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The Rise of Silas Lapham Chapter 8


The Rise of Silas Lapham Chapter 8



The Coreys were one of the few families who continued to live in Bellingham Place, the quiet old street which was gradu­ally being abandoned to boarding houses. The house they oc­cupied was one which Mrs. Corey had inherited from her fa­ther. It was a tall and stately-looking affair and still wore the aristocratic air which the architect who planned it apparently intended it to have. The house was painted white and had a wide porch supported by tall and slender columns in the classic style. Inside, the same simple style had been continued by the architect. The furnishings were also simple, in keeping with this style,, and the place thus looked bare to the Laphams when they entered to attend the dinner to which they had been invited in the Corey home.

A maid admitted them, directing Mrs. Lapham and Irene to a dressing room upstairs and leaving Lapham to wait for them below. He struggled to put on his gloves; when he had them on and let his fists hang down on each side, they looked like two great hams hanging there. He heard quiet talking in the next room, and soon Tom Corey came out.

Oh, Colonel Lapham! Very glad to see you.”

Lapham shook hands with him and managed to mumble, “Waiting for Mrs. Lapham,” to explain his presence there. He now began, while attempting to appear as indifferent as possible, to pull off both his gloves, for he saw that Corey wore none. By the time he had pushed the gloves into the back pock­et of his trousers his wife and daughter had come down.

Corey welcomed them warmly too, but looked a little sur­prised. Mrs. Lapham knew that he was silently wondering about Penelope, and she did not know whether it was correct to excuse her to him first or wait and speak with Mrs. Corey. She decided on the letter, and the group moved into the living room.

Mrs. Lapham had decided against a low-neck dress and wore a rich, black silk in which she looked very handsome. Irene wore a dress of a lighter color; it was more an evening dress rather than a dinner dress, but was unusually beautiful in its effect. Irene was conscious of the success of her gown and walked with a pleasant smile on her face. Lapham trailed behind, giving thanks to God that he had not suffered the em­barrassment of wearing gloves where no one else did; at the same time, he worried that Tom should have seen him in them.

Mrs. Corey exchanged a quick look of surprise with her hus­band, as she started across the room to meet her guests. She was relieved to find them so properly dressed, and she greeted them far more warmly than was usual with her. “General Lap­ham,” she said, shaking hands first with Mrs. Lapham and Irene and then addressing herself to Mr. Lapham.

No, ma’am, only colonel,” said the honest mar but.the lady did not hear him. She was introducing her husband to Lapham’s wife and daughter, and Bromfield Corey was already shaking Lapham’s hand and saying he was glad to see him again, while he kept his eye on Irene, and apparently could not take it off her. The Corey girls gave the Lapham ladies a greet­ing which was physically, rather than socially, cold. They, as well as everyone else in the room, could not help but admire Irene’s great beauty. Mrs. Corey meanwhile made the rest of her guests acquainted with the Laphams. When Lapham had not quite caught a person’s name, he held the person’s hand, and, leaning forward politely, asked, “What name?” He did this because a great man to whom he had once been presented at a public meeting had done so to him, and he knew it must be right.

When Mrs. Corey said quietly to Mrs. Lapham, “Can I send anyone to be of use to Miss Lapham?” Mrs. Lapham turned fire-red, and the graceful forms which she had planned to use in excusing Penelope’s absence went out of her head. “She isn’t upstairs,” she said with considerable embarrassment. “She’s not well. She didn’t feel just like coming tonight.”

Mrs. Corey expressed a very small “Oh!” very small, very cold then after a moment added, “I’m very sorry. It’s nothing serious, I hope.”

Robert Chase, the painter, had not come, and Mrs. James Bellingham was not there, so that the table was really better balanced without Penelope; but Mrs. Lapham could not know this, and Mrs. Corey had no intention of telling her. Mrs. Corey looked around the room, as if to take account of her guests. They formed a small but distinguished group, and were people whom the Coreys had carefully chosen from among their friends, as those most likely to be sympathetic toward the Lap- hams. She then directed the group toward the dining room.

Lapham had never seen people go in to dinner arm-in-arm before, but he knew that his wife was distinguished in entering first with Mr. Corey. He waited to see whether Tom Corey would offer his arm to Irene, but, instead, Tom gave it to that big girl they called Miss Kingsbury, and the handsome old fel­low whom Mrs. Corey had introduced as her cousin took Irene’s arm. Lapham was surprised when Mrs. Corey passed her hand through his arm. He started forward at once but felt himself being gently held back. They went out the last of all; he did not know why. When they finally sat down he saw that Irene, although she had come in with Mr. Bellingham, was seated beside young Corey, after all.

