Part 3 out of 9
the business first."
"Oh, indeed! Are you going to take him to board in the family?"
"What are you after, Persis?"
"Oh, nothing! I presume he will feel free to visit
in the family, even if he don't board with us."
"I presume he will."
"And if he don't use his privileges, do you think he'll
be a fit person to manage your paint in South America?"
The Colonel reddened consciously. "I'm not taking him
on that basis."
"Oh yes, you are! You may pretend you ain't to yourself,
but you mustn't pretend so to me. Because I know you."
The Colonel laughed. "Pshaw!" he said.
Mrs. Lapham continued: "I don't see any harm in
hoping that he'll take a fancy to her. But if you
really think it won't do to mix the two things,
I advise you not to take Mr. Corey into the business.
It will do all very well if he DOES take a fancy to her;
but if he don't, you know how you'll feel about it.
And I know you well enough, Silas, to know that you can't
do him justice if that happens. And I don't think it's
right you should take this step unless you're pretty sure.
I can see that you've set your heart on this thing"
"I haven't set my heart on it at all," protested Lapham.
"And if you can't bring it about, you're going to feel
unhappy over it," pursued his wife, regardless of his protest.
"Oh, very well," he said. "If you know more about
what's in my mind than I do, there's no use arguing,
as I can see."
He got up, to carry off his consciousness, and sauntered
out of the door on to his piazza. He could see the
young people down on the rocks, and his heart swelled
in his breast. He had always said that he did not care
what a man's family was, but the presence of young Corey
as an applicant to him for employment, as his guest,
as the possible suitor of his daughter, was one of the
sweetest flavours that he had yet tasted in his success.
He knew who the Coreys were very well, and, in his simple,
brutal way, he had long hated their name as a symbol
of splendour which, unless he should live to see at
least three generations of his descendants gilded with
mineral paint, he could not hope to realise in his own.
He was acquainted in a business way with the tradition
of old Phillips Corey, and he had heard a great many
things about the Corey who had spent his youth abroad
and his father's money everywhere, and done nothing
but say smart things. Lapham could not see the smartness
of some of them which had been repeated to him. Once he
had encountered the fellow, and it seemed to Lapham that
the tall, slim, white-moustached man, with the slight stoop,
was everything that was offensively aristocratic.
He had bristled up aggressively at the name when his wife
told how she had made the acquaintance of the fellow's
family the summer before, and he had treated the notion
of young Corey's caring for Irene with the contempt
which such a ridiculous superstition deserved.
He had made up his mind about young Corey beforehand;
yet when he met him he felt an instant liking for him,
which he frankly acknowledged, and he had begun to assume
the burden of his wife's superstition, of which she seemed
now ready to accuse him of being the inventor.
Nothing had moved his thick imagination like this day's
events since the girl who taught him spelling and grammar
in the school at Lumberville had said she would have him
for her husband.
The dark figures, stationary on the rocks, began to move,
and he could see that they were coming toward the house.
He went indoors, so as not to appear to have been
A WEEK after she had parted with her son at Bar Harbour,
Mrs. Corey suddenly walked in upon her husband in their
house in Boston. He was at breakfast, and he gave her
the patronising welcome with which the husband who has
been staying in town all summer receives his wife when she
drops down upon him from the mountains or the sea-side. For
a little moment she feels herself strange in the house,
and suffers herself to be treated like a guest, before envy
of his comfort vexes her back into possession and authority.
Mrs. Corey was a lady, and she did not let her envy take
the form of open reproach.
"Well, Anna, you find me here in the luxury you left me to.
How did you leave the girls?"
"The girls were well," said Mrs. Corey, looking absently at
her husband's brown velvet coat, in which he was so handsome.
No man had ever grown grey more beautifully. His hair,
while not remaining dark enough to form a theatrical
contrast with his moustache, was yet some shades darker,
and, in becoming a little thinner, it had become a little
more gracefully wavy. His skin had the pearly tint
which that of elderly men sometimes assumes, and the lines
which time had traced upon it were too delicate for the
name of wrinkles. He had never had any personal vanity,
and there was no consciousness in his good looks now.
"I am glad of that. The boy I have with me," he returned;
"that is, when he IS with me."
"Why, where is he?" demanded the mother.
"Probably carousing with the boon Lapham somewhere.
He left me yesterday afternoon to go and offer his
allegiance to the Mineral Paint King, and I haven't seen
"Bromfield!" cried Mrs. Corey. "Why didn't you stop him?"
"Well, my dear, I'm not sure that it isn't a very good thing."
"A good thing? It's horrid!"
"No, I don't think so. It's decent. Tom had found
out--without consulting the landscape, which I believe
proclaims it everywhere----"
"That it's really a good thing; and he thinks that he has
some ideas in regard to its dissemination in the parts
"Why shouldn't he go into something else?" lamented the mother.
"I believe he has gone into nearly everything else
and come out of it. So there is a chance of his coming
out of this. But as I had nothing to suggest in place
of it, I thought it best not to interfere. In fact,
what good would my telling him that mineral paint was
nasty have done? I dare say YOU told him it was nasty."
"Yes! I did."
"And you see with what effect, though he values
your opinion three times as much as he values mine.
Perhaps you came up to tell him again that it was nasty?"
"I feel very unhappy about it. He is throwing himself away.
Yes, I should like to prevent it if I could!"
The father shook his head.
"If Lapham hasn't prevented it, I fancy it's too late.
But there may be some hopes of Lapham. As for Tom's
throwing himself away, I don't know. There's no question
but he is one of the best fellows under the sun.
He's tremendously energetic, and he has plenty of the kind
of sense which we call horse; but he isn't brilliant.
No, Tom is not brilliant. I don't think he would get
on in a profession, and he's instinctively kept out of
everything of the kind. But he has got to do something.
What shall he do? He says mineral paint, and really
I don't see why he shouldn't. If money is fairly and
honestly earned, why should we pretend to care what it
comes out of, when we don't really care? That superstition
is exploded everywhere."
"Oh, it isn't the paint alone," said Mrs. Corey; and then
she perceptibly arrested herself, and made a diversion
in continuing: "I wish he had married some one."
"With money?" suggested her husband. "From time to time
I have attempted Tom's corruption from that side, but I
suspect Tom has a conscience against it, and I rather
like him for it. I married for love myself," said Corey,
looking across the table at his wife.
She returned his look tolerantly, though she felt it
right to say, "What nonsense!"
"Besides," continued her husband, "if you come to money,
there is the paint princess. She will have plenty."
"Ah, that's the worst of it," sighed the mother.
"I suppose I could get on with the paint----"
"But not with the princess? I thought you said she was
a very pretty, well-behaved girl?"
"She is very pretty, and she is well-behaved; but there
is nothing of her. She is insipid; she is very insipid."
"But Tom seemed to like her flavour, such as it was?"
"How can I tell? We were under a terrible obligation
to them, and I naturally wished him to be polite to them.
In fact, I asked him to be so."
"And he was too polite"
"I can't say that he was. But there is no doubt that
the child is extremely pretty."
"Tom says there are two of them. Perhaps they will
neutralise each other."
"Yes, there is another daughter," assented Mrs. Corey.
"I don't see how you can joke about such things, Bromfield,"
"Well, I don't either, my dear, to tell you the truth.
My hardihood surprises me. Here is a son of mine whom I
see reduced to making his living by a shrinkage in values.
It's very odd," interjected Corey, "that some values should
have this peculiarity of shrinking. You never hear of values
in a picture shrinking; but rents, stocks, real estate--all
those values shrink abominably. Perhaps it might be
argued that one should put all his values into pictures;
I've got a good many of mine there."
"Tom needn't earn his living," said Mrs. Corey, refusing her
husband's jest. "There's still enough for all of us."
"That is what I have sometimes urged upon Tom. I have proved
to him that with economy, and strict attention to business,
he need do nothing as long as he lives. Of course he
would be somewhat restricted, and it would cramp the rest
of us; but it is a world of sacrifices and compromises.
He couldn't agree with me, and he was not in the least
moved by the example of persons of quality in Europe,
which I alleged in support of the life of idleness.
It appears that he wishes to do something--to do something
for himself. I am afraid that Tom is selfish."
Mrs. Corey smiled wanly. Thirty years before, she had
married the rich young painter in Rome, who said so much
better things than he painted--charming things, just the
things to please the fancy of a girl who was disposed
to take life a little too seriously and practically.
She saw him in a different light when she got him home
to Boston; but he had kept on saying the charming things,
and he had not done much else. In fact, he had fulfilled
the promise of his youth. It was a good trait in him
that he was not actively but only passively extravagant.
