By Charles Dudley Warner
On a summer day, long gone among the summer days that come but to go, a lad of twelve years was idly and recklessly swinging in the top of a tall hickory, the advance picket of a mountain forest. The tree was on the edge of a steep declivity of rocky pasture-land that fell rapidly down to the stately chestnuts, to the orchard, to the cornfields in the narrow valley, and the maples on the bank of the amber river, whose loud, unceasing murmur came to the lad on his aerial perch like the voice of some tradition of nature that he could not understand.
He had climbed to the topmost branch of the lithe and tough tree in order to take the full swing of this free creature in its sport with the western wind. There was something exhilarating in this elemental battle of the forces that urge and the forces that resist, and the harder the wind blew, and the wider circles he took in the free air, the more stirred the boy was in the spring of his life. Nature was taking him by the hand, and it might be that in that moment ambition was born to achieve for himself, to conquer.
If you had asked him why he was there, he would very likely have said, "To see the world." It was a world worth seeing. The prospect might be limited to a dull eye, but not to this lad, who loved to climb this height, in order to be with himself and indulge the dreams of youth. Any pretense would suffice for taking this hour of freedom: to hunt for the spicy checker-berries and the pungent sassafras; to aggravate the woodchucks, who made their homes in mysterious passages in this gravelly hillside; to get a nosegay of columbine for the girl who spelled against him in school and was his gentle comrade morning and evening along the river road where grew the sweet-flag and the snap-dragon and the barberry bush; to make friends with the elegant gray squirrel and the lively red squirrel and the comical chipmunk, who were not much afraid of this unarmed naturalist. They may have recognized their kinship to him, for he could climb like any squirrel, and not one of them could have clung more securely to this bough where he was swinging, rejoicing in the strength of his lithe, compact little body. When he shouted in pure enjoyment of life, they chattered in reply, and eyed him with a primeval curiosity that had no fear in it. This lad in short trousers, torn shirt, and a frayed straw hat above his mobile and cheerful face, might be only another sort of animal, a lover like themselves of the beech-nut and the hickory-nut.
It was a gay world up here among the tossing branches. Across the river, on the first terrace of the hill, were weather-beaten farmhouses, amid apple orchards and cornfields. Above these rose the wooded dome of Mount Peak, a thousand feet above the river, and beyond that to the left the road wound up, through the scriptural land of Bozrah, to high and lonesome towns on a plateau stretching to unknown regions in the south. There was no bar to the imagination in that direction. What a gracious valley, what graceful slopes, what a mass of color bathing this lovely summer landscape! Down from the west, through hills that crowded on either side to divert it from its course, ran the sparkling Deerfield, from among the springs and trout streams of the Hoosac, merrily going on to the great Connecticut. Along the stream was the ancient highway, or lowway, where in days before the railway came the stage-coach and the big transport-wagons used to sway and rattle along on their adventurous voyage from the gate of the Sea at Boston to the gate of the West at Albany.
Below, where the river spread wide among the rocks in shallows, or eddies in deep, dark pools, was the ancient, long, covered, wooden bridge, striding diagonally from rock to rock on stone columns, a dusky tunnel through the air, a passage of gloom flecked with glints of sunlight, that struggled in crosscurrents through the interstices of the boards, and set dancing the motes and the dust in a golden haze, a stuffy passage with odors a century old—who does not know the pungent smell of an old bridge?—a structure that groaned in all its big timbers when a wagon invaded it. And then below the bridge the lad could see the historic meadow, which was a cornfield in the eighteenth century, where Captain Moses Rice and Phineas Arms came suddenly one summer day to the end of their planting and hoeing. The house at the foot of the hill where the boy was cultivating his imagination had been built by Captain Rice, and in the family burying-ground in the orchard above it lay the body of this mighty militia-man, and beside him that of Phineas Arms, and on the headstone of each the legend familiar at that period of our national life, "Killed by the Indians." Happy Phineas Arms, at the age of seventeen to exchange in a moment the tedium of the cornfield for immortality.
There was a tradition that years after, when the Indians had disappeared through a gradual process of intoxication and pauperism, a red man had been seen skulking along the brow of this very hill and peering down through the bushes where the boy was now perched on a tree, shaking his fist at the hated civilization, and vengefully, some said pathetically, looking down into this valley where his race had been so happy in the natural pursuits of fishing, hunting, and war. On the opposite side of the river was still to be traced an Indian trail, running to the western mountains, which the boy intended some time to follow; for this highway of warlike forays, of messengers of defiance, along which white maidens had been led captive to Canada, appealed greatly to his imagination.
The boy lived in these traditions quite as much as in those of the Revolutionary War into which they invariably glided in his perspective of history, the redskins and the redcoats being both enemies of his ancestors. There was the grave of the envied Phineas Arms—that ancient boy not much older than he—and there were hanging in the kitchen the musket and powder-horn that his great-grandfather had carried at Bunker Hill, and did he not know by heart the story of his great-grandmother, who used to tell his father that she heard when she was a slip of a girl in Plymouth the cannonading on that awful day when Gage met his victorious defeat?
In fact, according to his history-book there had been little but wars in this peaceful nation: the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the incessant frontier wars with the Indians, the Kansas War, the Mormon War, the War for the Union. The echoes of the latter had not yet died away. What a career he might have had if he had not been born so late in the world! Swinging in this tree-top, with a vivid consciousness of life, of his own capacity for action, it seemed a pity that he could not follow the drum and the flag into such contests as he read about so eagerly.
And yet this was only a corner of the boy's imagination. He had many worlds and he lived in each by turn. There was the world of the Old Testament, of David and Samson, and of those dim figures in the dawn of history, called the Patriarchs. There was the world of Julius Caesar and the Latin grammar, though this was scarcely as real to him as the Old Testament, which was brought to his notice every Sunday as a necessity of his life, while Caesar and AEneas and the fourth declension were made to be a task, for some mysterious reason, a part of his education. He had not been told that they were really a part of the other world which occupied his mind so much of the time, the world of the Arabian Nights and Robinson Crusoe, and Coleridge and Shelley and Longfellow, and Washington Irving and Scott and Thackeray, and Pope's Iliad and Plutarch's Lives. That this was a living world to the boy was scarcely his fault, for it must be confessed that those were very antiquated book-shelves in the old farmhouse to which he had access, and the news had not been apprehended in this remote valley that the classics of literature were all as good as dead and buried, and that the human mind had not really created anything worth modern notice before about the middle of the nineteenth century. It was not exactly an ignorant valley, for the daily newspapers were there, and the monthly magazine, and the fashion-plate of Paris, and the illuminating sunshine of new science, and enough of the uneasy throb of modern life. Yet somehow the books that were still books had not been sent to the garret, to make room for the illustrated papers and the profound physiological studies of sin and suffering that were produced by touching a scientific button. No, the boy was conscious in a way of the mighty pulsation of American life, and he had also a dim notion that his dreams in his various worlds would come to a brilliant fulfillment when he was big enough to go out and win a name and fame. But somehow the old books, and the family life, and the sedate ways of the community he knew, had given him a fundamental and not unarmed faith in the things that were and had been.
