Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 21 out of 78
"Oh! I'm sorry," said Mrs. Corey. "I had hoped to see her.
And your other daughter, whom I never met?"
"Penelope?" asked Mrs. Lapham, eased a little. "She is
at home. I will go and call her." The Laphams had not yet
thought of spending their superfluity on servants who
could be rung for; they kept two girls and a man to look
after the furnace, as they had for the last ten years.
If Mrs. Lapham had rung in the parlour, her second girl
would have gone to the street door to see who was there.
She went upstairs for Penelope herself, and the girl,
after some rebellious derision, returned with her.
Mrs. Corey took account of her, as Penelope withdrew
to the other side of the room after their introduction,
and sat down, indolently submissive on the surface
to the tests to be applied, and following Mrs. Corey's
lead of the conversation in her odd drawl.
"You young ladies will be glad to be getting into your
new house," she said politely.
"I don't know," said Penelope. "We're so used to this one."
Mrs. Corey looked a little baffled, but she said sympathetically,
"Of course, you will be sorry to leave your old home."
Mrs. Lapham could not help putting in on behalf of her
daughters: "I guess if it was left to the girls to say,
we shouldn't leave it at all."
"Oh, indeed!" said Mrs. Corey; "are they so much attached?
But I can quite understand it. My children would be
heart-broken too if we were to leave the old place."
She turned to Penelope. "But you must think of the lovely
new house, and the beautiful position."
"Yes, I suppose we shall get used to them too,"
said Penelope, in response to this didactic consolation.
"Oh, I could even imagine your getting very fond of them,"
pursued Mrs. Corey patronisingly. "My son has told me
of the lovely outlook you're to have over the water.
He thinks you have such a beautiful house. I believe he
had the pleasure of meeting you all there when he first
"Yes, I think he was our first visitor."
"He is a great admirer of your house," said Mrs. Corey,
keeping her eyes very sharply, however politely,
on Penelope's face, as if to surprise there the secret
of any other great admiration of her son's that might
helplessly show itself.
"Yes," said the girl, "he's been there several times
with father; and he wouldn't be allowed to overlook
any of its good points."
Her mother took a little more courage from her daughter's tranquillity.
"The girls make such fun of their father's excitement
about his building, and the way he talks it into everybody."
"Oh, indeed!" said Mrs. Corey, with civil misunderstanding
Penelope flushed, and her mother went on: "I tell him
he's more of a child about it than any of them."
"Young people are very philosophical nowadays,"
remarked Mrs. Corey.
"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Lapham. "I tell them they've always
had everything, so that nothing's a surprise to them.
It was different with us in our young days."
"Yes," said Mrs. Corey, without assenting.
"I mean the Colonel and myself," explained Mrs. Lapham.
"Oh yes--yes!" said Mrs. Corey.
"I'm sure," the former went on, rather helplessly,
"we had to work hard enough for everything we got.
And so we appreciated it."
"So many things were not done for young people then,"
said Mrs. Corey, not recognising the early-hardships
standpoint of Mrs. Lapham. "But I don't know that they
are always the better for it now," she added vaguely,
but with the satisfaction we all feel in uttering a
"It's rather hard living up to blessings that you've
always had," said Penelope.
"Yes," replied Mrs. Corey distractedly, and coming back
to her slowly from the virtuous distance to which she had
absented herself. She looked at the girl searchingly again,
as if to determine whether this were a touch of the
drolling her son had spoken of. But she only added:
"You will enjoy the sunsets on the Back Bay so much."
"Well, not unless they're new ones," said Penelope.
"I don't believe I could promise to enjoy any sunsets
that I was used to, a great deal."
Mrs. Corey looked at her with misgiving, hardening
into dislike. "No," she breathed vaguely. "My son
spoke of the fine effect of the lights about the hotel
from your cottage at Nantasket," she said to Mrs. Lapham.
"Yes, they're splendid!" exclaimed that lady. "I guess
the girls went down every night with him to see them
from the rocks."
"Yes," said Mrs. Corey, a little dryly; and she permitted
herself to add: "He spoke of those rocks. I suppose both
you young ladies spend a great deal of your time on them
when you're there. At Nahant my children were constantly on them."
"Irene likes the rocks," said Penelope. "I don't care
much about them,--especially at night."
"Oh, indeed! I suppose you find it quite as well looking
at the lights comfortably from the veranda."
"No; you can't see them from the house."
"Oh," said Mrs. Corey. After a perceptible pause,
she turned to Mrs. Lapham. "I don't know what my son
would have done for a breath of sea air this summer,
if you had not allowed him to come to Nantasket.
He wasn't willing to leave his business long enough to go
"Yes, he's a born business man," responded Mrs. Lapham
enthusiastically. "If it's born in you, it's bound to come out.
That's what the Colonel is always saying about Mr. Corey.
He says it's born in him to be a business man, and he
can't help it." She recurred to Corey gladly because she
felt that she had not said enough of him when his mother
first spoke of his connection with the business.
"I don't believe," she went on excitedly, "that Colonel
Lapham has ever had anybody with him that he thought more of."
"You have all been very kind to my son," said Mrs. Corey
in acknowledgment, and stiffly bowing a little, "and we
feel greatly indebted to you. Very much so." At these
grateful expressions Mrs. Lapham reddened once more,
and murmured that it had been very pleasant to them,
she was sure. She glanced at her daughter for support,
but Penelope was looking at Mrs. Corey, who doubtless saw
her from the corner of her eyes, though she went on speaking
to her mother.
"I was sorry to hear from him that Mr.--Colonel?--Lapham
had not been quite well this summer. I hope he's better now?"
"Oh yes, indeed," replied Mrs. Lapham; "he's all right now.
He's hardly ever been sick, and he don't know how to take
care of himself. That's all. We don't any of us;
we're all so well."
"Health is a great blessing," sighed Mrs. Corey.
"Yes, so it is. How is your oldest daughter?"
inquired Mrs. Lapham. "Is she as delicate as ever?"
"She seems to be rather better since we returned." And now
Mrs. Corey, as if forced to the point, said bunglingly
that the young ladies had wished to come with her,
but had been detained. She based her statement upon
Nanny's sarcastic demand; and, perhaps seeing it topple
a little, she rose hastily, to get away from its fall.
"But we shall hope for some--some other occasion,"
she said vaguely, and she put on a parting smile,
and shook hands with Mrs. Lapham and Penelope, and then,
after some lingering commonplaces, got herself out of
Penelope and her mother were still looking at each other,
and trying to grapple with the effect or purport of the visit,
when Irene burst in upon them from the outside.
"O mamma! wasn't that Mrs. Corey's carriage just drove away?"
Penelope answered with her laugh. "Yes! You've just missed
the most delightful call, 'Rene. So easy and pleasant
every way. Not a bit stiff! Mrs. Corey was so friendly!
She didn't make one feel at all as if she'd bought me,
and thought she'd given too much; and mother held up
her head as if she were all wool and a yard wide,
and she would just like to have anybody deny it."
In a few touches of mimicry she dashed off a sketch
of the scene: her mother's trepidation, and Mrs. Corey's
well-bred repose and polite scrutiny of them both.
She ended by showing how she herself had sat huddled up
in a dark corner, mute with fear.
"If she came to make us say and do the wrong thing,
she must have gone away happy; and it's a pity you weren't
here to help, Irene. I don't know that I aimed to make
a bad impression, but I guess I succeeded--even beyond
my deserts." She laughed; then suddenly she flashed out
in fierce earnest. "If I missed doing anything that could
make me as hateful to her as she made herself to me----"
She checked herself, and began to laugh. Her laugh broke,
and the tears started into her eyes; she ran out of the room,
and up the stairs.
"What--what does it mean?" asked Irene in a daze.
Mrs. Lapham was still in the chilly torpor to which
Mrs. Corey's call had reduced her. Penelope's vehemence
did not rouse her. She only shook her head absently,
and said, "I don't know."
"Why should Pen care what impression she made? I didn't
suppose it would make any difference to her whether
Mrs. Corey liked her or not."
"I didn't, either. But I could see that she was just
as nervous as she could be, every minute of the time.
I guess she didn't like Mrs. Corey any too well from
the start, and she couldn't seem to act like herself."
"Tell me about it, mamma," said Irene, dropping into
Mrs. Corey described the interview to her husband on
her return home. "Well, and what are your inferences?"
"They were extremely embarrassed and excited--that is,
the mother. I don't wish to do her injustice, but she
certainly behaved consciously."
"You made her feel so, I dare say, Anna. I can imagine
how terrible you must have been in the character
of an accusing spirit, too lady-like to say anything.
What did you hint?"
"I hinted nothing," said Mrs. Corey, descending to
the weakness of defending herself. "But I saw quite
enough to convince me that the girl is in love with Tom,
and the mother knows it."
"That was very unsatisfactory. I supposed you went
to find out whether Tom was in love with the girl.
Was she as pretty as ever?"
"I didn't see her; she was not at home; I saw her sister."
"I don't know that I follow you quite, Anna. But no matter.
What was the sister like?"
"A thoroughly disagreeable young woman."
"What did she do?"
"Nothing. She's far too sly for that. But that was
"Then you didn't find her so amusing as Tom does?"
"I found her pert. There's no other word for it.
She says things to puzzle you and put you out."
"Ah, that was worse than pert, Anna; that was criminal.
Well, let us thank heaven the younger one is so pretty."
