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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThat Fortune - Chapter 22
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That Fortune - Chapter 22 Post by :Finner Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :1425

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That Fortune - Chapter 22

CHAPTER XXII

The great Mavick ball at Newport, in the summer long remembered for its financial disasters, was very much talked about at the time. Long after, in any city club, a man was sure to have attentive listeners if he, began his story or his gossip with the remark that he was at the Mavick ball.

It attracted great attention, both on account of the circumstances that preceded it and the events which speedily followed, and threw a light upon it that gave it a spectacular importance. The city journals made a feature of it. They summoned their best artists to illustrate it, and illuminate it in pen-and-ink, half-tones, startling colors, and photographic reproductions, sketches theatrical, humorous, and poetic, caricatures, pictures of tropical luxury and aristocratic pretension; in short, all the bewildering affluence of modern art which is brought to bear upon the aesthetic cultivation of the lowest popular taste. They summoned their best novelists to throw themselves recklessly upon the English language, and extort from it its highest expression in color and lyrical beauty, the novelists whose mission it is, in the newspaper campaign against realism, to adorn and dramatize the commonest events of life, creating in place of the old-fashioned "news" the highly spiced "story," which is the ideal aspiration of the reporter.

Whatever may be said about the power of the press, it is undeniable that it can set the entire public thinking and talking about any topic, however insignificant in itself, that it may elect to make the sensation of the day--a wedding, a murder, a political scandal, a divorce, a social event, a defalcation, a lost child, an unidentified victim of accident or crime, an election, or--that undefined quickener of patriotism called a casus belli. It can impose any topic it pleases upon the public mind. In case there is no topic, it is necessary to make one, for it is an indefeasible right of the public to have news.

These reports of the Mavick ball had a peculiar interest for at least two people in New York. Murad Ault read them with a sardonic smile and an enjoyment that would not have been called altruistic. Philip searched them with the feverish eagerness of a maiden who scans the report of a battle in which her lover has been engaged.

All summer long he had lived upon stray bits of news in the society columns of the newspapers. To see Evelyn's name mentioned, and only rarely, as a guest at some entertainment, and often in connection with that of Lord Montague, did not convey much information, nor was that little encouraging. Was she well? Was she absorbed in the life of the season? Did she think of him in surroundings so brilliant? Was she, perhaps, unhappy and persecuted? No tidings came that could tell him the things that he ached to know.

Only recently intelligence had come to him that at the same time wrung his heart with pity and buoyed him up with hope. He had not seen Miss McDonald since her dismissal, for she had been only one night in the city, but she had written to him. Relieved by her discharge of all obligations of silence, she had written him frankly about the whole affair, and, indeed, put him in possession of unrecorded details and indications that filled him with anxiety, to be sure, but raised his courage and strengthened his determination. If Evelyn loved him, he had faith that no manoeuvres or compulsion could shake her loyalty. And yet she was but a girl; she was now practically alone, and could she resist the family and the social pressure? Few women could, few women do, effectively resist under such circumstances. With one of a tender heart, duty often takes the most specious and deceiving forms. In yielding to the impulses of her heart, which in her inexperience may be mistaken, has a girl the right--from a purely rational point of view--to set herself against, nay, to destroy, the long-cherished ambitions of her parents for a brilliant social career for her, founded upon social traditions of success? For what had Mr. Mavick toiled? For what had Mrs. Mavick schemed all these years? Could the girl throw herself away? Such disobedience, such disregard for social law, would seem impossible to her mother.

Some of the events that preceded the Mavick ball throw light upon that interesting function. After the departure of Miss McDonald, Mrs. Mavick, in one of her confidential talks with her proposed son-in-law, confessed that she experienced much relief. An obstacle seemed to be removed.

In fact, Evelyn rather surprised her mother by what seemed a calm acceptance of the situation. There was no further outburst. If the girl was often preoccupied and seemed listless, that was to be expected, on the sudden removal of the companion of her lifetime.

But she did not complain. She ceased after a while to speak of McDonald. If she showed little enthusiasm in what was going on around her, she was compliant, she fell in at once with her mother's suggestions, and went and came in an attitude of entire obedience.

"It isn't best for you to keep up a correspondence, my dear, now that you know that McDonald is nicely settled--all reminiscent correspondence is very wearing--and, really, I am more than delighted to see that you are quite capable of walking alone. Do you know, Evelyn, that I am more and more proud of you every day, as my daughter. I don't dare to tell you half the nice things that are said of you. It would make you vain." And the proud mother kissed her affectionately. The letters ceased. If the governess wrote, Evelyn did not see the letters.

As the days went by, Lord Montague, in high and confident spirits, became more and more a familiar inmate of the house. Daily he sent flowers to Evelyn; he contrived little excursions and suppers; he was marked in his attentions wherever they went. "He is such a dear fellow," said Mrs. Mavick to one of her friends; "I don't know how we should get on without him."

