The Furnace Man Part V of V

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V (below)

Uh-Oh.  Miss Holloway has just discovered her luncheon partner at her young godson’s birthday party, ‘the furnis man’, has a ‘one and only.’  She grits her teeth and invites him to tell about the object of his affections:

“Thank you. There’s very little to tell. It’s just a piece of madness on my part. She’s in your world.  The real reason I go there is to see her sometimes, to live for an hour or two the life she lives, to talk to the people she knows, to look at her from a distance.”

I just threw up in my mouth a little, but Miss Holloway’s sense of loneliness deepened into gloom. She resented the emotion. She had been so interested, so content during that first hour of the luncheon.

“And she,” she asked slowly, “Does she care?”

“She doesn’t know. Can you imagine that I would let her suspect? We’re as far apart as if she lived on Mars.” [Personally, I don’t think the furnis man is as clever as he thinks]

“I wonder if I know her?” Miss Holloway was running over in her mind the likeliest belles and buds in the Houghton-Mason sets, ready to hate the right one if her face appeared. It was a hopeless task. There were dozens of them! He looked indifferent.

“No doubt,” he said carelessly.

“Do you see her often?”

“No.”

“Then how-”

“-Love isn’t dependent on meetings. Surely I don’t need to tell you that I loved her the first time I saw her at the opera two years ago. It was one of those things one reads about. I had smiled over them. I didn’t suppose such a thing could come to me. But Lord, how it came! I was like a palm in a tropical storm! It shook my very soul. It’s shaking me yet!” The brown hand with which he was fingering his glass trembled and he hurriedly withdrew it and fumbled with his napkin.

Looking at him askance Anita saw that his face had whitened. She felt an almost intolerable pang of sympathy for him, followed by a shock of anger. What right had the Furnace Man to discuss his love affairs with her or to drag her into the quasi-intimacy such confidences implied!  (She did ask!)  When she spoke her voice was curt. “You’ll get over it,” she said, especially as you don’t know her well and see her so rarely.”

He seemed not to notice her change of mood, but he answered her words.  “I don’t see her often,” he mused, “that’s true enough. But just the same, I think I know her better than most people do. You see we have a common friend, she and I, some one who loves her, knows her intimately, and sees a side of her she doesn’t show to any one else. So I, too, know that side. I’ve been watching it for a year. I know a thousand wonderful things she has done. I know the real girl-” He stopped with an effect of finality. The conversation, so far as he was concerned, was over.

Dr Clark addressed him and the two chatted for a moment. Anita looked around the room, and as she looked the familiar weight of depression ominously deepened. The charm of the hour was gone. She felt as if a veil of illusion had been torn from her eyes, as if at last she saw her fellow guests as they really were; Carlotta, a heavy faced, stolid servant; Jimmy a precocious newsboy, with a face clean only in spots; Professor Gray, an academic mummy; the nurse, a worthy person of her kind, to be reckoned with only when she passed one’s line of vision; the doctor, a successful physician with a too pervasive bedside manner…  (she means well, and I am sure was meant to be portrayed as a very charming, cultured, superior sort of being, but she really is such a snob, and we’re supposed to be snobs right along with her.  Remember what C.S. Lewis says about the value of reading old books lying largely in the fact that the errors they make will be glaring to those outside the period, but they were invisible to those of the time, and our own cultural errors are equally invisible to us?).

 

There remained Philip, who needed no veil of illusion to heighten his exquisite personality. There remained also this stranger at her left, this stranger she seemed in that moment to have known for a thousand years. He was smiling at Philip, the boyish smile like Philip’s own. Her heart contracted with an actual physical pang. Then she knew what had happened. There he was, the man she had unconsciously been seeking, and in the very hour in which she had found him, she had lost him again! She had lost him, moreover, in the most maddening of all ways. Both his pride and his poverty she believed she could have conquered, but not this vision of his dream. He was mooning over an obsession and his passion was kept alive by some sentimentalist who fed it on shadows. She could have taken him perhaps from a flesh and blood rival, certainly she might have tried, but against a thing like this she dared not pit herself. (pot, kettle, black, dearie.  At least he has a sentimentalist. You are standing on a single conversation in a room full of people over a delicious lunch.  Who knows what depths of character you might plumb if the lunch were terrible, the setting obnoxious, and dishes cracked?)
It was Jim, Jim of the inadequately washed face and inelegant grammar, who escorted her back to the drawing room, for Clark had passed a friendly arm through the Furnace Man’s, and was deep in a confidential chat.