Mrs. Corey did not reply directly. "Bromfield," she said,
after a moment of troubled silence, "I have been thinking
over your plan, and I don't see why it isn't the right thing."
"What is my plan?" inquired Bromfield Corey.
Her husband began to laugh. "Ah, you overdid the
accusing-spirit business, and this is reparation."
But Mrs. Corey hurried on, with combined dignity and anxiety--
"We can't ignore Tom's intimacy with them--it amounts
to that; it will probably continue even if it's merely
a fancy, and we must seem to know it; whatever comes
of it, we can't disown it. They are very simple,
unfashionable people, and unworldly; but I can't say
that they are offensive, unless--unless," she added,
in propitiation of her husband's smile, "unless the
father--how did you find the father?" she implored.
"He will be very entertaining," said Corey, "if you start
him on his paint. What was the disagreeable daughter
like? Shall you have her?"
"She's little and dark. We must have them all,"
Mrs. Corey sighed. "Then you don't think a dinner would do?"
"Oh yes, I do. As you say, we can't disown Tom's
relation to them, whatever it is. We had much better
recognise it, and make the best of the inevitable.
I think a Lapham dinner would be delightful." He looked
at her with delicate irony in his voice and smile,
and she fetched another sigh, so deep and sore now that he
laughed outright. "Perhaps," he suggested, "it would be
the best way of curing Tom of his fancy, if he has one.
He has been seeing her with the dangerous advantages which a
mother knows how to give her daughter in the family circle,
and with no means of comparing her with other girls.
You must invite several other very pretty girls."
"Do you really think so, Bromfield?" asked Mrs. Corey,
taking courage a little. "That might do," But her spirits
visibly sank again. "I don't know any other girl half
"Well, then, better bred."
"She is very lady-like, very modest, and pleasing."
"Well, more cultivated."
"Tom doesn't get on with such people."
"Oh, you wish him to marry her, I see."
"Then you'd better give the dinner to bring them together,
to promote the affair."
"You know I don't want to do that, Bromfield. But I
feel that we must do something. If we don't, it has
a clandestine appearance. It isn't just to them.
A dinner won't leave us in any worse position, and may
leave us in a better. Yes," said Mrs. Corey, after another
thoughtful interval, "we must have them--have them all.
It could be very simple."
"Ah, you can't give a dinner under a bushel, if I take
your meaning, my dear. If we do this at all, we mustn't
do it as if we were ashamed of it. We must ask people
to meet them."
"Yes," sighed Mrs. Corey. "There are not many people
in town yet," she added, with relief that caused her
husband another smile. "There really seems a sort
of fatality about it," she concluded religiously.
"Then you had better not struggle against it.
Go and reconcile Lily and Nanny to it as soon as possible."
Mrs. Corey blanched a little. "But don't you think it
will be the best thing, Bromfield?"
"I do indeed, my dear. The only thing that shakes my faith
in the scheme is the fact that I first suggested it.
But if you have adopted it, it must be all right, Anna.
I can't say that I expected it."
"No," said his wife, "it wouldn't do."
HAVING distinctly given up the project of asking the Laphams
to dinner, Mrs. Corey was able to carry it out with the
courage of sinners who have sacrificed to virtue by frankly
acknowledging its superiority to their intended transgression.
She did not question but the Laphams would come; and she
only doubted as to the people whom she should invite
to meet them. She opened the matter with some trepidation
to her daughters, but neither of them opposed her;
they rather looked at the scheme from her own point of view,
and agreed with her that nothing had really yet been done
to wipe out the obligation to the Laphams helplessly
contracted the summer before, and strengthened by that
ill-advised application to Mrs. Lapham for charity.
Not only the principal of their debt of gratitude remained,
but the accruing interest. They said, What harm could
giving the dinner possibly do them? They might ask
any or all of their acquaintance without disadvantage
to themselves; but it would be perfectly easy to give
the dinner just the character they chose, and still
flatter the ignorance of the Laphams. The trouble would
be with Tom, if he were really interested in the girl;
but he could not say anything if they made it a family dinner;
he could not feel anything. They had each turned in her
own mind, as it appeared from a comparison of ideas,
to one of the most comprehensive of those cousinships
which form the admiration and terror of the adventurer
in Boston society. He finds himself hemmed in and left
out at every turn by ramifications that forbid him all
hope of safe personality in his comments on people; he is
never less secure than when he hears some given Bostonian
denouncing or ridiculing another. If he will be advised,
he will guard himself from concurring in these criticisms,
however just they appear, for the probability is that their
object is a cousin of not more than one remove from the censor.
When the alien hears a group of Boston ladies calling
one another, and speaking of all their gentlemen friends,
by the familiar abbreviations of their Christian names,
he must feel keenly the exile to which he was born;
but he is then, at least, in comparatively little danger;
while these latent and tacit cousinships open pitfalls
at every step around him, in a society where Middlesexes
have married Essexes and produced Suffolks for two hundred
and fifty years.
These conditions, however, so perilous to the foreigner,
are a source of strength and security to those native
to them. An uncertain acquaintance may be so effectually
involved in the meshes of such a cousinship, as never
to be heard of outside of it and tremendous stories are
told of people who have spent a whole winter in Boston,
in a whirl of gaiety, and who, the original guests of
the Suffolks, discover upon reflection that they have met
no one but Essexes and Middlesexes.
Mrs. Corey's brother James came first into her mind,
and she thought with uncommon toleration of the
easy-going, uncritical, good-nature of his wife.
James Bellingham had been the adviser of her son throughout,
and might be said to have actively promoted his connection
with Lapham. She thought next of the widow of her cousin,
Henry Bellingham, who had let her daughter marry that
Western steamboat man, and was fond of her son-in-law;
she might be expected at least to endure the paint-king
and his family. The daughters insisted so strongly upon
Mrs. Bellingham's son Charles, that Mrs. Corey put him
down--if he were in town; he might be in Central America;
he got on with all sorts of people. It seemed to her
that she might stop at this: four Laphams, five Coreys,
and four Bellinghams were enough.
"That makes thirteen," said Nanny. "You can have
Mr. and Mrs. Sewell."
"Yes, that is a good idea," assented Mrs. Corey.
"He is our minister, and it is very proper."
"I don't see why you don't have Robert Chase.
It is a pity he shouldn't see her--for the colour."
"I don't quite like the idea of that," said Mrs. Corey;
"but we can have him too, if it won't make too many."
The painter had married into a poorer branch of the Coreys,
and his wife was dead. "Is there any one else?"
"There is Miss Kingsbury."
"We have had her so much. She will begin to think we
are using her."
"She won't mind; she's so good-natured."
"Well, then," the mother summed up, "there are four Laphams,
five Coreys, four Bellinghams, one Chase, and one
Kingsbury--fifteen. Oh! and two Sewells. Seventeen. Ten ladies
and seven gentlemen. It doesn't balance very well,
and it's too large."
"Perhaps some of the ladies won't come," suggested Lily.
"Oh, the ladies always come," said Nanny.
Their mother reflected. "Well, I will ask them.
The ladies will refuse in time to let us pick up some
gentlemen somewhere; some more artists. Why! we must
have Mr. Seymour, the architect; he's a bachelor,
and he's building their house, Tom says."
Her voice fell a little when she mentioned her son's name,
and she told him of her plan, when he came home
in the evening, with evident misgiving.
"What are you doing it for, mother?" he asked, looking at
her with his honest eyes.
She dropped her own in a little confusion. "I won't do
it at all, my dear," she said, "if you don't approve.
But I thought--You know we have never made any proper
acknowledgment of their kindness to us at Baie St. Paul.
Then in the winter, I'm ashamed to say, I got money
from her for a charity I was interested in; and I hate
the idea of merely USING people in that way. And now
your having been at their house this summer--we can't
seem to disapprove of that; and your business relations
"Yes, I see," said Corey. "Do you think it amounts
to a dinner?"
"Why, I don't know," returned his mother. "We shall
have hardly any one out of our family connection."
"Well," Corey assented, "it might do. I suppose what you
wish is to give them a pleasure."
"Why, certainly. Don't you think they'd like to come?"
"Oh, they'd like to come; but whether it would be a pleasure
after they were here is another thing. I should have
said that if you wanted to have them, they would enjoy
better being simply asked to meet our own immediate family."
"That's what I thought of in the first place, but your
father seemed to think it implied a social distrust
of them; and we couldn't afford to have that appearance,
even to ourselves."
"Perhaps he was right."
"And besides, it might seem a little significant."
Corey seemed inattentive to this consideration. "Whom did
you think of asking?" His mother repeated the names.
"Yes, that would do," he said, with a vague dissatisfaction.
"I won't have it at all, if you don't wish, Tom."
"Oh yes, have it; perhaps you ought. Yes, I dare say
it's right. What did you mean by a family dinner
His mother hesitated. When it came to that, she did not
like to recognise in his presence the anxieties that had
troubled her. But "I don't know," she said, since she must.
"I shouldn't want to give that young girl, or her mother,
the idea that we wished to make more of the acquaintance
than--than you did, Tom."
He looked at her absent-mindedly, as if he did not
take her meaning. But he said, "Oh yes, of course,"
and Mrs. Corey, in the uncertainty in which she seemed
destined to remain concerning this affair, went off and
wrote her invitation to Mrs. Lapham. Later in the evening,
when they again found themselves alone, her son said,
"I don't think I understood you, mother, in regard to
the Laphams. I think I do now. I certainly don't wish
you to make more of the acquaintance than I have done.
