The Rise of Silas Lapham Chapter 1
After the reporter from the newspaper had finished interviewing him, Silas Lapham dropped the young man off at the Events office in Boston (Massachusetts) and drove on down Washington Street toward Nankeen Square.
The interview appeared in the Events the next morning as one in the Solid Men of Boston series, and, as might be expected, proved very flattering to Mr. Lapham. It placed emphasis on his early struggles and told how he had converted what was originally a simple paint mine on his father’s farm into the source of a paint business which at present was of worldwide proportions. The article gave various personal details about Mr. Lapham: he was, and always had been, it said, a Republican. He had taken part in the Civil War and had been made a colonel in the army of the North. He was a deeply religious man and regularly attended the Rev. Dr. Langworthy’s church though it might be added that he seemed to keep a part of his religious feeling for his paint, in which he believed with all his heart and soul. The article ended by mentioning that Colonel Lapham was then building a new home on the water side of Beacon Street which, when completed, would be one of the finest houses on that very exclusive avenue.
It was in the general direction of this new house that Lapham was now driving, though he had first to go to Nankeen Square to pick up Mrs. Lapham who was waiting there at home for him. The Laphams had lived in Nankeen Square for many years, ever since the mistaken movement of Boston society in that direction had stopped. Lapham had not built there but had bought a house already built from a frightened gentleman of good family who discovered that this South End of Boston was not the place to live; and who, in his desire to get back to the Back Bay section, threw in his curtains and furniture for almost nothing. Mrs. Lapham was even better satisfied with the cheap price at which they had bought than the colonel himself, and so they had lived happily in this house in Nankeen Square for the past twelve years.
The fact that the better families of Boston lived in another section of the city did not concern them at all. They were hardly aware of this situation until the summer before this story opens, when Mrs. Lapham and her daughter Irene had met some other Bostonians, who served to bring it to their attention. They were people a mother and her two daughters whom chance had brought under some obligation to the Lapham ladies. While they were visiting, during the summer, at a small watering-place in Canada, just below Quebec, the mother was taken violently ill. Their trunks had gotten lost, their son and brother was not expected to join them for another dav or two. In this situation Mrs. Lapham, who with Irene was staying at the same place, came to their help, and with her skill as a nurse, and her usual kindness of heart, took care of the sick woman, a Mrs. Corey by name. She also lent the Coreys some of her own and her daughter’s clothes. When a doctor finally came he said that but for Mrs. Lapham’s care, the lady would hardly have lived.
A certain friendship naturally followed upon these events, and when the son arrived he was even more grateful than the others. Mrs. Lapham could not understand why he should pay as much attention to her as to Irene, but she compared him with other young men she knew and thought him nicer than any of them. The fact was that she knew few young men with whom to compare him because, despite her husband’s wealth and importance as a businessman in Boston, the Laphams had not had any social life. Their first years of married life were given to careful getting, on Lapham’s part, and careful saving on his wife’s. Suddenly the money began to come in so freely that they did not know what to do with it. A certain amount could be spent on horses, and Lapham spent it; his wife spent money on rich and rather ugly clothes, and on various furnishings for the house. They occasionally went on trips; they gave with both hands to the church and to all the charities they became acquainted with but they did not know how to spend on society. Mrs. Lapham sometimes entertained a few neighbors or friends from her church; Lapham now and then brought home a business customer to what he called “potluck” but neither of them imagined society dinners.
Their two daughters had gone to the public schools. They had not got on as fast as some of the other girls, so that they were a year behind in finishing grammar school, where Lapham thought that they had received education enough. His wife was of a different mind; she would have liked them to go to some private school for their finishing. But Irene did not care for study she preferred housekeeping; and both girls were afraid of being looked down upon by the other girls, who would be of a different kind from those they had known in grammar school.
The older daughter, Penelope, was a somewhat better student than Irene, yet she had her own particular tastes as to
what studying or reading she cared to do’. She brought many books home from the public library the family was surprised at the number she read, and rather proud of it. She also went to lectures on various subjects, held in the church meeting rooms, and usually came home with a humorous report on them. She could make fun of nearly everything. Irene complained that she frightened away the young men whom they got acquainted with at the dancing school parties which they occasionally attended.
Neither daughter was very much interested in needlework. Irene spent a great deal of time shopping for herself and her mother, of whom both girls were extremely fond. They bought her many little presents out of their pin money and gave her dresses far beyond her ability to wear. Irene herself dressed very well and always in the latest fashion, although this was very innocent on her part and without any particular purpose. It just happened that she had a good sense of style. Her older sister Penelope, on the other hand, had very simple tastes, and if she had done only as she liked, would probably have paid little attention to clothes.
The whole Lapham family, in effect, led a very quiet and limited social life. The mother and daughters often sat hours together discussing what they saw out of the window. During the summer they generally followed the custom of most Boston people of means and went into the mountains for a few months but without enjoying themselves particularly. At the various small hotels where they stayed they did not know how to put themselves forward, and, in any case, were not greatly interested in doing so, for they had that rather contented manner of living within themselves that is to be observed in many families.
The older daughter apparently did not care for society at all. Irene, who was three years younger than Penelope, was not yet quite old enough to be ambitious for it. Irene was an unusually beautiful girl but still as innocent in manner as' a flower and wholly unconscious of her great beauty. She depended for all her opinions, almost her sensations, upon her mother and sister. It was only when she met young Mr. Corey in Canada, the son of the woman whom Mrs. Lapham had helped, that she began to think a little about herself and to form ideas other than those gained from her immediate family. She took note of everything young Corey did or said, thought about it, and tried to make out exactly what he meant by each word and gesture.
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
1. What were some of the facts about Silas Lapham that were
given in the newspaper interview?
Where was Lapham building a new house?
