After Lapham went to his business in the morning the postman brought another letter from Irene, which was full of pleasant things that were happening to her; there was a great deal about her cousin Will, as she called him. At the end she had written, "Tell Pen I don't want she should be foolish." "There!" said Mrs. Lapham. "I guess it's going to come out right, all round;" and it seemed as if even the Colonel's difficulties were past. "When your father gets through this, Pen," she asked impulsively, "what shall you do?"
"What have you been telling Irene about me?"
"Nothing much. What should you do?"
"It would be a good deal easier to say what I should do if father didn't," said the girl.
"I know you think it was nice in him to make your father that offer," urged the mother.
"It was nice, yes; but it was silly," said the girl. "Most nice things are silly, I suppose," she added.
She went to her room and wrote a letter. It was very long, and very carefully written; and when she read it over, she tore it into small pieces. She wrote another one, short and hurried, and tore that up too. Then she went back to her mother, in the family room, and asked to see Irene's letter, and read it over to herself. "Yes, she seems to be having a good time," she sighed. "Mother, do you think I ought to let Mr. Corey know that I know about it?"
"Well, I should think it would be a pleasure to him," said Mrs. Lapham judicially.
"I'm not so sure of that the way I should have to tell him. I should begin by giving him a scolding. Of course, he meant well by it, but can't you see that it wasn't very flattering! How did he expect it would change me?"
"I don't believe he ever thought of that."
"Don't you? Why?"
"Because you can see that he isn't one of that kind. He might want to please you without wanting to change you by what he did."
"Yes. He must have known that nothing would change me, — at least, nothing that he could do. I thought of that. I shouldn't like him to feel that I couldn't appreciate it, even if I did think it was silly. Should you write to him?"
"I don't see why not."
"It would be too pointed. No, I shall just let it go. I wish he hadn't done it."
"Well, he has done it." "And I've tried to write to him about it — two letters: one so humble and grateful that it couldn't stand up on its edge, and the other so pert and flippant. Mother, I wish you could have seen those two letters! I wish I had kept them to look at if I ever got to thinking I had any sense again. They would take the conceit out of me."
"What's the reason he don't come here any more?"
"Doesn't he come?" asked Penelope in turn, as if it were something she had not noticed particularly.
"You'd ought to know."
"Yes." She sat silent a while. "If he doesn't come, I suppose it's because he's offended at something I did."
"What did you do?"
"Nothing. I — wrote to him — a little while ago. I suppose it was very blunt, but I didn't believe he would be angry at it. But this — this that he's done shows he was angry, and that he wasn't just seizing the first chance to get out of it."
"What have you done, Pen?" demanded her mother sharply.
"Oh, I don't know. All the mischief in the world, I suppose. I'll tell you. When you first told me that father was in trouble with his business, I wrote to him not to come any more till I let him. I said I couldn't tell him why, and he hasn't been here since. I'm sure I don't know what it means."
Her mother looked at her with angry severity. "Well, Penelope Lapham! For a sensible child, you ARE the greatest goose I ever saw. Did you think he would come here and SEE if you wouldn't let him come?"
"He might have written," urged the girl.
Her mother made that despairing "Tchk!" with her tongue, and fell back in her chair. "I should have DESPISED him if he had written. He's acted just exactly right, and you — you've acted — I don't know HOW you've acted. I'm ashamed of you. A girl that could be so sensible for her sister, and always say and do just the right thing, and then when it comes to herself to be such a DISGUSTING simpleton!"
"I thought I ought to break with him at once, and not let him suppose that there was any hope for him or me if father was poor. It was my one chance, in this whole business, to do anything heroic, and I jumped at it. You mustn't think, because I can laugh at it now, that I wasn't in earnest, mother! I WAS — dead! But the Colonel has gone to ruin so gradually, that he's spoilt everything. I expected that he would be bankrupt the next day, and that then HE would understand what I meant. But to have it drag along for a fortnight seems to take all the heroism out of it, and leave it as flat!" She looked at her mother with a smile that shone through her tears, and a pathos that quivered round her jesting lips. "It's easy enough to be sensible for other people. But when it comes to myself, there I am! Especially, when I want to do what I oughtn't so much that it seems as if doing what I didn't want to do MUST be doing what I ought! But it's been a great success one way, mother. It's helped me to keep up before the Colonel. If it hadn't been for Mr. Corey's staying away, and my feeling so indignant with him for having been badly treated by me, I shouldn't have been worth anything at all."