Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 20 out of 78
and said it smelt like a flower. And then he asked
if he might offer it to me--just for a joke, you know.
And I took it, and stuck it in my belt. And we had
such a laugh! We got into a regular gale. And O Pen,
what do you suppose he meant by it?" She suddenly caught
herself to her sister's breast, and hid her burning face
on her shoulder.
"Well, there used to be a book about the language of flowers.
But I never knew much about the language of shavings,
and I can't say exactly----"
"Oh, don't--DON'T, Pen!" and here Irene gave over laughing,
and began to sob in her sister's arms.
"Why, 'Rene!" cried the elder girl.
"You KNOW he didn't mean anything. He doesn't care a bit
about me. He hates me! He despises me! Oh, what shall
A trouble passed over the face of the sister as she silently
comforted the child in her arms; then the drolling light
came back into her eyes. "Well, 'Rene, YOU haven't got
to do ANYthing. That's one advantage girls have got--if
it IS an advantage. I'm not always sure."
Irene's tears turned to laughing again. When she lifted
her head it was to look into the mirror confronting them,
where her beauty showed all the more brilliant for the
shower that had passed over it. She seemed to gather
courage from the sight.
"It must be awful to have to DO," she said, smiling into
her own face. "I don't see how they ever can."
"Some of 'em can't--especially when there's such a tearing
"Oh, pshaw, Pen! you know that isn't so. You've got
a real pretty mouth, Pen," she added thoughtfully,
surveying the feature in the glass, and then pouting
her own lips for the sake of that effect on them.
"It's a useful mouth," Penelope admitted; "I don't believe
I could get along without it now, I've had it so long."
"It's got such a funny expression--just the mate
of the look in your eyes; as if you were just going
to say something ridiculous. He said, the very
first time he saw you, that he knew you were humorous."
"Is it possible?" must be so, if the Grand Mogul said it.
Why didn't you tell me so before, and not let me keep on
going round just like a common person?"
Irene laughed as if she liked to have her sister take
his praises in that way rather than another.
"I've got such a stiff, prim kind of mouth," she said,
drawing it down, and then looking anxiously at it.
"I hope you didn't put on that expression when he offered
you the shaving. If you did, I don't believe he'll ever
give you another splinter."
The severe mouth broke into a lovely laugh, and then
pressed itself in a kiss against Penelope's cheek.
"There! Be done, you silly thing! I'm not going to have
you accepting ME before I've offered myself, ANYWAY."
She freed herself from her sister's embrace, and ran
from her round the room.
Irene pursued her, in the need of hiding her face against
her shoulder again. "O Pen! O Pen!" she cried.
The next day, at the first moment of finding herself alone
with her eldest daughter, Mrs. Lapham asked, as if knowing
that Penelope must have already made it subject of inquiry:
"What was Irene doing with that shaving in her belt yesterday?"
"Oh, just some nonsense of hers with Mr. Corey.
He gave it to her at the new house." Penelope did not
choose to look up and meet her mother's grave glance.
"What do you think he meant by it?"
Penelope repeated Irene's account of the affair,
and her mother listened without seeming to derive much
encouragement from it.
"He doesn't seem like one to flirt with her," she said
at last. Then, after a thoughtful pause: "Irene is as good
a girl as ever breathed, and she's a perfect beauty.
But I should hate the day when a daughter of mine was
married for her beauty."
"You're safe as far as I'm concerned, mother."
Mrs. Lapham smiled ruefully. "She isn't really equal
to him, Pen. I misdoubted that from the first,
and it's been borne in upon me more and more ever since.
She hasn't mind enough." "I didn't know that a man fell
in love with a girl's intellect," said Penelope quietly.
"Oh no. He hasn't fallen in love with Irene at all.
If he had, it wouldn't matter about the intellect."
Penelope let the self-contradiction pass.
"Perhaps he has, after all."
"No," said Mrs. Lapham. "She pleases him when he sees her.
But he doesn't try to see her."
"He has no chance. You won't let father bring him here."
"He would find excuses to come without being brought,
if he wished to come," said the mother. "But she isn't
in his mind enough to make him. He goes away and
doesn't think anything more about her. She's a child.
She's a good child, and I shall always say it; but she's
nothing but a child. No, she's got to forget him."
"Perhaps that won't be so easy."
"No, I presume not. And now your father has got the notion
in his head, and he will move heaven and earth to bring
it to pass. I can see that he's always thinking about it."
"The Colonel has a will of his own," observed the girl,
rocking to and fro where she sat looking at her mother.
"I wish we had never met them!" cried Mrs. Lapham.
"I wish we had never thought of building! I wish he had
kept away from your father's business!"
"Well, it's too late now, mother," said the girl.
"Perhaps it isn't so bad as you think."
"Well, we must stand it, anyway," said Mrs. Lapham,
with the grim antique Yankee submission.
"Oh yes, we've got to stand it," said Penelope,
with the quaint modern American fatalism.
IT was late June, almost July, when Corey took up his life
in Boston again, where the summer slips away so easily.
If you go out of town early, it seems a very long
summer when you come back in October; but if you stay,
it passes swiftly, and, seen foreshortened in its flight,
seems scarcely a month's length. It has its days of heat,
when it is very hot, but for the most part it is cool,
with baths of the east wind that seem to saturate the soul
with delicious freshness. Then there are stretches of grey
westerly weather, when the air is full of the sentiment
of early autumn, and the frying, of the grasshopper
in the blossomed weed of the vacant lots on the Back
Bay is intershot with the carol of crickets; and the
yellowing leaf on the long slope of Mt. Vernon Street
smites the sauntering observer with tender melancholy.
The caterpillar, gorged with the spoil of the lindens
on Chestnut, and weaving his own shroud about him in his
lodgment on the brick-work, records the passing of summer
by mid-July; and if after that comes August, its breath
is thick and short, and September is upon the sojourner
before he has fairly had time to philosophise the character
of the town out of season.
But it must have appeared that its most characteristic
feature was the absence of everybody he knew. This was
one of the things that commended Boston to Bromfield
Corey during the summer; and if his son had any qualms
about the life he had entered upon with such vigour,
it must have been a relief to him that there was scarcely
a soul left to wonder or pity. By the time people got back
to town the fact of his connection with the mineral paint
man would be an old story, heard afar off with different
degrees of surprise, and considered with different
degrees of indifference. A man has not reached the age
of twenty-six in any community where he was born and reared
without having had his capacity pretty well ascertained;
and in Boston the analysis is conducted with an unsparing
thoroughness which may fitly impress the un-Bostonian mind,
darkened by the popular superstition that the Bostonians
blindly admire one another. A man's qualities are sifted
as closely in Boston as they doubtless were in Florence
or Athens; and, if final mercy was shown in those cities
because a man was, with all his limitations, an Athenian
or Florentine, some abatement might as justly be made
in Boston for like reason. Corey's powers had been gauged
in college, and he had not given his world reason to think
very differently of him since he came out of college.
He was rated as an energetic fellow, a little indefinite
in aim, with the smallest amount of inspiration that can save
a man from being commonplace. If he was not commonplace,
it was through nothing remarkable in his mind, which was
simply clear and practical, but through some combination
of qualities of the heart that made men trust him, and women
call him sweet--a word of theirs which conveys otherwise
indefinable excellences. Some of the more nervous and
excitable said that Tom Corey was as sweet as he could live;
but this perhaps meant no more than the word alone.
No man ever had a son less like him than Bromfield Corey.
If Tom Corey had ever said a witty thing, no one could
remember it; and yet the father had never said a witty
thing to a more sympathetic listener than his own son.
The clear mind which produced nothing but practical
results reflected everything with charming lucidity;
and it must have been this which endeared Tom Corey to every
one who spoke ten words with him. In a city where people
have good reason for liking to shine, a man who did
not care to shine must be little short of universally
acceptable without any other effort for popularity;
and those who admired and enjoyed Bromfield Corey loved
his son. Yet, when it came to accounting for Tom Corey,
as it often did in a community where every one's generation
is known to the remotest degrees of cousinship, they could
not trace his sweetness to his mother, for neither Anna
Bellingham nor any of her family, though they were so many
blocks of Wenham ice for purity and rectangularity, had ever
had any such savour; and, in fact, it was to his father,
whose habit of talk wronged it in himself, that they
had to turn for this quality of the son's. They traced
to the mother the traits of practicality and common-sense
in which he bordered upon the commonplace, and which,
when they had dwelt upon them, made him seem hardly worth
the close inquiry they had given him.
