Westover had his tea with the family, but nothing was said or done to show that any of them resented or even knew of what had happened to the boy from him. Jeff himself seemed to have no grudge. He went out with Westover, when the meal was ended, and sat on the steps of the porch with him, watching the painter watch the light darken on the lonely heights and in the lonely depths around. Westover smoked a pipe, and the fire gleamed and smouldered in it regularly with his breathing; the boy, on a lower’ step, pulled at the long ears of his dog and gazed up at him.
They were both silent till the painter asked: “What do you do here when you’re not trying to scare little children to death?”
The boy hung his head and said, with the effect of excusing a long arrears of uselessness: “I’m goin’ to school as soon as it commences.”
“There’s one branch of your education that I should like to undertake if I ever saw you at a thing like that again. Don’t you feel ashamed of yourself?”
The boy pulled so hard at the dog’s ear that the dog gave a faint yelp of protest.
“They might ‘a’ seen that I had him by the collar. I wa’n’t a-goin’ to let go.”
“Well, the next time I have you by the collar I won’t let go, either,” said the painter; but he felt an inadequacy in his threat, and he imagined a superfluity, and he made some haste to ask: “who are they?”
“Whitwell is their name. They live in that little house where you took them. Their father’s got a piece of land on Zion’s Head that he’s clearin’ off for the timber. Their mother’s dead, and Cynthy keeps house. She’s always makin’ up names and faces,” added the boy. “She thinks herself awful smart. That Franky’s a perfect cry-baby.”
“Well, upon my word! You are a little ruffian,” said Westover, and he knocked the ashes out of his pipe. “The next time you meet that poor little creature you tell her that I think you’re about the shabbiest chap I know, and that I hope the teacher will begin where I left off with you and not leave blackguard enough in you to—”
He stopped for want of a fitting figure, and the boy said: “I guess the teacher won’t touch me.”
Westover rose, and the boy flung his dog away from him with his foot. “Want I should show you where to sleep?”
“Yes,” said Westover, and the boy hulked in before him, vanishing into the dark of the interior, and presently appeared with a lighted hand-lamp. He led the way upstairs to a front room looking down upon the porch roof and over toward Zion’s Head, which Westover could see dimly outlined against the night sky, when he lifted the edge of the paper shade and peered out.
The room was neat, with greater comfort in its appointments than he hoped for. He tried the bed, and found it hard, but of straw, and not the feathers he had dreaded; while the boy looked into the water-pitcher to see if it was full; and then went out without any form of goodnight.