"Yes. I seemed to sleep for centuries," said West over, "and I woke up feeling coeval with Lion's Head. But I hope to grow younger again."
She faltered, and then she asked: "Did you see the light on it when the sun went down?"
"I wish I hadn't. I could never get that light—even if it ever came again."
"It's there every afternoon, when it's clear."
"I'm sorry for that; I shall have to try for it, then."
"Wasn't that what you came for?" she asked, by one of the efforts she was making with everything she said. He could have believed he saw the pulse throbbing in her neck. But she held herself stone-still, and he divined her resolution to conquer herself, if she should die for it.
"Yes, I came for that," said Westover. "That's what makes it so dismaying. If I had only happened on it, I shouldn't have been responsible for the failure I shall make of it."
She smiled, as if she liked his lightness, but doubted if she ought. "We don't often get Lion's Head clear of snow."
"Yes; that's another hardship," said the painter. "Everything is against me! If we don't have a snow overnight, and a cloudy day to-morrow, I shall be in despair."
She played with the little wheel of the wick; she looked down, and then, with a glance flashed at him, she gasped: "I shall have to take your lamp for the table tea is ready."
"Oh, well, if you will only take me with it. I'm frightfully hungry."
Apparently she could not say anything to that. He tried to get the lamp to carry it out for her, but she would not let him. "It isn't heavy," she said, and hurried out before him.
It was all nothing, but it was all very charming, and Westover was richly content with it; and yet not content, for he felt that the pleasure of it was not truly his, but was a moment of merely borrowed happiness.
The table was laid in the old farm-house sitting-room where he had been served alone when he first came to Lion's Head. But now he sat down with the whole family, even to Jombateeste, who brought in a faint odor of the barn with him.
They had each been in contact with the finer world which revisits nature in the summer-time, and they must all have known something of its usages, but they had reverted in form and substance to the rustic living of their neighbors. They had steak for Westover, and baked potatoes; but for themselves they had such farm fare as Mrs. Durgin had given him the first time he supped there. They made their meal chiefly of doughnuts and tea, and hot biscuit, with some sweet dishes of a festive sort added in recognition of his presence; and there was mince-pie for all. Mrs. Durgin and Whitwell ate with their knives, and Jombateeste filled himself so soon with every implement at hand that he was able to ask excuse of the others if he left them for the horses before they had half finished. Frank Whitwell fed with a kind of official or functional conformity to the ways of summer folks; but Cynthia, at whom Westover glanced with anxiety, only drank some tea and ate a little bread and butter. He was ashamed of his anxiety, for he had owned that it ought not to have mattered if she had used her knife like her father; and it seemed to him as if he had prompted Mrs. Durgin by his curious glance to say: "We don't know half the time how the child lives. Cynthy! Take something to eat!"
Cynthia pleaded that she was not hungry; Mrs. Durgin declared that she would die if she kept on as she was going; and then the girl escaped to the kitchen on one of the errands which she made from time to time between the stove and the table.
"I presume it's your coming, Mr. Westover," Mrs. Durgin went on, with the comfortable superiority of elderly people to all the trials of the young. "I don't know why she should make a stranger of you, every time. You've known her pretty much all her life."
"Ever since you give Jeff what he deserved for scaring her and Frank with his dog," said Whitwell.
"Poor Fox!" Mrs. Durgin sighed. "He did have the least sense for a dog I ever saw. And Jeff used to be so fond of him! Well, I guess he got tired of him, too, toward the last."
"He's gone to the happy hunting-grounds now. Colorady didn't agree with him-or old age," said Whitwell. "I don't see why the Injuns wa'n't right," he pursued, thoughtfully. "If they've got souls, why ha'n't their dogs? I suppose Mr. Westover here would say there wa'n't any certainty about the Injuns themselves!"
"You know my weak point, Mr. Whitwell," the painter confessed. "But I can't prove they haven't."
"Nor dogs, neither, I guess," said Whitwell, tolerantly. "It's curious, though, if animals have got souls, that we ha'n't ever had any communications from 'em. You might say that ag'in' the idea."
"No, I'll let you say it," returned Westover. "But a good many of the communications seem to come from the lower intelligences, if not the lower animals."
Whitwell laughed out his delight in the thrust. "Well, I guess that's something so. And them old Egyptian devils, over there, that you say discovered the doctrine of immortality, seemed to think a cat was about as good as a man. What's that," he appealed to Mrs. Durgin, "Jackson said in his last letter about their cat mummies?"
"Well, I guess I'll finish my supper first," said Mrs. Durgin, whose nerves Westover would not otherwise have suspected of faintness. "But Jackson's letters," she continued, loyally, "are about the best letters!"
"Know they'd got some of 'em in the papers?" Whitwell asked; and at the surprise that Westover showed he told him how a fellow who was trying to make a paper go over at the Huddle, had heard of Jackson's letters and teased for some of them, and had printed them as neighborhood news in that side of his paper which he did not buy ready printed in Boston.
Mrs. Durgin studied with modest deprecation the effect of the fact upon Westover, and seemed satisfied with it. "Well, of course, it's interestin' to Jackson's old friends in the country, here. They know he'd look at things, over there, pretty much as they would. Well, I had to lend the letters round so much, anyway, it was a kind of a relief to have 'em in the paper, where everybody could see 'em, and be done with it. Mr. Whit'ell here, he fixes 'em up so's to leave out the family part, and I guess they're pretty well thought of."
Westover said he had no doubt they were, and he should want to see all the letters they could show him, in print and out of print.
"If Jackson only had Jeff's health and opportunities—" the mother began, with a suppressed passion in her regret.
Frank Whitwell pushed back his chair. "I guess I'll ask to be excused," he said to the head of table.
"There! I a'n't goin' to say any more about that, if that's what you're afraid of, Frank," said Mrs. Durgin. "Well, I presume I do talk a good deal about Jackson when I get goin', and I presume it's natural Cynthy shouldn't want I should talk about Jeff before folks. Frank, a'n't you goin' to wait for that plate of hot biscuit?—if she ever gits it here!"
"I guess I don't care for anything more," said Frank, and he got himself out of the room more inarticulately than he need, Westover thought.
His, father followed his retreat with an eye of humorous intelligence. "I guess Frank don't want to keep the young ladies waitin' a great while. There's a church sociable over 't the Huddle," he explained to Westover.
"Oh, that's it, is it?" Mrs. Durgin put in. "Why didn't he say so."
"Well, the young folks don't any of 'em seem to want to talk about such things nowadays, and I don't know as they ever did." Whitwell took Westover into his confidence with a wink.
The biscuit that Cynthia brought in were burned a little on top, and Mrs. Durgin recognized the fact with the question, "Did you get to studyin', out there? Take one, do, Mr. Westover! You ha'n't made half a meal! If I didn't keep round after her, I don't know what would become of us all. The young ladies down at Boston, any of 'em, try to keep up with the fellows in college?"
"I suppose they do in the Harvard Annex," said Westover, simply, in spite of the glance with which Mrs. Durgin tried to convey a covert meaning. He understood it afterward, but for the present his single-mindedness spared the girl.
She remained to clear away the table, when the rest left it, and Westover followed Mrs. Durgin into the parlor, where she indemnified herself for refraining from any explicit allusion to Jeff before Cynthia. "The boy," she explained, when she had made him ransack his memory for every scrap of fact concerning her son, "don't hardly ever write to me, and I guess he don't give Cynthy very much news. I presume he's workin' harder than ever this year. And I'm glad he's goin' about a little, from what you say. I guess he's got to feelin' a little better. It did worry me for him to feel so what you may call meechin' about folks. You see anything that made you think he wa'n't appreciated?"
After Westover got back into his own room, some one knocked at his door, and he found Whitwell outside. He scarcely asked him to come in, but Whitwell scarcely needed the invitation. "Got everything you want? I told Cynthy I'd come up and see after you; Frank won't be back in time." He sat down and put his feet on top of the stove, and struck the heels of his boots on its edge, from the habit of knocking the caked snow off them in that way on stove-tops. He did not wait to find out that there was no responsive sizzling before he asked, with a long nasal sigh, "Well, how is Jeff gettin' along?"
He looked across at Westover, who had provisionally seated himself on his bed.
"Why, in the old way." Whitwell kept his eye on him, and he added: "I suppose we don't any of us change; we develop."
Whitwell smiled with pleasure in the loosely philosophic suggestion. "You mean that he's the same kind of a man that he was a boy? Well, I guess that's so. The question is, what kind of a boy was he? I've been mullin' over that consid'able since Cynthy and him fixed it up together. Of course, I know it's their business, and all that; but I presume I've got a right to spee'late about it?"
He referred the point to Westover, who knew an inner earnestness in it, in spite of Whitwell's habit of outside jocosity. "Every right in the world, I should say, Mr. Whitwell," he answered, seriously.
"Well, I'm glad you feel that way," said Whitwell, with a little apparent surprise. "I don't want to meddle, any; but I know what Cynthy is—I no need to brag her up—and I don't feel so over and above certain 't I know what he is. He's a good deal of a mixture, if you want to know how he strikes me. I don't mean I don't like him; I do; the fellow's got a way with him that makes me kind of like him when I see him. He's good- natured and clever; and he's willin' to take any amount of trouble for you; but you can't tell where to have him." Westover denied the appeal for explicit assent in Whitwell's eye, and he went on: "If I'd done that fellow a good turn, in spite of him, or if I'd held him up to something that he allowed was right, and consented to, I should want to keep a sharp lookout that he didn't play me some ugly trick for it. He's a comical devil," Whitwell ended, rather inadequately. "How d's it look to you? Seen anything lately that seemed to tally with my idee?"
"No, no; I can't say that I have," said Westover, reluctantly. He wished to be franker than he now meant to be, but he consulted a scruple that he did not wholly respect; a mere convention it seemed to him, presently. He said: "I've always felt that charm in him, too, and I've seen the other traits, though not so clearly as you seem to have done. He has a powerful will, yes—"
He stopped, and Whitwell asked: "Been up to any deviltry lately?"
"I can't say he has. Nothing that I can call intentional."