It wouldn't be right; it might be very unfortunate.
Don't give the dinner!"
"It's too late now, my son," said Mrs. Corey. "I sent
my note to Mrs. Lapham an hour ago." Her courage rose
at the trouble which showed in Corey's face. "But don't
be annoyed by it, Tom. It isn't a family dinner, you know,
and everything can be managed without embarrassment.
If we take up the affair at this point, you will seem
to have been merely acting for us; and they can't possibly
understand anything more."
"Well, well! Let it go! I dare say it's all right At
any rate, it can't be helped now."
"I don't wish to help it, Tom," said Mrs. Corey,
with a cheerfullness which the thought of the Laphams
had never brought her before. "I am sure it is quite
fit and proper, and we can make them have a very
pleasant time. They are good, inoffensive people,
and we owe it to ourselves not to be afraid to show
that we have felt their kindness to us, and his appreciation of you."
"Well," consented Corey. The trouble that his mother had
suddenly cast off was in his tone; but she was not sorry.
It was quite time that he should think seriously of his
attitude toward these people if he had not thought
of it before, but, according to his father's theory,
had been merely dangling.
It was a view of her son's character that could hardly
have pleased her in different circumstances, yet it was now
unquestionably a consolation if not wholly a pleasure.
If she considered the Laphams at all, it was with the
resignation which we feel at the evils of others,
even when they have not brought them on themselves.
Mrs. Lapham, for her part, had spent the hours between
Mrs. Corey's visit and her husband's coming home from
business in reaching the same conclusion with regard
to Corey; and her spirits were at the lowest when they
sat down to supper. Irene was downcast with her;
Penelope was purposely gay; and the Colonel was beginning,
after his first plate of the boiled ham,--which, bristling
with cloves, rounded its bulk on a wide platter before
him,--to take note of the surrounding mood, when the
door-bell jingled peremptorily, and the girl left waiting
on the table to go and answer it. She returned at once
with a note for Mrs. Lapham, which she read, and then,
after a helpless survey of her family, read again.
"Why, what IS it, mamma?" asked Irene, while the Colonel,
who had taken up his carving-knife for another attack on
the ham, held it drawn half across it.
"Why, I don't know what it does mean," answered Mrs. Lapham
tremulously, and she let the girl take the note from her.
Irene ran it over, and then turned to the name at the end
with a joyful cry and a flush that burned to the top
of her forehead. Then she began to read it once more.
The Colonel dropped his knife and frowned impatiently,
and Mrs. Lapham said, "You read it out loud, if you know
what to make of it, Irene." But Irene, with a nervous
scream of protest, handed it to her father, who performed
"DEAR MRS. LAPHAM:
"Will you and General Lapham----"
"I didn't know I was a general," grumbled Lapham.
"I guess I shall have to be looking up my back pay.
Who is it writes this, anyway?" he asked, turning the letter
over for the signature.
"Oh, never mind. Read it through!" cried his wife,
with a kindling glance of triumph at Penelope, and he
"--and your daughters give us the pleasure of your company
at dinner on Thursday, the 28th, at half-past six.
"ANNA B. COREY."
The brief invitation had been spread over two pages,
and the Colonel had difficulties with the signature
which he did not instantly surmount. When he had made
out the name and pronounced it, he looked across at his
wife for an explanation.
"I don't know what it all means," she said,
shaking her head and speaking with a pleased flutter.
"She was here this afternoon, and I should have said
she had come to see how bad she could make us feel.
I declare I never felt so put down in my life by anybody."
"Why, what did she do? What did she say?" Lapham was ready,
in his dense pride, to resent any affront to his blood,
but doubtful, with the evidence of this invitation to
the contrary, if any affront had been offered. Mrs. Lapham
tried to tell him, but there was really nothing tangible;
and when she came to put it into words, she could not make
out a case. Her husband listened to her excited attempt,
and then he said, with judicial superiority, "I guess
nobody's been trying to make you feel bad, Persis.
What would she go right home and invite you to dinner for,
if she'd acted the way you say?"
In this view it did seem improbable, and Mrs. Lapham
was shaken. She could only say, "Penelope felt just
the way I did about it."
Lapham looked at the girl, who said, "Oh, I can't prove
it! I begin to think it never happened. I guess it didn't."
"Humph!" said her father, and he sat frowning thoughtfully
a while--ignoring her mocking irony, or choosing to take
her seriously. "You can't really put your finger
on anything," he said to his wife, "and it ain't likely there
is anything. Anyway, she's done the proper thing by you now."
Mrs. Lapham faltered between her lingering resentment
and the appeals of her flattered vanity. She looked from
Penelope's impassive face to the eager eyes of Irene.
"Well--just as you say, Silas. I don't know as she WAS
so very bad. I guess may be she was embarrassed some----"
"That's what I told you, mamma, from the start,"
interrupted Irene. "Didn't I tell you she didn't mean
anything by it? It's just the way she acted at Baie St. Paul,
when she got well enough to realise what you'd done for her!"
Penelope broke into a laugh. "Is that her way of showing
her gratitude? I'm sorry I didn't understand that before."
Irene made no effort to reply. She merely looked
from her mother to her father with a grieved face for
their protection, and Lapham said, "When we've done supper,
you answer her, Persis. Say we'll come."
"With one exception," said Penelope.
"What do you mean?" demanded her father, with a mouth
full of ham. "Oh, nothing of importance. Merely that
I'm not going."
Lapham gave himself time to swallow his morsel, and his
rising wrath went down with it. "I guess you'll change
your mind when the time comes," he said. "Anyway, Persis,
you say we'll all come, and then, if Penelope don't
want to go, you can excuse her after we get there.
That's the best way."
None of them, apparently, saw any reason why the affair
should not be left in this way, or had a sense of the
awful and binding nature of a dinner engagement.
If she believed that Penelope would not finally change
her mind and go, no doubt Mrs. Lapham thought that
Mrs. Corey would easily excuse her absence. She did
not find it so simple a matter to accept the invitation.
Mrs. Corey had said "Dear Mrs. Lapham," but Mrs. Lapham
had her doubts whether it would not be a servile imitation
to say "Dear Mrs. Corey" in return; and she was tormented
as to the proper phrasing throughout and the precise
temperature which she should impart to her politeness.
She wrote an unpractised, uncharacteristic round hand,
the same in which she used to set the children's copies
at school, and she subscribed herself, after some hesitation
between her husband's given name and her own, "Yours truly,
Mrs. S. Lapham."
Penelope had gone to her room, without waiting to be
asked to advise or criticise; but Irene had decided
upon the paper, and on the whole, Mrs. Lapham's note
made a very decent appearance on the page.
"When the furnace-man came, the Colonel sent him out
to post it in the box at the corner of the square.
He had determined not to say anything more about the
matter before the girls, not choosing to let them see
that he was elated; he tried to give the effect of its
being an everyday sort of thing, abruptly closing
the discussion with his order to Mrs. Lapham to accept;
but he had remained swelling behind his newspaper during
her prolonged struggle with her note, and he could no longer
hide his elation when Irene followed her sister upstairs.
"Well, Pers," he demanded, "what do you say now?"
Mrs. Lapham had been sobered into something of her
former misgiving by her difficulties with her note.
"Well, I don't know what TO say. I declare, I'm all mixed
up about it, and I don't know as we've begun as we can
carry out in promising to go. I presume," she sighed,
"that we can all send some excuse at the last moment,
if we don't want to go."
"I guess we can carry out, and I guess we shan't want
to send any excuse," bragged the Colonel. "If we're
ever going to be anybody at all, we've got to go and see
how it's done. I presume we've got to give some sort
of party when we get into the new house, and this gives
the chance to ask 'em back again. You can't complain
now but what they've made the advances, Persis?"
"No," said Mrs. Lapham lifelessly; "I wonder why they
wanted to do it. Oh, I suppose it's all right," she added
in deprecation of the anger with her humility which she saw
rising in her husband's face; "but if it's all going to be
as much trouble as that letter, I'd rather be whipped.
I don't know what I'm going to wear; or the girls either.
I do wonder--I've heard that people go to dinner in
low-necks. Do you suppose it's the custom?"
"How should I know?" demanded the Colonel. "I guess you've
got clothes enough. Any rate, you needn't fret about it.
You just go round to White's or Jordan & Marsh's,
and ask for a dinner dress. I guess that'll settle it;
they'll know. Get some of them imported dresses. I see
'em in the window every time I pass; lots of 'em"
"Oh, it ain't the dress!" said Mrs. Lapham. "I don't
suppose but what we could get along with that; and I want
to do the best we can for the children; but I don't know
what we're going to talk about to those people when we
get there. We haven't got anything in common with them.
Oh, I don't say they're any better," she again made haste
to say in arrest of her husband's resentment. "I don't
believe they are; and I don't see why they should be.
And there ain't anybody has got a better right to hold up
their head than you have, Silas. You've got plenty of money,
and you've made every cent of it."
"I guess I shouldn't amounted to much without you, Persis,"
interposed Lapham, moved to this justice by her praise.
"Oh, don't talk about ME!" protested the wife.
"Now that you've made it all right about Rogers,
there ain't a thing in this world against you. But still,
for all that, I can see--and I can feel it when I
can't see it--that we're different from those people.
