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Chapter 9

IX.

Westover, received next spring the copy for an advertisement from Mrs. Durgin, which she asked to have him put in some paper for her. She said that her son Jackson had written it out, and Westover found it so well written that he had scarcely to change the wording. It offered the best of farm-board, with plenty of milk and eggs, berries and fruit, for five dollars a week at Lion's Head Farm, and it claimed for the farm the merit of the finest view of the celebrated Lion's Head Mountain. It was signed, as her letter was signed, "Mrs. J. M. Durgin," with her post-office address, and it gave Westover as a reference.

The letter was in the same handwriting as the advertisement, which he took to be that of Jackson Durgin. It enclosed a dollar note to pay for three insertions of the advertisement in the evening Transcript, and it ended, almost casually: "I do not know as you have heard that my husband, James Monroe Durgin, passed to spirit life this spring. My son will help me to run the house."

This death could not move Westover more than it had apparently moved the widow. During the three weeks he had passed under his roof, he had scarcely exchanged three words with James Monroe Durgin, who remained to him an impression of large, round, dull-blue eyes, a stubbly upper lip, and cheeks and chin tagged with coarse, hay-colored beard. The impression was so largely the impression that he had kept of the dull-blue eyes and the gaunt, slanted figure of Andrew Jackson Durgin that he could not be very distinct in his sense of which was now the presence and which the absence. He remembered, with an effort, that the son's beard was straw-colored, but he had to make no effort to recall the robust effect of Mrs. Durgin and her youngest son. He wondered now, as he had often wondered before, whether she knew of the final violence which had avenged the boy for the prolonged strain of repression Jeff had inflicted upon himself during Westover's stay at the farm. After several impulses to go back and beat him, to follow him to school and expose him to the teacher, to write to his mother and tell her of his misbehavior, Westover had decided to do nothing. As he had come off unhurt in person and property, he could afford to be more generously amused than if he had suffered damage in either. The more he thought of the incident, the more he was disposed to be lenient with the boy, whom he was aware of having baffled and subdued by his superior wit and virtue in perhaps intolerable measure. He could not quite make out that it was an act of bad faith; there was no reason to think that the good-natured things the fellow had done, the constant little offices of zeal and friendliness, were less sincere than this violent outbreak.

The letter from Lion's Head Farm brought back his three weeks there very vividly, and made Westover wish he was going there for the summer. But he was going over to France for an indefinite period of work in the only air where he believed modern men were doing good things in the right way. He W a sale in the winter, and he had sold pictures enough to provide the means for this sojourn abroad; though his lion's Head Mountain had not brought the two hundred and fifty or three hundred dollars he had hoped for. It brought only a hundred and sixty; but the time had almost come already when Westover thought it brought too much. Now, the letter from Mrs. Durgin reminded him that he had never sent her the photograph of the picture which he had promised her. He encased the photograph at once, and wrote to her with many avowals of contrition for his neglect, and strong regret that he was not soon to see the original of the painting again. He paid a decent reverence to the bereavement she had suffered, and he sent his regards to all, especially his comrade Jeff, whom he advised to keep out of the apple-orchard.

Five years later Westover came home in the first week of a gasping August, whose hot breath thickened round the Cunarder before she got half-way up the harbor. He waited only to see his pictures through the custom-house, and then he left for the mountains. The mountains meant Lion's Head for him, and eight hours after he was dismounting from the train at a station on the road which had been pushed through on a new line within four miles of the farm. It was called Lion's Head House now, as he read on the side of the mountain-wagon which he saw waiting at the platform, and he knew at a glance that it was Jeff Durgin who was coming forward to meet him and take his hand-bag.

The boy had been the prophecy of the man in even a disappointing degree. Westover had fancied him growing up to the height of his father and brother, but Jeff Durgin's stalwart frame was notable for strength rather than height. He could not have been taller than his mother, whose stature was above the standard of her sex, but he was massive without being bulky. His chest was deep, his square shoulders broad, his powerful legs bore him with a backward bulge of the calves that showed through his shapely trousers; he caught up the trunks and threw them into the baggage-wagon with a swelling of the muscles on his short, thick arms which pulled his coat-sleeves from his heavy wrists and broad, short hands.

