Part 7 out of 9
responsible for everything he's done since."
"You go and get that bag of mine ready," said Lapham sullenly.
"I guess I can take care of myself. And Milton K. Rogers too,"
That evening Corey spent the time after dinner in his own room,
with restless excursions to the library, where his mother
sat with his father and sisters, and showed no signs
of leaving them. At last, in coming down, he encountered
her on the stairs, going up. They both stopped consciously.
"I would like to speak with you, mother. I have been
waiting to see you alone."
"Come to my room," she said.
"I have a feeling that you know what I want to say,"
he began there.
She looked up at him where he stood by the chimney-piece,
and tried to put a cheerful note into her questioning
"Yes; and I have a feeling that you won't like it--that
you won't approve of it. I wish you did--I wish you could!"
"I'm used to liking and approving everything you do, Tom.
If I don't like this at once, I shall try to like it--you
know that--for your sake, whatever it is."
"I'd better be short," he said, with a quick sigh.
"It's about Miss Lapham." He hastened to add, "I hope
it isn't surprising to you. I'd have told you before,
if I could."
"No, it isn't surprising. I was afraid--I suspected
something of the kind."
They were both silent in a painful silence.
"Well, mother?" he asked at last.
"If it's something you've quite made up mind to----"
"And if you've already spoken to her----"
"I had to do that first, of course."
"There would be no use of my saying anything, even if I
"You do dislike it!"
"No--no! I can't say that. Of course I should have
preferred it if you had chosen some nice girl among
those that you had been brought up with--some friend
or associate of your sisters, whose people we had known----"
"Yes, I understand that, and I can assure you that I
haven't been indifferent to your feelings. I have tried
to consider them from the first, and it kept me hesitating
in a way that I'm ashamed to think of; for it wasn't quite
right towards--others. But your feelings and my sisters'
have been in my mind, and if I couldn't yield to what I
supposed they must be, entirely----"
Even so good a son and brother as this, when it came
to his love affair, appeared to think that he had yielded
much in considering the feelings of his family at all.
His mother hastened to comfort him. "I know--I know.
I've seen for some time that this might happen, Tom, and I
have prepared myself for it. I have talked it over
with your father, and we both agreed from the beginning
that you were not to be hampered by our feeling.
Still--it is a surprise. It must be."
"I know it. I can understand your feeling. But I'm sure
that it's one that will last only while you don't know
"Oh, I'm sure of that, Tom. I'm sure that we shall
all be fond of her,--for your sake at first, even--and I
hope she'll like us."
"I am quite certain of that," said Corey, with that confidence
which experience does not always confirm in such cases.
"And your taking it as you do lifts a tremendous load
But he sighed so heavily, and looked so troubled,
that his mother said, "Well, now, you mustn't think
of that any more. We wish what is for your happiness,
my son, and we will gladly reconcile ourselves to anything
that might have been disagreeable. I suppose we needn't
speak of the family. We must both think alike about them.
They have their--drawbacks, but they are thoroughly good people,
and I satisfied myself the other night that they were not
to be dreaded." She rose, and put her arm round his neck.
"And I wish you joy, Tom! If she's half as good as you are,
you will both be very happy." She was going to kiss him,
but something in his looks stopped her--an absence,
a trouble, which broke out in his words.
"I must tell you, mother! There's been a complication--
a mistake--that's a blight on me yet, and that it sometimes
seems as if we couldn't escape from. I wonder if you
can help us! They all thought I meant--the other sister."
"O Tom! But how COULD they?"
"I don't know. It seemed so glaringly plain--I was
ashamed of making it so outright from the beginning.
But they did. Even she did, herself!"
"But where could they have thought your eyes were--your
taste? It wouldn't be surprising if any one were taken
with that wonderful beauty; and I'm sure she's good too.
But I'm astonished at them! To think you could prefer
that little, black, odd creature, with her joking and----"
"MOTHER!" cried the young man, turning a ghastly face
of warning upon her.
"What do you mean, Tom?"
"Did you--did--did you think so too--that it was IRENE
"Why, of course!"
He stared at her hopelessly.
"O my son!" she said, for all comment on the situation.
"Don't reproach me, mother! I couldn't stand it."
"No. I didn't mean to do that. But how--HOW could it happen?"
"I don't know. When she first told me that they had
understood it so, I laughed--almost--it was so far from me.
But now when you seem to have had the same idea--Did you
all think so?"
They remained looking at each other. Then Mrs. Corey
began: "It did pass through my mind once--that day I went
to call upon them--that it might not be as we thought;
but I knew so little of--of----"
"Penelope," Corey mechanically supplied.
"Is that her name?--I forgot--that I only thought of you
in relation to her long enough to reject the idea; and it was
natural after our seeing something of the other one last year,
that I might suppose you had formed some--attachment----"
"Yes; that's what they thought too. But I never thought
of her as anything but a pretty child. I was civil to her
because you wished it; and when I met her here again,
I only tried to see her so that I could talk with her
about her sister."
"You needn't defend yourself to ME, Tom," said his mother,
proud to say it to him in his trouble. "It's a terrible
business for them, poor things," she added. "I don't
know how they could get over it. But, of course,
sensible people must see----"
"They haven't got over it. At least she hasn't. Since
it's happened, there's been nothing that hasn't made
me prouder and fonder of her! At first I WAS charmed
with her--my fancy was taken; she delighted me--I don't
know how; but she was simply the most fascinating
person I ever saw. Now I never think of that.
I only think how good she is--how patient she is with me,
and how unsparing she is of herself. If she were concerned
alone--if I were not concerned too--it would soon end.
She's never had a thought for anything but her sister's
feeling and mine from the beginning. I go there,--I know
that I oughtn't, but I can't help it,--and she suffers it,
and tries not to let me see that she is suffering it.
There never was any one like her--so brave, so true,
so noble. I won't give her up--I can't. But it breaks my
heart when she accuses herself of what was all MY doing.
We spend our time trying to reason out of it, but we always
come back to it at last, and I have to hear her morbidly
blaming herself. Oh!"
Doubtless Mrs. Corey imagined some reliefs to this suffering,
some qualifications of this sublimity in a girl she
had disliked so distinctly; but she saw none in her
son's behaviour, and she gave him her further sympathy.
She tried to praise Penelope, and said that it was
not to be expected that she could reconcile herself
at once to everything. "I shouldn't have liked it
in her if she had. But time will bring it all right.
And if she really cares for you----"
"I extorted that from her."
