That night, Tom arrives at the Greenleafs’ Park Avenue apartment for dinner. He’s received warmly by Herbert and his ill wife Emily. During the sumptuous dinner, Tom lies extensively to the Greenleafs about both his past and his present, claiming to work at an advertising firm and to have attended Princeton.
Tom is eager to impress the Greenleafs both because he wants their financial support and because he desires their approval. He wants very much to be an impressive person, and tries out a new version of himself on Herbert and Emily.
After the meal, Herbert and Emily show Tom a photo album full of pictures of Dickie—one picture, taken in Italy, features an American woman named Marge Sherwood. Emily becomes emotional, and Tom promises to do “everything he can to make Dickie come back.” Emily goes off to bed, and Tom and Herbert enjoy a brandy. Herbert confesses that Emily has leukemia and “may not live a year.” He offers Tom six hundred dollars in traveler’s checks plus a round trip ticket, and offers to show Tom his company’s shipyards before Tom departs.
Though Tom bears witness to Emily’s emotional and physical vulnerability, he remains fixed on the financial gains that he stands to make through this new scheme. Tom hungrily accepts Herbert’s offer of money and access to the inner workings of his company.
As the men continue drinking, Tom becomes “increasingly close-mouthed and sour” and develops an intense desire to leave the apartment, though he stays in order to continue ingratiating himself to Herbert. Eventually, though, Tom becomes overwhelmed, and he excuses himself. In the mirror in the building’s elevator, Tom sees a “pained, frightened expression” on his own face, and he knows that “as soon as he hits the lobby he will fly out of the door and keep on running, running all the way home.”
This passage contains one of just a few moments of vulnerability, fright, or regret that Tom experiences throughout the novel. Though usually remorseless and numb, Tom here becomes overwhelmed in Herbert’s presence and displays his main defense mechanism: quick and silent escape.