They came gingerly and vaguely forward, as young ladies do when they wish not to seem to be going to do a thing they have made up their minds to do. When they had taken their places on their trestle, they could not help laughing with scorn, open and acceptable to their father; and Irene curled her chin up, in a little way she had, and said, "How ridiculous!" to her sister.
"Well, I can tell you what," said the Colonel, in fond enjoyment of their young ladyishness, "your mother wa'n't ashamed to sit with me on a trestle when I called her out to look at the first coat of my paint that I ever tried on a house."
"Yes; we've heard that story," said Penelope, with easy security of her father's liking what she said. "We were brought up on that story."
"Well, it's a good story," said her father.
At that moment a young man came suddenly in range, who began to look up at the signs of building as he approached. He dropped his eyes in coming abreast of the bay-window, where Lapham sat with his girls, and then his face lightened, and he took off his hat and bowed to Irene. She rose mechanically from the trestle, and her face lightened too.
She was a very pretty figure of a girl, after our fashion of girls, round and slim and flexible, and her face was admirably regular. But her great beauty — and it was very great — was in her colouring. This was of an effect for which there is no word but delicious, as we use it of fruit or flowers. She had red hair, like her father in his earlier days, and the tints of her cheeks and temples were such as suggested May-flowers and apple-blossoms and peaches. Instead of the grey that often dulls this complexion, her eyes were of a blue at once intense and tender, and they seemed to burn on what they looked at with a soft, lambent flame. It was well understood by her sister and mother that her eyes always expressed a great deal more than Irene ever thought or felt; but this is not saying that she was not a very sensible girl and very honest.
The young man faltered perceptibly, and Irene came a little forward, and then there gushed from them both a smiling exchange of greeting, of which the sum was that he supposed she was out of town, and that she had not known that he had got back. A pause ensued, and flushing again in her uncertainty as to whether she ought or ought not to do it, she said, "My father, Mr. Corey; and my sister."
The young man took off his hat again, showing his shapely head, with a line of wholesome sunburn ceasing where the recently and closely clipped hair began. He was dressed in a fine summer check, with a blue white-dotted neckerchief, and he had a white hat, in which he looked very well when he put it back on his head. His whole dress seemed very fresh and new, and in fact he had cast aside his Texan habiliments only the day before.
"How do you do, sir?" said the Colonel, stepping to the window, and reaching out of it the hand which the young man advanced to take. "Won't you come in? We're at home here. House I'm building."
"Oh, indeed?" returned the young man; and he came promptly up the steps, and through its ribs into the reception-room.
"Have a trestle?" asked the Colonel, while the girls exchanged little shocks of terror and amusement at the eyes.
"Thank you," said the young man simply, and sat down.
"Mrs. Lapham is upstairs interviewing the carpenter, but she'll be down in a minute."
"I hope she's quite well," said Corey. "I supposed — I was afraid she might be out of town."
"Well, we are off to Nantasket next week. The house kept us in town pretty late."
"It must be very exciting, building a house," said Corey to the elder sister.
"Yes, it is," she assented, loyally refusing in Irene's interest the opportunity of saying anything more.
Corey turned to the latter. "I suppose you've all helped to plan it?"
"Oh no; the architect and mamma did that."
"But they allowed the rest of us to agree, when we were good," said Penelope.
Corey looked at her, and saw that she was shorter than her sister, and had a dark complexion.
"It's very exciting," said Irene.
"Come up," said the Colonel, rising, "and look round if you'd like to."
"I should like to, very much," said the young man. He helped the young ladies over crevasses of carpentry and along narrow paths of planking, on which they had made their way unassisted before. The elder sister left the younger to profit solely by these offices as much as possible. She walked between them and her father, who went before, lecturing on each apartment, and taking the credit of the whole affair more and more as he talked on.
"There!" he said, "we're going to throw out a bay-window here, so as get the water all the way up and down. This is my girls' room," he added, looking proudly at them both.
It seemed terribly intimate. Irene blushed deeply and turned her head away.