Only, in the house, owing to some unnatural perversity of circumstances, he did not see much of Evelyn, never alone for more than a moment. It is wonderful what efficient, though invisible, defenses most women, when they will, can throw about themselves.

That the affair was "arranged" Lord Montague had no doubt. It was not conceivable that the daughter of an American stock-broker would refuse the offer of a position so transcendent and so evidently coveted in a democratic society. Not that the single-minded young man reasoned about it this way. He was born with a most comfortable belief in himself and the knowledge that when he decided to become a domestic man he had simply, as the phrase is, to throw his handkerchief.

At home, where such qualities as distinguished him from the common were appreciated without the need of personal exertion, this might be true; but in America it did seem to be somehow different. American women, at least some of them, did need to be personally wooed; and many of them had a sort of independence in the bestowal of their affections or, what they understood to be the same thing, themselves that must be taken into account. And it gradually dawned upon the mind of this inheritor of privilege that in this case the approval of the family, even the pressure of the mother, was not sufficient; he must have also Evelyn's consent. If she were a mature woman who knew and appreciated the world, she would perceive the advantages offered to her without argument. But a girl, just released from the care of her governess, unaccustomed to society, might have notions, or, in the vernacular of the scion, might be skittish.

And then, again, to do the wooer entire justice, the dark little girl, so much mistress of herself, so evidently spirited, with such an air of distinction, began to separate herself in his mind as a good goer against the field, and he had a real desire to win her affection. The more indifferent she was to him, the keener was his desire to possess her. His unsuccessful wooing had passed through several stages, first astonishment, then pique, and finally something very like passion, or a fair semblance of devotion, backed, of course, since all natures are more or less mixed, by the fact that this attractive figure of the woman was thrown into high relief by the colossal fortune behind her.

And Evelyn herself? Neither her mother nor her suitor appreciated the uncommon circumstances that her education, her whole training in familiarity with pure and lofty ideals, had rendered her measurably insensible to the social considerations that seemed paramount to them, or that there could be any real obstacle to the bestowal of her person. where her heart was not engaged. Yet she perfectly understood her situation, and, at times, deprived of her lifelong support, she felt powerless in it, and she suffered as only the pure and the noble can suffer. Day after day she fought her battle alone, now and then, as the situation confronted her, assailed by a shudder of fear, as of one awakening in the night from a dream of peril, the clutch of an assassin, or the walking on an icy precipice. If McDonald were only with her! If she could only hear from Philip! Perhaps he had lost hope and was submitting to the inevitable.

The opportunity which Lord Montague had long sought came one day unexpectedly, or perhaps it was contrived. They were waiting in the drawing-room for an afternoon drive. The carriage was delayed, and Mrs. Mavick excused herself to ascertain the cause of the delay. Evelyn and her suitor were left alone. She was standing by a window looking out, and he was standing by the fireplace watching the swing of the figure on the pendulum of the tall mantelpiece clock. He was the first to break the silence.

"Your clock, Miss Mavick, is a little fast." No reply. "Or else I am slow." Still no reply. "They say, you know, that I am a little slow, over here." No reply. "I am not, really, you know. I know my mind. And there was something, Miss Mavick, something particular, that I wanted to say to you."

"Yes?" without turning round. "The carriage will be here in a minute."

"Never mind that," and Lord Montague moved away from the fireplace and approached the girl; "take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves, as the saying is." At this unexpected stroke of brilliancy Evelyn did turn round, and stood in an expectant attitude. The moment had evidently come, and she would not meet it like a coward.

"We have been friends a long time; not so very long, but it seems to me the best part of my life," he was looking down and speaking slowly, with the modest deference of a gentleman, "and you must have seen, that is, I wanted you to see, you know well, that is--er--what I was staying on here for."

"Because you like America, I suppose," said Evelyn, coolly.

"Because I like some things in America--that is just the fact," continued the little lord, with more confidence. "And that is why I stayed. You see I couldn't go away and leave what was best in the world to me."

There was an air of simplicity and sincerity about this that was unexpected, and could not but be respected by any woman. But Evelyn waited, still immovable.

"It wasn't reasonable that you should like a stranger right off," he went on, "just at first, and I waited till you got to know me better. Ways are different here and over there, I know that, but if you came to know me, Miss Mavick, you would see that I am not such a bad sort of a fellow." And a deprecatory smile lighted up his face that was almost pathetic. To Evelyn this humility seemed genuine, and perhaps it was, for the moment. Certainly the eyes she bent on, the odd little figure were less severe.

"All this is painful to me, Lord Montague."

"I'm sorry," he continued, in the same tone. "I cannot help it. I must say it. I--you must know that I love you." And then, not heeding the nervous start the girl gave in stepping backward, "And--and, will you be my wife?"

"You do me too much honor, Lord Montague," said Evelyn, summoning up all her courage.

"No, no, not a bit of it."

