"Well, I guess I do," said Lapham, not insisting upon the unselfish view of the matter. "I always did like the water side of Beacon. There ain't a sightlier place in the world for a house. And some day there's bound to be a drive-way all along behind them houses, between them and the water, and then a lot there is going to be worth the gold that will cover it — COIN. I've had offers for that lot, Pert, twice over what I give for it. Yes, I have. Don't you want to ride over there some afternoon with me and see it?" "I'm satisfied where we be, Si," said Mrs. Lapham, recurring to the parlance of her youth in her pathos at her husband's kindness. She sighed anxiously, for she felt the trouble a woman knows in view of any great change. They had often talked of altering over the house in which they lived, but they had never come to it; and they had often talked of building, but it had always been a house in the country that they had thought of. "I wish you had sold that lot."
"I hain't," said the colonel briefly.
"I don't know as I feel much like changing our way of living."
"Guess we could live there pretty much as we live here. There's all kinds of people on Beacon Street; you mustn't think they're all big-bugs. I know one party that lives in a house he built to sell, and his wife don't keep any girl. You can have just as much style there as you want, or just as little. I guess we live as well as most of 'em now, and set as good a table. And if you come to style, I don't know as anybody has got more of a right to put it on than what we have."
"Well, I don't want to build on Beacon Street, Si," said Mrs. Lapham gently.
"Just as you please, Persis. I ain't in any hurry to leave."
Mrs. Lapham stood flapping the cheque which she held in her right hand against the edge of her left.
The Colonel still sat looking up at her face, and watching the effect of the poison of ambition which he had artfully instilled into her mind.
She sighed again — a yielding sigh. "What are you going to do this afternoon?"
"I'm going to take a turn on the Brighton road," said the Colonel.
"I don't believe but what I should like to go along," said his wife.
"All right. You hain't ever rode behind that mare yet, Pert, and I want you should see me let her out once. They say the snow's all packed down already, and the going is A 1."
At four o'clock in the afternoon, with a cold, red winter sunset before them, the Colonel and his wife were driving slowly down Beacon Street in the light, high-seated cutter, where, as he said, they were a pretty tight fit. He was holding the mare in till the time came to speed her, and the mare was springily jolting over the snow, looking intelligently from side to side, and cocking this ear and that, while from her nostrils, her head tossing easily, she blew quick, irregular whiffs of steam.
"Gay, ain't she?" proudly suggested the Colonel.
"She IS gay," assented his wife.
They met swiftly dashing sleighs, and let them pass on either hand, down the beautiful avenue narrowing with an admirably even sky-line in the perspective. They were not in a hurry. The mare jounced easily along, and they talked of the different houses on either side of the way. They had a crude taste in architecture, and they admired the worst. There were women's faces at many of the handsome windows, and once in a while a young man on the pavement caught his hat suddenly from his head, and bowed in response to some salutation from within.
"I don't think our girls would look very bad behind one of those big panes," said the Colonel.
"No," said his wife dreamily.
"Where's the YOUNG man? Did he come with them?"
"No; he was to spend the winter with a friend of his that has a ranch in Texas. I guess he's got to do something."
"Yes; gentlemaning as a profession has got to play out in a generation or two."
Neither of them spoke of the lot, though Lapham knew perfectly well what his wife had come with him for, and she was aware that he knew it. The time came when he brought the mare down to a walk, and then slowed up almost to a stop, while they both turned their heads to the right and looked at the vacant lot, through which showed the frozen stretch of the Back Bay, a section of the Long Bridge, and the roofs and smoke-stacks of Charlestown.
"Yes, it's sightly," said Mrs. Lapham, lifting her hand from the reins, on which she had unconsciously laid it.
Lapham said nothing, but he let the mare out a little.
The sleighs and cutters were thickening round them. On the Milldam it became difficult to restrict the mare to the long, slow trot into which he let her break. The beautiful landscape widened to right and left of them, with the sunset redder and redder, over the low, irregular hills before them. They crossed the Milldam into Longwood; and here, from the crest of the first upland, stretched two endless lines, in which thousands of cutters went and came. Some of the drivers were already speeding their horses, and these shot to and fro on inner lines, between the slowly moving vehicles on either side of the road. Here and there a burly mounted policeman, bulging over the pommel of his M'Clellan saddle, jolted by, silently gesturing and directing the course, and keeping it all under the eye of the law. It was what Bartley Hubbard called "a carnival of fashion and gaiety on the Brighton road," in his account of it. But most of the people in those elegant sleighs and cutters had so little the air of the great world that one knowing it at all must have wondered where they and their money came from; and the gaiety of the men, at least, was expressed, like that of Colonel Lapham, in a grim almost fierce, alertness; the women wore an air of courageous apprehension. At a certain point the Colonel said, "I'm going to let her out, Pert," and he lifted and then dropped the reins lightly on the mare's back.