Every Sunday the preacher denounced the glitter and frivolity and corruption of what he called Society, until the boy longed to see this splendid panorama of cities and hasting populations, the seekers of pleasure and money and fame, this gay world which was as fascinating as it was wicked. The preacher said the world was wicked and vain. It did not seem so to the boy this summer day, not at least the world he knew. Of course the boy had no experience. He had never heard of Juvenal nor of Max Nordau. He had no philosophy of life. He did not even know that when he became very old the world would seem to him good or bad according to the degree in which he had become a good or a bad man.
In fact, he was not thinking much about being good or being bad, but of trying his powers in a world which seemed to offer to him infinite opportunities. His name—Philip Burnett—with which the world, at least the American world, is now tolerably familiar, and which he liked to write with ornamental flourishes on the fly-leaves of his schoolbooks, did not mean much to him, for he had never seen it in print, nor been confronted with it as something apart from himself. But the Philip that he was he felt sure would do something in the world. What that something should be varied from day to day according to the book, the poem, the history or biography that he was last reading. It would not be difficult to write a poem like "Thanatopsis" if he took time enough, building up a line a day. And yet it would be better to be a soldier, a man who could use the sword as well as the pen, a poet in uniform. This was a pleasing imagination. Surely his aunt and his cousins in the farmhouse would have more respect for him if he wore a uniform, and treat him with more consideration, and perhaps they would be very anxious about him when he was away in battles, and very proud of him when he came home between battles, and went quite modestly with the family into the village church, and felt rather than saw the slight flutter in the pews as he walked down the aisle, and knew that the young ladies, the girl comrades of the district school, were watching him from the organ gallery, curious to see Phil, who had gone into the army. Perhaps the preacher would have a sermon against war, and the preacher should see how soldierlike he would take this attack on him. Alas! is such vanity at the bottom of even a reasonable ambition? Perhaps his town would be proud of him if he were a lawyer, a Representative in Congress, come back to deliver the annual oration at the Agricultural Fair. He could see the audience of familiar faces, and hear the applause at his witty satires and his praise of the nobility of the farmer's life, and it would be sweet indeed to have the country people grasp him by the hand and call him Phil, just as they used to before he was famous. What he would say, he was not thinking of, but the position he would occupy before the audience. There were no misgivings in any of these dreams of youth.
The musings of this dreamer in a tree-top were interrupted by the peremptory notes of a tin horn from the farmhouse below. The boy recognized this not only as a signal of declining day and the withdrawal of the sun behind the mountains, but as a personal and urgent notification to him that a certain amount of disenchanting drudgery called chores lay between him and supper and the lamp-illumined pages of The Last of the Mohicans. It was difficult, even in his own estimation, to continue to be a hero at the summons of a tin horn—a silver clarion and castle walls would have been so different—and Phil slid swiftly down from his perch, envying the squirrels who were under no such bondage of duty.
Recalled to the world that now is, the lad hastily gathered a bouquet of columbine and a bunch of the tender leaves and the red berries of the wintergreen, called to "Turk," who had been all these hours watching a woodchuck hole, and ran down the hill by leaps and circuits as fast as his little legs could carry him, and, with every appearance of a lad who puts duty before pleasure, arrived breathless at the kitchen door, where Alice stood waiting for him. Alice, the somewhat feeble performer on the horn, who had been watching for the boy with her hand shading her eyes, called out upon his approach:
"Why, Phil, what in the world—"
"Oh, Alice!" cried the boy, eagerly, having in a moment changed in his mind the destination of the flowers; "I've found a place where the checker-berries are thick as spatter." And Phil put the flowers and the berries in his cousin's hand. Alice looked very much pleased with this simple tribute, but, as she admired it, unfortunately asked—women always ask such questions:
"And you picked them for me?"
This was a cruel dilemma. Phil was more devoted to his sweet cousin than to any one else in the world, and he didn't want to hurt her feelings, and he hated to tell a lie. So he only looked a lie, out of his affectionate, truthful eyes, and said:
"I love to bring you flowers. Has uncle come home yet?"
"Yes, long ago. He called and looked all around for you to unharness the horse, and he wanted you to go an errand over the river to Gibson's. I guess he was put out."
"Did he say anything?"
"He asked if you had weeded the beets. And he said that you were the master boy to dream and moon around he ever saw." And she added, with a confidential and mischievous smile: "I think you'd better brought a switch along; it would save time."
Phil had a great respect for his uncle Maitland, but he feared him almost more than he feared the remote God of Abraham and Isaac. Mr. Maitland was not only the most prosperous man in all that region, but the man of the finest appearance, and a bearing that was equity itself. He was the first selectman of the town, and a deacon in the church, and however much he prized mercy in the next world he did not intend to have that quality interfere with justice in this world. Phil knew indeed that he was a man of God, that fact was impressed upon him at least twice a day, but he sometimes used to think it must be a severe God to have that sort of man. And he didn't like the curt way he pronounced the holy name—he might as well have called Job "job."
Alice was as unlike her father, except in certain race qualities of integrity and common-sense, as if she were of different blood. She was the youngest of five maiden sisters, and had arrived at the mature age of eighteen. Slender in figure, with a grace that was half shyness, soft brown hair, gray eyes that changed color and could as easily be sad as merry, a face marked with a moving dimple that every one said was lovely, retiring in manner and yet not lacking spirit nor a sly wit of her own. Now and then, yes, very often, out of some paradise, no doubt, strays into New England conditions of reticence and self-denial such a sweet spirit, to diffuse a breath of heaven in its atmosphere, and to wither like a rose ungathered. These are the New England nuns, not taking any vows, not self-consciously virtuous, apparently untouched by the vanities of the world. Marriage? It is not in any girl's nature not to think of that, not to be in a flutter of pleasure or apprehension at the attentions of the other sex. Who has been able truly to read the thoughts of a shrinking maiden in the passing days of her youth and beauty? In this harmonious and unselfish household, each with decided individual character, no one ever intruded upon the inner life of the other. No confidences were given in the deep matters of the heart, no sign except a blush over a sly allusion to some one who had been "attentive." If you had stolen a look into the workbasket or the secret bureau-drawer, you might have found a treasured note, a bit of ribbon, a rosebud, some token of tenderness or of friendship that was growing old with the priestess who cherished it. Did they not love flowers, and pets, and had they not a passion for children? Were there not moonlight evenings when they sat silent and musing on the stone steps, watching the shadows and the dancing gleams on the swift river, when the air was fragrant with the pink and the lilac? Not melancholy this, nor poignantly sad, but having in it nevertheless something of the pathos of life unfulfilled. And was there not sometimes, not yet habitually, coming upon these faces, faces plain and faces attractive, the shade of renunciation?
Phil loved Alice devotedly. She was his confidante, his defender, but he feared more the disapproval of her sweet eyes when he had done wrong than the threatened punishment of his uncle.
"I only meant to be gone just a little while," Phil went on to say.
"And you were away the whole afternoon. It is a pity the days are so short. And you don't know what you lost."
"No great, I guess."
"Celia and her mother were here. They stayed all the afternoon."
