"Did he?" said Mrs. Lapham, willing to humour his feint of indifference. "Did HE want to borrow some money too?" "Not as I understood." Lapham was smoking at great ease, and his wife had some crocheting on the other side of the lamp from him.
The girls were on the piazza looking at the moon on the water again. "There's no man in it to-night," Penelope said, and Irene laughed forlornly.
"What DID he want, then?" asked Mrs. Lapham.
"Oh, I don't know. Seemed to be just a friendly call. Said he ought to have come before."
Mrs. Lapham was silent a while. Then she said: "Well, I hope you're satisfied now."
Lapham rejected the sympathy too openly offered. "I don't know about being satisfied. I wa'n't in any hurry to see him."
His wife permitted him this pretence also. "What sort of a person is he, anyway?"
"Well, not much like his son. There's no sort of business about him. I don't know just how you'd describe him. He's tall; and he's got white hair and a moustache; and his fingers are very long and limber. I couldn't help noticing them as he sat there with his hands on the top of his cane. Didn't seem to be dressed very much, and acted just like anybody. Didn't talk much. Guess I did most of the talking. Said he was glad I seemed to be getting along so well with his son. He asked after you and Irene; and he said he couldn't feel just like a stranger. Said you had been very kind to his wife. Of course I turned it off. Yes," said Lapham thoughtfully, with his hands resting on his knees, and his cigar between the fingers of his left hand, "I guess he meant to do the right thing, every way. Don't know as I ever saw a much pleasanter man. Dunno but what he's about the pleasantest man I ever did see." He was not letting his wife see in his averted face the struggle that revealed itself there — the struggle of stalwart achievement not to feel flattered at the notice of sterile elegance, not to be sneakingly glad of its amiability, but to stand up and look at it with eyes on the same level. God, who made us so much like himself, but out of the dust, alone knows when that struggle will end. The time had been when Lapham could not have imagined any worldly splendour which his dollars could not buy if he chose to spend them for it; but his wife's half discoveries, taking form again in his ignorance of the world, filled him with helpless misgiving. A cloudy vision of something unpurchasable, where he had supposed there was nothing, had cowed him in spite of the burly resistance of his pride.
"I don't see why he shouldn't be pleasant," said Mrs. Lapham. "He's never done anything else."
Lapham looked up consciously, with an uneasy laugh. "Pshaw, Persis! you never forget anything?"
"Oh, I've got more than that to remember. I suppose you asked him to ride after the mare?"
"Well," said Lapham, reddening guiltily, "he said he was afraid of a good horse."
"Then, of course, you hadn't asked him." Mrs. Lapham crocheted in silence, and her husband leaned back in his chair and smoked.
At last he said, "I'm going to push that house forward. They're loafing on it. There's no reason why we shouldn't be in it by Thanksgiving. I don't believe in moving in the dead of winter."
"We can wait till spring. We're very comfortable in the old place," answered his wife. Then she broke out on him: "What are you in such a hurry to get into that house for? Do you want to invite the Coreys to a house-warming?"
Lapham looked at her without speaking.
"Don't you suppose I can see through you I declare, Silas Lapham, if I didn't know different, I should say you were about the biggest fool! Don't you know ANYthing? Don't you know that it wouldn't do to ask those people to our house before they've asked us to theirs? They'd laugh in our faces!"
"I don't believe they'd laugh in our faces. What's the difference between our asking them and their asking us?" demanded the Colonel sulkily.
"Oh, well! If you don t see!"
"Well, I DON'T see. But I don't want to ask them to the house. I suppose, if I want to, I can invite him down to a fish dinner at Taft's."
Mrs. Lapham fell back in her chair, and let her work drop in her lap with that "Tckk!" in which her sex knows how to express utter contempt and despair.
"What's the matter?"
"Well, if you DO such a thing, Silas, I'll never speak to you again! It's no USE! It's NO use! I did think, after you'd behaved so well about Rogers, I might trust you a little. But I see I can't. I presume as long as you live you'll have to be nosed about like a perfect — I don't know what!"
"What are you making such a fuss about?" demanded Lapham, terribly crestfallen, but trying to pluck up a spirit. "I haven't done anything yet. I can't ask your advice about anything any more without having you fly out. Confound it! I shall do as I please after this."
But as if he could not endure that contemptuous atmosphere, he got up, and his wife heard him in the dining-room pouring himself out a glass of ice-water, and then heard him mount the stairs to their room, and slam its door after him.