“Now that’s one of your old-fashioned superstitions, Mr. Westover,” said Jeff, with a growing kindliness in his tone, as if the pathetic delusion of such a man really touched him. “You pay, or you don’t pay, just as it happens. If you get hit soon after you’ve done wrong, you think it’s retribution, and if it holds off till you’ve forgotten all about it, you think it’s a strange Providence, and you puzzle over it, but you don’t reform. You keep right along in the old way. Prosperity and adversity, they’ve got nothing to do with conduct. If you’re a strong man, you get there, and if you’re a weak man, all the righteousness in the universe won’t help you. But I propose to do what’s right about Cynthia, and not what’s wrong; and according to your own theory, of life—which won’t hold water a minute—I ought to be blessed to the third and fourth generation. I don’t look for that, though. I shall be blessed if I look out for myself; and if I don’t, I shall suffer for my want of foresight. But I sha’n’t suffer for anything else. Well, I’m going to cut some of my recitations, and I’m going up to Lion’s Head, to-morrow, to settle my business with Cynthia. I’ve got a little business to look after here with some one else first, and I guess I shall have to be about it. I don’t know which I shall like the best.” He rose, and went over to where Westover was sitting, and held out his hand to him.
“What is it?” asked Westover.
“Any commands for Lion’s Head?” Jeff said, as at first.
“No,” said Westover, turning his face away.
“Oh, all right.” Durgin put his hand into his pocket unshaken.
“What is it, Jeff?” asked Cynthia, the next night, as they started out together after supper, and began to stroll down the hill toward her father’s house. It lay looking very little and low in the nook at the foot of the lane, on the verge of the woods that darkened away to the northward from it, under the glassy night sky, lit with the spare young moon. The peeping of the frogs in the marshy places filled the air; the hoarse voice of the brook made itself heard at intervals through them.
“It’s not so warm here, quite, as it is in Boston,” he returned. “Are you wrapped up enough? This air has an edge to it.”
“I’m all right,” said the girl. “What is it?”
“You think there’s something? You don’t believe I’ve come up for rest over Sunday? I guess mother herself didn’t, and I could see your father following up my little lies as if he wa’n’t going to let one escape him. Well, you’re right. There is something. Think of the worst thing you can, Cynthy!”
She pulled her hand out of his arm, which she had taken, and halted him by her abrupt pause. “You’re not going to get through!”
“I’m all right on my conditions,” said Jeff, with forlorn derision. “You’ll have to guess again.” He stood looking back over his shoulder at her face, which showed white in the moonlight, swathed airily round in the old-fashioned soft woollen cloud she wore.