Then he heard Mrs. Bevidge asking something about a hall, and he was aware of her bending upon him a look of the daring humanity that had carried her triumphantly through her good works at the North End.
"Oh, I'm not in the Yard," said Jeff, with belated intelligence.
"Then will just Cambridge reach you?"
He gave his number and street, and she thanked him with the benevolence that availed so much with the lower classes. He went away thrilling and tingling, with that girl's tones in his ear, her motions in his nerves, and the colors of her face filling his sight, which he printed on the air whenever he turned, as one does with a vivid light after looking at it.
When Jeff reached his room he felt the need of writing to Cynthia, with whatever obscure intention of atonement. He told her of the college tea he had just come from, and made fun of it, and the kind of people he had met, especially the affected girl who had tried to rattle him; he said he guessed she did not think she had rattled him a great deal.
While he wrote he kept thinking how this Miss Lynde was nearer his early ideal of fashion, of high life, which Westover had pretty well snubbed out of him, than any woman he had seen yet; she seemed a girl who would do what she pleased, and would not be afraid if it did not please other people. He liked her having tried to rattle him, and he smiled to himself in recalling her failure. It was as if she had laid hold of him with her little hands to shake him, and had shaken herself. He laughed out in the dark when this image came into his mind; its intimacy flattered him; and he believed that it was upon some hint from her that Mrs. Bevidge had asked his address. She must be going to ask him to her house, and very soon, for it was part of Jeff's meagre social experience that this was the way swells did; they might never ask you twice, but they would ask you promptly.
The thing that Mrs. Bevidge asked Jeff to, when her note reached him the second day after the tea, was a meeting to interest young people in the work at the North End, and Jeff swore under his breath at the disappointment and indignity put upon him. He had reckoned upon an afternoon tea, at least, or even, in the flights of fancy which he now disowned to himself, a dance after the Mid-Years, or possibly an earlier reception of some sort. He burned with shame to think of a theatre- party, which he had fondly specialized, with a seat next Miss Lynde.
He tore Mrs. Bevidge's note to pieces, and decided not to answer it at all, as the best way of showing how he had taken her invitation. But Mrs. Bevidge's benevolence was not wanting in courage; she believed that Jeff should pay his footing in society, such as it was, and should allow himself to be made use of, the first thing; when she had no reply from him, she wrote him again, asking him to an adjourned meeting of the first convocation, which had been so successful in everything but numbers. This time she baited her hook, in hoping that the young men would feel something of the interest the young ladies had already shown in the matter. She expressed the fear that Mr. Durgin had not got her earlier letter, and she sent this second to the care of the man who had given the tea.
Jeff's resentment was now so far past that he would have civilly declined to go to the woman's house; but all his hopes of seeing that girl, as he always called Miss Lynde in his thought, were revived by the mention of the young ladies interested in the cause. He accepted, though all the way into Boston he laid wagers with himself that she would not be there; and up to the moment of taking her hand he refused himself any hope of winning.
There was not much business before the meeting; that had really been all transacted before; it was mainly to make sure of the young men, who were present in the proportion of one to five young ladies at least. Mrs. Bevidge explained that she had seen the wastefulness of amateur effort among the poor, and announced that hereafter she was going to work with the established charities. These were very much in want of visitors, especially young men, to go about among the applicants for relief, and inquire into their real necessities, and get work for them. She was hers self going to act as secretary for the meetings during the coming month, and apparently she wished to signalize her accession to the regular forces of charity by bringing into camp as large a body of recruits as she could.
But Jeff had not come to be made use of, or as a jay who was willing to work for his footing in society. He had come in the hope of meeting Miss Lynde, and now that he had met her he had no gratitude to Mrs. Bevidge as a means, and no regret for the defeat of her good purposes so far as she intended their fulfilment in him. He was so cool and self-possessed in excusing himself, for reasons that he took no pains to make seem unselfish, that the altruistic man who had got him asked to the college tea as a friendless jay felt it laid upon him to apologize for Mrs. Bevidge's want of tact.
"She means well, and she's very much in earnest, in this work; but I must say she can make herself very offensive—when she doesn't try! She has a right to ask our help, but not to parade us as the captives of her bow and spear."
"Oh, that's all right," said Jeff. He perceived that the amiable fellow was claiming for all an effect that Jeff knew really implicated himself alone. "I couldn't load up with anything of that sort, if I'm to work off my conditions, you know."
"Are you in that boat?" said the altruist, as if he were, too; and he put his hand compassionately on Jeff's iron shoulder, and left him to Miss Lynde, whose side he had not stirred from since he had found her.
"It seems to me," she said, "that where there are so many of you in the same boat, you might manage to get ashore somehow."
"Yes, or all go down together." Jeff laughed, and ate Mrs. Bevidge's bread-and-butter, and drank her tea, with a relish unaffected by his refusal to do what she asked him. He was right, perhaps, and perhaps she deserved nothing better at his hands, but the altruist, when he glanced at him from the other side of the room, thought that he had possibly wasted his excuses upon Jeff's self-complacence.
He went away in a halo of young ladies; several of the other girls grouped themselves in their departure; and it happened that Miss Lynde and Jeff took leave together. Mrs. Bevidge said to her, with the caressing tenderness of one in the same set, "Good-bye, dear!" To Jeff she said, with the cold conscience of those whom their nobility obliges, "I am always at home on Thursdays, Mr. Durgin."
"Oh, thank you," said Jeff. He understood what the words and the manner meant together, but both were instantly indifferent to him when he got outside and found that Miss Lynde was not driving. Something, which was neither look, nor smile, nor word, of course, but nothing more at most than a certain pull and tilt of the shoulder, as she turned to walk away from Mrs. Bevidge's door, told him from her that he might walk home with her if he would not seem to do so.
It was one of the pink evenings, dry and clear, that come in the Boston December, and they walked down the sidehill street, under the delicate tracery of the elm boughs in the face of the metallic sunset. In the section of the Charles that the perspective of the street blocked out, the wrinkled current showed as if glazed with the hard color. Jeff's strong frame rejoiced in the cold with a hale pleasure when he looked round into the face of the girl beside him, with the gray film of her veil pressed softly against her red mouth by her swift advance. Their faces were nearly on a level, as they looked into each other's eyes, and he kept seeing the play of the veil's edge against her lips as they talked.
"Why sha'n't you go to Mrs. Bevidge's Thursdays?" she asked. "They're very nice."
How do you know I'm not going?" he retorted.
"By the way you thanked her."
"Do you advise me to go?"
"I haven't got anything to do with it. What do mean by that?"
"I don't know. Curiosity, I suppose."
"Well, I do advise you to go," said the girl. Shall you be there next Thursday?"
"I? I never go to Mrs. Bevidge's Thursdays!"
"Touche," said Jeff, and they both laughed. "Can you always get in at an enemy that way?"
"Well, friend. It's the same thing."
"I see," said the girl. "You belong to the pessimistic school of Seniors."
"Why don't you try to make an optimist of me?"
"Would it be worth while?"
"That isn't for me to say."
"Don't be diffident! That's staler yet."
"I'll be anything you like."
"I'm not sure you could." For an instant Jeff did not feel the point, and he had not the magnanimity, when he did, to own himself touched again. Apparently, if this girl could not rattle him, she could beat him at fence, and the will to dominate her began to stir in him. If he could have thought of any sarcasm, no matter how crushing, he would have come back at her with it. He could not think of anything, and he walked at her side, inwardly chafing for the chance which would not come.
When they reached her door there was a young man at the lock with a latch-key, which he was not making work, for, after a bated blasphemy of his failure, he turned and twitched the bell impatiently.
Miss Lynde laughed provokingly, and he looked over his shoulder at her and at Jeff, who felt his injury increased by the disadvantage this young man put him at. Jeff was as correctly dressed; he wore a silk hat of the last shape, and a long frock-coat; he was properly gloved and shod; his clothes fitted him, and were from the best tailor; but at sight of this young man in clothes of the same design he felt ill-dressed. He was in like sort aware of being rudely blocked out physically, and coarsely colored as to his blond tints of hair and eye and cheek. Even the sinister something in the young man's look had distinction, and there was style in the signs of dissipation in his handsome face which Jeff saw with a hunger to outdo him.
Miss Lynde said to Jeff, "My brother, Mr. Durgin," and then she added to the other, "You ought to ring first, Arthur, and try your key afterward."
"The key's all right," said the young man, without paying any attention to Jeff beyond a glance of recognition; he turned his back, and waited for the door to be opened.
His sister suggested, with an amiability which Jeff felt was meant in reparation to him, "Perhaps a night latch never works before dark—or very well before midnight." The door was opened, and she said to Jeff, with winning entreaty, "Won't you come in, Mr. Durgin?"
Jeff excused himself, for he perceived that her politeness was not so much an invitation to him as a defiance to her brother; he gave her credit for no more than it was worth, and he did not wish any the less to get even with her because of it.
At dinner, in the absence of the butler, Alan Lynde attacked his sister across the table for letting herself be seen with a jay, who was not only a jay, but a cad, and personally so offensive to most of the college men that he had never got into a decent club or society; he had been suspended the first year, and if he had not had the densest kind of cheek he would never have come back. Lynde said he would like to know where she had picked the fellow up.
She answered that she had picked him up, if that was the phrase he liked, at Mrs. Bevidge's; and then Alan swore a little, so as not to be heard by their aunt, who sat at the head of the table, and looked down its length between them, serenely ignorant, in her slight deafness, of what was going on between them. To her perception Alan was no more vehement than usual, and Bessie no more smilingly self-contained. He said he supposed that it was some more of Lancaster's damned missionary work, then, and he wondered that a gentleman like Morland had ever let Lancaster work such a jay in on him; he had seen her 'afficher' herself with the fellow at Morland's tea; he commanded her to stop it; and he professed to speak for her good.
