Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 23 out of 78
"But Miss Lapham! I may see her again? I may try
to convince her that----"
He stopped in distress, and Lapham afterwards told
his wife that he kept seeing the face of Irene as it
looked when he parted with her in the car; and whenever
he was going to say yes, he could not open his lips.
At the same time he could not help feeling that Penelope
had a right to what was her own, and Sewell's words came
back to him. Besides, they had already put Irene to the
worst suffering. Lapham compromised, as he imagined.
"You can come round to-night and see ME, if you want to,"
he said; and he bore grimly the gratitude that the young man
poured out upon him.
Penelope came down to supper and took her mother's place
at the head of the table.
Lapham sat silent in her presence as long as he could
bear it. Then he asked, "How do you feel to-night, Pen?"
"Oh, like a thief," said the girl. "A thief that hasn't
been arrested yet."
Lapham waited a while before he said, "Well, now,
your mother and I want you should hold up on that a while."
"It isn't for you to say. It's something I can't hold
"Yes, I guess you can. If I know what's happened,
then what's happened is a thing that nobody is to blame for.
And we want you should make the best of it and not the worst.
Heigh? It aint going to help Irene any for you to hurt
yourself--or anybody else; and I don't want you should take
up with any such crazy notion. As far as heard from,
you haven't stolen anything, and whatever you've got
belongs to you."
"Has he been speaking to you, father?"
"Your mother's been speaking to me."
"Has HE been speaking to you?"
"That's neither here nor there."
"Then he's broken his word, and I will never speak
to him again!"
"If he was any such fool as to promise that he wouldn't
talk to me on a subject"--Lapham drew a deep breath,
and then made the plunge--"that I brought up----"
"Did you bring it up?"
"The same as brought up--the quicker he broke his word
the better; and I want you should act upon that idea.
Recollect that it's my business, and your mother's business,
as well as yours, and we're going to have our say.
He hain't done anything wrong, Pen, nor anything
that he's going to be punished for. Understand that.
He's got to have a reason, if you're not going to have him.
I don't say you've got to have him; I want you should feel
perfectly free about that; but I DO say you've got to give him
"Is he coming here?"
"I don't know as you'd call it COMING----"
"Yes, you do, father!" said the girl, in forlorn amusement
at his shuffling.
"He's coming here to see ME----"
"When's he coming?"
"I don't know but he's coming to-night."
"And you want I should see him I"
"I don't know but you'd better."
"All right. I'll see him."
Lapham drew a long deep breath of suspicion inspired
by this acquiescence. "What you going to do?"
he asked presently.
"I don't know yet," answered the girl sadly. "It depends
a good deal upon what he does."
"Well," said Lapham, with the hungriness of unsatisfied
anxiety in his tone. When Corey's card was brought
into the family-room where he and Penelope were sitting,
he went into the parlour to find him. "I guess Penelope
wants to see you," he said; and, indicating the family-room,
he added, "She's in there," and did not go back himself.
Corey made his way to the girl's presence with open trepidation,
which was not allayed by her silence and languor.
She sat in the chair where she had sat the other night,
but she was not playing with a fan now.
He came toward her, and then stood faltering.
A faint smile quivered over her face at the spectacle
of his subjection. "Sit down, Mr. Corey," she said.
"There's no reason why we shouldn't talk it over quietly;
for I know you will think I'm right."
"I'm sure of that," he answered hopefully. "When I saw
that your father knew of it to-day, I asked him to let
me see you again. I'm afraid that I broke my promise
"It had to be broken." He took more courage at her words.
"But I've only come to do whatever you say, and not to be
an--annoyance to you----"
"Yes, you have to know; but I couldn't tell you before.
Now they all think I should."
A tremor of anxiety passed over the young man's face,
on which she kept her eyes steadily fixed.
"We supposed it--it was--Irene----"
He remained blank a moment, and then he said with a smile
of relief, of deprecation, of protest, of amazement,
"OH! Never! Never for an instant! How could you think
such a thing? It was impossible! I never thought of her.
But I see--I see! I can explain--no, there's nothing
to explain! I have never knowingly done or said
a thing from first to last to make you think that.
I see how terrible it is!" he said; but he still smiled,
as if he could not take it seriously. "I admired
her beauty--who could help doing that?--and I thought
her very good and sensible. Why, last winter in Texas,
I told Stanton about our meeting in Canada, and we agreed--I
only tell you to show you how far I always was from what
you thought--that he must come North and try to see her,
and--and--of course, it all sounds very silly!--and he
sent her a newspaper with an account of his ranch in it----"
"She thought it came from you."
"Oh, good heavens! He didn't tell me till after he'd done it.
But he did it for a part of our foolish joke. And when I
met your sister again, I only admired her as before.
I can see, now, how I must have seemed to be seeking her out;
but it was to talk of you with her--I never talked of
anything else if I could help it, except when I changed
the subject because I was ashamed to be always talking
of you. I see how distressing it is for all of you.
But tell me that you believe me!"
"Yes, I must. It's all been our mistake----"
"It has indeed! But there's no mistake about my loving
you, Penelope," he said; and the old-fashioned name,
at which she had often mocked, was sweet to her from his lips.
"That only makes it worse!" she answered.
"Oh no!" he gently protested. "It makes it better.
It makes it right. How is it worse? How is it wrong?"
"Can't you see? You must understand all now! Don't
you see that if she believed so too, and if she----"
She could not go on.
"Did she--did your sister--think that too?" gasped Corey.
"She used to talk with me about you; and when you say
you care for me now, it makes me feel like the vilest
hypocrite in the world. That day you gave her the list
of books, and she came down to Nantasket, and went
on about you, I helped her to flatter herself--oh! I
don't see how she can forgive me. But she knows I can
never forgive myself! That's the reason she can do it.
I can see now," she went on, "how I must have been trying
to get you from her. I can't endure it! The only way
is for me never to see you or speak to you again!"
She laughed forlornly. "That would be pretty hard on you,
if you cared."
"I do care--all the world!"
"Well, then, it would if you were going to keep on caring.
You won't long, if you stop coming now."
"Is this all, then? Is it the end?"
"It's--whatever it is. I can't get over the thought of her.
Once I thought I could, but now I see that I can't. It
seems to grow worse. Sometimes I feel as if it would
drive me crazy."
He sat looking at her with lacklustre eyes. The light
suddenly came back into them. "Do you think I could love
you if you had been false to her? I know you have been
true to her, and truer still to yourself. I never tried
to see her, except with the hope of seeing you too.
I supposed she must know that I was in love with you.
From the first time I saw you there that afternoon, you filled
my fancy. Do you think I was flirting with the child,
or--no, you don't think that! We have not done wrong.
We have not harmed any one knowingly. We have a right to
"No! no! you must never speak to me of this again.
If you do, I shall know that you despise me."
"But how will that help her? I don't love HER."
"Don't say that to me! I have said that to myself too much."
"If you forbid me to love you, it won't make me love her,"
She was about to speak, but she caught her breath without
doing so, and merely stared at him. "I must do what you say,"
he continued. "But what good will it do her? You can't
make her happy by making yourself unhappy."
"Do you ask me to profit by a wrong?"
"Not for the world. But there is no wrong!"
"There is something--I don't know what. There's a wall
between us. I shall dash myself against it as long
as I live; but that won't break it."
"Oh!" he groaned. "We have done no wrong. Why should we
suffer from another's mistake as if it were our sin?"
"I don't know. But we must suffer."
"Well, then, I WILL not, for my part, and I will not let you.
If you care for me----"
"You had no right to know it."
"You make it my privilege to keep you from doing wrong for
the right's sake. I'm sorry, with all my heart and soul,
for this error; but I can't blame myself, and I won't deny
myself the happiness I haven't done anything to forfeit.
I will never give you up. I will wait as long as you please
for the time when you shall feel free from this mistake;
but you shall be mine at last. Remember that. I might go
away for months--a year, even; but that seems a cowardly
and guilty thing, and I'm not afraid, and I'm not guilty,
and I'm going to stay here and try to see you."
She shook her head. "It won't change anything? Don't
you see that there's no hope for us?"
"When is she coming back?" he asked.
"I don't know. Mother wants father to come and take
her out West for a while."
"She's up there in the country with your mother yet?"
He was silent; then he said desperately--
"Penelope, she is very young; and perhaps--perhaps she
"It would make no difference. It wouldn't change it
"You are cruel--cruel to yourself, if you love me,
and cruel to me. Don't you remember that night--before
I spoke--you were talking of that book; and you said it
was foolish and wicked to do as that girl did. Why is
it different with you, except that you give me nothing,
and can never give me anything when you take yourself away?
