Mrs. Lapham, who has accompanied Irene, returns from Lapham without her. Silas says that he will take the girl with him on a business trip to the West.
Lapham must try to sell mills Rogers has put up for collateral. He has lent Rogers too much money to protect the original loan and cannot pay his debts. "Pretty near everybody but the fellows that owe me seem to expect me to do a cash business, all of a sudden," he says.
He goes on to tell Persis that the mills Rogers has put up for collateral could have brought a good price until recently when a railroad took a ninety-nine-year lease on the only line going to them. If they decide to buy the mills, Rogers and Lapham would have to take the railroad's offer or carry the lumber and flour to market themselves.
Tom Corey, in the meantime, tells his mother the Lapham daughter he wishes to marry is not Irene but Penelope. Although surprised, Mrs. Corey instantly realizes the girl's awkward position, but Bromfield Corey says, "Suppose the wrong sister had died — would the right one have any scruples in marrying Tom? It's no more shocking than reality. Why it's quite like a romance," he concludes.
They both decide to bear up under the situation even though Bromfield says, "When I talked to Silas, he poured mineral paint all over me, 'till I could have been safely warranted not to crack or scale in any climate."
Mrs. Corey points out that, at least, Penelope is not lacking in sense. "She'll be quick to see that we don't mean unkindness. The pretty one might have thought we were looking down on her," she says.
Lapham's major task of trying to save his business has begun. He has loaned Rogers too much money and now must depend upon selling the mills at the price they were once worth.
The Coreys have no problem to solve but one to endure. They must make the best of Tom's marriage. They accept their fate with a certain amount of American submission which they have consistently shown throughout the book.