Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 24 out of 78
"I know it," said Miss Dewey. "If I could get rid
of Hen, I could manage well enough with mother.
Mr. Wemmel would marry me if I could get the divorce.
He's said so over and over again."
"I don't know as I like that very well," said Lapham, frowning.
"I don't know as I want you should get married in any hurry again.
I don't know as I like your going with anybody else just yet."
"Oh, you needn't be afraid but what it'll be all right.
It'll be the best thing all round, if I can marry him."
"Well!" said Lapham impatiently; "I can't think about it now.
I suppose they've cleaned everything out again?"
"Yes, they have," said Zerrilla; "there isn't a cent left."
"You're a pretty expensive lot," said Lapham. "Well, here!"
He took out his pocket-book and gave her a note.
"I'll be round to-night and see what can be done."
He shut himself into his room again, and Zerrilla dried
her tears, put the note into her bosom, and went her way.
Lapham kept the porter nearly an hour later. It was
then six o'clock, the hour at which the Laphams usually
had tea; but all custom had been broken up with him
during the past months, and he did not go home now.
He determined, perhaps in the extremity in which a man
finds relief in combating one care with another, to keep
his promise to Miss Dewey, and at the moment when he might
otherwise have been sitting down at his own table he was
climbing the stairs to her lodging in the old-fashioned
dwelling which had been portioned off into flats.
It was in a region of depots, and of the cheap hotels,
and "ladies' and gents'" dining-rooms, and restaurants
with bars, which abound near depots; and Lapham followed
to Miss Dewey s door a waiter from one of these, who bore
on a salver before him a supper covered with a napkin.
Zerrilla had admitted them, and at her greeting
a young fellow in the shabby shore-suit of a sailor,
buttoning imperfectly over the nautical blue flannel
of his shirt, got up from where he had been sitting,
on one side of the stove, and stood infirmly on his feet,
in token of receiving the visitor. The woman who sat
on the other side did not rise, but began a shrill,
"Well, I don't suppose but what you'll think we're livin'
on the fat o' the land, right straight along, all the while.
But it's just like this. When that child came in from
her work, she didn't seem to have the spirit to go
to cookin' anything, and I had such a bad night last night
I was feelin' all broke up, and s'd I, what's the use,
anyway? By the time the butcher's heaved in a lot o'
bone, and made you pay for the suet he cuts away, it comes
to the same thing, and why not GIT it from the rest'rant
first off, and save the cost o' your fire? s'd I."
"What have you got there under your apron? A bottle?"
demanded Lapham, who stood with his hat on and his hands
in his pockets, indifferent alike to the ineffective
reception of the sailor and the chair Zerrilla had set him.
"Well, yes, it's a bottle," said the woman, with an
assumption of virtuous frankness. "It's whisky;
I got to have something to rub my rheumatism with."
"Humph!" grumbled Lapham. "You've been rubbing HIS
rheumatism too, I see."
He twisted his head in the direction of the sailor,
now softly and rhythmically waving to and fro on his feet.
"He hain't had a drop to-day in THIS house!" cried the woman.
"What are you doing around here?" said Lapham, turning
fiercely upon him. "You've got no business ashore.
Where's your ship? Do you think I'm going to let you
come here and eat your wife out of house and home,
and then give money to keep the concern going?"
"Just the very words I said when he first showed his
face here, yist'day. Didn't I, Z'rilla?" said the woman,
eagerly joining in the rebuke of her late boon companion.
"You got no business here, Hen, s'd I. You can't come
here to live on me and Z'rilla, s'd I. You want to go back
to your ship, s'd I. That's what I said."
The sailor mumbled, with a smile of tipsy amiability
for Lapham, something about the crew being discharged.
"Yes," the woman broke in, "that's always the way with
these coasters. Why don't you go off on some them long
v'y'ges? s'd I. It's pretty hard when Mr. Wemmel stands
ready to marry Z'rilla and provide a comfortable home
for us both--I hain't got a great many years more to live,
and I SHOULD like to get some satisfaction out of 'em,
and not be beholden and dependent all my days,--to have Hen,
here, blockin' the way. I tell him there'd be more money
for him in the end; but he can't seem to make up his mind to it."
"Well, now, look here," said Lapham. "I don't care anything
about all that. It's your own business, and I'm not going
to meddle with it. But it's my business who lives off me;
and so I tell you all three, I'm willing to take care
of Zerrilla, and I'm willing to take care of her mother----"
"I guess if it hadn't been for that child's father,"
the mother interpolated, "you wouldn't been here to tell
the tale, Colonel Lapham."
"I know all about that," said Lapham. "But I'll tell
you what, Mr. Dewey, I'm not going to support YOU."
"I don't see what Hen's done," said the old woman impartially.
"He hasn't done anything, and I'm going to stop it.
He's got to get a ship, and he's got to get out of this.
And Zerrilla needn't come back to work till he does.
I'm done with you all."
"Well, I vow," said the mother, "if I ever heard anything
like it! Didn't that child's father lay down his life
for you? Hain't you said it yourself a hundred times?
And don't she work for her money, and slave for it
mornin', noon, and night? You talk as if we was beholden
to you for the very bread in our mouths. I guess if it
hadn't been for Jim, you wouldn't been here crowin'
"You mind what I say. I mean business this time,"
said Lapham, turning to the door.
The woman rose and followed him, with her bottle in her hand.
"Say, Colonel! what should you advise Z'rilla to do about
Mr. Wemmel? I tell her there ain't any use goin' to the
trouble to git a divorce without she's sure about him.
Don't you think we'd ought to git him to sign a paper,
or something, that he'll marry her if she gits it? I don't
like to have things going at loose ends the way they are.
It ain't sense. It ain't right."
Lapham made no answer to the mother anxious for her child's
future, and concerned for the moral questions involved.
He went out and down the stairs, and on the pavement at
the lower door he almost struck against Rogers, who had
a bag in his hand, and seemed to be hurrying towards
one of the depots. He halted a little, as if to speak
to Lapham; but Lapham turned his back abruptly upon him,
and took the other direction.
The days were going by in a monotony of adversity to him,
from which he could no longer escape, even at home.
He attempted once or twice to talk of his troubles
to his wife, but she repulsed him sharply; she seemed
to despise and hate him; but he set himself doggedly
to make a confession to her, and he stopped her one night,
as she came into the room where he sat--hastily upon some
errand that was to take her directly away again.
"Persis, there's something I've got to tell you."
She stood still, as if fixed against her will, to listen.
"I guess you know something about it already, and I guess
it set you against me."
"Oh, I guess not, Colonel Lapham. You go your way,
and I go mine. That's all."
She waited for him to speak, listening with a cold,
hard smile on her face.
"I don't say it to make favour with you, because I don't
want you to spare me, and I don't ask you; but I got
into it through Milton K. Rogers."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Lapham contemptuously.
"I always felt the way I said about it--that it wa'n't any
better than gambling, and I say so now. It's like betting
on the turn of a card; and I give you my word of honour,
Persis, that I never was in it at all till that scoundrel
began to load me up with those wild-cat securities of his.
Then it seemed to me as if I ought to try to do something
to get somewhere even. I know it's no excuse; but watching
the market to see what the infernal things were worth from
day to day, and seeing it go up, and seeing it go down,
was too much for me; and, to make a long story short,
I began to buy and sell on a margin--just what I told
you I never would do. I seemed to make something--I
did make something; and I'd have stopped, I do believe,
if I could have reached the figure I'd set in my own
mind to start with; but I couldn't fetch it. I began
to lose, and then I began to throw good money after bad,
just as I always did with everything that Rogers ever came
within a mile of. Well, what's the use? I lost the money
that would have carried me out of this, and I shouldn't
have had to shut down the Works, or sell the house,
Lapham stopped. His wife, who at first had listened
with mystification, and then dawning incredulity,
changing into a look of relief that was almost triumph,
lapsed again into severity. "Silas Lapham, if you was to
die the next minute, is this what you started to tell me?"
"Why, of course it is. What did you suppose I started
to tell you?"
"And--look me in the eyes!--you haven't got anything else
on your mind now?"
"No! There's trouble enough, the Lord knows;
but there's nothing else to tell you. I suppose Pen
gave you a hint about it. I dropped something to her.
I've been feeling bad about it, Persis, a good while,
but I hain't had the heart to speak of it. I can't expect
you to say you like it. I've been a fool, I'll allow,
and I've been something worse, if you choose to say so;
but that's all. I haven't hurt anybody but myself--and you
and the children."
Mrs. Lapham rose and said, with her face from him,
as she turned towards the door, "It's all right, Silas.
I shan't ever bring it up against you."
She fled out of the room, but all that evening she was
very sweet with him, and seemed to wish in all tacit
ways to atone for her past unkindness.
She made him talk of his business, and he told her
of Corey's offer, and what he had done about it.
She did not seem to care for his part in it, however;
at which Lapham was silently disappointed a little,
for he would have liked her to praise him.
"He did it on account of Pen!"
"Well, he didn't insist upon it, anyway," said Lapham,
who must have obscurely expected that Corey would
recognise his own magnanimity by repeating his offer.
