“At any rate,” Jeff added, “I haven’t got anything to say against it. Mr. Westover, I’ve always wanted to say one thing to you. Then I came to your room that night, I wanted to complain of Mrs. Vostrand for not letting me know about the engagement; and I wasn’t man enough to acknowledge that what you said would account for their letting me make a fool of myself. But I believe I am now, and I want to say it.”
“I’m glad you can see it in that way,” said Westover, “and since you do, I don’t mind saying that I think Mrs. Vostrand might have been a little franker with you without being less kind. She was kind, but she wasn’t quite frank.”
“Well, it’s all over now,” said Jeff, and he rose up and brushed the whittlings from his knees. “And I guess it’s just as well.”
That afternoon Westover saw Jeff helping Cynthia Whitwell into his buckboard, and then, after his lively horse had made some paces of a start, spring to the seat beside her, and bring it to a stand. “Can I do anything for you over at Lovewell, Mr. Westover?” he called, and he smiled toward the painter. Then he lightened the reins on the mare’s back; she squared herself for a start in earnest, and flashed down the sloping hotel road to the highway below, and was lost to sight in the clump of woods to the southward.
“That’s a good friend of yours, Cynthy,” he said, leaning toward the girl with a simple comfort in her proximity. She was dressed in a pale-pink color, with a hat of yet paler pink; without having a great deal of fashion, she had a good deal of style. She looked bright and fresh; there was a dash of pink in her cheeks, which suggested the color of the sweetbrier, its purity and sweetness, and if there was something in Cynthia’s character and temperament that suggested its thorns too, one still could not deny that she was like that flower. She liked to shop, and she liked to ride after a good horse, as the neighbors would have said; she was going over to Lovewell to buy a number of things, and Jeff Durgin was driving her there with the swift mare that was his peculiar property. She smiled upon him without the usual reservations she contrived to express in her smiles.
“Well, I don’t know anybody I’d rather have for my friend than Mr. Westover.” She added: “He acted like a friend the very first time I saw him.”
Jeff laughed with shameless pleasure in the reminiscence her words suggested. “Well, I did get my come-uppings that time. And I don’t know but he’s been a pretty good friend to me, too. I’m not sure he likes me; but Mr. Westover is a man that could be your friend if he didn’t like you.”
“What have you done to make him like you?” asked the girl.
“Nothing!” said Jeff, with a shout of laughter in his conviction. “I’ve done a lot of things to make him despise me from the start. But if you like a person yourself, you want him to like you whether you deserve it or not.”