The Colonel went to the station with them, and put them on the train. He got them a little compartment to themselves in the Pullman car; and as he stood leaning with his lifted hands against the sides of the doorway, he tried to say something consoling and hopeful: "I guess you'll have an easy ride, Irene. I don't believe it'll be dusty, any, after the rain last night."
"Don't you stay till the train starts, papa," returned the girl, in rigid rejection of his futilities. "Get off, now."
"Well, if you want I should," he said, glad to be able to please her in anything. He remained on the platform till the cars started. He saw Irene bustling about in the compartment, making her mother comfortable for the journey; but Mrs. Lapham did not lift her head. The train moved off, and he went heavily back to his business.
From time to time during the day, when he caught a glimpse of him, Corey tried to make out from his face whether he knew what had taken place between him and Penelope. When Rogers came in about time of closing, and shut himself up with Lapham in his room, the young man remained till the two came out together and parted in their salutationless fashion.
Lapham showed no surprise at seeing Corey still there, and merely answered, "Well!" when the young man said that he wished to speak with him, and led the way back to his room.
Corey shut the door behind them. "I only wish to speak to you in case you know of the matter already; for otherwise I'm bound by a promise."
"I guess I know what you mean. It's about Penelope."
"Yes, it's about Miss Lapham. I am greatly attached to her — you'll excuse my saying it; I couldn't excuse myself if I were not."
"Perfectly excusable," said Lapham. "It's all right."
"Oh, I'm glad to hear you say that!" cried the young fellow joyfully. "I want you to believe that this isn't a new thing or an unconsidered thing with me — though it seemed so unexpected to her."
Lapham fetched a deep sigh. "It's all right as far as I'm concerned — or her mother. We've both liked you first-rate."
"But there seems to be something in Penelope's mind — I don't know — " The Colonel consciously dropped his eyes.
"She referred to something — I couldn't make out what — but I hoped — I hoped — that with your leave I might overcome it — the barrier — whatever it was. Miss Lapham — Penelope — gave me the hope — that I was — wasn't — indifferent to her — — "
"Yes, I guess that's so," said Lapham. He suddenly lifted his head, and confronted the young fellow's honest face with his own face, so different in its honesty. "Sure you never made up to any one else at the same time?"
"NEVER! Who could imagine such a thing? If that's all, I can easily."
"I don't say that's all, nor that that's it. I don't want you should go upon that idea. I just thought, may be — you hadn't thought of it."
"No, I certainly hadn't thought of it! Such a thing would have been so impossible to me that I couldn't have thought of it; and it's so shocking to me now that I don't know what to say to it."
"Well, don't take it too much to heart," said Lapham, alarmed at the feeling he had excited; "I don't say she thought so. I was trying to guess — trying to — — "
"If there is anything I can say or do to convince you — — "
"Oh, it ain't necessary to say anything. I'm all right."
"But Miss Lapham! I may see her again? I may try to convince her that — — "
He stopped in distress, and Lapham afterwards told his wife that he kept seeing the face of Irene as it looked when he parted with her in the car; and whenever he was going to say yes, he could not open his lips. At the same time he could not help feeling that Penelope had a right to what was her own, and Sewell's words came back to him. Besides, they had already put Irene to the worst suffering. Lapham compromised, as he imagined. "You can come round to-night and see ME, if you want to," he said; and he bore grimly the gratitude that the young man poured out upon him.
Penelope came down to supper and took her mother's place at the head of the table.
Lapham sat silent in her presence as long as he could bear it. Then he asked, "How do you feel to-night, Pen?"
"Oh, like a thief," said the girl. "A thief that hasn't been arrested yet."
Lapham waited a while before he said, "Well, now, your mother and I want you should hold up on that a while."
"It isn't for you to say. It's something I can't hold up on."
"Yes, I guess you can. If I know what's happened, then what's happened is a thing that nobody is to blame for. And we want you should make the best of it and not the worst. Heigh? It ain't going to help Irene any for you to hurt yourself — or anybody else; and I don't want you should take up with any such crazy notion. As far as heard from, you haven't stolen anything, and whatever you've got belongs to you."