Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 22 out of 78
"It is," said the girl, with a spoiled air of insistence.
"Well," said Lapham, and, nodding to Corey to enter,
he closed the door upon her. Then he turned to the young,
man and demanded: "Was I drunk last night?"
LAPHAM'S strenuous face was broken up with the
emotions that had forced him to this question: shame,
fear of the things that must have been thought of him,
mixed with a faint hope that he might be mistaken,
which died out at the shocked and pitying look in Corey's eyes.
"Was I drunk?" he repeated. "I ask you, because I was never
touched by drink in my life before, and I don't know."
He stood with his huge hands trembling on the back of
his chair, and his dry lips apart, as he stared at Corey.
"That is what every one understood, Colonel Lapham,"
said the young man. "Every one saw how it was.
"Did they talk it over after I left?" asked Lapham vulgarly.
"Excuse me," said Corey, blushing, "my father doesn't
talk his guests over with one another." He added,
with youthful superfluity, "You were among gentlemen."
"I was the only one that wasn't a gentleman there!"
lamented Lapham. "I disgraced you! I disgraced my family! I
mortified your father before his friends!" His head dropped.
"I showed that I wasn't fit to go with you. I'm not fit
for any decent place. What did I say? What did I do?"
he asked, suddenly lifting his head and confronting Corey.
"Out with it! If you could bear to see it and hear it,
I had ought to bear to know it!"
"There was nothing--really nothing," said Corey.
"Beyond the fact that you were not quite yourself,
there was nothing whatever. My father DID speak of it
to me," he confessed, "when we were alone. He said
that he was afraid we had not been thoughtful of you,
if you were in the habit of taking only water; I told
him I had not seen wine at your table. The others said
nothing about you."
"Ah, but what did they think?"
"Probably what we did: that it was purely a misfortune--
"I wasn't fit to be there," persisted Lapham. "Do you
want to leave?" he asked, with savage abruptness.
"Leave?" faltered the young man.
"Yes; quit the business? Cut the whole connection?"
"I haven't the remotest idea of it!" cried Corey in amazement.
"Why in the world should I?" "Because you're a gentleman,
and I'm not, and it ain't right I should be over you.
If you want to go, I know some parties that would be
glad to get you. I will give you up if you want to go
before anything worse happens, and I shan't blame you.
I can help you to something better than I can offer you here,
and I will."
"There's no question of my going, unless you wish it,"
said Corey. "If you do----"
"Will you tell your father," interrupted Lapham,
"that I had a notion all the time that I was acting
the drunken blackguard, and that I've suffered for it
all day? Will you tell him I don't want him to notice me
if we ever meet, and that I know I'm not fit to associate
with gentlemen in anything but a business way, if I am that?"
"Certainly I shall do nothing of the kind," retorted Corey.
"I can't listen to you any longer. What you say is shocking
to me--shocking in a way you can't think."
"Why, man!" exclaimed Lapham, with astonishment; "if I
can stand it, YOU can!"
"No," said Corey, with a sick look, "that doesn't follow.
You may denounce yourself, if you will; but I have my reasons
for refusing to hear you--my reasons why I CAN'T hear you.
If you say another word I must go away."
"I don't understand you," faltered Lapham, in bewilderment,
which absorbed even his shame.
"You exaggerate the effect of what has happened,"
said the young man. "It's enough, more than enough,
for you to have mentioned the matter to me, and I think
it's unbecoming in me to hear you."
He made a movement toward the door, but Lapham stopped
him with the tragic humility of his appeal. "Don't go
yet! I can't let you. I've disgusted you,--I see that;
but I didn't mean to. I--I take it back."
"Oh, there's nothing to take back," said Corey, with a
repressed shudder for the abasement which he had seen.
"But let us say no more about it--think no more.
There wasn't one of the gentlemen present last night
who didn't understand the matter precisely as my father
and I did, and that fact must end it between us two."
He went out into the larger office beyond, leaving Lapham
helpless to prevent his going. It had become a vital
necessity with him to think the best of Lapham, but his mind
was in a whirl of whatever thoughts were most injurious.
He thought of him the night before in the company of
those ladies and gentlemen, and he quivered in resentment
of his vulgar, braggart, uncouth nature. He recognised
his own allegiance to the exclusiveness to which he was
born and bred, as a man perceives his duty to his country
when her rights are invaded. His eye fell on the porter
going about in his shirt-sleeves to make the place fast
for the night, and he said to himself that Dennis was not
more plebeian than his master; that the gross appetites,
the blunt sense, the purblind ambition, the stupid arrogance
were the same in both, and the difference was in a brute will
that probably left the porter the gentler man of the two.
The very innocence of Lapham's life in the direction in
which he had erred wrought against him in the young man's
mood: it contained the insult of clownish inexperience.
Amidst the stings and flashes of his wounded pride,
all the social traditions, all the habits of feeling,
which he had silenced more and more by force of will
during the past months, asserted their natural sway,
and he rioted in his contempt of the offensive boor, who was
even more offensive in his shame than in his trespass.
He said to himself that he was a Corey, as if that
were somewhat; yet he knew that at the bottom of his heart
all the time was that which must control him at last,
and which seemed sweetly to be suffering his rebellion,
secure of his submission in the end. It was almost
with the girl's voice that it seemed to plead with him,
to undo in him, effect by effect, the work of his
indignant resentment, to set all things in another and
fairer light, to give him hopes, to suggest palliations,
to protest against injustices. It WAS in Lapham's favour
that he was so guiltless in the past, and now Corey asked
himself if it were the first time he could have wished
a guest at his father's table to have taken less wine;
whether Lapham was not rather to be honoured for not knowing
how to contain his folly where a veteran transgressor
might have held his tongue. He asked himself, with a
thrill of sudden remorse, whether, when Lapham humbled
himself in the dust so shockingly, he had shown him
the sympathy to which such ABANDON had the right; and he
had to own that he had met him on the gentlemanly ground,
sparing himself and asserting the superiority of his sort,
and not recognising that Lapham's humiliation came from
the sense of wrong, which he had helped to accumulate upon
him by superfinely standing aloof and refusing to touch him.
He shut his desk and hurried out into the early night,
not to go anywhere, but to walk up and down, to try
to find his way out of the chaos, which now seemed ruin,
and now the materials out of which fine actions and a
happy life might be shaped. Three hours later he stood
at Lapham's door.
At times what he now wished to do had seemed for ever impossible,
and again it had seemed as if he could not wait a moment longer.
He had not been careless, but very mindful of what he
knew must be the feelings of his own family in regard
to the Laphams, and he had not concealed from himself
that his family had great reason and justice on their side
in not wishing him to alienate himself from their common
life and associations. The most that he could urge to
himself was that they had not all the reason and justice;
but he had hesitated and delayed because they had so much.
Often he could not make it appear right that he should
merely please himself in what chiefly concerned himself.
He perceived how far apart in all their experiences and
ideals the Lapham girls and his sisters were; how different
Mrs. Lapham was from his mother; how grotesquely unlike
were his father and Lapham; and the disparity had not
always amused him.
He had often taken it very seriously, and sometimes he said
that he must forego the hope on which his heart was set.
There had been many times in the past months when he had said
that he must go no further, and as often as he had taken
this stand he had yielded it, upon this or that excuse,
which he was aware of trumping up. It was part of the
complication that he should he unconscious of the injury he
might be doing to some one besides his family and himself;
this was the defect of his diffidence; and it had come
to him in a pang for the first time when his mother said
that she would not have the Laphams think she wished
to make more of the acquaintance than he did; and then
it had come too late. Since that he had suffered quite
as much from the fear that it might not be as that it
might be so; and now, in the mood, romantic and exalted,
in which he found himself concerning Lapham, he was as far
as might be from vain confidence. He ended the question
in his own mind by affirming to himself that he was there,
first of all, to see Lapham and give him an ultimate
proof of his own perfect faith and unabated respect,
and to offer him what reparation this involved for that want
of sympathy--of humanity--which he had shown.
THE Nova Scotia second-girl who answered Corey's ring
said that Lapham had not come home yet.
"Oh," said the young man, hesitating on the outer step.
"I guess you better come in," said the girl, "I'll go
and see when they're expecting him."
Corey was in the mood to be swayed by any chance.
He obeyed the suggestion of the second-girl's patronising
friendliness, and let her shut him into the drawing-room,
while she went upstairs to announce him to Penelope.
