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Title: The Bostonians, Vol. I (of II)
Author: James, Henry, 1843-1916
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Bostonians, Vol. I (of II)" ***

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                            THE BOSTONIANS

                               A NOVEL

                            BY HENRY JAMES

                            IN TWO VOLUMES

                               VOL. I



MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
1921

_First Published in_ 1886



BOOK FIRST



I


"Olive will come down in about ten minutes; she told me to tell you
that. About ten; that is exactly like Olive. Neither five nor fifteen,
and yet not ten exactly, but either nine or eleven. She didn't tell me
to say she was glad to see you, because she doesn't know whether she is
or not, and she wouldn't for the world expose herself to telling a fib.
She is very honest, is Olive Chancellor; she is full of rectitude.
Nobody tells fibs in Boston; I don't know what to make of them all.
Well, I am very glad to see you, at any rate."

These words were spoken with much volubility by a fair, plump, smiling
woman who entered a narrow drawing-room in which a visitor, kept waiting
for a few moments, was already absorbed in a book. The gentleman had not
even needed to sit down to become interested: apparently he had taken up
the volume from a table as soon as he came in, and, standing there,
after a single glance round the apartment, had lost himself in its
pages. He threw it down at the approach of Mrs. Luna, laughed, shook
hands with her, and said in answer to her last remark, "You imply that
you do tell fibs. Perhaps that is one."

"Oh no; there is nothing wonderful in my being glad to see you," Mrs.
Luna rejoined, "when I tell you that I have been three long weeks in
this unprevaricating city."

"That has an unflattering sound for me," said the young man. "I pretend
not to prevaricate."

"Dear me, what's the good of being a Southerner?" the lady asked. "Olive
told me to tell you she hoped you will stay to dinner. And if she said
it, she does really hope it. She is willing to risk that."

"Just as I am?" the visitor inquired, presenting himself with rather a
work-a-day aspect.

Mrs. Luna glanced at him from head to foot, and gave a little smiling
sigh, as if he had been a long sum in addition. And, indeed, he was very
long, Basil Ransom, and he even looked a little hard and discouraging,
like a column of figures, in spite of the friendly face which he bent
upon his hostess's deputy, and which, in its thinness, had a deep dry
line, a sort of premature wrinkle, on either side of the mouth. He was
tall and lean, and dressed throughout in black; his shirt-collar was low
and wide, and the triangle of linen, a little crumpled, exhibited by the
opening of his waistcoat, was adorned by a pin containing a small red
stone. In spite of this decoration the young man looked poor--as poor as
a young man could look who had such a fine head and such magnificent
eyes. Those of Basil Ransom were dark, deep, and glowing; his head had a
character of elevation which fairly added to his stature; it was a head
to be seen above the level of a crowd, on some judicial bench or
political platform, or even on a bronze medal. His forehead was high and
broad, and his thick black hair, perfectly straight and glossy, and
without any division, rolled back from it in a leonine manner. These
things, the eyes especially, with their smouldering fire, might have
indicated that he was to be a great American statesman; or, on the other
hand, they might simply have proved that he came from Carolina or
Alabama. He came, in fact, from Mississippi, and he spoke very
perceptibly with the accent of that country. It is not in my power to
reproduce by any combination of characters this charming dialect; but
the initiated reader will have no difficulty in evoking the sound, which
is to be associated in the present instance with nothing vulgar or vain.
This lean, pale, sallow, shabby, striking young man, with his superior
head, his sedentary shoulders, his expression of bright grimness and
hard enthusiasm, his provincial, distinguished appearance, is, as a
representative of his sex, the most important personage in my narrative;
he played a very active part in the events I have undertaken in some
degree to set forth. And yet the reader who likes a complete image, who
desires to read with the senses as well as with the reason, is entreated
not to forget that he prolonged his consonants and swallowed his vowels,
that he was guilty of elisions and interpolations which were equally
unexpected, and that his discourse was pervaded by something sultry and
vast, something almost African in its rich, basking tone, something that
suggested the teeming expanse of the cotton-field. Mrs. Luna looked up
at all this, but saw only a part of it; otherwise she would not have
replied in a bantering manner, in answer to his inquiry: "Are you ever
different from this?" Mrs. Luna was familiar--intolerably familiar.

Basil Ransom coloured a little. Then he said: "Oh yes; when I dine out I
usually carry a six-shooter and a bowie-knife." And he took up his hat
vaguely--a soft black hat with a low crown and an immense straight brim.
Mrs. Luna wanted to know what he was doing. She made him sit down; she
assured him that her sister quite expected him, would feel as sorry as
she could ever feel for anything--for she was a kind of fatalist,
anyhow--if he didn't stay to dinner. It was an immense pity--she herself
was going out; in Boston you must jump at invitations. Olive, too, was
going somewhere after dinner, but he mustn't mind that; perhaps he would
like to go with her. It wasn't a party--Olive didn't go to parties; it
was one of those weird meetings she was so fond of.

"What kind of meetings do you refer to? You speak as if it were a
rendezvous of witches on the Brocken."

"Well, so it is; they are all witches and wizards, mediums, and
spirit-rappers, and roaring radicals."

Basil Ransom stared; the yellow light in his brown eyes deepened. "Do
you mean to say your sister's a roaring radical?"

"A radical? She's a female Jacobin--she's a nihilist. Whatever is, is
wrong, and all that sort of thing. If you are going to dine with her,
you had better know it."

"Oh, murder!" murmured the young man vaguely, sinking back in his chair
with his arms folded. He looked at Mrs. Luna with intelligent
incredulity. She was sufficiently pretty; her hair was in clusters of
curls, like bunches of grapes; her tight bodice seemed to crack with her
vivacity; and from beneath the stiff little plaits of her petticoat a
small fat foot protruded, resting upon a stilted heel. She was
attractive and impertinent, especially the latter. He seemed to think it
was a great pity, what she had told him; but he lost himself in this
consideration, or, at any rate, said nothing for some time, while his
eyes wandered over Mrs. Luna, and he probably wondered what body of
doctrine _she_ represented, little as she might partake of the nature of
her sister. Many things were strange to Basil Ransom; Boston especially
was strewn with surprises, and he was a man who liked to understand.
Mrs. Luna was drawing on her gloves; Ransom had never seen any that were
so long; they reminded him of stockings, and he wondered how she managed
without garters above the elbow. "Well, I suppose I might have known
that," he continued, at last.

"You might have known what?"

"Well, that Miss Chancellor would be all that you say. She was brought
up in the city of reform."

"Oh, it isn't the city; it's just Olive Chancellor. She would reform the
solar system if she could get hold of it. She'll reform you, if you
don't look out. That's the way I found her when I returned from Europe."

"Have you been in Europe?" Ransom asked.

"Mercy, yes! Haven't you?"

"No, I haven't been anywhere. Has your sister?"

"Yes; but she stayed only an hour or two. She hates it; she would like
to abolish it. Didn't you know I had been to Europe?" Mrs. Luna went on,
in the slightly aggrieved tone of a woman who discovers the limits of
her reputation.

Ransom reflected he might answer her that until five minutes ago he
didn't know she existed; but he remembered that this was not the way in
which a Southern gentleman spoke to ladies, and he contented himself
with saying that he must condone his Boeotian ignorance (he was fond
of an elegant phrase); that he lived in a part of the country where they
didn't think much about Europe, and that he had always supposed she was
domiciled in New York. This last remark he made at a venture, for he
had, naturally, not devoted any supposition whatever to Mrs. Luna. His
dishonesty, however, only exposed him the more.

"If you thought I lived in New York, why in the world didn't you come
and see me?" the lady inquired.

"Well, you see, I don't go out much, except to the courts."

"Do you mean the law-courts? Every one has got some profession over
here! Are you very ambitious? You look as if you were."

"Yes, very," Basil Ransom replied, with a smile, and the curious
feminine softness with which Southern gentlemen enunciate that adverb.

Mrs. Luna explained that she had been living in Europe for several
years--ever since her husband died--but had come home a month before,
come home with her little boy, the only thing she had in the world, and
was paying a visit to her sister, who, of course, was the nearest thing
after the child. "But it isn't the same," she said. "Olive and I
disagree so much."

"While you and your little boy don't," the young man remarked.

"Oh no, I never differ from Newton!" And Mrs. Luna added that now she
was back she didn't know what she should do. That was the worst of
coming back; it was like being born again, at one's age--one had to
begin life afresh. One didn't even know what one had come back for.
There were people who wanted one to spend the winter in Boston; but she
couldn't stand that--she knew, at least, what she had not come back for.
Perhaps she should take a house in Washington; did he ever hear of that
little place? They had invented it while she was away. Besides, Olive
didn't want her in Boston, and didn't go through the form of saying so.
That was one comfort with Olive; she never went through any forms.

Basil Ransom had got up just as Mrs. Luna made this last declaration;
for a young lady had glided into the room, who stopped short as it fell
upon her ears. She stood there looking, consciously and rather
seriously, at Mr. Ransom; a smile of exceeding faintness played about
her lips--it was just perceptible enough to light up the native gravity
of her face. It might have been likened to a thin ray of moonlight
resting upon the wall of a prison.

"If that were true," she said, "I shouldn't tell you that I am very
sorry to have kept you waiting."

Her voice was low and agreeable--a cultivated voice--and she extended a
slender white hand to her visitor, who remarked with some solemnity (he
felt a certain guilt of participation in Mrs. Luna's indiscretion) that
he was intensely happy to make her acquaintance. He observed that Miss
Chancellor's hand was at once cold and limp; she merely placed it in
his, without exerting the smallest pressure. Mrs. Luna explained to her
sister that her freedom of speech was caused by his being a
relation--though, indeed, he didn't seem to know much about them. She
didn't believe he had ever heard of her, Mrs. Luna, though he pretended,
with his Southern chivalry, that he had. She must be off to her dinner
now, she saw the carriage was there, and in her absence Olive might give
any version of her she chose.

"I have told him you are a radical, and you may tell him, if you like,
that I am a painted Jezebel. Try to reform him; a person from
Mississippi is sure to be all wrong. I shall be back very late; we are
going to a theatre-party; that's why we dine so early. Good-bye, Mr.
Ransom," Mrs. Luna continued, gathering up the feathery white shawl
which added to the volume of her fairness. "I hope you are going to stay
a little, so that you may judge us for yourself. I should like you to
see Newton, too; he is a noble little nature, and I want some advice
about him. You only stay to-morrow? Why, what's the use of that? Well,
mind you come and see me in New York; I shall be sure to be part of the
winter there. I shall send you a card; I won't let you off. Don't come
out; my sister has the first claim. Olive, why don't you take him to
your female convention?" Mrs. Luna's familiarity extended even to her
sister; she remarked to Miss Chancellor that she looked as if she were
got up for a sea-voyage. "I am glad I haven't opinions that prevent my
dressing in the evening!" she declared from the doorway. "The amount of
thought they give to their clothing, the people who are afraid of
looking frivolous!"



II


Whether much or little consideration had been directed to the result,
Miss Chancellor certainly would not have incurred this reproach. She was
habited in a plain dark dress, without any ornaments, and her smooth,
colourless hair was confined as carefully as that of her sister was
encouraged to stray. She had instantly seated herself, and while Mrs.
Luna talked she kept her eyes on the ground, glancing even less toward
Basil Ransom than toward that woman of many words. The young man was
therefore free to look at her; a contemplation which showed him that she
was agitated and trying to conceal it. He wondered why she was agitated,
not foreseeing that he was destined to discover, later, that her nature
was like a skiff in a stormy sea. Even after her sister had passed out
of the room she sat there with her eyes turned away, as if there had
been a spell upon her which forbade her to raise them. Miss Olive
Chancellor, it may be confided to the reader, to whom in the course of
our history I shall be under the necessity of imparting much occult
information, was subject to fits of tragic shyness, during which she was
unable to meet even her own eyes in the mirror. One of these fits had
suddenly seized her now, without any obvious cause, though, indeed, Mrs.
Luna had made it worse by becoming instantly so personal. There was
nothing in the world so personal as Mrs. Luna; her sister could have
hated her for it if she had not forbidden herself this emotion as
directed to individuals. Basil Ransom was a young man of first-rate
intelligence, but conscious of the narrow range, as yet, of his
experience. He was on his guard against generalisations which might be
hasty; but he had arrived at two or three that were of value to a
gentleman lately admitted to the New York bar and looking out for
clients. One of them was to the effect that the simplest division it is
possible to make of the human race is into the people who take things
hard and the people who take them easy. He perceived very quickly that
Miss Chancellor belonged to the former class. This was written so
intensely in her delicate face that he felt an unformulated pity for her
before they had exchanged twenty words. He himself, by nature, took
things easy; if he had put on the screw of late, it was after reflexion,
and because circumstances pressed him close. But this pale girl, with
her light-green eyes, her pointed features and nervous manner, was
visibly morbid; it was as plain as day that she was morbid. Poor Ransom
announced this fact to himself as if he had made a great discovery; but
in reality he had never been so "Boeotian" as at that moment. It proved
nothing of any importance, with regard to Miss Chancellor, to say that
she was morbid; any sufficient account of her would lie very much to the
rear of that. Why was she morbid, and why was her morbidness typical?
Ransom might have exulted if he had gone back far enough to explain that
mystery. The women he had hitherto known had been mainly of his own soft
clime, and it was not often they exhibited the tendency he detected (and
cursorily deplored) in Mrs. Luna's sister. That was the way he liked
them--not to think too much, not to feel any responsibility for the
government of the world, such as he was sure Miss Chancellor felt. If
they would only be private and passive, and have no feeling but for
that, and leave publicity to the sex of tougher hide! Ransom was pleased
with the vision of that remedy; it must be repeated that he was very
provincial.

These considerations were not present to him as definitely as I have
written them here; they were summed up in the vague compassion which his
cousin's figure excited in his mind, and which was yet accompanied with
a sensible reluctance to know her better, obvious as it was that with
such a face as that she must be remarkable. He was sorry for her, but he
saw in a flash that no one could help her: that was what made her
tragic. He had not, seeking his fortune, come away from the blighted
South, which weighed upon his heart, to look out for tragedies; at least
he didn't want them outside of his office in Pine Street. He broke the
silence ensuing upon Mrs. Luna's departure by one of the courteous
speeches to which blighted regions may still encourage a tendency, and
presently found himself talking comfortably enough with his hostess.
Though he had said to himself that no one could help her, the effect of
his tone was to dispel her shyness; it was her great advantage (for the
career she had proposed to herself) that in certain conditions she was
liable suddenly to become bold. She was reassured at finding that her
visitor was peculiar; the way he spoke told her that it was no wonder he
had fought on the Southern side. She had never yet encountered a
personage so exotic, and she always felt more at her ease in the
presence of anything strange. It was the usual things of life that
filled her with silent rage; which was natural enough, inasmuch as, to
her vision, almost everything that was usual was iniquitous. She had no
difficulty in asking him now whether he would not stay to dinner--she
hoped Adeline had given him her message. It had been when she was
upstairs with Adeline, as his card was brought up, a sudden and very
abnormal inspiration to offer him this (for her) really ultimate favour;
nothing could be further from her common habit than to entertain alone,
at any repast, a gentleman she had never seen.

It was the same sort of impulse that had moved her to write to Basil
Ransom, in the spring, after hearing accidentally that he had come to
the North and intended, in New York, to practise his profession. It was
her nature to look out for duties, to appeal to her conscience for
tasks. This attentive organ, earnestly consulted, had represented to her
that he was an offshoot of the old slave-holding oligarchy which, within
her own vivid remembrance, had plunged the country into blood and tears,
and that, as associated with such abominations, he was not a worthy
object of patronage for a person whose two brothers--her only ones--had
given up life for the Northern cause. It reminded her, however, on the
other hand, that he too had been much bereaved, and, moreover, that he
had fought and offered his own life, even if it had not been taken. She
could not defend herself against a rich admiration--a kind of tenderness
of envy--of any one who had been so happy as to have that opportunity.
The most secret, the most sacred hope of her nature was that she might
some day have such a chance, that she might be a martyr and die for
something. Basil Ransom had lived, but she knew he had lived to see
bitter hours. His family was ruined; they had lost their slaves, their
property, their friends and relations, their home; had tasted of all the
cruelty of defeat. He had tried for a while to carry on the plantation
himself, but he had a millstone of debt round his neck, and he longed
for some work which would transport him to the haunts of men. The State
of Mississippi seemed to him the state of despair; so he surrendered the
remnants of his patrimony to his mother and sisters, and, at nearly
thirty years of age, alighted for the first time in New York, in the
costume of his province, with fifty dollars in his pocket and a gnawing
hunger in his heart.

That this incident had revealed to the young man his ignorance of many
things--only, however, to make him say to himself, after the first angry
blush, that here he would enter the game and here he would win it--so
much Olive Chancellor could not know; what was sufficient for her was
that he had rallied, as the French say, had accepted the accomplished
fact, had admitted that North and South were a single, indivisible
political organism. Their cousinship--that of Chancellors and
Ransoms--was not very close; it was the kind of thing that one might
take up or leave alone, as one pleased. It was "in the female line," as
Basil Ransom had written, in answering her letter with a good deal of
form and flourish; he spoke as if they had been royal houses. Her mother
had wished to take it up; it was only the fear of seeming patronising to
people in misfortune that had prevented her from writing to Mississippi.
If it had been possible to send Mrs. Ransom money, or even clothes, she
would have liked that; but she had no means of ascertaining how such an
offering would be taken. By the time Basil came to the North--making
advances, as it were--Mrs. Chancellor had passed away; so it was for
Olive, left alone in the little house in Charles Street (Adeline being
in Europe), to decide.

She knew what her mother would have done, and that helped her decision;
for her mother always chose the positive course. Olive had a fear of
everything, but her greatest fear was of being afraid. She wished
immensely to be generous, and how could one be generous unless one ran a
risk? She had erected it into a sort of rule of conduct that whenever
she saw a risk she was to take it; and she had frequent humiliations at
finding herself safe after all. She was perfectly safe after writing to
Basil Ransom; and, indeed, it was difficult to see what he could have
done to her except thank her (he was only exceptionally superlative) for
her letter, and assure her that he would come and see her the first time
his business (he was beginning to get a little) should take him to
Boston. He had now come, in redemption of his grateful vow, and even
this did not make Miss Chancellor feel that she had courted danger. She
saw (when once she had looked at him) that he would not put those
worldly interpretations on things which, with her, it was both an
impulse and a principle to defy. He was too simple--too
Mississippian--for that; she was almost disappointed. She certainly had
not hoped that she might have struck him as making unwomanly overtures
(Miss Chancellor hated this epithet almost as much as she hated its
opposite); but she had a presentiment that he would be too good-natured,
primitive to that degree. Of all things in the world, contention was
most sweet to her (though why it is hard to imagine, for it always cost
her tears, headaches, a day or two in bed, acute emotion), and it was
very possible Basil Ransom would not care to contend. Nothing could be
more displeasing than this indifference when people didn't agree with
you. That he should agree she did not in the least expect of him; how
could a Mississippian agree? If she had supposed he would agree, she
would not have written to him.



III


When he had told her that if she would take him as he was he should be
very happy to dine with her, she excused herself a moment and went to
give an order in the dining-room. The young man, left alone, looked
about the parlour--the two parlours which, in their prolonged, adjacent
narrowness, formed evidently one apartment--and wandered to the windows
at the back, where there was a view of the water; Miss Chancellor having
the good fortune to dwell on that side of Charles Street toward which,
in the rear, the afternoon sun slants redly, from an horizon indented at
empty intervals with wooden spires, the masts of lonely boats, the
chimneys of dirty "works," over a brackish expanse of anomalous
character, which is too big for a river and too small for a bay. The
view seemed to him very picturesque, though in the gathered dusk little
was left of it save a cold yellow streak in the west, a gleam of brown
water, and the reflexion of the lights that had begun to show themselves
in a row of houses, impressive to Ransom in their extreme modernness,
which overlooked the same lagoon from a long embankment on the left,
constructed of stones roughly piled. He thought this prospect, from a
city-house, almost romantic; and he turned from it back to the interior
illuminated now by a lamp which the parlour-maid had placed on a table
while he stood at the window as to something still more genial and
interesting. The artistic sense in Basil Ransom had not been highly
cultivated; neither (though he had passed his early years as the son of
a rich man) was his conception of material comfort very definite; it
consisted mainly of the vision of plenty of cigars and brandy and water
and newspapers, and a cane-bottomed arm-chair of the right inclination,
from which he could stretch his legs. Nevertheless it seemed to him he
had never seen an interior that was so much an interior as this queer
corridor-shaped drawing-room of his new-found kinswoman; he had never
felt himself in the presence of so much organised privacy or of so many
objects that spoke of habits and tastes. Most of the people he had
hitherto known had no tastes; they had a few habits, but these were not
of a sort that required much upholstery. He had not as yet been in many
houses in New York, and he had never before seen so many accessories.
The general character of the place struck him as Bostonian; this was, in
fact, very much what he had supposed Boston to be. He had always heard
Boston was a city of culture, and now there was culture in Miss
Chancellor's tables and sofas, in the books that were everywhere, on
little shelves like brackets (as if a book were a statuette), in the
photographs and watercolours that covered the walls, in the curtains
that were festooned rather stiffly in the doorways. He looked at some of
the books and saw that his cousin read German; and his impression of the
importance of this (as a symptom of superiority) was not diminished by
the fact that he himself had mastered the tongue (knowing it contained a
large literature of jurisprudence) during a long, empty, deadly summer
on the plantation. It is a curious proof of a certain crude modesty
inherent in Basil Ransom that the main effect of his observing his
cousin's German books was to give him an idea of the natural energy of
Northerners. He had noticed it often before; he had already told himself
that he must count with it. It was only after much experience he made
the discovery that few Northerners were, in their secret soul, so
energetic as he. Many other persons had made it before that. He knew
very little about Miss Chancellor; he had come to see her only because
she wrote to him; he would never have thought of looking her up, and
since then there had been no one in New York he might ask about her.
Therefore he could only guess that she was a rich young woman; such a
house, inhabited in such a way by a quiet spinster, implied a
considerable income. How much? he asked himself; five thousand, ten
thousand, fifteen thousand a year? There was richness to our panting
young man in the smallest of these figures. He was not of a mercenary
spirit, but he had an immense desire for success, and he had more than
once reflected that a moderate capital was an aid to achievement. He had
seen in his younger years one of the biggest failures that history
commemorates, an immense national _fiasco_, and it had implanted in his
mind a deep aversion to the ineffectual. It came over him, while he
waited for his hostess to reappear, that she was unmarried as well as
rich, that she was sociable (her letter answered for that) as well as
single; and he had for a moment a whimsical vision of becoming a partner
in so flourishing a firm. He ground his teeth a little as he thought of
the contrasts of the human lot; this cushioned feminine nest made him
feel unhoused and underfed. Such a mood, however, could only be
momentary, for he was conscious at bottom of a bigger stomach than all
the culture of Charles Street could fill.

Afterwards, when his cousin had come back and they had gone down to
dinner together, where he sat facing her at a little table decorated in
the middle with flowers, a position from which he had another view,
through a window where the curtain remained undrawn by her direction
(she called his attention to this--it was for his benefit), of the
dusky, empty river, spotted with points of light--at this period, I say,
it was very easy for him to remark to himself that nothing would induce
him to make love to such a type as that. Several months later, in New
York, in conversation with Mrs. Luna, of whom he was destined to see a
good deal, he alluded by chance to this repast, to the way her sister
had placed him at table, and to the remark with which she had pointed
out the advantage of his seat.

"That's what they call in Boston being very 'thoughtful,'" Mrs. Luna
said, "giving you the Back Bay (don't you hate the name?) to look at,
and then taking credit for it."

This, however, was in the future; what Basil Ransom actually perceived
was that Miss Chancellor was a signal old maid. That was her quality,
her destiny; nothing could be more distinctly written. There are women
who are unmarried by accident, and others who are unmarried by option;
but Olive Chancellor was unmarried by every implication of her being.
She was a spinster as Shelley was a lyric poet, or as the month of
August is sultry. She was so essentially a celibate that Ransom found
himself thinking of her as old, though when he came to look at her (as
he said to himself) it was apparent that her years were fewer than his
own. He did not dislike her, she had been so friendly; but, little by
little, she gave him an uneasy feeling--the sense that you could never
be safe with a person who took things so hard. It came over him that it
was because she took things hard she had sought his acquaintance; it had
been because she was strenuous, not because she was genial; she had had
in her eye--and what an extraordinary eye it was!--not a pleasure, but a
duty. She would expect him to be strenuous in return; but he
couldn't--in private life, he couldn't; privacy for Basil Ransom
consisted entirely in what he called "laying off." She was not so plain
on further acquaintance as she had seemed to him at first; even the
young Mississippian had culture enough to see that she was refined. Her
white skin had a singular look of being drawn tightly across her face;
but her features, though sharp and irregular, were delicate in a fashion
that suggested good breeding. Their line was perverse, but it was not
poor. The curious tint of her eyes was a living colour; when she turned
it upon you, you thought vaguely of the glitter of green ice. She had
absolutely no figure, and presented a certain appearance of feeling
cold. With all this, there was something very modern and highly
developed in her aspect; she had the advantages as well as the drawbacks
of a nervous organisation. She smiled constantly at her guest, but from
the beginning to the end of dinner, though he made several remarks that
he thought might prove amusing, she never once laughed. Later, he saw
that she was a woman without laughter; exhilaration, if it ever visited
her, was dumb. Once only, in the course of his subsequent acquaintance
with her, did it find a voice; and then the sound remained in Ransom's
ear as one of the strangest he had heard.

She asked him a great many questions, and made no comment on his
answers, which only served to suggest to her fresh inquiries. Her
shyness had quite left her, it did not come back; she had confidence
enough to wish him to see that she took a great interest in him. Why
should she? he wondered, He couldn't believe he was one of _her_ kind;
he was conscious of much Bohemianism--he drank beer, in New York, in
cellars, knew no ladies, and was familiar with a "variety" actress.
Certainly, as she knew him better, she would disapprove of him, though,
of course, he would never mention the actress, nor even, if necessary,
the beer. Ransom's conception of vice was purely as a series of special
cases, of explicable accidents. Not that he cared; if it were a part of
the Boston character to be inquiring, he would be to the last a
courteous Mississippian. He would tell her about Mississippi as much as
she liked; he didn't care how much he told her that the old ideas in the
South were played out. She would not understand him any the better for
that; she would not know how little his own views could be gathered from
such a limited admission. What her sister imparted to him about her
mania for "reform" had left in his mouth a kind of unpleasant
aftertaste; he felt, at any rate, that if she had the religion of
humanity--Basil Ransom had read Comte, he had read everything--she would
never understand him. He, too, had a private vision of reform, but the
first principle of it was to reform the reformers. As they drew to the
close of a meal which, in spite of all latent incompatibilities, had
gone off brilliantly, she said to him that she should have to leave him
after dinner, unless perhaps he should be inclined to accompany her. She
was going to a small gathering at the house of a friend who had asked a
few people, "interested in new ideas," to meet Mrs. Farrinder.

"Oh, thank you," said Basil Ransom. "Is it a party? I haven't been to a
party since Mississippi seceded."

"No; Miss Birdseye doesn't give parties. She's an ascetic."

"Oh, well, we have had our dinner," Ransom rejoined, laughing.

His hostess sat silent a moment, with her eyes on the ground; she looked
at such times as if she were hesitating greatly between several things
she might say, all so important that it was difficult to choose.

"I think it might interest you," she remarked presently. "You will hear
some discussion, if you are fond of that. Perhaps you wouldn't agree,"
she added, resting her strange eyes on him.

"Perhaps I shouldn't--I don't agree with everything," he said, smiling
and stroking his leg.

"Don't you care for human progress?" Miss Chancellor went on.

"I don't know--I never saw any. Are you going to show me some?"

"I can show you an earnest effort towards it. That's the most one can be
sure of. But I am not sure you are worthy."

"Is it something very Bostonian? I should like to see that," said Basil
Ransom.

"There are movements in other cities. Mrs. Farrinder goes everywhere;
she may speak to-night."

"Mrs. Farrinder, the celebrated----?"

"Yes, the celebrated; the great apostle of the emancipation of women.
She is a great friend of Miss Birdseye."

"And who is Miss Birdseye?"

"She is one of our celebrities. She is the woman in the world, I
suppose, who has laboured most for every wise reform. I think I ought to
tell you," Miss Chancellor went on in a moment, "she was one of the
earliest, one of the most passionate, of the old Abolitionists."

She had thought, indeed, she ought to tell him that, and it threw her
into a little tremor of excitement to do so. Yet, if she had been afraid
he would show some irritation at this news, she was disappointed at the
geniality with which he exclaimed:

"Why, poor old lady--she must be quite mature!"

It was therefore with some severity that she rejoined:

"She will never be old. She is the youngest spirit I know. But if you
are not in sympathy, perhaps you had better not come," she went on.

"In sympathy with what, dear madam?" Basil Ransom asked, failing still,
to her perception, to catch the tone of real seriousness. "If, as you
say, there is to be a discussion, there will be different sides, and of
course one can't sympathise with both."

"Yes, but every one will, in his way--or in her way--plead the cause of
the new truths. If you don't care for them, you won't go with us."

"I tell you I haven't the least idea what they are! I have never yet
encountered in the world any but old truths--as old as the sun and moon.
How can I know? But _do_ take me; it's such a chance to see Boston."

"It isn't Boston--it's humanity!" Miss Chancellor, as she made this
remark, rose from her chair, and her movement seemed to say that she
consented. But before she quitted her kinsman to get ready, she observed
to him that she was sure he knew what she meant; he was only pretending
he didn't.

"Well, perhaps, after all, I have a general idea," he confessed; "but
don't you see how this little reunion will give me a chance to fix it?"

She lingered an instant, with her anxious face. "Mrs. Farrinder will fix
it!" she said; and she went to prepare herself.

It was in this poor young lady's nature to be anxious, to have scruple
within scruple and to forecast the consequences of things. She returned
in ten minutes, in her bonnet, which she had apparently assumed in
recognition of Miss Birdseye's asceticism. As she stood there drawing on
her gloves--her visitor had fortified himself against Mrs. Farrinder by
another glass of wine--she declared to him that she quite repented of
having proposed to him to go; something told her that he would be an
unfavourable element.

"Why, is it going to be a spiritual _séance_?" Basil Ransom asked.

"Well, I have heard at Miss Birdseye's some inspirational speaking."
Olive Chancellor was determined to look him straight in the face as she
said this; her sense of the way it might strike him operated as a
cogent, not as a deterrent, reason.

"Why, Miss Olive, it's just got up on purpose for me!" cried the young
Mississippian, radiant, and clasping his hands. She thought him very
handsome as he said this, but reflected that unfortunately men didn't
care for the truth, especially the new kinds, in proportion as they were
good-looking. She had, however, a moral resource that she could always
fall back upon; it had already been a comfort to her, on occasions of
acute feeling, that she hated men, as a class, anyway. "And I want so
much to see an old Abolitionist; I have never laid eyes on one," Basil
Ransom added.

"Of course you couldn't see one in the South; you were too afraid of
them to let them come there!" She was now trying to think of something
she might say that would be sufficiently disagreeable to make him cease
to insist on accompanying her; for, strange to record--if anything, in a
person of that intense sensibility, be stranger than any other--her
second thought with regard to having asked him had deepened with the
elapsing moments into an unreasoned terror of the effect of his
presence. "Perhaps Miss Birdseye won't like you," she went on, as they
waited for the carriage.

"I don't know; I reckon she will," said Basil Ransom good-humouredly. He
evidently had no intention of giving up his opportunity.

From the window of the dining-room, at that moment, they heard the
carriage drive up. Miss Birdseye lived at the South End; the distance
was considerable, and Miss Chancellor had ordered a hackney-coach, it
being one of the advantages of living in Charles Street that stables
were near. The logic of her conduct was none of the clearest; for if she
had been alone she would have proceeded to her destination by the aid of
the street-car; not from economy (for she had the good fortune not to be
obliged to consult it to that degree), and not from any love of
wandering about Boston at night (a kind of exposure she greatly
disliked), but by reason of a theory she devotedly nursed, a theory
which bade her put off invidious differences and mingle in the common
life. She would have gone on foot to Boylston Street, and there she
would have taken the public conveyance (in her heart she loathed it) to
the South End. Boston was full of poor girls who had to walk about at
night and to squeeze into horse-cars in which every sense was
displeased; and why should she hold herself superior to these? Olive
Chancellor regulated her conduct on lofty principles, and this is why,
having to-night the advantage of a gentleman's protection, she sent for
a carriage to obliterate that patronage. If they had gone together in
the common way she would have seemed to owe it to him that she should be
so daring, and he belonged to a sex to which she wished to be under no
obligations. Months before, when she wrote to him, it had been with the
sense, rather, of putting _him_ in debt. As they rolled toward the South
End, side by side, in a good deal of silence, bouncing and bumping over
the railway-tracks very little less, after all, than if their wheels had
been fitted to them, and looking out on either side at rows of red
houses, dusky in the lamp-light, with protuberant fronts, approached by
ladders of stone; as they proceeded, with these contemplative
undulations, Miss Chancellor said to her companion, with a concentrated
desire to defy him, as a punishment for having thrown her (she couldn't
tell why) into such a tremor:

"Don't you believe, then, in the coming of a better day--in its being
possible to do something for the human race?"

Poor Ransom perceived the defiance, and he felt rather bewildered; he
wondered what type, after all, he _had_ got hold of, and what game was
being played with him. Why had she made advances, if she wanted to pinch
him this way? However, he was good for any game--that one as well as
another--and he saw that he was "in" for something of which he had long
desired to have a nearer view. "Well, Miss Olive," he answered, putting
on again his big hat, which he had been holding in his lap, "what
strikes me most is that the human race has got to bear its troubles."

"That's what men say to women, to make them patient in the position they
have made for them."

"Oh, the position of women!" Basil Ransom exclaimed. "The position of
women is to make fools of men. I would change my position for yours any
day," he went on. "That's what I said to myself as I sat there in your
elegant home."

He could not see, in the dimness of the carriage, that she had flushed
quickly, and he did not know that she disliked to be reminded of certain
things which, for her, were mitigations of the hard feminine lot. But
the passionate quaver with which, a moment later, she answered him
sufficiently assured him that he had touched her at a tender point.

"Do you make it a reproach to me that I happen to have a little money?
The dearest wish of my heart is to do something with it for others--for
the miserable."

Basil Ransom might have greeted this last declaration with the sympathy
it deserved, might have commended the noble aspirations of his
kinswoman. But what struck him, rather, was the oddity of so sudden a
sharpness of pitch in an intercourse which, an hour or two before, had
begun in perfect amity, and he burst once more into an irrepressible
laugh. This made his companion feel, with intensity, how little she was
joking. "I don't know why I should care what you think," she said.

"Don't care--don't care. What does it matter? It is not of the slightest
importance."

He might say that, but it was not true; she felt that there were reasons
why she should care. She had brought him into her life, and she should
have to pay for it. But she wished to know the worst at once. "Are you
against our emancipation?" she asked, turning a white face on him in the
momentary radiance of a street-lamp.

"Do you mean your voting and preaching and all that sort of thing?" He
made this inquiry, but seeing how seriously she would take his answer,
he was almost frightened, and hung fire. "I will tell you when I have
heard Mrs. Farrinder."

They had arrived at the address given by Miss Chancellor to the
coachman, and their vehicle stopped with a lurch. Basil Ransom got out;
he stood at the door with an extended hand, to assist the young lady.
But she seemed to hesitate; she sat there with her spectral face. "You
hate it!" she exclaimed, in a low tone.

"Miss Birdseye will convert me," said Ransom, with intention; for he had
grown very curious, and he was afraid that now, at the last, Miss
Chancellor would prevent his entering the house. She alighted without
his help, and behind her he ascended the high steps of Miss Birdseye's
residence. He had grown very curious, and among the things he wanted to
know was why in the world this ticklish spinster had written to him.



IV


She had told him before they started that they should be early; she
wished to see Miss Birdseye alone, before the arrival of any one else.
This was just for the pleasure of seeing her--it was an opportunity; she
was always so taken up with others. She received Miss Chancellor in the
hall of the mansion, which had a salient front, an enormous and very
high number--756--painted in gilt on the glass light above the door, a
tin sign bearing the name of a doctress (Mary J. Prance) suspended from
one of the windows of the basement, and a peculiar look of being both
new and faded--a kind of modern fatigue--like certain articles of
commerce which are sold at a reduction as shop-worn. The hall was very
narrow; a considerable part of it was occupied by a large hat-tree, from
which several coats and shawls already depended; the rest offered space
for certain lateral demonstrations on Miss Birdseye's part. She sidled
about her visitors, and at last went round to open for them a door of
further admission, which happened to be locked inside. She was a little
old lady, with an enormous head; that was the first thing Ransom
noticed--the vast, fair, protuberant, candid, ungarnished brow,
surmounting a pair of weak, kind, tired-looking eyes, and ineffectually
balanced in the rear by a cap which had the air of falling backward, and
which Miss Birdseye suddenly felt for while she talked, with
unsuccessful irrelevant movements. She had a sad, soft, pale face, which
(and it was the effect of her whole head) looked as if it had been
soaked, blurred, and made vague by exposure to some slow dissolvent. The
long practice of philanthropy had not given accent to her features; it
had rubbed out their transitions, their meanings. The waves of sympathy,
of enthusiasm, had wrought upon them in the same way in which the waves
of time finally modify the surface of old marble busts, gradually
washing away their sharpness, their details. In her large countenance
her dim little smile scarcely showed. It was a mere sketch of a smile, a
kind of instalment, or payment on account; it seemed to say that she
would smile more if she had time, but that you could see, without this,
that she was gentle and easy to beguile.

She always dressed in the same way: she wore a loose black jacket, with
deep pockets, which were stuffed with papers, memoranda of a voluminous
correspondence; and from beneath her jacket depended a short stuff
dress. The brevity of this simple garment was the one device by which
Miss Birdseye managed to suggest that she was a woman of business, that
she wished to be free for action. She belonged to the Short-Skirts
League, as a matter of course; for she belonged to any and every league
that had been founded for almost any purpose whatever. This did not
prevent her being a confused, entangled, inconsequent, discursive old
woman, whose charity began at home and ended nowhere, whose credulity
kept pace with it, and who knew less about her fellow-creatures, if
possible, after fifty years of humanitary zeal, than on the day she had
gone into the field to testify against the iniquity of most
arrangements. Basil Ransom knew very little about such a life as hers,
but she seemed to him a revelation of a class, and a multitude of
socialistic figures, of names and episodes that he had heard of, grouped
themselves behind her. She looked as if she had spent her life on
platforms, in audiences, in conventions, in phalansteries, in _séances_;
in her faded face there was a kind of reflexion of ugly lecture-lamps;
with its habit of an upward angle, it seemed turned toward a public
speaker, with an effort of respiration in the thick air in which social
reforms are usually discussed. She talked continually, in a voice of
which the spring seemed broken, like that of an over-worked bell-wire;
and when Miss Chancellor explained that she had brought Mr. Ransom
because he was so anxious to meet Mrs. Farrinder, she gave the young man
a delicate, dirty, democratic little hand, looking at him kindly, as she
could not help doing, but without the smallest discrimination as against
others who might not have the good fortune (which involved, possibly, an
injustice) to be present on such an interesting occasion. She struck him
as very poor, but it was only afterward that he learned she had never
had a penny in her life. No one had an idea how she lived; whenever
money was given her she gave it away to a negro or a refugee. No woman
could be less invidious, but on the whole she preferred these two
classes of the human race. Since the Civil War much of her occupation
was gone; for before that her best hours had been spent in fancying that
she was helping some Southern slave to escape. It would have been a nice
question whether, in her heart of hearts, for the sake of this
excitement, she did not sometimes wish the blacks back in bondage. She
had suffered in the same way by the relaxation of many European
despotisms, for in former years much of the romance of her life had been
in smoothing the pillow of exile for banished conspirators. Her refugees
had been very precious to her; she was always trying to raise money for
some cadaverous Pole, to obtain lessons for some shirtless Italian.
There was a legend that an Hungarian had once possessed himself of her
affections, and had disappeared after robbing her of everything she
possessed. This, however, was very apocryphal, for she had never
possessed anything, and it was open to grave doubt that she could have
entertained a sentiment so personal. She was in love, even in those
days, only with causes, and she languished only for emancipations. But
they had been the happiest days, for when causes were embodied in
foreigners (what else were the Africans?), they were certainly more
appealing.

She had just come down to see Doctor Prance--to see whether she wouldn't
like to come up. But she wasn't in her room, and Miss Birdseye guessed
she had gone out to her supper; she got her supper at a boarding-table
about two blocks off. Miss Birdseye expressed the hope that Miss
Chancellor had had hers; she would have had plenty of time to take it,
for no one had come in yet; she didn't know what made them all so late.
Ransom perceived that the garments suspended to the hat-rack were not a
sign that Miss Birdseye's friends had assembled; if he had gone a little
further still he would have recognised the house as one of those in
which mysterious articles of clothing are always hooked to something in
the hall. Miss Birdseye's visitors, those of Doctor Prance, and of other
tenants--for Number 756 was the common residence of several persons,
among whom there prevailed much vagueness of boundary--used to leave
things to be called for; many of them went about with satchels and
reticules, for which they were always looking for places of deposit.
What completed the character of this interior was Miss Birdseye's own
apartment, into which her guests presently made their way, and where
they were joined by various other members of the good lady's circle.
Indeed, it completed Miss Birdseye herself, if anything could be said to
render that office to this essentially formless old woman, who had no
more outline than a bundle of hay. But the bareness of her long, loose,
empty parlour (it was shaped exactly like Miss Chancellor's) told that
she had never had any needs but moral needs, and that all her history
had been that of her sympathies. The place was lighted by a small hot
glare of gas, which made it look white and featureless. It struck even
Basil Ransom with its flatness, and he said to himself that his cousin
must have a very big bee in her bonnet to make her like such a house. He
did not know then, and he never knew, that she mortally disliked it, and
that in a career in which she was constantly exposing herself to offence
and laceration, her most poignant suffering came from the injury of her
taste. She had tried to kill that nerve, to persuade herself that taste
was only frivolity in the disguise of knowledge; but her susceptibility
was constantly blooming afresh and making her wonder whether an absence
of nice arrangements were a necessary part of the enthusiasm of
humanity. Miss Birdseye was always trying to obtain employment, lessons
in drawing, orders for portraits, for poor foreign artists, as to the
greatness of whose talent she pledged herself without reserve; but in
point of fact she had not the faintest sense of the scenic or plastic
side of life.

Toward nine o'clock the light of her hissing burners smote the majestic
person of Mrs. Farrinder, who might have contributed to answer that
question of Miss Chancellor's in the negative. She was a copious,
handsome woman, in whom angularity had been corrected by the air of
success; she had a rustling dress (it was evident what _she_ thought
about taste), abundant hair of a glossy blackness, a pair of folded
arms, the expression of which seemed to say that rest, in such a career
as hers, was as sweet as it was brief, and a terrible regularity of
feature. I apply that adjective to her fine placid mask because she
seemed to face you with a question of which the answer was preordained,
to ask you how a countenance could fail to be noble of which the
measurements were so correct. You could contest neither the measurements
nor the nobleness, and had to feel that Mrs. Farrinder imposed herself.
There was a lithographic smoothness about her, and a mixture of the
American matron and the public character. There was something public in
her eye, which was large, cold, and quiet; it had acquired a sort of
exposed reticence from the habit of looking down from a lecture-desk,
over a sea of heads, while its distinguished owner was eulogised by a
leading citizen. Mrs. Farrinder, at almost any time, had the air of
being introduced by a few remarks. She talked with great slowness and
distinctness, and evidently a high sense of responsibility; she
pronounced every syllable of every word and insisted on being explicit.
If, in conversation with her, you attempted to take anything for
granted, or to jump two or three steps at a time, she paused, looking at
you with a cold patience, as if she knew that trick, and then went on at
her own measured pace. She lectured on temperance and the rights of
women; the ends she laboured for were to give the ballot to every woman
in the country and to take the flowing bowl from every man. She was held
to have a very fine manner, and to embody the domestic virtues and the
graces of the drawing-room; to be a shining proof, in short, that the
forum, for ladies, is not necessarily hostile to the fireside. She had a
husband, and his name was Amariah.

