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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThat Fortune - Chapter 21
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That Fortune - Chapter 21 Post by :Finner Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2588

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That Fortune - Chapter 21

CHAPTER XXI

This idea, once implanted in Mrs. Mavick's mind, bore speedy fruit. No one would have accused her of being one of those uncomfortable persons who are always guided by an inflexible sense of justice, nor could it be said that she was unintelligently unjust. Facile as she was, in all her successful life she had never acted upon impulse, but from a conscience keenly alive to what was just to herself. Miss McDonald was in the way. And Mrs. Mavick had one quality of good generalship--she acted promptly on her convictions.

When Mr. Mavick came over next day to spend Sunday in what was called in print the bosom of his family, he looked very much worn and haggard and was in an irritated mood. He had been very little in Newport that summer, the disturbed state of business confining him to the city. And to a man of his age, New York in midsummer in a panicky season is not a recreation.

The moment Mrs. Mavick got her husband alone she showed a lively solicitude about his health.

"I suppose it has been dreadfully hot in the city?"

"Hot enough. Everything makes it hot."

"Has anything gone wrong? Has that odious Ault turned up again?"

"Turned up is the word. Half the time that man is a mole, half the time a bull in a china-shop. He sails up to you bearing your own flag, and when he gets aboard he shows the skull and cross-bones."

"Is it so bad as that?"

"As bad as what? He is a bad lot, but he is just an adventurer--a Napoleon who will get his Waterloo before fall. Don't bother about things you don't understand. How are things down here?"

"Going swimmingly." "So I judged by the bills. How is the lord?"

"Now don't be vulgar, Tom. You must keep up your end. Lord Montague is very nice; he is a great favorite here."

"Does Evelyn like him?"

"Yes, she likes him; she likes him very much."

"She didn't show it to me."

"No, she is awfully shy. And she is rather afraid of him, the big title and all that. And then she has never been accustomed to act for herself. She is old enough to be independent and to take her place in the world. At her age I was not in leading-strings."

"I should say not," said Mavick.

"Except in obedience to my mother," continued Carmen, not deigning to notice the sarcasm. "And I've been thinking that McDonald--"

"So you want to get rid of her?"

"What a brutal way of putting it! No. But if Evelyn is ever to be self-reliant it is time she should depend more on herself. You know I am devoted to McDonald. And, what is more, I am used to her. I wasn't thinking of her. You don't realize that Evelyn is a young lady in society, and it has become ridiculous for her to still have a governess. Everybody would say so."

"Well, call her a companion."

"Ah, don't you see it would be the same? She would still be under her influence and not able to act for herself."

"What are you going to do? Turn her adrift after eighteen--what is it, seventeen?--years of faithful service?"

"How brutally you put it. I'm going to tell McDonald just how it is. She is a sensible woman, and she will see that it is for Evelyn's good. And then it happens very luckily. Mrs. Van Cortlandt asked me last winter if I wouldn't let her have McDonald for her little girl when we were through with her. She knew, of course, that we couldn't keep a governess much longer for Evelyn. I am going to write to her. She will jump at the chance."

"And McDonald?"

"Oh, she likes Mrs. Van Cortlandt. It will just suit her."

"And Evelyn? That will be another wrench." Men are so foolishly tender-hearted about women.

"Of course, I know it seems hard, and will be for a little. But it is for Evelyn's good, I am perfectly sure."

Mr. Mavick was meditating. It was a mighty unpleasant business. But he was getting tired of conflict. There was an undercurrent in the lives of both that made him shrink from going deep into any domestic difference. It was best to yield.

"Well, Carmen, I couldn't have the heart to do it. She has been Evelyn's constant companion all the child's life. Ah, well, it's your own affair. Only don't stir it up till after I am gone. I must go to the city early Monday morning."

Because Mavick, amid all the demands of business and society, and his ambitions for power in the world of finance and politics, had not had much time to devote to his daughter, it must not be supposed that he did not love her. In the odd moments at her service she had always been a delight to him; and, in truth, many of his ambitions had centred in the intelligent, affectionate, responsive child. But there had been no time for much real comradeship.

