MoboReader> Literature > The Two Vanrevels

   Chapter 8 A Tale of a Political Difference

The Two Vanrevels By Booth Tarkington Characters: 25586

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Mr. Carewe was already at the breakfast-table, but the light of his countenance, hidden behind the Rouen Journal, was not vouchsafed to his daughter when she took her place opposite him, nor did he see fit to return her morning greeting, from which she generously concluded that the burning of the two warehouses had meant a severe loss to him.

"I am so sorry, father," she said gently. (She had not called him "papa" since the morning after her ball.) "I hope it isn't to be a great trouble to you." There was no response, and, after waiting for some time, she spoke again, rather tremulously, yet not timidly: "Father?"

He rose, and upon his brow were marked the blackest lines of anger she had ever seen, so that she leaned back from him, startled; but he threw down the open paper before her on the table, and struck it with his clenched fist.

"Read that!" he said. And he stood over her while she read.

There were some grandiloquent headlines: "Miss Elizabeth Carewe an Angel of Mercy! Charming Belle Saves the Lives of Five Prominent Citizens! Her Presence of Mind Prevents Conflagration from Wiping Out the City!" It may be noted that Will Cummings, editor and proprietor of the Journal, had written these tributes, as well as the whole account of the evening's transactions, and Miss Betty loomed as large in Will's narrative as in his good and lovelorn heart. There was very little concerning the fire in the Journal; it was nearly all about Betty. That is one of the misfortunes which pursue a lady who allows an editor to fall in love with her.

However, there was a scant mention of the arrival of the Volunteers "upon the scene" (though none at all at the cause of their delay) and an elo-quent paragraph was devoted to their handsome appearance, Mr. Cummings having been one of those who insisted that the new uniforms should be worn. "Soon," said the Journal, "through the daring of the Chief of the Department, and the Captain of the Hook-and-Ladder Company, one of whom placed and mounted the grappling-ladder, over which he was immediately followed by the other carrying the hose, a stream was sent to play upon the devouring element, a feat of derring-do personally witnessed by a majority of our readers. Mr. Vanrevel and Mr. Gray were joined by Eugene Madrillon, Tappingham Marsh, and the editor of this paper, after which occurred the unfortunate accident to the long ladder, leaving the five named gentlemen in their terrible predicament, face to face with death in its most awful form. At this frightful moment "-and all the rest was about Miss Carewe.

As Will himself admitted, he had "laid himself out on that description." One paragraph was composed of short sentences, each beginning with the word "alone." "Alone she entered the shattered door! Alone she set foot upon the first flight of stairs! Alone she ascended the second! Alone she mounted the third. Alone she lifted her hand to the trap! Alone she opened it!" She was declared to have made her appearance to the unfortunate prisoners on the roof, even as "the palm-laden dove to the despairing Noah," and Will also asserted repeatedly that she was the "Heroine of the Hour."

Miss Betty blushed to see her name so blazoned forth in print; but she lacked one kind of vanity, and failed to find good reason for more than a somewhat troubled laughter, the writer's purpose was so manifestly kind in spite of the bizarre result.

"Oh, I wish Mr. Cummings hadn't!" she exclaimed. "It would have been better not to speak of me at all, of course; but I can't see that there is anything to resent-it is so funny!"

"Funny!" Mr. Carewe repeated the word in a cracked falsetto, with the evident intention of mocking her, and at the same time hideously contorted his face into a grotesque idiocy of expression, pursing his lips so extremely, and setting his brows so awry, that his other features were cartooned out of all familiar likeness, effecting an alteration as shocking to behold, in a man of his severe cast of countenance, as was his falsetto mimicry to hear. She rose in a kind of terror, perceiving that this contortion was produced in burlesque of her own expression, and, as he pressed nearer her, stepped back, overturning her chair. She had little recollection of her father during her childhood; and as long as she could remember, no one had spoken to her angrily, or even roughly.

As she retreated from him, he leaned forward, thrusting the hideous mask closer to her white and horror-stricken face.

