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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThat Fortune - Chapter 4
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That Fortune - Chapter 4 Post by :Finner Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :741

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That Fortune - Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV

Traits that make a child disagreeable are apt to be perpetuated in the adult. The bumptious, impudent, selfish, "hateful" boy may become a man of force, of learning, of decided capacity, even of polish and good manners, and score success, so that those who know him say how remarkable it is that such a "knurly" lad should have turned out so well. But some exigency in his career, it may be extraordinary prosperity or bitter defeat, may at any moment reveal the radical traits of the boy, the original ignoble nature. The world says that it is a "throwing back"; it is probably only a persistence of the original meanness under all the overlaid cultivation and restraint.

Without bothering itself about the recondite problems of heredity or the influence of environment, the world wisely makes great account of "stock." The peasant nature, which may be a very different thing from the peasant condition, persists, and shows itself in business affairs, in literature, even in the artist. No marriage is wisely contracted without consideration of "stock." The admirable qualities which make a union one of mutual respect and enduring affection--the generosities, the magnanimities, the courage of soul, the crystalline truthfulness, the endurance of ill fortune and of prosperity--are commonly the persistence of the character of the stock.

We can get on with surface weaknesses and eccentricities, and even disagreeable peculiarities, if the substratum of character is sound. There is no woman or man so difficult--to get on with, whatever his or her graces or accomplishments, as the one "you don't know where to find," as the phrase is. Indeed, it has come to pass that the highest and final eulogy ever given to a man, either in public or private life, is that he is one "you can tie to." And when you find a woman of that sort you do not need to explain to the cynical the wisdom of the Creator in making the most attractive and fascinating sex.

The traits, good and bad, persist; they may be veneered or restrained, they are seldom eradicated. All the traits that made the great Napoleon worshiped, hated, and feared existed in the little Bonaparte, as perfectly as the pea-pod in the flower. The whole of the First Empire was smirched with Corsican vulgarity. The world always reckons with these radical influences that go to make up a family. One of the first questions asked by an old politician, who knew his world thoroughly, about any man becoming prominent, when there was a discussion of his probable action, was, "Whom did he marry?"

There are exceptions to this general rule, and they are always noticeable when they occur--this deviation from the traits of the earliest years--and offer material fox some of the subtlest and most interesting studies of the novelist.

It was impossible for those who met Philip Burnett after he had left college, and taken his degree in the law-school, and spent a year, more or less studiously, in Europe, to really know him if they had not known the dreaming boy in his early home, with all the limitations as well as the vitalizing influences of his start in life. And on the contrary, the error of the neighbors of a lad in forecasting his career comes from the fact that they do not know him. The verdict about Philip would probably have been that he was a very nice sort of a boy, but that he would never "set the North River on fire." There was a headstrong, selfish, pushing sort of boy, one of Philip's older schoolmates, who had become one of the foremost merchants and operators in New York, and was already talked of for mayor. This success was the sort that fulfilled the rural idea of getting on in the world, whereas Philip's accomplishments, seen through the veneer of conceit which they had occasioned him to take on, did not commend themselves as anything worth while. Accomplishments rarely do unless they are translated into visible position or into the currency of the realm. How else can they be judged? Does not the great public involuntarily respect the author rather for the sale of his books than for the books themselves?

The period of Philip's novitiate--those most important years from his acquaintance with Celia Howard to the attainment of his professional degree--was most interesting to him, but the story of it would not detain the reader of exciting fiction. He had elected to use his little patrimony in making himself instead of in making money--if merely following his inclination could be called an election. If he had reasoned about it he would have known that the few thousands of dollars left to him from his father's estate, if judiciously invested in business, would have grown to a good sum when he came of age, and he would by that time have come into business habits, so that all he would need to do would be to go on and make more money. If he had reasoned more deeply he would have seen that by this process he would become a man of comparatively few resources for the enjoyment of life, and a person of very little interest to himself or to anybody else. So perhaps it was just as well that he followed his instincts and postponed the making of money until he had made himself, though he was to have a good many bitter days when the possession of money seemed to him about the one thing desirable.

It was Celia, who had been his constant counselor and tormentor, about the time when she was beginning to feel a little shy and long-legged, in her short skirts, who had, in a romantic sympathy with his tastes, opposed his going into a "store" as a clerk, which seemed to the boy at one time an ideal situation for a young man.

