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Chapter 11

XI.

After breakfast Westover walked out and saw Whitwell standing on the grass in front of the house, beside the flagstaff. He suffered Westover to make the first advances toward the renewal of their acquaintance, but when he was sure of his friendly intention he responded with a cordial openness which the painter had fancied wanting in his children. Whitwell had not changed much. The most noticeable difference was the compact phalanx of new teeth which had replaced the staggering veterans of former days, and which displayed themselves in his smile of relenting. There was some novelty of effect also in an arrangement of things in his hat-band. At first Westover thought they were fishhooks and artificial flies, such as the guides wear in the Adirondacks to advertise their calling about the hotel offices and the piazzas. But another glance showd him that they were sprays and wild flowers of various sorts, with gay mosses and fungi and some stems of Indian-pipe.

Whitwell seemed pleased that these things should have caught Westover's eye. He said, almost immediately: "Lookin' at my almanac? This is one of our field-days; we have 'em once a week; and I like to let the ladies see beforehand what nature's got on the bill for 'em, in the woods and pastur's."

"It's a good idea," said Westover, "and it's fresh and picturesque." Whitwell laughed for pleasure.

"They told me what a consolation you were to the ladies, with your walks and talks."

"Well, I try to give 'em something to think about," said Whitwell.

"But why do you confine your ministrations to one sex?"

"I don't, on purpose. But it's the only sex here, three-fourths of the time. Even the children are mostly all girls. When the husbands come up Saturday nights, they don't want to go on a tramp Sundays. They want to lay off and rest. That's about how it is. Well, you see some changes about Lion's Head, I presume?" he asked, with what seemed an impersonal pleasure in them.

"I should rather have found the old farm. But I must say I'm glad to find such a good hotel."

"Jeff and his mother made their brags to you?" said Whitwell, with a kind of amiable scorn. "I guess if it wa'n't for Cynthy she wouldn't know where she was standin', half the time. It don't matter where Jeff stands, I guess. Jackson's the best o' the lot, now the old man's gone." There was no one by at the moment to hear these injuries except Westover, but Whitwell called them out with a frankness which was perhaps more carefully adapted to the situation than it seemed. Westover made no attempt to parry them formally; but he offered some generalities in extenuation of the unworthiness of the Durgins, which Whitwell did not altogether refuse.

"Oh, it's all right. Old woman talk to you about Jeff's going to college? I thought so. Wants to make another Dan'el Webster of him. Guess she can's far forth as Dan'el's graduatin' went." Westover tried to remember how this had been with the statesman, but could not. Whitwell added, with intensifying irony so of look and tone: "Guess the second Dan'el won't have a chance to tear his degree up; guess he wouldn't ever b'en ready to try for it if it had depended on him. They don't keep any record at Harvard, do they, of the way fellows are prepared for their preliminary examinations?"

"I don't quite know what you mean," said Westover.

"Oh, nothin'. You get a chance some time to ask Jeff who done most of his studyin' for him at the Academy."

This hint was not so darkling but Westover could understand that Whitwell attributed Jeff's scholarship to the help of Cynthia, but he would not press him to an open assertion of the fact. There was something painful in it to him; it had the pathos which perhaps most of the success in the world would reveal if we could penetrate its outside.

He was silent, and Whitwell left the point. "Well," he concluded, "what's goin' on in them old European countries?"

"Oh, the old thing," said Westover. "But I can't speak for any except France, very well."

"What's their republic like, over there? Ours? See anything of it, how it works?"

"Well, you know," said Westover, "I was working so hard myself all the time—"

"Good!" Whitwell slapped his leg. Westover saw that he had on long India-rubber boots, which came up to his knees, and he gave a wayward thought to the misery they would be on an August day to another man; but Whitwell was probably insensible to any discomfort from them. "When a man's mindin' his own business any government's good, I guess. But I should like to prowl round some them places where they had the worst scenes of the Revolution, Ever been in the Place de la Concorde?" Whitwell gave it the full English pronunciation.

"I passed through it nearly every day."

"I want to know! And that column that they, pulled down in the Commune that had that little Boney on it—see that?"

"In the Place Vendome?"

"Yes, Plass Vonndome."

"Oh yes. You wouldn't know it had ever been down."

"Nor the things it stood for?"

"As to that, I can't be so sure."

"Well, it's funny," said the philosopher, "how the world seems to always come out at the same hole it went in at!" He paused, with his mouth open, as if to let the notion have full effect with Westover.

The painter said: "And you're still in the old place, Mr. Whitwell?"

