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Chapter 22

XXII.

Cynthia came back in time to go into the dining-room and see that all was in order there for supper before the door opened. The waitresses knew that she had been out riding, as they called it, with Jeff Durgin; the fact had spread electrically to them where they sat in a shady angle of the hotel listening to one who read a novel aloud, and skipped all but the most exciting love parts. They conjectured that the pair had gone to Lovewell, but they knew nothing more, and the subtlest of them would not have found reason for further conjecture in Cynthia's behavior, when she came in and scanned the tables and the girls' dresses and hair, where they stood ranged against the wall. She was neither whiter nor redder than usual, and her nerves and her tones were under as good control as a girl's ever are after she has been out riding with a fellow. It was not such a great thing, anyway, to ride with Jeff Durgin. First and last, nearly all the young lady boarders had been out with him, upon one errand or another to Lovewell.

After supper, when the girls had gone over to their rooms in the helps' quarters, and the guests had gathered in the wide, low office, in the light of the fire kindled on the hearth to break the evening chill, Jeff joined Cynthia in her inspection of the dining-room. She always gave it a last look, to see that it was in perfect order for breakfast, before she went home for the night. Jeff went home with her; he was impatient of her duties, but he was in no hurry when they stole out of the side door together under the stars, and began to stray sidelong down the hill over the dewless grass.

He lingered more and more as they drew near her father's house, in the abandon of a man's love. He wished to give himself solely up to it, to think and to talk of nothing else, after a man's fashion. But a woman's love is no such mere delight. It is serious, practical. For her it is all future, and she cannot give herself wholly up to any present moment of it, as a man does.

"Now, Jeff," she said, after a certain number of partings, in which she had apparently kept his duty clearly in mind, "you had better go home and tell your mother."

"Oh, there's time enough for that," he began.

"I want you to tell her right away, or there won't be anything to tell."

"Is that so?" he joked back. "Well, if I must, I must, I suppose. But I didn't think you'd take the whip-hand so soon, Cynthia."

"Oh, I don't ever want to take the whip-hand with you, Jeff. Don't make me!"

"Well, I won't, then. But what are you in such a hurry to have mother know for? She's not going to object. And if she does—"

"It isn't that," said the girl, quickly. "If I had to go round a single day with your mother hiding this from her, I should begin to hate you. I couldn't bear the concealment. I shall tell father as soon as I go in."

"Oh, your father 'll be all right, of course."

"Yes, he'll be all right, but if he wouldn't, and I knew it, I should have to tell him, all the same. Now, good-night. Well, there, then; and there! Now, let me go!"

She paused for a moment in her own room, to smooth her tumbled hair, and try to identify herself in her glass. Then she went into the sitting-room, where she found her father pulled up to the table, with his hat on, and poring over a sheet of hieroglyphics, which represented the usual evening with planchette.

"Have you been to help Jackson up?" she asked.

"Well, I wanted to, but he wouldn't hear of it. He's feelin' ever so much better to-night, and he wanted to go alone. I just come in."

"Yes, you've got your hat on yet."

Whitwell put his hand up and found that his daughter was right. He laughed, and said: "I guess I must 'a' forgot it. We've had the most interestin' season with plantchette that I guess we've about ever had. She's said something here—"

"Well, never mind; I've got something more important to say than plantchette has," said Cynthia, and she pulled the sheet away from under her father's eyes.

This made him look up at her. "Why, what's happened?"

"Nothing. Jeff Durgin has asked me to marry him."

"He has!" The New England training is not such as to fit people for the expression of strong emotion, and the best that Whitwell found himself able to do in view of the fact was to pucker his mouth for a whistle which did not come.

"Yes—this afternoon," said Cynthia, lifelessly. The tension of her nerves relaxed in a languor which was evident even to her father, though his eyes still wandered to the sheet she had taken from him.

"Well, you don't seem over and above excited about it. Did—did your—What did you say—"

"How should I know what I said? What do you think of it, father?"

