THE exultant Colonel swung himself lightly down from his seat. "I've brought Mr. Corey with me," he nonchalantly explained.
Mrs. Lapham made their guest welcome, and the Colonel showed him to his room, briefly assuring himself that there was nothing wanting there. Then he went to wash his own hands, carelessly ignoring the eagerness with which his wife pursued him to their chamber.
"What gave Irene a headache?" he asked, making himself a fine lather for his hairy paws.
"Never you mind Irene," promptly retorted his wife. "How came he to come? Did you press him? If you DID, I'll never forgive you, Silas!"
The Colonel laughed, and his wife shook him by the shoulder to make him laugh lower. "'Sh!" she whispered. "Do you want him to hear EVERY thing? DID you urge him?"
The Colonel laughed the more. He was going to get all the good out of this. "No, I didn't urge him. Seemed to want to come."
"I don't believe it. Where did you meet him?"
"At the office."
"Nonsense! What was he doing there?"
"Oh, nothing much."
"What did he come for?" "Come for? Oh! he SAID he wanted to go into the mineral paint business."
Mrs. Lapham dropped into a chair, and watched his bulk shaken with smothered laughter. "Silas Lapham," she gasped, "if you try to get off any more of those things on me — — "
The Colonel applied himself to the towel. "Had a notion he could work it in South America. I don't know what he's up to."
"Never mind!" cried his wife. "I'll get even with you YET."
"So I told him he had better come down and talk it over," continued the Colonel, in well-affected simplicity. "I knew he wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole."
"Go on!" threatened Mrs. Lapham.
"Right thing to do, wa'n't it?"
A tap was heard at the door, and Mrs. Lapham answered it. A maid announced supper. "Very well," she said, "come to tea now. But I'll make you pay for this, Silas."
Penelope had gone to her sister's room as soon as she entered the house.
"Is your head any better, 'Rene?" she asked.
"Yes, a little," came a voice from the pillows. "But I shall not come to tea. I don't want anything. If I keep still, I shall be all right by morning."
"Well, I'm sorry," said the elder sister. "He's come down with father."
"He hasn't! Who?" cried Irene, starting up in simultaneous denial and demand.
"Oh, well, if you say he hasn't, what's the use of my telling you who?"
"Oh, how can you treat me so!" moaned the sufferer. "What do you mean, Pen?"
"I guess I'd better not tell you," said Penelope, watching her like a cat playing with a mouse. "If you're not coming to tea, it would just excite you for nothing."
The mouse moaned and writhed upon the bed.
"Oh, I wouldn't treat YOU so!"
The cat seated herself across the room, and asked quietly —
"Well, what could you do if it WAS Mr. Corey? You couldn't come to tea, you say. But HE'LL excuse you. I've told him you had a headache. Why, of course you can't come! It would be too barefaced But you needn't be troubled, Irene; I'll do my best to make the time pass pleasantly for him." Here the cat gave a low titter, and the mouse girded itself up with a momentary courage and self-respect.
"I should think you would be ashamed to come here and tease me so."
"I don't see why you shouldn't believe me," argued Penelope. "Why shouldn't he come down with father, if father asked him? and he'd be sure to if he thought of it. I don't see any p'ints about that frog that's any better than any other frog."
The sense of her sister's helplessness was too much for the tease; she broke down in a fit of smothered laughter, which convinced her victim that it was nothing but an ill-timed joke.
"Well, Pen, I wouldn't use you so," she whimpered.
Penelope threw herself on the bed beside her.
"Oh, poor Irene! He IS here. It's a solemn fact." And she caressed and soothed her sister, while she choked with laughter. "You must get up and come out. I don't know what brought him here, but here he is."
"It's too late now," said Irene desolately. Then she added, with a wilder despair: "What a fool I was to take that walk!"