"You can't see anything to resent in that!" he gibbered. "It's so funny, is it? Funny! Funny! Funny! I'll show you whether it's funny or not, I'll show you!" His voice rose almost to a shriek. "You hang around fires, do you, on the public streets at night? You're a nice one for me to leave in charge of my house while I'm away, you trollop! What did you mean by going up on that roof? You knew that damned Vanrevel was there! You did, I say, you knew it!"

She ran toward the door with a frightened cry; but he got between it and her, menacing her with his upraised open hands, shaking them over her.

"You're a lovely daughter, aren't you!" he shouted hoarsely. "You knew perfectly well who was on that roof, and you went! Didn't you go? Answer me that! If I'd had arms about me when I got there, I'd have shot that man dead! He was on my property, giving orders, the black hound! And when I ordered him out, he told me if I interfered with his work before it was finished, he'd have me thrown out-me that owned the whole place; and there wasn't a man that would lend me a pistol! 'Rescue!' You'd better rescue him from me, you palm-laden dove, for I'll shoot him, I will! I'll kill that dog; and he knows it. He can bluster in a crowd, but he'll hide now! He's a coward and-"

"He came home with me; he brought me home last night!" Her voice rang out in the room like that of some other person, and she hardly knew that it was herself who spoke.

"You lie!" he screamed, and fell back from her, his face working as though under the dominance of some physical disorder, the flesh of it plastic beyond conception, so that she cried out and covered her face with her arm. "You lie! I saw you at the hedge with Crailey Gray, though you thought I didn't. What do you want to lie like that for? Vanrevel didn't even speak to you. I asked Madrillon. You lie!"

He choked upon the words; a racking cough shook him from head to foot; he staggered back and dropped upon her overturned chair, his arms beating the table in front of him, his head jerking spasmodically backward and forward as he gasped for breath.

"Ring the bell," he panted thickly, with an incoherent gesture. "Nelson knows. Ring!"

Nelson evidently knew. He brought brandy and water from the sideboard with no stinting hand, and within ten minutes Mr. Carewe was in his accustomed seat, competent to finish his breakfast. In solitude, however, he sat, and no one guessed his thoughts.

For Miss Betty had fled to her own room, and had bolted the door. She lay upon the bed, shuddering and shivering with nausea and cold, though the day was warm. Then, like a hot pain in her breast, came a homesickness for St. Mary's, and the flood-tide of tears, as she thought of the quiet convent in the sunshine over to the west, the peace of it, and the goodness of everybody there.

"Sister Cecilia!" Her shoulders shook with the great sob that followed this name, dearest to her in the world, convulsively whispered to the pil-low "Dear Sister Cecilia!" She patted the white pillow with her hand, as though it were the cool cheek against which she yearned to lay her own. "Ah, you would know-you would know!" With the thought of the serene face of the good Sister, and of the kind arms that would have gone round her in her trouble, her sobbing grew loud and uncontrollable. But she would not have her father hear it, and buried her face deep in the pillow. After a time, she began to grow quieter, turned, and lay with wet eyes staring unseeingly at the wall, her underlip quivering with the deep intake of each broken sigh.

"Oh, stars, stars, stars!" she whispered.

"Missy?" There came a soft knock upon the door and the clink of silver upon china. "Missy?"

"What is it?"

So quick was Miss Betty that, although she answered almost at once, the tears were washed away, and she was passing a cool, wet towel over her eyes at the moment she spoke.

"Jass me. I brung yo' breakfas', honey."

Old Nelson's voice was always low and gentle, with a quaver and hesitancy in the utterance; now it was tender and comforting with the comprehension of one in suffering, the extraordinary tact, which the old of his race nearly all come to possess. "Li'l chicken-wing on piece brown toast, honey."

When she opened the door he came in, bending attentively over his tray, and, without a glance toward his young mistress, made some show of fuss and bustle, as he placed it upon a table near the window and drew up a chair for her so that she could sit with her back to the light.