They're well-meaning enough, and they'd excuse it,
I presume, but we're too old to learn to be like them."
"The children ain't," said Lapham shrewdly.
"No, the children ain't," admitted his wife, "and that's
the only thing that reconciles me to it."
"You see how pleased Irene looked when I read it?"
"Yes, she was pleased."
"And I guess Penelope'll think better of it before
the time comes."
"Oh yes, we do it for them. But whether we're doing
the best thing for 'em, goodness knows. I'm not saying
anything against HIM. Irene'll be a lucky girl to get him,
if she wants him. But there! I'd ten times rather she
was going to marry such a fellow as you were, Si, that had
to make every inch of his own way, and she had to help him.
It's in her!"
Lapham laughed aloud for pleasure in his wife's fondness;
but neither of them wished that he should respond directly
to it. "I guess, if it wa'n't for me, he wouldn't have a much
easier time. But don't you fret! It's all coming out right.
That dinner ain't a thing for you to be uneasy about.
It'll pass off perfectly easy and natural."
Lapham did not keep his courageous mind quite to the end
of the week that followed. It was his theory not to let Corey
see that he was set up about the invitation, and when the
young man said politely that his mother was glad they were
able to come, Lapham was very short with him. He said yes,
he believed that Mrs. Lapham and the girls were going.
Afterward he was afraid Corey might not understand that
he was coming too; but he did not know how to approach
the subject again, and Corey did not, so he let it pass.
It worried him to see all the preparation that his wife
and Irene were making, and he tried to laugh at them for it;
and it worried him to find that Penelope was making no
preparation at all for herself, but only helping the others.
He asked her what should she do if she changed her mind
at the last moment and concluded to go, and she said she
guessed she should not change her mind, but if she did,
she would go to White's with him and get him to choose
her an imported dress, he seemed to like them so much.
He was too proud to mention the subject again to her.
Finally, all that dress-making in the house began to scare
him with vague apprehensions in regard to his own dress.
As soon as he had determined to go, an ideal of the figure
in which he should go presented itself to his mind.
He should not wear any dress-coat, because, for one thing,
he considered that a man looked like a fool in a dress-coat, and,
for another thing, he had none--had none on principle.
He would go in a frock-coat and black pantaloons,
and perhaps a white waistcoat, but a black cravat anyway.
But as soon as he developed this ideal to his family,
which he did in pompous disdain of their anxieties
about their own dress, they said he should not go so.
Irene reminded him that he was the only person without
a dress-coat at a corps reunion dinner which he had taken
her to some years before, and she remembered feeling awfully
about it at the time. Mrs. Lapham, who would perhaps
have agreed of herself, shook her head with misgiving.
"I don't see but what you'll have to get you one, Si,"
she said. "I don't believe they ever go without 'em to
a private house."
He held out openly, but on his way home the next day,
in a sudden panic, he cast anchor before his tailor's
door and got measured for a dress-coat. After that he
began to he afflicted about his waist-coat, concerning
which he had hitherto been airily indifferent.
He tried to get opinion out of his family, but they were
not so clear about it as they were about the frock.
It ended in their buying a book of etiquette,
which settled the question adversely to a white waistcoat.
The author, however, after being very explicit in telling
them not to eat with their knives, and above all not
to pick their teeth with their forks,--a thing which he
said no lady or gentleman ever did,--was still far from
decided as to the kind of cravat Colonel Lapham ought
to wear: shaken on other points, Lapham had begun to waver
also concerning the black cravat. As to the question
of gloves for the Colonel, which suddenly flashed upon
him one evening, it appeared never to have entered the
thoughts of the etiquette man, as Lapham called him.
Other authors on the same subject were equally silent,
and Irene could only remember having heard, in some vague
sort of way, that gentlemen did not wear gloves so much
Drops of perspiration gathered on Lapham's forehead
in the anxiety of the debate; he groaned, and he swore
a little in the compromise profanity which he used.
"I declare," said Penelope, where she sat purblindly
sewing on a bit of dress for Irene, "the Colonel's
clothes are as much trouble as anybody's. Why don't you
go to Jordan & Marsh's and order one of the imported
dresses for yourself, father?" That gave them all the
relief of a laugh over it, the Colonel joining in piteously.
He had an awful longing to find out from Corey how he
ought to go. He formulated and repeated over to himself
an apparently careless question, such as, "Oh, by
the way, Corey, where do you get your gloves?" This would
naturally lead to some talk on the subject, which would,
if properly managed, clear up the whole trouble. But Lapham
found that he would rather die than ask this question,
or any question that would bring up the dinner again.
Corey did not recur to it, and Lapham avoided the matter
with positive fierceness. He shunned talking with Corey
at all, and suffered in grim silence.
One night, before they fell asleep, his wife said to him,
"I was reading in one of those books to-day, and I don't
believe but what we've made a mistake if Pen holds out
that she won't go."
"Why?" demanded Lapham, in the dismay which beset him
at every fresh recurrence to the subject.
"The book says that it's very impolite not to answer
a dinner invitation promptly. Well, we've done that all
right,--at first I didn't know but what we had been a little
too quick, may be,--but then it says if you're not going,
that it's the height of rudeness not to let them know
at once, so that they can fill your place at the table."
The Colonel was silent for a while. "Well, I'm dumned,"
he said finally, "if there seems to be any end to this thing.
If it was to do over again, I'd say no for all of us."
"I've wished a hundred times they hadn't asked us;
but it's too late to think about that now. The question is,
what are we going to do about Penelope?"
"Oh, I guess she'll go, at the last moment."
"She says she won't. She took a prejudice against
Mrs. Corey that day, and she can't seem to get over it."
"Well, then, hadn't you better write in the morning,
as soon as you're up, that she ain't coming?"
Mrs. Lapham sighed helplessly. "I shouldn't know how to get
it in. It's so late now; I don't see how I could have the face."
"Well, then, she's got to go, that's all."
"She's set she won't."
"And I'm set she shall," said Lapham with the loud
obstinacy of a man whose women always have their way.
Mrs. Lapham was not supported by the sturdiness
of his proclamation.
But she did not know how to do what she knew she ought
to do about Penelope, and she let matters drift.
After all, the child had a right to stay at home if she
did not wish to go. That was what Mrs. Lapham felt,
and what she said to her husband next morning, bidding him
let Penelope alone, unless she chose herself to go.
She said it was too late now to do anything, and she must
make the best excuse she could when she saw Mrs. Corey.
She began to wish that Irene and her father would go and
excuse her too. She could not help saying this, and then
she and Lapham had some unpleasant words.
"Look here!" he cried. "Who wanted to go in for these
people in the first place? Didn't you come home full
of 'em last year, and want me to sell out here and move
somewheres else because it didn't seem to suit 'em? And
now you want to put it all on me! I ain't going to stand it."
"Hush!" said his wife. "Do you want to raise the house? I
didn't put it on you, as you say. You took it on yourself.
Ever since that fellow happened to come into the new house
that day, you've been perfectly crazy to get in with them.
And now you're so afraid you shall do something wrong before
'em, you don't hardly dare to say your life's your own.
I declare, if you pester me any more about those gloves,
Silas Lapham, I won't go."
"Do you suppose I want to go on my own account?"
he demanded furiously.
"No," she admitted. "Of course I don't. I know
very well that you're doing it for Irene; but, for
goodness gracious' sake, don't worry our lives out,
and make yourself a perfect laughing-stock before the children."
With this modified concession from her, the quarrel
closed in sullen silence on Lapham's part. The night
before the dinner came, and the question of his gloves
was still unsettled, and in a fair way to remain so.
He had bought a pair, so as to be on the safe side,
perspiring in company with the young lady who sold them,
and who helped him try them on at the shop; his nails
were still full of the powder which she had plentifully
peppered into them in order to overcome the resistance
of his blunt fingers. But he was uncertain whether he
should wear them. They had found a book at last that said
the ladies removed their gloves on sitting down at table,
but it said nothing about gentlemen's gloves. He left his
wife where she stood half hook-and-eyed at her glass in her
new dress, and went down to his own den beyond the parlour.
Before he shut his door ho caught a glimpse of Irene trailing
up and down before the long mirror in HER new dress,
followed by the seamstress on her knees; the woman had her
mouth full of pins, and from time to time she made Irene
stop till she could put one of the pins into her train;
Penelope sat in a corner criticising and counselling.
It made Lapham sick, and he despised himself and all his
brood for the trouble they were taking. But another glance
gave him a sight of the young girl's face in the mirror,
beautiful and radiant with happiness, and his heart
melted again with paternal tenderness and pride.
It was going to be a great pleasure to Irene, and Lapham
felt that she was bound to cut out anything there.
He was vexed with Penelope that she was not going too;
he would have liked to have those people hear her talk.
He held his door a little open, and listened to the
things she was "getting off" there to Irene. He showed
that he felt really hurt and disappointed about Penelope,
and the girl's mother made her console him the next evening
before they all drove away without her. "You try to look
on the bright side of it, father. I guess you'll see that
it's best I didn't go when you get there. Irene needn't
open her lips, and they can all see how pretty she is;
but they wouldn't know how smart I was unless I talked,
and maybe then they wouldn't."
This thrust at her father's simple vanity in her made
him laugh; and then they drove away, and Penelope shut
the door, and went upstairs with her lips firmly shutting
in a sob.