While the summer wore away he came and went methodically
about his business, as if it had been the business
of his life, sharing his father's bachelor liberty
and solitude, and expecting with equal patience the return
of his mother and sisters in the autumn. Once or twice
he found time to run down to Mt. Desert and see them;
and then he heard how the Philadelphia and New York people
were getting in everywhere, and was given reason to regret
the house at Nahant which he had urged to be sold.
He came back and applied himself to his desk with a
devotion that was exemplary rather than necessary;
for Lapham made no difficulty about the brief absences
which he asked, and set no term to the apprenticeship
that Corey was serving in the office before setting off
upon that mission to South America in the early winter,
for which no date had yet been fixed.
The summer was a dull season for the paint as well
as for everything else. Till things should brisk up,
as Lapham said, in the fall, he was letting the new
house take a great deal of his time. AEsthetic ideas
had never been intelligibly presented to him before,
and he found a delight in apprehending them that was very
grateful to his imaginative architect. At the beginning,
the architect had foreboded a series of mortifying
defeats and disastrous victories in his encounters
with his client; but he had never had a client who could
be more reasonably led on from one outlay to another.
It appeared that Lapham required but to understand or feel
the beautiful effect intended, and he was ready to pay
for it. His bull-headed pride was concerned in a thing
which the architect made him see, and then he believed
that he had seen it himself, perhaps conceived it.
In some measure the architect seemed to share his delusion,
and freely said that Lapham was very suggestive.
Together they blocked out windows here, and bricked them
up there; they changed doors and passages; pulled down
cornices and replaced them with others of different design;
experimented with costly devices of decoration,
and went to extravagant lengths in novelties of finish.
Mrs. Lapham, beginning with a woman's adventurousness in the
unknown region, took fright at the reckless outlay at last,
and refused to let her husband pass a certain limit.
He tried to make her believe that a far-seeing economy
dictated the expense; and that if he put the money into
the house, he could get it out any time by selling it.
She would not be persuaded.
"I don't want you should sell it. And you've put more money
into it now than you'll ever get out again, unless you can
find as big a goose to buy it, and that isn't likely.
No, sir! You just stop at a hundred thousand, and don't you let
him get you a cent beyond. Why, you're perfectly bewitched
with that fellow! You've lost your head, Silas Lapham,
and if you don't look out you'll lose your money too."
The Colonel laughed; he liked her to talk that way,
and promised he would hold up a while.
"But there's no call to feel anxious, Pert. It's only
a question what to do with the money. I can reinvest it;
but I never had so much of it to spend before."
"Spend it, then," said his wife; "don't throw it away!
And how came you to have so much more money than you know
what to do with, Silas Lapham?" she added.
"Oh, I've made a very good thing in stocks lately."
"In stocks? When did you take up gambling for a living?"
"Gambling? Stuff! What gambling? Who said it was gambling?"
"You have; many a time."
"Oh yes, buying and selling on a margin. But this
was a bona fide transaction. I bought at forty-three
for an investment, and I sold at a hundred and seven;
and the money passed both times."
"Well, you better let stocks alone," said his wife,
with the conservatism of her sex. "Next time you'll
buy at a hundred and seven and sell at forty three.
Then where'll you be?"
"Left," admitted the Colonel.
"You better stick to paint a while yet." The Colonel
enjoyed this too, and laughed again with the ease of a man
who knows what he is about. A few days after that he
came down to Nantasket with the radiant air which he wore
when he had done a good thing in business and wanted
his wife's sympathy. He did not say anything of what had
happened till he was alone with her in their own room;
but he was very gay the whole evening, and made several
jokes which Penelope said nothing but very great prosperity
could excuse: they all understood these moods of his.
"Well, what is it, Silas?" asked his wife when the time came.
"Any more big-bugs wanting to go into the mineral paint
business with you?"
"Something better than that."
"I could think of a good many better things," said his wife,
with a sigh of latent bitterness. "What's this one?"
"I've had a visitor."
"Can't you guess?"
"I don't want to try. Who was it?"
Mrs. Lapham sat down with her hands in her lap, and stared
at the smile on her husband's face, where he sat facing her.
"I guess you wouldn't want to joke on that subject, Si,"
she said, a little hoarsely, "and you wouldn't grin
about it unless you had some good news. I don't know
what the miracle is, but if you could tell quick----"
She stopped like one who can say no more.
"I will, Persis," said her husband, and with that awed
tone in which he rarely spoke of anything but the virtues
of his paint. "He came to borrow money of me, and I
lent him it. That's the short of it. The long----"
"Go on," said his wife, with gentle patience.
"Well, Pert, I was never so much astonished in my
life as I was to see that man come into my office.
You might have knocked me down with--I don't know what."
"I don't wonder. Go on!"
"And he was as much embarrassed as I was. There we stood,
gaping at each other, and I hadn't hardly sense enough
to ask him to take a chair. I don't know just how we
got at it. And I don't remember just how it was that he
said he came to come to me. But he had got hold of a
patent right that he wanted to go into on a large scale,
and there he was wanting me to supply him the funds."
"Go on!" said Mrs. Lapham, with her voice further
in her throat.
"I never felt the way you did about Rogers, but I know how you
always did feel, and I guess I surprised him with my answer.
He had brought along a lot of stock as security----"
"You didn't take it, Silas!" his wife flashed out.
"Yes, I did, though," said Lapham. "You wait. We settled
our business, and then we went into the old thing,
from the very start. And we talked it all over.
And when we got through we shook hands. Well, I don't know
when it's done me so much good to shake hands with anybody."
"And you told him--you owned up to him that you were
in the wrong, Silas?"
"No, I didn't," returned the Colonel promptly; "for I
wasn't. And before we got through, I guess he saw it
the same as I did."
"Oh, no matter! so you had the chance to show how you felt."
"But I never felt that way," persisted the Colonel.
"I've lent him the money, and I've kept his stocks.
And he got what he wanted out of me."
"Give him back his stocks!"
"No, I shan't. Rogers came to borrow. He didn't come
to beg. You needn't be troubled about his stocks.
They're going to come up in time; but just now they're
so low down that no bank would take them as security,
and I've got to hold them till they do rise. I hope you're
satisfied now, Persis," said her husband; and he looked
at her with the willingness to receive the reward of a good
action which we all feel when we have performed one.
"I lent him the money you kept me from spending on
"Truly, Si? Well, I'm satisfied," said Mrs. Lapham,
with a deep tremulous breath. "The Lord has been good
to you, Silas," she continued solemnly. "You may laugh
if you choose, and I don't know as I believe in his
interfering a great deal; but I believe he's interfered
this time; and I tell you, Silas, it ain't always he gives
people a chance to make it up to others in this life.
I've been afraid you'd die, Silas, before you got the chance;
but he's let you live to make it up to Rogers."
"I'm glad to be let live," said Lapham stubbornly,
"but I hadn't anything to make up to Milton K. Rogers.
And if God has let me live for that----"
"Oh, say what you please, Si! Say what you please,
now you've done it! I shan't stop you. You've taken
the one spot--the one SPECK--off you that was ever there,
and I'm satisfied."
"There wa'n't ever any speck there," Lapham held out,
lapsing more and more into his vernacular; "and what I
done I done for you, Persis."
"And I thank you for your own soul's sake, Silas."
"I guess my soul's all right," said Lapham.
"And I want you should promise me one thing more."
"Thought you said you were satisfied?"
"I am. But I want you should promise me this: that you
won't let anything tempt you--anything!--to ever trouble
Rogers for that money you lent him. No matter what
happens--no matter if you lose it all. Do you promise?"
"Why, I don't ever EXPECT to press him for it.
That's what I said to myself when I lent it. And of course
I'm glad to have that old trouble healed up. I don't THINK
I ever did Rogers any wrong, and I never did think so;
but if I DID do it--IF I did--I'm willing to call it square,
if I never see a cent of my money back again."
"Well, that's all," said his wife.
They did not celebrate his reconciliation with his old
enemy--for such they had always felt him to be since he
ceased to be an ally--by any show of joy or affection.
It was not in their tradition, as stoical for the woman
as for the man, that they should kiss or embrace each
other at such a moment. She was content to have told
him that he had done his duty, and he was content with
her saying that. But before she slept she found words
to add that she always feared the selfish part he had
acted toward Rogers had weakened him, and left him less
able to overcome any temptation that might beset him;
and that was one reason why she could never be easy about it.
Now she should never fear for him again.
This time he did not explicitly deny her forgiving impeachment.
"Well, it's all past and gone now, anyway; and I don't
want you should think anything more about it."
He was man enough to take advantage of the high favour
in which he stood when he went up to town, and to abuse it
by bringing Corey down to supper. His wife could not help
condoning the sin of disobedience in him at such a time.
