. Durgin must find it monotonous."
"Oh, well, do something original yourself, then, Miss Lynde!" said the host. "Start a movement for that room across the passage; that's mine, too, for the occasion; and save some of these people's lives. It's suffocating in here."
"I don't mind saving Mr. Durgin's," said the girl, "if he wants it saved."
"Oh, I know he's just dying to have you save it," said the host, and he left them, to inspire other people to follow their example. But such as glanced across the passage into the overflow room seemed to think it now the possession solely of the pioneers of the movement. At any rate, they made no show of joining them; and after Miss Lynde and Jeff had looked at the pictures on the walls and the photographs on the mantel of the room where they found themselves, they sat down on chairs fronting the open door and the door of the room they had left. The window-seat would have been more to Jeff's mind, and he had proposed it, but the girl seemed not to have heard him; she took the deep easy-chair in full view of the company opposite, and left him to pull up a chair beside her.
"I always like to see the pictures in a man's room," she said, with a little sigh of relief from their inspection and a partial yielding of her figure to the luxury of the chair. "Then I know what the man is. This man—I don't know whose room it is—seems to have spent a good deal of his time at the theatre."
"Isn't that where most of them spend their time?" asked Jeff.
"I'm sure I don't know. Is that where you spend yours?"
"It used to be. I'm not spending my time anywhere just now." She looked questioningly, and he added, "I haven't got any to spend."
"Oh, indeed! Is that a reason? Why don't you spend somebody else's?"
"Nobody has any, that I know."
"You're all working off conditions, you mean?"
"That's what I'm doing, or trying to."
"Then it's never certain whether you can do it, after all?"
"Not so certain as to be free from excitement," said Jeff, smiling.
"And are you consumed with the melancholy that seems to be balling up all the men at the prospect of having to leave Harvard and go out into the hard, cold world?"
"I don't look it, do I? Jeff asked:
"No, you don't. And you don't feel it? You're not trying concealment, and so forth?"
"No; if I'd had my own way, I'd have left Harvard before this." He could see that his bold assumption of difference, or indifference, told upon her. "I couldn't get out into the hard, cold world too soon."
"How fearless! Most of them don't know what they're going to do in it."
"And what are you going to do? Or perhaps you think that's asking!"
"Oh no. I'm going to keep a hotel."
He had hoped to startle her, but she asked, rather quietly, "What do you mean?" and she added, as if to punish him for trying to mystify her: "I've heard that it requires gifts for that. Isn't there some proverb?"
"Yes. But I'm going to try to do it on experience." He laughed, and he did not mind her trying to hit him, for he saw that be had made her curious.
"Do you mean that you have kept a hotel?"
"For three generations," he returned, with a gravity that mocked her from his bold eyes.
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," she said, indifferently. "Where is your hotel? In Boston—New York—Chicago?"
"It's in the country—it's a summer hotel," he said, as before.
She looked away from him toward the other room. "There's my brother. I didn't know he was coming."
"Shall I go and tell him where you are?" Jeff asked, following the direction of her eyes.
"No, no; he can find me," said the girl, sinking back in her chair again. He left her to resume the talk where she chose, and she said: "If it's something ancestral, of course—"
"I don't know as it's that, exactly. My grandfather used to keep a country tavern, and so it's in the blood, but the hotel I mean is something that we've worked up into from a farm boarding-house."
"You don't talk like a country person," the girl broke in, abruptly.
"Not in Cambridge. I do in the country."
"And so," she prompted, "you're going to turn it into a hotel when you've got out of Harvard."
"It's a hotel already, and a pretty big one; but I'm going to make the right kind of hotel of it when I take hold of it."
"And what is the right kind of a hotel?"
"That's a long story. It would make you tired."
"It might, but we've got to spend the time somehow. You could begin, and then if I couldn't stand it you could stop."
"It's easier to stop first and begin some other time. I guess I'll let you imagine my hotel, Miss Lynde."