If it were anybody else, I am sure you would say----"
"But it isn't anybody else, and that makes it impossible.
Sometimes I think it might be if I would only say
so to myself, and then all that I said to her about you
"I will wait. It can't always come up. I won't urge
you any longer now. But you will see it differently--
more clearly. Good-bye--no! Good night! I shall come again
to-morrow. It will surely come right, and, whatever happens,
you have done no wrong. Try to keep that in mind.
I am so happy, in spite of all!"
He tried to take her hand, but she put it behind her.
"No, no! I can't let you--yet!"
AFTER a week Mrs. Lapham returned, leaving Irene alone at
the old homestead in Vermont. "She's comfortable there--as
comfortable as she can be anywheres, I guess," she said
to her husband as they drove together from the station,
where he had met her in obedience to her telegraphic summons.
"She keeps herself busy helping about the house;
and she goes round amongst the hands in their houses.
There's sickness, and you know how helpful she is where
there's sickness. She don't complain any. I don't know
as I've heard a word out of her mouth since we left home;
but I'm afraid it'll wear on her, Silas."
"You don't look over and above well yourself, Persis,"
said her husband kindly.
"Oh, don't talk about me. What I want to know is whether
you can't get the time to run off with her somewhere.
I wrote to you about Dubuque. She'll work herself down,
I'm afraid; and THEN I don't know as she'll be over it.
But if she could go off, and be amused--see new people----"
"I could MAKE the time," said Lapham, "if I had to.
But, as it happens, I've got to go out West on business,--I'll
tell you about it,--and I'll take Irene along."
"Good!" said his wife. "That's about the best thing I've
heard yet. Where you going?"
"Out Dubuque way."
"Anything the matter with Bill's folks?"
"No. It's business."
"I guess she ain't much better than Irene."
"He been about any?"
"Yes. But I can't see as it helps matters much."
"Tchk!" Mrs. Lapham fell back against the carriage cushions.
"I declare, to see her willing to take the man that we
all thought wanted her sister! I can't make it seem right."
"It's right," said Lapham stoutly; "but I guess she
ain't willing; I wish she was. But there don't seem to be
any way out of the thing, anywhere. It's a perfect snarl.
But I don't want you should be anyways ha'sh with Pen."
Mrs. Lapham answered nothing; but when she met Penelope
she gave the girl's wan face a sharp look, and began
to whimper on her neck.
Penelope's tears were all spent. "Well, mother," she said,
"you come back almost as cheerful as you went away.
I needn't ask if 'Rene's in good spirits. We all seem
to be overflowing with them. I suppose this is one way
of congratulating me. Mrs. Corey hasn't been round to do
"Are you--are you engaged to him, Pen?" gasped her mother.
"Judging by my feelings, I should say not. I feel as
if it was a last will and testament. But you'd better
ask him when he comes."
"I can't bear to look at him."
"I guess he's used to that. He don't seem to expect
to be looked at. Well! we're all just where we started.
I wonder how long it will keep up."
Mrs. Lapham reported to her husband when he came home
at night--he had left his business to go and meet her,
and then, after a desolate dinner at the house,
had returned to the office again--that Penelope was fully
as bad as Irene. "And she don't know how to work it off.
Irene keeps doing; but Pen just sits in her room and mopes.
She don't even read. I went up this afternoon to scold
her about the state the house was in--you can see
that Irene's away by the perfect mess; but when I saw
her through the crack of the door I hadn't the heart.
She sat there with her hands in her lap, just staring.
And, my goodness! she JUMPED so when she saw me;
and then she fell back, and began to laugh, and said she,
'I thought it was my ghost, mother!' I felt as if I should
Lapham listened jadedly, and answered far from the point.
"I guess I've got to start out there pretty soon, Persis."
"Well, to-morrow morning."
Mrs. Lapham sat silent. Then, "All right," she said.
"I'll get you ready."
"I shall run up to Lapham for Irene, and then I'll push
on through Canada. I can get there about as quick."
"Is it anything you can tell me about, Silas?"
"Yes," said Lapham. "But it's a long story, and I
guess you've got your hands pretty full as it is.
I've been throwing good money after bad,--the usual way,--
and now I've got to see if I can save the pieces."
After a moment Mrs. Lapham asked, "Is it--Rogers?"
"I didn't want you should get in any deeper with him."
"No. You didn't want I should press him either; and I
had to do one or the other. And so I got in deeper."
"Silas," said his wife, "I'm afraid I made you!"
"It's all right, Persis, as far forth as that goes.
I was glad to make it up with him--I jumped at the chance.
I guess Rogers saw that he had a soft thing in me, and he's
worked it for all it was worth. But it'll all come out
right in the end."
Lapham said this as if he did not care to talk
any more about it. He added casually, "Pretty near
everybody but the fellows that owe ME seem to expect
me to do a cash business, all of a sudden."
"Do you mean that you've got payments to make, and that
people are not paying YOU?"
Lapham winced a little. "Something like that," he said,
and he lighted a cigar. "But when I tell you it's all right,
I mean it, Persis. I ain't going to let the grass grow
under my feet, though,--especially while Rogers digs
the ground away from the roots."
"What are you going to do?"
"If it has to come to that, I'm going to squeeze him."
Lapham's countenance lighted up with greater joy than had yet
visited it since the day they had driven out to Brookline.
"Milton K. Rogers is a rascal, if you want to know;
or else all the signs fail. But I guess he'll find he's got
his come-uppance." Lapham shut his lips so that the short,
reddish-grey beard stuck straight out on them.
"What's he done?"
"What's he done? Well, now, I'll tell you what he's done,
Persis, since you think Rogers is such a saint, and that I
used him so badly in getting him out of the business.
He's been dabbling in every sort of fool thing you can lay your
tongue to,--wild-cat stocks, patent-rights, land speculations,
oil claims,--till he's run through about everything.
But he did have a big milling property out on the line of
the P. Y. & X.,--saw-mills and grist-mills and lands,--and
for the last eight years he's been doing a land-office
business with 'em--business that would have made anybody
else rich. But you can't make Milton K. Rogers rich,
any more than you can fat a hide-bound colt. It ain't
in him. He'd run through Vanderbilt, Jay Gould,
and Tom Scott rolled into one in less than six months,
give him a chance, and come out and want to borrow money
of you. Well, he won't borrow any more money of ME;
and if he thinks I don't know as much about that milling
property as he does he's mistaken. I've taken his mills,
but I guess I've got the inside track; Bill's kept me posted;
and now I'm going out there to see how I can unload;
and I shan't mind a great deal if Rogers is under the load
when it's off once."
"I don't understand you, Silas."
"Why, it's just this. The Great Lacustrine & Polar
Railroad has leased the P. Y. & X. for ninety-nine
years,--bought it, practically,--and it's going to build
car-works right by those mills, and it may want them.
And Milton K. Rogers knew it when he turned 'em in on me."
"Well, if the road wants them, don't that make the mills
valuable? You can get what you ask for them!"
"Can I?" The P. Y. & X. is the only road that runs within
fifty miles of the mills, and you can't get a foot
of lumber nor a pound of flour to market any other way.
As long as he had a little local road like the P. Y. &
X. to deal with, Rogers could manage; but when it come
to a big through line like the G. L. & P., he couldn't
stand any chance at all. If such a road as that took
a fancy to his mills, do you think it would pay what he
asked? No, sir! He would take what the road offered,
or else the road would tell him to carry his flour and
lumber to market himself."
"And do you suppose he knew the G. L. & P. wanted the mills
when he turned them in on you?" asked Mrs. Lapham aghast,
and falling helplessly into his alphabetical parlance.
The Colonel laughed scoffingly. "Well, when Milton
K. Rogers don't know which side his bread's buttered on! I
don't understand," he added thoughtfully, "how he's always
letting it fall on the buttered side. But such a man
as that is sure to have a screw loose in him somewhere."
Mrs. Lapham sat discomfited. All that she could say was,
"Well, I want you should ask yourself whether Rogers would
ever have gone wrong, or got into these ways of his,
if it hadn't been for your forcing him out of the business
when you did. I want you should think whether you're not
responsible for everything he's done since."
"You go and get that bag of mine ready," said Lapham sullenly.
"I guess I can take care of myself. And Milton K. Rogers too,"
That evening Corey spent the time after dinner in his own room,
with restless excursions to the library, where his mother
sat with his father and sisters, and showed no signs
of leaving them. At last, in coming down, he encountered
her on the stairs, going up. They both stopped consciously.
