That Fortune

Author: Charles Dudley Warner


Law and love go very well together as occupations, but, when literature is added, the trio is not harmonious. Either of the two might pull together, but the combination of the three is certainly disastrous.

It would be difficult to conceive of a person more obviously up in the air than Philip at this moment. He went through his office duties intelligently and perfunctorily, but his heart was not in the work, and reason as he would his career did not seem to be that way. He was lured too strongly by that siren, the ever-alluring woman who sits upon the rocks and sings so deliciously to youth of the sweets of authorship. He who listens once to that song hears it always in his ears, through disappointment and success—and the success is often the greatest disappointment—through poverty and hope deferred and heart-sickness for recognition, through the hot time of youth and the creeping incapacity of old age. The song never ceases. Were the longing and the hunger it arouses ever satisfied with anything, money for instance, any more than with fame?

And if the law had a feeble hold on him, how much more uncertain was his grasp on literature. He had thrown his line, he had been encouraged by nibbles, but publishers were too wary to take hold. It seemed to him that he had literally cast his bread upon the waters, and apparently at an ebb tide, and his venture had gone to the fathomless sea. He had put his heart into the story, and, more than that, his hope of something dearer than any public favor. As he went over the story in his mind, scene after scene, and dwelt upon the theme that held the whole in unity, he felt that Evelyn would be touched by the recognition of her part in the inspiration, and that the great public must give some heed to it. Perhaps not the great public—for its liking now ran in quite another direction, but a considerable number of people like Celia, who were struggling with problems of life, and the Alices in country homes who still preserved in their souls a belief in the power of a noble life, and perhaps some critics who had not rid themselves of the old traditions. If the publishers would only give him a chance!

But if law and literature were to him little more than unsubstantial dreams, the love he cherished was, in the cool examination of reason, preposterous. What! the heiress of so many millions, brought up doubtless in the expectation of the most brilliant worldly alliance, the heiress with the world presently at her feet, would she look at a lawyer’s clerk and an unsuccessful scribbler? Oh, the vanity of youth and the conceit of intellect!

Down in his heart Philip thought that she might. And he went on nursing this vain passion, knowing as well as any one can know the social code, that Mr. Mavick and Mrs. Mavick would simply laugh in his face at such a preposterous idea. And yet he knew that he had her sympathy in his ambition, that to a certain extent she was interested in him. The girl was too guileless to conceal that. And then suppose he should become famous—well, not exactly famous, but an author who was talked about, and becoming known, and said to be promising? And then he could fancy Mavick weighing this sort of reputation in his office scales against money, and Mrs. Mavick weighing it in her boudoir against social position. He was a fool to think of it. And yet, suppose, suppose the girl should come to love him. It would not be lightly. He knew that, by looking into her deep, clear, beautiful eyes. There were in them determination and tenacity of purpose as well as the capability of passion. Heavens and earth, if that girl once loved, there was a force that no opposition could subdue! That was true. But what had he to offer to evoke such a love?

In those days Philip saw much of Celia, who at length had given up teaching, and had come to the city to try her experiment, into which she was willing to embark her small income. She had taken a room in the midst of poverty and misery on the East Side, and was studying the situation.

"I am not certain," she said, "whether I or any one else can do anything, or whether any organization down there can effect much. But I will find out."

"Aren’t you lonesome—and disgusted?" asked Philip.

"Disgusted? You might as well be disgusted with one thing as another. I am generally disgusted with the way things go. But, lonely? No, there is too much to do and to learn. And do you know, Philip, that people are more interesting over there, more individual, have more queer sorts of character. I begin to believe, with a lovely philanthropist I know, who had charge of female criminals, that ’wicked women are more interesting than good women.’"

"You have struck a rich mine of interest in New York, then."

"Don’t be cynical, Phil. There are different kinds of interest. Stuff! But I won’t explain." And then, abruptly changing the subject, "Seems to me you have something on your mind lately. Is it the novel?"


"The publishers haven’t decided?"

"I am afraid they have."

"Well, Philip, do you know that I think the best thing that could happen to you would be to have the story rejected."

"It has been rejected several times," said Philip. "That didn’t seem to do me any good."

"But finally, so that you would stop thinking about it, stop expecting anything that way, and take up your profession in earnest."

"You are a nice comforter!" retorted Philip, with a sort of smirking grin and a look of keen inspection, as if he saw something new in the character of his adviser. "What has come over you? Suppose I should give you that sort of sympathy in the projects you set your heart on?"

