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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThat Fortune - Chapter 12
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That Fortune - Chapter 12 Post by :Finner Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2472

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That Fortune - Chapter 12

CHAPTER XII

Mrs. 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 began to repeat her annals of the neighborhood, and to bring forward again and again the little nuggets of wisdom which she had evolved in the small circle of her experience. And similarly Mrs. Mavick became aware that there was a monotony in the ideas brought forward by the farmers and the farmers' wives, whether in the kitchen or the best room, which she lighted up by her gracious presence, that it was possible to be tired of the most interesting "peculiarities" when once their novelty was exhausted, and that so-called "characters" in the country fail to satisfy the requirements of intimate or long companionship. Their world is too narrowly circumscribed.

The fact that Philip was a native of the place, and so belonged to a world that was remote from her own, made her free to seek his aid in making the summer pass agreeably without incurring any risk of social obligations. Besides, when she had seen more of him, she experienced a good deal of pleasure in his company. His foreign travel, his reading, his life in the city, offered many points of mutual interest, and it was a relief to her to get out of the narrow range of topics in the provincial thought, and to have her allusions understood. Philip, on his part, was not slow to see this, or to perceive that in the higher intellectual ranges, the serious topics which occupied the attention of the few cultivated people in the neighborhood, Mrs. Mavick had little interest or understanding, though there was nothing she did not profess an interest in when occasion required. Philip was not of a suspicious nature, and it may not have occurred to him that Mrs. Mavick was simply amusing herself, as she would do with any agreeable man, young or old, who fell in her way, and would continue to do so if she reached the age of ninety.

On the contrary, it never seemed to occur to Mrs. Mavick, who was generally suspicious, that Philip was making himself agreeable to the mother of Evelyn. In her thought Evelyn was still a child, in leading-strings, and would be till she was formally launched, and the social gulf between the great heiress and the law clerk and poor writer was simply impassable. All of which goes to show that the most astute women are not always the wisest.

To one person in Rivervale the coming of Mrs. Mavick and her train of worldliness was unwelcome. It disturbed the peaceful simplicity of the village, and it was likely to cloud her pleasure in Philip's visit. She felt that Mrs. Mavick was taking him away from the sweet serenity of their life, and that in everything she said or did there was an element of unrest and excitement. She was careful, however, not to show any of this apprehension to Philip; she showed it only by an increased affectionate interest in him and his concerns, and in trying to make the old home more dear to him. Mrs. Mavick was loud in her praise of Alice to her cousin, and sought to win her confidence, but she was, after all, a little shy of her, and probably would have characterized her to a city friend as a sort of virgin in the Bible.

It so happened that day after day went by without giving Philip anything more than passing glimpses of Evelyn, when she was driving with her mother or her governess. Yet Rivervale never seemed so ravishingly beautiful to all his senses. Surely it was possessed by a spirit of romance and poetry, which he had never perceived before, and he wasted a good deal of time in gazing on the river, on the gracious meadows, on the graceful contours of the hills. When he was a lad, in the tree-top, there had been something stimulating and almost heroic in the scene, which awakened his ambition. Now it was the idyllic beauty that took possession of him, transformed as it was by the presence of a woman, that supreme interpreter of nature to a youth. And yet scarcely a woman--rather a vision of a girl, impressible still to all the influences of such a scene and to the most delicate suggestions of unfolding life. Probably he did not analyze this feeling, but it was Evelyn he was thinking of when he admired the landscape, breathed with exhilaration the fresh air, and watched the white clouds sail along the blue vault; and he knew that if she were suddenly to leave the valley all the light would go out of it and the scene would be flat to his eyes and torturing to his memory.

Mrs. Mavick he encountered continually in the village. He had taken many little strolls with her to this or that pretty point of view, they had exchanged reminiscences of foreign travel, and had dipped a little into current popular books, so that they had come to be on easy, friendly terms. Philip's courtesy and deference, and a certain wit and humor of suggestion applied to ordinary things, put him more and more on a good footing with her, so much so that she declared to McDonald that really young Burnett was a genuine "find" in the country.

It seems a pity that the important events in our lives are so commonplace. Philip's meeting with Evelyn, so long thought of and dramatized in his mind, was not in the least as he had imagined it. When one morning he went to the Peacock Inn at the summons of Mrs. Mavick, in order to lay out a plan of campaign, he found Evelyn and her governess seated on the veranda, with their books. It was Evelyn who rose first and came forward, without, so far as Philip could see, the least embarrassment of recognition.