Penelope said that between the admiration she felt
for the Colonel's boldness and her mother's forbearance,
she was hardly in a state to entertain company that evening;
but she did what she could.
Irene liked being talked to better than talking, and when
her sister was by she was always, tacitly or explicitly,
referring to her for confirmation of what she said.
She was content to sit and look pretty as she looked
at the young man and listened to her sister's drolling.
She laughed and kept glancing at Corey to make sure that he
was understanding her. When they went out on the veranda
to see the moon on the water, Penelope led the way and
They did not look at the moonlight long. The young
man perched on the rail of the veranda, and Irene took
one of the red-painted rocking-chairs where she could
conveniently look at him and at her sister, who sat
leaning forward lazily and running on, as the phrase is.
That low, crooning note of hers was delicious; her face,
glimpsed now and then in the moonlight as she turned it
or lifted it a little, had a fascination which kept his eye.
Her talk was very unliterary, and its effect seemed
hardly conscious. She was far from epigram in her funning.
She told of this trifle and that; she sketched the
characters and looks of people who had interested her,
and nothing seemed to have escaped her notice; she mimicked
a little, but not much; she suggested, and then the
affair represented itself as if without her agency.
She did not laugh; when Corey stopped she made a soft
cluck in her throat, as if she liked his being amused,
and went on again.
The Colonel, left alone with his wife for the first time
since he had come from town, made haste to take the word.
"Well, Pert, I've arranged the whole thing with Rogers,
and I hope you'll be satisfied to know that he owes me
twenty thousand dollars, and that I've got security from him
to the amount of a fourth of that, if I was to force his
stocks to a sale."
"How came he to come down with you?" asked Mrs. Lapham.
"Corey? Oh!" said Lapham, affecting not to have thought
she could mean Corey. "He proposed it."
"Likely!" jeered his wife, but with perfect amiability.
"It's so," protested the Colonel. "We got talking about
a matter just before I left, and he walked down to the boat
with me; and then he said if I didn't mind he guessed
he'd come along down and go back on the return boat.
Of course I couldn't let him do that."
"It's well for you you couldn't."
"And I couldn't do less than bring him here to tea."
"Oh, certainly not."
"But he ain't going to stay the night--unless,"
faltered Lapham, "you want him to."
"Oh, of course, I want him to! I guess he'll stay, probably."
"Well, you know how crowded that last boat always is,
and he can't get any other now."
Mrs. Lapham laughed at the simple wile. "I hope you'll
be just as well satisfied, Si, if it turns out he doesn't
want Irene after all."
"Pshaw, Persis! What are you always bringing that up for?"
pleaded the Colonel. Then he fell silent, and presently
his rude, strong face was clouded with an unconscious frown.
"There!" cried his wife, startling him from his abstraction.
"I see how you'd feel; and I hope that you'll remember
who you've got to blame."
"I'll risk it," said Lapham, with the confidence of a man
used to success.
From the veranda the sound of Penelope's lazy tone came
through the closed windows, with joyous laughter from
Irene and peals from Corey.
"Listen to that!" said her father within, swelling up with
inexpressible satisfaction. "That girl can talk for twenty,
right straight along. She's better than a circus any day.
I wonder what she's up to now."
"Oh, she's probably getting off some of those yarns
of hers, or telling about some people. She can't step
out of the house without coming back with more things
to talk about than most folks would bring back from Japan.
There ain't a ridiculous person she's ever seen but what
she's got something from them to make you laugh at;
and I don't believe we've ever had anybody in the house
since the girl could talk that she hain't got some
saying from, or some trick that'll paint 'em out so't you
can see 'em and hear 'em. Sometimes I want to stop her;
but when she gets into one of her gales there ain't any
standing up against her. I guess it 's lucky for Irene
that she's got Pen there to help entertain her company.
I can't ever feel down where Pen is."
"That's so," said the Colonel. "And I guess she's got
about as much culture as any of them. Don't you?"
"She reads a great deal," admitted her mother. "She seems
to be at it the whole while. I don't want she should
injure her health, and sometimes I feel like snatchin'
the books away from her. I don't know as it's good
for a girl to read so much, anyway, especially novels.
I don't want she should get notions."
"Oh, I guess Pen'll know how to take care of herself,"
"She's got sense enough. But she ain't so practical
as Irene. She's more up in the clouds--more of what you
may call a dreamer. Irene's wide-awake every minute;
and I declare, any one to see these two together when
there's anything to be done, or any lead to be taken,
would say Irene was the oldest, nine times out of ten.
It's only when they get to talking that you can see Pen's got
twice as much brains."
"Well," said Lapham, tacitly granting this point,
and leaning back in his chair in supreme content.
"Did you ever see much nicer girls anywhere?"
His wife laughed at his pride. "I presume they're as much
swans as anybody's geese."
"No; but honestly, now!"
"Oh, they'll do; but don't you be silly, if you can
help it, Si."
The young people came in, and Corey said it was time for
his boat. Mrs. Lapham pressed him to stay, but he persisted,
and he would not let the Colonel send him to the boat;
he said he would rather walk. Outside, he pushed along toward
the boat, which presently he could see lying at her landing
in the bay, across the sandy tract to the left of the hotels.
From time to time he almost stopped in his rapid walk,
as a man does whose mind is in a pleasant tumult; and then
he went forward at a swifter pace. "She's charming!"
he said, and he thought he had spoken aloud.
He found himself floundering about in the deep sand,
wide of the path; he got back to it, and reached the boat
just before she started. The clerk came to take his fare,
and Corey looked radiantly up at him in his lantern-light,
with a smile that he must have been wearing a long time;
his cheek was stiff with it. Once some people who stood
near him edged suddenly and fearfully away, and then he
suspected himself of having laughed outright.
COREY put off his set smile with the help of a frown,
of which he first became aware after reaching home,
when his father asked--
"Anything gone wrong with your department of the fine
arts to-day, Tom?"
"Oh no--no, sir," said the son, instantly relieving
his brows from the strain upon them, and beaming again.
"But I was thinking whether you were not perhaps right
in your impression that it might be well for you to make
Colonel Lapham's acquaintance before a great while."
"Has he been suggesting it in any way?" asked Bromfield Corey,
laying aside his book and taking his lean knee between
his clasped hands.
"Oh, not at all!" the young man hastened to reply.
"I was merely thinking whether it might not begin to
seem intentional, your not doing it."
"Well, Tom, you know I have been leaving it altogether
"Oh, I understand, of course, and I didn't mean to urge
anything of the kind----"
"You are so very much more of a Bostonian than I am, you know,
that I've been waiting your motion in entire confidence
that you would know just what to do, and when to do it.
If I had been left quite to my own lawless impulses,
I think I should have called upon your padrone at once.
It seems to me that my father would have found some way of
showing that he expected as much as that from people placed
in the relation to him that we hold to Colonel Lapham."
"Do you think so?" asked the young man.
"Yes. But you know I don't pretend to be an authority
in such matters. As far as they go, I am always
in the hands of your mother and you children."
"I'm very sorry, sir. I had no idea I was over-ruling
your judgment. I only wanted to spare you a formality
that didn't seem quite a necessity yet. I'm very sorry,"
he said again, and this time with more comprehensive regret.
"I shouldn't like to have seemed remiss with a man who has
been so considerate of me. They are all very good-natured."
"I dare say," said Bromfield Corey, with the satisfaction
which no elder can help feeling in disabling the judgment
of a younger man, "that it won't be too late if I go
down to your office with you to-morrow."
"No, no. I didn't imagine your doing it at once, sir."
"Ah, but nothing can prevent me from doing a thing
when once I take the bit in my teeth," said the father,
with the pleasure which men of weak will sometimes take
in recognising their weakness. "How does their new house
"I believe they expect to be in it before New Year."
"Will they be a great addition to society?"
asked Bromfield Corey, with unimpeachable seriousness.
"I don't quite know what you mean," returned the son,
a little uneasily.
"Ah, I see that you do, Tom."
"No one can help feeling that they are all people of good
sense and--right ideas."
"Oh, that won't do. If society took in all the people
of right ideas and good sense, it would expand beyond
the calling capacity of its most active members.
Even your mother's social conscientiousness could not
compass it. Society is a very different sort of thing
from good sense and right ideas. It is based upon them,
of course, but the airy, graceful, winning superstructure
which we all know demands different qualities.
Have your friends got these qualities,--which may be felt,
but not defined?"
The son laughed. "To tell you the truth, sir, I don't
think they have the most elemental ideas of society,
as we understand it. I don't believe Mrs. Lapham ever
gave a dinner."
"And with all that money!" sighed the father.
"I don't believe they have the habit of wine at table.