"Did you tell him father wasn't at home?"
"Yes. He seemed so kind of disappointed, I told him to
come in, and I'd see when he WOULD be in," said the girl,
with the human interest which sometimes replaces in the
American domestic the servile deference of other countries.
A gleam of amusement passed over Penelope's face,
as she glanced at herself in the glass. "Well," she
cried finally, dropping from her shoulders the light shawl
in which she had been huddled over a book when Corey rang,
"I will go down."
"All right," said the girl, and Penelope began hastily
to amend the disarray of her hair, which she tumbled into
a mass on the top of her little head, setting off the pale
dark of her complexion with a flash of crimson ribbon
at her throat. She moved across the carpet once or twice
with the quaint grace that belonged to her small figure,
made a dissatisfied grimace at it in the glass, caught a
handkerchief out of a drawer and slid it into her pocket,
and then descended to Corey.
The Lapham drawing-room in Nankeen Square was in the
parti-coloured paint which the Colonel had hoped to repeat
in his new house: the trim of the doors and windows
was in light green and the panels in salmon; the walls
were a plain tint of French grey paper, divided by gilt
mouldings into broad panels with a wide stripe of red
velvet paper running up the corners; the chandelier
was of massive imitation bronze; the mirror over the
mantel rested on a fringed mantel-cover of green reps,
and heavy curtains of that stuff hung from gilt lambrequin
frames at the window; the carpet was of a small pattern
in crude green, which, at the time Mrs. Lapham bought it,
covered half the new floors in Boston. In the panelled
spaces on the walls were some stone-coloured landscapes,
representing the mountains and canyons of the West,
which the Colonel and his wife had visited on one of
the early official railroad excursions. In front of
the long windows looking into the Square were statues,
kneeling figures which turned their backs upon the company
within-doors, and represented allegories of Faith and Prayer
to people without. A white marble group of several figures,
expressing an Italian conception of Lincoln Freeing
the Slaves,--a Latin negro and his wife,--with our Eagle
flapping his wings in approval, at Lincoln's feet,
occupied one corner, and balanced the what-not of an
earlier period in another. These phantasms added
their chill to that imparted by the tone of the walls,
the landscapes, and the carpets, and contributed to the
violence of the contrast when the chandelier was lighted
up full glare, and the heat of the whole furnace welled
up from the registers into the quivering atmosphere
on one of the rare occasions when the Laphams invited company.
Corey had not been in this room before; the family had
always received him in what they called the sitting-room.
Penelope looked into this first, and then she looked
into the parlour, with a smile that broke into a laugh
as she discovered him standing under the single burner
which the second-girl had lighted for him in the chandelier.
"I don't understand how you came to be put in there,"
she said, as she led the way to the cozier place,
"unless it was because Alice thought you were only here
on probation, anyway. Father hasn't got home yet,
but I'm expecting him every moment; I don't know what's
keeping him. Did the girl tell you that mother and Irene
"No, she didn't say. It's very good of you to see me."
She had not seen the exaltation which he had been feeling,
he perceived with half a sigh; it must all be upon this
lower level; perhaps it was best so. "There was something
I wished to say to your father----I hope," he broke off,
"you're better to-night."
"Oh yes, thank you," said Penelope, remembering that she
had not been well enough to go to dinner the night before.
"We all missed you very much."
"Oh, thank you! I'm afraid you wouldn't have missed me
if I had been there."
"Oh yes, we should," said Corey, "I assure you."
They looked at each other.
"I really think I believed I was saying something,"
said the girl.
"And so did I," replied the young man. They laughed
rather wildly, and then they both became rather grave.
He took the chair she gave him, and looked across at her,
where she sat on the other side of the hearth, in a chair
lower than his, with her hands dropped in her lap, and the
back of her head on her shoulders as she looked up at him.
The soft-coal fire in the grate purred and flickered;
the drop-light cast a mellow radiance on her face.
She let her eyes fall, and then lifted them for an irrelevant
glance at the clock on the mantel.
"Mother and Irene have gone to the Spanish Students' concert."
"Oh, have they?" asked Corey; and he put his hat,
which he had been holding in his hand, on the floor
beside his chair.
She looked down at it for no reason, and then looked
up at his face for no other, and turned a little red.
Corey turned a little red himself. She who had always been
so easy with him now became a little constrained.
"Do you know how warm it is out-of-doors?" he asked.
"No, is it warm? I haven't been out all day."
"It's like a summer night."
She turned her face towards the fire, and then
started abruptly. "Perhaps it's too warm for you here?"
"Oh no, it's very comfortable."
"I suppose it's the cold of the last few days that's still
in the house. I was reading with a shawl on when you came."
"I interrupted you."
"Oh no. I had finished the book. I was just looking
over it again."
"Do you like to read books over?"
"Yes; books that I like at all."
"That was it?" asked Corey.
The girl hesitated. "It has rather a sentimental name.
Did you ever read it?--Tears, Idle Tears."
"Oh yes; they were talking of that last night; it's a famous
book with ladies. They break their hearts over it.
Did it make you cry?"
"Oh, it's pretty easy to cry over a book," said Penelope,
laughing; "and that one is very natural till you come
to the main point. Then the naturalness of all the rest
makes that seem natural too; but I guess it's rather forced."
"Her giving him up to the other one?"
"Yes; simply because she happened to know that the other
one had cared for him first. Why should she have done
it? What right had she?"
"I don't know. I suppose that the self-sacrifice----"
"But it WASN'T self-sacrifice--or not self-sacrifice alone.
She was sacrificing him too; and for some one who
couldn't appreciate him half as much as she could.
I'm provoked with myself when I think how I cried over
that book--for I did cry. It's silly--it's wicked
for any one to do what that girl did. Why can't they
let people have a chance to behave reasonably in stories?"
"Perhaps they couldn't make it so attractive,"
suggested Corey, with a smile.
"It would be novel, at any rate," said the girl.
"But so it would in real life, I suppose," she added.
"I don't know. Why shouldn't people in love behave sensibly?"
"That's a very serious question," said Penelope gravely.
"I couldn't answer it," and she left him the embarrassment
of supporting an inquiry which she had certainly instigated
herself. She seemed to have finally recovered her own ease
in doing this. "Do you admire our autumnal display, Mr. Corey?"
"The trees in the Square. WE think it's quite equal
to an opening at Jordan & Marsh's."
"Ah, I'm afraid you wouldn't let me be serious even
about your maples."
"Oh yes, I should--if you like to be serious."
"Well not about serious matters. That's the reason
that book made me cry."
"You make fun of everything. Miss Irene was telling me
last night about you."
"Then it's no use for me to deny it so soon. I must give
Irene a talking to."
"I hope you won't forbid her to talk about you!"
She had taken up a fan from the table, and held it,
now between her face and the fire, and now between
her face and him. Her little visage, with that arch,
lazy look in it, topped by its mass of dusky hair,
and dwindling from the full cheeks to the small chin,
had a Japanese effect in the subdued light, and it
had the charm which comes to any woman with happiness.
It would be hard to say how much of this she perceived
that he felt. They talked about other things a while,
and then she came back to what he had said. She glanced
at him obliquely round her fan, and stopped moving it.
"Does Irene talk about me?" she asked. "I think so--yes.
Perhaps it's only I who talk about you. You must blame me
if it's wrong," he returned.
"Oh, I didn't say it was wrong," she replied. "But I
hope if you said anything very bad of me you'll let me
know what it was, so that I can reform----"
"No, don't change, please!" cried the young man.
Penelope caught her breath, but went on resolutely,--
"or rebuke you for speaking evil of dignities."
She looked down at the fan, now flat in her lap,
and tried to govern her head, but it trembled, and she
remained looking down. Again they let the talk stray,
and then it was he who brought it back to themselves,
as if it had not left them.
"I have to talk OF you," said Corey, "because I get
to talk TO you so seldom."
"You mean that I do all the talking when we're--together?"
She glanced sidewise at him; but she reddened after speaking
the last word.
"We're so seldom together," he pursued.
"I don't know what you mean----"
"Sometimes I've thought--I've been afraid that you
"Yes! Tried not to be alone with me."
She might have told him that there was no reason why she
should be alone with him, and that it was very strange
he should make this complaint of her. But she did not.
She kept looking down at the fan, and then she lifted
her burning face and looked at the clock again.
"Mother and Irene will be sorry to miss you," she gasped.