"I am obliged to you for your good opinion, but you know I am almost a school-girl. My governess has just left me. I have never thought of such a thing. And, Lord Montague, I cannot return your feeling. That is all. You must see how painful this is to me."

"I wouldn't give you pain, Miss Mavick, not for the world. Perhaps when you think it over it will seem different to you. I am sure it will. Don't answer now, for good."

"No, no, it cannot be," said Evelyn, with something of alarm in her tone, for the full meaning of it all came over her as she thought of her mother.

"You are not offended?"

"No," said Evelyn.

"I couldn't bear to offend you. You cannot think I would. And you will not be hard-hearted. You know me, Miss Mavick, just where I am. I'm just as I said."

"The carriage is coming," said Mrs. Mavick, who returned at this moment.

The group for an instant was silent, and then Evelyn said:

"We have waited so long; mamma, that I am a little tired, and you will excuse me from the drive this afternoon?"

"Certainly, my dear."

When the two were seated in the carriage, Mrs. Mavick turned to Lord Montague:

"Well?"

"No go," replied my lord, as sententiously, and in evident bad humor.

"What? And you made a direct proposal?"

"Showed her my whole hand. Made a square offer. Damme, I am not used to this sort of thing."

"You don't mean that she refused you?"

"Don't know what you call it. Wouldn't start."

"She couldn't have understood you. What did she say?"

"Said it was too much honor, and that rot. By Jove, she didn't look it. I rather liked her pluck. She didn't flinch."

"Oh, is that all?" And Mrs. Mavick spoke as if her mind were relieved. "What could you expect from such a sudden proposal to a young girl, almost a child, wholly unused to the world? I should have done the same thing at her age. It will look different to her when she reflects, and understands what the position is that is offered her. Leave that to me."

Lord Montague shook his head and screwed up his keen little eyes. His mind was in full play. "I know women, Mrs. Mavick, and I tell you there is something behind this. Somebody has been in the stable." The noble lord usually dropped into slang when he was excited.

"I don't understand your language," said Mrs. Mavick, straightening herself up in her seat.

"I beg pardon. It is just a way of speaking on the turf. When a favorite goes lame the morning of the race, we know some one has been tampering with him. I tell you there is some one else. She has some one else in her mind. That's the reason of it."

"Nonsense." cried Mrs. Mavick, with the energy of conviction. "It's impossible. There is nobody, couldn't be anybody. She has led a secluded life till this hour. She hasn't a fancy, I know."

"I hope you are right," he replied, in the tone of a man wishing to take a cheerful view. "Perhaps I don't understand American girls."

"I think I do," she said, smiling. "They are generally amenable to reason. Evelyn now has something definite before her. I am glad you proposed."

And this was the truth. Mrs. Mavick was elated. So far her scheme was completely successful. As to Evelyn, she trusted to various influences she could bring to bear. Ultimate disobedience of her own wishes she did not admit as a possible thing.

A part of her tactics was the pressure of public opinion, so far as society represents it--that is, what society expects. And therefore it happened in a few days that a strong suspicion got about that Lord Montague had proposed formally to the heiress. The suspicion was strengthened by appearances. Mrs. Mavick did not deny the rumor. That there was an engagement was not affirmed, but that the honor had been or would be declined was hardly supposable.

In the painful interview between mother and daughter concerning this proposal, Evelyn had no reason to give for her opposition, except that she did not love him. This point Mrs. Mavick skillfully evaded and minimized. Of course she would love him in time. The happiest marriages were founded on social fitness and the judgment of parents, and not on the inexperienced fancies of young girls. And in this case things had gone too far to retreat. Lord Montague's attentions had been too open and undisguised. He had been treated almost as a son by the house. Society looked upon the affair as already settled. Had Evelyn reflected on the mortification that would fall upon her mother if she persisted in her unreasonable attitude? And Mrs. Mavick shed actual tears in thinking upon her own humiliation.

The ball which followed these private events was also a part of Mrs. Mavick's superb tactics. It would be in a way a verification of the public rumors and a definite form of pressure which public expectation would exercise upon the lonely girl.

The splendor of this function is still remembered. There were, however, features in the glowing descriptions of it which need to be mentioned. It was assumed that it was for a purpose, that it was in fact, if not a proclamation, at least an intimation of a new and brilliant Anglo-Saxon alliance. No one asserted that an engagement existed. But the prominent figures in the spectacle were the English lord and the young and beautiful American heiress. There were portraits of both in half-tone. The full names and titles expectant of Lord Montague were given, a history of the dukedom of Tewkesbury and its ancient glory, with the long line of noble names allied to the young lord, who was a social star of the first magnitude, a great traveler, a sportsman of the stalwart race that has the world for its field. ("Poor little Monte," said the managing editor as he passed along these embellishments with his approval.)

On the other hand, the proposed alliance was no fall in dignity or family to the English house. The heiress was the direct descendant of the Eschelles, an old French family, distinguished in camp and court in the glorious days of the Grand Monarch.

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