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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThat Fortune - Chapter 20
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That Fortune - Chapter 20 Post by :Finner Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :1738

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That Fortune - Chapter 20

CHAPTER XX

Did Miss McDonald tell Evelyn of her meeting with Philip in Central Park? The Scotch loyalty to her service would throw a doubt upon this. At the same time, the Scotch affection, the Scotch sympathy with a true and romantic passion, and, above all, the Scotch shrewdness, could be trusted to do what was best under the circumstances. That she gave the least hint of what she said to Mr. Burnett concerning Evelyn is not to be supposed for a moment. Certainly she did not tell Mrs. Mavick. Was she a person to run about with idle gossip? But it is certain that Evelyn knew that Philip had given up his situation in the office, that he had become a reader for a publishing house, that he had definitely decided to take up a literary career. And somehow it came into her mind that Philip knew that this decision would be pleasing to her.

According to the analogy of other things in nature, it would seem that love must have something to feed on to sustain it. But it is remarkable upon how little it can exist, can even thrive and become strong, and develop a power of resistance to hostile influences. Once it gets a lodgment in a woman's heart, it is an exclusive force that transforms her into a heroine of courage and endurance. No arguments, no reason, no considerations of family, of position, of worldly fortune, no prospect of immortal life, nothing but doubt of faith in the object can dislodge it. The woman may yield to overwhelming circumstances, she may even by her own consent be false to herself, but the love lives, however hidden and smothered, so long as the vital force is capable of responding to a true emotion. Perhaps nothing in human life is so pathetic as this survival in old age of a youthful, unsatisfied love. It may cease to be a passion, it may cease to be a misery, it may have become only a placid sentiment, yet the heart must be quite cold before this sentiment can cease to stir it on occasion--for the faded flower is still in the memory the bloom of young love.

They say that in the New Education for women love is not taken into account in the regular course; it is an elective study. But the immortal principle of life does not care much for organization, and says, as of old, they reckon ill who leave me out.

In the early season at Newport there was little to distract the attention and much to calm the spirit. Mrs. Mavick was busy in her preparation for the coming campaign, and Evelyn and her governess were left much alone, to drive along the softly lapping sea, to search among the dells of the rocky promontory for wild flowers, or to sit on the cliffs in front of the gardens of bloom and watch the idle play of the waves, that chased each other to the foaming beach and in good-nature tossed about the cat-boats and schooners and set the white sails shimmering and dipping in the changing lights. And Evelyn, drinking in the beauty and the peace of it, no doubt, was more pensive than joyous. Within the last few months life had opened to her with a suddenness that half frightened her.

It was a woman who sat on the cliffs now, watching the ocean of life, no longer a girl into whose fresh soul the sea and the waves and the air, and the whole beauty of the world, were simply responsive to her own gayety and enjoyment of living. It was not the charming scene that held her thought, but the city with its human struggle, and in that struggle one figure was conspicuous. In such moments this one figure of youth outweighed for her all that the world held besides. It was strange. Would she have admitted this? Not in the least, not even to herself, in her virgin musings; nevertheless, the world was changed for her, it was more serious, more doubtful, richer, and more to be feared.

It was not too much to say that one season had much transformed her. She had been so ignorant of the world a year ago. She had taken for granted all that was abstractly right. Now she saw that the conventions of life were like sand-dunes and barriers in the path she was expected to walk. She had learned for one thing what money was. Wealth had been such an accepted part of her life, since she could remember, that she had attached no importance to it, and had only just come to see what distinctions it made, and how it built a barrier round about her. She had come to know what it was that gave her father position and distinction; and the knowledge had been forced upon her by all the obsequious flattery of society that she was, as a great heiress, something apart from others. This position, so much envied, may be to a sensitive soul an awful isolation.

It was only recently that Evelyn had begun to be keenly aware of the circumstances that hedged her in. They were speaking one day as they sat upon the cliffs of the season about to begin. In it Evelyn had always had unalloyed, childish delight. Now it seemed to her something to be borne.

"McDonald," the girl said, abruptly, but evidently continuing her line of thought, "mamma says that Lord Montague is coming next week."

"To be with us?"

"Oh, no. He is to stay with the Danforth-Sibbs. Mamma says that as he is a stranger here we must be very polite to him, and that his being here will give distinction to the season. Do you like him?" There was in Evelyn still, with the penetration of the woman, the naivete of the child.

