She dropped her own in a little confusion. "I won't do it at all, my dear," she said, "if you don't approve. But I thought — You know we have never made any proper acknowledgment of their kindness to us at Baie St. Paul. Then in the winter, I'm ashamed to say, I got money from her for a charity I was interested in; and I hate the idea of merely USING people in that way. And now your having been at their house this summer — we can't seem to disapprove of that; and your business relations to him — — "
"Yes, I see," said Corey. "Do you think it amounts to a dinner?"
"Why, I don't know," returned his mother. "We shall have hardly any one out of our family connection."
"Well," Corey assented, "it might do. I suppose what you wish is to give them a pleasure."
"Why, certainly. Don't you think they'd like to come?"
"Oh, they'd like to come; but whether it would be a pleasure after they were here is another thing. I should have said that if you wanted to have them, they would enjoy better being simply asked to meet our own immediate family."
"That's what I thought of in the first place, but your father seemed to think it implied a social distrust of them; and we couldn't afford to have that appearance, even to ourselves."
"Perhaps he was right."
"And besides, it might seem a little significant."
Corey seemed inattentive to this consideration. "Whom did you think of asking?" His mother repeated the names. "Yes, that would do," he said, with a vague dissatisfaction.
"I won't have it at all, if you don't wish, Tom."
"Oh yes, have it; perhaps you ought. Yes, I dare say it's right. What did you mean by a family dinner seeming significant?"
His mother hesitated. When it came to that, she did not like to recognise in his presence the anxieties that had troubled her. But "I don't know," she said, since she must. "I shouldn't want to give that young girl, or her mother, the idea that we wished to make more of the acquaintance than — than you did, Tom."
He looked at her absent-mindedly, as if he did not take her meaning. But he said, "Oh yes, of course," and Mrs. Corey, in the uncertainty in which she seemed destined to remain concerning this affair, went off and wrote her invitation to Mrs. Lapham. Later in the evening, when they again found themselves alone, her son said, "I don't think I understood you, mother, in regard to the Laphams. I think I do now. I certainly don't wish you to make more of the acquaintance than I have done. It wouldn't be right; it might be very unfortunate. Don't give the dinner!"
"It's too late now, my son," said Mrs. Corey. "I sent my note to Mrs. Lapham an hour ago." Her courage rose at the trouble which showed in Corey's face. "But don't be annoyed by it, Tom. It isn't a family dinner, you know, and everything can be managed without embarrassment. If we take up the affair at this point, you will seem to have been merely acting for us; and they can't possibly understand anything more."
"Well, well! Let it go! I dare say it's all right At any rate, it can't be helped now."
"I don't wish to help it, Tom," said Mrs. Corey, with a cheerfullness which the thought of the Laphams had never brought her before. "I am sure it is quite fit and proper, and we can make them have a very pleasant time. They are good, inoffensive people, and we owe it to ourselves not to be afraid to show that we have felt their kindness to us, and his appreciation of you."
"Well," consented Corey. The trouble that his mother had suddenly cast off was in his tone; but she was not sorry. It was quite time that he should think seriously of his attitude toward these people if he had not thought of it before, but, according to his father's theory, had been merely dangling.
It was a view of her son's character that could hardly have pleased her in different circumstances, yet it was now unquestionably a consolation if not wholly a pleasure. If she considered the Laphams at all, it was with the resignation which we feel at the evils of others, even when they have not brought them on themselves.
Mrs. Lapham, for her part, had spent the hours between Mrs. Corey's visit and her husband's coming home from business in reaching the same conclusion with regard to Corey; and her spirits were at the lowest when they sat down to supper. Irene was downcast with her; Penelope was purposely gay; and the Colonel was beginning, after his first plate of the boiled ham, — which, bristling with cloves, rounded its bulk on a wide platter before him, — to take note of the surrounding mood, when the door-bell jingled peremptorily, and the girl left waiting on the table to go and answer it. She returned at once with a note for Mrs. Lapham, which she read, and then, after a helpless survey of her family, read again.