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"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.

As James Bellingham had taken so much interest in his
troubles from the first, Lapham thought he ought to tell him,
before taking the final step, just how things stood with him,
and what ho meant to do. Bellingham made some futile
inquiries about his negotiations with the West Virginians,
and Lapham told him they had come to nothing. He spoke
of the New York man, and the chance that he might have
sold out half his business to him. "But, of course,
I had to let him know how it was about those fellows."

"Of course," said Bellingham, not seeing till afterwards
the full significance of Lapham's action.

Lapham said nothing about Rogers and the Englishmen.
He believed that he had acted right in that matter, and he
was satisfied; but he did not care to have Bellingham,
or anybody, perhaps, think he had been a fool.

All those who were concerned in his affairs said he behaved well,
and even more than well, when it came to the worst.
The prudence, the good sense, which he had shown in the first
years of his success, and of which his great prosperity
seemed to have bereft him, came back, and these qualities,
used in his own behalf, commended him as much to his creditors
as the anxiety he showed that no one should suffer by him;
this even made some of them doubtful of his sincerity.
They gave him time, and there would have been no trouble
in his resuming on the old basis, if the ground had not
been cut from under him by the competition of the West
Virginia company. He saw himself that it was useless
to try to go on in the old way, and he preferred to go
back and begin the world anew where he had first begun it,
in the hills at Lapham. He put the house at Nankeen Square,
with everything else he had, into the payment of his debts,
and Mrs. Lapham found it easier to leave it for the old
farmstead in Vermont than it would have been to go from
that home of many years to the new house on the water
side of Beacon. This thing and that is embittered to us,
so that we may be willing to relinquish it; the world,
life itself, is embittered to most of us, so that we
are glad to have done with them at last; and this home
was haunted with such memories to each of those who
abandoned it that to go was less exile than escape.
Mrs. Lapham could not look into Irene's room without seeing
the girl there before her glass, tearing the poor little
keep-sakes of her hapless fancy from their hiding-places
to take them and fling them in passionate renunciation
upon her sister; she could not come into the sitting-room,
where her little ones had grown up, without starting at
the thought of her husband sitting so many weary nights
at his desk there, trying to fight his way back to hope
out of the ruin into which he was slipping. When she
remembered that night when Rogers came, she hated the place.
Irene accepted her release from the house eagerly, and was
glad to go before and prepare for the family at Lapham.
Penelope was always ashamed of her engagement there; it must
seem better somewhere else and she was glad to go too.
No one but Lapham in fact, felt the pang of parting
in all its keenness. Whatever regret the others had
was softened to them by the likeness of their flitting
to many of those removals for the summer which they
made in the late spring when they left Nankeen Square;
they were going directly into the country instead of to
the seaside first; but Lapham, who usually remained in
town long after they had gone, knew all the difference.
For his nerves there was no mechanical sense of coming back;
this was as much the end of his proud, prosperous life
as death itself could have been. He was returning to
begin life anew, but he knew as well as he knew that he
should not find his vanished youth in his native hills,
that it could never again be the triumph that it had been.
That was impossible, not only in his stiffened and
weakened forces, but in the very nature of things.
He was going back, by grace of the man whom he owed money,
to make what he could out of the one chance which his
successful rivals had left him.

In one phase his paint had held its own against bad
times and ruinous competition, and it was with the hope
of doing still more with the Persis Brand that he now set
himself to work. The West Virginia people confessed
that they could not produce those fine grades, and they
willingly left the field to him. A strange, not ignoble
friendliness existed between Lapham and the three brothers;
they had used him fairly; it was their facilities that had
conquered him, not their ill-will; and he recognised in them
without enmity the necessity to which he had yielded.
If he succeeded in his efforts to develop his paint
in this direction, it must be for a long time on a small
scale compared with his former business, which it could
never equal, and he brought to them the flagging energies
of an elderly man. He was more broken than he knew
by his failure; it did not kill, as it often does, but it
weakened the spring once so strong and elastic. He lapsed
more and more into acquiescence with his changed condition,
and that bragging note of his was rarely sounded.
He worked faithfully enough in his enterprise, but sometimes
he failed to seize occasions that in his younger days
he would have turned to golden account. His wife saw
in him a daunted look that made her heart ache for him.

One result of his friendly relations with the West
Virginia people was that Corey went in with them,
and the fact that he did so solely upon Lapham's advice,
and by means of his recommendation, was perhaps the Colonel's
proudest consolation. Corey knew the business thoroughly,
and after half a year at Kanawha Falls and in the office
at New York, he went out to Mexico and Central America,
to see what could be done for them upon the ground which he
had theoretically studied with Lapham.