I suspect that when they don't drink tea and coffee with
their dinner, they drink ice-water."
"Horrible!" said Bromfield Corey.
"It appears to me that this defines them."
"Oh yes. There are people who give dinners, and who are
not cognoscible. But people who have never yet given
a dinner, how is society to assimilate them?"
"It digests a great many people," suggested the young man.
"Yes; but they have always brought some sort of sauce
piquante with them. Now, as I understand you,
these friends of yours have no such sauce."
"Oh, I don't know about that!" cried the son.
"Oh, rude, native flavours, I dare say. But that isn't
what I mean. Well, then, they must spend. There is no
other way for them to win their way to general regard.
We must have the Colonel elected to the Ten O'clock Club,
and he must put himself down in the list of those willing
to entertain. Any one can manage a large supper. Yes, I see
a gleam of hope for him in that direction."
In the morning Bromfield Corey asked his son whether he
should find Lapham at his place as early as eleven.
"I think you might find him even earlier. I've never
been there before him. I doubt if the porter is there
"Well, suppose I go with you, then?"
"Why, if you like, sir," said the son, with some deprecation.
"Oh, the question is, will HE like?"
"I think he will, sir;" and the father could see that
his son was very much pleased.
Lapham was rending an impatient course through the morning's
news when they appeared at the door of his inner room.
He looked up from the newspaper spread on the desk before him,
and then he stood up, making an indifferent feint of not
knowing that he knew Bromfield Corey by sight.
"Good morning, Colonel Lapham," said the son, and Lapham
waited for him to say further, "I wish to introduce
my father." Then he answered, "Good morning," and added
rather sternly for the elder Corey, "How do you do,
sir? Will you take a chair?" and he pushed him one.
They shook hands and sat down, and Lapham said
to his subordinate, "Have a seat; "but young Corey
remained standing, watching them in their observance of
each other with an amusement which was a little uneasy.
Lapham made his visitor speak first by waiting for him to do so.
"I'm glad to make your acquaintance, Colonel Lapham,
and I ought to have come sooner to do so. My father
in your place would have expected it of a man in my place
at once, I believe. But I can't feel myself altogether
a stranger as it is. I hope Mrs. Lapham is well? And
"Thank you," said Lapham, "they're quite well."
"They were very kind to my wife----"
"Oh, that was nothing!" cried Lapham. "There's nothing
Mrs. Lapham likes better than a chance of that sort.
Mrs. Corey and the young ladies well?"
"Very well, when I heard from them. They're out of town."
"Yes, so I understood," said Lapham, with a nod toward
the son. "I believe Mr. Corey, here, told Mrs. Lapham."
He leaned back in his chair, stiffly resolute to show that he
was not incommoded by the exchange of these civilities.
"Yes," said Bromfield Corey. "Tom has had the pleasure
which I hope for of seeing you all. I hope you're
able to make him useful to you here?" Corey looked
round Lapham's room vaguely, and then out at the clerks
in their railed enclosure, where his eye finally rested
on an extremely pretty girl, who was operating a type-writer.
"Well, sir," replied Lapham, softening for the first time
with this approach to business, "I guess it will be our own
fault if we don't. By the way, Corey," he added, to the
younger man, as he gathered up some letters from his desk,
"here's something in your line. Spanish or French,
"I'll run them over," said Corey, taking them to his desk.
His father made an offer to rise.
"Don't go," said Lapham, gesturing him down again.
"I just wanted to get him away a minute. I don't care
to say it to his face,--I don't like the principle,--but
since you ask me about it, I'd just as lief say that I've
never had any young man take hold here equal to your son.
I don't know as you care"
"You make me very happy," said Bromfield Corey.
"Very happy indeed. I've always had the idea that there
was something in my son, if he could only find the way
to work it out. And he seems to have gone into your
business for the love of it."
"He went to work in the right way, sir! He told me about it.
He looked into it. And that paint is a thing that will
bear looking into."
"Oh yes. You might think he had invented it, if you
heard him celebrating it."
"Is that so?" demanded Lapham, pleased through
and through. "Well, there ain't any other way.
You've got to believe in a thing before you can put any
heart in it. Why, I had a partner in this thing once,
along back just after the war, and he used to be always
wanting to tinker with something else. 'Why,' says I,
'you've got the best thing in God's universe now.
Why ain't you satisfied?' I had to get rid of him at last.
I stuck to my paint, and that fellow's drifted round pretty
much all over the whole country, whittling his capital
down all the while, till here the other day I had to lend
him some money to start him new. No, sir, you've got
to believe in a thing. And I believe in your son.
And I don't mind telling you that, so far as he's gone,
he's a success."
"That's very kind of you."
"No kindness about it. As I was saying the other day
to a friend of mine, I've had many a fellow right out
of the street that had to work hard all his life,
and didn't begin to take hold like this son of yours."
Lapham expanded with profound self-satisfaction. As he
probably conceived it, he had succeeded in praising,
in a perfectly casual way, the supreme excellence
of his paint, and his own sagacity and benevolence;
and here he was sitting face to face with Bromfield Corey,
praising his son to him, and receiving his grateful
acknowledgments as if he were the father of some office-boy
whom Lapham had given a place half but of charity.
"Yes, sir, when your son proposed to take hold here,
I didn't have much faith in his ideas, that's the truth.
But I had faith in him, and I saw that he meant business
from the start. I could see it was born in him.
Any one could."
"I'm afraid he didn't inherit it directly from me,"
said Bromfield Corey; "but it's in the blood,
on both sides." "Well, sir, we can't help those things,"
said Lapham compassionately. "Some of us have got it,
and some of us haven't. The idea is to make the most of
what we HAVE got."
"Oh yes; that is the idea. By all means."
"And you can't ever tell what's in you till you try.
Why, when I started this thing, I didn't more than half
understand my own strength. I wouldn't have said,
looking back, that I could have stood the wear and tear
of what I've been through. But I developed as I went along.
It's just like exercising your muscles in a gymnasium.
You can lift twice or three times as much after you've
been in training a month as you could before. And I
can see that it's going to be just so with your son.
His going through college won't hurt him,--he'll soon slough
all that off,--and his bringing up won't; don't be anxious
about it. I noticed in the army that some of the fellows
that had the most go-ahead were fellows that hadn't ever
had much more to do than girls before the war broke out.
Your son will get along."
"Thank you," said Bromfield Corey, and smiled--whether
because his spirit was safe in the humility he
sometimes boasted, or because it was triply armed
in pride against anything the Colonel's kindness could do.
"He'll get along. He's a good business man, and he's
a fine fellow. MUST you go?" asked Lapham, as Bromfield
Corey now rose more resolutely. "Well, glad to see you.
It was natural you should want to come and see what he
was about, and I'm glad you did. I should have felt
just so about it. Here is some of our stuff," he said,
pointing out the various packages in his office,
including the Persis Brand.
"Ah, that's very nice, very nice indeed," said his visitor.
"That colour through the jar--very rich--delicious.
Is Persis Brand a name?"
"Well, Persis is. I don't know as you saw an interview
that fellow published in the Events a while back?"
"What is the Events?"
"Well, it's that new paper Witherby's started."
"No," said Bromfield Corey, "I haven't seen it.
I read The Daily," he explained; by which he meant The
Daily Advertiser, the only daily there is in the old-
fashioned Bostonian sense.
"He put a lot of stuff in my mouth that I never said,"
resumed Lapham; "but that's neither here nor there,
so long as you haven't seen it. Here's the department
your son's in," and he showed him the foreign labels.
Then he took him out into the warehouse to see the
large packages. At the head of the stairs, where his
guest stopped to nod to his son and say "Good-bye, Tom,"
Lapham insisted upon going down to the lower door with him
"Well, call again," he said in hospitable dismissal.
"I shall always be glad to see you. There ain't a great
deal doing at this season." Bromfield Corey thanked him,
and let his hand remain perforce in Lapham's lingering grasp.
"If you ever like to ride after a good horse----"
the Colonel began.
"Oh, no, no, no; thank you! The better the horse, the more
I should be scared. Tom has told me of your driving!"
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the Colonel. "Well! every one
to his taste. Well, good morning, sir!" and he suffered
him to go.
"Who is the old man blowing to this morning?" asked Walker,
the book-keeper, making an errand to Corey's desk.
"Oh! That your father? I thought he must be one of your
Italian correspondents that you'd been showing round,
In fact, as Bromfield Corey found his way at his leisurely
pace up through the streets on which the prosperity
of his native city was founded, hardly any figure could
have looked more alien to its life. He glanced up and down
the facades and through the crooked vistas like a stranger,
and the swarthy fruiterer of whom he bought an apple,
apparently for the pleasure of holding it in his hand,
was not surprised that the purchase should be transacted
in his own tongue.
