This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks at the end of each file for those who may wish to sample the author’s ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
THE LANDLORD AT LION’S HEAD
By William Dean Howells
Jackson kept his promise to write to Westover, but he was better than his word to his mother, and wrote to her every week that winter.
“I seem just to live from letter to letter. It’s ridic’lous,” she said to Cynthia once when the girl brought the mail in from the barn, where the men folks kept it till they had put away their horses after driving over from Lovewell with it. The trains on the branch road were taken off in the winter, and the post-office at the hotel was discontinued. The men had to go to the town by cutter, over a highway that the winds sifted half full of snow after it had been broken out by the ox-teams in the morning. But Mrs. Durgin had studied the steamer days and calculated the time it would take letters to come from New York to Lovewell; and, unless a blizzard was raging, some one had to go for the mail when the day came. It was usually Jombateeste, who reverted in winter to the type of habitant from which he had sprung. He wore a blue woollen cap, like a large sock, pulled over his ears and close to his eyes, and below it his clean-shaven brown face showed. He had blue woollen mittens, and boots of russet leather, without heels, came to his knees; he got a pair every time he went home on St. John’s day. His lean little body was swathed in several short jackets, and he brought the letters buttoned into one of the innermost pockets. He produced the letter from Jackson promptly enough when Cynthia came out to the barn for it, and then he made a show of getting his horse out of the cutter shafts, and shouting international reproaches at it, till she was forced to ask, “Haven’t you got something for me, Jombateeste?”
“You expec’ some letter?” he said, unbuckling a strap and shouting louder.
“You know whether I do. Give it to me.”
“I don’ know. I think I drop something on the road. I saw something white; maybe snow; good deal of snow.”
“Don’t plague! Give it here!”
“Wait I finish unhitch. I can’t find any letter till I get some time to look.”
“Oh, now, Jombateeste! Give me my letter!”
“W’at you want letter for? Always same thing. Well! ‘Old the ‘oss; I goin’ to feel.”
Jombateeste felt in one pocket after another, while Cynthia clung to the colt’s bridle, and he was uncertain till the last whether he had any letter for her. When it appeared she made a flying snatch at it and ran; and the comedy was over, to be repeated in some form the next week.
The girl somehow always possessed herself of what was in her letters before she reached the room where Mrs. Durgin was waiting for hers. She had to read that aloud to Jackson’s mother, and in the evening she had to read it again to Mrs. Durgin and Whitwell and Jombateeste and Frank, after they had done their chores, and they had gathered in the old farm- house parlor, around the air-tight sheet-iron stove, in a heat of eighty degrees. Whitwell listened, with planchette ready on the table before him, and he consulted it for telepathic impressions of Jackson’s actual mental state when the reading was over.
He got very little out of the perverse instrument. “I can’t seem to work her. If Jackson was here–“
“We shouldn’t need to ask planchette about him,” Cynthia once suggested, with the spare sense of humor that sometimes revealed itself in her.
“Well, I guess that’s something so,” her father candidly admitted. But the next time he consulted the helpless planchette as hopefully as before. “You can’t tell, you can’t tell,” he urged.
“The trouble seems to be that planchette can’t tell,” said Mrs. Durgin, and they all laughed. They were not people who laughed a great deal, and they were each intent upon some point in the future that kept them from pleasure in the present. The little Canuck was the only one who suffered himself a contemporaneous consolation. His early faith had so far lapsed from him that he could hospitably entertain the wild psychical conjectures of Whitwell without an accusing sense of heresy, and he found the winter of northern New England so mild after that of Lower Canada that he experienced a high degree of animal comfort in it, and looked forward to nothing better. To be well fed, well housed, and well heated; to smoke successive pipes while the others talked, and to catch through his smoke-wreaths vague glimpses of their meanings, was enough. He felt that in being promoted to the care of the stables in Jackson’s absence he occupied a dignified and responsible position, with a confidential relation to the exile which justified him in sending special messages to him, and attaching peculiar value to Jackson’s remembrances.
The exile’s letters said very little about his health, which in the sense of no news his mother held to be good news, but they were full concerning the monuments and the ethnological interest of life in Egypt.
They were largely rescripts of each day’s observations and experiences, close and full, as his mother liked them in regard to fact, and generously philosophized on the side of politics and religion for Whitwell. The Eastern question became in the snow-choked hills of New England the engrossing concern of this speculative mind, and he was apt to spring it upon Mrs. Durgin and Cynthia at mealtimes and other defenceless moments. He tried to debate it with Jombateeste, who conceived of it as a form of spiritualistic inquiry, and answered from the hay-loft, where he was throwing down fodder for the cattle to Whitwell, volubly receiving it on the barn floor below, that he believed, him, everybody got a hastral body, English same as Mormons.
“Guess you mean Moslems,” said Whitwell, and Jombateeste asked the difference, defiantly.
The letters which came to Cynthia could not be made as much a general interest, and, in fact, no one else cared so much for them as for Jackson’s letters, not even Jeff’s mother. After Cynthia got one of them, she would ask, perfunctorily, what Jeff said, but when she was told there was no news she did not press her question.
“If Jackson don’t get back in time next summer,” Mrs. Durgin said, in one of the talks she had with the girl, “I guess I shall have to let Jeff and you run the house alone.”
“I guess we shall want a little help from you,” said Cynthia, demurely. She did not refuse the implication of Mrs. Durgin’s words, but she would not assume that there was more in them than they expressed.
When Jeff came home for the three days’ vacation at Thanksgiving, he wished again to relinquish his last year at Harvard, and Cynthia had to summon all her forces to keep him to his promise of staying. He brought home the books with which he was working off his conditions, with a half- hearted intention of study, and she took hold with him, and together they fought forward over the ground he had to gain. His mother was almost willing at last that he should give up his last year in college.
“What is the use?” she asked. “He’s give up the law, and he might as well commence here first as last, if he’s goin’ to.”
The girl had no reason to urge against this; she could only urge her feeling that he ought to go back and take his degree with the rest of his class.
“If you’re going to keep Lion’s Head the way you pretend you are,” she said to him, as she could not say to his mother, “you want to keep all your Harvard friends, don’t you, and have them remember you? Go back, Jeff, and don’t you come here again till after you’ve got your degree. Never mind the Christmas vacation, nor the Easter. Stay in Cambridge and work off your conditions. You can do it, if you try. Oh, don’t you suppose I should like to have you here?” she reproached him.
He went back, with a kind of grudge in his heart, which he confessed in his first letter home to her, when he told her that she was right and he was wrong. He was sure now, with the impulse which their work on them in common had given him, that he should get his conditions off, and he wanted her and his mother to begin preparing their minds to come to his Class Day. He planned how they could both be away from the hotel for that day. The house was to be opened on the 20th of June, but it was not likely that there would be so many people at once that they could not give the 21st to Class Day; Frank and his father could run Lion’s Head somehow, or, if they could not, then the opening could be postponed till the 24th. At all events, they must not fail to come. Cynthia showed the whole letter to his mother, who refused to think of such a thing, and then asked, as if the fact had not been fully set before her: “When is it to be?”
“The 21st of June.”
“Well, he’s early enough with his invitation,” she grumbled.
“Yes, he is,” said Cynthia; and she laughed for shame and pleasure as she confessed, “I was thinking he was rather late.”
She hung her head and turned her face away. But Mrs. Durgin understood. “You be’n expectin’ it all along, then.”
“I guess so.”
“I presume,” said the elder woman, “that he’s talked to you about it. He never tells me much. I don’t see why you should want to go. What’s it like?”
“Oh, I don’t know. But it’s the day the graduating class have to themselves, and all their friends come.”
“Well, I don’t know why anybody should want to go,” said Mrs. Durgin. “I sha’n’t. Tell him he won’t want to own me when he sees me. What am I goin’ to wear, I should like to know? What you goin’ to wear, Cynthy?”
Jeff’s place at Harvard had been too long fixed among the jays to allow the hope of wholly retrieving his condition now. It was too late for him to be chosen in any of the nicer clubs or societies, but he was not beyond the mounting sentiment of comradery, which begins to tell in the last year among college men, and which had its due effect with his class. One of the men, who had always had a foible for humanity, took advantage of the prevailing mood in another man, and wrought upon him to ask, among the fellows he was asking to a tea at his rooms, several fellows who were distinctly and almost typically jay. The tea was for the aunt of the man who gave it, a very pretty woman from New York, and it was so richly qualified by young people of fashion from Boston that the infusion of the jay flavor could not spoil it, if it would not rather add an agreeable piquancy. This college mood coincided that year with a benevolent emotion in the larger world, from which fashion was not exempt. Society had just been stirred by the reading of a certain book, which had then a very great vogue, and several people had been down among the wretched at the North End doing good in a conscience-stricken effort to avert the millennium which the book in question seemed to threaten. The lady who matronized the tea was said to have done more good than you could imagine at the North End, and she caught at the chance to meet the college jays in a spirit of Christian charity. When the man who was going to give the tea rather sheepishly confessed what the altruistic man had got him in for, she praised him so much that he went away feeling like the hero of a holy cause. She promised the assistance and sympathy of several brave girls, who would not be afraid of all the jays in college.
After all, only one of the jays came. Not many, in fact, had been asked, and when Jeff Durgin actually appeared, it was not known that he was both the first and the last of his kind. The lady who was matronizing the tea recognized him, with a throe of her quickened conscience, as the young fellow whom she had met two winters before at the studio tea which Mr. Westover had given to those queer Florentine friends of his, and whom she had never thought of since, though she had then promised herself to do something for him. She had then even given him some vague hints of a prospective hospitality, and she confessed her sin of omission in a swift but graphic retrospect to one of her brave girls, while Jeff stood blocking out a space for his stalwart bulk amid the alien elegance just within the doorway, and the host was making his way toward him, with an outstretched hand of hardy welcome.
