Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 31 out of 78
"The devil of it is I can't choose," he replied.
"Yes, I suppose that's the devil of it," said the girl.
"You oughtn't to use such language as that, Bess," said her brother,
"Oh, I don't with everybody," she returned. "Never with ladies!"
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye with a smile at once rueful
"You got me, I guess, that time," he owned.
"'Touche',' Mr. Durgin says. He fences, it seems, and he speaks French.
It was like an animal speaking French; you always expect them to speak
English. But I don't mind your swearing before me; I know that it helps
to carry off the electricity." She laughed, and made him laugh with her.
"Is there anything to him?" he growled, when they stopped laughing.
"Yes, a good deal," said Bessie, with an air of thoughtfulness; and then
she went on to tell all that Jeff had told her of himself, and she
described his aplomb in dealing with the benevolent Bevidge, as she
called her, and sketched his character, as it seemed to her. The sketch
was full of shrewd guesses, and she made it amusing to her brother, who
from the vantage of his own baddishness no doubt judged the original more
"Well, you'd better let him alone, after this," he said, at the end.
"Yes," she pensively assented. "I suppose it's as if you took to some
very common kind of whiskey, isn't it? I see what you mean. If one
must, it ought to be champagne."
She turned upon him a look of that keen but limited knowledge which
renders women's conjectures of evil always so amusing, or so pathetic, to
"Better let the champagne alone, too," said her brother, darkly.
"Yes, I know that," she admitted, and she lay back in her chair, looking
dreamily into the fire. After a while she asked, abruptly: "Will you
give it up if I will?"
"I am afraid I couldn't."
"You could try."
"Oh, I'm used to that."
"Then it's a bargain," she said. She jumped from her chair and went over
to him, and smoothed his hair over his forehead and kissed the place she
had smoothed, though it was unpleasantly damp to her lips. "Poor boy,
poor boy! Now, remember! No more jays for me, and no more jags for you.
Her brother broke into a wild laugh at her slanging, which had such a
bizarre effect in relation to her physical delicacy.
Jeff did not know whether Miss Bessie Lynde meant to go to Mrs. Bevidge's
Thursdays or not. He thought she might have been bantering him by what
she said, and he decided that he would risk going to the first of them on
the chance of meeting her. She was not there, and there was no one there
whom he knew. Mrs. Bevidge made no effort to enlarge his acquaintance,
and after he had drunk a cup of her tea he went away with rage against
society in his heart, which he promised himself to vent at the first
chance of refusing its favors. But the chance seemed not to come. The
world which had opened its gates to him was fast shut again, and he had
to make what he could of renouncing it. He worked pretty hard, and he
renewed himself in his fealty to Cynthia, while his mind strayed
curiously to that other girl. But he had almost abandoned the hope of
meeting her again, when a large party was given on the eve of the Harvard
Mid-Year Examinations, which end the younger gayeties of Boston, for a
fortnight at least, in January. The party was so large that the
invitations overflowed the strict bounds of society at some points. In
the case of Jeff Durgin the excess was intentional beyond the vague
benevolence which prompted the giver of the party to ask certain other
outsiders. She was a lady of a soul several sizes larger than the souls
of some other society leaders; she was not afraid to do as she liked; for
instance, she had not only met the Vostrands at Westover's tea, several
years before, but she had afterward offered some hospitalities to those
ladies which had discharged her whole duty toward them without involving
her in any disadvantages. Jeff had been presented to her at Westover's,
but she disliked him so promptly and decidedly that she had left him out
of even the things that she asked some other jays to, like lectures and
parlor readings for good objects. It was not until one of her daughters
met him, first at Willie Morland's tea and then at Mrs. Bevidge's
meeting, that her social conscience concerned itself with him. At the
first her daughter had not spoken to him, as might very well have
happened, since Bessie Lynde had kept him away with her nearly all the
time; but at the last she had bowed pleasantly to him across the room,
and Jeff had responded with a stiff obeisance, whose coldness she felt
the more for having been somewhat softened herself in Mrs. Bevidge's
"I think he was hurt, mamma," the girl explained to her mother, "that
you've never had him to anything. I suppose they must feel it."
"Oh, well, send him a card, then," said her mother; and when Jeff got the
card, rather near the eleventh hour, he made haste to accept, not because
he cared to go to Mrs. Enderby's house, but because he hoped he should
meet Miss Lynde there.
Bessie was the first person he met after he turned from paying his duty
to the hostess. She was with her aunt, and she presented him, and
promised him a dance, which she let him write on her card. She sat out
another dance with him, and he took her to supper.
To Westover, who had gone with the increasing forlornness a man feels in
such pleasures after thirty-five, it seemed as if the two were in each
other's company the whole evening. The impression was so strong with him
that when Jeff restored Bessie to her aunt for the dance that was to be
for some one else, and came back to the supper-room, the painter tried to
satisfy a certain uneasiness by making talk with him. But Jeff would not
talk; he got away with a bottle of champagne, which he had captured, and
a plate heaped with croquettes and pease, and galantine and salad. There
were no ladies left in the room by that time, and few young men; but the
oldsters crowded the place, with their bald heads devoutly bowed over
their victual, or their frosty mustaches bathed in their drink, singly or
in groups; the noise of their talk and laughter mixed with the sound of
their eating and drinking, and the clash of the knives and dishes. Over
their stooped shoulders and past their rounded stomachs Westover saw Alan
Lynde vaguely making his way with a glass in his hand, and looking
vaguely about for wine; he saw Jeff catch his wandering eye, and make
offer of his bottle, and then saw Lynde, after a moment of haughty pause,
unbend and accept it. His thin face was flushed, and his hair tossed
over his forehead, but Jeff seemed not to take note of that. He laughed
boisterously at something Lynde said, and kept filling his glass for him.
His own color remained clear and cool. It was as if his powerful
physique absorbed the wine before it could reach his brain.
Westover wanted to interfere, and so far as Jeff was concerned he would
not have hesitated; but Lynde was concerned, too, and you cannot save
such a man from himself without offence. He made his way to the young
man, hoping he might somehow have the courage he wanted.
Jeff held up the bottle, and called to him, "Get yourself a glass, Mr.
Westover." He put on the air of a host, and would hardly be denied.
"Know Mr. Westover, Mr. Lynde? Just talking about you," he explained to
Alan had to look twice at the painter. "Oh yes. Mr. Durgin, here--
telling me about his place in the mountains. Says you've been there.
Going--going myself in the summer. See his--horses." He made pauses
between his words as some people do when they, try to keep from
Westover believed Lynde understood Jeff to be a country gentleman of
sporting tastes, and he would not let that pass. "Yes, it's the
pleasantest little hotel in the mountains."
"Strictly-temperance, I suppose?" said Alan, trying to smile with lips
that obeyed him stiffly. He appeared not to care who or what Jeff was;
the champagne had washed away all difference between them. He went on to
say that he had heard of Jeff's intention of running the hotel himself
when he got out of Harvard. He held it to be damned good stuff.
Jeff laughed. "Your sister wouldn't believe me when I told her."
"I think I didn't mention Miss Lynde," said Alan, haughtily.
Jeff filled his glass; Alan looked at it, faltered, and then drank it
off. The talk began again between the young men, but it left Westover
out, and he had to go away. Whether Jeff was getting Lynde beyond
himself from the love of mischief, such as had prompted him to tease
little children in his boyhood, or was trying to ingratiate himself with
the young fellow through his weakness, or doing him harm out of mere
thoughtlessness, Westover came away very unhappy at what he had seen.