"Yes, I like my own house. They've wanted me to come up here often enough, but I'm satisfied where I am. It's quiet down there, and, when I get through for the day, I can read. And I like to keep my family together. Cynthy and Frank always sleep at home, and Jombateeste eats with me. You remember Jombateeste?"

Westover had to say that he did not.

"Well, I don't know as you did see him much. He was that Canuck I had helpin' me clear that piece over on Lion's Head for the pulp-mill; pulp-mill went all to thunder, and I never got a cent. And sometimes Jackson comes down with his plantchette, and we have a good time."

"Jackson still believes in the manifestations?"

"Yes. But he's never developed much himself. He can't seem to do much without the plantchette. We've had up some of them old philosophers lately. We've had up Socrates."

"Is that so? It must be very interesting."

Whitwell did not answer, and Westover saw his eye wander. He looked round. Several ladies were coming across the grass toward him from the hotel, lifting their skirts and tiptoeing through the dew. They called to him, "Good-morning, Mr. Whitwell!" and "Are you going up Lion's Head to-day?" and "Don't you think it will rain?"—"Guess not," said Whitwell, with a fatherly urbanity and an air of amusement at the anxieties of the sex which seemed habitual to him. He waited tranquilly for them to come up, and then asked, with a wave of his hand toward Westover: "Acquainted with Mr. Westover, the attist?" He named each of them, and it would have been no great vanity in Westover to think they had made their little movement across the grass quite as much in the hope of an introduction to him as in the wish to consult Whitwell about his plans.

The painter found himself the centre of an agreeable excitement with all the ladies in the house. For this it was perhaps sufficient to be a man. To be reasonably young and decently good-looking, to be an artist, and an artist not unknown, were advantages which had the splendor of superfluity.

He liked finding himself in the simple and innocent American circumstance again, and he was not sorry to be confronted at once with one of the most characteristic aspects of our summer. He could read in the present development of Lion's Head House all the history of its evolution from the first conception of farm-board, which sufficed the earliest comers, to its growth in the comforts and conveniences which more fastidious tastes and larger purses demanded. Before this point was reached, the boarders would be of a good and wholesome sort, but they would be people of no social advantages, and not of much cultivation, though they might be intelligent; they would certainly not be fashionable; five dollars a week implied all that, except in the case of some wandering artist or the family of some poor young professor. But when the farm became a boarding-house and called itself a hotel, as at present with Lion's Head House, and people paid ten dollars a week, or twelve for transients, a moment of its character was reached which could not be surpassed when its prosperity became greater and its inmates more pretentious. In fact, the people who can afford to pay ten dollars a week for summer board, and not much more, are often the best of the American people, or, at least, of the New England people. They may not know it, and those who are richer may not imagine it. They are apt to be middle-aged maiden ladies from university towns, living upon carefully guarded investments; young married ladies with a scant child or two, and needing rest and change of air; college professors with nothing but their modest salaries; literary men or women in the beginning of their tempered success; clergymen and their wives away from their churches in the larger country towns or the smaller suburbs of the cities; here and there an agreeable bachelor in middle life, fond of literature and nature; hosts of young and pretty girls with distinct tastes in art, and devoted to the clever young painter who leads them to the sources of inspiration in the fields and woods. Such people are refined, humane, appreciative, sympathetic; and Westover, fresh from the life abroad where life is seldom so free as ours without some stain, was glad to find himself in the midst of this unrestraint, which was so sweet and pure. He had seen enough of rich people to know that riches seldom bought the highest qualities, even among his fellow-countrymen who suppose that riches can do everything, and the first aspects of society at Lion's Head seemed to him Arcadian. There really proved to be a shepherd or two among all that troop of shepherdesses, old and young; though it was in the middle of the week, remote alike from the Saturday of arrivals and the Monday of departures. To be sure, there was none quite so young as himself, except Jeff Durgin, who was officially exterior to the social life.

The painter who gave lessons to the ladies was already a man of forty, and he was strongly dragoned round by a wife almost as old, who had taken great pains to secure him for herself, and who worked him to far greater advantage in his profession than he could possibly have worked himself: she got him orders; sold his pictures, even in Boston, where they never buy American pictures; found him pupils, and kept the boldest of these from flirting with him. Westover, who was so newly from Paris, was able to console him with talk of the salons and ateliers, which he had not heard from so directly in ten years. After the first inevitable moment of jealousy, his wife forgave Westover when she found that he did not want pupils, and she took a leading part in the movement to have him read Browning at a picnic, organized by the ladies shortly after he came.

William Dean Howells