The Rise of Silas Lapham Chapter 7
Mrs. Corey returned to Boston with her daughters in early October. The daughters were somewhat browner in color than they were when they left town in June; but they were not otherwise changed. They were both nice girls, accomplished, well- dressed, of course, and good-looking enough. But they had met no one during the summer whom their taste would allow to influence their fate, and they had come home to the same situation they had left, with no hopes and no fears for the future to occupy them. In the absence of these they were fitted to take a greater interest in their brother’s affairs, which they could see weighed greatly upon their mother’s mind. They discussed the matter with her from all its angles, never arriving, any of them, at any satisfactory conclusion.
The fact that Tom had chosen to go into a business so common and vulgar as the paint business naturally surprised them. The fact that he appeared interested, at the same time, in one of the Lapham girls, shocked them. It was not simply a matter of sentiment. The mother had come, almost without knowing it, to depend upon Tom’s good sense, upon his advice in everything that concerned the family. The sisters, accustomed to seeing him indifferent to girls, had grown to consider him as their own, until he should be freed not by his marriage, but by theirs: an event that had not yet occurred. Some girls they believed that they could readily have chosen several from their own social class might have married him without taking him away from his family. They felt that such a generous attitude could hardly be expected from a girl like Miss Lapham.
Tom’s father, while somewhat more casual about the matter, shared his wife’s and daughters’ sentiments in regard to Tom’s situation. Bromfield Corey was too much of a gentleman, on the other hand, not to realize that the family was under some obligation to Mr. Lapham for having given Tom a place in his business. Thus, a week or so before his wife’s return to town, he had gone to pay his respects to Lapham in the latter’s office.
The meeting was simple and pleasant. Mr. Corey expressed his thanks to Lapham for what he had done to help Tom. Lapham modestly insisted that no thanks were owed to him. Tom was an excellent worker and was making his own way nicely in the business. The meeting lasted for perhaps half an hour and Lapham was secretly delighted. There he was, sitting face to face with Bromfield Corey, praising his son to him and receiving his grateful thanks, as though Corey were the father of some office boy to whom Lapham had given a place half out of charity. Lapham could hardly wait to reach home and tell Mrs. Lapham all about it. He and Mrs. Lapham had talked about Bromfield Corey several times. Lapham had felt it strange that Tom’s father apparently took no interest in his son’s new business connections.
“There is one thing I don’t like,” Lapham had said during one such conversation with his wife. “At least I don’t understand it and that’s the way the father acts. I don’t want to force myself on any man; but it seems to me pretty strange the way he holds off. I should think he would take enough interest in his son to want to know something about his business. What is he afraid of? Does he think I’m going to jump at a chance to get in with him, if hç gives me one? He’s very much mistaken if he does. I don’t want to know him.”
But now the thing had happened: Bromfield Corey had come to him to visit with him in his own office. Lapham described for Mrs. Lapham each detail of the interview. He also described Bromfield Gorey himself. “He’s not much like Tom,” Lapham explained. “There’s no sort of business about him. He’s tall, and he’s got white hair and a mustache, and his fingers are long and thin. I couldn’t help noticing them as he sat there with his hands on top of h|S'cane. Didn’t seem to be dressed very much, and acted just like anybody. Guess I did most of the talking. He said he was glad I seemed to be getting along so well with his son. He asked after you and Irene said you had been very kind to his wife that time up in Canada. Yes, I guess he meant to do the right thing, after all. Don’t know as I ever saw a pleasanter man. Don’t know but what he is about the pleasantest man I ever did see.”
Mrs. Corey, despite her personal feelings about Tom’s relations with the Lapham family, also felt the same sense of obligation toward the Laphams that her husband had felt. Therefore, shortly after her return to Boston, she also made a social call upon Mrs. Lapham. This visit, however, was somewhat less successful than her husband’s visit. She arrived at the Lapham home rather nervous, and somehow said none of the things she had hoped to say. Then too, though Mrs. Lapham had not been bothered by Mrs. Corey’s first visit some months earlier, she now felt as if she could not look Mrs. Corey in the face. Irene was not at home at the time. Penelope attended her mother and attempted to help in the conversation. Mrs. Corey was very proper and polite. Yet Penelope seemed to sense her real attitude toward the family. The girl withdrew within herself and to Mrs. Corey’s occasional questions answered in words of one syllable, or in a manner that was just a trifle short.
After Mrs. Corey had gone, Penelope and her mother were still looking at each other, and trying to understand the effect or purpose of the visit, when Irene burst in upon them from outside.
“Oh, Mama! Wasn’t that Mrs. Corey’s carriage which just drove away?”
Penelope answered with a laugh. “Yes! You’ve just missed the most delightful visit, Irene. So easy and pleasant in every way. Mrs. Corey was so friendly. She didn’t make me feel at all as if she’d bought me, and thought she’d paid too much; and Mother held her head up high as though waiting for someone to deny that she was just as good as anyone else.”
