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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThat Fortune - Chapter 11
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That Fortune - Chapter 11 Post by :Finner Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2178

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That Fortune - Chapter 11

CHAPTER XI

Philip was always welcome at his uncle's house in Rivervale. It was, of course, his home during his college life, and since then he was always expected for his yearly holiday. The women of the house made much of him, waited on him, deferred to him, petted him, with a flattering mingling of tenderness to a little boy and the respect due to a man who had gone into the world. Even Mr. Maitland condescended to a sort of equality in engaging Philip in conversation about the state of the country and the prospects of business in New York.

It was July. When Philip went to sleep at night--he was in the front chamber reserved for guests--the loud murmur of the Deerfield was in his ears, like a current bearing him away into sweet sleep and dreams in a land of pleasant adventures. Only in youth come such dreams. Later on the sophisticated mind, left to its own guidance in the night, wanders amid the complexities of life, calling up in confusion scenes long forgotten or repented of, images only registered by a sub-conscious process, dreams to perplex, irritate, and excite.

In the morning the same continuous murmur seemed to awake him into a peaceful world. Through the open window came in the scents of summer, the freshness of a new day. How sweet and light was the air! It was indeed the height of summer. The corn, not yet tasseled, stood in green flexible ranks, moved by the early breeze. In the river-meadows haying had just begun. Fields of timothy and clover, yellowing to ripeness, took on a fresh bloom from the dew, and there was an odor of new-mown grass from the sections where the scythes had been. He heard the call of the crow from the hill, the melody of the bobolink along the meadow-brook; indeed, the birds of all sorts were astir, skimming along the ground or rising to the sky, keeping watch especially over the garden and the fruit-trees, carrying food to their nests, or teaching their young broods to fly and to chirp the songs of summer. And from the woodshed the shrill note of the scythe under the action of the grindstone. No such vivid realization of summer as that.

Philip stole out the unused front door without disturbing the family. Whither? Where would a boy be likely to go the first thing? To the barn, the great cavernous barn, its huge doors now wide open, the stalls vacant, the mows empty, the sunlight sifting in through the high shadowy spaces. How much his life had been in that barn! How he had stifled and scrambled mowing hay in those lofts! On the floor he had hulled heaps of corn, thrashed oats with a flail--a noble occupation--and many a rainy day had played there with girls and boys who could not now exactly describe the games or well recall what exciting fun they were. There were the racks where he put the fodder for cattle and horses, and there was the cutting-machine for the hay and straw and for slicing the frozen turnips on cold winter mornings.

In the barn-yard were the hens, just as usual, walking with measured step, scratching and picking in the muck, darting suddenly to one side with an elevated wing, clucking, chattering, jabbering endlessly about nothing. They did not seem to mind him as he stood in the open door. But the rooster, in his oriental iridescent plumage, jumped upon a fence-post and crowed defiantly, in warning that this was his preserve. They seemed like the same hens, yet Philip knew they were all strangers; all the hens and flaunting roosters he knew had long ago gone to Thanksgiving. The hen is, or should be, an annual. It is never made a pet. It forms no attachments. Man is no better acquainted with the hen, as a being, than he was when the first chicken was hatched. Its business is to live a brief chicken life, lay, and be eaten. And this reminded Philip that his real occupation was hunting hens' eggs. And this he did, in the mows, in the stalls, under the floor-planks, in every hidden nook. The hen's instinct is to be orderly, and have a secluded nest of her own, and bring up a family. But in such a communistic body it is a wise hen who knows her own chicken. Nobody denies to the hen maternal instincts or domestic proclivities, but what an ill example is a hen community!

And then Philip climbed up the hill, through the old grass-plot and the orchard, to the rocks and the forest edge, and the great view. It had more meaning to him than when he was a boy, and it was more beautiful. In a certain peaceful charm, he had seen nothing anywhere in the world like it. Partly this was because his boyish impressions, the first fresh impressions of the visible world, came back to him; but surely it was very beautiful. More experienced travelers than Philip felt its unique charm.

When he descended, Alice was waiting to breakfast with him. Mrs. Maitland declared, with an approving smile on her placid, aging face, that he was the same good-for-nothing boy. But Alice said, as she sat down to the little table with Philip, "It is different, mother, with us city folks." They were in the middle room, and the windows opened to the west upon the river-meadows and the wooded hills beyond, and through one a tall rose-bush was trying to thrust its fragrant bloom.