If the doubt that follows a self-devoted action--the question
whether it was not after all a needless folly--is mixed,
as it was in Lapham's case, with the vague belief that we
might have done ourselves a good turn without great risk
of hurting any one else by being a little less unselfish,
it becomes a regret that is hard to bear. Since Corey
spoke to him, some things had happened that gave Lapham
"I'm going to tell her about it," said his wife, and she
showed herself impatient to make up for the time she
had lost. "Why didn't you tell me before, Silas?"
"I didn't know we were on speaking terms before,"
said Lapham sadly.
"Yes, that's true," she admitted, with a conscious flush.
"I hope he won't think Pen's known about it all this while."
THAT evening James Bellingham came to see Corey after dinner,
and went to find him in his own room.
"I've come at the instance of Colonel Lapham," said the uncle.
"He was at my office to-day, and I had a long talk with him.
Did you know that he was in difficulties?"
"I fancied that he was in some sort of trouble.
And I had the book-keeper's conjectures--he doesn't
really know much about it."
"Well, he thinks it time--on all accounts--that you should
know how he stands, and why he declined that proposition
of yours. I must say he has behaved very well--like
"I'm not surprised."
"I am. It's hard to behave like a gentleman where your
interest is vitally concerned. And Lapham doesn't strike
me as a man who's in the habit of acting from the best
in him always."
"Do any of us?" asked Corey.
"Not all of us, at any rate," said Bellingham. "It must
have cost him something to say no to you, for he's just
in that state when he believes that this or that chance,
however small, would save him."
Corey was silent. "Is he really in such a bad way?"
"It's hard to tell just where he stands. I suspect
that a hopeful temperament and fondness for round
numbers have always caused him to set his figures beyond
his actual worth. I don't say that he's been dishonest
about it, but he's had a loose way of estimating
his assets; he's reckoned his wealth on the basis
of his capital, and some of his capital is borrowed.
He's lost heavily by some of the recent failures,
and there's been a terrible shrinkage in his values.
I don't mean merely in the stock of paint on hand, but in
a kind of competition which has become very threatening.
You know about that West Virginian paint?"
"Well, he tells me that they've struck a vein of natural gas
out there which will enable them to make as good a paint
as his own at a cost of manufacturing so low that they can
undersell him everywhere. If this proves to be the case,
it will not only drive his paint out of the market,
but will reduce the value of his Works--the whole plant--at
Lapham to a merely nominal figure."
"I see," said Corey dejectedly. "I've understood that he
had put a great deal of money into his Works."
"Yes, and he estimated his mine there at a high figure.
Of course it will be worth little or nothing if the West
Virginia paint drives his out. Then, besides, Lapham has
been into several things outside of his own business,
and, like a good many other men who try outside things,
he's kept account of them himself; and he's all mixed
up about them. He's asked me to look into his affairs
with him, and I've promised to do so. Whether he can
be tided over his difficulties remains to be seen.
I'm afraid it will take a good deal of money to do it--a
great deal more than he thinks, at least. He believes
comparatively little would do it. I think differently.
I think that anything less than a great deal would
be thrown away on him. If it were merely a question
of a certain sum--even a large sum--to keep him going,
it might be managed; but it's much more complicated.
And, as I say, it must have been a trial to him to refuse
This did not seem to be the way in which Bellingham
had meant to conclude. But he said no more; and Corey
made him no response.
He remained pondering the case, now hopefully,
now doubtfully, and wondering, whatever his mood was,
whether Penelope knew anything of the fact with which
her mother went nearly at the same moment to acquaint her.
"Of course, he's done it on your account," Mrs. Lapham
could not help saying.
"Then he was very silly. Does he think I would let
him give father money? And if father lost it for him,
does he suppose it would make it any easier for me? I
think father acted twice as well. It was very silly."
In repeating the censure, her look was not so severe
as her tone; she even smiled a little, and her mother
reported to her father that she acted more like herself
than she had yet since Corey's offer.
"I think, if he was to repeat his offer, she would have
him now," said Mrs. Lapham.
"Well, I'll let her know if he does," said the Colonel.
"I guess he won't do it to you!" she cried.
"Who else will he do it to?" he demanded.
They perceived that they had each been talking
of a different offer.
After Lapham went to his business in the morning the
postman brought another letter from Irene, which was full
of pleasant things that were happening to her; there was
a great deal about her cousin Will, as she called him.
At the end she had written, "Tell Pen I don't want she
should be foolish." "There!" said Mrs. Lapham. "I guess
it's going to come out right, all round;" and it seemed
as if even the Colonel's difficulties were past. "When your
father gets through this, Pen," she asked impulsively,
"what shall you do?"
"What have you been telling Irene about me?"
"Nothing much. What should you do?"
"It would be a good deal easier to say what I should
do if father didn't," said the girl.
"I know you think it was nice in him to make your father
that offer," urged the mother.
"It was nice, yes; but it was silly," said the girl.
"Most nice things are silly, I suppose," she added.
She went to her room and wrote a letter. It was very long,
and very carefully written; and when she read it over,
she tore it into small pieces. She wrote another one,
short and hurried, and tore that up too. Then she
went back to her mother, in the family room, and asked
to see Irene's letter, and read it over to herself.
"Yes, she seems to be having a good time," she sighed.
"Mother, do you think I ought to let Mr. Corey know that I know
"Well, I should think it would be a pleasure to him,"
said Mrs. Lapham judicially.
"I'm not so sure of that the way I should have to tell him.
I should begin by giving him a scolding. Of course,
he meant well by it, but can't you see that it wasn't
very flattering! How did he expect it would change me?"
"I don't believe he ever thought of that."
"Don't you? Why?"
"Because you can see that he isn't one of that kind.
He might want to please you without wanting to change you
by what he did."
"Yes. He must have known that nothing would change
me,--at least, nothing that he could do. I thought of that.
I shouldn't like him to feel that I couldn't appreciate it,
even if I did think it was silly. Should you write to him?"
"I don't see why not."
"It would be too pointed. No, I shall just let it go.
I wish he hadn't done it."
"Well, he has done it." "And I've tried to write to him
about it--two letters: one so humble and grateful
that it couldn't stand up on its edge, and the other
so pert and flippant. Mother, I wish you could have
seen those two letters! I wish I had kept them to look
at if I ever got to thinking I had any sense again.
They would take the conceit out of me."
"What's the reason he don't come here any more?"
"Doesn't he come?" asked Penelope in turn, as if it
were something she had not noticed particularly.
"You'd ought to know."
"Yes." She sat silent a while. "If he doesn't come,
I suppose it's because he's offended at something I did."
"What did you do?"
"Nothing. I--wrote to him--a little while ago. I suppose
it was very blunt, but I didn't believe he would be angry
at it. But this--this that he's done shows he was angry,
and that he wasn't just seizing the first chance to get
out of it."
"What have you done, Pen?" demanded her mother sharply.
"Oh, I don't know. All the mischief in the world, I suppose.
I'll tell you. When you first told me that father was
in trouble with his business, I wrote to him not to come
any more till I let him. I said I couldn't tell him why,
and he hasn't been here since. I'm sure I don't know
what it means."
Her mother looked at her with angry severity.
"Well, Penelope Lapham! For a sensible child, you ARE
the greatest goose I ever saw. Did you think he would
come here and SEE if you wouldn't let him come?"
"He might have written," urged the girl.
Her mother made that despairing "Tchk!" with her tongue,
and fell back in her chair. "I should have DESPISED
him if he had written. He's acted just exactly right,
and you--you've acted--I don't know HOW you've acted.
I'm ashamed of you. A girl that could be so sensible
for her sister, and always say and do just the right thing,
and then when it comes to herself to be such a DISGUSTING
"I thought I ought to break with him at once, and not
let him suppose that there was any hope for him or me
if father was poor. It was my one chance, in this
whole business, to do anything heroic, and I jumped at it.
You mustn't think, because I can laugh at it now, that I
wasn't in earnest, mother! I WAS--dead! But the Colonel has
gone to ruin so gradually, that he's spoilt everything.
I expected that he would be bankrupt the next day,
and that then HE would understand what I meant.
But to have it drag along for a fortnight seems to take
all the heroism out of it, and leave it as flat!" She looked
at her mother with a smile that shone through her tears,
and a pathos that quivered round her jesting lips.
"It's easy enough to be sensible for other people.
But when it comes to myself, there I am! Especially,
when I want to do what I oughtn't so much that it seems
as if doing what I didn't want to do MUST be doing what I
ought! But it's been a great success one way, mother.
It's helped me to keep up before the Colonel. If it
hadn't been for Mr. Corey's staying away, and my feeling
so indignant with him for having been badly treated by me,
I shouldn't have been worth anything at all."
The tears started down her cheeks, but her mother said,
"Well, now, go along, and write to him. It don't matter
what you say, much; and don't be so very particular."
Her third attempt at a letter pleased her scarcely better
than the rest, but she sent it, though it seemed so blunt
and awkward. She wrote:--
DEAR FRIEND,--I expected when I sent you that note,
that you would understand, almost the next day, why I
could not see you any more. You must know now, and you
must not think that if anything happened to my father,
I should wish you to help him. But that is no reason why
I should not thank you, and I do thank you, for offering.
It was like you, I will say that.
Yours sincerely, PENELOPE LAPHAM.
