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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Landlord At Lions Head - Part 1 - Chapter 20
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The Landlord At Lions Head - Part 1 - Chapter 20 Post by :Sheri_Graber Category :Long Stories Author :William Dean Howells Date :May 2012 Read :1639

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The Landlord At Lions Head - Part 1 - Chapter 20

PART I CHAPTER XX

Westover was not at Lion's Head again till the summer before Jeff's graduation. In the mean time the hotel had grown like a living thing. He could not have imagined wings in connection with the main edifice, but it had put forth wings--one that sheltered a new and enlarged dining- room, with two stories of chambers above, and another that hovered a parlor and ball-room under a like provision of chambers. An ell had been pushed back on the level behind the house; the barn had been moved farther to the southward, and on its old site a laundry built, with quarters for the help over it. All had been carefully, frugally, yet sufficiently done, and Westover was not surprised to learn that it was all the effect of Jackson Durgin's ingenuity and energy. Mrs. Durgin confessed to having no part in it; but she had kept pace, with Cynthia Whitwell's help, in the housekeeping. As Jackson had cautiously felt his way to the needs of their public in the enlargement and rearrangement of the hotel, the two housewives had watchfully studied, not merely the demands, but the half-conscious instincts of their guests, and had responded to them simply and adequately, in the spirit of Jackson's exterior and structural improvements. The walls of the new rooms were left unpapered and their floors uncarpeted; there were thin rugs put down; the wood-work was merely stained. Westover found that he need not to ask especially for some hot dish at night; there was almost the abundance of a dinner, though dinner was still at one o'clock.

Mrs. Durgin asked him the first day if he would not like to go into the serving-room and see it while they were serving dinner. She tried to conceal her pride in the busy scene--the waitresses pushing in through one valve of the double-hinged doors with their empty trays, and out through the other with the trays full laden; delivering their dishes with the broken victual at the wicket, where the untouched portions were put aside and the rest poured into the waste; following in procession along the reeking steamtable, with its great tanks of soup and vegetables, where, the carvers stood with the joints and the trussed fowls smoking before them, which they sliced with quick sweeps of their blades, or waiting their turn at the board where the little plates with portions of fruit and dessert stood ready. All went regularly on amid a clatter of knives and voices and dishes; and the clashing rise and fall of the wire baskets plunging the soiled crockery into misty depths, whence it came up clean and dry without the touch of finger or towel. Westover could not deny that there were elements of the picturesque in it, so that he did not respond quite in kind to Jeff's suggestion--"Scene for a painter, Mr. Westover."

The young fellow followed satirically at his mother's elbow, and made a mock of her pride in it, trying to catch Westover's eye when she led him through the kitchen with its immense range, and introduced him to a new chef, who wiped his hand on his white apron to offer it to Westover.

"Don't let him get away without seeing the laundry, mother," her son jeered at a final air of absent-mindedness in her, and she defiantly accepted his challenge.

"Jeff's mad because he wasn't consulted," she explained, "and because we don't run the house like his one-horse European hotels."

"Oh, I'm not in it at all, Mr. Westover," said the young fellow. "I'm as much a passenger as you are. The only difference is that I'm allowed to work my passage."

"Well, one thing," said his mother, "is that we've got a higher class of boarders than we ever had before. You'll see, Mr. Westover, if you stay on here till August. There's a class that boards all the year round, and that knows what a hotel is--about as well as Jeff, I guess. You'll find 'em at the big city houses, the first of the winter, and then they go down to Floridy or Georgy for February and March; and they get up to Fortress Monroe in April, and work along north about the middle of May to them family hotels in the suburbs around Boston; and they stay there till it's time to go to the shore. They stay at the shore through July, and then they come here in August, and stay till the leaves turn. They're folks that live on their money, and they're the very highest class, I guess. It's a round of gayety with 'em the whole year through."

Jeff, from the vantage of his greater worldly experience, was trying to exchange looks of intelligence with Westover concerning those hotel- dwellers whom his mother revered as aristocrats; but he did not openly question her conceptions. "They've told me how they do, some of the ladies have," she went on. "They've got the money for it, and they know how to get the most for their money. Why, Mr. Westover, we've got rooms in this house, now, that we let for thirty-five to fifty dollars a week for two persons, and folks like that take 'em right along through August and September, and want a room apiece. It's different now, I can tell you, from what it was when folks thought we was killin' 'em if we wanted ten or twelve dollars."

Westover had finished his dinner before this tour of the house began, and when it was over the two men strolled away together.

"You see, it's on the regular American lines," Jeff pursued, after parting with his mother. "Jackson's done it, and he can't imagine anything else. I don't say it isn't well done in its way, but the way's wrong; it's stupid and clumsy." When they were got so far from the hotel as to command a prospect of its ungainly mass sprawled upon the plateau, his smouldering disgust burst out: "Look at it! Did you ever see anything like it? I wish the damned thing would burn up--or down!"

