Penelope stood with her arms at her side, submitting. "Well," she said, "I don't think he did, altogether."
Irene, all glowing, released her. "Don't you — don't you REALLY? O Pen! don't you think he IS nice? Don't you think he's handsome? Don't you think I behaved horridly when we first met him this evening, not thanking him for coming? I know he thinks I've no manners. But it seemed as if it would be thanking him for coming to see me. Ought I to have asked him to come again, when he said good-night? I didn't; I couldn't. Do you believe he'll think I don't want him to? You don't believe he would keep coming if he didn't — want to — — "
"He hasn't kept coming a great deal, yet," suggested Penelope.
"No; I know he hasn't. But if he — if he should?"
"Then I should think he wanted to."
"Oh, would you — WOULD you? Oh, how good you always are, Pen! And you always say what you think. I wish there was some one coming to see you too. That's all that I don't like about it. Perhaps — — He was telling about his friend there in Texas — — "
"Well," said Penelope, "his friend couldn't call often from Texas. You needn't ask Mr. Corey to trouble about me, 'Rene. I think I can manage to worry along, if you're satisfied."
"Oh, I AM, Pen. When do you suppose he'll come again?" Irene pushed some of Penelope's things aside on the dressing-case, to rest her elbow and talk at ease. Penelope came up and put them back.
"Well, not to-night," she said; "and if that's what you're sitting up for — — "
Irene caught her round the neck again, and ran out of the room.
The Colonel was packed off on the eight o'clock boat the next morning; but his recovery did not prevent Corey from repeating his visit in a week. This time Irene came radiantly up to Penelope's room, where she had again withdrawn herself. "You must come down, Pen," she said. "He's asked if you're not well, and mamma says you've got to come."
After that Penelope helped Irene through with her calls, and talked them over with her far into the night after Corey was gone. But when the impatient curiosity of her mother pressed her for some opinion of the affair, she said, "You know as much as I do, mother."
"Don't he ever say anything to you about her — praise her up, any?"
"He's never mentioned Irene to me."
"He hasn't to me, either," said Mrs. Lapham, with a sigh of trouble. "Then what makes him keep coming?"
"I can't tell you. One thing, he says there isn't a house open in Boston where he's acquainted. Wait till some of his friends get back, and then if he keeps coming, it'll be time to inquire."
"Well!" said the mother; but as the weeks passed she was less and less able to attribute Corey's visits to his loneliness in town, and turned to her husband for comfort.
"Silas, I don't know as we ought to let young Corey keep coming so. I don't quite like it, with all his family away."
"He's of age," said the Colonel. "He can go where he pleases. It don't matter whether his family's here or not."
"Yes, but if they don't want he should come? Should you feel just right about letting him?"
"How're you going to stop him? I swear, Persis, I don't know what's got over you! What is it? You didn't use to be so. But to hear you talk, you'd think those Coreys were too good for this world, and we wa'n't fit for 'em to walk on."
"I'm not going to have 'em say we took an advantage of their being away and tolled him on."
"I should like to HEAR 'em say it!" cried Lapham. "Or anybody!"
"Well," said his wife, relinquishing this point of anxiety, "I can't make out whether he cares anything for her or not. And Pen can't tell either; or else she won't."
"Oh, I guess he cares for her, fast enough," said the Colonel.
"I can't make out that he's said or done the first thing to show it."
"Well, I was better than a year getting my courage up."
"Oh, that was different," said Mrs. Lapham, in contemptuous dismissal of the comparison, and yet with a certain fondness. "I guess, if he cared for her, a fellow in his position wouldn't be long getting up his courage to speak to Irene."
Lapham brought his fist down on the table between them.
"Look here, Persis! Once for all, now, don't you ever let me hear you say anything like that again! I'm worth nigh on to a million, and I've made it every cent myself; and my girls are the equals of anybody, I don't care who it is. He ain't the fellow to take on any airs; but if he ever tries it with me, I'll send him to the right about mighty quick. I'll have a talk with him, if — — "
"No, no; don't do that!" implored his wife. "I didn't mean anything. I don't know as I meant ANYthing. He's just as unassuming as he can be, and I think Irene's a match for anybody. You just let things go on. It'll be all right. You never can tell how it is with young people. Perhaps SHE'S offish. Now you ain't — you ain't going to say anything?"
Lapham suffered himself to be persuaded, the more easily, no doubt, because after his explosion he must have perceived that his pride itself stood in the way of what his pride had threatened. He contented himself with his wife's promise that she would never again present that offensive view of the case, and she did not remain without a certain support in his sturdy self-assertion.