"Celia Howard? Did she wonder where I was?"
"I don't know. She didn't say anything about it. What a dear little thing she is!"
"And she can say pretty cutting things."
"Oh, can she? Perhaps you'd better run down to the village before dark and take her these flowers."
"I'm not going. I'd rather you should have the flowers." And Phil spoke the truth this time.
Celia, who was altogether too young to occupy seriously the mind of a lad of twelve, had nevertheless gained an ascendancy over him because of her willful, perverse, and sometimes scornful ways, and because she was different from the other girls of the school. She had read many more books than Phil, for she had access to a library, and she could tell him much of a world that he only heard of through books and newspapers, which latter he had no habit of reading. He liked, therefore, to be with Celia, not withstanding her little airs of superiority, and if she patronized him, as she certainly did, probably the simple-minded young gentleman, who was unconsciously bred in the belief that he and his own kin had no superiors anywhere, never noticed it. To be sure they quarreled a good deal, but truth to say Phil was never more fascinated with the little witch, whom he felt himself strong enough to protect, than when she showed a pretty temper. He rather liked to be ordered about by the little tyrant. And sometimes he wished that Murad Ault, the big boy of the school, would be rude to the small damsel, so that he could show her how a knight would act under such circumstances. Murad Ault stood to Phil for the satanic element in his peaceful world. He was not only big and strong of limb and broad of chest, but he was very swarthy, and had closely curled black hair. He feared nothing, not even the teacher, and was always doing some dare-devil thing to frighten the children. And because he was dark, morose, and made no friends, and wished none, but went solitary his own dark way, Phil fancied that he must have Spanish blood in his veins, and would no doubt grow up to be a pirate. No other boy in the winter could skate like Murad Ault, with such strength and grace and recklessness—thin ice and thick ice were all one to him, but he skated along, dashing in and out, and sweeping away up and down the river in a whirl of vigor and daring, like a black marauder. Yet he was best and most awesome in the swimming pond in summer—though it was believed that he dared go in in the bitter winter, either by breaking the ice or through an air-hole, and there was a story that he had ventured under the ice as fearless as a cold fish. No one could dive from such a height as he, or stay so long under water; he liked to stay under long enough to scare the spectators, and then appear at a distance, thrashing about in the water as if he were rescuing himself from drowning, sputtering out at the same time the most diabolical noises —curses, no doubt, for he had been heard to swear. But as he skated alone he swam alone, appearing and disappearing at the swimming-place silently, with never a salutation to any one. And he was as skillful a fisher as he was a swimmer. No one knew much about him. He lived with his mother in a little cabin up among the hills, that had about it scant patches of potatoes and corn and beans, a garden fenced in by stumproots, as ill-cared for as the shanty. Where they came from no one knew. How they lived was a matter of conjecture, though the mother gathered herbs and berries and bartered them at the village store, and Murad occasionally took a hand in some neighbor's hay-field, or got a job of chopping wood in the winter. The mother was old and small and withered, and they said evil-eyed. Probably she was no more evil-eyed than any old woman who had such a hard struggle for existence as she had. An old widow with an only son who looked like a Spaniard and acted like an imp! Here was another sort of exotic in the New England life.
Celia had been brought to Rivervale by her mother about a year before this time, and the two occupied a neat little cottage in the village, distinguished only by its neatness and a plot of syringas, and pinks, and marigolds, and roses, and bachelor's-buttons, and boxes of the tough little exotics, called "hen-and-chickens," in the door-yard, and a vigorous fragrant honeysuckle over the front porch. She only dimly remembered her father, who had been a merchant in a small way in the city, and dying left to his widow and only child a very moderate fortune. The girl showed early an active and ingenious mind, and an equal love for books and for having her own way; but she was delicate, and Mrs. Howard wisely judged that a few years in a country village would improve her health and broaden her view of life beyond that of cockney provincialism. For, though Mrs. Howard had more refinement than strength of mind, and passed generally for a sweet and inoffensive little woman, she did not lack a certain true perception of values, due doubtless to the fact that she had been a New England girl, and, before her marriage and emigration to the great city, had passed her life among unexciting realities, and among people who had leisure to think out things in a slow way. But the girl's energy and self-confidence had no doubt been acquired from her father, who was cut off in mid-career of his struggle for place in the metropolis, or from some remote ancestor. Before she was eleven years old her mother had listened with some wonder and more apprehension to the eager forecast of what this child intended to do when she became a woman, and already shrank from a vision of Celia on a public platform, or the leader of some metempsychosis club. Through her affections only was the child manageable, but in opposition to her spirit her mother was practically powerless. Indeed, this little sprout of the New Age always spoke of her to Philip and to the Maitlands as "little mother."
The epithet seemed peculiarly tender to Philip, who had lost his father before he was six years old, and he was more attracted to the timid and gentle little widow than to his equable but more robust Aunt Eusebia, Mrs. Maitland, his father's elder sister, whom Philip fancied not a bit like his father except in sincerity, a quality common to the Maitlands and Burnetts. Yet there was a family likeness between his aunt and a portrait of his father, painted by a Boston artist of some celebrity, which his mother, who survived her husband only three years, had saved for her boy. His father was a farmer, but a man of considerable cultivation, though not college-bred—his last request on his death-bed was that Phil should be sent to college—a man who made experiments in improving agriculture and the breed of cattle and horses, read papers now and then on topics of social and political reform, and was the only farmer in all the hill towns who had what might be called a library.
It was all scattered at the time of the winding up of the farm estate, and the only jetsam that Philip inherited out of it was an annotated copy of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, Young's Travels in France, a copy of The Newcomes, and the first American edition of Childe Harold. Probably these odd volumes had not been considered worth any considerable bid at the auction. From his mother, who was fond of books, and had on more than one occasion, of the failure of teachers, taught in the village school in her native town before her marriage, Philip inherited his love of poetry, and he well remembered how she used to try to inspire him with patriotism by reading the orations of Daniel Webster (she was very fond of orations), and telling him war stories about Grant and Sherman and Sheridan and Farragut and Lincoln. He distinctly remembered also standing at her knees and trying, at intervals, to commit to memory the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He had learned it all since, because he thought it would please his mother, and because there was something in it that appealed to his coming sense of the mystery of life. When he repeated it to Celia, who had never heard of it, and remarked that it was all made up, and that she never tried to learn a long thing like that that wasn't so, Philip could see that her respect for him increased a little. He did not know that the child got it out of the library the next day and never rested till she knew it by heart. Philip could repeat also the books of the Bible in order, just as glibly as the multiplication-table, and the little minx, who could not brook that a country boy should be superior to her in anything, had surprised her mother by rattling them all off to her one Sunday evening, just as if she had been born in New England instead of in New York. As to the other fine things his mother read him, out of Ruskin and the like; Philip chiefly remembered what a pretty glow there was in his mother's face when she read them, and that recollection was a valuable part of the boy's education.
