THE morning postman brought Mrs. Lapham a letter from Irene, which was chiefly significant because it made no reference whatever to the writer or her state of mind. It gave the news of her uncle's family; it told of their kindness to her; her cousin Will was going to take her and his sisters ice-boating on the river, when it froze.
By the time this letter came, Lapham had gone to his business, and the mother carried it to Penelope to talk over. "What do you make out of it?" she asked; and without waiting to be answered she said, "I don't know as I believe in cousins marrying, a great deal; but if Irene and Will were to fix it up between 'em — — " She looked vaguely at Penelope.
"It wouldn't make any difference as far as I was concerned," replied the girl listlessly.
Mrs. Lapham lost her patience.
"Well, then, I'll tell you what, Penelope!" she exclaimed. "Perhaps it'll make a difference to you if you know that your father's in REAL trouble. He's harassed to death, and he was awake half the night, talking about it. That abominable Rogers has got a lot of money away from him; and he's lost by others that he's helped," — Mrs. Lapham put it in this way because she had no time to be explicit, — "and I want you should come out of your room now, and try to be of some help and comfort to him when he comes home to-night. I guess Irene wouldn't mope round much, if she was here," she could not help adding.
The girl lifted herself on her elbow. "What's that you say about father?" she demanded eagerly. "Is he in trouble? Is he going to lose his money? Shall we have to stay in this house?"
"We may be very GLAD to stay in this house," said Mrs. Lapham, half angry with herself for having given cause for the girl's conjectures, and half with the habit of prosperity in her child, which could conceive no better of what adversity was. "And I want you should get up and show that you've got some feeling for somebody in the world besides yourself."
"Oh, I'll get UP!" said the girl promptly, almost cheerfully.
"I don't say it's as bad now as it looked a little while ago," said her mother, conscientiously hedging a little from the statement which she had based rather upon her feelings than her facts. "Your father thinks he'll pull through all right, and I don't know but what he will. But I want you should see if you can't do something to cheer him up and keep him from getting so perfectly down-hearted as he seems to get, under the load he's got to carry. And stop thinking about yourself a while, and behave yourself like a sensible girl."
"Yes, yes," said the girl; "I will. You needn't be troubled about me any more."
Before she left her room she wrote a note, and when she came down she was dressed to go out-of-doors and post it herself. The note was to Corey: —
"Do not come to see me any more till you hear from me. I have a reason which I cannot give you now; and you must not ask what it is."
All day she went about in a buoyant desperation, and she came down to meet her father at supper.
"Well, Persis," he said scornfully, as he sat down, "we might as well saved our good resolutions till they were wanted. I guess those English parties have gone back on Rogers."
"Do you mean he didn't come?"
"He hadn't come up to half-past five," said Lapham.
"Tchk!" uttered his wife. "But I guess I shall pull through without Mr. Rogers," continued Lapham. "A firm that I didn't think COULD weather it is still afloat, and so far forth as the danger goes of being dragged under with it, I'm all right." Penelope came in. "Hello, Pen!" cried her father. "It ain't often I meet YOU nowadays." He put up his hand as she passed his chair, and pulled her down and kissed her.
"No," she said; "but I thought I'd come down to-night and cheer you up a little. I shall not talk; the sight of me will be enough."
Her father laughed out. "Mother been telling you? Well, I WAS pretty blue last night; but I guess I was more scared than hurt. How'd you like to go to the theatre to-night? Sellers at the Park. Heigh?"
"Well, I don't know. Don't you think they could get along without me there?"
"No; couldn't work it at all," cried the Colonel. "Let's all go. Unless," he added inquiringly, "there's somebody coming here?"
"There's nobody coming," said Penelope.
"Good! Then we'll go. Mother, don't you be late now."