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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThat Fortune - Chapter 15
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That Fortune - Chapter 15 Post by :Finner Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2213

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That Fortune - Chapter 15

CHAPTER XV

One morning in December, Philip was sent down to Mr. Mavick's office with some important papers. He was kept waiting a considerable time in the outer room where the clerks were at work. A couple of clerks at desks near the chair he occupied were evidently discussing some one and he overheard fragments of sentences--"Yes, that's he." "Well, I guess the old man's got his match this time."

When he was admitted to the private office, he encountered coming out in the anteroom a man of striking appearance. For an instant they were face to face, and then bowed and passed on. The instant seemed to awaken some memory in Philip which greatly puzzled him.

The man had closely cropped black hair, black Whiskers, a little curling, but also closely trimmed, piercing black eyes, and the complexion of a Spaniard. The nose was large but regular, the mouth square-cut and firm, and the powerful jaw emphasized the decision of the mouth. The frame corresponded with the head. It was Herculean, and yet with no exaggerated developments. The man was over six feet in height, the shoulders were square, the chest deep, the hips and legs modeled for strength, and with no superfluous flesh. Philip noticed, as they fronted each other for an instant and the stranger raised his hat, that his hands and feet were smaller than usually accompany such a large frame. The impression was that of great physical energy, self-confidence, and determined will. The face was not bad, certainly not in detail, and even the penetrating eyes seemed at the moment capable of a humorous expression, but it was that of a man whom you would not like to have your enemy. He wore a business suit of rough material and fashionable cut, but he wore it like a man who did not give much thought to his clothes.

"What a striking-looking man," said Philip, motioning with his hand towards the anteroom as he greeted Mr. Mavick.

"Who, Ault?" answered Mavick, indifferently.

"Ault! What, Murad Ault?"

"Nobody else."

"Is it possible? I thought I saw a resemblance. Several times I have wondered, but I fancied it only a coincidence of names. It seemed absurd. Why, I used to know Murad Ault when we were boys. And to think that he should be the great Murad Ault."

"He hasn't been that for more than a couple of years," Mavick answered, with a smile at the other's astonishment, and then, with more interest, "What do you know about him?"

"If this is the same person, he used to live at Rivervale. Came there, no one knew where from, and lived with his mother, a little withered old woman, on a little cleared patch up in the hills, in a comfortable sort of shanty. She used to come to the village with herbs and roots to sell. Nobody knew whether she was a gypsy or a decayed lady, she had such an air, and the children were half afraid of her, as a sort of witch. Murad went to school, and occasionally worked for some farmer, but nobody knew him; he rarely spoke to any one, and he had the reputation of being a perfect devil; his only delight seemed to be in doing some dare-devil feat to frighten the children. We used to say that Murad Ault would become either a pirate or--"

"Broker," suggested Mr. Mavick, with a smile.

"I didn't know much about brokers at that time," Philip hastened to say, and then laughed himself at his escape from actual rudeness.

"What became of him?"

"Oh, he just disappeared. After I went away to school I heard that his mother had died, and Murad had gone off--gone West it was said. Nothing was ever heard of him."

The advent and rise of Murad Ault in New York was the sort of phenomenon to which the metropolis, which picks up its great men as Napoleon did his marshals, is accustomed. The mystery of his origin, which was at first against him, became at length an element of his strength and of the fear he inspired, as a sort of elemental force of unknown power. Newspaper biographies of him constantly appeared, but he had evaded every attempt to include him and his portrait in the Lives of Successful Men. The publishers of these useful volumes for stimulating speculation and ambition did not dare to take the least liberties with Murad Ault.