Lapham walked back through the outer office to his own
room without looking at Corey, and during the day he spoke
to him only of business matters. That must have been
his way of letting Corey see that he was not overcome
by the honour of his father's visit. But he presented
himself at Nantasket with the event so perceptibly on
his mind that his wife asked: "Well, Silas, has Rogers
been borrowing any more money of you? I don't want you
should let that thing go too far. You've done enough."
"You needn't be afraid. I've seen the last of Rogers
for one while." He hesitated, to give the fact an effect
of no importance. "Corey's father called this morning."
"Did he?" said Mrs. Lapham, willing to humour his feint
of indifference. "Did HE want to borrow some money too?"
"Not as I understood." Lapham was smoking at great ease,
and his wife had some crocheting on the other side of the
lamp from him.
The girls were on the piazza looking at the moon on
the water again. "There's no man in it to-night,"
Penelope said, and Irene laughed forlornly.
"What DID he want, then?" asked Mrs. Lapham.
"Oh, I don't know. Seemed to be just a friendly call.
Said he ought to have come before."
Mrs. Lapham was silent a while. Then she said: "Well,
I hope you're satisfied now."
Lapham rejected the sympathy too openly offered.
"I don't know about being satisfied. I wa'n't in any
hurry to see him."
His wife permitted him this pretence also. "What sort
of a person is he, anyway l"
"Well, not much like his son. There's no sort of business
about him. I don't know just how you'd describe him.
He's tall; and he's got white hair and a moustache;
and his fingers are very long and limber. I couldn't help
noticing them as he sat there with his hands on the top
of his cane. Didn't seem to be dressed very much, and acted
just like anybody. Didn't talk much. Guess I did most
of the talking. Said he was glad I seemed to be getting
along so well with his son. He asked after you and Irene;
and he said he couldn't feel just like a stranger.
Said you had been very kind to his wife. Of course I turned
it off. Yes," said Lapham thoughtfully, with his hands
resting on his knees, and his cigar between the fingers
of his left hand, "I guess he meant to do the right thing,
every way. Don't know as I ever saw a much pleasanter man.
Dunno but what he's about the pleasantest man I ever
did see." He was not letting his wife see in his averted
face the struggle that revealed itself there--the
struggle of stalwart achievement not to feel flattered
at the notice of sterile elegance, not to be sneakingly
glad of its amiability, but to stand up and look at it
with eyes on the same level. God, who made us so much
like himself, but out of the dust, alone knows when
that struggle will end. The time had been when Lapham
could not have imagined any worldly splendour which his
dollars could not buy if he chose to spend them for it;
but his wife's half discoveries, taking form again in his
ignorance of the world, filled him with helpless misgiving.
A cloudy vision of something unpurchasable, where he
had supposed there was nothing, had cowed him in spite
of the burly resistance of his pride.
"I don't see why he shouldn't be pleasant," said Mrs. Lapham.
"He's never done anything else."
Lapham looked up consciously, with an uneasy laugh.
"Pshaw, Persis! you never forget anything?"
"Oh, I've got more than that to remember. I suppose you
asked him to ride after the mare?"
"Well," said Lapham, reddening guiltily, "he said he
was afraid of a good horse."
"Then, of course, you hadn't asked him." Mrs. Lapham
crocheted in silence, and her husband leaned back
in his chair and smoked.
At last he said, "I'm going to push that house forward.
They're loafing on it. There's no reason why we shouldn't
be in it by Thanksgiving. I don't believe in moving in
the dead of winter."
"We can wait till spring. We're very comfortable in the
old place," answered his wife. Then she broke out on him:
"What are you in such a hurry to get into that house
for? Do you want to invite the Coreys to a house-warming?"
Lapham looked at her without speaking.
"Don't you suppose I can see through you I declare,
Silas Lapham, if I didn't know different, I should say
you were about the biggest fool! Don't you know ANYthing?
Don't you know that it wouldn't do to ask those people
to our house before they've asked us to theirs? They'd
laugh in our faces!"
"I don't believe they'd laugh in our faces. What's the
difference between our asking them and their asking us?"
demanded the Colonel sulkily.
"Oh, well! If you don t see!"
"Well, I DON'T see. But I don't want to ask them
to the house. I suppose, if I want to, I can invite
him down to a fish dinner at Taft's."
Mrs. Lapham fell back in her chair, and let her work
drop in her lap with that "Tckk!" in which her sex knows
how to express utter contempt and despair.
"What's the matter?"
"Well, if you DO such a thing, Silas, I'll never speak
to you again! It's no USE! It's NO use! I did think,
after you'd behaved so well about Rogers, I might trust
you a little. But I see I can't. I presume as long as you
live you'll have to be nosed about like a perfect--I don't
"What are you making such a fuss about?" demanded Lapham,
terribly crestfallen, but trying to pluck up a spirit.
"I haven't done anything yet. I can't ask your advice
about anything any more without having you fly out.
Confound it! I shall do as I please after this."
But as if he could not endure that contemptuous atmosphere,
he got up, and his wife heard him in the dining-room
pouring himself out a glass of ice-water, and then heard
him mount the stairs to their room, and slam its door
"Do you know what your father's wanting to do now?"
Mrs. Lapham asked her eldest daughter, who lounged
into the parlour a moment with her wrap stringing
from her arm, while the younger went straight to bed.
"He wants to invite Mr. Corey's father to a fish dinner
Penelope was yawning with her hand on her mouth;
she stopped, and, with a laugh of amused expectance,
sank into a chair, her shoulders shrugged forward.
"Why! what in the world has put the Colonel up to that?"
"Put him up to it! There's that fellow, who ought have come
to see him long ago, drops into his office this morning,
and talks five minutes with him, and your father is
flattered out of his five senses. He's crazy to get
in with those people, and I shall have a perfect battle
to keep him within bounds."
"Well, Persis, ma'am, you can't say but what you began it,"
"Oh yes, I began it," confessed Mrs. Lapham. "Pen," she
broke out, "what do you suppose he means by it?"
"Who? Mr. Corey's father? What does the Colonel think?"
"Oh, the Colonel!" cried Mrs. Lapham. She added tremulously:
"Perhaps he IS right. He DID seem to take a fancy to her
last summer, and now if he's called in that way "She left
her daughter to distribute the pronouns aright, and resumed:
"Of course, I should have said once that there wasn't
any question about it. I should have said so last year;
and I don't know what it is keeps me from saying so now.
I suppose I know a little more about things than I did;
and your father's being so bent on it sets me all in
a twitter. He thinks his money can do everything.
Well, I don't say but what it can, a good many. And 'Rene
is as good a child as ever there was; and I don't see
but what she's pretty-appearing enough to suit any one.
She's pretty-behaved, too; and she IS the most capable girl.
I presume young men don't care very much for such
things nowadays; but there ain't a great many girls
can go right into the kitchen, and make such a custard
as she did yesterday. And look at the way she does,
through the whole house! She can't seem to go into a room
without the things fly right into their places. And if she
had to do it to-morrow, she could make all her own dresses
a great deal better than them we pay to do it. I don't
say but what he's about as nice a fellow as ever stepped.
But there! I'm ashamed of going on so."
"Well, mother," said the girl after a pause, in which she
looked as if a little weary of the subject, "why do you
worry about it? If it's to be it'll be, and if it isn't----"
"Yes, that's what I tell your father. But when it comes
to myself, I see how hard it is for him to rest quiet.
I'm afraid we shall all do something we'll repent
"Well, ma'am," said Penelope, "I don't intend to do anything wrong;
but if I do, I promise not to be sorry for it. I'll go
that far. And I think I wouldn't be sorry for it beforehand,
if I were in your place, mother. Let the Colonel go on! He
likes to manoeuvre, and he isn't going to hurt any one.
The Corey family can take care of themselves, I guess."
She laughed in her throat, drawing down the corners
of her mouth, and enjoying the resolution with which her
mother tried to fling off the burden of her anxieties.
"Pen! I believe you're right. You always do see things
in such a light! There! I don't care if he brings him
down every day."
"Well, ma'am," said Pen, "I don't believe
'Rene would, either. She's just so indifferent!"
The Colonel slept badly that night, and in the morning
Mrs. Lapham came to breakfast without him.
"Your father ain't well," she reported. "He's had one
of his turns."
"I should have thought he had two or three of them,"
said Penelope, "by the stamping round I heard. Isn't he
coming to breakfast?"
"Not just yet," said her mother. "He's asleep,
and he'll be all right if he gets his nap out.
I don't want you girls should make any great noise."
