She understood the signal, and, as an admirer said, "she laid down to her work." Nothing in the immutable iron of Lapham's face betrayed his sense of triumph as the mare left everything behind her on the road. Mrs. Lapham, if she felt fear, was too busy holding her flying wraps about her, and shielding her face from the scud of ice flung from the mare's heels, to betray it; except for the rush of her feet, the mare was as silent as the people behind her; the muscles of her back and thighs worked more and more swiftly, like some mechanism responding to an alien force, and she shot to the end of the course, grazing a hundred encountered and rival sledges in her passage, but unmolested by the policemen, who probably saw that the mare and the Colonel knew what they were about, and, at any rate, were not the sort of men to interfere with trotting like that. At the end of the heat Lapham drew her in, and turned off on a side street into Brookline.
"Tell you what, Pert," he said, as if they had been quietly jogging along, with time for uninterrupted thought since he last spoke, "I've about made up my mind to build on that lot."
"All right, Silas," said Mrs. Lapham; "I suppose you know what you're about. Don't build on it for me, that's all."
When she stood in the hall at home, taking off her things, she said to the girls, who were helping her, "Some day your father will get killed with that mare."
"Did he speed her?" asked Penelope, the elder.
She was named after her grandmother, who had in her turn inherited from another ancestress the name of the Homeric matron whose peculiar merits won her a place even among the Puritan Faiths, Hopes, Temperances, and Prudences. Penelope was the girl whose odd serious face had struck Bartley Hubbard in the photograph of the family group Lapham showed him on the day of the interview. Her large eyes, like her hair, were brown; they had the peculiar look of near-sighted eyes which is called mooning; her complexion was of a dark pallor.
Her mother did not reply to a question which might be considered already answered. "He says he's going to build on that lot of his," she next remarked, unwinding the long veil which she had tied round her neck to hold her bonnet on. She put her hat and cloak on the hall table, to be carried upstairs later, and they all went in to tea: creamed oysters, birds, hot biscuit, two kinds of cake, and dishes of stewed and canned fruit and honey. The women dined alone at one, and the Colonel at the same hour down-town. But he liked a good hot meal when he got home in the evening. The house flared with gas; and the Colonel, before he sat down, went about shutting the registers, through which a welding heat came voluming up from the furnace.
"I'll be the death of that darkey YET," he said, "if he don't stop making on such a fire. The only way to get any comfort out of your furnace is to take care of it yourself."
"Well," answered his wife from behind the teapot, as he sat down at table with this threat, "there's nothing to prevent you, Si. And you can shovel the snow too, if you want to — till you get over to Beacon Street, anyway."
"I guess I can keep my own sidewalk on Beacon Street clean, if I take the notion."
"I should like to see you at it," retorted his wife.
"Well, you keep a sharp lookout, and may be you will."
Their taunts were really expressions of affectionate pride in each other. They liked to have it, give and take, that way, as they would have said, right along.
"A man can be a man on Beacon Street as well as anywhere, I guess."
"Well, I'll do the wash, as I used to in Lumberville," said Mrs. Lapham. "I presume you'll let me have set tubs, Si. You know I ain't so young any more." She passed Irene a cup of Oolong tea, — none of them had a sufficiently cultivated palate for Sou-chong, — and the girl handed it to her father. "Papa," she asked, "you don't really mean that you're going to build over there?"
"Don't I? You wait and see," said the Colonel, stirring his tea.
"I don't believe you do," pursued the girl.
"Is that so? I presume you'd hate to have me. Your mother does." He said DOOS, of course.
Penelope took the word. "I go in for it. I don't see any use in not enjoying money, if you've got it to enjoy. That's what it's for, I suppose; though you mightn't always think so." She had a slow, quaint way of talking, that seemed a pleasant personal modification of some ancestral Yankee drawl, and her voice was low and cozy, and so far from being nasal that it was a little hoarse.
"I guess the ayes has it, Pen," said her father. "How would it do to let Irene and your mother stick in the old place here, and us go into the new house?" At times the Colonel's grammar failed him.
The matter dropped, and the Laphams lived on as before, with joking recurrences to the house on the water side of Beacon. The Colonel seemed less in earnest than any of them about it; but that was his way, his girls said; you never could tell when he really meant a thing.