"I would like to speak with you, mother. I have been
waiting to see you alone."
"Come to my room," she said.
"I have a feeling that you know what I want to say,"
he began there.
She looked up at him where he stood by the chimney-piece,
and tried to put a cheerful note into her questioning
"Yes; and I have a feeling that you won't like it--that
you won't approve of it. I wish you did--I wish you could!"
"I'm used to liking and approving everything you do, Tom.
If I don't like this at once, I shall try to like it--you
know that--for your sake, whatever it is."
"I'd better be short," he said, with a quick sigh.
"It's about Miss Lapham." He hastened to add, "I hope
it isn't surprising to you. I'd have told you before,
if I could."
"No, it isn't surprising. I was afraid--I suspected
something of the kind."
They were both silent in a painful silence.
"Well, mother?" he asked at last.
"If it's something you've quite made up mind to----"
"And if you've already spoken to her----"
"I had to do that first, of course."
"There would be no use of my saying anything, even if I
"You do dislike it!"
"No--no! I can't say that. Of course I should have
preferred it if you had chosen some nice girl among
those that you had been brought up with--some friend
or associate of your sisters, whose people we had known----"
"Yes, I understand that, and I can assure you that I
haven't been indifferent to your feelings. I have tried
to consider them from the first, and it kept me hesitating
in a way that I'm ashamed to think of; for it wasn't quite
right towards--others. But your feelings and my sisters'
have been in my mind, and if I couldn't yield to what I
supposed they must be, entirely----"
Even so good a son and brother as this, when it came
to his love affair, appeared to think that he had yielded
much in considering the feelings of his family at all.
His mother hastened to comfort him. "I know--I know.
I've seen for some time that this might happen, Tom, and I
have prepared myself for it. I have talked it over
with your father, and we both agreed from the beginning
that you were not to be hampered by our feeling.
Still--it is a surprise. It must be."
"I know it. I can understand your feeling. But I'm sure
that it's one that will last only while you don't know
"Oh, I'm sure of that, Tom. I'm sure that we shall
all be fond of her,--for your sake at first, even--and I
hope she'll like us."
"I am quite certain of that," said Corey, with that confidence
which experience does not always confirm in such cases.
"And your taking it as you do lifts a tremendous load
But he sighed so heavily, and looked so troubled,
that his mother said, "Well, now, you mustn't think
of that any more. We wish what is for your happiness,
my son, and we will gladly reconcile ourselves to anything
that might have been disagreeable. I suppose we needn't
speak of the family. We must both think alike about them.
They have their--drawbacks, but they are thoroughly good people,
and I satisfied myself the other night that they were not
to be dreaded." She rose, and put her arm round his neck.
"And I wish you joy, Tom! If she's half as good as you are,
you will both be very happy." She was going to kiss him,
but something in his looks stopped her--an absence,
a trouble, which broke out in his words.
"I must tell you, mother! There's been a complication--
a mistake--that's a blight on me yet, and that it sometimes
seems as if we couldn't escape from. I wonder if you
can help us! They all thought I meant--the other sister."
"O Tom! But how COULD they?"
"I don't know. It seemed so glaringly plain--I was
ashamed of making it so outright from the beginning.
But they did. Even she did, herself!"
"But where could they have thought your eyes were--your
taste? It wouldn't be surprising if any one were taken
with that wonderful beauty; and I'm sure she's good too.
But I'm astonished at them! To think you could prefer
that little, black, odd creature, with her joking and----"
"MOTHER!" cried the young man, turning a ghastly face
of warning upon her.
"What do you mean, Tom?"
"Did you--did--did you think so too--that it was IRENE
"Why, of course!"
He stared at her hopelessly.
"O my son!" she said, for all comment on the situation.
"Don't reproach me, mother! I couldn't stand it."
"No. I didn't mean to do that. But how--HOW could it happen?"
"I don't know. When she first told me that they had
understood it so, I laughed--almost--it was so far from me.
But now when you seem to have had the same idea--Did you
all think so?"
They remained looking at each other. Then Mrs. Corey
began: "It did pass through my mind once--that day I went
to call upon them--that it might not be as we thought;
but I knew so little of--of----"
"Penelope," Corey mechanically supplied.
"Is that her name?--I forgot--that I only thought of you
in relation to her long enough to reject the idea; and it was
natural after our seeing something of the other one last year,
that I might suppose you had formed some--attachment----"
"Yes; that's what they thought too. But I never thought
of her as anything but a pretty child. I was civil to her
because you wished it; and when I met her here again,
I only tried to see her so that I could talk with her
about her sister."
"You needn't defend yourself to ME, Tom," said his mother,
proud to say it to him in his trouble. "It's a terrible
business for them, poor things," she added. "I don't
know how they could get over it. But, of course,
sensible people must see----"
"They haven't got over it. At least she hasn't. Since
it's happened, there's been nothing that hasn't made
me prouder and fonder of her! At first I WAS charmed
with her--my fancy was taken; she delighted me--I don't
know how; but she was simply the most fascinating
person I ever saw. Now I never think of that.
I only think how good she is--how patient she is with me,
and how unsparing she is of herself. If she were concerned
alone--if I were not concerned too--it would soon end.
She's never had a thought for anything but her sister's
feeling and mine from the beginning. I go there,--I know
that I oughtn't, but I can't help it,--and she suffers it,
and tries not to let me see that she is suffering it.
There never was any one like her--so brave, so true,
so noble. I won't give her up--I can't. But it breaks my
heart when she accuses herself of what was all MY doing.
We spend our time trying to reason out of it, but we always
come back to it at last, and I have to hear her morbidly
blaming herself. Oh!"
Doubtless Mrs. Corey imagined some reliefs to this suffering,
some qualifications of this sublimity in a girl she
had disliked so distinctly; but she saw none in her
son's behaviour, and she gave him her further sympathy.
She tried to praise Penelope, and said that it was
not to be expected that she could reconcile herself
at once to everything. "I shouldn't have liked it
in her if she had. But time will bring it all right.
And if she really cares for you----"
"I extorted that from her."
"Well, then, you must look at it in the best light you can.
There is no blame anywhere, and the mortification and pain
is something that must be lived down. That's all.
And don't let what I said grieve you, Tom. You know I
scarcely knew her, and I--I shall be sure to like any one
you like, after all."
"Yes, I know," said the young man drearily. "Will you
"If you wish."
"He must know. And I couldn't stand any more of this,
just yet--any more mistake."
"I will tell him," said Mrs. Corey; and it was
naturally the next thing for a woman who dwelt so much
on decencies to propose: "We must go to call on her--
your sisters and I. They have never seen her even;
and she mustn't be allowed to think we're indifferent
to her, especially under the circumstances."
"Oh no! Don't go--not yet," cried Corey, with an instinctive
perception that nothing could be worse for him.
"We must wait--we must be patient. I'm afraid it would
be painful to her now."
He turned away without speaking further; and his mother's
eyes followed him wistfully to the door. There were
some questions that she would have liked to ask him;
but she had to content herself with trying to answer them
when her husband put them to her.
There was this comfort for her always in Bromfield Corey,
that he never was much surprised at anything, however shocking
or painful. His standpoint in regard to most matters
was that of the sympathetic humorist who would be glad
to have the victim of circumstance laugh with him,
but was not too much vexed when the victim could not.
He laughed now when his wife, with careful preparation,
got the facts of his son's predicament fully under
"Really, Bromfield," she said, "I don't see how you
can laugh. Do you see any way out of it?"
"It seems to me that the way has been found already.
Tom has told his love to the right one, and the wrong one
knows it. Time will do the rest."
"If I had so low an opinion of them all as that, it would
make me very unhappy. It's shocking to think of it."
"It is upon the theory of ladies and all young people,"
said her husband, with a shrug, feeling his way to the
matches on the mantel, and then dropping them with a sign,
as if recollecting that he must not smoke there.
"I've no doubt Tom feels himself an awful sinner.
But apparently he's resigned to his sin; he isn't going to
give her up."
"I'm glad to say, for the sake of human nature, that SHE
isn't resigned--little as I like her," cried Mrs. Corey.
Her husband shrugged again. "Oh, there mustn't be any
indecent haste. She will instinctively observe the proprieties.
But come, now, Anna! you mustn't pretend to me here,
in the sanctuary of home, that practically the human
affections don't reconcile themselves to any situation
that the human sentiments condemn. Suppose the wrong
sister had died: would the right one have had any scruple
in marrying Tom, after they had both 'waited a proper time,'
as the phrase is?"