"A store, indeed!" cried the young lady; "pomatum on your hair, and a grin on your face; snip, snip, snip, calico, ribbons, yard-stick; 'It's very becoming, miss, that color; this is only a sample, only a remnant, but I shall have a new stock in by Friday; anything else, ma'am, today?' Sho! Philip, for a man!"

Fortunately for Philip there lived in the village an old waif, a scholarly oddity, uncommunicative, whose coming to dwell there had excited much gossip before the inhabitants got used to his odd ways.

Usually reticent and rough of speech--the children thought he was an old bear--he was nevertheless discovered to be kindly and even charitable in neighborhood emergencies, and the minister said he was about the most learned man he ever knew. His history does not concern us, but he was doubtless one of the men whose talents have failed to connect with success in anything, who had had his bout with the world, and retired into peaceful seclusion in an indulgence of a mild pessimism about the world generally.

He lived alone, except for the rather neutral presence of Aunt Hepsy, who had formerly been a village tailoress, and whose cottage he had bought with the proviso that the old woman should continue in it as "help." With Aunt Hepsy he was no more communicative than with anybody else. "He was always readin', when he wasn't goin' fishin' or off in the woods with his gun, and never made no trouble, and was about the easiest man to get along with she ever see. You mind your business and he'll mind his'n." That was the sum of Aunt Hepsy's delivery about the recluse, though no doubt her old age was enriched by constant "study" over his probable history and character. But Aunt Hepsy, since she had given up tailoring, was something of a recluse herself.

The house was full of books, mostly queer books, "in languages nobody knows what," as Aunt Hepsy said, which made Philip open his eyes when he went there one day to take to the old man a memorandum-book which he had found on Mill Brook. The recluse took a fancy to the ingenuous lad when he saw he was interested in books, and perhaps had a mind not much more practical than his own; the result was an acquaintance, and finally an intimacy--at which the village wondered until it transpired that Philip was studying with the old fellow, who was no doubt a poor shack of a school-teacher in disguise.

It was from this gruff friend that Philip learned Greek and Latin enough to enable him to enter college, not enough drill and exact training in either to give him a high stand, but an appreciation of the literatures about which the old scholar was always enthusiastic. Philip regretted all his life that he had not been severely drilled in the classics and mathematics, for he never could become a specialist in anything. But perhaps, even in this, fate was dealing with him according to his capacities. And, indeed, he had a greater respect for the scholarship of his wayside tutor than for the pedantic acquirements of many men he came to know afterwards. It was from him that Philip learned about books and how to look for what he wanted to know, and it was he who directed Philip's taste to the best. When he went off to college the lad had not a good preparation, but he knew a great deal that would not count in the entrance examinations.

"You will need all the tools you can get the use of, my boy, in the struggle," was the advice of his mentor, "and the things you will need most may be those you have thought least of. I never go fishing without both fly and bait."

Philip was always grateful that before he entered college he had a fine reading knowledge of French, and that he knew enough German to read and enjoy Heine's poems and prose, and that he had read, or read in, pretty much all the English classics.

He used to recall the remark of a lad about his own age, who was on a vacation visit to Rivervale, and had just been prepared for college at one of the famous schools. The boys liked each other and were much together in the summer, and talked about what interested them during their rambles, carrying the rod or the fowling-piece. Philip naturally had most to say about the world he knew, which was the world of books--that is to say, the stored information that had accumulated in the world. This more and more impressed the trained student, who one day exclaimed:

"By George! I might have known something if I hadn't been kept at school all my life."

Philip's career in college could not have been called notable. He was not one of the dozen stars in the class-room, but he had a reputation of another sort. His classmates had a habit of resorting to him if they wanted to "know anything" outside the text-books, for the range of his information seemed to them encyclopaedic. On the other hand, he escaped the reputation of what is called "a good fellow." He was not so much unpopular as he was unknown in the college generally, but those who did know him were tolerant of the fact that he cared more for reading than for college sports or college politics. It must be confessed that he added little to the reputation of the university, since his name was never once mentioned in the public prints--search has been made since the public came to know him as a writer--as a hero in any crew or team on any game field. Perhaps it was a little selfish that his muscle developed in the gymnasium was not put into advertising use for the university. The excuse was that he had not time to become an athlete, any more than he had time to spend three years in the discipline of the regular army, which was in itself an excellent thing.

