Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 49

XLIX.

Jackson died a week later, and they buried him in the old family lot in the farthest corner of the orchard. His mother and Cynthia put on mourning for him, and they stood together by his open grave, Mrs. Durgin leaning upon her son's arm and the girl upon her father's. The women wept quietly, but Jeff's eyes were dry, though his face was discharged of all its prepotent impudence. Westover, standing across the grave from him, noticed the marks on his forehead that he said were from his scrapping, and wondered what really made them. He recognized the spot where they were standing as that where the boy had obeyed the law of his nature and revenged the stress put upon him for righteousness. Over the stone of the nearest grave Jeff had shown a face of triumphant derision when he pelted Westover with apples. The painter's mind fell into a chaos of conjecture and misgiving, so that he scarcely took in the words of the composite service which the minister from the Union Chapel at the Huddle read over the dead.

Some of the guests from the hotel came to the funeral, but others who were not in good health remained away, and there was a general sense among them, which imparted itself to Westover, that Jackson's dying so, at the beginning of the season, was not a fortunate incident. As he sat talking with Jeff at a corner of the piazza late in the afternoon, Frank Whitwell came up to them and said there were some people in the office who had driven over from another hotel to see about board, but they had heard there was sickness in the house, and wished to talk with him.

"I won't come," said Jeff.

"They're not satisfied with what I've said," the boy urged. "What shall I tell them?"

"Tell them to-go to the devil," said Jeff, and when Frank Whitwell made off with this message for delivery in such decent terms as he could imagine for it, Jeff said, rather to himself than to Westover, "I don't see how we're going to run this hotel with that old family lot down there in the orchard much longer."

He assumed the air of full authority at Lion's Head; and Westover felt the stress of a painful conjecture in regard to the Whitwells intensified upon him from the moment he turned away from Jackson's grave.

Cynthia and her father had gone back to their own house as soon as Jeff returned, and though the girl came home with Mrs. Durgin after the funeral, and helped her in their common duties through the afternoon and evening, Westover saw her taking her way down the hill with her brother when the long day's work was over. Jeff saw her too; he was sitting with Westover at the office door smoking, and he was talking of the Whitwells.

"I suppose they won't stay," he said, "and I can't expect it; but I don't know what mother will do, exactly."

At the same moment Whitwell came round the corner of the hotel from the barn, and approached them: "Jeff, I guess I better tell you straight off that we're goin', the children and me."

"All right, Mr. Whitwell," said Jeff, with respectful gravity; "I was afraid of it."

Westover made a motion to rise, but Whitwell laid a detaining hand upon his knee. "There ain't anything so private about it, so far as I know."

"Don't go, Mr. Westover," said Jeff, and Westover remained.

"We a'n't a-goin' to leave you in the lurch, and we want you should take your time, especially Mis' Durgin. But the sooner the better. Heigh?"

"Yes, I understand that, Mr. Whitwell; I guess mother will miss you, but if you must go, you must." The two men remained silent a moment, and then Jeff broke out passionately, rising and flinging his cigar away: "I wish I could go, instead! That would be the right way, and I guess mother would like it full as well. Do you see any way to manage it?" He put his foot up in his chair, and dropped his elbow on his knee, with his chin propped in his hand. Westover could see that he meant what he was saying. "If there was any way, I'd do it. I know what you think of me, and I should be just like you, in your place. I don't feel right to turn you out here, I don't, Mr. Whitwell, and yet if I stay, I've got to do it. What's the reason I can't go?"

"You can't," said Whitwell, "and that's all about it. We shouldn't let you, if you could. But I a'n't surprised you feel the way you do," he added, unsparingly. "As you say, I should feel just so myself if I was in your place. Well, goodnight, Mr. Westover."

Whitwell turned and slouched down the hill, leaving the painter to the most painful moment he had known with Jeff Durgin, and nearer sympathy. "That's all right, Mr. Westover," Jeff said, "I don't blame him."

He remained in a constraint from which he presently broke with mocking hilarity when Jombateeste came round the corner of the house, as if he had been waiting for Whitwell to be gone, and told Jeff he must get somebody else to look after the horses.

"Why don't you wait and take the horses with you, Jombateeste?" he inquired. "They'll be handing in their resignation, the next thing. Why not go altogether?"

The little Canuck paused, as if uncertain whether he was made the object of unfriendly derision or not, and looked at Westover for help. Apparently he decided to chance it in as bitter an answer as he could invent. "The 'oss can't 'elp 'imself, Mr. Durgin. 'E stay. But you don' hown EVERYBODY."