"Bromfield, you're shocking!"
"Not more shocking than reality. You may regard this as
a second marriage." He looked at her with twinkling eyes,
full of the triumph the spectator of his species feels
in signal exhibitions of human nature. "Depend upon it,
the right sister will be reconciled; the wrong one will
be consoled; and all will go merry as a marriage bell--a
second marriage bell. Why, it's quite like a romance!"
Here he laughed outright again.
"Well," sighed the wife, "I could almost wish the right one,
as you call her, would reject Tom, I dislike her so much."
"Ah, now you're talking business, Anna," said her husband,
with his hands spread behind the back he turned comfortably
to the fire. "The whole Lapham tribe is distasteful to me.
As I don't happen to have seen our daughter-in-law elect,
I have still the hope--which you're disposed to forbid
me--that she may not be quite so unacceptable as the others."
"Do you really feel so, Bromfield?" anxiously inquired
"Yes--I think I do; "and he sat down, and stretched
out his long legs toward the fire.
"But it's very inconsistent of you to oppose the matter now,
when you've shown so much indifference up to this time.
You've told me, all along, that it was of no use to
"So I have. I was convinced of that at the beginning,
or my reason was. You know very well that I am equal
to any trial, any sacrifice, day after to-morrow;
but when it comes to-day it's another thing. As long
as this crisis decently kept its distance, I could look
at it with an impartial eye; but now that it seems at hand,
I find that, while my reason is still acquiescent, my nerves
are disposed to--excuse the phrase--kick. I ask myself,
what have I done nothing for, all my life, and lived
as a gentleman should, upon the earnings of somebody else,
in the possession of every polite taste and feeling
that adorns leisure, if I'm to come to this at last? And
I find no satisfactory answer. I say to myself that I
might as well have yielded to the pressure all round me,
and gone to work, as Tom has.
Mrs. Corey looked at him forlornly, divining the core
of real repugnance that existed in his self-satire.
"I assure you, my dear," he continued, "that the recollection
of what I suffered from the Laphams at that dinner of yours
is an anguish still. It wasn't their behaviour,--they
behaved well enough--or ill enough; but their conversation
was terrible. Mrs. Lapham's range was strictly domestic;
and when the Colonel got me in the library, he poured
mineral paint all over me, till I could have been
safely warranted not to crack or scale in any climate.
I suppose we shall have to see a good deal of them.
They will probably come here every Sunday night to tea.
It's a perspective without a vanishing-point."
"It may not be so bad, after all," said his wife; and she
suggested for his consolation that he knew very little
about the Laphams yet.
He assented to the fact. "I know very little about them,
and about my other fellow-beings. I dare say that I
should like the Laphams better if I knew them better.
But in any case, I resign myself. And we must keep
in view the fact that this is mainly Tom's affair,
and if his affections have regulated it to his satisfaction,
we must be content."
"Oh yes," sighed Mrs. Corey. "And perhaps it won't turn
out so badly. It's a great comfort to know that you feel
just as I do about it."
"I do," said her husband, "and more too."
It was she and her daughters who would be chiefly
annoyed by the Lapham connection; she knew that.
But she had to begin to bear the burden by helping
her husband to bear his light share of it. To see him
so depressed dismayed her, and she might well have
reproached him more sharply than she did for showing
so much indifference, when she was so anxious, at first.
But that would not have served any good end now.
She even answered him patiently when he asked her,
"What did you say to Tom when he told you it was the other one?"
"What could I say? I could do nothing, but try to take
back what I had said against her."
"Yes, you had quite enough to do, I suppose.
It's an awkward business. If it had been the pretty one,
her beauty would have been our excuse. But the plain
one--what do you suppose attracted him in her?"
Mrs. Corey sighed at the futility of the question.
"Perhaps I did her injustice. I only saw her a few moments.
Perhaps I got a false impression. I don't think
she's lacking in sense, and that's a great thing.
She'll be quick to see that we don't mean unkindness,
and can't, by anything we say or do, when she's Tom's wife."
She pronounced the distasteful word with courage, and went
on: "The pretty one might not have been able to see that.
She might have got it into her head that we were looking
down on her; and those insipid people are terribly stubborn.
We can come to some understanding with this one; I'm sure
of that." She ended by declaring that it was now their duty
to help Tom out of his terrible predicament.
"Oh, even the Lapham cloud has a silver lining," said Corey.
"In fact, it seems really to have all turned out for
the best, Anna; though it's rather curious to find you
the champion of the Lapham side, at last. Confess, now,
that the right girl has secretly been your choice all along,
and that while you sympathise with the wrong one,
you rejoice in the tenacity with which the right one is
clinging to her own!" He added with final seriousness,
"It's just that she should, and, so far as I understand
the case, I respect her for it."
"Oh yes," sighed Mrs. Corey. "It's natural, and it's right."
But she added, "I suppose they're glad of him on any terms."
"That is what I have been taught to believe," said her husband.
"When shall we see our daughter-in-law elect? I find
myself rather impatient to have that part of it over."
Mrs. Corey hesitated. "Tom thinks we had better not call,
"She has told him of your terrible behaviour when you
"No, Bromfield! She couldn't be so vulgar as that?"
"But anything short of it?"
LAPHAM was gone a fortnight. He was in a sullen humour
when he came back, and kept himself shut close within
his own den at the office the first day. He entered it
in the morning without a word to his clerks as he passed
through the outer room, and he made no sign throughout
the forenoon, except to strike savagely on his desk-bell
from time to time, and send out to Walker for some book
of accounts or a letter-file. His boy confidentially
reported to Walker that the old man seemed to have got
a lot of papers round; and at lunch the book-keeper
said to Corey, at the little table which they had taken
in a corner together, in default of seats at the counter,
"Well, sir, I guess there's a cold wave coming."
Corey looked up innocently, and said, "I haven't read
the weather report."
"Yes, sir," Walker continued, "it's coming. Areas of
rain along the whole coast, and increased pressure
in the region of the private office. Storm-signals up
at the old man's door now."
Corey perceived that he was speaking figuratively,
and that his meteorology was entirely personal to Lapham.
"What do you mean?" he asked, without vivid interest in
the allegory, his mind being full of his own tragi-comedy.
"Why, just this: I guess the old man's takin' in sail.
And I guess he's got to. As I told you the first time
we talked about him, there don't any one know one-
quarter as much about the old man's business as the old
man does himself; and I ain't betraying any confidence
when I say that I guess that old partner of his has got
pretty deep into his books. I guess he's over head
and ears in 'em, and the old man's gone in after him,
and he's got a drownin' man's grip round his neck.
There seems to be a kind of a lull--kind of a dead calm,
I call it--in the paint market just now; and then
again a ten-hundred-thousand-dollar man don't build a
hundred-thousand-dollar house without feeling the drain,
unless there's a regular boom. And just now there ain't
any boom at all. Oh, I don't say but what the old man's
got anchors to windward; guess he HAS; but if he's GOIN'
to leave me his money, I wish he'd left it six weeks ago.
Yes, sir, I guess there's a cold wave comin'; but you
can't generally 'most always tell, as a usual thing,
where the old man's concerned, and it's ONLY a guess."
Walker began to feed in his breaded chop with the same
nervous excitement with which he abandoned himself
to the slangy and figurative excesses of his talks.
Corey had listened with a miserable curiosity and compassion
up to a certain moment, when a broad light of hope
flashed upon him. It came from Lapham's potential ruin;
and the way out of the labyrinth that had hitherto seemed
so hopeless was clear enough, if another's disaster would
befriend him, and give him the opportunity to prove the
unselfishness of his constancy. He thought of the sum
of money that was his own, and that he might offer to lend,
or practically give, if the time came; and with his crude
hopes and purposes formlessly exulting in his heart,
he kept on listening with an unchanged countenance.
Walker could not rest till he had developed the whole situation,
so far as he knew it. "Look at the stock we've got on hand.
There's going to be an awful shrinkage on that, now! And
when everybody is shutting down, or running half-time,
the works up at Lapham are going full chip, just the same
as ever. Well, it's his pride. I don't say but what it's
a good sort of pride, but he likes to make his brags that
the fire's never been out in the works since they started,
and that no man's work or wages has ever been cut down yet
at Lapham, it don't matter WHAT the times are. Of course,"
explained Walker, "I shouldn't talk so to everybody;
don't know as I should talk so to anybody but you,
"Of course," assented Corey.
"Little off your feed to-day," said Walker, glancing at
"I got up with a headache."
