“What’s the reason?” Jeff demanded; and now either the punch had begun to work in Westover’s brain, or some other influence of like force and quality. He perceived that in this earth-bound temperament was the potentiality of all the success it aimed at. The acceptance of the moral fact as it was, without the unconscious effort to better it, or to hold himself strictly to account for it, was the secret of the power in the man which would bring about the material results he desired; and this simplicity of the motive involved had its charm.
Westover was aware of liking Durgin at that moment much more than he ought, and of liking him helplessly. In the light of his good-natured selfishness, the injury to the Lyndes showed much less a sacrilege than it had seemed; Westover began to see it with Jeff’s eyes, and to see it with reference to what might be low and mean in them, instead of what might be fine and high.
He was sensible of the growth Jeff had made intellectually. He had not been at Harvard nearly four years for nothing. He had phrases and could handle them. In whatever obscure or perverse fashion, he had profited by his opportunities. The fellow who could accuse him of being an idealist, and could in some sort prove it, was no longer a naughty boy to be tutored and punished. The revolt latent in him would be violent in proportion to the pressure put upon him, and Westover began to be without the wish to press his fault home to him so strongly. In the optimism generated by the punch, he felt that he might leave the case to Jeff himself; or else in the comfort we all experience in sinking to a lower level, he was unwilling to make the effort to keep his own moral elevation. But he did make an effort to save himself by saying: “You can’t get what you’ve done before yourself as you can the action of some one else. It’s part of you, and you have to judge the motive as well as the effect.”
“Well, that’s what I’m doing,” said Jeff; “but it seems to me that you’re trying to have me judge of the effect from a motive I didn’t have. As far as I can make out, I hadn’t any motive at all.”
He laughed, and all that Westover could say was, “Then you’re still responsible for the result.” But this no longer appeared so true to him.
It was not a condition of Westover’s welcome at Lion’s Head that he should seem peculiarly the friend of Jeff Durgin, but he could not help making it so, and he began to overact the part as soon as he met Jeff’s mother. He had to speak of him in thanking her for remembering his wish to paint Lion’s Head in the winter, and he had to tell her of Jeff’s thoughtfulness during the past fortnight; he had to say that he did not believe he should ever have got away if it had not been for him. This was true; Durgin had even come in from Cambridge to see him off on the train; he behaved as if the incident with Lynde and all their talk about it had cemented the friendship between Westover and himself, and he could not be too devoted. It now came out that he had written home all about Westover, and made his mother put up a stove in the painter’s old room, so that he should have the instant use of it when he arrived.