Before he went he came up to Vermont, and urged Penelope
to go with him. He was to be first in the city
of Mexico, and if his mission was successful he was
to be kept there and in South America several years,
watching the new railroad enterprises and the development
of mechanical agriculture and whatever other undertakings
offered an opening for the introduction of the paint.
They were all young men together, and Corey, who had put
his money into the company, had a proprietary interest
in the success which they were eager to achieve.

"There's no more reason now and no less than ever there was,"
mused Penelope, in counsel with her mother, "why I should
say Yes, or why I should say No. Everything else changes,
but this is just where it was a year ago. It don't
go backward, and it don't go forward. Mother, I believe
I shall take the bit in my teeth--if anybody will put
it there!"

"It isn't the same as it was," suggested her mother.
"You can see that Irene's all over it."

"That's no credit to me," said Penelope. "I ought to be
just as much ashamed as ever."

"You no need ever to be ashamed."

"That's true, too," said the girl. "And I can sneak
off to Mexico with a good conscience if I could make
up my mind to it." She laughed. "Well, if I could be
SENTENCED to be married, or somebody would up and forbid
the banns! I don't know what to do about it."

Her mother left her to carry her hesitation back to Corey,
and she said now, they had better go all over it and try
to reason it out. "And I hope that whatever I do,
it won't be for my own sake, but for--others!"

Corey said he was sure of that, and looked at her with
eyes of patient tenderness.

"I don't say it is wrong," she proceeded, rather aimlessly,
"but I can't make it seem right. I don't know whether
I can make you understand, but the idea of being happy,
when everybody else is so miserable, is more than I
can endure. It makes me wretched."

"Then perhaps that's your share of the common suffering,"
suggested Corey, smiling.

"Oh, you know it isn't! You know it's nothing.
Oh! One of the reasons is what I told you once before,
that as long as father is in trouble I can't let you
think of me. Now that he's lost everything--?" She bent
her eyes inquiringly upon him, as if for the effect
of this argument.

"I don't think that's a very good reason," he answered seriously,
but smiling still. "Do you believe me when I tell you that I love you?"

"Why, I suppose I must," she said, dropping her eyes.

"Then why shouldn't I think all the more of you on account
of your father's loss? You didn't suppose I cared for you
because he was prosperous?"

There was a shade of reproach, ever so delicate and gentle,
in his smiling question, which she felt.

"No, I couldn't think such a thing of you. I--I don't
know what I meant. I meant that----" She could not go
on and say that she had felt herself more worthy of him
because of her father's money; it would not have been true;
yet there was no other explanation. She stopped, and cast
a helpless glance at him.

He came to her aid. "I understand why you shouldn't wish
me to suffer by your father's misfortunes."

"Yes, that was it; and there is too great a difference
every way. We ought to look at that again. You mustn't
pretend that you don't know it, for that wouldn't be true.
Your mother will never like me, and perhaps--perhaps I
shall not like her."

"Well," said Corey, a little daunted, "you won't have
to marry my family."

"Ah, that isn't the point!"

"I know it," he admitted. "I won't pretend that I don't
see what you mean; but I'm sure that all the differences
would disappear when you came to know my family better.
I'm not afraid but you and my mother will like each
other--she can't help it!" he exclaimed, less judicially
than he had hitherto spoken, and he went on to urge
some points of doubtful tenability. "We have our ways,
and you have yours; and while I don't say but what you
and my mother and sisters would be a little strange
together at first, it would soon wear off, on both sides.
There can't be anything hopelessly different in you all,
and if there were it wouldn't be any difference to me."

"Do you think it would be pleasant to have you on my side
against your mother?"

"There won't be any sides. Tell me just what it is you're
afraid of."


"Thinking of, then."

"I don't know. It isn't anything they say or do,"
she explained, with her eyes intent on his. "It's what
they are. I couldn't be natural with them, and if I
can't be natural with people, I'm disagreeable."

"Can you be natural with me?"

"Oh, I'm not afraid of you. I never was. That was
the trouble, from the beginning."

"Well, then, that's all that's necessary. And it never
was the least trouble to me!"

"It made me untrue to Irene."

"You mustn't say that! You were always true to her."

"She cared for you first."

"Well, but I never cared for her at all!" he besought her.

"She thought you did."