The man was like the boy whom Philip remembered. Doubtless he appreciated now as then the value of the mystery that surrounded his name and origin; and he very soon had a humorous conception of the situation that made him decline to be pilloried with others in one of those volumes, which won from a reviewer the confession that "lives of great men all remind us we may make our lives sublime." One of the legends current about him was that he first appeared in New York as a "hand" on a canal-boat, that he got employment as a check-clerk on the dock, that he made the acquaintance of politicians in his ward, and went into politics far enough to get a city contract, which paid him very well and showed him how easily a resolute man could get money and use it in the city. He was first heard of in Wall Street as a curbstone broker, taking enormous risks and always lucky. Very soon he set up an office, with one clerk or errand-boy, and his growing reputation for sagacity and boldness began to attract customers; his ventures soon engaged the attention of guerrillas like himself, who were wont to consult him. They found that his advice was generally sound, and that he had not only sensitiveness but prescience about the state of the market. His office was presently enlarged, and displayed a modest sign of "Murad Ault, Banker and Broker."

Mr. Ault's operations constantly enlarged, his schemes went beyond the business of registering other people's bets and taking a commission on them; he was known as a daring but successful promoter, and he had a visible ownership in steamships and railways, and projected such vast operations as draining the Jersey marshes. If he had been a citizen of Italy he would have attacked the Roman Campagna with the same confidence. At any rate, he made himself so much felt and seemed to command so many resources that it was not long before he forced his way into the Stock Exchange and had a seat in the Board of Brokers. He was at first an odd figure there. There was something flash about his appearance, and his heavy double watch-chain and diamond shirt-studs gave him the look of an ephemeral adventurer. But he soon took his cue, the diamonds disappeared, and the dress was toned down. There seemed to be two models in the Board, the smart and neat, and the hayseed style adopted by some of the most wily old operators, who posed as honest dealers who retained their rural simplicity. Mr. Ault adopted a middle course, and took the respectable yet fashionable, solid dress of a man of affairs.

There is no other place in the world where merit is so quickly recognized as in the Stock Exchange, especially if it is backed by brass and a good head. Ault's audacity made him feared; he was believed to be as unscrupulous as he was reckless, but this did not much injure his reputation when it was seen that he was marvelously successful. That Ault would wreck the market, if he could and it was to his advantage, no one doubted; but still he had a quality that begot confidence. He kept his word. Though men might be shy of entering into a contract with Ault, they learned that what he said he would do he would do literally. He was not a man of many words, but he was always decided and apparently open, and, as whatever he touched seemed to thrive, his associates got the habit of saying, "What Ault says goes."

Murad Ault had married, so it was said, the daughter of a boarding-house keeper on the dock. She was a pretty girl, had been educated in a convent (perhaps by his aid after he was engaged to marry her), and was a sweet mother to a little brood of charming children, and a devout member of her parish church. Those who had seen Mrs. Ault when her carriage took her occasionally to Ault's office in the city were much impressed by her graceful manner and sweet face, and her appearance gave Ault a sort of anchorage in the region of respectability. No one would have accused Ault of being devoted to any special kind of religious worship; but he was equally tolerant of all religions, and report said was liberal in his wife's church charities. Besides the fact that he owned a somewhat pretentious house in Sixtieth Street, society had very little knowledge of him.

It was, however, undeniable that he was a power in the Street. No other man's name was oftener mentioned in the daily journals in connection with some bold and successful operation. He seemed to thrive on panics, and to grow strong and rich with every turn of the wheel. There is only one stock expression in America for a man who is very able and unscrupulous, and carries things successfully with a high hand--he is Napoleonic. It needed only a few brilliant operations, madly reckless in appearance but successful, to give Ault the newspaper sobriquet of the Young Napoleon.

"Papa, what does he mean?" asked the eldest boy. "Jim Dustin says the papers call you Napoleon."

"It means, my boy," said Ault, with a grim smile, "that I am devoted to your mother, St. Helena."

"Don't say that, Murad," exclaimed his wife; "I'm far enough from a saint, and your destiny isn't the Island."

"What's the Island, mamma?"

"It's a place people are sent to for their health."

"In a boat? Can I go?"

"You ask too many questions, Sinclair," said Mr. Ault; "it's time you were off to school."

