The Landlord At Lions Head by William D. Howells
Jeff Durgin entered Harvard that fall, with fewer conditions than most students have to work off. This was set down to the credit of Lovewell Academy, where he had prepared for the university; and some observers in such matters were interested to note how thoroughly the old school in a remote town had done its work for him.
None who formed personal relations with him at that time conjectured that he had done much of the work for himself, and even to Westover, when Jeff came to him some weeks after his settlement in Cambridge, he seemed painfully out of his element, and unamiably aware of it. For the time, at least, he had lost the jovial humor, not too kindly always, which largely characterized him, and expressed itself in sallies of irony which were not so unkindly, either. The painter perceived that he was on his guard against his own friendly interest; Jeff made haste to explain that he came because he had told his mother that he would do so. He scarcely invited a return of his visit, and he left Westover wondering at the sort of vague rebellion against his new life which he seemed to be in. The painter went out to see him in Cambridge, not long after, and was rather glad to find him rooming with some other rustic Freshman in a humble street running from the square toward the river; for he thought Jeff must have taken his lodging for its cheapness, out of regard to his mother's means. But Jeff was not glad to be found there, apparently; he said at once that he expected to get a room in the Yard the next year, and eat at Memorial Hall. He spoke scornfully of his boarding-house as a place where they were all a lot of jays together; and Westover thought him still more at odds with his environment than he had before. But Jeff consented to come in and dine with him at his restaurant, and afterward go to the theatre with him.
When he came, Westover did not quite like his despatch of the half-bottle of California claret served each of them with the Italian table d'hote. He did not like his having already seen the play he proposed; and he found some difficulty in choosing a play which Jeff had not seen. It appeared then that he had been at the theatre two or three times a week for the last month, and that it was almost as great a passion with him as with Westover himself. He had become already a critic of acting, with a rough good sense of it, and a decided opinion. He knew which actors he preferred, and which actresses, better still. It was some consolation for Westover to find that he mostly took an admission ticket when he went to the theatre; but, though he could not blame Jeff for showing his own fondness for it, he wished that he had not his fondness.
So far Jeff seemed to have spent very few of his evenings in Cambridge, and Westover thought it would be well if he had some acquaintance there. He made favor for him with a friendly family, who asked him to dinner. They did it to oblige Westover, against their own judgment and knowledge, for they said it was always the same with Freshmen; a single act of hospitality finished the acquaintance. Jeff came, and he behaved with as great indifference to the kindness meant him as if he were dining out every night; he excused himself very early in the evening on the ground that he had to go into Boston, and he never paid his dinner-call. After that Westover tried to consider his whole duty to him fulfilled, and not to trouble himself further. Now and then, however, Jeff disappointed the expectation Westover had formed of him, by coming to see him, and being apparently glad of the privilege. But he did not make the painter think that he was growing in grace or wisdom, though he apparently felt an increasing confidence in his own knowledge of life.
Westover could only feel a painful interest tinged with amusement in his grotesque misconceptions of the world where he had not yet begun to right himself. Jeff believed lurid things of the society wholly unknown to him; to his gross credulity, Boston houses, which at the worst were the homes of a stiff and cold exclusiveness, were the scenes of riot only less scandalous than the dissipation to which fashionable ladies abandoned themselves at champagne suppers in the Back Bay hotels and on their secret visits to the Chinese opium-joints in Kingston Street.
Westover tried to make him see how impossible his fallacies were; but he could perceive that Jeff thought him either wilfully ignorant or helplessly innocent, and of far less authority than a barber who had the entree of all these swell families as hair-dresser, and who corroborated the witness of a hotel night-clerk (Jeff would not give their names) to the depravity of the upper classes. He had to content himself with saying: "I hope you will be ashamed some day of having believed such rot. But I suppose it's something you've got to go through. You may take my word for it, though? that it isn't going to do you any good. It's going to do you harm, and that's why I hate to have you think it, for your own sake. It can't hurt any one else."
What disgusted the painter most was that, with all his belief in the wickedness of the fine world, it was clear that Jeff would have willingly been of it; and he divined that if he had any strong aspirations they were for society and for social acceptance. He had fancied, when the fellow seemed to care so little for the studies of the university, that he might come forward in its sports. Jeff gave more and more the effect of tremendous strength in his peculiar physique, though there was always the disappointment of not finding him tall. He was of the middle height, but he was hewn out and squared upward massively. He felt like stone to any accidental contact, and the painter brought away a bruise from the mere brunt of his shoulders. He learned that Jeff was a frequenter of the gymnasium, where his strength must have been known, but he could not make out that he had any standing among the men who went in for athletics. If Jeff had even this, the sort of standing in college which he failed of would easily have been won, too. But he had been falsely placed at the start, or some quality of his nature neutralized other qualities that would have made him a leader in college, and he remained one of the least forward men in it. Other jays won favor and liking, and ceased to be jays; Jeff continued a jay. He was not chosen into any of the nicer societies; those that he joined when he thought they were swell he could not care for when he found they were not.
Westover came into a knowledge of the facts through his casual and scarcely voluntary confidences, and he pitied him somewhat while he blamed him a great deal more, without being able to help him at all.