At an earlier period of his neglect and exclusion, Jeff would not have responded to the belated overture which had now been made him, for no reason that he could divine. But he had nothing to lose by accepting the invitation, and he had promised the altruistic man, whom he rather liked; he did not dislike the giver of the tea so much as some other men, and so he came.
The brave girl whom the matron was preparing to devote to him stood shrinking with a trepidation which she could not conceal at sight of his strange massiveness, with his rust-gold hair coming down toward his thick yellow brows and mocking blue eyes in a dense bang, and his jaw squaring itself under the rather insolent smile of his full mouth. The matron felt that her victim teas perhaps going to fail her, when a voice at her ear said, as if the question were extorted, “Who in the world is that?”
She instantly turned, and flashed out in a few inspired syllables the fact she had just imparted to her treacherous heroine. “Do let me introduce him, Miss Lynde. I must do something for him, when he gets up to me, if he ever does.”
“By all means,” said the girl, who had an impulse to laugh at the rude force of Jeff’s face and figure, so disproportioned to the occasion, and she vented it at the matron’s tribulation. The matron was shaking hands with people right and left, and exchanging inaudible banalities with them. She did not know what the girl said in answer, but she was aware that she remained near her. She had professed her joy at seeing Jeff again, when he reached her, and she turned with him and said, “Let me present you to Miss Lynde, Mr. Durgin,” and so abandoned them to each other.
As Jeff had none of the anxiety for social success which he would have felt at an earlier period, he now left it to Miss Lynde to begin the talk, or not, as she chose. He bore himself with so much indifference that she was piqued to an effort to hold his eyes, that wandered from her to this face and that in the crowd.
“Do you find many people you know, Mr. Durgin?”
“I don’t find any.”
“I supposed you didn’t from the way you looked at them.”
“How did I look at them?”
“As if you wanted to eat them, and one never wants to eat one’s friends.”
“Oh, I don’t know. They wouldn’t agree with one.”
Jeff laughed, and he now took fuller note of the slender girl who stood before him, and swayed a little backward, in a graceful curve. He saw that she had a dull, thick complexion, with liquid eyes, set wide apart and slanted upward slightly, and a nose that was deflected inward from the straight line; but her mouth was beautiful and vividly red like a crimson blossom.
“Couldn’t you find me some place to sit down, Mr. Durgin?” she asked.
He had it on his tongue to say, “Well, not unless you want to sit down on some enemy,” but he did not venture this: when it comes to daring of that sort, the boldest man is commonly a little behind a timid woman.
Several of the fellows had clubbed their rooms, and lent them to the man who was giving the tea; he used one of the apartments for a cloak-room, and he meant the other for the social overflow from his own. But people always prefer to remain dammed-up together in the room where they are received, and Miss Lynde looked between the neighboring heads, and over the neighboring shoulders, and saw the borrowed apartment quite empty. At the moment of this discovery the host came fighting his way up to make sure that Jeff had been provided for in the way of introductions. He promptly introduced him to Miss Lynde. She said: “Oh, that’s been done! Can’t you think of something new?” Jeff liked the style of this. “I don’t mind it, but I’m afraid Mr. Durgin must find it monotonous.”
“Oh, well, do something original yourself, then, Miss Lynde!” said the host. “Start a movement for that room across the passage; that’s mine, too, for the occasion; and save some of these people’s lives. It’s suffocating in here.”
“I don’t mind saving Mr. Durgin’s,” said the girl, “if he wants it saved.”
“Oh, I know he’s just dying to have you save it,” said the host, and he left them, to inspire other people to follow their example. But such as glanced across the passage into the overflow room seemed to think it now the possession solely of the pioneers of the movement. At any rate, they made no show of joining them; and after Miss Lynde and Jeff had looked at the pictures on the walls and the photographs on the mantel of the room where they found themselves, they sat down on chairs fronting the open door and the door of the room they had left. The window-seat would have been more to Jeff’s mind, and he had proposed it, but the girl seemed not to have heard him; she took the deep easy-chair in full view of the company opposite, and left him to pull up a chair beside her.
“I always like to see the pictures in a man’s room,” she said, with a little sigh of relief from their inspection and a partial yielding of her figure to the luxury of the chair. “Then I know what the man is. This man–I don’t know whose room it is–seems to have spent a good deal of his time at the theatre.”
“Isn’t that where most of them spend their time?” asked Jeff.
“I’m sure I don’t know. Is that where you spend yours?”
“It used to be. I’m not spending my time anywhere just now.” She looked questioningly, and he added, “I haven’t got any to spend.”
“Oh, indeed! Is that a reason? Why don’t you spend somebody else’s?”
“Nobody has any, that I know.”
“You’re all working off conditions, you mean?”
“That’s what I’m doing, or trying to.”
“Then it’s never certain whether you can do it, after all?”
“Not so certain as to be free from excitement,” said Jeff, smiling.
“And are you consumed with the melancholy that seems to be balling up all the men at the prospect of having to leave Harvard and go out into the hard, cold world?”
“I don’t look it, do I? Jeff asked:
“No, you don’t. And you don’t feel it? You’re not trying concealment, and so forth?”
“No; if I’d had my own way, I’d have left Harvard before this.” He could see that his bold assumption of difference, or indifference, told upon her. “I couldn’t get out into the hard, cold world too soon.”
“How fearless! Most of them don’t know what they’re going to do in it.”
“And what are you going to do? Or perhaps you think that’s asking!”
“Oh no. I’m going to keep a hotel.”
He had hoped to startle her, but she asked, rather quietly, “What do you mean?” and she added, as if to punish him for trying to mystify her: “I’ve heard that it requires gifts for that. Isn’t there some proverb?”
“Yes. But I’m going to try to do it on experience.” He laughed, and he did not mind her trying to hit him, for he saw that be had made her curious.
“Do you mean that you have kept a hotel?”
“For three generations,” he returned, with a gravity that mocked her from his bold eyes.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” she said, indifferently. “Where is your hotel? In Boston–New York–Chicago?”
“It’s in the country–it’s a summer hotel,” he said, as before.
She looked away from him toward the other room. “There’s my brother. I didn’t know he was coming.”
“Shall I go and tell him where you are?” Jeff asked, following the direction of her eyes.
“No, no; he can find me,” said the girl, sinking back in her chair again. He left her to resume the talk where she chose, and she said: “If it’s something ancestral, of course–“
“I don’t know as it’s that, exactly. My grandfather used to keep a country tavern, and so it’s in the blood, but the hotel I mean is something that we’ve worked up into from a farm boarding-house.”
“You don’t talk like a country person,” the girl broke in, abruptly.
“Not in Cambridge. I do in the country.”
“And so,” she prompted, “you’re going to turn it into a hotel when you’ve got out of Harvard.”
“It’s a hotel already, and a pretty big one; but I’m going to make the right kind of hotel of it when I take hold of it.”
“And what is the right kind of a hotel?”
“That’s a long story. It would make you tired.”
“It might, but we’ve got to spend the time somehow. You could begin, and then if I couldn’t stand it you could stop.”
“It’s easier to stop first and begin some other time. I guess I’ll let you imagine my hotel, Miss Lynde.”
“Oh, I understand now,” said the girl. “The table will be the great thing. You will stuff people.”
“Do you mean that I’m trying to stuff you?”
“How do I know? You never can tell what men really mean.”
Jeff laughed with mounting pleasure in her audacity, that imparted a sense of tolerance for him such as he had experienced very seldom from the Boston girls he had met; after all, he had met but few. It flattered him to have her doubt what he had told her in his reckless indifference; it implied that he was fit for better things than hotel-keeping.
“You never can tell how much a woman believes,” he retorted.
“And you keep trying to find out?”
“No, but I think that they might believe the truth.”
“You’d better try them with it!”
“Well, I will. Do you really want to know what I’m going to do when I get through?”
“Let me see!” Miss Lynde leaned forward, with her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand, and softly kicked the edge of her skirt with the toe of her shoe, as if in deep thought. Jeff waited for her to play her comedy through. “Yes,” she said, “I think I did wish to know–at one time.”
“But you don’t now?”
“Now? How can I tell? It was a great while ago!”
“I see you don’t.”
Miss Lynde did not make any reply. She asked, “Do you know my aunt, Durgin?”
“I didn’t know you had one.”
“Yes, everybody has an aunt–even when they haven’t a mother, if you can believe the Gilbert operas. I ask because I happen to live with my aunt, and if you knew her she might–ask you to call.” Miss Lynde scanned Jeff’s face for the effect of this.
He said, gravely: “If you’ll introduce me to her, I’ll ask her to let me.”
“Would you, really?” said the girl. “I’ve half a mind to try. I wonder if you’d really have the courage.”
“I don’t think I’m easily rattled.”
“You mean that I’m trying to rattle you.”
“I’m not. My aunt is just what I’ve said.”
“You haven’t said what she was. Is she here?”
“No; that’s the worst of it. If she were, I should introduce you, just to see if you’d dare. Well, some other time I will.”
“You think there’ll be some other time?” Jeff asked.
“I don’t know. There are all kinds of times. By-the-way, what time is it?”
Jeff looked at his watch. “Quarter after six.”
“Then I must go.” She jumped to her feet, and faced about for a glimpse of herself in the little glass on the mantel, and put her hand on the large pink roses massed at her waist. One heavy bud dropped from its stem to the floor, where, while she stood, the edge of her skirt pulled and pushed it. She moved a little aside to peer over at a photograph. Jeff stooped and picked up the flower, which he offered her.
“You dropped it,” he said, bowing over it.
“Did I?” She looked at it with an effect of surprise and doubt.
“I thought so, but if you don’t, I shall keep it.”
The girl removed her careless eyes from it. “When they break off so short, they won’t go back.”
“If I were a rose, I should want to go back,” said Jeff.
She stopped in one of her many aversions and reversions, and looked at him steadily across her shoulder. “You won’t have to keep a poet, Mr. Durgin.”