What a dainty breakfast! Alice flushed with pleasure. It was so good of him to come to them. Had he slept well? Did it seem like home at all? Philip's face showed that it was home without the need of saying so. Such coffee-yes, a real aroma of the berry! Just a little more, would he have? And as Alice raised the silver pitcher, there was a deep dimple in her sweet cheek. How happy she was! And then the butter, so fresh and cool, and the delicious eggs--by the way, he had left a hatful in the kitchen as he came in. Alice explained that she did not make the eggs. And then there was the journey, the heat in the city, the grateful sight of the Deerfield, the splendid morning, the old barn, the watering-trough, the view from the hill everything just as it used to be.

"Dear Phil, it is so nice to have you here," and there were tears in Alice's eyes, she was so happy.

After breakfast Philip strolled down the country road through the village. How familiar was every step of the way!--the old houses jutting out at the turns in the road; the glimpse of the river beyond the little meadow where Captain Rice was killed; the spring under the ledge over which the snap-dragon grew; the dilapidated ranks of fence smothered in vines and fireweeds; the cottages, with flower-pots in front; the stores, with low verandas ornamented with boxes and barrels; the academy in its green on the hill; the old bridge over which the circus elephant dared not walk; the new and the old churches, with rival steeples; and, not familiar, the new inn.

And he knew everybody, young and old, at doorways, in the fields or gardens, and had for every one a hail and a greeting. How he enjoyed it all, and his self-consciousness added to his pleasure, as he swung along in his well-fitting city clothes, broad-shouldered and erect--it is astonishing how much a tailor can do for a man who responds to his efforts. It is a pleasure to come across such a hero as this in real life, and not have to invent him, as the saying is, out of the whole cloth. Philip enjoyed the world, and he enjoyed himself, because it was not quite his old self, the farmer's boy going on an errand. There must be knowledge all along the street that he was in the great law office of Hunt, Sharp & Tweedle. And, besides, Philip's name must be known to all the readers of magazines in the town as a writer, a name in more than one list of "contributors." That was fame. Translated, however, into country comprehension it was something like this, if he could have heard the comments after he had passed by:

"Yes, that's Phil Burnett, sure enough; but I'd hardly know him; spruced up mightily. I wonder what he's at?"

"I heard he was down in New York trying to law it. I heard he's been writin' some for newspapers. Accordin' to his looks, must pay a durn sight better'n farmin'."

"Well, I always said that boy wa'n't no skeezics."

Almost the first question Philip asked Alice on his return was about the new inn, the Peacock Inn.

"There seemed a good deal of stir about it as I passed."

"Why, I forgot to tell you about it. It's the great excitement. Rivervale is getting known. The Mavicks are there. I hear they've taken pretty much the whole of it."

"The Mavicks?

"Yes, the New York Mavicks, that you wrote us about, that were in the paper."

"How long have they been there?"

"A week. There is Mrs. Mavick and her daughter, and the governess, and two maids, and a young fellow in uniform--yes, livery--and a coachman in the same, and a stableful of horses and carriages. It upset the village like a circus. And they say there's a French chef in white cap and apron, who comes to the side-door and jabbers to the small boys like fireworks."

"How did it come about?"

"Naturally, I guess; a city family wanting a quiet place for summer in the country. But you will laugh. Patience first discovered it. One day, sitting at the window, she saw a two-horse buggy driven by the landlord of the Peacock, and a gentleman by his side. 'Well, I wonder who that is-city man certainly. And wherever is he going? May be a railroad man. But there is nothing the matter with the railroad. Shouldn't wonder if he is going to see the tunnel. If it was just that, the landlord wouldn't drive him; he'd send a man. And they keep stopping and pointing and looking round. No, it isn't the railroad, it's scenery. And what can a man like that want with scenery?

"He does look like a railroad man. It may be tunnel, but it isn't all tunnel. When the team came back in the afternoon, Patience was again at the window; she had heard meantime from Jabez that a city man was stopping at the Peacock. There he goes, and looking round more than ever. They've stopped by the bridge and the landlord is pointing out. It's not tunnel, it's scenery. I tell you, he is a city boarder. Not that he cares about scenery; it's for his family. City families are always trying to find a grand new place, and he has heard of Rivervale and the Peacock Inn. Maybe the tunnel had something to do with it."

"Why, it's like second sight."

"No, Patience says it's just judgment. And she generally hits it. At any rate, the family is here."