She posted her letter, and he sent his reply in the evening,
DEAREST,--What I did was nothing, till you praised it.
Everything I have and am is yours. Won't you send
a line by the bearer, to say that I may come to see
you? I know how you feel; but l am sure that I can make
you think differently. You must consider that I loved
you without a thought of your father's circumstances,
and always shall.
The generous words were blurred to her eyes by the tears
that sprang into them. But she could only write in answer:--
"Please do not come; I have made up my mind. As long
as this trouble is hanging over us, I cannot see you.
And if father is unfortunate, all is over between us."
She brought his letter to her mother, and told her what
she had written in reply. Her mother was thoughtful
a while before she said, with a sigh, "Well, I hope
you've begun as you can carry out, Pen."
"Oh, I shall not have to carry out at all. I shall
not have to do anything. That's one comfort--the
only comfort." She went away to her own room, and when
Mrs. Lapham told her husband of the affair, he was silent
at first, as she had been. Then he said, "I don't
know as I should have wanted her to done differently;
I don't know as she could. If I ever come right again,
she won't have anything to feel meeching about; and if I
don't, I don't want she should be beholden to anybody.
And I guess that's the way she feels."
The Coreys in their turn sat in judgment on the fact
which their son felt bound to bring to their knowledge.
"She has behaved very well," said Mrs. Corey, to whom
her son had spoken.
"My dear," said her husband, with his laugh, "she has
behaved TOO well. If she had studied the whole
situation with the most artful eye to its mastery,
she could not possibly have behaved better."
The process of Lapham's financial disintegration was
like the course of some chronic disorder, which has
fastened itself upon the constitution, but advances
with continual reliefs, with apparent amelioration,
and at times seems not to advance at all, when it
gives hope of final recovery not only to the sufferer,
but to the eye of science itself. There were moments when
James Bellingham, seeing Lapham pass this crisis and that,
began to fancy that he might pull through altogether;
and at these moments, when his adviser could not oppose
anything but experience and probability to the evidence
of the fact, Lapham was buoyant with courage, and imparted
his hopefulness to his household. Our theory of disaster,
of sorrow, of affliction, borrowed from the poets
and novelists, is that it is incessant; but every passage
in our own lives and in the lives of others, so far as we
have witnessed them, teaches us that this is false.
The house of mourning is decorously darkened to the world,
but within itself it is also the house of laughing.
Bursts of gaiety, as heartfelt as its grief, relieve the gloom,
and the stricken survivors have their jests together,
in which the thought of the dead is tenderly involved,
and a fond sense, not crazier than many others, of sympathy
and enjoyment beyond the silence, justifies the sunnier
mood before sorrow rushes back, deploring and despairing,
and making it all up again with the conventional fitness
of things. Lapham's adversity had this quality in common
with bereavement. It was not always like the adversity
we figure in allegory; it had its moments of being
like prosperity, and if upon the whole it was continual,
it was not incessant. Sometimes there was a week
of repeated reverses, when he had to keep his teeth set
and to hold on hard to all his hopefulness; and then
days came of negative result or slight success, when he
was full of his jokes at the tea-table, and wanted to go
to the theatre, or to do something to cheer Penelope up.
In some miraculous way, by some enormous stroke of success
which should eclipse the brightest of his past prosperity,
he expected to do what would reconcile all difficulties,
not only in his own affairs, but in hers too. "You'll see,"
he said to his wife; "it's going to come out all right.
Irene'll fix it up with Bill's boy, and then she'll be off
Pen's mind; and if things go on as they've been going
for the last two days, I'm going to be in a position to do
the favours myself, and Pen can feel that SHE'S makin'
a sacrifice, and then I guess may be she'll do it.
If things turn out as I expect now, and times ever go get
any better generally, I can show Corey that I appreciate
his offer. I can offer him the partnership myself
Even in the other moods, which came when everything had
been going wrong, and there seemed no way out of the net,
there were points of consolation to Lapham and his wife.
They rejoiced that Irene was safe beyond the range of
their anxieties, and they had a proud satisfaction that
there had been no engagement between Corey and Penelope,
and that it was she who had forbidden it. In the closeness
of interest and sympathy in which their troubles had
reunited them, they confessed to each other that nothing
would have been more galling to their pride than the idea
that Lapham should not have been able to do everything
for his daughter that the Coreys might have expected.
Whatever happened now, the Coreys could not have it to say
that the Laphams had tried to bring any such thing about.
Bellingham had lately suggested an assignment to Lapham,
as the best way out of his difficulties. It was evident
that he had not the money to meet his liabilities at present,
and that he could not raise it without ruinous sacrifices,
that might still end in ruin after all. If he made
the assignment, Bellingham argued, he could gain time
and make terms; the state of things generally would
probably improve, since it could not be worse, and the market,
which he had glutted with his paint, might recover and he
could start again. Lapham had not agreed with him.
When his reverses first began it had seemed easy for him
to give up everything, to let the people he owed take all,
so only they would let him go out with clean hands; and he
had dramatised this feeling in his talk with his wife,
when they spoke together of the mills on the G. L. &
P. But ever since then it had been growing harder,
and he could not consent even to seem to do it now in
the proposed assignment. He had not found other men
so very liberal or faithful with him; a good many of them
appeared to have combined to hunt him down; a sense of
enmity towards all his creditors asserted itself in him;
he asked himself why they should not suffer a little too.
Above all, he shrank from the publicity of the assignment.
It was open confession that he had been a fool in some way;
he could not bear to have his family--his brother
the judge, especially, to whom he had always appeared the
soul of business wisdom--think him imprudent or stupid.
He would make any sacrifice before it came to that.
He determined in parting with Bellingham to make
the sacrifice which he had oftenest in his mind,
because it was the hardest, and to sell his new house.
That would cause the least comment. Most people
would simply think that he had got a splendid offer,
and with his usual luck had made a very good thing of it;
others who knew a little more about him would say that he
was hauling in his horns, but they could not blame him;
a great many other men were doing the same in those hard
times--the shrewdest and safest men: it might even have
a good effect. He went straight from Bellingham's
office to the real-estate broker in whose hands he
meant to put his house, for he was not the sort of man
to shilly-shally when he had once made up his mind.
But he found it hard to get his voice up out of his throat,
when he said he guessed he would get the broker to sell
that new house of his on the water side of Beacon.
The broker answered cheerfully, yes; he supposed Colonel
Lapham knew it was a pretty dull time in real estate?
and Lapham said yes, he knew that, but he should not sell
at a sacrifice, and he did not care to have the broker
name him or describe the house definitely unless parties
meant business. Again the broker said yes; and he added,
as a joke Lapham would appreciate, that he had half a dozen
houses on the water side of Beacon, on the same terms;
that nobody wanted to be named or to have his property
It did, in fact, comfort Lapham a little to find himself
in the same boat with so many others; he smiled grimly,
and said in his turn, yes, he guessed that was about the size
of it with a good many people. But he had not the heart
to tell his wife what he had done, and he sat taciturn
that whole evening, without even going over his accounts,
and went early to bed, where he lay tossing half the
night before he fell asleep. He slept at last only upon
the promise he made himself that he would withdraw
the house from the broker's hands; but he went heavily
to his own business in the morning without doing so.
There was no such rush, anyhow, he reflected bitterly;
there would be time to do that a month later, probably.
It struck him with a sort of dismay when a boy came
with a note from a broker, saying that a party who had
been over the house in the fall had come to him to know
whether it could be bought, and was willing to pay
the cost of the house up to the time he had seen it.
Lapham took refuge in trying to think who the party could be;
he concluded that it must have been somebody who had gone
over it with the architect, and he did not like that;
but he was aware that this was not an answer to the broker,
and he wrote that he would give him an answer in the morning.
Now that it had come to the point, it did not seem to him
that he could part with the house. So much of his hope
for himself and his children had gone into it that the
thought of selling it made him tremulous and sick.
He could not keep about his work steadily, and with his
nerves shaken by want of sleep, and the shock of this
sudden and unexpected question, he left his office early,
and went over to look at the house and try to bring
himself to some conclusion here. The long procession
of lamps on the beautiful street was flaring in the clear
red of the sunset towards which it marched, and Lapham,
with a lump in his throat, stopped in front of his house
and looked at their multitude. They were not merely a part
of the landscape; they were a part of his pride and glory,
his success, his triumphant life's work which was fading
into failure in his helpless hands. He ground his teeth
to keep down that lump, but the moisture in his eyes
blurred the lamps, and the keen pale crimson against
which it made them flicker. He turned and looked up,
as he had so often done, at the window-spaces, neatly
glazed for the winter with white linen, and recalled
the night when he had stopped with Irene before the house,
and she had said that she should never live there,
and he had tried to coax her into courage about it.
There was no such facade as that on the whole street,
to his thinking. Through his long talks with the architect,
he had come to feel almost as intimately and fondly
as the architect himself the satisfying simplicity
of the whole design and the delicacy of its detail.
It appealed to him as an exquisite bit of harmony appeals
to the unlearned ear, and he recognised the difference
between this fine work and the obstreperous pretentiousness
of the many overloaded house-fronts which Seymour
had made him notice for his instruction elsewhere
on the Back Bay. Now, in the depths of his gloom,
he tried to think what Italian city it was where Seymour
said he had first got the notion of treating brick-work
in that way.