"It does seem hard and mean, doesn’t it? I knew you wouldn’t like it. That is, not now. But it is for your lifetime. As for me, I’ve wanted so many things and I’ve tried so many things. And do you know, Phil, that I have about come to the conclusion that the best things for us in this world are the things we don’t get."

"You are always coming to some new conclusion."

"Yes, I know. But just look at it rationally. Suppose your story is published, cast into the sea of new books, and has a very fair sale. What will you get out of it? You can reckon how many copies at ten cents a copy it will need to make as much as some writers get for a trivial magazine paper. Recognition? Yes, from a very few people. Notoriety? You would soon find what that is. Suppose you make what is called a ’hit.’ If you did not better that with the next book, you would be called a failure. And you must keep at it, keep giving the public something new all the time, or you will drop out of sight. And then the anxiety and the strain of it, and the temptation, because you must live, to lower your ideal, and go down to what you conceive to be the buying public. And if your story does not take the popular fancy, where will you be then?"

"Celia, you have become a perfect materialist. You don’t allow anything for the joy of creation, for the impulse of a man’s mind, for the delight in fighting for a place in the world of letters."

"So it seems to you now. If you have anything that must be said, of course you ought to say it, no matter what comes after. If you are looking round for something you can say in order to get the position you covet, that is another thing. People so deceive themselves about this. I know literary workers who lead a dog’s life and are slaves to their pursuit, simply because they have deceived themselves in this. I want you to be free and independent, to live your own life and do what work you can in the world. There, I’ve said it, and of course you will go right on. I know you. And maybe I am all wrong. When I see the story I may take the other side and urge you to go on, even if you are as poor as a church-mouse, and have to be under the harrow of poverty for years."

"Then you have some curiosity to see the story?"

"You know I have. And I know I shall like it. It isn’t that, Phil; it is what is the happiest career for you."

"Well, I will send it to you when it comes back."

But the unexpected happened. It did not come back. One morning Philip received a letter from the publishers that set his head in a whirl. The story was accepted. The publisher wrote that the verdict of the readers was favorable, and he would venture on it, though he cautioned Mr. Burnett not to expect a great commercial success. And he added, as to terms, it being a new name, though he hoped one that would become famous, that the copyright of ten per cent. would not begin until after the sale of the first thousand copies.

The latter part of the letter made no impression on Philip. So long as the book was published, and by a respectable firm, he was indifferent as a lord to the ignoble details of royalty. The publisher had recognized the value of the book, and it was accepted on its merits. That was enough. The first thing he did was to enclose the letter to Celia, with the simple remark that he would try to sympathize with her in her disappointment.

Philip would have been a little less jubilant if he had known how the decision of the publishing house was arrived at. It was true that the readers had reported favorably, but had refused to express any opinion on the market value. The manuscript had therefore been put in the graveyard of manuscripts, from which there is commonly no resurrection except in the funeral progress of the manuscript back to the author. But the head of the house happened to dine at the house of Mr. Hunt, the senior of Philip’s law firm. Some chance allusion was made by a lady to an article in a recent magazine which had pleased her more than anything she had seen lately. Mr. Hunt also had seen it, for his wife had insisted on reading it to him, and he was proud to say that the author was a clerk in his office—a fine fellow, who, he always fancied, had more taste for literature than for law, but he had the stuff in him to succeed in anything. The publisher pricked up his ears and asked some questions. He found that Mr. Burnett stood well in the most prominent law firm in the city, that ladies of social position recognized his talent, that he dined here and there in a good set, and that he belonged to one of the best clubs. When he went to his office the next morning he sent for the manuscript, looked it over critically, and then announced to his partners that he thought the thing was worth trying.

In a day or two it was announced in the advertising lists as forthcoming. There it stared Philip in the face and seemed to be the only conspicuous thing in the journal. He had not paid much attention before to the advertisements, but now this department seemed the most interesting part of the paper, and he read every announcement, and then came back and read his over and over. There it stood:—"On Saturday, The Puritan Nun. An Idyl. By Philip Burnett."

The naming of the book had been almost as difficult as the creation. His first choice had been "The Lily of the Valley," but Balzac had pre-empted that. And then he had thought of "The Enclosed Garden" (Hortus Clausus), the title of a lovely picture he had seen. That was Biblical, but in the present ignorance of the old scriptures it would be thought either agricultural or sentimental. It is not uncommon that a book owes its notoriety and sale to its title, and it is not easy to find a title that will attract attention without being too sensational. The title chosen was paradoxical, for while a nun might be a puritan, it was unthinkable that a Puritan should be a nun.

