The Landlord At Lions Head by William D. Howells
One morning Westover got leave from Mrs. Durgin to help Cynthia open the dim rooms and cold corridors at the hotel to the sun and air. She promised him he should take his death, but he said he would wrap up warm, and when he came to join the girl in his overcoat and fur cap, he found Cynthia equipped with a woollen cloud tied around her head, and a little shawl pinned across her breast.
"Is that all?" he reproached her. "I ought to have put on a single wreath of artificial flowers and some sort of a blazer for this expedition. Don't you think so, Mrs. Durgin?"
"I believe women can stand about twice as much cold as you can, the best of you," she answered, grimly.
"Then I must try to keep myself as warm as I can with work," he said. "You must let me do all the rough work of airing out, won't you, Cynthia?"
"There isn't any rough work about it," she answered, in a sort of motherly toleration of his mood, without losing anything of her filial reverence.
She took care of him, he perceived, as she took care of her brother and her father, but with a delicate respect for his superiority, which was no longer shyness.
They began with the office and the parlor, where they flung up the windows, and opened the doors, and then they opened the dining-room, where the tables stood in long rows, with the chairs piled on them legs upward. Cynthia went about with many sighs for the dust on everything, though to Westover's eyes it all seemed frigidly clean. "If it goes on as it has for the past two years," she said, "we shall have to add on a new dining-room. I don't know as I like to have it get so large!"
"I never wanted it to go beyond the original farmhouse," said Westover. "I've been jealous of every boarder but the first. I should have liked to keep it for myself, and let the world know Lion's Head from my pictures."
"I guess Mrs. Durgin thinks it was your picture that began to send people here."
"And do you blame me, too? What if the thing I'm doing now should make it a winter resort? Nothing could save you, then, but a fire. I believe that's Jeff's ambition. Only he would want to put another hotel in place of this; something that would be more popular. Then the ruin I began would be complete, and I shouldn't come any more; I couldn't bear the sight."
"I guess Mrs. Durgin wouldn't think it was lion's Head if you stopped coming," said Cynthia.
"But you would know better than that," said Westover; and then he was sorry he had said it, for it seemed to ask something of different quality from her honest wish to make him know their regard for him.
She did not answer, but went down a long corridor to which they had mounted, to raise the window at the end, while he raised another at the opposite extremity. When they met at the stairway again to climb to the story above, he said: "I am always ashamed when I try to make a person of sense say anything silly," and she flushed, still without answering, as if she understood him, and his meaning pleased her. "But fortunately a person of sense is usually equal to the temptation. One ought to be serious when he tries it with a person of the other sort; but I don't know that one is!"
"Do you feel any draught between these windows?" asked Cynthia, abruptly. "I don't want you should take cold."
"Oh, I'm all right," said Westover.
She went into the rooms on one side of the corridor, and put up their windows, and flung the blinds back. He did the same on the other side. He got a peculiar effect of desolation from the mattresses pulled down over the foot of the bedsteads, and the dismantled interiors reflected in the mirrors of the dressing-cases; and he was going to speak of it when he rejoined Cynthia at the stairway leading to the third story, when she said, "Those were Mrs. Vostrand's rooms I came out of the last." She nodded her head over her shoulder toward the floor they were leaving.
"Were they indeed! And do you remember people's rooms so long?"
"Yes; I always think of rooms by the name of people that have them, if they're any way peculiar."
He thought this bit of uncandor charming, and accepted it as if it were the whole truth. "And Mrs. Vostrand was certainly peculiar. Tell me, Cynthia, what did you think of her?"
"She was only here a little while."
"But you wouldn't have come to think of her rooms by her name if she hadn't made a strong impression on you!" She did not answer, and he said, "I see you didn't like her!"
The girl would not speak, and Mr. Westover went on: "She used to be very good to me, and I think she used to be better to herself than she is now." He knew that Jeff must have told Cynthia of his affair with Genevieve Vostrand, and he kept himself from speaking of her by a resolution he thought creditable, as he mounted the stairs to the upper story in the silence to which Cynthia left his last remark. At the top she made a little pause in the obscurer light of the close-shuttered corridor, while she said: "I liked her daughter the best."
"Yes?" he returned. "I--never felt very well acquainted with her, I believe. One couldn't get far with her. Though, for the matter of that, one didn't get far with Mrs. Vostrand herself. Did you think Genevieve was much influenced by her mother?"