Westover was aware in more ways than one of Jeff's exclusion from authority in the place, where he was constantly set aside from the management as if his future were so definitely dedicated to another calling that not even his advice was desired or permitted; and he could not help sympathizing a little with him when he chafed at his rejection. He saw a great deal of him, and he thought him quite up to the average of Harvard's Seniors in some essentials. He had been sobered, apparently, by experience; his unfortunate love-affair seemed to have improved him, as the phrase is.

They had some long walks and long talks together, and in one of them Jeff opened his mind, if not his heart, to the painter. He wanted to be the Landlord of the Lion's Head, which he believed he could make the best hotel in the mountains. He knew, of course, that he could not hope to make any changes that did not suit his mother and his brother, as long as they had the control, but he thought they would let him have the control sooner if his mother could only be got to give up the notion of his being a lawyer. As nearly as he could guess, she wanted him to be a lawyer because she did not want him to be a hotel-keeper, and her prejudice against that was because she believed that selling liquor made her father a drunkard.

"Well, now you know enough about me, Mr. Westover, to know that drink isn't my danger."

"Yes, I think I do," said Westover.

"I went a little wild in my Freshman year, and I got into that scrape, but I've never been the worse for liquor since; fact is, I never touch it now. There isn't any more reason why I should take to drink because I keep a hotel than Jackson; but just that one time has set mother against it, and I can't seem to make her understand that once is enough for me. Why, I should keep a temperance house, here, of course; you can't do anything else in these days. If I was left to choose between hotel- keeping and any other life that I know of, I'd choose it every time," Jeff went on, after a moment of silence. "I like a hotel. You can be your own man from the start; the start's made here, and I've helped to make it. All you've got to do is to have common-sense in the hotel business, and you're sure to succeed. I believe I've got common-sense, and I believe I've got some ideas that I can work up into a great success. The reason that most people fail in the hotel business is that they waste so much, and the landlord that wastes on his guests can't treat them well. It's got so now that in the big city houses they can't make anything on feeding people, and so they try to make it up on the rooms. I should feed them well--I believe I know how--and I should make money on my table, as they do in Europe.

"I've thought a good many things out; my mind runs on it all the time; but I'm not going to bore you with it now."

"Oh, not at all," said Westover. "I'd like to know what your ideas are."

Well, some time I'll tell you. But look here, Mr. Westover, I wish if mother gets to talking about me with you that you'd let her know how I feel. We can't talk together, she and I, without quarrelling about it; but I guess you could put in a word that would show her I wasn't quite a fool. She thinks I've gone crazy from seeing the way they do things in Europe; that I'm conceited and unpatriotic, and I don't know what all." Jeff laughed as if with an inner fondness for his mother's wrong- headedness.

"And would you be willing to settle down here in the country for the rest of your life, and throw away your Harvard training on hotel-keeping?"

"What do the other fellows do with their Harvard training when they go into business, as nine-tenths of them do? Business is business, whether you keep a hotel or import dry-goods or manufacture cotton or run a railroad or help a big trust to cheat legally. Harvard has got to take a back seat when you get out of Harvard. But you don't suppose that keeping a summer hotel would mean living in the country the whole time, do you? That's the way mother does, but I shouldn't. It isn't good for the hotel, even. If I had such a place as Lion's Head, I should put a man and his family into it for the winter to look after it, and I should go to town myself--to Boston or New York, or I might go to London or Paris. They're not so far off, and it's so easy to get to them that you can hardly keep away." Jeff laughed, and looked up at Westover from the log where he sat, whittling a pine stick; Westover sat on the stump from which the log had been felled eight or ten years before.

"You are modern," he said.

"That's what I should do at first. But I don't believe I should have Lion's Head very long before I had another hotel--in Florida, or the Georgia uplands, or North Carolina, somewhere. I should take my help back and forth; it would be as easy to run two hotels as one-easier! It would keep my hand in. But if you want to know, I'd rather stick here in the country, year in and year out, and run Lion's Head, than to be a lawyer and hang round trying to get a case for nine or ten years. Who's going to support me? Do you suppose I want to live on mother till I'm forty? She don't think of that. She thinks I can go right into court and begin distinguishing myself, if I can fight the people off from sending me to Congress. I'd rather live in the country, anyway. I think town's the place for winter, or two-three months of it, and after that I haven't got any use for it. But mother, she's got this old-fashioned ambition to have me go to a city and set up there. She thinks that if I was a lawyer in Boston I should be at the top of the heap. But I know better than that, and so do you; and I want you to give her some little hint of how it really is: how it takes family and money and a lot of influence to get to the top in any city."