"That was nobody's fault, and I can't let you make it yours.
My dear----"

"Wait. We must understand each other," said Penelope,
rising from her seat to prevent an advance he was making
from his; "I want you to realise the whole affair.
Should you want a girl who hadn't a cent in the world,
and felt different in your mother's company, and had cheated
and betrayed her own sister?"

"I want you!"

"Very well, then, you can't have me. I should always
despise myself. I ought to give you up for all
these reasons. Yes, I must." She looked at him intently,
and there was a tentative quality in her affirmations.

"Is this your answer?" he said. "I must submit.
If I asked too much of you, I was wrong. And--good-bye."

He held out his hand, and she put hers in it.
"You think I'm capricious and fickle!" she said.
"I can't help it--I don't know myself. I can't keep to one
thing for half a day at a time. But it's right for us
to part--yes, it must be. It must be," she repeated;
"and I shall try to remember that. Good-bye! I will try
to keep that in my mind, and you will too--you won't care,
very soon! I didn't mean THAT--no; I know how true you are;
but you will soon look at me differently; and see that
even IF there hadn't been this about Irene, I was not the
one for you. You do think so, don't you?" she pleaded,
clinging to his hand. "I am not at all what they would
like--your family; I felt that. I am little, and black,
and homely, and they don't understand my way of talking,
and now that we've lost everything--No, I'm not fit.
Good-bye. You're quite right, not to have patience with
me any longer. I've tried you enough. I ought to be
willing to marry you against their wishes if you want
me to, but I can't make the sacrifice--I'm too selfish
for that----" All at once she flung herself on his breast.
"I can't even give you up! I shall never dare look any
one in the face again. Go, go! But take me with you! I
tried to do without you! I gave it a fair trial, and it
was a dead failure. O poor Irene! How could she give
you up?"

Corey went back to Boston immediately, and left Penelope,
as he must, to tell her sister that they were to be married.
She was spared from the first advance toward this by an
accident or a misunderstanding. Irene came straight to
her after Corey was gone, and demanded, "Penelope Lapham,
have you been such a ninny as to send that man away on
my account?"

Penelope recoiled from this terrible courage; she did
not answer directly, and Irene went on, "Because if
you did, I'll thank you to bring him back again.
I'm not going to have him thinking that I'm dying
for a man that never cared for me. It's insulting,
and I'm not going to stand it. Now, you just send for him!"

"Oh, I will, 'Rene," gasped Penelope. And then she added,
shamed out of her prevarication by Irene's haughty magnanimity,
"I have. That is--he's coming back----"

Irene looked at her a moment, and then, whatever thought
was in her mind, said fiercely, "Well!" and left her to
her dismay--her dismay and her relief, for they both knew
that this was the last time they should ever speak of that again.

The marriage came after so much sorrow and trouble,
and the fact was received with so much misgiving for the past
and future, that it brought Lapham none of the triumph
in which he had once exulted at the thought of an alliance
with the Coreys. Adversity had so far been his friend
that it had taken from him all hope of the social success
for which people crawl and truckle, and restored him,
through failure and doubt and heartache, the manhood
which his prosperity had so nearly stolen from him.
Neither he nor his wife thought now that their daughter
was marrying a Corey; they thought only that she was giving
herself to the man who loved her, and their acquiescence
was sobered still further by the presence of Irene.
Their hearts were far more with her.

Again and again Mrs. Lapham said she did not see how she
could go through it. "I can't make it seem right,"
she said.

"It IS right," steadily answered the Colonel.

"Yes, I know. But it don't SEEM so."

It would be easy to point out traits in Penelope's character
which finally reconciled all her husband's family and endeared
her to them. These things continually happen in novels;
and the Coreys, as they had always promised themselves
to do, made the best, and not the worst of Tom's marriage.

They were people who could value Lapham's behaviour
as Tom reported it to them. They were proud of him,
and Bromfield Corey, who found a delicate, aesthetic pleasure
in the heroism with which Lapham had withstood Rogers
and his temptations--something finely dramatic and
unconsciously effective,--wrote him a letter which would
once have flattered the rough soul almost to ecstasy,
though now he affected to slight it in showing it.
"It's all right if it makes it more comfortable for Pen,"
he said to his wife.

But the differences remained uneffaced, if not uneffaceable,
between the Coreys and Tom Corey's wife. "If he had only
married the Colonel!" subtly suggested Nanny Corey.