"Well, then, you must look at it in the best light you can.
There is no blame anywhere, and the mortification and pain
is something that must be lived down. That's all.
And don't let what I said grieve you, Tom. You know I
scarcely knew her, and I--I shall be sure to like any one
you like, after all."
"Yes, I know," said the young man drearily. "Will you
"If you wish."
"He must know. And I couldn't stand any more of this,
just yet--any more mistake."
"I will tell him," said Mrs. Corey; and it was
naturally the next thing for a woman who dwelt so much
on decencies to propose: "We must go to call on her--
your sisters and I. They have never seen her even;
and she mustn't be allowed to think we're indifferent
to her, especially under the circumstances."
"Oh no! Don't go--not yet," cried Corey, with an instinctive
perception that nothing could be worse for him.
"We must wait--we must be patient. I'm afraid it would
be painful to her now."
He turned away without speaking further; and his mother's
eyes followed him wistfully to the door. There were
some questions that she would have liked to ask him;
but she had to content herself with trying to answer them
when her husband put them to her.
There was this comfort for her always in Bromfield Corey,
that he never was much surprised at anything, however shocking
or painful. His standpoint in regard to most matters
was that of the sympathetic humorist who would be glad
to have the victim of circumstance laugh with him,
but was not too much vexed when the victim could not.
He laughed now when his wife, with careful preparation,
got the facts of his son's predicament fully under
"Really, Bromfield," she said, "I don't see how you
can laugh. Do you see any way out of it?"
"It seems to me that the way has been found already.
Tom has told his love to the right one, and the wrong one
knows it. Time will do the rest."
"If I had so low an opinion of them all as that, it would
make me very unhappy. It's shocking to think of it."
"It is upon the theory of ladies and all young people,"
said her husband, with a shrug, feeling his way to the
matches on the mantel, and then dropping them with a sign,
as if recollecting that he must not smoke there.
"I've no doubt Tom feels himself an awful sinner.
But apparently he's resigned to his sin; he isn't going to
give her up."
"I'm glad to say, for the sake of human nature, that SHE
isn't resigned--little as I like her," cried Mrs. Corey.
Her husband shrugged again. "Oh, there mustn't be any
indecent haste. She will instinctively observe the proprieties.
But come, now, Anna! you mustn't pretend to me here,
in the sanctuary of home, that practically the human
affections don't reconcile themselves to any situation
that the human sentiments condemn. Suppose the wrong
sister had died: would the right one have had any scruple
in marrying Tom, after they had both 'waited a proper time,'
as the phrase is?"
"Bromfield, you're shocking!"
"Not more shocking than reality. You may regard this as
a second marriage." He looked at her with twinkling eyes,
full of the triumph the spectator of his species feels
in signal exhibitions of human nature. "Depend upon it,
the right sister will be reconciled; the wrong one will
be consoled; and all will go merry as a marriage bell--a
second marriage bell. Why, it's quite like a romance!"
Here he laughed outright again.
"Well," sighed the wife, "I could almost wish the right one,
as you call her, would reject Tom, I dislike her so much."
"Ah, now you're talking business, Anna," said her husband,
with his hands spread behind the back he turned comfortably
to the fire. "The whole Lapham tribe is distasteful to me.
As I don't happen to have seen our daughter-in-law elect,
I have still the hope--which you're disposed to forbid
me--that she may not be quite so unacceptable as the others."
"Do you really feel so, Bromfield?" anxiously inquired
"Yes--I think I do;" and he sat down, and stretched
out his long legs toward the fire.
"But it's very inconsistent of you to oppose the matter now,
when you've shown so much indifference up to this time.
You've told me, all along, that it was of no use to
"So I have. I was convinced of that at the beginning,
or my reason was. You know very well that I am equal
to any trial, any sacrifice, day after to-morrow;
but when it comes to-day it's another thing. As long
as this crisis decently kept its distance, I could look
at it with an impartial eye; but now that it seems at hand,
I find that, while my reason is still acquiescent, my nerves
are disposed to--excuse the phrase--kick. I ask myself,
what have I done nothing for, all my life, and lived
as a gentleman should, upon the earnings of somebody else,
in the possession of every polite taste and feeling
that adorns leisure, if I'm to come to this at last? And
I find no satisfactory answer. I say to myself that I
might as well have yielded to the pressure all round me,
and gone to work, as Tom has. "
Mrs. Corey looked at him forlornly, divining the core
of real repugnance that existed in his self-satire.
"I assure you, my dear," he continued, "that the recollection
of what I suffered from the Laphams at that dinner of yours
is an anguish still. It wasn't their behaviour,--they
behaved well enough--or ill enough; but their conversation
was terrible. Mrs. Lapham's range was strictly domestic;
and when the Colonel got me in the library, he poured
mineral paint all over me, till I could have been
safely warranted not to crack or scale in any climate.
I suppose we shall have to see a good deal of them.
They will probably come here every Sunday night to tea.
It's a perspective without a vanishing-point."
"It may not be so bad, after all," said his wife; and she
suggested for his consolation that he knew very little
about the Laphams yet.
He assented to the fact. "I know very little about them,
and about my other fellow-beings. I dare say that I
should like the Laphams better if I knew them better.
But in any case, I resign myself. And we must keep
in view the fact that this is mainly Tom's affair,
and if his affections have regulated it to his satisfaction,
we must be content."
"Oh yes," sighed Mrs. Corey. "And perhaps it won't turn
out so badly. It's a great comfort to know that you feel
just as I do about it."
"I do," said her husband, "and more too."
It was she and her daughters who would be chiefly
annoyed by the Lapham connection; she knew that.
But she had to begin to bear the burden by helping
her husband to bear his light share of it. To see him
so depressed dismayed her, and she might well have
reproached him more sharply than she did for showing
so much indifference, when she was so anxious, at first.
But that would not have served any good end now.
She even answered him patiently when he asked her,
"What did you say to Tom when he told you it was the other one?"
"What could I say? I could do nothing, but try to take
back what I had said against her."
"Yes, you had quite enough to do, I suppose.
It's an awkward business. If it had been the pretty one,
her beauty would have been our excuse. But the plain
one--what do you suppose attracted him in her?"
Mrs. Corey sighed at the futility of the question.
"Perhaps I did her injustice. I only saw her a few moments.
Perhaps I got a false impression. I don't think
she's lacking in sense, and that's a great thing.
She'll be quick to see that we don't mean unkindness,
and can't, by anything we say or do, when she's Tom's wife."
