"Yes, she done right," said Lapham. "It was time for her to come," he added gently.
Then he was silent again, and his wife told him of Corey's having been there, and of his father's and mother's calling. "I guess Pen's concluded to make it up," she said.
"Well, we'll see about that," said Lapham; and now she could no longer forbear to ask him about his affairs.
"I don't know as I've got any right to know anything about it," she said humbly, with remote allusion to her treatment of him. "But I can't help wanting to know. How ARE things going, Si?"
"Bad," he said, pushing his plate from him, and tilting himself back in his chair. "Or they ain't going at all. They've stopped."
"What do you mean, Si?" she persisted, tenderly.
"I've got to the end of my string. To-morrow I shall call a meeting of my creditors, and put myself in their hands. If there's enough left to satisfy them, I'm satisfied." His voice dropped in his throat; he swallowed once or twice, and then did not speak.
"Do you mean that it's all over with you?" she asked fearfully.
He bowed his big head, wrinkled and grizzled; and after awhile he said, "It's hard to realise it; but I guess there ain't any doubt about it." He drew a long breath, and then he explained to her about the West Virginia people, and how he had got an extension of the first time they had given him, and had got a man to go up to Lapham with him and look at the works, — a man that had turned up in New York, and wanted to put money in the business. His money would have enabled Lapham to close with the West Virginians. "The devil was in it, right straight along," said Lapham. "All I had to do was to keep quiet about that other company. It was Rogers and his property right over again. He liked the look of things, and he wanted to go into the business, and he had the money — plenty; it would have saved me with those West Virginia folks. But I had to tell him how I stood. I had to tell him all about it, and what I wanted to do. He began to back water in a minute, and the next morning I saw that it was up with him. He's gone back to New York. I've lost my last chance. Now all I've got to do is to save the pieces."
"Will — will — everything go?" she asked.
"I can't tell, yet. But they shall have a chance at everything — every dollar, every cent. I'm sorry for you, Persis — and the girls."
"Oh, don't talk of US!" She was trying to realise that the simple, rude soul to which her heart clove in her youth, but which she had put to such cruel proof, with her unsparing conscience and her unsparing tongue, had been equal to its ordeals, and had come out unscathed and unstained. He was able in his talk to make so little of them; he hardly seemed to see what they were; he was apparently not proud of them, and certainly not glad; if they were victories of any sort, he bore them with the patience of defeat. His wife wished to praise him, but she did not know how; so she offered him a little reproach, in which alone she touched the cause of her behaviour at parting. "Silas," she asked, after a long gaze at him, "why didn't you tell me you had Jim Millon's girl there?"
"I didn't suppose you'd like it, Persis," he answered. "I did intend to tell you at first, but then I put — I put it off. I thought you'd come round some day, and find it out for yourself."
"I'm punished," said his wife, "for not taking enough interest in your business to even come near it. If we're brought back to the day of small things, I guess it's a lesson for me, Silas."
"Oh, I don't know about the lesson," he said wearily.
That night she showed him the anonymous scrawl which had kindled her fury against him. He turned it listlessly over in his hand. "I guess I know who it's from," he said, giving it back to her, "and I guess you do too, Persis."
"But how — how could he — — "
"Mebbe he believed it," said Lapham, with patience that cut her more keenly than any reproach. "YOU did."
Perhaps because the process of his ruin had been so gradual, perhaps because the excitement of preceding events had exhausted their capacity for emotion, the actual consummation of his bankruptcy brought a relief, a repose to Lapham and his family, rather than a fresh sensation of calamity. In the shadow of his disaster they returned to something like their old, united life; they were at least all together again; and it will be intelligible to those whom life has blessed with vicissitude, that Lapham should come home the evening after he had given up everything, to his creditors, and should sit down to his supper so cheerful that Penelope could joke him in the old way, and tell him that she thought from his looks they had concluded to pay him a hundred cents on every dollar he owed them.