Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 32 out of 78
dim rooms and cold corridors at the hotel to the sun and air. She
promised him he should take his death, but he said he would wrap up warm,
and when he came to join the girl in his overcoat and fur cap, he found
Cynthia equipped with a woollen cloud tied around her head, and a little
shawl pinned across her breast.
"Is that all?" he reproached her. "I ought to have put on a single
wreath of artificial flowers and some sort of a blazer for this
expedition. Don't you think so, Mrs. Durgin?"
"I believe women can stand about twice as much cold as you can, the best
of you," she answered, grimly.
"Then I must try to keep myself as warm as I can with work," he said.
"You must let me do all the rough work of airing out, won't you,
"There isn't any rough work about it," she answered, in a sort of
motherly toleration of his mood, without losing anything of her filial
She took care of him, he perceived, as she took care of her brother and
her father, but with a delicate respect for his superiority, which was no
They began with the office and the parlor, where they flung up the
windows, and opened the doors, and then they opened the dining-room,
where the tables stood in long rows, with the chairs piled on them legs
upward. Cynthia went about with many sighs for the dust on everything,
though to Westover's eyes it all seemed frigidly clean. "If it goes on
as it has for the past two years," she said, "we shall have to add on a
new dining-room. I don't know as I like to have it get so large!"
"I never wanted it to go beyond the original farmhouse," said Westover.
"I've been jealous of every boarder but the first. I should have liked
to keep it for myself, and let the world know Lion's Head from my
"I guess Mrs. Durgin thinks it was your picture that began to send people
"And do you blame me, too? What if the thing I'm doing now should make
it a winter resort? Nothing could save you, then, but a fire. I believe
that's Jeff's ambition. Only he would want to put another hotel in place
of this; something that would be more popular. Then the ruin I began
would be complete, and I shouldn't come any more; I couldn't bear the
"I guess Mrs. Durgin wouldn't think it was lion's Head if you stopped
coming," said Cynthia.
"But you would know better than that," said Westover; and then he was
sorry he had said it, for it seemed to ask something of different quality
from her honest wish to make him know their regard for him.
She did not answer, but went down a long corridor to which they had
mounted, to raise the window at the end, while he raised another at the
opposite extremity. When they met at the stairway again to climb to the
story above, he said: "I am always ashamed when I try to make a person of
sense say anything silly," and she flushed, still without answering, as
if she understood him, and his meaning pleased her. "But fortunately a
person of sense is usually equal to the temptation. One ought to be
serious when he tries it with a person of the other sort; but I don't
know that one is!"
"Do you feel any draught between these windows?" asked Cynthia, abruptly.
"I don't want you should take cold."
"Oh, I'm all right," said Westover.
She went into the rooms on one side of the corridor, and put up their
windows, and flung the blinds back. He did the same on the other side.
He got a peculiar effect of desolation from the mattresses pulled down
over the foot of the bedsteads, and the dismantled interiors reflected in
the mirrors of the dressing-cases; and he was going to speak of it when
he rejoined Cynthia at the stairway leading to the third story, when she
said, "Those were Mrs. Vostrand's rooms I came out of the last." She
nodded her head over her shoulder toward the floor they were leaving.
"Were they indeed! And do you remember people's rooms so long?"
"Yes; I always think of rooms by the name of people that have them, if
they're any way peculiar."
He thought this bit of uncandor charming, and accepted it as if it were
the whole truth. "And Mrs. Vostrand was certainly peculiar. Tell me,
Cynthia, what did you think of her?"
"She was only here a little while."
"But you wouldn't have come to think of her rooms by her name if she
hadn't made a strong impression on you!" She did not answer, and he
said, "I see you didn't like her!"
The girl would not speak, and Mr. Westover went on: "She used to be very
good to me, and I think she used to be better to herself than she is
now." He knew that Jeff must have told Cynthia of his affair with
Genevieve Vostrand, and he kept himself from speaking of her by a
resolution he thought creditable, as he mounted the stairs to the upper
story in the silence to which Cynthia left his last remark. At the top
she made a little pause in the obscurer light of the close-shuttered
corridor, while she said: "I liked her daughter the best."
"Yes?" he returned. "I--never felt very well acquainted with her, I
believe. One couldn't get far with her. Though, for the matter of that,
one didn't get far with Mrs. Vostrand herself. Did you think Genevieve
was much influenced by her mother?"
"She didn't seem a strong character."
"No, that was it. She was what her mother wished her to be. I've often
wondered how much she was interested in the marriage she made."
Cynthia let a rustic silence ensue, and Westover shrank again from the
inquisition he longed to make.
It was not Genevieve Vostrand's marriage which really concerned him,
but Cynthia's engagement, and it was her mind that he would have liked to
look into. It might well be supposed that she regarded it in a perfect
matter-of-fact way, and with no ambition beyond it. She was a country
girl, acquainted from childhood with facts of life which town-bred girls
would not have known without a blunting of the sensibilities, and why
should she be different from other country girls? She might be as good
and as fine as he saw her, and yet be insensible to the spiritual
toughness of Jeff, because of her love for him. Her very goodness might
make his badness unimaginable to her, and if her refinement were from the
conscience merely, and not from the tastes and experiences, too, there
was not so much to dread for her in her marriage with such a man. Still,
he would have liked, if he could, to tell her what he had told her father
of Durgin's behavior with Lynde, and let her bring the test of her self-
devotion to the case with a clear understanding. He had sometimes been
afraid that Whitwell might not be able to keep it to himself; but now he
wished that the philosopher had not been so discreet. He had all this so
absorbingly in mind that he started presently with the fear that she had
said something and he had not answered, but when he asked her he found
that she had not spoken. They were standing at an open window looking
out upon Lion's Head, when he said: "I don't know how I shall show my
gratitude to Mrs. Durgin and you for thinking of having me up here.
I've done a picture of Lion's Head that might be ever so much worse;
but I shouldn't have dreamed of getting at it if it hadn't been for you,
though I've so often dreamed of doing it. Now I shall go home richer in
every sort of way-thanks to you."
She answered, simply: "You needn't thank anybody; but it was Jeff who
thought of it; we were ready enough to ask you."
"That was very good of him," said Westover, whom her words confirmed in a
suspicion he had had all along. But what did it matter that Jeff had
suggested their asking him, and then attributed the notion to them? It
was not so malign for him to use that means of ingratiating himself with
Westover, and of making him forget his behavior with Lynde, and it was
not unnatural. It was very characteristic; at the worst it merely proved
that Jeff was more ashamed of what he had done than he would allow, and
that was to his credit.
He heard Cynthia asking: "Mr. Westover, have you ever been at Class Day?
He wants us to come."
"Class Day? Oh, Class Day!" He took a little time to gather himself
together. "Yes, I've been at a good many. If you care to see something
pretty, it's the prettiest thing in the world. The students' sisters and
mothers come from everywhere; and there's fashion and feasting and
flirting, from ten in the morning till ten at night. I'm not sure
there's so much happiness; but I can't tell. The young people know about
that. I fancy there's a good deal of defeat and disappointment in it
all. But if you like beautiful dresses, and music and dancing, and a
great flutter of gayety, you can get more of it at Class Day than you can
in any other way. The good time depends a great deal upon the
acquaintance a student has, and whether he is popular in college."
Westover found this road a little impassable, and he faltered.
Cynthia did not apparently notice his hesitation. "Do you think Mrs.
Durgin would like it?"
"Mrs. Durgin?" Westover found that he had been leaving her out of the
account, and had been thinking only of Cynthia's pleasure or pain.
"Well, I don't suppose--it would be rather fatiguing--Did Jeff want her
to come too?"
"He said so."
"That's very nice of him. If he could devote himself to her; but--And
would she like to go?"
"To please him, she would." Westover was silent, and the girl surprised
him by the appeal she suddenly made to him. "Mr. Westover, do you
believe it would be very well for either of us to go? I think it would
be better for us to leave all that part of his life alone. It's no use
in pretending that we're like the kind of people he knows, or that we
know their ways, and I don't believe--"
Westover felt his heart rise in indignant sympathy. "There isn't any one
he knows to compare with you!" he said, and in this he was thinking
mainly of Bessie Lynde. "You're worth a thousand--If I were--if he's
half a man he would be proud--I beg your pardon! I don't mean--but you
Cynthia put her head far out of the window and looked along the steep
roof before them. "There is a blind off one of the windows. I heard it
clapping in the wind the other night. I must go and see the number of
the room." She drew her head in quickly and ran away without letting him
see her face.
He followed her. "Let me help you put it on again!"
"No, no!" she called back. "Frank will do that, or Jombateeste, when
they come to shut up the house."
Westover, did not meet Durgin for several days after his return from
Lion's Head. He brought messages for him from his mother and from
Whitwell, and he waited for him to come and get them so long that he had
to blame himself for not sending them to him. When Jeff appeared, at the
end of a week, Westover had a certain embarrassment in meeting him, and
the effort to overcome this carried him beyond his sincerity. He was
aware of feigning the cordiality he showed, and of having less real
liking for him than ever before. He suggested that he must be busier
every day, now, with his college work, and he resented the air of social
prosperity which Jeff put on in saying, Yes, there was that, and then he
had some engagements which kept him from coming in sooner.
He did not say what the engagements were, and they did not recur to the
things they had last spoken of. Westover could not do so without Jeff's
leading, and he was rather glad that he gave none. He stayed only a
little time, which was spent mostly in a show of interest on both sides,
and the hollow hilarities which people use to mask their indifference to
one another's being and doing. Jeff declared that he had never seen
Westover looking so well, and said he must go up to Lion's Head again; it
had done him good. As for his picture, it was a corker; it made him feel
as if he were there! He asked about all the folks, and received
Westover's replies with vague laughter, and an absence in his bold eye,
which made the painter wonder what his mind was on, without the wish to
find out. He was glad to have him go, though he pressed him to drop in
soon again, and said they would take in a play together.