His unhappiness connected itself so distinctly with Lynde's family that
he went and sat down beside Miss Lynde from an obscure impulse of
compassion, and tried to talk with her. It would not have been so hard
if she were merely deaf, for she had the skill of deaf people in
arranging the conversation so that a nodded yes or no would be all that
was needed to carry it forward. But to Westover she was terribly dull,
and he was gasping, as in an exhausted receiver, when Bessie came up with
a smile of radiant recognition for his extremity. She got rid of her
partner, and devoted herself at once to Westover. "How good of you!"
she said, without giving him the pain of an awkward disclaimer.
He could counter in equal sincerity and ambiguity, "How beautiful of
"Yes," she said, "I am looking rather well, tonight; but don't you think
effective would have been a better word?" She smiled across her aunt at
him out of a cloud of pink, from which her thin shoulders and slender
neck emerged, and her arms, gloved to the top, fell into her lap; one of
them seemed to terminate naturally in the fan which sensitively shared
the inquiescence of her person.
"I will say effective, too, if you insist," said Westover. "But at the
same time you're the most beautiful person here."
"How lovely of you, even if you don't mean it," she sighed. "If girls
could have more of those things said to them, they would be better, don't
you think? Or at least feel better."
Westover laughed. "We might organize a society--they have them for
nearly everything now--for saying pleasant things to young ladies with a
view to the moral effect."
"Oh, do I"
"But it ought to be done conscientiously, and you couldn't go round
telling every one that she was the most beautiful girl in the room."
"Why not? She'd believe it!"
"Yes; but the effect on the members of the society?"
"Oh yes; that! But you could vary it so as to save your conscience. You
could say, 'How divinely you're looking!' or 'How angelic!' or 'You're
the very poetry of motion,' or 'You are grace itself,' or 'Your gown is a
perfect dream, or any little commonplace, and every one would take it for
praise of her personal appearance, and feel herself a great beauty, just
as I do now, though I know very well that I'm all out of drawing, and
just chicqued together."
"I couldn't allow any one but you to say that, Miss Bessie; and I only
let it pass because you say it so well."
"Yes; you're always so good! You wouldn't contradict me even when you
turned me out of your class."
"Did I turn you out of my class?"
"Not just in so many words, but when I said I couldn't do anything in
art, you didn't insist that it was because I wouldn't, and of course then
I had to go. I've never forgiven you, Mr. Westover, never! Do keep on
talking very excitedly; there's a man coming up to us that I don't want
to think I see him, or he'll stop. There! He's veered off! Where were
you, Mr. Westover?"
"Ah, Miss Bessie," said the painter; delighted at her drama, "there isn't
anything you couldn't do if you would."
"You mean parlor entertainments; impersonations; impressions; that sort
of thing? I have thought of it. But it would be too easy. I want to
try something difficult."
"Well, being very, very good. I want something that would really tax my
powers. I should like to be an example. I tried it the other night just
before I went to sleep, and it was fine. I became an example to others.
But when I woke up--I went on in the old way. I want something hard,
don't you know; but I want it to be easy!"
She laughed, and Westover said: "I am glad you're not serious. No one
ought to be an example to others. To be exemplary is as dangerous as to
"It certainly isn't so agreeable to the object," said the girl. "But
it's fine for the subject as long as it lasts. How metaphysical we're
getting! The objective and the subjective. It's quite what I should
expect of talk at a Boston dance if I were a New-Yorker. Have you seen
anything of my brother, within the last hour or so, Mr. Westover?"
"Yes; I just left him in the supper-room. Shall I go get him for you?"
When he had said this, with the notion of rescuing him from Jeff,
Westover was sorry, for he doubted if Alan Lynde were any longer in the
state to be brought away from the supper-room, and he was glad to have
"No, no. He'll look us up in the course of the evening--or the morning."
A young fellow came to claim her for a dance, and Westover had not the
face to leave Miss Lynde, all the less because she told him he must not
think of staying. He stayed till the dance was over, and Bessie came
back to him.
"What time is it, Mr. Westover? I see my aunt beginning to nod on her
Westover looked at his watch. "It's ten minutes past two."
"How early!" sighed the girl. "I'm tired of it, aren't you?"
"Very," said Westover. "I was tired an hour ago."
Bessie sank back in her chair with an air of nervous collapse, and did
not say anything. Westover saw her watching the young couples who passed
in and out of the room where the dancing was, or found corners on sofas,
or window-seats, or sheltered spaces beside the doors and the chimney-
piece, the girls panting and the men leaning forward to fan them. She
looked very tired of it; and when a young fellow came up and asked her to
dance, she told him that she was provisionally engaged. "Come back and
get me, if you can't do better," she said, and he answered there was no
use trying to do better, and said he would wait till the other man turned
up, or didn't, if she would let him. He sat down beside her, and some
young talk began between them.
In the midst of it Jeff appeared. He looked at Westover first, and then
approached with an embarrassed face.
Bessie got vividly to her feet. "No apologies, Mr. Durgin, please! But
in just another moment you'd have last your dance."
Westover saw what he believed a change pass in Jeff's look from
embarrassment to surprise and then to flattered intelligence. He beamed
all over; and he went away with Bessie toward the ballroom, and left
Westover to a wholly unsupported belief that she had not been engaged to
dance with Jeff. He wondered what her reckless meaning could be, but he
had always thought her a young lady singularly fitted by nature and art
to take care of herself, and when he reasoned upon what was in his mind
he had to own that there was no harm in Jeff's dancing with her.
He took leave of Miss Lynde, and was going to get his coat and hat for
his walk home when he was mysteriously stopped in a corner of the stairs
by one of the caterer's men whom he knew. It is so unnatural to be
addressed by a servant at all unless he asks you if you will have
something to eat or drink, that Westover was in a manner prepared to have
him say something startling. "It's about young Mr. Lynde, sor. We've
got um in one of the rooms up-stairs, but he ain't fit to go home alone,
and I've been lookin' for somebody that knows the family to help get um
into a car'ge. He won't go for anny of us, sor."
"Where is he?" asked Westover, in anguish at being unable to refuse the
appeal, but loathing the office put upon him.
"I'll show you, sor," said the caterer's man, and he sprang up the stairs
before Westover, with glad alacrity.
In a little room at the side of that where the men's hats and coats were
checked, Alan Lynde sat drooping forward in an arm-chair, with his head
fallen on his breast. He roused himself at the flash of the burner which
the man turned up. "What's all this?" he demanded, haughtily. "Where's
the carriage? What's the matter?"
"Your carriage is waiting, Lynde," said Westover. "I'll see you down to
it," and he murmured, hopelessly, to the caterer's man: "Is there any
"There's the wan we got um up by."
"It will do," said Westover, as simply.
But Lynde called out, defiantly: "Back way; I sha'n't go down back way.
Inshult to guest. I wish--say--good-night to--Mrs. Enderby. Who you,
anyway? Damn caterer's man?"
"I'm Westover, Lynde," the painter began, but the young fellow broke in
upon him, shaking his hand and then taking his arm.
"Oh, Westover! All right! I'll go down back way with you. Thought--
thought it was damn caterer's man. No--offence."
"No. It's all right. "Westover got his arm under Lynde's elbow, and,
with the man going before for them to fall upon jointly in case they
should stumble, he got him down the dark and twisting stairs and through
the basement hall, which was vaguely haunted by the dispossessed women
servants of the family, and so out upon the pavement of the moonlighted
"Call Miss Lynde's car'ge," shouted the caterer's man to the barker, and
escaped back into the basement, leaving Westover to stay his helpless
charge on the sidewalk.
