"Thank you; I shall be glad to come."
He and the Colonel went before, and helped the ladies down the difficult descent. Irene seemed less sure-footed than the others; she clung to the young man's hand an imperceptible moment longer than need be, or else he detained her. He found opportunity of saying, "It's so pleasant seeing you again," adding, "all of you."
"Thank you," said the girl. "They must all be glad to have you at home again."
"Well, I suppose they would be, if they were at home to have me. But the fact is, there's nobody in the house but my father and myself, and I'm only on my way to Bar Harbour."
"Oh! Are they there?"
"Yes; it seems to be the only place where my mother can get just the combination of sea and mountain air that she wants."
"We go to Nantasket — it's convenient for papa; and I don't believe we shall go anywhere else this summer, mamma's so taken up with building. We do nothing but talk house; and Pen says we eat and sleep house. She says it would be a sort of relief to go and live in tents for a while."
"She seems to have a good deal of humour," the young man ventured, upon the slender evidence.
The others had gone to the back of the house a moment, to look at some suggested change. Irene and Corey were left standing in the doorway. A lovely light of happiness played over her face and etherealised its delicious beauty. She had some ado to keep herself from smiling outright, and the effort deepened the dimples in her cheeks; she trembled a little, and the pendants shook in the tips of her pretty ears.
The others came back directly, and they all descended the front steps together. The Colonel was about to renew his invitation, but he caught his wife's eye, and, without being able to interpret its warning exactly, was able to arrest himself, and went about gathering up the hitching-weight, while the young man handed the ladies into the phaeton. Then he lifted his hat, and the ladies all bowed, and the Laphams drove off, Irene's blue ribbons fluttering backward from her hat, as if they were her clinging thoughts.
"So that's young Corey, is it?" said the Colonel, letting the stately stepping, tall coupe horse make his way homeward at will with the beach-wagon. "Well, he ain't a bad-looking fellow, and he's got a good, fair and square, honest eye. But I don't see how a fellow like that, that's had every advantage in this world, can hang round home and let his father support him. Seems to me, if I had his health and his education, I should want to strike out and do something for myself."
The girls on the back seat had hold of each other's hands, and they exchanged electrical pressures at the different points their father made.
"I presume," said Mrs. Lapham, "that he was down in Texas looking after something."
"He's come back without finding it, I guess."
"Well, if his father has the money to support him, and don't complain of the burden, I don't see why WE should."
"Oh, I know it's none of my business, but I don't like the principle. I like to see a man ACT like a man. I don't like to see him taken care of like a young lady. Now, I suppose that fellow belongs to two or three clubs, and hangs around 'em all day, lookin' out the window, — I've seen 'em, — instead of tryin' to hunt up something to do for an honest livin'."
"If I was a young man," Penelope struck in, "I would belong to twenty clubs, if I could find them and I would hang around them all, and look out the window till I dropped."
"Oh, you would, would you?" demanded her father, delighted with her defiance, and twisting his fat head around over his shoulder to look at her. "Well, you wouldn't do it on my money, if you were a son of MINE, young lady."
"Oh, you wait and see," retorted the girl.
This made them all laugh. But the Colonel recurred seriously to the subject that night, as he was winding up his watch preparatory to putting it under his pillow.
"I could make a man of that fellow, if I had him in the business with me. There's stuff in him. But I spoke up the way I did because I didn't choose Irene should think I would stand any kind of a loafer 'round — I don't care who he is, or how well educated or brought up. And I guess, from the way Pen spoke up, that 'Rene saw what I was driving at."
The girl, apparently, was less anxious about her father's ideas and principles than about the impression which he had made upon the young man. She had talked it over and over with her sister before they went to bed, and she asked in despair, as she stood looking at Penelope brushing out her hair before the glass —
"Do you suppose he'll think papa always talks in that bragging way?"
"He'll be right if he does," answered her sister. "It's the way father always does talk. You never noticed it so much, that's all. And I guess if he can't make allowance for father's bragging, he'll be a little too good. I enjoyed hearing the Colonel go on."
"I know you did," returned Irene in distress. Then she sighed. "Didn't you think he looked very nice?"