"Dah now!" he exclaimed softly, removing the white napkin and displaying other dainties besides the chicken wing. "Dass de way! Dat ole Mamie in de kitchen, she got her failin's an' her grievin' sins; but de way she do han'le chicken an' biscuit sutney ain't none on 'em! She plead fo' me to ax you how you like dem biscuit."

He kept his head bent low over the table, setting a fork closer to Betty's hand; arranging the plates, then rearranging them, but never turning his eyes in her direction.

"Dat ole Mamie mighty vain, yessuh!" He suffered a very quiet chuckle to escape him. "She did most sutney 'sist dat I ax you ain't you like dem biscuit. She de ve'y vaines' woman in dis State, dat ole Mamie, yessuh!" And now he cast one quick glance out of the corner of his eye at Miss Betty, before venturing a louder chuckle. "She reckon dem biscuit goin' git her by Sain' Petuh when she 'proach de hevumly gates! Uhuh! I tell her she got git redemption fo' de aigs she done ruin dese many yeahs; 'cause she as useless wid an ommelick as a two-day calf on de slick ice!" Here he laughed loud and long. "You jass go and talk wid dat Mamie, some day, Missy; you'll see how vain dat woman is."

"Has father gone out, Nelson?" asked Betty in a low voice.

"Yes'm; he up town." The old man's tone sank at once to the level of her own; became confidential, as one speaks to another in a room where somebody is ill. "He mekkin' perpetration to go down de rivuh dis aft'noon. He say he done broke de news to you dat he goin' 'way. Dey goin' buil' dem wa'house right up, an' yo' pa he necistate go 'way 'count de contrack. He be gone two week', honey," Nelson finished, without too much the air of imparting cheery tidings, but with just enough.

"I am to stay here alone?"

"Law no, Missy! Dat big Miz Tanberry, dass de bes' frien' we all got, she home ag'in, an' yo' pa goin' invite her visit at de house, whiles he gone, an' to stay a mont' aftuh he git back, too, soze she kin go to all de doin's an' junketin's wid you, and talk wid de young mens dat you don' like whiles you talks wid dem you does like."

"What time will father come home?"

"Home? He be gone two week', honey!"

"No; I mean to-day."

"Law! He ain' comin' back. Bid me pack de trunk an' ca'y um down to de boat at noon. Den he bid me say far'-ye-well an' a kine good-bye fo' him, honey. 'Say he think you ain't feelin' too well, soze he won't 'sturb ye, hisself, an' dat he unestly do hope you goin' have splen'id time whiles he trabblin'." (Nelson's imagination covered many deficits in his master's courtesy.) "Say he reckon you an' ole Miz Tanberry goin' git 'long mighty nice wid one'nurr. An' dass what me an' Mamie reckon 'spechually boun' to take place, 'cause dat a mighty gay lady, dat big Miz Tanberry, an' ole frien' 'er owah fambly. She 'uz a frien' er yo' momma's, honey."

Miss Betty had begun by making a pretence to eat, only to please the old man, but the vain woman's cookery had been not unduly extolled, and Nelson laughed with pleasure to see the fluffy biscuits and the chicken wing not nibbled at but actually eaten. This was a healthy young lady, he thought, one who would do the household credit and justify the extravagant pride which kitchen and stable already had in her. He was an old house-servant, therefore he had seen many young ladies go through unhappy hours, and he admired Miss Betty the more because she was the first who had indulged in strong weeping and did not snuffle at intervals afterward. He understood perfectly everything that had passed between father and daughter that morning.

When her breakfast was finished, she turned slowly to the window, and, while her eyes did not

refill, a slight twitching of the upper lids made him believe that she was going over the whole scene again in her mind; whereupon he began to move briskly about the room with a busy air, picking up her napkin, dusting a chair with his hand, exchanging the position of the andirons in the fireplace; and, apparently discovering that the por-trait of Georges Meilhac was out of line, he set it awry, then straight again, the while he hummed an old "spiritual" of which only the words "Chain de Lion Down" were allowed to be quite audible. They were repeated often, and at each repetition of them he seemed profoundly, though decorously, amused, in a way which might have led to a conjecture that the refrain bore some distant reference to his master's eccentricity of temper. At first be chuckled softly, but at the final iteration of "Chain de Lion Down" burst into outright laughter.