Doctor Prance had come back from supper and made her appearance in
response to an invitation that Miss Birdseye's relaxed voice had tinkled
down to her from the hall over the banisters, with much repetition, to
secure attention. She was a plain, spare young woman, with short hair
and an eye-glass; she looked about her with a kind of near-sighted
deprecation, and seemed to hope that she should not be expected to
generalise in any way, or supposed to have come up for any purpose more
social than to see what Miss Birdseye wanted this time. By nine o'clock
twenty other persons had arrived, and had placed themselves in the
chairs that were ranged along the sides of the long, bald room, in which
they ended by producing the similitude of an enormous street-car. The
apartment contained little else but these chairs, many of which had a
borrowed aspect, an implication of bare bedrooms in the upper regions; a
table or two with a discoloured marble top, a few books, and a
collection of newspapers piled up in corners. Ransom could see for
himself that the occasion was not crudely festive; there was a want of
convivial movement, and, among most of the visitors, even of mutual
recognition. They sat there as if they were waiting for something; they
looked obliquely and silently at Mrs. Farrinder, and were plainly under
the impression that, fortunately, they were not there to amuse
themselves. The ladies, who were much the more numerous, wore their
bonnets, like Miss Chancellor; the men were in the garb of toil, many of
them in weary-looking overcoats. Two or three had retained their
overshoes, and as you approached them the odour of the india-rubber was
perceptible. It was not, however, that Miss Birdseye ever noticed
anything of that sort; she neither knew what she smelled nor tasted what
she ate. Most of her friends had an anxious, haggard look, though there
were sundry exceptions--half-a-dozen placid, florid faces. Basil Ransom
wondered who they all were; he had a general idea they were mediums,
communists, vegetarians. It was not, either, that Miss Birdseye failed
to wander about among them with repetitions of inquiry and friendly
absences of attention; she sat down near most of them in turn, saying
"Yes, yes," vaguely and kindly, to remarks they made to her, feeling for
the papers in the pockets of her loosened bodice, recovering her cap and
sacrificing her spectacles, wondering most of all what had been her idea
in convoking these people. Then she remembered that it had been
connected in some way with Mrs. Farrinder; that this eloquent woman had
promised to favour the company with a few reminiscences of her last
campaign; to sketch even, perhaps, the lines on which she intended to
operate during the coming winter. This was what Olive Chancellor had
come to hear; this would be the attraction for the dark-eyed young man
(he looked like a genius) she had brought with her. Miss Birdseye made
her way back to the great lecturess, who was bending an indulgent
attention on Miss Chancellor; the latter compressed into a small space,
to be near her, and sitting with clasped hands and a concentration of
inquiry which by contrast made Mrs. Farrinder's manner seem large and
free. In her transit, however, the hostess was checked by the arrival of
fresh pilgrims; she had no idea she had mentioned the occasion to so
many people--she only remembered, as it were, those she had
forgotten--and it was certainly a proof of the interest felt in Mrs.
Farrinder's work. The people who had just come in were Doctor and Mrs.
Tarrant and their daughter Verena; he was a mesmeric healer and she was
of old Abolitionist stock. Miss Birdseye rested her dim, dry smile upon
the daughter, who was new to her, and it floated before her that she
would probably be remarkable as a genius; her parentage was an
implication of that. There was a genius for Miss Birdseye in every bush.
Selah Tarrant had effected wonderful cures; she knew so many people--if
they would only try him. His wife was a daughter of Abraham Greenstreet;
she had kept a runaway slave in her house for thirty days. That was
years before, when this girl must have been a child; but hadn't it
thrown a kind of rainbow over her cradle, and wouldn't she naturally
have some gift? The girl was very pretty, though she had red hair.



V


Mrs. Farrinder, meanwhile, was not eager to address the assembly. She
confessed as much to Olive Chancellor, with a smile which asked that a
temporary lapse of promptness might not be too harshly judged. She had
addressed so many assemblies, and she wanted to hear what other people
had to say. Miss Chancellor herself had thought so much on the vital
subject; would not she make a few remarks and give them some of her
experiences? How did the ladies on Beacon Street feel about the ballot?
Perhaps she could speak for _them_ more than for some others. That was a
branch of the question on which, it might be, the leaders had not
information enough; but they wanted to take in everything, and why
shouldn't Miss Chancellor just make that field her own? Mrs. Farrinder
spoke in the tone of one who took views so wide that they might easily,
at first, before you could see how she worked round, look almost
meretricious; she was conscious of a scope that exceeded the first
flight of your imagination. She urged upon her companion the idea of
labouring in the world of fashion, appeared to attribute to her familiar
relations with that mysterious realm, and wanted to know why she
shouldn't stir up some of her friends down there on the Mill-dam?

Olive Chancellor received this appeal with peculiar feelings. With her
immense sympathy for reform, she found herself so often wishing that
reformers were a little different. There was something grand about Mrs.
Farrinder; it lifted one up to be with her: but there was a false note
when she spoke to her young friend about the ladies in Beacon Street.
Olive hated to hear that fine avenue talked about as if it were such a
remarkable place, and to live there were a proof of worldly glory. All
sorts of inferior people lived there, and so brilliant a woman as Mrs.
Farrinder, who lived at Roxbury, ought not to mix things up. It was, of
course, very wretched to be irritated by such mistakes; but this was not
the first time Miss Chancellor had observed that the possession of
nerves was not by itself a reason for embracing the new truths. She knew
her place in the Boston hierarchy, and it was not what Mrs. Farrinder
supposed; so that there was a want of perspective in talking to her as
if she had been a representative of the aristocracy. Nothing could be
weaker, she knew very well, than (in the United States) to apply that
term too literally; nevertheless, it would represent a reality if one
were to say that, by distinction, the Chancellors belonged to the
_bourgeoisie_--the oldest and best. They might care for such a position
or not (as it happened, they were very proud of it), but there they
were, and it made Mrs. Farrinder seem provincial (there was something
provincial, after all, in the way she did her hair too) not to
understand. When Miss Birdseye spoke as if one were a "leader of
society," Olive could forgive her even that odious expression, because,
of course, one never pretended that she, poor dear, had the smallest
sense of the real. She was heroic, she was sublime, the whole moral
history of Boston was reflected in her displaced spectacles; but it was
a part of her originality, as it were, that she was deliciously
provincial. Olive Chancellor seemed to herself to have privileges enough
without being affiliated to the exclusive set and having invitations to
the smaller parties, which were the real test; it was a mercy for her
that she had not that added immorality on her conscience. The ladies
Mrs. Farrinder meant (it was to be supposed she meant some particular
ones) might speak for themselves. She wished to work in another field;
she had long been preoccupied with the romance of the people. She had an
immense desire to know intimately some _very_ poor girl. This might seem
one of the most accessible of pleasures; but, in point of fact, she had
not found it so. There were two or three pale shop-maidens whose
acquaintance she had sought; but they had seemed afraid of her, and the
attempt had come to nothing. She took them more tragically then they
took themselves; they couldn't make out what she wanted them to do, and
they always ended by being odiously mixed up with Charlie. Charlie was a
young man in a white overcoat and a paper collar; it was for him, in the
last analysis, that they cared much the most. They cared far more about
Charlie than about the ballot. Olive Chancellor wondered how Mrs.
Farrinder would treat that branch of the question. In her researches
among her young townswomen she had always found this obtrusive swain
planted in her path, and she grew at last to dislike him extremely. It
filled her with exasperation to think that he should be necessary to the
happiness of his victims (she had learned that whatever they might talk
about with her, it was of him and him only that they discoursed among
themselves), and one of the main recommendations of the evening club for
her fatigued, underpaid sisters, which it had long been her dream to
establish, was that it would in some degree undermine his
position--distinct as her prevision might be that he would be in waiting
at the door. She hardly knew what to say to Mrs. Farrinder when this
momentarily misdirected woman, still preoccupied with the Mill-dam,
returned to the charge.

"We want labourers in that field, though I know two or three lovely
women--sweet _home-women_--moving in circles that are for the most part
closed to every new voice, who are doing their best to help on the
fight. I have several names that might surprise you, names well known on
State Street. But we can't have too many recruits, especially among
those whose refinement is generally acknowledged. If it be necessary, we
are prepared to take certain steps to conciliate the shrinking. Our
movement is for all--it appeals to the most delicate ladies. Raise the
standard among them, and bring me a thousand names. I know several that
I should like to have. I look after the details as well as the big
currents," Mrs. Farrinder added, in a tone as explanatory as could be
expected of such a woman, and with a smile of which the sweetness was
thrilling to her listener.

"I can't talk to those people, I can't!" said Olive Chancellor, with a
face which seemed to plead for a remission of responsibility. "I want to
give myself up to others; I want to know everything that lies beneath
and out of sight, don't you know? I want to enter into the lives of
women who are lonely, who are piteous. I want to be near to them--to
help them. I want to do something--oh, I should like so to speak!"

"We should be glad to have you make a few remarks at present," Mrs.
Farrinder declared, with a punctuality which revealed the faculty of
presiding.

"Oh dear, no, I can't speak; I have none of that sort of talent. I have
no self-possession, no eloquence; I can't put three words together. But
I do want to contribute."

"What _have_ you got?" Mrs. Farrinder inquired, looking at her
interlocutress, up and down, with the eye of business, in which there
was a certain chill. "Have you got money?"

Olive was so agitated for the moment with the hope that this great woman
would approve of her on the financial side that she took no time to
reflect that some other quality might, in courtesy, have been suggested.
But she confessed to possessing a certain capital, and the tone seemed
rich and deep in which Mrs. Farrinder said to her, "Then contribute
that!" She was so good as to develop this idea, and her picture of the
part Miss Chancellor might play by making liberal donations to a fund
for the diffusion among the women of America of a more adequate
conception of their public and private rights--a fund her adviser had
herself lately inaugurated--this bold, rapid sketch had the vividness
which characterised the speaker's most successful public efforts. It
placed Olive under the spell; it made her feel almost inspired. If her
life struck others in that way--especially a woman like Mrs. Farrinder,
whose horizon was so full--then there must be something for her to do.
It was one thing to choose for herself, but now the great representative
of the enfranchisement of their sex (from every form of bondage) had
chosen for her.

The barren, gas-lighted room grew richer and richer to her earnest eyes;
it seemed to expand, to open itself to the great life of humanity. The
serious, tired people, in their bonnets and overcoats, began to glow
like a company of heroes. Yes, she would do something, Olive Chancellor
said to herself; she would do something to brighten the darkness of that
dreadful image that was always before her, and against which it seemed
to her at times that she had been born to lead a crusade--the image of
the unhappiness of women. The unhappiness of women! The voice of their
silent suffering was always in her ears, the ocean of tears that they
had shed from the beginning of time seemed to pour through her own eyes.
Ages of oppression had rolled over them; uncounted millions had lived
only to be tortured, to be crucified. They were her sisters, they were
her own, and the day of their delivery had dawned. This was the only
sacred cause; this was the great, the just revolution. It must triumph,
it must sweep everything before it; it must exact from the other, the
brutal, blood-stained, ravening race, the last particle of expiation! It
would be the greatest change the world had seen; it would be a new era
for the human family, and the names of those who had helped to show the
way and lead the squadrons would be the brightest in the tables of fame.
They would be names of women weak, insulted, persecuted, but devoted in
every pulse of their being to the cause, and asking no better fate than
to die for it. It was not clear to this interesting girl in what manner
such a sacrifice (as this last) would be required of her, but she saw
the matter through a kind of sunrise-mist of emotion which made danger
as rosy as success. When Miss Birdseye approached, it transfigured her
familiar, her comical shape, and made the poor little humanitary hack
seem already a martyr. Olive Chancellor looked at her with love,
remembered that she had never, in her long, unrewarded, weary life, had
a thought or an impulse for herself. She had been consumed by the
passion of sympathy; it had crumpled her into as many creases as an old
glazed, distended glove. She had been laughed at, but she never knew it;
she was treated as a bore, but she never cared. She had nothing in the
world but the clothes on her back, and when she should go down into the
grave she would leave nothing behind her but her grotesque,
undistinguished, pathetic little name. And yet people said that women
were vain, that they were personal, that they were interested! While
Miss Birdseye stood there, asking Mrs. Farrinder if she wouldn't say
something, Olive Chancellor tenderly fastened a small battered brooch
which confined her collar and which had half detached itself.



VI


"Oh, thank you," said Miss Birdseye, "I shouldn't like to lose it; it
was given me by Mirandola!" He had been one of her refugees in the old
time, when two or three of her friends, acquainted with the limits of
his resources, wondered how he had come into possession of the trinket.
She had been diverted again, after her greeting with Doctor and Mrs.
Tarrant, by stopping to introduce the tall, dark young man whom Miss
Chancellor had brought with her to Doctor Prance. She had become
conscious of his somewhat sombre figure, uplifted against the wall, near
the door; he was leaning there in solitude, unacquainted with
opportunities which Miss Birdseye felt to be, collectively, of value,
and which were really, of course, what strangers came to Boston for. It
did not occur to her to ask herself why Miss Chancellor didn't talk to
him, since she had brought him; Miss Birdseye was incapable of a
speculation of this kind. Olive, in fact, had remained vividly conscious
of her kinsman's isolation until the moment when Mrs. Farrinder lifted
her, with a word, to a higher plane. She watched him across the room;
she saw that he might be bored. But she proposed to herself not to mind
that; she had asked him, after all, not to come. Then he was no worse
off than others; he was only waiting, like the rest; and before they
left she would introduce him to Mrs. Farrinder. She might tell that lady
who he was first; it was not every one that would care to know a person
who had borne such a part in the Southern disloyalty. It came over our
young lady that when she sought the acquaintance of her distant kinsman
she had indeed done a more complicated thing than she suspected. The
sudden uneasiness that he flung over her in the carriage had not left
her, though she felt it less now she was with others, and especially
that she was close to Mrs. Farrinder, who was such a fountain of
strength. At any rate, if he was bored, he could speak to some one;
there were excellent people near him, even if they _were_ ardent
reformers. He could speak to that pretty girl who had just come in--the
one with red hair--if he liked; Southerners were supposed to be so
chivalrous!

Miss Birdseye reasoned much less, and did not offer to introduce him to
Verena Tarrant, who was apparently being presented by her parents to a
group of friends at the other end of the room. It came back to Miss
Birdseye, in this connexion, that, sure enough, Verena had been away for
a long time--for nearly a year; had been on a visit to friends in the
West, and would therefore naturally be a stranger to most of the Boston
circle. Doctor Prance was looking at her--at Miss Birdseye--with little,
sharp, fixed pupils; and the good lady wondered whether she were angry
at having been induced to come up. She had a general impression that
when genius was original its temper was high, and all this would be the
case with Doctor Prance. She wanted to say to her that she could go down
again if she liked; but even to Miss Birdseye's unsophisticated mind
this scarcely appeared, as regards a guest, an adequate formula of
dismissal. She tried to bring the young Southerner out; she said to him
that she presumed they would have some entertainment soon--Mrs.
Farrinder could be interesting when she tried! And then she bethought
herself to introduce him to Doctor Prance; it might serve as a reason
for having brought her up. Moreover, it would do her good to break up
her work now and then; she pursued her medical studies far into the
night, and Miss Birdseye, who was nothing of a sleeper (Mary Prance,
precisely, had wanted to treat her for it), had heard her, in the
stillness of the small hours, with her open windows (she had fresh air
on the brain), sharpening instruments (it was Miss Birdseye's mild
belief that she dissected), in a little physiological laboratory which
she had set up in her back room, the room which, if she hadn't been a
doctor, might have been her "chamber," and perhaps was, even with the
dissecting, Miss Birdseye didn't know! She explained her young friends
to each other, a trifle incoherently, perhaps, and then went to stir up
Mrs. Farrinder.

Basil Ransom had already noticed Doctor Prance; he had not been at all
bored, and had observed every one in the room, arriving at all sorts of
ingenious inductions. The little medical lady struck him as a perfect
example of the "Yankee female"--the figure which, in the unregenerate
imagination of the children of the cotton-States, was produced by the
New England school-system, the Puritan code, the ungenial climate, the
absence of chivalry. Spare, dry, hard, without a curve, an inflexion or
a grace, she seemed to ask no odds in the battle of life and to be
prepared to give none. But Ransom could see that she was not an
enthusiast, and after his contact with his cousin's enthusiasm this was
rather a relief to him. She looked like a boy, and not even like a good
boy. It was evident that if she had been a boy, she would have "cut"
school, to try private experiments in mechanics or to make researches in
natural history. It was true that if she had been a boy she would have
borne some relation to a girl, whereas Doctor Prance appeared to bear
none whatever. Except her intelligent eye, she had no features to speak
of. Ransom asked her if she were acquainted with the lioness, and on her
staring at him, without response, explained that he meant the renowned
Mrs. Farrinder.

"Well, I don't know as I ought to say that I'm acquainted with her; but
I've heard her on the platform. I have paid my half-dollar," the doctor
added, with a certain grimness.

"Well, did she convince you?" Ransom inquired.

"Convince me of what, sir?"

"That women are so superior to men."

"Oh, deary me!" said Doctor Prance, with a little impatient sigh; "I
guess I know more about women than she does."

"And that isn't your opinion, I hope," said Ransom, laughing.

"Men and women are all the same to me," Doctor Prance remarked. "I don't
see any difference. There is room for improvement in both sexes. Neither
of them is up to the standard." And on Ransom's asking her what the
standard appeared to her to be, she said, "Well, they ought to live
better; that's what they ought to do." And she went on to declare,
further, that she thought they all talked too much. This had so long
been Ransom's conviction that his heart quite warmed to Doctor Prance,
and he paid homage to her wisdom in the manner of Mississippi--with a
richness of compliment that made her turn her acute, suspicious eye upon
him. This checked him; she was capable of thinking that _he_ talked too
much--she herself having, apparently, no general conversation. It was
german to the matter, at any rate, for him to observe that he believed
they were to have a lecture from Mrs. Farrinder--he didn't know why she
didn't begin. "Yes," said Doctor Prance, rather dryly, "I suppose that's
what Miss Birdseye called me up for. She seemed to think I wouldn't want
to miss that."

"Whereas, I infer, you could console yourself for the loss of the
oration," Ransom suggested.

"Well, I've got some work. I don't want any one to teach me what a woman
can do!" Doctor Prance declared. "She can find out some things, if she
tries. Besides, I am familiar with Mrs. Farrinder's system; I know all
she has got to say."

"Well, what is it, then, since she continues to remain silent?"

"Well, what it amounts to is just that women want to have a better time.
That's what it comes to in the end. I am aware of that, without her
telling me."

"And don't you sympathise with such an aspiration?"

"Well, I don't know as I cultivate the sentimental side," said Doctor
Prance. "There's plenty of sympathy without mine. If they want to have a
better time, I suppose it's natural; so do men too, I suppose. But I
don't know as it appeals to me--to make sacrifices for it; it ain't such
a wonderful time--the best you _can_ have!"

This little lady was tough and technical; she evidently didn't care for
great movements; she became more and more interesting to Basil Ransom,
who, it is to be feared, had a fund of cynicism. He asked her if she
knew his cousin, Miss Chancellor, whom he indicated, beside Mrs.
Farrinder; _she_ believed, on the contrary, in wonderful times (she
thought they were coming); she had plenty of sympathy, and he was sure
she was willing to make sacrifices.

Doctor Prance looked at her across the room for a moment; then she said
she didn't know her, but she guessed she knew others like her--she went
to see them when they were sick. "She's having a private lecture to
herself," Ransom remarked; whereupon Doctor Prance rejoined, "Well, I
guess she'll have to pay for it!" She appeared to regret her own
half-dollar, and to be vaguely impatient of the behaviour of her sex.
Ransom became so sensible of this that he felt it was indelicate to
allude further to the cause of woman, and, for a change, endeavoured to
elicit from his companion some information about the gentlemen present.
He had given her a chance, vainly, to start some topic herself; but he
could see that she had no interests beyond the researches from which,
this evening, she had been torn, and was incapable of asking him a
personal question. She knew two or three of the gentlemen; she had seen
them before at Miss Birdseye's. Of course she knew principally ladies;
the time hadn't come when a lady-doctor was sent for by a gentleman, and
she hoped it never would, though some people seemed to think that this
was what lady-doctors were working for. She knew Mr. Pardon; that was
the young man with the "side-whiskers" and the white hair; he was a kind
of editor, and he wrote, too, "over his signature"--perhaps Basil had
read some of his works; he was under thirty, in spite of his white hair.
He was a great deal thought of in magazine circles. She believed he was
very bright--but she hadn't read anything. She didn't read much--not for
amusement; only the _Transcript_. She believed Mr. Pardon sometimes
wrote in the _Transcript_; well, she supposed he _was_ very bright. The
other that she knew--only she didn't know him (she supposed Basil would
think that queer)--was the tall, pale gentleman, with the black
moustache and the eye-glass. She knew him because she had met him in
society; but she didn't know him--well, because she didn't want to. If
he should come and speak to her--and he looked as if he were going to
work round that way--she should just say to him, "Yes, sir," or "No,
sir," very coldly. She couldn't help it if he did think her dry; if _he_
were a little more dry, it might be better for him. What was the matter
with him? Oh, she thought she had mentioned that; he was a mesmeric
healer, he made miraculous cures. She didn't believe in his system or
disbelieve in it, one way or the other; she only knew that she had been
called to see ladies he had worked on, and she found that he had made
them lose a lot of valuable time. He talked to them--well, as if he
didn't know what he was saying. She guessed he was quite ignorant of
physiology, and she didn't think he ought to go round taking
responsibilities. She didn't want to be narrow, but she thought a person
ought to know something. She supposed Basil would think her very
uplifted; but he had put the question to her, as she might say. All she
could say was she didn't want him to be laying his hands on any of _her_
folks; it was all done with the hands--what wasn't done with the tongue!
Basil could see that Doctor Prance was irritated; that this extreme
candour of allusion to her neighbour was probably not habitual to her,
as a member of a society in which the casual expression of strong
opinion generally produced waves of silence. But he blessed her
irritation, for him it was so illuminating; and to draw further profit
from it he asked her who the young lady was with the red hair--the
pretty one, whom he had only noticed during the last ten minutes. She
was Miss Tarrant, the daughter of the healer; hadn't she mentioned his
name? Selah Tarrant; if he wanted to send for him. Doctor Prance wasn't
acquainted with her, beyond knowing that she was the mesmerist's only
child, and having heard something about her having some gift--she
couldn't remember which it was. Oh, if she was his child, she would be
sure to have some gift--if it was only the gift of the g----well, she
didn't mean to say that; but a talent for conversation. Perhaps she
could die and come to life again; perhaps she would show them her gift,
as no one seemed inclined to do anything. Yes, she was pretty-appearing,
but there was a certain indication of anæmia, and Doctor Prance would be
surprised if she didn't eat too much candy. Basil thought she had an
engaging exterior; it was his private reflexion, coloured doubtless by
"sectional" prejudice, that she was the first pretty girl he had seen in
Boston. She was talking with some ladies at the other end of the room;
and she had a large red fan, which she kept constantly in movement. She
was not a quiet girl; she fidgeted, was restless, while she talked, and
had the air of a person who, whatever she might be doing, would wish to
be doing something else. If people watched her a good deal, she also
returned their contemplation, and her charming eyes had several times
encountered those of Basil Ransom. But they wandered mainly in the
direction of Mrs. Farrinder--they lingered upon the serene solidity of
the great oratress. It was easy to see that the girl admired this
beneficent woman, and felt it a privilege to be near her. It was
apparent, indeed, that she was excited by the company in which she found
herself; a fact to be explained by a reference to that recent period of
exile in the West, of which we have had a hint, and in consequence of
which the present occasion may have seemed to her a return to
intellectual life. Ransom secretly wished that his cousin--since fate
was to reserve for him a cousin in Boston--had been more like that.

By this time a certain agitation was perceptible; several ladies,
impatient of vain delay, had left their places, to appeal personally to
Mrs. Farrinder, who was presently surrounded with sympathetic
remonstrants. Miss Birdseye had given her up; it had been enough for
Miss Birdseye that she should have said, when pressed (so far as her
hostess, muffled in laxity, could press) on the subject of the general
expectation, that she could only deliver her message to an audience
which she felt to be partially hostile. There was no hostility there;
they were all only too much in sympathy. "I don't require sympathy," she
said, with a tranquil smile, to Olive Chancellor; "I am only myself, I
only rise to the occasion, when I see prejudice, when I see bigotry,
when I see injustice, when I see conservatism, massed before me like an
army. Then I feel--I feel as I imagine Napoleon Bonaparte to have felt
on the eve of one of his great victories. I _must_ have unfriendly
elements--I like to win them over."

Olive thought of Basil Ransom, and wondered whether he would do for an
unfriendly element. She mentioned him to Mrs. Farrinder, who expressed
an earnest hope that if he were opposed to the principles which were so
dear to the rest of them, he might be induced to take the floor and
testify on his own account. "I should be so happy to answer him," said
Mrs. Farrinder, with supreme softness. "I should be so glad, at any
rate, to exchange ideas with him." Olive felt a deep alarm at the idea
of a public dispute between these two vigorous people (she had a
perception that Ransom would be vigorous), not because she doubted of
the happy issue, but because she herself would be in a false position,
as having brought the offensive young man, and she had a horror of false
positions. Miss Birdseye was incapable of resentment; she had invited
forty people to hear Mrs. Farrinder speak, and now Mrs. Farrinder
wouldn't speak. But she had such a beautiful reason for it! There was
something martial and heroic in her pretext, and, besides, it was so
characteristic, so free, that Miss Birdseye was quite consoled, and
wandered away, looking at her other guests vaguely, as if she didn't
know them from each other, while she mentioned to them, at a venture,
the excuse for their disappointment, confident, evidently, that they
would agree with her it was very fine. "But we can't pretend to be on
the other side, just to start her up, can we?" she asked of Mr. Tarrant,
who sat there beside his wife with a rather conscious but by no means
complacent air of isolation from the rest of the company.

"Well, I don't know--I guess we are all solid here," this gentleman
replied, looking round him with a slow, deliberate smile, which made his
mouth enormous, developed two wrinkles, as long as the wings of a bat,
on either side of it, and showed a set of big, even, carnivorous teeth.

"Selah," said his wife, laying her hand on the sleeve of his waterproof,
"I wonder whether Miss Birdseye would be interested to hear Verena."

"Well, if you mean she sings, it's a shame I haven't got a piano," Miss
Birdseye took upon herself to respond. It came back to her that the girl
had a gift.

"She doesn't want a piano--she doesn't want anything," Selah remarked,
giving no apparent attention to his wife. It was a part of his attitude
in life never to appear to be indebted to another person for a
suggestion, never to be surprised or unprepared.

"Well, I don't know that the interest in singing is so general," said
Miss Birdseye, quite unconscious of any slackness in preparing a
substitute for the entertainment that had failed her.

"It isn't singing, you'll see," Mrs. Tarrant declared.

"What is it, then?"

Mr. Tarrant unfurled his wrinkles, showed his back teeth. "It's
inspirational."

Miss Birdseye gave a small, vague, unsceptical laugh. "Well, if you can
guarantee that----"

"I think it would be acceptable," said Mrs. Tarrant; and putting up a
half-gloved, familiar hand, she drew Miss Birdseye down to her, and the
pair explained in alternation what it was their child could do.

Meanwhile, Basil Ransom confessed to Doctor Prance that he was, after
all, rather disappointed. He had expected more of a programme; he wanted
to hear some of the new truths. Mrs. Farrinder, as he said, remained
within her tent, and he had hoped not only to see these distinguished
people but also to listen to them.

"Well, _I_ ain't disappointed," the sturdy little doctress replied. "If
any question had been opened, I suppose I should have had to stay."

"But I presume you don't propose to retire."

"Well, I've got to pursue my studies some time. I don't want the
gentlemen-doctors to get ahead of me."

"Oh, no one will ever get ahead of you, I'm very sure. And there is that
pretty young lady going over to speak to Mrs. Farrinder. She's going to
beg her for a speech--Mrs. Farrinder can't resist that."

"Well, then, I'll just trickle out before she begins. Good-night, sir,"
said Doctor Prance, who by this time had begun to appear to Ransom more
susceptible of domestication, as if she had been a small
forest-creature, a catamount or a ruffled doe, that had learned to stand
still while you stroked it, or even to extend a paw. She ministered to
health, and she was healthy herself; if his cousin could have been even
of this type Basil would have felt himself more fortunate.

"Good-night, Doctor," he replied. "You haven't told me, after all, your
opinion of the capacity of the ladies."

"Capacity for what?" said Doctor Prance. "They've got a capacity for
making people waste time. All I know is that I don't want any one to
tell _me_ what a lady can do!" And she edged away from him softly, as if
she had been traversing a hospital-ward, and presently he saw her reach
the door, which, with the arrival of the later comers, had remained
open. She stood there an instant, turning over the whole assembly a
glance like the flash of a watchman's bull's-eye, and then quickly
passed out. Ransom could see that she was impatient of the general
question and bored with being reminded, even for the sake of her rights,
that she was a woman--a detail that she was in the habit of forgetting,
having as many rights as she had time for. It was certain that whatever
might become of the movement at large, Doctor Prance's own little
revolution was a success.



VII


She had no sooner left him than Olive Chancellor came towards him with
eyes that seemed to say, "I don't care whether you are here now or
not--I'm all right!" But what her lips said was much more gracious; she
asked him if she mightn't have the pleasure of introducing him to Mrs.
Farrinder. Ransom consented, with a little of his Southern flourish, and
in a moment the lady got up to receive him from the midst of the circle
that now surrounded her. It was an occasion for her to justify her
reputation of an elegant manner, and it must be impartially related that
she struck Ransom as having a dignity in conversation and a command of
the noble style which could not have been surpassed by a daughter--one
of the most accomplished, most far-descended daughters--of his own
latitude. It was as if she had known that he was not eager for the
changes she advocated, and wished to show him that, especially to a
Southerner who had bitten the dust, her sex could be magnanimous. This
knowledge of his secret heresy seemed to him to be also in the faces of
the other ladies, whose circumspect glances, however (for he had not
been introduced), treated it as a pity rather than as a shame. He was
conscious of all these middle-aged feminine eyes, conscious of curls,
rather limp, that depended from dusky bonnets, of heads poked forward,
as if with a waiting, listening, familiar habit, of no one being very
bright or gay--no one, at least, but that girl he had noticed before,
who had a brilliant head, and who now hovered on the edge of the
conclave. He met her eye again; she was watching him too. It had been in
his thought that Mrs. Farrinder, to whom his cousin might have betrayed
or misrepresented him, would perhaps defy him to combat, and he wondered
whether he could pull himself together (he was extremely embarrassed)
sufficiently to do honour to such a challenge. If she would fling down
the glove on the temperance question, it seemed to him that it would be
in him to pick it up; for the idea of a meddling legislation on this
subject filled him with rage; the taste of liquor being good to him, and
his conviction strong that civilisation itself would be in danger if it
should fall into the power of a herd of vociferating women (I am but the
reporter of his angry _formulae_) to prevent a gentleman from taking his
glass. Mrs. Farrinder proved to him that she had not the eagerness of
insecurity; she asked him if he wouldn't like to give the company some
account of the social and political condition of the South. He begged to
be excused, expressing at the same time a high sense of the honour done
him by such a request, while he smiled to himself at the idea of his
extemporising a lecture. He smiled even while he suspected the meaning
of the look Miss Chancellor gave him: "Well, you are not of much account
after all!" To talk to those people about the South--if they could have
guessed how little he cared to do it! He had a passionate tenderness for
his own country, and a sense of intimate connexion with it which would
have made it as impossible for him to take a roomful of Northern
fanatics into his confidence as to read aloud his mother's or his
mistress's letters. To be quiet about the Southern land, not to touch
her with vulgar hands, to leave her alone with her wounds and her
memories, not prating in the market-place either of her troubles or her
hopes, but waiting as a man should wait, for the slow process, the
sensible beneficence, of time--this was the desire of Ransom's heart,
and he was aware of how little it could minister to the entertainment of
Miss Birdseye's guests.

"We know so little about the women of the South; they are very
voiceless," Mrs. Farrinder remarked. "How much can we count upon them?
in what numbers would they flock to our standard? I have been
recommended not to lecture in the Southern cities."

"Ah, madam, that was very cruel advice--for us!" Basil Ransom exclaimed,
with gallantry.

"_I_ had a magnificent audience last spring in St. Louis," a fresh young
voice announced, over the heads of the gathered group--a voice which, on
Basil's turning, like every one else, for an explanation, appeared to
have proceeded from the pretty girl with red hair. She had coloured a
little with the effort of making this declaration, and she stood there
smiling at her listeners.

Mrs. Farrinder bent a benignant brow upon her, in spite of her being,
evidently, rather a surprise. "Oh, indeed; and your subject, my dear
young lady?"

"The past history, the present condition, and the future prospects of
our sex."

"Oh, well, St. Louis--that's scarcely the South," said one of the
ladies.

"I'm sure the young lady would have had equal success at Charleston or
New Orleans," Basil Ransom interposed.

"Well, I wanted to go farther," the girl continued, "but I had no
friends. I have friends in St. Louis."

"You oughtn't to want for them anywhere," said Mrs. Farrinder, in a
manner which, by this time, had quite explained her reputation. "I am
acquainted with the loyalty of St. Louis."

"Well, after that, you must let me introduce Miss Tarrant; she's
perfectly dying to know you, Mrs. Farrinder." These words emanated from
one of the gentlemen, the young man with white hair, who had been
mentioned to Ransom by Doctor Prance as a celebrated magazinist. He,
too, up to this moment, had hovered in the background, but he now gently
clove the assembly (several of the ladies made way for him), leading in
the daughter of the mesmerist.

She laughed and continued to blush--her blush was the faintest pink; she
looked very young and slim and fair as Mrs. Farrinder made way for her
on the sofa which Olive Chancellor had quitted. "I _have_ wanted to know
you; I admire you so much; I hoped so you would speak to-night. It's too
lovely to see you, Mrs. Farrinder." So she expressed herself, while the
company watched the encounter with a look of refreshed inanition. "You
don't know who I am, of course; I'm just a girl who wants to thank you
for all you have done for us. For you have spoken for us girls, just as
much as--just as much as----" She hesitated now, looking about with
enthusiastic eyes at the rest of the group, and meeting once more the
gaze of Basil Ransom.

"Just as much as for the old women," said Mrs. Farrinder genially. "You
seem very well able to speak for yourself."

"She speaks so beautifully--if she would only make a little address,"
the young man who had introduced her remarked. "It's a new style, quite
original," he added. He stood there with folded arms, looking down at
his work, the conjunction of the two ladies, with a smile; and Basil
Ransom, remembering what Miss Prance had told him, and enlightened by
his observation in New York of some of the sources from which newspapers
are fed, was immediately touched by the conviction that he perceived in
it the material of a paragraph.

"My dear child, if you'll take the floor, I'll call the meeting to
order," said Mrs. Farrinder.

The girl looked at her with extraordinary candour and confidence. "If I
could only hear you first--just to give me an atmosphere."

"I've got no atmosphere; there's very little of the Indian summer about
_me_! I deal with facts--hard facts," Mrs. Farrinder replied. "Have you
ever heard me? If so, you know how crisp I am."

"Heard you? I've lived on you! It's so much to me to see you. Ask mother
if it ain't!" She had expressed herself, from the first word she
uttered, with a promptness and assurance which gave almost the
impression of a lesson rehearsed in advance. And yet there was a strange
spontaneity in her manner, and an air of artless enthusiasm, of personal
purity. If she was theatrical, she was naturally theatrical. She looked
up at Mrs. Farrinder with all her emotion in her smiling eyes. This lady
had been the object of many ovations; it was familiar to her that the
collective heart of her sex had gone forth to her; but, visibly, she was
puzzled by this unforeseen embodiment of gratitude and fluency, and her
eyes wandered over the girl with a certain reserve, while, within the
depth of her eminently public manner, she asked herself whether Miss
Tarrant were a remarkable young woman or only a forward minx. She found
a response which committed her to neither view; she only said, "We want
the young--of course we want the young!"

"Who is that charming creature?" Basil Ransom heard his cousin ask, in a
grave, lowered tone, of Matthias Pardon, the young man who had brought
Miss Tarrant forward. He didn't know whether Miss Chancellor knew him,
or whether her curiosity had pushed her to boldness. Ransom was near the
pair, and had the benefit of Mr. Pardon's answer.

"The daughter of Doctor Tarrant, the mesmeric healer--Miss Verena. She's
a high-class speaker."

"What do you mean?" Olive asked. "Does she give public addresses?"

"Oh yes, she has had quite a career in the West. I heard her last spring
at Topeka. They call it inspirational. I don't know what it is--only
it's exquisite; so fresh and poetical. She has to have her father to
start her up. It seems to pass into her." And Mr. Pardon indulged in a
gesture intended to signify the passage.

Olive Chancellor made no rejoinder save a low, impatient sigh; she
transferred her attention to the girl, who now held Mrs. Farrinder's
hand in both her own, and was pleading with her just to prelude a
little. "I want a starting-point--I want to know where I am," she said.
"Just two or three of your grand old thoughts."

Basil stepped nearer to his cousin; he remarked to her that Miss Verena
was very pretty. She turned an instant, glanced at him, and then said,
"Do you think so?" An instant later she added, "How you must hate this
place!"

"Oh, not now, we are going to have some fun," Ransom replied
good-humouredly, if a trifle coarsely; and the declaration had a point,
for Miss Birdseye at this moment reappeared, followed by the mesmeric
healer and his wife.

"Ah, well, I see you are drawing her out," said Miss Birdseye to Mrs.
Farrinder; and at the idea that this process had been necessary Basil
Ransom broke into a smothered hilarity, a spasm which indicated that,
for him, the fun had already begun, and procured him another grave
glance from Miss Chancellor. Miss Verena seemed to him as far "out" as a
young woman could be. "Here's her father, Doctor Tarrant--he has a
wonderful gift--and her mother--she was a daughter of Abraham
Greenstreet." Miss Birdseye presented her companion; she was sure Mrs.
Farrinder would be interested; she wouldn't want to lose an opportunity,
even if for herself the conditions were not favourable. And then Miss
Birdseye addressed herself to the company more at large, widening the
circle so as to take in the most scattered guests, and evidently feeling
that after all it was a relief that one happened to have an obscurely
inspired maiden on the premises when greater celebrities had betrayed
the whimsicality of genius. It was a part of this whimsicality that Mrs.
Farrinder--the reader may find it difficult to keep pace with her
variations--appeared now to have decided to utter a few of her thoughts,
so that her hostess could elicit a general response to the remark that
it would be delightful to have both the old school and the new.

"Well, perhaps you'll be disappointed in Verena," said Mrs. Tarrant,
with an air of dolorous resignation to any event, and seating herself,
with her gathered mantle, on the edge of a chair, as if she, at least,
were ready, whoever else might keep on talking.

"It isn't _me_, mother," Verena rejoined, with soft gravity, rather
detached now from Mrs. Farrinder, and sitting with her eyes fixed
thoughtfully on the ground. With deference to Mrs. Tarrant, a little
more talk was necessary, for the young lady had as yet been
insufficiently explained. Miss Birdseye felt this, but she was rather
helpless about it, and delivered herself, with her universal
familiarity, which embraced every one and everything, of a wandering,
amiable tale, in which Abraham Greenstreet kept reappearing, in which
Doctor Tarrant's miraculous cures were specified, with all the facts
wanting, and in which Verena's successes in the West were related, not
with emphasis or hyperbole, in which Miss Birdseye never indulged, but
as accepted and recognised wonders, natural in an age of new
revelations. She had heard of these things in detail only ten minutes
before, from the girl's parents, but her hospitable soul had needed but
a moment to swallow and assimilate them. If her account of them was not
very lucid, it should be said in excuse for her that it was impossible
to have any idea of Verena Tarrant unless one had heard her, and
therefore still more impossible to give an idea to others. Mrs.
Farrinder was perceptibly irritated; she appeared to have made up her
mind, after her first hesitation, that the Tarrant family were
fantastical and compromising. She had bent an eye of coldness on Selah
and his wife--she might have regarded them all as a company of
mountebanks.

"Stand up and tell us what you have to say," she remarked, with some
sternness, to Verena, who only raised her eyes to her, silently now,
with the same sweetness, and then rested them on her father. This
gentleman seemed to respond to an irresistible appeal; he looked round
at the company with all his teeth, and said that these flattering
allusions were not so embarrassing as they might otherwise be, inasmuch
as any success that he and his daughter might have had was so thoroughly
impersonal: he insisted on that word. They had just heard her say, "It
is not _me_, mother," and he and Mrs. Tarrant and the girl herself were
all equally aware it was not she. It was some power outside--it seemed
to flow through her; he couldn't pretend to say why his daughter should
be called, more than any one else. But it seemed as if she _was_ called.
When he just calmed her down by laying his hand on her a few moments, it
seemed to come. It so happened that in the West it had taken the form of
a considerable eloquence. She had certainly spoken with great facility
to cultivated and high-minded audiences. She had long followed with
sympathy the movement for the liberation of her sex from every sort of
bondage; it had been her principal interest even as a child (he might
mention that at the age of nine she had christened her favourite doll
Eliza P. Moseley, in memory of a great precursor whom they all
reverenced), and now the inspiration, if he might call it so, seemed
just to flow in that channel. The voice that spoke from her lips seemed
to want to take that form. It didn't seem as if it _could_ take any
other. She let it come out just as it would--she didn't pretend to have
any control. They could judge for themselves whether the whole thing was
not quite unique. That was why he was willing to talk about his own
child that way, before a gathering of ladies and gentlemen; it was
because they took no credit--they felt it was a power outside. If Verena
felt she was going to be stimulated that evening, he was pretty sure
they would be interested. Only he should have to request a few moments'
silence, while she listened for the voice.

Several of the ladies declared that they should be delighted--they hoped
that Miss Tarrant was in good trim; whereupon they were corrected by
others, who reminded them that it wasn't _her_--she had nothing to do
with it--so her trim didn't matter; and a gentleman added that he
guessed there were many present who had conversed with Eliza P. Moseley.
Meanwhile Verena, more and more withdrawn into herself, but perfectly
undisturbed by the public discussion of her mystic faculty, turned yet
again, very prettily, to Mrs. Farrinder, and asked her if she wouldn't
strike out--just to give her courage. By this time Mrs. Farrinder was in
a condition of overhanging gloom; she greeted the charming suppliant
with the frown of Juno. She disapproved completely of Doctor Tarrant's
little speech, and she had less and less disposition to be associated
with a miracle-monger. Abraham Greenstreet was very well, but Abraham
Greenstreet was in his grave; and Eliza P. Moseley, after all, had been
very tepid. Basil Ransom wondered whether it were effrontery or
innocence that enabled Miss Tarrant to meet with such complacency the
aloofness of the elder lady. At this moment he heard Olive Chancellor,
at his elbow, with the tremor of excitement in her tone, suddenly
exclaim: "Please begin, please begin! A voice, a human voice, is what we
want."

"I'll speak after you, and if you're a humbug, I'll expose you!" Mrs.
Farrinder said. She was more majestic than facetious.

"I'm sure we are all solid, as Doctor Tarrant says. I suppose we want to
be quiet," Miss Birdseye remarked.



VIII


Verena Tarrant got up and went to her father in the middle of the room;
Olive Chancellor crossed and resumed her place beside Mrs. Farrinder on
the sofa the girl had quitted; and Miss Birdseye's visitors, for the
rest, settled themselves attentively in chairs or leaned against the
bare sides of the parlour. Verena took her father's hands, held them for
a moment, while she stood before him, not looking at him, with her eyes
towards the company; then, after an instant, her mother, rising, pushed
forward, with an interesting sigh, the chair on which she had been
sitting. Mrs. Tarrant was provided with another seat, and Verena,
relinquishing her father's grasp, placed herself in the chair, which
Tarrant put in position for her. She sat there with closed eyes, and her
father now rested his long, lean hands upon her head. Basil Ransom
watched these proceedings with much interest, for the girl amused and
pleased him. She had far more colour than any one there, for whatever
brightness was to be found in Miss Birdseye's rather faded and dingy
human collection had gathered itself into this attractive but ambiguous
young person. There was nothing ambiguous, by the way, about her
confederate; Ransom simply loathed him, from the moment he opened his
mouth; he was intensely familiar--that is, his type was; he was simply
the detested carpet-bagger. He was false, cunning, vulgar, ignoble; the
cheapest kind of human product. That he should be the father of a
delicate, pretty girl, who was apparently clever too, whether she had a
gift or no, this was an annoying, disconcerting fact. The white, puffy
mother, with the high forehead, in the corner there, looked more like a
lady; but if she were one, it was all the more shame to her to have
mated with such a varlet, Ransom said to himself, making use, as he did
generally, of terms of opprobrium extracted from the older English
literature. He had seen Tarrant, or his equivalent, often before; he had
"whipped" him, as he believed, controversially, again and again, at
political meetings in blighted Southern towns, during the horrible
period of reconstruction. If Mrs. Farrinder had looked at Verena Tarrant
as if she were a mountebank, there was some excuse for it, inasmuch as
the girl made much the same impression on Basil Ransom. He had never
seen such an odd mixture of elements; she had the sweetest, most
unworldly face, and yet, with it, an air of being on exhibition, of
belonging to a troupe, of living in the gaslight, which pervaded even
the details of her dress, fashioned evidently with an attempt at the
histrionic. If she had produced a pair of castanets or a tambourine, he
felt that such accessories would have been quite in keeping.