Jeff said he would like to do that, and he asked at the door whether
Westover was going to the tea at Mrs. Bellingham's. He said he had to
look in there, before he went out to Cambridge; and left Westover in mute
amaze at the length he had apparently gone in a road that had once seemed
no thoroughfare for him. Jeff's social acceptance, even after the
Enderby ball, which was now some six or seven weeks past, had been slow;
but of late, for no reason that he or any one else could have given, it
had gained a sudden precipitance; and people who wondered why they met
him at other houses began to ask him to their own.
He did not care to go to their houses, and he went at first in the hope
of seeing Bessie Lynde again. But this did not happen for some time, and
it was a mid-Lenten tea that brought them together. As soon as he caught
sight of her he went up to her and began to talk as if they had been in
the habit of meeting constantly. She could not control a little start at
his approach, and he frankly recognized it.
"What's the matter?"
"It isn't open," he said, trying it. "Do you want to try it yourself?"
"I think I can trust you," she answered, but she sank a little into the
shelter of the curtains, not to be seen talking with him, perhaps, or not
to be interrupted--she did not analyze her motive closely.
He remained talking to her until she went away, and then he contrived to
go with her. She did not try to escape him after that; each time they
met she had the pleasure of realizing that there had never been any
danger of what never happened. But beyond this she could perhaps have
given no better reason for her willingness to meet him again and again
than the bewildered witnesses of the fact. In her set people not only
never married outside of it, but they never flirted outside of it. For
one of themselves, even for a girl like Bessie, whom they had not quite
known from childhood, to be apparently amusing herself with a man like
that, so wholly alien in origin, in tradition, was something unheard of;
and it began to look as if Bessie Lynde was more than amused. It seemed
to Mary Enderby that wherever she went she saw that man talking to
Bessie. She could have believed that it was by some evil art that he
always contrived to reach Bessie's side, if anything could have been less
like any kind of art than the bold push he made for her as soon as he saw
her in a room. But sometimes Miss Enderby feared that it was Bessie who
used such finesse as there was, and always put herself where he could see
her. She waited with trembling for her to give the affair sanction by
making her aunt ask him to something at her house. On the other hand,
she could not help feeling that Bessie's flirtation was all the more
deplorable for the want of some such legitimation.
She did not even know certainly whether Jeff ever called upon Bessie at
her aunt's house, till one day the man let him out at the same time he
let her in.
"Oh, come up, Molly!" Bessie sang out from the floor above, and met her
half-way down the stairs, where she kissed her and led her embraced into
"You don't like my jay, do you, dear?" she asked, promptly.
Mary Enderby turned her face, the mirror of conscience, upon her, and
asked: "Is he your jay?"
"Well, no; not just in that sense, Molly. But suppose he was?"
"Then I should have nothing to say."
"And suppose he wasn't?"
Still Mary Enderby found herself with nothing of all she had a thousand
times thought she should say to Bessie if she had ever the slightest
chance. It always seemed so easy, till now, to take Bessie in her arms,
and appeal to her good sense, her self-respect, her regard for her family
and friends; and now it seemed so impossible.
She heard herself answering, very stiffly: "Perhaps I'd better apologize
for what I've said already. You must think I was very unjust the last
time we mentioned him."
"Not at all!" cried Bessie, with a laugh that sounded very mocking and
very unworthy to her friend. "He's all that you said, and worse. But
he's more than you said, and better."
"I don't understand," said Mary, coldly.
"He's very interesting; he's original; he's different!"
"Oh, every one says that."
"And he doesn't flatter me, or pretend to think much of me. If he did, I
couldn't bear him. You know how I am, Molly. He keeps me interested,
don't you understand, and prowling about in the great unknown where be
has his weird being."
Bessie put her hand to her mouth, and laughed at Mary Enderby with her
slanted eyes; a sort of Parisian version of a Chinese motive in eyes.
"I suppose," her friend said, sadly, "you won't tell me more than you
"I won't tell you more than I know--though I'd like to," said Bessie.
She gave Mary a sudden hug. "You dear! There isn't anything of it, if
that's what you mean."
"But isn't there danger that there will be, Bessie?" her friend
"Danger? I shouldn't call it danger, exactly!"
"But if you don't respect him, Bessie--"
"Why, how can I? He doesn't respect me!"
"I know you're teasing, now," said Mary Enderby, getting up, "and you're
quite right. I have no business to--"
Bessie pulled her down upon the seat again. "Yes, you have! Don't I
tell you, over and over? He doesn't respect me, because I don't know how
to make him, and he wouldn't like it if I did. But now I'll try to make
you understand. I don't believe I care for him the least; but mind, I'm
not certain, for I've never cared for any one, and I don't know what it's
like. You know I'm not sentimental; I think sentiment's funny; and I'm
"You're divine," murmured Mary Enderby, with reproachful adoration.
"Yes, but you see how my divinity could be improved," said Bessie, with a
wild laugh. "I'm not sentimental, but I'm emotional, and he gives me
emotions. He's a riddle, and I'm all the time guessing at him. You get
the answer to the kind of men we know easily; and it's very nice, but it
doesn't amuse you so much as trying. Now, Mr. Durgin--what a name!
I can see it makes you creep--is no more like one of us than a--bear is
--and his attitude toward us is that of a bear who's gone so much with
human beings that he thinks he's a human being. He's delightful, that
way. And, do you know, he's intellectual! He actually brings me books,
and wants to read passages to me out of them! He has brought me the
plans of the new hotel he's going to build. It's to be very aesthetic,
and it's going to be called The Lion's Head Inn. There's to be a little
theatre, for amateur dramatics, which I could conduct, and for all sorts
of professional amusements. If you should ever come, Molly, I'm sure we
shall do our best to make you comfortable."
Mary Enderby would not let Bessie laugh upon her shoulder after she said
this. "Bessie Lynde," she said, severely, "if you have no regard for
yourself, you ought to have some regard for him. You may say you are not
encouraging him, and you may believe it--"
"Oh, I shouldn't say it if I didn't believe it," Bessie broke in, with a
mock air of seriousness.
"I must be going," said Mary, stiffly, and this time she succeeded in
getting to her feet.
Bessie laid hold of her again. "You think you've been trifled with,
don't you, dear?"
"Yes, you do! Don't you try to be slippery, Molly. The plain pikestaff
is your style, morally speaking--if any one knows what a pikestaff is.
Well, now, listen! You're anxious about me."
"You know how I feel, Bessie," said Mary Enderby, looking her in the
"Yes, I do," said Bessie. "The trouble is, I don't know how I feel.
But if I ever do, Molly, I'll tell you! Is that fair?"
"I'll give you ample warning. At the least little consciousness in the
region of the pericardium, off will go a note by a district messenger,
and when you come I'll do whatever you say. There!"
"Oh, Bessie!" cried her friend, and she threw her arms round her, "you
always were the most fascinating creature in the world!"
"Yes," said Bessie, "that's what I try to have him think."
Toward the end of April most people who had places at the Shore were
mostly in them, but they came up to town on frequent errands, and had one
effect of evanescence with people who still remained in their Boston
houses provisionally, and seemed more than half absent. The Enderbys had
been at the Shore for a fortnight, and the Lyndes were going to be a
fortnight longer in Boston, yet, as Bessie made her friend observe, when
Mary, ran in for lunch, or stopped for a moment on her way to the train,
every few days, they were both of the same transitory quality.
"It might as well be I as you," Bessie said one day, "if we only think
so. It's all very weird, dear, and I'm not sure but it is you who sit
day after day at my lonely casement and watch the sparrows examining the
fuzzy buds of the Jap ivy to see just how soon they can hope to build in
the vines. Do you object to the ivy buds looking so very much like
snipped woollen rags? If you do, I'm sure it's you, here in my place,
for when I come up to town in your personality it sets my teeth on edge.
In fact, that's the worst thing about Boston now--the fuzzy ivy buds;
there's so much ivy! When you can forget the buds, there are a great many
things to make you happy. I feel quite as if we were spending the summer
in town and I feel very adventurous and very virtuous, like some sort of
self-righteous bohemian. You don't know how I look down on people who
have gone out of town. I consider them very selfish and heartless;
I don't know why, exactly. But when we have a good marrow-freezing
northeasterly storm, and the newspapers come out with their ironical
congratulations to the tax-dodgers at the Shore, I feel that Providence
is on my side, and I'm getting my reward, even in this world." Bessie
suddenly laughed. "I see by your expression of fixed inattention, Molly,
that you're thinking of Mr. Durgin!"
Mary gave a start of protest, but she was too honest to deny the fact
outright, and Bessie ran on:
"No, we don't sit on a bench in the Common, or even in the Garden, or on
the walk in Commonwealth Avenue. If we come to it later, as the season
advances, I shall make him stay quite at the other end of the bench, and
not put his hand along the top. You needn't be afraid, Molly; all the
proprieties shall be religiously observed. Perhaps I shall ask Aunt
Louisa to let us sit out on her front steps, when the evenings get
warmer; but I assure you it's much more comfortable in-doors yet, even in
town, though you'll hardly, believe it at the Shore. Shall you come up
to Class Day?"
"Oh, I don't know," Mary began, with a sigh of the baffled hope and the
inextinguishable expectation which the mention of Class Day stirs in the
heart of every Boston girl past twenty.
"Yes!" said Bessie, with a sigh burlesqued from Mary's. "That is what we
all say, and it is certainly the most maddening of human festivals.
I suppose, if we were quite left to ourselves, we shouldn't go; but we
seem never to be, quite. After every Class Day I say to myself that
nothing on earth could induce me to go to another; but when it comes
round again, I find myself grasping at any straw of a pretext. I'm
pretending now that I've a tender obligation to go because it's his Class
"Bessie!" cried Mary Enderby. "You don't mean it!"
