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Chapter 10

X.

Westover could not have said he felt very much at home on his first sojourn at the farm, or that he had cared greatly for the Durgins. But now he felt very much at home, and as if he were in the hands of friends.

It was toward the close of the afternoon that he arrived, and he went in promptly to the meal that was served shortly after. He found that the farm-house had not evolved so far in the direction of a hotel as to have reached the stage of a late dinner. It was tea that he sat down to, but when he asked if there were not something hot, after listening to a catalogue of the cold meats, the spectacled waitress behind his chair demanded, with the air of putting him on his honor:

"You among those that came this afternoon?"

Westover claimed to be of the new arrivals.

"Well, then, you can have steak or chops and baked potatoes."

He found the steak excellent, though succinct, and he looked round in the distinction it conferred upon him, on the older guests, who were served with cold ham, tongue, and corned-beef. He had expected to be appointed his place by Cynthia Whitwell, but Jeff came to the dining-room with him and showed him to the table he occupied, with an effect of doing him special credit.

From his impressions of the berries, the cream, the toast, and the tea, as well as the steak, he decided that on the gastronomic side there could be no question but the Durgins knew how to keep a hotel; and his further acquaintance with the house and its appointments confirmed him in his belief. All was very simple, but sufficient; and no guest could have truthfully claimed that he was stinted in towels, in water, in lamp-light, in the quantity or quality of bedding, in hooks for clothes, or wardrobe or bureau room. Westover made Mrs. Durgin his sincere compliments on her success as they sat in the old parlor, which she had kept for herself much in its former state, and she accepted them with simple satisfaction.

"But I don't know as I should ever had the courage to try it if it hadn't been for you happening along just when you did," she said.

"Then I'm the founder of your fortunes?"

"If you want to call them fortunes. We don't complain It's been a fight, but I guess we've got the best of it. The house is full, and we're turnin' folks away. I guess they can't say that at the big hotels they used to drive over from to see Lion's Head at the farm." She gave a low, comfortable chuckle, and told Westover of the struggle they had made. It was an interesting story and pathetic, like all stories of human endeavor the efforts of the most selfish ambition have something of this interest; and the struggle of the Durgins had the grace of the wish to keep their home.

"And is Jeff as well satisfied as the rest?" Westover asked, after other talk and comment on the facts.

"Too much so," said Mrs. Durgin. "I should like to talk with you about Jeff, Mr. Westover; you and him was always such friends."

"Yes," said Westover; "I shall be glad if I can be of use to you."

"Why, it's just this. I don't see why Jeff shouldn't do something besides keep a hotel."

Westover's eyes wandered to the photograph of his painting of Lion's Head which hung over the mantelpiece, in what he felt to be the place of the greatest honor in the whole house, and a sudden fear came upon him that perhaps Jeff had developed an artistic talent in the belief of his family. But he waited silently to hear.

"We did think that before we got through the improvements last spring a year ago we should have to get the savings-bank to put a mortgage on the place; but we had just enough to start the season with, and we thought we would try to pull through. We had a splendid season, and made money, and this year we're doin' so well that I ain't afraid for the future any more, and I want to give Jeff a chance in the world. I want he should go to college."

Westover felt all the boldness of the aspiration, but it was at least not in the direction of art. "Wouldn't you rather miss him in the management?"

"We should, some. But he would be here the best part of the summer, in his vacations, and Jackson and I are full able to run the house without him."

"Jackson seems very well," said Westover, evasively.

"He's better. He's only thirty-four years old. His father lived to be sixty, and he had the same kind. Jeff tell you he had been at Lovewell Academy?"

"Yes; he did."

"He done well there. All his teachers that he ever had," Mrs. Durgin went on, with the mother-pride that soon makes itself tiresome to the listener, "said Jeff done well at school when he had a mind to, and at the Academy he studied real hard. I guess," said Mrs. Durgin, with her chuckle, "that he thought that was goin' to be the end of it. One thing, he had to keep up with Cynthy, and that put him on his pride. You seen Cynthy yet?"

"No. Jeff told me she was in charge of the diningroom."