"Oh, we'll be quiet enough," returned Penelope.
"Well, I'm glad the Colonel isn't sojering. At first I
thought he might be sojering." She broke into a laugh,
and, struggling indolently with it, looked at her sister.
"You don't think it'll be necessary for anybody to come
down from the office and take orders from him while he's
laid up, do you, mother?" she inquired
"Pen!" cried Irene.
"He'll be well enough to go up on the ten o'clock boat,"
said the mother sharply.
"I think papa works too hard all through the summer.
Why don't you make him take a rest, mamma?" asked Irene.
"Oh, take a rest! The man slaves harder every year.
It used to be so that he'd take a little time off now and then;
but I declare, he hardly ever seems to breathe now away from
his office. And this year he says he doesn't intend to go
down to Lapham, except to see after the works for a few days.
I don't know what to do with the man any more! Seems
as if the more money he got, the more he wanted to get.
It scares me to think what would happen to him if he
lost it. I know one thing," concluded Mrs. Lapham.
"He shall not go back to the office to-day."
"Then he won't go up on the ten o'clock boat,"
Pen reminded her.
"No, he won't. You can just drive over to the hotel as soon
as you're through, girls, and telegraph that he's not well,
and won't be at the office till to-morrow. I'm not going
to have them send anybody down here to bother him."
"That's a blow," said Pen. "I didn't know but they
might send----" she looked demurely at her sister--"Dennis!"
"Mamma!" cried Irene.
"Well, I declare, there's no living with this family
any more," said Penelope.
"There, Pen, be done!" commanded her mother. But perhaps she
did not intend to forbid her teasing. It gave a pleasant
sort of reality to the affair that was in her mind,
and made what she wished appear not only possible but probable.
Lapham got up and lounged about, fretting and rebelling
as each boat departed without him, through the day;
before night he became very cross, in spite of the efforts
of the family to soothe him, and grumbled that he had been
kept from going up to town. "I might as well have gone
as not," he repeated, till his wife lost her patience.
"Well, you shall go to-morrow, Silas, if you have to be
carried to the boat."
"I declare," said Penelope, "the Colonel don't pet worth
The six o'clock boat brought Corey. The girls were
sitting on the piazza, and Irene saw him first.
"O Pen!" she whispered, with her heart in her face;
and Penelope had no time for mockery before he was at
"I hope Colonel Lapham isn't ill," he said, and they
could hear their mother engaged in a moral contest
with their father indoors.
"Go and put on your coat! I say you shall! It don't matter
HOW he sees you at the office, shirt-sleeves or not.
You're in a gentleman's house now--or you ought to be--and
you shan't see company in your dressing-gown."
Penelope hurried in to subdue her mother's anger.
"Oh, he's very much better, thank you!" said Irene,
speaking up loudly to drown the noise of the controversy.
"I'm glad of that," said Corey, and when she led
him indoors the vanquished Colonel met his visitor
in a double-breasted frock-coat, which he was still
buttoning up. He could not persuade himself at once
that Corey had not come upon some urgent business matter,
and when he was clear that he had come out of civility,
surprise mingled with his gratification that he
should be the object of solicitude to the young man.
In Lapham's circle of acquaintance they complained
when they were sick, but they made no womanish inquiries
after one another's health, and certainly paid no visits
of sympathy till matters were serious. He would have
enlarged upon the particulars of his indisposition if he
had been allowed to do so; and after tea, which Corey took
with them, he would have remained to entertain him if his
wife had not sent him to bed. She followed him to see
that he took some medicine she had prescribed for him,
but she went first to Penelope's room, where she found
the girl with a book in her hand, which she was not reading.
"You better go down," said the mother. "I've got to go
to your father, and Irene is all alone with Mr. Corey;
and I know she'll be on pins and needles without you're
there to help make it go off."
"She'd better try to get along without me, mother,"
said Penelope soberly. "I can't always be with them."
"Well," replied Mrs. Lapham, "then I must. There'll be
a perfect Quaker meeting down there."
"Oh, I guess 'Rene will find something to say if you
leave her to herself. Or if she don't, HE must.
It'll be all right for you to go down when you get ready;
but I shan't go till toward the last. If he's coming
here to see Irene--and I don't believe he's come on
father's account--he wants to see her and not me.
If she can't interest him alone, perhaps he'd as well find
it out now as any time. At any rate, I guess you'd better
make the experiment. You'll know whether it's a success
if he comes again."
"Well," said the mother, "may be you're right. I'll go
down directly. It does seem as if he did mean something,
Mrs. Lapham did not hasten to return to her guest.
In her own girlhood it was supposed that if a young man
seemed to be coming to see a girl, it was only common-
sense to suppose that he wished to see her alone; and her
life in town had left Mrs. Lapham's simple traditions
in this respect unchanged. She did with her daughter
as her mother would have done with her.
Where Penelope sat with her book, she heard the continuous
murmur of voices below, and after a long interval she
heard her mother descend. She did not read the open
book that lay in her lap, though she kept her eyes fast
on the print. Once she rose and almost shut the door,
so that she could scarcely hear; then she opened it
wide again with a self-disdainful air, and resolutely
went back to her book, which again she did not read.
But she remained in her room till it was nearly time for
Corey to return to his boat.
When they were alone again, Irene made a feint of scolding
her for leaving her to entertain Mr. Corey.
"Why! didn't you have a pleasant call?" asked Penelope.
Irene threw her arms round her. "Oh, it was a SPLENDID
call! I didn't suppose I could make it go off so well.
We talked nearly the whole time about you!"
"I don't think THAT was a very interesting subject."
"He kept asking about you. He asked everything.
You don't know how much he thinks of you, Pen. O Pen!
what do you think made him come? Do you think he really
did come to see how papa was?" Irene buried her face
in her sister's neck.
Penelope stood with her arms at her side, submitting.
"Well," she said, "I don't think he did, altogether."
Irene, all glowing, released her. "Don't you--don't you
REALLY? O Pen! don't you think he IS nice? Don't you
think he's handsome? Don't you think I behaved horridly
when we first met him this evening, not thanking him for
coming? I know he thinks I've no manners. But it seemed
as if it would be thanking him for coming to see me.
Ought I to have asked him to come again, when he said
good-night? I didn't; I couldn't. Do you believe he'll
think I don't want him to? You don't believe he would
keep coming if he didn't--want to----"
"He hasn't kept coming a great deal, yet," suggested Penelope.
"No; I know he hasn't. But if he--if he should?"
"Then I should think he wanted to."
"Oh, would you--WOULD you? Oh, how good you always are,
Pen! And you always say what you think. I wish there
was some one coming to see you too. That's all that I
don't like about it. Perhaps----He was telling about
his friend there in Texas----"
"Well," said Penelope, "his friend couldn't call often
from Texas. You needn't ask Mr. Corey to trouble
about me, 'Rene. I think I can manage to worry along,
if you're satisfied."
"Oh, I AM, Pen. When do you suppose he'll come again?"
Irene pushed some of Penelope's things aside on the
dressing-case, to rest her elbow and talk at ease.
Penelope came up and put them back.
"Well, not to-night," she said; "and if that's what you're
sitting up for----"
Irene caught her round the neck again, and ran out
of the room.
The Colonel was packed off on the eight o'clock boat
the next morning; but his recovery did not prevent Corey
from repeating his visit in a week. This time Irene came
radiantly up to Penelope's room, where she had again
withdrawn herself. "You must come down, Pen," she said.
"He's asked if you're not well, and mamma says you've got
After that Penelope helped Irene through with her calls,
and talked them over with her far into the night after Corey
was gone. But when the impatient curiosity of her mother
pressed her for some opinion of the affair, she said,
"You know as much as I do, mother."
"Don't he ever say anything to you about her--praise
her up, any?"
"He's never mentioned Irene to me."
"He hasn't to me, either," said Mrs. Lapham, with a sigh
of trouble. "Then what makes him keep coming?"
"I can't tell you. One thing, he says there isn't a house
open in Boston where he's acquainted. Wait till some
of his friends get back, and then if he keeps coming,
it'll be time to inquire."
"Well!" said the mother; but as the weeks passed she
was less and less able to attribute Corey's visits to his
loneliness in town, and turned to her husband for comfort.
"Silas, I don't know as we ought to let young Corey keep
coming so. I don't quite like it, with all his family away."
"He's of age," said the Colonel. "He can go where he pleases.
It don't matter whether his family's here or not."
"Yes, but if they don't want he should come? Should you
feel just right about letting him?"
"How're you going to stop him? I swear, Persis, I don't know
what's got over you! What is it? You didn't use to be so.