Another valuable part of his education was the gracious influence in his aunt's household, the spirit of candor, of affection, and the sane common-sense with which life was regarded, the simplicity of its faith and the patience with which trials were borne. The lessons he learned in it had more practical influence in his life than all the books he read. Nor were his opportunities for the study of character so meagre as the limit of one family would imply. As often happens in New England households, individualities were very marked, and from his stern uncle and his placid aunt down to the sweet and nimble-witted Alice, the family had developed traits and even eccentricities enough to make it a sort of microcosm of life. There, for instance, was Patience, the maiden aunt, his father's sister, the news-monger of the fireside, whose powers of ratiocination first gave Philip the Greek idea and method of reasoning to a point and arriving at truth by the process of exclusion. It did not excite his wonder at the time, but afterwards it appeared to him as one of the New England eccentricities of which the novelists make so much. Patience was a home-keeping body and rarely left the premises except to go to church on Sunday, although her cheerfulness and social helpfulness were tinged by nothing morbid. The story was—Philip learned it long afterwards—that in her very young and frisky days Patience had one evening remained out at some merry-making very late, and in fact had been escorted home in the moonlight by a young gentleman when the tall, awful-faced clock, whose face her mother was watching, was on the dreadful stroke of eleven. For this delinquency her mother had reproved her, the girl thought unreasonably, and she had quickly replied, "Mother, I will never go out again." And she never did. It was in fact a renunciation of the world, made apparently without rage, and adhered to with cheerful obstinacy.
But although for many years Patience rarely left her home, until the habit of seclusion had become as fixed as that of a nun who had taken the vows, no one knew so well as she the news and gossip of the neighborhood, and her power of learning or divining it seemed to increase with her years. She had a habit of sitting, when her household duties permitted, at a front window, which commanded a long view of the river road, and gathering the news by a process peculiar to herself. From this peep-hole she studied the character and destination of all the passers-by that came within range of her vision, and made her comments and deductions, partly to herself, but for the benefit of those who might be listening.
"Why, there goes Thomas Henry," she would say (she always called people by their first and middle names). "Now, wherever can he be going this morning in the very midst of getting in his hay? He can't be going to the Browns' for vegetables, for they set great store by their own raising this year; and they don't get their provisions up this way either, because Mary Ellen quarreled with Simmons's people last year. No!" she would exclaim, rising to a climax of certainty on this point, "I'll be bound he is not going after anything in the eating line!"
Meantime Thomas Henry's wagon would be disappearing slowly up the sandy road, giving Patience a chance to get all she could out of it, by eliminating all the errands Thomas Henry could not possibly be going to do in order to arrive at the one he must certainly be bound on.
"They do say he's courting Eliza Merritt," she continued, "but Eliza never was a girl to make any man leave his haying. No, he's never going to see Eliza, and if it isn't provisions or love it's nothing short of sickness. Now, whoever is sick down there? It can't be Mary Ellen, because she takes after her father's family and they are all hearty. It must be Mary Ellen's little girls, and the measles are going the rounds. It must be they've all got the measles."
If the listeners suggested that possibly one of the little girls might have escaped, the suggestion was decisively put aside.
"No; if one of them had been well, Mary Ellen would have sent her for the doctor."
Presently Thomas Henry's cart was heard rumbling back, and sure enough he was returning with the doctor, and Patience hailed him from the gate and demanded news of Mary Ellen.
"Why, all her little girls have the measles," replied Thomas Henry, "and I had to leave my haying to fetch the doctor."
"I want to know," said Patience.
Being the eldest born, Patience had appropriated to herself two rooms in the rambling old farmhouse before her brother's marriage, from which later comers had never dislodged her, and with that innate respect for the rights and peculiarities of others which was common in the household, she was left to express her secluded life in her own way. As the habit of retirement grew upon her she created a world of her own, almost as curious and more individually striking than the museum of Cluny. There was not a square foot in her tiny apartment that did not exhibit her handiwork. She was very fond of reading, and had a passion for the little prints and engravings of "foreign views," which she wove into her realm of natural history. There was no flower or leaf or fruit that she had seen that she could not imitate exactly in wax or paper. All over the walls hung the little prints and engravings, framed in wreaths of moss and artificial flowers, or in elaborate square frames made of pasteboard. The pasteboard was cut out to fit the picture, and the margins, daubed with paste, were then strewn with seeds of corn and acorns and hazelnuts, and then the whole was gilded so that the effect was almost as rich as it was novel. All about the rooms, in nooks and on tables, stood baskets and dishes of fruit-apples and plums and peaches and grapes-set in proper foliage of most natural appearance, like enough to deceive a bird or the Sunday-school scholars, when on rare occasions they were admitted into this holy of holies. Out of boxes, apparently filled with earth in the corners of the rooms, grew what seemed to be vines trained to run all about the cornices and to festoon the pictures, but which were really strings, colored in imitation of the real vine, and spreading out into paper foliage. To complete the naturalistic character of these everlasting vines, which no scale-bugs could assail, there were bunches of wonderful grapes depending here and there to excite the cupidity of both bird and child. There was no cruelty in the nature of Patience, and she made prisoners of neither birds nor squirrels, but cunning cages here and there held most lifelike counterfeits of their willing captives. There was nothing in the room that was alive, except the dainty owner, but it seemed to be a museum of natural history. The rugs on the floor were of her own devising and sewing together, and rivaled in color and ingenuity those of Bokhara.
But Patience was a student of the heavens as well as of the earth, and it was upon the ceiling that her imagination expanded. There one could see in their order the constellations of the heavens, represented by paper-gilt stars, of all magnitudes, most wonderful to behold. This part of her decorations was the most difficult of all. The constellations were not made from any geography of the heavens, but from actual nightly observation of the positions of the heavenly bodies. Patience confessed that the getting exactly right of the Great Dipper had caused her most trouble. On the night that was constructed she sat up till three o'clock in the morning, going out and studying it and coming in and putting up one star at a time. How could she reach the high ceiling? Oh, she took a bean-pole, stuck the gilt star on the end of it, having paste on the reverse side, and fixed it in its place. That was easy, only it was difficult to remember when she came into the house the correct positions of the stars in the heavens. What the astronomer and the botanist and the naturalist would have said of this little kingdom is unknown, but Patience herself lived among the glories of the heavens and the beauties of the earth which she had created. Probably she may have had a humorous conception of this, for she was not lacking in a sense of humor. The stone step that led to her private door she had skillfully painted with faint brown spots, so that when visitors made their exit from this part of the house they would say, "Why, it rains!" but Patience would laugh and say, "I guess it is over by now."
"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, where 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 in the air, much more intent on the chatter of a gray squirrel in the tree above him than on the complaints of his comrade.
"Why don't you go with a boy, then?" asked Celia, in a tone intended to be severe and dignified.
"A boy isn't so nice," said Philip, with the air of stating a general proposition, but not looking at her.
"Oh," said Celia, only half appeased, "I quite agree with you." And she pulled down some beech leaves from a low, hanging limb and began to plait a wreath.
"Who are you making that for?" asked Philip, who began to be aware that a cloud had come over his holiday sky.
"Nobody in particular; it's just a wreath." And then there was silence, till Philip made another attempt.
"Celia, I don't mind staying here if you are tired. Tell me something about New York City. I wish we were there."