"No," said Whitwell. "What's he done, though?"
"Really, Mr. Whitwell, I don't know that you have any right to expect me to talk him over, when I'm here as his mother's guest—his own guest—?"
"No. I ha'n't," said Whitwell. "What about the father of the girl he's goin' to marry?"
Westover could not deny the force of this. "You'd be anxious if I didn't tell you what I had in mind, I dare say, more than if I did." He told him of Jeff's behavior with Alan Lynde, and of his talk with him about it. "And I think he was honest. It was something that happened, that wasn't meant."
Whitwell did not assent directly, somewhat to Westover's surprise. He asked: "Fellow ever done anything to Jeff?"
"Not that I know of. I don't know that they ever met before."
Whitwell kicked his heels on the edge of the stove again. "Then it might been an accident," he said, dryly.
Westover had to break the silence that followed, and he found himself defending Jeff, though somehow not for Jeff's sake. He urged that if he had the strong will they both recognized in him, he would never commit the errors of a weak man, which were usually the basest.
"How do you know that a strong-willed man a'n't a weak one?" Whitwell astonished him by asking. "A'n't what we call a strong will just a kind of a bull-dog clinch that the dog himself can't unloose? I take it a man that has a good will is a strong man. If Jeff done a right thing against his will, he wouldn't rest easy till he'd showed that he wa'n't obliged to, by some mischief worse 'n what he was kept out of. I tell you, Mr. Westover, if I'd made that fellow toe the mark any way, I'd be afraid of him." Whitwell looked at Westover with eyes of significance, if not of confidence. Then he rose with a prolonged "M—wel-l-l! We're all born, but we a'n't all buried. This world is a queer place. But I guess Jeff 'll come out right in the end."
Westover said, "I'm sure he will!" and he shook hands warmly with the father of the girl Jeff was going to marry.
Whitwell came back, after he had got some paces away, and said: "Of course, this is between you and me, Mr. Westover."
"I don't mean Mis' Durgin. I shouldn't care what she thought of my talkin' him over with you. I don't know," he continued, putting up his hand against the door-frame, to give himself the comfort of its support while he talked, "as you understood what she mean by the young ladies at Boston keepin' up with the fellows in college. Well, that's what Cynthy's doin' with Jeff, right along; and if he ever works off them conditions of his, and gits his degree, it' ll be because she helped him to. I tell you, there's more than one kind of telepathy in this world, Mr. Westover. That's all."
Westover understood from Whitwell's afterthought that it was Cynthia he was anxious to keep ignorant of his misgivings, if they were so much as misgivings. But the importance of this fact could not stay him against the tide of sleep which was bearing him down. When his head touched the pillow it swept over him, and he rose from it in the morning with a gayety of heart which he knew to be returning health. He jumped out of bed, and stuffed some shavings into his stove from the wood-box beside it, and laid some logs on them; he slid the damper open, and then lay down again, listening to the fire that showed its red teeth through the slats and roared and laughed to the day which sparkled on the white world without. When he got out of bed a second time, he found the room so hot that he had to pull down his window-sash, and he dressed in a temperature of twenty degrees below zero without knowing that the dry air was more than fresh. Mrs. Durgin called to him through the open door of her parlor, as he entered the dining-room: "Cynthy will give you your breakfast, Mr. Westover. We're all done long ago, and I'm busy in here," and the girl appeared with the coffee-pot and the dishes she had been keeping hot for him at the kitchen stove. She seemed to be going to leave him when she had put them down before him, but she faltered, and then she asked: "Do you want I should pour your coffee for you?"
"Oh yes! Do!" he begged, and she sat down across the table from him. "I'm ashamed to make this trouble for you," he added. "I didn't know it was so late."
"Oh, we have the whole day for our work," she answered, tolerantly.
He laughed, and said: "How strange that seems! I suppose I shall get used to it. But in town we seem never to have a whole day for a day's work; we always have to do part of it at night, or the next morning. Do you ever have a day here that's too large a size for its work?"
"You can nearly always find something to do about a house," she returned, evasively. "But the time doesn't go the way it does in the summer."
"Oh, I know how the country is in the winter," he said. "I was brought up in the country."
"I didn't know that," she said, and she gave him a stare of surprise before her eyes fell.
"Yes. Out in Wisconsin. My people were emigrants, and I lived in the woods, there, till I began to paint my way out. I began pretty early, but I was in the woods till I was sixteen."
"I didn't know that," she repeated. "I always thought that you were—"
"Summer folks, like the rest? No, I'm all-the-year-round folks originally. But I haven't been in the country in the winter since I was a boy; and it's all been coming back to me, here, like some one else's experience."
She did not say anything, but the interest in her eyes, which she could not keep from his face now, prompted him to go on.
"You can make a beginning in the West easier than you can in the East, and some people who came to our lumber camp discovered me, and gave me a chance to begin. I went to Milwaukee first, and they made me think I was somebody. Then I came on to New York, and they made me think I was nobody. I had to go to Europe to find out which I was; but after I had been there long enough I didn't care to know. What I was trying to do was the important thing to me; not the fellow who was trying to do it."
"Yes," she said, with intelligence.
"I met some Boston people in Italy, and I thought I should like to live where that kind of people lived. That's the way I came to be in Boston. It all seems very simple now, but I used to think it might look romantic from the outside. I've had a happy life; and I'm glad it began in the country. I shouldn't care if it ended there. I don't know why I've bothered you with my autobiography, though. Perhaps because I thought you knew it already."
She looked as if she would have said something fitting if she could have ruled herself to it; but she said nothing at all. Her failure seemed to abash her, and she could only ask him if he would not have some more coffee, and then excuse herself, and leave him to finish his breakfast alone.
That day he tried for his picture from several points out-of-doors before he found that his own window gave him the best. With the window open, and the stove warm at his back, he worked there in great comfort nearly every afternoon. The snows kept off, and the clear sunsets burned behind the summit day after day. He painted frankly and faithfully, and made a picture which, he said to himself, no one would believe in, with that warm color tender upon the frozen hills. The soft suffusion of the winter scene was improbable to him when he had it in, nature before his eyes; when he looked at it as he got it on his canvas it was simply impossible.
In the forenoons he had nothing to do, for he worked at his picture only when the conditions renewed themselves with the sinking sun. He tried to be in the open air, and get the good of it; but his strength for walking had failed him, and he kept mostly to the paths broken around the house. He went a good deal to the barn with Whitwell and Jombateeste to look after the cattle and the horses, whose subdued stamping and champing gave him a sort of animal pleasure. The blended odors of the hay-mows and of the creatures' breaths came to him with the faint warmth which their bodies diffused through the cold obscurity.
When the wide doors were rolled back, and the full day was let in, he liked the appeal of their startled eyes, and the calls they made to one another from their stalls, while the men spoke back to them in terms which they seemed to have in common with them, and with the poultry that flew down from the barn lofts to the barn floor and out into the brilliant day, with loud clamor and affected alarm.
In these simple experiences he could not imagine the summer life of the place. It was nowhere more extinct than in the hollow verandas, where the rocking-chairs swung in July and August, and where Westover's steps in his long tramps up and down woke no echo of the absent feet. In-doors he kept to the few stove-heated rooms where he dwelt with the family, and sent only now and then a vague conjecture into the hotel built round the old farm-house. He meant, before he left, to ask Mrs. Durgin to let him go through the hotel, but he put it off from day to day, with a physical shrinking from its cold and solitude.
The days went by in the swiftness of monotony. His excursions to the barn, his walks on the verandas, his work on his picture, filled up the few hours of the light, and when the dark came he contentedly joined the little group in Mrs. Durgin's parlor. He had brought two or three books with him, and sometimes he read from one of them; or he talked with Whitwell on some of the questions of life and death that engaged his speculative mind. Jombateeste preferred the kitchen for the naps he took after supper before his early bedtime. Frank Whitwell sat with his books there, where Westover sometimes saw his sister helping him at his studies. He was loyally faithful and obedient to her in all things. He helped her with the dishes, and was not ashamed to be seen at this work; she had charge of his goings and comings in society; he submitted to her taste in his dress, and accepted her counsel on many points which he referred to her, and discussed with her in low-spoken conferences. He seemed a formal, serious boy, shy like his sister; his father let fall some hints of a religious cast of mind in him. He had an ambition beyond the hotel; he wished to study for the ministry; and it was not alone the chance of going home with the girls that made him constant at the evening meetings. "I don't know where he gits it," said his father, with a shake of the head that suggested doubt of the wisdom of the son's preference of theology to planchette.
Cynthia had the same care of her father as of her brother; she kept him neat, and held him up from lapsing into the slovenliness to which he would have tended if she had not, as Westover suspected, made constant appeals to him for the respect due their guest. Mrs. Durgin, for her part, left everything to Cynthia, with a contented acceptance of her future rule and an abiding trust in her sense and strength, which included the details of the light work that employed her rather luxurious leisure. Jombateeste himself came to Cynthia with his mending, and her needle kept him tight and firm against the winter which it amused Westover to realize was the Canuck's native element, insomuch that there was now something incongruous in the notion of Jombateeste and any other season.
The girl's motherly care of all the household did not leave Westover out. Buttons appeared on garments long used to shifty contrivances for getting on without them; buttonholes were restored to their proper limits; his overcoat pockets were searched for gloves, and the gloves put back with their finger-tips drawn close as the petals of a flower which had decided to shut and be a bud again.
He wondered how he could thank her for his share of the blessing that her passion for motherly care was to all the house. It was pathetic, and he used sometimes to forecast her self-devotion with a tender indignation, which included a due sense of his own present demerit. He was not reconciled to the sacrifice because it seemed the happiness, or at least the will, of the nature which made it. All the same it seemed a waste, in its relation to the man she was to marry.
Mrs. Durgin and Cynthia sat by the lamp and sewed at night, or listened to the talk of the men. If Westover read aloud, they whispered together from time to time about some matters remote from it, as women always do where there is reading. It was quiet, but it was not dull for Westover, who found himself in no hurry to get back to town.