"Not if I say it, Mary dear. What did I promise you about the
pericardiac symptoms? But I feel--I feel that if he asks me I must go.
Shouldn't you like to go and see a jay Class Day--be part of it? Think
of going once to the Pi Ute spread--or whatever it is! And dancing in
their tent! And being left out of the Gym, and Beck! Yes, I ought to
go, so that it can be brought home to me, and I can have a realizing
sense of what I am doing, and be stayed in my mad career."
"Perhaps," Mary Enderby suggested, colorlessly, "he will be devoted to
his own people." She had a cold fascination in the picture Bessie's
words had conjured up, and she was saying this less to Bessie than to
"And I should meet them--his mothers and sisters!" Bessie dramatized an
excess of anguish. "Oh, Mary, that is the very thorn I have been trying
not to press my heart against; and does your hand commend it to my
embrace? His folks! Yes, they would be folks; and what folks! I think
I am getting a realizing sense. Wait! Don't speak don't move, Molly!"
Bessie dropped her chin into her hand, and stared straight forward,
gripping Mary Enderby's hand.
Mary withdrew it. "I shall have to go, Bessie," she said. "How is your
"Must you? Then I shall always say that it was your fault that I
couldn't get a realizing sense--that you prevented me, just when I was
about to see myself as others see me--as you see me. She's very well!"
Bessie sighed in earnest, and her friend gave her hand a little pressure
of true sympathy. "But of course it's rather dull here, now."
"I hate to have you staying on. Couldn't you come down to us for a
"No. We both think it's best to be here when Alan gets back. We want
him to go down with us." Bessie had seldom spoken openly with Mary
Enderby about her brother; but that was rather from Mary's shrinking than
her own; she knew that everybody understood his case. She went so far
now as to say: "He's ever so much better than he has been. We have such
hopes of him, if he can keep well, when he gets back this time."
"Oh, I know he will," said Mary, fervently. "I'm sure of it. Couldn't
we do something for you, Bessie?"
"No, there isn't anything. But--thank you. I know you always think of
me, and that's worlds. When are you coming up again?"
"I don't know. Next week, some time."
"Come in and see me--and Alan, if he should be at home. He likes you,
and he will be so glad."
Mary kissed Bessie for consent. "You know how much I admire Alan. He
could be anything."
"Yes, he could. If he could!"
Bessie seldom put so much earnest in anything, and Mary loved (as she
would have said) the sad sincerity, the honest hopelessness of her tone.
"We must help him. I know we can."
"We must try. But people who could--if they could--" Bessie stopped.
Her friend divined that she was no longer speaking wholly of her brother,
but she said: "There isn't any if about it; and there are no ifs about
anything if we only think so. It's a sin not to think so."
The mixture of severity and of optimism in the nature of her friend had
often amused Bessie, and it did not escape her tacit notice in even so
serious a moment as this. Her theory was that she was shocked to
recognize it now, because of its relation to her brother, but her
theories did not always agree with the facts.
That evening, however, she was truly surprised when, after a rather
belated ring at the door, the card of Mr. Thomas Jefferson Durgin came up
to her from the reception-room. Her aunt had gone to bed, and she had a
luxurious moment in which she reaped all the reward of self-denial by
supposing herself to have foregone the pleasure of seeing him, and
sending down word that she was not at home. She did not wish, indeed, to
see him, but she wished to know how he felt warranted in calling in the
evening, and it was this unworthy, curiosity which she stifled for that
luxurious moment. The next, with undiminished dignity, she said, "Ask
him to come up, Andrew," and she waited in the library for him to offer a
justification of the liberty he had taken.
He offered none whatever, but behaved at once as if he had always had the
habit of calling in the evening, or as if it was a general custom which
he need not account for in his own case. He brought her a book which
they had talked of at their last meeting, but he made no excuse or
pretext of it.
He said it was a beautiful night, and that he had found it rather warm
walking in from Cambridge. The exercise had moistened his whole rich,
red color, and fine drops of perspiration stood on his clean-shaven upper
lip and in the hollow between his under lip and his bold chin; he pushed
back the coarse, dark-yellow hair from his forehead with his
handkerchief, and let his eyes mock her from under his thick, straw-
colored eyebrows. She knew that he was enjoying his own impudence, and
he was so handsome that she could not refuse to enjoy it with him. She
asked him if he would not have a fan, and he allowed her to get it for
him from the mantel. "Will you have some tea?"
"No; but a glass of water, if you please," he said, and Bessie rang and
sent for some apollinaris, which Jeff drank a great goblet of when it
came. Then he lay back in the deep chair he had taken, with the air of
being ready for any little amusing thing she had to say.
"Are you still a pessimist, Mr. Durgin?" she asked, tentatively, with
the effect of innocence that he knew meant mischief.
"No," he said. "I'm a reformed optimist."
"What is that?"
"It's a man who can't believe all the good he would like, but likes to
believe all the good he can."
Bessie said it over, with burlesque thoughtfulness. "There was a girl
here to-day," she said, solemnly, "who must have been a reformed
pessimist, then, for she said the same thing."
"Oh! Miss Enderby," said Jeff.
Bessie started. "You're preternatural! But what a pity you should be
mistaken. How came you to think of her?"
"She doesn't like me, and you always put me on trial after she's been
"Am I putting you on trial now? It's your guilty conscience! Why
shouldn't Mary Enderby like you?"
"Because I'm not good enough."
"Oh! And what has that to do with people's liking you? If that was a
reason, how many friends do you think you would have?"
"I'm not sure that I should have any."
"And doesn't that make you feel badly?"
"Very." Jeff's confession was a smiling one.
"You don't show it!"
"I don't want to grieve you."
"Oh, I'm not sure that would grieve me."
"Well, I thought I wouldn't risk it."
"How considerate of you!"
They had come to a little barrier, up that way, and could go no further.
Jeff said: "I've just been interviewing another reformed pessimist."
"You're preternatural, too. And you're not mistaken, either. Do you
ever go to his studio?"
"No; I haven't been there since he told me it would be of no use to come
as a student. He can be terribly frank."
"Nobody knows that better than I do," said Jeff, with a smile for the
notion of Westover's frankness as he had repeatedly experienced it. "But
he means well."
"Oh, that's what they always say. But all the frankness can't be well
meant. Why should uncandor be the only form of malevolence?"
"That's a good idea. I believe I'll put that up on Westover the next
time he's frank."
"And will you tell me what he says?"
"Oh, I don't know about that." Jeff lay back in his chair at large ease
and chuckled. "I should like to tell you what he's just been saying to
me, but I don't believe I can."
"You know he was up at Lion's Head in February, and got a winter
impression of the mountain. Did you see it?"
"No. Was that what you were talking about?"
"We talked about something a great deal more interesting--the impression
he got of me."
"Cold enough. He had come to the conclusion that I was very selfish and
unworthy; that I used other people for my own advantage, or let them use
themselves; that I was treacherous and vindictive, and if I didn't betray
a man I couldn't be happy till I had beaten him. He said that if I ever
behaved well, it came after I had been successful one way or the other."
"How perfectly fascinating!" Bessie rested her elbow on the corner of
the table, and her chin in the palm of the hand whose thin fingers tapped
her red lips; the light sleeve fell down and showed her pretty, lean
little forearm. "Did it strike you as true, at all?"
"I could see how it might strike him as true."
"Now you are candid. But go on! What did he expect you to do about it?"
"Nothing. He said he didn't suppose I could help it."
"This is immense," said Bessie. "I hope I'm taking it all in. How came
he to give you this flattering little impression? So hopeful, too! Or,
perhaps your frankness doesn't go any farther?"
"Oh, I don't mind saying. He seemed to think it was a sort of abstract
duty he owed to my people."
"Your-folks?" asked Bessie.
"Yes," said Jeff, with a certain dryness. But as her face looked blankly
innocent, he must have decided that she meant nothing offensive. He
relaxed into a broad smile. "It's a queer household up there, in the
winter. I wonder what you would think of it."
"You might describe it to me, and perhaps we shall see."
"You couldn't realize it," said Jeff, with a finality that piqued her.
He reached out for the bottle of apollinaris, with somehow the effect of
being in another student's room, and poured himself a glass. This would
have amused her, nine times out of ten, but the tenth time had come when
she chose to resent it.
"I suppose," she said, "you are all very much excited about Class Day at
"That sounds like a remark made to open the way to conversation." Jeff
went on to burlesque a reply in the same spirit. "Oh, very much so
indeed, Miss Lynde! We are all looking forward to it so eagerly. Are
She rejected his lead with a slight sigh so skilfully drawn that it
deceived him when she said, gravely:
"I don't know. It's apt to be a very baffling time at the best. All the
men that you like are taken up with their own people, and even the men
that you don't like overvalue themselves, and think they're doing you a
favor if they give you a turn at the Gym or bring you a plate of
"Well, they are, aren't they?"
"I suppose, yes, that's what makes me hate it. One doesn't like to have
such men do one a favor. And then, Juniors get younger every year! Even
a nice Junior is only a Junior," she concluded, with a sad fall of her
"I don't believe there's a Senior in Harvard that wouldn't forsake his
family and come to the rescue if your feelings could be known," said
Jeff. He lifted the bottle at his elbow and found it empty, and this
seemed to remind him to rise.
"Don't make them known, please," said Bessie. "I shouldn't want an
ovation." She sat, after he had risen, as if she wished to detain him,
but when he came up to take leave she had to put her hand in his. She
looked at it there, and so did he; it seemed very little and slim, about
one-third the size of his palm, and it seemed to go to nothing in his
grasp. "I should think," she added, "that the jays would have the best
time on Class Day. I should like to dance at one of their spreads, and
do everything they did. It would be twice the fun, and there would be
some nature in it. I should like to see a jay Class Day."