"I guess I'm in charge of the whole house," said Mrs. Durgin. "Cynthy's the housekeeper, though. She's a fine girl, and a smart girl," said Mrs. Durgin, with a visible relenting from some grudge, "and she'll do well wherever you put her. She went to the Academy the first two winters Jeff did. We've about scooped in the whole Whitwell family. Franky's here, and his father's—well, his father's kind of philosopher to the lady boarders." Mrs. Durgin laughed, and Westover laughed with her. "Yes, I want Jeff should go to college, and I want he should be a lawyer."

Westover did not find that he had anything useful to say to this; so he said: "I've no doubt it's better than being a painter."

"I'm not so sure; three hundred dollars for a little thing like that." She indicated the photograph of his Lion's Head, and she was evidently so proud of it that he reserved for the moment the truth as to the price he had got for the painting. "I was surprised when you sent me a photograph full as big. I don't let every one in here, but a good many of the ladies are artists themselves-amateurs, I guess—and first and last they all want to see it. I guess they'll all want to see you, Mr. Westover. They'll be wild, as they call it, when they know you're in the house. Yes, I mean Jeff shall go to college."

"Bowdoin or Dartmouth?" Westover suggested.

"Well, I guess you'll think I'm about as forth-putting as I was when I wanted you to give me a three-hundred-dollar picture for a week's board."

"I only got a hundred and sixty, Mrs. Durgin," said Westover, conscientiously.

"Well, it's a shame. Any rate, three hundred's the price to all my boarders. My, if I've told that story once, I guess I've told it fifty times!"

Mrs. Durgin laughed at herself jollily, and Westover noted how prosperity had changed her. It had freed her tongue, it has brightened her humor, it had cheered her heart; she had put on flesh, and her stalwart frame was now a far greater bulk than he remembered.

"Well, there," she said, "the long and the short of it is, I want Jeff should go to Harvard."

He commanded himself to say: "I don't see why he shouldn't."

Mrs. Durgin called out, "Come in, Jackson," and Westover looked round and saw the elder son like a gaunt shadow in the doorway. "I've just got where I've told Mr. Westover where I want Jeff should go. It don't seem to have ca'd him off his feet any, either."

"I presume," said Jackson, coming in and sitting lankly down in the feather-cushioned rocking-chair which his mother pushed toward him with her foot, "that the expense would be more at Harvard than it would at the other colleges."

"If you want the best you got to pay for it," said Mrs. Durgin.

"I suppose it would cost more," Westover answered Jackson's conjecture. "I really don't know much about it. One hears tremendous stories at Boston of the rate of living among the swell students in Cambridge. People talk of five thousand a year, and that sort of thing." Mrs. Durgin shut her lips, after catching her breath. "But I fancy that it's largely talk. I have a friend whose son went through Harvard for a thousand a year, and I know that many fellows do it for much less."

"I guess we can manage to let Jeff have a thousand a year," said Mrs. Durgin, proudly, "and not scrimp very much, either."

She looked at her elder son, who said: "I don't believe but what we could. It's more of a question with me what sort of influence Jeff would come under there. I think he's pretty much spoiled here."

"Now, Jackson!" said his mother.

"I've heard," said Westover, "that Harvard takes the nonsense out of a man. I can't enter into what you say, and it isn't my affair; but in regard to influence at Harvard, it depends upon the set Jeff is thrown with or throws himself with. So, at least, I infer from what I've heard my friend say of his son there. There are hard-working sets, loafing sets, and fast sets; and I suppose it isn't different at Harvard in such matters from other colleges."

Mrs. Durgin looked a little grave. "Of course," she said, "we don't know anybody at Cambridge, except some ladies that boarded with us one summer, and I shouldn't want to ask any favor of them. The trouble would be to get Jeff started right."

Westover surmised a good many things, but in the absence of any confidences from the Durgins he could not tell just how much Jackson meant in saying that Jeff was pretty much spoiled, or how little. At first, from Mrs. Durgin's prompt protest, he fancied that Jackson meant that the boy had been over-indulged by his mother: "I understand," he said, in default of something else to say, "that the requirements at Harvard are pretty severe."

