Among the people who were looking at it were a party who seemed to have run out from dinner in some neighbouring house; the ladies were fantastically wrapped up, as if they had flung on the first things they could seize.
"Isn't it perfectly magnificent!" cried a pretty girl. "I wouldn't have missed it on any account. Thank you so much, Mr. Symington, for bringing us out!"
"Ah, I thought you'd like it," said this Mr. Symington, who must have been the host; "and you can enjoy it without the least compunction, Miss Delano, for I happen to know that the house belongs to a man who could afford to burn one up for you once a year."
"Oh, do you think he would, if I came again?"
"I haven't the least doubt of it. We don't do things by halves in Boston."
"He ought to have had a coat of his noncombustible paint on it," said another gentleman of the party.
Penelope pulled her father away toward the first carriage she could reach of a number that had driven up. "Here, father! get into this."
"No, no; I couldn't ride," he answered heavily, and he walked home in silence. He greeted his wife with, "Well, Persis, our house is gone! And I guess I set it on fire myself;" and while he rummaged among the papers in his desk, still with his coat and hat on, his wife got the facts as she could from Penelope. She did not reproach him. Here was a case in which his self-reproach must be sufficiently sharp without any edge from her. Besides, her mind was full of a terrible thought.
"O Silas," she faltered, "they'll think you set it on fire to get the insurance!"
Lapham was staring at a paper which he held in his hand. "I had a builder's risk on it, but it expired last week. It's a dead loss."
"Oh, thank the merciful Lord!" cried his wife.
"Merciful!" said Lapham. "Well, it's a queer way of showing it."
He went to bed, and fell into the deep sleep which sometimes follows a great moral shock. It was perhaps rather a torpor than a sleep.