This Sunday, however, and it was partly because of pity for the shock he felt was in store for her, he devoted himself to her. They had a long walk on the cliff, and he talked to her of his life, of his travels, and his political experience. She was a most appreciative listener, and in the warmth of his confidence she opened her mind to him, and rather surprised him by her range of intelligence and the singular uprightness of her opinions, and more still by her ready wit and playfulness. It was the first time she had felt really free with her father, and he for the first time seemed to know her as she was in her inner life. When they returned to the house, and she was thanking him with a glow of enthusiasm for such a lovely day, he lifted her up and kissed her, with an emotion of affection that brought tears to her eyes.

A couple of days elapsed before Mrs. Mavick was ready for action. During this time she had satisfied herself, by apparently casual conversation with her daughter and Miss McDonald, that the latter would be wholly out of sympathy with her intentions in regard to Evelyn. Left to herself she judged that her daughter would look with more favor upon the brilliant career offered to her by Lord Montague. When, therefore, one morning the governess was summoned to her room, her course was decided on. She received Miss McDonald with more than usual cordiality. She had in her hand a telegram, and beamed upon her as the bearer of good news.

"I have an excellent offer for you, Miss McDonald."

"An offer for me?"

"Yes, from Mrs. Van Cortlandt, to be the governess of her daughter, a sweet little girl of six. She has often spoken about it, and now I have an urgent despatch from her. She is in need of some one at once, and she greatly prefers you."

"Do you mean, Mrs. Mavick, that--you--want--that I am to leave Evelyn, and you?" The room seemed to whirl around her.

"It is not what we want, McDonald," said Mrs. Mavick calmly and still beaming, "but what is best. Your service as governess has continued much longer than could have been anticipated, and of course it must come to an end some time. You understand how hard this separation is for all of us. Mr. Mavick wanted me to express to you his infinite obligation, and I am sure he will take a substantial way of showing it. Evelyn is now a young lady in society, and of course it is absurd for her to continue under pupilage. It will be best for her, for her character, to be independent and learn to act for herself in the world."

"Did she--has Evelyn--"

"No, I have said nothing to her of this offer, which is a most advantageous one. Of course she will feel as we do, at first."

"Why, all these years, all her life, since she was a baby, not a day, not a night, Evelyn, and now--so sweet, so dear--why Mrs. Mavick!" And the Scotch woman, dazed, with a piteous appeal in her eyes, trying in vain to control her face, looked at her mistress.

"My dear McDonald, you must not take it that way. It is only a change. You are not going away really, we shall all be in the same city. I am sure you will--like your new home. Shall I tell Mrs. Van Cortlandt?"

"Tell Mrs. Van Cortlandt? Yes, tell her, thanks. I will go--soon--at once. In a little time, to get-ready. Thanks." The governess rose and stood a moment to steady herself. All her life was in ruins. The blow crushed her. And she had been so happy. In such great peace. It seemed impossible. To leave Evelyn! She put out her hand as if to speak. Did Mrs. Mavick understand what she was doing? That it was the same as dragging a mother away from her child? But she said nothing. Words would not come. Everything seemed confused and blank. She sank into her chair.

"Excuse me, Mrs. Mavick, I think I am not very strong this morning." And presently she stood on her feet again and steadied herself. "You will please tell Evelyn before--before I see her." And she walked out of the room as one in a trance.

The news was communicated to Evelyn, quite incidentally, in the manner that all who knew Mrs. Mavick admired in her. Evelyn had just been in and out of her mother's room, on one errand and another, and was going out again, when her mother said:

"Oh, by-the-way, Evelyn, at last we have got a splendid place for McDonald."

Evelyn turned, not exactly comprehending. "A place for McDonald? For what?"

"As governess, of course. With Mrs. Van Cortlandt."

"What! to leave us?" The girl walked back to her mother's chair and stood before her in an attitude of wonder and doubt. "You don't mean, mamma, that she is going away for good?"

"It is a great chance for her. I have been anxious for some time about employment for her, now that you do not need a governess--haven't really for a year or two."

"But, mamma, it can't be. She is part of us. She belongs to the family; she has been in it almost as long as I have. Why, I have been with her every day of my life. To go away? To give her up? Does she know?"