THE Coreys were one of the few old families who lingered
in Bellingham Place, the handsome, quiet old street which
the sympathetic observer must grieve to see abandoned
to boarding-houses. The dwellings are stately and tall,
and the whole place wears an air of aristocratic seclusion,
which Mrs. Corey's father might well have thought assured
when he left her his house there at his death. It is one
of two evidently designed by the same architect who built
some houses in a characteristic taste on Beacon Street
opposite the Common. It has a wooden portico, with slender
fluted columns, which have always been painted white,
and which, with the delicate mouldings of the cornice,
form the sole and sufficient decoration of the street front;
nothing could be simpler, and nothing could be better.
Within, the architect has again indulged his preference
for the classic; the roof of the vestibule, wide and low,
rests on marble columns, slim and fluted like the wooden
columns without, and an ample staircase climbs in
a graceful, easy curve from the tesselated pavement.
Some carved Venetian scrigni stretched along the wall;
a rug lay at the foot of the stairs; but otherwise the simple
adequacy of the architectural intention had been respected,
and the place looked bare to the eyes of the Laphams
when they entered. The Coreys had once kept a man,
but when young Corey began his retrenchments the man
had yielded to the neat maid who showed the Colonel
into the reception-room and asked the ladies to walk up
He had his charges from Irene not to enter the drawing-
room without her mother, and he spent five minutes in
getting on his gloves, for he had desperately resolved
to wear them at last. When he had them on, and let
his large fists hang down on either side, they looked,
in the saffron tint which the shop-girl said his gloves
should be of, like canvased hams. He perspired with doubt
as he climbed the stairs, and while he waited on the
landing for Mrs. Lapham and Irene to come down from above
before going into the drawing-room, he stood staring at
his hands, now open and now shut, and breathing hard.
He heard quiet talking beyond the portiere within,
and presently Tom Corey came out.
"Ah, Colonel Lapham! Very glad to see you."
Lapham shook hands with him and gasped, "Waiting
for Mis' Lapham," to account for his presence.
He had not been able to button his right glove, and he
now began, with as much indifference as he could assume,
to pull them both off, for he saw that Corey wore none.
By the time he had stuffed them into the pocket
of his coat-skirt his wife and daughter descended.
Corey welcomed them very cordially too, but looked a
little mystified. Mrs. Lapham knew that he was silently
inquiring for Penelope, and she did not know whether she
ought to excuse her to him first or not. She said nothing,
and after a glance toward the regions where Penelope might
conjecturably be lingering, he held aside the portiere
for the Laphams to pass, and entered the room with them.
Mrs. Lapham had decided against low-necks on her own responsibility,
and had entrenched herself in the safety of a black silk,
in which she looked very handsome. Irene wore a dress
of one of those shades which only a woman or an artist can
decide to be green or blue, and which to other eyes looks
both or neither, according to their degrees of ignorance.
If it was more like a ball dress than a dinner dress,
that might be excused to the exquisite effect. She trailed,
a delicate splendour, across the carpet in her mother's
sombre wake, and the consciousness of success brought
a vivid smile to her face. Lapham, pallid with anxiety
lest he should somehow disgrace himself, giving thanks
to God that he should have been spared the shame of
wearing gloves where no one else did, but at the same
time despairing that Corey should have seen him in them,
had an unwonted aspect of almost pathetic refinement.
Mrs. Corey exchanged a quick glance of surprise and relief
with her husband as she started across the room to meet
her guests, and in her gratitude to them for being
so irreproachable, she threw into her manner a warmth
that people did not always find there. "General Lapham?"
she said, shaking hands in quick succession with Mrs. Lapham
and Irene, and now addressing herself to him.
"No, ma'am, only Colonel," said the honest man, but the
lady did not hear him. She was introducing her husband
to Lapham's wife and daughter, and Bromfield Corey was
already shaking his hand and saying he was very glad
to see him again, while he kept his artistic eye on Irene,
and apparently could not take it off. Lily Corey gave
the Lapham ladies a greeting which was physically rather
than socially cold, and Nanny stood holding Irene's
hand in both of hers a moment, and taking in her beauty
and her style with a generous admiration which she
could afford, for she was herself faultlessly dressed
in the quiet taste of her city, and looking very pretty.
The interval was long enough to let every man present
confide his sense of Irene's beauty to every other;
and then, as the party was small, Mrs. Corey made
everybody acquainted. When Lapham had not quite understood,
he held the person's hand, and, leaning urbanely forward,
inquired, "What name?" He did that because a great man
to whom he had been presented on the platform at a public
meeting had done so to him, and he knew it must be right.
A little lull ensued upon the introductions, and Mrs. Corey
said quietly to Mrs. Lapham, "Can I send any one to be of use
to Miss Lapham?" as if Penelope must be in the dressing-room.
Mrs. Lapham turned fire-red, and the graceful forms in which
she had been intending to excuse her daughter's absence
went out of her head. "She isn't upstairs," she said,
at her bluntest, as country people are when embarrassed.
"She didn't feel just like coming to-night. I don't know
as she's feeling very well."
Mrs. Corey emitted a very small "O!"--very small,
very cold,--which began to grow larger and hotter and to
burn into Mrs. Lapham's soul before Mrs. Corey could add,
"I'm very sorry. It's nothing serious, I hope?"
Robert Chase, the painter, had not come, and Mrs. James
Bellingham was not there, so that the table really balanced
better without Penelope; but Mrs. Lapham could not know this,
and did not deserve to know it. Mrs. Corey glanced
round the room, as if to take account of her guests,
and said to her husband, "I think we are all here, then,"
and he came forward and gave his arm to Mrs. Lapham.
She perceived then that in their determination not to
be the first to come they had been the last, and must
have kept the others waiting for them.
Lapham had never seen people go down to dinner arm-in-
arm before, but he knew that his wife was distinguished
in being taken out by the host, and he waited in jealous
impatience to see if Tom Corey would offer his arm to Irene.
He gave it to that big girl they called Miss Kingsbury,
and the handsome old fellow whom Mrs. Corey had introduced
as her cousin took Irene out. Lapham was startled from
the misgiving in which this left him by Mrs. Corey's
passing her hand through his arm, and he made a sudden
movement forward, but felt himself gently restrained.
They went out the last of all; he did not know why,
but he submitted, and when they sat down he saw that Irene,
although she had come in with that Mr. Bellingham, was seated
beside young Corey, after all.
He fetched a long sigh of relief when he sank into
his chair and felt himself safe from error if he kept
a sharp lookout and did only what the others did.
Bellingham had certain habits which he permitted himself,
and one of these was tucking the corner of his napkin
into his collar; he confessed himself an uncertain shot
with a spoon, and defended his practice on the ground
of neatness and common-sense. Lapham put his napkin into
his collar too, and then, seeing that no one but Bellingham
did it, became alarmed and took it out again slyly.
He never had wine on his table at home, and on principle
he was a prohibitionist; but now he did not know just
what to do about the glasses at the right of his plate.
He had a notion to turn them all down, as he had read
of a well-known politician's doing at a public dinner,
to show that he did not take wine; but, after twiddling
with one of them a moment, he let them be, for it seemed
to him that would be a little too conspicuous, and he
felt that every one was looking. He let the servant fill
them all, and he drank out of each, not to appear odd.
Later, he observed that the young ladies were not taking wine,
and he was glad to see that Irene had refused it,
and that Mrs. Lapham was letting it stand untasted.
He did not know but he ought to decline some of the dishes,
or at least leave most of some on his plate, but he was not
able to decide; he took everything and ate everything.
He noticed that Mrs. Corey seemed to take no more trouble
about the dinner than anybody, and Mr. Corey rather less;
he was talking busily to Mrs. Lapham, and Lapham caught
a word here and there that convinced him she was holding
her own. He was getting on famously himself with
Mrs. Corey, who had begun with him about his new house;
he was telling her all about it, and giving her his ideas.
Their conversation naturally included his architect across
the table; Lapham had been delighted and secretly surprised
to find the fellow there; and at something Seymour said
the talk spread suddenly, and the pretty house he was
building for Colonel Lapham became the general theme.
Young Corey testified to its loveliness, and the architect
said laughingly that if he had been able to make a nice
thing of it, he owed it to the practical sympathy of
"Practical sympathy is good," said Bromfield Corey;
and, slanting his head confidentially to Mrs. Lapham,
he added, "Does he bleed your husband, Mrs. Lapham? He's
a terrible fellow for appropriations!"
Mrs. Lapham laughed, reddening consciously, and said she
guessed the Colonel knew how to take care of himself.
This struck Lapham, then draining his glass of sauterne,
as wonderfully discreet in his wife. Bromfield Corey
leaned back in his chair a moment. "Well, after all,
you can't say, with all your modern fuss about it,
that you do much better now than the old fellows who built
such houses as this."
"Ah," said the architect, "nobody can do better than well.
Your house is in perfect taste; you know I've always
admired it; and I don't think it 's at all the worse
for being old-fashioned. What we've done is largely to go
back of the hideous style that raged after they forgot
how to make this sort of house. But I think we may claim
a better feeling for structure. We use better material,
and more wisely; and by and by we shall work out something
more characteristic and original."
"With your chocolates and olives, and your clutter
"All that's bad, of course, but I don't mean that. I don't
wish to make you envious of Colonel Lapham, and modesty
prevents my saying, that his house is prettier,--though
I may have my convictions,--but it's better built.