Bessie returned that she knew how strongly he felt from the way he had misbehaved when she introduced him to Mr. Durgin, but that she supposed he had been at the club and his nerves were unstrung. Was that the reason, perhaps, why he could not make his latchkey work? Mr. Durgin might be a cad, and she would not say he was not a jay, but so far he had not sworn at her; and, if he had been suspended and come back, there were some people who had not been suspended or come back, either, though that might have been for want of cheek.
She ended by declaring she was used to going into society without her brother's protection, or even his company, and she would do her best to get on without his advice. Or was it his conduct he wished her to profit by?
It had come to the fish going out by this time, and Alan, who had eaten with no appetite, and drunken feverishly of apollinaris, flung down his napkin and went out, too.
"What is the matter?" asked his aunt, looking after him.
Bessie shrugged, but she said, presently, with her lips more than her voice: "I don't think he feels very well."
"Do you think he—"
The girl frowned assent, and the meal went on to its end. Then she and her aunt went into the large, dull library, where they passed the evenings which Bessie did not spend in some social function. These evenings were growing rather more frequent, with her advancing years, for she was now nearly twenty-five, and there were few Seniors so old. She was not the kind of girl to renew her youth with the Sophomores and Freshmen in the classes succeeding the class with which she had danced through college; so far as she had kept up the old relation with students, she continued it with the men who had gone into the law-school. But she saw less and less of these without seeing more of other men, and perhaps in the last analysis she was not a favorite. She was allowed to be fascinating, but she was not felt to be flattering, and people would rather be flattered than fascinated. In fact, the men were mostly afraid of her; and it has been observed of girls of this kind that the men who are not afraid of them are such as they would do well to be afraid of. Whether that was quite the case with Bessie Lynde or not, it was certain that she who was always the cleverest girl in the room, and if not the prettiest, then the most effective, had not the best men about her. Her men were apt to be those whom the other girls called stupid or horrid, and whom it would not be easy, though it might be more just, to classify otherwise. The other girls wondered what she could see in them; but perhaps it was not necessary that she should see anything in them, if they could see all she wished them to see, and no more, in her.
The room where tea was now brought and put before her was volumed round by the collections of her grandfather, except for the spaces filled by his portrait and that of earlier ancestors, going back to the time when Copley made masterpieces of his fellow-Bostonians. Her aunt herself looked a family portrait of the middle period, a little anterior to her father's, but subsequent to her great-grandfather's. She had a comely face, with large, smooth cheeks and prominent eyes; the edges of her decorous brown wig were combed rather near their corners, and a fitting cap palliated but did not deny the wig. She had the quiet but rather dull look of people slightly deaf, and she had perhaps been stupefied by a life of unalloyed prosperity and propriety. She had grown an old maid naturally, but not involuntarily, and she was without the sadness or the harshness of disappointment. She had never known much of the world, though she had always lived in it. She knew that it was made up of two kinds of people—people who were like her and people who were not like her; and she had lived solely in the society of people who were like her, and in the shelter of their opinions and ideals. She did not contemn or exclude the people who were unlike her, but she had never had any more contact with them than she now had with the weather of the streets, as she sat, filling her large arm-chair full of her ladylike correctness, in the library of the handsome house her father had left her. The irruption of her brother's son and daughter into its cloistered quiet had scarcely broken its invulnerable order. It was right and fit they should be there after his death, and it was not strange that in the course of time they should both show certain unregulated tendencies which, since they were not known to be Lynde tendencies, must have been derived from the Southwestern woman her brother had married during his social and financial periclitations in a region wholly inconceivable to her. Their mother was dead, too, and their aunt's life closed about them with full acceptance, if not complacence, as part of her world. They had grown to manhood and womanhood without materially discomposing her faith in the old-fashioned Unitarian deity, whose service she had always attended.
When Alan left college in his Freshman year, and did not go back, but went rather to Europe and Egypt and Japan, it appeared to her myopic optimism that his escapades had been pretty well hushed up by time and distance. After he came home and devoted himself to his club, she could have wished that he had taken up some profession or business; but since there was money enough, she waited in no great disquiet until he showed as decided a taste for something else as he seemed for the present to have only for horses. In the mean while, from time to time, it came to her doctor's advising his going to a certain retreat. But he came out the first time so much better and remained well so long that his aunt felt a kind of security in his going again and again, whenever he became at all worse. He always came back better. As she took the cup of tea that Bessie poured out for her, she recurred to the question that she had partly asked already:
"Do you think Alan is getting worse again?"
"Not so very much," said the girl, candidly. "He's been at the club, I suppose, but he left the table partly because I vexed him."
"Because you what?"
"Because I vexed him. He was scolding me, and I wouldn't stand it."
Her aunt tasted her tea, and found it so quite what she liked that she said, from a natural satisfaction with Bessie, "I don't see what he had to scold you about."
"Well," returned Bessie, and she got her pretty voice to the level of her aunt's hearing, with some straining, and kept it there, "when he is in that state, he has to scold some one; and I had been rather annoying, I suppose."
"What had you been doing?" asked her aunt, making out her words more from the sight than from the sound, after all.
"I had been walking home with a jay, and we found Alan trying to get in at the front door with his key, and I introduced him to the jay."
Miss Louisa Lynde had heard the word so often from her niece and nephew, that she imagined herself in full possession of its meaning. She asked: "Where had you met him?"
"I met him first," said the girl, "at Willie Morland's tea, last week, and to-day I found him at Mrs. Bevidge's altruistic toot."
"I didn't know," said her aunt, after a momentary attention to her tea, "that jays were interested in that sort of thing."
The girl laughed. "I believe they're not. It hasn't quite reached them, yet; and I don't think it will ever reach my jay. Mrs. Bevidge tried to work him into the cause, but he refused so promptly, and so- intelligently, don't you know—and so almost brutally, that poor Freddy Lancaster had to come and apologize to him for her want of tact." Bessie enjoyed the fact, which she had colored a little, in another laugh, but she had apparently not possessed her aunt of the humor of it. She remained seriously-attentive, and the girl went on: "He was not the least abashed at having refused; he stayed till the last, and as we came out together and he was going my way, I let him walk home with me. He's a jay, but he isn't a common jay." Bessie leaned forward and tried to implant some notion of Jeff's character and personality in her aunt's mind.
Miss Lynde listened attentively enough, but she merely asked, when all was said: "And why was Alan vexed with you about him?"
"Well," said the girl, falling back into her chair, "generally because this man's a jay, and particularly because he's been rather a baddish jay, I believe. He was suspended in his first year for something or other, and you know poor Alan's very particular! But Molly Enderby says Freddy Lancaster gives him the best of characters now." Bessie pulled down her mouth, with an effect befitting the notion of repentance and atonement. Then she flashed out: "Perhaps he had been drinking when he got into trouble. Alan could never forgive him for that."
"I think," said her aunt, "it is to your brother's credit that he is anxious about your associations."
"Oh, very much!" shouted Bessie, with a burst of laughter. "And as he isn't practically so, I ought to have been more patient with his theory. But when he began to scold me I lost my temper, and I gave him a few wholesome truths in the guise of taunts. That was what made him go away, I suppose."
"But I don't really see," her aunt pursued,—"what occasion he had to be angry with you in this instance."
"Oh, I do!" said Bessie. "Mr. Durgin isn't one to inspire the casual beholder with the notion of his spiritual distinction. His face is so rude and strong, and he has such a primitive effect in his clothes, that you feel as if you were coming down the street with a prehistoric man that the barbers and tailors had put a 'fin de siecle' surface on." At the mystification which appeared in her aunt's face the girl laughed again. "I should have been quite as anxious, if I had been in Alan's place, and I shall tell him so, sometime. If I had not been so interested in the situation I don't believe I could have kept my courage. Whenever I looked round, and found that prehistoric man at my elbow, it gave me the creeps, a little, as if he were really carrying me off to his cave. I shall try to express that to Alan."
The ladies finished their tea, and the butler came and took the cups away. Miss Lynde remained silent in her chair at her end of the library- table, and by-and-by Bessie got a book and began to read. When her aunt woke up it was half past nine. "Was that Alan coming in?" she asked.
"I don't think he's been out," said the girl. "It isn't late enough for him to come in—or early enough."
"I believe I'll go to bed," Miss Lynde returned. "I feel rather drowsy."
Bessie did not smile at a comedy which was apt to be repeated every evening that she and her aunt spent at home together; they parted for the night with the decencies of family affection, and Bessie delivered the elder lady over to her maid. Then the girl sank down again, and lay musing in her deep chair before the fire with her book shut on her thumb. She looked rather old and worn in her reverie; her face lost the air of gay banter which, after the beauty of her queer eyes and her vivid mouth, was its charm. The eyes were rather dull now, and the mouth was a little withered.
She was waiting for her brother to come down, as he was apt to do if he was in the house, after their aunt went to bed, to smoke a cigar in the library. He was in his house shoes when he shuffled into the room, but her ear had detected his presence before a hiccough announced it. She did not look up, but let him make several failures to light his cigar, and damn the matches under his breath, before she pushed the drop-light to him in silent suggestion. As he leaned over her chair-back to reach its chimney with his cigar in his mouth, she said, "You're all right, Alan."
He waited till he got round to his aunt's easy-chair and dropped into it before he answered, "So are you, Bess."
"I'm not so sure of that," said the girl, "as I should be if you were still scolding me. I knew that he was a jay, well enough, and I'd just seen him behaving very like a cad to Mrs. Bevidge."
"Then I don't understand how you came to be with him."
"Oh yes, you do, Alan. You mustn't be logical! You might as well say you can't understand how you came to be more serious than sober." The brother laughed helplessly. "It was the excitement."
"But you can't give way to that sort of thing, Bess," said her brother, with the gravity of a man feeling the consequences of his own errors.
"I know I can't, but I do," she returned. "I know it's bad for me, if it isn't for other people. Come! I'll swear off if you will!"
"I'm always ready, to swear off," said the young man, gloomily. He added, "But you've got brains, Bess, and I hate to see you playing the fool."