"Well, sir, if you're like me you'll carry it round
all day, then. I don't know a much meaner thing
than a headache--unless it's earache, or toothache,
or some other kind of ache I'm pretty hard to suit,
when it comes to diseases. Notice how yellow the old man
looked when he came in this morning? I don't like to see
a man of his build look yellow--much." About the middle
of the afternoon the dust-coloured face of Rogers,
now familiar to Lapham's clerks, showed itself among them.
"Has Colonel Lapham returned yet?" he asked, in his dry,
wooden tones, of Lapham's boy.
"Yes, he's in his office," said the boy; and as
Rogers advanced, he rose and added, "I don't know
as you can see him to-day. His orders are not to let anybody in."
"Oh, indeed!" said Rogers; "I think he will see ME!"
and he pressed forward.
"Well, I'll have to ask," returned the boy; and hastily
preceding Rogers, he put his head in at Lapham's door,
and then withdrew it. "Please to sit down," he said;
"he'll see you pretty soon;" and, with an air of some surprise,
Rogers obeyed. His sere, dull-brown whiskers and the
moustache closing over both lips were incongruously
and illogically clerical in effect, and the effect
was heightened for no reason by the parchment texture
of his skin; the baldness extending to the crown of
his head was like a baldness made up for the stage.
What his face expressed chiefly was a bland and
beneficent caution. Here, you must have said to yourself,
is a man of just, sober, and prudent views, fixed purposes,
and the good citizenship that avoids debt and hazard of every kind.
"What do you want?" asked Lapham, wheeling round in his
swivel-chair as Rogers entered his room, and pushing
the door shut with his foot, without rising.
Rogers took the chair that was not offered him, and sat
with his hat-brim on his knees, and its crown pointed
towards Lapham. "I want to know what you are going to do,"
he answered with sufficient self-possession.
"I'll tell you, first, what I've done," said Lapham.
"I've been to Dubuque, and I've found out all about
that milling property you turned in on me. Did you know
that the G. L. & P. had leased the P. Y. & X. ?"
"I some suspected that it might."
"Did you know it when you turned the property in on me?
Did you know that the G. L. & P. wanted to buy the mills?"
"I presumed the road would give a fair price for them,"
said Rogers, winking his eyes in outward expression of
inwardly blinking the point.
"You lie," said Lapham, as quietly as if correcting him
in a slight error; and Rogers took the word with equal
sang froid. "You knew the road wouldn't give a fair price
for the mills. You knew it would give what it chose,
and that I couldn't help myself, when you let me take them.
You're a thief, Milton K. Rogers, and you stole money
I lent you." Rogers sat listening, as if respectfully
considering the statements. "You knew how I felt about
that old matter--or my wife did; and that I wanted
to make it up to you, if you felt anyway badly used.
And you took advantage of it. You've got money out of me,
in the first place, on securities that wa'n't worth
thirty-five cents on the dollar, and you've let me in for
this thing, and that thing, and you've bled me every time.
And all I've got to show for it is a milling property on
a line of road that can squeeze me, whenever it wants to,
as dry as it pleases. And you want to know what I'm
going to do? I'm going to squeeze YOU. I'm going to
sell these collaterals of yours,"--he touched a bundle
of papers among others that littered his desk,--"and
I'm going to let the mills go for what they'll fetch.
I ain't going to fight the G. L. & P."
Lapham wheeled about in his chair and turned his burly
back on his visitor, who sat wholly unmoved.
"There are some parties," he began, with a dry
tranquillity ignoring Lapham's words, as if they had been
an outburst against some third person, who probably
merited them, but in whom he was so little interested
that he had been obliged to use patience in listening
to his condemnation,--"there are some English parties
who have been making inquiries in regard to those mills."
"I guess you're lying, Rogers," said Lapham, without looking round.
"Well, all that I have to ask is that you will not
"I see you don't think I'm in earnest!" cried Lapham,
facing fiercely about. "You think I'm fooling, do you?"
He struck his bell, and "William," he ordered the boy
who answered it, and who stood waiting while he dashed
off a note to the brokers and enclosed it with the bundle
of securities in a large envelope, "take these down to
Gallop & Paddock's, in State Street, right away. Now go!"
he said to Rogers, when the boy had closed the door after him;
and he turned once more to his desk.
Rogers rose from his chair, and stood with his hat
in his hand. He was not merely dispassionate in his
attitude and expression, he was impartial. He wore
the air of a man who was ready to return to business
whenever the wayward mood of his interlocutor permitted.
"Then I understand," he said, "that you will take no action
in regard to the mills till I have seen the parties I speak of."
Lapham faced about once more, and sat looking up into the
visage of Rogers in silence. "I wonder what you're up to,"
he said at last; "I should like to know." But as Rogers made
no sign of gratifying his curiosity, and treated this last
remark of Lapham's as of the irrelevance of all the rest,
he said, frowning, "You bring me a party that will give me
enough for those mills to clear me of you, and I'll talk
to you. But don't you come here with any man of straw.
And I'll give you just twenty-four hours to prove yourself
a swindler again."
Once more Lapham turned his back, and Rogers, after looking
thoughtfully into his hat a moment, cleared his throat,
and quietly withdrew, maintaining to the last his
Lapham was not again heard from, as Walker phrased it,
during the afternoon, except when the last mail was
taken in to him; then the sound of rending envelopes,
mixed with that of what seemed suppressed swearing,
penetrated to the outer office. Somewhat earlier than
the usual hour for closing, he appeared there with his hat
on and his overcoat buttoned about him. He said briefly
to his boy, "William, I shan't be back again this afternoon,"
and then went to Miss Dewey and left a number of letters
on her table to be copied, and went out. Nothing had
been said, but a sense of trouble subtly diffused itself
through those who saw him go out.
That evening as he sat down with his wife alone at tea,
he asked, "Ain't Pen coming to supper?"
"No, she ain't," said his wife. "I don't know as I
like the way she's going on, any too well. I'm afraid,
if she keeps on, she'll be down sick. She's got deeper
feelings than Irene."
Lapham said nothing, but having helped himself to the
abundance of his table in his usual fashion, he sat
and looked at his plate with an indifference that did
not escape the notice of his wife. "What's the matter
with YOU?" she asked.
"Nothing. I haven't got any appetite."
"What's the matter?" she persisted.
"Trouble's the matter; bad luck and lots of it's the matter,"
said Lapham. "I haven't ever hid anything from you,
Persis, well you asked me, and it's too late to begin now.
I'm in a fix. I'll tell you what kind of a fix,
if you think it'll do you any good; but I guess you'll
be satisfied to know that it's a fix."
"How much of a one?" she asked with a look of grave,
steady courage in her eyes.
"Well, I don't know as I can tell, just yet," said Lapham,
avoiding this look. "Things have been dull all the fall,
but I thought they'd brisk up come winter. They haven't.
There have been a lot of failures, and some of 'em owed me,
and some of 'em had me on their paper; and----" Lapham stopped.
"And what?" prompted his wife.
He hesitated before he added, "And then--Rogers."
"I'm to blame for that," said Mrs. Lapham. "I forced
you to it."
"No; I was as willing to go into it as what you were,"
answered Lapham. "I don't want to blame anybody."
Mrs. Lapham had a woman's passion for fixing responsibility;
she could not help saying, as soon as acquitted, "I warned
you against him, Silas. I told you not to let him get
in any deeper with you."
"Oh yes. I had to help him to try to get my money back.
I might as well poured water into a sieve. And now--"
"Don't be afraid to speak out to me, Silas Lapham.
If it comes to the worst, I want to know it--I've got
to know it. What did I ever care for the money? I've.
had a happy home with you ever since we were married,
and I guess I shall have as long as you live, whether we
go on to the Back Bay, or go back to the old house
at Lapham. I know who's to blame, and I blame myself.
It was my forcing Rogers on to you." She came back to this
with her helpless longing, inbred in all Puritan souls,
to have some one specifically suffer for the evil in the world,
even if it must be herself.
"It hasn't come to the worst yet, Persis," said her husband.
"But I shall have to hold up on the new house a little while,
till I can see where I am."
"I shouldn't care if we had to sell it," cried his wife,
in passionate self-condemnation. "I should be GLAD if we
had to, as far as I'm concerned."
"I shouldn't," said Lapham.
"I know!" said his wife; and she remembered ruefully
how his heart was set on it.
He sat musing. "Well, I guess it's going to come out all
right in the end. Or, if it ain't," he sighed, "we can't
help it. May be Pen needn't worry so much about Corey,
after all," he continued, with a bitter irony new to him.
