She mercifully stopped him. "Don't talk, papa. I don't want any one should talk with me."
He obeyed, and they walked silently on and on. In their aimless course they reached the new house on the water side of Beacon, and she made him stop, and stood looking up at it. The scaffolding which had so long defaced the front was gone, and in the light of the gas-lamp before it all the architectural beauty of the facade was suggested, and much of the finely felt detail was revealed. Seymour had pretty nearly satisfied himself in that rich facade; certainly Lapham had not stinted him of the means.
"Well," said the girl, "I shall never live in it," and she began to walk on.
Lapham's sore heart went down, as he lumbered heavily after her. "Oh yes, you will, Irene. You'll have lots of good times there yet."
"No," she answered, and said nothing more about it. They had not talked of their trouble at all, and they did not speak of it now. Lapham understood that she was trying to walk herself weary, and he was glad to hold his peace and let her have her way. She halted him once more before the red and yellow lights of an apothecary's window.
"Isn't there something they give you to make you sleep?" she asked vaguely. "I've got to sleep to-night!"
Lapham trembled. "I guess you don't want anything, Irene."
"Yes, I do! Get me something!" she retorted wilfully. "If you don't, I shall die. I MUST sleep."
They went in, and Lapham asked for something to make a nervous person sleep. Irene stood poring over the show-case full of brushes and trinkets, while the apothecary put up the bromide, which he guessed would be about the best thing. She did not show any emotion; her face was like a stone, while her father's expressed the anguish of his sympathy. He looked as if he had not slept for a week; his fat eyelids drooped over his glassy eyes, and his cheeks and throat hung flaccid. He started as the apothecary's cat stole smoothly up and rubbed itself against his leg; and it was to him that the man said, "You want to take a table-spoonful of that, as long as you're awake. I guess it won't take a great many to fetch you." "All right," said Lapham, and paid and went out. "I don't know but I SHALL want some of it," he said, with a joyless laugh.
Irene came closer up to him and took his arm. He laid his heavy paw on her gloved fingers. After a while she said, "I want you should let me go up to Lapham to-morrow."
"To Lapham? Why, to-morrow's Sunday, Irene! You can't go to-morrow."
"Well, Monday, then. I can live through one day here."
"Well," said the father passively. He made no pretence of asking her why she wished to go, nor any attempt to dissuade her.
"Give me that bottle," she said, when he opened the door at home for her, and she ran up to her own room.
The next morning Irene came to breakfast with her mother; the Colonel and Penelope did not appear, and Mrs. Lapham looked sleep-broken and careworn.
The girl glanced at her. "Don't you fret about me, mamma," she said. "I shall get along." She seemed herself as steady and strong as rock.
"I don't like to see you keeping up so, Irene," replied her mother. "It'll be all the worse for you when you do break. Better give way a little at the start."
"I shan't break, and I've given way all I'm going to. I'm going to Lapham to-morrow, — I want you should go with me, mamma, — and I guess I can keep up one day here. All about it is, I don't want you should say anything, or LOOK anything. And, whatever I do, I don't want you should try to stop me. And, the first thing, I'm going to take her breakfast up to her. Don't!" she cried, intercepting the protest on her mother's lips. "I shall not let it hurt Pen, if I can help it. She's never done a thing nor thought a thing to wrong me. I had to fly out at her last night; but that's all over now, and I know just what I've got to bear."
She had her way unmolested. She carried Penelope's breakfast to her, and omitted no care or attention that could make the sacrifice complete, with an heroic pretence that she was performing no unusual service. They did not speak, beyond her saying, in a clear dry note, "Here's your breakfast, Pen," and her sister's answering, hoarsely and tremulously, "Oh, thank you, Irene." And, though two or three times they turned their faces toward each other while Irene remained in the room, mechanically putting its confusion to rights, their eyes did not meet. Then Irene descended upon the other rooms, which she set in order, and some of which she fiercely swept and dusted. She made the beds; and she sent the two servants away to church as soon as they had eaten their breakfast, telling them that she would wash their dishes. Throughout the morning her father and mother heard her about the work of getting dinner, with certain silences which represented the moments when she stopped and stood stock-still, and then, readjusting her burden, forced herself forward under it again.