Penelope had gone to her room, without waiting to be asked to advise or criticise; but Irene had decided upon the paper, and on the whole, Mrs. Lapham's note made a very decent appearance on the page.
When the furnace-man came, the Colonel sent him out to post it in the box at the corner of the square. He had determined not to say anything more about the matter before the girls, not choosing to let them see that he was elated; he tried to give the effect of its being an everyday sort of thing, abruptly closing the discussion with his order to Mrs. Lapham to accept; but he had remained swelling behind his newspaper during her prolonged struggle with her note, and he could no longer hide his elation when Irene followed her sister upstairs.
"Well, Pers," he demanded, "what do you say now?"
Mrs. Lapham had been sobered into something of her former misgiving by her difficulties with her note. "Well, I don't know what TO say. I declare, I'm all mixed up about it, and I don't know as we've begun as we can carry out in promising to go. I presume," she sighed, "that we can all send some excuse at the last moment, if we don't want to go."
"I guess we can carry out, and I guess we shan't want to send any excuse," bragged the Colonel. "If we're ever going to be anybody at all, we've got to go and see how it's done. I presume we've got to give some sort of party when we get into the new house, and this gives the chance to ask 'em back again. You can't complain now but what they've made the advances, Persis?"
"No," said Mrs. Lapham lifelessly; "I wonder why they wanted to do it. Oh, I suppose it's all right," she added in deprecation of the anger with her humility which she saw rising in her husband's face; "but if it's all going to be as much trouble as that letter, I'd rather be whipped. I don't know what I'm going to wear; or the girls either. I do wonder — I've heard that people go to dinner in low-necks. Do you suppose it's the custom?"
"How should I know?" demanded the Colonel. "I guess you've got clothes enough. Any rate, you needn't fret about it. You just go round to White's or Jordan & Marsh's, and ask for a dinner dress. I guess that'll settle it; they'll know. Get some of them imported dresses. I see 'em in the window every time I pass; lots of 'em."
"Oh, it ain't the dress!" said Mrs. Lapham. "I don't suppose but what we could get along with that; and I want to do the best we can for the children; but I don't know what we're going to talk about to those people when we get there. We haven't got anything in common with them. Oh, I don't say they're any better," she again made haste to say in arrest of her husband's resentment. "I don't believe they are; and I don't see why they should be. And there ain't anybody has got a better right to hold up their head than you have, Silas. You've got plenty of money, and you've made every cent of it."
"I guess I shouldn't amounted to much without you, Persis," interposed Lapham, moved to this justice by her praise.
"Oh, don't talk about ME!" protested the wife. "Now that you've made it all right about Rogers, there ain't a thing in this world against you. But still, for all that, I can see — and I can feel it when I can't see it — that we're different from those people. They're well-meaning enough, and they'd excuse it, I presume, but we're too old to learn to be like them."
"The children ain't," said Lapham shrewdly.
"No, the children ain't," admitted his wife, "and that's the only thing that reconciles me to it."
"You see how pleased Irene looked when I read it?"
"Yes, she was pleased."
"And I guess Penelope'll think better of it before the time comes."
"Oh yes, we do it for them. But whether we're doing the best thing for 'em, goodness knows. I'm not saying anything against HIM. Irene'll be a lucky girl to get him, if she wants him. But there! I'd ten times rather she was going to marry such a fellow as you were, Si, that had to make every inch of his own way, and she had to help him. It's in her!"
Lapham laughed aloud for pleasure in his wife's fondness; but neither of them wished that he should respond directly to it. "I guess, if it wa'n't for me, he wouldn't have a much easier time. But don't you fret! It's all coming out right. That dinner ain't a thing for you to be uneasy about. It'll pass off perfectly easy and natural."
Lapham did not keep his courageous mind quite to the end of the week that followed. It was his theory not to let Corey see that he was set up about the invitation, and when the young man said politely that his mother was glad they were able to come, Lapham was very short with him. He said yes, he believed that Mrs. Lapham and the girls were going. Afterward he was afraid Corey might not understand that he was coming too; but he did not know how to approach the subject again, and Corey did not, so he let it pass. It worried him to see all the preparation that his wife and Irene were making, and he tried to laugh at them for it; and it worried him to find that Penelope was making no preparation at all for herself, but only helping the others. He asked her what should she do if she changed her mind at the last moment and concluded to go, and she said she guessed she should not change her mind, but if she did, she would go to White's with him and get him to choose her an imported dress, he seemed to like them so much. He was too proud to mention the subject again to her.