Little Doctor Prance, with her hard good sense, had noted that she was
anæmic, and had intimated that she was a deceiver. The value of her
performance was yet to be proved, but she was certainly very pale, white
as women are who have that shade of red hair; they look as if their
blood had gone into it. There was, however, something rich in the
fairness of this young lady; she was strong and supple, there was colour
in her lips and eyes, and her tresses, gathered into a complicated coil,
seemed to glow with the brightness of her nature. She had curious,
radiant, liquid eyes (their smile was a sort of reflexion, like the
glisten of a gem), and though she was not tall, she appeared to spring
up, and carried her head as if it reached rather high. Ransom would have
thought she looked like an Oriental, if it were not that Orientals are
dark; and if she had only had a goat she would have resembled Esmeralda,
though he had but a vague recollection of who Esmeralda had been. She
wore a light-brown dress, of a shape that struck him as fantastic, a
yellow petticoat, and a large crimson sash fastened at the side; while
round her neck, and falling low upon her flat young chest, she had a
double chain of amber beads. It must be added that, in spite of her
melodramatic appearance, there was no symptom that her performance,
whatever it was, would be of a melodramatic character. She was very
quiet now, at least (she had folded her big fan), and her father
continued the mysterious process of calming her down. Ransom wondered
whether he wouldn't put her to sleep; for some minutes her eyes had
remained closed; he heard a lady near him, apparently familiar with
phenomena of this class, remark that she was going off. As yet the
exhibition was not exciting, though it was certainly pleasant to have
such a pretty girl placed there before one, like a moving statue. Doctor
Tarrant looked at no one as he stroked and soothed his daughter; his
eyes wandered round the cornice of the room, and he grinned upward, as
if at an imaginary gallery. "Quietly--quietly," he murmured from time to
time. "It will come, my good child, it will come. Just let it work--just
let it gather. The spirit, you know; you've got to let the spirit come
out when it will." He threw up his arms at moments, to rid himself of
the wings of his long waterproof, which fell forward over his hands.
Basil Ransom noticed all these things, and noticed also, opposite, the
waiting face of his cousin, fixed, from her sofa, upon the closed eyes
of the young prophetess. He grew more impatient at last, not of the
delay of the edifying voice (though some time had elapsed), but of
Tarrant's grotesque manipulations, which he resented as much as if he
himself had felt their touch, and which seemed a dishonour to the
passive maiden. They made him nervous, they made him angry, and it was
only afterwards that he asked himself wherein they concerned him, and
whether even a carpet-bagger hadn't a right to do what he pleased with
his daughter. It was a relief to him when Verena got up from her chair,
with a movement which made Tarrant drop into the background as if his
part were now over. She stood there with a quiet face, serious and
sightless; then, after a short further delay, she began to speak.

She began incoherently, almost inaudibly, as if she were talking in a
dream. Ransom could not understand her; he thought it very queer, and
wondered what Doctor Prance would have said. "She's just arranging her
ideas, and trying to get in report; she'll come out all right." This
remark he heard dropped in a low tone by the mesmeric healer; "in
report" was apparently Tarrant's version of _en rapport_. His prophecy
was verified, and Verena did come out, after a little; she came out with
a great deal of sweetness--with a very quaint and peculiar effect. She
proceeded slowly, cautiously, as if she were listening for the prompter,
catching, one by one, certain phrases that were whispered to her a great
distance off, behind the scenes of the world. Then memory, or
inspiration, returned to her, and presently she was in possession of her
part. She played it with extraordinary simplicity and grace; at the end
of ten minutes Ransom became aware that the whole audience--Mrs.
Farrinder, Miss Chancellor, and the tough subject from Mississippi--were
under the charm. I speak of ten minutes, but to tell the truth the young
man lost all sense of time. He wondered afterwards how long she had
spoken; then he counted that her strange, sweet, crude, absurd,
enchanting improvisation must have lasted half an hour. It was not what
she said; he didn't care for that, he scarcely understood it; he could
only see that it was all about the gentleness and goodness of women, and
how, during the long ages of history, they had been trampled under the
iron heel of man. It was about their equality--perhaps even (he was not
definitely conscious) about their superiority. It was about their day
having come at last, about the universal sisterhood, about their duty to
themselves and to each other. It was about such matters as these, and
Basil Ransom was delighted to observe that such matters as these didn't
spoil it. The effect was not in what she said, though she said some such
pretty things, but in the picture and figure of the half-bedizened
damsel (playing, now again, with her red fan), the visible freshness and
purity of the little effort. When she had gained confidence she opened
her eyes, and their shining softness was half the effect of her
discourse. It was full of school-girl phrases, of patches of remembered
eloquence, of childish lapses of logic, of flights of fancy which might
indeed have had success at Topeka; but Ransom thought that if it had
been much worse it would have been quite as good, for the argument, the
doctrine, had absolutely nothing to do with it. It was simply an
intensely personal exhibition, and the person making it happened to be
fascinating. She might have offended the taste of certain people--Ransom
could imagine that there were other Boston circles in which she would be
thought pert; but for himself all he could feel was that to _his_
starved senses she irresistibly appealed. He was the stiffest of
conservatives, and his mind was steeled against the inanities she
uttered--the rights and wrongs of women, the equality of the sexes, the
hysterics of conventions, the further stultification of the suffrage,
the prospect of conscript mothers in the national Senate. It made no
difference; she didn't mean it, she didn't know what she meant, she had
been stuffed with this trash by her father, and she was neither more nor
less willing to say it than to say anything else; for the necessity of
her nature was not to make converts to a ridiculous cause, but to emit
those charming notes of her voice, to stand in those free young
attitudes, to shake her braided locks like a naiad rising from the
waves, to please every one who came near her, and to be happy that she
pleased. I know not whether Ransom was aware of the bearings of this
interpretation, which attributed to Miss Tarrant a singular hollowness
of character; he contented himself with believing that she was as
innocent as she was lovely, and with regarding her as a vocalist of
exquisite faculty, condemned to sing bad music. How prettily, indeed,
she made some of it sound!

"Of course I only speak to women--to my own dear sisters; I don't speak
to men, for I don't expect them to like what I say. They pretend to
admire us very much, but I should like them to admire us a little less
and to trust us a little more. I don't know what we have ever done to
them that they should keep us out of everything. We have trusted _them_
too much, and I think the time has come now for us to judge them, and
say that by keeping us out we don't think they have done so well. When I
look around me at the world, and at the state that men have brought it
to, I confess I say to myself, "Well, if women had fixed it this way I
should like to know what they would think of it!" When I see the
dreadful misery of mankind and think of the suffering of which at any
hour, at any moment, the world is full, I say that if this is the best
they can do by themselves, they had better let us come in a little and
see what _we_ can do. We couldn't possibly make it worse, could we? If
we had done only this, we shouldn't boast of it. Poverty, and ignorance,
and crime; disease, and wickedness, and wars! Wars, always more wars,
and always more and more. Blood, blood--the world is drenched with
blood! To kill each other, with all sorts of expensive and perfected
instruments, that is the most brilliant thing they have been able to
invent. It seems to me that we might stop it, we might invent something
better. The cruelty--the cruelty; there is so much, so much! Why
shouldn't tenderness come in? Why should our woman's hearts be so full
of it, and all so wasted and withered, while armies and prisons and
helpless miseries grow greater all the while? I am only a girl, a simple
American girl, and of course I haven't seen much, and there is a great
deal of life that I don't know anything about. But there are some things
I feel--it seems to me as if I had been born to feel them; they are in
my ears in the stillness of the night and before my face in the visions
of the darkness. It is what the great sisterhood of women might do if
they should all join hands, and lift up their voices above the brutal
uproar of the world, in which it is so hard for the plea of mercy or of
justice, the moan of weakness and suffering, to be heard. We should
quench it, we should make it still, and the sound of our lips would
become the voice of universal peace! For this we must trust one another,
we must be true and gentle and kind. We must remember that the world is
ours too, ours--little as we have ever had to say about anything!--and
that the question is _not_ yet definitely settled whether it shall be a
place of injustice or a place of love!"

It was with this that the young lady finished her harangue, which was
not followed by her sinking exhausted into her chair or by any of the
traces of a laboured climax. She only turned away slowly towards her
mother, smiling over her shoulder at the whole room, as if it had been a
single person, without a flush in her whiteness, or the need of drawing
a longer breath. The performance had evidently been very easy to her,
and there might have been a kind of impertinence in her air of not
having suffered from an exertion which had wrought so powerfully on
every one else. Ransom broke into a genial laugh, which he instantly
swallowed again, at the sweet grotesqueness of this virginal creature's
standing up before a company of middle-aged people to talk to them about
"love," the note on which she had closed her harangue. It was the most
charming touch in the whole thing, and the most vivid proof of her
innocence. She had had immense success, and Mrs. Tarrant, as she took
her into her arms and kissed her, was certainly able to feel that the
audience was not disappointed. They were exceedingly affected; they
broke into exclamations and murmurs. Selah Tarrant went on conversing
ostentatiously with his neighbours, slowly twirling his long thumbs and
looking up at the cornice again, as if there could be nothing in the
brilliant manner in which his daughter had acquitted herself to surprise
_him_, who had heard her when she was still more remarkable, and who,
moreover, remembered that the affair was so impersonal. Miss Birdseye
looked round at the company with dim exultation; her large mild cheeks
were shining with unwiped tears. Young Mr. Pardon remarked, in Ransom's
hearing, that he knew parties who, if they had been present, would want
to engage Miss Verena at a high figure for the winter campaign. And
Ransom heard him add in a lower tone: "There's money for some one in
that girl; you see if she don't have quite a run!" As for our
Mississippian he kept his agreeable sensation for himself, only
wondering whether he might not ask Miss Birdseye to present him to the
heroine of the evening. Not immediately, of course, for the young man
mingled with his Southern pride a shyness which often served all the
purpose of humility. He was aware how much he was an outsider in such a
house as that, and he was ready to wait for his coveted satisfaction
till the others, who all hung together, should have given her the
assurance of an approval which she would value, naturally, more than
anything he could say to her. This episode had imparted animation to the
assembly; a certain gaiety, even, expressed in a higher pitch of
conversation, seemed to float in the heated air. People circulated more
freely, and Verena Tarrant was presently hidden from Ransom's sight by
the close-pressed ranks of the new friends she had made. "Well, I never
heard it put _that_ way!" Ransom heard one of the ladies exclaim; to
which another replied that she wondered one of their bright women hadn't
thought of it before. "Well, it _is_ a gift, and no mistake," and "Well,
they may call it what they please, it's a pleasure to listen to
it"--these genial tributes fell from the lips of a pair of ruminating
gentlemen. It was affirmed within Ransom's hearing that if they had a
few more like that the matter would soon be fixed; and it was rejoined
that they couldn't expect to have a great many--the style was so
peculiar. It was generally admitted that the style was peculiar, but
Miss Tarrant's peculiarity was the explanation of her success.



IX


Ransom approached Mrs. Farrinder again, who had remained on her sofa
with Olive Chancellor; and as she turned her face to him he saw that she
had felt the universal contagion. Her keen eye sparkled, there was a
flush on her matronly cheek, and she had evidently made up her mind what
line to take. Olive Chancellor sat motionless; her eyes were fixed on
the floor with the rigid, alarmed expression of her moments of nervous
diffidence; she gave no sign of observing her kinsman's approach. He
said something to Mrs. Farrinder, something that imperfectly represented
his admiration of Verena; and this lady replied with dignity that it was
no wonder the girl spoke so well--she spoke in such a good cause. "She
is very graceful, has a fine command of language; her father says it's a
natural gift." Ransom saw that he should not in the least discover Mrs.
Farrinder's real opinion, and her dissimulation added to his impression
that she was a woman with a policy. It was none of his business whether
in her heart she thought Verena a parrot or a genius; it was perceptible
to him that she saw she would be effective, would help the cause. He
stood almost appalled for a moment, as he said to himself that she would
take her up and the girl would be ruined, would force her note and
become a screamer. But he quickly dodged this vision, taking refuge in a
mechanical appeal to his cousin, of whom he inquired how she liked Miss
Verena. Olive made no answer; her head remained averted, she bored the
carpet with her conscious eyes. Mrs. Farrinder glanced at her askance,
and then said to Ransom serenely:

"You praise the grace of your Southern ladies, but you have had to come
North to see a human gazelle. Miss Tarrant is of the best New England
stock--what _I_ call the best!"

"I'm sure from what I have seen of the Boston ladies, no manifestation
of grace can excite my surprise," Ransom rejoined, looking, with his
smile, at his cousin.

"She has been powerfully affected," Mrs. Farrinder explained, very
slightly dropping her voice, as Olive, apparently, still remained deaf.

Miss Birdseye drew near at this moment; she wanted to know if Mrs.
Farrinder didn't want to express some acknowledgment, on the part of the
company at large, for the real stimulus Miss Tarrant had given them.
Mrs. Farrinder said: Oh yes, she would speak now with pleasure; only she
must have a glass of water first. Miss Birdseye replied that there was
some coming in a moment; one of the ladies had asked for it, and Mr.
Pardon had just stepped down to draw some. Basil took advantage of this
intermission to ask Miss Birdseye if she would give him the great
privilege of an introduction to Miss Verena. "Mrs. Farrinder will thank
her for the company," he said, laughing, "but she won't thank her for
me."

Miss Birdseye manifested the greatest disposition to oblige him; she was
so glad he had been impressed. She was proceeding to lead him toward
Miss Tarrant when Olive Chancellor rose abruptly from her chair and laid
her hand, with an arresting movement, on the arm of her hostess. She
explained to her that she must go, that she was not very well, that her
carriage was there; also that she hoped Miss Birdseye, if it was not
asking too much, would accompany her to the door.

"Well, you are impressed too," said Miss Birdseye, looking at her
philosophically. "It seems as if no one had escaped."

Ransom was disappointed; he saw he was going to be taken away, and,
before he could suppress it, an exclamation burst from his lips--the
first exclamation he could think of that would perhaps check his
cousin's retreat: "Ah, Miss Olive, are you going to give up Mrs.
Farrinder?"

At this Miss Olive looked at him, showed him an extraordinary face, a
face he scarcely understood or even recognised. It was portentously
grave, the eyes were enlarged, there was a red spot in each of the
cheeks, and as directed to him, a quick, piercing question, a kind of
leaping challenge, in the whole expression. He could only answer this
sudden gleam with a stare, and wonder afresh what trick his Northern
kinswoman was destined to play him. Impressed too? He should think he
had been! Mrs. Farrinder, who was decidedly a woman of the world, came
to his assistance, or to Miss Chancellor's, and said she hoped very much
Olive wouldn't stay--she felt these things too much. "If you stay, I
won't speak," she added; "I should upset you altogether." And then she
continued, tenderly, for so preponderantly intellectual a nature: "When
women feel as you do, how can I doubt that we shall come out all right?"

"Oh, we shall come out all right, I guess," murmured Miss Birdseye.

"But you must remember Beacon Street," Mrs. Farrinder subjoined. "You
must take advantage of your position--you must wake up the Back Bay!"

"I'm sick of the Back Bay!" said Olive fiercely; and she passed to the
door with Miss Birdseye, bidding good-bye to no one. She was so agitated
that, evidently, she could not trust herself, and there was nothing for
Ransom but to follow. At the door of the room, however, he was checked
by a sudden pause on the part of the two ladies: Olive stopped and stood
there hesitating. She looked round the room and spied out Verena, where
she sat with her mother, the centre of a gratified group; then, throwing
back her head with an air of decision, she crossed over to her. Ransom
said to himself that now, perhaps, was his chance, and he quickly
accompanied Miss Chancellor. The little knot of reformers watched her as
she arrived; their faces expressed a suspicion of her social importance,
mingled with conscientious scruples as to whether it were right to
recognise it. Verena Tarrant saw that she was the object of this
manifestation, and she got up to meet the lady whose approach was so
full of point. Ransom perceived, however, or thought he perceived, that
she recognised nothing; she had no suspicions of social importance. Yet
she smiled with all her radiance, as she looked from Miss Chancellor to
him; smiled because she liked to smile, to please, to feel her
success--or was it because she was a perfect little actress, and this
was part of her training? She took the hand that Olive put out to her;
the others, rather solemnly, sat looking up from their chairs.

"You don't know me, but I want to know you," Olive said. "I can thank
you now. Will you come and see me?"

"Oh yes; where do you live?" Verena answered, in the tone of a girl for
whom an invitation (she hadn't so many) was always an invitation.

Miss Chancellor syllabled her address, and Mrs. Tarrant came forward,
smiling. "I know about you, Miss Chancellor. I guess your father knew my
father--Mr. Greenstreet. Verena will be very glad to visit you. We shall
be very happy to see you in _our_ home."

Basil Ransom, while the mother spoke, wanted to say something to the
daughter, who stood there so near him, but he could think of nothing
that would do; certain words that came to him, his Mississippi phrases,
seemed patronising and ponderous. Besides, he didn't wish to assent to
what she had said; he wished simply to tell her she was delightful, and
it was difficult to mark that difference. So he only smiled at her in
silence, and she smiled back at him--a smile that seemed to him quite
for himself.

"Where do you live?" Olive asked; and Mrs. Tarrant replied that they
lived at Cambridge, and that the horse-cars passed just near their door.
Whereupon Olive insisted "Will you come very soon?" and Verena said, Oh
yes, she would come very soon, and repeated the number in Charles
Street, to show that she had taken heed of it. This was done with
childlike good faith. Ransom saw that she would come and see any one who
would ask her like that, and he regretted for a minute that he was not a
Boston lady, so that he might extend to her such an invitation. Olive
Chancellor held her hand a moment longer, looked at her in farewell, and
then, saying, "Come, Mr. Ransom," drew him out of the room. In the hall
they met Mr. Pardon, coming up from the lower regions with a jug of
water and a tumbler. Miss Chancellor's hackney-coach was there, and when
Basil had put her into it she said to him that she wouldn't trouble him
to drive with her--his hotel was not near Charles Street. He had so
little desire to sit by her side--he wanted to smoke--that it was only
after the vehicle had rolled off that he reflected upon her coolness,
and asked himself why the deuce she had brought him away. She _was_ a
very odd cousin, was this Boston cousin of his. He stood there a moment,
looking at the light in Miss Birdseye's windows and greatly minded to
re-enter the house, now he might speak to the girl. But he contented
himself with the memory of her smile, and turned away with a sense of
relief, after all, at having got out of such wild company, as well as
with (in a different order) a vulgar consciousness of being very
thirsty.



X


Verena Tarrant came in the very next day from Cambridge to Charles
Street; that quarter of Boston is in direct communication with the
academic suburb. It hardly seemed direct to poor Verena, perhaps, who,
in the crowded street-car which deposited her finally at Miss
Chancellor's door, had to stand up all the way, half suspended by a
leathern strap from the glazed roof of the stifling vehicle, like some
blooming cluster dangling in a hothouse. She was used, however, to these
perpendicular journeys, and though, as we have seen, she was not
inclined to accept without question the social arrangements of her time,
it never would have occurred to her to criticise the railways of her
native land. The promptness of her visit to Olive Chancellor had been an
idea of her mother's, and Verena listened open-eyed while this lady, in
the seclusion of the little house in Cambridge, while Selah Tarrant was
"off," as they said, with his patients, sketched out a line of conduct
for her. The girl was both submissive and unworldly, and she listened to
her mother's enumeration of the possible advantages of an intimacy with
Miss Chancellor as she would have listened to any other fairy-tale. It
was still a part of the fairy-tale when this zealous parent put on with
her own hands Verena's smart hat and feather, buttoned her little jacket
(the buttons were immense and gilt), and presented her with twenty cents
to pay her car-fare.

There was never any knowing in advance how Mrs. Tarrant would take a
thing, and even Verena, who, filially, was much less argumentative than
in her civic and, as it were, public capacity, had a perception that her
mother was queer. She was queer, indeed--a flaccid, relaxed, unhealthy,
whimsical woman, who still had a capacity to cling. What she clung to
was "society," and a position in the world which a secret whisper told
her she had never had and a voice more audible reminded her she was in
danger of losing. To keep it, to recover it, to reconsecrate it, was the
ambition of her heart; this was one of the many reasons why Providence
had judged her worthy of having so wonderful a child. Verena was born
not only to lead their common sex out of bondage, but to remodel a
visiting-list which bulged and contracted in the wrong places, like a
country-made garment. As the daughter of Abraham Greenstreet, Mrs.
Tarrant had passed her youth in the first Abolitionist circles, and she
was aware how much such a prospect was clouded by her union with a young
man who had begun life as an itinerant vendor of lead-pencils (he had
called at Mr. Greenstreet's door in the exercise of this function), had
afterwards been for a while a member of the celebrated Cayuga community,
where there were no wives, or no husbands, or something of that sort
(Mrs. Tarrant could never remember), and had still later (though before
the development of the healing faculty) achieved distinction in the
spiritualistic world. (He was an extraordinarily favoured medium, only
he had had to stop for reasons of which Mrs. Tarrant possessed her
version.) Even in a society much occupied with the effacement of
prejudice there had been certain dim presumptions against this versatile
being, who naturally had not wanted arts to ingratiate himself with Miss
Greenstreet, her eyes, like his own, being fixed exclusively on the
future. The young couple (he was considerably her elder) had gazed on
the future together until they found that the past had completely
forsaken them and that the present offered but a slender foothold. Mrs.
Tarrant, in other words, incurred the displeasure of her family, who
gave her husband to understand that, much as they desired to remove the
shackles from the slave, there were kinds of behaviour which struck them
as too unfettered. These had prevailed, to their thinking, at Cayuga,
and they naturally felt it was no use for him to say that his residence
there had been (for him--the community still existed) but a momentary
episode, inasmuch as there was little more to be urged for the spiritual
picnics and vegetarian camp-meetings in which the discountenanced pair
now sought consolation.

Such were the narrow views of people hitherto supposed capable of
opening their hearts to all salutary novelties, but now put to a genuine
test, as Mrs. Tarrant felt. Her husband's tastes rubbed off on her soft,
moist moral surface, and the couple lived in an atmosphere of novelty,
in which, occasionally, the accommodating wife encountered the fresh
sensation of being in want of her dinner. Her father died, leaving,
after all, very little money; he had spent his modest fortune upon the
blacks. Selah Tarrant and his companion had strange adventures; she
found herself completely enrolled in the great irregular army of
nostrum-mongers, domiciled in humanitary Bohemia. It absorbed her like a
social swamp; she sank into it a little more every day, without
measuring the inches of her descent. Now she stood there up to her chin;
it may probably be said of her that she had touched bottom. When she
went to Miss Birdseye's it seemed to her that she re-entered society.
The door that admitted her was not the door that admitted some of the
others (she should never forget the tipped-up nose of Mrs. Farrinder),
and the superior portal remained ajar, disclosing possible vistas. She
had lived with long-haired men and short-haired women, she had
contributed a flexible faith and an irremediable want of funds to a
dozen social experiments, she had partaken of the comfort of a hundred
religions, had followed innumerable dietary reforms, chiefly of the
negative order, and had gone of an evening to a _séance_ or a lecture as
regularly as she had eaten her supper. Her husband always had tickets
for lectures; in moments of irritation at the want of a certain sequence
in their career, she had remarked to him that it was the only thing he
did have. The memory of all the winter nights they had tramped through
the slush (the tickets, alas! were not car-tickets) to hear Mrs. Ada T.
P. Foat discourse on the "Summer-land," came back to her with
bitterness. Selah was quite enthusiastic at one time about Mrs. Foat,
and it was his wife's belief that he had been "associated" with her
(that was Selah's expression in referring to such episodes) at Cayuga.
The poor woman, matrimonially, had a great deal to put up with; it took,
at moments, all her belief in his genius to sustain her. She knew that
he was very magnetic (that, in fact, was his genius), and she felt that
it was his magnetism that held her to him. He had carried her through
things where she really didn't know what to think; there were moments
when she suspected that she had lost the strong moral sense for which
the Greenstreets were always so celebrated.

Of course a woman who had had the bad taste to marry Selah Tarrant would
not have been likely under any circumstances to possess a very straight
judgement; but there is no doubt that this poor lady had grown
dreadfully limp. She had blinked and compromised and shuffled; she asked
herself whether, after all, it was any more than natural that she should
have wanted to help her husband, in those exciting days of his
mediumship, when the table, sometimes, wouldn't rise from the ground,
the sofa wouldn't float through the air, and the soft hand of a lost
loved one was not so alert as it might have been to visit the circle.
Mrs. Tarrant's hand was soft enough for the most supernatural effect,
and she consoled her conscience on such occasions by reflecting
that she ministered to a belief in immortality. She was glad,
somehow, for Verena's sake, that they had emerged from the phase of
spirit-intercourse; her ambition for her daughter took another form than
desiring that she, too, should minister to a belief in immortality. Yet
among Mrs. Tarrant's multifarious memories these reminiscences of the
darkened room, the waiting circle, the little taps on table and wall,
the little touches on cheek and foot, the music in the air, the rain of
flowers, the sense of something mysteriously flitting, were most
tenderly cherished. She hated her husband for having magnetised her so
that she consented to certain things, and even did them, the thought of
which to-day would suddenly make her face burn; hated him for the manner
in which, somehow, as she felt, he had lowered her social tone; yet at
the same time she admired him for an impudence so consummate that it had
ended (in the face of mortifications, exposures, failures, all the
misery of a hand-to-mouth existence) by imposing itself on her as a kind
of infallibility. She knew he was an awful humbug, and yet her knowledge
had this imperfection, that he had never confessed it--a fact that was
really grand when one thought of his opportunities for doing so. He had
never allowed that he wasn't straight; the pair had so often been in the
position of the two augurs behind the altar, and yet he had never given
her a glance that the whole circle mightn't have observed. Even in the
privacy of domestic intercourse he had phrases, excuses, explanations,
ways of putting things, which, as she felt, were too sublime for just
herself; they were pitched, as Selah's nature was pitched, altogether in
the key of public life.

So it had come to pass, in her distended and demoralised conscience,
that with all the things she despised in her life and all the things she
rather liked, between being worn out with her husband's inability to
earn a living and a kind of terror of his consistency (he had a theory
that they lived delightfully), it happened, I say, that the only very
definite criticism she made of him to-day was that he didn't know how to
speak. That was where the shoe pinched--that was where Selah was slim.
He couldn't hold the attention of an audience, he was not acceptable as
a lecturer. He had plenty of thoughts, but it seemed as if he couldn't
fit them into each other. Public speaking had been a Greenstreet
tradition, and if Mrs. Tarrant had been asked whether in her younger
years she had ever supposed she should marry a mesmeric healer, she
would have replied: "Well, I never thought I should marry a gentleman
who would be silent on the platform!" This was her most general
humiliation; it included and exceeded every other, and it was a poor
consolation that Selah possessed as a substitute--his career as a
healer, to speak of none other, was there to prove it--the eloquence of
the hand. The Greenstreets had never set much store on manual activity;
they believed in the influence of the lips. It may be imagined,
therefore, with what exultation, as time went on, Mrs. Tarrant found
herself the mother of an inspired maiden, a young lady from whose lips
eloquence flowed in streams. The Greenstreet tradition would not perish,
and the dry places of her life would, perhaps, be plentifully watered.
It must be added that, of late, this sandy surface had been irrigated,
in moderation, from another source. Since Selah had addicted himself to
the mesmeric mystery, their home had been a little more what the home of
a Greenstreet should be. He had "considerable many" patients, he got
about two dollars a sitting, and he had effected some most gratifying
cures. A lady in Cambridge had been so much indebted to him that she had
recently persuaded them to take a house near her, in order that Doctor
Tarrant might drop in at any time. He availed himself of this
convenience--they had taken so many houses that another, more or less,
didn't matter--and Mrs. Tarrant began to feel as if they really had
"struck" something.

Even to Verena, as we know, she was confused and confusing; the girl had
not yet had an opportunity to ascertain the principles on which her
mother's limpness was liable suddenly to become rigid. This phenomenon
occurred when the vapours of social ambition mounted to her brain, when
she extended an arm from which a crumpled dressing-gown fluttered back
to seize the passing occasion. Then she surprised her daughter by a
volubility of exhortation as to the duty of making acquaintances, and by
the apparent wealth of her knowledge of the mysteries of good society.
She had, in particular, a way of explaining confidentially--and in her
desire to be graphic she often made up the oddest faces--the
interpretation that you must sometimes give to the manners of the best
people, and the delicate dignity with which you should meet them, which
made Verena wonder what secret sources of information she possessed.
Verena took life, as yet, very simply; she was not conscious of so many
differences of social complexion. She knew that some people were rich
and others poor, and that her father's house had never been visited by
such abundance as might make one ask one's self whether it were right,
in a world so full of the disinherited, to roll in luxury. But except
when her mother made her slightly dizzy by a resentment of some slight
that she herself had never perceived, or a flutter over some opportunity
that appeared already to have passed (while Mrs. Tarrant was looking for
something to "put on"), Verena had no vivid sense that she was not as
good as any one else, for no authority appealing really to her
imagination had fixed the place of mesmeric healers in the scale of
fashion. It was impossible to know in advance how Mrs. Tarrant would
take things. Sometimes she was abjectly indifferent; at others she
thought that every one who looked at her wished to insult her. At
moments she was full of suspicion of the ladies (they were mainly
ladies) whom Selah mesmerised; then again she appeared to have given up
everything but her slippers and the evening-paper (from this publication
she derived inscrutable solace), so that if Mrs. Foat in person had
returned from the summer-land (to which she had some time since taken
her flight), she would not have disturbed Mrs. Tarrant's almost cynical
equanimity.

It was, however, in her social subtleties that she was most beyond her
daughter; it was when she discovered extraordinary though latent
longings on the part of people they met to make their acquaintance, that
the girl became conscious of how much she herself had still to learn.
All her desire was to learn, and it must be added that she regarded her
mother, in perfect good faith, as a wonderful teacher. She was perplexed
sometimes by her worldliness; that, somehow, was not a part of the
higher life which every one in such a house as theirs must wish above
all things to lead; and it was not involved in the reign of justice,
which they were all trying to bring about, that such a strict account
should be kept of every little snub. Her father seemed to Verena to move
more consecutively on the high plane; though his indifference to
old-fashioned standards, his perpetual invocation of the brighter day,
had not yet led her to ask herself whether, after all, men are more
disinterested than women. Was it interest that prompted her mother to
respond so warmly to Miss Chancellor, to say to Verena, with an air of
knowingness, that the thing to do was to go in and see her
_immediately_? No italics can represent the earnestness of Mrs.
Tarrant's emphasis. Why hadn't she said, as she had done in former
cases, that if people wanted to see them they could come out to their
home; that she was not so low down in the world as not to know there was
such a ceremony as leaving cards? When Mrs. Tarrant began on the
question of ceremonies she was apt to go far; but she had waived it in
this case; it suited her more to hold that Miss Chancellor had been very
gracious, that she was a most desirable friend, that she had been more
affected than any one by Verena's beautiful outpouring; that she would
open to her the best saloons in Boston; that when she said "Come soon"
she meant the very next day, that this was the way to take it, anyhow
(one must know when to go forward gracefully); and that in short she,
Mrs. Tarrant, knew what she was talking about.

Verena accepted all this, for she was young enough to enjoy any journey
in a horse-car, and she was ever-curious about the world; she only
wondered a little how her mother knew so much about Miss Chancellor just
from looking at her once. What Verena had mainly observed in the young
lady who came up to her that way the night before was that she was
rather dolefully dressed, that she looked as if she had been crying
(Verena recognised that look quickly, she had seen it so much), and that
she was in a hurry to get away. However, if she was as remarkable as her
mother said, one would very soon see it; and meanwhile there was nothing
in the girl's feeling about herself, in her sense of her importance, to
make it a painful effort for her to run the risk of a mistake. She had
no particular feeling about herself; she only cared, as yet, for outside
things. Even the development of her "gift" had not made her think
herself too precious for mere experiments; she had neither a particle of
diffidence nor a particle of vanity. Though it would have seemed to you
eminently natural that a daughter of Selah Tarrant and his wife should
be an inspirational speaker, yet, as you knew Verena better, you would
have wondered immensely how she came to issue from such a pair. Her
ideas of enjoyment were very simple; she enjoyed putting on her new hat,
with its redundancy of feather, and twenty cents appeared to her a very
large sum.



XI


"I was certain you would come--I have felt it all day--something told
me!" It was with these words that Olive Chancellor greeted her young
visitor, coming to her quickly from the window, where she might have
been waiting for her arrival. Some weeks later she explained to Verena
how definite this prevision had been, how it had filled her all day with
a nervous agitation so violent as to be painful. She told her that such
forebodings were a peculiarity of her organisation, that she didn't know
what to make of them, that she had to accept them; and she mentioned, as
another example, the sudden dread that had come to her the evening
before in the carriage, after proposing to Mr. Ransom to go with her to
Miss Birdseye's. This had been as strange as it had been instinctive,
and the strangeness, of course, was what must have struck Mr. Ransom;
for the idea that he might come had been hers, and yet she suddenly
veered round. She couldn't help it; her heart had begun to throb with
the conviction that if he crossed that threshold some harm would come of
of it for her. She hadn't prevented him, and now she didn't care, for
now, as she intimated, she had the interest of Verena, and that made her
indifferent to every danger, to every ordinary pleasure. By this time
Verena had learned how peculiarly her friend was constituted, how
nervous and serious she was, how personal, how exclusive, what a force
of will she had, what a concentration of purpose. Olive had taken her
up, in the literal sense of the phrase, like a bird of the air, had
spread an extraordinary pair of wings, and carried her through the
dizzying void of space. Verena liked it, for the most part; liked to
shoot upward without an effort of her own and look down upon all
creation, upon all history, from such a height. From this first
interview she felt that she was seized, and she gave herself up, only
shutting her eyes a little, as we do whenever a person in whom we have
perfect confidence proposes, with our assent, to subject us to some
sensation.

"I want to know you," Olive said, on this occasion; "I felt that I must
last night, as soon as I heard you speak. You seem to me very wonderful.
I don't know what to make of you. I think we ought to be friends; so I
just asked you to come to me straight off, without preliminaries, and I
believed you would come. It is so _right_ that you have come, and it
proves how right I was." These remarks fell from Miss Chancellor's lips
one by one, as she caught her breath, with the tremor that was always in
her voice, even when she was the least excited, while she made Verena
sit down near her on the sofa, and looked at her all over in a manner
that caused the girl to rejoice at having put on the jacket with the
gilt buttons. It was this glance that was the beginning; it was with
this quick survey, omitting nothing, that Olive took possession of her.
"You are very remarkable; I wonder if you know how remarkable!" she went
on, murmuring the words as if she were losing herself, becoming
inadvertent in admiration.

Verena sat there smiling, without a blush, but with a pure, bright look
which, for her, would always make protests unnecessary. "Oh, it isn't
me, you know; it's something outside!" She tossed this off lightly, as
if she were in the habit of saying it, and Olive wondered whether it
were a sincere disclaimer or only a phrase of the lips. The question was
not a criticism, for she might have been satisfied that the girl was a
mass of fluent catch-words and yet scarcely have liked her the less. It
was just as she was that she liked her; she was so strange, so different
from the girls one usually met, seemed to belong to some queer
gipsy-land or transcendental Bohemia. With her bright, vulgar clothes,
her salient appearance, she might have been a rope-dancer or a
fortune-teller; and this had the immense merit, for Olive, that it
appeared to make her belong to the "people," threw her into the social
dusk of that mysterious democracy which Miss Chancellor held that the
fortunate classes know so little about, and with which (in a future
possibly very near) they will have to count. Moreover, the girl had
moved her as she had never been moved, and the power to do that, from
whatever source it came, was a force that one must admire. Her emotion
was still acute, however much she might speak to her visitor as if
everything that had happened seemed to her natural; and what kept it,
above all, from subsiding was her sense that she found here what she had
been looking for so long--a friend of her own sex with whom she might
have a union of soul. It took a double consent to make a friendship, but
it was not possible that this intensely sympathetic girl would refuse.
Olive had the penetration to discover in a moment that she was a
creature of unlimited generosity. I know not what may have been the
reality of Miss Chancellor's other premonitions, but there is no doubt
that in this respect she took Verena's measure on the spot. This was
what she wanted; after that the rest didn't matter; Miss Tarrant might
wear gilt buttons from head to foot, her soul could not be vulgar.

"Mother told me I had better come right in," said Verena, looking now
about the room, very glad to find herself in so pleasant a place, and
noticing a great many things that she should like to see in detail.

"Your mother saw that I meant what I said; it isn't everybody that does
me the honour to perceive that. She saw that I was shaken from head to
foot. I could only say three words--I couldn't have spoken more! What a
power--what a power, Miss Tarrant!"

"Yes, I suppose it is a power. If it wasn't a power, it couldn't do much
with me!"

"You are so simple--so much like a child," Olive Chancellor said. That
was the truth, and she wanted to say it because, quickly, without forms
or circumlocutions, it made them familiar. She wished to arrive at this;
her impatience was such that before the girl had been five minutes in
the room she jumped to her point--inquired of her, interrupting herself,
interrupting everything: "Will you be my friend, my friend of friends,
beyond every one, everything, for ever and for ever?" Her face was full
of eagerness and tenderness.

Verena gave a laugh of clear amusement, without a shade of embarrassment
or confusion. "Perhaps you like me too much."

"Of course I like you too much! When I like, I like too much. But of
course it's another thing, your liking me," Olive Chancellor added. "We
must wait--we must wait. When I care for anything, I can be patient."
She put out her hand to Verena, and the movement was at once so
appealing and so confident that the girl instinctively placed her own in
it. So, hand in hand, for some moments, these two young women sat
looking at each other. "There is so much I want to ask you," said Olive.

"Well, I can't say much except when father has worked on me," Verena
answered with an ingenuousness beside which humility would have seemed
pretentious.

"I don't care anything about your father," Olive Chancellor rejoined
very gravely, with a great air of security.

"He is very good," Verena said simply. "And he's wonderfully magnetic."

"It isn't your father, and it isn't your mother; I don't think of them,
and it's not them I want. It's only you--just as you are."

Verena dropped her eyes over the front of her dress. "Just as she was"
seemed to her indeed very well.

"Do you want me to give up----?" she demanded, smiling.

Olive Chancellor drew in her breath for an instant, like a creature in
pain; then, with her quavering voice, touched with a vibration of
anguish, she said; "Oh, how can I ask you to give up? _I_ will give
up--I will give up everything!"

Filled with the impression of her hostess's agreeable interior, and of
what her mother had told her about Miss Chancellor's wealth, her
position in Boston society, Verena, in her fresh, diverted scrutiny of
the surrounding objects, wondered what could be the need of this scheme
of renunciation. Oh no, indeed, she hoped she wouldn't give up--at least
not before she, Verena, had had a chance to see. She felt, however, that
for the present there would be no answer for her save in the mere
pressure of Miss Chancellor's eager nature, that intensity of emotion
which made her suddenly exclaim, as if in a nervous ecstasy of
anticipation, "But we must wait! Why do we talk of this? We must wait!
All will be right," she added more calmly, with great sweetness.

Verena wondered afterward why she had not been more afraid of her--why,
indeed, she had not turned and saved herself by darting out of the room.
But it was not in this young woman's nature to be either timid or
cautious; she had as yet to make acquaintance with the sentiment of
fear. She knew too little of the world to have learned to mistrust
sudden enthusiasms, and if she had had a suspicion it would have been
(in accordance with common worldly knowledge) the wrong one--the
suspicion that such a whimsical liking would burn itself out. She could
not have that one, for there was a light in Miss Chancellor's magnified
face which seemed to say that a sentiment, with her, might consume its
object, might consume Miss Chancellor, but would never consume itself.
Verena, as yet, had no sense of being scorched; she was only agreeably
warmed. She also had dreamed of a friendship, though it was not what she
had dreamed of most, and it came over her that this was the one which
fortune might have been keeping. She never held back.

"Do you live here all alone?" she asked of Olive.

"I shouldn't if you would come and live with me!"

Even this really passionate rejoinder failed to make Verena shrink; she
thought it so possible that in the wealthy class people made each other
such easy proposals. It was a part of the romance, the luxury, of
wealth; it belonged to the world of invitations, in which she had had so
little share. But it seemed almost a mockery when she thought of the
little house in Cambridge, where the boards were loose in the steps of
the porch.

"I must stay with my father and mother," she said. "And then I have my
work, you know. That's the way I must live now."

"Your work?" Olive repeated, not quite understanding.

"My gift," said Verena, smiling.

"Oh yes, you must use it. That's what I mean; you must move the world
with it; it's divine."

It was so much what she meant that she had lain awake all night thinking
of it, and the substance of her thought was that if she could only
rescue the girl from the danger of vulgar exploitation, could only
constitute herself her protectress and devotee, the two, between them,
might achieve the great result. Verena's genius was a mystery, and it
might remain a mystery; it was impossible to see how this charming,
blooming, simple creature, all youth and grace and innocence, got her
extraordinary powers of reflexion. When her gift was not in exercise she
appeared anything but reflective, and as she sat there now, for
instance, you would never have dreamed that she had had a vivid
revelation. Olive had to content herself, provisionally, with saying
that her precious faculty had come to her just as her beauty and
distinction (to Olive she was full of that quality) had come; it had
dropped straight from heaven, without filtering through her parents,
whom Miss Chancellor decidedly did not fancy. Even among reformers she
discriminated; she thought all wise people wanted great changes, but the
votaries of change were not necessarily wise. She remained silent a
little, after her last remark, and then she repeated again, as if it
were the solution of everything, as if it represented with absolute
certainty some immense happiness in the future--"We must wait, we must
wait!" Verena was perfectly willing to wait, though she did not exactly
know what they were to wait for, and the aspiring frankness of her
assent shone out of her face, and seemed to pacify their mutual gaze.
Olive asked her innumerable questions; she wanted to enter into her
life. It was one of those talks which people remember afterwards, in
which every word has been given and taken, and in which they see the
signs of a beginning that was to be justified. The more Olive learnt of
her visitor's life the more she wanted to enter into it, the more it
took her out of herself. Such strange lives are led in America, she
always knew that; but this was queerer than anything she had dreamed of,
and the queerest part was that the girl herself didn't appear to think
it queer. She had been nursed in darkened rooms, and suckled in the
midst of manifestations; she had begun to "attend lectures," as she
said, when she was quite an infant, because her mother had no one to
leave her with at home. She had sat on the knees of somnambulists, and
had been passed from hand to hand by trance-speakers; she was familiar
with every kind of "cure," and had grown up among lady-editors of
newspapers advocating new religions, and people who disapproved of the
marriage-tie. Verena talked of the marriage-tie as she would have talked
of the last novel--as if she had heard it as frequently discussed; and
at certain times, listening to the answers she made to her questions,
Olive Chancellor closed her eyes in the manner of a person waiting till
giddiness passed. Her young friend's revelations actually gave her a
vertigo; they made her perceive everything from which she should have
rescued her. Verena was perfectly uncontaminated, and she would never be
touched by evil; but though Olive had no views about the marriage-tie
except that she should hate it for herself--that particular reform she
did not propose to consider--she didn't like the "atmosphere" of circles
in which such institutions were called into question. She had no wish
now to enter into an examination of that particular one; nevertheless,
to make sure, she would just ask Verena whether she disapproved of it.

"Well, I must say," said Miss Tarrant, "I prefer free unions."

