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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Landlord At Lions Head - Part 1 - Chapter 15
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The Landlord At Lions Head - Part 1 - Chapter 15 Post by :Sheri_Graber Category :Long Stories Author :William Dean Howells Date :May 2012 Read :1892

Click below to download : The Landlord At Lions Head - Part 1 - Chapter 15 (Format : PDF)

The Landlord At Lions Head - Part 1 - Chapter 15

PART I CHAPTER XV

Two ladies sat on the veranda of the hotel and watched a cloud-wreath trying to lift itself from the summit of Lion's Head. In the effort it thinned away to transparency in places; in others, it tore its frail texture asunder and let parts of the mountain show through; then the fragments knitted themselves loosely together, and the vapor lay again in dreamy quiescence.

The ladies were older and younger, and apparently mother and daughter. The mother had kept her youth in face and figure so admirably that in another light she would have looked scarcely the elder. It was the candor of the morning which confessed the fine vertical lines running up and down to her lips, only a shade paler than the girl's, and that showed her hair a trifle thinner in its coppery brown, her blue eyes a little dimmer. They were both very graceful, and they had soft, caressing voices; they now began to talk very politely to each other, as if they were strangers, or as if strangers were by. They talked of the landscape, and of the strange cloud effect before them. They said that they supposed they should see the Lion's Head when the cloud lifted, and they were both sure they had never been quite so near a cloud before. They agreed that this was because in Switzerland the mountains were so much higher and farther off. Then the daughter said, without changing the direction of her eyes or the tone of her voice, "The gentleman who came over from the station with us last night," and the mother was aware of Jeff Durgin advancing toward the corner of the veranda where they sat.

"I hope you have got rested," he said, with the jovial bluntness which was characteristic of him with women.

"Oh, yes indeed," said the elder lady. Jeff had spoken to her, but had looked chiefly at the younger. "I slept beautifully. So quiet here, and with this delicious air! Have you just tasted it?"

"No; I've been up ever since daylight, driving round," said Jeff. "I'm glad you like the air," he said, after a certain hesitation. "We always want to have people do that at Lion's Head. There's no air like it, though perhaps I shouldn't say so."

"Shouldn't?" the lady repeated.

"Yes; we own the air here--this part of it." Jeff smiled easily down at the lady's puzzled face.

"Oh! Then you are--are you a son of the house?"

"Son of the hotel, yes," said Jeff, with increasing ease. The lady continued her question in a look, and he went on: "I've been scouring the country for butter and eggs this morning. We shall get all our supplies from Boston next year, I hope, but we depend on the neighbors a little yet."

"How very interesting!" said the lady. "You must have a great many queer adventures," she suggested in a provisional tone.

"Well, nothing's queer to me in the hill country. But you see some characters here." He nodded over his shoulder to where Whitwell stood by the flag-staff, waiting the morning impulse of the ladies. "There's one of the greatest of them now."

The lady put up a lorgnette and inspected Whitwell. "What are those strange things he has got in his hatband?"

"The flowers and the fungi of the season," said Jeff. "He takes parties of the ladies walking, and that collection is what he calls his almanac."

"Really?" cried the girl. "That's charming!"

"Delightful!" said the mother, moved by the same impulse, apparently.

"Yes," said Jeff. "You ought to hear him talk. I'll introduce him to you after breakfast, if you like."

"Oh, we should only be too happy," said the mother, and her daughter, from her inflection, knew that she would be willing to defer her happiness.

But Jeff did not. "Mr. Whitwell !" he called out, and Whitwell came across the grass to the edge of the veranda. "I want to introduce you to Mrs. Vostrand--and Miss Vostrand."

Whitwell took their slim hands successively into his broad, flat palm, and made Mrs. Vostrand repeat her name to him. "Strangers at Lion's Head, I presume?" Mrs. Vostrand owned as much; and he added: "Well, I guess you won't find a much sightlier place anywhere; though, accordin' to Jeff's say, here, they've got bigger mountains on the other side. Ever been in Europe?"

"Why, yes," said Mrs. Vostrand, with a little mouth of deprecation. "In fact, we've just come home. We've been living there."

"That so?" returned Whitwell, in humorous toleration. "Glad to get back, I presume?"

"Oh yes--yes," said Mrs. Vostrand, in a sort of willowy concession, as if the character before her were not to be crossed or gainsaid.

"Well, it 'll do you good here," said Whitwell. "'N' the young lady, too. A few tramps over these hills 'll make you look like another woman." He added, as if he had perhaps made his remarks too personal to the girl, "Both of you."

"Oh yes," the mother assented, fervently. "We shall count upon your showing us all their-mysteries."

Whitwell looked pleased. "I'll do my best-whenever you're ready." He went on: "Why, Jeff, here, has just got back, too. Jeff, what was the name of that French boat you said you crossed on? I want to see if I can't make out what plantchette meant by that broken shaft. She must have meant something, and if I could find out the name of the ship-- Tell the ladies about it?" Jeff laughed, with a shake of the head, and Whitwell continued, "Why, it was like this," and he possessed the ladies of a fact which they professed to find extremely interesting. At the end of their polite expressions he asked Jeff again: "What did you say the name was?"

"Aquitaine," said Jeff, briefly.