Lapham sank into his chair with relief and felt himself safe from any other mistakes if he kept a sharp eye on everything and did only what the others did. The dinner went off fairly well at least as far as he was concerned. He did not know but that he ought to have refused some of the dishes offered to him, but he was not able to decide; he took everything and ate every­thing. He noticed that Mrs. Corey took no more trouble about the dinner than anybody, and Mr. Corey rather less. Mr. Corey was talking busily to Mrs. Lapham, and Lapham caught a

word now and then that convinced him his wife was holding her own. He was sorry Penelope was not present; she could have talked as well as anyone; she was just as bright. He him­self was getting on well with Mrs. Corey, who had begun talk­ing with him about his new house.


Their conversation naturally included Mr. Seymour, the ar­chitect, across the table. Lapham had been delighted and se­cretly surprised to find that the Coreys had invited Seymour and that he appeared to be a friend of the family. At something Seymour said the talk spread and the house he was building for Lapham became the general subject of conversation. Lapham felt sure he would be able to say something of importance at this point about his own house, but the talk moved too rapidly for him. Several times he was on the point of making some ob­servation when someone else broke in. So it was with the other subjects which were discussed. The conversation moved lightly from one person to another and had generally taken a com­pletely new turn by the time he was ready to venture an opin­ion. Yet, on the whole, he was delighted with the way these people talked. They seemed so well informed, no matter what the subject: books, politics, social questions. They also talked about other people, important people whose names Lapham had often heard mentioned. It surprised him to hear with what freedom they discussed these people.


Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review


1. In what kind of house did the Coreys live?

  1. What did Lapham do with his gloves?

  2. How did Mrs. Lapham and Irene look? Why was Mrs. Corey relieved at seeing their clothes?

  3. By what title did Mrs. Corey address Lapham?

  4. What did Lapham do when he didn’t catch a person’s name?

  5. What did Mrs. Lapham do when Mrs. Corey asked about Penelope?

  6. Why was the table really better balanced without Penelope?

  7. What sort of people were the other guests?

  8. How did the guests go into dinner? Who went with whom?

  9. How did Lapham get through the dinner itself?

  10. Why was he sorry that Penelope was not there?

  11. Which of the guests did Lapham know?

  12. What subject of conversation did this person’s presence bring up?

14.Why was Lapham delighted by the conversation?

B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your




Lapham seldom touched wine, but two different glasses of wine had been put before him. He felt very warm, had already drunk all of his water, and hesitated to ask for more. He thus began on the wine. Soon the wine glasses were filled again, and he again drank the wine. By the time the dinner was over he began to feel its effects slightly. When, at the conclusion of the meal the ladies rose and the gentlemen got up with them, Lap­ham started to follow Mrs. Corey, but the other men simply stood in their places, except young Corey, who ran and opened the door for his mother. It seemed that the men had decided to have their coffee and cigars at the table. Lapham thought with embarrassment that he should have opened the door for Mrs. Corey. But no one seemed to notice, and he sat down again gladly, after kicking out one of his legs which had gone asleep.


Coffee and cigars were then passed. Lapham confessed that he liked a good cigar as well as anybody. With the lighted cigar between his lips he felt more at home than he had before. He turned in his chair, resting his arm along its back, and took a position of greater ease.


James Bellingham came and sat down by him. “Colonel Lapham, weren’t you with the 96th Vermont Regiment when they charged across the river at Pickensburg and the enemy opened fire on them in the water?”

Lapham slowly shut his eyes and nodded his head in agree­ment.


I thought so,” said Bellingham. “I was with the 85th Massa­chusetts and I shan’t forget the killing.”

About one in five of us got out safe,” said Lapham, casu­ally knocking off his cigar ash. James Bellingham reached him a bottle of wine. He drank a glass and went on smoking. They all waited, as if expecting him to speak, but he fell again into silence. The conversation continued. Mr. Bellingham said that in the battle mentioned the heroes appeared far greater in num­ber than the cowards. Someone else said that such circum­stances often make heroes of all of us. This point was then fully discussed. Lapham on occasion interrupted to make some remark; the others would wait, thinking he was about to con­tinue but his head would nod and he would grow silent again. The Reverend Sewell finally gave the conversation a religious turn, remarking, “I think the sacrifices which a man makes on the field of battle help us to see the part God plays in our thinking.”