Sometimes he thought of the town with repulsion; its unrest, its vacuous, troubled life haunted him like a memory of sickness; but he supposed that when he should be quite well again all that would change, and be as it was before. He interested himself, with the sort of shrewd ignorance of it that Cynthia showed in the questions she asked about it now and then when they chanced to be left alone together. He fancied that she was trying to form some intelligible image of Jeff's environment there, and was piecing together from his talk of it the impressions she had got from summer folks. He did his best to help her, and to construct for her a veritable likeness of the world as far as he knew it.
A time came when he spoke frankly of Jeff in something they were saying, and she showed no such shrinking as he had expected she would; he reflected that she might have made stricter conditions with Mrs. Durgin than she expected to keep herself in mentioning him. This might well have been necessary with the mother's pride in her son, which knew no stop when it once began to indulge itself. What struck Westover more than the girl's self-possession when they talked of Jeff was a certain austerity in her with regard to him. She seemed to hold herself tense against any praise of him, as if she should fail him somehow if she relaxed at all in his favor.
This, at least, was the rather mystifying impression which Westover got from her evident wish to criticise and understand exactly all that he reported, rather than to flatter herself from it. Whatever her motive was, he was aware that through it all she permitted herself a closer and fuller trust of himself. At times it was almost too implicit; he would have liked to deserve it better by laying open all that had been in his heart against Jeff. But he forbore, of course, and he took refuge, as well as he could, in the respect by which she held herself at a reverent distance from him when he could not wholly respect himself.
One morning Westover got leave from Mrs. Durgin to help Cynthia open the dim rooms and cold corridors at the hotel to the sun and air. She promised him he should take his death, but he said he would wrap up warm, and when he came to join the girl in his overcoat and fur cap, he found Cynthia equipped with a woollen cloud tied around her head, and a little shawl pinned across her breast.
"Is that all?" he reproached her. "I ought to have put on a single wreath of artificial flowers and some sort of a blazer for this expedition. Don't you think so, Mrs. Durgin?"
"I believe women can stand about twice as much cold as you can, the best of you," she answered, grimly.
"Then I must try to keep myself as warm as I can with work," he said. "You must let me do all the rough work of airing out, won't you, Cynthia?"
"There isn't any rough work about it," she answered, in a sort of motherly toleration of his mood, without losing anything of her filial reverence.
She took care of him, he perceived, as she took care of her brother and her father, but with a delicate respect for his superiority, which was no longer shyness.
They began with the office and the parlor, where they flung up the windows, and opened the doors, and then they opened the dining-room, where the tables stood in long rows, with the chairs piled on them legs upward. Cynthia went about with many sighs for the dust on everything, though to Westover's eyes it all seemed frigidly clean. "If it goes on as it has for the past two years," she said, "we shall have to add on a new dining-room. I don't know as I like to have it get so large!"
"I never wanted it to go beyond the original farmhouse," said Westover. "I've been jealous of every boarder but the first. I should have liked to keep it for myself, and let the world know Lion's Head from my pictures."
"I guess Mrs. Durgin thinks it was your picture that began to send people here."
"And do you blame me, too? What if the thing I'm doing now should make it a winter resort? Nothing could save you, then, but a fire. I believe that's Jeff's ambition. Only he would want to put another hotel in place of this; something that would be more popular. Then the ruin I began would be complete, and I shouldn't come any more; I couldn't bear the sight."
"I guess Mrs. Durgin wouldn't think it was lion's Head if you stopped coming," said Cynthia.
"But you would know better than that," said Westover; and then he was sorry he had said it, for it seemed to ask something of different quality from her honest wish to make him know their regard for him.
She did not answer, but went down a long corridor to which they had mounted, to raise the window at the end, while he raised another at the opposite extremity. When they met at the stairway again to climb to the story above, he said: "I am always ashamed when I try to make a person of sense say anything silly," and she flushed, still without answering, as if she understood him, and his meaning pleased her. "But fortunately a person of sense is usually equal to the temptation. One ought to be serious when he tries it with a person of the other sort; but I don't know that one is!"
"Do you feel any draught between these windows?" asked Cynthia, abruptly. "I don't want you should take cold."
"Oh, I'm all right," said Westover.
She went into the rooms on one side of the corridor, and put up their windows, and flung the blinds back. He did the same on the other side. He got a peculiar effect of desolation from the mattresses pulled down over the foot of the bedsteads, and the dismantled interiors reflected in the mirrors of the dressing-cases; and he was going to speak of it when he rejoined Cynthia at the stairway leading to the third story, when she said, "Those were Mrs. Vostrand's rooms I came out of the last." She nodded her head over her shoulder toward the floor they were leaving.
"Were they indeed! And do you remember people's rooms so long?"
"Yes; I always think of rooms by the name of people that have them, if they're any way peculiar."
He thought this bit of uncandor charming, and accepted it as if it were the whole truth. "And Mrs. Vostrand was certainly peculiar. Tell me, Cynthia, what did you think of her?"
"She was only here a little while."
"But you wouldn't have come to think of her rooms by her name if she hadn't made a strong impression on you!" She did not answer, and he said, "I see you didn't like her!"
The girl would not speak, and Mr. Westover went on: "She used to be very good to me, and I think she used to be better to herself than she is now." He knew that Jeff must have told Cynthia of his affair with Genevieve Vostrand, and he kept himself from speaking of her by a resolution he thought creditable, as he mounted the stairs to the upper story in the silence to which Cynthia left his last remark. At the top she made a little pause in the obscurer light of the close-shuttered corridor, while she said: "I liked her daughter the best."
"Yes?" he returned. "I—never felt very well acquainted with her, I believe. One couldn't get far with her. Though, for the matter of that, one didn't get far with Mrs. Vostrand herself. Did you think Genevieve was much influenced by her mother?"
"She didn't seem a strong character."
"No, that was it. She was what her mother wished her to be. I've often wondered how much she was interested in the marriage she made."
Cynthia let a rustic silence ensue, and Westover shrank again from the inquisition he longed to make.
It was not Genevieve Vostrand's marriage which really concerned him, but Cynthia's engagement, and it was her mind that he would have liked to look into. It might well be supposed that she regarded it in a perfect matter-of-fact way, and with no ambition beyond it. She was a country girl, acquainted from childhood with facts of life which town-bred girls would not have known without a blunting of the sensibilities, and why should she be different from other country girls? She might be as good and as fine as he saw her, and yet be insensible to the spiritual toughness of Jeff, because of her love for him. Her very goodness might make his badness unimaginable to her, and if her refinement were from the conscience merely, and not from the tastes and experiences, too, there was not so much to dread for her in her marriage with such a man. Still, he would have liked, if he could, to tell her what he had told her father of Durgin's behavior with Lynde, and let her bring the test of her self- devotion to the case with a clear understanding. He had sometimes been afraid that Whitwell might not be able to keep it to himself; but now he wished that the philosopher had not been so discreet. He had all this so absorbingly in mind that he started presently with the fear that she had said something and he had not answered, but when he asked her he found that she had not spoken. They were standing at an open window looking out upon Lion's Head, when he said: "I don't know how I shall show my gratitude to Mrs. Durgin and you for thinking of having me up here. I've done a picture of Lion's Head that might be ever so much worse; but I shouldn't have dreamed of getting at it if it hadn't been for you, though I've so often dreamed of doing it. Now I shall go home richer in every sort of way-thanks to you."
She answered, simply: "You needn't thank anybody; but it was Jeff who thought of it; we were ready enough to ask you."
"That was very good of him," said Westover, whom her words confirmed in a suspicion he had had all along. But what did it matter that Jeff had suggested their asking him, and then attributed the notion to them? It was not so malign for him to use that means of ingratiating himself with Westover, and of making him forget his behavior with Lynde, and it was not unnatural. It was very characteristic; at the worst it merely proved that Jeff was more ashamed of what he had done than he would allow, and that was to his credit.
He heard Cynthia asking: "Mr. Westover, have you ever been at Class Day? He wants us to come."
"Class Day? Oh, Class Day!" He took a little time to gather himself together. "Yes, I've been at a good many. If you care to see something pretty, it's the prettiest thing in the world. The students' sisters and mothers come from everywhere; and there's fashion and feasting and flirting, from ten in the morning till ten at night. I'm not sure there's so much happiness; but I can't tell. The young people know about that. I fancy there's a good deal of defeat and disappointment in it all. But if you like beautiful dresses, and music and dancing, and a great flutter of gayety, you can get more of it at Class Day than you can in any other way. The good time depends a great deal upon the acquaintance a student has, and whether he is popular in college." Westover found this road a little impassable, and he faltered.
Cynthia did not apparently notice his hesitation. "Do you think Mrs. Durgin would like it?"
"Mrs. Durgin?" Westover found that he had been leaving her out of the account, and had been thinking only of Cynthia's pleasure or pain. "Well, I don't suppose—it would be rather fatiguing—Did Jeff want her to come too?"
"He said so."
"That's very nice of him. If he could devote himself to her; but—And would she like to go?"
"To please him, she would." Westover was silent, and the girl surprised him by the appeal she suddenly made to him. "Mr. Westover, do you believe it would be very well for either of us to go? I think it would be better for us to leave all that part of his life alone. It's no use in pretending that we're like the kind of people he knows, or that we know their ways, and I don't believe—"
Westover felt his heart rise in indignant sympathy. "There isn't any one he knows to compare with you!" he said, and in this he was thinking mainly of Bessie Lynde. "You're worth a thousand—If I were—if he's half a man he would be proud—I beg your pardon! I don't mean—but you understand—"
Cynthia put her head far out of the window and looked along the steep roof before them. "There is a blind off one of the windows. I heard it clapping in the wind the other night. I must go and see the number of the room." She drew her head in quickly and ran away without letting him see her face.
He followed her. "Let me help you put it on again!"
"No, no!" she called back. "Frank will do that, or Jombateeste, when they come to shut up the house."
