Part 8 out of 9
DEAR FRIEND,--I expected when I sent you that note,
that you would understand, almost the next day, why I
could not see you any more. You must know now, and you
must not think that if anything happened to my father,
I should wish you to help him. But that is no reason why
I should not thank you, and I do thank you, for offering.
It was like you, I will say that.
Yours sincerely, PENELOPE LAPHAM.
She posted her letter, and he sent his reply in the evening,
DEAREST,--What I did was nothing, till you praised it.
Everything I have and am is yours. Won't you send
a line by the bearer, to say that I may come to see
you? I know how you feel; but I am sure that I can make
you think differently. You must consider that I loved
you without a thought of your father's circumstances,
and always shall.
The generous words were blurred to her eyes by the tears
that sprang into them. But she could only write in answer:--
"Please do not come; I have made up my mind. As long
as this trouble is hanging over us, I cannot see you.
And if father is unfortunate, all is over between us."
She brought his letter to her mother, and told her what
she had written in reply. Her mother was thoughtful
a while before she said, with a sigh, "Well, I hope
you've begun as you can carry out, Pen."
"Oh, I shall not have to carry out at all. I shall
not have to do anything. That's one comfort--the
only comfort." She went away to her own room, and when
Mrs. Lapham told her husband of the affair, he was silent
at first, as she had been. Then he said, "I don't
know as I should have wanted her to done differently;
I don't know as she could. If I ever come right again,
she won't have anything to feel meeching about; and if I
don't, I don't want she should be beholden to anybody.
And I guess that's the way she feels."
The Coreys in their turn sat in judgment on the fact
which their son felt bound to bring to their knowledge.
"She has behaved very well," said Mrs. Corey, to whom
her son had spoken.
"My dear," said her husband, with his laugh, "she has
behaved TOO well. If she had studied the whole
situation with the most artful eye to its mastery,
she could not possibly have behaved better."
The process of Lapham's financial disintegration was
like the course of some chronic disorder, which has
fastened itself upon the constitution, but advances
with continual reliefs, with apparent amelioration,
and at times seems not to advance at all, when it
gives hope of final recovery not only to the sufferer,
but to the eye of science itself. There were moments when
James Bellingham, seeing Lapham pass this crisis and that,
began to fancy that he might pull through altogether;
and at these moments, when his adviser could not oppose
anything but experience and probability to the evidence
of the fact, Lapham was buoyant with courage, and imparted
his hopefulness to his household. Our theory of disaster,
of sorrow, of affliction, borrowed from the poets
and novelists, is that it is incessant; but every passage
in our own lives and in the lives of others, so far as we
have witnessed them, teaches us that this is false.
The house of mourning is decorously darkened to the world,
but within itself it is also the house of laughing.
Bursts of gaiety, as heartfelt as its grief, relieve the gloom,
and the stricken survivors have their jests together,
in which the thought of the dead is tenderly involved,
and a fond sense, not crazier than many others, of sympathy
and enjoyment beyond the silence, justifies the sunnier
mood before sorrow rushes back, deploring and despairing,
and making it all up again with the conventional fitness
of things. Lapham's adversity had this quality in common
with bereavement. It was not always like the adversity
we figure in allegory; it had its moments of being
like prosperity, and if upon the whole it was continual,
it was not incessant. Sometimes there was a week
of repeated reverses, when he had to keep his teeth set
and to hold on hard to all his hopefulness; and then
days came of negative result or slight success, when he
was full of his jokes at the tea-table, and wanted to go
to the theatre, or to do something to cheer Penelope up.
In some miraculous way, by some enormous stroke of success
which should eclipse the brightest of his past prosperity,
he expected to do what would reconcile all difficulties,
not only in his own affairs, but in hers too. "You'll see,"
he said to his wife; "it's going to come out all right.
Irene'll fix it up with Bill's boy, and then she'll be off
Pen's mind; and if things go on as they've been going
for the last two days, I'm going to be in a position to do
the favours myself, and Pen can feel that SHE'S makin'
a sacrifice, and then I guess may be she'll do it.
If things turn out as I expect now, and times ever do get
any better generally, I can show Corey that I appreciate
his offer. I can offer him the partnership myself
Even in the other moods, which came when everything had
been going wrong, and there seemed no way out of the net,
there were points of consolation to Lapham and his wife.
They rejoiced that Irene was safe beyond the range of
their anxieties, and they had a proud satisfaction that
there had been no engagement between Corey and Penelope,
and that it was she who had forbidden it. In the closeness
of interest and sympathy in which their troubles had
reunited them, they confessed to each other that nothing
would have been more galling to their pride than the idea
that Lapham should not have been able to do everything
for his daughter that the Coreys might have expected.
Whatever happened now, the Coreys could not have it to say
that the Laphams had tried to bring any such thing about.
Bellingham had lately suggested an assignment to Lapham,
as the best way out of his difficulties. It was evident
that he had not the money to meet his liabilities at present,
and that he could not raise it without ruinous sacrifices,
that might still end in ruin after all. If he made
the assignment, Bellingham argued, he could gain time
and make terms; the state of things generally would
probably improve, since it could not be worse, and the market,
which he had glutted with his paint, might recover and he
could start again. Lapham had not agreed with him.
When his reverses first began it had seemed easy for him
to give up everything, to let the people he owed take all,
so only they would let him go out with clean hands; and he
had dramatised this feeling in his talk with his wife,
when they spoke together of the mills on the G. L. &
P. But ever since then it had been growing harder,
and he could not consent even to seem to do it now in
the proposed assignment. He had not found other men
so very liberal or faithful with him; a good many of them
appeared to have combined to hunt him down; a sense of
enmity towards all his creditors asserted itself in him;
he asked himself why they should not suffer a little too.
Above all, he shrank from the publicity of the assignment.
It was open confession that he had been a fool in some way;
he could not bear to have his family--his brother
the judge, especially, to whom he had always appeared the
soul of business wisdom--think him imprudent or stupid.
He would make any sacrifice before it came to that.
He determined in parting with Bellingham to make
the sacrifice which he had oftenest in his mind,
because it was the hardest, and to sell his new house.
That would cause the least comment. Most people
would simply think that he had got a splendid offer,
and with his usual luck had made a very good thing of it;
others who knew a little more about him would say that he
was hauling in his horns, but they could not blame him;
a great many other men were doing the same in those hard
times--the shrewdest and safest men: it might even have
a good effect. He went straight from Bellingham's
office to the real-estate broker in whose hands he
meant to put his house, for he was not the sort of man
to shilly-shally when he had once made up his mind.
But he found it hard to get his voice up out of his throat,
when he said he guessed he would get the broker to sell
that new house of his on the water side of Beacon.
The broker answered cheerfully, yes; he supposed Colonel
Lapham knew it was a pretty dull time in real estate?
and Lapham said yes, he knew that, but he should not sell
at a sacrifice, and he did not care to have the broker
name him or describe the house definitely unless parties
meant business. Again the broker said yes; and he added,
as a joke Lapham would appreciate, that he had half a dozen
houses on the water side of Beacon, on the same terms;
that nobody wanted to be named or to have his property
It did, in fact, comfort Lapham a little to find himself
in the same boat with so many others; he smiled grimly,
and said in his turn, yes, he guessed that was about the size
of it with a good many people. But he had not the heart
to tell his wife what he had done, and he sat taciturn
that whole evening, without even going over his accounts,
and went early to bed, where he lay tossing half the
night before he fell asleep. He slept at last only upon
the promise he made himself that he would withdraw
the house from the broker's hands; but he went heavily
to his own business in the morning without doing so.
There was no such rush, anyhow, he reflected bitterly;
there would be time to do that a month later, probably.
It struck him with a sort of dismay when a boy came
with a note from a broker, saying that a party who had
been over the house in the fall had come to him to know
whether it could be bought, and was willing to pay
the cost of the house up to the time he had seen it.
Lapham took refuge in trying to think who the party could be;
he concluded that it must have been somebody who had gone
over it with the architect, and he did not like that;
but he was aware that this was not an answer to the broker,
and he wrote that he would give him an answer in the morning.
Now that it had come to the point, it did not seem to him
that he could part with the house. So much of his hope
for himself and his children had gone into it that the
thought of selling it made him tremulous and sick.
He could not keep about his work steadily, and with his
nerves shaken by want of sleep, and the shock of this
sudden and unexpected question, he left his office early,
and went over to look at the house and try to bring
himself to some conclusion here. The long procession
of lamps on the beautiful street was flaring in the clear
red of the sunset towards which it marched, and Lapham,
with a lump in his throat, stopped in front of his house
and looked at their multitude. They were not merely a part
of the landscape; they were a part of his pride and glory,
his success, his triumphant life's work which was fading
into failure in his helpless hands. He ground his teeth
to keep down that lump, but the moisture in his eyes
blurred the lamps, and the keen pale crimson against
which it made them flicker. He turned and looked up,
as he had so often done, at the window-spaces, neatly
glazed for the winter with white linen, and recalled
the night when he had stopped with Irene before the house,
and she had said that she should never live there,
and he had tried to coax her into courage about it.
There was no such facade as that on the whole street,
to his thinking. Through his long talks with the architect,
he had come to feel almost as intimately and fondly
as the architect himself the satisfying simplicity
of the whole design and the delicacy of its detail.