“Thank you. I always expected to write the circulars myself. I’ll send you one.”
“With this rose pressed between the leaves, so you’ll know.”
“That would, be very pretty. But you must take me to Mrs. Bevidge, now, if you can.”
“I guess I can,” said Jeff; and in a minute or two they stood before the matronizing hostess, after a passage through the babbling and laughing groups that looked as impossible after they had made it as it looked before.
Mrs. Bevidge gave the girl’s hand a pressure distinct from the official touch of parting, and contrived to say, for her hearing alone: “Thank you so much, Bessie. You’ve done missionary work.”
“I shouldn’t call it that.”
“It will do for you to say so! He wasn’t really so bad, then? Thank you again, dear!”
Jeff had waited his turn. But now, after the girl had turned away, as if she had forgotten him, his eyes followed her, and he did not know that Mrs. Bevidge was speaking to him. Miss Lynde had slimly lost herself in the mass, till she was only a graceful tilt of hat, before she turned with a distraught air. When her eyes met Jeff’s they lighted up with a look that comes into the face when one remembers what one has been trying to think of. She gave him a brilliant smile that seemed to illumine him from head to foot, and before it was quenched he felt as if she had kissed her hand to him from her rich mouth.
Then he heard Mrs. Bevidge asking something about a hall, and he was aware of her bending upon him a look of the daring humanity that had carried her triumphantly through her good works at the North End.
“Oh, I’m not in the Yard,” said Jeff, with belated intelligence.
“Then will just Cambridge reach you?”
He gave his number and street, and she thanked him with the benevolence that availed so much with the lower classes. He went away thrilling and tingling, with that girl’s tones in his ear, her motions in his nerves, and the colors of her face filling his sight, which he printed on the air whenever he turned, as one does with a vivid light after looking at it.
When Jeff reached his room he felt the need of writing to Cynthia, with whatever obscure intention of atonement. He told her of the college tea he had just come from, and made fun of it, and the kind of people he had met, especially the affected girl who had tried to rattle him; he said he guessed she did not think she had rattled him a great deal.
While he wrote he kept thinking how this Miss Lynde was nearer his early ideal of fashion, of high life, which Westover had pretty well snubbed out of him, than any woman he had seen yet; she seemed a girl who would do what she pleased, and would not be afraid if it did not please other people. He liked her having tried to rattle him, and he smiled to himself in recalling her failure. It was as if she had laid hold of him with her little hands to shake him, and had shaken herself. He laughed out in the dark when this image came into his mind; its intimacy flattered him; and he believed that it was upon some hint from her that Mrs. Bevidge had asked his address. She must be going to ask him to her house, and very soon, for it was part of Jeff’s meagre social experience that this was the way swells did; they might never ask you twice, but they would ask you promptly.
The thing that Mrs. Bevidge asked Jeff to, when her note reached him the second day after the tea, was a meeting to interest young people in the work at the North End, and Jeff swore under his breath at the disappointment and indignity put upon him. He had reckoned upon an afternoon tea, at least, or even, in the flights of fancy which he now disowned to himself, a dance after the Mid-Years, or possibly an earlier reception of some sort. He burned with shame to think of a theatre- party, which he had fondly specialized, with a seat next Miss Lynde.
He tore Mrs. Bevidge’s note to pieces, and decided not to answer it at all, as the best way of showing how he had taken her invitation. But Mrs. Bevidge’s benevolence was not wanting in courage; she believed that Jeff should pay his footing in society, such as it was, and should allow himself to be made use of, the first thing; when she had no reply from him, she wrote him again, asking him to an adjourned meeting of the first convocation, which had been so successful in everything but numbers. This time she baited her hook, in hoping that the young men would feel something of the interest the young ladies had already shown in the matter. She expressed the fear that Mr. Durgin had not got her earlier letter, and she sent this second to the care of the man who had given the tea.
Jeff’s resentment was now so far past that he would have civilly declined to go to the woman’s house; but all his hopes of seeing that girl, as he always called Miss Lynde in his thought, were revived by the mention of the young ladies interested in the cause. He accepted, though all the way into Boston he laid wagers with himself that she would not be there; and up to the moment of taking her hand he refused himself any hope of winning.
There was not much business before the meeting; that had really been all transacted before; it was mainly to make sure of the young men, who were present in the proportion of one to five young ladies at least. Mrs. Bevidge explained that she had seen the wastefulness of amateur effort among the poor, and announced that hereafter she was going to work with the established charities. These were very much in want of visitors, especially young men, to go about among the applicants for relief, and inquire into their real necessities, and get work for them. She was hers self going to act as secretary for the meetings during the coming month, and apparently she wished to signalize her accession to the regular forces of charity by bringing into camp as large a body of recruits as she could.
But Jeff had not come to be made use of, or as a jay who was willing to work for his footing in society. He had come in the hope of meeting Miss Lynde, and now that he had met her he had no gratitude to Mrs. Bevidge as a means, and no regret for the defeat of her good purposes so far as she intended their fulfilment in him. He was so cool and self-possessed in excusing himself, for reasons that he took no pains to make seem unselfish, that the altruistic man who had got him asked to the college tea as a friendless jay felt it laid upon him to apologize for Mrs. Bevidge’s want of tact.
“She means well, and she’s very much in earnest, in this work; but I must say she can make herself very offensive–when she doesn’t try! She has a right to ask our help, but not to parade us as the captives of her bow and spear.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” said Jeff. He perceived that the amiable fellow was claiming for all an effect that Jeff knew really implicated himself alone. “I couldn’t load up with anything of that sort, if I’m to work off my conditions, you know.”
“Are you in that boat?” said the altruist, as if he were, too; and he put his hand compassionately on Jeff’s iron shoulder, and left him to Miss Lynde, whose side he had not stirred from since he had found her.
“It seems to me,” she said, “that where there are so many of you in the same boat, you might manage to get ashore somehow.”
“Yes, or all go down together.” Jeff laughed, and ate Mrs. Bevidge’s bread-and-butter, and drank her tea, with a relish unaffected by his refusal to do what she asked him. He was right, perhaps, and perhaps she deserved nothing better at his hands, but the altruist, when he glanced at him from the other side of the room, thought that he had possibly wasted his excuses upon Jeff’s self-complacence.
He went away in a halo of young ladies; several of the other girls grouped themselves in their departure; and it happened that Miss Lynde and Jeff took leave together. Mrs. Bevidge said to her, with the caressing tenderness of one in the same set, “Good-bye, dear!” To Jeff she said, with the cold conscience of those whom their nobility obliges, “I am always at home on Thursdays, Mr. Durgin.”
“Oh, thank you,” said Jeff. He understood what the words and the manner meant together, but both were instantly indifferent to him when he got outside and found that Miss Lynde was not driving. Something, which was neither look, nor smile, nor word, of course, but nothing more at most than a certain pull and tilt of the shoulder, as she turned to walk away from Mrs. Bevidge’s door, told him from her that he might walk home with her if he would not seem to do so.
It was one of the pink evenings, dry and clear, that come in the Boston December, and they walked down the sidehill street, under the delicate tracery of the elm boughs in the face of the metallic sunset. In the section of the Charles that the perspective of the street blocked out, the wrinkled current showed as if glazed with the hard color. Jeff’s strong frame rejoiced in the cold with a hale pleasure when he looked round into the face of the girl beside him, with the gray film of her veil pressed softly against her red mouth by her swift advance. Their faces were nearly on a level, as they looked into each other’s eyes, and he kept seeing the play of the veil’s edge against her lips as they talked.
“Why sha’n’t you go to Mrs. Bevidge’s Thursdays?” she asked. “They’re very nice.”
How do you know I’m not going?” he retorted.
“By the way you thanked her.”
“Do you advise me to go?”
“I haven’t got anything to do with it. What do mean by that?”
“I don’t know. Curiosity, I suppose.”
“Well, I do advise you to go,” said the girl. Shall you be there next Thursday?”
“I? I never go to Mrs. Bevidge’s Thursdays!”
“Touche,” said Jeff, and they both laughed. “Can you always get in at an enemy that way?”
“Well, friend. It’s the same thing.”
“I see,” said the girl. “You belong to the pessimistic school of Seniors.”
“Why don’t you try to make an optimist of me?”
“Would it be worth while?”
“That isn’t for me to say.”
“Don’t be diffident! That’s staler yet.”
“I’ll be anything you like.”
“I’m not sure you could.” For an instant Jeff did not feel the point, and he had not the magnanimity, when he did, to own himself touched again. Apparently, if this girl could not rattle him, she could beat him at fence, and the will to dominate her began to stir in him. If he could have thought of any sarcasm, no matter how crushing, he would have come back at her with it. He could not think of anything, and he walked at her side, inwardly chafing for the chance which would not come.
When they reached her door there was a young man at the lock with a latch-key, which he was not making work, for, after a bated blasphemy of his failure, he turned and twitched the bell impatiently.
Miss Lynde laughed provokingly, and he looked over his shoulder at her and at Jeff, who felt his injury increased by the disadvantage this young man put him at. Jeff was as correctly dressed; he wore a silk hat of the last shape, and a long frock-coat; he was properly gloved and shod; his clothes fitted him, and were from the best tailor; but at sight of this young man in clothes of the same design he felt ill-dressed. He was in like sort aware of being rudely blocked out physically, and coarsely colored as to his blond tints of hair and eye and cheek. Even the sinister something in the young man’s look had distinction, and there was style in the signs of dissipation in his handsome face which Jeff saw with a hunger to outdo him.
Miss Lynde said to Jeff, “My brother, Mr. Durgin,” and then she added to the other, “You ought to ring first, Arthur, and try your key afterward.”
“The key’s all right,” said the young man, without paying any attention to Jeff beyond a glance of recognition; he turned his back, and waited for the door to be opened.