It occurred to Westover, and not for the first time, that the frankest thing in Jeff Durgin was his disposition to use his friends. It seemed to him that Jeff was always asking something of him, and it did not change the fact that in this case he thought him altogether in the right. He said that if Mrs. Durgin spoke to him of the matter he would not keep the light from her. He looked behind him, now, for the first time, in recognition of the place where they had stopped. "Why, this is Whitwell's Clearing."

"Didn't you know it?" Jeff asked. "It changes a good deal every year, and you haven't been here for awhile, have you?"

"Not since Mrs. Marven's picnic," said Westover, and he added, quickly, to efface the painful association which he must have called up by his heedless words:

"The woods have crowded back upon it so. It can't be more than half its old size."

"No," Jeff assented. He struck his heel against a fragment of the pine bough he had been whittling, and drove it into the soft ground beside the log, and said, without looking up from it: "I met that woman at a dance last winter. It wasn't her dance, but she was running it as if it were, just the way she did with the picnic. She seemed to want to let bygones be bygones, and I danced with her daughter. She's a nice girl. I thought mother did wrong about that." Now he looked at Westover. "She couldn't help it, but it wasn't the thing to do. A hotel is a public house, and you can't act as if it wasn't. If mother hadn't known how to keep a hotel so well in other ways, she might have ruined the house by not knowing in a thing like that. But we've got some of the people with us this year that used to come here when we first took farm- boarders; mother don't know that they're ever so much nicer, socially, than the people that take the fifty-dollar rooms." He laughed, and then he said, seriously: "If I ever had a son, I don't believe I should let my pride in him risk doing him mischief. And if you've a mind to let her understand that you believe I'm set against the law for good and all--"

"I guess I shall not be your ambassador, so far as that. Why don't you tell her yourself?"

"She won't believe me," said Jeff, with a laugh. "She thinks I don't know my mind. And I don't like the way we differ when we differ. We differ more than we mean to. I don't pretend to say I'm always right. She was right about that other picnic--the one I wanted to make for Mrs. Vostrand. I suppose," he ended, unexpectedly, "that you hear from them, now and then?"

"No, I don't. I haven't heard from them for a year; not since--You knew Genevieve was married?"

"Yes, I knew that," said Jeff, steadily.

"I don't quite make it all out. Mr. Vostrand was very much opposed to it, Mrs. Vostrand told me; but he must have given way at last; and he must have put up the money." Jeff looked puzzled, and Westover explained. "You know the officers in the Italian army--and all the other armies in Europe, for that matter--have to deposit a certain sum with the government before they can marry and in the case of Count Grassi, Mr. Vostrand had to furnish the money."

Jeff said, after a moment: "Well, she couldn't help that."

"No, the girl wasn't to blame. I don't know that any one was to blame. But I'm afraid our girls wouldn't marry many titles if their fathers didn't put up the money."

"Well, I don't see why they shouldn't spend their money that way as well as any other," said Jeff, and this proof of his impartiality suggested to Westover that he was not only indifferent to the mercenary international marriages, which are a scandal to so many of our casuists, but had quite outlived his passion for the girl concerned in this.

"At any rate," Jeff added, "I haven't got anything to say against it. Mr. Westover, I've always wanted to say one thing to you. Then I came to your room that night, I wanted to complain of Mrs. Vostrand for not letting me know about the engagement; and I wasn't man enough to acknowledge that what you said would account for their letting me make a fool of myself. But I believe I am now, and I want to say it."

"I'm glad you can see it in that way," said Westover, "and since you do, I don't mind saying that I think Mrs. Vostrand might have been a little franker with you without being less kind. She was kind, but she wasn't quite frank."

"Well, it's all over now," said Jeff, and he rose up and brushed the whittlings from his knees. "And I guess it's just as well."

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PART I CHAPTER XXIVMrs. Durgin and Cynthia did not seek any formal meeting the next morning. The course of their work brought them together, but it was not till after they had transacted several household affairs of pressing importance that Mrs. Durgin asked: "What's this about you and Jeff?" "Has he been telling you?" asked Cynthia, in her turn, though she knew he had. "Yes," said Mrs. Durgin, with a certain dryness, which was half humorous. "I presume, if you two are satisfied, it's all right." "I guess we're satisfied," said the girl, with a tremor of relief which she tried
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PART I CHAPTER XIXA young couple came strolling down the avenue who to Westover's artistic eye first typified grace and strength, and then to his more personal perception identified themselves as Genevieve Vostrand and Jeff Durgin. They faltered before one of the benches beside the mall, and he seemed to be begging her to sit down. She cast her eyes round till they must have caught the window of her mother's apartment; then, as if she felt safe under it, she sank into the seat and Jeff put himself beside her. It was quite too early yet for the
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