Westover, did not meet Durgin for several days after his return from Lion's Head. He brought messages for him from his mother and from Whitwell, and he waited for him to come and get them so long that he had to blame himself for not sending them to him. When Jeff appeared, at the end of a week, Westover had a certain embarrassment in meeting him, and the effort to overcome this carried him beyond his sincerity. He was aware of feigning the cordiality he showed, and of having less real liking for him than ever before. He suggested that he must be busier every day, now, with his college work, and he resented the air of social prosperity which Jeff put on in saying, Yes, there was that, and then he had some engagements which kept him from coming in sooner.
He did not say what the engagements were, and they did not recur to the things they had last spoken of. Westover could not do so without Jeff's leading, and he was rather glad that he gave none. He stayed only a little time, which was spent mostly in a show of interest on both sides, and the hollow hilarities which people use to mask their indifference to one another's being and doing. Jeff declared that he had never seen Westover looking so well, and said he must go up to Lion's Head again; it had done him good. As for his picture, it was a corker; it made him feel as if he were there! He asked about all the folks, and received Westover's replies with vague laughter, and an absence in his bold eye, which made the painter wonder what his mind was on, without the wish to find out. He was glad to have him go, though he pressed him to drop in soon again, and said they would take in a play together.
Jeff said he would like to do that, and he asked at the door whether Westover was going to the tea at Mrs. Bellingham's. He said he had to look in there, before he went out to Cambridge; and left Westover in mute amaze at the length he had apparently gone in a road that had once seemed no thoroughfare for him. Jeff's social acceptance, even after the Enderby ball, which was now some six or seven weeks past, had been slow; but of late, for no reason that he or any one else could have given, it had gained a sudden precipitance; and people who wondered why they met him at other houses began to ask him to their own.
He did not care to go to their houses, and he went at first in the hope of seeing Bessie Lynde again. But this did not happen for some time, and it was a mid-Lenten tea that brought them together. As soon as he caught sight of her he went up to her and began to talk as if they had been in the habit of meeting constantly. She could not control a little start at his approach, and he frankly recognized it.
"What's the matter?"
"It isn't open," he said, trying it. "Do you want to try it yourself?"
"I think I can trust you," she answered, but she sank a little into the shelter of the curtains, not to be seen talking with him, perhaps, or not to be interrupted—she did not analyze her motive closely.
He remained talking to her until she went away, and then he contrived to go with her. She did not try to escape him after that; each time they met she had the pleasure of realizing that there had never been any danger of what never happened. But beyond this she could perhaps have given no better reason for her willingness to meet him again and again than the bewildered witnesses of the fact. In her set people not only never married outside of it, but they never flirted outside of it. For one of themselves, even for a girl like Bessie, whom they had not quite known from childhood, to be apparently amusing herself with a man like that, so wholly alien in origin, in tradition, was something unheard of; and it began to look as if Bessie Lynde was more than amused. It seemed to Mary Enderby that wherever she went she saw that man talking to Bessie. She could have believed that it was by some evil art that he always contrived to reach Bessie's side, if anything could have been less like any kind of art than the bold push he made for her as soon as he saw her in a room. But sometimes Miss Enderby feared that it was Bessie who used such finesse as there was, and always put herself where he could see her. She waited with trembling for her to give the affair sanction by making her aunt ask him to something at her house. On the other hand, she could not help feeling that Bessie's flirtation was all the more deplorable for the want of some such legitimation.
She did not even know certainly whether Jeff ever called upon Bessie at her aunt's house, till one day the man let him out at the same time he let her in.
"Oh, come up, Molly!" Bessie sang out from the floor above, and met her half-way down the stairs, where she kissed her and led her embraced into the library.
"You don't like my jay, do you, dear?" she asked, promptly.
Mary Enderby turned her face, the mirror of conscience, upon her, and asked: "Is he your jay?"
"Well, no; not just in that sense, Molly. But suppose he was?"
"Then I should have nothing to say."
"And suppose he wasn't?"
Still Mary Enderby found herself with nothing of all she had a thousand times thought she should say to Bessie if she had ever the slightest chance. It always seemed so easy, till now, to take Bessie in her arms, and appeal to her good sense, her self-respect, her regard for her family and friends; and now it seemed so impossible.
She heard herself answering, very stiffly: "Perhaps I'd better apologize for what I've said already. You must think I was very unjust the last time we mentioned him."
"Not at all!" cried Bessie, with a laugh that sounded very mocking and very unworthy to her friend. "He's all that you said, and worse. But he's more than you said, and better."
"I don't understand," said Mary, coldly.
"He's very interesting; he's original; he's different!"
"Oh, every one says that."
"And he doesn't flatter me, or pretend to think much of me. If he did, I couldn't bear him. You know how I am, Molly. He keeps me interested, don't you understand, and prowling about in the great unknown where be has his weird being."
Bessie put her hand to her mouth, and laughed at Mary Enderby with her slanted eyes; a sort of Parisian version of a Chinese motive in eyes.
"I suppose," her friend said, sadly, "you won't tell me more than you wish."
"I won't tell you more than I know—though I'd like to," said Bessie. She gave Mary a sudden hug. "You dear! There isn't anything of it, if that's what you mean."
"But isn't there danger that there will be, Bessie?" her friend entreated.
"Danger? I shouldn't call it danger, exactly!"
"But if you don't respect him, Bessie—"
"Why, how can I? He doesn't respect me!"
"I know you're teasing, now," said Mary Enderby, getting up, "and you're quite right. I have no business to—"
Bessie pulled her down upon the seat again. "Yes, you have! Don't I tell you, over and over? He doesn't respect me, because I don't know how to make him, and he wouldn't like it if I did. But now I'll try to make you understand. I don't believe I care for him the least; but mind, I'm not certain, for I've never cared for any one, and I don't know what it's like. You know I'm not sentimental; I think sentiment's funny; and I'm not dignified—"
"You're divine," murmured Mary Enderby, with reproachful adoration.
"Yes, but you see how my divinity could be improved," said Bessie, with a wild laugh. "I'm not sentimental, but I'm emotional, and he gives me emotions. He's a riddle, and I'm all the time guessing at him. You get the answer to the kind of men we know easily; and it's very nice, but it doesn't amuse you so much as trying. Now, Mr. Durgin—what a name! I can see it makes you creep—is no more like one of us than a—bear is —and his attitude toward us is that of a bear who's gone so much with human beings that he thinks he's a human being. He's delightful, that way. And, do you know, he's intellectual! He actually brings me books, and wants to read passages to me out of them! He has brought me the plans of the new hotel he's going to build. It's to be very aesthetic, and it's going to be called The Lion's Head Inn. There's to be a little theatre, for amateur dramatics, which I could conduct, and for all sorts of professional amusements. If you should ever come, Molly, I'm sure we shall do our best to make you comfortable."
Mary Enderby would not let Bessie laugh upon her shoulder after she said this. "Bessie Lynde," she said, severely, "if you have no regard for yourself, you ought to have some regard for him. You may say you are not encouraging him, and you may believe it—"
"Oh, I shouldn't say it if I didn't believe it," Bessie broke in, with a mock air of seriousness.
"I must be going," said Mary, stiffly, and this time she succeeded in getting to her feet.
Bessie laid hold of her again. "You think you've been trifled with, don't you, dear?"
"Yes, you do! Don't you try to be slippery, Molly. The plain pikestaff is your style, morally speaking—if any one knows what a pikestaff is. Well, now, listen! You're anxious about me."
"You know how I feel, Bessie," said Mary Enderby, looking her in the eyes.
"Yes, I do," said Bessie. "The trouble is, I don't know how I feel. But if I ever do, Molly, I'll tell you! Is that fair?"
"I'll give you ample warning. At the least little consciousness in the region of the pericardium, off will go a note by a district messenger, and when you come I'll do whatever you say. There!"
"Oh, Bessie!" cried her friend, and she threw her arms round her, "you always were the most fascinating creature in the world!"
"Yes," said Bessie, "that's what I try to have him think."
Toward the end of April most people who had places at the Shore were mostly in them, but they came up to town on frequent errands, and had one effect of evanescence with people who still remained in their Boston houses provisionally, and seemed more than half absent. The Enderbys had been at the Shore for a fortnight, and the Lyndes were going to be a fortnight longer in Boston, yet, as Bessie made her friend observe, when Mary, ran in for lunch, or stopped for a moment on her way to the train, every few days, they were both of the same transitory quality.
"It might as well be I as you," Bessie said one day, "if we only think so. It's all very weird, dear, and I'm not sure but it is you who sit day after day at my lonely casement and watch the sparrows examining the fuzzy buds of the Jap ivy to see just how soon they can hope to build in the vines. Do you object to the ivy buds looking so very much like snipped woollen rags? If you do, I'm sure it's you, here in my place, for when I come up to town in your personality it sets my teeth on edge. In fact, that's the worst thing about Boston now—the fuzzy ivy buds; there's so much ivy! When you can forget the buds, there are a great many things to make you happy. I feel quite as if we were spending the summer in town and I feel very adventurous and very virtuous, like some sort of self-righteous bohemian. You don't know how I look down on people who have gone out of town. I consider them very selfish and heartless; I don't know why, exactly. But when we have a good marrow-freezing northeasterly storm, and the newspapers come out with their ironical congratulations to the tax-dodgers at the Shore, I feel that Providence is on my side, and I'm getting my reward, even in this world." Bessie suddenly laughed. "I see by your expression of fixed inattention, Molly, that you're thinking of Mr. Durgin!"
Mary gave a start of protest, but she was too honest to deny the fact outright, and Bessie ran on:
"No, we don't sit on a bench in the Common, or even in the Garden, or on the walk in Commonwealth Avenue. If we come to it later, as the season advances, I shall make him stay quite at the other end of the bench, and not put his hand along the top. You needn't be afraid, Molly; all the proprieties shall be religiously observed. Perhaps I shall ask Aunt Louisa to let us sit out on her front steps, when the evenings get warmer; but I assure you it's much more comfortable in-doors yet, even in town, though you'll hardly, believe it at the Shore. Shall you come up to Class Day?"
"Oh, I don't know," Mary began, with a sigh of the baffled hope and the inextinguishable expectation which the mention of Class Day stirs in the heart of every Boston girl past twenty.