He unlocked the temporary door with the key he always carried,
so that he could let himself in and out whenever
he liked, and entered the house, dim and very cold with
the accumulated frigidity of the whole winter in it,
and looking as if the arrest of work upon it had taken
place a thousand years before. It smelt of the unpainted
woods and the clean, hard surfaces of the plaster,
where the experiments in decoration had left it untouched;
and mingled with these odours was that of some rank
pigments and metallic compositions which Seymour had
used in trying to realise a certain daring novelty
of finish, which had not proved successful. Above all,
Lapham detected the peculiar odour of his own paint,
with which the architect had been greatly interested one day,
when Lapham showed it to him at the office. He had asked
Lapham to let him try the Persis Brand in realising a
little idea he had for the finish of Mrs. Lapham's room.
If it succeeded they could tell her what it was, for a surprise.
Lapham glanced at the bay-window in the reception-room,
where he sat with his girls on the trestles when Corey first
came by; and then he explored the whole house to the attic,
in the light faintly admitted through the linen sashes.
The floors were strewn with shavings and chips which the
carpenters had left, and in the music-room these had been
blown into long irregular windrows by the draughts through
a wide rent in the linen sash. Lapham tried to pin it up,
but failed, and stood looking out of it over the water.
The ice had left the river, and the low tide lay smooth
and red in the light of the sunset. The Cambridge flats
showed the sad, sodden yellow of meadows stripped bare
after a long sleep under snow; the hills, the naked trees,
the spires and roofs had a black outline, as if they were
objects in a landscape of the French school.
The whim seized Lapham to test the chimney in the music-room;
it had been tried in the dining-room below, and in his girls'
fireplaces above, but here the hearth was still clean.
He gathered some shavings and blocks together,
and kindled them, and as the flame mounted gaily from them,
he pulled up a nail-keg which he found there and sat
down to watch it. Nothing could have been better;
the chimney was a perfect success; and as Lapham glanced out
of the torn linen sash he said to himself that that party,
whoever he was, who had offered to buy his house might
go to the devil; he would never sell it as long as he
had a dollar. He said that he should pull through yet;
and it suddenly came into his mind that, if he could
raise the money to buy out those West Virginia fellows,
he should be all right, and would have the whole game
in his own hand. He slapped himself on the thigh,
and wondered that he had never thought of that before;
and then, lighting a cigar with a splinter from the fire,
he sat down again to work the scheme out in his own mind.
He did not hear the feet heavily stamping up the stairs,
and coming towards the room where he sat; and the policeman
to whom the feet belonged had to call out to him, smoking at
his chimney-corner, with his back turned to the door,
"Hello! what are you doing here?"
"What's that to you?" retorted Lapham, wheeling half
round on his nail-keg.
"I'll show you," said the officer, advancing upon him,
and then stopping short as he recognised him. "Why, Colonel
Lapham! I thought it was some tramp got in here!"
"Have a cigar?" said Lapham hospitably. "Sorry there
ain't another nail-keg."
The officer took the cigar. "I'll smoke it outside.
I've just come on, and I can't stop. Tryin' your chimney?"
"Yes, I thought I'd see how it would draw, in here.
It seems to go first-rate."
The policeman looked about him with an eye of inspection.
"You want to get that linen window, there, mended up."
"Yes, I'll speak to the builder about that. It can go
for one night."
The policeman went to the window and failed to pin the linen
together where Lapham had failed before. "I can't fix it."
He looked round once more, and saying, "Well, good night,"
went out and down the stairs.
Lapham remained by the fire till he had smoked his cigar;
then he rose and stamped upon the embers that still burned
with his heavy boots, and went home. He was very cheerful
at supper. He told his wife that he guessed he had a sure
thing of it now, and in another twenty-four hours he
should tell her just how. He made Penelope go to the
theatre with him, and when they came out, after the play,
the night was so fine that he said they must walk round
by the new house and take a look at it in the starlight.
He said he had been there before he came home, and tried
Seymour's chimney in the music-room, and it worked like
As they drew near Beacon Street they were aware
of unwonted stir and tumult, and presently the still
air transmitted a turmoil of sound, through which a
powerful and incessant throbbing made itself felt.
The sky had reddened above them, and turning the corner
at the Public Garden, they saw a black mass of people
obstructing the perspective of the brightly-lighted street,
and out of this mass a half-dozen engines, whose strong
heart-beats had already reached them, sent up volumes
of fire-tinged smoke and steam from their funnels.
Ladders were planted against the facade of a building,
from the roof of which a mass of flame burnt smoothly upward,
except where here and there it seemed to pull contemptuously
away from the heavy streams of water which the firemen,
clinging like great beetles to their ladders, poured in
Lapham had no need to walk down through the crowd, gazing
and gossiping, with shouts and cries and hysterical laughter,
before the burning house, to make sure that it was his.
"I guess I done it, Pen," was all he said.
Among the people who were looking at it were a party who seemed
to have run out from dinner in some neighbouring house;
the ladies were fantastically wrapped up, as if they
had flung on the first things they could seize.
"Isn't it perfectly magnificent!" cried a pretty girl.
"I wouldn't have missed it on any account. Thank you so much,
Mr. Symington, for bringing us out!"
"Ah, I thought you'd like it," said this Mr. Symington,
who must have been the host; "and you can enjoy it without
the least compunction, Miss Delano, for I happen to know
that the house belongs to a man who could afford to burn
one up for you once a year."
"Oh, do you think he would, if I came again?"
"I haven't the least doubt of it. We don't do things
by halves in Boston."
"He ought to have had a coat of his noncombustible paint
on it," said another gentleman of the party.
Penelope pulled her father away toward the first carriage
she could reach of a number that had driven up.
"Here, father! get into this."
"No, no; I couldn't ride," he answered heavily, and he walked
home in silence. He greeted his wife with, "Well, Persis,
our house is gone! And I guess I set it on fire myself;"
and while he rummaged among the papers in his desk,
still with his coat and hat on, his wife got the facts
as she could from Penelope. She did not reproach him.
Here was a case in which his self-reproach must be sufficiently
sharp without any edge from her. Besides, her mind was
full of a terrible thought.
"O Silas," she faltered, "they'll think you set it
on fire to get the insurance!"
Lapham was staring at a paper which he held in his hand.
"I had a builder's risk on it, but it expired last week.
It's a dead loss."
"Oh, thank the merciful Lord!" cried his wife.
"Merciful!" said Lapham. "Well, it's a queer way
of showing it."
He went to bed, and fell into the deep sleep which
sometimes follows a great moral shock. It was perhaps
rather a torpor than a sleep.
LAPHAM awoke confused, and in a kind of remoteness from the
loss of the night before, through which it loomed mistily.
But before he lifted his head from the pillow, it gathered
substance and weight against which it needed all his will
to bear up and live. In that moment he wished that he
had not wakened, that he might never have wakened;
but he rose, and faced the day and its cares.
The morning papers brought the report of the fire,
and the conjectured loss. The reporters somehow had found
out the fact that the loss fell entirely upon Lapham;
they lighted up the hackneyed character of their statements
with the picturesque interest OF the coincidence that the
policy had expired only the week before; heaven knows
how they knew it. They said that nothing remained
of the building but the walls; and Lapham, on his way
to business, walked up past the smoke-stained shell.
The windows looked like the eye-sockets of a skull
down upon the blackened and trampled snow of the street;
the pavement was a sheet of ice, and the water from the
engines had frozen, like streams of tears, down the face
of the house, and hung in icy tags from the window-sills
He gathered himself up as well as he could, and went on
to his office. The chance of retrieval that had flashed
upon him, as he sat smoking by that ruined hearth the
evening before, stood him in such stead now as a sole
hope may; and he said to himself that, having resolved
not to sell his house, he was no more crippled by its
loss than he would have been by letting his money lie
idle in it; what he might have raised by mortgage on it
could be made up in some other way; and if they would
sell he could still buy out the whole business of that
West Virginia company, mines, plant, stock on hand,
good-will, and everything, and unite it with his own.
He went early in the afternoon to see Bellingham,
whose expressions of condolence for his loss he cut short
with as much politeness as he knew how to throw into
his impatience. Bellingham seemed at first a little dazzled
with the splendid courage of his scheme; it was certainly
fine in its way; but then he began to have his misgivings.
"I happen to know that they haven't got much money
behind them," urged Lapham. "They'll jump at an offer."
Bellingham shook his head. "If they can show profit
on the old manufacture, and prove they can make their
paint still cheaper and better hereafter, they can have
all the money they want. And it will be very difficult
for you to raise it if you're threatened by them.
With that competition, you know what your plant at Lapham
would be worth, and what the shrinkage on your manufactured
stock would be. Better sell out to them," he concluded,
"if they will buy."
"There ain't money enough in this country to buy out my paint,"
said Lapham, buttoning up his coat in a quiver of resentment.
"Good afternoon, sir." Men are but grown-up boys after all.
Bellingham watched this perversely proud and obstinate
child fling petulantly out of his door, and felt a sympathy
for him which was as truly kind as it was helpless.
