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The Rise of Silas Lapham Chapter 2


The Rise of Silas Lapham Chapter 2
Some weeks later, Mrs. Lapham returned the visit of Mrs. Corey, but was greatly relieved when she found that Mrs. Corey was not at home. After this, there was no communica­tion between the two families for several months. Then one day, Mrs. Lapham received from some people on the Hill a form letter, signed by Mrs. Corey, asking for a donation of money to a certain worthy charity. Mrs. Lapham showed the letter to her husband, who sat down at once and wrote out a check for five hundred dollars.
Mrs. Lapham tore the check in two. “I will take a check for a hundred, Silas. I don’t want to show off before them.” “Oh, I thought maybe you did. Well, Persis,” he said, with a rather good-natured smile, “I guess you’re about right. But when do you want me to begin building on Beacon Street?” He handed her the second check and leaned back in his chair. “I don’t want you to begin at all. What do you mean, Silas?” “Well, I don’t know as I mean anything in particular. But wouldn’t you like to build? Everyone builds, at least once dur­ing his life.”
“Where is your lot? They say it’s not healthy over there.” Up to a certain point in his business Mrs. Lapham had kept a strict record of all her husband’s affairs; but as these grew larger in size and less simple in form, the intimate knowledge of them made her nervous. There was a period when she felt that they were being ruined, but somehow the business did not fail. Since his great success, she had abandoned herself to a blind confidence in her husband’s ability. He came and went, day by day, unquestioned. He bought and sold and made more money. She knew that he would tell her if things went wrong, and he knew that she would ask him whenever she was worried.
“It ain’t unhealthy where I’ve bought. I looked into that carefully before I made the deal,” Mr. Lapham explained. “I got that lot for you, Pert; I thought you’d want to build on Back Bay some day. I’ve had several good offers for it since I bought it. I could sell it for twice over what I gave for it. Wouldn’t you like to ride over there some afternoon with me and see it?”
“I’m satisfied where we are. Si,” said Mrs. Lapham. “I don’t know as I feel like changing our way of living.”
“Guess we could live there pretty much as we live here,” an­swered her husband. “There’s ail kinds of people living on Beacon Street. You mustn’t think they’re all big-bugs.”
“Well, I don’t want to build on Beacon Street, Si,” said his wife gently.
“Just as you please, Persis. I ain’t in any hurry to leave Nan­keen Square.”
Yet, on the afternoon of the following day, Mrs. Lapham went out foi a drive with her husband behind a new horse which he had recently bought. The excuse was that he wished to show her the new horse, and neither of them spoke of the lot, though Lapham knew perfectly well what his wife had come with him for, and she was aware that he knew it. They drove about the city for a while. Then he brought the horse down to a quiet walk, and then slowed up almost to a stop, while both he and his wife turned their heads to the right and looked at the empty lot, through which showed a stretch of the Back Bay, a section of the Long Bridge, and the roofs of some of the houses of dis­tant Charlestown. “Yes, it’s very nice,” said Mrs. Lapham, lifting her hand from the reins, on which she had unconsciously laid it.
Lapham said nothing, but he let the horse out a little and they moved slowly along. They drove on in silence for some time, passing many other very elegant carriages. Finally, as though coming to a decision after long thought, Lapham turned suddenly to his wife and remarked, “Tell you what, Pert, I’ve about made up my mind to build on that lot.”
“All right, Silas,” Mrs. Lapham agreed readily in her quiet way. “I suppose you know what you’re about. But don’t build on it for me, that’s all.”
The matter was then dropped and no further mention was made of it for several months. The Laphams drove on home and continued to live just as before. Occasionally, someone in the family would refer jokingly to the new house on the water side of Beacon Street. The colonel seemed less serious than any of them about it but that was his way, the girls said: you could never tell when he really meant a thing.
Toward the end of winter a newspaper addressed to Miss Irene Lapham arrived. It proved to be a Texas newspaper, and carried an article about the ranch of a certain Mr. Loring G. Stanton, where young Tom Corey happened to be staying dur­ing the winter.
“It must be the ranch of his friend,” said Mrs. Lapham, to whom her daughter brought the newspaper, “the one where Mrs. Corey said her son was visiting.”
Irene did not say anything but she took the paper to her room and read every line of it, looking for Tom Corey’s name. She did not find his name, but she cut out the article about the ranch and stuck it into the side of her mirror, where she could read it every morning while she was dressing, and every eve­ning when she looked at herself in the glass before going to bed. Her sister Penelope often read the article aloud, making fun of Irene in this way.
Mrs. Lapham told her husband of the arrival of the newspa­per, treating the fact with an importance he refused to see in it.