She pronounced the distasteful word with courage, and went
on: "The pretty one might not have been able to see that.
She might have got it into her head that we were looking
down on her; and those insipid people are terribly stubborn.
We can come to some understanding with this one; I'm sure
of that." She ended by declaring that it was now their duty
to help Tom out of his terrible predicament.
"Oh, even the Lapham cloud has a silver lining," said Corey.
"In fact, it seems really to have all turned out for
the best, Anna; though it's rather curious to find you
the champion of the Lapham side, at last. Confess, now,
that the right girl has secretly been your choice all along,
and that while you sympathise with the wrong one,
you rejoice in the tenacity with which the right one is
clinging to her own!" He added with final seriousness,
"It's just that she should, and, so far as I understand
the case, I respect her for it."
"Oh yes," sighed Mrs. Corey. "It's natural, and it's right."
But she added, "I suppose they're glad of him on any terms."
"That is what I have been taught to believe," said her husband.
"When shall we see our daughter-in-law elect? I find
myself rather impatient to have that part of it over."
Mrs. Corey hesitated. "Tom thinks we had better not call,
"She has told him of your terrible behaviour when you
"No, Bromfield! She couldn't be so vulgar as that?"
"But anything short of it?"
LAPHAM was gone a fortnight. He was in a sullen humour
when he came back, and kept himself shut close within
his own den at the office the first day. He entered it
in the morning without a word to his clerks as he passed
through the outer room, and he made no sign throughout
the forenoon, except to strike savagely on his desk-bell
from time to time, and send out to Walker for some book
of accounts or a letter-file. His boy confidentially
reported to Walker that the old man seemed to have got
a lot of papers round; and at lunch the book-keeper
said to Corey, at the little table which they had taken
in a corner together, in default of seats at the counter,
"Well, sir, I guess there's a cold wave coming."
Corey looked up innocently, and said, "I haven't read
the weather report."
"Yes, sir," Walker continued, "it's coming. Areas of
rain along the whole coast, and increased pressure
in the region of the private office. Storm-signals up
at the old man's door now."
Corey perceived that he was speaking figuratively,
and that his meteorology was entirely personal to Lapham.
"What do you mean?" he asked, without vivid interest in
the allegory, his mind being full of his own tragi-comedy.
"Why, just this: I guess the old man's takin' in sail.
And I guess he's got to. As I told you the first time
we talked about him, there don't any one know one-
quarter as much about the old man's business as the old
man does himself; and I ain't betraying any confidence
when I say that I guess that old partner of his has got
pretty deep into his books. I guess he's over head
and ears in 'em, and the old man's gone in after him,
and he's got a drownin' man's grip round his neck.
There seems to be a kind of a lull--kind of a dead calm,
I call it--in the paint market just now; and then
again a ten-hundred-thousand-dollar man don't build a
hundred-thousand-dollar house without feeling the drain,
unless there's a regular boom. And just now there ain't
any boom at all. Oh, I don't say but what the old man's
got anchors to windward; guess he HAS; but if he's GOIN'
to leave me his money, I wish he'd left it six weeks ago.
Yes, sir, I guess there's a cold wave comin'; but you
can't generally 'most always tell, as a usual thing,
where the old man's concerned, and it's ONLY a guess."
Walker began to feed in his breaded chop with the same
nervous excitement with which he abandoned himself
to the slangy and figurative excesses of his talks.
Corey had listened with a miserable curiosity and compassion
up to a certain moment, when a broad light of hope
flashed upon him. It came from Lapham's potential ruin;
and the way out of the labyrinth that had hitherto seemed
so hopeless was clear enough, if another's disaster would
befriend him, and give him the opportunity to prove the
unselfishness of his constancy. He thought of the sum
of money that was his own, and that he might offer to lend,
or practically give, if the time came; and with his crude
hopes and purposes formlessly exulting in his heart,
he kept on listening with an unchanged countenance.
Walker could not rest till he had developed the whole situation,
so far as he knew it. "Look at the stock we've got on hand.
There's going to be an awful shrinkage on that, now! And
when everybody is shutting down, or running half-time,
the works up at Lapham are going full chip, just the same
as ever. Well, it's his pride. I don't say but what it's
a good sort of pride, but he likes to make his brags that
the fire's never been out in the works since they started,
and that no man's work or wages has ever been cut down yet
at Lapham, it don't matter WHAT the times are. Of course,"
explained Walker, "I shouldn't talk so to everybody;
don't know as I should talk so to anybody but you,
"Of course," assented Corey.
"Little off your feed to-day," said Walker, glancing at
"I got up with a headache."
"Well, sir, if you're like me you'll carry it round
all day, then. I don't know a much meaner thing
than a headache--unless it's earache, or toothache,
or some other kind of ache I'm pretty hard to suit,
when it comes to diseases. Notice how yellow the old man
looked when he came in this morning? I don't like to see
a man of his build look yellow--much." About the middle
of the afternoon the dust-coloured face of Rogers,
now familiar to Lapham's clerks, showed itself among them.
"Has Colonel Lapham returned yet?" he asked, in his dry,
wooden tones, of Lapham's boy.
"Yes, he's in his office," said the boy; and as
Rogers advanced, he rose and added, "I don't know
as you can see him to-day. His orders are not to let anybody in."
"Oh, indeed!" said Rogers; "I think he will see ME!"
and he pressed forward.
"Well, I'll have to ask," returned the boy; and hastily
preceding Rogers, he put his head in at Lapham's door,
and then withdrew it. "Please to sit down," he said;
"he'll see you pretty soon;" and, with an air of some surprise,
Rogers obeyed. His sere, dull-brown whiskers and the
moustache closing over both lips were incongruously
and illogically clerical in effect, and the effect
was heightened for no reason by the parchment texture
of his skin; the baldness extending to the crown of
his head was like a baldness made up for the stage.
What his face expressed chiefly was a bland and
beneficent caution. Here, you must have said to yourself,
is a man of just, sober, and prudent views, fixed purposes,
and the good citizenship that avoids debt and hazard of every kind.
"What do you want?" asked Lapham, wheeling round in his
swivel-chair as Rogers entered his room, and pushing
the door shut with his foot, without rising.
Rogers took the chair that was not offered him, and sat
with his hat-brim on his knees, and its crown pointed
towards Lapham. "I want to know what you are going to do,"
he answered with sufficient self-possession.
"I'll tell you, first, what I've done," said Lapham.