It seemed a publication of the wretch's shame when the barker began to
fill the night with hoarse cries of, "Miss Lynde's carriage; carriage for
Miss Lynde!" The cries were taken up by a coachman here and there in the
rank of vehicles whose varnished roofs shone in the moon up and down the
street. After a time that Westover of course felt to be longer than it
was, Miss Lynde's old coachman was roused from his sleep on the box and
started out of the rank. He took in the situation with the eye of
custom, when he saw Alan supported on the sidewalk by a stranger at the
end of the canopy covering the pavement.
He said, "Oh, ahl right, sor!" and when the two white-gloved policemen
from either side of it helped Westover into the carriage with Lynde, he
set off at a quick trot. The policemen clapped their hands together, and
smiled across the strip of carpet that separated them, and winks and nods
of intelligence passed among the barkers to the footmen about the curb
and steps. There were none of them sorry to see a gentleman in that
state; some of them had perhaps seen Alan in that state before.
Half-way home he roused himself and put his hand on the carriage-door
latch. "Tell the coachman drive us to--the--club. Make night of it."
"No, no," said Westover, trying to restrain him. "We'd better go right
on to your house."
"Who--who--who are you?" demanded Alan.
"Oh yes--Westover. Thought we left Westover at Mrs. Enderby's. Thought
it was that jay--What's his name? Durgin. He's awful jay, but civil to
me, and I want be civil to him. You're not--jay? No? That's right.
Fellow made me sick; but I took his champagne; and I must show him some
--attention." He released the door-handle, and fell back against the
cushioned carriage wall. "He's a blackguard!" he said, sourly. "Not--
simple jay-blackguard, too. No--no--business bring in my sister's name,
hey? You--you say it's--Westover? Oh yes, Westover. Old friend of
family. Tell you good joke, Westover--my sister's. No more jays for me,
no more jags for you. That's what she say--just between her and me, you
know; she's a lady, Bess is; knows when to use--slang. Mark--mark of a
lady know when to use slang. Pretty good--jays and jags. Guess we
didn't count this time--either of us."
When the carriage pulled up before Miss Lynde's house, Westover opened
the door. "You're at home, now, Lynde. Come, let's get out."
Lynde did not stir. He asked Westover again who he was, and when he had
made sure of him, he said, with dignity, Very well; now they must get the
other fellow. Westover entreated; he even reasoned; Lynde lay back in
the corner of the carriage, and seemed asleep.
Westover thought of pulling him up and getting him indoors by main force.
He appealed to the coachman to know if they could not do it together.
"Why, you see, I couldn't leave me harsses, sor," said the coachman.
"What's he wants, sor?" He bent urbanely down from his box and listened
to the explanation that Westover made him, standing in the cold on the
curbstone, with one hand on the carriage door. "Then it's no use, sor,"
the man decided. "Whin he's that way, ahl hell couldn't stir um. Best
go back, sor, and try to find the gentleman."
This was in the end what Westover had to do, feeling all the time that a
thing so frantically absurd could not be a waking act, but helpless to
escape from its performance. He thought of abandoning his charge and
leaving him, to his fate when he opened the carriage door before Mrs.
Enderby's house; but with the next thought he perceived that this was on
all accounts impossible. He went in, and began his quest for Jeff,
sending various serving men about with vague descriptions of him, and
asking for him of departing guests, mostly young men he did not know, but
who, he thought, might know Jeff.
He had to take off his overcoat at last, and reappear at the ball. The
crowd was still great, but visibly less dense than it had been. By a
sudden inspiration he made his way to the supper-room, and he found Jeff
there, filling a plate, as if he were about to carry it off somewhere.
He commanded Jeff's instant presence in the carriage outside; he told him
of Alan's desire for him.
Jeff leaned back against the wall with the plate in his hand and laughed
till it half slipped from his hold. When he could get his breath, he
said: "I'll be back in a few minutes; I've got to take this to Miss
Bessie Lynde. But I'll be right back."
Westover hardly believed him. But when he got on his own things again,
Jeff joined him in his hat and overcoat, and they went out together.
It was another carriage that stopped the way now, and once more the
barker made the night ring with what Westover felt his heartless and
shameless cries for Miss Lynde's carriage. After a maddening delay,
it lagged up to the curb and Jeff pulled the door open.
"Hello!" he said. "There's nobody here!"
"Nobody there?" cried Westover, and they fell upon the coachman with wild
question and reproach; the policeman had to tell him at last that the
carriage must move on, to make way for others.
The coachman had no explanation to offer: he did not know how or when Mr.
Alan had got away.
"But you can give a guess where he's gone?" Jeff suggested, with a
presence of mind which Westover mutely admired.
"Well, sor, I know where he do be gahn, sometimes," the man admitted.
"Well, that will do; take me there," said Jeff. "You go in and account
for me to Miss Lynde," he instructed Westover, across his shoulder.
"I'll get him home before morning, somehow; and I'll send the carriage
right back for the ladies, now."
Westover had the forethought to decide that Miss Bessie should ask for
Jeff if she wanted him, and this simplified matters very much. She asked
nothing about him. At sight of Westover coming up to her where she sat
with her aunt, she merely said: "Why, Mr. Westover! I thought you took
leave of this scene of gayety long ago."
"Did you?" Westover returned, provisionally, and she saved him from the
sin of framing some deceit in final answer by her next question.
"Have you seen anything of Alan lately?" she asked, in a voice
Westover replied in the same octave: "Yes; I saw him going a good while
"Oh!" said the girl. "Then I think my aunt and I had better go, too."
Still she did not go, and there was an interval in which she had the air
of vaguely waiting. To Westover's vision, the young people still passing
to and from the ballroom were like the painted figures of a picture
quickened with sudden animation. There were scarcely any elders to be
seen now, except the chaperons, who sat in their places with iron
fortitude; Westover realized that he was the only man of his age left.
He felt that the lights ought to have grown dim, but the place was as
brilliant as ever. A window had been opened somewhere, and the cold
breath of the night was drawing through the heated rooms.
He was content to have Bessie stay on, though he was almost dropping with
sleep, for he was afraid that if she went at once, the carriage might not
have got back, and the whole affair must somehow be given away; at last,
if she were waiting, she decided to wait no longer, and then Westover did
not know how to keep her. He saw her rise and stoop over her aunt,
putting her mouth to the elder lady's ear, and he heard her saying,
"I am going home, Aunt Louisa." She turned sweetly to him. "Won't you
let us set you down, Mr. Westover?"
"Why, thank you, I believe I prefer walking. But do let me have your
carriage called," and again he hurried himself into his overcoat and hat,
and ran down-stairs, and the barker a third time sent forth his
lamentable cries in summons of Miss Lynde's carriage.
While he stood on the curb-stone eagerly peering up and down the street,
he heard, without being able either to enjoy or resent it, one of the
policemen say across him to the other, "Miss lynde seems to be doin' a
livery-stable business to-night."
Almost at the moment a carriage drove up, and he recognized Miss Lynde's
coachman, who recognized him.
"Just got back, sor," he whispered, and a minute later Bessie came
daintily out over the carpeted way with her aunt.
"How good of you!" she said, and "Good-night, Mr. Westover," said Miss
Lynde, with an implication in her voice that virtue was peculiarly its
own reward for those who performed any good office for her or hers.
Westover shut them in, the carriage rolled off, and he started on his
homeward walk with a long sigh of relief.