He instantly rose and came towards her. She rose too,
and mechanically put out her hand. He took it as if
to say good-night. "I didn't mean to send you away,"
she besought him.
"Oh, I'm not going," he answered simply. "I wanted
to say--to say that it's I who make her talk about you.
To say I----There is something I want to say to you;
I've said it so often to myself that I feel as if you must
know it." She stood quite still, letting him keep her hand,
and questioning his face with a bewildered gaze. "You MUST
know--she must have told you--she must have guessed----"
Penelope turned white, but outwardly quelled the panic
that sent the blood to her heart. "I--I didn't expect--I
hoped to have seen your father--but I must speak now,
whatever----I love you!"
She freed her hand from both of those he had closed upon it,
and went back from him across the room with a sinuous spring.
"ME!" Whatever potential complicity had lurked in her heart,
his words brought her only immeasurable dismay.
He came towards her again. "Yes, you. Who else?"
She fended him off with an imploring gesture.
"I thought--I--it was----"
She shut her lips tight, and stood looking at him
where he remained in silent amaze. Then her words
came again, shudderingly. "Oh, what have you done?"
"Upon my soul," he said, with a vague smile, "I don't know.
I hope no harm?"
"Oh, don't laugh!" she cried, laughing hysterically herself.
"Unless you want me to think you the greatest wretch
in the world!"
"I?" he responded. "For heaven's sake tell me what you mean!"
"You know I can't tell you. Can you say--can you put
your hand on your heart and say that--you--say you
never meant--that you meant me--all along?"
"Yes!--yes! Who else? I came here to see your father,
and to tell him that I wished to tell you this--to ask
him----But what does it matter? You must have known
it--you must have seen--and it's for you to answer me.
I've been abrupt, I know, and I've startled you; but if you
love me, you can forgive that to my loving you so long
before I spoke."
She gazed at him with parted lips.
"Oh, mercy! What shall I do? If it's true--what you say--you
must go!" she said. "And you must never come any more.
Do you promise that?"
"Certainly not," said the young man. "Why should I
promise such a thing--so abominably wrong? I could obey
if you didn't love me----"
"Oh, I don't! Indeed I don't! Now will you obey."
"No. I don't believe you." "Oh!"
He possessed himself of her hand again.
"My love--my dearest! What is this trouble, that you
can't tell it? It can't be anything about yourself.
If it is anything about any one else, it wouldn't make
the least difference in the world, no matter what it was.
I would be only too glad to show by any act or deed I could
that nothing could change me towards you."
"Oh, you don't understand!"
"No, I don't. You must tell me."
"I will never do that."
"Then I will stay here till your mother comes, and ask
her what it is."
"Yes! Do you think I will give you up till I know why
"You force me to it! Will you go if I tell you, and never
let any human creature know what you have said to me?"
"Not unless you give me leave."
"That will be never. Well, then----" She stopped,
and made two or three ineffectual efforts to begin again.
"No, no! I can't. You must go!"
"I will not go!"
"You said you--loved me. If you do, you will go."
He dropped the hands he had stretched towards her,
and she hid her face in her own.
"There!" she said, turning it suddenly upon him.
"Sit down there. And will you promise me--on your honour--
not to speak--not to try to persuade me--not to--touch
me? You won't touch me?"
"I will obey you, Penelope."
"As if you were never to see me again? As if I were dying?"
"I will do what you say. But I shall see you again;
and don't talk of dying. This is the beginning of life----"
"No. It's the end," said the girl, resuming at last something
of the hoarse drawl which the tumult of her feeling had
broken into those half-articulate appeals. She sat down too,
and lifted her face towards him. "It's the end of life
for me, because I know now that I must have been playing
false from the beginning. You don't know what I mean,
and I can never tell you. It isn't my secret--it's
some one else's. You--you must never come here again.
I can't tell you why, and you must never try to know.
Do you promise?"
"You can forbid me. I must do what you say."
"I do forbid you, then. And you shall not think I am
"How could I think that?"
"Oh, how hard you make it!"
Corey laughed for very despair. "Can I make it easier
by disobeying you?"
"I know I am talking crazily. But I 'm not crazy."
"No, no," he said, with some wild notion of comforting her;
"but try to tell me this trouble! There is nothing under
heaven--no calamity, no sorrow--that I wouldn't gladly
share with you, or take all upon myself if I could!"
"I know! But this you can't. Oh, my----"
"Dearest! Wait! Think! Let me ask your mother--your father----"
She gave a cry.
"No! If you do that, you will make me hate you! Will you----"
The rattling of a latch-key was heard in the outer door.
"Promise!" cried Penelope.
"Oh, I promise!"
"Good-bye!" She suddenly flung her arms round his neck,
and, pressing her cheek tight against his, flashed out
of the room by one door as her father entered it by another.
Corey turned to him in a daze. "I--I called to speak
with you--about a matter----But it's so late now.
I'll--I'll see you to-morrow."
"No time like the present," said Lapham, with a fierceness
that did not seem referable to Corey. He had his hat
still on, and he glared at the young man out of his blue
eyes with a fire that something else must have kindled there.
"I really can't now," said Corey weakly. "It will do
quite as well to-morrow. Good night, sir."
"Good night," answered Lapham abruptly, following him to
the door, and shutting it after him. "I think the devil must
have got into pretty much everybody to-night," he muttered,
coming back to the room, where he put down his hat.
Then he went to the kitchen-stairs and called down,
"Hello, Alice! I want something to eat!
"WHAT's the reason the girls never get down to breakfast
any more?" asked Lapham, when he met his wife at the table
in the morning. He had been up an hour and a half,
and he spoke with the severity of a hungry man.
"It seems to me they don't amount to ANYthing. Here I am,
at my time of life, up the first one in the house. I ring
the bell for the cook at quarter-past six every morning,
and the breakfast is on the table at half-past seven
right along, like clockwork, but I never see anybody
but you till I go to the office."
"Oh yes, you do, Si," said his wife soothingly.
"The girls are nearly always down. But they're young,
and it tires them more than it does us to get up early."
"They can rest afterwards. They don't do anything after
they ARE up," grumbled Lapham.
"Well, that's your fault, ain't it?" You oughtn't to have
made so much money, and then they'd have had to work."
She laughed at Lapham's Spartan mood, and went on to excuse
the young people. "Irene's been up two nights hand running,
and Penelope says she ain't well. What makes you so cross
about the girls? Been doing something you're ashamed of?"
"I'll tell you when I've been doing anything to be
ashamed of," growled Lapham.
"Oh no, you won't!" said his wife jollily. "You'll only
be hard on the rest of us. Come now, Si; what is it?"
Lapham frowned into his coffee with sulky dignity,
and said, without looking up, "I wonder what that fellow
wanted here last night?" "What fellow?"
"Corey. I found him here when I came home, and he said
he wanted to see me; but he wouldn't stop."
"Where was he?"
"In the sitting-room."
"Was Pen there?"
"I didn't see her."
Mrs. Lapham paused, with her hand on the cream-jug. "Why,
what in the land did he want? Did he say he wanted you?"
"That's what he said."
"And then he wouldn't stay?"
"Well, then, I'll tell you just what it is, Silas Lapham.
He came here"--she looked about the room and lowered
her voice--"to see you about Irene, and then he hadn't
"I guess he's got courage enough to do pretty much
what he wants to," said Lapham glumly. "All I know is,
he was here. You better ask Pen about it, if she ever
"I guess I shan't wait for her," said Mrs. Lapham;
and, as her husband closed the front door after him,
she opened that of her daughter's room and entered abruptly.
The girl sat at the window, fully dressed, and as if she
had been sitting there a long time. Without rising,
she turned her face towards her mother. It merely showed
black against the light, and revealed nothing till her
mother came close to her with successive questions.
"Why, how long have you been up, Pen? Why don't you come
to your breakfast? Did you see Mr. Corey when he called
last night? Why, what's the matter with you? What have you
been crying about?
"Have I been crying?"
"Yes! Your cheeks are all wet!"
"I thought they were on fire. Well, I'll tell you
what's happened." She rose, and then fell back in her chair.
"Lock the door!" she ordered, and her mother mechanically
obeyed. "I don't want Irene in here. There's nothing
the matter. Only, Mr. Corey offered himself to me last night."
Her mother remained looking at her, helpless, not so much
with amaze, perhaps, as dismay. "Oh, I'm not a ghost! I
wish I was! You had better sit down, mother. You have
got to know all about it."