"Do you really, Alan?" asked the girl, pleased perhaps as much by his reproach as by his praise. "Do you think I've got brains?"
"You're the only girl that has."
"Oh, I didn't mean to ask so much as that! But what's the reason I can't do anything with them? Other girls draw, and play, and write. I don't do anything but go in for the excitement that's bad for me. I wish you'd explain it."
Alan Lynde did not try. The question seemed to turn his thoughts back upon himself to dispiriting effect. "I've got brains, too, I believe," he began.
"Lots of them!" cried his sister, generously. "There isn't any of the men to compare with you. If I had you to talk with all the time, I shouldn't want jays. I don't mean to flatter. You're a constant feast of reason; I don't care for flows of soul. You always take right views of things when you're yourself, and even when you're somebody else you're not stupid. You could be anything you chose."
"The devil of it is I can't choose," he replied.
"Yes, I suppose that's the devil of it," said the girl.
"You oughtn't to use such language as that, Bess," said her brother, severely.
"Oh, I don't with everybody," she returned. "Never with ladies!"
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye with a smile at once rueful and comic.
"You got me, I guess, that time," he owned.
"'Touche',' Mr. Durgin says. He fences, it seems, and he speaks French. It was like an animal speaking French; you always expect them to speak English. But I don't mind your swearing before me; I know that it helps to carry off the electricity." She laughed, and made him laugh with her.
"Is there anything to him?" he growled, when they stopped laughing.
"Yes, a good deal," said Bessie, with an air of thoughtfulness; and then she went on to tell all that Jeff had told her of himself, and she described his aplomb in dealing with the benevolent Bevidge, as she called her, and sketched his character, as it seemed to her. The sketch was full of shrewd guesses, and she made it amusing to her brother, who from the vantage of his own baddishness no doubt judged the original more intelligently.
"Well, you'd better let him alone, after this," he said, at the end.
"Yes," she pensively assented. "I suppose it's as if you took to some very common kind of whiskey, isn't it? I see what you mean. If one must, it ought to be champagne."
She turned upon him a look of that keen but limited knowledge which renders women's conjectures of evil always so amusing, or so pathetic, to men.
"Better let the champagne alone, too," said her brother, darkly.
"Yes, I know that," she admitted, and she lay back in her chair, looking dreamily into the fire. After a while she asked, abruptly: "Will you give it up if I will?"
"I am afraid I couldn't."
"You could try."
"Oh, I'm used to that."
"Then it's a bargain," she said. She jumped from her chair and went over to him, and smoothed his hair over his forehead and kissed the place she had smoothed, though it was unpleasantly damp to her lips. "Poor boy, poor boy! Now, remember! No more jays for me, and no more jags for you. Goodnight."
Her brother broke into a wild laugh at her slanging, which had such a bizarre effect in relation to her physical delicacy.
Jeff did not know whether Miss Bessie Lynde meant to go to Mrs. Bevidge's Thursdays or not. He thought she might have been bantering him by what she said, and he decided that he would risk going to the first of them on the chance of meeting her. She was not there, and there was no one there whom he knew. Mrs. Bevidge made no effort to enlarge his acquaintance, and after he had drunk a cup of her tea he went away with rage against society in his heart, which he promised himself to vent at the first chance of refusing its favors. But the chance seemed not to come. The world which had opened its gates to him was fast shut again, and he had to make what he could of renouncing it. He worked pretty hard, and he renewed himself in his fealty to Cynthia, while his mind strayed curiously to that other girl. But he had almost abandoned the hope of meeting her again, when a large party was given on the eve of the Harvard Mid-Year Examinations, which end the younger gayeties of Boston, for a fortnight at least, in January. The party was so large that the invitations overflowed the strict bounds of society at some points. In the case of Jeff Durgin the excess was intentional beyond the vague benevolence which prompted the giver of the party to ask certain other outsiders. She was a lady of a soul several sizes larger than the souls of some other society leaders; she was not afraid to do as she liked; for instance, she had not only met the Vostrands at Westover's tea, several years before, but she had afterward offered some hospitalities to those ladies which had discharged her whole duty toward them without involving her in any disadvantages. Jeff had been presented to her at Westover's, but she disliked him so promptly and decidedly that she had left him out of even the things that she asked some other jays to, like lectures and parlor readings for good objects. It was not until one of her daughters met him, first at Willie Morland's tea and then at Mrs. Bevidge's meeting, that her social conscience concerned itself with him. At the first her daughter had not spoken to him, as might very well have happened, since Bessie Lynde had kept him away with her nearly all the time; but at the last she had bowed pleasantly to him across the room, and Jeff had responded with a stiff obeisance, whose coldness she felt the more for having been somewhat softened herself in Mrs. Bevidge's altruistic atmosphere.
"I think he was hurt, mamma," the girl explained to her mother, "that you've never had him to anything. I suppose they must feel it."
"Oh, well, send him a card, then," said her mother; and when Jeff got the card, rather near the eleventh hour, he made haste to accept, not because he cared to go to Mrs. Enderby's house, but because he hoped he should meet Miss Lynde there.
Bessie was the first person he met after he turned from paying his duty to the hostess. She was with her aunt, and she presented him, and promised him a dance, which she let him write on her card. She sat out another dance with him, and he took her to supper.
To Westover, who had gone with the increasing forlornness a man feels in such pleasures after thirty-five, it seemed as if the two were in each other's company the whole evening. The impression was so strong with him that when Jeff restored Bessie to her aunt for the dance that was to be for some one else, and came back to the supper-room, the painter tried to satisfy a certain uneasiness by making talk with him. But Jeff would not talk; he got away with a bottle of champagne, which he had captured, and a plate heaped with croquettes and pease, and galantine and salad. There were no ladies left in the room by that time, and few young men; but the oldsters crowded the place, with their bald heads devoutly bowed over their victual, or their frosty mustaches bathed in their drink, singly or in groups; the noise of their talk and laughter mixed with the sound of their eating and drinking, and the clash of the knives and dishes. Over their stooped shoulders and past their rounded stomachs Westover saw Alan Lynde vaguely making his way with a glass in his hand, and looking vaguely about for wine; he saw Jeff catch his wandering eye, and make offer of his bottle, and then saw Lynde, after a moment of haughty pause, unbend and accept it. His thin face was flushed, and his hair tossed over his forehead, but Jeff seemed not to take note of that. He laughed boisterously at something Lynde said, and kept filling his glass for him. His own color remained clear and cool. It was as if his powerful physique absorbed the wine before it could reach his brain.
Westover wanted to interfere, and so far as Jeff was concerned he would not have hesitated; but Lynde was concerned, too, and you cannot save such a man from himself without offence. He made his way to the young man, hoping he might somehow have the courage he wanted.
Jeff held up the bottle, and called to him, "Get yourself a glass, Mr. Westover." He put on the air of a host, and would hardly be denied. "Know Mr. Westover, Mr. Lynde? Just talking about you," he explained to Westover.
Alan had to look twice at the painter. "Oh yes. Mr. Durgin, here— telling me about his place in the mountains. Says you've been there. Going—going myself in the summer. See his—horses." He made pauses between his words as some people do when they, try to keep from stammering.
Westover believed Lynde understood Jeff to be a country gentleman of sporting tastes, and he would not let that pass. "Yes, it's the pleasantest little hotel in the mountains."
"Strictly-temperance, I suppose?" said Alan, trying to smile with lips that obeyed him stiffly. He appeared not to care who or what Jeff was; the champagne had washed away all difference between them. He went on to say that he had heard of Jeff's intention of running the hotel himself when he got out of Harvard. He held it to be damned good stuff.
Jeff laughed. "Your sister wouldn't believe me when I told her."
"I think I didn't mention Miss Lynde," said Alan, haughtily.
Jeff filled his glass; Alan looked at it, faltered, and then drank it off. The talk began again between the young men, but it left Westover out, and he had to go away. Whether Jeff was getting Lynde beyond himself from the love of mischief, such as had prompted him to tease little children in his boyhood, or was trying to ingratiate himself with the young fellow through his weakness, or doing him harm out of mere thoughtlessness, Westover came away very unhappy at what he had seen. His unhappiness connected itself so distinctly with Lynde's family that he went and sat down beside Miss Lynde from an obscure impulse of compassion, and tried to talk with her. It would not have been so hard if she were merely deaf, for she had the skill of deaf people in arranging the conversation so that a nodded yes or no would be all that was needed to carry it forward. But to Westover she was terribly dull, and he was gasping, as in an exhausted receiver, when Bessie came up with a smile of radiant recognition for his extremity. She got rid of her partner, and devoted herself at once to Westover. "How good of you!" she said, without giving him the pain of an awkward disclaimer.
He could counter in equal sincerity and ambiguity, "How beautiful of you."
"Yes," she said, "I am looking rather well, tonight; but don't you think effective would have been a better word?" She smiled across her aunt at him out of a cloud of pink, from which her thin shoulders and slender neck emerged, and her arms, gloved to the top, fell into her lap; one of them seemed to terminate naturally in the fan which sensitively shared the inquiescence of her person.
"I will say effective, too, if you insist," said Westover. "But at the same time you're the most beautiful person here."
"How lovely of you, even if you don't mean it," she sighed. "If girls could have more of those things said to them, they would be better, don't you think? Or at least feel better."
Westover laughed. "We might organize a society—they have them for nearly everything now—for saying pleasant things to young ladies with a view to the moral effect."
"Oh, do I"
"But it ought to be done conscientiously, and you couldn't go round telling every one that she was the most beautiful girl in the room."
"Why not? She'd believe it!"
"Yes; but the effect on the members of the society?"
"Oh yes; that! But you could vary it so as to save your conscience. You could say, 'How divinely you're looking!' or 'How angelic!' or 'You're the very poetry of motion,' or 'You are grace itself,' or 'Your gown is a perfect dream, or any little commonplace, and every one would take it for praise of her personal appearance, and feel herself a great beauty, just as I do now, though I know very well that I'm all out of drawing, and just chicqued together."
