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That Fortune - Chapter 25 Post by :Finner Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :1234

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That Fortune - Chapter 25


The action of Thomas Mavick in giving up the fight was as unexpected in New York as it was in Newport. It was a shock even to those familiar with the Street. It was known that he was in trouble, but he had been in trouble before. It was known that there had been sacrifices, efforts at extension, efforts at compromise, but the general public fancied that the Mavick fortune had a core too solid to be washed away by any storm. Only a very few people knew--such old hands as Uncle Jerry Hollowell, and such inquisitive bandits as Murad Ault--that the house of Mavick was a house of cards, and that it might go down when the belief was destroyed that it was of granite.

The failure was not an ordinary sensation, and, according to the excellent practices and differing humors of the daily newspapers, it was made the most of, until the time came for the heavy weeklies to handle it in its moral aspects as an illustration of modern civilization. On the first morning there was substantial unanimity in assuming the totality of the disaster, and the most ingenious artists in headlines vied with each other in startling effects: "Crash in Wall Street." "Mavick Runs Up the White Flag." "King of Wall Street Called Down." "Ault Takes the Pot." "Dangerous to Dukes." "Mavick Bankrupt." "The House of Mavick a Ruin." "Dukes and Drakes." "The Sea Goes Over Him."

This, however, was only the beginning. The sensation must be prolonged. The next day there were attenuating circumstances.

It might be only a temporary embarrassment. The assets were vastly greater than the liabilities. There was talk in financial circles of an adjustment. With time the house could go on. The next day it was made a reproach to the house that such deceptive hopes were put upon the public. Journalistic enterprise had discovered that the extent of the liabilities had been concealed. This attempt to deceive the public, these defenders of the public interest would expose. The next day the wind blew from another direction. The alarmists were rebuked. The creditors were disposed to be lenient. Doubtful securities were likely to realize more than was expected. The assignees were sharply scored for not taking the newspapers into their confidence.

And so for ten days the failure went on in the newspapers, backward and forward, now hopeless, now relieved, now sunk in endless complications, and fallen into the hands of the lawyers who could be trusted with the most equitable distribution of the property involved, until the reading public were glad to turn, with the same eager zest, to the case of the actress who was found dead in a hotel in Jersey City. She was attended only by her pet poodle, in whose collar was embedded a jewel of great price. This jewel was traced to a New York establishment, whence it had disappeared under circumstances that pointed to the criminality of a scion of a well-known family--an exposure which would shake society to its foundations.

Meantime affairs took their usual course. The downfall of Mavick is too well known in the Street to need explanation here. For a time it was hoped that sacrifices of great interests would leave a modest little fortune, but under the pressure of liquidation these hopes melted away. If anything could be saved it would be only comparatively valueless securities and embarrassed bits of property that usually are only a delusion and a source of infinite worry to a bankrupt. It seemed incredible that such a vast fortune should so disappear; but there were wise men who, so they declared, had always predicted this disaster. For some years after Henderson's death the fortune had appeared to expand marvelously. It was, however, expanded, and not solidified. It had been risked in many gigantic speculations (such as the Argentine), and it had been liable to collapse at any time if its central credit was doubted. Mavick's combinations were splendidly conceived, but he lacked the power of coordination. And great as were his admitted abilities, he had never inspired confidence.

"And, besides," said Uncle Jerry, philosophizing about it in his homely way, "there's that little devil of a Carmen, the most fascinating woman I ever knew--it would take the Bank of England to run her. Why, when I see that Golden House going up, I said I'd give 'em five years to balloon in it. I was mistaken. They've floated it about eighteen. Some folks are lucky--up to a certain point."

Grave history gives but a paragraph to a personal celebrity of this sort. When a ship goes down in a tempest off the New England coast, there is a brief period of public shock and sympathy, and then the world passes on to other accidents and pleasures; but for months relics of the great vessel float ashore on lonely headlands or are cast up on sandy beaches, and for years, in many a home made forlorn by the shipwreck, are aching hearts and an ever-present calamity.