“How do you know the fellow sent it anyway?” he demanded.
“Oh, I know he did.”
“I don’t see why he couldn’t write to Irene, if he really meant anything.”
“Well, I guess that wouldn’t be their way of doing things,” said Mrs. Lapham; she did not at all know what their way would be.
When the spring came, Colonel Lapham showed that he had really been serious about building on the New Land. His idea of a house was a brownstone front, four stories high, with a French roof. From his inspection of many new homes which he had watched going up, he had also arrived at other rather de­tailed plans for the various rooms. He was supported in these ideas by a master builder who had put up many such houses recently and who told Lapham that if he wanted to have a home in the latest style, that was the way to have it.
Fortunately for all concerned, Lapham later met a very cap­able young architect who, concealing the shock which Lap- ham’s ideas must have given him, skillfully led the planning in quite another direction.
“Oh, certainly, have the living room high-ceilinged,” said the architect, a Mr. Seymour by name, in answer to Lapham’s insistence on this point. “But you’ve seen some of those pretty old-fashioned country houses, haven’t you, where the entrance story is very low ceilinged?”
“Yes,” Lapham agreed.
“Well, don’t you think something of that kind would have a nice effect? Have the entrance story low-ceilinged and your rooms on the next floor as high as you please.”
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. What communication was there between the Laphams and the Coreys?
2. Why did Mrs. Lapham tear up the check for five hundred dollars?
3. Why didn’t Mrs. Lapham know about her husband’s busi­ness affairs any more?
4. Why was Mrs. Lapham reluctant about the idea of moving?
5. What was the real reason that Colonel and Mrs. Lapham went out for a drive the next day?
6. What did Irene receive one day?
7. What did Irene do with the newspaper article?
8. How did Colonel and Mrs. Lapham disagree about the importance of the newspaper?
9. 9. How did Lapham show that he was serious about building a new house?
10. Why was it fortunate that he met a capable young architect?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
communication                                     show off
donation                                                 day by day
healthy                                                    look into
demand                                                  in a hurry
inspection                                              tear up
insistence                                              tear down
So it was with most of the other suggestions which Lapham had to offer; they were skillfully channeled in another direction and ended up by bearing little or no resemblance to his orig­inal ideas. The architect went on in this way to plan the rest of the house, showing himself such a master in regard to all the practical details that Mrs. Lapham began to feel almost an af­fection for him, and her husband could not deny in his heart that the fellow seemed to know his business perfectly. When, after their first meeting which lasted for several hours, the ar­chitect finally left, Lapham said:
“Well, Pert, I guess that fellow’s fifty years behind the style or ten years ahead.”
“I don’t know,” said his wife. “But he seemed to understand what he was talking about. I must say that he knows what a woman wants in a house better than she does herself.”
“And a man simply has nothing at all to say in the matter,” said Lapham. But he respected a fellow who could best him at every point and have a reason ready, as this architect had; and when he had gotten over the disappointment of having his own plans changed about so completely, the colonel was quite ready to swear by the architect. It seemed to him that he had discov­ered the fellow (as he always called him) and owned him now, and happily, the fellow did nothing to disturb this impression.
The work was not begun until the frost was completely out of the ground, which that year was not before the end of April. Even then it did not go forward very rapidly. Lapham said he was in no particular hurry, and that they might as well take their time with it; if they got the outside walls up and the thing closed in before the snow fell, they could go on working all win­ter. The building of the house naturally gave Lapham a great deal of satisfaction, and during the early summer, before his wife and daughters left for the mountains, he took Mrs. Lap­ham almost everyday in his carriage and drove around to the lot to see what progress was being made. He would stop the horse in front of the place and watch the men at work with even greater curiosity than the small boys from the neighborhood who seemed always to be present.
“By Heavens!” he would say. “There ain’t anything as inter­esting as this in the whole world of business, Persis.”
Mrs. Lapham would permit him to enjoy the sight for some minutes before she said, “Well, now drive on, Si.”
It was on one of these trips to the new house in fact, it was the same day the young man from the Events office had inter­viewed Lapham for the newspaper that something happened, however, to interfere with the solid pleasure the colonel usually took in watching the progress of the work. Lapham had just finished tying up the horse and was helping Mrs. Lapham down out of the carriage when a man approached them to whom he could not help speaking, though the man seemed to share the same hesitation as he in exchanging any greeting. He was a tall, thin man with a dust-colored face and a rather dead expression which suggested at the same time a weak but determined char­acter.