Bessie asked the sleepy man who opened her aunt's door whether her
brother had come in yet, and found that he had not. She helped her aunt
off up-stairs with her maid, and when she came down again she sent the
man to bed; she told him she was going to sit up and she would let her
brother in. The caprices of Alan's latch-key were known to all the
servants, and the man understood what she, meant. He said he had left a
light in the reception-room and there was a fire there; and Bessie
tripped on down from the library floor, where she had met him. She had
put off her ball dress and had slipped into the simplest and easiest of
breakfast frocks, which was by no means plain. Bessie had no plain
frocks for any hour of the day; her frocks all expressed in stuff and
style and color, and the bravery of their flying laces and ribbons, the
audacity of spirit with which she was herself chicqued together, as she
said. This one she had on now was something that brightened her dull
complexion, and brought out the best effect of her eyes and mouth, and
seemed the effluence of her personal dash and grace. It made the most of
her, and she liked it beyond all her other negligees for its
She got a book, and sat down in a long, low chair before the fire and
crossed her pretty slippers on the warm hearth. It was a quarter after
three by the clock on the mantel; but she had never felt more eagerly
awake. The party had not been altogether to her mind, up to midnight,
but after that it had been a series of rapid and vivid emotions, which
continued themselves still in the tumult of her nerves, and seemed to
demand an indefinite sequence of experience. She did not know what state
her brother might be in when he came home; she had not seen anything of
him after she first went out to supper; till then, though, he had kept
himself straight, as he needs must; but she could not tell what happened
to him afterward. She hoped that he would come home able to talk, for
she wished to talk. She wished to talk about herself; and as she had
already had flattery enough, she wanted some truth about herself; she
wanted Alan to say what he thought of her behavior the whole evening with
that jay. He must have seen something of it in the beginning, and she
should tell him all the rest. She should tell him just how often she had
danced with the man, and how many dances she had sat out with him; how
she had pretended once that she was engaged when another man asked her,
and then danced with the jay, to whom she pretended that he had engaged
her for the dance. She had wished to see how he would take it; for the
same reason she had given to some one else a dance that was really his.
She would tell Alan how the jay had asked her for that last dance, and
then never come near her again. That would give him the whole situation,
and she would know just what he thought of it.
What she thought of herself she hardly knew, or made believe she hardly
knew. She prided herself upon not being a flirt; she might not be very
good, as goodness went, but she was not despicable, and a flirt was
despicable. She did not call the audacity of her behavior with the jay
flirting; he seemed to understand it as well as she, and to meet her in
her own spirit; she wondered now whether this jay was really more
interesting than the other men one met, or only different; whether he was
original, like Alan himself, or merely novel, and would soon wear down to
the tiresomeness that seemed to underlie them all, and made one wish to
do something dreadful. In the jay's presence she had no wish to do
anything dreadful. Was it because he was dreadful enough for both, all
the time, without doing anything? She would like to ask Alan that, and
see how he would take it. Nothing seemed to put the jay out, so far as
she had tried, and she had tried some bold impertinences with him. He
was very jolly through them all, and at the worst of them he laughed and
asked her for that dance, which he never came to claim, though in the
mean time he brought her some belated supper, and was devoted to her and
her aunt, inventing services to do for them. Then suddenly he went off
and did not return, and Mr. Westover mysteriously reappeared, and got
She heard a scratching at the key-hole of the outside door; she knew it
was Alan's latch. She had left the inner door ajar that there might be
no uncertainty of hearing him, and she ran out into the space between
that and the outer door where the fumbling and scraping kept on.
"Is that you, Alan?" she called, softly, and if she had any doubt before,
she had none when she heard her brother outside, cursing his luck with
his key as usual.
She flung the door open, and confronted him with another man, who had his
arms around him as if he had caught him from falling with the inward pull
of the door. Alan got to his feet and grappled with the man, and
insisted that he should come in and make a night of it.
Bessie saw that it was Jeff, and they stood a moment, looking at each
other. Jeff tried to free himself with an appeal to Bessie: "I beg your
pardon, Miss Lynde. I walked home with your brother, and I was just
helping him to get in--I didn't think that you--"
Alan said, with his measured distinctness: "Nobody cares what you think.
Come in, and get something to carry you over the bridge. Cambridge cars
stopped running long ago. I say you shall!" He began to raise his
voice. A light flashed in a window across the way, and a sash was
lifted; some one must be looking out.
"Oh, come in with him!" Bessie implored, and at a little yielding in Jeff
her brother added:
"Come in, you damn jay!" He pulled at Jeff.
Jeff made haste to shut the door behind them. He was laughing; and if it
was from mere brute insensibility to what would have shocked another in
the situation, his frank recognition of its grotesqueness was of better
effect than any hopeless effort to ignore it would have been. People
adjust themselves to their trials; it is the pretence of the witness that
there is no trial which hurts, and Bessie was not wounded by Jeff's
"There's a fire here in the reception-room," she said. "Can you get him
"I guess so."
Jeff lifted Alan into the room and stayed him on foot there, while he
took off his hat and overcoat, and then he let him sink into the low
easy-chair Bessie had just risen from. All the time, Alan was bidding
her ring and have some champagne and cold meat set out on the side-board,
and she was lightly promising and coaxing. But he drowsed quickly in the
warmth, and the last demand for supper died half uttered on his lips.
Jeff asked across him: "Can't I get him up-stairs for you? I can carry
She shook her head and whispered back, "I can leave him here," and she
looked at Jeff with a moment's hesitation. "Did you--do you think that--
any one noticed him at Mrs. Enderby's?"
"No; they had got him in a room by himself--the caterer's men had."
"And you found him there?"
"Mr. Westover found him there," Jeff answered.
"I don't understand."
"Didn't he come to you after I left?"
"I told him to excuse me--"
"Well, I guess he was pretty badly rattled." Jeff stopped himself in the
vague laugh of one who remembers something ludicrous, and turned his face
"Tell me what it was!" she demanded, nervously.
"Mr. Westover had been home with him once, and he wouldn't stay. He made
Mr. Westover come back for me."
"What did he want with you?"
"And then what?"
"We went out to the carriage, as soon as I could get away from you; but
he wasn't in it. I sent Mr. Westover back to you and set out to look for
"That was very good of you. And I--thank you for your kindness to my
brother. I shall not forget it. And I wish to beg your pardon."
"What for?" asked Jeff, bluntly.
"For blaming you when you didn't come back for the dance."
If Bessie had meant nothing but what was fitting to the moment some
inherent lightness of nature played her false. But even the histrionic
touch which she could not keep out of her voice, her manner, another sort
of man might have found merely pathetic.
Jeff laughed with subtle intelligence. "Were you very hard on me?"
"Very," she answered in kind, forgetting her brother and the whole
"Tell me what you thought of me," he said, and he came a little nearer to
her, looking very handsome and very strong. "I should like to know."
"I said I should never speak to you again."
"And you kept your word," said Jeff. "Well, that's all right. Good-
night-or good-morning, whichever it is." He took her hand, which she
could not withdraw, or feigned to herself that she could not withdraw,
and looked at her with a silent laugh, and a hardy, sceptical glance that
she felt take in every detail of her prettiness, her plainness. Then he
turned and went out, and she ran quickly and locked the door upon him.
Bessie crept up to her room, where she spent the rest of the night in her
chair, amid a tumult of emotion which she would have called thinking.
She asked herself the most searching questions, but she got no very
candid answers to them, and she decided that she must see the whole fact
with some other's eyes before she could know what she had meant or what
she had done.
When she let the daylight into her room, it showed her a face in her
mirror that bore no trace of conflicting anxieties. Her complexion
favored this effect of inward calm; it was always thick; and her eyes
seemed to her all the brighter for their vigils.