Mrs. Lapham dropped nervelessly into the chair at the
other window, and while the girl went slowly but briefly on,
touching only the vital points of the story, and breaking
at times into a bitter drollery, she sat as if without
the power to speak or stir.
"Well, that's all, mother. I should say I had dreamt, it,
if I had slept any last night; but I guess it really happened."
The mother glanced round at the bed, and said, glad to
occupy herself delayingly with the minor care: "Why, you
have been sitting up all night! You will kill yourself."
"I don't know about killing myself, but I've been sitting
up all night," answered the girl. Then, seeing that her
mother remained blankly silent again, she demanded,
"Why don't you blame me, mother?" Why don't you say
that I led him on, and tried to get him away from her?
Don't you believe I did?"
Her mother made her no answer, as if these ravings of
self-accusal needed none. "Do you think," she asked simply,
"that he got the idea you cared for him?"
"He knew it! How could I keep it from him? I said I
"It was no use," sighed the mother. "You might as well
said you did. It couldn't help Irene any, if you didn't."
"I always tried to help her with him, even when I----"
"Yes, I know. But she never was equal to him. I saw
that from the start; but I tried to blind myself to it.
And when he kept coming----"
"You never thought of me!" cried the girl, with a bitterness
that reached her mother's heart. "I was nobody! I couldn't
feel! No one could care for me!" The turmoil of despair,
of triumph, of remorse and resentment, which filled
her soul, tried to express itself in the words.
"No," said the mother humbly. "I didn't think of you.
Or I didn't think of you enough. It did come across me
sometimes that may be----But it didn't seem as if----And
your going on so for Irene----"
"You let me go on. You made me always go and talk
with him for her, and you didn't think I would talk
to him for myself. Well, I didn't!"
"I'm punished for it. When did you--begin to care for him!"
"How do I know? What difference does it make? It's all
over now, no matter when it began. He won't come here
any more, unless I let him." She could not help betraying
her pride in this authority of hers, but she went on
anxiously enough, "What will you say to Irene? She's safe
as far as I'm concerned; but if he don't care for her,
what will you do?"
"I don't know what to do," said Mrs. Lapham. She sat in an
apathy from which she apparently could not rouse herself.
"I don't see as anything can be done."
Penelope laughed in a pitying derision.
"Well, let things go on then. But they won't go on."
"No, they won't go on," echoed her mother. "She's pretty enough,
and she's capable; and your father's got the money--I
don't know what I'm saying! She ain't equal to him,
and she never was. I kept feeling it all the time,
and yet I kept blinding myself."
"If he had ever cared for her," said Penelope, "it wouldn't
have mattered whether she was equal to him or not.
I'M not equal to him either."
Her mother went on: "I might have thought it was you;
but I had got set----Well! I can see it all clear enough,
now it's too late. I don't know what to do."
"And what do you expect me to do?" demanded the girl.
"Do you want ME to go to Irene and tell her that I've got
him away from her?"
"O good Lord!" cried Mrs. Lapham. "What shall I do? What
do you want I should do, Pen?"
"Nothing for me," said Penelope. "I've had it out
with myself. Now do the best you can for Irene."
"I couldn't say you had done wrong, if you was to marry
"No, I couldn't. I couldn't say but what you had been good
and faithfull all through, and you had a perfect right
to do it. There ain't any one to blame. He's behaved
like a gentleman, and I can see now that he never thought
of her, and that it was you all the while. Well, marry him,
then! He's got the right, and so have you."
"What about Irene? I don't want you to talk about me.
I can take care of myself"
"She's nothing but a child. It's only a fancy with her.
She'll get over it. She hain't really got her heart set
"She's got her heart set on him, mother. She's got
her whole life set on him. You know that."
"Yes, that's so," said the mother, as promptly as if she
had been arguing to that rather than the contrary effect.
"If I could give him to her, I would. But he isn't mine
to give." She added in a burst of despair, "He isn't mine
"Well," said Mrs. Lapham, "she has got to bear it.
I don't know what's to come of it all. But she's got
to bear her share of it." She rose and went toward
Penelope ran after her in a sort of terror. "You're not
going to tell Irene?" she gasped, seizing her mother
by either shoulder.
"Yes, I am," said Mrs. Lapham. "If she's a woman grown,
she can bear a woman's burden."
"I can't let you tell Irene," said the girl, letting fall
her face on her mother's neck. "Not Irene," she moaned.
"I'm afraid to let you. How can I ever look at her again?"
"Why, you haven't done anything, Pen," said her mother soothingly.
"I wanted to! Yes, I must have done something.
How could I help it? I did care for him from the first,
and I must have tried to make him like me. Do you
think I did? No, no! You mustn't tell Irene! Not--
not--yet! Mother! Yes! I did try to get him from her!"
she cried, lifting her head, and suddenly looking her
mother in the face with those large dim eyes of hers.
"What do you think? Even last night! It was the first time
I ever had him all to myself, for myself, and I know
now that I tried to make him think that I was pretty
and--funny. And I didn't try to make him think of her.
I knew that I pleased him, and I tried to please him more.
Perhaps I could have kept him from saying that he cared for me;
but when I saw he did--I must have seen it--I couldn't.
I had never had him to myself, and for myself before.
I needn't have seen him at all, but I wanted to see him;
and when I was sitting there alone with him, how do I know
what I did to let him feel that I cared for him? Now,
will you tell Irene? I never thought he did care for me,
and never expected him to. But I liked him. Yes--I did like
him! Tell her that! Or else I will."
"If it was to tell her he was dead," began Mrs. Lapham absently.
"How easy it would be!" cried the girl in self-mockery.
"But he's worse than dead to her; and so am I. I've turned
it over a million ways, mother; I've looked at it in every
light you can put it in, and I can't make anything but misery
out of it. You can see the misery at the first glance,
and you can't see more or less if you spend your life
looking at it." She laughed again, as if the hopelessness
of the thing amused her. Then she flew to the extreme
of self-assertion. "Well, I HAVE a right to him, and he
has a right to me. If he's never done anything to make
her think he cared for her,--and I know he hasn't;
it's all been our doing, then he's free and I'm free.
We can't make her happy whatever we do; and why shouldn't
I----No, that won't do! I reached that point before!"
She broke again into her desperate laugh. "You may
try now, mother!"
"I'd best speak to your father first----"
Penelope smiled a little more forlornly than she had laughed.
"Well, yes; the Colonel will have to know. It isn't
a trouble that I can keep to myself exactly. It seems
to belong to too many other people."
Her mother took a crazy encouragement from her return
to her old way of saying things. "Perhaps he can think
"Oh, I don't doubt but the Colonel will know just what
"You mustn't be too down-hearted about it. It--it'll all
"You tell Irene that, mother."
Mrs. Lapham had put her hand on the door-key; she dropped it,
and looked at the girl with a sort of beseeching
appeal for the comfort she could not imagine herself.
"Don't look at me, mother," said Penelope, shaking her head.
"You know that if Irene were to die without knowing it,
it wouldn't come right for me."
"I've read of cases where a girl gives up the man
that loves her so as to make some other girl happy
that the man doesn't love. That might be done."
"Your father would think you were a fool," said Mrs. Lapham,
finding a sort of refuge in her strong disgust for the
pseudo heroism. "No! If there's to be any giving up,
let it be by the one that shan't make anybody but
herself suffer. There's trouble and sorrow enough
in the world, without MAKING it on purpose!"
She unlocked the door, but Penelope slipped round and set
herself against it. "Irene shall not give up!"
"I will see your father about it," said the mother.
"Let me out now----"
"Don't let Irene come here!"
"No. I will tell her that you haven't slept. Go to bed now,
and try to get some rest. She isn't up herself yet.
You must have some breakfast."
"No; let me sleep if I can. I can get something when I
wake up. I'll come down if I can't sleep. Life has got
to go on. It does when there's a death in the house,
and this is only a little worse."
"Don't you talk nonsense!" cried Mrs. Lapham,
with angry authority.
"Well, a little better, then," said Penelope,
with meek concession.
Mrs. Lapham attempted to say something, and could not.
She went out and opened Irene's door. The girl lifted
her head drowsily from her pillow "Don't disturb your
sister when you get up, Irene. She hasn't slept well---
"PLEASE don't talk! I'm almost DEAD with sleep!"
returned Irene. "Do go, mamma! I shan't disturb her."