"Mr. Burnett? Mamma will be here in a moment. This is our friend, Miss McDonald."

The girl's morning costume was very simple, and in her short walking-skirt she seemed younger even than in the city. She spoke and moved--Philip noticed that--without the least self-consciousness, and she had a way of looking her interlocutor frankly in the eyes, or, as Philip expressed it, "flashing" upon him.

Philip bowed to the governess, and, still standing and waving his hand towards the river, hoped they liked Rivervale, and then added:

"I see you can read in the country."

"We pretend to," said Evelyn, who had resumed her seat and indicated a chair for Philip, "but the singing of that river, and the bobolinks in the meadow, and the light on the hills are almost too much for us. Don't you think, McDonald, it is like Scotland?"

"It would be," the governess replied, "if it rained when it didn't mist, and there were moors and heather, and--"

"Oh, I didn't mean all that, but a feeling like that, sweet and retired and sort of lonesome?"

"Perhaps Miss McDonald means," said Philip, "that there isn't much to feel here except what you see."

Miss McDonald looked sharply around at Philip and remarked: "Yes, that's just it. It is very lovely, like almost any outdoors, if you will give yourself up to it. You remember, Evelyn, how fascinating the Arizona desert was? But there was a romantic addition to the colored desolation because the Spaniards and the Jesuits had been there. Now this place lacks traditions, legends, romance. You have to bring your romance with you."

"And that is the reason you read here?"

"One reason. Especially romances. This charming scenery and the summer sounds of running water and birds make a nice accompaniment to the romance."

"But mamma says," Evelyn interrupted, "there is plenty of legend here, and tradition and flavor, Indians and early settlers, and even Aunt Hepsy."

"Well, I confess they don't appeal to me. And as for Indians, Parkman's descriptions of those savages made me squirm. And I don't believe there was much more romance about the early settlers than about their descendants. Isn't it true, Mr. Burnett, that you must have a human element to make any country interesting?"

Philip glanced at Evelyn, whose bright face was kindled with interest in the discussion, and thought, "Good heavens! if there is not human interest here, I don't know where to look for it," but he only said:

"Doubtless."

"And why don't you writers do something about it? It is literature that does it, either in Scotland or Judea."

"Well," said Philip, stoutly, "they are doing something. I could name half a dozen localities, even sections of country, that travelers visit with curiosity just because authors have thrown that glamour over them. But it is hard to create something out of nothing. It needs time."

"And genius," Miss McDonald interjected.

"Of course, but it took time to transform a Highland sheep-stealer into a romantic personage."

Miss McDonald laughed. "That is true. Take a modern instance. Suppose Evangeline had lived in this valley! Or some simple Gretchen about whose simple story all the world is in sympathy!"

"Or," thought Philip, "some Evelyn." But he replied, looking at Evelyn, "I believe that any American community usually resents being made the scene of a romance, especially if it is localized by any approach to reality."

"Isn't that the fault mostly of the writer, who vulgarizes his material?"

"The realists say no. They say that people dislike to see themselves as they are."

"Very likely," said Miss McDonald; "no one sees himself as others see him, and probably the poet who expressed the desire to do so was simply attitudinizing.--(Robert Burns: 'O wha gift the Giftie gie us; to see o'rselves as others see us.' Ed.)--By the way, Mr. Burnett, you know there is one place of sentiment, religious to be sure, not far from here. I hope we can go some day to see the home of the 'Mountain Miller.'"

"Yes, I know the place. It is beyond the river, up that steep road running into the sky, in the next adjoining hill town. I doubt if you find any one there who lays it much to heart. But you can see the mill."

"What is the Mountain Miller?" asked Evelyn.

"A tract that, when I was a girl," answered Miss McDonald, "used to be bound up with 'The Dairyman's Daughter' and 'The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain.' It was the first thing that interested me in New England."

"Well," said Philip, "it isn't much. Just a tract. But it was written by Parson Halleck, a great minister and a sort of Pope in this region for fifty years. It is, so far as I know, the only thing of his that remains."

This tractarian movement was interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Mavick.

