The Furnis Man, continued

A not at all timeless tale written in 1916.  Here is the beginning.  Below is part two.

To bring you up to speed, the well to do upper-crust Cameron family have a precocious and delightful young egalitarian of 5 who is having his own birthday party with just the people he most likes in the world.  These people include his wealthy young godmother, a lonely and somewhat sullen Swedish nursemaid, his doctor, a crusty old bachelor professor and author who never goes to parties at all and is quiet the elusive lion of society (young Master Philip loves him because he once showed the boy a tadpole or some such treasure), the man who does their furnace, a street urchin who touts newspapers- eight mismatched souls altogether, including the boy.   Set in New York City, published in 1916.  I’ll share the author and illustrator at the end of the series (the illustrations are how I found it, although unfortunately, they are only in black and white here).
The wee lad has just completed his diagram for where his luncheon guests shall be seated, and has fallen asleep, exhausted by his exertions.  His fond parents have found the smudged and wrinkled seating chart and are examining it:

 

“Couldn’t have done it better myself,” chuckled the elder Cameron. ” Few pictures could be more stimulating to the tired mind than that of Clark between Nurse and the Furnace Man.” “Unless,” murmured his wife, “it’s that of Nita between Jim and the Furnace Man. Oh, Phil, Isn’t it an appalling mixture r?”

“Nita could swing the thing alone, if she happened to be in the humor,” brooded Philip’s mother. ” But probably she won’t be. She almost never is, nowadays. How a girl with money and beauty and position and brains can be desperately discontented all the time is more than I can understand. But about this party— Really—hadn’t we better—“

” Not a bit of it,” interrupted Philip senior. “Give ’em a grand luncheon, and let ’em muddle through. You and I would spoil everything. Moreover, my dear—pardon me for mentioning it—the cold fact is that our son has not invited us!”

On Thursday morning Anita learned by telephone that the time set for Philip’s luncheon was one o’clock, a detail her overworked host had omitted to mention. She presented herself at five minutes before that hour, and was escorted to the drawing-room by a servant who appeared to be struggling with the last arrival, and Philip, eyes blazing with excitement, shook hands with her ceremoniously, and hastened to introduce her to his other guests—an attention complicated by the abrupt disappearance of one of them. Jim had taken refuge behind a divan, over the back of which his agonized red face was sinking with something of the effect of a setting sun. Carlotta, the Swedish nurse of a neighboring child, had coyly re- treated into a corner behind a potted palm. Three men, however, rose as Anita entered, and two of these Philip presented in turn.

“‘This is my doctor,” he said.  ‘He’s awful busy, but he came to my party just the same. He’s going to bring me a little brother soon ‘s he can ‘tend to it. And this is the Professor. He knows everything.”

The foot of Jim, appearing under the divan at this point, distracted the attention of the host. He promptly grabbed it. “We’ll go in to lunch now,” he ended hurriedly as he tugged away at Jim’s foot, “‘Cause we’re all here-  Jim! You just got to come out and bring Carlotta, so please do it quick!”

Professor Gray looked very much as Anita had expected him to look.  Doctor Clark was an elegant person with a Van Dyke beard and manner .Both murmured pleasant phrases to which Anita replied in kind. Both were utterly insignificant in the presence of the third man, a young giant with brown eyes and the handsomest head and face Miss Holloway had ever seen. They were almost too handsome; they rather took one’s breath away and made one self conscious, but the manner of their possessor was extremely simple and natural. His eyes were as brilliant as Philip’s, and there was an amused tremor in the voice that spoke to her.

“May I take you in?” he asked.

Anita took his arm without speaking, but with an extraordinary feeling of having done so before, indeed of knowing this young man surprisingly well, though certainly she had never met him until this hour. If she had, she could not have forgotten him.  Her spirits rose dizzyingly. This was sure to be an interesting luncheon.