It appealed to him as an exquisite bit of harmony appeals
to the unlearned ear, and he recognised the difference
between this fine work and the obstreperous pretentiousness
of the many overloaded house-fronts which Seymour
had made him notice for his instruction elsewhere
on the Back Bay. Now, in the depths of his gloom,
he tried to think what Italian city it was where Seymour
said he had first got the notion of treating brick-work
in that way.
He unlocked the temporary door with the key he always carried,
so that he could let himself in and out whenever
he liked, and entered the house, dim and very cold with
the accumulated frigidity of the whole winter in it,
and looking as if the arrest of work upon it had taken
place a thousand years before. It smelt of the unpainted
woods and the clean, hard surfaces of the plaster,
where the experiments in decoration had left it untouched;
and mingled with these odours was that of some rank
pigments and metallic compositions which Seymour had
used in trying to realise a certain daring novelty
of finish, which had not proved successful. Above all,
Lapham detected the peculiar odour of his own paint,
with which the architect had been greatly interested one day,
when Lapham showed it to him at the office. He had asked
Lapham to let him try the Persis Brand in realising a
little idea he had for the finish of Mrs. Lapham's room.
If it succeeded they could tell her what it was, for a surprise.
Lapham glanced at the bay-window in the reception-room,
where he sat with his girls on the trestles when Corey first
came by; and then he explored the whole house to the attic,
in the light faintly admitted through the linen sashes.
The floors were strewn with shavings and chips which the
carpenters had left, and in the music-room these had been
blown into long irregular windrows by the draughts through
a wide rent in the linen sash. Lapham tried to pin it up,
but failed, and stood looking out of it over the water.
The ice had left the river, and the low tide lay smooth
and red in the light of the sunset. The Cambridge flats
showed the sad, sodden yellow of meadows stripped bare
after a long sleep under snow; the hills, the naked trees,
the spires and roofs had a black outline, as if they were
objects in a landscape of the French school.
The whim seized Lapham to test the chimney in the music-room;
it had been tried in the dining-room below, and in his girls'
fireplaces above, but here the hearth was still clean.
He gathered some shavings and blocks together,
and kindled them, and as the flame mounted gaily from them,
he pulled up a nail-keg which he found there and sat
down to watch it. Nothing could have been better;
the chimney was a perfect success; and as Lapham glanced out
of the torn linen sash he said to himself that that party,
whoever he was, who had offered to buy his house might
go to the devil; he would never sell it as long as he
had a dollar. He said that he should pull through yet;
and it suddenly came into his mind that, if he could
raise the money to buy out those West Virginia fellows,
he should be all right, and would have the whole game
in his own hand. He slapped himself on the thigh,
and wondered that he had never thought of that before;
and then, lighting a cigar with a splinter from the fire,
he sat down again to work the scheme out in his own mind.
He did not hear the feet heavily stamping up the stairs,
and coming towards the room where he sat; and the policeman
to whom the feet belonged had to call out to him, smoking at
his chimney-corner, with his back turned to the door,
"Hello! what are you doing here?"
"What's that to you?" retorted Lapham, wheeling half
round on his nail-keg.
"I'll show you," said the officer, advancing upon him,
and then stopping short as he recognised him. "Why, Colonel
Lapham! I thought it was some tramp got in here!"
"Have a cigar?" said Lapham hospitably. "Sorry there
ain't another nail-keg."
The officer took the cigar. "I'll smoke it outside.
I've just come on, and I can't stop. Tryin' your chimney?"
"Yes, I thought I'd see how it would draw, in here.
It seems to go first-rate."
The policeman looked about him with an eye of inspection.
"You want to get that linen window, there, mended up."
"Yes, I'll speak to the builder about that. It can go
for one night."
The policeman went to the window and failed to pin the linen
together where Lapham had failed before. "I can't fix it."
He looked round once more, and saying, "Well, good night,"
went out and down the stairs.
Lapham remained by the fire till he had smoked his cigar;
then he rose and stamped upon the embers that still burned
with his heavy boots, and went home. He was very cheerful
at supper. He told his wife that he guessed he had a sure
thing of it now, and in another twenty-four hours he
should tell her just how. He made Penelope go to the
theatre with him, and when they came out, after the play,
the night was so fine that he said they must walk round
by the new house and take a look at it in the starlight.
He said he had been there before he came home, and tried
Seymour's chimney in the music-room, and it worked like
As they drew near Beacon Street they were aware
of unwonted stir and tumult, and presently the still
air transmitted a turmoil of sound, through which a
powerful and incessant throbbing made itself felt.
The sky had reddened above them, and turning the corner
at the Public Garden, they saw a black mass of people
obstructing the perspective of the brightly-lighted street,
and out of this mass a half-dozen engines, whose strong
heart-beats had already reached them, sent up volumes
of fire-tinged smoke and steam from their funnels.
Ladders were planted against the facade of a building,
from the roof of which a mass of flame burnt smoothly upward,
except where here and there it seemed to pull contemptuously
away from the heavy streams of water which the firemen,
clinging like great beetles to their ladders, poured in
Lapham had no need to walk down through the crowd, gazing
and gossiping, with shouts and cries and hysterical laughter,
before the burning house, to make sure that it was his.
"I guess I done it, Pen," was all he said.
Among the people who were looking at it were a party who seemed
to have run out from dinner in some neighbouring house;
the ladies were fantastically wrapped up, as if they
had flung on the first things they could seize.
"Isn't it perfectly magnificent!" cried a pretty girl.
"I wouldn't have missed it on any account. Thank you so much,
Mr. Symington, for bringing us out!"
"Ah, I thought you'd like it," said this Mr. Symington,
who must have been the host; "and you can enjoy it without
the least compunction, Miss Delano, for I happen to know
that the house belongs to a man who could afford to burn
one up for you once a year."
"Oh, do you think he would, if I came again?"
"I haven't the least doubt of it. We don't do things
by halves in Boston."
"He ought to have had a coat of his noncombustible paint
on it," said another gentleman of the party.
Penelope pulled her father away toward the first carriage
she could reach of a number that had driven up.
"Here, father! get into this."
"No, no; I couldn't ride," he answered heavily, and he walked
home in silence. He greeted his wife with, "Well, Persis,
our house is gone! And I guess I set it on fire myself;"
and while he rummaged among the papers in his desk,
still with his coat and hat on, his wife got the facts
as she could from Penelope. She did not reproach him.
Here was a case in which his self-reproach must be sufficiently
sharp without any edge from her. Besides, her mind was
full of a terrible thought.
"O Silas," she faltered, "they'll think you set it
on fire to get the insurance!"
Lapham was staring at a paper which he held in his hand.
"I had a builder's risk on it, but it expired last week.
It's a dead loss."
"Oh, thank the merciful Lord!" cried his wife.
"Merciful!" said Lapham. "Well, it's a queer way
of showing it."
He went to bed, and fell into the deep sleep which
sometimes follows a great moral shock. It was perhaps
rather a torpor than a sleep.
LAPHAM awoke confused, and in a kind of remoteness from the
loss of the night before, through which it loomed mistily.
But before he lifted his head from the pillow, it gathered
substance and weight against which it needed all his will
to bear up and live. In that moment he wished that he
had not wakened, that he might never have wakened;
but he rose, and faced the day and its cares.
The morning papers brought the report of the fire,
and the conjectured loss. The reporters somehow had found
out the fact that the loss fell entirely upon Lapham;
they lighted up the hackneyed character of their statements
with the picturesque interest OF the coincidence that the
policy had expired only the week before; heaven knows
how they knew it. They said that nothing remained
of the building but the walls; and Lapham, on his way
to business, walked up past the smoke-stained shell.
The windows looked like the eye-sockets of a skull
down upon the blackened and trampled snow of the street;
the pavement was a sheet of ice, and the water from the
engines had frozen, like streams of tears, down the face
of the house, and hung in icy tags from the window-sills
He gathered himself up as well as he could, and went on
to his office. The chance of retrieval that had flashed
upon him, as he sat smoking by that ruined hearth the
evening before, stood him in such stead now as a sole
hope may; and he said to himself that, having resolved
not to sell his house, he was no more crippled by its
loss than he would have been by letting his money lie
idle in it; what he might have raised by mortgage on it
could be made up in some other way; and if they would
sell he could still buy out the whole business of that
West Virginia company, mines, plant, stock on hand,
good-will, and everything, and unite it with his own.
He went early in the afternoon to see Bellingham,
whose expressions of condolence for his loss he cut short
with as much politeness as he knew how to throw into
his impatience. Bellingham seemed at first a little dazzled
with the splendid courage of his scheme; it was certainly
fine in its way; but then he began to have his misgivings.
"I happen to know that they haven't got much money
behind them," urged Lapham. "They'll jump at an offer."
Bellingham shook his head. "If they can show profit
on the old manufacture, and prove they can make their
paint still cheaper and better hereafter, they can have
all the money they want. And it will be very difficult
for you to raise it if you're threatened by them.
With that competition, you know what your plant at Lapham
would be worth, and what the shrinkage on your manufactured
stock would be. Better sell out to them," he concluded,
"if they will buy."
"There ain't money enough in this country to buy out my paint,"
said Lapham, buttoning up his coat in a quiver of resentment.
"Good afternoon, sir." Men are but grown-up boys after all.