"I couldn't allow any one but you to say that, Miss Bessie; and I only let it pass because you say it so well."
"Yes; you're always so good! You wouldn't contradict me even when you turned me out of your class."
"Did I turn you out of my class?"
"Not just in so many words, but when I said I couldn't do anything in art, you didn't insist that it was because I wouldn't, and of course then I had to go. I've never forgiven you, Mr. Westover, never! Do keep on talking very excitedly; there's a man coming up to us that I don't want to think I see him, or he'll stop. There! He's veered off! Where were you, Mr. Westover?"
"Ah, Miss Bessie," said the painter; delighted at her drama, "there isn't anything you couldn't do if you would."
"You mean parlor entertainments; impersonations; impressions; that sort of thing? I have thought of it. But it would be too easy. I want to try something difficult."
"Well, being very, very good. I want something that would really tax my powers. I should like to be an example. I tried it the other night just before I went to sleep, and it was fine. I became an example to others. But when I woke up—I went on in the old way. I want something hard, don't you know; but I want it to be easy!"
She laughed, and Westover said: "I am glad you're not serious. No one ought to be an example to others. To be exemplary is as dangerous as to be complimentary.
"It certainly isn't so agreeable to the object," said the girl. "But it's fine for the subject as long as it lasts. How metaphysical we're getting! The objective and the subjective. It's quite what I should expect of talk at a Boston dance if I were a New-Yorker. Have you seen anything of my brother, within the last hour or so, Mr. Westover?"
"Yes; I just left him in the supper-room. Shall I go get him for you?" When he had said this, with the notion of rescuing him from Jeff, Westover was sorry, for he doubted if Alan Lynde were any longer in the state to be brought away from the supper-room, and he was glad to have Bessie say:
"No, no. He'll look us up in the course of the evening—or the morning." A young fellow came to claim her for a dance, and Westover had not the face to leave Miss Lynde, all the less because she told him he must not think of staying. He stayed till the dance was over, and Bessie came back to him.
"What time is it, Mr. Westover? I see my aunt beginning to nod on her perch."
Westover looked at his watch. "It's ten minutes past two."
"How early!" sighed the girl. "I'm tired of it, aren't you?"
"Very," said Westover. "I was tired an hour ago."
Bessie sank back in her chair with an air of nervous collapse, and did not say anything. Westover saw her watching the young couples who passed in and out of the room where the dancing was, or found corners on sofas, or window-seats, or sheltered spaces beside the doors and the chimney- piece, the girls panting and the men leaning forward to fan them. She looked very tired of it; and when a young fellow came up and asked her to dance, she told him that she was provisionally engaged. "Come back and get me, if you can't do better," she said, and he answered there was no use trying to do better, and said he would wait till the other man turned up, or didn't, if she would let him. He sat down beside her, and some young talk began between them.
In the midst of it Jeff appeared. He looked at Westover first, and then approached with an embarrassed face.
Bessie got vividly to her feet. "No apologies, Mr. Durgin, please! But in just another moment you'd have last your dance."
Westover saw what he believed a change pass in Jeff's look from embarrassment to surprise and then to flattered intelligence. He beamed all over; and he went away with Bessie toward the ballroom, and left Westover to a wholly unsupported belief that she had not been engaged to dance with Jeff. He wondered what her reckless meaning could be, but he had always thought her a young lady singularly fitted by nature and art to take care of herself, and when he reasoned upon what was in his mind he had to own that there was no harm in Jeff's dancing with her.
He took leave of Miss Lynde, and was going to get his coat and hat for his walk home when he was mysteriously stopped in a corner of the stairs by one of the caterer's men whom he knew. It is so unnatural to be addressed by a servant at all unless he asks you if you will have something to eat or drink, that Westover was in a manner prepared to have him say something startling. "It's about young Mr. Lynde, sor. We've got um in one of the rooms up-stairs, but he ain't fit to go home alone, and I've been lookin' for somebody that knows the family to help get um into a car'ge. He won't go for anny of us, sor."
"Where is he?" asked Westover, in anguish at being unable to refuse the appeal, but loathing the office put upon him.
"I'll show you, sor," said the caterer's man, and he sprang up the stairs before Westover, with glad alacrity.
In a little room at the side of that where the men's hats and coats were checked, Alan Lynde sat drooping forward in an arm-chair, with his head fallen on his breast. He roused himself at the flash of the burner which the man turned up. "What's all this?" he demanded, haughtily. "Where's the carriage? What's the matter?"
"Your carriage is waiting, Lynde," said Westover. "I'll see you down to it," and he murmured, hopelessly, to the caterer's man: "Is there any back way?"
"There's the wan we got um up by."
"It will do," said Westover, as simply.
But Lynde called out, defiantly: "Back way; I sha'n't go down back way. Inshult to guest. I wish—say—good-night to—Mrs. Enderby. Who you, anyway? Damn caterer's man?"
"I'm Westover, Lynde," the painter began, but the young fellow broke in upon him, shaking his hand and then taking his arm.
"Oh, Westover! All right! I'll go down back way with you. Thought— thought it was damn caterer's man. No—offence."
"No. It's all right. "Westover got his arm under Lynde's elbow, and, with the man going before for them to fall upon jointly in case they should stumble, he got him down the dark and twisting stairs and through the basement hall, which was vaguely haunted by the dispossessed women servants of the family, and so out upon the pavement of the moonlighted streets.
"Call Miss Lynde's car'ge," shouted the caterer's man to the barker, and escaped back into the basement, leaving Westover to stay his helpless charge on the sidewalk.
It seemed a publication of the wretch's shame when the barker began to fill the night with hoarse cries of, "Miss Lynde's carriage; carriage for Miss Lynde!" The cries were taken up by a coachman here and there in the rank of vehicles whose varnished roofs shone in the moon up and down the street. After a time that Westover of course felt to be longer than it was, Miss Lynde's old coachman was roused from his sleep on the box and started out of the rank. He took in the situation with the eye of custom, when he saw Alan supported on the sidewalk by a stranger at the end of the canopy covering the pavement.
He said, "Oh, ahl right, sor!" and when the two white-gloved policemen from either side of it helped Westover into the carriage with Lynde, he set off at a quick trot. The policemen clapped their hands together, and smiled across the strip of carpet that separated them, and winks and nods of intelligence passed among the barkers to the footmen about the curb and steps. There were none of them sorry to see a gentleman in that state; some of them had perhaps seen Alan in that state before.
Half-way home he roused himself and put his hand on the carriage-door latch. "Tell the coachman drive us to—the—club. Make night of it."
"No, no," said Westover, trying to restrain him. "We'd better go right on to your house."
"Who—who—who are you?" demanded Alan.
"Oh yes—Westover. Thought we left Westover at Mrs. Enderby's. Thought it was that jay—What's his name? Durgin. He's awful jay, but civil to me, and I want be civil to him. You're not—jay? No? That's right. Fellow made me sick; but I took his champagne; and I must show him some —attention." He released the door-handle, and fell back against the cushioned carriage wall. "He's a blackguard!" he said, sourly. "Not— simple jay-blackguard, too. No—no—business bring in my sister's name, hey? You—you say it's—Westover? Oh yes, Westover. Old friend of family. Tell you good joke, Westover—my sister's. No more jays for me, no more jags for you. That's what she say—just between her and me, you know; she's a lady, Bess is; knows when to use—slang. Mark—mark of a lady know when to use slang. Pretty good—jays and jags. Guess we didn't count this time—either of us."
When the carriage pulled up before Miss Lynde's house, Westover opened the door. "You're at home, now, Lynde. Come, let's get out."
Lynde did not stir. He asked Westover again who he was, and when he had made sure of him, he said, with dignity, Very well; now they must get the other fellow. Westover entreated; he even reasoned; Lynde lay back in the corner of the carriage, and seemed asleep.
Westover thought of pulling him up and getting him indoors by main force. He appealed to the coachman to know if they could not do it together.
"Why, you see, I couldn't leave me harsses, sor," said the coachman. "What's he wants, sor?" He bent urbanely down from his box and listened to the explanation that Westover made him, standing in the cold on the curbstone, with one hand on the carriage door. "Then it's no use, sor," the man decided. "Whin he's that way, ahl hell couldn't stir um. Best go back, sor, and try to find the gentleman."
This was in the end what Westover had to do, feeling all the time that a thing so frantically absurd could not be a waking act, but helpless to escape from its performance. He thought of abandoning his charge and leaving him, to his fate when he opened the carriage door before Mrs. Enderby's house; but with the next thought he perceived that this was on all accounts impossible. He went in, and began his quest for Jeff, sending various serving men about with vague descriptions of him, and asking for him of departing guests, mostly young men he did not know, but who, he thought, might know Jeff.
He had to take off his overcoat at last, and reappear at the ball. The crowd was still great, but visibly less dense than it had been. By a sudden inspiration he made his way to the supper-room, and he found Jeff there, filling a plate, as if he were about to carry it off somewhere. He commanded Jeff's instant presence in the carriage outside; he told him of Alan's desire for him.
Jeff leaned back against the wall with the plate in his hand and laughed till it half slipped from his hold. When he could get his breath, he said: "I'll be back in a few minutes; I've got to take this to Miss Bessie Lynde. But I'll be right back."
Westover hardly believed him. But when he got on his own things again, Jeff joined him in his hat and overcoat, and they went out together.
It was another carriage that stopped the way now, and once more the barker made the night ring with what Westover felt his heartless and shameless cries for Miss Lynde's carriage. After a maddening delay, it lagged up to the curb and Jeff pulled the door open.
"Hello!" he said. "There's nobody here!"
"Nobody there?" cried Westover, and they fell upon the coachman with wild question and reproach; the policeman had to tell him at last that the carriage must move on, to make way for others.