"Much you know about it," said Celia, but with some relaxation of her severity, for as she looked at the boy in his country clothes and glanced at her own old frock and abraded shoes, she thought what a funny appearance the pair would make on a fashionable city street.
"Would you rather be there?" asked Philip. "I thought you liked living here."
"Would I rather? What a question! Everybody would. The country is a good place to go to when you are tired, as mamma is. But the city! The big fine houses, and the people all going about in a hurry; the streets all lighted up at night, so that you can see miles and miles of lights; and the horses and carriages, and the lovely dresses, and the churches full of nice people, and such beautiful music! And once mamma took me to the theatre. Oh, Phil, you ought to see a play, and the actors, all be-a-u-ti-fully dressed, and talking just like a party in a house, and dancing, and being funny, and some of it so sad as to make you cry, and some of it so droll that you had to laugh—just such a world as you read of in books and in poetry. I was so excited that I saw the stage all night and could hardly sleep." The girl paused and looked away to the river as if she saw it all again, and then added in a burst of confidence:
"Do you know, I mean to be an actress some day, when mamma will let me."
"Play-actors are wicked," said Phil, in a tone of decision; "our minister says so, and my uncle says so."
"Fudge!" returned Celia. "Much they know about it. Did Alice say so?"
"I never asked her, but she said once that she supposed it was wrong, but she would like to see a play."
"There, everybody would. Mamma says the people from the country go to the theatre always, a good deal more than the people in the city go. I should like to see your aunt Patience in a theatre and hear what she said about it. She's an actress if ever there was one."
Philip opened his eyes in protest.
"Mamma says it is as good as a play to hear her go on about people, and what they are like, and what they are going to do, and then her little rooms are just like a scene on a stage. If they were in New York everybody would go to see them and to hear her talk."
This was such a new view of his home life to Philip that he could neither combat it nor assent to it, further than to say, that his aunt was just like everybody else, though she did have some peculiar ways.
"Well, she acts," Celia insisted, "and most people act. Our minister acts all the time, mamma says." Celia had plenty of opinions of her own, but when she ventured a startling statement she had the habit of going under the shelter of "little mother," whose casual and unconsidered remarks the girl turned to her own uses. Perhaps she would not have understood that her mother merely meant that the minister's sacerdotal character was not exactly his own character. Just as Philip noticed without being able to explain it that his uncle was one sort of a man in his religious exercises and observances and another sort of man in his dealings with him. Children often have recondite thoughts that do not get expression until their minds are more mature; they even accept contradictory facts in their experience. There was one of the deacons who was as kind as possible, and Philip believed was a good and pious man, who had the reputation of being sharp and even tricky in a horse-trade. And Philip used to think how lucky it was for him that he had been converted and was saved!
"Are you going to stay here always?" asked Philip, pursuing his own train of thought about the city.
"Here? I should think not. If I were a boy I wouldn't stay here, I can tell you. What are you going to do, Phil, what are you going to be?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Philip, turning over on his back and looking up into the blue world through the leaves; "go to college, I suppose." Children are even more reticent than adults about revealing their inner lives, and Philip would not, even to Celia, have confessed the splendid dreams about his career that came to him that day in the hickory-tree, and that occupied him a great deal.
"Of course," said this wise child, "but that's nothing. I mean, what are you going to do? My cousin Jim has been all through college, and he doesn't do a thing except wear nice clothes and hang around and talk. He says I'm a little chatter-box. I hate the sight of him."
"If he doesn't like you, then I don't like him," said Philip, as if he were making a general and not a personal assertion. "Oh, I should like to travel."
"So should I, and see things and find things. Jim says he's going to be an explorer. He never will. He wouldn't find anything. He twits me, and wants to know what is the good of my reading about Africa and such things. Phil, don't you love to read about Africa, and the desert, and the lions and the snakes, and bananas growing, and palm-trees, and the queerest black men and women, real dwarfs some of them? I just love it."
"So do I," said Philip, "as far as I have read. Alice says it's awful dangerous—fevers and wild beasts and savages and all that. But I shouldn't mind."
"Of course you wouldn't. But it costs like everything to go to Africa, or anywhere."
"I'd make a book about it, and give lectures, and make lots of money."
"I guess," said Celia, reflecting upon this proposition, "I'd be an engineer or a railroad man, or something like that, and make a heap of money, and then I could go anywhere I liked. I just hate to be poor. There!"
"Is Jim poor?"
"No; he can do what he pleases. I asked him, then, why he didn't go to Africa, and he wanted to know what was the good of finding Livingstone, anyway. I'll bet Murad Ault would go to Africa."
"I wish he would," said Philip; and then, having moved so that he could see Celia's face, "Do you like Murad Ault?"
"No," replied Celia, promptly; "he's horrid, but he isn't afraid of anything."
"Well, I don't care," said Philip, who was nettled by this implication. And Celia, who had shown her power of irritating, took another tack.
"You don't think I'd be seen going around with him? Aren't we having a good time up here?"
"Bully!" replied Philip. And not seeing the way to expand this topic any further, he suddenly said:
"Celia, the next time I go on our hill I'll get you lots of sassafras."
"Oh, I love sassafras, and sweet-flag!"
"We can get that on the way home. I know a place." And then there was a pause. "Celia, you didn't tell me what you are going to do when you grow up."
"Go to college."
"You? Why, girls do, don't they? I never thought of that."
"Of course they do. I don't know whether I'll write or be a doctor. I know one thing—I won't teach school. It's the hatefulest thing there is! It's nice to be a doctor and have your own horse, and go round like a man. If it wasn't for seeing so many sick people! I guess I'll write stories and things."
"So would I," Philip confessed, "if I knew any."
"Why, you make 'em up. Mamma says they are all made up. I can make 'em in my head any time when I'm alone."
"I don't know," Philip said, reflectively, "but I could make up a story about Murad Ault, and how he got to be a pirate and got in jail and was hanged."
"Oh, that wouldn't be a real story. You have got to have different people in it, and have 'em talk, just as they do in books; and somebody is in love and somebody dies, and the like of that."
"Well, there are such stories in The Pirate's Own Book, and it's awful interesting."
"I'd be ashamed, Philip Burnett, to read such a cruel thing, all about robbers and murders."
"I didn't read it through; Alice said she was going to burn it up. I shouldn't wonder if she did."
"Boys make me tired!" exclaimed this little piece of presumption; and this attitude of superiority exasperated Philip more than anything else his mentor had said or done, and he asserted his years of seniority by jumping up and saying, decidedly, "It's time to go home. Shall I carry your wreath?"
"No, I thank you!" replied Celia, with frigid politeness.
"Down in the meadow," said Philip, making one more effort at conciliation, "we can get some tigerlilies, and weave them in and make a beautiful wreath for your mother."
"She doesn't like things fussed up," was the gracious reply. And then the children trudged along homeward, each with a distinct sense of injury.
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.