His sister suggested, with an amiability which Jeff felt was meant in reparation to him, “Perhaps a night latch never works before dark–or very well before midnight.” The door was opened, and she said to Jeff, with winning entreaty, “Won’t you come in, Mr. Durgin?”
Jeff excused himself, for he perceived that her politeness was not so much an invitation to him as a defiance to her brother; he gave her credit for no more than it was worth, and he did not wish any the less to get even with her because of it.
At dinner, in the absence of the butler, Alan Lynde attacked his sister across the table for letting herself be seen with a jay, who was not only a jay, but a cad, and personally so offensive to most of the college men that he had never got into a decent club or society; he had been suspended the first year, and if he had not had the densest kind of cheek he would never have come back. Lynde said he would like to know where she had picked the fellow up.
She answered that she had picked him up, if that was the phrase he liked, at Mrs. Bevidge’s; and then Alan swore a little, so as not to be heard by their aunt, who sat at the head of the table, and looked down its length between them, serenely ignorant, in her slight deafness, of what was going on between them. To her perception Alan was no more vehement than usual, and Bessie no more smilingly self-contained. He said he supposed that it was some more of Lancaster’s damned missionary work, then, and he wondered that a gentleman like Morland had ever let Lancaster work such a jay in on him; he had seen her ‘afficher’ herself with the fellow at Morland’s tea; he commanded her to stop it; and he professed to speak for her good.
Bessie returned that she knew how strongly he felt from the way he had misbehaved when she introduced him to Mr. Durgin, but that she supposed he had been at the club and his nerves were unstrung. Was that the reason, perhaps, why he could not make his latchkey work? Mr. Durgin might be a cad, and she would not say he was not a jay, but so far he had not sworn at her; and, if he had been suspended and come back, there were some people who had not been suspended or come back, either, though that might have been for want of cheek.
She ended by declaring she was used to going into society without her brother’s protection, or even his company, and she would do her best to get on without his advice. Or was it his conduct he wished her to profit by?
It had come to the fish going out by this time, and Alan, who had eaten with no appetite, and drunken feverishly of apollinaris, flung down his napkin and went out, too.
“What is the matter?” asked his aunt, looking after him.
Bessie shrugged, but she said, presently, with her lips more than her voice: “I don’t think he feels very well.”
“Do you think he–“
The girl frowned assent, and the meal went on to its end. Then she and her aunt went into the large, dull library, where they passed the evenings which Bessie did not spend in some social function. These evenings were growing rather more frequent, with her advancing years, for she was now nearly twenty-five, and there were few Seniors so old. She was not the kind of girl to renew her youth with the Sophomores and Freshmen in the classes succeeding the class with which she had danced through college; so far as she had kept up the old relation with students, she continued it with the men who had gone into the law-school. But she saw less and less of these without seeing more of other men, and perhaps in the last analysis she was not a favorite. She was allowed to be fascinating, but she was not felt to be flattering, and people would rather be flattered than fascinated. In fact, the men were mostly afraid of her; and it has been observed of girls of this kind that the men who are not afraid of them are such as they would do well to be afraid of. Whether that was quite the case with Bessie Lynde or not, it was certain that she who was always the cleverest girl in the room, and if not the prettiest, then the most effective, had not the best men about her. Her men were apt to be those whom the other girls called stupid or horrid, and whom it would not be easy, though it might be more just, to classify otherwise. The other girls wondered what she could see in them; but perhaps it was not necessary that she should see anything in them, if they could see all she wished them to see, and no more, in her.
The room where tea was now brought and put before her was volumed round by the collections of her grandfather, except for the spaces filled by his portrait and that of earlier ancestors, going back to the time when Copley made masterpieces of his fellow-Bostonians. Her aunt herself looked a family portrait of the middle period, a little anterior to her father’s, but subsequent to her great-grandfather’s. She had a comely face, with large, smooth cheeks and prominent eyes; the edges of her decorous brown wig were combed rather near their corners, and a fitting cap palliated but did not deny the wig. She had the quiet but rather dull look of people slightly deaf, and she had perhaps been stupefied by a life of unalloyed prosperity and propriety. She had grown an old maid naturally, but not involuntarily, and she was without the sadness or the harshness of disappointment. She had never known much of the world, though she had always lived in it. She knew that it was made up of two kinds of people–people who were like her and people who were not like her; and she had lived solely in the society of people who were like her, and in the shelter of their opinions and ideals. She did not contemn or exclude the people who were unlike her, but she had never had any more contact with them than she now had with the weather of the streets, as she sat, filling her large arm-chair full of her ladylike correctness, in the library of the handsome house her father had left her. The irruption of her brother’s son and daughter into its cloistered quiet had scarcely broken its invulnerable order. It was right and fit they should be there after his death, and it was not strange that in the course of time they should both show certain unregulated tendencies which, since they were not known to be Lynde tendencies, must have been derived from the Southwestern woman her brother had married during his social and financial periclitations in a region wholly inconceivable to her. Their mother was dead, too, and their aunt’s life closed about them with full acceptance, if not complacence, as part of her world. They had grown to manhood and womanhood without materially discomposing her faith in the old-fashioned Unitarian deity, whose service she had always attended.
When Alan left college in his Freshman year, and did not go back, but went rather to Europe and Egypt and Japan, it appeared to her myopic optimism that his escapades had been pretty well hushed up by time and distance. After he came home and devoted himself to his club, she could have wished that he had taken up some profession or business; but since there was money enough, she waited in no great disquiet until he showed as decided a taste for something else as he seemed for the present to have only for horses. In the mean while, from time to time, it came to her doctor’s advising his going to a certain retreat. But he came out the first time so much better and remained well so long that his aunt felt a kind of security in his going again and again, whenever he became at all worse. He always came back better. As she took the cup of tea that Bessie poured out for her, she recurred to the question that she had partly asked already:
“Do you think Alan is getting worse again?”
“Not so very much,” said the girl, candidly. “He’s been at the club, I suppose, but he left the table partly because I vexed him.”
“Because you what?”
“Because I vexed him. He was scolding me, and I wouldn’t stand it.”
Her aunt tasted her tea, and found it so quite what she liked that she said, from a natural satisfaction with Bessie, “I don’t see what he had to scold you about.”
“Well,” returned Bessie, and she got her pretty voice to the level of her aunt’s hearing, with some straining, and kept it there, “when he is in that state, he has to scold some one; and I had been rather annoying, I suppose.”
“What had you been doing?” asked her aunt, making out her words more from the sight than from the sound, after all.
“I had been walking home with a jay, and we found Alan trying to get in at the front door with his key, and I introduced him to the jay.”
Miss Louisa Lynde had heard the word so often from her niece and nephew, that she imagined herself in full possession of its meaning. She asked: “Where had you met him?”
“I met him first,” said the girl, “at Willie Morland’s tea, last week, and to-day I found him at Mrs. Bevidge’s altruistic toot.”
“I didn’t know,” said her aunt, after a momentary attention to her tea, “that jays were interested in that sort of thing.”
The girl laughed. “I believe they’re not. It hasn’t quite reached them, yet; and I don’t think it will ever reach my jay. Mrs. Bevidge tried to work him into the cause, but he refused so promptly, and so- intelligently, don’t you know–and so almost brutally, that poor Freddy Lancaster had to come and apologize to him for her want of tact.” Bessie enjoyed the fact, which she had colored a little, in another laugh, but she had apparently not possessed her aunt of the humor of it. She remained seriously-attentive, and the girl went on: “He was not the least abashed at having refused; he stayed till the last, and as we came out together and he was going my way, I let him walk home with me. He’s a jay, but he isn’t a common jay.” Bessie leaned forward and tried to implant some notion of Jeff’s character and personality in her aunt’s mind.
Miss Lynde listened attentively enough, but she merely asked, when all was said: “And why was Alan vexed with you about him?”
“Well,” said the girl, falling back into her chair, “generally because this man’s a jay, and particularly because he’s been rather a baddish jay, I believe. He was suspended in his first year for something or other, and you know poor Alan’s very particular! But Molly Enderby says Freddy Lancaster gives him the best of characters now.” Bessie pulled down her mouth, with an effect befitting the notion of repentance and atonement. Then she flashed out: “Perhaps he had been drinking when he got into trouble. Alan could never forgive him for that.”
“I think,” said her aunt, “it is to your brother’s credit that he is anxious about your associations.”
“Oh, very much!” shouted Bessie, with a burst of laughter. “And as he isn’t practically so, I ought to have been more patient with his theory. But when he began to scold me I lost my temper, and I gave him a few wholesome truths in the guise of taunts. That was what made him go away, I suppose.”
“But I don’t really see,” her aunt pursued,–“what occasion he had to be angry with you in this instance.”
“Oh, I do!” said Bessie. “Mr. Durgin isn’t one to inspire the casual beholder with the notion of his spiritual distinction. His face is so rude and strong, and he has such a primitive effect in his clothes, that you feel as if you were coming down the street with a prehistoric man that the barbers and tailors had put a ‘fin de siecle’ surface on.” At the mystification which appeared in her aunt’s face the girl laughed again. “I should have been quite as anxious, if I had been in Alan’s place, and I shall tell him so, sometime. If I had not been so interested in the situation I don’t believe I could have kept my courage. Whenever I looked round, and found that prehistoric man at my elbow, it gave me the creeps, a little, as if he were really carrying me off to his cave. I shall try to express that to Alan.”
The ladies finished their tea, and the butler came and took the cups away. Miss Lynde remained silent in her chair at her end of the library- table, and by-and-by Bessie got a book and began to read. When her aunt woke up it was half past nine. “Was that Alan coming in?” she asked.
“I don’t think he’s been out,” said the girl. “It isn’t late enough for him to come in–or early enough.”
“I believe I’ll go to bed,” Miss Lynde returned. “I feel rather drowsy.”