He was not adventurous with his money; his tastes were
as simple as an Italian's; he had no expensive habits.
In the process of time he had grown to lead a more and
more secluded life. It was hard to get him out anywhere,
even to dinner. His patience with their narrowing
circumstances had a pathos which she felt the more
the more she came into charge of their joint life.
At times it seemed too bad that the children and
their education and pleasures should cost so much.
She knew, besides, that if it had not been for them
she would have gone back to Rome with him, and lived
princely there for less than it took to live respectably
"Tom hasn't consulted me," continued his father, "but he
has consulted other people. And he has arrived at the
conclusion that mineral paint is a good thing to go into.
He has found out all about it, and about its founder
or inventor. It's quite impressive to hear him talk.
And if he must do something for himself, I don't see why
his egotism shouldn't as well take that form as another.
Combined with the paint princess, it isn't so agreeable;
but that's only a remote possibility, for which your
principal ground is your motherly solicitude.
But even if it were probable and imminent, what could
you do? The chief consolation that we American parents
have in these matters is that we can do nothing.
If we were Europeans, even English, we should take some
cognisance of our children's love affairs, and in some
measure teach their young affections how to shoot.
But it is our custom to ignore them until they have shot,
and then they ignore us. We are altogether too delicate
to arrange the marriages of our children; and when they
have arranged them we don't like to say anything,
for fear we should only make bad worse. The right
way is for us to school ourselves to indifference.
That is what the young people have to do elsewhere,
and that is the only logical result of our position here.
It is absurd for us to have any feeling about what we don't
"Oh, people do interfere with their children's marriages
very often," said Mrs. Corey.
"Yes, but only in a half-hearted way, so as not to make
it disagreeable for themselves if the marriages go on in
spite of them, as they're pretty apt to do. Now, my idea
is that I ought to cut Tom off with a shilling.
That would be very simple, and it would be economical.
But you would never consent, and Tom wouldn't mind it."
"I think our whole conduct in regard to such things
is wrong," said Mrs. Corey.
"Oh, very likely. But our whole civilisation is based upon it.
And who is going to make a beginning? To which father
in our acquaintance shall I go and propose an alliance
for Tom with his daughter? I should feel like an ass.
And will you go to some mother, and ask her sons in
marriage for our daughters? You would feel like a goose.
No; the only motto for us is, Hands off altogether."
"I shall certainly speak to Tom when the time comes,"
said Mrs. Corey.
"And I shall ask leave to be absent from your discomfiture,
my dear," answered her husband.
The son returned that afternoon, and confessed his
surprise at finding his mother in Boston. He was so
frank that she had not quite the courage to confess
in turn why she had come, but trumped up an excuse.
"Well, mother," he said promptly, "I have made an engagement
with Mr. Lapham."
"Have you, Tom?" she asked faintly.
"Yes. For the present I am going to have charge of his
foreign correspondence, and if I see my way to the
advantage I expect to find in it, I am going out to manage
that side of his business in South America and Mexico.
He's behaved very handsomely about it. He says that if it
appears for our common interest, he shall pay me a salary
as well as a commission. I've talked with Uncle Jim,
and he thinks it's a good opening."
"Your Uncle Jim does?" queried Mrs. Corey in amaze.
"Yes; I consulted him the whole way through, and I've
acted on his advice."
This seemed an incomprehensible treachery on her brother's part.
"Yes; I thought you would like to have me. And besides,
I couldn't possibly have gone to any one so well fitted
to advise me."
His mother said nothing. In fact, the mineral paint business,
however painful its interest, was, for the moment,
superseded by a more poignant anxiety. She began to feel
her way cautiously toward this.
"Have you been talking about your business with Mr. Lapham
"Well, pretty much," said her son, with a guiltless laugh.
"I went to see him yesterday afternoon, after I had gone
over the whole ground with Uncle Jim, and Mr. Lapham asked
me to go down with him and finish up."
"Down?" repeated Mrs. Corey. "Yes, to Nantasket.
He has a cottage down there."
"At Nantasket?" Mrs. Corey knitted her brows a little.
"What in the world can a cottage at Nantasket be like?"
"Oh, very much like a 'cottage' anywhere. It has the
usual allowance of red roof and veranda. There are the
regulation rocks by the sea; and the big hotels on the
beach about a mile off, flaring away with electric lights
and roman-candles at night. We didn't have them at Nahant."
"No," said his mother. "Is Mrs. Lapham well? And
"Yes, I think so," said the young man. "The young ladies
walked me down to the rocks in the usual way after dinner,
and then I came back and talked paint with Mr. Lapham
till midnight. We didn't settle anything till this
morning coming up on the boat."
"What sort of people do they seem to be at home?"
"What sort? Well, I don't know that I noticed." Mrs. Corey
permitted herself the first part of a sigh of relief;
and her son laughed, but apparently not at her.
"They're just reading Middlemarch. They say there's so much
talk about it. Oh, I suppose they're very good people.
They seemed to be on very good terms with each other."
"I suppose it's the plain sister who's reading Middlemarch."
"Plain? Is she plain?" asked the young man, as if
searching his consciousness. "Yes, it's the older one
who does the reading, apparently. But I don't believe
that even she overdoes it. They like to talk better.
They reminded me of Southern people in that." The young
man smiled, as if amused by some of his impressions
of the Lapham family. "The living, as the country
people call it, is tremendously good. The Colonel--he's
a colonel--talked of the coffee as his wife's coffee,
as if she had personally made it in the kitchen,
though I believe it was merely inspired by her.
And there was everything in the house that money could buy.
But money has its limitations."
This was a fact which Mrs. Corey was beginning to realise more
and more unpleasantly in her own life; but it seemed to bring
her a certain comfort in its application to the Laphams.
"Yes, there is a point where taste has to begin," she said.
"They seemed to want to apologise to me for not having
more books," said Corey. "I don't know why they should.
The Colonel said they bought a good many books, first and last;
but apparently they don't take them to the sea-side."
"I dare say they NEVER buy a NEW book. I've met some
of these moneyed people lately, and they lavish on every
conceivable luxury, and then borrow books, and get them
in the cheap paper editions."
"I fancy that's the way with the Lapham family," said the
young man, smilingly. "But they are very good people.
The other daughter is humorous."
"Humorous?" Mrs. Corey knitted her brows in some perplexity.
"Do you mean like Mrs. Sayre?" she asked, naming the lady
whose name must come into every Boston mind when humour
"Oh no; nothing like that. She never says anything
that you can remember; nothing in flashes or ripples;
nothing the least literary. But it's a sort of droll
way of looking at things; or a droll medium through
which things present themselves. I don't know.
She tells what she's seen, and mimics a little."
"Oh," said Mrs. Corey coldly. After a moment she asked:
"And is Miss Irene as pretty as ever?"
"She's a wonderful complexion," said the son unsatisfactorily.
"I shall want to be by when father and Colonel Lapham meet,"
he added, with a smile.
"Ah, yes, your father!" said the mother, in that way
in which a wife at once compassionates and censures
her husband to their children.
"Do you think it's really going to be a trial to him?"
asked the young man quickly.
"No, no, I can't say it is. But I confess I wish it
was some other business, Tom."
"Well, mother, I don't see why. The principal thing
looked at now is the amount of money; and while I
would rather starve than touch a dollar that was dirty
with any sort of dishonesty----"
"Of course you would, my son!" interposed his mother proudly.
"I shouldn't at all mind its having a little mineral paint
on it. I'll use my influence with Colonel Lapham--if I
ever have any--to have his paint scraped off the landscape."
"I suppose you won't begin till the autumn."
"Oh yes, I shall," said the son, laughing at his mother's
simple ignorance of business. "I shall begin to-morrow morning."
"Yes. I've had my desk appointed already, and I shall
be down there at nine in the morning to take possession."
"Tom" cried his mother, "why do you think Mr. Lapham has
taken you into business so readily? I've always heard
that it was so hard for young men to get in."
"And do you think I found it easy with him? We had about
twelve hours' solid talk."
"And you don't suppose it was any sort of--personal consideration?"
"Why, I don't know exactly what you mean, mother.
I suppose he likes me."
Mrs. Corey could not say just what she meant. She answered,
"Yes. You wouldn't like it to be a favour, would you?"
"I think he's a man who may be trusted to look after his
own interest. But I don't mind his beginning by liking me.
It'll be my own fault if I don't make myself essential
"Yes," said Mrs. Corey.
"Well," demanded her husband, at their first meeting after
her interview with their son, "what did you say to Tom?"
"Very little, if anything. I found him with his mind
made up, and it would only have distressed him if I
had tried to change it."