A smile, even, hovered on her mouth as she sat down at the breakfast-
table, in the pretty negligee she had worn all night, and poured out Miss
Lynde's coffee for her.
"That's always very becoming to you, Bessie," said her aunt. "It's the
nicest breakfast gown you have."
"Do you think so?" Bessie looked down at it, first on one side and then
on the other, as a woman always does when her dress is spoken of.
"Mr. Alan said he would have his breakfast in his room, miss," murmured
the butler, in husky respectfulness, as he returned to Bessie from
carrying Miss Lynde's cup to her. "He don't want anything but a little
toast and coffee."
She perceived that the words were meant to make it easy for her to ask:
"Isn't he very well, Andrew?"
"About as usual, miss," said Andrew, a thought more sepulchral than
before. "He's going on--about as usual."
She knew this to mean that he was going on from bad to worse, and that
his last night's excess was the beginning of a debauch which could end
only in one way. She must send for the doctor; he would decide what was
best, when he saw how Alan came through the day.
Late in the afternoon she heard Mary Enderby's voice in the reception-
room, bidding the man say that if Miss Bessie were lying down she would
come up to her, or would go away, just as she wished. She flew
downstairs with a glad cry of "Molly! What an inspiration! I was just
thinking of you, and wishing for you. But I didn't suppose you were up
"It's pretty early," said Miss Enderby. "But I should have been here
before if I could, for I knew I shouldn't wake you, Bessie, with your
habit of turning night into day, and getting up any time in the
"How dissipated you sound!"
"Yes, don't I? But I've been thinking about you ever since I woke, and I
had to come and find out if you were alive, anyhow."
"Come up-stairs and see!" said Bessie, holding her friend's hand on the
sofa where they had dropped down together, and going all over the scene
of last night in that place for the thousandth time.
"No, no; I really mustn't. I hope you had a good time?"
"At your house!"
"How dear of you! But, Bessie, I got to thinking you'd been rather
sacrificed. It came into my mind the instant I woke, and gave me this
severe case of conscience. I suppose it's a kind of conscience."
"Yes, yes. Go on! I like having been a martyr, if I don't know what
"Why, you know, Bessie, or if you don't you will presently, that it was I
who got mamma to send him a card; I felt rather sorry for him, that day
at Mrs. Bevidge's, because she'd so obviously got him there to use him,
and I got mamma to ask him. Everything takes care of itself, at a large
affair, and I thought I might trust in Providence to deal with him after
he came; and then I saw you made a means the whole evening! I didn't
reflect that there always has to be a means!"
"It's a question of Mr. Durgin?" said Bessie, coldly thrilling at the
sound of a name that she pronounced so gayly in a tone of sympathetic
Miss Enderby bobbed her head. "It shows that we ought never to do a good
action, doesn't it? But, poor thing! How you must have been swearing
"I don't know. Was it so very bad? I'm trying to think," said Bessie,
thinking that after this beginning it would be impossible to confide in
"Oh, now, Bessie! Don't you be patient, or I shall begin to lose my
faith in human nature. Just say at once that it was an outrage and I'll
forgive you! You see," Miss Enderby went on, "it isn't merely that he's
a jay; but he isn't a very nice jay. None of the men like him--except
Freddy Lancaster, of course; he likes everybody, on principle; he doesn't
count. I thought that perhaps, although he's so crude and blunt, he
might be sensitive and high-minded; you're always reading about such
things; but they say he isn't, in the least; oh, not the least! They say
he goes with a set of fast jays, and that he's dreadful; though he has a
very good mind, and could do very well if he chose. That's what cousin
Jim said to-day; he's just been at our house; and it was so extremely
telepathic that I thought I must run round and prevent your having the
man on your conscience if you felt you had had too much of him. You
won't lay him up against us, will you?" She jumped to her feet.
"You dear!" said Bessie, keeping Mary Enderby's hand, and pressing it
between both of hers against her breast as they now stood face to face,
"do come up and have some tea!"
"No, no! Really, I can't."
They were both involuntarily silent. The door had been opened to some
one, and there was a brief parley, which ended in a voice they knew to be
the doctor's, saying, "Then I'll go right up to his room." Both the
girls broke into laughing adieux, to hide their consciousness that the
doctor was going up to see Alan Lynde, who was never sick except in the
Miss Enderby even said: "I was so glad to see Alan looking so well, last
"Yes, he had such a good time," said Bessie, and she followed her friend
to the door, where she kissed her reassuringly, and thanked her for
taking all the trouble she had, bidding her not be the least anxious on
It seemed to her that she should sink upon the stairs in mounting them to
the library. Mary Enderby had told her only what she had known before;
it was what her brother had told her; but then it had not been possible
for the man to say that he had brought Alan home tipsy, and been alone in
the house with her at three o'clock in the morning. He would not only
boast of it to all that vulgar comradehood of his, but it might get into
those terrible papers which published the society scandals. There would
be no way but to appeal to his pity, his generosity. She fancied herself
writing to him, but he could show her note, and she must send for him to
come and see her, and try to put him on his honor. Or, that would not
do, either. She must make it happen that they should be thrown together,
and then speak to him. Even that might make him think she was afraid of
him; or he might take it wrong, and believe that she cared for him.
He had really been very good to Alan, and she tried to feel safe in the
thought of that. She did feel safe for a moment; but if she had meant
nothing but to make him believe her grateful, what must he infer from her
talking to him in the light way she did about forgiving him for not
coming back to dance with her. Her manner, her looks, her tone, had
given him the right to say that she had been willing to flirt with him
there, at that hour, and in those dreadful circumstances.
She found herself lying in a deep arm-chair in the library, when she was
aware of Dr. Lacy pausing at the door and looking tentatively in upon
"Come in, doctor," she said, and she knew that her face was wet with
tears, and that she spoke with the voice of weeping.
He came forward and looked narrowly at her, without sitting down.
"There's nothing to be alarmed about, Miss Bessie," he said. "But I
think your brother had better leave home again, for a while."
"Yes," she said, blankly. Her mind was not on his words.
"I will make the arrangements."
"Thank you," said Bessie, listlessly.
The doctor had made a step backward, as if he were going away, and now he
stopped. "Aren't you feeling quite well, Miss Bessie?"
"Oh yes," she said, and she began to cry.
The doctor came forward and said, cheerily: "Let me see." He pulled a
chair up to hers, and took her wrist between his fingers. "If you were
at Mrs. Enderby's last night, you'll need another night to put you just
right. But you're pretty well as it is." He let her wrist softly go,
and said: "You mustn't distress yourself about your brother's case.
Of course, it's hard to have it happen now after he's held up so long;
longer than it has been before, I think, isn't it? But it's something
that it has been so long. The next time, let us hope, it will be longer
The doctor made as if to rise. Bessie put her hand out to stay him.
"What is it makes him do it?"
"Ah, that's a great mystery," said the doctor. "I suppose you might say
"But it seems to me very often, in such cases, as if it were to escape
the excitement. I think you're both keyed up pretty sharply by nature,
Miss Bessie," said the doctor, with the personal kindness he felt for the
girl, and the pity softening his scientific spirit.
"I know!" she answered. "We're alike. Why don't I take to drinking,
The doctor laughed at such a question from a young lady, but with an
inner seriousness in his laugh, as if, coming from a patient, it was to
be weighed. "Well, I suppose it isn't the habit of your sex, Miss
"Sometimes it is. Sometimes women get drunk, and then I think they do
less harm than if they did other things to get away from the excitement."