"It's an ill wind that blows nobody good. And there's
a chance," he ended, with a still bitterer laugh,
"that Rogers will come to time, after all."
"I don't believe it!" exclaimed Mrs. Lapham, with a gleam
of hope in her eyes. "What chance?"
"One in ten million," said Lapham; and her face fell again.
"He says there are some English parties after him to buy
"Well, I gave him twenty-four hours to prove himself
"You don't believe there are any such parties?"
"Not in THIS world."
"But if there were?"
"Well, if there were, Persis----But pshaw!"
"No, no!" she pleaded eagerly. "It don't seem as if he
COULD be such a villain. What would be the use of his
pretending? If he brought the parties to you"
"Well," said Lapham scornfully, "I'd let them have
the mills at the price Rogers turned 'em in on me at.
I don't want to make anything on 'em. But guess I shall
hear from the G. L. & P. first. And when they make
their offer, I guess I'll have to accept it, whatever it is.
I don't think they'll have a great many competitors."
Mrs. Lapham could not give up her hope. "If you could
get your price from those English parties before they
knew that the G. L. & P. wanted to buy the mills,
would it let you out with Rogers?"
"Just about," said Lapham.
"Then I know he'll move heaven and earth to bring it about.
I KNOW you won't be allowed to suffer for doing him
a kindness, Silas. He CAN'T be so ungrateful! Why,
why SHOULD he pretend to have any such parties in view
when he hasn't? Don't you be down-hearted, Si. You'll see
that he'll be round with them to-morrow."
Lapham laughed, but she urged so many reasons for her belief
in Rogers that Lapham began to rekindle his own faith a little.
He ended by asking for a hot cup of tea; and Mrs. Lapham
sent the pot out and had a fresh one steeped for him.
After that he made a hearty supper in the revulsion from
his entire despair; and they fell asleep that night talking
hopefully of his affairs, which he laid before her fully,
as he used to do when he first started in business.
That brought the old times back, and he said: "If
this had happened then, I shouldn't have cared much.
I was young then, and I wasn't afraid of anything.
But I noticed that after I passed fifty I began to get
scared easier. I don't believe I could pick up, now, from a
"Pshaw! YOU scared, Silas Lapham?" cried his wife proudly.
"I should like to see the thing that ever scared you;
or the knockdown that YOU couldn't pick up from!"
"Is that so, Persis?" he asked, with the joy her courage
In the middle of the night she called to him, in a voice
which the darkness rendered still more deeply troubled:
"Are you awake, Silas?"
"Yes; I'm awake."
"I've been thinking about those English parties, Si----"
"And I can't make it out but what you'd be just as bad
as Rogers, every bit and grain, if you were to let them
have the mills----"
"And not tell 'em what the chances were with the G. L. &
P.? I thought of that, and you needn't be afraid."
She began to bewail herself, and to sob convulsively: "O
Silas! O Silas!" Heaven knows in what measure the passion
of her soul was mired with pride in her husband's honesty,
relief from an apprehended struggle, and pity for him.
"Hush, hush, Persis!" he besought her. "You'll wake Pen
if you keep on that way. Don't cry any more! You mustn't."
"Oh, let me cry, Silas! It'll help me. I shall be all right
in a minute. Don't you mind." She sobbed herself quiet.
"It does seem too hard," she said, when she could speak again,
"that you have to give up this chance when Providence
had fairly raised it up for you."
"I guess it wa'n't Providence raised it up," said Lapham.
"Any rate, it's got to go. Most likely Rogers was lyin',
and there ain't any such parties; but if there were,
they couldn't have the mills from me without the whole story.
Don't you be troubled, Persis. I'm going to pull
through all right." "Oh, I ain't afraid. I don't suppose
but what there's plenty would help you, if they knew you
needed it, Si."
"They would if they knew I DIDN'T need it,"
said Lapham sardonically.
"Did you tell Bill how you stood?"
"No, I couldn't bear to. I've been the rich one so long,
that I couldn't bring myself to own up that I was in danger."
"Besides, it didn't look so ugly till to-day. But I guess
we shan't let ugly looks scare us."
THE morning postman brought Mrs. Lapham a letter from Irene,
which was chiefly significant because it made no
reference whatever to the writer or her state of mind.
It gave the news of her uncle's family; it told of their
kindness to her; her cousin Will was going to take her
and his sisters ice-boating on the river, when it froze.
By the time this letter came, Lapham had gone to his business,
and the mother carried it to Penelope to talk over.
"What do you make out of it?" she asked; and without
waiting to be answered she said, "I don't know as I
believe in cousins marrying, a great deal; but if Irene
and Will were to fix it up between 'em----" She looked
vaguely at Penelope.
"It wouldn't make any difference as far as I was concerned,"
replied the girl listlessly.
Mrs. Lapham lost her patience.
"Well, then, I'll tell you what, Penelope!" she exclaimed.
"Perhaps it'll make a difference to you if you know that
your father's in REAL trouble. He's harassed to death,
and he was awake half the night, talking about it.
That abominable Rogers has got a lot of money away from him;
and he's lost by others that he's helped,"--Mrs. Lapham put
it in this way because she had no time to be explicit,--"and
I want you should come out of your room now, and try to be
of some help and comfort to him when he comes home to-night.
I guess Irene wouldn't mope round much, if she was here,"
she could not help adding.
The girl lifted herself on her elbow. "What's that you say
about father?" she demanded eagerly. "Is he in trouble? Is
he going to lose his money? Shall we have to stay in this house?"
"We may be very GLAD to stay in this house," said Mrs. Lapham,
half angry with herself for having given cause for the
girl's conjectures, and half with the habit of prosperity
in her child, which could conceive no better of what
adversity was. "And I want you should get up and show that
you've got some feeling for somebody in the world besides yourself."
"Oh, I'll get UP!" said the girl promptly, almost. cheerfully.
"I don't say it's as bad now as it looked a little while ago,"
said her mother, conscientiously hedging a little
from the statement which she had based rather upon her
feelings than her facts. "Your father thinks he'll pull
through all right, and I don't know but what he will.
But I want you should see if you can't do something to cheer
him up and keep him from getting so perfectly down-hearted
as he seems to get, under the load he's got to carry.
And stop thinking about yourself a while, and behave
yourself like a sensible girl."
"Yes, yes," said the girl; "I will. You needn't
be troubled about me any more."
Before she left her room she wrote a note, and when she
came down she was dressed to go out-of-doors and post
it herself. The note was to Corey:--
"Do not come to see me any more till you hear from me.
I have a reason which I cannot give you now; and you must
not ask what it is."
All day she went about in a buoyant desperation, and she
came down to meet her father at supper.
"Well, Persis," he said scornfully, as he sat down,
"we might as well saved our good resolutions till they
were wanted. I guess those English parties have gone
back on Rogers."
"Do you mean he didn't come?"
"He hadn't come up to half-past five," said Lapham.
"Tchk!" uttered his wife. "But I guess I shall pull
through without Mr. Rogers," continued Lapham. "A firm
that I didn't think COULD weather it is still afloat,
and so far forth as the danger goes of being dragged under
with it, I'm all right." Penelope came in. "Hello, Pen!"
cried her father. "It ain't often I meet YOU nowadays."
He put up his hand as she passed his chair, and pulled her
down and kissed her.
"No," she said; "but I thought I'd come down to-night
and cheer you up a little. I shall not talk; the sight
of me will be enough."
Her father laughed out. "Mother been telling you? Well,
I WAS pretty blue last night; but I guess I was more scared
than hurt. How'd you like to go to the theatre to-night?
Sellers at the Park. Heigh?"
"Well, I don't know. Don't you think they could get
along without me there?"
"No; couldn't work it at all," cried the Colonel.
"Let's all go. Unless," he added inquiringly,
"there's somebody coming here?"
"There's nobody coming," said Penelope.
"Good! Then we'll go. Mother, don't you be late now."
"Oh, I shan't keep you waiting," said Mrs. Lapham.
She had thought of telling what a cheerful letter she had
got from Irene; but upon the whole it seemed better not to
speak of Irene at all just then. After they returned from
the theatre, where the Colonel roared through the comedy,
with continual reference of his pleasure to Penelope,
to make sure that she was enjoying it too, his wife said,
as if the whole affair had been for the girl's distraction
rather than his, "I don't believe but what it's going
to come out all right about the children;" and then she
told him of the letter, and the hopes she had founded
"Well, perhaps you're right, Persis," he consented.
"I haven't seen Pen so much like herself since it happened.