He had given one of these to Westover to shake when they met, but with something conditional in his welcome, and with a look which was not so much furtive as latent. The thatch of yellow hair he used to wear was now cropped close to his skull, which was a sort of dun-color; and it had some drops of sweat along the lighter edge where his hat had shaded his forehead. He put his hat on the seat between himself and Westover, and drove away from the station bareheaded, to cool himself after his bout with the baggage, which was following more slowly in its wagon. There was a good deal of it, and there were half a dozen people—women, of course—going to Lion's Head House. Westover climbed to the place beside Jeff to let them have the other two seats to themselves, and to have a chance of talking; but the ladies had to be quieted in their several anxieties concerning their baggage, and the letters and telegrams they had sent about their rooms, before they settled down to an exchange of apprehensions among themselves, and left Jeff Durgin free to listen to Westover.

"I don't know but I ought to have telegraphed you that I was coming," Westover said; "but I couldn't realize that you were doing things on the hotel scale. Perhaps you won't have room for me?"

"Guess we can put you up," said Jeff.

"No chance of getting my old room, I suppose?"

"I shouldn't wonder. If there's any one in it, I guess mother could change 'em."

"Is that so?" asked Westover, with a liking for being liked, which his tone expressed. "How is your mother?"

Jeff seemed to think a moment before he answered:

"Just exactly the same."

"A little older?"

"Not as I can see."

"Does she hate keeping a hotel as badly as she expected?"

"That's what she says," answered Jeff, with a twinkle. All the time, while he was talking with Westover, he was breaking out to his horses, which he governed with his voice, trotting them up hill and down, and walking them on the short, infrequent levels, in the mountain fashion.

Westover almost feared to ask: "And how is Jackson?"

"First-rate—that is, for him. He's as well as ever he was, I guess, and he don't appear a day older. You've changed some," said Jeff, with a look round at Westover.

"Yes; I'm twenty-nine now, and I wear a heavier beard." Westover noticed that Jeff was clean shaved of any sign of an approaching beard, and artistically he rejoiced in the fellow's young, manly beauty, which was very regular and sculpturesque. "You're about eighteen?"

"Nearer nineteen."

"Is Jackson as much interested in the other world as he used to be?"

"Spirits?"

"Yes."

"I guess he keeps it up with Mr. Whitwell. He don't say much about it at home. He keeps all the books, and helps mother run the house. She couldn't very well get along without him."

"And where do you come in?"

"Well, I look after the transportation," said Jeff, with a nod toward his horses—"when I'm at home, that is. I've been at the Academy in Lovewell the last three winters, and that means a good piece of the summer, too, first and last. But I guess I'll let mother talk to you about that."

"All right," said Westover. "What I don't know about education isn't worth knowing."

Jeff laughed, and said to the off horse, which seemed to know that he was meant: "Get up, there!"

"And Cynthia? Is Cynthia at home?" Westover asked.

"Yes; they're all down in the little wood-colored house yet. Cynthia teaches winters, and summers she helps mother. She has charge of the dining-room."

"Does Franky cry as much as ever?"

"No, Frank's a fine boy. He's in the house, too. Kind of bell-boy."

"And you haven't worked Mr. Whitwell in anywhere?"

"Well, he talks to the ladies, and takes parties of 'em mountain-climbing. I guess we couldn't get along without Mr. Whitwell. He talks religion to 'em." He cast a mocking glance at Westover over his shoulder. "Women seem to like religion, whether they belong to church or not."

Westover laughed and asked: "And Fox? How's Fox?"

"Well," said Jeff, "we had to give Fox away. He was always cross with the boarders' children. My brother was on from Colorado, and he took Fox back with him."

"I didn't suppose," said Westover, "that I should have been sorry to miss Fox. But I guess I shall be."

Jeff seemed to enjoy the implication of his words. "He wasn't a bad dog. He was stupid."

When they arrived at the foot of the lane, mounting to the farm, Westover saw what changes had been made in the house. There were large additions, tasteless and characterless, but giving the rooms that were needed. There was a vulgar modernity in the new parts, expressed with a final intensity in the four-light windows, which are esteemed the last word of domestic architecture in the country. Jeff said nothing as they approached the house, but Westover said: "Well, you've certainly prospered. You're quite magnificent."

They reached the old level in front of the house, artificially widened out of his remembrance, with a white flag-pole planted at its edge, and he looked up at the front of the house, which was unchanged, except that it had been built a story higher back of the old front, and discovered the window of his old room. He could hardly wait to get his greetings over with Mrs. Durgin and Jackson, who both showed a decorous pleasure and surprise at his coming, before he asked:

"And could you let me have my own room, Mrs. Durgin?"

"Why, yes," she said, "if you don't want something a little nicer."

"I don't believe you've got anything nicer," Westover said.

"All right, if you think so," she retorted. "You can have the old room, anyway."

William Dean Howells