"I don't know as I ever give the subject much attention," said the philosopher. "I always meant to take it out of him, somehow, if he got to playin' the fool."

"Then you wanted I should accept him?"

"What difference 'd it make what I wanted? That what you done?"

"Yes, I've accepted him," said the girl, with a sigh. "I guess I've always expected to."

"Well, I thought likely it would come to that, myself. All I can say, Cynthy, is 't he's a lucky feller."

Whitwell leaned back, bracing his knees against the table, which was one of his philosophic poses. "I have sometimes believed that Jeff Durgin was goin' to turn out a blackguard. He's got it in him. He's as like his gran'father as two peas, and he was an old devil. But you got to account in all these here heredity cases for counteractin' influences. The Durgins are as good as wheat, right along, all of 'em; and I guess Mis' Durgin's mother must have been a pretty good woman too. Mis' Durgin's all right, too, if she has got a will of her own." Whitwell returned from his scientific inquiry to ask: "How 'll she take it?"

"I don't know," said Cynthia, dreamily, but without apparent misgiving. "That's Jeff's lookout."

"So 'tis. I guess she won't make much fuss. A woman never likes to see her son get married; but you've been a kind of daughter to her so long. Well, I guess that part of it 'll be all right. Jackson," said Whitwell, in a tone of relief, as if turning from an irrelevant matter to something of real importance, "was down here to-night tryin' to ring up some them spirits from the planet Mars. Martians, he calls 'em. His mind's got to runnin' a good deal on Mars lately. I guess it's this apposition that they talk about that does it. Mars comin' so much nearer the earth by a million of miles or so, it stands to reason that he should be more influenced by the minds on it. I guess it's a case o' that telepathy that Mr. Westover tells about. I judge that if he kept at it before Mars gits off too far again he might make something out of it. I couldn't seem to find much sense in what plantchette done to-night; we couldn't either of us; but she has her spells when you can't make head or tail of her. But mebbe she's just leadin' up to something, the way she did about that broken shaft when Jeff come home. We ha'n't ever made out exactly what she meant by that yet."

Whitwell paused, and Cynthia seized the advantage of his getting round to Jeff again. "He wanted to give up going to Harvard this last year, but I wouldn't let him."

"Jeff did?" asked her father. "Well, you done a good thing that time, anyway, Cynthy. His mother 'd never get over it."

"There's something else she's got to get over, and I don't know how she ever will. He's going to give up the law."

"Give up the law!"

"Yes. Don't tease, father! He says he's never cared about it, and he wants to keep a hotel. I thought that I'd ought to tell him how we felt about Jackson's having a rest and going off somewhere; and he wanted to begin at once. But I said if he left off the last year at Harvard I wouldn't have anything to do with him."

Whitwell put his hand in his pocket for his knife, and mechanically looked down for a stick to whittle. In default of any, he scratched his head. "I guess she'll make it warm for him. She's had her mind set on his studyin' law so long, 't she won't give up in a hurry. She can't see that Jackson ain't fit to help her run the hotel any more—till he's had a rest, anyway—and I believe she thinks her and Frank could run it—and you. She'll make an awful kick," said Whitwell, solemnly. "I hope you didn't encourage him, Cynthy?"

"I should encourage him," said the girl. "He's got the right to shape his own life, and nobody else has got the right to do it; and I should tell his mother so, if she ever said anything to me about it."

"All right," said Whitwell. "I suppose you know what you're about."

"I do, father. Jeff would make a good landlord; he's got ideas about a hotel, and I can see that they're the right ones. He's been out in the world, and he's kept his eyes open. He will make Lion's Head the best hotel in the mountains."

"It's that already."

"He doesn't think it's half as good as he can make it."

"It wouldn't be half what it is now, if it wa'n't for you and Frank."

"I guess he understands that," said Cynthia. "Frank would be the clerk."

"Got it all mapped out!" said Whitwell, proudly, in his turn. "Look out you don't slip up in your calculations. That's all."

"I guess we cha'n't slip up."

William Dean Howells