All the new houses are better built. Now, your house----"
"Mrs. Corey's house," interrupted the host, with a burlesque
haste in disclaiming responsibility for it that made
them all laugh. "My ancestral halls are in Salem,
and I'm told you couldn't drive a nail into their timbers;
in fact, I don't know that you would want to do it."
"I should consider it a species of sacrilege,"
answered Seymour, "and I shall be far from pressing
the point I was going to make against a house of Mrs. Corey's."
This won Seymour the easy laugh, and Lapham silently
wondered that the fellow never got off any of those things
"Well," said Corey, "you architects and the musicians
are the true and only artistic creators. All the rest
of us, sculptors, painters, novelists, and tailors,
deal with forms that we have before us; we try to imitate,
we try to represent. But you two sorts of artists
create form. If you represent, you fail. Somehow or other
you do evolve the camel out of your inner consciousness"
"I will not deny the soft impeachment," said the architect,
with a modest air.
"I dare say. And you'll own that it's very handsome
of me to say this, after your unjustifiable attack
on Mrs. Corey's property."
Bromfield Corey addressed himself again to Mrs. Lapham,
and the talk subdivided itself as before. It lapsed so
entirely away from the subject just in hand, that Lapham
was left with rather a good idea, as he thought it,
to perish in his mind, for want of a chance to express it.
The only thing like a recurrence to what they had been
saying was Bromfield Corey's warning Mrs. Lapham, in some
connection that Lapham lost, against Miss Kingsbury.
"She's worse," he was saying, "when it comes to appropriations
than Seymour himself. Depend upon it, Mrs. Lapham,
she will give you no peace of your mind, now she's
met you, from this out. Her tender mercies are cruel;
and I leave you to supply the content from your own
scriptural knowledge. Beware of her, and all her works.
She calls them works of charity; but heaven knows
whether they are. It don't stand to reason that she
gives the poor ALL the money she gets out of people.
I have my own belief"--he gave it in a whisper for the
whole table to hear--"that she spends it for champagne
Lapham did not know about that kind of talking; but Miss
Kingsbury seemed to enjoy the fun as much as anybody,
and he laughed with the rest.
"You shall be asked to the very next debauch of
the committee, Mr. Corey; then you won't dare expose us,"
said Miss Kingsbury.
"I wonder you haven't been down upon Corey to go to the
Chardon Street home and talk with your indigent Italians
in their native tongue," said Charles Bellingham.
"I saw in the Transcript the other night that you wanted
some one for the work."
"We did think of Mr. Corey," replied Miss Kingsbury;
"but we reflected that he probably wouldn't talk with them
at all; he would make them keep still to be sketched,
and forget all about their wants."
Upon the theory that this was a fair return
for Corey's pleasantry, the others laughed again.
"There is one charity," said Corey, pretending superiority
to Miss Kingsbury's point, "that is so difficult, I wonder
it hasn't occurred to a lady of your courageous invention."
"Yes?" said Miss Kingsbury. "What is that?"
"The occupation, by deserving poor of neat habits,
of all the beautiful, airy, wholesome houses that stand
empty the whole summer long, while their owners are away
in their lowly cots beside the sea."
"Yes, that is terrible," replied Miss Kingsbury,
with quick earnestness, while her eyes grew moist.
"I have often thought of our great, cool houses standing
useless here, and the thousands of poor creatures stifling
in their holes and dens, and the little children dying
for wholesome shelter. How cruelly selfish we are!"
"That is a very comfortable sentiment, Miss Kingsbury,"
said Corey, "and must make you feel almost as if you
had thrown open No. 31 to the whole North End.
But I am serious about this matter. I spend my summers
in town, and I occupy my own house, so that I can speak
impartially and intelligently; and I tell you that in
some of my walks on the Hill and down on the Back Bay,
nothing but the surveillance of the local policeman
prevents my offering personal violence to those long rows
of close-shuttered, handsome, brutally insensible houses.
If I were a poor man, with a sick child pining in some garret
or cellar at the North End, I should break into one of them,
and camp out on the grand piano."
"Surely, Bromfield," said his wife, "you don't consider
what havoc such people would make with the furniture
of a nice house!"
"That is true," answered Corey, with meek conviction.
"I never thought of that."
"And if you were a poor man with a sick child, I doubt
if you'd have so much heart for burglary as you have now,"
said James Bellingham.
"It's wonderful how patient they are," said the minister.
"The spectacle of the hopeless comfort the hard-working
poor man sees must be hard to bear."
Lapham wanted to speak up and say that he had been
there himself, and knew how such a man felt. He wanted
to tell them that generally a poor man was satisfied
if he could make both ends meet; that he didn't envy
any one his good luck, if he had earned it, so long as he
wasn't running under himself. But before he could get
the courage to address the whole table, Sewell added,
"I suppose he don't always think of it."
"But some day he WILL think about it," said Corey.
"In fact, we rather invite him to think about it,
in this country."
"My brother-in-law," said Charles Bellingham, with the pride
a man feels in a mentionably remarkable brother-in-law,
"has no end of fellows at work under him out there at Omaha,
and he says it's the fellows from countries where they've
been kept from thinking about it that are discontented.
The Americans never make any trouble. They seem to
understand that so long as we give unlimited opportunity,
nobody has a right to complain."
"What do you hear from Leslie?" asked Mrs. Corey,
turning from these profitless abstractions to Mrs. Bellingham.
"You know," said that lady in a lower tone, "that there
is another baby?"
"No! I hadn't heard of it!"
"Yes; a boy. They have named him after his uncle."
"Yes," said Charles Bellingham, joining in. "He is said
to be a noble boy, and to resemble me."
"All boys of that tender age are noble," said Corey,
"and look like anybody you wish them to resemble.
Is Leslie still home-sick for the bean-pots of her
"She is getting over it, I fancy," replied Mrs. Bellingham.
"She's very much taken up with Mr. Blake's enterprises,
and leads a very exciting life. She says she's like people
who have been home from Europe three years; she's past
the most poignant stage of regret, and hasn't reached
the second, when they feel that they must go again."
Lapham leaned a little toward Mrs. Corey, and said
of a picture which he saw on the wall opposite,
"Picture of your daughter, I presume?"
"No; my daughter's grandmother. It's a Stewart Newton;
he painted a great many Salem beauties. She was a Miss
Polly Burroughs. My daughter IS like her, don't you think?"
They both looked at Nanny Corey and then at the portrait.
"Those pretty old-fashioned dresses are coming in again.
I'm not surprised you took it for her. The others"--she
referred to the other portraits more or less darkling on the
walls--"are my people; mostly Copleys."
These names, unknown to Lapham, went to his head like the wine
he was drinking; they seemed to carry light for the moment,
but a film of deeper darkness followed. He heard Charles
Bellingham telling funny stories to Irene and trying to
amuse the girl; she was laughing, and seemed very happy.
From time to time Bellingham took part in the general talk
between the host and James Bellingham and Miss Kingsbury
and that minister, Mr. Sewell. They talked of people mostly;
it astonished Lapham to hear with what freedom they talked.
They discussed these persons unsparingly; James Bellingham
spoke of a man known to Lapham for his business success
and great wealth as not a gentleman; his cousin Charles
said he was surprised that the fellow had kept from being
governor so long.
When the latter turned from Irene to make one of these
excursions into the general talk, young Corey talked to her;
and Lapham caught some words from which it seemed that they
were speaking of Penelope. It vexed him to think she had
not come; she could have talked as well as any of them;
she was just as bright; and Lapham was aware that Irene
was not as bright, though when he looked at her face,
triumphant in its young beauty and fondness, he said to
himself that it did not make any difference. He felt that he
was not holding up his end of the line, however. When some
one spoke to him he could only summon a few words of reply,
that seemed to lead to nothing; things often came into
his mind appropriate to what they were saying, but before
he could get them out they were off on something else;
they jumped about so, he could not keep up; but he felt,
all the same, that he was not doing himself justice.
At one time the talk ran off upon a subject that Lapham
had never heard talked of before; but again he was vexed
that Penelope was not there, to have her say; he believed
that her say would have been worth hearing.
Miss Kingsbury leaned forward and asked Charles Bellingham
if he had read Tears, Idle Tears, the novel that was
making such a sensation; and when he said no, she said
she wondered at him. "It's perfectly heart-breaking,
as you'll imagine from the name; but there's such a dear
old-fashioned hero and heroine in it, who keep dying for
each other all the way through, and making the most wildly
satisfactory and unnecessary sacrifices for each other.
You feel as if you'd done them yourself."
"Ah, that's the secret of its success," said Bromfield Corey.
"It flatters the reader by painting the characters colossal,
but with his limp and stoop, so that he feels himself
of their supernatural proportions. You've read it, Nanny?"
"Yes," said his daughter. "It ought to have been
called Slop, Silly Slop."
"Oh, not quite SLOP, Nanny," pleaded Miss Kingsbury.
"It's astonishing," said Charles Bellingham, "how we
do like the books that go for our heart-strings. And I
really suppose that you can't put a more popular thing
than self-sacrifice into a novel. We do like to see
people suffering sublimely."
"There was talk some years ago," said James Bellingham,
"about novels going out." "They're just coming in!"
cried Miss Kingsbury.
"Yes," said Mr. Sewell, the minister. "And I don't
think there ever was a time when they formed the whole
intellectual experience of more people. They do greater
mischief than ever."
"Don't be envious, parson," said the host.
"No," answered Sewell. "I should be glad of their help.
