Some of the things that he partly said, partly looked, she reported to her mother, and they talked them over, as they did everything relating to these new acquaintances, and wrought them into the novel point of view which they were acquiring. When Mrs. Lapham returned home, she submitted all the accumulated facts of the case, and all her own conjectures, to her husband, and canvassed them anew.
At first he was disposed to regard the whole affair as of small importance, and she had to insist a little beyond her own convictions in order to counteract his indifference.
"Well, I can tell you," she said, "that if you think they were not the nicest people you ever saw, you're mightily mistaken. They had about the best manners; and they had been everywhere, and knew everything. I declare it made me feel as if we had always lived in the backwoods. I don't know but the mother and the daughters would have let you feel so a little, if they'd showed out all they thought; but they never did; and the son — well, I can't express it, Silas! But that young man had about perfect ways."
"Seem struck up on Irene?" asked the Colonel.
"How can I tell? He seemed just about as much struck up on me. Anyway, he paid me as much attention as he did her. Perhaps it's more the way, now, to notice the mother than it used to be."
Lapham ventured no conjecture, but asked, as he had asked already, who the people were.
Mrs. Lapham repeated their name. Lapham nodded his head. "Do you know them? What business is he in?"
"I guess he ain't in anything," said Lapham.
"They were very nice," said Mrs. Lapham impartially.
"Well, they'd ought to be," returned the Colonel. "Never done anything else."
"They didn't seem stuck up," urged his wife.
"They'd no need to — with you. I could buy him and sell him, twice over."
This answer satisfied Mrs. Lapham rather with the fact than with her husband. "Well, I guess I wouldn't brag, Silas," she said.
In the winter the ladies of this family, who returned to town very late, came to call on Mrs. Lapham. They were again very polite. But the mother let drop, in apology for their calling almost at nightfall, that the coachman had not known the way exactly.
"Nearly all our friends are on the New Land or on the Hill."
There was a barb in this that rankled after the ladies had gone; and on comparing notes with her daughter, Mrs. Lapham found that a barb had been left to rankle in her mind also.
"They said they had never been in this part of the town before."
Upon a strict search of her memory, Irene could not report that the fact had been stated with anything like insinuation, but it was that which gave it a more penetrating effect.
"Oh, well, of course," said Lapham, to whom these facts were referred. "Those sort of people haven't got much business up our way, and they don't come. It's a fair thing all round. We don't trouble the Hill or the New Land much."
"We know where they are," suggested his wife thoughtfully.
"Yes," assented the Colonel. "I know where they are. I've got a lot of land over on the Back Bay."
"You have?" eagerly demanded his wife.
"Want me to build on it?" he asked in reply, with a quizzical smile.
"I guess we can get along here for a while."
This was at night. In the morning Mrs. Lapham said —
"I suppose we ought to do the best we can for the children, in every way."
"I supposed we always had," replied her husband.
"Yes, we have, according to our light."
"Have you got some new light?"
"I don't know as it's light. But if the girls are going to keep on living in Boston and marry here, I presume we ought to try to get them into society, some way; or ought to do something."
"Well, who's ever done more for their children than we have?" demanded Lapham, with a pang at the thought that he could possibly have been out-done. "Don't they have everything they want? Don't they dress just as you say? Don't you go everywhere with 'em? Is there ever anything going on that's worth while that they don't see it or hear it? I don't know what you mean. Why don't you get them into society? There's money enough!"
"There's got to be something besides money, I guess," said Mrs. Lapham, with a hopeless sigh. "I presume we didn't go to work just the right way about their schooling. We ought to have got them into some school where they'd have got acquainted with city girls — girls who could help them along."
"Nearly everybody at Miss Smillie's was from some where else."
"Well, it's pretty late to think about that now," grumbled Lapham.
"And we've always gone our own way, and not looked out for the future. We ought to have gone out more, and had people come to the house. Nobody comes."