"Honey, my Law!" he exclaimed, "But yo' pa de 'ceivin'dest man! He mighty proud er you!"

"Proud of me!" She turned to him in astonishment.

Nelson's laughter increased. "Hain't be jass de 'ceivin'dest man! Yessuh, he de sot-uppest man in dis town 'count what you done last night. What he say dis mawn', dat jass his way!"

"Ah, no!" said Miss Betty, sadly.

"Yes'm! He proud er you, but he teahbul mad at dat man. He hain't mad at you, but he gotter cuss somebody! Jass reach out fo' de nighes' he kin lay han's on, an' dis mawn' it happen soze it were you, honey. Uhuh! You oughter hearn him ins' night when he come home. Den it were me. Bless God, I ain't keerin'. He weren't mad at me, no mo'n' he were at you. He jass mad!"

Miss Betty looked at the old fellow keenly. He remained, however, apparently unconscious of her scrutiny, and occupied himself with preparations for removing the tray.

"Nelson, what is the quarrel between my father and Mr. Vanrevel?"

He had lifted the tray, but set it down precipitately, bending upon her a surprised and sobered countenance.

"Missy," he said, gravely, "Dey big trouble 'twix' dem two."

"I know," she returned quietly. "What is it?"

"Wha' fo' you ax me, Missy?"

"Because you're the only one I can ask. I don't know anyone here well enough, except you."

Nelson's lips puckered solemnly. "Mist' Vanrevel vote Whig; but he ag'in Texas."

"Well, what if he is?"

"Yo' pa mighty strong fo' Texas."

"No'm, dat ain't hardly de beginnin'. Mist' lanrevel he a Ab'litionist."

"Well? Won't you tell me?"

"Honey, folks roun' heah mos' on 'em like Mist' Vanrevel so well dey ain't hole it up ag'in' him-but, Missy, ef dey one thing topper God's worl' yo' pa do desp'itly and contestably despise, hate, cuss, an' outrageously 'bominate wuss'n' a yaller August spiduh it are a Ab'litionist! He want stomple 'em eve'y las' one under he boot-heel, 'cep'n dat one Mist' Crailey Gray. Dey's a considabul sprinklin' er dem Ab'litionists 'bout de kentry, honey; dey's mo' dat don' know w'ich dey is; an' dey's mo' still dat don' keer. Soze dat why dey go git up a quo'l twix' yo' pa an' dat man; an' 'range to have 'er on a platfawm, de yeah 'fo' de las' campaign; an', suh, dey call de quo'l a de-bate; an' all de folks come in f'um de kentry, an' all de folks in town come, too. De whole possetucky on 'em sit an' listen.

"Fus' yo' pa talk; den Mist' Vanrevel, bofe on 'em mighty cole an' civilized. Den yo' pa git wo'm up, Missy, like he do, 'case he so useter have his own way; 'tain't his fault, he jass cain't help hollerin' an' cussin' if anybody 'pose him; but Mist' Vanrevel he jass as suvvige, but he stay cole, w'ich make yo' pa all de hotter. He holler mighty strong, Missy, an' some de back ranks 'gun snickerin' at him. Uhuh! He fa'r jump, he did; an' den bimeby Mist' Vanrevel he say dat no man oughter be given de pilverige to sell another, ner to wollop him wid a blacksnake, whether he 'buse dat pilverige er not. 'My honabul 'ponent,' s's he, 'Mist' Carewe, rep'sent in hisseif de 'ristocratic slave-ownin' class er de Souf, do' he live in de Nawf an' 'ploy free labor; yit it sca'sely to be b'lieve dat any er you would willin'ly trus' him wid de powah er life an' death ovah yo' own chillun, w'ich is virchously what de slave-ownah p'sess.'