The coachman had no explanation to offer: he did not know how or when Mr. Alan had got away.
"But you can give a guess where he's gone?" Jeff suggested, with a presence of mind which Westover mutely admired.
"Well, sor, I know where he do be gahn, sometimes," the man admitted.
"Well, that will do; take me there," said Jeff. "You go in and account for me to Miss Lynde," he instructed Westover, across his shoulder. "I'll get him home before morning, somehow; and I'll send the carriage right back for the ladies, now."
Westover had the forethought to decide that Miss Bessie should ask for Jeff if she wanted him, and this simplified matters very much. She asked nothing about him. At sight of Westover coming up to her where she sat with her aunt, she merely said: "Why, Mr. Westover! I thought you took leave of this scene of gayety long ago."
"Did you?" Westover returned, provisionally, and she saved him from the sin of framing some deceit in final answer by her next question.
"Have you seen anything of Alan lately?" she asked, in a voice involuntarily lowered.
Westover replied in the same octave: "Yes; I saw him going a good while ago."
"Oh!" said the girl. "Then I think my aunt and I had better go, too."
Still she did not go, and there was an interval in which she had the air of vaguely waiting. To Westover's vision, the young people still passing to and from the ballroom were like the painted figures of a picture quickened with sudden animation. There were scarcely any elders to be seen now, except the chaperons, who sat in their places with iron fortitude; Westover realized that he was the only man of his age left. He felt that the lights ought to have grown dim, but the place was as brilliant as ever. A window had been opened somewhere, and the cold breath of the night was drawing through the heated rooms.
He was content to have Bessie stay on, though he was almost dropping with sleep, for he was afraid that if she went at once, the carriage might not have got back, and the whole affair must somehow be given away; at last, if she were waiting, she decided to wait no longer, and then Westover did not know how to keep her. He saw her rise and stoop over her aunt, putting her mouth to the elder lady's ear, and he heard her saying, "I am going home, Aunt Louisa." She turned sweetly to him. "Won't you let us set you down, Mr. Westover?"
"Why, thank you, I believe I prefer walking. But do let me have your carriage called," and again he hurried himself into his overcoat and hat, and ran down-stairs, and the barker a third time sent forth his lamentable cries in summons of Miss Lynde's carriage.
While he stood on the curb-stone eagerly peering up and down the street, he heard, without being able either to enjoy or resent it, one of the policemen say across him to the other, "Miss lynde seems to be doin' a livery-stable business to-night."
Almost at the moment a carriage drove up, and he recognized Miss Lynde's coachman, who recognized him.
"Just got back, sor," he whispered, and a minute later Bessie came daintily out over the carpeted way with her aunt.
"How good of you!" she said, and "Good-night, Mr. Westover," said Miss Lynde, with an implication in her voice that virtue was peculiarly its own reward for those who performed any good office for her or hers.
Westover shut them in, the carriage rolled off, and he started on his homeward walk with a long sigh of relief.
Bessie asked the sleepy man who opened her aunt's door whether her brother had come in yet, and found that he had not. She helped her aunt off up-stairs with her maid, and when she came down again she sent the man to bed; she told him she was going to sit up and she would let her brother in. The caprices of Alan's latch-key were known to all the servants, and the man understood what she, meant. He said he had left a light in the reception-room and there was a fire there; and Bessie tripped on down from the library floor, where she had met him. She had put off her ball dress and had slipped into the simplest and easiest of breakfast frocks, which was by no means plain. Bessie had no plain frocks for any hour of the day; her frocks all expressed in stuff and style and color, and the bravery of their flying laces and ribbons, the audacity of spirit with which she was herself chicqued together, as she said. This one she had on now was something that brightened her dull complexion, and brought out the best effect of her eyes and mouth, and seemed the effluence of her personal dash and grace. It made the most of her, and she liked it beyond all her other negligees for its complaisance.
She got a book, and sat down in a long, low chair before the fire and crossed her pretty slippers on the warm hearth. It was a quarter after three by the clock on the mantel; but she had never felt more eagerly awake. The party had not been altogether to her mind, up to midnight, but after that it had been a series of rapid and vivid emotions, which continued themselves still in the tumult of her nerves, and seemed to demand an indefinite sequence of experience. She did not know what state her brother might be in when he came home; she had not seen anything of him after she first went out to supper; till then, though, he had kept himself straight, as he needs must; but she could not tell what happened to him afterward. She hoped that he would come home able to talk, for she wished to talk. She wished to talk about herself; and as she had already had flattery enough, she wanted some truth about herself; she wanted Alan to say what he thought of her behavior the whole evening with that jay. He must have seen something of it in the beginning, and she should tell him all the rest. She should tell him just how often she had danced with the man, and how many dances she had sat out with him; how she had pretended once that she was engaged when another man asked her, and then danced with the jay, to whom she pretended that he had engaged her for the dance. She had wished to see how he would take it; for the same reason she had given to some one else a dance that was really his. She would tell Alan how the jay had asked her for that last dance, and then never come near her again. That would give him the whole situation, and she would know just what he thought of it.
What she thought of herself she hardly knew, or made believe she hardly knew. She prided herself upon not being a flirt; she might not be very good, as goodness went, but she was not despicable, and a flirt was despicable. She did not call the audacity of her behavior with the jay flirting; he seemed to understand it as well as she, and to meet her in her own spirit; she wondered now whether this jay was really more interesting than the other men one met, or only different; whether he was original, like Alan himself, or merely novel, and would soon wear down to the tiresomeness that seemed to underlie them all, and made one wish to do something dreadful. In the jay's presence she had no wish to do anything dreadful. Was it because he was dreadful enough for both, all the time, without doing anything? She would like to ask Alan that, and see how he would take it. Nothing seemed to put the jay out, so far as she had tried, and she had tried some bold impertinences with him. He was very jolly through them all, and at the worst of them he laughed and asked her for that dance, which he never came to claim, though in the mean time he brought her some belated supper, and was devoted to her and her aunt, inventing services to do for them. Then suddenly he went off and did not return, and Mr. Westover mysteriously reappeared, and got their carriage.
She heard a scratching at the key-hole of the outside door; she knew it was Alan's latch. She had left the inner door ajar that there might be no uncertainty of hearing him, and she ran out into the space between that and the outer door where the fumbling and scraping kept on.
"Is that you, Alan?" she called, softly, and if she had any doubt before, she had none when she heard her brother outside, cursing his luck with his key as usual.
She flung the door open, and confronted him with another man, who had his arms around him as if he had caught him from falling with the inward pull of the door. Alan got to his feet and grappled with the man, and insisted that he should come in and make a night of it.
Bessie saw that it was Jeff, and they stood a moment, looking at each other. Jeff tried to free himself with an appeal to Bessie: "I beg your pardon, Miss Lynde. I walked home with your brother, and I was just helping him to get in—I didn't think that you—"
Alan said, with his measured distinctness: "Nobody cares what you think. Come in, and get something to carry you over the bridge. Cambridge cars stopped running long ago. I say you shall!" He began to raise his voice. A light flashed in a window across the way, and a sash was lifted; some one must be looking out.
"Oh, come in with him!" Bessie implored, and at a little yielding in Jeff her brother added:
"Come in, you damn jay!" He pulled at Jeff.
Jeff made haste to shut the door behind them. He was laughing; and if it was from mere brute insensibility to what would have shocked another in the situation, his frank recognition of its grotesqueness was of better effect than any hopeless effort to ignore it would have been. People adjust themselves to their trials; it is the pretence of the witness that there is no trial which hurts, and Bessie was not wounded by Jeff's laugh.
"There's a fire here in the reception-room," she said. "Can you get him in?"
"I guess so."
Jeff lifted Alan into the room and stayed him on foot there, while he took off his hat and overcoat, and then he let him sink into the low easy-chair Bessie had just risen from. All the time, Alan was bidding her ring and have some champagne and cold meat set out on the side-board, and she was lightly promising and coaxing. But he drowsed quickly in the warmth, and the last demand for supper died half uttered on his lips.
Jeff asked across him: "Can't I get him up-stairs for you? I can carry him."
She shook her head and whispered back, "I can leave him here," and she looked at Jeff with a moment's hesitation. "Did you—do you think that— any one noticed him at Mrs. Enderby's?"
"No; they had got him in a room by himself—the caterer's men had."
"And you found him there?"
"Mr. Westover found him there," Jeff answered.
"I don't understand."
"Didn't he come to you after I left?"
"I told him to excuse me—"
"Well, I guess he was pretty badly rattled." Jeff stopped himself in the vague laugh of one who remembers something ludicrous, and turned his face away.
"Tell me what it was!" she demanded, nervously.
"Mr. Westover had been home with him once, and he wouldn't stay. He made Mr. Westover come back for me."
"What did he want with you?"
"And then what?"
"We went out to the carriage, as soon as I could get away from you; but he wasn't in it. I sent Mr. Westover back to you and set out to look for him."
"That was very good of you. And I—thank you for your kindness to my brother. I shall not forget it. And I wish to beg your pardon."
"What for?" asked Jeff, bluntly.
"For blaming you when you didn't come back for the dance."
If Bessie had meant nothing but what was fitting to the moment some inherent lightness of nature played her false. But even the histrionic touch which she could not keep out of her voice, her manner, another sort of man might have found merely pathetic.
Jeff laughed with subtle intelligence. "Were you very hard on me?"
"Very," she answered in kind, forgetting her brother and the whole terrible situation.
"Tell me what you thought of me," he said, and he came a little nearer to her, looking very handsome and very strong. "I should like to know."
"I said I should never speak to you again."
"And you kept your word," said Jeff. "Well, that's all right. Good- night-or good-morning, whichever it is." He took her hand, which she could not withdraw, or feigned to herself that she could not withdraw, and looked at her with a silent laugh, and a hardy, sceptical glance that she felt take in every detail of her prettiness, her plainness. Then he turned and went out, and she ran quickly and locked the door upon him.
