"I don't know what to make of his admiring the girl so frankly," she said afterward to her husband. "That couldn't come naturally till after he had spoken to her, and I feel sure that he hasn't yet."
"You women haven't risen yet — it's an evidence of the backwardness of your sex — to a conception of the Bismarck idea in diplomacy. If a man praises one woman, you still think he's in love with another. Do you mean that because Tom didn't praise the elder sister so much, he HAS spoken to HER?"
Mrs. Corey refused the consequence, saying that it did not follow. "Besides, he did praise her."
"You ought to be glad that matters are in such good shape, then. At any rate, you can do absolutely nothing."
"Oh! I know it," sighed Mrs. Corey. "I wish Tom would be a little opener with me."
"He's as open as it's in the nature of an American-born son to be with his parents. I dare say if you'd asked him plumply what he meant in regard to the young lady, he would have told you — if he knew."
"Why, don't you think he does know, Bromfield?"
"I'm not at all sure he does. You women think that because a young man dangles after a girl, or girls, he's attached to them. It doesn't at all follow. He dangles because he must, and doesn't know what to do with his time, and because they seem to like it. I dare say that Tom has dangled a good deal in this instance because there was nobody else in town."
"Do you really think so?"
"I throw out the suggestion. And it strikes me that a young lady couldn't do better than stay in or near Boston during the summer. Most of the young men are here, kept by business through the week, with evenings available only on the spot, or a few miles off. What was the proportion of the sexes at the seashore and the mountains?"
"Oh, twenty girls at least for even an excuse of a man. It's shameful."
"You see, I am right in one part of my theory. Why shouldn't I be right in the rest?"
"I wish you were. And yet I can't say that I do. Those things are very serious with girls. I shouldn't like Tom to have been going to see those people if he meant nothing by it."
"And you wouldn't like it if he did. You are difficult, my dear." Her husband pulled an open newspaper toward him from the table.
"I feel that it wouldn't be at all like him to do so," said Mrs. Corey, going on to entangle herself in her words, as women often do when their ideas are perfectly clear. "Don't go to reading, please, Bromfield! I am really worried about this matter I must know how much it means. I can't let it go on so. I don't see how you can rest easy without knowing."
"I don't in the least know what's going to become of me when I die; and yet I sleep well," replied Bromfield Corey, putting his newspaper aside.
"Ah! but this is a very different thing."
"So much more serious? Well, what can you do? We had this out when you were here in the summer, and you agreed with me then that we could do nothing. The situation hasn't changed at all."
"Yes, it has; it has continued the same," said Mrs. Corey, again expressing the fact by a contradiction in terms. "I think I must ask Tom outright."
"You know you can't do that, my dear."
"Then why doesn't he tell us?"
"Ah, that's what HE can't do, if he's making love to Miss Irene — that's her name, I believe — on the American plan. He will tell us after he has told HER. That was the way I did. Don't ignore our own youth, Anna. It was a long while ago, I'll admit."
"It was very different," said Mrs. Corey, a little shaken.
"I don't see how. I dare say Mamma Lapham knows whether Tom is in love with her daughter or not; and no doubt Papa Lapham knows it at second hand. But we shall not know it until the girl herself does. Depend upon that. Your mother knew, and she told your father; but my poor father knew nothing about it till we were engaged; and I had been hanging about — dangling, as you call it — — "
"No, no; YOU called it that."
"Was it I? — for a year or more."
The wife could not refuse to be a little consoled by the image of her young love which the words conjured up, however little she liked its relation to her son's interest in Irene Lapham. She smiled pensively. "Then you think it hasn't come to an understanding with them yet?"
"An understanding? Oh, probably."
"An explanation, then?"