"Good-morning, Mr. Burnett. I've been down to see Jenkins about his picnic wagon. Carries six, besides the driver and my man, and the hampers. So, you see, Miss Alice will have to go. We couldn't go rattling along half empty. I'll go up and see her this afternoon. So, that's settled. Now about the time and place. You are the director. Let's sit down and plan it out. It looks like good weather for a week."

"Miss McDonald says she wants to see the Mountain Miller," said Philip, with a smile.

"What's that? A monument like your Pulpit Rock?"

"No, a tract about a miller."

"Ah, something religious. I never heard of it. Well, perhaps we had better begin with something secular, and work round to that."

So an excursion was arranged for the next day. And as Philip walked home, thinking how brilliant Evelyn had been in their little talk, he began to dramatize the excursion.

All excursions are much alike, exhilarating in the outset, rarely up to expectation in the object, wearisome in the return; but, nevertheless, delightful in the memory, especially if attended with some hardship or slight disaster. To be free, in the open air, and for a day unconventional and irresponsible, is the sufficient justification of a country picnic; but its common attraction is in the opportunity for bringing young persons of the opposite sex into natural and unrestrained relations. To Philip it was the first time in his life that a picnic had ever seemed a defensible means of getting rid of a day.

The two persons to whom this excursion was most novel and exciting were Evelyn and the elder maiden, Alice, who sat together and speedily developed a sympathy with each other in the enjoyment of the country, and in a similar poetic temperament, very shy on the part of Alice and very frank on the part of Evelyn. The whole wild scene along the river was quite as novel to Alice as to the city girl, because, although she was familiar with every mile of it and had driven through it a hundred times, she had never in all her life before, of purpose, gone to see it. No doubt she had felt its wildness and beauty, but now for the first time she looked at it as scenery, as she might have looked at a picture in a gallery. And in the contagion of Evelyn's outspoken enthusiasm she was no longer afraid to give timid expression to the latent poetry in her own soul. And daring to express this, she seemed to herself for the first time to realize vividly the nobility and grace of the landscape. And yet there was a difference in the appreciation of the two. More widely read and traveled, Evelyn's imagination took a wider range of comparison and of admiration, she was appealed to by the large features and the grandiose effects; while Alice noted more the tenderer aspects, the wayside flowers and bushes, the exotic-looking plants, which she longed to domesticate in what might be called the Sunday garden on the terraces in front of her house. For it is in these little cultivated places by the door-step, places of dreaming in the summer hours after meeting and at sunset, that the New England maiden experiences something of that tender religious sentiment which was not much fed in the barrenness of the Congregational meeting-house.

The Pulpit Rock, in the rough pasture land of Zoar, was reached by a somewhat tedious climb from the lonely farmhouse, in a sheltered nook, through straggling woods and gray pastures. It was a vast exposed surface rising at a slight angle out of the grass and undergrowth. Along the upper side was a thin line of bushes, and, pushing these aside, the observer was always startled at the unexpected scene--as it were the raising of a curtain upon another world. He stood upon the edge of a sheer precipice of a thousand feet, and looked down upon a green amphitheatre through the bottom of which the brawling river, an amber thread in the summer foliage, seemed trying to get an outlet from this wilderness cul de sac. From the edge of this precipice the first impulse was to start back in surprise and dread, but presently the observer became reassured of its stability, and became fascinated by the lonesome wildness of the scene.

"Why is it called Pulpit Rock?" asked Mrs. Mavick; "I see no pulpit."

"I suppose," said Philip, "the name was naturally suggested to a religious community, whose poetic images are mainly Biblical, and who thought it an advantageous place for a preacher to stand, looking down upon a vast congregation in the amphitheatre."

"So it is," exclaimed Evelyn. "I can see John the Baptist standing here now, and hear his voice crying in the wilderness."

"Very likely," said Mrs. Mavick, persisting in her doubt, "of course in Zoar. Anywhere else in the world it would be called the Lover's Leap."

"That is odd," said Alice; "there was a party of college girls came here two years ago and made up a story about it which was printed, how an Indian maiden pursued by a white man ran up this hill as if she had been a deer, disappeared from his sight through these bushes, and took the fatal leap. They called it the Indian Maiden's Rock. But it didn't take. It will always be Pulpit Rock."

