A WEEK after she had parted with her son at Bar Harbour, Mrs. Corey suddenly walked in upon her husband in their house in Boston. He was at breakfast, and he gave her the patronising welcome with which the husband who has been staying in town all summer receives his wife when she drops down upon him from the mountains or the sea-side. For a little moment she feels herself strange in the house, and suffers herself to be treated like a guest, before envy of his comfort vexes her back into possession and authority. Mrs. Corey was a lady, and she did not let her envy take the form of open reproach.
"Well, Anna, you find me here in the luxury you left me to. How did you leave the girls?"
"The girls were well," said Mrs. Corey, looking absently at her husband's brown velvet coat, in which he was so handsome. No man had ever grown grey more beautifully. His hair, while not remaining dark enough to form a theatrical contrast with his moustache, was yet some shades darker, and, in becoming a little thinner, it had become a little more gracefully wavy. His skin had the pearly tint which that of elderly men sometimes assumes, and the lines which time had traced upon it were too delicate for the name of wrinkles. He had never had any personal vanity, and there was no consciousness in his good looks now.
"I am glad of that. The boy I have with me," he returned; "that is, when he IS with me."
"Why, where is he?" demanded the mother.
"Probably carousing with the boon Lapham somewhere. He left me yesterday afternoon to go and offer his allegiance to the Mineral Paint King, and I haven't seen him since."
"Bromfield!" cried Mrs. Corey. "Why didn't you stop him?"
"Well, my dear, I'm not sure that it isn't a very good thing."
"A good thing? It's horrid!"
"No, I don't think so. It's decent. Tom had found out — without consulting the landscape, which I believe proclaims it everywhere — — "
"That it's really a good thing; and he thinks that he has some ideas in regard to its dissemination in the parts beyond seas."
"Why shouldn't he go into something else?" lamented the mother.
"I believe he has gone into nearly everything else and come out of it. So there is a chance of his coming out of this. But as I had nothing to suggest in place of it, I thought it best not to interfere. In fact, what good would my telling him that mineral paint was nasty have done? I dare say YOU told him it was nasty."
"Yes! I did."
"And you see with what effect, though he values your opinion three times as much as he values mine. Perhaps you came up to tell him again that it was nasty?"
"I feel very unhappy about it. He is throwing himself away. Yes, I should like to prevent it if I could!"
The father shook his head.
"If Lapham hasn't prevented it, I fancy it's too late. But there may be some hopes of Lapham. As for Tom's throwing himself away, I don't know. There's no question but he is one of the best fellows under the sun. He's tremendously energetic, and he has plenty of the kind of sense which we call horse; but he isn't brilliant. No, Tom is not brilliant. I don't think he would get on in a profession, and he's instinctively kept out of everything of the kind. But he has got to do something. What shall he do? He says mineral paint, and really I don't see why he shouldn't. If money is fairly and honestly earned, why should we pretend to care what it comes out of, when we don't really care? That superstition is exploded everywhere."
"Oh, it isn't the paint alone," said Mrs. Corey; and then she perceptibly arrested herself, and made a diversion in continuing: "I wish he had married some one."
"With money?" suggested her husband. "From time to time I have attempted Tom's corruption from that side, but I suspect Tom has a conscience against it, and I rather like him for it. I married for love myself," said Corey, looking across the table at his wife.
She returned his look tolerantly, though she felt it right to say, "What nonsense!"
"Besides," continued her husband, "if you come to money, there is the paint princess. She will have plenty."
"Ah, that's the worst of it," sighed the mother. "I suppose I could get on with the paint — — "
"But not with the princess? I thought you said she was a very pretty, well-behaved girl?"
"She is very pretty, and she is well-behaved; but there is nothing of her. She is insipid; she is very insipid."
"But Tom seemed to like her flavour, such as it was?"