"If you'll come out, I'll show you one," said Jeff, without wincing.
"Oh, will you?" she said, taking away her hand. "That would be
delightful. But what would become of your folks?" She caught a corner of
her mouth with her teeth, as if the word had slipped out.
"Do you call them folks?" asked Jeff, quietly:
"Not in Boston. I do at Lion's Head."
"I don't know as they're coming."
"How delightful! I don't mean that; but if they're not, and if you
really knew some jays, and could get me a little glimpse of their Class
"I think I could manage it for you." He spoke as before, but he looked
at her with a mockery in his lips and eyes as intelligent as her own, and
the latent change in his mood gave her the sense of being in the presence
of a vivid emotion. She rose in her excitement; she could see that he
admired her, and was enjoying her insolence too, in a way, though in a
way that she did not think she quite understood; and she had the wish to
make him admire her a little more.
She let a light of laughter come into her eyes, of harmless mischief
played to an end. "I don't deserve your kindness, and I won't come.
I've been very wicked, don't you think?"
"Not very--for you," said Jeff.
"Oh, how good!" she broke out. "But be frank now! I've offended you."
"How? I know I'm a jay, and in the country I've got folks."
"Ah, I see you're hurt at my joking, and I'm awfully sorry. I wish there
was some way of making you forgive me. But it couldn't be that alone,"
she went on rather aimlessly as to her words, trusting to his answer for
some leading, and willing meanwhile to prolong the situation for the
effect in her nerves. It had been a very dull and tedious day, and she
was finding much more than she could have expected in the mingled fear
and slight which he inspired her with in such singular measure. These
feminine subtleties of motive are beyond any but the finest natures in
the other sex, and perhaps all that Jeff perceived was the note of
insincerity in her words.
"Couldn't be what alone?" he asked.
"What I've said," she ventured, letting her eyes fall; but they were not
eyes that fell effectively, and she instantly lifted them again to his.
"You haven't said anything, and if you've thought anything, what have I
got to do with that? I think all sorts of things about people--or folks,
as you call them--"
"Oh, thank you! Now you are forgiving me!"
"I think them about you"
"Oh, do sit down and tell me the kind of things you think about me!"
Bessie implored, sinking back into her chair.
"You mightn't like them."
"But if they would do me good?"
"What should I want to do you good for?"
"That's true," sighed Bessie, thoughtfully.
"Thank you so much!"
"Don't try to do each other good, unless they're cranks like Lancaster,
or bores like Mrs. Bevidge--"
"You belong to the analytical school of Seniors! Go on!"
"That's all," said Jeff.
"And you don't think I've tried to do you good?"
He laughed. Her comedy was delicious to him. He had never found,
anybody so amusing; he almost respected her for it.
"If that is your opinion of me, Mr. Durgin," she said, very gravely,
"I am sorry. May I remark that I don't see why you come, then?"
"I can tell you," said Jeff, and he advanced upon her where she sat so
abruptly that she started and shrank back in her chair. "I come because
you've got brains, and you're the only girl that has--here." They were
Alan's words, almost his words, and for an instant she thought of her
brother, end wondered what he would think of this jay's praising her in
his terms. "Because," Jeff went on, "you've got more sense and nonsense
--than all the women here put together. Because it's better than a play
to hear you talk--and act; and because you're graceful--and fascinating,
and chic, and--Good-night, Miss Lynde."
He put out his hand, but she did not take it as she rose haughtily.
"We've said good-night once. I prefer to say good-bye this time. I'm
sure you will understand why after this I cannot see you again." She
seemed to examine him for the effect of these words upon him before she
"No, I don't understand," he answered, coolly; "but it isn't necessary I
should; and I'm quite willing to say good-bye, if you prefer. You
haven't been so frank with me as I have with you; but that doesn't make
any difference; perhaps you never meant to be, or couldn't be, if you
meant. Good-bye." He bowed and turned toward the door.
She fluttered between him and it. "I wish to know what you accuse
"You imply that I have been unjust toward you."
"And I can't let you go till you prove it."
"Prove to a woman that--Will you let me pass?"
"No!" She spread her slender arms across the doorway.
"Oh, very well!" Jeff took her hands and put them both in the hold of
one of his large, strong bands. Then, with the contact, it came to him,
from a varied experience of girls in his rustic past, that this young
lady, who was nothing but a girl after all, was playing her comedy with a
certain purpose, however little she might know it or own it. He put his
other large, strong hand upon her waist, and pulled her to him and kissed
her. Another sort of man, no matter what he had believed of her, would
have felt his act a sacrilege then and there. Jeff only knew that she
had not made the faintest straggle against him; she had even trembled
toward him, and he brutally exulted in the belief that he had done what
she wished, whether it was what she meant or not.
She, for her part, realized that she had been kissed as once she had
happened to see one of the maids kissed by the grocer's boy at the
basement door. In an instant this man had abolished all her defences of
family, of society, of personality, and put himself on a level with her
in the most sacred things of life. Her mind grasped the fact and she
realized it intellectually, while as yet all her emotions seemed
paralyzed. She did not know whether she resented it as an abominable
outrage or not; whether she hated the man for it or not. But perhaps he
was in love with her, and his love overpowered him; in that case she
could forgive him, if she were in love with him. She asked herself
whether she was, and whether she had betrayed herself to him so that he
was somehow warranted in what he did. She wondered if another sort of
man would have done it, a gentleman, who believed she was in love with
him. She wondered if she were as much shocked as she was astonished.
She knew that there was everything in the situation to make the fact
shocking, but she got no distinct reply from her jarred consciousness.
It ought to be known, and known at once; she ought to tell her brother,
as soon as she saw him; she thought of telling her aunt, and she fancied
having to shout the affair into her ear, and having to repeat, "He kissed
me! Don't you understand? Kissed me!" Then she reflected with a start
that she could never tell any one, that in the midst of her world she was
alone in relation to this; she was as helpless and friendless as the
poorest and lowliest girl could be. She was more so, for if she were
like the maid whom the grocer's boy kissed she would be of an order of
things in which she could advise with some one else who had been kissed;
and she would know what to feel.
She asked herself whether she was at all moved at heart; till now it
seemed to her that it had not been different with her toward him from
what it had been toward all the other men whose meaning she would have
liked to find out. She had not in the least respected them, and she did
not respect him; but if it happened because he was overcome by his love
for her, and could not help it, then perhaps she must forgive him whether
she cared for him or not.
These ideas presented themselves with the simultaneity of things in a
dream in that instant when she lingered helplessly in his hold, and she
even wondered if by any chance Andrew had seen them; but she heard his
step on the floor below; and at the same time it appeared to her that she
must be in love with this man if she did not resent what he had done.
Westover was sitting at an open window of his studio smoking out into the
evening air, and looking down into the thinly foliaged tops of the public
garden, where the electrics fainted and flushed and hissed. Cars trooped
by in the troubled street, scraping the wires overhead that screamed as
if with pain at the touch of their trolleys, and kindling now and again a
soft planet, as the trolleys struck the batlike plates that connected the
crossing lines. The painter was getting almost as much pleasure out of
the planets as pain out of the screams, and he was in an after-dinner
languor in which he was very reluctant to recognize a step, which he
thought he knew, on his stairs and his stairs-landing. A knock at his
door followed the sound of the approaching steps. He lifted himself, and
called out, inhospitably, "Come in!" and, as he expected, Jeff Durgin
came in. Westover's meetings with him had been an increasing discomfort
since his return from Lion's Head. The uneasiness which he commonly felt
at the first moment of encounter with him yielded less and less to the
influence of Jeff's cynical bonhomie, and it returned in force as soon as
It was rather dim in the place, except for the light thrown up into it
from the turmoil of lights outside, but he could see that there was
nothing of the smiling mockery on Jeff's face which habitually expressed
his inner hardihood. It was a frowning mockery.
"Hello!" said Westover,
"Hello!" answered Jeff. "Any commands for Lion's Head?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm going up there to-morrow. I've got to see Cynthia, and tell her
what I've been doing."
Westover waited a moment before he asked: "Do you want me to ask what
you've been doing?"
"I shouldn't mind it."
The painter paused again. "I don't know that I care to ask. Is it any
"No!" shouted Jeff. "It's the worst thing yet, I guess you'll think.
I couldn't have believed it myself, if I hadn't been through it.
I shouldn't have supposed I was such a fool. I don't care for the girl;
I never did."
"Cynthia? No! Miss Lynde. Oh, try to take it in!" Jeff cried, with a
laugh at the daze in Westover's face. "You must have known about the
flirtation; if you haven't, you're the only one." His vanity in the fact
betrayed itself in his voice. "It came to a crisis last week, and we
tried to make each other believe that we were in earnest. But there
won't be any real love lost."
Westover did not speak. He could not make out whether he was surprised
or whether he was shocked, and it seemed to him that he was neither
surprised nor shocked. He wondered whether he had really expected
something of the kind, sooner or later, or whether he was not always so
apprehensive of some deviltry in Durgin that nothing he did could quite
take him unawares. At last he said: "I suppose it's true--even though
you say it. It's probably the only truth in you."
"That's something like," said Jeff, as if the contempt gave him a sort of
pleasure; and his heavy face lighted up and then darkened again.
"Well," said Westover, "what are we going to do? You've come to tell me."
"I'm going to break with her. I don't care for her--that!" He snapped
his fingers. "I told her I cared because she provoked me to. It
happened because she wanted it to and led up to it."
"Ah!" said Westover. "You put it on her!" But he waited for Durgin's
justification with a dread that he should find something in it.
"Pshaw! What's the use? It's been a game from the beginning, and a
question which should ruin. I won. She meant to throw me over, if the
time came for her, but it came for me first, and it's only a question now
which shall break first; we've both been near it once or twice already.
I don't mean she shall get the start of me."