"Yes!" said Bessie, with a sigh burlesqued from Mary's. "That is what we all say, and it is certainly the most maddening of human festivals. I suppose, if we were quite left to ourselves, we shouldn't go; but we seem never to be, quite. After every Class Day I say to myself that nothing on earth could induce me to go to another; but when it comes round again, I find myself grasping at any straw of a pretext. I'm pretending now that I've a tender obligation to go because it's his Class Day."
"Bessie!" cried Mary Enderby. "You don't mean it!"
"Not if I say it, Mary dear. What did I promise you about the pericardiac symptoms? But I feel—I feel that if he asks me I must go. Shouldn't you like to go and see a jay Class Day—be part of it? Think of going once to the Pi Ute spread—or whatever it is! And dancing in their tent! And being left out of the Gym, and Beck! Yes, I ought to go, so that it can be brought home to me, and I can have a realizing sense of what I am doing, and be stayed in my mad career."
"Perhaps," Mary Enderby suggested, colorlessly, "he will be devoted to his own people." She had a cold fascination in the picture Bessie's words had conjured up, and she was saying this less to Bessie than to herself.
"And I should meet them—his mothers and sisters!" Bessie dramatized an excess of anguish. "Oh, Mary, that is the very thorn I have been trying not to press my heart against; and does your hand commend it to my embrace? His folks! Yes, they would be folks; and what folks! I think I am getting a realizing sense. Wait! Don't speak don't move, Molly!" Bessie dropped her chin into her hand, and stared straight forward, gripping Mary Enderby's hand.
Mary withdrew it. "I shall have to go, Bessie," she said. "How is your aunt?"
"Must you? Then I shall always say that it was your fault that I couldn't get a realizing sense—that you prevented me, just when I was about to see myself as others see me—as you see me. She's very well!" Bessie sighed in earnest, and her friend gave her hand a little pressure of true sympathy. "But of course it's rather dull here, now."
"I hate to have you staying on. Couldn't you come down to us for a week?"
"No. We both think it's best to be here when Alan gets back. We want him to go down with us." Bessie had seldom spoken openly with Mary Enderby about her brother; but that was rather from Mary's shrinking than her own; she knew that everybody understood his case. She went so far now as to say: "He's ever so much better than he has been. We have such hopes of him, if he can keep well, when he gets back this time."
"Oh, I know he will," said Mary, fervently. "I'm sure of it. Couldn't we do something for you, Bessie?"
"No, there isn't anything. But—thank you. I know you always think of me, and that's worlds. When are you coming up again?"
"I don't know. Next week, some time."
"Come in and see me—and Alan, if he should be at home. He likes you, and he will be so glad."
Mary kissed Bessie for consent. "You know how much I admire Alan. He could be anything."
"Yes, he could. If he could!"
Bessie seldom put so much earnest in anything, and Mary loved (as she would have said) the sad sincerity, the honest hopelessness of her tone. "We must help him. I know we can."
"We must try. But people who could—if they could—" Bessie stopped.
Her friend divined that she was no longer speaking wholly of her brother, but she said: "There isn't any if about it; and there are no ifs about anything if we only think so. It's a sin not to think so."
The mixture of severity and of optimism in the nature of her friend had often amused Bessie, and it did not escape her tacit notice in even so serious a moment as this. Her theory was that she was shocked to recognize it now, because of its relation to her brother, but her theories did not always agree with the facts.
That evening, however, she was truly surprised when, after a rather belated ring at the door, the card of Mr. Thomas Jefferson Durgin came up to her from the reception-room. Her aunt had gone to bed, and she had a luxurious moment in which she reaped all the reward of self-denial by supposing herself to have foregone the pleasure of seeing him, and sending down word that she was not at home. She did not wish, indeed, to see him, but she wished to know how he felt warranted in calling in the evening, and it was this unworthy, curiosity which she stifled for that luxurious moment. The next, with undiminished dignity, she said, "Ask him to come up, Andrew," and she waited in the library for him to offer a justification of the liberty he had taken.
He offered none whatever, but behaved at once as if he had always had the habit of calling in the evening, or as if it was a general custom which he need not account for in his own case. He brought her a book which they had talked of at their last meeting, but he made no excuse or pretext of it.
He said it was a beautiful night, and that he had found it rather warm walking in from Cambridge. The exercise had moistened his whole rich, red color, and fine drops of perspiration stood on his clean-shaven upper lip and in the hollow between his under lip and his bold chin; he pushed back the coarse, dark-yellow hair from his forehead with his handkerchief, and let his eyes mock her from under his thick, straw- colored eyebrows. She knew that he was enjoying his own impudence, and he was so handsome that she could not refuse to enjoy it with him. She asked him if he would not have a fan, and he allowed her to get it for him from the mantel. "Will you have some tea?"
"No; but a glass of water, if you please," he said, and Bessie rang and sent for some apollinaris, which Jeff drank a great goblet of when it came. Then he lay back in the deep chair he had taken, with the air of being ready for any little amusing thing she had to say.
"Are you still a pessimist, Mr. Durgin?" she asked, tentatively, with the effect of innocence that he knew meant mischief.
"No," he said. "I'm a reformed optimist."
"What is that?"
"It's a man who can't believe all the good he would like, but likes to believe all the good he can."
Bessie said it over, with burlesque thoughtfulness. "There was a girl here to-day," she said, solemnly, "who must have been a reformed pessimist, then, for she said the same thing."
"Oh! Miss Enderby," said Jeff.
Bessie started. "You're preternatural! But what a pity you should be mistaken. How came you to think of her?"
"She doesn't like me, and you always put me on trial after she's been here."
"Am I putting you on trial now? It's your guilty conscience! Why shouldn't Mary Enderby like you?"
"Because I'm not good enough."
"Oh! And what has that to do with people's liking you? If that was a reason, how many friends do you think you would have?"
"I'm not sure that I should have any."
"And doesn't that make you feel badly?"
"Very." Jeff's confession was a smiling one.
"You don't show it!"
"I don't want to grieve you."
"Oh, I'm not sure that would grieve me."
"Well, I thought I wouldn't risk it."
"How considerate of you!"
They had come to a little barrier, up that way, and could go no further. Jeff said: "I've just been interviewing another reformed pessimist."
"You're preternatural, too. And you're not mistaken, either. Do you ever go to his studio?"
"No; I haven't been there since he told me it would be of no use to come as a student. He can be terribly frank."
"Nobody knows that better than I do," said Jeff, with a smile for the notion of Westover's frankness as he had repeatedly experienced it. "But he means well."
"Oh, that's what they always say. But all the frankness can't be well meant. Why should uncandor be the only form of malevolence?"
"That's a good idea. I believe I'll put that up on Westover the next time he's frank."
"And will you tell me what he says?"
"Oh, I don't know about that." Jeff lay back in his chair at large ease and chuckled. "I should like to tell you what he's just been saying to me, but I don't believe I can."
"You know he was up at Lion's Head in February, and got a winter impression of the mountain. Did you see it?"
"No. Was that what you were talking about?"
"We talked about something a great deal more interesting—the impression he got of me."
"Cold enough. He had come to the conclusion that I was very selfish and unworthy; that I used other people for my own advantage, or let them use themselves; that I was treacherous and vindictive, and if I didn't betray a man I couldn't be happy till I had beaten him. He said that if I ever behaved well, it came after I had been successful one way or the other."
"How perfectly fascinating!" Bessie rested her elbow on the corner of the table, and her chin in the palm of the hand whose thin fingers tapped her red lips; the light sleeve fell down and showed her pretty, lean little forearm. "Did it strike you as true, at all?"
"I could see how it might strike him as true."
"Now you are candid. But go on! What did he expect you to do about it?"
"Nothing. He said he didn't suppose I could help it."
"This is immense," said Bessie. "I hope I'm taking it all in. How came he to give you this flattering little impression? So hopeful, too! Or, perhaps your frankness doesn't go any farther?"
"Oh, I don't mind saying. He seemed to think it was a sort of abstract duty he owed to my people."
"Your-folks?" asked Bessie.
"Yes," said Jeff, with a certain dryness. But as her face looked blankly innocent, he must have decided that she meant nothing offensive. He relaxed into a broad smile. "It's a queer household up there, in the winter. I wonder what you would think of it."
"You might describe it to me, and perhaps we shall see."
"You couldn't realize it," said Jeff, with a finality that piqued her. He reached out for the bottle of apollinaris, with somehow the effect of being in another student's room, and poured himself a glass. This would have amused her, nine times out of ten, but the tenth time had come when she chose to resent it.
"I suppose," she said, "you are all very much excited about Class Day at Cambridge."
"That sounds like a remark made to open the way to conversation." Jeff went on to burlesque a reply in the same spirit. "Oh, very much so indeed, Miss Lynde! We are all looking forward to it so eagerly. Are you coming?"
She rejected his lead with a slight sigh so skilfully drawn that it deceived him when she said, gravely:
"I don't know. It's apt to be a very baffling time at the best. All the men that you like are taken up with their own people, and even the men that you don't like overvalue themselves, and think they're doing you a favor if they give you a turn at the Gym or bring you a plate of something."
"Well, they are, aren't they?"
"I suppose, yes, that's what makes me hate it. One doesn't like to have such men do one a favor. And then, Juniors get younger every year! Even a nice Junior is only a Junior," she concluded, with a sad fall of her mocking voice."
"I don't believe there's a Senior in Harvard that wouldn't forsake his family and come to the rescue if your feelings could be known," said Jeff. He lifted the bottle at his elbow and found it empty, and this seemed to remind him to rise.
"Don't make them known, please," said Bessie. "I shouldn't want an ovation." She sat, after he had risen, as if she wished to detain him, but when he came up to take leave she had to put her hand in his. She looked at it there, and so did he; it seemed very little and slim, about one-third the size of his palm, and it seemed to go to nothing in his grasp. "I should think," she added, "that the jays would have the best time on Class Day. I should like to dance at one of their spreads, and do everything they did. It would be twice the fun, and there would be some nature in it. I should like to see a jay Class Day."
"If you'll come out, I'll show you one," said Jeff, without wincing.
