The Furnace Man, part 3

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
A delicious little morsel of a very dated tale of a highly egalitarian luncheon birthday party hosted by young Master Philip Cameron, scion of one of New York City’s wealthiest young society couples, in the most un-egalitarian golden age for the wealthiest class, in the year of our Lord 1916.

Part one is here.

Part two is here.

We are in the midst of the oddly peopled luncheon hosted by young Master Philip, age 5, consisting of all his best friends, from his rich young godmother, a society girl, to a young street urchin who sells papers.  His godmother, Aunt ‘Nita, is seated next to the young man who takes care of the family furnaces and those of several others on the block of society houses.  He is also, we have just learned, putting himself through University, one of seven progeny in an impoverished family.

 

“Do you live by furnaces alone?” she inquired. “Forgive me for asking,” she added hastily, “but you know I”m interested in such things.”

The Furnace Man’s smile faded and the light died out of his eyes. He had forgotten that she was interested in such things and that the name of the rich Miss Holloway usually headed the subscription lists of big charities he read about. To parade his poverty before her that she might study at first hand the expedients to which university students are reduced when working their way through was not among his plans for the day. But he answered her question.

“Oh, no,” he said. “I get a lot of tutoring from first to last and odd jobs of various kinds. In the summer I have some surveying.” He did not add that there were two young brothers whose expenses in a prep school he was paying in addition to his own, nor did he give those details of daily life for which his neighbor was waiting.

Anita bit her lip. She had been stupid. She had addressed him as if he were a case in the institution of which she was the youngest trustee. As a result ,he had gone inside of himself and pulled down the blinds. She felt like one ringing the bell of a deserted house through whose windows only a few moments before she had seen the reflection of the firelight on the hearth. But he should not shut her out, she determined. She would get into that house. She wanted to know all about him, this Furnace Man, not because she was especially sympathetic,  but…  well, for many reasons  Because he appealed to her almost pagan love of beauty.

by Elizabeth Shippen Green. Possibly my own almost pagan love of beauty is responsible for the intense longing I now have to own a writing desk exactly like this one.

by Elizabeth Shippen Green. Possibly my own almost pagan love of beauty is responsible for the intense longing I now have to own a writing desk exactly like this one.

 

Because he was magnetic.  Because, oh, because she had this strange sense of knowing him so well!

But he had turned an eager ear to Jim, who, under the skilful guidance of Professor Gray, was brilliantly approaching the climax of a vital personal experience which had begun in halting words.

“So when the ice broke, you saw the little girl fall into the water,” prompted Professor Gray, “and you got her out, and made her run home as fast as she could to keep from catching cold.”

“I run wit her. I made her run like hell,” corroborated Jim, eagerly. “I wouldn’t leave her speak. We hadn’t no time! I dragged her arm, an we run an we run- fur miles, I guess. All de time, she kep tryin to talk- jest like a goil! Den she drops down on de road, sudden, and wot you t’ink she says?” He paused to give his hearers the full effect of his climax. “Says she didn’t mind runnin, but she lived in de op’site d’rection!” he ended in disgust.

Again, Anita’s eyes met the brown ones beside her, and she and the Furnace Man laughed together. He had pushed up the blinds. She glanced around with a deep sense of comfort. At the head of the table, Philip was devoting himself to Carlotta, who listened to him with a smile on her fair, sullen face. Dr. Clark and the nurse were deep in the animated discussion of a case. Professor Gray was starting Jimmy on another reminiscence. The world was hers and the Furnace Man’s. But she must not make another false beginning.

While she hesitated he spoke.  “We aren’t hitting it off as well as we should be, are we?” he asked sympathetically.

“No,” she admitted with regret. “Do you know why we’re not?”

“Of course! We live on different planets.We have different viewpoints. We speak a different language. It’s impossible for you to enter my world. You don’t know the way.”

“Do you know the way to mine?”

“Try me.  Talk to me,not as ‘one of the deserving poor,’ but as a man in your own class.”

Miss Holloway flushed darkly and her lips set. The next instant she had turned to him with a new expression, a most unusual one for her, apologetic, even contrite. ” I deserved that,” she conceded. ” I’m glad you gave it to me.  Now we’ll begin all over. Tell me,” she added mischievously,”tell me what you think of the Russian dancers. I know you’re longing to.”

He told her.

He also told her what he thought of Treasure Island and the skating at the Hippodrome and Sister Beatrice and the Philharmonic’s all Richard Straus evenings and the latest bridge rule and Wilson’s defense policy and the mushrooms under glass which he was eating at the moment and Masefield’s poetry and Bakst’s decorative schemes,

TBC, because you should probably take some time to look at Bakst’s drawings and make some mushrooms under glass and maybe savor some of Masefield’s poetry.  Treasure Island was indeed published the same year this story appeared in a popular magazine, and Sister Beatrice was a play written by Maeterlinck, a number of his plays were popular with the theater crowd this decade and maybe the next.

Poor Miss Holloway.  I fear she will never recover from this encounter with the furnace man beautiful features and shabby clothes.

 

 

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