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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThat Fortune - Chapter 24
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That Fortune - Chapter 24 Post by :Finner Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :641

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That Fortune - Chapter 24

CHAPTER XXIV

There was one man in New York who thoroughly enjoyed the summer. Murad Ault was, as we say of a man who is free to indulge his natural powers, in his element. There are ingenious people who think that if the ordering of nature had been left to them, they could maintain moral conditions, or at least restore a disturbed equilibrium, without violence, without calling in the aid of cyclones and of uncontrollable electric displays, in order to clear the air. There are people also who hold that the moral atmosphere of the world does not require the occasional intervention of Murad Ault.

The conceit is flattering to human nature, but it is not borne out by the performance of human nature in what is called the business world, which is in such intimate alliance with the social world in such great centres of conflict as London, New York, or Chicago. Mr. Ault is everywhere an integral and necessary part of the prevailing system--that is, the system by which the moral law is applied to business. The system, perhaps, cannot be defended, but it cannot be explained without Mr. Ault. We may argue that such a man is a disturber of trade, of legitimate operations, of the fairest speculations, but when we see how uniform he is as a phenomenon, we begin to be convinced that he is somehow indispensable to the system itself. We cannot exactly understand why a cyclone should pick up a peaceful village in Nebraska and deposit it in Kansas, where there, is already enough of that sort, but we cannot conceive of Wall Street continuing to be Wall Street unless it were now and then visited by a powerful adjuster like Mr. Ault.

The advent, then, of Murad Ault in New York was not a novelty, but a continuation of like phenomena in the Street, ever since the day when ingenious men discovered that the ability to guess correctly which of two sparrows, sold for a farthing, lighting on the spire of Trinity Church, will fly first, is an element in a successful and distinguished career. There was nothing peculiar in kind in his career, only in the force exhibited which lifted him among the few whose destructive energy the world condones and admires as Napoleonic. He may have been an instrument of Providence. When we do not know exactly what to do with an exceptional man who is disagreeable, we call him an Instrument of Providence.

It is not, then, in anything exceptional that we are interested in the operations of Murad Ault, but simply on account of his fortuitous connection with a great fortune which had its origin in very much the same cyclonic conditions that Mr. Ault reveled in. Those who know Wall Street best, by reason of sad experience, say that the presiding deity there is not the Chinese god, Luck, but the awful pagan deity, Nemesis. Alas! how many innocent persons suffer in order to get justice done in this world.

Those who have unimpaired memories may recollect the fortune amassed, many years previous to this history, by one Rodney Henderson, gathered and enlarged by means not indictable, but which illustrate the wide divergence between the criminal code and the moral law. This fortune, upon the sudden death of its creator, had been largely diverted from its charitable destination by fraud, by a crime that would have fallen within the code if it had been known. This fortune had been enjoyed by those who seized it for many years of great social success, rising into acknowledged respectability and distinction; and had become the basis of the chance of social elevation, which is dear to the hearts of so many excellent people, who are compelled to wander about in a chaotic society that has no hereditary titles. It was this fortune, the stake in such an ambition, or perhaps destined in a new possessor to a nobler one, that came in the way of Mr. Ault's extensive schemes.

It is not necessary to infer that Mr. Ault was originally actuated by any greed as to this special accumulation of property, or that he had any malevolence towards Mr. Mavick; but the eagerness of his personal pursuit led him into collisions. There were certain possessions of Mr. Mavick that were desirable for the rounding-out of his plans--these graspings were many of them understood by the public as necessary to the "development of a system"--and in this collision of interests and fierce strength a vindictive feeling was engendered, a feeling born, as has been hinted, by Mr. Mavick's attempt to trick his temporary ally in a certain operation, so that Mr. Ault's main purpose was to "down Mavick." This was no doubt an exaggeration concerning a man with so many domestic virtues as Mr. Ault, meaning by domestic virtues indulgence of his family; but a fight for place or property in politics or in the Street is pretty certain to take on a personal character.