"That is precisely what I said, my dear."
"Besides, he had talked the matter over fully with James,
and seems to have been advised by him. I can't understand James."
"Oh! it's in regard to the paint, and not the princess,
that he's made up his mind. Well, I think you were wise
to let him alone, Anna. We represent a faded tradition.
We don't really care what business a man is in, so it is
large enough, and he doesn't advertise offensively; but we
think it fine to affect reluctance."
"Do you really feel so, Bromfield?" asked his wife seriously.
"Certainly I do. There was a long time in my misguided
youth when I supposed myself some sort of porcelain;
but it's a relief to be of the common clay, after all,
and to know it. If I get broken, I can be easily replaced."
"If Tom must go into such a business," said Mrs. Corey,
"I'm glad James approves of it."
"I'm afraid it wouldn't matter to Tom if he didn't;
and I don't know that I should care," said Corey,
betraying the fact that he had perhaps had a good deal
of his brother-in-law's judgment in the course of his life.
"You had better consult him in regard to Tom's marrying
"There is no necessity at present for that," said Mrs. Corey,
with dignity. After a moment, she asked, "Should you feel
quite so easy if it were a question of that, Bromfield?"
"It would be a little more personal."
"You feel about it as I do. Of course, we have both
lived too long, and seen too much of the world,
to suppose we can control such things. The child is good,
I haven't the least doubt, and all those things can
be managed so that they wouldn't disgrace us. But she
has had a certain sort of bringing up. I should prefer
Tom to marry a girl with another sort, and this business
venture of his increases the chances that he won't. That's all."
"''Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door,
but 'twill serve.'"
"I shouldn't like it."
"Well, it hasn't happened yet."
"Ah, you never can realise anything beforehand."
"Perhaps that has saved me some suffering. But you
have at least the consolation of two anxieties at once.
I always find that a great advantage. You can play one off
against the other."
Mrs. Corey drew a long breath as if she did not experience
the suggested consolation; and she arranged to quit,
the following afternoon, the scene of her defeat,
which she had not had the courage to make a battlefield.
Her son went down to see her off on the boat, after
spending his first day at his desk in Lapham's office.
He was in a gay humour, and she departed in a reflected
gleam of his good spirits. He told her all about it,
as he sat talking with her at the stern of the boat,
lingering till the last moment, and then stepping ashore,
with as little waste of time as Lapham himself, on the
gang-plank which the deck-hands had laid hold of.
He touched his hat to her from the wharf to reassure
her of his escape from being carried away with her,
and the next moment his smiling face hid itself in
He walked on smiling up the long wharf, encumbered with
trucks and hacks and piles of freight, and, taking his way
through the deserted business streets beyond this bustle,
made a point of passing the door of Lapham's warehouse,
on the jambs of which his name and paint were lettered in
black on a square ground of white. The door was still open,
and Corey loitered a moment before it, tempted to go
upstairs and fetch away some foreign letters which he
had left on his desk, and which he thought he might finish
up at home. He was in love with his work, and he felt
the enthusiasm for it which nothing but the work we can
do well inspires in us. He believed that he had found
his place in the world, after a good deal of looking,
and he had the relief, the repose, of fitting into it.
Every little incident of the momentous, uneventful day
was a pleasure in his mind, from his sitting down
at his desk, to which Lapham's boy brought him the
foreign letters, till his rising from it an hour ago.
Lapham had been in view within his own office, but he
had given Corey no formal reception, and had, in fact,
not spoken to him till toward the end of the forenoon,
when he suddenly came out of his den with some more
letters in his hand, and after a brief "How d'ye do?"
had spoken a few words about them, and left them with him.
He was in his shirt-sleeves again, and his sanguine person
seemed to radiate the heat with which he suffered.
He did not go out to lunch, but had it brought to him
in his office, where Corey saw him eating it before he
left his own desk to go out and perch on a swinging seat
before the long counter of a down-town restaurant.
He observed that all the others lunched at twelve, and he
resolved to anticipate his usual hour. When he returned,
the pretty girl who had been clicking away at a type-writer
all the morning was neatly putting out of sight the
evidences of pie from the table where her machine stood,
and was preparing to go on with her copying. In his office
Lapham lay asleep in his arm-chair, with a newspaper over
Now, while Corey lingered at the entrance to the stairway,
these two came down the stairs together, and he heard
Lapham saying, "Well, then, you better get a divorce."
He looked red and excited, and the girl's face, which she
veiled at sight of Corey, showed traces of tears.
She slipped round him into the street.
But Lapham stopped, and said, with the show of no feeling
but surprise: "Hello, Corey! Did you want to go up?"
"Yes; there were some letters I hadn't quite got through with."
"You'll find Dennis up there. But I guess you better let
them go till to-morrow. I always make it a rule to stop
work when I'm done."
"Perhaps you're right," said Corey, yielding.
"Come along down as far as the boat with me. There's a
little matter I want to talk over with you."
It was a business matter, and related to Corey's proposed
connection with the house.
The next day the head book-keeper, who lunched at the long
counter of the same restaurant with Corey, began to talk
with him about Lapham. Walker had not apparently got
his place by seniority; though with his forehead, bald far
up toward the crown, and his round smooth face, one might
have taken him for a plump elder, if he had not looked
equally like a robust infant. The thick drabbish yellow
moustache was what arrested decision in either direction,
and the prompt vigour of all his movements was that of
a young man of thirty, which was really Walker's age.
He knew, of course, who Corey was, and he had waited
for a man who might look down on him socially to make
the overtures toward something more than business
acquaintance; but, these made, he was readily responsive,
and drew freely on his philosophy of Lapham and his affairs.
"I think about the only difference between people in
this world is that some know what they want, and some
don't. Well, now," said Walker, beating the bottom of his
salt-box to make the salt come out, "the old man knows
what he wants every time. And generally he gets it.
Yes, sir, he generally gets it. He knows what he's about,
but I'll be blessed if the rest of us do half the time.
Anyway, we don't till he's ready to let us. You take
my position in most business houses. It's confidential.
The head book-keeper knows right along pretty much
everything the house has got in hand. I'll give you
my word I don't. He may open up to you a little more
in your department, but, as far as the rest of us go,
he don't open up any more than an oyster on a hot brick.
They say he had a partner once; I guess he's dead.
I wouldn't like to be the old man's partner. Well,
you see, this paint of his is like his heart's blood.
Better not try to joke him about it. I've seen people
come in occasionally and try it. They didn't get much
fun out of it."
While he talked, Walker was plucking up morsels from his plate,
tearing off pieces of French bread from the long loaf,
and feeding them into his mouth in an impersonal way,
as if he were firing up an engine.
"I suppose he thinks," suggested Corey, "that if he
doesn't tell, nobody else will."
Walker took a draught of beer from his glass, and wiped
the foam from his moustache.
"Oh, but he carries it too far! It's a weakness with him.
He's just so about everything. Look at the way he keeps
it up about that type-writer girl of his. You'd think
she was some princess travelling incognito. There isn't
one of us knows who she is, or where she came from,
or who she belongs to. He brought her and her machine
into the office one morning, and set 'em down at a table,
and that's all there is about it, as far as we're concerned.
It's pretty hard on the girl, for I guess she'd like
to talk; and to any one that didn't know the old man----"
Walker broke off and drained his glass of what was left
Corey thought of the words he had overheard from Lapham
to the girl. But he said, "She seems to be kept pretty busy."
"Oh yes," said Walker; "there ain't much loafing round
the place, in any of the departments, from the old man's down.
That's just what I say. He's got to work just twice as hard,
if he wants to keep everything in his own mind. But he
ain't afraid of work. That's one good thing about him.
And Miss Dewey has to keep step with the rest of us.
But she don't look like one that would take to it naturally.
Such a pretty girl as that generally thinks she does enough
when she looks her prettiest."
"She's a pretty girl," said Corey, non-committally. "But I
suppose a great many pretty girls have to earn their living."
"Don't any of 'em like to do it," returned the book-keeper.
"They think it's a hardship, and I don't blame 'em. They have
got a right to get married, and they ought to have the chance.
And Miss Dewey's smart, too. She's as bright as a biscuit.
I guess she's had trouble. I shouldn't be much more than
half surprised if Miss Dewey wasn't Miss Dewey, or hadn't
always been. Yes, sir," continued the book-keeper,
who prolonged the talk as they walked back to Lapham's
warehouse together, "I don't know exactly what it is,--it
isn't any one thing in particular,--but I should say that
girl had been married. I wouldn't speak so freely to any
of the rest, Mr. Corey,--I want you to understand that,--and
it isn't any of my business, anyway; but that's my opinion."