There was a brief season of civility and forbearance
on both sides, when he brought her home before starting
for Mexico, and her father-in-law made a sympathetic feint
of liking Penelope's way of talking, but it is questionable
if even he found it so delightful as her husband did.
Lily Corey made a little, ineffectual sketch of her,
which she put by with other studies to finish up,
sometime, and found her rather picturesque in some ways.
Nanny got on with her better than the rest, and saw
possibilities for her in the country to which she was going.
"As she's quite unformed, socially," she explained to
her mother, "there is a chance that she will form herself
on the Spanish manner, if she stays there long enough,
and that when she comes back she will have the charm of,
not olives, perhaps, but tortillas, whatever they are:
something strange and foreign, even if it's borrowed.
I'm glad she's going to Mexico. At that distance
we can--correspond."

Her mother sighed, and said bravely that she was sure
they all got on very pleasantly as it was, and that she
was perfectly satisfied if Tom was.

There was, in fact, much truth in what she said of their
harmony with Penelope. Having resolved, from the beginning,
to make the best of the worst, it might almost be said
that they were supported and consoled in their good
intentions by a higher power. This marriage had not,
thanks to an over-ruling Providence, brought the succession
of Lapham teas upon Bromfield Corey which he had dreaded;
the Laphams were far off in their native fastnesses,
and neither Lily nor Nanny Corey was obliged to sacrifice
herself to the conversation of Irene; they were not even
called upon to make a social demonstration for Penelope
at a time when, most people being still out of town,
it would have been so easy; she and Tom had both begged
that there might be nothing of that kind; and though none
of the Coreys learned to know her very well in the week
she spent with them, they did not find it hard to get
on with her. There were even moments when Nanny Corey,
like her father, had glimpses of what Tom had called
her humour, but it was perhaps too unlike their own to be
easily recognisable.

Whether Penelope, on her side, found it more difficult
to harmonise, I cannot say. She had much more of the
harmonising to do, since they were four to one; but then
she had gone through so much greater trials before.
When the door of their carriage closed and it drove off
with her and her husband to the station, she fetched
a long sigh.

"What is it?" asked Corey, who ought to have known better.

"Oh, nothing. I don't think I shall feel strange amongst
the Mexicans now."

He looked at her with a puzzled smile, which grew a
little graver, and then he put his arm round her and drew
her closer to him. This made her cry on his shoulder.
"I only meant that I should have you all to myself."
There is no proof that she meant more, but it is certain
that our manners and customs go for more in life than
our qualities. The price that we pay for civilisation
is the fine yet impassable differentiation of these.
Perhaps we pay too much; but it will not be possible
to persuade those who have the difference in their favour
that this is so. They may be right; and at any rate,
the blank misgiving, the recurring sense of disappointment
to which the young people's departure left the Coreys
is to be considered. That was the end of their son and
brother for them; they felt that; and they were not mean
or unamiable people.

He remained three years away. Some changes took place
in that time. One of these was the purchase by the
Kanawha Falls Company of the mines and works at Lapham.
The transfer relieved Lapham of the load of debt which he
was still labouring under, and gave him an interest
in the vaster enterprise of the younger men, which he had
once vainly hoped to grasp all in his own hand. He began
to tell of this coincidence as something very striking;
and pushing on more actively the special branch of the
business left to him, he bragged, quite in his old way,
of its enormous extension. His son-in-law, he said,
was pushing it in Mexico and Central America: an idea that
they had originally had in common. Well, young blood was
what was wanted in a thing of that kind. Now, those fellows
out in West Virginia: all young, and a perfect team!

For himself, he owned that he had made mistakes; he could see
just where the mistakes were--put his finger right on them.
But one thing he could say: he had been no man's enemy but
his own; every dollar, every cent had gone to pay his debts;
he had come out with clean hands. He said all this,
and much more, to Mr. Sewell the summer after he sold out,
when the minister and his wife stopped at Lapham on their
way across from the White Mountains to Lake Champlain;
Lapham had found them on the cars, and pressed them to
stop off.

There were times when Mrs. Lapham had as great pride in
the clean-handedness with which Lapham had come out as he
had himself, but her satisfaction was not so constant.
At those times, knowing the temptations he had resisted,
she thought him the noblest and grandest of men; but no woman
could endure to live in the same house with a perfect hero,
and there were other times when she reminded him that if he
had kept his word to her about speculating in stocks,
and had looked after the insurance of his property half
as carefully as he had looked after a couple of worthless
women who had no earthly claim on him, they would not
be where they were now. He humbly admitted it all,
and left her to think of Rogers herself. She did not fail
to do so, and the thought did not fail to restore him
to her tenderness again.