But Lapham was beginning to see through Bellingham,
as he believed. Bellingham was, in his way, part of that
conspiracy by which Lapham's creditors were trying to drive
him to the wall. More than ever now he was glad that he had
nothing to do with that cold-hearted, self-conceited race,
and that the favours so far were all from his side.
He was more than ever determined to show them, every one
of them, high and low, that he and his children could get
along without them, and prosper and triumph without them.
He said to himself that if Penelope were engaged to Corey
that very minute, he would make her break with him.
He knew what he should do now, and he was going to do it
without loss of time. He was going on to New York to see
those West Virginia people; they had their principal
office there, and he intended to get at their ideas,
and then he intended to make them an offer. He managed
this business better than could possibly have been
expected of a man in his impassioned mood. But when it
came really to business, his practical instincts,
alert and wary, came to his aid against the passions that
lay in wait to betray after they ceased to dominate him.
He found the West Virginians full of zeal and hope,
but in ten minutes he knew that they had not yet tested
their strength in the money market, and had not ascertained
how much or how little capital they could command.
Lapham himself, if he had had so much, would not have
hesitated to put a million dollars into their business.
He saw, as they did not see, that they had the game in
their own hands, and that if they could raise the money
to extend their business, they could ruin him. It was
only a question of time, and he was on the ground first.
He frankly proposed a union of their interests.
He admitted that they had a good thing, and that he
should have to fight them hard; but he meant to fight
them to the death unless they could come to some sort
of terms. Now, the question was whether they had better
go on and make a heavy loss for both sides by competition,
or whether they had better form a partnership to run
both paints and command the whole market. Lapham made
them three propositions, each of which was fair and open:
to sell out to them altogether; to buy them out altogether;
to join facilities and forces with them, and go on in
an invulnerable alliance. Let them name a figure at
which they would buy, a figure at which they would sell,
a figure at which they would combine,--or, in other words,
the amount of capital they needed.
They talked all day, going out to lunch together at
the Astor House, and sitting with their knees against
the counter on a row of stools before it for fifteen
minutes of reflection and deglutition, with their
hats on, and then returning to the basement from which
they emerged. The West Virginia company's name was
lettered in gilt on the wide low window, and its paint,
in the form of ore, burnt, and mixed, formed a display
on the window shelf Lapham examined it and praised it;
from time to time they all recurred to it together;
they sent out for some of Lapham's paint and compared it,
the West Virginians admitting its former superiority.
They were young fellows, and country persons, like Lapham,
by origin, and they looked out with the same amused,
undaunted provincial eyes at the myriad metropolitan legs
passing on the pavement above the level of their window.
He got on well with them. At last, they said what they would do.
They said it was nonsense to talk of buying Lapham out,
for they had not the money; and as for selling out,
they would not do it, for they knew they had a big thing.
But they would as soon use his capital to develop it
as anybody else's, and if he could put in a certain
sum for this purpose, they would go in with him.
He should run the works at Lapham and manage the business
in Boston, and they would run the works at Kanawha Falls
and manage the business in New York. The two brothers
with whom Lapham talked named their figure, subject to
the approval of another brother at Kanawha Falls, to whom
they would write, and who would telegraph his answer,
so that Lapham could have it inside of three days.
But they felt perfectly sure that he would approve;
and Lapham started back on the eleven o'clock train with
an elation that gradually left him as he drew near Boston,
where the difficulties of raising this sum were to be
over come. It seemed to him, then, that those fellows
had put it up on him pretty steep, but he owned to himself
that they had a sure thing, and that they were right
in believing they could raise the same sum elsewhere;
it would take all OF it, he admitted, to make their
paint pay on the scale they had the right to expect.
At their age, he would not have done differently;
but when he emerged, old, sore, and sleep-broken,
from the sleeping-car in the Albany depot at Boston,
he wished with a pathetic self-pity that they knew how a man
felt at his age. A year ago, six months ago, he would
have laughed at the notion that it would be hard to raise
the money. But he thought ruefully of that immense stock
of paint on hand, which was now a drug in the market,
of his losses by Rogers and by the failures of other men,
of the fire that had licked up so many thousands
in a few hours; he thought with bitterness of the tens
of thousands that he had gambled away in stocks,
and of the commissions that the brokers had pocketed
whether he won or lost; and he could not think of any
securities on which he could borrow, except his house
in Nankeen Square, or the mine and works at Lapham.
He set his teeth in helpless rage when he thought of that
property out on the G. L. & P., that ought to be worth
so much, and was worth so little if the Road chose to
He did not go home, but spent most of the day shining round,
as he would have expressed it, and trying to see if he
could raise the money. But he found that people of whom
he hoped to get it were in the conspiracy which had been
formed to drive him to the wall. Somehow, there seemed
a sense of his embarrassments abroad. Nobody wanted
to lend money on the plant at Lapham without taking time
to look into the state of the business; but Lapham had no
time to give, and he knew that the state of the business
would not bear looking into. He could raise fifteen
thousand on his Nankeen Square house, and another fifteen
on his Beacon Street lot, and this was all that a man
who was worth a million by rights could do! He said
a million, and he said it in defiance of Bellingham,
who had subjected his figures to an analysis which
wounded Lapham more than he chose to show at the time,
for it proved that he was not so rich and not so wise
as he had seemed. His hurt vanity forbade him to go
to Bellingham now for help or advice; and if he could
have brought himself to ask his brothers for money,
it would have been useless; they were simply well-to-do
Western people, but not capitalists on the scale he required.
Lapham stood in the isolation to which adversity so
often seems to bring men. When its test was applied,
practically or theoretically, to all those who had seemed
his friends, there was none who bore it; and he thought
with bitter self-contempt of the people whom he had
befriended in their time of need. He said to himself
that he had been a fool for that; and he scorned himself
for certain acts of scrupulosity by which he had lost
money in the past. Seeing the moral forces all arrayed
against him, Lapham said that he would like to have
the chance offered him to get even with them again;
he thought he should know how to look out for himself.
As he understood it, he had several days to turn about in,
and he did not let one day's failure dishearten him.
The morning after his return he had, in fact, a gleam of luck
that gave him the greatest encouragement for the moment.
A man came in to inquire about one of Rogers's wild-cat
patents, as Lapham called them, and ended by buying it.
He got it, of course, for less than Lapham took it for,
but Lapham was glad to be rid of it for something, when he
had thought it worth nothing; and when the transaction
was closed, he asked the purchaser rather eagerly if he
knew where Rogers was; it was Lapham's secret belief
that Rogers had found there was money in the thing,
and had sent the man to buy it. But it appeared that
this was a mistake; the man had not come from Rogers,
but had heard of the patent in another way; and Lapham was
astonished in the afternoon, when his boy came to tell him
that Rogers was in the outer office, and wished to speak
"All right," said Lapham, and he could not command at once
the severity for the reception of Rogers which he would
have liked to use. He found himself, in fact, so much
relaxed towards him by the morning's touch of prosperity
that he asked him to sit down, gruffly, of course,
but distinctly; and when Rogers said in his lifeless way,
and with the effect of keeping his appointment of a
month before, "Those English parties are in town,
and would like to talk with you in reference to the mills,"
Lapham did not turn him out-of-doors.
He sat looking at him, and trying to make out what Rogers
was after; for he did not believe that the English parties,
if they existed, had any notion of buying his mills.
"What if they are not for sale?" he asked. "You know
that I've been expecting an offer from the G. L. & P."
"I've kept watch of that. They haven't made you any offer,"
said Rogers quietly.
"And did you think," demanded Lapham, firing up, "that I
would turn them in on somebody else as you turned them
in on me, when the chances are that they won't be worth
ten cents on the dollar six months from now?"
"I didn't know what you would do," said Rogers non-committally.
"I've come here to tell you that these parties stand ready
to take the mills off your hands at a fair valuation--at
the value I put upon them when I turned them in."
"I don't believe you!" cried Lapham brutally, but a wild
predatory hope made his heart leap so that it seemed
to turn over in his breast. "I don't believe there are
any such parties to begin with; and in the next place,
I don't believe they would buy at any such figure;
unless--unless you've lied to them, as you've lied to me.
Did you tell them about the G. L. & P.?"
Rogers looked compassionately at him, but he answered,
with unvaried dryness, "I did not think that necessary."
Lapham had expected this answer, and he had expected
or intended to break out in furious denunciation of
Rogers when he got it; but he only found himself saying,
in a sort of baffled gasp, "I wonder what your game is!"
Rogers did not reply categorically, but he answered,
with his impartial calm, and as if Lapham had said
nothing to indicate that he differed at all with
him as to disposing of the property in the way he
had suggested: "If we should succeed in selling,
I should be able to repay you your loans, and should
have a little capital for a scheme that I think of going into."
"And do you think that I am going to steal these men's
money to help you plunder somebody in a new scheme?"
answered Lapham. The sneer was on behalf of virtue,
but it was still a sneer
"I suppose the money would be useful to you too, just now."
"Because I know that you have been trying to borrow."
At this proof of wicked omniscience in Rogers, the question
whether he had better not regard the affair as a fatality,
and yield to his destiny, flashed upon Lapham; but he answered,
"I shall want money a great deal worse than I've ever wanted
it yet, before I go into such rascally business with you.
