"I didn't want you should get in any deeper with him."
"No. You didn't want I should press him either; and I had to do one or the other. And so I got in deeper."
"Silas," said his wife, "I'm afraid I made you!"
"It's all right, Persis, as far forth as that goes. I was glad to make it up with him — I jumped at the chance. I guess Rogers saw that he had a soft thing in me, and he's worked it for all it was worth. But it'll all come out right in the end."
Lapham said this as if he did not care to talk any more about it. He added casually, "Pretty near everybody but the fellows that owe ME seem to expect me to do a cash business, all of a sudden."
"Do you mean that you've got payments to make, and that people are not paying YOU?"
Lapham winced a little. "Something like that," he said, and he lighted a cigar. "But when I tell you it's all right, I mean it, Persis. I ain't going to let the grass grow under my feet, though, — especially while Rogers digs the ground away from the roots."
"What are you going to do?"
"If it has to come to that, I'm going to squeeze him." Lapham's countenance lighted up with greater joy than had yet visited it since the day they had driven out to Brookline. "Milton K. Rogers is a rascal, if you want to know; or else all the signs fail. But I guess he'll find he's got his come-uppance." Lapham shut his lips so that the short, reddish-grey beard stuck straight out on them.
"What's he done?"
"What's he done? Well, now, I'll tell you what he's done, Persis, since you think Rogers is such a saint, and that I used him so badly in getting him out of the business. He's been dabbling in every sort of fool thing you can lay your tongue to, — wild-cat stocks, patent-rights, land speculations, oil claims, — till he's run through about everything. But he did have a big milling property out on the line of the P. Y. & X., — saw-mills and grist-mills and lands, — and for the last eight years he's been doing a land-office business with 'em — business that would have made anybody else rich. But you can't make Milton K. Rogers rich, any more than you can fat a hide-bound colt. It ain't in him. He'd run through Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, and Tom Scott rolled into one in less than six months, give him a chance, and come out and want to borrow money of you. Well, he won't borrow any more money of ME; and if he thinks I don't know as much about that milling property as he does he's mistaken. I've taken his mills, but I guess I've got the inside track; Bill's kept me posted; and now I'm going out there to see how I can unload; and I shan't mind a great deal if Rogers is under the load when it's off once."
"I don't understand you, Silas."
"Why, it's just this. The Great Lacustrine & Polar Railroad has leased the P. Y. & X. for ninety-nine years, — bought it, practically, — and it's going to build car-works right by those mills, and it may want them. And Milton K. Rogers knew it when he turned 'em in on me."
"Well, if the road wants them, don't that make the mills valuable? You can get what you ask for them!"
"Can I? The P. Y. & X. is the only road that runs within fifty miles of the mills, and you can't get a foot of lumber nor a pound of flour to market any other way. As long as he had a little local road like the P. Y. & X. to deal with, Rogers could manage; but when it come to a big through line like the G. L. & P., he couldn't stand any chance at all. If such a road as that took a fancy to his mills, do you think it would pay what he asked? No, sir! He would take what the road offered, or else the road would tell him to carry his flour and lumber to market himself."
"And do you suppose he knew the G. L. & P. wanted the mills when he turned them in on you?" asked Mrs. Lapham aghast, and falling helplessly into his alphabetical parlance.
The Colonel laughed scoffingly. "Well, when Milton K. Rogers don't know which side his bread's buttered on! I don't understand," he added thoughtfully, "how he's always letting it fall on the buttered side. But such a man as that is sure to have a screw loose in him somewhere." Mrs. Lapham sat discomfited. All that she could say was, "Well, I want you should ask yourself whether Rogers would ever have gone wrong, or got into these ways of his, if it hadn't been for your forcing him out of the business when you did. I want you should think whether you're not responsible for everything he's done since."
"You go and get that bag of mine ready," said Lapham sullenly. "I guess I can take care of myself. And Milton K. Rogers too," he added.
That evening Corey spent the time after dinner in his own room, with restless excursions to the library, where his mother sat with his father and sisters, and showed no signs of leaving them. At last, in coming down, he encountered her on the stairs, going up. They both stopped consciously.
"I would like to speak with you, mother. I have been waiting to see you alone."
"Come to my room," she said.