There seems to have been not the least suspicion in this household that the head of it was a pirate.

It must be said that Mavick still looked upon Ault as an adventurer, one of those erratic beings who appear from time to time in the Street, upset everything, and then disappear. They had been associated occasionally in small deals, and Ault had more than once appealed to Mavick, as a great capitalist, with some promising scheme. They had, indeed, co-operated in reorganizing a Western railway, but seemed to have come out of the operation without increased confidence in each other. What had occurred nobody knew, but thereafter there developed a slight antagonism between the two operators. Ault went no more to consult the elder man, and they had two or three little bouts, in which Mavick did not get the best of it. This was not an unusual thing in the Street. Mr. Ault never expressed his opinion of Mr. Mavick, but it became more and more apparent that their interests were opposed. Some one who knew both men, and said that the one was as cold and selfish as a pike, and the other was a most unscrupulous dare-devil, believed that Mavick had attempted some sort of a trick on Ault, and that it was the kind of thing that the Spaniard (his complexion had given him this nickname) never forgot.

It is not intended to enter into a defense of the local pool known as the New York Stock Exchange. It needs none. Some regard it as a necessary standpipe to promote and equalize distribution, others consult it as a sort of Nilometer, to note the rise and fall of the waters and the probabilities of drought or flood. Everybody knows that it is full of the most gamy and beautiful fish in the world--namely, the speckled trout, whose honest occupation it is to devour whatever is thrown into the pool--a body governed by the strictest laws of political economy in guarding against over-population, by carrying out the Malthusian idea, in the habit the big ones have of eating the little ones. But occasionally this harmonious family, which is animated by one of the most conspicuous traits of human nature--to which we owe very much of our progress--namely, the desire to get hold of everything within reach, and is such a useful object-lesson of the universal law of upward struggle that results in the survival of the fittest, this harmonious family is disturbed by the advent of a pickerel, which makes a raid, introduces confusion into all the calculations of the pool, roils the water, and drives the trout into their holes.

The presence in the pool of a slimy eel or a blundering bullhead or a lethargic sucker is bad enough, but the rush in of the pickerel is the advent of the devil himself. Until he is got rid of, all the delicate machinery for the calculation of chances is hopelessly disturbed; and no one could tell what would become of the business of the country if there were not a considerable number of devoted men engaged in registering its fluctuations and the change of values, and willing to back their opinions by investing their own capital or, more often, the capital of others.

This somewhat mixed figure cannot be pursued further without losing its analogy, becoming fantastic, and violating natural law. For it is matter of observation that in this arena the pickerel, if he succeeds in clearing out the pool, suddenly becomes a trout, and is respected as the biggest and most useful fish in the pond.

What is meant is simply that Murad Ault was fighting for position, and that for some reason, known to himself, Thomas Mavick stood in his way. Mr. Mavick had never been under the necessity of making such a contest. He stepped into a commanding position as the manager if not the owner of the great fortune of Rodney Henderson. His position was undisputed, for the Street believed with the world in the magnitude of that fortune, though there were shrewd operators who said that Mavick had more chicane but not a tenth part of the ability of Rodney Henderson. Mr. Ault had made the fortune the object of keen scrutiny, when his antagonism was aroused, and none knew better than he its assailable points. Henderson had died suddenly in the midst of vast schemes which needed his genius to perfect. Apparently the Mavick estate was second to only a few fortunes in the country. Mr. Ault had set himself to find out whether this vast structure stood upon rock foundations. The knowledge he acquired about it and his intentions he communicated to no one. But the drift of his mind might be gathered from a remark he made to his wife one day, when some social allusion was made to Mavick: "I'll bring down that snob."

