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Chapter 6

VI.

The men folks had finished their breakfast and gone to their farm-work hours before Westover came down to his breakfast, but the boy seemed to be of as much early leisure as himself, and was lounging on the threshold of the back door, with his dog in waiting upon him. He gave the effect of yesterday's cleanliness freshened up with more recent soap and water. At the moment Westover caught sight of him, he heard his mother calling to him from the kitchen, "Well, now, come in and get your breakfast, Jeff," and the boy called to Westover, in turn, "I'll tell her you're here," as he rose and came in-doors. "I guess she's got your breakfast for you."

Mrs. Durgin brought the breakfast almost as soon as Westover had found his way to the table, and she lingered as if for some expression of his opinion upon it. The biscuit and the butter were very good, and he said so; the eggs were fresh, and the hash from yesterday's corned-beef could not have been better, and he praised them; but he was silent about the coffee.

"It a'n't very good," she suggested.

"Why, I'm used to making my own coffee; I lived so long in a country where it's nearly the whole of breakfast that I got into the habit of it, and I always carry my little machine with me; but I don't like to bring it out, unless—"

"Unless you can't stand the other folks's," said the woman, with a humorous gleam. "Well, you needn't mind me. I want you should have good coffee, and I guess I a'n't too old to learn, if you want to show me. Our folks don't care for it much; they like tea; and I kind of got out of the way of it. But at home we had to have it." She explained, to his inquiring glance.

"My father kept the tavern on the old road to St. Albans, on the other side of Lion's Head. That's where I always lived till I married here."

"Oh," said Westover, and he felt that she had proudly wished to account for a quality which she hoped he had noticed in her cooking. He thought she might be going to tell him something more of herself, but she only said, "Well, any time you want to show me your way of makin' coffee," and went out of the room.

That evening, which was the close of another flawless day, he sat again watching the light outside, when he saw her come into the hallway with a large shade-lamp in her hand. She stopped at the door of a room he had not seen yet, and looked out at him to ask:

"Won't you come in and set in the parlor if you want to?"

He found her there when he came in, and her two sons with her; the younger was sleepily putting away some school-books, and the elder seemed to have been helping him with his lessons.

"He's got to begin school next week," she said to Westover; and at the preparations the other now began to make with a piece of paper and a planchette which he had on the table before him, she asked, in the half-mocking, half-deprecating way which seemed characteristic of her: "You believe any in that?"

"I don't know that I've ever seen it work," said the painter.

"Well, sometimes it won't work," she returned, altogether mockingly now, and sat holding her shapely hands, which were neither so large nor so rough as they might have been, across her middle and watching her son while the machine pushed about under his palm, and he bent his wan eyes upon one of the oval-framed photographs on the wall, as if rapt in a supernal vision. The boy stared drowsily at the planchette, jerking this way and that, and making abrupt starts and stops. At last the young man lifted his palm from it, and put it aside to study the hieroglyphics it had left on the paper.

"What's it say?" asked his mother.

The young man whispered: "I can't seem to make out very clear. I guess I got to take a little time to it," he added, leaning back wearily in his chair. "Ever seen much of the manifestations?" he gasped at Westover.

"Never any, before," said the painter, with a leniency for the invalid which he did not feel for his belief.

The young man tried for his voice, and found enough of it to say: "There's a trance medium over at the Huddle. Her control says 't I can develop into a writin' medium." He seemed to refer the fact as a sort of question to Westover, who could think of nothing to say but that it must be very interesting to feel that one had such a power.

"I guess he don't know he's got it yet," his mother interposed. "And planchette don't seem to know, either."

"We ha'n't given it a fair trial yet," said the young man, impartially, almost impassively.

"Wouldn't you like to see it do some of your sums, Jeff?" said the mother to the drowsy boy, blinking in a corner. "You better go to bed."

The elder brother rose. "I guess I'll go, too."

The father had not joined their circle in the parlor, now breaking up by common consent.

Mrs. Durgin took up her lamp again and looked round on the appointments of the room, as if she wished Westover to note them, too: the drab wallpaper, the stiff chairs, the long, hard sofa in haircloth, the high bureau of mahogany veneer.

"You can come in here and set or lay down whenever you feel like it," she said. "We use it more than folks generally, I presume; we got in the habit, havin' it open for funerals."

William Dean Howells