The painter who gave lessons to the ladies was already a man of forty, and he was strongly dragoned round by a wife almost as old, who had taken great pains to secure him for herself, and who worked him to far greater advantage in his profession than he could possibly have worked himself: she got him orders; sold his pictures, even in Boston, where they never buy American pictures; found him pupils, and kept the boldest of these from flirting with him. Westover, who was so newly from Paris, was able to console him with talk of the salons and ateliers, which he had not heard from so directly in ten years. After the first inevitable moment of jealousy, his wife forgave Westover when she found that he did not want pupils, and she took a leading part in the movement to have him read Browning at a picnic, organized by the ladies shortly after he came.
The picnic was held in Whitwell’s Clearing, on the side of Lion’s Head, where the moss, almost as white as snow, lay like belated drifts among the tall, thin grass which overran the space opened by the axe, and crept to the verge of the low pines growing in the shelter of the loftier woods. It was the end of one of Whitwell’s “Tramps Home to Nature,” as he called his walks and talks with the ladies, and on this day Westover’s fellow-painter had added to his lessons in woodlore the claims of art, intending that his class should make studies of various bits in the clearing, and should try to catch something of its peculiar charm. He asked Westover what he thought of the notion, and Westover gave it his approval, which became enthusiastic when he saw the place. He found in it the melancholy grace, the poignant sentiment of ruin which expresses itself in some measure wherever man has invaded nature and then left his conquest to her again. In Whitwell’s Clearing the effect was intensified by the approach on the fading wood road, which the wagons had made in former days when they hauled the fallen timber to the pulp-mill. In places it was so vague and faint as to be hardly a trail; in others, where the wheel-tracks remained visible, the trees had sent out a new growth of lower branches in the place of those lopped away, and almost forbade the advance of foot-passengers. The ladies said they did not see how Jeff was ever going to get through with the wagon, and they expressed fears for the lunch he was bringing, which seemed only too well grounded.
But Whitwell, who was leading them on, said: “You let a Durgin alone to do a thing when he’s made up his mind to it. I guess you’ll have your lunch all right”; and by the time that they had got enough of Browning they heard the welcome sound of wheels crashing upon dead boughs and swishing through the underbrush, and, in the pauses of these pleasant noises, the voice of Jeff Durgin encouraging his horses. The children of the party broke away to meet him, and then he came in sight ahead of his