"Missy, you jass oughter see yo' pa den! He blue in de face an' dance de quadrille on de boa'ds. He leave his cha'h, git up, an' run 'cross to de odder side de platfawm, an' shake be fis' ovah dat man's head, an' screech out how it all lies dat de slaves evah 'ceive sich a treatments. 'Dat all lies, you pu'juh!' he holler. 'All lies, you misabul thief,' he holler. 'All lies, an' you know it, you low-bawn slandah' an' scoun'le!'

"An' wid dat Mist' Vanrevel, be laff in yo' pa face, an' tuhn to de crowd, he did, an' say: 'You reckon dat if dish yuh man a slave-ownah, an' a slave had anguhed him as I have anguhed him tonight, does any er you b'lieve dat dat slave wouldn' be tied up an' whipped tell de blood run, an' den sole down de rivuh to-morrer?'

"Well, suh, 'co'se mos' on 'em b'lieve same as yo' pa; but dat sutney fotch 'em, an' win de de-bate, 'case dey jass natchully lay back an' roah, dey did, Missy; dey laff an' stomp an' holler tell you could a hearn 'em a mild away. An' honey, yo' pa'd a millyum times druther Mist' Vanrevel'd a kilt him dan tuhn de laff on him. He'd shoot a man, honey, ef he jass s'picion him to grin out de cornder his eye at him; an' to stan' up dah wid de whole county fa'r roahin' at him-it's de God's mussy be did'n have no ahms wid him, dat night! Ole Mist' Chen'eth done brung him home, an' yo' pa reach out an' kick me squah' out'n' de liberry winder soon's he ketch sight er me!" The old man's gravity gave way to his enjoyment of the recollection, and he threw back his head to laugh. "He sho' did, honey! Uhuh! Ho, ho, ho! He sho' did, honey, he sho' did!"

Nevertheless, as he lifted the tray again and crossed the room to go, his solemnity returned. "Missy," he said earnestly, "ef dat young gelmun fall in love wid you, w'ich I knows he will ef he ketch sight er you, lemme say dis, an' please fo' to ba'h in mine: better have nuttin' do wid him fo' he own sake; an' 'bove all, keep him fur sway f'um dese p'emises. Don' let him come in a mild er dis house."

"Nelson, was that all the quarrel between them?"

"Blessed Mussy! ain' dat 'nough? Ef dey's any mo' I ain' hearn what dat part were," he answered quickly, but with a dogged tightening of the lips which convinced Miss Betty that he knew very well.

"Nelson, what was the rest of it?"

"Please, Missy, I got pack yo' pa trunk; an' it time, long ago, fer me to be at my wu'k." He was half out of the door.

"What was the rest of it?" she repeated quietly.

"Now, honey," he returned with a deprecatory shake of his head, "I got my own wu'k 'tend to; an' I ain't nevah ax nobody what 'twas, an' I ain't goin' ax 'em. An' lemme jass beg you f oiler de ole man's advice: you do de same, 'case nobody ain't goin' tell you. All I know is dat it come later and were somep'n 'bout dat riprarin Crailey Gray. Yo' pa he sent a channelge to Mist' Vanrevel, an' Mist' Vanrevel 'fuse to fight him 'cause he say he don' b'lieve shootin' yo' pa goin' do yo' pa any good, an' he still got hope mekkin' good citizen outer him. Dat brung de laff on yo' pa ag'in; an' he 'clare to God ef he ketch Vanrevel on any groun' er hisn he shoot him like a mad dog. 'Pon my livin' soul he mean dem wuds, Missy! Dey had hard 'nough time las' night keepin' him fum teahin' dat man to pieces at de fiah. You mus' keep dat young gelmun 'way fum heah!"

"He came home with me last night, Nelson; I told father so."

"Yes'm. Yo' pa tole me you say dat, but he reckon you done it to mek him madder, 'cause you mad, too. He say he done see dat Crailey Gray comin' 'long de hedge wid you."

"He was mistaken, it was Mr. Vanrevel."

Nelson rolled his eyes fervently to heaven. "Den dat young man run pintedly on he death! Ef you want keep us all dis side er de Jawdan Rivuh, don' let him set foot in dis neighbo'hood when yo' pa come back! An', honey-" his voice sank to a penetrating whisper-"'fo' I do a lick er wu'k I goin' out in de stable an' git down on my knees an' retu'n thanksgiving to de good God 'case he hole Carewe Street in de dahkness las' night!"