Corey made no reply, as he walked beside the book-keeper,
"It's curious what a difference marriage makes in people.
Now, I know that I don't look any more like a bachelor
of my age than I do like the man in the moon, and yet I
couldn't say where the difference came in, to save me.
And it's just so with a woman. The minute you catch
sight of her face, there's something in it that tells
you whether she's married or not. What do you suppose
"I'm sure I don't know," said Corey, willing to laugh away
the topic. "And from what I read occasionally of some
people who go about repeating their happiness, I shouldn't
say that the intangible evidences were always unmistakable."
"Oh, of course," admitted Walker, easily surrendering
his position. "All signs fail in dry weather.
Hello! What's that?" He caught Corey by the arm,
and they both stopped.
At a corner, half a block ahead of them, the summer noon
solitude of the place was broken by a bit of drama.
A man and woman issued from the intersecting street,
and at the moment of coming into sight the man, who looked
like a sailor, caught the woman by the arm, as if to
detain her. A brief struggle ensued, the woman trying
to free herself, and the man half coaxing, half scolding.
The spectators could now see that he was drunk;
but before they could decide whether it was a case for
their interference or not, the woman suddenly set both
hands against the man's breast and gave him a quick push.
He lost his footing and tumbled into a heap in the gutter.
The woman faltered an instant, as if to see whether he was
seriously hurt, and then turned and ran.
When Corey and the book-keeper re-entered the office,
Miss Dewey had finished her lunch, and was putting a sheet
of paper into her type-writer. She looked up at them with
her eyes of turquoise blue, under her low white forehead,
with the hair neatly rippled over it, and then began
to beat the keys of her machine.
LAPHAM had the pride which comes of self-making, and he
would not openly lower his crest to the young fellow he
had taken into his business. He was going to be obviously
master in his own place to every one; and during the hours
of business he did nothing to distinguish Corey from the
half-dozen other clerks and book-keepers in the outer office,
but he was not silent about the fact that Bromfield
Corey's son had taken a fancy to come to him. "Did you
notice that fellow at the desk facing my type-writer
girl? Well, sir, that's the son of Bromfield Corey--old
Phillips Corey's grandson. And I'll say this for him,
that there isn't a man in the office that looks after his
work better. There isn't anything he's too good for.
He's right here at nine every morning, before the clock
gets in the word. I guess it's his grandfather coming out
in him. He's got charge of the foreign correspondence.
We're pushing the paint everywhere." He flattered himself
that he did not lug the matter in. He had been warned
against that by his wife, but he had the right to do
Corey justice, and his brag took the form of illustration.
"Talk about training for business--I tell you it's all
in the man himself! I used to believe in what old Horace
Greeley said about college graduates being the poorest
kind of horned cattle; but I've changed my mind a little.
You take that fellow Corey. He's been through Harvard,
and he's had about every advantage that a fellow could have.
Been everywhere, and talks half a dozen languages
like English. I suppose he's got money enough to live
without lifting a hand, any more than his father does;
son of Bromfield Corey, you know. But the thing was in him.
He's a natural-born business man; and I've had many
a fellow with me that had come up out of the street,
and worked hard all his life, without ever losing his
original opposition to the thing. But Corey likes it.
I believe the fellow would like to stick at that desk
of his night and day. I don't know where he got it.
I guess it must be his grandfather, old Phillips Corey;
it often skips a generation, you know. But what I say is,
a thing has got to be born in a man; and if it ain't born
in him, all the privations in the world won't put it there,
and if it is, all the college training won't take it
Sometimes Lapham advanced these ideas at his own table,
to a guest whom he had brought to Nantasket for the night.
Then he suffered exposure and ridicule at the hands of
his wife, when opportunity offered. She would not let him
bring Corey down to Nantasket at all.
"No, indeed!" she said. "I am not going to have them
think we're running after him. If he wants to see Irene,
he can find out ways of doing it for himself."
"Who wants him to see Irene?" retorted the Colonel angrily.
"I do," said Mrs. Lapham. "And I want him to see
her without any of your connivance, Silas. I'm not
going to have it said that I put my girls at anybody.
Why don't you invite some of your other clerks?"
"He ain't just like the other clerks. He's going to take
charge of a part of the business. It's quite another thing."
"Oh, indeed!" said Mrs. Lapham vexatiously. "Then you
ARE going to take a partner."
"I shall ask him down if I choose!" returned the Colonel,
disdaining her insinuation.
His wife laughed with the fearlessness of a woman
who knows her husband.
"But you won't choose when you've thought it over, Si."
Then she applied an emollient to his chafed surface.
"Don't you suppose I feel as you do about it? I know
just how proud you are, and I'm not going to have you
do anything that will make you feel meeching afterward.
You just let things take their course. If he wants Irene,
he's going to find out some way of seeing her; and if he
don't, all the plotting and planning in the world isn't going
to make him."
"Who's plotting?" again retorted the Colonel, shuddering at
the utterance of hopes and ambitions which a man hides
with shame, but a woman talks over as freely and coolly
as if they were items of a milliner's bill.
"Oh, not you!" exulted his wife. "I understand what
you want. You want to get this fellow, who is neither
partner nor clerk, down here to talk business with him.
Well, now, you just talk business with him at the office."
The only social attention which Lapham succeeded in
offering Corey was to take him in his buggy, now and then,
for a spin out over the Mill-dam. He kept the mare in town,
and on a pleasant afternoon he liked to knock off early,
as he phrased it, and let the mare out a little.
Corey understood something about horses, though in a
passionless way, and he would have preferred to talk
business when obliged to talk horse. But he deferred to his
business superior with the sense of discipline which is
innate in the apparently insubordinate American nature.
If Corey could hardly have helped feeling the social
difference between Lapham and himself, in his presence he
silenced his traditions, and showed him all the respect
that he could have exacted from any of his clerks.
He talked horse with him, and when the Colonel wished he
talked house. Besides himself and his paint Lapham had
not many other topics; and if he had a choice between the
mare and the edifice on the water side of Beacon Street,
it was just now the latter. Sometimes, in driving in or out,
he stopped at the house, and made Corey his guest there,
if he might not at Nantasket; and one day it happened
that the young man met Irene there again. She had come
up with her mother alone, and they were in the house,
interviewing the carpenter as before, when the Colonel
jumped out of his buggy and cast anchor at the pavement.
More exactly, Mrs. Lapham was interviewing the carpenter,
and Irene was sitting in the bow-window on a trestle,
and looking out at the driving. She saw him come up
with her father, and bowed and blushed. Her father went
on up-stairs to find her mother, and Corey pulled up another
trestle which he found in the back part of the room.
The first floorings had been laid throughout the house,
and the partitions had been lathed so that one could realise the
shape of the interior.
"I suppose you will sit at this window a good deal,"
said the young man.
"Yes, I think it will be very nice. There's so much
more going on than there is in the Square."
"It must be very interesting to you to see the house grow."
"It is. Only it doesn't seem to grow so fast as I expected."
"Why, I'm amazed at the progress your carpenter has made
every time I come."
The girl looked down, and then lifting her eyes she said,
with a sort of timorous appeal--
"I've been reading that book since you were down at Nantasket."
"Book?" repeated Corey, while she reddened with disappointment.
"Oh yes. Middlemarch. Did you like it?"
"I haven't got through with it yet. Pen has finished it."
"What does she think of it?"
"Oh, I think she likes it very well. I haven't heard
her talk about it much. Do you like it?"
"Yes; I liked it immensely. But it's several years
since I read it."
"I didn't know it was so old. It's just got into
the Seaside Library," she urged, with a little sense
of injury in her tone.
"Oh, it hasn't been out such a very great while,"
said Corey politely. "It came a little before DANIEL DERONDA."
The girl was again silent. She followed the curl
of a shaving on the floor with the point of her parasol.
"Do you like that Rosamond Vincy?" she asked, without looking up.
Corey smiled in his kind way.
"I didn't suppose she was expected to have any friends.
I can't say I liked her. But I don't think I disliked
her so much as the author does. She's pretty hard on her
good-looking"--he was going to say girls, but as if that
might have been rather personal, he said--"people."
"Yes, that's what Pen says. She says she doesn't give
her any chance to be good. She says she should have been
just as bad as Rosamond if she had been in her place."
The young man laughed. "Your sister is very satirical,
"I don't know," said Irene, still intent upon the
convolutions of the shaving. "She keeps us laughing.
Papa thinks there's nobody that can talk like her."
She gave the shaving a little toss from her, and took
the parasol up across her lap. The unworldliness
of the Lapham girls did not extend to their dress;
Irene's costume was very stylish, and she governed her
head and shoulders stylishly. "We are going to have
the back room upstairs for a music-room and library,"
she said abruptly.