"Oh, will you?" she said, taking away her hand. "That would be delightful. But what would become of your folks?" She caught a corner of her mouth with her teeth, as if the word had slipped out.
"Do you call them folks?" asked Jeff, quietly:
"Not in Boston. I do at Lion's Head."
"I don't know as they're coming."
"How delightful! I don't mean that; but if they're not, and if you really knew some jays, and could get me a little glimpse of their Class Day—"
"I think I could manage it for you." He spoke as before, but he looked at her with a mockery in his lips and eyes as intelligent as her own, and the latent change in his mood gave her the sense of being in the presence of a vivid emotion. She rose in her excitement; she could see that he admired her, and was enjoying her insolence too, in a way, though in a way that she did not think she quite understood; and she had the wish to make him admire her a little more.
She let a light of laughter come into her eyes, of harmless mischief played to an end. "I don't deserve your kindness, and I won't come. I've been very wicked, don't you think?"
"Not very—for you," said Jeff.
"Oh, how good!" she broke out. "But be frank now! I've offended you."
"How? I know I'm a jay, and in the country I've got folks."
"Ah, I see you're hurt at my joking, and I'm awfully sorry. I wish there was some way of making you forgive me. But it couldn't be that alone," she went on rather aimlessly as to her words, trusting to his answer for some leading, and willing meanwhile to prolong the situation for the effect in her nerves. It had been a very dull and tedious day, and she was finding much more than she could have expected in the mingled fear and slight which he inspired her with in such singular measure. These feminine subtleties of motive are beyond any but the finest natures in the other sex, and perhaps all that Jeff perceived was the note of insincerity in her words.
"Couldn't be what alone?" he asked.
"What I've said," she ventured, letting her eyes fall; but they were not eyes that fell effectively, and she instantly lifted them again to his.
"You haven't said anything, and if you've thought anything, what have I got to do with that? I think all sorts of things about people—or folks, as you call them—"
"Oh, thank you! Now you are forgiving me!"
"I think them about you"
"Oh, do sit down and tell me the kind of things you think about me!" Bessie implored, sinking back into her chair.
"You mightn't like them."
"But if they would do me good?"
"What should I want to do you good for?"
"That's true," sighed Bessie, thoughtfully.
"Thank you so much!"
"Don't try to do each other good, unless they're cranks like Lancaster, or bores like Mrs. Bevidge—"
"You belong to the analytical school of Seniors! Go on!"
"That's all," said Jeff.
"And you don't think I've tried to do you good?"
He laughed. Her comedy was delicious to him. He had never found, anybody so amusing; he almost respected her for it.
"If that is your opinion of me, Mr. Durgin," she said, very gravely, "I am sorry. May I remark that I don't see why you come, then?"
"I can tell you," said Jeff, and he advanced upon her where she sat so abruptly that she started and shrank back in her chair. "I come because you've got brains, and you're the only girl that has—here." They were Alan's words, almost his words, and for an instant she thought of her brother, end wondered what he would think of this jay's praising her in his terms. "Because," Jeff went on, "you've got more sense and nonsense —than all the women here put together. Because it's better than a play to hear you talk—and act; and because you're graceful—and fascinating, and chic, and—Good-night, Miss Lynde."
He put out his hand, but she did not take it as she rose haughtily. "We've said good-night once. I prefer to say good-bye this time. I'm sure you will understand why after this I cannot see you again." She seemed to examine him for the effect of these words upon him before she went on.
"No, I don't understand," he answered, coolly; "but it isn't necessary I should; and I'm quite willing to say good-bye, if you prefer. You haven't been so frank with me as I have with you; but that doesn't make any difference; perhaps you never meant to be, or couldn't be, if you meant. Good-bye." He bowed and turned toward the door.
She fluttered between him and it. "I wish to know what you accuse me of!"
"You imply that I have been unjust toward you."
"And I can't let you go till you prove it."
"Prove to a woman that—Will you let me pass?"
"No!" She spread her slender arms across the doorway.
"Oh, very well!" Jeff took her hands and put them both in the hold of one of his large, strong bands. Then, with the contact, it came to him, from a varied experience of girls in his rustic past, that this young lady, who was nothing but a girl after all, was playing her comedy with a certain purpose, however little she might know it or own it. He put his other large, strong hand upon her waist, and pulled her to him and kissed her. Another sort of man, no matter what he had believed of her, would have felt his act a sacrilege then and there. Jeff only knew that she had not made the faintest straggle against him; she had even trembled toward him, and he brutally exulted in the belief that he had done what she wished, whether it was what she meant or not.
She, for her part, realized that she had been kissed as once she had happened to see one of the maids kissed by the grocer's boy at the basement door. In an instant this man had abolished all her defences of family, of society, of personality, and put himself on a level with her in the most sacred things of life. Her mind grasped the fact and she realized it intellectually, while as yet all her emotions seemed paralyzed. She did not know whether she resented it as an abominable outrage or not; whether she hated the man for it or not. But perhaps he was in love with her, and his love overpowered him; in that case she could forgive him, if she were in love with him. She asked herself whether she was, and whether she had betrayed herself to him so that he was somehow warranted in what he did. She wondered if another sort of man would have done it, a gentleman, who believed she was in love with him. She wondered if she were as much shocked as she was astonished. She knew that there was everything in the situation to make the fact shocking, but she got no distinct reply from her jarred consciousness.
It ought to be known, and known at once; she ought to tell her brother, as soon as she saw him; she thought of telling her aunt, and she fancied having to shout the affair into her ear, and having to repeat, "He kissed me! Don't you understand? Kissed me!" Then she reflected with a start that she could never tell any one, that in the midst of her world she was alone in relation to this; she was as helpless and friendless as the poorest and lowliest girl could be. She was more so, for if she were like the maid whom the grocer's boy kissed she would be of an order of things in which she could advise with some one else who had been kissed; and she would know what to feel.
She asked herself whether she was at all moved at heart; till now it seemed to her that it had not been different with her toward him from what it had been toward all the other men whose meaning she would have liked to find out. She had not in the least respected them, and she did not respect him; but if it happened because he was overcome by his love for her, and could not help it, then perhaps she must forgive him whether she cared for him or not.
These ideas presented themselves with the simultaneity of things in a dream in that instant when she lingered helplessly in his hold, and she even wondered if by any chance Andrew had seen them; but she heard his step on the floor below; and at the same time it appeared to her that she must be in love with this man if she did not resent what he had done.
Westover was sitting at an open window of his studio smoking out into the evening air, and looking down into the thinly foliaged tops of the public garden, where the electrics fainted and flushed and hissed. Cars trooped by in the troubled street, scraping the wires overhead that screamed as if with pain at the touch of their trolleys, and kindling now and again a soft planet, as the trolleys struck the batlike plates that connected the crossing lines. The painter was getting almost as much pleasure out of the planets as pain out of the screams, and he was in an after-dinner languor in which he was very reluctant to recognize a step, which he thought he knew, on his stairs and his stairs-landing. A knock at his door followed the sound of the approaching steps. He lifted himself, and called out, inhospitably, "Come in!" and, as he expected, Jeff Durgin came in. Westover's meetings with him had been an increasing discomfort since his return from Lion's Head. The uneasiness which he commonly felt at the first moment of encounter with him yielded less and less to the influence of Jeff's cynical bonhomie, and it returned in force as soon as they parted.
It was rather dim in the place, except for the light thrown up into it from the turmoil of lights outside, but he could see that there was nothing of the smiling mockery on Jeff's face which habitually expressed his inner hardihood. It was a frowning mockery.
"Hello!" said Westover,
"Hello!" answered Jeff. "Any commands for Lion's Head?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm going up there to-morrow. I've got to see Cynthia, and tell her what I've been doing."
Westover waited a moment before he asked: "Do you want me to ask what you've been doing?"
"I shouldn't mind it."
The painter paused again. "I don't know that I care to ask. Is it any good?"
"No!" shouted Jeff. "It's the worst thing yet, I guess you'll think. I couldn't have believed it myself, if I hadn't been through it. I shouldn't have supposed I was such a fool. I don't care for the girl; I never did."
"Cynthia? No! Miss Lynde. Oh, try to take it in!" Jeff cried, with a laugh at the daze in Westover's face. "You must have known about the flirtation; if you haven't, you're the only one." His vanity in the fact betrayed itself in his voice. "It came to a crisis last week, and we tried to make each other believe that we were in earnest. But there won't be any real love lost."
Westover did not speak. He could not make out whether he was surprised or whether he was shocked, and it seemed to him that he was neither surprised nor shocked. He wondered whether he had really expected something of the kind, sooner or later, or whether he was not always so apprehensive of some deviltry in Durgin that nothing he did could quite take him unawares. At last he said: "I suppose it's true—even though you say it. It's probably the only truth in you."
"That's something like," said Jeff, as if the contempt gave him a sort of pleasure; and his heavy face lighted up and then darkened again.
"Well," said Westover, "what are we going to do? You've come to tell me."
"I'm going to break with her. I don't care for her—that!" He snapped his fingers. "I told her I cared because she provoked me to. It happened because she wanted it to and led up to it."
"Ah!" said Westover. "You put it on her!" But he waited for Durgin's justification with a dread that he should find something in it.
"Pshaw! What's the use? It's been a game from the beginning, and a question which should ruin. I won. She meant to throw me over, if the time came for her, but it came for me first, and it's only a question now which shall break first; we've both been near it once or twice already. I don't mean she shall get the start of me."
Westover had a glimpse of the innate enmity of the sexes in this game; of its presence in passion that was lived and of its prevalence in passion that was played. But the fate of neither gambler concerned him; he was impatient of his interest in what Jeff now went on to tell him, without scruple concerning her, or palliation of himself. He scarcely realized that he was listening, but afterward he remembered it all, with a little pity for Bessie and none for Jeff, but with more shame for her, too. Love seems more sacredly confided to women than to men; it is and must be a higher and finer as well as a holier thing with them; their blame for its betrayal must always be the heavier. He had sometimes suspected Bessie's willingness to amuse herself with Jeff, as with any other man who would let her play with him; and he would not have relied upon anything in him to defeat her purpose, if it had been anything so serious as a purpose.