"That's so, Jombateeste," said Jeff. "That's a good hit. It makes me feel awfully. Have a cigar?" The Canuck declined with a dignified bow, and Jeff said: "You don't smoke any more? Oh, I see! It's my tobacco you're down on. What's the matter, Jombateeste? What are you going away for?" Jeff lighted for himself the cigar the Canuck had refused, and smoked down upon the little man.

"Mr. W'itwell goin'," Jombateeste said, a little confused and daunted.

"What's Mr. Whitwell going for?"

"You hask Mr. W'itwell."

"All right. And if I can get him to stay will you stay too, Jombateeste? I don't like to see a rat leaving a ship; the ship's sure to sink, if he does. How do you suppose I'm going to run Lion's Head without you to throw down hay to the horses? It will be ruin to me, sure, Jombateeste. All the guests know how you play on the pitchfork out there, and they'll leave in a body if they hear you've quit. Do say you'll stay, and I'll reduce your wages one-half on the spot."

Jombateeste waited to hear no more injuries. He said: "You'll don' got money enough, Mr. Durgin, by gosh! to reduce my wages," and he started down the hill toward Whitwell's house with as great loftiness as could comport with a down-hill gait and his stature.

"Well, I seem to be getting it all round, Mr. Westover," said Jeff. "This must make you feel good. I don't know but I begin to believe there's a God in Israel, myself."

He walked away without saying good-night, and Westover went to bed without the chance of setting himself right. In the morning, when he came down to breakfast, and stopped at the desk to engage a conveyance for the station from Frank Whitwell the boy forestalled him with a grave face. "You don't know about Mrs. Durgin?"

"No; what about her?"

"Well, we can't tell exactly. Father thinks it's a shock; Jombateeste gone over to Lovewell for the doctor. Cynthia's with her. It seemed to come on in the night."

He spoke softly, that no one else might hear; but by noon the fact that Mrs. Durgin had been stricken with paralysis was all over the place. The gloom cast upon the opening season by Jackson's death was deepened among the guests. Some who had talked of staying through July went away that day. But under Cynthia's management the housekeeping was really unaffected by Mrs. Durgin's calamity, and the people who stayed found themselves as comfortable as ever. Jeff came fully into the hotel management, and in their business relation Cynthia and he were continually together; there was no longer a question of the Whitwells leaving him; even Jombateeste persuaded himself to stay, and Westover felt obliged to remain at least till the present danger in Mrs. Durgin's case was past.

With the first return of physical strength, Mrs. Durgin was impatient to be seen about the house, and to retrieve the season that her affliction had made so largely a loss. The people who had become accustomed to it stayed on, and the house filled up as she grew better, but even the sight of her in a wheeled chair did not bring back the prosperity of other years. She lamented over it with a keen and full perception of the fact, but in a cloudy association of it with the joint future of Jeff and Cynthia.

One day, after Mrs. Durgin had declared that she did not know what they were to do, if things kept on as they were going, Whitwell asked his daughter:

"Do you suppose she thinks you and Jeff have made it up again?"

"I don't know," said the girl, with a troubled voice, "and I don't know what to do about it. It don't seem as if I could tell her, and yet it's wrong to let her go on."

"Why didn't he tell her?" demanded her father. "'Ta'n't fair his leavin' it to you. But it's like him."

The sick woman's hold upon the fact weakened most when she was tired. When she was better, she knew how it was with them. Commonly it was when Cynthia had got her to bed for the night that she sent for Jeff, and wished to ask him what he was going to do. "You can't expect Cynthy to stay here another winter helpin' you, with Jackson away. You've got to either take her with you, or else come here yourself. Give up your last year in college, why don't you? I don't want you should stay, and I don't know who does. If I was in Cynthia's place, I'd let you work off your own conditions, now you've give up the law. She'll kill herself, tryin' to keep you along."

Sometimes her speech became so indistinct that no one but Cynthia could make it out; and Jeff, listening with a face as nearly discharged as might be of its laughing irony, had to turn to Cynthia for the word which no one else could catch, and which the stricken woman remained distressfully waiting for her to repeat to him, with her anxious eyes upon the girl's face. He was dutifully patient with all his mother's whims. He came whenever she sent for him, and sat quiet under the severities with which she visited all his past unworthiness. "Who you been hectorin' now, I should like to know," she began on him one evening when he came at her summons. "Between you and Fox, I got no peace of my life. Where is the dog?"

"Fox is all right, mother," Jeff responded. "You're feeling a little better to-night, a'n't you?"

"I don't know; I can't tell," she returned, with a gleam of intelligence in her eye. Then she said: "I don't see why I'm left to strangers all the time."