"I cannot say that he is personally very fascinating, but then I have never talked with him."

"Mamma says he is very interesting about his family, and their place in England, and about his travels. He has been in the South Sea Islands. I asked him about them. He said that the natives were awfully jolly, and that the climate was jolly hot. Do you know, McDonald, that you can't get anything out of him but exclamations and slang. I suppose he talks to other people differently. I tried him. At the reception I asked him who was going to take Tennyson's place. He looked blank, and then said, 'Er--I must have missed that. What place? Is he out?'"

Miss McDonald laughed, and then said, "You don't understand the classes in English life. Poetry is not in his line. You see, dear, you couldn't talk to him about politics. He is a born legislator, and when he is in the House of Lords he will know right well who is in and who is out. You mustn't be unjust because he seems odd to you and of limited intelligence. Just that sort of youth is liable to turn up some day in India or somewhere and do a mighty plucky thing, and become a hero. I dare say he is a great sportsman."

"Yes, he quite warmed up about shooting. He told me about going for yak in the snow mountains south of Thibet. Bloody cold it was. Nasty beast, if you didn't bring him down first shot. No, I don't doubt his courage nor his impudence. He looks at me so, that I can't help blushing. I wish mamma wouldn't ask him."

"But, my dear, we must live in the world as it is. You are not responsible for Lord Montague."

"And I know he will come," the girl persisted in her line of thought.

"When he called the day before we came away, he asked a lot of questions about Newport, about horses and polo and golf, and all that, and were the roads good. And then, 'Do you bike, Miss Mavick?'

"I pretended not to understand, and said I was still studying with my governess and I hadn't got all the irregular verbs yet. For once, he looked quite blank, and after a minute he said, 'That's very good, you know!' McDonald, I just hate him. He makes me so uneasy."

"But don't you know, child," said Miss McDonald, laughing, "that we are required to love our enemies?"

"So I would," replied the girl, quickly, "if he were an enemy and would keep away. Ah, me! McDonald, I want to ask you something. Do you suppose he would hang around a girl who was poor, such a sweet, pretty, dear creature as Alice Maitland, who is a hundred times nicer than I am?"

"He might," said Miss McDonald, still quizzically. "They say that like goes to like, and it is reported that the Duke of Tewkesbury is as good as ruined."

"Do be serious, McDonald." The girl nestled up closer to her and took her hand. "I want to ask you one question more. Do you think--no, don't look at me, look away off at that sail do you-think that, if I had been poor, Mr. Burnett would have seen me only twice, just twice, all last season?"

Miss McDonald put her arm around Evelyn and clasped the little figure tight. "You must not give way to fancies. We cannot, as life is arranged, be perfectly happy, but we can be true to ourselves, and there is scarcely anything that resolution and patience cannot overcome. I ought not to talk to you about this, Evelyn. But I must say one thing: I think I can read Philip Burnett. Oh, he has plenty of self-esteem, but, unless I mistake him, nothing could so mortify him as to have it said that he was pursuing a girl for the sake of her fortune."

"And he wouldn't!" cried the girl, looking up and speaking in an unsteady voice.

"Let me finish. He is, so I think, the sort of man that would not let any fortune, or anything else, stand in the way when his heart was concerned. I somehow feel that he could not change--faithfulness, that is his notion. If he only knew--"

"He never shall! he never shall!" cried the girl in alarm--"never!"

"And you think, child, that he doesn't know? Come! That sail has been coming straight towards us ever since we sat here, never tacked once. That is omen enough for one day. See how the light strikes it. Come!"

The Newport season was not, after all, very gay. Society has become so complex that it takes more than one Englishman to make a season. Were it the business of the chronicler to study the evolution of this lovely watering-place from its simple, unconventional, animated days of natural hospitality and enjoyment, to its present splendid and palatial isolation of a society--during the season--which finds its chief satisfaction in the rivalry of costly luxury and in an atmosphere of what is deemed aristocratic exclusiveness, he would have a theme attractive to the sociologist. But such a noble study is not for him. His is the humble task of following the fortunes of certain individuals, more or less conspicuous in this astonishing flowering of a democratic society, who have become dear to him by long acquaintance.

It was not the fault of Mrs. Mavick that the season was so frigid, its glacial stateliness only now and then breaking out in an illuminating burst of festivity, like the lighting-up of a Montreal ice-palace. Her spacious house was always open, and her efforts, in charity enterprises and novel entertainments, were untiring to stimulate a circulation in the languid body of society.