Olive held her breath an instant; such an idea was so disagreeable to
her. Then, for all answer, she murmured, irresolutely, "I wish you would
let me help you!" Yet it seemed, at the same time, that Verena needed
little help, for it was more and more clear that her eloquence, when she
stood up that way before a roomful of people, was literally inspiration.
She answered all her friend's questions with a good-nature which
evidently took no pains to make things plausible, an effort to oblige,
not to please; but, after all, she could give very little account of
herself. This was very visible when Olive asked her where she had got
her "intense realisation" of the suffering of women; for her address at
Miss Birdseye's showed that she, too (like Olive herself), had had that
vision in the watches of the night. Verena thought a moment, as if to
understand what her companion referred to, and then she inquired, always
smiling, where Joan of Arc had got her idea of the suffering of France.
This was so prettily said that Olive could scarcely keep from kissing
her; she looked at the moment as if, like Joan, she might have had
visits from the saints. Olive, of course, remembered afterwards that it
had not literally answered the question; and she also reflected on
something that made an answer seem more difficult--the fact that the
girl had grown up among lady-doctors, lady-mediums, lady-editors,
lady-preachers, lady-healers, women who, having rescued themselves from
a passive existence, could illustrate only partially the misery of the
sex at large. It was true that they might have illustrated it by their
talk, by all they had "been through" and all they could tell a younger
sister; but Olive was sure that Verena's prophetic impulse had not been
stirred by the chatter of women (Miss Chancellor knew that sound as well
as any one); it had proceeded rather out of their silence. She said to
her visitor that whether or no the angels came down to her in glittering
armour, she struck her as the only person she had yet encountered who
had exactly the same tenderness, the same pity, for women that she
herself had. Miss Birdseye had something of it, but Miss Birdseye wanted
passion, wanted keenness, was capable of the weakest concessions. Mrs.
Farrinder was not weak, of course, and she brought a great intellect to
the matter; but she was not personal enough--she was too abstract.
Verena was not abstract; she seemed to have lived in imagination through
all the ages. Verena said she _did_ think she had a certain amount of
imagination; she supposed she couldn't be so effective on the platform
if she hadn't a rich fancy. Then Olive said to her, taking her hand
again, that she wanted her to assure her of this--that it was the only
thing in all the world she cared for, the redemption of women, the thing
she hoped under Providence to give her life to. Verena flushed a little
at this appeal, and the deeper glow of her eyes was the first sign of
exaltation she had offered. "Oh yes--I want to give my life!" she
exclaimed, with a vibrating voice; and then she added gravely, "I want
to do something great!"

"You will, you will, we both will!" Olive Chancellor cried, in rapture.
But after a little she went on: "I wonder if you know what it means,
young and lovely as you are--giving your life!"

Verena looked down for a moment in meditation.

"Well," she replied, "I guess I have thought more than I appear."

"Do you understand German? Do you know 'Faust'?" said Olive. "'_Entsagen
sollst du, sollst entsagen!_'"

"I don't know German; I should like so to study it; I want to know
everything."

"We will work at it together--we will study everything." Olive almost
panted; and while she spoke the peaceful picture hung before her of
still winter evenings under the lamp, with falling snow outside, and tea
on a little table, and successful renderings, with a chosen companion,
of Goethe, almost the only foreign author she cared about; for she hated
the writing of the French, in spite of the importance they have given to
women. Such a vision as this was the highest indulgence she could offer
herself; she had it only at considerable intervals. It seemed as if
Verena caught a glimpse of it too, for her face kindled still more, and
she said she should like that ever so much. At the same time she asked
the meaning of the German words.

"'Thou shalt renounce, refrain, abstain!' That's the way Bayard Taylor
has translated them," Olive answered.

"Oh, well, I guess I can abstain!" Verena exclaimed, with a laugh. And
she got up rather quickly, as if by taking leave she might give a proof
of what she meant. Olive put out her hands to hold her, and at this
moment one of the _portières_ of the room was pushed aside, while a
gentleman was ushered in by Miss Chancellor's little parlour-maid.



XII


Verena recognised him; she had seen him the night before at Miss
Birdseye's, and she said to her hostess, "Now I must go--you have got
another caller!" It was Verena's belief that in the fashionable world
(like Mrs. Farrinder, she thought Miss Chancellor belonged to
it--thought that, in standing there, she herself was in it)--in the
highest social walks it was the custom of a prior guest to depart when
another friend arrived. She had been told at people's doors that she
could not be received because the lady of the house had a visitor, and
she had retired on these occasions with a feeling of awe much more than
a sense of injury. They had not been the portals of fashion, but in this
respect, she deemed, they had emulated such bulwarks. Olive Chancellor
offered Basil Ransom a greeting which she believed to be consummately
lady-like, and which the young man, narrating the scene several months
later to Mrs. Luna, whose susceptibilities he did not feel himself
obliged to consider (she considered his so little), described by saying
that she glared at him. Olive had thought it very possible he would come
that day if he was to leave Boston; though she was perfectly mindful
that she had given him no encouragement at the moment they separated. If
he should not come she should be annoyed, and if he should come she
should be furious; she was also sufficiently mindful of that. But she
had a foreboding that, of the two grievances, fortune would confer upon
her only the less; the only one she had as yet was that he had responded
to her letter--a complaint rather wanting in richness. If he came, at
any rate, he would be likely to come shortly before dinner, at the same
hour as yesterday. He had now anticipated this period considerably, and
it seemed to Miss Chancellor that he had taken a base advantage of her,
stolen a march upon her privacy. She was startled, disconcerted, but as
I have said, she was rigorously lady-like. She was determined not again
to be fantastic, as she had been about his coming to Miss Birdseye's.
The strange dread associating itself with that was something which, she
devoutly trusted, she had felt once for all. She didn't know what he
could do to her; he hadn't prevented, on the spot though he was, one of
the happiest things that had befallen her for so long--this quick,
confident visit of Verena Tarrant. It was only just at the last that he
had come in, and Verena must go now; Olive's detaining hand immediately
relaxed itself.

It is to be feared there was no disguise of Ransom's satisfaction at
finding himself once more face to face with the charming creature with
whom he had exchanged that final speechless smile the evening before. He
was more glad to see her than if she had been an old friend, for it
seemed to him that she had suddenly become a new one. "The delightful
girl," he said to himself; "she smiles at me as if she liked me!" He
could not know that this was fatuous, that she smiled so at every one;
the first time she saw people she treated them as if she recognised
them. Moreover, she did not seat herself again in his honour; she let it
be seen that she was still going. The three stood there together in the
middle of the long, characteristic room, and, for the first time in her
life, Olive Chancellor chose not to introduce two persons who met under
her roof. She hated Europe, but she could be European if it were
necessary. Neither of her companions had an idea that in leaving them
simply planted face to face (the terror of the American heart) she had
so high a warrant; and presently Basil Ransom felt that he didn't care
whether he were introduced or not, for the greatness of an evil didn't
matter if the remedy were equally great.

"Miss Tarrant won't be surprised if I recognise her--if I take the
liberty to speak to her. She is a public character; she must pay the
penalty of her distinction." These words he boldly addressed to the
girl, with his most gallant Southern manner, saying to himself meanwhile
that she was prettier still by daylight.

"Oh, a great many gentlemen have spoken to me," Verena said. "There were
quite a number at Topeka----" And her phrase lost itself in her look at
Olive, as if she were wondering what was the matter with her.

"Now, I am afraid you are going the very moment I appear," Ransom went
on. "Do you know that's very cruel to me? I know what your ideas
are--you expressed them last night in such beautiful language; of course
you convinced me. I am ashamed of being a man; but I am, and I can't
help it, and I'll do penance any way you may prescribe. _Must_ she go,
Miss Olive?" he asked of his cousin. "Do you flee before the individual
male?" And he turned to Verena.

This young lady gave a laugh that resembled speech in liquid fusion. "Oh
no; I like the individual!"

As an incarnation of a "movement," Ransom thought her more and more
singular, and he wondered how she came to be closeted so soon with his
kinswoman, to whom, only a few hours before, she had been a complete
stranger. These, however, were doubtless the normal proceedings of
women. He begged her to sit down again; he was sure Miss Chancellor
would be sorry to part with her. Verena, looking at her friend, not for
permission, but for sympathy, dropped again into a chair, and Ransom
waited to see Miss Chancellor do the same. She gratified him after a
moment, because she could not refuse without appearing to put a hurt
upon Verena; but it went hard with her, and she was altogether
discomposed. She had never seen any one so free in her own drawing-room
as this loud Southerner, to whom she had so rashly offered a footing; he
extended invitations to her guests under her nose. That Verena should do
as he asked her was a signal sign of the absence of that "home-culture"
(it was so that Miss Chancellor expressed the missing quality) which she
never supposed the girl possessed: fortunately, as it would be supplied
to her in abundance in Charles Street. (Olive of course held that
home-culture was perfectly compatible with the widest emancipation.) It
was with a perfectly good conscience that Verena complied with Basil
Ransom's request; but it took her quick sensibility only a moment to
discover that her friend was not pleased. She scarcely knew what had
ruffled her, but at the same instant there passed before her the vision
of the anxieties (of this sudden, unexplained sort, for instance, and
much worse) which intimate relations with Miss Chancellor might entail.

"Now, I want you to tell me this," Basil Ransom said, leaning forward
towards Verena, with his hands on his knees, and completely oblivious to
his hostess. "Do you really believe all that pretty moonshine you talked
last night? I could have listened to you for another hour; but I never
heard such monstrous sentiments, I must protest--I must, as a
calumniated, misrepresented man. Confess you meant it as a kind of
_reductio ad absurdum_--a satire on Mrs. Farrinder?" He spoke in a tone
of the freest pleasantry, with his familiar, friendly Southern cadence.

Verena looked at him with eyes that grew large. "Why, you don't mean to
say you don't believe in our cause?"

"Oh, it won't do--it won't do!" Ransom went on, laughing. "You are on
the wrong tack altogether. Do you really take the ground that your sex
has been without influence? Influence? Why, you have led us all by the
nose to where we are now! Wherever we are, it's all you. You are at the
bottom of everything."

"Oh yes, and we want to be at the top," said Verena.

"Ah, the bottom is a better place, depend on it, when from there you
move the whole mass! Besides, you are on the top as well; you are
everywhere, you are everything. I am of the opinion of that historical
character--wasn't he some king?--who thought there was a lady behind
everything. Whatever it was, he held, you have only to look for her; she
is the explanation. Well, I always look for her, and I always find her;
of course, I am always delighted to do so; but it proves she is the
universal cause. Now, you don't mean to deny that power, the power of
setting men in motion. You are at the bottom of all the wars."

"Well, I am like Mrs. Farrinder; I like opposition," Verena exclaimed,
with a happy smile.

"That proves, as I say, how in spite of your expressions of horror you
delight in the shock of battle. What do you say to Helen of Troy and the
fearful carnage she excited? It is well known that the Empress of France
was at the bottom of the last war in that country. And as for our four
fearful years of slaughter, of course, you won't deny that there the
ladies were the great motive power. The Abolitionists brought it on, and
were not the Abolitionists principally females? Who was that celebrity
that was mentioned last night?--Eliza P. Moseley. I regard Eliza as the
cause of the biggest war of which history preserves the record."

Basil Ransom enjoyed his humour the more because Verena appeared to
enjoy it; and the look with which she replied to him, at the end of this
little tirade, "Why, sir, you ought to take the platform too; we might
go round together as poison and antidote!"--this made him feel that he
had convinced her, for the moment, quite as much as it was important he
should. In Verena's face, however, it lasted but an instant--an instant
after she had glanced at Olive Chancellor, who, with her eyes fixed
intently on the ground (a look she was to learn to know so well), had a
strange expression. The girl slowly got up; she felt that she must go.
She guessed Miss Chancellor didn't like this handsome joker (it was so
that Basil Ransom struck her); and it was impressed upon her ("in time,"
as she thought) that her new friend would be more serious even than she
about the woman-question, serious as she had hitherto believed herself
to be.

"I should like so much to have the pleasure of seeing you again," Ransom
continued. "I think I should be able to interpret history for you by a
new light."

"Well, I should be very happy to see you in my home." These words had
barely fallen from Verena's lips (her mother told her they were, in
general, the proper thing to say when people expressed such a desire as
that; she must not let it be assumed that she would come first to
them)--she had hardly uttered this hospitable speech when she felt the
hand of her hostess upon her arm and became aware that a passionate
appeal sat in Olive's eyes.

"You will just catch the Charles Street car," that young woman murmured,
with muffled sweetness.

Verena did not understand further than to see that she ought already to
have departed; and the simplest response was to kiss Miss Chancellor, an
act which she briefly performed. Basil Ransom understood still less, and
it was a melancholy commentary on his contention that men are not
inferior, that this meeting could not come, however rapidly, to a close
without his plunging into a blunder which necessarily aggravated those
he had already made. He had been invited by the little prophetess, and
yet he had not been invited; but he did not take that up, because he
must absolutely leave Boston on the morrow, and, besides, Miss
Chancellor appeared to have something to say to it. But he put out his
hand to Verena and said, "Good-bye, Miss Tarrant; are we not to have the
pleasure of hearing you in New York? I am afraid we are sadly sunk."

"Certainly, I should like to raise my voice in the biggest city," the
girl replied.

"Well, try to come on. I won't refute you. It would be a very stupid
world, after all, if we always knew what women were going to say."

Verena was conscious of the approach of the Charles Street car, as well
as of the fact that Miss Chancellor was in pain; but she lingered long
enough to remark that she could see he had the old-fashioned ideas--he
regarded woman as the toy of man.

"Don't say the toy--say the joy!" Ransom exclaimed. "There is one
statement I will venture to advance; I am quite as fond of you as you
are of each other!"

"Much he knows about that!" said Verena, with a side-long smile at Olive
Chancellor.

For Olive, it made her more beautiful than ever; still, there was no
trace of this mere personal elation in the splendid sententiousness with
which, turning to Mr. Ransom, she remarked: "What women may be, or may
not be, to each other, I won't attempt just now to say; but what _the
truth_ may be to a human soul, I think perhaps even a woman may faintly
suspect!"

"The truth? My dear cousin, your truth is a most vain thing!"

"Gracious me!" cried Verena Tarrant; and the gay vibration of her voice
as she uttered this simple ejaculation was the last that Ransom heard of
her. Miss Chancellor swept her out of the room, leaving the young man to
extract a relish from the ineffable irony with which she uttered the
words "even a woman." It was to be supposed, on general grounds, that
she would reappear, but there was nothing in the glance she gave him, as
she turned her back, that was an earnest of this. He stood there a
moment, wondering; then his wonder spent itself on the page of a book
which, according to his habit at such times, he had mechanically taken
up, and in which he speedily became interested. He read it for five
minutes in an uncomfortable-looking attitude, and quite forgot that he
had been forsaken. He was recalled to this fact by the entrance of Mrs.
Luna, arrayed as if for the street, and putting on her gloves again--she
seemed always to be putting on her gloves. She wanted to know what in
the world he was doing there alone--whether her sister had not been
notified.

"Oh yes," said Ransom, "she has just been with me, but she has gone
downstairs with Miss Tarrant."

"And who in the world is Miss Tarrant?"

Ransom was surprised that Mrs. Luna should not know of the intimacy of
the two young ladies, in spite of the brevity of their acquaintance,
being already so great. But, apparently, Miss Olive had not mentioned
her new friend. "Well, she is an inspirational speaker--the most
charming creature in the world!"

Mrs. Luna paused in her manipulations, gave an amazed, amused stare,
then caused the room to ring with her laughter. "You don't mean to say
you are converted--already?"

"Converted to Miss Tarrant, decidedly."

"You are not to belong to any Miss Tarrant; you are to belong to me,"
Mrs. Luna said, having thought over her Southern kinsman during the
twenty-four hours, and made up her mind that he would be a good man for
a lone woman to know. Then she added: "Did you come here to meet
her--the inspirational speaker?"

"No; I came to bid your sister good-bye."

"Are you really going? I haven't made you promise half the things I want
yet. But we will settle that in New York. How do you get on with Olive
Chancellor?" Mrs. Luna continued, making her points, as she always did,
with eagerness, though her roundness and her dimples had hitherto
prevented her from being accused of that vice. It was her practice to
speak of her sister by her whole name, and you would have supposed, from
her usual manner of alluding to her, that Olive was much the older,
instead of having been born ten years later than Adeline. She had as
many ways as possible of marking the gulf that divided them; but she
bridged it over lightly now by saying to Basil Ransom; "Isn't she a dear
old thing?"

This bridge, he saw, would not bear his weight, and her question seemed
to him to have more audacity than sense. Why should she be so insincere?
She might know that a man couldn't recognise Miss Chancellor in such a
description as that. She was not old--she was sharply young; and it was
inconceivable to him, though he had just seen the little prophetess kiss
her, that she should ever become any one's "dear." Least of all was she
a "thing"; she was intensely, fearfully, a person. He hesitated a
moment, and then he replied: "She's a very remarkable woman."

"Take care--don't be reckless!" cried Mrs. Luna. "Do you think she is
very dreadful?"

"Don't say anything against my cousin," Basil answered; and at that
moment Miss Chancellor re-entered the room. She murmured some request
that he would excuse her absence, but her sister interrupted her with an
inquiry about Miss Tarrant.

"Mr. Ransom thinks her wonderfully charming. Why didn't you show her to
me? Do you want to keep her all to yourself?"

Olive rested her eyes for some moments upon Mrs. Luna, without speaking.
Then she said: "Your veil is not put on straight, Adeline."

"I look like a monster--that, evidently, is what you mean!" Adeline
exclaimed, going to the mirror to rearrange the peccant tissue.

Miss Chancellor did not again ask Ransom to be seated; she appeared to
take it for granted that he would leave her now. But instead of this he
returned to the subject of Verena; he asked her whether she supposed the
girl would come out in public--would go about like Mrs. Farrinder?

"Come out in public!" Olive repeated; "in public? Why, you don't imagine
that pure voice is to be hushed?"

"Oh, hushed, no! it's too sweet for that. But not raised to a scream;
not forced and cracked and ruined. She oughtn't to become like the
others. She ought to remain apart."

"Apart--_apart_?" said Miss Chancellor; "when we shall all be looking to
her, gathering about her, praying for her!" There was an exceeding scorn
in her voice. "If _I_ can help her, she shall be an immense power for
good."

"An immense power for quackery, my dear Miss Olive!" This broke from
Basil's lips in spite of a vow he had just taken not to say anything
that should "aggravate" his hostess, who was in a state of tension it
was not difficult to detect. But he had lowered his tone to friendly
pleading, and the offensive word was mitigated by his smile.

She moved away from him, backwards, as if he had given her a push. "Ah,
well, now you are reckless," Mrs. Luna remarked, drawing out her ribbons
before the mirror.

"I don't think you would interfere if you knew how little you understand
us," Miss Chancellor said to Ransom.

"Whom do you mean by 'us'--your whole delightful sex? I don't understand
_you_, Miss Olive."

"Come away with me, and I'll explain her as we go," Mrs. Luna went on,
having finished her toilet.

Ransom offered his hand in farewell to his hostess; but Olive found it
impossible to do anything but ignore the gesture. She could not have let
him touch her. "Well, then, if you must exhibit her to the multitude,
bring her on to New York," he said, with the same attempt at a light
treatment.

"You'll have _me_ in New York--you don't want any one else!" Mrs. Luna
ejaculated, coquettishly. "I have made up my mind to winter there now."

Olive Chancellor looked from one to the other of her two relatives, one
near and the other distant, but each so little in sympathy with her, and
it came over her that there might be a kind of protection for her in
binding them together, entangling them with each other. She had never
had an idea of that kind in her life before, and that this sudden
subtlety should have gleamed upon her as a momentary talisman gives the
measure of her present nervousness.

"If I could take her to New York, I would take her farther," she
remarked, hoping she was enigmatical.

"You talk about 'taking' her, as if you were a lecture-agent. Are you
going into that business?" Mrs. Luna asked.

Ransom could not help noticing that Miss Chancellor would not shake
hands with him, and he felt, on the whole, rather injured. He paused a
moment before leaving the room--standing there with his hand on the knob
of the door. "Look here, Miss Olive, what did you write to me to come
and see you for?" He made this inquiry with a countenance not destitute
of gaiety, but his eyes showed something of that yellow light--just
momentarily lurid--of which mention has been made. Mrs. Luna was on her
way downstairs, and her companions remained face to face.

"Ask my sister--I think she will tell you," said Olive, turning away
from him and going to the window. She remained there, looking out; she
heard the door of the house close, and saw the two cross the street
together. As they passed out of sight her fingers played, softly, a
little air upon the pane; it seemed to her that she had had an
inspiration.

Basil Ransom, meanwhile, put the question to Mrs. Luna. "If she was not
going to like me, why in the world did she write to me?"

"Because she wanted you to know me--she thought _I_ would like you!" And
apparently she had not been wrong; for Mrs. Luna, when they reached
Beacon Street, would not hear of his leaving her to go her way alone,
would not in the least admit his plea that he had only an hour or two
more in Boston (he was to travel, economically, by the boat) and must
devote the time to his business. She appealed to his Southern chivalry,
and not in vain; practically, at least, he admitted the rights of women.



XIII


Mrs. Tarrant was delighted, as may be imagined, with her daughter's
account of Miss Chancellor's interior, and the reception the girl had
found there; and Verena, for the next month, took her way very often to
Charles Street. "Just you be as nice to her as you know how," Mrs.
Tarrant had said to her; and she reflected with some complacency that
her daughter did know--she knew how to do everything of that sort. It
was not that Verena had been taught; that branch of the education of
young ladies which is known as "manners and deportment" had not figured,
as a definite head, in Miss Tarrant's curriculum. She had been told,
indeed, that she must not lie nor steal; but she had been told very
little else about behaviour; her only great advantage, in short, had
been the parental example. But her mother liked to think that she was
quick and graceful, and she questioned her exhaustively as to the
progress of this interesting episode; she didn't see why, as she said,
it shouldn't be a permanent "stand-by" for Verena. In Mrs. Tarrant's
meditations upon the girl's future she had never thought of a fine
marriage as a reward of effort; she would have deemed herself very
immoral if she had endeavoured to capture for her child a rich husband.
She had not, in fact, a very vivid sense of the existence of such agents
of fate; all the rich men she had seen already had wives, and the
unmarried men, who were generally very young, were distinguished from
each other not so much by the figure of their income, which came little
into question, as by the degree of their interest in regenerating ideas.
She supposed Verena would marry some one, some day, and she hoped the
personage would be connected with public life--which meant, for Mrs.
Tarrant, that his name would be visible, in the lamp-light, on a
coloured poster, in the doorway of Tremont Temple. But she was not eager
about this vision, for the implications of matrimony were for the most
part wanting in brightness--consisted of a tired woman holding a baby
over a furnace-register that emitted lukewarm air. A real lovely
friendship with a young woman who had, as Mrs. Tarrant expressed it,
"prop'ty," would occupy agreeably such an interval as might occur before
Verena should meet her sterner fate; it would be a great thing for her
to have a place to run into when she wanted a change, and there was no
knowing but what it might end in her having two homes. For the idea of
the home, like most American women of her quality, Mrs. Tarrant had an
extreme reverence; and it was her candid faith that in all the
vicissitudes of the past twenty years she had preserved the spirit of
this institution. If it should exist in duplicate for Verena, the girl
would be favoured indeed.

All this was as nothing, however, compared with the fact that Miss
Chancellor seemed to think her young friend's gift _was_ inspirational,
or at any rate, as Selah had so often said, quite unique. She couldn't
make out very exactly, by Verena, what she thought; but if the way Miss
Chancellor had taken hold of her didn't show that she believed she could
rouse the people, Mrs. Tarrant didn't know what it showed. It was a
satisfaction to her that Verena evidently responded freely; she didn't
think anything of what she spent in car-tickets, and indeed she had told
her that Miss Chancellor wanted to stuff her pockets with them. At first
she went in because her mother liked to have her; but now, evidently,
she went because she was so much drawn. She expressed the highest
admiration of her new friend; she said it took her a little while to see
into her, but now that she did, well, she was perfectly splendid. When
Verena wanted to admire she went ahead of every one, and it was
delightful to see how she was stimulated by the young lady in Charles
Street. They thought everything of each other--that was very plain; you
could scarcely tell which thought most. Each thought the other so noble,
and Mrs. Tarrant had a faith that between them they _would_ rouse the
people. What Verena wanted was some one who would know how to handle her
(her father hadn't handled anything except the healing, up to this time,
with real success), and perhaps Miss Chancellor would take hold better
than some that made more of a profession.

"It's beautiful, the way she draws you out," Verena had said to her
mother; "there's something so searching that the first time I visited
her it quite realised my idea of the Day of Judgement. But she seems to
show all that's in herself at the same time, and then you see how lovely
it is. She's just as pure as she can live; you see if she is not, when
you know her. She's so noble herself that she makes you feel as if you
wouldn't want to be less so. She doesn't care for anything but the
elevation of our sex; if she can work a little toward that, it's all she
asks. I can tell you, she kindles me; she does, mother, really. She
doesn't care a speck what she wears--only to have an elegant parlour.
Well, she _has_ got that; it's a regular dream-like place to sit. She's
going to have a tree in, next week; she says she wants to see me sitting
under a tree. I believe it's some oriental idea; it has lately been
introduced in Paris. She doesn't like French ideas as a general thing;
but she says this has more nature than most. She has got so many of her
own that I shouldn't think she would require to borrow any. I'd sit in a
forest to hear her bring some of them out," Verena went on, with
characteristic raciness. "She just quivers when she describes what our
sex has been through. It's so interesting to me to hear what I have
always felt. If she wasn't afraid of facing the public, she would go far
ahead of me. But she doesn't want to speak herself; she only wants to
call me out. Mother, if she doesn't attract attention to me there isn't
any attention to be attracted. She says I have got the gift of
expression--it doesn't matter where it comes from. She says it's a great
advantage to a movement to be personified in a bright young figure.
Well, of course I'm young, and I feel bright enough when once I get
started. She says my serenity while exposed to the gaze of hundreds is
in itself a qualification; in fact, she seems to think my serenity is
quite God-given. She hasn't got much of it herself; she's the most
emotional woman I have met, up to now. She wants to know how I can speak
the way I do unless I feel; and of course I tell her I do feel, so far
as I realise. She seems to be realising all the time; I never saw any
one that took so little rest. She says I ought to do something great,
and she makes me feel as if I should. She says I ought to have a wide
influence, if I can obtain the ear of the public; and I say to her that
if I do it will be all her influence."

Selah Tarrant looked at all this from a higher standpoint than his wife;
at least such an attitude on his part was to be inferred from his
increased solemnity. He committed himself to no precipitate elation at
the idea of his daughter's being taken up by a patroness of movements
who happened to have money; he looked at his child only from the point
of view of the service she might render to humanity. To keep her ideal
pointing in the right direction, to guide and animate her moral
life--this was a duty more imperative for a parent so closely identified
with revelations and panaceas than seeing that she formed profitable
worldly connexions. He was "off," moreover, so much of the time that he
could keep little account of her comings and goings, and he had an air
of being but vaguely aware of whom Miss Chancellor, the object now of
his wife's perpetual reference, might be. Verena's initial appearance in
Boston, as he called her performance at Miss Birdseye's, had been a
great success; and this reflexion added, as I say, to his habitually
sacerdotal expression. He looked like the priest of a religion that was
passing through the stage of miracles; he carried his responsibility in
the general elongation of his person, of his gestures (his hands were
now always in the air, as if he were being photographed in postures), of
his words and sentences, as well as in his smile, as noiseless as a
patent hinge, and in the folds of his eternal waterproof. He was
incapable of giving an off-hand answer or opinion on the simplest
occasion, and his tone of high deliberation increased in proportion as
the subject was trivial or domestic. If his wife asked him at dinner if
the potatoes were good, he replied that they were strikingly fine (he
used to speak of the newspaper as "fine"--he applied this term to
objects the most dissimilar), and embarked on a parallel worthy of
Plutarch, in which he compared them with other specimens of the same
vegetable. He produced, or would have liked to produce, the impression
of looking above and beyond everything, of not caring for the immediate,
of reckoning only with the long run. In reality he had one all-absorbing
solicitude--the desire to get paragraphs put into the newspapers,
paragraphs of which he had hitherto been the subject, but of which he
was now to divide the glory with his daughter. The newspapers were his
world, the richest expression, in his eyes, of human life; and, for him,
if a diviner day was to come upon earth, it would be brought about by
copious advertisement in the daily prints. He looked with longing for
the moment when Verena should be advertised among the "personals," and
to his mind the supremely happy people were those (and there were a good
many of them) of whom there was some journalistic mention every day in
the year. Nothing less than this would really have satisfied Selah
Tarrant; his ideal of bliss was to be as regularly and indispensably a
component part of the newspaper as the title and date, or the list of
fires, or the column of Western jokes. The vision of that publicity
haunted his dreams, and he would gladly have sacrificed to it the
innermost sanctities of home. Human existence to him, indeed, was a huge
publicity, in which the only fault was that it was sometimes not
sufficiently effective. There had been a Spiritualist paper of old which
he used to pervade; but he could not persuade himself that through this
medium his personality had attracted general attention; and, moreover,
the sheet, as he said, was played out anyway. Success was not success so
long as his daughter's _physique_, the rumour of her engagement, were
not included in the "Jottings" with the certainty of being extensively
copied.

The account of her exploits in the West had not made their way to the
seaboard with the promptitude that he had looked for; the reason of this
being, he supposed, that the few addresses she had made had not been
lectures, announced in advance, to which tickets had been sold, but
incidents, of abrupt occurrence, of certain multitudinous meetings,
where there had been other performers better known to fame. They had
brought in no money; they had been delivered only for the good of the
cause. If it could only be known that she spoke for nothing, that might
deepen the reverberation; the only trouble was that her speaking for
nothing was not the way to remind him that he had a remunerative
daughter. It was not the way to stand out so very much either, Selah
Tarrant felt; for there were plenty of others that knew how to make as
little money as she would. To speak--that was the one thing that most
people were willing to do for nothing; it was not a line in which it was
easy to appear conspicuously disinterested. Disinterestedness, too, was
incompatible with receipts; and receipts were what Selah Tarrant was, in
his own parlance, after. He wished to bring about the day when they
would flow in freely; the reader perhaps sees the gesture with which, in
his colloquies with himself, he accompanied this mental image.

It seemed to him at present that the fruitful time was not far off; it
had been brought appreciably nearer by that fortunate evening at Miss
Birdseye's. If Mrs. Farrinder could be induced to write an "open letter"
about Verena, that would do more than anything else. Selah was not
remarkable for delicacy of perception, but he knew the world he lived in
well enough to be aware that Mrs. Farrinder was liable to rear up, as
they used to say down in Pennsylvania, where he lived before he began to
peddle lead-pencils. She wouldn't always take things as you might
expect, and if it didn't meet her views to pay a public tribute to
Verena, there wasn't any way known to Tarrant's ingenious mind of
getting round her. If it was a question of a favour from Mrs. Farrinder,
you just had to wait for it, as you would for a rise in the thermometer.
He had told Miss Birdseye what he would like, and she seemed to think,
from the way their celebrated friend had been affected, that the idea
might take her some day of just letting the public know all she had
felt. She was off somewhere now (since that evening), but Miss Birdseye
had an idea that when she was back in Roxbury she would send for Verena
and give her a few points. Meanwhile, at any rate, Selah was sure he had
a card; he felt there was money in the air. It might already be said
there were receipts from Charles Street; that rich, peculiar young woman
seemed to want to lavish herself. He pretended, as I have intimated, not
to notice this; but he never saw so much as when he had his eyes fixed
on the cornice. He had no doubt that if he should make up his mind to
take a hall some night, she would tell him where the bill might be sent.
That was what he was thinking of now, whether he had better take a hall
right away, so that Verena might leap at a bound into renown, or wait
till she had made a few more appearances in private, so that curiosity
might be worked up.

These meditations accompanied him in his multifarious wanderings through
the streets and the suburbs of the New England capital. As I have also
mentioned, he was absent for hours--long periods during which Mrs.
Tarrant, sustaining nature with a hard-boiled egg and a doughnut,
wondered how in the world he stayed his stomach. He never wanted
anything but a piece of pie when he came in; the only thing about which
he was particular was that it should be served up hot. She had a private
conviction that he partook, at the houses of his lady patients, of
little lunches; she applied this term to any episodical repast, at any
hour of the twenty-four. It is but fair to add that once, when she
betrayed her suspicion, Selah remarked that the only refreshment _he_
ever wanted was the sense that he was doing some good. This effort with
him had many forms; it involved, among other things, a perpetual
perambulation of the streets, a haunting of horse-cars,
railway-stations, shops that were "selling off." But the places that
knew him best were the offices of the newspapers and the vestibules of
the hotels--the big marble-paved chambers of informal reunion which
offer to the streets, through high glass plates, the sight of the
American citizen suspended by his heels. Here, amid the piled-up
luggage, the convenient spittoons, the elbowing loungers, the
disconsolate "guests," the truculent Irish porters, the rows of
shaggy-backed men in strange hats, writing letters at a table inlaid
with advertisements, Selah Tarrant made innumerable contemplative
stations. He could not have told you, at any particular moment, what he
was doing; he only had a general sense that such places were national
nerve-centres, and that the more one looked in, the more one was "on the
spot." The _penetralia_ of the daily press were, however, still more
fascinating, and the fact that they were less accessible, that here he
found barriers in his path, only added to the zest of forcing an
entrance. He abounded in pretexts; he even sometimes brought
contributions; he was persistent and penetrating, he was known as the
irrepressible Tarrant. He hung about, sat too long, took up the time of
busy people, edged into the printing-rooms when he had been eliminated
from the office, talked with the compositors till they set up his
remarks by mistake, and to the newsboys when the compositors had turned
their backs. He was always trying to find out what was "going in"; he
would have liked to go in himself, bodily, and, failing in this, he
hoped to get advertisements inserted gratis. The wish of his soul was
that he might be interviewed; that made him hover at the editorial
elbow. Once he thought he had been, and the headings, five or six deep,
danced for days before his eyes; but the report never appeared. He
expected his revenge for this the day after Verena should have burst
forth; he saw the attitude in which he should receive the emissaries who
would come after his daughter.



XIV


"We ought to have some one to meet her," Mrs. Tarrant said; "I presume
she wouldn't care to come out just to see us." "She," between the mother
and the daughter, at this period, could refer only to Olive Chancellor,
who was discussed in the little house at Cambridge at all hours and from
every possible point of view. It was never Verena now who began, for she
had grown rather weary of the topic; she had her own ways of thinking of
it, which were not her mother's, and if she lent herself to this lady's
extensive considerations it was because that was the best way of keeping
her thoughts to herself.

Mrs. Tarrant had an idea that she (Mrs. Tarrant) liked to study people,
and that she was now engaged in an analysis of Miss Chancellor. It
carried her far, and she came out at unexpected times with her results.
It was still her purpose to interpret the world to the ingenious mind of
her daughter, and she translated Miss Chancellor with a confidence which
made little account of the fact that she had seen her but once, while
Verena had this advantage nearly every day. Verena felt that by this
time she knew Olive very well, and her mother's most complicated
versions of motive and temperament (Mrs. Tarrant, with the most
imperfect idea of the meaning of the term, was always talking about
people's temperament) rendered small justice to the phenomena it was now
her privilege to observe in Charles Street. Olive was much more
remarkable than Mrs. Tarrant suspected, remarkable as Mrs. Tarrant
believed her to be. She had opened Verena's eyes to extraordinary
pictures, made the girl believe that she had a heavenly mission, given
her, as we have seen, quite a new measure of the interest of life. These
were larger consequences than the possibility of meeting the leaders of
society at Olive's house. She had met no one, as yet, but Mrs. Luna; her
new friend seemed to wish to keep her quite for herself. This was the
only reproach that Mrs. Tarrant directed to the new friend as yet; she
was disappointed that Verena had not obtained more insight into the
world of fashion. It was one of the prime articles of her faith that the
world of fashion was wicked and hollow, and, moreover, Verena told her
that Miss Chancellor loathed and despised it. She could not have
informed you wherein it would profit her daughter (for the way those
ladies shrank from any new gospel was notorious); nevertheless she was
vexed that Verena shouldn't come back to her with a little more of the
fragrance of Beacon Street. The girl herself would have been the most
interested person in the world if she had not been the most resigned;
she took all that was given her and was grateful, and missed nothing
that was withheld; she was the most extraordinary mixture of eagerness
and docility. Mrs. Tarrant theorised about temperaments and she loved
her daughter; but she was only vaguely aware of the fact that she had at
her side the sweetest flower of character (as one might say) that had
ever bloomed on earth. She was proud of Verena's brightness, and of her
special talent; but the commonness of her own surface was a
non-conductor of the girl's quality. Therefore she thought that it would
add to her success in life to know a few high-flyers, if only to put
them to shame; as if anything could add to Verena's success, as if it
were not supreme success simply to have been made as she was made.

Mrs. Tarrant had gone into town to call upon Miss Chancellor; she
carried out this resolve, on which she had bestowed infinite
consideration, independently of Verena. She had decided that she had a
pretext; her dignity required one, for she felt that at present the
antique pride of the Greenstreets was terribly at the mercy of her
curiosity. She wished to see Miss Chancellor again, and to see her among
her charming appurtenances, which Verena had described to her with great
minuteness. The pretext that she would have valued most was
wanting--that of Olive's having come out to Cambridge to pay the visit
that had been solicited from the first; so she had to take the next
best--she had to say to herself that it was her duty to see what she
should think of a place where her daughter spent so much time. To Miss
Chancellor she would appear to have come to thank her for her
hospitality; she knew, in advance, just the air she should take (or she
fancied she knew it--Mrs. Tarrant's were not always what she supposed),
just the _nuance_ (she had also an impression she knew a little French)
of her tone. Olive, after the lapse of weeks, still showed no symptoms
of presenting herself, and Mrs. Tarrant rebuked Verena with some
sternness for not having made her feel that this attention was due to
the mother of her friend. Verena could scarcely say to her she guessed
Miss Chancellor didn't think much of that personage, true as it was that
the girl had discerned this angular fact, which she attributed to
Olive's extraordinary comprehensiveness of view. Verena herself did not
suppose that her mother occupied a very important place in the universe;
and Miss Chancellor never looked at anything smaller than that. Nor was
she free to report (she was certainly now less frank at home, and,
moreover, the suspicion was only just becoming distinct to her) that
Olive would like to detach her from her parents altogether, and was
therefore not interested in appearing to cultivate relations with them.
Mrs. Tarrant, I may mention, had a further motive: she was consumed with
the desire to behold Mrs. Luna. This circumstance may operate as a proof
that the aridity of her life was great, and if it should have that
effect I shall not be able to gainsay it. She had seen all the people
who went to lectures, but there were hours when she desired, for a
change, to see some who didn't go; and Mrs. Luna, from Verena's
description of her, summed up the characteristics of this eccentric
class.

Verena had given great attention to Olive's brilliant sister; she had
told her friend everything now--everything but one little secret,
namely, that if she could have chosen at the beginning she would have
liked to resemble Mrs. Luna. This lady fascinated her, carried off her
imagination to strange lands; she should enjoy so much a long evening
with her alone, when she might ask her ten thousand questions. But she
never saw her alone, never saw her at all but in glimpses. Adeline
flitted in and out, dressed for dinners and concerts, always saying
something worldly to the young woman from Cambridge, and something to
Olive that had a freedom which she herself would probably never arrive
at (a failure of foresight on Verena's part). But Miss Chancellor never
detained her, never gave Verena a chance to see her, never appeared to
imagine that she could have the least interest in such a person; only
took up the subject again after Adeline had left them--the subject, of
course, which was always the same, the subject of what they should do
together for their suffering sex. It was not that Verena was not
interested in that--gracious, no; it opened up before her, in those
wonderful colloquies with Olive, in the most inspiring way; but her
fancy would make a dart to right or left when other game crossed their
path, and her companion led her, intellectually, a dance in which her
feet--that is, her head--failed her at times for weariness. Mrs. Tarrant
found Miss Chancellor at home, but she was not gratified by even the
most transient glimpse of Mrs. Luna; a fact which, in her heart, Verena
regarded as fortunate, inasmuch as (she said to herself) if her mother,
returning from Charles Street, began to explain Miss Chancellor to her
with fresh energy, and as if she (Verena) had never seen her, and up to
this time they had had nothing to say about her, to what developments
(of the same sort) would not an encounter with Adeline have given rise?

When Verena at last said to her friend that she thought she ought to
come out to Cambridge--she didn't understand why she didn't--Olive
expressed her reasons very frankly, admitted that she was jealous, that
she didn't wish to think of the girl's belonging to any one but herself.
Mr. and Mrs. Tarrant would have authority, opposed claims, and she
didn't wish to see them, to remember that they existed. This was true,
so far as it went; but Olive could not tell Verena everything--could not
tell her that she hated that dreadful pair at Cambridge. As we know, she
had forbidden herself this emotion as regards individuals; and she
flattered herself that she considered the Tarrants as a type, a
deplorable one, a class that, with the public at large, discredited the
cause of the new truths. She had talked them over with Miss Birdseye
(Olive was always looking after her now and giving her things--the good
lady appeared at this period in wonderful caps and shawls--for she felt
she couldn't thank her enough), and even Doctor Prance's fellow-lodger,
whose animosity to flourishing evils lived in the happiest (though the
most illicit) union with the mania for finding excuses, even Miss
Birdseye was obliged to confess that if you came to examine his record,
poor Selah didn't amount to so very much. How little he amounted to
Olive perceived after she had made Verena talk, as the girl did
immensely, about her father and mother--quite unconscious, meanwhile, of
the conclusions she suggested to Miss Chancellor. Tarrant was a moralist
without moral sense--that was very clear to Olive as she listened to the
history of his daughter's childhood and youth, which Verena related with
an extraordinary artless vividness. This narrative, tremendously
fascinating to Miss Chancellor, made her feel in all sorts of
ways--prompted her to ask herself whether the girl was also destitute of
the perception of right and wrong. No, she was only supremely innocent;
she didn't understand, she didn't interpret nor see the _portée_ of what
she described; she had no idea whatever of judging her parents. Olive
had wished to "realise" the conditions in which her wonderful young
friend (she thought her more wonderful every day) had developed, and to
this end, as I have related, she prompted her to infinite discourse. But
now she was satisfied, the realisation was complete, and what she would
have liked to impose on the girl was an effectual rupture with her past.
That past she by no means absolutely deplored, for it had the merit of
having initiated Verena (and her patroness, through her agency) into the
miseries and mysteries of the People. It was her theory that Verena (in
spite of the blood of the Greenstreets, and, after all, who were they?)
was a flower of the great Democracy, and that it was impossible to have
had an origin less distinguished than Tarrant himself. His birth, in
some unheard-of place in Pennsylvania, was quite inexpressibly low, and
Olive would have been much disappointed if it had been wanting in this
defect. She liked to think that Verena, in her childhood, had known
almost the extremity of poverty, and there was a kind of ferocity in the
joy with which she reflected that there had been moments when this
delicate creature came near (if the pinch had only lasted a little
longer) to literally going without food. These things added to her value
for Olive; they made that young lady feel that their common undertaking
would, in consequence, be so much more serious. It is always supposed
that revolutionists have been goaded, and the goading would have been
rather deficient here were it not for such happy accidents in Verena's
past. When she conveyed from her mother a summons to Cambridge for a
particular occasion, Olive perceived that the great effort must now be
made. Great efforts were nothing new to her--it was a great effort to
live at all--but this one appeared to her exceptionally cruel. She
determined, however, to make it, promising herself that her first visit
to Mrs. Tarrant should also be her last. Her only consolation was that
she expected to suffer intensely; for the prospect of suffering was
always, spiritually speaking, so much cash in her pocket. It was
arranged that Olive should come to tea (the repast that Selah designated
as his supper), when Mrs. Tarrant, as we have seen, desired to do her
honour by inviting another guest. This guest, after much deliberation
between that lady and Verena, was selected, and the first person Olive
saw on entering the little parlour in Cambridge was a young man with
hair prematurely, or, as one felt that one should say, precociously
white, whom she had a vague impression she had encountered before, and
who was introduced to her as Mr. Matthias Pardon.

She suffered less than she had hoped--she was so taken up with the
consideration of Verena's interior. It was as bad as she could have
desired; desired in order to feel that (to take her out of such a
_milieu_ as that) she should have a right to draw her altogether to
herself. Olive wished more and more to extract some definite pledge from
her; she could hardly say what it had best be as yet; she only felt that
it must be something that would have an absolute sanctity for Verena and
would bind them together for life. On this occasion it seemed to shape
itself in her mind; she began to see what it ought to be, though she
also saw that she would perhaps have to wait awhile. Mrs. Tarrant, too,
in her own house, became now a complete figure; there was no manner of
doubt left as to her being vulgar. Olive Chancellor despised vulgarity,
had a scent for it which she followed up in her own family, so that
often, with a rising flush, she detected the taint even in Adeline.
There were times, indeed, when every one seemed to have it, every one
but Miss Birdseye (who had nothing to do with it--she was an antique)
and the poorest, humblest people. The toilers and spinners, the very
obscure, these were the only persons who were safe from it. Miss
Chancellor would have been much happier if the movements she was
interested in could have been carried on only by the people she liked,
and if revolutions, somehow, didn't always have to begin with one's
self--with internal convulsions, sacrifices, executions. A common end,
unfortunately, however fine as regards a special result, does not make
community impersonal.