She longed to confide in him; the words were on her tongue; she believed
he could help her, tell her what to do; out of his stores of knowledge
and experience he must have some suggestion, some remedy; he could advise
her; he could stand her friend, so far. People told their doctors all
kinds of things, silly things. Why should she not tell her doctor this?
It would have been easier if it had been an older man, who might have had
a daughter of her age. But he was in that period of the early forties
when a doctor sometimes has a matter-of-fact, disagreeable wife whose
idea stands between him and the spiritual intimacy of his patients, so
that it seems as if they were delivering their confidences rather to her
than to him. He was able, he was good, he was extremely acute, he was
even with the latest facts and theories; but as he sat straight up in his
chair his stomach defined itself as a half-moon before him, and he said
to the quivering heap of emotions beside him, "You mean like breaking
hearts, and such little matters?"
It was fatally stupid, and it beat her back into herself.
"Yes," she said, with a contempt that she easily hid from him, "that's
worse than getting drunk, isn't it?"
"Well, it isn't so regarded," said the doctor, who supposed himself to
have made a sprightly answer, and laughed at it. "I wish, Miss Bessie,
you'd take a little remedy I'm going to send you. You've merely been up
too late, but it's a very good thing for people who've been up too late."
"Thank you. And about my brother?"
"Oh! I'll send a man to look after him to-night, and tomorrow I really
think he'd better go."
Miss Lynde had gone earlier than usual to bed, when Bessie heard Alan's
door open, and then heard him feeling his way fumbingly down-stairs. She
surmised that he had drunk up all that he had in his room, and was making
for the side-board in the dining-room.
She ran and got the two decanters-one of whiskey and one of brandy, which
he was in the habit of carrying back to his room from such an incursion.
"Alan!" she called to him, in a low voice.
"Where are you?" he answered back.
"In the library," she said. "Come in here, please."
He came, and stood looking gloomily in from the doorway. He caught sight
of the decanters and the glasses on the library table. "Oh!" he said,
and gave a laugh cut in two by a hiccough.
"Come in, and shut the door, Alan," she said. "Let's make a night of it.
I've got the materials here." She waved her hand toward the decanters.
Alan shrugged. "I don't know what you mean." But he came forward, and
slouched into one of the deep chairs.
"Well, I'll tell you what," said Bessie, with a laugh. "We're both
excited, and we want to get away from ourselves. Isn't that what's the
matter with you when it begins? Doctor Lacy thinks it is."
"Does he?" Alan asked. "I didn't suppose he had so much sense. What of
"Nothing. Merely that I'm going to drink a glass of whiskey and a glass
of brandy for every glass that you drink to-night."
"You mustn't play the fool, Bess," said her brother, with dignified
"But I'm really serious, Alan. Shall I give you something? Which shall
we begin on? And we'd better begin soon, for there's a man coming from
the doctor to look after you, and then you won't get anything."
"Don't be ridiculous! Give me those decanters!" Alan struggled out of
his chair, and trembled over to where she had them on the table beside
She caught them up, one in either hand, and held them as high as she
could lift them. "If you don't sit down and promise to keep still, I'll
smash them both on the hearth. You know I will."
Her strange eyes gleamed, and he hesitated; then he went back to his
"I don't see what's got into you to-night. I don't want anything," he
said. He tried to brave it out, but presently he cast a piteous glance
at the decanters where she had put them down beside her again. "Does the
doctor think I'd better go again?" he asked.
He looked at the decanters. "And when is that fellow coming?"
"He may be here any moment."
"It's pretty rough," he sighed. "Two glasses of that stuff would drive
you so wild you wouldn't know where you were, Bess," he expostulated.
"Well, I wish I didn't know where I was. I wish I wasn't anywhere." He
looked at her, and then dropped his eyes, with the effect of giving up a
But he asked: "What's the matter?"
She scanned him keenly before she answered: "Something that I should like
to tell you--that you ought to know. Alan, do you think you are fit to
judge of a very serious matter?"
He laughed pathetically. "I don't believe I'm in a very judicial frame
of mind to-night, Bess. To-morrow--"
"Oh, to-morrow! Where will you be to-morrow?"
"That's true! Well, what is it? I'll try to listen. But if you knew
how my nerves were going." His eyes wandered from hers back to the
decanters. "If I had just one glass--"
"I'll have one, too," she said, with a motion toward the decanter next
He threw up his arms. "Oh well, go on. I'll listen as well as I can."
He sank down in his chair and stretched his little feet out toward the
fire. "Go on!"
She hesitated before she began. "Do you know who brought you home last
"Yes," he answered, quickly, "Westover."
"Yes, Mr. Westover brought yon, and you wouldn't stay. You don't
remember anything else?"
"No. What else?"
"Nothing for you, if you don't remember." She sat in silent hopelessness
for a while, and her brother's eyes dwelt on the decanters, which she
seemed to have forgotten. "Alan!" she broke out, abruptly, "I'm worried,
and if I can't tell you about it there's no one I can."
The appeal in tier voice must have reached him, though he seemed scarcely
to have heeded her words. "What is it?" he asked, kindly.
"You went back to the Enderbys' after Mr. Westover brought you home, and
then some one else had to bring you again."
"How do you know?"
"I was up, and let you in--"
"Did you, Bessie? That was like you," he said, tenderly.
"And I had to let him in, too. You pulled him into the house, and you
made such a disturbance at the door that he had to come in for fear you
would bring the police."
"What a beast!" said Alan, of himself, as if it were some one else.
"He came in with you. And you wanted him to have some supper. And you
fell asleep before the fire in the reception-room."
"That--that was the dream!" said Alan, severely. "What are you talking
that stuff for, Bessie?"
"Oh no!" she retorted, with a laugh, as if the pleasure of its coming in
so fitly were compensation for the shame of the fact. "The dream was
what happened afterward. The dream was that you fell asleep there, and
left me there with him--"
"Well, poor old Westover; he's a gentleman! You needn't be worried about
"You're not fit!" cried the girl. "I give it up." She got upon her feet
and stood a moment listless.
"No, I'm not, Bessie. I can't pull my mind together tonight. But look
here!" He seemed to lose what he wanted to say. He asked: "Is it
something I've got you in for? Do I understand that?"
"Partly," she said.
"Well, then, I'll help you out. You can trust me, Bessie; you can,
indeed. You don't believe it?"
"Oh, I believe you think I can trust you."
"But this time you can. If you need my help I will stand by you, right
or wrong. If you want to tell me now I'll listen, and I'll advise you
the best I can--"
"It's just something I've got nervous about," she said, while her eyes
shone with sudden tears. "But I won't trouble you with it to-night.
There's no such great hurry. We can talk about it in the morning if
you're better then. Oh, I forgot! You're going away!"
"No," said the young man, with pathetic dignity, "I'm not going if you
need my help. But you're right about me tonight, Bessie. I'm not fit.
I'm afraid I can't grasp anything to-night. Tell me in the morning.
Oh, don't be afraid!" he cried out at the glance she gave the decanters.
"That's over, now; you could put them in my hands and be safe enough.
I'm going back to bed, and in the morning--"
He rose and went toward the door. "If that doctor's man comes to-night
you can send him away again. He needn't bother."
"All right, Alan," she said, fondly. "Good-night. Don't worry about me.
Try to get some sleep."
"And you must sleep, too. You can trust me, Bessie."
He came back after he got out of the room and looked in. "Bess, if
you're anxious about it, if you don't feel perfectly sure of me, you can
take those things to your room with you." He indicated the decanters
with a glance.
