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Chapter 3

III.

The boy must have permitted these advances that he might inflict the greater disappointment when he spoke. "We don't want anything," he said, insolently.

"Don't you?" the stranger returned. "I do. I want dinner. Go in and tell your mother, and then show me where I can wash my hands."

The bold ease of the stranger seemed to daunt the boy, and he stood irresolute. His dog came round the corner of the house at the first word of the parley, and, while his master was making up his mind what to do, he smelled at the stranger's legs. "Well, you can't have any dinner," said the boy, tentatively. The dog raised the bristles on his neck, and showed his teeth with a snarl. The stranger promptly kicked him in the jaw, and the dog ran off howling. "Come here, sir!" the boy called to him, but the dog vanished round the house with a fading yelp.

"Now, young man," said the stranger, "will you go and do as you're bid? I'm ready to pay for my dinner, and you can say so." The boy stared at him, slowly taking in the facts of his costume, with eyes that climbed from the heavy shoes up the legs of his thick-ribbed stockings and his knickerbockers, past the pleats and belt of his Norfolk jacket, to the red neckcloth tied under the loose collar of his flannel outing-shirt, and so by his face, with its soft, young beard and its quiet eyes, to the top of his braidless, bandless slouch hat of soft felt. It was one of the earliest costumes of the kind that had shown itself in the hill country, and it was altogether new to the boy. "Come," said the wearer of it, "don't stand on the order of your going, but go at once," and he sat down on the steps with his back to the boy, who heard these strange terms of command with a face of vague envy.

The noonday sunshine lay in a thin, silvery glister on the slopes of the mountain before them, and in the brilliant light the colossal forms of the Lion's Head were prismatically outlined against the speckless sky. Through the silvery veil there burned here and there on the densely wooded acclivities the crimson torch of a maple, kindled before its time, but everywhere else there was the unbroken green of the forest, subdued to one tone of gray. The boy heard the stranger fetch his breath deeply, and then expel it in a long sigh, before he could bring himself to obey an order that seemed to leave him without the choice of disobedience. He came back and found the stranger as he had left him. "Come on, if you want your dinner," he said; and the stranger rose and looked at him.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Thomas Jefferson Durgin."

"Well, Thomas Jefferson Durgin, will you show me the way to the pump and bring a towel along?"

"Want to wash?"

"I haven't changed my mind."

"Come along, then." The boy made a movement as if to lead the way indoors; the stranger arrested him.

"Here. Take hold of this and put it out of the rush of travel somewhere." He lifted his burden from where he had dropped it in the road and swung it toward the boy, who ran down the steps and embraced it. As he carried it toward a corner of the porch he felt of the various shapes and materials in it.

Then he said, "Come on!" again, and went before the guest through the dim hall running midway of the house to the door at the rear. He left him on a narrow space of stone flagging there, and ran with a tin basin to the spring at the barn and brought it back to him full of the cold water.

"Towel," he said, pulling at the family roller inside the little porch at the door; and he watched the stranger wash his hands and face, and then search for a fresh place on the towel.

Before the stranger had finished the father and the elder brother came out, and, after an ineffectual attempt to salute him, slanted away to the barn together. The woman, in-doors, was more successful, when he found her in the dining-room, where the boy showed him. The table was set for him alone, and it affected him as if the family had been hurried away from it that he might have it to himself. Everything was very simple: the iron forks had two prongs; the knives bone handles; the dull glass was pressed; the heavy plates and cups were white, but so was the cloth, and all were clean. The woman brought in a good boiled dinner of corned-beef, potatoes, turnips, and carrots from the kitchen, and a teapot, and said something about having kept them hot on the stove for him; she brought him a plate of biscuit fresh from the oven; then she said to the boy, "You come out and have your dinner with me, Jeff," and left the guest to make his meal unmolested.

The room was square, with two north windows that looked down the lane he had climbed to the house. An open door led into the kitchen in an ell, and a closed door opposite probably gave access to a parlor or a ground-floor chamber. The windows were darkened down to the lower sash by green paper shades; the walls were papered in a pattern of brown roses; over the chimney hung a large picture, a life-size pencil-drawing of two little girls, one slightly older and slightly larger than the other, each with round eyes and precise ringlets, and with her hand clasped in the other's hand.

The guest seemed helpless to take his gaze from it, and he sat fallen back in his chair at it when the woman came in with a pie.

"Thank you, I believe I don't want any dessert," he said. "The fact is, the dinner was so good that I haven't left any room for pie. Are those your children?"

"Yes," said the woman, looking up at the picture with the pie in her hand. "They're the last two I lost."

"Oh, excuse me—" the guest began.

"It's the way they appear in the spirit life. It's a spirit picture."

"Oh, I thought there was something strange about it."

"Well, it's a good deal like the photograph we had taken about a year before they died. It's a good likeness. They say they don't change a great deal at first."

She seemed to refer the point to him for his judgment, but he answered wide of it:

"I came up here to paint your mountain, if you don't mind, Mrs. Durgin-Lion's Head, I mean."

"Oh yes. Well, I don't know as we could stop you if you wanted to take it away." A spare glimmer lighted up her face.

The painter rejoined in kind: "The town might have something to say, I suppose."

"Not if you was to leave a good piece of intervale in place of it. We've got mountains to spare."

"Well, then, that's arranged. What about a week's board?"

"I guess you can stay if you're satisfied."

"I'll be satisfied if I can stay. How much do you want?"

The woman looked down, probably with an inward anxiety between the fear of asking too much and the folly of asking too little. She said, tentatively: "Some of the folks that come over from the hotels say they pay as much as twenty dollars a week."

"But you don't expect hotel prices?"

"I don't know as I do. We've never had anybody before."

The stranger relaxed the frown he had put on at the greed of her suggestion; it might have come from ignorance or mere innocence. "I'm in the habit of paying five dollars for farm board, where I stay several weeks. What do you say to seven for a single week?"

"I guess that 'll do," said the woman, and she went out with the pie, which she had kept in her hand.

William Dean Howells