Bellingham watched this perversely proud and obstinate
child fling petulantly out of his door, and felt a sympathy
for him which was as truly kind as it was helpless.
But Lapham was beginning to see through Bellingham,
as he believed. Bellingham was, in his way, part of that
conspiracy by which Lapham's creditors were trying to drive
him to the wall. More than ever now he was glad that he had
nothing to do with that cold-hearted, self-conceited race,
and that the favours so far were all from his side.
He was more than ever determined to show them, every one
of them, high and low, that he and his children could get
along without them, and prosper and triumph without them.
He said to himself that if Penelope were engaged to Corey
that very minute, he would make her break with him.
He knew what he should do now, and he was going to do it
without loss of time. He was going on to New York to see
those West Virginia people; they had their principal
office there, and he intended to get at their ideas,
and then he intended to make them an offer. He managed
this business better than could possibly have been
expected of a man in his impassioned mood. But when it
came really to business, his practical instincts,
alert and wary, came to his aid against the passions that
lay in wait to betray after they ceased to dominate him.
He found the West Virginians full of zeal and hope,
but in ten minutes he knew that they had not yet tested
their strength in the money market, and had not ascertained
how much or how little capital they could command.
Lapham himself, if he had had so much, would not have
hesitated to put a million dollars into their business.
He saw, as they did not see, that they had the game in
their own hands, and that if they could raise the money
to extend their business, they could ruin him. It was
only a question of time, and he was on the ground first.
He frankly proposed a union of their interests.
He admitted that they had a good thing, and that he
should have to fight them hard; but he meant to fight
them to the death unless they could come to some sort
of terms. Now, the question was whether they had better
go on and make a heavy loss for both sides by competition,
or whether they had better form a partnership to run
both paints and command the whole market. Lapham made
them three propositions, each of which was fair and open:
to sell out to them altogether; to buy them out altogether;
to join facilities and forces with them, and go on in
an invulnerable alliance. Let them name a figure at
which they would buy, a figure at which they would sell,
a figure at which they would combine,--or, in other words,
the amount of capital they needed.
They talked all day, going out to lunch together at
the Astor House, and sitting with their knees against
the counter on a row of stools before it for fifteen
minutes of reflection and deglutition, with their
hats on, and then returning to the basement from which
they emerged. The West Virginia company's name was
lettered in gilt on the wide low window, and its paint,
in the form of ore, burnt, and mixed, formed a display
on the window shelf Lapham examined it and praised it;
from time to time they all recurred to it together;
they sent out for some of Lapham's paint and compared it,
the West Virginians admitting its former superiority.
They were young fellows, and country persons, like Lapham,
by origin, and they looked out with the same amused,
undaunted provincial eyes at the myriad metropolitan legs
passing on the pavement above the level of their window.
He got on well with them. At last, they said what they would do.
They said it was nonsense to talk of buying Lapham out,
for they had not the money; and as for selling out,
they would not do it, for they knew they had a big thing.
But they would as soon use his capital to develop it
as anybody else's, and if he could put in a certain
sum for this purpose, they would go in with him.
He should run the works at Lapham and manage the business
in Boston, and they would run the works at Kanawha Falls
and manage the business in New York. The two brothers
with whom Lapham talked named their figure, subject to
the approval of another brother at Kanawha Falls, to whom
they would write, and who would telegraph his answer,
so that Lapham could have it inside of three days.
But they felt perfectly sure that he would approve;
and Lapham started back on the eleven o'clock train with
an elation that gradually left him as he drew near Boston,
where the difficulties of raising this sum were to be
over come. It seemed to him, then, that those fellows
had put it up on him pretty steep, but he owned to himself
that they had a sure thing, and that they were right
in believing they could raise the same sum elsewhere;
it would take all OF it, he admitted, to make their
paint pay on the scale they had the right to expect.
At their age, he would not have done differently;
but when he emerged, old, sore, and sleep-broken,
from the sleeping-car in the Albany depot at Boston,
he wished with a pathetic self-pity that they knew how a man
felt at his age. A year ago, six months ago, he would
have laughed at the notion that it would be hard to raise
the money. But he thought ruefully of that immense stock
of paint on hand, which was now a drug in the market,
of his losses by Rogers and by the failures of other men,
of the fire that had licked up so many thousands
in a few hours; he thought with bitterness of the tens
of thousands that he had gambled away in stocks,
and of the commissions that the brokers had pocketed
whether he won or lost; and he could not think of any
securities on which he could borrow, except his house
in Nankeen Square, or the mine and works at Lapham.
He set his teeth in helpless rage when he thought of that
property out on the G. L. & P., that ought to be worth
so much, and was worth so little if the Road chose to
He did not go home, but spent most of the day shining round,
as he would have expressed it, and trying to see if he
could raise the money. But he found that people of whom
he hoped to get it were in the conspiracy which had been
formed to drive him to the wall. Somehow, there seemed
a sense of his embarrassments abroad. Nobody wanted
to lend money on the plant at Lapham without taking time
to look into the state of the business; but Lapham had no
time to give, and he knew that the state of the business
would not bear looking into. He could raise fifteen
thousand on his Nankeen Square house, and another fifteen
on his Beacon Street lot, and this was all that a man
who was worth a million by rights could do! He said
a million, and he said it in defiance of Bellingham,
who had subjected his figures to an analysis which
wounded Lapham more than he chose to show at the time,
for it proved that he was not so rich and not so wise
as he had seemed. His hurt vanity forbade him to go
to Bellingham now for help or advice; and if he could
have brought himself to ask his brothers for money,
it would have been useless; they were simply well-to-do
Western people, but not capitalists on the scale he required.
Lapham stood in the isolation to which adversity so
often seems to bring men. When its test was applied,
practically or theoretically, to all those who had seemed
his friends, there was none who bore it; and he thought
with bitter self-contempt of the people whom he had
befriended in their time of need. He said to himself
that he had been a fool for that; and he scorned himself
for certain acts of scrupulosity by which he had lost
money in the past. Seeing the moral forces all arrayed
against him, Lapham said that he would like to have
the chance offered him to get even with them again;
he thought he should know how to look out for himself.
As he understood it, he had several days to turn about in,
and he did not let one day's failure dishearten him.
The morning after his return he had, in fact, a gleam of luck
that gave him the greatest encouragement for the moment.
A man came in to inquire about one of Rogers's wild-cat
patents, as Lapham called them, and ended by buying it.
He got it, of course, for less than Lapham took it for,
but Lapham was glad to be rid of it for something, when he
had thought it worth nothing; and when the transaction
was closed, he asked the purchaser rather eagerly if he
knew where Rogers was; it was Lapham's secret belief
that Rogers had found there was money in the thing,
and had sent the man to buy it. But it appeared that
this was a mistake; the man had not come from Rogers,
but had heard of the patent in another way; and Lapham was
astonished in the afternoon, when his boy came to tell him
that Rogers was in the outer office, and wished to speak
"All right," said Lapham, and he could not command at once
the severity for the reception of Rogers which he would
have liked to use. He found himself, in fact, so much
relaxed towards him by the morning's touch of prosperity
that he asked him to sit down, gruffly, of course,
but distinctly; and when Rogers said in his lifeless way,
and with the effect of keeping his appointment of a
month before, "Those English parties are in town,
and would like to talk with you in reference to the mills,"
Lapham did not turn him out-of-doors.
He sat looking at him, and trying to make out what Rogers
was after; for he did not believe that the English parties,
if they existed, had any notion of buying his mills.
"What if they are not for sale?" he asked. "You know
that I've been expecting an offer from the G. L. & P."
"I've kept watch of that. They haven't made you any offer,"
said Rogers quietly.
"And did you think," demanded Lapham, firing up, "that I
would turn them in on somebody else as you turned them
in on me, when the chances are that they won't be worth
ten cents on the dollar six months from now?"
"I didn't know what you would do," said Rogers non-committally.
"I've come here to tell you that these parties stand ready
to take the mills off your hands at a fair valuation--at
the value I put upon them when I turned them in."
"I don't believe you!" cried Lapham brutally, but a wild
predatory hope made his heart leap so that it seemed
to turn over in his breast. "I don't believe there are
any such parties to begin with; and in the next place,
I don't believe they would buy at any such figure;
unless--unless you've lied to them, as you've lied to me.
Did you tell them about the G. L. & P.?"
Rogers looked compassionately at him, but he answered,
with unvaried dryness, "I did not think that necessary."
Lapham had expected this answer, and he had expected
or intended to break out in furious denunciation of
Rogers when he got it; but he only found himself saying,
in a sort of baffled gasp, "I wonder what your game is!"
Rogers did not reply categorically, but he answered,
with his impartial calm, and as if Lapham had said
nothing to indicate that he differed at all with
him as to disposing of the property in the way he
had suggested: "If we should succeed in selling,
I should be able to repay you your loans, and should
have a little capital for a scheme that I think of going into."
"And do you think that I am going to steal these men's
money to help you plunder somebody in a new scheme?"
answered Lapham. The sneer was on behalf of virtue,
but it was still a sneer.
"I suppose the money would be useful to you too, just now."
"Because I know that you have been trying to borrow."
At this proof of wicked omniscience in Rogers, the question
whether he had better not regard the affair as a fatality,
and yield to his destiny, flashed upon Lapham; but he answered,
"I shall want money a great deal worse than I've ever wanted
it yet, before I go into such rascally business with you.