"Oh no! I shall leave them here. It wouldn't be any use your just
keeping well overnight. You'll have to keep well a long time, Alan, if
you're going to help me. And that's the reason I'd rather talk to you
when you can give your whole mind to what I say."
"Is it something so serious?"
"I don't know. That's for you to judge. Not very--not at all, perhaps."
"Then I won't fail you, Bessie. I shall 'keep well,' as you call it, as
long as you want me. Good-night."
"Good-night. I shall leave these bottles here, remember."
"You needn't be afraid. You might put them beside my bed."
Bessie slept soundly, from exhaustion, and in that provisional fashion in
which people who have postponed a care to a given moment are able to
sleep. But she woke early, and crept down-stairs before any one else was
astir, and went to the library. The decanters stood there on the table,
empty. Her brother lay a shapeless heap in one of the deep arm-chairs.
Westover got home from the Enderby dance at last with the forecast of a
violent cold in his system, which verified itself the next morning. He
had been housed a week, when Jeff Durgin came to see him. "Why didn't
you let me know you were sick?" he demanded, "I'd have come and looked
"Thank you," said Westover, with as much stiffness as he could command in
his physical limpness. "I shouldn't have allowed you to look after me;
and I want you to understand, now, that there can't be any sort of
friendliness between us till you've accounted for your behavior with
Lynde the other night."
"You mean at the party?" Jeff asked, tranquilly.
"Yes!" cried Westover. "If I had not been shut up ever since, I should
have gone to see you and had it out with you. I've only let you in, now,
to give you the chance to explain; and I refuse to hear a word from you
till you do." Westover did not think that this was very forcible, and he
was not much surprised that it made Jeff smile.
"Why, I don't know what there is to explain. I suppose you think I got
him drunk; I know what you thought that night. But he was pretty well
loaded when he struck my champagne. It wasn't a question of what he was
going to do any longer, but how he was going to do it. I kept an eye on
him, and at the right time I helped the caterer's man to get him up into
that room where he wouldn't make any trouble. I expected to go back and
look after him, but I forgot him."
"I don't suppose, really, that you're aware what a devil's argument that
is," said Westover. "You got Lynde drunk, and then you went back to his
sister, and allowed her to treat you as if you were a gentleman, and
didn't deserve to be thrown out of the house." This at last was
something like what Westover had imagined he would say to Jeff, and he
looked to see it have the imagined effect upon him.
"Do you suppose," asked Jeff, with cheerful cynicism, "that it was the
first time she was civil to a man her brother got drunk with?"
"No! But all the more you ought to have considered her helplessness.
It ought to have made her the more sacred"--Jeff gave an exasperating
shrug--"to you, and you ought to have kept away from her for decency's
"I was engaged to dance with her."
"I can't allow you to be trivial with me, Durgin," said Westover.
"You've acted like a blackguard, and worse, if there is anything worse."
Jeff stood at a corner of the fire, leaning one elbow on the mantel, and
he now looked thoughtfully down on Westover, who had sunk weakly into a
chair before the hearth. "I don't deny it from your point of view, Mr.
Westover," he said, without the least resentment in his tone. "You
believe that everything is done from a purpose, or that a thing is
intended because it's done. But I see that most things in this world are
not thought about, and not intended. They happen, just as much as the
other things that we call accidents."
"Yes," said Westover, "but the wrong things don't happen from people who
are in the habit of meaning the right ones."
"I believe they do, fully half the time," Jeff returned; "and, as far as
the grand result is concerned, you might as well think them and intend
them as not. I don't mean that you ought to do it; that's another thing,
and if I had tried to get Lynde drunk, and then gone to dance with his
sister, I should have been what you say I am. But I saw him getting
worse without meaning to make him so; and I went back to her because--I
"And you think, I suppose," said Westover, "that she wouldn't have cared
any more than you cared if she had known what you did."
"I can't say anything about that."
The painter continued, bitterly: "You used to come in here, the first
year, with notions of society women that would have disgraced a Goth, or
a gorilla. Did you form your estimate of Miss Lynde from those
"I'm not a boy now," Jeff answered, "and I haven't stayed all the kinds
of a fool I was."
"Then you don't think Miss Lynde would speak to you, or look at you,
after she knew what you had done?"
"I should like to tell her and see," said Jeff, with a hardy laugh.
"But I guess I sha'n't have the chance. I've never been a favorite in
society, and I don't expect to meet her again."
"Perhaps you'd like to have me tell her?"
"Why, yes, I believe I should, if you could tell me what she thought--not
what she said about it."
"You are a brute," answered Westover, with a puzzled air. What puzzled
him most and pleased him least was the fellow's patience under his
severity, which he seemed either not to feel or not to mind. It was of a
piece with the behavior of the rascally boy whom he had cuffed for
frightening Cynthia and her little brother long ago, and he wondered what
final malevolence it portended.
Jeff said, as if their controversy were at an end and they might now turn
to more personal things: "You look pretty slim, Mr. Westover. A'n't
there something I can do for you-get you? I've come in with a message
from mother. She says if you ever want to get that winter view of Lion's
Head, now's your time. She wants you to come up there; she and Cynthia
both do. They can make you as comfortable as you please, and they'd like
to have a visit from you. Can't you go?"
Westover shook his head ruefully. "It's good of them, and I want you to
thank them for me. But I don't know when I'm going to get out again."
"Oh, you'll soon get out," said Jeff. "I'm going to look after you a
little," and this time Westover was too weak to protest. He did not
forbid Jeff's taking off his overcoat; he suffered him to light his
spirit-lamp and make a punch of the whiskey which he owned the doctor was
giving him; and when Jeff handed him the steaming glass, and asked him,
"How's that?" he answered, with a pleasure in it which he knew to be
deplorable, "It's fine."
Jeff stayed the whole evening with him, and made him more comfortable
than he had been since his cold began. Westover now talked seriously and
frankly with him, but no longer so harshly, and in his relenting he felt
a return of his old illogical liking for him. He fancied in Durgin's
kindness to himself an indirect regret, and a desire to atone for what he
had done, and he said: "The effect is in you--the worst effect. I don't
think either of the young Lyndes very exemplary people. But you'd be
doing yourself a greater wrong than you've done then if you didn't
recognize that you had been guilty toward them."
Jeff seemed struck by this notion. "What do you want me to do? What can
I do? Chase myself out of society? Something like that? I'm willing.
It's too easy, though. As I said, I've never been wanted much, there,
and I shouldn't be missed."
"Well, then, how would you like to leave it to the people at Lion's Head
to say what you should do?" Westover suggested.
I shouldn't like it," said Jeff, promptly. "They'd judge it as you do
--as if they'd done it themselves. That's the reason women are not fit
to judge." His gay face darkened. "But tell 'em if you want to."
"Bah!" cried the painter. "Why should I want to I'm not a woman in
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Westover. I didn't mean that. I only meant that
you're an idealist. I look at this thing as if some one else had done
it; I believe that's the practical way; and I shouldn't go in for
punishing any one else for such a thing very severely." He made another
punch--for himself this time, he said; but Westover joined him in a glass
"It won't do to take that view of your faults, Jeff," he said, gravely.
"What's the reason?" Jeff demanded; and now either the punch had begun to
work in Westover's brain, or some other influence of like force and
quality. He perceived that in this earth-bound temperament was the
potentiality of all the success it aimed at. The acceptance of the moral
fact as it was, without the unconscious effort to better it, or to hold
himself strictly to account for it, was the secret of the power in the
man which would bring about the material results he desired; and this
simplicity of the motive involved had its charm.
