The Landlord At Lions Head by William D. Howells
The painter went round to the front of the house and walked up and down before it for different points of view. He ran down the lane some way, and then came back and climbed to the sloping field behind the barn, where he could look at Lion's Head over the roof of the house. He tried an open space in the orchard, where he backed against the wall enclosing the little burial-ground. He looked round at it without seeming to see it, and then went back to the level where the house stood. "This is the place," he said to himself. But the boy, who had been lurking after him, with the dog lurking at, his own heels in turn, took the words as a proffer of conversation.
"I thought you'd come to it," he sneered.
"Did you?" asked the painter, with a smile for the unsatisfied grudge in the boy's tone. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
The boy looked down, and apparently made up his mind to wait until something sufficiently severe should come to him for a retort. "Want I should help you get your things?" he asked, presently.
"Why, yes," said the painter, with a glance of surprise. "I shall be much obliged for a lift." He started toward the porch where his burden lay, and the boy ran before him. They jointly separated the knapsack from the things tied to it, and the painter let the boy carry the easel and campstool which developed themselves from their folds and hinges, and brought the colors and canvas himself to the spot he had chosen. The boy looked at the tag on the easel after it was placed, and read the name on it--Jere Westover. "That's a funny name."
"I'm glad it amuses you," said the owner of it.
Again the boy cast down his eyes discomfited, and seemed again resolving silently to bide his time and watch for another chance.
Westover forgot him in the fidget he fell into, trying this and that effect, with his head slanted one way and then slanted the other, his hand held up to shut out the mountain below the granite mass of Lion's Head, and then changed to cut off the sky above; and then both hands lifted in parallel to confine the picture. He made some tentative scrawls on his canvas in charcoal, and he wasted so much time that the light on the mountain-side began to take the rich tone of the afternoon deepening to evening. A soft flush stole into it; the sun dipped behind the top south of the mountain, and Lion's Head stood out against the intense clearness of the west, which began to be flushed with exquisite suggestions of violet and crimson.
"Good Lord!" said Westover; and he flew at his colors and began to paint. He had got his canvas into such a state that he alone could have found it much more intelligible than his palette, when he heard the boy saying, over his shoulder: "I don't think that looks very much like it." He had last been aware of the boy sitting at the grassy edge of the lane, tossing small bits of earth and pebble across to his dog, which sat at the other edge and snapped at them. Then he lost consciousness of him. He answered, dreamily, while he found a tint he was trying for with his brush: "Perhaps you don't know." He was so sure of his effect that the popular censure speaking in the boy's opinion only made him happier in it.
"I know what I see," said the boy.
"I doubt it," said Westover, and then he lost consciousness of him again. He was rapt deep and far into the joy of his work, and had no thought but for that, and for the dim question whether it would be such another day to-morrow, with that light again on Lion's Head, when he was at last sensible of a noise that he felt he must have been hearing some time without noting it. It was a lamentable, sound of screaming, as of some one in mortal terror, mixed with wild entreaties. "Oh, don't, Jeff! Oh, don't, don't, don't! Oh, please! Oh, do let us be! Oh, Jeff, don't!"
Westover looked round bewildered, and not able, amid the clamor of the echoes, to make out where the cries came from. Then, down at the point where the lane joined the road to the southward and the road lost itself in the shadow of a woodland, he saw the boy leaping back and forth across the track, with his dog beside him; he was shouting and his dog barking furiously; those screams and entreaties came from within the shadow. Westover plunged down the lane headlong, with a speed that gathered at each bound, and that almost flung him on his face when he reached the level where the boy and the dog were dancing back and forth across the road. Then he saw, crouching in the edge of the wood, a little girl, who was uttering the appeals he had heard, and clinging to her, with a face of frantic terror, a child of five or six years; her cries had grown hoarse, and had a hard, mechanical action as they followed one another. They were really in no danger, for the boy held his dog tight by his collar, and was merely delighting himself with their terror.
The painter hurled himself upon him, and, with a quick grip upon his collar, gave him half a dozen flat-handed blows wherever he could plant them and then flung him reeling away.
"You infernal little ruffian!" he roared at him; and the sound of his voice was enough for the dog; he began to scale the hill-side toward the house without a moment's stay.
The children still crouched together, and Westover could hardly make them understand that they were in his keeping when he bent over them and bade them not be frightened. The little girl set about wiping the child's eyes on her apron in a motherly fashion; her own were dry enough, and Westover fancied there was more of fury than of fright in her face. She seemed lost to any sense of his presence, and kept on talking fiercely to herself, while she put the little boy in order, like an indignant woman.
"Great, mean, ugly thing! I'll tell the teacher on him, that's what I will, as soon as ever school begins. I'll see if he can come round with that dog of his scaring folks! I wouldn't 'a' been a bit afraid if it hadn't 'a' been for Franky. Don't cry any more, Franky. Don't you see they're gone? I presume he thinks it smart to scare a little boy and a girl. If I was a boy once, I'd show him!"
She made no sign of gratitude to Westover: as far as any recognition from her was concerned, his intervention was something as impersonal as if it had been a thunder-bolt falling upon her enemies from the sky.
"Where do you live?" he asked. "I'll go home with you if you'll tell me where you live."
She looked up at him in a daze, and Westover heard the Durgin boy saying: "She lives right there in that little wood-colored house at the other end of the lane. There ain't no call to go home with her."
Westover turned and saw the boy kneeling at the edge of a clump of bushes, where he must have struck; he was rubbing, with a tuft of grass, at the dirt ground into the knees of his trousers.
The little, girl turned hawkishly upon him. "Not for anything you can do, Jeff Durgin!"
The boy did not answer.
"There!" she said, giving a final pull and twitch to the dress of her brother, and taking him by the hand tenderly. "Now, come right along, Franky."
"Let me have your other hand," said Westover, and, with the little boy between them, they set off toward the point where the lane joined the road on the northward. They had to pass the bushes where Jeff Durgin was crouching, and the little girl turned and made a face at him. "Oh, oh! I don't think I should have done that," said Westover.
"I don't care!" said the little girl. But she said, in explanation and partial excuse: "He tries to scare all the girls. I'll let him know 't he can't scare one!"
Westover looked up toward the Durgin house with a return of interest in the canvas he had left in the lane on the easel. Nothing had happened to it. At the door of the barn he saw the farmer and his eldest son slanting forward and staring down the hill at the point he had come from. Mrs. Durgin was looking out from the shelter of the porch, and she turned and went in with Jeff's dog at her skirts when Westover came in sight with the children.