Celia, in one of her letters--it was during her first year at a woman's college, when the development of muscle in gymnastics, running, and the vigorous game of ball was largely engaging the attention of this enthusiastic young lady--took him to task for his inactivity. "This is the age of muscle," she wrote; "the brain is useless in a flabby body, and probably the brain itself is nothing but concentrated intelligent muscle. I don't know how men are coming out, but women will never get the position they have the right to occupy until they are physically the equals of men."

Philip had replied, banteringly, that if that were so he had no desire to enter in a physical competition with women, and that men had better look out for another field.

But later on, when Celia had got into the swing of the classics, and was training for a part in the play of "Antigone," she wrote in a different strain, though she would have denied that the change had any relation to the fact that she had strained her back in a rowing-match. She did not apologize for her former advice, but she was all aglow about the Greek drama, and made reference to Aspasia as an intellectual type of what women might become. "I didn't ever tell you how envious I used to be when you were studying Greek with that old codger in Rivervale, and could talk about Athens and all that. Next time we meet, I can tell you, it will be Greek meets Greek. I do hope you have not dropped the classics and gone in for the modern notion of being real and practical. If I ever hear of your writing 'real' poetry--it is supposed to be real if it is in dialect or misspelled! never will write you again, much less speak to you."

Whatever this decided young woman was doing at the time she was sure was the best for everybody to do, and especially for Master Phil.

Now that the days of preparation were over, and Philip found himself in New York, face to face with the fact that he had nowhere to look for money to meet the expense of rent, board, and clothes except to his own daily labor, and that there was another economy besides that which he had practiced as to luxuries, there were doubtless hours when his faith wavered a little in the wisdom of the decision that had invested all his patrimony in himself. He had been fortunate, to be sure, in securing a clerk's desk in the great law-office of Hunt, Sharp & Tweedle, and he had the kindly encouragement of the firm that, with close application to business, he would make his way. But even in this he had his misgivings, for a great part of his acquirements, and those he most valued, did not seem to be of any use in his office-work. He had a lofty conception of his chosen profession, as the right arm in the administration of justice between man and man. In practice, however, it seemed to him that the object was to win a case rather than to do justice in a case. Unfortunately, also, he had cultivated his imagination to the extent that he could see both sides of a case. To see both sides is indeed the requisite of a great lawyer, but to see the opposite side only in order to win, as in looking over an opponent's hand in a game of cards. It seemed to Philip that this clear perception would paralyze his efforts for one side if he knew it was the wrong side. The argument was that every cause a man's claim or his defense--ought to be presented in its fullness and urged with all the advocate's ingenuity, and that the decision was in the bosom of an immaculate justice on the bench and the unbiased intelligence in the jury-box. This might be so. But Philip wondered what would be the effect on his own character and on his intellect if he indulged much in the habit of making the worse appear the better cause, and taking up indifferently any side that paid. For himself, he was inclined always to advise clients to "settle," and he fancied that if the occupation of the lawyer was to explain the case to people ignorant of it, and to champion only the right side, as it appeared to an unprejudiced, legally trained mind, and to compose instead of encouraging differences, the law would indeed be a noble profession, and the natural misunderstandings, ignorance, and different points of view would make business enough.

"Stuff!" said Mr. Sharp. "If you begin by declining causes you disapprove of, the public will end by letting you alone in your self-conceited squeamishness. It's human nature you've got to deal with, not theories about law and justice. I tell you that men like litigation. They want to have it out with somebody. And it is better than fisticuffs."

From Mr. Hunt, who moved in the serener upper currents of the law, Philip got more satisfaction.

"Of course, Mr. Burnett, there are miserable squabbles in the law practice, and contemptible pettifoggers and knaves, and men who will sell themselves for any dirty work, as there are in most professions and occupations, but the profession could not exist for a day if it was not on the whole on the side of law and order and justice.