"Yes?" returned Corey. "I should think that would
"We expected to have book-cases, but the architect wants
to build the shelves in."
The fact seemed to be referred to Corey for his comment.
"It seems to me that would be the best way. They'll look
like part of the room then. You can make them low,
and hang your pictures above them."
"Yes, that's what he said." The girl looked out of
the window in adding, "I presume with nice bindings
it will look very well."
"Oh, nothing furnishes a room like books."
"No. There will have to be a good many of them."
"That depends upon the size of your room and the number
of your shelves."
"Oh, of course! I presume," said Irene, thoughtfully,
"we shall have to have Gibbon."
"If you want to read him," said Corey, with a laugh
of sympathy for an imaginable joke.
"We had a great deal about him at school. I believe we
had one of his books. Mine's lost, but Pen will remember."
The young man looked at her, and then said, seriously,
"You'll want Greene, of course, and Motley, and Parkman."
"Yes. What kind of writers are they?"
"They're historians too."
"Oh yes; I remember now. That's what Gibbon was.
Is it Gibbon or Gibbons?"
The young man decided the point with apparently
superfluous delicacy. "Gibbon, I think."
"There used to be so many of them," said Irene gaily.
"I used to get them mixed up with each other, and I
couldn't tell them from the poets. Should you want to
"Yes; I suppose some edition of the English poets."
"We don't any of us like poetry. Do you like it?"
"I'm afraid I don't very much," Corey owned.
"But, of course, there was a time when Tennyson
was a great deal more to me than he is now."
"We had something about him at school too. I think I remember
the name. I think we ought to have ALL the American poets."
"Well, not all. Five or six of the best: you want Longfellow
and Bryant and Whittier and Holmes and Emerson and Lowell."
The girl listened attentively, as if making mental note
of the names.
"And Shakespeare," she added. "Don't you like Shakespeare's plays?"
"Oh yes, very much."
"I used to be perfectly crazy about his plays.
Don't you think 'Hamlet' is splendid? We had ever so much
about Shakespeare. Weren't you perfectly astonished
when you found out how many other plays of his there
were? I always thought there was nothing but 'Hamlet'
and 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Macbeth' and 'Richard III.'
and 'King Lear,' and that one that Robeson and Crane
have--oh yes! 'Comedy of Errors.'"
"Those are the ones they usually play," said Corey.
"I presume we shall have to have Scott's works," said Irene,
returning to the question of books.
"One of the girls used to think he was GREAT. She was
always talking about Scott." Irene made a pretty little
amiably contemptuous mouth. "He isn't American, though?"
"No," said Corey; "he's Scotch, I believe."
Irene passed her glove over her forehead. "I always get
him mixed up with Cooper. Well, papa has got to get them.
If we have a library, we have got to have books in it.
Pen says it's perfectly ridiculous having one. But papa
thinks whatever the architect says is right. He fought
him hard enough at first. I don't see how any one can
keep the poets and the historians and novelists separate
in their mind. Of course papa will buy them if we say so.
But I don't see how I'm ever going to tell him which ones."
The joyous light faded out of her face and left
"Why, if you like," said the young man, taking out his pencil,
"I'll put down the names we've been talking about."
He clapped himself on his breast pockets to detect some
lurking scrap of paper.
"Will you?" she cried delightedly. "Here! take one of my cards,"
and she pulled out her card-case. "The carpenter writes
on a three-cornered block and puts it into his pocket,
and it's so uncomfortable he can't help remembering it.
Pen says she's going to adopt the three-cornered-block
plan with papa."
"Thank you," said Corey. "I believe I'll use your card."
He crossed over to her, and after a moment sat down on the
trestle beside her. She looked over the card as he wrote.
"Those are the ones we mentioned, but perhaps I'd better
add a few others."
"Oh, thank you," she said, when he had written the card
full on both sides. "He has got to get them in the
nicest binding, too. I shall tell him about their
helping to furnish the room, and then he can't object."
She remained with the card, looking at it rather wistfully.
Perhaps Corey divined her trouble of mind. "If he will
take that to any bookseller, and tell him what bindings
he wants, he will fill the order for him."
"Oh, thank you very much," she said, and put the card back
into her card-case with great apparent relief. Then she
turned her lovely face toward the young man, beaming with
the triumph a woman feels in any bit of successful manoeuvring,
and began to talk with recovered gaiety of other things, as if,
having got rid of a matter annoying out of all proportion
to its importance, she was now going to indemnify herself.
Corey did not return to his own trestle. She found another
shaving within reach of her parasol, and began poking
that with it, and trying to follow it through its folds.
Corey watched her a while.
"You seem to have a great passion for playing with shavings,"
he said. "Is it a new one?"
"I don't know," she said, dropping her eyelids, and keeping
on with her effort. She looked shyly aslant at him.
"Perhaps you don't approve of playing with shavings?"
"Oh yes, I do. I admire it very much. But it seems
rather difficult. I've a great ambition to put my foot
on the shaving's tail and hold it for you."
"Well," said the girl.
"Thank you," said the young man. He did so, and now she
ran her parasol point easily through it. They looked
at each other and laughed. "That was wonderful.
Would you like to try another?" he asked.
"No, I thank you," she replied. "I think one will do."
They both laughed again, for whatever reason or no reason,
and then the young girl became sober. To a girl everything
a young man does is of significance; and if he holds
a shaving down with his foot while she pokes through it
with her parasol, she must ask herself what he means
"They seem to be having rather a long interview with the
carpenter to-day," said Irene, looking vaguely toward
the ceiling. She turned with polite ceremony to Corey.
"I'm afraid you're letting them keep you. You mustn't."
"Oh no. You're letting me stay," he returned.
She bridled and bit her lip for pleasure. "I presume
they will be down before a great while. Don't you
like the smell of the wood and the mortar? It's so fresh."
"Yes, it's delicious." He bent forward and picked up from
the floor the shaving with which they had been playing,
and put it to his nose. "It's like a flower. May I offer
it to you?" he asked, as if it had been one.
"Oh, thank you, thank you!" She took it from him and put
it into her belt, and then they both laughed once more.
Steps were heard descending. When the elder people
reached the floor where they were sitting, Corey rose
and presently took his leave.
"What makes you so solemn, 'Rene?" asked Mrs. Lapham.
"Solemn?" echoed the girl. "I'm not a BIT solemn.
What CAN you mean?"
Corey dined at home that evening, and as he sat looking
across the table at his father, he said, "I wonder
what the average literature of non-cultivated people is."
"Ah," said the elder, "I suspect the average is pretty
low even with cultivated people. You don't read a great
many books yourself, Tom."
"No, I don't," the young man confessed. "I read more books
when I was with Stanton, last winter, than I had since I was
a boy. But I read them because I must--there was nothing
else to do. It wasn't because I was fond of reading.
Still I think I read with some sense of literature and
the difference between authors. I don't suppose that
people generally do that; I have met people who had read
books without troubling themselves to find out even the
author's name, much less trying to decide upon his quality.
I suppose that's the way the vast majority of people read."
"Yes. If authors were not almost necessarily recluses,
and ignorant of the ignorance about them, I don't see
how they could endure it. Of course they are fated to be
overwhelmed by oblivion at last, poor fellows; but to see
it weltering all round them while they are in the very act
of achieving immortality must be tremendously discouraging.
I don't suppose that we who have the habit of reading,
and at least a nodding acquaintance with literature,
can imagine the bestial darkness of the great mass of
people--even people whose houses are rich and whose linen
is purple and fine. But occasionally we get glimpses of it.
I suppose you found the latest publications lying all about
in Lapham cottage when you were down there?"
Young Corey laughed. "It wasn't exactly cumbered with them."
"To tell the truth, I don't suppose they ever buy books.
The young ladies get novels that they hear talked of out
of the circulating library."
"Had they knowledge enough to be ashamed of their ignorance?"
"Yes, in certain ways--to a certain degree."
"It's a curious thing, this thing we call civilisation,"
said the elder musingly. "We think it is an affair of epochs
and of nations. It's really an affair of individuals.
One brother will be civilised and the other a barbarian.
I've occasionally met young girls who were so brutally,
insolently, wilfully indifferent to the arts which make
civilisation that they ought to have been clothed in the
skins of wild beasts and gone about barefoot with clubs
over their shoulders. Yet they were of polite origin,
and their parents were at least respectful of the things
that these young animals despised."
"I don't think that is exactly the case with the
Lapham family," said the son, smiling. "The father
and mother rather apologised about not getting
time to read, and the young ladies by no means scorned it."