Don't you know that we might as well knock these parties
down on the street, and take the money out of their pockets?"
"They have come on," answered Rogers, "from Portland
to see you. I expected them some weeks ago, but they
disappointed me. They arrived on the Circassian last night;
they expected to have got in five days ago, but the passage
was very stormy."
"Where are they?" asked Lapham, with helpless irrelevance,
and feeling himself somehow drifted from his moorings
by Rogers's shipping intelligence.
"They are at Young's. I told them we would call upon them
after dinner this evening; they dine late."
"Oh, you did, did you?" asked Lapham, trying to drop another
anchor for a fresh clutch on his underlying principles.
"Well, now, you go and tell them that I said I wouldn't come."
"Their stay is limited," remarked Rogers. "I mentioned
this evening because they were not certain they could
remain over another night. But if to-morrow would suit
"Tell 'em I shan't come at all," roared Lapham, as much
in terror as defiance, for he felt his anchor dragging.
"Tell 'em I shan't come at all! Do you understand that?"
"I don't see why you should stickle as to the matter
of going to them," said Rogers; "but if you think it
will be better to have them approach you, I suppose
I can bring them to you."
"No, you can't! I shan't let you! I shan't see them! I
shan't have anything to do with them. NOW do you understand?"
"I inferred from our last interview," persisted Rogers,
unmoved by all this violent demonstration of Lapham's, "that
you wished to meet these parties. You told me that you
would give me time to produce them; and I have promised
them that you would meet them; I have committed myself."
It was true that Lapham had defied Rogers to bring on his men,
and had implied his willingness to negotiate with them.
That was before he had talked the matter over with his wife,
and perceived his moral responsibility in it; even she
had not seen this at once. He could not enter into this
explanation with Rogers; he could only say, "I said I'd
give you twenty-four hours to prove yourself a liar,
and you did it. I didn't say twenty-four days."
"I don't see the difference," returned Rogers. "The parties
are here now, and that proves that I was acting in good
faith at the time. There has been no change in the posture
of affairs. You don't know now any more than you knew
then that the G. L. & P. is going to want the property.
If there's any difference, it's in favour of the Road's
having changed its mind."
There was some sense in this, and Lapham felt it--felt
it only too eagerly, as he recognised the next instant.
Rogers went on quietly: "You're not obliged to sell
to these parties when you meet them; but you've allowed
me to commit myself to them by the promise that you
would talk with them."
"'Twan't a promise," said Lapham.
"It was the same thing; they have come out from England
on my guaranty that there was such and such an opening
for their capital; and now what am I to say to them?
It places me in a ridiculous position." Rogers urged
his grievance calmly, almost impersonally, making his
appeal to Lapham's sense of justice. "I CAN'T go back
to those parties and tell them you won't see them.
It's no answer to make. They've got a right to know why
you won't see them."
"Very well, then!" cried Lapham; "I'll come and TELL
them why. Who shall I ask for? When shall I be there?"
"At eight o'clock, please," said Rogers, rising, without
apparent alarm at his threat, if it was a threat.
"And ask for me; I've taken a room at the hotel for the present."
"I won't keep you five minutes when I get there,"
said Lapham; but he did not come away till ten o'clock.
It appeared to him as if the very devil was in it.
The Englishmen treated his downright refusal to sell as
a piece of bluff, and talked on as though it were merely
the opening of the negotiation. When he became plain with
them in his anger, and told them why he would not sell,
they seemed to have been prepared for this as a stroke
of business, and were ready to meet it.
"Has this fellow," he demanded, twisting his head
in the direction of Rogers, but disdaining to notice
him otherwise, "been telling you that it's part of my
game to say this? Well, sir, I can tell you, on my side,
that there isn't a slipperier rascal unhung in America
than Milton K. Rogers!"
The Englishmen treated this as a piece of genuine American
humour, and returned to the charge with unabated courage.
They owned now, that a person interested with them had
been out to look at the property, and that they were
satisfied with the appearance of things. They developed
further the fact that they were not acting solely,
or even principally, in their own behalf, but were the agents
of people in England who had projected the colonisation
of a sort of community on the spot, somewhat after the plan
of other English dreamers, and that they were satisfied,
from a careful inspection, that the resources and facilities
were those best calculated to develop the energy and
enterprise of the proposed community. They were prepared
to meet Mr. Lapham--Colonel, they begged his pardon,
at the instance of Rogers--at any reasonable figure,
and were quite willing to assume the risks he had
pointed out. Something in the eyes of these men,
something that lurked at an infinite depth below their speech,
and was not really in their eyes when Lapham looked again,
had flashed through him a sense of treachery in them.
He had thought them the dupes of Rogers; but in that brief
instant he had seen them--or thought he had seen them--his
accomplices, ready to betray the interests of which they
went on to speak with a certain comfortable jocosity,
and a certain incredulous slight of his show of integrity.
It was a deeper game than Lapham was used to, and he sat
looking with a sort of admiration from one Englishman to
the other, and then to Rogers, who maintained an exterior
of modest neutrality, and whose air said, "I have brought
you gentlemen together as the friend of all parties, and I
now leave you to settle it among yourselves. I ask nothing,
and expect nothing, except the small sum which shall
accrue to me after the discharge of my obligations to Colonel Lapham."
While Rogers's presence expressed this, one of the Englishmen
was saying, "And if you have any scruple in allowin'
us to assume this risk, Colonel Lapham, perhaps you can
console yourself with the fact that the loss, if there
is to be any, will fall upon people who are able to bear
it--upon an association of rich and charitable people.
But we're quite satisfied there will be no loss,"
he added savingly. "All you have to do is to name your price,
and we will do our best to meet it."
There was nothing in the Englishman's sophistry very
shocking to Lapham. It addressed itself in him to that
easy-going, not evilly intentioned, potential immorality
which regards common property as common prey, and gives
us the most corrupt municipal governments under the
sun--which makes the poorest voter, when he has tricked
into place, as unscrupulous in regard to others' money as
an hereditary prince. Lapham met the Englishman's eye,
and with difficulty kept himself from winking.
Then he looked away, and tried to find out where he stood,
or what he wanted to do. He could hardly tell.
He had expected to come into that room and unmask Rogers,
and have it over. But he had unmasked Rogers without
any effect whatever, and the play had only begun.
He had a whimsical and sarcastic sense of its being
very different from the plays at the theatre. He could
not get up and go away in silent contempt; he could
not tell the Englishmen that he believed them a pair
of scoundrels and should have nothing to do with them;
he could no longer treat them as innocent dupes.
He remained baffled and perplexed, and the one who had
not spoken hitherto remarked--
"Of course we shan't 'aggle about a few pound, more or less.
If Colonel Lapham's figure should be a little larger
than ours, I've no doubt 'e'll not be too 'ard upon us
in the end."
Lapham appreciated all the intent of this subtle suggestion,
and understood as plainly as if it had been said in so
many words, that if they paid him a larger price, it was
to be expected that a certain portion of the purchase-money
was to return to their own hands. Still he could not move;
and it seemed to him that he could not speak.
"Ring that bell, Mr. Rogers," said the Englishman
who had last spoken, glancing at the annunciator button
in the wall near Rogers's head, "and 'ave up something
'of, can't you? I should like TO wet me w'istle, as you
say 'ere, and Colonel Lapham seems to find it rather dry work."
Lapham jumped to his feet, and buttoned his overcoat
about him. He remembered with terror the dinner at Corey's
where he had disgraced and betrayed himself, and if he
went into this thing at all, he was going into it sober.
"I can't stop," he said, "I must be going."
"But you haven't given us an answer yet, Mr. Lapham,"
said the first Englishman with a successful show of
"The only answer I can give you now is, NO," said Lapham.
"If you want another, you must let me have time to think
"But 'ow much time?" said the other Englishman.
"We're pressed for time ourselves, and we hoped for an
answer--'oped for a hanswer," he corrected himself,
"at once. That was our understandin' with Mr. Rogers."
"I can't let you know till morning, anyway," said Lapham,
and he went out, as his custom often was, without any
parting salutation. He thought Rogers might try to
detain him; but Rogers had remained seated when the others
got to their feet, and paid no attention to his departure.
He walked out into the night air, every pulse throbbing
with the strong temptation. He knew very well those
men would wait, and gladly wait, till the morning,
and that the whole affair was in his hands. It made him
groan in spirit to think that it was. If he had hoped
that some chance might take the decision from him,
there was no such chance, in the present or future,
that he could see. It was for him alone to commit this
rascality--if it was a rascality--or not.
He walked all the way home, letting one car after another
pass him on the street, now so empty of other passing,
and it was almost eleven o'clock when he reached home.
A carriage stood before his house, and when he let himself
in with his key, he heard talking in the family-room. It
came into his head that Irene had got back unexpectedly,
and that the sight of her was somehow going to make
it harder for him; then he thought it might be Corey,
come upon some desperate pretext to see Penelope;
but when he opened the door he saw, with a certain
absence of surprise, that it was Rogers. He was standing
with his back to the fireplace, talking to Mrs. Lapham,
and he had been shedding tears; dry tears they seemed,
and they had left a sort of sandy, glistening trace
on his cheeks. Apparently he was not ashamed of them,
for the expression with which he met Lapham was that
of a man making a desperate appeal in his own cause,
which was identical with that of humanity, if not that
"I some expected," began Rogers, "to find you here----"
"No, you didn't," interrupted Lapham; "you wanted to come
here and make a poor mouth to Mrs. Lapham before I got home."