Then with surprising suddenness the party disintegrated. Professor Gray had his deferred lecture. Carlotta had promised to be home at three. The doctor had calls to make. Jim’s afternoon newspapers were ready for sale. The nurse went up stairs. Anita, Philip, and the Furnace Man were left to their harrowing farewells. With the departure of his other guests, the slight tension on the nerves of their host relaxed.  In the companionship of these two intimates, he again became a little boy.  Grasping a hand of each and balancing lightly between them he unconsciously hurled his thunderbolt:

“You like my Furnace Man, don’t you, Aunt Nita?” he demanded.

“Yes, dear, of course!”

Philip lifted both feet and swung upon their hands.

“I’m glad!” he said, “cause you see, the Furnace Man and me, we talk about you a lot. We talk about you the whole time we’re together. And when you come here, I tell the Furnace Man every single thing you do.”

A groan burst from the lips of the Furnace Man. His dark, brilliant face turned first crimson, then white.  (This was totally predictable, but I laughed anyway).

With a gasp, Philip flung himself upon him. “I promised I wouldn’t ever tell!” he wailed, “an’ I forgot! Oh, I forgot!”

From the face of Miss Holloway, a sudden radiance flamed. The Furnace Man stroked Philip’s buried head with a hand that shook.

“He likes you, though,” said Philip, after a poignant silence. “I’m ‘most sure he does. But he wouldn’t ever say so, cause he didn t know you. Don’t you think he likes you, now, tho? Cause I want you to be int’mit fr’en’s.”

“We’re going to be!” Miss Holloway drew on her gloves, with the little smile her friends loved, but saw so rarely lately.

“Are you perfeckly sure?” insisted Philip. “He didn’t say so.”

“Oh, he will,” Miss Holloway looked at the bent head of the Furnace Man, and her eyes grew soft.  “He hasn’t our impetuous temperament, Philip,” she added cheerfully, “so we must give him time. But he’s going to take me home now, and say it on the way.”

The inevitable end is left to us to imagine in the finer details, but the Furnace Man is a gentleman and there’s no way he will suggest Miss Holloway make her way home the same way she arrived,  and he’s both too besotted and mannerly not to respond to the slightest of overtures she’ll make on the way home, and I don’t expect them to be slight. They’re goners, both of them. I expect the wedding announcement the month after he graduates.
He’ll refuse to accept her money. She’ll promise to live on his, although likely she has a family home in her possession he’ll agree to settle down in and raise a family there.

From Harper’s Magazine, volume 133, published in 1916
Written by Elizabeth Jordan, who had been the editor of Harper’s for a while
Illustrated by Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elizabeth Jordan was born in 1865 and died in 1947.  AFter high school she went to a business school and learned shorthand, then started working as the editor of the woman’s page at a newspaper.  She moved on to become secretary of the Milwaukee school superintendant but continued to contribute stories to papers.  In 1890 she started work for the New York World. She scored an interview with President Bejamin Harrison’s wife, quite the coup, as Caroline Scott Harrison avoided the spotlight.  She covered murder trials (including Lizzie Borden’s).

She edited Harper magazine for 13 years, and when it was sold to new management she became the literary editor. She continued to write and publish the rest of her life. She was an avid suffragette and active in getting other women writers published.  Few of us today have heard of her, but she left her mark on the literary scene, and influenced the culture of the day and what the people read, and thus, influenced those of us downstream as well.

She edited Sinclair Lewis’ first two novels, and the first required so much editing that he probably wouldn’t have been published without her help.  She brought Dorothy Canfield Fisher to public notice, as well as Eleanor Porter (Pollyanna author) and others.
She covered the conditions in New York City tenements, and in 1893 collected her reports and republished them in the book The Submerged Tenth. Later, in the early days of the 20th century, this phrase was closely connected with the Eugenics movement. But it seems to have coined just a bit before Jordan used it, by General Booth of the Salvation Army, to refer to the bottom tenth of the most impoverished and miserable members of a society.

W.E.B Dubois later wrote about ‘The Talented Tenth’ in his Souls of Black Folk, and I wonder if that choice of words was at all related.

She wrote an autobiography that is out of print. Currently, Amazon has a few used copies that are out of my price range. They have some free kindle versions of some of her books as well.

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