I do not know how it is that clergymen and physicians keep
from telling their wives the secrets confided to them;
perhaps they can trust their wives to find them out
for themselves whenever they wish. Sewell had laid
before his wife the case of the Laphams after they came
to consult with him about Corey's proposal to Penelope,
for he wished to be confirmed in his belief that he had
advised them soundly; but he had not given her their names,
and he had not known Corey's himself. Now he had no
compunctions in talking the affair over with her without
the veil of ignorance which she had hitherto assumed,
for she declared that as soon as she heard of Corey's
engagement to Penelope, the whole thing had flashed upon her.
"And that night at dinner I could have told the child
that he was in love with her sister by the way he talked
about her; I heard him; and if she had not been so blindly
in love with him herself, she would have known it too.
I must say, I can't help feeling a sort of contempt for
her sister."

"Oh, but you must not!" cried Sewell. "That is wrong,
cruelly wrong. I'm sure that's out of your novel-reading,
my dear, and not out of your heart. Come! It grieves me
to hear you say such a thing as that."

"Oh, I dare say this pretty thing has got over it--how
much character she has got!--and I suppose she'll see
somebody else."

Sewell had to content himself with this partial concession.
As a matter of fact, unless it was the young West Virginian
who had come on to arrange the purchase of the Works,
Irene had not yet seen any one, and whether there was
ever anything between them is a fact that would need
a separate inquiry. It is certain that at the end of five
years after the disappointment which she met so bravely,
she was still unmarried. But she was even then still
very young, and her life at Lapham had been varied by visits
to the West. It had also been varied by an invitation,
made with the politest resolution by Mrs. Corey, to visit
in Boston, which the girl was equal to refusing in the
same spirit.

Sewell was intensely interested in the moral spectacle
which Lapham presented under his changed conditions.
The Colonel, who was more the Colonel in those hills
than he could ever have been on the Back Bay, kept him
and Mrs. Sewell over night at his house; and he showed
the minister minutely round the Works and drove him all
over his farm. For this expedition he employed a lively
colt which had not yet come of age, and an open buggy long
past its prime, and was no more ashamed of his turnout
than of the finest he had ever driven on the Milldam.
He was rather shabby and slovenly in dress, and he had
fallen unkempt, after the country fashion, as to his
hair and beard and boots. The house was plain, and was
furnished with the simpler moveables out of the house in
Nankeen Square. There were certainly all the necessaries,
but no luxuries unless the statues of Prayer and Faith
might be so considered. The Laphams now burned kerosene,
of course, and they had no furnace in the winter;
these were the only hardships the Colonel complained of;
but he said that as soon as the company got to paying
dividends again,--he was evidently proud of the outlays
that for the present prevented this,--he should put in steam
heat and naphtha-gas. He spoke freely of his failure,
and with a confidence that seemed inspired by his former trust
in Sewell, whom, indeed, he treated like an intimate friend,
rather than an acquaintance of two or three meetings.
He went back to his first connection with Rogers, and he put
before Sewell hypothetically his own conclusions in regard
to the matter.

"Sometimes," he said, "I get to thinking it all over,
and it seems to me I done wrong about Rogers in the
first place; that the whole trouble came from that.
It was just like starting a row of bricks. I tried to
catch up and stop 'em from going, but they all tumbled,
one after another. It wa'n't in the nature of things
that they could be stopped till the last brick went.
I don't talk much with my wife, any more about it; but I
should like to know how it strikes you."

"We can trace the operation of evil in the physical world,"
replied the minister, "but I'm more and more puzzled
about it in the moral world. There its course is often
so very obscure; and often it seems to involve, so far
as we can see, no penalty whatever. And in your own case,
as I understand, you don't admit--you don't feel sure--that
you ever actually did wrong this man----"

"Well, no; I don't. That is to say----"

He did not continue, and after a while Sewell said,
with that subtle kindness of his, "I should be inclined
to think--nothing can be thrown quite away; and it can't
be that our sins only weaken us--that your fear of having
possibly behaved selfishly toward this man kept you on
your guard, and strengthened you when you were brought face
to face with a greater"--he was going to say temptation,
but he saved Lapham's pride, and said--"emergency."

"Do you think so?"

"I think that there may be truth in what I suggest."

"Well, I don't know what it was," said Lapham; "all I
know is that when it came to the point, although I could
see that I'd got to go under unless I did it--that I
couldn't sell out to those Englishmen, and I couldn't
let that man put his money into my business without
I told him just how things stood."

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