"I knew that Mrs. Lapham would know what was going on,"
said Rogers more candidly, but not more virtuously,
for that he could not, "and I wished her to understand
a point that I hadn't put to you at the hotel,
and that I want you should consider. And I want you
should consider me a little in this business too;
you're not the only one that's concerned, I tell you,
and I've been telling Mrs. Lapham that it's my one chance;
that if you don't meet me on it, my wife and children will
be reduced to beggary."
"So will mine," said Lapham, "or the next thing to it."
"Well, then, I want you to give me this chance to get
on my feet again. You've no right to deprive me of it;
it's unchristian. In our dealings with each other we should
be guided by the Golden Rule, as I was saying to Mrs. Lapham
before you came in. I told her that if I knew myself, I should
in your place consider the circumstances of a man in mine,
who had honourably endeavoured to discharge his obligations
to me, and had patiently borne my undeserved suspicions.
I should consider that man's family, I told Mrs. Lapham."
"Did you tell her that if I went in with you and those fellows,
I should be robbing the people who trusted them?"
"I don't see what you've got to do with the people
that sent them here. They are rich people, and could
bear it if it came to the worst. But there's
no likelihood, now, that it will come to the worst;
you can see yourself that the Road has changed its mind
about buying. And here am I without a cent in the world;
and my wife is an invalid. She needs comforts, she needs
little luxuries, and she hasn't even the necessaries;
and you want to sacrifice her to a mere idea! You don't know
in the first place that the Road will ever want to buy;
and if it does, the probability is that with a colony
like that planted on its line, it would make very different
terms from what it would with you or me. These agents
are not afraid, and their principals are rich people;
and if there was any loss, it would be divided up amongst
them so that they wouldn't any of them feel it."
Lapham stole a troubled glance at his wife, and saw
that there was no help in her. Whether she was daunted
and confused in her own conscience by the outcome,
so evil and disastrous, of the reparation to Rogers
which she had forced her husband to make, or whether her
perceptions had been blunted and darkened by the appeals
which Rogers had now used, it would be difficult to say.
Probably there was a mixture of both causes in the effect
which her husband felt in her, and from which he turned,
girding himself anew, to Rogers.
"I have no wish to recur to the past," continued Rogers,
with growing superiority. "You have shown a proper spirit
in regard to that, and you have done what you could to wipe
"I should think I had," said Lapham. "I've used up
about a hundred and fifty thousand dollars trying."
"Some of my enterprises," Rogers admitted, "have been
unfortunate, seemingly; but I have hopes that they will
yet turn out well--in time. I can't understand why you
should be so mindful of others now, when you showed
so little regard for me then. I had come to your aid at
a time when you needed help, and when you got on your feet
you kicked me out of the business. I don't complain,
but that is the fact; and I had to begin again, after I
had supposed myself settled in life, and establish myself elsewhere."
Lapham glanced again at his wife; her head had fallen;
he could see that she was so rooted in her old remorse
for that questionable act of his, amply and more than
fully atoned for since, that she was helpless, now in the
crucial moment, when he had the utmost need of her insight.
He had counted upon her; he perceived now that when he had
thought it was for him alone to decide, he had counted upon
her just spirit to stay his own in its struggle to be just.
He had not forgotten how she held out against him only
a little while ago, when he asked her whether he might
not rightfully sell in some such contingency as this;
and it was not now that she said or even looked anything
in favour of Rogers, but that she was silent against him,
which dismayed Lapham. He swallowed the lump that rose
in his throat, the self-pity, the pity for her, the despair,
and said gently, "I guess you better go to bed, Persis.
It's pretty late."
She turned towards the door, when Rogers said, with the
obvious intention of detaining her through her curiosity--
"But I let that pass. And I don't ask now that you
should sell to these men."
Mrs. Lapham paused, irresolute.
"What are you making this bother for, then?" demanded Lapham.
"What DO you want?"
"What I've been telling your wife here. I want you should sell
to me. I don't say what I'm going to do with the property,
and you will not have an iota of responsibility, whatever happens."
Lapham was staggered, and he saw his wife's face light
up with eager question.
"I want that property," continued Rogers, "and I've got
the money to buy it. What will you take for it? If it's
the price you're standing out for----"
"Persis," said Lapham, "go to bed," and he gave her a look
that meant obedience for her. She went out of the door,
and left him with his tempter.
"If you think I'm going to help you whip the devil round
the stump, you're mistaken in your man, Milton Rogers,"
said Lapham, lighting a cigar. "As soon as I sold to you,
you would sell to that other pair of rascals. I smelt 'em
out in half a minute."
"They are Christian gentlemen," said Rogers. "But I
don't purpose defending them; and I don't purpose telling
you what I shall or shall not do with the property
when it is in my hands again. The question is,
Will you sell, and, if so, what is your figure? You
have got nothing whatever to do with it after you've sold."
It was perfectly true. Any lawyer would have told him the same.
He could not help admiring Rogers for his ingenuity,
and every selfish interest of his nature joined with many
obvious duties to urge him to consent. He did not see
why he should refuse. There was no longer a reason.
He was standing out alone for nothing, any one else
would say. He smoked on as if Rogers were not there,
and Rogers remained before the fire as patient as the
clock ticking behind his head on the mantel, and showing
the gleam of its pendulum beyond his face on either side.
But at last he said, "Well?"
"Well," answered Lapham, "you can't expect me to give
you an answer to-night, any more than before. You know
that what you've said now hasn't changed the thing a bit.
I wish it had. The Lord knows, I want to be rid of the
property fast enough." "Then why don't you sell to me?
Can't you see that you will not be responsible for what
happens after you have sold?"
"No, I can't see that; but if I can by morning, I'll sell."
"Why do you expect to know any better by morning?
You're wasting time for nothing!" cried Rogers,
in his disappointment. "Why are you so particular? When
you drove me out of the business you were not so very particular."
Lapham winced. It was certainly ridiculous for man
who had once so selfishly consulted his own interests
to be stickling now about the rights of others.
"I guess nothing's going to happen overnight," he answered
sullenly. "Anyway, I shan't say what I shall do till morning."
"What time can I see you in the morning?"
Rogers buttoned his coat, and went out of the room
without another word. Lapham followed him to close
the street-door after him.
His wife called down to him from above as he approached
the room again, "Well?"
"I've told him I'd let him know in the morning."
"Want I should come down and talk with you?"
"No," answered Lapham, in the proud bitterness which his
isolation brought, "you couldn't do any good." He went
in and shut the door, and by and by his wife heard him
begin walking up and down; and then the rest of the night
she lay awake and listened to him walking up and down.
But when the first light whitened the window, the words
of the Scripture came into her mind: "And there wrestled
a man with him until the breaking of the day.... And
he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said,
I will not let thee go, except thou bless me."
She could not ask him anything when they met, but he
raised his dull eyes after the first silence, and said,
"I don't know what I'm going to say to Rogers."
She could not speak; she did not know what to say,
and she saw her husband when she followed him with her eyes
from the window, drag heavily down toward the corner,
where he was to take, the horse-car.
He arrived rather later than usual at his office, and he
found his letters already on his table. There was one,
long and official-looking, with a printed letter-heading
on the outside, and Lapham had no need to open it in order
to know that it was the offer of the Great Lacustrine &
Polar Railroad for his mills. But he went mechanically
through the verification of his prophetic fear, which was
also his sole hope, and then sat looking blankly at it.
Rogers came promptly at the appointed time, and Lapham handed
him the letter. He must have taken it all in at a glance,
and seen the impossibility of negotiating any further now,
even with victims so pliant and willing as those Englishmen.
"You've ruined me!" Rogers broke out. "I haven't a cent
left in the world! God help my poor wife!"
He went out, and Lapham remained staring at the door
which closed upon him. This was his reward for standing
firm for right and justice to his own destruction:
to feel like a thief and a murderer.
LATER in the forenoon came the despatch from the West Virginians
in New York, saying their brother assented to their agreement;
and it now remained for Lapham to fulfil his part of it.
He was ludicrously far from able to do this; and unless
he could get some extension of time from them, he must
lose this chance, his only chance, to retrieve himself.
He spent the time in a desperate endeavour to raise the money,
but he had not raised the half of it when the banks closed.
With shame in his heart he went to Bellingham, from whom
he had parted so haughtily, and laid his plan before him.
He could not bring himself to ask Bellingham's help,
but he told him what he proposed to do. Bellingham pointed
out that the whole thing was an experiment, and that the
price asked was enormous, unless a great success were
morally certain. He advised delay, he advised prudence;
he insisted that Lapham ought at least to go out to
Kanawha Falls, and see the mines and works before he put
any such sum into the development of the enterprise.
"That's all well enough," cried Lapham; "but if I don't clinch
this offer within twenty-four hours, they'll withdraw it,
and go into the market; and then where am I?"
"Go on and see them again," said Bellingham. "They can't
be so peremptory as that with you. They must give you
time to look at what they want to sell. If it turns
out what you hope, then--I'll see what can be done.
But look into it thoroughly."