"I've been to Dubuque, and I've found out all about
that milling property you turned in on me. Did you know
that the G. L. & P. had leased the P. Y. & X. ?"
"I some suspected that it might."
"Did you know it when you turned the property in on me?
Did you know that the G. L. & P. wanted to buy the mills?"
"I presumed the road would give a fair price for them,"
said Rogers, winking his eyes in outward expression of
inwardly blinking the point.
"You lie," said Lapham, as quietly as if correcting him
in a slight error; and Rogers took the word with equal
sang froid. "You knew the road wouldn't give a fair price
for the mills. You knew it would give what it chose,
and that I couldn't help myself, when you let me take them.
You're a thief, Milton K. Rogers, and you stole money
I lent you." Rogers sat listening, as if respectfully
considering the statements. "You knew how I felt about
that old matter--or my wife did; and that I wanted
to make it up to you, if you felt anyway badly used.
And you took advantage of it. You've got money out of me,
in the first place, on securities that wa'n't worth
thirty-five cents on the dollar, and you've let me in for
this thing, and that thing, and you've bled me every time.
And all I've got to show for it is a milling property on
a line of road that can squeeze me, whenever it wants to,
as dry as it pleases. And you want to know what I'm
going to do? I'm going to squeeze YOU. I'm going to
sell these collaterals of yours,"--he touched a bundle
of papers among others that littered his desk,--"and
I'm going to let the mills go for what they'll fetch.
I ain't going to fight the G. L. & P."
Lapham wheeled about in his chair and turned his burly
back on his visitor, who sat wholly unmoved.
"There are some parties," he began, with a dry
tranquillity ignoring Lapham's words, as if they had been
an outburst against some third person, who probably
merited them, but in whom he was so little interested
that he had been obliged to use patience in listening
to his condemnation,--"there are some English parties
who have been making inquiries in regard to those mills."
"I guess you're lying, Rogers," said Lapham, without looking round.
"Well, all that I have to ask is that you will not
"I see you don't think I'm in earnest!" cried Lapham,
facing fiercely about. "You think I'm fooling, do you?"
He struck his bell, and "William," he ordered the boy
who answered it, and who stood waiting while he dashed
off a note to the brokers and enclosed it with the bundle
of securities in a large envelope, "take these down to
Gallop & Paddock's, in State Street, right away. Now go!"
he said to Rogers, when the boy had closed the door after him;
and he turned once more to his desk.
Rogers rose from his chair, and stood with his hat
in his hand. He was not merely dispassionate in his
attitude and expression, he was impartial. He wore
the air of a man who was ready to return to business
whenever the wayward mood of his interlocutor permitted.
"Then I understand," he said, "that you will take no action
in regard to the mills till I have seen the parties I speak of."
Lapham faced about once more, and sat looking up into the
visage of Rogers in silence. "I wonder what you're up to,"
he said at last; "I should like to know." But as Rogers made
no sign of gratifying his curiosity, and treated this last
remark of Lapham's as of the irrelevance of all the rest,
he said, frowning, "You bring me a party that will give me
enough for those mills to clear me of you, and I'll talk
to you. But don't you come here with any man of straw.
And I'll give you just twenty-four hours to prove yourself
a swindler again."
Once more Lapham turned his back, and Rogers, after looking
thoughtfully into his hat a moment, cleared his throat,
and quietly withdrew, maintaining to the last his
Lapham was not again heard from, as Walker phrased it,
during the afternoon, except when the last mail was
taken in to him; then the sound of rending envelopes,
mixed with that of what seemed suppressed swearing,
penetrated to the outer office. Somewhat earlier than
the usual hour for closing, he appeared there with his hat
on and his overcoat buttoned about him. He said briefly
to his boy, "William, I shan't be back again this afternoon,"
and then went to Miss Dewey and left a number of letters
on her table to be copied, and went out. Nothing had
been said, but a sense of trouble subtly diffused itself
through those who saw him go out.
That evening as he sat down with his wife alone at tea,
he asked, "Ain't Pen coming to supper?"
"No, she ain't," said his wife. "I don't know as I
like the way she's going on, any too well. I'm afraid,
if she keeps on, she'll be down sick. She's got deeper
feelings than Irene."
Lapham said nothing, but having helped himself to the
abundance of his table in his usual fashion, he sat
and looked at his plate with an indifference that did
not escape the notice of his wife. "What's the matter
with YOU?" she asked.
"Nothing. I haven't got any appetite."
"What's the matter?" she persisted.
"Trouble's the matter; bad luck and lots of it's the matter,"
said Lapham. "I haven't ever hid anything from you,
Persis, well you asked me, and it's too late to begin now.
I'm in a fix. I'll tell you what kind of a fix,
if you think it'll do you any good; but I guess you'll
be satisfied to know that it's a fix."
"How much of a one?" she asked with a look of grave,
steady courage in her eyes.
"Well, I don't know as I can tell, just yet," said Lapham,
avoiding this look. "Things have been dull all the fall,
but I thought they'd brisk up come winter. They haven't.
There have been a lot of failures, and some of 'em owed me,
and some of 'em had me on their paper; and----" Lapham stopped.
"And what?" prompted his wife.
He hesitated before he added, "And then--Rogers."
"I'm to blame for that," said Mrs. Lapham. "I forced
you to it."
"No; I was as willing to go into it as what you were,"
answered Lapham. "I don't want to blame anybody."
Mrs. Lapham had a woman's passion for fixing responsibility;
she could not help saying, as soon as acquitted, "I warned
you against him, Silas. I told you not to let him get
in any deeper with you."
"Oh yes. I had to help him to try to get my money back.
I might as well poured water into a sieve. And now--"
"Don't be afraid to speak out to me, Silas Lapham.
If it comes to the worst, I want to know it--I've got
to know it. What did I ever care for the money? I've.
had a happy home with you ever since we were married,
and I guess I shall have as long as you live, whether we
go on to the Back Bay, or go back to the old house
at Lapham. I know who's to blame, and I blame myself.
It was my forcing Rogers on to you." She came back to this
with her helpless longing, inbred in all Puritan souls,
to have some one specifically suffer for the evil in the world,
even if it must be herself.
"It hasn't come to the worst yet, Persis," said her husband.
"But I shall have to hold up on the new house a little while,
till I can see where I am."
"I shouldn't care if we had to sell it," cried his wife,
in passionate self-condemnation. "I should be GLAD if we
had to, as far as I'm concerned."
"I shouldn't," said Lapham.
"I know!" said his wife; and she remembered ruefully
how his heart was set on it.