She turned her face down in the pillow, and pulled the
covering up over her ears.
The mother slowly closed the door and went downstairs,
feeling bewildered and baffled almost beyond the power
to move. The time had been when she would have tried
to find out why this judgment had been sent upon her.
But now she could not feel that the innocent
suffering of others was inflicted for her fault;
she shrank instinctively from that cruel and egotistic
misinterpretation of the mystery of pain and loss.
She saw her two children, equally if differently dear
to her, destined to trouble that nothing could avert,
and she could not blame either of them; she could not
blame the means of this misery to them; he was as innocent
as they, and though her heart was sore against him in this
first moment, she could still be just to him in it.
She was a woman who had been used to seek the light
by striving; she had hitherto literally worked to it.
But it is the curse of prosperity that it takes work away
from us, and shuts that door to hope and health of spirit.
In this house, where everything had come to be done
for her, she had no tasks to interpose between her
and her despair. She sat down in her own room and let
her hands fall in her lap,--the hands that had once been
so helpful and busy,--and tried to think it all out.
She had never heard of the fate that was once supposed
to appoint the sorrows of men irrespective of their
blamelessness or blame, before the time when it came
to be believed that sorrows were penalties; but in her
simple way she recognised something like that mythic
power when she rose from her struggle with the problem,
and said aloud to herself, "Well, the witch is in it."
Turn which way she would, she saw no escape from the misery
to come--the misery which had come already to Penelope
and herself, and that must come to Irene and her father.
She started when she definitely thought of her husband,
and thought with what violence it would work in every fibre
of his rude strength. She feared that, and she feared
something worse--the effect which his pride and ambition
might seek to give it; and it was with terror of this,
as well as the natural trust with which a woman must turn
to her husband in any anxiety at last, that she felt she
could not wait for evening to take counsel with him.
When she considered how wrongly he might take it all,
it seemed as if it were already known to him, and she was
impatient to prevent his error.
She sent out for a messenger, whom she despatched with a note
to his place of business: "Silas, I should like to ride
with you this afternoon. Can't you come home early? Persis."
And she was at dinner with Irene, evading her questions
about Penelope, when answer came that he would be at the
house with the buggy at half-past two. It is easy to put
off a girl who has but one thing in her head; but though
Mrs. Lapham could escape without telling anything of Penelope,
she could not escape seeing how wholly Irene was engrossed
with hopes now turned so vain and impossible. She was
still talking of that dinner, of nothing but that dinner,
and begging for flattery of herself and praise of him,
which her mother had till now been so ready to give.
"Seems to me you don't take very much interest, mamma!"
she said, laughing and blushing at one point.
"Yes,--yes, I do," protested Mrs. Lapham, and then
the girl prattled on.
"I guess I shall get one of those pins that Nanny Corey
had in her hair. I think it would become me, don't you?"
"Yes; but Irene--I don't like to have you go on so,
till--unless he's said something to show--You oughtn't
to give yourself up to thinking----" But at this the
girl turned so white, and looked such reproach at her,
that she added frantically: "Yes, get the pin. It is
just the thing for you! But don't disturb Penelope.
Let her alone till I get back. I'm going out to ride
with your father. He'll be here in half an hour.
Are you through? Ring, then. Get yourself that fan you saw
the other day. Your father won't say anything; he likes
to have you look well. I could see his eyes on you half
the time the other night."
"I should have liked to have Pen go with me," said Irene,
restored to her normal state of innocent selfishness
by these flatteries. "Don't you suppose she'll be up
in time? What's the matter with her that she didn't sleep?"
"I don't know. Better let her alone."
"Well," submitted Irene.
MRS. LAPHAM went away to put on her bonnet and cloak,
and she was waiting at the window when her husband drove up.
She opened the door and ran down the steps. "Don't get out;
I can help myself in," and she clambered to his side,
while he kept the fidgeting mare still with voice
"Where do you want I should go?" he asked, turning the buggy.
"Oh, I don't care. Out Brookline way, I guess.
I wish you hadn't brought this fool of a horse," she gave
way petulantly. "I wanted to have a talk."
"When I can't drive this mare and talk too, I'll sell
out altogether," said Lapham. "She'll be quiet enough
when she's had her spin."
"Well," said his wife; and while they were making their
way across the city to the Milldam she answered certain
questions he asked about some points in the new house.
"I should have liked to have you stop there," he began;
but she answered so quickly, "Not to-day," that he gave it
up and turned his horse's head westward when they struck
He let the mare out, and he did not pull her in till he
left the Brighton road and struck off under the low boughs
that met above one of the quiet streets of Brookline,
where the stone cottages, with here and there a patch of
determined ivy on their northern walls, did what they could
to look English amid the glare of the autumnal foliage.
The smooth earthen track under the mare's hoofs was
scattered with flakes of the red and yellow gold that made
the air luminous around them, and the perspective was gay
with innumerable tints and tones.
"Pretty sightly," said Lapham, with a long sign,
letting the reins lie loose in his vigilant hand, to which he
seemed to relegate the whole charge of the mare. "I want
to talk with you about Rogers, Persis. He's been getting
in deeper and deeper with me; and last night he pestered
me half to death to go in with him in one of his schemes.
I ain't going to blame anybody, but I hain't got very
much confidence in Rogers. And I told him so last night."
"Oh, don't talk to me about Rogers!" his wife broke in.
"There's something a good deal more important than Rogers
in the world, and more important than your business.
It seems as if you couldn't think of anything else--that
and the new house. Did you suppose I wanted to ride
so as to talk Rogers with you?" she demanded, yielding to
the necessity a wife feels of making her husband pay
for her suffering, even if he has not inflicted it.
"Well, hold on, now!" said Lapham. "What DO you want
to talk about? I'm listening."
His wife began, "Why, it's just this, Silas Lapham!"
and then she broke off to say, "Well, you may wait,
now--starting me wrong, when it's hard enough anyway."
Lapham silently turned his whip over and over in his hand
"Did you suppose," she asked at last, "that that young
Corey had been coming to see Irene?"
"I don't know what I supposed," replied Lapham sullenly.
"You always said so." He looked sharply at her under his
"Well, he hasn't," said Mrs. Lapham; and she replied
to the frown that blackened on her husband's face.
"And I can tell you what, if you take it in that way I
shan't speak another word."
"Who's takin' it what way?" retorted Lapham savagely.
"What are you drivin' at?"
"I want you should promise that you'll hear me out quietly."
"I'll hear you out if you'll give me a chance. I haven't
said a word yet."
"Well, I'm not going to have you flying into forty furies,
and looking like a perfect thunder-cloud at the very start.
I've had to bear it, and you've got to bear it too."
"Well, let me have a chance at it, then."
"It's nothing to blame anybody about, as I can see,
and the only question is, what's the best thing to do
about it. There's only one thing we can do; for if he
don't care for the child, nobody wants to make him.
If he hasn't been coming to see her, he hasn't, and that's
all there is to it."
"No, it ain't!" exclaimed Lapham.
"There!" protested his wife.
"If he hasn't been coming to see her, what HAS he been
"He's been coming to see Pen!" cried the wife. " NOW
are you satisfied?" Her tone implied that he had brought
it all upon them; but at the sight of the swift passions
working in his face to a perfect comprehension of the
whole trouble, she fell to trembling, and her broken voice
lost all the spurious indignation she had put into it.
"O Silas! what are we going to do about it? I'm afraid
it'll kill Irene."
Lapham pulled off the loose driving-glove from his right
hand with the fingers of his left, in which the reins lay.
He passed it over his forehead, and then flicked from it
the moisture it had gathered there. He caught his breath
once or twice, like a man who meditates a struggle with
superior force and then remains passive in its grasp.
His wife felt the need of comforting him, as she had felt
the need of afflicting him. "I don't say but what it can
be made to come out all right in the end. All I say is,
I don't see my way clear yet."
"What makes you think he likes Pen?" he asked quietly.
"He told her so last night, and she told me this morning.
Was he at the office to-day?"
"Yes, he was there. I haven't been there much myself.
He didn't say anything to me. Does Irene know?"
"No; I left her getting ready to go out shopping.
She wants to get a pin like the one Nanny Corey had on."
"O my Lord!" groaned Lapham.