Mrs. Tarrant, with her soft corpulence, looked to her guest very
bleached and tumid; her complexion had a kind of withered glaze; her
hair, very scanty, was drawn off her forehead _à la Chinoise_; she had
no eyebrows, and her eyes seemed to stare, like those of a figure of
wax. When she talked and wished to insist, and she was always insisting,
she puckered and distorted her face, with an effort to express the
inexpressible, which turned out, after all, to be nothing. She had a
kind of doleful elegance, tried to be confidential, lowered her voice
and looked as if she wished to establish a secret understanding, in
order to ask her visitor if she would venture on an apple-fritter. She
wore a flowing mantle, which resembled her husband's waterproof--a
garment which, when she turned to her daughter or talked about her,
might have passed for the robe of a sort of priestess of maternity. She
endeavoured to keep the conversation in a channel which would enable her
to ask sudden incoherent questions of Olive, mainly as to whether she
knew the principal ladies (the expression was Mrs. Tarrant's), not only
in Boston, but in the other cities which, in her nomadic course, she
herself had visited. Olive knew some of them, and of some of them had
never heard; but she was irritated, and pretended a universal ignorance
(she was conscious that she had never told so many fibs), by which her
hostess was much disconcerted, although her questions had apparently
been questions pure and simple, leading nowhither and without bearings
on any new truth.



XV


Tarrant, however, kept an eye in that direction; he was solemnly civil
to Miss Chancellor, handed her the dishes at table over and over again,
and ventured to intimate that the apple-fritters were very fine; but,
save for this, alluded to nothing more trivial than the regeneration of
humanity and the strong hope he felt that Miss Birdseye would again have
one of her delightful gatherings. With regard to this latter point he
explained that it was not in order that he might again present his
daughter to the company, but simply because on such occasions there was
a valuable interchange of hopeful thought, a contact of mind with mind.
If Verena had anything suggestive to contribute to the social problem,
the opportunity would come--that was part of their faith. They couldn't
reach out for it and try and push their way; if they were wanted, their
hour would strike; if they were not, they would just keep still and let
others press forward who seemed to be called. If they were called, they
would know it; and if they weren't, they could just hold on to each
other as they had always done. Tarrant was very fond of alternatives,
and he mentioned several others; it was never his fault if his listeners
failed to think him impartial. They hadn't much, as Miss Chancellor
could see; she could tell by their manner of life that they hadn't raked
in the dollars; but they had faith that, whether one raised one's voice
or simply worked on in silence, the principal difficulties would
straighten themselves out; and they had also a considerable experience
of great questions. Tarrant spoke as if, as a family, they were prepared
to take charge of them on moderate terms. He always said "ma'am" in
speaking to Olive, to whom, moreover, the air had never been so filled
with the sound of her own name. It was always in her ear, save when Mrs.
Tarrant and Verena conversed in prolonged and ingenuous asides; this was
still for her benefit, but the pronoun sufficed them. She had wished to
judge Doctor Tarrant (not that she believed he had come honestly by his
title), to make up her mind. She had done these things now, and she
expressed to herself the kind of man she believed him to be in
reflecting that if she should offer him ten thousand dollars to renounce
all claim to Verena, keeping--he and his wife--clear of her for the rest
of time, he would probably say, with his fearful smile, "Make it twenty,
money down, and I'll do it." Some image of this transaction, as one of
the possibilities of the future, outlined itself for Olive among the
moral incisions of that evening. It seemed implied in the very place,
the bald bareness of Tarrant's temporary lair, a wooden cottage, with a
rough front yard, a little naked piazza, which seemed rather to expose
than to protect, facing upon an unpaved road, in which the footway was
overlaid with a strip of planks. These planks were embedded in ice or in
liquid thaw, according to the momentary mood of the weather, and the
advancing pedestrian traversed them in the attitude, and with a good
deal of the suspense, of a rope-dancer. There was nothing in the house
to speak of; nothing, to Olive's sense, but a smell of kerosene; though
she had a consciousness of sitting down somewhere--the object creaked
and rocked beneath her--and of the table at tea being covered with a
cloth stamped in bright colours.

As regards the pecuniary transaction with Selah, it was strange how she
should have seen it through the conviction that Verena would never give
up her parents. Olive was sure that she would never turn her back upon
them, would always share with them. She would have despised her had she
thought her capable of another course; yet it baffled her to understand
why, when parents were so trashy, this natural law should not be
suspended. Such a question brought her back, however, to her perpetual
enigma, the mystery she had already turned over in her mind for hours
together--the wonder of such people being Verena's progenitors at all.
She had explained it, as we explain all exceptional things, by making
the part, as the French say, of the miraculous. She had come to consider
the girl as a wonder of wonders, to hold that no human origin, however
congruous it might superficially appear, would sufficiently account for
her; that her springing up between Selah and his wife was an exquisite
whim of the creative force; and that in such a case a few shades more or
less of the inexplicable didn't matter. It was notorious that great
beauties, great geniuses, great characters, take their own times and
places for coming into the world, leaving the gaping spectators to make
them "fit in," and holding from far-off ancestors, or even, perhaps,
straight from the divine generosity, much more than from their ugly or
stupid progenitors. They were incalculable phenomena, anyway, as Selah
would have said. Verena, for Olive, was the very type and model of the
"gifted being"; her qualities had not been bought and paid for; they
were like some brilliant birthday-present, left at the door by an
unknown messenger, to be delightful for ever as an inexhaustible legacy,
and amusing for ever from the obscurity of its source. They were
superabundantly crude as yet--happily for Olive, who promised herself,
as we know, to train and polish them--but they were as genuine as fruit
and flowers, as the glow of the fire or the plash of water. For her
scrutinising friend Verena had the disposition of the artist, the spirit
to which all charming forms come easily and naturally. It required an
effort at first to imagine an artist so untaught, so mistaught, so poor
in experience; but then it required an effort also to imagine people
like the old Tarrants, or a life so full as her life had been of ugly
things. Only an exquisite creature could have resisted such
associations, only a girl who had some natural light, some divine spark
of taste. There were people like that, fresh from the hand of
Omnipotence; they were far from common, but their existence was as
incontestable as it was beneficent.

Tarrant's talk about his daughter, her prospects, her enthusiasm, was
terribly painful to Olive; it brought back to her what she had suffered
already from the idea that he laid his hands upon her to make her speak.
That he should be mixed up in any way with this exercise of her genius
was a great injury to the cause, and Olive had already determined that
in future Verena should dispense with his co-operation. The girl had
virtually confessed that she lent herself to it only because it gave him
pleasure, and that anything else would do as well, anything that would
make her quiet a little before she began to "give out." Olive took upon
herself to believe that _she_ could make her quiet, though, certainly,
she had never had that effect upon any one; she would mount the platform
with Verena if necessary, and lay her hands upon her head. Why in the
world had a perverse fate decreed that Tarrant should take an interest
in the affairs of Woman--as if she wanted _his_ aid to arrive at her
goal; a charlatan of the poor, lean, shabby sort, without the humour,
brilliancy, prestige, which sometimes throw a drapery over shallowness?
Mr. Pardon evidently took an interest as well, and there was something
in his appearance that seemed to say that his sympathy would not be
dangerous. He was much at his ease, plainly, beneath the roof of the
Tarrants, and Olive reflected that though Verena had told her much about
him, she had not given her the idea that he was as intimate as that.
What she had mainly said was that he sometimes took her to the theatre.
Olive could enter, to a certain extent, into that; she herself had had a
phase (some time after her father's death--her mother's had preceded
his--when she bought the little house in Charles Street and began to
live alone), during which she accompanied gentlemen to respectable
places of amusement. She was accordingly not shocked at the idea of such
adventures on Verena's part; than which, indeed, judging from her own
experience, nothing could well have been less adventurous. Her
recollections of these expeditions were as of something solemn and
edifying--of the earnest interest in her welfare exhibited by her
companion (there were few occasions on which the young Bostonian
appeared to more advantage), of the comfort of other friends sitting
near, who were sure to know whom she was with, of serious discussion
between the acts in regard to the behaviour of the characters in the
piece, and of the speech at the end with which, as the young man quitted
her at her door, she rewarded his civility--"I must thank you for a very
pleasant evening." She always felt that she made that too prim; her lips
stiffened themselves as she spoke. But the whole affair had always a
primness; this was discernible even to Olive's very limited sense of
humour. It was not so religious as going to evening-service at King's
Chapel; but it was the next thing to it. Of course all girls didn't do
it; there were families that viewed such a custom with disfavour. But
this was where the girls were of the romping sort; there had to be some
things they were known not to do. As a general thing, moreover, the
practice was confined to the decorous; it was a sign of culture and
quiet tastes. All this made it innocent for Verena, whose life had
exposed her to much worse dangers; but the thing referred itself in
Olive's mind to a danger which cast a perpetual shadow there--the
possibility of the girl's embarking with some ingenuous youth on an
expedition that would last much longer than an evening. She was haunted,
in a word, with the fear that Verena would marry, a fate to which she
was altogether unprepared to surrender her; and this made her look with
suspicion upon all male acquaintance.

Mr. Pardon was not the only one she knew; she had an example of the rest
in the persons of two young Harvard law-students, who presented
themselves after tea on this same occasion. As they sat there Olive
wondered whether Verena had kept something from her, whether she were,
after all (like so many other girls in Cambridge), a college-"belle," an
object of frequentation to undergraduates. It was natural that at the
seat of a big university there should be girls like that, with students
dangling after them, but she didn't want Verena to be one of them. There
were some that received the Seniors and Juniors; others that were
accessible to Sophomores and Freshmen. Certain young ladies
distinguished the professional students; there was a group, even, that
was on the best terms with the young men who were studying for the
Unitarian ministry in that queer little barrack at the end of Divinity
Avenue. The advent of the new visitors made Mrs. Tarrant bustle
immensely; but after she had caused every one to change places two or
three times with every one else the company subsided into a circle which
was occasionally broken by wandering movements on the part of her
husband, who, in the absence of anything to say on any subject whatever,
placed himself at different points in listening attitudes, shaking his
head slowly up and down, and gazing at the carpet with an air of
supernatural attention. Mrs. Tarrant asked the young men from the Law
School about their studies, and whether they meant to follow them up
seriously; said she thought some of the laws were very unjust, and she
hoped they meant to try and improve them. She had suffered by the laws
herself, at the time her father died; she hadn't got half the prop'ty
she should have got if they had been different. She thought they should
be for public matters, not for people's private affairs; the idea always
seemed to her to keep you down if you _were_ down, and to hedge you in
with difficulties. Sometimes she thought it was a wonder how she had
developed in the face of so many; but it was a proof that freedom was
everywhere, if you only knew how to look for it.

The two young men were in the best humour; they greeted these sallies
with a merriment of which, though it was courteous in form, Olive was by
no means unable to define the spirit. They talked naturally more with
Verena than with her mother; and while they were so engaged Mrs. Tarrant
explained to her who they were, and how one of them, the smaller, who
was not quite so spruce, had brought the other, his particular friend,
to introduce him. This friend, Mr. Burrage, was from New York; he was
very fashionable, he went out a great deal in Boston ("I have no doubt
you know some of the places," said Mrs. Tarrant); his "fam'ly" was very
rich.

"Well, he knows plenty of that sort," Mrs. Tarrant went on, "but he felt
unsatisfied; he didn't know any one like _us_. He told Mr. Gracie
(that's the little one) that he felt as if he _must_; it seemed as if he
couldn't hold out. So we told Mr. Gracie, of course, to bring him right
round. Well, I hope he'll get something from us, I'm sure. He has been
reported to be engaged to Miss Winkworth; I have no doubt you know who I
mean. But Mr. Gracie says he hasn't looked at her more than twice.
That's the way rumours fly round in that set, I presume. Well, I am glad
we are not in it, wherever we are! Mr. Gracie is very different; he is
intensely plain, but I believe he is very learned. You don't think him
plain? Oh, you don't know? Well, I suppose you don't care, you must see
so many. But I must say, when a young man looks like that, I call him
painfully plain. I heard Doctor Tarrant make the remark the last time he
was here. I don't say but what the plainest are the best. Well, I had no
idea we were going to have a party when I asked you. I wonder whether
Verena hadn't better hand the cake; we generally find the students enjoy
it so much."

This office was ultimately delegated to Selah, who, after a considerable
absence, reappeared with a dish of dainties, which he presented
successively to each member of the company. Olive saw Verena lavish her
smiles on Mr. Gracie and Mr. Burrage; the liveliest relation had
established itself, and the latter gentleman in especial abounded in
appreciative laughter. It might have been fancied, just from looking at
the group, that Verena's vocation was to smile and talk with young men
who bent towards her; might have been fancied, that is, by a person less
sure of the contrary than Olive, who had reason to know that a "gifted
being" is sent into the world for a very different purpose, and that
making the time pass pleasantly for conceited young men is the last duty
you are bound to think of if you happen to have a talent for embodying a
cause. Olive tried to be glad that her friend had the richness of nature
that makes a woman gracious without latent purposes; she reflected that
Verena was not in the smallest degree a flirt, that she was only
enchantingly and universally genial, that nature had given her a
beautiful smile, which fell impartially on every one, man and woman,
alike. Olive may have been right, but it shall be confided to the reader
that in reality she never knew, by any sense of her own, whether Verena
were a flirt or not. This young lady could not possibly have told her
(even if she herself knew, which she didn't), and Olive, destitute of
the quality, had no means of taking the measure in another of the subtle
feminine desire to please. She could see the difference between Mr.
Gracie and Mr. Burrage; her being bored by Mrs. Tarrant's attempting to
point it out is perhaps a proof of that. It was a curious incident of
her zeal for the regeneration of her sex that manly things were, perhaps
on the whole, what she understood best. Mr. Burrage was rather a
handsome youth, with a laughing, clever face, a certain sumptuosity of
apparel, an air of belonging to the "fast set"--a precocious,
good-natured man of the world, curious of new sensations and containing,
perhaps, the making of a _dilettante_. Being, doubtless, a little
ambitious, and liking to flatter himself that he appreciated worth in
lowly forms, he had associated himself with the ruder but at the same
time acuter personality of a genuine son of New England, who had a
harder head than his own and a humour in reality more cynical, and who,
having earlier knowledge of the Tarrants, had undertaken to show him
something indigenous and curious, possibly even fascinating. Mr. Gracie
was short, with a big head; he wore eye-glasses, looked unkempt, almost
rustic, and said good things with his ugly lips. Verena had replies for
a good many of them, and a pretty colour came into her face as she
talked. Olive could see that she produced herself quite as well as one
of these gentlemen had foretold the other that she would. Miss
Chancellor knew what had passed between them as well as if she had heard
it; Mr. Gracie had promised that he would lead her on, that she should
justify his description and prove the raciest of her class. They would
laugh about her as they went away, lighting their cigars, and for many
days afterwards their discourse would be enlivened with quotations from
the "women's rights girl."

It was amazing how many ways men had of being antipathetic; these two
were very different from Basil Ransom, and different from each other,
and yet the manner of each conveyed an insult to one's womanhood. The
worst of the case was that Verena would be sure not to perceive this
outrage--not to dislike them in consequence. There were so many things
that she hadn't yet learned to dislike, in spite of her friend's earnest
efforts to teach her. She had the idea vividly (that was the marvel) of
the cruelty of man, of his immemorial injustice; but it remained
abstract, platonic; she didn't detest him in consequence. What was the
use of her having that sharp, inspired vision of the history of the sex
(it was, as she had said herself, exactly like Joan of Arc's absolutely
supernatural apprehension of the state of France) if she wasn't going to
carry it out, if she was going to behave as the ordinary pusillanimous,
conventional young lady? It was all very well for her to have said that
first day that she would renounce: did she look, at such a moment as
this, like a young woman who had renounced? Suppose this glittering,
laughing Burrage youth, with his chains and rings and shining shoes,
should fall in love with her and try to bribe her, with his great
possessions, to practise renunciations of another kind--to give up her
holy work and to go with him to New York, there to live as his wife,
partly bullied, partly pampered, in the accustomed Burrage manner? There
was as little comfort for Olive as there had been on the whole alarm in
the recollection of that off-hand speech of Verena's about her
preference for "free unions." This had been mere maiden flippancy; she
had not known the meaning of what she said. Though she had grown up
among people who took for granted all sorts of queer laxities, she had
kept the consummate innocence of the American girl, that innocence which
was the greatest of all, for it had survived the abolition of walls and
locks; and of the various remarks that had dropped from Verena
expressing this quality that startling observation certainly expressed
it most. It implied, at any rate, that unions of some kind or other had
her approval, and did not exclude the dangers that might arise from
encounters with young men in search of sensations.



XVI


Mr. Pardon, as Olive observed, was a little out of this combination; but
he was not a person to allow himself to droop. He came and seated
himself by Miss Chancellor and broached a literary subject; he asked her
if she were following any of the current "serials" in the magazines. On
her telling him that she never followed anything of that sort, he
undertook a defence of the serial system, which she presently reminded
him that she had not attacked. He was not discouraged by this retort,
but glided gracefully off to the question of Mount Desert; conversation
on some subject or other being evidently a necessity of his nature. He
talked very quickly and softly, with words, and even sentences,
imperfectly formed; there was a certain amiable flatness in his tone,
and he abounded in exclamations--"Goodness gracious!" and "Mercy on
us!"--not much in use among the sex whose profanity is apt to be coarse.
He had small, fair features, remarkably neat, and pretty eyes, and a
moustache that he caressed, and an air of juvenility much at variance
with his grizzled locks, and the free familiar reference in which he was
apt to indulge to his career as a journalist. His friends knew that in
spite of his delicacy and his prattle he was what they called a live
man; his appearance was perfectly reconcilable with a large degree of
literary enterprise. It should be explained that for the most part they
attached to this idea the same meaning as Selah Tarrant--a state of
intimacy with the newspapers, the cultivation of the great arts of
publicity. For this ingenuous son of his age all distinction between the
person and the artist had ceased to exist; the writer was personal, the
person food for newsboys, and everything and every one were every one's
business. All things, with him, referred themselves to print, and print
meant simply infinite reporting, a promptitude of announcement, abusive
when necessary, or even when not, about his fellow-citizens. He poured
contumely on their private life, on their personal appearance, with the
best conscience in the world. His faith, again, was the faith of Selah
Tarrant--that being in the newspapers is a condition of bliss, and that
it would be fastidious to question the terms of the privilege. He was an
_enfant de la balle_, as the French say; he had begun his career, at the
age of fourteen, by going the rounds of the hotels, to cull flowers from
the big, greasy registers which lie on the marble counters; and he might
flatter himself that he had contributed in his measure, and on behalf of
a vigilant public opinion, the pride of a democratic State, to the great
end of preventing the American citizen from attempting clandestine
journeys. Since then he had ascended other steps of the same ladder; he
was the most brilliant young interviewer on the Boston press. He was
particularly successful in drawing out the ladies; he had condensed into
shorthand many of the most celebrated women of his time--some of these
daughters of fame were very voluminous--and he was supposed to have a
remarkably insinuating way of waiting upon _prime donne_ and actresses
the morning after their arrival, or sometimes the very evening, while
their luggage was being brought up. He was only twenty-eight years old,
and, with his hoary head, was a thoroughly modern young man; he had no
idea of not taking advantage of all the modern conveniences. He regarded
the mission of mankind upon earth as a perpetual evolution of telegrams;
everything to him was very much the same, he had no sense of proportion
or quality; but the newest thing was what came nearest exciting in his
mind the sentiment of respect. He was an object of extreme admiration to
Selah Tarrant, who believed that he had mastered all the secrets of
success, and who, when Mrs. Tarrant remarked (as she had done more than
once) that it looked as if Mr. Pardon was really coming after Verena,
declared that if he was, he was one of the few young men he should want
to see in that connexion, one of the few he should be willing to allow
to handle her. It was Tarrant's conviction that if Matthias Pardon
should seek Verena in marriage, it would be with a view to producing her
in public; and the advantage for the girl of having a husband who was at
the same time reporter, interviewer, manager, agent, who had the command
of the principal "dailies," would write her up and work her, as it were,
scientifically--the attraction of all this was too obvious to be
insisted on. Matthias had a mean opinion of Tarrant, thought him quite
second-rate, a votary of played-out causes. It was his impression that
he himself was in love with Verena, but his passion was not a jealous
one, and included a remarkable disposition to share the object of his
affection with the American people.

He talked some time to Olive about Mount Desert, told her that in his
letters he had described the company at the different hotels. He
remarked, however, that a correspondent suffered a good deal to-day from
the competition of the "lady-writers"; the sort of article they produced
was sometimes more acceptable to the papers. He supposed she would be
glad to hear that--he knew she was so interested in woman's having a
free field. They certainly made lovely correspondents; they picked up
something bright before you could turn round; there wasn't much you
could keep away from them; you had to be lively if you wanted to get
there first. Of course, they were naturally more chatty, and that was
the style of literature that seemed to take most to-day; only they
didn't write much but what ladies would want to read. Of course, he knew
there were millions of lady-readers, but he intimated that _he_ didn't
address himself exclusively to the gynecæum; he tried to put in
something that would interest all parties. If you read a lady's letter
you knew pretty well in advance what you would find. Now, what he tried
for was that you shouldn't have the least idea; he always tried to have
something that would make you jump. Mr. Pardon was not conceited more,
at least, than is proper when youth and success go hand in hand, and it
was natural he should not know in what spirit Miss Chancellor listened
to him. Being aware that she was a woman of culture his desire was
simply to supply her with the pabulum that she would expect. She thought
him very inferior; she had heard he was intensely bright, but there was
probably some mistake; there couldn't be any danger for Verena from a
mind that took merely a gossip's view of great tendencies. Besides, he
wasn't half educated, and it was her belief, or at least her hope, that
an educative process was now going on for Verena (under her own
direction) which would enable her to make such a discovery for herself.
Olive had a standing quarrel with the levity, the good-nature, of the
judgements of the day; many of them seemed to her weak to imbecility,
losing sight of all measures and standards, lavishing superlatives,
delighted to be fooled. The age seemed to her relaxed and demoralised,
and I believe she looked to the influx of the great feminine element to
make it feel and speak more sharply.

"Well, it's a privilege to hear you two talk together," Mrs. Tarrant
said to her; "it's what I call real conversation. It isn't often we have
anything so fresh; it makes me feel as if I wanted to join in. I
scarcely know whom to listen to most; Verena seems to be having such a
time with those gentlemen. First I catch one thing and then another; it
seems as if I couldn't take it all in. Perhaps I ought to pay more
attention to Mr. Burrage; I don't want him to think we are not so
cordial as they are in New York."

She decided to draw nearer to the trio on the other side of the room,
for she had perceived (as she devoutly hoped Miss Chancellor had not)
that Verena was endeavouring to persuade either of her companions to go
and talk to her dear friend, and that these unscrupulous young men,
after a glance over their shoulder, appeared to plead for remission, to
intimate that this was not what they had come round for. Selah wandered
out of the room again with his collection of cakes, and Mr. Pardon began
to talk to Olive about Verena, to say that he felt as if he couldn't say
all he did feel with regard to the interest she had shown in her. Olive
could not imagine why he was called upon to say or to feel anything, and
she gave him short answers; while the poor young man, unconscious of his
doom, remarked that he hoped she wasn't going to exercise any influence
that would prevent Miss Tarrant from taking the rank that belonged to
her. He thought there was too much hanging back; he wanted to see her in
a front seat; he wanted to see her name in the biggest kind of bills and
her portrait in the windows of the stores. She had genius, there was no
doubt of that, and she would take a new line altogether. She had charm,
and there was a great demand for that nowadays in connexion with new
ideas. There were so many that seemed to have fallen dead for want of
it. She ought to be carried straight ahead; she ought to walk right up
to the top. There was a want of bold action; he didn't see what they
were waiting for. He didn't suppose they were waiting till she was fifty
years old; there were old ones enough in the field. He knew that Miss
Chancellor appreciated the advantage of her girlhood, because Miss
Verena had told him so. Her father was dreadfully slack, and the winter
was ebbing away. Mr. Pardon went so far as to say that if Dr. Tarrant
didn't see his way to do something, he should feel as if he should want
to take hold himself. He expressed a hope at the same time that Olive
had not any views that would lead her to bring her influence to bear to
make Miss Verena hold back; also that she wouldn't consider that he
pressed in too much. He knew that was a charge that people brought
against newspaper-men--that they were rather apt to cross the line. He
only worried because he thought those who were no doubt nearer to Miss
Verena than he could hope to be were not sufficiently alive. He knew
that she had appeared in two or three parlours since that evening at
Miss Birdseye's, and he had heard of the delightful occasion at Miss
Chancellor's own house, where so many of the first families had been
invited to meet her. (This was an allusion to a small luncheon-party
that Olive had given, when Verena discoursed to a dozen matrons and
spinsters, selected by her hostess with infinite consideration and many
spiritual scruples; a report of the affair, presumably from the hand of
the young Matthias, who naturally had not been present, appeared with
extraordinary promptness in an evening-paper.) That was very well so far
as it went, but he wanted something on another scale, something so big
that people would have to go round if they wanted to get past. Then
lowering his voice a little, he mentioned what it was: a lecture in the
Music Hall, at fifty cents a ticket, without her father, right there on
her own basis. He lowered his voice still more and revealed to Miss
Chancellor his innermost thought, having first assured himself that
Selah was still absent and that Mrs. Tarrant was inquiring of Mr.
Burrage whether he visited much on the new land. The truth was, Miss
Verena wanted to "shed" her father altogether; she didn't want him
pawing round her that way before she began; it didn't add in the least
to the attraction. Mr. Pardon expressed the conviction that Miss
Chancellor agreed with him in this, and it required a great effort of
mind on Olive's part, so small was her desire to act in concert with Mr.
Pardon, to admit to herself that she did. She asked him, with a certain
lofty coldness--he didn't make her shy, now, a bit--whether he took a
great interest in the improvement of the position of women. The question
appeared to strike the young man as abrupt and irrelevant, to come down
on him from a height with which he was not accustomed to hold
intercourse. He was used to quick operations, however, and he had only a
moment of bright blankness before replying:

"Oh, there is nothing I wouldn't do for the ladies; just give me a
chance and you'll see."

Olive was silent a moment. "What I mean is--is your sympathy a sympathy
with our sex, or a particular interest in Miss Tarrant?"

"Well, sympathy is just sympathy--that's all I can say. It takes in Miss
Verena and it takes in all others--except the lady-correspondents," the
young man added, with a jocosity which, as he perceived even at the
moment, was lost on Verena's friend. He was not more successful when he
went on: "It takes in even you, Miss Chancellor!"

Olive rose to her feet, hesitating; she wanted to go away, and yet she
couldn't bear to leave Verena to be exploited, as she felt that she
would be after her departure, that indeed she had already been, by those
offensive young men. She had a strange sense, too, that her friend had
neglected her for the last half-hour, had not been occupied with her,
had placed a barrier between them--a barrier of broad male backs, of
laughter that verged upon coarseness, of glancing smiles directed across
the room, directed to Olive, which seemed rather to disconnect her with
what was going forward on that side than to invite her to take part in
it. If Verena recognised that Miss Chancellor was not in report, as her
father said, when jocose young men ruled the scene, the discovery
implied no great penetration; but the poor girl might have reflected
further that to see it taken for granted that she was unadapted for such
company could scarcely be more agreeable to Olive than to be dragged
into it. This young lady's worst apprehensions were now justified by
Mrs. Tarrant's crying to her that she must not go, as Mr. Burrage and
Mr. Gracie were trying to persuade Verena to give them a little specimen
of inspirational speaking, and she was sure her daughter would comply in
a moment if Miss Chancellor would just tell her to compose herself. They
had got to own up to it, Miss Chancellor could do more with her than any
one else; but Mr. Gracie and Mr. Burrage had excited her so that she was
afraid it would be rather an unsuccessful effort. The whole group had
got up, and Verena came to Olive with her hands outstretched and no
signs of a bad conscience in her bright face.

"I know you like me to speak so much--I'll try to say something if you
want me to. But I'm afraid there are not enough people; I can't do much
with a small audience."

"I wish we had brought some of our friends--they would have been
delighted to come if we had given them a chance," said Mr. Burrage.
"There is an immense desire throughout the University to hear you, and
there is no such sympathetic audience as an audience of Harvard men.
Gracie and I are only two, but Gracie is a host in himself, and I am
sure he will say as much of me." The young man spoke these words freely
and lightly, smiling at Verena, and even a little at Olive, with the air
of one to whom a mastery of clever "chaff" was commonly attributed.

"Mr. Burrage listens even better than he talks," his companion declared.
"We have the habit of attention at lectures, you know. To be lectured by
you would be an advantage indeed. We are sunk in ignorance and
prejudice."

"Ah, my prejudices," Burrage went on; "if you could see them--I assure
you they are something monstrous!"

"Give them a regular ducking and make them gasp," Matthias Pardon cried.
"If you want an opportunity to act on Harvard College, now's your
chance. These gentlemen will carry the news; it will be the narrow end
of the wedge."

"I can't tell what you like," Verena said, still looking into Olive's
eyes.

"I'm sure Miss Chancellor likes everything here," Mrs. Tarrant remarked,
with a noble confidence.

Selah had reappeared by this time; his lofty, contemplative person was
framed by the doorway. "Want to try a little inspiration?" he inquired,
looking round on the circle with an encouraging inflexion.

"I'll do it alone, if you prefer," Verena said soothingly to her friend.
"It might be a good chance to try without father."

"You don't mean to say you ain't going to be supported?" Mrs. Tarrant
exclaimed, with dismay.

"Ah, I beseech you, give us the whole programme--don't omit any leading
feature!" Mr. Burrage was heard to plead.

"My only interest is to draw her out," said Selah, defending his
integrity. "I will drop right out if I don't seem to vitalise. I have no
desire to draw attention to my own poor gifts." This declaration
appeared to be addressed to Miss Chancellor.

"Well, there will be more inspiration if you don't touch her," Matthias
Pardon said to him. "It will seem to come right down from--well,
wherever it does come from."

"Yes, we don't pretend to say that," Mrs. Tarrant murmured.

This little discussion had brought the blood to Olive's face; she felt
that every one present was looking at her--Verena most of all--and that
here was a chance to take a more complete possession of the girl. Such
chances were agitating; moreover, she didn't like, on any occasion, to
be so prominent. But everything that had been said was benighted and
vulgar; the place seemed thick with the very atmosphere out of which she
wished to lift Verena. They were treating her as a show, as a social
resource, and the two young men from the College were laughing at her
shamelessly. She was not meant for that, and Olive would save her.
Verena was so simple, she couldn't see herself; she was the only pure
spirit in the odious group.

"I want you to address audiences that are worth addressing--to convince
people who are serious and sincere." Olive herself, as she spoke, heard
the great shake in her voice. "Your mission is not to exhibit yourself
as a pastime for individuals, but to touch the heart of communities, of
nations."

"Dear madam, I'm sure Miss Tarrant will touch my heart!" Mr. Burrage
objected, gallantly.

"Well, I don't know but she judges you young men fairly," said Mrs.
Tarrant, with a sigh.

Verena, diverted a moment from her communion with her friend, considered
Mr. Burrage with a smile. "I don't believe you have got any heart, and I
shouldn't care much if you had!"

"You have no idea how much the way you say that increases my desire to
hear you speak."

"Do as you please, my dear," said Olive, almost inaudibly. "My carriage
must be there--I must leave you, in any case."

"I can see you don't want it," said Verena, wondering. "You would stay
if you liked it, wouldn't you?"

"I don't know what I should do. Come out with me!" Olive spoke almost
with fierceness.

"Well, you'll send them away no better than they came," said Matthias
Pardon.

"I guess you had better come round some other night," Selah suggested
pacifically, but with a significance which fell upon Olive's ear.

Mr. Gracie seemed inclined to make the sturdiest protest. "Look here,
Miss Tarrant; do you want to save Harvard College, or do you not?" he
demanded, with a humorous frown.

"I didn't know _you_ were Harvard College!" Verena returned as
humorously.

"I am afraid you are rather disappointed in your evening if you expected
to obtain some insight into our ideas," said Mrs. Tarrant, with an air
of impotent sympathy, to Mr. Gracie.

"Well, good-night, Miss Chancellor," she went on; "I hope you've got a
warm wrap. I suppose you'll think we go a good deal by what you say in
this house. Well, most people don't object to that. There's a little
hole right there in the porch; it seems as if Doctor Tarrant couldn't
remember to go for the man to fix it. I am afraid you'll think we're too
much taken up with all these new hopes. Well, we _have_ enjoyed seeing
you in our home; it quite raises my appetite for social intercourse. Did
you come out on wheels? I can't stand a sleigh myself; it makes me
sick."

This was her hostess's response to Miss Chancellor's very summary
farewell, uttered as the three ladies proceeded together to the door of
the house. Olive had got herself out of the little parlour with a sort
of blind, defiant dash; she had taken no perceptible leave of the rest
of the company. When she was calm she had very good manners, but when
she was agitated she was guilty of lapses, every one of which came back
to her, magnified, in the watches of the night. Sometimes they excited
remorse, and sometimes triumph; in the latter case she felt that she
could not have been so justly vindictive in cold blood. Tarrant wished
to guide her down the steps, out of the little yard, to her carriage; he
reminded her that they had had ashes sprinkled on the planks on purpose.
But she begged him to let her alone, she almost pushed him back; she
drew Verena out into the dark freshness, closing the door of the house
behind her. There was a splendid sky, all blue-black and silver--a
sparkling wintry vault, where the stars were like a myriad points of
ice. The air was silent and sharp, and the vague snow looked cruel.
Olive knew now very definitely what the promise was that she wanted
Verena to make; but it was too cold, she could keep her there bareheaded
but an instant. Mrs. Tarrant, meanwhile, in the parlour, remarked that
it seemed as if she couldn't trust Verena with her own parents; and
Selah intimated that, with a proper invitation, his daughter would be
very happy to address Harvard College at large. Mr. Burrage and Mr.
Gracie said they would invite her on the spot, in the name of the
University; and Matthias Pardon reflected (and asserted) with glee that
this would be the newest thing yet. But he added that they would have a
high time with Miss Chancellor first, and this was evidently the
conviction of the company.

"I can see you are angry at something," Verena said to Olive, as the two
stood there in the starlight. "I hope it isn't me. What have I done?"

"I am not angry--I am anxious. I am so afraid I shall lose you. Verena,
don't fail me--don't fail me!" Olive spoke low, with a kind of passion.

"Fail you? How can I fail?"

"You can't, of course you can't. Your star is above you. But don't
listen to _them_."

"To whom do you mean, Olive? To my parents?"

"Oh no, not your parents," Miss Chancellor replied, with some sharpness.
She paused a moment, and then she said: "I don't care for your parents.
I have told you that before; but now that I have seen them--as they
wished, as you wished, and I didn't--I don't care for them; I must
repeat it, Verena. I should be dishonest if I let you think I did."

"Why, Olive Chancellor!" Verena murmured, as if she were trying, in
spite of the sadness produced by this declaration, to do justice to her
friend's impartiality.

"Yes, I am hard; perhaps I am cruel; but we must be hard if we wish to
triumph. Don't listen to young men when they try to mock and muddle you.
They don't care for you; they don't care for _us_. They care only for
their pleasure, for what they believe to be the right of the stronger.
The stronger? I am not so sure!"

"Some of them care so much--are supposed to care too much--for us,"
Verena said, with a smile that looked dim in the darkness.

"Yes, if we will give up everything. I have asked you before--are you
prepared to give up?"

"Do you mean, to give _you_ up?"

"No, all our wretched sisters--all our hopes and purposes--all that we
think Sacred and worth living for!"

"Oh, they don't want that, Olive." Verena's smile became more distinct,
and she added: "They don't want so much as that!"

"Well, then, go in and speak for them--and sing for them--and dance for
them!"

"Olive, you are cruel!"

"Yes, I am. But promise me one thing, and I shall be--oh, so tender!"

"What a strange place for promises," said Verena, with a shiver, looking
about her into the night.

"Yes, I am dreadful; I know it. But promise." And Olive drew the girl
nearer to her, flinging over her with one hand the fold of a cloak that
hung ample upon her own meagre person, and holding her there with the
other, while she looked at her, suppliant but half hesitating.
"Promise!" she repeated.

"Is it something terrible?"

"Never to listen to one of them, never to be bribed----"

At this moment the house-door was opened again, and the light of the
hall projected itself across the little piazza. Matthias Pardon stood in
the aperture, and Tarrant and his wife, with the two other visitors,
appeared to have come forward as well, to see what detained Verena.

"You seem to have started a kind of lecture out here," Mr. Pardon said.
"You ladies had better look out, or you'll freeze together!"

Verena was reminded by her mother that she would catch her death, but
she had already heard sharply, low as they were spoken, five last words
from Olive, who now abruptly released her and passed swiftly over the
path from the porch to her waiting carriage. Tarrant creaked along, in
pursuit, to assist Miss Chancellor; the others drew Verena into the
house. "Promise me not to marry!"--that was what echoed in her startled
mind, and repeated itself there when Mr. Burrage returned to the charge,
asking her if she wouldn't at least appoint some evening when they might
listen to her. She knew that Olive's injunction ought not to have
surprised her; she had already felt it in the air; she would have said
at any time, if she had been asked, that she didn't suppose Miss
Chancellor would want her to marry. But the idea, uttered as her friend
had uttered it, had a new solemnity, and the effect of that quick,
violent colloquy was to make her nervous and impatient, as if she had
had a sudden glimpse of futurity. That was rather awful, even if it
represented the fate one would like.

When the two young men from the College pressed their petition, she
asked, with a laugh that surprised them, whether they wished to "mock
and muddle" her. They went away, assenting to Mrs. Tarrant's last
remark: "I am afraid you'll feel that you don't quite understand us
yet." Matthias Pardon remained; her father and mother, expressing their
perfect confidence that he would excuse them, went to bed and left him
sitting there. He stayed a good while longer, nearly an hour, and said
things that made Verena think that _he_, perhaps, would like to marry
her. But while she listened to him, more abstractedly than her custom
was, she remarked to herself that there could be no difficulty in
promising Olive so far as he was concerned. He was very pleasant, and he
knew an immense deal about everything, or, rather, about every one, and
he would take her right into the midst of life. But she didn't wish to
marry him, all the same, and after he had gone she reflected that, once
she came to think of it, she didn't want to marry any one. So it would
be easy, after all, to make Olive that promise, and it would give her so
much pleasure!



XVII


The next time Verena saw Olive she said to her that she was ready to
make the promise she had asked the other night; but, to her great
surprise, this young woman answered her by a question intended to check
such rashness. Miss Chancellor raised a warning finger; she had an air
of dissuasion almost as solemn as her former pressure; her passionate
impatience appeared to have given way to other considerations, to be
replaced by the resignation that comes with deeper reflexion. It was
tinged in this case, indeed, by such bitterness as might be permitted to
a young lady who cultivated the brightness of a great faith.

"Don't you want any promise at present?" Verena asked. "Why, Olive, how
you change!"

"My dear child, you are so young--so strangely young. I am a thousand
years old; I have lived through generations--through centuries. I know
what I know by experience; you know it by imagination. That is
consistent with your being the fresh, bright creature that you are. I am
constantly forgetting the difference between us--that you are a mere
child as yet, though a child destined for great things. I forgot it the
other night, but I have remembered it since. You must pass through a
certain phase, and it would be very wrong in me to pretend to suppress
it. That is all clear to me now; I see it was my jealousy that spoke--my
restless, hungry jealousy. I have far too much of that; I oughtn't to
give any one the right to say that it's a woman's quality. I don't want
your signature; I only want your confidence--only what springs from
that. I hope with all my soul that you won't marry; but if you don't it
must not be because you have promised me. You know what I think--that
there is something noble done when one makes a sacrifice for a great
good. Priests--when they were real priests--never married, and what you
and I dream of doing demands of us a kind of priesthood. It seems to me
very poor, when friendship and faith and charity and the most
interesting occupation in the world--when such a combination as this
doesn't seem, by itself, enough to live for. No man that I have ever
seen cares a straw in his heart for what we are trying to accomplish.
They hate it; they scorn it; they will try to stamp it out whenever they
can. Oh yes, I know there are men who pretend to care for it; but they
are not really men, and I wouldn't be sure even of them! Any man that
one would look at--with him, as a matter of course, it is war upon us to
the knife. I don't mean to say there are not some male beings who are
willing to patronise us a little; to pat us on the back and recommend a
few moderate concessions; to say that there _are_ two or three little
points in which society has not been quite just to us. But any man who
pretends to accept our programme _in toto_, as you and I understand it,
of his own free will, before he is forced to--such a person simply
schemes to betray us. There are gentlemen in plenty who would be glad to
stop your mouth by kissing you! If you become dangerous some day to
their selfishness, to their vested interests, to their immorality--as I
pray heaven every day, my dear friend, that you may!--it will be a grand
thing for one of them if he can persuade you that he loves you. Then you
will see what he will do with you, and how far his love will take him!
It would be a sad day for you and for me and for all of us if you were
to believe something of that kind. You see I am very calm now; I have
thought it all out."

Verena had listened with earnest eyes. "Why, Olive, you are quite a
speaker yourself!" she exclaimed. "You would far surpass me if you would
let yourself go."

Miss Chancellor shook her head with a melancholy that was not devoid of
sweetness. "I can speak to _you_; but that is no proof. The very stones
of the street--all the dumb things of nature--might find a voice to talk
to you. I have no facility; I am awkward and embarrassed and dry." When
this young lady, after a struggle with the winds and waves of emotion,
emerged into the quiet stream of a certain high reasonableness, she
presented her most graceful aspect; she had a tone of softness and
sympathy, a gentle dignity, a serenity of wisdom, which sealed the
appreciation of those who knew her well enough to like her, and which
always impressed Verena as something almost august. Such moods, however,
were not often revealed to the public at large; they belonged to Miss
Chancellor's very private life. One of them had possession of her at
present, and she went on to explain the inconsequence which had puzzled
her friend with the same quiet clearness, the detachment from error, of
a woman whose self-scrutiny has been as sharp as her deflexion.

"Don't think me capricious if I say I would rather trust you without a
pledge. I owe you, I owe every one, an apology for my rudeness and
fierceness at your mother's. It came over me--just seeing those young
men--how exposed you are; and the idea made me (for the moment) frantic.
I see your danger still, but I see other things too, and I have
recovered my balance. You must be safe, Verena--you must be saved; but
your safety must not come from your having tied your hands. It must come
from the growth of your perception; from your seeing things, of
yourself, sincerely and with conviction, in the light in which I see
them; from your feeling that for your work your freedom is essential,
and that there is no freedom for you and me save in religiously _not_
doing what you will often be asked to do--and I never!" Miss Chancellor
brought out these last words with a proud jerk which was not without its
pathos. "Don't promise, don't promise!" she went on. "I would far rather
you didn't. But don't fail me--don't fail me, or I shall die!"

Her manner of repairing her inconsistency was altogether feminine: she
wished to extract a certainty at the same time that she wished to
deprecate a pledge, and she would have been delighted to put Verena into
the enjoyment of that freedom which was so important for her by
preventing her exercising it in a particular direction. The girl was now
completely under her influence; she had latent curiosities and
distractions--left to herself, she was not always thinking of the
unhappiness of women; but the touch of Olive's tone worked a spell, and
she found something to which at least a portion of her nature turned
with eagerness in her companion's wider knowledge, her elevation of
view. Miss Chancellor was historic and philosophic; or, at any rate, she
appeared so to Verena, who felt that through such an association one
might at last intellectually command all life. And there was a simpler
impulse; Verena wished to please her if only because she had such a
dread of displeasing her. Olive's displeasures, disappointments,
disapprovals were tragic, truly memorable; she grew white under them,
not shedding many tears, as a general thing, like inferior women (she
cried when she was angry, not when she was hurt), but limping and
panting, morally, as if she had received a wound that she would carry
for life. On the other hand, her commendations, her satisfactions were
as soft as a west wind; and she had this sign, the rarest of all, of
generosity, that she liked obligations of gratitude when they were not
laid upon her by men. Then, indeed, she scarcely recognised them. She
considered men in general as so much in the debt of the opposite sex
that any individual woman had an unlimited credit with them; she could
not possibly overdraw the general feminine account. The unexpected
temperance of her speech on this subject of Verena's accessibility to
matrimonial error seemed to the girl to have an antique beauty, a wisdom
purged of worldly elements; it reminded her of qualities that she
believed to have been proper to Electra or Antigone. This made her wish
the more to do something that would gratify Olive; and in spite of her
friend's dissuasion she declared that she should like to promise. "I
will promise, at any rate, not to marry any of those gentlemen that were
at the house," she said. "Those seemed to be the ones you were
principally afraid of."