"So you see, Miss McDonald," said Philip, "that writers cannot graft legends on the old stock."

"That depends upon the writer," returned the Scotch woman, shortly. "I didn't see the schoolgirl's essay."

When the luncheon was disposed of, with the usual adaptation to nomadic conditions, and the usual merriment and freedom of personal comment, and the wit that seems so brilliant in the open air and so flat in print, Mrs. Mavick declared that she was tired by the long climb and the unusual excitement.

"Perhaps it is the Pulpit," she said, "but I am sleepy; and if you young people will amuse yourselves, I will take a nap under that tree."

Presently, also, Alice and the governess withdrew to the edge of the precipice, and Evelyn and Philip were left to the burden of entertaining each other. It might have been an embarrassing situation but for the fact that all the rest of the party were in sight, that the girl had not the least self-consciousness, having had no experience to teach her that there was anything to be timid about in one situation more than in another, and that Philip was so absolutely content to be near Evelyn and hear her voice that there was room for nothing else in his thought. But rather to his surprise, Evelyn made no talk about the situation or the day, but began at once with something in her mind, a directness of mental operation that he found was characteristic of her.

"It seems to me, Mr. Burnett, that there is something of what Miss McDonald regards as the lack of legend and romance in this region in our life generally."

"I fancy everybody feels that who travels much elsewhere. You mean life seems a little thin, as the critics say?"

"Yes, lacks color and background. But, you see, I have no experience. Perhaps it's owing to Miss McDonald. I cannot get the plaids and tartans and Jacobins and castles and what-not out of my head. Our landscapes are just landscapes."

"But don't you think we are putting history and association into them pretty fast?"

"Yes, I know, but that takes a long time. I mean now. Take this lovely valley and region, how easily it could be made romantic."

"Not so very easy, I fancy."

"Well, I was thinking about it last night." And then, as if she saw a clear connection between this and what she was going to say, "Miss McDonald says, Mr. Burnett, that you are a writer."

"I? Why, I'm... I'm--a lawyer."

"Of course, that's business. That reminds me of what papa said once: 'It's lucky there is so much law, or half the world, including the lawyers, wouldn't have anything to do, trying to get around it and evade it.' And you won't mind my repeating it--I was a mite of a girl--I said, 'Isn't that rather sophistical, papa?' And mamma put me down'--It seems to me, child, you are using pretty big words.'"

They both laughed. But suddenly Evelyn added:

"Why don't you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Write a story about it--what Miss McDonald calls 'invest the region with romance.'"

The appeal was very direct, and it was enforced by those wonderful eyes that seemed to Philip to discern his powers, as he felt them, and his ambitions, and to express absolute confidence in him. His vanity was touched in its most susceptible spot. Here seemed to be a woman, nay, a soul, who understood him, understood him even better than Celia, the lifelong confidante. It is a fatal moment for men and women, that in which they feel the subtle flattery of being understood by one of the opposite sex. Philip's estimation of himself rose 'pari passu' with his recognition of the discernment and intellectual quality of the frank and fascinating girl who seemed to believe in him. But he restrained himself and only asked, after a moment of apparent reflection upon the general proposition:

"Well, Miss Mavick, you have been here some time. Have you discovered any material for such use?"

"Why, perhaps not, and I might not know what to do with it if I had. But perhaps you don't mean what I mean. I mean something fitting the setting. Not the domestic novel. Miss McDonald says we are vulgarized in all our ideals by so much domesticity. She says that Jennie Deans would have been just an ordinary, commonplace girl but for Walter Scott."

"Then you want a romance?"

"No. I don't know exactly what I do want. But I know it when I see it." And Evelyn looked down and appeared to be studying her delicate little hands, interlacing her taper, ivory fingers--but Philip knew she did not see them--and then looked up in his face again and said:

"I'll tell you. This morning as we came up I was talking all the way with your cousin. It took some time to break the ice, but gradually she began to say things, half stories, half poetic, not out of books; things that, if said with assurance, in the city would be called wit. And then I began to see her emotional side, her pure imagination, such a refinement of appreciation and justice--I think there is an immovable basis of justice in her nature--and charity, and I think she'd be heroic, with all her gentleness, if occasion offered."

"I see," said Philip, rather lightly, "that you improved your time in finding out what a rare creature Alice is. But," and this more gravely, "it would surprise her that you have found it out."