It is the desire of every ambitious soul to, enter Literature by the front door, and the few who have patience and money enough to live without the aid of the beckoning Helen may enter there. But a side entrance is the destiny of most aspirants, even those with the golden key of genius, and they are a long time in working their way to be seen coming out, of the front entrance. It is true that a man can attract considerable and immediate attention by trying to effect an entrance through the sewer, but he seldom gains the respect of the public whom he interests, any more than an exhibitor of fireworks gains the reputation of an artist that is accorded to the painter of a good picture.
Philip was waiting at the front door, with his essays and his prose symphonies and his satirical novel—the satire of a young man is apt to be very bitter—but it was as tightly shut against him as if a publisher and not the muse of literature kept the door.
There was a fellow-boarder with Philip, whose acquaintance he had made at the common table in the basement, who appeared to be free of the world of letters and art. He was an alert, compact, neatly dressed little fellow, who had apparently improved every one of his twenty-eight years in the study of life, in gaining assurance and confidence in himself, and also presented himself as one who knew the nether world completely but was not of it. He would have said of himself that he knew it profoundly, that he frequented it for "material," but that his home was in another sphere. The impression was that he belonged among those brilliant guerrillas of both sexes, in the border-land of art and society, who lived daintily and talked about life with unconventional freedom. Slight in figure, with very black hair, and eyes of cloudy gray, an olive complexion, and features trained to an immobility proof against emotion or surprise, the whole poised as we would say in the act of being gentlemanly, it is needless to say that he took himself seriously. His readiness, self-confidence, cocksureness, Philip thought all expressed in his name —Olin Brad.
Mr. Brad was not a Bohemian—that is, not at all a Bohemian of the recognized type. His fashionable dress, closely trimmed hair, and dainty boots took him out of that class. He belonged to the new order, which seems to have come in with modern journalism—that is, Bohemian in principle, but of the manners and apparel of the favored of fortune. Mr. Brad was undoubtedly clever, and was down as a bright young man in the list of those who employed talent which was not dulled by conscientious scruples. He had stood well in college, during three years in Europe he had picked up two or three languages, dissipated his remaining small fortune, acquired expensive tastes, and knowledge, both esoteric and exoteric, that was valuable to him in his present occupation. Returning home fully equipped for a modern literary career, and finding after some bitter experience that his accomplishments were not taken or paid for at their real value by the caterers for intellectual New York, he had dropped into congenial society on the staff of the Daily Spectrum, a mighty engine of public opinion, which scattered about the city and adjacent territory a million of copies, as prodigally as if they had been auctioneers' announcements. Fastidious people who did not read it gave it a bad name, not recognizing the classic and heroic attitude of those engaged in pitchforking up and turning over the muck of the Augean stables under the pretense of cleaning them.
Mr. Brad had a Socratic contempt for this sort of fault-finding. It was answer enough to say, "It pays. The people like it or they wouldn't buy it. It commands the best talent in the market and can afford to pay for it; even clergymen like to appear in its columns—they say it's a providential chance to reach the masses. And look at the "Morning GooGoo" (this was his nickname for one of the older dailies), it couldn't pay its paper bills if it hadn't such a small circulation."
Mr. Brad, however, was not one of the editors, though the acceptance of an occasional short editorial, sufficiently piquant and impudent and vivid in language—to suit, had given him hopes. He was salaried, but under orders for special service, and was always in the hope that the execution of each new assignment would bring him into popular notice, which would mean an advance of position and pay.
Philip was impressed with the ready talent, the adaptable talent, and the facility of this accomplished journalist, and as their acquaintance improved he was let into many of the secrets of success in the profession.
"It isn't an easy thing," said Mr. Brad, "to cater to a public that gets tired of anything in about three days. But it is just as well satisfied with a contradiction as with the original statement. It calls both news. You have to watch out and see what the people want, and give it to 'em. It is something like the purveying of the manufacturers and the dry-goods jobber for the changing trade in fashions; only the newspaper has the advantage that it can turn a somersault every day and not have any useless stock left on hand.
"The public hasn't any memory, or, if it has, this whirligig process destroys it. What it will not submit to is the lack of a daily surprise. Keep that in your mind and you can make a popular newspaper. Only," continued Mr. Brad, reflectively, "you've got to hit a lot of different tastes."
"You'd laugh," this artist in emotions went on, after a little pause, "at some of my assignments. There was a run awhile ago on elopements, and my assignment was to have one every Monday morning. The girl must always be lovely and refined and moving in the best society; elopement with the coachman preferred, varied with a teacher in a Sunday-school. Invented? Not always. It was surprising how many you could find ready made, if you were on the watch. I got into the habit of locating them in the interior of Pennsylvania as the safest place, though Jersey seemed equally probable to the public. Did I never get caught? That made it all the more lively and interesting. Denials, affidavits, elaborate explanations, two sides to any question; if it was too hot, I could change the name and shift the scene to a still more obscure town. Or it could be laid to the zeal of a local reporter, who could give the most ingenious reasons for his story. Once I worked one of those imaginary reporters up into such prominence for his clever astuteness that my boss was taken in, and asked me to send for him and give him a show on the paper.
"Oh, yes, we have to keep up the domestic side. A paper will not go unless the women like it. One of the assignments I liked was 'Sayings of Our Little Ones.' This was for every Tuesday morning. Not more than half a column. These always got copied by the country press solid. It is really surprising how many bright things you can make children of five and six years say if you give your mind to it. The boss said that I overdid it sometimes and made them too bright instead of 'just cunning.'
"'Psychological Study of Children' had a great run. This is the age of science. Same with animals, astronomy—anything. If the public wants science, the papers will give it science.
"After all, the best hold for a lasting sensation is an attack upon some charity or public institution; show up the abuses, and get all the sentimentalists on your side. The paper gets sympathy for its fearlessness in serving the public interests. It is always easy to find plenty of testimony from ill-used convicts and grumbling pensioners."
Undoubtedly Olin Brad was a clever fellow, uncommonly well read in the surface literatures of foreign origin, and had a keen interest in what he called the metaphysics of his own time. He had many good qualities, among them friendliness towards men and women struggling like himself to get up the ladder, and he laid aside all jealousy when he advised Philip to try his hand at some practical work on the Spectrum. What puzzled Philip was that this fabricator of "stories" for the newspaper should call himself a "realist." The "story," it need hardly be explained, is newspaper slang for any incident, true or invented, that is worked up for dramatic effect. To state the plain facts as they occurred, or might have occurred, and as they could actually be seen by a competent observer, would not make a story. The writer must put in color, and idealize the scene and the people engaged in it, he must invent dramatic circumstances and positions and language, so as to produce a "picture." And this picture, embroidered on a commonplace incident, has got the name of "news." The thread of fact in this glittering web the reader must pick out by his own wits, assisted by his memory of what things usually are. And the public likes these stories much better than the unadorned report of facts. It is accustomed to this view of life, so much so that it fancies it never knew what war was, or what a battle was, until the novelists began to report them.
Mr. Brad was in the story stage of his evolution as a writer. His light facility in it had its attraction for Philip, but down deep in his nature he felt and the impression was deepened by watching the career of several bright young men and women on the press—that indulgence in it would result in such intellectual dishonesty as to destroy the power of producing fiction that should be true to life. He was so impressed by the ability and manifold accomplishments of Mr. Brad that he thought it a pity for him to travel that road, and one day he asked him why he did not go in for literature.