Bessie crept up to her room, where she spent the rest of the night in her chair, amid a tumult of emotion which she would have called thinking. She asked herself the most searching questions, but she got no very candid answers to them, and she decided that she must see the whole fact with some other's eyes before she could know what she had meant or what she had done.
When she let the daylight into her room, it showed her a face in her mirror that bore no trace of conflicting anxieties. Her complexion favored this effect of inward calm; it was always thick; and her eyes seemed to her all the brighter for their vigils.
A smile, even, hovered on her mouth as she sat down at the breakfast- table, in the pretty negligee she had worn all night, and poured out Miss Lynde's coffee for her.
"That's always very becoming to you, Bessie," said her aunt. "It's the nicest breakfast gown you have."
"Do you think so?" Bessie looked down at it, first on one side and then on the other, as a woman always does when her dress is spoken of.
"Mr. Alan said he would have his breakfast in his room, miss," murmured the butler, in husky respectfulness, as he returned to Bessie from carrying Miss Lynde's cup to her. "He don't want anything but a little toast and coffee."
She perceived that the words were meant to make it easy for her to ask: "Isn't he very well, Andrew?"
"About as usual, miss," said Andrew, a thought more sepulchral than before. "He's going on—about as usual."
She knew this to mean that he was going on from bad to worse, and that his last night's excess was the beginning of a debauch which could end only in one way. She must send for the doctor; he would decide what was best, when he saw how Alan came through the day.
Late in the afternoon she heard Mary Enderby's voice in the reception- room, bidding the man say that if Miss Bessie were lying down she would come up to her, or would go away, just as she wished. She flew downstairs with a glad cry of "Molly! What an inspiration! I was just thinking of you, and wishing for you. But I didn't suppose you were up yet!"
"It's pretty early," said Miss Enderby. "But I should have been here before if I could, for I knew I shouldn't wake you, Bessie, with your habit of turning night into day, and getting up any time in the forenoon."
"How dissipated you sound!"
"Yes, don't I? But I've been thinking about you ever since I woke, and I had to come and find out if you were alive, anyhow."
"Come up-stairs and see!" said Bessie, holding her friend's hand on the sofa where they had dropped down together, and going all over the scene of last night in that place for the thousandth time.
"No, no; I really mustn't. I hope you had a good time?"
"At your house!"
"How dear of you! But, Bessie, I got to thinking you'd been rather sacrificed. It came into my mind the instant I woke, and gave me this severe case of conscience. I suppose it's a kind of conscience."
"Yes, yes. Go on! I like having been a martyr, if I don't know what about."
"Why, you know, Bessie, or if you don't you will presently, that it was I who got mamma to send him a card; I felt rather sorry for him, that day at Mrs. Bevidge's, because she'd so obviously got him there to use him, and I got mamma to ask him. Everything takes care of itself, at a large affair, and I thought I might trust in Providence to deal with him after he came; and then I saw you made a means the whole evening! I didn't reflect that there always has to be a means!"
"It's a question of Mr. Durgin?" said Bessie, coldly thrilling at the sound of a name that she pronounced so gayly in a tone of sympathetic amusement.
Miss Enderby bobbed her head. "It shows that we ought never to do a good action, doesn't it? But, poor thing! How you must have been swearing off!"
"I don't know. Was it so very bad? I'm trying to think," said Bessie, thinking that after this beginning it would be impossible to confide in Mary Enderby.
"Oh, now, Bessie! Don't you be patient, or I shall begin to lose my faith in human nature. Just say at once that it was an outrage and I'll forgive you! You see," Miss Enderby went on, "it isn't merely that he's a jay; but he isn't a very nice jay. None of the men like him—except Freddy Lancaster, of course; he likes everybody, on principle; he doesn't count. I thought that perhaps, although he's so crude and blunt, he might be sensitive and high-minded; you're always reading about such things; but they say he isn't, in the least; oh, not the least! They say he goes with a set of fast jays, and that he's dreadful; though he has a very good mind, and could do very well if he chose. That's what cousin Jim said to-day; he's just been at our house; and it was so extremely telepathic that I thought I must run round and prevent your having the man on your conscience if you felt you had had too much of him. You won't lay him up against us, will you?" She jumped to her feet.
"You dear!" said Bessie, keeping Mary Enderby's hand, and pressing it between both of hers against her breast as they now stood face to face, "do come up and have some tea!"
"No, no! Really, I can't."
They were both involuntarily silent. The door had been opened to some one, and there was a brief parley, which ended in a voice they knew to be the doctor's, saying, "Then I'll go right up to his room." Both the girls broke into laughing adieux, to hide their consciousness that the doctor was going up to see Alan Lynde, who was never sick except in the one way.
Miss Enderby even said: "I was so glad to see Alan looking so well, last night."
"Yes, he had such a good time," said Bessie, and she followed her friend to the door, where she kissed her reassuringly, and thanked her for taking all the trouble she had, bidding her not be the least anxious on her account.
It seemed to her that she should sink upon the stairs in mounting them to the library. Mary Enderby had told her only what she had known before; it was what her brother had told her; but then it had not been possible for the man to say that he had brought Alan home tipsy, and been alone in the house with her at three o'clock in the morning. He would not only boast of it to all that vulgar comradehood of his, but it might get into those terrible papers which published the society scandals. There would be no way but to appeal to his pity, his generosity. She fancied herself writing to him, but he could show her note, and she must send for him to come and see her, and try to put him on his honor. Or, that would not do, either. She must make it happen that they should be thrown together, and then speak to him. Even that might make him think she was afraid of him; or he might take it wrong, and believe that she cared for him. He had really been very good to Alan, and she tried to feel safe in the thought of that. She did feel safe for a moment; but if she had meant nothing but to make him believe her grateful, what must he infer from her talking to him in the light way she did about forgiving him for not coming back to dance with her. Her manner, her looks, her tone, had given him the right to say that she had been willing to flirt with him there, at that hour, and in those dreadful circumstances.
She found herself lying in a deep arm-chair in the library, when she was aware of Dr. Lacy pausing at the door and looking tentatively in upon her.
"Come in, doctor," she said, and she knew that her face was wet with tears, and that she spoke with the voice of weeping.
He came forward and looked narrowly at her, without sitting down. "There's nothing to be alarmed about, Miss Bessie," he said. "But I think your brother had better leave home again, for a while."
"Yes," she said, blankly. Her mind was not on his words.
"I will make the arrangements."
"Thank you," said Bessie, listlessly.
The doctor had made a step backward, as if he were going away, and now he stopped. "Aren't you feeling quite well, Miss Bessie?"
"Oh yes," she said, and she began to cry.
The doctor came forward and said, cheerily: "Let me see." He pulled a chair up to hers, and took her wrist between his fingers. "If you were at Mrs. Enderby's last night, you'll need another night to put you just right. But you're pretty well as it is." He let her wrist softly go, and said: "You mustn't distress yourself about your brother's case. Of course, it's hard to have it happen now after he's held up so long; longer than it has been before, I think, isn't it? But it's something that it has been so long. The next time, let us hope, it will be longer still."
The doctor made as if to rise. Bessie put her hand out to stay him. "What is it makes him do it?"
"Ah, that's a great mystery," said the doctor. "I suppose you might say the excitement."
"But it seems to me very often, in such cases, as if it were to escape the excitement. I think you're both keyed up pretty sharply by nature, Miss Bessie," said the doctor, with the personal kindness he felt for the girl, and the pity softening his scientific spirit.
"I know!" she answered. "We're alike. Why don't I take to drinking, too?"
The doctor laughed at such a question from a young lady, but with an inner seriousness in his laugh, as if, coming from a patient, it was to be weighed. "Well, I suppose it isn't the habit of your sex, Miss Bessie."
"Sometimes it is. Sometimes women get drunk, and then I think they do less harm than if they did other things to get away from the excitement." She longed to confide in him; the words were on her tongue; she believed he could help her, tell her what to do; out of his stores of knowledge and experience he must have some suggestion, some remedy; he could advise her; he could stand her friend, so far. People told their doctors all kinds of things, silly things. Why should she not tell her doctor this?
It would have been easier if it had been an older man, who might have had a daughter of her age. But he was in that period of the early forties when a doctor sometimes has a matter-of-fact, disagreeable wife whose idea stands between him and the spiritual intimacy of his patients, so that it seems as if they were delivering their confidences rather to her than to him. He was able, he was good, he was extremely acute, he was even with the latest facts and theories; but as he sat straight up in his chair his stomach defined itself as a half-moon before him, and he said to the quivering heap of emotions beside him, "You mean like breaking hearts, and such little matters?"
It was fatally stupid, and it beat her back into herself.
"Yes," she said, with a contempt that she easily hid from him, "that's worse than getting drunk, isn't it?"
"Well, it isn't so regarded," said the doctor, who supposed himself to have made a sprightly answer, and laughed at it. "I wish, Miss Bessie, you'd take a little remedy I'm going to send you. You've merely been up too late, but it's a very good thing for people who've been up too late."
"Thank you. And about my brother?"
"Oh! I'll send a man to look after him to-night, and tomorrow I really think he'd better go."
Miss Lynde had gone earlier than usual to bed, when Bessie heard Alan's door open, and then heard him feeling his way fumbingly down-stairs. She surmised that he had drunk up all that he had in his room, and was making for the side-board in the dining-room.
She ran and got the two decanters-one of whiskey and one of brandy, which he was in the habit of carrying back to his room from such an incursion.
"Alan!" she called to him, in a low voice.
"Where are you?" he answered back.
"In the library," she said. "Come in here, please."
He came, and stood looking gloomily in from the doorway. He caught sight of the decanters and the glasses on the library table. "Oh!" he said, and gave a laugh cut in two by a hiccough.
"Come in, and shut the door, Alan," she said. "Let's make a night of it. I've got the materials here." She waved her hand toward the decanters.
Alan shrugged. "I don't know what you mean." But he came forward, and slouched into one of the deep chairs.