Mr. Brad said he liked it, because it looked well and did not mean anything; he liked all such titles, the "Pious Pirate," the "Lucid Lunatic," the "Sympathetic Siren," the "Guileless Girl," and so on.

The announcement of publication had the effect of putting Philip in high spirits for the Mavick reception-spirits tempered, however, by the embarrassment natural to a modest man that he would be painfully conspicuous. This first placarding of one’s name is a peculiar and mixed sensation. The letters seem shamefully naked, and the owner seems exposed and to have parted with a considerable portion of his innate privacy. His first fancy is that everybody will see it. But this fancy only comes once. With experience he comes to doubt if anybody except himself will see it.

To those most concerned the Mavick reception was the event of a lifetime. To the town—that is, to a thousand or two persons occupying in their own eyes an exclusive position it was one of the events of the season, and, indeed, it was the sensation for a couple of days. The historian of social life formerly had put upon him the task of painfully describing all that went to make such an occasion brilliant—the house itself, the decorations, the notable company, men distinguished in the State or the Street, women as remarkable for their beauty as for their courage in its exhibition, the whole world of fashion and of splendid extravagance upon which the modiste and the tailor could look with as much pride as the gardener does upon a show of flowers which his genius has brought to perfection.

The historian has no longer this responsibility. It is transferred to a kind of trust. A race of skillful artists has arisen, who, in combination with the caterers, the decorators, and the milliners, produce a composite piece of literature in which all details are woven into a splendid whole—a composition rhetorical, humorous, lyrical, a noble apotheosis of wealth and beauty which carefully satisfies individual vanity and raises in the mind a noble picture of modern civilization. The pen and the pencil contribute to this splendid result in the daily chronicle of our life. Those who are not present are really witnesses of the scene, and this pictorial and literary triumph is justified in the fact that no other effort of the genius of reproduction is so eagerly studied by the general public. Not only in the city, but in the remote villages, these accounts are perused with interest, and it must be taken as an evidence of the new conception of the duties of the favored of fortune to the public pleasure that the participants in these fetes overcome, though reluctantly, their objection to notoriety.

No other people in the world are so hospitable as the Americans, and so willing to incur discomfort in showing hospitality. No greater proof of this can be needed than the effort to give princely entertainments in unprincely houses, where opposing streams of guests fight for progress in scant passages and on narrow stairways, and pack themselves in stifling rooms. The Mavick house, it should be said, was perfectly adapted to the throng that seemed to fill but did not crowd it. The spacious halls, the noble stairways, the ample drawing-rooms, the ballroom, the music-room, the library, the picture-gallery, the dining-room, the conservatory—into these the crowd flowed or lingered without confusion or annoyance and in a continual pleasure of surprise. "The best point of view," said an artist of Philip’s acquaintance, "is just here." They were standing in the great hall looking up at that noble gallery from which flowed down on either hand a broad stairway.

"I didn’t know there was so much beauty in New York. It never before had such an opportunity to display itself. There is room for the exhibition of the most elaborate toilets, and the costumes really look regal in such a setting."

When Philip was shown to the dressing-room, conscious that the servant was weighing him lightly in the social scale on account of his early arrival, he found a few men who were waiting to make their appearance more seasonable. They were young men, who had the air of being bored by this sort of thing, and greeted each other with a look of courteous surprise, as much as to say, "Hello! you here?" One of them, whom Philip knew slightly, who had the reputation of being the distributer if not the fountain of social information, and had the power of attracting gossip as a magnet does iron filings, gave Philip much valuable information concerning the function.

"Mrs. Mavick has done it this time. Everybody has tumbled in. Washington is drained of its foreign diplomats, the heavy part of the cabinet is moved over to represent the President, who sent a gracious letter, the select from Boston, the most ancient from Philadelphia, and I know that Chicago comes in a special train. Oh, it’s the thing. I assure you there was a scramble for invitations in the city. Lots of visiting nobility—Count de 1’Auney, I know, and that little snob, Lord Montague."

"Who is he?"

"Lord Crewe Monmouth Fitzwilliam, the Marquis of Montague, eldest son of the Duke of Tewkesbury. He’s a daisy.

They say he is over here looking for capital to carry on his peer business when he comes into it. Don’t know who put up the money for the trip. These foreigners keep a sharp eye on our market, I can tell you. They say she is a nice little girl, rather a blue-stocking, face rather intelligent than pretty, but Montague won’t care for that—excuse the old joke, but it is the figure Monte is after. He hasn’t any manners, but he’s not a bad sort of a fellow, generally good-natured, immensely pleased with New York, and an enthusiastic connoisseur in club drinks."

