The Rise of Silas Lapham Chapter-12
The next month or two were difficult ones for Lapham. His business affairs grew steadily worse. The English parties which Rogers had promised to produce within twenty-four hours did not appear. Although they did come to Lapham’s office a few weeks later, and expressed interest in buying the mills, Lapham, true to his promise to his wife, told them the whole story of the control which the G. L. & P. railroad held over the properties, and of the probable effect of this control, if the railroad wished to exercise it, on the future value of the mills. As a result, the deal fell through. Lapham, during these months, grew thin and old. Both at home and in the office he was restless and ill-humored. Certainly, fortune seemed to have turned against him, and he had reason enough for such an attitude.
There were, of course, brighter days and moments as well as dark ones. He sold all of the stock given him as security by Rogers, realizing whatever he could on it. Now and then some firm who owed him money paid him something on account, and he gained further relief. Thus he passed one crisis after another, and often it seemed as though he might pull out of his difficulties.
Irene wrote regularly. She did not say much about herself she gave news of her uncle’s family and of friends whom she met or visited. She seemed to be adjusting herself gradually to her situation and to be somewhat more cheerful. Mr. and Mrs. Lapham were glad that she was away, for, not knowing any thing of their present problems, she was saved at least this additional worry.
Mrs. Lapham had told Penelope about her father’s financial problems, and the girl had reacted immediately, setting aside her own less important troubles in favor of those of her parents. Lapham had little to do with Corey during this time. He did not know how Penelope had arranged it with Tom. His wife said she knew no more than he did, and he did not like to ask the girl herself, especially as Corey no longer came to the house. But he saw that Penelope too was more cheerful in manner than she had been, and was ready to help in everything. He often took letters and reports home now at night to work on. He gave Penelope figures to work at. Mrs. Lapham went to bed and left the two of them sitting up until very late at night, struggling with different problems. Some nights Mrs. Lapham could hear them going out together, and then she lay awake waiting for their return from their long walks. She was pleased that Penelope was proving to be such a comfort to her father during this difficult period.
Lapham’s financial position had become so serious that he finally decided to sell the new house. This was a great sacrifice, because so many of his dreams were wrapped up in the building of this house. Yet there seemed to be no other course open to him.
“The new house has got to go,” he said sadly one night to his wife, after he had turned the matter over in his mind.
Mrs. Lapham did not say anything immediately. She knew that the work on the house had been stopped since the beginning of the year, Lapham having given orders to the architect to wait until the summer before beginning again. Her heart was heavy for her husband. She knew how he felt about the matter, yet she dared not tell him so.
“And I’ve sent orders to shut down the works,” he added.
“Shut down the works!” she repeated. This news shocked her even more than the thought of giving up the house. She could not take it in. The fire at the works had never been out since it was first lighted, and she knew how her husband had prided himself on this fact, how he had boasted of it so often to every listener, as one more proof of his great business success.
“Oh, Silas!” she cried.
“What’s the use?” he said. “I saw it was coming a month ago. There are some fellows out in West Virginia that have been producing paint as fast as they can. They used to put their paint on the market raw; but recently they got to baking it. Now they’ve struck a vein of natural gas right by their works, and they pay ten cents for fuel, where I pay a dollar, and they make just as good a paint. Anyone can see where it’s going to end. Besides, the market is overstocked. There wasn’t anything to do but shut down, and I’ve shut down.”
“I don’t know what’s going to become of the workers in the middle of winter this way,” said Mrs. Lapham weakly, as she tried to struggle with the idea of the financial ruin that seemed to face her husband and her family.
“I don’t care what becomes of the hands,” cried Lapham. “They’ve shared my luck; now let them share the other thing. If you’re so sorry for the hands, I wish you’d keep a little of your pity for me. Don’t you know what shutting down the works means to me?”
“Yes, I certainly do, Silas,” said his wife tenderly, as her husband rose and went into the living room, where he sat himself before the usual pile of papers and reports which he now brought home from the office every night.
They did not discuss the matter any more that evening. The next morning, on his way to the office, Silas went to see a real estate dealer about selling the new house. The dealer said that it was a pretty dull time in real estate, and Lapham said yes, he knew that, but he should not want to sell at a sacrifice; and he did not care to have the dealer name him, or describe the house, unless the parties meant business. The dealer remarked humorously that he had a half dozen houses on the water side of Beacon Street on the same terms that nobody wanted to be named, or have his property described.
It did, in fact, comfort Lapham a little to find himself in the same boat with so many others. He smiled at the dealer and said, yes, he guessed that was the size of it with a good many people. Yet now that it had come to this 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 almost made him sick. He could not go about his work steadily during the day. That afternoon he left his office early and went over to look at the house, to try to bring himself to some conclusion about it. The windows of the place were, of course, boarded up and the house looked very uninviting; yet to Lapham, there was no place on the whole street nearly so beautiful or attractive. He knew every comer of it; he remembered his various talks with the architect what the architect had said about this detail or that and what he himself had said in reply.
He unlocked the front door with the key he always carried and entered the house. It was dark and cold inside and looked as though the work done upon the place had been stopped a thousand years before. Yet the house was full of pleasant memories for Lapham of hours spent there with his wife and daughters, of Tom Corey’s first visit. The fancy took him to try out the chimney in the music room. It had been tried in the dining room below, and in the girls’ fireplace above, but here it was still clean. He gathered some shavings and pieces of wood and built a fire. As the flames grew and warmed the room, he drew up a box and sat down before the fire. Nothing could have been better: the chimney was a perfect success. He said to himself that he could never sell the house as long as he had a dollar to his name. He felt that he could yet pull through. It suddenly came to him 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 hands. He wondered that he had never thought of this possibility before and then, lighting a cigar, began to work out the plan in his mind.
He was very cheerful at supper that night. He told his wife he guessed he had a sure thing of it now, and in a day or two he could tell her just how. He made Penelope go to the theater with him, but when they came out. after the play, there was a great deal of excitement in the streets. Fire engines were passing and the sky was a deep red in the Beacon Street section of town. They hurriedly followed the crowds only to discover that it was Lapham’s own new house which had burned to the ground. Although, before he left the house late that afternoon, Lapham had carefully put out the fire he had built in the chim ney, apparently some sparks remained, and from these the fire had spread. The house was a complete loss. Originally he had had insurance to cover any such loss by fire, but just the week before the policy had expired and, being short of money, he had not renewed it immediately.
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. Why did the deal with the Englishmen for the mills fall
2. How did Lapham change at this time?
3. Why did it often seem as though he would pull out of his difficulties?
4. What was happening to Irene at this time?
5. What did Penelope do to help her father?
6. What did Lapham finally decide to do about the new house?
7. Why did Lapham shut down the works?
8. What did the real estate dealer say about selling the new house?
9. How did Lapham feel about the new house?
10. What did Lapham decide to try when he visited the new house?
11. What solution to his problems came to him while he was in the new house?
12. What happened when he and Penelope came out of the theater?
13. Why wasn’t the new house insured?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
fuel as a result
real estate set aside
insurance become aware of
policy be in the same boat