"Has he been speaking to you, father?"
"Your mother's been speaking to me."
"Has HE been speaking to you?"
"That's neither here nor there."
"Then he's broken his word, and I will never speak to him again!"
"If he was any such fool as to promise that he wouldn't talk to me on a subject" — Lapham drew a deep breath, and then made the plunge — "that I brought up — — "
"Did you bring it up?"
"The same as brought up — the quicker he broke his word the better; and I want you should act upon that idea. Recollect that it's my business, and your mother's business, as well as yours, and we're going to have our say. He hain't done anything wrong, Pen, nor anything that he's going to be punished for. Understand that. He's got to have a reason, if you're not going to have him. I don't say you've got to have him; I want you should feel perfectly free about that; but I DO say you've got to give him a reason."
"Is he coming here?"
"I don't know as you'd call it COMING — — "
"Yes, you do, father!" said the girl, in forlorn amusement at his shuffling.
"He's coming here to see ME — — "
"When's he coming?"
"I don't know but he's coming to-night."
"And you want I should see him?"
"I don't know but you'd better."
"All right. I'll see him."
Lapham drew a long deep breath of suspicion inspired by this acquiescence. "What you going to do?" he asked presently.
"I don't know yet," answered the girl sadly. "It depends a good deal upon what he does."
"Well," said Lapham, with the hungriness of unsatisfied anxiety in his tone. When Corey's card was brought into the family-room where he and Penelope were sitting, he went into the parlour to find him. "I guess Penelope wants to see you," he said; and, indicating the family-room, he added, "She's in there," and did not go back himself.
Corey made his way to the girl's presence with open trepidation, which was not allayed by her silence and languor. She sat in the chair where she had sat the other night, but she was not playing with a fan now.
He came toward her, and then stood faltering. A faint smile quivered over her face at the spectacle of his subjection. "Sit down, Mr. Corey," she said. "There's no reason why we shouldn't talk it over quietly; for I know you will think I'm right."
"I'm sure of that," he answered hopefully. "When I saw that your father knew of it to-day, I asked him to let me see you again. I'm afraid that I broke my promise to you — technically — — "
"It had to be broken." He took more courage at her words. "But I've only come to do whatever you say, and not to be an — annoyance to you — — "
"Yes, you have to know; but I couldn't tell you before. Now they all think I should."
A tremor of anxiety passed over the young man's face, on which she kept her eyes steadily fixed.
"We supposed it — it was — Irene — — "
He remained blank a moment, and then he said with a smile of relief, of deprecation, of protest, of amazement, of compassion —
"OH! Never! Never for an instant! How could you think such a thing? It was impossible! I never thought of her. But I see — I see! I can explain — no, there's nothing to explain! I have never knowingly done or said a thing from first to last to make you think that. I see how terrible it is!" he said; but he still smiled, as if he could not take it seriously. "I admired her beauty — who could help doing that? — and I thought her very good and sensible. Why, last winter in Texas, I told Stanton about our meeting in Canada, and we agreed — I only tell you to show you how far I always was from what you thought — that he must come North and try to see her, and — and — of course, it all sounds very silly! — and he sent her a newspaper with an account of his ranch in it — — "
"She thought it came from you."
"Oh, good heavens! He didn't tell me till after he'd done it. But he did it for a part of our foolish joke. And when I met your sister again, I only admired her as before. I can see, now, how I must have seemed to be seeking her out; but it was to talk of you with her — I never talked of anything else if I could help it, except when I changed the subject because I was ashamed to be always talking of you. I see how distressing it is for all of you. But tell me that you believe me!"