I declare, when I see the way she came out to-night,
just to please you, I don't know as I want you should get
over all your troubles right away."
"I guess there'll be enough to keep Pen going
for a while yet," said the Colonel, winding up his watch.
But for a time there was a relief, which Walker noted,
in the atmosphere at the office, and then came another
cold wave, slighter than the first, but distinctly
felt there, and succeeded by another relief. It was like
the winter which was wearing on to the end of the year,
with alternations of freezing weather, and mild days stretching
to weeks, in which the snow and ice wholly disappeared.
It was none the less winter, and none the less harassing
for these fluctuations, and Lapham showed in his face
and temper the effect of like fluctuations in his affairs.
He grew thin and old, and both at home and at his
office he was irascible to the point of offence.
In these days Penelope shared with her mother the burden
of their troubled home, and united with her in supporting
the silence or the petulance of the gloomy, secret man
who replaced the presence of jolly prosperity there.
Lapham had now ceased to talk of his troubles,
and savagely resented his wife's interference. "You mind
your own business, Persis," he said one day, "if you've
got any;" and after that she left him mainly to Penelope,
who did not think of asking him questions.
"It's pretty hard on you, Pen," she said.
"That makes it easier for me," returned the girl,
who did not otherwise refer to her own trouble.
In her heart she had wondered a little at the absolute
obedience of Corey, who had made no sign since receiving
her note. She would have liked to ask her father if Corey
was sick; she would have liked him to ask her why Corey
did not come any more. Her mother went on--
"I don't believe your father knows WHERE he stands.
He works away at those papers he brings home here
at night, as if he didn't half know what he was about.
He always did have that close streak in him, and I don't
suppose but what he's been going into things he don't want
anybody else to know about, and he's kept these accounts
of his own."
Sometimes he gave Penelope figures to work at, which he
would not submit to his wife's nimbler arithmetic.
Then she went to bed and left them sitting up till midnight,
struggling with problems in which they were both weak.
But she could see that the girl was a comfort to her father,
and that his troubles were a defence and shelter to her.
Some nights she could hear them going out together, and then
she lay awake for their return from their long walk.
When the hour or day of respite came again, the home felt
it first. Lapham wanted to know what the news from Irene was;
he joined his wife in all her cheerful speculations,
and tried to make her amends for his sullen reticence
and irritability. Irene was staying on at Dubuque.
There came a letter from her, saying that her uncle's
people wanted her to spend the winter there.
"Well, let her," said Lapham. "It'll be the best thing
Lapham himself had letters from his brother at frequent intervals.
His brother was watching the G. L. & P., which as yet
had made no offer for the mills. Once, when one of
these letters came, he submitted to his wife whether,
in the absence of any positive information that the road
wanted the property, he might not, with a good conscience,
dispose of it to the best advantage to anybody who came along.
She looked wistfully at him; it was on the rise from a
season of deep depression with him. "No, Si," she said;
"I don't see how you could do that."
He did not assent and submit, as he had done at first,
but began to rail at the unpracticality of women; and then
he shut some papers he had been looking over into his desk,
and flung out of the room.
One of the papers had slipped through the crevice of the lid,
and lay upon the floor. Mrs. Lapham kept on at her sewing,
but after a while she picked the paper up to lay it on
the desk. Then she glanced at it, and saw that it was a long
column of dates and figures, recording successive sums,
never large ones, paid regularly to "Wm. M." The dates covered
a year, and the sum amounted at least to several hundreds.
Mrs. Lapham laid the paper down on the desk, and then
she took it up again and put it into her work-basket,
meaning to give it to him. When he came in she saw him
looking absent-mindedly about for something, and then
going to work upon his papers, apparently without it.
She thought she would wait till he missed it definitely,
and then give him the scrap she had picked up. It lay
in her basket, and after some days it found its way under
the work in it, and she forgot it.
SINCE New Year's there had scarcely been a mild day,
and the streets were full of snow, growing foul under the
city feet and hoofs, and renewing its purity from the skies
with repeated falls, which in turn lost their whiteness,
beaten down, and beaten black and hard into a solid bed
like iron. The sleighing was incomparable, and the air
was full of the din of bells; but Lapham's turnout was not
of those that thronged the Brighton road every afternoon;
the man at the livery-stable sent him word that the mare's
legs were swelling.
He and Corey had little to do with each other.
He did not know how Penelope had arranged it with Corey;
his wife said she knew no more than he did, and he did
not like to ask the girl herself, especially as Corey no
longer came to the house. He saw that she was cheerfuller
than she had been, and helpfuller with him and her mother.
Now and then Lapham opened his troubled soul to her a little,
letting his thought break into speech without preamble
or conclusion. Once he said--
"Pen, I presume you know I'm in trouble."
"We all seem to be there," said the girl.
"Yes, but there's a difference between being there
by your own fault and being there by somebody else's."
"I don't call it his fault," she said.
"I call it mine," said the Colonel.
The girl laughed. Her thought was of her own care, and her
father's wholly of his. She must come to his ground.
"What have you been doing wrong?"
"I don't know as you'd call it wrong. It's what people
do all the time. But I wish I'd let stocks alone.
It's what I always promised your mother I would do.
But there's no use cryin' over spilt milk; or watered
"I don't think there's much use crying about anything. If it
could have been cried straight, it would have been all right
from the start," said the girl, going back to her own affair;
and if Lapham had not been so deeply engrossed in his,
he might have seen how little she cared for all that money
could do or undo. He did not observe her enough to see
how variable her moods were in those days, and how often
she sank from some wild gaiety into abject melancholy;
how at times she was fiercely defiant of nothing at all,
and at others inexplicably humble and patient.
But no doubt none of these signs had passed unnoticed by
his wife, to whom Lapham said one day, when he came home,
"Persis, what's the reason Pen don't marry Corey?"
"You know as well as I do, Silas," said Mrs. Lapham,
with an inquiring look at him for what lay behind his words.
"Well, I think it's all tomfoolery, the way she's going on.
There ain't any rhyme nor reason to it." He stopped,
and his wife waited. "If she said the word, I could have
some help from them." He hung his head, and would not meet
his wife's eye.
"I guess you're in a pretty bad way, Si," she said pityingly,
"or you wouldn't have come to that."
"I'm in a hole," said Lapham, "and I don't know where to turn.
You won't let me do anything about those mills----"
"Yes, I'll let you," said his wife sadly.
He gave a miserable cry. "You know I can't do anything,
if you do. O my Lord!"
She had not seen him so low as that before. She did not
know what to say. She was frightened, and could only ask,
"Has it come to the worst?"
"The new house has got to go," he answered evasively.
She did not say anything. She knew that the work on the
house had been stopped since the beginning of the year.
Lapham had told the architect that he preferred to leave
it unfinished till the spring, as there was no prospect
of their being able to get into it that winter; and the
architect had agreed with him that it would not hurt
it to stand. Her heart was heavy for him, though she
could not say so. They sat together at the table,
where she had come to be with him at his belated meal.
She saw that he did not eat, and she waited for him
to speak again, without urging him to take anything.
They were past that.
"And I've sent orders to shut down at the Works,"
"Shut down at the Works!" she echoed with dismay.
She could not take it in. The fire at the Works had
never been out before since it was first kindled.
She knew how he had prided himself upon that; how he had
bragged of it to every listener, and had always lugged
the fact in as the last expression of his sense of success.
"What's the use?" he retorted. "I saw it was coming
a month ago. There are some fellows out in West Virginia
that have been running the paint as hard as they could.
They couldn't do much; they used to put it on the market raw.
But lately they got to baking it, and now they've struck
a vein of natural gas right by their works, and they pay
ten cents for fuel, where I pay a dollar, and they make
as good a paint. Anybody can see where it's going to end.
Besides, the market's over-stocked. It's glutted.
There wa'n't anything to do but to shut DOWN, and I've
"I don't know what's going to become of the hands in
the middle of the winter, this way," said Mrs. Lapham,
laying hold of one definite thought which she could grasp
in the turmoil of ruin that whirled before her eyes.
"I don't care what becomes of the hands," cried Lapham.
"They've shared my luck; now let 'em share the other thing.
And if you're so very sorry for the hands, I wish you'd keep
a little of your pity for ME. Don't you know what shutting
down the Works means?"
"Yes, indeed I do, Silas," said his wife tenderly.
"Well, then!" He rose, leaving his supper untasted, and went
into the sitting-room, where she presently found him,
with that everlasting confusion of papers before him
on the desk. That made her think of the paper in her
work-basket, and she decided not to make the careworn,
distracted man ask her for it, after all. She brought it
He glanced blankly at it and then caught it from her,
turning red and looking foolish. "Where'd you get that?"