At the proper hour—the hour, it came into, his mind, when the dear ones at Rivervale had been long in sleep, lulled by the musical flow of the Deerfield—Philip made his way to the reception room, where there actually was some press of a crowd, in lines, to approach the attraction of the evening, and as he waited his turn he had leisure to observe the brilliant scene. There was scarcely a person in the room he knew. One or two ladies gave him a preoccupied nod, a plain little woman whom he had talked with about books at a recent dinner smiled upon him encouragingly. But what specially impressed him at the moment was the seriousness of the function, the intentness upon the presentation, and the look of worry on the faces of the women in arranging trains and avoiding catastrophes.

As he approached he fancied that Mr. Mavick looked weary and bored, and that a shade of abstraction occasionally came over his face as if it were difficult to keep his thoughts on the changing line.

But his face lighted up a little when he took Philip’s hand and exchanged with him the commonplaces of the evening. But before this he had to wait a moment, for he was preceded by an important personage. A dapper little figure, trim, neat, at the moment drew himself up before Mrs. Mavick, brought his heels together with a click, and made a low bow. Doubtless this was the French count. Mrs. Mavick was radiant. Philip had never seen her in such spirits or so fascinating in manner.

"It is a great honor, count."

"It ees to me," said the count, with a marked accent; "I assure you it is like Paris in ze time of ze monarchy. Ah, ze Great Republic, madame—so it was in France in ze ancien regime. Ah, mademoiselle! Permit me," and he raised her hand to his lips; "I salute—is it not" (turning to Mrs. Mavick)—"ze princess of ze house?"

The next man who shook hands with the host, and then stood in an easy attitude before the hostess, attracted Philip’s attention strongly, for he fancied from the deference shown him it must be the lord of whom he had heard. He was a short, little man, with heavy limbs and a clumsy figure, reddish hair, very thin on the crown, small eyes that were not improved in expression by white eyebrows, a red face, smooth shaven and freckled. It might have been the face of a hostler or a billiard-marker.

"I am delighted, my lord, that you could make room in your engagements to come."

"Ah, Mrs. Mavick, I wouldn’t have missed it," said my lord, with easy assurance; "I’d have thrown over anything to have come. And, do you know" (looking about him coolly), "it’s quite English, ’pon my honor, quite English—St. James and that sort of thing."

"You flatter me, my lord," replied the lady of the house, with a winning smile.

"No, I do assure you, it’s bang-up. Ah, Miss Mavick, delighted, delighted. Most charming. Lucky for me, wasn’t it? I’m just in time."

"You’ve only recently come over, Lord Montague?" asked Evelyn.

"Been here before—Rockies, shooting, all that. Just arrived now— beastly trip, beastly."

"And so you were glad to land?"

"Glad to land anywhere. But New York suits me down to the ground. It goes, as you say over here. You know Paris?"

"We have been in Paris. You prefer it?"

"For some thing. Paris as it was in the Empire. For sport, no. For horses, no. And" (looking boldly into her face) "when you speak of American women, Paris ain’t in it, as you say over here."

And the noble lord, instead of passing on, wheeled about and took a position near Evelyn, so that he could drop his valuable observations into her ear as occasion offered.

To Philip Mrs. Mavick was civil, but she did not beam upon him, and she did not detain him longer than to say, "Glad to see you." But Evelyn— could Philip be deceived?—she gave him her hand cordially and looked into his eyes trustfully, as she had the habit of doing in the country, and as if it were a momentary relief to her to encounter in all this parade a friend.

"I need not say that I am glad you could come. And oh" (there was time only for a word), "I saw the announcement. Later, if you can, you will tell me more about it."

Lord Montague stared at him as if to say, "Who the deuce are you?" and as Philip met his gaze he thought, "No, he hasn’t the manner of a stable boy; no one but a born nobleman could be so confident with women and so supercilious to men."

But my lord, was little in his thought. It was the face of Evelyn that he saw, and the dainty little figure; the warmth of the little hand still thrilled him. So simple, and only a bunch of violets in her corsage for all ornament! The clear, dark complexion, the sweet mouth, the wonderful eyes! What could Jenks mean by intimating that she was plain?