The disaster of the house of Mavick was not accepted without a struggle, lasting long after the public interest in the spectacle had abated--a struggle to save the ship and then to pick up some debris from the great wreck. The most pathetic sight in the business world is that of a bankrupt, old and broken, pursuing with always deluded expectations the remnants of his fortune, striving to make new combinations, involved in lawsuits, alternately despairing, alternately hopeful in the chaos of his affairs. This was the fate of Thomas Mavick.

The news was all over Newport in a few hours after it had stricken down Mrs. Mavick. The newspaper details the morning after were read with that eager interest that the misfortunes of neighbors always excite. After her first stupor, Mrs. Mavick refused to believe it. It could not be, and her spirit of resistance rose with the frantic messages she sent to her husband. Alas, the cold fact of the assignment remained. Still her courage was not quite beaten down. The suspension could only be temporary. She would not have it otherwise. Two days she showed herself as usual in Newport, and carried herself bravely. The sympathy looked or expressed was wormwood to her, but she met it with a reassuring smile. To be sure it was very hard to bear such a blow, the result of a stock intrigue, but it would soon pass over--it was a temporary embarrassment--that she said everywhere.

She had not, however, told the news to Evelyn with any such smiling confidence. There was still rage in her heart against her daughter, as if her obstinacy had some connection with this blow of fate, and she did not soften the announcement. She expected to sting her, and she did astonish and she did grieve her, for the breaking-up of her world could not do otherwise; but it was for her mother and not for herself that Evelyn showed emotion. If their fortune was gone, then the obstacle was removed that separated her from Philip. The world well lost! This flashed through her mind before she had fairly grasped the extent of the fatality, and it blunted her appreciation of it as an unmixed ruin.

"Poor mamma!" was what she said.

"Poor me!" cried Mrs. Mavick, looking with amazement at her daughter, "don't you understand that our life is all ruined?"

"Yes, that part of it, but we are left. It might have been so much worse."

"Worse? You have no more feeling than a chip. You are a beggar! That is all. What do you mean by worse?"

"If father had done anything dishonorable!" suggested the girl, timidly, a little scared by her mother's outburst.

"Evelyn, you are a fool!"

And perhaps she was, with such preposterous notions of what is really valuable in life. There could be no doubt of it from Mrs. Mavick's point of view.

If Evelyn's conduct exasperated her, the non-appearance of Lord Montague after the publication of the news seriously alarmed her. No doubt he was shocked, but she could explain it to him, and perhaps he was too much interested in Evelyn to be thrown off by this misfortune. The third day she wrote him a note, a familiar, almost affectionate note, chiding him for deserting them in their trouble. She assured him that the news was greatly exaggerated, the embarrassment was only temporary, such things were always happening in the Street. "You know," she said, playfully, "it is our American way to be up in a minute when we seem to be down." She asked him to call, for she had something that was important to tell him, and, besides, she needed his counsel as a friend of the house. The note was despatched by a messenger.

In an hour it was returned, unopened, with a verbal message from his host, saying that Lord Montague had received important news from London, and that he had left town the day before.

"Coward!" muttered the enraged woman, with closed teeth. "Men are all cowards, put them to the test."

The energetic woman judged from a too narrow basis. Because Mavick was weak--and she had always secretly despised him for yielding to her--weak as compared with her own indomitable spirit, she generalized wildly. Her opinion of men would have been modified if she had come in contact with Murad Ault.

To one man in New York besides Mr. Ault the failure did not seem a personal calamity. When Philip saw in the steamer departures the name of Lord Montague, his spirits rose in spite of the thought that the heiress was no longer an heiress. The sky lifted, there was a promise of fair weather, the storm, for him, had indeed cleared the air.

"Dear Philip," wrote Miss McDonald, "it is really dreadful news, but I cannot be so very downhearted. It is the least of calamities that could happen to my dear child. Didn't I tell you that it is always darkest just before the dawn?"