"You will promise not to marry any one you don't like," said Olive.
"That would be a great comfort!"

"But I do like Mr. Burrage and Mr. Gracie."

"And Mr. Matthias Pardon? What a name!"

"Well, he knows how to make himself agreeable. He can tell you
everything you want to know."

"You mean everything you don't! Well, if you like every one, I haven't
the least objection. It would only be preferences that I should find
alarming. I am not the least afraid of your marrying a repulsive man;
your danger would come from an attractive one."

"I'm glad to hear you admit that some _are_ attractive!" Verena
exclaimed, with the light laugh which her reverence for Miss Chancellor
had not yet quenched. "It sometimes seems as if there weren't any you
could like!"

"I can imagine a man I should like very much," Olive replied, after a
moment. "But I don't like those I see. They seem to me poor creatures."
And, indeed, her uppermost feeling in regard to them was a kind of cold
scorn; she thought most of them palterers and bullies. The end of the
colloquy was that Verena, having assented, with her usual docility, to
her companion's optimistic contention that it was a "phase," this taste
for evening-calls from collegians and newspaper-men, and would
consequently pass away with the growth of her mind, remarked that the
injustice of men might be an accident or might be a part of their
nature, but at any rate she should have to change a good deal before she
should want to marry.

About the middle of December Miss Chancellor received a visit from
Matthias Pardon, who had come to ask her what she meant to do about
Verena. She had never invited him to call upon her, and the appearance
of a gentleman whose desire to see her was so irrepressible as to
dispense with such a preliminary was not in her career an accident
frequent enough to have taught her equanimity. She thought Mr. Pardon's
visit a liberty; but, if she expected to convey this idea to him by
withholding any suggestion that he should sit down, she was greatly
mistaken, inasmuch as he cut the ground from under her feet by himself
offering her a chair. His manner represented hospitality enough for both
of them, and she was obliged to listen, on the edge of her sofa (she
could at least seat herself where she liked), to his extraordinary
inquiry. Of course she was not obliged to answer it, and indeed she
scarcely understood it. He explained that it was prompted by the intense
interest he felt in Miss Verena; but that scarcely made it more
comprehensible, such a sentiment (on his part) being such a curious
mixture. He had a sort of enamel of good humour which showed that his
indelicacy was his profession; and he asked for revelations of the _vie
intime_ of his victims with the bland confidence of a fashionable
physician inquiring about symptoms. He wanted to know what Miss
Chancellor meant to do, because if she didn't mean to do anything, he
had an idea--which he wouldn't conceal from her--of going into the
enterprise himself. "You see, what I should like to know is this: do you
consider that she belongs to you, or that she belongs to the people? If
she belongs to you, why don't you bring her out?"

He had no purpose and no consciousness of being impertinent; he only
wished to talk over the matter sociably with Miss Chancellor. He knew,
of course, that there was a presumption she would not be sociable, but
no presumption had yet deterred him from presenting a surface which he
believed to be polished till it shone; there was always a larger one in
favour of his power to penetrate and of the majesty of the "great
dailies." Indeed, he took so many things for granted that Olive remained
dumb while she regarded them; and he availed himself of what he
considered as a fortunate opening to be really very frank. He reminded
her that he had known Miss Verena a good deal longer than she; he had
travelled out to Cambridge the other winter (when he could get an
off-night), with the thermometer at ten below zero. He had always
thought her attractive, but it wasn't till this season that his eyes had
been fully opened. Her talent had matured, and now he had no hesitation
in calling her brilliant. Miss Chancellor could imagine whether, as an
old friend, he could watch such a beautiful unfolding with indifference.
She would fascinate the people, just as she had fascinated her (Miss
Chancellor), and, he might be permitted to add, himself. The fact was,
she was a great card, and some one ought to play it. There never had
been a more attractive female speaker before the American public; she
would walk right past Mrs. Farrinder, and Mrs. Farrinder knew it. There
was room for both, no doubt, they had such a different style; anyhow,
what he wanted to show was that there was room for Miss Verena. She
didn't want any more tuning-up, she wanted to break right out. Moreover,
he felt that any gentleman who should lead her to success would win her
esteem; he might even attract her more powerfully--who could tell? If
Miss Chancellor wanted to attach her permanently, she ought to push her
right forward. He gathered from what Miss Verena had told him that she
wanted to make her study up the subject a while longer--follow some kind
of course. Well, now, he could assure her that there was no preparation
so good as just seeing a couple of thousand people down there before you
who have paid their money to have you tell them something. Miss Verena
was a natural genius, and he hoped very much she wasn't going to take
the nature out of her. She could study up as she went along; she had got
the great thing that you couldn't learn, a kind of divine afflatus, as
the ancients used to say, and she had better just begin on that. He
wouldn't deny what was the matter with _him_; he was quite under the
spell, and his admiration made him want to see her where she belonged.
He shouldn't care so much how she got there, but it would certainly add
to his pleasure if he could show her up to her place. Therefore, would
Miss Chancellor just tell him this: How long did she expect to hold her
back; how long did she expect a humble admirer to wait? Of course he
hadn't come there to cross-question her; there was one thing he trusted
he always kept clear of; when he was indiscreet he wanted to know it. He
had come with a proposal of his own, and he hoped it would seem a
sufficient warrant for his visit. Would Miss Chancellor be willing to
divide a--the--well, he might call it the responsibilities? Couldn't
they run Miss Verena together? In this case every one would be
satisfied. She could travel round with her as her companion, and he
would see that the American people walked up. If Miss Chancellor would
just let her go a little, he would look after the rest. He wanted no
odds; he only wanted her for about an hour and a half three or four
evenings a week.

Olive had time, in the course of this appeal, to make her faculties
converge, to ask herself what she could say to this prodigious young man
that would make him feel as how base a thing she held his proposal that
they should constitute themselves into a company for drawing profit from
Verena. Unfortunately, the most sarcastic inquiry that could occur to
her as a response was also the most obvious one, so that he hesitated
but a moment with his rejoinder after she had asked him how many
thousands of dollars he expected to make.

"For Miss Verena? It depends upon the time. She'd run for ten years, at
least. I can't figure it up till all the States have been heard from,"
he said, smiling.

"I don't mean for Miss Tarrant, I mean for you," Olive returned, with
the impression that she was looking him straight in the eye.

"Oh, as many as you'll leave me!" Matthias Pardon answered, with a laugh
that contained all, and more than all, the jocularity of the American
press. "To speak seriously," he added, "I don't want to make money out
of it."

"What do you want to make then?"

"Well, I want to make history! I want to help the ladies."

"The ladies?" Olive murmured. "What do you know about ladies?" she was
on the point of adding, when his promptness checked her.

"All over the world. I want to work for their emancipation. I regard it
as the great modern question."

Miss Chancellor got up now; this was rather too strong. Whether,
eventually, she was successful in what she attempted, the reader of her
history will judge; but at this moment she had not that promise of
success which resides in a willingness to make use of every aid that
offers. Such is the penalty of being of a fastidious, exclusive,
uncompromising nature; of seeing things not simply and sharply, but in
perverse relations, in intertwisted strands. It seemed to our young lady
that nothing could be less attractive than to owe her emancipation to
such a one as Matthias Pardon; and it is curious that those qualities
which he had in common with Verena, and which in her seemed to Olive
romantic and touching--her having sprung from the "people," had an
acquaintance with poverty, a hand-to-mouth development, and an
experience of the seamy side of life--availed in no degree to conciliate
Miss Chancellor. I suppose it was because he was a man. She told him
that she was much obliged to him for his offer, but that he evidently
didn't understand Verena and herself. No, not even Miss Tarrant, in
spite of his long acquaintance with her. They had no desire to be
notorious; they only wanted to be useful. They had no wish to make
money; there would always be plenty of money for Miss Tarrant.
Certainly, she should come before the public, and the world would
acclaim her and hang upon her words; but crude, precipitate action was
what both of them least desired. The change in the dreadful position of
women was not a question for to-day simply, or for to-morrow, but for
many years to come; and there would be a great deal to think of, to map
out. One thing they were determined upon--that men shouldn't taunt them
with being superficial. When Verena should appear it would be armed at
all points, like Joan of Arc (this analogy had lodged itself in Olive's
imagination); she should have facts and figures; she should meet men on
their own ground. "What we mean to do, we mean to do well," Miss
Chancellor said to her visitor, with considerable sternness; leaving him
to make such an application to himself as his fancy might suggest.

This announcement had little comfort for him; he felt baffled and
disheartened--indeed, quite sick. Was it not sickening to hear her talk
of this dreary process of preparation?--as if any one cared about that,
and would know whether Verena were prepared or not! Had Miss Chancellor
no faith in her girlhood? didn't she know what a card that would be?
This was the last inquiry Olive allowed him the opportunity of making.
She remarked to him that they might talk for ever without coming to an
agreement--their points of view were so far apart. Besides, it was a
woman's question; what they wanted was for women, and it should be by
women. It had happened to the young Matthias more than once to be shown
the way to the door, but the path of retreat had never yet seemed to him
so unpleasant. He was naturally amiable, but it had not hitherto
befallen him to be made to feel that he was not--and could not be--a
factor in contemporary history: here was a rapacious woman who proposed
to keep that favourable setting for herself. He let her know that she
was right-down selfish, and that if she chose to sacrifice a beautiful
nature to her antediluvian theories and love of power, a vigilant daily
press--whose business it was to expose wrong-doing--would demand an
account from her. She replied that, if the newspapers chose to insult
her, that was their own affair; one outrage the more to the sex in her
person was of little account. And after he had left her she seemed to
see the glow of dawning success; the battle had begun, and something of
the ecstasy of the martyr.



XVIII


Verena told her, a week after this, that Mr. Pardon wanted so much she
should say she would marry him; and she added, with evident pleasure at
being able to give her so agreeable a piece of news, that she had
declined to say anything of the sort. She thought that now, at least,
Olive must believe in her; for the proposal was more attractive than
Miss Chancellor seemed able to understand. "He does place things in a
very seductive light," Verena said; "he says that if I become his wife I
shall be carried straight along by a force of excitement of which at
present I have no idea. I shall wake up famous, if I marry him; I have
only got to give out my feelings, and he will take care of the rest. He
says every hour of my youth is precious to me, and that we should have a
lovely time travelling round the country. I think you ought to allow
that all that is rather dazzling--for I am not naturally concentrated,
like you!"

"He promises you success. What do you call success?" Olive inquired,
looking at her friend with a kind of salutary coldness--a suspension of
sympathy--with which Verena was now familiar (though she liked it no
better than at first), and which made approbation more gracious when
approbation came.

Verena reflected a moment, and then answered, smiling, but with
confidence: "Producing a pressure that shall be irresistible. Causing
certain laws to be repealed by Congress and by the State legislatures,
and others to be enacted." She repeated the words as if they had been
part of a catechism committed to memory, while Olive saw that this
mechanical tone was in the nature of a joke that she could not deny
herself; they had had that definition so often before, and Miss
Chancellor had had occasion so often to remind her what success _really_
was. Of course it was easy to prove to her now that Mr. Pardon's
glittering bait was a very different thing; was a mere trap and lure, a
bribe to vanity and impatience, a device for making her give herself
away--let alone fill his pockets while she did so. Olive was conscious
enough of the girl's want of continuity; she had seen before how she
could be passionately serious at times, and then perversely, even if
innocently, trivial--as just now, when she seemed to wish to convert one
of their most sacred formulas into a pleasantry. She had already quite
recognised, however, that it was not of importance that Verena should be
just like herself; she was all of one piece, and Verena was of many
pieces, which had, where they fitted together, little capricious chinks,
through which mocking inner lights seemed sometimes to gleam. It was a
part of Verena's being unlike her that she should feel Mr. Pardon's
promise of eternal excitement to be a brilliant thing, should indeed
consider Mr. Pardon with any tolerance at all. But Olive tried afresh to
allow for such aberrations, as a phase of youth and suburban culture;
the more so that, even when she tried most, Verena reproached her--so
far as Verena's incurable softness could reproach--with not allowing
enough. Olive didn't appear to understand that, while Matthias Pardon
drew that picture and tried to hold her hand (this image was
unfortunate), she had given one long, fixed, wistful look, through the
door he opened, at the bright tumult of the world, and then had turned
away, solely for her friend's sake, to an austerer probation and a purer
effort; solely for her friend's, that is, and that of the whole enslaved
sisterhood. The fact remained, at any rate, that Verena had made a
sacrifice; and this thought, after a while, gave Olive a greater sense
of security. It seemed almost to seal the future; for Olive knew that
the young interviewer would not easily be shaken off, and yet she was
sure that Verena would never yield to him.

It was true that at present Mr. Burrage came a great deal to the little
house at Cambridge; Verena told her about that, told her so much that it
was almost as good as if she had told her all. He came without Mr.
Gracie now; he could find his way alone, and he seemed to wish that
there should be no one else. He had made himself so pleasant to her
mother that she almost always went out of the room; that was the
highest proof Mrs. Tarrant could give of her appreciation of a
"gentleman-caller." They knew everything about him by this time; that
his father was dead, his mother very fashionable and prominent, and he
himself in possession of a handsome patrimony. They thought ever so much
of him in New York. He collected beautiful things, pictures and antiques
and objects that he sent for to Europe on purpose, many of which were
arranged in his rooms at Cambridge. He had intaglios and Spanish
altar-cloths and drawings by the old masters. He was different from most
others; he seemed to want so much to enjoy life, and to think you easily
could if you would only let yourself go. Of course--judging by what _he_
had--he appeared to think you required a great many things to keep you
up. And then Verena told Olive--she could see it was after a little
delay--that he wanted her to come round to his place and see his
treasures. He wanted to show them to her, he was so sure she would
admire them. Verena was sure also, but she wouldn't go alone, and she
wanted Olive to go with her. They would have tea, and there would be
other ladies, and Olive would tell her what she thought of a life that
was so crowded with beauty. Miss Chancellor made her reflexions on all
this, and the first of them was that it was happy for her that she had
determined for the present to accept these accidents, for otherwise
might she not now have had a deeper alarm? She wished to heaven that
conceited young men with time on their hands would leave Verena alone;
but evidently they wouldn't, and her best safety was in seeing as many
as should turn up. If the type should become frequent, she would very
soon judge it. If Olive had not been so grim, she would have had a smile
to spare for the frankness with which the girl herself adopted this
theory. She was eager to explain that Mr. Burrage didn't seem at all to
want what poor Mr. Pardon had wanted; he made her talk about her views
far more than that gentleman, but gave no sign of offering himself
either as a husband or as a lecture-agent. The furthest he had gone as
yet was to tell her that he liked her for the same reason that he liked
old enamels and old embroideries; and when she said that she didn't see
how she resembled such things, he had replied that it was because she
was so peculiar and so delicate. She might be peculiar, but she had
protested against the idea that she was delicate; it was the last thing
that she wanted to be thought; and Olive could see from this how far she
was from falling in with everything he said. When Miss Chancellor asked
if she respected Mr. Burrage (and how solemn Olive could make that word
she by this time knew), she answered, with her sweet, vain laugh, but
apparently with perfect good faith, that it didn't matter whether she
did or not, for what was the whole thing but simply a phase--the very
one they had talked about? The sooner she got through it the better, was
it not?--and she seemed to think that her transit would be materially
quickened by a visit to Mr. Burrage's rooms. As I say, Verena was
pleased to regard the phase as quite inevitable, and she had said more
than once to Olive that if their struggle was to be with men, the more
they knew about them the better. Miss Chancellor asked her why her
mother should not go with her to see the curiosities, since she
mentioned that their possessor had not neglected to invite Mrs. Tarrant;
and Verena said that this, of course, would be very simple--only her
mother wouldn't be able to tell her so well as Olive whether she ought
to respect Mr. Burrage. This decision as to whether Mr. Burrage should
be respected assumed in the life of these two remarkable young women,
pitched in so high a moral key, the proportions of a momentous event.
Olive shrank at first from facing it--not, indeed, the decision--for we
know that her own mind had long since been made up in regard to the
quantity of esteem due to almost any member of the other sex--but the
incident itself, which, if Mr. Burrage should exasperate her further,
might expose her to the danger of appearing to Verena to be unfair to
him. It was her belief that he was playing a deeper game than the young
Matthias, and she was very willing to watch him; but she thought it
prudent not to attempt to cut short the phase (she adopted that
classification) prematurely--an imputation she should incur if, without
more delay, she were to "shut down," as Verena said, on the young
connoisseur.

It was settled, therefore, that Mrs. Tarrant should, with her daughter,
accept Mr. Burrage's invitation; and in a few days these ladies paid a
visit to his apartments. Verena subsequently, of course, had much to say
about it, but she dilated even more upon her mother's impressions than
upon her own. Mrs. Tarrant had carried away a supply which would last
her all winter; there had been some New York ladies present who were
"on" at that moment, and with whom her intercourse was rich in emotions.
She had told them all that she should be happy to see them in her home,
but they had not yet picked their way along the little planks of the
front yard. Mr. Burrage, at all events, had been quite lovely, and had
talked about his collections, which were wonderful, in the most
interesting manner. Verena inclined to think he was to be respected. He
admitted that he was not really studying law at all; he had only come to
Cambridge for the form; but she didn't see why it wasn't enough when you
made yourself as pleasant as that. She went so far as to ask Olive
whether taste and art were not something, and her friend could see that
she was certainly very much involved in the phase. Miss Chancellor, of
course, had her answer ready. Taste and art were good when they enlarged
the mind, not when they narrowed it. Verena assented to this, and said
it remained to be seen what effect they had had upon Mr. Burrage--a
remark which led Olive to fear that at such a rate much would remain,
especially when Verena told her, later, that another visit to the young
man's rooms was projected, and that this time she must come, he having
expressed the greatest desire for the honour, and her own wish being
greater still that they should look at some of his beautiful things
together.

A day or two after this, Mr. Henry Burrage left a card at Miss
Chancellor's door, with a note in which he expressed the hope that she
would take tea with him on a certain day on which he expected the
company of his mother. Olive responded to this invitation, in
conjunction with Verena; but in doing so she was in the position,
singular for her, of not quite understanding what she was about. It
seemed to her strange that Verena should urge her to take such a step
when she was free to go without her, and it proved two things: first,
that she was much interested in Mr. Henry Burrage, and second, that her
nature was extraordinarily beautiful. Could anything, in effect, be less
underhand than such an indifference to what she supposed to be the best
opportunities for carrying on a flirtation? Verena wanted to know the
truth, and it was clear that by this time she believed Olive Chancellor
to have it, for the most part, in her keeping. Her insistence,
therefore, proved, above all, that she cared more for her friend's
opinion of Henry Burrage than for her own--a reminder, certainly, of the
responsibility that Olive had incurred in undertaking to form this
generous young mind, and of the exalted place that she now occupied in
it. Such revelations ought to have been satisfactory; if they failed to
be completely so, it was only on account of the elder girl's regret that
the subject as to which her judgement was wanted should be a young man
destitute of the worst vices. Henry Burrage had contributed to throw
Miss Chancellor into a "state," as these young ladies called it, the
night she met him at Mrs. Tarrant's; but it had none the less been
conveyed to Olive by the voices of the air that he was a gentleman and a
good fellow.

This was painfully obvious when the visit to his rooms took place; he
was so good-humoured, so amusing, so friendly and considerate, so
attentive to Miss Chancellor, he did the honours of his bachelor-nest
with so easy a grace, that Olive, part of the time, sat dumbly shaking
her conscience, like a watch that wouldn't go, to make it tell her some
better reason why she shouldn't like him. She saw that there would be no
difficulty in disliking his mother; but that, unfortunately, would not
serve her purpose nearly so well. Mrs. Burrage had come to spend a few
days near her son; she was staying at an hotel in Boston. It presented
itself to Olive that after this entertainment it would be an act of
courtesy to call upon her; but here, at least, was the comfort that she
could cover herself with the general absolution extended to the Boston
temperament and leave her alone. It was slightly provoking, indeed, that
Mrs. Burrage should have so much the air of a New Yorker who didn't
particularly notice whether a Bostonian called or not; but there is ever
an imperfection, I suppose, in even the sweetest revenge. She was a
woman of society, large and voluminous, fair (in complexion) and
regularly ugly, looking as if she ought to be slow and rather heavy, but
disappointing this expectation by a quick, amused utterance, a short,
bright, summary laugh, with which she appeared to dispose of the joke
(whatever it was) for ever, and an air of recognising on the instant
everything she saw and heard. She was evidently accustomed to talk, and
even to listen, if not kept waiting too long for details and
parentheses; she was not continuous, but frequent, as it were, and you
could see that she hated explanations, though it was not to be supposed
that she had anything to fear from them. Her favours were general, not
particular; she was civil enough to every one, but not in any case
endearing, and perfectly genial without being confiding, as people were
in Boston when (in moments of exaltation) they wished to mark that they
were not suspicious. There was something in her whole manner which
seemed to say to Olive that she belonged to a larger world than hers;
and our young lady was vexed at not hearing that she had lived for a
good many years in Europe, as this would have made it easy to classify
her as one of the corrupt. She learned, almost with a sense of injury,
that neither the mother nor the son had been longer beyond the seas than
she herself; and if they were to be judged as triflers they must be
dealt with individually. Was it an aid to such a judgement to see that
Mrs. Burrage was very much pleased with Boston, with Harvard College,
with her son's interior, with her cup of tea (it was old Sèvres), which
was not half so bad as she had expected, with the company he had asked
to meet her (there were three or four gentlemen, one of whom was Mr.
Gracie), and, last, not least, with Verena Tarrant, whom she addressed
as a celebrity, kindly, cleverly, but without maternal tenderness or
anything to mark the difference in their age? She spoke to her as if
they were equals in that respect, as if Verena's genius and fame would
make up the disparity, and the girl had no need of encouragement and
patronage. She made no direct allusion, however, to her particular
views, and asked her no question about her "gift"--an omission which
Verena thought strange, and, with the most speculative candour, spoke of
to Olive afterwards. Mrs. Burrage seemed to imply that every one present
had some distinction and some talent, that they were all good company
together. There was nothing in her manner to indicate that she was
afraid of Verena on her son's account; she didn't resemble a person who
would like him to marry the daughter of a mesmeric healer, and yet she
appeared to think it charming that he should have such a young woman
there to give gusto to her hour at Cambridge. Poor Olive was, in the
nature of things, entangled in contradictions; she had a horror of the
idea of Verena's marrying Mr. Burrage, and yet she was angry when his
mother demeaned herself as if the little girl with red hair, whose
freshness she enjoyed, could not be a serious danger. She saw all this
through the blur of her shyness, the conscious, anxious silence to which
she was so much of the time condemned. It may therefore be imagined how
sharp her vision would have been could she only have taken the situation
more simply; for she was intelligent enough not to have needed to be
morbid, even for purposes of self-defence.

I must add, however, that there was a moment when she came near being
happy--or, at any rate, reflected that it was a pity she could not be
so. Mrs. Burrage asked her son to play "some little thing," and he sat
down to his piano and revealed a talent that might well have gratified
that lady's pride. Olive was extremely susceptible to music, and it was
impossible to her not to be soothed and beguiled by the young man's
charming art. One "little thing" succeeded another; his selections were
all very happy. His guests sat scattered in the red firelight,
listening, silent, in comfortable attitudes; there was a faint fragrance
from the burning logs, which mingled with the perfume of Schubert and
Mendelssohn; the covered lamps made a glow here and there, and the
cabinets and brackets produced brown shadows, out of which some precious
object gleamed--some ivory carving or cinque-cento cup. It was given to
Olive, under these circumstances, for half an hour, to surrender
herself, to enjoy the music, to admit that Mr. Burrage played with
exquisite taste, to feel as if the situation were a kind of truce. Her
nerves were calmed, her problems--for the time--subsided. Civilisation,
under such an influence, in such a setting, appeared to have done its
work; harmony ruled the scene; human life ceased to be a battle. She
went so far as to ask herself why one should have a quarrel with it; the
relations of men and women, in that picturesque grouping, had not the
air of being internecine. In short, she had an interval of unexpected
rest, during which she kept her eyes mainly on Verena, who sat near Mrs.
Burrage, letting herself go, evidently, more completely than Olive. To
her, too, music was a delight, and her listening face turned itself to
different parts of the room, unconsciously, while her eyes vaguely
rested on the _bibelots_ that emerged into the firelight. At moments
Mrs. Burrage bent her countenance upon her and smiled, at random,
kindly; and then Verena smiled back, while her expression seemed to say
that, oh yes, she was giving up everything, all principles, all
projects. Even before it was time to go, Olive felt that they were both
(Verena and she) quite demoralised, and she only summoned energy to take
her companion away when she heard Mrs. Burrage propose to her to come
and spend a fortnight in New York. Then Olive exclaimed to herself, "Is
it a plot? Why in the world can't they let her alone?" and prepared to
throw a fold of her mantle, as she had done before, over her young
friend. Verena answered, somewhat impetuously, that she should be
delighted to visit Mrs. Burrage; then checked her impetuosity, after a
glance from Olive, by adding that perhaps this lady wouldn't ask her if
she knew what strong ground she took on the emancipation of women. Mrs.
Burrage looked at her son and laughed; she said she was perfectly aware
of Verena's views, and that it was impossible to be more in sympathy
with them than she herself. She took the greatest interest in the
emancipation of women; she thought there was so much to be done. These
were the only remarks that passed in reference to the great subject; and
nothing more was said to Verena, either by Henry Burrage or by his
friend Gracie, about her addressing the Harvard students. Verena had
told her father that Olive had put her veto upon that, and Tarrant had
said to the young men that it seemed as if Miss Chancellor was going to
put the thing through in her own way. We know that he thought this way
very circuitous; but Miss Chancellor made him feel that she was in
earnest, and that idea frightened the resistance out of him--it had such
terrible associations. The people he had ever seen who were most in
earnest were a committee of gentlemen who had investigated the phenomena
of the "materialisation" of spirits, some ten years before, and had bent
the fierce light of the scientific method upon him. To Olive it appeared
that Mr. Burrage and Mr. Gracie had ceased to be jocular; but that did
not make them any less cynical. Henry Burrage said to Verena, as she was
going, that he hoped she would think seriously of his mother's
invitation; and she replied that she didn't know whether she should have
much time in the future to give to people who already approved of her
views: she expected to have her hands full with the others, who didn't.

"Does your scheme of work exclude all distraction, all recreation,
then?" the young man inquired; and his look expressed real suspense.

Verena referred the matter, as usual, with her air of bright, ungrudging
deference, to her companion. "Does it, should you say--our scheme of
work?"

"I am afraid the distraction we have had this afternoon must last us for
a long time," Olive said, without harshness, but with considerable
majesty.

"Well, now, _is_ he to be respected?" Verena demanded, as the two young
women took their way through the early darkness, pacing quietly side by
side, in their winter-robes, like women consecrated to some holy office.

Olive turned it over a moment. "Yes, very much--as a pianist!"

Verena went into town with her in the horse-car--she was staying in
Charles Street for a few days--and that evening she startled Olive by
breaking out into a reflexion very similar to the whimsical falterings
of which she herself had been conscious while they sat in Mr. Burrage's
pretty rooms, but against which she had now violently reacted.

"It would be very nice to do that always--just to take men as they are,
and not to have to think about their badness. It would be very nice not
to have so many questions, but to think they were all comfortably
answered, so that one could sit there on an old Spanish leather chair,
with the curtains drawn and keeping out the cold, the darkness, all the
big, terrible, cruel world--sit there and listen for ever to Schubert
and Mendelssohn. _They_ didn't care anything about female suffrage! And
I didn't feel the want of a vote to-day at all, did you?" Verena
inquired, ending, as she always ended in these few speculations, with an
appeal to Olive.

This young lady thought it necessary to give her a very firm answer. "I
always feel it--everywhere--night and day. I feel it _here_"; and Olive
laid her hand solemnly on her heart. "I feel it as a deep, unforgettable
wrong; I feel it as one feels a stain that is on one's honour."

Verena gave a clear laugh, and after that a soft sigh, and then said,
"Do you know, Olive, I sometimes wonder whether, if it wasn't for you, I
should feel it so very much!"

"My own friend," Olive replied, "you have never yet said anything to me
which expressed so clearly the closeness and sanctity of our union."

"You do keep me up," Verena went on. "You are my conscience."

"I should like to be able to say that you are my form--my envelope. But
you are too beautiful for that!" So Olive returned her friend's
compliment; and later she said that, of course, it would be far easier
to give up everything and draw the curtains to and pass one's life in an
artificial atmosphere, with rose-coloured lamps. It would be far easier
to abandon the struggle, to leave all the unhappy women of the world to
their immemorial misery, to lay down one's burden, close one's eyes to
the whole dark picture, and, in short, simply expire. To this Verena
objected that it would not be easy for her to expire at all; that such
an idea was darker than anything the world contained; that she had not
done with life yet, and that she didn't mean to allow her
responsibilities to crush her. And then the two young women concluded,
as they had concluded before, by finding themselves completely,
inspiringly in agreement, full of the purpose to live indeed, and with
high success; to become great, in order not to be obscure, and powerful,
in order not to be useless. Olive had often declared before that her
conception of life was as something sublime or as nothing at all. The
world was full of evil, but she was glad to have been born before it had
been swept away, while it was still there to face, to give one a task
and a reward. When the great reforms should be consummated, when the day
of justice should have dawned, would not life perhaps be rather poor and
pale? She had never pretended to deny that the hope of fame, of the very
highest distinction, was one of her strongest incitements; and she held
that the most effective way of protesting against the state of bondage
of women was for an individual member of the sex to become illustrious.
A person who might have overheard some of the talk of this possibly
infatuated pair would have been touched by their extreme familiarity
with the idea of earthly glory. Verena had not invented it, but she had
taken it eagerly from her friend, and she returned it with interest. To
Olive it appeared that just this partnership of their two minds--each of
them, by itself, lacking an important group of facets--made an organic
whole which, for the work in hand, could not fail to be brilliantly
effective. Verena was often far more irresponsive than she liked to see
her; but the happy thing in her composition was that, after a short
contact with the divine idea--Olive was always trying to flash it at
her, like a jewel in an uncovered case--she kindled, flamed up, took the
words from her friend's less persuasive lips, resolved herself into a
magical voice, became again the pure young sibyl. Then Olive perceived
how fatally, without Verena's tender notes, her crusade would lack
sweetness, what the Catholics call unction; and, on the other hand, how
weak Verena would be on the statistical and logical side if she herself
should not bring up the rear. Together, in short, they would be
complete, they would have everything, and together they would triumph.



XIX


This idea of their triumph, a triumph as yet ultimate and remote, but
preceded by the solemn vista of an effort so religious as never to be
wanting in ecstasy, became tremendously familiar to the two friends, but
especially to Olive, during the winter of 187-, a season which ushered
in the most momentous period of Miss Chancellor's life. About Christmas
a step was taken which advanced her affairs immensely, and put them, to
her apprehension, on a regular footing. This consisted in Verena's
coming in to Charles Street to stay with her, in pursuance of an
arrangement on Olive's part with Selah Tarrant and his wife that she
should remain for many months. The coast was now perfectly clear. Mrs.
Farrinder had started on her annual grand tour; she was rousing the
people, from Maine to Texas; Matthias Pardon (it was to be supposed) had
received, temporarily at least, his quietus; and Mrs. Luna was
established in New York, where she had taken a house for a year, and
whence she wrote to her sister that she was going to engage Basil Ransom
(with whom she was in communication for this purpose) to do her
law-business. Olive wondered what law-business Adeline could have, and
hoped she would get into a pickle with her landlord or her milliner, so
that repeated interviews with Mr. Ransom might become necessary. Mrs.
Luna let her know very soon that these interviews had begun; the young
Mississippian had come to dine with her; he hadn't got started much, by
what she could make out, and she was even afraid that he didn't dine
every day. But he wore a tall hat now, like a Northern gentleman, and
Adeline intimated that she found him really attractive. He had been very
nice to Newton, told him all about the war (quite the Southern version,
of course, but Mrs. Luna didn't care anything about American politics,
and she wanted her son to know all sides), and Newton did nothing but
talk about him, calling him "Rannie," and imitating his pronunciation of
certain words. Adeline subsequently wrote that she had made up her mind
to put her affairs into his hands (Olive sighed, not unmagnanimously, as
she thought of her sister's "affairs"), and later still she mentioned
that she was thinking strongly of taking him to be Newton's tutor. She
wished this interesting child to be privately educated, and it would be
more agreeable to have in that relation a person who was already, as it
were, a member of the family. Mrs. Luna wrote as if he were prepared to
give up his profession to take charge of her son, and Olive was pretty
sure that this was only a part of her grandeur, of the habit she had
contracted, especially since living in Europe, of speaking as if in
every case she required special arrangements.

In spite of the difference in their age, Olive had long since judged
her, and made up her mind that Adeline lacked every quality that a
person needed to be interesting in her eyes. She was rich (or
sufficiently so), she was conventional and timid, very fond of
attentions from men (with whom indeed she was reputed bold, but Olive
scorned such boldness as that), given up to a merely personal,
egotistical, instinctive life, and as unconscious of the tendencies of
the age, the revenges of the future, the new truths and the great social
questions, as if she had been a mere bundle of dress-trimmings, which
she very nearly was. It was perfectly observable that she had no
conscience, and it irritated Olive deeply to see how much trouble a
woman was spared when she was constructed on that system. Adeline's
"affairs," as I have intimated, her social relations, her views of
Newton's education, her practice and her theory (for she had plenty of
that, such as it was, heaven save the mark!), her spasmodic disposition
to marry again, and her still sillier retreats in the presence of danger
(for she had not even the courage of her frivolity), these things had
been a subject of tragic consideration to Olive ever since the return of
the elder sister to America. The tragedy was not in any particular harm
that Mrs. Luna could do her (for she did her good, rather, that is, she
did her honour by laughing at her), but in the spectacle itself, the
drama, guided by the hand of fate, of which the small, ignoble scenes
unrolled themselves so logically. The _dénouement_ would of course be in
keeping, and would consist simply of the spiritual death of Mrs. Luna,
who would end by understanding no common speech of Olive's at all, and
would sink into mere worldly plumpness, into the last complacency, the
supreme imbecility, of petty, genteel conservatism. As for Newton, he
would be more utterly odious, if possible, as he grew up, than he was
already; in fact, he would not grow up at all, but only grow down, if
his mother should continue her infatuated system with him. He was
insufferably forward and selfish; under the pretext of keeping him, at
any cost, refined, Adeline had coddled and caressed him, having him
always in her petticoats, remitting his lessons when he pretended he had
an earache, drawing him into the conversation, letting him answer her
back, with an impertinence beyond his years, when she administered the
smallest check. The place for him, in Olive's eyes, was one of the
public schools, where the children of the people would teach him his
small importance, teach it, if necessary, by the aid of an occasional
drubbing; and the two ladies had a grand discussion on this point before
Mrs. Luna left Boston--a scene which ended in Adeline's clutching the
irrepressible Newton to her bosom (he came in at the moment), and
demanding of him a vow that he would live and die in the principles of
his mother. Mrs. Luna declared that if she must be trampled upon--and
very likely it was her fate!--she would rather be trampled upon by men
than by women, and that if Olive and her friends should get possession
of the government they would be worse despots than those who were
celebrated in history. Newton took an infant oath that he would never be
a destructive, impious radical, and Olive felt that after this she
needn't trouble herself any more about her sister, whom she simply
committed to her fate. That fate might very properly be to marry an
enemy of her country, a man who, no doubt, desired to treat women with
the lash and manacles, as he and his people had formerly treated the
wretched coloured race. If she was so fond of the fine old institutions
of the past, he would supply them to her in abundance; and if she wanted
so much to be a conservative, she could try first how she liked being a
conservative's wife. If Olive troubled herself little about Adeline, she
troubled herself more about Basil Ransom; she said to herself that since
he hated women who respected themselves (and each other), destiny would
use him rightly in hanging a person like Adeline round his neck. That
would be the way poetic justice ought to work, for him--and the law that
our prejudices, when they act themselves out, punish us in doing so.
Olive considered all this, as it was her effort to consider everything,
from a very high point of view, and ended by feeling sure it was not for
the sake of any nervous personal security that she desired to see her
two relations in New York get mixed up together. If such an event as
their marriage would gratify her sense of fitness, it would be simply as
an illustration of certain laws. Olive, thanks to the philosophic cast
of her mind, was exceedingly fond of illustrations of laws.

I hardly know, however, what illumination it was that sprang from her
consciousness (now a source of considerable comfort) that Mrs. Farrinder
was carrying the war into distant territories, and would return to
Boston only in time to preside at a grand Female Convention, already
advertised to take place in Boston in the month of June. It was
agreeable to her that this imperial woman should be away; it made the
field more free, the air more light; it suggested an exemption from
official criticism. I have not taken space to mention certain episodes
of the more recent intercourse of these ladies, and must content myself
with tracing them, lightly, in their consequences. These may be summed
up in the remark, which will doubtless startle no one by its freshness,
that two imperial women are scarcely more likely to hit it off together,
as the phrase is, than two imperial men. Since that party at Miss
Birdseye's, so important in its results for Olive, she had had occasion
to approach Mrs. Farrinder more nearly, and those overtures brought
forth the knowledge that the great leader of the feminine revolution was
the one person (in that part of the world) more concentrated, more
determined, than herself. Miss Chancellor's aspirations, of late, had
been immensely quickened; she had begun to believe in herself to a
livelier tune than she had ever listened to before; and she now
perceived that when spirit meets spirit there must either be mutual
absorption or a sharp concussion. It had long been familiar to her that
she should have to count with the obstinacy of the world at large, but
she now discovered that she should have to count also with certain
elements in the feminine camp. This complicated the problem, and such a
complication, naturally, could not make Mrs. Farrinder appear more easy
to assimilate. If Olive's was a high nature and so was hers, the fault
was in neither; it was only an admonition that they were not needed as
landmarks in the same part of the field. If such perceptions are
delicate as between men, the reader need not be reminded of the
exquisite form they may assume in natures more refined. So it was that
Olive passed, in three months, from the stage of veneration to that of
competition; and the process had been accelerated by the introduction of
Verena into the fold. Mrs. Farrinder had behaved in the strangest way
about Verena. First she had been struck with her, and then she hadn't;
first she had seemed to want to take her in, then she had shied at her
unmistakably--intimating to Olive that there were enough of that kind
already. Of "that kind" indeed!--the phrase reverberated in Miss
Chancellor's resentful soul. Was it possible she didn't know the kind
Verena was of, and with what vulgar aspirants to notoriety did she
confound her? It had been Olive's original desire to obtain Mrs.
Farrinder's stamp for her _protégée_; she wished her to hold a
commission from the commander-in-chief. With this view the two young
women had made more than one pilgrimage to Roxbury, and on one of these
occasions the sibylline mood (in its most charming form) had descended
upon Verena. She had fallen into it, naturally and gracefully, in the
course of talk, and poured out a stream of eloquence even more touching
than her regular discourse at Miss Birdseye's. Mrs. Farrinder had taken
it rather dryly, and certainly it didn't resemble her own style of
oratory, remarkable and cogent as this was. There had been considerable
question of her writing a letter to the New York _Tribune_, the effect
of which should be to launch Miss Tarrant into renown; but this
beneficent epistle never appeared, and now Olive saw that there was no
favour to come from the prophetess of Roxbury. There had been
primnesses, pruderies, small reserves, which ended by staying her pen.
If Olive didn't say at once that she was jealous of Verena's more
attractive manner, it was only because such a declaration was destined
to produce more effect a little later. What she did say was that
evidently Mrs. Farrinder wanted to keep the movement in her own
hands--viewed with suspicion certain romantic, esthetic elements which
Olive and Verena seemed to be trying to introduce into it. They insisted
so much, for instance, on the historic unhappiness of women; but Mrs.
Farrinder didn't appear to care anything for that, or indeed to know
much about history at all. She seemed to begin just to-day, and she
demanded their rights for them whether they were unhappy or not. The
upshot of this was that Olive threw herself on Verena's neck with a
movement which was half indignation, half rapture; she exclaimed that
they would have to fight the battle without human help, but, after all,
it was better so. If they were all in all to each other, what more could
they want? They would be isolated, but they would be free; and this view
of the situation brought with it a feeling that they had almost already
begun to be a force. It was not, indeed, that Olive's resentment faded
quite away; for not only had she the sense, doubtless very presumptuous,
that Mrs. Farrinder was the only person thereabouts of a stature to
judge her (a sufficient cause of antagonism in itself, for if we like to
be praised by our betters we prefer that censure should come from the
other sort), but the kind of opinion she had unexpectedly betrayed,
after implying such esteem in the earlier phase of their intercourse,
made Olive's cheeks occasionally flush. She prayed heaven that _she_
might never become so personal, so narrow. She was frivolous, worldly,
an amateur, a trifler, a frequenter of Beacon Street; her taking up
Verena Tarrant was only a kind of elderly, ridiculous doll-dressing:
this was the light in which Miss Chancellor had reason to believe that
it now suited Mrs. Farrinder to regard her! It was fortunate, perhaps,
that the misrepresentation was so gross; yet, none the less, tears of
wrath rose more than once to Olive's eyes when she reflected that this
particular wrong had been put upon her. Frivolous, worldly, Beacon
Street! She appealed to Verena to share in her pledge that the world
should know in due time how much of that sort of thing there was about
her. As I have already hinted, Verena at such moments quite rose to the
occasion; she had private pangs at committing herself to give the cold
shoulder to Beacon Street for ever; but she was now so completely in
Olive's hands that there was no sacrifice to which she would not have
consented in order to prove that her benefactress was not frivolous.

The matter of her coming to stay for so long in Charles Street was
arranged during a visit that Selah Tarrant paid there at Miss
Chancellor's request. This interview, which had some curious features,
would be worth describing but I am forbidden to do more than mention the
most striking of these. Olive wished to have an understanding with him;
wished the situation to be clear, so that, disagreeable as it would be
to her to receive him, she sent him a summons for a certain hour--an
hour at which she had planned that Verena should be out of the house.
She withheld this incident from the girl's knowledge, reflecting with
some solemnity that it was the first deception (for Olive her silence
was a deception) that she had yet practised on her friend, and wondering
whether she should have to practise others in the future. She then and
there made up her mind that she would not shrink from others should they
be necessary. She notified Tarrant that she should keep Verena a long
time, and Tarrant remarked that it was certainly very pleasant to see
her so happily located. But he also intimated that he should like to
know what Miss Chancellor laid out to do with her; and the tone of this
suggestion made Olive feel how right she had been to foresee that their
interview would have the stamp of business. It assumed that complexion
very definitely when she crossed over to her desk and wrote Mr. Tarrant
a cheque for a very considerable amount. "Leave us alone--entirely
alone--for a year, and then I will write you another": it was with these
words she handed him the little strip of paper that meant so much,
feeling, as she did so, that surely Mrs. Farrinder herself could not be
less amateurish than that. Selah looked at the cheque, at Miss
Chancellor, at the cheque again, at the ceiling, at the floor, at the
clock, and once more at his hostess; then the document disappeared
beneath the folds of his waterproof, and she saw that he was putting it
into some queer place on his queer person. "Well, if I didn't believe
you were going to help her to develop," he remarked; and he stopped,
while his hands continued to fumble, out of sight, and he treated Olive
to his large joyless smile. She assured him that he need have no fear on
that score; Verena's development was the thing in the world in which she
took most interest; she should have every opportunity for a free
expansion. "Yes, that's the great thing," Selah said; "it's more
important than attracting a crowd. That's all we shall ask of you; let
her act out her nature. Don't all the trouble of humanity come from our
being pressed back? Don't shut down the cover, Miss Chancellor; just let
her overflow!" And again Tarrant illuminated his inquiry, his metaphor,
by the strange and silent lateral movement of his jaws. He added,
presently, that he supposed he should have to fix it with Mis' Tarrant;
but Olive made no answer to that; she only looked at him with a face in
which she intended to express that there was nothing that need detain
him longer. She knew it had been fixed with Mrs. Tarrant; she had been
over all that with Verena, who had told her that her mother was willing
to sacrifice her for her highest good. She had reason to know (not
through Verena, of course) that Mrs. Tarrant had embraced, tenderly, the
idea of a pecuniary compensation, and there was no fear of her making a
scene when Tarrant should come back with a cheque in his pocket. "Well,
I trust she _may_ develop, richly, and that you may accomplish what you
desire; it seems as if we had only a little way to go further," that
worthy observed, as he erected himself for departure.