This was the speech he chose for his exit, but, after closing the door behind him, he opened it again, and said, cheerfully:

"Soon's I git de trunk fix f' yo' pa, I bring 'roun' dat bay colt wid de side saddle. You better set 'bout gittin' on yo' ridin'-habit, Missy. De roads is mighty good dis sunshiny wedduh."

"Nelson?"

"Do you think such an attack as father had this morning-is-dangerous?"

He had hoped for another chance to laugh violently before he left her, and this completely fitted his desire. "Ho, ho, he!" he shouted. "No'm, no, no, honey! He jass git so mad it mek him sick. You couldn' kill dat man wid a broad-ax, Missy!"

And he went down the hail leaving the reverberations of his hilarity behind him. The purpose of his visit had been effected, for, when Miss Betty appeared upon the horse-block in her green habit and gauntlets, she was smiling; so that only a woman-or a wise old man-could have guessed that she had wept bitterly that morning.

She cantered out to the flat, open country to the east, where she found soft dirt-roads that were good for the bay colt's feet, and she reached a cross-road several miles from town before she was overcome by the conviction that she was a wicked and ungrateful girl. She could not place the exact spot of her guilt, but she knew it was there, somewhere, since she felt herself a guilty thing.

For the picture which Nelson had drawn rose before her: the one man standing alone in his rage on the platform, overwhelmed by his calm young adversary, beaten and made the butt of laughter for a thousand. Her father had been in the wrong in that quarrel, and somehow she was sure, too, he must have been wrong in the "personal" one, as well: the mysterious difficulty over Fanchon's Mr. Gray, who had looked so ashamed last night. What feud could they make over him, of all people in the world? He looked strong enough to take care of his own quarrels, even if he was so rigorously bound by Fanchon's apron-string when it came to a word with another girl!

But the conclusion that her father had been in error did not lessen the pathetic appeal of the solitary figure facing the ridicule of the crowd. She felt that he always honestly believed himself in the right; she knew that he was vain; that he had an almost monstrous conception of his dignity; and, realizing the bitterness of that public humiliation which he had undergone, she understood the wrath, the unspeakable pain and sense of outrage, which must have possessed him.

And now she was letting him go forth upon a journey-his way beset with the chances of illness and accident-whence he might never return; she was letting him go without seeing him again; letting him go with no word of farewell from his daughter. In brief: she was a wicked girl. She turned the colt's head abruptly to the west and touched his flanks with her whip.

So it fell out that as the packet foamed its passage backward from Carewe's wharf into the current, the owner of the boat, standing upon the hurricane deck, heard a cry from the shore, and turned to behold his daughter dash down to the very end of the wharf on the well-lathered colt. Miss Betty's hair was blown about her face; her cheeks were rosy, her eager eyes sparkling from more than the hard riding.

"Papa!" she cried, "I'm sorry!"

She leaned forward out of the saddle, extending her arms to him appealingly in a charming gesture, and, absolutely ignoring the idlers on the wharf and the passengers on the steamer, was singly intent upon the tall figure on the hurricane-deck. "Papa-good-by. Please forgive me!"

"By the Almighty, but that's a fine woman!" said the captain of the boat to a passenger from Rouen. "Is she his daughter?"

"Please forgive me!" the clear voice came again, with its quaver of entreaty, across the widening water; and then, as Mr. Carewe made no sign, by word or movement, of hearing her, and stood without the slightest alteration of his attitude, she cried to him once more:

"Good-by!"

The paddle-wheels reversed; the boat swung down the river, Mr. Carewe still standing immovable on the hurricane-deck, while, to the gaze of those on the steamer, the figure on the bay colt at the end of the wharf began to grow smaller and smaller. She was waving her handkerchief in farewell, and they could see the little white speck in the distance, dimmer and dimmer, yet fluttering still as they passed out of sight round the bend nearly three-quarters of a mile below.

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