In a few humorous touches, Penelope then gave a picture of the scene: her mother’s trembling, and Mrs. Corey’s elegant manner and polite examination of them both. She ended by showing how she herself had sat alone in a dark comer, silent with fear. “Oh, it was dreadful,” she said.
Mrs. Corey described the interview to her husband later, in terms which were different from those of Penelope but hardly more flattering. She admitted the visit had not gone off well. She found Mrs. Lapham embarrassed and excited, she said. Irene, the pretty sister in whom Tom appeared to be interested, was not present; and Penelope, the other daughter, seemed to be “a thoroughly unpleasant young woman.”
“Then you didn’t find the older sister as amusing as Tom said she was?” asked Bromfield Corey.
“I found her just a trifle fresh. There’s no other word for it. She says things to puzzle you and put you out.”
“Well, thank heaven the younger one is so pretty.”
Mrs. Corey did not answer at once. “Bromfield,” she said, “I have been thinking over your plan, and I don’t see why it isn’t the right thing to do. We should invite them here to din- „ _ _ >> ner.
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. What had happened to the Corey girls during the summer?
2.What did they discuss with their mother?
3. Why was Mrs. Corey so concerned about Tom?
4. How had the girls come to feel about Tom?
5. Why had Bromfield Corey visited Lapham in his office?
6. Why was Lapham so pleased with the meeting with Tom’s father?
7. How did Mr. Lapham describe Mr. Corey?
8. Describe Mrs. Corey’s call on Mrs. Lapham.
9. What did Penelope say about the call?
10. How did Mrs. Corey describe the visit to her husband?
11. What did Mrs. Corey think they should do?
B. Use the following words and own: weigh sentiment sort
expressions in sentences of your
somewhat otherwise interested in depend upon pay his respects face to face take an interest in get in with
Her husband laughed. “Ah, you visited them in the character of the accusing spirit; they resented it—and now you feel you should make it up to them.”
Mrs. Corey continued, her voice anxious and tense. “No it is just that we can’t ignore Tom’s friendship with them any longer. If he is in business with the father, it will continue, even if his interest in the girl is only a passing fancy. They are very simple, uncultured people but I can’t say they are offensive, unlesş” she added, in answer to her husband’s smile, “unless the father how did you find the father?”
“He will be entertaining,” said Corey, “if you start him on his paint.”
“Unfortunately, we must invite the whole family including that unpleasant older sister.”
“Perhaps,” her husband suggested, “a dinner here at home would be the best way of curing Tom of his fancy, if he has one. He has been seeing the girl with the dangerous advantages which a mother knows how to give her daughter in the family circle, and with no means of comparing her with other girls. You must invite several pretty girls.”
“That might do,” said Mrs. Corey. “But I don’t know any othe/ girl half so pretty.”
“Well, then, better-mannered.”
“She is very ladylike, very modest, and pleasant.”
“Then you had better give the dinner to bring them together. To hear you describe her, one would think you wished to have Tom marry her.”
“You know I don’t want that, Bromfield. But I feel that we must do somethingif only for the sake of appearances. A dinner certainly won’t leave us in any worse position, and may leave us in a better. Yes,” said Mrs. Corey after another thoughtful pause, “we must have them have them all. It can be very simple.”
Accordingly, she sat down at her writing desk and wrote a polite note inviting Mrs. Lapham and her husband and two daughters to dinner in the Corey home on Thursday, October 28. She then sent the note by private messenger that same evening to the Lapham home.
The invitation arrived just as the Laphams were finishing supper. Mrs. Lapham read it aloud. Then she said, “I don’t know what she means. She was here this afternoon and I thought she had come just to see how bad she could make us feel.”
“Why, what did she do? What did she say?” Lapham rose to the defense of his family. Mrs. Lapham had not mentioned the visit previously, not knowing exactly how to describe it, but now she tried to tell him. Still, there was nothing very definite to say about the attitude of Mrs. Corey. He listened to her and then said, “I guess nobody’s been trying to make you feel bad, Persis. Why should she go home and invite you to dinner if she acted the way you say?”
Mrs. Lapham could only answer, “Penelope felt just the way I did about it.”
Lapham looked at Penelope, who shrugged her shoulders and said “Oh, I can’t prove anything. I begin to think it never happened.”
“Humph!” Lapham said. “Neither one of you can put your finger on anything, and it isn’t likely there is anything. Anyway, she’s done the proper thing by you now. After supper, you answer her, Persis. Say we’ll come.”
“With one exception,” Penelope said.
“What do you mean?” Lapham demanded.
“Simply that I’m not going.”
“I guess you’ll change your mind when the time comes.” After supper, Penelope went to her room, but Irene helped her mother with her answer to Mrs. Corey. Mrs. Lapham wrote in an unpracticed hand and had difficulty in wording her message properly. When she had finished writing it, the colonel sent a servant out to drop the letter in the comer mail box.
