"When I think of Jim Millon, I've got to; that's all."
She recalled now that whenever she had brought up the subject of Mrs. Millon and her daughter, he had seemed shy of it, and had dropped it with some guess that they were getting along now. She wondered that she had not thought at once of Mrs. Millon when she saw that memorandum about Mrs. M.; but the woman had passed so entirely out of her life, that she had never dreamt of her in connection with it. Her husband had deceived her, yet her heart was no longer hot against him, but rather tenderly grateful that his deceit was in this sort, and not in that other. All cruel and shameful doubt of him went out of it. She looked at this beautiful girl, who had blossomed out of her knowledge since she saw her last, and she knew that she was only a blossomed weed, of the same worthless root as her mother, and saved, if saved, from the same evil destiny, by the good of her father in her; but so far as the girl and her mother were concerned, Mrs. Lapham knew that her husband was to blame for nothing but his wilful, wrong-headed, kind-heartedness, which her own exactions had turned into deceit. She remained a while, questioning the girl quietly about herself and her mother, and then, with a better mind towards Zerrilla, at least, than she had ever had before, she rose up and went out. There must have been some outer hint of the exhaustion in which the subsidence of her excitement had left her within, for before she had reached the head of the stairs, Corey came towards her.
"Can I be of any use to you, Mrs. Lapham? The Colonel was here just before you came in, on his way to the train."
"Yes, — yes. I didn't know — I thought perhaps I could catch him here. But it don't matter. I wish you would let some one go with me to get a carriage," she begged feebly.
"I'll go with you myself," said the young fellow, ignoring the strangeness in her manner. He offered her his arm in the twilight of the staircase, and she was glad to put her trembling hand through it, and keep it there till he helped her into a hack which he found for her. He gave the driver her direction, and stood looking a little anxiously at her.
"I thank you; I am all right now," she said, and he bade the man drive on.
When she reached home she went to bed, spent with the tumult of her emotions and sick with shame and self-reproach. She understood now, as clearly as if he had told her in as many words, that if he had befriended those worthless jades — the Millons characterised themselves so, even to Mrs. Lapham's remorse — secretly and in defiance of her, it was because he dreaded her blame, which was so sharp and bitter, for what he could not help doing. It consoled her that he had defied her, deceived her; when he came back she should tell him that; and then it flashed upon her that she did not know where he was gone, or whether he would ever come again. If he never came, it would be no more than she deserved; but she sent for Penelope, and tried to give herself hopes of escape from this just penalty.
Lapham had not told his daughter where he was going; she had heard him packing his bag, and had offered to help him; but he had said he could do it best, and had gone off, as he usually did, without taking leave of any one.
"What were you talking about so loud, down in the parlour," she asked her mother, "just before he came up. Is there any new trouble?"
"No; it was nothing."
"I couldn't tell. Once I thought you were laughing." She went about, closing the curtains on account of her mother's headache, and doing awkwardly and imperfectly the things that Irene would have done so skilfully for her comfort.
The day wore away to nightfall, and then Mrs. Lapham said she MUST know. Penelope said there was no one to ask; the clerks would all be gone home, and her mother said yes, there was Mr. Corey; they could send and ask him; he would know.
The girl hesitated. "Very well," she said, then, scarcely above a whisper, and she presently laughed huskily. "Mr. Corey seems fated to come in, somewhere. I guess it's a Providence, mother."
She sent off a note, inquiring whether he could tell her just where her father had expected to be that night; and the answer came quickly back that Corey did not know, but would look up the book-keeper and inquire. This office brought him in person, an hour later, to tell Penelope that the Colonel was to be at Lapham that night and next day.
"He came in from New York, in a great hurry, and rushed off as soon as he could pack his bag," Penelope explained, "and we hadn't a chance to ask him where he was to be to-night. And mother wasn't very well, and — — "
"I thought she wasn't looking well when she was at the office to-day. And so I thought I would come rather than send," Corey explained in his turn.
"Oh, thank you!"
"If there is anything I can do — telegraph Colonel Lapham, or anything?"
"Oh no, thank you; mother's better now. She merely wanted to be sure where he was."
He did not offer to go, upon this conclusion of his business, but hoped he was not keeping her from her mother. She thanked him once again, and said no, that her mother was much better since she had had a cup of tea; and then they looked at each other, and without any apparent exchange of intelligence he remained, and at eleven o'clock he was still there. He was honest in saying he did not know it was so late; but he made no pretence of being sorry, and she took the blame to herself.