Lapham seemed to wake at this. “There’s sense in that,” he said. He took his cigar from his mouth and pulled his chair toward the table, on which he placed his great arms. “I want to tell you about a fellow in my own company when we first went out. We were all privates to begin with; after a while they elected me captain. But Jim Millen never got to be anything more than a corporal; corporal when he was killed.” The others now listened to Lapham with an interest which deeply flattered him. Now at last, he felt he was holding up his end of the con­versation. “I can’t say much about his purpose in acting as he did but such things are sometimes difficult to understand,” Lapham said, and then went on to tell in detail the long story of Jim Millen, how his wife, Molly, was no good but he had a daughter, Zerilla, whom he loved; he sent home every cent he could save. Before the battle of Pickensburg he was greatly frightened and cried like a baby, knowing that he would never come out of the battle alive. But when the fighting began, he was as brave as the rest. He had stepped in front of a bullet that was meant for Lapham. “He saw that devil takin’ aim at me,” the colonel said, “and he jumped to save me. I guess he died hard.”

The story made its impression, and Lapham was pleased. His head was still not clear but this didn’t seem to matter now. He drank another glass of wine. The men now returned to the drawing room and he noticed his wife talking with Miss Kings­bury and Mrs. Sewell. Irene was beautiful, he thought; but she wasn’t talking and you ought to talk at a dinner party. He now felt that he had talked very well.

Some of the men asked him to go to the library. There he told Bromfield Corey about his son’s kindness in suggesting books for the library in the new house; he had ordered them himself.' “And I intend to have pictures,” Lapham added. “Who are the best American painters?” he asked Mr. Corey.

I’m not a critic,” Corey explained, “but I know what I like.”

Lapham lost his reserve and began to boast. He talked about his paint. He told about his brother, William, the judge in Iowa. He raised his voice and pounded the arm of his chair for emphasis. He got to calling Bromfield Corey by his first name. He didn't understand why young Corey was so quiet and he told the men how he had told his wife the first time he saw Tom Corey that he could make a man of him if he had him in his business. He had the talk all to himself and he wished his wife could have seen him in his triumph.

At this moment word was brought that Mrs. Lapham was leaving. He didn’t hurry. He made each of the gentlemen prom­ise to drop in at his office. He assured James Bellingham that he had long wanted to meet him and that if anyone had said when he first came to Boston ten years before that he would associate with Jim Bellingham he would not have believed it. Ten years before he would never have thought either that a son of Bromfield Corey would come and ask to be taken into his business. But he had been successful in his business and made a lot of money. Only the other day his former partner had come and borrowed twenty thousand dollars from him. He made the Reverend Sewell promise to call on him if he needed money for his church work.

Lapham started toward the door of the drawing room but Tom Corey led him in another direction, saying, “Mrs. Lapham is waiting for you in the hall, sir.” He left without saying good-bye to Mrs. Corey.

It was eleven o’clock as the Laphams drove away, and Mrs. Lapham was worried that she had stayed too long even though Mrs. Corey had assured her that it wasn’t late at all. She and Irene had had a perfect time. Everybody had been so polite and nice. Irene liked the two Corey girls very much.

Good Heavens, Papa! How you smell of smoking!” Irene cried after a while.

Pretty strong, eh?” he laughed as he lowered a window of the carriage. His heart had been beating rapidly and he wel­comed the cold air. He also felt very drowsy and when he got home he went right to bed and fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

But in the morning he had a bad headache and he was cross and quiet. He ate a silent breakfast and was glad to go off to his office without having to see either of the girls.

He was short and silent all day with his clerks and cool with his customers. He observed Corey slyly during the day, and right after closing time he sent the office boy to ask Corey to step into his office for a few minutes.

Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review

  1. 1. Why did Lapham begin to drink so much wine?

  1. What did the men do after dinner?

  2. How did Lapham behave when the men seemed to expect him to speak?

  3. What was the story that Lapham finally told?

  4. How was the wine affecting him?

  5. What did Lapham think about Irene when he saw her with the other women?

  6. What did Lapham do after he lost his reserve?

  7. What did he do after he was told that his wife was leaving?

  8. What kind of evening had Mrs. Lapham and Irene had?

10. How did Lapham feel the next day?

  1. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your