"Well!" cried Lapham, helplessly submitting. He took
out his watch, and saw that he had forty minutes to catch
the four o'clock train. He hurried back to his office,
and put together some papers preparatory to going,
and despatched a note by his boy to Mrs. Lapham saying
that he was starting for New York, and did not know just
when he should get back.
The early spring day was raw and cold. As he went out
through the office he saw the clerks at work with their
street-coats and hats on; Miss Dewey had her jacket dragged
up on her shoulders, and looked particularly comfortless
as she operated her machine with her red fingers.
"What's up?" asked Lapham, stopping a moment.
"Seems to be something the matter with the steam,"
she answered, with the air of unmerited wrong habitual
with so many pretty women who have to work for a living.
"Well, take your writer into my room. There's a fire
in the stove there," said Lapham, passing out.
Half an hour later his wife came into the outer office.
She had passed the day in a passion of self-reproach,
gradually mounting from the mental numbness in which he
had left her, and now she could wait no longer to tell him
that she saw how she had forsaken him in his hour of trial
and left him to bear it alone. She wondered at herself
in shame and dismay; she wondered that she could have
been so confused as to the real point by that old wretch
of a Rogers, that she could have let him hoodwink her so,
even for a moment. It astounded her that such a thing
should have happened, for if there was any virtue upon
which this good woman prided herself, in which she
thought herself superior to her husband, it was her
instant and steadfast perception of right and wrong,
and the ability to choose the right to her own hurt.
But she had now to confess, as each of us has had likewise
to confess in his own case, that the very virtue on which she
had prided herself was the thing that had played her false;
that she had kept her mind so long upon that old wrong
which she believed her husband had done this man that she
could not detach it, but clung to the thought of reparation
for it when she ought to have seen that he was proposing
a piece of roguery as the means. The suffering which Lapham
must inflict on him if he decided against him had been
more to her apprehension than the harm he might do if he
decided for him. But now she owned her limitations
to herself, and above everything in the world she wished
the man whom her conscience had roused and driven on
whither her intelligence had not followed, to do right,
to do what he felt to be right, and nothing else.
She admired and revered him for going beyond her,
and she wished to tell him that she did not know what he
had determined to do about Rogers, but that she knew it
was right, and would gladly abide the consequences with him,
whatever they were.
She had not been near his place of business for nearly
a year, and her heart smote her tenderly as she looked
about her there, and thought of the early days when she
knew as much about the paint as he did; she wished that
those days were back again. She saw Corey at his desk,
and she could not bear to speak to him; she dropped
her veil that she need not recognise him, and pushed on
to Lapham's room, and opening the door without knocking,
shut it behind her.
Then she became aware with intolerable disappointment
that her husband was not there. Instead, a very
pretty girl sat at his desk, operating a typewriter.
She seemed quite at home, and she paid Mrs. Lapham
the scant attention which such young women often bestow
upon people not personally interesting to them.
It vexed the wife that any one else should seem to be
helping her husband about business that she had once
been so intimate with; and she did not at all like the
girl's indifference to her presence. Her hat and sack
hung on a nail in one corner, and Lapham's office coat,
looking intensely like him to his wife's familiar eye,
hung on a nail in the other corner; and Mrs. Lapham liked
even less than the girl's good looks this domestication
of her garments in her husband's office. She began to ask
herself excitedly why he should be away from his office
when she happened to come; and she had not the strength
at the moment to reason herself out of her unreasonableness.
"When will Colonel Lapham be in, do you suppose?"
she sharply asked of the girl.
"I couldn't say exactly," replied the girl, without looking round.
"Has he been out long?"
"I don't know as I noticed," said the girl, looking up
at the clock, without looking at Mrs. Lapham. She went
on working her machine.
"Well, I can't wait any longer," said the wife abruptly.
"When Colonel Lapham comes in, you please tell him
Mrs. Lapham wants to see him."
The girl started to her feet and turned toward Mrs. Lapham
with a red and startled face, which she did not lift
to confront her. "Yes--yes--I will," she faltered.
The wife went home with a sense of defeat mixed with an
irritation about this girl which she could not quell
or account for. She found her husband's message,
and it seemed intolerable that he should have gone
to New York without seeing her; she asked herself
in vain what the mysterious business could be that took
him away so suddenly. She said to herself that he was
neglecting her; he was leaving her out a little too much;
and in demanding of herself why he had never mentioned
that girl there in his office, she forgot how much she
had left herself out of his business life. That was
another curse of their prosperity. Well, she was glad
the prosperity was going; it had never been happiness.
After this she was going to know everything as she used.
She tried to dismiss the whole matter till Lapham returned;
and if there had been anything for her to do in that
miserable house, as she called it in her thought,
she might have succeeded. But again the curse was on her;
there was nothing to do; and the looks of that girl
kept coming back to her vacancy, her disoccupation.
She tried to make herself something to do, but that beauty,
which she had not liked, followed her amid the work
of overhauling the summer clothing, which Irene had
seen to putting away in the fall. Who was the thing,
anyway? It was very strange, her being there; why did she
jump up in that frightened way when Mrs. Lapham had named
After dark, that evening, when the question had worn away its
poignancy from mere iteration, a note for Mrs. Lapham was left
at the door by a messenger who said there was no answer.
"A note for me?" she said, staring at the unknown, and somehow
artificial-looking, handwriting of the superscription.
Then she opened it and read: "Ask your husband about
his lady copying-clerk. A Friend and Well-wisher,"
who signed the note, gave no other name.
Mrs. Lapham sat helpless with it in her hand.
Her brain reeled; she tried to fight the madness off;
but before Lapham came back the second morning, it had
become, with lessening intervals of sanity and release,
a demoniacal possession. She passed the night without sleep,
without rest, in the frenzy of the cruellest of the passions,
which covers with shame the unhappy soul it possesses,
and murderously lusts for the misery of its object.
If she had known where to find her husband in New York,
she would have followed him; she waited his return in
an ecstasy of impatience. In the morning he came back,
looking spent and haggard. She saw him drive up to the door,
and she ran to let him in herself.
"Who is that girl you've got in your office, Silas Lapham?"
she demanded, when her husband entered.
"Girl in my office?"
"Yes! Who is she? What is she doing there?"
"Why, what have you heard about her?"
"Never you mind what I've heard. Who is she? IS IT MRS.
M. THAT YOU GAVE THAT MONEY TO? I want to know who she
is! I want to know what a respectable man, with grown-up
girls of his own, is doing with such a looking thing
as that in his office? I want to know how long she's been
there? I want to know what she's there at all for?"
He had mechanically pushed her before him into the long,
darkened parlour, and he shut himself in there with her now,
to keep the household from hearing her lifted voice.
For a while he stood bewildered, and could not have answered
if he would, and then he would not. He merely asked,
"Have I ever accused you of anything wrong, Persis?"
"You no need to!" she answered furiously, placing herself
against the closed door.
"Did you ever know me to do anything out of the way?"
"That isn't what I asked you."
"Well, I guess you may find out about that girl yourself.
Get away from the door."
"I won't get away from the door."
She felt herself set lightly aside, and her husband opened
the door and went out. "I WILL find out about her,"
she screamed after him. "I'll find out, and I'll
disgrace you. I'll teach you how to treat me----"
The air blackened round her: she reeled to the sofa
and then she found herself waking from a faint.
She did not know how long she had lain there, she did
not care. In a moment her madness came whirling back
upon her. She rushed up to his room; it was empty;
the closet-doors stood ajar and the drawers were open;
he must have packed a bag hastily and fled. She went out
and wandered crazily up and down till she found a hack.
She gave the driver her husband's business address,
and told him to drive there as fast as he could;
and three times she lowered the window to put her head
out and ask him if he could not hurry. A thousand things
thronged into her mind to support her in her evil will.
She remembered how glad and proud that man had been
to marry her, and how everybody said she was marrying
beneath her when she took him. She remembered how good
she had always been to him, how perfectly devoted,
slaving early and late to advance him, and looking out for his
interests in all things, and sparing herself in nothing.
If it had not been for her, he might have been driving
stage yet; and since their troubles had begun, the troubles
which his own folly and imprudence had brought on them,
her conduct had been that of a true and faithful wife.
Was HE the sort of man to be allowed to play her false
with impunity? She set her teeth and drew her breath sharply
through them when she thought how willingly she had let him
befool her, and delude her about that memorandum of payments
to Mrs. M., because she loved him so much, and pitied him
for his cares and anxieties. She recalled his confusion,
his guilty looks.
She plunged out of the carriage so hastily when she reached
the office that she did not think of paying the driver;
and he had to call after her when she had got half-way
up the stairs. Then she went straight to Lapham's room,
with outrage in her heart. There was again no one there
but that type-writer girl; she jumped to her feet in a fright,
as Mrs. Lapham dashed the door to behind her and flung up
The two women confronted each other.
"Why, the good land!" cried Mrs. Lapham, "ain't you
"I--I'm married," faltered the girl "My name's Dewey, now."
"You're Jim Millon's daughter, anyway. How long have you
"I haven't been here regularly; I've been here off
and on ever since last May."
"Where's your mother?"
"She's here--in Boston."
Mrs. Lapham kept her eyes on the girl, but she dropped,
trembling, into her husband's chair, and a sort of amaze
and curiosity were in her voice instead of the fury
she had meant to put there.