"They are quite advanced!"
"They are going to have a library in their Beacon
"Oh, poor things! How are they ever going to get
the books together?"
"Well, sir," said the son, colouring a little, "I have
been indirectly applied to for help."
"You, Tom!" His father dropped back in his chair and laughed.
"I recommended the standard authors," said the son.
"Oh, I never supposed your PRUDENCE would be at fault, Tom!"
"But seriously," said the young man, generously smiling
in sympathy with his father's enjoyment, "they're not
unintelligent people. They are very quick, and they
are shrewd and sensible."
"I have no doubt that some of the Sioux are so. But that
is not saying that they are civilised. All civilisation
comes through literature now, especially in our country.
A Greek got his civilisation by talking and looking,
and in some measure a Parisian may still do it. But we,
who live remote from history and monuments, we must read or we
must barbarise. Once we were softened, if not polished,
by religion; but I suspect that the pulpit counts for much
less now in civilising."
"They're enormous devourers of newspapers, and theatre-goers;
and they go a great deal to lectures. The Colonel
prefers them with the stereopticon."
"They might get a something in that way," said the elder
thoughtfully. "Yes, I suppose one must take those things
into account--especially the newspapers and the lectures.
I doubt if the theatre is a factor in civilisation among us.
I dare say it doesn't deprave a great deal, but from what I've
seen of it I should say that it was intellectually degrading.
Perhaps they might get some sort of lift from it;
I don't know. Tom!" he added, after a moment's reflection.
"I really think I ought to see this patron of yours.
Don't you think it would be rather decent in me to make
"Well, if you have the fancy, sir," said the young man.
"But there's no sort of obligation. Colonel Lapham would
be the last man in the world to want to give our relation
any sort of social character. The meeting will come about
in the natural course of things."
"Ah, I didn't intend to propose anything immediate,"
said the father. "One can't do anything in the summer,
and I should prefer your mother's superintendence.
Still, I can't rid myself of the idea of a dinner.
It appears to me that there ought to be a dinner."
"Oh, pray don't feel that there's any necessity."
"Well," said the elder, with easy resignation, "there's at
least no hurry."
"There is one thing I don't like," said Lapham,
in the course of one of those talks which came up
between his wife and himself concerning Corey, "or at
least I don't understand it; and that's the way his
father behaves. I don't want to force myself on any man;
but it seems to me pretty queer the way he holds off.
I should think he would take enough interest in his
son to want to know something about his business.
What is he afraid of?" demanded Lapham angrily. "Does he
think I'm going to jump at a chance to get in with him,
if he gives me one? He's mightily mistaken if he does.
I don't want to know him."
"Silas," said his wife, making a wife's free version
of her husband's words, and replying to their spirit
rather than their letter, "I hope you never said a word
to Mr. Corey to let him know the way you feel."
"I never mentioned his father to him!" roared the Colonel.
"That's the way I feel about it!"
"Because it would spoil everything. I wouldn't have
them think we cared the least thing in the world for
their acquaintance. We shouldn't be a bit better off.
We don't know the same people they do, and we don't care
for the same kind of things."
Lapham was breathless with resentment of his wife's implication.
"Don't I tell you," he gasped, "that I don't want to know
them? Who began it? They're friends of yours if they're anybody's."
"They're distant acquaintances of mine," returned Mrs. Lapham
quietly; "and this young Corey is a clerk of yours. And I
want we should hold ourselves so that when they get ready
to make the advances we can meet them half-way or not,
just as we choose."
"That's what grinds me," cried her husband.
"Why should we wait for them to make the advances? Why
shouldn't we make 'em? Are they any better than we are?
My note of hand would be worth ten times what Bromfield
Corey's is on the street to-day. And I made MY money.
I haven't loafed my life away."
"Oh, it isn't what you've got, and it isn't what you've
done exactly. It's what you are."
"Well, then, what's the difference?"
"None that really amounts to anything, or that need give
you any trouble, if you don't think of it. But he's
been all his life in society, and he knows just what to
say and what to do, and he can talk about the things
that society people like to talk about, and you--can't."
Lapham gave a furious snort. "And does that make him
"No. But it puts him where he can make the advances
without demeaning himself, and it puts you where you
can't. Now, look here, Silas Lapham! You understand this
thing as well as I do. You know that I appreciate you,
and that I'd sooner die than have you humble yourself
to a living soul. But I'm not going to have you coming
to me, and pretending that you can meet Bromfield Corey
as an equal on his own ground. You can't. He's got
a better education than you, and if he hasn't got more
brains than you, he's got different. And he and his wife,
and their fathers and grandfathers before 'em, have always
had a high position, and you can't help it. If you want
to know them, you've got to let them make the advances.
If you don't, all well and good."
"I guess," said the chafed and vanquished Colonel,
after a moment for swallowing the pill, "that they'd
have been in a pretty fix if you'd waited to let them
make the advances last summer."
"That was a different thing altogether. I didn't
know who they were, or may be I should have waited.
But all I say now is that if you've got young Corey
into business with you, in hopes of our getting into
society with his father, you better ship him at once.
For I ain't going to have it on that basis."
"Who wants to have it on that basis?" retorted her husband.
"Nobody, if you don't," said Mrs. Lapham tranquilly.
Irene had come home with the shaving in her belt,
unnoticed by her father, and unquestioned by her mother.
But her sister saw it at once, and asked her what she was
doing with it.
"Oh, nothing," said Irene, with a joyful smile
of self-betrayal, taking the shaving carefully out,
and laying it among the laces and ribbons in her drawer.
"Hadn't you better put it in water, 'Rene? It'll be all
wilted by morning," said Pen.
"You mean thing!" cried the happy girl. "It isn't a flower!"
"Oh, I thought it was a whole bouquet. Who gave it to you?"
"I shan't tell you," said Irene saucily.
"Oh, well, never mind. Did you know Mr. Corey had been
down here this afternoon, walking on the beach with me?"
"He wasn't--he wasn't at all! He was at the house with ME.
There! I've caught you fairly."
"Is that so?" drawled Penelope. "Then I never could
guess who gave you that precious shaving."
"No, you couldn't!" said Irene, flushing beautifully.
"And you may guess, and you may guess, and you may guess!"
With her lovely eyes she coaxed her sister to keep on
teasing her, and Penelope continued the comedy with the
patience that women have for such things.
"Well, I'm not going to try, if it's no use. But I
didn't know it had got to be the fashion to give shavings
instead of flowers. But there's some sense in it.
They can be used for kindlings when they get old, and you
can't do anything with old flowers. Perhaps he'll get
to sending 'em by the barrel."
Irene laughed for pleasure in this tormenting. "O Pen,
I want to tell you how it all happened."
"Oh, he DID give it to you, then? Well, I guess I don't
care to hear."
"You shall, and you've got to!" Irene ran and caught
her sister, who feigned to be going out of the room,
and pushed her into a chair. "There, now!" She pulled up
another chair, and hemmed her in with it. "He came over,
and sat down on the trestle alongside of me----"
"What? As close as you are to me now?"
"You wretch! I will GIVE it to you! No, at a proper distance.
And here was this shaving on the floor, that I'd been
poking with my parasol----"
"To hide your embarrassment."
"Pshaw! I wasn't a bit embarrassed. I was just as much at
my ease! And then he asked me to let him hold the shaving
down with his foot, while I went on with my poking.
And I said yes he might----"
"What a bold girl! You said he might hold a shaving
down for you?"
"And then--and then----" continued Irene, lifting her eyes
absently, and losing herself in the beatific recollection,
"and then----Oh yes! Then I asked him if he didn't like
the smell of pine shavings. And then he picked it up,
and said it smelt like a flower. And then he asked
if he might offer it to me--just for a joke, you know.
And I took it, and stuck it in my belt. And we had
such a laugh! We got into a regular gale. And O Pen,
what do you suppose he meant by it?" She suddenly caught
herself to her sister's breast, and hid her burning face
on her shoulder.
"Well, there used to be a book about the language of flowers.
But I never knew much about the language of shavings,
and I can't say exactly----"
"Oh, don't--DON'T, Pen!" and here Irene gave over laughing,
and began to sob in her sister's arms.
"Why, 'Rene!" cried the elder girl.
"You KNOW he didn't mean anything. He doesn't care a bit
about me. He hates me! He despises me! Oh, what shall
A trouble passed over the face of the sister as she silently
comforted the child in her arms; then the drolling light
came back into her eyes. "Well, 'Rene, YOU haven't got
to do ANYthing. That's one advantage girls have got--if
it IS an advantage. I'm not always sure."