He sat musing. "Well, I guess it's going to come out all
right in the end. Or, if it ain't," he sighed, "we can't
help it. May be Pen needn't worry so much about Corey,
after all," he continued, with a bitter irony new to him.
"It's an ill wind that blows nobody good. And there's
a chance," he ended, with a still bitterer laugh,
"that Rogers will come to time, after all."
"I don't believe it!" exclaimed Mrs. Lapham, with a gleam
of hope in her eyes. "What chance?"
"One in ten million," said Lapham; and her face fell again.
"He says there are some English parties after him to buy
"Well, I gave him twenty-four hours to prove himself
"You don't believe there are any such parties?"
"Not in THIS world."
"But if there were?"
"Well, if there were, Persis----But pshaw!"
"No, no!" she pleaded eagerly. "It don't seem as if he
COULD be such a villain. What would be the use of his
pretending? If he brought the parties to you"
"Well," said Lapham scornfully, "I'd let them have
the mills at the price Rogers turned 'em in on me at.
I don't want to make anything on 'em. But guess I shall
hear from the G. L. & P. first. And when they make
their offer, I guess I'll have to accept it, whatever it is.
I don't think they'll have a great many competitors."
Mrs. Lapham could not give up her hope. "If you could
get your price from those English parties before they
knew that the G. L. & P. wanted to buy the mills,
would it let you out with Rogers?"
"Just about," said Lapham.
"Then I know he'll move heaven and earth to bring it about.
I KNOW you won't be allowed to suffer for doing him
a kindness, Silas. He CAN'T be so ungrateful! Why,
why SHOULD he pretend to have any such parties in view
when he hasn't? Don't you be down-hearted, Si. You'll see
that he'll be round with them to-morrow."
Lapham laughed, but she urged so many reasons for her belief
in Rogers that Lapham began to rekindle his own faith a little.
He ended by asking for a hot cup of tea; and Mrs. Lapham
sent the pot out and had a fresh one steeped for him.
After that he made a hearty supper in the revulsion from
his entire despair; and they fell asleep that night talking
hopefully of his affairs, which he laid before her fully,
as he used to do when he first started in business.
That brought the old times back, and he said: "If
this had happened then, I shouldn't have cared much.
I was young then, and I wasn't afraid of anything.
But I noticed that after I passed fifty I began to get
scared easier. I don't believe I could pick up, now, from a
"Pshaw! YOU scared, Silas Lapham?" cried his wife proudly.
"I should like to see the thing that ever scared you;
or the knockdown that YOU couldn't pick up from!"
"Is that so, Persis?" he asked, with the joy her courage
In the middle of the night she called to him, in a voice
which the darkness rendered still more deeply troubled:
"Are you awake, Silas?"
"Yes; I'm awake."
"I've been thinking about those English parties, Si----"
"And I can't make it out but what you'd be just as bad
as Rogers, every bit and grain, if you were to let them
have the mills----"
"And not tell 'em what the chances were with the G. L. &
P.? I thought of that, and you needn't be afraid."
She began to bewail herself, and to sob convulsively: "O
Silas! O Silas!" Heaven knows in what measure the passion
of her soul was mired with pride in her husband's honesty,
relief from an apprehended struggle, and pity for him.
"Hush, hush, Persis!" he besought her. "You'll wake Pen
if you keep on that way. Don't cry any more! You mustn't."
"Oh, let me cry, Silas! It'll help me. I shall be all right
in a minute. Don't you mind." She sobbed herself quiet.
"It does seem too hard," she said, when she could speak again,
"that you have to give up this chance when Providence
had fairly raised it up for you."
"I guess it wa'n't Providence raised it up," said Lapham.
"Any rate, it's got to go. Most likely Rogers was lyin',
and there ain't any such parties; but if there were,
they couldn't have the mills from me without the whole story.
Don't you be troubled, Persis. I'm going to pull
through all right." "Oh, I ain't afraid. I don't suppose
but what there's plenty would help you, if they knew you
needed it, Si."
"They would if they knew I DIDN'T need it,"
said Lapham sardonically.
"Did you tell Bill how you stood?"
"No, I couldn't bear to. I've been the rich one so long,
that I couldn't bring myself to own up that I was in danger."
"Besides, it didn't look so ugly till to-day. But I guess
we shan't let ugly looks scare us."
THE morning postman brought Mrs. Lapham a letter from Irene,
which was chiefly significant because it made no
reference whatever to the writer or her state of mind.
It gave the news of her uncle's family; it told of their
kindness to her; her cousin Will was going to take her
and his sisters ice-boating on the river, when it froze.
By the time this letter came, Lapham had gone to his business,
and the mother carried it to Penelope to talk over.
"What do you make out of it?" she asked; and without
waiting to be answered she said, "I don't know as I
believe in cousins marrying, a great deal; but if Irene
and Will were to fix it up between 'em----" She looked
vaguely at Penelope.
"It wouldn't make any difference as far as I was concerned,"
replied the girl listlessly.
Mrs. Lapham lost her patience.
"Well, then, I'll tell you what, Penelope!" she exclaimed.
"Perhaps it'll make a difference to you if you know that
your father's in REAL trouble. He's harassed to death,
and he was awake half the night, talking about it.
That abominable Rogers has got a lot of money away from him;
and he's lost by others that he's helped,"--Mrs. Lapham put
it in this way because she had no time to be explicit,--"and
I want you should come out of your room now, and try to be
of some help and comfort to him when he comes home to-night.
I guess Irene wouldn't mope round much, if she was here,"
she could not help adding.
The girl lifted herself on her elbow. "What's that you say
about father?" she demanded eagerly. "Is he in trouble? Is
he going to lose his money? Shall we have to stay in this house?"
"We may be very GLAD to stay in this house," said Mrs. Lapham,
half angry with herself for having given cause for the
girl's conjectures, and half with the habit of prosperity
in her child, which could conceive no better of what
adversity was. "And I want you should get up and show that
you've got some feeling for somebody in the world besides yourself."
"Oh, I'll get UP!" said the girl promptly, almost cheerfully.
"I don't say it's as bad now as it looked a little while ago,"
said her mother, conscientiously hedging a little
from the statement which she had based rather upon her
feelings than her facts. "Your father thinks he'll pull
through all right, and I don't know but what he will.
But I want you should see if you can't do something to cheer
him up and keep him from getting so perfectly down-hearted
as he seems to get, under the load he's got to carry.
And stop thinking about yourself a while, and behave
yourself like a sensible girl."