The use of such men as Ault in the social structure is very doubtful, as doubtful as that of a summer tempest or local cyclone, which it is said clears the air and removes rubbish, but is a scourge that involves the innocent as often as the guilty. It is popularly supposed that the disintegration and distribution of a great fortune, especially if it has been accumulated by doubtful methods, is a benefit to mankind. Mr. Ault may have shared this impression, but it is unlikely that he philosophized on the subject. No one, except perhaps his own family, had ever discovered that he had any sensibilities that could be appealed to, and, if he had known the ideas beginning to take shape in the mind of the millionaire heiress in regard to this fortune, he would have approved or comprehended them as little as did her mother.

Evelyn had lived hitherto with little comprehension of her peculiar position. That the world went well with her, and that no obstacle was opposed to the gratification of her reasonable desires, or to her impulses of charity and pity, was about all she knew of her power. But she was now eighteen and about to appear in the world. Her mother, therefore, had been enlightening her in regard to her expectations and the career that lay open to her. And Carmen thought the girl a little perverse, in that this prospect, instead of exciting her worldly ambition, seemed to affect her only seriously as a matter of responsibility.

In their talks Mrs. Mavick was in fact becoming acquainted with the mind of her daughter, and learning, somewhat to her chagrin, the limitations of her education produced by the policy of isolation.

To her dismay, she found that the girl did not care much for the things that she herself cared most for. The whole world of society, its strifes, ambitions, triumphs, defeats, rewards, did not seem to Evelyn so real or so important as that world in which she had lived with her governess and her tutors. And, worse than this, the estimate she placed upon the values of material things was shockingly inadequate to her position.

That her father was a very great man was one of the earliest things Evelyn began to know, exterior to herself. This was impressed upon her by the deference paid to him not only at home but wherever they went, and by the deference shown to her as his daughter. And she was proud of this. He was not one of the great men whose careers she was familiar with in literature, not a general or a statesman or an orator or a scientist or a poet or a philanthropist she never thought of him in connection with these heroes of her imagination--but he was certainly a great power in the world. And she had for him a profound admiration, which might have become affection if Mavick had ever taken the pains to interest himself in the child's affairs. Her mother she loved, and believed there could be no one in the world more sweet and graceful and attractive, and as she grew up she yearned for more of the motherly companionship, for something more than the odd moments of petting that were given to her in the whirl of the life of a woman of the world. What that life was, however, she had only the dimmest comprehension, and it was only in the last two years, since she was sixteen, that she began to understand it, and that mainly in contrast to her own guarded life. And she was now able to see that her own secluded life had been unusual.

Not till long after this did she speak to any one of her experience as a child, of the time when she became conscious that she was never alone, and that she was only free to act within certain limits.

To McDonald, indeed, she had often shown her irritation, and it was only the strong good sense of the governess that kept her from revolt. It was not until very recently that it could be explained to her, without putting her in terror hourly, why she must always be watched and guarded.

It had required all the tact and sophistry of her governess to make her acquiesce in a system of education--so it was called-that had been devised in order to give her the highest and purest development. That the education was mainly left to McDonald, and that her parents were simply anxious about her safety, she did not learn till long afterwards. In the first years Mrs. Mavick had been greatly relieved to be spared all the care of the baby, and as the years went on, the arrangement seemed more and more convenient, and she gave little thought to the character that was being formed. To Mr. Mavick, indeed, as to his wife, it was enough to see that she was uncommonly intelligent, and that she had a certain charm that made her attractive. Mrs. Mavick took it for granted that when it came time to introduce her into the world she would be like other girls, eager for its pleasures and susceptible to all its allurements. Of the direction of the undercurrents of the girl's life she had no conception, until she began to unfold to her the views of the world that prevailed in her circle, and what (in the Carmen scheme of life) ought to be a woman's ambition.