"It's not a little way; it's a very long way," Olive replied, rather
sternly.

Tarrant was on the threshold; he lingered a little, embarrassed by her
grimness, for he himself had always inclined to rose-coloured views of
progress, of the march of truth. He had never met any one so much in
earnest as this definite, literal young woman, who had taken such an
unhoped-for fancy to his daughter; whose longing for the new day had
such perversities of pessimism, and who, in the midst of something that
appeared to be terribly searching in her honesty, was willing to corrupt
him, as a father, with the most extravagant orders on her bank. He
hardly knew in what language to speak to her; it seemed as if there was
nothing soothing enough, when a lady adopted that tone about a movement
which was thought by some of the brightest to be so promising. "Oh,
well, I guess there's some kind of mysterious law...." he murmured,
almost timidly; and so he passed from Miss Chancellor's sight.



XX


She hoped she should not soon see him again, and there appeared to be no
reason she should, if their intercourse was to be conducted by means of
cheques. The understanding with Verena was, of course, complete; she had
promised to stay with her friend as long as her friend should require
it. She had said at first that she couldn't give up her mother, but she
had been made to feel that there was no question of giving up. She
should be as free as air, to go and come; she could spend hours and days
with her mother, whenever Mrs. Tarrant required her attention; all that
Olive asked of her was that, for the time, she should regard Charles
Street as her home. There was no struggle about this, for the simple
reason that by the time the question came to the front Verena was
completely under the charm. The idea of Olive's charm will perhaps make
the reader smile; but I use the word not in its derived, but in its
literal sense. The fine web of authority, of dependence, that her
strenuous companion had woven about her, was now as dense as a suit of
golden mail; and Verena was thoroughly interested in their great
undertaking; she saw it in the light of an active, enthusiastic faith.
The benefit that her father desired for her was now assured; she
expanded, developed, on the most liberal scale. Olive saw the
difference, and you may imagine how she rejoiced in it; she had never
known a greater pleasure. Verena's former attitude had been girlish
submission, grateful, curious sympathy. She had given herself, in her
young, amused surprise, because Olive's stronger will and the incisive
proceedings with which she pointed her purpose drew her on. Besides, she
was held by hospitality, the vision of new social horizons, the sense of
novelty, and the love of change. But now the girl was disinterestedly
attached to the precious things they were to do together; she cared
about them for themselves, believed in them ardently, had them
constantly in mind. Her share in the union of the two young women was no
longer passive, purely appreciative; it was passionate, too, and it put
forth a beautiful energy. If Olive desired to get Verena into training,
she could flatter herself that the process had already begun, and that
her colleague enjoyed it almost as much as she. Therefore she could say
to herself, without the imputation of heartlessness, that when she left
her mother it was for a noble, a sacred use. In point of fact, she left
her very little, and she spent hours in jingling, aching, jostled
journeys between Charles Street and the stale suburban cottage. Mrs.
Tarrant sighed and grimaced, wrapped herself more than ever in her
mantle, said she didn't know as she was fit to struggle alone, and that,
half the time, if Verena was away, she wouldn't have the nerve to answer
the door-bell; she was incapable, of course, of neglecting such an
opportunity to posture as one who paid with her heart's blood for
leading the van of human progress. But Verena had an inner sense (she
judged her mother now, a little, for the first time) that she would be
sorry to be taken at her word, and that she felt safe enough in trusting
to her daughter's generosity. She could not divest herself of the
faith--even now that Mrs. Luna was gone, leaving no trace, and the grey
walls of a sedentary winter were apparently closing about the two young
women--she could not renounce the theory that a residence in Charles
Street must at least produce some contact with the brilliant classes.
She was vexed at her daughter's resignation to not going to parties and
to Miss Chancellor's not giving them; but it was nothing new for her to
have to practise patience, and she could feel, at least, that it was
just as handy for Mr. Burrage to call on the child in town, where he
spent half his time, sleeping constantly at Parker's.

It was a fact that this fortunate youth called very often, and Verena
saw him with Olive's full concurrence whenever she was at home. It had
now been quite agreed between them that no artificial limits should be
set to the famous phase; and Olive had, while it lasted, a sense of real
heroism in steeling herself against uneasiness. It seemed to her,
moreover, only justice that she should make some concession; if Verena
made a great sacrifice of filial duty in coming to live with her (this,
of course, should be permanent--she would buy off the Tarrants from year
to year), she must not incur the imputation (the world would judge her,
in that case, ferociously) of keeping her from forming common social
ties. The friendship of a young man and a young woman was, according to
the pure code of New England, a common social tie; and as the weeks
elapsed Miss Chancellor saw no reason to repent of her temerity. Verena
was not falling in love; she felt that she should know it, should guess
it on the spot. Verena was fond of human intercourse; she was
essentially a sociable creature; she liked to shine and smile and talk
and listen; and so far as Henry Burrage was concerned he introduced an
element of easy and convenient relaxation into a life now a good deal
stiffened (Olive was perfectly willing to own it) by great civic
purposes. But the girl was being saved, without interference, by the
simple operation of her interest in those very designs. From this time
there was no need of putting pressure on her; her own springs were
working; the fire with which she glowed came from within. Sacredly,
brightly single she would remain; her only espousals would be at the
altar of a great cause. Olive always absented herself when Mr. Burrage
was announced; and when Verena afterwards attempted to give some account
of his conversation she checked her, said she would rather know nothing
about it--all with a very solemn mildness; this made her feel very
superior, truly noble. She knew by this time (I scarcely can tell how,
since Verena could give her no report) exactly what sort of a youth Mr.
Burrage was: he was weakly pretentious, softly original, cultivated
eccentricity, patronised progress, liked to have mysteries, sudden
appointments to keep, anonymous persons to visit, the air of leading a
double life, of being devoted to a girl whom people didn't know, or at
least didn't meet. Of course he liked to make an impression on Verena;
but what he mainly liked was to play her off upon the other girls, the
daughters of fashion, with whom he danced at Papanti's. Such were the
images that proceeded from Olive's rich moral consciousness. "Well, he
_is_ greatly interested in our movement": so much Verena once managed to
announce; but the words rather irritated Miss Chancellor, who, as we
know, did not care to allow for accidental exceptions in the great
masculine conspiracy.

In the month of March Verena told her that Mr. Burrage was offering
matrimony--offering it with much insistence, begging that she would at
least wait and think of it before giving him a final answer. Verena was
evidently very glad to be able to say to Olive that she had assured him
she couldn't think of it, and that if he expected this he had better not
come any more. He continued to come, and it was therefore to be supposed
that he had ceased to count on such a concession; it was now Olive's
opinion that he really didn't desire it. She had a theory that he
proposed to almost any girl who was not likely to accept him--did it
because he was making a collection of such episodes--a mental album of
declarations, blushes, hesitations, refusals that just missed imposing
themselves as acceptances, quite as he collected enamels and Cremona
violins. He would be very sorry indeed to ally himself to the house of
Tarrant; but such a fear didn't prevent him from holding it becoming in
a man of taste to give that encouragement to low-born girls who were
pretty, for one looked out for the special cases in which, for reasons
(even the lowest might have reasons), they wouldn't "rise." "I told you
I wouldn't marry him, and I won't," Verena said, delightedly, to her
friend; her tone suggested that a certain credit belonged to her for the
way she carried out her assurance. "I never thought you would, if you
didn't want to," Olive replied to this; and Verena could have no
rejoinder but the good-humour that sat in her eyes, unable as she was to
say that she had wanted to. They had a little discussion, however, when
she intimated that she pitied him for his discomfiture, Olive's
contention being that, selfish, conceited, pampered and insincere, he
might properly be left now to digest his affront. Miss Chancellor felt
none of the remorse now that she would have felt six months before at
standing in the way of such a chance for Verena, and she would have been
very angry if any one had asked her if she were not afraid of taking too
much upon herself. She would have said, moreover, that she stood in no
one's way, and that even if she were not there Verena would never think
seriously of a frivolous little man who fiddled while Rome was burning.
This did not prevent Olive from making up her mind that they had better
go to Europe in the spring; a year's residence in that quarter of the
globe would be highly agreeable to Verena, and might even contribute to
the evolution of her genius. It cost Miss Chancellor an effort to admit
that any virtue still lingered in the elder world, and that it could
have any important lesson for two such good Americans as her friend and
herself; but it suited her just then to make this assumption, which was
not altogether sincere. It was recommended by the idea that it would get
her companion out of the way--out of the way of officious
fellow-citizens--till she should be absolutely firm on her feet, and
would also give greater intensity to their own long conversation. On
that continent of strangers they would cleave more closely still to each
other. This, of course, would be to fly before the inevitable "phase,"
much more than to face it; but Olive decided that if they should reach
unscathed the term of their delay (the first of July) she should have
faced it as much as either justice or generosity demanded. I may as well
say at once that she traversed most of this period without further
serious alarms and with a great many little thrills of bliss and hope.

Nothing happened to dissipate the good omens with which her partnership
with Verena Tarrant was at present surrounded. They threw themselves
into study; they had innumerable big books from the Athenæum, and
consumed the midnight oil. Henry Burrage, after Verena had shaken her
head at him so sweetly and sadly, returned to New York, giving no sign;
they only heard that he had taken refuge under the ruffled maternal
wing. (Olive, at least, took for granted the wing was ruffled; she could
fancy how Mrs. Burrage would be affected by the knowledge that her son
had been refused by the daughter of a mesmeric healer. She would be
almost as angry as if she had learnt that he had been accepted.)
Matthias Pardon had not yet taken his revenge in the newspapers; he was
perhaps nursing his thunderbolts; at any rate, now that the operatic
season had begun, he was much occupied in interviewing the principal
singers, one of whom he described in one of the leading journals (Olive,
at least, was sure it was only he who could write like that) as "a dear
little woman with baby dimples and kittenish movements." The Tarrants
were apparently given up to a measure of sensual ease with which they
had not hitherto been familiar, thanks to the increase of income that
they drew from their eccentric protectress. Mrs. Tarrant now enjoyed the
ministrations of a "girl"; it was partly her pride (at any rate, she
chose to give it this turn) that her house had for many years been
conducted without the element--so debasing on both sides--of servile,
mercenary labour. She wrote to Olive (she was perpetually writing to her
now, but Olive never answered) that she was conscious of having fallen
to a lower plane, but she admitted that it was a prop to her wasted
spirit to have some one to converse with when Selah was off. Verena, of
course, perceived the difference, which was inadequately explained by
the theory of a sudden increase of her father's practice (nothing of her
father's had ever increased like that), and ended by guessing the cause
of it--a discovery which did not in the least disturb her equanimity.
She accepted the idea that her parents should receive a pecuniary
tribute from the extraordinary friend whom she had encountered on the
threshold of womanhood, just as she herself accepted that friend's
irresistible hospitality. She had no worldly pride, no traditions of
independence, no ideas of what was done and what was not done; but there
was only one thing that equalled this perfectly gentle and natural
insensibility to favours--namely, the inveteracy of her habit of not
asking them. Olive had had an apprehension that she would flush a little
at learning the terms on which they should now be able to pursue their
career together; but Verena never changed colour; it was either not new
or not disagreeable to her that the authors of her being should be
bought off, silenced by money, treated as the troublesome of the lower
orders are treated when they are not locked up; so that her friend had a
perception, after this, that it would probably be impossible in any way
ever to offend her. She was too rancourless, too detached from
conventional standards, too free from private self-reference. It was too
much to say of her that she forgave injuries, since she was not
conscious of them; there was in forgiveness a certain arrogance of which
she was incapable, and her bright mildness glided over the many traps
that life sets for our consistency. Olive had always held that pride was
necessary to character, but there was no peculiarity of Verena's that
could make her spirit seem less pure. The added luxuries in the little
house at Cambridge, which even with their help was still such a penal
settlement, made her feel afresh that before she came to the rescue the
daughter of that house had traversed a desert of sordid misery. She had
cooked and washed and swept and stitched; she had worked harder than any
of Miss Chancellor's servants. These things had left no trace upon her
person or her mind; everything fresh and fair renewed itself in her with
extraordinary facility, everything ugly and tiresome evaporated as soon
as it touched her; but Olive deemed that, being what she was, she had a
right to immense compensations. In the future she should have exceeding
luxury and ease, and Miss Chancellor had no difficulty in persuading
herself that persons doing the high intellectual and moral work to which
the two young ladies in Charles Street were now committed owed it to
themselves, owed it to the groaning sisterhood, to cultivate the best
material conditions. She herself was nothing of a sybarite, and she had
proved, visiting the alleys and slums of Boston in the service of the
Associated Charities, that there was no foulness of disease or misery
she feared to look in the face; but her house had always been thoroughly
well regulated, she was passionately clean, and she was an excellent
woman of business. Now, however, she elevated daintiness to a religion;
her interior shone with superfluous friction, with punctuality, with
winter roses. Among these soft influences Verena herself bloomed like
the flower that attains such perfection in Boston. Olive had always
rated high the native refinement of her country-women, their latent
"adaptability," their talent for accommodating themselves at a glance to
changed conditions; but the way her companion rose with the level of the
civilisation that surrounded her, the way she assimilated all delicacies
and absorbed all traditions, left this friendly theory halting behind.
The winter days were still, indoors, in Charles Street, and the winter
nights secure from interruption. Our two young women had plenty of
duties, but Olive had never favoured the custom of running in and out.
Much conference on social and reformatory topics went forward under her
roof, and she received her colleagues--she belonged to twenty
associations and committees--only at pre-appointed hours, which she
expected them to observe rigidly. Verena's share in these proceedings
was not active; she hovered over them, smiling, listening, dropping
occasionally a fanciful though never an idle word, like some gently
animated image placed there for good omen. It was understood that her
part was before the scenes, not behind; that she was not a prompter, but
(potentially, at least) a "popular favourite," and that the work over
which Miss Chancellor presided so efficiently was a general preparation
of the platform on which, later, her companion would execute the most
striking steps.

The western windows of Olive's drawing-room, looking over the water,
took in the red sunsets of winter; the long, low bridge that crawled, on
its staggering posts, across the Charles; the casual patches of ice and
snow; the desolate suburban horizons, peeled and made bald by the rigour
of the season; the general hard, cold void of the prospect; the
extrusion, at Charlestown, at Cambridge, of a few chimneys and steeples,
straight, sordid tubes of factories and engine-shops, or spare,
heavenward finger of the New England meeting-house. There was something
inexorable in the poverty of the scene, shameful in the meanness of its
details, which gave a collective impression of boards and tin and frozen
earth, sheds and rotting piles, railway-lines striding flat across a
thoroughfare of puddles, and tracks of the humbler, the universal
horse-car, traversing obliquely this path of danger; loose fences,
vacant lots, mounds of refuse, yards bestrewn with iron pipes, telegraph
poles, and bare wooden backs of places. Verena thought such a view
lovely, and she was by no means without excuse when, as the afternoon
closed, the ugly picture was tinted with a clear, cold rosiness. The
air, in its windless chill, seemed to tinkle like a crystal, the
faintest gradations of tone were perceptible in the sky, the west became
deep and delicate, everything grew doubly distinct before taking on the
dimness of evening. There were pink flushes on snow, "tender" reflexions
in patches of stiffened marsh, sounds of car-bells, no longer vulgar,
but almost silvery, on the long bridge, lonely outlines of distant dusky
undulations against the fading glow. These agreeable effects used to
light up that end of the drawing-room, and Olive often sat at the window
with her companion before it was time for the lamp. They admired the
sunsets, they rejoiced in the ruddy spots projected upon the
parlour-wall, they followed the darkening perspective in fanciful
excursions. They watched the stellar points come out at last in a colder
heaven, and then, shuddering a little, arm in arm, they turned away,
with a sense that the winter night was even more cruel than the tyranny
of men--turned back to drawn curtains and a brighter fire and a
glittering tea-tray and more and more talk about the long martyrdom of
women, a subject as to which Olive was inexhaustible and really most
interesting. There were some nights of deep snowfall, when Charles
Street was white and muffled and the door-bell foredoomed to silence,
which seemed little islands of lamp-light, of enlarged and intensified
vision. They read a great deal of history together, and read it ever
with the same thought--that of finding confirmation in it for this idea
that their sex had suffered inexpressibly, and that at any moment in the
course of human affairs the state of the world would have been so much
less horrible (history seemed to them in every way horrible) if women
had been able to press down the scale. Verena was full of suggestions
which stimulated discussions; it was she, oftenest, who kept in view the
fact that a good many women in the past had been entrusted with power
and had not always used it amiably, who brought up the wicked queens,
the profligate mistresses of kings. These ladies were easily disposed of
between the two, and the public crimes of Bloody Mary, the private
misdemeanours of Faustina, wife of the pure Marcus Aurelius, were very
satisfactorily classified. If the influence of women in the past
accounted for every act of virtue that men had happened to achieve, it
only made the matter balance properly that the influence of men should
explain the casual irregularities of the other sex. Olive could see how
few books had passed through Verena's hands, and how little the home of
the Tarrants had been a house of reading; but the girl now traversed the
fields of literature with her characteristic lightness of step.
Everything she turned to or took up became an illustration of the
facility, the "giftedness," which Olive, who had so little of it, never
ceased to wonder at and prize. Nothing frightened her; she always smiled
at it, she could do anything she tried. As she knew how to do other
things, she knew how to study; she read quickly and remembered
infallibly; could repeat, days afterward, passages that she appeared
only to have glanced at. Olive, of course, was more and more happy to
think that their cause should have the services of an organisation so
rare.

All this doubtless sounds rather dry, and I hasten to add that our
friends were not always shut up in Miss Chancellor's strenuous parlour.
In spite of Olive's desire to keep her precious inmate to herself and to
bend her attention upon their common studies, in spite of her constantly
reminding Verena that this winter was to be purely educative and that
the platitudes of the satisfied and unregenerate would have little to
teach her, in spite, in short, of the severe and constant duality of our
young women, it must not be supposed that their life had not many
personal confluents and tributaries. Individual and original as Miss
Chancellor was universally acknowledged to be, she was yet a typical
Bostonian, and as a typical Bostonian she could not fail to belong in
some degree to a "set." It had been said of her that she was in it but
not of it; but she was of it enough to go occasionally into other houses
and to receive their occupants in her own. It was her belief that she
filled her tea-pot with the spoon of hospitality, and made a good many
select spirits feel that they were welcome under her roof at convenient
hours. She had a preference for what she called _real_ people, and there
were several whose reality she had tested by arts known to herself. This
little society was rather suburban and miscellaneous; it was prolific in
ladies who trotted about, early and late, with books from the Athenæum
nursed behind their muff, or little nosegays of exquisite flowers that
they were carrying as presents to each other. Verena, who, when Olive
was not with her, indulged in a good deal of desultory contemplation at
the window, saw them pass the house in Charles Street, always apparently
straining a little, as if they might be too late for something. At
almost any time, for she envied their preoccupation, she would have
taken the chance with them. Very often, when she described them to her
mother, Mrs. Tarrant didn't know who they were; there were even days
(she had so many discouragements) when it seemed as if she didn't want
to know. So long as they were not some one else, it seemed to be no use
that they were themselves; whoever they were, they were sure to have
that defect. Even after all her mother's disquisitions Verena had but
vague ideas as to whom she would have liked them to be; and it was only
when the girl talked of the concerts, to all of which Olive subscribed
and conducted her inseparable friend, that Mrs. Tarrant appeared to feel
in any degree that her daughter was living up to the standard formed for
her in their Cambridge home. As all the world knows, the opportunities
in Boston for hearing good music are numerous and excellent, and it had
long been Miss Chancellor's practice to cultivate the best. She went in,
as the phrase is, for the superior programmes, and that high, dim,
dignified Music Hall, which has echoed in its time to so much eloquence
and so much melody, and of which the very proportions and colour seem to
teach respect and attention, shed the protection of its illuminated
cornice, this winter, upon no faces more intelligently upturned than
those of the young women for whom Bach and Beethoven only repeated, in a
myriad forms, the idea that was always with them. Symphonies and fugues
only stimulated their convictions, excited their revolutionary passion,
led their imagination further in the direction in which it was always
pressing. It lifted them to immeasurable heights; and as they sat
looking at the great florid, sombre organ, overhanging the bronze statue
of Beethoven, they felt that this was the only temple in which the
votaries of their creed could worship.

And yet their music was not their greatest joy, for they had two others
which they cultivated at least as zealously. One of these was simply the
society of old Miss Birdseye, of whom Olive saw more this winter than
she had ever seen before. It had become apparent that her long and
beautiful career was drawing to a close, her earnest, unremitting work
was over, her old-fashioned weapons were broken and dull. Olive would
have liked to hang them up as venerable relics of a patient fight, and
this was what she seemed to do when she made the poor lady relate her
battles--never glorious and brilliant, but obscure and wastefully
heroic--call back the figures of her companions in arms, exhibit her
medals and scars. Miss Birdseye knew that her uses were ended; she might
pretend still to go about the business of unpopular causes, might fumble
for papers in her immemorial satchel and think she had important
appointments, might sign petitions, attend conventions, say to Doctor
Prance that if she would only make her sleep she should live to see a
great many improvements yet; she ached and was weary, growing almost as
glad to look back (a great anomaly for Miss Birdseye) as to look
forward. She let herself be coddled now by her friends of the new
generation; there were days when she seemed to want nothing better than
to sit by Olive's fire and ramble on about the old struggles, with a
vague, comfortable sense--no physical rapture of Miss Birdseye's could
be very acute--of immunity from wet feet, from the draughts that prevail
at thin meetings, of independence of street-cars that would probably
arrive overflowing; and also a pleased perception, not that she was an
example to these fresh lives which began with more advantages than hers,
but that she was in some degree an encouragement, as she helped them to
measure the way the new truths had advanced--being able to tell them of
such a different state of things when she was a young lady, the daughter
of a very talented teacher (indeed her mother had been a teacher too),
down in Connecticut. She had always had for Olive a kind of aroma of
martyrdom, and her battered, unremunerated, un-pensioned old age brought
angry tears, springing from depths of outraged theory, into Miss
Chancellor's eyes. For Verena, too, she was a picturesque humanitary
figure. Verena had been in the habit of meeting martyrs from her
childhood up, but she had seen none with so many reminiscences as Miss
Birdseye, or who had been so nearly scorched by penal fires. She had had
escapes, in the early days of abolitionism, which it was a marvel she
could tell with so little implication that she had shown courage. She
had roamed through certain parts of the South, carrying the Bible to the
slave; and more than one of her companions, in the course of these
expeditions, had been tarred and feathered. She herself, at one season,
had spent a month in a Georgian jail. She had preached temperance in
Irish circles where the doctrine was received with missiles; she had
interfered between wives and husbands mad with drink; she had taken
filthy children, picked up in the street, to her own poor rooms, and had
removed their pestilent rags and washed their sore bodies with slippery
little hands. In her own person she appeared to Olive and Verena a
representative of suffering humanity; the pity they felt for her was
part of their pity for all who were weakest and most hardly used; and it
struck Miss Chancellor (more especially) that this frumpy little
missionary was the last link in a tradition, and that when she should be
called away the heroic age of New England life--the age of plain living
and high thinking, of pure ideals and earnest effort, of moral passion
and noble experiment--would effectually be closed. It was the perennial
freshness of Miss Birdseye's faith that had had such a contagion for
these modern maidens, the unquenched flame of her transcendentalism, the
simplicity of her vision, the way in which, in spite of mistakes,
deceptions, the changing fashions of reform, which make the remedies of
a previous generation look as ridiculous as their bonnets, the only
thing that was still actual for her was the elevation of the species by
the reading of Emerson and the frequentation of Tremont Temple. Olive
had been active enough, for years, in the city-missions; she too had
scoured dirty children, and, in squalid lodging-houses, had gone into
rooms where the domestic situation was strained and the noises made the
neighbours turn pale. But she reflected that after such exertions she
had the refreshment of a pretty house, a drawing-room full of flowers, a
crackling hearth, where she threw in pine-cones and made them snap, an
imported tea-service, a Chickering piano, and the _Deutsche Rundschau_;
whereas Miss Birdseye had only a bare, vulgar room, with a hideous
flowered carpet (it looked like a dentist's), a cold furnace, the
evening paper, and Doctor Prance. Olive and Verena were present at
another of her gatherings before the winter ended; it resembled the
occasion that we described at the beginning of this history, with the
difference that Mrs. Farrinder was not there to oppress the company with
her greatness, and that Verena made a speech without the co-operation of
her father. This young lady had delivered herself with even finer effect
than before, and Olive could see how much she had gained, in confidence
and range of allusion, since the educative process in Charles Street
began. Her _motif_ was now a kind of unprepared tribute to Miss
Birdseye, the fruit of the occasion and of the unanimous tenderness of
the younger members of the circle, which made her a willing mouthpiece.
She pictured her laborious career, her early associates (Eliza P.
Moseley was not neglected as Verena passed), her difficulties and
dangers and triumphs, her humanising effect upon so many, her serene and
honoured old age--expressed, in short, as one of the ladies said, just
the very way they all felt about her. Verena's face brightened and grew
triumphant as she spoke, but she brought tears into the eyes of most of
the others. It was Olive's opinion that nothing could be more graceful
and touching, and she saw that the impression made was now deeper than
on the former evening. Miss Birdseye went about with her eighty years of
innocence, her undiscriminating spectacles, asking her friends if it
wasn't perfectly splendid; she took none of it to herself, she regarded
it only as a brilliant expression of Verena's gift. Olive thought,
afterwards, that if a collection could only be taken up on the spot, the
good lady would be made easy for the rest of her days; then she
remembered that most of her guests were as impecunious as herself.

I have intimated that our young friends had a source of fortifying
emotion which was distinct from the hours they spent with Beethoven and
Bach, or in hearing Miss Birdseye describe Concord as it used to be.
This consisted in the wonderful insight they had obtained into the
history of feminine anguish. They perused that chapter perpetually and
zealously, and they derived from it the purest part of their mission.
Olive had pored over it so long, so earnestly, that she was now in
complete possession of the subject; it was the one thing in life which
she felt she had really mastered. She was able to exhibit it to Verena
with the greatest authority and accuracy, to lead her up and down, in
and out, through all the darkest and most tortuous passages. We know
that she was without belief in her own eloquence, but she was very
eloquent when she reminded Verena how the exquisite weakness of women
had never been their defence, but had only exposed them to sufferings
more acute than masculine grossness can conceive. Their odious partner
had trampled upon them from the beginning of time, and their tenderness,
their abnegation, had been his opportunity. All the bullied wives, the
stricken mothers, the dishonoured, deserted maidens who have lived on
the earth and longed to leave it, passed and repassed before her eyes,
and the interminable dim procession seemed to stretch out a myriad hands
to her. She sat with them at their trembling vigils, listened for the
tread, the voice, at which they grew pale and sick, walked with them by
the dark waters that offered to wash away misery and shame, took with
them, even, when the vision grew intense, the last shuddering leap. She
had analysed to an extraordinary fineness their susceptibility, their
softness; she knew (or she thought she knew) all the possible tortures
of anxiety, of suspense and dread; and she had made up her mind that it
was women, in the end, who had paid for everything. In the last resort
the whole burden of the human lot came upon them; it pressed upon them
far more than on the others, the intolerable load of fate. It was they
who sat cramped and chained to receive it; it was they who had done all
the waiting and taken all the wounds. The sacrifices, the blood, the
tears, the terrors were theirs. Their organism was in itself a challenge
to suffering, and men had practised upon it with an impudence that knew
no bounds. As they were the weakest most had been wrung from them, and
as they were the most generous they had been most deceived. Olive
Chancellor would have rested her case, had it been necessary, on those
general facts; and her simple and comprehensive contention was that the
peculiar wretchedness which had been the very essence of the feminine
lot was a monstrous artificial imposition, crying aloud for redress. She
was willing to admit that women, too, could be bad; that there were many
about the world who were false, immoral, vile. But their errors were as
nothing to their sufferings; they had expiated, in advance, an eternity,
if need be, of misconduct. Olive poured forth these views to her
listening and responsive friend; she presented them again and again, and
there was no light in which they did not seem to palpitate with truth.
Verena was immensely wrought upon; a subtle fire passed into her; she
was not so hungry for revenge as Olive, but at the last, before they
went to Europe (I shall take no place to describe the manner in which
she threw herself into that project), she quite agreed with her
companion that after so many ages of wrong (it would also be after the
European journey) men must take _their_ turn, men must pay!



BOOK SECOND



XXI


Basil Ransom lived in New York, rather far to the eastward, and in the
upper reaches of the town; he occupied two small shabby rooms in a
somewhat decayed mansion which stood next to the corner of the Second
Avenue. The corner itself was formed by a considerable grocer's shop,
the near neighbourhood of which was fatal to any pretensions Ransom and
his fellow-lodgers might have had in regard to gentility of situation.
The house had a red, rusty face, and faded green shutters, of which the
slats were limp and at variance with each other. In one of the lower
windows was suspended a fly-blown card, with the words "Table Board"
affixed in letters cut (not very neatly) out of coloured paper, of
graduated tints, and surrounded with a small band of stamped gilt. The
two sides of the shop were protected by an immense pent-house shed,
which projected over a greasy pavement and was supported by wooden posts
fixed in the curbstone. Beneath it, on the dislocated flags, barrels and
baskets were freely and picturesquely grouped; an open cellarway yawned
beneath the feet of those who might pause to gaze too fondly on the
savoury wares displayed in the window; a strong odour of smoked fish,
combined with a fragrance of molasses, hung about the spot; the
pavement, toward the gutters, was fringed with dirty panniers, heaped
with potatoes, carrots, and onions; and a smart, bright waggon, with the
horse detached from the shafts, drawn up on the edge of the abominable
road (it contained holes and ruts a foot deep, and immemorial
accumulations of stagnant mud), imparted an idle, rural, pastoral air to
a scene otherwise perhaps expressive of a rank civilisation. The
establishment was of the kind known to New Yorkers as a Dutch grocery;
and red-faced, yellow-haired, bare-armed vendors might have been
observed to lounge in the doorway. I mention it not on account of any
particular influence it may have had on the life or the thoughts of
Basil Ransom, but for old acquaintance sake and that of local colour;
besides which, a figure is nothing without a setting, and our young man
came and went every day, with rather an indifferent, unperceiving step,
it is true, among the objects I have briefly designated. One of his
rooms was directly above the street-door of the house; such a dormitory,
when it is so exiguous, is called in the nomenclature of New York a
"hall bedroom." The sitting-room, beside it, was slightly larger, and
they both commanded a row of tenements no less degenerate than Ransom's
own habitation--houses built forty years before, and already sere and
superannuated. These were also painted red, and the bricks were
accentuated by a white line; they were garnished, on the first floor,
with balconies covered with small tin roofs, striped in different
colours, and with an elaborate iron lattice-work, which gave them a
repressive, cage-like appearance, and caused them slightly to resemble
the little boxes for peeping unseen into the street, which are a feature
of oriental towns. Such posts of observation commanded a view of the
grocery on the corner, of the relaxed and disjointed roadway, enlivened
at the curbstone with an occasional ash-barrel or with gas-lamps
drooping from the perpendicular, and westward, at the end of the
truncated vista, of the fantastic skeleton of the Elevated Railway,
overhanging the transverse longitudinal street, which it darkened and
smothered with the immeasurable spinal column and myriad clutching paws
of an antediluvian monster. If the opportunity were not denied me here,
I should like to give some account of Basil Ransom's interior, of
certain curious persons of both sexes, for the most part not favourites
of fortune, who had found an obscure asylum there; some picture of the
crumpled little _table d'hôte_, at two dollars and a half a week, where
everything felt sticky, which went forward in the low-ceiled basement,
under the conduct of a couple of shuffling negresses, who mingled in the
conversation and indulged in low, mysterious chuckles when it took a
facetious turn. But we need, in strictness, concern ourselves with it no
further than to gather the implication that the young Mississippian,
even a year and a half after that momentous visit of his to Boston, had
not made his profession very lucrative.

He had been diligent, he had been ambitious, but he had not yet been
successful. During the few weeks preceding the moment at which we meet
him again, he had even begun to lose faith altogether in his earthly
destiny. It became much of a question with him whether success in any
form was written there; whether for a hungry young Mississippian,
without means, without friends, wanting, too, in the highest energy, the
wisdom of the serpent, personal arts and national prestige, the game of
life was to be won in New York. He had been on the point of giving it up
and returning to the home of his ancestors, where, as he heard from his
mother, there was still just a sufficient supply of hot corn-cake to
support existence. He had never believed much in his luck, but during
the last year it had been guilty of aberrations surprising even to a
constant, an imperturbable, victim of fate. Not only had he not extended
his connexion, but he had lost most of the little business which was an
object of complacency to him a twelvemonth before. He had had none but
small jobs, and he had made a mess of more than one of them. Such
accidents had not had a happy effect upon his reputation; he had been
able to perceive that this fair flower may be nipped when it is so
tender a bud as scarcely to be palpable. He had formed a partnership
with a person who seemed likely to repair some of his deficiencies--a
young man from Rhode Island, acquainted, according to his own
expression, with the inside track. But this gentleman himself, as it
turned out, would have been better for a good deal of remodelling, and
Ransom's principal deficiency, which was, after all, that of cash, was
not less apparent to him after his colleague, prior to a sudden and
unexplained departure for Europe, had drawn the slender accumulations of
the firm out of the bank. Ransom sat for hours in his office, waiting
for clients who either did not come, or, if they did come, did not seem
to find him encouraging, as they usually left him with the remark that
they would think what they would do. They thought to little purpose, and
seldom reappeared, so that at last he began to wonder whether there were
not a prejudice against his Southern complexion. Perhaps they didn't
like the way he spoke. If they could show him a better way, he was
willing to adopt it; but the manner of New York could not be acquired by
precept, and example, somehow, was not in this case contagious. He
wondered whether he were stupid and unskilled, and he was finally
obliged to confess to himself that he was unpractical.

This confession was in itself a proof of the fact, for nothing could be
less fruitful than such a speculation, terminating in such a way. He was
perfectly aware that he cared a great deal for the theory, and so his
visitors must have thought when they found him, with one of his long
legs twisted round the other, reading a volume of De Tocqueville. That
was the land of reading he liked; he had thought a great deal about
social and economical questions, forms of government and the happiness
of peoples. The convictions he had arrived at were not such as mix
gracefully with the time-honoured verities a young lawyer looking out
for business is in the habit of taking for granted; but he had to
reflect that these doctrines would probably not contribute any more to
his prosperity in Mississippi than in New York. Indeed, he scarcely
could think of the country where they would be a particular advantage to
him. It came home to him that his opinions were stiff, whereas in
comparison his effort was lax; and he accordingly began to wonder
whether he might not make a living by his opinions. He had always had a
desire for public life; to cause one's ideas to be embodied in national
conduct appeared to him the highest form of human enjoyment. But there
was little enough that was public in his solitary studies, and he asked
himself what was the use of his having an office at all, and why he
might not as well carry on his profession at the Astor Library, where,
in his spare hours and on chance holidays, he did an immense deal of
suggestive reading. He took copious notes and memoranda, and these
things sometimes shaped themselves in a way that might possibly commend
them to the editors of periodicals. Readers perhaps would come, if
clients didn't; so he produced, with a great deal of labour,
half-a-dozen articles, from which, when they were finished, it seemed to
him that he had omitted all the points he wished most to make, and
addressed them to the powers that preside over weekly and monthly
publications. They were all declined with thanks, and he would have been
forced to believe that the accent of his languid clime brought him luck
as little under the pen as on the lips, had not another explanation been
suggested by one of the more explicit of his oracles, in relation to a
paper on the rights of minorities. This gentleman pointed out that his
doctrines were about three hundred years behind the age; doubtless some
magazine of the sixteenth century would have been very happy to print
them. This threw light on his own suspicion that he was attached to
causes that could only, in the nature of things, be unpopular. The
disagreeable editor was right about his being out of date, only he had
got the time wrong. He had come centuries too soon; he was not too old,
but too new. Such an impression, however, would not have prevented him
from going into politics, if there had been any other way to represent
constituencies than by being elected. People might be found eccentric
enough to vote for him in Mississippi, but meanwhile where should he
find the twenty-dollar greenbacks which it was his ambition to transmit
from time to time to his female relations, confined so constantly to a
farinaceous diet? It came over him with some force that his opinions
would not yield interest, and the evaporation of this pleasing
hypothesis made him feel like a man in an open boat, at sea, who should
just have parted with his last rag of canvas.

I shall not attempt a complete description of Ransom's ill-starred
views, being convinced that the reader will guess them as he goes, for
they had a frolicsome, ingenious way of peeping out of the young man's
conversation. I shall do them sufficient justice in saying that he was
by natural disposition a good deal of a stoic, and that, as the result
of a considerable intellectual experience, he was, in social and
political matters, a reactionary. I suppose he was very conceited, for
he was much addicted to judging his age. He thought it talkative,
querulous, hysterical, maudlin, full of false ideas, of unhealthy germs,
of extravagant, dissipated habits, for which a great reckoning was in
store. He was an immense admirer of the late Thomas Carlyle, and was
very suspicious of the encroachments of modern democracy. I know not
exactly how these queer heresies had planted themselves, but he had a
longish pedigree (it had flowered at one time with English royalists and
cavaliers), and he seemed at moments to be inhabited by some transmitted
spirit of a robust but narrow ancestor, some broad-faced wig-wearer or
sword-bearer, with a more primitive conception of manhood than our
modern temperament appears to require, and a programme of human felicity
much less varied. He liked his pedigree, he revered his forefathers, and
he rather pitied those who might come after him. In saying so, however,
I betray him a little, for he never mentioned such feelings as these.
Though he thought the age too talkative, as I have hinted, he liked to
talk as well as any one; but he could hold his tongue, if that were more
expressive, and he usually did so when his perplexities were greatest.
He had been sitting for several evenings in a beer-cellar, smoking his
pipe with a profundity of reticence. This attitude was so unbroken that
it marked a crisis--the complete, the acute consciousness of his
personal situation. It was the cheapest way he knew of spending an
evening. At this particular establishment the _Schoppen_ were very tall
and the beer was very good; and as the host and most of the guests were
German, and their colloquial tongue was unknown to him, he was not drawn
into any undue expenditure of speech. He watched his smoke and he
thought, thought so hard that at last he appeared to himself to have
exhausted the thinkable. When this moment of combined relief and dismay
arrived (on the last of the evenings that we are concerned with), he
took his way down Third Avenue and reached his humble dwelling. Till
within a short time there had been a resource for him at such an hour
and in such a mood; a little variety-actress, who lived in the house,
and with whom he had established the most cordial relations, was often
having her supper (she took it somewhere, every night, after the
theatre) in the dim, close dining-room, and he used to drop in and talk
to her. But she had lately married, to his great amusement, and her
husband had taken her on a wedding-tour, which was to be at the same
time professional. On this occasion he mounted, with rather a heavy
tread, to his rooms, where (on the rickety writing-table in the parlour)
he found a note from Mrs. Luna. I need not reproduce it _in extenso_; a
pale reflexion of it will serve. She reproached him with neglecting her,
wanted to know what had become of him, whether he had grown too
fashionable for a person who cared only for serious society. She accused
him of having changed, and inquired as to the reason of his coldness.
Was it too much to ask whether he could tell her at least in what manner
she had offended him? She used to think they were so much in
sympathy--he expressed her own ideas about everything so vividly. She
liked intellectual companionship, and she had none now. She hoped very
much he would come and see her--as he used to do six months before--the
following evening; and however much she might have sinned or he might
have altered, she was at least always his affectionate cousin Adeline.

"What the deuce does she want of me now?" It was with this somewhat
ungracious exclamation that he tossed away his cousin Adeline's missive.
The gesture might have indicated that he meant to take no notice of her;
nevertheless, after a day had elapsed, he presented himself before her.
He knew what she wanted of old--that is, a year ago; she had wanted him
to look after her property and to be tutor to her son. He had lent
himself, good-naturedly, to this desire--he was touched by so much
confidence--but the experiment had speedily collapsed. Mrs. Luna's
affairs were in the hands of trustees, who had complete care of them,
and Ransom instantly perceived that his function would be simply to
meddle in things that didn't concern him. The levity with which she had
exposed him to the derision of the lawful guardians of her fortune
opened his eyes to some of the dangers of cousinship; nevertheless he
said to himself that he might turn an honest penny by giving an hour or
two every day to the education of her little boy. But this, too, proved
a brief illusion. Ransom had to find his time in the afternoon; he left
his business at five o'clock and remained with his young kinsman till
the hour of dinner. At the end of a few weeks he thought himself lucky
in retiring without broken shins. That Newton's little nature was
remarkable had often been insisted on by his mother; but it was
remarkable, Ransom saw, for the absence of any of the qualities which
attach a teacher to a pupil. He was in truth an insufferable child,
entertaining for the Latin language a personal, physical hostility,
which expressed itself in convulsions of rage. During these paroxysms he
kicked furiously at every one and everything--at poor "Rannie," at his
mother, at Messrs. Andrews and Stoddard, at the illustrious men of Rome,
at the universe in general, to which, as he lay on his back on the
carpet, he presented a pair of singularly active little heels. Mrs. Luna
had a way of being present at his lessons, and when they passed, as
sooner or later they were sure to, into the stage I have described, she
interceded for her overwrought darling, reminded Ransom that these were
the signs of an exquisite sensibility, begged that the child might be
allowed to rest a little, and spent the remainder of the time in
conversation with the preceptor. It came to seem to him, very soon, that
he was not earning his fee; besides which, it was disagreeable to him to
have pecuniary relations with a lady who had not the art of concealing
from him that she liked to place him under obligations. He resigned his
tutorship, and drew a long breath, having a vague feeling that he had
escaped a danger. He could not have told you exactly what it was, and he
had a certain sentimental, provincial respect for women which even
prevented him from attempting to give a name to it in his own thoughts.
He was addicted with the ladies to the old forms of address and of
gallantry; he held that they were delicate, agreeable creatures, whom
Providence had placed under the protection of the bearded sex; and it
was not merely a humorous idea with him that whatever might be the
defects of Southern gentlemen, they were at any rate remarkable for
their chivalry. He was a man who still, in a slangy age, could pronounce
that word with a perfectly serious face.

This boldness did not prevent him from thinking that women were
essentially inferior to men, and infinitely tiresome when they declined
to accept the lot which men had made for them. He had the most definite
notions about their place in nature, in society, and was perfectly easy
in his mind as to whether it excluded them from any proper homage. The
chivalrous man paid that tax with alacrity. He admitted their rights;
these consisted in a standing claim to the generosity and tenderness of
the stronger race. The exercise of such feelings was full of advantage
for both sexes, and they flowed most freely, of course, when women were
gracious and grateful. It may be said that he had a higher conception of
politeness than most of the persons who desired the advent of female
law-makers. When I have added that he hated to see women eager and
argumentative, and thought that their softness and docility were the
inspiration, the opportunity (the highest) of man, I shall have sketched
a state of mind which will doubtless strike many readers as painfully
crude. It had prevented Basil Ransom, at any rate, from putting the dots
on his _i_'s, as the French say, in this gradual discovery that Mrs.
Luna was making love to him. The process went on a long time before he
became aware of it. He had perceived very soon that she was a
tremendously familiar little woman--that she took, more rapidly than he
had ever known, a high degree of intimacy for granted. But as she had
seemed to him neither very fresh nor very beautiful, so he could not
easily have represented to himself why she should take it into her head
to marry (it would never have occurred to him to doubt that she wanted
marriage) an obscure and penniless Mississippian, with womenkind of his
own to provide for. He could not guess that he answered to a certain
secret ideal of Mrs. Luna's, who loved the landed gentry even when
landless, who adored a Southerner under any circumstances, who thought
her kinsman a fine, manly, melancholy, disinterested type, and who was
sure that her views of public matters, the questions of the age, the
vulgar character of modern life, would meet with a perfect response in
his mind. She could see by the way he talked that he was a conservative,
and this was the motto inscribed upon her own silken banner. She took
this unpopular line both by temperament and by reaction from her
sister's "extreme" views, the sight of the dreadful people that they
brought about her. In reality, Olive was distinguished and
discriminating, and Adeline was the dupe of confusions in which the
worse was apt to be mistaken for the better. She talked to Ransom about
the inferiority of republics, the distressing persons she had met abroad
in the legations of the United States, the bad manners of servants and
shopkeepers in that country, the hope she entertained that "the good old
families" would make a stand; but he never suspected that she cultivated
these topics (her treatment of them struck him as highly comical) for
the purpose of leading him to the altar, of beguiling the way. Least of
all could he suppose that she would be indifferent to his want of
income--a point in which he failed to do her justice; for, thinking the
fact that he had remained poor a proof of delicacy in that shopkeeping
age, it gave her much pleasure to reflect that, as Newton's little
property was settled on him (with safeguards which showed how
long-headed poor Mr. Luna had been, and large-hearted, too, since to
what he left _her_ no disagreeable conditions, such as eternal mourning,
for instance, were attached)--that as Newton, I say, enjoyed the
pecuniary independence which befitted his character, her own income was
ample even for two, and she might give herself the luxury of taking a
husband who should owe her something. Basil Ransom did not divine all
this, but he divined that it was not for nothing that Mrs. Luna wrote
him little notes every other day, that she proposed to drive him in the
Park at unnatural hours, and that when he said he had his business to
attend to, she replied: "Oh, a plague on your business! I am sick of
that word--one hears of nothing else in America. There are ways of
getting on without business, if you would only take them!" He seldom
answered her notes, and he disliked extremely the way in which, in spite
of her love of form and order, she attempted to clamber in at the window
of one's house when one had locked the door; so that he began to
interspace his visits considerably, and at last made them very rare.
When I reflect on his habits of almost superstitious politeness to
women, it comes over me that some very strong motive must have operated
to make him give his friendly--his only too friendly--cousin the cold
shoulder. Nevertheless, when he received her reproachful letter (after
it had had time to work a little), he said to himself that he had
perhaps been unjust and even brutal, and as he was easily touched by
remorse of this kind, he took up the broken thread.