Philip drifted along with the crowd. He was very much alone. And he enjoyed his solitude. A word and a smile now and then from an acquaintance did not tempt him to come out of his seclusion. The gay scene pleased him. He looked for a moment into the ballroom. At another time he would have tried his fortune in the whirl. But now he looked on as at a spectacle from which he was detached. He had had his moment and he waited for another. The voluptuous music, the fascinating toilets, the beautiful faces, the graceful forms that were woven together in this shifting kaleidoscope, were, indeed, a part of his beautiful dream. But how unreal they all were! There was no doubt that Evelyn’s eyes had kindled for him as for no one else whom she had greeted. She singled him out in all this crush, her look, the cordial pressure of her hand, conveyed the feeling of comradeship and understanding. This was enough to fill his thought with foolish anticipations. Is there any being quite so happy, quite so stupid, as a lover? A lover, who hopes everything and fears everything, who goes in an instant from the heights of bliss to the depths of despair.

When the "reception" was over and the company was breaking up into groups and moving about, Philip again sought Evelyn. But she was the centre of a somewhat noisy group, and it was not easy to join it.

Yet it was something that he could feast his eyes on her and was rewarded by a look now and then that told him she was conscious of his presence. Encouraged by this, he was making his way to her, when there was a movement towards the supper-room, and Mrs. Mavick had taken the arm of the Count de l’Auney, and the little lord was jauntily leading away Evelyn. Philip had a pang of disgust and jealousy. Evelyn was actually chatting with him and seemed amused. Lord Montague was evidently laying himself out to please and exerting all the powers of his subtle humor and exploiting his newly acquired slang. That Philip could hear as they moved past him. "The brute!" Philip said to himself, with the injustice which always clouds the estimate of a lover of a rival whose accomplishments differ from his own.

In the supper-room, however, in the confusion and crowding of it, Philip at length found his opportunity to get to the side of Evelyn, whose smile showed him that he was welcome. It was in that fortunate interval when Lord Montague was showing that devotion to women was not incompatible with careful attention to terrapin and champagne. Philip was at once inspired to say:

"How lovely it is! Aren’t you tired?"

"Not at all. Everybody is very kind, and some are very amusing. I am learning a great deal," and there was a quizzical look in her eyes, "about the world."

"Well," said Philip, "t’s all here."

"I suppose so. But do you know," and there was quite an ingenuous blush in her cheeks as she said it, "it isn’t half so nice, Mr. Burnett, as a picnic in Zoar."

"So you remember that?" Philip had not command of himself enough not to attempt the sentimental.

"You must think I have a weak memory," she replied, with a laugh. "And the story? When shall we have it?"

"Soon, I hope. And, Miss Mavick, I owe so much of it to you that I hope you will let me send you the very first copy from the press."

"Will you? And do you Of course I shall be pleased and" (making him a little curtsy) "honored, as one ought to say in this company."

Lord Montague was evidently getting uneasy, for his attention was distracted from the occupation of feeding.

"No, don’t go Lord Montague, an old friend, Mr. Burnett."

"Much pleased," said his lordship, looking round rather inquiringly at the intruder. "I can’t say much for the champagne—ah, not bad, you know—but I always said that your terrapin isn’t half so nasty as it looks." And his lordship laughed most good-humoredly, as if he were paying the American nation a deserved compliment.

"Yes," said Philip, "we have to depend upon France for the champagne, but the terrapin is native."

"Quite so, and devilish good! That ain’t bad, ’depend upon France for the champagne!’ There is nothing like your American humor, Miss Mavick."

"It needs an Englishman to appreciate it," replied Evelyn, with a twinkle in her eyes which was lost upon her guest.

In the midst of these courtesies Philip bowed himself away. The party was over for him, though he wandered about for a while, was attracted again by the music to the ballroom, and did find there a dinner acquaintance with whom he took a turn. The lady must have thought him a very uninteresting or a very absent-minded companion.

As for Lord Montague, after he had what he called a "go" in the dancingroom, he found his way back to the buffet in the supper-room, and the historian says that he greatly enjoyed himself, and was very amusing, and that he cultivated the friendship of an obliging waiter early in the morning, who conducted his lordship to his cab.


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Chicago: Charles Dudley Warner, "XVI," That Fortune, ed. Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937 and trans. Townsend, R.S. in That Fortune (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed October 4, 2023,

MLA: Warner, Charles Dudley. "XVI." That Fortune, edited by Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937, and translated by Townsend, R.S., in That Fortune, Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 4 Oct. 2023.

Harvard: Warner, CD, 'XVI' in That Fortune, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, That Fortune, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 October 2023, from