"It's been Pen from the start, I guess, or almost from
the start. I don't say but what he was attracted some
by Irene at the very first; but I guess it's been Pen
ever since he saw her; and we've taken up with a notion,
and blinded ourselves with it. Time and again I've had
my doubts whether he cared for Irene any; but I declare
to goodness, when he kept coming, I never hardly thought
of Pen, and I couldn't help believing at last he DID care
for Irene. Did it ever strike you he might be after Pen?"
"No. I took what you said. I supposed you knew."
"Do you blame me, Silas?" she asked timidly.
"No. What's the use of blaming? We don't either of us want
anything but the children's good. What's it all of it for,
if it ain't for that? That's what we've both slaved
for all our lives."
"Yes, I know. Plenty of people LOSE their children,"
"Yes, but that don't comfort me any. I never was one
to feel good because another man felt bad. How would you
have liked it if some one had taken comfort because his boy
lived when ours died? No, I can't do it. And this is worse
than death, someways. That comes and it goes; but this looks
as if it was one of those things that had come to stay.
The way I look at it, there ain't any hope for anybody.
Suppose we don't want Pen to have him; will that help
Irene any, if he don't want her? Suppose we don't want
to let him have either; does that help either!"
"You talk," exclaimed Mrs. Lapham, "as if our say was
going to settle it. Do you suppose that Penelope Lapham
is a girl to take up with a fellow that her sister is
in love with, and that she always thought was in love
with her sister, and go off and be happy with him?
Don't you believe but what it would come back to her,
as long as she breathed the breath of life, how she'd
teased her about him, as I've heard Pen tease Irene,
and helped to make her think he was in love with her,
by showing that she thought so herself? It's ridiculous!"
Lapham seemed quite beaten down by this argument.
His huge head hung forward over his breast; the reins lay
loose in his moveless hand; the mare took her own way.
At last he lifted his face and shut his heavy jaws.
"Well?" quavered his wife.
"Well," he answered, "if he wants her, and she wants him,
I don't see what that's got to do with it." He looked
straight forward, and not at his wife.
She laid her hands on the reins. "Now, you stop right here,
Silas Lapham! If I thought that--if I really believed
you could be willing to break that poor child's heart,
and let Pen disgrace herself by marrying a man that had
as good as killed her sister, just because you wanted
Bromfield Corey's son for a son-in-law----"
Lapham turned his face now, and gave her a look.
"You had better NOT believe that, Persis! Get up!"
he called to the mare, without glancing at her, and she
sprang forward. "I see you've got past being any use
to yourself on this subject."
"Hello!" shouted a voice in front of him. "Where the
devil you goin' to?"
"Do you want to KILL somebody!" shrieked his wife.
There was a light crash, and the mare recoiled her length,
and separated their wheels from those of the open buggy
in front which Lapham had driven into. He made his excuses
to the occupant; and the accident relieved the tension
of their feelings, and left them far from the point
of mutual injury which they had reached in their common
trouble and their unselfish will for their children's good.
It was Lapham who resumed the talk. "I'm afraid we
can't either of us see this thing in the right light.
We're too near to it. I wish to the Lord there was somebody
to talk to about it."
"Yes," said his wife; "but there ain't anybody."
"Well, I dunno," suggested Lapham, after a moment;
"why not talk to the minister of your church? May be he
could see some way out of it."
Mrs. Lapham shook her head hopelessly. "It wouldn't do.
I've never taken up my connection with the church, and I
don't feel as if I'd got any claim on him."
"If he's anything of a man, or anything of a preacher,
you HAVE got a claim on him," urged Lapham; and he spoiled
his argument by adding, "I've contributed enough MONEY
to his church."
"Oh, that's nothing," said Mrs. Lapham. "I ain't well
enough acquainted with Dr. Langworthy, or else I'm
TOO well. No; if I was to ask any one, I should want
to ask a total stranger. But what's the use, Si? Nobody
could make us see it any different from what it is,
and I don't know as I should want they should."
It blotted out the tender beauty of the day, and weighed
down their hearts ever more heavily within them.
They ceased to talk of it a hundred times, and still came
back to it. They drove on and on. It began to be late.
"I guess we better go back, Si," said his wife;
and as he turned without speaking, she pulled her veil
down and began to cry softly behind it, with low little
Lapham started the mare up and drove swiftly homeward.
At last his wife stopped crying and began trying to find
her pocket. "Here, take mine, Persis," he said kindly,
offering her his handkerchief, and she took it and dried
her eyes with it. "There was one of those fellows there
the other night," he spoke again, when his wife leaned
back against the cushions in peaceful despair, "that I
liked the looks of about as well as any man I ever saw.
I guess he was a pretty good man. It was that Mr. Sewell."
He looked at his wife, but she did not say anything.
"Persis," he resumed, "I can't bear to go back with nothing
settled in our minds. I can't bear to let you."
"We must, Si," returned his wife, with gentle gratitude.
Lapham groaned. "Where does he live?" she asked.
"On Bolingbroke Street. He gave me his number."
"Well, it wouldn't do any good. What could he say to us?"
"Oh, I don't know as he could say anything," said Lapham hopelessly;
and neither of them said anything more till they crossed
the Milldam and found themselves between the rows of city houses."
"Don't drive past the new house, Si," pleaded his wife.
"I couldn't bear to see it. Drive--drive up Bolingbroke Street.
We might as well see where he DOES live."
"Well," said Lapham. He drove along slowly.
"That's the place," he said finally, stopping the mare
and pointing with his whip.
"It wouldn't do any good," said his wife, in a tone
which he understood as well as he understood her words.
He turned the mare up to the curbstone .
"You take the reins a minute," he said, handing them
to his wife.
He got down and rang the bell, and waited till the door opened;
then he came back and lifted his wife out. "He's in,"
He got the hitching-weight from under the buggy-seat
and made it fast to the mare's bit.
"Do you think she'll stand with that?" asked Mrs. Lapham.
"I guess so. If she don't, no matter."
"Ain't you afraid she'll take cold," she persisted,
trying to make delay.
"Let her!" said Lapham. He took his wife's trembling
hand under his arm, and drew her to the door.
"He'll think we're crazy," she murmured in her broken pride.
"Well, we ARE," said Lapham. "Tell him we'd like to see him
alone a while," he said to the girl who was holding the door
ajar for him, and she showed him into the reception-room,
which had been the Protestant confessional for many
burdened souls before their time, coming, as they did,
with the belief that they were bowed down with the only
misery like theirs in the universe; for each one of us
must suffer long to himself before he can learn that he
is but one in a great community of wretchedness which has
been pitilessly repeating itself from the foundation of the world.
They were as loath to touch their trouble when the minister
came in as if it were their disgrace; but Lapham did
so at last, and, with a simple dignity which he had wanted
in his bungling and apologetic approaches, he laid the affair
clearly before the minister's compassionate and reverent eye.
He spared Corey's name, but he did not pretend that it
was not himself and his wife and their daughters who were concerned.
"I don't know as I've got any right to trouble you
with this thing," he said, in the moment while Sewell
sat pondering the case, "and I don't know as I've got
any warrant for doing it. But, as I told my wife here,
there was something about you--I don't know whether it
was anything you SAID exactly--that made me feel as if you
could help us. I guess I didn't say so much as that to her;
but that's the way I felt. And here we are. And if it
ain't all right"
"Surely," said Sewell, "it's all right. I thank you
for coming--for trusting your trouble to me. A time
comes to every one of us when we can't help ourselves,
and then we must get others to help us. If people turn
to me at such a time, I feel sure that I was put into the
world for something--if nothing more than to give my pity,
The brotherly words, so plain, so sincere, had a welcome
in them that these poor outcasts of sorrow could not doubt.
"Yes," said Lapham huskily, and his wife began to wipe
the tears again under her veil.
Sewell remained silent, and they waited till he should speak.
"We can be of use to one another here, because we can always
be wiser for some one else than we can for ourselves.
We can see another's sins and errors in a more merciful
light--and that is always a fairer light--than we can our own;
and we can look more sanely at others' afflictions."
He had addressed these words to Lapham; now he turned
to his wife. "If some one had come to you, Mrs. Lapham,
in just this perplexity, what would you have thought?"
"I don't know as I understand you," faltered Mrs. Lapham.
Sewell repeated his words, and added, "I mean, what do
you think some one else ought to do in your place?"
"Was there ever any poor creatures in such a strait before?"
she asked, with pathetic incredulity.
"There's no new trouble under the sun," said the minister.
