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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThat Fortune - Chapter 23
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That Fortune - Chapter 23 Post by :Finner Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :913

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That Fortune - Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII

Probably no man ever wrote and published a book, a magazine story, or a bit of verse without an instant decision to repeat the experiment. The inclination once indulged becomes insatiable. It is not altogether the gratified vanity of seeing one's self in print, for, before printing was, the composers and reciters of romances and songs were driven along the same path of unrest and anxiety, when once they had the least recognition of their individual distinction. The impulse is more subtle than the desire for wealth or the craving for political place. In some cases it is in simple obedience to the longing to create; in others it is a lower ambition for notoriety, for praise.

In any case the experiment of authorship, in however humble, a way, has an analogy to that other tempting occupation of making "investments" in the stock-market: the first trial is certain to lead to another. If the author succeeds in any degree, his spirit rises to another attempt in the hope of a wider recognition. If he fails, that is a reason why he should convince his fellows that the failure was not inherent in himself, but in ill-luck or a misdirection of his powers. And the experiment has another analogy to the noble occupation of levying toll upon the change of values--a first brilliant success is often a misfortune, inducing an overestimate of capacity, while a very moderate success, recognized indeed only as a trial, steadies a man, and sets him upon that serious diligence upon which alone, either in art or business, any solid fortune is built.

Philip was fortunate in that his first novel won him a few friends and a little recognition, but no popularity. It excited neither envy nor hostility. In the perfunctory and somewhat commercial good words it received, he recognized the good-nature of the world. In the few short reviews that dealt seriously with his work, he was able, when the excitement of seeing himself discussed had subsided, to read between the lines why The Puritan Nun had failed to make a larger appeal. It was idyllic and poetic, but it lacked virility; it lacked also simplicity in dealing with the simple and profound facts of life. He had been too solicitous to express himself, to write beautifully, instead of letting the human emotions with which he had to deal show themselves. One notice had said that it was too "literary"; by which, of course, the critic meant that he did not follow the solid traditions, the essential elements in all the great masterpieces of literature that have been created. And yet he had shown a quality, a facility, a promise, that had gained him a foothold and a support in the world of books and of the making of books. And though he had declined Mr. Ault's tempting offer to illuminate his transcontinental road with a literary torch, he none the less was pleased with this recognition of his capacity and the value of his name.

To say that Philip lived on hope during this summer of heat, suspensions, and business derangement would be to allow him a too substantial subsistence. Evelyn, indeed, seemed, at the distance of Newport, more unattainable than ever, and the scant news he had of the drama enacted there was a perpetual notice to him of the social gulf that lay between them. And yet his dream was sustained by occasional assurances from Miss McDonald of her confidence in Evelyn's belief in him, nay, of her trust, and she even went so far as to say affection. So he went on building castles in the air, which melted and were renewed day after day, like the transient but unfailing splendor of the sunset.

There was a certain exaltation in this indulgence of his passion that stimulated his creative faculties, and, while his daily tasks kept him from being morbid, his imagination was free to play with the construction of a new story, to which his recent experience would give a certain solidity and a knowledge of the human struggle as it is.

He found himself observing character more closely than before, looking for it not so much in books as in the people he met. There was Murad Ault, for instance. How he would like to put him into a book! Of course it would not do to copy a model, raw, like' that, but he fell to studying his traits, trying to see the common humanity exhibited in him. Was he a type or was he a freak? This was, however, too dangerous ground until he knew more of life.

The week's vacation allowed him by his house was passed in Rivervale. There, in the calmness of country life, and in the domestic atmosphere of affection which believed in him, he was far enough removed from the scene of the spectres of his imagination to see them in proper perspective, and there the lines of his new venture were laid down, to be worked out later on, he well knew, in the anxiety and the toil which should endue the skeleton with life. Rivervale, to be sure, was haunted by the remembrance of Evelyn; very often the familiar scenes filled him with an intolerable longing to see again the eyes that had inspired him, to hear the voice that was like no other in the world, to take the little hand that had often been so frankly placed in his, and to draw to him the form in which was embodied all the grace and tender witchery of womanhood. But the knowledge of what she expected of him was an inspiration, always present in his visions of her.

Something of his hopes and fears Alice divined, and he felt her sympathy, although she did not intrude upon his reticence by any questions. They talked about Evelyn, but it was Evelyn in Rivervale, not in Newport. In fact, the sensible girl could regard her cousin's passion as nothing more than a romance in a young author's life, and to her it was a sign of his security that he had projected a new story.

With instinctive perception of his need, she was ever turning his thoughts upon his literary career. Of course she and all the household seemed in a conspiracy to flatter and encourage the vanity of authorship. Was not all the village talking about the reputation he had conferred on it? Was it not proud of him? Indeed, it did imagine that the world outside of Rivervale was very much interested in him, and that he was already an author of distinction. The county Gazette had announced, as an important piece of news, that the author of The Puritan Nun was on a visit to his relatives, the Maitlands. This paragraph seemed to stand out in the paper as an almost immodest exposure of family life, read furtively at first, and not talked of, and yet every member of the family was conscious of an increase in the family importance. Aunt Patience discovered, from her outlook on the road, that summer visitors had a habit of driving or walking past the house and then turning back to look at it again.

So Philip was not only distinguished, but he had the power of conferring distinction. No one can envy a young author this first taste of fame, this home recognition. Whatever he may do hereafter, how much more substantial rewards he may attain, this first sweetness of incense to his ambition will never come to him again.