"Why, we came on the Aquitaine!" said Mrs. Vostrand, with a smile for Jeff. "But how did we happen not to see one another?"

"Oh, I came second-cabin," said Jeff. "I worked my way over on a cattle- ship to London, and, when I decided not to work my way back, I found I hadn't enough money for a first-cabin passage. I was in a hurry to get back in time to get settled at Harvard, and so I came second-cabin. It wasn't bad. I used to see you across the rail."

"Well!" said Whitwell.

"How very--amusing!" said Mrs. Vostrand. "What a small world it is!" With these words she fell into a vagary; her daughter recalled her from it with a slight movement. "Breakfast? How impatient you are, Genevieve! Well!" She smiled the sweetest parting to Whitwell, and suffered herself to be led away by Jeff.

"And you're at Harvard? I'm so interested! My own boy will be going there soon."

"Well, there's no place like Harvard," said Jeff. "I'm in my Sophomore year now."

"Oh, a Sophomore! Fancy!" cried Mrs. Vostrand, as if nothing could give her more pleasure. "My son is going to prepare at St. Mark's. Did you prepare there?"

"No, I prepared at Lovewell Academy, over here." Jeff nodded in a southerly direction.

"Oh, indeed!" said Mrs. Vostrand, as if she knew where Lovewell was, and instantly recognized the name of the ancient school.

They had reached the dining room, and Jeff pushed the screen-door open with one hand, and followed the ladies in. He had the effect of welcoming them like invited guests; he placed the ladies himself at a window, where he said Mrs. Vostrand would be out of the draughts, and they could have a good view of Lion's Head.

He leaned over between them, when they were seated, to get sight of the mountain, and, "There!" he said. "That cloud's gone at last." Then, as if it would be modester in the proprietor of the view to leave them to their flattering raptures in it, he moved away and stood talking a moment with Cynthia Whitwell near the door of the serving-room. He talked gayly, with many tosses of the head and turns about, while she listened with a vague smile, motionlessly.

"She's very pretty," said Miss Vostrand to her mother.

"Yes. The New England type," murmured the mother.

"They all have the same look, a good deal," said the girl, glancing over the room where the waitresses stood ranged against the wall with their hands folded at their waists. "They have better faces than figures, but she is beautiful every way. Do you suppose they are all schoolteachers? They look intellectual. Or is it their glasses?"

"I don't know," said the mother. "They used to be; but things change here so rapidly it may all be different. Do you like it?"

"I think it's charming here," said the younger lady, evasively. "Everything is so exquisitely clean. And the food is very good. Is this corn-bread--that you've told me about so much?"

"Yes, this is corn-bread. You will have to get accustomed to it."

"Perhaps it won't take long. I could fancy that girl knowing about everything. Don't you like her looks?"

"Oh, very much." Mrs. Vostrand turned for another glance at Cynthia.

"What say?" Their smiling waitress came forward from the wall where she was leaning, as if she thought they had spoken to her.

"Oh, we were speaking--the young lady to whom Mr. Durgin was talking--she is--"

"She's the housekeeper--Miss Whitwell."

"Oh, indeed! She seems so young--"

"I guess she knows what to do-o-o," the waitress chanted. "We think she's about ri-i-ght." She smiled tolerantly upon the misgiving of the stranger, if it was that, and then retreated when the mother and daughter began talking together again.

They had praised the mountain with the cloud off, to Jeff, very politely, and now the mother said, a little more intimately, but still with the deference of a society acquaintance: "He seems very gentlemanly, and I am sure he is very kind. I don't quite know what to do about it, do you?"

"No, I don't. It's all strange to me, you know."

"Yes, I suppose it must be. But you will get used to it if we remain in the country. Do you think you will dislike it?"

"Oh no! It's very different."

"Yes, it's different. He is very handsome, in a certain way." The daughter said nothing, and the mother added: "I wonder if he was trying to conceal that he had come second-cabin, and was not going to let us know that he crossed with us?"

"Do you think he was bound to do so?"

"No. But it was very odd, his not mentioning it. And his going out on a cattle-steamer?" the mother observed.

"Oh, but that's very chic, I've heard," the daughter replied. "I've heard that the young men like it and think it a great chance. They have great fun. It isn't at all like second-cabin."

"You young people have your own world," the mother answered, caressingly.

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PART I CHAPTER XVIWestover met the ladies coming out of the dining-room as he went in rather late to breakfast; he had been making a study of Lion's Head in the morning light after the cloud lifted from it. He was always doing Lion's Heads, it seemed to him; but he loved the mountain, and he was always finding something new in it. He was now seeing it inwardly with so exclusive a vision that he had no eyes for these extremely pretty women till they were out of sight. Then he remembered noticing them, and started with a
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PART I CHAPTER XIVOne morning toward the end of August, Whitwell, who was starting homeward, after leaving his ladies, burdened with their wishes and charges for the morrow, met Westover coming up the hill with his painting-gear in his hand. "Say!" he hailed him. "Why don't you come down to the house to-night? Jackson's goin' to come, and, if you ha'n't seen him work the plantchette for a spell, you'll be surprised. There a'n't hardly anybody he can't have up. You'll come? Good enough!" What affected Westover first of all at the seance, and perhaps
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