Bessie did not smile at a comedy which was apt to be repeated every evening that she and her aunt spent at home together; they parted for the night with the decencies of family affection, and Bessie delivered the elder lady over to her maid. Then the girl sank down again, and lay musing in her deep chair before the fire with her book shut on her thumb. She looked rather old and worn in her reverie; her face lost the air of gay banter which, after the beauty of her queer eyes and her vivid mouth, was its charm. The eyes were rather dull now, and the mouth was a little withered.
She was waiting for her brother to come down, as he was apt to do if he was in the house, after their aunt went to bed, to smoke a cigar in the library. He was in his house shoes when he shuffled into the room, but her ear had detected his presence before a hiccough announced it. She did not look up, but let him make several failures to light his cigar, and damn the matches under his breath, before she pushed the drop-light to him in silent suggestion. As he leaned over her chair-back to reach its chimney with his cigar in his mouth, she said, “You’re all right, Alan.”
He waited till he got round to his aunt’s easy-chair and dropped into it before he answered, “So are you, Bess.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” said the girl, “as I should be if you were still scolding me. I knew that he was a jay, well enough, and I’d just seen him behaving very like a cad to Mrs. Bevidge.”
“Then I don’t understand how you came to be with him.”
“Oh yes, you do, Alan. You mustn’t be logical! You might as well say you can’t understand how you came to be more serious than sober.” The brother laughed helplessly. “It was the excitement.”
“But you can’t give way to that sort of thing, Bess,” said her brother, with the gravity of a man feeling the consequences of his own errors.
“I know I can’t, but I do,” she returned. “I know it’s bad for me, if it isn’t for other people. Come! I’ll swear off if you will!”
“I’m always ready, to swear off,” said the young man, gloomily. He added, “But you’ve got brains, Bess, and I hate to see you playing the fool.”
“Do you really, Alan?” asked the girl, pleased perhaps as much by his reproach as by his praise. “Do you think I’ve got brains?”
“You’re the only girl that has.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to ask so much as that! But what’s the reason I can’t do anything with them? Other girls draw, and play, and write. I don’t do anything but go in for the excitement that’s bad for me. I wish you’d explain it.”
Alan Lynde did not try. The question seemed to turn his thoughts back upon himself to dispiriting effect. “I’ve got brains, too, I believe,” he began.
“Lots of them!” cried his sister, generously. “There isn’t any of the men to compare with you. If I had you to talk with all the time, I shouldn’t want jays. I don’t mean to flatter. You’re a constant feast of reason; I don’t care for flows of soul. You always take right views of things when you’re yourself, and even when you’re somebody else you’re not stupid. You could be anything you chose.”
“The devil of it is I can’t choose,” he replied.
“Yes, I suppose that’s the devil of it,” said the girl.
“You oughtn’t to use such language as that, Bess,” said her brother, severely.
“Oh, I don’t with everybody,” she returned. “Never with ladies!”
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye with a smile at once rueful and comic.
“You got me, I guess, that time,” he owned.
“‘Touche’,’ Mr. Durgin says. He fences, it seems, and he speaks French. It was like an animal speaking French; you always expect them to speak English. But I don’t mind your swearing before me; I know that it helps to carry off the electricity.” She laughed, and made him laugh with her.
“Is there anything to him?” he growled, when they stopped laughing.
“Yes, a good deal,” said Bessie, with an air of thoughtfulness; and then she went on to tell all that Jeff had told her of himself, and she described his aplomb in dealing with the benevolent Bevidge, as she called her, and sketched his character, as it seemed to her. The sketch was full of shrewd guesses, and she made it amusing to her brother, who from the vantage of his own baddishness no doubt judged the original more intelligently.
“Well, you’d better let him alone, after this,” he said, at the end.
“Yes,” she pensively assented. “I suppose it’s as if you took to some very common kind of whiskey, isn’t it? I see what you mean. If one must, it ought to be champagne.”
She turned upon him a look of that keen but limited knowledge which renders women’s conjectures of evil always so amusing, or so pathetic, to men.
“Better let the champagne alone, too,” said her brother, darkly.
“Yes, I know that,” she admitted, and she lay back in her chair, looking dreamily into the fire. After a while she asked, abruptly: “Will you give it up if I will?”
“I am afraid I couldn’t.”
“You could try.”
“Oh, I’m used to that.”
“Then it’s a bargain,” she said. She jumped from her chair and went over to him, and smoothed his hair over his forehead and kissed the place she had smoothed, though it was unpleasantly damp to her lips. “Poor boy, poor boy! Now, remember! No more jays for me, and no more jags for you. Goodnight.”
Her brother broke into a wild laugh at her slanging, which had such a bizarre effect in relation to her physical delicacy.
Jeff did not know whether Miss Bessie Lynde meant to go to Mrs. Bevidge’s Thursdays or not. He thought she might have been bantering him by what she said, and he decided that he would risk going to the first of them on the chance of meeting her. She was not there, and there was no one there whom he knew. Mrs. Bevidge made no effort to enlarge his acquaintance, and after he had drunk a cup of her tea he went away with rage against society in his heart, which he promised himself to vent at the first chance of refusing its favors. But the chance seemed not to come. The world which had opened its gates to him was fast shut again, and he had to make what he could of renouncing it. He worked pretty hard, and he renewed himself in his fealty to Cynthia, while his mind strayed curiously to that other girl. But he had almost abandoned the hope of meeting her again, when a large party was given on the eve of the Harvard Mid-Year Examinations, which end the younger gayeties of Boston, for a fortnight at least, in January. The party was so large that the invitations overflowed the strict bounds of society at some points. In the case of Jeff Durgin the excess was intentional beyond the vague benevolence which prompted the giver of the party to ask certain other outsiders. She was a lady of a soul several sizes larger than the souls of some other society leaders; she was not afraid to do as she liked; for instance, she had not only met the Vostrands at Westover’s tea, several years before, but she had afterward offered some hospitalities to those ladies which had discharged her whole duty toward them without involving her in any disadvantages. Jeff had been presented to her at Westover’s, but she disliked him so promptly and decidedly that she had left him out of even the things that she asked some other jays to, like lectures and parlor readings for good objects. It was not until one of her daughters met him, first at Willie Morland’s tea and then at Mrs. Bevidge’s meeting, that her social conscience concerned itself with him. At the first her daughter had not spoken to him, as might very well have happened, since Bessie Lynde had kept him away with her nearly all the time; but at the last she had bowed pleasantly to him across the room, and Jeff had responded with a stiff obeisance, whose coldness she felt the more for having been somewhat softened herself in Mrs. Bevidge’s altruistic atmosphere.
“I think he was hurt, mamma,” the girl explained to her mother, “that you’ve never had him to anything. I suppose they must feel it.”
“Oh, well, send him a card, then,” said her mother; and when Jeff got the card, rather near the eleventh hour, he made haste to accept, not because he cared to go to Mrs. Enderby’s house, but because he hoped he should meet Miss Lynde there.
Bessie was the first person he met after he turned from paying his duty to the hostess. She was with her aunt, and she presented him, and promised him a dance, which she let him write on her card. She sat out another dance with him, and he took her to supper.
To Westover, who had gone with the increasing forlornness a man feels in such pleasures after thirty-five, it seemed as if the two were in each other’s company the whole evening. The impression was so strong with him that when Jeff restored Bessie to her aunt for the dance that was to be for some one else, and came back to the supper-room, the painter tried to satisfy a certain uneasiness by making talk with him. But Jeff would not talk; he got away with a bottle of champagne, which he had captured, and a plate heaped with croquettes and pease, and galantine and salad. There were no ladies left in the room by that time, and few young men; but the oldsters crowded the place, with their bald heads devoutly bowed over their victual, or their frosty mustaches bathed in their drink, singly or in groups; the noise of their talk and laughter mixed with the sound of their eating and drinking, and the clash of the knives and dishes. Over their stooped shoulders and past their rounded stomachs Westover saw Alan Lynde vaguely making his way with a glass in his hand, and looking vaguely about for wine; he saw Jeff catch his wandering eye, and make offer of his bottle, and then saw Lynde, after a moment of haughty pause, unbend and accept it. His thin face was flushed, and his hair tossed over his forehead, but Jeff seemed not to take note of that. He laughed boisterously at something Lynde said, and kept filling his glass for him. His own color remained clear and cool. It was as if his powerful physique absorbed the wine before it could reach his brain.
Westover wanted to interfere, and so far as Jeff was concerned he would not have hesitated; but Lynde was concerned, too, and you cannot save such a man from himself without offence. He made his way to the young man, hoping he might somehow have the courage he wanted.
Jeff held up the bottle, and called to him, “Get yourself a glass, Mr. Westover.” He put on the air of a host, and would hardly be denied. “Know Mr. Westover, Mr. Lynde? Just talking about you,” he explained to Westover.
Alan had to look twice at the painter. “Oh yes. Mr. Durgin, here– telling me about his place in the mountains. Says you’ve been there. Going–going myself in the summer. See his–horses.” He made pauses between his words as some people do when they, try to keep from stammering.
Westover believed Lynde understood Jeff to be a country gentleman of sporting tastes, and he would not let that pass. “Yes, it’s the pleasantest little hotel in the mountains.”
“Strictly-temperance, I suppose?” said Alan, trying to smile with lips that obeyed him stiffly. He appeared not to care who or what Jeff was; the champagne had washed away all difference between them. He went on to say that he had heard of Jeff’s intention of running the hotel himself when he got out of Harvard. He held it to be damned good stuff.
Jeff laughed. “Your sister wouldn’t believe me when I told her.”
“I think I didn’t mention Miss Lynde,” said Alan, haughtily.