Westover had a glimpse of the innate enmity of the sexes in this game;
of its presence in passion that was lived and of its prevalence in
passion that was played. But the fate of neither gambler concerned him;
he was impatient of his interest in what Jeff now went on to tell him,
without scruple concerning her, or palliation of himself. He scarcely
realized that he was listening, but afterward he remembered it all, with
a little pity for Bessie and none for Jeff, but with more shame for her,
too. Love seems more sacredly confided to women than to men; it is and
must be a higher and finer as well as a holier thing with them; their
blame for its betrayal must always be the heavier. He had sometimes
suspected Bessie's willingness to amuse herself with Jeff, as with any
other man who would let her play with him; and he would not have relied
upon anything in him to defeat her purpose, if it had been anything so
serious as a purpose.
At the end of Durgin's story he merely asked: "And what are you going to
do about Cynthia?"
"I am going to tell her," said Jeff. "That's what I am going up there
Westover rose, but Jeff remained sitting where he had put himself astride
of a chair, with his face over the back. The painter walked slowly up
and down before him in the capricious play of the street light. He
turned a little sick, and he stopped a moment at the window for a breath
"Well?" asked Jeff.
"Oh! You want my advice?" Westover still felt physically incapable of
the indignation which he strongly imagined. "I don't know what to say to
you, Durgin. You transcend my powers. Are you able to see this whole
"I guess so," Jeff answered. "I don't idealize it, though. I look at
facts; they're bad enough. You don't suppose that Miss Lynde is going to
break her heart over--"
"I don't believe I care for Miss Lynde any more than I care for you.
But I believe I wish you were not going to break with her."
"Because you and she are fit for each other. If you want my advice, I
advise you to be true to her--if you can."
"Break with her."
"Oh!" Jeff gave a snort of derision.
"You're not fit for her. You couldn't do a crueler thing for her than to
keep faith with her."
"Do you mean it?"
"Yes, I mean it. Stick to Miss Lynde--if she'll let you."
Jeff seemed puzzled by Westover's attitude, which was either too sincere
or too ironical for him. He pushed his hat, which he had kept on, back
from his forehead. "Damned if I don't believe she would," he mused
aloud. The notion seemed to flatter him and repay him for what he must
have been suffering. He smiled, but he said: "She wouldn't do, even if
she were any good. Cynthia is worth a million of her. If she wants to
give me up after she knows all about me, well and good. I shu'n't blame
her. But I shall give her a fair chance, and I shu'n't whitewash myself;
you needn't be afraid of that, Mr. Westover."
"Why should I care what you do?" asked the painter, scornfully.
"Well, you can't, on my account," Durgin allowed. "But you do care on
"Yes, I do," said Westover, sitting down again, and he did not say
Durgin waited a long while for him to speak before he asked: "Then
that's really your advice, is it?"
"Yes, break with her."
"And stick to Miss Lynde."
"If she'll let you."
Jeff was silent in his turn. He started from his silence with a laugh.
"She'd make a daisy landlady for Lion's Head. I believe she would like
to try it awhile just for the fun. But after the ball was over--well,
it would be a good joke, if it was a joke. Cynthia is a woman--she a'n't
any corpse-light. She understands me, and she don't overrate me, either.
She knew just how much I was worth, and she took me at her own valuation.
I've got my way in life marked out, and she believes in it as much as I
do. If anybody can keep me level and make the best of me, she can, and
she's going to have the chance, if she wants to. I'm going to act square
with her about the whole thing. I guess she's the best judge in a case
like this, and I shall lay the whole case before her, don't you be afraid
of that. And she's got to have a free field. Why, even if there wa'n't
any question of her," he went on, falling more and more into his
vernacular, "I don't believe I should care in the long run for this other
one. We couldn't make it go for any time at all. She wants excitement,
and after the summer folks began to leave, and we'd been to Florida for a
winter, and then came back to Lion's Head-well! This planet hasn't got
excitement enough in it for that girl, and I doubt if the solar system
has. At any rate, I'm not going to act as advance-agent for her."
"I see," said Westover, "that you've been reasoning it all out, and I'm
not surprised that you've kept your own advantage steadily in mind.
I don't suppose you know what a savage you are, and I don't suppose I
could teach you. I sha'n't try, at any rate. I'll take you on your own
ground, and I tell you again you had better break with Cynthia. I won't
say that it's what you owe her, for that won't have any effect with you,
but it's what you owe yourself. You can't do a wrong thing and prosper
"Oh yes, you can," Jeff interrupted, with a sneering laugh. "How do you
suppose all the big fortunes were made? By keeping the Commandments?"
"No. But you're an unlucky man if life hasn't taught you that you must
pay in suffering of some kind, sooner or later, for every wrong thing you
"Now that's one of your old-fashioned superstitions, Mr. Westover," said
Jeff, with a growing kindliness in his tone, as if the pathetic delusion
of such a man really touched him. "You pay, or you don't pay, just as it
happens. If you get hit soon after you've done wrong, you think it's
retribution, and if it holds off till you've forgotten all about it, you
think it's a strange Providence, and you puzzle over it, but you don't
reform. You keep right along in the old way. Prosperity and adversity,
they've got nothing to do with conduct. If you're a strong man, you get
there, and if you're a weak man, all the righteousness in the universe
won't help you. But I propose to do what's right about Cynthia, and not
what's wrong; and according to your own theory, of life--which won't hold
water a minute--I ought to be blessed to the third and fourth generation.
I don't look for that, though. I shall be blessed if I look out for
myself; and if I don't, I shall suffer for my want of foresight. But I
sha'n't suffer for anything else. Well, I'm going to cut some of my
recitations, and I'm going up to Lion's Head, to-morrow, to settle my
business with Cynthia. I've got a little business to look after here
with some one else first, and I guess I shall have to be about it. I
don't know which I shall like the best." He rose, and went over to where
Westover was sitting, and held out his hand to him.
"What is it?" asked Westover.
"Any commands for Lion's Head?" Jeff said, as at first.
"No," said Westover, turning his face away.
"Oh, all right." Durgin put his hand into his pocket unshaken.
"What is it, Jeff?" asked Cynthia, the next night, as they started out
together after supper, and began to stroll down the hill toward her
father's house. It lay looking very little and low in the nook at the
foot of the lane, on the verge of the woods that darkened away to the
northward from it, under the glassy night sky, lit with the spare young
moon. The peeping of the frogs in the marshy places filled the air; the
hoarse voice of the brook made itself heard at intervals through them.
"It's not so warm here, quite, as it is in Boston," he returned. "Are
you wrapped up enough? This air has an edge to it."
"I'm all right," said the girl. "What is it?"
"You think there's something? You don't believe I've come up for rest
over Sunday? I guess mother herself didn't, and I could see your father
following up my little lies as if he wa'n't going to let one escape him.
Well, you're right. There is something. Think of the worst thing you
She pulled her hand out of his arm, which she had taken, and halted him
by her abrupt pause. "You're not going to get through!"
"I'm all right on my conditions," said Jeff, with forlorn derision.
"You'll have to guess again." He stood looking back over his shoulder at
her face, which showed white in the moonlight, swathed airily round in
the old-fashioned soft woollen cloud she wore.
"Is it some trouble you've got into? I shall stand by you!"
"Oh, you splendid girl! The trouble's over, but it's something you can't
stand by me in, I guess. You know that girl I wrote to you about--the
one I met at the college tea, and--"
"Yes! Miss Lynde!"
"Come on! We can't stay here talking. Let's go down and sit on your
porch." She mechanically obeyed him, and they started on together down
the hill again; but she did not offer to take his arm, and he kept the
width of the roadway from her.
"What about her?" she quietly asked.
"Last night I ended up the flirtation I've been carrying on with her ever
"I want to know just what you mean, Jeff."
"I mean that last week I got engaged to her, and last night I broke with
her." Cynthia seemed to stumble on something; he sprang over and caught.
her, and now she put her hand in his arm, and stayed herself by him as
"Go on," she said.
"That's all there is of it."
"No!" She stopped, and then she asked, with a kind of gentle
bewilderment: "What did you want to tell me for?"
"To let you break with me--if you wanted to."
"Don't you care for me any more?"
"Yes, more than ever I did. But I'm not fit for you, Cynthia. Mr.
Westover said I wasn't. I told him about it--"
"What did he say?"
"That I ought to break with you."
"But if you broke with her?"
"He told me to stick to her. He was right about you, Cynthy. I'm not
fit for you, and that's a fact."
"What was it about that girl? Tell me everything." She spoke in a tone
of plaintive entreaty, very unlike the command she once used with Jeff
when she was urging him to be frank with her and true to himself. They
had come to her father's house and she freed her hand from his arm again,
and sat down on the step before the side door with a little sigh as of
"You'll take cold," said Jeff, who remained on foot in front of her.
"No," she said, briefly. "Go on."
"Why," Jeff began, harshly, and with a note of scorn for himself and his
theme in his voice, "there isn't any more of it, but there's no end to
her. I promised Mr. Westover I shouldn't whitewash myself, and I
sha'n't. I've been behaving badly, and it's no excuse for me because she
wanted me to. I began to go for her as soon as I saw that she wanted me
to, and that she liked the excitement. The excitement is all that she
cared for; she didn't care for me except for the excitement of it. She
thought she could have fun with me, and then throw me over; but I guess
she found her match. You couldn't understand such a girl, and I don't
brag of it. All she cared for was to flirt with me, and she liked it all
the more because I was a jay and she could get something new out of it.
I can't explain it; but I could see it right along. She fooled herself
more than she fooled me."
"Was she--very good-looking?" Cynthia asked, listlessly.