And Philip needed the hope of the dawn. Trial is good for any one, but hopeless suffering for none. Philip had not been without hope, but it was a visionary indulgence, against all evidence. It was the hope of youth, not of reason. He stuck to his business doggedly, he stuck to his writing doggedly, but over all his mind was a cloud, an oppression not favorable to creative effort--that is, creative effort sweet and not cynical, sunny and not morbid.

And yet, who shall say that this very experience, this oppression of circumstance, was not the thing needed for the development of the best that was in him? Thrown back upon himself and denied an airy soaring in the heights of a prosperous fancy, he had come to know himself and his limitations. And in the year he had learned a great deal about his art. For one thing he had come to the ground. He was looking more at life as it is. His experience at the publishers had taught him one important truth, and that is that a big subject does not make a big writer, that all that any mind can contribute to the general thought of the world in literature is what is in itself, and if there is nothing in himself it is vain for the writer to go far afield for a theme. He had seen the young artists, fretting for want of subjects, wandering the world over in search of an object fitted to their genius, setting up their easels in front of the marvels of nature and of art, in the expectation that genius would descend upon them.

If they could find something big enough to paint! And he had seen, in exhibition after exhibition, that the artist who cannot paint a rail-fence cannot paint a pyramid. A man does not become a good rider by mounting an elephant; ten to one a donkey would suit him better. Philip had begun to see that the life around him had elements enough of the comic and the tragic to give full play to all his powers.

He began to observe human beings as he had never done before. There were only two questions, and they are at the bottom of all creative literature--could he see them, could he make others see them?

This was all as true before the Mavick failure as after; but, before, what was the use of effort? Now there was every inducement to effort. Ambition to succeed had taken on him the hold of necessity. And with a free mind as to the obstacles that lay between him and the realization of the great dream of his life, the winning of the one woman who could make his life complete, Philip set to work with an earnestness and a clearness of vision that had never been given him before.

In the wreck of the Mavick estate, in its distribution, there are one or two things of interest to the general reader. One of these was the fate of the Golden House, as it was called. Mrs. Mavick had hurried back to her town house, determined to save it at all hazard. The impossibility of this was, however, soon apparent even to her intrepid spirit. She would either sacrifice all else to save it, or--dark thoughts of ending it in a conflagration entered her mind. This was only her first temper. But to keep the house without a vast fortune to sustain it was an impossibility, and, as it was the most conspicuous of Mavick's visible possessions, perhaps the surrender of it, which she could not prevent, would save certain odds and ends here and there. Whether she liked it or not, the woman learned for once that her will had little to do with the course of events.

Its destination was gall and wormwood both to Carmen and her husband. For it fell into the hands of Murad Ault. He coveted it as the most striking symbol of the position he had conquered in the metropolis. Its semi-barbaric splendor appealed also to his passion for display. And it was notable that the taste of the rude lad of poverty--this uncultivated offspring of a wandering gypsy and herb--collector--perhaps she had ancient and noble blood in her veins--should be the same for material ostentation and luxury as that of the cultivated, fastidious Mavick and his worldly-minded wife. So persistent is the instinct of barbarism in our modern civilization.

When Ault told his wife what he had done, that sweet, domestic, and sensible woman was very far from being elated.

"I am almost sorry," she said.

"Sorry for what?" asked Mr. Ault, gently, but greatly surprised.

"For the Mavicks. I don't mean for Mrs. Mavick--I hear she is a worldly and revengeful woman--but for the girl. It must be dreadful to turn her out of all the surroundings of her happy life. And I hear she is as good as she is lovely. Think what it would be for our own girls."

"But it can't be helped," said Ault, persuasively. "The house had to be sold, and it makes no difference who has it, so far as the girl is concerned."

"And don't you fear a little for our own girls, launching out that way?"

"You are afraid they will get lost in that big house?" And Mr. Ault laughed. "It isn't a bit too big or too good for them. At any rate, my dear, in they go, and you must get ready to move. The house will be empty in a week."