We can understand now why Mr. Ault read the accounts of the Mavick ball with a grim smile. In speaking of it he used the vulgar term "splurge," a word especially offensive to the refined society in which the Mavicks had gained a foothold. And yet the word was on the lips of a great many men on the Street. The shifting application of sympathy is a very queer thing in this world. Mr. Ault was not a snob. Whatever else he was, he made few pretensions. In his first advent he had been resisted as an intruder and shunned as a vulgarian; but in time respect for his force and luck mingled with fear of his reckless talent, and in the course of events it began to be admitted that the rough diamond was being polished into one of the corner-stones of the great business edifice. At the time of this writing he did not altogether lack the sympathy of the Street, and an increasing number of people were not sorry to see Mr. Mavick get the worst of it in repeated trials of strength. And in each of these trials it became increasingly difficult for Mr. Mavick to obtain the assistance and the credit which are often indispensable to the strongest men in a panic.

The truth was that there were many men in the Street who were not sorry to see Mr. Mavick worried. They remembered perfectly well the omniscient snobbishness of Thomas Mavick when he held a position in the State Department at Washington and was at the same time a secret agent of Rodney Henderson. They did not change their opinion of him when, by his alliance with Mrs. Henderson, he stepped into control of Mr. Henderson's property and obtained the mission to Rome; but later on he had been accepted as one of the powers in the financial world. There were a few of the old stagers who never trusted him. Uncle Jerry Hollowell, for instance, used to say, "Mavick is smart, smart as lightnin'; I guess he'll make ducks and drakes of the Henderson property." They are very superficial observers of Wall Street who think that character does not tell there. Mr. Mavick may have realized that when in his straits he looked around for assistance.

The history of this panic summer in New York would not be worthy the reader's attention were not the fortunes of some of his acquaintances involved in it. It was not more intense than the usual panics, but it lasted longer on account of the complications with uncertain government policy, and it produced stagnation in social as well as business circles. So quiet a place as Rivervale felt it in the diminution of city visitors, and the great resorts showed it in increased civility to the small number of guests.

The summer at Newport, which had not been distinguished by many great events, was drawing to a close--that is, it was in the period when those who really loved the charming promenade which is so loved of the sea began to enjoy themselves, and those who indulge in the pleasures of hope, based upon a comfortable matrimonial establishment, are reckoning up the results of the campaign.

Mrs. Mavick, according to her own assertion, was one of those who enjoy nature. "Nature and a few friends, not too many, only those whom one trusts and who are companionable," she had said to Lord Montague.

This young gentleman had found the pursuit of courtship in America attended by a good many incidental social luxuries. It had been a wise policy to impress him with the charm of a society which has unlimited millions to make it attractive. Even to an impecunious noble there is a charm in this, although the society itself has some of the lingering conditions of its money origin. But since the great display of the ball, and the legitimate inferences drawn from it by the press and the fashionable world, Mrs. Mavick had endeavored to surround her intended son-in-law with the toils of domestic peace.

He must be made to feel at home. And this she did. Mrs. Mavick was as admirable in the role of a domestic woman as of a woman of the world. The simple pleasures, the confidences, the intimacies of home life surrounded him. His own mother, the aged duchess, could not have looked upon him with more affection, and possibly not have pampered him with so many luxuries. There was only one thing wanting to make this home complete. In conventional Europe the contracting parties are not the signers of the marriage contract. In the United States the parties most interested take the initiative in making the contract.

Here lay the difficulty of the situation, a situation that puzzled Lord Montague and enraged Mrs. Mavick. Evelyn maintained as much indifference to the domestic as to the worldly situation. Her mother thought her lifeless and insensible; she even went so far as to call her unwomanly in her indifference to what any other woman would regard as an opportunity for a brilliant career.

Lifeless indeed she was, poor child; physically languid and scarcely able to drag herself through the daily demands upon her strength. Her mother made it a reproach that she was so pale and unresponsive. Apparently she did not resist, she did everything she was told to do. She passed, indeed, hours with Lord Montague, occasions contrived when she was left alone in the house with him, and she made heroic efforts to be interested, to find something in his mind that was in sympathy with her own thoughts. With a woman's ready instinct she avoided committing herself to his renewed proposals, sometimes covert, sometimes direct, but the struggle tired her. At the end of all such interviews she had to meet her mother, who, with a smile of hope and encouragement, always said, "Well, I suppose you and Lord Montague have made it up," and then to encounter the contempt expressed for her as a "goose."

She was helpless in such toils. At times she felt actually abandoned of any human aid, and in moods of despondency almost resolved to give up the struggle. In the eyes of the world it was a good match, it would make her mother happy, no doubt her father also; and was it not her duty to put aside her repugnance, and go with the current of the social and family forces that seemed irresistible?