"You don't call Cynthia a stranger, do you, mother?" he asked, coaxingly.

"Oh—Cynthy!" said Mrs. Durgin, with a glance as of surprise at seeing her. "No, Cynthy's all right. But where's Jackson and your father? If I've told them not to be out in the dew once, I've told 'em a hundred times. Cynthy'd better look after her housekeepin' if she don't want the whole place to run behind, and not a soul left in the house. What time o' year is it now?" she suddenly asked, after a little weary pause.

"It's the last of August, mother."

"Oh," she sighed, "I thought it was the beginnin' of May. Didn't you come up here in May?"

"Yes."

"Well, then—Or, mebbe that's one o' them tormentin' dreams; they do pester so! What did you come for?"

Jeff was sitting on one side of her bed and Cynthia on the other: She was looking at the sufferer's face, and she did not meet the glance of amusement which Jeff turned upon her at being so fairly cornered. "Well, I don't know," he said. "I thought you might like to see me."

"What 'd he come for?"—the sick woman turned to Cynthia.

"You'd better tell her," said the girl, coldly, to Jeff. "She won't be satisfied till you do. She'll keep coming back to it."

"Well, mother," said Jeff, still with something of his hardy amusement, "I hadn't been acting just right, and I thought I'd better tell Cynthy."

"You better let the child alone. If I ever catch you teasin' them children again, I'll make Jackson shoot Fox."

"All right, mother," said Jeff.

She moved herself restively in bed. "What's this," she demanded of her son, "that Whitwell's tellin' about you and Cynthy breakin' it off?"

"Well, there was talk of that," said Jeff, passing his hand over his lips to keep back the smile that was stealing to them.

"Who done it?"

Cynthia kept her eyes on Jeff, who dropped his to his mother's face. "Cynthy did it; but I guess I gave her good enough reason."

"About that hussy in Boston? She was full more to blame than what you was. I don't see what Cynthy wanted to do it for on her account."

"I guess Cynthy was right."

Mrs. Durgin's speech had been thickening more and more. She now said something that Jeff could not understand. He looked involuntarily at Cynthia.

"She says she thinks I was hasty with you," the girl interpreted.

Jeff kept his eyes on hers, but he answered to his mother: "Not any more than I deserved. I hadn't any right to expect that she would stand it."

Again the sick woman tried to say something. Jeff made out a few syllables, and, after his mother had repeated her words, he had to look to Cynthia for help.

"She wants to know if it's all right now."

"What shall I say?" asked Jeff, huskily.

"Tell her the truth."

"What is the truth?"

"That we haven't made it up."

Jeff hesitated, and then said: "Well, not yet, mother," and he bent an entreating look upon Cynthia which she could not feel was wholly for himself. "I—I guess we can fix it, somehow. I behaved very badly to Cynthia."

"No, not to me!" the girl protested in an indignant burst.

"Not to that little scalawag, then!" cried Jeff. "If the wrong wasn't to you, there wasn't any wrong."

"It was to you!" Cynthia retorted.

"Oh, I guess I can stand it," said Jeff, and his smile now came to his lips and eyes.

His mother had followed their quick parley with eager looks, as if she were trying to keep her intelligence to its work concerning them. The effort seemed to exhaust her, and when she spoke again her words were so indistinct that even Cynthia could not understand them till she had repeated them several times.

Then the girl was silent, while the invalid kept an eager look upon her. She seemed to understand that Cynthia did not mean to speak; and the tears came into her eyes.

"Do you want me to know what she said?" asked Jeff, respectfully, reverently almost.

Cynthia said, gently: "She says that then you must show you didn't mean any harm to me, and that you cared for me, all through, and you didn't care for anybody else."

"Thank you," said Jeff, and he turned to his mother. "I'll do everything I can to make Cynthy believe that, mother."

The girl broke into tears and went out of the room. She sent in the night-watcher, and then Jeff took leave of his mother with an unwonted kiss.

Into the shadow of a starlit night he saw the figure he had been waiting for glide out of the glitter of the hotel lights. He followed it down the road.

"Cynthia!" he called; and when he came up with her he asked: "What's the reason we can't make it true? Why can't you believe what mother wants me to make you?"

Cynthia stopped, as her wont was when she wished to speak seriously. "Do you ask that for my sake or hers?"

"For both your sakes."

"I thought so. You ought to have asked it for your own sake, Jeff, and then I might have been fool enough to believe you. But now—"

She started swiftly down the hill again, and this time he did not try to follow her.

William Dean Howells