"Murad," and Mrs. Ault spoke as if she were not thinking of the change for herself, "there is one thing I wish you would do for me, dear."

"What is that?"

"Go to Mr. Mavick, or to Mrs. Mavick, or the assignees or whoever, and have the daughter--yes, and her mother--free to take away anything they want, anything dear to them by long association. Will you?"

"I don't see how. Mavick wouldn't do it for us, and I guess he is too proud to accept anything from me. I don't owe him anything. And then the property is in the assignment. Whatever is there I bought with the house."

"I should be so much happier if you could do something about it."

"Well, it don't matter much. I guess the assignees can make Mrs. Mavick believe easy enough that certain things belong to her. But I would not do it for any other living being but you."

"By-the-way," he added, "there is another bit of property that I didn't take, the Newport palace."

"I should have dreaded that more than the other."

"So I thought. And I have another plan. It's long been in my mind, and we will carry it out next summer. There is a little plateau on the side of the East Mountain in Rivervale, where there used to stand a shack of a cabin, with a wild sort of garden-patch about it, a tumble-down root fence, all in the midst of brush and briers. Lord, what a habitation it was! But such a view--rivers, mountains, meadows, and orchards in the distance! That is where I lived with my mother. What a life! I hated everything, everybody but her."

Mr. Ault paused, his strong, dark face working with passion, as the memory of his outlawed boyhood revived. Is it possible that this pirate of the Street had a bit of sentiment at the bottom of his heart? After a moment he continued:

"That was the spot to which my mother took me when I was knee-high. I've bought it, bought the whole hillside. Next summer we will put up a house there, not a very big house, just a long, low sort of a Moorish pavilion, the architect calls it. I wish she could see it."

Mrs. Ault rose, with tears in her gentle eyes, stood by her husband's chair a moment, ran her fingers through his heavy black locks, bent down and kissed him, and went away without a word.

There was another bit of property that was not included in the wreck. It belonged to Mrs. Mavick. This was a little house in Irving Place, in which Carmen Eschelle lived with her mother, in the days before the death of Henderson's first wife, not very happy days for that wife. Carmen had a fancy for keeping it after her marriage. Not from any sentiment, she told Mr. Mavick on the occasion of her second marriage, oh, no, but somehow it seemed to her, in all her vast possessions left to her by Henderson, the only real estate she had. It was the only thing that had not passed into the absolute possession and control of Mavick. The great town house, with all the rest, stood in Mavick's name. What secret influence had he over her that made her submit to such a foolish surrender?

It was in this little house that the reduced family stowed itself after the downfall. The little house, had it been sentient, would have been astonished at the entrance into it of the furniture and the remnants of luxurious living that Mrs. Mavick was persuaded belonged to her personally. These reminders of former days were, after all, a mockery in the narrow quarters and the pinched economy of the bankrupt. Yet they were, for a time useful in preserving to Mrs. Mavick a measure of self-respect, her self-respect having always been based upon what she had and not what she was. In truth, the change of lot was harder for Mrs. Mavick than for Evelyn, since the world in which the latter lived had not been destroyed. She still had her books, she still had a great love in her heart, and hope, almost now a sure hope, that her love would blossom into a great happiness.

But where was Philip? In all this time why did he make no sign? At moments a great fear came over her. She was so ignorant of life. Could he know what misery she was in, the daily witness of her father's broken condition, of her mother's uncertain temper?

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CHAPTER XXVIIs justice done in this world only by a succession of injustices? Is there any law that a wrong must right a wrong? Did it rebuke the means by which the vast fortune of Henderson was accumulated, that it was defeated of any good use by the fraud of his wife? Was her action punished by the same unscrupulous tactics of the Street that originally made the fortune? And Ault? Would a stronger pirate arise in time to despoil him, and so act as the Nemesis of all violation of the law of honest relations between men? The comfort is,

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That Fortune - Chapter 24
CHAPTER XXIVThere 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