Where had the Laphams lived for many years? Why were they satisfied with this house?
How had Mrs. Lapham met the Coreys?
Why did Mrs. Lapham think that young Corey was a nice young man?
Why had the Laphams not had any social life?
What kind of education had the Lapham daughters had?
What was Penelope Lapham like?
What was Irene Lapham like?
What did the mother and daughters do for amusement?
What effect did young Corey have on Irene?
Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
proportion drop him off
exclusive drive on
society take part in
lend at all
grateful be taken ill
charity now and then
grammar make fun of
lecture pay attention to
Some of the things that young Tom Corey partly said, partly looked, Irene reported to her mother, and they both talked them over, as they did everything connected with any new acquaintance they made. Later, when they returned home, Mrs. Lapham offered all the facts, including her own opinions, to her husband and discussed them again with him.
At first, Mr. Lapham seemed to regard the whole affair as of small importance, but Mrs. Lapham felt that she must insist that he give it the consideration it deserved.
“Well, I can tell you,” Mrs. Lapham said, “that if you think they were not the nicest people one could ever meet, you’re greatly mistaken. They had about the best manners; and they had been everywhere and knew everything. I felt as if we had always lived in the back woods. And the son well, I can’t express it, Silas! But that young man had about perfect ways.”
“And he seemed interested in Irene?” asked the colonel.
“How can I tell? He seemed just as much interested in me. Anyway, he paid me as much attention as he did Irene. Perhaps it’s more the way, now, to notice the mother than it used to be.”
Lapham did not answer this, but simply asked who the people were.
Mrs. Lapham repeated their name. “Do you know them? What business is he in?” she then asked.
“I guess he ain’t* in anything,” said Lapham.
“They were very nice,” said Mrs. Lapham.
“They should be,” returned the colonel. “Never done anything else.”
“They didn’t seem stuck up,” insisted his wife.
“They’d no need to be -with you. I could buy and sell them twice over.”
This answer satisfied Mrs. Lapham with the facts in the case rather than with her husband’s business success. “Well, I guess I wouldn’t boast, Silas,” she said.
In the winter, Mrs. Corey and her two daughters came to call upon Mrs. Lapham one day. They were again very polite. But the mother let drop, in excusing themselves for calling so late in the afternoon, that the driver of their carriage had not known the way exactly.
“Nearly all our friends live on the New Land or on the Hill,” said Mrs. Corey.
There was a sharp point in this that continued to irritate Mrs. Lapham even after her visitors had left. Later, she told
* Ain’t is a corruption of is not, am not, are not, etc., frequently used by people of little education or little training in grammar.
her husband about the visit, mentioning in particular the fact that Mrs. Corey had remarked that she had never been in'this part of town before.
“Oh, well, it’s fair all around,” said Mr. Lapham. “They don’t have much business down this way and we don’t trouble the Hill or the New Land.”
“But we know where those sections are at least,” said his wife,
“Yes,”' he agreed. “7 knew very well where they are. I’ve got a lot over on the Back Bay.”
“You have?” she asked eagerly.
“Want me to build on it?” he asked with a slow smile.
“No, I guess we can get along here for a while.”
This was at night. In the morning, however, Mrs. Lapham added, “I suppose we ought to do the best that we can for the children.”
“I supposed we always had,” said her husband.
‘‘Yes,” Mrs. Lapham admitted, “but if the girls are going to keep on living in Boston and marry here, I suppose we ought to try to get them into society; we ought to do something.” “Well, who’s ever done more for their children than we have?” Lapham insisted. “They go everywhere and have everything they want. Don’t they dress just as you say? I don’t know what you mean. Why don’t you get them into society? There’s money enough.”
“There’s got to be something besides money, I guess,” Mrs. Lapham answered a little sadly. “I don’t believe we did the proper thing about their schooling; we should have put them in some school where they could have met the right city girls who would have helped them along.”
“Well, it’s too late to think about that now,” Silas answered. “We’ve always gone our own way without thinking too much about the future. We ought to have gone out more and had people come to the house. Nobody comes.”
“Is that my fault? I always make people welcome,” Silas insisted. “Why don’t you begin to invite company now? If it’s for the girls, I don’t care if you have the house full all the time.” “I don’t know whom to ask,” she admitted. “We’ve kept our country ways. You’ve had to work so hard, and then your success came so suddenly that we didn’t have a chance to learn. It’s just the same with Irene’s looks she was such a plain child and, all at once, she’s become so pretty. As long as Pen didn’t seem to care for society I didn’t think much about it. But it’s going to be different with Irene. I believe we’re in the wrong neighborhood here.”
“Well,” said the colonel, “there ain’t a prettier lot on the Back Bay than mine. It’s on the water side of Beacon Street and it’s twenty-eight feet wide and a hundred and fifty deep. Let’s build on it.”
Mrs. Lapham was silent a while. Then she said, “We’ve always gotten along well enough here; I guess we’d better stay.” Later at breakfast, Mrs. Lapham said casually to her daughters, “Girls, how would you like to have your father build on the New Land?”
The girls answered that they didn’t know. It was more convenient to the horse cars where they were. Nothing more was then said of the matter.
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
1. How did the Coreys make Mrs. Lapham feel?
Why wasn’t Mr. Lapham particularly impressed with what his wife told him about the Coreys?
What excuse did the Coreys make for calling late?
What did Mr. Lapham say that he owned?
The next morning, what did Mrs. Lapham think that they should do?
Why did Mrs. Lapham think they hadn’t done everything they could for the girls?
Why didn’t Mrs. Lapham know whom to invite to visit?
What was her special problem with Irene?
What was Colonel Lapham’s lot like?
10. What was the girls’ reaction to building a new house?
Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your
irritate looks call up
ought talk over ı guess so
neighborhood call on have to