But to hear you talk, you'd think those Coreys were too
good for this world, and we wa'n't fit for 'em to walk on."
"I'm not going to have 'em say we took an advantage
of their being away and tolled him on."
"I should like to HEAR 'em say it!" cried Lapham.
"Well," said his wife, relinquishing this point of anxiety,
"I can't make out whether he cares anything for her or not.
And Pen can't tell either; or else she won't."
"Oh, I guess he cares for her, fast enough," said the Colonel.
"I can't make out that he's said or done the first thing
to show it."
"Well, I was better than a year getting my courage up."
"Oh, that was different," said Mrs. Lapham, in contemptuous
dismissal of the comparison, and yet with a certain fondness.
"I guess, if he cared for her, a fellow in his position
wouldn't be long getting up his courage to speak to Irene."
Lapham brought his fist down on the table between them.
"Look here, Persis! Once for all, now, don't you ever
let me hear you say anything like that again! I'm worth
nigh on to a million, and I've made it every cent myself;
and my girls are the equals of anybody, I don't care
who it is. He ain't the fellow to take on any airs;
but if he ever tries it with me, I'll send him to the right
about mighty quick. I'll have a talk with him, if----"
"No, no; don't do that!" implored his wife. "I didn't
mean anything. I don't know as I meant ANYthing.
He's just as unassuming as he can be, and I think Irene's
a match for anybody. You just let things go on. It'll be
all right. You never can tell how it is with young people.
Perhaps SHE'S offish. Now you ain't--you ain't going
to say anything?"
Lapham suffered himself to be persuaded, the more easily,
no doubt, because after his explosion he must have perceived
that his pride itself stood in the way of what his pride
had threatened. He contented himself with his wife's
promise that she would never again present that offensive
view of the case, and she did not remain without a certain
support in his sturdy self-assertion.
MRS. COREY returned with her daughters in the early
days of October, having passed three or four weeks at
Intervale after leaving Bar Harbour. They were somewhat
browner than they were when they left town in June,
but they were not otherwise changed. Lily, the elder
of the girls, had brought back a number of studies of kelp
and toadstools, with accessory rocks and rotten logs,
which she would never finish up and never show any one,
knowing the slightness of their merit. Nanny, the younger,
had read a great many novels with a keen sense of their
inaccuracy as representations of life, and had seen
a great deal of life with a sad regret for its difference
from fiction. They were both nice girls, accomplished,
well-dressed of course, and well enough looking;
but they had met no one at the seaside or the mountains
whom their taste would allow to influence their fate,
and they had come home to the occupations they had left,
with no hopes and no fears to distract them.
In the absence of these they were fitted to take
the more vivid interest in their brother's affairs,
which they could see weighed upon their mother's mind
after the first hours of greeting.
"Oh, it seems to have been going on, and your father has
never written a word about it," she said, shaking her head.
"What good would it have done?" asked Nanny, who was
little and fair, with rings of light hair that filled
a bonnet-front very prettily; she looked best in a bonnet.
"It would only have worried you. He could not have
stopped Tom; you couldn't, when you came home to do it."
"I dare say papa didn't know much about it," suggested Lily.
She was a tall, lean, dark girl, who looked as if she
were not quite warm enough, and whom you always associated
with wraps of different aesthetic effect after you had
once seen her.
It is a serious matter always to the women of his family
when a young man gives them cause to suspect that he
is interested in some other woman. A son-in-law or
brother-in-law does not enter the family; he need not be
caressed or made anything of; but the son's or brother's
wife has a claim upon his mother and sisters which they
cannot deny. Some convention of their sex obliges them
to show her affection, to like or to seem to like her,
to take her to their intimacy, however odious she may
be to them. With the Coreys it was something more than
an affair of sentiment. They were by no means poor,
and they were not dependent money-wise upon Tom Corey;
but the mother had come, without knowing it, to rely upon
his sense, his advice in everything, and the sisters,
seeing him hitherto so indifferent to girls, had insensibly
grown to regard him as altogether their own till he
should be released, not by his marriage, but by theirs,
an event which had not approached with the lapse of time.
Some kinds of girls--they believed that they could readily
have chosen a kind--might have taken him without taking
him from them; but this generosity could not be hoped
for in such a girl as Miss Lapham.
"Perhaps," urged their mother, "it would not be so bad.
She seemed an affectionate little thing with her mother,
without a great deal of character though she was so capable
about some things."
"Oh, she'll be an affectionate little thing with Tom too,
you may be sure," said Nanny. "And that characterless
capability becomes the most in tense narrow-mindedness.
She'll think we were against her from the beginning."
"She has no cause for that," Lily interposed, "and we
shall not give her any."
"Yes, we shall," retorted Nanny. "We can't help it;
and if we can't, her own ignorance would be cause enough."
"I can't feel that she's altogether ignorant,"
said Mrs. Corey justly.
"Of course she can read and write," admitted Nanny.
"I can't imagine what he finds to talk about with her,"
"Oh, THAT'S very simple," returned her sister.
"They talk about themselves, with occasional references
to each other. I have heard people 'going on' on the
hotel piazzas. She's embroidering, or knitting, or tatting,
or something of that kind; and he says she seems quite
devoted to needlework, and she says, yes, she has a perfect
passion for it, and everybody laughs at her for it;
but she can't help it, she always was so from a child,
and supposes she always shall be,--with remote and
minute particulars. And she ends by saying that perhaps
he does not like people to tat, or knit, or embroider,
or whatever. And he says, oh, yes, he does; what could
make her think such a thing? but for his part he likes
boating rather better, or if you're in the woods camping.
Then she lets him take up one corner of her work,
and perhaps touch her fingers; and that encourages
him to say that he supposes nothing could induce her
to drop her work long enough to go down on the rocks,
or out among the huckleberry bushes; and she puts her
head on one side, and says she doesn't know really.
And then they go, and he lies at her feet on the rocks,
or picks huckleberries and drops them in her lap, and they
go on talking about themselves, and comparing notes to see
how they differ from each other. And----"
"That will do, Nanny," said her mother.
Lily smiled autumnally. "Oh, disgusting!"
"Disgusting? Not at all!" protested her sister.
"It's very amusing when you see it, and when you do it----"
"It's always a mystery what people see in each other,"
observed Mrs. Corey severely.
"Yes," Nanny admitted, "but I don't know that there is much
comfort for us in the application." "No, there isn't,"
said her mother.
"The most that we can do is to hope for the best till
we know the worst. Of course we shall make the best
of the worst when it comes."
"Yes, and perhaps it would not be so very bad.
I was saying to your father when I was here in July
that those things can always be managed. You must face
them as if they were nothing out of the way, and try
not to give any cause for bitterness among ourselves."
"That's true. But I don't believe in too much
resignation beforehand. It amounts to concession," said Nanny.
"Of course we should oppose it in all proper ways,"
returned her mother.
Lily had ceased to discuss the matter. In virtue of her
artistic temperament, she was expected not to be very practical.
It was her mother and her sister who managed, submitting
to the advice and consent of Corey what they intended to do.
"Your father wrote me that he had called on Colonel Lapham
at his place of business," said Mrs. Corey, seizing her
first chance of approaching the subject with her son.
"Yes," said Corey. "A dinner was father's idea, but he
came down to a call, at my suggestion."
"Oh," said Mrs. Corey, in a tone of relief, as if the
statement threw a new light on the fact that Corey
had suggested the visit. "He said so little about
it in his letter that I didn't know just how it came about."
"I thought it was right they should meet," explained the son,
"and so did father. I was glad that I suggested it,
afterward; it was extremely gratifying to Colonel Lapham."
"Oh, it was quite right in every way. I suppose you
have seen something of the family during the summer."
"Yes, a good deal. I've been down at Nantasket rather often."
Mrs. Corey let her eyes droop. Then she asked: "Are
"Yes, except Lapham himself, now and then. I went down once
or twice to see him. He hasn't given himself any vacation
this summer; he has such a passion for his business that I
fancy he finds it hard being away from it at any time,
and he's made his new house an excuse for staying"
"Oh yes, his house! Is it to be something fine?"
"Yes; it's a beautiful house. Seymour is doing it."
"Then, of course, it will be very handsome. I suppose
the young ladies are very much taken up with it;
and Mrs. Lapham."
"Mrs. Lapham, yes. I don't think the young ladies care
so much about it."
"It must be for them. Aren't they ambitious?"
asked Mrs. Corey, delicately feeling her way.
Her son thought a while. Then he answered with a smile--
"No, I don't really think they are. They are unambitious,
I should say." Mrs. Corey permitted herself a long breath.
But her son added, "It's the parents who are ambitious
for them," and her respiration became shorter again.