"Yes, yes," said the girl; "I will. You needn't
be troubled about me any more."
Before she left her room she wrote a note, and when she
came down she was dressed to go out-of-doors and post
it herself. The note was to Corey:--
"Do not come to see me any more till you hear from me.
I have a reason which I cannot give you now; and you must
not ask what it is."
All day she went about in a buoyant desperation, and she
came down to meet her father at supper.
"Well, Persis," he said scornfully, as he sat down,
"we might as well saved our good resolutions till they
were wanted. I guess those English parties have gone
back on Rogers."
"Do you mean he didn't come?"
"He hadn't come up to half-past five," said Lapham.
"Tchk!" uttered his wife. "But I guess I shall pull
through without Mr. Rogers," continued Lapham. "A firm
that I didn't think COULD weather it is still afloat,
and so far forth as the danger goes of being dragged under
with it, I'm all right." Penelope came in. "Hello, Pen!"
cried her father. "It ain't often I meet YOU nowadays."
He put up his hand as she passed his chair, and pulled her
down and kissed her.
"No," she said; "but I thought I'd come down to-night
and cheer you up a little. I shall not talk; the sight
of me will be enough."
Her father laughed out. "Mother been telling you? Well,
I WAS pretty blue last night; but I guess I was more scared
than hurt. How'd you like to go to the theatre to-night?
Sellers at the Park. Heigh?"
"Well, I don't know. Don't you think they could get
along without me there?"
"No; couldn't work it at all," cried the Colonel.
"Let's all go. Unless," he added inquiringly,
"there's somebody coming here?"
"There's nobody coming," said Penelope.
"Good! Then we'll go. Mother, don't you be late now."
"Oh, I shan't keep you waiting," said Mrs. Lapham.
She had thought of telling what a cheerful letter she had
got from Irene; but upon the whole it seemed better not to
speak of Irene at all just then. After they returned from
the theatre, where the Colonel roared through the comedy,
with continual reference of his pleasure to Penelope,
to make sure that she was enjoying it too, his wife said,
as if the whole affair had been for the girl's distraction
rather than his, "I don't believe but what it's going
to come out all right about the children;" and then she
told him of the letter, and the hopes she had founded
"Well, perhaps you're right, Persis," he consented.
"I haven't seen Pen so much like herself since it happened.
I declare, when I see the way she came out to-night,
just to please you, I don't know as I want you should get
over all your troubles right away."
"I guess there'll be enough to keep Pen going
for a while yet," said the Colonel, winding up his watch.
But for a time there was a relief, which Walker noted,
in the atmosphere at the office, and then came another
cold wave, slighter than the first, but distinctly
felt there, and succeeded by another relief. It was like
the winter which was wearing on to the end of the year,
with alternations of freezing weather, and mild days stretching
to weeks, in which the snow and ice wholly disappeared.
It was none the less winter, and none the less harassing
for these fluctuations, and Lapham showed in his face
and temper the effect of like fluctuations in his affairs.
He grew thin and old, and both at home and at his
office he was irascible to the point of offence.
In these days Penelope shared with her mother the burden
of their troubled home, and united with her in supporting
the silence or the petulance of the gloomy, secret man
who replaced the presence of jolly prosperity there.
Lapham had now ceased to talk of his troubles,
and savagely resented his wife's interference. "You mind
your own business, Persis," he said one day, "if you've
got any;" and after that she left him mainly to Penelope,
who did not think of asking him questions.
"It's pretty hard on you, Pen," she said.
"That makes it easier for me," returned the girl,
who did not otherwise refer to her own trouble.
In her heart she had wondered a little at the absolute
obedience of Corey, who had made no sign since receiving
her note. She would have liked to ask her father if Corey
was sick; she would have liked him to ask her why Corey
did not come any more. Her mother went on--
"I don't believe your father knows WHERE he stands.
He works away at those papers he brings home here
at night, as if he didn't half know what he was about.
He always did have that close streak in him, and I don't
suppose but what he's been going into things he don't want
anybody else to know about, and he's kept these accounts
of his own."
Sometimes he gave Penelope figures to work at, which he
would not submit to his wife's nimbler arithmetic.
Then she went to bed and left them sitting up till midnight,
struggling with problems in which they were both weak.
But she could see that the girl was a comfort to her father,
and that his troubles were a defence and shelter to her.
Some nights she could hear them going out together, and then
she lay awake for their return from their long walk.
When the hour or day of respite came again, the home felt
it first. Lapham wanted to know what the news from Irene was;
he joined his wife in all her cheerful speculations,
and tried to make her amends for his sullen reticence
and irritability. Irene was staying on at Dubuque.
There came a letter from her, saying that her uncle's
people wanted her to spend the winter there.
"Well, let her," said Lapham. "It'll be the best thing
Lapham himself had letters from his brother at frequent intervals.
His brother was watching the G. L. & P., which as yet
had made no offer for the mills. Once, when one of
these letters came, he submitted to his wife whether,
in the absence of any positive information that the road
wanted the property, he might not, with a good conscience,
dispose of it to the best advantage to anybody who came along.
She looked wistfully at him; it was on the rise from a
season of deep depression with him. "No, Si," she said;
"I don't see how you could do that."
He did not assent and submit, as he had done at first,
but began to rail at the unpracticality of women; and then
he shut some papers he had been looking over into his desk,
and flung out of the room.
One of the papers had slipped through the crevice of the lid,
and lay upon the floor. Mrs. Lapham kept on at her sewing,
but after a while she picked the paper up to lay it on
the desk. Then she glanced at it, and saw that it was a long
column of dates and figures, recording successive sums,
never large ones, paid regularly to "Wm. M." The dates covered
a year, and the sum amounted at least to several hundreds.
Mrs. Lapham laid the paper down on the desk, and then
she took it up again and put it into her work-basket,
meaning to give it to him. When he came in she saw him
looking absent-mindedly about for something, and then
going to work upon his papers, apparently without it.
She thought she would wait till he missed it definitely,
and then give him the scrap she had picked up. It lay
in her basket, and after some days it found its way under
the work in it, and she forgot it.
SINCE New Year's there had scarcely been a mild day,
and the streets were full of snow, growing foul under the
city feet and hoofs, and renewing its purity from the skies
with repeated falls, which in turn lost their whiteness,
beaten down, and beaten black and hard into a solid bed
like iron. The sleighing was incomparable, and the air
was full of the din of bells; but Lapham's turnout was not
of those that thronged the Brighton road every afternoon;
the man at the livery-stable sent him word that the mare's
legs were swelling.
