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 and touch.
"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 Beacon Street.
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. "I declare — — "
"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 and waited.
"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 lowering brows.
"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 coming for?"
"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.