"If I had so low an opinion of them all as that, it would make me very unhappy. It's shocking to think of it."
"It is upon the theory of ladies and all young people," said her husband, with a shrug, feeling his way to the matches on the mantel, and then dropping them with a sign, as if recollecting that he must not smoke there. "I've no doubt Tom feels himself an awful sinner. But apparently he's resigned to his sin; he isn't going to give her up."
"I'm glad to say, for the sake of human nature, that SHE isn't resigned — little as I like her," cried Mrs. Corey.
Her husband shrugged again. "Oh, there mustn't be any indecent haste. She will instinctively observe the proprieties. But come, now, Anna! you mustn't pretend to me here, in the sanctuary of home, that practically the human affections don't reconcile themselves to any situation that the human sentiments condemn. Suppose the wrong sister had died: would the right one have had any scruple in marrying Tom, after they had both 'waited a proper time,' as the phrase is?"
"Bromfield, you're shocking!"
"Not more shocking than reality. You may regard this as a second marriage." He looked at her with twinkling eyes, full of the triumph the spectator of his species feels in signal exhibitions of human nature. "Depend upon it, the right sister will be reconciled; the wrong one will be consoled; and all will go merry as a marriage bell — a second marriage bell. Why, it's quite like a romance!" Here he laughed outright again.
"Well," sighed the wife, "I could almost wish the right one, as you call her, would reject Tom, I dislike her so much."
"Ah, now you're talking business, Anna," said her husband, with his hands spread behind the back he turned comfortably to the fire. "The whole Lapham tribe is distasteful to me. As I don't happen to have seen our daughter-in-law elect, I have still the hope — which you're disposed to forbid me — that she may not be quite so unacceptable as the others."
"Do you really feel so, Bromfield?" anxiously inquired his wife.
"Yes — I think I do;" and he sat down, and stretched out his long legs toward the fire.
"But it's very inconsistent of you to oppose the matter now, when you've shown so much indifference up to this time. You've told me, all along, that it was of no use to oppose it."
"So I have. I was convinced of that at the beginning, or my reason was. You know very well that I am equal to any trial, any sacrifice, day after to-morrow; but when it comes to-day it's another thing. As long as this crisis decently kept its distance, I could look at it with an impartial eye; but now that it seems at hand, I find that, while my reason is still acquiescent, my nerves are disposed to — excuse the phrase — kick. I ask myself, what have I done nothing for, all my life, and lived as a gentleman should, upon the earnings of somebody else, in the possession of every polite taste and feeling that adorns leisure, if I'm to come to this at last? And I find no satisfactory answer. I say to myself that I might as well have yielded to the pressure all round me, and gone to work, as Tom has."
Mrs. Corey looked at him forlornly, divining the core of real repugnance that existed in his self-satire.
"I assure you, my dear," he continued, "that the recollection of what I suffered from the Laphams at that dinner of yours is an anguish still. It wasn't their behaviour, — they behaved well enough — or ill enough; but their conversation was terrible. Mrs. Lapham's range was strictly domestic; and when the Colonel got me in the library, he poured mineral paint all over me, till I could have been safely warranted not to crack or scale in any climate. I suppose we shall have to see a good deal of them. They will probably come here every Sunday night to tea. It's a perspective without a vanishing-point."
"It may not be so bad, after all," said his wife; and she suggested for his consolation that he knew very little about the Laphams yet.
He assented to the fact. "I know very little about them, and about my other fellow-beings. I dare say that I should like the Laphams better if I knew them better. But in any case, I resign myself. And we must keep in view the fact that this is mainly Tom's affair, and if his affections have regulated it to his satisfaction, we must be content."
"Oh yes," sighed Mrs. Corey. "And perhaps it won't turn out so badly. It's a great comfort to know that you feel just as I do about it."
"I do," said her husband, "and more too."
It was she and her daughters who would be chiefly annoyed by the Lapham connection; she knew that. But she had to begin to bear the burden by helping her husband to bear his light share of it. To see him so depressed dismayed her, and she might well have reproached him more sharply than she did for showing so much indifference, when she was so anxious, at first. But that would not have served any good end now. She even answered him patiently when he asked her, "What did you say to Tom when he told you it was the other one?"