Jeff filled his glass; Alan looked at it, faltered, and then drank it off. The talk began again between the young men, but it left Westover out, and he had to go away. Whether Jeff was getting Lynde beyond himself from the love of mischief, such as had prompted him to tease little children in his boyhood, or was trying to ingratiate himself with the young fellow through his weakness, or doing him harm out of mere thoughtlessness, Westover came away very unhappy at what he had seen. His unhappiness connected itself so distinctly with Lynde’s family that he went and sat down beside Miss Lynde from an obscure impulse of compassion, and tried to talk with her. It would not have been so hard if she were merely deaf, for she had the skill of deaf people in arranging the conversation so that a nodded yes or no would be all that was needed to carry it forward. But to Westover she was terribly dull, and he was gasping, as in an exhausted receiver, when Bessie came up with a smile of radiant recognition for his extremity. She got rid of her partner, and devoted herself at once to Westover. “How good of you!” she said, without giving him the pain of an awkward disclaimer.
He could counter in equal sincerity and ambiguity, “How beautiful of you.”
“Yes,” she said, “I am looking rather well, tonight; but don’t you think effective would have been a better word?” She smiled across her aunt at him out of a cloud of pink, from which her thin shoulders and slender neck emerged, and her arms, gloved to the top, fell into her lap; one of them seemed to terminate naturally in the fan which sensitively shared the inquiescence of her person.
“I will say effective, too, if you insist,” said Westover. “But at the same time you’re the most beautiful person here.”
“How lovely of you, even if you don’t mean it,” she sighed. “If girls could have more of those things said to them, they would be better, don’t you think? Or at least feel better.”
Westover laughed. “We might organize a society–they have them for nearly everything now–for saying pleasant things to young ladies with a view to the moral effect.”
“Oh, do I”
“But it ought to be done conscientiously, and you couldn’t go round telling every one that she was the most beautiful girl in the room.”
“Why not? She’d believe it!”
“Yes; but the effect on the members of the society?”
“Oh yes; that! But you could vary it so as to save your conscience. You could say, ‘How divinely you’re looking!’ or ‘How angelic!’ or ‘You’re the very poetry of motion,’ or ‘You are grace itself,’ or ‘Your gown is a perfect dream, or any little commonplace, and every one would take it for praise of her personal appearance, and feel herself a great beauty, just as I do now, though I know very well that I’m all out of drawing, and just chicqued together.”
“I couldn’t allow any one but you to say that, Miss Bessie; and I only let it pass because you say it so well.”
“Yes; you’re always so good! You wouldn’t contradict me even when you turned me out of your class.”
“Did I turn you out of my class?”
“Not just in so many words, but when I said I couldn’t do anything in art, you didn’t insist that it was because I wouldn’t, and of course then I had to go. I’ve never forgiven you, Mr. Westover, never! Do keep on talking very excitedly; there’s a man coming up to us that I don’t want to think I see him, or he’ll stop. There! He’s veered off! Where were you, Mr. Westover?”
“Ah, Miss Bessie,” said the painter; delighted at her drama, “there isn’t anything you couldn’t do if you would.”
“You mean parlor entertainments; impersonations; impressions; that sort of thing? I have thought of it. But it would be too easy. I want to try something difficult.”
“Well, being very, very good. I want something that would really tax my powers. I should like to be an example. I tried it the other night just before I went to sleep, and it was fine. I became an example to others. But when I woke up–I went on in the old way. I want something hard, don’t you know; but I want it to be easy!”
She laughed, and Westover said: “I am glad you’re not serious. No one ought to be an example to others. To be exemplary is as dangerous as to be complimentary.
“It certainly isn’t so agreeable to the object,” said the girl. “But it’s fine for the subject as long as it lasts. How metaphysical we’re getting! The objective and the subjective. It’s quite what I should expect of talk at a Boston dance if I were a New-Yorker. Have you seen anything of my brother, within the last hour or so, Mr. Westover?”
“Yes; I just left him in the supper-room. Shall I go get him for you?” When he had said this, with the notion of rescuing him from Jeff, Westover was sorry, for he doubted if Alan Lynde were any longer in the state to be brought away from the supper-room, and he was glad to have Bessie say:
“No, no. He’ll look us up in the course of the evening–or the morning.” A young fellow came to claim her for a dance, and Westover had not the face to leave Miss Lynde, all the less because she told him he must not think of staying. He stayed till the dance was over, and Bessie came back to him.
“What time is it, Mr. Westover? I see my aunt beginning to nod on her perch.”
Westover looked at his watch. “It’s ten minutes past two.”
“How early!” sighed the girl. “I’m tired of it, aren’t you?”
“Very,” said Westover. “I was tired an hour ago.”
Bessie sank back in her chair with an air of nervous collapse, and did not say anything. Westover saw her watching the young couples who passed in and out of the room where the dancing was, or found corners on sofas, or window-seats, or sheltered spaces beside the doors and the chimney- piece, the girls panting and the men leaning forward to fan them. She looked very tired of it; and when a young fellow came up and asked her to dance, she told him that she was provisionally engaged. “Come back and get me, if you can’t do better,” she said, and he answered there was no use trying to do better, and said he would wait till the other man turned up, or didn’t, if she would let him. He sat down beside her, and some young talk began between them.
In the midst of it Jeff appeared. He looked at Westover first, and then approached with an embarrassed face.
Bessie got vividly to her feet. “No apologies, Mr. Durgin, please! But in just another moment you’d have last your dance.”
Westover saw what he believed a change pass in Jeff’s look from embarrassment to surprise and then to flattered intelligence. He beamed all over; and he went away with Bessie toward the ballroom, and left Westover to a wholly unsupported belief that she had not been engaged to dance with Jeff. He wondered what her reckless meaning could be, but he had always thought her a young lady singularly fitted by nature and art to take care of herself, and when he reasoned upon what was in his mind he had to own that there was no harm in Jeff’s dancing with her.
He took leave of Miss Lynde, and was going to get his coat and hat for his walk home when he was mysteriously stopped in a corner of the stairs by one of the caterer’s men whom he knew. It is so unnatural to be addressed by a servant at all unless he asks you if you will have something to eat or drink, that Westover was in a manner prepared to have him say something startling. “It’s about young Mr. Lynde, sor. We’ve got um in one of the rooms up-stairs, but he ain’t fit to go home alone, and I’ve been lookin’ for somebody that knows the family to help get um into a car’ge. He won’t go for anny of us, sor.”
“Where is he?” asked Westover, in anguish at being unable to refuse the appeal, but loathing the office put upon him.
“I’ll show you, sor,” said the caterer’s man, and he sprang up the stairs before Westover, with glad alacrity.
In a little room at the side of that where the men’s hats and coats were checked, Alan Lynde sat drooping forward in an arm-chair, with his head fallen on his breast. He roused himself at the flash of the burner which the man turned up. “What’s all this?” he demanded, haughtily. “Where’s the carriage? What’s the matter?”
“Your carriage is waiting, Lynde,” said Westover. “I’ll see you down to it,” and he murmured, hopelessly, to the caterer’s man: “Is there any back way?”
“There’s the wan we got um up by.”
“It will do,” said Westover, as simply.
But Lynde called out, defiantly: “Back way; I sha’n’t go down back way. Inshult to guest. I wish–say–good-night to–Mrs. Enderby. Who you, anyway? Damn caterer’s man?”
“I’m Westover, Lynde,” the painter began, but the young fellow broke in upon him, shaking his hand and then taking his arm.
“Oh, Westover! All right! I’ll go down back way with you. Thought– thought it was damn caterer’s man. No–offence.”
“No. It’s all right. “Westover got his arm under Lynde’s elbow, and, with the man going before for them to fall upon jointly in case they should stumble, he got him down the dark and twisting stairs and through the basement hall, which was vaguely haunted by the dispossessed women servants of the family, and so out upon the pavement of the moonlighted streets.
“Call Miss Lynde’s car’ge,” shouted the caterer’s man to the barker, and escaped back into the basement, leaving Westover to stay his helpless charge on the sidewalk.
It seemed a publication of the wretch’s shame when the barker began to fill the night with hoarse cries of, “Miss Lynde’s carriage; carriage for Miss Lynde!” The cries were taken up by a coachman here and there in the rank of vehicles whose varnished roofs shone in the moon up and down the street. After a time that Westover of course felt to be longer than it was, Miss Lynde’s old coachman was roused from his sleep on the box and started out of the rank. He took in the situation with the eye of custom, when he saw Alan supported on the sidewalk by a stranger at the end of the canopy covering the pavement.
He said, “Oh, ahl right, sor!” and when the two white-gloved policemen from either side of it helped Westover into the carriage with Lynde, he set off at a quick trot. The policemen clapped their hands together, and smiled across the strip of carpet that separated them, and winks and nods of intelligence passed among the barkers to the footmen about the curb and steps. There were none of them sorry to see a gentleman in that state; some of them had perhaps seen Alan in that state before.
Half-way home he roused himself and put his hand on the carriage-door latch. “Tell the coachman drive us to–the–club. Make night of it.”
“No, no,” said Westover, trying to restrain him. “We’d better go right on to your house.”
“Who–who–who are you?” demanded Alan.
“Oh yes–Westover. Thought we left Westover at Mrs. Enderby’s. Thought it was that jay–What’s his name? Durgin. He’s awful jay, but civil to me, and I want be civil to him. You’re not–jay? No? That’s right. Fellow made me sick; but I took his champagne; and I must show him some –attention.” He released the door-handle, and fell back against the cushioned carriage wall. “He’s a blackguard!” he said, sourly. “Not– simple jay-blackguard, too. No–no–business bring in my sister’s name, hey? You–you say it’s–Westover? Oh yes, Westover. Old friend of family. Tell you good joke, Westover–my sister’s. No more jays for me, no more jags for you. That’s what she say–just between her and me, you know; she’s a lady, Bess is; knows when to use–slang. Mark–mark of a lady know when to use slang. Pretty good–jays and jags. Guess we didn’t count this time–either of us.”
When the carriage pulled up before Miss Lynde’s house, Westover opened the door. “You’re at home, now, Lynde. Come, let’s get out.”