After Irene went upstairs, Lapham stopped reading his newspaper and asked, “Well, Persis, what do you say now?”
“I don’t know what to say. I hope we haven’t started something we can’t carry out.”
“I guess we’ll carry it out,” said he. “If we’re ever going to be anybody at all, we’ve "got to go and see how things are done. We’ll have to give some sort of a party when we get into our new house, and this gives us the chance to ask them back. You can’t complain now, Persis; they’ve made the advances.” “Yes,” she agreed, “but I wonder why they wanted to do it. I’m bothered by so many things. I don’t know what I’m going to wear; or the girls either. I’ve heard that they wear low neck dresses to dinner.”
“How should I know?” he said. “You needn’t worry about it. You just go round to Jordan & Marsh’s and ask for a dinner dress. I guess that will settle it.”
“Oh, it’s more than clothes,” she added. “I want to do the best we can for the children, but I don’t know what we’re going to talk about with these people. We haven’t anything in common with them. I don’t say they’re better, and there isn’t anybody who has a better right to hold his head high than you have, Silas. You’ve got plenty of money, and you’ve made ev ery cent of it. But still, we’re different from them and too old to learn their ways.”
“The children aren’t.”
“No,” she admitted. “That’s the only thing that reconciles me to it. Did you see how pleased Irene was when I read the invitation?”
“Yes, she was pleased. And I guess Penelope will change her mind when the time comes.”
“I hope so,” said Mrs. Lapham. “I also hope we’re doing the right thing. I’m not saying anything against Tom; Irene would be lucky to get him. But I’d rather he were a fellow such as you, Si, that had to make his own way and she had to help him.”
Lapham laughed, pleased by these words of his wife. “Don’t you worry. It’s all coming out right. And don’t you worry about that dinner. It’ll go off perfectly natural.”
Lapham, however, didn’t keep his courage up in the week that followed. He didn’t show much enthusiasm when young Corey said politely that his mother was glad they could come. It worried him to see all the preparations which were needed and he tried to laugh at his wife and Irene as they busied themselves so seriously with the clothes they were to wear to the dinner. He soon began to wonder what he himself would wear. He had no dress suit; he had always been opposed to wearing dress suits. But Irene reminded him that at a recent army dinner which he had attended he was the only man present without a dress suit, and Mrs. Lapham insisted that he would have to get one. He held out,.but on his way home the next day he stopped at a tailor’s and was measured for a dress suit. He also went to another shop and asked for help in choosing the proper shirt, collar, and tie. Finally, there was some question as to whether he should wear gloves or not; no one seemed to be able to advise him. The girls bought a book on dress and etiquette but it gave no information on this point. He decided at last to buy a pair of grey gloves and carry them with him, just to be on the safe side.
In bed one evening, Mrs. Lapham said to her husband, “I was reading in that etiquette book today that it’s not proper to fail to let a person know right away if you’re not going so they
çatı fill your place at the table. We’ve made a mistake if Penelope doesn't go.”
“Well, I must say there’s no end to this thing,” Lapham said. “If I had it to do over, I’d say no for all of us.”
“I’ve wished a hundred times they hadn’t asked us, but it’s too late now. The question is, what are we going to do about Pen? She insists she won’t go. She took a dislike to Mrs. Corey that day and she can’t seem to get over it.”
“Hadn’t you better write in the morning?” Lapham asked. “It’s too late to do anything now and I’ll make the best excuse I can when I see Mrs. Corey. I wish you and Irene would go and make an excuse for me too.”
“Look here!” he cried. “Who wanted to get in with these people in the first place? Didn’t you come home full of them last year and get me to build a new house? And now you want to put it all on me!”
“Hush!” she said. “Do you want to wake the house? I didn’t put it on you. Ever since Tom stopped in at the new house that day, you’ve been crazy to get in with them.”
“Do you suppose I want to go on my own account?” he demanded.
“No,” she admitted. “I know very well you’re doing it for Irene, but for heaven’s sake, let’s not worry our lives out.” The quarrel closed in silence.
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. Why did Mrs. Corey feel that it was necessary to invite the Laphams to dinner?
2. Why did Mr. Corey think that a dinner might cure Tom of his fancy for Irene?
3. How did Mrs. Corey describe Irene?
4. What did Mrs. Corey finally do?
5. Why did Mrs. Lapham say she didn’t know what Mrs. Corey meant by the invitation to dinner?
6. Why didn’t Penelope want to go to the dinner?
7. What were some of the problems that Mrs. Lapham raised about the Coreys and the dinner?
8. Why did Lapham begin to lose his courage about the dinner?
9. 9. What was his problem with clothes?
10. What was the problem that Penelope was creating for the Laphams?
B. Use the following words and own:
igrone passing fancy
cure for the sake of
aloud put my finger on
likely change my mind
exception carry out
advance hold out
reconcile get over it
preparation your own account