He and Corey had little to do with each other.
He did not know how Penelope had arranged it with Corey;
his wife said she knew no more than he did, and he did
not like to ask the girl herself, especially as Corey no
longer came to the house. He saw that she was cheerfuller
than she had been, and helpfuller with him and her mother.
Now and then Lapham opened his troubled soul to her a little,
letting his thought break into speech without preamble
or conclusion. Once he said--
"Pen, I presume you know I'm in trouble."
"We all seem to be there," said the girl.
"Yes, but there's a difference between being there
by your own fault and being there by somebody else's."
"I don't call it his fault," she said.
"I call it mine," said the Colonel.
The girl laughed. Her thought was of her own care, and her
father's wholly of his. She must come to his ground.
"What have you been doing wrong?"
"I don't know as you'd call it wrong. It's what people
do all the time. But I wish I'd let stocks alone.
It's what I always promised your mother I would do.
But there's no use cryin' over spilt milk; or watered
"I don't think there's much use crying about anything. If it
could have been cried straight, it would have been all right
from the start," said the girl, going back to her own affair;
and if Lapham had not been so deeply engrossed in his,
he might have seen how little she cared for all that money
could do or undo. He did not observe her enough to see
how variable her moods were in those days, and how often
she sank from some wild gaiety into abject melancholy;
how at times she was fiercely defiant of nothing at all,
and at others inexplicably humble and patient.
But no doubt none of these signs had passed unnoticed by
his wife, to whom Lapham said one day, when he came home,
"Persis, what's the reason Pen don't marry Corey?"
"You know as well as I do, Silas," said Mrs. Lapham,
with an inquiring look at him for what lay behind his words.
"Well, I think it's all tomfoolery, the way she's going on.
There ain't any rhyme nor reason to it." He stopped,
and his wife waited. "If she said the word, I could have
some help from them." He hung his head, and would not meet
his wife's eye.
"I guess you're in a pretty bad way, Si," she said pityingly,
"or you wouldn't have come to that."
"I'm in a hole," said Lapham, "and I don't know where to turn.
You won't let me do anything about those mills----"
"Yes, I'll let you," said his wife sadly.
He gave a miserable cry. "You know I can't do anything,
if you do. O my Lord!"
She had not seen him so low as that before. She did not
know what to say. She was frightened, and could only ask,
"Has it come to the worst?"
"The new house has got to go," he answered evasively.
She did not say anything. She knew that the work on the
house had been stopped since the beginning of the year.
Lapham had told the architect that he preferred to leave
it unfinished till the spring, as there was no prospect
of their being able to get into it that winter; and the
architect had agreed with him that it would not hurt
it to stand. Her heart was heavy for him, though she
could not say so. They sat together at the table,
where she had come to be with him at his belated meal.
She saw that he did not eat, and she waited for him
to speak again, without urging him to take anything.
They were past that.
"And I've sent orders to shut down at the Works,"
"Shut down at the Works!" she echoed with dismay.
She could not take it in. The fire at the Works had
never been out before since it was first kindled.
She knew how he had prided himself upon that; how he had
bragged of it to every listener, and had always lugged
the fact in as the last expression of his sense of success.
"What's the use?" he retorted. "I saw it was coming
a month ago. There are some fellows out in West Virginia
that have been running the paint as hard as they could.
They couldn't do much; they used to put it on the market raw.
But lately they got to baking it, and now they've struck
a vein of natural gas right by their works, and they pay
ten cents for fuel, where I pay a dollar, and they make
as good a paint. Anybody can see where it's going to end.
Besides, the market's over-stocked. It's glutted.
There wa'n't anything to do but to shut DOWN, and I've
"I don't know what's going to become of the hands in
the middle of the winter, this way," said Mrs. Lapham,
laying hold of one definite thought which she could grasp
in the turmoil of ruin that whirled before her eyes.
"I don't care what becomes of the hands," cried Lapham.
"They've shared my luck; now let 'em share the other thing.
And if you're so very sorry for the hands, I wish you'd keep
a little of your pity for ME. Don't you know what shutting
down the Works means?"
"Yes, indeed I do, Silas," said his wife tenderly.
"Well, then!" He rose, leaving his supper untasted, and went
into the sitting-room, where she presently found him,
with that everlasting confusion of papers before him
on the desk. That made her think of the paper in her
work-basket, and she decided not to make the careworn,
distracted man ask her for it, after all. She brought it
He glanced blankly at it and then caught it from her,
turning red and looking foolish. "Where'd you get that?"
"You dropped it on the floor the other night, and I
picked it up. Who is 'Wm. M.'?"
"'Wm. M.'!" he repeated, looking confusedly at her,
and then at the paper. "Oh,--it's nothing." He tore
the paper into small pieces, and went and dropped them
into the fire. When Mrs. Lapham came into the room
in the morning, before he was down, she found a scrap
of the paper, which must have fluttered to the hearth;
and glancing at it she saw that the words were "Mrs. M."
She wondered what dealings with a woman her husband
could have, and she remembered the confusion he had
shown about the paper, and which she had thought was
because she had surprised one of his business secrets.
She was still thinking of it when he came down to breakfast,
heavy-eyed, tremulous, with deep seams and wrinkles in
After a silence which he did not seem inclined to break,
"Silas," she asked, "who is 'Mrs. M.'?"
He stared at her. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't you?" she returned mockingly. "When you do,
you tell me. Do you want any more coffee?"
"Well, then, you can ring for Alice when you've finished.
I've got some things to attend to." She rose abruptly,
and left the room. Lapham looked after her in a dull way,
and then went on with his breakfast. While he still
sat at his coffee, she flung into the room again,
and dashed some papers down beside his plate. "Here are
some more things of yours, and I'll thank you to lock
them up in your desk and not litter my room with them,
if you please." Now he saw that she was angry, and it
must be with him. It enraged him that in such a time
of trouble she should fly out at him in that way.
He left the house without trying to speak to her.
That day Corey came just before closing, and, knocking at
Lapham's door, asked if he could speak with him a
"Yes," said Lapham, wheeling round in his swivel-chair and
kicking another towards Corey. "Sit down. I want to talk
to you. I'd ought to tell you you're wasting your time here.
I spoke the other day about your placin' yourself better,
and I can help you to do it, yet. There ain't going
to be the out-come for the paint in the foreign markets
that we expected, and I guess you better give it up."
