“I shouldn’t care whether they looked at me or not.”
“I tell you they wouldn’t look at me. You don’t understand about these things, and I do. They marry their own kind, and I’m not their kind, and I shouldn’t be if I was Daniel Webster himself. Daniel Webster! Who remembers him, or cares for him, or ever did? You don’t believe it? You think that because I’ve been at Harvard—Oh, can’t I make you see it? I’m what they call a jay in Harvard, and Harvard don’t count if you’re a jay.”
His mother looked at him without speaking. She would not confess the ambition he taxed her with, and perhaps she had nothing so definite in her mind. Perhaps it was only her pride in him, and her faith in a splendid future for him, that made her averse to his marriage in the lot she had always known, and on a little lower level in it that her own. She said at last:
“I don’t know what you mean by being a jay. But I guess we better not say anything more about this to-night.”
“All right,” Jeff returned. There never were any formal good-nights between the Durgins, and he went away now without further words.
His mother remained sitting where he left her. Two or three times she drew her empty darning-needle through the heel of the stocking she was mending.
She was still sitting there when Jackson passed on his way to bed, after leaving the office in charge of the night porter. He faltered, as he went by, and as he stood on the threshold she told him what Jeff had told her.
“That’s good,” he said, lifelessly. “Good for Jeff,” he added, thoughtfully, conscientiously.
“Why a’n’t it good for her, too?” demanded Jeff’s mother, in quick resentment of the slight put upon him.
“I didn’t say it wa’n’t,” said Jackson. “But it’s better for Jeff.”
“She may be very glad to get him!”
“I presume she is. She’s always cared for him, I guess. She’ll know how to manage him.”
“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Durgin, “as I like to have you talk so, about Jeff. He was here, just now, wantin’ to give up his last year in Harvard, so ’s to let you go off on a vacation. He thinks you’ve worked yourself down.”
Jackson made no recognition of Jeff’s professed self-sacrifice. “I don’t want any vacation. I’m feeling first-rate now. I guess that stuff I had from the writin’ medium has begun to take hold of me. I don’t know when I’ve felt so well. I believe I’m going to get stronger than ever I was. Jeff say I needed a rest?”
Something like a smile of compassion for the delusion of his brother dawned upon the sick man’s wasted face, which was blotched with large freckles, and stared with dim, large eyes from out a framework of grayish hair, and grayish beard cut to the edges of the cheeks and chin.
Mrs. 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?”