Lynde did not stir. He asked Westover again who he was, and when he had made sure of him, he said, with dignity, Very well; now they must get the other fellow. Westover entreated; he even reasoned; Lynde lay back in the corner of the carriage, and seemed asleep.
Westover thought of pulling him up and getting him indoors by main force. He appealed to the coachman to know if they could not do it together.
“Why, you see, I couldn’t leave me harsses, sor,” said the coachman. “What’s he wants, sor?” He bent urbanely down from his box and listened to the explanation that Westover made him, standing in the cold on the curbstone, with one hand on the carriage door. “Then it’s no use, sor,” the man decided. “Whin he’s that way, ahl hell couldn’t stir um. Best go back, sor, and try to find the gentleman.”
This was in the end what Westover had to do, feeling all the time that a thing so frantically absurd could not be a waking act, but helpless to escape from its performance. He thought of abandoning his charge and leaving him, to his fate when he opened the carriage door before Mrs. Enderby’s house; but with the next thought he perceived that this was on all accounts impossible. He went in, and began his quest for Jeff, sending various serving men about with vague descriptions of him, and asking for him of departing guests, mostly young men he did not know, but who, he thought, might know Jeff.
He had to take off his overcoat at last, and reappear at the ball. The crowd was still great, but visibly less dense than it had been. By a sudden inspiration he made his way to the supper-room, and he found Jeff there, filling a plate, as if he were about to carry it off somewhere. He commanded Jeff’s instant presence in the carriage outside; he told him of Alan’s desire for him.
Jeff leaned back against the wall with the plate in his hand and laughed till it half slipped from his hold. When he could get his breath, he said: “I’ll be back in a few minutes; I’ve got to take this to Miss Bessie Lynde. But I’ll be right back.”
Westover hardly believed him. But when he got on his own things again, Jeff joined him in his hat and overcoat, and they went out together.
It was another carriage that stopped the way now, and once more the barker made the night ring with what Westover felt his heartless and shameless cries for Miss Lynde’s carriage. After a maddening delay, it lagged up to the curb and Jeff pulled the door open.
“Hello!” he said. “There’s nobody here!”
“Nobody there?” cried Westover, and they fell upon the coachman with wild question and reproach; the policeman had to tell him at last that the carriage must move on, to make way for others.
The coachman had no explanation to offer: he did not know how or when Mr. Alan had got away.
“But you can give a guess where he’s gone?” Jeff suggested, with a presence of mind which Westover mutely admired.
“Well, sor, I know where he do be gahn, sometimes,” the man admitted.
“Well, that will do; take me there,” said Jeff. “You go in and account for me to Miss Lynde,” he instructed Westover, across his shoulder. “I’ll get him home before morning, somehow; and I’ll send the carriage right back for the ladies, now.”
Westover had the forethought to decide that Miss Bessie should ask for Jeff if she wanted him, and this simplified matters very much. She asked nothing about him. At sight of Westover coming up to her where she sat with her aunt, she merely said: “Why, Mr. Westover! I thought you took leave of this scene of gayety long ago.”
“Did you?” Westover returned, provisionally, and she saved him from the sin of framing some deceit in final answer by her next question.
“Have you seen anything of Alan lately?” she asked, in a voice involuntarily lowered.
Westover replied in the same octave: “Yes; I saw him going a good while ago.”
“Oh!” said the girl. “Then I think my aunt and I had better go, too.”
Still she did not go, and there was an interval in which she had the air of vaguely waiting. To Westover’s vision, the young people still passing to and from the ballroom were like the painted figures of a picture quickened with sudden animation. There were scarcely any elders to be seen now, except the chaperons, who sat in their places with iron fortitude; Westover realized that he was the only man of his age left. He felt that the lights ought to have grown dim, but the place was as brilliant as ever. A window had been opened somewhere, and the cold breath of the night was drawing through the heated rooms.
He was content to have Bessie stay on, though he was almost dropping with sleep, for he was afraid that if she went at once, the carriage might not have got back, and the whole affair must somehow be given away; at last, if she were waiting, she decided to wait no longer, and then Westover did not know how to keep her. He saw her rise and stoop over her aunt, putting her mouth to the elder lady’s ear, and he heard her saying, “I am going home, Aunt Louisa.” She turned sweetly to him. “Won’t you let us set you down, Mr. Westover?”
“Why, thank you, I believe I prefer walking. But do let me have your carriage called,” and again he hurried himself into his overcoat and hat, and ran down-stairs, and the barker a third time sent forth his lamentable cries in summons of Miss Lynde’s carriage.
While he stood on the curb-stone eagerly peering up and down the street, he heard, without being able either to enjoy or resent it, one of the policemen say across him to the other, “Miss lynde seems to be doin’ a livery-stable business to-night.”
Almost at the moment a carriage drove up, and he recognized Miss Lynde’s coachman, who recognized him.
“Just got back, sor,” he whispered, and a minute later Bessie came daintily out over the carpeted way with her aunt.
“How good of you!” she said, and “Good-night, Mr. Westover,” said Miss Lynde, with an implication in her voice that virtue was peculiarly its own reward for those who performed any good office for her or hers.
Westover shut them in, the carriage rolled off, and he started on his homeward walk with a long sigh of relief.
Bessie asked the sleepy man who opened her aunt’s door whether her brother had come in yet, and found that he had not. She helped her aunt off up-stairs with her maid, and when she came down again she sent the man to bed; she told him she was going to sit up and she would let her brother in. The caprices of Alan’s latch-key were known to all the servants, and the man understood what she, meant. He said he had left a light in the reception-room and there was a fire there; and Bessie tripped on down from the library floor, where she had met him. She had put off her ball dress and had slipped into the simplest and easiest of breakfast frocks, which was by no means plain. Bessie had no plain frocks for any hour of the day; her frocks all expressed in stuff and style and color, and the bravery of their flying laces and ribbons, the audacity of spirit with which she was herself chicqued together, as she said. This one she had on now was something that brightened her dull complexion, and brought out the best effect of her eyes and mouth, and seemed the effluence of her personal dash and grace. It made the most of her, and she liked it beyond all her other negligees for its complaisance.
She got a book, and sat down in a long, low chair before the fire and crossed her pretty slippers on the warm hearth. It was a quarter after three by the clock on the mantel; but she had never felt more eagerly awake. The party had not been altogether to her mind, up to midnight, but after that it had been a series of rapid and vivid emotions, which continued themselves still in the tumult of her nerves, and seemed to demand an indefinite sequence of experience. She did not know what state her brother might be in when he came home; she had not seen anything of him after she first went out to supper; till then, though, he had kept himself straight, as he needs must; but she could not tell what happened to him afterward. She hoped that he would come home able to talk, for she wished to talk. She wished to talk about herself; and as she had already had flattery enough, she wanted some truth about herself; she wanted Alan to say what he thought of her behavior the whole evening with that jay. He must have seen something of it in the beginning, and she should tell him all the rest. She should tell him just how often she had danced with the man, and how many dances she had sat out with him; how she had pretended once that she was engaged when another man asked her, and then danced with the jay, to whom she pretended that he had engaged her for the dance. She had wished to see how he would take it; for the same reason she had given to some one else a dance that was really his. She would tell Alan how the jay had asked her for that last dance, and then never come near her again. That would give him the whole situation, and she would know just what he thought of it.
What she thought of herself she hardly knew, or made believe she hardly knew. She prided herself upon not being a flirt; she might not be very good, as goodness went, but she was not despicable, and a flirt was despicable. She did not call the audacity of her behavior with the jay flirting; he seemed to understand it as well as she, and to meet her in her own spirit; she wondered now whether this jay was really more interesting than the other men one met, or only different; whether he was original, like Alan himself, or merely novel, and would soon wear down to the tiresomeness that seemed to underlie them all, and made one wish to do something dreadful. In the jay’s presence she had no wish to do anything dreadful. Was it because he was dreadful enough for both, all the time, without doing anything? She would like to ask Alan that, and see how he would take it. Nothing seemed to put the jay out, so far as she had tried, and she had tried some bold impertinences with him. He was very jolly through them all, and at the worst of them he laughed and asked her for that dance, which he never came to claim, though in the mean time he brought her some belated supper, and was devoted to her and her aunt, inventing services to do for them. Then suddenly he went off and did not return, and Mr. Westover mysteriously reappeared, and got their carriage.
She heard a scratching at the key-hole of the outside door; she knew it was Alan’s latch. She had left the inner door ajar that there might be no uncertainty of hearing him, and she ran out into the space between that and the outer door where the fumbling and scraping kept on.
“Is that you, Alan?” she called, softly, and if she had any doubt before, she had none when she heard her brother outside, cursing his luck with his key as usual.
She flung the door open, and confronted him with another man, who had his arms around him as if he had caught him from falling with the inward pull of the door. Alan got to his feet and grappled with the man, and insisted that he should come in and make a night of it.
Bessie saw that it was Jeff, and they stood a moment, looking at each other. Jeff tried to free himself with an appeal to Bessie: “I beg your pardon, Miss Lynde. I walked home with your brother, and I was just helping him to get in–I didn’t think that you–“
Alan said, with his measured distinctness: “Nobody cares what you think. Come in, and get something to carry you over the bridge. Cambridge cars stopped running long ago. I say you shall!” He began to raise his voice. A light flashed in a window across the way, and a sash was lifted; some one must be looking out.
“Oh, come in with him!” Bessie implored, and at a little yielding in Jeff her brother added:
“Come in, you damn jay!” He pulled at Jeff.
Jeff made haste to shut the door behind them. He was laughing; and if it was from mere brute insensibility to what would have shocked another in the situation, his frank recognition of its grotesqueness was of better effect than any hopeless effort to ignore it would have been. People adjust themselves to their trials; it is the pretence of the witness that there is no trial which hurts, and Bessie was not wounded by Jeff’s laugh.