"Literature!" exclaimed Mr. Brad, with some irritation; "I starved on literature for a year. Who does live on it, till he gets beyond the necessity of depending on it? There is a lot of humbug talked about it. You can't do anything till you get your name up. Some day I will make a hit, and everybody will ask, 'Who is this daring, clever Olin Brad?' Then I can get readers for anything I choose to write. Look at Champ Lawson. He can't write correct English, he never will, he uses picturesque words in a connection that makes you doubt if he knows what they mean. But he did a dare-devil thing picturesquely, and now the publishers are at his feet. When I met him the other day he affected to be bored with so much attention, and wished he had stuck to the livery-stable. He began at seventeen by reporting a runaway from the point of view of the hostler."
"Well," said Philip, "isn't it quite in the line of the new movement that we should have an introspective hostler, who perhaps obeys Sir Philip Sidney's advice, 'Look into your heart and write'? I chanced the other night in a company of the unconventional and illuminated, the 'poster' set in literature and art, wild-eyed and anaemic young women and intensely languid, 'nil admirari' young men, the most advanced products of the studios and of journalism. It was a very interesting conclave. Its declared motto was, 'We don't read, we write.' And the members were on a constant strain to say something brilliant, epigrammatic, original. The person who produced the most outre sentiment was called 'strong.' The women especially liked no writing that was not 'strong.' The strongest man in the company, and adored by the women, was the poet-artist Courci Cleves, who always seems to have walked straight out of a fashion-plate, much deferred to in this set, which affects to defer to nothing, and a thing of beauty in the theatre lobbies. Mr. Cleves gained much applause for his well-considered wish that all that has been written in the world, all books and libraries, could be destroyed, so as to give a chance to the new men and the fresh ideas of the new era."
"My dear sir," said Brad, who did not like this caricature of his friends, "you don't make any allowance for the eccentricities of genius."
"You would hit it nearer if you said I didn't make allowance for the eccentricities without genius," retorted Philip.
"Well," replied Mr. Brad, taking his leave, "you don't understand your world. You go your own way and see where you will come out."
And when Philip reflected on it, he wondered if it were not rash to offend those who had the public ear, and did up the personals and minor criticisms for the current prints. He was evidently out of view. No magazine paper of his had gained the slightest notice from these sublimated beings, who discovered a new genius every month.
A few nights after this conversation Mr. Brad was in uncommon spirits at dinner.
"Anything special turned up?" asked Philip.
"Oh, nothing much. I've thrown away the chance of the biggest kind of a novel of American life. Only it wouldn't keep. You look in the Spectrum tomorrow morning. You'll see something interesting."
"Is it a—" and Philip's incredulous expression supplied the word.
"No, not a bit. And the public is going to be deceived this time, sure, expecting a fake. You know Mavick?"
"I've heard of him—the operator, a millionaire."
"A good many times. Used to be minister or consul or something at Rome. A great swell. It's about his daughter, Evelyn, a stunning girl about sixteen or seventeen—not out yet."
"I hope it's no scandal."
"No, no; she's all right. It's the way she's brought up—shows what we've come to. They say she's the biggest heiress in America and a raving beauty, the only child. She has been brought up like the Kohinoor, never out of somebody's sight. She has never been alone one minute since she was born. Had three nurses, and it was the business of one of them, in turn, to keep an eye on her. Just think of that. Never was out of the sight of somebody in her life. Has two maids now—always one in the room, night and day."
"Why, the parents are afraid she'll be kidnapped, and held for a big ransom. No, I never saw her, but I've got the thing down to a dot. Wouldn't I like to interview her, though, get her story, how the world looks to her. Under surveillance for sixteen years! The 'Prisoner of Chillon' is nothing to it for romance."
"Just the facts are enough, I should say."
"Yes, facts make a good basis, sometimes. I've got 'em all in, but of course I've worked the thing up for all it is worth. You'll see. I kept it one day to try and get a photograph. We've got the house and Mavick, but the girl's can't be found, and it isn't safe to wait. We are going to blow it out tomorrow morning."
The Mavick mansion was on Fifth Avenue in the neighborhood of Central Park. It was one of the buildings in the city that strangers were always taken to see. In fact, this was a palace not one kind of a palace, but all kinds of a palace. The clever and ambitious architect of the house had grouped all the styles of architecture he had ever seen, or of which he had seen pictures. Here was not an architectural conception, like a sonnet or a well-constructed novel, but if all the work could have been spread out in line, in all its variety, there would have been produced a panorama. The sight of the mansion always caused wonder and generally ignorant admiration. Its vastness and splendor were felt to be somehow typical of the New World and of the cosmopolitan city.
The cost, in the eyes of the spectators, was a great part of its merits. No doubt this was a fabulous sum. "You can form a little idea of it," said a gentleman to his country friend, "when I tell you that that little bit there, that little corner of carving and decoration, cost two hundred thousand dollars! I had this from the architect himself."
The interior was as fully representative of wealth and of the ambition to put under one roof all the notable effects of all the palaces in the world. But it had, what most palaces have not, all the requisites for luxurious living. The variety of styles in the rooms was bewildering. Artists of distinction, both foreign and native, had vied with each other in the decoration of the rooms given over to the display of their genius. All paganism and all Christianity, history, myth, and the beauties of nature were spread upon the walls and ceilings. Rare woods, rare marbles, splendid textures, the product of ancient handiwork and modern looms, added a certain dignity to the more airy creations of the artists. Many of the rooms were named from the nations whose styles of decoration and furnishing were imitated in them, but others had the simple designation of the gold room, the silver room, the lapis-lazuli room, and so on. It was not only the show-rooms, the halls, passages, stairways, and galleries (both of pictures and of curios) that were thus enriched, but the boudoirs, retiring-rooms, and more private apartments as well. It was not simply a house of luxury, but of all the comfort that modern invention can furnish. It was said that the money lavished upon one or two of the noble apartments would have built a State-house (though not at Albany), and that the fireplace in the great hall cost as much as an imitation mediaeval church. These were the things talked about, and yet the portions of this noble edifice, rich as they were, habitually occupied by the family had another character—the attractions and conveniences of what we call a home. Mrs. Mavick used to say that in her apartments she found refuge in a sublimated domesticity. Mavick's own quarters—not the study off the library where he received visitors whom it was necessary to impress—had an executive appearance, and were, in the necessary appliances, more like the interior bureau of a board of trade. In fact, the witty brokers who were admitted to its mysteries called it the bucket-shop.
Mr. Brad's article on "A Prisoned Millionaire" more than equaled Philip's expectations. No such "story" had appeared in the city press in a long time. It was what was called, in the language of the period, a work of art—that is, a sensation, heightened by all the words of color in the language, applied not only to material things, but to states and qualities of mind, such as "purple emotions" and "scarlet intrepidity." It was also exceedingly complimentary. Mavick himself was one of the powers and pillars of American society, and the girl was an exquisite exhibition of woodland bloom in the first flush of spring-time. As he read it over, Philip thought what a fine advertisement it is to every impecunious noble in Europe.