This clever woman never showed more courage or more tact than in this campaign, and was never more agreeable and fascinating. She was even popular. If she was not accepted as a leader, she had a certain standing with the leaders, as a person of vivacity and social influence. Any company was eager for her presence. Her activity, spirit, and affability quite won the regard of the society reporters, and those who know Newport only through the newspapers would have concluded that the Mavicks were on the top of the wave. She, however, perfectly understood her position, and knew that the sweet friends, who exchanged with her, whenever they met, the conventional phrases of affection commented sarcastically upon her ambitions for her daughter. It was, at the same time, an ambition that they perfectly understood, and did not condemn on any ethical grounds. Evelyn was certainly a sweet girl, rather queerly educated, and never likely to make much of a dash, but she was an heiress, and why should not her money be put to the patriotic use of increasing the growing Anglo-American cordiality?

Lord Montague was, of course, a favorite, in demand for all functions, and in request for the private and intimate entertainments. He was an authority in the stables and the kennels, and an eager comrade in all the sports of the island. His easy manner, his self-possession everywhere, even his slangy talk, were accepted as evidence that he was above conventionalities. "The little man isn't a beauty," said Sally McTabb, "but he shows 'race.'" He might be eccentric, but when you came to know him you couldn't help liking the embryo duke in him.

In fact, things were going very well with Mrs. Mavick, except in her own household. There was something there that did not yield, that did not flow with her plans. With Lord Montague she was on the most intimate and confidential relations. He was almost daily at the house. Often she drove with him; frequently Evelyn was with them. Indeed, the three came to be associated in the public mind. There could be no doubt of the intentions of the young nobleman. That he could meet any opposition was not conceived.

The noble lord, since they had been in Newport, had freely opened his mind to Mrs. Mavick, and on a fit occasion had formally requested her daughter's hand. Needless to say that he was accepted. Nay, more, he felt that he was trusted like a son. He was given every opportunity to press his suit. Somewhat to his surprise, he did not appear to make much headway. He was rarely able to see her alone, even for a moment. Such evasiveness in a young girl to a man of his rank astonished him. There could be no reason for it in himself; there must be some influence at work unknown to his social experience.

He did not reproach Mrs. Mavick with this, but he let her see that he was very much annoyed.

"If I had not your assurance to the contrary, Mrs. Mavick," he said one day in a pet, "I should think she shunned me."

"Oh, no, Lord Montague, that could not be. I told you that she had had a peculiar education; she is perfectly ignorant of the world, she is shy, and--well, for a girl in her position, she is unconventional. She is so young that she does not yet understand what life is."

"You mean she does not know what I offer her?"

"Why, my dear Lord Montague, did you ever offer her anything?"

"Not flat, no," said my lord, hesitating. "Every time I approach her she shies off like a young filly. There is something I don't understand."

"Evelyn," and Mrs. Mavick spoke with feeling, "is an affectionate and dutiful child. She has never thought of marriage. The prospect is all new to her. But I am sure she would learn to love you if she knew you and her mind were once turned upon such a union. My lord, why not say to her what you feel, and make the offer you intend? You cannot expect a young girl to show her inclination before she is asked." And Mrs. Mavick laughed a little to dispel the seriousness.

"By Jove! that's so, good enough. I'll do it straight out. I'll tell her to take it or leave it. No, I don't mean that, of course. I'll tell her that I can't live without her--that sort of thing, you know. And I can't, that's just the fact."

"You can leave it confidently to her good judgment and to the friendship of the family for you."

Lord Montague was silent for a moment, and seemed to be looking at a problem in his shrewd mind. For he had a shrewd mind, which took in the whole situation, Mrs. Mavick and all, with a perspicacity that would have astonished that woman of the world.

"There is one thing, perhaps I ought not to say it, but I have seen it, and it is in my head that it is that--I beg your pardon, madam--that damned governess."

The shot went home. The suggestion, put into language that could be more easily comprehended than defended, illuminated Mrs. Mavick's mind in a flash, seeming to disclose the source of an opposition to her purposes which secretly irritated her. Doubtless it was the governess. It was her influence that made Evelyn less pliable and amenable to reason than a young girl with such social prospects as she had would naturally be. Besides, how absurd it was that a young lady in society should still have a governess. A companion? The proper companion for a girl on the edge of matrimony was her mother!

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