Irene's tears turned to laughing again. When she lifted
her head it was to look into the mirror confronting them,
where her beauty showed all the more brilliant for the
shower that had passed over it. She seemed to gather
courage from the sight.
"It must be awful to have to DO," she said, smiling into
her own face. "I don't see how they ever can."
"Some of 'em can't--especially when there's such a tearing
"Oh, pshaw, Pen! you know that isn't so. You've got
a real pretty mouth, Pen," she added thoughtfully,
surveying the feature in the glass, and then pouting
her own lips for the sake of that effect on them.
"It's a useful mouth," Penelope admitted; "I don't believe
I could get along without it now, I've had it so long."
"It's got such a funny expression--just the mate
of the look in your eyes; as if you were just going
to say something ridiculous. He said, the very
first time he saw you, that he knew you were humorous."
"Is it possible? It must be so, if the Grand Mogul said it.
Why didn't you tell me so before, and not let me keep on
going round just like a common person?"
Irene laughed as if she liked to have her sister take
his praises in that way rather than another.
"I've got such a stiff, prim kind of mouth," she said,
drawing it down, and then looking anxiously at it.
"I hope you didn't put on that expression when he offered
you the shaving. If you did, I don't believe he'll ever
give you another splinter."
The severe mouth broke into a lovely laugh, and then
pressed itself in a kiss against Penelope's cheek.
"There! Be done, you silly thing! I'm not going to have
you accepting ME before I've offered myself, ANYWAY."
She freed herself from her sister's embrace, and ran
from her round the room.
Irene pursued her, in the need of hiding her face against
her shoulder again. "O Pen! O Pen!" she cried.
The next day, at the first moment of finding herself alone
with her eldest daughter, Mrs. Lapham asked, as if knowing
that Penelope must have already made it subject of inquiry:
"What was Irene doing with that shaving in her belt yesterday?"
"Oh, just some nonsense of hers with Mr. Corey.
He gave it to her at the new house." Penelope did not
choose to look up and meet her mother's grave glance.
"What do you think he meant by it?"
Penelope repeated Irene's account of the affair,
and her mother listened without seeming to derive much
encouragement from it.
"He doesn't seem like one to flirt with her," she said
at last. Then, after a thoughtful pause: "Irene is as good
a girl as ever breathed, and she's a perfect beauty.
But I should hate the day when a daughter of mine was
married for her beauty."
"You're safe as far as I'm concerned, mother."
Mrs. Lapham smiled ruefully. "She isn't really equal
to him, Pen. I misdoubted that from the first,
and it's been borne in upon me more and more ever since.
She hasn't mind enough." "I didn't know that a man fell
in love with a girl's intellect," said Penelope quietly.
"Oh no. He hasn't fallen in love with Irene at all.
If he had, it wouldn't matter about the intellect."
Penelope let the self-contradiction pass.
"Perhaps he has, after all."
"No," said Mrs. Lapham. "She pleases him when he sees her.
But he doesn't try to see her."
"He has no chance. You won't let father bring him here."
"He would find excuses to come without being brought,
if he wished to come," said the mother. "But she isn't
in his mind enough to make him. He goes away and
doesn't think anything more about her. She's a child.
She's a good child, and I shall always say it; but she's
nothing but a child. No, she's got to forget him."
"Perhaps that won't be so easy."
"No, I presume not. And now your father has got the notion
in his head, and he will move heaven and earth to bring
it to pass. I can see that he's always thinking about it."
"The Colonel has a will of his own," observed the girl,
rocking to and fro where she sat looking at her mother.
"I wish we had never met them!" cried Mrs. Lapham.
"I wish we had never thought of building! I wish he had
kept away from your father's business!"
"Well, it's too late now, mother," said the girl.
"Perhaps it isn't so bad as you think."
"Well, we must stand it, anyway," said Mrs. Lapham,
with the grim antique Yankee submission.
"Oh yes, we've got to stand it," said Penelope,
with the quaint modern American fatalism.
IT was late June, almost July, when Corey took up his life
in Boston again, where the summer slips away so easily.
If you go out of town early, it seems a very long
summer when you come back in October; but if you stay,
it passes swiftly, and, seen foreshortened in its flight,
seems scarcely a month's length. It has its days of heat,
when it is very hot, but for the most part it is cool,
with baths of the east wind that seem to saturate the soul
with delicious freshness. Then there are stretches of grey
westerly weather, when the air is full of the sentiment
of early autumn, and the frying, of the grasshopper
in the blossomed weed of the vacant lots on the Back
Bay is intershot with the carol of crickets; and the
yellowing leaf on the long slope of Mt. Vernon Street
smites the sauntering observer with tender melancholy.
The caterpillar, gorged with the spoil of the lindens
on Chestnut, and weaving his own shroud about him in his
lodgment on the brick-work, records the passing of summer
by mid-July; and if after that comes August, its breath
is thick and short, and September is upon the sojourner
before he has fairly had time to philosophise the character
of the town out of season.
But it must have appeared that its most characteristic
feature was the absence of everybody he knew. This was
one of the things that commended Boston to Bromfield
Corey during the summer; and if his son had any qualms
about the life he had entered upon with such vigour,
it must have been a relief to him that there was scarcely
a soul left to wonder or pity. By the time people got back
to town the fact of his connection with the mineral paint
man would be an old story, heard afar off with different
degrees of surprise, and considered with different
degrees of indifference. A man has not reached the age
of twenty-six in any community where he was born and reared
without having had his capacity pretty well ascertained;
and in Boston the analysis is conducted with an unsparing
thoroughness which may fitly impress the un-Bostonian mind,
darkened by the popular superstition that the Bostonians
blindly admire one another. A man's qualities are sifted
as closely in Boston as they doubtless were in Florence
or Athens; and, if final mercy was shown in those cities
because a man was, with all his limitations, an Athenian
or Florentine, some abatement might as justly be made
in Boston for like reason. Corey's powers had been gauged
in college, and he had not given his world reason to think
very differently of him since he came out of college.
He was rated as an energetic fellow, a little indefinite
in aim, with the smallest amount of inspiration that can save
a man from being commonplace. If he was not commonplace,
it was through nothing remarkable in his mind, which was
simply clear and practical, but through some combination
of qualities of the heart that made men trust him, and women
call him sweet--a word of theirs which conveys otherwise
indefinable excellences. Some of the more nervous and
excitable said that Tom Corey was as sweet as he could live;
but this perhaps meant no more than the word alone.
No man ever had a son less like him than Bromfield Corey.
If Tom Corey had ever said a witty thing, no one could
remember it; and yet the father had never said a witty
thing to a more sympathetic listener than his own son.
The clear mind which produced nothing but practical
results reflected everything with charming lucidity;
and it must have been this which endeared Tom Corey to every
one who spoke ten words with him. In a city where people
have good reason for liking to shine, a man who did
not care to shine must be little short of universally
acceptable without any other effort for popularity;
and those who admired and enjoyed Bromfield Corey loved
his son. Yet, when it came to accounting for Tom Corey,
as it often did in a community where every one's generation
is known to the remotest degrees of cousinship, they could
not trace his sweetness to his mother, for neither Anna
Bellingham nor any of her family, though they were so many
blocks of Wenham ice for purity and rectangularity, had ever
had any such savour; and, in fact, it was to his father,
whose habit of talk wronged it in himself, that they
had to turn for this quality of the son's. They traced
to the mother the traits of practicality and common-sense
in which he bordered upon the commonplace, and which,
when they had dwelt upon them, made him seem hardly worth
the close inquiry they had given him.
While the summer wore away he came and went methodically
about his business, as if it had been the business
of his life, sharing his father's bachelor liberty
and solitude, and expecting with equal patience the return
of his mother and sisters in the autumn. Once or twice
he found time to run down to Mt. Desert and see them;
and then he heard how the Philadelphia and New York people
were getting in everywhere, and was given reason to regret
the house at Nahant which he had urged to be sold.
He came back and applied himself to his desk with a
devotion that was exemplary rather than necessary;
for Lapham made no difficulty about the brief absences
which he asked, and set no term to the apprenticeship
that Corey was serving in the office before setting off
upon that mission to South America in the early winter,
for which no date had yet been fixed.
The summer was a dull season for the paint as well
as for everything else. Till things should brisk up,
as Lapham said, in the fall, he was letting the new
house take a great deal of his time. AEsthetic ideas
had never been intelligibly presented to him before,
and he found a delight in apprehending them that was very
grateful to his imaginative architect. At the beginning,
the architect had foreboded a series of mortifying
defeats and disastrous victories in his encounters
with his client; but he had never had a client who could
be more reasonably led on from one outlay to another.