"She didn't seem a strong character."
"No, that was it. She was what her mother wished her to be. I've often wondered how much she was interested in the marriage she made."
Cynthia let a rustic silence ensue, and Westover shrank again from the inquisition he longed to make.
It was not Genevieve Vostrand's marriage which really concerned him, but Cynthia's engagement, and it was her mind that he would have liked to look into. It might well be supposed that she regarded it in a perfect matter-of-fact way, and with no ambition beyond it. She was a country girl, acquainted from childhood with facts of life which town-bred girls would not have known without a blunting of the sensibilities, and why should she be different from other country girls? She might be as good and as fine as he saw her, and yet be insensible to the spiritual toughness of Jeff, because of her love for him. Her very goodness might make his badness unimaginable to her, and if her refinement were from the conscience merely, and not from the tastes and experiences, too, there was not so much to dread for her in her marriage with such a man. Still, he would have liked, if he could, to tell her what he had told her father of Durgin's behavior with Lynde, and let her bring the test of her self- devotion to the case with a clear understanding. He had sometimes been afraid that Whitwell might not be able to keep it to himself; but now he wished that the philosopher had not been so discreet. He had all this so absorbingly in mind that he started presently with the fear that she had said something and he had not answered, but when he asked her he found that she had not spoken. They were standing at an open window looking out upon Lion's Head, when he said: "I don't know how I shall show my gratitude to Mrs. Durgin and you for thinking of having me up here. I've done a picture of Lion's Head that might be ever so much worse; but I shouldn't have dreamed of getting at it if it hadn't been for you, though I've so often dreamed of doing it. Now I shall go home richer in every sort of way-thanks to you."
She answered, simply: "You needn't thank anybody; but it was Jeff who thought of it; we were ready enough to ask you."
"That was very good of him," said Westover, whom her words confirmed in a suspicion he had had all along. But what did it matter that Jeff had suggested their asking him, and then attributed the notion to them? It was not so malign for him to use that means of ingratiating himself with Westover, and of making him forget his behavior with Lynde, and it was not unnatural. It was very characteristic; at the worst it merely proved that Jeff was more ashamed of what he had done than he would allow, and that was to his credit.
He heard Cynthia asking: "Mr. Westover, have you ever been at Class Day? He wants us to come."
"Class Day? Oh, Class Day!" He took a little time to gather himself together. "Yes, I've been at a good many. If you care to see something pretty, it's the prettiest thing in the world. The students' sisters and mothers come from everywhere; and there's fashion and feasting and flirting, from ten in the morning till ten at night. I'm not sure there's so much happiness; but I can't tell. The young people know about that. I fancy there's a good deal of defeat and disappointment in it all. But if you like beautiful dresses, and music and dancing, and a great flutter of gayety, you can get more of it at Class Day than you can in any other way. The good time depends a great deal upon the acquaintance a student has, and whether he is popular in college." Westover found this road a little impassable, and he faltered.
Cynthia did not apparently notice his hesitation. "Do you think Mrs. Durgin would like it?"
"Mrs. Durgin?" Westover found that he had been leaving her out of the account, and had been thinking only of Cynthia's pleasure or pain. "Well, I don't suppose--it would be rather fatiguing--Did Jeff want her to come too?"
"He said so."
"That's very nice of him. If he could devote himself to her; but--And would she like to go?"
"To please him, she would." Westover was silent, and the girl surprised him by the appeal she suddenly made to him. "Mr. Westover, do you believe it would be very well for either of us to go? I think it would be better for us to leave all that part of his life alone. It's no use in pretending that we're like the kind of people he knows, or that we know their ways, and I don't believe--"
Westover felt his heart rise in indignant sympathy. "There isn't any one he knows to compare with you!" he said, and in this he was thinking mainly of Bessie Lynde. "You're worth a thousand--If I were--if he's half a man he would be proud--I beg your pardon! I don't mean--but you understand--"
Cynthia put her head far out of the window and looked along the steep roof before them. "There is a blind off one of the windows. I heard it clapping in the wind the other night. I must go and see the number of the room." She drew her head in quickly and ran away without letting him see her face.
He followed her. "Let me help you put it on again!"
"No, no!" she called back. "Frank will do that, or Jombateeste, when they come to shut up the house."