"Oh, if it was any one else, I should say--I should say--Why,
of course! I should say that their duty was to let----"
"One suffer instead of three, if none is to blame?"
suggested Sewell. "That's sense, and that's justice.
It's the economy of pain which naturally suggests itself,
and which would insist upon itself, if we were not
all perverted by traditions which are the figment of
the shallowest sentimentality. Tell me, Mrs. Lapham,
didn't this come into your mind when you first learned how
"Why, yes, it flashed across me. But I didn't think it
could be right."
"And how was it with you, Mr. Lapham?"
"Why, that's what I thought, of course. But I didn't
see my way----"
"No," cried the minister, "we are all blinded, we are all
weakened by a false ideal of self-sacrifice. It wraps us
round with its meshes, and we can't fight our way out of it.
Mrs. Lapham, what made you feel that it might be better
for three to suffer than one?"
"Why, she did herself. I know she would die sooner
than take him away from her."
"I supposed so!" cried the minister bitterly. "And yet
she is a sensible girl, your daughter?"
"She has more common-sense----"
"Of course! But in such a case we somehow think it must
be wrong to use our common-sense. I don't know where this
false ideal comes from, unless it comes from the novels
that befool and debauch almost every intelligence in
some degree. It certainly doesn't come from Christianity,
which instantly repudiates it when confronted with it.
Your daughter believes, in spite of her common-sense,
that she ought to make herself and the man who loves
her unhappy, in order to assure the life-long wretchedness
of her sister, whom he doesn't love, simply because her
sister saw him and fancied him first! And I'm sorry to
say that ninety-nine young people out of a hundred--oh,
nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand!--would
consider that noble and beautiful and heroic; whereas you
know at the bottom of your hearts that it would be
foolish and cruel and revolting. You know what marriage
is! And what it must be without love on both sides."
The minister had grown quite heated and red in the face.
"I lose all patience!" he went on vehemently. "This poor
child of yours has somehow been brought to believe that it
will kill her sister if her sister does not have what
does not belong to her, and what it is not in the power
of all the world, or any soul in the world, to give her.
Her sister will suffer--yes, keenly!--in heart and
in pride; but she will not die. You will suffer too,
in your tenderness for her; but you must do your duty.
You must help her to give up. You would be guilty if you
did less. Keep clearly in mind that you are doing right,
and the only possible good. And God be with you!"
HE talked sense, Persis," said Lapham gently, as he
mounted to his wife's side in the buggy and drove slowly
homeward through the dusk.
"Yes, he talked sense," she admitted. But she added bitterly,
"I guess, if he had it to DO! Oh, he's right, and it's
got to be done. There ain't any other way for it.
It's sense; and, yes, it's justice." They walked to their
door after they left the horse at the livery stable around
the corner, where Lapham kept it. "I want you should
send Irene up to our room as soon as we get in, Silas."
"Why, ain't you going to have any supper first?"
faltered Lapham with his latch-key in the lock.
"No. I can't lose a minute. If I do, I shan't do it
"Look here, Persis," said her husband tenderly, "let me
do this thing."
"Oh, YOU!" said his wife, with a woman's compassionate
scorn for a man's helplessness in such a case. "Send her
right up. And I shall feel----" She stopped to spare him.
Then she opened the door, and ran up to her room without
waiting to speak to Irene, who had come into the hall
at the sound of her father's key in the door.
"I guess your mother wants to see you upstairs,"
said Lapham, looking away.
Her mother turned round and faced the girl's wondering
look as Irene entered the chamber, so close upon her
that she had not yet had time to lay off her bonnet;
she stood with her wraps still on her arm.
"Irene!" she said harshly, "there is something you
have got to bear. It's a mistake we've all made.
He don't care anything for you. He never did. He told
Pen so last night. He cares for her."
The sentences had fallen like blows. But the girl had
taken them without flinching. She stood up immovable,
but the delicate rose-light of her complexion went out
and left her colourless. She did not offer to speak.
"Why don't you say something?" cried her mother.
"Do you want to kill me, Irene?"
"Why should I want to hurt you, mamma?" the girl replied
steadily, but in an alien voice. "There's nothing to say.
I want to see Pen a minute."
She turned and left the room. As she mounted the stairs
that led to her own and her sister's rooms on the floor above,
her mother helplessly followed. Irene went first to her
own room at the front of the house, and then came out
leaving the door open and the gas flaring behind her.
The mother could see that she had tumbled many things
out of the drawers of her bureau upon the marble top.
She passed her mother, where she stood in the entry.
"You can come too, if you want to, mamma," she said.
She opened Penelope's door without knocking, and went in.
Penelope sat at the window, as in the morning.
Irene did not go to her; but she went and laid a gold
hair-pin on her bureau, and said, without looking at her,
"There's a pin that I got to-day, because it was like his
sister's. It won't become a dark person so well, but you
can have it."
She stuck a scrap of paper in the side of Penelope's mirror.
"There's that account of Mr. Stanton's ranch. You'll want
to read it, I presume."
She laid a withered boutonniere on the bureau beside the pin.
"There's his button-hole bouquet. He left it by his plate,
and I stole it."
She had a pine-shaving fantastically tied up with a knot
of ribbon, in her hand. She held it a moment; then,
looking deliberately at Penelope, she went up to her,
and dropped it in her lap without a word. She turned,
and, advancing a few steps, tottered and seemed about to fall.
Her mother sprang forward with an imploring cry, "O 'Rene,
Irene recovered herself before her mother could reach her.
"Don't touch me," she said icily. "Mamma, I'm going
to put on my things. I want papa to walk with me.
I'm choking here."
"I--I can't let you go out, Irene, child," began her mother.
"You've got to," replied the girl. "Tell papa ta hurry
"O poor soul! He doesn't want any supper. HE knows it too."
"I don't want to talk about that. Tell him to get ready."
She left them once more.
Mrs. Lapham turned a hapless glance upon Penelope.
"Go and tell him, mother," said the girl. "I would,
if I could. If she can walk, let her. It's the only
thing for her." She sat still; she did not even brush
to the floor the fantastic thing that lay in her lap,
and that sent up faintly the odour of the sachet powder
with which Irene liked to perfume her boxes.
Lapham went out with the unhappy child, and began to talk
with her, crazily, incoherently, enough.
She mercifully stopped him. "Don't talk, papa. I don't
want any one should talk with me."
He obeyed, and they walked silently on and on. In their
aimless course they reached the new house on the water
side of Beacon, and she made him stop, and stood looking
up at it. The scaffolding which had so long defaced the
front was gone, and in the light of the gas-lamp before it
all the architectural beauty of the facade was suggested,
and much of the finely felt detail was revealed. Seymour had
pretty nearly satisfied himself in that rich facade;
certainly Lapham had not stinted him of the means.
"Well," said the girl, "I shall never live in it,"
and she began to walk on.
Lapham's sore heart went down, as he lumbered heavily
after her. "Oh yes, you will, Irene. You'll have lots
of good times there yet."
"No," she answered, and said nothing more about it.
They had not talked of their trouble at all, and they did
not speak of it now. Lapham understood that she was trying
to walk herself weary, and he was glad to hold his peace
and let her have her way. She halted him once more before
the red and yellow lights of an apothecary's window.
"Isn't there something they give you to make you sleep?"
she asked vaguely. "I've got to sleep to-night!"
Lapham trembled. "I guess you don't want anything, Irene."
"Yes, I do! Get me something!" she retorted wilfully.
"If you don't, I shall die. I MUST sleep."
They went in, and Lapham asked for something to make a
nervous person sleep. Irene stood poring over the show-case
full of brushes and trinkets, while the apothecary put up
the bromide, which he guessed would be about the best thing.
She did not show any emotion; her face was like a stone,
while her father's expressed the anguish of his sympathy.
He looked as if he had not slept for a week; his fat
eyelids drooped over his glassy eyes, and his cheeks
and throat hung flaccid. He started as the apothecary's
cat stole smoothly up and rubbed itself against his leg;
and it was to him that the man said, "You want to take
a table-spoonful of that, as long as you're awake.
I guess it won't take a great many to fetch you."
"All right," said Lapham, and paid and went out.
"I don't know but I SHALL want some of it," he said, with a
Irene came closer up to him and took his arm. He laid his
heavy paw on her gloved fingers. After a while she said,
"I want you should let me go up to Lapham to-morrow."