When Philip returned to town, the city was still a social desert, and he plunged into the work piled up on his desk, the never-ceasing accumulation of manuscripts, most of them shells which the workers have dredged up from the mud of the literary ocean, in which the eager publisher is always expecting to find pearls. Even Celia was still in the country, and Philip's hours spared from drudgery were given to the new story. His days, therefore, passed without incident, but not without pleasure. For whatever annoyances the great city may have usually, it is in the dull season--that is, the season of its summer out-of-doors animation--a most attractive and, even stimulating place for the man who has an absorbing pursuit, say a work in creative fiction. Undisturbed by social claims or public interests, the very noise and whirl of the gay metropolis seem to hem him in and protect the world of his own imagination.

The first disturbing event in this serenity was the report of the Mavick ball, already referred to, and the interpretation put upon it by the newspapers. In this light his plans seemed the merest moonshine. What became of his fallacious hope of waiting when events were driving on at this rate? What chance had he in such a social current? Would Evelyn be strong enough to stem it and to wait also? And to wait for what? For the indefinite and improbable event of a poor author, hardly yet recognized as an author, coming into position, into an income (for that was the weak point in his aspirations) that would not be laughed at by the millionaire. When he coolly considered it, was it reasonable to expect that Mr. and Mrs. Mavick would ever permit Evelyn to throw away the brilliant opportunity for their daughter which was to be the crowning end of their social ambition? The mere statement of the proposition was enough to overwhelm him.

That this would be the opinion of the world he could not doubt. He felt very much alone. It was not, however, in any resolve to make a confidante of Celia, but in an absolute need of companionship, that he went to see if she had returned. That he had any personal interest in this ball he did not intend to let Celia know, but talk with somebody he must. Of his deep affection for this friend of his boyhood, there was no doubt, nor of his knowledge of her devotion to his interests. Why, then, was he reserved with her upon the absorbing interest of his life?

Celia had returned, before the opening of the medical college, full of a new idea. This was nothing new in her restless nature; but if Philip had not been blinded by the common selfishness of his sex, he might have seen in the gladness of her welcome of him something more than mere sisterly affection.

"Are you real glad to see me, Phil? I thought you might be lonesome by this time in the deserted city."

"I was, horribly." He was still holding her hand. "Without a chance to talk with you or Alice, I am quite an orphan."

"Ah! You or Alice!" A shade of disappointment came over her face as she dropped his hand. But she rallied in a moment.

"Poor boy! You ought to have a guardian. What heroine of romance are you running after now?"

"In my new story?"

"Of course."

"She isn't very well defined in my mind yet. But a lovely girl, without anything peculiar, no education to speak of, or career, fascinating in her womanhood, such as might walk out of the Bible. Don't you think that would be a novelty? But it is the most difficult to do."

"Negative. That sort has gone out. Philip, why don't you take the heroine of the Mavick ball? There is a theme." She was watching him shrewdly, and saw the flush in his face as he hurriedly asked,

"Did you ever see her?"

"Only at a distance. But you must know her well enough for a literary purpose. The reports of the ball give you the setting of the drama."

"Did you read them?"

"I should say I did. Most amusing."

"Celia, don't you think it would be an ungentlemanly thing to take a social event like that?"

"Why, you must take life as it is. Of course you would change the details. You could lay the scene in Philadelphia. Nobody would suspect you then."

Philip shook his head. The conversation was not taking the turn that was congenial to him. The ball seemed to him a kind of maelstrom in which all his hopes were likely to be wrecked. And here was his old friend, the keenest-sighted woman he knew, looking upon it simply as literary material--a ridiculous social event. He had better change the subject.

"So the college is not open yet?"

"No, I came back because I had a new idea, and wanted time to look around. We haven't got quite the right idea in our city missions. They have another side. We need country missions."

"Aren't they that now?"

"No, I mean for the country. I've been about a good deal all this vacation, and my ideas are confirmed. The country towns and villages are full of young hoodlums and toughs, and all sorts of wickedness. They could be improved by sending city boys up there--yes, and girls of tender age. I don't mean the worst ones, not altogether. The young of a certain low class growing up in the country are even worse than the same class in the city, and they lack a civility of manner which is pretty sure to exist in a city-bred person."

"If the country is so bad, why send any more unregenerates into it?"

"How do you know that anybody is always to be unregenerate? But I wouldn't send thieves and imbeciles. I would select children of some capacity, whose circumstances are against them where they are, and I am sure they would make better material than a good deal of the young generation in country villages now. This is what I mean by a mission for the country. We have been bending all our efforts to the reformation of the cities. What we need to go at now is the reforming of the country."

"You have taken a big contract," said Philip, smiling at her enthusiasm. "Don't you intend to go on with medicine?"

"Certainly. At least far enough to be of some use in breaking up people's ignorance about their own bodies. Half the physical as well as moral misery comes from ignorance. Didn't I always tell you that I want to know? A good many of my associates pretend to be agnostics, neither believe or disbelieve in anything. The further I go the more I am convinced that there is a positive basis for things. They talk about the religion of humanity. I tell you, Philip, that humanity is pretty poor stuff to build a religion on."

The talk was wandering far away from what was in Philip's mind, and presently Celia perceived his want of interest.

"There, that is enough about myself. I want to know all about you, your visit to Rivervale, how the publishing house suits you, how the story is growing."

And Philip talked about himself, and the rumors in Wall Street, and Mr. Ault and his offer, and at last about the Mavicks--he could not help that--until he felt that Celia was what she had always been to him, and when he went away he held her hand and said what a dear, sweet friend she was.

And when he had gone, Celia sat a long time by the window, not seeing much of the hot street into which she looked, until there were tears in her eyes.

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CHAPTER XXIIThe 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
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