They sat alone in the family room, out of which their two girls seemed to have died. Lapham could not read his Sunday papers, and she had no heart to go to church, as she would have done earlier in life when in trouble. Just then she was obscurely feeling that the church was somehow to blame for that counsel of Mr. Sewell's on which they had acted.
"I should like to know," she said, having brought the matter up, "whether he would have thought it was such a light matter if it had been his own children. Do you suppose he'd have been so ready to act on his own advice if it HAD been?"
"He told us the right thing to do, Persis, — the only thing. We couldn't let it go on," urged her husband gently.
"Well, it makes me despise Pen! Irene's showing twice the character that she is, this very minute."
The mother said this so that the father might defend her daughter to her. He did not fail. "Irene's got the easiest part, the way I look at it. And you'll see that Pen'll know how to behave when the time comes."
"What do you want she should do?"
"I haven't got so far as that yet. What are we going to do about Irene?"
"What do you want Pen should do," repeated Mrs. Lapham, "when it comes to it?"
"Well, I don't want she should take him, for ONE thing," said Lapham.
This seemed to satisfy Mrs. Lapham as to her husband, and she said in defence of Corey, "Why, I don't see what HE'S done. It's all been our doing."
"Never mind that now. What about Irene?"
"She says she's going to Lapham to-morrow. She feels that she's got to get away somewhere. It's natural she should."
"Yes, and I presume it will be about the best thing FOR her. Shall you go with her?"
"Well." He comfortlessly took up a newspaper again, and she rose with a sigh, and went to her room to pack some things for the morrow's journey.
After dinner, when Irene had cleared away the last trace of it in kitchen and dining-room with unsparing punctilio, she came downstairs, dressed to go out, and bade her father come to walk with her again. It was a repetition of the aimlessness of the last night's wanderings. They came back, and she got tea for them, and after that they heard her stirring about in her own room, as if she were busy about many things; but they did not dare to look in upon her, even after all the noises had ceased, and they knew she had gone to bed.
"Yes; it's a thing she's got to fight out by herself," said Mrs Lapham.
"I guess she'll get along," said Lapham. "But I don't want you should misjudge Pen either. She's all right too. She ain't to blame."
"Yes, I know. But I can't work round to it all at once. I shan't misjudge her, but you can't expect me to get over it right away."
"Mamma," said Irene, when she was hurrying their departure the next morning, "what did she tell him when he asked her?"
"Tell him?" echoed the mother; and after a while she added, "She didn't tell him anything."
"Did she say anything, about me?"
"She said he mustn't come here any more."
Irene turned and went into her sister's room. "Good-bye, Pen," she said, kissing her with an effect of not seeing or touching her. "I want you should tell him all about it. If he's half a man, he won't give up till he knows why you won't have him; and he has a right to know."
"It wouldn't make any difference. I couldn't have him after — — "
"That's for you to say. But if you don't tell him about me, I will."
"'Rene!" "Yes! You needn't say I cared for him. But you can say that you all thought he — cared for — me."
"O Irene — — "
"Don't!" Irene escaped from the arms that tried to cast themselves about her. "You are all right, Pen. You haven't done anything. You've helped me all you could. But I can't — yet."
She went out of the room and summoned Mrs. Lapham with a sharp "Now, mamma!" and went on putting the last things into her trunks.