"Does she know? What a child! She has accepted Mrs. Van Cortlandt's offer. I telegraphed for her this morning. Tomorrow she goes to town to get her belongings together. Mrs. Van Cortlandt needs her at once. I am sorry to see, my dear, that you are thinking only of yourself."

"Of myself?" The girl had been at first confused, and, as the idea forced itself upon her mind, she felt weak, and trembled, and was deadly pale. But when the certainty came, the enormity and cruelty of the dismissal aroused her indignation. "Myself!" she exclaimed again. Her eyes blazed with a wrath new to their tenderness, and, stepping back and stamping her foot; she cried out: "She shall not go! It is unjust! It is cruel!"

Her mother had never seen her child like that. She was revealing a spirit of resistance, a temper, an independence quite unexpected. And yet it was not altogether displeasing. Mrs. Mavick's respect for her involuntarily rose. And after an instant, instead of responding with severity, as was her first impulse, she said, very calmly:

"Naturally, Evelyn, you do not like to part with her. None of us do. But go to your room and think it over reasonably. The relations of childhood cannot last forever."

Evelyn stood for a moment undecided. Her mother's calm self-control had not deceived her. She was no longer a child. It was a woman reading a woman. All her lifetime came back to her to interpret this moment. In the reaction of the second, the deepest pain was no longer for herself, nor even for Miss McDonald, but for a woman who showed herself so insensible to noble feeling. Protest was useless. But why was the separation desired? She did not fully see, but her instinct told her that it had a relation to her mother's plans for her; and as life rose before her in the society, in the world, into which she was newly launched, she felt that she was alone, absolutely alone. She tried to speak, but before she could collect her thoughts her mother said:

"There, go now. It is useless to discuss the matter. We all have to learn to bear things."

Evelyn went away, in a tumult of passion and of shame, and obeyed her impulse to go where she had always found comfort.

Miss McDonald was in her own room. Her trunk was opened. She had taken her clothes from the closet. She was opening the drawers and laying one article here and another there. She was going from closet to bureau, opening this door and shutting that in her sitting-room and bedroom, in an aimless, distracted way. Out of her efforts nothing had so far come but confusion. It seemed an impossible dream that she was actually packing up to go away forever.

Evelyn entered in a haste that could not wait for permission.

"Is it true?" she cried.

McDonald turned. She could not speak. Her faithful face was gray with suffering. Her eyes were swollen with weeping. For an instant she seemed not to comprehend, and then a flood of motherly feeling overcame her. She stretched out her arms and caught the girl to her breast in a passionate embrace, burying her face in her neck in a vain effort to subdue her sobbing.

What was there to say? Evelyn had come to her refuge for comfort, and to Evelyn the comforter it was she herself who must be the comforter. Presently she disengaged herself and forced the governess into an easy chair. She sat down on the arm of the chair and smoothed her hair and kissed her again and again.

"There. I'm going to help you. You'll see you have not taught me for nothing." She jumped up and began to bustle about. "You don't know what a packer I am."

"I knew it must come some time," she was saying, with a weary air, as she followed with her eyes the light step of the graceful girl, who was beginning to sort things and to bring order out of the confusion, holding up one article after another and asking questions with an enforced cheerfulness that was more pathetic than any burst of grief.

"Yes, I know. There, that is laid in smooth." She pretended to be thinking what to put in next, and suddenly she threw herself into McDonald's lap and began to talk gayly. "It is all my fault, dear; I should have stayed little. And it doesn't make any difference. I know you love me, and oh, McDonald, I love you more, a hundred times more, than ever. If you did not love me! Think how dreadful that would be. And we shall not be separated-only by streets, don't you know. They can't separate us. I know you want me to be brave. And some day, perhaps" (and she whispered in her ear--how many hundred times had she told her girl secrets in that way!), "if I do have a home of my own, then--"

It was not very cheerful talk, however it seemed to be, but it was better than silence, and in the midst of it, with many interruptions, the packing was over, and some sort of serenity was attained even by Miss McDonald. "Yes, dear heart, we have love and trust and hope." But when the preparations were all made, and Evelyn went to her own room, there did not seem to be so much hope, nor any brightness in the midst of this first great catastrophe of her life.

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