But those novels with old-fashioned heroes and heroines
in them--excuse me, Miss Kingsbury--are ruinous!"
"Don't you feel like a moral wreck, Miss Kingsbury?"
asked the host.
But Sewell went on: "The novelists might be the greatest
possible help to us if they painted life as it is,
and human feelings in their true proportion and relation,
but for the most part they have been and are altogether noxious."
This seemed sense to Lapham; but Bromfield Corey asked:
"But what if life as it is isn't amusing? Aren't we
to be amused?"
"Not to our hurt," sturdily answered the minister.
"And the self-sacrifice painted in most novels like this----"
"Slop, Silly Slop?" suggested the proud father of the
inventor of the phrase.
"Yes--is nothing but psychical suicide, and is as wholly
immoral as the spectacle of a man falling upon his sword."
"Well, I don't know but you're right, parson," said the host;
and the minister, who had apparently got upon a battle-horse
of his, careered onward in spite of some tacit attempts
of his wife to seize the bridle.
"Right? To be sure I am right. The whole business of love,
and love-making and marrying, is painted by the novelists
in a monstrous disproportion to the other relations of life.
Love is very sweet, very pretty----"
"Oh, THANK you, Mr. Sewell," said Nanny Corey, in a way
that set them all laughing.
"But it's the affair, commonly, of very young people,
who have not yet character and experience enough to make
them interesting. In novels it's treated, not only
as if it were the chief interest of life, but the sole
interest of the lives of two ridiculous young persons;
and it is taught that love is perpetual, that the glow
of a true passion lasts for ever; and that it is sacrilege
to think or act otherwise." "Well, but isn't that true,
Mr. Sewell?" pleaded Miss Kingsbury.
"I have known some most estimable people who had
married a second time," said the minister, and then
he had the applause with him. Lapham wanted to make
some open recognition of his good sense, but could not.
"I suppose the passion itself has been a good deal changed,"
said Bromfield Corey, "since the poets began to idealise
it in the days of chivalry."
"Yes; and it ought to be changed again," said Mr. Sewell.
"I don't say that. But it ought to be recognised
as something natural and mortal, and divine honours,
which belong to righteousness alone, ought not to be paid it."
"Oh, you ask too much, parson," laughed his host,
and the talk wandered away to something else.
It was not an elaborate dinner; but Lapham was used
to having everything on the table at once, and this
succession of dishes bewildered him; he was afraid
perhaps he was eating too much. He now no longer made
any pretence of not drinking his wine, for he was thirsty,
and there was no more water, and he hated to ask
for any. The ice-cream came, and then the fruit.
Suddenly Mrs. Corey rose, and said across the table to
her husband, "I suppose you will want your coffee here."
And he replied, "Yes; we'll join you at tea."
The ladies all rose, and the gentlemen got up with them.
Lapham started to follow Mrs. Corey, but the other men
merely stood in their places, except young Corey, who ran
and opened the door for his mother. Lapham thought
with shame that it was he who ought to have done that;
but no one seemed to notice, and he sat down again gladly,
after kicking out one of his legs which had gone
They brought in cigars with coffee, and Bromfield Corey
advised Lapham to take one that he chose for him.
Lapham confessed that he liked a good cigar about
as well as anybody, and Corey said: "These are new.
I had an Englishman here the other day who was smoking old
cigars in the superstition that tobacco improved with age,
"Ah," said Lapham, "anybody who had ever lived off
a tobacco country could tell him better than that."
With the fuming cigar between his lips he felt more at home
than he had before. He turned sidewise in his chair and,
resting one arm on the back, intertwined the fingers
of both hands, and smoked at large ease. James Bellingham
came and sat down by him. "Colonel Lapham, weren't you
with the 96th Vermont when they charged across the river
in front of Pickensburg, and the rebel battery opened
fire on them in the water?"
Lapham slowly shut his eyes and slowly dropped his head
for assent, letting out a white volume of smoke from
the corner of his mouth.
"I thought so," said Bellingham. "I was with the
85th Massachusetts, and I sha'n't forget that slaughter.
We were all new to it still. Perhaps that's why it made
such an impression."
"I don't know," suggested Charles Bellingham. "Was there
anything much more impressive afterward? I read of it
out in Missouri, where I was stationed at the time,
and I recollect the talk of some old army men about it.
They said that death-rate couldn't be beaten. I don't know
that it ever was."
"About one in five of us got out safe," said Lapham,
breaking his cigar-ash off on the edge of a plate.
James Bellingham reached him a bottle of Apollinaris.
He drank a glass, and then went on smoking.
They all waited, as if expecting him to speak, and then
Corey said: "How incredible those things seem already!
You gentlemen KNOW that they happened; but are you still
able to believe it?"
"Ah, nobody FEELS that anything happened," said Charles
Bellingham. "The past of one's experience doesn't
differ a great deal from the past of one's knowledge.
It isn't much more probable; it's really a great deal
less vivid than some scenes in a novel that one read when a boy."
"I'm not sure of that," said James Bellingham.
"Well, James, neither am I," consented his cousin,
helping himself from Lapham's Apollinaris bottle.
"There would be very little talking at dinner if one only
said the things that one was sure of."
The others laughed, and Bromfield Corey remarked thoughtfully,
"What astonishes the craven civilian in all these things
is the abundance--the superabundance--of heroism.
The cowards were the exception; the men that were ready
to die, the rule."
"The woods were full of them," said Lapham, without taking
his cigar from his mouth.
"That's a nice little touch in School," interposed Charles
Bellingham, "where the girl says to the fellow who was
at Inkerman, 'I should think you would be so proud of it,'
and he reflects a while, and says, 'Well, the fact is,
you know, there were so many of us.'"
"Yes, I remember that," said James Bellingham,
smiling for pleasure in it. "But I don't see why you
claim the credit of being a craven civilian, Bromfield,"
he added, with a friendly glance at his brother-in-law,
and with the willingness Boston men often show to turn
one another's good points to the light in company;
bred so intimately together at school and college
and in society, they all know these points. "A man
who was out with Garibaldi in '48," continued James Bellingham.
"Oh, a little amateur red-shirting," Corey interrupted
in deprecation. "But even if you choose to dispute
my claim, what has become of all the heroism? Tom,
how many club men do you know who would think it sweet
and fitting to die for their country?"
"I can't think of a great many at the moment, sir,"
replied the son, with the modesty of his generation.
"And I couldn't in '61," said his uncle. "Nevertheless they
"Then your theory is that it's the occasion that is wanting,"
said Bromfield Corey. "But why shouldn't civil service reform,
and the resumption of specie payment, and a tariff
for revenue only, inspire heroes? They are all good causes."
"It's the occasion that's wanting," said James Bellingham,
ignoring the persiflage. "And I'm very glad of it."
"So am I," said Lapham, with a depth of feeling that
expressed itself in spite of the haze in which his brain
seemed to float. There was a great deal of the talk
that he could not follow; it was too quick for him;
but here was something he was clear of. "I don't want
to see any more men killed in my time." Something serious,
something sombre must lurk behind these words, and they
waited for Lapham to say more; but the haze closed round
him again, and he remained silent, drinking Apollinaris.
"We non-combatants were notoriously reluctant to give
up fighting," said Mr. Sewell, the minister; "but I incline
to think Colonel Lapham and Mr. Bellingham may be right.
I dare say we shall have the heroism again if we have
the occasion. Till it comes, we must content ourselves
with the every-day generosities and sacrifices. They make
up in quantity what they lack in quality, perhaps."
"They're not so picturesque," said Bromfield Corey.
"You can paint a man dying for his country, but you
can't express on canvas a man fulfilling the duties
of a good citizen."
"Perhaps the novelists will get at him by and by,"
suggested Charles Bellingham. "If I were one of these fellows,
I shouldn't propose to myself anything short of that."
"What? the commonplace?" asked his cousin.
"Commonplace? The commonplace is just that light,
impalpable, aerial essence which they've never got into
their confounded books yet. The novelist who could
interpret the common feelings of commonplace people would
have the answer to 'the riddle of the painful earth ' on his tongue."
"Oh, not so bad as that, I hope," said the host;
and Lapham looked from one to the other, trying to make
out what they were at. He had never been so up a tree before.
"I suppose it isn't well for us to see human nature
at white heat habitually," continued Bromfield Corey,
after a while. "It would make us vain of our species.
Many a poor fellow in that war and in many another has
gone into battle simply and purely for his country's sake,
not knowing whether, if he laid down his life, he should
ever find it again, or whether, if he took it up hereafter,
he should take it up in heaven or hell. Come, parson!"
he said, turning to the minister, "what has ever been
conceived of omnipotence, of omniscience, so sublime,
so divine as that?"
"Nothing," answered the minister quietly. "God has never
been imagined at all. But if you suppose such a man as that
was Authorised, I think it will help you to imagine what God must be."
"There's sense in that," said Lapham. He took his cigar
out of his mouth, and pulled his chair a little toward
the table, on which he placed his ponderous fore-arms.
"I want to tell you about a fellow I had in my own
company when we first went out. We were all privates
to begin with; after a while they elected me captain--I'd
had the tavern stand, and most of 'em knew me. But Jim
Millon never got to be anything more than corporal;
corporal when he was killed." The others arrested themselves
in various attitudes of attention, and remained listening
to Lapham with an interest that profoundly flattered him.