"He's passed his preliminary examinations," said Jackson, with a touch of hauteur, "and I guess he can enter this fall if we should so decide. He'll have some conditions, prob'ly, but none but what he can work off, I guess."

"Then, if you wish to have him go to college, by all means let him go to Harvard, I should say. It's our great university and our oldest. I'm not a college man myself; but, if I were, I should wish to have been a Harvard man. If Jeff has any nonsense in him, it will take it out; and I don't believe there's anything in Harvard, as Harvard, to make him worse."

"That's what we both think," said Jackson.

"I've heard," Westover continued, and he rose and stood while he spoke, "that Harvard's like the world. A man gets on there on the same terms that he gets on in the world. He has to be a man, and he'd better be a gentleman."

Mrs. Durgin still looked serious. "Have you come back to Boston for good now? Do you expect to be there right along?"

"I've taken a studio there. Yes, I expect to be in Boston now. I've taken to teaching, and I fancy I can make a living. If Jeff comes to Cambridge, and I can be of any use—"

"We should be ever so much obliged to you," said his mother, with an air of great relief.

"Not at all. I shall be very glad. Your mountain air is drugging me, Mrs. Durgin. I shall have to say good-night, or I shall tumble asleep before I get upstairs. Oh, I can find the way, I guess; this part of the house seems the same." He got away from them, and with the lamp that Jackson gave him found his way to his room. A few moments later some one knocked at his door, and a boy stood there with a pitcher. "Some ice-water, Mr. Westover?"

"Why, is that you, Franky? I'm glad to see you again. How are you?"

"I'm pretty well," said the boy, shyly. He was a very handsome little fellow of distinctly dignified presence, and Westover was aware at once that here was not a subject for patronage. "Is there anything else you want, Mr. Westover? Matches, or soap, or anything?" He put the pitcher down and gave a keen glance round the room.

"No, everything seems to be here, Frank," said Westover.

"Well, good-night," said the boy, and he slipped out, quietly closing the door after him.

Westover pushed up his window and looked at Lion's Head in the moonlight. It slumbered as if with the sleep of centuries-austere, august. The moon-rays seemed to break and splinter on the outline of the lion-shape, and left all the mighty mass black below.

In the old porch under his window Westover heard whispering. Then, "You behave yourself, Jeff Durgin!" came in a voice which could be no other than Cynthia Whitwell's, and Jeff Durgin's laugh followed.

He saw the girl in the morning. She met him at the door of the dining-room, and he easily found in her shy, proud manner, and her pure, cold beauty, the temperament and physiognomy of the child he remembered. She was tall and slim, and she held herself straight without stiffness; her face was fine, with a straight nose, and a decided chin, and a mouth of the same sweetness which looked from her still, gray eyes; her hair, of the average brown, had a rough effect of being quickly tossed into form, which pleased him; as she slipped down the room before him to place him at table he saw that she was, as it were, involuntarily, unwillingly graceful. She made him think of a wild sweetbrier, of a hermit-thrush; but, if there were this sort of poetic suggestion in Cynthia's looks, her acts were of plain and honest prose, such as giving Westover the pleasantest place and the most intelligent waitress in the room.

He would have liked to keep her in talk a moment, but she made business-like despatch of all his allusions to the past, and got herself quickly away. Afterward she came back to him, with the effect of having forced herself to come, and the color deepened in her cheeks while she stayed.

She seemed glad of his being there, but helpless against the instincts or traditions that forbade her to show her pleasure in his presence. Her reticence became almost snubbing in its strictness when he asked her about her school-teaching in the winter; but he found that she taught at the little school-house at the foot of the hill, and lived at home with her father.

"And have you any bad boys that frighten little girls in your school?" he asked, jocosely.

"I don't know as I have," she said, with a consciousness that flamed into her cheeks.

"Perhaps the boys have reformed?" Westover suggested.

"I presume," she said, stiffly, "that there's room for improvement in every one," and then, as if she were afraid he might take this personally, she looked unhappy and tried to speak of other things. She asked him if he did not see a great many changes at Lion's Head; he answered, gravely, that he wished he could have found it just as he left it, and then she must have thought she had gone wrong again, for she left him in an embarrassment that was pathetic, but which was charming.

William Dean Howells