But the young man took it all, apparently, as simply as their father. "What a lovely lookout!" he said. The Back Bay spread its glassy sheet before them, empty but for a few small boats and a large schooner, with her sails close-furled and dripping like snow from her spars, which a tug was rapidly towing toward Cambridge. The carpentry of that city, embanked and embowered in foliage, shared the picturesqueness of Charlestown in the distance.
"Yes," said Lapham, "I go in for using the best rooms in your house yourself. If people come to stay with you, they can put up with the second best. Though we don't intend to have any second best. There ain't going to be an unpleasant room in the whole house, from top to bottom."
"Oh, I wish papa wouldn't brag so!" breathed Irene to her sister, where they stood, a little apart, looking away together.
The Colonel went on. "No, sir," he swelled out, "I have gone in for making a regular job of it. I've got the best architect in Boston, and I'm building a house to suit myself. And if money can do it, guess I'm going to be suited."
"It seems very delightful," said Corey, "and very original."
"Yes, sir. That fellow hadn't talked five minutes before I saw that he knew what he was about every time."
"I wish mamma would come!" breathed Irene again. "I shall certainly go through the floor if papa says anything more."
"They are making a great many very pretty houses nowadays," said the young man. "It's very different from the old-fashioned building."
"Well," said the Colonel, with a large toleration of tone and a deep breath that expanded his ample chest, "we spend more on our houses nowadays. I started out to build a forty-thousand-dollar house. Well, sir! that fellow has got me in for more than sixty thousand already, and I doubt if I get out of it much under a hundred. You can't have a nice house for nothing. It's just like ordering a picture of a painter. You pay him enough, and he can afford to paint you a first-class picture; and if you don't, he can't. That's all there is of it. Why, they tell me that A. T. Stewart gave one of those French fellows sixty thousand dollars for a little seven-by-nine picture the other day. Yes, sir, give an architect money enough, and he'll give you a nice house every time."
"I've heard that they're sharp at getting money to realise their ideas," assented the young man, with a laugh.
"Well, I should say so!" exclaimed the Colonel. "They come to you with an improvement that you can't resist. It has good looks and common-sense and everything in its favour, and it's like throwing money away to refuse. And they always manage to get you when your wife is around, and then you're helpless."
The Colonel himself set the example of laughing at this joke, and the young man joined him less obstreperously. The girls turned, and he said, "I don't think I ever saw this view to better advantage. It's surprising how well the Memorial Hall and the Cambridge spires work up, over there. And the sunsets must be magnificent."
Lapham did not wait for them to reply.
"Yes, sir, it's about the sightliest view I know of. I always did like the water side of Beacon. Long before I owned property here, or ever expected to, m'wife and I used to ride down this way, and stop the buggy to get this view over the water. When people talk to me about the Hill, I can understand 'em. It's snug, and it's old-fashioned, and it's where they've always lived. But when they talk about Commonwealth Avenue, I don't know what they mean. It don't hold a candle to the water side of Beacon. You've got just as much wind over there, and you've got just as much dust, and all the view you've got is the view across the street. No, sir! when you come to the Back Bay at all, give me the water side of Beacon."
"Oh, I think you're quite right," said the young man. "The view here is everything."
Irene looked "I wonder what papa is going to say next!" at her sister, when their mother's voice was heard overhead, approaching the opening in the floor where the stairs were to be; and she presently appeared, with one substantial foot a long way ahead. She was followed by the carpenter, with his rule sticking out of his overalls pocket, and she was still talking to him about some measurements they had been taking, when they reached the bottom, so that Irene had to say, "Mamma, Mr. Corey," before Mrs. Lapham was aware of him.
He came forward with as much grace and speed as the uncertain footing would allow, and Mrs. Lapham gave him a stout squeeze of her comfortable hand.
"Why, Mr. Corey! When did you get back?"
"Yesterday. It hardly seems as if I HAD got back. I didn't expect to find you in a new house."
"Well, you are our first caller. I presume you won't expect I should make excuses for the state you find it in. Has the Colonel been doing the honours?"
"Oh yes. And I've seen more of your house than I ever shall again, I suppose."
"Well, I hope not," said Lapham. "There'll be several chances to see us in the old one yet, before we leave."
He probably thought this a neat, off-hand way of making the invitation, for he looked at his woman-kind as if he might expect their admiration.
"Oh yes, indeed!" said his wife. "We shall be very glad to see Mr. Corey, any time."