"Perhaps it is. Perhaps you're right. But I understood your mother to say that those benefactors of hers, whom you met last summer, were very passably grammatical."
"The father isn't."
The elder, who had been smoking with his profile toward his son, now turned his face full upon him. "I didn't know you had seen him?"
"I hadn't until to-day," said young Corey, with a little heightening of his colour. "But I was walking down street this afternoon, and happened to look round at a new house some one was putting up, and I saw the whole family in the window. It appears that Mr. Lapham is building the house."
The elder Corey knocked the ash of his cigarette into the holder at his elbow. "I am more and more convinced, the longer I know you, Tom, that we are descended from Giles Corey. The gift of holding one's tongue seems to have skipped me, but you have it in full force. I can't say just how you would behave under peine forte et dure, but under ordinary pressure you are certainly able to keep your own counsel. Why didn't you mention this encounter at dinner? You weren't asked to plead to an accusation of witchcraft."
"No, not exactly," said the young man. "But I didn't quite see my way to speaking of it. We had a good many other things before us."
"Yes, that's true. I suppose you wouldn't have mentioned it now if I hadn't led up to it, would you?"
"I don't know, sir. It was rather on my mind to do so. Perhaps it was I who led up to it."
His father laughed. "Perhaps you did, Tom; perhaps you did. Your mother would have known you were leading up to something, but I'll confess that I didn't. What is it?"
"Nothing very definite. But do you know that in spite of his syntax I rather liked him?"
The father looked keenly at the son; but unless the boy's full confidence was offered, Corey was not the man to ask it. "Well?" was all that he said.
"I suppose that in a new country one gets to looking at people a little out of our tradition; and I dare say that if I hadn't passed a winter in Texas I might have found Colonel Lapham rather too much."
"You mean that there are worse things in Texas?"
"Not that exactly. I mean that I saw it wouldn't be quite fair to test him by our standards."
"This comes of the error which I have often deprecated," said the elder Corey. "In fact I am always saying that the Bostonian ought never to leave Boston. Then he knows — and then only — that there can BE no standard but ours. But we are constantly going away, and coming back with our convictions shaken to their foundations. One man goes to England, and returns with the conception of a grander social life; another comes home from Germany with the notion of a more searching intellectual activity; a fellow just back from Paris has the absurdest ideas of art and literature; and you revert to us from the cowboys of Texas, and tell us to our faces that we ought to try Papa Lapham by a jury of his peers. It ought to be stopped — it ought, really. The Bostonian who leaves Boston ought to be condemned to perpetual exile."
The son suffered the father to reach his climax with smiling patience. When he asked finally, "What are the characteristics of Papa Lapham that place him beyond our jurisdiction?" the younger Corey crossed his long legs, and leaned forward to take one of his knees between his hands.
"Well, sir, he bragged, rather."
"Oh, I don't know that bragging should exempt him from the ordinary processes. I've heard other people brag in Boston."
"Ah, not just in that personal way — not about money."
"No, that was certainly different."
"I don't mean," said the young fellow, with the scrupulosity which people could not help observing and liking in him, "that it was more than an indirect expression of satisfaction in the ability to spend."
"No. I should be glad to express something of the kind myself, if the facts would justify me."
The son smiled tolerantly again. "But if he was enjoying his money in that way, I didn't see why he shouldn't show his pleasure in it. It might have been vulgar, but it wasn't sordid. And I don't know that it was vulgar. Perhaps his successful strokes of business were the romance of his life — — "
The father interrupted with a laugh. "The girl must be uncommonly pretty. What did she seem to think of her father's brag?"
"There were two of them," answered the son evasively.
"Oh, two! And is the sister pretty too?"