"I don't wish to give it up," said the young fellow,
setting his lips. "I've as much faith in it as ever; and I
want to propose now what I hinted at in the first place.
I want to put some money into the business."
"Some money!" Lapham leaned towards him, and frowned
as if he had not quite understood, while he clutched
the arms of his chair.
"I've got about thirty thousand dollars that I could put in,
and if you don't want to consider me a partner--I remember
that you objected to a partner--you can let me regard it
as an investment. But I think I see the way to doing
something at once in Mexico, and I should like to feel that
I had something more than a drummer's interest in the venture."
The men sat looking into each other's eyes. Then Lapham
leaned back in his chair, and rubbed his hand hard
and slowly over his face. His features were still
twisted with some strong emotion when he took it away.
"Your family know about this?"
"My Uncle James knows."
"He thinks it would be a good plan for you?"
"He thought that by this time I ought to be able to trust
my own judgment."
"Do you suppose I could see your uncle at his office?"
"I imagine he's there."
"Well, I want to have a talk with him, one of these days."
He sat pondering a while, and then rose, and went with Corey
to his door. "I guess I shan't change my mind about taking
you into the business in that way," he said coldly.
"If there was any reason why I shouldn't at first,
there's more now."
"Very well, sir," answered the young man, and went to close
his desk. The outer office was empty; but while Corey
was putting his papers in order it was suddenly invaded
by two women, who pushed by the protesting porter on
the stairs and made their way towards Lapham's room.
One of them was Miss Dewey, the type-writer girl,
and the other was a woman whom she would resemble in face
and figure twenty years hence, if she led a life of hard
work varied by paroxysms of hard drinking.
"That his room, Z'rilla?" asked this woman, pointing towards
Lapham's door with a hand that had not freed itself
from the fringe of dirty shawl under which it had hung.
She went forward without waiting for the answer,
but before she could reach it the door opened, and Lapham
stood filling its space.
"Look here, Colonel Lapham!" began the woman, in a high
key of challenge. "I want to know if this is the way
you're goin' back on me and Z'rilla?"
"What do you want?" asked Lapham.
"What do I want? What do you s'pose I want? I want
the money to pay my month's rent; there ain't a bite
to eat in the house; and I want some money to market."
Lapham bent a frown on the woman, under which she shrank
back a step. "You've taken the wrong way to get it.
"I WON'T clear out!" said the woman, beginning to whimper.
"Corey!" said Lapham, in the peremptory voice of a master,--he
had seemed so indifferent to Corey's presence that the young man
thought he must have forgotten he was there,--"Is Dennis anywhere round?"
"Yissor," said Dennis, answering for himself from the head
of the stairs, and appearing in the ware-room.
Lapham spoke to the woman again. "Do you want I should
call a hack, or do you want I should call an officer?"
The woman began to cry into an end of her shawl.
"I don't know what we're goin' to do."
"You're going to clear out," said Lapham. "Call a hack, Dennis.
If you ever come here again, I'll have you arrested.
Mind that! Zerrilla, I shall want you early to-morrow morning."
"Yes, sir," said the girl meekly; she and her mother
shrank out after the porter.
Lapham shut his door without a word.
At lunch the next day Walker made himself amends
for Corey's reticence by talking a great deal.
He talked about Lapham, who seemed to have, more than ever
since his apparent difficulties began, the fascination
of an enigma for his book-keeper, and he ended by asking,
"Did you see that little circus last night?"
"What little circus?" asked Corey in his turn.
"Those two women and the old man. Dennis told me about it.
I told him if he liked his place he'd better keep his
"That was very good advice," said Corey.
"Oh, all right, if you don't want to talk. Don't know
as I should in your place," returned Walker, in the easy
security he had long felt that Corey had no intention
of putting on airs with him. "But I'll tell you what:
the old man can't expect it of everybody. If he keeps
this thing up much longer, it's going to be talked about.
You can't have a woman walking into your place of business,
and trying to bulldoze you before your porter, without setting
your porter to thinking. And the last thing you want
a porter to do is to think; for when a porter thinks,
he thinks wrong."
"I don't see why even a porter couldn't think right about
that affair," replied Corey. "I don't know who the
woman was, though I believe she was Miss Dewey's mother;
but I couldn't see that Colonel Lapham showed anything
but a natural resentment of her coming to him in that way.
I should have said she was some rather worthless person
whom he'd been befriending, and that she had presumed upon
"Is that so? What do you think of his never letting Miss
Dewey's name go on the books?"
"That it's another proof it's a sort of charity of his.
That's the only way to look at it."
"Oh, I'M all right." Walker lighted a cigar and began
to smoke, with his eyes closed to a fine straight line.
"It won't do for a book-keeper to think wrong, any more
than a porter, I suppose. But I guess you and I don't
think very different about this thing."
"Not if you think as I do," replied Corey steadily; "and I
know you would do that if you had seen the 'circus' yourself.
A man doesn't treat people who have a disgraceful hold
upon him as he treated them."
"It depends upon who he is," said Walker, taking his cigar
from his mouth. "I never said the old man was afraid
"And character," continued Corey, disdaining to touch
the matter further, except in generalities, "must go
for something. If it's to be the prey of mere accident
and appearance, then it goes for nothing."
"Accidents will happen in the best regulated families,"
said Walker, with vulgar, good-humoured obtuseness
that filled Corey with indignation. Nothing, perhaps,
removed his matter-of-fact nature further from the
commonplace than a certain generosity of instinct,
which I should not be ready to say was always infallible.
That evening it was Miss Dewey's turn to wait for speech
with Lapham after the others were gone. He opened his door
at her knock, and stood looking at her with a worried air.
"Well, what do you want, Zerrilla?" he asked, with a sort
of rough kindness.
"I want to know what I'm going to do about Hen.
He's back again; and he and mother have made it up,
and they both got to drinking last night after I went home,
and carried on so that the neighbours came in."
Lapham passed his hand over his red and heated face.
"I don't know what I'm going to do. You're twice the trouble
that my own family is, now. But I know what I'd do,
mighty quick, if it wasn't for you, Zerrilla," he went
on relentingly. "I'd shut your mother up somewheres,
and if I could get that fellow off for a three years'
"I declare," said Miss Dewey, beginning to whimper,
"it seems as if he came back just so often to spite me.
He's never gone more than a year at the furthest, and you
can't make it out habitual drunkenness, either, when it's
just sprees. I'm at my wit's end."
"Oh, well, you mustn't cry around here," said Lapham soothingly.
"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:--