Westover was aware of liking Durgin at that moment much more than he
ought, and of liking him helplessly. In the light of his good-natured
selfishness, the injury to the Lyndes showed much less a sacrilege than
it had seemed; Westover began to see it with Jeff's eyes, and to see it
with reference to what might be low and mean in them, instead of what
might be fine and high.
He was sensible of the growth Jeff had made intellectually. He had not
been at Harvard nearly four years for nothing. He had phrases and could
handle them. In whatever obscure or perverse fashion, he had profited by
his opportunities. The fellow who could accuse him of being an idealist,
and could in some sort prove it, was no longer a naughty boy to be
tutored and punished. The revolt latent in him would be violent in
proportion to the pressure put upon him, and Westover began to be without
the wish to press his fault home to him so strongly. In the optimism
generated by the punch, he felt that he might leave the case to Jeff
himself; or else in the comfort we all experience in sinking to a lower
level, he was unwilling to make the effort to keep his own moral
elevation. But he did make an effort to save himself by saying: "You
can't get what you've done before yourself as you can the action of some
one else. It's part of you, and you have to judge the motive as well as
"Well, that's what I'm doing," said Jeff; "but it seems to me that you're
trying to have me judge of the effect from a motive I didn't have. As
far as I can make out, I hadn't any motive at all."
He laughed, and all that Westover could say was, "Then you're still
responsible for the result." But this no longer appeared so true to him.
It was not a condition of Westover's welcome at Lion's Head that he
should seem peculiarly the friend of Jeff Durgin, but he could not help
making it so, and he began to overact the part as soon as he met Jeff's
mother. He had to speak of him in thanking her for remembering his wish
to paint Lion's Head in the winter, and he had to tell her of Jeff's
thoughtfulness during the past fortnight; he had to say that he did not
believe he should ever have got away if it had not been for him. This
was true; Durgin had even come in from Cambridge to see him off on the
train; he behaved as if the incident with Lynde and all their talk about
it had cemented the friendship between Westover and himself, and he could
not be too devoted. It now came out that he had written home all about
Westover, and made his mother put up a stove in the painter's old room,
so that he should have the instant use of it when he arrived.
It was an air-tight wood-stove, and it filled the chamber with a heat in
which Westover drowsed as soon as he entered it. He threw himself on the
bed, and slept away the fatigue of his railroad journey and the cold of
his drive with Jombateeste from the station. His nap was long, and he
woke from it in a pleasant languor, with the dream-clouds still hanging
in his brain. He opened the damper of his stove, and set it roaring
again; then he pulled down the upper sash of his window and looked out on
a world whose elements of wood and snow and stone he tried to co-
ordinate. There was nothing else in that world but these things,
so repellent of one another. He suffered from the incongruity of the
wooden bulk of the hotel, with the white drifts deep about it, and with
the granite cliffs of Lion's Head before it, where the gray crags
darkened under the pink afternoon light which was beginning to play upon
its crest from the early sunset. The wind that had seemed to bore
through his thick cap and his skull itself, and that had tossed the dry
snow like dust against his eyes on his way from the railroad, had now
fallen, and an incomparable quiet wrapped the solitude of the hills. A
teasing sense of the impossibility of the scene, as far as his art was
concerned, filled him full of a fond despair of rendering its feeling.
He could give its light and color and form in a sufficiently vivid
suggestion of the fact, but he could not make that pink flush seem to
exhale, like a long breath, upon those rugged shapes; he could not impart
that sentiment of delicately, almost of elegance, which he found in the
wilderness, while every detail of civilization physically distressed him.
In one place the snow had been dug down to the pine planking of the
pathway round the house; and the contact of this woodenness with the
frozen ground pierced his nerves and set his teeth on edge like a harsh
noise. When once he saw it he had to make an effort to take his eyes
from it, and in a sort unknown to him in summer he perceived the offence
of the hotel itself amid the pure and lonely beauty of the winter
landscape. It was a note of intolerable banality, of philistine pretence
and vulgar convention, such as Whitwell's low, unpainted cottage at the
foot of the hill did not give, nor the little red school-house, on the
other hand, showing through the naked trees. There should have been
really no human habitation visible except a wigwam in the shelter of the
pines, here and there; and when he saw Whitwell making his way up the
hill-side road, Westover felt that if there must be any human presence it
should be some savage clad in skins, instead of the philosopher in his
rubber boots and his clothing-store ulster. He preferred the small, wiry
shape of Jombateeste, in his blue woollen cap and his Canadian footgear,
as he ran round the corner of the house toward the barn, and left the
breath of his pipe in the fine air behind him.
The light began to deepen from the pale pink to a crimson which stained
the tops and steeps of snow, and deepened the dark of the woods massed on
the mountain slopes between the irregular fields of white. The burnished
brown of the hard-wood trees, the dull carbon shadows of the evergreens,
seemed to wither to one black as the red strengthened in the sky.
Westover realized that he had lost the best of any possible picture in
letting that first delicate color escape him. This crimson was harsh and
vulgar in comparison; it would have almost a chromo quality; he censured
his pleasure in it as something gross and material, like that of eating;
and on a sudden he felt hungry. He wondered what time they would give
him supper, and he took slight account of the fact that a caprice of the
wind had torn its hood of snow from the mountain summit, and that the
profile of the Lion's Head showed almost as distinctly as in summer. He
stood before the picture which for that day at least was lost to him, and
questioned whether there would be a hearty meal, something like a dinner,
or whether there would be something like a farmhouse supper, mainly of
doughnuts and tea.
He pulled up his window and was going to lie down again, when some one
knocked, and Frank Whitwell stood at the door. "Do you want we should
bring your supper to you here, Mr. Westover, or will you--"
"Oh, let me join you all!" cried the painter, eagerly. "Is it ready--
shall I come now?"
"Well, in about five minutes or so." Frank went away, after setting down
in the room the lamp he had brought. It was a lamp which Westover
thought he remembered from the farm-house period, and on his way down he
realized as he had somehow not done in his summer sojourns, the entirety
of the old house in the hotel which had encompassed it. The primitive
cold of its stairways and passages struck upon him as soon as he left his
own room, and he found the parlor door closed against the chill. There
was a hot stove-fire within, and a kerosene-lamp turned low, but there
was no one there, and he had the photograph of his first picture of
Lion's Head to himself in the dim light. The voices of Mrs. Durgin and
Cynthia came to him from the dining-room, and from the kitchen beyond,
with the occasional clash of crockery, and the clang of iron upon iron
about the stove, and the quick tread of women's feet upon the bare floor.
With these pleasant noises came the smell of cooking, and later there was
an opening and shutting of doors, with a thrill of the freezing air from
without, and the dull thumping of Whitwell's rubber boots, and the
quicker flapping of Jombateeste's soft leathern soles. Then there was
the sweep of skirted feet at the parlor door, and Cynthia Whitwell came
in without perceiving him. She went to the table by the darkening
window, and quickly turned up the light of the lamp. In her ignorance of
his presence, he saw her as if she had been alone, almost as if she were
out of the body; he received from her unconsciousness the impression of
something rarely pure and fine, and he had a sudden compassion for her,
as for something precious that is fated to be wasted or misprized. At a
little movement which he made to relieve himself from a sense of
eavesdropping, she gave a start, and shut her lips upon the little cry
that would have escaped from another sort of woman.
"I didn't know you were here," she said; and she flushed with the shyness
of him which she always showed at first. She had met him already with
the rest, but they had scarcely spoken together; and he knew of the
struggle she must now be making with herself when she went on: "I didn't
know you had been called. I thought you were still sleeping."
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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