"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 at all."
"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, 'Rene, '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 his supper."
"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.