His wife felt the need of comforting him, as she had felt the need of afflicting him. "I don't say but what it can be made to come out all right in the end. All I say is, I don't see my way clear yet."
"What makes you think he likes Pen?" he asked quietly.
"He told her so last night, and she told me this morning. Was he at the office to-day?"
"Yes, he was there. I haven't been there much myself. He didn't say anything to me. Does Irene know?"
"No; I left her getting ready to go out shopping. She wants to get a pin like the one Nanny Corey had on." "O my Lord!" groaned Lapham.
"It's been Pen from the start, I guess, or almost from the start. I don't say but what he was attracted some by Irene at the very first; but I guess it's been Pen ever since he saw her; and we've taken up with a notion, and blinded ourselves with it. Time and again I've had my doubts whether he cared for Irene any; but I declare to goodness, when he kept coming, I never hardly thought of Pen, and I couldn't help believing at last he DID care for Irene. Did it ever strike you he might be after Pen?"
"No. I took what you said. I supposed you knew."
"Do you blame me, Silas?" she asked timidly.
"No. What's the use of blaming? We don't either of us want anything but the children's good. What's it all of it for, if it ain't for that? That's what we've both slaved for all our lives."
"Yes, I know. Plenty of people LOSE their children," she suggested.
"Yes, but that don't comfort me any. I never was one to feel good because another man felt bad. How would you have liked it if some one had taken comfort because his boy lived when ours died? No, I can't do it. And this is worse than death, someways. That comes and it goes; but this looks as if it was one of those things that had come to stay. The way I look at it, there ain't any hope for anybody. Suppose we don't want Pen to have him; will that help Irene any, if he don't want her? Suppose we don't want to let him have either; does that help either!"
"You talk," exclaimed Mrs. Lapham, "as if our say was going to settle it. Do you suppose that Penelope Lapham is a girl to take up with a fellow that her sister is in love with, and that she always thought was in love with her sister, and go off and be happy with him? Don't you believe but what it would come back to her, as long as she breathed the breath of life, how she'd teased her about him, as I've heard Pen tease Irene, and helped to make her think he was in love with her, by showing that she thought so herself? It's ridiculous!"
Lapham seemed quite beaten down by this argument. His huge head hung forward over his breast; the reins lay loose in his moveless hand; the mare took her own way. At last he lifted his face and shut his heavy jaws.
"Well?" quavered his wife.
"Well," he answered, "if he wants her, and she wants him, I don't see what that's got to do with it." He looked straight forward, and not at his wife.
She laid her hands on the reins. "Now, you stop right here, Silas Lapham! If I thought that — if I really believed you could be willing to break that poor child's heart, and let Pen disgrace herself by marrying a man that had as good as killed her sister, just because you wanted Bromfield Corey's son for a son-in-law — — "
Lapham turned his face now, and gave her a look. "You had better NOT believe that, Persis! Get up!" he called to the mare, without glancing at her, and she sprang forward. "I see you've got past being any use to yourself on this subject."
"Hello!" shouted a voice in front of him. "Where the devil you goin' to?"
"Do you want to KILL somebody!" shrieked his wife.
There was a light crash, and the mare recoiled her length, and separated their wheels from those of the open buggy in front which Lapham had driven into. He made his excuses to the occupant; and the accident relieved the tension of their feelings, and left them far from the point of mutual injury which they had reached in their common trouble and their unselfish will for their children's good.
It was Lapham who resumed the talk. "I'm afraid we can't either of us see this thing in the right light. We're too near to it. I wish to the Lord there was somebody to talk to about it."
"Yes," said his wife; "but there ain't anybody."
"Well, I dunno," suggested Lapham, after a moment; "why not talk to the minister of your church? May be he could see some way out of it."
Mrs. Lapham shook her head hopelessly. "It wouldn't do. I've never taken up my connection with the church, and I don't feel as if I'd got any claim on him."
"If he's anything of a man, or anything of a preacher, you HAVE got a claim on him," urged Lapham; and he spoiled his argument by adding, "I've contributed enough MONEY to his church."