"The Colonel," continued Zerrilla, "he's been helping us,
and he's got me a type-writer, so that I can help myself
a little. Mother's doing pretty well now; and when Hen
isn't around we can get along."
"That your husband?"
"I never wanted to marry him; but he promised to try to
get something to do on shore; and mother was all for it,
because he had a little property then, and I thought
may be I'd better. But it's turned out just as I said
and if he don't stay away long enough this time to let me
get the divorce,--he's agreed to it, time and again,--I
don't know what we're going to do." Zerrilla's voice fell,
and the trouble which she could keep out of her face usually,
when she was comfortably warmed and fed and prettily dressed,
clouded it in the presence of a sympathetic listener.
"I saw it was you, when you came in the other day,"
she went on; "but you didn't seem to know me. I suppose
the Colonel's told you that there's a gentleman going
to marry me--Mr. Wemmel's his name--as soon as I get
the divorce; but sometimes I'm completely discouraged;
it don't seem as if I ever could get it."
Mrs. Lapham would not let her know that she was
ignorant of the fact attributed to her knowledge.
She remained listening to Zerrilla, and piecing out
the whole history of her presence there from the facts
of the past, and the traits of her husband's character.
One of the things she had always had to fight him about
was that idea of his that he was bound to take care of Jim
Millon's worthless wife and her child because Millon had
got the bullet that was meant for him. It was a perfect
superstition of his; she could not beat it out of him;
but she had made him promise the last time he had done
anything for that woman that it should BE the last time.
He had then got her a little house in one of the fishing ports,
where she could take the sailors to board and wash for,
and earn an honest living if she would keep straight.
That was five or six years ago, and Mrs. Lapham had heard
nothing of Mrs. Millon since; she had heard quite enough
of her before; and had known her idle and baddish ever
since she was the worst little girl at school in Lumberville,
and all through her shameful girlhood, and the married days
which she had made so miserable to the poor fellow who had
given her his decent name and a chance to behave herself.
Mrs. Lapham had no mercy on Moll Millon, and she had
quarrelled often enough with her husband for befriending her.
As for the child, if the mother would put Zerrilla out
with some respectable family, that would be ONE thing;
but as long as she kept Zerrilla with her, she was against
letting her husband do anything for either of them.
He had done ten times as much for them now as he had any
need to, and she had made him give her his solemn word
that he would do no more. She saw now that she was wrong
to make him give it, and that he must have broken it
again and again for the reason that he had given when she
once scolded him for throwing away his money on that
"When I think of Jim Millon, I've got to; that 's all."
She recalled now that whenever she had brought up the subject
of Mrs. Millon and her daughter, he had seemed shy of it,
and had dropped it with some guess that they were getting
along now. She wondered that she had not thought at once
of Mrs. Millon when she saw that memorandum about Mrs. M.;
but the woman had passed so entirely out of her life,
that she had never dreamt of her in connection with it.
Her husband had deceived her, yet her heart was no
longer hot against him, but rather tenderly grateful
that his deceit was in this sort, and not in that other.
All cruel and shameful doubt of him went out of it.
She looked at this beautiful girl, who had blossomed
out of her knowledge since she saw her last, and she
knew that she was only a blossomed weed, of the same
worthless root as her mother, and saved, if saved,
from the same evil destiny, by the good of her father in her;
but so far as the girl and her mother were concerned,
Mrs. Lapham knew that her husband was to blame for nothing
but his wilful, wrong-headed, kind-heartedness, which her own
exactions had turned into deceit. She remained a while,
questioning the girl quietly about herself and her mother,
and then, with a better mind towards Zerrilla, at least,
than she had ever had before, she rose up and went out.
There must have been some outer hint of the exhaustion in
which the subsidence of her excitement had left her within,
for before she had reached the head of the stairs, Corey came
"Can I be of any use to you, Mrs. Lapham? The Colonel
was here just before you came in, on his way to the train."
"Yes,--yes. I didn't know--I thought perhaps I could catch
him here. But it don't matter. I wish you would let
some one go with me to get a carriage," she begged feebly.
"I'll go with you myself," said the young fellow,
ignoring the strangeness in her manner. He offered her
his arm in the twilight of the staircase, and she was glad
to put her trembling hand through it, and keep it there
till he helped her into a hack which he found for her.
He gave the driver her direction, and stood looking
a little anxiously at her.
"I thank you; I am all right now," she said, and he bade
the man drive on.
When she reached home she went to bed, spent with the tumult
of her emotions and sick with shame and self-reproach.
She understood now, as clearly as if he had told
her in as many words, that if he had befriended those
worthless jades--the Millons characterised themselves so,
even to Mrs. Lapham's remorse--secretly and in defiance
of her, it was because he dreaded her blame, which was
so sharp and bitter, for what he could not help doing.
It consoled her that he had defied her, deceived her;
when he came back she should tell him that; and then it
flashed upon her that she did not know where he was gone,
or whether he would ever come again. If he never came,
it would be no more than she deserved; but she sent
for Penelope, and tried to give herself hopes of escape from
this just penalty.
Lapham had not told his daughter where he was going;
she had heard him packing his bag, and had offered to help him;
but he had said he could do it best, and had gone off,
as he usually did, without taking leave of any one.
"What were you talking about so loud, down in the parlour,"
she asked her mother, "just before he came up. Is there
any new trouble?"
"No; it was nothing."
"I couldn't tell. Once I thought you were laughing."
She went about, closing the curtains on account of her
mother's headache, and doing awkwardly and imperfectly
the things that Irene would have done so skilfully for
The day wore away to nightfall, and then Mrs. Lapham said
she MUST know. Penelope said there was no one to ask;
the clerks would all be gone home, and her mother said yes,
there was Mr. Corey; they could send and ask him;
he would know.
The girl hesitated. "Very well," she said, then, scarcely
above a whisper, and she presently laughed huskily.
"Mr. Corey seems fated to come in, somewhere. I guess
it's a Providence, mother."
She sent off a note, inquiring whether he could tell
her just where her father had expected to be that night;
and the answer came quickly back that Corey did not know,
but would look up the book-keeper and inquire.
This office brought him in person, an hour later, to tell
Penelope that the Colonel was to be at Lapham that night
and next day.
"He came in from New York, in a great hurry, and rushed
off as soon as he could pack his bag," Penelope explained,
"and we hadn't a chance to ask him where he was to be
to-night. And mother wasn't very well, and----"
"I thought she wasn't looking well when she was at the office
to-day. And so I thought I would come rather than send,"
Corey explained in his turn.
"Oh, thank you!"
"If there is anything I can do--telegraph Colonel Lapham,
"Oh no, thank you; mother's better now. She merely
wanted to be sure where he was."
He did not offer to go, upon this conclusion of his business,
but hoped he was not keeping her from her mother.
She thanked him once again, and said no, that her mother
was much better since she had had a cup of tea; and then
they looked at each other, and without any apparent exchange
of intelligence he remained, and at eleven o'clock he
was still there. He was honest in saying he did not know
it was so late; but he made no pretence of being sorry,
and she took the blame to herself.
"I oughtn't to have let you stay," she said. "But with
father gone, and all that trouble hanging over us----"
She was allowing him to hold her hand a moment at the door,
to which she had followed him.
"I'm so glad you could let me!" he said, "and I want to ask
you now when I may come again. But if you need me, you'll----"
A sharp pull at the door-bell outside made them start asunder,
and at a sign from Penelope, who knew that the maids
were abed by this time, he opened it.
"Why, Irene!" shrieked the girl.
Irene entered with the hackman, who had driven her unheard
to the door, following with her small bags, and kissed
her sister with resolute composure. "That's all," she said
to the hackman. "I gave my checks to the expressman,"
she explained to Penelope.
Corey stood helpless. Irene turned upon him, and gave
him her hand. "How do you do, Mr. Corey?" she said,
with a courage that sent a thrill of admiring gratitude
through him. "Where's mamma, Pen? Papa gone to bed?"
Penelope faltered out some reply embodying the facts,
and Irene ran up the stairs to her mother's room.
Mrs. Lapham started up in bed at her apparition.
"Uncle William thought he ought to tell me the trouble
papa was in; and did you think I was going to stay off
there junketing, while you were going through all this
at home, and Pen acting so silly, too? You ought to have
been ashamed to let me stay so long! I started just as soon
as I could pack. Did you get my despatch? I telegraphed
from Springfield. But it don't matter, now. Here I am.
And I don't think I need have hurried on Pen's account,"
she added, with an accent prophetic of the sort of old maid
she would become, if she happened not to marry.
"Did you see him?" asked her mother. "It's the first
time he's been here since she told him he mustn't come."
"I guess it isn't the last time, by the looks," said Irene,
and before she took off her bonnet she began to undo
some of Penelope's mistaken arrangements of the room.
At breakfast, where Corey and his mother met the next morning
before his father and sisters came down, he told her,
with embarrassment which told much more, that he wished
now that she would go and call upon the Laphams.
Mrs. Corey turned a little pale, but shut her lips tight
and mourned in silence whatever hopes she had lately
permitted herself. She answered with Roman fortitude:
"Of course, if there's anything between you and Miss Lapham,
your family ought to recognise it."
"Yes," said Corey.
"You were reluctant to have me call at first, but now
if the affair is going on----"
"It is! I hope--yes, it is!"
"Then I ought to go and see her, with your sisters;
and she ought to come here and--we ought all to see her
and make the matter public. We can't do so too soon.
