"Do you know what your father's wanting to do now?" Mrs. Lapham asked her eldest daughter, who lounged into the parlour a moment with her wrap stringing from her arm, while the younger went straight to bed. "He wants to invite Mr. Corey's father to a fish dinner at Taft's!"
Penelope was yawning with her hand on her mouth; she stopped, and, with a laugh of amused expectance, sank into a chair, her shoulders shrugged forward.
"Why! what in the world has put the Colonel up to that?"
"Put him up to it! There's that fellow, who ought have come to see him long ago, drops into his office this morning, and talks five minutes with him, and your father is flattered out of his five senses. He's crazy to get in with those people, and I shall have a perfect battle to keep him within bounds."
"Well, Persis, ma'am, you can't say but what you began it," said Penelope.
"Oh yes, I began it," confessed Mrs. Lapham. "Pen," she broke out, "what do you suppose he means by it?"
"Who? Mr. Corey's father? What does the Colonel think?"
"Oh, the Colonel!" cried Mrs. Lapham. She added tremulously: "Perhaps he IS right. He DID seem to take a fancy to her last summer, and now if he's called in that way . . ." She left her daughter to distribute the pronouns aright, and resumed: "Of course, I should have said once that there wasn't any question about it. I should have said so last year; and I don't know what it is keeps me from saying so now. I suppose I know a little more about things than I did; and your father's being so bent on it sets me all in a twitter. He thinks his money can do everything. Well, I don't say but what it can, a good many. And 'Rene is as good a child as ever there was; and I don't see but what she's pretty-appearing enough to suit any one. She's pretty-behaved, too; and she IS the most capable girl. I presume young men don't care very much for such things nowadays; but there ain't a great many girls can go right into the kitchen, and make such a custard as she did yesterday. And look at the way she does, through the whole house! She can't seem to go into a room without the things fly right into their places. And if she had to do it to-morrow, she could make all her own dresses a great deal better than them we pay to do it. I don't say but what he's about as nice a fellow as ever stepped. But there! I'm ashamed of going on so."
"Well, mother," said the girl after a pause, in which she looked as if a little weary of the subject, "why do you worry about it? If it's to be it'll be, and if it isn't — — "
"Yes, that's what I tell your father. But when it comes to myself, I see how hard it is for him to rest quiet. I'm afraid we shall all do something we'll repent of afterwards."
"Well, ma'am," said Penelope, "I don't intend to do anything wrong; but if I do, I promise not to be sorry for it. I'll go that far. And I think I wouldn't be sorry for it beforehand, if I were in your place, mother. Let the Colonel go on! He likes to manoeuvre, and he isn't going to hurt any one. The Corey family can take care of themselves, I guess."
She laughed in her throat, drawing down the corners of her mouth, and enjoying the resolution with which her mother tried to fling off the burden of her anxieties. "Pen! I believe you're right. You always do see things in such a light! There! I don't care if he brings him down every day."
"Well, ma'am," said Pen, "I don't believe 'Rene would, either. She's just so indifferent!"
The Colonel slept badly that night, and in the morning Mrs. Lapham came to breakfast without him.
"Your father ain't well," she reported. "He's had one of his turns."
"I should have thought he had two or three of them," said Penelope, "by the stamping round I heard. Isn't he coming to breakfast?"
"Not just yet," said her mother. "He's asleep, and he'll be all right if he gets his nap out. I don't want you girls should make any great noise." "Oh, we'll be quiet enough," returned Penelope. "Well, I'm glad the Colonel isn't sojering. At first I thought he might be sojering." She broke into a laugh, and, struggling indolently with it, looked at her sister. "You don't think it'll be necessary for anybody to come down from the office and take orders from him while he's laid up, do you, mother?" she inquired.
"Pen!" cried Irene.
"He'll be well enough to go up on the ten o'clock boat," said the mother sharply.
"I think papa works too hard all through the summer. Why don't you make him take a rest, mamma?" asked Irene.
"Oh, take a rest! The man slaves harder every year. It used to be so that he'd take a little time off now and then; but I declare, he hardly ever seems to breathe now away from his office. And this year he says he doesn't intend to go down to Lapham, except to see after the works for a few days. I don't know what to do with the man any more! Seems as if the more money he got, the more he wanted to get. It scares me to think what would happen to him if he lost it. I know one thing," concluded Mrs. Lapham. "He shall not go back to the office to-day."
"Then he won't go up on the ten o'clock boat," Pen reminded her.
"No, he won't. You can just drive over to the hotel as soon as you're through, girls, and telegraph that he's not well, and won't be at the office till to-morrow. I'm not going to have them send anybody down here to bother him."
"That's a blow," said Pen. "I didn't know but they might send — — " she looked demurely at her sister — "Dennis!"
"Mamma!" cried Irene.