XXII


As he sat with Mrs. Luna, in her little back drawing-room, under the
lamp, he felt rather more tolerant than before of the pressure she could
not help putting upon him. Several months had elapsed, and he was no
nearer to the sort of success he had hoped for. It stole over him gently
that there was another sort, pretty visibly open to him, not so elevated
nor so manly, it is true, but on which he should after all, perhaps, be
able to reconcile it with his honour to fall back. Mrs. Luna had had an
inspiration; for once in her life she had held her tongue. She had not
made him a scene, there had been no question of an explanation; she had
received him as if he had been there the day before, with the addition
of a spice of mysterious melancholy. She might have made up her mind
that she had lost him as what she had hoped, but that it was better than
desolation to try and keep him as a friend. It was as if she wished him
to see now how she tried. She was subdued and consolatory, she waited
upon him, moved away a screen that intercepted the fire, remarked that
he looked very tired, and rang for some tea. She made no inquiry about
his affairs, never asked if he had been busy and prosperous; and this
reticence struck him as unexpectedly delicate and discreet; it was as if
she had guessed, by a subtle feminine faculty, that his professional
career was nothing to boast of. There was a simplicity in him which
permitted him to wonder whether she had not improved. The lamp-light was
soft, the fire crackled pleasantly, everything that surrounded him
betrayed a woman's taste and touch; the place was decorated and
cushioned in perfection, delightfully private and personal, the picture
of a well-appointed home. Mrs. Luna had complained of the difficulties
of installing one's self in America, but Ransom remembered that he had
received an impression similar to this in her sister's house in Boston,
and reflected that these ladies had, as a family-trait, the art of
making themselves comfortable. It was better for a winter's evening than
the German beer-cellar (Mrs. Luna's tea was excellent), and his hostess
herself appeared to-night almost as amiable as the variety-actress. At
the end of an hour he felt, I will not say almost marriageable, but
almost married. Images of leisure played before him, leisure in which he
saw himself covering foolscap paper with his views on several subjects,
and with favourable illustrations of Southern eloquence. It became
tolerably vivid to him that if editors wouldn't print one's
lucubrations, it would be a comfort to feel that one was able to publish
them at one's own expense.

He had a moment of almost complete illusion. Mrs. Luna had taken up her
bit of crochet; she was sitting opposite to him, on the other side of
the fire. Her white hands moved with little jerks as she took her
stitches, and her rings flashed and twinkled in the light of the hearth.
Her head fell a little to one side, exhibiting the plumpness of her chin
and neck, and her dropped eyes (it gave her a little modest air) rested
quietly on her work. A silence of a few moments had fallen upon their
talk, and Adeline--who decidedly _had_ improved--appeared also to feel
the charm of it, not to wish to break it. Basil Ransom was conscious of
all this, and at the same time he was vaguely engaged in a speculation.
If it gave one time, if it gave one leisure, was not that in itself a
high motive? Thorough study of the question he cared for most--was not
the chance for _that_ an infinitely desirable good? He seemed to see
himself, to feel himself, in that very chair, in the evenings of the
future, reading some indispensable book in the still lamp-light--Mrs.
Luna knew where to get such pretty mellowing shades. Should he not be
able to act in that way upon the public opinion of his time, to check
certain tendencies, to point out certain dangers, to indulge in much
salutary criticism? Was it not one's duty to put one's self in the best
conditions for such action? And as the silence continued he almost fell
to musing on his duty, almost persuaded himself that the moral law
commanded him to marry Mrs. Luna. She looked up presently from her work,
their eyes met, and she smiled. He might have believed she had guessed
what he was thinking of. This idea startled him, alarmed him a little,
so that when Mrs. Luna said, with her sociable manner, "There is nothing
I like so much, of a winter's night, as a cosy _tête-à-tête_ by the
fire. It's quite like Darby and Joan; what a pity the kettle has ceased
singing!"--when she uttered these insinuating words he gave himself a
little imperceptible shake, which was, however, enough to break the
spell, and made no response more direct than to ask her, in a moment, in
a tone of cold, mild curiosity, whether she had lately heard from her
sister, and how long Miss Chancellor intended to remain in Europe.

"Well, you _have_ been living in your hole!" Mrs. Luna exclaimed. "Olive
came home six weeks ago. How long did you expect her to endure it?"

"I am sure I don't know; I have never been there," Ransom replied.

"Yes, that's what I like you for," Mrs. Luna remarked sweetly. "If a man
is nice without it, it's such a pleasant change."

The young man started, then gave a natural laugh. "Lord, how few reasons
there must be!"

"Oh, I mention that one because I can tell it. I shouldn't care to tell
the others."

"I am glad you have some to fall back upon, the day I should go," Ransom
went on. "I thought you thought so much of Europe."

"So I do; but it isn't everything," said Mrs. Luna philosophically. "You
had better go there with me," she added, with a certain inconsequence.

"One would go to the end of the world with so irresistible a lady!"
Ransom exclaimed, falling into the tone which Mrs. Luna always found so
unsatisfactory. It was a part of his Southern gallantry--his accent
always came out strongly when he said anything of that sort--and it
committed him to nothing in particular. She had had occasion to wish,
more than once, that he wouldn't be so beastly polite, as she used to
hear people say in England. She answered that she didn't care about
ends, she cared about beginnings; but he didn't take up the declaration;
he returned to the subject of Olive, wanted to know what she had done
over there, whether she had worked them up much.

"Oh, of course, she fascinated every one," said Mrs. Luna. "With her
grace and beauty, her general style, how could she help that?"

"But did she bring them round, did she swell the host that is prepared
to march under her banner?"

"I suppose she saw plenty of the strong-minded, plenty of vicious old
maids, and fanatics, and frumps. But I haven't the least idea what she
accomplished--what they call 'wonders,' I suppose."

"Didn't you see her when she returned?" Basil Ransom asked.

"How could I see her? I can see pretty far, but I can't see all the way
to Boston." And then, in explaining that it was at this port that her
sister had disembarked, Mrs. Luna further inquired whether he could
imagine Olive doing anything in a first-rate way, as long as there were
inferior ones. "Of course she likes bad ships--Boston steamers--just as
she likes common people, and red-haired hoydens, and preposterous
doctrines."

Ransom was silent a moment. "Do you mean the--a--rather striking young
lady whom I met in Boston a year ago last October? What was her
name?--Miss Tarrant? Does Miss Chancellor like her as much as ever?"

"Mercy! don't you know she took her to Europe? It was to form _her_ mind
she went. Didn't I tell you that last summer? You used to come to see me
then."

"Oh yes, I remember," Ransom said, rather musingly. "And did she bring
her back?"

"Gracious, you don't suppose she would leave her! Olive thinks she's
born to regenerate the world."

"I remember you telling me that, too. It comes back to me. Well, is her
mind formed?"

"As I haven't seen it, I cannot tell you."

"Aren't you going on there to see----"

"To see whether Miss Tarrant's mind is formed?" Mrs. Luna broke in. "I
will go if you would like me to. I remember your being immensely excited
about her that time you met her. Don't you recollect that?"

Ransom hesitated an instant. "I can't say I do. It is too long ago."

"Yes, I have no doubt that's the way you change, about women! Poor Miss
Tarrant, if she thinks she made an impression on you!"

"She won't think about such things as that, if her mind has been formed
by your sister," Ransom said. "It does come back to me now, what you
told me about the growth of their intimacy. And do they mean to go on
living together for ever?"

"I suppose so--unless some one should take it into his head to marry
Verena."

"Verena--is that her name?" Ransom asked.

Mrs. Luna looked at him with a suspended needle. "Well! have you
forgotten that too? You told me yourself you thought it so pretty, that
time in Boston, when you walked me up the hill." Ransom declared that he
remembered that walk, but didn't remember everything he had said to her;
and she suggested, very satirically, that perhaps he would like to marry
Verena himself--he seemed so interested in her. Ransom shook his head
sadly, and said he was afraid he was not in a position to marry;
whereupon Mrs. Luna asked him what he meant--did he mean (after a
moment's hesitation) that he was too poor?

"Never in the world--I am very rich; I make an enormous income!" the
young man exclaimed; so that, remarking his tone, and the slight flush
of annoyance that rose to his face, Mrs. Luna was quick enough to judge
that she had overstepped the mark. She remembered (she ought to have
remembered before) that he had never taken her in the least into his
confidence about his affairs. That was not the Southern way, and he was
at least as proud as he was poor. In this surmise she was just; Basil
Ransom would have despised himself if he had been capable of confessing
to a woman that he couldn't make a living. Such questions were none of
their business (their business was simply to be provided for, practise
the domestic virtues, and be charmingly grateful), and there was, to his
sense, something almost indecent in talking about them. Mrs. Luna felt
doubly sorry for him as she perceived that he denied himself the luxury
of sympathy (that is, of hers), and the vague but comprehensive sigh
that passed her lips as she took up her crochet again was unusually
expressive of helplessness. She said that of course she knew how great
his talents were--he could do anything he wanted; and Basil Ransom
wondered for a moment whether, if she were to ask him point-blank to
marry her, it would be consistent with the high courtesy of a Southern
gentleman to refuse. After she should be his wife he might of course
confess to her that he was too poor to marry, for in that relation even
a Southern gentleman of the highest tone must sometimes unbend. But he
didn't in the least long for this arrangement, and was conscious that
the most pertinent sequel to her conjecture would be for him to take up
his hat and walk away.

Within five minutes, however, he had come to desire to do this almost as
little as to marry Mrs. Luna. He wanted to hear more about the girl who
lived with Olive Chancellor. Something had revived in him--an old
curiosity, an image half effaced--when he learned that she had come back
to America. He had taken a wrong impression from what Mrs. Luna said,
nearly a year before, about her sister's visit to Europe; he had
supposed it was to be a long absence, that Miss Chancellor wanted
perhaps to get the little prophetess away from her parents, possibly
even away from some amorous entanglement. Then, no doubt, they wanted to
study up the woman-question with the facilities that Europe would offer;
he didn't know much about Europe, but he had an idea that it was a great
place for facilities. His knowledge of Miss Chancellor's departure,
accompanied by her young companion, had checked at the time, on Ransom's
part, a certain habit of idle but none the less entertaining retrospect.
His life, on the whole, had not been rich in episode, and that little
chapter of his visit to his queer, clever, capricious cousin, with his
evening at Miss Birdseye's, and his glimpse, repeated on the morrow, of
the strange, beautiful, ridiculous, red-haired young _improvisatrice_,
unrolled itself in his memory like a page of interesting fiction. The
page seemed to fade, however, when he heard that the two girls had gone,
for an indefinite time, to unknown lands; this carried them out of his
range, spoiled the perspective, diminished their actuality; so that for
several months past, with his increase of anxiety about his own affairs,
and the low pitch of his spirits, he had not thought at all about Verena
Tarrant. The fact that she was once more in Boston, with a certain
contiguity that it seemed to imply between Boston and New York,
presented itself now as important and agreeable. He was conscious that
this was rather an anomaly, and his consciousness made him, had already
made him, dissimulate slightly. He did not pick up his hat to go; he sat
in his chair taking his chance of the tax which Mrs. Luna might lay upon
his urbanity. He remembered that he had not made, as yet, any very eager
inquiry about Newton, who at this late hour had succumbed to the only
influence that tames the untamable and was sleeping the sleep of
childhood, if not of innocence. Ransom repaired his neglect in a manner
which elicited the most copious response from his hostess. The boy had
had a good many tutors since Ransom gave him up, and it could not be
said that his education languished. Mrs. Luna spoke with pride of the
manner in which he went through them; if he did not master his lessons,
he mastered his teachers, and she had the happy conviction that she gave
him every advantage. Ransom's delay was diplomatic, but at the end of
ten minutes he returned to the young ladies in Boston; he asked why,
with their aggressive programme, one hadn't begun to feel their onset,
why the echoes of Miss Tarrant's eloquence hadn't reached his ears.
Hadn't she come out yet in public? was she not coming to stir them up in
New York? He hoped she hadn't broken down.

"She didn't seem to break down last summer, at the Female Convention,"
Mrs. Luna replied. "Have you forgotten that too? Didn't I tell you of
the sensation she produced there, and of what I heard from Boston about
it? Do you mean to say I didn't give you that "Transcript," with the
report of her great speech? It was just before they sailed for Europe;
she went off with flying colours, in a blaze of fireworks." Ransom
protested that he had not heard this affair mentioned till that moment,
and then, when they compared dates, they found it had taken place just
after his last visit to Mrs. Luna. This, of course, gave her a chance to
say that he had treated her even worse than she supposed; it had been
her impression, at any rate, that they had talked together about
Verena's sudden bound into fame. Apparently she confounded him with some
one else, that was very possible; he was not to suppose that he occupied
such a distinct place in her mind, especially when she might die twenty
deaths before he came near her. Ransom demurred to the implication that
Miss Tarrant was famous; if she were famous, wouldn't she be in the New
York papers? He hadn't seen her there, and he had no recollection of
having encountered any mention at the time (last June, was it?) of her
exploits at the Female Convention. A local reputation doubtless she had,
but that had been the case a year and a half before, and what was
expected of her then was to become a first-class national glory. He was
willing to believe that she had created some excitement in Boston, but
he shouldn't attach much importance to that till one began to see her
photograph in the stores. Of course, one must give her time, but he had
supposed Miss Chancellor was going to put her through faster.

If he had taken a contradictious tone on purpose to draw Mrs. Luna out,
he could not have elicited more of the information he desired. It was
perfectly true that he had seen no reference to Verena's performances in
the preceding June; there were periods when the newspapers seemed to him
so idiotic that for weeks he never looked at one. He learned from Mrs.
Luna that it was not Olive who had sent her the "Transcript" and in
letters had added some private account of the doings at the convention
to the testimony of that amiable sheet; she had been indebted for this
service to a "gentleman-friend," who wrote her everything that happened
in Boston, and what every one had every day for dinner. Not that it was
necessary for her happiness to know; but the gentleman she spoke of
didn't know what to invent to please her. A Bostonian couldn't imagine
that one didn't want to know, and that was their idea of ingratiating
themselves, or, at any rate, it was his, poor man. Olive would never
have gone into particulars about Verena; she regarded her sister as
quite too much one of the profane, and knew Adeline couldn't understand
why, when she took to herself a bosom-friend, she should have been at
such pains to select her in just the most dreadful class in the
community. Verena was a perfect little adventuress, and quite third-rate
into the bargain; but, of course, she was a pretty girl enough, if one
cared for hair of the colour of cochineal. As for her people, they were
too absolutely awful; it was exactly as if she, Mrs. Luna, had struck up
an intimacy with the daughter of her chiropodist. It took Olive to
invent such monstrosities, and to think she was doing something great
for humanity when she did so; though, in spite of her wanting to turn
everything over, and put the lowest highest, she could be just as
contemptuous and invidious, when it came to really mixing, as if she
were some grand old duchess. She must do her the justice to say that she
hated the Tarrants, the father and mother; but, all the same, she let
Verena run to and fro between Charles Street and the horrible hole they
lived in, and Adeline knew from that gentleman who wrote so copiously
that the girl now and then spent a week at a time at Cambridge. Her
mother, who had been ill for some weeks, wanted her to sleep there. Mrs.
Luna knew further, by her correspondent, that Verena had--or had had the
winter before--a great deal of attention from gentlemen. She didn't know
how she worked that into the idea that the female sex was sufficient to
itself; but she had grounds for saying that this was one reason why
Olive had taken her abroad. She was afraid Verena would give in to some
man, and she wanted to make a break. Of course, any such giving in would
be very awkward for a young woman who shrieked out on platforms that old
maids were the highest type. Adeline guessed Olive had perfect control
of her now, unless indeed she used the expeditions to Cambridge as a
cover for meeting gentlemen. She was an artful little minx, and cared as
much for the rights of women as she did for the Panama Canal; the only
right of a woman she wanted was to climb up on top of something, where
the men could look at her. She would stay with Olive as long as it
served her purpose, because Olive, with her great respectability, could
push her, and counteract the effect of her low relations, to say nothing
of paying all her expenses and taking her the tour of Europe. "But, mark
my words," said Mrs. Luna, "she will give Olive the greatest cut she has
ever had in her life. She will run off with some lion-tamer; she will
marry a circus-man!" And Mrs. Luna added that it would serve Olive
Chancellor right. But she would take it hard; look out for tantrums
then!

Basil Ransom's emotions were peculiar while his hostess delivered
herself, in a manner at once casual and emphatic, of these rather
insidious remarks. He took them all in, for they represented to him
certain very interesting facts; but he perceived at the same time that
Mrs. Luna didn't know what she was talking about. He had seen Verena
Tarrant only twice in his life, but it was no use telling him that she
was an adventuress--though, certainly, it _was_ very likely she would
end by giving Miss Chancellor a cut. He chuckled, with a certain
grimness, as this image passed before him; it was not unpleasing, the
idea that he should be avenged (for it would avenge him to know it) upon
the wanton young woman who had invited him to come and see her in order
simply to slap his face. But he had an odd sense of having lost
something in not knowing of the other girl's appearance at the Women's
Convention--a vague feeling that he had been cheated and trifled with.
The complaint was idle, inasmuch as it was not probable he could have
gone to Boston to listen to her; but it represented to him that he had
not shared, even dimly and remotely, in an event which concerned her
very closely. Why should he share, and what was more natural than that
the things which concerned her closely should not concern him at all?
This question came to him only as he walked home that evening; for the
moment it remained quite in abeyance: therefore he was free to feel also
that his imagination had been rather starved by his ignorance of the
fact that she was near him again (comparatively), that she was in the
dimness of the horizon (no longer beyond the curve of the globe), and
yet he had not perceived it. This sense of personal loss, as I have
called it, made him feel, further, that he had something to make up, to
recover. He could scarcely have told you how he would go about it; but
the idea, formless though it was, led him in a direction very different
from the one he had been following a quarter of an hour before. As he
watched it dance before him he fell into another silence, in the midst
of which Mrs. Luna gave him another mystic smile. The effect of it was
to make him rise to his feet; the whole landscape of his mind had
suddenly been illuminated. Decidedly, it was _not_ his duty to marry
Mrs. Luna, in order to have means to pursue his studies; he jerked
himself back, as if he had been on the point of it.

"You don't mean to say you are going already? I haven't said half I
wanted to!" she exclaimed.

He glanced at the clock, saw it was not yet late, took a turn about the
room, then sat down again in a different place, while she followed him
with her eyes, wondering what was the matter with him. Ransom took good
care not to ask her what it was she had still to say, and perhaps it was
to prevent her telling him that he now began to talk, freely, quickly,
in quite a new tone. He stayed half an hour longer, and made himself
very agreeable. It seemed to Mrs. Luna now that he had every distinction
(she had known he had most), that he was really a charming man. He
abounded in conversation, till at last he took up his hat in earnest; he
talked about the state of the South, its social peculiarities, the ruin
wrought by the war, the dilapidated gentry, the queer types of
superannuated fire-eaters, ragged and unreconciled, all the pathos and
all the comedy of it, making her laugh at one moment, almost cry at
another, and say to herself throughout that when he took it into his
head there was no one who could make a lady's evening pass so
pleasantly. It was only afterwards that she asked herself why he had not
taken it into his head till the last, so quickly. She delighted in the
dilapidated gentry; her taste was completely different from her
sister's, who took an interest only in the lower class, as it struggled
to rise; what Adeline cared for was the fallen aristocracy (it seemed to
be falling everywhere very much; was not Basil Ransom an example of it?
was he not like a French _gentilhomme de province_ after the Revolution?
or an old monarchical _émigré_ from the Languedoc?), the despoiled
patriciate, I say, whose attitude was noble and touching, and toward
whom one might exercise a charity as discreet as their pride was
sensitive. In all Mrs. Luna's visions of herself, her discretion was the
leading feature. "Are you going to let ten years elapse again before you
come?" she asked, as Basil Ransom bade her good-night. "You must let me
know, because between this and your next visit I shall have time to go
to Europe and come back. I shall take care to arrive the day before."

Instead of answering this sally, Ransom said, "Are you not going one of
these days to Boston? Are you not going to pay your sister another
visit?"

Mrs. Luna stared. "What good will that do _you_? Excuse my stupidity,"
she added; "of course, it gets me away. Thank you very much!"

"I don't want you to go away; but I want to hear more about Miss Olive."

"Why in the world? You know you loathe her!" Here, before Ransom could
reply, Mrs. Luna again overtook herself. "I verily believe that by Miss
Olive you mean Miss Verena!" Her eyes charged him a moment with this
perverse intention; then she exclaimed, "Basil Ransom, _are_ you in love
with that creature?"

He gave a perfectly natural laugh, not pleading guilty, in order to
practise on Mrs. Luna, but expressing the simple state of the case. "How
should I be? I have seen her but twice in my life."

"If you had seen her more, I shouldn't be afraid! Fancy your wanting to
pack me off to Boston!" his hostess went on. "I am in no hurry to stay
with Olive again; besides, that girl takes up the whole house. You had
better go there yourself."

"I should like nothing better," said Ransom.

"Perhaps you would like me to ask Verena to spend a month with me--it
might be a way of attracting you to the house," Adeline went on, in the
tone of exuberant provocation.

Ransom was on the point of replying that it would be a better way than
any other, but he checked himself in time; he had never yet, even in
joke, made so crude, so rude a speech to a lady. You only knew when he
was joking with women by his super-added civility. "I beg you to believe
there is nothing I would do for any woman in the world that I wouldn't
do for you," he said, bending, for the last time, over Mrs. Luna's plump
hand.

"I shall remember that and keep you up to it!" she cried after him, as
he went. But even with this rather lively exchange of vows he felt that
he had got off rather easily. He walked slowly up Fifth Avenue, into
which, out of Adeline's cross-street, he had turned, by the light of a
fine winter moon; and at every corner he stopped a minute, lingered in
meditation, while he exhaled a soft, vague sigh. This was an
unconscious, involuntary expression of relief, such as a man might utter
who had seen himself on the point of being run over and yet felt that he
was whole. He didn't trouble himself much to ask what had saved him;
whatever it was it had produced a reaction, so that he felt rather
ashamed of having found his look-out of late so blank. By the time he
reached his lodgings, his ambition, his resolution, had rekindled; he
had remembered that he formerly supposed he was a man of ability, that
nothing particular had occurred to make him doubt it (the evidence was
only negative, not positive), and that at any rate he was young enough
to have another try. He whistled that night as he went to bed.



XXIII


Three weeks afterward he stood in front of Olive Chancellor's house,
looking up and down the street and hesitating. He had told Mrs. Luna
that he should like nothing better than to make another journey to
Boston; and it was not simply because he liked it that he had come. I
was on the point of saying that a happy chance had favoured him, but it
occurs to me that one is under no obligation to call chances by
nattering epithets when they have been waited for so long. At any rate,
the darkest hour is before the dawn; and a few days after that
melancholy evening I have described, which Ransom spent in his German
beer-cellar, before a single glass, soon emptied, staring at his future
with an unremunerated eye, he found that the world appeared to have need
of him yet. The "party," as he would have said (I cannot pretend that
his speech was too heroic for that), for whom he had transacted business
in Boston so many months before, and who had expressed at the time but a
limited appreciation of his services (there had been between the lawyer
and his client a divergence of judgement), observing, apparently, that
they proved more fruitful than he expected, had reopened the affair and
presently requested Ransom to transport himself again to the sister
city. His errand demanded more time than before, and for three days he
gave it his constant attention. On the fourth he found he was still
detained; he should have to wait till the evening--some important papers
were to be prepared. He determined to treat the interval as a holiday,
and he wondered what one could do in Boston to give one's morning a
festive complexion. The weather was brilliant enough to minister to any
illusion, and he strolled along the streets, taking it in. In front of
the Music Hall and of Tremont Temple he stopped, looking at the posters
in the doorway; for was it not possible that Miss Chancellor's little
friend might be just then addressing her fellow-citizens? Her name was
absent, however, and this resource seemed to mock him. He knew no one in
the place but Olive Chancellor, so there was no question of a visit to
pay. He was perfectly resolved that he would never go near _her_ again;
she was doubtless a very superior being, but she had been too rough with
him to tempt him further. Politeness, even a largely-interpreted
"chivalry", required nothing more than he had already done; he had
quitted her, the other year, without telling her that she was a vixen,
and that reticence was chivalrous enough. There was also Verena Tarrant,
of course; he saw no reason to dissemble when he spoke of her to
himself, and he allowed himself the entertainment of feeling that he
should like very much to see her again. Very likely she wouldn't seem to
him the same; the impression she had made upon him was due to some
accident of mood or circumstance; and, at any rate, any charm she might
have exhibited then had probably been obliterated by the coarsening
effect of publicity and the tonic influence of his kinswoman. It will be
observed that in this reasoning of Basil Ransom's the impression was
freely recognised, and recognised as a phenomenon still present. The
attraction might have vanished, as he said to himself, but the mental
picture of it was yet vivid. The greater the pity that he couldn't call
upon Verena (he called her by her name in his thoughts, it was so
pretty) without calling upon Olive, and that Olive was so disagreeable
as to place that effort beyond his strength. There was another
consideration, with Ransom, which eminently belonged to the man; he
believed that Miss Chancellor had conceived, in the course of those few
hours, and in a manner that formed so absurd a sequel to her having gone
out of her way to make his acquaintance, such a dislike to him that it
would be odious to her to see him again within her doors; and he would
have felt indelicate in taking warrant from her original invitation
(before she had seen him) to inflict on her a presence which he had no
reason to suppose the lapse of time had made less offensive. She had
given him no sign of pardon or penitence in any of the little ways that
are familiar to women--by sending him a message through her sister, or
even a book, a photograph, a Christmas card, or a newspaper, by the
post. He felt, in a word, not at liberty to ring at her door; he didn't
know what kind of a fit the sight of his long Mississippian person would
give her, and it was characteristic of him that he should wish so to
spare the sensibilities of a young lady whom he had not found tender;
being ever as willing to let women off easily in the particular case as
he was fixed in the belief that the sex in general requires watching.

Nevertheless, he found himself, at the end of half an hour, standing on
the only spot in Charles Street which had any significance for him. It
had occurred to him that if he couldn't call upon Verena without calling
upon Olive, he should be exempt from that condition if he called upon
Mrs. Tarrant. It was not her mother, truly, who had asked him, it was
the girl herself; and he was conscious, as a candid young American, that
a mother is always less accessible, more guarded by social prejudice,
than a daughter. But he was at a pass in which it was permissible to
strain a point, and he took his way in the direction in which he knew
that Cambridge lay, remembering that Miss Tarrant's invitation had
reference to that quarter and that Mrs. Luna had given him further
evidence. Had she not said that Verena often went back there for visits
of several days--that her mother had been ill and she gave her much
care? There was nothing inconceivable in her being engaged at that hour
(it was getting to be one o'clock) in one of those expeditions--nothing
impossible in the chance that he might find her in Cambridge. The
chance, at any rate, was worth taking; Cambridge, moreover, was worth
seeing, and it was as good a way as another of keeping his holiday. It
occurred to him, indeed, that Cambridge was a big place, and that he had
no particular address. This reflexion overtook him just as he reached
Olive's house, which, oddly enough, he was obliged to pass on his way to
the mysterious suburb. That is partly why he paused there; he asked
himself for a moment why he shouldn't ring the bell and obtain his
needed information from the servant, who would be sure to be able to
give it to him. He had just dismissed this method, as of questionable
taste, when he heard the door of the house open, within the deep
embrasure in which, in Charles Street, the main portals are set, and
which are partly occupied by a flight of steps protected at the bottom
by a second door, whose upper half, in either wing, consists of a sheet
of glass. It was a minute before he could see who had come out, and in
that minute he had time to turn away and then to turn back again, and to
wonder which of the two inmates would appear to him, or whether he
should behold neither or both.

The person who had issued from the house descended the steps very
slowly, as if on purpose to give him time to escape; and when at last
the glass doors were divided they disclosed a little old lady. Ransom
was disappointed; such an apparition was so scantily to his purpose. But
the next minute his spirits rose again, for he was sure that he had seen
the little old lady before. She stopped on the side-walk, and looked
vaguely about her, in the manner of a person waiting for an omnibus or a
street-car; she had a dingy, loosely-habited air, as if she had worn her
clothes for many years and yet was even now imperfectly acquainted with
them; a large, benignant face, caged in by the glass of her spectacles,
which seemed to cover it almost equally everywhere, and a fat, rusty
satchel, which hung low at her side, as if it wearied her to carry it.
This gave Ransom time to recognise her; he knew in Boston no such figure
as that save Miss Birdseye. Her party, her person, the exalted account
Miss Chancellor gave of her, had kept a very distinct place in his mind;
and while she stood there in dim circumspection she came back to him as
a friend of yesterday. His necessity gave a point to the reminiscences
she evoked; it took him only a moment to reflect that she would be able
to tell him where Verena Tarrant was at that particular time, and where,
if need be, her parents lived. Her eyes rested on him, and as she saw
that he was looking at her she didn't go through the ceremony (she had
broken so completely with all conventions) of removing them; he
evidently represented nothing to her but a sentient fellow-citizen in
the enjoyment of his rights, which included that of staring. Miss
Birdseye's modesty had never pretended that it was not to be publicly
challenged; there were so many bright new motives and ideas in the world
that there might even be reasons for looking at her. When Ransom
approached her and, raising his hat with a smile, said, "Shall I stop
this car for you, Miss Birdseye?" she only looked at him more vaguely,
in her complete failure to seize the idea that this might be simply
Fame. She had trudged about the streets of Boston for fifty years, and
at no period had she received that amount of attention from dark-eyed
young men. She glanced, in an unprejudiced way, at the big
parti-coloured human van which now jingled, toward them from out of the
Cambridge road. "Well, I should like to get into it, if it will take me
home," she answered. "Is this a South End car?"

The vehicle had been stopped by the conductor, on his perceiving Miss
Birdseye; he evidently recognised her as a frequent passenger. He went,
however, through none of the forms of reassurance beyond remarking, "You
want to get right in here--quick," but stood with his hand raised, in a
threatening way, to the cord of his signal-bell.

"You must allow me the honour of taking you home, madam; I will tell you
who I am," Basil Ransom said, in obedience to a rapid reflexion. He
helped her into the car, the conductor pressed a fraternal hand upon her
back, and in a moment the young man was seated beside her, and the
jingling had recommenced. At that hour of the day the car was almost
empty, and they had it virtually to themselves.

"Well, I know you are some one; I don't think you belong round here,"
Miss Birdseye declared, as they proceeded.

"I was once at your house--on a very interesting occasion. Do you
remember a party you gave, a year ago last October, to which Miss
Chancellor came, and another young lady, who made a wonderful speech?"

"Oh yes! when Verena Tarrant moved us all so! There were a good many
there; I don't remember all."

"I was one of them," Basil Ransom said; "I came with Miss Chancellor,
who is a kind of relation of mine, and you were very good to me."

"What did I do?" asked Miss Birdseye candidly. Then, before he could
answer her, she recognised him. "I remember you now, and Olive bringing
you! You're a Southern gentleman--she told me about you afterwards. You
don't approve of our great struggle--you want us to be kept down." The
old lady spoke with perfect mildness, as if she had long ago done with
passion and resentment. Then she added, "Well, I presume we can't have
the sympathy of all."

"Doesn't it look as if you had my sympathy, when I get into a car on
purpose to see you home--one of the principal agitators?" Ransom
inquired, laughing.

"Did you get in on purpose?"

"Quite on purpose. I am not so bad as Miss Chancellor thinks me."

"Oh, I presume you have your ideas," said Miss Birdseye. "Of course,
Southerners have peculiar views. I suppose they retain more than one
might think. I hope you won't ride too far--I know my way round Boston."

"Don't object to me, or think me officious," Ransom replied. "I want to
ask you something."

Miss Birdseye looked at him again. "Oh yes, I place you now; you
conversed some with Doctor Prance."

"To my great edification!" Ransom exclaimed. "And I hope Doctor Prance
is well."

"She looks after every one's health but her own," said Miss Birdseye,
smiling. "When I tell her that, she says she hasn't got any to look
after. She says she's the only woman in Boston that hasn't got a doctor.
She was determined she wouldn't be a patient, and it seemed as if the
only way not to be one was to be a doctor. She is trying to make me
sleep; that's her principal occupation."

"Is it possible you don't sleep yet?" Ransom asked, almost tenderly.

"Well, just a little. But by the time I get to sleep I have to get up. I
can't sleep when I want to live."

"You ought to come down South," the young man suggested. "In that
languid air you would doze deliciously!"

"Well, I don't want to be languid," said Miss Birdseye. "Besides, I have
been down South, in the old times, and I can't say they let me sleep
very much; they were always round after me!"

"Do you mean on account of the negroes?"

"Yes, I couldn't think of anything else then. I carried them the Bible."

Ransom was silent a moment; then he said, in a tone which evidently was
carefully considerate, "I should like to hear all about that!"

"Well, fortunately, we are not required now; we are required for
something else." And Miss Birdseye looked at him with a wandering,
tentative humour, as if he would know what she meant.

"You mean for the other slaves!" he exclaimed, with a laugh. "You can
carry them all the Bibles you want."

"I want to carry them the Statute-book; that must be our Bible now."

Ransom found himself liking Miss Birdseye very much, and it was quite
without hypocrisy or a tinge too much of the local quality in his speech
that he said: "Wherever you go, madam, it will matter little what you
carry. You will always carry your goodness."

For a minute she made no response. Then she murmured: "That's the way
Olive Chancellor told me you talked."

"I am afraid she has told you little good of me."

"Well, I am sure she thinks she is right."

"Thinks it?" said Ransom. "Why, she knows it, with supreme certainty! By
the way, I hope she is well."

Miss Birdseye stared again. "Haven't you seen her? Are you not
visiting?"

"Oh no, I am not visiting! I was literally passing her house when I met
you."

"Perhaps you live here now," said Miss Birdseye. And when he had
corrected this impression, she added, in a tone which showed with what
positive confidence he had now inspired her, "Hadn't you better drop
in?"

"It would give Miss Chancellor no pleasure," Basil Ransom rejoined. "She
regards me as an enemy in the camp."

"Well, she is very brave."

"Precisely. And I am very timid."

"Didn't you fight once?"

"Yes; but it was in such a good cause!"

Ransom meant this allusion to the great Secession and, by comparison, to
the attitude of the resisting male (laudable even as that might be), to
be decently jocular; but Miss Birdseye took it very seriously, and sat
there for a good while as speechless as if she meant to convey that she
had been going on too long now to be able to discuss the propriety of
the late rebellion. The young man felt that he had silenced her, and he
was very sorry; for, with all deference to the disinterested Southern
attitude toward the unprotected female, what he had got into the car
with her for was precisely to make her talk. He had wished for general,
as well as for particular, news of Verena Tarrant; it was a topic on
which he had proposed to draw Miss Birdseye out. He preferred not to
broach it himself, and he waited awhile for another opening. At last,
when he was on the point of exposing himself by a direct inquiry (he
reflected that the exposure would in any case not be long averted), she
anticipated him by saying, in a manner which showed that her thoughts
had continued in the same train, "I wonder very much that Miss Tarrant
didn't affect you that evening!"

"Ah, but she did!" Ransom said, with alacrity. "I thought her very
charming!"

"Didn't you think her very reasonable?"

"God forbid, madam! I consider women have no business to be reasonable."

His companion turned upon him, slowly and mildly, and each of her
glasses, in her aspect of reproach, had the glitter of an enormous tear.
"Do you regard us, then, simply as lovely baubles?"

The effect of this question, as coming from Miss Birdseye, and referring
in some degree to her own venerable identity, was such as to move him to
irresistible laughter. But he controlled himself quickly enough to say,
with genuine expression, "I regard you as the dearest thing in life, the
only thing which makes it worth living!"

"Worth living for--you! But for us?" suggested Miss Birdseye.

"It's worth any woman's while to be admired as I admire you. Miss
Tarrant, of whom we were speaking, affected me, as you say, in this
way--that I think more highly still, if possible, of the sex which
produced such a delightful young lady."

"Well, we think everything of her here," said Miss Birdseye. "It seems
as if it were a real gift."

"Does she speak often--is there any chance of my hearing her now?"

"She raises her voice a good deal in the places round--like Framingham
and Billerica. It seems as if she were gathering strength, just to break
over Boston like a wave. In fact she did break, last summer. She is a
growing power since her great success at the convention."

"Ah! her success at the convention was very great?" Ransom inquired,
putting discretion into his voice.

Miss Birdseye hesitated a moment, in order to measure her response by
the bounds of righteousness. "Well," she said, with the tenderness of a
long retrospect, "I have seen nothing like it since I last listened to
Eliza P. Moseley."

"What a pity she isn't speaking somewhere to-night!" Ransom exclaimed.

"Oh, to-night she's out in Cambridge. Olive Chancellor mentioned that."

"Is she making a speech there?"

"No; she's visiting her home."

"I thought her home was in Charles Street?"

"Well, no; that's her residence--her principal one--since she became so
united to your cousin. Isn't Miss Chancellor your cousin?"

"We don't insist on the relationship," said Ransom, smiling. "Are they
very much united, the two young ladies?"

"You would say so if you were to see Miss Chancellor when Verena rises
to eloquence. It's as if the chords were strung across her own heart;
she seems to vibrate, to echo with every word. It's a very close and
very beautiful tie, and we think everything of it here. They will work
together for a great good!"

"I hope so," Ransom remarked. "But in spite of it Miss Tarrant spends a
part of her time with her father and mother."

"Yes, she seems to have something for every one. If you were to see her
at home, you would think she was all the daughter. She leads a lovely
life!" said Miss Birdseye.

"See her at home? That's exactly what I want!" Ransom rejoined, feeling
that if he was to come to this he needn't have had scruples at first. "I
haven't forgotten that she invited me, when I met her."

"Oh, of course she attracts many visitors," said Miss Birdseye, limiting
her encouragement to this statement.

"Yes; she must be used to admirers. And where, in Cambridge, do her
family live?"

"Oh, it's on one of those little streets that don't seem to have very
much of a name. But they do call it--they do call it----" she meditated
audibly.

This process was interrupted by an abrupt allocution from the conductor.
"I guess you change here for _your_ place. You want one of them blue
cars."

The good lady returned to a sense of the situation, and Ransom helped
her out of the vehicle, with the aid, as before, of a certain amount of
propulsion from the conductor. Her road branched off to the right, and
she had to wait on the corner of a street, there being as yet no blue
car within hail. The corner was quiet and the day favourable to
patience--a day of relaxed rigour and intense brilliancy. It was as if
the touch of the air itself were gloved, and the street-colouring had
the richness of a superficial thaw. Ransom, of course, waited with his
philanthropic companion, though she now protested more vigorously
against the idea that a gentleman from the South should pretend to teach
an old abolitionist the mysteries of Boston. He promised to leave her
when he should have consigned her to the blue car; and meanwhile they
stood in the sun, with their backs against an apothecary's window, and
she tried again, at his suggestion, to remember the name of Doctor
Tarrant's street. "I guess if you ask for Doctor Tarrant, any one can
tell you," she said; and then suddenly the address came to her--the
residence of the mesmeric healer was in Monadnoc Place.

"But you'll have to ask for that, so it comes to the same," she went on.
After this she added, with a friendliness more personal, "Ain't you
going to see your cousin too?"

"Not if I can help it!"

Miss Birdseye gave a little ineffectual sigh. "Well, I suppose every one
must act out their ideal. That's what Olive Chancellor does. She's a
very noble character."

"Oh yes, a glorious nature."

"You know their opinions are just the same--hers and Verena's," Miss
Birdseye placidly continued. "So why should you make a distinction?"

"My dear madam," said Ransom, "does a woman consist of nothing but her
opinions? I like Miss Tarrant's lovely face better, to begin with."

"Well, she _is_ pretty-looking." And Miss Birdseye gave another sigh, as
if she had had a theory submitted to her--that one about a lady's
opinions--which, with all that was unfamiliar and peculiar lying behind
it, she was really too old to look into much. It might have been the
first time she really felt her age. "There's a blue car," she said, in a
tone of mild relief.

"It will be some moments before it gets here. Moreover, I don't believe
that at bottom they _are_ Miss Tarrant's opinions," Ransom added.

"You mustn't think she hasn't a strong hold of them," his companion
exclaimed, more briskly. "If you think she is not sincere, you are very
much mistaken. Those views are just her life."

"Well, _she_ may bring me round to them," said Ransom, smiling.

Miss Birdseye had been watching her blue car, the advance of which was
temporarily obstructed. At this, she transferred her eyes to him, gazing
at him solemnly out of the pervasive window of her spectacles. "Well, I
shouldn't wonder if she did! Yes, that will be a good thing. I don't see
how you can help being a good deal shaken by her. She has acted on so
many."

"I see: no doubt she will act on me." Then it occurred to Ransom to add:
"By the way, Miss Birdseye, perhaps you will be so kind as not to
mention this meeting of ours to my cousin, in case of your seeing her
again. I have a perfectly good conscience in not calling upon her, but I
shouldn't like her to think that I announced my slighting intention all
over the town. I don't want to offend her, and she had better not know
that I have been in Boston. If you don't tell her, no one else will."

"Do you wish me to conceal----?" murmured Miss Birdseye, panting a
little.

"No, I don't want you to conceal anything. I only want you to let this
incident pass--to say nothing."

"Well, I never did anything of that kind."

"Of what kind?" Ransom was half vexed, half touched by her inability to
enter into his point of view, and her resistance made him hold to his
idea the more. "It is very simple, what I ask of you. You are under no
obligation to tell Miss Chancellor everything that happens to you, are
you?"

His request seemed still something of a shock to the poor old lady's
candour. "Well, I see her very often, and we talk a great deal. And
then--won't Verena tell her?"

"I have thought of that--but I hope not."

"She tells her most everything. Their union is so close."

"She won't want her to be wounded," Ransom said ingeniously.

"Well, you _are_ considerate." And Miss Birdseye continued to gaze at
him. "It's a pity you can't sympathise."

"As I tell you, perhaps Miss Tarrant will bring me round. You have
before you a possible convert," Ransom went on, without, I fear, putting
up the least little prayer to heaven that his dishonesty might be
forgiven.

"I should be very happy to think that--after I have told you her address
in this secret way." A smile of infinite mildness glimmered in Miss
Birdseye's face, and she added: "Well, I guess that will be your fate.
She _has_ affected so many. I would keep very quiet if I thought that.
Yes, she will bring you round."

"I will let you know as soon as she does," Basil Ransom said. "Here is
your car at last."

"Well, I believe in the victory of the truth. I won't say anything." And
she suffered the young man to lead her to the car, which had now stopped
at their corner.

"I hope very much I shall see you again," he remarked, as they went.

"Well, I am always round the streets, in Boston." And while, lifting and
pushing, he was helping again to insert her into the oblong receptacle,
she turned a little and repeated, "She _will_ affect you! If that's to
be your secret, I will keep it," Ransom heard her subjoin. He raised his
hat and waved her a farewell, but she didn't see him; she was squeezing
further into the car and making the discovery that this time it was full
and there was no seat for her. Surely, however, he said to himself,
every man in the place would offer his own to such an innocent old dear.


END OF VOL. I





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