"No!" shouted Jeff." She wasn't good-looking at all. She was dark and
thin, and she had little slanting eyes; but she was graceful, and she
knew how to make herself go further than any girl I ever saw. If she
came into a room, she made you look at her, or you had to somehow. She
was bright, too; and she had more sense than all the other girls there
put together. But she was a fool, all the same." Jeff paused. "Is that
"It isn't all."
"No, it isn't all. We didn't meet much at first, but I got to walking
home with her from some teas; and then we met at a big ball. I danced
with her the whole while nearly, and--and I took her brother home--Pshaw!
He was drunk; and I--well, he had got drunk drinking with me at the ball.
The wine didn't touch me, but it turned his head; and I took him home;
he's a drunkard, anyway. She let us in when we got to their house, and
that kind of made a tie between us. She pretended to think she was under
obligations to me, and so I got to going to her house."
"Did she know how her brother got drunk?"
"She does now. I told her last night." How came you to tell her?"
"I wanted to break with her. I wanted to stop it, once for all, and I
thought that would do it, if anything would."
"Did that make her willing to give you up?"
Jeff checked himself in a sort of retrospective laugh. "I'm not so sure.
I guess she liked the excitement of that, too. You couldn't understand
the kind of girl she--She wanted to flirt with me that night I brought
him home tipsy."
"I don't care to hear any more about her. Why did you give her up?"
"Because I didn't care for her, and I did care for you, Cynthy."
"I don't believe it." Cynthia rose from the step, where she had been
sitting, as if with renewed strength. "Go up and tell father to come
down here. I want to see him." She turned and put her hand on the latch
of the door.
"You're not going in there, Cynthia," said Jeff. "It must be like death
"It's more like death out here. But if it's the cold you mean, you
needn't be troubled. We've had a fire to-day, airing out the house.
Will you go?"
"But what do you--what are you going to say to me?"
"I don't know, yet. If I said anything now, I should tell you what Mr.
Westover did: go back to that girl, if she'll let you. You're fit for
each other, as he said. Did you tell her that you were engaged to some
"I did, last night."
"But before that she didn't know how false you were. Well, you're not
fit for her, then; you're not good enough."
She opened the door and went in, closing it after her. Jeff turned and
walked slowly away; then he came quickly back, as if he were going to
follow her within. But through the window he saw her as she stood by the
table with a lamp in her hand. She had turned up the light, which shone
full in her face and revealed its severe beauty broken and writhen with
the effort to repress her weeping. He might not have minded the severity
or the beauty, but the pathos was more than he could stand. "Oh, Lord!"
he said, with a shrug, and he turned again and walked slowly up the hill.
When Whitwell faced his daughter in the little sitting-room, whose low
ceiling his hat almost touched as he stood before her, the storm had
passed with her, and her tear-drenched visage wore its wonted look of
"Did Jeff tell you why I sent for you, father?"
"No. But I knew it was trouble," said Whitwell, with a dignity which-
his sympathy for her gave a countenance better adapted to the expression
of the lighter emotions.
"I guess you were right about him," she resumed: She went on to tell in
brief the story that Jeff had told her. Her father did not interrupt
her, but at the end he said, inadequately: "He's a comical devil. I knew
about his gittin' that feller drunk. Mr. Westover told me when he was up
"Mr. Westover did!" said Cynthia, in a note of indignation.
"He didn't offer to," Whitwell explained. "I got it out of him in spite
of him, I guess." He had sat down with his hat on, as his absent-minded
habit was, and he now braced his knees against the edge of the table.
Cynthia sat across it from him with her head drooped over it, drawing
vague figures on the board with her finger. "What are you goin' to do?"
"I don't know," she answered.
"I guess you don't quite realize it yet," her father suggested, tenderly.
"Well, I don't want to hurry you any. Take your time."
"I guess I realize it," said the girl.
"Well, it's a pootty plain case, that's a fact," Whitwell conceded. She
was silent, and he asked: "How did he come to tell you?"
"It's what he came up for. He began to tell me at once. I was certain
there was some trouble."
"Was it his notion to come, I wonder, or Mr. Westover's?"
"It was his. But Mr. Westover told him to break off with me, and keep on
with her, if she would let him."
"I guess that was pootty good advice," said Whitwell, letting his face
betray his humorous relish of it. "I guess there's a pair of 'em."
"She was not playing any one else false," said Cynthia, bitterly.
"Well, I guess that's so, too," her father assented. "'Ta'n't so much of
a muchness as you might think, in that light." He took refuge from the
subject in an undirected whistle.
After a moment the girl asked, forlornly: "What should you do, father,
if you were in my place?"
"Well, there I guess you got me, Cynthy," said her father. "I don't
believe 't any man, I don't care how old he is, or how much experience
he's had, knows exactly how a girl feels about a thing like this, or has
got any call to advise her. Of course, the way I feel is like takin' the
top of his head off. But I d' know," he added, "as that would do a great
deal of good, either. I presume a woman's got rather of a chore to get
along with a man, anyway. We a'n't any of us much to brag on. It's out
o' sight, out o' mind, with the best of us, I guess."
"It wouldn't be with Jackson--it wouldn't be with Mr. Westover."
"There a'n't many men like Mr. Westover--well, not a great many; or
Jackson, either. Time! I wish Jackson was home! He'd know how to
straighten this thing out, and he wouldn't weaken over Jeff much--well,
not much. But he a'n't here, and you've got to act for yourself. The
way I look at it is this: you took Jeff when you knowed what a comical
devil he was, and I presume you ha'n't got quite the same right to be
disappointed in what he done as if you hadn't knowed. Now mind, I a'n't
excusin' him. But if you knowed he was the feller to play the devil if
he got a chance, the question is whether--whether--"
"I know what you mean, father," said the girl, "and I don't want to shirk
my responsibility. It was everything to have him come right up and tell
"Well," said Whitwell, impartially, "as far forth as that goes, I don't
think he's strained himself. He'd know you would hear of it sooner or
later anyway, and he ha'n't just found out that he was goin' wrong.
Been keepin' it up for the last three months, and writin' you all the
while them letters you was so crazy to get."
"Yes," sighed the girl. "But we've got to be just to his disposition as
well as his actions. I can see it in one light that can excuse it some.
He can't bear to be put down, and I know he's been left out a good deal
among the students, and it's made him bitter. He told me about it;
that's one reason why he wanted to leave Harvard this last year. He saw
other young men made much of, when he didn't get any notice; and when he
had the chance to pay them back with a girl of their own set that was
trying to make a fool of him--"
"That was the time for him to remember you," said Whitwell.
Cynthia broke under the defence she was trying to make. "Yes," she said,
with an indrawn sigh, and she began to sob piteously.
The sight of her grief seemed to kindle her father's wrath to a flame.
"Any way you look at him, he's been a dumn blackguard; that's what he's
been. You're a million times too good for him; and I--"
She sobbed herself quiet, and then she said: "Father, I don't like to go
up there to-night. I want to stay here."
"All right, Cynthia. I'll come down and stay with you. You got
everything we want here?"
"Yes. And I'll go up and get the breakfast for them in the morning.
There won't be much to do."
"Dumn 'em! Let 'em get their own breakfast!" said Whitwell, recklessly.
"And, father," the girl went on as if he had not spoken, "don't you talk
to Mrs. Durgin about it, will you?"
"No, no. I sha'n't speak to her. I'll just tell Frank you and me are
goin' to stay down here to-night. She'll suspicion something, but she
can figure it out for herself. Or she can make Jeff tell her. It can't
be kept from her."
"Well, let him be the one to tell her. Whatever happens, I shall never
speak of it to a soul besides you."
"All right, Cynthy. You'll have the night to think it over--I guess you
won't sleep much--and I'll trust you to do what's the best thing about
Cynthia found Mrs. Durgin in the old farm-house kitchen at work getting
breakfast when she came up to the hotel in the morning. She was early,
but the elder woman had been earlier still, and her heavy face showed
more of their common night-long trouble than the girl's.
She demanded, at sight of her, "What's the matter with you and Jeff,
Cynthia was unrolling the cloud from her hair. She said, as she tied on
her apron: "You must get him to tell you, Mrs. Durgin."
"Then there is something?"
"Has Jeff been using you wrong?"
Cynthia stooped to open the oven door, and to turn the pan of biscuit she
found inside. She shut the door sharply to, and said, as she rose:
"I don't want to tell anything about it, and I sha'n't, Mrs. Durgin. He
can do it, if he wants to. Shall I make the coffee?"
"Yes; you seem to make it better than I do. Do you think I shouldn't
believe you was fair to him?"
"I wasn't thinking of that. But it's his secret. If he wants to keep
it, he can keep it, for all me."
"You ha'n't give each other up?"
"I don't know." Cynthia turned away with a trembling chin, and began to
beat the coffee up with an egg she had dropped into the pot. She put the
breakfast on the table when it was ready, but she would not sit down with
the rest. She said she did not want any breakfast, and she drank a cup
of coffee in the kitchen.
It fell to Jeff mainly to keep the talk going. He had been out at the
barn with Jombateeste since daybreak, looking after the cattle, and the
joy of the weather had got into his nerves and spirits. At first he had
lain awake after he went to bed, but he had fallen asleep about midnight,
and got a good night's rest. He looked fresh and strong and very
handsome. He talked resolutely to every one at the table, but
Jombateeste was always preoccupied with eating at his meals, and Frank
Whitwell had on a Sunday silence, which was perhaps deepened by a feeling
that there was something wrong between his sister and Jeff, and it would
be rash to commit himself to an open friendliness until he understood the
case. His father met Jeff's advances with philosophical blandness and
evasion, and Mrs. Durgin was provisionally dry and severe both with the
Whitwells and her son. After breakfast she went to the parlor, and Jeff
set about a tour of the hotel, inside and out. He looked carefully to
the details of its winter keeping. Then he came back and boldly joined
his mother where she sat before her stove, whose subdued heat she found
pleasant in the lingering cold of the early spring.