Mrs. Lapham held out her hand to him. “Why, Mr. Rogers!” she cried; and then, turning toward her husband, seemed to refer the two men to each other. They shook hands, but Lap­ham did not speak. “I didn’t know you were in Boston,” Mrs. Lapham went on. “Is Mrs. Rogers with you?”
“No,” Mr. Rogers answered. “Mrs. Rogers remained in Chi­cago to finish up the packing.”
“Oh, really? Are you coming back to Boston?”
“We think so, but I cannot say for sure as yet.”
Lapham turned away and looked up at the building. His wife, embarrassed, pulled a little at her glove and, by way of making conversation, said, “We are building a house.”
“Oh, really?” Mr. Rogers said, as he looked up at it.
A rather long silence followed, broken at last by Mrs. Lap­ham. “If you come to Boston, I hope I shall see Mrs. Rogers.”
“She will be happy to have you call,” Mr. Rogers said as he tipped his hat, bowed, and walked on.
Mrs. Lapham walked up the path which led into what had already been built of the new house, and her husband followed slowly. When she turned her face toward him, there were tears in her eyes.
“You left it all to me!” she cried. “Why couldn’t you speak a word?”
“I hadn’t anything to say to him,” answered Lapham a little sharply.
They stood a while, without looking at the work which they had come to enjoy and without speaking to each other.
“I suppose we might as well go on,” said Mrs. Lapham at last, and they returned to the carriage. The colonel drove reck­lessly toward the center of the city. Mrs. Lapham turned her face away from him and, when she put her handkerchief up un­der her veil to dry her tears, Lapham seemed to set his jaw even more firmly.
“I don’t see,” Mrs. Lapham said, “how he always manages to appear and spoil everything just when we think he has gone out of our lives forever.”
“I thought he was dead,” Lapham said.
“Oh, don’t say such a thing! It sounds as though you wished it.”
“Why do you mind?” Lapham asked. “Why do you let him spoil everything?”
“I can’t help it. I can’t ever see him without feeling just as I did at first.”
“I tell you,” her husband continued, “it was a perfectly hon­est thing. My conscience is clear, and I wish, once and for all, you would stop bothering me about it.”
“I can’t look at him, Silas, without feeling that you ruined him.”
“Don’t look at him, then,” he said with a scowl. “You should remember, Persis, that I never wanted a partner.”
“If he hadn’t put his money in the business when he did, you’d have failed.”
“Well, he got his money out again and more too,” the colonel explained. “I gave him his choice to buy out or get out.”
“You know he couldn’t buy out then. It was no choice at all. No, Silas, you had better face the truth. You crowded him out. A man who had saved you. You got selfish; you made your paint your god, and you couldn’t bear to let anybody else share.”
“I tell you, he was an obstacle from the start. If I hadn’t got him out, he’d have ruined us sooner or later. So it’s an even thing.”
“No, it ain’t an even thing, and you know it, Silas. If I could only get you once to admit that you did wrong, then I would have some hope. I don’t say you meant wrong, but you took ad­vantage of him. You had him where he couldn’t help himself and you showed no feeling.”
“I’m sick of all this,” said Lapham suddenly. “If you’ll at­tend to the house, I’ll manage my business without your help.” “You were glad of my help once.”
“Well, I’m tired of it now. Just don’t interfere.”
“I will interfere. When I see you growing hard, it’s time for me to interfere. If you’d only give in the least bit I feel it’s been hurting you all the while.”
“Why should I give in when I don’t feel I did anything wrong? I was loaded up with a partner who didn’t know any­thing and I unloaded; that’s all. It’s done every day.”
“You unloaded when you knew that the paint was going to be worth twice what it had been.”
“I had a right to. I made it a success.”
“Yes, with Rogers’ money. I guess that’s why you couldn’t look him in the face.”
Lapham grew angry and suddenly turned the horse around. “I guess you don’t want to ride with me any more today,” he said.
“I’m as ready to go back as you are,” his wife replied. “And don’t you ask me to go with you to that house any more. You can sell it. I’ll never live in it. There’s blood on it.”
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. How did the architect handle Lapham’s original ideas about the house?
2. How did Lapham come to feel about the architect?
3. Why did Lapham say that they might as well take their time with the house?.
4. What did Lapham often do that summer?
5. Whom did the Laphams meet one day while they were look­ing at the new house?
6. How did Mrs. Lapham act toward Mr. Rogers?
7. What did Mrs. Lapham do when they drove away?
8. What had happened between the two men some years ago?
9. Why did Mrs. Lapham feel that her husband had ruined Rogers?
B.  Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
frost                                   a little bit
progress                          swear by
hesitation                         end up by
partner                              get over
choice                               take your time
reply                                  a great deal of