"You dropped it on the floor the other night, and I
picked it up. Who is 'Wm. M.'?"
"'Wm. M.'!" he repeated, looking confusedly at her,
and then at the paper. "Oh,--it's nothing." He tore
the paper into small pieces, and went and dropped them
into the fire. When Mrs. Lapham came into the room
in the morning, before he was down, she found a scrap
of the paper, which must have fluttered to the hearth;
and glancing at it she saw that the words were "Mrs. M."
She wondered what dealings with a woman her husband
could have, and she remembered the confusion he had
shown about the paper, and which she had thought was
because she had surprised one of his business secrets.
She was still thinking of it when he came down to breakfast,
heavy-eyed, tremulous, with deep seams and wrinkles in
After a silence which he did not seem inclined to break,
"Silas," she asked, "who is 'Mrs. M.'?"
He stared at her. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't you?" she returned mockingly. "When you do,
you tell me. Do you want any more coffee?"
"Well, then, you can ring for Alice when you've finished.
I've got some things to attend to." She rose abruptly,
and left the room. Lapham looked after her in a dull way,
and then went on with his breakfast. While he still
sat at his coffee, she flung into the room again,
and dashed some papers down beside his plate. "Here are
some more things of yours, and I'll thank you to lock
them up in your desk and not litter my room with them,
if you please." Now he saw that she was angry, and it
must be with him. It enraged him that in such a time
of trouble she should fly out at him in that way.
He left the house without trying to speak to her.
That day Corey came just before closing, and, knocking at
Lapham's door, asked if he could speak with him a
"Yes," said Lapham, wheeling round in his swivel-chair and
kicking another towards Corey. "Sit down. I want to talk
to you. I'd ought to tell you you're wasting your time here.
I spoke the other day about your placin' yourself better,
and I can help you to do it, yet. There ain't going
to be the out-come for the paint in the foreign markets
that we expected, and I guess you better give it up."
"I don't wish to give it up," said the young fellow,
setting his lips. "I've as much faith in it as ever; and I
want to propose now what I hinted at in the first place.
I want to put some money into the business."
"Some money!" Lapham leaned towards him, and frowned
as if he had not quite understood, while he clutched
the arms of his chair.
"I've got about thirty thousand dollars that I could put in,
and if you don't want to consider me a partner--I remember
that you objected to a partner--you can let me regard it
as an investment. But I think I see the way to doing
something at once in Mexico, and I should like to feel that
I had something more than a drummer's interest in the venture."
The men sat looking into each other's eyes. Then Lapham
leaned back in his chair, and rubbed his hand hard
and slowly over his face. His features were still
twisted with some strong emotion when he took it away.
"Your family know about this?"
"My Uncle James knows."
"He thinks it would be a good plan for you?"
"He thought that by this time I ought to be able to trust
my own judgment."
"Do you suppose I could see your uncle at his office?"
"I imagine he's there."
"Well, I want to have a talk with him, one of these days."
He sat pondering a while, and then rose, and went with Corey
to his door. "I guess I shan't change my mind about taking
you into the business in that way," he said coldly.
"If there was any reason why I shouldn't at first,
there's more now."
"Very well, sir," answered the young man, and went to close
his desk. The outer office was empty; but while Corey
was putting his papers in order it was suddenly invaded
by two women, who pushed by the protesting porter on
the stairs and made their way towards Lapham's room.
One of them was Miss Dewey, the type-writer girl,
and the other was a woman whom she would resemble in face
and figure twenty years hence, if she led a life of hard
work varied by paroxysms of hard drinking.
"That his room, Z'rilla?" asked this woman, pointing towards
Lapham's door with a hand that had not freed itself
from the fringe of dirty shawl under which it had hung.
She went forward without waiting for the answer,
but before she could reach it the door opened, and Lapham
stood filling its space.
"Look here, Colonel Lapham!" began the woman, in a high
key of challenge. "I want to know if this is the way
you're goin' back on me and Z'rilla?"
"What do you want?" asked Lapham.
"What do I want? What do you s'pose I want? I want
the money to pay my month's rent; there ain't a bite
to eat in the house; and I want some money to market."
Lapham bent a frown on the woman, under which she shrank
back a step. "You've taken the wrong way to get it.
"I WON'T clear out!" said the woman, beginning to whimper.
"Corey!" said Lapham, in the peremptory voice of a master,--he
had seemed so indifferent to Corey's presence that the young man
thought he must have forgotten he was there,--"Is Dennis anywhere round?"
"Yissor," said Dennis, answering for himself from the head
of the stairs, and appearing in the ware-room.
Lapham spoke to the woman again. "Do you want I should
call a hack, or do you want I should call an officer?"
The woman began to cry into an end of her shawl.
" I don't know what we're goin' to do."
"You're going to clear out," said Lapham. "Call a hack, Dennis.
If you ever come here again, I'll have you arrested.
Mind that! Zerrilla, I shall want you early to-morrow morning."
"Yes, sir," said the girl meekly; she and her mother
shrank out after the porter.
Lapham shut his door without a word.
At lunch the next day Walker made himself amends
for Corey's reticence by talking a great deal.
He talked about Lapham, who seemed to have, more than ever
since his apparent difficulties began, the fascination
of an enigma for his book-keeper, and he ended by asking,
"Did you see that little circus last night?"
"What little circus?" asked Corey in his turn.
"Those two women and the old man. Dennis told me about it.
I told him if he liked his place he'd better keep his
"That was very good advice," said Corey.
"Oh, all right, if you don't want to talk. Don't know
as I should in your place," returned Walker, in the easy
security he had long felt that Corey had no intention
of putting on airs with him. "But I'll tell you what:
the old man can't expect it of everybody. If he keeps
this thing up much longer, it's going to be talked about.
You can't have a woman walking into your place of business,
and trying to bulldoze you before your porter, without setting
your porter to thinking. And the last thing you want
a porter to do is to think; for when a porter thinks,
he thinks wrong."
"I don't see why even a porter couldn't think right about
that affair," replied Corey. "I don't know who the
woman was, though I believe she was Miss Dewey's mother;
but I couldn't see that Colonel Lapham showed anything
but a natural resentment of her coming to him in that way.
I should have said she was some rather worthless person
whom he'd been befriending, and that she had presumed upon
"Is that so? What do you think of his never letting Miss
Dewey's name go on the books?"
"That it's another proof it's a sort of charity of his.
That's the only way to look at it."
"Oh, I'M all right." Walker lighted a cigar and began
to smoke, with his eyes closed to a fine straight line.
"It won't do for a book-keeper to think wrong, any more
than a porter, I suppose. But I guess you and I don't
think very different about this thing."
"Not if you think as I do," replied Corey steadily; "and I
know you would do that if you had seen the 'circus' yourself.
A man doesn't treat people who have a disgraceful hold
upon him as he treated them."
"It depends upon who he is," said Walker, taking his cigar
from his mouth. "I never said the old man was afraid
"And character," continued Corey, disdaining to touch
the matter further, except in generalities, "must go
for something. If it's to be the prey of mere accident
and appearance, then it goes for nothing."
"Accidents will happen in the best regulated families,"
said Walker, with vulgar, good-humoured obtuseness
that filled Corey with indignation. Nothing, perhaps,
removed his matter-of-fact nature further from the
commonplace than a certain generosity of instinct,
which I should not be ready to say was always infallible.
That evening it was Miss Dewey's turn to wait for speech
with Lapham after the others were gone. He opened his door
at her knock, and stood looking at her with a worried air.
"Well, what do you want, Zerrilla?" he asked, with a sort
of rough kindness.
"I want to know what I'm going to do about Hen.
He's back again; and he and mother have made it up,
and they both got to drinking last night after I went home,
and carried on so that the neighbours came in."
Lapham passed his hand over his red and heated face.
"I don't know what I'm going to do. You're twice the trouble
that my own family is, now. But I know what I'd do,
mighty quick, if it wasn't for you, Zerrilla," he went
on relentingly. "I'd shut your mother up somewheres,
and if I could get that fellow off for a three years'
"I declare," said Miss Dewey, beginning to whimper,
"it seems as if he came back just so often to spite me.
He's never gone more than a year at the furthest, and you
can't make it out habitual drunkenness, either, when it's
just sprees. I'm at my wit's end."
"Oh, well, you mustn't cry around here," said Lapham soothingly.
Back to Full Books