Don't you know that we might as well knock these parties
down on the street, and take the money out of their pockets?"
"They have come on," answered Rogers, "from Portland
to see you. I expected them some weeks ago, but they
disappointed me. They arrived on the Circassian last night;
they expected to have got in five days ago, but the passage
was very stormy."
"Where are they?" asked Lapham, with helpless irrelevance,
and feeling himself somehow drifted from his moorings
by Rogers's shipping intelligence.
"They are at Young's. I told them we would call upon them
after dinner this evening; they dine late."
"Oh, you did, did you?" asked Lapham, trying to drop another
anchor for a fresh clutch on his underlying principles.
"Well, now, you go and tell them that I said I wouldn't come."
"Their stay is limited," remarked Rogers. "I mentioned
this evening because they were not certain they could
remain over another night. But if to-morrow would suit
"Tell 'em I shan't come at all," roared Lapham, as much
in terror as defiance, for he felt his anchor dragging.
"Tell 'em I shan't come at all! Do you understand that?"
"I don't see why you should stickle as to the matter
of going to them," said Rogers; "but if you think it
will be better to have them approach you, I suppose
I can bring them to you."
"No, you can't! I shan't let you! I shan't see them! I
shan't have anything to do with them. NOW do you understand?"
"I inferred from our last interview," persisted Rogers,
unmoved by all this violent demonstration of Lapham's, "that
you wished to meet these parties. You told me that you
would give me time to produce them; and I have promised
them that you would meet them; I have committed myself."
It was true that Lapham had defied Rogers to bring on his men,
and had implied his willingness to negotiate with them.
That was before he had talked the matter over with his wife,
and perceived his moral responsibility in it; even she
had not seen this at once. He could not enter into this
explanation with Rogers; he could only say, "I said I'd
give you twenty-four hours to prove yourself a liar,
and you did it. I didn't say twenty-four days."
"I don't see the difference," returned Rogers. "The parties
are here now, and that proves that I was acting in good
faith at the time. There has been no change in the posture
of affairs. You don't know now any more than you knew
then that the G. L. & P. is going to want the property.
If there's any difference, it's in favour of the Road's
having changed its mind."
There was some sense in this, and Lapham felt it--felt
it only too eagerly, as he recognised the next instant.
Rogers went on quietly: "You're not obliged to sell
to these parties when you meet them; but you've allowed
me to commit myself to them by the promise that you
would talk with them."
"'Twan't a promise," said Lapham.
"It was the same thing; they have come out from England
on my guaranty that there was such and such an opening
for their capital; and now what am I to say to them?
It places me in a ridiculous position." Rogers urged
his grievance calmly, almost impersonally, making his
appeal to Lapham's sense of justice. "I CAN'T go back
to those parties and tell them you won't see them.
It's no answer to make. They've got a right to know why
you won't see them."
"Very well, then!" cried Lapham; "I'll come and TELL
them why. Who shall I ask for? When shall I be there?"
"At eight o'clock, please," said Rogers, rising, without
apparent alarm at his threat, if it was a threat.
"And ask for me; I've taken a room at the hotel for the present."
"I won't keep you five minutes when I get there,"
said Lapham; but he did not come away till ten o'clock.
It appeared to him as if the very devil was in it.
The Englishmen treated his downright refusal to sell as
a piece of bluff, and talked on as though it were merely
the opening of the negotiation. When he became plain with
them in his anger, and told them why he would not sell,
they seemed to have been prepared for this as a stroke
of business, and were ready to meet it.
"Has this fellow," he demanded, twisting his head
in the direction of Rogers, but disdaining to notice
him otherwise, "been telling you that it's part of my
game to say this? Well, sir, I can tell you, on my side,
that there isn't a slipperier rascal unhung in America
than Milton K. Rogers!"
The Englishmen treated this as a piece of genuine American
humour, and returned to the charge with unabated courage.
They owned now, that a person interested with them had
been out to look at the property, and that they were
satisfied with the appearance of things. They developed
further the fact that they were not acting solely,
or even principally, in their own behalf, but were the agents
of people in England who had projected the colonisation
of a sort of community on the spot, somewhat after the plan
of other English dreamers, and that they were satisfied,
from a careful inspection, that the resources and facilities
were those best calculated to develop the energy and
enterprise of the proposed community. They were prepared
to meet Mr. Lapham--Colonel, they begged his pardon,
at the instance of Rogers--at any reasonable figure,
and were quite willing to assume the risks he had
pointed out. Something in the eyes of these men,
something that lurked at an infinite depth below their speech,
and was not really in their eyes when Lapham looked again,
had flashed through him a sense of treachery in them.
He had thought them the dupes of Rogers; but in that brief
instant he had seen them--or thought he had seen them--his
accomplices, ready to betray the interests of which they
went on to speak with a certain comfortable jocosity,
and a certain incredulous slight of his show of integrity.
It was a deeper game than Lapham was used to, and he sat
looking with a sort of admiration from one Englishman to
the other, and then to Rogers, who maintained an exterior
of modest neutrality, and whose air said, "I have brought
you gentlemen together as the friend of all parties, and I
now leave you to settle it among yourselves. I ask nothing,
and expect nothing, except the small sum which shall
accrue to me after the discharge of my obligations to Colonel Lapham."
While Rogers's presence expressed this, one of the Englishmen
was saying, "And if you have any scruple in allowin'
us to assume this risk, Colonel Lapham, perhaps you can
console yourself with the fact that the loss, if there
is to be any, will fall upon people who are able to bear
it--upon an association of rich and charitable people.
But we're quite satisfied there will be no loss,"
he added savingly. "All you have to do is to name your price,
and we will do our best to meet it."
There was nothing in the Englishman's sophistry very
shocking to Lapham. It addressed itself in him to that
easy-going, not evilly intentioned, potential immorality
which regards common property as common prey, and gives
us the most corrupt municipal governments under the
sun--which makes the poorest voter, when he has tricked
into place, as unscrupulous in regard to others' money as
an hereditary prince. Lapham met the Englishman's eye,
and with difficulty kept himself from winking.
Then he looked away, and tried to find out where he stood,
or what he wanted to do. He could hardly tell.
He had expected to come into that room and unmask Rogers,
and have it over. But he had unmasked Rogers without
any effect whatever, and the play had only begun.
He had a whimsical and sarcastic sense of its being
very different from the plays at the theatre. He could
not get up and go away in silent contempt; he could
not tell the Englishmen that he believed them a pair
of scoundrels and should have nothing to do with them;
he could no longer treat them as innocent dupes.
He remained baffled and perplexed, and the one who had
not spoken hitherto remarked--
"Of course we shan't 'aggle about a few pound, more or less.
If Colonel Lapham's figure should be a little larger
than ours, I've no doubt 'e'll not be too 'ard upon us
in the end."
Lapham appreciated all the intent of this subtle suggestion,
and understood as plainly as if it had been said in so
many words, that if they paid him a larger price, it was
to be expected that a certain portion of the purchase-money
was to return to their own hands. Still he could not move;
and it seemed to him that he could not speak.
"Ring that bell, Mr. Rogers," said the Englishman
who had last spoken, glancing at the annunciator button
in the wall near Rogers's head, "and 'ave up something
'of, can't you? I should like TO wet me w'istle, as you
say 'ere, and Colonel Lapham seems to find it rather dry work."
Lapham jumped to his feet, and buttoned his overcoat
about him. He remembered with terror the dinner at Corey's
where he had disgraced and betrayed himself, and if he
went into this thing at all, he was going into it sober.
"I can't stop," he said, "I must be going."
"But you haven't given us an answer yet, Mr. Lapham,"
said the first Englishman with a successful show of
"The only answer I can give you now is, NO," said Lapham.
"If you want another, you must let me have time to think
"But 'ow much time?" said the other Englishman.
"We're pressed for time ourselves, and we hoped for an
answer--'oped for a hanswer," he corrected himself,
"at once. That was our understandin' with Mr. Rogers."
"I can't let you know till morning, anyway," said Lapham,
and he went out, as his custom often was, without any
parting salutation. He thought Rogers might try to
detain him; but Rogers had remained seated when the others
got to their feet, and paid no attention to his departure.
He walked out into the night air, every pulse throbbing
with the strong temptation. He knew very well those
men would wait, and gladly wait, till the morning,
and that the whole affair was in his hands. It made him
groan in spirit to think that it was. If he had hoped
that some chance might take the decision from him,
there was no such chance, in the present or future,
that he could see. It was for him alone to commit this
rascality--if it was a rascality--or not.
He walked all the way home, letting one car after another
pass him on the street, now so empty of other passing,
and it was almost eleven o'clock when he reached home.
A carriage stood before his house, and when he let himself
in with his key, he heard talking in the family-room. It
came into his head that Irene had got back unexpectedly,
and that the sight of her was somehow going to make
it harder for him; then he thought it might be Corey,
come upon some desperate pretext to see Penelope;
but when he opened the door he saw, with a certain
absence of surprise, that it was Rogers. He was standing
with his back to the fireplace, talking to Mrs. Lapham,
and he had been shedding tears; dry tears they seemed,
and they had left a sort of sandy, glistening trace
on his cheeks. Apparently he was not ashamed of them,
for the expression with which he met Lapham was that
of a man making a desperate appeal in his own cause,
which was identical with that of humanity, if not that
"I some expected," began Rogers, "to find you here----"
"No, you didn't," interrupted Lapham; "you wanted to come
here and make a poor mouth to Mrs. Lapham before I got home."
