"Well, is that my fault? I guess nobody ever makes people welcomer."
"We ought to have invited company more."
"Why don't you do it now? If it's for the girls, I don't care if you have the house full all the while."
Mrs. Lapham was forced to a confession full of humiliation. "I don't know who to ask."
"Well, you can't expect me to tell you."
"No; we're both country people, and we've kept our country ways, and we don't, either of us, know what to do. You've had to work so hard, and your luck was so long coming, and then it came with such a rush, that we haven't had any chance to learn what to do with it. It's just the same with Irene's looks; I didn't expect she was ever going to have any, she WAS such a plain child, and, all at once, she's blazed out this way. As long as it was Pen that didn't seem to care for society, I didn't give much mind to it. But I can see it's going to be different with Irene. I don't believe but what we're in the wrong neighbourhood."
"Well," said the Colonel, "there ain't a prettier lot on the Back Bay than mine. It's on the water side of Beacon, and it's twenty-eight feet wide and a hundred and fifty deep. Let's build on it."
Mrs. Lapham was silent a while. "No," she said finally; "we've always got along well enough here, and I guess we better stay."
At breakfast she said casually: "Girls, how would you like to have your father build on the New Land?"
The girls said they did not know. It was more convenient to the horse-cars where they were.
Mrs. Lapham stole a look of relief at her husband, and nothing more was said of the matter.
The mother of the family who had called upon Mrs. Lapham brought her husband's cards, and when Mrs. Lapham returned the visit she was in some trouble about the proper form of acknowledging the civility. The Colonel had no card but a business card, which advertised the principal depot and the several agencies of the mineral paint; and Mrs. Lapham doubted, till she wished to goodness that she had never seen nor heard of those people, whether to ignore her husband in the transaction altogether, or to write his name on her own card. She decided finally upon this measure, and she had the relief of not finding the family at home. As far as she could judge, Irene seemed to suffer a little disappointment from the fact.
For several months there was no communication between the families. Then there came to Nankeen Square a lithographed circular from the people on the Hill, signed in ink by the mother, and affording Mrs. Lapham an opportunity to subscribe for a charity of undeniable merit and acceptability. She submitted it to her husband, who promptly drew a cheque for five hundred dollars.
She tore it in two. "I will take a cheque for a hundred, Silas," she said.
"Why?" he asked, looking up guiltily at her.
"Because a hundred is enough; and I don't want to show off before them."
"Oh, I thought may be you did. Well, Pert," he added, having satisfied human nature by the preliminary thrust, "I guess you're about right. When do you want I should begin to build on Beacon Street?" He handed her the new cheque, where she stood over him, and then leaned back in his chair and looked up at her.
"I don't want you should begin at all. What do you mean, Silas?" She rested against the side of his desk.
"Well, I don't know as I mean anything. But shouldn't you like to build? Everybody builds, at least once in a lifetime."
"Where is your lot? They say it's unhealthy, over there."
Up to a certain point in their prosperity Mrs. Lapham had kept strict account of all her husband's affairs; but as they expanded, and ceased to be of the retail nature with which women successfully grapple, the intimate knowledge of them made her nervous. There was a period in which she felt that they were being ruined, but the crash had not come; and, since his great success, she had abandoned herself to a blind confidence in her husband's judgment, which she had hitherto felt needed her revision. He came and went, day by day, unquestioned. He bought and sold and got gain. She knew that he would tell her if ever things went wrong, and he knew that she would ask him whenever she was anxious.
"It ain't unhealthy where I've bought," said Lapham, rather enjoying her insinuation. "I looked after that when I was trading; and I guess it's about as healthy on the Back Bay as it is here, anyway. I got that lot for you, Pert; I thought you'd want to build on the Back Bay some day."
"Pshaw!" said Mrs. Lapham, deeply pleased inwardly, but not going to show it, as she would have said. "I guess you want to build there yourself." She insensibly got a little nearer to her husband. They liked to talk to each other in that blunt way; it is the New England way of expressing perfect confidence and tenderness.