That morning, before going to his office, Philip strolled up Fifth Avenue to look at that now doubly, famous mansion. Many others, it appeared, were moved by the same curiosity. There was already a crowd assembled. A couple of policemen, on special duty, patrolled the sidewalk in front in order to keep a passage open, and perhaps to prevent a too impudent inspection. Opposite the house, on the sidewalk and on door-steps, was a motley throng, largely made up of toughs and roughs from the East Side, good-natured spectators who merely wanted to see this splendid prison, and a moving line of gentlemen and ladies who simply happened to be passing that way at this time. The curbstone was lined with a score of reporters of the city journals, each with his note-book. Every window and entrance was eagerly watched. It was hoped that one of the family might be seen, or that some servant might appear who could be interviewed. Upon the windows supposed by the reporters to be those from which the heiress looked, a strict watch was kept. The number, form, and location of these windows were accurately noted, the stuff of the curtains described in the phrase of the upholsterer, and much good language was devoted to the view from these windows. The shrewdest of the reporters had already sought information as to the interior from the flower dealers, from upholsterers, from artists who had been employed in the decorations, and had even assailed, in the name of the rights of the public whom they represented, the architects of the building; but their chief reliance was upon the waiters furnished by the leading caterers on occasions of special receptions and great dinners, and milliners and dress-makers, who had penetrated the more domestic apartments. By reason of this extraordinary article in the newspaper, the public had acquired the right to know all about the private life of the Mavick family.
This right was not acknowledged by Mr. Mavick and his family. Of course the object of the excitement was wholly ignorant of the cause of it, as no daily newspaper was ever seen by her that had not been carefully inspected by the trusted and intelligent governess. The crowd in front of the mansion was accounted for by the statement that a picture of it had appeared in one of the low journals, and there was naturally a curiosity to see it. And Evelyn was told that this was one of the penalties a man paid for being popular.
Mrs. Mavick, who seldom lost her head, was thoroughly frightened and upset, and it was a rare occasion that could upset the equanimity of the late widow, Mrs. Carmen Henderson. She gave way to her passion and demanded that the offending editor should be pursued with the utmost rigor of the law. Mr. Mavick was not less annoyed and angry, but he smiled when his wife talked of pursuing the press with the utmost rigor of the law, and said that he would give the matter prompt attention. That day he had an interview with the editor of the Daily Spectrum; which was satisfactory to both parties. The editor would have said that Mavick behaved like a gentleman. The result of the interview appeared in the newspaper of the following morning.
Mr. Mavick had requested that the offending reporter should be cautioned; he was too wise to have further attention called to the matter by demanding his dismissal. Accordingly the reporter was severely reprimanded, and then promoted.
The editorial, which was written by Mr. Olin Brad, and was in his best Macaulay style, began somewhat humorously by alluding to the curious interest of the public in ancient history, citing Mr. Froude and Mr. Carlyle, and the legend of Casper Hauser. It was true, gradually approaching the case in point, that uncommon precautions had been taken in the early years of the American heiress, and it was the romance of the situation that had been laid before the readers of the Spectrum. But there had been really no danger in our chivalrous, free American society, and all these precautions were long a thing of the past (which was not true). In short, with elaboration and great skill, and some humor, the exaggerations of the former article were minimized, and put in an airy and unsubstantial light. And then this friend of the people, this exposer of abuses and champion of virtue, turned and justly scored the sensational press for prying into the present life of one of the first families in the country.
Incidentally, it was mentioned that the ladies of the family had before this incident bespoken their passage for their annual visit to Europe, and that this affair had not disturbed their arrangements (which also was not true). This casual announcement was intended to draw away attention from the Fifth Avenue house, and to notify the roughs that it would be useless to lay any plans.
The country press, which had far and wide printed the interesting story, softened it in accordance with the later development. Possibly no intelligent person was deceived, but in the estimation of the mass of the people the Spectrum increased its reputation for enterprise and smartness and gave also an impression of its fairness. The manager, told Mr. Brad that the increased sales of the two days permitted the establishment to give him a vacation of two weeks on full pay, and during these weeks the manager himself set up a neat and modest brougham.
All of which events, only partially understood, Mr. Philip Burnett revolved in his mind, and wondered if what was called success was worth the price paid for it.
The name of Thomas Mavick has lost the prominence and significance it had at the time the events recorded in this history were taking place. It seems incredible that the public should so soon have lost interest in him. His position in the country was most conspicuous. No name was more frequently in the newspapers. No other person not in official life was so often interviewed. The reporters instinctively turned to him for information in matters financial, concerning deals, and commercial, which were so commonly connected with political, enterprises. No loan was negotiated without consulting him, no operation was considered safe without knowing how he was affected towards it, and to ascertain what Mavick was doing or thinking was a constant anxiety in the Street. Of course the opinion of a man so powerful was very important in politics, and any church or sect would be glad to have his support. The fact that he and his family worshiped regularly at St. Agnes's was a guarantee of the stability of that church, and incidentally marked the success of the Christian religion in the metropolis.
But the condition of the presence in the public mind of the name of a great operator and accumulator of money who is merely that is either that he go on accumulating, so that the magnitude of his wealth has few if any rivals, or that his name become synonymous with some gigantic cleverness, if not rascality, so that it is used as an adjective after he and his wealth have disappeared from the public view. It is different with the reputation of an equally great financier who has used his ability for the service of his country. There is no Valhalla for the mere accumulators of money. They are fortunate if their names are forgotten, and not remembered as illustrations of colossal selfishness.
Mavick may have been the ideal of many a self-made man, but he did not make his fortune—he married it. And it was suspected that the circumstances attending that marriage put him in complete control of it. He came into possession, however, with cultivated shrewdness and tact and large knowledge of the world, the world of diplomacy as well as of business. And under his manipulation the vast fortune so acquired was reported to have been doubled. It was at any rate almost fabulous in the public estimation.
When the charming widow of the late Rodney Henderson, then sojourning in Rome, placed her attractive self and her still more attractive fortune in the hands of Mr. Thomas Mavick, United States Minister to the Court of Italy, she attained a position in the social world which was in accord with her ambition, and Mavick acquired the means of making the mission, in point of comparison with the missions of the other powers at the Italian capital, a credit to the Great Republic. The match was therefore a brilliant one, and had a sort of national importance.
Those who knew Mrs. Mavick in the remote past, when she was the fascinating and not definitely placed Carmen Eschelle, and who also knew Mr. Mavick when he was the confidential agent of Rodney Henderson, knew that their union was a convenient and material alliance, in which the desire of each party to enjoy in freedom all the pleasures of the world could be gratified while retaining the social consideration of the world. Both had always been circumspect. And it may be added, for the information of strangers, that they thoroughly knew each other, and were participants in a knowledge that put each at disadvantage, so that their wedded life was a permanent truce. This bond of union was not ideal, and not the best for the creation of individual character, but it avoided an exhibition of those public antagonisms which so grieve and disturb the even flow of the current of society, and give occasion to so much witty comment on the institution of marriage itself.