"I knew that Mrs. Lapham would know what was going on,"
said Rogers more candidly, but not more virtuously,
for that he could not, "and I wished her to understand
a point that I hadn't put to you at the hotel,
and that I want you should consider. And I want you
should consider me a little in this business too;
you're not the only one that's concerned, I tell you,
and I've been telling Mrs. Lapham that it's my one chance;
that if you don't meet me on it, my wife and children will
be reduced to beggary."
"So will mine," said Lapham, "or the next thing to it."
"Well, then, I want you to give me this chance to get
on my feet again. You've no right to deprive me of it;
it's unchristian. In our dealings with each other we should
be guided by the Golden Rule, as I was saying to Mrs. Lapham
before you came in. I told her that if I knew myself, I should
in your place consider the circumstances of a man in mine,
who had honourably endeavoured to discharge his obligations
to me, and had patiently borne my undeserved suspicions.
I should consider that man's family, I told Mrs. Lapham."
"Did you tell her that if I went in with you and those fellows,
I should be robbing the people who trusted them?"
"I don't see what you've got to do with the people
that sent them here. They are rich people, and could
bear it if it came to the worst. But there's
no likelihood, now, that it will come to the worst;
you can see yourself that the Road has changed its mind
about buying. And here am I without a cent in the world;
and my wife is an invalid. She needs comforts, she needs
little luxuries, and she hasn't even the necessaries;
and you want to sacrifice her to a mere idea! You don't know
in the first place that the Road will ever want to buy;
and if it does, the probability is that with a colony
like that planted on its line, it would make very different
terms from what it would with you or me. These agents
are not afraid, and their principals are rich people;
and if there was any loss, it would be divided up amongst
them so that they wouldn't any of them feel it."
Lapham stole a troubled glance at his wife, and saw
that there was no help in her. Whether she was daunted
and confused in her own conscience by the outcome,
so evil and disastrous, of the reparation to Rogers
which she had forced her husband to make, or whether her
perceptions had been blunted and darkened by the appeals
which Rogers had now used, it would be difficult to say.
Probably there was a mixture of both causes in the effect
which her husband felt in her, and from which he turned,
girding himself anew, to Rogers.
"I have no wish to recur to the past," continued Rogers,
with growing superiority. "You have shown a proper spirit
in regard to that, and you have done what you could to wipe
"I should think I had," said Lapham. "I've used up
about a hundred and fifty thousand dollars trying."
"Some of my enterprises," Rogers admitted, "have been
unfortunate, seemingly; but I have hopes that they will
yet turn out well--in time. I can't understand why you
should be so mindful of others now, when you showed
so little regard for me then. I had come to your aid at
a time when you needed help, and when you got on your feet
you kicked me out of the business. I don't complain,
but that is the fact; and I had to begin again, after I
had supposed myself settled in life, and establish myself elsewhere."
Lapham glanced again at his wife; her head had fallen;
he could see that she was so rooted in her old remorse
for that questionable act of his, amply and more than
fully atoned for since, that she was helpless, now in the
crucial moment, when he had the utmost need of her insight.
He had counted upon her; he perceived now that when he had
thought it was for him alone to decide, he had counted upon
her just spirit to stay his own in its struggle to be just.
He had not forgotten how she held out against him only
a little while ago, when he asked her whether he might
not rightfully sell in some such contingency as this;
and it was not now that she said or even looked anything
in favour of Rogers, but that she was silent against him,
which dismayed Lapham. He swallowed the lump that rose
in his throat, the self-pity, the pity for her, the despair,
and said gently, "I guess you better go to bed, Persis.
It's pretty late."
She turned towards the door, when Rogers said, with the
obvious intention of detaining her through her curiosity--
"But I let that pass. And I don't ask now that you
should sell to these men."
Mrs. Lapham paused, irresolute.
"What are you making this bother for, then?" demanded Lapham.
"What DO you want?"
"What I've been telling your wife here. I want you should sell
to me. I don't say what I'm going to do with the property,
and you will not have an iota of responsibility, whatever happens."
Lapham was staggered, and he saw his wife's face light
up with eager question.
"I want that property," continued Rogers, "and I've got
the money to buy it. What will you take for it? If it's
the price you're standing out for----"
"Persis," said Lapham, "go to bed," and he gave her a look
that meant obedience for her. She went out of the door,
and left him with his tempter.
"If you think I'm going to help you whip the devil round
the stump, you're mistaken in your man, Milton Rogers,"
said Lapham, lighting a cigar. "As soon as I sold to you,
you would sell to that other pair of rascals. I smelt 'em
out in half a minute."
"They are Christian gentlemen," said Rogers. "But I
don't purpose defending them; and I don't purpose telling
you what I shall or shall not do with the property
when it is in my hands again. The question is,
Will you sell, and, if so, what is your figure? You
have got nothing whatever to do with it after you've sold."
It was perfectly true. Any lawyer would have told him the same.
He could not help admiring Rogers for his ingenuity,
and every selfish interest of his nature joined with many
obvious duties to urge him to consent. He did not see
why he should refuse. There was no longer a reason.
He was standing out alone for nothing, any one else
would say. He smoked on as if Rogers were not there,
and Rogers remained before the fire as patient as the
clock ticking behind his head on the mantel, and showing
the gleam of its pendulum beyond his face on either side.
But at last he said, "Well?"
"Well," answered Lapham, "you can't expect me to give
you an answer to-night, any more than before. You know
that what you've said now hasn't changed the thing a bit.
I wish it had. The Lord knows, I want to be rid of the
property fast enough." "Then why don't you sell to me?
Can't you see that you will not be responsible for what
happens after you have sold?"
"No, I can't see that; but if I can by morning, I'll sell."
"Why do you expect to know any better by morning?
You're wasting time for nothing!" cried Rogers,
in his disappointment. "Why are you so particular? When
you drove me out of the business you were not so very particular."
Lapham winced. It was certainly ridiculous for man
who had once so selfishly consulted his own interests
to be stickling now about the rights of others.
"I guess nothing's going to happen overnight," he answered
sullenly. "Anyway, I shan't say what I shall do till morning."
"What time can I see you in the morning?"
Rogers buttoned his coat, and went out of the room
without another word. Lapham followed him to close
the street-door after him.
His wife called down to him from above as he approached
the room again, "Well?"
"I've told him I'd let him know in the morning."
"Want I should come down and talk with you?"
"No," answered Lapham, in the proud bitterness which his
isolation brought, "you couldn't do any good." He went
in and shut the door, and by and by his wife heard him
begin walking up and down; and then the rest of the night
she lay awake and listened to him walking up and down.
But when the first light whitened the window, the words
of the Scripture came into her mind: "And there wrestled
a man with him until the breaking of the day.... And
he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said,
I will not let thee go, except thou bless me."
She could not ask him anything when they met, but he
raised his dull eyes after the first silence, and said,
"I don't know what I'm going to say to Rogers."
She could not speak; she did not know what to say,
and she saw her husband when she followed him with her eyes
from the window, drag heavily down toward the corner,
where he was to take, the horse-car.
He arrived rather later than usual at his office, and he
found his letters already on his table. There was one,
long and official-looking, with a printed letter-heading
on the outside, and Lapham had no need to open it in order
to know that it was the offer of the Great Lacustrine &
Polar Railroad for his mills. But he went mechanically
through the verification of his prophetic fear, which was
also his sole hope, and then sat looking blankly at it.
Rogers came promptly at the appointed time, and Lapham handed
him the letter. He must have taken it all in at a glance,
and seen the impossibility of negotiating any further now,
even with victims so pliant and willing as those Englishmen.
"You've ruined me!" Rogers broke out. "I haven't a cent
left in the world! God help my poor wife!"
He went out, and Lapham remained staring at the door
which closed upon him. This was his reward for standing
firm for right and justice to his own destruction:
to feel like a thief and a murderer.
LATER in the forenoon came the despatch from the West Virginians
in New York, saying their brother assented to their agreement;
and it now remained for Lapham to fulfil his part of it.
He was ludicrously far from able to do this; and unless
he could get some extension of time from them, he must
lose this chance, his only chance, to retrieve himself.
He spent the time in a desperate endeavour to raise the money,
but he had not raised the half of it when the banks closed.
With shame in his heart he went to Bellingham, from whom
he had parted so haughtily, and laid his plan before him.
He could not bring himself to ask Bellingham's help,
but he told him what he proposed to do. Bellingham pointed
out that the whole thing was an experiment, and that the
price asked was enormous, unless a great success were
morally certain. He advised delay, he advised prudence;
he insisted that Lapham ought at least to go out to
Kanawha Falls, and see the mines and works before he put
any such sum into the development of the enterprise.
"That's all well enough," cried Lapham; "but if I don't clinch
this offer within twenty-four hours, they'll withdraw it,
and go into the market; and then where am I?"
"Go on and see them again," said Bellingham. "They can't
be so peremptory as that with you. They must give you
time to look at what they want to sell. If it turns
out what you hope, then--I'll see what can be done.