At the end of Durgin's story he merely asked: "And what are you going to do about Cynthia?"
"I am going to tell her," said Jeff. "That's what I am going up there for."
Westover rose, but Jeff remained sitting where he had put himself astride of a chair, with his face over the back. The painter walked slowly up and down before him in the capricious play of the street light. He turned a little sick, and he stopped a moment at the window for a breath of air.
"Well?" asked Jeff.
"Oh! You want my advice?" Westover still felt physically incapable of the indignation which he strongly imagined. "I don't know what to say to you, Durgin. You transcend my powers. Are you able to see this whole thing yourself?"
"I guess so," Jeff answered. "I don't idealize it, though. I look at facts; they're bad enough. You don't suppose that Miss Lynde is going to break her heart over—"
"I don't believe I care for Miss Lynde any more than I care for you. But I believe I wish you were not going to break with her."
"Because you and she are fit for each other. If you want my advice, I advise you to be true to her—if you can."
"Break with her."
"Oh!" Jeff gave a snort of derision.
"You're not fit for her. You couldn't do a crueler thing for her than to keep faith with her."
"Do you mean it?"
"Yes, I mean it. Stick to Miss Lynde—if she'll let you."
Jeff seemed puzzled by Westover's attitude, which was either too sincere or too ironical for him. He pushed his hat, which he had kept on, back from his forehead. "Damned if I don't believe she would," he mused aloud. The notion seemed to flatter him and repay him for what he must have been suffering. He smiled, but he said: "She wouldn't do, even if she were any good. Cynthia is worth a million of her. If she wants to give me up after she knows all about me, well and good. I shu'n't blame her. But I shall give her a fair chance, and I shu'n't whitewash myself; you needn't be afraid of that, Mr. Westover."
"Why should I care what you do?" asked the painter, scornfully.
"Well, you can't, on my account," Durgin allowed. "But you do care on her account."
"Yes, I do," said Westover, sitting down again, and he did not say anything more.
Durgin waited a long while for him to speak before he asked: "Then that's really your advice, is it?"
"Yes, break with her."
"And stick to Miss Lynde."
"If she'll let you."
Jeff was silent in his turn. He started from his silence with a laugh. "She'd make a daisy landlady for Lion's Head. I believe she would like to try it awhile just for the fun. But after the ball was over—well, it would be a good joke, if it was a joke. Cynthia is a woman—she a'n't any corpse-light. She understands me, and she don't overrate me, either. She knew just how much I was worth, and she took me at her own valuation. I've got my way in life marked out, and she believes in it as much as I do. If anybody can keep me level and make the best of me, she can, and she's going to have the chance, if she wants to. I'm going to act square with her about the whole thing. I guess she's the best judge in a case like this, and I shall lay the whole case before her, don't you be afraid of that. And she's got to have a free field. Why, even if there wa'n't any question of her," he went on, falling more and more into his vernacular, "I don't believe I should care in the long run for this other one. We couldn't make it go for any time at all. She wants excitement, and after the summer folks began to leave, and we'd been to Florida for a winter, and then came back to Lion's Head-well! This planet hasn't got excitement enough in it for that girl, and I doubt if the solar system has. At any rate, I'm not going to act as advance-agent for her."
"I see," said Westover, "that you've been reasoning it all out, and I'm not surprised that you've kept your own advantage steadily in mind. I don't suppose you know what a savage you are, and I don't suppose I could teach you. I sha'n't try, at any rate. I'll take you on your own ground, and I tell you again you had better break with Cynthia. I won't say that it's what you owe her, for that won't have any effect with you, but it's what you owe yourself. You can't do a wrong thing and prosper on it—"
"Oh yes, you can," Jeff interrupted, with a sneering laugh. "How do you suppose all the big fortunes were made? By keeping the Commandments?"
"No. But you're an unlucky man if life hasn't taught you that you must pay in suffering of some kind, sooner or later, for every wrong thing you do—"
"Now that's one of your old-fashioned superstitions, Mr. Westover," said Jeff, with a growing kindliness in his tone, as if the pathetic delusion of such a man really touched him. "You pay, or you don't pay, just as it happens. If you get hit soon after you've done wrong, you think it's retribution, and if it holds off till you've forgotten all about it, you think it's a strange Providence, and you puzzle over it, but you don't reform. You keep right along in the old way. Prosperity and adversity, they've got nothing to do with conduct. If you're a strong man, you get there, and if you're a weak man, all the righteousness in the universe won't help you. But I propose to do what's right about Cynthia, and not what's wrong; and according to your own theory, of life—which won't hold water a minute—I ought to be blessed to the third and fourth generation. I don't look for that, though. I shall be blessed if I look out for myself; and if I don't, I shall suffer for my want of foresight. But I sha'n't suffer for anything else. Well, I'm going to cut some of my recitations, and I'm going up to Lion's Head, to-morrow, to settle my business with Cynthia. I've got a little business to look after here with some one else first, and I guess I shall have to be about it. I don't know which I shall like the best." He rose, and went over to where Westover was sitting, and held out his hand to him.
"What is it?" asked Westover.
"Any commands for Lion's Head?" Jeff said, as at first.
"No," said Westover, turning his face away.
"Oh, all right." Durgin put his hand into his pocket unshaken.
"What is it, Jeff?" asked Cynthia, the next night, as they started out together after supper, and began to stroll down the hill toward her father's house. It lay looking very little and low in the nook at the foot of the lane, on the verge of the woods that darkened away to the northward from it, under the glassy night sky, lit with the spare young moon. The peeping of the frogs in the marshy places filled the air; the hoarse voice of the brook made itself heard at intervals through them.
"It's not so warm here, quite, as it is in Boston," he returned. "Are you wrapped up enough? This air has an edge to it."
"I'm all right," said the girl. "What is it?"
"You think there's something? You don't believe I've come up for rest over Sunday? I guess mother herself didn't, and I could see your father following up my little lies as if he wa'n't going to let one escape him. Well, you're right. There is something. Think of the worst thing you can, Cynthy!"
She pulled her hand out of his arm, which she had taken, and halted him by her abrupt pause. "You're not going to get through!"
"I'm all right on my conditions," said Jeff, with forlorn derision. "You'll have to guess again." He stood looking back over his shoulder at her face, which showed white in the moonlight, swathed airily round in the old-fashioned soft woollen cloud she wore.
"Is it some trouble you've got into? I shall stand by you!"
"Oh, you splendid girl! The trouble's over, but it's something you can't stand by me in, I guess. You know that girl I wrote to you about—the one I met at the college tea, and—"
"Yes! Miss Lynde!"
"Come on! We can't stay here talking. Let's go down and sit on your porch." She mechanically obeyed him, and they started on together down the hill again; but she did not offer to take his arm, and he kept the width of the roadway from her.
"What about her?" she quietly asked.
"Last night I ended up the flirtation I've been carrying on with her ever since."
"I want to know just what you mean, Jeff."
"I mean that last week I got engaged to her, and last night I broke with her." Cynthia seemed to stumble on something; he sprang over and caught. her, and now she put her hand in his arm, and stayed herself by him as they walked.
"Go on," she said.
"That's all there is of it."
"No!" She stopped, and then she asked, with a kind of gentle bewilderment: "What did you want to tell me for?"
"To let you break with me—if you wanted to."
"Don't you care for me any more?"
"Yes, more than ever I did. But I'm not fit for you, Cynthia. Mr. Westover said I wasn't. I told him about it—"
"What did he say?"
"That I ought to break with you."
"But if you broke with her?"
"He told me to stick to her. He was right about you, Cynthy. I'm not fit for you, and that's a fact."
"What was it about that girl? Tell me everything." She spoke in a tone of plaintive entreaty, very unlike the command she once used with Jeff when she was urging him to be frank with her and true to himself. They had come to her father's house and she freed her hand from his arm again, and sat down on the step before the side door with a little sigh as of fatigue.
"You'll take cold," said Jeff, who remained on foot in front of her.
"No," she said, briefly. "Go on."
"Why," Jeff began, harshly, and with a note of scorn for himself and his theme in his voice, "there isn't any more of it, but there's no end to her. I promised Mr. Westover I shouldn't whitewash myself, and I sha'n't. I've been behaving badly, and it's no excuse for me because she wanted me to. I began to go for her as soon as I saw that she wanted me to, and that she liked the excitement. The excitement is all that she cared for; she didn't care for me except for the excitement of it. She thought she could have fun with me, and then throw me over; but I guess she found her match. You couldn't understand such a girl, and I don't brag of it. All she cared for was to flirt with me, and she liked it all the more because I was a jay and she could get something new out of it. I can't explain it; but I could see it right along. She fooled herself more than she fooled me."
"Was she—very good-looking?" Cynthia asked, listlessly.
"No!" shouted Jeff." She wasn't good-looking at all. She was dark and thin, and she had little slanting eyes; but she was graceful, and she knew how to make herself go further than any girl I ever saw. If she came into a room, she made you look at her, or you had to somehow. She was bright, too; and she had more sense than all the other girls there put together. But she was a fool, all the same." Jeff paused. "Is that enough?"
"It isn't all."
"No, it isn't all. We didn't meet much at first, but I got to walking home with her from some teas; and then we met at a big ball. I danced with her the whole while nearly, and—and I took her brother home—Pshaw! He was drunk; and I—well, he had got drunk drinking with me at the ball. The wine didn't touch me, but it turned his head; and I took him home; he's a drunkard, anyway. She let us in when we got to their house, and that kind of made a tie between us. She pretended to think she was under obligations to me, and so I got to going to her house."
"Did she know how her brother got drunk?"
"She does now. I told her last night." How came you to tell her?"
"I wanted to break with her. I wanted to stop it, once for all, and I thought that would do it, if anything would."
"Did that make her willing to give you up?"
Jeff checked himself in a sort of retrospective laugh. "I'm not so sure. I guess she liked the excitement of that, too. You couldn't understand the kind of girl she—She wanted to flirt with me that night I brought him home tipsy."