Now, at last, he felt that he was holding up his end
of the rope. "I can't say he went into the thing from
the highest motives, altogether; our motives are always
pretty badly mixed, and when there's such a hurrah-boys
as there was then, you can't tell which is which.
I suppose Jim Millon's wife was enough to account for
his going, herself. She was a pretty bad assortment,"
said Lapham, lowering his voice and glancing round at the
door to make sure that it was shut, "and she used to lead
Jim ONE kind of life. Well, sir," continued Lapham,
synthetising his auditors in that form of address,
"that fellow used to save every cent of his pay and send
it to that woman. Used to get me to do it for him.
I tried to stop him. 'Why, Jim,' said I, 'you know
what she'll do with it.' 'That's so, Cap,' says he,
'but I don't know what she'll do without it.' And it
did keep her straight--straight as a string--as long
as Jim lasted. Seemed as it there was something mysterious
about it. They had a little girl,--about as old as my
oldest girl,--and Jim used to talk to me about her.
Guess he done it as much for her as for the mother;
and he said to me before the last action we went into,
'I should like to turn tail and run, Cap. I ain't comin'
out o' this one. But I don't suppose it would do.'
'Well, not for you, Jim,' said I. 'I want to live,'
he says; and he bust out crying right there in my tent.
'I want to live for poor Molly and Zerrilla'--that's what they
called the little one; I dunno where they got the name.
'I ain't ever had half a chance; and now she's doing better,
and I believe we should get along after this.' He set
there cryin' like a baby. But he wa'n't no baby when he
went into action. I hated to look at him after it was over,
not so much because he'd got a ball that was meant for me
by a sharpshooter--he saw the devil takin' aim, and he
jumped to warn me--as because he didn't look like Jim;
he looked like--fun; all desperate and savage. I guess he
The story made its impression, and Lapham saw it.
"Now I say," he resumed, as if he felt that he was going
to do himself justice, and say something to heighten
the effect his story had produced. At the same time
he was aware of a certain want of clearness. He had
the idea, but it floated vague, elusive, in his brain.
He looked about as if for something to precipitate it
in tangible shape.
"Apollinaris?" asked Charles Bellingham, handing the bottle
from the other side. He had drawn his chair closer than
the rest to Lapham's, and was listening with great interest.
When Mrs. Corey asked him to meet Lapham, he accepted gladly.
"You know I go in for that sort of thing, Anna.
Since Leslie's affair we're rather bound to do it.
And I think we meet these practical fellows too little.
There's always something original about them." He might
naturally have believed that the reward of his faith
"Thanks, I will take some of this wine," said Lapham,
pouring himself a glass of Madeira from a black and dusty
bottle caressed by a label bearing the date of the vintage.
He tossed off the wine, unconscious of its preciousness,
and waited for the result. That cloudiness in his brain
disappeared before it, but a mere blank remained.
He not only could not remember what he was going to say,
but he could not recall what they had been talking about.
They waited, looking at him, and he stared at them in return.
After a while he heard the host saying, "Shall we join
Lapham went, trying to think what had happened.
It seemed to him a long time since he had drunk that wine.
Miss Corey gave him a cup of tea, where he stood aloof from
his wife, who was talking with Miss Kingsbury and Mrs. Sewell;
Irene was with Miss Nanny Corey. He could not hear
what they were talking about; but if Penelope had come,
he knew that she would have done them all credit. He meant
to let her know how he felt about her behaviour when he
got home. It was a shame for her to miss such a chance.
Irene was looking beautiful, as pretty as all the rest
of them put together, but she was not talking, and Lapham
perceived that at a dinner-party you ought to talk.
He was himself conscious of having, talked very well.
He now wore an air of great dignity, and, in conversing
with the other gentlemen, he used a grave and
weighty deliberation. Some of them wanted him to go
into the library. There he gave his ideas of books.
He said he had not much time for anything but the papers;
but he was going to have a complete library in his new place.
He made an elaborate acknowledgment to Bromfield Corey
of his son's kindness in suggesting books for his library;
he said that he had ordered them all, and that he meant
to have pictures. He asked Mr. Corey who was about the
best American painter going now. "I don't set up to be
a judge of pictures, but I know what I like," he said.
He lost the reserve which he had maintained earlier,
and began to boast. He himself introduced the subject
of his paint, in a natural transition from pictures;
he said Mr. Corey must take a run up to Lapham with him
some day, and see the Works; they would interest him,
and he would drive him round the country; he kept most
of his horses up there, and he could show Mr. Corey
some of the finest Jersey grades in the country.
He told about his brother William, the judge at Dubuque;
and a farm he had out there that paid for itself every
year in wheat. As he cast off all fear, his voice rose,
and he hammered his arm-chair with the thick of his
hand for emphasis. Mr. Corey seemed impressed; he sat
perfectly quiet, listening, and Lapham saw the other
gentlemen stop in their talk every now and then to listen.
After this proof of his ability to interest them,
he would have liked to have Mrs. Lapham suggest again
that he was unequal to their society, or to the society
of anybody else. He surprised himself by his ease
among men whose names had hitherto overawed him.
He got to calling Bromfield Corey by his surname alone.
He did not understand why young Corey seemed so preoccupied,
and he took occasion to tell the company how he had said
to his wife the first time he saw that fellow that he
could make a man of him if he had him in the business;
and he guessed he was not mistaken. He began to tell stories
of the different young men he had had in his employ. At last
he had the talk altogether to himself; no one else talked,
and he talked unceasingly. It was a great time; it was
He was in this successful mood when word came to him that
Mrs. Lapham was going; Tom Corey seemed to have brought it,
but he was not sure. Anyway, he was not going to hurry.
He made cordial invitations to each of the gentlemen
to drop in and see him at his office, and would not be
satisfied till he had exacted a promise from each.
He told Charles Bellingham that he liked him, and assured
James Bellingham that it had always been his ambition
to know him, and that if any one had said when he
first came to Boston that in less than ten years he
should be hobnobbing with Jim Bellingham, he should have
told that person he lied. He would have told anybody
he lied that had told him ten years ago that a son
of Bromfield Corey would have come and asked him to take
him into the business. Ten years ago he, Silas Lapham,
had come to Boston a little worse off than nothing at all,
for he was in debt for half the money that he had bought
out his partner with, and here he was now worth a million,
and meeting you gentlemen like one of you. And every cent
of that was honest money,--no speculation,--every copper
of it for value received. And here, only the other day,
his old partner, who had been going to the dogs ever
since he went out of the business, came and borrowed twenty
thousand dollars of him! Lapham lent it because his wife
wanted him to: she had always felt bad about the fellow's
having to go out of the business.
He took leave of Mr. Sewell with patronising affection,
and bade him come to him if he ever got into a tight place
with his parish work; he would let him have all the money
he wanted; he had more money than he knew what to do with.
"Why, when your wife sent to mine last fall," he said,
turning to Mr. Corey, "I drew my cheque for five hundred
dollars, but my wife wouldn't take more than one hundred;
said she wasn't going to show off before Mrs. Corey.
I call that a pretty good joke on Mrs. Corey. I must
tell her how Mrs. Lapham done her out of a cool four
He started toward the door of the drawing-room to take
leave of the ladies; but Tom Corey was at his elbow,
saying, "I think Mrs. Lapham is waiting for you below,
sir," and in obeying the direction Corey gave him
toward another door he forgot all about his purpose,
and came away without saying good-night to his hostess.
Mrs. Lapham had not known how soon she ought to go,
and had no idea that in her quality of chief guest she
was keeping the others. She stayed till eleven o'clock,
and was a little frightened when she found what time it was;
but Mrs. Corey, without pressing her to stay longer,
had said it was not at all late. She and Irene had
had a perfect time. Everybody had been very polite,
on the way home they celebrated the amiability of both
the Miss Coreys and of Miss Kingsbury. Mrs. Lapham thought
that Mrs. Bellingham was about the pleasantest person she
ever saw; she had told her all about her married daughter
who had married an inventor and gone to live in Omaha--a
"If it's that car-wheel Blake," said Lapham proudly,
"I know all about him. I've sold him tons of the paint."
"Pooh, papa! How you do smell of smoking!" cried Irene.
"Pretty strong, eh?" laughed Lapham, letting down
a window of the carriage. His heart was throbbing
wildly in the close air, and he was glad of the rush
of cold that came in, though it stopped his tongue,
and he listened more and more drowsily to the rejoicings
that his wife and daughter exchanged. He meant to have
them wake Penelope up and tell her what she had lost;
but when he reached home he was too sleepy to suggest it.
He fell asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow,
full of supreme triumph.
But in the morning his skull was sore with the unconscious,
night-long ache; and he rose cross and taciturn.
They had a silent breakfast. In the cold grey light of the
morning the glories of the night before showed poorer.
Here and there a painful doubt obtruded itself and marred
them with its awkward shadow. Penelope sent down word
that she was not well, and was not coming to breakfast,
and Lapham was glad to go to his office without seeing her.
He was severe and silent all day with his clerks,
and peremptory with customers. Of Corey he was slyly observant,
and as the day wore away he grew more restively conscious.
He sent out word by his office-boy that he would
like to see Mr. Corey for a few minutes after closing.
The type-writer girl had lingered too, as if she wished
to speak with him, and Corey stood in abeyance as she
went toward Lapham's door.
"Can't see you to-night, Zerrilla," he said bluffly,
but not unkindly. "Perhaps I'll call at the house,
if it's important."
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