But look into it thoroughly."
"Well!" cried Lapham, helplessly submitting. He took
out his watch, and saw that he had forty minutes to catch
the four o'clock train. He hurried back to his office,
and put together some papers preparatory to going,
and despatched a note by his boy to Mrs. Lapham saying
that he was starting for New York, and did not know just
when he should get back.
The early spring day was raw and cold. As he went out
through the office he saw the clerks at work with their
street-coats and hats on; Miss Dewey had her jacket dragged
up on her shoulders, and looked particularly comfortless
as she operated her machine with her red fingers.
"What's up?" asked Lapham, stopping a moment.
"Seems to be something the matter with the steam,"
she answered, with the air of unmerited wrong habitual
with so many pretty women who have to work for a living.
"Well, take your writer into my room. There's a fire
in the stove there," said Lapham, passing out.
Half an hour later his wife came into the outer office.
She had passed the day in a passion of self-reproach,
gradually mounting from the mental numbness in which he
had left her, and now she could wait no longer to tell him
that she saw how she had forsaken him in his hour of trial
and left him to bear it alone. She wondered at herself
in shame and dismay; she wondered that she could have
been so confused as to the real point by that old wretch
of a Rogers, that she could have let him hoodwink her so,
even for a moment. It astounded her that such a thing
should have happened, for if there was any virtue upon
which this good woman prided herself, in which she
thought herself superior to her husband, it was her
instant and steadfast perception of right and wrong,
and the ability to choose the right to her own hurt.
But she had now to confess, as each of us has had likewise
to confess in his own case, that the very virtue on which she
had prided herself was the thing that had played her false;
that she had kept her mind so long upon that old wrong
which she believed her husband had done this man that she
could not detach it, but clung to the thought of reparation
for it when she ought to have seen that he was proposing
a piece of roguery as the means. The suffering which Lapham
must inflict on him if he decided against him had been
more to her apprehension than the harm he might do if he
decided for him. But now she owned her limitations
to herself, and above everything in the world she wished
the man whom her conscience had roused and driven on
whither her intelligence had not followed, to do right,
to do what he felt to be right, and nothing else.
She admired and revered him for going beyond her,
and she wished to tell him that she did not know what he
had determined to do about Rogers, but that she knew it
was right, and would gladly abide the consequences with him,
whatever they were.
She had not been near his place of business for nearly
a year, and her heart smote her tenderly as she looked
about her there, and thought of the early days when she
knew as much about the paint as he did; she wished that
those days were back again. She saw Corey at his desk,
and she could not bear to speak to him; she dropped
her veil that she need not recognise him, and pushed on
to Lapham's room, and opening the door without knocking,
shut it behind her.
Then she became aware with intolerable disappointment
that her husband was not there. Instead, a very
pretty girl sat at his desk, operating a typewriter.
She seemed quite at home, and she paid Mrs. Lapham
the scant attention which such young women often bestow
upon people not personally interesting to them.
It vexed the wife that any one else should seem to be
helping her husband about business that she had once
been so intimate with; and she did not at all like the
girl's indifference to her presence. Her hat and sack
hung on a nail in one corner, and Lapham's office coat,
looking intensely like him to his wife's familiar eye,
hung on a nail in the other corner; and Mrs. Lapham liked
even less than the girl's good looks this domestication
of her garments in her husband's office. She began to ask
herself excitedly why he should be away from his office
when she happened to come; and she had not the strength
at the moment to reason herself out of her unreasonableness.
"When will Colonel Lapham be in, do you suppose?"
she sharply asked of the girl.
"I couldn't say exactly," replied the girl, without looking round.
"Has he been out long?"
"I don't know as I noticed," said the girl, looking up
at the clock, without looking at Mrs. Lapham. She went
on working her machine.
"Well, I can't wait any longer," said the wife abruptly.
"When Colonel Lapham comes in, you please tell him
Mrs. Lapham wants to see him."
The girl started to her feet and turned toward Mrs. Lapham
with a red and startled face, which she did not lift
to confront her. "Yes--yes--I will," she faltered.
The wife went home with a sense of defeat mixed with an
irritation about this girl which she could not quell
or account for. She found her husband's message,
and it seemed intolerable that he should have gone
to New York without seeing her; she asked herself
in vain what the mysterious business could be that took
him away so suddenly. She said to herself that he was
neglecting her; he was leaving her out a little too much;
and in demanding of herself why he had never mentioned
that girl there in his office, she forgot how much she
had left herself out of his business life. That was
another curse of their prosperity. Well, she was glad
the prosperity was going; it had never been happiness.
After this she was going to know everything as she used.
She tried to dismiss the whole matter till Lapham returned;
and if there had been anything for her to do in that
miserable house, as she called it in her thought,
she might have succeeded. But again the curse was on her;
there was nothing to do; and the looks of that girl
kept coming back to her vacancy, her disoccupation.
She tried to make herself something to do, but that beauty,
which she had not liked, followed her amid the work
of overhauling the summer clothing, which Irene had
seen to putting away in the fall. Who was the thing,
anyway? It was very strange, her being there; why did she
jump up in that frightened way when Mrs. Lapham had named
After dark, that evening, when the question had worn away its
poignancy from mere iteration, a note for Mrs. Lapham was left
at the door by a messenger who said there was no answer.
"A note for me?" she said, staring at the unknown, and somehow
artificial-looking, handwriting of the superscription.
Then she opened it and read: "Ask your husband about
his lady copying-clerk. A Friend and Well-wisher,"
who signed the note, gave no other name.
Mrs. Lapham sat helpless with it in her hand.
Her brain reeled; she tried to fight the madness off;
but before Lapham came back the second morning, it had
become, with lessening intervals of sanity and release,
a demoniacal possession. She passed the night without sleep,
without rest, in the frenzy of the cruellest of the passions,
which covers with shame the unhappy soul it possesses,
and murderously lusts for the misery of its object.
If she had known where to find her husband in New York,
she would have followed him; she waited his return in
an ecstasy of impatience. In the morning he came back,
looking spent and haggard. She saw him drive up to the door,
and she ran to let him in herself
"Who is that girl you've got in your office, Silas Lapham?"
she demanded, when her husband entered.
"Girl in my office?"
"Yes! Who is she? What is she doing there?" "Why, what
have you heard about her?"
"Never you mind what I've heard. Who is she? IS IT MRS.
M. THAT YOU GAVE THAT MONEY TO? I want to know who she
is! I want to know what a respectable man, with grown-up
girls of his own, is doing with such a looking thing
as that in his office? I want to know how long she's been
there? I want to know what she's there at all for?"
He had mechanically pushed her before him into the long,
darkened parlour, and he shut himself in there with her now,
to keep the household from hearing her lifted voice.
For a while he stood bewildered, and could not have answered
if he would, and then he would not. He merely asked,
"Have I ever accused you of anything wrong, Persis?"
"You no need to!" she answered furiously, placing herself
against the closed door.
"Did you ever know me to do anything out of the way?"
"That isn't what I asked you."
"Well, I guess you may find out about that girl yourself.
Get away from the door."
"I won't get away from the door."
She felt herself set lightly aside, and her husband opened
the door and went out. "I WILL find out about her,"
she screamed after him. "I'll find out, and I'll
disgrace you. I'll teach you how to treat me----"
The air blackened round her: she reeled to the sofa
and then she found herself waking from a faint.
She did not know how long she had lain there, she did
not care. In a moment her madness came whirling back
upon her. She rushed up to his room; it was empty;
the closet-doors stood ajar and the drawers were open;
he must have packed a bag hastily and fled. She went out
and wandered crazily up and down till she found a hack.
She gave the driver her husband's business address,
and told him to drive there as fast as he could;
and three times she lowered the window to put her head
out and ask him if he could not hurry. A thousand things
thronged into her mind to support her in her evil will.
She remembered how glad and proud that man had been
to marry her, and how everybody said she was marrying
beneath her when she took him. She remembered how good
she had always been to him, how perfectly devoted,
slaving early and late to advance him, and looking out for his
interests in all things, and sparing herself in nothing.
If it had not been for her, he might have been driving
stage yet; and since their troubles had begun, the troubles
which his own folly and imprudence had brought on them,
her conduct had been that of a true and faithful wife.
Was HE the sort of man to be allowed to play her false
with impunity? She set her teeth and drew her breath sharply
through them when she thought how willingly she had let him
befool her, and delude her about that memorandum of payments
to Mrs. M., because she loved him so much, and pitied him
for his cares and anxieties. She recalled his confusion,
his guilty looks.
She plunged out of the carriage so hastily when she reached
the office that she did not think of paying the driver;
aud he had to call after her when she had got half-way
up the stairs. Then she went straight to Lapham's room,
with outrage in her heart. There was again no one there
but that type-writer girl; she jumped to her feet in a fright,
as Mrs. Lapham dashed the door to behind her and flung up
The two women confronted each other.
"Why, the good land!" cried Mrs. Lapham, "ain't you
"I--I'm married," faltered the girl "My name's Dewey, now."
"You're Jim Millon's daughter, anyway. How long have you
"I haven't been here regularly; I've been here off
and on ever since last May."
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