The next day, at the first moment of finding herself alone with her eldest daughter, Mrs. Lapham asked, as if knowing that Penelope must have already made it subject of inquiry: "What was Irene doing with that shaving in her belt yesterday?"
"Oh, just some nonsense of hers with Mr. Corey. He gave it to her at the new house." Penelope did not choose to look up and meet her mother's grave glance.
"What do you think he meant by it?"
Penelope repeated Irene's account of the affair, and her mother listened without seeming to derive much encouragement from it.
"He doesn't seem like one to flirt with her," she said at last. Then, after a thoughtful pause: "Irene is as good a girl as ever breathed, and she's a perfect beauty. But I should hate the day when a daughter of mine was married for her beauty."
"You're safe as far as I'm concerned, mother."
Mrs. Lapham smiled ruefully. "She isn't really equal to him, Pen. I misdoubted that from the first, and it's been borne in upon me more and more ever since. She hasn't mind enough." "I didn't know that a man fell in love with a girl's intellect," said Penelope quietly.
"Oh no. He hasn't fallen in love with Irene at all. If he had, it wouldn't matter about the intellect."
Penelope let the self-contradiction pass.
"Perhaps he has, after all."
"No," said Mrs. Lapham. "She pleases him when he sees her. But he doesn't try to see her."
"He has no chance. You won't let father bring him here."
"He would find excuses to come without being brought, if he wished to come," said the mother. "But she isn't in his mind enough to make him. He goes away and doesn't think anything more about her. She's a child. She's a good child, and I shall always say it; but she's nothing but a child. No, she's got to forget him."
"Perhaps that won't be so easy."
"No, I presume not. And now your father has got the notion in his head, and he will move heaven and earth to bring it to pass. I can see that he's always thinking about it."
"The Colonel has a will of his own," observed the girl, rocking to and fro where she sat looking at her mother.
"I wish we had never met them!" cried Mrs. Lapham. "I wish we had never thought of building! I wish he had kept away from your father's business!"
"Well, it's too late now, mother," said the girl. "Perhaps it isn't so bad as you think."
"Well, we must stand it, anyway," said Mrs. Lapham, with the grim antique Yankee submission.
"Oh yes, we've got to stand it," said Penelope, with the quaint modern American fatalism.