The explanation of their being there--it seemed to Philip providential--was very simple. Mr. Mavick had plans about the Hoosac Tunnel that required him to look at it. Mrs. Mavick took advantage of this to commission him to look at a little inn in a retired village of which she had heard, and to report on scenery and climate. Warm days and cool nights and simplicity was her idea. Mavick reported that the place seemed made for the family.

Evelyn was not yet out, but she was very nearly out, and after the late notoriety Mrs. Mavick dreaded the regular Newport season. And, in the mood of the moment, she was tired of the Newport palace. She always said that she liked simplicity--a common failing among people who are not compelled to observe it. Perhaps she thought she was really fond of rural life and country ways. As she herself said,

"If you have a summer cottage at Newport or Lenox, it is necessary to go off somewhere and rest." And then it would be good for Evelyn to live out-of-doors and see the real country, and, as for herself, as she looked in the mirror, "I shall drink milk and go to bed early. Henderson used to say that a month in New Hampshire made another woman of me."

Oh, to find a spot where we could be undisturbed, alone and unknown. That was the program. But Carmen simply could not be anywhere content if she were unnoticed. It was not so easy to give up daily luxury, and habits of ease at the expense of attendants, or the ostentation which had become a second nature. Therefore the "establishment" went along with her to Rivervale, and the shy, modest little woman, who had dropped down into the country simplicity that she so dearly loved, greatly enjoyed the sensation that her coming produced. It needed no effort on her part to produce the sensation. The carriage, and coachman and footman in livery, would have been sufficient; and then the idea of one family being rich enough to take the whole hotel!

The liveries, the foreign cook in his queer cap and apron, and all the goings-on at the Peacock were the inexhaustible topic of talk in every farmhouse for ten miles around. Rivervale was a self-respecting town, and principled against luxury and self-indulgence, and judged with a just and severe judgment the world of fashion and of the grasping, wicked millionaires. And now this world with all its vain show had plumped down in the midst of them. Those who had traveled and seen the ostentation of cities smiled a superior smile at the curiosity and wonder exhibited, but even those who had never seen the like were cautious about letting their surprise appear. Especially in the presence of fashion and wealth would the independent American citizen straighten his backbone, reassuring himself that he was as good as anybody. To be sure, people flew to windows when the elegant equipage dashed by, and everybody found frequent occasion to drive or walk past the Peacock Inn. It was only the novelty of it, in a place that rather lacked novelties.

And yet there prevailed in the community a vague sense that millions were there, and a curious expectation of some individual benefit from them. All the young berry-pickers were unusually active, and poured berries into the kitchen door of the inn. There was not a housewife who was not a little more anxious about the product of her churning; not a farmer who did not think that perhaps cord-wood would rise, that there would be a better demand for garden "sass," and more market for chickens, and who did not regard with more interest his promising colt. When he drove to the village his rig was less shabby and slovenly in appearance. The young fellows who prided themselves upon a neat buggy and a fast horse made their turnouts shine, and dashed past the inn with a self-conscious air. Even the stores began to "slick up" and arrange their miscellaneous notions more attractively, and one of them boldly put in a window a placard, "Latest New York Style." When the family went to the Congregational church on Sunday not the slightest notice was taken of them--though every woman could have told to the last detail what the ladies wore--but some of the worshipers were for the first time a little nervous about the performance of the choir, and the deacons heard the sermon chiefly with reference to what a city visitor would think of it.

Mrs. Mavick was quite equal to the situation. In the church she was devout, in the village she was affable and friendly. She made acquaintances right and left, and took a simple interest in everybody and everything. She was on easy terms with the landlord, who declared, "There is a woman with no nonsense in her." She chatted with the farmers who stopped at the inn door, she bought things at the stores that she did not want, and she speedily discovered Aunt Hepsy, and loved to sit with her in the little shop and pick up the traditions and the gossip of the neighborhood. And she did not confine her angelic visits to the village. On one pretense and another she made her way into every farmhouse that took her fancy, penetrated the kitchens and dairies, and got, as she told McDonald, into the inner life of the people.

She must see the grave of Captain Moses Rice. And on this legitimate errand she one day carried her fluttering attractiveness and patchouly into the Maitland house. Mrs. Maitland was civil, but no more. Alice was civil but reserved--a great many people, she said, came to see the graves in the old orchard. But Mrs. Mavick was not a bit abashed. She expressed herself delighted with everything. It was such a rest, such a perfectly lovely country, and everybody was so hospitable! And Aunt Hepsy had so interested her in the history of the region! But it was difficult to get her talk responded to.