"Oh, I understand now," said the girl. "The table will be the great thing. You will stuff people."
"Do you mean that I'm trying to stuff you?"
"How do I know? You never can tell what men really mean."
Jeff laughed with mounting pleasure in her audacity, that imparted a sense of tolerance for him such as he had experienced very seldom from the Boston girls he had met; after all, he had met but few. It flattered him to have her doubt what he had told her in his reckless indifference; it implied that he was fit for better things than hotel-keeping.
"You never can tell how much a woman believes," he retorted.
"And you keep trying to find out?"
"No, but I think that they might believe the truth."
"You'd better try them with it!"
"Well, I will. Do you really want to know what I'm going to do when I get through?"
"Let me see!" Miss Lynde leaned forward, with her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand, and softly kicked the edge of her skirt with the toe of her shoe, as if in deep thought. Jeff waited for her to play her comedy through. "Yes," she said, "I think I did wish to know—at one time."
"But you don't now?"
"Now? How can I tell? It was a great while ago!"
"I see you don't."
Miss Lynde did not make any reply. She asked, "Do you know my aunt, Durgin?"
"I didn't know you had one."
"Yes, everybody has an aunt—even when they haven't a mother, if you can believe the Gilbert operas. I ask because I happen to live with my aunt, and if you knew her she might—ask you to call." Miss Lynde scanned Jeff's face for the effect of this.
He said, gravely: "If you'll introduce me to her, I'll ask her to let me."
"Would you, really?" said the girl. "I've half a mind to try. I wonder if you'd really have the courage."
"I don't think I'm easily rattled."
"You mean that I'm trying to rattle you."
"I'm not. My aunt is just what I've said."
"You haven't said what she was. Is she here?"
"No; that's the worst of it. If she were, I should introduce you, just to see if you'd dare. Well, some other time I will."
"You think there'll be some other time?" Jeff asked.
"I don't know. There are all kinds of times. By-the-way, what time is it?"
Jeff looked at his watch. "Quarter after six."
"Then I must go." She jumped to her feet, and faced about for a glimpse of herself in the little glass on the mantel, and put her hand on the large pink roses massed at her waist. One heavy bud dropped from its stem to the floor, where, while she stood, the edge of her skirt pulled and pushed it. She moved a little aside to peer over at a photograph. Jeff stooped and picked up the flower, which he offered her.
"You dropped it," he said, bowing over it.
"Did I?" She looked at it with an effect of surprise and doubt.
"I thought so, but if you don't, I shall keep it."
The girl removed her careless eyes from it. "When they break off so short, they won't go back."
"If I were a rose, I should want to go back," said Jeff.
She stopped in one of her many aversions and reversions, and looked at him steadily across her shoulder. "You won't have to keep a poet, Mr. Durgin."
"Thank you. I always expected to write the circulars myself. I'll send you one."
"With this rose pressed between the leaves, so you'll know."
"That would, be very pretty. But you must take me to Mrs. Bevidge, now, if you can."
"I guess I can," said Jeff; and in a minute or two they stood before the matronizing hostess, after a passage through the babbling and laughing groups that looked as impossible after they had made it as it looked before.
Mrs. Bevidge gave the girl's hand a pressure distinct from the official touch of parting, and contrived to say, for her hearing alone: "Thank you so much, Bessie. You've done missionary work."
"I shouldn't call it that."
"It will do for you to say so! He wasn't really so bad, then? Thank you again, dear!"
Jeff had waited his turn. But now, after the girl had turned away, as if she had forgotten him, his eyes followed her, and he did not know that Mrs. Bevidge was speaking to him. Miss Lynde had slimly lost herself in the mass, till she was only a graceful tilt of hat, before she turned with a distraught air. When her eyes met Jeff's they lighted up with a look that comes into the face when one remembers what one has been trying to think of. She gave him a brilliant smile that seemed to illumine him from head to foot, and before it was quenched he felt as if she had kissed her hand to him from her rich mouth.