That she was to be an heiress Evelyn had long known, that she would one day have a great fortune at her disposal had indeed come into her serious thought, but the brilliant use of it in relation to herself, at which her mother was always lately hinting, came to her as a disagreeable shock. For the moment the fortune seemed to her rather a fetter than an opportunity, if she was to fulfill her mother's expectations. These hints were conveyed with all the tact of which her mother was master, but the girl was nevertheless somewhat alarmed, and she began to regard the "coming out" as an entrance into servitude rather than an enlargement of liberty. One day she surprised Miss McDonald by asking her if she didn't think that rich people were the only ones not free to do as they pleased?

"Why, my dear, it is not generally so considered. Most people fancy that if they had money enough they could do anything."

"Yes, of course," said the girl, putting down her stitching and looking up; "that is not exactly what I mean. They can go in the current, they can do what they like with their money, but I mean with themselves. Aren't they in a condition that binds them half the time to do what they don't wish to do?"

"It's a condition that all the world is trying to get into."

"I know. I've been talking with mamma about the world and about society, and what is expected and what you must live up to."

"But you have always known that you must one day go into the world and take your share in life."

"That, yes. But I would rather live up to myself. Mamma seems to think that society will do a great deal for me, that I will get a wider view of life, that I can do so much for society, and, with my position, mamma says, have such a career. McDonald, what is society for?"

That was such a poser that the governess threw up her hands, and then laughed aloud, and then shook her head. "Wiser people than you have asked that question."

"I asked mamma that, for she is in it all the time. She didn't like it much, and asked, 'What is anything for?' You see, McDonald, I've been with mamma many a time when her friends came to see her, and they never have anything to say, never--what I call anything. I wonder if in society they go about saying that? What do they do it for?"

Miss McDonald had her own opinion about what is called society and its occupations and functions, but she did not propose to encourage this girl, who would soon take her place in it, in such odd notions.

"Don't you know, child, that there is society and society? That it is all sorts of a world, that it gets into groups and circles about, and that is the way the world is stirred up and kept from stagnation. And, my dear, you have just to do your duty where you are placed, and that is all there is about it."

"Don't be cross, McDonald. I suppose I can think my thoughts?"

"Yes, you can think, and you can learn to keep a good deal that you think to yourself. Now, Evelyn, haven't you any curiosity to see what this world we are talking about is like?"

"Indeed I have," said Evelyn, coming out of her reflective mood into a girlish enthusiasm. "And I want to see what I shall be like in it. Only--well, how is that?" And she held out the handkerchief she had been plying her needle on.

Miss McDonald looked at the stitches critically, at the letters T.M. enclosed in an oval.

"That is very good, not too mechanical. It will please your father. The oval makes a pretty effect; but what are those signs between the letters?"

"Don't you see? It is a cartouche, and those are hieroglyphics--his name in Egyptian. I got it out of Petrie's book."

"It certainly is odd."

"And every one of the twelve is going to be different. It is so interesting to hunt up the signs for qualities. If papa can read it he will find out a good deal that I think about him."

The governess only smiled for reply. It was so like Evelyn, so different from others even in the commonplace task of marking handkerchiefs, to work a little archaeology into her expression of family affection.

Mrs. Mavick's talks with her daughter in which she attempted to give Evelyn some conception of her importance as the heiress of a great fortune, of her position in society, what would be expected of her, and of the brilliant social career her mother imagined for her, had an effect opposite to that intended. There had been nothing in her shielded life, provided for at every step without effort, that had given her any idea of the value and importance of money.

To a girl in her position, educated in the ordinary way and mingling with school companions, one of the earliest lessons would be a comprehension of the power that wealth gave her; and by the time that she was of Evelyn's age her opinion of men would begin to be colored by the notion that they were polite or attentive to her on account of her fortune and not for any charm of hers, and so a cruel suspicion of selfishness would have entered her mind to poison the very thought of love.

No such idea had entered Evelyn's mind. She would not readily have understood that love could have any sort of relation to riches or poverty. And if, deep down in her heart, not acknowledged, scarcely recognized, by herself, there had begun to grow an image about which she had sweet and tender thoughts, it certainly did not occur to her that her father's wealth could make any difference in the relations of friendship or even of affection. And as for the fortune, if she was, as her mother said, some day to be mistress of it, she began to turn over in her mind objects quite different from the display and the career suggested by her mother, and to think how she could use it.