"I don't care to hear any more about her. Why did you give her up?"
"Because I didn't care for her, and I did care for you, Cynthy."
"I don't believe it." Cynthia rose from the step, where she had been sitting, as if with renewed strength. "Go up and tell father to come down here. I want to see him." She turned and put her hand on the latch of the door.
"You're not going in there, Cynthia," said Jeff. "It must be like death in there."
"It's more like death out here. But if it's the cold you mean, you needn't be troubled. We've had a fire to-day, airing out the house. Will you go?"
"But what do you—what are you going to say to me?"
"I don't know, yet. If I said anything now, I should tell you what Mr. Westover did: go back to that girl, if she'll let you. You're fit for each other, as he said. Did you tell her that you were engaged to some one else?"
"I did, last night."
"But before that she didn't know how false you were. Well, you're not fit for her, then; you're not good enough."
She opened the door and went in, closing it after her. Jeff turned and walked slowly away; then he came quickly back, as if he were going to follow her within. But through the window he saw her as she stood by the table with a lamp in her hand. She had turned up the light, which shone full in her face and revealed its severe beauty broken and writhen with the effort to repress her weeping. He might not have minded the severity or the beauty, but the pathos was more than he could stand. "Oh, Lord!" he said, with a shrug, and he turned again and walked slowly up the hill.
When Whitwell faced his daughter in the little sitting-room, whose low ceiling his hat almost touched as he stood before her, the storm had passed with her, and her tear-drenched visage wore its wonted look of still patience.
"Did Jeff tell you why I sent for you, father?"
"No. But I knew it was trouble," said Whitwell, with a dignity which- his sympathy for her gave a countenance better adapted to the expression of the lighter emotions.
"I guess you were right about him," she resumed: She went on to tell in brief the story that Jeff had told her. Her father did not interrupt her, but at the end he said, inadequately: "He's a comical devil. I knew about his gittin' that feller drunk. Mr. Westover told me when he was up here."
"Mr. Westover did!" said Cynthia, in a note of indignation.
"He didn't offer to," Whitwell explained. "I got it out of him in spite of him, I guess." He had sat down with his hat on, as his absent-minded habit was, and he now braced his knees against the edge of the table. Cynthia sat across it from him with her head drooped over it, drawing vague figures on the board with her finger. "What are you goin' to do?"
"I don't know," she answered.
"I guess you don't quite realize it yet," her father suggested, tenderly. "Well, I don't want to hurry you any. Take your time."
"I guess I realize it," said the girl.
"Well, it's a pootty plain case, that's a fact," Whitwell conceded. She was silent, and he asked: "How did he come to tell you?"
"It's what he came up for. He began to tell me at once. I was certain there was some trouble."
"Was it his notion to come, I wonder, or Mr. Westover's?"
"It was his. But Mr. Westover told him to break off with me, and keep on with her, if she would let him."
"I guess that was pootty good advice," said Whitwell, letting his face betray his humorous relish of it. "I guess there's a pair of 'em."
"She was not playing any one else false," said Cynthia, bitterly.
"Well, I guess that's so, too," her father assented. "'Ta'n't so much of a muchness as you might think, in that light." He took refuge from the subject in an undirected whistle.
After a moment the girl asked, forlornly: "What should you do, father, if you were in my place?"
"Well, there I guess you got me, Cynthy," said her father. "I don't believe 't any man, I don't care how old he is, or how much experience he's had, knows exactly how a girl feels about a thing like this, or has got any call to advise her. Of course, the way I feel is like takin' the top of his head off. But I d' know," he added, "as that would do a great deal of good, either. I presume a woman's got rather of a chore to get along with a man, anyway. We a'n't any of us much to brag on. It's out o' sight, out o' mind, with the best of us, I guess."
"It wouldn't be with Jackson—it wouldn't be with Mr. Westover."
"There a'n't many men like Mr. Westover—well, not a great many; or Jackson, either. Time! I wish Jackson was home! He'd know how to straighten this thing out, and he wouldn't weaken over Jeff much—well, not much. But he a'n't here, and you've got to act for yourself. The way I look at it is this: you took Jeff when you knowed what a comical devil he was, and I presume you ha'n't got quite the same right to be disappointed in what he done as if you hadn't knowed. Now mind, I a'n't excusin' him. But if you knowed he was the feller to play the devil if he got a chance, the question is whether—whether—"
"I know what you mean, father," said the girl, "and I don't want to shirk my responsibility. It was everything to have him come right up and tell me."
"Well," said Whitwell, impartially, "as far forth as that goes, I don't think he's strained himself. He'd know you would hear of it sooner or later anyway, and he ha'n't just found out that he was goin' wrong. Been keepin' it up for the last three months, and writin' you all the while them letters you was so crazy to get."
"Yes," sighed the girl. "But we've got to be just to his disposition as well as his actions. I can see it in one light that can excuse it some. He can't bear to be put down, and I know he's been left out a good deal among the students, and it's made him bitter. He told me about it; that's one reason why he wanted to leave Harvard this last year. He saw other young men made much of, when he didn't get any notice; and when he had the chance to pay them back with a girl of their own set that was trying to make a fool of him—"
"That was the time for him to remember you," said Whitwell.
Cynthia broke under the defence she was trying to make. "Yes," she said, with an indrawn sigh, and she began to sob piteously.
The sight of her grief seemed to kindle her father's wrath to a flame. "Any way you look at him, he's been a dumn blackguard; that's what he's been. You're a million times too good for him; and I—"
She sobbed herself quiet, and then she said: "Father, I don't like to go up there to-night. I want to stay here."
"All right, Cynthia. I'll come down and stay with you. You got everything we want here?"
"Yes. And I'll go up and get the breakfast for them in the morning. There won't be much to do."
"Dumn 'em! Let 'em get their own breakfast!" said Whitwell, recklessly.
"And, father," the girl went on as if he had not spoken, "don't you talk to Mrs. Durgin about it, will you?"
"No, no. I sha'n't speak to her. I'll just tell Frank you and me are goin' to stay down here to-night. She'll suspicion something, but she can figure it out for herself. Or she can make Jeff tell her. It can't be kept from her."
"Well, let him be the one to tell her. Whatever happens, I shall never speak of it to a soul besides you."
"All right, Cynthy. You'll have the night to think it over—I guess you won't sleep much—and I'll trust you to do what's the best thing about it."
Cynthia found Mrs. Durgin in the old farm-house kitchen at work getting breakfast when she came up to the hotel in the morning. She was early, but the elder woman had been earlier still, and her heavy face showed more of their common night-long trouble than the girl's.
She demanded, at sight of her, "What's the matter with you and Jeff, Cynthy?"
Cynthia was unrolling the cloud from her hair. She said, as she tied on her apron: "You must get him to tell you, Mrs. Durgin."
"Then there is something?"
"Has Jeff been using you wrong?"
Cynthia stooped to open the oven door, and to turn the pan of biscuit she found inside. She shut the door sharply to, and said, as she rose: "I don't want to tell anything about it, and I sha'n't, Mrs. Durgin. He can do it, if he wants to. Shall I make the coffee?"
"Yes; you seem to make it better than I do. Do you think I shouldn't believe you was fair to him?"
"I wasn't thinking of that. But it's his secret. If he wants to keep it, he can keep it, for all me."
"You ha'n't give each other up?"
"I don't know." Cynthia turned away with a trembling chin, and began to beat the coffee up with an egg she had dropped into the pot. She put the breakfast on the table when it was ready, but she would not sit down with the rest. She said she did not want any breakfast, and she drank a cup of coffee in the kitchen.
It fell to Jeff mainly to keep the talk going. He had been out at the barn with Jombateeste since daybreak, looking after the cattle, and the joy of the weather had got into his nerves and spirits. At first he had lain awake after he went to bed, but he had fallen asleep about midnight, and got a good night's rest. He looked fresh and strong and very handsome. He talked resolutely to every one at the table, but Jombateeste was always preoccupied with eating at his meals, and Frank Whitwell had on a Sunday silence, which was perhaps deepened by a feeling that there was something wrong between his sister and Jeff, and it would be rash to commit himself to an open friendliness until he understood the case. His father met Jeff's advances with philosophical blandness and evasion, and Mrs. Durgin was provisionally dry and severe both with the Whitwells and her son. After breakfast she went to the parlor, and Jeff set about a tour of the hotel, inside and out. He looked carefully to the details of its winter keeping. Then he came back and boldly joined his mother where she sat before her stove, whose subdued heat she found pleasant in the lingering cold of the early spring.
He tossed his hat on the table beside her, and sat down on the other side of the stove. "Well, I must say the place has been well looked after. I don't believe Jackson himself could have kept it in better shape. When was the last you heard from him?"
"I hope," said his mother, gravely, "you've been lookin' after your end at Boston, too."
"Well, not as well as you have here, mother," said Jeff, candidly. "Has Cynthy told you?"
"I guess she expected you to tell me, if there was anything."
"There's a lot; but I guess I needn't go over it all. I've been playing the devil."
"Yes, I have. I've been going with another girl down there, one the kind you wanted me to make up to, and I went so far I—well, I made love to her; and then I thought it over, and found out I didn't really care for her, and I had to tell her so, and then I came up to tell Cynthy. That's about the size of it. What do you think of it?"
"D' you tell Cynthy?"
"Yes, I told her."
"What 'd she say?"
"She said I'd better go back to the other girl." Jeff laughed hardily, but his mother remained impassive.
"I guess she's right; I guess you had."
"That seems to be the general opinion. That's what Mr. Westover advised. I seem to be the only one against it. I suppose you mean that I'm not fit for Cynthy. I don't deny it. All I say is I want her, and I don't want the other one. What are you going to do in a case like that?"
"The way I should look at it," said his mother, "is this: whatever you are, Cynthy made you. You was a lazy, disobedient, worthless boy, and it was her carin' for you from the first that put any spirit and any principle into you. It was her that helped you at school when you was little things together; and she helped you at the academy, and she's helped you at college. I'll bet she could take a degree, or whatever it is, at Harvard better than you could now; and if you ever do take a degree, you've got her to thank for it."