"Well, I'll tell you what," said Bessie, with a laugh. "We're both excited, and we want to get away from ourselves. Isn't that what's the matter with you when it begins? Doctor Lacy thinks it is."
"Does he?" Alan asked. "I didn't suppose he had so much sense. What of it?"
"Nothing. Merely that I'm going to drink a glass of whiskey and a glass of brandy for every glass that you drink to-night."
"You mustn't play the fool, Bess," said her brother, with dignified severity.
"But I'm really serious, Alan. Shall I give you something? Which shall we begin on? And we'd better begin soon, for there's a man coming from the doctor to look after you, and then you won't get anything."
"Don't be ridiculous! Give me those decanters!" Alan struggled out of his chair, and trembled over to where she had them on the table beside her.
She caught them up, one in either hand, and held them as high as she could lift them. "If you don't sit down and promise to keep still, I'll smash them both on the hearth. You know I will."
Her strange eyes gleamed, and he hesitated; then he went back to his chair.
"I don't see what's got into you to-night. I don't want anything," he said. He tried to brave it out, but presently he cast a piteous glance at the decanters where she had put them down beside her again. "Does the doctor think I'd better go again?" he asked.
He looked at the decanters. "And when is that fellow coming?"
"He may be here any moment."
"It's pretty rough," he sighed. "Two glasses of that stuff would drive you so wild you wouldn't know where you were, Bess," he expostulated.
"Well, I wish I didn't know where I was. I wish I wasn't anywhere." He looked at her, and then dropped his eyes, with the effect of giving up a hopeless conundrum.
But he asked: "What's the matter?"
She scanned him keenly before she answered: "Something that I should like to tell you—that you ought to know. Alan, do you think you are fit to judge of a very serious matter?"
He laughed pathetically. "I don't believe I'm in a very judicial frame of mind to-night, Bess. To-morrow—"
"Oh, to-morrow! Where will you be to-morrow?"
"That's true! Well, what is it? I'll try to listen. But if you knew how my nerves were going." His eyes wandered from hers back to the decanters. "If I had just one glass—"
"I'll have one, too," she said, with a motion toward the decanter next her.
He threw up his arms. "Oh well, go on. I'll listen as well as I can." He sank down in his chair and stretched his little feet out toward the fire. "Go on!"
She hesitated before she began. "Do you know who brought you home last night, Alan?"
"Yes," he answered, quickly, "Westover."
"Yes, Mr. Westover brought yon, and you wouldn't stay. You don't remember anything else?"
"No. What else?"
"Nothing for you, if you don't remember." She sat in silent hopelessness for a while, and her brother's eyes dwelt on the decanters, which she seemed to have forgotten. "Alan!" she broke out, abruptly, "I'm worried, and if I can't tell you about it there's no one I can."
The appeal in tier voice must have reached him, though he seemed scarcely to have heeded her words. "What is it?" he asked, kindly.
"You went back to the Enderbys' after Mr. Westover brought you home, and then some one else had to bring you again."
"How do you know?"
"I was up, and let you in—"
"Did you, Bessie? That was like you," he said, tenderly.
"And I had to let him in, too. You pulled him into the house, and you made such a disturbance at the door that he had to come in for fear you would bring the police."
"What a beast!" said Alan, of himself, as if it were some one else.
"He came in with you. And you wanted him to have some supper. And you fell asleep before the fire in the reception-room."
"That—that was the dream!" said Alan, severely. "What are you talking that stuff for, Bessie?"
"Oh no!" she retorted, with a laugh, as if the pleasure of its coming in so fitly were compensation for the shame of the fact. "The dream was what happened afterward. The dream was that you fell asleep there, and left me there with him—"
"Well, poor old Westover; he's a gentleman! You needn't be worried about him—"
"You're not fit!" cried the girl. "I give it up." She got upon her feet and stood a moment listless.
"No, I'm not, Bessie. I can't pull my mind together tonight. But look here!" He seemed to lose what he wanted to say. He asked: "Is it something I've got you in for? Do I understand that?"
"Partly," she said.
"Well, then, I'll help you out. You can trust me, Bessie; you can, indeed. You don't believe it?"
"Oh, I believe you think I can trust you."
"But this time you can. If you need my help I will stand by you, right or wrong. If you want to tell me now I'll listen, and I'll advise you the best I can—"
"It's just something I've got nervous about," she said, while her eyes shone with sudden tears. "But I won't trouble you with it to-night. There's no such great hurry. We can talk about it in the morning if you're better then. Oh, I forgot! You're going away!"
"No," said the young man, with pathetic dignity, "I'm not going if you need my help. But you're right about me tonight, Bessie. I'm not fit. I'm afraid I can't grasp anything to-night. Tell me in the morning. Oh, don't be afraid!" he cried out at the glance she gave the decanters. "That's over, now; you could put them in my hands and be safe enough. I'm going back to bed, and in the morning—"
He rose and went toward the door. "If that doctor's man comes to-night you can send him away again. He needn't bother."
"All right, Alan," she said, fondly. "Good-night. Don't worry about me. Try to get some sleep."
"And you must sleep, too. You can trust me, Bessie."
He came back after he got out of the room and looked in. "Bess, if you're anxious about it, if you don't feel perfectly sure of me, you can take those things to your room with you." He indicated the decanters with a glance.
"Oh no! I shall leave them here. It wouldn't be any use your just keeping well overnight. You'll have to keep well a long time, Alan, if you're going to help me. And that's the reason I'd rather talk to you when you can give your whole mind to what I say."
"Is it something so serious?"
"I don't know. That's for you to judge. Not very—not at all, perhaps."
"Then I won't fail you, Bessie. I shall 'keep well,' as you call it, as long as you want me. Good-night."
"Good-night. I shall leave these bottles here, remember."
"You needn't be afraid. You might put them beside my bed."
Bessie slept soundly, from exhaustion, and in that provisional fashion in which people who have postponed a care to a given moment are able to sleep. But she woke early, and crept down-stairs before any one else was astir, and went to the library. The decanters stood there on the table, empty. Her brother lay a shapeless heap in one of the deep arm-chairs.
Westover got home from the Enderby dance at last with the forecast of a violent cold in his system, which verified itself the next morning. He had been housed a week, when Jeff Durgin came to see him. "Why didn't you let me know you were sick?" he demanded, "I'd have come and looked after you."
"Thank you," said Westover, with as much stiffness as he could command in his physical limpness. "I shouldn't have allowed you to look after me; and I want you to understand, now, that there can't be any sort of friendliness between us till you've accounted for your behavior with Lynde the other night."
"You mean at the party?" Jeff asked, tranquilly.
"Yes!" cried Westover. "If I had not been shut up ever since, I should have gone to see you and had it out with you. I've only let you in, now, to give you the chance to explain; and I refuse to hear a word from you till you do." Westover did not think that this was very forcible, and he was not much surprised that it made Jeff smile.
"Why, I don't know what there is to explain. I suppose you think I got him drunk; I know what you thought that night. But he was pretty well loaded when he struck my champagne. It wasn't a question of what he was going to do any longer, but how he was going to do it. I kept an eye on him, and at the right time I helped the caterer's man to get him up into that room where he wouldn't make any trouble. I expected to go back and look after him, but I forgot him."
"I don't suppose, really, that you're aware what a devil's argument that is," said Westover. "You got Lynde drunk, and then you went back to his sister, and allowed her to treat you as if you were a gentleman, and didn't deserve to be thrown out of the house." This at last was something like what Westover had imagined he would say to Jeff, and he looked to see it have the imagined effect upon him.
"Do you suppose," asked Jeff, with cheerful cynicism, "that it was the first time she was civil to a man her brother got drunk with?"
"No! But all the more you ought to have considered her helplessness. It ought to have made her the more sacred"—Jeff gave an exasperating shrug—"to you, and you ought to have kept away from her for decency's sake."
"I was engaged to dance with her."
"I can't allow you to be trivial with me, Durgin," said Westover. "You've acted like a blackguard, and worse, if there is anything worse."
Jeff stood at a corner of the fire, leaning one elbow on the mantel, and he now looked thoughtfully down on Westover, who had sunk weakly into a chair before the hearth. "I don't deny it from your point of view, Mr. Westover," he said, without the least resentment in his tone. "You believe that everything is done from a purpose, or that a thing is intended because it's done. But I see that most things in this world are not thought about, and not intended. They happen, just as much as the other things that we call accidents."
"Yes," said Westover, "but the wrong things don't happen from people who are in the habit of meaning the right ones."
"I believe they do, fully half the time," Jeff returned; "and, as far as the grand result is concerned, you might as well think them and intend them as not. I don't mean that you ought to do it; that's another thing, and if I had tried to get Lynde drunk, and then gone to dance with his sister, I should have been what you say I am. But I saw him getting worse without meaning to make him so; and I went back to her because—I wanted to."
"And you think, I suppose," said Westover, "that she wouldn't have cared any more than you cared if she had known what you did."
"I can't say anything about that."
The painter continued, bitterly: "You used to come in here, the first year, with notions of society women that would have disgraced a Goth, or a gorilla. Did you form your estimate of Miss Lynde from those premises?"
"I'm not a boy now," Jeff answered, "and I haven't stayed all the kinds of a fool I was."
"Then you don't think Miss Lynde would speak to you, or look at you, after she knew what you had done?"
"I should like to tell her and see," said Jeff, with a hardy laugh. "But I guess I sha'n't have the chance. I've never been a favorite in society, and I don't expect to meet her again."
"Perhaps you'd like to have me tell her?"
"Why, yes, I believe I should, if you could tell me what she thought—not what she said about it."
"You are a brute," answered Westover, with a puzzled air. What puzzled him most and pleased him least was the fellow's patience under his severity, which he seemed either not to feel or not to mind. It was of a piece with the behavior of the rascally boy whom he had cuffed for frightening Cynthia and her little brother long ago, and he wondered what final malevolence it portended.
