"I don't care what becomes of the hands," cried Lapham. "They've shared my luck; now let 'em share the other thing. And if you're so very sorry for the hands, I wish you'd keep a little of your pity for ME. Don't you know what shutting down the Works means?"
"Yes, indeed I do, Silas," said his wife tenderly.
"Well, then!" He rose, leaving his supper untasted, and went into the sitting-room, where she presently found him, with that everlasting confusion of papers before him on the desk. That made her think of the paper in her work-basket, and she decided not to make the careworn, distracted man ask her for it, after all. She brought it to him.
He glanced blankly at it and then caught it from her, turning red and looking foolish. "Where'd you get that?"
"You dropped it on the floor the other night, and I picked it up. Who is 'Wm. M.'?"
"'Wm. M.'!" he repeated, looking confusedly at her, and then at the paper. "Oh, — it's nothing." He tore the paper into small pieces, and went and dropped them into the fire. When Mrs. Lapham came into the room in the morning, before he was down, she found a scrap of the paper, which must have fluttered to the hearth; and glancing at it she saw that the words were "Mrs. M." She wondered what dealings with a woman her husband could have, and she remembered the confusion he had shown about the paper, and which she had thought was because she had surprised one of his business secrets. She was still thinking of it when he came down to breakfast, heavy-eyed, tremulous, with deep seams and wrinkles in his face.
After a silence which he did not seem inclined to break, "Silas," she asked, "who is 'Mrs. M.'?"
He stared at her. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't you?" she returned mockingly. "When you do, you tell me. Do you want any more coffee?"
"Well, then, you can ring for Alice when you've finished. I've got some things to attend to." She rose abruptly, and left the room. Lapham looked after her in a dull way, and then went on with his breakfast. While he still sat at his coffee, she flung into the room again, and dashed some papers down beside his plate. "Here are some more things of yours, and I'll thank you to lock them up in your desk and not litter my room with them, if you please." Now he saw that she was angry, and it must be with him. It enraged him that in such a time of trouble she should fly out at him in that way. He left the house without trying to speak to her. That day Corey came just before closing, and, knocking at Lapham's door, asked if he could speak with him a few moments.
"Yes," said Lapham, wheeling round in his swivel-chair and kicking another towards Corey. "Sit down. I want to talk to you. I'd ought to tell you you're wasting your time here. I spoke the other day about your placin' yourself better, and I can help you to do it, yet. There ain't going to be the out-come for the paint in the foreign markets that we expected, and I guess you better give it up."
"I don't wish to give it up," said the young fellow, setting his lips. "I've as much faith in it as ever; and I want to propose now what I hinted at in the first place. I want to put some money into the business."
"Some money!" Lapham leaned towards him, and frowned as if he had not quite understood, while he clutched the arms of his chair.
"I've got about thirty thousand dollars that I could put in, and if you don't want to consider me a partner — I remember that you objected to a partner — you can let me regard it as an investment. But I think I see the way to doing something at once in Mexico, and I should like to feel that I had something more than a drummer's interest in the venture."
The men sat looking into each other's eyes. Then Lapham leaned back in his chair, and rubbed his hand hard and slowly over his face. His features were still twisted with some strong emotion when he took it away. "Your family know about this?"
"My Uncle James knows."
"He thinks it would be a good plan for you?"
"He thought that by this time I ought to be able to trust my own judgment."
"Do you suppose I could see your uncle at his office?"
"I imagine he's there."
"Well, I want to have a talk with him, one of these days." He sat pondering a while, and then rose, and went with Corey to his door. "I guess I shan't change my mind about taking you into the business in that way," he said coldly. "If there was any reason why I shouldn't at first, there's more now."