It was perfectly true. Any lawyer would have told him the same. He could not help admiring Rogers for his ingenuity, and every selfish interest of his nature joined with many obvious duties to urge him to consent. He did not see why he should refuse. There was no longer a reason. He was standing out alone for nothing, any one else would say. He smoked on as if Rogers were not there, and Rogers remained before the fire as patient as the clock ticking behind his head on the mantel, and showing the gleam of its pendulum beyond his face on either side. But at last he said, "Well?"
"Well," answered Lapham, "you can't expect me to give you an answer to-night, any more than before. You know that what you've said now hasn't changed the thing a bit. I wish it had. The Lord knows, I want to be rid of the property fast enough." "Then why don't you sell to me? Can't you see that you will not be responsible for what happens after you have sold?"
"No, I can't see that; but if I can by morning, I'll sell."
"Why do you expect to know any better by morning? You're wasting time for nothing!" cried Rogers, in his disappointment. "Why are you so particular? When you drove me out of the business you were not so very particular."
Lapham winced. It was certainly ridiculous for man who had once so selfishly consulted his own interests to be stickling now about the rights of others.
"I guess nothing's going to happen overnight," he answered sullenly. "Anyway, I shan't say what I shall do till morning."
"What time can I see you in the morning?"
Rogers buttoned his coat, and went out of the room without another word. Lapham followed him to close the street-door after him.
His wife called down to him from above as he approached the room again, "Well?"
"I've told him I'd let him know in the morning."
"Want I should come down and talk with you?"
"No," answered Lapham, in the proud bitterness which his isolation brought, "you couldn't do any good." He went in and shut the door, and by and by his wife heard him begin walking up and down; and then the rest of the night she lay awake and listened to him walking up and down. But when the first light whitened the window, the words of the Scripture came into her mind: "And there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day . . . . And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me."
She could not ask him anything when they met, but he raised his dull eyes after the first silence, and said, "I don't know what I'm going to say to Rogers."
She could not speak; she did not know what to say, and she saw her husband when she followed him with her eyes from the window, drag heavily down toward the corner, where he was to take, the horse-car.
He arrived rather later than usual at his office, and he found his letters already on his table. There was one, long and official-looking, with a printed letter-heading on the outside, and Lapham had no need to open it in order to know that it was the offer of the Great Lacustrine & Polar Railroad for his mills. But he went mechanically through the verification of his prophetic fear, which was also his sole hope, and then sat looking blankly at it.
Rogers came promptly at the appointed time, and Lapham handed him the letter. He must have taken it all in at a glance, and seen the impossibility of negotiating any further now, even with victims so pliant and willing as those Englishmen.
"You've ruined me!" Rogers broke out. "I haven't a cent left in the world! God help my poor wife!"
He went out, and Lapham remained staring at the door which closed upon him. This was his reward for standing firm for right and justice to his own destruction: to feel like a thief and a murderer.