"Yes," she said.
"They're very simple, nice girls," pursued Corey.
"I think you'll like the elder, when you come to know her."
When you come to know her. The words implied an expectation
that the two families were to be better acquainted.
"Then she is more intellectual than her sister?"
Mrs. Corey ventured.
"Intellectual?" repeated her son. "No; that isn't
the word, quite. Though she certainly has more mind."
"The younger seemed very sensible."
"Oh, sensible, yes. And as practical as she's pretty.
She can do all sorts of things, and likes to be doing them.
Don't you think she's an extraordinary beauty?"
"Yes--yes, she is," said Mrs. Corey, at some cost.
"She's good, too," said Corey, "and perfectly innocent
and transparent. I think you will like her the better
the more you know her."
"I thought her very nice from the beginning," said the
mother heroically; and then nature asserted itself in her.
"But I should be afraid that she might perhaps be a
little bit tiresome at last; her range of ideas seemed
so extremely limited."
"Yes, that's what I was afraid of. But, as a matter of fact,
she isn't. She interests you by her very limitations.
You can see the working of her mind, like that of a child.
She isn't at all conscious even of her beauty."
"I don't believe young men can tell whether girls
are conscious or not," said Mrs. Corey. "But I am not
saying the Miss Laphams are not----" Her son sat musing,
with an inattentive smile on his face. "What is it?"
"Oh! nothing. I was thinking of Miss Lapham and something
she was saying. She's very droll, you know."
"The elder sister? Yes, you told me that. Can you see
the workings of her mind too?"
"No; she's everything that's unexpected." Corey fell into
another reverie, and smiled again; but he did not offer
to explain what amused him, and his mother would not ask.
"I don't know what to make of his admiring the girl
so frankly," she said afterward to her husband.
"That couldn't come naturally till after he had spoken
to her, and I feel sure that he hasn't yet."
"You women haven't risen yet--it's an evidence of
the backwardness of your sex--to a conception of the
Bismarck idea in diplomacy. If a man praises one woman,
you still think he's in love with another. Do you mean
that because Tom didn't praise the elder sister so much,
he HAS spoken to HER?"
Mrs. Corey refused the consequence, saying that it did
not follow. "Besides, he did praise her."
"You ought to be glad that matters are in such
good shape, then. At any rate, you can do absolutely nothing."
"Oh! I know it," sighed Mrs. Corey. "I wish Tom would
be a little opener with me."
"He's as open as it's in the nature of an American-born
son to be with his parents. I dare say if you'd asked
him plumply what he meant in regard to the young lady,
he would have told you--if he knew."
"Why, don't you think he does know, Bromfield?"
"I'm not at all sure he does. You women think that
because a young man dangles after a girl, or girls,
he's attached to them. It doesn't at all follow.
He dangles because he must, and doesn't know what to
do with his time, and because they seem to like it.
I dare say that Tom has dangled a good deal in this
instance because there was nobody else in town."
"Do you really think so?"
"I throw out the suggestion. And it strikes me that a
young lady couldn't do better than stay in or near Boston
during the summer. Most of the young men are here,
kept by business through the week, with evenings available
only on the spot, or a few miles off. What was the
proportion of the sexes at the seashore and the mountains?"
"Oh, twenty girls at least for even an excuse of a man.
"You see, I am right in one part of my theory.
Why shouldn't I be right in the rest?"
"I wish you were. And yet I can't say that I do.
Those things are very serious with girls. I shouldn't
like Tom to have been going to see those people if he
meant nothing by it."
"And you wouldn't like it if he did. You are difficult,
my dear." Her husband pulled an open newspaper toward him
from the table.
"I feel that it wouldn't be at all like him to do so,"
said Mrs. Corey, going on to entangle herself in her words,
as women often do when their ideas are perfectly clear.
"Don't go to reading, please, Bromfield! I am really
worried about this matter I must know how much it means.
I can't let it go on so. I don't see how you can rest easy
"I don't in the least know what's going to become of me
when I die; and yet I sleep well," replied Bromfield Corey,
putting his newspaper aside.
"Ah! but this is a very different thing."
"So much more serious? Well, what can you do? We had this
out when you were here in the summer, and you agreed
with me then that we could do nothing. The situation
hasn't changed at all."
"Yes, it has; it has continued the same," said Mrs. Corey,
again expressing the fact by a contradiction in terms.
"I think I must ask Tom outright."
"You know you can't do that, my dear."
"Then why doesn't he tell us?"
"Ah, that's what HE can't do, if he's making love to Miss
Irene--that's her name, I believe--on the American plan.
He will tell us after he has told HER. That was the way I did.
Don't ignore our own youth, Anna. It was a long while ago,
"It was very different," said Mrs. Corey, a little shaken.
"I don't see how. I dare say Mamma Lapham knows whether
Tom is in love with her daughter or not; and no doubt
Papa Lapham knows it at second hand. But we shall not
know it until the girl herself does. Depend upon that.
Your mother knew, and she told your father; but my poor
father knew nothing about it till we were engaged; and I
had been hanging about--dangling, as you call it----"
"No, no; YOU called it that."
"Was it I?--for a year or more."
The wife could not refuse to be a little consoled by the
image of her young love which the words conjured up,
however little she liked its relation to her son's interest
in Irene Lapham. She smiled pensively. "Then you think
it hasn't come to an understanding with them yet?"
"An understanding? Oh, probably."
"An explanation, then?"
"The only logical inference from what we've been saying
is that it hasn't. But I don't ask you to accept it
on that account. May I read now, my dear?"
"Yes, you may read now," said Mrs. Corey, with one
of those sighs which perhaps express a feminine sense
of the unsatisfactoriness of husbands in general,
rather than a personal discontent with her own.
"Thank you, my dear; then I think I'll smoke too,"
said Bromfield Corey, lighting a cigar.
She left him in peace, and she made no further attempt
upon her son's confidence. But she was not inactive for
that reason. She did not, of course, admit to herself,
and far less to others, the motive with which she went
to pay an early visit to the Laphams, who had now come
up from Nantasket to Nankeen Square. She said to her
daughters that she had always been a little ashamed of using
her acquaintance with them to get money for her charity,
and then seeming to drop it. Besides, it seemed to her
that she ought somehow to recognise the business relation
that Tom had formed with the father; they must not
think that his family disapproved of what he had done.
"Yes, business is business," said Nanny, with a laugh.
"Do you wish us to go with you again?"
"No; I will go alone this time," replied the mother
Her coupe now found its way to Nankeen Square without
difficulty, and she sent up a card, which Mrs. Lapham
received in the presence of her daughter Penelope.
"I presume I've got to see her," she gasped.
"Well, don't look so guilty, mother," joked the girl;
"you haven't been doing anything so VERY wrong."
"It seems as if I HAD. I don't know what's come over me.
I wasn't afraid of the woman before, but now I don't seem
to feel as if I could look her in the face. He's been coming
here of his own accord, and I fought against his coming
long enough, goodness knows. I didn't want him to come.
And as far forth as that goes, we're as respectable
as they are; and your father's got twice their money,
any day. We've no need to go begging for their favour.
I guess they were glad enough to get him in with
"Yes, those are all good points, mother," said the girl;
"and if you keep saying them over, and count a hundred every
time before you speak, I guess you'll worry through."
Mrs. Lapham had been fussing distractedly with her hair
and ribbons, in preparation for her encounter with Mrs. Corey.
She now drew in a long quivering breath, stared at her
daughter without seeing her, and hurried downstairs.
It was true that when she met Mrs. Corey before she had
not been awed by her; but since then she had learned at
least her own ignorance of the world, and she had talked
over the things she had misconceived and the things she
had shrewdly guessed so much that she could not meet her
on the former footing of equality. In spite of as brave
a spirit and as good a conscience as woman need have,
Mrs. Lapham cringed inwardly, and tremulously wondered
what her visitor had come for. She turned from pale
to red, and was hardly coherent in her greetings;
she did not know how they got to where Mrs. Corey was
saying exactly the right things about her son's interest
and satisfaction in his new business, and keeping her eyes
fixed on Mrs. Lapham's, reading her uneasiness there,
and making her feel, in spite of her indignant innocence,
that she had taken a base advantage of her in her absence
to get her son away from her and marry him to Irene.
Then, presently, while this was painfully revolving itself
in Mrs. Lapham's mind, she was aware of Mrs. Corey's asking
if she was not to have the pleasure of seeing Miss Irene.
"No; she's out, just now," said Mrs. Lapham. "I don't
know just when she'll be in. She went to get a book."
And here she turned red again, knowing that Irene had
gone to get the book because it was one that Corey had
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