Jeff said, as if their controversy were at an end and they might now turn to more personal things: "You look pretty slim, Mr. Westover. A'n't there something I can do for you-get you? I've come in with a message from mother. She says if you ever want to get that winter view of Lion's Head, now's your time. She wants you to come up there; she and Cynthia both do. They can make you as comfortable as you please, and they'd like to have a visit from you. Can't you go?"
Westover shook his head ruefully. "It's good of them, and I want you to thank them for me. But I don't know when I'm going to get out again."
"Oh, you'll soon get out," said Jeff. "I'm going to look after you a little," and this time Westover was too weak to protest. He did not forbid Jeff's taking off his overcoat; he suffered him to light his spirit-lamp and make a punch of the whiskey which he owned the doctor was giving him; and when Jeff handed him the steaming glass, and asked him, "How's that?" he answered, with a pleasure in it which he knew to be deplorable, "It's fine."
Jeff stayed the whole evening with him, and made him more comfortable than he had been since his cold began. Westover now talked seriously and frankly with him, but no longer so harshly, and in his relenting he felt a return of his old illogical liking for him. He fancied in Durgin's kindness to himself an indirect regret, and a desire to atone for what he had done, and he said: "The effect is in you—the worst effect. I don't think either of the young Lyndes very exemplary people. But you'd be doing yourself a greater wrong than you've done then if you didn't recognize that you had been guilty toward them."
Jeff seemed struck by this notion. "What do you want me to do? What can I do? Chase myself out of society? Something like that? I'm willing. It's too easy, though. As I said, I've never been wanted much, there, and I shouldn't be missed."
"Well, then, how would you like to leave it to the people at Lion's Head to say what you should do?" Westover suggested.
I shouldn't like it," said Jeff, promptly. "They'd judge it as you do —as if they'd done it themselves. That's the reason women are not fit to judge." His gay face darkened. "But tell 'em if you want to."
"Bah!" cried the painter. "Why should I want to I'm not a woman in everything."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Westover. I didn't mean that. I only meant that you're an idealist. I look at this thing as if some one else had done it; I believe that's the practical way; and I shouldn't go in for punishing any one else for such a thing very severely." He made another punch—for himself this time, he said; but Westover joined him in a glass of it.
"It won't do to take that view of your faults, Jeff," he said, gravely.
"What's the reason?" Jeff demanded; and now either the punch had begun to work in Westover's brain, or some other influence of like force and quality. He perceived that in this earth-bound temperament was the potentiality of all the success it aimed at. The acceptance of the moral fact as it was, without the unconscious effort to better it, or to hold himself strictly to account for it, was the secret of the power in the man which would bring about the material results he desired; and this simplicity of the motive involved had its charm.
Westover was aware of liking Durgin at that moment much more than he ought, and of liking him helplessly. In the light of his good-natured selfishness, the injury to the Lyndes showed much less a sacrilege than it had seemed; Westover began to see it with Jeff's eyes, and to see it with reference to what might be low and mean in them, instead of what might be fine and high.
He was sensible of the growth Jeff had made intellectually. He had not been at Harvard nearly four years for nothing. He had phrases and could handle them. In whatever obscure or perverse fashion, he had profited by his opportunities. The fellow who could accuse him of being an idealist, and could in some sort prove it, was no longer a naughty boy to be tutored and punished. The revolt latent in him would be violent in proportion to the pressure put upon him, and Westover began to be without the wish to press his fault home to him so strongly. In the optimism generated by the punch, he felt that he might leave the case to Jeff himself; or else in the comfort we all experience in sinking to a lower level, he was unwilling to make the effort to keep his own moral elevation. But he did make an effort to save himself by saying: "You can't get what you've done before yourself as you can the action of some one else. It's part of you, and you have to judge the motive as well as the effect."
"Well, that's what I'm doing," said Jeff; "but it seems to me that you're trying to have me judge of the effect from a motive I didn't have. As far as I can make out, I hadn't any motive at all."
He laughed, and all that Westover could say was, "Then you're still responsible for the result." But this no longer appeared so true to him.
It was not a condition of Westover's welcome at Lion's Head that he should seem peculiarly the friend of Jeff Durgin, but he could not help making it so, and he began to overact the part as soon as he met Jeff's mother. He had to speak of him in thanking her for remembering his wish to paint Lion's Head in the winter, and he had to tell her of Jeff's thoughtfulness during the past fortnight; he had to say that he did not believe he should ever have got away if it had not been for him. This was true; Durgin had even come in from Cambridge to see him off on the train; he behaved as if the incident with Lynde and all their talk about it had cemented the friendship between Westover and himself, and he could not be too devoted. It now came out that he had written home all about Westover, and made his mother put up a stove in the painter's old room, so that he should have the instant use of it when he arrived.
It was an air-tight wood-stove, and it filled the chamber with a heat in which Westover drowsed as soon as he entered it. He threw himself on the bed, and slept away the fatigue of his railroad journey and the cold of his drive with Jombateeste from the station. His nap was long, and he woke from it in a pleasant languor, with the dream-clouds still hanging in his brain. He opened the damper of his stove, and set it roaring again; then he pulled down the upper sash of his window and looked out on a world whose elements of wood and snow and stone he tried to co- ordinate. There was nothing else in that world but these things, so repellent of one another. He suffered from the incongruity of the wooden bulk of the hotel, with the white drifts deep about it, and with the granite cliffs of Lion's Head before it, where the gray crags darkened under the pink afternoon light which was beginning to play upon its crest from the early sunset. The wind that had seemed to bore through his thick cap and his skull itself, and that had tossed the dry snow like dust against his eyes on his way from the railroad, had now fallen, and an incomparable quiet wrapped the solitude of the hills. A teasing sense of the impossibility of the scene, as far as his art was concerned, filled him full of a fond despair of rendering its feeling. He could give its light and color and form in a sufficiently vivid suggestion of the fact, but he could not make that pink flush seem to exhale, like a long breath, upon those rugged shapes; he could not impart that sentiment of delicately, almost of elegance, which he found in the wilderness, while every detail of civilization physically distressed him. In one place the snow had been dug down to the pine planking of the pathway round the house; and the contact of this woodenness with the frozen ground pierced his nerves and set his teeth on edge like a harsh noise. When once he saw it he had to make an effort to take his eyes from it, and in a sort unknown to him in summer he perceived the offence of the hotel itself amid the pure and lonely beauty of the winter landscape. It was a note of intolerable banality, of philistine pretence and vulgar convention, such as Whitwell's low, unpainted cottage at the foot of the hill did not give, nor the little red school-house, on the other hand, showing through the naked trees. There should have been really no human habitation visible except a wigwam in the shelter of the pines, here and there; and when he saw Whitwell making his way up the hill-side road, Westover felt that if there must be any human presence it should be some savage clad in skins, instead of the philosopher in his rubber boots and his clothing-store ulster. He preferred the small, wiry shape of Jombateeste, in his blue woollen cap and his Canadian footgear, as he ran round the corner of the house toward the barn, and left the breath of his pipe in the fine air behind him.
The light began to deepen from the pale pink to a crimson which stained the tops and steeps of snow, and deepened the dark of the woods massed on the mountain slopes between the irregular fields of white. The burnished brown of the hard-wood trees, the dull carbon shadows of the evergreens, seemed to wither to one black as the red strengthened in the sky. Westover realized that he had lost the best of any possible picture in letting that first delicate color escape him. This crimson was harsh and vulgar in comparison; it would have almost a chromo quality; he censured his pleasure in it as something gross and material, like that of eating; and on a sudden he felt hungry. He wondered what time they would give him supper, and he took slight account of the fact that a caprice of the wind had torn its hood of snow from the mountain summit, and that the profile of the Lion's Head showed almost as distinctly as in summer. He stood before the picture which for that day at least was lost to him, and questioned whether there would be a hearty meal, something like a dinner, or whether there would be something like a farmhouse supper, mainly of doughnuts and tea.
He pulled up his window and was going to lie down again, when some one knocked, and Frank Whitwell stood at the door. "Do you want we should bring your supper to you here, Mr. Westover, or will you—"
"Oh, let me join you all!" cried the painter, eagerly. "Is it ready— shall I come now?"
"Well, in about five minutes or so." Frank went away, after setting down in the room the lamp he had brought. It was a lamp which Westover thought he remembered from the farm-house period, and on his way down he realized as he had somehow not done in his summer sojourns, the entirety of the old house in the hotel which had encompassed it. The primitive cold of its stairways and passages struck upon him as soon as he left his own room, and he found the parlor door closed against the chill. There was a hot stove-fire within, and a kerosene-lamp turned low, but there was no one there, and he had the photograph of his first picture of Lion's Head to himself in the dim light. The voices of Mrs. Durgin and Cynthia came to him from the dining-room, and from the kitchen beyond, with the occasional clash of crockery, and the clang of iron upon iron about the stove, and the quick tread of women's feet upon the bare floor. With these pleasant noises came the smell of cooking, and later there was an opening and shutting of doors, with a thrill of the freezing air from without, and the dull thumping of Whitwell's rubber boots, and the quicker flapping of Jombateeste's soft leathern soles. Then there was the sweep of skirted feet at the parlor door, and Cynthia Whitwell came in without perceiving him. She went to the table by the darkening window, and quickly turned up the light of the lamp. In her ignorance of his presence, he saw her as if she had been alone, almost as if she were out of the body; he received from her unconsciousness the impression of something rarely pure and fine, and he had a sudden compassion for her, as for something precious that is fated to be wasted or misprized. At a little movement which he made to relieve himself from a sense of eavesdropping, she gave a start, and shut her lips upon the little cry that would have escaped from another sort of woman.
"I didn't know you were here," she said; and she flushed with the shyness of him which she always showed at first. She had met him already with the rest, but they had scarcely spoken together; and he knew of the struggle she must now be making with herself when she went on: "I didn't know you had been called. I thought you were still sleeping."