"Oh, that's nothing," said Mrs. Lapham. "I ain't well enough acquainted with Dr. Langworthy, or else I'm TOO well. No; if I was to ask any one, I should want to ask a total stranger. But what's the use, Si? Nobody could make us see it any different from what it is, and I don't know as I should want they should."
It blotted out the tender beauty of the day, and weighed down their hearts ever more heavily within them. They ceased to talk of it a hundred times, and still came back to it. They drove on and on. It began to be late. "I guess we better go back, Si," said his wife; and as he turned without speaking, she pulled her veil down and began to cry softly behind it, with low little broken sobs.
Lapham started the mare up and drove swiftly homeward. At last his wife stopped crying and began trying to find her pocket. "Here, take mine, Persis," he said kindly, offering her his handkerchief, and she took it and dried her eyes with it. "There was one of those fellows there the other night," he spoke again, when his wife leaned back against the cushions in peaceful despair, "that I liked the looks of about as well as any man I ever saw. I guess he was a pretty good man. It was that Mr. Sewell."
He looked at his wife, but she did not say anything. "Persis," he resumed, "I can't bear to go back with nothing settled in our minds. I can't bear to let you."
"We must, Si," returned his wife, with gentle gratitude. Lapham groaned. "Where does he live?" she asked.
"On Bolingbroke Street. He gave me his number."
"Well, it wouldn't do any good. What could he say to us?"
"Oh, I don't know as he could say anything," said Lapham hopelessly; and neither of them said anything more till they crossed the Milldam and found themselves between the rows of city houses.
"Don't drive past the new house, Si," pleaded his wife. "I couldn't bear to see it. Drive — drive up Bolingbroke Street. We might as well see where he DOES live."
"Well," said Lapham. He drove along slowly. "That's the place," he said finally, stopping the mare and pointing with his whip.
"It wouldn't do any good," said his wife, in a tone which he understood as well as he understood her words. He turned the mare up to the curbstone.
"You take the reins a minute," he said, handing them to his wife.
He got down and rang the bell, and waited till the door opened; then he came back and lifted his wife out. "He's in," he said.
He got the hitching-weight from under the buggy-seat and made it fast to the mare's bit.
"Do you think she'll stand with that?" asked Mrs. Lapham.
"I guess so. If she don't, no matter."
"Ain't you afraid she'll take cold," she persisted, trying to make delay.
"Let her!" said Lapham. He took his wife's trembling hand under his arm, and drew her to the door.
"He'll think we're crazy," she murmured in her broken pride.
"Well, we ARE," said Lapham. "Tell him we'd like to see him alone a while," he said to the girl who was holding the door ajar for him, and she showed him into the reception-room, which had been the Protestant confessional for many burdened souls before their time, coming, as they did, with the belief that they were bowed down with the only misery like theirs in the universe; for each one of us must suffer long to himself before he can learn that he is but one in a great community of wretchedness which has been pitilessly repeating itself from the foundation of the world.
They were as loath to touch their trouble when the minister came in as if it were their disgrace; but Lapham did so at last, and, with a simple dignity which he had wanted in his bungling and apologetic approaches, he laid the affair clearly before the minister's compassionate and reverent eye. He spared Corey's name, but he did not pretend that it was not himself and his wife and their daughters who were concerned.
"I don't know as I've got any right to trouble you with this thing," he said, in the moment while Sewell sat pondering the case, "and I don't know as I've got any warrant for doing it. But, as I told my wife here, there was something about you — I don't know whether it was anything you SAID exactly — that made me feel as if you could help us. I guess I didn't say so much as that to her; but that's the way I felt. And here we are. And if it ain't all right."
"Surely," said Sewell, "it's all right. I thank you for coming — for trusting your trouble to me. A time comes to every one of us when we can't help ourselves, and then we must get others to help us. If people turn to me at such a time, I feel sure that I was put into the world for something — if nothing more than to give my pity, my sympathy."
The brotherly words, so plain, so sincere, had a welcome in them that these poor outcasts of sorrow could not doubt.
"Yes," said Lapham huskily, and his wife began to wipe the tears again under her veil.