"It's so," protested the Colonel. "We got talking about a matter just before I left, and he walked down to the boat with me; and then he said if I didn't mind he guessed he'd come along down and go back on the return boat. Of course I couldn't let him do that."
"It's well for you you couldn't."
"And I couldn't do less than bring him here to tea."
"Oh, certainly not."
"But he ain't going to stay the night — unless," faltered Lapham, "you want him to."
"Oh, of course, I want him to! I guess he'll stay, probably."
"Well, you know how crowded that last boat always is, and he can't get any other now."
Mrs. Lapham laughed at the simple wile. "I hope you'll be just as well satisfied, Si, if it turns out he doesn't want Irene after all."
"Pshaw, Persis! What are you always bringing that up for?" pleaded the Colonel. Then he fell silent, and presently his rude, strong face was clouded with an unconscious frown.
"There!" cried his wife, startling him from his abstraction. "I see how you'd feel; and I hope that you'll remember who you've got to blame."
"I'll risk it," said Lapham, with the confidence of a man used to success.
From the veranda the sound of Penelope's lazy tone came through the closed windows, with joyous laughter from Irene and peals from Corey.
"Listen to that!" said her father within, swelling up with inexpressible satisfaction. "That girl can talk for twenty, right straight along. She's better than a circus any day. I wonder what she's up to now."
"Oh, she's probably getting off some of those yarns of hers, or telling about some people. She can't step out of the house without coming back with more things to talk about than most folks would bring back from Japan. There ain't a ridiculous person she's ever seen but what she's got something from them to make you laugh at; and I don't believe we've ever had anybody in the house since the girl could talk that she hain't got some saying from, or some trick that'll paint 'em out so't you can see 'em and hear 'em. Sometimes I want to stop her; but when she gets into one of her gales there ain't any standing up against her. I guess it's lucky for Irene that she's got Pen there to help entertain her company. I can't ever feel down where Pen is."
"That's so," said the Colonel. "And I guess she's got about as much culture as any of them. Don't you?"
"She reads a great deal," admitted her mother. "She seems to be at it the whole while. I don't want she should injure her health, and sometimes I feel like snatchin' the books away from her. I don't know as it's good for a girl to read so much, anyway, especially novels. I don't want she should get notions."
"Oh, I guess Pen'll know how to take care of herself," said Lapham.
"She's got sense enough. But she ain't so practical as Irene. She's more up in the clouds — more of what you may call a dreamer. Irene's wide-awake every minute; and I declare, any one to see these two together when there's anything to be done, or any lead to be taken, would say Irene was the oldest, nine times out of ten. It's only when they get to talking that you can see Pen's got twice as much brains."
"Well," said Lapham, tacitly granting this point, and leaning back in his chair in supreme content. "Did you ever see much nicer girls anywhere?"
His wife laughed at his pride. "I presume they're as much swans as anybody's geese."
"No; but honestly, now!"
"Oh, they'll do; but don't you be silly, if you can help it, Si."
The young people came in, and Corey said it was time for his boat. Mrs. Lapham pressed him to stay, but he persisted, and he would not let the Colonel send him to the boat; he said he would rather walk. Outside, he pushed along toward the boat, which presently he could see lying at her landing in the bay, across the sandy tract to the left of the hotels. From time to time he almost stopped in his rapid walk, as a man does whose mind is in a pleasant tumult; and then he went forward at a swifter pace. "She's charming!" he said, and he thought he had spoken aloud. He found himself floundering about in the deep sand, wide of the path; he got back to it, and reached the boat just before she started. The clerk came to take his fare, and Corey looked radiantly up at him in his lantern-light, with a smile that he must have been wearing a long time; his cheek was stiff with it. Once some people who stood near him edged suddenly and fearfully away, and then he suspected himself of having laughed outright.