"No doubt it needs from time to time criticism and reformation. So does the church. You look at the characters of the really great lawyers! And there is another thing. In dealing with the cases of our complex life, there is no accomplishment, no learning in science, art, or literature, that the successful practitioner will not find it very advantageous to possess. And a lawyer will never be eminent who has not imagination."

Philip thought he had a very good chance of exercising his imagination in the sky chamber where he slept--a capital situation from which to observe the world. There could not have been an uglier view created--a shapeless mass of brick and stone and painted wood, a collected, towering monstrosity of rectangular and inharmonious lines, a realized dream of hideousness--but for the splendid sky, always changing and doing all that was possible in the gleams and shadows and the glowing colors of morning and evening to soften the ambitious work of man; but for the wide horizon, with patches of green shores and verdant flats washed by the kindly tide; but for the Highlands and Staten Island, the gateway to the ocean; but for the great river and the mighty bay shimmering and twinkling and often iridescent, and the animated life of sails and steamers, the leviathans of commerce and the playthings of pleasure, and the beetle-like, monstrous ferry-boats that pushed their noses through all the confusion, like intelligent, business-like saurians that knew how to keep an appointed line by a clumsy courtesy of apparent yielding. Yes, there was life enough in all this, and inspiration, if one only knew what to be inspired about.

When Philip came home from the office at sunset, through the bustling streets, and climbed up to his perch, he insensibly brought with him something of the restless energy and strife of the city, and in this mood the prospect before him took on a certain significance of great things accomplished, of the highest form of human energy and achievement; he was a part of this exuberant, abundant life, to succeed in the struggle seemed easy, and for the moment he possessed what he saw.

The little room had space enough for a cot bed, a toilet-stand, a couple of easy-chairs--an easy-chair is the one article of furniture absolutely necessary to a reflecting student--some well-filled book-shelves, a small writing-desk, and a tiny closet quite large enough for a wardrobe which seemed to have no disposition to grow. Except for the books and the writing-desk, with its heterogeneous manuscripts, unfinished or rejected, there was not much in the room to indicate the taste of its occupant, unless you knew that his taste was exhibited rather by what he excluded from the room than by what it contained. It must be confessed that, when Philip was alone with his books and his manuscripts, his imagination did not expand in the directions that would have seemed profitable to the head of his firm. That life of the town which was roaring in his ears, that panorama of prosperity spread before him, related themselves in his mind not so much as incitements to engage in the quarrels of his profession as something demanding study and interpretation, something much more human than processes and briefs and arguments. And it was a dark omen for his success that the world interested him much more for itself than for what he could make out of it. Make something to be sure he must--so long as he was only a law clerk on a meagre salary--and it was this necessity that had much to do with the production of the manuscripts. It was a joke on Philip in his club--by-the-way, the half-yearly dues were not far off--that he was doing splendidly in the law; he already had an extensive practice in chambers!

The law is said to be a jealous mistress, but literature is a young lady who likes to be loved for herself alone, and thinks permission to adore is sufficient reward for her votary. Common-sense told Philip that the jealous mistress would flout him and land him in failure if he gave her a half-hearted service; but the other young lady, the Helen of the professions, was always beckoning him and alluring him by the most subtle arts, occupying all his hours with meditations on her grace and beauty, till it seemed the world were well lost for her smile. And the fascinating jade never hinted that devotion to her brought more drudgery and harassment and pain than any other service in the world. It would not have mattered if she had been frank, and told him that her promise of eternal life was illusory and her rewards commonly but a flattering of vanity. There was no resisting her enchantments, and he would rather follow her through a world of sin and suffering, pursuing her radiant form over bog and moor, in penury and heartache, for one sunrise smile and one glimpse of her sunset heaven, than to walk at ease with a commonplace maiden on any illumined and well-trod highway.

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CHAPTER III"I'm not going to follow you about any more through the brush and brambles, Phil Burnett," and Celia, emerging from the thicket into a clearing, flung herself down on a knoll under a beech-tree. Celia was cross. They were out for a Saturday holiday on the hillside Phil said there were oceans of raspberries and blueberries, beginning to get ripe, and where you could hear the partridges drumming in the woods, and see the squirrels. "Why, I'm not a bit tired," said Phil; "a boy wouldn't be." And he threw himself down on the green moss, with his heels
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