The portieres leading into the dining room had been drawn back, and Philip, hand in hand with the beloved nurse who was his guest of honor, was advancing at the head of his short procession. Behind him, Carlotta and Jim, equally out of their native element, dragged reluctant feet, and back of them Gray and Clark walked, arm in arm, exhibiting a surprising gift of airy badinage.  Anita and her escort came last, and now she shot ia second glance at him quick but appraising taking in this time not alone his brilliant eyes and handsome face, but the swing of his big shoulders, his splendid length of limb, the perfection of his carriage, and the shabbiness of his clothes. His clothes were very shabby, indeed, threadbare even, and one of his carefully polished shoes showed a break at the side. It was a most incongruous thing that such a man should wear garments. He was a prince in a fairy tale, badly disguised.

“Philip does not believe in names,” she smiled, “but you are…”

“The Furnace Man? Yes.” He smiled down at her from the height of his six feet and something, and there was that in the smile which moved her oddly. No man had ever smiled at her quite like this; it was exactly such a smile as Philip might have given her, and it matched perfectly the look in this young giant’s eyes -the look of a happy boy. Those eyes held, too, something of the sudden intimacy of a little boy’s expression when he meets and likes a new friend.

“Isn’t this a lark?” he asked. “No one but Philip could have thought of it. And see him carry it off!”

They were at the table now, looking for the place cards that bore their names; Gray and Clark continuing their cheerful talk in an obvious determination to make the affair ‘go,’ Philip wholly at his ease, Carlotta and Jim still souls in outer darkness. But a few moments later, Anita found herself a sharer of the Furnace Man’s theory that Philip would carry his party to a triumphant finish. The strain was already relaxing; the newsboy and Carlotta had forgotten themselves in contemplation of the room, the flowers, and the food before them. Not even the presence of two noiselessly padding servants who came and went with the dishes of the first course could hurl them back into their abyss of agonized self consciousness Peace fell upon them. They had nothing to do but eat.

At the right hands of Jim and Philip stood tall goblets filled with milk. Near the other covers were bell shaped glasses which were immediately and expertly filled.

Resting his arms on the table in the attitude of a Murillo cherub, the host’s blue eyes swept the circle of his guests. He drew a breath of deep content. “Ain’t it interestin'” he said, “that all of us fr’en’s is alone together in this room?”

Dr. Clark replied, digging his spoon into his Casaba melon with the zest of a hungry man, “You’d better believe it’s interesting!” he said heartily, “And mighty jolly! I was horribly afraid you were going to forget me, Phil. You’re so healthy that I never see you except on gala occasions. Can’ t we knock him out for a day or two with his birthday cake?” he asked the nurse.

But Philip was seriously explaining. “You see I had to ask my fr’en’s when I saw them,” he began, “so I asked Nurse first and the Furnace Man next, cause I see them every day and ’cause the Furnace Man has so many en- engagements. But he said soon’s I asked him he thought he could get out of some of them. An he did!”

The Furnace Man dropped a few words into Anita’s ear ,”The special engagement today,” he murmured, “was Gray’s lecture on Pragmatism. You see he has cut it, too.”

“Then you are a university student, of course!” Anita wondered why she had not realized this before. She felt a quick relief, a quick disappointment, and swiftly wondered why she felt either.

He nodded. “Working my way through,” he added cheerfully. “Hence the furnace. Yes, I ‘ve a whole string of furnaces on this street. That’s how I met Philip. He’s an early riser. So am I. I get here at six every morning and Philip’s about the only person stirring. He trots down into the basement and we talk things over. We’ve settled most of the big problems of life. A few we;ve had to leave.”

“What were they?” Anita was interested. Her picture of Philip in the basement on the upturned box had been surprisingly accurate, as these sudden visualizations of hers were apt to be.

“He asked me one day if I didn t think the poor had too many children. I said I rather inclined to that theory. I’m one of seven, myself, but that I didn t know what could be done about it.* Philip admitted that he didn’t know, either. We don’t often give up like that. But Phil added that he was thinking about it a great deal. He’s a fascinating little beggar.”

Miss Holloway readily agreed, with the expression that so warmed her features more than she ever knew.   But she had known Philip’s charms through five years of close association, following their first intimate inspection the first next day after he had arrived on earth. Those of the Furnace Man were only now dawning upon her; he suggested hinterlands of possibility. She concentrated on the Furnace Man…

TBC

 
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

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