However, when Miss Patience came in she made better headway. She had heard so much of Miss Maitland's apartments. She herself was interested in decorations. She had tried to do something in her New York home. But there were so many ideas and theories, and it was so hard to be natural and artificial at the same time. She had no doubt she could get some new ideas from Miss Maitland. Would it be asking too much to see her apartments? She really felt like a stranger nowhere in Rivervale. Patience was only too delighted, and took her into her museum of natural history, art, religion, and vegetation.

"She might have gone to the grave-yard without coming into the house," Alice remarked.

"Oh, well," said her mother, "I think she is very amusing. You shouldn't be so exclusive, Alice."

"Mother, I do believe she paints."

With Patience, Mrs. Mavick felt on surer ground.

"How curious, how very curious and delightful it is! Such knowledge of nature, such art in arrangement."

"Oh, I just put them up," said Patience, "as I thought they ought by rights to be put up."

"That's it. And you have combined everything here. You have given me an idea. In our house we have a Japan room, and an Indian room, and a Chinese room, and an Otaheite, and I don't know what--Egyptian, Greek, and not one American, not a really American. That is, according to American ideas, for you have everything in these two rooms. I shall write to Mr. Mavick." (Mr. Mavick never received the letter.)

When she came away it was with a profusion of thanks, and repeated invitations to drop in at the inn. Alice accompanied her to the first stone that marked the threshold of the side door, and was bowing her away, when Mr. Philip swung over the fence by the wood-shed, with a shot-gun on his shoulder, and swinging in his left hand a gray squirrel by its bushy tail, and was immediately in front of the group.

"Ah!" involuntarily from Mrs. Mavick. An introduction was inevitable.

"My cousin, Mr. Burnett, Mrs. Mavick." Philip raised his cap and bowed.

"A hunter, I see."

"Hardly, madam. In vacations I like to walk in the woods with a gun."

"Then you are not--"

"No," said Philip, smiling, "unfortunately I cannot do this all the time."

"You are of the city, then?"

"With the firm of Hunt, Sharp & Tweedle."

"Ah, my husband knows them, I believe."

"I have seen Mr. Mavick," and Philip bowed again.

"How lucky!"

Mrs. Mavick had an eye for a fine young fellow--she never denied that--and Philip's manly figure and easy air were not lost on her. Presently she said:

"We are here for a good part of the summer. Mr. Mavick's business keeps him in the city and we have to poke about a good deal alone. Now, Miss Alice, I am so glad I have met your cousin. Perhaps he will show us some of the interesting places and the beauties of the country he knows so well." And she looked sideways at Philip.

"Yes, he knows the country," said Alice, without committing herself.

"I am sure I shall be delighted to do what I can for you whenever you need my services," said Philip, who had reasons for wishing to know the Mavicks which Alice did not share.

"That's so good of you! Excursions, picnics oh, we will arrange. You must come and help me arrange. And I hope," with a smile to Alice, "you can persuade your cousin to join us sometimes."

Alice bowed, they all bowed, and Mrs. Mavick said au revoir, and went swinging her parasol down the driveway. Then she turned and called back, "This is the first long walk I have taken." And then she said to herself, "Rather stiff, except the young man and the queer old maid. But what a pretty girl the younger must have been ten years ago! These country flowers!"

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CHAPTER XIIMrs. Mavick thought herself fortunate in finding, in the social wilderness of Rivervale, such a presentable young gentleman as Philip. She had persuaded herself that she greatly enjoyed her simple intercourse with the inhabitants, and she would have said that she was in deep sympathy with their lives. No doubt in New York she would relate her summer adventures as something very amusing, but for the moment this adaptable woman seemed to herself in a very ingenuous, receptive, and sympathetic state of mind. Still, there was a limit to the entertaining power of Aunt Hepsy, which was perceived when she
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CHAPTER XAll winter long that face seemed to get between Philip and his work. It was an inspiration to his pen when it ran in the way of literature, but a distinct damage to progress in his profession. He had seen Evelyn again, more than once, at the opera, and twice been excited by a passing glimpse of her on a crisp, sunny afternoon in the Mavick carriage in the Park-always the same bright, eager face. So vividly personal was the influence upon him that it seemed impossible that she should not be aware of it--impossible that she could not know
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