He tossed his hat on the table beside her, and sat down on the other side
of the stove. "Well, I must say the place has been well looked after.
I don't believe Jackson himself could have kept it in better shape. When
was the last you heard from him?"
"I hope," said his mother, gravely, "you've been lookin' after your end
at Boston, too."
"Well, not as well as you have here, mother," said Jeff, candidly.
"Has Cynthy told you?"
"I guess she expected you to tell me, if there was anything."
"There's a lot; but I guess I needn't go over it all. I've been playing
"Yes, I have. I've been going with another girl down there, one the kind
you wanted me to make up to, and I went so far I--well, I made love to
her; and then I thought it over, and found out I didn't really care for
her, and I had to tell her so, and then I came up to tell Cynthy. That's
about the size of it. What do you think of it?"
"D' you tell Cynthy?"
"Yes, I told her."
"What 'd she say?"
"She said I'd better go back to the other girl." Jeff laughed hardily,
but his mother remained impassive.
"I guess she's right; I guess you had."
"That seems to be the general opinion. That's what Mr. Westover advised.
I seem to be the only one against it. I suppose you mean that I'm not
fit for Cynthy. I don't deny it. All I say is I want her, and I don't
want the other one. What are you going to do in a case like that?"
"The way I should look at it," said his mother, "is this: whatever you
are, Cynthy made you. You was a lazy, disobedient, worthless boy,
and it was her carin' for you from the first that put any spirit and any
principle into you. It was her that helped you at school when you was
little things together; and she helped you at the academy, and she's
helped you at college. I'll bet she could take a degree, or whatever it
is, at Harvard better than you could now; and if you ever do take a
degree, you've got her to thank for it."
"That's so," said Jeff. "And what's the reason you didn't want me to
marry her when I came in here last summer and told you I'd asked her to?"
"You know well enough what the reason was. It was part of the same thing
as my wantin' you to be a lawyer; but I might knowed that if you didn't
have Cynthy to go into court with you, and put the words into your mouth,
you wouldn't make a speech that would"--Mrs. Durgin paused for a fitting
figure--"save a flea from the gallows."
Jeff burst into a laugh. "Well, I guess that's so, mother. And now you
want me to throw away the only chance I've got of learning how to run
Lion's Head in the right way by breaking with Cynthy."
"Nobody wants you to run Lion's Head for a while yet," his mother
returned, scornfully. "Jackson is going to run Lion's Head. He'll be
home the end of June, and I'll run Lion's Head till he gets here. You
talk," she went on, "as if it was in your hands to break with Cynthy, or
throw away the chance with her. The way I look at it, she's broke with
you, and you ha'n't got any chance with her. Oh, Jeff," she suddenly
appealed to him, "tell me all about it! What have you been up to?
If I understood it once, I know I can make her see it in the right
"The better you understand it, mother, the less you'll like it; and I
guess Cynthy sees it in the right light already. What did she say?"
"Nothing. She said she'd leave it to you."
"Well, that's like Cynthy. I'll tell you, then," said Jeff; and he told
his mother his whole affair with Bessie Lynde. He had to be very
elemental, and he was aware, as he had never been before, of the
difference between Bessie's world and his mother's world, in trying to
make Bessie's world conceivable to her.
He was patient in going over every obscure point, and illustrating from
the characters and condition of different summer folks the facts of
Bessie's entourage. It is doubtful, however, if he succeeded in
conveying to his mother a clear and just notion of the purely chic nature
of the girl. In the end she seemed to conceive of her simply as a hussy,
and so pronounced her, without limit or qualification, in spite of Jeff's
laughing attempt to palliate her behavior, and to inculpate himself.
She said she did not see what he had done that was so much out of the
way. That thing had led him on from the beginning; she had merely got
her come-uppings, when all was said. Mrs. Durgin believed Cynthia would
look at it as she did, if she could have it put before her rightly. Jeff
shook his head with persistent misgiving. His notion was that Cynthia
saw the affair only too clearly, and that there was no new light to be
thrown on it from her point of view. Mrs. Durgin would not allow this;
she was sure that she could bring Cynthia round; and she asked Jeff
whether it was his getting that fellow drunk that she seemed to blame him
for the most. He answered that he thought that was pretty bad, but he
did not believe that was the worst thing in Cynthia's eyes. He did not
forbid his mother's trying to do what she could with her, and he went
away for a walk, and left the house to the two women. Jombateeste was in
the barn, which he preferred to the house, and Frank Whitwell had gone to
church over at the Huddle. As Jeff passed Whitwell's cottage in setting
out on his stroll he saw the philosopher through the window, seated with
his legs on the table, his hat pushed back, and his spectacles fallen to
the point of his nose, reading, and moving his lips as he read.
The forenoon sun was soft, but the air was cool.
There was still plenty of snow on the upper slopes of the hills, and
there was a drift here and there in a corner of pasture wall in the
valley; but the springtime green was beginning to hover over the wet
places in the fields; the catkins silvered the golden tracery of the
willow branches by the brook; there was a buzz of bees about them,
and about the maples, blackened by the earlier flow of sap through the
holes in the bark made by the woodpeckers' bills. Now and then the
tremolo of a bluebird shook in the tender light and the keen air. At one
point in the road where the sun fell upon some young pines in a sheltered
spot a balsamic odor exhaled from them.
These gentle sights and sounds and odors blended in the influence which
Jeff's spirit felt more and more. He realized that he was a blot on the
loveliness of the morning. He had a longing to make atonement and to win
forgiveness. His heart was humbled toward Cynthia, and he went wondering
how his mother would make it out with her, and how, if she won him any
advantage, he should avail himself of it and regain the girl's trust;
he had no doubt of her love. He perceived that there was nothing for him
hereafter but the most perfect constancy of thought and deed, and he
desired nothing better.
At a turn of his road where it branched toward the Huddle a group of
young girls stood joking and laughing; before Jeff came up with them they
separated, and all but one continued on the way beyond the turning. She
came toward Jeff, who gayly recognized her as she drew near.
She blushed and bridled at his bow and at his beauty and splendor, and in
her embarrassment pertly said that she did not suppose he would have
remembered her. She was very young, but at fifteen a country girl is not
so young as her town sister at eighteen in the ways of the other sex.
Jeff answered that he should have known her anywhere, in spite of her
looking so much older than she did in the summer when she had come with
berries to the hotel. He said she must be feeling herself quite a young
lady now, in her long dresses, and he praised the dress which she had on.
He said it became her style; and he found such relief from his heavy
thoughts in these harmless pleasantries that he kept on with them. He
had involuntarily turned with her to walk back to her house on the way he
had come, and he asked her if he might not carry her catkins for her.
She had a sheaf of them in the hollow of her slender arm, which seemed to
him very pretty, and after a little struggle she yielded them to him.
The struggle gave him still greater relief from his self-reproach,
and at her gate he begged her to let him keep one switch of the
pussywillows, and he stood a moment wondering whether he might not ask
her for something else. She chose one from the bundle, and drew it
lightly across his face before she put it in his hand. "You may have
this for Cynthy," she said, and she ran laughingly up the pathway to her
Cynthia did not appear at dinner, and Jeff asked his mother when he saw
her alone if she had spoken to the girl. "Yes, but she said she did not
want to talk yet."
"All right," he returned. "I'm going to take a nap; I believe I feel as
if I hadn't slept for a month."
He slept the greater part of the afternoon, and came down rather dull to
the early tea. Cynthia was absent again, and his mother was silent and
wore a troubled look. Whitwell was full of a novel conception of the
agency of hypnotism in interpreting the life of the soul as it is
intimated in dreams. He had been reading a book that affirmed the
consubstantiality of the sleep-dream and the hypnotic illusion. He
wanted to know if Jeff, down at Boston, had seen anything of the hypnotic
doings that would throw light on this theory.
It was still full light when they rose from the table, and it was
scarcely twilight when Jeff heard Cynthia letting herself out at the back
door. He fancied her going down to her father's house, and he went out
to the corner of the hotel to meet her. She faltered a moment at sight
of him, and then kept on with averted face.
He joined her, and walked beside her. "Well, Cynthy, what are you going
to say to me? I'm off for Cambridge again to-morrow morning, and I
suppose we've got to understand each other. I came up here to put myself
in your hands, to keep or to throw away, just as you please. Well? Have
you thought about it?"
"Every minute," said the girl, quietly.
"If you had cared for me, it couldn't have happened."
"Oh yes, it could. Now that's just where you're mistaken. That's where
a woman never can understand a man. I might carry on with half a dozen
girls, and yet never forget you, or think less of you, although I could
see all the time how pretty and bright every one of 'em was. That's the
way a man's mind is built. It's curious, but it's true."
"I don't believe I care for any share in your mind, then," said the girl.
"Oh, come, now! You don't mean that. You know I was just joking; you
know I don't justify what I've done, and I don't excuse it. But I think
I've acted pretty square with you about it--about telling you, I mean.
I don't want to lay any claim, but you remember when you made me promise
that if there was anything shady I wanted to hide from you--Well, I acted
on that. You do remember?"
"Yes," said Cynthia, and she pulled the cloud over the side of her face
next to him, and walked a little faster.
He hastened his steps to keep up with her. "Cynthy, if you put your arms
round me, as you did then--"
"I can't Jeff!"
"You don't want to."
"Yes, I do! But you don't want me to, as you did then. Do you?" She
stopped abruptly and faced him full. "Tell me, honestly!"
Jeff dropped his bold eyes, and the smile left his handsome mouth.
"You don't," said the girl, "for you know that if you did, I would do
it." She began to walk on again. "It wouldn't be hard for me to forgive
you anything you've done against me--or against yourself; I should care
for you the same--if you were the same person; but you're not the same,
and you know it. I told you then--that time that I didn't want to make
you do what you knew was right, and I never shall try to do it again.
