“I do mean it, but I don’t expect you to do it; and I don’t ask it. I suggested it to Cynthy, when we got to talking it over, and she saw it wouldn’t do.”
“Well, she showed some sense that time,” Mrs. Durgin said.
“I don’t know when Cynthy hasn’t shown sense; except once, and then I guess it was my fault.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why, this afternoon I asked her to marry me some time, and she said she would.” He looked at his mother and laughed, and then he did not laugh. He had expected her to be pleased; he had thought to pave the way with this confession for the declaration of his intention not to study law, and to make his engagement to Cynthia serve him in reconciling his mother to the other fact. But a menacing suspense followed his words.
His mother broke out at last: “You asked Cynthy Whit’ell to marry you! And she said she would! Well, I can tell her she won’t, then!”
“And I can tell you she will!” Jeff stormed back. He rose to his feet and stood over his mother.
She began steadily, as if he had not spoken. “If that designin’—”
“Look out, mother! Don’t you say anything against Cynthia! She’s been the best girl to you in the world, and you know it. She’s been as true to you as Jackson has himself. She hasn’t got a selfish bone in her body, and she’s so honest she couldn’t design anything against you or any one, unless she told you first. Now you take that back! Take it back! She’s no more designing than—than you are!”
Mrs. Durgin was not moved by his storming, but she was inwardly convinced of error. “I do take it back. Cynthy is all right. She’s all you say and more. It’s your fault, then, and you’ve got yourself to thank, for whosever fault it is, she’ll pack—”
“If Cynthy packs, I pack!” said Jeff. “Understand that. The moment she leaves this house I leave it, too, and I’ll marry her anyway. Frank ’d leave and—and—Pshaw! What do you care for that? But I don’t know what you mean! I always thought you liked Cynthy and respected her. I didn’t believe I could tell you a thing that would please you better than that she had said she would have me. But if it don’t, all right.”
Mrs. Durgin held her peace in bewilderment; she stared at her son with dazed eyes, under the spectacles lifted above her forehead. She felt a change of mood in his unchanged tone of defiance, and she met him half-way. “I tell you I take back what I called Cynthia, and I told you so. But—but I didn’t ever expect you to marry her.”
“Why didn’t you? There isn’t one of the summer folks to compare with her. She’s got more sense than all of ’em. I’ve known her ever since I can remember. Why didn’t you expect it?”
“I didn’t expect it.”
“Oh, I know! You thought I’d see somebody in Boston—some swell girl. Well, they wouldn’t any of them look at me, and if they would, they wouldn’t look at you.”