It will seem as if we were ashamed if we don't."
"Yes, you are quite right, mother," said the young
man gratefully, "and I feel how kind and good you are.
I have tried to consider you in this matter, though I
don't seem to have done so; I know what your rights are,
and I wish with all my heart that I were meeting even your
tastes perfectly. But I know you will like her when you come
to know her. It's been very hard for her every way--about
her sister,--and she's made a great sacrifice for me.
She's acted nobly."
Mrs. Corey, whose thoughts cannot always be reported,
said she was sure of it, and that all she desired was her
"She's been very unwilling to consider it an engagement on
that account, and on account of Colonel Lapham's difficulties.
I should like to have you go, now, for that very reason.
I don't know just how serious the trouble is; but it isn't
a time when we can seem indifferent."
The logic of this was not perhaps so apparent to
the glasses of fifty as to the eyes of twenty-six;
but Mrs. Corey, however she viewed it, could not allow
herself to blench before the son whom she had taught
that to want magnanimity was to be less than gentlemanly.
She answered, with what composure she could, "I will take
your sisters," and then she made some natural inquiries about
Lapham's affairs. "Oh, I hope it will come out all right,"
Corey said, with a lover's vague smile, and left her.
When his father came down, rubbing his long hands together,
and looking aloof from all the cares of the practical world,
in an artistic withdrawal, from which his eye ranged over
the breakfast-table before he sat down, Mrs. Corey told
him what she and their son had been saying.
He laughed, with a delicate impersonal appreciation
of the predicament. "Well, Anna, you can't say but if
you ever were guilty of supposing yourself porcelain,
this is a just punishment of your arrogance. Here you
are bound by the very quality on which you've prided
yourself to behave well to a bit of earthenware who is
apparently in danger of losing the gilding that rendered
"We never cared for the money," said Mrs. Corey.
"You know that."
"No; and now we can't seem to care for the loss of it.
That would be still worse. Either horn of the dilemma
gores us. Well, we still have the comfort we had in
the beginning; we can't help ourselves; and we should only
make bad worse by trying. Unless we can look to Tom's
inamorata herself for help."
Mrs. Corey shook her head so gloomily that her husband
broke off with another laugh. But at the continued trouble
of her face, he said, sympathetically: "My dear, I know
it's a very disagreeable affair; and I don't think either
of us has failed to see that it was so from the beginning.
I have had my way of expressing my sense of it, and you yours,
but we have always been of the same mind about it.
We would both have preferred to have Tom marry in his
own set; the Laphams are about the last set we could have
wished him to marry into. They ARE uncultivated people,
and so far as I have seen them, I'm not able to believe
that poverty will improve them. Still, it may.
Let us hope for the best, and let us behave as well as we
know how. I'm sure YOU will behave well, and I shall try.
I'm going with you to call on Miss Lapham. This is a thing
that can't be done by halves!"
He cut his orange in the Neapolitan manner, and ate it
IRENE did not leave her mother in any illusion concerning
her cousin Will and herself. She said they had all been
as nice to her as they could be, and when Mrs. Lapham
hinted at what had been in her thoughts,--or her hopes,
rather,--Irene severely snubbed the notion. She said that he
was as good as engaged to a girl out there, and that he had
never dreamt of her. Her mother wondered at her severity;
in these few months the girl had toughened and hardened;
she had lost all her babyish dependence and pliability;
she was like iron; and here and there she was sharpened
to a cutting edge. It had been a life and death struggle
with her; she had conquered, but she had also necessarily
lost much. Perhaps what she had lost was not worth keeping;
but at any rate she had lost it.
She required from her mother a strict and accurate account
of her father's affairs, so far as Mrs Lapham knew them;
and she showed a business-like quickness in comprehending
them that Penelope had never pretended to. With her sister
she ignored the past as completely as it was possible to do;
and she treated both Corey and Penelope with the justice
which their innocence of voluntary offence deserved.
It was a difficult part, and she kept away from them
as much as she could. She had been easily excused,
on a plea of fatigue from her journey, when Mr. and
Mrs. Corey had called the day after her arrival,
and Mrs. Lapham being still unwell, Penelope received
The girl had instinctively judged best that they should know
the worst at once, and she let them have the full brunt
of the drawing-room, while she was screwing her courage
up to come down and see them. She was afterwards--months
afterwards--able to report to Corey that when she entered
the room his father was sitting with his hat on his knees,
a little tilted away from the Emancipation group, as if he
expected the Lincoln to hit him, with that lifted hand
of benediction; and that Mrs. Corey looked as if she
were not sure but the Eagle pecked. But for the time
being Penelope was as nearly crazed as might be by the
complications of her position, and received her visitors
with a piteous distraction which could not fail of
touching Bromfield Corey's Italianised sympatheticism.
He was very polite and tender with her at first, and ended
by making a joke with her, to which Penelope responded,
in her sort. He said he hoped they parted friends,
if not quite acquaintances; and she said she hoped they
would be able to recognise each other if they ever met again.
"That is what I meant by her pertness," said Mrs Corey,
when they were driving away.
"Was it very pert?" he queried. "The child had to answer something."
"I would much rather she had answered nothing,
under the circumstances," said Mrs. Corey. "However!" she
added hopelessly. "Oh, she's a merry little grig, you can
see that, and there's no harm in her. I can understand
a little why a formal fellow like Tom should be taken
with her. She hasn't the least reverence, I suppose,
and joked with the young man from the beginning.
You must remember, Anna, that there was a time when you
liked my joking."
"It was a very different thing!"
"But that drawing-room," pursued Corey; "really, I don't
see how Tom stands that. Anna, a terrible thought occurs
to me! Fancy Tom being married in front of that group,
with a floral horse-shoe in tuberoses coming down on either
side of it!"
"Bromfield!" cried his wife, "you are unmerciful."
"No, no, my dear," he argued; "merely imaginative.
And I can even imagine that little thing finding Tom
just the least bit slow, at times, if it were not for
his goodness. Tom is so kind that I'm convinced he
sometimes feels your joke in his heart when his head
isn't quite clear about it. Well, we will not despond,
"Your father seemed actually to like her," Mrs. Corey
reported to her daughters, very much shaken in her own
prejudices by the fact. If the girl were not so offensive
to his fastidiousness, there might be some hope that
she was not so offensive as Mrs. Corey had thought.
"I wonder how she will strike YOU," she concluded,
looking from one daughter to another, as if trying
to decide which of them would like Penelope least.
Irene's return and the visit of the Coreys formed
a distraction for the Laphams in which their impending
troubles seemed to hang further aloof; but it was only
one of those reliefs which mark the course of adversity,
and it was not one of the cheerful reliefs. At any
other time, either incident would have been an anxiety
and care for Mrs. Lapham which she would have found hard
to bear; but now she almost welcomed them. At the end
of three days Lapham returned, and his wife met him as if
nothing unusual had marked their parting; she reserved
her atonement for a fitter time; he would know now from
the way she acted that she felt all right towards him.
He took very little note of her manner, but met his family
with an austere quiet that puzzled her, and a sort of
pensive dignity that refined his rudeness to an effect
that sometimes comes to such natures after long sickness,
when the animal strength has been taxed and lowered.
He sat silent with her at the table after their girls
had left them alone, and seeing that he did not mean
to speak, she began to explain why Irene had come home,
and to praise her.
"Yes, she done right," said Lapham. "It was time
for her to come," he added gently.
Then he was silent again, and his wife told him of Corey's
having been there, and of his father's and mother's calling.
"I guess Pen's concluded to make it up," she said.
"Well, we'll see about that," said Lapham; and now she
could no longer forbear to ask him about his affairs.
"I don't know as I've got any right to know anything
about it," she said humbly, with remote allusion to her
treatment of him. "But I can't help wanting to know.
How ARE things going, Si?"
"Bad," he said, pushing his plate from him, and tilting
himself back in his chair. "Or they ain't going at all.
"What do you mean, Si?" she persisted, tenderly.
"I've got to the end of my string. To-morrow I shall call
a meeting of my creditors, and put myself in their hands.
If there's enough left to satisfy them, I'm satisfied."
His voice dropped in his throat; he swallowed once or twice,
and then did not speak.
"Do you mean that it's all over with you?" she asked fearfully.
He bowed his big head, wrinkled and grizzled; and after
awhile he said, "It's hard to realise it; but I guess
there ain't any doubt about it." He drew a long breath,
and then he explained to her about the West Virginia people,
and how he had got an extension of the first time they had
given him, and had got a man to go up to Lapham with him
and look at the works,--a man that had turned up in New York,
and wanted to put money in the business. His money would
have enabled Lapham to close with the West Virginians.
"The devil was in it, right straight along," said Lapham.
"All I had to do was to keep quiet about that other company.
It was Rogers and his property right over again. He liked
the look of things, and he wanted to go into the business,
and he had the money--plenty; it would have saved me with those
West Virginia folks. But I had to tell him how I stood.
I had to tell him all about it, and what I wanted to do.
He began to back water in a minute, and the next morning I
saw that it was up with him. He's gone back to New York.
I've lost my last chance. Now all I've got to do is to save
"Will--will--everything go?" she asked.
"I can't tell, yet. But they shall have a chance at
everything--every dollar, every cent. I'm sorry for you,
Persis--and the girls."