In her ignorance of practical life and of what the world generally values, of course the scheme that was rather hazy in her mind was simply Quixotic, as appeared in a conversation with her father one evening while he smoked his cigar. He had called Evelyn to the library, on the suggestion of Carmen that he should "have a little talk with the girl."

Mr. Mavick began, when Evelyn was seated beside him, and he had drawn her close to him and she had taken possession of his big hand with both her little hands, about the reception and about balls to come, and the opera, and what was going on in New York generally in the season, and suddenly asked:

"My dear, if you had a lot of money, what would you do with it?"

"What would you?" said the girl, looking up into his face. "What do people generally do?"

"Why," and Mavick hesitated, "they use it to add more to it."

"And then?" pursued the girl.

"I suppose they leave it to somebody. Suppose it was left to you?"

"Don't think me silly, papa; I've thought a lot about it, and I shall do something quite different."

"Different from what?"

"You know mamma is in the Orthopedic Hospital, and in the Ragged Schools, and in the Infirmary, and I don't know what all."

"And wouldn't you help them?"

"Of course, I would help. But everybody does those things, the practical things, the charities; I mean to do things for the higher life."

Mr. Mavick took his cigar from his mouth and looked puzzled. "You want to build a cathedral?"

"No, I don't mean that sort of higher life, I mean civilization, the things at the top. I read an essay the other day that said it was easy to raise money for anything mechanical and practical in a school, but nobody wanted to give for anything ideal."

"Quite right," said her father; "the world is full of cranks. You seem as vague as your essayist."

"Don't you remember, papa, when we were in Oxford how amused you were with the master, or professor, who grumbled because the college was full of students, and there wasn't a single college for research?

"I asked McDonald afterwards what he meant; that is how I first got my idea, but I didn't see exactly what it was until recently. You've got to cultivate the high things--that essay says--the abstract, that which does not seem practically useful, or society will become low and material."

"By George!" cried Mavick, with a burst of laughter, "you've got the lingo. Go on, I want to see where you are going to light."

"Well, I'll tell you some more. You know my tutor is English. McDonald says she believes he is the most learned man in eighteenth-century literature living, and his dream is to write a history of it. He is poor, and engaged all the time teaching, and McDonald says he will die, no doubt, and leave nothing of his investigations to the world."

"And you want to endow him?"

"He is only one. There is the tutor of history. Teach, teach, teach, and no time or strength left for investigation. You ought to hear him tell of the things just to be found out in American history. You see what I mean? It is plainer in the sciences. The scholars who could really make investigations, and do something for the world, have to earn their living and have no time or means for experiments. It seems foolish as I say it, but I do think, papa, there is something in it."

"And what would you do?"

Evelyn saw that she was making no headway, and her ideas, exposed to so practical a man as her father, did seem rather ridiculous. But she struck out boldly with the scheme that she had been evolving.

"I'd found Institutions of Research, where there should be no teaching, and students who had demonstrated that they had anything promising in them, in science, literature, languages, history, anything, should have the means and the opportunity to make investigations and do work. See what a hard time inventors and men of genius have; it is pitiful."

"And how much money do you want for this modest scheme of yours?"

"I hadn't thought," said Evelyn, patting her father's hand. And then, at a venture, "I guess about ten millions."

"Whew! Have you any idea how much ten millions are, or how much one million is?"

"Why, ten millions, if you have a hundred, is no more than one million if you have only ten. Doesn't it depend?"

"If it depends upon you, child, I don't think money has any value for you whatever. You are a born financier for getting rid of a surplus. You ought to be Secretary of the Treasury."

Mavick rose, lifted up his daughter, and, kissing her with more than usual tenderness, said, "You'll learn about the world in time," and bade her goodnight.

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