Tom Corey visits his mother at Bar Harbor to tell her that he is thinking of going into the Lapham paint business. Like her husband, Mrs. Corey objects to Lapham's defacing the countryside with his advertisements. "There was one of his hideous advertisements painted on a reef that we saw as we came down," she says.
Despite his mother's objections to this "common" man, Tom visits Lapham and offers to take over the selling of paint in foreign countries with his knowledge of French, German, and Spanish. He offers to sell on a commission, and Lapham decides to talk over the matter, taking Tom to his summer home.
During the boat trip, Lapham says he likes to rest his mind by reading his newspaper and looking at the people, whose faces always seem fresh to him.
Mrs. Corey's objection to the Laphams on artistic and social grounds becomes even more important when Tom begins to court their daughter. Presently, however, the Coreys are only slightly perturbed because they realize that Tom's energy will lead him to involvement in some business enterprise. If only he had not chosen paint, they would be less repelled. Tom's vigor and ability to handle the job are displayed by his investigation of the Lapham business and his imaginative approach to staking out a position for himself in a foreign country.
Lapham's lack of refinement is shown by his commonplace expounding on the values of resting his mind. The people he enjoys and finds refreshing are really commonplace like himself and have only the poetry of vivid purpose to light them up, Howells comments.