I'm sorry I did it then. I was wrong. And I should be afraid of you if
I did now. Some time you would make me suffer for it, just as you've
made me suffer for making you do then what was right."
It struck Jeff as a very curious fact that Cynthia must always have known
him better than he knew himself in some ways, for he now perceived the
truth and accuracy of her words. He gave her mind credit for the
penetration due her heart; he did not understand that it is through their
love women divine the souls of men. What other witnesses of his
character had slowly and carefully reasoned out from their experience of
him she had known from the beginning, because he was dear to her.
He was silent, and then, with rare gravity, he said, "Cynthia, I believe
you're right," and he never knew how her heart leaped toward him at his
words. "I'm a pretty bad chap, I guess. But I want you to give me
another chance and I'll try not to make you pay for it, either," he
added, with a flicker of his saucy humor.
"I'll give you a chance, then," she said, and she shrank from the hand he
put out toward her. "Go back and tell that girl you're free now, and if
she wants you she can have you."
"Is that what you call a chance?" demanded Jeff, between anger and
injury. For an instant he imagined her deriding him and revenging
"It's the only one I can give you. She's never tried to make you do what
was right, and you'll never be tempted to hurt her."
"You're pretty rough on me, Cynthy," Jeff protested, almost plaintively.
He asked, more in character: "Ain't you afraid of making me do right,
"I'm not making you. I don't promise you anything, even if she won't
"Did you suppose I didn't mean that you were free? That I would put a
lie in your mouth for you to be true with?"
"I guess you're too deep for me," said Jeff, after a sulky silence.
"Then it's all off between us? What do you say?"
"What do you say?"
"I say it's just as it was before, if you care for me."
"I care for you, but it can never be the same as it was before. What
you've done, you've done. I wish I could help it, but I can't. I can't
make myself over into what I was twenty-four hours ago. I seem another
person, in another world; it's as if I died, and came to life somewhere
else. I'm sorry enough, if that could help, but it can't. Go and tell
that girl the truth: that you came up here to me, and I sent you back to
A gleam of amusement visited Jeff in the gloom where he seemed to be
darkling. He fancied doing that very thing with Bessie Lynde, and the
wild joy she would snatch from an experience so unique, so impossible.
Then the gleam faded. "And what if I didn't want her?" he demanded.
"Tell her that too," said Cynthia.
"I suppose," said Jeff, sulkily, "you'll let me go away and do as I
please, if I'm free."
"Oh yes. I don't want you to do anything because I told you. I won't
make that mistake again. Go and do what you are able to do of your own
free will. You know what you ought to do as well as I do; and you know a
great deal better what you can do."
They had reached Cynthia's house, and they were talking at the side door,
as they had the night before, when there had been hope for her in the
newness of her calamity, before she had yet fully imagined it.
Jeff made no answer to her last words. He asked, "Am I going to see you
"I guess not. I don't believe I shall be up before you start."
"All right. Good-bye, then." He held out his hand, and she put hers in
it for the moment he chose to hold it. Then he turned and slowly climbed
Cynthia was still lying with her face in her pillow when her father came
into the dark little house, and peered into her room with the newly
lighted lamp in his hand. She turned her face quickly over and looked at
him with dry and shining eyes.
"Well, it's all over with Jeff and me, father."
"Well, I'm satisfied," said Whitwell. "If you could ha' made it up, so
you could ha' felt right about it, I shouldn't ha' had anything to say
against it, but I'm glad it's turned out the way it has. He's a comical
devil, and he always was, and I'm glad you a'n't takin' on about him any
more. You used to have so much spirit when you was little."
"Oh,--spirit! You don't know how much spirit I've had, now."
"Well, I presume not," Whitwell assented.
"I've been thinking," said the girl, after a little pause, "that we
shall have to go away from here."
"Well, I guess not," her father began. "Not for no Jeff Dur--"
"Yes, yes. We must! Don't make one talk about it. We'll stay here till
Jackson gets back in June, and then--we must go somewhere else. We'll go
down to Boston, and I'll try to get a place to teach, or something, and
Frank can get a place."
"I presume," Whitwell mused, "that Mr. Westover could--"
"Father!" cried the girl, with an energy that startled him, as she lifted
herself on her elbow. "Don't ever think of troubling Mr. Westover! Oh,"
she lamented, "I was thinking of troubling him myself! But we mustn't,
we mustn't! I should be so ashamed!"
"Well," said Whitwell, "time enough to think about all that. We got two
good months yet to plan it out before Jackson gets back, and I guess we
can think of something before that. I presume," he added, thoughtfully,
"that when Mrs. Durgin hears that you've give Jeff the sack, she'll make
consid'able of a kick. She done it when you got engaged."
After he went back to Cambridge, Jeff continued mechanically in the
direction given him by motives which had ceased for him. In the midst of
his divergence with Bessie Lynde he had still kept an inner fealty to
Cynthia, and tried to fulfil the purposes and ambition she had for him.
The operation of this habitual allegiance now kept him up to his work,
but the time must come when it could no longer operate, when his whole
consciousness should accept the fact known to his intelligence, and he
should recognize the close of that incident of his life as the bereaved
finally accept and recognize the fact of death.
The event brought him relief, and it brought him freedom. He was
sensible in his relaxation of having strained up to another's ideal, of
having been hampered by another's will. His pleasure in the relief was
tempered by a regret, not wholly unpleasant, for the girl whose aims,
since they were no longer his, must be disappointed. He was sorry for
Cynthia, and in his remorse he was fonder of her than he had ever been.
He felt her magnanimity and clemency; he began to question, in that
wordless deep of being where volition begins, whether it would not be
paying a kind of duty to her if he took her at her word and tried to go
back to Bessie Lynde. But for the present he did nothing but renounce
all notion of working at his conditions, or attempting to take a degree.
That was part of a thing that was past, and was no part of anything to
come, so far as Jeff now forecast his future.
He did not choose to report himself to Westover, and risk a scolding, or
a snubbing. He easily forgave Westover for the tone he had taken at
their last meeting, but he did not care to see him. He would have met
him half-way, however, in a friendly advance, and he was aware of much
good-will toward him, which he could not have been reluctant to show if
chance had brought them together.
Jeff missed Cynthia's letters which used to come so regularly every
Tuesday, and he had a half-hour every Sunday which was at first rather
painfully vacant since he no longer wrote to her. But in this vacancy he
had at least no longer the pang of self-reproach which her letters always
brought him, and he was not obliged to put himself to the shame of
concealment in writing to her. He had never minded that tacit lying on
his own account, but he hated it in relation to her; it always hurt him
as something incongruous and unfit. He wrote to his mother now on
Sunday, and in his first letter, while the impression of Cynthia's
dignity and generosity was still vivid, he urged her to make it clear to
the girl that he wished her and her family to remain at Lion's Head as if
nothing had happened. He put a great deal of real feeling into this
request, and he offered to go and spend a year in Europe, if his mother
thought that Cynthia would be more reconciled to his coming back at the
end of that time.
His mother answered with a dryness to which his ear supplied the tones of
her voice, that she would try to get along in the management of Lion's
Head till his brother got back, but that she had no objection to his
going to Europe for a year if he had the money to spare. Jeff could not
refuse her joke, as he felt it, a certain applause, but he thought it
pretty rough that his mother should take part so decidedly against him as
she seemed to be doing. He had expected her to be angry with him, but
before they parted she had seemed to find some excuse for him, and yet
here she was siding against her own son in what he might very well
consider an unnatural way. If Jackson had been at home he would have
laid it to his charge; but he knew that Cynthia would have scorned even
to speak of him with his mother, and he knew too well his mother's slight
for Whitwell to suppose that he could have influenced her. His mind
turned in momentary suspicion to Westover. Had Westover, he wondered,
with a purpose to pay him up for it forming itself simultaneously with
his question, been setting his mother against him? She might have
written to Westover to get at the true inwardness of his behavior, and
Westover might have written her something that had made her harden her
heart against him. But upon reflection this seemed out of character for
both of them; and Jeff was thrown back upon his mother's sober second
thought of his misconduct for an explanation of her coldness. He could
not deny that he had grievously disappointed her in several ways.
But he did not see why he should not take a certain hint from her letter,
or construct a hint from it, at one with a vague intent prompted by his
own restless and curious vanity. Since he had parted with Bessie Lynde,
on terms of humiliation for her which must have been anguish for him if
he had ever loved her, or loved anything but his power over her, he had
remained in absolute ignorance of her. He had not heard where she was or
how she was; but now, as the few weeks before Class Day and Commencement
crumbled away, he began to wonder why she made no sign. He believed that
since she had been willing to go so far to get him, she would not be
willing to give him up so easily. The thought of Cynthia had always
intruded more or less effectively between them, but now that this thought
began to fade into the past, the thought of Bessie began to grow out of
it with no interposing shadow.
However, Jeff was in no hurry. It was not passion that moved him, and
the mood in which he could play with the notion of getting back to his
flirtation with Bessie Lynde was pleasanter after the violence of recent
events than any renewal of strong sensations could be. He preferred to
loiter in this mood, and he was meantime much more comfortable than he
had been for a great while. He was rid of the disagreeable sense of
disloyalty to Cynthia, and he was rid of the stress of living up to her
conscience in various ways. He was rid of Bessie Lynde, too, and of the
trouble of forecasting and discounting her caprices. His thought turned
at times with a soft regret to hopes, disappointments, experiences
connected with neither, and now tinged with a tender melancholy,
unalloyed by shame or remorse. As he drew nearer to Class Day he had a
somewhat keener compunction for Cynthia and the hopes he had encouraged
her to build and had then dashed. But he was coming more and more to
regard it all as fatality; and if the chance that he counted upon to
bring him and Bessie together again had occurred he could have more
easily forgiven himself.
One of the jays, who was spreading on rather a large scale, wanted Jeff
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