It appeared that Lapham required but to understand or feel
the beautiful effect intended, and he was ready to pay
for it. His bull-headed pride was concerned in a thing
which the architect made him see, and then he believed
that he had seen it himself, perhaps conceived it.
In some measure the architect seemed to share his delusion,
and freely said that Lapham was very suggestive.
Together they blocked out windows here, and bricked them
up there; they changed doors and passages; pulled down
cornices and replaced them with others of different design;
experimented with costly devices of decoration,
and went to extravagant lengths in novelties of finish.
Mrs. Lapham, beginning with a woman's adventurousness in the
unknown region, took fright at the reckless outlay at last,
and refused to let her husband pass a certain limit.
He tried to make her believe that a far-seeing economy
dictated the expense; and that if he put the money into
the house, he could get it out any time by selling it.
She would not be persuaded.
"I don't want you should sell it. And you've put more money
into it now than you'll ever get out again, unless you can
find as big a goose to buy it, and that isn't likely.
No, sir! You just stop at a hundred thousand, and don't you let
him get you a cent beyond. Why, you're perfectly bewitched
with that fellow! You've lost your head, Silas Lapham,
and if you don't look out you'll lose your money too."
The Colonel laughed; he liked her to talk that way,
and promised he would hold up a while.
"But there's no call to feel anxious, Pert. It's only
a question what to do with the money. I can reinvest it;
but I never had so much of it to spend before."
"Spend it, then," said his wife; "don't throw it away!
And how came you to have so much more money than you know
what to do with, Silas Lapham?" she added.
"Oh, I've made a very good thing in stocks lately."
"In stocks? When did you take up gambling for a living?"
"Gambling? Stuff! What gambling? Who said it was gambling?"
"You have; many a time."
"Oh yes, buying and selling on a margin. But this
was a bona fide transaction. I bought at forty-three
for an investment, and I sold at a hundred and seven;
and the money passed both times."
"Well, you better let stocks alone," said his wife,
with the conservatism of her sex. "Next time you'll
buy at a hundred and seven and sell at forty three.
Then where'll you be?"
"Left," admitted the Colonel.
"You better stick to paint a while yet." The Colonel
enjoyed this too, and laughed again with the ease of a man
who knows what he is about. A few days after that he
came down to Nantasket with the radiant air which he wore
when he had done a good thing in business and wanted
his wife's sympathy. He did not say anything of what had
happened till he was alone with her in their own room;
but he was very gay the whole evening, and made several
jokes which Penelope said nothing but very great prosperity
could excuse: they all understood these moods of his.
"Well, what is it, Silas?" asked his wife when the time came.
"Any more big-bugs wanting to go into the mineral paint
business with you?"
"Something better than that."
"I could think of a good many better things," said his wife,
with a sigh of latent bitterness. "What's this one?"
"I've had a visitor."
"Can't you guess?"
"I don't want to try. Who was it?"
Mrs. Lapham sat down with her hands in her lap, and stared
at the smile on her husband's face, where he sat facing her.
"I guess you wouldn't want to joke on that subject, Si,"
she said, a little hoarsely, "and you wouldn't grin
about it unless you had some good news. I don't know
what the miracle is, but if you could tell quick----"
She stopped like one who can say no more.
"I will, Persis," said her husband, and with that awed
tone in which he rarely spoke of anything but the virtues
of his paint. "He came to borrow money of me, and I
lent him it. That's the short of it. The long----"
"Go on," said his wife, with gentle patience.
"Well, Pert, I was never so much astonished in my
life as I was to see that man come into my office.
You might have knocked me down with--I don't know what."
"I don't wonder. Go on!"
"And he was as much embarrassed as I was. There we stood,
gaping at each other, and I hadn't hardly sense enough
to ask him to take a chair. I don't know just how we
got at it. And I don't remember just how it was that he
said he came to come to me. But he had got hold of a
patent right that he wanted to go into on a large scale,
and there he was wanting me to supply him the funds."
"Go on!" said Mrs. Lapham, with her voice further
in her throat.
"I never felt the way you did about Rogers, but I know how you
always did feel, and I guess I surprised him with my answer.
He had brought along a lot of stock as security----"
"You didn't take it, Silas!" his wife flashed out.
"Yes, I did, though," said Lapham. "You wait. We settled
our business, and then we went into the old thing,
from the very start. And we talked it all over.
And when we got through we shook hands. Well, I don't know
when it's done me so much good to shake hands with anybody."
"And you told him--you owned up to him that you were
in the wrong, Silas?"
"No, I didn't," returned the Colonel promptly; "for I
wasn't. And before we got through, I guess he saw it
the same as I did."
"Oh, no matter! so you had the chance to show how you felt."
"But I never felt that way," persisted the Colonel.
"I've lent him the money, and I've kept his stocks.
And he got what he wanted out of me."
"Give him back his stocks!"
"No, I shan't. Rogers came to borrow. He didn't come
to beg. You needn't be troubled about his stocks.
They're going to come up in time; but just now they're
so low down that no bank would take them as security,
and I've got to hold them till they do rise. I hope you're
satisfied now, Persis," said her husband; and he looked
at her with the willingness to receive the reward of a good
action which we all feel when we have performed one.
"I lent him the money you kept me from spending on
"Truly, Si? Well, I'm satisfied," said Mrs. Lapham,
with a deep tremulous breath. "The Lord has been good
to you, Silas," she continued solemnly. "You may laugh
if you choose, and I don't know as I believe in his
interfering a great deal; but I believe he's interfered
this time; and I tell you, Silas, it ain't always he gives
people a chance to make it up to others in this life.
I've been afraid you'd die, Silas, before you got the chance;
but he's let you live to make it up to Rogers."
"I'm glad to be let live," said Lapham stubbornly,
"but I hadn't anything to make up to Milton K. Rogers.
And if God has let me live for that----"
"Oh, say what you please, Si! Say what you please,
now you've done it! I shan't stop you. You've taken
the one spot--the one SPECK--off you that was ever there,
and I'm satisfied."
"There wa'n't ever any speck there," Lapham held out,
lapsing more and more into his vernacular; "and what I
done I done for you, Persis."
"And I thank you for your own soul's sake, Silas."
"I guess my soul's all right," said Lapham.
"And I want you should promise me one thing more."
"Thought you said you were satisfied?"
"I am. But I want you should promise me this: that you
won't let anything tempt you--anything!--to ever trouble
Rogers for that money you lent him. No matter what
happens--no matter if you lose it all. Do you promise?"
"Why, I don't ever EXPECT to press him for it.
That's what I said to myself when I lent it. And of course
I'm glad to have that old trouble healed up. I don't THINK
I ever did Rogers any wrong, and I never did think so;
but if I DID do it--IF I did--I'm willing to call it square,
if I never see a cent of my money back again."
"Well, that's all," said his wife.
They did not celebrate his reconciliation with his old
enemy--for such they had always felt him to be since he
ceased to be an ally--by any show of joy or affection.
It was not in their tradition, as stoical for the woman
as for the man, that they should kiss or embrace each
other at such a moment. She was content to have told
him that he had done his duty, and he was content with
her saying that. But before she slept she found words
to add that she always feared the selfish part he had
acted toward Rogers had weakened him, and left him less
able to overcome any temptation that might beset him;
and that was one reason why she could never be easy about it.
Now she should never fear for him again.
This time he did not explicitly deny her forgiving impeachment.
"Well, it's all past and gone now, anyway; and I don't
want you should think anything more about it."
He was man enough to take advantage of the high favour
in which he stood when he went up to town, and to abuse it
by bringing Corey down to supper. His wife could not help
condoning the sin of disobedience in him at such a time.
Penelope said that between the admiration she felt
for the Colonel's boldness and her mother's forbearance,
she was hardly in a state to entertain company that evening;
but she did what she could.
Irene liked being talked to better than talking, and when
her sister was by she was always, tacitly or explicitly,
referring to her for confirmation of what she said.
She was content to sit and look pretty as she looked
at the young man and listened to her sister's drolling.
She laughed and kept glancing at Corey to make sure that he
was understanding her. When they went out on the veranda
to see the moon on the water, Penelope led the way and
They did not look at the moonlight long. The young
man perched on the rail of the veranda, and Irene took
one of the red-painted rocking-chairs where she could
conveniently look at him and at her sister, who sat
leaning forward lazily and running on, as the phrase is.
That low, crooning note of hers was delicious; her face,
glimpsed now and then in the moonlight as she turned it
or lifted it a little, had a fascination which kept his eye.
Her talk was very unliterary, and its effect seemed
hardly conscious. She was far from epigram in her funning.