"I believe you. I fancy she has not the least idea what her qualities are, or her capacities of doing or of suffering, and the world will never know--that is the point-unless some genius comes along and reveals them."

"How?"

"Why, through a tragedy, a drama, a story, in which she acts out her whole self. Some act it out in society. She never will. Such sweetness and strength and passion--yes, I have no doubt, passion under all the reserve! I feel it but I cannot describe it; I haven't imagination to make you see what I feel."

"You come very near it," said Philip, with a smile. And after a moment the girl broke out again:

"Materials! You writers go searching all round for materials, just as painters do, fit for your genius."

"But don't you know that the hardest thing to do is the obvious, the thing close to you?"

"I dare say. But you won't mind? It is just an illustration. I went the other day with mother to Alice's house. She was so sort of distant and reserved that I couldn't know her in the least as I know her now. And there was the rigid Puritan, her father, representing the Old Testament; and her placid mother, with all the spirit of the New Testament; and then that dear old maiden aunt, representing I don't know what, maybe a blind attempt through nature and art to escape out of Puritanism; and the typical old frame farmhouse--why, here is material for the sweetest, most pathetic idyl. Yes, the Story of Alice. In another generation people would come long distances to see the valley where Alice lived, and her spirit would pervade it."

There could be but one end to such a burst of enthusiasm, and both laughed and felt a relief in a merriment that was, after all, sympathetic. But Evelyn was a persistent creature, and presently she turned to Philip, again with those appealing eyes.

"Now, why don't you do it?"

Philip hesitated a moment and betrayed some embarrassment under the questioning of the truthful eyes.

"I've a good mind to tell you. I have--I am writing something."

"Yes?"

"Not that exactly. I couldn't, don't you see, betray and use my own relatives in that way."

"Yes, I see that."

"It isn't much. I cannot tell how it will come out. I tell you--I don't mean that I have any right to ask you to keep it as a secret of mine, but it is this way: If a writer gives away his imagination, his idea, before it is fixed in form on paper, he seems to let the air of all the world upon it and it disappears, and isn't quite his as it was before to grow in his own mind."

"I can understand that," Evelyn replied.

"Well--" and Philip found himself launched. It is so easy to talk about one's self to a sympathetic listener. He told Evelyn a little about his life, and how the valley used to seem to him as a boy, and how it seemed now that he had had experience of other places and people, and how his studies and reading had enabled him to see things in their proper relations, and how, finally, gradually the idea for a story in this setting had developed in his mind. And then he sketched in outline the story as he had developed it, and left the misty outlines of its possibilities to the imagination.

The girl listened with absorbing interest, and looked the approval which she did not put in words. Perhaps she knew that a bud will never come to flower if you pull it in pieces. When Philip had finished he had a momentary regret for this burst of confidence, which he had never given to any one else. But in the light of Evelyn's quick approval and understanding, it was only momentary. Perhaps neither of them thought what a dangerous game this is, for two young souls to thus unbosom themselves to each other.

A call from Mrs. Mavick brought them to their feet. It was time to go. Evelyn simply said:

"I think the valley, Mr. Burnett, looks a little different already."

As they drove home along the murmuring river through the golden sunset, the party were mostly silent. Only Mrs. Mavick and Philip, who sat together, kept up a lively chatter, lively because Philip was elated with the event of the day, and because the nap under the beech-tree in the open air had brightened the wits of one of the cleverest women Philip had ever met.

If the valley did seem different to Evelyn, probably she did not think so far as to own to herself whether this was owing to the outline of the story, which ran in her mind, or to the presence of the young author.

Alice and Philip were set down at the farmhouse, and the company parted with mutual enthusiasm over the success of the excursion.

"She is a much more interesting girl than I thought," Alice admitted. "Not a bit fashionable."

"And she likes you."

"Me?"

"Yes, your ears would have burned."

"Well, I am glad, for I think she is sincere."

"And I can tell you another thing. I had a long talk while you were taking your siesta. She takes an abstract view of things, judging the right and wrong of them, without reference to conventionalities or the practical obstacles to carrying out her ideas, as if she had been educated by reading and not by society. It is very interesting."

"Philip," and Alice laid her hand on his shoulder, "don't let it be too interesting."

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