It appeared to him that the fellow had gone wrong more through ignorance than perversity, and that it was a stubbornness of spirit rather than a badness of heart that kept him from going right. He sometimes wondered whether it was not more a baffled wish to be justified in his own esteem than anything else that made him overvalue the things he missed. He knew how such an experience as that with Mrs. Marven rankles in the heart of youth, and will not cease to smart till some triumph in kind brines it ease; but between the man of thirty and the boy of twenty there is a gulf fixed, and he could not ask. He did not know that a college man often goes wrong in his first year, out of no impulse that he can very clearly account for himself, and then when he ceases to be merely of his type and becomes more of his character, he pulls up and goes right. He did not know how much Jeff had been with a set that was fast without being fine. The boy had now and then a book in his hand when he came; not always such a book as Westover could have wished, but still a book; and to his occasional questions about how he was getting on with his college work, Jeff made brief answers, which gave the notion that he was not neglecting it.
Toward the end of his first year he sent to Westover one night from a station-house, where he had been locked up for breaking a street-lamp in Boston. By his own showing he had not broken the lamp, or assisted, except through his presence, at the misdeed of the tipsy students who had done it. His breath betrayed that he had been drinking, too; but otherwise he seemed as sober as Westover himself, who did not know whether to augur well or ill for him from the proofs he had given before of his ability to carry off a bottle of wine with a perfectly level head. Jeff seemed to believe Westover a person of such influence that he could secure his release at once, and he was abashed to find that he must pass the night in the cell, where he conferred with Westover through the bars.
In the police court, where his companions were fined, the next morning, he was discharged for want of evidence against him; but the university authorities did not take the same view as the civil authorities. He was suspended, and for the time he passed out of Westover's sight and knowledge.
He expected to find him at Lion's Head, where he went to pass the month of August--in painting those pictures of the mountain which had in some sort, almost in spite of him, become his specialty. But Mrs. Durgin employed the first free moments after their meeting in explaining that Jeff had got a chance to work his way to London on a cattle-steamer, and had been abroad the whole summer. He had written home that the voyage had been glorious, with plenty to eat and little to do; and he had made favor with the captain for his return by the same vessel in September. By other letters it seemed that he had spent the time mostly in England; but he had crossed over into France for a fortnight, and had spent a week in Paris. His mother read some passages from his letters aloud to show Westover how Jeff was keeping his eyes open. His accounts of his travel were a mixture of crude sensations in the presence of famous scenes and objects of interest, hard-headed observation of the facts of life, narrow-minded misconception of conditions, and wholly intelligent and adequate study of the art of inn-keeping in city and country.
Mrs. Durgin seemed to feel that there was some excuse due for the relative quantity of the last. "He knows that's what I'd care for the most; and Jeff a'n't one to forget his mother." As if the word reminded her, she added, after a moment: "We sha'n't any of us soon forget what you done for Jeff--that time."
"I didn't do anything for him, Mrs. Durgin; I couldn't," Westover protested.
"You done what you could, and I know that you saw the thing in the right light, or you wouldn't 'a' tried to do anything. Jeff told me every word about it. I know he was with a pretty harum-scarum crowd. But it was a lesson to him; and I wa'n't goin' to have him come back here, right away, and have folks talkin' about what they couldn't understand, after the way the paper had it."
"Did it get into the papers?"
"Mm." Mrs. Durgin nodded. "And some dirty, sneakin' thing, here, wrote a letter to the paper and told a passel o' lies about Jeff and all of us; and the paper printed Jeff's picture with it; I don't know how they got a hold of it. So when he got that chance to go, I just said, 'Go.' You'll see he'll keep all straight enough after this, Mr. Westover."
"Old woman read you any of Jeff's letters?" Whit-well asked, when his chance for private conference with Westover came. "What was the rights of that scrape he got into?"
Westover explained as favorably to Jeff as he could; the worst of the affair was the bad company he was in.
Well, where there's smoke there's some fire. Cou't discharged him and college suspended him. That's about where it is? I guess he'll keep out o' harm's way next time. Read you what he said about them scenes of the Revolution in Paris?"
"Yes; he seems to have looked it all up pretty thoroughly."
"Done it for me, I guess, much as anything. I was always talkin' it up with him. Jeff's kep' his eyes open, that's a fact. He's got a head on him, more'n I ever thought."
Westover decided that Mrs. Durgin's prepotent behavior toward Mrs. Marven the summer before had not hurt her materially, with the witnesses even. There were many new boarders, but most of those whom he had already met were again at Lion's Head. They said there was no air like it, and no place so comfortable. If they had sold their birthright for a mess of pottage, Westover had to confess that the pottage was very good. Instead of the Irish woman at ten dollars a week who had hitherto been Mrs. Durgin's cook, under her personal surveillance and direction, she had now a man cook, whom she boldly called a chef and paid eighty dollars a month. He wore the white apron and white cap of his calling, but Westover heard him speak Yankee through his nose to one of the stablemen as they exchanged hilarities across the space between the basement and the barn-door. "Yes," Mrs. Durgin admitted, "he's an American; and he learnt his trade at one of the best hotels in Portland. He's pretty headstrong, but I guess he does what he's told--in the end. The meanyous? Oh, Franky Whitwell prints then. He's got an amateur printing-office in the stable-loft."