“There’s a fire here in the reception-room,” she said. “Can you get him in?”
“I guess so.”
Jeff lifted Alan into the room and stayed him on foot there, while he took off his hat and overcoat, and then he let him sink into the low easy-chair Bessie had just risen from. All the time, Alan was bidding her ring and have some champagne and cold meat set out on the side-board, and she was lightly promising and coaxing. But he drowsed quickly in the warmth, and the last demand for supper died half uttered on his lips.
Jeff asked across him: “Can’t I get him up-stairs for you? I can carry him.”
She shook her head and whispered back, “I can leave him here,” and she looked at Jeff with a moment’s hesitation. “Did you–do you think that– any one noticed him at Mrs. Enderby’s?”
“No; they had got him in a room by himself–the caterer’s men had.”
“And you found him there?”
“Mr. Westover found him there,” Jeff answered.
“I don’t understand.”
“Didn’t he come to you after I left?”
“I told him to excuse me–“
“Well, I guess he was pretty badly rattled.” Jeff stopped himself in the vague laugh of one who remembers something ludicrous, and turned his face away.
“Tell me what it was!” she demanded, nervously.
“Mr. Westover had been home with him once, and he wouldn’t stay. He made Mr. Westover come back for me.”
“What did he want with you?”
“And then what?”
“We went out to the carriage, as soon as I could get away from you; but he wasn’t in it. I sent Mr. Westover back to you and set out to look for him.”
“That was very good of you. And I–thank you for your kindness to my brother. I shall not forget it. And I wish to beg your pardon.”
“What for?” asked Jeff, bluntly.
“For blaming you when you didn’t come back for the dance.”
If Bessie had meant nothing but what was fitting to the moment some inherent lightness of nature played her false. But even the histrionic touch which she could not keep out of her voice, her manner, another sort of man might have found merely pathetic.
Jeff laughed with subtle intelligence. “Were you very hard on me?”
“Very,” she answered in kind, forgetting her brother and the whole terrible situation.
“Tell me what you thought of me,” he said, and he came a little nearer to her, looking very handsome and very strong. “I should like to know.”
“I said I should never speak to you again.”
“And you kept your word,” said Jeff. “Well, that’s all right. Good- night-or good-morning, whichever it is.” He took her hand, which she could not withdraw, or feigned to herself that she could not withdraw, and looked at her with a silent laugh, and a hardy, sceptical glance that she felt take in every detail of her prettiness, her plainness. Then he turned and went out, and she ran quickly and locked the door upon him.
Bessie crept up to her room, where she spent the rest of the night in her chair, amid a tumult of emotion which she would have called thinking. She asked herself the most searching questions, but she got no very candid answers to them, and she decided that she must see the whole fact with some other’s eyes before she could know what she had meant or what she had done.
When she let the daylight into her room, it showed her a face in her mirror that bore no trace of conflicting anxieties. Her complexion favored this effect of inward calm; it was always thick; and her eyes seemed to her all the brighter for their vigils.
A smile, even, hovered on her mouth as she sat down at the breakfast- table, in the pretty negligee she had worn all night, and poured out Miss Lynde’s coffee for her.
“That’s always very becoming to you, Bessie,” said her aunt. “It’s the nicest breakfast gown you have.”
“Do you think so?” Bessie looked down at it, first on one side and then on the other, as a woman always does when her dress is spoken of.
“Mr. Alan said he would have his breakfast in his room, miss,” murmured the butler, in husky respectfulness, as he returned to Bessie from carrying Miss Lynde’s cup to her. “He don’t want anything but a little toast and coffee.”
She perceived that the words were meant to make it easy for her to ask: “Isn’t he very well, Andrew?”
“About as usual, miss,” said Andrew, a thought more sepulchral than before. “He’s going on–about as usual.”
She knew this to mean that he was going on from bad to worse, and that his last night’s excess was the beginning of a debauch which could end only in one way. She must send for the doctor; he would decide what was best, when he saw how Alan came through the day.
Late in the afternoon she heard Mary Enderby’s voice in the reception- room, bidding the man say that if Miss Bessie were lying down she would come up to her, or would go away, just as she wished. She flew downstairs with a glad cry of “Molly! What an inspiration! I was just thinking of you, and wishing for you. But I didn’t suppose you were up yet!”
“It’s pretty early,” said Miss Enderby. “But I should have been here before if I could, for I knew I shouldn’t wake you, Bessie, with your habit of turning night into day, and getting up any time in the forenoon.”
“How dissipated you sound!”
“Yes, don’t I? But I’ve been thinking about you ever since I woke, and I had to come and find out if you were alive, anyhow.”
“Come up-stairs and see!” said Bessie, holding her friend’s hand on the sofa where they had dropped down together, and going all over the scene of last night in that place for the thousandth time.
“No, no; I really mustn’t. I hope you had a good time?”
“At your house!”
“How dear of you! But, Bessie, I got to thinking you’d been rather sacrificed. It came into my mind the instant I woke, and gave me this severe case of conscience. I suppose it’s a kind of conscience.”
“Yes, yes. Go on! I like having been a martyr, if I don’t know what about.”
“Why, you know, Bessie, or if you don’t you will presently, that it was I who got mamma to send him a card; I felt rather sorry for him, that day at Mrs. Bevidge’s, because she’d so obviously got him there to use him, and I got mamma to ask him. Everything takes care of itself, at a large affair, and I thought I might trust in Providence to deal with him after he came; and then I saw you made a means the whole evening! I didn’t reflect that there always has to be a means!”
“It’s a question of Mr. Durgin?” said Bessie, coldly thrilling at the sound of a name that she pronounced so gayly in a tone of sympathetic amusement.
Miss Enderby bobbed her head. “It shows that we ought never to do a good action, doesn’t it? But, poor thing! How you must have been swearing off!”
“I don’t know. Was it so very bad? I’m trying to think,” said Bessie, thinking that after this beginning it would be impossible to confide in Mary Enderby.
“Oh, now, Bessie! Don’t you be patient, or I shall begin to lose my faith in human nature. Just say at once that it was an outrage and I’ll forgive you! You see,” Miss Enderby went on, “it isn’t merely that he’s a jay; but he isn’t a very nice jay. None of the men like him–except Freddy Lancaster, of course; he likes everybody, on principle; he doesn’t count. I thought that perhaps, although he’s so crude and blunt, he might be sensitive and high-minded; you’re always reading about such things; but they say he isn’t, in the least; oh, not the least! They say he goes with a set of fast jays, and that he’s dreadful; though he has a very good mind, and could do very well if he chose. That’s what cousin Jim said to-day; he’s just been at our house; and it was so extremely telepathic that I thought I must run round and prevent your having the man on your conscience if you felt you had had too much of him. You won’t lay him up against us, will you?” She jumped to her feet.
“You dear!” said Bessie, keeping Mary Enderby’s hand, and pressing it between both of hers against her breast as they now stood face to face, “do come up and have some tea!”
“No, no! Really, I can’t.”
They were both involuntarily silent. The door had been opened to some one, and there was a brief parley, which ended in a voice they knew to be the doctor’s, saying, “Then I’ll go right up to his room.” Both the girls broke into laughing adieux, to hide their consciousness that the doctor was going up to see Alan Lynde, who was never sick except in the one way.
Miss Enderby even said: “I was so glad to see Alan looking so well, last night.”
“Yes, he had such a good time,” said Bessie, and she followed her friend to the door, where she kissed her reassuringly, and thanked her for taking all the trouble she had, bidding her not be the least anxious on her account.
It seemed to her that she should sink upon the stairs in mounting them to the library. Mary Enderby had told her only what she had known before; it was what her brother had told her; but then it had not been possible for the man to say that he had brought Alan home tipsy, and been alone in the house with her at three o’clock in the morning. He would not only boast of it to all that vulgar comradehood of his, but it might get into those terrible papers which published the society scandals. There would be no way but to appeal to his pity, his generosity. She fancied herself writing to him, but he could show her note, and she must send for him to come and see her, and try to put him on his honor. Or, that would not do, either. She must make it happen that they should be thrown together, and then speak to him. Even that might make him think she was afraid of him; or he might take it wrong, and believe that she cared for him. He had really been very good to Alan, and she tried to feel safe in the thought of that. She did feel safe for a moment; but if she had meant nothing but to make him believe her grateful, what must he infer from her talking to him in the light way she did about forgiving him for not coming back to dance with her. Her manner, her looks, her tone, had given him the right to say that she had been willing to flirt with him there, at that hour, and in those dreadful circumstances.
She found herself lying in a deep arm-chair in the library, when she was aware of Dr. Lacy pausing at the door and looking tentatively in upon her.
“Come in, doctor,” she said, and she knew that her face was wet with tears, and that she spoke with the voice of weeping.
He came forward and looked narrowly at her, without sitting down. “There’s nothing to be alarmed about, Miss Bessie,” he said. “But I think your brother had better leave home again, for a while.”
“Yes,” she said, blankly. Her mind was not on his words.
“I will make the arrangements.”
“Thank you,” said Bessie, listlessly.
The doctor had made a step backward, as if he were going away, and now he stopped. “Aren’t you feeling quite well, Miss Bessie?”
“Oh yes,” she said, and she began to cry.
The doctor came forward and said, cheerily: “Let me see.” He pulled a chair up to hers, and took her wrist between his fingers. “If you were at Mrs. Enderby’s last night, you’ll need another night to put you just right. But you’re pretty well as it is.” He let her wrist softly go, and said: “You mustn’t distress yourself about your brother’s case. Of course, it’s hard to have it happen now after he’s held up so long; longer than it has been before, I think, isn’t it? But it’s something that it has been so long. The next time, let us hope, it will be longer still.”
The doctor made as if to rise. Bessie put her hand out to stay him. “What is it makes him do it?”
“Ah, that’s a great mystery,” said the doctor. “I suppose you might say the excitement.”