Few people can resist doing what is universally expected of them. This invisible pressure is more difficult to stand against than individual tyranny. There are no tragedies in our modern life so pathetic as the ossification of women's hearts when love is crushed under the compulsion of social and caste requirements. Everybody expected that Evelyn would accept Lord Montague. It could be said that for her own reputation the situation required this consummation of the intimacy of the season. And the mother did not hesitate to put this interpretation upon the events which were her own creation.

But with such a character as Evelyn, who was a constant puzzle to her mother, this argument had very little weight compared with her own sense of duty to her parents. Her somewhat ideal education made worldly advantages of little force in her mind, and love the one priceless possession of a woman's heart which could not be bartered. And yet might there not be an element of selfishness in this--might not its sacrifice be a family duty? Mrs. Mavick having found this weak spot in her daughter's armor, played upon it with all her sweet persuasive skill and show of tenderness.

"Of course, dear," she said, "you know what would make me happy. But I do not want you to yield to my selfishness or even to your father's ambition to see his only child in an exalted position in life. I can bear the disappointment. I have had to bear many. But it is your own happiness I am thinking of. And I think also of the cruel blow your refusal will inflict upon a man whose heart is bound up in you."

"But I don't love him." The girl was very pale, and she spoke with an air of weariness, but still with a sort of dogged persistence.

"You will in time. A young girl never knows her own heart, any more than she knows the world."

"Mother, that isn't all. It would be a sin to him to pretend to give him a heart that was not his. I can't; I can't."

"My dear child, that is his affair. He is willing to trust you, and to win your love. When we act from a sense of duty the way is apt to open to us. I have never told you of my own earlier experience. I was not so young as you are when I married Mr. Henderson, but I had not been without the fancies and experiences of a young girl. I might have yielded to one of them but for family reasons. My father had lost his fortune and had died, disappointed and broken down. My mother, a lovely woman, was not strong, was not capable of fighting the world alone, and she depended upon me, for in those days I had plenty of courage and spirit. Mr. Henderson was a widower whom we had known as a friend before the death of his accomplished wife. In his lonesomeness he turned to me. In our friendlessness I turned to him. Did I love him? I esteemed him, I respected him, I trusted him, that was all. He did not ask more than that. And what a happy life we had! I shared in all his great plans. And when in the midst of his career, with such large ideas of public service and philanthropy, he was stricken down, he left to me, in the confidence of his love, all that fortune which is some day to be yours." Mrs. Mavick put her handkerchief to her eyes. "Ah, well, our destiny is not in our hands. Heaven raised up for me another protector, another friend. Perhaps some of my youthful illusions have vanished, but should I have been happier if I had indulged them? I know your dear father does not think so."

"Mother," cried Evelyn, deeply moved by this unprecedented confidence, "I cannot bear to see you suffer on my account. But must not every one decide for herself what is right before God?"

At this inopportune appeal to a higher power Mrs. Mavick had some difficulty in restraining her surprise and indignation at what she considered her child's stubbornness. But she conquered the inclination, and simply looked sad and appealing when she said:

"Yes, yes, you must decide for yourself. You must not consider your mother as I did mine."

This cruel remark cut the girl to the heart. The world seemed to whirl around her, right and wrong and duty in a confused maze. Was she, then, such a monster of ingratitude? She half rose to throw herself at her mother's feet, upon her mother's mercy. And at the moment it was not her reason but her heart that saved her. In the moral confusion rose the image of Philip. Suppose she should gain the whole world and lose him! And it was love, simple, trusting love, that put courage into her sinking heart.

"Mother, it is very hard. I love you; I could die for you. I am so forlorn. But I cannot, I dare not, do such a thing, such a dreadful thing!"

She spoke brokenly, excitedly, she shuddered as she said the last words, and her eyes were full of tears as she bent down and kissed her mother.

When she had gone, Mrs. Mavick sat long in her chair, motionless between bewilderment and rage. In her heart she was saying, "The obstinate, foolish girl must be brought to reason!"

A servant entered with a telegram. Mrs. Mavick took it, and held it listlessly while the servant waited. "You can sign." After the door closed--she was still thinking of Evelyn--she waited a moment before she tore the envelope, and with no eagerness unfolded the official yellow paper. And then she read:

"I have made an assignment. T. M."

A half-hour afterwards when a maid entered the room she found Mrs. Mavick still seated in the armchair, her hands powerless at her side, her eyes staring into space, her face haggard and old.

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