"To Lapham? Why, to-morrow's Sunday, Irene! You can't
"Well, Monday, then. I can live through one day here."
"Well," said the father passively. He made no pretence
of asking her why she wished to go, nor any attempt
to dissuade her.
"Give me that bottle," she said, when he opened the door
at home for her, and she ran up to her own room.
The next morning Irene came to breakfast with her mother;
the Colonel and Penelope did not appear, and Mrs. Lapham
looked sleep-broken and careworn.
The girl glanced at her. "Don't you fret about me,
mamma," she said. "I shall get along." She seemed
herself as steady and strong as rock.
"I don't like to see you keeping up so, Irene,"
replied her mother. "It'll be all the worse for you
when you do break. Better give way a little at the start"
"I shan't break, and I've given way all I'm going to.
I'm going to Lapham to-morrow,--I want you should go
with me, mamma,--and I guess I can keep up one day here.
All about it is, I don't want you should say anything,
or LOOK anything. And, whatever I do, I don't want you
should try to stop me. And, the first thing, I'm going
to take her breakfast up to her. Don't!" she cried,
intercepting the protest on her mother's lips. "I shall
not let it hurt Pen, if I can help it. She's never done
a thing nor thought a thing to wrong me. I had to fly out
at her last night; but that's all over now, and I know just
what I've got to bear."
She had her way unmolested. She carried Penelope's
breakfast to her, and omitted no care or attention
that could make the sacrifice complete, with an heroic
pretence that she was performing no unusual service.
They did not speak, beyond her saying, in a clear dry note,
"Here's your breakfast, Pen," and her sister's answering,
hoarsely and tremulously, "Oh, thank you, Irene." And,
though two or three times they turned their faces toward
each other while Irene remained in the room, mechanically
putting its confusion to rights, their eyes did not meet.
Then Irene descended upon the other rooms, which she set
in order, and some of which she fiercely swept and dusted.
She made the beds; and she sent the two servants away
to church as soon as they had eaten their breakfast,
telling them that she would wash their dishes.
Throughout the morning her father and mother heard
her about the work of getting dinner, with certain
silences which represented the moments when she stopped
and stood stock-still, and then, readjusting her burden,
forced herself forward under it again.
They sat alone in the family room, out of which their
two girls seemed to have died. Lapham could not read
his Sunday papers, and she had no heart to go to church,
as she would have done earlier in life when in trouble.
Just then she was obscurely feeling that the church was
somehow to blame for that counsel of Mr. Sewell's on which
they had acted.
"I should like to know," she said, having brought
the matter up, "whether he would have thought it was
such a light matter if it had been his own children.
Do you suppose he'd have been so ready to act on his own
advice if it HAD been?"
"He told us the right thing to do, Persis,--the only thing.
We couldn't let it go on," urged her husband gently.
"Well, it makes me despise Pen! Irene's showing twice
the character that she is, this very minute."
The mother said this so that the father might defend
her daughter to her. He did not fail. "Irene's got
the easiest part, the way I look at it. And you'll
see that Pen'll know how to behave when the time comes."
"What do you want she should do?"
"I haven't got so far as that yet. What are we going
to do about Irene?"
"What do you want Pen should do," repeated Mrs. Lapham,
"when it comes to it?"
"Well, I don't want she should take him, for ONE thing,"
This seemed to satisfy Mrs. Lapham as to her husband,
and she said in defence of Corey, "Why, I don't see what
HE'S done. It's all been our doing."
"Never mind that now. What about Irene?"
"She says she's going to Lapham to-morrow. She feels that
she's got to get away somewhere. It's natural she should."
"Yes, and I presume it will be about the best thing FOR her.
Shall you go with her?"
"Well." He comfortlessly took up a newspaper again,
and she rose with a sigh, and went to her room to pack
some things for the morrow's journey.
After dinner, when Irene had cleared away the last trace
of it in kitchen and dining-room with unsparing punctilio,
she came downstairs, dressed to go out, and bade her
father come to walk with her again. It was a repetition
of the aimlessness of the last night's wanderings.
They came back, and she got tea for them, and after that
they heard her stirring about in her own room, as if she
were busy about many things; but they did not dare to
look in upon her, even after all the noises had ceased,
and they knew she had gone to bed.
"Yes; it's a thing she's got to fight out by herself,"
said Mrs Lapham.
"I guess she'll get along," said Lapham. "But I don't want
you should misjudge Pen either. She's all right too.
She ain't to blame."
"Yes, I know. But I can't work round to it all at once.
I shan't misjudge her, but you can't expect me to get over
it right away."
"Mamma," said Irene, when she was hurrying their departure
the next morning, "what did she tell him when he asked her?"
"Tell him?" echoed the mother; and after a while she added,
"She didn't tell him anything."
"Did she say anything, about me?"
"She said he mustn't come here any more."
Irene turned and went into her sister's room.
"Good-bye, Pen," she said, kissing her with an effect
of not seeing or touching her. "I want you should tell him
all about it. If he's half a man, he won't give up till
he knows why you won't have him; and he has a right to know."
"It wouldn't make any difference. I couldn't have
"That's for you to say. But if you don't tell him about me,
"'Rene!" "Yes! You needn't say I cared for him.
But you can say that you all thought he--cared for--me."
"Don't!" Irene escaped from the arms that tried to cast
themselves about her. "You are all right, Pen. You haven't
done anything. You've helped me all you could.
But I can't--yet."
She went out of the room and summoned Mrs. Lapham with a
sharp " Now, mamma!" and went on putting the last things
into her trunks.
The Colonel went to the station with them, and put
them on the train. He got them a little compartment
to themselves in the Pullman car; and as he stood leaning
with his lifted hands against the sides of the doorway,
he tried to say something consoling and hopeful: "I guess
you'll have an easy ride, Irene. I don't believe it'll
be dusty, any, after the rain last night."
"Don't you stay till the train starts, papa," returned the girl,
in rigid rejection of his futilities. "Get off, now."
"Well, if you want I should," he said, glad to be able
to please her in anything. He remained on the platform
till the cars started. He saw Irene bustling about
in the compartment, making her mother comfortable for
the journey; but Mrs. Lapham did not lift her head.
The train moved off, and he went heavily back to his business.
From time to time during the day, when he caught a glimpse
of him, Corey tried to make out from his face whether
he knew what had taken place between him and Penelope.
When Rogers came in about time of closing, and shut
himself up with Lapham in his room, the young man
remained till the two came out together and parted
in their salutationless fashion.
Lapham showed no surprise at seeing Corey still there,
and merely answered, "Well!" when the young man said
that he wished to speak with him, and led the way back
to his room.
Corey shut the door behind them. "I only wish to
speak to you in case you know of the matter already;
for otherwise I'm bound by a promise."
"I guess I know what you mean. It's about Penelope."
"Yes, it's about Miss Lapham. I am greatly attached
to her--you'll excuse my saying it; I couldn't excuse
myself if I were not."
"Perfectly excusable," said Lapham. "It's all right."
"Oh, I'm glad to hear you say that!" cried the young
fellow joyfully. "I want you to believe that this isn't
a new thing or an unconsidered thing with me--though
it seemed so unexpected to her."
Lapham fetched a deep sigh. "It's all right as far as I'm
concerned--or her mother. We've both liked you first-rate."
"But there seems to be something in Penelope's mind--I
don't know " The Colonel consciously dropped his eyes.
"She referred to something--I couldn't make out what--but I
hoped--I hoped--that with your leave I might overcome it--the
barrier--whatever it was. Miss Lapham--Penelope--gave
me the hope--that I was--wasn't--indifferent to her----"
"Yes, I guess that's so," said Lapham. He suddenly
lifted his head, and confronted the young fellow's honest
face with his own face, so different in its honesty.
"Sure you never made up to any one else at the same time?"
"NEVER! Who could imagine such a thing? If that's all,
I can easily"
"I don't say that's all, nor that that's it. I don't
want you should go upon that idea. I just thought,
may be--you hadn't thought of it."
"No, I certainly hadn't thought of it! Such a thing would
have been so impossible to me that I couldn't have thought
of it; and it's so shocking to me now that I don't know
what to say to it."
"Well, don't take it too much to heart," said Lapham,
alarmed at the feeling he had excited; "I don't say she
thought so. I was trying to guess--trying to----"
"If there is anything I can say or do to convince you---
"Oh, it ain't necessary to say anything. I'm all right."
Back to Full Books